Recent Book Reviews

The Little Book Of PhilosophyThe Little Book Of Philosophy by André Comte-Sponville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sponville was recommended to me by a very good friend, a poet and writer. My background is in philosophy. This book was actually bought by mistake. However, it turned out to be a good read. Sponville is an excellent writer from a literary standpoint and presents philosophical concepts in a clear but general way. The book’s chapters begin with a common philosophical topic, ethics, and hits upon a few of the five pillars of philosophy, leaving out logic. From a literary standpoint this is understandable, but from a philosophical standpoint, I think, a bit of a mistake.

The chapters read more like thoughts on general topics and offer up what seems like rhetorical questions rather than statements concerning the topics themselves. Early on, Sponville writes “philosophy is not a science, nor is it wisdom, nor even knowledge: it is a meditation on what knowledge is available.” (45). Beautifully written, but philosophically lacking.

Allusions to several classic philosophical readings are clear, ranging from the Greek philosophers to more modern neo-classical philosophers. However, the original sources are not included in the writings and so it would be easy to believe that the concepts are simply “human” inventions rather than concepts worked out by previous philosophers.

From a philosophical standpoint the book is not one which could be used as a treatise on the topic, but rather it would be a good introduction. The word “Little” in the title is perhaps the key thing to remember here. Writing, “Ethics is valid only for oneself; duty applies only to oneself. For others, compassion and the law are enough. (156), I think Sponville over-claims. Here it seems he is alluding to virtue ethics. However, it is not clear and there are philosophical problems with the statement. Later, he writes “This is a crucial point: to be moral is to submit ourselves to a law which we believe applies, or should apply, to all.” (181)

The Little Book of Philosophy is a great starting point for anyone who has ever been interested in but not willing to read philosophical works. The book will introduce one to philosophical ideas but will fall short if the reader is looking for clear and concise terms regarding those ideas.

Beautifully written, but at the expense of clarity and conciseness.

Education of a Wandering ManEducation of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

L’Amour is a well known western writer of many books. His typical fair is that of gun fighters, cowboys and all-around tough, but virtuous people. I am currently reading his novel Reilly’s Luck, but I cannot say that I am a fan of the style.

However, this autobiography is a great read. L’Amour lived an interesting life to say the least, and if what is written here is true, so much the better. There is no doubt that L’Amour is a great writer, writing “A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with determination.” (116) This is a great book about a very interesting life.

The book is written with his own life’s timeline in mind and throughout he lists the many books that he has read, and includes the books listed throughout in an appendix. This is a nice touch and helpful if a reader is so inclined.

The Education of a Wandering Man is a book of L’Amour’s education, but not at the hands of academics. He writes in Chapter 10, “We do not at present educate people to think, but rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different.” These are the words of a man that has learned to think, for himself and if this book is to be taken literally, from living a life on the road.

There are many tidbits of philosophical thought, wonderful stories of bar rooms and deserts and life on numerous ships, all (according to L’Amour) fodder for his books. If I were to guess, I would guess that this book was written late in his life. Not because of the timeline and experiences included, but because of the little thoughts peppered throughout.

L’Amour was evidently an avid reader and his love of books shows in his writing. Although one may not be a fan of his westerns (he wrote in on a few other topics as well), this book is well worth the read in order to get some insight into what is possible if we think outside of the box.

The Little Book of Atheist SpiritualityThe Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sponville considers himself to be an atheist but given the subject matter of this book, one that is searching for a useful definition of spirituality that will somehow “fit” is version of life without a belief in God/gods. Sponville tries to commit the concepts of spiritualism and atheism but the marriage seems a sham.

He writes, “Far from being an oxymoron, the notion of atheistic mysticism..then becomes self-evident, both as a concept and as a historically observable phenomenon, admittedly more so in the East than in the West.” (190). Sponville seems to define “mysticism” as curiosity, but this simply obscures the language. The argument seems to correlate atheism with a lack of curiosity concerning the unknown while at the same time using the unknown to justify mystical (spiritual) beliefs that he happens to lack.

The argument is not a new one, relegating science (proofs) as “relative” (189) without mentioning that the objects that proofs are relative to are important. Sponville offers up an argument that is illogical and irrational, but allows for such things because of how he defines the known and the unknown: mystical; something to be curious about.

From a philosophical/logical point of view, Sponville’s argument fails. However, from a literary point of view the book is beautifully written and an interesting read. Sponville is obviously a wordsmith (in a positive way). His style and perhaps his beliefs can be considered the other side of the C.S Lewis coin (fideism [Lewis] vs. agnosticism/weak atheism [Sponville]).

A nicely written little book with some great fodder for thought, but from a hard philosophical point of view, not to be taken very seriously.

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bob Woodward offers an insight into politics that very few other journalists seem to be able to do; his book on Trump is no different. The drama of politics is often what the public hears about and pays attention to. However, this book offers no television drama but rather the gory details of political processes, their importance, and how they’ve gone awry with the Trump administration.

There are many players and even more opportunities to bash and relegate to the trash bin the broken, the greedy, and outright evilness of Trump’s cabinet and Trump himself, but Woodward takes the high road. He writes, “The reality was that the [USA] in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader. Members of his staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.” (115)

This and continued drive to undermine governmental policies that create the space for a civilization to thrive, for the sake mass amounts of money, narcissism, nepotism, and the military-industrial complex make up the crux of Woodward’s book. However, make no mistake: Woodward does not make an evil facist leader out of Trump. Rather, indirect dealings with Trump through his cabinet and the ever-present generals make it seem that Trump is a nasty little boy with no idea what to do.

The title seems to refer to fear in a few different ways. First, there is the fear that Trump claims is the basis of power. Secondly, there is the fear of government officials that Trump will actually wreck the USA as a country (ironically the fear is shown by the generals the most). And finally, the fear of the general public shown either as anger (the Trump supporters) or as concerns for safety.

Woodward’s story is one of intrigue and drama within a collapsing government cabinet, one which eventually ends with the realization that the big problem is “The president [does] not understand the importance of allies overseas, the value of diplomacy or the relationship between the military, the economy and intelligence partnerships with foreign governments.” (218).

But Woodward leaves the reader a thought from John Dowd of the Trump cabinet that seems to sum up the issue behind the “big problem”: “[Trump] is a fucking liar.

If the reader is looking for an unadulterated bashing of Donald Trump this book will not offer that. But, if the reader is looking for an autobiographical insight into a governing administration incapable of governing because of one man, this book is for you.


The LawThe Law by Frédéric Bastiat

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Published in 1850 The Law is a treatise on liberties, freedom, and the ownership of property based upon the philosophical premise put forth by John Locke (a British empiricist) and others that mankind has natural rights (not dependent on laws or customs), and so are universal and above the laws of put forth by mankind. The gist is that God gave us these rights and these rights are clearly those that allow for free trade.

Bastiat writes, “Nature, or rather God, has bestow upon every one of us the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since these are the three constituent or preserving elements of life.” Bastiat is an early version of the now neoconservative and as such the book is interesting from an historical point of view.

If one adheres to such views, then Bastiat is simply superfluous other than from a purely historical standpoint. If one is against such views then Bastiat is a good example of the rhetoric used even today to support the idea that civilization is not incumbent upon an over-arching government.

The argument, as stated, is antiquated: since god is the overriding law of the universe, no law[s] made by man have the authority to limit or define freedoms etc… and only Christians (those who know the desires of God) understand that manifest destiny is justified through ownership and the freedom to trade goods.

The three-star rating is to be considered to apply to the historical significance of the book.

View all my reviews




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