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Author Topic: Book Thread. What are you reading?  (Read 3392 times)

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #420 on: July 14, 2018, 02:08:04 pm »
I'm currently 2/3rds of the way through Atlas Shrugged. Honestly, I've never read anything quite like this before.

This woman is deranged.
The protagonist, the author, or both?

I was referring to my good friend Mrs. Rand. I liked The Fountainhead, but I think the scope of this one is to its disadvantage. I'm in the middle of the conclusion right now, which is a 60-page speech. Still, I think a lot of the descriptions of societal collapse are vivid and arguably prescient.

After your earlier declaration of love for The Fountainhead, I was about 50-50 on whether or not this would prove too much. For someone who hasn't read, can you elaborate on the "arguably prescient"?

The villains in the story are corrupt government stooges who write vague, undefined regulations so that people will break them, and then their goons can swoop in and seize property willy-nilly. I think a lot of anti-trust laws these days are too vague, and there's no doubt that they're selectively enforced. The book seems to be more anti-corruption than anti-government at some points, and it argues against the disturbing fusion of the private and public sectors we've been seeing as of late. I'm sure Rand would've said "I told you so" if she knew that insurance companies were literally writing their own industry's regulations.

Still... the part where she loaded up a train with innocent people, suffocated them, and blew them up, and then said "they had it coming" because of their support of big government... was... slightly mean-spirited.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #421 on: July 16, 2018, 01:49:37 am »
Finished the book.

First, the good:

1) Despite her tendency to go on and on at times, Rand has a great knack for metaphor, magical realism, and imagery. The descriptions of the collapsing society are long-winded, but almost always captivating. Things fall to pieces very gradually, mimicking how these things happen in real life (socialism always works in the beginning, when there's still a lot of wealth to seize). One great line stood out to me: "The inhabitants of New York had never had to be aware of the weather. Storms had been only a nuisance that slowed the traffic and made puddles in the doorways of brightly lit shops... Now, facing the gusts of snow that came sweeping down the narrow streets, people felt in dim terror that they were the temporary intruders and that the wind had the right-of-way."

2) The mystery is built up expertly. Lots of fake-outs, which get hilariously irritating-- they just make you want to read more. When the origin of the phrase "Who is John Galt" gets revealed, I had some serious goosebumps. In the last third of the book, the pieces start to fall together intricately, and in a satisfying way.

3) For all I've heard about how unrealistic and silly the book is, I can't put my finger on why it feels silly. It sure does seem ludicrous at times, but I'm waiting on the argument that empirically proves that. Some people say it's ridiculous to imagine a situation where incompetent fools seize control of a country's agriculture, killing millions in a massive famine... except that happened in China. Some people say it's silly to imagine a country where the best and brightest are persecuted because they are the best and brightest... except that happened in Cambodia. Some people claim that it's insane to say that corrupt bureaucrats who are impotent and inept in every aspect of their lives could rise to power in a country, plundering the nation's wealth for themselves and killing those who protest their rule... except that happened in Russia. I think that, without the context of communism, the book seems pretty dumb to a lot of people. I guess they'll learn just how realistic it is one way or another.

The most ridiculous part of the book is easily the "strike" itself, where the nation's most productive individuals fuck off to Colorado while everything decays behind them. But this is just a description of the brain drain, only with a little magical realism. Rand even accounts for this by making every nation in the world a socialist "democracy," which leaves smart people with nowhere to run. Yeah, it's exaggerated... but it's got one foot in the realm of possibility.

4) A great lead character. Why is Dagny Taggart-- a genius railway executive who constantly outshines her talentless brother-- not considered a feminist icon? Maybe it's because Rand also uses her as a channel to work through her demented sexual predilections. Still, despite a few eyebrow-raising sex scenes, I found this character compelling as hell. Like all of Rand's characters, she's an archetype and an exaggeration, but I appreciated her ruthless competence and cutting wit.

5) Rand showed incredible foresight in mocking her detractors. Her critics (who have never read her works) call her "anti-social," "psychopathic," and "egotistical," which ironically makes them sound like villains in one of her stories. This creates a feedback loop in which those who critique her fulfill her prophecies. This woman was a legit troll, and as a fellow troll, I find this whole situation funny.

Now the bad:

1) Given the existence of global warming, the book hasn't aged well. It literally ends with a judge writing a new amendment to the constitution, stating that congress shall pass no law restricting free enterprise. Really, Ayn? No law at all? So those people drinking flammable fracking water in Oklahoma have no legal recourse in your perfect world? I don't think the woman grasped the concept of unintentional externalities (as evidenced by her love of cigarettes). If she'd known about climate change, she'd probably think it was awesome.

2) A distinct lack of unique characters. Every "good" (see: selfish) character is handsome/beautiful, confident, and completely without any self-doubt. Every "bad" character has a loathsome, ugly name (Wesley Mouch), and the various bureaucrats are generally indistinguishable from one another. There are a few notable exceptions, but I think there are a lot more facets to human nature that Rand didn't bother to explore here. When a worldview boils everything down to a "two kinds of people" theory, you know it's flawed. Also, in the entire US, there is apparently only one person capable of running a bank, one person capable of mining coal, one person capable of manufacturing cars, etc. It seems extremely half-assed.

3) A sixty-page speech. This comes right before the last hundred pages of the book, and makes the conclusion feel rushed in comparison. Hey Ayn, did you know that speeches of this length are indicative of megalomania? You and Qaddafi would have been best buds. I feel no shame in saying that I skipped this part (it's the only part of the book I did this with).

4) Going off of point number two, no characters change. In Rand's world, changing is seen as a weakness, and I somewhat agree-- but one should always alter their worldview based on contradictory facts (though not based on contradictory opinions). If a villainous "looter" character had seen the error in his ways at the end, that might've made Rand's tent a little more inclusive. But I don't think she has any interest in reaching across the aisle, as evidenced by her statement that "the midpoint between right and wrong is evil." As it is, the villains do ultimately see their own errors, though by that point they're essentially beyond saving. One character, an industrialist, does go through a change-- he learns to be less generous. ayy lmao

5) Despite some predicative power, the book conjures up some caricatures that are just patently ridiculous-- not the least of which is the preeminent scientist who denounces reason. 1000 pages later, and I'm still not sure what Rand was trying to say with that character.

6) The most conclusive argument against Objectivism appears to be its followers. Rand herself testified against communists for McCarthy-- a sin I can almost forgive, considering her personal history. Paul Ryan is a Rand-lover who appears to have no understanding of insurance, health care, or government in general. Donald Trump says he read The Fountainhead, a dubious claim at best, given that the book is well beyond his attention span of 140 characters. And perhaps most damningly, Alan Greenspan was a close friend of Rand's-- the same Alan Greenspan who would shoulder much of the blame for the deregulation and subsequent collapse of the financial sector. None of this has any bearing on the quality of the book, which is still a compelling piece of fiction, but I feel it's worth noting before anyone starts to think I'm a disciple of Rand.

------------------------------------

Overall, I'm glad I've delved into these books, and I'd happily recommend them. In the pantheon of philosophers I've read, I don't think there's any question that Rand has had a far more positive impact on the world than most of them. Why my philosophy class studied an absolute hack like Immanuel Kant instead of her... I have no idea. I think it's important for people to read at least some of her writing, not only to understand her influence, but also to hear a rational, moral defense of capitalism.

Next, I'm thinking I'll read the Koran or the Communist Manifesto just to shake things up. I'm having fun reading these older works and thinking about how they've influenced the world we live in.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #422 on: July 29, 2018, 08:47:19 pm »
Been reading some Marx lately. I find it funny how nostalgic he seems for feudalism at times.

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #423 on: August 28, 2018, 12:12:21 am »
Reading Oedipus Rex for AP Lit. Finding it a bit dry but well paced thus far.

Iím also reading parts of The Power of Myth for Philosophy. Thereís a lot to unpack here, but I like it so far.

Robert Neville

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #424 on: September 07, 2018, 05:24:13 pm »
Been reading some Marx lately. I find it funny how nostalgic he seems for feudalism at times.

Interestingly, just found a compilation of 45 letters Marx wrote to his family; intentionally or not, it also cost 45 Soviet kopeks. I'll start reading it as soon as I finish a biography of Prokofiev, and will get back to you with that once I have a feel for it. (Along with the other big arguments-in-waiting on this board. I kept thinking there would be new developments in the Alex Jones thing, for instance, but it seems to have quietened down for good. While I find some of what you all wrote on the matter pretty hilarious in hindsight, nothing matches the editorials in the Russian patriotic press trying to whitewash him.)

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #425 on: September 07, 2018, 05:29:55 pm »
Been reading some Marx lately. I find it funny how nostalgic he seems for feudalism at times.

Interestingly, just found a compilation of 45 letters Marx wrote to his family; intentionally or not, it also cost 45 Soviet kopeks. I'll start reading it as soon as I finish a biography of Prokofiev, and will get back to you with that once I have a feel for it. (Along with the other big arguments-in-waiting on this board. I kept thinking there would be new developments in the Alex Jones thing, for instance, but it seems to have quietened down for good. While I find some of what you all wrote on the matter pretty hilarious in hindsight, nothing matches the editorials in the Russian patriotic press trying to whitewash him.)


For my part, I just finished Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince. Good read.
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Charles Longboat Jr.

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #426 on: September 12, 2018, 04:59:38 pm »
Rented All the Pretty Horses from the library, as Iím reading it for AP Human Geo and need some books to use for one of the eventual AP Lit exam essays.

The One Who Lurks

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #427 on: September 17, 2018, 10:52:30 pm »
Realized that there was a collection released for all the Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith short stories.

Figured it was as good an excuse as any to go through the series again.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #428 on: September 18, 2018, 12:44:22 am »
Currently reading Machiavelli. Interesting to see how much he influenced the philosophy of realpolitik. His chapter on whether it's better to be loved or feared is frighteningly accurate.

Kale Pasta

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #429 on: September 18, 2018, 11:09:40 pm »
Currently reading Machiavelli. Interesting to see how much he influenced the philosophy of realpolitik. His chapter on whether it's better to be loved or feared is frighteningly accurate.
I read The Prince last year in a political theory class, it's actually a pretty fascinating piece.

Charles Longboat Jr.

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #430 on: September 19, 2018, 04:46:00 pm »
I am in need of a book to use for my senior paper. If you guys had some recommendations I would appreciate them.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #431 on: September 19, 2018, 10:24:36 pm »
I am in need of a book to use for my senior paper. If you guys had some recommendations I would appreciate them.

The Fountainhead.

Charles Longboat Jr.

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #432 on: September 20, 2018, 07:44:18 pm »
I am in need of a book to use for my senior paper. If you guys had some recommendations I would appreciate them.

The Fountainhead.
That might be a bit too long based on what Iíve heard.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #433 on: September 21, 2018, 02:25:21 am »
I am in need of a book to use for my senior paper. If you guys had some recommendations I would appreciate them.

The Fountainhead.
That might be a bit too long based on what Iíve heard.

It'll go by fast. Trust me.

Robert Neville

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #434 on: September 21, 2018, 03:12:37 pm »
I am in need of a book to use for my senior paper. If you guys had some recommendations I would appreciate them.

If you want an alternate recommendation, I would suggest Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection. It is the last of his three great novels, and is substantially less well-known than either Anna Karenina or War and Peace. In Russia, the last two are part of a mandatory school literature course, but this one is not. Nevertheless, I just started reading it (about a quarter of the way through by now) and it is still great literature as far as I am concerned.

Even within its first hundred pages, there's a lot of food for thought. In particular, his views on the military are fairly unique today, though it's debatable if he would have had the same opinion of the modern soldiers as the one he had of the 19th Century Guard Corps. And of course, its depiction of our 1880s provides a lot of arguments on both sides of the 1917 Revolution/"Great October" debate.

Robert Neville

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #435 on: September 21, 2018, 04:10:14 pm »
Been reading some Marx lately. I find it funny how nostalgic he seems for feudalism at times.

Interestingly, just found a compilation of 45 letters Marx wrote to his family; intentionally or not, it also cost 45 Soviet kopeks. I'll start reading it as soon as I finish a biography of Prokofiev, and will get back to you with that once I have a feel for it. (Along with the other big arguments-in-waiting on this board. I kept thinking there would be new developments in the Alex Jones thing, for instance, but it seems to have quietened down for good. While I find some of what you all wrote on the matter pretty hilarious in hindsight, nothing matches the editorials in the Russian patriotic press trying to whitewash him.)


For my part, I just finished Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince. Good read.

So, I finished that Marx's letters anthology today, before starting Tolstoy's Resurrection. Of course, it's best read alongside Das Kapital and Communist Manifesto, and is of limited significance on its own. Still, some points of interest:

1) Marx was most definitely the man of the idea, for good and ill. As such, even though his family obviously wasn't poor at first (him stemming from the middle-class, while his wife was actually a noblewoman), they became so once they invested everything into a workers' newspaper, only for it to be closed by the German powers a few months later, and him deported.

Afterwards, while in the London exile, he apparently read more 1500 economic books, articles and the rest, as a preparation to finishing his own works, doing so by night while being one of the key managers of one of the International unions of the time by day. The flipside is that this meant he didn't get a paying job as a journalist (for one of the progressive New York newspapers) until three of his young children died of illnesses. Moreover, his own health was also damaged to the point his letters in the last few years are all about the lung illnesses that ultimately killed him.

2) I didn't really find much in those letters that would suggest the fondness for feudalism. (Then again, USSR agencies might have had simply omitted any letters that did.) Though, one of his pet names for his wife and daughters was to call them by the names of Chinese emperors.

3) Speaking of which, he mentions in passing a report by the French economists outlining the benefits of cheap Chinese labour for Europe - in 1880s. Just shows that some economic trends are less recent than some may think.

4) He had also mentioned the invention of a coal-cutting machine in the USA as a tool that would ease the miners' lives and potentially reduce their number. Interestingly, he praised it, as one of the ways in which USA could diminish the power of UK, which he felt was the heart of capitalism at the time.

5) He also mentioned that UK and us (he used the term "Moscovia" for some reason) are the two pillars of the European capitalist system and expected that revolutions will soon occur in both of them. He was certainly half-right - however, he qualified it with "a revolution appropriate for their (ours) stage of development" (or some variation of this), which seems to suggest he expected little more than the creation of a more Western European republic (i.e. a successful version of the February Revolution), and never thought it would become the vanguard of his principles instead.

This chimes with what I have recently been reading in a Russian opposition-minded outlet "Rosbalt", whose authors mentioned once that not only did the original Bolsheviks expect the revolution to happen in the developed Western countries first (I already knew that Lenin once said "Revolution is still worth fighting for even if only our grandchildren will see it", just a short while before his ascension), but many actively resented the arrival of former peasants to the cities, which they thought diluted their entire revolutionary atmosphere, being more interested in the immediate country than spreading the revolution. (Of course, Stalin understood those former peasants well, and so he allowed thousands of those to join the party right after Lenin's death, and then used them to eliminate the original Bolsheviks and transition to "socialism in a single separate country".)

6) While it's shouldn't be a surprise to pretty much anyone not close to the alt-right, I may as well restate that he clearly never thought of himself as Jewish. His sole reference to it is when he criticises a newspaper review of Kapital for suggesting his "racial origins" made it difficult for him to marry, denying this ever played a role. Earlier letter refers to the "chosen people" with a clear irony, a describes a "typical Jewish face" of a rich elderly woman in pretty unflattering terms.

7) His youngest daughter married Paul Lafarge, a French person with some African ancestry. While early letters often make amused references to it, later on he predictably stopped caring, only once mentioning that "he [Paul] should be pleased by Grant appointing the first "black" diplomatic representative". He also stayed in the French Algiers for a few months late in life (since warm climate was meant to help his lungs), and his views on that colonialism appear ambivalent. One one hand, he ironically mentioned "the "civilised" French and the dumb Englishmen" alongside the native Algierians, both Arab and African. On the other, he also mentioned that many of the black Algerians were slaves of the Arabs before the French arrived.

8) The first included letter of Marx, written to his father when he was 19, is also by far the longest, and full  of some insane purple prose. The first few letters between him and his wife are also like this, but it soon receded to "normal". It reminded me a lot of some excerpts of Hegel I once saw quoted ironically, and he may well have been under his influence at the time. (After all, "Dialectical Materialism" certainly draws from "Hegellian Dialectics".)

Charles Longboat Jr.

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #436 on: September 26, 2018, 01:28:01 am »
I am in need of a book to use for my senior paper. If you guys had some recommendations I would appreciate them.

If you want an alternate recommendation, I would suggest Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection. It is the last of his three great novels, and is substantially less well-known than either Anna Karenina or War and Peace. In Russia, the last two are part of a mandatory school literature course, but this one is not. Nevertheless, I just started reading it (about a quarter of the way through by now) and it is still great literature as far as I am concerned.

Even within its first hundred pages, there's a lot of food for thought. In particular, his views on the military are fairly unique today, though it's debatable if he would have had the same opinion of the modern soldiers as the one he had of the 19th Century Guard Corps. And of course, its depiction of our 1880s provides a lot of arguments on both sides of the 1917 Revolution/"Great October" debate.
It definitely seems interesting, though given that weíre supposed to synthesize relatively contemporary academic writings on the books in question in parts of our essay, and Iíve heard that on this side of the global pond academia has not spent as much time examining Tolstoy (and I would assume that itís more obscure reputation compared to his masterpieces would make it difficult to find analysis for too). I will definitely keep it in mind, though - I really need to start reading receationally again.

Aside from that, Iíve narrowed down to the following (some of which I will try to read in my spare time/as ammunition for one of the essays on the AP Lit exam) so far:

Brave New World (so far the front runner even if I canít help but feel that senior papers on dystopians are a bit cliched).
The Crucible
The Fountainhead (as per Tutís recommendation, though the length is daunting)
One Flew Over The Cuckooís Nest (less priority for me than the other three but given that it was removed from the English department at my schoolís curriculum I could read it; that said more recent academic essays focus on the movie more than anything).

Iíll probably have to peruse some segments of each before I commit to one.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #437 on: September 26, 2018, 08:47:23 pm »
Hey Longboat, if you pick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you can have the paper I wrote on it in high school. Got the highest grade in the class.

Charles Longboat Jr.

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #438 on: September 26, 2018, 11:05:48 pm »
Hey Longboat, if you pick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you can have the paper I wrote on it in high school. Got the highest grade in the class.
Thatís been on my reading list for a while. However, I refuse to plagiarize.

Tut

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #439 on: September 26, 2018, 11:40:42 pm »
Hey Longboat, if you pick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you can have the paper I wrote on it in high school. Got the highest grade in the class.
Thatís been on my reading list for a while. However, I refuse to plagiarize.

Actually, I think I wrote it in class by hand, so that would've been impossible anyway. Good book, though. I recommend.

 

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