Thursday, October 20, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Writing 01

Act One. Moss Hart. The making of a popular playwright.

Autobiography of Mark Twain. Written at a time when America was young and optimistic. But Twain’s autobiography reflects his cynicism and, in the end, a preoccupation with Death, the Deliverer.

 Booknotes. Brian Lamb, Ed. On C-Span, Brian Lamb interviewed authors of nonfiction. He would have nothing to do with fiction. Question that Brian Lamb asked the authors: Where do you write? Do you use a computer? How did you research this? What first got you interested in writing about this? How did you get a publisher’s attention? How long did it take you to write it?

The Writer’s Book. Helen Hull, Ed. An anthology of thoughts on writing—and reading—by a variety of writers.

The Writer’s Chapbook. George Plimpton, Ed. A chapbook is a short book with short entries. The Writer’s Chapbook is a book by writers on writing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 03

The Great Crash: 1929. John Kenneth Galbraith. If bankers and financiers had read this book, the great housing bubble of the 1990s and 2000s might not have happened.

The True Believer. Eric Hoffer. Hoffer, a well-read longshoreman, among other skid-row professions, has thought deeply about mass movements and seems to put those thoughts on paper in a random fashion. What’s missing is transitions from one paragraph to another. However, the ideas are connected. The reader has to make the connections. In his opinion, “True Believers” are frustrated people who seek to lose their personalities in a cause, any cause, for which they are willing to do anything, even give their lives. Hoffer explores the many implications of this type of personality.

V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During WWII John Morton Blum. Politics did not disappear in World War II. Blum discusses how war was sold to Americans. Propaganda was used to produce positive popular images of our own fighting men, our allies and the enemy.

Bring Out Your Dead. J.H. Powell. The anatomy of a crisis. How this particular crisis—the yellow-fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793—was dealt with. It was not resolved by human effort, but by nature’s change of seasons, the frost, that killed the real culprit, the mosquito. But to some degree the crisis was dealt with by human beings, especially the mayor of Philadelphia, Matthew Clarkson, who faced urgent problems and made decisions.

Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Do you think every Muslim is a potential terrorist? Do you agree with the bumper sticker that says, “Nuke ‘em All—Let Allah Sort them Out”? Then you need to read this book. You need to become familiar with the moderate Muslims, the Muslims who live in the mountains of Pakistan, impoverished illiterate people who don’t have any chance for an education, except for the schools for boys, the madrassas, schools that teach terrorism. This book changed my attitude toward Muslims.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 02

Minority Report: HL Mencken's Notebooks. If you have not read something by H.L. Mencken, you have missed one of the truly memorable misanthropes in civilization, who wrote in a style that infuriated most of his readers. He is a wall-to-wall critic of almost everything to be encountered in American society in his own day and today, and each of his shafts brings from readers the response, “Damn it, he’s right!” Well, half-right anyway.

 Selling Sickness. Ray Monihan and Alan Cassels. Ordinary people with common complaints are being turned into patients by pharmaceutical companies who market drugs through doctors and directly to consumers.

 The Road Ahead. William H Gates, III. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, predicts the changes in the world that will happen because of the computer and the Internet—in 1995. He is almost dead right. “ There will be a day, not far distant, when you will be able to conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up any great entertainment, make friends, attend neighborhood markets and show pictures to distant relatives—without leaving your desk or armchair.”

Solitude: A Return to Self. Anthony Storr. An in-depth analysis of the nature and uses of solitude. Interesting anecdotes. However, the author concludes that happiness comes from both personal interrelationships as well as  solitude. Took a whole book to arrive at what appears to be plain common sense.

 Some Good in the World: A Life of Purpose. Edward J. Pyszek with Jake Morgan.  This book, little known, perhaps, outside of the Philadelphia, Pa, area and possibly in Poland, is the great American success story. Emphasis on “life of purpose.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 01

Walden Two. BF Skinner. The message of the book: organize society using positive reinforcement.

Eros and Civilization. Herbert Marcuse. This book offers an alternative view of society in which instincts are not repressed, in which the energy from the instincts is not sublimated to labor but spreads to the full development of the individual’s potentialities.

Future Shock. Alvin Toffler. People are overwhelmed by change and acceleration of change. Future shock: Too much change into short a time.

A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. David Wolman. If you’re not left-handed, you have probably not given the topic of left-handedness much thought. “Gauche,” “sinister,” “left-handed compliment,” “maladroit”: The English language has not been very kind to left-handers. So our author, a left-hander, decided to explore the phenomenon of left-handedness.

Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. Isaiah Berlin. We can learn some things from Karl Marx. “Denunciation of Communist doctrine has become commonplace in America, but thoughtful examination of Communist philosophy is rare.”

 On Aggression. Konrad Lorenz. The author claims to have studied aggressive behavior in animals and to have drawn conclusions from their behavior that might help humans to control the aggressive instinct.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Science 02

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. Lewis Thomas. This book by Lewis Thomas, a physician, is a series of essays consisting of ideas and reflections about medicine and a range of other topics. An idea from this book I have never forgotten: After death, where do all the consciousnesses go?

Microbe Hunters. Paul DeKruif. The stories in this book are about known and unknown scientific heroes of humanity. They are distinct personalities. Sometimes they doggedly worked to achieve their goals and sometimes they achieved them by accident. Paul DeKruif, the author of these biographies of scientists, has an engaging style of writing. Your eyes will fly over the pages of this book.

 Out of Chaos. Louis J. Halle. Explains the apparent contradiction between accident in the foundations of matter and order in its developed form, between molecules bounding from one to another like pin-balls and a full-gown human being. A work that unites the two cultures, science and art. In science, history and contemporary affairs, the closer our perspective, the more chaotic things appear to be; the wider and broader our perspective, the more ordered things appear to be.

The Schweitzer Album: A Portrait in Words and Pictures. Erica Anderson. Schweitzer was a remarkable person. The essence of Dr. Schweitzer’s life and thought was respect and reverence for all life. He believed that the idea of reverence for life is spread from person to person not through the mass media. All life is one. The good preserves and supports life; evil destroys or injures life.  Everything that lives is related to us.

A Random Walk in Science: An Anthology. Compiled by RI Weber. Ed. By E. Mendoza. Despite the humorous items, there is a fairly serious intent to this book. The 133 selections record some changing attitudes within science and mirror the interactions of science with society.  There are anecdotes about noted scientists, items of historical interest, and articles showing the often bizarre ways in which scientific theories are brought into being. Before you take science too seriously, you need to read this anthology. Parts of it are very, very funny.

 The Universe and Dr. Einstein. Lincoln Barnett. Haven’t you always wondered about what Einstein said concerning the universe? Well, after reading this book, you probably  won’t be able to talk about it at cocktail parties, but Barnett does shed light on Einstein’s ideas. And after you have read even these highlights, you will be struck again with the wonder of the universe in which we live and the intelligence of the One who created it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Science 01

The Double Helix. James D. Watson. “Crick and Watson merged data from chemistry, physics and biology to solve the structure of DNA, building a hypothetical model….” From the dust jacket.

 Day One: Before Hiroshima and After. Peter Wyden. Vivid account of the problems in communication that occurred on America’s way to developing the atomic bomb and of the effects of the bomb on the people of Hiroshima.

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity. Roy Porter. A history of medicine from the clearly defined conviction of the Hippocratic oath to the muddy ethical dilemmas of modern-day medicine.

The Immense Journey. Loren Eiseley. Series of essays concerned with the meaning of evolution. Eiseley views evolution as a continuing process, continuing to change to become—who knows what? Men and women as they are now will not be the men and women of the far future. We are working out what we are going to be. JW Krutch: “We think of ourselves as the climax of evolution, but we may be hardly more than its beginning.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Religion

Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II confronts the most persistent questions about religion, including, “Why does God permit suffering?”

 Penséees. Blaise Pascal. The first half of Pascal’s Pensées is profound. At one point, I considered Pascal’s Pensées to be the counterpoint to Islam’s Koran, “the only book needed in the world.” The second half of the book, arguing that the Catholic Church is the answer to the conundrums and dilemmas of humanity, is interesting, but less profound.

Under the Banner of Heaven. Jon Krakauer. A study in extremism. While this book is primarily about Mormon fundamentalists (read, believers in polygamy, which mainstream Mormons do not accept today), it is also a history of Mormonism. Hard to believe that people would be credulous enough to accept Joseph Smith’s account of the Angel Moroni and the golden plates which he translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics by means of magic glasses and a magic stone. But, along with Islam, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing world religions. Mormon fundamentalists believe that God gives his orders directly to  individuals and this leads to often bizarre behavior.