Political additions to my 2019 book list

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finished two political books. They are being added to my 2019 book list.

And Yet… (2015) by Christopher Hitchens

COVER_1Published posthumously, this is either the second or third collection of Christopher Hitchens’ essays that I’ve read. I do believe that I found the others more interesting. It’s not that the writing is bad but they often failed to catch my attention. Partly this is because the topics he writes about are often far from those that I am familiar with. On the one hand, that does make reading them good for growing my general knowledge but, on the other, with no framework to fit them into, they fade far more quickly from my mind than other pieces that I have read.

Two of the essays did catch my eye; both written in 2008 and both attacking Hillary Clinton. I don’t think I was paying all that much attention to politics back then but it was interesting how the essays could just as easily have been published far more recently. But I guess a lot feels like it’s just repeating itself these days. This year sees a new Godzilla, a remake of Child’s Play and a new take on Spider Man. That’s not even mentioning Disney’s, completely unnecessary and unwanted, remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King.

There was a third essay that I found particularly interesting. All the way back in 2004, Hitchens wrote about how we should embrace partisan politics and mudslinging and he lamented how big issues were ignored because no one wanted to be controversial. Given the way politics has shifted now, particularly in the US, I couldn’t help wondering whether he would still encourage polarisation.

The Communist Manifesto (1848, translated 1888) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

COVER_2The Communist Manifesto was originally published in German in 1848 before being revised and translated many times but the 1888 translation is, apparently, the standard English version. As it is one of the most influential political works – and very short – I figured I really should read it. On the whole, I found it disappointing.

It’s written in a rather strange manner. I didn’t find most of it to be particularly clear or relevant, especially as it often addresses events and situations which were contemporary over 100 years ago. The overarching theme is still relevant but I didn’t feel that they really made their future desirable. At best I had reserved agreement with some of their points but the way it was all presented was quite off putting.

To me, it was a huge contrast with The Conquest of Bread where Peter Kropotkin outlined his ideas of anarchist communism. While there were certainly some areas that were not completely clear, his message was for more positive and the ideal world that he described seemed far more desirable than that of Marx and Engels.

Books about fantasy and reality

Two new books, one dealing with fantasy and the other with reality, added to my 2019 Book List.

Cover1Black Leopard Red Wolf (2019) by Marlon James

I originally heard of Black Leopard Red Wolf from a list of books to read in 2019. It sounded pretty cool; a fantasy story with an African setting, magic, shape-shifting and all that good stuff. It delivered in some respects but not in others and there were many odd things about it. It’s the first book in a trilogy but I am still conflicted over whether I will read the later books or not.

The best part of the book is that it’s familiar enough as a fantasy to easily get into it but different enough that it’s always interesting. It draws a lot from various African mythologies and I recognise some of the influences but not others. There are neither elves nor dwarfs but weird creatures that I haven’t seen before; like the impundulu, an anthropomorphic, lightning-shooting, vampiric bird, and omoluzu, strange creatures which attack from the ceilings of buildings.

The most negative part of the book is the way that it is written. I assume it’s a stylistic choice but it’s not one that really works for me. There is little explanation of unfamiliar terms and coarse vulgarity, often for little reason. Beyond that, the grammar is broken in many instances and, more often than not, detracts from, rather than adds to, the narrative. While I can think of many reasons why one would write in such a way, few of them seem to apply here and it takes a lot of getting used to.

cover2The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Started An Atheist Revolution (2019) by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris & Christopher Hitchens

Although published now in 2019, with a foreword by Stephan Fry and short introductory pieces by the remaining Horsemen, this is merely a transcript of the the only conversation that all four of these minds shared, which took place in 2007. There isn’t much more to it than that.

It is not as deep as any of their books but will at least serve as a reminder of the whole atheism debate and the questions it raised after the events of 11 September 2001 tragically reminded the world that religion could, and still continues, to inspire people to kill for their beliefs. In the conversation, The Horsemen cover questions such as how the universe was created, is there any value to faith, why is evidence important and are some religions simply worse than others.

Other than a reminder, there is little new to be gained here. However, I think it is a great addition to anyone’s library for its historical value. As Penn Jillette’s quote on the back of the book says, “This conversation is as good a place as any to mark the start of the Atheist revolution.” That said, I would recommend watching and listening to the conversation rather than reading it.

2019 Book List

A new year means a new set of books. As in 2017 and 2018, I am recording the books that I read; partly for my own record and partly that it might help someone else find a book that sounds interesting.

24/03/2019 Added Black Leopard Red Wolf and The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Started An Atheist Revolution.

06/05/2019 Added In A Dog’s World and The Time He Desires.

27/05/2019 Added And Yet… and The Communist Manifesto.

27/09/2019 Added Dissident Signals and A Plea For The Animals

28/12/2019 Added On Anarchism and Anarchism: A Beginner’s Guide

21 Lessons For The 21st Century (2018) by Yuval Noah Harari

Book1I got this one for Christmas. It’s a collection of essays, written by an Israeli historian, covering various topics, including truth, religion, terrorism, equality, war and education. Nearly all of the essays are interesting and raise many questions worth pondering. It’s a lot shorter on answers than questions but it certainly stimulates the mind.

One of the major topics that bothers him is what will happen when big data/AI and biotech combine. He sees the merger of the fields as likely creating an inequality that can’t easily be overcome. He fears that the wealth concentrated in the hands of a few will allow them to modify their biology to be superior while AI and robots will mean that workers are unnecessary making the masses functionally and politically irrelevant. Aside from that there are many other great essays on important topics, such as how the current rise of nationalism is fundamentally incapable of tackling issues like climate change which affect many and require a widespread, co-ordinated response. Continue reading