What I’ve been reading

by on May 15, 2017 at 12:41 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. David Der-Wei Wang, editor.  A New Literary History of Modern China.  Almost one thousand pages, and aren’t edited volumes so often poison?  Still, these short, collated excerpts provide one of the most useful and readable entry points into modern Chinese intellectual history; this will be making my “year’s best” list.  Every year you should be reading multiple books about China, all of you.  Here is a sentence from the work, from Andrea Bachner: “In a brothel in Singapore at the beginning of the twentieth century, a quaint Chinese intellectual (reminiscent of Wang) immersed in the project of writing a new Dream of the Red Chamber in oracle bone script on turtle shells inspires an English visitor to dream of creating a novel superior to Ulysses, tattooed on the backs of coolie laborers.”

2. Richard O. Prum, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — And Us.  The word “forgotten” is misleading in the title, but nonetheless an excellent look at how signaling theories work when the signal is distributed across a quality that is neither useful nor especially burdensome and costly.  In other words, it’s not all about the peacock’s tail.  The result is aesthetic beauty, and competition across that beauty for its own sake.  This book offers an excellent and clearly written treatment of the particulars of avian evolution, signaling theory, and also aesthetics, bringing together some disparate areas very effectively.

3. Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu.  A strong collection, with two stories by Cixin Liu.  Here is a new article on Chinese science fiction.

4. Thomas Hardy, Unexpected Elegies: “Poems of 1912-1913” and Other Poems About Emma.  Some of Hardy’s best poetic work, it mixes “passion, memory, love, remorse, regret, self-awareness and self-flagellation…to serve a speech of intense emotional candor, all in celebration of his dead (and for many years estranged) wife, Emma,” by one account.

There is a new, expanded edition of Amartya Sen’s Collective Choice and Social Welfare, still the best place to go for his views on normative economics.

Robert Wright’s new book is Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.  I am not sure how amenable Buddhism is to bookish treatment, and furthermore the word “true” makes me nervous in this title (“useful”?), but still this book reaches a local maximum of sorts.  If you want a book from a smart Westerner defending Buddhism, this is it.

1 Sarah May 15, 2017 at 2:58 am

First to get cucked

2 The Cuckmeister-General May 15, 2017 at 5:55 am

Well I AM the Cuckmeister. But in addition to being a Cuckmeister I am also a General and It’s the job of a General to BY GOD get things done!

Now each and everyone one of you who post or read this blog is also a cuckold but at least I rose up the ranks.

3 dan1111 May 15, 2017 at 4:57 am

“still this book reaches a local maximum of sorts.”

Talk about damning with faint praise! Sheesh!

This phrase made me laugh. Not quite LOL, but almost. Still, on a Monday morning, it counts as a local maximum.

4 Anonymous May 15, 2017 at 11:05 am

Only a local maxima, but only 5£ at this link:

http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/Why-Buddhism-is-True/Robert-Wright/9781439195475

(local maxima can be good, mt whitney is nice)

5 Anonymous May 15, 2017 at 11:52 am

This spurred me to listen to:

https://youtu.be/AgDsviQjy8Q

Lots of stuff I didn’t know, confirmed by my friend raised in the SE Asian tradition.

6 simon May 15, 2017 at 5:43 am

I have always enjoyed Wright’s writing but he has a high benchmark to excess in Sam Harris’ Waking Up. I would highly recommend that book to anyone interested in meditation.

7 rayward May 15, 2017 at 6:11 am

Wikipedia describes Robert Wright as a journalist and scholar who writes about science, evolutionary psychology, history, religion, and game theory. He’s also the creator of Bloggingheads.tv. From this one might conclude that Wright is the most interesting man in the world. I very much enjoyed The Evolution of God, which is a contradiction (since He always was). The title of his new book continues the use of a contradiction: what is true? A lesson I learned from The Evolution of God is that the spread of Christianity facilitated the growth of trade: a common religion promoted the trust that is the foundation for trade. I suppose from that book one could add economist to the Wikipedia description. My observation is that Wright is the common man’s expert, which of course is a contradiction. Indeed, Wright has redefined what it means to be an “expert”. Fans of Bloggingheads.tv will remember that it was the platform that helped make Megan McArdle an “expert” in economics. Same goes for Mickey Kaus (Mickey who?). What is an “expert”? We may not all be Keynesians now, but we are all experts now. The subject of economics is the perfect subject for our time. Unlike math and physics and such, economics means all things to all people. Everyone can be an expert because everyone can be right. Or Wright.

8 dearieme May 15, 2017 at 6:41 am

“The various modes of worship … were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.”

9 shrikanthk May 15, 2017 at 9:24 am

Gibbon!

10 Various Artists May 15, 2017 at 11:46 am

From what I can tell Buddhism is a good antidote to this in that it isn’t a form of worship.

I like Ethan Nichtern’s “The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path.”

11 Pithlord May 15, 2017 at 2:08 pm

If by “Buddhism” you mean “beliefs of educated Westerners who read something by Sam Harris or Steven Batchelor once”, then you might have a point that it isn’t about worship. If you are talking about the actual world religion, then this portrays a level of ignorance that could be corrected by literally reading anything on the subject.

12 Evans_KY May 15, 2017 at 6:46 am

2. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/how-beauty-evolves/525741/

The feminization of everything really does hurt boys.

🙂

13 Believe it! May 15, 2017 at 8:17 am

As an addition to this list I highly recommend a book called The Gorilla Mindset by Michael Cernovich, America’s leading mindset expert. I feel it would help a lot of the commenters here help maintain emotional control.

14 Peter Metrinko May 15, 2017 at 9:24 am

Thomas Hardy considered himself a poet more than a novelist and he was right. I read one of his plodding novels and was not impressed. I head a few Hardy poems in an Oxford anthology of poetry and curious, bought a collection of his poems. Terrific. Read something like The House of Hospitalilties https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-house-of-hospitalities/ The poetry is direct, emotional, with wonderful use of the English language.

15 dearieme May 15, 2017 at 9:55 am

Thank you, I enjoyed that. The theme is reminiscent of Lamb’s.
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44519

16 Nigel May 15, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Anyone who’s read Harry’s novels will know him as a miserable ****er.

The poetry is rather better, but does not disabuse one of that notion.

17 efim polenov May 17, 2017 at 11:53 pm

Hardy is the kind of guy who would thrive in today’s world. Fell in love with his wife, fell out of love, had a loveless marriage, she died, he fell back in love with her and wrote immortal poetry about her. Virginia Woolf, who I have recently found out is a lot more interesting than I thought, said that spending an hour in the Hardy household would tell you more than a thousand hours reading biographies of the man. Was that a compliment? Maybe, but most likely neither a compliment nor a criticism. Well at least he inspired some good observations among people disposed to like him. The first few chapters of The Mayor of Casterbridge are really good at expressing the passage of time – if you like Orson Welles movies, or Jacques Tourneur or John Ford movies, those first few chapters will remind you of what it is like to be human and to be reminded how strange and sad and privileged it is to be one of us and to notice the passage of time.

18 Butler T. Reynolds May 15, 2017 at 10:19 am

“Every year you should be reading multiple books about China, all of you.”

Why? (serious question, not trying to be flippant)

Some of us who read slowly and infrequently have to be selective about the books we choose to crack open. Beyond the obvious answers that there are 1.3 billion Chinese and they make a lot of stuff, why would reading about China be any more beneficial or interesting to the average guy like me than reading about Brazil, Sweden, or Germany?

I’m sure that learning about China would have a lot of “interesting” and “I did not know that” moments. But, so would a lot of other topics. I’m not against it, I’m just looking for motivation.

19 stmc May 15, 2017 at 10:26 am

Sort of a follow-up, does anyone have an introductory-ish reading list to get started on China?

20 Todd K May 15, 2017 at 1:00 pm

I think I was pretty typical by starting with Jonathon Spence’s “In Search of Modern China” and have gotten a lot out of reading it twice and listening to it once. It’s 900 pages long and as someone wrote: “it’s a text that reads like a novel.”

If interested in lectures on China, I thought “From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History” was also good. 18 hours of lectures from The Teaching Company. The cheapest used 18 CDs are $21.00 at Amazon.

21 dearieme May 15, 2017 at 5:49 pm

‘“Every year you should be reading multiple books about China, all of you.”

Why? (serious question, not trying to be flippant)’

Because after you’ve read one, in a couple of hours you want to read another.

22 Anonymous May 15, 2017 at 10:58 am

Two links on confirmation bias and cognition.

Confirmation Bias Isn’t a Bug, It’s Operator Error


“Motivated ignorance” is ruining our political discourse

Funny experiment at the second link. I doubt many MR readers would fail the test. Everybody here expects contrary opinion.

23 amartya sen May 15, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Trade may be concomitant with developing freedom, but because it belongs to the triclinic crystal system, the prism angle is slightly less than right angles; hence the name “transparency” from the Greek “small slope.”

What does crystalline mean?

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