What I’ve been reading

1. Owen Hatherley, Landscapes of Communism: A History through Buildings.  A consistently interesting take on communist architecture, not entirely unsympathetic as indeed corresponds to my own attitude.  Sheila Fitzpatrick wrote a nice LRB review of the book, suggesting that the author must have visited those developments in summer rather than wintertime.

2. Han Kang, The Vegetarian: A Novel.  A novelistic equivalent of those weird “Asia extreme” Korean movies, compelling and easy to read, recommended.

3. Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.  Volume three of the Neapolitan quadrology, these novels are getting better and better and stand as one of the major literary achievements of the last decade.

4. George Yeo on Bonsai, Banyan, and the Tao.  Speeches and writings by a Singaporean politician about the vision behind the country and why it has worked out relatively well.

5. Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, by Mark Vanhoenacker.  The idea and method behind this book basically work — imagine an analytic version of “pilot tells all” — so I am surprised this genre has not been explored in more detail before.

Also of interest to some of you may be Helen Vendler, The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar, essays on poets and poetry.

Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, is a very good general history of the country.


Ookrayeena is the gates of Europe only to the Mongol hordes and the Kazakhs. Not Russia (which is already in Europe), and not to Turkey, either (its gate to Europe is Istanbul).

Not Russia (which is already in Europe)

No, it's not. Everything east of the Elbe is Asiatic steppe.

Ah, the featureless, Asiatic, Polish steppe.


+1, Jan. My parents weren't born in Asia. :-)

Well, the original boundary of Europe was along the waterine route between the Black Sea and the Arctic, so when you find that you will have settled the debate. Good luck!

Or Baltic in sone versions

Communist architecture lives today under a new name, Smart Growth.


Excellent comment. I was not going to click on the link because I thought va was short for Virginia and the smart growth referred to was the onslaught of local foolish and unempathetic disasters that have been inflicted on North Virginia in recent decades, and I already know more about that than I want to know.
The link, however, was a fascinating picture essay about part of a country that was, for the length of eleven Olympic cycles (or, if you prefer to count time by GDR Christmas stamp issues, 45 Christmas stamps old) before it stopped calling itself Communist. Minor quibble - in case the link writers are reading: I quickly noted a detail that was misrepresented - the writer seems to have wanted to express the idea that poor people who are forced to live in close proximity to other poor people do not want to live on top floors!
Everyone who has lived with relatively poor people, as I have for much (if 20 to 30 percent of my life is much) of my life wants to live on the top floor, unless they have arthritic knees or similar health problems. If you don't know why count yourself lucky. (The reason top floors are empty is because of support staff and their ability to effectuate their reasonable self-interested preferences. Behavioral economics 101).

Re #3:

Check this out, Tyler: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=quadrology

4. Amazon summary: "In politics, he has been described both as a liberal and a conservative. In his Parliamentary maiden speech, he spoke of the importance of democracy but has repeated many times that democracy is only a means and not an end in itself." hat is the end? Is the end order and stability? If so, then I suspect many would sacrifice democracy if necessary to achieve order and stability. Or maybe not. It's interesting how faith in democracy has declined, once considered the American ideal (spreading democracy being a justification for the Iraq War) and now considered by some as a nuisance or worse (restricting voting rights being a goal for a faction of the Republican Party according to a recent front pager in the NYT). As I understand it, Strauss distrusted democracy, so this is nothing new to those who look to him and his philosophy for guidance. But can we expect a philosopher king in the model of Plato? Or can we expect a demagogue in the model of Trump?

Democracy now considered by some as a nuisance or worse (the executive branch circumventing Congress being a goal for a faction of the Democratic Party according to a recent front pager in the WSJ).

Thanks for the heads up on the new Ukrainian history. It's very rare to find unromanticized history. Ukraine seems to be the place where the pseudohistorians congregate. The usual prehistory is mostly hokum about horseback warrior grandfathers of the Indo-Europeans. Somehow Iranian wikiubernationalists backed by ostensibly serious western professors have decided every single steppe tribe was Iranic till the middle ages, though none of them wrote. The cliche "Ukraine means borderland" lives on despite clear literary evidence that it means "in the country" and the obvious Yugoslav "krajina" parallel. And diaspora nationalists are still at war with the "Russian" Kiev spelling not realizing that it appears first in the 11th century Kiev chronicle.

#1, #6: I'm always surprised when the Kindle book costs more than the physical book (hardcover!). Why should that be?

#1: My favorite example in Prague. I wonder if it's in the book ... https://www.flickr.com/photos/uair01/20381847356/

#1: Off-topic, but connoisseurs of ugly architectures will be interested in this website about Belgian houses: http://uglybelgianhouses.tumblr.com/

#1, #6 - Price is based on willingness to pay, not cost of goods sold.

#1: Even in winter, Communist/Soviet architecture can have its charm: https://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/savanoriu-prospektas-winter-evening/ (Vilnius, Lithuania)

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