Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | January 28, 2015

Books and Bookish Linkage

1. Robert Paul Wolff has assembled a list of “25 must-read books” for philosophy grad students. (H/T: Howl at Pluto.) Lot’s of good reading in there. Interesting that Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito make the list, but Phaedo does not. I suppose I tend to think of those four as a set. I would recommend Suarez to provide an overview and taste of Medieval philosophy, including the scholastics. (Suarez himself is after the Middle Ages, but he was looking back over the Medieval period and still working within a Medieval, essentially Thomistic framework, iirc.) And see the comments here. I agree with Anderson that Spinoza probably should make the list.

If one were to expand the list, who else would be in a list of 30 or 40? Schopenhauer? Machiavelli?

2. Justin McCurry, in the Guardian, has a review of a 12,000-page biography of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito; the bio, 24 years in the making, came out in 2014. (Noah Smith references this work in the comments on this post: “Five reasons Japan could never have won WW2.”)

3. Jeet Heer on John Updike and comics: “Updike: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan”: “The teenage Updike mailed off a steady stream of cartoons in the hopes of breaking into the visual-humor market. He would continue cartooning as an undergraduate at Harvard, where he sprinkled the pages of the Lampoon with his drawings, but Updike’s undergraduate years also marked the end of his cartooning career and his transformation into a writer. He felt that the other artists at the Lampoon were simply much more talented than he was, and he’d also discovered his facility for light verse and narrative prose.” (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

4. In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda reviews Michael Mewshaw’s Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal: “Vidal was, in short, brilliantly provocative, often right and completely insufferable. As Mewshaw observes, ‘he adopted an air of aristocratic self­possession. Acknowledging no doubts, no insecurity, never any shame or guilt, he appeared to view everyone and everything with gimlet-eyed imperturbability.’ Nevertheless, Mewshaw also insists, the man was far more human than his screen appearances might suggest.” (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

5. The NYRB on the CIA’s use of Doctor Zhivago in the propaganda battles of the Cold War. (H/T: Elena Holodny at Slate.)

6. In The American Conservative, Lee Congdon reviews Daniel J. Mahoney’s The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth About a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker:

One of the reasons for Mahoney’s insistence upon his subject’s commitment to democracy is his fear that the Russian might be classed as an authoritarian. In his Letter to the Soviet Leaders, Solzhenitsyn had, after all, written that “it is not authoritarianism itself that is intolerable, but the ideological lies that are daily foisted upon us.” Mahoney insists, however, that “Solzhenitsyn nowhere endorsed authoritarianism as choice-worthy in itself.”

Nor, however, did he rule authoritarianism out as a legitimate form of government, as long as it was neither ideological nor tyrannical in nature. Mahoney is so determined to deny this that he plays down Solzhenitsyn’s oft-stated support of Vladimir Putin, a leader who exercises greater authority than that belonging to his office and who, like Stolypin (whom Putin admires), does not always insist upon strict adherence to the law.

(H/T: Andrew Sullivan.)

7. Chris Blattman has high praise for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love: “This is possibly the most brutally honest and powerful book about fatherhood ever written. It’s also a book about ideas. Really big ideas. … What really struck while reading this: Knausgaard describes his daily life as a mainly selfish artist in a staggering amount of detail. Staggeringly minute details. So minute you think the book would be unreadable. Yet it is the opposite. The man is an incredible writer and storyteller.”


  1. I liked Knausgaard vol. 2, but like the 1st vol., it’s somehow simultaneously compelling and putdownable. It’s like your friend telling you a story about himself: you like your friend, his story interests you, but there’s no plot to it that would keep you attentive, and at some point you wonder what else you could be doing. Maybe it’s just me. Best read on an airplane or someplace with few distractions, or alternatives.

    • “Putdownable” is not necessarily a bad quality in a book. (Thanks!)

  2. Re Michael Mewshaw: I read one of his books quite a few years ago, the title of which is, iirc, Life for Death. It’s in the true-crime genre, I suppose one would say, but I think a cut above the usual entry; well written and compelling. (Don’t remember exactly how I came across it or why I read it, since it’s not the sort of book I tend to read. On roughly the same level, in its own way, as Joe McGinnis’s Fatal Vision, which I also happened to read.)

  3. I know a little bit about Daniel Mahoney, but the main pt re Solzhenitsyn-as-democrat is that it strikes me as quite ridiculous. So the review excerpt quoted seems on the mark.

    • Solzhenitsyn seems to be one of those figures that people generally admire and therefore want to shoe-horn into their prepared idea of a hero or Great Man. Gandhi and Bonhoeffer also tend to receive this treatment, it seems to me; modern-day fans project onto them their own views, opinions, politics, beliefs, etc.

      A.S. is a useful reminder that “anti-Soviet” or “anti-communist” does not always equate to “pro-(insert basket of Western humanist liberal beliefs here).”

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