Category Archives: Books

Browsing the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

I’ve made my peace with this world of electronic books—I think I’m glad not to have two hundred pounds of encyclopedia sitting on a shelf awaiting an occasional analog read.  I’ll regret not having it when our infrastructure collapses, though.  Anyways, there I was last night idly browsing Project Gutenberg’s 1911 EB when I read about the indomitable Isabella Bird Bishop, a Victorian travel writer.

Here’s a Bird bibliography from John Mark Ockerbloom’s Online Books Page, featuring such classics as Among the Tibetans, Korea and Her Neighbors, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, and Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, volumes one and two.

Tenderness without the source of tenderness

Flannery O’Connor, from her introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann; also published in Robert & Sally Fitzgerald’s collection of her prose, Mystery and Manners.

One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamozov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.

Neil Peart’s books

Skipping all the books I read and didn’t blog about…

Last week I finished two of Neil Peart’s books: Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road and Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times.  Read ’em one after the other, and they’re good.  He’s an entertaining prose writer and one of the best travel writers I’ve read.  You can read about his more recent travels at his “slow blog” News, Weather and Sports (I hope that’s a permanent url).

Aside from the travel writing, he’s developed a language to describe the inner workings of the human soul. I need to go back through these books sometime to copy those parts, since I have great trouble translating all that internal stuff into words.  He and I share some internal weirdnesses, too, and it was a bit of a relief to read someone who can identify and describe them.  He does it in an easy offhand way with the ideal words and insights to capture their feel and taste.

One caveat for us Catlickers: he’s a devout and militant atheist.  You’ll roll your eyes once in a while.

Moonwalking with Einstein

Maybe I’ll post something about each book I’ve read.  First up: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.  A journalist covers a memory competition, gets talked into competing in the next year’s competition, and becomes the reigning American memory champion.  This is an entertaining introduction to the ancients’ memory techniques, centered on the concept of the “memory palace”.

The great modern books on ancient and medieval memory are:

The three ancient sources are:

Monopoly of force and the personalistic norm

The essence of the state is its legal monopoly of force. But force is subhuman; in words I quote incessantly, Simone Weil defined it as “that which turns a person into a thing — either corpse or slave.” It may sometimes be a necessary evil, in self-defense or defense of the innocent, but nobody can have by right what the state claims: an exclusive privilege of using it. –Joe Sobran

Against the power of the State, the proper response to a person is love.  See Karol Wojtyła’s “personalistic norm” in his Love and Responsibility, Ignatius Press, 1993, page 41.

Met publications online!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made all its publications from 1964 onwards available for free download via  Here’s a sampler pack:

Allan Bloom’s Rousseau

Allan Bloom’s translation of Rousseau’s Emile is also available at the Internet Archive.  He mentions it in his preface to The Republic:

Finally, in terms of my own experience of these last twenty-five years, after the Republic I translated Rousseau’s Emile, the greatest modem book on education. Rousseau was one of the great readers of Plato, and from my time on that work I gained an even greater respect for the Republic. Emile is its natural companion, and Rousseau proved his greatness by entering the lists in worthy combat with it. He shows that Plato articulated first and best all the problems, and he himself differs only with respect to some of the solutions. If one takes the two books together, one has the basic training necessary for the educational wars. And wars they are, now that doctrine tells us that these two books are cornerstones of an outlived canon. So, I conclude, the Republic is always useful to students who read it, but now more than ever.