books book reviews

Very short book reviews

reviewed by T. Nelson

Score+5

Woke: A Guide to Social Justice

by Titania McGrath
Constable, 2019, 150 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

O n Twitter there's no space to construct a valid argument—all you can do is make assertions. That's why it's perfect for the two defining characteristics of “woke” culture: groupthink and signaling.

Signaling approval or disapproval is easy because thought and reasoned discussion aren't required. But it has a fatal flaw: there's no way to know if the speakers are sincere. In fact, groupthink ensures that they are more likely not to be.

Thus it seems appropriate that the fictional Titania, who first achieved fame on Twitter, now has a book. In her short life she has achieved the impossible: to parodize that which is beyond parody. Her creator, Spiked columnist Andrew Doyle, has an infallible ear for the identity politics and political correctness of today's social justice warrior. Titania was created to show that wokeness is absurd.

Titania says she was born woke, remaining defiant even when slapped. She had anorexia and chronic overeating simultaneously, which made her condition hard to spot. She writes nonsensical intersectional poetry with titles like Haphazard Death Minge and I Am Womxn. She hates all men and all white people, especially if they favor Brexit. And she can be offended by anything. Some quotes:

Say what you will about ISIS, but at least they're not Islamophobic.

He-Man in the Masters of the Universe cartoons, with his rippling muscles and phallic sword, reeked of toxic masculinity. On the plus side, He-Man was at least progressive enough to announce his pronouns.

Earlier this year I decided to spend a month identifying as BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), and there's no denying that I experienced some terrible prejudice . . . .In fact, the day after I transitioned to BAME, my personal trainer phoned me up to cancel one of our appointments. This never happened to me when I was white. I refuse to accept this as mere coincidence.

My brother and his wife sent me a card which read: ‘Baby Alison arrived on 2nd July 2017, 8 pounds 4 ounces.’ The girl had only been alive for a few days and already her parents were fat-shaming her.

Titania McGrath's Twitter feed, where people sometimes try to argue with her, and sometimes she argues with herself, is probably the most confusing thing on the Internet. She writes things like this:

Straight lesbians can be non-binary bisexuals who are attracted to cisgender non-binary lesbian men.

This really isn't difficult.

It's a typical Twitter post: an assertion followed by a groupthink signal. The only problem is that the assertion is absurd. And that may be why the woke are so enraged by Titania. We may never again know who is really woke and who is parodying it. And in an age of fake news, maybe that's the point. We're entitled to ask: is there a difference?

Titania's colleague, Matilda Olofsson over at spectator.us, is even wittier. She's billed as Greta Thunberg's arch-nemesis. Olofsson's UN speech is hilarious. Tragically, she's imprisoned behind a paywall and few people will ever hear about her.

It had to happen: when people use signaling instead of logic, someone else can throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing by mis-signaling, or as biologists call it, mimicry—much as Photuris fireflies mimic the signaling of other firefly species not to mate with them, but to eat them.

nov 29 2019. edited dec 01 2019

Score+3

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity

by Douglas Murray
Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019, 280 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

A chronicle of social problems Murray says stem from identity politics. Murray says they're harmful and his ideas sound reasonable, but the question remains: why does the left pursue these particular goals? Is it simply a quest for revolutionary change, or something more sinister? Leftists would do well to explain the real reason they're so keen on identity politics. They say they're trying to make a fairer society, but to conservatives it looks like they're trying to put everyone at each other's throats.

Many on the Left seem to be very angry and unhappy these days. This book provides many examples of it, but I'm still not sure I understand the reason.

oct 20, 2019. revised nov 19 2019

Score-1

Information--Consciousness--Reality: How a New Understanding of the Universe Can Help Answer Age-Old Questions of Existence

by James B. Glattfelder
SpringerOpen, 2019, 655 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

I can't praise enough Springer's open-publishing program. It's a way for authors to get books on fringe subjects read by making them freely downloadable. But sometimes, as in this example, books really, really need an editor.

The author takes various concepts in physics, like symmetry, gauge theory, and complexity theory, and tries to relate them to consciousness. But his writing mixes random non sequiturs and personal opinions with bits of science that have little conceivable relation to the topic. It's not just a notebook dump; after the first few pages, I became convinced that it was written by a computer.

oct 20 2019

Score+1

How to Have Impossible Conversations

by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay
Life Long, 2019, 248 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

V ery basic, informal discussion on how to talk to people, with examples of conversations that went wrong. The general idea is to listen to them and avoid any hint of confrontation by asking them a lot of questions, never saying ‘but,’ and never bringing any facts into a conversation.

You're also supposed to rephrase what they said and repeat it back to them. For example, if you're on Twitter you might say: “So, you're saying I'm a ******* ******* who should eat **** and die, is that correct?” They will say. “Yes! Thank you! You said it even better than I did!”

What I'm getting at is that having a conversation these days is a waste of time: if they don't know anything, there's no use talking to them, and if they do know something, they certainly aren't going to tell it to you. As for sharing opinions, if anybody ever finds out what you think on any topic, they'll try to get you fired, or your spouse will use it against you in divorce court. So, although the authors' advice is reasonable, you're better off reading a book instead—though not necessarily this one. PC writing style.

nov 02, 2019

Score+5

Debunking Howard Zinn

by Mary Grabar
Moved to here

Score+2

A Manual for Creating Atheists

by Peter Boghossian
Moved to here

Score+4

False Positive:
A Year of Error, Omission, and Political Correctness in the New England Journal of Medicine

by Theodore Dalrymple
Encounter, 2019, 259 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

H ow many of us, while perusing some medical journal, have exclaimed, “Man, I could write a book about all the crap that's wrong in here!” Well, Theodore Dalrymple has actually done it. He has 52 short essays, one for each week, on all the stuff NEJM printed in 2017 that was wrong. He writes in his usual elaborate style, but avoids jargon, and it's eminently readable.

It's easy for him to say: he's retired, and doesn't have to submit articles to them. His main theme is that physicians shouldn't just accept what's in the medical journal abstracts, but read the articles in their entirety and evaluate them critically. Lots of them are based on unchallenged assumptions fashionable in left-wing circles. Many more have flawed reasoning, bad trial design, or bad statistics. He says medical schools should give a course in critical thinking. Couldn't hoit. Ours does.

I was once pleasantly surprised to discover that a doctor had actually read the same articles I'd read on the disease they were treating me for. This person knew almost as much as I did. But for the most part, like too many of their laymen colleagues, doctors just believe everything they read. And when they do, like their lay brethren, they make bad decisions.

nov 07, 2019

Score+5

Permanent Record

by Edward Snowden
Metropolitan, 2019, 339 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

A utobiography of Snowden and his story of how he found all those documents and why he released them. No new revelations and nothing anyone remotely familiar with computers doesn't already know, but many insider facts about what it's like to work for the CIA and that other place in Fort Meade that doesn't exist. The book's title “Permanent Record” refers to the NSA's goal, according to Snowden, of saving all information they collect forever. Skip the first 82 pages.

nov 02, 2019

Score+5

Tales of Impossibility: The 2000-year Quest to Solve the Mathematical Problems of Antiquity

by David S. Richeson
Princeton, 2019, 436 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

I n Euclid's classical geometry, the only tools permitted are a compass and straight edge. Richeson shows how changes in notation and number systems led to modern-day analytical geometry. Mathema­tic­ians have proved that certain problems, like doubling the cube, constructing regular 7-sided polygons, trisecting an angle, and squaring the circle (finding a square with the same area as a given circle) are impossible using Euclid's methods. Their simplicity has drawn cranks to geometry like moths to a flame. Their attempts to prove the impossible are entertaining, and his history of how mathematical proofs came to be is fascinating.

oct 20, 2019

Score+5

The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947—2005

E.H. Ericson Jr and D. J. Mahoney, eds.
ISI Books, 2006/2015, 634 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

S olzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago is one of the most important books in history: it revealed the horrors of the Soviet gulags and demonstrated, in three volumes of unforgettable prose, how Stalin's show trials and death camps weren't just the product of one man's deranged mind, but the natural end result of Communism. Totalitarianism not only killed millions of brilliant human beings; it crushed the souls of all Russians, turning many of them cruel and apathetic.

It's not surprising, therefore, that those who stood to gain from Communist totalitarianism spent decades spreading misinformation about Solzhenitsyn, and tried to twist his words to discredit him. This book shows how unfounded those claims really are. It has excerpts from some of his books (The First Circle, Cancer Ward, Gulag Archipelago, and his gigantic The Red Wheel), along with his essays, speeches, and short stories, that illustrate this great writer's skill and integrity.

You will not get the full impact of his thought from this book. I recommend reading the first three books in their entirety, especially Gulag Archipelago, if at all possible.

oct 20 2019

Score+2

Like a Thief in Broad Daylight:
Power in the Era of Post-Human Capitalism

by Slavoj Žižek
Seven Stories, 2018, 223 pages

reviewed by T. Nelson

T he back cover of this book talks about how the global capitalist edifice is “beginning to crumble” and says this book asks what the post-capitalist world will be like. But Žižek actually talks about the post-human world, jumping from Blade Runner 2049 to the French philosopher Badiou to US politics and how they all fit into Karl Marx's theory of oppression and class struggle.

Žižek comes off as a guy hanging on to the tatters of Communism for dear life as he tries to reconcile a post-human, post-communist world with an ideology that has been intellectually bankrupt from the beginning. He has a few of his quirky counter-intuitive insights here, but if you're looking for an acces­sible introduction to Žižek's thought, this ain't it. I'm not sure there is one.

nov 15, 2019

Score+1

Brain Neurotrauma: Molecular, Neuropsychological, and Rehabilitation Aspects

by Firas H. Kobeissy, ed.
CRC, 2013, 697 pages

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a tough topic to study. It's essentially a physical injury to the neurons, but we have no way of doing physical repairs to them, so the field is stuck. Most of these articles in this scientific book talk about drug treatments that didn't work; many are out of date. Later articles discuss methods for modeling TBI in the lab. What we really need is a way to induce new neurons to grow, but so far no one has a clue how to do that.

We have a much better chance of finding a good treatment for stroke, and one article on stroke is quite good.

Disclaimer: I have not read this book in its entirety.

dec 19, 2019

Score+5

Doctor Faustus

by Thomas Mann

moved to here