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The Worthy House Posts

Book Review: The Pastel City
(M. John Harrison)

As can be seen from a casual glance at my book reviews, while I read little fiction, I am keenly interested in science fiction.  Sadly, almost all contemporary science fiction is mere social justice agitprop.  But there is some quite good relatively modern science fiction, and in particular, I am fond of (no surprise, I suppose) what is commonly called the “Dying Earth” genre, after the name used by Jack Vance in the 1950s.  This book, The Pastel City, published in 1971, fits squarely into this genre, but is distinguished by the gem-like quality of its writing, elevating it above the average pulp of late twentieth-century science fiction.

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Book Review: The Fiery Angel: Art, Culture, Sex, Politics, and the Struggle for the Soul of the West (Michael Walsh)

Billed as a continuation, this book is really the chiral image of Michael Walsh’s earlier book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace.  That book was an attempt, with limited success, to outline and discuss the poisonous Frankfurt School of political philosophy, Critical Theory, through the prism of art.  This book, on the other hand, aims to discuss art, with Critical Theory as the subtext.  It is a largely successful attempt to outline and discuss the unparalleled genius of Western art, in its historical context and with its historical implications, and thereby to “restore Western culture to its proper place.”  That restoration is necessary for our culture to cauterize the venomous bite of the Frankfurt School, whose view of art as politics, and of Western culture as worthless and evil, must be rejected if the West is to regain its path.

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Analysis: On the “Dark Enlightenment,” and of Curtis Yarvin / Mencius Moldbug

My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug.  Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought.  My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight.  Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left.  Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about.

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Book Review: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (Angelo M. Codevilla)

I stay away from the shouters, such as Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.  Sure, they’re right in their conclusions, most of the time, but the lack of nuanced thought annoys me.  There are plenty of ways to get easily worked up today, without seeking out more that don’t offer a corresponding benefit.  Angelo Codevilla is not a shouter, but this is at least a half-shouter book, as shown by that Limbaugh wrote the Introduction.  As is the case with most books of conservative woe, it has nothing of substance to offer about how to fix the problems it identifies.  Still, it has one interesting insight, and one cautionary lesson.  And I am here to offer the solution to the problem Codevilla talks about.  It’s not even radical!

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Book Review: Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It (Richard V. Reeves)

This isn’t a great book, but it’s a starting point for discussions that are worth having.  Richard Reeves gently flogs his own class for their sins, an act he thinks is very daring, though he uses a thin, silken cord and doesn’t put any muscle into it.  The upper middle class, he says, is pulling up the bridge to the Castle of Success, protecting its own sons and daughters from the dragons outside, at the expense of the peasants milling about on the other side of the moat.  He thinks this is bad, although he is confused as to exactly why that should be, since it seems “unfair,” but he can’t say what that is with any precision, and, after all, isn’t personal choice the most important thing of all?  So this book mostly goes nowhere, but it can tickle the mind into some genuine thought.

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Book Review: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss
(David Bentley Hart)

Although this is a book written by one of today’s most prominent Christian theologians, it is not a Christian book.  David Bentley Hart’s purpose is to demolish atheism, not to support Christian revelation.  Hart’s core point is that all theistic traditions, including the Abrahamic but also the Hindu and Buddhist, and even “various late antique paganisms,” share sophisticated reasoning about God and have arrived at certain conclusions which, if not ironclad, are much more reasonable and much more convincing than atheist arguments, which are, mostly, some combination of simplistic and irrelevant.  While I am not the target audience, it seems to me that an honest reader of this book is very unlikely to leave an atheist, even if he entered one, so if that is true, Hart’s book is a success.

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Book Review: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Brad S. Gregory)

Exhaustively documented, and in some ways just exhausting, though at the same time exhilarating, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is a towering achievement.  It synthesizes centuries of history and multiple avenues of thought to analyze how we arrived at certain negative aspects of modernity.  Gregory’s claim is that we got here as the result of the unintended consequences of choices made in response to “major, perceived human problems.”  Those choices were, initially, the Reformation’s religious choices, which ran counter to the entire worldview of medieval Christianity.  But the Reformation did not solve the problems—it made them worse, in a declining spiral, accelerated and exacerbated by subsequent secularization, itself partially the result of the Reformation.  The result is a world in which the ability of humans to find meaning in their lives has been crippled, rather than enhanced.  We would, implicitly, be better off with something more like the High Medieval synthesis destroyed by Martin Luther.

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Book Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
(John Carreyrou)

While pretty much everyone in this book who is rich and powerful comes off looking bad, it is less a tale of typical fraud, like a Ponzi scheme, and more a tale of human foibles.  These were expertly played on by Elizabeth Holmes, a very young woman of little productive talent and no particular evident intelligence, but with a natural gift for sales and embodying the icy manipulative abilities of the sociopath.  Fascinating stuff, all of it, and worth reading just to make sure that you don’t fall into a similar trap in your life.  And, more broadly, the arc of Theranos has much to say about supposedly imminent advances in technology, from artificial intelligence to flying autonomous cars.

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Book Review: The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics (Salena Zito and Brad Todd)

Most honest postmortems of Trump’s election are by Democrats focusing on what they missed.   Usually, they are either narrow exercises in vote counting or more holistic attempts to understand Trump voters.  In the latter group are Joan Williams’s White Working Class and Ken Stern’s Republican Like Me.  The common thread in these is discovery, a dawning realization that there are people out there with legitimate, even compelling, reasons to vote for Trump.  Republicans, on the other hand, haven’t engaged much in postmortems.  They have engaged in recriminations, or a facile triumphalism, but few seem to have analyzed Trump’s election in a focused, professional, way.  The Great Revolt fills that gap.

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Book Review: Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond (William Dalrymple and Anita Anand)

Koh-i-Noor is not about the diamond, to my disappointment.  Oh, sure, it makes an appearance here and there in this book.  But very little is actually said here about the diamond itself, probably because the Queen of England hasn’t made it available for analysis and study, and prior generations didn’t record much about its specifics.  Rather, this is a book of cultural history revolving around people who have owned the diamond.  That’s interesting, in its own way, but not what I was promised.

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