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Category: Life Advice

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
(Matthew B. Crawford)

This is not a book about how you can make more money as a plumber than by going to law school.  It is, rather, a book of philosophy, revolving around thoughts on alienation, self-reliance, and what we owe to others.  I found it to be both a bit rambling and unexpectedly deep—it manages to connect the thoughts of Marx with those of Aristotle, and it combines practical thoughts on how one should earn one’s bread with advice for living a whole life.  The net effect is worthwhile, though not earthshattering.

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Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jordan B. Peterson)

A friend of mine has been pushing me to look into Jordan Peterson for the past six months.  I thought, since my friend is conservative, that Peterson offered right-wing politics, and it is true that he has recently been in the news for his thoughts on certain charged topics.  However, Peterson does not, in fact, offer politics, which is refreshing in these days of rage.  Rather, 12 Rules For Life is a self-help book constructed like a Russian matryoshka doll, a nested construct.  It talks, and works, on multiple levels, some of which may have political implications, but if so, they are incidental to what the book offers to each human person, both the broken and the whole.

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Book Review: How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life
(Seneca & James S. Romm)

How to Die, compiled from various writings of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca by the excellent James Romm, assembles Seneca’s thoughts on death.  Seneca died during the reign of the emperor Nero, in A.D. 65, having been “encouraged” by him to commit suicide.  The reason for the compiling and publication of this book, presumably, is to educate moderns about how to die.  It also offers an interesting view into the philosophy of the late pagan Classical world, already dying itself, although Seneca didn’t know it.  This book can doubtless educate moderns, but for us, different than our predecessors, it is either valuable or dangerous, or both, depending on who is reading it and with what aim.

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Book Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Jonathan Haidt)

In today’s world, discussion about morals is a lost art.  In part, this is because stupidity is on display everywhere, and encouraged to be so, even though most people’s thoughts and opinions are less than worthless, as a glance at Facebook or The New York Times comment sections will tell you.  More deeply, it’s because America is dominated today by the nearly universal (but wholly unexamined) belief that the only legitimate principle of moral judgment is John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”—that no restriction on human action can be justified other than to prevent harm to another.  The Righteous Mind is an extended attack on the usefulness of the harm principle as the sole way to understand and justify human morality, combined with detailed explanations of the much broader ways in which people can and do view morality.  The author, Jonathan Haidt, uses this framework to understand political differences, and to plead for an increase in rationality and civility to arise from that understanding.

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Book Review: Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet’s Life (Scott Donaldson)

I have zero creative talent.  The pinnacle of my own ability to draw is stick figures, and not good ones.  I cannot sing or play an instrument.  I cannot write fiction.  I do not understand iambic pentameter.  Thus, I tend not to express any opinion about poetry, and I certainly don’t write any.  But I have always liked the poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson, which when I was young was still included in older anthologies of poetry.  Whether they were directed at children or not I cannot say, but I read some of his poetry at around five years old, and it has stuck with me.  I doubt very much if children, or adults, are exposed to him today, even though a hundred years ago he was the nation’s most famous poet.  This biography, written ten years ago, is an excellent corrective to today’s ignorance.

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Book Review: Born to Run
(Bruce Springsteen)

I’ve always liked Bruce Springsteen, but never knew much about him beyond what could be read in the news.  His autobiography, Born to Run, tells everything a reasonable reader could want.  It’s not a tell-all, certainly—while Springsteen honestly relates his life, including quite a bit of self-criticism, he says explicitly he has not told the reader everything.  Still, the reader learns a lot, and for someone like me not sentient in the 1970s, in particular, the book draws a vivid picture of a particular unique time.

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Book Review: Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living (Joseph Prince)

This is not the sort of book I normally read.  It is spiritual fluff from a Singaporean megachurch “grace preacher,” Joseph Prince.  But a friend of mine sent me a copy and suggested I read it, since he obtained a lot of spiritual benefit from it.  I warned him that I would likely abuse the book and the preacher.  I am here to execute on my warning.

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Book Review: Deep Survival
(Laurence Gonzales)

I read Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, And Why” as a counterpoint to Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable.” Both are survivor books, very different in their approach, but with significant conclusions in common. Gonzales focuses more on accidents: unexpected twists that challenge people in stressful situations they chose to put themselves in, primarily wilderness and sporting recreational activities. Gonzales focuses little on true disasters, where our daily lives are suddenly interrupted by a wholly unexpected catastrophic and immediately life threatening event from which we must escape; Ripley focuses on true disasters. Gonzales focuses a lot on scientific, technical biological explanations; Ripley talks a lot about pseudo-scientific evolutionary biology. Gonzales is a more florid writer on a semi-autobiographical quest following a life of adventure; Ripley is a straightforward young writer trying to analyze what others do.

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Book Review: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why (Amanda Ripley)

“The Unthinkable” is basically a self-improvement manual. But the promised self-improvement isn’t better organization, inner peace or higher task efficiency; rather it is increased odds of living through a disaster. And while the book accomplishes the goal of self-help for the attentive reader, even more it shows that who lives and who dies mostly results from characteristics of the individual. Many of these are innate and wholly unchangeable, such as sex, intelligence and ability to absorb stress, each of which is a critical factor in survival. Some are merely extremely difficult to change and in practice immutable for the individual, such as culture and education. Few are easy to change—but any bit helps, I suppose.

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Colloquy: Not-For-Profits Are Not Inherently Virtuous and “Giving Back” Is A Stupid Term

[This is a colloquy between myself and a  friend of mine.  Italics are her; regular text is me.  She is responding initially to a comment I had made about “evil not-for-profits.”] I don’t understand, but without the rhetoric, I really want to see the world through your eyes regarding your comment about “evil not-for-profit…” How is it that people who sacrifice so much for others are evil? I’m a corporate attorney and admire the heck out of people able to do something I’m too greedy to do. While they walk the walk (of spiritual leaders, etc.), I’m just a coward…

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