All posts filed under: Book Reviews

Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead (John Michael Greer)

I am both pessimist and optimist about our future. I expect our civilization, that of the West, to end entirely, and soon. Yet at the same time, I believe we can have an intensely bright future thereafter—not a return, certainly, but something wholly new, informed by the wisdom and knowledge of the past. Moreover, I think that technology, rightly ordered and used, will be a pillar of that future, if we reach it. John Michael Greer, a man hard to categorize politically, agrees with my pessimism, but not with my optimism, especially as regards the future use of technology. Today we will explore whether I should amend my beliefs, through the prism of Greer’s Dark Age America.

The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann (Ananyo Bhattacharya)

This is a disappointing book. Not awful, but not good. The Man from the Future manages to take the life of the polymath John von Neumann and to make it dull, never giving us any real sense of the man, although we do get some sense of his accomplishments. Beyond that, it’s filled with bad history about ancillary matters, making the reader wonder about the veracity of core biographical matters. And worst of all, the author, Ananyo Bhattacharya, wastes our time by endlessly trying to shoehorn into von Neumann’s story fantasy contributions by supposedly marginalized people, who are unknown because they did nothing worth noting. All this turns what might have been an excellent book into a chore.

Why Chimpanzees Can’t Learn Language and Only Humans Can (Herbert S. Terrace)

When I was growing up in the 1980s, a staple belief of socially-correct thinking was that many non-human animals, not only apes but also dolphins, whales, and elephants, had, if we could only understand, minds functionally indistinguishable from ours. Children were told constantly about Koko the gorilla, who could supposedly speak, albeit in sign language. But all this was false, part of the Left project to convince us mankind is nothing special. Herbert Terrace, who has devoted his entire career to ape cognition, here puts the spike into the lies of my childhood, demonstrating that no ape (or any animal, primate or otherwise) can communicate in any way similar to humans.

The Children of Men (P. D. James)

A constant complaint of today’s Right is that our civilization has been ruined politically and spiritually by decades of Left dominance. But we pay less mind to the physical destruction of our bodies taking place at the same time. The damage is inarguable: witness the gross obesity, the precipitous drops in male testosterone and sperm count, and the huge reductions in women giving birth. The causes are many, if hard to pin down, including distorted foods, widespread use of persistent plastics and endocrine disruptors, and the disaster of chemical birth control. The Children of Men, written by the late P. D. James in 1991, is a good springboard for analyzing this physical devastation, and thinking about what can be done.

Throw-Back Thursday: Rise and Grind: Outperform, Outwork, and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life (Daymond John)

[In which I tell you how I got rich, and how you (maybe) can too. This was originally published on April 30, 2019.] People often ask me, as I stride the halls of power in my custom Zegna suits wove with thread of gold, how I became so rich and successful. Like David Byrne, I too ask myself, how did I get here, with my beautiful house, and my beautiful wife, and large automobile? Such thoughts bounce around my mind, but they have crystallized after reading Daymond John’s Rise and Grind. I picked this book because John is my favorite regular on Shark Tank, a show I watch intermittently, and I was bored in the airport, looking for something to read. I’m not sure I learned anything new, but I was inspired to regularize some of my thinking about my favorite topic, myself, and now I will share it with the world.

Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic (Ben Westhoff)

Fentanyl, Inc. updates Sam Quinones’s seminal 2015 Dreamland, about the American opioid epidemic, focusing on the synthetic opioid fentanyl, the use of which has exploded in the past five years. No doubt, increasing drug use is a very important topic for the future of America. Unfortunately, Ben Westhoff’s book covers it in a disorganized and blinkered fashion, where the author shrinks from obvious conclusions. The title itself shows the problem. It implies some fictional central entity controls the fentanyl trade, and points the finger at imaginary “rogue chemists.” A much more accurate title would be Fentanyl: How the Chinese and the Mexicans Are Deliberately Killing Americans.

The Religion of the Apostles: Orthodox Christianity in the First Century (Stephen De Young)

Myths about Christianity abound, and some myths even pass as common knowledge. One myth is that Christians, after Jesus Christ started a new religion, worshipped in a very simple manner, revolving around undeveloped doctrines of love and sharing. Only later, we are often told (by both devout Protestants and by unbelievers, advancing different agendas) was this plain worship larded up with new doctrines and liturgies, which are encrustations on true Christianity. Stephen De Young works hard to explode all parts of this myth, explaining in The Religion of the Apostles that the beliefs and worship of the first Christians were essentially identical to those written down some years later, and were not, in most important ways, new at all.

First Do No Harm (Paracelsus)

A review by me of this book has been published in the excellent journal IM-1776. The first paragraph, and a link to the entire review, and the journal itself, can be found below. America is already a low-trust society, and with good reason societal trust is rocketing further downward. Yet Americans still, by and large, trust medical institutions — perhaps more than any other set of entities. The pseudonymous Paracelsus, a practicing physician, in his book with the deliberately ironic title First Do No Harm, narrates how we are foolish to trust the medical profession, what is really the medical industry. Published by Calamo Press, First Do No Harm tells us, in short, that the two words that characterize American medicine are not “health and healing,” or even “science and rationality,” as one might think, but rather “corruption and oligarchy.” . . . Read more at IM-1776!

Underwriters of the United States: How Insurance Shaped the American Founding (Hannah Farber)

A review by me of this book has been published in the outstanding quarterly American Affairs, to which everyone should subscribe. The first paragraph, and a link to the entire review, and the journal itself, can be found below. Property insurance is everywhere, but it is rarely prominent in the public mind. Its internal workings are obscure, full of technical language, esoteric customs, and mind-numbing legalese. Most people give it little thought beyond what is absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, as Hannah Farber’s Underwriters of the United States makes clear, property insurance is a powerful social force in any complex economy. And surprisingly, this excellent academic analysis of underwriting in the American shipping industry, up until 1860, has much to say about America today. Most of all, it makes us consider how corporate entities, and more generally concentrations of private wealth and power, can and should interact, and be permitted to interact, with the rest of the nation. . . . . Read more at American Affairs!

Roman Catholicism and Political Form (Carl Schmitt)

If, as Carl Schmitt asserted in Political Theology, “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” what does that imply for political forms? This book, written immediately after Political Theology, addresses that question. Schmitt analyzes a political form that originated as theological but has adopted many different secular roles—the Roman Catholic Church. I have to say that Roman Catholicism and Political Form, even by Schmittian standards, is a difficult read. Nonetheless, it rewards close attention and thought, because what Schmitt says is, as all things Schmitt are, surprisingly relevant to our situation today.