One positive activity possible during the Covid-19 panic induced confinement is more time available for reading. It is good to have something different to do and think about besides this debacle. Here is the list of books I have been reading with brief descriptions.
I read this book in French (La survie des Juifs en France 1940-1944) before the confinement, but it was very much on my mind during this period because of its resemblance of the Covid-19 confinement to the occupation (i.e., “I want to see your papers please”). The key statistic that is the basis of Semelin’s study is that 75% of the Jews in France somehow survived the occupation without being deported. In contrast, in occupied Belgium only 25% survived. There is no single reason why, but the stories are as varied as the landscapes and peoples of France (see Braudel below). One ironic and humorous reason to any person who must deal with the French administration was the complaint by the Germans that the slow, impenetrable performance of the French bureaucracy did not meet their quotas in rounding up Jews.
My interest is deepened by the fact that my wife is working with Semelin on a documentary covering this topic.
Williams was a less known member of the Inklings. He had a significant influence on among others C. S. Lewis and Dorthey Sayers, especially with this interpretation of Dante. It is perhaps 30 years ago that I read the Divine Comedy and The New Life. If you are a lover of Dante, you will appreciate this book. If not, but you are interested you might start with Mark Vernon’s canto-by-canto description. Here I will just provide a morsel about what Dante’s poetry and Williams book is about.
Love then, however he speaks of it, is a quality—a quality of himself towards Beatrice. It is this quality, once he has become aware of it, which he is to express and analyse, by ‘a passion and a miracle of words’. ‘Dante’, wrote Coleridge, ‘does not so much elevate your thoughts as send them down deeper’; that is, make them more profound. The distinction was well made; it is not a rarefying but a deepening and enlargement of this quality and relation which is in question, until it becomes the universal relationship, in its most intense quality, of the close of the Paradiso.
Virgil has a kind of tender loftiness in his answer. ‘You—all of you—are always thinking of those things which are diminished by sharing. But above, the more there are to say ours, the more of good and the more of love each has and knows.’ ‘How can the good itself be greater for each when many share it? how greater than if few?’ ‘Because the more the love, the greater the good; the larger the number of those who comprehend each other, the more love, e come specchio l’uno all’altro rende—and each like a mirror renders it back to the other.’
This book will be a great treat for anyone who has, or would like to, travel around France. Braudel provides a history from the bottom up, with geology, geography, climate, etc. playing the key roles. Politics and war when considered still follow the lay of the land, so to speak. It is thus an exemplar of economic description, the real economics of how people live in a particular region, move over the surface of the Earth to produce the things necessary for life.
The figures in my edition are not of very good quality, but wonderful nonetheless. Consider this one, the distribution of roofing materials of all things! The arrow points to the region where I have a house in the south of Burgundy. Note the roofing material is the same as for the Mediterranean coast. As Braudel explains, the Rhone and Soane river valleys made the connection economically practical. My neighbor there, Marc Jambon, is a retired wine maker. His son Pierre-Antoine is I think the eighth generation in the family to make wine on this property (since 1752). It is truly wonderful wine. Mr. Jambon has unlimited patience in explaining wine making to a novice like me. He first told me about the Mediterranean roof tiles and how the river affects the local climate. Take a look at the beautiful landscape and the very reasonable prices for this extraordinary product.
Smedley Butler was certainly an amazing person who lived an amazing life (winner of two Congressional Medals of Honor). He also had some very excellent things to say that are compiled in the free downloaded version I read. But this was not a very good book in the sense of making an organized case. A few examples of his excellent insights are provided.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side . . . it is His will that the Germans be killed.
There are only two reasons why you should ever be asked to give your youngsters. One is the defense of our homes. The other is the defense of the Bill of Rights and particularly the right to worship God as we see fit. Every other reason advanced for the murder of young men is a racket, pure and simple.
The third group of militarists in this country represents honest and sincere patriotic citizens of the type who believe all they are told—without stopping to analyze the motives of the tellers. They are ordinary citizens whose homes are their most cherished possessions. Clever propaganda has convinced these misguided people that the lack of a huge national defense program is a direct threat to their individual homes. These people are convinced an enemy army in apt to swoop down on them any moment, set fire to their homes, murder their children and rape their women if Uncle Sam is unable to send a powerful fleet of battleships to the harbor of Timbuctoo, on the other side of the world.
I was spurred to read ZAMM through my habitation of the little corner of the internet that followed Jordan Peterson to investigate the Meaning Crisis (see my description here). In particular, the YouTube channel A Quality Existence created by Sevilla King, who h
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