Book: From Dawn to Decadence

A majestic sweep over 500 years of Western Civilization. Barzun charts the rises and falls of the West in the arts, philosophy, politics, literature, and science. His writing is lively and conversational, a must for a book of this size.

He largely avoids moralizing and presents the passing centuries in their own context and shows how judgements of the past by the present are often ill-considered and unfair.

He is the least compassionate for our most recent century, and concludes that the 20th has seen the decline of the West since the early 1900’s. The book thus ends on a bit of melancholy.

Book: Freedom Evolves

Dennett presents a splendid defense of free will in the face of materialism and Darwinism. He also puts to bed the notion that quantum mechanics could somehow “save” free will from determinism. This book is an excellent antidote to a lot of muddled thinking about free will including Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.

Book: The Meme Machine

Blackmore presents her theory of the meme, the cultural and mental equivalent of the gene. Her approach is quite similar to Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene and emphasizes the “meme’s eye view” to develop theories on the origin of language, religion, and altruism, among other things.

Dawkins himself wrote the foreword for the book and he is careful to avoid endorsing the theory directly. I suspect he does not fully embrace it. Neither do I; though many of the arguments are compelling, Blackmore confuses, as Dennett likes to say, “explaining” with “explaining away” and ends up denying human free will. The book concludes with a rather fuzzy and shallow Zen Buddhism as a substitute.

Book: 5 Novels

A collection of five Pinkwater novels:

+ Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars

+ Slaves of Spiegel

+ The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death

+ The Last Guru

+ Young Adult Novel

I had never read Pinkwater before — it was a real treat. Most of the novels start out quite ordinarily and gradualy become stranger and funnier as they proceed. Great fun.