Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth / Jhumpa Lahiri -- NY: A.A. Knopf, 2008.

Exploring similar themes as her previous works, Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri’s most recent set of short stories evocatively illuminates the immigrant experience. Although thematically repetitive, the fresh characters and scenarios keep the writing from becoming stale. The details of the cultural conflicts are distinctly Indian (or perhaps distinctly Bengali), yet the characters’ experiences of nostalgia, rebellion, and loneliness are both compelling and universal.

Secrets / Nurrudin Farah -- NY: Arcade Pub., 1998.

As a civil war unfolds in Somalia, family events uncover secrets that redefine these longstanding relationships. Peppered with dream sequences, the plot line itself takes on a dreamlike character. Although it contains many beautifully written passages, I found the novel disappointing. The unraveling of the family secrets was drawn out without developing any real sense of suspense or anticipation. The background of the incipient civil war is only slightly revealing in its effect on everyday life and even less revealing of the broader political implications.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry / Robert Cervero -- Washington, DC: Island Press, 1998.

The Transit Metropolis offers good analysis and rich data on the transit systems of select cities from multiple continents. Presenting twelve case studies from Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and Canada, Cervero covers not only the form and technology used in the transit system, but also supportive policies and relevant political and institutional arrangements. A ‘transit metropolis’ is “one where enough travelers opt for transit riding, by virtue of a workable transit-land use nexus, to put the region on a sustainable course.” This broad net captures cities that use their transit systems to guide urban growth (adaptive cities), others that create a transit system to serve their more spread out land use pattern (adaptive transit), cities whose downtowns are transit havens (strong-core cities), and cities who use a mix of adaptive-transit and adaptive-city methods (hybrids).

Rather than laying out hard and fast rules for transportation planning, the book offers a wide and impressive array of methods. The only absolute offered is that transit should support land use policies and not vice versa. Although repeated pointing out that quality services attract more riders, Cervero does not couch this as a universal recommendation, noting that pricing transit affordably may mean lower quality vehicles in poorer cities.

From the case studies, it seems clear that cities with good transit are primarily wealthy cities outside the United States. For those primarily interested in the United States, comparison with U.S. cities is provided in many of the case studies, and the final chapter provides shorter examples of U.S. cities recently improving their transit systems. My own interest is primarily with developing cities, and I was disappointed not to have any examples from Africa or from poorer Asian cities (Singapore and Tokyo were the Asian examples). Nonetheless, the case studies clearly presented ways of designing transit systems that suit local conditions and aims.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood / Taras Grescoe -- NY: Bloomsbury, 2008.

This is a book that will depress most rational readers. This is especially true if you enjoy eating fish and seafood, whether for pleasure, health, or ethical/political reasons. The author enjoys seafood for all of the above reasons, but his worldwide travels investigating the quality and sustainability of the world’s seafood yield a very frightening picture. The vast majority of fish caught these days are from species of rapidly diminishing quantity and quality (both taste-wise and for one’s health), and are caught in non-sustainable, exploitative ways. That Grescoe remains committed to producing and consuming fish in ways that are sustainable, tasty, healthy, and non-exploitative is commendable—but the enormity of the task is daunting, to say the least, because of the force arrayed against it.

I say force, singular, because, as with almost all of humankind’s other problems, the main driving mechanism behind the vanishing seafood is industrial capitalism (including, of course, the Chinese version, these days). Fishing and fish-farming are now dominated by huge corporations, able to marshal vast resources to catch (devastate) entire species, and much of the demand for many threatened species is due to increasing numbers of very wealthy consumers. Global warming, pollution, exploitable cheap labor, artificial (toxic) growing conditions and feeding habits, waste, externalization of costs, etc, all play interconnected roles in helping reduce what were once thought to be effectively infinite numbers of fish down to near extinction levels in case after case. And, of course, all the above factors are caused or exacerbated by industrial capitalism, whose course, if unchanged, will make it very unlikely that much healthy seafood will remain in the world within a few decades.

Grescoe is a very engaging and interesting writer on all aspects of the issue, so the book is a “pleasure” to read in that sense, with large amounts of local color and fascinating facts about seafood and the social relations surrounding its production and consumption. He himself both consumes, and visits the production sites of, many types of seafood, including some extremely exotic and even dangerous ones. Although not explicitly ideological, he is intrepid and successful in analyzing what could be done “rationally” to remedy the situation, and in listing ways by which one can make individual consumption choices that promote health, quality, sustainability, and fair labor conditions. The title refers to the fact that smaller fish at the “bottom” of the food chain in the oceans, such as, say, anchovies, are generally much better consumer eating choices than large predators such as tuna. And he lists some environmental organizations' websites for "certifiably" good product choices, which are again very helpful to the individual consumer.

The catch, of course, is that the profit motive of industrial capitalism is arrayed against such rational, individualistic solutions, and is of vastly greater potency, at least so far. Unless an alternative to growth-oriented industrial capitalism is found (and soon), no solution to the problem of vanishing seafood (or global warming, or so many other current environmental problems) will be remotely feasible. I highly recommend the book, depressing as it is, for it makes very clear both that we have little time left to begin to seriously address such problems, and what we will be losing if we fail to do so.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time / Jeffery Sachs -- NY: Penguin, 2005.

Jeffery Sachs's book The End of Poverty makes a convincing case that extreme poverty worldwide can be eliminated within decades. His arguments appear in the last (and most valuable) half of the book. In the first half, Sachs recounts his involvement with various governments as an economic adviser. Chapters are devoted to his work with Bolivia, Poland, and Russia, and while I'm sure he can be credited with successes in in Bolivia and some in Poland, I am left with the impression that there is more to these stories than he is telling. Before turning to his main thesis, he provides interesting chapters on China, India, and Africa.

His argument for how to end poverty is superb. While some (e.g., Bill McKibben) have criticized Sachs for his enthusiasm for globalization and free markets, Sachs's actual views on these issues are nuanced and at least defensible. Sachs embraces globalization as the context in which countries with extremely poor population can escape "the poverty trap" by gaining access to investment and markets. Sachs's history of championing debt cancellation for poor countries gives credibility to his claims. Presumably they would be even stronger if he were more explicit about making the World Trade Organization less an instrument of rich counties.

Sachs's support for free markets is also very qualified. While he supports free markets in some goods and services, he recognizes that markets cannot be relied upon to distribute necessary goods and services to the extremely poor. Consequently, other arrangements must be put in place to guarantee that the poor are not left without these. Sachs recognizes that there is no single prescription for ending extreme poverty, but that many factors are involved and differently so in different places in the world. In general, however, he argues that if the rich contries of the world would fulfill their past promise to provide .07% of their income to alleviating poverty then the human capital, infrastructure development, natural capital, knowledge capital, and public institutional capital could be developed in the poorest countries. With these resources, their economies would be sufficently stable to allow them to participate productively in the global economy and see their economies grow.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life / Barbara Kingsolver -- NY: Harper Collins, 2007.

A few years ago, I read Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. It was a joyful experience. So I was expecting that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle would be great. Unfortunately, I was not so pleased with it. Kingsolver's 'letters from a friend' style was peppered with turns of phrase that were a bit too clever for their own good. The theme, of course, is very interesting, but it was not as well developed as it is in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. However, together, Pollan and Kingsolver pursuaded me to choose local foods whenever possible and to purchase a subscription with a community supported agriculture farm. Changing our dietary habits is one of the few things that we can do to dramatically affect our ecological impact. What surprises me about both Pollan and Kingsolver is that they don't unambiguously advocate a vegetarian diet. Both seem to accept that we should reduce our meat consumption. These days, vegetarianism is an extremely easy lifestyle to maintain -- much easier than eating local foods. So the benefit for the sacrifice is far greater.

Poverty and Water: Explorations of the Reciprocal Relationship / D. Hemson, K. Kulindwa, H. Lein, and A. Mascarenhas, eds. -- London: Zed Books, 2008.

Poverty and Water is a collection of nine scholarly papers and a summary concluding article. The papers are not consistently informative and often make uncontroversial points. Their central theme is that poverty and the lack of access to potable water and/or water for irrigation are strongly related. Furthermore, the World Bank's initiatives to privatize water has had highly detrimental effects. The authors urge a return to the notion that access to water is a basic human right which must not be left to the vaguaries of the market. While I think the main conclusions of the book are sound, a reader would be well-served to pick and choose which papers to read, but the summary article is worth reading in any case.

When the Rivers Run Dry Water: The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century / Fred Pearce -- Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

Pearce's When the Rivers Run Dry is a nice introduction to hydrological problems around the world. From ground water to aquifers, from sea water to rain water, Pearce describes attempt to capture and use a resource that is in ever-increasing demand. Besides giving the impression that everything hydrologists have done in the past 150 years was a mistake, Pearce drive homes the maxim, "water runs up hill to money," meaning that those with money always have the power to acquire water at whatever cost to others or the environment. It's a sobering read with one hopeful note: "We never destroy water...Somewhere, sometime, it will return, purged and fresh."

Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy / Lawerence Hass -- Bloomington, Ind.: University of Indiana Press, 2008.

Hass provides an extremely readable account of what he takes to be the central ideas of the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, placing Merleau-Ponty in a long historical context. Along the way Hass contrasts Merleau-Ponty's ideas with other Twentieth Century philosophers, particularly noted phenomenologists. He makes a compelling case for Merleau-Ponty's philosophical method described as "singing the world" or "saying to show."

Mediaeval Philosophy: Illustrated from the System of Thomas Aquinas / Maurice De Wulf -- Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1922.

De Wulf's Mediaeval Philosohy is a short readable summary of a many of the central ideas in Thomas Aquinas's philosophy. Topics include, metaphysics, theology, ethics, and law. I was surprised to learn tha Aquinas held a rather robust view of the individual and human rights. Consequently, he seems much more modern than I had previously thought.

Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock And the World Economy / Matthew Simmons -- Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Twilight in the Desert probably only deserves three stars for its literary merits, but I gave it an extra star for the importance of its main theme. Author Matthew Simmons argues that based on his study of papers of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Saudi oil production is at or close to its peak. When this happens, world oil production will also peak. The economic consequences are hard to predict, but they will be profound and in all likelihood quite negative. Fortunately, some government and industry decision makers are beginning to heed Simmon's arguments. The main debates now seem to be how soon the peak will come and how sharp the decline will be. In the last paragraph, Simmons optimistically suggests that peak oil may be the oportunity to remake our society in a more benign and humane form. We can only hope. In the meantime, I'm training myself to enjoy life on a low energy budget.

Speeches of John Bright M.P. on the American Question / John Bright -- Boston: Little, Brown, 1865.

John Bright was one of two important advocates for the Northern cause in the British Parliament during the American Civil War. This volume brings together a number of his speeches on the topic. He makes both a moral case and a practical, economic case against British recognition of the Confederacy. It's entertaining to see the issues from the British perspective. Many of the issues of that time have analogues today.

Why I Am a Republican: A History of the Republican Party / George Boutwell -- Hartford, Conn.: W.J. Betts, 1884.

Published in 1884, Why I Am a Republican is a defense of the party by a former member of the Lincoln and Grant administrations. It also appears to be have been a campaign piece in support of James G. Blaine, Republican nominee for president (1884). Much of the work praises Lincoln's careful leadership to end slavery. Later, Boutwell served as the president of the American Anti-Imperialis League and opposed the US government's acquisition of the Philippines.

Making Peace with the Planet / Barry Commoner -- NY: Pantheon Books, 1990.

I first heard about Barry Commoner when he ran for president in 1980. He made what for me was the audacious but indisputable claim that the only way to avoid the environmental disaster caused by plastics was to stop producing it. This is the theme of Making Peace with the Planet. Commoner distinguishes the "ecosphere" from the "technosphere," or the natural world from the industrially constructed world and argues that the later is at war with the former. To end the war, we must gain social control over "the governance of production;" that is, the private control of production must yield to democratic control.  Furthermore, production must be redesigned to avoid environmental damage from the start. Instead of this approach we have established "acceptable limits" to pollutants and more or less ineffective regulations.  This has not solved our environmenal and ecological problems. Commoner's vision is radical in that it sees to the root of our problems and offers what is likely the only solution.

The Phenomenology of Mind / Georg Friedrich Hegel -- London: Allen & Unwin, 1949.

It seems silly to write a "review" of one of most well known books in the European philosophical canon; so I'll simply write that this is Hegel's first important work. It employs the dialectic method that he used throughout his philosophical career in an examination of individual consciousness, including careful reflections on consciousness, self-consciousness, science, reason, ethics, art, and religion.Your appreciation of this work will be enhanced if you first gain a good understanding of Plato, Spinoza, and especially Kant. Certainly read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or at least the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics before reading this work.

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess / David Shenk -- NY: Doubleday, 2006.

This is a nice little introduction to the history of Chess, stressing its significance as a metaphor for war and politics. It also emphasizes Chess's significance in learning and psychology. Interspersed through the text is a commentary on a game played by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky in 1851, known in the Chess world as "the immortal game." For a more serious history of Chess read the classic work entitled History of Chess by H.J.R. Murray.

Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism / William Bennett -- NY: Doubleday, 2002.

I normally wouldn't bother reading anything by William Bennett, but after finding out that he quoted me by name, I had to look into this one. As it turns out, he refers to me as "the organizer of the Washington protests" (peace rallies coincidentally scheduled for two weeks following the 9-11 attacks). Here we have clear evidence of the shoddy research and unreliable statements coming from Bennett. While I was involved -- along with about 150 other people -- in planning the peace rally, I was hardly "the organizer." I suspect that Bennett wanted to attribute my view (rather randomly quoted in The Nation magazine) to someone important in the peace movement; so he elevated my role to fit his purpose. The "moral clarity" that Bennett purports doesn't seem to extend to honest, careful scholarship. Then again, maybe he's just laughably incompentent.

Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash / Elizabeth Royte -- NY: Little, Brown, 2005.

Royte began to wonder what happened to her trash once it left her New York City residence, so she started following its trail and then wrote about what she discovered. The result is this highly entertaining and informative book. She covers waste that ends in landfills, recyclable materials, and compost, all in amazing detail. By the end, she introduces the reader to the concept of "Zero Waste," or working to make our modern waste stream conform more closely to nature's universal practice of turning "waste" into resources for new life. I was so inspired by this book that I joined my city's Environment Committee and I'm looking for ways to bring Zero Waste to my city's waste management practices.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hegel's Philosophy of Right / Georg Friedrich Hegel -- Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942.

Having enjoyed the Phenomenology of Mind, I thought I'd read something else by Hegel. My philosophical training was in Social and Political Philosophy, so the Philosophy of Right seemed, well, right. Hegel's account of the structure of civil society and the state are illuminating, but mostly for how it illustrates Europe of his day. For me, his accounts of property and freedom are perhaps the most interesting elements in the work.

What We Know About Climate Change / Kerry Emanuel -- Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007

What We Know about Climate Change is a very short book -- more like a long article -- that encapsulates some of the most important discoveries in climate science. At times it could use some superficial editing to clarify parts, but on the whole it's well worth the short time that it takes to read.

The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity / James Lovelock -- N.Y.: Basic Books, 2006

James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia was a disappointment. Lovelock is the first proponent of the "Gaia Thesis," that all life and non-living matter on Earth is an interconnected whole. More significantly, the Earth has an ability to regulate conditions in the biosphere to maintain a favorable equilibrium for the current configuration of life. These general theses are reasonable enough. Unfortuantely, Lovelock does not add much to the discussion over climate change. Much of the work relies on metaphors designed less for understanding and more for rhetorical effect. Lovelock is a strong proponant of nuclear power, skeptical of the solar power, and a critic of wind power. Here, his positions deserve attention, but his arguments are weak, and tend to belittle his opponants.

Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline / Lisa Margonelli

Margonelli's Oil on the Brain takes the reader to various locations important to the oil industry and describes the impact of the industry on the people who live there. Margonelli treats everyone she meets sympathetically, without overlooking the profound problems that oil production and consumption are creating. I would have liked a more analytical work, but her non-judgemental observations provoke important questions and some thought. The best chapters describe her visits to four "petrostates:" Venezuela, Chad, Iran, and Nigeria. An American reader can not escape recognizing how our consuption habits are disrupting the lives of people in these oil producing states, often to their profound detriment.

Information on the Renunciation of War, 1927-1928 / John Wheeler Wheeler-Bennett

Wheeler-Bennett's The Renunciation of War, 1927-1928 contains a long essay explaining the diplomacy that resulted in the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact which renounced war as an instrument of national policy. In all, 14 countries including the six leading powers of the time signed the pact. The Pact marked a high point in the international effort to outlaw war. Wheeler-Bennett also inlcudes the text of diplomatic letters and crucial speeches related to the negotiations. Among the most interesting documents is the Soviet Union's critique of the Pact, which nonetheless did not prevent it from adhering to it.

Our Own Religion in Ancient Persia: Being Lectures ... Presenting the Zend Avesta As Collated With Pre-Christian Exilic Pharisaism / Lawrence Mills

Mills's Our Own religion in Ancient Persia is a collection of Lectures on several facets of Zoroastrianism. His primary thesis is one which I believe is now well accepted -- that many of the central theological views in post-exilic Judaism and Christianity find their historical roots in the Zoroastrianism of Babylon. The ideas include, monotheism, the immortality of the soul, and the relationship between God and evil. The style of the work ranges from academic to poetic to memoir. Like many works on Zoroastrianism, this one fails to give a systematic treatment of the subject, but it is nonetheless entertaining.

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth / Tim Flannery -- N.Y.: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005

Tim Flannery's Weather Makers is an excellent primer for anyone interested in Climate Change, though much of what he discussed is becoming general knowledge among people paying attention to the issue. Al Gore Inconvenient Truth covers a lot of this territory, but Flannery deals with it in more depth and with a more careful treatment of the science involved.

In Defense of Food / Michael Pollan

Another great book by Michael Pollan. I'm getting to be a groupie. In In Defense of Food, Pollan examines the health effects of "the Western Diet," i.e., how most Americans eat. The diet is composed almost entirely of processed foods, the credibility of which is based on "nutitionism," i.e., the ideology that by reducing foods to their nutrional components we can understand what in food is necessary for health. The food industry then breaks down whole foods and engineers "food-like products" that are declared healthful by food industry marketers. The alternative, of course, is eating food -- not these reconstituted food-like substances -- but whole foods that would be recognized as food by your great grandmother. It's a quick and easy read, but very informative.

The World of Mexican Migrants: The Rock and the Hard Place / Judith Adler Hellman

Hellman's book The World of Mexican Migrants is built out of countless interviews with Mexican migrants and their families. The interviews were conducted in the US and Mexico and reveal a complex set of conditions and motivations for migrations. Most interestingly, it emphasizes that the common understanding of Mexican migrants as escaping poverty and "seeking the American Dream" misunderstand Mexican migration. More commonly, migrants intend to accumulate enough capital to build houses or start businesses at home in Mexico.

Ghazali: The Revival of Islam / Eric Ormsby

Ormsby's brief introduction to the life and thought of Hamid al-Ghazali is quite good for anyone with little familiarity with Ghazali. The opening chapter gives a brief account of some of the main figures and schools of Islam that were the backdrop to Ghazali's thinking. While it was a good idea, it is not carried out particularly well. However, as Ormsby turns to Ghazali, the work becomes clear and more valuable, though it reamins somewhat superficial.

Zoroastrianism: An Introduction to Ancient Faith / Peter Clark

Peter Clark's introduction to Zoroastrianism is clear and concise. He sketches the various theologies that appear through its history and compares them with the Vedas, Judaism, and Christianity. His treatment of the Zoroastrian community's internal dialog over conversion and marriage outside of the faith is quite interesting.

The Book of Tea / Kakuzo Okakura

Kakuzo's The Book of Tea is a charming little explanation of the role of tea (or teaism) is Zen and Taoism. He has chapters on the boiling, whipping, and steeping of tea; Tao and Zen; tea rooms, art appreciation, flower arrangement, and tea masters. For a fuller treatment of much of this material see D.T. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture.

The Greening of America / Charles Reich

The Greening of America was a blockbuster bestseller in 1971-72 heralding, according the Reich, the coming of a new consciousness that would result in a revolutionary social transformation away from the destructive, dehumanizing institutions of Corporate America. Time has proven Reich's predictions too optimistic, but his critique of Corporate America remains trenchent and accurate.

Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision / Kirkpatrick Sale

Kirkpatrick Sale's Dwellers in the Land presents a brisk argument in favor of geographical determinism, particularly the importance of bioregions in shaping our identities. He goes on to argue that this is a very good thing -- that our nationalized and globalized economy and culture is the root of many of our problems. Sales argues that by reconnecting with our local bioregion, we can restore our environment and resolve significant social and economic problems. Occasionally, he waxes on about the Earth as a single organism, i.e., the "Gaea" (or Gaia) Thesis. While this sometimes amounts a kind of religious faith, embracing the vision has the practical consequence of underscoring the value of the planet and humbling our place in it.

The Rise of the Creative Class and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life / Richard Florida

I would not have finished this book but that my book club will be discussing it. The most interesting theses are trivial at best. Most of the work is a description of the the life preferences of "the Creative Class," a flattering term for what one would otherwise call the bourgeoisie, particularly the high tech bourgeoisie. Florida's quantitative support for his theses goes no deeper than the comparison of various "indexes" that mostly are mere rank-order lists of cities. He provides no data on the strength of the correlations that he asserts and often the relata are not independent. He generally disregards the contributions of the working class by, for example, generally attributing the value of high tech products to the work done by software engineers. He advocates city planning that intentionally caters to the wants of the wealthy and privileged. All of this in the pursuit of the sacred goal of "economic growth" regardless of disparities of wealth and the ecological limits of the planet. It's nothing more than euphemistic boosterism for some of the worst tendencies of the global economy.

Buddha's Ancient Path / Piyadassi Thera

Piyadassi Thera's Buddha's Ancient Path provides a clear and detailed explanation of Buddhism's most important elements. Most introductory books afford one or two chapters to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, giving only the barest outline of the details that are brilliantly presented here.

Buddhism / Christmas Humphreys

Christmas Humphreys's Buddhism is the first book I read on Buddhism (back in 1971). Re-reading it confirmed for me that it is a good introduction to Buddhism for anyone with little to no understanding of Buddhism.

Buddhist Wisdom Books: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra / Edward Conze, ed.

Buddhist Wisdom Books is composed of the two most popular sutras from the Prajnaparamita Sutras: the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra. Edward Conze provides extremely helpful commentary for both sutras.

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika / Nagarjuna; Jay L. Garfield -- N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1995

This volume is a translation of the Mulamadhyamakakarika (MK) with commentary by Jay Garfield. The MK is the most important work by Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism. The MK is primarily a work in metaphysics, dealing with objects, properties, time, space, causation, personal identity and other topics. Nagarjuna's arguments are largely critical, reminiscent of Zeno on motion, and prefiguring Hume on causation, and Kant's antinomies. The positive doctrine is the mutual dependence of all things and the ultimate "emptiness" (shunyata) of the phenomenal world. Garfield's commentary is extremely helpful in elucidating this difficult text.

The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of Madhyamika System / T.R.V. Murti

In The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, Murti compares the metaphysical systems of Jainism, Advaita Vedantism, and the Theravada and Yogachara schools of Buddhism with the dialectical system of Madhyamika Buddhism. He also compares these to the metaphysical views of Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Bradley. The book is an outstanding presentation of Indian (particularly Buddhist) metaphysics and is quite accessible to western philosophers. Murti especially notes the similarities between Kant's Transcendental Dialectic and Nagarguna's philosophical techniques.

Stonehenge & Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered / Norman Lockyer

Norman Lockyer's studies of ancient Egyptian and British monuments rightfully makes him the progenitor of astro-archeology. His work on British megaliths, however, has been superseded by more exact calculations. In any case, his work, like other works in astro-archeology, reads more into the data than is justified. While it is entirely safe to say that the megalith builders consciously aligned many if not most of their monuments, it isn't at all clear that Lockyer is correct in claiming that that these alignments were set to observe the rising and/or setting of "warning stars" and "clock stars." Among the most interesting aspects of this book is Lockyer's hypothesis that the early megalith builders aligned many of their monuments to celebrate the year beginning in early May. He also includes discussions of British folklore and traditional celebrations which he claims support his astronomical interpretation of the megaliths.

Disloyalty in the Confederacy / Georgia Lee Tatum -- Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1934.

Tatum's Disloyalty in the Confederacy reveals opposition to secession and continuation of the rebellion within the Confederacy. Tatum's reseach demonstrates that the public attitudes during the Civil War were complex, varying especially across class, region, and time. Among the more interesting aspects of the book is her discussion of a secret society known as the Heros of America.

Night / Elie Wiesel -- NY: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Elie Wiesel's Night was first published in English more than ten years after the War. Little scholarship on the Holocaust had been published by then. I can only imagine how shocking and moving the work would have been a the time. It still retains enormous power, but it is a testament to Wiesel's efforts that we "never forget" that much of the spirit of this work is part of our general knowledge and understanding.

Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media / Robert McChesney

In Communication Revolution, McChesney argues that we are at a "critical juncture" in the history of communication, i.e., a time in which the conditions for the shape and development of a new global communication regime are being determined. McChesney encourages his fellow professors and students in the field of communication to abandon their isolation in academic scholarship and actively interweave the pressing issues of communication policy planning into their research. In particular, he encourages academics to become aware of and involved in the new movement for media reform that he detects building since 2003.Overall, the work is persuasive. It also provides the reader with a wealth of bibliographic citations for anyone interested in the political economy of communication. Sadly, the citations are buried in the endnotes and not organized in a convenient bibliography.

Kansas: The Prelude to the War for the Union / Leverett Wilson Spring -- Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885.

This history of Kansas was written 20-30 years after the events it describes: Kansas during its colonization just prior to the Civil War. The account describes a near civil war between anti-slavery and pro-slavery residents, with the territorial governors struggling to maintain peace and order. The author writes a good deal about the murders that have been attributed to John Brown and his family and followers. Unfortunately, the book provides too few reminders reagarding the roles of the numerous political and military actors and the temporal sequence of events for the work to be an easy read for someone with little background.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future / Bill McKibben -- NY: Times Books, 2007.

Bill McKibben's Deep Economy is an important and abitious attempt to unsettle the economic paradigm that values economic growth above all other values. He especially seeks to remind us that our satisfaction and quality of life often have more to do with our relations to other people than how many possessions we have accumulated. At the same time, he does not question the need for greater wealth among the planet's least well off. McKibben argues that to address the two most pressing problems of the 21st Century (Peak Oil and Global Warming), we must rediscover the values of local economies. At times Deep Economy advocates sweeping changes that are hard to know how to apply. This leads McKibben to reiterate his advice, "patronize your local farmer's market" as the prime exemple of how to alleviate the world's ills; but in the end, McKibben's main claims and arguments are absolutely right. Unfortunately, it's up to us to work out the details of creating effective local economies.

Cartesian Meditations / Edmund Husserl

Husserl's Cartesian Meditations took me back to my earliest experiences with philosophy when I wrestled with Descartes's first meditation and the problem of solipsism. Starting with Descartes's challenge to found knowledge only on that which is beyond doubt, Husserl claims to lay the groundwork for any future science. The most interesting section of this work is the fifth meditation in which Husserl addresses the question of other persons. Establishing the fact of other persons, Husserl argues for the objectivity of an intersubjective world. My philosophical training did not lead me to phenomenology -- something I dearly regret.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals / Michael Pollan -- NY: Penguin Press, 2006.

I was attracted to this book on based on Pollan's earlier book, The Botany of Desire. In the Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan examines the origins of food in four food chains. In the process he reveals startling facts about the food we get from grocery stores, restaurants, and "big organic" grocers like Whole Foods. He provides a detailed description of Polyface Farms in Virginia, which strives to produce food for local consumption, using inputs that are entirely found on the farm itself. All in all, the book is a powerful argument for eating locally grown produce. His section on vegetarianism presents the stongest case for meat eating that I have read, though what is argued to be justified is only meat that comes from a self-sufficient farm like Polyface and where the animals are essential to the sufficiency of the farm.

The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism / Ismael Hossein-zadeh -- NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

The growth of the military-industrial complex in recent decades deserves careful examination and Ismael Hossein-zadeh gives it just that. Following the recent work of Chalmers Johnson, Hossein-zadeh's scholarly work argues that the growth of militarism in the US is undermining the democratic nature of our government and society, and that the common interests of the Pentagon, congressional leaders, and defense contractors have transformed US imperialism from "classical" or economic imperialism into "parasitic imperialsm." The former sought to agrandize the nation, the latter seeks to secure and expand more of the nation's public spending for the defense industry. The former was characteristic of defense industries that were built by the state for the goals of the state. The latter has come about due to the imperatives of private defence corporations competing in a capitalist economy.

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic / Chalmers Johnson -- NY: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

This is the third book in a three book series written by Chalmers Johnson. Blowback, the first book in the series, makes the point that much of what is described as irrational terror attacks are in fact what the CIA has termed "blowback," or the unpleasant consequences of US actions abroad. The Sorrows of Empire, the second book, focuses on the massive (and growing) number of US military bases abroad. Over 700 are officially recognized by the Pentagon, but Johnson remindes us that there are many more covert bases. The third book, Nemesis, recapitulates many of the points made in the previous two volumes and emphasizes how the ascendent values of militarism may be inexorably transforming American government into a unconstrainable military bureucracy.

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic / Chalmers Johnson -- NY: Metropolitan Books, 2004.

This is the second (and best) book in a three book series written by Chalmers Johnson. Blowback, the first book in the series, makes the point that much of what is described as irrational terror attacks are in fact what the CIA has termed "blowback," or the unpleasant consequences of US actions abroad. The Sorrows of Empire focuses on the massive (and growing) number of US military bases abroad. Over 700 are officially recognized by the Pentagon, but Johnson reminds us that there are many more covert bases. The third book, Nemesis, recapitulates many of the points made in the previous two volumes and emphasizes how the ascendent values of militarism may be imperceptibly transforming American government into a unconstrainable military bureucracy.

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire / Chalmers Johnson -- NY: Henry Holt, 2004.

This is the first book in a three book series written by Chalmers Johnson. Blowback makes the point that much of what is described as irrational terror attacks are in fact what the CIA has termed "blowback," or the unpleasant consequences of US actions abroad. Much of the book describes the ill effects of US military bases in Okinawa. The second book, Sorrows of Empire, focuses on the massive (and growing) number of US military bases abroad. Over 700 are officially recognized by the Pentagon, but Johnson reminds us that there are many more covert bases. The third book, Nemesis, recapitulates many of the points made in the previous two volumes and emphasizes how the ascendent values of militarism may be imperceptibly transforming American government into a unconstrainable military bureucracy.

Essays in Zen Buddhism, Second Series / D.T. Suzuki

Someone once wrote there are two kinds of people in the world, those who have read D.T. Suzuki and those who have not. Beyond the tautology, the writer was underscoring the importance of Suzuki's work. It's hard for me to disagree. Suzuki is among the most respected writers on Zen Buddhism and on Buddhism generally. His reputation is particularly high in the West. I think this is primarily because of his clear, scholarly, analytical approach to his subjects. In Essays on Zen Buddhism (Second Series), Suzuki takes up the Zen method of the koan in achieving a state of enlightenment (satori). He offers numerous accounts of events that triggered satori in various Zen practitioners, dividing them into several kinds of responses to the koan. Much of what he writes illuminates the psychological mechanism involved in reaching satori. His scholarly, ananlytical style has resulted in much criticism of his work by Zen practitioners. For many, scholarship and systematic analysis actuallly inhibit one from attaining enlightment. However, for anyone not actually dedicating themselves to Zen, Suzuki gives an unsurpassed account of the tradition, not merely in this book, but in numerous others. Moreover, he treats the subject so sympathetically, that one is tempted to put aside Suzuki's works and find a real master to follow.

The Children of Hurin / J.R.R. Tolkien -- London: Harper, 2007

It's hard for me to be objective about this book. I've been a Tolkien fan since 1970 and I've hardly read a word by him that I don't treasure. The Children of Hurin is nicely edited, presenting a very clear and gripping account of the life of Turin Turambar, son of Hurin. Hurin, captured by the Enemy Morgoth, was cursed along with his descendents, making Turin's life a tragedy. The story reveals a great deal about Tolkein's concept of fate in Middle Earth. Elements of the story are rooted in the Volsunga Saga particularly the death of the dragon Glaurung.

The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery ... that Could Change History / Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino -- S.F., Cal.: HarperSanFranscisco, 2007

Jacobovici and Pellegrino make an extremely strong case for their claim that the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was found intact outside Jerusalem, including the remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of Jesus, and other family members. They argue that one of the sets of remains is from Jonah, son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The book is told in a detective story style, which makes it quite gripping, but I missed the kind of scholarly support that might come with an academic treatment of the subject. Their main argument is based on a statistical calculation of the probability that several names associated with Jesus would all appear in the same tomb. The book leaves me wondering what reception it has received in professional circles.

The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest / Rick Darke -- Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2002

This is a really wonderful book. Darke's hundreds of photographs of America's Eastern Woodlands are stunning, even though he does not appear to rely on lab or digital techniques to enhance the images. They seem true to the eye. His text really makes you appreciate the forest as a living place that changes from season to season and develops over the years. The last half of the book is essentially a brief encyclopedia of native woodland plants listed according to their Latin names. It's an excellent resource.

The French Revolution, 1789-1799 / Peter McPhee -- Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002

I was a little disappointed in this book. I was hoping for a general overview of the revolution which would identify a number of important dynamics within the revolution and explain their interrelations, along with some fuller account of central figures. While the McPhee does a bit of the former, I still was left feeling that I didn't have a very clear picture of the revolution. I can't say the work did much to correct an embarassing gap in my knowledge of European history. The work included occasional statistical data to establish certain points, but none of it was detailed enough or thorough enough to be terribly meaningful. Nonetheless, the book has a number of redeeming features that other readers may well appreciate.

History of the Reign of Phillip II / William H. Prescott -- Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1878

I have read only the first two volumes of this three volume set. I was surprised how little it tells of Phillip himself. The first volume contains a lot about Charles V, the Spanish war with France, Phillip's marriage to Mary of England, and unrest in the Netherlands. The second volume is largely about the resistence to Spanish rule in the Netherlands, the defense of Malta against a Turkish attack, and the tragic life of Juan Carlos. I find Prescott's writing quite engaging.