Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Books for Iraq

My leave is rapidly coming to an end and my bookshelf is trying to jump into my duffel bag along with bike stuff I am bringing back to the land of dirt and gravel. Among the books going is an old copy of the The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. I was up late one night and read the first act of "Pirates of Penzance." It's like reading Shakespeare (as opposed to seeing the performance of the play)--I don't have to strain my ears to catch the jokes delivered at auctioneer speed in a British accent. I can read at my own pace and not miss the jokes. "Hamlet" is also going back with me.

Ivan Amato's delightful book Stuff is going in my backpack for the long flight along with a volume of Orwell's essays. Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and CS Lewis' The Allegory of Love are in the duffel bag along with copy of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. I am bringing Darwin in part because my wife just read me a few pages from How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie--the first great American self-help book in the 20th century and clearly an influence on every one of the tens of thousands of self-help volumes that followed.

Anyway, hearing Carnegie reminded me of CS Lewis' maxim that we should only read the commentators on a book after we have read the book itself. I recently read essays criticizing Carnegie, but had not read the book. After hearing just a few pages, he seems brimming with good sense and based much of the book on a long study of the life of Abraham Lincoln. So I will read his book before I listen to anymore criticism. Imagine if AM talk radio hosts had to actually deal with the reality of politics before they spoke on an issue. The silence would be deafening.

Back to Darwin. I have no quarrel with Origin since nearly every working scientist acknowledges his great insights, and blaming Darwin for misuse of his theory is as stupid as blaming Einstein for moral relativism. But I never read Darwin's great book, so I plan to amend that. I am also bringing The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose more as a reference book than something to read.

SPQR and America

Senatus Populusque Romanus The Senate and People of Rome Some of the soldiers I served with in Iraq talked about getting an SPQR tat...