book_review   1302

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Empires of the Silk Road (Christopher Beckwith) - review
Danny Yee reviews Christopher Beckwith's Empires of the Silk Roads.
"In his account, attacks by Central Asians on peripheral states are always the result of provocation, and wars the result of expansionist policy by neighbours. Even the sack of Baghdad is explained: "The caliph refused to surrender, despite the reasonable Mongol offer and explanation of what would happen if he resisted." It reminds me of seeing books in Ulan Batar with titles like "Genghis Khan, Peacekeeper of God"."

"The more recent history is largely subordinated to political and aesthetic rants. A potted history narrates the twentieth century as one disaster after another, every one of them the fault of Modernism, or in some cases extreme Modernism, radical Modernism, religious fundamentalism, Postmodernism, or other variants. For Beckwith the horrors of Soviet collectivization or the Cultural Revolution are on a continuum with the populist excesses of Western "democracies", responsible for such evils as the imposition of mass schooling. Instead he harks back to the classical, aristocratic, and even monarchic past — the last Persian Shah is presented as a wise philosopher-king betrayed by the West. And, yes, it is possible to fit arguments about the merits (or lack thereof) of T.S. Eliot and The Wasteland, or serial music, into a history of Central Eurasia!"

"The most compelling material in Empires of the Silk Road is in its earlier chapters. This is Beckwith's core area of expertise and when he takes a contrarian or speculative stance here he backs it up with evidence. And his digressions, while often esoteric, are not quite so wildly aimed."

"Beckwith is slightly obsessed by the comitatus and sees evidence of it everywhere, even in something as generic as loyalty to an individual rather than to a government. (I'm not sure I'd want to be one of Beckwith's doctoral students: they may be expected to bury themselves with him.)"
book_review  central_asia  christopher_beckwith 
5 days ago by PeterErwin
DeWitt’s “The Last Samurai” Cultivates Ambition in its Readers
> Sibylla’s response reads like a defense of DeWitt’s own endeavor: “There is an obvious difference,” she tells her child, “between someone who works within the technical limitations of his time which are beyond his control and someone who accepts without thinking limitations which are entirely within his own power to set aside.”
helen_dewitt  novel  book_review  ambition 
10 days ago by porejide Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (2015465062911): Sally Satel, Scott O. Lilienfeld: Books
> On the plus side, this book is a lucid critique of how neural imaging has been abused within recent science. Neural images are representations, not descriptions of what is going on in the brain; even worse, they show areas of oxygenation, which can indicate places in the brain that are activating or suppressing neural connections. The fMRI is indeed in the hands of charlatans a neo-phrenology. On the negative side, the cold water is more often than not somewhat obvious, and it is only the hyperbolic enthusiasm surrounding fMRIs that makes such a corrective seem like such a breath of fresh air. Who really believes activity in region A means that the person prefers one candidate over another or that I love my iPhone?: oxygenation is a long ways away from the content of a thought or feeling. Ruth Leys has performed a much more powerful critique of the work of Benjamin Libet; see her "The Turn to Affect: A Critique."
neuroscience  book_review 
7 weeks ago by porejide
Why I Don't Love Gödel, Escher, Bach
In this passage, Hofstadter openly admits to exactly the charge I’m bringing: that his inclusion of Zen is all about clichéd aesthetics (“Eastern spice”) and not at all about any of its substance—in this case, because he apparently doesn’t seem to think it has any!

What Hofstadter doesn’t admit to, but what I would argue, is that the whole book does this with almost every non-mathematical topic it tackles. His explanations of mathematics-adjacent topics do have substance and are often reasonably well-explained, but every time he branches out, he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s regurgitating shallow, half-misunderstood cliché: his discussions of modern art and music are, as I mentioned before, deeply lacking in this regard, but he name-checks plenty of artists, musicians, and writers with a high school understanding of who they were and what they did, preferring to pepper the text with photos of wacky paintings, drawing he made of letters that are made up of other letters, and tales of half-understood kōans. They’re all spice: his “casserole” is a few insubstantial layers of food underneath inch-thick layers of spices.

This also presents a problem with the entire underlying program of the book: it’s supposed to present examples of a common important idea—self-reference—resurfacing throughout various disparate areas, including mathematics and computation and art and music, but while this idea is well-motivated in the parts about mathematics and computation, but because most of the other topics the book tackles end up being just shallow aesthetics, then the “deep connections” there can only be present in shallow aesthetic ways. This was, for me, the ultimate breakdown of the promise of the book, as the grand unifying theme—the titular “eternal golden braid” of self-referential structures across domains—was only capable of unifying a few problem domains, as the rest of those connections were pretty but ultimately insubstantial.
contrarianism  programmer_mentality  book_review 
11 weeks ago by anaximander
[no title]
Negative review of Hunt & Lipo's _The Statues that Walked_ by Flenley & Bahn.
easter_island  book_review 
may 2018 by PeterErwin
The Man Who Led the Harlem Renaissance—and His Hidden Hungers | The New Yorker
Review of a biography of Alain Locke, who promoted and helped publish many of the writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, but whose relationship to them and the debates of the day was strained and full of tensions.
harlem_renaissance  alain_locke  writers  writing  race  history  literature  book_review  biography 
may 2018 by johnmfrench
Minecraft over Marriage | Mark Regnerus | First Things
But it’s Harari’s discussion of the collapse of the family and the territorial grab of state and market that garnered my quickest attention. We’ve become a nation of isolated individuals, and we are voting against marriage and families:

With the individual wielding unprecedented power to decide her own path in life, we find it ever harder to make commitments. We thus live in an increasingly lonely world of unraveling communities and families.

Harari attributes the collapse in family authority to the active colonization of state and market, going where even I would fear to tread:

Over time, states and markets used their growing power to weaken the traditional bonds of family and community. . . . In order to really break the power of family and community, they needed the help of a fifth column. The state and market approached people with an offer that could not be refused. ‘Become individuals,’ they said. ‘Marry whomever you desire, without asking permission from your parents’. . . . You are no longer dependent on your family or your community. We, the state and the market, will take care of you instead.
book_review  social_engineering 
april 2018 by anaximander
Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism | by Pankaj Mishra | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
-- Mishra knows how to insult with style. He hates western intellectuals and elites and has fun *roasting* Peterson.

But the more I read Mishra, the more I get a feeling that he overfits his post-colonial narratives. Someone should start a new field of empirically driven post-colonial studies. Maybe there is one already and I just don't know about it.
post-colonialism  book_review  critique  right-wing_populism  alt-right  fascism  history_of_ideas  cultural_history  nybooks 
march 2018 by rvenkat

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