Summer Reading

I have devoured Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. The ideas contained in these two books are profound, disturbing and very, very liberating. For some reason, these books occasionally get labeled as “Business” or “Markets” books. They are not. They are works of philosophy that everyone with the slightest inclination to think about life should read. (Josh: take note.) Christians in particular should marinate in these ideas.

I gave up on Witness to Hope, the biography of JPII. The first third of the book, which dealt with his pre-pope days, was terrific. The stuff after he was elected read like a diary or a press release. Boring as hell. I can handle a little bit of boring, but the stark contrast between the two sections of the book was more than I could bear. Since it’s 1100 pages, and I wasn’t even halfway through, I was not willing to devote any more time to it. Anyone who wants my copy can have it.

(Does anyone else always have multiple books going at the same time? I realized a couple of weeks ago that I was reading five books at the same time – and that’s just pretty normal for me.)

I just finished J.S.Mill’s essay On Liberty and am now working on his autobiography. Mill was educated at home by his father and lemme tell you, Daddy should be very proud. What an extraordinary mind that man had.

If you would permit me one quote that I found quite relevant:

The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government, causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and converts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the public into hangers-on of the government, or of some party which aims at becoming the government. If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government; if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the employés of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name.

I think Mill would look at the state of the modern west and say, “I toldja so…”

I finished The Sovereign Individual just before finishing Mill. Highly recommended.

On deck is Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence. This comes very highly recommended and I am eager to get started. Also  The Gods of Atheism by Vincent P. Maseli, S.J. (Apparently, the Jesuits pay attention to these things.)

I am also doing my annual re-reading of Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I started reading Lewis when I was maybe 10 or 11 with The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve read almost everything he ever published – in most cases, multiple times – and as I was going through MC again this past week, was struck with wonder at how much his thinking has influenced mine. Virtually every significant belief I have about God, the world and myself can likely be traced back to something I read somewhere in Lewis. Not that we don’t have our disagreements, but it is safe to say he is the single most influential thinker in my life.

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