Category Archives: books

Proust begins

I’ve started working my way through Neville Jason’s excellent narration of Proust’s classic In Search of Lost Time.  Here’s my brief review from goodreads.com of the (21 hours long!) first volume.

Swann's Way (In Search of Lost Time, #1)Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Revisiting an author I avoided when I studied French at university, I was surprised that Proust’s writing was more accessible than I had feared. Not that it immediately grabs you: the vast sentences with their minute analysis of characters’ motives (“Nooo, not another subclause – my puny intellect can’t cope!”) engages you only slowly. Don’t look for a page-turning twist-driven plot here. What you get is a sort of beautifully-written, melancholy and contemplative retrospective set in fin de siecle France and driven by the big themes of love and memory.

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Haidt on the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan Haidt is one of my current favourite thinkers and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

In this TED talk he posits the possibility that humans evolved the religious impulse as an adaptation to assist group selection. In simpler terms, we are hard-wired to have transcendent  experiences because it makes us co-operate instead of acting selfishly.

Haidt uses the staircase as a metaphor for self-transcendence which should surely have resonance for freemasons who have taken their second degree.  He states:

The staircase takes us from the experience of life as profane or ordinary upwards to the experience of life as sacred, or deeply interconnected”.

Fascinating. Watch it.

Book review – Christian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My review on Goodreads.com of this book I read in February:

Christian NationChristian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Without realising it, I appear to have become a fan of dystopian counterfactual fiction. (Wow, is that, you know,  A Thing?). This particular novel certainly fits into that category, presenting as a memoir the events leading up to the establishment of a brutal Christian theocracy in the USA. The protagonist is a liberal-minded New York lawyer, who helps a charismatic friend battle the forces of a “dominionist” (Google it!) Christian movement that uses a Palin presidency as springboard to power. Implausible? Unlikely, but not necessarily implausible given the assistance of some unpredictable events that the dominionists seize on to do, as the author is at pains to point out, “what they said they would do”. It reads sometimes as polemic, the traditional twists and turns of plot never really happen and some might find the lengthy passages of legal exposition a turnoff, but I wasn’t bothered by these flaws. I had, in fact, expected a slightly trashier read but was pleasantly surprised by its erudition.

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Review: Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOs

Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOsMirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOs by Mark Pilkington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slightly disjointed in style, this book can’t quite decide if it wants to be gonzo journalism told first hand or a hard-nosed investigation into American alphabet agency UFO disinformation shenanigans. Still, has some intriguing insights into the murky world of the disinfo agents – the “Mirage Men” of the title – and the mindsets of the ufologists they manipulate. Injects some much needed pyrrhonism into the field. You don’t know what pyrrhonism is? Nor did I until I read the last chapter of this book.

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Book Review: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern HistoryVoodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sobering antidote to the conspiratorial mindset that permeates the Internet. Skewers several recent conspiracy theories and traces the reasons for conspiracy theories’ development without settling on any single reason.

In particular I was intrigued by the analysis of the origins of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” hoax that defamed Jews and provided a pretext for their persecution. A pity this wasn’t expanded into a debunking of the NWO/Freemasonry/Illuminati meme.

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Book Review: The Masonic Myth

The Masonic MythThe Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a mason, this is the book to give your friends who ask you what freemasonry is. Well-informed and written with sufficient detachment to inspire confidence, the tone is neither reverential nor apologetic, and makes needed criticism of the institution where it’s deserved.

Familiar anti-masonic claims are debunked efficiently, placing their origins in historical context.

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Cultural prejudice and booksellers’ responsibility

I’ve just returned from a trip to a bookshop in Gloucester. Browsing the history section, I noted that the shelves containing books on German history were dominated by books on the Second World War, the Nazis and the Holocaust. One of the very few books that had significant coverage of Germany before 1933 was itself a highly controversial account by A.J.P. Taylor notable for the extremes of opinion it contains. Moving to the section on Freemasonry, I noted the unusually large number (no doubt boosted by the success of The Da Vinci Code) of books there were dominated by books pandering to the Freemasonry-as-world-conspiracy mythology accompanied by dubious (by academic standards) pseudo-historical accounts of Freemasonry’s origins.

I moved on to the reference section in search of a Welsh dictionary to help me better understand the language of the neighbouring country, a language being taught in schools less than thirty miles from Gloucester, a language that is the descendant of the original British languages spoken throughout this island, long before English arrived and a language whose number of speakers is growing. No dictionary to be found, of course. Only a couple of Welsh course books among the huge array of Spanish, French, Italian….

The choices the shop’s management (or distant corporate HQ?) had made obviously reflect what they believe will sell; choices, one presumes, based on the perceived interests and prejudices of the local marketplace. What might that tell us then about the shop’s beliefs about the typical Gloucester book shopper when seeking information on these subjects? – that Germany has little history or culture of interest beyond the Nazi era – that Freemasonry is a sinister secret society bent on world domination or something equally dodgy – the indigenous language of England’s immediately neighbouring country doesn’t matter much.