All posts filed under: Review

Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments—A Review

A review of Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen. Stripe Press (October 2018), 160 pages. The complexity of the modern world makes it difficult to know what’s worth caring about. We all know that many problems exist, but none of us know for certain which problems are over-exaggerated, which ones are under-exaggerated, which ones admit of solutions, and which ones would only be exacerbated by our meddling. To make matters worse, the increasing partisanship of mainstream media along with the echo chamber effects of social media throws doubt on the notion that information reaches our minds free of slant, spin, or skew. Onto this landscape of paralyzing uncertainty strides the economist Tyler Cowen with a bold solution. As he argues in his new book Stubborn Attachments, there is one goal we should promote above all else: maximizing the sustainable rate of economic growth. Of course, you’re free to care about other societal issues if it makes you happy. But from the point of view of increasing human well-being, …

The One-Sided Worldview of Hans Rosling

A review of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Flatiron Books (April 2018) 352 pages.  Charisma and upbeat messages about global trends made the late Hans Rosling (1948–2017), professor at Karolinska Institute in Sweden, an international TEDTalk-star, listed among TIME Magazine´s “The World´s 100 Most Influential People” already in 2012. The posthumous book, Factfulness written with his son and daughter-in-law is now becoming a global bestseller. Bill Gates promises to hand it out to all US university graduates. Nature is full of praise: “This magnificent book ends with a plea for a factual world view. …Like his famous presentations, it throws down a gauntlet to doom-and-gloomers in global health by challenging preconceptions and misconceptions.” In Sweden, The Nobel Prize Foundation has teamed up with the Rosling family, announcing that it will “light up Stockholm every spring, in connection with the arrival of the light, with a new public education day in memory of Hans Rosling.”1 Unfortunately, Factfulness …

Charlie Kirk’s Campus Battlefield—A Review

A review of Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle of Ideas on Campus and Why It Matters by Charlie Kirk. Post Hill Press (October 2018), 160 pages. Charlie Kirk, founder and CEO of Turning Point USA, campus court jester, and pro-Trump parvenu, has written a new book, Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters. As evinced by the title, Kirk purports to expose how colleges have become “leftist echo chambers” and explain what conservatives can do about it. It is a bad book, both in style and substance, failing as much on its own terms as any others. It’s not a book I expect too many to read, either, being a less-than-average offering in the already oversaturated, worse-than-average genre of nonfiction punditry. Nevertheless, I do consider it a relatively useful book, at least insofar as what it augurs for conservatism, at present and going forward. Like it or not (and, I’ll disclose upfront, I do not), Charlie Kirk is a rising star within the GOP and American conservatism …

The Souls of Yellow Folk—A Review

A review of The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang. W. W. Norton & Company (November 2018), 256 pages. Wesley Yang’s longform essay “The Face of Seung-Hui Cho” was first published in the small magazine n+1 in the early months of 2008. At the time Yang, who was in his early 30s, seemed to be a typical young New York writer. He had published an assortment of short pieces, mostly about books, for places like New York, Salon, and the New York Observer. He wasn’t a “name” yet, but he was well-known enough that one of the editors of n+1 thought of him when they were looking for someone to write about Cho, the Korean-American student who’d killed 32 people and wounded 17 during his shooting rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech. “I resented the implication of his request,” writes Yang in the introduction to his new collection of essays, The Souls of Yellow Folk. “The implication was that there was something about that episode that would be particularly salient to me. …The implication was …

A World Without Animal Farming

A Review of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System, by Jacy Reese (Beacon Press, November 6 2018, 240 pages).  In a world distressingly full of evil, we can discern moral progress by looking at the benighted past. Only two lifetimes ago educated people endorsed chattel slavery. The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals. Every year, tens of billions of land animals, and more sea creatures, are killed in so-called “factory farms,” having lived lives of unrelieved mental and physical anguish, because humans enjoy eating their flesh. A chilling line in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars comes to mind. The Greek historian reports a dialogue between a group of Athenian emissaries and the representatives of Melos, a city-state that wanted to remain neutral in the war between Athens and Sparta. The emissaries bluntly assert that …

Germaine Greer’s ‘On Rape’—A Review

A review of On Rape by Germaine Greer. Bloomsbury Publishing (September 2018) 92 pages. Germaine Greer’s On Rape is roughly the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter story. And why not? As it happens, The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck also says a great deal of what young people need to know about the topic: beware of polite, well-dressed gentlemen (especially if they have foxy whiskers and black prick ears); don’t go uncritically into dismal summerhouses in the woods; and accepting a dinner invitation does not imply consent to everything the polite gentlemen is looking for. Greer’s book is not as incisive as Potter’s and it is considerably more expensive. But that is not to say it is a complete waste of money. In some ways it fizzes along with ideas and raises lots of questions that others are frightened to ask. Why are we so afraid of the penis when a fist and a thumb can do more physical damage? Why do some women fantasise about being raped? Are sentences for rapists too long? Should rapists be compulsorily castrated? …

A Mania for All Seasons: The Continuing Importance of ‘The Devils of Loudun’

There are many people for whom hate and rage pay a higher dividend of immediate satisfaction than love. Congenitally aggressive, they soon become adrenalin addicts, deliberately indulging their ugliest passions for the sake of the ‘kick’…Knowing that one self-assertion always ends by evoking other and hostile self-assertions, they sedulously cultivate their truculence…Adrenalin addiction is rationalized as Righteous Indignation and finally, like the prophet Jonah, they are convinced, unshakably, that they do well to be angry. These words first appeared in 1952, in the pages of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun. While many of Huxley’s works are better known and more widely read, there may be no text, past or present, more relevant to our turbulent era than this account of a seventeenth century witch trial. Huxley composed this passage to shed light on the mind of a thoroughly unlikeable individual by the name and title of Father Urban Grandier, in particular. But he also offered it as a more general analysis of the mindset afflicting those who burned Grandier to death—with the approval of …

An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt—A Review

A review of An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt by Pascal Bruckner. Polity (November 2018), 204 pages. It is embarrassingly easy to write about the collapse of the Left in the twenty-first century. The explosion in identity politics that has led to the automatic use of “white” as an ethnic insult in condemnations such as “white privilege” and “white, straight men” has made race as defining a factor in left-wing politics as it is in extreme right-wing politics. Meanwhile, the willingness to excuse antisemitsm, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western, has called into question whether leftists—or at least the noisiest voices on the Left—have lost all connection to their better values. I have said as much many times, and in his new book the French political theorist Pascal Bruckner says it again. Bruckner once struck me as the best the French intelligentsia had to offer. In 2007, he provoked an intellectual scandal with the “Racism of the Anti-Racists”, an essay for Sign and Sight, in which he excoriated liberals who denied Ayaan Hirsi Ali …

Brotopia—Analysis and Review

A review of Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang. Portfolio (February 2018) 320 pages.  Brotopia: Breaking up the Boy’s Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang subjects the software business to vigorous criticism. The dust jacket claims Silicon Valley is a “Brotopia” where “men hold all the cards and make all the rules.” Women are “vastly outnumbered” and face “toxic workplaces rife with discrimination and sexual harassment” where apparently “investors take meetings in hot tubs and network at sex parties.”  Her call to action is to break up the “boy’s club” and establish gender parity in software. Alas, such argument as the book offers is colourful mud-slinging on the basis of anecdotes. The book does not support its claims with any statistical or causal analysis. When such analysis is done Chang’s claims can be dismissed as lurid gossip based on harmful stereotypes. Employment Complaint Statistics in California Every year the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) publishes an annual report that gives figures on employment and housing complaints within the …

The Virtue of Nationalism—An Internationalist’s Critique

A review of The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony. Basic Books (September 2017) 304 pages.  The last 30 years have witnessed many arguments about the end of nationalism and the nation state, ranging from Fukuyama’s end of history thesis to Thomas Friedman’s claim that globalization was making the world “flat.” But, as they say, reports of the nation’s death now appear to be exaggerated. Over the past few years, from Brexit in the United Kingdom, to the rise of right wing nationalists such as Donald Trump in the United States, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party, the specter of nationalism looms once again. Yoram Hazony’s welcome new book The Virtue of Nationalism analyzes this political shift and offers a defense of its value. Hazony’s book is by far the most interesting and compelling articulation of the nationalist case put forward thus far. This makes The Virtue of Nationalism an important book, since those looking to defend the nationalist cause will surely want to arm themselves with its formidable intellectual resources, while …