what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Collected Edition

Some bloggers take Montaigne as their patron saint but John Updike deserves a place in that Parthenon. Updike was such a prolific writer that he inspired envy – “a penis with a thesaurus” was one cruel comment. Not for nothing perhaps was the male hero in his long-running series of novels about small-town America named “Rabbit”!

Like a blogger, everything he did seemed to turn into published prose – or verse.
And, in a typical pre-emptive strike on biographers, he actually published an autobiography “Self-Consciousness” so frank about, for example, his ailments that, as he put it, “it was criticised as a parading of my wounds”. But, as the first of the book reviews which formed his 2007 collection “Due Considerations” puts it, “the wounds were mine to parade and not some callow inquisitor’s”.
I know all this because I have just brought home from Bucharest’s English bookshop a lovely hardback edition of that collection - coming in at 700 pages.  

My blog’s masthead has a ringing statement that a post of several years back is as good as yesterday’s. But the architecture of blogs honours only the most recent.
In a spirit of defiance I have therefore, in the past few months, been preparing a book version of the last year’s posts – with a preface and introduction which celebrate blogging as a modern version
It will be available here in a day or so…….I thought of calling it “Chairman Ron’s Collected Thoughts” (as my own preemptive strike on sarcastic friends) – but settled instead on “In Praise of Doubt”. Of course such an endeavour smacks of egocentricity – but bear in mind that one of the purposes of the blog is to give (posterity?) a sense of what it was like to be in the skin of an engaged man of second half of the 20th century….. 

Rereading one’s posts of the past year or so is a salutary experience – the book’s Introduction gives an overview of the subjects treated over the period so I thought it would be useful here to identify the books which had engaged my interest sufficiently for me to devote a post to them during the year. I was fairly critical of five -
Why Nations Fail – by a couple of American academics 
Stand and Deliver – a rather superficial and angry analysis of how the British system of public management could be improved. In a long line of such critiques….
The Tyranny of Experts – by a World Banker who’s had enough…
Amateus Etzioni’s autobiography “My Brother’s Keeper”
How Good Can We Be? By a well-read British journalist - Will Hutton

But very positive about the others which, now that I see them listed, form a fairly formidable list -
The Capitalism Papers by Jerry Mander
Democracy Incorporated by Sheldon Wolin
The Puritan Gift – a lovely book by a couple of octogenarians about the fall of American capitalism
Cooperatives – a post about a couple of books
Our Carbon Democracy – a very thoughtful book by an anthropologist
The Confidence Trap by David Runciman
Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything about how to avoid the doomsday scenario

Some light relief was brought by -
Peeling the Onion Guenther Grass’ so poetic autobiography
The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig
The Hidden Pleasures of Life by Theodor Zeldin

Key Books of the Century was an important series in which I tried to identify texts which had made an impact on our thinking – many of which have echoes today….

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