Friday, 25 June 2010

Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life's Purpose" (2005)

Tolle was recommended by someone whose ideas I respect. There are certainly kernels of wisdom in this text, which seeks to have us live in a way that gives meaningful attention to the now. The aim is not for people to pursue some sort of hedonistic lifestyle oblivious of long-term needs, but to embrace the sense that the source of our spiritual comfort with this difficult existence is rooted in the immediate need for us to accept, enjoy, or be enthusiastic about what we are doing, not seeking some deferred future gratification. Some strategies and perspectives Tolle employs in his discussion of perspective, purpose, and health are intriguing and useful.

On the other hand, there are some very corny elements in this book as well. Tolle draws significantly on Christian aphorisms, which in itself is not particularly troubling, but is a dependency that is not well-explained, particularly when his beliefs seem closer to Buddhism (unless, of course, the Christian elements sell better to a U.S. book market). Additionally, he draws on some distinctly un-Christian ideas that ring of wild new-age concepts, such as reincarnation and 'world spirit', and the like. Elements such as these makes it hard to not feel a little self-conscious about reading his book, smacking as they do of 18th- and 19th-century German philosophy without addressing the obvious negative outcomes these ideas have already led to.

You can read it here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Neil Baldwin, "Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate" (2002)

Neil Baldwin, Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate (PublicAffairs: 2002)

On the whole, a disappointment. The book seemed, in all but a few preliminary chapters, to be just as much about the Jewish resistance to Ford's (and his employee's) anti-semitism. Baldwin opened the intriguing question of whether Ford was 'genuinely', perhaps better stated as 'independently' anti-semitic, or whether he had been led by several key employees to arrive at an unthinking, uncritical parroting of anti-semitic ideas. Strangely, "Henry Ford and the Jews" left me feeling that I certainly did not know Henry Ford much better than I did before reading it, had gained little grasp about the influence of his anti-semitic publishing campaign, and perhaps most frustratingly, had little clearer sense of how Americans responded to his ideas.

Overall, a frustrating book that left me with more questions and very few answers.

You can read some for yourself.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Thomas Pakenham, "The Boer War" (1979, rep. 1997)

Dating from the mid-1970s, and re-released in the late 1990s, Pakenham's The Boer War is an excellent revisitation of a conflict that had been too long overlooked (and really, still is). It provides good balance between discussion of military, political, and economic decision-making regarding the war, profiles of important personages, and poses challenging revisions to dominant understandings. Pakenham writes with what a friend called, 'typical heavy-handed British academic history language'. It's certainly not a high-school text sort of affair, but overall I found the book eminently readable. I thought the character and plot construction, once the first few chapters were past, helped propel me along quite pleasurably. As I mentioned to my wife, I would be entirely happy if I could write history books of this quality (and that, Mr. Pakenham, is high praise indeed).

Here's the Introduction to the book, in case you'd like a taste for yourself.