Whoops I Got A Dog
Short this week because, as the title implies, I got a dog.
What I’m Reading
Continuing with my book-a-week-for-2020 pledge, I read two books in the past two weeks, Maoism: A Global History and the first volume of History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.
Julia Lovell’s Maoism: A Global History was widely feted as one of the best history books of the past year, but unfortunately I didn’t find myself particularly impressed. I think my issue is that it essentially has one “big idea”—namely, that Maoism is a global, and indeed still relevant, ideology—and then uses 500 pages to explore various underdiscussed examples (Peru’s Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist insurgency-turned-democratic-political-parties of Nepal, the Malayan Emergency and Indonesian mass killings of Communists, and, of course, Maoism’s long shadow in China itself) in support of that thesis. Which, to be clear, is a perfectly legitimate way to structure this type of book! But, perhaps because I’m already somewhat well acquainted with the history and influence of the Chinese Communist Party, I walked away somewhat disappointed that my rather sizable investment (again, 500 pages!) hadn’t left me knowing all too much more about Maoism, and while the examples were uniformly interesting, each individual case study didn’t have much more detail than, say, a large-ish magazine article. Plus, to be blunt, the author quotes far too many Maoist propaganda pieces at too great a length; by the end of the book my eyes were glazing over every time a new Maoist insurgent was introduced, followed by half a page of quoting from his highly-derivative writings ranting about world revolution (turns out most Maoists sound a lot alike, who would have thought?). So while I did certainly find value in this book, I find it would be difficult to recommend—if you already knew Red Star Over China mythologized the CCP’s time in Yan’an and won worldwide support for Mao, then you’re unlikely to take away much about Maoism itself; if you’re hoping to learn about the Peruvian or Nepalese civil wars, you’d be better off finding a tome dedicated solely to them; and if you’re a general reader you might find the slightly repetitive bulk of this book to be too much.
That’s definitely not true of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, which is essentially a cleaned-up transcript of Peter Adamson’s podcast of the same name. The first volume, titled Classical Philosophy, covers the typical Pre-Socratic->Plato->Aristotle progression, though seeing as how it’s “without gaps,” Adamson includes a number of non-standard topics, like philosophy’s interaction with medicine via the Hippocratic corpus, as well a chapter on women philosophers of antiquity (which is a nice touch, even if all we have is a handful of names and some scraps that may or may not even be by women). The presence of these extra chapters, actually, is what (mostly) saves the book from the old criticism that we don’t need history of philosophy—admittedly, Adamson still spends a lot of time on ideas that we moderns find patently silly (like, say, most of what Aristotle went on about), and Adamson is certainly something of a (perhaps unnecessary) partisan of Plato—but he usually does a good job of tying ideas both to their cultural context and to their future influence (Aristotle may not be particularly relevant now, but he was a huge part of Western thought for a good thousand years). Also, the chapters are so short and sweet, and the writing is (usually) so clear, it’s just a pleasure to read. The only real downside is, as mentioned above, that there’s arguably no good reason to study history of philosophy; and this book definitely provides no real arguments for its relevance to the modern day. But if you are interested it’s a good place to start. (As mentioned, it is essentially transcripts for the podcast, which I also recommend, so if you’ve listened to that, reading this is probably not particularly useful. I did listen, but I a.) listen to podcasts at 2x speed exclusively and b.) struggle to retain information aurally. So, I appreciated reviewing.)
A few other links that I found interesting, but don’t have much to say about:
What I’m Watching
🎶 Toss a coin to your Witcher/O valley of plenty, O valley of plenty/Oooo🎶
I’m not sure if I love or love-hate Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher. On the one hand, it takes itself so seriously… on the other hand, it just looks so cheap. And having three plotlines, taking place at different times, is an audacious move, but only halfway through the show it’s not clear whether it will ever pay off? (Presumably it will.) If I wasn’t so lazy, it would probably be quite instructive to compare Witcher and Avatar (which I’m still getting through).
What I’m Listening To
How did I just completely miss Lizzo? Juice is such a bop.
What I’m Building
Thanks to Publish and Figma, I’m working on revamping my website. Maybe more soon?
Meet the newly-adopted Rooibos 🙂