Saturday, 31 March 2018

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

In the beginning of this year as a new year's resolution I decided that I would read more novels written by woman. This was because I realized that the novels that I was reading in my life were almost always written by men. It was not a conscious decision, I didn't even realized that that was the case, but when I though about it I decided to change it and I immediately bought a few books from Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Emily Bronte. Those authors were always in my ''future reading list'', I wanted to read them already, simply this realization that I was not reading female authors triggered me to do it this year and not later.
This was the first book I've read from Virginia Woolf and I have to confess that it has really impressed me. Her style, her lack of preoccupation in creating a coherent story, the amount of interesting inner debate about life, gender, and society, it all made really love this book. The story is about Orlando, a man who is born in a rich family in the sixteenth century in England. In the beginning of the book you have sometimes the impression that some events happen really really fast. For example in a single page you get the information that he has a relationship with a woman, than after that with another one, and that after that he gets engaged with a third one. In this you get a sense of something that happens throughout the whole book, which is that the passage of time in the story is really chaotic. For example, the whole life of Orlando happens in about 350 years, there is really more than 300 years of events in the book during a single life of a person. There is a social party once that only it lasts for 50 years. However, the funny thing of all that is that in the end, after passing all this time Orlando still is 37 or 38 years of age. Yes, as I said, the story is not very coherent, specially about time. But to be honest, this was one aspect of it that I really enjoyed. Yes, it was nice to see how Virginia didn't care about certain things like the time for example. It was as if she wanted to tell a story that was not physically possible, but nevertheless a story that she wanted to tell, so she simple said, fuck this time thing, the story is mine and even time is something that I control here. At least this was my impression. Additionally there is something else about it. Orlando talks a bit about this in the book and how people's time and the real time might not necessarily be the same thing. For example, 50 years can pass to a person but her experiences during those years might have been so few that it would be as if this person wouldn't really be 50 years old. Those issues get materialized in this story with mastery. 
Another important aspect in this book is the issue of gender. As I said, Orlando was born as a man, but there is a moment in his life, when he is actually living in Turkey, that inexplicably he ends up sleeping for seven days in a roll, and when he wakes up, he suddenly realized that his sex has changed and that now she is a woman. The funny thing is that initially Orlando, apart from the body change, doesn't really perceive any change whatsoever in how she feels, what she thinks, what she worries about, in her character in general, and the story simply goes on as if nothing significant has happened. Well, at least for a while. There is a moment when she is coming back to England on a ship, and there she starts to see how men behave towards her and starts to remember how she used to behave towards other women when she was a man. Then observing from both perspectives she starts to rethink a lot of gender issues and from now on in the story this becomes a present thing very frequently. This gives rise to some feminist social criticism of the English society of the nineteenth century. For example, Orlando when still a man, wanted to be a poet, but now as a woman she initially feared that she could not become anymore since this was not viewed as a woman's thing. Virginia, through Orlando, makes some good social criticism even to famous writers of her time that she didn't like very much. Anyway, to summarize, the story of Orlando is very interesting. The writing is simple and even though the story is sometimes quite crazy, the whole book is easy to read and certainly very enjoyable.  All those fantastic things that happen with time makes it even more interesting I think. And it is quite impressive how things like feminism and more so transgender issues, that today are more openly talked about, were already vividly present in this book that was written about a century ago. I confess I am now in love with Virginia Woolf. I am really looking forward to read more of her books. I guess this book could easily be in my top 5 novels of all time. If not at least in the top 10.  

Monday, 22 January 2018

Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

This book is from one of my favorite Latin american authors, Eduardo Galeano. He is most famous for his book called The open veins of latina America, which is about the horrors of the colonization of Latin america by the Europeans. Galeano books are very diverse in style and also in content. They sometimes are journalistic, sometimes are about his memories, his wanderings, so every new book you get from him is a new interesting adventure. He is also very well know for being a left wing activist, which is the case of many famous latin american authors such as Mario Benedetti, and Garcia Marquez. I find his writings to be, apart from a few exceptions, very easy to read and to follow. He uses a language and a style, which I think is much more simple and mundane if you compare for example with Garcia Marquez. However that doesn't make them less interesting, specially if you, like me, have some sympathy towards a progressive left wing way of analyzing and thinking about the world.
One interesting aspect of Galeano is that he was also a huge fan of football. You can see this on interviews on youtube where he talks about for example his admiration for Guardiola as a manager and Messi as a player. He had a very romantic view of football which, by the way, I myself share with him. I am also a huge fan of football, which here in Latin america is actually a very common thing. So, very differently from his other books, which mainly deal with "social-political" issues, this one called "Soccer in sun and Shadow" is actually only about football and what surrounds it. There is obviously sociology and politics on it but it is only when it relates to something that happened in the history of this game. The book is actually amazing. I wouldn't say it is about the history of football but it is more like "The history of football stories". That would summarize it well. Galeano goes back to times even before football was created as we know it and starts telling interesting stories and curiosities that actually happened. Of course he then comes to the beginning of the 20th century and starts telling a lot of things about famous clubs and matches. Since he was Uruguayan, obviously most of the stories he tells are either from Uruguayan, Brazilian or Argentinean football history. He talks about each world cup also so there is a lot o stories about famous European clubs and players as well. So, in any case, if you are interested about stories that happens during the football's history, specially if you want to know more about interesting facts about south american football this is the ideal book for you. As I said, the book is very easy to read and written in a very easy language. The stories are very small, usually not bigger than two pages. I read the whole book (248 pagess) I think in less than 10 days. Anyway, it is a good book for anyone who likes football and want to see it trough the eyes of a very good writer which always had a romantic view about everything in life.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Deciphering the cosmic number - The strange friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, by Arthur I. Miller

As the title says, this book is about the friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl young. This came as a surprise for me because previously I had absolutely no idea that both knew each other. As a physicist, I always knew Pauli to be one of the greatest, and as you can see on my previous post here on this blog I am also a huge fan of Jung and his analytical psychology. So when I saw this book on amazon webpage it immediately took my attention and I bought it. In reality, as you read it you realize that the book is much more about Pauli than about Jung. It is about their "friendship" but much more from the point of view and of the importance and the impact that it had on Pauli's life. This doesn't make the book less interesting, but quite the opposite. This might be only a personal view, but because Jung was a psychologist and talked precisely about human beings, I never had problems into seeing him as a "normal" human being, which is not true about Pauli, at least not as I used to imagine him. When I think about those great physicist like Einstein, Dirac, Pauli, and in case you don't know Pauli was awarded the physics Nobel prize twice, in a way I always have the impression that I am in front of almost an alien personality that came to life only to dedicate itself to its work and that they have no time to have feelings and frustrations and those type of things as normal human beings. But of course looking more closely, reading biographies for example, you totally realize the opposite. This was specially the case of Pauli. In fact, his friendship with Jung started precisely when Pauli went to see him as a patient after suffering a mental breakdown after years of living not a very mentally sane life. Even though mental healthy issues are obviously very serious things that we should not pretend are good for ones life, to see this on Pauli, it helped me to at least in my head to humanize the picture I had of the great successful physicist. Those are things you can always do intellectually but actually to read step by step of a case of someone you admire who undergoes the whole process of getting sick and doing therapy and recovering a bit helps a lot to internalize this humanization process. Again, this might be only a personal thing, but I really struggle with the image, or maybe the archetype, of this great successful physicist. Working on academia, as I do, you are all the time confronted with this archetype, and it can really drive you mentally sick if you don't pay attention and work on it. It is a struggle I live everyday and maybe this is the reason I liked so much this book. It is only an impression but reading through the whole process that Pauli did made me at the end of the book starting to see him much more as a "friend" and not so much as the untouchable great physicist he was.
Back to the story, there is a nice quote from Young about the moment Pauli first came to consult with him which is: "When the hard-boiled rationalist... came to consult me for the first time, he was in such a state of panic that not only he but I myself left the wind blowing over from the lunatic asylum!". So the book goes on about Pauli's treatment and his life during this period of his life, but it does not stop there. Pauli and Jung end up becoming close friends and not only Jung becomes important for Pauli because of the therapy but also Pauli becomes important to Jung since they start to be a type of co-workers in subjects that young previously was involved like synchronicity, mysticism, and the unification of psyche and physics. I didn't know this but they both even wrote books together on those issues. This was another good surprise for me. As Pauli was getting old he really got into some aspects of mysticism and he tried all the time to make it relate to physics. Especially he got very interesting into mysticism about numbers and how that related to things that happened in his life that even lead him to breakthroughs in physics that lead ultimately him to win the nobel prize. There is a lot of dream analysis and mystical events that happened in his life specially after he meet Jung. Even his death was embedded in big symbolism involving a number that was extremely important for physics at the time. It is all very well explained and clarified in the book. Well, to summarize, it was a very good experience to me to learn this more "human" side of a physicist that I always admired. As always is a pleasure to get in touch with some Jungian stuff again. The book has it all: Physics, Psychology, mental healthy issues, mysticism, history. There is actually a lot about the history of physics at that time when Pauli lived from 1900 to 1958. Easy to read and very enjoyable. I had a great time reading it. If you are interested and give it a go one day I hope you find it equally pleasant. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Goethe

Here we go again on another novel. This time I got a book from an author that I always enjoyed reading very much. I've never blogged about any of his books but Goethe was always one of my favorites writers. Well not only a writer but, one of the things that I always admired on him was how vast of a human being he was. Writer, poet, philosopher, botanist, physicist, mystic, and so on. I used to like him so much that when I was living in England I traveled to Germany once and went to Weimar (where he used to live) only because I wanted to visit the place where Goethe have lived. Weimar is actually an very charming and beautiful city and there you can visit the house where he used to live which is a museum nowadays. But anyway, I actually first meet Goethe when I was reading Nietzsche. As I said in another post before, Nietzsche was the first big philosophical influence I received, and I was amazed by the fact that he always treated Goethe almost as a friend even though they really never meet in life. This coming from Nietzsche was always very special and very emotional because it was one of the most rare things he used to do. His philosophy was made by basically attacking everyone and everything all the time, and in the Middle of all that rage to find someone who gave him a feeling of admiration and even thankfulness and kindness is blessing. It's always very interesting when Nietzsche talks about Goethe. So that's how I got in contact with him. Anyway, possibly 8 or 9 years ago I read a short but famous novel that he wrote named "The sorrows of the young Werther" which is a very simple but nevertheless very touching and charming story. A bit later I read his master-piece "Faust" which is obviously amazing. It really is, specially the end which I won't tell here not to destroy the surprise if you want to read it, but anyway there Goethe shows a lot of his genius, by writing the whole story in poetry and moreover being it a hell of a story with a lot of mystic elements touching subjects of life transcendence all the time. It is worth a go.
OK but the post here today is about a book I've just finished reading a couple of months ago. Even though Faust is mostly regarded as his main work, I confess I found "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship" much better. I truly mean it. The story on this book is simply extraordinary in all its aspects. It is a big book where the story takes many different directions. Initially the main character Wilhelm is struggling at home with his father about his love for the theater but also about what he thinks to be an empty life that he has there as a businessman, and then he decides to leave his town to start a new life in a sort of self-realization journey that obviously he had now idea how it would go. Lots of things happen. He joins an travelling theater group, there are love stories, he meets lots of new people, and everything happening always with a profound sense of some unknown deeper life meaning going on the background. Goethe is a master at doing it and in this book particularly this unknown deeper meaning feeling gets its maximum expression, even showing some big twists later on more towards the end of the story. It happens in the later chapters of the book that as the story goes the very past that was told in the earlier chapters start to be rewritten and Wilhelm because of that enters in a very strong spiritual self-changing moment of his life. 
Summarizing, over the whole book you have the impression that the story is being created by an absolute genius. Really, all dialogues, all the richness in the details both of the space and time where the story was happening. You really get a sense of a lot of things about eighteenth century Germany, but also you get always profound remarks about the struggle towards understanding or more precisely towards giving some kind of sense to existence. Goethe was brillant at that in this book. I have no doubt to say that so far this is undoubtedly the best novel I have ever read. It is honestly even better than all Dostoiévski's books I've read previously. It is definitely Goethe's book that I most liked. It pleased me more than Faust for a few reasons, but mostly because I think it is more down to earth, less fantastic but still absolutely profound and genius. Goethe himself was always in possibly my top 5 favorite writers but after this book for sure he is now at the top, maybe together with Dostoiévski, because he also deserves to be there. So, if you have the time and the energy to enter in Wilhelm's journey I absolutely recommend it.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The stranger, by Albert Camus

I didn't know Camus until a couple of years ago, when I randomly meet a few quotes from him on internet that I tough were interesting. But apart from that until now I've never read an actual novel or book he wrote. So this year because for some reason I decided to read more novels than usual, I also decided to give a go on a book from him, and therefore I got what some people consider to be his best novel, which is named "The stranger".
The story is about a French man who in a kind of a self-defense act kills another man and then goes to jail. Half of the book is before going to jail and the other half is after being there. The book has a bit of an existentialist touch, although obviously not as near as deep as Dostoevsky's existentialism, for example, but what goes on inside of the main characters head is indeed very strong, crude, rude, and direct. It is an interesting character, that suffers enormously from social conventions which he can not cope and that as a result starts behaving and looking very indifferently to feelings in general. Even when he is sentenced to a death penalty he manages to rationalize the issue and he goes until pretty much the end suffering but at the same time being indifferent to a lot of what is going on. The final scene just before being sent to die he even manages to make the priest that was talking to him in jail to get crazy and to cry because that was no way he would allow his desperate situation to be used by a priest he didn't like to throw on him consolations he didn't want on matters he didn't feel like discussing such as life after death. It was a character I enjoyed reading, that's for sure.
This is the only book I've read so far from Camus, so I can't say much, but in a way this book at least made me remind a lot, at least the style, of another writer which I like a lot, which is Jack London. I though both styles were a bit similar. I don't know, it's like for me that whereas Garcia Marquez is famous for his magic realist style, Jack London and Albert Camus would belong to a sort of "realistic realism" literature gender. That probably doesn't even exist, but that's how I see it and that's why I think both have some similarities. Jack London I might blog something about him soon. He is one of my favorites novelists. I would put him at least in my top 5, but not in my top 2 for sure because these are Dostoevsky and Garcia Marquez. Anyway, it was fun to finally read something from Camus. It is not extraordinary but it is good. I might give a go in another of his books later on. But not for now.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The idiot, by Dostoyevsky

This is the first time I am writing about a novel here. I do like novels, but it simply happens that usually I read much more other stuff, as it can be seen from my other posts here in this blog. Well, why Dostoyevsky then? I have actually a short story on why I am thankful to him. Although I still haven't post anything on Friedrich Nietzsche, the guy is, or at least used to be, my favorite philosopher. But I remember that when I first meet him I couldn't follow or understand him at all. I simply couldn't get into his existentialism world for some reason, maybe I was too young then, I don't know. What changed this in my life was exactly the first book I read from Dostoyevsky, which is called Notes from Underground. Maybe because it's a novel it is easier to enter into the narrative and absorb something. Well, basically it was after reading that Dostoyevsky's book that I could finally read something from Nietzsche and really dialogue with him. That was probably 8 or 9 years ago and during the next at least 5 or 6 years I was all the time coming back to Nietzsche, reading everything I could from him, making him the first big and significant philosophical influence I received in my life. And I am thankful to Dostoyevsky for that. He helped me to open myself to this kind of existential world.
After that as I said, it passed nearly 10 years and the only books I read from Dostoyevsky were apart from Notes from Underground, The Gambler, and The house of the Dead, which are good books, but definitely far from being among his main works. Finally this year, since I was going to Russia to spend a one month vacation there, I decided to get one of his main big books. So I got The Idiot, which was one I managed to easily find a Portuguese kindle version of it. I started to read it when I was on the plane, on my way to Saint-Petesrburg, which by the way plays a very important role on the narrative. And an interesting fact was that there is a small town on the story, which is also very important, called Pavlovsky, near Saint-Petesburg, that I also had the opportunity to visit. But anyway, because of this whole Russian thing I decided that I had finally to give a go on a proper nice long Dostoyevsky's novel.
I confess I really enjoyed the book. Dostoyevsky is probably my favorite novelist. Well, I am also a great admirer of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, although they are miles apart from each other on their content. So sometimes I don't know, I think Garcia Marquez might be my favorite, but most of times yes I say and think that Dostoyevsky is the one. That doesn't really matter much because my preferences are usually fluctuating, but... The novel is a good one, specially because of the Prince Myshkin (The idiot himself), which is such an interesting character. A nice and noble soul, under a great suffering due to his illness and the big struggle he faces all the time between his desire to be noble and gentle and his usual incapability of being it due to his epileptic healthy condition, that makes him look like an idiot and not a noble person. The prejudices that epileptic people or any kind of "disabled" or simply "unhealthy" people faced in Russian at that time were enormous. To be fair even today this is true in Russia, so imagine during that time when he wrote it in the mid seventeenth century. This incredible inner struggles, always present in Dostoyevsky gets a very very big dimension in the character of prince Myshkin. So Ok, but apart from it, what I like about Dostoyevsky's books, and in The Idiot it happens again, is how by reading it you can get into how society used to function under Russian empire epoch, specially how the noble society used to function. You get a lot of this cultural background by reading Dostoyevsky, and that always fascinates me. He has also this thing that at the same time that he criticizes a lot the hypocrisy of  the noble classes from that time, he nonetheless always has at least an unconscious underground desire to be an noble aristocratic himself. At least that's what I get from his stories anyway.
That's pretty much it. The book is huge, and it takes a long time to read, but it is definitely worth if you have the will and the patience and the time. It's a master-piece, and I am happy I finally managed to read one of the most significant novels of Dostoyevsky. While in Russian, after finishing reading this book I managed to find an English version of another book written by him, called Daemons. I will try to read it still this year. Let's see. And then finally to my main goal which is to read The Brothers Karamazov. But that will still wait a bit.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Price of Inequality, by Joseph Stiglitz

This book is part of my current attempt to understand at least a bit about economy. In the last few months I was watching a few lectures, or public speeches made by this guy, Joseph Stiglitz, which by the way won a Nobel prize on economy a couple of years ago. I was getting really impressed because although he is a famous economist, he does speak as if he is a normal human being. You know what I mean, he doesn't talk as usually economists do, like pretending they own a kind of superior knowledge that is not questionable in any ways and that we normal human beings must simply listen to them and accept their trues. The guy is a Nobel prize winner and does not do that. And being an economist. That really impressed me. Because of that I liked him from the beginning. But, anyway! I know my decision to read his book and to learn from his talks is a bit biased, from a leftist point of view of course, although not that much, because even though Stiglitz is very aligned with anti-capitalist movements, or at least with anti-establishment movements such as the occupy wall-street, he is not, as far as I understand, any kind of Marxist or so. Anyway, in this book, as the title says, his main point is to properly understand the problems that inequality brings to society, not only economically, but also politically and mainly socially. He does write it in a very simple language, and also does clarify little by little every point he tries to make on the book. So you don't need to know a lot of economy to follow it. He explains things very well. Although in a way the book is only about one subject, inequality, there is a lot of stuff there. He talks a lot on the mechanisms that create or enhance inequality, sometimes very unethical ones, especially showing how dirty politics is sometimes absolutely necessary to maintain certain elements of the inequality puzzle. Since he is american, he uses mainly examples from United States, but not only. He does sometimes refers to European, South american and Asian economies and politics. Yes, that is one thing about him. Although he is an economist, he even makes very clear right from the beginning of the book that he is and always was very interested in the relations between economy and politics. So there is a lot about that everywhere in his book. What more? Well, he obviously describes in detail the bad consequences that high social and economic inequality brings to a country and in the end of the book, on the last chapter, gives suggestions on how to treat, or at least try to treat, the issue. He is not naive and idealist about what he proposes. He is very honest and realist about the difficulties and limitations that that policies he suggest might face. But still... that's pretty much it I think. I'm sorry I can't get in to much detail about his economic views, I am not that knowledgeable on economy to do so properly. If you are interest simply read the book. I think its worth it a go. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Particle Physics - A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close

As a good physicist, I definitely should one day talk a bit about it here. I've talked a bit about science already in this blog, but never about my beloved physics. So here it goes. I actually just finished reading this book, called Particle Physics - A Very Short Introduction, which was written by a British physicist called Frank Close, and the book is indeed what it says it is: A very short introduction to particle physics. I've decide to read it mainly because I like Frank's books very much. Well, this was only the second book I've read from him, but the thing is that I was very impressed by the first book I read from him a couple of years ago about antimatter, which is definitely still one of the best scientific books I've read so far. I don't read scientific books as often as I read some other stuff, but I do read them with certain frequency (possibly 3 or 4 each year on average) and I have two favorite authors that I like very much, which are Frank Close and Brian Greene. Well, Brian Green might be a bit better I would say. His books are more full of details and do go much deeper into stuff usually. But Frank does a very good job also. His books are not very very deep, but they do work very well as introductions. As very good introductions. I simply like the fact that when I read him I immediately get the impression that he not simply knows what he is saying, but he knows exactly how to explain it very well. The explanations he makes about complicated issues does satisfy me a lot, because in the end I really understand and get precisely the message he is trying to say. This might sound a bit obvious, as every author should do it, but what I see in physics sometimes is quite the opposite. Many books I read about quantum mechanics, theory of relativity and all sort of stuff like that really let me with the impression that the author simply wanted to demonstrate that he masters some difficult knowledge rather than really being interested into developing a nice way to help the reader to access the same knowledge. That's definitely not Frank's case. He does usually says in his books a bit about history, a lot about the physics, a lot about the engineering that is involved in discovering the physics that he talks about, a lot about the ongoing debates and future perspectives, and so on. Also another good thing is that, like a good British man, he usually doesn't bullshit about in his books. He is very objective and says directly what he wants to say or what he needs to say about something so that we can understand it well. He doesn't have the stile of "wonders of the universe" typical of some other authors like Brian Cox, for example.
Let's go to the book then. Although I am a physicist, my PhD was in photonics and not in particle physics, so I am not an expertise on the matter. Well, I did study a lot about lasers and optics in general, so I got a lot to photons and electrons sometimes, but that's about it. No muons or pions whatsoever. But anyway, I usually like physics in general, especially particle physics and quantum mechanics, so I gave it a go on this book. I did like it very much, because it does an very good overview of particle physics going as deep as necessary to understand the basic concepts. I basically liked the way the book was written, going from the basic physical concepts and metrics necessary to properly talk about particles, all the technologies involved in detecting particles, the physics of particles, the current open questions and possible ways around it. Well, that's pretty much about it. I would say that the other book I read from Frank about Antimatter was a bit better because it does go deeper about things. But still, this one is only an introduction but it is a very good one. I am going now for other book I have from him which is about "nothing". Yes, the physics of nothing. But this is a story for other time. I still have to wait to see.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Psychology of C. G. Jung, by Jolande Jacobi

This book is a good summary of some of Jung's views on psychology. I am sharing it mainly because I do like Jolande Jacobi, which was a co-worker of Jung himself. In all fairness this isn't one of the best writings from Jolande, but it is the first book I read that was entirely written by her. I first got in contact with her work (or better said with her contributions on Jung's works) when I read the book called Man and His Symbols, which one of the chapters was written by her, and it was by far the best written chapter and definitely the easiest one to understand. I simply liked the way she managed to express complicated psychological things in a very simple and touchable way. Well, Jung's psychology is definitely not as complicated as Freud's, but still... From Jung's students/co-workes she is certainly my favorite one. I think she is even better than Marie Luise von Franz, which seems to be the most famous one. Well, maybe not in knowledge but at least in how she manage to pass the message in simple terms. Anyway, if you already study Jung's views on psychology this book might not add much. However, if you are interested in a place to have a first start this is definitely a good summary of the main points. It doesn't go very deep in any of them, but nevertheless it's worth reading to get in touch with a bit of the wonders of the psychological views of Carl Gustav Jung.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Anarchism and Other Essays, by Emma Goldman

This was the first book I've read from Emma Goldman. She was an anarchist activist that lived in US like a century ago. The book is very powerful in the sense that she makes very strong speeches in favor of workers freedom and a lot on feminism also. This is not a very philosophical book, it's more of an activist guideline, but still with a lot of interesting theory about anarchism and feminism in a simplified way. I quite like specially a few things she says about the horrors of marriage and about free love as the only possible form of love. I've got to say I absolutely love this anarchist approach to life. It is more poetical, beautiful, light than our stupid moral rules about how people should behave and do stuff. Well, anyway, this was definitely a nice book to read. I didn't learned much new, but is always good to be in contact with people who are enthusiastic about good stuff, such as Emma was. It's also a very good report of early days of feminist movements and so on. Thanks for that Emma.

Monday, 21 April 2014

What is life? How chemistry becomes biology by Addy Pross

Well, this was the first book on Biological scientific issues that I've read. I am a scientist, more precisely a physicist, and now I am felling a strong desire to study more other kinds of sciences. Especially biology. Philosophy, psychology and sociology I've been already reading and studding for some time now. Possible even for a decade. But biology, apart from what I've learned in school, this is really the beginning of a new era in my readings. Why I've decided for that? I don't really know to be honest. It's a kind of a lack of something in a puzzle of the wholeness of life that I just could not fill only with psychological and philosophical insights. I don't know. Even when I try to think about society as whole, when I try to really understand it, when I think about Marxism and how I really see the society dynamics, I always have the feeling that although I am learning and conceiving part of the story, there is definitely something lacking. I don't really know in what sense I truly mean this lacking of something, I don't even think that biology and chemistry are in itself this lacking, but I feel now that they are definitely at least a piece of something that might help me to proper formulate and understand this lack, and who knows, by doing it, dissolving it?

So Ok, here it goes. I got a couple of books into sort of similar subjects (or not so much), how life emerged from chemistry, anthropology of extinction, how the brain functions, the principles of change that shaped life and so on. This one, by Addy Pross treats basically the question, how non-living chemical elements could evolve and become alive? How life could emerge from not-living things? And to be fair I was really skeptical about the whole thing before starting to read the book. Ok, I won't get into a lot of details about the book, because I am not very familiar with the whole background from where the discussion is made, but just a couple of comments here. The author is a scientist, with a lot of academic work on this subject, and by reading the book you really get the impression that he does know a lot about what he is saying. But in what sense? In the book he is not simply trying to prove a point but he does make a very broad and even easy to follow review of the current scientific debate about this life issue. Even for people who are not scientists, the book does explain very well the whole background knowledge that is needed to understand the debate. It gets a bit boring sometimes because of the amount of preparation about the subject he does, however that makes everything he is talking about very clear. There is a lot of references about many of the discussions he shows in the book. Well, what I am trying to say is that the book is very well written, very clear and you can see that the author is very honesty and never pretends to know or to have found something that he really didn't. That is what I mean by the author being a good scientist that knows what he is saying.

Ok, so his attempt here in the book is basically to try to find a kind of general law of evolution, in a similar way from what Darwinism is, but with the only difference that he wants to find it a bit earlier, by looking it directly into chemical reactions and how the laws of simple chemical systems have already an early shape of what we consider general laws of life, such as Darwinism for example that deals with evolution of species. He tries basically to find insights into how we can formulate from simple chemical terms a sort of "evolution of species" law (but not really species here, it should be something more like chemical evolution or whatever) that would have allowed simple chemical reactions to lead to the formation of more complex and self-replicating systems. And to that he does show a lot of references from scientific papers with results that does demonstrate all chemical mechanisms that he talks about when he tries to conceive this sort of general "law of chemical evolution".

Well, he definitely do not show exactly the moment when chemical no-living entities become "alive". Simply because we simply do not know that yet. But he is very clear and honesty about it all the time, showing precisely the current debate in academia that is ongoing on the subject. However, when he tries to conceive this general law of chemical systems that would allow molecules or whatever, to self-replicate, enhancing their complexity (that could potentially leads toward creation of living systems) he is very convincing. Well, I don't know much to be honesty about the whole thing to actually make a criticism of his toughs. But he is definitely convincing (At least to me he was). And the book to be fair did gave me some new tools to put in my head when I do think about society, human beings, and so on. It is just the beginning, things are not very clear yet. But anyway, that's the way I will go now. Will try to get some more biology stuff to read about and comment here in the next few months or years. So let's see. That's all for now.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Sybil - The Classic True Story of a Woman Possessed by Sixteen Personalities, by Flora Rheta Schreiber

This book tells the story of Sybil, a woman that, as the title says, was possessed by sixteen different personalities. Unbelievably this was a real story. Sybil (which is a fake name) suffered from dissociative identity disorder caused by severe traumas that she experienced during her childhood, and she really had initially 16 personalities from different ages, that some were not even aware of the others (as Sybil wasn't aware of any), and interestingly two of them were even men. Each personality had its own taste for things, opinions, believes, that were strongly conflicted at times, even physically they were different, the way they dressed and talked, and that made Sybil's life a huge mess. The book basically tells the story of the psychoanalytical treatment she received during 11 years until she got completely healed. The good thing I liked about the book is that it goes step by step along the treatment showing in details all the difficulties faced by both therapist and patient and how they overcame them. It tells a lot about how the human psyche works sometimes. And the best thing is that, since it is a story and not a textbook on psychoanalysis,  it is very easy to follow everything even if you don't know much about psychology. It was really intense for me to follow all the steps of Sybil treatment because it did make me get in touch with a lot of working mechanisms of my own psyche. And not need to mention that the meditations I do on a daily basis, got again very deep and liberating during the period I was reading this book. It is something I can't explain exactly why an how it works but the true is that, in my case at least, the difference on depth of my meditations during normal periods and periods when I am reading such books is astonishing. It really is. Well, just to summarize, I did love the book. I always like books that make me get involved with them to such an extend that after reading I can say I am not the same person who started reading it. That's mainly it. Enjoy if you want.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin

Ok. How should I start this? Well, Kropotkin is my favorite social anarchist writer. By far! From the four main ones, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta, he is the one I like the most. His first book I've read was a few years ago (maybe 4 years) and it was called The conquest of bread. About this subject, this was so far the book I tough it was the most honest and precise about all the aspects of the anarchist ideology, its necessity and its possibles developments, in a very simple, down to earth and human way. He doesn't have for example the frenetic fire Bakunin has, he is much more serene, which is quite hard to find in anarchists sometimes, and that amazes me about him. Well, I do like Bakunin also. Very much indeed. However I think Bakunin is more the kind of guy that would give the fuel to a machine, but wouldn't himself project and built the machine itself. For me this is more kind of a Kropotkin style. Well, anyway it doesn't matter. About anarchy Proudhon is a good guy also, however he gets to much into economics to me. I don't follow it to much so sometimes I get a bit lost into Proudhon's books. Well, Malatesta seems to be more of a Kropotkin also, however I confess I only read a few essays he wrote so I don't really have enough knowledge to conceive a very good opinion about him. Although I did like his essays I read. He has a nice touch of his Italianess on his philosophy I would say. He puts a bit of love into his writings for example. I find this amazing. This is something that to be fair you sometimes feel when reading about anarchy. That there is some ocean moving deep down that makes some people desire freedom for everybody. Call it love or whatever, although this is something I sometimes get from some anarchists essays, in Malatesta this seems to me to be more clear and open than in the Russians for example (Bakunin and Kropotkin). Although I confess this is more of a feeling I have than of an analytic analysis of theirs writings. But anyway, this was supposed to be about Kropotkin's book and not a review on anarchist writers. So let it be it. I might come back to the others latter on.

After falling in love with The conquest of bread, I decided to give a go at his other famous book called Mutual aid: A factor of evolution. I liked very much the title already. One of the things I most dislike about some capitalist preachers is when they come and say, but such are human beings, they like to compete, to be better than others, is the struggle to survive, the survival of the fittest, or whatever. Kind of trying to say that capitalism is almost nature's choice. Ok, as Kropotkin also says in his book, it is absolutely true that these kind of things are indeed present in human beings, and did exist over human evolution. But what is not true is that this is the only thing that exists in us. We are a bit more than only struggle and fight. This is what Kropotkin shows in this book. He starts showing mutual aid in nature, in animals. He does a very long analysis of Darwin's works but also does himself a lot of empirical research with many kind of animal species from Siberia and from other parts of Russian and the world. The first chapter is all dedicated to this study. I confess this kind of analysis is a bit new to me because I've never read Darwin's or any other biologist, or evolutionist, about those things. So Kropotkin was kind of the open door for me to it. I got a few other books about evolution and development of species to read latter, but that will still take some time. Ok, but the book is not only that. In the second chapter he starts to describe a lot of the development of the firsts human tribes and how mutual aid is present constantly over its evolution. He does a very anthropological study about human development from tribes, clans, small villages, cities and so on, and shows how even in the cruelest tribes there were always in some degree towards some aspects of its existence mutual aid. But more than this, he shows how mutual aid was indeed very important in the survival of animal species and of human societies all over history. In the latter chapters he goes on in history telling this kind of things until we get to our days. The book follows kind of the line: animals, savages, barbarians, medieval cities, and ourselves. It is a very good book about anthropology. But what impressed me the most is the amount of knowledge and detailed information he gives about such a variety of subjects. Specially biology and history. I don't know exactly how many years took him to write the whole book but I guess it couldn't have been less than ten years. The guy really studied and did a lot of research to write about it. To be fair, although I wasn't very familiarized with at least the biological part, I thinks this is by far one of the most rich books I've ever read in terms of content. The guy was amazing. Really, he was not only a social scientist but also a traditional scientist and knew history and anthropology very deeply. I am very amazed by him. And all for a noble cause. What a guy this Kropotkin was. Unbelievable!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology by Paul Radin

This was the last book I've read. I wasn't particularly interested in american Indian mythology, but I was as I still am very interested about the Trickster figure. This is an archetype that continuously appears under different forms in my dreams and because of that I decided to study it more deeply. And to be fair I think this is also a figure which is very present and unconsciously admired in the current Brazilian culture (or should I say in the Brazilian soul to give it a more mystic touch?). Anyway, the trickster is one of the archetypes that appears a lot in the Jungian texts. Its main characteristic is its extreme contradiction between its divine essence and its animal destructive unconscious. This antagonism between destruction and creation is always present in the Trickster image. It is very interesting to see how very old american Indian cultures have tales in which the hero behaves exactly as a Trickster showing all its life cycle and the transformations that happen during his life. The book tells some of these myths and after that the author makes some comments about these cultures and how they related to the myths, where he tries to explain the nature and the meaning of the stories. There are also two extra chapters in the end, one from Karl Kerényi about the Trickster in the Greek mythology, and other from Jung himself about the psychology of the Trickster figure. I quite like books like this one that shows a nice historical account of an psychological pattern (or an archetype) that is still very alive, although many times unconsciously alive, showing indeed that our behavior today is still very much guided by forces which are much older than what we can imagine. I don't know. I simply like to deconstruct the idea that nowadays we do things differently, that we are "modern innovative people creating the future". Well, obviously there are differences, but I don't know exactly to what extend the are just different variations of old patterns or whether they are indeed some new elements that came into life. Anyway, this is a talk for other time. That's all for now.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Inner Work - Using dreams and active imagination for personal growth by Robert A. Jonhson

This was one of the books I most liked reading last year. The author is an Jungian analyst that had lectures with Jung himself. The book explain a lot about analytical psychology and it gives a lot of techniques on how to use it on ourselves. A lot involves active imagination and dream analysis. What I liked most was the dream analysis. On a daily basis I have a very lively memory of my dreams and I can clearly remember the feelings that were involved in each situation of the dream. So this book and all the information and techniques it shows have been very useful to me in order to understand the hidden mechanisms that are operating in my unconscious world. Nowadays I use a lot of the content I find in my dreams even on my nearly daily meditations and it has been priceless because it helps me a lot to guide myself on where to go during the meditation. The book is very well written, it is very clear and even if you don't know to much about analytical psychology this is not a major issue. The author gives a lot of practical examples of dream analysis and active meditations of some of the patients he had and sometimes even of the work he did on himself so that all the theory he explains in the early chapters of the book becomes very tangible and real. I read a few other books of the same author, but this one was by far the best I've seen so far because it sums basically all the theory with very good examples. This is kind of his bible I would say. It is much more complete and useful than his other works. Inner Work is a very good tool for people interested in dealing with its own unconscious mechanisms. I absolutely loved it.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Finnish lessons - What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg

I read this book a couple of months ago, and it tells a lot about the current educational system in Finland and how it got to this point. What happened there was something very interesting. A couple of decades ago the Finnishs decided that the educational system should not anymore be based on competition and prize-given for goal-achievers, but rather on cooperation and equality. There was a big change in basically all aspects of the teaching process. Much less homework, much less examinations, much less hours in class, more freedom to chose the learning subjects, no failing mechanisms, flexible times, and better conditions for teachers. Schools became a bit less like a prison, such as they usually are all over the world. But the most interesting thing about it was the results that came over the years. The intention of the changes were more to bring equality to society and to make the educational system more accessible and human. However, surprisingly the result was not only that but also Finnish students started to achieve the highest grades in international examination process. Although that wasn't the goal, the average grade of the Finnish students in international examinations started to achieve levels never achieved before. I think this is really amazing. The changes were better for everybody in all aspects. People were effectively learning more with more freedom. That is all I believe about education. Exams, grades, goal-achieving, prizes, discipline, I think this is all rubbish that brings nothing good to anyone. I really think true education should help the students to learn what they want to learn rather than giving them something you want them to learn and then examining them about that. This Finnish example is a very good thing in this direction. This book itself is sometimes a bit repetitive and it was written quite in an almost academic style (although not to much), but it is a very nice account of what happened and is still happening in Finland. Definitely worth reading if you are interested in educational issues. 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

First as tragedy, then as farce by Slavoj Žižek

I have to confess that Zizek is in the moment the guy I most like to read and to listen to. This book, First as tragedy, then as farce is the first actual book I read from him a few months ago, however I think I've heard and watched more than 20 hours of his public lectures or speeches that one can find on youtube. Zizek is an Marxist philosopher that is in loved with psychoanalysis. He loves Lacan and specially Hegel, which was the greatest philosopher ever according to him. What I most like about Zizek is the fact that he is a left wing thinker that treats things not only from a social or philosophical viewpoint but mainly through a psychological view trying to understand the hidden truth behind sociological and political speeches. I simply like the guy very much. This specific book talks about lots of things, as Zizek always does, but it focus mainly on the madness of capitalist economic laws, analyzing a lot of what happened after the beginning of the current economic crisis that started in 2008. It is definitely worth reading if you like politics and economics. Although if you are a right winger you will probably not enjoy it.

Inaugural post

The idea of this blog is basically to have a space in which I can write a bit about the books I read and found interesting. I like to read and quite often I read not very conventional books that I would like to talk about. More than this I also would like to keep practicing my English since after living 4 years in London now I am back to Brazil where I do not have the opportunity of using this language on a daily basis. Well, I think that's all for now.