Plato at the Googleplex, a Review of Sorts

rebecca goldsteinI don’t usually do book reviews except in passing. I found when I used to do album reviews for Relix magazine that I couldn’t do a standard objective review, try as I might.  I bought into Gonzo journalism where writers admitted a personal story or narrative woven with the facts was more real or at least more readable. If I could relate facts with personal import outlier readers might join the conversation. John McPhee’s book  “Encounters with the Archdruid” on David Brower was an early paradigm of how narrative and science could be braided into a taut rope. If too sparse to bear skip to the end where I list more conventional reviews.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s book “Plato at the Googleplex, Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away” is arguably the best book I have read in a decade. Part of what makes a book great is not that you agree with all of it but that it affects you deeply, makes you think, and changes your view of the world. I have to concur with AC Grayling.

“This could be one of the best ever demonstrations of the value and utility of philosophy. Richly insightful, beautifully written, it is at once introduction, exploration and application, revealing the fascination and significance of philosophical ideas and their relevance to life. Like the Plato who figures largely here, Goldstein has both literary and philosophical gifts of the highest order: the combination is superb.”

The great atheist books of the early 2000′s were indeed wonderful but for me mostly philosophically repetitive though highly enjoyable. They also helped me gain strength to become an activist again, at least on my own small scale. I had given up environmental activism because it was so damned depressing (environmental battles are never won) and I wanted to raise a family and not be on the road, the pulpit, or on a tree branch waiting for the police. These early books didn’t change my view they made me feel more acceptable, more responsible, with my view.

Letters to a Young Contrarian” was outstanding in this regard and I had no greater pleasure than being able to tell that to Hitchens himself. I didn’t know whether to crap my pants or orgasm when he made a sweeping bow to me and “you’re very welcome.” And I don’t do hero worship.

Rebecca’s book. And I am going to call her Rebecca, both out of respect and it seems right as she does not claim to blind deference–more as a friend, though I hardly know her, than an author. Rebecca’s book changed my mind about Plato. Late one night after a conference I was conversing with her and saying how philosophy was as important now as ever.

“Music and stories of today are the philosophy of today. Philosophy hasn’t disappeared, it has morphed. Critical thinking is doing philosophy.”

Tired then I can’t fully remember the conversation and I obsessively and blindly  delayed her leaving to help some students deal with outing themselves. Sometimes I am desperate for insight.

I rarely get to talk to another philosopher and even more rarely one who weaves philosophy and literature as tightly as Plato’s Sublime Braid of Truth-Beauty-Goodness. At one point, wandering through philosophy small talk I remarked that Whitehead had said we hadn’t progressed much beyond Plato but that nevertheless philosophy was still necessary today. But that I found the dialogs to be tedious, Plato’s theory of forms to be incomprehensible, and his theory of a soul to be the cause of much trouble in the world.

I then said I preferred the Ionian enlightenment, Leucippus, Democritus etc, (to Periclean Athens) that had occurred more early outside Athens in Ionia–which she borrows from Jaspers as the start of the axial age.  Not the so-called Greek dark ages or the archaic period but really the heart of Greek philosophy bastardized by Plato and Aristotle from which we are still recovering.

Rebecca flashed a mildly pained look and said that Plato really had contributed hugely by employing the Socratic method. I had to agree on this an distantly did so. The importance of dialogs, open discussion, and the market place of ideas has held true, useful, and beautiful all of this time. It is in conversation that we truly are able to braid rope. We are others and hell is others–without community we are nothing. Call me on my bullshit, please! By the way…

She spoke of Godel and meeting him briefly and I said I thought he had been trying to find god. Maybe so. Indeed, to say no formal system is complete says little about the system itself which is the point–formal, artificial, self-contained, regardless of whether it is embedded or extracted. Cantor’s theory of different-sized infinities uses counting as proof, calibration, which is like using stops to wrestle through Zeno’s paradox of motion.

Flashback to my first year in the university. I went to an agricultural university thinking I would be a vet and got caught in philosophy. I bought Plato’s dialogs and attempted to read them on my own when I should have been studying Calculus, Animal Physiology, and Chemistry. I could have used better counseling and probably learning disability drugs as I also decided to learn how to rope, cowboy rope that is, and shoe horses. In the dialogs, Socrates always won, was always an ass and his opponents as stupid and useless as bent nails.

Laster at another university I would take Ancient Greek/Latin, Plato, Logic, and so forth as I finally changed from philosophy autodidact to unassigned, formal student. I loved Bertrand Russell’s History one-volume history of philosophy and read it on my own over the summer as I was living in a tent and completing the construction of the Faculty Club Lodge. Later, I used Russell’s discussion (with Vlastos) on Plato to answer an essay question of his theory of forms, on which my professor beat me up–I would find analytical philosophers (most of my department) liked Russell but not this book. Twice more he let me rewrite it and twice more he beat me up. My prof was Yukio Kachi and I did get an A in the class, a rare A, but my conclusion was Forms my ass, Plato how sad, and tear down the cave (we don’t need teachers, we need mentored, self-education, free for everyone.)

But I loved the Apology. Best book ever. Wow, I could even read some of it in Greek now. All of this baggage as I moved on to Early Modern Philosophy and found my spiritual home, happy to jump over the terrifying dark and medieval ages (yes, I still had to take the classes).

When Rebecca’s book was announced I realized how close we really had been in that conversation late that night and how Platonic she really was in the best sense. In her other books the hero often doesn’t do what seems practical but what is right for its own sake. A Hassidic genius doesn’t become a famous and perhaps groundbreaking mathematician but tends his small community as a leader that values him–and that was the moral thing to do.

This spoke to me as I too have run from trying for fame and fortune to raise a family and contemplate in peace–and am now in the awkward position of seeking notoriety to make money as I have no secular community here but for nature and family, and we cannot live but for ourselves alone–a hard lesson I have learned. Her books are rich with the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of those who think they know and those who don’t. Her concept of mattering is a wonderfully lucid and female way of looking at power and meaning. Her novels weave philosophy as stories of love, concern, and social commentary. Her characters create philosophy as if the author is not present in the creation. As if the characters are nonfictional and alive in the text where Rebecca reveals the truth already present in them waiting to come out. Philoosphers are the midwives of knowledge rather than combatants of truth. And yet like all natural births there is violence, exposure, and tenderness.

Most of you will have read some sort of review of the book, see below, and know that it is divided in chapters of discussion and chapters of the fictive narrative of Plato arriving now to promote his book. Various reviews are divided between which type of chapter they prefer. Some dislike or like the many footnotes. Some think it is too much philosophy. Some think is it not conclusive. Frankly, I adored it all and consumed the book with a passion I rarely feel towards literature anymore.

It is a sad thing that we no longer respect philosophy or philosophers. I don’t mean in the postmodern sense like where Richard Rorty quit the philosophy department because all philosophy is literature. I mean religions have won so far and wide that philosophy’s repression seems normative even to scientists and rationalists. It’s just division of labor and philosophy bred children that ate the parents? I don’t think so. Anti-intellectualism is thoroughly Christian, then Catholic, and finally the many protestants that demanded to read the bible themselves but to seek no further, stuck in a self aggrandizing appreciation of the subjective as the only means of meaning–and the theologically subjective at that.

Incredibly popular now on Christian, especially Catholic, web sites is to insist the Dark ages weren’t dark and the medieval ages were really rife with innovation, science, and intellectual gymnastics. Odd that they all have to say not as great as the Classic or Greco-Roman period, or not as innovative as the enlightenment, and hedge their great love of learning as being biblically centered. Yes, the Great Library of Alexandria might have been burned over politics but they were religious politics. Hypatia might have been killed for politics but those politics were concerned over the primacy of authority, religion over philosophy, revelation over science, truth towards god or truth. The many other libraries may not have been burned but they were neglected to rot and ruin. Disinterest is as catastrophic as wanton violence.

That the medievalists knew the world was not flat, nor the Greeks, nor the Muslims, and that Galileo’s debate with the pope was over personality and not the true canon of Catholicism where there is not a heresy of science versus religio clouds the real issue of whether one had actually traveled the world to know its circumference and shape. It is as if hundreds of years from now Religious people will say the church actually knew climate change was human caused ignoring the many religious people who did not believe it, who made it impossible to rectify in a timely manner, and who claim god wouldn’t do such a thing. They will dismiss them as cafeteria catholics or some such. The point is church canon got in the way of clear thinking for many, belief in deus ex machina for others, fear of economic change for more, and fear of verisimiltude in political opposition for others. To look back and find some that said it was true does not negate the many who said it wasn’t and the difficult debate between the two views where either man could have changed it or not.

 

It is as if they see a motor that ran at 60 MPH on 8 cylinders but for awhile ran 30 on 4 and demand credit for the slow speed as some speed at all as if it were close enough to 60 to be counted as almost 60.

The many great religions of the last several thousand years claim a hubris or pride of philosophy as they demand a humility towards a phantasmic wisdom. We philosophers must examine theology but it is enough for theology to examine itself, and not as a debate but as part of the field of inquiry.

Most people do not trust that one can be an expert in thinking. While there are mechanical experts, medical experts, and even painting experts, experts in thinking are not allowed. If I were to tell people at a party that I am an expert in thinking they would all be insulted, secular or not. This is the millennia long trajectory of antipathy towards thinking unless bounded within the humility of subjective phantasms. Even the New England love of self-reliance must be transcendental to be valued; it’s not true unless godly. The misplaced demand of an uninformed democracy rules over the deep work required to make a decent choice. I see why Plato preferred a republic where an expert in thinking helps make these hard and difficult choices, nevertheless fraught with great potential for error. It is really the charlatans of expertise we should be critical of and not the inquiry.

We collapse the utility of Republicanism into a vote of polity of democratic choice where barking dogs signal political alliance without thought. The experts retreat to building robots that assemble pre made devices. The robots, the people, service staff, know little of what they are manufacturing–expertise becomes a dog whistle and the people become dogs (apologies to the canines). When the experts become replaced with the uneducated the manufacture of the manufacturing robots becomes clumsy, ineffectual, and soon abandoned as the products no longer work. What’s left is blind hatred of experts. I have been there and it wasn’t until I saw that it was the corruption of philosophy that was the problem that I was willing to return.

To valorize the uneducated is to miss the point of education. It is not a matter of self-taught or not, public schools or not, regulated or not, but the need to know more to do more. If expertise is needed to create what is required to survive and do well, that expertise cannot be lost without losing ground. It can seem top heavy like Yurtle the Turtle demanding ever taller structures that eventually collapse. That’s why Yurtle should have listened to the experts and the others that could see through what he was doing. Materialism corrupts. Power corrupts. Status corrupts. Gender corrupts. Class corrupts. Authority corrupts. Crowd sourcing corrupts.

The push to make things super simple ultimately disables the ability to adapt beyond narrow boundaries. As the boundaries inevitably change the potential catastrophe becomes even greater. The goal is not to to make everyone stupid but to make everyone informed. That is the only way we can have interchangeable expertise in a society ruled by division of labor. We could of course return to hunter-gather societies but it would be such a loss now unless we could do it without violence and even then experts in underwater-basket weaving would be prized.

Rebecca ends the last part of her exposition.

My Plato is an impassioned mathematician, a wary poet, an exacting ethicist, a reluctant political theorist. He is, above all, a man keenly aware that assumptions and biases slip into our viewpoints and go unnoticed, and he devised a field devoted to trying to expose these assumptions and biases and to do away with any that conflict with commitments we must make in order to render the world and our lives maximally coherent. Because he created this field, we can look back at Plato and see where his own assumptions and biases sometimes did him wrong. If we couldn’t, the field that he created would have proved a colossal disappointment to him, the faith he had put in self-critical reason unfounded.

Above all, my Plato is the philosopher who teaches us that we should never rest assured that our view, no matter ow well argued and reasoned, amounts to the final word on any matter. And that includes our view of Plato.

She ends the modern Plato with a question as is only right.

PLATO: I cannot say why one’s own brain should matter so much to one just because it happens to be one’s own brain, but it does. It undeniably does.

SHOCKET: You might as well ask why your own self should matter so much to yourself just because it’s your self.

PLATO: That’s right. One might just as well ask.

SHOCKET: Which means you think that the question about why your own self should matter is also a question worth asking.

PLATO: Oh, it is a question well worth asking. I myself have never stopped asking it from the beginning until this moment.

The following are various reviews, not in any particular order, that may shed better light to the book itself.

Washington PostNew York TimesNPRThe AtlanticBoston GlobeCS Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Slate, SF Gate, Interview with Ophelia Benson, Youtube Reading and Discussion at Harvard, and Interview with Josh Zepps.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

The Venerable Shakespeare was a Secular Humanist

shakespeare_mathThough Shakespeare doesn’t address religion specifically, the wars between protestants and catholics, would have ensured that he was at least familiar with protestant rites and rituals since it was the national religion by law. While it must be inferred what Shakespeare thought, the complete lack of anything in the way of praise to religion should be proof enough that he certainly didn’t consider it useful or praiseworthy. You will find if you say this to religious people who love Shakespeare they will gasp and stutter and then insist no one knows for sure.

A new book “The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe” by Dan Falk places Shakespeare on the stage of the Humanist Renaissance in Elizabethan England.

As for religion, though Shakespeare often alludes to biblical stories, he never once uses the word “bible.” Nor do his characters put much faith in life continuing beyond death. He lived in an age of belief, yet a streak of skepticism runs through his work, especially toward the end of his career; in King Lear it reaches an almost euphoric nihilism. His characters often call upon the gods to help them, but their desperate pleas are rarely answered. Was Shakespeare a closet atheist, like his colleague Christopher Marlowe?

shakespeare scienceSlate:

In A Short History of Atheism, Gavin Hyman points to the years from 1540 to 1630 as a period in which “the notion of a worldview that was entirely outside a theistic framework was … gradually becoming conceivable.” As it happens, Shakespeare’s life falls wholly within this transitional period (he was born 450 years ago); and, just as his works hint at the beginnings of science, so, too, do they hint at the possibility of unbelief.

Shakespeare was certainly friendly with England’s most famous alleged atheist of the time, the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Just over a dozen lines into Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, the Italian political thinker Niccolò Machiavelli (anglicized to “Machevil”) declares, “I count religion but a childish toy … ” Doctor Faustus, Marlowe’s most important play, was even more dangerous. Faustus declares, “I think hell’s a fable”—and the playwright may well have agreed.

coleridge on shakespeareThe Slate article does a fine job of showing that Shakespeare was most aware of the dangers of religion as well as his characters often dissing religion,

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

….

In the case of Shakespeare, we have no direct evidence, as there are no accusatory letters, no diatribes warning of his disbelief—or, indeed, of any sort of threat to the established order. (How very dull his life was, compared with Marlowe’s!) And so we turn, with caution, to his dramatic works. The case for Shakespeare’s lack of belief has been argued most recently by Eric Mallin in his book Godless Shakespeare. Mallin begins by examining a remarkable scene in Measure for Measure, in which the hapless Claudio is in prison, awaiting execution. His sister Isabel, in training to be a nun, pays him a visit. At this point, Claudio has an idea: Maybe if Isabel were to sleep with the duke, Angelo, she could secure his release. She (quite reasonably) refuses. And then, as Mallin notes, we have an extraordinary speech on the nature of death. Claudio says:

… to die, and we go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded cold; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick ribbed ice
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world …
… ’tis too horrible!

And then, of course, there is King Lear. In this most somber of Shakespeare’s plays, the gods are often called upon—by the king and Gloucester and others—but they do not respond. In their absence, justice cannot be guaranteed; indeed, it becomes fragile in the extreme. Lear, in desperation, hopes that events will “show the heavens more just,” but it is a lost cause. The play ends, as William Elton puts it, “with the death of the good at the hands of the evil.” In one of the play’s most famous—and darkest—lines, Gloucester laments, “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods/ They kill us for their sport.” (A line, incidentally, that closely echoes a passage from Montaigne, who wrote, in Florio’s translation, “The gods perdie doe reckon and racket us men as their tennis-balles.”)

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Grieving for the Living: The Book

Donate to the project here.

A few months ago I wrote a blog here, “Grieving for the Living“, about the pain and loss I felt after my parents disowned me. Something I didn’t expected happened: I received a dozens upon dozens of emails and messages from people stating that they were in the same situation. An unfortunate and common theme was that there hadn’t been much research or discussion about the effects disownment has as people go through adulthood. So I, along with a friend I met because of have decided to do something about it. Grieving for the Living: Effects of Disownment in Adulthood is a work in progress by authors Bridget R. Gaudette and Emma S. Phillips. Our stories, along with about 20 others will be recounted in the book. We’ve  approached disownment from several angles including religious (de)conversion, gender identity, interracial partnerships and sexual orientation just to name a few.

In addition, to demonstrate the need for such a book, we are conducting a large scale survey meant to assess the impact disownment has on mood and mental health. We will be assisted by individuals that have PhD’s in psychology and social work along with medical doctors and counselors.

flowerslide

Disownment is the formal act or condition of forcibly renouncing or no longer accepting one’s child as a member of one’s family or kin. We are pursuing knowledge in the hopes of helping others. We are confident that by conducting research about this population and by publishing this work, people who are experiencing this alienation, like ourselves, will be able to find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Further, the results we find with our research will aid in bringing attention to this issue, which is more prevalent than one might think.

If you have been disowned, please take this survey. Also, although we have a publisher that has looked favorably on the project no contract has been signed so we are raising money to self-publish here: donate.

For more information on the book and the authors, visit our website at www.GrievingForTheLiving.com.

Cultural Appropriation and Daniel Baldwin Makes Me Depressed

Daniel Baldwin as Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy

I sat down to write about Christmas With a Capital C, the anti-atheist Christmas movie from a bazillion years ago, but I didn’t get through 10 minutes of the movie before I turned it off. It wasn’t because of the politics. It wasn’t because of the bad acting or script (but surprisingly high production values). It was because of poor Daniel Baldwin. He spends the entire movie DESPERATELY trying to be his brother, Alec Baldwin. Specifically, Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock. But without the jokes. Or the charm. Or the chin.

It would be like watching one of Steven Colbert’s siblings do an impression of the Colbert Report for Christian Broadcasting Network. After the initial laugh, you realize this guy is only getting work because he looks like his brother’s famous character. His whole life is completely overshadowed by his brothers work. It’s just depressing. I can’t watch.

Instead, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the Mayan Apocalypse, Native American Shamanism and cultural appropriation. There’s a really great short film called “White Shamans, Plastic Medicine Men” done by a Native American tribe in the 1990′s. It’s not strictly debunkery, but the documentary goes into why white “shamans” are full of crap. I’ll give you a minute to watch a bit.

White Shamans Plastic Medicine Men

Traditional Mongolia and Padme. They copied it down to the dots on the face.

A LOT of “woo” borrow symbols and ceremonies from other cultures. From “Asian” medicine to “African” voodoo. They think it lends legitimacy to their woo. (Sort of like how having the discount Baldwin might lend legitimacy to your movie) Often, the woo practitioners will turn around and pretend that their Frankenstein woo is exactly the same as the symbols and ceremonies from the other culture. (Sort of like how the discount Baldwin is only worth something if he pretends to be the famous, sexy Baldwin) This is called “cultural appropriation.” That’s when you cherry-pick the things you like from another culture, suck them dry of their original meaning, and take the remaining husks for your own use. Is it bad? Not always. After all, cultural appropriation from Mongolia is where we got Princess Amadala’s costumes in Star Wars Episode 1. And it won awards.

Maybe that’s a bad example.

Anyway, it puts me in mind of the Mayan Apocalypse hype. Everyone and their mother was posting something or other mocking those silly ancient Mayans. Because IF THE MAYANS WERE SO PSYCHIC THEN WHY DIDN’T THEY PREDICT THE SPANISH INQUISITON (har-har). But Mayans are still alive and kicking. Those Mayans are kinda pissed that the rest of the world is mocking them over doomsday fanaticism that has nothing to do with the real Mayan calendar was basically created by Coast to Coast AM and this jerk. Take a gander at his amazon page. Notice anything… shaman-y?

Did you know that the Guatemalan government used the day to promote tourism and hired a bunch of non-Mayan models to perform sham rituals at the Mayan temple? Cultural appropriation is for everyone!

Anyway, my point here is that sometimes we’re barking up the wrong tree. The Mayan Apocalypse wasn’t Mayan at all. It was 100% New Age babbling. If we’d picked apart Coast to Coast AM for promoting vaguely racist theories about the end of the world (the theories basically boil down to: I took a lot of drugs and realized dark-skinned people were too primitive to have built the pyramids – it must have been aliens/quantum consciousness! And the drugs said they’re trying to warn us!), we’d had saved a HUGE amount of trouble.

But hindsight is 20/20. Give the documentary a watch. It’s good stuff.

THE GREATEST SCAMS ON EARTH

Today we’re looking at PT Barnum and his book Humbugs of the World. After all, there’s no one who knows a sham better than a professional sham salesman. “Humbug” as you probably know, is an old world for “bullshit” or “flim-flam” but PT Barnum generously defines humbug as mere…. exaggerations of the truth. And as long as people were getting their money’s worth, humbug here and there isn’t a problem. Whatever you say, PT.

Humbugs came out in 1865, following the huge success of Barnum’s autobiography. Humbugs did pretty well too, and you can probably find really beautiful copies of both books in your local used book store – but it’s public domain and free on Kindle. If you want to see a really beautiful copy, CFI Amherst has a lovely leather copy in their library with gold lettering on the cover and gold on the edge of the pages.

At times, Humbugs reads like PT Barnum is simply defending his own humbuggery by pointing at people who are bigger liars than he is. And hey, the guy has a reputation to keep. But that all fades away when he talks about spiritualists and mediums. Barnum never hired a single one and he has nine chapters full of venom and scorn for the lot of them. If you’re into the history of spiritualists, this is worth picking up just for those chapters alone.

Otherwise, the book gives us a nice overview of the scams and psudoscience of the day, like the “Golden Pigeons of California”, the weird and wonderful moon hoax (the one with the demons having a party on the moon), witch hunts, Monsignore Cristoforo Rischio (a “model for our quack doctors”), blood purification pills, and the list goes on and on. The chapters on financial scams are tailor made for Skeptic money readers, with lottery humbugs, Tuipomania, the largely fictional (but very profitable) New-York and Rangoon Petroleum Company , and page after page of money swindles. The book is mostly anecdotes and feels like a friendly conversation with Barnum. It’s also pretty sarcastic and light-hearted, so it’s very readable, despite the 150+ years of language difference.

There is some serious historical culture shock. He has two chapters devoted to avoiding food and alcohol-related scams; for example, watering down alcohol to “homeopathic” doses. Barnums words, not mine. It took me a minute to remember that these were the days before FDA and basic food regulations. I’ve never felt so grateful for modern food regulations in all my life. I’ll let you read them for yourself, but it’s all very scary. It’s for the germaphobe. The chapters on quack medicines are even scarier with magic sand, rampant placebo use at doctor’s offices, and hashish candy. It’s a wonder anyone was able to survive a doctors visit at all.

Other chapters left me really disliking Barnum. The 1800′s were a bit racist. Ok, they were really racist. And boy-howdy is Barnum right in step with his era. The chapter on the Miscegenation pamphlet is flat-out unpleasant. I get that he had to sell copies of the book to all parts of the US (I’m looking at you, post-civil-war-south) but I took very long breaks from that chapter. It ended up being worth reading for the history of the word “Miscegenation”, but I feel like that information could also be learned from Wikipedia without reading about Barnums disgust with racial mixing. His chapters on religious humbug is where he can really loose me. He’ll start waxing on and on about pagan cultures on distant lands or ancient heathens and my eyes glaze over. On the upside, he does move onto “ordeals”; traditional christian “trials” that would determine your innocence if you survived drowning, poisoning, burning, etc. Apparently these were still practiced during his time.

Overall, it’s a fun read and many of the lesser scams in the book aren’t available to research on the internet. If you’re into history in general or if you feel like you’ve simply run out of new ways to be shocked by scam artists, well,  you’re only gunna find this stuff here and Barnum is awesome. Go check it out.

 

Humbugs of the World is public domain and is available on Project Gutenberg for free, and currently is free in the Kindle bookstore.

The audio recording is free at the Internet Archive, and was recorded by volunteers at Librivox.org

8 Book Everyone Should Read By Neil deGrasse Tyson

A couple of weeks ago Mr. Tyson showed up on reddit.  He was asked what book should an intelligent person read.

Here is the list of 8 book that he gave.  Some redditors left links to free audio books as well as free e-books.  I have also tried to find the links for kindle, audible and the old fashioned print copy.

1.) The Bible Free Librivox Audio ASV, Free Librivox Audio KJV, Free Android Bible App, Kindle, For a Hard copy- you can get them free from almost any hotel, Audible.

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (Part of The Principia) View pages Free Online, Kindle version.

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin Free Librivox Audio, Free Online text, Free Kindle version, Amazon Print, Audible.

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Free Librivox Audio, Free Online text, Free Kindle, Audible, Amazon Print.

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible, Amazon Print.

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible, Amazon Print.

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible $1.95Amazon Print.

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible $1.95, Amazon Print.

Tyson added: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”