January 31, 2005

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, January 2005

René Wellek, Concepts of Criticism
A collection of papers from the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s by one of the most learned and sensible literary theorists then writing. Very good if you're interested in the history of literary theory and literary criticism.
Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution
See my review: The Object-Oriented Turn in Generative Grammar.
K. J. Bishop, The Etched City
Disturbing, brilliant, marvellously-authoritative novel of corruption, of redemption, of art, of metamorphosis: in short of transformation. Nothing is explained, but I came away feeling that everything was explicable, that it had some hidden, cohesive meaning. I almost suspect there is a concealed alchemical allegory, only the alchemists were never this good.
John Kay, Culture and Prosperity: The Truth About Markets --- Why Some Nations Are Rich but Most Remain Poor
(The original UK title is just The Truth About Markets, which is better.) Not sure if I do recommend this one. It's intended as a popular survey of modern economics, with a bit of an emphasis on micro and on policy. For the most part, the content is quite good, but at times Kay's style really got on my nerves. There seemed to be a lot of places where he could and should have gone into topics more deeply, but contented himself with just dipping into them and then going on to the next section. (Perhaps this is due to writing a weekly newspaper column for several years.) Also, there are some errors. (E.g., in discussing science funding in America vs. Europe, he makes it seem like most basic research in the US is supported by the private sector, and doesn't mention the NSF or the NIH at all.) That said, I really don't know of a better popular treatment of the strengths and limitations of neo-classical economics and its non-crazy competitors.
Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century
Remarkably, this actually lives up to its subtitle. I knew that many of the great scholars in the humanities of the mid-twentieth century were mad, and/or living down fascist pasts (e.g.), but I had no idea how mad, or that so many of them were mad in the same way, having acquired their madness from a common source.
John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action
See Was John Dewey a Member of the Reality-Based Community?. After reading this, I can say that the answer to my question is "yes", and that this is probably Dewey's best-written book. (The in-print edition has an introduction by Stephen Toulmin, but I read an old copy and haven't seen this.)
Update, February 2010: the full text, at least of the first edition, is online.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted at January 31, 2005 23:59 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth