Lodz, Poland
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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-21-10

Without pathos about life...

After „The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth, I knew that he is a great and deep writer.

However — his latest novel „Nemesis” is one of the best books I ever read.

It is a story of young man, the teacher of physical education and passionate javelin thrower. The story is set in 1944 during one of the worst American polio epidemics. As he could not go to the army, the hero was already discontent of himself when the plot of events related to the epidemics and the events of his personal life caused a major self oppression and the unbearable conviction of guilt.

It is a great book about insecurity a man can experience, about guilt and punishment and about human rebellion against G-d due to overwhelming sense of undeserved suffering of many...

And ultimately it is a book about the triumph of human freedom of choice...

In his short book, and in the simple words, Roth once again comes to the main theme of Job's bible book (without, of course, any direct reference to it) and to the most important problems that face humans — without pathos and sanctimonious deliberations...

THE great novel.

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10 of 10 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-09-10

Witty & serious ...

Douglas Adams's book, "The Salmon of Doubt"; is a set of posthumous Adams's writings, collected, edited and published in 2001 - one year after Douglas Adams sudden death.

The most important part of the book - "The Salmon of Doubt": itself is only a part of the book. To me it is totally surrealistic, absurd, satiric story that has - as always with Adams - deeper philosophical sense as it describes absurdity of our life and our habits...

But my deeper attention was directed to the "Is there an Artificial God?" speech Adams gave at Cambridge in 1998 - which is also a part of the book. In that speech Adams recapitulates his views on religion. He was a devout atheist and based his atheism on logical thinking and the belief in science.
I must say - that is some sense I like his opinions. Although I'm not an atheist, well, I'm strong theist, I value his thoughts - because what they ridicule and oppose is not the true faith - but it's typical distortion...

However, I must also say that Douglas's arguments, as well as most atheists arguments are also very superficial...

They usually (and so is Douglas doing) build their arguments on the fact that since Darwin and all other scientific discoveries - we no longer NEED G-d's idea. Certainly - we no longer need it !

We, indeed, don't need the idea of G-d which is the last resort for our failing minds and ideas ...
But we (those who believe) don't think of G-d as the EXPLANATION - we think of Him as of the "who - who is calling" ....

To all those who do not seek for philosophical tones - it is fantastic, homourous and witty book. Strongly recommended !!

More on my blog (sopekmir)

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7 of 21 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-03-10

Buddhism meets our business culture

"The Leader's Way" by His Holiness Dalai Lama and Van Den Muyzenberg is the book of unusual meeting. It describes the important, yet metaphorical meeting between 14th Dalai Lama (Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso) and the modern businessman who was consultant and business developer for many large corporations. The book shows how one can practise buddists doctrines in the modern world of corporate citizenship.
It shows that practicing Buddhist Perfections (Generosity, Ethical discipline, Patience, Enthusiastic effort, Concentration & Wisdom) gives enormous benefits to responsible business practices.

But what was very interesting in this book, was the sincere admission by Dalai Lama, that in the past he was fascinated by socialism and its ideas. He used to read Marx and was sure that socialism/communism was the right way for humanity happiness. He also describes how he slowly discovered the plain untruth in communism. He then read Adam Smith and his rendering of this author is just amazing.

He also have noticed how important European Union "project" is in human history....

These two last thoughts of Dalai Lama, i.e. the initial fascination with socialism and approval of the greatness of EU - I dedicate to all who used to blame many people for the choices ot their youth and to all sceptics of EU - who are so many among us....

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-01-10

Irrational man ...

Stuart Sutherland 1992 book "Irrationality" explores the vast areas of irrational thinking omnipresent in human judgments and decisions. Sutherland was professional psychologist, hence the book is not a set of novel-like digressions about human nature. It is scientifically grounded analysis of sources of our mistakes and misconceptions. For example, it explains how skin-deep obedience, false conformity, biased impressions or communal follies bring disaster to many organisation, from army units (he comes back to the Pearl Harbour attack) through government organisations to business organisations. Some of the examples he gives are just hilarious...

There is a lot about medicine and irrationality there, about false diagnosis that can lead to death and about modern superstitions that still pervade the popular medicine (like homeopathy).

The book is full of examples, explanations and recommendations - how to avoid the irrational thinking in our life. The true goal of the book is - of course - the promotion of true and well based rationality!

Every chapter of the books end with a "moral" - a digest of the chapter content in a form of few most important "sententia".

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-01-10

Is the World truly flat?

The short book by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu "Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of Borderless World" is absolutely a MUST for all who ponder about Internet. It should also be read by all who hold naive concepts about globalization or are sometimes against it.

In essence, it demonstrates, that contrary to popular views, Internet IS controlled by nations states and their policies. What is more, the authors argue, that this control is not only bad thing, not only it is not a censorship, but it is the imposition of law, which benefits the Internet.
The book devotes a lot of thoughts to the initial revolutionary movement for the freedom of cyberspace - the freedom from nation states governments. The analysis of John Perry Barlow famous declaration and Jon Postel ("If the Net does have a G-d," wrote the Economist (1997), "he is probably Jon Postel") fight with US government over the control over DNS.
But the most interesting parts of the book deal with legal aspect of the net. From the initial successful French litigation against Yahoo (for allowing of nazi memorabilia to be sold online by Yahoo), to the incredible Dow Jones vs Gutnick case (won by Joseph Gutnick) we have a spectrum of cases that prove the one simple thing - despite seemingly borderless world of Internet - when it comes to content - it is in fact confined to state borders and their laws !
The analysis of music distribution on the net, from Napster, through lawless Kazaa to Apple iTunes - shows the evolution toward the respect of copyright and its associated laws.
The same conclusion can be drawn when we read about eBay. Here the discovery of the positive effect of legal means of coercion against fraud and indecent hucksters is even more obvious.

On more general level we observe that Internet did not remove the middleman, it just changed it!

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-23-10

God's Debris - A beautiful tale

Described by the author as "thought experiment" this short book discusses ages old philosophical problems and conundrums in a dialog between a common delivery man and an old "sage", calling himself Avatar.

Their dialog starts with a question: "If you toss a coin a thousand times, how often will it come up heads?", and, by and by, they enter into enchanting philosophical discussion about the eternal philosophical problems of humanity. Do we have free will? If we do, how it relates to brain? What are consequences of God's free will? Why there are so many religions? What is the true nature and cause of physical universe? What is the meaning of evolution? and so on ...
In the discussion, the delivery man thinks like common, media influenced, educated person, while Avatar speaks as the one who knows everything, as a sage.
In some sense the "God's Debris" illustrates a kind of collision of modern practical mind and ages old philosophical thought.

Many of the explanations given by the sage are just plain baloney. The concept of the universe as the God's Debris that came into existence after G-d "decided" to stop his existence, the concept of gravitation and inertia as probability, and many others are examples.

What is beautiful though, is that it just does not matter if these concepts are true or not - the essence is in bringing the common man higher in his awareness - moving him from level of scientific thinking to the "5th-level" where he recognizes that our mind is more delusion generator than "an engine" of truth...

The true virtue of the book lies in its atmosphere; atmosphere of realistic irrationality - is I could call it this way. The books ends in surprising, yet anticipated way - but I will try not to spoil it for its future readers...

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-10-10

A false dream ...

It is the last work of Herman Hesse, and his "Magnum Opus". In some sense the book is philosophical science-fiction, though there are no typical elements of sci-fi genre. The author predicts that the period in human history will come when the knowledge became wide-spread and popular, with multitude of authors writing multitude of stories. This period, called "The Age of Feuilleton" was highly individualistic. The main feature of the age was the passionate search of freedom.
At this moment comes the main prophecy of the book. Hesse predicts that on the ashes of the feuilletonistic age, new movement is born. The purpose of the order is the cultivation of science and music. The order cultivates highly elitist structure and its rule is as strong as the rules of religious orders. It also includes meditation and contemplation. The culmination of the order achievement is the synthesis of all sciences and music in an instrument called "glass bead game". A game, was a like a symphony but with deep scientific background. The main character of the book, Joseph Knecht, after swift carrier, becomes the chief Glass Bead Game custodian and player. The most of the book is about his life and his path - first to the order of Castalia, than through the rungs of the order hierarchy - to the startling decision to leave the order, and become "awaken" to the everyday life ...
Despite the end of the Jospeh Knecht story - Hesse, through the entire book, demonstrates the admiration to the concept of intellectual elitism, to the notion of "intellectual order" to the medieval concept of hierarchical knowledge, well organized, and integrated with the quintessence of art - with the classical music.

In some sense the Hesse prophecy is dangerous...

We no longer need "mental elite" - the current culture proved to be vibrant and precious. The human knowledge can, and is built, by millions of people, and we do not need any orders.

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21 of 26 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-26-09

"The Power of Now" enigma

Eckhart Tolle fame could easily one's mind very suspicious about the quality of his message. But, I must admit, here comes a surprise. The message is very simple and obvious - and expressed in sincere words. In a most concise description, the message is about the discovery of our inner consciousness, the silent "I" which is not reduced to our mind, thoughts or even our ego. He beautifully describes it as the "no-thing" the background of our thoughts and perceptions.
The discovery of the true inner center of our awareness, reveals also all negative consequences of mind domination - both on personal and also on social level. His analysis of the concept of pain-body which describes the negative emotional component of our life - is really deep. I found his basic advice we can use to wake us up very interesting - it is the attempt to live in the "now". The past, and future are mental creations. The focus on "Now" on things and thoughts that matter for presentness - opens us to the awareness of the deeper level of existence, to true being, or "is-ness".
In some sense, Eckhart Tolle rediscovers the truths well known to almost all meditational traditions of the world, however he does so in truly universal way - in language that the modern world can understand and can accept. It rediscovers what almost all religions of the world were telling us for centuries, but what was forgotten or maybe simply obstructed for many by the organizational or even political aspects of many religions. If I was about to point some weakness in his teaching it is in forgetting of the importance of unchangeable past, our freedom and grounds for moral teaching. Paradoxically if one extends his basic teaching of awareness - the foundations for these concepts are there !
Finally, even though many aspects of Tolle career are strange, he, by no means can be called "revitalized New Age mumbo jumbo" as it was done by Independent...

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4 of 7 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-28-09

When a movie becomes an object for philosophers

When first released in March of 1999, "The Matrix" of Wachowski brothers, immediately gave rise to philosophical interpretations.

While majority of viewers watched it for stunning and violent action, critics and film makers - for sound and visual effects, the philosophers noticed the non-trivial references to various schools of thought from Buddhism, through cartesianism, to existentialism and postmodernism.

The book surprised me positively. First and foremost, the authors whose essayes are in the book are really distinguished philosophers. Let me only name few: William Irwin, Jorge Garcia, Theodore Shick or Slavoj Zizek from about 20 names.

Second - the authors mostly took The Matrix as the inspiration of some deeper philosophical analysis. These analysis are very interesting and deep, but what is the most important fact is that it is the iconic movie of modern culture that ignited the fire of millenia long dilemmas.

It is impossible in short review to analyse the actual thoughts and polemicize with them.
There are fantastic passages about Platonic ideas, about Rene Descartes "Devil" or about Kant forms of perception.

Let me, however, look closer at the article "Popping a Bitter Pill: Existential Authenticity in The Matrix and Nausea" by Jennifer L. MacMahon. She analyses the transition undergone by main characters of The Matrix (Neo) and Sartre's "La Nause?" (Roquentin). In both cases is is about authenticity.

The another worth mentioning essay is "Real Genre and Virtual Philosophy" by Deborah Knight and George McKnight.

It is very important because it uncovers how many of The Matrix philosophical motives could rather be attributed to specific genre it is deeply rooted.

The general conclusion is, that while The Matrix itself is certainly not philosophical fairy-tale and is full of contradictions and serious simplifications - it ignited much deeper discussion...

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-02-09

Idiana Jones tale or genuine story by Parfitt?

"The Lost Ark of the Covenant" by Tudor Parfitt is a controversial book. The very selection of the theme, the quest for traces of Lost Ark of Covenant, the most sacred physical object in the entire biblical narrative - is controversial by itself.

No wonder, after Indiana Jones or Sussman's "The Last Secret ..." it is hard to write about the Ark without falling or into scholarly-historic-archeological style or into a kind of thriller.

When you read it however, you find both notes — sometimes the melody is like it was to accompany Indiana Jones — sometime you hear a song of true scholar.

The book describes the author's life-long quest for the biblical Lost Ark of Covenant. Parfitt, from the very beginning shows his preference for the hypothesis of African trail of the Ark. And for good. He is a very well known advocate of the theory that assumes that the African tribe of Lemba, where a Judaic trend is clearly visible, was directly responsible for preservation of the Ark.

The book becomes a real page turner when it describes apparently futile, long and dangerous trip through Yemen and later, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. In another chapter he goes after the Judaic trails in Papua, New Guinea. This episode, with some recent cannibalistic tribe goes too far toward "Indiana Jones melody".

However, in other parts, particularly those devoted to the Ark itself, called 'ngoma lungundu' by Lemba people he writes in a very good scholarly but not entirely dull, tone. The Ark, according to Parfitt was in fact ... a drum, a horrifying musical instrument and the ancient weapon of mass destruction.

The book concludes in a better tone. There are no fanfares, no pseudo-religious boosting - there is just a moldy drum, sitting in a dusty museum storeroom, which author believes IS the true Ark's duplicate made in XIV century...

Good Book !

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful