New Review of Essays on the Classics! (Volume 1)

Just received this at 7:20 am…the next volume is due out on Monday, so this was perfect timing to say the least.  The link is here: http://readersfavorite.com/book-review/13761

Reviewed by Bil Howard for Readers’ Favorite

Great books continue to have contemporary relevance, can be endlessly gleaned for fresh data and interpretation, and contain great ideas which have occupied the minds of thinkers from antiquity. Essays on the Classics by Jason R. Goetz establishes these fundamental truths as he introduces the series of essays in this volume, as well as the Great Books program which puts out an essay on the classics every week. Defining a classic or a “Great Book” is not an easy task, but the author gives some guidelines or definitions to establish a point where a discussion can be raised, and then sets forth to lead that discussion. The author takes a look at different genres and spreads them open for analysis: beginning with the epic and its fall; wandering into political philosophy and theory; pausing for a look back into classical history; examining classical memoirs and autobiographies; and presenting a collection of non-Shakespearean plays that are of great value. Jason also provides a handy list of all of the works that were referred to in his essays to wrap it up.

The motivation and concept for Essays on the Classics is honorable and for a huge fan of classical literature it is hard not to give anything but high fives and “atta boys” to Jason R. Goetz for taking on this project and for producing these essays. In most respects, I believe his analysis of the basic definition and the examination of the genres is accurate. However, when it comes to examining specific works, there will certainly be some heated discussions as to the value and interpretations they contain. That, in a nut shell, is the highest value of Essays on the Classics, because it will awaken readers from their literary slumber.

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Review of In Praise of Folly

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1993 Edition

This is a good book, obviously a classic and one that uses great humor to get across its message. It is complex and demands careful attention, and probably multiple readings. The book itself would be five stars. I particularly liked the letter at the end from Erasmus to the theologian Maarten van Dorp, which I thought added significantly to my ability to get into Erasmus’ head. And I thought the ending of the book itself, with the note that Folly prefers an audience that quickly forgets, was a nice smack in the face to those thin-skinned idiots who would have taken offense at his “general” criticisms and thereby showed openly what their own self-perceived shortcomings were.

My problem with this edition is with the footnoting. There were too many footnotes and they were irregularly placed, and too long, and they completely broke the flow of the text. It’s impossible to know for sure, but I suspect the footnotes themselves were almost as long as the text of the book, which says a lot about the ego of the editors; in any event it detracted from my ability to lavish the careful attention that the book demands and redirected my attention to footnotes about where common phrases had been used in other pieces of literature. It would not have been difficult to put a footnote after every paragraph and explain all the relevant information within that paragraph there; instead they would place one footnote in the middle of a paragraph, explain everything in the preceding three paragraphs, then place another footnote one sentence later at the end of the same paragraph and explain just that one sentence. Totally obnoxious footnoting.

Long story short, between the book and the footnotes the text was 132 pages, but the footnotes alone probably would have taken up at least 60 of them. Let the text speak for itself, please.

Review of Livy’s Rome and the Mediterranean

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1976

I will admit off the top that this book did not interest me–in its subject matter–as much as the earlier volumes of Livy’s famous history, especially the birth of Rome and the one about the Second Punic War. I am not a lover of Greece after the Peloponnesian War and especially after Alexander the Great.

Nevertheless I found value in it, as I usually do in classics. It holds clear relevance for the present: Rome’s dealings with multiple Greek kings of similar outlook and conduct serves as an immediate reminder of our recent conflicts with Mubarak and Qaddafi and others in the same North African region. The end was, for me, more intriguing than the beginning. I particularly enjoyed the Roman envoy circling around Antiochus and demanding his adherence to a Roman-imposed peace. I enjoyed watching Perseus fall victim to his own arrogance and criminality. The long speech justifiying the triumph of Aemelius Paulus was in my opinion one of the greatest speeches of all time, even if written by Livy and not by the speaker to whom he attributed it, and deserves to be studied alongside those of Cicero and Demosthenes and Clay and Churchill.

I was a little bit frustrated at how much was cut out. I could not tell whether this was due to lacunae in the existing manuscripts or to the editor’s judgment. Still at 648 pages of text it was more than enough for me, and I am thankful to be done with all 2100 extant pages of Livy!

 

Review of Murdoch’s World

Publisher: PublicAffairs, 2013

Author: David Folkenfilk

Note to readers: this review, for not being “liberal” enough, was only found helpful 2 of 19 times.  Of the other two reviews on Amazon, one was 5 stars and got 4 out of 4 helpful votes, and the other was two stars and got 4 out of 27 helpful votes.  I still maintain that this is the worst book I have read this year, and surely you can tell I’ve read quite a lot.  I am not sure exactly how this review would not be helpful, except that people prefer to waste their money and their time on poor products.  So be it.

I’m generally a positive reviewer and as I love books I almost always find something to recommend in each one. This one, however, is different. Loaded with innuendo, poorly organized, badly written–it cannot even be considered as muckraking. Before he claims that I am some Murdoch employee writing under an alias, I am in fact a real person who has no affiliation with any media, governmental, or recognized business organization of any kind. I am a tutor and teach private classes on the Great Books for high school and college students and adults. I also have written several books about the classics myself, and I’m still a young 25.

Some of the problems with this book are as follows:

While the author has limited personal experience dealing with FOX, he presents story after story about how News Corp is damaging the world and presenting biased news. Many of these may be true to some degree. But he completely lacks awareness of how other news outlets present even MORE biased news. So, for instance, he belittles FOX for its treatment of Obama during the 2008 campaign, and assumes that their belief that other outlets favored Obama without due scrutiny is ungrounded. Yet this candidate at one point stated that he was in his 57th state, and the other outlets did not report this at all. (No joke, go to Youtube and type in “Obama 57 States”–and there you are!) Had Rick Perry said this in the last campaign he would have been derided as an idiot without qualifications.

The author also assumes the credibility of “climate change” and chastises FOX and other Murdoch media sources for questioning its existence. Yet in the chapter on the subject he refers to it as both “climate change” and “global warming”–which is exactly the problem. When the data on “global warming” proved inconclusive, they changed the name to “climate change”–which is intellectually dishonest, to say the least. And he quotes a writer who calls those opposed to reduction of carbon emissions as “anti-greenhouse crazies,” which in itself tells the tale.

The biggest issue for me, however, is none of the preceding. It’s the author’s writing habits. One rule that good writers always follow is that every sentence follows directly from the one preceding it, there is no logical gap between them. Repeatedly this writer goes from one sentence to the next without the second one being related to the first one. Or he’ll bring in new data in the second sentence to refer to something that should have been mentioned in the first one. It makes the book a total and complete joke.

Nor is his organization adequate. He could easily have written a chronological critique of Murdoch’s sins and the building of the News Corp empire around those sins. Instead he chooses random issues and incoherently jumps from one to the next. It is bizarre and, to be frank, incompetent.

Alas, what would you expect from an author named “Folkenfilk”????

Review of Snow in August

Publisher Vision, 1998

Author: Pete Hamill

My mother bought this book for me years ago, when I was a kid, but I did not read it until yesterday, when I read the whole thing (all 382 pages of it!). It’s a tale of the great melting pot of New York City and of disparate groups working together to ensure that good triumphs over evil. It is a tale of acceptance and teamwork, combined with a touch of magic at the end to make it all work.

All of that is well and good, but I had a slight problem in that the characters didn’t strike me as real. In essence, they were too good to be true, so while I was captivated by the story itself, I also found that I had a hard time seeing its storyline as in any way realistic. With reviews calling it a “great American novel,” one has to wonder what that means, or if it even means anything at all, nowadays.

I will say that perhaps the most intriguing part of this book was a short passage somewhere in the middle about how Durocher would’ve fought the Phillies and Ben Chapman but as he was suspended for 1947 and Burt Shotton was managing in his stead, Jackie would have to simply endure the insults; and then they gave a brief explanation as to the nature of and reasons for the suspension. I can’t remember Scully saying anything about it–though I’m sure he has and it just slipped my mind or I didn’t take mental note of it–and it filled me in on a bit of baseball history with which I wasn’t all that familiar. It’s an event that says a lot about the management of the Major Leagues at the time.

For whatever it’s worth, that’s my biggest takeaway from it; otherwise it was a read for pleasure kind of book, and served just that purpose.

Review of Dante’s De Monarchia

Publisher: CreateSpace, 2012

Translator: Aurelia Henry

Editor: Paul A. Boer, Sr.

 

 

The text of this book is intriguing. It is an attempt to use logic, especially Aristotelian logic, to justify the historic importance of the Roman Empire as a manifestation of God’s will, with the intent to show that a similar universal monarchy would promote peace and benefit mankind. The logic is brilliant, though some of it is forced and overly formal, such that it is persuasive to some degree, but I cannot agree with Dante’s whole premise.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this text to me is its parallels with later peace theorists such as Thorstein Veblen and Immanuel Kant, both of whom argue that only when all societies carry the same kind and form of leadership, placed under one ultimate head, can peace be sustained perpetually. In Kant’s case he argues for republican government across the board, with one super-national republican institution at the head; in Veblen’s case he says that either all must be united under an Imperial monarchy (which the democracies would never agree to) or all must be united as democracies under an international democratic organization (which would take tons of time to develop, as Germany and Japan in 1917 carried legacies of monarchism that were too strong to just wipe out immediately). One of the things that makes this text so interesting is that in Dante’s time they were living under conditions whereby they were much closer to being able to establish a universal monarchy. (T.S. Eliot says something very similar in his essay on Dante, in a different context.)

I have one HUGE problem with this edition, which dragged the book down to four stars: its footnoting is atrocious. The numbers are in plain font, the same size as the writing of the book, so that they interfere with how you read it; and unless you go from start to finish checking every footnote, you can’t isolate and find any of them individually in the back. For someone like me who has read most of Dante’s sources and some of his other work and knows what he is referring to, this makes finding the ones I haven’t read an absolute nightmare. There are tons of pages of footnotes, I think about fifty of them, and no clear delineation of where the notes for specific pages or chapters start and end. If you are the translator/editor of this work, it means you have wasted the effort to footnote in the first place!