Book Review: Essays (George Orwell)

Essays, by George Orwell

This book is nearly 1400 pages long and contains a variety of essays collected over the career of George Orwell, including book reviews, political editorials, and various miscellaneous writings, some of which are fragmentary.  Whether or not you will enjoy reading this will depend on how relatable the author is to you and how willing you are to put up with the author’s strident anti-religious and leftist worldviews.  My own view of the man and his thinking is somewhat ambivalent–his socialist worldview is idiotic (by definition) as is his hostility to godly morality, but he is remarkably clear-sighted about the cant and errors of the political orthodoxy of the left that he was associated with through his career.  If he is idiotic when making predictions or talking about what is desirable, he is at least acceptable as a critic of other leftists whose dishonesty and lack of consistency he accurately but fiercely skewers.  If this is something you can get behind, then this book will be of at least some value given its massive length.  There was a lot that I disagreed with in the book, but there is much from these pages that remains relevant to contemporary political analysis given the leftist bias of many who consider themselves to be thinkers.

This book is divided chronologically and represents a selection of the author’s nonfiction prose writing from 1928 to 1949.  The early writings contain a lot about the Spanish Civil War and book reviews and the author’s defense of his political decisions .  Eventually the author’s hostility to authoritarian politics comes out, and by 1943 the author is writing a column of personal essays called “As I Please,” which is pretty much the dream assignment for any writer, to get paid to write as one pleases.  The author explores other writers from the point of view of a peer and has a lot of comments to make about the dishonesty of leftists seeking to appeal to working class voters by promising them that socialism will improve their standard of living when it will only lower it to the horrific global norm.  As the book continues on there are more and more political commentaries and fewer and fewer book reviews, but towards the very end there are some writings about Ezra Pound and a fragementary defense of Evelyn Waugh that are both very interesting materials.  Only someone with a high degree of intestinal fortitude is going to tackle all of this book, but by picking and choosing among titles of essays that sound interesting someone could amuse themselves without spending weeks reading this book as I did.

This book represents the maximal sort of insight that can be expected from someone who reasons from the wrong premises regarding politics and religion and builds upon a faulty worldview.  Yet there are still insights to be found here.  The author notes that already in the 1940’s fascist a useless term of abuse because of the ambiguity of what it refers to, and leftists still use it today to diminishing returns as a term of abuse for anyone who is less insane and wicked than they are.  Likewise, the author has some intriguing comments to make about the relationship between politics and the writer and some thoughtful discussions of his own life, including some abusive experiences in education.  A great deal of the work is written trying to navigate between his patriotism, his leftist politics, and his fears and longings regarding this world and his total lack of belief in the world to come.  The book also dwells long on the subject of reading and writing, and there are some hilarious comments here related to his book reviews and the cost of a book habit as opposed to a drinking or smoking habit.  With so much material here, a reader who likes reading about a leftist but Nathanish person writing about writers and readers and politics will find something to appreciate even with serious disagreement concerning the author’s perspective.

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Book Review: Essays One

Essays One, by Lydia Davis

There is always something intriguing about reading the essays of someone whose other works one is entirely unfamiliar with.  Since one comes in with no expectations, one is free to examine the author’s small works for what he or she thinks is of particular importance.  To be fair, most of these essays are not particularly outstanding examples of writing, and for the most part the author shows herself (like many essayists) to be somewhat self-centered.  In many ways this is an inevitable result of having chosen a genre of writing that depends on one’s personal insights and thinking process to supply the inspiration as well as the structure of one’s writings, but the end result is that one frequently depends on a certain level of respect or interest in the writings and thinking of someone before one will appreciate their essays.  In this case the author is worthy of considerable interest–if one has a fondness for French literature as well as somewhat obscure literary fiction, but the author has some painfully limited thinking when it comes to matters of faith and religion which limit her ability to provide insight to the reader.  After all, to the extent that an author is able to give insight beyond one’s understanding, that insight is likely not to rebound with credit to the author.

This book is about 500 pages long and is divided into numerous sections and various smaller essays within them.  The author begins with a discussion on the practice of writing, which leads her to talk about the forms and influences of her writing in two essays, as well as a commentary on one of her short stories and a note on the origins of the word gubernatorial.  After that the author discusses Joan Mitchell’s Les Bluets.  The author then collects various writings about other writers, namely John Ashbery’s translations of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, young Pyncheon, Lucia Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women, a look at two books by Re Armantrout, and five favorite short stories.  A short section on the work of Joseph Cornell is followed by more discussion of the practice of writing, including two more discussions of forms and influences as well as the revision of one sentence, a discussion of fragmentary and unfinished works, as well as thirty recommendations for good writing habits.  Another short section on visual art, this one on Alan Cote’s recent paintings, precedes another discussion of writers, most notably Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as well as a great many more obscure works.  Another visual artist discussion then follows concerning early 20th century Dutch tourist photographs, before the author discusses writers again, such as the third volume of Michael Leiris’ The Rules Of The Game and the absence of Maurice Blanchot as well as a farewell to Michel Butor and the problem of plot summary in Blanchot’s fiction.  Finally, the book ends with some thoughts on the author about the Bible, memory, and the passage of time, which includes a discussion of the memory of a family encounter with Abraham Lincoln, the author’s misguided praise of the Jesus Seminar, and some thoughts on the 23rd Psalm.

If this is not a book of essays that I can thoroughly recommend to the reader, since I cannot assume that their reading will be as broad or that they will be as interested in probing the thinking process of someone with whom one can have limited sympathy and agreement, it was a book that I thought was worthwhile to read.  Essays in the contemporary world tend to be collected into books like this one once a writer has acquired sufficient reputation in another field (be it novel-writing or screenwriting or poetry or something of that nature) that a publisher is willing to risk money to appeal to someone with a sufficiently broad level of interest from the reading public as a whole.  in this case, Lydia Davis is probably not quite famous with the general public but I can see her being popular enough with a certain set of cultural elites that this book’s existence is not too puzzling.  As is frequently the case, though, reading this book is generally something that will only be enjoyed to the extent that one can tolerate the author’s sermonizing tendencies as well as frequent discussions of her craft and inspirations, which is not something to be taken lightly.

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Book Review: Essays (Francis Bacon)

Essays, by Francis Bacon

As a frequent writer of essays I also enjoy reading the essays of others.  Indeed, this book and the approach that Francis Bacon takes in his essays is not so different from my own blogs.  Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your own judgment of either my own modest essays or those of a man whose essays have become the chief way that this intelligent and complicated man has been remembered by future generations.  The more one knows about Bacon’s life and political sensitivities, the more these essays and their dedications will strike one with a great deal of interest and curiosity.  Why did Bacon dedicate the first edition of his essays to his brother while having his brother give the dedication to the doomed Elizabethan favorite Essex?  Why did the third edition of the essays, the last one released during his lifetime, have a cringing and servile dedication to a Jacobean favorite (The Duke of Buckingham) who Bacon intensely loathed?  Why does Bacon write an essay which condemns corruption on the part of leaders when he himself was convicted on a (likely highly politically motivated) charge of corruption himself?  A man can write about virtue without being a virtuous man, but is that something to be celebrated?

This book is a reasonably short at 250 pages or so.  The first 50 pages or so discuss the principal dates in Bacon’s life, an introduction to the essays and Bacon’s other writings, as well as a note on the text and suggestions for further reading.  The next 180 pages or so are made up of a wide variety of essays, most of them very short (indeed, Bacon would have been a very accomplished blogger, as many of his essays are precisely the sort of blog posts that are very popular nowadays in terms of their learned content and cerebral approach).  Most of the essays have titles such as Of Truth, Of Death, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Envy, Of Love, Of Boldness, Of Nobility, Of Seditions And Troubles, Of Atheism, Of Superstition, Of Travel, Of Empire, Of Counsel, Of Cunning, and so on, and they average only three or four small pages in length.  Some of the essays deal with areas that are still topical where Bacon’s thinking is still thought-provoking even today.  The book then closes with various appendices that discuss fragments, versions, and parallels between different editions, as well as writing the essays (i), counsels for the prince (ii), the wisdom of the ancients (iii), idols of the mind (iv), and an essay on poetics (v).

In reading this book one can find a lot about what Francis Bacon thought.  The essays are intensely cerebral and intelligent and the author explores the complexities of what would be threadbare cliches in the less skilled hands of others.  Indeed, it is the willingness to explore the different shades of meaning inherent in different words and the many and sometimes contradictory senses of conventional wisdom, blending logic and arguments from authority together in inventive ways, that makes these essays particularly important for later generations.  They are the sort of thoughtful pieces that someone like an Emerson could only dream of writing.  That said, it must be freely admitted that the author reveals little about his own sense of humanity and what really drove and motivated him as a person.  As is the case with some intelligent people, Bacon used his fluency and his obvious skill with words to distance himself and his own vulnerable aspects of his personality from the scrutiny of others.  And that is not such a bad thing; I can definitely relate to that tendency myself, and perhaps some readers will be able to relate to this as well.

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Keeping The Night To Be Much Observed While Maintaining Social Distance

During these times of Coronavirus, many governors have ordered that people avoid social gatherings of more than ten people.  Oregon’s governor, for example, has made the following statement about social gatherings:  “All non-essential social and recreational gatherings of individuals are prohibited immediately, regardless of size, if a distance of at least six feet between individuals cannot be maintained. Gatherings of members of the same residential household are permitted [1].”  It is without question that the Night To Be Much Observed would be viewed as such a gathering.  How, therefore, is it to be kept in such times while obeying the laws, especially as numerous states have similar restrictions.  The question is, how can social distance be maintained in such a gathering?

The first, and probably the simplest option, would be for people of the same residential household to eat the Night To Be Much Observed together, since no social distancing is required in such a circumstance.  One can simply engage in what would be a normal gathering on a small household scale.  For quite a few people this will be the most obvious solution to questions of how they will keep the Night To Be Much Observed this year.

Other people, however, will wish to invite others from outside of their household to eat with them and may wonder how to do so in keeping with rules about social distance that are in place in many areas.  While having everyone sit around a dining table may be too close, it is possible to spread things out depending on the layout of one’s home.  For example, where there is an open layout it would be possible to invite a few people in and have them seated at various places around a combined living room and dining room area, where the food is prepared by the hosts and people fill their plates family style and converse over the space that separates them from their fellow guests.  Those who are a part of the same household could be seated together so that the host family perhaps sits around the table while a husband and wife who are guests sit on a couch together while bachelor guests have a loveseat to themselves, for example.

If this option is chosen, it should be noted that the maintenance of six feet of social distance would not be enough to eliminate the chance of contagion.  One is always running the risk, for example, that the host or one of the guests may be contagious and if reports are true that the virus can live in droplets for several hours that would be enough for everyone to be vulnerable to catching something over the course of a lengthy dinner conversation even when one is more than six feet apart.

Inviting people to your house or traveling to someone else’s house is an act of trust, and those people who by virtue of age or health conditions make them more susceptible to this virus as it has presented itself so far will need to take this into consideration.  Where and with whom we keep the Night To Be Much Observed has always been a matter of personal choice and voluntary consent, and it remains so even under these circumstances.  However you choose to keep it this year, let us hope that you stay safe and well and reflect upon these times and how we may better understand and cope with them.


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Book Review: Are Cycles In America’s History Predicting W.W.111?

Are Cycles In America’s History Predicting W.W.111?, by Dennis J. Foley

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Reedsy Discovery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As someone who is a particularly fond of cycles of history, it is fascinating to see the way that writers seek to argue for some sort of historical determinism based on those cycles.  It should be noted that cycles of history and a cyclical view of history is by no means new.  The book of Judges in the Bible has a clear cycle (although it is a negative spiral, it should be noted, rather than a mere cycle), and other cultures of history have had cyclical views, most notably the Chinese cycle of the Mandate of Heaven and the Mayan cycle that was hyped around 2012.  Ultimately speaking, this book is more about the cycles of American history as a whole and the author’s desire to appear as a credible figure in talking about them than it is about the impending threat of World War III that is supposedly just around the corner.  If I had to speculate, I would say that a second civil war is more likely than a third world war in the immediate term, but even that is certainly speculation that may not come to pass in the near future or (hopefully) at all.

Whether or not you think that the author has any particular expertise as an analyst of historical cycles, this book at least has interest as an attempt to view the history of the United States in a cyclical fashion that is built upon cycles within cycles of extroversion and introversion, rising conflict and releasing of tensions.  In many ways this book parallels some of the author’s other works, and in some ways this book presents a contrary view to what the previous book had to say as the author has tightened up the cycles of the early 21st century to better match with what actually happened.  This sort of post-hoc reasoning does indicate that the author’s specific timing can be taken with a very large grain of salt even for those who find the overall patterns to be interesting.  Like everyone else who looks at the stories of the news and has an opinion about how things are going in the world, the author makes guesses and some of them come out better than others.  It does not look like he has any sort of privileged insight about the future, except that like many people he looks at cycles of rise and fall in history and applies them to our own times and our own situation, which at least has some relevance even if the details are always tricky to fill in.

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Book Review: America’s War And Peace Cycles

America’s War And Peace Cycles:  1686 To Present, With Projections, by Dennis J. Foley

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Reedsy Discovery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book expresses both some insight and the limited capacity of people to predict the future.  It also expresses a notable example of the human tendency to attempt to make the facts fit one’s own theories.  It is not objectionable that there should be cycles of war and peace in the United States and in other areas.  The blog site on which this review is posted takes its name from insights drawn from a book called War And Peace And War which discusses these cycles as they relate to the formation and decay of imperial nations.  This particular work is not quite so insightful but it certainly does provide a very intriguing glance at the cyclical pattern of American history that look at periods of roughly symmetrical rising and falling tensions that are released in some sort of violence, and that these patterns tend to exist not only in the United States but around the world as a whole and occasionally impact other nations to a great degree.  The author tends to feel free to switch between a focus on the United States and the rest of the world as a whole when it suits his interests.

In terms of its contents, this book is a short one that consists mostly of charts.  The author does not have a great deal in the way of literary pretensions but wishes to convey patterns of rising and falling conflict over the course of American history from the colonial period to the present day.  The book is overall a bit more than 50 pages in length, and opens with the author discussing his background and goals with the work.  After that come a series of overall time cycles that the author views as being related to war and peace starting from the period just before King William’s War and continuing on to an estimated end of the peace cycle at 2042 that claims there will be a period of increasing peace for the United States between 2022 and 2042 or so.  The author then goes about looking for all number of conflicts or avoidances of conflict in order to support his theory of war and peace cycles, some of which make a lot more sense than others and all of which the author views as being very striking.

Overall this book is useful as data and beneficial to the extent that it encourages people to think about cycles of history and to ponder the sort of times that we find ourselves in.  The author’s predictions can be taken with a grain or ten of salt, and there are clearly cases where the author is trying to shoehorn the facts to fit his chronological scheme.  For example, the author’s prophecy of what would happen after 2002 is laughable given that the Iraq War began during one of the author’s periods of purported peace, and the author assumed that further terrorist attacks would motivate conflict after 2005, a case of false prophecy that should have been changed before this book was released.  Likewise, the author’s attempt to support his theory about war and peace cycles by switching from the United States to Latin America when there was a prolonged period of peace and “good feelings” in the United States was pretty notable as well.  It seems likely that somewhere in the world there is the sort of evidence that could always be fit into a tidy scheme like this, even if the author doesn’t always choose the right ones.

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Book Review: Cells And Cities

Cells And Cities, by Joseph B. Casey

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Reedsy Discovery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

On the positive side, this book is a creative attempt by the author to justify big government and its legitimacy through an appeal to creation in the complexity and behavior of the eukaryotic cell as opposed to the simpler structure found in other single-celled organisms.  What appears to have been the case here is that the author has long wished to defend his favored political program of a big government that siphons a large percentage of the productive labor of citizens while providing infrastructure and conditions that prevent the citizen from having to do unproductive tasks like working for basic survival (But someone must do that work since government bureaucrats are not in the habit of raising crops and taking care of animals) or looking for work.  The author seems to take a lot for granted, namely that the behavior of the eukaryotic cell runs by command and control and that such methods can manage complex systems in a rejection of every historical example of attempts at command and control that have existed in the entirety of human history, all of which have ended in catastrophic failure.

The best thing that can be said about this book is that it is mercifully short and will not try the patience of the reader, and that it is part of a larger conversation that seeks to argue about what governments are natural or ideal.  Even readers who disagree with the author’s thesis will find the author’s approach to seeking a connection between the way that mankind operates and the lessons we learn from creation to be a worthwhile and profitable area of study.  Even the author’s shortcomings in assuming that the eukaryotic cell somehow magically is made to mirror contemporary European or American cities with advanced infrastructure that eases the life of city dwellers in contradistinction to the rough life of urban populations in such cities as Rio de Janiero, Cairo, or Mumbai who may be unfamiliar with cities that provide the sort of benefits that the author rhapsodizes about are instructive in that they will ensure that the author’s ideas and similar ones are subjected to rigorous analysis and critique.  The author’s inability to distinguish between what is and what is necessary should encourage readers to question the blithe assumptions that undergird our assumptions of just how much government is in fact necessary and proper for us to live good lives, and how it is that such varying opinions about the desirability and necessity of highly centralized paternalistic states exist in the first place and remain so tenaciously held.

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Dispatches From Oregon’s Coronavirus Capital

One of the more odd daily habits I have had recently is to look at the posts that one of the local stations posts regarding Coronavirus cases.  Every day the report from the state regarding the locations of positive tests and whether or not there have been any new deaths is given with some commentary, and it makes for interesting evidence regarding how diseases spread through a population.  One of the fascinating elements for me personally has been the way that Washington County, Oregon has been, by far, the hardest hit county in the state of Oregon so far.  Admittedly, the numbers are not large, as there are still only about a hundred new cases a day or so that have been reported here in my state, but of those a substantial plurality good enough to elect President Lincoln show Washington County as the county with the most new cases on a daily basis.  Here are some samples of that:


“The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached 191 in Oregon, with the Oregon Health Authority confirming 30 new cases on Monday.

The new cases were reported across seven counties, including the first confirmed case for Hood River County.

Here’s the breakdown of the 30 new COVID-19 cases by county:

  • Clackamas County: 2
  • Hood River County: 1
  • Linn County: 1
  • Marion County: 8
  • Multnomah County: 2
  • Polk County: 2
  • Washington County: 14 [1]”

“The breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Oregon is as follows:

  • Benton County: 3
  • Clackamas County: 6
  • Deschutes County: 6
  • Douglas County: 1
  • Jackson County: 2
  • Klamath County: 1
  • Lane County: 2
  • Linn County: 15
  • Marion County: 8
  • Multnomah County: 3
  • Polk County: 1
  • Umatilla County: 2
  • Washington County: 23
  • Yamhill County: 2 [2]”

“The total number of cases statewide is now 114, according to OHA, as of Friday afternoon.

The breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Oregon is as follows:
  • Benton County: 3
  • Clackamas County: 10
  • Deschutes County: 8
  • Douglas County: 1
  • Grant County: 1
  • Jackson County: 2
  • Klamath County: 1
  • Lane County: 2
  • Linn County: 18
  • Marion County: 17
  • Multnomah County: 12
  • Polk County: 1
  • Umatilla County: 2
  • Union County: 1
  • Washington County: 31
  • Yamhill County: 4 [3]”


Day after Day Washington County leads the state in new cases of Coronavirus.  And as a resident of this county I am somewhat intrigued to ponder on why this is the case.  To be sure, Washington County is the second most populous county in Oregon because it has two reasonably large suburbs (Hillsboro, the county seat, and Beaverton are both in the 100,000 people range, and Tigard is about half that or so).  One of the most notable aspects of Washington County is that it serves as an important base for companies like Intel and Nike.  If I had to guess, I would say that it is the business and trade focus of Washington County as opposed to the rest of the Portland metropolitan area that has made the area more vulnerable despite having only about two thirds or less of the population of Multnomah County next door and only about a quarter more population than Clackamas County which has far fewer cases and a far less travel-oriented population.  There are costs to cosmopolitanism, and one of those is vulnerability to that which comes from overseas, including pandemics it would appear.

It is still possible to observe people in such times as these but it is admittedly less easy to do so when one is seeking to maintain an air of social distance.  As I have years of experience in observing others from a state of social distance, though, I will carry on regardless of the circumstances so long as I draw breath (which hopefully will be for a few decades more, God willing).  Grocery shopping in the days of the Coronavirus is quite entertaining.  Only a few customers were allowed in the store, with new customers only being allowed to enter when others left.  I was informed by an employee that the shopping baskets I normally use have been removed so I had to use a shopping cart even though I was only getting weekly supplies for myself and did not use even close to all of the space in the cart, which I wielded to grab food.  It was curious to see the sorts of foods that are not available–most types of pasta were gone and all ramen noodles except for larger containers or shrimp flavors, but there was plenty of salad material and quite a few frozen dinners and pot pies left.  And apparently there is a lot of iced tea that one can get as well, if you like that sort of thing as I do.  It was humorous to wait in line in front of the grocery store with people who were trying half-heartedly to maintain social distance while not at the same time encouraging others to cut in front of them.  No doubt other such observations will show themselves in time, even if the streets and offices and parking lots and groceries of my little corner of the world appear a bit barren.




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Book Review: The Bolivia Reader

The Bolivia Reader:  History, Culture, Politics, edited by Sinclair Thomson, Rossana Barragan, Xavier Albo, Seemin Qayum, and Mark Goodale


This is a terrible book.   Coming in at roughly 700 pages of material, I cannot recommend this book for anyone to read.  Given the shortage of toilet paper, there are clearly purposes for a book as woefully unaccomplished as this one although as the copy I read was from a library I will simply return it to them at some point.  As is frequently the case with a book that adopts a socialist approach, there are a lot of contradictions inherent in the arguments made by the authors that are simply unrecognized by those who wish to promote both a nationalist and socialist agenda, as is the case here.  The book is not entirely worthless because some of the creation myths are at least amusing and the statements from those who wish to support greater autonomy or independence for the lowlands of Bolivia are worthy of respect and consideration and support.  These make up only a small portion of this book’s bloated contents, most of which are tedious and tendentious and fallacious.  The fact that the authors view anti-Semitic propaganda as being more worthwhile than the dignity of conservatives or creoles and the fact that so much of this material endorses the idiocy of Che’s politics suggests just how woeful this book is.  Skip it.

This book is divided into twelve sections that contain numerous essays apiece with a strong degree of chronological snobbery that focuses on the period after the lamentable revolution of 1952.  After acknowledgements and an introduction, the book begins with a discussion of the first peoples of Bolivia and the making of Andean and Amazonian space through the Inca and other peoples of the area (1).  After that there is a discussion of states and conquests in the Andes during the course of the tumultuous 16th century (2), giving different perspectives on the Spanish conquest.  After this there is an entire section related to Potosi and the mining that was done there (3) as well a a discussion of various insurgent and independence movements (4).  There is a discussion of Bolivia’s dependence on markets and resource extraction (5) as well as the political fragmentation that existed during the 19th and early 20th centuries (6).  There is a discussion of the problem of nationalization (7) of resources and the failures after the theft of foreign property as well as the problems that resulted from revolutionary currents present among the submoronic left (8).  There is a section on dictatorship and democracy (9) as well as neoliberalism and the growing power of the lowlands around Sucre and Santa Cruz (10).  Finally, the book ends with a discussion of competing projects for the future (11) and the dictatorship of Evo (12), after which there are suggestions for further reading, acknowledgements, and an index.

If one does have a high degree of masochism when it comes to reading leftist refuse, then this book does demonstrate some of the characteristic conflicts that leftist regimes have to deal with and some of the paradoxes that can be found in the late age of socialism.  Claims about the dignity of human beings conflict with a general “hate whitey” attitude to be found in much of this book’s contents.  Support of the rights of indigenous people and regions conflicts with a hostility towards the autonomy of regions opposed to leftist La Paz elites.  Support of environmental rights conflicts with a desire to support development that increases the power of central governments.  Desire for the increased economic position of peasants and workers conflicts with a hostility towards practices and people who actually make money and produce something worthwhile.  Desire for political power conflicts with a hostility towards compromises made to increase the legitimacy of one’s support.  And on and on it goes.  This book couldn’t be coherent if its arguments and bogus truth claims were stuck in a vacuum sealer and turned into a solid brick.  Unless you want to become better acquainted with the folly of leftist “politically engaged” thought in Bolivia over the course of centuries, find better use of your time than wasting it here.

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Book Review: A Brief History Of Bolivia

A Brief History Of Bolivia, by Waltraud Q. Morales

This book is a textbook example of why leftists write bad histories (and generally write nonfiction badly as a whole).  It would be a bad enough book if the author were merely biased, as she is, in favor of leftists and predictably ignorant about the workings of the need for political consensus rather than trying to take advantage of temporary electoral majorities to ram one’s misguided and destructive policies through.  The book is made even worse by the fact that the author ignores basic contradictions that any remotely sentient reader who is not as blind as the author is would be able to spot them quickly.  One example should suffice, as when the author seems to equate accused racism on the part of Creole elites in Bolivia with the expressed desire of indigenous rebels to destroy the white race as if they were equal evils, or that it was not evil to wish harm on whites but it was evil to be an elite over ignorant and violent native peoples.  An author like this does not deserve to be praised, nor can a work of hers be even remotely coherent in such circumstances.  This book is unbridled activism for an authoritarian leftist leader whose departure may be the best thing to happen to Bolivia in a long time, and yet this book has nothing but praise for extremist leftist positions and politicians except when they behave reasonably out of circumstance.

This book is a bit more than 300 pages long and begins with a list of illustrations, maps, tables, and acronyms as well as acknowledgements and a preface that views the election of Evo Morales as the culmination of Bolivia’s history.  After that the book introduces the people of South America’s heartland and then discusses the ancient peoples of South America and their empires (1) as well as Colonial Bolivia (2).  The author spends a chapter looking at independence and the first few presidents (3) before discussing the age of Caudillo rule that lasted until Bolivia’s disastrous defeat in the War of the Pacific against Chile (4).  After that a chapter discusses Republican rule (5) as well as the Chaco War and its aftermath (6).  The author then discusses the national revolution and its aftermath (7) as well as the counterrevolution that predictably followed (8) and the challenge of democracy from 1982 to 2002 (9).  The book then ends with a look at the supposed “democratic” revolution of Morales (10) and then gives some bad prognostications for Bolivia’s future (11), after which the book ends with appendices that provide some of the book’s few facts (i), a chronology (ii), bibliography (iii) and suggestions for further reading (iv), after which there is an index.

If there is anything instructive about this book, it is in the way that it demonstrates the obsession of leftists like the author (and like many of the political left in Bolivia and other places) with simon pure doctrinal purity.  Over and over again in this book one sees the proliferation of mutually hostile parties on the left with laughable names expressing a desire for unity and the book contributes to this mood of unreality by abusing any politician who sought to behave in a pragmatic faction or to build a broad electoral coalition to work with others.  The consistency with which the author shows a basic ignorance of reality and parrots her ideological points is a notable quality of this work, but it is not a quality which makes this book a worthwhile piece of history.  If the fears of Coronavirus continue, though, a book like this could easily be used as a suitable replacement for toilet paper, as one wouldn’t be losing anything by flushing this turd of a book down the toilet.  This book is really only directed at and appealing for fellow travelers to the author who have a high opinion of socialists and want to blame white people for all the problems of the world.  Anyone else should skip this.

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