Reviews

Six book reviews

HELP IS AT HAND

The Art of Reasoning by David Kelley

(New York: W.W. Norton, 1988; hard cover, 412 pages, ISBN 0-393-95613-X

NB: the Expanded Second Edition, 1995, soft cover, 595 pages, is not reviewed here.  This review originally published in the UK by Free Life.)

For something like a quarter of a century I have maintained – and declaimed to listeners willing or unwilling – that most of the evils of mankind would be avoided if only logic were taught in high schools.

One obvious difficulty with my panacea is that since logic has traditionally been seen as a university level subject, suitable high school textbooks don’t exist.  Many fine introductions to logic have indeed been written; varying in density from H.W.B. Joseph’s weighty An Introduction to Logic (1916), to W.A. Sinclair’s slimline classic The Traditional Formal Logic (1937); with, in between, plenty of good undergraduate level overviews such as those by Irving Copi or Lionel Ruby.  But no introductory work I have seen has seemed appropriate for teenagers in the increasingly undemanding classrooms of the later 20th Century.

Today, I am pleased to announce that help is at hand.  I do not think I have ever come across a better book for beginners in any field than David Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning.

Click here to download full review


AN ASS OR A LION?

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

by Leonard Peikoff

(New York: Dutton, 1991, cloth, 493p.,  ISBN  0-525-93380-8)

AD 1993 saw some notable anniversaries, from Queen Elizabeth’s fortieth as a powerless monarch to ‘Whitewater Bill’ Clinton’s first as the world’s most powerful elected official.

In the less grandiose but nonetheless powerful world of publishing, another milestone was reached: the 50th anniversary of The Fountainhead, the novel which established Ayn Rand as a major literary figure and which contained the first statement–albeit in embryo–of her challenging philosophy, Objectivism.  (A fuller statement arrived in 1957, with her novel Atlas Shrugged.)

As a novelist, Rand achieved enduring success.  The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged not only remain in print but sell upwards of 100,000 copies a year, over a dozen years after their author’s death.  For Rand the philosopher, however, reception was distinctly mixed.  Among students, she quickly acquired a wide following; among their professors, she was usually either ignored or scornfully dismissed.

Since quarter of a century has elapsed since the heyday of the ‘Objectivist Movement’ it is worth noting some of the reasons for the latter reaction.

Click here to download full review


A MOSTLY EXCELLENT EGG

The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff

(New York: Stein & Day, 1982; Mentor, 1983  ISBN 0-451-62210-3

New edition 1994, paper, 383p.

Having just given full vent to my exasperation with Leonard Peikoff over the inadequacies of his book on Objectivism, I would like, in fairness, publicly to welcome the recent news from Laissez-Faire Books in San Francisco that Peikoff’s earlier work, The Ominous Parallels, is now available again.

In this admirably documented intellectual history, Peikoff reveals clearly the connection between ideas and human events, demonstrating how the attacks on reason and egoism by German idealist philosophers led in the end to the horrors of Nazism.  The ‘ominous parallels’ are the extent to which the same ideas have penetrated the United States, destroying the ideals of individual rights and limited government upon which the USA was built, and heralding a Nazi-style dictatorship.

Written somewhat in the style of Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, this is a racy, pacy book which reads almost like a thriller in places.

Click here to download full review


A BIT OF A CURATE’S EGG

Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Chris Matthew Sciabarra

(University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 1995; ISBN 0-271-01440-7; 477 pages, cloth)

One day in my teens, leafing through an old bound volume of Punch in the school library, I came across a cartoon (c. 1860?) about the poverty of the English clergy.  A vicar had invited his curate to a dinner of boiled eggs.  “Oh dear,” said the vicar; “I see that your egg is bad.”  “Oh no,” replied the curate; “parts of it are excellent!”

I loved the witty nuances of the piece, and started referring (rather proudly) to any half-good/half-bad thing I came across as “a bit of a curate’s egg”.  I was thus chastened to learn, some years later, that so many had been there before me that ‘a curate’s egg’ was part of the English language.  (It is still in Chambers English Dictionary).

Click here to download full review


PROCRUSTEAN DIALECTICS:
or “If It Don’t Fit, Force It!”

Total Freedom:  Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism

By Chris Mathew Sciabarra

Readers expecting a work in political philosophy may be disappointed by Total Freedom,  for though its title suggests philosophy, the book is mostly concerned with intellectual history and is much more descriptive and analytic than it is prescriptive.

Total Freedom consists of two fairly distinct parts.  The first surveys the history of ‘dialectics’ from Ancient Greek to modern times, and also examines the concept in some detail.  The second part applies a ‘dialectical orientation’ to the ideas of economist and historian Murray Rothbard, and to other thinkers who have advocated minimising the State and maximising individual liberty, such as F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand.

The author’s point of view, and the thesis of his book, are, however, critical.  Chris Mathew Sciabarra [henceforth CMS] believes that modern Libertarianism is tainted by ‘dualistic or monistic assumptions,’ and by a ‘fragmented, atomised view of reality.’  To become a successful political philosophy, CMS claims, Libertarianism needs rethinking ‘dialectically’ – that is, both internally and externally, and from a variety of shifting perspectives.

The book has much to commend it to specialists in the history of ideas.

Click here to download full review


ON EVERY FRONT: THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF THE COLD WAR. 

by Thomas G. Paterson

(Revised Edition, New York: Norton, 1992 ISBN 0-393-03060-1, cloth, 304 pages)

`”Foreign affairs!” grumbled a blue-collar worker.  “That’s for people who don’t have to work for a living.”’  This very American retort (p.145) is typical of the colourful quotations which bring alive Thomas G. Paterson’s excellent study of the issue that dominated post-war international relations: the late and unlamented Cold War.  I don’t think I have read a book better illustrated with aptly chosen quotes, certainly not a scholarly work.  From the description of Berlin in 1945 as “that rubble heap near Potsdam” (3) out of which, in part, the Cold War grew; to the exultation of some Americans today that they had “won the sucker and won it big” (230); the book sparkles with bons mots.  And not just carefully crafted one-liners produced by speech writers.  Heartfelt or cynical, flippant or profound, they are the public and private utterances of admirals and GIs, of diplomats and pundits, of dictators or the man in the street.  Nor are they mere decoration.  Jewel-like in their accuracy or brilliance, they contain, reflect, and illuminate the solid chain of facts on which the thesis of On Every Front is set.

Like a necklace, too, the book is tightly made……

Click here to download full review