The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life

image Can’t wait until this book arrives in my mailbox. My own review will come later. In the meantime here is what Anthony Gottlieb wrote in the NYTimes: It’s always gratifying to hear a new twist on an old joke. In the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup,” Rufus T. Firefly, played by Groucho, is handed the Freedonia cabinet’s treasury report: “Why, a child of 4 could understand this report. Run out and find me a 4-year-old child—I can’t make head or tail of it.” Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has run out and found plenty of 4-year-old children. In her new book, she announces that they are in some ways “smarter, more imaginative, more caring and even more conscious than adults are.” Gopnik does not go so far as to propose that we fire Timothy Geithner and march in a phalanx of preschoolers to fix the credit crunch. She does, however, make the bold suggestion that thinking about small children can shed new light on ancient philosophical problems.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 20 August 2009

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

image One afternoon of my sophomore year in college my bicycle was stolen. For reasons I no longer can reconstruct, I decided not to buy another used bike, but henceforth to hitchhike to class. I met many interesting people this way: Professors, sex therapists, construction workers, mothers who wanted to recruit boyfriends for their daughters and the like. My goal for these trips to and fro campus was to strike up a conversation with every single person I met. Would I be able to get everyone to tell me a bit of his or her personal story? I did, indeed, manage to strike a conversation with all my lifters except for a man who I came to refer as the unhappiest person in the world. My efforts to get him to talk went nowhere. When I recounted this peculiar hitchhiking experience to a physicist turned psychotherapist, who gave me a lift a few days later, he explained that the man was probably clinically depressed.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 24 May 2006

The Speckled People: Memoirs of a Half Irish Childhood

image Don Quixote was too heavy a book to haul for a third time across the Atlantic. The taxi already waiting, I quickly grabbed Hugo Hamilton’s childhood autobiography from my bookshelf where it was sitting for the last two years after having received a very good review in one of my favorite news outlets. Having finished the book, it is fair to assume that the reviewer either had special connections to post-World War II Ireland or Germany. These strong emotional ties suspended all critical faculties. The rave review was unwarranted because The Speckled People does not come close to world literature. The book has a few good passages. But unlike the truly pioneering Don Quixote The Speckled People will not withstand the test of time despite having good material to work with.  For one, the narrative perspective it adopts does not work.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 5 December 2005

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

image Love at first sight may be a romantic illusion. Wild excitement at first sight is certainly real. That’s what I experienced reading the first couple of pages of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I quickly realized that this collection is a literary event not to be missed. When I was in college, I bought myself a copy of Didion’s Democracy but did not get beyond the first couple of pages. After picking up Slouching Towards Bethlehem I had to force myself to keep appointments because I did not want to put the book down.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 18 February 2005

Reports from Berlin, 1920-33


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A couple of months ago (March 2003) I started reading Joseph Roth’s newpaper columns about life in Berlin in the 1920s.  He turns out to be a master of short essays on social life. I became so enamored with his powerfully perceptive prose that I started to read his novels. Savoy is a fine story but Job is truly outstanding.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 4 January 2004

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