I finished Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke” without having much to say about it, but thought I should give my opinion before writing about what I’m reading now. It ends too quickly (January 1st 1942) in my opinion. The style of just presenting short paraphrased clippings from contemporary newspapers and diaries is an unusual contrast to the omniscient hindsight of most works of history. Each excerpt notes the date, in a chronological path. The implicit argument on behalf of the ignored pacifists (distinguished from Lindbergh’s America Firsters on the right) is made explicit by Baker in his summation. I would have liked if he had made more of a direct argument for pacifism, and particularly its implications for when the war was at its height. Chip Smith reviewed it here, the New York Review of Books did so here along with Buchanan’s and others. While he doesn’t mention Baker, Matthew Yglesias‘ recent post on “Inglourious Basterds” makes an interesting point on how WW2 has been mythologized by Americans to justify our hegemony.
The book I’ve replaced it with is Yuri Slezkine’s “The Jewish Century”. Despite not having read it, a couple weeks ago I tried to combine its insights with Ed Glaeser’s writings on cities. I’ve only read the first chapter (the shortest of the four, with each subsequent one doubling in size), which contained the more general “outside view” I’m most interested in. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know nearly as much about Russian history as I’d like, so the later ones might be just as good (If I can find it I might also check out Slezkine’s “Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North”). It has a lot of the same stuff you’ll find in the duly cited Amy Hua and Thomas Sowell (though it does not cite Are Jews Generic?, as Black Rednecks & White Liberals was published a year later) but with a slightly different take. Rather than “market-dominant minorities” and “middlemen minorities” Slezkine divides peoples into “Apollonians”, the (primarily agricultural) producers and their exploiters, and “Mercurians” the minority tribal modernists-before-their-time who get by on their wits. Unlike the aforementioned two writers, he includes groups less adapted for literate modernity like Gypsies and “Travellers”. Using Mencius Moldbug’s typology, Vaisya and Helots are clearly Apollonians while Optimates are the slightly foreign caste of exploiters, who still fall into that category. Brahmins are Mercurians, and in our “Jewish Era” we are all becoming them. So where do Dalits fit in? Slezkine does mention a “Dionysian” type, but he specifies that they are the same people as Apollonians, just while they are being festive. On a somewhat related note, I was in an Bass Pro Shop today and surprised by the number of black and asian families (there were a couple Hispanics as well). Hear that, bobos? Even after you’ve assimilated the old crackers there’ll still be folks who remember that wild animals are good eatin’ if you can get’em.
I’ve also resumed reading Hilaire du Berrier’s “Background to Betrayal” and may actually finish it one of these days. Its an interesting contrast to both standard histories and the pro-Diem and U.S revisionism of Mark Moyal. However, du Berrier does very little to make his account seem credible rather than that of a crank with an axe to grind. I can’t count how many times he says “Nobody asked X about Y” or “Nobody knows such-and-such” which is absolutely fact-free and consists of pure insinuation.