Uncategorized


Margaret Atwood’s novel, like Anthem, is supposed to take place in the future but deliberately written without any of the new technology one would expect from scifi (even the dystopian variant). For Ayn Rand, that was precisely because she regarded technological progress as good that her dystopia should be backward. For Atwood, it’s because her novel is not actually about the future, but is instead populated from elements from various times and places of the past. In recent years as the TV series (whose first season I watched in the year it was released) raised the profile of the book there has been commentary about it as a warning about the future, but it wasn’t intended that way and doesn’t really work as one. Frank Herbert could make the universe of Dune an aristocratic one and borrow heavily from Islamic history, handwaving away the absence of computers & firearms with his “Butlerian jihad” (long in the past of his original novel so we don’t need to think about its plausibility) and shield technology somehow vulnerable to melee weaponry. Atwood doesn’t bother with such technobabble, and while her narrator is placed early enough to remember & prefer our familiar society (thus making her closer to Anthem’s narrator than the less relatable one from We) she has limited understanding of how the United States transformed into the Republic of Gilead, and the culturally relativist future academics engaged in “Caucasian Anthropology” at the end (in my favorite section, though it’s only about 10 pages) bemoan their own enormous gaps in knowledge about it.

(more…)

In Steve Sailer’s review of The Fabelmans (which I reviewed here) he writes

In Hollywood, Jews tend to dominate the business side, less so the screenwriting side, even less directing, and least of all cinematography and acting

I responded skeptically regarding their representation in acting was as low as for cinematography, and decided to do a quick investigation in the spirit of my earlier look into #OscarsSoWhite (which specifically acknowledged the lack of any listing of Jewish nominees on Wikipedia).

(more…)

This is copied (with some modifications for links) from a comment I made at Richard Hanania’s going way off track from his post just because this material was on my mind:

(more…)

I first heard about his death via Marginal Revolution, which just had it in a links roundup. I commented there about it, but refrained from posting here. I changed my mind after seeing that Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy had posted a longer remembrance (I checked if there was anything at 200 Proof Liberals, but their most recent post was in March). My former co-blogger Dain would be a better person to write about him than me. I wrote about Jeffrey and “post-libertarianism” a little in the early days of the blog, and while my memory has gotten a bit hazy that might have been what helped draw Dain in.

One of the reasons I hesitated in making a post is because I’d recently found (while expecting to add yet another link to my previous post) to my surprise that I didn’t do that when Henry Harpending died, but since I really only knew him via Greg Cochran and he seems to have been well known to cultural anthropologists perhaps it’s more fitting to note a more niche intellectual like Jeffrey (whom I’ve referring to by his given name not because we were ever on a first-name basis, but because of the existence of more prominent people with his surname) here.

UPDATE: I’ve been linking to Twitter reactions in the comments, but since David Henderson wrote an actual blog post he gets an update in my post instead.

UPDATE 2: Matthew Continetti pays tribute to him here.

I picked up Steven LeBlanc’s “Constant Battles” because I’d been on an anthropological kick and Robert Edgerton’s “Sick Societies”. Based on the title, I had been expecting it to be similar to fellow-archaeologist Lawrence Keeley’s “War Before Civilization” (which LeBlanc cites, along with Edgerton, and which I blogged about here and here) as well as historian Azar Gat’s “War in Human Civilization” (which I blogged here, here and here). It turned out to be surprisingly in sync with Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” in its focus on humans degrading the environment. LeBlanc’s main thesis is that basically no humans until recently have even attempted to live in equilibrium with our environment, so populations have always expanded up to Malthusian limits, ultimately being checked by group conflict over limited resources. I was skeptical of Jared Diamond’s claim that human agriculture had denuded not only the Middle East, but also the Mediterranean, since Italy seems like a normal place despite being heavily settled and even urbanized going all the way back to Roman times. LeBlanc however brings up as examples small Greek islands that once supported agriculture and are now completely barren, so perhaps there are parts of the Mediterranean where that thesis is correct.

(more…)

Despite having mocked the philosophy of Ayn Rand more than a decade ago when I wrote that preface to “The Myth of Natural Rights”, I had not actually read any of her books until this one. I said as much when I suggested covering this at the end of my last review of a novel. Part of what makes Rand mockable (as in “Mozart Was a Red“) is her elevation of abstract ideas over concrete reality, so that the concrete things she does value are as symbols. Anthem is an extreme example of that, not even qualifying as her usual “Romantic Realism”, and being entirely a novella of ideas rather than plot. Without a plot it culminates not in an event that would normally end a story, but instead in the protagonist writing a word that Rand likes.

(more…)

The Third Chimpanzee is actually Jared Diamond’s first book, but I’m only getting to it now years after reading his more famous “Guns, Germs & Steel” & “Collapse”. I’ve heard the contrarian take that it’s actually his best book, but reading it now it comes across as frequently dated, as well as serving as a preview for those later books (each of which gets a chapter/section covering the same subject). Part of the issue is that I read this so close after The Secret of Our Success, and the material on early humans compared to our closest relatives has a lot of overlap with that less dated book. When I say dated, it’s on multiple levels.

(more…)

Last year I blogged about how Fabio Rojas was leaving his old group-blog OrgTheory for another. Now (or, really, weeks ago) at Markets, Power & Culture he has blogged that he’s moved on to a Substack blog: Temple of Sociology.

Regular readers will recall that I have blogged about Stephen Broadberry, usually in the context of his critique of Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson’s “Why Nations Fail“. More recently I was alerted to a critique of Mark Koyama & Jared Rubin’s “How the World Became Rich” by Peer Vries (who I had never heard of before). I had some familiarity with Koyama prior to his book’s publication (I’d even blogged about him), but not Rubin. Within Vries’ review is this quote:

“To claim that one knows for example that GDP per capita in China in the year 980 was 840 1990 international dollars whereas in Japan in the year 1150 it was 572 such dollars, as Broadberry, Guan and Li do, is to practice science fiction.”

The footnote for that sentence reads

(more…)

In my last review of a scifi novel I mentioned that I should have read Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” earlier, and now I finally have. I first heard of it from a foreword in Orwell’s “1984”, which was explicitly inspired by We. There’s a good reason I was assigned that & “Brave New World” in school rather than We, and it’s not just because those were originally written in English rather than Russian. In his attempt to make the novel feel not contemporary (even if the whole genre was about heightening recent tendencies in industrial society to an extreme), Zamyatin adopts the very alien voice of a true-believer in the dystopian futuristic One State keeping a diary intended for the “Integral” spaceship he’s building to spread the One State to foreign planets. The chapters (which always begin with keywords, except when their author fails to come up with any) are fortunately short (and the book as a whole was only about 200 pages), but their inaccessible nature makes it far from a page turner. Even as builder D-503 gets corrupted by the subversive woman I-330 (everyone has a name consisting of a letter followed by 3 digits), he doesn’t become a normal person more relatable to the reader. He just falls apart at the seams and his writing becomes more difficult to understand, with more paragraphs ending in ellipses than any book I can recall.

(more…)

I first noticed that his twitter account was gone, not long after he’d previously been temporarily restricted. I was unaware until it was pointed out to me that he’d also deleted his blog, which makes it worth blogging about. There was good stuff at that blog, and even aside from linking at my own blog I’ve repeatedly referenced his “Getting Your Owl” in comments elsewhere. Twitter is relatively ephemeral, and there are people who regularly delete their own tweets, but blogs are another story and I’m saddened when blogs shut down (even worse if they disappear, so even the archives are inaccessible and old links are broken). Of course, chronicling the end of blogs constitutes the most common type of my most recent posts other than book reviews.

This review will be lackluster not only because Scott Alexander covered Joseph Henrich’s book so extensively it required five posts (one, two, three, four, five) but also because I was moving data including notes on the book back & forth between computers while reading and lost much of them in the process through carelessness. I still figure it’s better than nothing, for my own purposes at least.

(more…)

Although there are further sequels, Second Foundation is the last of Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy compiled from earlier stories published in magazines. While I started with a later prequel, I have no immediate plans to proceed to the sequels and will alternate back to non-fiction for the next book, treating this like the last entry in a single fictional work. I did bring up the question in my previous post as to whether “The General” should have more sensibly been lumped in with the first book while “The Mule” should have been grouped with the stories of Second Foundation. One thing I neglected at the time is relative size: The Mule was a longer story than The General published in multiple parts (and The General was already significantly longer than the individual stories of the first book). Second Foundation is also divided into two with the second story (“Search by the Foundation”) being significantly longer than the first (“Search by the Mule”). I can see reasoning for grouping the stories as originally collected: Foundation & Empire has two stories of the worthiest opponents the Foundation faced, even if the second story serves as a sort of reversal of the first. Second Foundation doesn’t actually have any representatives of the First Foundation as protagonists in the first story, instead focusing on The Mule & his lackeys with the Second Foundation as effectively the secretive antagonists to them. They retain that status well after The Mule is gone in the longer second story which brings back the First Foundation as protagonists out-of-their-depth like the Mule’s men had been. Search by the Mule only takes place 5 years after The Mule, which is a much shorter time than usual between Foundation stories (even if the continuation wasn’t as immediate as I expected), whereas Search by the Foundation takes place decades/generations later (a more similar gap). So chronologically, The Mule and Search by the Mule could have been grouped together, but even a story as long as Search by the Foundation might not be long enough to make up a novel by itself and Asimov stopped writing short Foundation stories after that (not counting “The Psychohistorians”).

(more…)

The first Foundation novel was a true anthology, entirely consisting of short stories, only the first of which was newly written for the book rather than previously appearing in a magazine. Foundation and Empire moves away from that in that it’s still multiple stories, all of which appeared in print earlier, but there are just two of them and they are each of novella length with ten internal chapters. Each is now named after an antagonist to the Foundation who engages in the most successful military attack so far, but the first of these (“The General”) is more in keeping with the earlier stories than the other (“The Mule”). Arguably, The General should have been included in the first Foundation collection, serving as the final story in that mold (even if it’s a much longer version of one) which states definitively what is to happen with each “Seldon Crisis”. The Mule is not only almost double the length of The General (and it was published in two parts, in two sequential issues of the magazine), it ends on a cliffhanger to be resolved in the stories of the final entry in the trilogy. Thus it arguably should have been included with them (though I admittedly haven’t read them yet), forming a single coherent novel like Prelude was and unlike the short stories separated in time format.

(more…)

Last month I reviewed Prelude to Foundation, and now I’ve finally gotten to the original. The two books were written many decades apart, but even if I’d started with this book I still wouldn’t be in the order everything was written: the first section (“The Psychohistorians”) was only added in 1951 when the stories from the 40s were collected into the Foundation trilogy. Even aside from that, the last story in this book was actually published before the story which precedes it (and is referenced in it since it takes place earlier). Thus I shouldn’t be faulted too much for starting with the prequel.

(more…)

Next Page »