Some books I read in 2021

Another year of the pandemic. I thought I’d wrap up by briefly reviewing some books I’ve read during the year.

Friedrich Nietzsche – The Birth of Tragedy. Despite this being probably Nietzsche’s earliest famous book, I somehow never managed to get a foothold in it previously. Here he formulates his early philosophy in terms of the Dionysiac and Apolline.

Friedrich Nietzsche – Human, All-too-human. (Re-read) Nietzsche’s turn to what he considered a more “scientific” viewpoint after his crisis and break with Wagner.

Seneca: Letters From a Stoic. Seneca’s letters to his protégé about life, stoic philosophy and politics are incisive and almost humorously eloquent. Every time I read something from Roman times I’m struck by how similar their society and political lives seem to have been to ours. Stoicism as a philosophy I don’t feel ready to comment on.

Leo Tolstoy – The Cossacks and Other Stories. The painterly style here is every bit as good as in War and Peace. The titular story impresses, as do the Sevastopol Sketches and the later Hadji Murat about an aging warrior.

Dino Buzzati – The Tartar Steppe. Magical realism. A meditation on organizations, ambition and time. Giovanni Drogo spends his entire life waiting for an event that might never happen. People posture, follow rules to a fault, die.

Neal Stephenson – Fall, or Dodge in Hell. This sci-fi novel explores the ultimate conclusions of the present “post-truth” algorithm-driven political landscape that we live in very well. It also explores, very elaborately, the notion of a simulated digital afterlife in ways that I found believable (assuming that we accept the notion of a simulated consciousness for the sake of the story). However, after a certain point the book becomes tedious and gets lost in its own plot. By that time readers should feel free to skip to the end.

Ernst Jünger – Storm of Steel. Jünger’s shocking, aesthetically concerned, unflinching account of WW1 is truly surreal and allows us to see the the world through the ambitious young eyes of an exposed frontline soldier at the time.

Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason. As of the end of 2021 I’ve begun on this key work in earnest, making some progress with the help of Jay Bernstein’s lecture course. If I make it through the entire book I will report back.

I will end with an admonition. I don’t have much to say about the ongoing Covid pandemic, except that if you are hesitant to get vaccinated, you may be putting other people at risk. We can and should debate the politics of how the pandemic is being managed – a topic for a different time – but getting vaccinated is common sense (it certainly is not a political stance), so please do it.

Happy 2022.

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