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G. G. Durante (Gibraltar)

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Welcome to Everytown
Welcome to Everytown
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Guide to the English Mind....but for whom ?, 2 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Welcome to Everytown (Hardcover)
I was looking forward to this book which put itself forward as a study of the philosophy of life of the typical Englishman, his fears, his aspirations and his ethical beliefs; all of this garnered from a 6-month stay in England's most average postcode. Unfortunately, amusing as it is in parts, it never really lives up to its set ambition. What is worse, there are parts that read just like an exploration of the mythical North/South divide.

Some problems are evident from the beginning. Baggini focuses on an aspect of English life and then, with the admittedly dubious aid of opinion polls, the tabloid press and conversations with locals in the boozer, constructs a set of extremely general truths about English society and the practices of the common man. What are often presented as original insights into the English mind are, I'm afraid, platitudes which apply to almost any modern nation in the Western world. For example, with much fanfare and preparation, we are told that we are obsessed by status, tolerant but wary of other cultures and prefer familiarity and convenience to that which is alien or challenging. There is nothing distinctly English about this.

One reason why the results of Baggini's investigations are disappointing may lie within the author himself. He comes across as extremely ingenuous, a sort of Hugh Grant of the writing world, jumping into everyday pursuits with a sort of trepidation which can only come from living a very withdrawn life. He is shocked by cinema food / snack prices and openly admits he has never betted before. In certain cases, an outsider's view can lend a degree of objectivity to a cultural history but Baggini's lack of participation in the English way of life previous to his trip up North ultimately acts as an obstacle to revealing its key characteristics.

At one point in the book, there is a jab at two other writers, Paxman and Scruton, who are chided for having ignored the average man and concentrated on literary figures and historic events to define the English. One gets the distinct feeling that Baggini might have been more comfortable with this approach.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 13, 2012 3:12 PM GMT

The Philosopher's Dog
The Philosopher's Dog
by Raimond Gaita
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving, Subtle Book, 21 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Philosopher's Dog (Paperback)
Raimond Gaita, a moral philosopher by profession, has delivered a highly literary and, at times, abstract set of reflections on animals and our relations to them. Typically, Gaita proceeds by relating a touching anecdote or quoting another writer and uses these varied inspirations to launch deep, ruminative debates on what it means to be a human being - a creature that is at home in a wide, complex web of rich, morally relevant ties which extend to and include animals.

Gaita's general philosophical stance is Wittgensteinian. That is, he inquires into the applications of our concepts, unearths unquestioned assumptions, shuns all varieties of reductionism and, in the end, offers not a concrete thesis concerning man's relation to other beasts but a series of therapeutic reflections on particular problematic cases.

While I enjoyed the refreshing nature of his approach, at times I wished he would have committed himself to a specific overarching theory or principle - something graspable. Gaita dismantles many of the wrong-headed scientific debates concerning animal consciousness admirably but the few positive proposals hidden in the text never receive the more extensive development they clearly deserve.

Still, the book is genuinely thought-provoking and has passages of great depth and beauty which the committed reader will mull over for hours on end.

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable and poignant, 18 Nov. 2007
For many readers who enjoyed the dark comedy of the award-winning `Corrections', this curious amalgam of memoir and social commentary is the necessary literary appetizer to alleviate the long wait before the next Franzen novel hits the market. Fans of his most popular novel will recognize many familiar themes re-emerge from their original autobiographical source - failed marriages, middle-age alienation, difficult, disapproving parents.

Franzen's lively, witty style is as sharp and perceptive as ever; he is the master of the tragic-comic set-piece whether he is recounting the contradictions and trials of the bookish, awkward teenager he was or his recent flirtation with the geeky, withdrawn world of bridwatching, a pursuit which distracts him from his failed relationships and manifests his desire to reconnect with nature in a time where urban sprawl and climate change (two big Franzen themes) threaten the lush unpopulated wilderness.

Franzen's short memoirs work best, though, in the universal appeal they achieve and the overall humanity of his approach to the past and his formative influences. The only reservation is that at 180 pages, I was left hungry for more...surely that can't be a bad thing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2008 1:43 PM BST

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)
The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)
by Michael Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Collection of Academic Papers, 14 Nov. 2007
If you fancy something meatier than Dawkins or more balanced and intellectually satisfying than the numerous other tirades against God that have hit the popular market recently, this collection of essays is the perfect companion to the modern debate as conducted by philosophers and theologians.

Each contributor is perfectly placed and qualified to investigate the varieties of modern atheism, their philosophical justification and historical background. A word of warning, though: most of the essays presuppose a familiarity with some central concepts in theology and analytic philosophy and readers lacking such background knowledge may find themselves at sea in several of the more difficult papers.

Contributions which to my mind stood out were `Atheism in Modern History' by Gavin Hyman - a clear, original account which explains the contours of contemporary atheism by tracing its genesis in Enlightenment critiques; `Atheism and Religion' by Michael Martin (also editor of the collection) - a fascinating investigation of the existence of atheistic religions like Jainism and `The Argument from Evil' by Andrea M Weisberger - one of the most accessible and comprehensive summaries of current thinking on the famous argument leveled by atheists against believers.

I strongly recommend this volume of specially commissioned essays as a much-needed antidote to recent superficial monographs on the topic - it will provide sharp, analytic approaches to this most contentious and stimulating of debates.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2008 5:12 PM BST

The Victorians
The Victorians
by A.N. Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Curate's Egg, 13 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Victorians (Paperback)
A.N Wilson, industrious polymath, has delivered a detailed history of the Victorian era. The scope is huge: we have chapters on the rise of the private school, spiritualism, the Pre-Raphaelites and the potato famine, to name a few. As a bonus, Wilson's prose remains lively, engaging and conversational throughout.

At his best, Wilson erects welcome barriers to simplistic interpretations of Victorian ways and events always stressing that people and policies are best and most fairly assessed when viewed within their proper historical context and not from a more `enlightened' modern standpoint.

At his worst, his book often reduces to a lifeless list of minor characters brought to the stage too briefly to provide a broad enough picture of the age - we are regularly overwhelmed with minor biographical details to the detriment of constructive analysis of the topic discussed. This is in stark contrast to the highly successful `Empire' by Niall Ferguson which covers some of the same themes in a more scholarly and consistent manner.

So Wilson's foray into Victorian history is rather like the fabled egg; good in parts but flawed in others.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 13, 2012 3:10 PM GMT

Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Rorty and the Mirror of Nature (Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks)
Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Rorty and the Mirror of Nature (Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks)
by James Tartaglia
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reliable and Readable Guide, 7 Nov. 2007
James Tartaglia has done us the great benefit of bringing together the sometimes rambling and foot-note-heavy arguments of Rorty's seminal Mirror of Nature into a very readable, philosophically astute commentary. Readers coming to Rorty for the first time, and even the philosophically educated who are curious about this iconoclastic figure, could not, to my mind, choose a better or more well-informed and reliable companion to the dismantling of the philosophical edifice that Rorty attempts.

by John Banville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and Impressive, 7 Nov. 2007
This review is from: Ghosts (Paperback)
Unlike other reviewers, I came to 'Ghosts' without knowledge of the previous books. I doubt my enjoyment could have been greater if I had read its predecessors.

'Ghosts' is an imaginative and poetic meditation on repentance and atonement, on self-identity and self-estrangement. It follows the thoughts of an ex-convict released after serving time for murder as he spends his days reforming his tattered existence on a secluded island inhabited by the mysterious 'Professor' and the equally elusive 'Licht'. The nameless narrator experiences a whole tapestry of fleeting emotions and terrors finally culminating in a dream-like retrospective of the day he was released.

Banville's language is, as ever, finely judged but those looking for a traditional plot or character interactions would do better to look elsewhere. Recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2008 2:17 PM BST

A.J.Ayer: A Life
A.J.Ayer: A Life
by Ben Rogers
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - highly readable portrait of unique thinker, 19 Sept. 2007
This review is from: A.J.Ayer: A Life (Paperback)
This is a well-written, finely balanced biography of a Positivist philosopher who led (thankfully) an eventful life. Rogers manages to integrate all the conflicting strands in Ayer's life and character - he was a philanderer who genuinely loved and cared for his wives; he was both an arrogant, clever young man and a kind, patient teacher who still had time to teach novices; he was an elitist and yet loved going to football matches. When it comes to his philosophy Rogers, again, doesn't disappoint, and even those readers with a philosophical background will gain a fresh insight into some of Ayer's more neglected works. In short, even if you have only a passing interest in Ayer or philosophy, the majority of readers cannot fail to be gripped, amused and enlightened by this well-researched, highly entertaining portrait of one of the 20th century's most colourful academic figures.

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