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review 2016-11-04 06:01
When being right doesn't help
I'm Right and You???re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up by James Hoggan (2016-05-24) - James Hoggan;Grania Litwin

This book has changed the way I think, which was exactly as stated in the title.


The premise author James Hoggan advances in "I'm Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up" is that the most pressing problem society has is not climate change, but the pollution in the public square - where "adversarial rhetoric and polarization is stifling discussion and debate creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems."


In a summary of interviews with outstanding thinkers he reveals "the importance of reframing our arguments with empathy and values to creating compelling narratives and spur action", - fancy words for really taking into consideration your opponent's point of view.


There are issues that are too important to me to go unresolved, even if I have to concede what I always considered the moral and empirical high ground. I now, somewhat reluctantly, realize that if I feel passionately for something I'm probably not thinking clearly - not seeing the full picture and other people's (that would be the idiot's) valid points of view.


I urge you to take a look at this book and consider your approach to vital issues you're involved with, especially if you're interested in climate change and a way forward. The debate is stalled, and as the title says the public discourse is toxic.


What does it matter if you're right and the planet burns?


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review 2016-02-25 12:08
Cicero's First Trial
Pro Sexto Roscio - Cicero

I must admit, I love a good murder trial. Okay, this is only one of four that are in the book that I'm reading (Murder Trials) but I feel that it is probably worth reviewing all on its own (in fact I'll be reviewing each of the four trials individually and then looking at the book at a whole once I've finished it – which does break it up a bit). Mind you, this is only the defence spech, as written by one of Rome's greatest orator's, Marcus Cicero, so unfortunately we can only work out what the opposing argument was based upon what Cicero says, however since it was his first (actually second, but since his first was a contractual dispute that didn't end in bloodshed it sort of doesn't count) trial and he was victorious, and managed to avoid getting executed by Sulla, I guess I would be with the majority to say that I was convinced by his argument.


Anyway, poor Sextus Roscius Junior (whom I will refer to as Junior from now on) was having a bit of a rough time. First of all his father, Sextus Roscius Senior (whom I will refer to as, you guessed it, Senior) was fraudulently put on the proscription list, a list of people that the then dictator Sulla had decreed as enemies of the state and thus could be murdered with impunity. So, when Senior was murdered all of his property was confiscated and sold to the highest bidder, that happened to be the guy that originally put his name on the list (sounds like there was a bit of corruption going on here). So, poor Junior is left penniless, but Chrysogonus (the villain of the piece) is not content to let Junior live the life of a beggar, but instead accuses him of murdering his father, which was considered to be an incredibly heinous crime in Ancient Rome.


Anyway, the whole case was incredibly toxic – not only was Senior one of the proscribed, but Junior was a parricide (father killer), so not surprisingly nobody wanted to touch it, with the exception of one young barrister, Marcus Cicero, who was starting to make his name in Roman society. It was obvious to anybody with half a brain that Junior was not a murder, and this was simply an act by Chrysogonus to clean up a few loose ends, but the problem was to get on to the wrong side of Chrysogous was to dance with death. The fact that Ciciero did, and lived to tell the tale, goes to show how cunning he actually was.


The argument is intriguing because Cicero goes to prove that since parricide is such a heinous crime, only the most depraved and violent of individuals could even consider doing such a thing. Okay, we see it happen these days, and in fact there was a recently case in Adelaide when the son of the coach of one of the football teams murdered the coach. Sure, people were horrified, but not so much because his son had committed the deed, but rather because of the status of the person that was murdered. However there were suggestions that drugs were involved in that particular instance.


Family ties were much stronger back in those days than they are today, however even then a rebellious child would still be disinherited and cut off from the family. These days I sometimes wonder if our family ties are anywhere near as great. I suspect it had something to do with Rome being a patriarchal society, and while divorce was common, due to the nature of society back then the male tended to retain the right to the property while the woman would be out on her own (there was no alimony in Ancient Rome). These days the male isn't necessarily the one who retains the right to the property, which means that he does not necessarily remain the master of the household. In the Roman era, because the father was the head of the household, murdering him would be akin to murdering a king.


The other interesting thing that Cicero does (and I'm not sure if defence counsel's do it today) is that he then goes to prove that while Junior does not fit the character of a person who could murder his father, Chrysogonus was the type of person to murder Senior. However the catch is (and Cicero is clear on this in his speech), is that it doesn't matter whether Chrysogonus is guilty or not, Senior had been proscripted, and as such if it is the case that Chrysogonus is guilty, he acted within the bounds of the law. In the end all Cicero was doing was saving Junior's neck.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1557238716
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text 2016-01-02 19:29
2015 Roundup
We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals - Gillian Gill
Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends - Mary McAuliffe
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London - Judith Flanders
Uprooted - Naomi Novik
The Martian - Andy Weir
Embers - Sándor Márai,Carol Brown Janeway
The Rhetoric of Death - Judith Rock
Murder as a Fine Art - David Morrell
The Invisible Library - Genevieve Cogman
The Alchemist's Daughter - Mary Lawrence

Well, I had a good reading year in 2015 - I beat my original goal of 75 in October, and finished with 95 or so books read.  And most of them were good reads, some very good indeed. 


Best books I read this year: We Two, a joint biography of Victoria and Albert, by Gillian Gill; Dawn of the Belle Epoque, a cultural history of Paris, 1870-1900, by Mary McAuliffe; The Victorian City, a study of Dickens' London, by Judith Flanders; Uprooted, an Eastern European fantasy novel by Naomi Novik; and The Martian, by Andy Weir.


Weirdest reads: Embers, by Sandor Marai.  (Beautiful writing, but a strange, strange "plot.")  The Awakening of Miss Prim, by Natalia Fenollera. 


Best author discovery: Judith Rock, who writes historical mysteries set in the Paris of Louis XIV.  Her detective is a Jesuit priest, whose duties are teaching rhetoric and ballet to the aristocratic sons of France.  There are only four volumes that I know of in the series; the first is The Rhetoric of Death.


Weakest reads: Murder as a Fine Art, by David Morrell.  (The main character is well developed; unfortunately no one else is, and the plot is highly melodramatic.)  The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman.  (Too many plot elements stuffed, with none done full justice, into one short novel.)  The Alchemist's Daughter, by Mary Lawrence.  (A historical mystery with ahistorical tea, and a heroine I didn't either like or care about.)  Medium Dead, by Alexandra Gladstone.  (Victorian lady doctor, whom all including Queen Victoria accept, and her boyfriend, the earl whose hobby is breaking and entering combined with lock-picking, I just couldn't buy.)


But all in all, a very good year!  I hope 2016 is as good.

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review 2015-08-09 14:12
The Rhetoric of Death by Judith Rock
The Rhetoric of Death - Judith Rock

Description: Paris, 1686: When The Bishop of Marseilles discovers that his young cousin Charles du Luc, former soldier and half-fledged Jesuit, has been helping heretics escape the king's dragoons, the bishop sends him far away-to Paris, where Charles is assigned to assist in teaching rhetoric and directing dance at the prestigious college of Louis le Grand.

Charles quickly embraces his new life and responsibilities. But on his first day, the school's star dancer disappears from rehearsal, and the next day another student is run down in the street. When the dancer's body is found under the worst possible circumstances, Charles is determined to find the killer in spite of being ordered to leave the investigation.

Opening: The sun of Languedoc poured down like molten brass. As the sound of water began to murmur in the still air, the man huddled under his wide-brimmed clerical hat straightened in his saddle and sighed with relief.

Evocative description.

An unusual setting for this hist-myst involving the Labours of Hercules as ballet where the rhetorical sub-text is The Sun King vanquishing the hydra-headed heretics. The prose style is light and engaging, so all-round, a nice treat.

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review 2015-07-11 00:00
The Rhetoric of Death
The Rhetoric of Death - Judith Rock The end saved this book. The mystery was a decent one but the book itself could have been about 100 pages shorter.
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