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Friday, February 11, 2005
Books of 2004 (III)

I'd better get on with this. We're nearly halfway through February 2005 already.

The Darwin Wars - Andrew Brown
A good book, combining discussion of the science of modern evolutionary debate with the varying perspectives on its perceived philosophical and religious implications. I wish I could remember it better, but I do recall it varied in quality quite a bit. It's very much a journalistic account. In retrospect, I think personally I'd have liked to see a lot more on Dawkins-Gould controversy and on IQ and sociobiology, perhaps at the expense of the Dawkins-Midgley et al stuff.

On Democracy - Robert Dahl
Another one I barely remember (maybe I should do these reviews bi-annually), which I read for my politics course. Dahl sets out the necessary and sufficient conditions for democracy as he interprets them and looks to the future of democratic development. Perhaps I didn't enjoy it as much as I ought to have because it isn't party political enough, but my personal preferences in that area shouldn't dictate those of others. If you're interested in the general subject, and like to be able to emerge from a book with a few key points that help you understand the world a little better, you won't be disappointed.

Without Conscience - Robert D. Hare
I was motivated to read this book by James Hamilton's review, and I wasn't disappointed (indeed, his review covers so much of the book's contents it's an education in itself). A few percent of the population can justly be termed psychopaths. As Hare stresses, this doesn't mean they are axe-murderers: in psychology the term is virtually synonymous with what laymen understand 'sociopath' to mean. They often do become incredibly violent criminals, swindlers and cheats, or merciless corporate criminals, but it's their personal characteristics that lead them to be so. Hare outlines these characteristics with illuminating and compelling anecdotes, and overall tells you enough that you learn quite a bit about everyday human psychology for the 95%+ of the population that aren't psychopaths, too.

In terms of politics, its application is probably greatest in considering how such people ought to be dealt with, for it seems safe to assume their share of the criminal population in society, especially of those who commit the worst crimes, is significant enough to merit special consideration for them. As James Hamilton notes, the prospect of any protection for society against criminal psychopaths apart from execution or life-long imprisonment does not look good, simply because generally there seems no way to rehabilitate them.

The Xenophobes Guide to the Austrians - Louis James
Anyone who has read or thumbed through a bluffer's guide or xenophobe's guide in the past will know what to expect. This book is short, humourous (or tries to be, anyway) and covers just the basics, but does tend to give a good overview, overall. Obviously, it trades a great deal on national stereotypes, which will in itself prevent some taking it seriously. But I'm conservative enough to realise that the mere fact that something is a stereotype is hardly evidence that it is not generally true.

If you have a special interest in Austria, it's certainly worth a few quid. I can't imagine any other good reason to buy it, though.

The Age of Diminished Expectations - Paul Krugman
Certainly one of the better books I read in 2004. Krugman devotes a chapter to each of the major issues that seemed to deserve most attention when he wrote it. Inflation and Unemployment obviously retain their significance. The chapters on Japan and the Savings and Loan scandal less so. Nonetheless, the book has a deeply impressive series of essays on all of the issues it covers. As I think I said in my review last month of another book by the same author, Krugman has or had a great skill at popularising moderate, unideological economics. For this reason, his economic work, unlike his political writing, I'd recommend to anyone.

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