"the blogger whose youthful effusions have won him bookmarks all over Whitehall ... horribly compelling" - The Guardian
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Books of 2004 (IV)
Yes, I know I cried out for hits and then didn't post for two days this week, but essays had to take precedence. If anyone is interested in a 3,000+ word essay on the varying powers of the President of France, I may post that in a couple of weeks after it's marked. Anyway, onwards with last year's books.
Introducing Evolutionary Psychology - Evans & Zarate
Obviously intended for the lay reader, the work still has a good amount of science, and the sheer volume of sex differences covered makes the book a useful resource - indeed, despite the title, it probably more on this than why these differences actually exist. The work is probably best for those who are already well briefed on the science and the reasoning behind sex differences, for what the Peases show most of all is how wide-ranging the implications are of this science.
A good read, especially for those who find these differences of real consequence when it comes to almost every social issue. I can easily imagine going through it again very soon from cover to cover, as there is so much to take in that the book certainly merits repeat readings.
A bit of an anachronism now, but it all adds up to a very good case for just why it was so important that Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 General Election and - as the BBC obviously needs reminding - defeated the communist miners' strike. For that reason, it is also pleasing in reminding conservatives just how bad things once were, and how far things have moved in the right direction on certain issues.
But if the Peases had example after example of how biology influences our thinking and our actions today, Etcoff seems to have a lot less to explain. This may have been a better book had it been shorter.
Frum concludes that conservatives should be willing to accept the unpopularity that may come with forcefully sticking to their small-government goal, and implementing it when in power. A must-read for anyone on the Right.
Inevitably with Moore, there is what can most charitably be called poor research, and often even that explanation cannot really work. He goes on and on about a phrase the Bush Administration used in relation to Saddam's apparent attempts to buy nuclear materials, and uses a shortened version of the quote repeatedly to suggest dishonesty on Bush's part. Of course, anyone who reads the news will know that the quote begins by describing it as a British finding, so if there was deliberate deception rather than inaccurate intelligence it's certainly not Bush's. Of course Moore knew this, but if he couldn't include half-truths like this throughout the book, he'd have no argument.
My favourite moment was when he quotes extracts from 1984 about how dreadful capitalist tyranny is, to show that America is heading in an Orwellian direction. Again, anyone who has read 1984 will immediately recognise the quotations as being not Orwell's description of Airstrip One under Big Brother, but the words Big Brother's dishonest propagandists used to describe England when she was still free and before they got to impose themselves. I think it very fitting for a man like Michael Moore to be quoting approvingly totalitarian propaganda against free societies, but I fear the irony would unfortunately be lost on most of his fans.
Not recommended. If you really like this kind of thing, read Moore's Stupid White Men instead.
Kagan argues that Europe and America are inevitably being split from one another by the great differences in psychology that their different conditions induce. America is steadily realistic and sensible about the realities of power and the necessity of force, while Europe has become so used to relying on American arms to keep the peace that it has scarcely any defence of its own any more. These different capacities in themselves produce different responses to international challenges. In Kagan's wonderful metaphor, a man armed only with a knife will be a lot more reticent about doing something about a bear that threatens at some point to harm him than a man armed with a shotgun.
But more than this, Europe has developed an attitude that attributes peace not to the American defences on which it has long depended, but to multilateral negotiations of the sort the EU and UN always indulge. America sees peace as coming through strength and sometimes necessary military action, while Europe sees peace as coming through concession, compromise and negotiation. From this emerges the differences between the US and the continent that we see today, and for Kagan it can only continue.
One real strength of Robert Kagan's case is that he manages to explain sympathetically and argue carefully the psychology and outlook of both parties. No one can doubt that he ultimately believes America is actually correct, but he is extremely objective in how he describes the two positions. His point, after all, is not that the US is right and Europe wrong, but that circumstances have produced in them radically different outlooks on the world, and consequently they are splitting further and further apart and will continue to do so.
An excellent theoretical work with much supporting evidence, Kagan makes a formidable case.