Review: Strategy, Lawrence Freedman

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is so broad… The author talks about military, political, and economic strategy, with the one guiding principle across all of these being that as soon as someone thinks they’ve come up with the next “last” strategy, it is clear they’ve managed to think up something applicable only in one very specific general setting. The repetition of this scheme across all the people the author mentions gets tedious. Towards the end, however, this is broken up more and more frequently by actually interesting examples (but the book itself starts veering towards what Kahneman has already written). Continue reading “Review: Strategy, Lawrence Freedman”

Review: Common Sense, Thomas Paine

Rating: 4 out of 5

This work presents a compelling case for independence as opposed to other methods of government and treats this in the local American context of the 1770’s. In some ways a thorough summation of this treatise is “we should because we can” which, though less elegant, essentially captures the spirit of the author while his economic claims often sound silly (though one must keep in mind that economic theories in the 18th century were considerably more primitive than now). Continue reading “Review: Common Sense, Thomas Paine”

Review: Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, William E Gladstone

Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the EastBulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East by William Ewart Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful insight into how Parliamentary life in the 19th century overflowed the Houses as it so often does now, with the exception that in the bygone day there was a clear duel between two giants. This pamphlet is a literary extension of the same, calling the Government into question in every aspect that concerns the then-relevant Bulgarian topic from the summer of 1876. Continue reading “Review: Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, William E Gladstone”

Review: ‘Notes on Nationalism’, George Orwell

Notes on NationalismNotes on Nationalism by George Orwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am, normally, not in the habit of posting quotes specifically from a work I am reviewing, however, Mr Orwell managed to succinctly summarise the very point he is making in this essay and therefore I do allow myself an exception to the rule: “The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged.” Continue reading “Review: ‘Notes on Nationalism’, George Orwell”

‘Yes, Minister’

Well, “under consideration” means “we’ve lost the file”; “under active consideration” means “we’re trying to find it”.

This is a true British classic which I feel one has to appreciate at its basic level. Beginning with the very first episode, and running through all of the episodes in both of the series (the new one isn’t considered), the characters epitomise some of the inherent contradictions in British society.

Now, Minister, if you are going to promote women just because they’re the best person for the job, you will create a lot of resentment throughout the whole of the Civil Service!

The caustic quips throughout by Bernard and others are absolutely amazing, as is Bernard’s overall concerned nature at the state of the society. Sir Humphrey Appleby is the other character that is always in the minds of everyone, convoluting the procedure and the message both. Meanwhile, he comes across as the very nature of the person taking the piss out of the system, which was no doubt the intent of the writers. Further, Hacker’s attempts at imitating Churchill are especially amusing given the apparent difference in the character of the two notable men. I can’t help but feel that the writers did a superb job of describing from life, a principle which Masaoka Shiki would definitely appreciate.

The ship of state, Bernard, is the only ship that leaks from the top.

The series is worth watching for anyone how wants to understand either the British political system or British life in general. Well worth watching!

Notwithstanding the fact that your proposal could conceivably encompass certain concomitant benefits of a marginal and peripheral relevance, there is a countervailing consideration of infinitely superior magnitude involving your personal complicity and corroborative malfeasance, with a consequence that the taint and stigma of your former associations and diversions could irredeemably and irretrievably invalidate your position and culminate in public revelations and recriminations of a profoundly embarrassing and ultimately indefensible character.

Review: You and Your Research

You and Your Research
You and Your Research by Richard Hamming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I happened onto this by a chance link from Mr Tyler Cowen, and I have to say I’m very happy I did.

This little gem of a text is littered with worthwhile thoughts and good suggestions on how to improve on one’s research — but there is absolutely no reason why the same cannot be applied in any other fields. It’s the meaning behind Mr Hamming’s words here rather than the topical application of them which is more important. He also highlights a number of very good practices along with a lot of (fun) anecdotal history that illustrates his points so much better than a drier delivery might have.

I would absolutely recommend this to everyone.

View all my reviews

‘The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts’, S.M. Wilson

Sean Michael Wilson is a person I have already commented on twice recently, in the posts on The Book of Five Rings and Hagakure. ‘The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts’ is the third book on Japanese martial philosophy that Mr Wilson has transcribed as a graphic novel. The major difference in reading this one and the others was that it was my first introduction to Issai Chozanshi’s major work, unlike the other two which I had previously read in long form.

To begin with, I’ll say that I have now listed the full book form of this as one of the next things to read. That is indicative of how much I enjoyed this piece. But, I suppose, the enterprising reader might wonder why this is so…

I think the main reason comes from the form that the stories take. The demon’s discuss martial arts with each other and their discussions are later exemplified in parables where animals lecture each other. The most skilled in the martial arts is an old cat that we only hear about, but his apprentice is another cat. The parable of the cats is probably the one I appreciated most, partly since cats make for a very good story (as Haruki Murakami has also brought out) but in other ways there is a very good lesson in that story — but I’ll leave it up to the reader to look the story up.

In that and many other ways, I think the idea of having Minamoto Yoshitsune learn all of his secrets and skill from the demons in the forests is a very prescient one. It is a form which made me listen more as I looked at the samurai leaning against trees so that he could better overhear the demons. I wanted to hear the words I saw written, as I saw the young Yoshitsune listen…

And that I think is the greatest strength of something like a graphic novel. The philosophic tradition comes through well and it is in many ways more inspiring than the words on their own. The images add life and sense to the words, and even though Issai Chozanshi’s main treatise is no doubt as compelling even if slightly more difficult to comprehend, I think this was a very good introduction!

‘Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai’, S.M. Wilson

In addition to the ‘The Book of Five Rings’ I described yesterday, Sean Michael Wilson has applied the same treatment to two other philosophical Japanese treatises. One of them, ‘Hagakure’, is the one that I shall comment on today. ‘Hagakure’ (by Yamamoto Tsunetomo) is very much a different book to the one Miyamoto Musashi wrote, but I think the graphic novel/manga approach works here as well.

The story is covered in a way which works very well — the teacher, Tsunemoto-dono, describes events that others have passed on to him as well as ones that he has seen in his own long life. The person listening these stories is a young aspiring samurai. In the course of these stories, the two pass through the relevant bits of a nobleman’s education in how people should behave in everyday lives.

Tsunemoto is an interesting person since many things that he says or reflects upon are somewhat contrary to what people thought at the time (insofar as I understand). To bring one example, his thoughts on the 47 ronin story : the ronin did wrong by waiting a few years since the target of their vengeance could have escaped the vengeance by natural death, or something else could have happened. The ronin should have drawn their swords and charged the house of the enemy without regard to anything else.

In many ways, I think the drawings make the words of the old master live with a new vigour. It is a great pity that not all of the stories from the book are made into graphic stories, but I suppose that it is difficult to think of good ways to turn short thoughtful samurai parables into anything different.

I also appreciated the afterword by the translator, William Scott Wilson. The other version of ‘Hagakure’ I have does not include that or anything alike, so it was a surprise for me to read the alternative meaning of the well-known and quote phrase, ‘The Way of the Samurai lies in death.’

Most of all, I think that Mr Wilson has emphasised the interesting parts of the treatise in the best possible way in this graphic novel — their memorability is far better than before. The phrase that has stayed with me is:

It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance!

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