#BookReview: For Roger by Laura Drake

If You Only Read One 2023 Release, Make It This One. Wow. Phenomenal. I’m writing this review roughly 12 hrs after finishing the book, and I am still in awe of what Drake was able to do here. When I first encountered her books, Drake was writing cowboy romances. She’s extended into women’s fiction more recently and done a great job with it, and this one I would assume would mostly classify within that space as well.

But let me be clear: This book has a LOT going on, a lot that places Drake writing about very serious issues and very different spaces. We get medical discussions and specifically discussions around terminal illness, suicide, assisted suicide, and related issues. We get a legal courtroom thriller that dives deep into questions of justice vs mercy vs the letter of the law and even into what are laws and why do we have them. We get open discussions of how to make different spaces better and more responsive, and in these areas Drake shows several practical ideas that could genuinely work – even though this is a fictional tale. Throughout all of this. Drake proves herself capable of at minimum holding her own with even the masters of these spaces who only write explicitly within them, such as John Grisham’s legal thrillers.

And then there are the more traditional women’s fiction aspects, the relationships that make this book truly sing throughout all the heaviness of the above discussions. The loving wife who is barely older than her stepdaughter, despite being in absolute love with her husband. The stepdaughter who resents the stepmother being so very close to her own age. The brilliant husband who dearly loves his wife *and* daughter. The best friend who happens to be the Governor of Texas, with all the behind the scenes politicking that entails. The mother who loves her daughter no matter what. The misunderstood older sister. And yes, in a nod to Drake’s real life (as anyone who follows her socials will know), a mischievous and nearly scene-stealing cat named Boomer.

In telling such a moving story, Drake truly masters bringing in such difficult discussions that *need* to be held at every level and in every corner of this great land.

Issues of how to handle terminal illness within a marriage – how far is each willing to go? What is the loving thing to do? Do the local statutes matter when it comes to trying to make the right decision? What *is* the right decision?

Issues of criminal justice as it relates to terminal illness, echoing at a societal level the same types of questions every relationship needs to answer within itself.

Issues of what we expect from our penal system – can people be rehabilitated, or should they be exclusively punished? Is there a difference between someone committing suicide, their spouse helping them, their doctor helping them, another person outside of a legally protected relationship helping them? Does the situation itself matter, and if it does, what do we condemn and what do we excuse?

All of this and so much more, Drake crafts into a moving and poignant tale of one particular family struggling to navigate these very complicated and delicate issues.

Read this book. Think about how *you* would handle these things. Think about how *we* should handle these things…

Or not. Maybe you jus need to cry, or even bawl your eyes out. Maybe these issues aren’t theoretical for you – maybe they’re as real for you as they are for the characters in this book. Maybe you’re just trying to find answers yourself.

Read this book too. And may you find comfort within its words even in the midst of your own storm.

But read this book, regardless. Very much recommended.

This review of For Roger by Laura Drake was originally written on November 20, 2023.

#BookReview: The Soul Of Civility by Alexandra Hudson

Exceptional Bordering On Transcendental, With A Few Flaws. If you, like me, read David French’s 2020 book Divided We Fall and were utterly *terrified* of just how real its scenarios sounded (particularly given that one of them later began to become true)… you need to read this book. If you, like me, read James A. Morone’s 2020 book (indeed, published just days before French’s) Republic of Wrath and saw that despite the paranoia and fearmongering of today’s media, punditry, and even citizenry, the US has always had a great deal of heat and vitriol in its civil discourse (and in fact was far worse in earlier periods of our shared history) – but that doesn’t mean our particular era isn’t pretty damn bad itself… you need to read this book. If you, like me, simply observe and even discuss politics with a “pox on all your houses” attitude as an independent thinker aligned with no particular group… you need to read this book. And if you, like me, genuinely wish for a return to a more civil era – if there ever actually was one, in fact rather than in nostalgia – … you need to read this book.

Quite simply, Hudson here does for the topic of civility what Morone did for overall vitriol in American politics or Radley Balko did for the rise of the Police State in America in his 2012 book Rise of the Warrior Cop – and that is, bring a relatively full historical examination of the topic, beginning with the most ancient of texts known to humanity and bringing it all the way to the exact context we see as this book is released to the public in the next few days after I write this review. She even manages to look at the topic *globally*, incorporating thoughts on civility from several different major and influential civilizations over the course of history – and not just Western, but also at least some Eastern thinking as well. Along the way, we do in fact see some of the “usual suspects” such as perhaps Erasmus, St. Augustine, Voltaire, CS Lewis, MLK Jr, and Gandhi. But we even see other thinkers such as Thoreau, Emerson, and many others – including cutting edge thinkers such as Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex.com. It is within this particular examination of the entire breadth of history, along with (mostly) strong applications of each, that this particular text truly stands out from the pack.

And yet, there are in fact a couple of issues, which may or may not be particularly *big* issues, but one of which was at minimum enough to deduct a star, at least based on my own “subtractive method” / “objective-ish” reasoning I strive to maintain within my own reviews. The star deduction coming from the overall dearth of a bibliography, despite such deep and wide examinations and despite having so many references it almost seemed as though there were a popup with some relevant quote on nearly every page! While Hudson has already disagreed with me on this on Twitter/X at the time I write this review, I maintain that for nonfiction works, particularly works such as this that reference oh so much, I expect to see a much larger bibliography. Even with the discussion in other recent reviews of perhaps revising my target down closer to 20% rather than 25-30%, the fact that this book contains less than 10% bibliography is still rather disappointing.

The other issue is nearly one more of style, but also raises a potential allegation of bigotry: Hudson’s emphasis that civility requires looking people in the eyes. Despite Autistics in particular being well known for not really being able to do this due to our particular neurodivergence. But perhaps Hudson, despite her clear knowledge in other subjects, was not aware of this. It is possible, and I’ll not clearly condemn her as a bigot due to Hanlon’s Razor.

But again, the overall biggest point here, and the reason you *need* to read this book despite its specks of flaws: This truly is an exceptional, bordering on transcendental, examination of the history and nature of civility, with plenty of real-world applications that are sorely needed – and truly challenging for even the most committed of us. This is one of those books that is going to challenge you to be better in ways that few outside the overtly religious texts manage to do, and it is one that is largely going to leave you with a smile even as it calls you out. Very much recommended.

This review of The Soul Of Civility by Alexandra Hudson was originally written on October 7, 2023.

#BookReview: Burning Down The House by Andrew Koppelman

Severely Flawed Overall Reasoning Yet Good Introduction To Left Libertarianism. This is a book whose goal, as the author states near the end of Chapter 1, “is not only a critical description of libertarianism. It aims to marry what is best about libertarianism with the agenda of the left.” Thus, the author makes such radical-to-anyone-who-actually-studies-American-history-and-politics claims as that Rothbardian libertarianism has come to dominate the Republican Party, and the usual and at this point banal attacks on Charles Koch as a standard boogeyman. And yet, despite the rampant strawmen and cherry picked history and analyses, this book truly does serve as a reasonably well argued and written look into the general forms of “left libertarian” philosophy. At 36% documentation, it is actually on the strong side of well-documented (though still not the *best* I’ve ever encountered), so even with its cherry picking, at least it does in fact cite most of its arguments quite well. (Despite several of its more plebian-according-to-leftist-standards comments being undocumented.) Thus, while there is nothing of the structure of the book to hang a star deduction on, it is still one whose arguments should be considered critically and indeed, one should actively study the same philosophers and economists Koppelman often cites – from Hayek, Mises, and Friedman to Locke, Rothbard, Rand, and even Lysander Spooner. Still, for what it is and for the education it could bring (as even reading Mein Kampf is quite educational, in seeing how even the worst thinkers known to man think), this book is very much recommended.

Note exclusive to blog form of this review: While I kept this out of the Goodreads/ Amazon review above, I should probably note that I actually have quite a bit of experience with libertarian philosophy myself, having been a Libertarian Party of Georgia official at both the Statewide and local levels, as well as a former small town City Council candidate and running a libertarian political blog during the days of the Tea Party uprising circa 2009-2010. During that time, I actually had the opportunity to speak directly with at least a couple of Founding Members of the Libertarian Party, including one who happened to be from my own home County. We were never close, mere acquaintances who each knew common friends much more than we ever knew each other, but even that loose association allowed me to participate in some at times deep philosophical discussions with these truly legendary people. Despite all of this, however, I never came to libertarianism (or even volunarism, which is what I really subscribe to – what Koppelman would describe as “Rothbardian libertarianism”, though as you’ll see momentarily, I never even really knew Rothbard or his thinking) from a secular philosophical background. Instead, I came to libertarianism/ voluntarism through my studying of the Bible and Christian ethics/ thinking, ultimately arriving at voluntarism along the lines of the Anabaptist tradition within Christian history. Even here, while I’ve subsequently read *some* writings both historical and modern from such thinkers, much of my own thinking is precisely that- my own, and not necessarily tied to any one philosopher or tradition. Thus, while I intuitively *know* there are many flaws with Koppelman’s reasoning here, I also openly admit that Koppleman has quite a substantial amount of scholarly training and experience that I do not, and thus there are certainly better people to explain more fully what, exactly, Koppelman’s flaws are and offer a more complete rebuttal to them. But still, read his book, no matter your thinking on libertarianism. For what it is and what it does, it actually is quite well written and is a solid exposition from that side of thinking.

This review of Burning Down the House by Andrew Koppelman was originally written on October 13, 2022.

#BookReview: From Parchment To Dust by Louis Michael Seidman

Progressive/ Liberal Polemic That Moves The Conversation Yet Doesn’t Go Through To The Logical Conclusion. Lysander Spooner once said, during the early Reconstruction period, that “Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize” (Spooner; No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Appendix; 1870), and this is the same essential point that Seidman makes in proclaiming what he terms “Constitutional Skepticism”. Argued from a progressive/ leftist perspective of current American politics, Seidman’s text here uses at least one hyperbolic source (the oft-cited and yet demonstrably inaccurate and misleading GunViolenceArchive), stretches certain terms to implausible yet popular within his political allies lengths (claiming the events of Jan 6, 2020 in Washington DC to be an “insurrection”), and generally parrots progressive/ leftist talking points about at least two Supreme Court justices, the “problem of gun violence”, etc. All of this noted, within this particular sphere, Seidman actually makes his case reasonably well that the Constitution of the United States of America is, as Spooner proclaims, “of no authority”. And *to that point* and from the given perspective, Siedman is truly solid. Where he needs to expand his thinking a bit further is that he ultimately concludes that a more current Constitution, written by and binding on the “current generation” (which he fails to define, and fails to acknowledge that in any average human’s lifetime are three separate generations alive at any one time nor determine which of those generations should be allowed to bind the others according to his thinking) would be actually better than the one written so long ago and claiming to be binding forevermore. No, this is where he would actually do well to examine the writings of Spooner and other *anarchic* Constitutional Skeptics of American history and discuss his thoughts on their ideas as well. For, as Spooner then concluded his discussion quoted above, “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or bas been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist” – taking his own Constitutional Skepticism to its actual logical conclusion, which Seidman refuses to do. Still, this is very much a book that could actually help the overall political discussion both in the US and elsewhere, and it is one that many indeed need to read. Very much recommended.

This review of From Parchment To Dust by Louis Michael Seidman was originally written on October 1, 2021.

#BookReview: Being You by Anil Seth

Intriguing Look At Evolving Science. Thirty years ago, if you asked someone to show you the scientific basis for consciousness – human or otherwise – they’d have laughed in your face because the concept was that much of a joke. Now, Seth is among the researchers actually pursuing the inquiry – and they’ve made some solid strides. In this text, Seth lays out what we now know via evidentiary science and can also posit via a range of philosophical approaches. He readily explains how both prongs of research feed off each other, and his explanations are sufficiently technically complicated to speak with some degree of precision… without being so technically complicated that you basically need to be working in his lab to understand a word of what he is saying. (Though don’t get me wrong, even as someone with a BS in Computer Science and who reads similar books on consciousness, cognition, and perception a few times a year… this one was still technical enough that I readily admit I don’t fully understand it, even now.) Absolutely a fascinating topic and a well written explanation of it from someone actively engaged in furthering the field, and it is very much recommended.

This review of Being You by Anil Seth was originally written on August 31, 2021.

#BookReview: Humane by Samuel Moyn

Dense Yet Enlightening. This is a book about the history of the philosophical and legal thoughts and justifications for transitioning from the brutal and bloody wars of the 19th century (when the history it covers begins) through to the “more humane” but now seemingly endless wars as currently waged, particularly by the United States of America. As in, this treatise begins with examinations of Tolstoy and Von Clauswitz during the Napoleonic Wars and ends with the Biden Presidency’s early days of the continuation of the drone wars of its two predecessors. Along the way, we find the imperfections and even outright hypocrisies of a world – and, in the 21st century in particular, in particular a singular nation on the ascendancy, the United States – as it struggles with how best to wage and, hopefully, end war. Moyn shows the transition from a mindset of peace to a mindset of more palatable (re: “less” horrific / “more” humane) perma-war. But as to the description’s final point that this book argues that this might not be a good thing at all… yes, that point is raised, and even, at times, central. But the text here seems to get more in depth on the history of documenting the change rather than focusing in on the philosophical and even legal arguments as to why that particular change is an overall bad thing. Ultimately this is one of those esoteric tomes that those with a particular interest in wars and how and why they are waged might read, if they are “wonks” in this area, but probably won’t have the mass appeal that it arguably warrants. The central premise is a conversation that *needs* to be had in America and the world, but this book is more designed for the think tank/ academic crowd than the mass appeal that could spark such conversations. Still, it is truly well documented and written with a high degree of detail, and for this it is very much recommended.

This review of Humane by Samuel Moyn was originally written on May 5, 2021.

#BookReview: The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Physics, Metaphysics, and Poetry. I read the Audible version of this while driving to my hometown in another State (a solid book for such a mid-distance, 6 ish hr drive) and thus had the unique pleasure of having Alan Turing himself (as played in The Imitation Game and read here by Benedict Cumberbatch) lecture me on theoretical physics, metaphysics, philosophy, and poetry. If you’re looking for a more concrete look at the exact theoretical physics at hand… this isn’t the book you’re going to want to pick up. If you’re looking for more of an easy-read, high-level, pop science level look at whether or not time exists… this is a very good book from that perspective. And indeed, ultimately the text is all about perspective. At the most distinct levels, time simply does not exist, according to Rovelli. And yet obviously we humans experience time. So how can these two prior statements be resolved? Read this book for Rovelli’s solid examination into the question and attempt at resolving this seeming paradox. Very much recommended. Particularly the Audible. 🙂

This review of The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli was originally written on November 8, 2020.

#BlogTour: A Better Man by Michael Ian Black

I got invited to work with another blog tour, this time working with a celebrity I’ve seen on my screens enough to be aware of the name and to have a generally good impression of. So for this tour, we’re looking at a book written by comedian Michael Ian Black talking about… well, most everything under the sun in what is truly a letter of love to his son on the event of his son leaving for college. This really is one of those kinds of books that so many fathers wish they could write to their own sons, and even more wish they had the ability to tell their sons their own thoughts on these topics and many similar ones. And that is the truest, brightest fact about this book: Black’s love for his son shines through in ways I’ve very rarely encountered in any other book. Which alone is more than enough reason to recommend picking up this book. Yes, I did in fact have a couple of quibbles with it as I discuss below in the Goodreads review. But even more than those, seriously, read this book just to see what so many sons wish their fathers could have told them and what so many fathers wish they could tell their sons. Truly a superb job, and you should absolutely go buy this book for yourself.

And the Goodreads review…

More Solid Than Jello, Less Solid Than Steak: Advice From Father To Son On The Event Of The Son Leaving For College. And with that long-ass title out of the way… 😀 Seriously, this is a near-perfect letter of advice about life, love, and other mysteries from father to son as the son heads off to college and happens to have a celebrity dad. His statements about mass shootings are 100% demonstrably incorrect in a couple of places (and I in particular once analyzed such data at a level *few*, *if any*, others have), and his statements about Ayn Rand and White Guilt are philosophically incorrect (but in line with expectations given his own liberal philosophy), but otherwise what Black writes here rings true. And nearly as importantly, the love for his son rings through even louder than any moral or philosophical point he makes here. This is a type of letter than nearly any man wishes his dad would have left him, and Black truly does an excellent job of showing his own thinking and philosophies about the various issues discussed. In the end, I personally would love a celebrity from the right – as well as one of the very few celebrity anarchists such as possibly Woody Harrelson – to write similar public letters for their own kids, as between the three one would likely get an even stronger overall look at the topic at hand. But for exactly what it is, this truly is a phenomenal work with a quibble here or there, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje

Wildly … Imaginative… Reasoning, Close Yet Still Incorrect Conclusion. Most any math teacher (even former ones like myself) have stories of situations where when told to “show their work”, a student somehow has so-incorrect-as-to-nearly-be-incomprehensible reasoning, but somehow still manages to wind up at an answer that is close but still not quite correct. Maybe a decimal point in the wrong position, but the right actual digits in the right sequence, for example. Another example relevant here would be a space mission to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa that somehow launches when Jupiter is at its furthest point from Earth and launches away from Jupiter (or any reasonable path to the planet) to boot… and yet still manages to wind up on Callisto – another of the Galilean Moons of Jupiter with similar properties, though not the originally intended target and not as rich in desired attributes for the science aboard the mission.

This is effectively what Smaje has done here. More conservative readers may not make it even halfway into the first chapter, which is little more than a *very* thinly veiled anti-capitalist diatribe. Even more liberal/ progressive readers will have some tough pills to swallow with Smaje’s ardent defense of at least some forms of private property as the chief means of achieving his goals. And at the end, Smaje does in fact manage to do at least some version of what he sets out to do – make some level of a case for A Small Farm Future. The case Smaje makes here is indeed intriguing, despite being so deeply flawed, and absolutely worthy of further examination and discussion. It seems that he is simply too blinded by his own political and philosophical backgrounds to truly make the case as it arguably should have been made. Recommended.

This review of A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje was originally written on August 26, 2020.

#BookReview: The Myth of Experience by Emre Soyer and Robin Hogarth

Argumentum Ad Verecundiam. This book had an excellent premise, but just a mediocre implementation. Soyer and Hogarth excel when showing how one’s own experience can blind oneself in numerous areas and arenas, and suggest ways to overcome this blindness. But then fall to their own blindess in accepting and even appealing to the “authority” of “experts” in various topics – seeming to completely disregard that these very “experts” have the exact same problems with being hampered by their own experiences that Soyer and Hogarth are attempting to show us how to overcome in this book. Ultimately, they make a lot of good points, which is why the book gets as many stars as it does. That you have to wade through so much muck to get to all of them is why it *only* gets as many stars as it does. Still, absolutely something everyone should read, and thus recommended.

This review of The Myth Of Experience by Emre Soyer and Robin Hogarth was originally written on July 1, 2020.