Never be afraid of stridency. This was the title of the last ever interview with Christopher Hitchens. It came from advice he gave to Richard Dawkins, his interviewer and guest editor of the New Statesman where it was published in December 2011.
CH: You must never be afraid of that charge [of being a bore], any more than stridency.
RD: I will remember that.
CH: If I was strident, it doesn’t matter – I was a jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. You’ve educated a lot of people; nobody denies that, not even your worst enemies. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out. Stridency is the least you should muster . . .
In the following eleven years or so, Dawkins certainly lived up to Hitchens’ challenge. That is, until recently, in his own interview with Piers Morgan, where he appeared decidedly more reticent than strident.
This is not to say he has become agnostic, or anything of the sort, but rather that he seemed strangely unwilling to display the full strength of his arguments against bad logic, or even sometimes to express an argument at all.
At the start of the interview, for example, when Morgan pressed him on the Big Bang theory, asserting that a ‘super-being-power’ must have preceded it, the strongest response from Dawkins was to defer to physicists who would say that it was naive, or that ‘science starts with simplicity’.
Of course this was partly humility of discipline, but far more than we’re used to. The overall effect was to make Morgan’s contention seem plausible and Dawkins happily resigned. Only a few years ago one would have expected him to incisively dismantle, as he did in his bestselling book The God Delusion, this notion of infinite regress. (If God created the universe, who created God?)
It was as if, after being introduced with the usual sensational epithets: firebrand, controversialist, incendiary, offensive – and later according to Morgan, vehement – he was doing his best to disprove them by being overly passive. Or perhaps he really had changed.
Sensing this possibility, Morgan eventually asked: ‘Have you got milder about this as you’ve got older?’
‘Yes’, replied Dawkins.
To anyone who has followed his work long enough, this is a surprising enough admittance. He was already 65 when he published The God Delusion in 2006. And even those who came to him late will know that one of his hallmarks is to make bald statements of fact on sensitive subjects, if just to inspire debate. Many would inevitably get him wrong in the process, but to Dawkins free speech was always a theory to be defended through practice.
This is what made it so shocking when he point-blank refused to comment on the case of Shamima Begum.
Morgan: ‘There’s been a big debate about this ISIS bride, Shamima Begum – whether she should be allowed to come back to this country. Do you have a view about that?’
Dawkins: ‘I’d rather not say.’
His reluctance to discuss the issue is difficult to comprehend given his erstwhile tireless opposition to theocratic statism, of which ISIS was by its own definition the exemplar.
It is even more difficult when one remembers that he was outspoken on the Begum question specifically, as far back as 2019. In response to a BBC article which referenced a previous interview with her, he tweeted:
This, one might say, is quite strident. In which case, why did he feel unable to be similar with Morgan, to robustly convey his thoughts and afterwards qualify them according to the nuances of the case? He is surely more informed than most people on the matter, many of whom are less willing to make concessions than even he was four years ago. And yet instead he further excused himself from the debate saying he ‘hasn’t studied it enough’.
‘There are areas which you would prefer not to discuss?’ Morgan went on to ask.
‘Yes. I should have said that before we started.’
This was another troubling statement. But what made the moment more so in general was Dawkins’ demeanour, which had shifted from playful to withdrawn, to the point where he barely voiced his monosyllabic demurrals. Eventually, even Piers Morgan, clearly nonplussed at having avoided the fireworks promised by his intro, felt it appropriate to move to another line of questioning.
As a great admirer of Dawkins, it is disappointing to see that he no longer feels comfortable expressing an opinion on certain topics, especially when it is called upon and in a conducive environment. Indeed, at the very start of the interview on Piers Morgan Uncensored, the host put the programme’s premise direct to the interviewee:
‘I assume you will be uncensored?’ To which Dawkins replied, ‘Of course.’
Overriding this disappointment, however, is uncondescending sympathy. It cannot have been easy to be ‘the face’ of New Atheism in the age of new extremism and the incessant threat that comes with it. Nor to have survived long enough to see the actuation of this threat against friends no less, as in the case of Salman Rushdie (as far as someone in hiding across thirty years can have friends).
Further still, he has been let down immensely by those who should have stood by him, most notably the American Humanist Association who, in 2021, withdrew the award they had given him after he pointed out inconsistencies between transgender and transracial rhetoric.
That he, at 82, is still engaged in such debates at all is testament to his enduring commitment to truth and reason. But by the same measure, he is an increasingly lonely voice, among the last of a generation of rigorous thinkers who have either fallen away around him or been forcibly removed from public life. It is only natural that his thoughts would turn to the legacy of his prolific output, which, as he reminds us, contains only two books about religion. He has much more left to defend.
As Hitchens went on to say in 2011: ‘It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, “Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements.”’
More than a decade on, Professor Dawkins is still waiting.
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The Conservative Party, once my ally, now my enemyBy Jayden Harris — 5 months ago
I considered the Conservative Party once as my ally. During the 2019 General Election, I found Boris Johnson’s policies admirable. Who wouldn’t want to see the country ‘level up’? Almost all policies I agreed with – except Net Zero by 2050. However, this appeared a relatively insignificant commitment; I assumed they wouldn’t keep it.
Alas, that Net Zero policy I disregarded has turned out to be one of the most significant debates this country would have in 2021. Much fluster was created for the climate summit in Glasgow. COP26, a gathering of globalists and hypocrites was, in my opinion, rather dull. An over-hyped event. I thought to myself that maybe it was a smoke screen to please the ever-growing environmentalists. Maybe it was just a policy that they didn’t want to pursue wholeheartedly after all.
Then I remembered the last 12 months. Chaos after every policy announcement. Chaos with the government. Chaos with the pandemic. It wasn’t just the chaos which I was concerned about, it was the very fabric of the Conservative Party.
Now a Blairite party, the members of the parliamentary Conservative Party have a choice to make. Do Members of Parliament want to reclaim conservative values through the party machine, or do they split off to pastures new?
In this current state, the Conservative Party is no ally to me. If you are a social and moral conservative reading this, then they are no ally to you either.
Social and moral conservatives are losing, for lack of a better term, the ‘culture war’. Recently, four Black Lives Matters protestors were cleared of all criminal charges for tearing down the Edward Colston statue. While this is fundamentally a legal issue, the acquittal speaks volumes to how we deal with protest. Protest should be about voicing concerns peacefully.
Yet, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Ministers are clamping down on protest in completely the wrong way. It seems that while the government loves their opinion polls as direction for policy, they cannot gauge the temperature of the ‘culture war’.
And so, it was with no sadness I ripped up my Conservative Party membership. I cannot support this party. David Cameron once said that he was the “heir to Blair”. These words will ring loudly when the Tories find their membership declining. I hope that the electorate and membership of the Conservative Party will realise that the Tories are no ally to the conservative movement.
But you may be asking, what party do I go to now? Well, if you are searching for my opinion, you will be disappointed. I have been politically homeless for some time now and unless the Conservative Party is destroyed there is no reason that I can see to join any other party. The Conservative Party is too large and established to be challenged from a political party standpoint.
Rather, we should be focusing our attention on the issues that affect our everyday lives, such as Covid restrictions. Fundamentally, we are now in a fight for freedom – you must stand up and be counted.
Quote: Now a Blairite party, the members of the parliamentary Conservative Party have a choice to make. Do Members of Parliament want to reclaim conservative values through the party machine, or do they split off to pastures new?
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10 Pages Minimum: A 2022 Book ReportBy Christopher Winter — 5 months ago
At the end of 2021, I challenged myself to read at least 10 pages of a book a day. I was initially shocked at how difficult I found it to just sit down quietly and read a book. However, within the first month, I found it easier and easier to sit quietly, and enjoy reading. Having been unable to read practically anything for pleasure in the past few years, I am glad that I was able to accomplish this. By the end of 2022, I was able to read 14 books, and I decided that it would be prudent to compile a list of them, and to give a brief review of each one. All of these reviews were written within a few days of finishing the book, so as to give my most accurate opinions of them. This article, therefore, has been a year in the making! I hope that I am able to persuade you to take up this challenge in 2023.
Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that my reviews at the start of the year are not as good as the ones nearer the end of the year. Please excuse me for this, I have had no experience in writing book reviews up until now; but I feel as though this exercise has given me good practice in the area.
Book 1: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Read from: 01/01/2022 to 14/01/2022
When I saw this for sale in Waterstones, I chuckled to myself because I have seen the film so many times, and am very aware of all of the references and memes it has generated. I immediately bought it and I am extremely glad that I decided to make it my first read of 2022.
The book is an extremely well-written and unique dive into the horror nightmare land of Yuppie culture in the 1980s through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, Patrick Bateman.
For anyone who has seen and enjoyed the film, you will love this book. This novel fleshes out the character of Patrick Bateman and the accompanying cast and really helps to add the context and depth which would be impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to show on film.
The book is intentionally written in a repetitive and confusing style to try and put us in the head of Bateman, who lives a life surrounded by repetitive and confusing people constantly lost in meaningless conversations over what kinds of socks match with a certain tie, or who is calling up the newest celebrity-owned restaurant to make a reservation. As a reader, you may find this jarring at some points. But I beg you to be mindful of the point Ellis is trying to make. By about a third of the way through you will begin to appreciate the pages and pages of text covering the newest album from Huey Lewis and the News, and Patrick’s running commentary on what he, his girlfriend, his friends, and his victims are wearing.
Please be aware that if you have a vivid imagination, this book can be extremely difficult to read at some points due to the levels of violence and gore it portrays in excruciating detail. (I actually found myself feeling sick at some points, but this just lends more credit to the incredibly descriptive abilities of Bret Easton Ellis).
I thoroughly recommend this book, and I hope that you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.
Book 2: The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle
Read from: 15/01/2022 to 13/02/2022
I had never been very interested in philosophy, I had always found it unnecessary for myself to learn it. However, after a few debates and arguments with some of my friends who did enjoy learning philosophy, I decided that I would finally get around to reading some.
As I am interested in politics and public speaking, one of my friends recommended to me the Art of Rhetoric. I bought this book some time ago last year and had never read it, so I thought it would be best to start off my philosophical education with this book… that was a mistake.
I soon came to realise that, if you have never read any of Aristotle’s work, he can appear to be a confusing writer. He seems to love tangents and diversions and references to his own and other people’s work. Whilst it was certainly interesting to read about all of these tangents, it did make it quite difficult and confusing at some points to really understand his point or what he was talking about. One minute he would be talking about the different reasons people debate, and then he would suddenly be discussing the benefits of slave ownership.
Another issue I had while reading the book is that it introduces some new terms and words that I had never heard of before such as ‘Enthymemes’ etc. I had to spend considerable time actually learning what all of these specific terms meant before I could even understand what a large amount of the book was talking about, otherwise, I would have completely missed the context of entire chapters. That is not the fault of the book but a fault of mine (as mentioned earlier this was the first philosophical book I have ever read, and that was my mistake).
The book is actually split into three books (all relatively short). Without spoiling anything, The first two books give a lot of context to the third book which is where the actual ‘art of rhetoric’ is discussed at length. This made the first two books feel very slow compared to the third. It is also worth noting that the first two books are where most of the tangents can be found, whereas the third book seems laser-focused on the topic at hand.
Overall, I found the book very enjoyable. It pushed me to actually learn new concepts and terms I had never heard of before, and gave me new ways of looking at debate and argument as a practice. I would definitely recommend this book to people interested in improving their debate and public speaking skills, however, I would also warn you that, if you have never studied philosophy before, don’t be surprised if you have to re-read a few pages and do some research on some of the concepts Aristotle talks about.
Book 3: Trans-Siberian Rail Guide by Robert Strauss
Read from: 13/02/2022 to 19/02/2022
I found this book completely by accident at the ‘Barter Books’ second-hand book shop in Alnwick. I saw the cover, saw the low price, took a guess at what it might be about, and decided that I had to have it! At first, I assumed that this would be a simple guide for tourists of the Trans Siberian railway, but as soon as I started reading it, I discovered that it was so much more than that. It is a charming collection of history, anecdotes, and stories about the Trans Siberian Railway; and an assortment of (now obsolete) information about the various ways one could successfully navigate the journey across the Soviet Union to China and Japan (or vice versa) via train in the late 1980s.
This is by no means a history book, however, it is a very dated guidebook that was written for an 80’s audience, and it contains an absolute heap of useless and obsolete information about how to behave properly around Soviet border agents, the addresses of various consulates and embassies for countries which no longer exist, and tips on where best to buy camera film and cheap Hi-Fi’s when lost in Beijing. I found that this added to the charm of the book, and made it more interesting to read about the lived experiences of those bold adventurers making their way across Communist Russia, Mongolia, and China.
What makes this book even more endearing is that, when it was written, the author put out an advert for readers of the Times newspaper to submit their own stories of their travels along the Trans Siberian to him. He features these stories throughout where relevant, which really adds to the human touch of the book.
The book is broken down into 5 parts. Some of these parts are more focussed on the history of the railway and various anecdotes and stories of travelers’ experiences over the last 100 years on it. Other parts of the book are more instructional and list embassies, hotels, hostels, useful numbers for Visa applications, etc. The author, Robert Strauss, does an excellent job of weaving these two very separate kinds of information together to make for a very delightful read.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Trans Siberian Railway, anyone who wants a brief flashback to the late 1980s, and anyone who is sad enough to spend their time reading pages and pages of completely useless and obsolete information about how to purchase train tickets from the Hungarian Socialist Republic (people like me).
Book 4: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Read from: 20/02/2022 to 08/04/2022
This book was bought for me as a gift by my girlfriend after I had expressed some curiosity in it (it is her favourite book and I was interested to see why).
This book (sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divider’) is a tricky one to get through at times, it brazenly challenges you to keep reading it, despite its cruel themes and evil characters. I found some parts of the book particularly difficult to stomach due to the horrible issues which it covers, but I did soldier on through it to the end. This is why it has taken me almost double the time to get through this book as it has to get through other books of a similar length.
The book tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a handsome young European academic who comes to America after the death of his first wife. The story is told in the past tense from his perspective as he desperately tries to convince the reader, using all of his intellectual charm and cultured European graces, that his attraction to young girls is completely fine, and that the rape of his landlady turned wife’s daughter, Lolita, is justified.
It is fair to say that the book is a heavy read, and forces you to stay on your toes in order to not sympathise with him. Humbert Humbert is the king of unreliable narration, and phrases the most disgusting events in ways that can become very palatable to the reader if not considered properly in context.
This is indeed the crux of the book’s appeal, it is astonishingly beautifully written, even if it leaves you feeling sick or sad afterward. The writing style of the author, Vladimir Nabokov, in this book is absolutely impeccable and suits the theme and character of Humbert Humber almost too perfectly. It made the characters feel so alive and real.
My main complaint about the book, and what is stopping it from receiving five stars in my opinion, is that some sections (specifically the road trips) seem unnecessarily drawn out and overcomplicated, whilst other parts (specifically the ending) seem too rushed and simple – it feels as though you waited through a huge build-up over hundreds of pages for an ending that is covered in less than 30! I understand that this is because the book is framed as a retelling of a story from one person’s blinkered perspective, but I would have enjoyed it a bit more if the book spent more time fleshing out other parts of the story, and perhaps cutting back on excessive detail in others. However, this issue did not kill to book for me and I did still find it very readable almost all of the time.
In conclusion, an absolutely fantastic read that I would definitely recommend to anyone bold enough to take on Nabokov’s challenge.
Book 5: Mine Were of Trouble by Peter Kemp
Read from: 08/04/2022 to 13/05/2022
This book was completely unknown to me until I started being recommended it by various anonymous accounts on Twitter. My curiosity peaked after I had heard the general theme of it; and I must say, I am extremely glad that I took the decision to buy and read it.
This is arguably one of the most interesting, thrilling, and charming books I have ever read, and most certainly is a contender for my favourite of the year. The author, Peter Kemp, has a superb skill for structure, detail, and storytelling that makes it extremely difficult to put this book down. It gives you just enough detail to help you understand the situations he was in without being too heavy-handed and boring. At some moments, ‘Mine Were of Trouble’ reads almost like an adventure book; not because the events are so unbelievable, but because of the great lengths the author went to describe the acts of heroism and horror he saw in real life.
The book tells the true story of the experiences of Peter Kemp (the author), a 21-year-old English law student who was so moved by the stories coming to Britain of the horrors experienced by Catholic priests at the hands of the Republicans, that he decided to join the Carlists (a monarchist faction within the Nationalist army during the Spanish civil war). The book does not read like a diary, and instead is more of a lengthy account of his entire time before and during his service in the Spanish Nationalist military.
The true tales told by Kemp range from the humourous and charming to the horrendous and despicably ugly. At times during the book I was chuckling, and at other times I was almost crying. The book is not attempting to engender these emotions within you, it is simply telling you the story of Kemp’s fascinating journey through the civil war. It serves to remind us all that not all of war is horror; and not all of war is camaraderie, fun, and games.
This book has generated within me a great desire for travel and escapades. I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and politics of inter-war Europe and the Spanish civil war. I would also recommend this book to anyone interested in the concepts of masculinity, heroism, and the call to adventure. Whilst not saying it directly, Kemp touches on all of these topics in great detail. His time and actions in Spain reflect his values of faith, honour, courage, and compassion. This book has served as a great insight for me into all of these topics, and I am sure that it would do the same for you.
Book 6: Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sakaya
Read from: 13/05/2022 to 16/05/2022
As I was strolling around the Waterstones near Monument Metro Station in Newcastle, my girlfriend and I came across a small ‘Japanese Literature’ section. I have never read any Japanese literature of any kind ever, so I was intrigued by it. I was curious to see what was on offer and, as I was looking at the table, I was passed a copy of this book ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by my girlfriend who said to me that she had really enjoyed reading it in the past. I took her advice and, as it was only £8.99, I decided to buy it. This was a very good decision, and I am very glad that I bought this book.
The book itself is very short at just 160 pages with barely more than 200 words a page on average, so you can get through this extremely quickly. I consider myself to be quite a slow reader and I managed to complete it in just 3 days! I found the book to be very difficult to put down, the pacing was just right and kept you hooked into the story all of the time. I didn’t feel as though the story dragged at any point, and the general theme was one which I found quite relatable.
The story itself centres around Miss Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old Japanese woman who has been working the same part time job at the same convenience store for the last 18 years. Whilst never stating it explicitly, it is obvious that Keiko has autism and struggles to understand the actions of the people in the world around her, except for when she is working in the store. Keiko’s whole life revolves around her job at the store and it seems as though, to her, it is the one thing that gives her a purpose. She sees no reason to keep herself healthy, except for the benefit of the running of the store; she sees no reason to take a shower and shave, except for the benefit of the running of the store etc. This all changes when a new employee, a man name Shiraha, enters the picture.
Both of these characters are outcasts who take a different approach to dealing with the similar situation that they find themselves in. Shiraha is a failure who cannot find a wife. He is angry at the world for forcing him to work and just wants to hide away and do nothing. Keiko, on the other hand, has no anger to the world and just cares about the running of the store. The author does an excellent job at contrasting their opinions and methods for dealing with their problems, and it proves to be an excellent commentary on the expectations that Japanese society places on men and women.
If you are looking for a light and quirky book, this is certainly one for you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I was sad to have finished it so quickly. It has been a refreshing brake from the other books I have read so far, and I will certainly make an attempt to read more Japanese literature in the future as a result of it.
Book 7: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read from: 16/05/2022 to 24/05/2022
This particular book was of great importance to me because of how I came to have it. It was given to me as a gift by my English teacher back in 2016 just before I took my GCSEs. I had never read the book and we did not study it at school, I knew absolutely nothing of the plot and I used to ask her questions about it. Instead of giving the answer away, she bought me it as a present so I could come to the answer myself. Well, after almost six years of starting it, stopping it, and starting again, I finally got myself into gear and finished it. This was a great relief to me, as it means that I wont have to read the first chapter over and over again any more.
The book is relatively short but the pacing of the story can make it quite difficult to read at times. I found the start and end of the book to be very slow and drawn out whilst particular sections were very rushed. I’m sure that Fitzgerald was doing this for dramatic purposes, however I felt as though I should have been given more information at certain important moments. Fitzgerald is clearly a master of the English language and his usage of it in the book is interesting and unique. I found that some of the speech patterns in the book are very dated (this is the original unabridged version after all) which certainly gave it a 1920s feel. Whilst I had no problem with this, you do sometimes find yourself re-reading the same lines to make sure you understood what was being conveyed in this older style of writing. If you are not used to certain aspects of 1920s speech patters and history, try and buy a copy like mine which came with context explainers at the back. This helped me in my own understanding of what was going on in certain scenes.
The story is a somewhat reliable narration by Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner come to seek his fortune in New York City in the early 1920s. There he meets his neighbour Jay Gatsby, a mysterious and extremely wealthy man who, by complete chance, happens to be madly in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy, who lives just across the water from him. Daisy is married to the equally wealthy adulterer, Tom Buchanon. The story follows Nick as he is pulled further and further into a disgusting web of deceit, lies, and deception that surrounds Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom.
I found that the 2013 film adaptation of the book is fairly true to the source material, but it does skip over a large chunk of the relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker. The book does a better job of fleshing out the relationship between the two and it also does a much better job of making the characters less fantastical and more realistic. The film portrays Nick as a clueless do-gooder who just happened to be caught up in rich peoples cruelty whereas the book assures you that he knows what he’s getting himself in to.
In conclusion, a classic book which I would highly recommend. Not too long and certainly recommended if you have seen the film and wanted a bit more from the characters.
Book 8: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Read from: 24/05/2022 to 22/06/2022
This is arguably the first book of the year that I have read that I went into with absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had never heard of Amor Towles or his works, and this book was more of an impulse purchase after a friend of mine saw it on sale for a ridiculously low price and recommended it to me. I am glad that he made such a frantic bid to get me to but it. I have also just noticed that this is the third book of the year that I have read to be based in New York City (with American Psycho and The Great Gatsby being the other two). I suppose, through the lens of these fictions, I have taken a journey of the history of New York from the 1920’s to the 1980’s.
This book follows the life of Katherine Kontent, a typist at a law firm, as she makes her way through the year of 1938 in New York City. The concept of time passing is a big factor in this novel, the book is structured heavily around the changing of the seasons and the progression of time. It is no surprise that the main story starts on New Years eve 1937 and ends on New Years eve 1938. She, along with her room-mate Eve, meet Tinker Gray, a very curious individual who they both take great interest in. Over the course of the year, this typist is pulled from the bottom of New York society to the top. She becomes close and personal friends with the wealthy and not-so-famous member of society who keep the machine of the city moving along. She seems to find herself both disgusted and fascinated by it, and keeps venturing into it for more.
This book had the ability to trigger a very strong emotional response from me. It reminds us (bluntly in some places and subtly in others) that time is indeed passing and slipping through our fingers, and that we are the total sum of all of our decisions and all the decisions of everyone around us. Fittingly, I found the ending of the book both beautiful and agonising; all of the separate story lines of the small array of characters that Katherine meats neatly come to their conclusions. It left me felt feeling so sad, and I am not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps it is because it reminds that, no matter how eccentric or interesting we try to be, we too are side characters in someone else’s story; and one day, our relationship with those people will end as well one way or another.
The book’s structure is well put together, and it is clear to me that Amor Towles has an incredible grasp on the English language. His writing style is very unique and enjoyable; however, the method he uses to represent conversations (long flows of text rather than broken up sentences with quotation marks) can be quite jarring at times and it sometimes became very difficult to tell who was talking to who. I would also argue that the pacing of the book was a bit strange. The story seemed to race at the start, then slow down toward the middle, and then jump to a breakneck pace at the end again.
In conclusion, this was definitely an enjoyable book and is one which I shall be recommending to others.
Book 9: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Read from: 23/06/2022 to 23/06/2022
Due to the nature of this book and my political biases, I think it unfair to attempt to give this book a true ‘rating’, so I have opted to give it a 3 out of 5 – truly, the most neutral of ratings you can award a book (or anything for that matter).
I read this book many years ago when I was only a child, and so I saw that it was high time to read it again. Whilst I do not agree with Marx and Engels, I found the book to be very interesting and insightful into the initial aims of Communism.
I think today in the world of debate, we get very caught up in politicking, good and bad looks, and the humdrum of boring arguments. Sometimes we forget what certain people actually sincerely believe. It was quite refreshing to read straight from the source. I appreciate the fact that there have been many different iterations and interpretations of communism over the last hundred or so years, but it was nice to actually be able to get a grip of what the original idea of it actually was. As we live in the age of gutter politics, Marx is someone who has been warped and twisted beyond disbelief by people on both sides. Rereading this book reminded me that the chap, at the end of the day, was a philosopher trying to make sense of the modern industrial world and make predictions on the upcoming class struggles between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
Has this book changed my opinions on economic and social relations? No. I am just glad to have been given a fresh perspective on what communism is, and what Marx and Engels were trying to put forward. I am curious as to what they would think of the modern world if we could reach through history and bring them to now. I wonder if they would rejoice or shudder at the state of the modern communist movements. I wonder what they would say about the history of the last 100 years. I wonder how they would view the states of China, Cuba, and the like.
In terms of the books structure, it is incredibly short. You can read this in an afternoon if you really wanted to. I found the first half and the last tenth to be the most interesting, whereas the middle of the book was very slow.
In conclusion, it’s a short read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the communist movement. I would be interested in reading more of Marx’s material after this as I personally found it very interesting.
Book 10: Silence by Shusaka Endo
Read from: 24/06/2022 to 16/07/2022
I picked up this book at the same time that I got ‘Convenience Store Woman’ from the Japanese section at Newcastle Waterstones. It is funny as I had not intended to get any books at all and wound up buying two. I have also now purchased this book again as a present for a few friends as it is relatively cheap and extremely worth a read. I loved this book and I am glad that I made the impulse purchase after admiring its cover in the Waterstones.
This book follows the journey of Father Rodrigues as he journeys to Japan in the 1640s with his friend Father Garupe to act as a missionary and to discover the fate of his former teacher, Father Ferreira who has been rumoured to have apostatized and to now be assisting the Japanese government in hunting down and persecuting Christians. The journey of Rodrigues is a sad and miserable one. He starts with, what he believes to be, complete faith in God and the Catholic church. This faith is tested repeatedly by the misery and suffering of himself and the Christians of Japan that he sees around him. He is constantly doing battle with the silence of God when he sees injustice and cruelty done upon himself and his fellow Christians.
The novel’s author, Shusaka Endo, was a Japanese Catholic, and I believe the book itself was an attempt by himself to understand his relationship with God and his Christian faith through the abstraction of historical story telling. I believe, therefore, that this book is a good way of understanding my own faith better and coming to terms with the reality of the world around me and my relationship with God. If you are a Christian as well, I would thoroughly recommend this book.
The book, at just 267 pages, is relatively short and I found it very readable. The author uses letters, diaries, and reports from different sources as a framing device for good chunks of the story which helps to break it up and adds a layer of depth to the various characters that are met along the way. The general arc of the story is good and has a sound progression. Do not go into this book looking for a happy ending, you will not find one. The story does not finish with some grand triumph for any character, it merely reflects on the situations that they find themselves in.
Overall, I would certainly recommend this book. It is a brilliant example of 20th century Japanese fiction and, more specifically, provides an excellent retrospective on the persecution of Japanese Christians in the early Edo period by a practicing Japanese Christian. It is a great shame that the film adaptation by Martin Scorsese (himself a great admirer of this book) was such a commercial flop.
I would like to take a moment, if I may, to reflect on the books I have read so far. It is now the 17th of July 2022 and so much has happened since I started this challenge. Russia invaded Ukraine, I turned twenty-two, Boris Johnson has resigned, I bought my first house, and now we are all suffering through an absurdly hot heatwave and sky-high energy and commodity prices. It has indeed been a strange year for me, Britain, and most of the world. My one constant, however, has been the reading I have been doing. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, I barely read at all in the last decade, and it has been thoroughly enjoyable to burn my way through so many of the books that have been sitting gathering dust in my room.
I did not think, when I set myself this challenge, that I would have already finished 10 books by the end of the year… let alone the middle of July. I am very proud of this achievement, and I am looking forward to carry on reading throughout the year and into the next (and so on and so forth). I have learned so much from these books, not just what they contain, but also the foundations of what makes good fictions and non-fictions so enticing. I also think that my reading comprehension and patience has increased dramatically, and my ability to review the books has improved too.
If you are still reading this behemoth of an article at this point, I hope that you have been finding it of some use or interest. I sincerely hope that it motivates you to pick up some of the books laying around at your house that you’ve been telling yourself you would actually read too.
Book 11: Patriotism by Yukio Mishima
Read from: 17/07/2022 to 17/07/2022
This book was recommended to me by a friend. I did not intend to read it so quickly but it is an incredibly short book and is an extremely compelling read. It is also the second Japanese book I have read in a row. I am glad that I bought it and I hope that I can convince you to buy it too.
The book is set over a period of three days and follows the story of a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, Shinji Takeyama, and his beautiful young wife, Reiko. Being instructed to command troops destined to fight the forces of rebellious officers (many of whom are his close friends), Shinji is faced with the impossible choice of loyalty to his friends, or loyalty to the Imperial Army and the Emperor of Japan. Shinji, instead, chooses to commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide) with his wife as his witness.
The book describes, in graphic detail, the couple’s last few hours together on the night that they will take their own lives. It explicitly takes the reader through the couple making love multiple times before then agonizingly describing every moment of Shinji and Reiko’s suicide. Reading this part of the book was genuinely difficult at some points due to the gruesome nature of Yukio’s writing style.
Achieving a ‘glorious death’ was something that the author was very focussed on in his own personal life, so it is easy to understand why he would write about ritualistic suicide so positively. After further investigation, I discovered that the rebellion in the book was a real event that took place known as the ‘Ni Ni Roku’ Incident. This incident, along with many other events in Japanese politics, would shape Yukio’s worldview and drive him further into his beliefs surrounding right wing politics and the future of the Japanese nation and people.
In terms of structure, the book is incredibly short and can be read easily in less than an hour. I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in Yukio Mishima, this is an excellent way to ingratiate yourself with his beautiful and graphic writing style, and a good way to get a glimpse at his views and beliefs.
Book 12: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
Read from: 17/07/2022 to 13/08/2022
This is the fourth Japanese-authored book I have read this year, the third in a row of Japanese books, and the second from the esteemed author Yukio Mishima. I heard about this book from various accounts on Twitter and have seen it recommended numerous times but I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I am still not entirely sure if I have fully understood the book, but I will do my best to review it here.
The book is set in Japan a few decades after the second world war, and follows the story of the child Noboru and his wealthy widowed mother Fusako. Noboru is part of a gang of self-proclaimed genius boys led by ‘the chief’ who have become radically angered and dissatisfied with the modern world and modern rules and morality. Noboru is obsessed with the sea and ships and, when he is taken by his mother to the docks to actually see some vessels, they meet the ship’s second mate, Ryuji.
Fusako and Ryuji are smitten with each other and they have sex soon after meeting, whilst Noboru watches on from a peephole he has discovered in between his wall and his mother’s. Initially, Noboru is very pleased with Ryuji. He likes the fact that he is connected to the sea and he sees him as perfect. However, after a series of faux-pas on the part of Ryuji, and Noboru’s excessively high standards and non-standard morality, he soon finds himself disgusted by Ryuji.
This book is strange. I very much enjoyed it, but sometimes it was difficult to get into. Yukio Mishima was exploring his own philosophies and ideas on modern morality through the character of an extremely intelligent child, however, sometimes this came across as very unbelievable and annoying. The only truly sympathetic character is Ryuji.
Mishima, of course, uses his masterful command of language and metaphor to create beautiful images in the reader’s mind, especially when discussing sex and violence. This is a theme seen throughout all of Mishima’s work.
In terms of structure, I found that the pacing of this book was actually very good. The book is split into two halves, ‘summer’ and ‘winter’, each having its own distinct tone. The book is quite short at just over 100 pages and was paced in such a way that it never felt too quiet or too busy throughout.
Overall, a good book that I enjoyed. I would recommend it to you if you were especially interested in understanding Mishima’s personal philosophies and worldview.
Book 13: The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung
Read from: 14/08/2022 to 25/08/2022
As someone who has struggled with weight their entire life, this book was a real eye opener. This book was bought for me years ago by my dad, but I never once opened it. I did not know who Dr Jason Fung was, and I had no intention to read what I assumed was just another self help book. Fast forward to a few months ago when a friend of mine suggested buying this book (as it had really helped them with their weight). I realised that I already had it buried away on my book shelf, and I made it my aim to at least try and get through it. As soon as I saw the cover, I realised that this Jason Fung was the same Jason Fung whose YouTube videos I had been watching for the past few months. Given the high quality of his channel, I went in with high expectations, and I was not disappointed!
Firstly, this is not a self help book. Dr Fung uses this book to meticulously and thoroughly dismantle commonly held misconceptions about diet, exercise, and weight loss. His calm and methodical approach to explaining problems with the diet and pharmaceutical industry (especially in North America and Europe) is eye opening and fantastically interesting. I found myself unable to put this book down (hence why I was able to read it so quickly).
I wouldn’t be doing the book justice by trying to fully explain Fung’s take on weight loss, but the general lesson he teaches is that insulin and cortisol are the two hormones that contribute the most to weight gain and obesity; that the post-70s western diet and lifestyle has made us prone to insulin resistance and excess cortisol; and that the standard ‘eat less, move more’ advice so often given out by doctors and government health agencies is unhelpful for people truly trying to lose weight. Dr Fung’s solution to these problems is intermittent fasting, which he claims is beneficial for reducing insulin resistance and being the most effective tool for obese people to lose weight.
The vast majority of the book is spent focussing on his main hypothesis that insulin causes weight gain. He only goes into fasting in the final section. This is why I do not consider this to be a ‘self help’ book. He spends far more time helping the reader understand what the problem is then actually giving specific solutions for this to be thought of as ‘self help’. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but personally, I liked it. The book didn’t feel preachy or like quackery.
My only complaint, and the reason I don’t think I can award 5 stars, is that Dr Fung spends a huge amount of time going over the same points again and again. I appreciate that he is attempting to drill an idea into the reader, but it can get quite monotonous after a while.
Since watching his YouTube videos last month and reading his book, I have lost roughly 12kg in weight (about 2 stone/28lbs). This is evidence enough for me that his methods work, and I am fervently carrying on with them. If you struggle with your weight or are just interested in a fresh take on why the world has an obesity problem, I would most certainly recommend this book and his YouTube channel.
Book 14: No Colours or Crest by Peter Kemp
Read from: 28/08/2022 to 31/12/2022
This book took a much longer time to finish than normal due to personal issues and should not be taken as a slight on the piece of work. This book is the second of Peter Kemp’s three books detailing his activities before and during the second world war (see review number 5 for a cover of his first book ‘Mine Were of Trouble’).
We follow him on his journey after the Spanish civil war, joining the British army as a liaison officer and being sent into Albania to act as a representative of Britain and to gather information on partisan activities in the area. Being parachuted into the country, he is forced to deal with the complex political issues that drown the region in mistrust and curtail any effort to form a united front against the Italian and German occupying forces.
This first section of the book was very interesting to me, Enver Hoxha (the post war Communist dictator of Albania) is a character which I have known about for a very long time, but never seriously investigated and researched. In this book, Peter tells of his regular dealings with Hoxha, along with his other Communist, Monarchist, Republican, and Reactionary counterparts in their desperate bid to repel the invaders and attempt to seize legitimacy in forming a new government for Albania after the war has ended. Peter’s writings about these figures and his travels through Albania showcase the chaos and unpredictability of a small nation at war not only with an outside power, but also itself.
The second, much shorter, section at the end of the book tells of Peter’s brief time in Poland in 1945, and his capture and mistreatment by the Soviet Red Army, who viewed him as less of an ally than a potential enemy once the war was over.
The book is an excellent read for any history nerds interested in the niche fringes of the second world war, featuring a very unique insight and detailed description of war stories not often talked about in Western media. Kemp’s keen memory and light-hearted nature make for, not only a detailed read, but also an enjoyable one.
The pacing of the book can be a bit slow at times. I thought it was a shame that Kemp talked for so long about his time in Albania, but very little about his time in Poland. I appreciate that he was in Albania for much longer, but it would have been nice if he could have been a bit more detailed in his discussion on his time spent in Eastern Europe.
Peter has a distinctive writing style which became more and more obvious as I read through this piece, and I would struggle to define it. He writes memoirs like no other memoirs I have read.
Overall, an excellent read which I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend. I will be reading and reviewing his third book ‘Alms for Oblivion’ later in 2023.
It is the 1st of January 2023 and I cannot believe how much my life has changed since my last writing on here on the 17th of July (just after review number 10) and over the year as a whole. I am now a settled homeowner on the other side of a breakup, I have spent time living in London to escape family drama, and I am 30kg lighter than when I started the year. The war in Ukraine still rages on, and inflation seems to have calmed down just a little bit. I have been totally blown away by the rate of change I have experienced this year, and I am reminded whilst writing this that one of the only constants I have had throughout 2022 was the challenge to myself to read more this year. I am extraordinarily proud of what I have accomplished, and I sincerely look forward to doing it again in 2023, I hope that next year I am able to read at least 20 books.
I hope that these reviews and remarks have given you some encouragement to take up reading this year, it really was one of the best decisions I made at the start of 2022, and I hope that you see fit to make it one of your own resolutions for 2023.
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We Need a New Edward WatkinBy Xander West — 5 months ago
This current period of postmodernity lacks a certain idea of permanence which our forebears once possessed. So much of what this civilisation produces, if one could still deem it such in its hyper-atomisation, is ethereal and consumable in a way that amounts to a sort of permanent revolution. Even those who still build tangible things in this society risk having no legacy. One only needs to think about all the mid-twentieth century modernist and brutalist architecture we destroy, to replace with not too dissimilar glass boxes, when considering the lifespan of today’s skylines or infrastructure.
If civilisation is to thrive once again, we could do worse than looking to a great visionary in our past as inspiration for a better future. I therefore propose Sir Edward Watkin (1819-1901) as an ideal role model for both his repeated proposals of grand projects and the almost surprising feasibility of all of them. I think it is worth first to give a historical account of him, then suggest a grand project based on his ideas.
In short, Watkin was the quintessential Victorian railway baron, yet so much more. The energy he possessed during his life was nothing short of astounding and went far beyond the railways for which he is mainly remembered today, but those achievements remain a good place to start.
From his first position in the industry as Secretary of the Trent Valley Railway in 1845 until the completion of the Great Central Main Line in 1899, Watkin’s presence was felt just about everywhere. ‘The Railway Doctor’ rescued the bankrupt Grand Trunk Railway in British North America and transformed it into the then longest railway in the world. His chairmanship of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway forged a vast network of lines across the industrial North West and North Midlands. He drove the Metropolitan Railway deep into the Middlesex countryside and beyond, ultimately creating swathes of London suburbia and a bevy of other towns. He steered the South Eastern Railway through the Panic of 1866 and further expanded it through that part of England. He became director of the Great Eastern Railway in 1868 and drove it out of bankruptcy, employing the help of fellow MP Viscount Cranbourne, later the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and Prime Minister. He advised on railways in four continents and built the last main line in Great Britain until High Speed One over a century later. I might add that this list, however impressive it might be, is not exhaustive.
The ever-restless Watkin was not content with merely the above. Whilst saving the Grand Trunk Railway, he was enlisted by the Cabinet to take part in talks to create the Dominion of Canada. This resulted in a buyout of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which he personally negotiated after the British and colonial governments refused to do so. Elsewhere, he pioneered the first public parks in Salford and Manchester, as well as the first footpath in Britain dedicated for public use going up Mount Snowdon. Watkin developed Grimsby into the largest fishing port in the world and neighbouring Cleethorpes into a major Victorian resort. In 1894, he opened a large pleasure garden with a football pitch in a rural parish where the sheep outnumbered the people called Wembley. Readers might have heard of it. Again, this list of achievements is not exhaustive, and I am omitting most of Watkin’s political work in this article for the sake of brevity.
However, Watkin’s life and works were not without their faults, of which he is best known for two. The first was the Channel Tunnel, the only link in his envisioned railway from Manchester to Paris which was not built during his lifetime. He and his French counterpart successfully tunnelled 3.6 miles out of 22 under the English Channel before the British government forbade further work in 1882. This was the point when his contemporary critics pointed and said ‘now he really has gone mad’, but Watkin proved it was entirely possible over a century before the modern tunnel commenced digging. The site under Shakespeare Cliff and his twin tunnel design were both adopted in the 1980s. When the machine drilling the current tunnel broke into Watkin’s forcibly abandoned project, the engineers found it was dry after over a century of sitting abandoned.
The second mark against his reputation was the Metropolitan Tower, intended as London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower and the centrepiece of the aforementioned Wembley Park. The winning design from Watkin’s competition was to be 1,200 feet tall, 150 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower at the time, and the tallest structure in the world until the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931. If it had been completed, it would still be the tallest building in the United Kingdom today. Unfortunately, this would-be monument to heroic materialism was scuppered by a lack of willingness from investors to fund such an extravagant speculation. The first stage was finished in 1895 at a height of 154 feet, but a redesign several years prior to cut costs had already sealed its fate. Only four of the planned eight legs of the tower were built, putting too much pressure on the ground and leading to subsidence. Watkin’s Folly, as it had become known, met its fate via dynamite in 1907. Wembley Stadium now stands on the site, with its arch rising to 436 feet to serve as the constant advertisement Watkin had once hoped for his tower.
It is safe to say that if Watkin were on the parts of Twitter frequented by many readers of this publication today, he would be regarded as a radical Anglofuturist. His manifold ambitions demonstrate an absolute faith in the United Kingdom and its future at the forefront of global civilisation. With knowledge of some of his ideas, energy and determination, one can now imagine a grandiose yet entirely feasible project to strike a course away from national stagnation and decline.
We shall call it the Great Central Railway Company, a fitting revival of a name for what one can foresee as the backbone of a coherent and comprehensive railway system for modern Britain. This cannot be a state venture as most modern railway projects have become, subject as they are to hordes of overpaid bureaucrats and special interests. The GCRC would be a private company naturally responsible for every part of its operations and with the logical aim of out-competing Grant Shapps’s reheated British Rail in every way.
It would first be useful to lay out the technical and aesthetic quirks of this company’s core railways. China has been extremely industrious in its construction of very high-speed lines over the past decade or so, thus Britain can and should do the same. Our trains would be the old British-made InterCity stock on steroids, which one shall call the InterCity 325, with a top speed of 325kmh. It might be pandering, but perhaps we should also incorporate some ideas from the Mallard steam locomotive in these trains; it relates nicely that the refurbishment program for the InterCity 225 carriages was called Project Mallard. Aside from being a rather nice shade of blue, its curved front still maintains a surprisingly modern appearance despite it being over 80 years old.
Infrastructurally, this company would not mess around with glass boxes or minor ventures. GCRC main lines would have four tracks as a minimum to separate the local and freight trains from express services. Stations would be of a two-platform island design, plus as many more platforms as needed for express and branch line services. Smaller stations would be built with a dignified but cosy atmosphere in mind, whilst the larger stations would be designed akin to a palace for the people as the Great Central Railway’s Nottingham Victoria once was. I am quite sure this would actually turn out to be cheaper and more visually appealing than doing something artsy with glass and/or steel for the millionth time.
Now for some actual railway lines, of which I shall discuss two focussed around tunnels once thought of by Watkin. We shall start with what could be called the New Eastern Main Line at Dungeness, which Watkin once wanted to turn into a resort town like Cleethorpes, and strike northwest by ‘borrowing’ a rather straight freight line across the Romney Marsh. We shall carry on until Tenterden, whence it would curve slightly to brush by the east of Headcorn and then go on to Maidstone. There would have to be some urban negotiation by viaduct, as there would be in the Medway conurbation, before emerging into the open countryside of northern Kent around Wainscott. It would then move north, go under the Thames to Canvey Island, and begin its whistlestop tour of eastern English towns. It would travel past Benfleet, Hadleigh and Rayleigh (with interchange for London), then Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford and Great Dunmow before reaching Stansted Airport to its east. Onwards it would go to Royston, Godmanchester and Huntingdon, then Peterborough (with a complete rebuild of its station) before reaching Spalding. In Lincolnshire, it would follow several mostly abandoned lines to Boston, Louth and Grimsby before ‘borrowing’ a couple more lines to reach a tunnel under the Humber at New Holland. We shall stop discussing this line in detail with Hull, with it having achieved Watkin’s plan of connecting Hull with the south, but from there it could easily go deeper into Yorkshire and beyond.
The other line I shall discuss will be the Great Central Main Line, but with a route beyond Watkin’s achievements which shifts this project from being defined by a semi-romanticised past for the sake of the present to defining the very future of this Kingdom. I think a new terminus next door to the original Marylebone but larger is fitting, then ‘borrowing’ the London to Aylesbury line from its current custodians. It would then follow the old railway up through Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, Sheffield and finally Manchester via the Woodhead Tunnels, but from there we must go further north. It would make its way through Salford and Bolton before reaching Blackburn and Preston. Then it would go in a straight a line as practical near the M6 to Lancaster, Kendal, Penrith and Carlisle before reaching the Scottish border at Gretna. The next leg of this line would see a rather straightforward journey through southwest Scotland, the only towns of note on the way being Dumfries and Newton Stewart. However, at Stranraer we must irrevocably change the political and economic trajectory of the British Isles with a tunnel under the Irish Sea to Larne and ultimately Belfast. There may be a large munitions dump in Beaufort’s Dyke which would merit some praying during construction, but the benefits of joining the two main islands of the United Kingdom, even those which are merely symbolic, cannot be understated.
One could envision the natural evolution of dozens of branch lines serving further towns and cities from just these two lines alone. Indeed, the entire national infrastructure network could reorient itself with just a handful of main lines inspired by Watkin’s vision, prompting a new era of construction which merges the functionality of technology with our primordial desire towards the beautiful. These railway lines would also give many counties much-needed economic relevance through the secondary emphasis on freight, a far more prevalent aim of the railways from Victorian times until Beeching, giving eastern counties in particular the opportunity to have purposes other than being London’s barracks or middle-of-nowheres.
All that is needed is the money and willpower to see this project through. With a new Watkin in our midst, I am sure that we can once again find the willpower, wherefrom the money would follow, to reassert our faith in this country by building something remarkable. I hope readers agree.
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