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The New Criterion

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All our fashionable blather about "diversity" notwithstanding, we live in an age of ethnic disaggregation. Czechs and Slovaks, Serbs and Croats, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Abkhazians and Ossetians and Georgians, have all separated after centuries of cohabitation. The Flemish and Walloons of Belgium look set fair to do the same. The Jews are long gone... Read More
Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl
One of history's more curious encounters occurred in early March 1766 at a country estate in southern England, near Dorking. The estate belonged to Daniel Malthus, a gentleman of independent means and wide intellectual interests. The philosophers David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were traveling in the neighborhood, seeking a house for Rousseau, who had just... Read More
Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, by David Wootton
Galileo, by J.L. Heilbron
I didn't make it to the First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism, held in South Bend, Indiana on the November 6 weekend. I was interested, and badgered some editors to expense the trip, but no one thought it worth their funds. Nor have I read the 1,048-page, two-volume book Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was... Read More
The Uses of Pessimism, by Roger Scruton
Pessimism and optimism are the two ends of a spectrum that spans one of the many dimensions of the individual human personality. We observe that any given human being has a disposition that does not stray far from some particular point on that spectrum; that this disposition appears early in life, and may very well... Read More
The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes
May 7 this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" speech in Cambridge, England. There were some scattered commemorations. Roger Kimball, writing in the February 1994 issue of The New Criterion, had already noted the naïvety and incoherence of Snow's arguments, yet allowed that there was a grain of truth in them:... Read More
The Poems of Mao Zedong, edited and translated by William Barnstone
The Belgian sinologist Pierre Ryckmans (pen-name "Simon Leys") was once asked for his opinion of Mao Tse-tung's poetry. He replied: "Well, if poetry were painting, I would say that Mao was better than Hitler … but not as good as Churchill." Ryckmans' quip[*] suggests the moral dilemma in confronting Mao's poetry. Imagine yourself at an... Read More
This all began some weeks ago with an email out of the blue. "Russian translation of PRIME OBSESSION," declared the subject line. The sender was identified as Alexei Semikhatov. Prime Obsession is a book I published five years ago, an attempt to give a popular account of a great unsolved problem in higher mathematics. The... Read More
The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton
Modernist composer Anton Webern predicted that mailmen on their rounds would one day whistle his atonal non-melodies. Three-quarters of a century later I see the following in a 2006 report from the National Academy of Sciences. The report labors under the title Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and... Read More
The great fifteenth-century treatise on witchcraft Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of the Witches") includes a lengthy discussion of the question: "Is it a Catholic view to maintain that witches can infect the minds of men with an inordinate love of strange women, and so inflame their hearts that by no shame or punishment, by no words... Read More
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben with a foreword by Al Gore
"In Nature," said Coleridge, "there is nothing melancholy." I don't know about that. I suppose there are lots of people who will greet American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau with joy, but both politics and temperament predisposed me against the book. I had agreed to review it in a moment of weakness, but when it... Read More
The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott
In the early weeks of 1984, for an hour each Tuesday and Sunday evening, a strange silence fell over England, or at any rate over the bourgeois precincts thereof. Streets were deserted; bartenders and waiters dozed idle at their stations; theaters and cinemas played to half-empty houses; telephones and doorbells went unanswered. The English middle... Read More
Charles Kingsley
My mother, when vexed by some family misfortune, was wont to console herself by murmuring: "Men must work, and women must weep, and the sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep." It never occurred to me, until I was fully grown, to seek out the original of those words. They come from a poem, "The... Read More
Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis, by Dan Rockmore
The author of a pop-math book must decide, before he sets finger on keyboard, how much he is going to demand of his readers in the way of willingness to engage with actual mathematics. As is often the case in writing, what is easier for the author is more difficult for the reader, and vice... Read More
Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics, by David Berlinski
The relevant library shelves in the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences hold no less than eighteen different general histories of mathematics in English. The author setting out to write yet another such book must therefore have an angle (so to speak), some original approach to the topic. What is David Berlinski's angle? "Short" doesn't cut... Read More
http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Reviews/Considerations/duggan.html
————————— It is no use making any large claims for historical fiction. As is the case with with science fiction, the historical genre certainly has its masterpieces; but with very few exceptions — Henry Esmond, perhaps, War and Peace, and one or two others — even these masterpieces are understood to dwell in a realm... Read More
An African in Greenland, by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
Our dinner guest a few weeks ago got to talking about the thing we always get to talking about with dinner guests, The State of The Culture. He must have been drinking from the well of Evolutionary Biology, because that is the angle he came at it from. There are (he claimed) tropical cultures and... Read More
Newton: The Making of Genius, by Patricia Fara
I picked up this book thinking it was a biography of Newton. Thus disposed, I picked it up with some reluctance — and then, only after two or three weeks of procrastination. That Sir Isaac Newton was a tremendous genius, there is no doubt at all. There are excellent arguments for the proposition that, so... Read More
Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, by Peter Wood
A few weeks ago I happened to acquire a copy of Carleton Coon's 1965 book The Living Races of Man. What a gem! Coon was an anthropologist — was in fact Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. His book is a world-wide survey of human types, with a thorough classification into races and... Read More
Metaphysics is out of fashion. There is, as department-store sales assistants say, not much call for it nowadays. The word "metaphysics" does not even occur in the index of the current best-seller about human nature, Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, nor does Prof. Pinker's text betray any interest in the topic. Most of us, if... Read More
Let me begin with a story, a true story — the story of my one appearance on a lecture stage with Dr. Henry Kissinger. This happened, or rather failed to happen, in the month of September, 2001. The U.S. State Department runs a Foreign Visitors Program, under whose auspices people from various parts of the... Read More
Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way, By Laozi
The connection between simple-life quietism and the political Left has often been noted. Orwell, in his diatribes against the armchair progressives he so despised, never failed to include, along with Trotskyite poets, pamphleteering pacifists and "pink" sodomites, the legions of sandal-wearing, vegetarian, teetotaling tree-huggers he knew so well from Independent Labour Party summer schools. Among... Read More
Life at the Bottom, by Theodore Dalrymple
There is an odd conservatism in the common perceptions of life in other lands. I grew up among English people who still thought of France — a rather stuffy and puritanical country in the 1960s — in terms of the "Gay Paree" of seventy years earlier, a place of unbridled license and monocled boulevardiers swilling... Read More
The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal, by James Franklin
What do we know, and how surely do we know it? The general answer was given by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics: certainty can be found only in mathematics, all other knowledge being to some degree doubtful. Much evil has been let loose upon the world by defiance of, or exaggeration of, this simple truth:... Read More
The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibnitz to Turing, by Martin Davis
The Computer and the Brain, by John von Neumann
That is from Bertrand Russell's autobiography. What was stumping him was the attempt to find a definition of "number" in terms of pure logic. What does "three," for example, actually mean? The German logician Gottlob Frege had come up with an answer: "three" is merely the set of all threesomes, the set of all those... Read More
A Life of James Boswell, by Peter Martin
Boswell's Presumptuous Task, by Adam Sisman
Published in 1791, the Life of Samuel Johnson became famous at once, but left everyone baffled that such a tremendous masterpiece could have been produced by James Boswell. The biographer was regarded by those who knew him as a talentless buffoon, and by others as something even less. Macaulay, most famously, pronounced Boswell "… one... Read More
Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Discourses on Reflexology, Numerology, Urine Therapy and Other Dubious Subjects, by Martin Gardner
I find it difficult to speak temperately about Martin Gardner because I owe him so much. As a child in England, my keenest intellectual pleasure was reading Gardner's monthly "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American. Along with a handful of books like Kasner and Newman's Mathematics and the Imagination and George Gamow's One Two Three... Read More
Strolling around Disneyland this summer, re-acquainting myself with Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Mister Toad, Simba, and so on, the following reflection occurred to me: That these strange imagined characters were originally (at one slight remove, in Simba's case) the creations of some very bourgeois persons. Barrie, Grahame, Milne and Kipling were conventional, sober, uxorious,... Read More
Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Harry Kessler, edited and translated by Charles Kessler
Germany, let's face it, did not have a good century. To start one war and lose it might be misfortune: to do the same thing twice looks very much like carelessness. And wars aside, there is the dreadful, indelible blot of the Holocaust. It needs some effort of imagination to see how surprising all this... Read More
How fortunate we are! After eighty-five years of assorted errors and miseries, the human race has emerged into sunlit uplands. There is no major war, nor any visible prospect of any. Utopian socialism, the principal motive for revolutions throughout the industrial age, has been discredited beyond hope of revival. There is hardly a city anywhere... Read More
The Book on the Bookshelf, by Henry Petroski
Going out on a limb here, I shall hazard a guess that readers of this periodical are more bookish than the average. Probably they have all, like this reviewer, wrestled with the problems of organizing and shelving their books. The subject matter of Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf will therefore be close to... Read More
The Nothing That Is, by Robert Kaplan
Suppose I ask you to step into the next room, count the people in there, and report the answer back to me. What is the smallest number you can report? Obviously the answer is zero, corresponding to the case when there are no people at all in the next room. Thus it is plain that... Read More
I was actually reading one of J.F. Powers' books when I heard news of his death in June this year. I imagine there are very few people who can make the same claim: Powers' modest body of work (two novels, three short story collections) has been out of print for years. But for a chance... Read More
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John Derbyshire
About John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.