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Who was the great villain of the 20th century—the person most to blame for the evils of those decades? The stock answer is the person whose name is an anagram of “HEIL! OLD FART.” I disagree. It seems to me the title properly belongs to Lenin, the guy who really got the totalitarian ball rolling.... Read More
I have been reading Paul Johnson’s new short biography of Dwight Eisenhower. This fulfills a long-standing intention of the feebler kind—a velleity, Bill Buckley would have said. Thus: In his 1983 book Modern Times, Paul Johnson made a point of talking up U.S. presidents then regarded by orthodox historians as second-rate or worse: Harding, Coolidge,... Read More
The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, John H. McWhorter
Chinese has an extraordinary number of verbs meaning “carry.” If I carry something on a hanging arm, like a briefcase, the verb is ti; on an outstretched palm, tuo; using both palms, peng; gripped between upper arm and body, xie; in my hand, like a stick,wo; embraced, like a baby, bao; on my back, bei;... Read More
The title I wanted for my 2009 call to pessimism was We Are Doomed, Doomed. The publisher thought that was too dark, though, so I settled at last for just one “Doomed.” A good thing, perhaps, as the original title is now available to authors reaching for a deeper level of despair. David Archibald might... Read More
Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts, by Charles Fernyhough
How far back is your earliest memory? What age? In a recent Canadian study cited by Charles Fernyhough, the average was four and a quarter years. “Very few memories dated from before the age of about two and a half.” I’m out in the early tail of that distribution. My family moved from cramped rented... Read More
The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity, by Pedro G. Ferreira
On November 25, 1915, Einstein presented his new equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in a short three-page paper,” this author tells us. Thus was the General Theory of Relativity born, after of course some years of gestation inEinstein’s remarkable brain. With the centenary of that event almost upon us, a historical survey is... Read More
What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night, Edited by John Brockman
Fifty-five years ago British novelist, mandarin, and ex-scientist C.P. Snow gave a lecture at Cambridge university titled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution." Snow deplored the mutual aloofness that, he said, existed between scientists and those educated in the humanities. The lecture set off a major public debate, and the phrase "two cultures" was... Read More
Hard Road Home, by Ye Fu
Taking humanity at large, perhaps the greatest service any person of our time could perform for future generations would be to bring rational, consensual government to China. That such a populous nation, with such high general levels of industriousness and intelligence, and with such a glittering cultural legacy, should be ruled by a clique of... Read More
The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting, by Alfie Kohn
Child-raising is something everyone can have an opinion about. We were all children once. We interacted with other children—siblings, classmates. If we are middle-aged, we have probably raised children of our own. Many of us have worked as teachers, struggling to engage with half-formed juvenile minds. Practically everyone has a good base of experience to... Read More
Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, edited by John Brockman
Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the public lecture, at which some person of eminence or accomplishment would address a hall full of curious citizens. The Internet equivalent is supplied by nonprofit foundations like Edge.org and TED.com, which spread interesting ideas by inviting thinkers to give online talks. Thinking is... Read More
Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John A. Alford
The sentry in Iolanthe wondered at how “Nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative!” He was right to wonder. For most of the past few decades, however, his suggestion that our personal... Read More
“The book that people are reading now,” according to Lion of the Blogosophere, is Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age. I hastened to buy a copy and read it…so you don’t have to! The authors are professional Deep Thinkers with positions at the MIT Center for Digital Business, which you can read about at... Read More
Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China, Stephen Roach
China forecasting is a mug’s game. The terrible example before us all is Gordon Chang, who in 2001 published a book titled The Coming Collapse of China, which predicted that within five to ten years the Communist Party would be chased out of power amid social and economic breakdown. (I reviewed the book here.) As... Read More
The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us, by Noson S. Yanofsky
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice / Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice.” Dr. Johnson didn’t know the half of it. Not only does reason play a dismayingly small part in human affairs, but reason itself has built-in limitations that prevent our employing it in many cases where we should like... Read More
In a recent edition of Radio Derb I mentioned the advantages of moving to Iceland but added: “The downside is, you have to not mind living on a volcano.” One listener—there’s always one—saw my volcano and raised me a supervolcano, attaching this news clip: This hasn’t actually happened since 637,987 BC, but the boffins reckon... Read More
Computing: A Concise History, Paul E. Ceruzzi
This time last year all I was hearing about was MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses, in which university-level instruction, sometimes by big-name lecturers, is provided free over the Internet to anyone who wants it. Some visionaries were talking about MOOCs eventually bankrupting traditional universities. Apparently that’s not going to happen. There is a niche for MOOCs,... Read More
Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars, by Lee Billings
In The Principles of Philosophy (1642) Descartes lamented: "We do not doubt but that many things exist, or formerly existed and have now ceased to be, which were never seen or known by man, and were never of use to him." Descartes didn't know the half of it. As our understanding of the natural world... Read More
Sincerity: How a Moral Ideal Born Five Hundred Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars, Modern Art, Hipster Chic, and the Curious Notion That We All Have Something to Say (No Matter How Dull), by R. Jay Magill, Jr.
The word “sincere” first showed up in written English in 1533, the author of this useful book tells us. It came with, or soon acquired, a very pretty etymology, from the Latin sine cera, “without wax”—the wax that dishonest masons and sculptors used to disguise defects in their products. Alas, the etymology is false: “Sincere”... Read More
In last week’s Radio Derb I uttered some unkind words about Oprah Winfrey. The week before that, in a VDARE column, I had been uncharitable about the movie Ms. Winfrey has been so vigorously promoting recently and in which she takes a leading role. The movie’s called The Butler and tells the story of a... Read More
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, by Allen C. Guelzo
To write a book about the Battle of Gettysburg is as audacious an enterprise as Robert E. Lee's Pennsylvania campaign itself. Allen Guelzo, in this book's Acknowledgments, tells us that the 2004 edition of a standard bibliography lists 6,193 "books, articles, chapters, and pamphlets on the battle," along with a 128-page magazine, published twice yearly... Read More
I was slow on the uptake in understanding Chinese communism’s awfulness. I’d been a lefty in my student days without knowing anything much about China. Toward the end of those days, female Chinese author Han Suyin published A Crippled Tree, an account of her parents’ lives in early 20th-century China written from a standpoint of... Read More
As a science geek from way back—Andrade and Huxley were favorite childhood companions—I try to keep tabs on that side of things. This can be disheartening. To quote from that intergalactic bestseller We Are Doomed: Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens... Read More
The Milky Way: An Insider's Guide, by William H. Waller
A Palette of Particles, by Jeremy Bernstein
The British philosopher J.L. Austin coined the handy phrase "medium-sized dry goods" to describe the world of everyday phenomena that the human nervous system is best suited to cope with, phenomena ranging in size from a grain of dust to a landscape. Within that range our senses and cognition are at home. All our intuitions... Read More
Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, by Roger Scruton
Thus Rev. Thwackum, the schoolmaster in Tom Jones. That was the 1730s, or about halfway through Roger Scruton's Our Church. The Rev. Thwackum is drawn satirically, but his smugness was well justified. The religious passions of the previous century had subsided or been pushed off to inconsequential border territories in Ireland and the North American... Read More
War and Democracy: Selected Essays 1975-2012, Paul Gottfried
The last time I saw Paul Gottfried was at the Mencken Club bash last November. At one point between lectures I passed him in a hallway having an animated conversation in French with some French visitors. A year or so before that, Paul and I were both speakers at Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society... Read More
Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing, by Peter Kreeft
Seeing that the first sentence in the first paragraph of the first chapter of Peter Kreeft's book Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing is a quote from C.S. Lewis, my suspicions were aroused right away. Kreeft hastened to confirm them, quoting Lewis again four pages further on, and again eleven pages after that, then four pages... Read More
Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, by George Dyson
This year marks the centenary of British mathematician Alan Turing, whose researches in the unlikely and very abstruse field of mathematical logic did much to create the world in which we now live. In 1936 Turing published a paper titled "On Computable Numbers" in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society. The paper received almost... Read More
Crusader: The Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan, by Timothy Stanley
Has Pat Buchanan been fired from MSNBC, or hasn't he? Pat hasn't been seen on the channel since October, when his last book came out. (I reviewed it for TakiMag here.) MSNBC president Phil Griffin said a month ago that Pat was being kept off the air because of things Griffin found objectionable in the... Read More
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker
In this, his most ambitious book to date, Steven Pinker describes, and attempts to explain, a curious historical phenomenon: the decline in all kinds of violence among human beings, from pre-civilized times to the present. The first thing one wants to ask is: Has there actually been such a decline? Given the tremendous wars and... Read More
Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kids Into College, by Andrew Ferguson
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, by "Professor X"
One of the strongest pieces of evidence that our civilization has descended into madness was offered by National Public Radio in April 2007. NPR's Robert Siegel was interviewing Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates and custodian of a new $60 million education reform initiative the Gates foundation was launching. "Can we reasonably expect 100 percent... Read More
Suicide of a Superpower, by Patrick J. Buchanan
One of the schoolmasters in charge of my Religious Instruction — Anglican, of course — used to say that a good hymn is one that leaves you feeling absolutely terrible. I feel the same way about Pat Buchanan's books. By this measure, Suicide of a Superpower is a very good Buchanan book indeed. With chapter... Read More
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
Such Is This World@sars.come, by Hu Fayun
There has never been a good time to be an honest writer in Communist China, but the present is an exceptionally bad time. Spooked by the "Arab Spring" and jostling for position in next year's scheduled leadership changes, the Party bosses have been coming down hard on every kind of independent thinking. The cases of... Read More
The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, by Jim al-Khalili
I used to attend regularly at an office of the New York City government to transact some business with a very pleasant young female African American city employee. On the wall of her office was a poster listing, in quite small print, all the scores of inventions and discoveries that, according to the poster, African... Read More
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks
If the proper study of mankind is man, it has taken a remarkably long time to get that study on a truly scientific footing. From the founding of the Royal Society to the present has been more than 350 years, yet only in the last 50 of those years have quantified, replicable results about human... 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 Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III, by Peter Byrne
Quantum mechanics (hereinafter QM) is famously odd. As Peter Byrne notes in this book: The measurement problem is especially knotty. Down in the subatomic realm, each of the particles that constitute matter is smeared out over a volume of space in a manner described mathematically by a "wave function." When an observer interacts with this... Read More
Men versus the Man: A Correspondence between Robert Rives La Monte, Socialist, and H.L. Mencken, Individualist
————————— ————————— Let me do a little scene-setting here. It is March of 1910 — just 100 years and change ago. William Howard Taft is in the White House; Edward the Seventh, very nearly Taft's equal in girth, was on the British throne. China's last Emperor was in the Forbidden City, and the Russian Empress... Read More
The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election, by Garland S. Tucker III
The 1924 presidential election was, on the face of it, a snoozer. The major-party candidates were Calvin Coolidge (Republican) and John W. Davis (Democrat). Both were conservative — sensationally so by today's standards. As Garland Tucker notes in this enjoyable and informative book: "There were … very few philosophical differences between Davis and Coolidge." Both... 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 Movie: Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim
Being at a loose end Monday afternoon, I took a subway down to the Landmark Sunshine movie theater on East Houston Street, nostalgically close to my first foothold in the U.S.A. I was curious to see this new education movie, Waiting for Superman, and Landmark Sunshine was one of only two theaters in New York... Read More
Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic, by Michael Scammell
Coming face to face with one's favorite author, Arthur Koestler warned an admirer in 1975, is "a bit like having a wonderful meal of goose liver and then meeting the goose." Something similar applies to reading a really thorough biography of a writer one has long admired. Michael Scammell's new biography of Koestler was ten... Read More
Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, by Eric Kaufmann
Did you know that Osama bin Laden has twenty-five children? And that his Dad had fifty-four? (Osama seems to be number 17.) Bin Laden Sr. was careful never to have more than four wives at a time, though, divorcing older wives in order to marry younger ones, thus staying within the proper Koranic bounds. Like... Read More
————————— 1. Gulliver's Travels By Jonathan Swift 1726 One component of curmudgeonliness is the Cold Eye, seeing humanity plain. Jonathan Swift saw us rather too plain. The "savage indignation" he wrote of in his own epitaph was rooted in the disgust, physical and moral, he felt toward people. His famous satire Gulliver's Travels — about... Read More
Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, by Robert Weissberg
Front page headline in my New York Post this morning: The accompanying story describes a further dumbing-down of state math tests for kids in grades 3 to 8. Half marks are given for fragments of work; also for wrong answers arrived at via correct methods: "A kid who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48... Read More
One of my National Review colleagues recently declared himself "flummoxed by the fact that Two and a Half Men is the top sitcom in America." If any TakiMag readers are in a similar case, let me try to deflummox you. T&aHM has been running on CBS since the fall of 2003. It is the brainchild... Read More
It's always stimulating to discover a quality writer you didn't know before. For a conservative, it's doubly stimulating if the discoveree is of the same persuasion. And in an age when the middlebrow novel is as close to extinction as … well, as the Book of the Month Club, a conservative middlebrow novelist is water... Read More
Intellectuals and Society, by Thomas Sowell
It is a commonplace observation that very smart people often have no sense. Writers since Aristophanes have been making sport of their intellectual superiors. Jonathan Swift had the academicians of Lagado striving to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. Twenty years ago Paul Johnson wrote a fine book titled Intellectuals, in which he tossed and gored such... Read More
The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, by Nicholas Wade
With this new book, New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade positions himself as a serious challenger to Steven Pinker for the title Best Living Popularizer of the Human Sciences. Wade's 2006 book Before the Dawn was a masterly survey of current knowledge about our deep ancestry, informed by recent discoveries in genetics and archeology.... 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.


Personal Classics
Limbaugh and company certainly entertain. But a steady diet of ideological comfort food is no substitute for hearty intellectual fare.
Once as a colonial project, now as a moral playground, the ancient continent remains the object of Great Power maneuvering