The Unz Review • An Alternative Media Selection$
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
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The Poincaré Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe, by Donal O'Shea
It is a well-known fact that our universe has three dimensions of space. Imagine for a moment that it had only two, like E.A. Abbott's Flatland, or A.K. Dewdney's Planiverse. What shape might it have? Well, it might be flat, like an infinite sheet of paper on an infinite tabletop; or it might curve round... Read More
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, by Peter Watson
Peter Watson's long book covers the entire history of humanity, in the tradition of H.G. Wells's Outline of History (1920) and Hendrick van Loon's The Story of Mankind (1922). His approach, as the book's title tells us, is to present the whole immense story as one of intellectual development, driven by changes in the way... Read More
Henry R. Luce, Time, and the American Crusade in Asia, by Robert E. Herzstein
I am not sure that the United States can claim full credit for having invented the weekly newsmagazine, but certainly that staple of modern middlebrow world culture was brought to full maturity by two Americans, Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden, co-founders of Time magazine, the first issue of which they produced in March 1923.... Read More
The Edwardians, by Roy Hattersley
I am not sure how much the title of this book means to an American reader, or what connotations the word "Edwardian" has over here. Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria, ruled Britain and her empire from 1901 to 1910. In the common usage of British people, though, the Edwardian age is always taken... Read More
Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, by Rebecca Goldstein
Out in the remotest regions of mathematics, far from the bustling and long-populated center, out where this great thriving empire adjoins the windswept badlands of philosophy, is the topic called Foundations. Here mathematicians use the techniques of their discipline to inquire into the nature of that discipline itself, into the very fundamentals of math: number,... Read More
Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, by Philip Short
"I have lived 78 years without hearing of bloody places like Cambodia," Winston Churchill was once heard to remark. Now, of course, we have all heard of Cambodia. It was there, in the 1970s, that one of the most drastic programs of social engineering in all of history was carried out. The Khmer Rouge, a... Read More
George Crabbe: An English Life, by Neil Powell
George Crabbe was a minor poet, floruit the couple of decades on each side of 1800. He made most of his living as a country clergyman. He published nothing but verse, took no part in public affairs, and had no interest in science, philosophy, art or music. He seems not to have noticed the Napoleonic... Read More
In Defense of Sentimentality, by Robert C. Solomon
Robert Solomon is a Professor of Philosophy ("and Business" — go figure) in the University of Texas at Austin. His particular beat is the philosophy of emotions ("and business ethics" — this must surely be some kind of brazen play for corporate funding). His latest book is a collection of eleven essays loosely united by... Read More
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris
There is a certain kind of atheist — we have all met him — who is not merely indifferent to organized religion, or puzzled by it, or scornful of it, but who is inflamed to purple rage by the contemplation of it. My own father was of this kidney. He would open conversations with perfect... Read More
A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle With the Modern World, by Rana Mitter
Until very recently Chinese intellectual life had a peculiar frozen-in-time quality. Intellectual fads that, in the West, had come and gone in the early or middle years of the twentieth century, were regarded as exciting and new. I can recall, around 1982-3, being eagerly quizzed by Chinese acquaintances about topics like existentialism, Esperanto, and psychoanalysis.... Read More
Secrets of the Soul, by Eli Zaretsky
In forming the way we think about our human nature, the three great names of the modern age have of course been Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Each placed the main action of the human drama on a different stage. Darwin set it on the greatest stage of all, that of Nature herself. For Marx it... Read More
The Right Nation, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
Before I get along with my review, let us just linger for a moment on this book's title, and on the names of the authors. The title I think we should blame on David Frum, author of, inter alia, books titled Dead Right, What's Right, and The Right Man; though possibly Frum was inspired by... Read More
Scouting for Boys, by Robert Baden-Powell
Robert Baden-Powell's book Scouting for Boys, first published in 1908, was a world-wide best-seller for several decades thereafter. In his 1990 biography of the Chief Scout, Tim Jeal says that this book "has probably sold more copies than any other title during the twentieth century with the exception of the Bible." Sales did not begin... Read More
Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire, and Betrayal, by Ethan Gutmann
Ethan Gutmann lived in China for three years, from late 1998 to late 2001. He went there with the hope of making a TV documentary about how capitalism and globalization were going to democratize China. He came back much wiser and sadder. InLosing the New China he presents a cold-eyed look at the Beijing expat... Read More
Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?, by David Fromkin
The First World War — "the war that was called Great," as the poet Vernon Scannell said — was the most tremendous event of the modern age, a jagged gaping fault line right across Western history. Even at a distance of ninety years it overwhelms the imagination. Sixty-two million men were mobilized; eight million of... Read More
Before Mao, by Patrick Lescot
One of the photographs collected at the center of this book has a great deal to tell us about Communism. Dated March 29, 1980, the photograph shows the late Chinese despot Deng Xiaoping face to face with an elderly European woman. Deng is seen in profile. He is wearing a Mao suit with some kind... Read More
Friendly Fire, by Elizabeth Pond
Wars, of course, unify us in a common purpose, and this was no less true of the Cold War than of any other. There were differences of opinion within the Western alliance throughout the Cold War period, but the common threat from the Soviet Union, formidable in armaments and subversive in intent, kept those differences... Read More
The Science of Good and Evil, by Michael Shermer
The God of the Gaps had a hard time of it in the 20th century. By 1900 thoughtful people had long since reconciled themselves to the fact that the Sun is not the chariot of a god, but a ball of incandescent gas whose apparent motions follow natural laws. They knew that lightning and thunder... Read More
China's New Order, by Wang Hui
Americans are usually a bit surprised to hear that mainland China has a vigorous culture of political and social critique. The dictatorship imposes some constraints, of course, and the political weather blows cold now and then, but tianxia da shi — the large matters of the world — are keenly discussed among Chinese intellectuals, and,... Read More
Father's Day thoughts.
In imperial China there was a popular handbook titled Twenty-Four Exemplars of Filial Piety. It contained improving little tales, from dynasties all the way back into dim antiquity, of persons who had been exceptionally dutiful towards their parents. (These fables can still be found in condensed form in the peasant almanacs sold in Chinatown around... Read More
The Art of the Infinite: the Pleasures of Mathematics, by Robert Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan
Mathematicians are uncomfortably aware that theirs is a "cold" subject. Though full of wonders and delights, it has little appeal to the tender side of human nature, little connection with the clayey appetites and longings of our everyday lives. There is a story about the great German mathematician David Hilbert. Noticing that one of his... Read More
To Begin the World Anew, by Bernard Bailyn
There are three color plates in this book, the central one, spread across two pages, a reproduction of Ralph Earl's 1792 portrait of Oliver Ellsworth and his wife. Ellsworth was a jurist and politician with an estate in Windsor, Connecticut. He was an important figure at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The federal court system... Read More
The Eagle's Shadow, by Mark Hertsgaard
We all have our political preferences. According to Professor Steven Pinker, those preferences are largely genetic in origin, and therefore pretty much immune to fundamental change. Even when a person switches party allegiance, his broad outlook remains the same. Winston Churchill went from being a romantic Tory imperialist to being a romantic Whig imperialist (and... Read More
Behind Deep Blue, by Feng-hsiung Hsu
In May of 1997 an historic event occurred: the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, lost a 6-game match to a computer, having never previously lost a professional match to anybody. The computer was a custom machine, designed and programmed by a team at IBM Research in Armonk, New York. It went by the name Deep... Read More
The Millennium Problems, by Keith Devlin
It is difficult to think of any literary enterprise more challenging than the presentation of advanced mathematical topics to a general audience. It is not just that math is hard; there is, as Keith Devlin noted in a previous book, The Math Gene, (and as Bertrand Russell remarked in the introduction to Principia Mathematica), something... Read More
The Dawn of Universal History, by Raymond Aron
Raymond Aron is probably known in this country mainly as the one important French intellectual of the last half-century who was not anti-American. This is not a bad starting-point from which to approach the man's writings. Born in 1905, he was a member of that "witness generation" well-placed to observe the entire astonishing spectacle of... Read More
At the End of an Age, by John Lukacs
Historian John Lukacs has a bee in his bonnet. He believes we are living at the end of an age. When I first encountered this particular bee, in Lukacs's peculiar 1998 not-novel A Thread of Years, I put it down to the sympathetic fallacy (Lukacs was born in 1924) and to what the author himself... Read More
Analyzing the History of a Controversial Movement
Becker update V1.3.2
The Shaping Event of Our Modern World
The Surprising Elements of Talmudic Judaism
How America was neoconned into World War IV