A few books that have made me


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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29 Responses

  1. Mike Schilling says:

    As a committed teenage leftist, I was determined to remain unmoved by The Fountainhead. At that age, I think it’s impossible to find Rand’s romantic individualism totally unappealing,

    I was twenty; perhaps that’s why I found nothing worthwhile in it at all.

    but I was able to convince myself that Rand’s writing was hackneyed, her characters two-dimensional, and her ideology heartless.

    The first two are inescapably true. I’d never heard of Rand at the time (I read the book because a girl I liked recommended it), and didn’t try to reason out the thing’s ideology. I just slogged my way through it, lied that I thought it was “really interesting”, and asked her out to dinner to talk about it.Report

    • Will in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Tell me true, Mike Schilling. Did you really find Howard Roark totally unappealing? Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will says:

        Honestly. I’ve never admired either self-absorption or self-righteousness. (And that was years before I started to work in software, and could identify Roark as the prototype of the prima donna not to be touched with a ten-foot pole, no matter how talented he might be.) Though I confess that I’m pretty immune to architecture, so I had no real feeling about Roark’s ability, except that the author insisted he was a genius. If I’d really believed that, it would have been at least one more item on the other side of the scales. As it is, I won’t play the sap for him.Report

    • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Well whatever else we can say about Rand there’ll always be this; Bioshock and Bioshock II. In my little corner of existence that justifies her alone.

      Plus the woman was as screwy as a bag full of Philips heads. Have you ever read about her personal life?Report

      • Jivatman in reply to North says:

        I know that the friendship between her and Murray Rothbard ended after she repeatedly harassed his wife with anti-Christian rants (she was an episcopalian).Report

        • Freddie in reply to Jivatman says:

          How about the fact that her inner circle was a cult in every definition of the term, that she coerced much younger men from her philosophical school into having sex with her and excommunicated them if they refused, that she repeatedly and publicly asserted that a particular serial killer was the ideal of the modern man….Report

          • North in reply to Freddie says:

            Exactly Freddie. For a person who believed strongly in not giving anything away for free Rand was quite generous with giving away free entertainment.Report

            • Scott in reply to North says:


              I thought she believed that it wasn’t okay for the gov’t to take what you have and give it away to moochers for free.Report

              • North in reply to Scott says:

                Far as I know she believed in that as well, yes.

                If any of Rands writings or characters issued full throated endorsements of charity then I don’t recall hearing about them. I’d be charmed to be corrected though.Report

      • JosephFM in reply to North says:

        And Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin.Report

  2. Freddie says:


    Broadly shared… well. Isn’t that just the thing.Report

  3. Kyle says:

    Total tangent but Paul Kennedy is hilarious and a lush.

    At a symposium on imperial power I remember him asking some hypothetical involving the US spanking France. I don’t think anyone had a clear idea what he meant but as far as indistinct terms indicating military action of some kind go, it’s certainly one of the more absurd yet amusing I’ve heard.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    “I don’t approve of mixing ideologies,” Ivanov continued. “There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and human, declares the individual to be sacrosanct. and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community – which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb. The first conception could be called anti-vivisection morality, the second, vivisection morality. Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to mix the two conceptions; in practice, it is impossible.”

    My goodness. I believe I am going to have to read this guy…Report

    • Freddie in reply to Jaybird says:

      A totally polar, Manichean binary of ideology? Really? I was surprised that Will quoted it approvingly, and I’m surprised that you do, too. Rigid, right and wrong binaries (“there are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles”)… that just screams of juvenalia to me.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Freddie says:

        I’m a pretty juvenile guy, at the end of the day.Report

        • Freddie in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yeah but I mean, I know you don’t like that kind of thing. Or so I remember.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Freddie says:

            What? Manichean binary of ideologies?

            No, I’m pretty much a fan. I just have different things that appear on my “matters of taste” and “matters of morality” list than others likely do.

            I still very much believe that it’s “wrong” to attempt to legislate matters of taste and, on top of that, it’s “wrong” to act in opposition to what is “moral”.

            I go into more detail… ah, I won’t link it again. If you haven’t read it by now…Report

        • Will in reply to Jaybird says:

          No one ever accused Koestler of nuance, but I won’t apologize for being intensely moved by that passage. Some of it was context – it’s hard not to be touched by anti-totalitarianism when you’re visiting a country that still bears the scars of a brutal Soviet occupation. But some of it is taking comfort in knowing that human dignity is important, and a fierce belief that human beings shouldn’t be treated instrumentally.Report

          • Simon K in reply to Will says:

            The spirit of it is indeed intensely moving, apart from the unnecessary reference to Christianity. But its also obviously wrong. Every time we observe that it might be better to save 10,000 lives than fix one person’s broken hip, given the choice, or we’re implicitly, in Koestler’s mind, putting ourselves in the same camp as the Nazis and Bolsheviks. There are Libertarians, and even some Conservatives, who really do seem to believe that’s the case, but I’m certainly not one of them.Report

            • Will in reply to Simon K says:

              I don’t think that passage is talking about resource allocation. There’s a clear moral difference between deciding person X shouldn’t get a hip transplant because we need to feed 10,000 starving people and deciding person X needs to be sacrificed to achieve some socialist utopia.Report

  5. Scott says:

    I have to give a nod to Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country and The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & PowerReport