“Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.” -- John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)

[Review] The Silver Ships (The Silver Ships #1)

Series: The Silver Ships


Author: Scott H. Jucha


Paperback: 306 pages


Publisher: S.H. Jucha; 1st edition (February 10, 2015)


Language: English


ISBN-10: 0990594025


ISBN-13: 978-0990594024


Genre: Science Fiction (Space Melodrama & Utopian Sci-fi)


Publisher Description: An explorer-tug captain, Alex Racine detects a damaged alien craft drifting into the system. Recognizing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make first contact, Alex pulls off a daring maneuver to latch on to the derelict. Alex discovers the ship was attacked by an unknown craft, the first of its kind ever encountered. The mysterious silver ship’s attack was both instant and deadly. What enfolds is a story of the descendants of two Earth colony ships, with very different histories, meeting 700 years after their founding and uniting to defend humanity from the silver ships.


About the Author: Scott H. Jucha (ū•hă) has had an extensive career as a senior manager in the technical education and software development industries, with degrees in Biology and Broadcast Communications. He has been driven by an innate interest in computers since his initial adoption of an IBM PC in 1981. The Silver Ships are a planned five-book series with a potential spin-off in the works. His first attempt at a novel, entitled The Lureand written over three decades ago, was a crime drama centered around the surfacing of a 110-carat yellow diamond lost during the French Revolution.


About the Series: The Silver Ships is a series of full-length, science fiction novels that explore first contact between the descendants of two Earth colony ships, who landed on their separate planets, over 700 years ago. Jucha developed the concept for the sci-fi series in 2012, but it took a year before he found an efficient way to write. In November 2013, he created a series of cross-indexed documents in Word 2010 — a plot outline, the characters and backgrounds, and the objects, which listed the stars, planets, colonies, technical items and common goods. The process flowed afterwards.


~ * ~ * ~


This is a fairly simplistic, predictable and enjoyable space-opera adventure tale laced with romance. A young introvert named Alex Racine has been snaring ice asteroids with his spaceship for New Terra’s water-hungry outposts for some time when he finds a derelict alien craft and decides to make contact with it.


The beginning of the story is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. The use of applied physics for space travel in the first few pages gives a sense of realism and provides opportunities for later improvement. The interaction between Alex and the AI is fascinating.


However, once the drifting alien ship is saved and the rest of the surviving crew is revived from stasis, the story becomes dull and the writing turns clichéd. Alex becomes an infallible Defender of the Universe, who seems to possess super human powers that astonish everyone but himself. All of a sudden, every woman wants to bang him and every man swears undying loyalty to him. Alex’s home planet, New Terra, makes him an ambassador to the aliens (who are also human) in hopes of a technology exchange. While the Government of New Terra is scrutinizing him, Alex’s professor gets nasty in defense of Alex’s genius and honesty. Later, New Terra agrees to help the aliens (who are extremely attractive humans) fight real alien enemies in silver ships who may be threatening their home world, based on a vision that Superhero Alex has.


Characterization in the story is interesting. The aliens (who are human) are sexy and thin. They live in a world where there are no bad guns and only good people and highly advanced technology. However, other than shockers for the incorrigible, they seem to have nothing else.


Alex is seemingly constructed as a highly masculine space explorer with macho features and mannerisms. He has not only an exceptional physique, but also mental and personality virtues — which tends to draw women with raised levels of testosterone. He is sort of a good-faith and good-willed superman.


Then the superwoman Renée, leader of the other alien civilization, appears and likewise she is an extraordinarily beautiful and correct being. She is erotically electrified every time Alex is in the picture, and probably vice versa. The instant love affair between Alex and Renée is so slushy, cheesy and ludicrous that it succeeds as the very definition of romantic escapism. The future of humanity in the union of these two “cousins” augurs well. Everyone (including the AIs) seems to love Alex because it’s just impossible not to love him.


I didn’t like how the author portrays his fellow New Terrans — most of whom seem to believe that the Government takes care of its people, and offers good socialized medicine. The big bad wolf on New Terra is a conservative who is full of egocentric tendencies and serves up a buffet of buffoonery; his excessive mischief and guile are best exemplified in his stealing little alien secrets. Astonishingly, these New Terrans embrace the political failures of their home planet.


A majority of the novel offers too much of the “melo-” and not enough of the “drama.” Much of the novel revolves around assembling weapons to fight aliens and uncovering the conservatives’ dirty plot to garner technology for themselves. Nonetheless, the underlying concept is still captivating: two human civilizations, one named New Terra, the other The Confederation (or “cousins,” as the narrator calls them), who have been isolated from each other for about 700 years and spatially almost 24 light years apart, meet by chance and cooperate to battle aggressively irrational and “inhuman” aliens, who are attacking the planets of the Confederation. The author imagines these two “cousinly” human civilizations as some sort of edenic ideal; when they fled Earth in different spaceships seven centuries ago, they also left behind all kinds of social evils and imperfections. Over seven centuries, they have grown into quite distinct civilizations, making the others feel “alien” even though they are both actually human.


The enthusiasm of the narrator/author and the underlying concept have saved the novel.

The universe in which the story takes place is well-built, and cultural clashes are interesting. The book clearly lays the foundation for an expansive story to come, as the author spends a lot of time building relationships and setting the scene. It feels like the universe within the story could open up further when more and more “humans” are discovered. The silver ships referenced in the title most likely refer to some non-human aliens, which the reader will probably encounter in the next book.

Hunters in the Dark: A Novel - Lawrence Osborne

The prose borders on the surreal at times, with its trance-like sluggishness that seduces with its elegant descriptions of earth and ennui:

Here the trees sticking out of the surface were white as bone and draped with creepers. Driftwood floated idly past them, a few household items, broken birds' nests and strands of dark yellow flowers like garlands tossed from an abandoned wedding feast. …the dead fish lying on their sides in the sun, the crowns of interlaced branches. …On the banks lay upturned little boats, knee-high shrines and men fishing with poles at the edge of pale and impenetrable mangroves.



Hunters in the Dark: A Novel - Lawrence Osborne
— feeling amazing
"Karma swirled around all things, lending them destinies over which mere desire had no control. It made one’s little calculations irrelevant."


Grandville - Bryan Talbot The Grandville thriller series is a great idea, and the first installment here is brilliant. The author could have been a wordsmith alone if he hadn't turned out to be such a great cartoonist.

The author is so deft at weaving together his skein of plots, and the background detail is littered with delight and enjoyment that will anoint second and third and fourth readings of the book. He drops small hints and tips here and there throughout the book pointing out how things will go, and you hardly notice how efficiently and cleverly you are taken from plot twist to revelation to plot twist to revelation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the pace, energy and darkness of the plotting.

Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom

Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom - Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Death Note デスノート transcends the manga medium. The graphics are gorgeously drawn, and the story is powerful, climactic and maddening. It's the definitive hard-boiled mystery and a true classic of the century.


I first read this awesome デスノート manga series over 10 years ago I was still in my teens. I greedily absorbed myself in the vivid, suspenseful story over the next few years and even dreamed about being L エル a few times. I could never forget the excitement I felt when I lined up to see the Tokyo premiere of the film adaption in the summer of 2006.


Re-reading them recently opened a floodgate of memories and nostalgia... Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. デスノート drew me in years ago, and it still does.

For me, these manga novels are part of my adolescence and my coming-of-age. They are part of me.


デスノート will always be my favourite manga of all time, and エル will always be my favorite detective. It's one of those books that once you've read you will never forget and your life will never be the same.


Three More Words

Three More Words - Ashley Rhodes-Courter Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is a sequel to the author's 2008 memoir, Three Little Words, which I reviewed here.

This book chronicles Ashley's continuing challenges of dealing with her troubled childhood into adulthood, letting go of the past, learning to trust, opening up her heart, accepting and giving love. It tells stories of how she went through college, fell in love, struggled with body image and self-esteem, made peace with her past, accepted love, and adopted frail foster children.

You have to give to the world the thing that you want the most, in order to fix the broken parts inside you.
- Eve Ensler

From taking a leap of faith to spreading love to others, Ashley epitomizes the healing power of love, the strength of the human spirit, compassion, and resilience, and grace. Her inspiring story confirms that adults aren't prisoners of troubled childhoods.


I was shocked to learn that there are 130,000+ children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted. I hope her efforts to improve the failing foster care system will pay off someday.

And the "three more words" from the title are, as you probably have guessed, "I love you."


Three Little Words

Three Little Words - Ashley Rhodes-Courter Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


This is a deeply personal chronicle of the author's nine tumultuous years spent in 14 foster homes mainly in South Carolina and Florida. Born to a teenage mother, she was taken from her before she even turned 4 years old. Then she was juggled by a constant parade of caseworkers and so-called "mothers" before she eventually arrived at a secure and loving home at age 12.

During those 9 years of her troubled childhood, Ashley felt frustrated, abandoned, confused, neglected, and trapped. The chaos in overcrowded foster homes seemed overwhelming. For example, at the Mosses’ home, they enforced usually harsh discipline, including making children drink hot sauce. There, Ashley and other foster children suffered from hunger, manipulation and humiliation.

She does a good job of reporting her experiences from an innocent child’s perspective, but her narrative also shows interwoven complexity.

The three little words in the title were not "I love you," but "I guess so", taken from words that Ashley spoke at her adoption proceedings, when she was asked by the judge for her consent. She simply reply, “I guess so,” indicating her tenuous faith in not only in the system but also people in general.

Ultimately, her leap of faith paid off in her new home, where she was encouraged to tell her story as well as filing a class action suit against the Mosses.

Ashley’s heartfelt story exemplifies hope, resilience, and the healing power of love.


This book challenges an often overwhelmed and failing foster care system. I suppose it would be a pleasant read for any social worker involved in child welfare, foster care, or adoption, since this book offers great insight into the mind of children in transition. It would also be helpful to those considering adoption or fostering.

Please continue on to my review for the 2015 sequel, Three More Words.

In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love

In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love - Joseph Luzzi I spotted this book on a library bookshelf and was at once drawn by the book's title.

In La Divina Commedia, Dante's pilgrimage into himself and his past which rockets him out of the black hole of Self is also my personal story.


I will never forget that thunderstormy Sunday morning, when I caught a rare break from the rain and sat down on my front porch, and opened Dante's La Divina Commedia for the first time... And I was instantly transported into a phantasmagorical realm where I embarked on an adventure through Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory, and the spheres of Heaven with Dante.


Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita

- Inferno, Canto 1

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

As I proceeded, a thrill came over me, like how a child feels when, impelled by curiosity qualified by fear, it is about to venture into some unknown space. I descended slowly into the Egyptian darkness of inferno.

Although Dante described people, surroundings and objects with precision, they all seemed rather otherworldly.

In Longfellow's Victorian version of Dante's medieval allegory, I encountered a phantasmagoria of shadowy creatures through the fog.

Longfellow began translating Dante's La Divina Commedia at a somber point in his life -- after his second wife died in a fire. After Beatrice's death, Dante withdrew into intense study and composed a collection of poems dedicated to her memory, which became La Vita Nuova.


Instead of attempting hendecasyllables, Longfellow used blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). He followed Dante's syntax when he could, and wrote compactly in unrhymed tercets (the occasional rhymes appear to be accidental). The effect is nothing like Dante's sinuous tide of terza rima, but Longfellow's verse still flows melodiously, the cadence of the line pleasantly varied with both feminine and masculine endings. Overall, the style is plain rather than florid, economical rather than wholly natural-sounding.

In those verses, however, I had found myself -- the real "me" who had been lost in a noisy and distracting mass culture -- even though I couldn't be any further different from Dante or Longfellow.

I felt every word resonante inside me as if to comfort someone in me. I felt as if a long-lost friend had suddenly shown up right next to me, making the connection from the depths of his vocal box, to the cusp of his tongue, and out of his lips; the sound was traveling through the atmosphere, into waves, down the tubes of my ear and rattling the drums within.

What we once shared is now aged, like 100-year-old whiskey. But it's still there. Like an echo within a long tunnel, it bounces back and forth, prolonging the sound, sometimes even strengthening a particular tone. At some point, the resonance inside me felt so intense that my soul was close to rupturing and spilling out into the world.

That evening, when I finished the last page of La Divina Commedia, the rain had already tiptoed away. I looked up and saw a low-hanging sun which had just come out from behind clouds. The last orange rays of the setting sun illuminated the western sky and fired the edges of the single cloud, like bold brush strokes on a dark canvas. Poignant, yet harmonious. The dust had been laid by the heavy shower; the air was bracing and mild with a refreshing scent of rain-drenched earth; the last song of the birds was sonorous; the patches of trees across the road were resplendent in the rays of the dying sun, which shot golden shafts through the leafy masses. Every phase of that peaceful evening was lovely and appealed to my senses. Surrounded by calm solitude, I settled into the rhythm of a quiet pace as a reflective mood descended...


I lost count of how many times I had silently looked into the mirror and felt mesmerized by the deep darkness of my pupils. Yet that night, when I closed my eyes, there was a much lesser degree of darkness, for the sensations of the glowing western sky still lingered.

"Comedy" is so called from comos, a village, and oda, a song; whence comedy is as it were a "rustic song"... It differs, then, from tragedy in its subject-matter, in that tragedy at the beginning is admirable and placid, but at the end or issue is foul and horrible. And "tragedy" is so called from tragos, a goat, and oda; as it were a "goat-song," that is to say foul like a goat, as appears from the tragedies of Seneca. Whereas comedy begins with sundry adverse conditions, but ends happily, as appears from the comedies of Terrence.

- Dante Alighieri, L'Epistola XIII a Cangrande della Scala

Dante’s poem speaks profoundly to the human condition on several levels. It is an adventure story, a portrait of the cosmos, a moral discourse, an allegory, and a means to stimulate reflection on higher realities, all at the same time. It is also the chronicle of a profound psychological crisis, and how that crisis was resolved. It all begins with a realization that one is in a “dark wood” -- an awareness of one’s own lostness and confusion. Dante the pilgrim (the protagonist of the poem, not its author) starts his journey to enlightenment by walking through the chaos of his own soul.

The Inferno brings a cinematic vividness to this journey. It is not an exhaustive taxonomy of sins, but rather an allegory of the condition of deep sinfulness. For Dante, the worst sins are not lust, gluttony, or greed, but sins against the things that make us most human. The foulest sin of all -- Treason -- is punished at the bottom of the pit mine of Hell, where Lucifer dwells.

Through this tour of the infernal regions, the pilgrim Dante is awakened to the reality of sin and and of his own responsibility for the disorder in the world and in his own soul.


This examination of conscience caught me by surprise. One of the most memorable encounters of the entire Commedia is when Dante finds the Lustful punished for eternity by being blown around endlessly, like leaves in a gale. The Lustful spent their mortal lives carried uncontrollably on the gusts of passion, so now they must spend eternity in perpetual turmoil.

Consider how your souls were sown:
you were not made to live like brutes or beasts,
but to pursue virtue and knowledge.

- Inferno, Canto 26

This is a stirring noble truth.

The Purgatorio stresses moral reform. The procession up the seven-story mountain is the pilgrim’s purification through ascesis. This is his journey toward purging his memory of darkness and cleansing the heart.

Yes, the heavens give motion to your inclinations.
I don’t say all of them, but, even if I did,
You still possess a light to winnow good from evil,

and you have free will. Should it bear the strain

in its first struggles with the heavens,
then, rightly nurtured, it will conquer all.

To a greater power and a better nature you, free,
are subject, and these create the mind in you
that the heavens have not in their charge.

Therefore, if the world around you goes astray,
in you is the cause and in you let it be sought.

- Purgatorio, Canto 16

Here, Dante echoes Cassius:

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

- Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141

We humans all have inclinations toward sin, but we can still see good and evil and have the willpower to resist our evil inclinations. If we want a world of peace, order, and virtue, then we have to first conquer our own rebel mind and renegade heart.


The Paradiso exudes a rather contemplative nature. It tells of the pilgrim’s arrival at his true and only home. The journey from the dark wood, through Hell, Purgatory, and now through the overpowering immensities of Paradise, is about regaining the power of vision. First we see sin for what it is; then we see ourselves for who we are; and finally, we see reality for what it is.

The kinds of truth that art gives us many, many times are small truths. They don't have the resonance of an encyclical from the Pope stating an eternal truth, but they partake of the quality of eternity. There is a sort of timeless delight in them.
- Seamus Heaney


Dante’s pilgrimage, and the one I have taken with him, teaches me to see the world and myself as they really are and to cleanse my inner vision through repentance and self–discipline.

It's not surprising that Dante’s anagogical strategy has been an effective psychotherapy.

And I was delighted to stumble upon a book written by someone else who also feels a profound connection to Dante and his pilgrimage. In this deeply personal memoir, Luzzi chronicles the tragic death of his wife and the subsequent four-year journey to healing with the help of Dante's La Divina Commedia.


Our memories are stimulated by similarities. We recognize familiar faces. We remember old melodies. Our brains make connections -- synapses -- and similar connections create patterns. Our brains are always busy comparing a situation or sensation with others, looking for similarities so that it can organize our experiences into coherent life.

Dante and Luzzi both have Italian roots, both lost their loved ones, and both went into "exile." Luzzi intertwines his personal story following his wife's death with Dante's La Divina Commedia to show how he learned how to resurrect his life.

Dante's Inferno mirrors Luzzi's grief, the Purgatorio his healing and raising his daughter alone, and the Paradiso his rediscovery of love. Grief permeates the entire book.

Luzzi says,

“The Divine Comedy” didn’t rescue me after Katherine’s death. That fell to the love of my family and friends, my passion for teaching and writing, the support of colleagues and students, and above all the gift of my daughter. But I would not have been able to make my way without Dante. In a time of soul-crunching loneliness -- I was surrounded everywhere by love, but such is grief -- his words helped me refuse to surrender.

I was initially very intrigued by Luzzi's idea of parallels, but I was left with a bland aftertaste.

The first few pages seemed intensely emotional and gave me the impression that the author had found a significant emotional connection to Dante.

However, as I read on, this connection started to fade somewhat; at the end his narrative felt rather forced and incohesive, and the level of personal details overwhelming -- at least it seemed to me. In his reflections and meditations in the dark wood, Luzzi borrows heavily from Dante to remark on life, love and loss, and some of his quotations don't seem naturally or spontaneously placed into the narrative.

The author often deviates from the immediate storyline -- the devastating loss of his wife and his struggle to cope -- to include anecdotes from his college years and from his parents' lives. It appears the author deliberately devotes a lot of ink to the stories of his family members to illustrate his cultural heritage and how it has influenced every aspect of his personality, especially his relationships with different women.

Events are not organized in chronological order. He jumps around from scene to scene, from one point in time to another. I finished the book in one sitting and didn't feel I had a cohesive experience.

I think the best part of the book is the beginning. The first few bites tasted superb, the next few bites less so, and after a large amount, I had very little taste experience left at all. Flavor and satisfaction faded the more I chewed, and towards the end I badly needed some hot chili sauce.

I also felt as if I were riding a rollercoaster -- I was passing over the apex when I opened the book and read the first few pages, and then as I read more I accelerated down the hill toward the last page. I understand that the journey out of the dark wood can be painfully frustrating and excruciatingly slow, but the narrative of it doesn't have to be.

The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
- Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin

In terms of new or critical insight into Dante's La Divina Commedia, I don't think I have gained any from this book. And my interpretations of and perspectives on Dante's La Divina Commedia may be very different from his.

Nonetheless, kudos to him for having the courage to document possibly the toughest and darkest period of his life. I surmise that the process of writing this book forced him to relive the tragedy from which he had not yet fully healed (and hopefully it was effective bibliotherapy), as the process of writing this review has led me to re-experience the moments of bewilderment when I rediscovered my long-lost self through Dante's poem.

Overall, 3.5 stars.

For Dante and for all of us, one proper goal of life is to be united in love (meanings vary), to perceive all things as they really are, and to harmonize our relationships with others.



Timeline - Michael Crichton A story about time-travel through the multiverse using quantum technology.

Robert Doniger, the brilliant but abrasive president of International Technology Corporation (ITC), has invented a new time-travel technology based on quantum physics. With this discovery, people can be squirted into the past and returned to the exact same place, through wormholes in the quantum foam.

In Crichton’s typical style, ITC simply wishes to profit from this new technology regardless of the law. (It seems that, in Crichton’s world, the rapacious, unethical companies headed by avaricious, unscrupulous white men like Doniger always come up with the best ideas or technology.)

Meanwhile, a team of archaeologists led by Edward Johnston, Regius Professor of History at Yale, is studying of the ruins of the village of Castlegard in France. The village and its nearby monastery were the site of the 1357 hanging of Lady Claire, the sister of Arnaut de Cervole, and her martyrdom led to inspire the French to victory in the Hundred Years War.

Johnston gets trapped in 1357 France and leaves a handwritten message in parchment. Doniger needs to bring him back, but only to avoid a public-relations nightmare. So ITC sends Johnston’s graduate students (Kate Erickson, Josh Stern, and François Dontelle), Scottish archaeologist André Marek, and Johnston's son Chris -- all of whom are archaeologists rather than survival experts -- on the rescue mission.

In this novel, although it's impossible to transfer physical items any larger than the scale of the quantum foam from one parallel universe to another, it is possible to strip a large object such as a human being down to its bare minimum information and inject this string of binary code through a wormhole into an incredibly similar yet still different universe, where it will be automatically reassembled. And because some tremendously similar parallel universes haven't progressed quite as far along the timeline as our universe has, we can in effect travel into the past. And it doesn't really matter when we set off as long as your arrival point in the past is correct.

I was initially intrigued by the central idea of the book, which ties together elements of time travel, medieval knights and castles, fighting, and suspense.

The first 1/3 of the novel is slow, and the action doesn't pick up until the gang of archaeologists show up in 1357 France. The bulk of this novel is stuffed with relentlessly tedious adventures that seem more fitting for a multiple-choice game.

Crichton spices up the story-telling with his usual "weapon of mass distraction" -- scientific jargon and high-tech toys -- but he does clarify the "spookiness" of quantum physics enough for the general reader with little or no scientific background (although some of his arbitrary time-travel rules may not be scientifically plausible).

His description of 14th-century France is lacking -- it hardly exudes any historical French ambiance or conveys any complexity and tension to historical events during the bloody Hundred Years War between England and France.

The characters appear to be crudely constructed and mono-dimensional. Marek, Hughes and Erickson are given only the bare minimum traits (The Hot Dog, The Chicken, The Athlete). Johnston is just the Professor. And Doniger is the Evil Billionaire. There is no depth or complexity to their personalities. Bad guys are just ruthlessly bad.

Also, the dialogues feel powerless, and the text a little flat-footed.

The ending feels rushed, unsatisfying, monotonous, and perhaps even predictable. The plot makes a 180-degree turn in the very last minute for the good guys who repair the device just in time to send the bad guys back. And then the two compassionate couples live happily ever after.

I somehow got the vague impression that Crichton wrote this book just so a blockbuster movie would be made based on it! (Yet the 2003 movie adaption by Richard Donner didn't earn a high rating.)

The Scottish Enlightenment

The Scottish Enlightenment - Alexander Broadie image

Alexander Broadie is Professor of Logic and Rhetoric at the University of Glasgow, a chair once occupied by Adam Smith. It only seems appropriate that he has penned a history of the Scottish Enlightenment.

While this book styles itself as an introduction to the achievements of the Scottish Enlightenment in science, philosophy, history, economics, etc., it actually reads more like an "apologia," in the most classical literary sense: The author spends less time explaining the Scottish Enlightenment than justifying and glorifying it.

I also detected a slight undercurrent of self-congratulation running through the text: A bulk of the author's rhetorical intent seems to be the argument that Scotland was and is to this day an "Enlightened" country. He defines "enlightenment" by the public embracing of values such as tolerance and the free exchange of ideas. The author makes a legitimate point that Scotland was among the places where these values first became mainstream, even though such values are commonplaces of Western self-identity and features, to greater or lesser extent, of most every liberal democracy.

A greater concern is the lack of recognition of the dark realities of the Scottish Enlightenment, which makes this work unbalanced in voice and limited in scope. The author leaves out two important facts:
1) that all the great luminaries of the Enlightenment were men -- the first such mention of which is accompanied by a brief account of the iniquitous social conditions of women who had few if any opportunities to participate in a major intellectual moment; and
2) that the great men of the era liked it this way -- which is not mentioned at all.

Both facts are unfortunate implications of the Scottish Enlightenment’s augmentation of the imperial ideology and practice, i.e., racist ethnography and slave-ownership in the name of "progress". Both certainly deserve a mention, if not an in-depth investigation, when introducing the general reader to such an important historical era.

Despite its flaws, this work remains a readable and accessible introduction to the Enlightenment era in Western intellectual history. The thematic take on the ideas of this period is refreshingly different (exemplified by the absence of hagiography of major figures such as Hutcheson, Hume, and Reid).

One caveat -- this work is decidedly apologetic in tone and fails to note the unsavory realities of the Enlightenment.

Adam Smith Across Nations: Translations and Receptions of the Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith Across Nations: Translations and Receptions of the Wealth of Nations - Cheng-chung Lai Adam Smith

This fine collection of scholarly essays examines the translations and receptions of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (WN) in 10 non-English-speaking countries -- China, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Russia -- and the applications of Smith's economic ideas of across nations, cultures and ideological boundaries.

Translation Speed
The speed with which WN was translated into major European languages may have owed much to Smith's previous book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). TMS was published in 1759, and the first translation of TMS was published in French in 1764. The first translation of WN came out in German in 1776, in the same year as WN was published.

Number of Translations
Japan has the most (14) translations of WN, whereas Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Finland, Holland, and Turkey each has only one version.
Sweden bestows Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, but it doesn't yet have a complete translation of WN (because most Swedish intellectuals can read English-language works?).
Germany, Japan and Spain all show a continuous interest in WN.
In countries where there is only one translation, it's generally a selective or abridged one.

Motives for Translation
1) The desire to learn from England's experience as a powerful empire (China, Russia, Spain);
2) a strong inclination towards free trade (Portugal, Brazil);
3) intellectual rather than practical interest (Denmark, Norway, France, Germany).
The case of Japan combines all three motives.

Methods of Transmission
1) direct translation (by those who knew Smith personally);
2) conveyance of Smith's ideas into another country (two Russian students studied with Smith at Glasgow University and brought his ideas back to Russia);
3) assimilation of WN into one's own system of economic discourse (France).

Problems of Translation
1) false editions (based on non-English text);
2) unidentified translations;
3) censorship (Spain);
4) traduttore, traditore (rewriting rather than faithful translation in China).

Cross-country comparative study of the receptions of, and objections to, WN is fragmentary and superficial
1) It's difficult to say exactly how much of Smith's apparent influence on the European continental free trade movement was in reality due to other liberal thinkers;
2) it's equally difficult to separate the practical influences from the scientific ones, since economic thought affects both science and practice;
3) it's even more difficult to distinguish in what proportion Smith's influence on the European continent was due to his ideas, and to what degree it was due to his style, and the charming personality it expressed.

5 topics are selected to illustrate the complicated issue of receptions
1) difficulties of receptions [the general intellectual and economic environment was not yet mature enough to receive Smith's theories; resistance to Smithianism by the dominant current of economic thought → Cameralism in Germany];
2) WN's impact on decision-makers...turned out to be fairly limited;
3) the free trade and laissez-faire doctrine as the most received message...not evenly spread across countries
> Italy → liberalism & free trade;
> Portugal → division of labor and freedom in production & trade;
> Russia → natural freedom of industry & refrainment of government intervention;
> Spain → greater freedom in colonies;
4) the lack of interest in Smith's theoretical investigation [most of the countries except France gave little attention to other important issues raised in WN besides free trade -> education, public debt, capital accumulation, division of labor, etc.];
5) receptions of WN by Marxist readers [left-wing economists in China, Japan, and Russia dismissed WN as bourgeois and outdated → heavily influenced by Marxist tradition of economics].

Objections to WN
Harsh objections to Smith's free trade and laissez-faire principle were voiced in Russia, Germany, China, Spain, and Sweden.

Smith had great scientific success and little direct influence on economic policies of these 10 countries during the past two centuries; his contribution was more at the level of ideas than of real policy.
France, Italy, and Spain developed their first ideas of free trade ahead of Adam Smith.
The idea of free trade spread across the European continent through the works of the physiocrats rather than WN.
In non-European countries such as China and Japan, it was certainly through WN that the ideas of free trade and laissez-faire were transmitted.

Dr. Alexander Hamilton and Provincial America: Expanding the Orbit of Scottish Culture

Dr. Alexander Hamilton and Provincial America: Expanding the Orbit of Scottish Culture - Elaine G. Breslaw image

A cultural biography of Dr. Alexander Hamilton (26 September 1712 - 11 May 1756), a highly educated Scottish physician who immigrated from Edinburgh to Annapolis, Maryland in 1738 (not to be confused with the famous Founding Father).

Hamilton is primarily known for his 1744 lively and opinionated travel diary (itinerarium and a text on his quest which is reminiscent of, but perhaps far less dramatic than, Don Quixote's), which provides a wealth of information about mid-18th-century American society.

The Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton, 1744.

Hamilton's massive satirical account of Maryland politics and society titled The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club is considered by academia to be a canonical work of early American literature.

This book makes a new argument for Hamilton's historical importance. It describes him as the foremost of several highly-educated Scottish emigrants who modeled and promoted an enlightened urbanity within the British colonies. Hamilton's "legacy to America" was that he transmitted a cultural self-confidence across the Atlantic by transplanting a Scottish belief "that it was possible to create proud traditions out of local experiences."

The book explores Enlightenment-era Scotland in a broad context as a climate of improvement, sociability, and refinement and points out the connections between Hamilton's work and the ideas of other Scottish thinkers (e.g., David Hume and Charles Mackie). The author contends that Scottish intellectual culture first reached America through the efforts of relatively obscure persons in removed places.

Dr. Hamilton’s story illustrates the metamorphosis of an early American immigrant into a citizen sharing a new, but as yet unrecognized, national identity...

This story of Dr. Alexander Hamilton is not just the biography of one man; it is the story of how a piece of Scotland’s intellectual world and its own germinating Enlightenment was transplanted into new soil, took root, and was molded by a new social and economic environment.

This book unlocked a treasure trove for me. Not only did I learn more about the influence of Scottish Enlightenment in colonial America, but also I got to tap into the early roots of American vacations.

When Hamilton set out in 1744 on a horseback journey "intended only for health and recreation," he was doing something highly unusual in the America of that day: travelling for pleasure. Most settlers struggled with the notion of taking time off from work -- it generated anxiety because industriousness and discipline were the virtues that supposedly led to success not only for individuals but for the nation. Leisure and idleness led to danger, a distrust that derived from Puritan beliefs. The work ethic, which was also identified with the idea of a republic as opposed to the idleness of monarchy, dominated early America. The tension between work and play persisted in American culture to this day.


In the following two decades, a handful of other colonial gentry were seeking relaxation and fresh air at such seacoast spots as Newport, Rhode Island, and mineral springs at such primitive retreats as Berkeley Springs in Virginia and Bristol near Philadelphia. They were among America's first "vacationers," although few would use that word to describe them until the mid-19th century. Vacationing began as a privilege of the elite in colonial America, a rougher version of British and European visits to spas and grand tours.

From there, American vacations have developed into a mass phenomenon firmly entrenched as part of the American way of life. Economic prosperity and industrialization, the railroad and then the automobile, helped spread the idea of the "leisure trip" rapidly among the burgeoning white middle class in the 19th century and among factory- and office-workers in the 20th, eventually drawing in all Americans across class, racial, and ethnic lines.


Capitalism As a Moral System: Adam Smith's Critique of the Free Market Economy

Capitalism As a Moral System: Adam Smith's Critique of the Free Market Economy - Spencer J. Pack This careful exposition of Adam Smith's major and minor works shows that Smith actually had severe misgivings about the moral desirability of the system of capitalism. Capitalism as a moral system troubled and disturbed him, but he nevertheless came out in favor of capitalism, because
1) the system of capitalism that Smith advocated was capable of generating continuous economic growth. It was capable of increasing the wealth of nations and the material well-being of the common people; and
2) as undesirable as the system of capitalism was, Smith felt that any other socioeconomic system which frail humans were capable of organizing would probably be worse than the system of capitalism. For Smith, human nature makes any other system inferior to capitalism.

The author attempts to demonstrate that Reagonomics flagrantly misused Smith's authority. Smith was not for deficit spending, increase in military spending, income redistribution schemes in favor of the rich, or dogmatic laissez-faire forms of capitalism. Smith himself was not an unequivocal supporter of the system of capitalism.

Chapts.2-3 detail Smith's Wealth of Nations. Because of this work, Smith is often considered to be the father of the economic theory of free trade.

Chapt.4 draws several obvious conclusions from WN and shows that Smith was not in favor of regressive tax schemes which tax lower-income people proportionally more than higher-income people.

Chapt.5 investigates Smith's TMS and shows that, for Smith, human happiness is largely a function of the status a person has in human society and not solely dependent on consumption.

Chapt.6 covers several methodological issues. It uses lecture notes from Smith's student to argue that Smith's presentation of WN may have been deliberately "Socratic" in nature. Smith may have deliberately used as "smooth and engaging" a writing style as possible to slowly win over his potentially hostile audience. It also argues that Smith had his own well-developed conception of science.

Chapt.7 explores Smith's "Lectures on Jurisprudence." It shows Smith had developed a 4-stage theory of socioeconomic development in which capitalism is only one stage.

For me, this rebuttal is almost too brief to be effective or persuasive. The chapters are short and the book is thin.

Overall rating: 3.5 / 5

The Impartial Spectator: Adam Smith's Moral Philosophy

The Impartial Spectator: Adam Smith's Moral Philosophy - D.D. Raphael This collection of scholarly essays examines Adam Smith's theory of moral sentiments.

Even though Adam Smith always considered The Theory of Moral Sentiments to be his most authoritative work, it never achieved the same prominence as his other work, The Wealth of Nations. TMS has often been misunderstood for at least two reasons:
1) Many of the commentators have been economists who have looked at TMS simply in order to find some relevance for WN. This gave rise to the so-called "Adam Smith problem" -- an inconsistency between the psychological assumptions of the two books.
2) A failure to note whether a particular passage was written for the 1st (1759) or for the 6th edition (1790). The 1st edition reflected Smith's youthful idealism, whereas the 6th edition included a whole new part, on the character of virtue, and other revisions. In fact, it was so drastically altered that it could be considered a different book altogether.

The primary purpose of this work is to expound a "theory" of ethics. Here, "theory" is a name for the subject matter, rather than the theory in Smith's TMS. The content of the book consists primarily of philosophical analysis of Smith's theory of moral sentiments, focusing on the two key ideas of "sympathy" and "impartial spectator."

Each of the 14 essays is analytical, effective, and well-written.

The Art of Thinking Clearly

The Art of Thinking Clearly - Rolf Dobelli image

A compilation of brief summaries of 99 commonly known psychological fallacies in logical thinking. Each chapter is 2-4 pages long and covers one such fallacy. Enough breadth, but no depth.

I might add a 100th error: Depth and Breadth Illusion. In most circumstances, breadth does little to compensate for the lack of depth; likewise, depth can rarely sufficiently compensate for the lack of breadth.

I think the epilogue is more "authentic" than any other part of the book. In the very last chapter, the author finally explains what thinking errors are, what irrationality is, and why we fall into these traps.

He gives three explanations of why we persistently make mistakes:

1) Evolutionary psychology convinces us that it pays to be wrong about the same things.
Thinking is a biological phenomenon. Evolution has shaped it just as it has the forms of animals or the colors of flowers.
In our hunter-gatherer past, activity paid off more often than reflection did. Lightening-fast reactions were vital, and long ruminations were ruinous. If your hunter-gatherer buddies suddenly bolted, it made sense to follow suit -- regardless of whether a saber-toothed tiger or a boar had startled them. If you failed to run away, and it turned out to be a tiger, the price of a first-degree error was death. On the other hand, if you had just fled from a board, this lesser mistake would have cost you only a few calories. It paid to be wrong about the same things. Whoever was wired differently exited the gene pool after the first or second incidence. We are the descendants of those homines sapientes who tend to flee when the crowd does. But in the modern world, this intuitive behavior is disadvantageous. Today's world rewards single-minded contemplation and independent action. Anyone who has fallen victim to stock market has witnessed that.

[Evolutionary psychology] explains the majority of flaws, though not all of them. [...] Some bugs in our thinking are hardwired and have nothing to do with the "mutation" of our environment.

Why is that? Evolution does not "optimize" us completely. As long as we advance beyond our competitors (i.e., beat the Neanderthals), we can get away with error-laced behavior.

2) Our brains focus on reproduction rather than the search for truth -- we are prone to being persuaded and convinced.
A second, parallel explanation of why our mistakes are so persistent took shape in the late 1990s: Our brains are designed to reproduce rather than search for the truth. In other words, we use our thoughts primarily to persuade. Whoever convinces others secures power and thus access to resources. Such assets represent a major advantage for mating and for rearing offspring. That truth is, at best, a secondary focus and is reflected in the book market: Novels sell much better than nonfiction titles, in spite of the latter's superior candor.

3) We often make decisions based on our emotions and intuitions rather than logic and reason.
Finally, a third explanation exists: Intuitive decisions, even if they lack logic, are better under certain circumstances. So-called heuristic research deals with this topic. For many decisions, we lack the necessary information, so we are forced to use mental shortcuts and rules of thumb (heuristics). [...] In short, we often decide intuitively and justify our choices later.

And the author's solution?
To make things simple, I have set myself the following rules: In situations where the possible consequences are large (i.e., important personal or business decisions), I try to be as reasonable and rational as possible when choosing. I take out my list of errors and check them off one by one, just like a pilot does. I've created a handy checklist decision tree, and I use it to examine important decisions with a fine-tooth comb. (Comment: I hope the author will be able to resist the deception of checklists and combat the feature-positive effect, as he outlines in Chapter 95) In situations where the consequences are small (i.e., regular or Diet Pepsi, sparking or flat water?) I forget about rational optimization and let my intuition take over. Thinking is tiring. Therefore, if the potential harm is small, don't rack your brains; such errors won't do last damage. You'll live better like this. Nature doesn't seem to mind if our decisions are perfect or not, as long as we can maneuver ourselves through life -- and as long as we are ready to be rational when it comes to the crunch.

Although the book is moderately interesting and entertaining, I couldn't help but ponder the point of publishing such books as this. A quick index of logical fallacies? More publicity for the author?

Perhaps the most valuable part of this book is the Note on Sources.

I doubt that "the art of thinking clearly" can be cultivated by merely reading through this list of 99 thinking errors. Rather, the art of thinking well and clearly can be mastered and refined only through trial and error, one improvement after another.

My rating: 2.5 / 5

(neither liked nor disliked this book)

Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift, Robert DeMaria Jr. What a stinging satire on English politics.

The most intriguing is how Gulliver's mindset has changed over the course of four discrete voyages and comes to think of his circumstances differently upon his return home.

The allegories and satire appear to elude many who simply look at the story at face value for entertainment without trying to understand the author's intent or interest in the story behind the story.

This book was highly influenced by the political events of the English Civil War and that of the Protestant/Anglican in-fighting. Some things seem astonishingly prescient that they have changed very little in nearly 400 years. A few examples:

1) Seemingly trivial differences in religious doctrines between different groups often become of tremendous importance and lead to acrimonious civil conflicts and eventually wars, compared to the long and bloody war between the Big-Endians and Little-Endians caused a disagreement over where to crack eggs. (The Small Endians break their eggs on the small end, while the Big-Endians break their eggs on the large end.)

2) The Whigs and Tories waste a massive amount of energy and resources on political infighting, represented by the two Lilliputian political parties separated solely by the aesthetic choice between wearing high heels and low heels.

3) Billions of dollars of research grant (taxpayers' money) are wasted on "silly science" today, like the "shrimp on a treadmill." [Here] [And here], exemplified by the years of research expended by the Royal Academy scientists in Laputa on extracting sunshine from cucumbers or mixing paint by smell.
The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face…[H]e has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate...

Swift's exploration of imaginary societies is full of humor, irony, and exaggeration, and effectively exposes and criticizes the stupidity of English politics at that time, although he falls short on delivering resolutions or ideas for improvement.

Swift’s commentaries are often insightful and piercing, but sometimes harsh and unforgiving to the point where narrative eloquence and lyrical quality (which I've expected to find in classic literature) are sacrificed for the sake of crushing causticity.

A major argument that Swift makes in this novel is that balance and moderation are the keys to success, individually and collectively. However, I occasionally find Swift's bitter irony a little excessive and extreme. For example, when Gulliver returns home from the land of the Houhynhnms and is greeted by his wife and children, he feels the utmost shame, confusion and horror. To me, this borders on straight-out misanthropy. Sarcasm may employ ambivalence, and sarcasm doesn't necessarily have to be jarringly ironic.

Also, some of Swift’s critiques seem lifeless and didn't strike any strong chord with me.

Despite the legacy of this work, I find the prose hardly enjoyable or memorable.

This is just how I saw it. Glad I read it.

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