The Chosen Peoples by Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz -- The authors discuss the idea of chosenness - especially related to the Jews of old, America and the state of Israel - and how it has shaped world events. They also touched on the "unchosen" or people other than these who believe they are also Chosen (e.g., Muslims).
"The idea of chosenness by a single God, having shaken a polytheistic world millennia ago, set off aftershocks that continue to shake the ground well into our own day. And there is, in principle, no limit to the violence that can be justified against a people who were, after all, stamped long ago with the mark of Cain." (pg. 173)
A Short History of the Jewish People by Raymond P. Scheindlin -- a very readable, and somewhat interesting look at the Jewish people from ancient to modern times. I had these two things on Facebook at one point.
On September 1, 1939 Poland was the country with the highest concentration of Jews in the world and was the main center of Jewish religious and cultural life.
How crowded was the Warsaw ghetto? When all 400,000 of its Jews were required to live within the 840 acre ghetto and then an additional 150,000 refugees were crammed into that space, the density reached THIRTEEN PERSONS PER ROOM, and homeless people were dying of exposure, hunger and disease in the streets.
From Plato to NATO by David Gress -- the big book I started on my birthday and finished on June 8 (my goal was to finish it by the end of August)
A few things of note:
A Roman "peculiarity" -- "To a Roman, as to a Greek, the most basic freedom was freedom from slavery, or, as in Herodotus, from foreign occupation. But Roman freedom included another aspect that related more directly to later Western notions. This was the idea of freedom as the right of the citizen not to be abused by the government, the freedom that implied equality before the law, and that was guaranteed by time-hallowed and solemn laws and by designated officials. Roman libertas in this sense had little to do with the Greek idea that the mark of the free citizen was that he participated equally in political decisions. The government of the Roman Republic was elected by a small number of rich and influential people and the republic was always an oligarchy. So in Rome, to be free meant that however insignificant the citizen, there were certain things the government could not do to him, because he was protected by laws that stood above any government." (pg. 99)
"Americans prided themselves on being innovators and free of the past; Europeans, including the revolutionaries of France, prided themselves on continuity. Even the sign of the eagle changed character after its migration. In an amazing feat of symbolic transformation, Americans succeeded in defining their eagle as a bird of freedom and defiance, rather than symbolizing military conquest and the power of an authoritarian state." (pg. 125)
I found this cute: "In 269, in an ominous precedent, Gothic hordes invaded Greece. Their king told his men not to burn the libraries of Athens, because as long as the Greeks could study, they would not fight." (pg. 146)
"Many people in the West, including many in the liberal Anglo-Saxon democracies, believed that war was a test of national manhood and that periodic wars were necessary to purge the nation of degeneracy, which tended to spread if peace lasted too long. Angell recognized these ideas, but assumed they would die out and become unacceptable, just as, for example, the slave trade had become unacceptable to Europeans in the space of a single generation at the end of the eighteenth century. In the past, values had changed, sometimes quickly, and in modern society, value change was coming quicker still. Therefore, those who spoke of 'unchangeable human nature' and insisted that war was a permanent fact of life were - according to Angell - mistaken." (pg. 340)
"The praise of toil in the Georgics was unusual and subversive in antiquity. Greeks and Romans considered earning your bread by the sweat of your brow dishonorable; not having to work was the mark of the full citizen. In such a culture, Virgil's praise of the iustissima tellus, the most just earth, which yielded its fruits only to hard human labor, was original. Virgil's message in the Georgics, that all human life depended on the soil and therefore on labor, was, with Christianity, one of the reasons the later West turned the classical order of social and economic values upside down. Thus, where antiquity despised the man who had to work to buy his leisure time, the West, and especially America, regarded such a man more highly than the rentier, the 'man of leisure.' Work, in the West, ennobled the worker; in antiquity, it degraded him and made him unfit for the highest civic callings." (pg. 366)
"Pity and compassion, to the Greeks, were comprehensible only if they served pride and the drive for fame. To ancient philosophers, from Plato ... to Marcus Aurelius..., gratuitous pity 'was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up. It was an impulsive response based on ignorance. Plato had removed the problem of beggars from his ideal state by dumping them over the borders.'" (pg. 79)
"The Third Empire was a political and theological category and was not easily compatible with Hitler's own program, which is why he disliked and in 1939 forbade the phrase to be used." (pg. 385)
"Relativism, Gellner concluded, was 'an affectation, specially attractive amongst the more naive provincials in privileged cultures,' by which he meant American academics. It was popular among those who could afford it, who derived some moralistic and masochistic satisfaction from it, and who mistakenly believed that they were doing the rest of the world a favor by adopting it. But they were not; the poor countries did not want Western postmodernism but Western science and technology, and in particular the methods by which science and technology became prosperity. 'Precariously modernizing societies, with an uncertain grip on the new benefits, are perhaps a little less likely to indulge in an orgy of science-bashing. ... But a really rich industrial country,' like the United States, 'can and does afford the luxury of denouncing and renouncing it all.' It was therefore in America, where the liberal synthesis had worked best of all and was therefore taken for granted, that relativism found the most fertile ground." (pg. 511)
Iran:Empire of the Mind by Michael Axworthy -- This book explores Iranian history from Zoroaster to the present day (or 2007 since this is when it was published)
I found this interesting: "Since the 1979 revolution, Iranian women are subject to one of the most restrictive dress codes in the Islamic world, yet partly in consequence Iranian families have released their daughters to study and work in unprecedented numbers, such that over 60 per cent of university students are female and many women (even married women) have professional jobs." (xiv)
This was a pretty good book, covered a wide variety of topics and helped me better understand the Iranians and what shaped them. I must admit I struggled somewhat in following all the names, but I think I learned something so that's good!
The Call to Seriousness: The Evangelical Impact on the Victorians by Ian Bradley -- I can't even remember why I put this book on my Amazon Wishlist. I must have seen it recommended in another book sometime last year. It's not even a new book - as in, it came from a library. Likely they threw it out as too old to interest anyone. But, it was really quite interesting to me! These are Evangelicals of the Church of England sort. They greatly influenced the Victorian Age and, wow, about half the time I was really disliking these people when the author would share good things about them and I'd find myself admiring them. I could relate to much of this as it sounds like things I remember growing up. Things I may not have been taught, but practices that were from my grandparents' generation. Such as playing cards being a bad thing. We did it although we never gambled (a no-no in my circles). Attending the theater, reading novels, fairytales, dancing - all taboo amongst these Evangelicals. I guess the name of the book would tell you this: they wanted to be serious about life so amusements were frowned upon! Drinking alcohol in moderation was OK, however. This is different from how I grew up where alcohol was a terrible thing best avoided.
The Evangelicals showed how people could influence society by getting involved in politics. They wanted to impose their standards on the rest of society -- and not all of it was bad. Apparently English society was pretty rotten then and even many nonEvangelicals apparently liked some of the cleaning up of society that they legislated. While I might disagree with some of their stances - such as their desire to make people attend church on Sundays - on the grounds of individual freedom, I like some others as they were hugely involved in abolishing slavery and animals fights and working for better factory conditions for workers. They also contributed three-fours of the charity work in England and the author credits them with the volunteerism and charitableness of English people even today (or as of this book's writing anyway; it was published in 1976).
This is what I noted on Facebook about it:
I'm reading a book about the Evangelicals in England and their impact on the Victorians. They liked legislating morality and had their own policing tactics that makes me think of a mix between Communist regimes where neighbors spy and tattle on rule breakers and present-day Saudi Arabia and Iran. One guy was so into people observing the Sabbath that he introduced a bill which "included the closure of markets on both Saturdays and Mondays to prevent the necessity for Sunday travel"! Can you imagine? Thankfully the bill never passed and the guy was not re-elected, but still!