Downtime: A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe

A Man In Full was my first Tom Wolfe novel. It had been on my Must Read list for a few years and, when Tom Wolfe died, I finally ordered a copy.

It’s a beautifully observed, beautifully written book that shows you its worlds through the eyes of each character, immersing you in their perceptions and prejudices.

It is often referenced because of its use of Stoic philosophy and that seems to come on two levels.

There’s the slap-in-the-face-obvious storyline of a man in his hour of darkest need, who comes across a Magic Book. The constant references thereafter to Zeus  play to this surface reading, so I guess that may have been Wolfe’s intent.

However, at a more interesting and subtle level, all of the main characters go through something of a Stoic revelation. In each arc, we see and experience their  own version of  “being a man”, from former football hero and real-estate mogul Charlie Croker’s trophy-wifed, quail-hunting, plantation-owning,  machismo, through Roger White’s educated, elegant, professional career, to young Conrad’s desperation to provide for his family. As the story progresses,  each evolves a different – and perhaps more Stoic – view of what it means to be a “man in full”.

I enjoyed it enormously, yet I came away feeling slightly let down by the final 100 pages or so (of 740). They felt rushed and, I suppose, I wanted a slightly different ending.

That said, it’s well worth a read over the summer.

 

Downtime: Marcus Aurelius – Warrior, Philosopher, Emperor by Frank McLynn

We talk a lot about Marcus Aurelius, but often know nothing beyond the 100-odd pages of Meditations, the published collection of his private notebooks.

Frank McLynn corrects this with a comprehensive biography of the famed philosopher-king. It’s a weighty read, but fascinating. I came away a much richer understanding of Roman history, economy, geography and military as well as some insight into the man and his beliefs.

I think it’s fair to say that McLynn is no Stoic himself, but it is interesting to understand the history of Stoicism and how it was understood in Marcus’ own time.

If I’m not too late, this would make a fantastic holiday read.

Aspidistras and aspirations – @TheEconomist

The Economist draws bleak parallels for the independently-minded between today and the 1930s of George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying.

“Keep the Aspidistra Flying” foreshadows the dilemma that befalls today’s millennials. With so little room for manoeuvre and such high penalties for non-compliance, their quiet conformity belies a devastating loss of freedom, a crushing of the spirit that only their great-grandparents could relate to.

Did you publish? – @ThisIsSeth

A reminder, or call to arms, from Seth:

They (whoever ‘they’ is) made it easy for you to raise your hand. They made it easy for you to put your words online, your song in the cloud, your building designs, business plans and videos out in the world. They made it easy for you to be generous, to connect, and to lead.

Did you?

Read the ever pithy and relevant Seth, here.

 

Photo by James Bold on Unsplash

Downtime: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

2075 viewed from 1966. The moon is a penal colony upon which the earth depends for food supplies, and its central supercomputer has developed consciousness.

Regularly topping lists of the best libertarian fiction, 50 years after it was written, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress wears its age well. I read it last Christmas, it was my first Heinlein book and I loved it.

The best science-fiction tackles big themes, using its blank canvas to paint familiar things in a new light. Done well, the result is anything but ponderous. You can see it in some of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is like that. It’s an engaging story that addresses libertarianism, self-determination, freedom and the mechanics of running a revolution. It has a tangy layer of cynicism, too, that leaves me pondering the real meaning of the book’s famous motif of the brass cannon (Heinlein’s original title for the book).

Widely viewed as Robert Heinlein’s  crowning glory, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is perfectly considered escapism for the summer holidays.

 

 

Affluence without Abundance

The Economist reviews a new book: Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen, by James Suzman.

The book is more than an ethno-biography of the Bushmen, it explores an alternative view of life and a possible path for human development. As the Economist puts it:

Farming teaches people to accept inequality and to valorise work. But for the vast majority of human history there was little point in accumulating, since most of what was needed could easily be got from the surrounding environment. Nor was there anything heroic about work; spending time getting more food than one could eat was a foolish waste.

it also concludes:

Having created countless problems by turning to agriculture, rich societies have little choice but to press on: working, striving and inventing, even as this progress creates more problems in need of solving.

It definitely sounds worth a read.

It reminds me, in its description of the pre-agricultural life, of Richard Donkin’s excellent book The History of Work.