Robert B. Crease argues that brilliant minds change the world. He chooses 10 thinkers–some obvious, some obscure–and presents their ideas and impact on today’s world. Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes defined the beginnings of Modern Science. Vico warned that Science could be used for evil purposes and issued an early warning about political leaders like Trump. Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, suggests there are limits to Science. Comte promoted Science over Religion.
I’m very familiar with Max Weber whose The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism analyzed the economics of the early 20th Century. Weber’s insights into bureaucracies are still taught in Business Schools today. I had no idea who Kemal Ataturk was. Crease’s chapter explains how this Middle-Eastern thinker tried to reconcile Science with social concerns. I confess Edmund Husserl’s work in phenomenology always baffled me. As a college student taking philosophy classes, I attempted Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, based on four lectures Husserl gave at the Sorbonne, in the Amphithéatre Descartes, on February 23 and 25, 1929. I came away befuddled.
The final thinker in The Workshop and the World is a curious choice: Hannah Arendt. Arendt is best known for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), where Arendt coined the inflammatory phrase “banality of evil” to describe Eichmann and the murderous bureaucracy he ran for the Nazis. Arendt’s book, Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), supplied enough evidence of the mis-uses of Science and Government to warn of planet-wide threats. Arendt is certainly a Big Picture philosopher. If you’re in the mood for some intellectual history, you’ll enjoy the very readable essays in The Worldshop and the World. GRADE: A- TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction 11 I
1 Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis 27
2 Galileo Galilei and the Authority of Science 48
3 René Descartes: Workshop Thinking 69 II
4 Giambattista Vico: Going Mad Rationally 93
5 Mary Shelley’s Hideous Idea 115
6 Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity 133 III
7 Max Weber: Authority and Bureaucracy 165
8 Kemal Atatürk: Science and Patriotism 189
9 Edmund Husserl: Cultural Crisis 205 IV
10 Hannah Arendt: Action 229
Good Omens–both the novel and the new AMAZON Prime Video–remind me of an overstuff burrito. Too many characters, too many subplots, too many wacky diversions!
I read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens back when it was first published in 1990. I reread Good Omens in preparation for AMAZON Prime Video’s 6-episode mini-series with a screenplay written by Neil Gaiman. The Apocalypse is approaching as the armies of Hell and Heaven ready themselves for the Final Conflict. The Anti-Christ, an 11-year-old boy with his Hell Hound, will trigger the Apocalypse from a small town in England.
Standing in the way of the destruction of Earth and Humanity are Aziraphale, an Angel who has been on Earth with the mission of promoting Good Things. And, Crowley, a demon who has spent thousands of years promoting mayhem and mischief. David Tennant plays the demon Crowley with menace. Michael Sheen plays Aziraphale as a fussy, book-loving Angel. The Angel and the Demon have a secret cooperative relationship developed over the centuries. They are appalled and alarmed that the Divine Plan includes mass destruction and genocide.
I liked John Hamm as bossy Archangel Gabriel. I really liked Frances McDormand as the Voice of God as she provides narration for all six episodes of Good Omens. You have to be in the mood to embrace Excess if you want to enjoy Good Omens. GOOD OMENS [AMAZON Prime Video]: GRADE: A-. GOOD OMENS [Novel]: GRADE: B
Western Stars is like none of the other 18 Bruce Springsteen studio albums. With all the lush strings and orchestral flourishes, the songs on Western Stars sound like the music you would hear on an FM late-night Easy Listening radio station in the mid-1970s. Springsteen says he channeled Burt Bacharach and Glen Campbell on this Baker’s Dozen set of mellow songs. If you’re in the mood for some poignant songwriting with French horns, violins, and cellos listen to Western Stars to revel in listening to Bruce Springsteen’s best CD in a decade. GRADE: A TRACK LIST:
1. Hitch Hikin’
2. The Wayfarer
3. Tucson Train
4. Western Stars
5. Sleepy Joe’s Café
6. Drive Fast (The Stuntman)
7. Chasin’ Wild Horses
9. Somewhere North of Nashville
11. There Goes My Miracle
12. Hello Sunshine
13. Moonlight Motel
The fourth movie in the Men in Black franchise features the dynamic duo of Tessa Thompson (as a probationary Person in Black Agent M) and Chris Hemsworth (as Agent H). Thompson and Hensworth had great chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok and that on-screen chemistry only improves in Men in Black International. Emma Thompson, head of Men in Black (New York) sends Agent M to London where trouble is brewing. Agent M and Agent H team up when the alien they’re supposed to protect gets assassinated on their Watch. The plot thickens as Thompson and Hensworth follow the clues of a galactic scheme with diabolical aspects. Men in Black International is an old-fashioned Summer popcorn movie. I hope Thompson and Hemsworth team up again. GRADE: B
The Golden Age of Science Fiction according to John Wade is the 1950s. And this fun book makes the case for Wade’s beliefs with plenty of photos and artwork reproductions. Science Fiction had an impressive presence on the radio with programs like Journey Into Space and Operation Luna. If you don’t remember these radio programs, it might be because they were on the BBC. Wade grew up in England and The Golden Age of Science Fiction has a definite British skewing. Wade includes some wonderful graphics to capture the essence and feel of the radio programs.
Wade really hits his stride in his “Science Fiction on Television” chapter. He spends several pages on The Quatermass Experiment and its sequels. Wade praises the U.S. TV program Superman although he calls the robot in one of the episodes “unconvincing.” There was also Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.
As for SF movies, Godzilla showed up in 1954 and defined a new genre of Science Fiction. Forbidden Planet (1956) created a sensation with its Robby the Robot. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) had a different kind of robot and a different message. Wade also praises Destination Moon (1950)–based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Rocketship Galileo–for being as scientifically accurate as was possible in the 1950s. The movie that most affected me in the 1950s was War of the Worlds (1953). Wade includes the iconic movie poster in his presentation. Also discussed is the 3-D SF film, It Came From Outer Space (1953) (a movie I’ve never seen). Wade is also fond of This Island, Earth (1955). Perhaps the scariest SF movie of the 1950s was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). I also remember seeing The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) as a kid and loving it. Years later, I did see The Fly (1958). Wade even analyzes one of the worst movies ever made: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).
In the “Science Fiction in Books” chapter, John Wyndham–who wrote the classic The Day of the Triffids–leads off a series of 1950s writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Eric Frank Russell. I love the covers on the British paperbacks!
“Science Fiction Comics and Magazines” is the weakest chapter in the book. Wade writes about Astounding Science Fiction, Galaxy, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but there were dozens of SF and fantasy magazines (some short-lived) in the 1950s. But, the cover reproductions are eye-popping!
If you’re a fan of Science Fiction, this book will take you on a delightful trip down Memory Lane! GRADE: B+ TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction p. vii
Chapter 1 Science Fiction on Radio p. 1
Chapter 2 Science Fiction on Television p. 29
Chapter 3 Science Fiction on Film p. 57
Chapter 4 Science Fiction in Books p. 101
Chapter 5 Science Fiction Comics and Magazines p. 151
Picture Credits p. 200
Index p. 204
Generous Beth Fedyn sent me Amidst the Chaos by the talented Sara Bareilles. I think Katie saw Sara Bareilles on Broadway in Waitress. Sara Bareilles is a songwriter, singer, and actress. Amidst the Chaos reflects the whirlwind of activity in Bareilles’s life. These songs have clever lyrics and compelling melodies. I especially like “Fire” and “A Safe Place to Land” (featuring John Legend). You might remember that on April 6, 2019, Bareilles appeared as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live and performed “Fire” and “Saint Honesty.” If you’re in the mood for some excellent music, give Amidst the Chaos a listen. Thanks again, Beth! GRADE: A TRACK LIST: TITLE WRITER(S) TIME
1. “Fire” Sara Bareilles 3:50
2. “No Such Thing” Bareilles Justin Tranter 3:57
3. “Armor” Bareilles 4:27
4. “If I Can’t Have You” Bareilles Emily King Aaron Sterling 4:13
5. “Eyes on You” Bareilles 4:04
6. “Miss Simone” Bareilles Lori McKenna 4:13
7. “Wicked Love” Bareilles 4:39
8. “Orpheus” Bareilles 4:13
9. “Poetry by Dead Men” Bareilles Tranter 3:48
10. “Someone Who Loves Me” Bareilles 3:18
11. “Saint Honesty” Bareilles McKenna 4:35
12. “A Safe Place to Land” (featuring John Legend) Bareilles McKenna 4:29
I’ve read some early Elizabeth Bear SF novels and enjoyed them, but her new space opera, Ancestral Night, produced a lot of frustration. I found Ancestral Night full of riffs on democracy, artificial intelligence, and galactic history. Dull. The last 200 pages of this 512-page novel was a slow slog. If the blah-blah-blah was subtracted, Ancestral Night would be a 250-page novel…and a better book!
A salvage crew finds a strange alien starship in Deep Space. Then, they’re attacked by space pirates. The chase is on! But the action seems to happen in slow-motion with too much talk and not enough oomph! Not worth the effort. Elizabeth Bear will probably write some sequels to Ancestral Night, but I won’t be reading them. GRADE: C
All is True is an ironic title. You would be hard pressed to see Kenneth Braunagh under all the makeup that transforms him into William Shakespeare. And then there’s Shakespeare’s older wife (played by Judi Dench) with her smoldering resentments. Shakespeare’s family is dysfunctional and now that Shakespeare has “retired” he finds it hard to fix all the problems his absence in London shielded him from. I liked Shakespeare’s daughters, Susanna (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder). I wish more of All is True dealt with their stories rather than with Shakespeare’s grieving.
The focus of All is True is Shakespeare’s dead son, Hamnet. Shakespeare feels guilty because he wasn’t home when his son died. Shakespeare was riding home from London, but arrived too late for the funeral. Years have passed, but Shakespeare’s guilt has festered. The Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) visits Shakespeare and the movie provides a strong vote that Shakespeare’s Sonnets were addressed to the Earl. But that’s just a diversion from the real story of this movie.
Despite the excellent cast, I found All is True a bit of a bore. The movie moves at a glacial pace and doesn’t know when to end. Do you have a favorite work of Shakespeare? GRADE: C+
Robert McParland’s Best Seller provides a history of American best selling books during the last century. McParland moves from year to year identifying trends and commenting on key writers. McParland uses publishing and literary history to define what makes a book a best-seller and what best-sellers say about reading American tastes and societal changes. Despite all the research, I found McParland’s analysis is clear and concise. He presents the historical context for each year, describes the best-sellers and the reasons for their appeal. In addition, McParland supplies descriptions of the authors. From classic literary works to pulp fiction, from historical blockbusters to trendy diet books, McParland’s tour of 118 years of best sellers is a delight! GRADE: A TABLE OF CONTENTS: Acknowledgments vii Introduction: Reaching the Top of the Shelf: Discovering a Century of Bestsellers ix
Chapter One: Birth of the Bestseller: 1890s thru the 1930s 1
Chapter Two: 1940s: All the Books Fit to Sell 23
Chapter Three: 1950s: Cold War Anxiety: From Holden Caulfield to James Bond 53
Chapter Four: 1960s: New Frontiers: From Harper Lee to Kurt Vonnegut 83
Chapter Five: 1970s: The Age of Narcissism 109
Chapter Six: 1980s: The Rise of the Superstar Author 139
Chapter Seven: 1990s: Means of Ascent: Publisher Consolidation, Superstores, and the Internet 171
Chapter Eight: 2000s: E-Books and the New Millennium 211
Chapter Nine: 2010s: James Patterson, Inc. and The Soul of America 241 Notes 275 Bibliography 287 Index 293 About the Author 307