The Spirit of Laws

The Spirit of Laws

By Montesquieu


Finished for the second time, March 12, 2014


That last 100 pages of fiefs, fredum, vassals, lords, counts, mayors and allodial estates was a chore but the rest of the book was good reading.


Now that I’ve read Livy and Gibbon, my second reading was much more enjoyable than the first. He scans human behavior and laws in a very interesting way. His analysis of despotism seems applicable to Mr. Obama’s lawless re-writing of his own health law of recent days. Arbitrary government is eschewed by Montesquieu.


I have hundreds of underlinings and I’m reviewing them before shelving the book.


This book from the mid 17th century was known to the founders of this country and influenced them with its ideas of good government.


I’m sure I will come back to this book.

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Charles Dickens

Finished November 16, 2013

It was difficult for William Dorrit to maintain dignity when he begged visitors for gratuities. He fooled himself.

His son, Tip, was not deserving of the honor he demanded, because he was not earning his own way.

Amy was admirable.

So was Arthur Clennam.

I relied on the movie to turn the characters into flesh and blood. I usually prefer the book standing alone. I also missed important plot elements and the movie helped me. At the wrapping up scene, I wondered many things: what happened to Mrs. Clennam; what was in the box; what did Amy’s note say; what caused the explosion; what happened to Miss Wade; was she illegitimate; by whom; did Gowans come back; what financial swindle was Mrs. Clennam tied up in. Even after seeing the final episode of the movie, I am unclear about some things.

Dickens left me out of much with his complex prose. I was surprised to find the book so challenging.

I think main lessons were about the real and illusory methods of asserting worth and earning respect. Blandois demanded it but was least worthy.

I doubt I will read this again.

Being Human: snippets and favorites

Being Human


Edited by Leon Kass


Finished July 2013


Some of the best readings from this anthology from literature meant to instigate reasoned thinking about bioethical controversies were:


Richard Selzer (author)

A woman tracks down her deceased husband’s transplanted heart and cajoles the recipient to let her listen to it for an hour.


In another tale, a vain surgeon’s cleft palate patient dies, yet he operates on her dead body, later to be revolted by remembrance of his obsessive, undignified deed.


Hans Jonas (author)

Human inviolability, worth, dignity in the body. Natality. Jonas influences Kass on bioethics.


R. L. Stevenson on the perspective of children.


The mother’s account of her child’s cancer treatment in Peed Onk, pediatric oncology.


The excerpt from the Book of Job pleased me more than my previous readings in the King James version.


Mark Twain’s telling of his shock and grief at his daughter’s death captivated me.


Jonathan Swift’s Struldbruggs lived here forever. It wasn’t pretty.


Tuck Everlasting had deathless people, too. Immortality of this kind is troubling.


The Hippocratic Oath forbids abortion and physician assisted suicide.


Homer’s Odyssey is about going home, about duty to, and longing for, kin.


Bukovsky told of the Russian socialism that imprisoned him. Socialism strives to humble the rich, detaches the rail car of the richest from the train and distributes the wealth. Then the next richest, then the next. All that are left are poor kulaks so socialists steal their land and grain and deport them. Socialism bleeds the life and spirit out of individuals by design.

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I finished this book yesterday. Reading it felt like  the conquest of a peak. When I understood the flowery, yet beguilingly simple, prose, I felt enlightened. I’m afraid that my reading muscles are not quite equal to Eliot’s compositional powers.

The plot did not heat up until about page 690. Still, the amusing and relatable characters moved the story along. One can see onesself and acquaintances so well in the characters she draws. I admire Caleb, Mr. Farebrother, Mary and Dorothea. I will strive to avoid the foibles of Dr. Lydgate, Rosamond and Mr. Bulstrode.

Much in it amused me.

Reading it was worthwhile. I expect to read The Mill on the Floss, also by Eliot, in a later year.

I watched the BBC mini-series, 99% of it, that is, and feel that it misses so much that can only be expressed by book.

The History of the Peloponnesian War

My hasty, amateur summary.

The Peloponnesian War

By Thucydides. He was a military leader in the war.

Time: about 431-404 B.C.


Sparta had a mighty land army. Form of government: Big-shots, the wealthy governed. This is known as oligarchy. They trained their people in military ways from birth. Their living was made for them by slaves who outnumbered the free men nine to one.

Athens had a mighty navy. They controlled most of the shoreline communities and islands of the Aegean Sea. That sea is in the north Mediterranean. Rich. They imported lots of food and got money tribute from all their territories. Form of government: democracy. Everyone voted and had a voice. The Golden Age, with Pericles as the first citizen, brought many artistic and cultural achievements such as the teachings of Socrates and other philosophers, theater, literature and architecture.

Fifty years prior to the start of the war, united Greeks had humbled the haughty, rich, powerful Persians who had invaded. They were proud of that.

Cause of war: Spartans didn’t like Athens exporting democracy everywhere. Spartans’ and their allies’ oligarchies were in danger. Jealousy. Fear of the other side gaining supremacy. Allies being put down.

Athens looked invincible. They thought their supply of food made it impossible for Sparta to starve them out.

Big disasters for Athens: Hunkered inside city walls in the first few years of the war, having brought people from their farms and lands surrounding the city, they became subject to disease that ran rampant and killed about one third. Later, about ¾ way through the war, they attacked Sicily. They lost big there.

In the end, rich, mighty Athens lost.

It was a victory for Sparta, but both it and Athens lost because of the loss of men and money.

It didn’t take long for the Macedonians under Philip to take over Greek, Spartan and Athenian, regions. Philip’s son, Alexander, then took over practically every place known to man.

This book, though tedious at times, contains much wisdom. The author thinks it can help predict the future. Learning of human behavior and national affairs is instructive for large policy questions as well as personal development and correction. I’m very glad I persevered through all 550 pages of the Strassler edition. Its maps and other study aids were immensely helpful.

Bovary, Families, Enter Three Witches

I finished reading Madame Bovary. Toward the end, a timely warning about runaway debt and riotous living.

I read the first few chapters in Families: Traditional and New Structures.

I read Enter Three Witches, a young adult version of Macbeth.

Recent Reading

I read about the first half or The Greco-Persian Wars and about three-fourths of A War Like No Other by Hanson.

I’m now reading Madame Bovary.

I finished The Histories by Herodotus. I am glad I have read it.

Now ancient characters and events do not seem so remote. The time of Christ seems much closer. The Greco-Persian Wars? Not too far.

Human nature is immutable, predictable.

Killing ambassadors was a violation of common sense, of the natural  law and of the unwritten law of nations. In Book VII, 135, two young men offered themselves as an expiation for their people, the Greeks, having killed Xerxes’ heralds (ambassadors.) Events of 475 B.C. inform current events in Benghazi. Killing ambassadors is impermissible.


I also scanned my notes from a previous reading of The Road to Serfdom, and the conclusions of Kagan’s On the Causes of War and Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations.


Recent Reading

Rez Life

By David Treuer

About life on Indian reservations. Vivid. Heart-wrenching. Progress seems futile.


By Michael Rosen

Where does dignity originate?


Presently, I’m plowing through Herodotus’ The Histories whenever I can find 20 minutes for a few pages.


The Early History of Rome

I finished this book which is a compilation of five of Livy’s books on Rome. Livy wrote 147 books. I’m content having read this one.

He’s surprisingly easy to read. His language, even in translation, has verve. I’ll definitely re-read this book later in life.


Some quick extracts from underlinings:

Human nature, Thucydides argued, is constant and hence predictable.

As Aristotle said, “Actions are signs of character.”

In the Preface he asserts that the present state of Rome was the direct consequence of the failure in moral character of the Roman.