September 21, 2019

Books

"The encyclopedists’ plan to catalog knowledge seemed harmless enough. But what they intended was far more subversive: to restructure knowledge itself."

"The debate over progress is—overtly at least—a debate about technology: what’s worked, what’s likely to work, and at what cost. That sounds straightforward, but it’s not."

"It was a stunning scene, the president verbally shredding the speaker of the House, a member of his own party. And all the while, Sims was listening from the entryway, the improbable wallflower of the West Wing."

"When we enter into sacred texts as readers, rather than as worshippers—treating them [.] as ancient vessels of meaning crafted by people who, like all writers, had their good moments and their misses—we gain much, but we lose much, too."

"Lipstadt’s book takes the form of a series of letters between Lipstadt and two fictional characters—a Jewish student and a non-Jewish colleague—whom Lipstadt describes as composites of people she knows who are worried about anti-Semitism."

"...a book by MacKenzie Bezos—one half of the richest couple in the world, partner to a man who has exploded paradigms of retail, labor, even capitalism itself, and upended the very industry that publishes her books—just has to be a roman à clef."

"A new book wants us to navigate life’s crossroads with the precision of a military exercise. But personal decisions are more difficult than even the most consequential political decisions."

"In the beginning there was a 4th-century Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, but over the millennia a myriad English translations 'moved vpon the water'"

"Fukuyama’s new book does contain a thesis. As it happens, the new idea stands in the sharpest possible contrast to the older one. Liberal democracy, far from showing us a glimpse of a universalist future, now, we are told, faces a severe crisis. "

"Nature, however, with its endless cycles of death and rebirth, fascinated her. Walking in the woods, she developed a method that has become the hallmark of her poetry, taking notice simply of whatever happens to present itself."

"Free self-improvement idea for 2019: become Susan Sontag. Listen, it’s not as hard as it sounds... you might have a very interesting year."

"Texts replaced authors as the privileged objects of scholarly knowledge, and the performance of critical operations on texts became essential to the scholar’s identity."

"When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around."

"In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers."

"Reading through dossier after dossier on 16 American writers contained in Writers Under Surveillance: The FBI Files, what strikes you immediately is the terrifying absurdity of Hoover’s obsession with anyone who didn’t follow his party line..."

"The science-fiction writer and futurist Stanisław Lem was well acquainted with the way that fictional worlds can sometimes encroach upon reality."

" There’s a fairly broad consensus that Wittgenstein supposes the religious person and the atheist use sentences such as God exists, Jesus rose from the dead and There will be a Judgment Day very differently, and consequently with different meanings"

"To me, Oz’s great contribution to Jewish culture is the boldness and directness with which he spoke about current issues, pointing out the great challenges ahead."

"Things that Go (Octopus Books, 2018) takes as a point of departure a moment from the Book of Genesis, in which Lot’s wife turns back to see the destruction of Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt."

"...somehow he doesn’t feel as far removed from us as the other writers of his generation—figures like Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, or John Updike, who also became famous in the post-World War II years."

"Prof. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer has studied the Oral Law since he was 17; now he shares its story with an accessible, big picture view of its centrality to Judaism."

"With mindfulness, the goal is to focus on the present. With timefulness, it’s to see the present as a tiny detail in a complex grand sum. Robert M. Thorson reviews “Timefulness” by Marcia Bjornerud."

"...if you read Nietzsche like a college freshman cramming for a midterm, you’re bound to misinterpret him — or at least to project your own prejudices into his work. When that happens, we get “bad Nietzsche.”"

"When I began studying apocalypses in literature... my focus was on events like the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wanted to understand what sense we could make of humanity when the world has seen such apocalyptic situations."

"The reason that God does not play dice in Einstein’s universe is that physical laws are inexorable. And it is precisely by getting that they are inexorable that we experience this religious feeling."

"Soon after I set out to write a book about psychedelics, it became obvious what I would have to do: Trip, and then write about what it was like."

"We can fulfill our humanity not by self-assertion (that would only tighten our bondage), but though self-denial. Given the hungry animal that we are, we’ve got only one chance: the more we starve the animal, the more human we become."

"Because of this difficulty, her reader, she thinks, finds her work “unfamiliar” — if not impenetrable — and so “dismisses it, the pleasure of recognition being generally stronger than the pleasure or puzzlement of discovery.”"

"David Duke, David Icke, Louis Farrakhan and the Assad Regime all love Shlomo Sand. Why has such a diverse spectrum of anti-Semites converged on the work of this Israeli historian? Should he bear any blame for how they've weaponized his words?"

"Liberals are devoted to diversity, but they define it in a peculiar way—obsessing over race, sex and sexual orientation while demanding conformity of thought."

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JJ Editor's Picks

"Blackface. I’ve been writing about, and researching – and opposing – racism for more than thirty years. And make no mistake: blackface isn’t funny. It’s racist. Ask Megyn Kelly. A year ago, the former Fox News star was filming a segment about..."

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"In the archives of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, there is an old postcard from the city aquarium of a large sea turtle with four boys straddling its back. The turtle lies flattened upon a pathway in front of a fence. At the feet..."

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"It was the 2019 Pet Sematary that finally broke me. Was this really necessary? I seethed in a theater earlier this year, at a loss for why anyone would green light a self-serious update to a 30-year-old so-bad-it's-good movie. "Update," even, was.."

"Tuesday was election day in Israel. But no winner has yet been declared. As of this writing, it appears that the parties committed to supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister will not win a majority in Knesset. At the same time, the..."

"The last time Netflix asked me “Are you still watching?” I had to think really hard about it. Was I still watching? Or at least enough to make my $16-a-month payment worth it? The subscription economy can be a wonderful thing. We don’t have to..."