Anyone who is surprised by the latest inflammation in the Balkan region should get themseles a copy of Victoria Clark’s Why Angels Fall which uses the travelogue as a really compelling way of presenting history and a well-thought through viewpont. Clark gives an accessible and insightful country-by-country history of the deep divisions that have existed in “Orthodox Europe”. Especially good if you’re into the irreducible sweeping themes in human history.
I’ve just started reading Bertand Russell’s The problems of philosophy which is a good introduction to some of the most basic problems demmed worthy of philosophical investigation. It’s particularly interesting in light of the (mostly unspoken) dispute between Wittgenstein and Russell as to the nature of philosophy. Russell’s premise that philosophy and science are not that dissimilar (because he believes that they both start from instinctive beliefs and evidence and develop from them a conception of the world) was anathema to Wittgenstein – one of Wittgenstein’s dominant beliefs was in the “self-dissolving” nature of philosophical “puzzles”.
Also on the current reading list is Wittgenstein’s Poker – a clever account of a 10 minute dispute between Wittgenstein and Karl Popper in 1946. The dispute’s apex comes when Wttgestein brandishes a poker at Popper and challeges him to “give an example of a moral rule”. Popper replies with “One should never wave a poker at a professor of philosophy”. History, biography and philosophy are mingled together to create an entertaining book.
I love books which take a specific event over a short time period and try and extrapolate all kinds of trends and themes. Another great example is Gyorgy Dalos’ The guest from the future which takes as it’s starting point the fateful meeting between the philospopher Isaiah Berlin and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, which resulted in 20 years of cultural repression for Akhmatova personally and in some ways (Dalos posits) the start of the Cold War.
As for music, it’s back to Nick Drake, this time to Time of No Reply which swings between optimism, mysticism and depression. Still under-rated after all these years and still relevant in 2001. I also love the jeepster label (of “Belle and Sebastian” fame) and Snow Patrol’s when it’s all over we still have to clear up is another above average offering.