Andrew S · Non-Fiction · Philosophy · Religion

I Am an Impure Thinker | by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

I Am an Impure Thinker

I Am an Impure Thinker by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
(Argo Books, 2001, 243 pages)

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s social, linguistic, and religious theories makes for a fascinating and original take on the development of Western civilization. I’ve seen him cited and praised by several of my favorite contemporary theologians. I finally decided to read this collection of essays as an introduction to the basic themes of his work. W. H. Auden provided the Foreword to the original 1970 edition, and he included this warning/commendation:

I should warn anyone reading him for the first time that, to begin with, he may find as I did, certain aspects of Rosenstock-Huessy’s writings a bit hard to take. At times he seems to claim to be the only man who has ever seen the light about History and Language. But let the reader persevere, and he will find, as I did that he is richly rewarded. He will be forced to admit that, very often, the author’s claim is just: he has uncovered many truths hidden from his predecessors. (i)

Both the caution and the praise are justified. Rosenstock-Huessy’s prose is often difficult to make sense of, and some of his claims are grandiose. However, his core ideas shine through in brilliantly succinct sentences like this one: “The very essence of learning is to anticipate experience; all education is life in advance” (97).

The “impurity” of Rosenstock-Huessy’s thought refers to his rejection of the supposed scientific objectivity of modern scholarship. His educational, linguistic, and religious reflections are compromised by his passionate commitments. In an essay on William James, Rosenstock-Huessy boldly states that “Any philosophy which glosses over your duty or mine to die for a cause is eyewash” (30). This sense that intellectual reflection needs to be guided and sustained by devotion to a cause led him to found Camp William James, a volunteer labor service that formed as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. For Rosenstock-Huessy, scholarship is not about neutral observation, but about impassioned engagement.

The essays in I Am an Impure Thinker deal with the aridity of Cartesian rationalism, the stages of development in societies, and the formative influence of Christianity on Western culture. However, I found the most interesting aspect of the volume to be its focus on the education process. The essay “Teaching Too Late, Learning Too Early,” is a brilliant discussion of that process and the way that teacher’s must employ their own experience and wisdom to create a sense of expectancy in their students. It is in his more concrete comments about education that Rosenstock-Huessy’s impenetrable ideas come into clearest focus. In this respect, this book could be of real practical value to educators at all levels.

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Fiction · Heather D · Mystery · Young Adult

Paper Towns | by John Green

Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green
(Speak, 2009, 305 pages)

John Green’s writing of Paper Towns was smooth, effortless, and a pleasure to read. Quentin Jacobson, a high school nerd, had a childhood crush on Margo Roth Spiegelman, an adventurous girl next door. She hadn’t paid any attention to him since they were eight years old, so imagine the surprise he felt when, ten years later, she appeared at his window in the middle of the night.

They spent the whole night pulling pranks that she had conspired. Upon arriving at school the next day, Margo failed to show up and Quinton soon realizes that she has gone missing. The story goes on to show just how determined Quentin and three of his friends are to find her, dead or alive.

I had high expectations for this book, I think partly because of all of the hype surrounding the movie coming out. It started out very entertaining and as something of a page turner.  However, I found it to be a little slow in the middle and the end was somewhat anticlimactic. That being said, I like how Green developed the characters and the dialogue between them was very funny, full of sarcasm, and clever. I enjoyed the clues Quentin unraveled and the road trip with his friends.

If you are looking for a story that is a light read with mystery and adventure, then I recommend this book for you. You can expect to laugh and smirk your way through the story. I thought this was a good book but not great. Nevertheless, I do look forward to seeing the movie.

Books · Julia P · Non-Fiction · Quick Read!

From Cover to Cover | by Kathleen T. Horning

From Cover to Cover

From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books
by Kathleen T. Horning
(Collins, 2010, 229 pages)

As a new mom I’ve been all about building up my daughter’s library. With that in mind I’ve made it a priority to learn a little more about what makes for good children’s literature. From Cover to Cover focuses on what you should look for when evaluating and reviewing children’s books. Horning does a great job deconstructing the various types of literature. She explains what you should look for in each format and why it’s important while also providing examples from titles she thinks best demonstrate her point.

This book is a great introduction for people interested in learning how to evaluate children’s books. If you’re interested in writing book reviews Horning provides the foundational elements and gives tips on how a review should read. I have a better understanding of what elements I want to see in books along with a great list of titles compliments of Horning’s source compilation at the end of the book. From Cover to Cover is definitely worth your time if you’re a new children’s librarian, but it’s also beneficial to new parents who take an active interest in what their children are reading.

Fiction · Medicine · Page-Turner · Thriller · Ying L

Doing Harm | by Kelly Parsons

Doing Harm

Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons
(St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 368 pages)

I’m impressed that this is the author’s first novel. Like other medical thriller authors, Parsons is a doctor himself. I learned a lot about the ins and outs of the hospital, the process of residency training and the mental and physical exhaustion of the overworked residents. The story is set in a prestigious university hospital in Boston. Steve Mitchell, an excellent surgeon and chief resident, is in charge of training medical students. Steve is passionate for his work and cares about his patients. He has been promised a dream job after he completes his surgical residency. Everything is going so well until his patients start dying mysteriously. It seems that someone within the hospital is sabotaging him by killing his patients.

The story has twisted plots which kept me turning the pages. The ending is unexpected but well thought out. If you enjoy medical thrillers, you’ll appreciate this one. You can also read Jean’s review here.

Fiction · Julia P · Page-Turner · Science Fiction · Thriller

The Martian | by Andy Weir

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
(Crown, 2014, 384 pages)

The Martian is a book that sucks you in almost immediately. Mark Watney traveled to Mars as part of a 6-person crew. When the crew was forced to evacuate due to hostile conditions on the planet Mark was left behind for dead. The thing is, even though the crew thought he had died he was still very much alive. And on Mars. Alone.

Watney has to figure out a way to survive on Mars with the limited resources left behind by his crew. It seems as if each obstacle he manages to overcome is quickly followed by another. Will his situation become too much for Watney to handle? Will he find a way to keep the desolate nature of the planet from getting to him?

I have to say that all the hype surrounding this book had me wary, but it really lived up to all the buzz. The book is being released as a movie starring Matt Damon this October and I’d like to see it. I’d definitely recommend reading the book first, though.

The Martian is definitely a page-turner because you want to know what’s going to happen to Mark. The science Weir embeds in the book is pretty impressive – I had no idea what he was talking about, but I appreciated that it was there. It added something to the reading experience and getting a feel for Watney’s intelligence.

I’d certainly recommend this book, whether you’re into science fiction or not. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did and it was the type of book that I couldn’t wait to get back to.

History · In the Library · Science · Ying L

From Stars to Stalagmites | by Paul S. Braterman

From Stars to Stalagmites

From Stars to Stalagmites: How Everything Connects
by Paul S. Braterman
(World Scientific, 2012, 315 pages)

This wonderful book was written by Paul Braterman, a chemistry professor at the University of Glasgow in UK. It includes 16 chapters covering various scientific topics such as Lavoisier’s modern concept of an element, the naming of oxygen and hydrogen, Dalton’s atomic theory, Avogadro’s hypothesis, making metal, the ozone hole problem, and why grass is green and our blood is red.

I am thoroughly wowed by Braterman’s exhaustive research. I found myself frequently checking the extensive endnotes. All the chapters use the same outline which makes it easy to follow. Braterman incorporates many intriguing stories that make the content engaging. It’s my favorite type of book. Biographical information, major achievements, explanation of scientific methods and the impact on history are weaved together beautifully. Even if you are familiar with major scientific discoveries in the 1800s and 1900s, you’ll still learn something new from this book.

Chapter 6 is titled Science, War, and Morality; the Tragedy of Fritz Haber. Think back to high school chemistry and you may remember studying Haber’s Process and manipulating various variables to affect ammonia output. The invention was named after the German chemist Fritz Haber (Nobel Prize 1918). In this chapter, not only are Haber’s life and the importance of his major contributions presented, their effects and consequences on the history of fertilizers, explosives and chemical weapons are also discussed. It’s sad to know that Harber, who acted as chief of Germany’s Chemical Warfare Service during World War I, was born to Jewish parents. Also, the tragic suicide of his first wife was attributed to his involvement in Germany’s poison gas program. Harber’s contributions, the author relates, helped Germany to sustain a far more damaging four year long conflict and inflicted horrible casualty levels. Haber himself was labeled as a war criminal and spent some time in Switzerland under a false passport. However, the author points out that half of the world’s population depend on Harber’s discoveries for their very survival, because of the vital role in food production of synthetic fertilizers using the Harber Process.

This book reads like a documentary movie and is not bogged down with scientific terms. Each chapter can be read independently. What’s nice is the author references chemical equations and formulas in the endnotes. You don’t have to look at them if you don’t want to; but some would appreciate them for being there. I highly recommended From Stars to Stalagmites for history or science readers.