Reviews about books


Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 25 October 2017

Essayist Stephen Miller pursues a lifelong interest in conversation by taking an historical and philosophical view of the subject. He chronicles the art of conversation in Western civilization from its beginnings in ancient Greece to its apex in eighteenth-century Britain.

Stephen Miller now brings the art of conversation into the light, revealing why good conversation matters and why it is in decline

 One authority writes that "Conversation is the kind of speech that happens informally, symmetrically, and for the purposes of establishing and maintaining social ties."…Read

Philosophy as a way of life

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 9 October 2017

 By encouraging concentration on the miniscule present moment, which, in its exiguity, is always bearable and controllable, attention increases our vigilance . Finally, attention to the present moment allows us to accede to cosmic consciousness, by making us attentive to the infinite value of each instant , and causing us to accept each moment of existence from the viewpoint of the universal law of the cosmos.

Life ebbs as I write: so seize each day, and grant the next no credit;  carp diem, Horace For the Epicureans, in the last analysis, pleasure is a spiritual exercise. Not…Read

Hidden Attraction

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 31 July 2017

When primitive human beings attempted to account for mysterious natural phenomena, their initial explanations could only be invented, usually through liberal applications of fantasy and imagination.  There was no way to come up with an answer, at least not until the invention of clever measuring devices extended human senses.


The Gay Science

Bookfilm reviewed by Rob Mason on 25 July 2017

 The things people call love

 -- Avarice and Love-- what different feelings these two terms evoke! Nevertheless, it could be the same instinct that has two names-- once depreciated by those who have, in whom the instinct has calmed down to some extent, and who are afraid for their “possessions,” and the other time seen from the point of view of those who are not satisfied but still thirsty and who therefore glorify the instinct as “good.” The love of our neighbour--is not a lust for new possessions?  And likewise,…Read

The Strangest Man

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 July 2017

Paul Dirac is an enigma. Unquestionably the greatest British theoretical physicist of this century, a Nobel Laureate at the age of 31, he ranks alongside Newton and Maxwell.

In 2009, Graham Farmelo published ‘The Strangest Man’, which won the 2009 Costa Prize for Biography and the 2009 'Los Angeles Times Science and Technology Book Prize'. The book was chosen by Physics World as the physics book of the year in 2009, when it was selected as one of Nature’s books of the year.

"I found the best ideas usually came, not when one was actively…Read

Philosophy of Physics

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 20 June 2017

Does the future exist already? What is space? Are time machines physically possible? What is quantum mechanical reality like? Are there many universes? Is there a ‘true’ geometry of the universe?



Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 5 June 2017

Steppenwolf; by Hermann Hesse is about one man's spiritual journey towards self-knowledge. Nearly 90 years on, its message to readers retains a religious intensity: we must explore ourselves and keep doing so. If we don't, then our lives become living deaths.

In writing Steppenwolf, Hesse drew on his own spiritual crisis. After leaving his wife in the mid-1920s, Hesse lived an isolated life in Basel, reaching suicidal depths of despair. This might explain Harry's painfully accurate descriptions of depression, which have perhaps been matched since only by William Styron's Darkness Visible.<…Read

The First Scientist

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 24 May 2017

Carlo Rovelli uses the work of Anaximander to tell us what science is, and where it comes from. He goes on to explain that : ”the reliability of science is not based on the fact that its answers are certain. It is based on the fact that its answers are the best available ones. They are the best available ones because science is a way of thinking in which nothing is considered certain and therefore remains open to adopt better answers. If better ones become available.  In other words, science is the discovery that the secret of knowledge…Read

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 21 May 2017

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

When we talk about the Big Bang or the fabric of space, what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories which humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years. It is the continuation of something else; of the gaze of those same men in the first light of day looking at tracks left by antelope in the dust of the savannah – scrutinizing and deducting from the details of reality in order to pursue something which we can&rsquo…Read

Storm in a Teacup

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 4 April 2017

Helen Czerski’s engaging debut book seeks to demystify physics in everyday life, so whether you know your refraction from your reflection, or find the entire subject incomprehensible, this should be an invaluable primer. Dealing with the everyday – such as what really happens when you spill a few drops of coffee, or how magnetism really works – is a winning ploy. In an age of string theory, fluid dynamics and biophysics, it can seem as if the science of our world is only for specialists and academics. Not so, insists Helen Czerski – and in her new…Read

The End of Discovery

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 7 March 2017

We have been born into a world where science progresses.

It is generally thought that science, by its very nature, must always progress. But this is not so. One day, fundamental science will come to an end. Not when we have discovered everything, but when we have discovered whatever is open to us to understand - which is not the same thing. Limitations as to what the human brain can comprehend, together with practical considerations to do with the need for ever more elaborate and expensive equipment, are likely to ensure that our knowledge will remain for…Read

The Reader

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 2 January 2017

The Reader Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of post-war Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence,…Read

The Age of Insight

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 17 December 2016


The relationship between the advancements in the sciences and in art, and how those were interrelated in Vienna’s evolving cultural and intellectual scenes.

Not only philosophy but also the fine arts work towards the solution of the problem of existence.  For in every mind there exists a desire to comprehend the true nature of things, of life and existence.  For this reason the result of every asrtistic expression of things is…Read

The Sociology of Consumption

Book reviewed by Patricia Hogwood on 22 November 2016

The Sociology of Consumption: A Global Approach, authored by Joel Stillerman, offers a long-overdue account of the processes and cultural relevance of consumption in the twenty-first century.  Patricia Hogwood finds much to admire in this solid introduction to the diverse theoretical literatures on consumption and its exploration of the new opportunities and challenges arising for governments and citizens alike due to rapid changes in contemporary practices of consumption.  

The author: Joel Stillerman explains on page 43, that shopping malls orginated in the U.S. after WW2. Victor Gruen, the designer of some of the…Read


Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 1 November 2016

Published as "Wissenschaft als Beruf," Gesammlte Aufsaetze zur Wissenschaftslehre (Tubingen, 1922), pp. 524-55. Originally a speech at Munich University, 1918, published in 1919 by Duncker & Humblodt, Munich.


Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. The best ideas do indeed occur to one's mind in the way in which Ihering describes it: when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or as Helmholtz states of himself with scientific exactitude: when taking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way. In any case, ideas come when we do not…Read

Politics as a Vocation

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 14 October 2016

Politics as a vocation

"Politics as a Vocation" is an essay by German economist and sociologist Max Weber. It originated in the second lecture of a series he gave in Munich to the "Free Students Union" of Bavaria on 28 January 1919. Wikipedia

Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist whose ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Wikipedia

Born: April 21, 1864, Erfurt, Germany Died: June 14, 1920, Munich, Germany

Sociology is the study of social behaviour or society, including its origins, development, organization, networks, and institutions. It…Read


Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 7 August 2016

The extraordinary life of J. M. W Turner, one of Britain's most admired, misunderstood and celebrated artists J. M. W. Turner is Britain's most famous landscape painter. Yet beyond his artistic achievements, little is known of the man himself and the events of his life: the tragic committal of his mother to a lunatic asylum, the personal sacrifices he made to effect his stratospheric rise, and the bizarre double life he chose to lead in the last years of his life. A near-mythical figure in his own lifetime, Franny Moyle tells the story of the man who…Read

Russell on Metaphysics

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 29 May 2016

Metaphysics aims to uncover the fundamental nature of reality beyond appearance. It studies the world but not anything about it that can be observed.  It follows from this that the questions of metaphysics cannot be settled empirically by looking for observable eveidence, but must be solved using philosophical methods of analysis, reason and argument.


Measuring the World

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 11 April 2016

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Hum-boldt, negotiates savanna and jungle, travels down the Orinoco, tastes poisons, climbs the highest mountain known to man, counts head lice, and explores every hole in the ground. The other, the barely socialized mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss, does not even need to leave his home in Göttingen to prove that space is curved. He can run prime numbers in his head. He cannot imagine a life without women, yet he jumps…Read

The Future of an Illusion

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 29 March 2016

Religious ideas are teachings and assertions about facts and conditions of external reality which tell one something one has not discovered for oneself and which lay claim to one’s belief. Since they give us information about what is most important and interesting to us in life, they are particularly highly prized.  Anyone who knows nothing of them is very ignorant; and anyone who has added them to his knowledge may consider himself much the richer. There are of course many such teachings about the most various things in the world.  Every school lesson is full…Read

The Fall of the Ottomans

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 7 December 2015

In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region’s crucial role in the conflict. Bolstered by German money, arms, and military advisors, the Ottomans took on the Russian, British, and French forces, and tried to provoke Jihad against the Allies in their Muslim colonies. 

Two bullets fired on a Sarajevo street on a sunny June morning in 1914 set in motion a series of events that shaped the world we…Read

Why I Write

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 28 November 2015

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." George Orwell

George Orwell says that; writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of of some painful illness and that one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by by some demon with whom one can neither resist nor understand.  He explains that it is neccessary to efface one's personality or make oneself appear insignificant or inconspicuous and that in…Read


Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 November 2015

Journalism. The essentials of writing and reporting by James Morrison

To whom is this book intended?  The simple answer is anyone and everyone with an interest in writing, the sense of wanting to sit down at the nearest keyboard and have a go at it themselves, to get their thoughts and observations down on paper, to blog, or to interact with others via social media. We live in an age when more of us than ever before are effectively journalists already, not only keeping diaries or journals, compiling information on our pet likes and…Read

Philosophy for Militants

Bookfilm reviewed by Rob Mason on 16 October 2015

Around the world, recent events have seen the creation of a radical group comprising students, the young, workers and immigrants. It is Badiou’s contention that the politics of such militants should condition the tasks of philosophy, even as philosophy clarifies the truth of our political condition. Badiou insists that the questions and priorities of philosophy at any given time are shaped by four different material activities: science, politics, art and love.

"What is our situation today - I mean, the situation of the peoploe who are comfortable enough to call themselves 'Westerners'?. …Read

In Praise of Love

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 14 October 2015

In a world rife with consumerism, where online dating promises risk-free romance and love is all too often seen only as a variant of desire and hedonism, Alain Badiou believes that love is something that unfolds over time, and involves continual re-commitment and effort. Taking to heart Arthur Rimbaud’s famous line “love needs reinventing,” In Praise of Love is the celebrated French philosopher’s passionate treatise in defense of love, published in 2009 by Flammarion.  


Heart of Darkness

Bookfilm reviewed by Rob Mason on 12 September 2015

Heart of Darkness is a short history based novel by Joseph Conrad.  The story is about a voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State, in the heart of Africa, by the story's narrator Charles Marlow. Marlow tells his story to friends aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames, London, England. The implication is that London and Africa are places of darkness. It is also suggested that there is little difference between so-called civilized people and those described as savages; therefore Heart of Darkness raises important questions about imperialism…Read

The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 5 September 2015

The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad - A biography by John Stape

Born in 1857 into an aristocratic Polish family, he went to sea in 1874 in the French merchant service, which can hardly be a relaxing experience. He switched to the English merchant service in 1878, and qualified as a master mariner and took British nationality in 1886. He stayed at sea until 1894, both accepting discipline and administering it. In 1894, aged 36, Conrad reluctantly gave up the sea, partly because of poor health, partly due to unavailability of ships, and partly because he had become so fascinated with writing that…Read

A Smile of Good Fortune

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 September 2015

A smile of good fortune concerns a young ship's captain who has made a passage to a Pacific Island to pick up a cargo of sugar cane. When the captain arrives at the Island he accepts an invitation to visit the home of a ship-chandler whom he may have some business with.  However when he arrives at the home he meets the attractive daughter of the host, Alice, whom he feels drawn to.  The captain describes it this way: "How weak, irrational and absurd we are! How easily carried away whenever our awakened imagination brings…Read

What is Relativity

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 18 August 2015

Einstein Centenary

Very few people know what the theory of relativity is all about, and a common myth holds that the theory is too esoteric or difficult for the average person to understand. What is relativity? will shatter the myth, proving that anyone can understand the basics of Einstein’s ideas. Bennett’s intuitive, non-mathematical approach will give a large audience of readers their first real understanding of how relativity works and why it is so important not only to science and scientists, but to the way all of us view ourselves as…Read

The Physicist and the Philosopher

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 July 2015

"In illuminating a historic 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson about the nature of time, Canales marks a turning point in the power of philosophy to influence science."--Publishers Weekly




Genetics of the Evolutionary Process

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 5 June 2015

Theodosius Dobzhansky, was a Russian geneticist who moved to the United States and provided laboratory evidence for natural selection and variation where previously there had been only field observation. In his book: Genetics of the Evolutionary Process he begins chapter 1 by by stating that a man consists of seven octillion ( the number represented as one followed by 27 zeros) atoms grouped in about ten trillion cells, he then goes on to ask the question, how can an agglomeration of atoms experience a feeling of life, joy, suffering and discriminate between beauty and ugliness.…Read

Nature of Life

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 June 2015

Conrad Hal Waddington was born in Evesham on 8 November 1905 to Hal and Mary Ellen (Warner) Waddington. He spent his first few years on a tea estate in South India, where his father was a tea planter. He was educated at Clifton College, a coeducational public school in Bristol, England, and at the University of Cambridge. The 1971 Gifford Lectures given at the University of Edinburgh by C. H. Waddington, A. J. P. Kenny, H. C. Longuet-Higgins and J. R. Lucas resulted in two books: The Nature of Mind (1972) and The Development of Mind (1973)  

Chance (the occurrence of…Read

Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 28 May 2015

Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg's classic account explains the central ideas of the quantum revolution, and his celebrated Uncertainty Principle. The theme of Heisenberg's exposition is that words and concepts familiar in daily life can lose their meaning in the world of relativity and quantum physics. This in turn has profound philosophical implications for the nature of reality and for our total world view.

Heisenberg cites the famous trial of Galileo and his views on the Copernican system as marking the beginning of a struggle that went for more than a century.  In this…Read

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 28 May 2015

In his classic work, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, David Bohm develops a theory of quantum physics which treats the totality of existence, including matter and consciousness, as an unbroken whole.

The notion that reality is to be understood as a process is an ancient one, going back at least to Heraclitus, (535 – 475 BCE) who said that everything flows.  

"I regard the essence of the notion of process as given by the statement: not only is everything changing, but all is flux.  That is to say, what is, is the process…Read


Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 20 May 2015

This book tells the story of Schrödinger's colorful life during one of the most fertile and creative moments in the history of science, 1887 - 1961.

John Gribbin the author, is an accomplished and prolific writer of science-oriented books for the general public, and is therefore the ideal biographer for Schrodinger's life. Mr. Gribbin writes about Schrödinger's public, private and intellectual lives and also includes details about a short book of 1944, provocatively titled "What Is Life?" In this chapter Schrodinger introduces the idea…Read

The Nature of Life

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 7 May 2015

The nature of life: classical and contemporary perspectives from philosophy and science

Mark A Bedau and Carol E Cleland (eds) 

Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2010 |440pp ISBN 9780521517751

1. Facts and puzzles about the phenomena of life.

Life is amazing. It is all around us in a diversity of forms, ranging from microscopic bacteria to ancient towering trees, from almost inert lichen to transient insect blooms, from birds flocking in the sky to thriving colonies of tube worms at inky deep-sea vents. The first forms of life on earth spontaneously arose out…Read

What is Life - Mind and Matter

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 2 May 2015

Life is built on Chemistry - Vital Processes of Life are Chemical Reactions: Antoine Lavoisier

One point that Schrödinger makes in What is Life? is about the absence of the human personality: "It is difficult for us to take stock of the fact that the localization of the personality, of the conscious mind, inside the body is only symbolic, just an aid for practical use. Let us, with all the knowledge we have about it, follow such a 'tender look' inside the body.  We do hit there on a supremely…Read

The Dominant Animal

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 18 April 2015

In the Dominant Animal Paul and Anne Ehrlich offer a vivid and unique exploration of our origins, our evolution, and our future.

Belief Systems – edited extract from ‘The Dominant Animal’

Clearly there isn’t a one-for-one correspondence between “what’s out there” and what we perceive because our perceptions are an interaction between the external world and the evolved characteristics of the human nervous system; we miss a great deal that is detectable by other organisms.  Our brains are also programmed to let us see what we…Read

The Language Instinct

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 13 April 2015

In this classic, the world's expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved.

The opening paragraph: As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world.  For you and I belong to a species with remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other's brains with exquisite precision.  I am not referring to telepathy or mind control or…Read

What is Life

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 4 April 2015

What is Life? is a book by Ed Regis: an American philosopher, educator and author who specializes in books and articles about science, philosophy and intelligence.  

What is life?: the question remains unanswered and the more technological telescoping we do, the more difficult it is to find a unifying theory for life. Ed Regis emphasizes the work of Erwin Schrödinger who proposed in a 1944 paper that life’s spark is not a mystery but rather a knowable, even reproducible, phenomenon involving physics and chemistry.  The Austrian physicist helped spread the now-commonly…Read

Chance and Necessity

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 25 March 2015

Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology is a 1970 book by Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod, interpreting the processes of evolution to show that life is only the result of natural processes by "pure chance". The basic tenet of this book is that systems in nature with molecular biology, such as enzymatic biofeedback loops can be explained without having to invoke final causality.


What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 22 March 2015

Background Detail. All living beings are made up of cells. Some of them are made up of only one cell and others have many cells. The adult human body is estimated to contain from between 35 to 75 trillion cells. Cells are too small to be seen without magnification and range in size from 1 to 100 micrometers  (0.0001 centimetre)  The study of cells, also called cell biology, would not have been possible without the invention of the microscope. Cells contain DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid), the genetic information necessary for directing cellular activities. Some cells carry oxygen to parts…Read

The Double Helix

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 14 March 2015

DNA is the molecule of heredity, and to know its structure and method of reproduction enables science to know how generic directions are written and transmitted, how the forms of life are ordered from one generation to the next. The search for this molecular structure is the story told by James D. Watson in this book, published in 1968.  The public announcement of the discovery was made in April 1953.  In 1962 the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Francis H.C. Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice H. F. Wilkins the three men…Read

A Little History of Science

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 31 January 2015

This book consists of 40 short chapters (around 6 pages each) taking us from the beginnings of science to the present time. The first chapter entitled In the Beginning opens with the following words: "Science is special. It's the best way we have of finding out about the world and everything in it - and that includes us." The book is written by: William Bynum, professor emeritus in the history of medicine at the University College London.

Bynum shows how science, philosophy and religion often went together in the past.…Read

Science Matters

Book reviewed by Karla D. Passalacqua on 26 January 2015

One of my favorite undergraduate microbiology teachers used to remind us that the study of biology was important because “we are all biological citizens in a biological world.” Authors James Trefil and Robert Hazen would probably modify that statement, and say that studying science is important because “we are all physical citizens in a physical universe.” In the book Science Matters, the authors undertake the grand task of conveying “Science,” with a capital “S,” from atoms to ecosystems and from the scientific method to the very latest advances in…Read


Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 December 2014

Can we ever be happy?  It does seem as though people are at least temporarily happy in some instances, they may have arranged to move to new accommodation or they’ve just met somebody they like and that person in turn, likes them.  Perhaps they’ve been accepted for a job they applied for.  The only problem is that these are really only passing fancies and any joy we experience can be relatively short lived.  Arthur Schopenhauer the German philosopher believed that our natural condition is one of suffering because our desires are…Read

New Grub Street

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 8 November 2014

Pierre Coustillas has devoted himself to Gissing for more than half a century and concluded that George Gissing’s “life and professional career had been heroic. A scrupulous, original artist who cared more for the quality and sincerity of his work than for the demands of the public 

“New Grub Street is by general consent his masterpiece, in this novel he was writing about a world he knew thoroughly, and in which he had suffered. There is a painful bitterness in the book, yet it is fair even to the characters who, unlike…Read

Schopenhauer : a biography

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 16 August 2014

David E. Cartwright, Schopenhauer: A Biography, Cambridge University Press

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was one of the most original and provocative thinkers of the nineteenth century. He spent a lifetime striving to understand the meaning of living in a world where suffering and death are ubiquitous. In his quest to solve "the ever-disquieting riddle of existence," Schopenhauer explored almost every dimension of human life, developing a darkly compelling worldview that found deep resonance in contemporary literature, music, philosophy, and psychology. This is the first comprehensive biography of Schopenhauer written in English. Placing him in his historical…Read

Heidegger - Thinking of Being

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 28 June 2014

Philosophy was born in ancient Greece when someone looked up from plowing the field or tying their sandals to ask not what is this particular thing or that, but what is 'being' in general?  What does it mean to 'be?' In terms of the ontological difference, these early philosophers move from dealing with beings to inquiring into the being of these beings, that is their mode of being or the way they are.  We find the answers to these questions in the great works of metaphysics; these works are for Heidegger attempts to define 'beingness' that…Read

What W. H. Auden Can Do For You

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 22 June 2014

The poet, like every artist presents us only with the particular, the individual, yet what he wants to do is to let us know the whole species.  The poet takes from life that which is quite particular and individual and describes it accurately in its individuality: but in this way he reveals the whole of human existence, since, though he appears to be concerned with the particular, he is actually concerned with that which is everywhere and at all times.


Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 15 June 2014

Keep the Aspidistra Flying, first published 1936, is a socially critical novel by George Orwell. It is set in 1930s London. The main theme is the protagonist's romantic ambition to give up money and status.  The aspidistra is a common plant used decoratively. Orwell uses the plant to symbolize commoners, the lower class, of society. To keep them flying is to maintain their pride, to raise the value of common man from the soil to the sky.

A film adaptation of Keep the Aspidistra Flying was released in 1997, directed by Robert Bierman, and starring…Read

A Life Worth Living

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 2 June 2014

Though we do not face the same dangers that threatened Europe when Camus wrote "The Myth" of Sisyphus" and "The Stranger," we confront other alarms. Herein lies Camus abiding significance. Reading his work in Robert Zaretsky's book:  A Life Worth Living, we become more thoughtful observers of our own lives. For Camus, rebellion is an eternal human condition, a struggle against injustice that makes life worth living. But rebellion is also bounded by self-imposed constraints--it is a noble if impossible ideal. Such a contradiction suggests that if there is no reason for hope, there is also…Read

Camus Sartre

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 26 May 2014

Until now it has been impossible to read the full story of the relationship between Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Their dramatic rupture at the height of the Cold War, like that conflict itself, demanded those caught in its wake to take sides rather than to appreciate its tragic complexity. Now, using newly available sources, Ronald Aronson offers the first book-length account of the twentieth century's most famous friendship and its end.  


Karl Marx

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 22 March 2014

A Nineteenth Century Life

Jonathan Sperber's biography of Marx dazzales. It comprises 560 pages but is well worth the effort to read.  It changes your whole idea of Marx and also ones idea of the labour movement. Jonathan Sperber the author has this to say: "Marx's revolutionary aspirations were distinctly rooted in his formative years during the first half of the nineteenth century, these aspirations and his intransigence about proceeding towards them, whether openly expressed or hidden for tactical purposes, might be a key to the long term resonance of his ideas.  It…Read

The Spinoza of Market Street by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 8 December 2013

The setting is ultra- orthodox Jewish society and is about the lives of people in a small Polish town. Market Street is filled with peddlers, prostitutes, merchants and thieves and is placed side by side: juxtaposed against the more orderly world of Spinoza’s logic and reason.  The story is rich and full of twists and turns: inter-woven with philosophical points from Spinoza’s ‘Ethics.’  It provides a means of understanding by using the activities of everyday existence, accurately portrayed, to illustrate certain philosophical meaning…Read

A book forged in hell

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 2 October 2013

Steven Nadler's: A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age is about Baruch Spinoza's book which appeared in 1670, Theological Political Treatise: a turning point in the history of biblical criticism, which argued for greater freedom of thought and expression.  Steven Nadler provides an up-to-date version of it's claims and their background in religious and philosophical terms.  In essence the message that comes through is that scripture as we have it is not literally the word of God and therefore what has…Read

How I ended this Summer

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 11 August 2013

Tense and gripping, steeped in atmosphere and beauty,  The story is centred round two men working at a meteorological research outpost in the Russian Arctic, their personalities are so different that they begin to quarrel. Sergei and Pavel the two main characters symbolically represent different sides of Putin's Russia, one shaped by older traditional ways, the other struggling to discover a new set of values.  The dialogue is fairly sparce but this works towards building the tension between them. Pavel Danilov (Grigory Dobrygin), aged around 20, with a silver ring in his left ear and…Read