SCANDINAVIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

By: Michael Booth

 Narrated by: Ralph Lister

Michael Booth (British Author, food and travel writer.)

Later this month, we will travel to Scandinavia and Finland. As a suggestion by our guide, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” is a fascinating introduction to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. To be fair to indigenous people of the Nordic countries, one might keep in mind the author is British while living for ten or more years in Denmark with his Danish wife and family. The author notes they moved from Denmark for a short time, but his wife convinces him to return.

Booth is a travel and food writer. He explains that an extra motive for writing this book is because a wide part of the world knows little about Scandinavia and much of what they think they know is wrong. I am more in the first than second category but have an interest in the subject because of my Finnish grandparents.

On a per capita basis, Norway is among the ten richest nations in the world. America is around 11th. Sweden and Denmark are not far behind.

In contrast Finland is a laggard at 21st position but Booth claims Finland is his favorite among the five countries.

For public education systems, Finland is historically ranked among the best in the world while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are among the top ten. To give perspective, America is around 27th place.

The Danish-Swedish company Arla Foods is the 7th largest dairy company in the world. The industrial transportation and shipping company Maersk is a Danish company. IKEA, Volvo, Assa Abloy (key card locking systems for hotels), Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M are Swedish conglomerates. Denmark and Sweden are industry power houses in the world.

Booth notes Norway became rich with the discovery of oil. Denmark’s and Sweden’s wealth lies in different strengths and weaknesses revolving around their respective international businesses.  

What makes Booth’s book interesting, and entertaining is his view and contrast of Nordic societies. Booth suggests both Danes and Swedes are somewhat cliquish and standoffish but act differently among themselves. Both prefer working with their own countrymen and women. Danes revel in individualism whereas Swedes are more clannish. Neither particularly welcome outsiders but Swedes like working together with fellow Swedes as teams with common purpose. In contrast, Danes work within a hierarchical structure that relies on positional direction. Finns are characterized as less ambitious with a live and “let be” view of life. A Finn works to live rather than lives to work. Booth suggests Norwegians appear standoffish to many but its more from a wish to be self-reliant and reserved. The idea is to preserve personal space among themselves and to have respect for others who may or may not be Norwegian.

Iceland is not a part of the trip we are taking, and Booth only skims Icelandic culture but suggests Danish influence is the predominant characteristic of their population. (Iceland was founded by Danes.) Booth’s primary story of Iceland is in their errant decision to rely on banking system managers that nearly collapse the economy in the 2008 economic crises. Belief in hierarchal structure and positional direction nearly bankrupted Iceland because of unwise risks taken by bank managers.

A listener’s general impression from Booth’s book is that the Nordic countries are uniquely different but generally socialist with the highest tax rates in the world.

Those tax rates provide the best education and health systems in the world. However, their socialism does not impede their innovative entrepreneurial and capitalist interests. In Booth’s opinion, the Nordic countries represent the future of the world by melding capitalism with socialism.

Booth infers the success of Nordic countries begins with their education system. Teaching is an honored profession that is difficult for potential employees to join.

Teaching positions and teachers are highly educated and respected by the general population. Contrary to what one would presume, classes for students are medium size (20 to 23 students), teacher salaries are middle class, class days are limited to 4 hours, and every family has access to any school in their area. Tutoring is widely practiced for students needing help. There are no private schools.

As is true in all countries of the world, immigration is being horribly mishandled. Fair immigration policy in Norway and the world remains a work in progress.

Booth notes Nordic countries have not achieved perfection. With the threat of authoritarianism that diminishes the value of human life, histories of these countries show mistakes were made in WWII and are still being made in the 21st century. On the other hand, Booth shows native Nordic residents endorse and practice equal rights for men and women, a laudable example for the rest of the world.

RISE OF TYRANTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Tyrant

By: Stephen Greenblatt

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini

Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).

Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022.  Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.

Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.  

Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.

Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.

King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.

King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.

He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.

Russian Kleptocrats

Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.

Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.

Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.

MODI’S INDIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Association of Small Bombs

By: Karan Mahajan

 Narrated by: Neil Shah

Karan Mahajan (Indian American novelist.)

“The Association of Small Bombs” ticks slowly but makes a loud noise as its message becomes clear. Karan Mahajan explains something about India that is only marginally understood by most Americans. It is no surprise that terrorism comes from racial, religious, and ethnic difference, magnified by inequality. What is a surprise is India’s terrorist acts are local events, poorly prosecuted and soon forgotten by those not directly involved.

Mahajan’s story is about perpetrators of terrorism, who they are, where they come from, why, and how they become terrorists. The President of India is Hindu. An estimated 80 percent of India is Hindu with 13% Islamic, 2.3% Christian and other religions at less than 2% each.

(Mahatma) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948, Lawyer, Leader of India’s independence from British Rule.)

As most know, during the time of Mahatma Gandhi, there was a concerted effort to secularize India and keep two predominate religions in India, Hindu, and Islam. Gandhi fails and Pakistan becomes a separate Islamic state in 1947.

Modi, the current President of India, is said to believe–India’s Muslims must prove their Indianness to be citizens of the country.

Modi effectively dismantles Gandhi’s effort to secularize India. Like the stain of slavery in America, Modi pollutes India’s secularization at the expense of a restive Muslim population.

Mahajan’s story begins with a terrorist bomb explosion. The bomb is set by a Muslim terrorist that kills two Muslim boys and wounds a third.

The irony is that Muslims are killing Muslims to undermine a government that already discriminates against Muslims. “The Association of Small Bombs” is meant to destabilize the government regardless of who is being killed.

“The Association of Small Bombs” explains how one Muslim youth becomes a terrorist and how another, who is a victim of a bombing, is falsely accused and convicted for terrorism.

Mahajan explains how injustice is compounded by an inept prosecution system, biased against Muslims who are often victims of the bombings. India’ residents, whether Muslim or Hindu, are victimized in two ways. One, actual perpetrators are rarely caught, and two, victims are rarely compensated for their loss.

India-protest in Kolkata, India against Indian citizenship for Muslims.

Mahajan illustrates how inequality is an equal opportunity victimizer in India. The wider point of Mahajan’s story is that denial of equal opportunity for all races, religions, and ethnicities in any nation-state is a crime against humanity.

WARS SURVIVORS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

At Night All Blood Is Black

By: David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis

   Narrated by: Dion Graham

David Diop (Novelist, born in Paris to a French mother and Senegalese father, Graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris, winner of the International Booker Prize.)

“At Night All Blood Is Black” is a powerful anti-war story. Though it is about WWI, it is a reminder of the long- and short-term consequence of the horror of killing. In the beginning, the sonorous voice of the narrator, Dion Graham, seems wrong for the story. One may be tempted to put it aside. By the end of the story, a listener understands why Graham’s telling is perfect for the piece.

“At Night All Blood Is Black” is particularly relevant to today’s war in Ukraine.

Though the setting of “At Night All Blood Is Black” is in Senegal, a former colony of France, it has universal application. In one sense it is a condemnation of colonization but in a more universal sense it is about war’s survivors. Its immediate relevance is in the Russia/Ukraine war and the atrocities revealed in the news.

Of course, western media shows the murder and mutilation of Ukrainians because Vladimir Putin is the unquestioned instigator of the war. However, one can be sure there are atrocities on both sides, as Americans know from the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Diop’s story is about one man’s role in the war. He is a Senegalese recruit that speaks no French. He enlists and is ordered by a French commander to kill Germans. This recruit develops a blood lust that revels in hand-to-hand combat. He loses his best friend early in his combat experience.

Ukrainian Atrocity

His childhood friend is eviscerated by a machete or a shot from a gun. He is alive but his guts are strewn on the ground. As he tries to return his guts to his abdomen, he begs the recruit to kill him because he knows he cannot survive. The recruit cannot do it. His friend finally dies, and the recruit blames himself for not having the courage to end his friend’s misery. This event triggers bloodlust in the recruit.

The Violence of Hand-to-Hand Combat in Ukraine

The recruit is already notorious for cutting off the hand of a German he has killed and bringing it back to the camp. After his friend’s death, he begins to collect more hands from Germans he kills. His commanding officer becomes aware of the recruit’s behavior. The men in the troop become fearful of the recruit. The recruit is ordered to leave the field of battle and to turn over the six hands of German soldiers that he has collected.

The recruit says he has lost the hands when in fact he has preserved them in a salt mixture and hidden them in his personal gear. The recruit reasons that the commander will court martial him if he finds the hands. That may or may not be true, but the preserved hands have some undisclosed psychological meaning to the recruit.

War’s emotional abuse.

The recruit is sent to a psychiatric hospital. He is treated for stress and his aberrant behavior by a French psychiatrist. The recruit cannot speak French, but the psychiatrist asks him to draw pictures for him to gain some insight to the recruit’s state of mind. The drawings seem to help the recruit recover. He secretly buries the six hands he has been carrying around with him. However, it is implied that the buried hand expedition is seen and noted by the psychiatrist. In the process of his hospitalization, a backstory is given of the recruit’s life before the war.

War changes people in different ways. Those in direct, particularly hand-to-hand combat, may never return to social normality. The recruit is characterized as a handsome, muscular young man who attracts beautiful women. One of the women is the daughter of his psychiatrist. The meaning of the story lies in the fate of the daughter.

The brutality of war never leaves its participants. It likely never leaves war’s survivors, but Diop’s story suggests participants in brutality carry an even bigger burden. One wonders what consequence there will be for soldiers and survivors of the Russia/Ukrainian war.

LEARNING AND MEMORY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Extended Mind

By: Annie Murphy Paul

   Narrated by: Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul (Author, graduate of Yale and Columbia University with a Journalism major).

Annie Murphy Paul is a science writer who has lectured at TED TALK about learning, memory, and cognition. She has written articles for “Scientific American”, and several national newspapers. The interesting insight of “The Extended Mind” is that learning, teaching, and memory are significantly enhanced by physical activity.

From birth to maturity, Paul notes physical activity is a critical component of human thought, and action but memory is a critical dimension for both.

This seems tautological at first glance. After all, learning by doing is a self-evident truth. However, Paul explains learning by doing is only the tip of a much larger truth. She argues physical activity informs and extends the mind to ignore, remember, repeat, or forget everything we know or do. Without physical activity, minds atrophy, memories fade, and bodies die.

Paul explains learning is enhanced by physical activity.

Scientific experiments show that learning and memory are improved by association with physical movement. Reading about an experiment may enlighten the uninformed; however, being the experimenter enhances memory of the experiment’s proof. Sitting and thinking about doing is more forgettable than doing what one is thinking about.

Paul notes that association with physical movement is like a mnemonic that aids memory.

She suggests a defined hand gesture has more value than mnemonic association for memory. One might think of a “P” to remember Paul as the author of this book. On the other hand, one might physically form the letter “P” with three fingers and the memory of the author becomes more memorable.

Paul cites several examples of how teachers have improved their teaching skills by encouraging physical activity with interactive class assignments and subjects.

Paul suggests strict order in a classroom (e.g., sitting at one’s desk and reading an assignment or teacher dictation of lessons) limits memory of subjects covered in the school room. She suggests learning is enhanced by social interaction.

After brief experience as a high school teacher, some of what Paul explains makes sense. The difficulty is implementing her ideas when trying to balance the variety of student strengths and weaknesses with their social and economic difference.

Learning may be improved by social interaction, but human nature often gets in the way. For example, social interaction may be viewed as a threat to an introverted student. The introvert is unlikely to participate in a social grouping. The same can be said of those with a different religion, heritage, ethnicity, or gender.

On the other hand, there is wisdom in requiring social interaction even when involving students who are introverted or challenged by their familial upbringing. People grow and educate others from uncomfortable emotional and physical circumstances.

Paul extends her argument to business office environments and how collaborative office orientations improve company creativity and performance.

She tempers that argument based on group preferences where some may be more comfortable in an environment that is more structured than unstructured. This is not contradicting the argument of physical activity as essential for enhanced productivity in the office. She goes so far as to suggest treadmills at workstations for some offices.

Several years ago, this critics preference for audiobooks came from boredom associated with activity that required little directed attention.

Personal experience confirms Paul’s argument. Though detailed memory is far from ideal, exercise while listening to an audiobook has been rewarding.

AIKIDO

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Art of Peace (Teachings of the Founder of Aikido)

By: John Stevens-translator for Morihei Ueshiba

   Narrated by: Brian Nishii

John Stevens (Translator, Buddhist priest and teacher of Buddhist studies and Aikido. Stevens was born in 1947.)

“The Art of Peace” is a brief audio book that recounts the life, and for the skeptical, the myth of Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba is the founder of the martial arts technique of Aikido. Though Ueshiba’s life ranges from one of violence to peace, his life leads him to a spiritual and practical acceptance of what is Aikido, “a Japanese form of self-defense and martial art that uses locks, holds, throws and an opponents’ own movements to defeat aggression”.

Moritaka Ueshiba, aka Ueshiba Morihei, aka Tanabe Wakayama (Japanese martial artist and founder of the martial art of Akido.)

Ueshiba was born into a relatively wealthy Japanese family. His father was a farmer and minor politician in a city now known as Tanabe, a city located in Wakayama Prefecture. He was an only son with three siblings. Ueshiba describes himself as a weak, somewhat sickly, child who is encouraged by his father to strengthen his body by learning sumo wrestling, swimming and the discipline of repetition.

Shinto (A religion that originated in 300 BCE Japan, considered a nature religion.)

Ueshiba is largely taught by a Shinto priest, his elementary schoolteacher.

The Shinto priest introduces Ueshiba to religion. Ueshiba quits his formal education after Middle School. After life in Tanabe, “The Art of Peace” tells of Ueshiba’s life as a warrior in the war with Russia in the early 1900s. He is initially drafted but fails his induction because of his small stature. To increase his height to meet the minimum requirements, Ueshiba allegedly suspends himself from the branches of trees with weights on his legs. He is said to have added the half inch needed to qualify for the military. His success as a warrior is implied by his promotion to sergeant by the end of the war.

Ueshiba continues to train in the martial arts with teachers of judo and other martial arts that give him superior skill as a fighter.

Ueshiba develops great skill with mind and sword. “The Art of Peace” recounts an extraordinary feat to dodge bullets. He is simultaneously fired upon by several shooters to illustrate his ability to evade aggression. He manages to anticipate the first shot and move behind the fusillade before any bullets can find their mark. He does this twice, according to Steven’s translation of the book.

The essential message of “The Art of Peace” is that meeting aggression with aggression is a fool’s errand. Ueshiba argues understanding the futility of aggression teaches one to listen, learn, and act in ways that use other’s aggression against themselves.

There is wisdom in Ueshiba’s argument, but it seems to have taken a long life, diligent study, practice, and experience of war, to adopt the principles of Aikido.

“The Art of Peace” seems more a life of an idea than one’s ability to achieve, let alone implement.

EMPIRES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Vanquished

By: Robert Gerwarth

Narrated by: Michael Page

Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)

At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling of empires.

Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.

Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.

Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.

Vladimier Putin is not Hitler. However, Putin’s view of the world is that of a former KGB agent of the U.S.S.R.

Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.

British Empire–Empires are passe in the 21st century. Colonization is the history of the past.

None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.

Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.

Uighur Re-education camp in China.

The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.

It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.

Map of the United States of America with state names.

Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.

RIGHT TO DIE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Door

By: Magda Szabo

Narrated by: Sian Thomas

Magda Szabo (Hungarian novelist, 1917-2007, died at age 90)

“The Door” is a story of the human psyche, and religious belief. Every human has a locked door in their consciousness, behind which life’s meaning is hidden.

Often, neither individuals nor acquaintances have a key to that door. Magda Szabo creates characters searching for that key. To some listener/readers, her primary character has the key. Emerence Szeredas is Szabo’s primary character who, some may argue, has keys to other’s doors, as well as her own.

Emerence is a mysterious community caretaker. As Szabo tells her story, listeners find Emerence has lived an eventful life.

She realizes much of life is out of her control but believes that which is under one’s control should be controlled absolutely. Emerence lives in an apartment. Her front door is locked to outsiders–excerpt in a rare circumstance when a fugitive needs to be hidden from the world because of societal transgression. Emerence becomes a place of temporary refuge for societal transgressors in a hidden room in her house.

Emerence cracks the door of her life for a writer who is married and needs help with her household. The writer asks Emerence to become her housekeeper.

The slight opening to the writer of Emerence’s psyche ends in tragedy. Through many years of work and acquaintance with the writer, Emerence reveals personal information about her life. Emerence resists opening her locked door but counsels the writer on how she should live her life. Emerence becomes close to the writer and plans to leave the contents of the house to her when she dies.

Emerence has a stroke. She refuses help from anyone and refuses any food or medical assistance while recovering behind her closed door.

She refuses to allow anyone, including the writer, to come into her apartment. She quits eating and is near death. The apartment begins to stink of pet excrement and rotting food. The writer chooses to organize the community to break down Emerence’s door and force her into a hospital for care. Emerence threatens to kill anyone who tries to knock down her door. In great distress, Emerence wields an axe, inadvertently smashes the door to her apartment, and is unable to stop the community from taking her to the hospital.  

Now that Emerence’s door is broken, both metaphorically and physically, she blames the writer for invading her privacy and denying her the right to die as she chooses.

The writer interferes with Emerence’s fundamental right to control that which she can control. Emerence heatedly explains to the writer that her wish to die behind her door is her choice.

Emerence is saying she has always been in control of her life and if she wishes to die, it is her business, no one else’s.

Emerence is recovering in the hospital. She refuses to talk to the writer. The writer cannot grasp Emerence’s reasoning. The writer feels she saved Emerence’s life. What the writer did not understand is Emerence’s need to be in control of what she can control to give meaning to her life.

Despite Emerence’s physical deterioration, neglect of pets in her house, and the unhealthful condition of her surroundings, in her apartment she had control of her life. Survival in the hospital, the stinking condition of the house, and her physical disability became an embarrassment to Emerence. To Emerence, if she had died in the house, the embarrassment would mean nothing because she would be dead. With survival, Emerence’s locked door would be opened for all to see, a circumstance beyond her control.

Emerence is told by the hospital that she will not be released to return to her apartment. She is to be sent to a convalescent facility. She refuses with anger and physical reaction that ends her life on terms she chooses.

“The Door” appears in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated into French and English. It raises many questions about life, faith, and individual rights. In this age of “right to die”, Szabo’s story has particular relevance.

REPARATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Learning from the Germans (Race and the Memory of Evil)

By: Susan Neiman

Narrated by: Christa Lewis

Susan Neiman (Author, Moral Philosopher).

Not many authors are more qualified than Susan Neiman to write about “Learning from the Germans”. As an American moral philosopher and cultural commentator who lives in Germany, Neiman offers an analysis of race and evil. One may disagree with her conclusion but not with her understanding of the subject.

Neiman notes being raised in Atlanta, Georgia by her Jewish mother, and father. Regarding race and evil, Neiman understands what it is like to be white in America and Jewish in Germany. Southern discrimination and religious persecution are vivified by Neiman’s experience in both cultures.

What comes as a surprise to some is Neiman’s argument that Germany handles guilt and shame for the holocaust better than America handles guilt and shame for racism, slavery, unequal treatment, and murder of people of color.

The primary theme of Neiman’s book is that post WWII Germany dealt with the history of the holocaust more forthrightly than America has dealt with racism and its evil.

Neiman explains memory of the holocaust is memorialized in Germany after the war. It has only been in the twentieth century that America has begun to memorialize 200 years of black slavery, lynching, and murder.

Pictures below are German sites preserved showing concentration camps, a prison, a museum, as monuments and reminders of holocaust atrocities. In Germany, by 1950, reparation for holocaust survivors is being negotiated.

With the exception of the Thomas Ball memorial to Emancipation in 1876, no monuments of slavery’s horrendous history are noted in America until the mid-1900s. What Neiman shows is that, only in this American generation, have reparations for slavery been seriously considered.

In the 1950s Germany began to deal with financial reparations for holocaust victims. In the 21st century, America is just beginning to discuss reparation for slavery. Even in 2022, most Americans reject reparations. However, a well-known American, David Brooks, changed his mind in 2019.

David Brooks (Writer, conservative political and cultural commentator, reporter, editor.)

Brooks writes:

“Nearly five years ago I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” with mild disagreement. All sorts of practical objections leapt to mind. What about the recent African immigrants? What about the poor whites who have nothing of what you would call privilege? Do we pay Oprah and LeBron?”

“The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.”

Robert Jones, the Founder of the Public Religion Institute, and a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book suggesting reparations are the only way white America can find forgiveness. Neiman acknowledges the high cost of determining fair reparations for American slavery but implies money spent on defense would be a good place to search for money to invest in white America’s forgiveness for slavery. Neiman notes Germany rebuilt itself after WWII. Her inference is that America has enough wealth to do the same with reparations for slavery.

Neiman notes Germany, like America, has right wing extremists who continue to vilify ethnic minorities, but discrimination is institutionally rejected by German government leadership while American leaders like former President Donald Trump say there are very fine people on both sides of racial discrimination.

Trump refers to the 2017, Charlottesville, Va. alt-right and white nationalist rally where a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters to the racist rally, one of which is killed.

Neiman recalls the murder and torture of a  Black 14-year-old boy, Emmitt Till, in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.

Two white Americans admitted their guilt in Till’s torture and murder, after being acquitted for the crime by an all-white jury. The murderers went free to live their remaining lives in Mississippi.

Neiman reflects on the murders of nine African Americans in Shelby, North Carolina by Dylann Roof in 2015. Roof self-identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi.

Neiman’s point is that Germany has done better to acknowledge and repair their relationship with holocaust survivors than America has done in reconciling its racist and evil actions regarding slavery and what has become institutionalized racism. Germany’s success has been in the face of an east and west Germany reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Neiman notes the difference in east and west German survivors’ beliefs while showing they acted to reconcile their Nazi past with memorialization, and demonstration of shame and guilt for the holocaust. A significant part of that reconciliation is legislated reparation for holocaust survivors.

Neiman explains, just as there remain Nazi collaborators in the East and West, there are racist collaborators in the northern and southern United States. Neiman infers if Germany could reunify within 40 years after WWII, the U.S. should be able to reunify after the end of the civil war. Why is it taking the U.S. over 150 years to get to the point of just talking about reparations for slavery, let alone memorializing its evil?

LOSS OF ENCHANTMENT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Secular Age

By: Charles Taylor

Narrated by: Dennis Holland

Charles Taylor (Author, philosopher)

Charles Taylor is in his 90s. This 42-hour exploration of the Western hemisphere’s transition from religious to secularist belief is daunting and enlightening. One is reminded of the evolving framework of belief in the death of God initiated by Nietzsche and sustained by Camus. Nietzsche, and Camus suggest humanity is on its own. There is no heaven. There is no hell.  These two philosophers imply there is only a life one chooses to live. Taylor circles and circles this argument but never agrees. Taylor argues the western world has arrived at “A Secular Age”, not meaning God is dead but that western society’s view of God has evolved and is evolving.

Taylor writes the history of how the western world became the exemplar of “A Secular Age”. Taylor does not suggest western philosophy is ahead or behind eastern philosophies like Buddhism with its Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, and reincarnation. Secularism and Buddhism are similar in their emphasis on societal self-worth. What Taylor illustrates is the wide gulf between eastern fundamentalist religious belief and the secular evolution of western religions.

To some, God is not dead in the west, but He/She seems to some to be on life support. Taylor suggests that is a premature conclusion.

Taylor notes eastern nations did not follow the humanist history of the west and is not a significant part of his research for this book. However, he acknowledges a humanist’ perspective in eastern Buddhism. The Buddhist’ objective is to find the path of enlightenment with reincarnated lives, seeking Nirvana (a transcendent state where suffering, desire, and self are embodied within one’s peaceful existence). Buddhism’s focus on ethical behavior might be considered analogous to living a secular life. However, Taylor notes a significant difference, i.e., Buddhist’ belief includes supernatural figures that either help or hinder Buddhist followers from finding the path of enlightenment. In Taylor’s parlance, a Buddhist remains a believer in enchantment whereas a western secularist abandons enchantment.

Buddhism departs from secularism because of its belief in supernatural influences.

In “A Secular Age”, Taylor is only explaining how history of the western world leans toward secularism and away from belief in an enchanted world. Taylor’s argument is that history of the western world shows fewer citizens believe life is influenced or determined by good or bad homunculi.  Homunculi are replaced by medical’ diagnosis that can be medicinally or therapeutically treated.

The struggle of “A Secular Age” is in medical diagnosis and therapeutic treatment rather than singular dependence on God’s wrath or grace. In the western world, transcendence becomes more a human rather than Godly resolution of human crises.

In Taylor’s history of the “…Secular Age”, religion and belief in God remain a force in the 21st century. God is not dead in the west to those who believe.

However, Taylor’s response to a question about the existence of God is alleged to be: “There’s probably no God: now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Taylor acknowledges stories like Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” in the “Brothers Karamazov”, a poem by Wordsworth like “Dover Beach”, and philosophical treatises by Nietzsche and Camus that literarily address the existence and diminishment of enchantment in the western world. The breadth of Taylor’s knowledge and research for “A Secular Age” is remarkable.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (Author, Russian novelist, 1821-1881 Died at age 59)

Taylor gives us a credible history of change from the age of enchantment to “A Secular Age”. However, there remains no definitive answer to what the world is about, what life means, or where “understanding of life” is heading.

Douglas Adams (Author, humorist, satirist.)

So, what is the world about, and what is the meaning of life? At the end of Taylor’s tome, one comes to the same conclusion as Douglas Adam’s comically suggested number, “42”.

In broad terms, Taylor suggests human evolution and history are origins of Western civilization’s secularization. His supporting arguments are many with the advance of science playing a smaller role than one might expect. His reasoning reaches back to the stone age, advancing through to the 21st century. The range of his reasoning, and the length of his book, raises the scholarly value of his book but diminishes its appeal to a lay audience.