Summer Reading 2011

27 May 2011

Each year Ken and I together with our listeners, previous guests, and special guests, come up with a number of suggestions for summer reading.  The books don't have to be philosophy books, but they should have a philosophical angle.  So the categories come down to philosophically interesting fiction, philosophically relevant non-fiction, and straight philosophy.

This year our special guest is John McMurtrie, book critic at the San Francisco Chronicle.  John had a host of recommendation --- book critics read a lot of books.  They are all listed on our website, along with all of the other suggestions we got.  The two we discussed at some length with John are:
Garry Wills, Augustine's Confessions: A Biography.
T.C. Boyle, When the Killing's Done.
I was happy to learn of a new book on Augustine by Garry Wills, always an engaging writer. It's a good idea to read or reread the Confessions, or at least the first nine books, while reading what Wills has to say.  Boyle's book sounds like a mystery novel, but its really built around the moral issues involved in ridding some of California's Channel Islands of non-native species.
My suggestions were books by Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader; that book was on a previous year's list, and the movie based on it won a Dionysus Award.  I've read and liked some of Schlink's mystery novels; the detective is named `Self', so the titles are things like Self's Deception.  His novel The Homecoming picks up themes of memory and guilt found in The Reader.  And finally his book Guilt About the Past consists at lectures he gave at Oxford, which direct these issues directly, or at least philosophically.
Ken plans to read only short books this Summer, fitting his reading into spaces left by his own writing and his baseball coaching duties.  His choices: Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms;  Troy Jollimore, At Lake Scugog: Poems;and Robert Rowland Smith,  Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day.  Don't miss Ken reading one of Troy Jollimore's great poems on the show.

Two authors and former guests talked about books they have just finished.  Psychiatrist and novelist Irv Yalom's The Spinoza Problem sounds like it will be a great read, but it won't be in bookstores for this Summer; put it high on your list for next Summer.

Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist told us about her latest book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love; the theory she develops in this books and her earlier Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love may help you use science to make good decisions (or understand bad ones).

Geoff Nunberg was enthusiastic about a book by another Berkeley prof, Martin Jay'sThe Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics.  The subtitle at least makes this sound like a pretty huge topic, but the books comes in at just over 200 pages and Nunberg says it's a good read; might be a good warm up for appreciating the upcoming election season.

Other books we had a chance to discuss with listeners:

Noam Shpancer, The Good Psychologist
William Shakespeare, Coriolanus
Leo Tolstoy, The Devil
by Jorge Luis Borges, The Tower of Babel
Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature
Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place

All the books we discuss, plus a number suggested by guests and listeners that we didn't get a chance to discuss, will be listed on our website when the show is archived, in about a week.

Comments (6)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, May 29, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I enjoyed Taleb's The Black Swan and am happy to h

I enjoyed Taleb's The Black Swan and am happy to hear he has something newer. Will be certain to check it out---I have gift cards left over from Christmas. Lots of good to great reading out there. Jared Diamond, Gerald Edelman and Stewart Kauffman are favorites of mine when I'm not digging into the likes of Martin Heidegger, E.O. Wilson, et. al. I use the library a lot. Retiree budgets are more restrictive these days. Or maybe it is just the economy?

Guest's picture


Wednesday, June 1, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Hi Ken, Saw you had an interest in poetry and t

Hi Ken,
Saw you had an interest in poetry and thought you and others might like this:
When words have no rules or regulations
And a sentence has no bounds
That is where the poet hides
Where truth can still be found
The word is mightier than the sword they say
When words are truly free
Poetry is the words of a poet
Then the poet has the power of Thee
There is a lesson to learn in poetry
A remedy and a cure
For poetry are words of freedom
And in freedom the truth shall set us free
What is the truth One wonders
In the phrase and phrases of a rhyme
The true poetry of a free poet
Will bring equality to All in Just time
For freedom is equality
Unity of not only mankind
The true words of a poets? poetry
Is the beautiful true Oneness of All kind.

Guest's picture


Wednesday, June 22, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Where is the list of the teen reads that the rover

Where is the list of the teen reads that the rovering philosopher did? These sound great and I would like to have them so that I can recommend them to my niece.

Guest's picture


Monday, April 16, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I thought I might add my 2

I thought I might add my 2 cents on summer reading: As in general I think of summer reading as stuff you don't have to think too hard about while poolside or at the beach, I would recommend Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club series. The protagonist is Isabel Dalhousie, the editor of an Ethics journal, the Review of Applied Ethics. While she is busy sticking her nose (in the nicest possible way) into other's people's business, she ponders the moral issues that these events call into question. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, they are as cosy as having tea over an Agatha Christie novel...hmmm, maybe then they should be cold winter day by the fire reading instead...

Guest's picture


Monday, April 16, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I have three ssuggestions,

I have three ssuggestions, immediately.
"The Undercover Philosopher" by Michael Philips is a revealing look into our thinking mistakes and, for example, shows decisively that most MD's do not think very well when it comes to what is suggested by false negative and false positive tests.
"Thinking, Fast and Slow' by Kahneman will be one of the most important books ever, perhaps, and among other things indicates why the MD's Philips talks about do not do the hard thinking, the counter-intuitive thinking, necessary for proper handling of statistical fact.
"The Ratttle Bag" edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes is poetry that has tickled and delighted them--a fantastic offering alphabetical by poem title, hence close to random.

katie's picture


Monday, April 16, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

How about the Deptford

How about the Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies?
Jungian analysis, moral dilemmas, puns, magic and a fun read.