Saturday, June 25, 2005

 

Book Quiz

I don't normally go in for chain letters, but Paul over on N.I.Magyar has nominated me to answer some questions for a bloggers' book quiz, so here goes:

How many books do you own?

I have got a lot of books, I would guess that I have about 1500 or so filling 3 rooms of my house and my attic. I'm not a great fiction reader (except for short stories). Most of my books are on history, politics, religion and on law.

What was the last book you read?

Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, by Robert Kagan.

This was a short neo-con political piece about the relationship between Europe and the US. The author's basic thesis is that American unilateralism is as a result of the country's unchallengable strength while European love for international law and multilateralism is as a result of our military weakness. He suggests that Europe is far too weak to constrain the US, but that despite this the US should show more understanding of European sensibilities.

What was the last book you bought?

Why Angels Fall: A journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo, by Victoria Clarke.

I bought this to read this during my holidays. At the moment it is sitting beside me enticingly, beckoning me to start reading it. I must resist temptation....

What are your 5 most meaningful books?


Choosing the 5 most meaningful would be very difficult, the ones which have made profound impacts on my thinking would probably be the following:


1. The Bible

Sorry if lots of people say this, but the Bible, particularly Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament and Romans in the New, has had the most influence on my thinking. Ecclesiastes is the wisdom of a man who has been through a lot and which I have frequently returned to at many points in my life. I also like Paul's letter to the Romans where it sets out justification by faith, showing me that God's love is based not on my works but on Christ's work on the cross.


2. The God who is there, by Francis Schaeffer.

On a similar Christian theme, the book that turned me into a bookworm (for good or ill) was Francis Schaeffer's "The God who is there". I bought a copy of this book in a second hand bookshop on the Antrim Road in Belfast back in 1988. Reading the book back then when I was 20 sparked my interest in philosophy and culture. I was not successful at school and I was not that interested in anything intellectual (except NI politics, of which more below) before then. Scheaffer's critique of the intellectual culture of the 1960s (when the book was written) led me to want to explore and discover the intellectual culture of the then contemporary 1980s. This intellectual interest the led me to decide to go to college and then on to university a few years later. When I read this book I agreed wholeheartedly with all that it said, today although I agree with the broad outline I would be rather more critical of some of the details, but that is a different story.

3. Memoirs of a Statesman, by Brian Faulkner.

When it comes to politics, the book that got me interested in Northern Ireland politics was "Memoirs of a Statesman", Brian Faulkner's autobiography which I read in 1985 when I was 17 in lower sixth form at school. It was the time of unionist opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and a period when school was very politicised. My own background and views were apolitical and I had no emotional attraction to unionism. If anything the opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement seemed to be a disproportionate reaction that I had little affinity for. I probably still have no such emotional attraction but at that time Faulkner's brand of moderate unionism seemed to show that there was more to the belief than hysteria. I borrowed this book from the library and I have not reread it since, so it would be interesting to see what I would make of it now. Deep down I still prefer the idea of an independent Northern Ireland but I usually vote for one of the unionist parties and regard them as nearer my views than Alliance or the nationalist parties.

4. The Uncivil Wars: Ireland Today, by Padraig O'Malley.

A second book which changed my thinking on the NI politics front was "The Uncivil Wars: Ireland today" by Padraig O'Malley, written back in 1983 or so. I read this in about 1986 and found the author's style, where he applied ruthless cold logic to the positions of all the major parties, very enlightening in learning to analyse Northern Ireland.


5. The Case for Democracy: The power of freedom to overcome tyranny and terror, by Natan Sharansky.

I notice on looking through all of the books that changed my thinking that they were all ones that I read during the 1985-1988 period when I was 17-21. I suppose this was a time when my opinions were not fixed and reading a single book could cause then to change radically. My opinions have not remained static since, but it is now rare that reading a single book would cause me to change my mind radically about any issue. For this reason the fifth book is one that gave me an interesting and fresh perspective rather than one which considerably changed my thinking.

This book is Sharansky's Case for Democracy, apparently a favorite of George Bush. Sharansky's view is that there is a fundamental difference between a free society and a fear society. A free society is governed by consent, while a fear society is governed by fear. A fear society needs to control its people and it accomplishes this by a mixture of coercion and of scapegoating external enemies. Sharansky suggests that the West should pressurise the Arab world into democracy, rather than supporting west-friendly tyrants. He argues that a democratic Arab world would not need to demonise the west to keep control of its people. This is a powerful critique of the realpolitik idea that the Arab world is doomed to tyranny or is unsuitable for democracy. I think he underestimates the strength of religious and national animosity and the role of non-state parties in using scapegoating for political advantage, but these criticisms aside it is a very thought provoking read.

It seems that I should now nominate others to take part in this quiz. I nominate Notmyopinion, Ciaran and David.

How many Books Do You Own?

Last Book You Bought?

Last Book You Read?

5 Most Meaningful books In Your Life?


Comments:
"Why Angels Fall: A journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo, by Victoria Clarke."

There's another very good book "Black Lamb and Grey falcon" by Rebecca West on a related topic;
which is the Yugoslavia of the 1930s. Some of her premonitions of what would happen 60 years later are frightening close to the truth.

Interested to see Brian Faulkner amongst the selection. In my opinion Unionism has only produced three statesmen since Edward Carson; Terence O'Neill,Faulkner and David Trimble. In each case the combination of Republican violence and Unionist intransigence prevented them from reaching their full potential.
 
I have not (yet) read Rebecca West, but I have read "Balkan Ghosts" by Robert Kaplan which refers approvingly to it quite often.

Regarding unionist statesmen, I would agree with all of your list except O'Neill. My own feeling is that he was quite out of touch, I think a more grassroots leader would have avoided the disaster that exploded in 1969.
 
Re Sharansky's Case for Democracy - Do you think it's possible that even as "the West" pressures Arab societies to move towards democractic "free society", the West becomes more of a "fear society" itself, as the threat of islamic terrorism is used to increase the amount of state control in more and more areas of life. In the past few months we've had the introduction of house arrest without trial, and the announcement of "voluntary" ID cards and a National fingerprint and personal information database, and satellite tracking of all cars (for road taxing and possibly automatic speeding fines).

Is fear of extrenal threat making us complacent about government control?

"Notmyopinion"
 
OK, David, I did it. The answers are over there! I didn't pick 5 books, though.

I wrote the previous comment before the bombs in London. I was in town that day, but I still think we should not become a society of fear :)

"notmyopinion"
 
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