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Practical Ethics

Saturday, January 11th, 2003
Author
Peter Singer

Practical Ethics

Practical Ethics is the one book I know that can, without fail start a heated argument in any company. You just open to any page read a paragraph out loud. Instant debate.

Peter Singer makes a habit of bait-and-switching the reader. Starting with what (usually) sound like simple, easy to agree with axioms he builds up easy to follow example. Then proceeds to explain why, if you agree with the example, which most people do, you have agreed to something that most people would find unacceptable.

Using this process Singer explores the consequences of applying a Utilitarian ethical system to many of the toughest questions; abortion, euthanasia, animal rights, the environment. Even if you have a utilitarian ethic when you start reading Practical Ethics, you may find yourself, apparently, agreeing to statements you would reject normally.

The one issue with this book is that Singer moves quickly. Maybe to avoid overly verbose and academic discussions, trying to be more “layman”, but the book does sometimes jump to a conclusion that leaves you feeling that you need more to really swallow the pill.

I’m a naturally liberal and logical person and Practical Ethics is probably the single most influential book I have read. I think having, and understanding, a ethical system is a good thing. Too many people never think about their ethics and why they make the decisions they do. They just repeat decisions they don’t really understand.

I was a utilitarian before I read Practical Ethics, but it forced me to examine what that means in the extreme. Taking all the basic utilitarian axioms and pushing them to their logical limits.

Watership Down

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Richard Adams

On Amazon.com

The tale of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and their companions as they search for a save haven. I love this book, I’ve read it several times and each time I find myself experiancing the same range of emotions. Adams weaves a beautiful tale of life with themes and morals as important to humans as to the rabbits in the book. With simple language Watership Down is a quick read that you can’t put down, and it will touch you in a way few books can.

The Age of Reason

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Jean Paul Sartre, Translated By Eric Sutton

On Amazon.com

I can’t rave about this book enough. One of the best novels I have ever read, it made me want to drop everything, learn French and move to Paris. The only thing comparable is Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The Age of Reason is the first book in Sartre’s Roads to Freedom series. The story of Mathieu and his existential struggle to be free is set amid the back drop of the events of 1938 Europe. With the shadow of war hanging over Paris all Mathieu can think about is Freedom.

The Reprieve

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Jean Paul Sartre, Translated By Eric Sutton

On Amazon.com

A stream of consciousness tale of the eight days leading up to the signing of the Munich Pact, postponing the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, covering the thoughts of characters all over France. Sartre’s style is amazing, he switches narrator in mid paragraph yet the reader does not loose his barring, and the effect conveys the urgency and uncertainty of the times.

Troubled Sleep

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Jean Paul Sartre, Translated By Gerald Hopkins

On Amazon.com

The last book in Sartre’s stunning Roads to Freedom series Troubled Sleep chronicles the fall of France to the Nazi forces and the blank, mute reaction of the French people. Sartre’s examination of people who have no long term plans takes the reader down different paths and is executed with amazing dialogs and narrations. The book doesn’t end on a happy note, more of a cross between releaf that the battles are over and fear of what is to come.

Identity

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Milan Kundera, Translated By Linda Asher

On Amazon.com

Identity takes the reader into the minds of the lovers Chantal and Jean-Marc. Through their thoughts we see how little Chantal and Jean-Marc really know each other, how they fail to understand each other and communicate their feelings. Each incident of the story is told from twice, one from Chantal’s point of view and once from Jean-Marc’s point of view. The wide gulf between the two’s perception of the situation is an insight into the problems lack of communication causes in our relationships.

Anna Karenina

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Leo Tolstoy, Translated By Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

On Amazon.com

Leo Tolstoy’s novel about love and life is as poignant today as ever. Anna’s stormy affair with Count Vronsky speaks to today’s world of unhappy marriages and struggles of divorce. While Levin pushes through the hurtles life sets down before him, as well as those he sets down for himself in a struggle to find happiness. No character is one-dimensional in Tolstoy’s Russia. Marriage for love is a concept that has really only been employed in a large scale for a few hundred years and Tolstoy shows us that the struggles we endure in the name of love today are nothing new, his characters are caught between social tradition and popular ideas and they can teach us all something.

Catch-22

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Joseph Heller

On Amazon.com

Catch-22 is a hilarious account of life as a bomber pilot during WWII. Yossarian’s classic struggle to survive his tour of duty is beset on all sides by crazy people and people who want to kill him. The tongue-n-cheek humor and hilarious situations that Yossarian finds himself in are set against the all-too-real tragedy and horror of war. Many of the situations are humorous, but they are black humor and we need only turn our TV to CNN to be frightened into thinking how close we are to living those horrors out yet again.

The Alchemist

Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Paulo Coehlo, Translated By Alan Clarke

On Amazon.com

The Alchemist is short, simple and profound. The idea of following your dreams is simple but in the hands of Paulo Coelho it is profound. Santiago leaves his life as an Andalusian shepherd behind to follow fate in search of his treasure. Only after many adventures and when his journey has come full circle does he discover what the true treasure is. The Alchemist is uplifting and reaffirms all that is truly good in life, a true fable—timeless in it’s themes.

The Name of the Rose

Saturday, January 4th, 2003

Umberto Eco, Translated by William Weaver

On Amazon.com

The Name of the Rose is an amazing book. Eco’s story is set amid a turbulent time in European history, filled with references that more than a few times sent me to the encyclopedia to look up things. At it’s heart Name of the Rose is a mystery but the history, theology, philosophy and myriad of other subjects Eco covers will suck you in and leave you, like the main characters, hungry for knowledge. Having seen the movie you may expect that you know the answer to the mystery and that this may spoil your reading of the book. This is in no way the case—the book is so much more complex and gripping than the movie was.

(If like me you do not speak German, Latin, French, Italian and Greek then I recommend getting The Key to The Name of the Rose which contains translations of all the passages not translated into English in the American version of Name of the Rose.)