What We Are Reading Today: Alarums and Excursions by Luuk van Middelaar

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Updated 29 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Alarums and Excursions by Luuk van Middelaar

Crisis after crisis has beset the EU in recent years – Greek sovereign debt, Russian annexation of Crimea, unprecedented levels of migration, and the turmoil created by Brexit.

In this candid and revealing portrayal of a Europe improvising its way through a politics of events and not rules, Luuk van Middelaar makes sense of the EU’s political metamorphosis over its past 10 years of crisis management, according to the review on goodreads.com. Forced into action by a tidal wave of emergencies, Van Middelaar shows how Europe has had to reinvent itself by casting off its legal straitjacket and confronting hard issues of power, territorial borders and public authority.

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What We Are Reading Today: Corruptible; Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us

Updated 10 January 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Corruptible; Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us

A provocative and revelatory look at what power is, who gets it, and what happens when they do, based on over 500 interviews with those who (for a while, at least) have had the upper hand—from the creator of the Power Corrupts podcast and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas.

Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the result of poorly designed systems or are they just bad people? Are tyrants made or born? If you were suddenly thrust into a position of power, would you be able to resist the temptation to line your pockets or seek revenge against your enemies?

To answer these questions, Corruptible draws on over 500 interviews with some of the world’s top leaders—from the noblest to the dirtiest—including presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators.

Some of the fascinating insights include: how facial appearance determines who we pick as leaders, why narcissists make more money, why some people don’t want power at all and others are drawn to it out of a psychopathic impulse, and why being the “beta” (second in command) may actually be the optimal place for health and well-being.

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What We Are Reading Today: A History of Ambiguity by Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Updated 02 January 2022

What We Are Reading Today: A History of Ambiguity by Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Ever since it was first published in 1930, William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity has been perceived as a milestone in literary criticism—far from being an impediment to communication, ambiguity now seemed an index of poetic richness and expressive power.

Little, however, has been written on the broader trajectory of Western thought about ambiguity before Empson; as a result, the nature of his innovation has been poorly understood.

A History of Ambiguity remedies this omission. Starting with classical grammar and rhetoric, and moving on to moral theology, law, biblical exegesis, German philosophy, and literary criticism, Anthony Ossa-Richardson explores the many ways in which readers and theorists posited, denied, conceptualized, and argued over the existence of multiple meanings in texts between antiquity and the 20h century.


What We Are Reading Today: Drawing Down the Moon by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Updated 01 January 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Drawing Down the Moon by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

What did magic mean to the people of ancient Greece and Rome? How did Greeks and Romans not only imagine what magic could do, but also use it to try to influence the world around them? In Drawing Down the Moon, Radcliffe Edmonds, one of the foremost experts on magic, religion, and the occult in the ancient world, provides the most comprehensive account of the varieties of phenomena labeled as magic in classical antiquity. Exploring why certain practices, images, and ideas were labeled as “magic” and set apart from “normal” kinds of practices, Edmonds gives insight into the shifting ideas of religion and the divine in the ancient past and later Western tradition.

Using fresh approaches to the history of religions and the social contexts in which magic was exercised, Edmonds delves into the archaeological record and classical literary traditions.


What We Are Reading Today: The Spirit of Green by William D. Nordhaus

Updated 30 December 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Spirit of Green by William D. Nordhaus

Solving the world’s biggest problems — from climate catastrophe and pandemics to wildfires and corporate malfeasance — requires, more than anything else, coming up with new ways to manage the powerful interactions that surround us.

For carbon emissions and other environmental damage, this means ensuring that those responsible pay their full costs rather than continuing to pass them along to others, including future generations.

In The Spirit of Green, Nobel Prize-winning economist William Nordhaus describes a new way of green thinking that would help us overcome our biggest challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity, in large part by accounting for the spillover costs of economic collisions.

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What We Are Reading Today: Dante by John Took

Updated 18 December 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Dante by John Took

For all that has been written about the author of the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) remains the best guide to his own life and work. Dante’s writings are therefore never far away in this authoritative and comprehensive intellectual biography, which offers a fresh account of the medieval Florentine poet’s life and thought before and after his exile in 1302.

Beginning with the often violent circumstances of Dante’s life, the book examines his successive works as testimony to the course of his passionate humanity: His lyric poetry through to the Vita nova as the great work of his first period; the Convivio, De vulgari eloquentia and the poems of his early years in exile; and the Monarchia and the Commedia as the product of his maturity. Describing as it does a journey of the mind, the book confirms the nature of Dante’s undertaking as an exploration of what he himself speaks of as “maturity in the flame of love.”

The result is an original synthesis of Dante’s life and work.

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