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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Saint Joan - George Bernard Shaw, Dan H. Laurence, Imogen Stubbs Shaw usually gets tagged as a liberal, progressive, left-wing type, but he was a very idiosyncratic one: you often find things that don't fit the stereotype. In particular, he thought that nationalism was a good thing, and that wars between countries were sometimes good too. This led him to support strange positions. In Major Barbara, he ends up arguing that what we would now call the military-industrial complex is positive, because it creates the wealth needed to rescue people from poverty. I think most people would agree that this is much more of a right-wing position, so it sounds odd to hear him say it. In one of his last plays, The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934), he goes even further; he brings in Hitler and Mussolini as characters, and the portrayal is far from being one-sidedly negative. The modern reader wonders what they should think; my perhaps over-charitable reading was that he was old, and had lost touch with reality. He supported the Soviet Union, and even the crazy doctrine of Lysenkoism.

In Saint Joan, generally regarded as among his three or four best plays, we again get a strange mixture. It's another retelling of the story of Joan of Arc, written shortly after she was officially rehabilitated and canonized. The character of Joan is sympathetically presented, and it's impossible not to like her and be moved by her story. Yet, at the same time, he underlines that he sees her as historically important because she's an early hero of the nationalist movement; she's fighting for France, her country, against the pan-national Catholic Church. This is portrayed as positive, but excessively nationalistic attitudes would soon result in the catastrophe of the Second World War. Shaw had the misfortune to live through that; he died in 1950, at the advanced age of 94. I wonder what he thought of the events that occurred during his last ten years.