Keith Douglas' Web Page

About me Find out who I am and what I do.
My resumé A copy of my resumé and other documentation about my education and work experience for employers and the curious.
Reviews, theses, articles, presentations A collection of papers from my work, categorized and annotated.
Current research projects What I am currently working on, including some non-research material.
Interesting people People professionally "connected" to me in some way.
Interesting organizations Organizations I am "connected" to. (Some rather loosely.)
Intellectual/professional influences Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via amazon.com. I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.
Professional resources Research sources, amazon.com associates programs, etc.
What is the philosophy of computing? A brief introduction to my primary professional interest.
My intellectual heroes A partial list of important people. Limited to the dead.
My educational philosophy As a sometime teacher I've developed one. Includes book resources.

Book Influences - History: General

Title
Author
Purchase / Enjoy Cover
Comment
Civilization Clark This gift from one of my grandmothers has functioned as an art history book (due to its lavish and numerous illustrations), since I don't own one. Despite the title of the book, this book is focused on art and architecture and not other aspects of civilization.
Collapse: How Choose to Fail or Succeed Diamond This is a sort of sequel to Guns, Germs and Steel with two parts. The first part is a somewhat repetive but detailed discussion of several societies which either avoided collapse or disappeared into history. The second is a discussion of what went wrong and how we in (the relatively new) global society can avoid some of the bad fates of our predecessors.
Great Inventions Through History Messadié Not all of these are technological or craft in nature; some of the inventions are conceptual.
Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fate of Human Societies Diamond Diamond explains geography's role in world history in a masterful way, though he concedes the thesis does not fully explain why Europe dominated the world and not China. (It is likely that here is where social factors played an important role, such as the failure to continue the explorations started by Zheng He. Thought experiment: what would have happened if Zheng had met Montezuma's predecessor before Cortes arrived?)
In Defense of History Evans Defense of history against the postmodernists and other critics.
Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theories are Murdering Our Past Windschuttle The most valuable parts of this book (other than the interesting case studies taken in their own right) are the two chapters on the methodology of the historian: one on historiography as literature, the other on historiography as science. Windschuttle, like Bunge and myself, defends the latter. This does not rule out the former, of course. My only concern is the antitheoretical stance - most theories in history aren't such at all, but Windschuttle does throw out the baby with the bathwater here. In particular, the historian often works with an implicit psychology.
Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition Colish A survey of philosophical, theological, literary, political and economic thought (in Europe) for approximately the period indicated in the title. The weakest point is a repeated mention of logic, but insufficient details are expounded. (The bibliographic notes do not mention Kneale and Kneale's work, which, while dated, does give a tremendous amount of source material.) The strength of the book lies in its breadth of coverage. Marathon players might find the discussion of "la Chanson de Roland" interesting too.
Passion of the Western Mind Tarnas See my amazon.com review.
Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age Bellah Described as the magnum opus and the last work of a great sociologist of religion, there is in fact a lot of good stuff in this large tome. In particular, it serves as a patient introduction to four influential societies, a discussion of pre-state societies and, to a lesser and more condensed extent, of the universe and life on Earth. However, the thesis of the book, that there is something important about play for human evolution (social and biological) and that there is a connection between it and religion is completely buried; it is as if the axial age descriptions got "thrown into" a book about something else - or conversely. Moreover, the examination of competing claims as to the origins of religion (as opposed to the meticulous examination of views about specifics of the axial societies, including a lot of review of work in history of philosophy) is almost non-existent. Bellah claims to have little patience for (for example) Pascal Boyer's thesis - but also totally misunderstands it. It looks to me like this is an example of "externalism" vs. "internalism" rearing its ugly head again. PaceBellah, Boyer's thesis is not one of a "god module" but one of cooption of "modules" for "theory of mind" and agency detection, etc. Bellah also seems to suggest that Boyer doesn't take "performative" aspects of religion seriously. In fact, Boyer makes a point that over most of human history to this day humans have been illiterate and he explains patiently that the literacy of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are thereby atypical and hence unlikely to be illuminating without further ado. It seems then that the two approaches could be largely complimentary. As, after all, Bellah does not delve into religious psychology much at all - which has to involve beliefs, which are also (usually) at least semi-propositional. A recognition that religion is something one does is all to the good; but not if ignores doctrine, even of the tacit, unreflective sort which might be "hard to see". Alas, since even the "play" hypothesis is poorly developed - I kept waiting until I saw that the conclusion (at one point) was one chapter away and then knew it was not to come. It is unlikely Bellah will have a follow-up volume; but perhaps his intellectual legacy will encourage one.
Society, State and Nation in Twenieth Century Europe Phillips As might be surmised, this is a sociopolitical history of Europe in, primarily, the 20th century. (Not exclusively or exhaustively, however.) It is is usually very clear and well-written and covers both (once necessary) the west and east. Often scarcely talked about is Switzerland, however. Is the Swiss impact on the 20th century any less important than, say, Bulgaria, which gets repeated mentions and parts of whole sections devoted to it? Or is it because they stayed neutral in many of the conflicts? This in itself strikes me as being of profound importance, but perhaps would require a study on its own of this topic. This is only a quibble; as far as it goes this book is eminently satisfactory, though it is sometimes very difficult to keep various political parties straight in one's head, for example. Charts of comparitive doctrine, support, etc. would have been useful sometimes. Warning: Does not cover approximately the last half-decade of the century.
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts Finkelstein and Silberman A dense, detailed yet introductory tome about the current state of the art in biblical archaeology. Conclusion: much of what Christians call the Old Testament is exaggerated stories, myths and legends which, from time to time, have nuggets of confirmable events described. The conquest of Canaan, the Exodus and certainly all the "early world" stuff in Genesis is almost completely fictionalized. I did find it astonishing how much has been uncovered to shed light on the many possible areas of investigation: I guess in a hot dry place things preserve easier.
The Elizabethan World Picture Tillyard The Elizabethan era is one of transition between notions derived out of a mixture of bits of Plato, Aristotle and the general Christian framework on the one hand, and the scientific revolution. So we find allusions to Copernicus but no acceptance as yet, for example. (Tillyard does not even mention that the most famous of the English philosophers of the period, Bacon, was skeptical even as Kepler and Galileo worked hard on the continent to improve undstanding here.) This book briefly discusses the intellectual climate of the time and common opinion about the nature of the world and the place of humans in it. It is greatly indebted to Lovejoy's classic, The Great Chain of Being, for which see here.
The Emergence of Liberal Humanism Coates, White and Schapiro This book covers the intellectual, social and religious trends that secularized Europe from 1200 to 1800 CE. Unfortunately, the other half of the title ("liberal") is not as clearly discussed. Another pair of weaknesses include a rather superficial understanding of the scientific revolution and a reliance on many secondary sources. However, it is a good first attempt at showing how ideas interact with action in one area of historical investigation, and is thus to the good to that extent.
The Enlightenment in America   Covering approximately 1680 to 1820, this overview of a very complicated topic is a welcome study. However, I somehow find it all a bit superficial. Many judgements are made where the details would be interesting. That said, there are many, many references to use to follow up. A quibble: at least two mistakes (of trifling importance) are also present. First: Leibniz was not an atomist. Second, it is at least contentious to say Priestley discovered oxygen. (Lavoisier is not mentioned.)
The Question Alleg This harrowing tale of one courageous journalist's brutal torture at the hands of the French establishment in Algeria is certainly disturbing. Nevertheless, it holds lessons for the present, alas. This edition includes an afterword by the author as well as various introductory remarks, including an essay and commentary from the approximate time period of the fateful events by Sartre. All are sobering reading.
This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape The Future Brockman (ed.) Like Brockman's earlier book, this is a collection of very (2-3 pages at most, usually) on futurology, rather than history. However, I have included it as a "history in reverse" again. That said, the title is misleading: not all of the discussions are about ideas, but instead about events (nuclear disaster) or inventions (artificial telepathy). Some are outlandish (those of Sheldrake and Tipler) and some are pretty banal (Pinker's justified indecisiveness).
Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West Saul This funny but also depressing book also suffers from the unwillingness of the author to distinguish between rationality and claimed rationality, even if just as an analytical distinction.
Western Civilization: A Brief History Perry A rather undistinguished Western Civilization textbook. Short, but hence short on any one aspect. I would have preferred more on ideas as a motor of society, but that might reflect my bias.
Wilderness and the American Mind Nash

This is a haphazard though roughly chronological treatment of the changing attitudes towards wilderness (and not, say nature generally, though that has impact) on the part of the citizens of (what became) the US. From a place of fear and yet of the divine, to the home of noble savages, to a place to be exploited, preserved, or left alone, many different attitudes have been held. These have been informed by many sources, people and tacitly, philosophies. It would be an interesting followup to this approximately 40 year old volume to see if attitudes have changed yet again. It is also interesting to hear about places one has visited (the Adirondacks) or are very famous (Yellowstone) and how their wonders and strangeness got into the "public consciousness". My primary complaint with the book is that it seems to have little structure beyond the rough chronology already alluded to: it makes for apparent retreading and reintroducing of several key figures. It is also a shame that with the talk of wilderness painting and photography that none is reproduced within the book.

My copy is apparently a first edition: Amazon alludes to at least 4.

 

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