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Books Read in 2013

Anthony Kenny A New History of Western Philosophy

Compared with Russell's History of Western Philosophy, Kenny's is slightly longer, comprising more than 1000 pages. Although not quite as entertainingly written as Russell's work, Kenny's is as clear as the subject matter permits and is much more accurate.

A former Catholic Priest, Kenny no longer commits himself to any theological position, but he retains a certain attachment to Medaeival Philosophy. His careful exposition of the convoluted arguments about being and essence does make things a bit clearer, but I still think it reasonable to call the middle ages the 'Dark Ages'.

Mary Gentle Black Opera

Like many of Mary's novels, this is altered history, set in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the (altered) 1820's.

There is a supernatural element, but not the sort of supernatural one usually encounters even in fiction. Mary does not conform to stereotypes and always manages to surprise us - several times in the conclusion of this book. Unlike some of Mary's stories it does have a, sort of, happy ending.

I can't think of anything else to say without spoiling the experience for other readers, but if you like Mary's other books, you should ebnjoy this one

Daniel C. Dennett Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking

'Intuition pumps' are the strange little stories philosophers like to use to test each other's theories. Dennett's are chosen to illustrate questions about mind, conciousness, artificial intelligence, free will and the nature and function of philosophy.

Dennett defends a materialist theory of the mind, equating mental events to events in the brain.

Much of the material has previously appeared in earlier books and essays by Dennett, and some reviewers have been rather disparaging about that. However I was quite happy to revise earlier material and rather liked the book; it is defintely an advance on his previous writings.

M. C. Beaton Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

I read this because it has been chosen as the subject of an online discussion of books in the cix conferencing system.

This is the first of many books about Agatha Raisin. Waterstones stocks them in its 'cosy Fiction' section

Agatha Raisen sells her business and buys a cottage in a Cotswold Village where she planned to spend a peaceful retirement. Largely because of her abrasive personality she managed to quarrel with quite a few people. When she tried to establish a position for herslf in local society by entering a quiche in the village cookery competition, the judge died after eating two slices of her entry for supper, so Agatha became an amateur detective, befriending PC Bill Wong of the local constabulary. Bill was promoted to sergeant towards the end of the book, and I suspect he and she are to be partners for the rest Of the series.

The book was moderately entertaining reading, but the characters were such grotesque caricatures, the situations so bizarre, and the coincidences of unlikely coincidences so unlikely, that I found it very hard to suspend my critical faculties sufficiently to pretend to believe it.

At the end of the book is the first chapter of the next in the series - it's the first time I've seen that promotional gambit.

Richard Blake The Ghosts of Athens

This is the fifth in a series of works of historical fiction centred on the fictional exploits of Aelric, a young Anglo Saxon from Kent who became involved in the politics of the decaying Roman Empire in the early seventh century

Like all its predecessors The Ghosts of Athens tells a gripping story but it takes rather a long tine to get underway. I still enjoyed it, but not as much as the earlier books in the series.

Robert Mills Space Time and Quanta

I read a library copy of this book several years ago. I've now bought a copy and am re-reading it, making notes, and doing some of the exercises. Unfortunately the book contains no answers so I can't check my work.

This is the only book I've come across that explains relativity with enough mathematical detail to make it comprehensible, but without making rather tough mathematics the principal subject matter.

After relativity Mills tackled quantum theory, managing a sort of explanation of Schrodinger's equaktion, which many texts just present as a given.

The books ends with some rather dubious metaphysics. Starting with the fact that any experiemnt that measures any property of a quantized particle collapses the wave function, Mills went on to assume that a wave function collapses only when someone makes an observation. That seems to be a simple error, like inferring from 'all mice are animals' that 'all animals are mice'. As we ourselves are composed of quantised particles and (dubious assumption) cannot observe ourselves, a non physical observer is required to explain how any wave function ever collapses, so Mills concluded that we must adopt somne form of dualism. I wonder if Mills ever read Berkely; he desn't mention him but the similarity of their conclusions is striking.

Philip Hensher King of the Badgers

This was recommended by a friend who lent me his copy. It relates the interactions of a strange collection of people in a small fictional town on the North coast of Devon, where the disappearance of a small child gives people something extra to talk about, and talk they do!

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