Friday, October 15, 2010

Non Fiction choices, October 2010

Better late than never, a few non-fiction titles I've read recently.

Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism by Erwin Panofsky, (1957), 2nd Printing, 158pps.

I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program. My copy is very used, with scotch tape holding the cover in place. Pity that, as the book is now out of print.

As the updated cover illustrates, this is essentially a transcripted lecture, something that I would have suggested even before I saw that cover.

The material flows quietly into three distinct areas. One describes Scholasticism as it became defined from the 10th to the 12th centuries. This section was the most interesting to me, I confess, as it highlighted the key tenets of the "intellectualization" of philosophy. In many ways, I'd go so far as to say as scholasticism is what makes the works of historical philosophers easier to understand and digest.

The next aspect described the development and function of Gothic Architecture, independently of the previous nominalism vs mysticism debate.

The third and final part of the lecture then fuses the evidence of architecture styles prevalent in European countries of the Middle Ages; it referenced diagrams and illustrations to indicate how the reader could see where the influences came from.

It was a fascinating exploration, although I must confess I am simply a fan of architecture. From a layman's perspective, it was interesting to see the correlations as noted above.

From a scholar's perspective, I would have to suggest that this material would not stand alone. This book would make a fine accompaniment to an existing study in either medieval philosophy or architecture (or even art, I suppose). There is enough information to whet the appetite, and to engage and/or enforce an existing knowledge on the topic. It is but one lecture, though, and does not focus on any particular subject long enough to be able to be recognized as authoritative in that regard.


Soul of the Samurai (Tuttle Martial Arts) (translated) by Thomas Cleary, (2005), 156pps

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was a popular reprint in the 80's and 90's aggressive corporate culture. If you are looking for a book to expound upon that sort of single minded "victory" frame of mind, this is not it. This book translates Martial Arts: The Book of Family Traditions (Yagyu Munenori), The Inscrutable Subtlety of Immovable Wisdom, and The Peerless Sword (Takuan Soho). Each book within the book stands on its own, but there are enough overlapping concepts as to make this a well-construed trilogy.

Thomas Cleary is a brilliant translator, however. Each page of the original text is accompanied with excellent cross references to other historic writings of the time; and if not a scholar of ancient Eastern philosophies, those references make the inherent teachings of the original text that much more understandable.

Though marketed as a martial arts book, there is very little practical or technical skills taught within. Reading this may well help you to be a better swordsman, but it will not show you how to wield a sword.

Analysis aside, I think this is a very clear, very expressive foray into (as the cover suggests) three classic works of Zen and Bushido. If this is your first foray into Eastern philosophy, there will undoubtedly be concepts that will be too complex. However, that noted, the original text (and what can be gained through the references and translations) contains great volumes of insightful commentary on inner peace, success, self-discipline and ambition. Those gems alone are worth taking the time to read.


Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams by Mike Dooley (2009).

This was a "lend" from my mother, and unfortunately, I must finish my re-read and send it on to her, so that she can continue to share it. This is one that I will have to get my own copy of someday soon.

Ah, yes. The "self help" book. No shortage of those, ever. My foray into psychology was prompted by the books like these that I read as a teenager. Some of you older folks may recall Wayne Dyer, or Anthony Robbins. Hell, I even read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People back in my youth.

So, between my study of psychology and religion, the effect of those types of books began to wear off on me. Because it is what it is - some believe in a supreme Deity, and you must have faith that things happen for a reason. Others believe that we are the rulers of our own fate, so we must be "positive", and life will go well.

Those are both very nice beliefs, and yet, incredibly dull. In either instance, there remains too many moments of powerlessness. No matter how positive I am now, or how religious I was, those beliefs certainly did not explain, to my satisfaction, a life with an incurable disease nor the destruction of my former career at the hands of my own father.

Enter Mike Dooley, who bridges the gap between the very real psychological phenomenon of programming, and the persuant positive thinking, positive reinforcement and such "secrets" - with - the necessity of a faith that must not necessarily be religion.

Moreso, he does it in simple, non-sensationalized, practical and applicable segments. It's actually quite brilliant. It's the first book that doesn't just stop at "Oh, be positive mister saggy pants." or "You must believe in HE, and HE will show you the WAY."

Because, frankly, my friends - both of those methods are nice. Good. But, they're bollocks. You can sit on a hill and chant happy me stuff until your voice goes, and you can put all your faith in God, Gaia, or my left knee cap - and neither one of those actions will actually FIX anything.

Infinite Possibilities presents an action plan within a train of thought and belief that is interactive, functional and puts the responsibility where it belongs: On you. Mike Dooley gives no misguided "wave the magic wand" advice. Throughout the entire book, you're reminded that you actually have to work towards your goals.

But, he does make the task of having dreams and living your fantasies seem a little more doable. As far as self-help books go, this one not only succeeds, but it's a triumph amongst works of self empowerment. It will not be for everyone, but I can't think of anyone who would not benefit by reading it.


  1. I like your review of Mike Dooley's book. I recently stumbled upon another article about him, ( ) and after what you had to say about the book I will have to pick it up and read it now!

  2. Welcome to our blog, Robert. And yes, Dooley's book is a great read; I am certain you will take something away from it.

    Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  3. It sounds like a helpful read ... I'll be ordering on my kindle this morning at your suggestion...


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