Monday, January 30, 2023

Review of The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Philosophy
Book Club Event = Book List (03/18/2023)

Watch Short Review


“We don’t want what we think we want.  We think we want information and knowledge.  We do no.  We want wisdom.  There’s a difference.  Information is a jumble of facts, knowledge a more organized jumble.  Wisdom untangles the facts, makes sense of them, and, crucially, suggests how best to use them” – Eric Weiner, Introduction: Departure, Page 6

“This realization gets Marcus moving.  He has a duty to get out of bed.  “Duty” not “obligation.”  There is a difference.  Duty comes from inside, obligation from outside.  When we act out of a sense of duty, we do so voluntarily to lift ourselves, and others, higher.  When we act out of obligation, we do so to shield ourselves, and only ourselves, from repercussions.” – Eric Weiner, Chapter 1: How to Get Out of Bed like Marcus Aurelius, Page 24

“Of course.  This inscrutable, inevitable Socrates.  Philosophy’s patron saint.  The King of the Question.  Socrates didn’t invent the question, but he altered the way we ask them and, in turn, the answers they yield.  You think and act differently because of Socrates, even if you know nothing about him.” – Eric Weiner, Chapter 2: How to Wonder like Socrates, Page 26



Information is an unorganized collection of facts.  Knowledge is a more organized collection of information.  It is wisdom that knows what to do with the facts.  More knowledge does not necessitate more wisdom, and can sometimes make people less wise.  People can have wrong ideas.  Knowledge is a possession, while wisdom is behavior.  Wisdom is a skill, that requires effort to acquire, not luck.  Philosophy is about that wisdom.  Training the skill of wisdom.  Philosophy is a way of thinking, rather than a body of knowledge.  Philosophy is a way of being in the world.  How to be.  Philosophy provides more than just a description of the world, but a world that can be.  Philosophy provides possibilities of being.  Philosophy challenges and demands.

14 philosophers are represented.  Although the philosophers are dead, their wisdom is not.  Their wisdom is timeless.  From diverse backgrounds, regions, and philosophies of life.  The narrative takes the form of train rides, and how each philosopher thought about parts of life.  Starting with how to wake up, going to how to live life, and ending in death. 

The 14 philosophers are Marcus Aurelius, Socrates, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry David Thoreau, Arthur Schopenhauer, Epicurus, Simone Weil, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Confucius, Sie Shōnagon, Friedrich Nietzsche, Epictetus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Michel de Montaigne.


Marcus Aurelius:

There are acts that people need to do, not because it better or profitable but because they ought to be done.  A duty to act, rather than obligation.  While obligation is an external enforcer of behavior, duty is internal responsibility.  Duty is done voluntarily because it can empower the individual and others.  Obligations are done to prevent repercussions. 



Although Socrates did not invent the question, Socrates changed the way questions are asked.  Changing how questions are asked, changes the responses.  While some question can obtain clear responses, there are other questions that are have much more ambiguity and uncertainty.  Some questions have information as an answer.  Other questions have more than information as an outcome, but meaning.  An appropriate question reframes the problem, to understand the problem differently.  A question that prompts a revaluation of the search itself.  Eliciting a shift in perspective.  A good question begets more questions.  They precipitate in a ruthless self-interrogation. 

Socrates did not think Socrates knew anything, but an oracle considered Socrates wise.  Socrates considered this claim, and thought that Socrates possessed a kind of wisdom, a wisdom of knowing what was not known.  For Socrates, there was a virtue in honest ignorance than suspect knowledge.  Ignorance masquerading as knowledge was a terrible way of being.  Socrates was about the means, not the ends.  About method rather than knowledge.  Knowledge is transient, while methods are not. 

Understanding oneself requires distance.  A perspective gained through conversation.  Philosophy came about through conversation.  Although Socrates had conversations with everyone, no matter their status, Socrates was not a fan of wasting time on trivial chitchat.


Henry David Thoreau:

Philosophers are divided on the use of the senses.  Some claims that the senses cannot be trusted.  Others claims that the senses are the only way to understand the world.  Thoreau did not care whether the senses were trustworthy or not, but thought that they were all that humans had and therefore needed to be used as best as they could. 

Thoreau is considered a Transcendentalist, someone who has faith in thinks unseen.  But Thoreau had even more faith in the seen.  Thoreau considered knowledge tentative, and lacked certainty. 

Seeing is imbued with emotions, making seeking very subjective.  Feelings determined how something was seen, and what was seen.  Seeing requires collaboration with what is seen.


Arthur Schopenhauer:

Schopenhauer thought that people’s experiences came from a mental representation of the world, not the actual world.  Objects only exist after there is someone to perceive them. 

Schopenhauer worried about confusing data with information, information with knowledge, and knowledge with wisdom.  Worried about information being mistaken for insight.  Information is a means to obtain insight, but has no value in itself.  Too much noise becomes a distraction to insight. 



There is a primacy to pleasure and pain, that does not need to taught.  Epicurus defined pleasure as what can be called positive affect.  Pleasure as a lack, and absence.  A lack of disturbance.  An absence of anxiety.  Pleasure as a lack of distractions from contentment.  Pleasure not as an opposite of pain, but its absence. 

Epicurus was a tranquillist, not a hedonist.  There are experiences that are more than an absence of pain, but experiences such as peace of mind cannot be described in terms other than as an absence. 

Trivial pleasure above pain, prevents happiness.  For some, pain is physical, for others it is mental pain, or emotional pain.  But pain is still pain, and cannot be ignored in order to obtain contentment. 

Pleasure cannot increase beyond a certain point.  Pleasure varied is not the same as pleasure increased.  Seeking more pleasure through different experiences can cause needless suffering.  Duration of pleasure does not mean that more duration is more pleasurable.  Tranquility cannot be doubled.  Epicurus and Buddha identified desire as a root to all suffering.  Tranquility as goal of their practice. 


Simone Weil:

Things exist if they are attended to.  What is not paid attention to, is not seen.  The quality of attention determined the quality of live.  Choosing what to pay attention to, and how to pay attention.

Attention at its fullest is those rare moments called flow.  A state when perception is heightened sense of reality.  There are hazards of multitasking.  Attention demands focusing on some aspects, and ignoring others.  While concentration constricts, attention expands.

For Weil, attention was a moral virtue, and demands selfless motivation.  Paying attention because it is the right way to behave, rather than because it makes a person more productive.  Giving someone attention is a rare and pure form of generosity.  Taking away attention is the same as taking away love.  Everything else is a poor substitute to giving someone attention.  Giving time without attention is a cruel fraud. 


Mohandas K. Gandhi:

For Gandhi, means mattered more than ends.  Gandhi was process oriented rather than results oriented, which delivered much better results.    It was not about the fight, but how to fight.  Not the destination, but the adventure getting there.  

Gandhi wanted a world without violence, but knew that it was unrealistic.  Until them, people needed to learn to fight better.  Fighting can be productive, and the lack of fighting can be unproductive.  A fight gets people to consider both sides.  Fighting is necessary, and can be morally good if fought well.   Not a fight to win, but to fight the best fight. 

Violence harms the perpetrator and the victim.  Gandhi hated violence, but hated cowardice more.  Violence was preferred to cowardice.  Nonviolence is not appropriate in all contexts, but it works most of the time.  The object for Gandhi was for a nation to reclaim its sovereignty, with freedom coming from sovereignty.  A nation worthy of sovereignty.  Gandhi did not want India’s independence to come through violent means.  Cannot develop a peaceful nation using violent means.  Revolutions fails when they use brutality, because they also brutalize themselves.  Peace through violent means is illusory, for there will be more violence later.

Gandhi did not invent nonviolence, which came from Jain religion.  Gandhi developed a different type of nonviolence resistance which was given the name of satyagraha.  A Truth Force.  There was nothing passive about satyagraha.  Nonviolence requires more courage than violence.  The courageous suffer voluntarily to change human behavior. 

Peaceful intentions with nonviolent calms the situation.  While reacting with violence provokes more assaults which become justified.  People’s minds take time to change.  Even as a British colony, Gandhi’s nonviolent means had made the British lose the moral high ground. 

Veiled violence would not be welcomed by Gandhi.  Acting peacefully requires clean thought.  Disruptions and psychological warfare wear a cloak of nonviolence, but are harming others.  The attitude to the negotiation partner matters.  Opposition is not always a bad thing, but an enemy is a problem.  Best to find ways to convert rather than condemn the other.

Compromise has risks, creating an uneasy calm.  Agreeing to just one side or another is either going to harm oneself by dishonesty or hurt the partner more, but always hurts both.  Gandhi appreciated the negotiations in which both sides receive what they did not know they wanted. 



An individual with ren, practices the 5 virtues of respect, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.  Confucius elevated kindness, making it the basis for good governance.  A practical kindness. 

Confucianism does have rules and rituals, but the rituals are not mindless, as their motivation matters.  Proper ritual conduct is needed even if the individual does not see value in the ritual.  It is within proper ritual conduct that kindness rests.  The goal of these ritual was character development, and the acquisition of moral skills.  Practicing kindness, to develop kindness.


Sie Shōnagon:

Beauty is a moral virtue.  Morally appropriate individuals understand aesthetics.  An ingredient in a good life and a good person.  Making something more beautiful is generous.  Even tiny detains can kill or save someone. 


Friedrich Nietzsche:

Nietzsche legacy is tattered because of work exploited by Nietzsche’s sister.  The philosophy was meant to be an experiment in reorienting perspective within a world of uncertainty.  Cannot avoid uncertainty, no matter how much someone runs towards certainty.  Rather, an individual needs to find value, and if needed to reevaluate those values.  Choosing to find joy in uncertainty.  To do so would result in uncertainty no longer being as terrifying.  This change of perspective is difficult to come about. 



Philosophers that gathered at the stoa, because known as Stoics.  Stoics practiced their philosophy publicly, for everyone to see.  Stoics did not avoid politics, for to them, philosophy was a public act.  

Stoics tend to be though of as heartless.  But actually, Stoics did not suppress all emotions, just the negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and jealousy.  Stoics are not joyless, nor pessimists. 

Stoics believe in reason, and a rational order.  Finding beautify in the miracle of life, and are willing to share their views because others are part of that rational order. 

The essence of Stoicism is that there are things that an individual can control, and things that an individual cannot control.  While most of life is beyond individual control, the focus should be on what can be controlled such the mental and emotional life.  Everyone can master self-control of the interior world.

Only those who want nothing, are free. Voluntary Deprivation was meant for pleasure, not pain.  There is pleasure in forgoing pleasure.  By denying certain comforts, they are appreciated more, while losing their hold on the individual.  Voluntary Deprivation facilitates self-control, cultivates courage, and prepares the individual for potential nonvoluntary deprivation. 

Like Socrates, Epictetus was not interested in metaphysics, and wanted a rigorously practical philosophy.  Like Socrates, acknowledged ignorance as a step towards true wisdom.  An acknowledgment of limitations.


Simone de Beauvoir:

Deficiencies of character are usually blamed on old age.  But old age only amplifies existing personality traits.  As an individual ages, they become more intensely themselves.


Michel de Montaigne:

Death might be an end, but not the goal of life.  Death happens not because of ailments, but because there is life. 


The book is about how to think, not what to think.  The book is not a rendition of the 14 philosophers lives and philosophies.  There is very little information on their lives and ideas.  What the book does is take some parts of their life and philosophy to make a contemporary practical case for the ideas.  Ideas that define different ways of being, to provoke a reflection on one’s own life.  The value of each idea is relative to the reader.  Ideas will resonate depending on interest.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is information?
•What is knowledge?
•What is wisdom?
•What is the purpose of philosophy?
•How to obtain wisdom?
•Who are the philosophers represented?
•How to get up in the morning?
•How to ask questions?
•How to use the senses? 
•What is pleasure?
•How to pay attention?
•How to fight?
•How to be kind?
•How to be aesthetic?
•How to approach uncertainty?
•Why commit Voluntary Deprivation?
•How to age?
•How to die?

Book Details
Edition:                 First Avid Reader Press
Publisher:             Avid Reader Press [Simon & Schuster]
Edition ISBN:      9781501129032
Pages to read:       276
Publication:          2020
1st Edition:           2020
Format:                 eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          4
Overall          4

Friday, January 27, 2023

Review of The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (04/29/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Once Upon A Future, 2) How To Allocate Resources?

Watch Short Review


“No one had the heart to point out that India had also failed to meet its emission reduction targets.  And of course if total emissions over historical time were totted up, India would come in far behind all of the developed nations of the Western world, as everyone knew.  In dealing with the poverty that still plagued so much of the Indian populace, the Indian government had had to create electricity as fast as they could, and also, since they existed in a world run by the market, as cheaply as they could.” – Kim Stanley Robinson, Chapter 6, Page 31

“Tatiana gave Mary a sharp look, as if to say Please be serious.  “Nations agree to them only if they like their judgements.  But judgements always side with one side or other, so the losing side is never pleased.  And there is no sheriff for the world.  So, the US does what it wants, and the rest of us also do what we want.  The courts only work when some petty war criminal gets caught and everyone decides to look virtuous.”” – Kim Stanley Robinson, Chapter 9, Page 46

“India is now leading the way on so many issues! We remain horrified by the memory of the heat wave, galvanized, and if not unified then nearly so, in a broad coalition determined to re-examine everything, to change whatever needs changing. You see it all around you!” – Kim Stanley Robinson, Chapter 31, Page 136



This is a story of the potential consequences of environmental mismanagement, specifically climate mismanagement.  Along with ways on how people cope with the tragedies.  Stimulating a reflection upon the potential destruction, and ways that can avert the destruction.  A reflection of the psychological coping mechanisms to the destruction, the science and technology of climate management, and the global political and economic ramifications of the changes.

When India gets ravaged by a heat wave that produces havoc, a movement is started to prevent further catastrophes.  But the rest of the world is not so eager to make changes.  Even a global agency meant to protect present and future beings known as The Ministry for the Future, is hesitant to make changes as rapidly as they would like.  India starts the changes, and breaks global political restraints on methods used to battle the deleterious climate.  Years pass by with much of the world resisting changing their practices to become environmentally sustainable.

There are groups that cannot stand for the lack of change, the lack of responsibility for the environment.  These groups rise up in resistance to those who would seek to destroy the environment.  Groups that protect the environment initiate a War for the Earth.  The methods are steeped in violence, but increase the costs of producing greenhouse gases.  Creating a search for alternative means of production, without damaging the environment.  The world economic and political stance on the environment gradually changes from resistance, to persecution of those who damage the environment.  Changing the way people think, and behave in relation to their environment.   



The book is composed of various ideas and narratives.  With so many different perspectives, their transitions are poor.  The book contains various ideas from environmental science, economics, politics, and psychology.  But the ideas are not given much detail, and the way the ideas are described contain the biases of the author.  The author presents many different ideals, in resolution of a single major ideal, but they are sometimes a distraction to the major ideal. 

The science itself is simplified to promote an ideal for the climate, but there is a loss to information within that simplification.  Science rarely does not have unintended consequences, while the resolutions to the climate problem in this book appear to be completely sustainable and without negative effects. 

The ways in which policies change in this book, utilize instrumental evil.  Doing acts of evil, for good outcomes.  The promotion of these behavior is inappropriate, and have contradictory outcomes.  Wars to end violence have historically tended to create more violence.  But in this book, this type of tyranny has created a society in which people accept violence as righteous and do not abuse this method.  Within this book, there appears to be no problem with persecution of any dissenter from the environmental policies enacted.  Seemingly minor incidents on the way to changing policies, only bring about greater defense of the methods used to persecute those who think differently.

With global changes to the economic system, there are acknowledged major economic disruptions.  Within this book, production methods and products quickly make adjustments.  Daily life seems to be going without much disruptions.  There appears to be nothing wrong with the different economic system. 

An economic policy that is promoted in the book is a carbon coin, that pays to prevent release of carbon.  Before the carbon coin, the author berated rents.  Rents are incomes that peoples receive without doing anything.  While the rents of the carbon coin are promoted in the book without any seeming contradiction.  There appears to be nobody in this book who takes advantage of the policy.  Historically, similar policies have been used, with devastating effect.  Firms have produced more unwanted products, for which they wanted an income to prevent releasing the product.  Damaging the environment way more than before the policy.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What happens to India?
•What was the purpose behind The Ministry of the Future? 
•How did people cope with the travesty? 
•How has the environment been mismanaged? 
•How do political systems respond to the environmental problems?
•How does economics manage the environment?
•What technology could have been used, and was used for environmental management?
•What is the War for the Earth?
•What is the outcome of War for the Earth?
•Does violence have good outcomes?
•How to change people’s minds on the environment?
•What is YouLock?
•Who are the Children of Kali?
•What is Crash Day?
•What is the responsibility of monetary policy?
•What technology is considered or used to manage the climate?
•What is a carbon coin?

Book Details
Publisher:             Orbit [Hachette Book Group]
Edition ISBN:      9780316300162
Pages to read:       568
Publication:          2020
1st Edition:           2020
Format:                 eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          3

Monday, January 23, 2023

Review of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Book Club Event = Book List (04/01/2023)

Watch Short Review


“Every society must operate with a theory of human nature, and our intellectual mainstream is committed to another one.  The theory is seldom articulated or overtly embraces, but it lies at the heart of a vast number of beliefs and policies.” – Steven Pinker, Part I: The Blank Slate, The Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine, Page 28

“The Blank Slate has also served as a sacred scripture for political and ethical beliefs.  According to the doctrine, any differences we see among races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals come not from different in their innate constitution but from differences in their experiences.  Change the experiences – by reforming parenting, education, the media, and social rewards – and you can change the person.” – Steven Pinker, Chapter 1: The Official Theory, Page 31

“The mind is a complex system composed of many interacting parts.” – Steven Pinker, Chapter 2: The Last Wall to Fall, Page 72



Each society has a theory of human nature, which is rarely referenced, but shapes beliefs and policies.  Theories of human behavior range from mainly genetics to mainly social constructs.  Human behavior is shaped by nature and nurture.  Evolution coded in genetics has limited resources and ability to anticipate various complex situations, therefore cannot do everything.  Nurture coded in social constructs have physical limitations, therefore cannot do everything.  There are contexts which can be explained with mainly nurture or nature.  Social constructs like language are nurture, while genetic disorders are nature.  Within most contexts, nature and nurture work together.  There are complex interactions between genes and their environment. 

The blank slate is a reference to an extreme nurture view of the human mind.  That the human mind has no inherent structure, in which society and the individual can inscribe values.  Differences in behavior come about through differences in experiences.  By changing the experiences, can the individual change.  This implies that problematic behavior can be ameliorated.  There are limitations within this perspective.   Blank slates cannot do anything because they would not have the innate circuitry for learning or understanding.  While culture shapes thought, thought could not come about without a biological entity capable of learning.  Humans are biologically distinguishable, and are constrained in their choices.


More On Evolution, and the Blank Slate:

Genes cannot provide a complete blueprint.  They have limited resources, which means can only be so big.  Genes cannot anticipate the complexity of the environment and behavior of other genes.  To compensate, genes have developed a program that enables learning mechanisms such as feedback, which generate information with which to adjust behavior. 

There are many limitations of the blank slate perspective.  The mind creates a model of the world, but the model is based on the physical world.  It takes a perceiver with information to decipher patters, combine patters with priorly learned patterns, and use them to obtain new thoughts that guide behavior. 

Humans have the capacity to learn, and interpret information if a myriad of ways.  With finite information processing, can an infinite range of behavior be generated.  Culture is a cumulative pool of information that enables coordination of expectations about each other’s behavior.  Genes do not create cultures, but cultures do not impact formless minds. 

Recognition of biological differences has caused many unfavorable conclusions such as prejudice, Social Darwinism, and eugenics.  Biological constraints prevent complete reshaping of human behavior, and can be seen as deterministic.



The claims about nature and nurture are sensitive topics, which garner controversy.  The author attempts to provide a more appropriate and neutral explanation for how they shape human society.  The problem is that the way in which the book is written, is not favorable to neutrality.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is the blank slate?
•What effects human behavior more, nature or nurture?
•What is nature?
•What is nurture?
•What is culture?
•What are the limits to the blank slate?
•What are the limits to evolution?
•What are the consequences of using the blank slate for policies?
•What are the consequences of using biological differences for policies?
•What are the conflicts of language? 
•To cooperate or defect? 
•What happens to the brain when learning? 

Book Details
Publisher:             Penguin Books [Penguin Random House Company]
Edition ISBN:      9781101200322
Pages to read:       587
Publication:          2016
1st Edition:           2002
Format:                 eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          2

Friday, January 20, 2023

Review of A Philosophy of Evil by Lars Svendsen

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Philosophy
Book Club Event = Book List (06/10/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) The Persecuted and The Persecutors

Watch Short Review


“Extreme actions undertaken by “monsters” are among the clearest ideas we have of evil.  Perhaps there really are human “monsters” in the world – and by that I mean people whose actions are so extreme that we simply can’t identify ourselves with them – but there are far too few of these to explain the abundance of human evil in general.  In the end, it is we – we normal, more or less decent, respectable people – who are responsible for most of the damage.  We’re the only explanation for all the evil in the world.  From this point of view, it is “normal” to be evil.  Of course, we aren’t eager to describe ourselves as such.  If anyone is evil, it’s always “them.”” – Lars Svendsen, Foreword, Page 11

“For most of us, the idea of evil isn’t something we associate with our everyday reality, with our day-to-day experiences and routines, but we do nonetheless come into contact with it almost constantly by means of the mass media: we are always watching and reading reports of genocide, famine, unmotivated violence, and traffic accidents, living in a paradoxical situation where evil is both absent and omnipresent – absent in our concrete experience, but everywhere in the reality we perceive in the media” – Lars Svendsen, Introduction, Page 18

“We can also look at moral evil as a possible determination of human freedom.  A world without free agents might still contain evil, but it would only be natural evil, not moral.  A world without freedom might contain an infinite amount of suffering, in fact, but only someone who could have acted otherwise can be blamed for not having acted otherwise.  Only a free agent can be guilty of moral evil” – Lars Svendsen, Chapter 2: The Anthropology Of Evil, Page 84


Is This An Overview?

Most damage done through evil does not come from terrible deeds of acknowledged monsters who cannot be identified with.  Most damage comes from normal and decent people.  Although evil is not associated with normal routines of everyday life, people still have constant contact with evil through mass media reporting violence and other tragic situations.  This is a paradoxical situation, as evil is absent and omnipresent.  Absent in experience, but perceived everywhere.  Evil is difficult to recognize without a centralized identity.  Evil is ubiquitous, which is fostered by the inability and difficulty to discuss evil.  People are a complex mixture of good and evil, and need to find ways to discuss evil to find ways to fight it. 

Moral evil exists because individuals are free to make choices.  To act differently in a given situation.  Individuals are responsible for the choices that they make.  Four types of evil are described which are demonic evil, instrumental evil, idealistic evil, and stupid evil.  Demonic evil is an act of doing evil because it is evil.  Instrumental evil is using acknowledged evil to accomplish another goal.  Using evil means to accomplish a good outcome.  Idealistic evil is when a person does evil in the belief that its good.  Those who committee idealistic evil considered themselves to be the representatives of the good.  Stupid evil is committed by someone who acts without consideration for whether their acts are good or evil.  Stupid evil is not a reference to intelligence, but a reference to evil coming about through thoughtlessness, an absence of reflection.  Stupid evil is banal, and the focus of this book.  


An Introduction to Evil: 

Evil has become aestheticized, as imaginary evil is seen as romantic while real evil is banal.  Imaginary good is banal, while real good marvelous.  The aestheticization of evil, has caused people miss the horror associated with evil.  With an aesthetic understanding of evil, there is no actual victim, acts without consequence. 

Although the focus of this book is the ordinary evil, could not escape the contrast with the extraordinary evil.  Evil is salient in the acts committed by acknowledged monsters, whom most people cannot identify with.  But that extreme evil is limited, and cannot explain the abundance of evil.  Most damage done through evil comes from normal and decent people.  Evil is the normal, but without the eagerness to identify it as such.  Evil is usually someone else, a them.

Society has developed a gap between experiencing evil and the ability to understand it.  Outside extreme cases with clear perpetrators, there is little understanding of where evil actually resides.  Satan was a scapegoat of evil, but with the death of God, along with Satan, people have lost the ability to talk about evil as there is no representation of evil.  Some claim to want to resurrect the dualism of evil, as the opposite of good.  Others want evil renewed rather than restored.

Few deny the existence of evil, but many deny the existence of an evil person.  There is a reluctance to call even the worse individuals evil.  Evil lacks meaning if the worst individuals cannot be called evil.  An evil person can be considered those who chose to intentionally do harm.  Alternatively, evil can from acts claimed to be evil. 

People want an unconditional concept of evil, but there are a lot of conditions that make life less good.  There is no ultimate evil, only various evils.  Good and evil are relative concepts, as they contrast each other.  Evil is a characteristic of things, events, or actions.  Evil is a human social construct describing actions, and refers to suffering.  People therefore seek to reconcile with the existence of evil, and attempt to find meaning within evil.  The author argues that evil should not be justified, nor is reconciliation with evil appropriate.  Evil should be fought, not explained, nor justified.  That there is no meaning in the tragedies within human history.

Choices made by an individual are more than a sum of causes, for the individuals can act freely.  Free will allows for choices outside of the chain of cause and effect.  Moral evil exists only because there is free will.  Free will refers to the ability to act differently in a given situation.  Situations in which the individual could have acted differently but did not. 

As people mature, they become culturally acclimated, they become a moral being.  A complex mixture of good and evil.  Some have more good or evil, but each is a combination.  A morally evil agent is free, without consideration of the human impact.  No need for intention, for suffering can come from thoughtless action.  A thoughtless person is responsible for the evil acts because the person should have thought before the act.  Blame comes to those who could have acted otherwise.  Those guilty of moral evil are free agents.

Evil usually refers to others, a transgression done.  The incomprehensibility of evil is both seductive and repulsive.  Evil becomes practical and clear if it is considered to be anything that opposes living a meaningful and worthy life.  Understanding the evil done by normal people, can contribute to an understanding of humanity. 


The Impact of Evil:

Harm to the victim tends to be greater than the gain to the perpetrator.  The same act that has a profound negative effect on the victim, but an insignificant positive effect for the perpetrator.  Conflict tends to escalate because of this gap.  Even if harm to both sides is equal, each will feel to have suffered more than the actual damage done. 

Those who consider themselves to be violent, think that others are violent, with situations requiring violent responses.  Knowing ourselfs, does not necessarily mean we know others. 

There are those who like to mistreat others, without any benefits.  They enjoy it.  The desire for violence is always present, but does require an excuse to utilize.  An excuse to legitimate the violent action, and blame the action on the other.  Victims tend to act aggressively, which contributes to a tragic outcome. 


Fighting Evil:

Contemplation leads to a better life.  The world is hard to change, but the individual can change themselves.  Discussion with others should precede application of practical wisdom.  Moral and political questions should be held in a public forum.

Citizens within democracies are meant to protest publicly when given the opportunity.  Silence gives consent.  Participating in defining an event’s moral status is important.  Participants can increase awareness of something morally unacceptable.  Evil is not something anyone should remain neutral to.  Sometimes, that might require physical force to prevent.

Legitimacy of an order comes from it being followed.  Refusing to follow orders, also refuses to recognize them as legitimate.  Refusal is a powerful weapon. 


Origins and Alternatives Understandings of Evil:

Traditions of the origin of evil claim that evil is done because of: 1) seduced by malevolent, supernatural power, 2) people are naturally predisposed to be evil, 3) environmental influence, 4) people choose evil with free will. 

God’s death is a reference to how humanity has given up believing in humanities divinity.  Rather than humans becoming divine with the death of God, people now have radical contingence.  They are able to shape the history, without a guaranteed right direction.  Without God, evil has become a human problem.  Science was thought to govern progress, but that belief was lost at its own demonstrated destructive potential.

Within Marxism, God was replaced with history and humanity.  It even contains a utopian concept.  Ideas that suspend morality for a higher purpose, which in practice has led to many dead.  Historic progress overshadowed any moral considerations for Stalin’s committees.  Their moral consideration was that of historic progress.  Even believers fell victim to egregious injustices. 

Biology cannot define a moral concept of evil, because moral evil requires a choice.  Biology defines good, that which is useful for reproduction, and evil as useless.  Good and evil are not located in the genes.

Sometimes evil is contrasted to what people would do in a natural state.  But a hypothetical primitive state does not explain who people are. 


Demonic Evil:

Demonic evil is self-sufficient evil.  The existence of evil for its own sake.  Appears in more testimonies of victims than perpetrators.  Victims tend to think that their perpetrator is purely sadistic, but there is no related emotional relevance for the perpetrator.  Those who appear to be monsters committing evil acts, tend to be normal people without any disposition towards sadism. 

There are race cases of murders that contain autotelic violence.  Violence that is self-justifying and self-sufficient, which is demonic.  Demonic evil is disinterested, for it has no purpose beyond itself.  This is the problem with the demonic evil view, for most of the time, every desire has a component of good even if just for the agent, even though the desire itself is evil.  Evil can come about in trying to attain the individual’s subjective good goals, at other people’s expense.  Evil then becomes purpose driven, a variant of instrumental evil.  People committing evil to attain a form of good, which is instrumental evil.  Demonic evil needs to be supplemented with instrumental evil.


Instrumental Evil:

Morals laws subordinate sensual appetites to social interest.  Moral laws founded upon reason.  Pursuing happiness is not an immoral activity, unless it intentionally transgresses on moral laws.  For Kant, the root of evil is accepting moral law, but simultaneously ignoring the precepts.  Moral evil chooses to subordinate moral law to sensuous inclinations. 

There are those who use evil means to obtain good outcomes.  Choosing evil for another objective, for self-love.  The agent knows the different between subjective and objective good and evil, but chooses subjective good. 

For Kant, respect for moral law comes through its transgression.  Knowing the negative effect the actions have on even one’s own thoughts, provides the reason to follow moral laws.  The guilt felt for transgression leads to respect for moral law.  Knowing that the individual is free comes from the transgressions as well. 

Those who do not understand moral laws, cannot be held accountable to them.  Kant’s instrumental evil applies only to those who knew that they were committing a wrong.  Ignorance prevents people from accepting moral laws, but that can also mean that the individual is responsible for being informed of moral laws.  The problem is that knowledge of the moral laws, comes about after the violation. 

Instrumental evil needs to be supplemented with idealistic evil and stupid evil.  For it is with idealistic evil that an agent believes they are doing good.  And stupid evil is when the agent does not consider moral consequences of one’s actions.

Instrumental and idealistic evil agents both desires good.  The difference is that while idealistic evil agents desire objectively good, the instrumental evil agents desire subjectively good.  Instrumental evil agents, knows that evil is being done but chooses to commit the evil for a greater purpose.  Idealist does not know that evil is being done. 


Idealistic Evil:

Ideas about evil, have created evil.  Those who attempt to overcome evil, have brought more evil into the world.  Those who hate evil, do evil.  When their destructiveness rebounds back on themselves, their world view is strengthened.  Theories of evil simplify the complexity of reality to a single arbitrary opposition, with no alternative possible other than good or evil. 

Not all evil is imaginary, but much of evil has been introduced by attacking something mistaken to be evil itself. Evil love brings into the world evil.  Love of self, country, and other objects of love.  Sometimes, what is perceive to be good, is actually evil.

The attacker perceived the attacker to be the actual victim, while blaming the victim as the aggressor.  Rare when those who do evil, recognize their actions as evil.  Evil is not part of a perpetrator’s self-image.  Evil is perceived by the victim and witness.  As the perpetrator judges the victim to be evil, they consider themselves to have good motives.

In the human attempt to find meaning, action is founded upon ideas.  The ideas of good and evil are correlated with us and them.  With evil always others, and never oneself.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the dichotomy of us and them.  Even arbitrary delineation are needed for identity formation.  The problem is when the pair is interpreted asymmetrically, which is a basis for discrimination. 

Many identities are created through imagined communities.  Even though most members of different groups would not have contact with the other group members, there is still a feeling of group identity.  Even an arbitrarily chosen trait is enough to create the difference between us and them.  Trivial traits that lead to systematic discrimination.

It has often been sufficient to attack others when they are perceived to be evil.  But, others being evil does not necessitate that attackers to be good.  Both sides are possibly evil.  Not every means of fighting evil is good. 

Humans tend to group themselves for the advantages of cooperation, but too tightly knit groups can become problematic.  Individuals tend to substitute the group’s values for their own.  Surrendering individually is equivalent to surrendering the capacity of thought. 


Stupid Evil:

Evil can be unmasked and prevented.  Evil creates the conditions for its own destruction, or at least provokes negative emotions.  There is no defense against folly, making folly a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil.  Folly cannot be reasoned with.  Contradictions are disbelieved, or become a source for criticism or exception. 

Stupidity in this book is a reference to thoughtlessness, not a lack of intelligence.  Stupidity is a lack of judgment.   

Terrible acts can be carried out by people without sadistic motives, but for want of resolving a practical problem.  Actions that take place in a moral vacuum.  Without sadism, elements that can cause people to accept evil is by presentation, distancing, separation of labor, escalation, and socialization.  Realization of evil comes the questions about how someone could have been thoughtless, why evil was not resisted, or recognizing what one has become.  Depersonalization can dissolve politics and morals which contributes to apathy.  Apathy threatens personal responsibility and critical thought.  

Radical in this book means root, as a reference to depth.  People who speak in clichés, are superficial, and lack depth.  Totalitarian indoctrination does not create absolute conviction, but rather destroys the ability to form convictions, to destroy the ability to think with depth.  The civil servant language is a depersonalized language.  A language full of clichés to prevent the individual from thinking for themselves.  Prevents reflection.  Thinking for oneself, becomes a form of betrayal. 

Lenin and Stalin wanted to use violence against enemies of the proletariat.  The regime was meant to serve the masses, but the masses were not what the regime wanted them to be.  Violence was turned against the workers and peasants the regime was meant to serve.  Purging those they deemed an enemy.  Purges that were also ethnically and racially motivated.  The opposition to be purged was ambiguous, and arbitrarily chosen.  With time, more and more groups fit the regime’s qualifications.  The ambiguity of the enemy, did not raise questions about the existence of an enemy.  As the criteria for an enemy became less precise, and more applicable to more people, the criteria fit not only enemies but also friends and relatives.  Within totalitarian society, what is good or evil is defined by state, not the individual. 

People do not actually know what they will do in a situation, until the realization of the situation.  People are fallible, but they can hope to do what is right, and find the strength to oppose evil. 



The focus of the book is on evil.  Specifically ordinary evil, that everyone is capable of.  With the objective to fight evil, not explain it.  The author also claims that there is no meaning to be found in the history of human tragedies.  These claims create various contradictions.  Without an attempt to explain evil, without trying to find meaning in the tragedies, there can be no reflection on what evil is and what to do about evil.  The author wants reflection to prevent evil, but also undermines reflection.  Reflection of evil would mean trying to understand evil to find alternative ways of being and ways to fight evil.  Knowing how evil operates and why, leads to ways to fight and undermine evil.  Within the book, the author does seek out examples of evil throughout history, and reflects on what was found.

What is missing from the book is a systematic explanation on what is needed to fight evil without turning into evil.  To know what is evil appears to need discussion, but different groups can come up with different views about certain actions as evil or good.  As the different groups can obtain different views about what is evil or good, the different groups can have a conflict and see each other as evil and themselves as good.  This type of conflict has features of instrumental evil, and of idealistic evil.  But within this conflict, they will be doing good, because they have reflected on what that means and chose the conflict. 

A way to fight evil is by speaking up against evil.  But there are social consequences of speaking up.  The author does reference a case when people willingly did evil to others, without harming those who did not want to participate.  But the lack of apparent consequences could only have been known after the event, for the author to obtain the statistics.  The people who were committing the acts or did not want to commit the acts, would not have known the consequences in advance.  Appropriate dissent is not as easy as the author tries to make dissent out to be. 

The author wanted to focus on ordinary people committing evil, but the examples of transgressions are mainly large or with extreme outcomes.  As anyone can commit evil, what is missing is the size of transgressions. 

There are costs to reflecting about morality of actions.  Ordinary people commit evil, and are meant to use those temporary acts to reconsider ways to act.  Even as the acts are transient, socially acknowledging and trying to become better is difficult, because society can emphasize the evil done rather than the willingness to change.  This social feature escalates the cost of acknowledging the transient evil, because it can be forever claimed as a reference of an evil individual.  The cost can prevent people from acknowledging the evil, and continue to do evil. 

There is more to reflection.  The author does acknowledge that reflection does not make people good people.  They can still choose to commit evil, or mistaken their views to be good.  But there is another problem with reflection.  Reflection takes energy, while delegating decision reduces the energy strain.  Many decisions are delegated to enable the individuals to think about other things.  What this means is that not thinking about something, is not necessarily the problem of evil.  Also, it would be near impossible for an individual to consider the moral consequences of every action, for there would be no energy left to actually make a decision to act.  This leads to another missing part of the book, missing an understanding of appropriate reflection methods.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is evil?
•What is demonic evil?
•What is instrumental evil?
•What is idealistic evil?
•What is stupid evil?
•Why is evil not discussed?
•What is aesthetic evil?
•What kind of person is capable of evil?
•Does evil need a scapegoat?
•How does a person become moral?
•Why does moral evil exist?
•What is the difference between the impact of an event on the victim and the perpetrator? 
•How does an individual’s perspective on violence influence the individual’s actions?
•How to fight evil?
•What are the different origins and thought about evil historically?
•What does God’s death have to do with human action?
•What are the conclusions of Milgram’s experiments?  What information is missing from the experiments?

Book Details
Translator:            Kerri S. Pierce
Publisher:             Universitetsforlaget
Edition ISBN:      9781564785718
Pages to read:       226
Publication:          2001
1st Edition:           2011
Format:                 Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5

Monday, January 16, 2023

Review of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 

Watch Short Review


“Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring.  They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring.  |  A Purple Cow, though.  Now that would be interesting.  (For a while.)” – Seth Godin, Page 3

“Most people can’t buy your product.  Either they don’t have the money, they don’t have the time, or they don’t want it.” – Seth Godin, Page 13

“The new rule is: Create remarkable products that the right people seek out.” – Seth Godin, Page 21



Marketing used to be simple.  Produce a mass product, with mass advertising, which leads to mass sales and profits.  Those products have become boring.  Products now have to become Purple Cows.  They have to become remarkable.  There might be nothing wrong with regular cows, regular business products, but they have become boring.  Purple Cows are interesting, but that interest is temporary.  Businesses need to constantly find ways to be and stay remarkable. 

Marketing the advantages of the product no longer works, for most people do not want a different product for various reasons.  They are already happy with a similar product.  They do not have the money for the different product.  They do not have time to consider the advantages of the different product.  Most people will not eagerly familiarize themselves with a different product.  Marketing now has to be combined with a remarkable product that the right people will seek out.  A product designed to target influencers, called sneezers.  Because they will spread the product or idea with an ideavirus.  Early adopters who do not spread the product are not sneezers. 



The book is comprised of mostly examples.  Not much systematic explanation of the content.  Some advice seems to be contradictory, such as claiming boring products are not remarkable, but can be.  While disapproving of boring mass produced products, but claim that they are easier to sell.  There is other empirical research indicating that the traditional advertising works.  Does not work for every product, but does work.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How to design a product?
•What marketing strategies no longer work?
•What marketing strategies work?
•What are Purple Cows?
•What does it take to be a Purple Cow?
•What is wrong with boring?
•What are the implications of mass designed products?
•What are sneezers?
•Why do people not adapt to different products?
•What is an ideavirus?

Book Details
Publisher:             PORTFOLIO [Penguin Group]
Edition ISBN:      9781591843177
Pages to read:       206
Publication:          2009
1st Edition:           2002
Format:                 Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          2
Overall          2

Friday, January 13, 2023

Review of Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (07/22/2023)

Watch Short Review


“Whatever happened, the British needed Iraq.  Its huge grain supplies could feed the army, its proximity to oil could fuel the navy, and its location put it at the center of the land route to India.  Mesopotamia, it was hoped, would be the place where the British could stave off the Turks by setting the Arabs against the Ottoman army.” – Janet Wallach, Chapter 15: Escape to the East, Page 155

“Tribal organization remained as it had been for a dozen generations, since nomad tribes had wandered north from Arabia; the power of the sheikhs deeply rooted, tribal laws and customs held sway and tribal blood feuds provided the excuse for constant and bitter revenge.” – Janet Wallach, Chapter 16: A Remarkably Clever Woman, Page 164

“Wilson’s tactics were too harsh, Gertrude believed.  In fact, they functioned like a pressure cooker: the more he bore down on the insurgents, the more their fury increased.  But Gertrude was in the minority.  At the office she was shunned for being too soft on the Arabs; Wilson spoke to her brusquely and refused to eat with her in the mess.” – Janet Wallach, Chapter 26: The Clash, Page 267



Gertrude Bell was a world adventurer, intellectual, author, and diplomat.  Throughout the adventures, Gertrude was attracted to the deserts, to the Arabic world, to Baghdad.  Gertrude learned the language, political aspects of the society, and the tribal politics.  Earned the trust of many societies, and gained allies.  Gertrude’s activities got the attention of various politically important people.  As a skilled diplomat, Gertrude radiated confidence in any conversation with anyone no matter the place.  Gertrude provided information, but gathered more.  Leaders were willing to share information with Gertrude, because Gertrude earned their confidence.  This made Gertrude an important source of intelligence, especially during war affairs.  Many offices wanted Gertrude, but none could replace Gertrude for Gertrude understood the language, politics, and had the confidence of the communities. 

As the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, many regions sought sovereignty.  Iraq was such a region.  Iraq did gain independence from the Ottoman Empire, with the help of the British.  The British Empire guarded the Arab Government from being overthrown by other Arab leaders.  Iraq’s leader, Faisal, had to balance extremists who did not want foreign rule, while knowing the difficulties without the British.  British did not want to give up Iraq, because they wanted control of Iraq’s oil.  With rebellions, and their retaliations, negotiations recognized Iraq’s sovereignty.  Gertrude was essential in defining Iraq’s borders and political structure. 


Gertrude, Relationships, Women, Family, and Finances:

Gertrude Bell had wanted to have a life partner, like other women of the era.  But Gertrude had a personality that was curious, knowledgeable, blunt, and audacious.  Gertrude’s attitude did not appeal to many.  Those who Gertrude did appeal to, were readily dismissed because they did not have the qualities that Gertrude’s desired in a partner.  There were few men who had the qualities that Gertrude sought for in a man, who also loved Gertrude, but society, circumstance, or tragedy prevented a union.  

Oxford had trained Gertrude’s mind, and facilitated academic aspirations.  Romania would train Gertrude’s manners, and facilitated diplomatic skills.  Learned Persian, and Arabic to enter the Arab world.  During the adventures, wrote books about the adventures, and did research on the societies.

Gertrude lived in an era and place were Gertrude believed that women did not see themselves equal to men, but Gertrude thought otherwise of Gertrude.  Gertrude believed that the men and women had different roles.  Women for managing children, men the country.  Women were rarely knowledge enough to contribute to state affairs. 

Gertrude would think of Gertrude’s father often.  Gertrude was financially supported by Gertrude’s father.  Who’s fortune had come from industry.  Even when Gertrude got an income from the British, it was meager.  Supplanted by a family allowance.  With family business in decline and finances being difficult, Gertrude had to become a bit more fiscally responsible. 


Empires and WW1:

Britain’s power came from navy, trade, and access to resources.  During the era, the British Empire took upon themselves to protect the various peoples of the world.  To spread their morality.  They did not think other nations would do that.  Bell family contributed greatly to the British Empires might, and were proud of their efforts to maintain that position.  Gertrude was an atheist, whose faith was the British Empire.  A conviction that the British are meant to lead the world. 

For centuries, the Ottoman Empire acted as a stabilizing force in the region.  Balancing Russian power in the East, and British and French power in the West.  The Ottoman Empire protected Western traders from the Arab attacks.  Corruption, greed, and management had left the Ottoman Empire weakened by the 19th century.  Having lost territories, and economic prosperity, while being forced to rely on the West. 

Gertrude understanding of various political entities provided for valuable information.  Gertrude’s reports were studied in London, and Cairo.  Studied by military and foreign offices.  When preparations for war (WW1) were being made, Gertrude recommended organizing Arabs against the Turks.  Gertrude wanted to be present in the East, but permission was denied for some time because the situation was considered too dangerous for a female. 

When traveling Arab lands, Gertrude did not consider Arab unity possible.  Tribal affairs contained a lot of violence.  But the war depended on the Arabs, and changing political circumstance made Arab unity possible.  As Ottoman economy floundered, they had increased taxation on Arabs, which was also accompanied by inflation.  Although Ottoman threatened the Arab leadership, Ottoman military was thinly spread with too many costly wars which relied on Arab recruits.  Turkish was chosen as the official language, which angered those who spoke Arabic and considered Arabic the language of Islam.  Non-Turkish associations were shut down.  These factors culminated in Arab resentment against the Turks.  With the British Empire at war with Turks, the Arabs were considered potential allies against the Ottomans. 

The Arab decision between aligning with Turks or the British was difficult.  Turks were unpopular occupiers, but were Muslims.  The British offered a different political direction, but were Christian, and against whom a holy war might be called.  What the British needed was a leader who was independent and sympathetic to the British. 

Iraq was a strategic ally, that the British needed to keep.  Iraq had productive agriculture, oil, and was a trade route to India.  Gertrude came to Iraq early 1916, for information gathering and as a liaison between various groups in need of that information.  An unofficial position for the British to gather information, and gain Arab cooperation.

Gertrude information gathering had been paramount, so much so that many offices wanted Gertrude.  Even Lawrence (of Arabia) was hoping to bring Gertrude back to Cairo.  Gertrude appreciated the work in Basrah more than Cairo.  The material was firsthand rather than a desk with paper work.  Nobody was more qualified that Gertrude due to Gertrude reading and speaking fluent Arabic, as well as local politics.  Much of the information came to Gertrude via those whom Gertrude befriended and whose trust Gertrude earned.  Without Gertrude, the sources would not come.  Gertrude did not want to leave at one point because the situation was critical, and Arabs would have thought Gertrude to be deserting them.  Locals considered Gertrude to be El Khatun (the Lady.)  Gertrude knowledge overcame sexist claims. 


Iraq, and Sovereignty:

In the aftermath of WW1, various regions had wanted sovereignty.  Wanting independence, and recognition of their governments.  Even using President Woodrow Wilson’s phrase of “the right of self-determination.”  Arabs no longer feared the return of the Turks as much, for their concern was for who should lead them, and by which process.  Before, Arabs worried about British rule, but began to worry about how to rule themselves. 

Egypt was a state that wanted self-determination, but the British refused.  Egyptian response was rebellion.  The rebellions acts foreshadow the potential of other such acts in other states wanting self-determination. 

British, French, and American forces could not have won the war without oil.  Oil had become a strategic necessity.  Oil was needed for national security.  They had wanted to keep control of the oil supplies.

As Gertrude knew the regions better than most, given Gertrude’s prior adventures, Gertrude defined the borders.  Gertrude was integral in the construction of a brand-new state.  Before then, there was no independent Iraq, as a political entity, or with an administration.  Gertrude also determined Iraq’s leadership, government style, citizens, and laws.  This would become an asset for England, and an entity for Arabs. 

Iraq wanted sovereignty.  Negotiations were tricky due to British refusal for constitution proposals on one side, and nationalist extremist propaganda on the other side.  Conflict and violent demonstrations ensued.  British response to the rebellions was harsh.  Insurgents imprisoned, leaders deported, residents evicted and their homes destroyed without allowing an option for rebuilding them.  A punishment used many times.  The British response incited more fury.  Gertrude was antagonistic to such an approach, but was in the minority, and thought of as being soft. 

Faisal was chosen as Iraq’s leader, after fleeing Damascus.  Faisal was integral in creating an Arab Government in Damascus.  But after two years, France refused to recognize the government’s sovereignty.  The French sent military forces into Damascus, which Damascus could not resist.

As King, Faisal relied on Gertrude’s advice.  Advice on crucial topics such as Churchill’s ultimatum.  The Arab Government had to either accept independence, but with British control.  Or the British would leave.  The British protected the Arab Government, protected Faisal from opponents that would otherwise overthrow Faisal.  Without British protection, the territory would become fought for by various others who wanted the land. 

Faisal understood the complexity of the situation.  Due to negotiating with the different sides, remained quick to change one’s mind.  Faisal needed the British, and accepted the mandate.  But due to pressures of those trying to make Iraq equal to, rather than subordinate to the British, Faisal changed Faisal’s mind.  Churchill’s mandate was required given Iraq’s status under international law.  Faisal negotiation difficulties came from trying to reassure extremists to prevent them from rebelling, and that Faisal was not recognized by the British.  What enabled acceptance of the mandate, was Churchill’s claim to have Iraq admitted to the League of Nations.  Which meant sovereignty for Iraq. 

Gertrude was humble about the role Gertrude had in the development of Iraq.  Felt that the Arab Government gave Gertrude appropriate use of Gertrude skills.  Understood the delicate confidence Gertrude had earned. 

Iraq’s sovereignty had come with a cost, the reduction in British power in Iraq.  As Gertrude was a main agent of Iraq’s sovereignty, there were those who considered Gertrude as causing trouble for the British.  Gertrude realized that Gertrude influence with Faisal dependent on a British presence.  With an acknowledged Arab government, Gertrude influence declined.  Gertrude role changed from political counselor to personal companion. 



The details provided lack depth.  They provide the contours of what Gertrude did, but not the specific details that created the forthcoming outcomes.  Sometimes transitioning between Gertrude’s life too quickly, without much explanation of the transitions.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is Gertrude known for?
•Why was Gertrude attracted to the desert?
•How did Gertrude gain the confidence of Arabic communities?
•How did Gertrude influence politics? 
•Where did British power came from?
•What happened to the Ottoman Empire?
•What were sources of conflict between Turks and Arabs?
•Why did the British wanted to keep control of Iraq?
•What were Gertrude’s views on romance?
•Who was Cadogan to Gertrude? 
•How did Gertrude family influence Gertrude? 
•What were Gertrude’s thoughts on other women?
•How did Gertrude help during WW1?
•How did Iraq obtain sovereignty?
•What was Gertrude’s role in establishing Iraq’s sovereignty?
•Who was Faisal?
•How did Gertrude die?
•How did the desert communities respond to Gertrude presence? 

Book Details
Publisher:             Anchor Books [Random House]     
Edition ISBN:      9781400096190
Pages to read:       385
Publication:          2005
1st Edition:           1999
Format:                 Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          3
Overall          4