Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Julian Baggini

Julian Baggini is the editor and co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine. He writes regularly for the Guardian, Independent and Independent on Sunday, Prospect and the TES, and has appeared on Nightwaves and In Our Time. He is the author of several books on philosophy, including Making Sense: Philosophy Behind the Headlines and Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. His most recent book is Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
To be honest, it's more a case of what I'm not reading, in that I have several books on the go for different purposes, and the extent to which I am "reading" any of them is debatable.

The one I'm definitely reading is Steve Pinker's The Stuff of Thought, which I didn't quite finish in advance of his visit to Bristol's Festival of Ideas, which I am involved with. There's some really interesting stuff for thought in the book, particularly about competing theories of language. If you're tempted by the view that language tightly determines thought -- that we can only think about what we have words for -- Pinker has got some choice words for you.

However, like so many books that come out of the US, it's overly long in my view. Is there a rule that serious non-fiction from the States must be around 500 pages? (Pinker's index ends on page 499.) The many examples are interesting in a "well I never" kind of way, but the really fundamental arguments sometimes get lost in all the detail. It's a model negative example of the value of good editing.

Because I had to read Pinker to a deadline, I set aside Culture of Complaint by Robert Hughes. I'm writing a book on complaint and this seems to be the biggest book on the subject of recent years. The great irony is that Hughes's book is itself an unrelenting complaint about how we complain about everything. I might complain about that in my book.

Researching the same book, I have been dipping into an anthology of Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield. I find it interesting how from one perspective Buddhism seems deeply ethical, yet it also teaches a kind of withdrawal from the world that other traditions would see as profoundly immoral. But my thoughts on this are still very unformed.

Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine also has a bookmark towards the end of it. I've enjoyed it but suspect I've already got out of it what I need, but hate to leave a book unfinished when I'm so close to the end.

Finally, Lewis Wolpert's Malignant Sadness tells you everything about depression you would ever want to know. I like the information I'm getting but he's a very dry writer and I wish I could say I was enjoying it more. Maybe that's why it too is unfinished.
Visit Julian Baggini's website.

The Page 99 test: Welcome to Everytown.

--Marshal Zeringue