More Recent Reads

by F.

Proust and the Squid. This book is ostensibly about the miracle of how human beings read. It’s pretty good, but Wolf isn’t much of a writer. There’s still a great book to be written about how human beings look at row upon row or column upon column of little squiggles and get information. I bought, rather than rented, this one only because the library didn’t have it; it wasn’t worth the money.

Plutarch’s Lives, Volume I (the 1683 Dryden translation). This is so good. Yes, I know, I hear your eyes rolling in their sockets. Trust me. It is. Yes, Plutarch often gets his facts wrong. (I’m pretty sure that his discussion of a boy with an elephant head isn’t true, nor is his story about the discovery of a satyr.) Yet his psychological judgments are acute. Here’s Plutarch on Coriolanus:

His example shows us that the loss of a father, even though it may impose other disadvantages on a boy, does not prevent him from living a virtuous or a distinguished life, and that it is only worthless men who seek to excuse the deterioration of their character by pleading neglect in their early years.

This sort of stuff appeals to my Stoic predilections, of course, but Plutarch isn’t a stone-faced Catonian:

The obligations of law and equity reach only to mankind, but kindness and beneficence should be extended to the creatures of every species; and these still flow from the breast of a well-natured man, as streams that issue from the living fountain.

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