Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This months book was another Jordan Peterson inspired read, following on from ‘12 Rules…’, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and ‘Panzram’.

The first time I ever heard of Dostoevsky was in episode 3 of The Office, where David Brent has a battle of the wits with the temporary worker Ricky, with regards to their knowledge of Dostoevsky’s writings. David Brent’s side kick Chris Finch famously and erroneously boasting that he read one of Dostoevsky’s book a week. Well it took me a bit longer that a week to read Crime & Punishment, roughly 5 weeks as it happens. Although some smarter minds than mine maybe be able to read, absorb and interpret these works quicker, I still found myself lost in what I was interpreting as unnecessary dialogue.

I started reading the book in the hope of digesting it from a psychological perspective and learning things from that point of view, however I soon got caught up in the pace and story line of the book, only realising I’d gotten carried away without examining the characters and their situations in as much depth as I would have liked to.

The basis of the story is that of a student living in St Petersberg, Russia, during the mid 19th Century, who is beyond broke. The main character, Raskolnikov is a critical thinker and living as he does in poverty and having to postpone his studies, severely grates on him, so much that he sees the only way out is to commit murder and wipe, what Raskolnikov sees as a drain on society, off the face of the earth. However typically, things don’t go to plan, and although it seems as though our protagonist has committed the almost perfect crime, his own actions and mental fortitude become is own downfall.

From a layman’s perspective, the book is a tough read through it’s initial stages, often feeling like it veers off down blind alleys for no specific reason. It isn’t until the final third that things really start to get moving and we start to see how things unravel. The emotion of guilt weighs heavier and heavier upon Raskolnikov who protests his innocence to his antagonists but his physical well being belies his protests.

Without giving the whole plot away, the story allows us to assess the main characters in some depth, and how they interact with each other in their different circumstances. However I think that you may need an interest in the psychological affects of inner belief, inner belief when it is tested and the psychological make up of differnt personality types in order to get through the whole book.

Worth reading if you’re a fan of JBP and if you want to bragg that you have read a Dostoevsky novel.

Favoutire Quote:

Raskolnikov is confessing his guilt to his innocent girlfriend Sonia. He implies on multiple occassions throughout the book, that he is inspired by the great figures of history like Napolean and Muhammed, who did horrendous things for their own ideologies. Raskolnikov hints at the fact that he is following in the ideological steps when he says: “I divined then Sonia, that power is only vouchsafed to the man who dares to stoop and pick it up. There is only one thing, one thing needful; one only has to dare!”

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The Map and Territory by Michel Houellebecq

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The Map and the Territory is the 6th book read so far this calendar year and the 3rd novel. The book and the author were not on the radar at all until it popped up as a recommendation on Twitter.

To start with, the book levels out at an OK read. It has real flashes of deep thought and reflectiveness of life and a lot that I can personally relate to, which makes the book engrossing in parts. But often the author will drift, to what I think, are unnecessary meanderings around areas of the book not totally related to the plot of the story. Maybe it is my lack of artistic integrity that fails to allow me to appreciate these meanderings as some form of philosophical disection of life, I’m not sure.

The story is primarily set over a 20+ year period specifically around the fortunes of a struggling artists life who suddenly finds fame in both his photographic and portrait skills. The first half of the book is a standard narrative taking into consideration the unnecessary meanderings of the artists life and his real life struggles with his capricious central heating boiler and his forever regretful and remorseful father. It’s almost like the first half of the book is dedicated to the birth of the main character even though we pick him up in his late 30’s.

The book takes an alarming twist in the second half and one could be forgiven that this was really two seperate projects knitted together to make one complete story, albeit slightly mis-aligned. The second half deals a lot with death, both physically and metaphorically, with the particularly brutal and precise murder of a famous writer as well as slow death of the main characters relationship with the love of his life as well as his lust for life.

I guess on the whole the book was worth the time to read, especially as i could relate to some of the character’s traits. However, there are probably more entertaining fictional books or informative books that can be read in its place.

Favourite Quote:
”to destroy the subject of morality in his own person is tantamount to obliterating from the world, as far he can, the existence of morality itself…”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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The 5th book of 2019 is another novel.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a dark yet emotionally stirring book. Set in a post apocolyptic world that has had sunlight, nature and humanity scorched into oblivion by some unknown and unestablished force. There is a certain undertone, that this force is a punishment from God, in reflection of some modern day version of Sodom & Gomorrah, but the biblical references are not the theme of the story and are not prevalent enough to make The Road a religeous allegory.
Rather, what we’re treated to is a journey of hope, strength and of an ultimate bond so strong between a father and his son in the most dangerous and heinous of surroundings.
Water and food are so scarce that humankind had delved to the depths of cannabilism in order to feed. The human soul has been corrupted by the freedom of a complete collapse in society, law and order.
Now there are only those that carry the fire that show any remnants of the fading embers of pure intentions from the previous world.
We follow the journey of the man and his son in this world breathing it’s last breath - thoughout hope and despair, whilst being completely absorbed by the loving bond between the father and infant son, and the lengths the father will go to in order to protect his son and keep the fire alive…

It’s a pretty epic book…

Favourite Quote:
”…each the other’s world entire…”

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Book #04 of 2019
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle…
I’m not a huge reader of fiction books, but I think it’s good to mix things up on occasions, especially as a lot of text, factual and reference books can be quite heavy reading… So this book has been surrounded by a lot of hype. It is the debut novel by author Stuart Turton and has quite a foundation of critical acclaim. The plot is pretty original and during the early stages has enough to hook you on the line. Enough that is to get you through the difficult and possibly too drawn out middle section - which, in all fairness, isn’t drawn out enough to make you want to quit.

Stuart Turton does pull together some beautifully written adjectives when describing the setting for the book, so that it easily paints a picture in your mind of the setting, which is a glorious country mansion that has seen better days.

Some of the characters (and this maybe a deliberate attempt) require a little more fleshing, as some of them you never really feel like you have a connection with, meaning they just become peripheral when in reality they hold a much larger role within the plot.
The basis of the plot is for one man, who seems to have lost his memory, to solve the murder of the daughter of an upper class family set in, I believe, Victorian England. The main character has 8 days to solve the murder, whilst trying to stay alive himself, upon which he will be set free from this peculiar mix of Big Brother / Crystal Maze / Hunger Games style set up . Of course it’s not as simple as it first may seem. The main character possesses certain sub characters within the plot, using their strengths and flaws as well as their societal and political connections to discover as much information as possible to try and identify the murderer. It would be difficult enough were he just working against the clock, however he is also working against avoiding being murdered himself, all the while being double crossed at each turn.

Without giving the end away - I was a little disappointed, only because it seemed to end with more than 1 loose end left untied. It seems fashionable in a lot of independant style films now, for the final scenes to be left open to interpretation - whether used as a get-out, due to not finding a suitable finale, or used as some dramatic inspiration for the viewer to use their own imagination and conclude the hidden meaning. It feels as if this option has been utilised in the final pages of this book.

Overall it was fast paced and intriguing so much that it kept me reading, and subsequently finishing the book (500 pages+) in just over a week.

Favourite Quote:
”…what use is re-arranging the furniture if you burn the house down while doing it?”

Homo Deus, a brief history of tomorrow; by Yuval Noah Harari

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In the sequel to his best seller Sapiens… Yuval Noah Harari takes us on a journey from the present day starting roughly in 2010 with some fascinating facts regarding the incredible and almost inconceivable notion that it’s more common for people to die of obesity and obesity related diseases, than they are to die of terrorism, starvation, disease or absolute poverty. A startling statistic when (albeit anecdotally) more and more successful (i.e. shops that don’t close down <12 months in) high street business are fast food places which also seems to mirror a rise in mental health and suicide cases.

We as a civilisation are now more concerned with living longer, creating artificial crops, animals and intelligence. Gone are the days when we were held accountable in the field to provide enough food for the winter. We now have laboratories that can do this for us - just like our ancestors during the agricultural revolution, we now have more time than ever before to get caught up in the materialistic world…

We now no longer want to grow old gracefully - cosmetic surgery is on the rise, crazy smart phone apps iron out our wrinkles and give ourselves and others unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. We have in many ways become GOD. But is it sustainable?

This book takes us on a fascinating journey into what could be the future of western civilisation. The exponential growth of data technology and AI would seemingly lead to a Terminator style future where once the technology becomes so self aware, it will control all things in life. Humans will become redundant. AI controls everything from one main central system. AI controls all transport, cutting down on the need for privately owned vehicles and subsequently cutting down on pollution and climate change. It develops ways to cater to its own maintenance needs. Through the various epochs of growth, machines take more and more jobs away from the human race. There will no longer be a need for humans in war or industry. Just like how horses were replaced by tanks and planes in war, then motor cars, buses and trains for industrial and personal use in the early 20th Century - the horses were not upgraded, but simply became redundant. Could the same happen to the human race?

We may well make the argument that machines cannot feel empathy or emotion, but Harari doesn’t argue a straw man argument. He builds his case up strong giving an insight into how tech companies have developed machines that can adapt and detect what kind of response is required simply by processing a persons answers to five basic questions.

This is a very intriguing book that makes the reader think outside of the box. We’re currently in an era where as I stated above, more people die from obesity than from starvation. What is the cost? A vaccum will always be filled. Science plays its role in supplying the demand by growing chickens in 23 days from hatchling to shelf product. Dairy cows unnaturally produce so much milk in some cases they are unable to walk due to the size of their udders. We are literally playing GOD as the title Homo Deus suggests.

Well worth the time to read and more importantly, to study.

12 Rules for Life; by Jordan Peterson

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Recently finished the 3rd book of 2019… I started this book in Mid December 2018 but it’s that deep I had to make notes along the way. The funny thing is, is that I didn’t read this book in isolation. Obviously there is a bit of furore surrounding Jordan Peterson, so he is all over the internet at the moment, this includes some of his greatest advice (reflected in his book) uploaded from his lectures to YouTube.
We have 12 of his sharpest pieces of life advice within the book, and no doubt, better reviewers than me have had their say on it. But I recommend this book as it will give you a alternative perspective on aspects of life and how you may approach it.

My favourite rule:
Rule 9 - Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Man's Search for Meaning

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I was inspired to pick this book up from the Jordan Peterson book, 12 Rules for Life.
The author of, Man’s Search… was himself a successful psychologist. Viktor Frankl was already an established psychologist prior to his incarceration under the horrendous NAZI regime, where he was sent to Auschwitz and Dachau amongst other concentration camps.

In this short book, Frankl details day to day life within the ‘camps’ and the horrors that accompanied his time in them. It must be highlighted that this isn’t just the same old regurgitation of the physical horrors within the torture chambers, but more a reflection from a psychological point of view of how people either kept their faith and survived or lost what little faith and the meaning that supported it, and sadly gave way and died.
Frankl also discusses how the inate evil that existed within some of the guards is fundamentally alive in most people at the core level and discusses how, given the required circumstances, these actions may rise to the surface. Such as upon allied liberation of the ‘camps’, many a number of the inmates adopted an attitude similar to that of the guards, now that the roles had been reversed.

The second part of the book, Frankl explains what his theory of Logotherapy actually stands for and how the philosophy behind it can help a person realise their purpose in life by understanding their own meaning, regardless of how brutal their surroundings may be…

For anyone interested in the human psyche and the endless possibilities of the human mind, once given the correct direction, this book is a great starting point. It is full of nuggets of information, which may require further research by the reader, but that in itself makes it appealing.

Enjoy…

Favourite Quote:
”…as to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for. They have the means - but no meaning…”

Panzram: A Journal of Murder

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There is something quite kitsch about retrospective biographies on the mean humans that have walked the earth. Whether they’re biographies on East End thugs, Glaswegian gangsters or the Italian/American Mafia, to give a few examples. Most biographies tend to portray an impression that the culprits within their pages are salt of the earth types, with an honest connection to living the the right kind of life, but whilst offering a warning that at any point once crossed, these humans can turn into evil incarnate, due to an uncontrollable temper that stems back to an early childhood incident that haunted them into adulthood.

Panzran; A Journal of Murder by Gaddis and Long, offers up a slightly fresh observation on a human who self proclaimed himself as the “world’s worst murderer”.
Panzram was raised in the tough times of the early 1900’s within a strict religious God fearing family. Confined to a religious reform school from an early age, he was beaten by the head priest and fell foul to much worse physical acts from older boys at the school. These horrors, on top of his physical and emotionally abusive home life cast the die for a young boy that went on a one man terror streak through out his life.
The book is an account based on the correspondence that Panzram made with a befriended Prison Warden, who managed to gain the trust of Panzram during one of his multiple prison sentences, so much so that they kept in touch right up to his execution in September 1930.
That correspondance in the form of letters, (some smuggled out, some sent legitimately) details Panzram’s reign of terror round the world. His damaged psyche made him no tree, always on the run from armed robbery, prison break or suspician of murder, Panzram had no roots and didn’t seem to be affected by travelling the world on steam liners to European and African countries on his own and with aquaintencies. The only common theme, was that wherever he went, trouble was not far behind. In his own admission, in his lifetime, he had “murdered 21 human beings” he had “committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons” and last but not least “committed sodomy onb more than 1000 male human beings”. This brutal tale shows how the environment we are brought up in and the social circles in which we move have a tremendous impact on our attitude and psyche.
There are ultimately points in the story, that offer a scintilla of light, that with the right support, Panzram could change. But unfortunately the damage is already done.
As an interesting point, the book raises the question and we’re left to wonder, as to whether human beings, at their core and basic function, are aggressive murderous animals, (like our chimpanzee relatives) and whether it is simply thousands of years of social training and indoctrination that keep us all from lashing out and unleashing the inner chimp.
Amazon Link

Favourite Quote:
”…In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings. I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things, I am not the least bit sorry…”