Books are our salvation
Paul Craig Roberts
Clearing House' -- -- Those of us who grew up before the time of
virtual reality got inspiration from literature and biography. A
combative scholar, a good story, the life of an achiever were
all part of the mish-mash that formed character.
It is still possible to turn off the screen and to pick up a
book. Literate Southerners could do worse than to try James P.
Cantrell’s “How Celtic Culture Invented Southern Literature.”
The South has a cultural distinctiveness that Cantrell
identifies as Celtic in origin. Cantrell takes the reader on a
compelling analysis of William Gilmore Simms, William Faulkner,
the Agrarians, and provides a chapter on Margaret Mitchell’s
“Gone With the Wind,” which he shows to be real literature and
not merely a ladies’ romance.
An example of Celtic literature, particularly for children whose
parents would like them introduced to the written word, is Linda
Jane Roberts’ “The Robelinde Diary.” This is an enchanting story
of a heroine who helps a beleaguered people to face down evil.
“The Robelinde Diary” has wonderful alliteration, and the prose
evokes a sense of experiencing a long ago time.
Oxford University Press offers William Taussig Scott and Martin
Moleski’s biography of MIchael Polanyi, a biography decades in
the making. Hungarian born, Polanyi was one of the most
important physical chemists of the early 20th century. He had
distinguished scientific careers in Germany and England before
turning to philosophy. He drew on his experience as a scientist
pursuing truth to develop a seminal epistemology that reconciles
all aspects of knowing.
The biography is fascinating on many levels. There is the life
of the scientist who is able to recognize important phenomena in
need of explanation. There is the Hungarian culture that
cultivated the life of the mind and the tolerant inquiring
personality. There is the philosopher who renewed human
confidence in knowing and being. Polanyi was a polymath whose
life and achievements are a wonderful spur to intellectual
Sometimes it is important to get away without having to
physically go anywhere. It is possible for adults to escape into
“The Robelinde Diary,” if they can get it out of the hands of
their children. Another good choice is Alexander McCall Smith’s
Botswana novels, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” being the
title that identifies the series. Smith was a professor of law
at the University of Botswana. His love of the land and delight
in the simple life of the people shows in his stories of Mma
Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi, dealing with problems
in their own lives while helping others solve mysteries that
trouble their lives.
It takes training and imagination to create a popular video
game. Playing games can be so thrilling that it becomes
addictive. I read recently that there are now clinics, or de-tox
centers, where kids are treated for addiction to video games.
From what little I know of video gaming, it appears to be the
case that even the best and most challenging of the games are
soon displaced by new games. This does not happen to books. A
good piece of writing has a shelf life for generations, even
centuries. Dostoevsky, Balzac, and Dickens have no replacements.
A good book can be taken down and read again and be passed on to
following generations. Literary critics interpret and
reinterpret the works endlessly and sometimes excessively. A
good book can form good character for generation after
Books teach people their language. They also teach that few
problems can be solved by violence and that problems are not
solely the preserve of the poor and unfortunate. Real life is in
books, and the more artificial virtual reality becomes, the more
we need books.
For readers who need Iraq reality with a gentle touch, there is
no better selection than Rory Stewart’s “The Prince of the
Marshes.” Stewart served as British governor of Maysan Province
in Iraq as part of coalition rule during 2003-04. Stewart gives
no opinions or exhortations. He merely describes the experience.
Readers, no matter how propagandized they might be by
Bush/Cheney and Fox “News,” will be unable to avoid the
conclusion that the entire enterprise was madcap from the
beginning. Even Americans who cannot find Iraq on a map will be
struck with wonder that the finest representatives of the old
empire and the new were vastly more ignorant than Sumerian
princes in 2000 B.C.
Paul Craig Roberts , was Assistant Secretary of the
Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of
Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in
Washington ; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and
Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with
Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How
Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in
the Name of Justice
Click on "comments" below to read or post comments