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February 5, 2008

Good Reads

The National Book Critics Circle has just announced the results of a poll of the membership about the recent books we'd recommend to readers. Roughly five hundred of us made nominations and/or voted, according to a note from NBCC president John Freeman.

This is the second such poll -- the winter list, in effect. Being named to it is not quite as big a deal as being a finalist or winner of the NBCC Awards proper, I suppose, though there is some overlap. In any case, it does reflect a certain amount of sorting and winnowing of new titles on the part of people who spend a lot of time paying attention to the flux. (My own nomination was evidently too esoteric to make the cut, but what the hell: Charles Taylor's A Secular Age rocks the house.)

This month, NBCC is also holding a series of public events around the country in connection with the Good Reads initiative -- about which more here. I'll be on a panel at the one here in Washington, DC on Saturday, February 16 at Politics and Prose, hosted by Bethanne Patrick from Publishers Weekly.

Posted by smclemee at February 5, 2008 1:50 PM


So you've slogged your way through the Taylor? (Feel free to use a different verb to characterize it, of course.) I was very interested in getting a hold of it, until I reread the first half or so of The Ethics of Authenticity, which I found woefully underargued, even for a lecture series. But I did like Sources a lot.

Perhaps you've written about it and I didn't see (not too unlikely, to be honest), but if not, thoughts on it?

Posted by: ben wolfson at February 6, 2008 11:55 PM

Charles Taylor's A Secular Age rocks the house.

John Gray wrote a review of A Secular Age in the January issue of Harper's. Although Charles Taylor says, "the new humanism has taken over universalism from its Christian roots," he modestly frustrates Gray. Here, again, Gray thinks that the Christian belief in an end to history is the defining kernel to modern ideologies. However much he owes to Isaiah Berlin for this belief, Gray makes a specific citation of The Pursuit of the Millennium by Norman Cohn (1957). That book, he suggests, may have shaped much of his thinking on Marx.

Posted by: Shane Taylor at February 7, 2008 8:49 PM

Not so much "have slogged" as "am slogging." It's certainly a doorstop of a book. A good bet that somebody at Harvard UP is urging him to do the Daily ShowAge yet but might at some point.

I have a vague memory of reading Gray's review while we were in transit during Christmas -- that issue was on the newstands then -- but don't remember it very well.

The problem with discussing any given influence on Gray's understanding of Marx is, alas, that he does not really know anything about Marx. He would be a good instructor for that Australian philosophy department in the Monty Python sketch: "You can teach any of the great socialist thinkers, as long as you show that they're wrong." Gray just starts out from there and goes looking for "influences" that must have existed. He turns Marx into a follower of Saint-Simon and Comte, for example, which is... well, imaginative.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at February 8, 2008 10:07 AM