Five Leftist Luminaries of My Time

Sacco and Vanzetti (anarchist cause célèbre)

The five Leftist Luminaries I want to give my impressions about are:

George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair, 25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950)

Avram Noam Chomsky (7 December 1928 – )

Eugene Louis “Gore” Vidal (3 October 1925 – 31 July 2012)

Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011)

Alexander Claud Cockburn (6 June 1941 – 21 July 2012).

This article is an account of personal opinions and recollections, it is not a work of journalism based on exhaustive research.

George Orwell

For me, George Orwell was the essential Leftist Luminary of the second quarter of the 20th century, and he remains the source-point of political writing and criticism from the socialist point of view in the English language to this very day. I have read his two most famous novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well the two non-fiction works The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia. In addition, I have read Essays, a collection of “more than 240” of Orwell’s essays published by Everyman’s Library (Alfred A. Knopf), a 1370 page book. I recommend these all.

I had not previously written about George Orwell, but the following article (linked just below) mentions him along with Noam Chomsky, and a number of other historical personalities.

Left Conservatives Under Right Progressives
12 February 2016
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/02/12/left-conservatives-under-right-progressives-2/

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Noam Chomsky

In the fields of Linguistics, Political Philosophy and Political Criticism, Noam Chomsky is the equivalent of Albert Einstein to physics. Chomsky is the essential Leftist Luminary of the second half of the 20th century, and to this day. Besides being most brilliant and authoritative, he is supremely moral, ethical and gentlemanly. He is a man of deep feeling for humanity (read At War With Asia): a mensch. I have read many of Chomsky’s books, essays, articles and tracts. If you have not read him, The Chomsky Reader (edited by James Peck) and Deterring Democracy are excellent places to start.

The only article I have written about Noam Chomsky is this:

On Reading “At War With Asia,” by Noam Chomsky
20 June 2012
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2012/06/20/on-reading-at-war-with-asia-by-noam-chomsky/

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Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal was a Left Luminary author of fiction and political criticism, which both served the purpose of being witty intellectual entertainment. Vidal was very much a media star renowned for his appearances on television talk (and argument) shows. Essential to Vidal’s image was his projection of absolute overconfidence, and command of his material, giving him a withering authority expressed pithily in either the spoken or written word. I have read numbers of his essays (I read more non-fiction than fiction), and these may ultimately be what he is remembered for instead of his mainly historical novels, which were very popular during his lifetime.

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Christopher Hitchens

Chris Hitchens was a brash, outrageous and witty Left Luminary and intellectual entertainer in the Gore Vidal mode, but even more bristley. He was a confrontational person that assaulted rather than persuaded points of view that differed from his own. Hitchens succeeded in maintaining his very public career as a pundit even after heedlessly dashing the expectations of his original and most faithful audience, when he flipped from being a scathing leftist critic of US militarism and imperialism to a vociferous allegiance to George W. Bush’s “war on terror” (i.e., on Islamist militants) after the 9-11 attacks. The events of 11 September 2001 completely shocked and shook him, and he was characteristically and explosively indelicate about expressing his reformed view of international relations. Hitchens career success after 2001 was analogous to that of Bob Dylan’s after 1965, when Dylan trampled cacophonously on the expectations of his gentle folk music devotees by erupting onto the folk-pop music scene with an all-out rock-and-roll band and persona.

The memorial article I wrote soon after Christopher Hitchens died is this:

Christopher Hitchens, Coyote, or Saint Paul?
2 January 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci36.html

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Alexander Cockburn

Alex Cockburn was a close contemporary of Christopher Hitchens, also a product of the United Kingdom (an Irishman who went to boarding school in Scotland, and received his university education in England). Cockburn was essentially Hitchens’s twin as regards his US Leftist Luminary persona and highly sharpened attention-getting literary style, and he was also an intellectual entertainer. Both Cockburn and Hitchens assumed themselves to be hip Leftist Luminaries and projected that enthusiasm (presumptuousness?) as a supreme self-confidence that could at times reach the point of arrogance.

Where Cockburn and Hitchens differed significantly was in consistency of ideological commitment. Unlike Hitchens’s precipitous swing from left to right, Cockburn never wavered in his Stalinist-derived ideology.

Alexander Cockburn’s father, Claud Cockburn, was an Irish communist journalist during the Spanish Civil War, and also secretly a propaganda agent of the USSR. Claud Cockburn wrote some factually inaccurate news accounts of the fighting in Spain that were very favorable to the Republican side (despite them suffering a disastrous loss), which was being aided by Stalin’s foreign intervention. These false accounts were purportedly justified as helping buck up international socialist resolve to the anti-fascist (anti-Francoist) cause.

However, Stalin’s main concern was to directly control communist parties and socialist movements worldwide, and Stalin’s military, spy and police agents were vigorously undermining communist and socialist parties not obedient to the Kremlin, and having the leaders of such independent parties executed. One victim of this secret purge (during the “May Events” of 1937 in Barcelona) was the leader of the POUM, a small independent communist party in Spain that George Orwell had joined to fight against the fascists (led by Francisco Franco). It was Orwell who exposed Claud Cockburn (read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia), and Claud subsequently lost his credibility, and with Stalin’s favor now replaced by his ire, and he lost his Irish foreign correspondent newspaper job and had to return to Ireland and Scotland.

Claud Cockburn later married for a third time, to a woman of means with whom he had three sons, the eldest being Alexander Cockburn. Claud continued with his literary career, and one product of it was the comic novel Beat the Devil, which American film director John Huston turned into a 1950s movie that was not too successful even though it starred Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, and Robert Morley.

I was motivated to learn this story about Alexander Cockburn’s father, after an e-mail exchange with Alex in which he surprised me by scathingly dismissing my admiration for George Orwell.

Alex Cockburn was vituperatively critical (in his editorials in Counter Punch, his magazine with Jeffrey St. Clair) of the character of Christopher Hitchens. Cockburn’s ire was aimed not just at Hitchens’s ideological reversal of 2001, but at a graver sin in Cockburn’s eyes: betraying by ratting out on an earlier colleague who was in the crosshairs of a US government witch hunt. As I recall, the designated victim had been a left-liberal friend of both Hitchens and Cockburn, and he was being set up by government investigator-prosecutors as the culprit of some political-financial activity the government (the administration of George W. Bush) was seeking to criminalize in order to silence a critic of the regime. This is all plausible, as Hitchens never sued Cockburn for libel.

These US-from-the-UK Leftist Luminary battling twins, sadly, were fatally stricken with cancer at nearly the same time, with Hitchens dying first and Cockburn seven months later. Cockburn was entirely closed-mouth about his disease, which was only disclosed when his death was publicly announced. In contrast, Hitchens was completely open and publicly confessional, in print and on video, about his disease throughout its entire course. Cockburn was acerbically critical of what he viewed as Hitchens’s mawkish attention-getting, so in contrast to Cockburn’s own tight-lipped reserve during his own demise.

These were sad endings of the public presences of the Twin Battling Berserkers of Hip Modern Leftist Luminosity in the United States. A similarly sad and publicly sour ending of an American Leftist Luminant (as subsequently revealed by the legal battle over his will) was that of Gore Vidal, ten days after Alexander Cockburn’s final exit.

I hope that for both Cockburn and Hitchens the private within-the-family passings were as peaceful and loving as can be had for such an event. For Cockburn I have no doubt it was; for Hitchens I don’t know; and for Vidal I know it was not.

I believe that Alex Cockburn was always jealous of Christopher Hitchens for being more successful at accomplishing what they both wanted to accomplish in their careers: public recognition as major pundits. It seems to me as if Hitchens, despite his character flaws and likely ethical lapses, always threw shade on Alex Cockburn, even if unconsciously and unintentionally, and that Alex deeply resented this because he saw himself as the significantly more ethical man. I can’t judge.

I did not know Christopher Hitchens personally. From my several (not many) interactions with Alexander Cockburn, I have no doubt he was an ethical person and good family man. My only significant criticism of Alexander Cockburn is that he was inflexibly ideological and this inflexibility, much more than his lack of scientific knowledge, could even undermine his usually sterling ability for critical thinking – his ability to be rational and logical – on matters of science like climate change.

The memorial article article I wrote the night Alexander Cockburn died is this:

My Memorial for Alexander Cockburn
11 August 2012
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2012/08/11/my-memorial-for-alexander-cockburn/

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In Conclusion

Of my five 20th century Leftist Luminaries only Noam Chomsky, the third oldest, is still wonderfully alive and will complete his 89th year in December 2017.

For me, the lesson I think it is reasonable to draw out of this review of Leftist Luminaries is to value the honest and helpful insights offered by the thought-provoking, elegant and entertaining works of five very human men, who were clearly motivated in no small part by a sense of solidarity with the rest of humanity in the timeless quest for the lessening of life’s pains, and the emergence of a better and brave new world.

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My Favorite Classics

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This article originally appeared as:

My Favorite Classics
30 July 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci51.html

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Books

•   History Of The Peloponnesian War (~411 BC), by Thucydides (English translation by Rex Warner, Penguin Books)

A coolly analytical and psychologically probing account of the 5th century BC war between Athens and Sparta. War is the continuation of politics by violent means. Thucydides’s insights on the hows and whys of war and rebellion: democracy devolving to demagoguery, subversion, mutiny, revolt, atrocities, revolution, conquest, dictatorship, alliances, balance of power, foreign intervention, hegemony, and overreach, are timeless. This is a book for the ages.

•   The Three Musketeers (1844), by Alexandre Dumas (English translation)

This sparkling novel is the combination of a hero tale of a young man vanquishing opposition to gain an honored place in society, with a friendship tale of men bonded by “one for all and all for one” while maneuvering around the political intrigues of their nation’s first minister and shadow ruler, to maintain their personal honor and rescue that of their spoiled and indolent royal patrons, by relying on their valor and swordsmanship. Glorious.

•   The Brothers Karamazov (1880), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (English translation)

This is a passionate philosophical novel about the moral struggles and ethical conflicts erupting through the love affairs, hunt for wealth, spiritual quests, cognitive dissonances, and crimes of the three (or four) Karamazov brothers and their dissolute father; and an expansive intricate meditation on the fracturing of the medieval Christian mysticism of the Russian psyche impacted by 19th century industrialization, and the seepage of rationalism and nihilism in through the fissures. Epic and probing.

•   Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (1884), by Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Mark Twain wrote that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and Huckleberry Finn is “a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.” Because of his innate good character and his beneficial friendship with Jim, an escaped slave, the adolescent Huckleberry Finn comes to see black slavery and its enabling racism as morally wrong despite their being treated as upright and legally essential to American society, by the white adults of his time. This is the quintessential American novel, scintillating and funny, still fresh, still relevant, still controversial.

•   The Rebel (1951), by Albert Camus (English translation of L’Homme révolté by Anthony Bower, Vintage, 1991)

This book is a philosophy of politics exploring the idea and attitude of rebellion throughout European history. Once you rebel at allowing a particular injustice to continue, you become increasingly open to rebelling against the continuation of other injustices. This expansion of rebelliousness as a consequence of increasing awareness of injustices distinguishes the archetypal socialist from his opposite, the archetypal Tory, whose mind shuts out sympathy to remain focused on the personal association with privileging power. Allowing increased awareness of injustices to expand your rebelliousness against the powers that are indifferent to them, or cause them, brings you into community with the bulk of humanity: “I rebel, therefore we exist.”

•   The Way Of Zen (1957), by Alan Watts

A book of organic completeness, elegant clarity, and absorbing calmness on the historical development of Zen Buddhism, and the expression of its practice through the arts and as a personal attitude. Buddhist insight about the human condition emerged from Hinduism, unfolded with breathtaking expansiveness as the Mahayana school, spread from the Indian subcontinent throughout southeast Asia and north past the Himalayas to Tibet and China, where it combined with Taoism to produce the Chan Buddhism of the Tang Dynasty, and spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan as Zen Buddhism, the thoughtless direct experience of enlightenment. Refreshing.

Music

•   Le Nozze Di Figaro (1786), music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte

The Marriage of Figaro is an effervescent comic opera on the wiles of the servants Figaro and his fiancé Susanna to thwart the philandering intent of their master, Count Almaviva, which threatens their wedding and their prospects for continued employment, as well as grieving Countess Almaviva. After a day of madness, all ends well. Da Ponte’s witty and politically clever adaptation of Pierre Beaumarchais’s play is spirited along by Mozart’s gloriously frothy and tuneful music, a masterpiece of art.

•   Variations And Fugue On A Theme By Handel, Opus 24 (1861), solo piano music by Johannes Brahms

Brahms invented a little Baroque theme for the piano, attributing it to George Frideric Handel, and then spun a glorious series of variations on it. Every tempo and musical mood is encountered here, from sparkling songbird-like warbling one could imagine in a Rococo landscape as painted by Watteau, to the ponderous pulsations of the dark lower depths of the collective unconscious of late 19th century Europe, when God died giving birth to psychology, Marxism, evolution, and quantum physics.

•   La Bohème (1896), music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacoso

The second half of Act 1, when Mimi and Rodolfo meet and fall in love, carried along by waves of the lushest romantic music ever composed, which swirls and swells through arias (Che gelida manina, and Sì, mi chiamano Mimì) and duets (O soave fanciulla) of wondrous melodic lyricism, can lift an appreciative listener out of the deadening banality of the routine, gladdening the heart and flooding the mind with the intrinsic beauty of life. The entire opera is a cascade of music as effulgent as the splendor and heartache of love itself.

•   Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956), vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, orchestra conducted and arranged by Buddy Bregman, songs composed by Cole Porter

Cole Porter’s tunefully witty songs seem to say all that can be said about living and loving in the modern America that burst out of the 1920s and raced through a turbulent 20th century. Ella Fitzgerald was the unparalleled jazz and American popular song vocalist of that century. With Ella, the words are always so clear, the emotion so simple and direct, the voice so pure, warm, radiant and natural, and the song is always perfect.

•   West Side Story (1957), musical conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, film version (1961) produced and directed by Robert Wise

Romeo and Juliet replayed in 1950s Upper West Side Manhattan, a musical theatre production with high-energy singer-dancers giving life to lyrics, music, and dance that are too cool to be classical, too classical to be pop, and too with-it to ever get old. In this retelling of the tale, Romeo Montague is a Polish-American boy, Tony, whose family-of-the-streets is the white boy gang, The Jets. The Juliet Capulet here is Maria, a Puerto Rican girl who, along with many thousands of her people, has migrated from the Island, and whose older brother leads a gang of Puerto Rican turf defenders, The Sharks. It is vivid, taut, rhythmic, and moving.

•   Morrison Hotel (1970), words and music by The Doors (Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore)

The flowering of the Baby Boom generation out of its 1960s adolescence and into its first golden years of adulthood was, for many American boy-men of the time, hammered back into itself by the oppressive demands for conscript warriors and national treasure by America’s Vietnam War. I was one the war was reaching to pull in. For me, the intensity of the cognitive dissonance between experiencing the expanding consciousness of maturing youth, awakening to the many possibilities of a long and fruitful life, yet simultaneously confronting the implacable colossus of Death intent to absorb me immediately by war, is captured by the rock and roll and blues music of this unrelenting album by The Doors. Spellbinding.

Films

•   The Maltese Falcon (1941), by John Huston, with: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr.

Unraveling a good yarn based on Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel of the same name, The Maltese Falcon has a taut screenplay unreeled at a fast pace, memorable characters, wit, mystery, suspense, action, and a hero possessing an admirable toughness of character. An unequalled American film classic that is impossible to duplicate.

•   Casablanca (1942), by Michael Curtiz, with: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson

The greatest Hollywood movie ever. Why? Because it is about the triumph of character despite the selfish desire for love, and despite the onset of dark times with corrupting ideologies. In this story, a very regular and emotionally-damaged guy comes to realize that maintaining an incorruptible character is his greatest asset. From this, he can redirect his life into a principled fight against the evils of his time, and find fulfillment in that choice even with no guarantee that he and the other defenders of decency, freedom, and human dignity will be successful, or that he will survive. But, we know he will.

•   The Big Sleep (1946), by Howard Hawks, with: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Sonia Darrin, Charles Waldron, Elisha Cook, Jr., Bob Steele, Louis Jean Heydt

A tangled detective story based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, unraveled in a most fascinating way, with lingering ambiguities, and accompanied by many witticisms, spasms of action, and numerous instances of exquisitely-sexual repartee. Perhaps having a future Nobel laureate as one of the screenwriters (William Faulkner) helped produce a film that rewards endless viewing. This is the ultimate hard-boiled detective story, “it has all that the Falcon had, and more.”

•   Seven Samurai (1954), by Akira Kurosawa, with: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Yukiko Shimazaki

This cinema masterpiece appeared nine years after Japan’s devastating defeat in the Pacific War and at the start of its four decades of amazing economic growth. In this film, Kurosawa and his collaborators looked to Japan’s past with new postwar eyes and hopes focused on the future. This film’s vitality reflected the resurgence of Japanese society, remembering its cultural wisdom and capacity for endurance as embodied in Zen and samurai traditions, while reinventing itself into a late 20th century Asian Tiger economy. The film itself has a wonderful screenplay, visually stunning photography (Kurosawa shone lights into mirrors and onto faces to make them glow, and dyed the rain black sprayed by fire trucks); and the pacing never falters whether in quiet and intimate scenes, comedy, expansive and majestic scenes, or during the fury and chaos of battle. “This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself.”

•   Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), by David Lean, with: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, I. S. Johar

This is an epic about an Englishman’s romance for adventure ripening into bitter wisdom, by being subjected to the furious heat of desert warfare waged against Turkish artillery and mechanized forces during World War I by Bedouins with handguns on camelback. It is also an epic about “the great game,” the unprincipled schemes of European imperialists to gain control of the sources of the world’s petroleum, and of the related struggles by “the natives,” the many poor, dark-skinned populations living atop subterranean deposits of fossil wealth, to gain their independence. Finally, it is a story about love through companionship, and of the psychological scarring caused by rejection. This film is a glorious widescreen color epic with lush and rapturous music, and a stupendous cast with each member playing his part perfectly. Magnificent.

•   The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), by Richard Lester, with: Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee, Michael York, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Simon Ward, Geraldine Chaplin, Jean-Pierre Cassel

These two scintillating films are the two halves of the perfect “Three Musketeers” movie. Originally intended to be shown together as a two-part epic, they were released as two separate movies a year apart because of a clash between contractual obligations to exhibitors, and the difficulties of completing the editing of the final product. These films follow Dumas’s novel reasonably closely, for which we are thankful, and the wonderfully written screenplay includes some inventive flourishes that help move the action along briskly and give the films their verve and kick. Oliver Reed at his peak embodies the character of Athos (an unmatched portrayal in my opinion), Faye Dunaway plays the malevolent Milady de Winter with delicious guile and enchantment, Christopher Lee is a superbly menacing Comte de Rochefort, Richard Chamberlain has finally given us a cinema Aramis with the wit of Dumas’s original, and the rest of the cast all play their parts delightfully. For those who love The Three Musketeers, this film is a joy for the ages.

Enjoy!

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Do-It-Yourself Alternative High School

High School in the United States is about training for conformity, and molding for obedience. High School gets in the way of becoming educated, in the same way that organized religion gets in the way of realizing spirituality (“knowing God”). The following is a list of 20 books I would gave to a student for a do-it-yourself education (an intellectual expansion) of a type American High Schools cannot deliver. I offer this list to you, and to American teens today, because I think that as a set they represent an entry to the endless path of awakening to the great wide world (reality), and to the art of self-teaching. Anyone who would read all these books, and work out the problems in them (if such), would merit the Alternative High School Diploma, which comes in the form of the personal satisfaction in having enjoyed learning many interesting things, and in how to think better.

How To Solve It
(G. Polya)

Desert Solitaire
(Edward Abbey)

Cat’s Cradle
(Kurt Vonnegut)

The Divine Proportion
(H. E. Huntley)

The Periodic Table
(Primo Levi)

The Ancestor’s Tale
(Richard Dawkins)

Gods, Graves and Scholars
(C. W. Ceram)

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court
(Mark Twain)

The Oedipus Trilogy
(Sophocles)

Slaughterhouse Five
(Kurt Vonnegut)

David Copperfield
(Charles Dickens)

Four Plays by Oscar Wilde:
– The Importance of Being Earnest
– An Ideal Husband
– Lady Windermere’s Fan
– A Woman of No Importance
– and if you want a 5th one: Salomé

Stranger In A Strange Land
(Robert Heinlein)

The Lathe of Heaven
(Ursula K. Le Guin)

Nineteen Eighty-Four
(George Orwell)

Animal Farm
(George Orwell)

Brave New World
(Aldous Huxley)

On The Road
(Jack Kerouac)

Eichmann In Jerusalem
(Hannah Arendt)

Cadillac Desert
(Marc Reisner)

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Mangogarcia Poem Books (2016)

This web-page describes the availability of poems and poetry books by Manuel García, Jr.

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My poems all come out of my thinking and experience. I use a bit of art (artifice?), and fiction (but not lies) to etch my images into sharp relief. But, I also use some ambiguity, and/or “fuzzy logic,” to keep the works open enough for the reader to fill my voids with their imaginations. I always say that in my scientific (technical, and/or for the public) and political writing I aim for logical, crystal clear, unambiguous, well-defined writing. But, in my “poetic” writing I aim to transmit insights “trans-logically” to hopefully make possible “experienced truth” for the reader. My poetry is all honest. But I know it is not schooled (“correct”), and even within my own parameters it can be spotty (clumsy). I make no claims about my poetic writing, beyond that I say what I want how I want, and I am ultimately only concerned that I understand it. I like Zen, and poetry inspired by it, so that is a big influence.

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I began this blog in November 2011. The poems I wrote prior to November 2011 were collected into a book (a PDF file), which can be copied (“downloaded” – at your own risk) from a web-link at this blog page:

Mango Garcia Poems
(before November 2011)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2011/11/09/mango-garcia-poems/

and/or directly from this specific web-link:

Mangogarcia Poems (< November 2011)
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/mangogarcia-poems.pdf

The poems I wrote from November 2011 to November 2016 have just been collected into one volume. There are two versions of this volume (both PDF files): one is a list of web-links to the poem blog pages (which also have photos), and the other is a book with all the poem texts (61 pages). I have put links to these two volumes (for downloading) at the bottom of the “About” page on this blog. The direct web-links appear below:

Mangogarcia Poems 2011-2016
(5 page PDF of web-links to poem blog pages, with photos)
30 November 2016
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/mgjr-poems-2011-2016.pdf

Mangogarcia poems 2011-2016
(61 page PDF of poem texts, no photos)
30 November 2016
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/mgjr-poems-2011-20161.pdf

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Some blog rants and exegeses are not labeled (tagged) “poetry” or “poems,” but instead “personal reflection” or some other vague label. It’s possible I have some prosy poetry in some of these.

My blog has many translations (somewhat poetic) of Spanish language (numerous Cuban) songs. Each such blog web page also lists YouTube examples (that I liked) of the given song. A complete list is given in the “About” page of my blog. This project is mainly for me, but also to try to connect my children to my parents’ music and culture. These are the perennially popular items on my blog.

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Twelve Essential Books

01. History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, 411 BC)
[all of politics]

02. The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas, 1844)
[friendship, youth, honor and career]

03. Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1884)
[friendship, youth, and awakening to principle]

04. The Way of Zen (Alan Watts, 1957)
[awakening to mindful living]

05. Eichmann in Jerusalem (Hannah Arendt, 1963)
[“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” — Voltaire]

06. The Divine Proportion: A Study in Mathematical Beauty (H. E. Huntley, 1970)
[beauty is natural]

07. The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins, 1976)
[life is amoral, and relentless]

08. Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner, 1986)
[short-sightedness in self-interest amidst natural grandeur]

09. The First Man (Albert Camus, 1994)
[remembering the growth of one’s understanding]

10. Reappraisals (Tony Judt, 1994-2006, 2008)
[portraits of the human society that birthed us]

11. Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945 (Tony Judt, 2005)
[understanding modern Europe]

12. In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan, 2008)
[food for life]

What twelve books would you pick for your Desert Island Library, to read and reread with pleasure, and to understand the human condition of finite lives within eternal cycles?

Excellent 20th Century Books

Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor at http://www.counterpunch.org/, has published a list of his 100 favorite non-fiction books (originally in English) from the twentieth century:

100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century (and Beyond) in English
(chosen by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair)
5 April 2014
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/04/100-best-non-fiction-books-of-the-20th-century-and-beyond-in-english/

I have read several of these books as well as a few others, not listed, by some of the authors cited.

Given Cockburn’s and St. Clair’s literary and political interests, they did not consider books on science like the physics book

Taking The Quantum Leap, by Fred Alan Wolf (1981, revised 1989, a National Book Award Winner),

nor scholarly works on folklore and Eastern thought like:

The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell (1949), and

The Philosophies Of India, by Heinrich Zimmer (1951).

Let me suggest a few more titles for your consideration, along this theme of “20th century books in English”:

Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner (1986, revised 1992).
For me, this book ranks with Thucydides.
I described Cadillac Desert, along with some other works, at
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/03/07/living-in-cadillac-desert/

At War With Asia, by Noam Chomsky (1970).
I described my reaction to reading this book, here:
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2012/06/20/on-reading-at-war-with-asia-by-noam-chomsky/

The Making Of A Continent, by Ron Redfern (1983).
Redfern tells, in words and with many photographs, how the Cadillac Desert that captivated Edward Abbey and Marc Reisner came to be (along with the rest of North America).

Vietnam, Inc., by Philip Jones Griffiths (1971).
A book of searing photojournalism that undoubtedly helped to end that war, by working on the public mind.

The Shock Of The New, by Robert Hughes (1981).
A fascinating presentation and explanation of modern art.

The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins (1976).
A 30th anniversary edition of this seminal work on modern (DNA-based) Darwinism is in print.

A book written in the 19th century that was only published in its unexpurgated form during the 20th century is:

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, edited by Nora Barlow (1958).
“The autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, with original omissions [usually about religion] restored, edited and with appendices and notes by his granddaughter Nora Barlow.”
See the following blog entry for details about print and free online editions of this book
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/03/07/the-life-and-ideas-of-charles-darwin/

Three books (in English) that are 21st century publications (technically outside our 20th century time frame) but are entirely focused on the 20th century (and largely written during it) are the following.

Written by Tony Judt (1948-2010):

Postwar: A History Of Europe Since 1945,
(2005; writing began in Eastern Europe in 1989, during the year of revolutions).

Reappraisals: Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century,
(2008, republication of essays that first appeared in journals between 1994 and 2006).

Thinking The Twentieth Century,
(with Timothy Snyder, completed 2010, published 2012).

Other 20th century books that were originally non-English, but are essential cultural artifacts are:

Relativity, by Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
(1916, expanded and revised up to 1952); written for the general public.

Most of the works by Primo Levi, like:

Survival In Auschwitz,

The Reawakening,

The Periodic Table
(a memoir with chemistry),

The Drowned And The Saved,

all written and published between 1945 and 1987.

These are the books that first came to my mind after reading Jeffrey St. Clair’s “top 100 books in English” article.

Some of these books may be more political while others are more scientific or ecological or artistic or philosophical or psychological, yet I think they all help illuminate facets of the collective consciousness of alert and concerned late 20th and early 21st century minds.

Enjoy!