BOOK REVIEW | 50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know

Ben Dupré’s 50 Philosophy Ideas You Need to Know offers a well-organized primer for those curious about philosophy. Each of the ideas is given four pages, which is mostly adequate to at least introduce the topics although some of the earlier entries, whose concepts are relatively simple, seem further confused and complicated through the effort to fill the required pages. However, by the second third of the book Dupré hits his stride and the descriptions become both informative, easily digestible and, at times, intentionally humorous.

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Thomas Paine, Reappraised

Some years back I was walking through Greenwich Village and came upon an old building plaque which read:

Thomas Paine

Born – 1737

Died – 1809

On this site.

The world is my country

All mankind are my brethren

To do good is my religion

I believe in one God and no more

Every American school kid grows up learning about Paine’s pamphlet, “Common Sense,” which justified for many Americans the revolutionary cause and argued for the superiority of representational government. (For a closer look, see my review.) John Adams had reportedly stated, “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Born in England, Paine immigrated to America after meeting Benjamin Franklin in 1774. During the war he served under George Washington, and it was at the Continental Army’s seemingly lowest point, in the winter of 1776, that he penned “The American Crisis,” which began with the immortal lines, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Despite his revolutionary accolades, he found little financial support in the newly established United States. When revolution broke out in France, he showed his endorsement by responding to Edmund Burke’s conservative attacks on the revolutionaries by publishing his Declaration of the Rights of Man. He traveled to France to oversee the French translation but soon ran afoul of Jacobin extremists due to his opposition to the death penalty. Imprisoned, he began writing his last great — and most controversial — work, The Age of Reason, a three part condemnation of Christianity and religion and a call for deism and scientific inquiry. Convinced that Washington had played a role in his imprisonment, Paine wrote a public letter condemning his former ally.

These attacks on the revered first president and on Christian theology destroyed Paine’s reputation in the United States. Nevertheless, he returned to the new republic, finding few prominent friends save for Thomas Jefferson (who was sympathetic to Paine’s views), who invited him to the White House during his presidency. Nearly everyone else abandoned him, and his name was bile on the lips of those who spoke it.

On his deathbed, he was asked by a doctor if he wished to accept Jesus Christ. Paine replied, “I have no wish to believe on that subject,” and took his final breath. His few remaining friends attended his quiet burial. In 1819, the English radical William Cobbett stole his bones and brought them to England, hoping to give him a more proper burial. Over time, however, most of the bones have been lost.

Paine is a personal hero of mine. He was a citizen of the world, a man of moral convictions, and an advocate for the liberty of both body and mind. As I stood reading the plaque, which had been placed there by the Greenwich Village Historical Society in 1923, I kept imagining that small party of mourners paying their respects to a man who deserved more recognition and appreciation. As I rode the train back home a poem began rattling in my mind. A simply rhymed verse, it was my own eulogistic offering of sorts. I jotted it down and I now share it here.

Lingering Paine

There is a bustling village
Where well-known Paine had died,
Within the crooked nooks
Of Gotham’s old design.

It was on a street called Grove
At number fifty-nine,
When whispers could be heard
On corners at the time.

Long before the beatnik pens
Let out their desperate sighs,
Stonewall's mortar buckled
Beneath the weight of cries.

The words that stirred a people
And helped a nation rise,
They echo with us still,
And keep this Paine alive.

Further Reading

If you would like to learn more about Paine, I recommend the late Christopher Hitchens’s Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography as a worthy primer. It is a slim volume, written with Hitchens’s signature wit, that succeeds in giving the reader a summary of Paine’s life and the reasons for why it mattered, and matters still.

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BOOK REVIEW | Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers

When I was buying my house a little over a decade ago, Carolyn Warren’s Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers: An Industry Insider Explains How to Save Thousands on Your Mortgage or Re-finance was an indispensable ally. It reveals the mortgage industry as it was at the time, warts and all, in a clear format and easily understood language. The book can easily be read in a day or two, and it proved a painless way to better understand the acronyms and mathematical kung-fu I was going up against.

I am not a “numbers” individual, but after reading the book I was easily able to identify over $700 in junk fees and see that the broker illegally failed to reveal the YSP on my GFE. (If you do not understand what I just wrote, this book solves that.) I wish that Warren would release an updated version. Her work outlined what to look for and to beware of when choosing a loan and gave the reader a window of insight into the mortgage business, including both the villains and heroes, and how to distinguish between them. Because new lending laws have been passed since the book’s publication, it helps that Warren is easily available on the web (www.AskCarolynWarren.com) where she posts clarifying updates. Except for a number of spelling typos (which, if you’re like me, can be the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard), Warren’s book is a solid and informative work that deserves a new edition.

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BOOK REVIEWS | Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year/Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad!

When my wife was pregnant with our first child I read through streams of parenting literature, but two in particular were geared towards easing first-time fathers into their new roles. Both books took a relaxed and entertaining tact and were designed in style and substance to differentiate from the pastel pinks and purples of the ever-popular What to Expect When You’re Expecting books. What follows are brief reviews of each.

Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: A Modern Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the First Year of Fatherhood by David Port, John Ralston, Brian M. Ralston

Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: A Modern Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the First Year of Fatherhood will not be for everyone. If you happen to have little tolerance for abundant troglodyte jokes then the writing within this tome will likely become tedious to you, as the caveman metaphors are quite heavy-handed and frequent. Luckily I have no problem with gratuitous references to dragging knuckles and hairy palms and I found this book packed with tons of useful information, easily laid out for the reader.

It is in ways more informative and funnier than its predecessor, Caveman’s Pregnancy Companion. While many jokes may still fall flat (largely due to overuse), a few did have me laughing, and I appreciated the attempts to establish the authors’ suggestions upon psychological and anthropological bases. Overall, a refreshingly positive outlook is found throughout the illustrated the pages and, despite the Neanderthal jokes, it takes the mission of a devout and productive family man very seriously. The book doesn’t pull its punches on the pressures and problems with which new fathers are likely to be confronted, but it does give ample ammunition and understanding to approach them with a healthy balance of realism, confidence, and maybe even a little humor.

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Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad!: How to Get (Both of You) Through the Next 9 Months by John Pfeiffer

Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad! by John Pfeiffer is a very quick and easy read that works well as a pregnancy primer for the expectant, early twenty-something father – particularly one with a low attention span. It especially helps if you’re a frat boy who has just graduated with a business degree, as this appears to be the target audience. Meanwhile, mature readers unfazed by technical jargon and more comfortable with biological processes should look elsewhere. If you’re queasy about things like menstruation, this book is for you. Pfeiffer does give the reader a firm basis from which to do further investigation, familiarizing the future dad with what is decidedly an intimidating process; however, it should not be used as the final resource as the information is quite thin.

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BOOK REVIEW | A Practical Guide to Middle and Secondary Social Studies

When I first picked up June R. Chapin’s A Practical Guide to Middle and Secondary Social Studies as an undergraduate there was little to lead me to anticipate that, as a prospective secondary school educator, I would get much out of it. With its bland purple cover and a quick flip through the pages there seemed little to whet my appetite. However, after breezing through it, cover to cover, I was forced to admit that my reservations were unfounded. The book did wonders to address questions that I had as well as raised relevant ones that I had not.

The book is not a How-To guide, nor does it go into very much specific social studies material. Instead, it properly assumes that you have a solid social studies and history education and delves into the current problems, advantages, resources, and controversies that a new social studies teacher is likely to face. Additionally, it gives tips and recommendations on how to employ certain materials and subject matter, though this is not the main focus of the book.

The topics covered include teacher and student-centered instruction, assessments and evaluations, teaching history and civics and, to a lesser degree, geography, economics, and behavioral sciences, and the implementation of technology into lessons. Though the book does not go into great depths in its topics, it will give curious teacher candidates a clearer perspective of the profession to which they aspire, and will provide plenty of material that will prompt serious discussion in a social studies education course.

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BOOK REVIEWS | Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong/French or Foe?

In 2004 my girlfriend (and eventual wife) and I took our first trip to Europe, choosing to spend a few days exploring Paris and Versailles. As someone who reads a great deal about destinations before I travel, I read through some books designed to give outsiders a better understanding of France. What follows are brief reviews on two popular ones, as they relate to their usefulness to the American traveler.

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Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong by Jean-Benoît Nadea and Julie Barlow

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong often times feels like a Francenstein’s (spelling deliberate) monster. It begins well enough, offering insight into the “spirit” of French society, and indeed gives highly valuable information, especially regarding the French ideas of personal vs. public space, which every visitor should know. However, as the reader nears the middle of the book the work takes on a text-book quality, which becomes dry and redundant. To boost, what the writers pass as an anthropological study seems to be more or less notes taken during conversations with a few of their French friends. Add to this a few glaring inaccuracies, particularly in the last chapter, and by the end one is left wondering what exactly the point of the work was, or who exactly the audience is that it was meant for. Neither assumption of the book’s subtitle was addressed in any sort of clarity. Some more rigorous editing certainly would have strengthened it. I left the book knowing more than I cared to about the ENA, and not enough about the essence of what it means to be French.

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French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France by Polly Platt

Polly Platt’s French or Foe? is a mixture of valuable insight and suggestive pompousness. To give her due credit, the first chapter is full of useful information and essentially contains all that you will need to know from this book. Soon thereafter the book descends into name-dropping and gives all the tips you’d need to know if you were visiting with the upper echelon of French society. Much of what Platt reveals about French culture seems to be outdated and of little relevance to the middle and lower-class French people that a visitor will no doubt actually be coming into contact with.

When I visited Paris I certainly found some of her information useful, such as her recommendation to use “The Ten Magic Words” (again, in the first chapter). Whether many of the French we came across were smiling and accommodating for this reason, I cannot say. Perhaps they were just more sociable than Platt would have us believe. Read this book and you will likely make fewer cultural mistakes in France than you would have if you hadn’t, but read it knowing it is not the last word on French culture, and does not apply to most of the French population.

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