February 1, 2006

Book Notes

A person's mind is a fertile field, tended by many farmers. The books, movies, television shows, music, and other information a person is exposed to are the seeds that are planted in that field; they grow and mature and eventually are harvested in the form of useful ideas. Here's a couple of glimpses into what I am sowing in my stretch of farmland.

I've just finished Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles: A Novel by Margaret George. It was an engrossing read, full of interesting information. The afterword is vitally important as the author goes out of her way to point out areas of historical uncertainty and controversy about her subject, and she explains the reason for resolving them the way she did. It seems like Mary had an extraordinarily hard life, for which she was not very well-prepared by her guardians. Her considerable native intelligence and resourcefulness, naïveté about the ways of noble men seeking her hand in marriage, unalloyed by a true grasp of what statecraft was in the late sixteenth century, led her down a road to ruin. Her story is a tragedy in the classic sense of the word; Mary is undone by her own unwillingness to see the world around her for what it truly is as opposed to what she wanted it to be.

I've just begun reading Justice Stephen Breyer's Active Liberty. He begins with a thesis about two kinds of liberty -- the liberty to participate in public affairs, and the liberty to have the government leave you alone to do as you please. These translate, in Breyer's mind, to majority rules and minority rights; the job of the judiciary, I'm willing to bet, will turn out to be balancing the two competing concerns. So far, so good; what I'm hoping for is some insight into how Justice Breyer draws the line between deference to the will of the majority and insisting on the rights of the minority against them.

Switching from a lusty historical novel to a contemporary non-fiction work is a big shift in gears but not an insurmountable one. And it's interesting to see how two seemingly unrelated books can have similar ideas. The Christian phrase is "ye shall reap as ye sow," (a concept not incongruent with the Hindu concept of karma) and I'll be monitoring what ideas I reap from all of these interesting books.


Anonymous said...

And we all know what makes fields fertile, counselor!

Burt Likko said...

Recognizing that particular product for what it is has some intellectual value, wouldn't you agree?

I think you'll enjoy Mary Queen of Scots. The Wife has expressed interest in it after enjoying the same author's Henry VIII; so when The Wife finishes Mary, we'll send you the book.