The racism in The Searchers and Heart of Darkness

I can vividly recall my strong negative reaction to Joseph Conrad’s highly acclaimed novel Heart of Darkness. Its racism appalled me as I wrote in a blog post ten years ago.

I remember the first time I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, hailed by critics as a masterpiece. I was appalled at the blatantly racist portrayals of Africans and could barely get through the book. Many years later, I re-read it. The shock and anger that the original reading had aroused in me had worn off and I could see and appreciate Conrad’s skill with words in creating the deepening sense of foreboding as Marlow goes deeper into the jungle in search of Kurtz.

Ironically, Chinua Achebe gave a talk criticizing the book and saying that Conrad’s novel, whatever its other merits, perpetuated African stereotypes. The talk attracted a lot of attention and Conrad’s many admirers leapt to his defense, saying that Conrad was a product of his times and merely reflecting the views then current and that his book was actually a critique of the evils of colonialism.

Maybe so, but the racism was still there and still bothered me even on the second reading.

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The Great Paradox of Science to be released on November 20!

I am pleased to say that my book will be released next month and can now be pre-ordered. You can read more about the book and order it here.

As you can see from the flyer below, you can get a 30% discount from the list price of $34.95 if you order from the publisher and use the promotional code so that the cost becomes $24.47. Barnes & Noble is giving a discount of 35% so the cost drop even lower to $22.86. The book will eventually be available at all retailers in print and digital formats.

Oxford University Press will start shipping out copies starting November 20, other retailers in the US on December 18, and in the UK on January 1, 2020. I have no information as yet about the rest of the world but I assume it should be around the same time as the UK.

Why do people broadcast film and book spoilers? (No spoilers!)

Yesterday saw the release of the film Avengers: Endgame, the latest in the franchise of superhero films based on the Marvel comic books. These films have been roaring commercial successes. I myself am not a fan of the genre and have watched just a couple (The Avengers and Spiderman: Homecoming) to see what all the fuss was about. I had not planned on seeing the latest film.

But last evening I got an email from someone I do not know in which the subject line, all in upper case, revealed what is apparently a major plot twist in this film. The person who had sent out the spoiler had gone to great lengths to make sure that every single person who might in any way be connected to my university (including alumni) was made aware of the spoiler. The address line contained the addresses of about 250 email address lists (not individual addresses) that seemed to cover pretty much everyone. I think my address was in the list of physics faculty, staff, students, and emeriti. This person had gone to great lengths to obtain all these email address lists, presumably by hacking into the university server that has the database that contains all of them.
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Found in translation

I do not read much fiction these days but I used to read it a lot in the past, especially the classics that were written in so many different languages. Because my language skills are so poor, I only read English translations of them and almost always the translations were so good that you forgot that you were doing so. The translators were able to make the English versions feel familiar while not losing the foreign culture that the source material was describing. The ability to make translations so smooth, especially in literary works where metaphors and style are so crucial, was always something that impressed me greatly.
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How do you judge when to stop reading a book?

I am one of those people who, once I start to read a book or watch a film, find it hard to stop until I finish it, even if the book and film are becoming tedious. Something really awful has to happen for me to stop. Tedium alone is not sufficient. Librarian Nancy Pearl, who sometimes appears on NPR as an engaging reviewer of books, says that she too used to find it hard to stop reading a book but now she has adopted a ‘rule of 50’.
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Book review: Reporter by Seymour M. Hersh

I am not in general a fan of the memoir genre but when I heard that legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh had written one, I rushed out to buy a copy the day it was released because I knew it would be good. And I was not disappointed. The book is excellent, containing details of how he arrived at his stories and should be required reading for anyone who wants to be a good reporter because he tells you how he went about getting important information. As I read it I started marking various passages to quote in a review but they became so numerous that there is no way that I can do so without this becoming very lengthy. What I will do is from time to quote from sections of it as it relates to other topics I write about.
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Adam Lee reads Atlas Shrugged so you don’t have to

Ayn Rand’s paean to capitalism as expounded in this book has commanded a loyal following from many of the worst people in public life, such as former chair of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan and current speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. Its basic message that wealth equates with virtue is targeted at those who are already wealthy by appealing to their vanity, that they are successful not because of family or luck but because they are smarter and more industrious than everyone else, something that we know is not true.
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Philip Roth (1933-2018)

The writer died yesterday at the age of 85. I have not read most of the works of this prolific author but I did enjoy the ones that I read, such as Goodbye Columbus, Portnoy’s Complaint, Our Gang, The Plot Against America, and The Breast. For some reason, I never got around to reading the series of novels that featured the protagonist Nathan Zuckerman, an omission that I should rectify.
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Misguided advice about reading books

I know that ‘listicles’ (articles that are lists of things, often ranked in order of preference) are often purely clickbait. They consist of preferences of the writers of the article and have no deeper meaning. However, I am a sucker for lists of books and films and so often follow up the links just to see how my tastes compare with that of the author. This list consists of 21 books that the editors of GQ magazine think are highly over-rated and for each book they provide lesser-known alternatives in the same genre that they think would be time better spent reading.
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