What I've Been Reading | July 2023
Dictators, the inner game, and heaven
Hi – my name’s Caleb. I’m one of the founders of Stoa and have a background in academic philosophy and startups. Welcome to my newsletter.
And here’s a list of what I’ve been reading in July 2023.
📖 The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Feast of the Goat is about a dictator, his killers, victims, and collaborators. It’s a tragedy. A reminder that powerful people are slaves to someone further up on the totem pole. More centrally, they’re bound to indifferents fame, fortune, and power, things that are not truly up to them.
Many characters here are more afraid of success than failure. When assassinating a leader, especially one like Trujillo, one must win completely, otherwise, you condemn far more people than yourself to a death sentence. Mobs are cruel.
There are many fascinating, grotesque, and admirable characters here. The former president, and successor of Trujillo, Joaquín Balaguer is one of the most interesting. Someone who largely wins without spilling blood. As portrayed here, he approaches a Confucian gentleman. A man who gains power through eloquence and intelligence, not guns. Democracy is fickle. The popular will is portrayed as moving from idolizing Trujillo to demonizing him in less than a decade. Balaguer recognizes this and plays his role appropriately. He’s someone who deserves a book on his own. But the downfall and impact of Trujillo is the central focus here – and it too deserves one’s full attention.
In this country, in one way or another, everyone had been, was, or would be part of the regime. "The worst thing that can happen to a Dominican is to be intelligent or competent," he had once heard Agustín Cabral say ...and the words had been etched in his mind: "Because sooner or later Trujillo will call upon him to serve the regime, or his person, and when he calls, one is not permitted to say no." [Agustín Cabral] was proof of this truth....As Estrella Sadhalá always said, the Goat had taken from people the sacred attribute given to them by God: their free will.
📖 The Inner Game by Timothy Gallwey
I like to return to my favorites, now and again. This book is all about objective observation and trusting yourself to improve – in sports and life.
I have found that the most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle, not easily perceived. It’s easy to see the ball, but not so easy to notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins. The practice of watching the seams produces interesting results.
📖 The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
The ghosts of hell meet the spirits of heaven. Another one of my favorites. C.S. Lewis is an able psychologist. One reading of this is, of course, the Christian one. C.S. Lewis's non-apologetic works are always much more compelling than the ones where he explicitly argues for Christianity.
There are lessons here for religious agnostics too. We have many ways of rejecting the good. The Great Divorce details our pettiness, cowardice, and delusion. More than laying evil bare, it gestures at, as only fiction can do, a reality more real than mere ordinary life.
Milton was right,’ said my Teacher. ‘The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy—that is, to reality.
Let me know if you pick any of these up and what you’ve read this month.