The Discourses on Livy

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  • Author: Niccolo Machiavelli (1469- 1527)
  • Title: The Discourses on Livy
  • Written: 1517
  • Trivia: A work of political history and philosophy written in the early 16th century
  • The Discourses were published posthumously with papal privilege in 1531.


  • Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian politician, diplomat  and author of the preeminent political treatise, The Prince.
  • Machiavelli s political career came to an abrupt end
  • …when the Medici overthrew Florence, and he was held as a prisoner under the new regime.
  • At this point, Machiavelli retired and turned to intellectual and philosophical pursuits.
  • He died in 1527 at the age of 58

Why don’t more people read  The Discourses on Livy?

  1. I can only speak from my own experience:
  2. the name Livy sacred me,
  3. the length of the book is daunting.
  4. I never read Livy and
  5. I had no idea what Livy wrote and what Machiavelli is going to explain.
  6. This book felt like homework to the nth degree!
  7. I was pleasantly surprised how readable it is.

Why was Machiavelli drawn to Livy and his history of the Roman Republic?

  1. The Roman republic lasted a VERY long time, 509 BC – 27 BC, about 500 years.
  2. The republic started as a dot on the map. It was a town of Rome and not much else.
  3. When the republic ended it controlled virtually the entire Mediterranean,
  4. some of the Middle East, all of Spain and France (Gaul) right up to the shores of Wales!
  5. It was very big, wealthy and powerful.
  6. Machiavelli realized the Romans did something right for a very long time.
  7. He was determined to learn some valuable lessons from those folks way back then!


  1. Machiavelli’s discourses on Livy are divided into 3 sections.
  2. Book 1 (60 ch) – Republic, why is it the best form of government?
  3. Book 2 (33 ch) – Warfare, military tactics; why do the Romans keep winning?
  4. Book 3 (49 ch) –  How does a republic survive?

How can Machiavelli promote equality and liberty and still write The Prince?

  1. This was basically a handbook for successful/opressive leaders.
  2. By only reading The Prince you do not get a
  3. ….complete picture of Machiavelli and his thoughts.
  4. By reading The Discourses you finally understand  why he wrote The Prince!
  5. The Prince is a means to an end.
  6. You need a strong leader to get things going….and  then create an ordered republic.
  7. The Discourses tells us about the evolution and success of a republic.

 What is the central question in the book?

  1. How do you creatively use the past?
  2. Machiavelli explains why we need to take the study of history seriously.
  3. It is not just reading stories, not entertainment.
  4. We must learn to understand and start THINKING HISTORICALLY.
  5. Knowledge of the past is not secondary…it is essential.
  6. We must know the value of history,
  7. …the misuse of history and
  8. …the dangers of the ignorance of the past.

What are the lessons I learned by reading  The Discourses

He is telling us to be creative. Use history as an act of ‘creative thinking.  He makes the reader struggle and think about his ideas and fills the book with ancient and modern examples so we can learn how to THINK and come to conclusions.

It was as if Machiavelli was a college professor giving a course in history!  The result is….I listen to the news, think back to Machiavelli and start to ‘think about the power plays going on in the Middle East.

I ask myself Machiavelli’s questions:

  • What is the cause of war?  Ambition or a mass migration of people?
  • Who is fighting defensively, offensively… why?
  • What are the different long-term and short- term strategies of the players?
  • What do the key figures have in common? Then we can learn from there action.

Examples of my thoughts:  Saudis in Yemen fighting proxy war for US, Kurds in Syria/Turkey, Assad’s insistence to remain in power, Putin’s steadfast support of Assad, USA finally backtracking and openly admitting that Gülen could be deported if you show us some proof. Everybody know that Turkey is a KEY player because of its location! (seacoast, series of internationally-significant waterways in northwest Turkey that connect the Aegean and Mediterranean seas to the Black Sea, oil pipelines!!

USA wants to make sure Turkey does not pivot to far toward Russia.

There is so much to think about. Thanks to Machiavelli’s The Discourses

I  become more aware of the chess board  we call the Middle East!


  1. What is Machiavelli’s goal?
  2. Machiavelli  wants a society:
  • based on a system of CHECKS AND BALANCES.
  • that respects the equality and liberty of the people
  • trusts the people collectively more than it would trust any individual
  • …especially in the time of crisis …especially in foreign relations.
  1. Machiavelli is a very important  republican thinker.
  2. Although Machiavellian with all its meanings
  3. …is a word that has come to mean a certain thing
  4. drawn from The Prince, in fact Machiavelli is an
  5. …advocate of a republic…not a principality!
  6. He was  very influential on the development of republican thought
  7. …on the continent of Europe, England and in the new world.
  1. I would never have discovered the other
  2. …side of Machiavelli without reading The Discourses.
  3. The Prince was an means to an end  (strong leader)
  4. ..that was necessary to ‘get things started’.
  5. Once the framework of a republic was in place….people could enjoy
  6. …the benefits of a republic as laid out in The Discourses.

Last thoughts:

  • History is not just gathering information or  reading old stories
  • History is learning to think creatively.
  • Study the people in history and try to find parallels in their lives
  • …that will reflect their parallel achievements!
  • Then we discover what we have to LEARN from looking at them together.

Quickscan of the most important points made by Machiavelli about a republic:

  1. Citizens must not become like the nobility.
  2. That would ruin the balance in the republic.
  3. You must not let poverty or social status determine who can hold office.
  4. It must be the most able person, not only the wealthy.  (Example: Cincinnatus)
  5. You must make use of everybody in the republic for the offices they are able to hold.
  6. Aristocracy must not be a requirement for office holding.
  7. The Romans were never humiliated by defeat or become arrogant by victory.
  8. A good army is cohesive. Soldiers must know one another.
  9. You need to raise  your own army.
  10. People raised in the same place under the same religion.
  11. There are certain attributes in nations and families that don’t change.
  12. It is not about blood but about tradition and the nature of education.
  13. You need a culture that passes on the values that your society is going to live in.
  14. That is the culture that will lead to the soldiers and office holders
  15. that will make a successful republic.

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Posted by on August 25, 2016 in Uncategorized


The Confessions

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  • Author: St. Augustine
  • Title: The Confessions
  • Written:  written in Latin between AD 397 and 400
  • Trivia: Read for Greek and Roman Challenge


I’m reading this book very slowly trying to grasp its importance.

  1. Book 1-2 introduction
  2. His infancy, and boyhood up to age 14 – continues to reflect on his adolescence age 16
  3. Book 3-7 narrative of St. Augustine’s life
  1. Book 7 is the ‘middle’ book.
  2. St Augustine struggles intellectually with questions:
  3. Nature of god ? He finds revelation (God speaks to Moses) in Exodus 3:14 “I am that I am”
  4. What is evil ?  He argues that evil is not separate from good.
  5. Just as a shadow grows larger as we move away from the light source…
  6. …so the evil grows as we move away from God.
  1. St. Augustine has gone from Cicero, the Bible and now the neo-Platonist philosophers.
  2. St Augustine describes the neo-Platonists:
  3. they see the goal but not the way to it.
  4. They do not see the bridge (Christ) that leads to our beautiful homeland.
  5. A homeland not to be described but lived in

Paradox book 7:     pagan scholars lead St. Augustine toward Christianity

  1. St Augustine is convinced of the intellectual superiority of Christianity.
  2. He comes to this conclusion NOT by reading the Bible, but the philosophers.
  3. In them he finds a way of articulating christian beliefs.
  4. He compares St John’s Gospels with books of the Platonists.
  1. Book 8 conversion
  2. St Augustine now knows what he wanted to learn from the neo-platonist philosphers.
  3. In book 8 he will have to discover:
  4. What is it that ONLY Christ offers as a way of coming to that final truth he seeks….
  5. …that he told us about in the first paragraph of the book.
  6. ” …and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” (pg 3)

St Augustine truth index

  1. St Augustine longs to imitate his role models:
  2. St Paul, St Anthony of the Desert, Victorinus (fellow teacher of rhetoric)
  3. Yet he still cannot convert.
  4. Certitude of faith is not the issue, fame/ambition is not the issue.
  5. But Augustine  must first break free of the ‘chain’ (lust).
  • “…disordered lust springs from a perverted will;
  • when lust is pandered to, a habit is formed;
  • when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion.
  • These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain and
  • my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.” (pg 205 – 206)
  1. Conversion:  the climax of the book (pg 223 -224)
  2. Place: in a garden, Augustine hears a voice ‘ Pick it up and read’.
  3. Augustine picks up the book of scripture…
  4. Romans 13:13-14 – it speaks directly to St. Augustine’s addictions.
  5. Passage:  is from one of St Paul’s longest letter (saint that also experienced a conversion…)
  1. “Not in dissipation and drunkenness, nor in debauchery and lewdness,
  2. nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
  3. and make no provision for flesh or the gratification of your desires.
  1. St. Augustine says thereafter:
  2. “I had no wish to read further, nor was there need.” (pg 224)
  3. This is his confirmation of the moment of conversion.
  1. Book 9:  Death and Rebirth
  2. Augustine is baptized along with Alypius (friend) and son Adeodatus.
  3. He renounces his career as teacher of rhetoric….will write books and sermons.
  4. He reveals more about his mother Monica.
  5. Augustine grieves about the death  his mother, son and two good friends.
  1. Book 10-13 non-narrative (not part of ‘conversion narrative….)
  2. topics of discussion aimed to guide St. Augustine’s flock as their bishop.
  3. I skimmed these chapters….but not included in this review.

Last Thoughts:

  1. St. Augustine’s last struggle was the question:
  2. Could he accept the christian beliefs ‘privately’ and
  3. ….keep the respect of his intellectual peers?
  4. Must I profess openly?
  5. St Augustine decides to be a part of a community (church).
  6. He gives us this impressive work of literature.
  7. He gives us his prayer that starts with
  8. “Great are you, O Lord…(pg 3) and ends with ‘Amen” (pg  460)
  9. He publicly professes his faith in …his book “The Confessions.”



Posted by on August 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


The Brothers

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Diego Rivera: “Glorious Victory”

  • Author: S. Kinzer
  • Title: The Brothers
  • Published: 2013
  • Trivia: Diego Rivera mural depicts the Dulles brothers shaking hands with the
  • dictator Col. C. Armas they installed over the dead bodies of peasants.
  • Trivia: John Foster Dulles is wearing a hat and glasses, Allen Dulles leans his head on John’s shoulder.
  • Trivia: Smiling face on bomb is that of Pres. Dwight Eisenhower!


  1. The Bothers delves into the personal beliefs and perspectives of the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen Welsh.
  2. Never were two brothers so different and so powerful!
  3. John Foster – preachy, polished, living behind a mask
  4. Allen Welsh – smooth, seductive, silent
  5. The book reveals a picture of the nature of U.S. foreign policy that is well known.
  6. Under President Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles (Secr of State 1953-1959), Allen Dulles (CIA 1953-1961) the US waged a global battle secretly in the 1950’s against visionaries in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Africa:
  7. Guatemala (Pres. Arbrenz), Indonesia (Pres. Sukarno), Congo (Prime Minister Lumumba), Cuba (Fidel Castro), Iran (Prime Minister Mossadegh), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh)
  8. … instigating secret unrest/war in Burma and during the Hungarian Revolution.
  9. This book is a ‘page-turner’ that outranks any espionage fiction you will ever read!
  10. Dean Acheson (former Secr of State) wins the prize with the most poignant remark he made to JFK when he heard about the plan to invade Cuba:  “Are you serious? ” he said. “It doesn’t take Price Waterhouse to figure out that 1500 Cubans aren’t  as good as 25.000!
  11. There is so much to like in this book.
  12. Often I had to compare  the actions used  against PM Mossadegh in Iran
  13. ….with what is happening in Turkey 2016.
  14. Plans to weaken Mossadegh, democratically elected PM in early 1950’s (instigate chaos, encourage military leaders to stage coup) were all covert operations with tacit agreement from US President Eisenhower.
  15. The more I read…the more I get the feeling the
  16. …same modus operandi is being used in Turkey!
  17. I must keep reading the newspapers.
  18. Hopefully they will not be influenced by
  19. …US government to suppress some news stories…covert actions?
  20. History does repeat itself!
  21. #MustRead





Posted by on August 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


Rattigan: ‘Separate Tables’

RATTIGAN Terence-Rattigan-Collection-30979_2

  • Playwright: Sir Terence Rattigan (1911 – 1977)
  • Title: Separate Tables
  • Stage: 1954, London
  • Trivia: Rattigan was one of England’s most popular mid twentieth century playwrights.


  1. The guests gather for a life-changing night at the Beauregard Hotel in
  2. …Bournemouth, an English seaside resort town.
  3. We look at the  lives of several residents.
  4. Guests who have their meals at Separate Tables.
  5. The landlady, Miss Cooper, is the lover of failed alcoholic writer John Malcolm.
  6. His life is thrown into turmoil when his estranged ex-wife, Ann
  7. …unexpectedly and mysteriously comes to the hotel.
  8. Other guests include the matronly Mrs. Railton-Bell and
  9. …her withdrawn daughter, the spinster Sibyl.
  10. Sibyl is fascinated by Major Pollack and his colorful stories of his military exploits.


  • This is an absolutely classic English play!
  • Written 1950’s Rattigan’s play develops familiar themes of
  • loneliness, humiliation and the self appointed moral jurors in the private hotel.
  • Rattigan draws on his own world. 
  • He dissects the known realities of the upper-middle-class.
  • Separate Tables  is touching, subtle and proof how
  • …small minds (Lady Railton-Bell) can problematize the unproblematic.
  • Reading tip: try to put faces on the characters before reading.
  • I used the actors/actresses in the  1958 movie version of the play.
  • Score: 5   #MustRead

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Posted by on August 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


Eight Comedies


  • Editors:  S. Barnet, M. Berman, W. Burto
  • Essays by: G.K. Chesteron, Frye, S.  Langer and B. Dobrée.
  • Title: Eight Comedies
  • Trivia: Read for Greek and Roman Challenge
  • Table of contents:
  • Aristophanes – The Clouds (read 31.07.2016)
  • Machiavelli – Mandragola   (read 02.08.2016)
  • Molière – The Miser
  • Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (read 03.08.2016)
  • Gay – The Begger’s Opera
  • Chekhov – Uncle Vanya
  • Shaw – Arms and the Man


  1. I have been plowing through 400 pages of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov’.
  2. I need something light and entertaining to bring some balance in my reading day.
  3. This book just jumped off the screen! 
  4. It has a colorful cover and great selection of classic plays.
  5. And I was interested in reading the essays included in the book,
  6. I started  with The Clouds by Aristophanes.
  7. Aristophanes lambasts education (Socrates), politics (Cleon) and tragedy (Euripides).
  8. He especially  pokes fun at Sophists art of logical speaking (dialectical reasoning).
  9. The brunt of the satire is aimed at Socrates.
  10. He is corrupting the youth by teaching them to prove immoral behavior is right
  11. …by using clever logical arguments.
  12. The play is a short classic Greek  comedy and it helps but it helps if you
  13. ….review the plot via Wikipedia before reading
  14. structure of the play:
  15. …prologue – parodos – parabasis – agon (debate) – exode (final choral song)
  16. learn what a Sophist  is.
  17. I’ll be reading the rest of the book during the summer.






Posted by on July 30, 2016 in Uncategorized


Kevin Canty: ‘God’s Work’

CANTY 160404_r27916-881

  • Title:   God’s Work
  • Short story: The New Yorker, April 04 2016
  • Trivia: Canty will publish his 8th novel “The Underworld” this year.
  • Trivia: He lives in Missoula Montana, USA
  • Trivia:  Short Story Challenge


  1. A mother and son pamphleteering on a hot summer day for their faith.
  2. The boy Sander (15 yr) is utterly embarrassed but follows his mother door to door.
  3. One day Sander meets Clara from his school
  4. …when she opens the door.
  5. We are inside Sander’s world looking out.
  6. Why does God not stop him from making a fool of himself?
  7. Characters: Sander, his mother, Clara, her father


  1. What is the most important point Canty wants to make in this story?
  2. Sander wrestles with his faith.
  3. Why can’t he be like his mother?
  4. Why can’t he just be good?
  5. …why can God be so generous and also so exacting?
  6. Why do they have to work so hard to come to Him?
  1. Clara is looking for a spiritual experience.
  2. She asks Sander: ” Faith…where do you get it? Where can I buy some?
  3. Canty uses dreams vs reality in the narrative to raise the emotional level.
  4. There are puberty dreams about girls, open windows, speeding cars.
  1. Foreshadowing:
  2. Sander ‘knows along this passing sadness
  3. ….the beautiful dream of the world only to have it end.’
  4. 85% of the story is about Clara and Sander.
  5. They feel alone and emptiness  even when they are together.
  6. Canty uses a famous ‘tree in the forest’ allusion
  7. …as a philosophical thought experiment.
  8. Tree:  if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it…
  9. Does it make a sound?
  10. Clara asks: “It (the world) will go on without us
  11. …it won’t exist without somebody to touch it (flowers, grass, rain).”
  1. Light bulb moment for Sander:
  2. By answering Clara’s question
  3. …he answers his own questions about his beliefs.
  4. “You don’t have to understand it. That’s for faith to do.”
  1. Images I liked:
  2. she had racoon eyes and pierced anything
  3. an eagle stare he gave her
  4. the sky was empty, mindless blue
  5. he felt a needle of fear
  6. then she’s gone and an electric hush falls over the room
  1. Conclusion: 6/10
  2. God’s Work  was touching story without being preachy about faith.
  3. Canty uses humor and descriptions of the realistic everyday world.
  4. In the begin and end of the story we see….
  5. Sander taking the big valise of pamphlets, walking behind mother in his black suit.
  6. Canty bookends the story  for a sense of closure.

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Posted by on July 25, 2016 in Uncategorized


The Kennan Diaries


10 Feb 1966, Washington, DC, USA --- Washington D.C.: Former Ambassador George F. Kennan tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the U.S. "Should do everything possible" to avoid further escalation of the war in Vietnam. Kennan is former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and a longtime Senate Department Policy Maker. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

10 Feb 1966, Washington, DC, USA — Washington D.C.: Former Ambassador George F. Kennan tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the U.S. “Should do everything possible” to avoid further escalation of the war in Vietnam. Kennan is former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and a longtime Senate Department Policy Maker.

  • Author: George Kennan (1904 – 2005)
  • Editor: F. Costigliola  Lecture about G. Kennan by Frank Costigliola
  • Title: The Kennan Diaries
  • Published: 2014
  • Trivia: I read the book on Kindle while listening to the audio book.
  • Audio book  also reads the ‘footnotes’ out loud.


  1. George F. Kennan was the most celebrated ­diplomat-intellectual of the 20th century.
  2. He was the author of the strategy of containment that
  3. …the United States adopted and that won the Cold War.
  4. He spent much of his life thinking about political philosophy.
  5. His instincts and insights were deeply conservative.
  6. Where would he feel comfortable in 2016 political scene?
  7. Trump supporter?  I think not.


  1. Introduction = very good
  2. Chapters 1 – 3 were not very interesting.
  3. The book picks up a little steam in chapter 4 (WW II) continuing to the last chapter.
  1. Weak point: Kennan make NO mention of some major events in history
  2. even though he was in USA  and Germany when they occured
  3. Wall Street Crash of 1929 –  09/10 November 1938 Kristallnacht in Germany
  4. …even the assassination of JFK was not mentioned!
  5. I found this very strange.
  6. I expected a political animal as Kennan would have
  7. …some thoughts about the causes and effects.
  1. Advice given by Kennan that he  MOST regretted:
  2. ….urging  CIA to undertake covert ‘political warfare’.
  1. Weak point: the book is ‘stuffed’ with travelog descriptions
  2. …of trains, boats, cafés and countryside.
  3. This marred the  attractiveness or appeal of the book as a quasi ‘political document’.
  1. Strong point: Kennan the man ‘is a hard nut to crack’.
  2. But when he did put some very personal
  3. thoughts on paper he sketched a very sad portrait.
  4. His mother died 2 months after his birth. This scarred him for life
  5. Boredom....”nothing good can come out of modern civilization…”
  6. These are heavy thoughts for a man who is about to be married at 27 years old!
  1. Narrator: January 1933 Kennan suddenly changes narrator to 3rd person.(pg 76 – 78)
  2. Kennan narrates events and characters from the outside.
  3. He asks the reader to confront what they see.
  1. Tone:  changes on these pages to cold, analytical thought about a man (himself)
  2. …rather than feelings of empathy for this lost soul.
  1. Turning point: 1933:  Recently married to a young girl who was kind but not an intellectual.
  2. Kennan also had difficulty with monogamy. “I’m bored with myself and with everyone around.”
  1. BEST QUOTE: (pg 78)
  2. ‘But the demands of marriage were inexorable…
  3. …to recognize that you had been caught and to make the best of it:
  4. not beat frantically against the bars of the cage.
  5. …On might well watch life outside, through the bars
  6. But one could not participate in this life.”
  1. Trend: Throughout the book….Kennan describes his bouts with depression.
  2. He asks himself: “What are the real things you can’t have? (Kennan is 38 yrs old).
  3. Women, there’s one thing. Liberty is another. Peace of mind is a third. Isn’t that enough?
  4. This is a very unhappily married diplomat…but he stayed with his wife for 73 years!
  1. Trend: You can feel that Kennan is ‘holding back’ in his diaries.
  2. He knows they will be read in the future and as a seasoned diplomat he did not
  3. …mention sensitive details about foreign policy or his personal life.
  4. If you keep that in mind you won’t be disappointed.
  5. This is NOT a tell-all book.
  1. Strong point:
  2. information from  Kennan fills in yet a few more gaps in my knowledge of 20th C history.
  1. Strong point: comments  in 1940-50’s by Kennan about
  2. …American intervention  in Iran, Iraq and Indochina are still relevant.
  3. Policy makers are still NOT listening.

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Posted by on July 23, 2016 in Uncategorized


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