Recent Reading 14

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Kate McClymont and Linton Besser [2014]: He Who Must Be Obeid. Australia: Random House.   The life and fast times of Eddie Obeid, perhaps, despite the strong calibre of the competition, the most corrupt person ever to be a Cabinet Minister in NSW.
  • Bob Carr [2018]: Run for Your Life.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press. A memoir mostly of Carr’s times as Premier of NSW (1995-2005), running a government which was, untypically for NSW, seemingly uncorrupt.
  • Aldous Huxley [1931]:  Music at Night and Other Essays. Flamingo reissue.
  • Keith Gessen [2018]: A Terrible Country. Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Writing as smooth as a gimlet, and extremely engrossing.
  • Hayden Eastwood [2018]: Like Sodium in Water: A Memoir of Home and Heartache. South Africa: Jonathan Ball.  A well-written but very sad memoir of growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe following Independence, by a member of the family mentioned here.
  • David Margolick [2018]: The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy.  USA: Rosetta Books.
  • Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican [2015]:  How to Catch a Russian Spy.  USA:  Simon & Schuster.
  • Geoffrey Robertson [2018]: Rather His Own Man: In Court with Tyrants, Tarts and Troublemakers. UK: Biteback Publishing.  Is there anyone Robertson does not know, from Malcolm Turnbull to Prince Charles to Julian Assange?
  • Edward Wilson [2018]:  South Atlantic Requiem. UK:  Arcadia Books.  The latest in the Catesby espionage series, as always very well-written and dancing recklessly across the border between fact and fiction.
  • Philip Toynbee [1954]: Friends Apart, A Memoir of Esmond Romilly & Jasper Ridley in the Thirties. UK: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd.
  • Roland Philipps [2018]: A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean.  UK:  Vintage.
  • James Comey [2018]:  A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.  USA: Macmillan.  Superbly structured and well-written.  Engrossing.  Bam’s best choice for head of the FBI. Would make a very good AG.
  • Pat Sloan (Editor) [1938]: John Cornford: A Memoir. UK: Jonathan Cape.
  • James McNeish [2008]:  The Sixth Man: The Extraordinary Life of Paddy Costello.  UK: Quartet Books.  Many have argued that Costello was a Soviet agent, not least MI5 in an international campaign which ended his New Zealand diplomatic career and made it difficult for him to secure other posts.  But the person running the anti-Communist division of MI5 and then MI5 itself at the time himself later came under suspicion – very plausibly – of being a Soviet agent, so the case against Costello, to my mind, is not at all decisive. The MI5 campaign against Costello may well have been a diversive smokescreen from chasing genuine Soviet agents.
  • Charlotte Bingham [2018]: MI5 and Me: A Coronet among the Spooks. UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing. An amusing memoir of working for MI5 as a secretary.
  • William D Cohan [2008]: The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. USA:  Penguin.
  • Timothy Garton Ash [2015]: The File: A Personal History.  UK:  Atlantic Books.
  • Richard Davenport-Hines [2018]: Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain.  UK: William Collins. An attempt to position the Cambridge spy ring in the context of its culture and time.
  • Fyodor M. Burlatsky [1992]: Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring. USA:  Charles Scribner’s Sons. A fascinating inside account of the reformist thinking and actions of Nikita Khrushchev and Yuri Andropov in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • William Taubman [2017]: Gorbachev: His Life and Times.  USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Tom Mangold [1993]: Cold Warrior:  The True Story of the West’s Spyhunt Nightmare. USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Jefferson Morley [2017]: The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton. USA:  Macmillan. Oddly, Morley mentions Teddy Kollek knowing both Angleton and Philby, but not that Kollek was a guest at Philby’s wedding to Litzi Friedmann in Vienna in 1934.
  • Robert Graves [1960]: Goodbye to All That. UK: Penguin.
  • Richard Pipes [2015]: Alexander Yakovlev: The Man whose Ideas delivered Russia from Communism.  USA:  Northern Illinois University Press.
  • Charles Hamblin [2017]:  Linguistics and the Parts of the Mind.  (Written ca. 1968. Posthumous edition prepared by Phillip Staines) UK:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.  Remarkably prescient of Belief-Desire-Intention models of autonomous agency.
  • Masha Gessen [2012]: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Masha Gessen [2017]: The Future is History:  How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Daniel Ellsberg [2017]: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner.  USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Jacques Pauw [2017]: The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison.  South Africa: Tafelberg.
  • Anne Goldgar [2008]: Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age.  USA:  University of Chicago Press.  Why would I be reading this in this time of ICOs, I wonder?
  • Artur London [1970]: The Confession.  UK: Morrow.  A famous account by one of the defendants in the Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia in 1951.
  • Hubert Ripka [1950]: Czechoslovakia Enslaved: The Story of the Communist Coup d’Etat. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • D J Taylor [2010]: Bright Young People:  The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918-1940.  UK: Vintage.
  • Edith Olivier [1989]:  Edith Olivier: From Her Journals, 1924-1948. Edited by Penelope Middleboe. UK:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah [2017]: The Knowledge we have lost in Information: The History of Information in Modern Economics.  USA:  Oxford University Press.
  • James McNeish [2003]: Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in Exile in the Time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung.  UK: Vintage.
  • Francis Wheen [1992]:  Tom Driberg:  His Life and Indiscretions.  UK:  Pan.  This book is riveting reading, spoilt by its too-strong sympathy for its subject.
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick [2017, 4th edition]:  The Russian Revolution.  UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Oliver J Lodge [1916]: Raymond, or Life and Death: With Examples of the Evidence. USA:  George H Doran Company.
  • Launcelot Cranmer-Byng [1947]: The Vision of Asia. UK: John Murray.
  • Sam Dastyari [2017]:  One Halal of a Story.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press.
  • Hilary Rodham Clinton [2017]:  What Happened.  USA: Simon and Schuster.  Indeed!
  • David Burke [2009]: The Spy who came in from the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage. UK:  Boydell Press.
  • Alan Vaughan [1974]: Patterns of Prophecy.  USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Tom Bower [1996]: The Perfect English Spy: Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90.  UK: Mandarin.
  • Jenny Hocking [2016]: The Dismissal Dossier: Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975 (Updated Edition). Australia: Melbourne University Press.  Sadly, even after this account, I feel we do not yet know all the duplicity around the events of 11 November 1975.
  • Anna Thomasson [2015]: A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing.  UK:  Macmillan.  A wonderful account of the December-May friendship of Edith Olivier (1872-1948), later a writer, and artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944), who first met in 1924.  Given their ages at the time of meeting, it would be more accurate to describe this as an August-March friendship.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1964]: A Little Learning: the First Volume of an Autobiography.  UK:  Chapman and Hall.
  • Edith Olivier [1945]:  Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • Edith Olivier [1938]:  Without Knowing Mr Walkley.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • William Sturgis Bigelow [1908]: Buddhism and Immortality.
  • Garry Wills [2014]:  Making Make-Believe Real.  USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Garry Wills [2017]: The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. USA:  Open Road Media.

Recent Reading 13

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Dan Shanahan [2017]: Camelot Eclipsed: Connecting the Dots.  Independently published.
  • China Mieville [2017]:  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. UK:  Verso.
  • Joshua Rubenstein (Editor) [2007]: The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Henry Hemming [2017]: M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster.  UK:  Preface Publishing.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1935]:  Edmund Campion, Jesuit and Martyr. UK:  Longmans.
  • Alison Barrett [2015]:  View from my Tower: Letters from Prague, March 1985 – May 1988.   A fascinating series of letters from wife of the British Ambassador to members of her family about her time in Prague, in the period of stasis just before the Velvet Revolution.
  • John O Koehler [2008]:  Stasi:  The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.  USA:  Basic Books.
  • Giles Udy [2017]: Labour and the Gulag:  Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. UK:  Biteback Publishing.
  • David J Garrow [2017]: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Yanis Varoufakis [2017]: Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment. UK: Vintage Digital.
  • Nick Bilton [2017]: American Kingpin: Catching the Billion-Dollar Baron of the Dark Web. USA:  Virgin Digital.
  • Michael Howard [1996]:  Strategic Deception in the Second World War.  USA:  WW Norton.
  • Andrew St. George [1995]: History of Norton Rose. UK:  Granta Editions.   This is a history of the English law firm Norton Rose, written for the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1794.   The firm grew in the 19th century alongside the railways, acting as a conveyancing firm for the land purchases needed for new railway lines at the same time as lobbying MPs to legislate for the routes of these lines desired by its clients.  Its growth was helped by the life-long friendship between young Mr Philip Rose and Benjamin Disraeli.  One error in the book:  St. Geoge seems to have conflated two of Disraeli’s confidants and alleged mistresses:  Clara Bolton (nee Clarissa Marion Verbeke, 1804-1839), polyglot wife of George Buckley Bolton (the Disraeli family doctor) and Henrietta, Lady Sykes (c. 1801-1846), wife of Sir Francis Sykes (1799-1843), third Baronet of Basildon.  Mrs Bolton was also a confidant of Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837), only son of Fanny Burney and a grandson of Charles Burney.
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith [2017]:  Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life.  UK:  William Collins.  This is a fascinating and well-written account of the intelligence of cephalopodes, drawing on the author’s underwater interactions with them.  The only major blunder in the book is the author’s mistaken view that the only or even the main form of human thinking is verbal.  This belief shows the fallacies possible when generalizing from introspection, and perhaps only a philosopher could believe something so obviously false.  Most mathematicians, architects, musicians and visual artists; most engineers, craftsman, surgeons, and machinery operators; and most sportsmen and women, dancers and actors, spend most of their time thinking without using any words, in my experience.
  • Philip Pilkington [2016]: The Reformation in Economics:  A Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Economic Theory.  UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • John Le Carre [2017]: A Legacy of Spies.  UK:  Penguin.
  • Roy Hattersley [2017]: The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from  the Reformation to the Present.  UK:  Chatto and  Windus.
  • Don Aitken [2005]:  What was it all for?  The Reshaping of Australia. Australia: Allen and Unwin.
  • Don Aitken [2016]:  The Second Chair.  Australia:  Danbee Books.
  • Mark Singer [2016]: Trump and Me.  USA:  Penguin.
  • Ian Hacking [2014]: Why is there Philosophy of Mathematics at all?  UK:  CUP.
  • David Talbot [2015]: The Devil’s Chessboard:  Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Edward Jay Epstein [2013]:  Sixty Versions of the Kennedy Assassination: A Primer on Conspiracy Theories.  EJE Publications.

Recent Reading 12

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Edward Fulbrook [2016]:  Narrative Fixation in Economics. UK:  College Publications.
  • Pamela Vass [2016]:  The Power of Three:  Thomas Fowler, Devon’s Forgotten Genius. UK: Boundstone Books.
  • Charles Babbage [1835]:  On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. UK:  Charles Knight.
  • Timothy James Burke [1996]:  Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women:  Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. USA:  Duke University Press.
  • Petina Gappah [2016]:  Rotten Row. UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • David Wootton [2015]: The Invention of Science:  A New History of the Scientific Revolution. UK:  Penguin.
  • Joseph Wechsberg [1969]:  The Voices. USA:  Doubleday.
  • Karl Marton [2016]:  True Believer:  Stalin’s Last American Spy. Simon & Schuster.
  • David Coltart [2016]: The Struggle Continues. Zimbabwe: Jacana Media.
  • Yudhijit Bhattacharjee [2016]:  The Spy who couldn’t Spell:  A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets. USA:  Berkley.
  • Barrie Cassidy [2016]:  The Party Thieves: The Real Story of the 2010 Election.  Australia:  Melbourne University Publishing.
  • Martin Pearce [2016]:  Spymaster:  The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy and Head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Transworld Digital.
  • Andrew P Street [2016]:  The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull, the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
  • Graham Freudenberg [1977]:  A Certain Grandeur:  Gough Whitlam’s Life in Politics.  Australia:Macmillan.
  • Tom Bower [1995]:  The Perfect English Spy:  Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90. UK: William Heinemann.
  • David Bohm [2013]:  On Dialogue. UK: Routledge
  • Ben Kiernan [1986]:  Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World. UK:  Quartet Books.
  • Wilfred Burchett [1969]:  Passport: An Autobiography.  Australia:  Thomas Nelson.
  • Robert Harris [2016]:  Conclave.  Cornerstone Digital.
  • C. A. E. Moberly [1911]:  Dulce Domun. George Moberly, His Family and Friends.  UK: John Murray.
  • Lucille Iremonger [1957]:  The Ghosts of Versailles:  Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure.  UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • Christopher Hollis [1958]: Along the Road to Frome. UK:  George G. Harrap.
  • Ed Balls [2016]:  Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics. Cornerstone Digital.
  • Thomas Rid [2016]:  Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics.  UK: Scribe.
  • Joshua Rubenstein [2016]:  The Last Days of Stalin. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Randolph Vigne [1997]:  Liberals and Apartheid: A History of the Liberal Party of South Africa, 1953-68. UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Frank Dikotter [2016]: The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1862-1976.  UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Lafcadio Hearn [1904]:  Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation.  NY, USA: Macmillan.
  • C. B. George [2015]:  The Death of Rex Nhongo. Riverrun.
  • Hannes Wessels [2010]:  PK van der Byl:  African Statesman. South Africa: 30 Degrees South Publishers.
  • Alexander Nehamas [2016]:  On Friendship. USA:  Basic Books.
  • Larry Tye [016]:  Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.  USA:  Random House.
  • Charles Cumming [2016]: A Divided Spy. USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Joseph Mazur [2016]:  Fluke.  Oneworld Publications.

Possible Worlds

This is a list of movies which play with alternative possible realities, in various ways:

  • It’s a Wonderful Life [Frank Capra, USA 1947]
  • Przypadek (Blind Chance) [Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland 1987]
  • Lola Rennt (run lola run) [Tom Tykwer, Germany 1998]
  • Sliding Doors [Peter Howitt, UK 1998]
  • The Family Man [Brett Ratner, USA 2000]
  • Me Myself I [Pip Karmel, Australia 2000]

On the topic of possible worlds, this post may be of interest.

Some of the people, all of the time

Writer Colm Toibin has an article in praise of Henry James’ novel The Ambassadors, here.
Did Toibin not notice the words of the text as he read it? That novel is appallingly badly written. James’ long, rambling, discursive sentences reflect not subtlety and nuance, but long, rambling, muddled thought. The prose is often hard to comprehend, due to this muddle. An irritating widespread quirk of his style are sentences containing multiple pronouns, each pointing to different people – or perhaps to the same people. There is no consistency. Sometimes a pronoun in one sentence refers to the subject of the previous sentence, and sometimes to the object. Sometimes, indeed, one pronoun in a sentence may refer to the subject in an earlier sentence, while another pronoun refers to the object in another sentence. I lost count of the number of times I encountered this deictic ambiguity: eventually I concluded that either James was deliberately aiming to make it impossible for the reader to parse his text, or else it was he himself who was muddled, following no consistent rule in his pronoun assignments; in either case, I should feel no shame at abandoning such poor prose. James is justly neglected, and long may he remain so.

Why read?

Why do we read? Many people seem to assume that the only reason for reading is to obtain information about the world. With this view, reading fiction is perhaps hard to justify. But if one only reads to learn new facts, then one’s life is impoverished and Gradgrindian. Indeed, this reason strikes me as like learning to play the trumpet in order to have a means to practice circular breathing.
In fact, we read for many other reasons than just this one. One could say we primarily read novels for the pleasure that reading them provides:

  • the pleasure of reading poetic text (as in the novels of Hardy, Joyce or Faulkner, for instance)
  • the pleasure of reading elegant, finely-crafted prose (eg, Fanny Burney, Doris Lessing, Perec, Brautigan)
  • the pleasure of engaging in deductive reasoning (any detective or espionage novel)
  • the pleasure of imagining alternative societal futures (scifi), presents (political thrillers, espionage novels), or pasts (historical fiction)
  • the pleasure of being scared (crime thrillers, horror stories)
  • or the pleasure of parsing an intricate narrative structure (eg, Calvino, Fowles, Murnane, Pynchon).

These various pleasures are very distinct, and are orthogonal to the desire to gain information about the world. And some of these pleasures may also be gained from reading non-fiction, for example the finely-honed journalism of Lafcadio Hearn or AJ Liebling or Christopher Hitchens, or the writing of Oliver Sacks, who passed on today.

Recent Reading 11

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books.
Francis King [1970]:  A Domestic Animal. Faber Finds, 2014.  A well-written account of unrequited love that becomes an obsession.  Both the plot and the dialogue are, at times, unbelievable, although the obsession and the emotions it provokes in holder and object are very credible.
Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 11’

Human anxiety

Man, in contrast to other animals, is conscious of his own existence.  Therefore, conscious of the possibility of non-existence. Ergo, he has anxiety.”

Woman speaking at party, in Shadows, a film by John Cassavetes, 1959. 
I am not convinced that man alone is conscious of his own existence, not when elephants go to specific places to die and other elephants avoid those places, nor when dogs play jokes on their owners, nor when octopodes exhibit an aesthetic sense, and nor when some birds seem to enter into relationships with humans to whom they present their offspring proudly as if to a grandparent.

Preaching, advising, rebuking, reviling

Henry James on literary criticism (in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, March 1873):

I do  . . . believe in criticism, more than that hyperbolical speech of mine would seem to suggest.   What I meant to express was my sense of its being, latterly, vastly over-done.  There is such a flood of precepts, and so few examples – so much preaching, advising, rebuking & reviling, & so little doing: so many gentlemen sitting down to dispose in half an hour of what a few have spent months & years in producing. A single positive attempt, even with great faults, is worth generally most of the comments and amendments on it.”

Recent Reading 10

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books.
David Eagleman [2010]: Sum: Tales from the Afterlives.  (London, UK:  Canongate).  A superb collection of very short stories, each premised on the assumption that something (our bodies, our souls, our names, our molecules, etc) lives beyond death. Superbly fascinating.  One will blow your mind!  (HT: WPN).
A. C. Grayling [2013]:  Friendship.  (New Haven, CT and London, UK:  Yale University Press).
Andrew Sullivan [1998]:  Love Undetectable:  Reflections on Friendship, Sex and Survival.  (London, UK: Vintage, 1999).
Michael Blakemore [2013]: Stage Blood. (London, UK: Faber & Faber).  A riveting account of Blakemore’s time at the National Theatre in London.
William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac [1945/2008]:  And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks. (London, UK:  Penguin Classics).   Mostly writing alternate chapters, this is a fictional account of events based on the death of David Kammerer at the hands of Lucien Carr.
Jack Kerouac [1968]:  Vanity of Duluoz.   (London:  Penguin Modern Classics, 2001).
Charles McCarry [1974]:  The Tears of Autumn. (London, UK:  Duckworth Overlook, 2009).   The assassination of JFK as a conspiracy organized by the family of the Diem brothers, involving Cuban military officials, the KGB, and the Mafia.
John Williams [1965]:  Stoner. (London, UK: Vintage, 2012).  Alerted by the enthusiasm of the late Norman Geras, and reinforced by the praise of Julian Barnes,  I starting reading this book with keen anticipation.  I should have known better:  someone who liked the books of Philip Roth clearly had a literary taste to be wary of.     Stoner was a great disappointment, and certainly does not belong in any collection of Great American Novels.
Is the book great literature?  Well, frankly, no.  It is well-written, no question, but not well enough.  We are told the main character William Stoner has no friends while an undergraduate, but nothing in the thin preceeding pages would explain why.   We are told he switches from studying agriculture to literature after an epiphany in a compulsory literature class, but this paragraph (and it is just a paragraph) is very thin indeed.   Why did he have this epiphany?  Where did it come from?  Nothing beforehand (in the book) would justify this event, and the event itself is only barely described.   Do people make such a switch so often, that no explanation is needed?  Not in my experience.
I can see that members of the literati – for instance, Julian Barnes – would like to read about people who come to love literature and who then devote their life to its teaching.  But Williams merely states these attributes of William Stoner as facts, without providing any compelling justification – not psychological, nor social, nor familial, nor cultural, nor literary, not spiritual, nor nothing – for these facts.     Indeed, there is hardly any justification at all, let alone a compelling one.
The narration is by a third-person narrator, and he or she seems to know what is inside Dr Stoner’s head.  Moreover, every other character is a cypher to the narrator, as (presumably) they are to Stoner himself.  One is therefore tempted to read the narration as being in the first-person.  But then, some of it is too vague for either a knowledgeable first-person or an omniscient third:  on pager 109, for instance, we read that Stoner disposed of his $2000 inheritance by giving “a few hundred dollars” to his parents’ black farm worker.    A few hundred?  Surely, Stoner knew at the time exactly how much he gave.  Likewise, surely, an omniscient narrator would also know the amount.   This is sloppy writing, and it undermines the case for the narrator being either first- or an omniscient third-person.
Similarly, we are told several times that Stoner had a deep friendship with Dave Masters, who is killed in the Great War.   But although this friendship is mentioned, it is not described in any depth.  It is certainly not invoked, nor is an invocation even attempted.  So, again, we come away thinking the narrator barely knows about which he speaks.   Just how credible, then, is anything the narrator says?    The book undermines its own case.
Why has the book proven popular?   Well it is more popular in Europe than in America.  I believe the answer to this disparity goes to something the former British Labour MP, Bryan Gould, once said when comparing political life in Europe with that in Australia, New Zealand, or North America:  In the New World, anyone upset by a social problem tries to fix it.  In the Old World, anyone upset by a social problem tries to live with it.   Stoner is a book about a man who lives with every major problem of his life, accommodating himself to an unhappy marriage, to a wife who appears on the edge of madness, to the end of his only happy relationship, to an alcoholic daughter, to not seeing his only grandchild, to an unsatisfying and tedious job, to an unfair assignment of work duties, to no promotions, to a lack of close friendships, to public gossip and innuendo about his marriage and relationships, to the death of his parents and his one apparently-close friend, while only ever once, it seems, standing up for himself.  And the counter-attack he launches is in such a small and picayune way, hurting the very students he is supposed to care for, that it can hardly be worthy of any emulation.
Certainly such people exist (indeed, the Old World is full of them),  but this novel never presents a compelling case that this particular man, William Stoner, should behave in this way.   Indeed, it hardly presents any case at all – the writing is all tell, and no show.    The power of showing is demonstrated by the one scene where the author does invoke the events, rather than merely mentioning them: the PhD upgrade viva of Charles Walker, where we can read the dialog for ourselves, and draw our own conclusions.    If only the author had done this more often, the book would have been much better.