H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West

The Lovecraft series continues with a long look at a title S. T. Joshi still considers one of his most important works on Lovecraft.

For those who want something else of mine touching on some of the themes of this book, check out my review of Lovecraft’s Letters to James Morton.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West, S. T. Joshi, 1990.H P Lovecraft

This was a fascinating, illuminating book.

It is not that Lovecraft’s individual ethics, philosophical notions of materialism, politics, and notions of aesthetics were that unique. It is the combination that was somewhat unique and, most importantly — as Joshi convincingly shows — how those views consistently show up in his fiction.

In the first half of the book, Joshi documents (mostly through Lovecraft’s voluminous correspondence) the development of Lovecraft’s philosophy and how it was influenced by others — philosophers ancient and modern and science.

Lovecraft, descendant of a wealthy New England family that, in his childhood, fell on hard times, was a lifelong aristocrat. Always suspicious of democracy, Joshi shows how he moved from notions of an aristocracy of birth to (with relapses expressed in his letters and often involving race) an aristocracy of intellect. Thus he moved from a sentimental “royalist” (of course America has no official royalty but Anglophiliac Lovecraft earlier expressed, in his associated love for 18th Century England and Colonial America, a love of English royalty — or, at least, Queen Anne) and Republican to an advocate of “fascistic socialism” and voter for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Derb!

Prime ObessionWe Are Doomed

In honor of his 70th birthday, here are two retro reviews of a couple of John Derbyshire books.

The Derb is the only author I’ve exchanged both emails with and met in person, specifically when he was researching Prime Obsession, though it has been years since I’ve had any contact with him.

So, you get two retro reviews and on topics not usually showing up here: math and politics.

The first is from May 31, 2003. The second, by far the most popular review I ever did on Amazon despite some, in my mind, infelicities of style, is from October 10, 2009.

Review: Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics, John Derbyshire, 2003.

“This isn’t magic. There’s a reason this stuff works,” my high school math teacher used to say. Of course, there are some contentions, hypotheses, in math where we don’t know if they work, if they are true.

For professional mathematicians, one of the most important of these is the Riemann Hypothesis. Everlasting fame amongst mathematicians, and, incidentally, a million dollars is waiting for the person who can nail the truth of the “RH” down.

Unlike some famous math problems, the gist of the RH is not readily apparent to most non-mathematicians. Derbyshire has to spend some time explaining what is meant by “All non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one-half.” And, as someone whose formal math instruction ended with four years of high school math and who reads the very occasional popular math book by Gleick, Peterson, or Paulos, I’m pretty much the target audience Derbyshire pitches that explanation to. Continue reading