Category Archives: intellect

Response to Kaʻiulani Milham’s “A Game Changer for Kanaka Maoli”

Kaʻiulani Milham, a writer and participant in the Naʻi Aupuni constitutional convention, published a thoughtful editorial in Civil Beat about a topic very relevant to the readers of this blog, so I thought Iʻd give my line-by-line two cents. She often hits the mark, but sometimes, in my view, misses it.

With the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, Kānaka Maoli face a vastly altered landscape in our pathway to self-determination and the question of whether or not to accept the Department of Interior’s final rule, for federal recognition.

Probably the main point that Milham misses for Fed-Rec, which is that itʻs dead. It was to be done by executive order, so even if Obama signs on Jan. 19th, Trump will unsign on the 20th.

The country we contemplated a nation-to-nation relationship with, is not the same nation we imagined last week.

But it is.The ill-will toward Hawaiians was always visible in Congress, which refused to consider the Akaka Bill for a dozen years (1999-2012). Anti-affirmative action sentiment (73%) was always going to be against us (if the Akaka Bill and Fed-Rec were something you wanted).

The aloha we uphold — kindness, welcoming and inclusion — are the polar opposite of Trump’s xenophobic essence and the underlying national spirit of exclusion his election revealed.

Yes and no. America is an incredibly divided country – thatʻs been clear for a while now.

His race-driven hatred for people of color, from Muslims to Mexicans, will be felt by Kānaka Maoli, too. Guaranteed.

I basically said this in my post “Hawaiians in Trump’s America.”

What’s worse is that the hatred he represents reflects the values of his share of U.S. voters who voted in this election.

Those who think as Trump does — as well as those willing to look the other way when he repeatedly showed himself to be a rampant racist and misogynist — have been empowered by his fascist rhetoric. They won’t be backing down from their bully pulpit any time soon.

The economic, health and social conditions of Hawaiians will not improve under a Trump presidency.

Probably true.

Nor can we afford to delude ourselves that federal recognition will protect our cultural and natural resources.

When I was on John Kane’s radio show, Letʻs Talk Native (WBAI, New York City), I read the litany of Hawaiian socio-economic ills, and he said “We have all those things with Federal Recognition!” Heʻs one Native American who gets it.

The shocking images from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, flooding our social media pages for weeks now, has shown just how far America’s corporatocracy will go to rape the natural resources, culture and sacred places of native people.

If Barack Obama has not had the moral courage to stop the atrocities being committed there in the name of Big Oil and Energy Transfer Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline, we would be insane to believe Trump will do better.

And you were about to celebrate “Thanksgiving,” created to thank Native Americans who helped pilgrims survive their first winter, while Standing Rock was going on? Thereʻs another holiday on Monday, Nov. 28 – Lā Kuʻokoʻa, Hawaiian Independence Day – no guilt required in its celebration.

But the “status quo” also looms like a bogey man — with impossibly high-priced housing, a failing state education system, high incarceration rates and low graduation rates and countless other chronic social and health issues for Hawaiians.

Under the specter of Rice v. Cayetano and other anti-Hawaiian U.S. Supreme Court rulings, federal recognition advocates fret over the anticipated loss of federal funds Hawaiians have become dependent on to revive our still threatened ʻŌlelo Hawaii and other foundational pillars of our culture.

See above comments on affirmative action.

Fear of losing these programs and funds drove our trustees at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to invest an estimated $43 million, on various attempts at federal recognition, that we now see has been spent for naught.

Gambling on a tag-team effort by back-to-back Obama and Hillary Clinton administrations to carry their federal recognition dream into reality, our trustees have been caught with their pants down.

How foolish to think tying our futures to the vagary of American politics was the safest course.

Yet Milham participated in Naʻi Aupuni. Is this an admission?

We are not safe.

Not on any level.

More importantly, as Haunani K. Trask famously declared on the 100th anniversary observance of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1993, “We are not Americans!”

In a larger, pragmatic sense, none of us here are “Americans.”

Possibly true, but it misses the point that some really arenʻt Americans – oneʻs citizenship is not a matter of opinion. Some Hawaiians have no American ancestry and thus retain only Hawaiian citizenship.

Now, because of this election, and what it portends for American politics in the foreseeable future, we all must honestly consider how maintaining ties to America impacts all of us in Hawaii.

These islands are 2,471 miles away from the nearest American soil, a world a way culturally from Washington, D.C.

With a climate change denier entering the Oval Office, and scientists concluding that climate change-induced sea level rise will hit Hawaii harder than anywhere on Earth, we have to ask ourselves:

When did the deciders in Washington, D.C. ever prioritize the well being of Pacific Islanders?

I asked myself a similar question when I was looking for graduate programs – in university departments itʻs as if the Pacific does not exist.

Not in post WWII Hawaii when America used Kahoʻolawe for a half-century-long bombing campaign that broke the island’s water table and left it uninhabitable, littered with unexploded ordinance that largely remain below the surface after $400 million spent on clean up.

And only got 70% of the surface and 10% of the subsurface.

Not in 1946 when America began its 56-year bombing run on Bikini Atoll, or when it dropped a hydrogen bomb there in 1954, leaving the Marshall Islands toxic to this day.

Not for the last 45 years as America invited half the world’s armed forces to use Hawaiian waters for RIMPAC’s biennial exercises with their devastation of our marine resources.

Not in 1997 when America rejected the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, turning its back on sea-level rise impacts to Pacific peoples.

Not when Tuvalu began its evacuations, as sea-level rise inundated their islands, or when Kiribati bought land in Fiji in preparation for evacuations to come.

Not in 2014 when Obama announced the Pacific Pivot, further militarizing the Pacific and putting Pacific peoples firmly in the scatter-gun pattern of collateral damage from America’s future wars.

Not today when America’s reluctant signature to the Paris Climate Accord is threatened with abrogation by Trump.

If America puts this little value on protecting the Pacific, our Hawaiians Islands and Pacific Islanders in general, how can any of us here in Hawaii feel safe?

Does Trump think of Hawaii when he says he’s going to “Make America Great Again?”

More likely he’ll put Hawaii in the crosshairs of America’s enemies.

The reality for Hawaii is, this unbalanced, undisciplined, inexperienced American president will have unprecedented potential to fatally bungle foreign relations with North Korea, China or some other American enemy.

Hawaii, being the nearest target, will be attacked just like it was on Dec. 7, 1941.

Hawaiians, unquestionably, have suffered most from the imposition of American rule over our islands, but we’re NOT the only ones who will suffer if it continues.

Brown or white, we in Hawaii are all Pacific islanders.

Not exactly. Some people here think weʻre an annex of Southern California.

Whether Hawaii will survive for our future generations will depend on our resolve to form a unified independent Hawaiian government.

We can confront the challenges of restoring Hawaiian Independence together, wait to see what American politics will bring, or slowly sink beneath the waves of sea-level rise, climate change induced mass extinctions and the myriad other environmental threats that stand before us.

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The Trump Administration: Children in a Fantasy

The American philosopher Ken Wilber called Trump, when he was running, “the boy who would be King,” by which he meant that Trump was at the psycho-emotional level of a young child, and urged voting against him:

Not because he is a big alpha figure who would bust up the establishment. Not because he’s vulgar. Not because lacks a coherent policy vision. Those things can actually be evolutionarily potent in their proper measure. No, the real problem with Donald Trump is that in important lines of development he is arrested at the level of a five-year-old. Keep nukes out of the hands of children. Make sure to vote!

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[For more on what is meant by “development” see my article “Integral 102”]

Now that Trump has tapped Steven Bannon for his inner circle, I looked at a Breitbart article (Bannon is a Breitbart executive). The article made the “argument” that the key to women’s happiness was to “uninvent” the washing machine and the birth control pill, both of which had made them completely “miserable.” First, nothing is ever uninvented. Once technologies catch on – especially labor-saving devices – for better or worse, we seem to be stuck with them. Second, if anything needs to be “uninvented” is it really the washing machine? Not the nuclear bomb? To think that these things can be uninvented and that there’s not a population problem is to live in a fantasy world. They want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen – no wonder they were against Clinton for President!

Trump also speaks of using nuclear weapons, imperiling us all, as if only the US has them! Or only the US and Russia. As if he doesnʻt know that there are at least 13 nuclear states. And his responses to questions about their use is consistent with that of an adolescent boy: “Then why do we have them [if not to use them]?” This shows no understanding that nuclear weapons, to the extent that they have any valid use at all, are deterrents.

Finally, as far as I have observed, Trump has not once used the word democracy in his campaign, a campaign that has shown nothing but contempt for the idea. If things go the way many are predicting, Americans will have – proudly – voted their own, hard-won rights away by handing the nuclear codes, the Bush-Obama surveillance apparatus and the power of commander-in-chief of the US military to a child.

 

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Streaking – Day 2: Confirmation Bias – A Discussion with Biologist and Educator Robert Hutchison

This is part of the Streaking series, in which I write something everyday, and my interview series, including discussions with Ikaika Hussey, Amy Perruso, Marti Townsend and George Cleveland. Thereʻs much more to this interview:

I began to think about possible biases in the conclusions being reached by researchers in Hawaiian Studies (I use this term very broadly and include myself among these) when Dr. Sam Ohu Gon of the Nature Conservancy (recently named a Hawaiʻi Living Treasure) brought up the scientific notion of confirmation bias, and suggested that it may be tainting our findings.

According to Science Daily:

In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.

I thought about my conversations over the past couple of years with the Advanced Placement Biology teacher at Kamehameha, Robert Hutchison – conversations Iʻve found very fruitful in the sense that they represent a kind of “Inside-Outside” view of human behavior. By “inside” I mean oneʻs own personal experience of the world; by “outside” I mean those things that can be measured. Usually this measurement is done by someone else – outside of your own head and experience. My view is that both represent valid, legitimate perspectives on reality, and rather than putting them at odds with one another, they should be constantly compared and contrasted to try to gain a more accurate, and useful, perception of “reality.” Robert is a Kamehameha graduate who has a bachelorʻs degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masterʻs in Biology from UH Mānoa. He teaches at Windward Community College in the Summer.

Hutchison suggested that confirmation bias is about:

RH: your point of view and … how you rationalize it or how do you account for it and does it in any way cause you to rethink and modify your original assumptions? And thatʻs what science is about, science is about the search for truth and just the methodology of finding truth as best as we can possibly understand it. You have to wonder whenever anyone who tells you anything. Go back to the source – this is the importance of Kumulipo and chant because thereʻs an understanding that things will be lost if there isnʻt that rigor behind it.

UP: Iʻve been seeing some studies come out about this with child witness, that they can be persuaded through suggestion to have a certain memory that they can be persuaded to think they really had after a certain amount

RH: Exactly

UP: So what youʻre telling me that every time you recall a memory, itʻs being modified?

RH: The brain can fill in these gaps. Vision works this way. Sometimes what it interprets in not exactly what is in front of you.

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The Age of Hubris

hu·bris

ˈ(h)yo͞obrəs/
noun
  1. excessive pride or self-confidence.
    synonyms arroganceconceithaughtinesshauteurprideself-importanceegotismpomposity, superciliousness, superiority;

    • (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.

One thing that has struck me recently is the utterly casual way in which many of the central tenets of American (and increasingly other developed countries’) democracy are being undermined and abandoned. As I wrote in “Reason’s End:”

In his 2007 book The Assault on Reason, former Vice President Al Gore saw the same alarming trend. Gore held that reasoned discourse, the “central premise of American democracy” was imperiled by changes in the media and the politics of wealth. Supporting this contention, Princeton University released a report claiming America was no longer a democracy at all, but an oligarchy. When the Citizens United decision, SuperPACs, blows to the Voting Rights Act and the end of internet neutrality are taken into account, the veracity of these claims is hard to deny. So the real question is: what caused this fundamental shift in the American consciousness?

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It is the hubris and bluster seen on the Republican side of the presidential race in particular that show these trends most clearly: a casual move toward blatantly racist rhetoric of a kind that was still intolerable as late as 2007! Trent Lott’s mere tone of nostalgia over Strom Thurmond’s (racist) past – at Thurmond’s funeral no less, where his shortcomings might be overlooked – lost him his spot in the Senate (where he was the number 2 Republican).

As NBC News reported on Nov. 16, 2007:

The smooth-spoken Lott found himself in hot water in December 2002 after Thurmond’s party.   Lott said Mississippi voters were proud to have supported Thurmond when he ran for president on a segregationist platform in 1948, and added: “If the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”

A few days later, Lott issued a statement saying he had made “a poor choice of words” that “conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”

But the damage was done. President Bush distanced himself from Lott’s remarks, telling an audience the comments “do not reflect the spirit of our country.”

But Trump gets away almost daily with statements that far outstrip Lott’s. Suggesting going after the families of suspected terrorists met with silence (admittedly an awkward one) and left Trump time to repeat it (this was “light” morning television!).

We may just be seeing the death-throes of the Right, and with Bernie Sanders, the resurgence of a solidly left consciousness after the years of the Clintons’ “New Democrats” (which are, in many ways,  similar to old Republicans). As I said in “Why I am a Leftist:”

… pendulums always swing back, and this happened with Obama and the Occupy movement, where leaderless revolution seemed to almost spontaneously emerge. There seems to be a progressive ground swell, with even fairly mainstream media like Salon and the Huffington Post making progressive arguments and even cogently showing their practicality (something the left wasnʻt quite so good at previously).

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On Knowing

This post is part of the continuing “On” series: others include On OwnershipOn CapitalismOn FreedomOn Constitutionalism and On Privilege.

Once, while working at a military medical clinic, I noticed that all of the doctors, and none of the medics, were runners. While almost everyone knows that cardiovascular exercise is the most effective single thing a person can do for their health, some people, (the doctors in this case) really know it. This type of knowing could explain why some people act on knowledge and others do not. The difference in the depth of their levels of knowledge may explain why one group, the doctors, act on their knowledge, and the other, the medics, did not.

Daniel Kahnemanʻs book Thinking Fast and Slow makes that case that there are two kinds of thinking, which he pedantically terms “system 1” (the fast one) and “system 2” (the slow one). In the New York Times review of the book, Jim Holt describes system 1 as using metaphor and available data (which may or may not be relevant) to create “a quick and dirty draft of reality.” In contrast:

System 2, in Kahneman’s scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase “bread and. . . . ” It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person’s System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.)

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So this post could be called “Knowing, Shallow and Deep,” or “Knowing, Profound and Superficial.” One sure sign, in my experience, that people have a shallow understanding when youʻve explained something is that they say “Got it.” This is not to say that slow knowing is always better. As Malcolm Gladwell famously pointed out, decisions on topics about which a person has a wealth of experience can be made in the Blink of an eye – and be as sound or better than drawn-out ponderous decisions.

While knowledge is often denigrated at the expense of action, this is where knowledge and action intersect. It creates what the nonprofit (my former employer) Political Research Associates called “informed action.” When I want to really understand something (like a language) to the point at which it affects my behavior, I will read or listen to it multiple times, up to a hundred times. (I have no shortage of time in my daily commute!) Literature on leadership tends to argue that effective leaders make decisions quickly while “losers” make them slowly, but books like Quiet, about the benefits of introversion support Kahnemanʻs findings on introspection. So it seems the answer, as usual, depends on the context.

 

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Means and Ends: Process and Results Orientation

With the Naʻi Aupuni convention under way, different styles of negotiating are being brought to light. Professor Williamson Chang wrote a public grievance against one participant who he saw as being obstructionist and belligerent. I heard that the group adopted, and insisted on, Robert’s Rules of Order (I happen know that Pokā Laenui, a participant, is a strong advocate). But the “debates” in the movement, and even more tellingly – their after effects, have often been focused on outcomes at the expense of process.

The very fact that Naʻi Aupuni is meeting at all is the outcome of a results orientation. The US Supreme Court (whose jurisdiction the organizers accept!) enjoined the election pending review. Following the letter of the law, rather than its spirit, Naʻi Aupuni organizers simply sidestepped the ruling and cancelled the election but continued with the convention.

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Which mode Hawaiians should adopt and encourage comes down to one question: Do you believe in democracy? Even though the Hawaiian Kingdom was an emerging democracy, not all Hawaiians in either the independence or Fed Rec movement do. But many more claim to believe in democracy, while being unwilling to tolerate its slowness, and tendency to produce compromises-that is to say, compromised results. The current Republican style of “all out war” – against Obama, Democrats, and it seems, sanity – does not serve as an inspiring example.

But a simple question faces us: do we want our way, or an outcome that everyone involved can live with?

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The Greatest Books of Our Time

The literary critic Harold Bloom said that there are far too many books to read even if thatʻs all one does all day, everyday. So one needs some kind of reading list to work from. Iʻve called this the “greatest books of our time” because I canʻt claim to know the greatest books of all time. (It also evokes the title of the last book on the list, Child of Our Time). Here are my suggestions, allowing that I havenʻt read everything (Iʻd wager neither have you), and with some help from my group on Facebook called Building an Intellectual Culture:

1. The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse

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Hesse is certainly fond of binaries: wild vs. “civilized” (Steppenwolf), but here he is at the height of his powers. My godfather is a former professor of German, and says he got beyond Hesse at a certain point, but I canʻt see how.

2. Herzog, Saul Bellow

This may be dated, in terms of being a period piece for midcentury intellectuals, but his deeper understanding of the human condition earned Bellow the highest literary honors: he was the only person to win three National Book Awards and the Nobel Prize. Iʻm writing about him for Summit magazine – stay tuned.

3. Moby Dick, Herman Melville

E.L. Doctorow said Melville’s book (overlong as it is – he was paid by the word) was a monumental achievement, one not recognized in his own time – and who am I to disagree? Like Jonah and the whale, Melville tells us something sublime about our inner selves. (See Melville in Hawaiʻi).

4. Dubliners, James Joyce

Before he destroyed the English language (see Finneganʻs Wake, or as much as it as you can bear), Joyce mastered it. Ulysses was ranked the best novel of the 20th century by Time; Dubliners is more accessible.


5. King Lear, Shakespeare

Growing old before growing wise is perhaps a fate worse than the end itself. Shakespeare makes the fool the wise one in a way thatʻs surprisingly modern. He also hints at an answer to “the thing itself” – the essence of reality.


6. The Master, Colm Toibin

This pick may surprise people – Toibin was shortlisted, but never won, the Booker Prize. But his treatment of the subtleties of Henry James’s inner life has few rivals. Toibin is finally getting wide acclaim for Brooklyn, an inferior novel.


7. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

Widely credited with being the soul of Star Wars, that comparison cheapens Cambells contribution to elevating mythology (with the help of Carl Jung).


8. 1984, George Orwell

The first book I ever had a physiological reaction to, Orwellʻs dystopia is coming true 30 years after itʻs due date. Think only of the terms that have entered the popular lexicon: double think, thought police, new speak, Big Brother – and their alarming relevance today.


9. Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi, Samuel Kamakau

Number one on my Hawaiian list cracks the top ten here if only for its contribution to narrative style, incorporating genealogy into the tale in a way few book have (except maybe Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude).


10. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

Edgier than his counterpart Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky asks the existential question: why exist at all? His insights into the human psyche are nearly unrivaled.

The Second Team:

Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

Disturbingly cited in several murder attempts, Salinger seemed to capture the American hatred of phoniness – the originator of “keeping it real.”

The Stranger, Albert Camus

Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

I wrote about Lahiri’s novel The Lowland for Summit magazine, in which I quoted Interpreter of Maladies as an exemplar of her style.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

By showing the precise moment of colonization, itʻs become the classic of African and postcolonial literature.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

A kind of inverse of Achebe, Conrad shows the dark heart of the colonial project from the colonizer’s view, with its God-project and even the suffering it entails.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The inverse of Orwell’s 1984 – the capitalist dystopia shows how pleasure, not just fear, can create a totalitarian state.

The Republic, Plato

The classic of political theory, Plato also hints at esoteric concerns with his parable of the cave.

Steppenwolf, Hesse

Honorable mention:

The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler

If  you wanted to know what the next 20-30 years held in store in 1980, you would have done well to read Toffler’s sequel to Future Shock. Some of his predictions, such as Mass customization – through 3D printing – are still coming true today.

Ishmael, Daniel Quinn

As I said in my post “The Generalists:”

Quinn’s Ishmael was a semi-underground cultural phenomenon. In its essence, it taught a generation of disillusioned seekers that the world isn’t here for us. This seems simple, but the amount of data that Quinn had to sift through in order to reach this conclusion was somewhat staggering.

Damien, Hesse

A Theory of Everything, Ken Wilber

Below is Ken Wilber’s Integral map, which shows the four quadrants, or domains in which development (evolution) occurs. It is divided into sections based on the interior (thought, theory, ideas) and exterior (physical objects), individual and collective dimensions:


The Archivist, Martha Cooley

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Hawaiian Antiquities, David Malo

Renascence, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Anything by Erich Fromm

Anything by Carl Jung

As I said in my post on Jung (which is consistently one of the most read post on the universe):

Jung is best known for his ideas of archetypes, introversion and extroversion, and the collective unconscious. His method led to an entire Jungian school of practice, including the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. In some quarters, his mystical writings on topics like alchemy and synchronicity have made him a kind of Godfather of the new age movement. In Jung, we see the intersection of standard, accepted scientific practices and occult mysticism. Jung maintained his entire career, however, that he was a scientist, not a mystic.

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A page from Jung’s Red Book

Inner Christianity, Richard Smoley

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Power/Knowledge, Michel Foucault

Hawaiian Studies Professor Kalawaia Moore, a member of Building an Intellectual Culture, put Foucault’s Discipline and Punish on his list, and that’s probably the best of Foucault’s books, but Power/Knowledge is a more accessible collection.

Child of our Time, Miguel De Castillo

This one was very influential on me personally rather than a “classic” per se. It shows, as many of these great works do, that simply being with oneʻs family can be all one really needs from life.

Books that are supposed to be on a list like this but arenʻt:

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Woody Allen once said of its storied length:

I once took a course on speed reading and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.

What can I say? Thereʻs a great miniseries happening right now, that I’m enjoying immensely.

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

Itʻs considered the first novel, but does that mean you have to read it? And why is it that the first novel is a satire?

Faust, Goethe

Most likely the only reason this isnʻt on the list is that Iʻm still reading it. Hereʻs a primer from Alain de Botton’s School of Life:

 Middlemarch, George Eliot

Iris Murdoch said this was her favorite novel, and she is one of my favorite novelists of all time. Thereʻs a bad movie version if youʻre interested.

 The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

The Guardian tell usNathaniel Hawthorne’s astounding book is full of intense symbolism and as haunting as anything by Edgar Allan Poe.

For a more mainstream reading list, see The Guardian’s “100 Best Novels Written in English:” 

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