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Book reviews for "Saul,_John_Ralston" sorted by average review score:

The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense
Published in Hardcover by Free Press (1994)
Author: John Ralston Saul
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An abecedarium of subversion.
This should truly be compulsory reading for journalists, students, professors, and those who generally like to be informed. Those who prefer to wallow in intellectual mediocrity and ignorance may stay clear of this volume. John Ralston Saul articulates what we all know and yet refuse to believe. Illuminating and necessary.

Biting Commentary Essential to all Concerned Citizens
Saul has attempted to place the current use of language for the purpose of public discussion into historical terms. Through the unusual format of a dictionary-style argument, Saul convincingly argues that our public officials' obsession with a society conceived upon the faith of knowledge specialization and economic quantification has swerved Western Civilization (as defined by the values that emerged out of the Enlightenment) off the very basis of what has allowed our societies to develop, prosper and gain greater informational and monetary wealth.

Throughout the argument, Saul points out that historically, it is not through a blinding respect for one (sometimes isolated) principle that Western societies have developed, but that it is through careful (humanist) consideration of the complex and interrelated problems that constantly confront the varying interests of society. Though sometimes appalling in its generalizations and uncited factual accounts, the book is a satirical and correct swipe at our use of language sure to affect your own analysis of daily events.

to change the world,write a dictionary!
that misuse of language has characterized societies in crisis has been observed since Thucydides. The remedy,to write a dictionary,is attempted by the brave - voltaire,diderot,johnson and bierce have lite beacons in the fog. Ralston Saul here defines a vocabulary for reform.

The Paradise Eater
Published in Hardcover by McGraw-Hill (1988)
Author: John Ralston Saul
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A must for dedicated Asiafiles!
The main character is a Canadian expat living in Bangkok who has almost, but not quite, "gone native". While the story line is excellent, what I find fascinating is the ancillary cast of characters and sub-plots, which move through Bangkok as the economy is beginning to spiral upwards (the book was written in 1988). Hookers, corruption & a business trip to Laos are all included in plot and dealt with extraordinary expertise on the topical subject matter.

Read this novel first and then follow up with Christopher Moore's "Gods of Darkness."

The World Is Our Witness: The Historic Journey of the Nisga'a into Canada
Published in Hardcover by Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd (2000)
Authors: Tom Molloy, Donald Ward, and John Ralston Saul
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Reflections of Past and Future
There is much to learn from the Nisga'a, a native band in Canada's north who have fought for over a century to win basic individual rights and a recognition of their ancient nation. And no white man knows more about the Nisga'a and their efforts to sign their first treaty with the Canadian government than Tom Molloy, the chief government negotiator. In "The World is Our Witness," Molloy skillfully lays out the sometimes arcane details of the treaty without ever getting bogged down in technicalities. Rather, he captures the spirit of a proud people struggling to find their place in the modern world. With ethnic tensions and tribalism on the rise everywhere, Canada's treatment of its Indians raises hope that there is another way. And in "The World is our Witness," Tom Molloy tells this important and moving story with clarity and conviction.

A Great read
Having been involved in the negotiation of treaties in Canada for the past 15 years I highly recommend this book. It is not the dry, legalistic tome that you might expect it to be, but Mr Molloy has imbued it with the personal touches about the negotiation and the negotiation process. His anecdotes ring true to life, and although I was not involved in the Nisgaa negotiations, similar occurences have happened to me in all the treaty negotiations that I have been involved in over the years. It's the book that we all wish we could have written.

The unconscious civilization
Published in Unknown Binding by House of Anansi Press ()
Author: John Ralston Saul
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Good, but had better.
This is a good book, but... It's basically a rehash of a much better (and shorter) book: "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth," by Buckminster Fuller. Overspecialization is bad. What the individual citizen in a society can do, or should do. Same stuff, really. Bucky Fuller gave his ideas in a nice storybook manner, written very well too. This author is convoluted and difficult to follow, like that of a career "intellectual" rather than a really devoted and compassionate genius who opens your mind to seeing the Big Picture. Too much ego and cleverness for my taste. He's so proud of himself for pointing out how bad things are, how ridiculous certain of our "managerial" bodies have become (but hasn't this been true for millennia?). O.K., we all know this can be fun to read since we can ourselves laugh at the stupidity of groups in power, but in the end, there's very little real-world application for the individual reader except maybe the usual "get active in politics" spiel. Here I am, writing a review for a book, which will be published for millions of people to read. Little old me. That alone kind of wipes out some of the author's argument about how only government/politics can act as the voice of the common man. My being able to review books as an individual (as opposed to a media empire) in a global society, that's Power. Lots of things like that, good stuff, don't get their fair consideration in this book. Definitely worth a few bucks, since it is good for generating ideas, but it's kind of a chore to get through, whereas the Fuller book is a complete delight, and much more lasting in its effect upon your psyche and soul. Another Big Picture book with more "wow" factor than this book was "The Way the World Works" by some of the supply side economists (Wannisky and Novak).

A roundhouse shot at corporatist, group-think American life
"Are we truly living in a corporatist society that uses democracy as little more than a pressure release valve?"

Not satisfied with hurtling the literary hand-grenade of the 1990's, "Voltaire's Bastards", into the midst of our oblivious Western society, John Ralston Saul has now equipped his metaphorical sniper rifle, and in his crosshairs is the 'deviant class' which has destabilized our American dream. In "The Unconscious Civilization", Saul targets 'corporatist' groups, the special interests (both economic and social) which have lulled citizens into replacing their own thoughts with those of factions who magically (and absurdly) claim to represent their beliefs and dreams.

"One of the difficulties faced by citizens today is making sense of what is presented as material for public debate, but is actually no more than the formalized propaganda of interest groups. It is very rare now in public debate to hear from someone who is not the official voice of an organization."

Characteristic of Saul's previous work, "The Unconscious Civilization" is a firm, wind-knocking shot to the gut. But luckily for you, your opponent is also teaching you how to fight. Hear him shout: 'Stand up, slothful citizen. Your constitution is failing.'

"The statistics of our crisis are clear and unforgiving. Yet they pass us by--in newspapers, on television, in conversations--as if they were not reality. Or rather, as if we were unable to convert knowledge into action."

Do you feel protected by the Internet, by the millions of voices which you feel will conglomerate to represent you? So how's it working for you so far? Sure we have information, but what the hell good is it doing for the spirit of our nation?

"Knowledge is more effectively used today to justify wrong being done than to prevent it. This raises an important question about the role of freedom of speech. We have a great deal of it. But if it has little practical effect on reality, then it is not really freedom of speech. Without utility, speech is just decorative."

In this work, Saul scopes out the corporatist mindset, the coalescence of many minds into one body with only one voice (corpus from Latin, meaning body), which has invaded business, politics, and civil society alike. The result is chilling, for when we rise to speak, we find our individual words have different meanings to each of these bodies. As a consequence, we are learning to speak less.

"In a corporatist society there is no serious need for traditional censorship or burning, although there are regular cases. It is as if our language itself is responsible for our inability to identify and act upon reality."

We may be blind to the corporatist processes, but we should be able to fairly see their results. In politics: 38% voter turnout rates, lowest political convention viewership, the quashing of third-party voices; in business: the plastering of disclaimers, sloganeering, and that opaque wall of business-speak between every salesman and their customer; in civil society: the inability to progress in conversation without soundbites, and the number of people who flat-out don't want to talk to you.

This partition of words has not obstructed John Ralston Saul, though. An advocate of "aggressive common sense", Saul portrays himself correctly as a classic liberal, defender and klaxon for the citizen, neither champion nor foe of the marketplace.

"The market does not lead, balance, or encourage democracy. However, properly regulated it is the most effective way to conduct business."

"Every important characteristic of both individualism and democracy has preceded the key economic events of our millennium. What's more, it was these characteristics that made most of the economic events possible, not vice-versa."

John Ralston Saul's work consists of five chapters loosely based off a series of 1995 lectures at the University of Toronto. Like "Voltaire's Bastards", Saul here is discursive and entertaining; each chapter is a new dive into an invigorating Arctic lake of realization. Chapter One, "The Great Leap Backwards" launches the assault. The remaining chapters focus on reconstruction... their titles: "From Propaganda to Language", "From Corporatism to Democracy", "From Managers and Speculators to Growth", "From Ideology Towards Equilibrium".

Moderately mistitled (resulting in a one-point demerit in the overall review score), a more appropriate title for this book would have been "The Corporatist Civilization". A true attack on the 'unconscious' among us would have been welcome, though Saul does meander briefly into this realm,with a few sections that fit cozily into the overall thesis:

"Perhaps the difficulty with the psychoanalytic movement is that from the beginning it has sent out a contradictory message: Learn to know yourself--your unconscious, the greater unconscious. This will help you to deal with reality. On the other hand, you are in the grip of great primeval forces--unknown and unseen--and even if you do know and see them, it is they who must dominate."

One-quarter the size of "Voltaire's Bastards", Saul this time out initiates a concise attack: on utopias, ideology, technocracy, demagoguery, and group mentality... all of which direct the individual to replace their view of the world with that of an 'official spokesman', eerily reversing the vector of our society towards a fascist state. An insightful read; terse, but somewhat condensed and abstract at places. The trade-offs are more than acceptable, though. Steel yourself for a barrage of Truth.

A gripping & sophisticated wake-up-call, yet easy to read.
I find myself highly recommending this book whenever the conversation turns to either the continuously eroding confidence of modern society in the public sector, or the increasing reliance on free market mechanisms as the best way to organize production and distribution in society. In this concise and convincing piece Saul argues that we are acting rather irresponsibly as citizens, abandoning the democratic institutions that can best articulate our needs and priorities as a society and allowing private sector entities to assume greater and greater control over our lives. While those who have not read the book may dismiss such arguments as anti-capitalist ideology, Saul's tone is in fact very measured and thoughtful, and the ideas he so deftly explores leave the reader with considerable food for thought. Moreover, the style of the writing is not at all academic - the book is as easy and enjoyable to read as it is thought-provoking.

Voltaire's Bastards : The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
Published in Paperback by Penguin Putnam~trade ()
Author: John Ralston Saul
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Exploding Millennium Myopia
For the past four weeks John Ralston Saul's book "Voltaire's Bastards" has been my almost constant companion. When not actually reading, or re-reading, this brilliant dissection of the myths, cant and hypocrisy which underlie present Western society, the carefully presented and scrupulously researched exposes refuse to leave my mind. In the last paragraph of the penultimate Chapter, Saul calls on writers to concentrate on questioning and clarifying while avoiding the specialists' obsession with solutions; he continues... "he is true to himself and to the people when his clarity causes disquiet." This seems this Author's intent and "he" has brilliantly succeeded. READ IT.......I DARE YOU!

My Bible!
I'm finishing Voltaire's Bastards for the third time and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the book more, and have gotten more out of it with each reading.

This book is an attack on the rational system of thinking that has produced a world of technocrats and second rate managers, kept the United States in a wartime economy for 50 years and enveloped our government in a cult of secrecy. Saul's attacks- whether they be against the political system, modern culture or our convoluted economy- are dead on. As Jim Hoagland stated in his Washington Post review, "Voltaire's Bastards is a hand grenade disguised as a book."

Though Saul's writing style can be a tad stilted and occasionaly repetitious, this book is very well written- despite comments to the contrary in other reviews. Whatever flaws one chooses to find in Saul's writing style, they certainly don't detract from the overall importance of this major work.

I recommend that anyone who is even remotely concered with the course modern civilization is taking should read this book.

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!
Some of you may remember these lines spat by the great Jack Nicholson in the climactic scene of the movie A FEW GOOD MEN, since satirised by The Simpsons, Seinfeld et al. Of course the "truth" his character was referring to was that he and those like him, were all that kept the " barbarians" from the door, barbarians such as the poor of South America, communists, or anyone else wanting a slice of the fat American Pie. John Ralston Saul is writing of another truth - that we in the West have been complicit in creating a bizarre world where,for example,the manufacture of arms has become a major industry for many many countries and that we have been intent, not in constructing wealth, but in creating the means of our own destruction. Every day 1000 soldiers around the world die. Over a ten year period Australia lost 400 soldiers in battle in the Vietnam War. We have parades, build remembrances and agonise over the loss of 400. So we should. But what of these 1000? Something is terribly, terribly wrong in our world and Saul
gives, I believe, some convincing reasons why. Fed as we are by the propaganda of those who profit from the world as it is, Saul's book is a refreshing and sobering reminder that we must act to change the path we are on.

Reflections Of A Siamese Twin: Canada At The End Of The Twentieth Century
Published in Paperback by Penguin Books Canada Ltd ()
Author: John Ralston Saul
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Disappointing and full of false myths
The main problem with the book is that the author tries to artificially build a "Canadian myth", which unfortunately does not exist. The author does not realize that Canada has never been a fully sovereign country, altough the author timidly admits the colonial attitude of our political and economic elite. His attack on the "cult of the hero" is baseless and shallow. He does not realize that heros and great figures shape the destiny of a nation. A country without great men who can be emulated by its fellows is doomed to fail. Also, his almost gratuitous bashing of carefully selected politicians and political ideologies make us wonder if Ralston Saul is indeed a serious thinker or a cheap left-leaning propagandist. The other flaw I found in the book is the overemphasis and quasi-glorification of little trivial events in Canadian history that has absolutely no bearing in the balance of world history. The author pointlessly attacks the "monolithic culture" of France, Britain and the U.S., without admitting the legacies of these cultures to human progress.

Thought provoking book about the re-writing of Canadian history. He brought out a number of interesting angles (art, music etc.) and staying with his philosophical methodology. However, I had hoped he would back up his "assertions" instead of stating "x" and expecting the reader to believe it is true as a matter of faith. Kierkagaard he is not, but a great writer none the less.

Psychological history
Saul's therapized perspective of cultural dynamics in the nation-state is really entertaining and a bit perverse. Canada needs a good cognative therapist, it seems, and Saul is just the guy.

Published in Paperback by Hunter Publishing+inc ()
Author: John Ralston Saul
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given what i know of john ralston saul and the blurb on the back, i expected much better from this book. decrying corporatism, positing it as a new ruling morality, is genuinely interesting, but i don't think this is an interesting way of presenting it. the story-line is conventional, the female characters stock and tiresome, and the morality tale unambiguous and predictable. this book reminded me of nothing so much as of an ayn rand polemic, harsh words to be sure. while coming at a world view from a diametrically opposite perspective, the writing is similar in its uninterestingness. like the idea, don't like the realization of same.

On Equilibrium
Published in Hardcover by Penguin Books Canada Ltd. (2001)
Author: John Ralston Saul
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Bastardos de Voltaire, Los
Published in Paperback by Andres Bello (1998)
Author: Saul John Ralston
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Birds of Prey
Published in Paperback by Vintage Books Canada (1997)
Author: John Ralston Saul
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