December Books 15) Ockham’s Razor

15) Ockham’s Razor: A Search for Wonder In An Age of Doubt, by Wade Rowland

This is the last of the three books that had been staring at me from my shelves for some time, urging me to read them and return them to their rightful owners (the other two being Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and The Elusive Quest). Ockham’s Razor was lent me by the author’s nephew, who was a colleague of mine back in Balkan days and is now in Indonesia, I believe. If you lent me a book ages ago and I haven’t returned it, this is the time to remind me!

It’s a book about philosophy for a popular audience, clearly indebted to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in the way it merges deep discussions with the story of a family travelogue. It’s less good in that sense than Pirsig’s book, where there is a definite programme of self-exploration mapped onto the journey, and where we learn more about the narrator and his son as the book goes on: Rowland is transparent in what one might almost consider as a typically Canadian characteristic; he tells us exactly who he is and who his wife and children are right at the beginning, and the learning process is shared between reader and characters in the book. Although he does allow himself some fun in the last chapter.

The discussion of various philosophers’ ideas was very rich and interesting, and pitched well for a popular level. But I was also a bit unsatisfied about the moral we were intended to learn from all of this: we start off with modernism depicted very much as the villain of the piece, yet Rowland also seems to admire the medieval Cathars as the first modernists. The author’s moral framework seemed frustratingly incomplete to me.

Anyway, a fun read for a quiet day in the Christmas break.

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