Books Read: June 2024

June was also an enjoyable month for reading. This month’s reading was dominated by Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 864 page doorstopper Reformation: Europe’s House Divided. Having been educated in Australia, the view of history I was taught was oriented around the colonisation of the continent by the British and its aftermath. As far as the religious and social history of Europe was concerned, and the division of the Western Church that predated that colonisation, I knew some of the details, but I had no idea of how the centuries-long convulsion in church and state that was the reformation (and the counter-reformation) spread across Europe, over the 16th and 17th Centuries. MacCulloch’s painstakingly researched and very readable history helped me understand how the historical contingencies and the different twists and turns of these times have led to the distinctively modern world that took shape in the reformation’s wake.

Alongside learning about the history of the reformation, I enjoyed Being Here: Prayers for Curiosity, Justice and Love by the Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. Ó Tuama has been active for many years in peace and reconciliation work between Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland, and while this little set of prayers and reflections does not tackle sectarian conflict head-on, you can see, in Ó Tuama’s approach to prayer — a practice of being present to what is here and now, of naming how things seem to you and what is on your heart, and of being receptive to the good that can come from beyond you — is vital for finding a way through conflict toward justice, peace and reconciliation.

Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072 by M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi was a very different, but equally enjoyable counterpoint to a big book on a convulsive period in world history. This speculative story about a future radical communal/communist revolution—born out of a period of economic and political convulsion as environmental collapse takes hold—is written as a sequence of interviews with participants in events, from New York and across the world, starting from food riots which grow into networks of community aid, states and corporations collapse, while decentralised networks of communes become the dominant form of social organisation. Exactly how this all comes to be is fairly thinly sketched (this is a written as series of interviews with people at the ground, not a top-down history, after all), but the story of how the workers even in the privatised space industry seize the means of production was an enjoyable concession to the sci-fi readers like me. (Just a tip, though: if you’re rich enough to consider exiting this planet to a luxury space hotel, maybe read this book before booking your flights.)

I enjoyed A Prayer for the Crown Shy, the second monk-and-robot story by Becky Chambers, which turned out to be nearly as enjoyable fun as its predecessor. Mosscap is a robot who is on a quest to find out what humanity really needs, and with Sibling Dex, they go on a journey across the gentle eco-near-utopia of Panga to learn about people, themselves, and each other. It’s a sweet and charming little tale.

The Emissary is the first novel I’ve read by Yoko Tawada, a Japanese writer resident in Germany. This is a quiet and sad, but hopeful novel set in a Japan in the wake of an unnamed disaster. It has isolated itself from the rest of the world, and life has changed seemingly irrevocably. Children grow up sickly and weak (if they survive at all), while they seem stoic and preternaturally wise. Most adults do not live to a full term, and so, the elderly, more robust than the generations before, pick up the slack and care for children. Our main characters are the child Mumei, who lives with his grandfather, Yoshiro. The story only gives hints about the nature of the disaster, and for my reading of this novel that’s not the point. Rather, the changed social arrangements give you a setting in which to reflect on life choices, how we live together, contingency and mortality.

The month’s reading rounded out with some history and political/social analysis: Tia Trafford’s Everything is Police is a short account of how policing has functioned and continues to function in colonial societies. I knew that policing in the United States was introduced to normalise anti-Black violence, as police forces grew out of slave patrols, and I knew that indigenous Australians have always suffered overwhelmingly disproportionately at the hands of police, but I didn’t know how the British tradition of policing in its colonies—and especially in the slave plantations in the Caribbean—so systematically oppressed and subjugated slave populations, and then so smoothly transitioned from this into subjecting Black people to violence for the sake of the dominant classes. It’s a sobering tale.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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