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daitken AT tde DOT com
posted by David Aitken | 8:43 PM
Wells was not alone. There were a host of prominent British intellectuals who were not merely socialists, but believed that the key to world peace led in educating the proletariat.I think this view benighted, but the output of some of these guys was valuable and lasting. My three favorites are Wells, Lancelot Hogben, and J.B.S. Haldane.Well's "Outline of History" belongs on everyone's bookshelves. He was also famously anti-Catholic (the church and secular collectivism never having been the best of friends), but his anti-Catholic "Crux Ansata" is tripe. Can't get everything right.My father got a "D" in high-school geometry; when he finally decided he needed to learn math, he bought a copy of Hogben's "Mathematics for the Million," which you can pick up for peanuts at any used-book store. His "Science for the Citizen: A Self-Educator Based on the Social Background of Scientific Discovery" is a fine, fine general science book, though all couched in explicit socialism, but I've only ever seen one copy (mine), so it must not have sold. A little farther afield is the "Loom of Language," for which he was just the editor. Hogben also believed that we should have one world language, and invented one -- Interglossa -- that sank like a stone. If you're a language geek, I can't recommend LoL highly enough. I've given away probably half a dozen copies and still own a couple.JBS Haldane is the only one of the three that was a first-rate scientist. Haldane made important contributions in several fields, and arguably founded at least one: population genetics. Haldane was also physically fearless, having been a lieutenant in the Black Watch in World War I, and an early bomb-disposal expert. He'd decide who got to be in his unit by playing toss with a live grenade. If he chickened out and heaved it away first, you were in.And damn, the sucker could write. Technical. Popular. It didn't matter. I own a collection of his regular science columns for the Communist rag, "The Daily Worker." Reading Haldane leaves me with the same "Wait ... this guy isn't just making shit up" thrill that I get reading Churchill's "The Second World War.""You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes."(from On Being the Right Size) All three of these guys stand the test of time, and are worth reading today, even if they're not fashionable and their politics is repulsive.
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