Category: Education

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury, 2020)

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According to bumper sticker wisdom, a cynic is a disillusioned optimist but Rutger Bregman , the Dutch author of ‘Utopia for Realists’, wants at all costs for us to resist cynical thinking about humankind.

The premise of this ‘hopeful history’ is that humans have been given a bad press and that, far from being selfish, mean and mean-minded they are on the whole actually quite nice.

A large chunk of the blame for humanity’s negative image is laid at the door of the mainstream media who realize that sensational stories about the nastiness and brutishness of people helps sell copies and/or serves as effective click-bait.

Bregman concedes that his views may come as a shock to many and admits that when he initially pitched the idea of the book to a number of publishers they thought he was nuts. Since we know where we stand with cynicism, to argue the contrary is, he acknowledges, “downright threatening, subversive and seditious.” Continue reading


So you want to be a writer? Probably the answer is yes, otherwise why would you even pick up a book like this? But reader beware; Anne Lamott is not going to soft soap you into believing that writing is a glamorous or painless pursuit. Trouble and toil is at the heart of the process so if you nurse any romantic ideals about being struck by the muse, you are best advised to discard them immediately.

Lamott says that writers who succeed have to contend with stress, insecurity and loneliness. The feelings that drive them include jealousy, paranoia and anger. This means that only a happy few are able to apply their compulsive obsessive disorders to meet tangible goals.

Certainly, Lamott make it crystal clear that you must be prepared to sacrifice the niceties of social interaction if you’re serious about achieving your ambitions. In other words, the more self-centered and selfish you are, the better. Discipline and persistency, also known as plain bloody-mindedness, will stand you in very good stead. “To be a good writer, you not only need to write a great deal, you have to care”, she writes. Continue reading

einsteinI am currently doing online language lessons to a group of university students  who are preparing for the IELTS exam.

Last week I set them the writing task (at least 250 words) of considering to what extent they agree or disagee with this quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

I thought of this question without considering  how I would answer it myself.  Before correcting their work, therefore, I  wrote my own version which I submit here for your evaluation:

Before considering the correctness of this provocative statement, it is necessary to reflect on what Albert Einstein meant by the words and concepts of ‘imagination’ and ‘knowledge’.

Given the reputation of the celebrated physicist, this quote cannot simply be dismissed as a throwaway remark. In other words, it should not be viewed in the same way as the sound bites of politicians and celebrities which are designed merely to gain publicity rather than to enlighten the populace.

We should therefore assume Einstein was in earnest when praising the role of imagination in thinking. The suggestion is that creativity allows a greater scope and depth to our thoughts that are not possible when they are restricted to facts alone. In this regard, it is worth reflecting on what is commonly understood by the word ‘knowledge’.

The gaining of knowledge can be defined as the accumulation of facts and information which enable us to make rational decisions. Rationality and logic are key concepts here; these place a high value upon reason. Following instincts or ‘gut reactions’ to events or situations is implicitly frowned upon. Following such a philosophy rigidly appears to leave little space for creativity.

The danger of sticking solely to fact-based responses comes when applying this knowledge to complex problems or unexpected events. Innovative thinking usually requires taking a more lateral approach and this entails imagining less conventional options.

This is, in my view, the essence of what Einstein was recommending. His provocative remark should not be viewed as a dismissal of knowledge but rather as a reminder that sometimes we should give ourselves permission for the heart to rule the head. By imagining other ways of being and doing our minds are open to infinite possibilities.

In conclusion, I would agree with Einstein that knowledge tends to narrow down our options leading to blinkered thinking and predictable responses. With imagination in full flow, the world is our oyster.  (322 words)

What grade would you give me (from 0 to 9.0)?



I AM DYNAMITE – A LIFE OF FREDERICH NIETZSCHE by Sue Prideaux (Faber & Faber, 2018)

“I am not a man. I am dynamite” – ‘Ecco Homo, Why I Am Destiny’

fredItalian politician, journalist and all round trouble maker Giuseppe Mazzini once told Friedrich Nietzsche to “ban compromise”. This is the kind of reckless advice any libertarian, free-thinker is likely to lap up and act upon but it didn’t do Nietzche much good.

The German philosopher who died in 1900 aged 56 was certified insane for the last 11 years of his life and lived in a constant state of anxiety and sexual frustration before that. Continue reading

Screen shot 2019-12-31 at 18.08.08Since 2013 I have set myself a challenge of reading 50 books a year and then I track my progress on Good Reads.

I fell three short in the first year but have hit my target ever since. This year I gave the maximum five star rating to six titles: Continue reading

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