Gustave Dore, The Second Crusaders Encounter the Remains of the First Crusaders (1877)People have believed things with utter conviction – a combination of thought and action – and been consummately wrong. A conviction brings a creative power that is not present in a mere belief. But if the conviction is not in harmony with reality or with desirable ends, the result can be destructive instead of creative.
- Michael Zimbalist Rosaldo, Knowlege and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self & Social Life (Cambridge University Press, 1980).
- Robert E. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Simon & Schuster, 2010).
- Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010).
- Brandon L. Garrett, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (Harvard University Press, 2011): an examination of the unreliability of witness testimony, including confessions in some cases.
- Brook Wilensky-Lunford, Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011): stories of people who were certain that they would find or had found the biblical Garden of Eden.
- Deborah Scroggins, Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui (HarperCollins Publishers, 2012): a double biography of two polarizing Muslim women who saw Islam through sharply divergent lenses.
- Nick Bilton, American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road (Portfolio/Penguin, 2017). “How the Dark Web’s Dread Pirate Roberts Went Down”
- Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History (Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt & Company, 2011). “This is history with an argument. Figes maintains that the conflict was essentially a religious war, and he is frustrated that most writers have neglected that theme . . .”
- Michael Massing, Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the Fight for the Western Mind (Harper, 2018): “ . . . Luther – obdurate and reckless, bilious and doctrinaire – eventually swamps the book, as he eventually swamped the urbane and ironic man of letters. The Christianity that Erasmus advocated – eschewing the finer oints of metaphysics in favor of the humility, simplicity and charity he saw in Jesus of Nazareth – was overpowered by Luther’s conviction that the Word of God, revealed by scripture, speaks unambiguously on all doctrinal matters . . .”
- Richard Thompson Ford, Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011): the author argues that “ . . . both the progressive left and the colorblind right are guilty of the same error: defining discrimination too abstractly and condemning it too categorically, with similarly perverse results.”
- Peter Longerich, Goebbels: A Biography (Random House, 2015): “On only two matters did Goebbels’s commitment remain consistent and passionate. One was the so-called ‘Jewish question.’ From the start of his political career until the very end, Goebbels viewed Jews, both at home and abroad, as the source of Germany’s misfortunes. . . . The second, no less powerful and persistent of Goebbels’s political commitments was his loyalty to Hitler.”
- Adam Hochschild, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016): “ . . . he captures why so many people thought the fate of the world might be decided by who won the conflict in a poor, mostly rural country on the edge of Europe.”
Two perspectives on Istanbul’s history: “ . . . it’s a virtue of both books that they’re able to depict this transformation subtly while at the same time showing how intricate and improbable Istanbul’s history has been. The effect is rather like stumbling across the Serpent Column late at night after carousing in Istanbul’s 21st-century nightclubs: a melancholic sense of historical vertigo.”
- Richard Fidler, Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople (Pegasus, 2017).
- Bettany Hughes, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities (Da Capo Press, 2018).
Essay collections, illustrating the power, pros and cons of belief:
- Jan Morris, Allegorizings (Liveright, 2021): “Some fine writers . . . go on publishing after it would have been kind for someone to tell them to stop, but a precious few report with wisdom, kindness and intelligence from the end to which we shall all come — travel of a different kind. This is such a book.”
- Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (1968): “Places, People and Personalities”.
- Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013): “. . . I imagine Hemon — always attuned to comic dissonance — being either annoyed or amused by the intrusion of something as mundane as a bar code . . .”
- John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead: Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011): “Sizing Up Pop Culture’s Geniuses and Freaks”.
- Jo Ann Beard, The Boys of My Youth (Little, Brown, 1998): “In Touch With Her Inner Brat”.
- James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955): “. . . James Baldwin surveys in pungent commentary certain phases of the contemporary scene as they relate to the citizenry of the United States, particularly Negroes”.
- Susan Sontang, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966): “. . . the episodic chronicle of a mind in passionate struggle with the world and itself.
- Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader (Bibliotech Press, 1925): “Anything that Virginia Woolf may have to say about letters is of more than ordinary interest, for her peculiar intelligence and informed attitude set her somewhat apart.”
- Max Beerbohm, And Even Now (1920).
- B. White, Essays of E.B. White (1977): “Appreciating E.B. White”.
- Randall Jarrell, A Sad Heart at the Supermarket: Essays and Fables (Atheneum, 1962): “. . . four essays on the plight of the intellectual and the artist in an America suffering the spiritual side-effects of abundance and mass communication; six essays on literary and artistic matters ranging from the evils that critics do to the great things tha”
- David Sedaris, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (Little, Brown and Company, 2013): “The bulk of this book concerns Mr. Sedaris’s famously antic family, his longtime partner and his health, politics, childhood, hometown (Raleigh, N.C.) and travels.”
- Clive James, Visions Before Midnight (1977): television criticism.
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions, 2020): “Timing, Patience and Wisdom are the Keys to . . . Kimmerer’s Success”.
- Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press, 2014): “What she seems to be suggesting is that knowledge isn’t an inoculation. It doesn’t happen just once. There are things that must be learned and learned again, seen first with the mind and felt later in the body.”
- Hinton Als, White Girls (McSweeney’s, 2013): “Hilton Als, in the fierce style of street reading and the formal tradition of critical inquiry, reads culture, race and gender . . .”
- Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf Press, 2011): “Dirty Thoughts on Cleanliness . . .”
- Cynthia Ozick, Art and Ardor: Essays (Knopf, 1981): “She is a brilliant disagreer whose analysis is so penetrating that in this collection of literary essays it often passes right through the book under discussion.”
- Ellen Willis, No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (Wesleyan University Press, 1992): “. . . these widely disparate pieces are somewhat unified by Willis's unswerving faith in the countercultural pursuit of pleasure”.
- Martin Amis, The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 (Miramax Books, 2001): “. . . Amis's work is distinguished by its hothouse intensity, its singleness of purpose, its nippy aggression -- and its stylishness”.
- Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (W.W. Norton & Company, 2007): “. . . a capacious and capricious encyclopedia of essays about everyone he considers worth knowing about in the 20th century (including people who lived long before: Tacitus, to name one) . . .”
- Charlie Fox, This Young Monster (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018): “. . . a hallucinatory celebration of artists who raise hell . . .”
- Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman (Knopf, 2006): the author’s writing persona is “that of a sharp, funny, theatrically domesticated New Yorker who can throw both arrows and good money at the petty things that plague her”.
- Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces: Essays (New York Viking, 1985): “Although Miss Ehrlich's suffering eventually abates, what comfort Wyoming gives her comes hard won.”
- George Saunders, The Braindead Megaphone: Essays (Riverhead, 2007): “American Male Opinionated Chatterbox”.
- Philip Lopate, Against Joie de Vivre (Simon & Schuster, 1989): “ Lopate's eloquence and wit are instructive about the glamorous foreign lands of chagrin.”
- David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (Back Bay Books, 1997) “. . . this collection . . . reveals Mr. Wallace . . . as a writer struggling mightily to understand and capture his times, as a critic who cares deeply about ''serious'' art, and as a mensch”.
- Meghan Daum, My Misspent Youth: Essays (Grove Press, 2001): “. . . she chips away at the messy surfaces of life, desperate to find even a nub of authenticity beneath”.
- Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country (Seven Stories Press, 2005): “An invitation to survey our current circumstances as a nation.”
- Miindy Kaling, Why Not Me? (Crown Archetype, 2015): “. . . weaving together stories about nerdy, complicated childhoods; college misadventures at top-tier institutions; early success in improv or Off Broadway; big-time mentors; lucky breaks; artistic triumphs and setbacks; romantic foibles; strange encounters with fame . . .”
- Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio, 2017): “The critic’s urgent collection of music journalism sheds light on life as a black man in modern America.”
- Jenny Allen, Would Everybody Please Stop?: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas (Sarah Crichton Books, 2017): a “seriously funny book . . .”
- Yemesi Aribisala, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds (Cassava Republic Press, 2017): “Aribisala makes a damning case, over the course of an essay collection that spans 300 pages and travels from Lagos to London, against the unerring bastardization of Nigerian cuisine in the Western imagination.”
- Rachel Z. Arndt, Beyond Measure: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2018): “. . . Arndt probes our insatiable need to reduce our lives to numbers . . .”.
- Tom Bisell, Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation (Believer Magazine, 2012): “Bissell wants to drill down to ‘some illumination, some truth, some place where we step out of ourselves.’”
- Alice Bolin, Dead Girls: Essays On Surviving an American Obsession (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2018): “. . . a deliciously dry, moody essay collection” on necrophilia.
- Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays (Mariner Books, 2018), arguing that in a novel, “the writer’s life always lurks just beneath the page”.
- Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not In the Mood (FSG Originals, 2017): “Among Chew-Bose’s central concerns are family, friendship, self and identity.”
- Amy Fusselman, Idiophone: An Essay (Coffee House Press, 2018): “. . . the book touches on a sprawling array of themes, including motherhood . . . alcoholism, what it means to create art, the history of The Nutcracker, and . . . a strange, intermittently appearing, fantastical story about Fusselman’s mother traveling in a VW”.
- Roxane Gay, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Harper, 2018): “. . . this collection of personal accounts of sexual violence is important, exhausting and should not have to exist”.
- Sarah Gerard, Sunshine State: Essays (Harper Perennial, 2017): “. . . how Florida can unmoor you and make you reach for shoddy, off-the-shelf solutions to your psychic unease”
- Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day (Viking, 2018): “. . . A Case for Letting the Mind Wander”
- Chelsea Hodson, Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays (Holt Paperback, 2018): “From the very beginning, the author sets up the tone of the book, which feels crystalized in time and space, oscillating between intoxicating and alienating, exciting and dull, genuine and contrived.”
- Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017): “Personal embarrassment provides plenty of material for in-print or online entertainment.”
- Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays (New York Review Books, 2017), as the title suggests, this offers a wide-ranging collection of thoughts.
- Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding, eds., Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America (Picador, 2017): “23 self-proclaimed nasty women weigh in on a plethora of topics ranging from identity politics to the war on the working class and pussy politics”.
- Peggy Orenstein, Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life (Harper, 2018): the author observes: “Being a feminist writer does not just involve whom I write about; it’s about how I write: my stance relative to the reader, a skepticism about hierarchy and expertise . . .”
- Anne Helen Petersen, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman (Plume, 2017): “. . . examines a group of iconic women whose behavior pushes the bounds of our tolerance”.
- Franchesca Ramsey, Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist (Grand Central Publishing, 2018): “. . . she mines her own errors and condenses what she’s learned into a sort of manual on social justice . . .”.
- Elizabety Renzetti, Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls (House of Anansi Press, 2018): “. . . a sharp assessment of what it is to be a woman in a man’s world . . .”.
- Richard Russo, The Destiny Thief: Essays On Writing, Writers and Life (Knopf, 2018): “. . . the book is a quest to understand . . . why life turns out the way it does”.
- Deborah Santana and America Ferrera, All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World: Essays On Equality, Justice, and Freedom (Nothing But the Truth, So Help Me God) (Nothing But the Truth Publishing, 2018): “ . . . an anthology documenting the experiences of women of color at the beginning of the twenty-first century”.
- Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions: Further Reports from the Feminist Revolutions (Haymarket Books, 2019): the author “is convinced that new stories will open up the world”.
- Michelle Tea, Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms (Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 2019): the author “reconstructs her artistic and feminist coming of age through her cultural influences, revisiting scenes from a more turbulent youth”.
- Shawn Wen, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed By Applause: An Essay (Sarabande Books, 2017): the author states, “I was driven more by an interest in form than by a hunger for information”.
- Joshua Wheeler, Acid West: Essays (MCD x FSG Originals, 2018): essays mainly on the author’s home state, New Mexico.
- Gabriela Wiener, Sexographies (Restless Books, 2018): “. . . essays on female gender, sexuality, and the wonders of the human body”.
- Ashleigh Young, Can You Tolerate This?: Essays (Riverhead Books, 2018): “. . . a lovely, strange and profound debut that spins metaphors of its own creation and the segmented identity of the essayist, that self-regarding self”.
- Akash Kapur, Better to Have Gone: Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville (Scribner, 2021): an account “of human lives being dashed against the rocks of rigid belief.”
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Thundering Silence: On Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake (Parallax Press, 2009).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Salvador Dali, The Ecumenical Council (1960)
- Giorgio de Chirico, The Vexations of a Thinker (1915)
- Peter Paul Rubens, The Victory of Eucharistic Truth Over Heresy (c. 1626)
Film and Stage
- Winter Light, about a Christian pastor’s strugglewith his beliefs
- The Witch: In seventeenth-century Puritan New England, belief in witches shaped interpretations and actions of events.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Like most string quartets, Vagn Holmboe’s sound like extended conversations. Typical of most twentieth-century music, these works are loaded with ambiguity and uncertainty. Yet each movement begins with an identifiable theme, making these suitable musical expressions of the double-edged swords we call belief and conviction.
- String Quartet No. 1, M 159, Op. 46 (1949)
- String Quartet No. 2, M 161, Op. 47 (1949)
- String Quartet No. 3, M 165, Op. 48 (1950)
- String Quartet No. 4, M 183, Op. 63 (1954)
- String Quartet No. 5, M 188, Op. 55 (1955)
- String Quartet No. 6, M 210, Op. 78 (1961)
- String Quartet No. 7, M 224, Op. 224 (1965)
- String Quartet No. 8, M 225, Op. 87 (1965)
- String Quartet No. 9, M. 228, Op. 92 (1966, rev. 1969)
- String Quartet No. 10, M 243, Op. 102 (1969)
- String Quartet No. 11, "Quartetto Rustico," M 262, Op. 111 (1972)
- String Quartet No. 12, M 269, Op. 116 (1973)
- String Quartet No. 13, M 277, Op. 124 (1975)
- String Quartet No. 14, M 278, Op. 125 (1975)
- String Quartet No. 15, M 291, Op. 135 (1978)
- String Quartet No. 16, M 305, Op. 146 (1981)
- String Quartet No. 17, M 312, Op. 152, "Mattinata" (Morning) (1983)
- String Quartet No. 18, M 314, Op. 153, "Giornata" (Day) (1982)
- String Quartet No. 19, M 313, Op. 156, "Serata" (1985)
- String Quartet No. 20, M 322, Op. 160, "Notturno" (Night) (1985)
In William Bolcom’s works for violin and piano (including the works for violin alone), the players sound as though they are in constant disagreement about a theme, yet the works congeal into fine and interesting music.
- First Sonata
- Second Sonata
- Third Sonata
- Fourth Sonata
- Duo Fantasy
- Fancy Tales
- Three Ghost Rags
- Suite 1 for Solo Violin
- Suite 2 for Solo Violin (2011)
- Menotti, The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954): people disagree about whether a woman has supernatural powers, with tragic consequences. (NBC Opera Theatre performance from 1950, in poor sound)
- Dvořák, Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65, B 130 (1883)
- Henze, The Bassarids (1966) gives an account of the rise of monotheism, which was developed to replace the conflicts between many gods.
- Paul Bley and Gary Peacock, “Mindset”
[In Les Misérables, Javert’s rigid opinions shape his personality and character.] This man was composed of two very simple and two very good sentiments, comparatively; but he rendered them almost bad, by dint of exaggerating them,--respect for authority, hatred of rebellion; and in his eyes, murder, robbery, all crimes, are only forms of rebellion. He enveloped in a blind and profound faith every one who had a function in the state, from the prime minister to the rural policeman. He covered with scorn, aversion, and disgust every one who had once crossed the legal threshold of evil. He was absolute, and admitted no exceptions. On the one hand, he said, "The functionary can make no mistake; the magistrate is never the wrong." On the other hand, he said, "These men are irremediably lost. Nothing good can come from them." He fully shared the opinion of those extreme minds which attribute to human law I know not what power of making, or, if the reader will have it so, of authenticating, demons, and who place a Styx at the base of society. He was stoical, serious, austere; a melancholy dreamer, humble and haughty, like fanatics. His glance was like a gimlet, cold and piercing. His whole life hung on these two words: watchfulness and supervision. He had introduced a straight line into what is the most crooked thing in the world; he possessed the conscience of his usefulness, the religion of his functions, and he was a spy as other men are priests. Woe to the man who fell into his hands! He would have arrested his own father, if the latter had escaped from the galleys, and would have denounced his mother, if she had broken her ban. And he would have done it with that sort of inward satisfaction which is conferred by virtue. And, withal, a life of privation, isolation, abnegation, chastity, with never a diversion. It was implacable duty; the police understood, as the Spartans understood Sparta, a pitiless lying in wait, a ferocious honesty, a marble informer, Brutus in Vidocq. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume I – Fantine; Book Fifth – The Descent Begins, Chapter V, Vague Flashes on the Horizon.]
[In this passage, Hugo discusses the revolutionary spirit in France at the time:] Other groups of minds were more serious. In that direction, they sounded principles, they attached themselves to the right. They grew enthusiastic for the absolute, they caught glimpses of infinite realizations; the absolute, by its very rigidity, urges spirits towards the sky and causes them to float in illimitable space. There is nothing like dogma for bringing forth dreams. And there is nothing like dreams for engendering the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood to-morrow. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Fourth – The Friends of the A B C, Chapter I, A Group Which Barely Missed Becoming Historic.]
- Guy Gunaratne, In Our Mad and Furious City: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018): “ . . . Gunaratne’s novel . . . unfolds over a few restless days in a working-class area of Neasden, the Northwest London suburb where Gunaratne himself grew up and for which he clearly retains an exasperated affection. Just as in 2013, this crime too is exploited by far-right groups, one of which stages a violent march through the Stones Estate. After a prophetically styled prologue, we join the novel’s five main characters as they wake up to the wreckage of the night before and narrate the novel in turn, in first-person voices that cover an impressive range of registers and contexts.”
- Cara Wall, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2019): “ . . . the novel . . . focuses on two ministers and their marriages: one to an atheist who wants nothing to do with the church, the other to the daughter of a minister who is happy to live in the rectory and lead the choir.”