One is exposed to dozens of familiar ‘isms during a given day: globalism, neo-conservatism, terrorism, pragmatism, realism (It is what it is). The list goes on and on. But what happens when you are at a cocktail party and someone asserts, say, their firm belief that constructivism is the only real art form? Or someone reports that after reading Ayn Rand, objectivism seems to make a great deal of sense?
One approach is to politely nod in agreement and then go get yourself another drink. Another is to simply ask the person what constructivism or objectivism means. But that carries two risks: 1) exposing one’s lack of knowledge; 2) receiving a half-baked explanation of a ticklish concept.
The best approach would be to read ‘ISMS & ‘OLOGIES, by Arthur Goldwag. Filled with hundreds of entries, from Abolitionism (The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movement to ban the institution of slavery) to Zoroastrianism (Ancient religion founded by Zoroaster, aka Zarathustra), Goldweg’s offering is the answer to any would-be (or budding) intellectual’s wishes.
The best part of Goldweg’s ambitious approach to tackling such a myriad of topics is his “simplisism”; that is, the definitions that he offers are often straightforward and easy to grasp.
This is welcome for otherwise difficult topics such as dadaism and utilitarianism, and applies to the book throughout.
But there is also a “negativism” that the reviewer can present: On page 146, in the middle of an explanation (one might even call it an authoritative explanation) of Anthropic Cosmology, Goldwag states: “… The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986), which, drawing on the most cutting-edge principles of cosmology and particle physics, argues that…”
The most pertinent question about the above passage is this: How could a study from 1986 (22 years ago) present “the most cutting-edge theories in cosmology and particle physics”? Is one to believe that both cosmology and particle physics have remained static for that long?
Such a lapse would call into question Goldwag’s investigative efforts were it not obvious that the book required a massive amount of research to compile. Speaking of which, it is a shame that the author does not include a “works cited” section at the end of the book.
Despite these concerns, ‘ISMS & ‘OLOGIES is a very enjoyable read. Indeed, it is rare to find a reference book that one can both learn a great deal from and not use as sleeping aid.
A bit of advice, though: if you don’t want to give yourself away, don’t carry it with you to those cocktail parties.
The above review was contributed by: Jim Curtiss: Jim is a cultural sojourner who makes his living as a freelance editor, writer, actor, and teacher. Much of his work deals with the challenges and glories of the expatriate lifestyle. Jim and his wife currently live in Seville, Spain. To read more of Jim's Reviews CLICK HERE
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