Some history books

It is said that the Emperors of China often consulted a book called the Mirror of Good Government. This book is said to contain an account of nearly all-political events in China. It is a chronicle of governance in China. Probably from the first Emperor Shi Huang Ti. It is said the Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping were avid readers of this book.

Perhaps the book is popular because by reading history, with its record of failures and successes, they can deal with the problems they have at present. Was this the reason behind Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Deng Xiaoping’s black cat white cat policy or the handling of Tianamen Square?

In Frank Herbert’s Dune series, his main characters derived their power mélange, a spice derived from sandworm waste. The spice gave them oracular power but more significantly, it enabled them to commune with countless of their ancestors and seek their advice. This enabled them out think their enemies.

Melange, the short cut to knowledge. Although it seems to me the accumulated wisdom of the centuries, even a fraction, can be learned from reading history.

Here is a short sample books that are worth a read.

The Lessons of History
By Will & Ariel Durant

I was able to get this book several years ago. At that time, the National Book Store branch at Ali Mall occupied two floors. It was one of the few hardbound books I bought when I was a High School student. The book is a short book. Moreover, it was developed to accompany the 11-volume set of The Story of Civilization. I do not have the said 11 volumes set. This one though is worth a read on it own. The authors discuss the relationship of morals, science, government, religion, economics and a set of other things with history. In addition, the discussion is quite lucid, while the insights are profound yet not condescending. The lessons and tidbits of history come in like repeated gentle waves in the ocean.

Excerpts from the book

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that “you mustn’t ignorance just because there is so much of it.” However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends its self to manipulation of forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, a Lincoln supposed, that “you can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.

RUBICON: The Last Years Of The Roman Republic
By Tom Holland

I have discussed this before but I still think it is a worthwhile to be mentioned twice or thrice. It never fails to amaze me how similar the conflict and story of Rome and my country are. This is a chronicle of the last years of the Roman Republic and as read re-read this I ask myself will the fate of the Philippine Republic be the same as the Roman Republic. Before Rome became a republic, it was a kingdom of the Tarquins, until they were exiled and a republic was born. Republic renown for its military prowess and its chaotic, corrupt, and turbulent republic. The similarities are interestingly alarming. Nevertheless, will a Philippine Octavian arise or has she or he arrived. One line from the book that haunts me to this day is the line of one of the greatest orators of the Roman Republic:

“The fruit of too much liberty is slavery” – Cicero

Orwell and Politics
George Orwell

Another book or collection of works worth mentioning repeatedly. For me Orwell’s satire of revolution “Animal Farm” will probably end up as the subtlest piece of literature ever written. A Fable of revolution packs more punches than a young Cassius Clay and is more colorful than the other work of Orwell, 1984. Again, re-reading Animal Farm one cannot refrain from associating its fictional characters to present day leaders and opinion makers. This particular collection is a rare find because aside from Animal Farm it is composed of several others works of Orwell his review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, his polemic The Lion and the Unicorn and his list of crypto-communists.

One of my regrets in life would probably not remembering Orwell’s fable when the EDSA Revolution came along. At least Animal Farm is here now to remind me of how false and self-serving political saviors can be.

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