Title: What?: Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History, or is This a Game of 20 Questions?
Author: Mark Kurlansky.
Genre: Non-fiction, philosophy, religion, sociology, literary criticism, history, travel.
Publication Date: May, 2011.
Summary: A short, terrifically witty, deeply thought-provoking book entirely in the form of questions. A book that draws on philosophy, religion, literature, and policy to ask what may well be the twenty most important questions in human history. Kurlansky considers the work of Confucius, Plato, Gertrude Stein, Shakespeare, Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, the Talmud, Charles de Gaulle, Virginia Woolf, and others, distilling the deep questions of life to their sparkling essence.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ “Suppose no one asked a question,” Gertrude Stein postulated; “what would be the answer?” Don’t we need questions to get answers? And shouldn’t we distrust an answer that comes without a question? An answer without a question - wasn’t that Albert Camus’s definition of charm, “a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question?”
♥ Why do we read books, or as Virginia Woolf asked in Jacob’s Room: “What do we seek through millions of pages?”? Couldn’t it be argued that all books are intended as answers, though only a few of them state the question? Isn’t it in the nature of human beings, as wolves hunt in packs and giant whales migrate with the seasons, to search for answers? Don’t we need to ask questions in order to get answers? Isn’t everybody too eager to tell us without first pondering the uncertainties?
♥ When the French aristocrat Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel de Tocqueville - by the way, didn’t he have too many names and were his parents people who couldn’t make up their minds? = analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of American democracy in the 1830’s, wasn’t the question question about America: “Can it be believed that democracy, after having destroyed feudalism and overthrown kings, will retreat in the face of the bourgeois and the wealthy?”? Almost two centuries of American democracy later, doesn’t this question still lay here like the package no one wants to open? How many of Tocqueville’s troubling questions have been answered? How many really good questions ever do get answered? Or is it more important that they get asked?
♥ Why did Nietzsche, the philosopher, so dislike religion? Did he dislike its questions or simply feel disdain for its answers? Is that why he wrote, “God is a crude answer”? And why he went on to say that God is “a piece of indelicacy against us thinkers - fundamentally even a crude prohibition to use: You shall not think!”?
♥ If whoers are gossips, wheners impatient, whyers dreamers, where-ers lost, and howers pragmatists, is it the whaters who cut to the heart of things? What am I talking about? What is this book? What is a book? Isn’t “what is writing?” a more fundamental question than George Orwell’s when he asked why he wrote? Doesn’t what usually trump why?
♥ Aren’t there many questions to be asked after a war? Isn’t the big one: “What do we do now?”? Or “How do we make this worth it”? Or the one the average soldier always asks, as one did in Norman Mailer’s 1948 World War II novel The Naked and the Dead, “Shall the GIs have died in vain?”? How is it possible that this question can be asked after every war and yet never be answered? Is it because if it were answered it would mean the end of war? Or do soldiers keep answering it, but no one wants to hear their answers? Is that why no one wants to hear from rank and file soldiers - why they are available for parades but not for interviews?