Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Books of the Year 2020

 For once, the winner is the same in the category of Fiction and Non-Fiction. The reason is simple: even if it is in essence a history book, the literary qualities are such that it outperforms many of the novels in the list below. 

Julian Barnes' "The Man In The Red Coat" is a must read for anybody. I also got to know French author Sorj Chalandon, whose "Profession Du Père" is equally powerful, and Coetzee's Jesus trilogy. 

In the non-fiction department, cognitive science and the history of science are high on my list of interests, so there is no surprise here. I really enjoyed Stephen Fry's "Heroes", and I was very disappointed by some other books, but OK, not everything can be good. 

The volume is less than in the previous years. Too much work, and much less travel. Usually hotel rooms, airports, planes and trains are good for reading. (Un)fortunately, that was not the case this year. 


  1. Julian Barnes - The Man In The Red Coat *****
  2. Sorj Chalandon - Profession Du Père ****
  3. J.M. Coetzee - The Death Of Jesus ****
  4. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld - De Avond Is Een Ongemak ****
  5. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt - Madame Pylinska Et Le Secret De Chopin ****
  6. Olga Tokarczuk - Primeval And Other Times ***½
  7. László Krazsnahorkai - Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming  ***½
  8. Lisa Huissoon - Alle Mensen Die Ik Ken ***
  9. Elif Shafak - 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World ***
  10. Mario Vargas Llosa - The Neighborhood **
  11. Yoko Ogawa - The Memory Police  **
  12. Natsu Miyashita - The Forest Of Wool And Steel **
  13. Louis de Bernières - The Autumn Of The Ace *


  1. Julian Barnes - The Man In The Red Coat *****
  2. Hugo Mercier - Not Born Yesterday ****
  3. Carlo Rovelli - Anaximander ****
  4. Pascal Boyer - Minds Make Societies ****
  5. Ingrid D. Rowland - Giordano Bruno - Philosopher, Heretic ****
  6. Anne Applebaum - Twilight Of Democracy  ***½
  7. Stephen Fry - Heroes ***
  8. Richard Dawkins - Outgrowing God ***
  9. Erik Martens - De Boerenkrijg in Brabant ***
  10. Dan Sperber - Explaining Culture ***
  11. Edward J. Watts - Hypatia ***
  12. Michael S.A. Graziano - Rethinking Consciousness ***
  13. Donald D. Hoffman - The Case Against Reality **
  14. Gilbert Sinoué - Averroès ou Le Secrétaire du Diable **½

László Krazsnahorkai - Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming (Tuskar Rock, 2020) ***½

 Krazsnahorkai's writing is an experience by itself. His style is one of mesmerising intensity without punctuation and moments of relaxation which results in the almost physical breathlesness of the reader. In order to read his massive books best, you have to take the time, lots of time so that you can be sucked into his universe. 

"Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming" is not different. Different stories intertwine. The penniless Baron comes home to his hometown in Hungary, having fled Argentina because of gambling debts, only to be welcomed by the local community, led by the opportunistic mayor who assumes that the Baron's great wealth will revive the city. The family's former castle, now an orphanage, is emptied of its residents so that the Baron can live the fable they create around him. Meanwhile a world-renowned professor who lives in the woods is trying to push away his 19-year old daughter who claims that he owes her money. An aggressive motor gang intervenes with varying success. 

The novel of more than 550 pages tells the absurdity of our lives, the stupidity of people, their greed, their fake beliefs, their manipulative nature, ... The book is as much a joy to read as it is irritating. His chapter-long sentences drive the reader forward into the stream of consciousness of the characters, with all the interruptions that includes, of side-thoughts, of direct observations, of emotions, of sifting through this incredibly complex world that escapes rationality and refuses to be captured with logic and common sense, and as a result we cannot control it even if that's our most important wish. 

By being sucked into the minds of all these all-too-human characters you cannot but conclude that the world is incomprehensible and that all humans are mad. The only downside is that most characters are too exaggerated to remain captivating or persons to identify with. He has done better and with more impact - at least to me - in previous novels. 

 Krazsnahorkai pushes literary boundaries. His novels will not please many readers, but for those with the courage to submit to the author's control, a rewarding experience. 

Hugo Mercier - Not Born Yesterday (Princeton, 2020) ****

 Cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier theorises that the masses are less gullible than we think, and that the power to influence their thoughts are limited, and if their is impact, the process is slow. 

Having worked in communications and public affairs in my whole career, I can partly agree to that. There is a lot of intuitive thinking and group thinking (eg. I am anti-establishment, so I repeat by default some of the positions of my fellow group members: anti-vaxx, anti 5G, anti-government, anti-industry, against pharmaceuticals, etc. or I belong to an original population of this country, so I am against immigrants, muslims, leftists, pro-weapons, against the EU, etc.). On topics that are outside of group-thinking, it is much easier to change opinions and mass communication may have an effect on both opinions and behaviour. Especially on new topics, it is much easier to persuade people with rational arguments: for instance during the mad cow crisis, even at McDonald's we managed to build trust from 30% to 60% on the topic of food safety in the period of one year. 

Mercier is not convinced of this argument. He also questions the impact of advertising, which is of course ludicrous. He writes: "Targeted advertising can, it seems, have some limited effects, but these have only been proven on product purchases, with relevant data on the users' profiles, and the effects were tiny, adding a few dozen purchases after millions of people had seen the ads". Anybody who's been active in advertising will be able to tell you, sales figures in hand, what the impact can be of advertising, by creating immediate purchases, long term customer preference, market share, etc. If it wasn't effective, companies and governments wouldn't spend the actual annual amount of around 580 billion dollar on advertising (2019). Mercier can claim that masses are less gullible than we think, but he seems to think that advertisers are all idiots. Does he really believe that companies would invest that kind of money if it wasn't effective somehow? 

But I can agree with Mercier that people are less gullible than we think, and that many implicit thoughts and feelings just require some instance to make them explicit in order to gain confidence and become manifest, as in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. It takes time to gain trust and it takes a lot of effort to change people's opinions through open debate and repetition of the facts. 

One strategy that he does not suggest, but that in my opinion may be very effective, is to educate people about cognitive sciences - make it a mandatory class at school - to make them understand the processes behind their thinking and how thoughts are connected to feelings, intuitive responses and group-thinking. It is only by offering individuals mechanisms to understand bias, that they may be more open to challenge their own thinking instead of only other people's arguments. That, and of course a much more open culture of debate and citizen participation in political decision-making. 

Despite my comments, I would still highly recommend this book. It may be wrong on some points, but it gives an important perspective on our collective thinking. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Donald D. Hoffman - The Case Against Reality (Allen Lane, 2019) **

 I am usually open to any new ideas that scientists come up with, as long as they are substantiated and demonstrated, but Donald D. Hoffman goes a step further, presenting a theory that is almost impossible to understand. 

His theory is simple: reality as we know it does not exist. What is 'out there' is nothing more than imagery that our mind creates in order to navigate our lives. Hoffman formally denies solipsism, the notion that only I exist and all the rest is a figment of my imagination, but he denies that anything exists as we know it when we close our eyes. 

Hoffman throws in a lot of arguments to substantiate his hypothesis, including correspondence with Francis Crick, explanation of Einstein's Theory of Relativity and quantum physics. 

He uses the analogy of people thinking that a folder on their computer screen actually exists as a folder, when it is just an icon without real content, made up of only "zeros and ones". So are all the forms and shapes and movements we observe icons that our mind creates in order to be able to deal with reality. 

Hoffman throws in many names, from philosophers over physicists to cognitive scientists, very often in a very defensive mode, as if his hypothesis is already under attack, trying to counter the arguments people might have against his views. In my opinion this weakens his statement. 

The crucial question that if many people who do not know each other see and measure and photograph and otherwise observe the same thing across cultures and across time, and all agree that this is the same thing with the same proportions and shape, how can this then be a figment of the imagination? Or how is it possible that scientific observations counter the prevailing culturally accepted false perceptions? Is it not the case that science counters and corrects the false beliefs of our imagination, such as determined by culture, religion, ideology? Or even more simply, how is it possible to play tennis, when two people may be seeing different realities? How do I know that the ball that I hit to your backhand will not be countered by a forehand hit by you (of course except for the value judgment whether the ball was on the line or out)? 

His arguments are many, but his evidence is limited to analogies, metaphors and a set of perceptual tests that in my opinion do not support his hypothesis. It is not because many tests demonstrate that subjects do not see reality as it is, and create their own reality in their minds, as a result of the many flaws of our perceptual system, that reality does not exist. 

Nevertheless, it is fun to read about far-fetched ideas. 

Mario Vargas Llosa - The Neighborhood (Faber & Faber, 2018) **

 Really? OK - I am a little disappointed by this novel, maybe because I expect more from Mario Vargas Llosa. "The Neighborhood" reads like a fast written novel, maybe required by a publisher, but with no big ideas, no real plot, no artistic project ...

A businessman gets blackmailed by a magazine editor. His wife has a sexual relationship with his friend's wife. The magazine editor gets killed. Who did it? 

True, there is some criticism on the totalitarian regime in Peru, and there is some attacks on the hypocrisy of the wealthier classes and on the sensationalism of the tabloid press, and the uncomfortable symbiosis of power, wealth and journalism. 

Yet the characters are uninteresting, the sex is cheap, the writing too much done on automatic pilot. 

Quickly written, quickly read. A novel you expect from a beginner, but from Vargas Llosa?

Pascal Boyer - Minds Make Societies (Yale University Press, 2018) ****

 In stark contrast to pop-scientists such as Yuval Noah Harari, there are also real scientists who think and substantiate their thoughts with references and facts. Evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer is such a scientist, and in "Minds Make Societies", he tries to create a framework from which to evaluate how science can get a grasp on the complex and ever-changing nature of our societies, by integrating knowledge from a variety of scientific disciplines. 

He asks the critical questions:
1. What is the root of group conflict? 
2. What is information for?
3. Why are there religions? 
4. What is the natural family? 
5. How can societies be just? 
6. Can human minds understand societies? 

Boyer looks at the framework to reconcile different disciplines by giving examples of why this is needed to fully grasp the reality we observe. He is also cognizant of the need to identify our own biases and perspectives while doing so, and humble enough to recognise that we are only at the very beginning of understanding the processes that determine such a complex subject matter as societal evolution. 

The challenge of real scientific thought is that it is very difficult to translate into a narrative that gets understanding among larger groups of readers. Harari has all the answers and that possibly sells better than Boyer who has all the questions, but chances are that only the latter is in a scientifically credible position. 

Ingrid D. Rowland - Giordano Bruno - Philosopher, Heretic (University Of Chicago, 2008) ****

In the list of "thinkers who matter in the history of mankind", Italian monk and free-thinker Giordano Bruno requires a top spot, not only because of the quality of his thinking, but also because of the courage he showed to fight the system of belief to which he actually belonged. 

Eventually he was burned at the stake for heresy at the hands of the inquisition. 

Rowland recreates his life in vivid prose, extremely well documented and with lots of excerpts from the original texts by Bruno himself or other contemporaries. 

Bruno received a good education, with an interest in "natural philosophy" as it was called then: mathematics, astronomy. Quite rapidly after his formal education ended, he had to flee Naples. To a certain extent he reminds me of Voltaire, an eternal rebel, relishing in the quality of his own sharpness of thought, that pierces through the inconsistencies and irrational framework of thought of the establishment, but then going a step further and publicly mocking these, becoming the first victim of this insolent behaviour. 

Bruno becomes a wandering monk (in France, England, Germany) and teacher, first living in monasteries, then later at universities and at the courts of dukes and kings. He developed a technique to memorise events and texts, which he taught in schools, but he also turned this into a performance, reciting long texts by heart, to the pleasure of the artistocracy. 

He was invited to the court of Venice in 1592, and was arrested by the inquisition in 1593. His trial lasted seven years, after which he was burned at the stake for heresy. 

Bruno claimed that the earth was not the center of the universe. He claimed that the universe was infinite. He claimed that stars were nothing else than suns, each with their own solar system of planets. He even mentioned that it is not impossible that on some of these planets intelligent beings may live. He denounced the holy trinity and the many saints. 

In contrast to what many believe, Bruno was not convicted for his scientific beliefs, but rather for his religious positions. 

When sentenced he said "You may be more afraid to bring that sentence against me than I am to accept it". 


Monday, December 28, 2020

Louis de Bernières - The Autumn Of The Ace (Harvill Secker, 2020) *

 Can it be that an author's writing completely deteriorates with the passing of time? Or is it the loyal reader who becomes more critical and difficult over time? 

I enjoyed the following novels by de Bernières: 

  1. The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (1990)
  2. Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991)
  3. The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992)
  4. Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1994)
  5. Red Dog (2001)
  6. Birds Without Wings (2004)
  7. A Partisan's Daughter (2008)
I thought they were funny, well written, interesting, original and often moving, with interesting characters, carefully crafted plots, creative and entertaining. Not "high" literature, but fun to read. 

In 2015, he published "The Dust That Falls From Dreams", which I found utterly boring. But OK, that may happen. So, full of enthusiasm I bought his latest novel, "The Autumn Of The Ace", which is as bad as the previous ones. The novel is situated in the same family and it has all the same problems as the previous ones: totally uninteresting characters, no plot, shallow human sentiments, no tension, no real development, dialogues for which a first year student of creative writing would get bad notes (use dialogues to illustrate the relationship between the speakers, not to share background information to the reader), etc, etc. 

I read 150 pages of the 310, and it might be that by some miracle the rest of the book is good, but the chances are slim. 

Disappointing and sad. 

Anne Applebaum - Twilight Of Democracy (Allen Lane, 2020) ***½

 I saw an interview with Anne Applebaum on CNN earlier this year, discussing the attitude of Republicans towards the importance of facts and the antics of Donald Trump. She is a Republican, but then one who has lived abroad, one who is well-read and open to different perspectives. In "The Twilight Of Democracy", she tells her personal story as an American expat living in Poland and the UK. In her direct environment, she notices the shift among her friends to consolidate power by changing the judiciary and the media, trends which are entirely anti-democratic but clearly supported by the new conservative fractions of nationalists and the extreme right. 

She asks the right questions about how a democratic society can protect itself from anti-democratic forces who manipulate the system so that they can take advantage of democracy. To her credit she does not have final answers. She denounces the lying and the liars, the stifling of rational debate, the lack of respect for people with different opinions, the brutal power politics and the deliberate undermining of the foundations of democracy. To her credit she rather loses friends than her principles. Her insider stories about meetings, dinners and parties with the political elite in Europe are interesting. 

For liberals, like myself, her discourse appears obvious, and I often wondered why she called herself a republican, and now, I can only hope that she will have more credibility among her fellow republicans and be read. 

Erik Martens - De Boerenkrijg in Brabant (1798-1799) (De Krijger, 2005) **½

 At the end of the 18th century, the "Belgian" population organised the resistance against the French occupation, and farmers took up the few arms they had to fight the famous and all-powerful French army. 

This insurrection is called "de Boerenkrijg" - the revolt of the farmers. This revolt has become part of Belgian historical mythology, with its legends and heroes, and hard to assess what was actually true or what became a convenient patriotic narrative in the last two centuries. This was even more accentuated by the catholic church who supported the insurrection against the pagan French revolution. 

This book gives an inventory of reports at national or municipal level of events that took place during that period. Court documents, policy documents, political documents. It offers material by date and by place in the province of Brabant, where Brussels was originally located (not that Brussels was moved, but Brussels eventually became a separate political jurisdiction). 

The fight started because of the French war against the Austrians who were then ruling the "Netherlands", which included Belgium. The Austrians did not really put up a fight and were no match for the French. Both armies did not have the logistics we have today, so they survived by looting the local inhabitants. When these used weapons to respond, entire villages were killed and burned. 

Because the book is just an inventory, it does not make for easy reading. It's a case of "you can't see the wood for the trees", because chronology and geographical events do not follow a single narrative. It's a shocking moment in our history, and it possibly deserves a more powerful narrative. At least Martens managed to get all the ingredients together to write that story. 

Michael S.A. Graziano - Rethinking Consciousness (WW Norton, 2019) ***

 Understanding our human consciousness remains one of the toughest scientific nuts to crack. Graziano takes a very optimistic and mechanical view of our consciousness. He claims that in theory it would be possible to recreate consciousness with the right ingredients available: attention, attention schema, content. 

Graziano acknowledges that the hardest part to resolve is emotions. And that is possibly also the weakness of his approach and ambition, including uploading consciousness into a machine. Apart from the question how useful, wishful or interesting this would be, who would actually want this? 

His engineering approach to consciousness may lead to some interesting conceptual questions and challenges, but it brings us back to square one. "The single most important change that I can see - the watershed moment in the history of our species - is the moment people understand consciousness. Once we understand it from a pragmatic, engineering point of view, then a remarkable future becomes possible. In that future, mind is something precious, something to be nurtured, grown, and then saved, something that can be lifted from the original biological platform and migrated, duplicated, branched, maintained indefinitely, and even possibly merged with other minds". 

How horrifying! Does that mean that this mind is completely devoid of sensual pleasure, no bodily contacts, no cuddling of a grandchild, no intimacy, not even a hug, let alone sex, no enjoyment of music, literature, paintings? No enjoyment of food, smell, sports? What is a mind without a body? Who would want to be locked up in a computer or even in a robot? Would we not need a physical 'self' to be able to form this attention schema, to have a mental concept of ourselves? How can this be without a body? 

I may have more questions than answers after reading Graziano's book, but it's still worth reading, if only to challenge our current thinking and to project a vision of the future, even if it sounds horrifying. 

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld - De Avond Is Een Ongemak (Atlas Contact, 2018) ****

 I am not very interested in Dutch literature because of too many disappointments. If the world is my place, and my language one of the tiniest language groups in this world, what are the chances to have the best literature coming from this tiny language group? Like with all statistics, the chances are smaller than when you read English or Spanish novels. Quality is somehow the result of quantity, whether you like that or not. 

When Marieke Lucas Rijneveld won the International Booker Prize this year with The Discomfort of Evening, I had to review my position. The novel tells the story of a young girl whose brother has just died. This affects the whole family of very religious farmers, who each try to deal with this loss in their own way. The environment is full of tension, hypocrisy and lack of empathy, even if all characters in the novel are described with compassion. Her craving for love and physical contact is only responded by a rigid and suffocating environment. 

Not only the subject matter, but also the language and the stylistic power of the novel makes it worthwhile literature. The child absorbs information from her teachers, brother, sister and family, while misinterpreting this information or combining it in sometimes strange reasonings, even if plausible when seen through the eyes of a child. The paragraph below illustrates this well. 

In short, an emotionally compelling, well written and captivating novel. 

Dan Sperber - Explaining Culture (Blackwell, 1996) ***

 If anything needs to be taught in schools, it's cognitive science. Why do we think what we think? And how do we think what we think? What and who influences our thinking and how can we make sure that we can get to the truth or a correct observation and interpretation without being biased by the filters of our eduction, context and culture? 

Anthropologist Dan Sperber tries to provide answers by first making the distinctions between different categories of representation: public representations, mental representations and cultural representations. He tries to bridge anthropology with psychology to really understand how our mind acts in a cultural context. 

He expands on the epidemiology of beliefs, and how they spread, after which he tackles the issue of cultural evolution and beliefs. 

Sperber's book is very theoretical and abstract, and it dates from 1996. Cognitive science has evolved over the last decades, and I'm sure many of his thoughts have been confirmed in the meantime, and some possibly challenged. Despite this, the questions he raises and the theory he advances are more than worth reading and will shed some light on how we live our daily lives in a cultural environment. 

Gilbert Sinoué - Averroès ou Le Secrétaire Du Diable (J'ai Lu, 2017) **½

 Gilbert Sinoué re-tells the life of the great Averroes, partly in his own name, partly from the perspective of later times and geographies: Paris, London, Florence. Even if the skeleton of the philosopher's life is presented, the narrative around it is fictional. I had expected a biography, but it wasn't. 

Nevertheless, his life is worth remembering and his influence on modern thinking should not be underestimated: he was one of the first people who publicly wrote and defended that if observation and facts, reason and logic where in contradiction with the holy Qu'ran or other holy scriptures, that this observation deserves priority over the holy texts. He was a strong supporter of Aristoteles and a reputable scholar and jurist. He advocated against literal interpretation of the Qu'ran and against new radicalism trends in Islam. 

Not surprisingly, he was also condemned later on by the catholic Church. 

An intereting book, but I hope to find a more historical biography of the scholar. 

Stephen Fry - Heroes (Penguin, 2018) ***

 In "Mythos", Stephen Fry re-created the world of the Greek gods in his easy to read prose. Now he treats us to "Heroes", the more human life of mortals who become demi-gods, who challenge gods, who suffer endless punishment for acting against the gods. 

Of course we all know Hercules, Oedipos, Orpheus, Perseus and Theseus. But what about Bellerophon, or Atalanta? And do we know all the works of Hercules? 

It is nice and easy to read, often with funny footnotes and comments. This book was read in my garden in summer during the corona lockdown. A good companion. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Carlo Rovelli - Anaximander (Westholm, 2007) ****

 In the list of thinkers who shaped our world of today, Anaximander should be high in the rankings. According to physicist Carlo Rovelli for the simple reason that he put forth the statement that all things have a reason in nature. He described how clouds are formed from heating up water and how clouds that cool down start raining, replenishing the rivers and oceans that can evaporate again. Before Anaximander, all natural events were the result of the interference of gods: Poseidon, Zeus, Athena, ...

Even more, by tracking the trajectories of stars across the sky, he came to the astonishing conclusion that the earth is not "down here" and the stars "up there", but that the earth is floating in space, and that all planets and stars are revolving around us. This explained why the sun and the moon disappear only to re-appear again on the other side with such fixed regularity. 

Of course we know little about Anaximander himself - his pupil Thales of Miletus is probably better known - but Rovelli uses his revolutionary approach to describe the value and the history of scientific thought up until today. Especially today, religious bigotry, conspiracy theories and intentional obfuscation of the facts for political gain requires a good understanding of science. Today, scientific thought has never been so widespread, but technology also allows the dumbest superstitions to get traction across the world. 

His conclusions are worth repeating. 

Olga Tokarczuk - Primeval And Other Times (Twisted Spoon, 2010) ***½

Since I read "Flights" by Olga Tokarczuk, I've become an addict to her writing. In "Primeval" and other times, she leads us to a small village and its many characters, all the subjects of the different stories of the village. There are no real protagonists, except maybe the village itself. 

Like in "Flights", she philosophises once in a while as on the nature of God in the page copied below. She loves the changes of perspective. She loves challenging existing thoughts and approaches It makes her literature all the richer and unique. 

She treats all her characters with understanding and compassion, despite all their human shortcomings and sometimes not so nice intentions. 

A pleasure to read. 


Sorj Chalandon - Profession Du Père (Livre De Poche, 2015) ****

 If there's an easy novel to recommend, it is this one. Told by a body whose father claims to be a spy as a pretext to cover his abnormal way of life, the poverty and his radical opinions. The boy is asked by his father to keep his profession a secret for the outside world, but is kept informed about the challenges he faces. 

Chalandron writes about the mindset of the boy, the narrator of the story, with incredible conviction and precision, creating a kind of horrifying psychological environment that we as adult readers understand all too easily for its deception, its violence and manipulation, but for the boy in his gullible adoration for his father it is all reality. 

Things move further into madness when the father instructs the boy to become part of his plan to kill General De Gaulle because of his Algeria policy. 

Chalandon's writing is direct, with lots of dialogue between the father and the son, and simple story-telling when the boy narrates his situation. At the same time the story is compelling and captivating. It is terrifying and very sad at the same time. 

Edward J. Watts - Hypatia (Oxford University Press, 2017) ***

 In my journey of reading about thinkers who mattered in history, I had to read the biography of Hypatia, the Alexandran mathematician and philosopher of the 4th century CE who was eventually killed by a christian mob. 

With the limited information we have about her, Watts reconstructs her life using the scaffolds of her pupils' texts. The Egyptian philosopher has often been the subject of myth, because she was a woman, because she was the victim of religious fanaticism. A movie has been made about her life, "Agora", by the great Alejandro Amenábar, but I can only recommend not to watch it, it's that bad. 

Watts tries to take away the myth first, before trying to capture what she actually was: a highly educated woman whose primary work was to update Ptolemy's "Almagest", his treatise on the movement of the planets. 

 Despite all the numerous sources Watts mentions, it appears to be really hard to understand what her own teachings weren. The scaffolding used by Watts get more attention than the subject of his story. But maybe that's as far as he or anyone can go to reconstruct the life of someone who lived so long ago. 

Natsu Miyashita - The Forest Of Wool And Steel (Penguin, 2020) **

A young man is fascinated by the sound of a piano when it is being tuned by a master tuner and he starts as an apprentice, without actually knowing how to play the piano. His tuning journey leads him and his bosses to meet interesting musicians and situations. It is a story into the power of sound and the quality of sound, acting as a red thread to learn about life itself. 

The story is friendly, sensitive and warm, but totally uneventful. Some will call it the perfect antidote to the stress of everyday life, a reflection on purity and beauty. But you need much better writing skills and a stronger story to make this interesting.