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Read "Persian Letters" by Montesquieu

This is a 1721 epistolary novel, with letters mostly to and from several fictional Persian travelers, who observe French culture and compare it with that of their homeland.  This is a smart, caustic and penetrating social commentary on many aspects of life.  Many modern ideas about humanism, government and religion can be traced to this book.  A must read for anyone who is interested in the history of thought on social issues.  


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  • Rory P.

    Good book and discussion. Lately it seems like I can't get away from Islam. My film studies recently led me to THE MESSAGE (1977) and lots of great Iranian films of the past two decades. I've been reading Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL for a while and just came to the section on the birth and rise of Islam. And now THE PERSIAN LETTERS. What's next? Anyone interested in a Koran study group? A propos, has this group read anything by the perennial Nobel nominee of Albania, Ismail Kadare? He is one of the greatest contemporary writers, and many of his major works are short novels that read like parables and offer much food for thought.

    January 31, 2014

    • Alice S.

      Would I have to wear a burka?

      January 31, 2014

    • Rory P.

      Yes, and shout, "'Ory! 'Ory!" as I stride across the table in my new robes.

      January 31, 2014

  • David L.

    Hey all, thanks for the interesting discussion! Here's the quote about uncertainty that I mentioned, which I really like, from Richard Feynman, physicist who won the Nobel in 1965: <<I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean, I might think it about a little, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly." --Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)

    1 · January 31, 2014

  • Larry M.

    Nice discussion. It was good to read and discuss an author I have not read before, Thanks everyone.

    January 31, 2014

  • Erica L.

    I admired this book before the discussion, but found parts of it a bit tedious. Now I appreciate it much more, thanks to this great group.

    January 31, 2014

  • Alice S.

    I realized last night how much I appreciate mature lovers of literature and reflecting on more abstract ideas. Thanks everyone.

    1 · January 31, 2014

  • bonnie n.

    It was a rare pleasure to be introduced to this classic.

    January 31, 2014

  • Sasha D.

    It was a stimulating discussion, wasn't it?

    January 31, 2014

  • Kristi Planck J.

    enjoyed various perspectives and learning about parts that i missed on the first read! - look forward to discussing other books. kristi

    January 31, 2014

  • Alice s.

    Informative

    January 30, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'm sorry. I know it's warmer out than the past few days, but I haven't defrosted enough to make the trip from Fairfax to Bethesda in rush hour traffic. Have you guys thought of a Google Hangout component for the shutins?

    January 30, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Letter 100 is funny. It's about French fashion and having to make doorways taller or wider.

    January 30, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    January 30, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Here is a PDF version and there are several online versions.

    January 30, 2014

  • Tamara

    Where did people get the text.?I could not find it at the libraries or bookstores, so, unfortunately, can't join the discussion. Did we need to get this from Amazon, which I patronize only when absolutely necessary.

    January 29, 2014

    • bonnie n.

      why not come anyway? I resorted to Amazon.... also Politics and Prose will always order for you...

      January 29, 2014

  • Alice s.

    Google: Persian Letters Text, free

    January 29, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    The one about Montie not publishing in France was good. Just in case the Pope and the politicians didn't have a sense of humor, Persian Letters was first printed in Holland, a Protestant and (even then) more liberal country.

    January 28, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    It's high-brow and perhaps not interesting but there are some audio commentary sound bites by an Oxford scholar about Persian Letters here: http://global.oup.com/uk/academic/series/owc/audio/montesquieu/

    January 28, 2014

  • Laura

    Sorry to miss this. :( Can't do Thursday nights.

    January 24, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Links to the YouTube Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl bits.
    Lenny Bruce "How to relax your colored friends at parties"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ua0TT87KNwo

    and
    Mort Sahl "Standup (1)"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWPZZLTF9uM

    January 24, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Some thoughts about Montesquieu, in case I don't make it on a cold evening for this meetup. Yes, I had a problem with the eunuch letters, and I would just scan or skip them. But I was thinking about Montie in the 1700s and thinking he was really like the standup comedian of his time. Not a Seinfeld or a Louis CK, but one of those classic political satirists like Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce. A few years ago I found this really funny Lenny Bruce bit on Youtube. It's two guys at a cocktail party, one black and one white, and the white guy is tripping all over himself trying to be nice while being very unpolitically correct. Lenny Bruce was satirizing the social setup of the 1960s the way Montesquieu was satirizing France of the 1720s. And Mort Sahl, he's so brilliant with political satire, but he's way over my head. The sex and the harems were Montie's way of getting people to read his book. It was the hook. Kind of like HBO's Girls, graphic discussions of intimate matters.

    January 24, 2014

  • Alice S.

    I'm having trouble reading about these male chauvinists. Does anyone else feel the same?

    January 16, 2014

    • Sasha D.

      I am looking at this differently, seeing not how bad things used to be, but how much better they have become

      1 · January 21, 2014

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