Book Reviews: Fall 2022

Anna Faktorovich

This set of reviews turned out to be smaller than usual with only 7 physical books and 10 ebooks among the scholarly titles. To enhance these numbers, I decided to also review texts that I have been consuming casually in the past few months. A couple of months ago, a podcast and my local Quanah librarian introduced me to the Libby and Axis360 platforms. The Houston Public Library has a special digital library card that all Texans can apply for even if they do not live in the Houston area; this card gives access to their library of around 80,000 digital books on two different platforms. They also provide access to journal databases, such as JStor, which has been very useful for my ongoing research. I typically have very little time for casual reading, as my attention is consumed with the different scholarly research projects I am working on. I do have some time during the day (while cooking or otherwise engaged) to listen to audiobooks. Thus, with access to these platforms, I have started listening to some nonfiction general-interest books that appeared to be of benefit from their descriptions. I am including reviews of these books here under the assumption my readers might also have easy access to them through their libraries, whereas most of my scholarly reviews tend to be aimed at acquisition librarians or researchers in narrow fields. I will probably review some audiobooks in future issues, if this will continue to be a pleasant way to spend some time. Though I have already been somewhat frustrated with this experience, as many of the books are too chit-chatty, repetitive and digressive, as if a general reader has been assumed to be one with an infinite patience for stretching a narrative past the making of a given point. Thus, if you are searching only for my recommendations, look to books with four or five stars. Additionally, across the past 6 months or so, I have started listening to podcasts on Spotify. These have turned out to be a great way to catch up on intellectually stimulating economic, political and science news. Since I left the Northeast back in around 2004, I have been missing listening to NPR on the radio, as it does not really broadcast in the southern states where I have been mostly living. I have been catching the news from different channels on YouTube and scrolling through stories on Google News to keep up-to-date. But these digital audio reports include far more compressed and precise information than video-news, perhaps because they do not have to insert video clips that might be assume to speak for themselves. Since I have enjoyed some of these platforms, I am sharing brief reviews of my favorite podcasts on Spotify; all of these are 5-star reviews, but I am not placing the 5-star ratings on them because I am not covering them in sufficient depth for a rating. There are some others in my feed, but for this platform, I am only going to mention those I typically find most profitable that I would recommend for others to try if they are also away from direct radio-access.

98% of Norwich Gentry Were Literate, and Other Absurd Falsehoods

Daniel Ellis, Gentry Rhetoric: Literacies, Letters, and Writing in an Elizabethan Community (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, December 1, 2022). $65: Hardcover. 234pp, 6X9”. 7 illustrations, index. ISBN: 978-1-4962-2118-6.

***

The publisher’s blurb describes this book thus: “Examines the full range of influences on the Elizabethan and Jacobean genteel classes’ practice of English rhetoric in daily life… Surveys how the gentry of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Norfolk wrote to and negotiated with each other by employing Renaissance humanist rhetoric”. This opening drew my interest as it suggests an examination of the structure of rhetorical composition during this period as contrasted with other periods, perhaps examining the overreliance on flattery, or a lack of adjectives. However, the blurb continues thus: “…both to solidify their identity and authority in resisting absolutism and authoritarianism, and to transform the political and social state.” These generalizations and abstractions suggest disjointed detachment from the facts of rhetorical usage. “The rhetorical training that formed the basis of their formal education was one obvious influence. Yet to focus on this training exclusively allows only a limited understanding of the way this class developed the strategies that enabled them to negotiate, argue, and conciliate with one another to such an extent that they could both form themselves as a coherent entity and become the primary shapers of written English’s style, arrangement, and invention.” These two sentences are absurd. The first sentence states the obvious or that rhetoric is taught at school. Then, the second sentence claims there was some other influence or source of non-school instruction that channeled rhetorical skills into this class; while it is not stated, this force is probably implied to be their socialization with each other. The “gentry” is a term used in this context to refer to the capitalist wealthy class of merchants that was not part of the nobility. According to my BRRAM series, there were only six ghostwriters in the British Renaissance or during this Elizabethan period. Most of them were indeed classified as members of the “gentry” class; for example, Gabriel Harvey’s father was a capitalist with a large estate, but not a noble. But these ghostwriters forged many of the multi-bylined letters or ghostwrote them as secret-secretaries for Elizabeth I and for other wealthy people who could afford their services. Thus, an examination of English Elizabethan letters is mostly a study of the rhetorical skills of this Workshop of professional writers, as opposed to a class study of a population of people. This absence of sufficient sources for a population study is apparent in the section in this book called “Anne Boleyn as Rhetor”, which includes a letter addressed from her (21). The letter is extremely puffing as it issues numerous flatteries to the addressee, without revealing any details about Boleyn’s life. Avoidance of such details is necessary for a forger who has not done their research and does not want to introduce any facts that might be blatantly contrary to the verifiable truth. And it is absurd to classify Boleyn as a person who is representative of the gentry’s writing: while she might have been born into a gentry family, this undated letter must have been written by Court secret-secretaries to authenticate her described intellect, whereas searches for letters written by women who never became queens and remained in the gentry might be non-existent from this period, if none of them were actually taught to read or write.

The blurb further states that the book: “deeply and inductively examines archival materials in which members of the gentry discuss, debate, and negotiate matters relating to their class interests and political aspirations. Humanist rhetoric provided the bedrock of address, argumentation, and negotiation that allowed the gentry to instigate a political and educational revolution in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England.” There were no “revolutions” in England. The 1688 “revolution” was a simple mostly non-violent replacement of the ruling monarch. The 1649 beheading of Charles I was the outcome of a civil war, as opposed to a revolution by the masses. And examples such as the letter from Boleyn do not show negotiations for the gentry class, and barely show her own negotiations in self-interest. Most of this book should have been made up of examples of transcripts of letters from the gentry to make these bold claims in the summary.

The central problem with this book is touched on in an introductory section called “The Rise of the Gentry” (4-6), which brings in arguments such as Tillyard’s claim of “the general educated public” or that most Elizabethans were educated and believed others were around them as well. As my study explains, there were only six authors during this period with access to publish their own writing. The need for such broad help from ghostwriters must have meant that most of the public could not compete with them or write themselves. Part of the reason for this shortage is because the Workshop was creating a new Early Modern English language out of Middle English, Latin, French, Italian, Scottish, Welsh and German that had been used by pockets of the population under that point. Primary schools were mostly teaching Latin, and there was no free public education. Any book that is setting out to make generalizations about the intellectualism of most of the English public has to begin with the “statistics” that are referred to in this section as being questionable, but are not actually specified anywhere in the book.

“2: Gentry Literacy” sounds like a chapter that would cover this topic. At first glance it seems there are no percentages mentioned in this chapter. It would have been logical to begin by stating some percentage of literacy to ground the reader in the approximate reality of this public’s standing. Instead, the chapter begins with a puffery of “Elizabethan poets and writers” (i.e., the six of them), as Daniel Ellis cites “Sidney’s” Defense of Poetry’s objections to the inferiority of English compared with other older languages (such as Latin and German) (33). This work is likely to have been ghostwritten by Verstegan, who introduced the idea of English people being Anglo-Saxon or German in Restitution; Old English and Old German were the same language at one point before they diverged. Restitution partially argues that Old German was the first human language, instead of Hebrew as the Old Testament argued. Thus, using Verstegan’s opinions regarding language purity to estimate the beliefs about language from the gentry in general is absurd. And chapter 2 proceeds in the next paragraph with a description of masques at Court, which is as far from describing the life of the “gentry” as one can get, if this term specifically means, “non-Court” or “non-aristocratic”. To get further away from reality, the next paragraph discusses the “imagining a nation” by writers.

There is some curious information mentioned between the generalizations, such as the note that purchasing a knighthood to make one’s self appear to be genteel was too expensive for most. One objector says that the honor was of “greater expenses than he should need bear as he was” (37).

The percentages that are missing in the introduction of this chapter are mentioned in a section called “Literacies Old and New”, which states absurdly that “David Cressy has found that around 98 percent of the male members of the gentry in the Diocese of Norwich were literate… For the yeomanry… this figure falls to around 65 percent, while for tradesmen and craftsmen it was 55 percent. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the members of the lowest classes were literate, and about 10 percent of women in all classes were.” Then there is clarification that among the 440 gentry, there were 9 people who could not sign their names. As Ellis explains, Norwich had a higher rate of literacy than most other places. I checked the source: David Cressy’s Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), and “Table 5.1: Will-makers in the diocese of Norwich, 1633-7” indicates that 5% of the gentry did not make a mark (107). The calculation of literacy based on mark making is clearly designed to skew statistics. And the description of this analysis attempts to skew it further by citing examples of when elderly people stopped being able to write their name supposedly because of having gone blind. The presence of many such examples of old-age blindness is likely to indicate that these people had been lying about their literacy across the rest of their lives. With 40-50 being the life-expectancy, too small of a percentage of people would have been living to be old enough to make such claims of illiteracy due to age. “Map 1: Illiteracy in England 1641-4” calculates illiteracy based on inability to “sign their names”. Most of this map includes ranges between 64-74% of people being illiterate, but this percentage seemingly drops in London to 22%. The commentary specifies there were “No usable returns survive for Norwich” as well as other places, so Norwich is an especially unusable in claims of knowledge of statistics of literacy in the Renaissance. And these numbers of the people who could have made a mark could have been forged if the auditors made marks themselves for the people in their parishes in a scheme akin to the one used in Gogol’s Dead Souls, where the number of residents being inflated might have brought more government funding to corrupt officials from regions.

Instead of questioning the inflation of such statistics, Ellis spends most of the book on likely Workshop forgeries of business letters such as the letter from “lord keeper Nicholas Bacon”, who describes corrupt litigation over land between a wealthy landowner and a bishop with contradictory claims. Instead of explaining the legal and financial reasons for this dispute, the author digresses into “instability” of the terms being used, and the non-professional nature of the bylines exchanging these letters, as they were not “surveyor to surveyor or mathematician to mathematician”. Given the Workshop’s cross-dispute ghostwriting, it is likely that a single ghostwriter was writing on both sides of this dispute, and the outcome benefited whoever paid the highest bribe to resolve the matter in their favor (111-3).

The overall problem with this book dives to the core of the problem with modern academic publishing. Scholars are pressured to select niche topics that are popular in academia at a given time. At this time socialism is popular, as is pro-intellectualism. But scholars also have to choose a niche within such broad concepts that has never been covered before. Thus, this author chose to focus on Norwich, even if the neighboring cities were already discussed form this socio-political perspective. Then, the author regurgitated some of the basic concepts that others have raised before, such as Cressy’s inflated literacy statistics, while corrupting this data by cherry-picking only a few numbers that made the “gentry” of Renaissance England appear to be more intelligent than those who are living today. And such bits of previously “discovered” information were mixed together with abstract philosophical digressions into the nature of rhetoric as a concept, and with propagandizing for the superior intellect of the English, with examples of legal public-record correspondences and fragments from published books. This is just a horribly written and researched book, and there are too many such books that are cluttering libraries without introducing any new knowledge or findings worthy to be called “scholarship”.

The Offensive and Defensive Approaches to Judging “Shakespeare’s” Morals

Stephen Unwin, Poor Naked Wretches: Shakespeare’s Working People (London: Reaktion Books, 2022). Hardcover. 304pp, 6X9”. 14 halftones, index. ISBN: 978-1-78914-661-5.

***

The blurb begins by inventing a perceived fault in “Shakespeare”. “Disputing the notion that William Shakespeare scorned the rabble, an illuminating look at the complex working people of his plays.” The “Preface” begins with the example of the staging by the author of Comedy of Errors, while facing criticism from the actors who were concerned that the poorest characters, such as servants, had the fewest speaking parts. To resolve this obstacle Stephen Unwin told the actors for all of them to act as if they are the most important actor on the stage, even if they have the least lines. Such acting against the lines is absurd. As I explain in BRRAM, William Percy and Ben Jonson wrote many plays where they featured the poorest characters as their main heroes, such as the anonymous Nobody and Somebody. These Renaissance plays have just never been translated or staged in modern times largely because the “Shakespearean” canon presents the propagandistic pro-aristocratic, pro-wealthy and pro-monarchy perspective that is favored by the elite, and so these “Shakespearean” plays are staged, even as the actors themselves are objecting that they would rather perform in plays where the poor, women and those with ethnic diversity are given greater roles.

The blurb continues: “Was Shakespeare a snob? Poor challenges the idea that one of the greatest writers of the English language despised working people, showing that he portrayed them with as much insight, compassion, and purpose as the rich and powerful.” The “Introduction” begins with an extended version of the quote that includes this book’s title that comes from King Lear, from a speech that describes the miserable conditions of the poor sympathetically. Thus, this opening quote contradicts “the idea” that this book is designed to argue against; this is achieved simply because this “idea” is erroneous, and is based on the ignorance or the lack of close reading from the students, who visualize “Shakespeare” based on films they see of pretty costumes worn, without being able to understand the poorly translated or untranslated Early Modern English editions of “Shakespeare’s” plays.  

“Moreover, working people play an important role in his dramatic method. Unwin reads Shakespeare anew, exploring the astonishing variety of working people in his plays, as well as the vast range of cultural sources from which they were drawn.” This seems to suggest that Unwin had not really read “Shakespeare” himself, and so he had an erroneous perception, and then he actually reads “Shakespeare” slowly for this book, and shares his deep surprise at discovering his assumptions about what would be inside these books were wrong. “Unwin argues that the robust realism of these characters, their independence of mind, and their engagement in the great issues of the day, make them much more than mere comic relief.” However, the “Introduction” begins by acknowledging that it is a fact that “working people” in “Shakespeare” play a “smaller role than their masters”, when their lines are counted. Thus, it is an exaggeration in the opposite direction to claim there is “robust realism” in lines that are too few to be of significant volume in the overall play. The solution for those who want to see the “wretches” in realistic detail is to step away from the “Shakespeare” corpus that was designed to be staged by King’s Men (or by the troupe fully funded and controlled by King James I), and instead consider the many anonymous and otherwise bylined plays that were closeted due to their pro-poor or otherwise subversive content.

The chapters in this book are divided by character-type, with sections on servants, maids and witches, taverns, poor players, clowns, clerks, killers, and soldiers. This is a logical division, as otherwise there would be too many words of dialogue without any structural connection.

The problem with this and other studies of literature really comes down to a moralizing perspective that attempts to determine if the “author” of these texts was morally justified to present the characters as he did. In the “Servants, Slaves and Messengers” chapter, Unwin attempts to evaluate the “evidence” of Caliban being described as a “savage and formed native of the island”, who attempted to rape Prospero’s daughter, in a possible attempt at “violent revenge of the oppressed” (50-1). Generally, such studies take a position that defends or offends the “author”. Some stage a rhetorical defensive by arguing the author depicted savagery in order to depict the outrage and misery of the oppressed. Other scholars take the offensive and argue that such depictions are racist and sexist, and express an impassable bias in the “author” that indicate such texts should not be read to avoid being indoctrinated into these biased ideas. If one steps back from this battle with the “author” to realize that the “author” or “Shakespeare” is himself merely a fictional character, as this is a pseudonym that was used by five different ghostwriters, as BRRAM explains; it becomes clear that even when the “narrator’s” or the “author’s” perspective can be identified, it does not reflect the underlying opinions of the professional ghostwriter, but rather reflects the propagandistic rhetoric that the sponsor, patron, or administrator who loomed over this initial production manipulated. A parallel example in modern times might be ghostwriters for the tobacco industry, who wrote their pro-tobacco ads; the industry was paying them to advertise tobacco, so it would be absurd to blame the writers, and not the economic system that has failed to make tobacco and its advertisement illegal. If an advertiser of tobacco had gone so far as to show those who do not smoke tobacco as savages who are raping daughters, such exaggerations should rightly have been seen as deliberate subversive satire, designed seemingly within the stated goals of the propaganda campaign, but taking it to such an extreme that members of the audience would become aware they are being lied to. Readers should be taught regarding racism and sexism in non-fiction texts, so that they can recognize these in fiction as lies. Great literature has to offend somebody to hit the emotions and intellects of the readers, even if it is merely offending murderers, who are being unfairly depicted in an unsympathetic light.

Most of this book is composed of plain-language summaries of what characters in “Shakespeare’s” plays did or said, with some brief and extended quotes from these texts. “Romeo realizes that a man in dire poverty will do anything to survive, including risking execution”. Romeo is explained to have pressured one beggar into selling poison to him by appealing to this beggar’s desperation. The beggar concedes, and Romeo kills himself. In the source that this scene is based, the beggar is hanged for selling the poison. But “Shakespeare” pardons him, and sets him free. The author introduces critics’ opinions regarding if a “poor man cannot afford to have a conscience” from Bernard Shaw. Unwin himself claims in a brief conclusion that Romeo “learns an essential lesson from the lowest of the low.” This puffing conclusion is designed to reinforce “Shakespeare’s” greatness as an “Author”, instead of reaching some rational resolution to the debate (236-9). In reality, selling poison is punishable by death, but Percy could not show the execution of the beggar without sacrificing the tragic trajectory of the story. If not only Romeo, Juliet and their relatives involved in the fighting died, but also a beggar who had only a few lines in the play, this would be a very absurd digression that might divide the audience’s attention away from the two dead lovers who are essential to making the concluding point of this play. Percy indirectly explains such choices in some of his self-attributed closeted plays, such as Forest Tragedy, where every single main character in the play dies on the stage in the final resolution. It is possible to imagine a play where the last three people to die in Romeo and Juliet are Juliet, the beggar and then Romeo, but this version would have been discarded as a farce, instead of being restaged for centuries as a classic. A professional writer is not likely to make choices to adhere or to depart from sources based primarily on social implications of the options, but rather on the structural requirements of narrow genres such as dramatic tragedy and comedy.

This book includes some curious information, but it fails to introduce something new to the discussion of “Shakespearean” characters, and instead only remixes past opinions. It is useful that this work has compared the sources with the plays, as such comparisons are relatively rare in modern studies that remain entirely in abstract philosophizing regarding the morality of the plays themselves.

A Fictitious Biography of an “Author” Who Became a Saint After Multi-Generic Unfounded Re-Attributions

Irven M. Resnick and Kenneth F. Kitchell, Albertus Magnus and the World of Nature (London: Reaktion Books, October 18, 2022). $22.50: Hardcover. 224pp, 5.5X8.5”. 20 color plates, 9 halftones, index. ISBN: 978-1-78914-513-7.

***

“The first comprehensive English-language biography of Albert the Great in a century.” A century ago, there were no citation standards, such as the MLA, that demanded documentation from authors. Most biographies I have reviewed of medieval personalities are based on claims about them that were made decades or centuries after their death, and thus clearly introduce fictitious narratives, as opposed to proving each claim with specific contemporary evidence.

The blurb continues: “As well as being an important medieval theologian, Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great) also made significant contributions to the study of astronomy, geography, and natural philosophy, and his studies of the natural world led Pope Pius XII to declare Albert the patron saint of the natural sciences.” Such lack of specialization was common before the industrial age among professional writers, as there were so few literate people capable of introducing new texts, the few who were working had an enormous volume of information to relate regarding the general knowledge of their period. “Dante Alighieri acknowledged a substantial debt to Albert’s work, and in the Divine Comedy placed him equal with his celebrated student and brother Dominican, Thomas Aquinas.” In other words, Dante (1265-1321) puffed Albert (1200-1280) because both of them were Catholic Italians, and Dante lived a generation after Albert; Dante would have been instructed to puff his theological authorial predecessors by the papacy. What is surprising is that Dante places some of the preceding Popes in hell in his circles, but not Albert. One possibility for Albert’s preferential treatment is that Dante might have ghostwritten Albert’s texts himself, as might be discovered upon linguistic examination of their texts. There were too few readers and these texts were stored in church archives, so the authorship dates and bylines could easily be manipulated. For example, Albert merely wrote the commentary of a book, Summa Theologica, or Summary of Theology, which was first-published (without Albert’s commentary) generations later in 1485. And Speculum Astonomiae, or, The Mirror of Astronomy is assigned by some as having been written in 1260 by Albert, but both the date and the name of the author have been contested, as neither appear on the manuscript. Despite being one of the main books assigned to Albert, this title is only discussed in a single paragraph, which begins with the absurd introductory sentence: “It is an easy thing to believe that one who is engaged in astrology is dabbling in magic.” It goes on to cite Collins’ study that observes that some confused Albert Magnus (Great) with Magus (Magician). This is used as evidence of a bias against Magnus, which is claimed to have been “worsened” when Mirror was “attributed to Albertus as early as the fourteenth century” (235). There are no explanations regarding this strangely vague first-attribution date; surely, if there was a specific text that made this attribution in the fourteenth century, it had to be mentioned here, as any posthumous assignment of an anonymous text deserves an in-depth questioning in a biography that agrees with this assignment, by placing the text in Albert’s list of authored books. And the note regarding the bias coming before this re-assignment clearly indicates that the assignment was designed as anti-propaganda or to ridicule Albert’s character by claiming he was a scientist-astronomer; in other words, the attribution was made out of malice, and not because of any evidence Albert actually wrote this book. By failing to address this problem, this author is failing to perform basic scholarly research.

Most of the re-assignments to “Albert” were made in the 1899 38-volume collection that assigned an enormously diverse set of anonymous texts to “Albert” as their author. This publication had such a successful marketing campaign that he was then canonized by the Pope in 1931. Thus, to say there were no biographies of Albert means nobody has re-examined this avalanche of re-assignments to him and the granting of actual sainthood to him as part of this attempt to sell books with his byline. And instead of seriously questioning these assignments, this is a thin book that puffs or repeats the claims these preceding books made. The book avoids biographical research by combining the claims it is a biography with a self-classification of being literary theory and cultural anthropology, or “while also revealing the insights into medieval life and customs that his writings provide.”

Only around the first 93 pages include biographical chapters, whereas the rest digress into various predecessors and contemporaries, such as encyclopedists, and experts, and also describe general elements of medieval life. The massive re-assignments to “Albert” have been mased on claims such as Franciscan friar Roger Bacon’s (-1292) claim that Albert was “the most noted of Christian scholars” (10). Such brief pufferies of most bylines were common across the Renaissance, and previously, as such broad claims of greatness were used instead of exploring the details of texts that would have been more time and intellectually consuming tasks.

If I was reading this book a decade ago, I might have accepted the various claims of authorship and fictitious biography myself without having instinctual doubts that all of these might be falsehoods designed to achieve various political or fiscal goals that fit the interests of the preceding fiction-writers. Questioning of established history and biography is counter-intuitive, and this is precisely why scholars have a responsibility to assume this burden when they reach maturity and are accepted as the leading members of our society who are trusted to relate our past, so that we can learn from facts, and not from a manipulated version of reality that is counter to the interests of human progress.

Stimulating Narrative of Actual Sailors’ Adventures After a Mutiny

James Morrison, Donald A. Maxton, Ed., After the Bounty: A Sailor’s Account of the Mutiny, and Life in the South Seas (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022). $29.95: Softcover. 254pp. index. ISBN: 978-1-59797-372-4.

*****

“In 1787, the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bounty, captained by William Bligh, set sail for Tahiti in search of breadfruit plants. Soon after leaving Tahiti, Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian led a successful revolt, setting Bligh and eighteen of his men adrift. In his journal, fellow mutineer James Morrison recounts the Bounty’s voyage from his perspective as the boatswain’s mate, placing considerable blame for the mutiny on Bligh’s irascible personality and style of command. This event, however, simply introduces Morrison’s remarkable journey through the South Seas. A born storyteller, Morrison presents compelling tales after the Bounty mutiny, beginning with ringleader Fletcher Christian’s two bloody, ill-fated attempts to establish a refuge on the island of Tubuai. Morrison then recounts his eighteen month sojourn on Tahiti, where he constructed a seaworthy schooner and closely observed every aspect of the island and its way of life. He also includes the subsequent arrival of H.M.S. Pandora, which was charged with bringing the mutineers back to England for trial, and his imprisonment in the horrific ‘Pandora’s Box.’ Morrison once again faces peril when the Pandora sinks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where thirty-one of the crew and four prisoners perished. Although Morrison did not actively participate in the Bounty insurrection, he had remained with Fletcher Christian’s party, which was enough evidence for condemnation once back in England. While imprisoned, Morrison began composing his journal. He was released—King George III granted a pardon—and soon after wrote the second half of the journal, which he filled with detailed descriptions of Tahitian life, culture, and natural history.”

This is the first blurb I could reproduce in almost its entirety without having to interrupt it to object to its contents. It is possible that this positive intuitive reaction is the outcome of some of my earliest pleasure-reading books being Treasure Island, Peter Pan, and Robinson Crusoe. Pirate novels made it easy to become engaged in a story that included the threat of danger, with intellectual schemes for out-foxing rivals and those that held treasure, or included battles with nature on isolated islands and in dangerous seas. I stopped reading pirate stories at around the time I realized there are still real pirates who are killing and robbing on the world’s seas. But it is tempting to take some time to dive into an actual journal of an actual pirates or sea-rebel’s adventures, especially those as action-filled as those this blurb describes. However, given my current BRRAM research, I suspect that Morrison could not have written this journal himself, but rather that a ghostwriter created it, perhaps after hearing Morrison’s account. Signs of the involvement of a ghostwriter include that Morrison started writing the journal after he was in prison, instead of during the voyage, when a sea-journal would logically be written if it was meant to relay the precise details of what happened before they faded. Writing what happened while you are on trial and at risk of execution would certainly skew the narrative to present the most positive possible spin, which appears to have succeeded in earning the pardon from the King.

This book continues to be more appealing the closer one looks. For example, it includes a map of the route of the Bounty that shows them going back and forward and around in a pattern that has to be non-fictional, as a fiction writer would have had to give the characters some logical directions (48). The center of the book also includes several illustrations from earlier editions of the journal, as well as illustrations of the architecture of the ship, and the various environments and adventures. There is even a useful image of the names of the various sales “of a square-rigged ship”, as such terms (“fore topmast staysail” versus the “mizzen topmast staysail”) are frequently used in such books without any such clarification that is necessary for comprehension. Such materials are necessary in a scholarly edition that promises to offer a more useful introduction that those that had been published in several previous editions of a given classical book.

The “Introduction” further clarifies that there were two competing accounts of these adventures, one from Captain Bligh (A Voyage to the South Seas, published in 1792), and the other from the rebel Morrison. Morrison’s journal was published for the first time in its entirety in 1935, whereas only Bligh’s account was first-printed during the initial events. Maxton explains that the 1935 edition was released in a small print-run that made it inaccessible, and it did not include the front and back-matter that make this a useful tool for scholars who want to understand the multidimensionality of this narrative. Though most of this book is made up of the actual first-person Morrison account, as opposed to scholarly pondering; this is why the introduction is so dense with information, as only essential points are included given the limited space. Morrison’s account accuses the captain of mismanagement and corruption, such as stealing cheese from the crew (2). The first draft of this document was addressed to Reverend William Howell as a legal defense of the mutineers against the corrupt and idiotic actions of an incompetent captain. This must have been the truer version of events, or the mutineers would not have been pardoned. Meanwhile, Bligh’s self-puffery was accompanied with pufferies from other authors in print and on the stage, which glorified Bligh as an explorer who was heroically fighting against his rebellious crew for the glory of the Empire. I could not find a boring sentence in this introduction, as one sentence introduced the idea that Pitcairn Island is a place that still is the home of the survivors of the Bounty mutineers’ descendants at this day, as those who survived island-life settled there to avoid the chance of being executed over the rebellion at home (3). This story of thriving on an island, instead of facing nightmarish scenarios as those in Robinson Crusoe explains how so many people settled on isolated islands and became natives on them as people gradually migrated across the oceans during pre-history.

Morrison’s narrative itself is as engaging as the blurb promises it to be. For example, there is a description of Brown being the “aggressor” and starting a fight with a native, who “cut him across the hand with a piece of bamboo” in retaliation (75). This note regarding the white sailor causing the native to react violently answers the mystery proposed in the Poor Naked earlier in this set of reviews, or if the “savage” native was reacting against colonialism by behaving violently. British and American people have normalized violence in a manner that was probably foreign and strange to most natives they would have encountered during colonialism. Given my own findings regarding the Brits’ illiteracy at the onset of colonialism, an education was lacking on both sides of these encounters, and who was the aggressor came down to cultural norms, and the Brits clearly were more apt towards violent initiating actions.

The absurdity of any such generalizations regarding human nature as distinguished by culture is proven later when the natives declare war. Though this conflict appears to end as a failure from the foreigners’ perspective as they “were so scattered that we were not able at a distance to tell them from the enemy” (93). In reality, this lack of organization of the attack might have meant this was just a ceremonial battle that was designed to puff chests and issue threats, without causing much actual damage. But Morrison and the other rebels take this opportunity to offer their services to organize a more focused and victoriously violent strike during the next outbreak of war.

This account is partially proven to have been likely to be genuine by the precise and chaotic actions described. For example, Morrison describes how they were handcuffed at one point, when the ship suddenly started to sink, and he questioned if he might have been freed. Then, he realizes that the sinking means he has to swim for his life. “I threw away my trousers’ bound my lines up in a sash, or marro, after the Tahitian manner; got a short plank; and followed” into the water to catch up to a boat. He then summarizes that four of the prisoners drowned in this chaotic clash (120-1).

If this was a ghostwritten account, I would have probably noticed formulaic elements I had seen in other books before, but everything about these details reflects a genuine horror of the unpredictability of actual human actions when faced with other humans with conflicting interests and against nature. Therefore, anybody who is looking for a glimpse into what extreme adventure looked like in this distant past would find this book to be intellectually and emotionally stimulating. Thus, libraries would benefit from including it on their shelves, so casual readers and scholars could access it to satisfy their curiosity in a book, without trying such outrages themselves.

A Great Writer Is Always Great When Scribbling: Letters of Henry James

Henry James, Michael Anesko and Greg W. Zacharias, eds., The Complete Letters of Henry James (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, October 1, 2022). $95: Hardcover. 488pp, 6.25X10”. index. ISBN: 978-1-4962-3238-0.

*****

“This first volume in The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1887-1888 contains 154 letters, of which 94 are published for the first time, written from early January to December 22, 1887. These letters mark Henry James’s ongoing efforts to care for his sister, develop his work, strengthen his professional status, build friendships, engage timely political and economic issues, and maximize his income. James details work on ‘The Aspern Papers,’ Partial Portraits, and plans The Reverberator. This volume opens with James in the midst of a long sojourn in Italy and concludes with his inquiring about both the status of his essay to the American Copyright League and also the story ‘The Liar.’”

During my nineteenth century British literature graduate studies, I came to the unstated conclusion that Henry James was likely to be the best utilizer of the English language in the novel form. His novels were always polished and layered with meaning, including a great balance between actions and descriptions. The Portrait of a Lady stands out as a great example. Chapter I begins seemingly with a simple “afternoon tea”. The work is indeed a portrait in words of characters such as the “old man” with an “unusually large cup”. Then, the next paragraph introduces a painting of a “low hill, above the river”. “A long gabled front of red brick, with the complexion of which time and the weather had played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve and refine it, presented to the lawn its patches of ivy, its clustered chimneys, its windows smothered in creepers.” This book is available as a Gutenberg Project free digital edition, for those who are interested in exploring it. Thus, when I saw these letters were available for review, I naturally requested them. I always learn something new from great autobiographic letters, and especially when the author is an intellect in a field I have practiced in and want to excel in, such as novel-writing.

The table of contents drew my attention to a letter to Robert Louis Stevenson, on January 21, who was one of the subjects of my PhD dissertation and first published scholarly book, Rebellion as Genre. James describes how Robert had sent to him a copy of his proofs for a book-in-progress. James explains the common problem of writing blurbs for books, where one anticipates in advance the need to puff a writer’s “exceptional powers”, before actually starting the reading. He even asks for Robert to “pray for” him so he will not “offend” in his eventual comments. The rest of the letter lingers on casual topics (11-2). There are around a dozen of these detailed letters or so that he was writing every month. Two more letters follow to Robert on May 15 and 16. The first letter apologizes for a long silence, and for the death of Robert’s father, philosophizing on the nature of tragedy. The second is a brief note that explains there was a mix-up with sending the preceding letter (128-30). Then, there are some letters planning a reunion in England. Henry returns to the subject of writing in a letter on August 2, 1887 to Robert. “IT is worthwhile to write a tale of fantastic adventure, with a funny man etc., and pitched all in the slangiest key, to kill 20000 men, as in Solomon, in order to help your heroes on!” (183-4). For some reason, these Stevenson letters seem to have more instances of bracketed or unknown authorship dates, than those to other addressees. This absence of dates in contrast to typical specificity suggests something fishy is going on, including potential forgery, or perhaps the inclusion of these letters posthumously, after Robert’s death. An example of this is a letter in [October 1887] to Robert, which has not been previously published, and seems to have had its top cut off, as it starts with […] at the top before the letter begins mid-sentence. This [October] letter finally delivers a puffery of Robert’s writing that had been promised back in the first letter. Henry claims: “I would give all my unpublished MSS. To have written ‘sleeps in an antre of that alp!’” He mentions a few other quotes before pointing out that the main thing is that the “book is selling largely”, and being puffed in major publications. He mentions the advertisement without sending it, afraid that if Robert had already received it, he wouldn’t want to be the one to send it “twice over, when one is expecting a new puff. It suggests a poverty of fame.” Then, more unusually, Henry points out that he “hated” Robert’s “interviewers” because they “did” him “so very poorly”. This makes Henry semi-suicidal as he contemplates walking a “steamboat-plank” to “land in the water” to be relieved of the American heat, he is imagining Robert is under (238-9).

The “Introduction” to this volume provides some background to the various references made in these letters. Such background is necessary given the many different people with whom Henry exchanges letters, on a range of topics. It is really an extensive biography of this brief period that thoroughly documents where Henry was, what he was doing, and otherwise. I have not seen such a fiercely documented introduction in even other letter collections; so the presence of four different editors in this collection clearly shows up in this result. And there is a date-by-date chronology of these two years, with similar chronologies for the other years in the other volumes of these collected letters. And there is a “Biographical Register” in the back that will be absolutely necessary for somebody who wants to briefly learn who the different people that Henry is communicating with are, before deciding which letters are of interest to their individual interests or research.

This is just a really great way to present Henry James’ letters to the public. And James is one of the few writers who could not have written a boring or imprecise word even if just writing a little letter to a friend. Some writers just cannot put their pen to paper without amusing, teaching, or surprising readers. In these cases, it is really an important scholarly work to make their secret friendly ponderings accessible to the public. This is a great addition to libraries of all sorts, and it should be inspiration for writers to browse through some of these letters to find another writer’s input on topics we all have to ponder.

Real Adventures and Experiences at the South Pole

Wayne L. White, Cold: Three Winters at the South Pole (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022). $29.95: Hardcover. 220pp. color photographs. ISBN: 978-1-64012-552-0.

*****

“Winter owns most of the year at the South Pole, starting in mid-February and ending in early November. Total darkness lasts for months, temperatures can drop below -100 degrees Fahrenheit, and windchill can push temperatures to -140 degrees. At those temperatures a person not protected with specialized clothing and an understanding of how to wear it would be reduced to an icicle within minutes…. Wayne L. White” has “walked several thousand miles… never missing a day outside during his stay, regardless of the conditions. As the winter site manager of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, White was responsible for the selection, training, and health and safety of the forty-two- and forty-six-person crews.” He guided “a diverse group of experienced and talented craftsmen, scientists, and artisans through three winters, the longest term of any winter manager. Despite hardships, disasters, and watching helpless as a global pandemic unfolded far beyond their horizon, his crews prevailed.” This book is White’s first-person account of this experience. The cover and middle-of-the-book color photographs are fantastic visuals that capture the unusualness and beauty of this strange setting. One of these, “Fig. 4. Aurora over science projects”, photographed by Daniel Hampton, seems to show a building on fire next to a telescope with a sky-wide green aurora over it. “Fig. 10. South Pole station greenhouse” is photographed by the author himself, and it depicts seemingly depressed greens, with downturned leaves, but it is a miracle there was enough heat to keep them alive at all given the temperatures outside. “Fig. 12” shows the crew, which includes mostly middle-aged ordinary people, and none of these guys look like the type of people typically featured in documentaries about extreme weather conditions. Thus, it is really amazing that White has been able to keep these guys alive through these winters, as it would have been far less of a challenge if they had all been used to the cold, athletes, or at least in the first half of their lives. The last photograph is “Fig. 29. Siberian wolfskins that the author used on the coldest days. He always felt the spirit of those magnificent animals.” This is a curious description because: 1. It is amazing that wolf-skin is the warmest clothing White could find, when there should have been some modern coats invented by now that should have created better heating and insulation than what nature created for wolves. 2. As a continuing vegan, it is natural for me to question animal-skin-based clothing, seeing it kind of like human-skin taken off the human body; but if there is ever time to break vegan rules, it is certainly to avoid freezing to death in such extreme temperatures.

A freeze is expected in Texas in the coming week. The last time there was a major freeze with a few inches of snow, the Texas power grid failed and there was a state-wide days-long outage. I have preferred residing in the southern parts of the US since around 2004 in part because I am avoidant of cold temperatures. Thus, a book about how people take on extremely cold temperatures is suitable for this present moment when even Texas is getting cold. When I grew up in Moscow, the coldest temperature I might have been exposed to is -44F, while the record-low in Boston was -18F, and the record-low in Dallas is -3F. Thus, the -140F if a temperature that is closer to going to a different planet that is significantly further away from the sun, than merely traveling to the closest Pole. This book opens by explaining that at -80F “a strong exhalation will result in a strange whooshing noise from a very visible cloud coming from your mouth.” This noise if “from your breath… freezing incredibly rapidly and hurtling through the air”. A variety of other physical phenomena follow, such as, “your eyelids may temporarily freeze shut” (1-2). The formation of icicles around the face, especially on clothing near the face is something I encountered in Moscow. White explains that he also favored warmer climates, but decided that a “great exploration struggle… involved ice”. White also explains that an early explorer, Captain Scott, who reached the South Pole in 1912 said about it, “great God this is an awful place!” Then, he (together with his crew) died on his trip back and nobody else tried to go to the South Pole until 1956. Eventually some scientists started to congregate there, and they posted a position for a “station manager” for which White applied a few times, alongside with applying for positions he wanted more on tropical islands. White describes the training he received in Denver and the various other stages of the employment process precisely, so that anybody applying for this job would know exactly what is to come if they read this book first (3-28. In the “Summer” chapter, White mentions problems such as the friend of his who died from alcohol poisoning (61); this helped White decide to never drink while he was at the station (63), which appears to have helped him stay in this job for the uniquely long 3-year term. In the “Winter Traditions” chapter, White explains the rules of the 300 Club, which requires members to have been outside at -100F, and to go into the sauna set at 200F. One of the hopeful members, a doctor, had spent too much time outside and developed “frostbite to this body’s frontal region”, so that “he could not bend or sit down for a while”. Hopefuls were informed “there would be no reported injuries” (110-2). In other words, those who developed frostbite were discouraged from reporting it to avoid getting the entire 300 Club cancelled. In the “Outside” chapter, White jokingly describes how he managed to urinate outside on occasions when he was lost or away from the station for too long, and how he would go about attempting to hide the evidence (135). The “Activities” chapter explains that there was no cell service and internet is limited. And there was a “two, two-minute showers per week rule”, which caused some smelliness, and some manipulation of accounts to allow showers when needed (145).

This is just a fun and informative book to read. If Jack London had access to this book before he wrote “To Build a Fire”; his story might have been even better. Thus, anybody who is planning to write about adventures on the Pole, would benefit from this precise account. It’s a great book for general libraries to have on their shelves. And anybody who is struggling with the winter-blues or the winter-power-outage might enjoy reading this book during these times to realize that no matter how uncomfortable they are, there are people at the South Pole who are far more discomforted than them. 

Tools for Waging and Defending Against Propaganda, Litigation and Other Verbal Attacks

Rik Smits, The Art of Verbal Warfare (London: Reaktion Books, August 8, 2022). $35: Hardcover. 528pp, 6X9”. 41 halftones. ISBN: 978-1-78914-594-6.

*****

“…Exploration of our reliance upon swear words, insults, and the artfully placed expletive, damn it. We use salty or artful language to win arguments, slander, cheat, and bully, as well as to express feelings of joy or frustration by swearing or ‘blowing off steam.’ Rik Smits delves into the magic of oaths and profanity, art and advertising, the lure of fake news and propaganda, as well as invective and off-color jokes the world over. This book shows why conversation dies in crowded elevators and what drives us to curse at our laptops.” Profanity is explained as a tool to avoid “physical blows.”

I have reviewed or read as part of my research a few other books about obscene language. Some of these use obscenity as a linguistic measure, claiming that female authors can be distinguished from male authors from their lower rate of the use of obscene language. This book explains these basic rules of labeling certain things as taboo. But it goes beyond surface concepts to question the linguistics, noting that Creek Nation natives tend to “avoid using words” that sound like insults in white English, such as “fakki” for “soil” or “apissi” for “fat, obese”. Smits concludes that the “taboo-ness does not reside in the sound pattern of a word”, and not even in the thing the word represents (91-3). In the chapter on blaspheme, Smits begins with a court case where the author, Gerard Reve, demanded to be put on trial to clear his name on charges against his Near to Thee book’s depiction of obscene sexual relations with a bestial god. There is also coverage of a lawsuit against an Iranian celebrity, Sahar Tabar, who posted pictures of herself as a zombie Angelina Jolie to make fun of bad plastic surgeries. And Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in conversationally defending Jesus’ death for her sins as superior to an absence of such helpful actions from Muhammad (337-8). The chapter called “The Fifteen Laws of Propaganda” starts with a uniquely frank perspective on the evils of propaganda that spreads falsehoods with various tricks that fool the public. “Then there is the pesky ‘reportedly’ in the first sentence of this chapter. The thing is, nobody has ever found one shred of evidence that Hearst’s cable was sent.” This supposed cable led to the Spanish-American War in 1898, which was claimed to commence with the sinking of USS Maine. Smits’ note that there is no evidence behind the “reportedly” term is a criticism that is very rare in modern scholarship, as I have noted in other reviews just in this set. Smits continues: “All we have to go on is the say-so of a contemporary reporter called James Creeley, who wasn’t anywhere near at the time and was known to invent stories”. Creeley served as “the all-powerful newsman who” could “make war or peace with a snap of his fingers” (373-5). Such power is given to news agencies in every international story that is published in our times, and yet criticizing the errors such power generates is very rare in scholarly books. While most books that go into abstract concepts such as if there is such a thing as “facts” tend to ramble; but in this case, there is great discussion regarding how most things considered to be facts can be turned on their heads or disproven, such as sunsets (from the interstellar perspective) (380-2). The negation of known facts is essential to my own BRRAM series that questions if “Shakespeare” was merely a pseudonym, and not a real person. The point regarding making up falsehoods and selling them to help political agendas is the 1917 story posted by the British Ministry of Information regarding Germany processing corpses into recycled products (389). Another section discusses the use of fallacies to convince audience, such as using terms like “more and more” to build fear in the audience, or using “clearly” when a researcher is the opposite of certain regarding the clarify of a given hypothesis or finding (442-3). Such strategies are against what I would teach in a rhetoric class, but they are the reality of how broken communication has become, and how people actually win debates in the “real world”.

Overall, I did not find any places in this long book that failed to aim at a specific point and use the allotted words to attempt to get to it. This book is not merely an examination of obscene language or the terms that are deemed as unacceptable. It is rather a book about how words are used in cultural, economic, political and other types of intellectual warfare. This knowledge is essential for those who plan on using verbal warfare with nefarious intentions, as well as for those who hope to defend the world against such nefarious attacks. While the blurb states that verbal warfare comes short of actually engaging in blows; in reality, verbal attacks are described here as leading to very violent blows, including deaths in warfare, as well as from executions after trials. Thus, this is a great book for anybody who plans on sending and receiving words in this verbal world. Libraries should carry it to give access to it to their poorer patrons, who might one day find themselves being attacked verbally in court, on the street, or in any other mini-stage where their response or silence will be detrimental to their own lives.

The Most Unreadable Novel Ever Made

James Joyce; Catherine Flynn, Ed., The Cambridge Centenary Ulysses: The 1922 Text with Essays and Notes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, June 2022). 988pp. ISBN: 978-1-316515-94-5.

***

This is a new edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses “equipped with maps, photographs, and explanatory footnotes” with “context for the experiences of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly Bloom, as well as Joyce’s many other Dublin characters, on June 16, 1904. Featuring a facsimile of the historic 1922 Shakespeare and Company text, this version also includes Joyce’s own errata as well as references to amendments made in later editions. Each of the eighteen chapters of Ulysses is introduced by a leading Joyce scholar.” One of the central features of this novel is that it is one continuous thought without numbered chapter breaks; the perceived breaks are merely the ends of volumes that were necessary in the publication process. These introductions “discuss the novel’s plot and allusions, while also explaining crucial questions that have puzzled and tantalized readers over the last hundred years.” This blurb actually begins with the self-reported claim that this work is considered to be the best novel of all-time. Such self-diagnosed puffery is absurd, but necessary in this case, as the preceding book in this set, Verbal Warfare, explains. If there is reason to doubt what you are saying, one way to win the argument is by insisting that there is no doubt as this might be enough to convince an audience to avoid questioning such a bold assertion.

Ulysses is not a good novel, but rather a point when the novel form began to leap off a precipice into absurdity, and then into nonsense, and then into formulaically repetitive nonsense. The first element a reader notices is that instead of quotation marks, Joyce has chosen to use long dashes at the start of lines of dialogue, with only commas or periods to distinguish the segments where who is speaking and how are specified. Here is an example:

“— God, isn’t he dreadful ? he said frankly. A ponderous Saxon. He thinks you’re not a gentleman. God, these bloody English. Bursting with money and indigestion. Because he comes from Oxford. You know, Dedalus, you have the real Oxford manner…”

The space before the question mark looks like a typo, but is clearly an extra space that is a typographical error in standard typesetting. A similar absence of quotation marks to distinguish speeches or quotes was used in Renaissance texts, which also omitted apostrophes in the possessive case (Romans instead of Roman’s). Back during the Renaissance this absence was due to a lack of the introduction of consistent use of quotations. There some books that used marginal quotation marks to indicate a portion of the book that was taken from a different text, and these few instances were picked up, modernized and made popular only in the middle of the 18th century starting with works such ad Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Thus, in these opening pages Joyce appears to be attempting to imitate Renaissance formatting, as well as the content of Renaissance books, referring to the “Saxon” as a variant for “English”, just as Verstegan did in Restitution, and puffing while satirizing the standing of an Oxford-education. He is also using many pretentious words that would have been unfamiliar to his contemporary readers, such as “Malachi”, Hebrew for “my messenger”. However, these highbrow words are not used to relate a specific coherent meaning that requires their usage to explain the culture or actions of the characters. Nobody in this scene is Jewish, so why would they use a Hebrew term? An example of this misuse of mixed references is a section where the old man, Buck Mulligan, describes “our Irish poets’… snotgreen” handkerchief, before quoting “Algy” (referring to Algernon Charles Swinburne) merely in saying the sea is a “great sweet mother”, and then adding it is the “snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.” Then he quotes a sentence in Greek from Homer’s Odyssey that means “upon the wine-dark sea.” This is a significant allusion because it explains in part the name of the novel; however, nobody goes over the sea in the single day that is depicted in Joyce’s version. Then, as typical for this novel, Mulligan switches topics abruptly to accuse Stephen of having killed his mother by refusing to pray with her as she was dying. Stephen then remembers: “Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown graveclothes giving off an odor of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him mute, reproachful, a faint odor of wetted ashes.” This pondering is interrupted by an unrelated reference to art, and then with the details of Mulligan’s continuing attempts to shave himself (1-7). These digressions and allusions have been deemed to be “great” by previous scholars because they appear to follow classical or Renaissance rules of dense allusions with dramatic dialogue that makes various socio-political points. However, the mixing of grand allusions with grotesque details nullifies the literary value of the references, as the grotesque imagery would repel a reader who would typically be interested in following such references to their sources. Thus, a reader who remains with this narrative is put through a nauseating experience of being bombarded with bodily fluids, and the vague ugliness of life, without any of these elements being drawn with enough detail to fully allow the reader to understand the multidimensionality of these characters. On an average page, most of the space is consumed with empty dialogue such as: “What? Where? I can’t remember anything. I remember only ideas and sensations. Why? What happened in the name of God?” The response is that the thing to remember is that he was making tea, and the conversation digresses from there (8). The reader is being forced to travel on these endless digressions that never arrive at a resolution. It is like being forced to listen to a drunkard relative, who drinks a bottle of vodka daily and cannot be left alone; and you are the dutiful child who has been ordered to be in the room with him and cannot turn on any outside disruptions, or you might fail the quiz he is going to give you, as he will ask if you recall what he was saying as he was drinking tea; and if you cannot recall, he is going to yell at you and toss the bottle at the wall, and you are going to have to clean it up, as he tells you another story about the fantastic booger he dug out of his nose…

I took a PhD-level class solely on Ulysses, and diligently read this whole novel cover-to-cover. The edition we were asked to use barely had any annotations, and did not have introductory chapters that dissected the various standard literary interpretations of each assigned section. Thus, I felt like I had to write one of these chapters in my own notes to prepare myself for the possible topics that would come up in the class discussion. I would find some secondary sources that discussed various elements of these sections to help gather the correct approach to interpreting this text. I learned during the discussions that some of my conclusions were apparently incorrect, or presented ideas that had not been raised before by other scholars. These problems with comprehension or mismatching interpretations of this novel appear in all classes where this work is taught. It is taboo to voice discontentment with the unreadable quality of the work, as making this point is a confession that one has failed to suffer through the experience. Even if a reader succeeds in actually reading the full text, the constant digressions make it impossible to memorize enough of the narrative to answer all questions correctly on a test on the contents, without having access to a Cliff Notes abridgement with the few details that are most likely to be of sufficient “importance” to be testable. And when people are discussing this work in a casual setting, some people seem to have a few obscure elements they have memorized that they cite to test if others are familiar with them, and if not, the crowd is judged to be incompetent.

Some of my favorite novels are extremely long and include many digressive elements. My favorite among such novels is Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605). This work compresses many intellectually stimulating allusions, as well as many occasional grotesque references to bodily functions, or bad breath, and yet the whole text is strung together with a tight narrative structure that invites readers on this absurd adventure. Don Quixote does not travel very far (similarly to Stephen who is frozen watching the sea from a window), and his adventures are also silly and trivial. But each new experience and adventure is explored fully before moving on to the next element. This gradual introduction of new places and events in a rational order is necessary in an especially long novel to help readers remember the overall plot, the essence of the characters, and for all readers to know as one the important elements they have to remember to understand the work as a whole. Ulysses breaks this necessary inviting order, just as if a filmmaker had created a 5-season series (a third of which was general chatter about shaving, brushing teeth, and other routine activities, a third covered the main character sleeping, and the last third included obscure and foreign-language allusions to Aramaic, Greek and Old German texts) and then remixed its episodes into fragments of only 2-minutes each in an absolutely random order. Then, a film studies professor labeled this creation as the “greatest” film series ever made, and all graduate film students were forced to watch this thing’s 100 hours to pass a class required for graduation.

The scholarly components of this edition include tools designed to assist the confused graduate students, such as a timeline for when different colors, people, organs and symbols are introduced. This table might be what James used as he designed this book, as otherwise there would be no unifiable references to only the heart or the brain in specific hours of this day. “The Gilbert Scheme” version of this table from 1930 includes locations of events, such as the “brothel” and the “hospital”, while most of its elements is repeated in the updated table. The opening scholarly essay to the “chapter known as ‘Telemachus’” from Karen R. Lawrence clarifies that “the eighteen chapter titles are not identified in the book itself”, but they “were identified by Joyce in his notes and letters, as well as in his ‘ground plan’ for the novel”. I suspect that Joyce created the table that was reproduced by Gilbert in 1930, or these elements were recorded in Joyce’s notes, as otherwise it is not likely scholars would have found these patterns or given similar titles to the chapters, or noticed there were chapter divisions. Lawrence quotes Joyce on a few other points regarding the construction and organization of this book. This reliance on Joyce’s self-puffery, or self-attached scholarly introductions have been reused by scholars who have repeated these claims without having to question if such patterns are sufficient to label a book as a “great” novel. The faults of this text are not with the scholarly editors of this or other editions, but with Joyce himself, who should have worked harder to make a readable text. I do not recommend for anybody to read Ulysses, and especially I hope teachers will refrain from assigning it even in graduate classes. But if there is no way to avoid the assignment of this novel; then, it is better if students are exposed to an edition like this one, as opposed to some of the editions that leave the text to “speak” for itself.

Scholarly Introduction to Antique Egyptian Literature in Hieroglyphics and English

James P. Allen, Middle Egyptian Literature: Eight Literary Works of the Middle Kingdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, January 2015). 451pp. ISBN: 978-1-107087-43-9.

*****

“A companion volume to the third edition of the author’s popular Middle Egyptian, this book contains eight literary works from the Middle Kingdom, the golden age of Middle Egyptian literature… The works are presented in hieroglyphic transcription, transliteration and translation, accompanied by notes cross-referenced to the third edition of Middle Egyptian. These are designed to give students of Middle Egyptian access to original texts and the tools to practise and perfect their knowledge of the language. The principles of ancient Egyptian verse, in which all the works are written, are discussed, and the transliterations and translations are versified, giving students practice in this aspect of Egyptian literature as well. Consecutive translations are also included for reference and for readers more concerned with Middle Egyptian literature than language.”

The “Introduction” further clarifies: “Five of the texts are those that any student of Middle Egyptian should read: the stories of the Shipwrecked Sailor and Sinuhe, the instructions of Kagemni’s father and Ptahhotep, the discourses of the Eloquent Peasant, and the Debate between a Man and His Soul. The other three were chosen to complement these: the Loyalist Instruction, to illustrate the attitude toward the king that underlies the story of Sinuhe; the tale of the Herdsman, because it is on the same papyrus as the Debate; and the Hymns to Senwosret III, to exemplify the genre of hymns” (1).

The “Style” section clarifies that all of these texts are written in a type of “free verse” or without meter or rhyme, but instead used a “though couplet” where the second lines fit logically with the first lines (2). There are several other patterns and systems in Egyptian verse that are clarified across this section.

The rest of the book is divided into sections dedicated to each of the five central texts. The first of these is the “Shipwrecked Sailor”. The introduction to it explains that it is “the oldest surviving ancient Egyptian story”, which has been dated by its grammar to the early Middle Kingdom (2000-1900 BC). Then, there is a useful plot-summary of this “unusual” story, such as “its anonymous characters”. Then the hieroglyphic version of “Episode 1” is presented, immediately followed by what the letters sound like, and an English translation of the poem. Some of the lines are pretty simple, but a couple of lines stand out as uniquely intricate:

“The mallet has been taken, the mooring-post has been hit,

and the prow-rope is set on land.”

Then comes extensive notes on this fragment that explain the characters one-by-one. Then, the next fragment is introduced. There is a useful black bolding of the characters in the first row, or the last row from English’s perspective, which explains this text is to be read from right to left, and from the top downward. Then, the beginning of the Sailor’s story includes some scientific information about these seafarers:

“They could predict a gale before it came,

a thunderstorm before it happened.”

The newness of this field of study is highlighted in “Text 3: The Loyalist Instruction”, where the introduction explains that this is one of the rare texts with a “supposed author”, since as recently as in 2005 a tomb at Assiut was discovered that named this author. Most of this poem is a puffery of the King, which instructs subjects on how to “worship” him.

Overall, this is a great approach to introducing antique ancient texts to modern readers. Egyptian literature is one of the earliest roots for various other national literatures that appeared across the following millennia. Thus, studying notable examples of it, with access to the original hieroglyphics and aided with precise scholarly annotations is essential for our communal understanding of how narrative storytelling has ended up where it is now. I am going to return to this book, if or when the subject of these Egyptian roots resurfaces in my research. Libraries of all sizes should have this book in their collection, as librarians cannot anticipate whose research might suddenly dive into these barely-explored scholarly territories.

A Rambling History of International Music in a Century

Iain Fenlon and Richard Wistreich, The Cambridge History of Sixteenth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). 732pp. ISBN: 978-1-108671-27-9.

****

“Part of the seminal Cambridge History of Music series, this volume departs from standard histories of early modern Western music in two important ways. First, it considers music as something primarily experienced by people in their daily lives, whether as musicians or listeners, and as something that happened in particular locations, and different intellectual and ideological contexts, rather than as a story of genres, individual counties, and composers and their works. Second, by constraining discussion within the limits of a 100-year timespan, the music culture of the sixteenth century is freed from its conventional (and tenuous) absorption within the abstraction of ‘the Renaissance’, and is understood in terms of recent developments in the broader narrative of this turbulent period of European history.”

I requested this book because I was working on the William Byrd volume of my BRRAM series, which dives into the music industry of the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of chapters in this collection are thus irrelevant to my narrow interests. The closest chapter is “8: The Lives of Musicians” by Richard Wistreich. However, the chapter begins with abstract definitions of music, with claims there was no concept of music theory during this period. There are also claims that singers were more valued than musicians in terms of their salaries. This is blatantly untrue from my research, as the top-earning musicians were described as Court Lutenists, and I have not come across any top-earners who specialized in singing. There are no clear explanations what these claims are based on. One of the quotes offered is from “Thomas Whythorne”, who writes: “I cannot here leave out or let pass to speak of another sort who do live by music and yet are no musicians at all. And those are those who after they have learned a little to sing pricksong [written music], or else have either learned by hand, or by ear, or else by tablature, to play or sound on musical instruments, such music as has been and is made by others and not by them.” This is likely to have been Byrd’s point regarding his ghostwriting of musical lyrics and notations that were purchased by “composers”, “organists” and other music professionals in top-earning positions who got these jobs because their bylines had appeared on music partbooks they did not actually write themselves (as explained in detail in the Byrd BRRAM volume). Wistreich does not give this explanation, as he instead attempts to use it to support his strange anti-musician theory. The section on child musicians uses many generalizations and restates unknowns. For example, he describes “Children as young as 6 years old would be committed to at least seven… years of preparation for what was, at best, an unpredictable career.” Where are these numbers coming from? Why has Wistreich concluded the career was “unpredictable”? There are a few quotes offered regarding descriptions of the musical education from contemporary sources in different countries, like England and France. The problem might be this international attempt to make broad generalizations about music across different regions. This dispersion means that none of the systems are explored in sufficient depth to arrive at concrete information. There is a section on “Private Households” that begins with generalizations about the grand musical educations of the nobles, without grounding these abstractions in specifics. There are some interesting notes: “In Elizabethan England… forcible impressment of boys to serve in the royal chapels and the capital’s cathedral was commonplace, and was even sanctioned by royal decree: in 1562, and again in 1580…” that gave power to the Masters of Choristers of St. Paul’s Cathedral for “taking up of certain apt children that may by his apt education be framed in singing so as they may be fit to serve us in this behalf”. There was a need to forcibly impress children because of the shortage of literate and especially musically-literate youths in England. This is why Joseph Lupo and his Jewish family managed to migrate into England in around 1563 and to immediately find work at Court, despite the ban on Jews in England; there was such a shortage of musicians, the Court was willing to even allow Jews in. Most of the Court musicians were from this wave of migratory Jews, as I explain in the Byrd BRRAM volume. There is a brief mention of the Lupos and Bassanos families of Jewish Court musicians in chapter 8’s Court section. Byrd is only mentioned in this volume in regard to this Catholicism, and the Catholic music he occasionally published in chapter “9: Domestic Music” in a section on “Religious Devotion and Veneration”.  

The further I looked across this volume, the more useful information I found. Thus, a researcher is likely to find relevant information if they access a digital edition of this book and search for the terms or names that they are researching. If they attempt to search for chapter titles that match their interests, and to read the content in-order, they are likely to be frustrated. This is a book designed for specialists in this field, but primarily for graduate students, as opposed to researchers with in-depth knowledge, as only surface information is provided, with many generalizations designed to look knowledgeable instead of digesting the sources of where information is coming from.

Curious Essays on Beethoven’s Musical Composition Method

Keith Chapin and David Wyn Jones, Beethoven Studies 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, September 2020). 320pp. ISBN: 978-1-108428-52-1.

*****

Beethoven Studies 4 revives a ‘brand’ that has lain dormant for almost four decades. Established by the British musicologist Alan Tyson, the original three-volume Beethoven Studies series (published in 1973/1974, 1977, and 1982) was principally devoted to the investigation of source materials for Beethoven’s life and music, notably his sketches. Containing valuable documentary insights and thought-provoking criticism, these volumes remain indispensable resources in Beethoven research; however, they necessarily reflect the era in which they were written. The range of methodologies, broad for the time, seems narrow by today’s standards. So, too, does the roster of contributors, which comprised just twelve scholars (all men, nearly all Anglo-American) across a total of twenty-three chapters. In music studies, as elsewhere, the horizon of the possible has widened drastically since the early 1980s. Accordingly, the editors of the newest instalment in the series have set out to produce a book that not only resuscitates but also reimagines the Beethoven Studies endeavour.”

The chapter that drew my attention first is John D. Wilson’s “From the Chapel to the Theater to the Akademiensaal: Beethoven’s Musical Apprenticeship at the Bonn Electoral Court, 1784-1792”. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 after this apprenticeship, and then began the period when he was broadly considered a top international composer. Meanwhile, this extensive apprenticeship has been neglected, despite the fact that many later mature pieces were first written during this period, and merely edited later on. A section explains the significance of an “Unparalleled Music Library” with around 2,350 words in Bonn. In my own BRRAM research, I have conquered that there was a shortage of music books across the world by the end of the Renaissance, and this was only a century later. Thus, a collection of 2,350 works probably included the best music books from around the world. Without access to earlier experiments, a composer cannot move the field forwards. Innovation comes when there are too many preceding examples for imitation to be possible; with too many things to imitate, a composer is forced to create their own formulas that make intricate selections from the possibilities. Then, a section describes how Beethoven would have began his work at the Court in the “small palace chapel”, as “an unpaid assistant organist to Neefe”, who stepped in when Neefe was busy elsewhere. Another section explains the curious idea that the “opera in Bonn was an exclusive affair open only to invited guests of the nobility”. Then, Beethoven began performing in “Large Public” spaces such as “Großer Akademiensaal”. Most of the compositions Beethoven is likely to have created for this space have been “lost”. This silence is explained by Wilson as the result of being intimidated during teenage years by the library of great music and the many rival composers staging their original work in Bonn. Oddly, those around Beethoven might have had more of their pieces performed for the public, but he was the one singled out for success. “Beethoven’s music, alone among his peers in the Hofkapelle, made it into his employer’s library and was performed in the court theatre (albeit without attribution), and that he alone was sent to Vienna to perfect the craft of composition, suggest that, for whatever reason, he was viewed differently from his colleagues: someone who was worth the investment.” This is a curious point in need of further research. The cynic in me suspects that this selection of Beethoven was a corrupt choice that he purchased with a bribe, and that his “anonymous” or unattributed works might not have been his at all, but rather ghostwritten by a Bonn composer, and later erroneously re-assigned to Beethoven to substantiate the puffery of this composer in his following career. I make this argument because of where the BRRAM series has taken me, and against my intuitive adoration for Beethoven’s compositions, and especially the “Moonlight Sonata”.

I also skimmed over Giorgio Sanguinetti’s chapter on “Beethoven and Tonal Prototypes” and found some complex analysis of musical theory. And Tom Beghin’s chapter, “Deafly Performing Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas”, begins curiously with a request to manufacture a replica piano. This chapter points out that Beethoven was “reclusive” and so it was rare to hear him “play (that is, improvise) on any piano.” Then, the “Pandora’s Box” section introduces the point that Beethoven was “largely deaf” by the time he received this antique piano. This point returns me to my suspicions of ghostwriting, as the excuse that one is deaf and reclusive would have really helped a composer who had hired a ghostwriter-composer to perform their work, and could not demonstrate unique compositional skill in-person. The hearing objection is corrected by the fact that there were friendly visitors of Beethoven’s study in this period who noticed a “hearing machine” above the Graf piano, which would have allowed Beethoven to magnify and hear the instrument despite his deafness (215).

As with most great books, this scholarly collection of essays invites me to keep reading it to learn more about Beethoven as a composer and musician. This is not the period that is focal to my current research, so this continuing and growing interest especially indicates well-written and presented research. There is thoroughly documented evidence throughout, curious research questions, and unrestricted by tradition answers. This book is definitely designed for specialist researchers in this field, as students who attempt to use it are likely to be profoundly confused. Thus, this book is a great fit for academic libraries. And it is rare for me to reach a positive review conclusion on any collection of essays, as these typically include too many unreadable inclusions, which appear to have been sternly rejected in this instance.

A First Step in Questioning the Christian Propaganda Behind Old Norse Mythology

John Lindow, Old Norse Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021). 236pp. index. ISBN: 978-0-190852-27-6.

****

“…Survey of the mythology of Scandinavia: the gods Þórr (Thor) with his hammer, the wily and duplicitous Óðinn (Odin), the sly Loki, and other fascinating figures. They create the world, battle their enemies, and die at the end of the world, which arises anew with a new generation of gods. These stories were the mythology of the Vikings, but they were not written down until long after the conversion to Christianity, mostly in Iceland. In addition to a broad overview of Nordic myths, the book presents a case study of one myth, which tells of how Þórr (Thor) fished up the World Serpent, analyzing the myth as a sacred text of the Vikings… Also explores the debt we owe to medieval intellectuals, who were able to incorporate the old myths into new paradigms that helped the myths to survive when they were no longer part of a religious system… Traces the use of the mythology in ideological contexts, from the Viking Age until the twenty-first century, as well as in entertainment.”

As I was researching Verstegan’s Restitution volume of BRRAM, I realized that Verstegan’s presentation of Old Norse mythology strongly indicated that these myths were Greco-Roman mistranslations, mixed with a Catholic anti-propaganda against non-Catholic peoples, including those that appeared to still be worshipping a decayed or reinterpreted version of the Greco-Roman theology. Verstegan explains the names of the main gods as serving as the bases for the Old German names of the week, such as Thursday (from Thor). However, in this explanation he draws attention to how the mythological figures really echo Greco-Roman figures, such as the god of war, or a goddess of love. It mostly seems to be a mistranslation or a deliberate misunderstanding in medieval times that has interpreted these texts as a distinct religion, which allowed Catholics to discount these beliefs as inferior or savage, whereas they really reflected a civilized antique religious past of Roman times, when there was more literacy and theological knowledge than in medieval times. I am hopeful this book might shed some additional light on this conundrum, as I have not yet published the Restitution volume, so it can still be reinforced or contradicted.

As the blurb and “Introduction” explain, the earliest surviving manuscripts are from the 13th and 14th centuries in Iceland, after this region is claimed to have converted to Christianity in around 1000. Scandinavian languages diverged from Old German shortly before this introduction of Christianity. Lindow echoes Verstegan’s interest in the origin of the days of the week, such as Monday coming from dies Lunae or the “day of the moon”; the English and Scandinavian terms are based on the Old German variant for moon, as opposed to coming close to the Latin variant of this term. The Greco-Roman god Mars is behind the Tyr or Thor basis for Thursday. Thus, Thor and Mars in this system clearly refer to the same god in different languages, as opposed to different gods. This association between Mars and Thor is confirmed in the myths told about Thor. Lindow explains that some scholars have taken the “interpretatio germanica”, seeing the German influences in this theology and terminology, while others have used the “interpretatio romana”, or the claim that “Roman writers” tended to “describe the religions of the ethnic groups at the fringe of the empire… using the names of Roman deities”. Lindow notes that place names based on Thor in the Oslo region have a “second component meaning something like ‘cult site.’” This supports the idea that these names were given by Catholics who wanted to belittle local religious beliefs by labeling them as “cults” of idols; whereas if the locals had named these places after Thor, they would have used a positive phrasing. One of the rare fifth century Runic inscriptions on a horn stated merely, “I Hlewastiz son of Holt/ from Holt made the horn”. Another problem is that the two manuscripts claimed to be the earliest 13th century Icelandic manuscripts include at least one, Snorri’s Edda, that was “rediscovered in the seventeenth century”; this is problematic because of the many antique forgeries I discovered that were created in the 17th century; thus, any manuscripts that were first discovered during this period are likely to have also been forgeries made to appear antique to increase their value for collectors. If these texts were forgeries; they were not informing later texts such as Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum, but instead borrowing content from these later texts to be more believably antique.

There is no serious questioning here regarding the authenticity of these sources. Such a check might be achieved by carbon dating these documents, or by comparing them with dated artifacts from the years they claim to be from to check if there were any similar illustrations of these mythologies in the periods claimed. Instead, the book attempts to create a Bible for the Old Norse mythology, by adding new fictions to the few descriptions of this mythology in Tacitus and the other texts mentioned. The book is divided into sections that address the cosmogony, sacredness, medieval perspectives and ideology as entertainment. These are awkward approaches that digress into nebulous subjects instead of reviewing the facts of the case. For example, “Chapter 3: Old Norse Mythology and Learned Medieval Speculation” opens just with the questions I have been asking, and points out that medieval depictions are demonizing as “pre-Christian gods” are “transformed… into Satan or his minions. Odin and Thor were the gods who figured most often in such contexts, and a devil appeared in the form of each to Olafr Haraldsson the saint to tempt him”. One such example is Floamanna Saga or “Saga of the Men of Floi” (1290-1350?), where Thor invades Thorgils’ dreams and attempts to tempt him. Lindow draws attention to Saxo’s argument that “the Danish gods cannot be identical with the Roman gods, since Mercury, who should be equated with Odin, was the son of Jupiter” and the like errors. These mistakes were the result of poor scholarship that added errors, or rewrote mythology to bend it to appear to be flawed as part of the Christian propaganda campaign. Lindow fails to insert a comment regarding the accuracy or potential contradictions or support for Saxo’s theory after citing this ancient claim.

Lindow cites many curious Old Norse sources, but I cannot use any of this to assist my own research in Restitution because none of these claims are addressed with a close analysis, but are instead merely glimpsed in passing. There is a tendency to agree with Tacitus and other antique sources, as opposed to negating them for the propaganda that they are. The fact that they are propaganda is mentioned, but the claims of the propagandists are still mostly accepted as factual. I translated some antique sources that explain how the misunderstanding of Old Norse mythology came about in Restitution. I would have to perform translations of these full sources, such as the “Saga” to figure out precisely what was said in them and what it actually proves. So those who want to understand this subject would learn more from reading my Restitution volume than this book. That said, this is one of the best studies I have seen so far of Old Norse mythology because this subject tends to be treated as if it is a cartoon in the media and by scholars who echo these myths.

A New Faulty Attempt to Substantiate with “Evidence” the Fictitious Life of “Shakespeare”

Lena Cowen Orlin, The Private Life of William Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021). 320pp. illustrated color plates, index. ISBN: 978-0-19-284630-3.

****

“A new biography of William Shakespeare that explores his private life in Stratford-upon-Avon, his personal aspirations, his self-determination, and his relations with the members of his family and his neighbours. The book offers close readings of key documents associated with Shakespeare and develops a contextual understanding of the genres from which these documents emerge. It reconsiders clusters of evidence that have been held to prove some persistent biographical fables. It also shows how the histories of some of Shakespeare’s neighbours illuminate aspects of his own life. Throughout, we encounter a Shakespeare who consciously and with purpose designed his life. Having witnessed the business failures of his merchant father, he determined not to follow his father’s model. His early wedding freed him from craft training to pursue a literary career. His wife’s work, and probably the assistance of his parents and brothers, enabled him to make the first of the property purchases that grounded his life as a gentleman. With his will, he provided for both his daughters in ways that were suitable to their circumstances; Anne Shakespeare was already protected by dower rights in the houses and lands he had acquired. His funerary monument suggests that the man of ‘small Latin and less Greek’ in fact had some experience of an Oxford education. Evidences are that he commissioned the monument himself.”

If any of the assertions in this blurb are true, these are items I would have to edit in my BRRAM series, which explains that “William Shakespeare” was a business and literary pseudonym the Workshop used. The father’s “John Shakespeare” signature matches “William’s” signature, as both are blatant forgeries, which were used in part to avoid paying taxes, to hoard grain, and in other business schemes where those behind these deals did not want the blame to fall on themselves, and thus used pseudonyms to disguise these transactions. “Shakespeare’s” will spells “Shakespeare’s” surname in six different ways in each of the signatures, and includes sarcastic absurdities, such as leaving a second-best bed to his wife. I am now going to attempt to mine this book for any evidence that might actually change my mind on any of these points.

I began my mining with the list of illustrations, since the book promised documentary evidence. “Figure 3.1 Richard Quiney’s autograph letter to William Shakespeare, dated 25 October 1598” is written in Percy’s or “Shakespeare’s” handwriting with a slightly less wiggly emphasis than samples of it in the will signature or the Sir Thomas More fragment; the handwriting on the back of this letter in the address in “Figure 3.4” is wigglier and more closely matches “Shakespeare’s” hand. This document is presented in a chapter called “Shakespeare’s Home”, and is described as the “sole surviving letter” addressed “to Shakespeare”. As I explain in BRRAM’s Volumes 1-2, Percy was involved in “Philip Henslowe’s” fraudulent money-lending schemes where dramatic performances were hyped as attracting many attendees to investors, who purchased ghostwriting and other services to invest in new productions, and then ended up losing their investments because there were actually extremely few attendees for this obscure new form of entertainment. Back in 1593, William and Henry Percy had taken out a loan for £2,400 that they invested in theatrical and various other projects connected to the Ghostwriting Workshop’s activities. Theatrical lending was designed to avoid usury laws limits on interests, and this was one of the ways Percy found certain refunds on his investments. This letter from Quiney (also spelled as “Queeney”, a blatant softening joke on “Queen”) confirms this because it is asking for “Shakespeare’s” or Percy’s help in securing a loan for £30. Quiney describes his abode as being in Stratford, where the year before “Shakespeare” had purchased his first estate with a house. Orlin notices that “Shakespeare” had defaulted on taxes in London within six months of this purchase. Such a default shows either absolute carelessness about money, or a fraud taking place, such as there being more than one actual person claiming to be the variedly-spelled “William Shakespeare” (one in Stratford and another in London). Orlin recognizes that aside for the few real estate purchases made in “Shakespeare’s” name, there are very few surviving pieces of evidence that “Shakespeare” actually engaged in business that could have generated the money that he would have needed to purchase the stated real estate. Instead of finding any evidence for what “Shakespeare” was actually doing to acquire money, Orlin uses evidence of what the guy who wrote a letter to him seeking a loan, Richard Quiney, was doing in these letters. He claims that it is likely that Quiney led a “parallel life” and that we can assume “Shakespeare” took similar steps. In contrast, the truth is that if “Shakespeare” had taken similar capitalist steps, there would have been a similar set of records that would have survived recording these activities, but these do not exist. Quiney supervised the rebuilding of the Clopton Bridge in 1588 as Chamberlain, and campaigned Burghley in London for payment of tithe shares, and he personally collected wills to collect funds bequeathed to the borough. Orlin even proves a connection between the Northumberland’s (Percys’ seat) Ambrose Dudley, Ear of Warwich and Richard Quiney, as Richard’s father, Adrian, worked towards mutual interests with “Shakespeare’s” father, “John Shakesepare”. “William Shakespeare’s” married daughter was later called Judith Quiney, as these families intertwined. “Adrian” and “John’s” names appeared on the same petition for a new charter in 1597. Quiney successfully petitioned for an increase in poor relief and infrastructure-funding for the region. Orlin points out that the letter from “Quiney” to “Shakespeare” could not have been sent, since it was found in Orlin’s well-preserved papers. Given that both “Shakespeare” and “Quiney” shared a handwriting (i.e., they were both William Percy’s pseudonyms, or those who hired Percy as their secret-secretary), there was no need for “Quiney” to “bargain with William Shakespeare”, as a follow-up letter stated. Percy was indeed relatively desperate for funds in 1597-8 because this was a year before the Globe Theatre was first-opened in 1599, and he had to find new funds to invest into this and other ventures, while making little in return. Percy finally repaid the initial huge 1593 loan in 1600; he continued borrowing somewhat after this point, but his situation became less desperate. Orlin reports that Quiney’s single trip to London generated over £44 in expenses. Thus, Quiney’s quest for a £30 loan with “Shakespeare’s” help was blatantly absurd, as he would have needed many times more than this sum if this was his regular spending-rate. Quiney ended up taking money away from the town to pay for some of his expenses. Curiously, Quiney only retired these debts to the town in 1600, or at around the same time when Percy settled his main loan. None of this information establishes who “Shakespeare” was or that “Shakespeare” was.

Most of Orlin’s book is consumed with a study of monuments, wills and other death-related records. Most of the illustrations are of monuments. Chapter “1: 23 January 1577: Shakespeare’s Father” again gives the precise records that survived for a glover called Hobday, with the various wares, animal skins, and sales activities this business came with. Then, it states that while “John Shakespeare” has been described in records as also being a “glover”, no “inventory has… survived”, and no other “direct evidence that he practiced his craft of record”. And the “two documented sales connected with John Shakespeare’s name, both from 1564” included a sale of a “piece of timber” and from the will of the “Stratford brewer Robert Mylles.” In the latter “John” was paid 15d for fostering “the orphans of a man named Thomas Fylle”. This as well as the few other surviving bits of evidence and the chasm of the lacking evidence confirms my theory that both “John” and “William Shakespeare” were pseudonyms, and not that these were actual people; as if they were the latter, they would have left behind the same types of records actual practitioners of their stated trades left.

I cannot look any further into this book because I have not yet found any piece of evidence that would contradict my perspective, and thus it is not useful towards adjusting any bits of BRRAM I might still edit before I publish the rest of the series. I can write many new books refuting each of the claims in this book, but I am certain Oxford University Press would not be interested in publishing this refutation. Hopefully this review will help readers understand these “Shakespeare” biographical claims better. I do not recommend for folks to purchase this book, but rather Volumes 1-2 of BRRAM, which explain the underlying roots of these mysteries.

The “Four” Men Who Censored the Birth of British Drama

Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021). 387pp. ISBN: 978-0-192551-54-2.

*****

“Traces the measures taken by the governments of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I to regulate the new phenomenon of fixed playhouses and resident playing companies in London, and to censor their plays. It focuses on the Masters of the Revels, whose primary function was to seek out theatrical entertainment for the court but whose role expanded to include oversight of the players and their playhouses. The book proceeds chronologically, tracking each of the Masters in the period—Edmund Tilney (served 1579-1610), Sir George Buc (1610-22), Sir John Astley (1622-3), and Sir Henry Herbert (1623-1642). Tilney was the first to receive a Special Commission giving him wide-ranging powers over the players. When Buc first became involved is examined here in detail, as is the parallel history of the Children of the Queen’s Revels who between 1604 and 1608 staged some of the most scandalous plays of the era. Astley succeeded Buc, but soon sold the office to Herbert, who then served to the closing of the theatres. Manuscripts of plays censored by Tilney, Buc, and Herbert have survived and are examined in detail to assess their concerns. Large parts of Herbert’s office-book have also survived, giving detailed insights into his professional life, including interactions with both the court and the players. It reveals the difficulties he faced negotiating recurrent popular pressure for war against Spain, resistance to Archbishop Laud’s reforms of the church, and Henrietta Maria’s problematic presence as a Catholic queen to Charles I.”

This book is thoroughly researched and presents a great deal of information about this subject in a manner that allows readers to follow the narrative or to skim to the sections relevant to their individual research. My attention fell first to the “List of Illustrations”, which includes three play manuscripts that were licensed by “Buc” and “Herbert”, and which fit a section in the Byrd volume of BRRAM that I just finished. I wish I could have used these images in my own book, as further proof of handwriting comparisons, but these images are copyrighted (with specific copyrights warnings in their titles) and the images’ resolution is imperfect in the ebook that I am using. I was able to cite these images in the book, so readers can turn to them if they want additional evidence to support the argument I am making. This line of research was so interesting, so forgot to post my findings into this review, as I was just reading the materials with hope of finding other new information. Most of the chapters I read repeated things that I already knew, and had integrated into my series. There were some unusual notes regarding patronage, but these veered away from the hard questions, seemingly to avoid offending the involved aristocrats by calling them outright corrupt. For example, there is a note that Elizabeth’s Council deciding on who would be allowed to have acting troupes in London included 5 out of 6 or so members who were Lords who ended up controlling one of the troupes that came about through their negotiations (i.e., Essex’s Men). Dutton basically explains that the patronage system was a purely corrupt system that only offered favors to those who were already among the favored aristocracy, or to those who bribed this small circle of insiders. But he digresses in circles and then drops these topics without a conclusion to avoid making direct accusations of unbridled corruption. Another example of this is when he asks if Herbert was corrupt as a licensor of plays. He cites only a couple of paragraphs out of the many examples of blatant bribes that were given to Herbert by all of the troupes he licensed or allowed to play at Court or the like. He excuses most of these as questionable, or possibly non-bribes. And in the end, he leaves room for doubt, as if the question of bribery was not established as a fact in the data he just provided.

Reading this book was a rollercoaster of emotions for me because I have been thinking and interpreting this evidence across the past few years. But if I had not been as familiar with the topic of play censorship, I would have probably found all of the information across this book very useful and compactly presented. Thus, I would recommend students and researchers of Renaissance drama to read this book if they are interested in the business, political and critical elements of this system. Academic libraries should have a copy of this book to give access to it to researchers who might suddenly discover they need it.

The Monopolists Who Published the Posthumous “Shakespeare” Folio

Ben Higgins, Shakespeare’s Syndicate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022). 291pp. index. ISBN: 978-0-19-266519-5.

*****

“In 1623 a team of stationers published what has become the most famous volume in English literary history: William Shakespeare’s First Folio. Who were these publishers and how might their stories be bound up with those found within the book they created? Ben Higgins offers a radical new account of the First Folio by focusing on these four publishing businesses that made the volume. By moving between close scrutiny of the Folio publishers and a wider view of their significance within the early modern book trade, Higgins uses Shakespeare’s stationers to explore the ‘literariness’ of the Folio; to ask how stationers have shaped textual authority; to argue for the interpretive potential of the ‘minor’ Shakespearean bookseller; and to examine the topography of Shakespearean publication. Drawing on a host of fresh primary evidence from a wide range of sources, including court records, manuscript letters, bookseller’s bills, and the literature itself,” it “illuminates our understanding of how this landmark volume was made and what it has meant to scholars since.”

I dived into this volume while I was still working on my Byrd volume of BRRAM. I cited it in a section that discusses the publishers, booksellers and printers of the First Folio, and how they were involved in other relevant publications. I found the general “Introduction” especially helpful as it explained how oddly Isaac Jaggard, Ed Blount, J. Smithweeke and W. Aspley became apprentices of the Stationers’ Company on the same week, and then became freeman at around the same time as well. I used this information as a springboard to conclude there is likely to have been a relationship between their unusual collaboration in 1623 on the Folio with the new 1624 Statute of Monopolies, which was designed to prevent players from forming monopolistic partnerships or from corning markets to prevent competition. The Statute outlawed some of the preceding rules that had allowed monopolies such as Byrd’s music-publishing monopoly (1575-1596), which had been transferred to “Morley” and other Byrd collaborators. There were also relatively-hidden monopolies that kept the number of printers (as this book explains) to only around 20 in all of London across the Renaissance, as the Stationers were limited in the number of printers they could license. Monopolies such as Byrd could have exclusive or limited relationships, with as few as only a single printer whose work they allowed to be licensed, while forbidding all others access to profiting from licensed printing. Blount and Jaggard acted as primarily investors, who found money somewhere and paid up-front for printing, and marketing costs, such as Blount placing an advertisement for the First Folio at the Frankfurt bookfair. My own research and the information here hints that Jaggard had to be sponsored or had to have been a pseudonym for another party, as he himself had no logical source of funding. Instead of exploring such details regarding the source of funds, and how book publishing actually made any profits for such investors, this book digresses into general discussions such as that the Folio was “a literary project” for Blount. The idea is that Blount wanted to educate the public and spread knowledge, while anticipating “an elite readership”. For example, Blount published or was the sole sponsor of “Florio’s” A World of Words (1596) dictionary. The cost of publishing the First Folio was around £250, when Blount’s Paul’s Cross Churchyard bookshop was valued on a “deed of sale” in 1627 at only £8. None of these numbers make any sense as investments, without putting them next to numbers such as how many copies of the Folio and preceding similar folios sold. Instead, this book then inserts a section that describes Blount’s various legal cases where he was pursuing debtors over thousands of pounds during these same years.

Overall, this is a useful, but frustrating book. It is easy to fall in with the flow of this narrative before realizing it is heading in the wrong direction. Thus, researchers have to be very alert to the information useful to their research before sliding into this study. Then again, perhaps there are researchers out there with the patience to read an entire scholarly book cover-to-cover without growing frustrated and while only finding a few relevant snippets. This was basically me, since I had to read a good deal to mine the bits that I did find. This is an important book for academic libraries to purchase, as it provides a deeper dive into the stated primary sources than most of the other books I have reviewed on this topic.

Nonsensical Circling Around Topics in Undefined Science-Fiction Films

Eli Park Sorensen, Science Fiction Film: Predicting the Impossible in the Age of Neoliberalism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021). Hardcover. 168pp. index. ISBN: 978-1-4744-8184-7.

***

“Opening a debate about the political dimension of science fiction films, this book uses Carl Schmitt’s thought to provide a new theoretical approach to American cinematic sci-fi since the late 1970s. Drawing on Schmitt’s notion of the state of exception and its basis in the unpredictability of tomorrow, the book looks at the political ramifications when the moment of the future finally arrives. Analyzing films such as Alien, Blade Runner and Minority Report, the book explores how power reconfigures itself to ensure the survival of the state, what ‘society’ means, who ‘we, the people’ are, and whether it will still be possible to retain a sphere of liberal, individual rights after the transformative event of the future.”

I requested this book for review because I am writing sets of regular film reviews for CCR and I wanted to see an example of some approaches to scholarly analysis of film. There are relatively few film essays in databases such as EBSCO or JStor. And also relatively few accessible books on film studies in average-sized libraries.

As I begin reading the “Introduction” of this book I realize that it has failed to overcome some of the major problems I have noticed in other attempts at film criticism. The opening paragraph attempts high-drama by presenting an apocalyptic “scenario”. The fictional “scenario” is assisted with a theoretical fatalist perspective from Fukuyama’s philosophical book, The End of History (1992), which describes the “cataclysmic destruction” of “civilization”. The next paragraph introduces a more recent study, Jenny Andersson’s The Future of the World (2018), which describes the field of “future research” as a response to Cold War fears of the end of the world. At the end of this paragraph there is a note that there has been a post-Cold War change where the desire to predict the future was replaced with nostalgia for the past. At this point readers are likely to go cross-eyed, as none of this philosophical ping-pong addresses what this particular new book of Sorensen’s is about, as Sorensen seems to have forgotten what was the initial point of these digressions. The middle of the following paragraph points out that the main subject of this paragraph, Carl Schmitt, was an active member of the Nazi Party, and an anti-Semite. Why is Sorensen digressing now into antisemitism in the Cold War years? And this same paragraph also happens to mention “Derrida” (a certain sign that scholarship has veered into nonsense). This section ends with a 9-line sentence: “It was a vision that coincided with a series of political… the future as the perpetual present, only more peaceful, secure, fulfilling, meaningful, and intense.” The last string of words is basically all synonyms saying the same thing. And the middle there is nonsensical (future = present). The following section’s title restates this tendency towards nonsensical contradictions: “Science Fiction and Realism”. It begins with a seemingly good question: “But what does sci-fi actually mean?” But this question is not answered. There is a discussion that sci-fi is actually “about our own time”. And future-speculation is about “what we understand collectively… by the concept of the future.” This excuses the repetitive nature of most sci-fi films with the claim that if sci-fi was not repetitive it would not echo what people have previously predicted about the future, or anticipate to find in such films. But if sci-fi was realistic, or was a serious attempt to anticipate scientific advances in the future; then, it would always surprise as the author invented new possibilities or new inventions that nobody or few previously imagined, and certainly not what everybody “collectively” already anticipates (1-4).

“Chapter 2: Monopolizing the Future: Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and Schmitt’s Exception” begins more solidly by explaining who made Minority and what it is based on, and its central premise regarding predicting future murders. Then, with unusual lucidity the following paragraph explains that the concept behind this film corruptly merges branches of “legislative, executive, and judicial powers.” However, then, the discussion digresses into cyclical philosophy that questions the “fabric of reality” and the “normative world”, instead of dealing with the corruption as-stated. The author seems to agree with the film’s conclusion that if “power could guarantee the social contract… in an absolute sense” we would move “beyond the political”, where the powerful could encroach on the actions of the people as they pleased. In the middle of the last paragraph in this first section of the chapter the author appears to present a concrete thesis: “My overall argument is that Minority Report articulates an extreme version of Fukuyama’s liberal thesis of the end of history—that is, the radical depoliticization of social life.” While the various words in this sentence have been defined in circles earlier in this book, they jointly make an incoherent word-salad. Why would “history” ever end? How can any system of social humans ever be entirely lacking in politics? And why would a proposed power-dominating system like the one in Minority be at all “depoliticizing”? 

I do not think I have learned of a new way to approach my film reviews, but I do feel better about carrying on with what I have been doing in this regard. Modern film and literary criticism are too often cluttered with nonsense when saying the direct truths are apparently against the propagandistic tastes of the Social Order. I do not recommend this book to anybody, unless like me they are sampling the possibilities of film analysis.

Great Modern English Usage Tool for Those Who Must Be Correct

Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage: The Authority on Grammar, Usage, and Style, Fifth Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022). 1306pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-759902-0.

*****

The first edition was published in 1999. “…Our language has evolved in many ways, and the powerful tool of big data has revolutionized lexicography. This extensively revised new edition fully captures these changes, featuring a thousand new entries and over two hundred replacement entries, thoroughly updated usage data and ratios on word frequency based on the Google Ngram Viewer, a more balanced coverage of World Englishes, not just American and British, and the inclusion of gender-neutral language… From the (lost) battle between self-deprecating and self-depreciating to the misuse of it’s for its, from the variant spelling patty-cake taking over pat-a-cake in American English to the singular uses of they, Garner explains the nuances of grammar and vocabulary and the linguistic blunders to which modern writers and speakers are prone, whether in word choice, syntax, phrasing, punctuation, or pronunciation. His empirical approach liberates English from two extremes: from the ‘purists’ who maintain that split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions are malfeasances and from the linguistic relativists who believe that whatever people say or write must necessarily be accepted.”

I requested this book because my current research is in linguistics, and because as an occasional English professor I have to be up-to-date on grammatical rules. As I read its blurb and the opening fragment in the “Preface” about the author teaching a car-lot attendant regarding “may” being used to ask for permission, and “can” being used to ask if something was “physically possible”, I realized that I also need this book because a few months ago I had a grammatical argument with a number of people in a LibraryThing forum over my BRRAM series. Whenever I made any point about anything, I would be contradicted by the other members. One of the objections I remember clearly was about the definition of my veganism, or if the standard definition’s reference to not eating animals meant that somebody who eats insects while refraining from eating animals could be considered as vegan. I had explained that the Collins English Dictionaries provide various definitions for “animal”, and some of these do not include “insects”, while others are so broad that they also include sponges and other distant species on the tree of life. I was explaining that there are too many variant definitions for a grammarian to make a firm criticism one way or the other. Vegans were mostly okay with eating honey (made by insects) and other borderline activities, so I thought it was just a like joke to state that vegans could still be vegan while eating insects. Somebody in the discussion conceded that this was the case. The need to be grammatically correct is especially acute with English professors, who are marking students’ assignments. When English teachers are discovered to have committed the smallest grammatical infraction, their professional credentials are being called into question. While such pressure might be counter-productive, it is important for humans to understand what others are saying, and this clarity can be lost through improper punctuation, or usage. Thus, it is important to have books like this one that offer brisk answers to resolve disputes. I usually tend to google grammatical questions as they come up, so it would be very useful to have an official guide in my digital library.

The “Preface” also states the ten central principles of selection of proper usage, such as the preference for “conservatism” or for following the broad agreement among grammarians, and a preference to avoid “needles variants”. And as I did in the LibraryThing forum, this book includes documented cases of usage to substantiate rules. Garner gives the example that he searched through many databases to arrive at the conclusion that “self-deprecating (traditionally viewed as incorrect) is 25 times as common as self-depreciating”. I would have intuitively probably thought the first one was correct because I have heard it used so frequently, so basing such decisions on actual usage is a logical approach. The “Preface” concludes that this book mostly takes the “descriptive” side of the old grammarian debate, as it describes what usage is actually common today, as opposed to prescribing what usage was previously deemed to be “correct”.

As I started reading the first few entries, I did not have any comments, but was instead consumed in learning some new rules and information about these words. The explanations are as thorough and precisely explained as I could wish for, or would have been able to do if I had been the one writing this etymological dictionary. For example, the definition for “abominable” begins with a basic definition. Then, there is an explanation for its Latin basis. Then, there is a Middle English etymological explanation for how the meaning of this word changed. The definition then takes readers across the Renaissance and into the 20th century, before confirming the modern meaning (7). “About” stood out because I have corrected most instances of “about” to “around” when this meaning is intended in Renaissance texts during my translations. The definition argues that “around” is much more common in AmE (American English), while about is common in BrE (British English). Thus, the “around” sounded more correct to me, but if I had been accustomed to the British usage, I would have left this word as-is. I would have benefited from reading this explanation while I was working on these translations, though I doubt I would have been able to resist making this change to make the phrasing clearer from my current perspective. The “all right” entry is also interesting as the “alright” variant is explained to have been condemned as “vulgar”, while other words such as “although” “have been merged, over the centuries, into single-word compounds without objection” (47). This is a great explanation, and it is only the beginning of an essay on this subject.

Overall, I am delighted I requested to review this book. I am cure I am going to check it in the future. And I am even going to save it in a noticeable folder to make sure I remember its location. Given how easy it is to use, and how useful it is, I would recommend it to teachers of English at all levels. Even middle schoolers are likely to need some help with the rules here before they are mistaught by over-prescription or over-liberal-users. All sorts of libraries should have a copy of this book. And perhaps even the students themselves should have a copy to look up some common mistakes and to understand them before they become problems of repeat misusage. In some cases, having access to this dictionary might even help students teach their teachers about the errors the teachers are making by giving outdated prescriptive information, and what can delight students more than this?   

LIBBY

Essential Veganism Science Goes a Bit Overboard

Michael Greger, How Not to Die (London: Macmillan, December 2015). Audiobook. 17 hours. ISBN: 978-1-509852-50-5.

****

It “reveals the groundbreaking scientific evidence behind the only diet that can prevent and reverse many of the causes of disease-related death. The vast majority of premature deaths can be prevented through simple changes in diet and lifestyle.” It “examines the fifteen top causes of premature death in America—heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s, high blood pressure, and more—and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches, freeing us to live healthier lives. The simple truth is that most doctors are good at treating acute illnesses but bad at preventing chronic disease. The fifteen leading causes of death claim the lives of 1.6 million Americans annually… History of prostate cancer in your family? Put down that glass of milk and add flaxseed to your diet whenever you can. Have high blood pressure? Hibiscus tea can work better than a leading hypertensive drug-and without the side effects. Fighting off liver disease? Drinking coffee can reduce liver inflammation. Battling breast cancer? Consuming soy is associated with prolonged survival. Worried about heart disease (the number 1 killer in the United States)? Switch to a whole-food, plant-based diet, which has been repeatedly shown not just to prevent the disease but often stop it in its tracks.” And “Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen” is “a checklist of the twelve foods we should consume every day.”

In a previous issue of PLJ, I attempted to review commonly rated as best vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, and discovered that few of them actually had health and calorically satisfying vegan cooking ideas. I have continued to be interested in veganism as I used a vegan diet starting in 2017 to lose around 100 pounds at my lowest point, though I gained around 25 pounds back after I got on a less calorically-restricted diet, and I have been holding steady at this overall 75-pound loss for the last few years. I have also been doing over an hour of exercise with weight-training and aerobic kick-boxing daily, so a good portion of my overweight-classifying weight is in muscle. And this set of reviews includes a few books that are not in those best-selling lists, but are most frequently mentioned by YouTube doctors. I am placing all of these eating-related health books at the top of this set of Libby reviews. I regularly listen to Dr. Greger’s NutritionalFacts videos, where he mentions his books. How Not to Die is the earliest in a set of recent books that also cover dieting and pandemic-avoidance. Each of Dr. Greger’s videos tends to cover a relatively new study or finding regarding nutrition, unlike many channels that tend to repeat old advice. And he follows a similar tendency towards originality across most of this book, which addresses specific research on the fifteen leading causes of death in separate chapters. I would absolutely recommend for anybody who is concerned about their health and has not been exposed to the vegan propaganda to begin their search by listening to these fifteen chapters in this audiobook. They broadly explain how studies have proven that meat is carcinogenic, milk includes unhealthy hormones and fish can have dangerous levels of mercury, among many other pieces of information missing or poorly-explained in mainstream nutritional advice. However, the last third of this audiobook is relatively unlistenable. Dr. Greger describes what he himself eats in terms that make him sound like a medieval Buddhist monk who is growing his own food and is practicing semi-starvation. For example, he describes sprouting or growing some of his own vegetables and beans. I had attempted to boil my own beans at first (a process that involves soaking and hours of boiling), but then realized if I cook enough of them for several meals, I have to freeze them, so it is less time-consuming to just purchase pre-cooked meals with beans. He also describes making soups, boiling beans, and preparing mostly variants on salads. The total-calories in most of these recipe ideas seem to be under 200, which would probably add up to around 600 daily calories, or less than a third of standard daily calorie allotments. And he advertises purchasing a variety of strange and multi-colored fruits and vegetables. I have been shopping mostly at Walmart in Vernon once per month in the last few years, and most of the fresh and even frozen fruits and vegetables at this shop tends to be spoiled by the time I get it to my fridge. The percentage of pre-spoiled foods has been growing exponentially since I moved here. I used to eat some mangos and some other rare fruits like dragon fruit, but mangos have been getting too soggy, and the price of a single dragon fruit has been climbing to over $5. There are some of the same nutritional benefits to eating simple and cheap bananas and apples, but there are specific deprecating comments about these that Dr. Greger makes, noting that eating a variety of rare multi-colored fruits and vegetables is more likely to cover all possible known and unknown nutritional boxes. If we were all still apes living in the trees, we would probably only have access to a few varieties of fruits and nuts native to our region. Thus, the human body must be capable of living on simple fruits and vegetables without requiring access to varieties from across the globe. Dr. Greger notes that he eats some processed sauces or ingredients, with a note that they are “red” or “yellow” light foods that should be eaten with caution. He basically advises against eating vegan meat-imitations, hinting that they can have some ingredients that are as harmful as meat, or that these should only be used as cross-over foods by those still craving meats. Cooking all meals at home from scratch is the step that can make veganism prohibitively expensive in terms of time for most people. For example, it might take 30 minutes to prepare oatmeal with cut bananas, 2 hours to prepare a lunch bean soup, and 3 hours to prepare a meal with brown rice, nuts, steamed vegetables, puree fruit sauce and home-made cheese concoction; if a person is working an 8-hour shift, spends 8 hours sleeping, and 4 hours on preparing for work; this adds up to him needing 25.5 hours in a 24-hour day to complete all of these tasks, and these do not include any baby-sitting, or other life-happenings. A more rational option would be if “processed food” manufacturers read this and other books like it and created safe and healthy vegan processed foods that were microwavable or otherwise quickly-warming. If there are bad ingredients going into current meat-alternatives, those manufacturers should research what those are and reformulate food to still taste good without them. And whatever is causing frozen fruits to go spoiled without shops tossing them out instead of selling spoiled foods to customers, this should also be fixed, perhaps by sending food auditors to taste-test foods. I am considering starting to freeze all of my own fruits going forward. And I have already been baking my own breakfast nut-oats-multi-grain bread and snack cocoa-bagel-pretzels, and now I am considering baking my own snack bread loafs because the frozen bread I had been buying is now going bad in the freezer. Since I am self-employed, I have the time to invest in these indulgences on my time, but why would manufacturers not be able to solve these problems to cash in on this market. Instead, manufacturers are making absurd keto milk-shakes and chocolate-bars that are hyper-processed or non-rotting mixes of sugar or fake-sugar and fat. By making the foods he recommends unappealing, low-calorie or inaccessibly expensive, Dr. Greger is contributing to the broad public confusion regarding nutrition, as he is reinforcing their beliefs that healthy food is an inaccessible luxury or a repelling concoction tolerable only by those with eating-disorders. There are so many good things about this book, and yet it seems that it is primarily the bad elements that are more commonly echoed in the mass-media.

I would recommend the general public to listen to the disease-related chapters of this book at their leisure. A few months ago, I was at the Imaginarium Conference in Kentucky. There were no vegan options on the menu, so I had to eat meat and cheese for the first time in around 3 years; the previous time was at the preceding conference I attended in California. I mentioned my veganism as I was eating, and trying to request some extra salad. A guy on the opposite side of the table mentioned in response that he was a Type 2 diabetic. In response I queried if he knew he could reverse Type 2 diabetes on a vegan diet, and if he had considered going vegan. He responded with a derisive “no”. So, I mumbled if he had considered “fake meats”. He again responded with an outraged “no way”. I had a similar response to veganism back during my undergraduate years. Ideas such as that milk was essential for calcium and that veganism was basically an eating-disorder were engrained in the health classes and media information about nutrition I had been consuming. If you have a similar flat “no way” response to the idea of veganism, you should definitely listen to this book, as you owe it to yourself to be exposed to the full weight of the evidence, instead of going along with crowd-science. 

Anti-Nutritional Science Book from a Puffed Nutritionist

T. Colin Campbell, Howard Jacobson, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014). $14.95. Audiobook: 11 hours. 352pp. ISBN: 978-1-939529-84-8.

**

“Every apple contains thousands of antioxidants whose names, beyond a few like vitamin C, are unfamiliar to us, and each of these powerful chemicals has the potential to play an important role in supporting our health. They impact thousands upon thousands of metabolic reactions inside the human body. But calculating the specific influence of each of these chemicals isn’t nearly sufficient to explain the effect of the apple as a whole. Because almost every chemical can affect every other chemical, there is an almost infinite number of possible biological consequences.” I have to interrupt this blurb here because the repetition even in this section of this summary highlights the annoying repetition plaguing this entire book. This idea that there are “infinite” numbers of chemicals and interactions is repeated, and re-repeated and rephrased on a loop across this book. These repetitions mean there is no room to insert actual scientific facts. The author keeps basically saying that scientific research into the elements of nutrition is pointless, before contradicting this assertion. He does not really state that research into who fruits and vegetables is needed, or what this “whole”-food research has concluded when it has been applied. He is just repeating that there is too much complexity, and that basically this means we should give up on scientific attempts to understand how food leads to health or illness. The blurb continues, “Nutritional science, long stuck in a reductionist mindset, is at the cusp of a revolution.” The set-up appears to suggest that this “revolution” will be in studying entire foods, but obviously the study of how apples, chia seeds, whole versus white wheat and the like is a very old science that has been practiced across many centuries. “The traditional ‘gold standard’ of nutrition research has been to study one chemical at a time in an attempt to determine its particular impact on the human body. These sorts of studies are helpful to food companies trying to prove there is a chemical in milk or pre-packaged dinners that is ‘good’ for us, but they provide little insight into the complexity of what actually happens in our bodies or how those chemicals contribute to our health.” The solution to this problem should be to perform far more complex studies to dissect beyond the basic vitamins or the “big 3” macronutrients to find the tiny elements and interactions that are necessary to make food healthy. A rational manufacturer of food would want its clients to survive the eating process, so they should need to know precisely what they have to include and subtract in food to maximize its nutritional value. Why would manufacturers be merely interested in making marketable health-claims on labels, when actually figuring this problem out and actually making healthy food would be beneficial for these manufacturers as humans, who also probably consume the foods they manufacture. Instead of proposing these various solutions, this book just circles around the criticism against close scientific study of specific nutritional elements, and repeats we should instead invest in studying or eating the “whole”. What exactly is “whole” anyway; I mean, an apple’s seeds should probably be taken out, so that’s a bit reductionist.

Then, this blurb veers into repeating the puffery that is repeated in incredibly many videos and podcasts with health advice. “In The China Study, T. Colin Campbell (alongside his son, Thomas M. Campbell) revolutionized the way we think about our food with the evidence that a whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat.” China was first-published in 2006. Part I of it describes a study conducted primarily in rural Chinese regions on how a higher percentage of protein consumption increases rates of cancer in a population; areas where the people were sticking with their typically high-rice diets were flourishing, while those in cities that were westernizing their diets to include more meat-protein had higher rates of cancer. Part II clarifies the impact of meat and milk consumption on common western diseases of the heart, obesity, diabetes, cancers, autoimmune, and effects on other body parts; Dr. Greger imitates this section across most of his book on this subject. And Part III gives broad advice on how to eat a whole-food plant-based diet. This China book appears to have inspired or been the source of mimicry for the other books in this set of nutritional science reviews I am conducting. But it is sad that Campbell did not find something more original to say when he created this new book in 2014. The blurb goes on: “Now, in Whole, he explains the science behind that evidence, the ways our current scientific paradigm ignores the fascinating complexity of the human body, and why, if we have such overwhelming evidence that everything we think we know about nutrition is wrong, our eating habits haven’t changed…” The habits in part have not changed because these are all of these popular vegan nutrition books are not good at inserting only new research and useful information. They repeatedly veer into repetition and self-flattery, without noticing that their own failures to communicate the benefits of veganism, and the dangers of continuing current food trends. Across the first year of the Covid pandemic, there were several news stories regarding the raising popularity of veganism, vegetarianism and fake-meats, but now most stories tend to be about the drop in interest in these practices. I did not notice any vegan nutrition books on Libby that were produced since 2015 or so, but perhaps they just haven’t been put on audiotape yet. Or more likely there have not been any ultra-puffed veganism books to equal these earlier repetitive attempts. I think there is an opening here for a new writer (hopefully a scientist and a doctor) to give it a try.

I do not recommend this Whole book to any readers because it will only gravely annoy anybody who attempts to read it with an unbelievable volume of repetitive echoes, as if it’s a techno song on-spin.

The Subversively Anti-Vegan Vegan Book

Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food (New York: Penguin Books, 2009). $17.99: Softcover: 240pp. Audiobook: 6 hours. index. ISBN: 978-0-14-311496-3.

**

“…Most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it—in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone—is not really eating.” This opening hits at the emotions of the reader, while hitting on the statistically-likely facts about most humans on the planet today. Office work requires that people complete their lunches in 30 minutes, and they have to go outside of work to eat, and so it is a fact that nearly all working people must eat quickly, if they do not bring their own food to work. Whenever I tried to bring food with me into offices, I have had to deal with extremely dirty microwaves and otherwise inhospitable kitchens that blatantly encourage people to elsewhere to eat fast-food. There is only pseudo-science to support the idea that communal eating or avoiding the TV while eating has any rational positive impacts on eating. These habits are simply popular, so this author is using these points at the start to make all readers feel as if they have a problem that this author seemingly can solve. “Instead of food, we’re consuming ‘edible foodlike substances’—no longer the products of nature but of food science.” This generalization is common to many popular nutrition books that deliberately avoid defining the boundary between processed, manufactured and home-made foods. Even extremist home-cooks are not growing their own beans, so the beans are being sorted, cleaned and treated with chemicals at the onset of this process. There are some foods that are indeed “foodlike substances”, but authors have to define such broad terms, and no such definition is found in this book. “Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy.” This broad criticism of all packaged foods is absurd, as it is really calling for the days when women stayed home and cooked food for their husbands from-scratch. Manufacturers cannot be so criminal or incompetent that they cannot manage to cook food on a massive-scale in a manner that would not be significantly less healthy than if the same foods were cooked entirely at home. “In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion. The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.” This is a fair enough point, as nutritional science has managed to create more problems that it has solved, but this book is yet another example of misleading and confusing nutritional misinformation, as opposed to an actual step towards a solution. The blurb goes on to argue there are two beneficiaries to creating nutritional confusion: “food industry on one side and nutritional science on the other.” Pollan adds that this is “a question that for most of human history people have been able to answer without expert help.” Given this assumption that people, like all animals on the planet, have always basically known what is eatable, there is no actual useful information about nutrition given in this repetitive book that restates these broad “philosophical” points. But if Pollan had nothing useful to say, he should not have pocketed the advance to write this book about nothing. Pollan echoes the formulaic advice in this field: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This advice is deeply unhelpful because when it is followed it is designed to lead to eating disorders, as it requires under-eating, and orthorexia-like habits. Only those who study the science that explains this formula can figure out that “plants” is an enormous part of the tree of life that is larger than the “animal” kingdom. Breads, pasta, rice, and many intricate recipes can be built from plants alone, but most people imagine “plants” is referring to “salad”. Thus, using the term “plants” alone in this formula is intuitively repelling to the people who are already repelled by mass-culture from eating fiber-rich foods. A better and more precise vocabulary is needed for such books to actually make a positive difference in convincing those who have been funk-food-programmed.

Overall, do not read this book, or you are going to be very grumpy as you hear a lot of criticism of most of the foods all humans can possibly be eating in our modern world, with very little practical advice on how to solve the monopolistic food manufacturing system that is beyond our control.

An Ad for “Wellness” Disguised as a Critique

Rina Raphael, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care (New York: Macmillan Publishers, September 20, 2022). $28.99: Hardcover: 352pp. Audiobook: 11 hours. ISBN: 978-1-250793-00-3.

**

The blurb for this book promises to be a hard-hitting critique of the various scams in the “wellness” industry, but the book entirely fails to deliver on this ambitious promise. The blurb explains it is written by a “journalist”, so this sets it up as a mainstream, as opposed to a scientific study. It also does explain that much of this book is a puffery of the “explosion of the wellness industry: how it stems from legitimate complaints, how seductive marketing targets hopeful consumers–and why women are opening up their wallets like never before.” The opening chapters expound repetitively on the various stresses women face, as well as pointing out that women are too fat and have other problems this industry promises to fix. Then, there is an ad-summary for the items that are sold across this book: “juicing, biohacking, clutching crystals, or sipping collagen”. These “wellness” items are selected to make the book broadly appealing to “everyone”, in this “wellness industry” worth “$4.4 trillion”. Most of this book is a mind-game that tells women they are “feeling dismissed, mistreated, and overburdened”. Even a woman who is feeling fantastically treated and unburdened will develop a suspicious she might be the opposite when these problems are cyclically described and found in simple things like the commute or spending too much time at the computer. The pitched and seemingly ridiculed solution is to: “eat right, exercise, meditate, then buy or do all this stuff.” Raphael does explain somewhat that most of these purchases are wasteful and useless. For example, practicing yoga is not as useful for a woman’s heath as performing aerobic or weight-lifting exercises for the same amount of time because yoga is merely stretching, when the body needs vigorous movement to achieve maximum health. However, most of this yoga section is consumed in advertising why yoga is relaxing and why the author practiced yoga regularly for a long time, whereas the critic I mention regarding vigorous exercise being healthier is never really addressed. Raphael asks if at some future point “the cure” can become “as bad as the disease”, instead of realizing that many of the vitamins, health-foods, and treatments like chiropractic adjustments have been scientifically proven to causes diseases, or health problems, as opposed to solving them. Raphael explains why she is biased towards seeing this industry in an intuitively positive light: she has been making a living as a journalist from puffing these various “cures”. She has been “trying” experiments in “clean eating” and “electric shock workouts” because that’s what the papers she has worked for have been paying her to cover. Perhaps there is some kind of a “knocking down of the false idols” in the conclusion, but the part of the book I listened to was mostly complaining that “wellness” is too expensive, and Raphael feels sorry her budget is forcing her to cut down on it, instead of actually explaining how some of its practices have specifically harmed her or others.

I do not recommend folks to listen to this book unless they are active consumers of “wellness” and want to hear good news about their bad habits. This concludes this nutrition and wellness section, so I guess I only recommend Dr. Greger’s book for folks to read out of this set.

The Cryptic Science of Music Deciphered for the Masses

Michael Pilhofer, Holly Day, Music Theory for Dummies (New York: Wiley, 2019). $24.99: Softcover. 336pp. ISBN: 978-1-119575-52-8.

*****

As I was writing the William Byrd volume of my BRRAM series, I realized that I needed some help with the terminology and general information on the theory and practice of music. And indeed, I found that it helped me with definitions, music history, and some concepts that seemed foreign for a non-musician like me, but by reading a few sections from this book, things in my study that mentioned these fell together and suddenly related a coherent explanation for Byrd’s approach to musical composition. Reading this simplified introduction helped me to understand the more scientific music theory articles, as well as musical references made during the Renaissance. The blurb explains that this book makes “music theory easy, providing you with a friendly guide to the concepts, artistry, and technical mastery that underlie the production of great music. You’ll quickly become fluent in the fundamentals of knocking out beats, reading scores, and anticipating where a piece should go, giving you a deeper perspective on the works of others—and bringing an extra dimension to your own. Tracking to a typical college-level course,” it “breaks difficult concepts down to manageable chunks and takes into account every aspect of musical production and appreciation—from the fundamentals of notes and scales to the complexities of expression and instrument tone color. It also examines the latest teaching techniques—all the more important as the study of music, now shown to provide cognitive and learning benefits…” Topics covered include: “major and minor scales, intervals, pitches, and clefs… basic notation, time signals, tempo, dynamics, and navigation… melodies, chords, progressions, and phrases to form music.” As well as the process involved in composing “harmonies and accompanying melodies for voice and instruments”.

Music is a constant in our lives, as nearly all video-audio media has some background music in it. Thus, a well-rounded modern person has to understand some basics about music practice and theory to be able to add appropriate background music to a presentation or a YouTube tutorial, or to other media one might have to create for a special occasion or for work. As I was working on the Byrd volume, I realized just how simple the rules of musical composition are, and yet how foreign and cryptic they seem to anybody who is not familiar with the basics. Byrd ghostwrote all of the musical settings I tested, as clearly the Music BA degree offered at Cambridge and Oxford was not leading to graduates actually being able to compose their own original music, though some of them were capable of performing written notes. I had a friend who won some national piano competitions while in high school, and yet when I asked her if she could compose original music for a film I was working on, she said that she could not do so, and was entirely resistant to making an attempt. The repetitive or rarely varying popular music released in the last few decades further proves that people still feel as if musical composition is a science akin to brain-surgery, and they would rather repeat standard beats or re-sample old music, as opposed to daring to learn the tools to invent original music of their own that might sound strange at first, before it opens the door to future innovation.

I warmly recommend this book to anybody who has felt that music is a cryptic mystery, and who want to learn this language, so they can discuss it or employ it if it becomes necessary. But it will be most helpful for those who have already decided to seriously study how to play or compose music, and need an introductory guide that will spare them some expense in music lessons or classes, or will give them a boost so they are already knowledgeable and can show off to their teachers. Thus, this is a book that is best borrowed from local or digital libraries, or to be purchased by the more serious students who might want to make notes in it, in case they might return to it later in their studies.

Seafaring Adventurers Who Won the American Revolution

Eric Jay Dolin, Rebels at Sea (New York: Norton, June 6, 2023). $18.95: Softcover. Audiobook: 9 hours. 352pp. ISBN: 978-1-324-09364-0.

*****

The other titles in this set of audiobook reviews were a bit more of immediate interest, so I neglected listening to much of this title before its due-date arrived. The bit of it that I did catch reminded me of the many sea-adventure books I read as a youth. It is dramatically-delivered, as it describes the terminology, the practice and the experiences of these sea-rebels. But it was so similar to other books I had read in this genre that I anticipated the rest of the book without needing to listen to most of it.

The summary describes it thus: “the heroic story of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the Revolution has been told many times, yet largely missing from maritime histories of America’s first war is the ragtag fleet of private vessels…” It “contends that privateers, as they were called, were in fact critical to the American victory. Privateers were privately owned vessels, mostly refitted merchant ships, that were granted permission by the new government to seize British merchantmen and men of war… At a time when the young Continental Navy numbered no more than about sixty vessels all told, privateers rushed to fill the gaps. Nearly 2,000 set sail over the course of the war, with tens of thousands of Americans serving on them and capturing some 1,800 British ships. Privateers came in all shapes and sizes, from twenty-five foot long whaleboats to full-rigged ships more than 100 feet long. Bristling with cannons, swivel guns, muskets, and pikes, they tormented their foes on the broad Atlantic and in bays and harbors on both sides of the ocean. The men who owned the ships, as well as their captains and crew, would divide the profits of a successful cruise—and suffer all the more if their ship was captured or sunk, with privateersmen facing hellish conditions on British prison hulks, where they were treated not as enemy combatants but as pirates. Some Americans viewed them similarly, as cynical opportunists whose only aim was loot. Yet Dolin shows that privateersmen were as patriotic as their fellow Americans, and moreover that they greatly contributed to the war’s success: diverting critical British resources to protecting their shipping, playing a key role in bringing France into the war on the side of the United States, providing much-needed supplies at home, and bolstering the new nation’s confidence that it might actually defeat the most powerful military force in the world.” The standard US history course tends to focus the success of the war on the strategic military exploits of generals after a bit of tea-throwing. This romantic belief (achieved through continuing puffery) in the power of early-American generals such as Washington makes for an easy-to-follow and repeat narrative, but from the perspective described in this blurb, it was obviously these privateers that made it extremely difficult for the British to travel across the sea to launch a successful response to the American revolution. The details of the life-on-the-sea that was related in the parts that I caught, and I am sure is presented across this book should capture the imagination of those who crave detailed stories that allow for emersion in the true environment, as opposed to in a fictious sketch of life in extreme circumstances during extreme action. “Creating an entirely new pantheon of Revolutionary heroes, Dolin reclaims such forgotten privateersmen as Captain Jonathan Haraden and Offin Boardman, putting their exploits, and sacrifices, at the very center of the conflict. Abounding in tales of daring maneuvers and deadly encounters,” it “presents this nation’s first war as we have rarely seen it before.” I have studied related subjects, and yet the names of these privateers indeed do sound entirely foreign to me, so it is truly a piece of missing history that deserves to be filled with these documented and dramatically delivered pieces of information.

If you enjoy seafaring stories, but have not read so many of these that you are over-fed on them, you are likely to enjoy spending some time listening to this audiobook. The audio format is the best way to listen to a book like this one, as a movie would not relate as much precise information, and reading the book would take too much designated time. Listening to an audio book like this on a commute, or while doing chores away from the TV, should uplift the mood, while also stimulating the intellect.

International Investigators Research Methods to Uncover the Identities of the “Dark” Web

Andy Greenberg, Tracers in the Dark (New York: Penguin Random House, November 15, 2022). $32.50: Hardcover. Audiobook: 647 minutes. ISBN: 978-0-385548-09-0.

*****

I have been reviewing books that mention cryptocurrency since at least 2018. While I cannot find in my archives my earliest reviews of cryptocurrency, I think they were back when the topic first began to creep up in scholarly books, before it became mainstream by 2018. My initial reaction was curiosity about a new tech-innovation that I assumed would remain as cryptic to the general public as quantum mechanics. Then, during the cryptocurrency boom in value I had continuously assumed that by the time the public is being puffed a product as doing extremely well, it is time to sell it. If the public is buying anything in a frenzy, it is likely to be already over-valued. And now that Sam Bankman-Fried has been arrested and has agreed to extradition and is about to face fraud charges over the FTX digital currency exchange, and most digital currencies’ values have been dropping, it is now definitely a bad time to enter this field. The concept of “mining” for currency by using super-computers to perform some kind of video-gamish tasks is a blatant fraud in itself. It is like me creating a coded language only I knew and then claiming those who learn it can “mine” my fictional currency, but it is impossible for anybody but me to figure it out, so I might use pseudonyms to “mine” it before reselling my fictional-money to people for billions in real money; and if at some point I had gotten too greedy and there was a run-on-the-bank to get refunds, and I declared bankruptcy and then faced fraud-charges… What a strange hypothetical scenario… Given this current moment, this book is of general public interest, as it describes how law enforcement has been responding to the use of the dark web and crypto-currency to hide illegal activities.  

“Over the last decade, a single innovation has massively fueled digital black markets: cryptocurrency. Crime lords inhabiting lawless corners of the internet have operated more freely—whether in drug dealing, money laundering, or human trafficking—than their analog counterparts could have ever dreamed of.” The fact that illegal drugs are booming is verifiable by news stories such as “Columbia’s Cocaine Boom Is Bringing Violence” and “Alcohol Is No Longer the Most Abused Drug by Americans”. And the Pandora Papers back in 2017-8 revealed the obscene overuse of money laundering strategies by wealthy politicians, media moguls and others. These spikes are indeed likely to have been aggravated by the belief (perhaps accurate) that digital transactions are harder to prevent with law-enforcement. “By transacting not in dollars or pounds but in currencies with anonymous ledgers, overseen by no government, beholden to no bankers, these black marketeers have sought to rob law enforcement of their chief method of cracking down on illicit finance: following the money. But what if the centerpiece of this dark economy held a secret, fatal flaw? What if their currency wasn’t so cryptic after all? An investigator using the right mixture of technical wizardry, financial forensics, and old-fashioned persistence could uncover an entire world of wrongdoing.” I listened to most of this audiobook, and it very practically and precisely explained the weaknesses that can be used to trace funds on the dark web. The explanations occasionally become muddled in the biographies of the individual investigators, and in the repetitions of when they became stumped and had little progress. But the sudden pushes forward with new strategies are very useful. Investigators would benefit from a version of this book that just explains the precise strategies that can be used to catch these guys, without these digressions. But as this book explains, an international hunt was necessary with the best computer scientists on the planet to solve some of these problems, so there seem to be barriers to entry. Of course one of these blocks is the absence of a simple guide that would invite home-investigators, as well as local police departments to find the crooks in their own neighborhoods.

The author was indeed fortunate (though such access should not be this rare) to have had “unprecedented access to the major players in federal law enforcement and private industry”. The book also spends too much time puffing the author himself, cybersecurity reporter Andy Greenberg. “He introduces an IRS agent with a defiant streak, a Bitcoin-tracing Danish entrepreneur, and a colorful ensemble of hardboiled agents and prosecutors as they delve deep into the crypto-underworld.” While these biographies are digressions from the perspective of a criminologist, they are engaging to listen to, and the reason I listed to most of this book. It is a “story of dirty cops, drug bazaars, trafficking rings, and the biggest takedown of an online narcotics market in the history of the Internet.” One of the techniques these agencies try is taking over one of these cryptocurrency exchanges and carrying out many drugs and the like transactions to catch some of those involved. This approach sounds very troubling to me, as there are too many possibilities for corruption; law enforcement is basically taking over selling drugs under the disguise of solving this problem. Even if they sold a single package of real heroin and somebody overdosed on it, this negates the social benefit of them catching criminals responsible. They surely would have done better by just getting into the website’s records and busting folks based on past transactions. And across most of this narrative I found it very suspicious that only a few people managed to make extreme leaps forward, while seemingly thousands of other people were working on the same task without making any progress. From the perspective of BRRAM, it sounds as if there are a few ghostwriter-specialists in this field who are barring entry to newcomers, and who get most of the investigative jobs; and many of them appear to have been corrupted by starting businesses that intertwine with the dark web, which make it in their self-interest to make it sound as if the dark web is still un-hackable or undetectable, while it is actually very easy for anybody uncorrupted to figure out where the money is flowing and from where.

Anybody who has thought of participating in digital crime, or in stopping digital crime would benefit from listening to this book. And the general public who has no interest in stepping into this field can enjoy listening to these misadventures. It is an important book to have in libraries of all sizes to give different law enforcement agencies some general knowledge on a topic they are likely to face in their work, and are likely to feel overwhelmed by.

AXIS360

The Artificiality of “Great” Classical Music Selection

Harvey Sachs, Ten Masterpieces of Music (New York: Norton, 2021). $29.95: Hardcover: 384pp. Audiobook: 11 hours 40 minutes. ISBN: 978-1-63149-518-2.

*****

This is a set of ten biographies focused on the creation of ten pieces of classical music by different composers. The pieces are from “ten different genres, showing both the curious novice and the seasoned listener how to recognize, appreciate, and engage with these masterpieces on a historical and compositional level…” They were “composed in the years between 1784 and 1966… As Sachs skillfully demonstrates, they have endured not because they were exceptionally well-made or interesting but because they were created by composers—Mozart and Beethoven; Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, Verdi, and Brahms; Sibelius, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky—who had a particular genius for drawing music out of their deepest wellsprings.” This approach to studying “great” compositions is typical across genres and modes. However, my BRRAM series has pointed to how puffing “composers” or “authors” such as these big-names leaves critics vulnerable to celebrating pseudonyms or puffed bylines, instead of really evaluating if given pieces of music or literature are superior structurally, linguistically, musically and the like, or if they offer something original, or repeat or plagiarize combinations of notes of patterns that preceded them. The arts would be elevated if critics reviewed works with blinders, as peer reviewers are supposed to review scholarly articles; seeing who composed a given piece creates biographical bias or anti-bias that favors highly-marketed or puffed bylines over quality of the work. For example, the first chapter of this book discusses Mozart’s biography, by stressing his immediate virtuosity as a child that led to him gaining a position at Court, in contrast with his musical sister’s obscurity (due to her sex); Mozart is simply described as being great at music, without clarification of how he was better than his sister (aside for by his sex) or any of the other competitors, many of whom were older, more experienced, and understood the theory of musical composition better. It is a dramatic story that attracts the passion of a listener, who might hope to one day be similarly discovered to be brilliant. But if only a few Composers are puffed as great and superior, this really means that billions of the rest of us cannot attain a similar climb to the top because the top positions are still taken by these classical composers, even centuries after their deaths. If there was fair competition based on merit alone, surely there would have been some modern composers with access to musical composition tools that had not been invented in Mozart’s time who would have overthrown Mozart’s position.

“In describing how music actually sounds,” it “seems to do the impossible, animating the process of composing as well as the coming together of disparate scales and melodies, trills and harmonies. It tells us, too, how particular compositions came to be, often revealing that the pieces we now consider ‘classic’ were never intended to be so.” Indeed, what is “classical” is determined by what modern music publishers have decided to market as the “best” music, puffing it through placement mentions in the mass-media, or creating seemingly silly movies like Beethoven, which program the public to perceive these pieces as superior. This puffery of these few pieces as uniquely superior makes new composers and their critics doubt that anything new can rival whatever “magical” ingredients has frozen the old “classics” in the top places. But it is not factual superiority, but rather artificial marketing that has placed these pieces there, and complex musical innovation might take leaps forward if there was a bit less profiteering off dead composers who cannot collect royalties, and a bit more investment in current composers who need fiscal encouragement to thrive and create.

“…Sachs shows how Mozart, a former child prodigy under constant pressure to produce new music, hastily penned Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, one of his finest piano concertos, for a teenage student”. In my BRRAM research, I have found that whenever teenagers are credited with creating the world’s best in anything, it is extremely likely that they have hired a ghostwriter to create for them, while their youth has been used to market their extraordinarily unexpected brilliance. The same composition from a mature composer might not have generated any public interest, whereas when a child is claimed to create a supreme composition, the media covers the news as a “first”, or as an extraordinary feat akin to the hairy-lady in a freak-show.

This book “likewise demonstrates how Goethe’s Faust, Part One, became a springboard for the musical imagination of the French composer Berlioz. As Sachs explains, these pieces are not presented as candidates for a new ‘Top Ten.’ They represent neither the most well-known nor the most often-performed works of each composer. Instead, they were chosen precisely because he had something profound to say about them, about their composers, about how each piece fits into its composer’s life, and about how each of these lives can be contextualized by time and place.” The “descriptions of the works and the dramatic lives of the men who composed them bring a heightened dimension to the musical perceptions of all listeners, communicating both the sheer improbability of a work becoming a classic and why certain pieces—these ten among them—survive the perilous test of time.” Given that the process of “choosing” classics has been reserved to a few music academics and a few music publishers, it is indeed important for books like this to attempt to explain either rationally or intuitively what these choices can be based on. If there is something graspable or repeatable in these works that distinguish them as great; then, all current music practitioners need to know what this is, so they can fight for the chance to outdo these oldies.

SPOTIFY

Marketplace

“Host Kai Ryssdal helps you make sense of the day’s business and economic news—no econ degree or finance background required.” It “takes you beyond the numbers, bringing you context. Our team of reporters all over the world speak with CEOs, policymakers and regular people just trying to get by.” This is a very pleasant way to start the day. New podcasts are released Monday through Friday. The coverage questions various economic indicators, business news and other elements with fresh perspectives that are not found in news reports. Ryssdal manages to fit some jokes into every episode. The show is around half-an-hour of content, so it is great for those who do not want to switch programs in the middle of doing a task. It is also not so long that there would have been time for digressions. Sometimes their small-business segments are a bit too micro or discuss personal problems individuals are having. And some of their market summaries zoom through the central market and business changes of the day too rapidly. But overall, this is one show that I have not tired of listening to, and tend to catch pretty much every episode.

Wall Street Breakfast

“Brings you all the news you need to know for your market day. Released by 8:00am ET each morning, it is a quick listen that you can put on as you get ready to start your working day.” This show is a bit too focused on marketing “Seeking Alpha”, the sponsoring fee-based platform that is designed to help with investing. But if you skip over or ignore these marketing pitches, the show compresses businesses news and delivers some curious developments rare elsewhere. Anybody who is actively investing would benefit from getting this news in the morning, in case the markets are about to or had previously cratered and they have to move their money around before they start their day. And also, there are some interesting points raised here that might be good conversation-starters. The show is upbeat, so it performs a similar function as a bit of extra caffein. 

Wired Science

“Narrators read our favorite written stories… Audio versions of WIRED’s latest Science stories on genetic engineering, robotics, space, climate change, and more.” There are long and short versions of Wired’s content. The short summary introduces a few of the top scientific innovation stories, while the longer version reads or discusses longer articles from this magazine. Since I do not have a budget to subscribe to scientific magazines, this is a great way to find out unusual scientific projects that might be relevant to some of my research or books I am reviewing or the like. Whenever I review a hard science book, it is important that I am broadly aware of major science news stories in the field, so I am not making any statements that have been disproven or altered by scientific revelations. Anybody else who needs to be in-the-know in science for free would probably also benefit from this show.

Science Friday: with Ira Flatow

“The source for entertaining stories about science, technology, and other cool stuff.” This is a longer science show that plays weekly. It explores a few stories in great detail mostly through interviews with the scientists who are involved in discoveries. At times the stories are a bit digressive, repetitive, or obscure. But I just skip over portions that are on the dull or irrelevant side. I have learned some curious things on all of these podcasts that have led me to append my research, or to take financial or creative actions, so it is a profitable way to spend a bit of free time.

Science Vs: Gimlet

“There are a lot of fads, blogs and strong opinions, but then there’s science… This “show… finds out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between. We do the hard work of sifting through all the science so you don’t have to and cover everything from 5G and Pandemics, to Vaping and Fasting Diets.” I started listening to this show on a long road trip, and listened to around a dozen of their shows in a row without getting bored. Each show addresses a specific topic, and by taking the full show to address it, manages to dive deeply enough into it to reveal some new information even about topics that are of general interest. I do not always agree with the perspective this show takes, but the hosts and interviewees do a good job of presenting their arguments in a factual manner that avoids isolating those who disagree. For example, their show on veganism questioned if veganism was healthy by presenting some of the mainstream anti-vegan arguments, and only lightly defending the vegan perspective. They might benefit from choosing some more unusual topics that explore unfamiliar concepts; but perhaps these would be duller.

The Science Hour: BBC

“Science news and highlights of the week.” This show is similar to Science Friday, but it is taped in the UK, and so it seems to offer a more Euro-centric perspective. It presents some curious scientific research. Though I very rarely manage to listen to the very end of this show, perhaps because it and Science Friday tend to include less interesting content in the last third of the program.

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