Book Reviews: Spring 2019

By: Anna Faktorovich, PhD

Subversive Satires on Christmas and All It Stands for

Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol & Other Stories. 438pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-198822394. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018 (2006).


This is a collection of religious-themed and fairy-tale style short stories from Charles Dickens. Since writing my dissertation and first academic book on Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), I am always happy to read something unique from him. Dickens’ ran his own publishing company and was busy writing and creating from his early days as a journalist to his last as a periodical-operator, fiction writer, and public speaker. He had a wide range of styles and genres across a lifetime career. Despite my deep affection for Dickens, I requested this book with reservations. I have an allergy to the Christmas Carol (1843), which I partially blame for the formulaic Christmas story plotline that dominates the winter releases among films and books. I was hoping this story was the exception in the collection, but I have learned that as a professional writer, Dickens was willing to write based on public-demand purely for money. Unlike his complex novels, these stories are choppy with short paragraphs and sentences, almost as if they were written by a different author from Barnaby Rudge (1841) or David Copperfield (1850). The divergence in style cannot be explained by its timing, as Barnaby was released before the Carol. Dickens distaste for the moralist tale genre is perhaps what makes these stories so difficult for me to read. The Christmas Carol is a story about Ebenezer Scrooge, who “hates Christmas and all it stands for” but ghostly visitors in three apparitions convince him to warm up to it. Just as Tale of Two Cities is a subversive pro-rebellion novel, I believe this story is an anti-Christmas story. If Dickens’ spirit was in this holiday, he would have utilized detailed and heart-pinging descriptions, but instead he uses a wide brush to mock blind religiosity. In the ending, Scrooge decides to live “upon the Total Abstinence Principle”, which the editor comments refers to: “a joking reference to temperance campaigners, many of them associated with the Methodist movement, who encouraged the public to ‘take the pledge’ by swearing to avoid all alcoholic drinks.” This same sentence ends that Scrooge also began keeping “Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” of how to do so. There is a satirical contradiction between been abstinent of drinks and keeping a holiday “well”. Most celebrators, drink on Christmas and other major holidays as part of observing these holidays. Dickens seems to be poking fun here at the hypocrisy of hyper-religious people who insist on celebrating a Christian holiday with alcohol, a substance that is condemned by the Bible and other religious sources as sinful. In the paragraph before last, Dickens pokes fun at the comedic formula with which Scrooge undergoes a character transformation: “Some people laughed to see the alteration in him… he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed…” (83). If ghosts scared a grumpy old man into celebrating a holiday by raising the “salary” of one of his workers and to “assist” a “struggling family”, as well as to eat a “Christmas bowl of smoking bishop” with these charity cases, surely this transformation is forced for the sake of giving readers the happy ending they anticipate. The “smoking bishop” is slang for “red wine, oranges, sugar, and spices, so called because it is said to be the same colour as a bishop’s cassock”, according to the editor. Since Scrooge’s drinking directly contradicts his insistence on abstinence, and both references are made in slang-code, which might not be obvious to nearly all readers, these are subversive references that contradict the surface meaning. The turn-around of a grumpy character into a good one has been an established formula readers buy into for many centuries, and Dickens forced this ending despite clearly laughing at its absurdity. The other works in this collection are repetitions of this same formula, which Dickens cashed in on himself after the Carol’s surprising success: The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). These were so fiscally successful that Dickens funded his own periodical, Household Words (1850-9) and then All the Year Round (1859-70). Having control as editor of these journals allowed Dickens to publish his most radical works, including Bleak House and Tale of Two Cities in serial form before releasing them as volumes. Chimes does not have the same subversive jokes in its final paragraphs, but it also lacks the tension that has particularly popularized the Carol in modern re-makings.

To summarize, this is a great book for anybody who either believes in the fairytale of Christmas or who wants to review this potential subversive subtext in these formulaic and hyper-commercial novels. Anybody who plans on making a modern remake should read this entire set of novels rather than only the Carol to understand how it differs from the series. And future remakes should really dig into the footnotes in this text, which are brilliant in this new edition. This is also a great book for most libraries to carry: it’s a sturdy hardcover, and kids should read this original rather than basing their ideas on the Carol on what they see in the movies.

Between Propaganda and Literature: An Autobiography of Caesar

Julius Caesar; James J. O’Donnell, translator. The War for Gaul: A New Translation. $27.95. 336pp, 5.5X8.5”, 1 map. ISBN: 978-0691174921. Princeton: Princeton University Press, April 30, 2019.


An ideal book for me is one that might be handy in one of my future research projects. This certainly falls into this category. Anybody writing or researching war in any period in history can benefit from understanding Caesar’s perspective on this subject. As the supreme ruler of one of the world’s first civilized democratic republics, this general’s perception of war helps explain why humanity is still engaging in this barbaric enterprise. The translator’s “Introduction” explains that this is not a book that brushes over the brutalities of war, instead it describes these without guilt, glorifying victory over any suffering winning is causing. O’Donnell explains: “The best reasons for not teaching this book to the young are that it gets war exactly right and morals exactly wrong, and that it achieves a crystalline purity of style that looks easy from every angle but proves to be sternly difficult and demanding when faced flat on. This is a book for the middle-aged and sober, for those who know that the world is not run according to their tastes and never will be, for those who listen best to the author who has truly mastered his language” (viii-ix). This is a very powerful opening. Yes, great books are those that paint the most honest and detailed painting of a time and place, rather than those that hold the approved moral position. Readers should decide if the author is moral; editors and publishers must present evidence to allow them to reach an informed decision. The rest of the introduction continues to be helpful as it summarizes the relevant history and geography, including a detailed map of the region Caesar describes conquering.

Caesar writes in third person about his own exploits. The translator stresses that Caesar “did not set out to write lucid, comprehensive, accurate battle reports,” but rather to “tell a good story, his story” (xlii). As with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, this propagandistic autobiography established Caesar as a military hero, lifting him into a position of national power. Caesar is glorified by most students of military history to this day, so most readers should accept Caesar’s self-aggrandizing positively.

The text is saturated with military lessons for practicing generals. For example, he writes: “he wanted to leave no enemy behind his back but had no capacity – because of the season – for making war and no desire to let such minor matters come ahead of Britain…” Then, he describes making preparations to sail away by organizing the hostages and troops (96). He puts himself into the hero’s role, taking responsibility for battles as if he slayed the enemies unassisted by troops. The other side is insulted, and is made to appear as insulting to Romans: “They so disrespected us that when we blocked the gates with single rows of turf, seemingly unbreakable, some began to tear down the rampart bare-handed, while others were filling the ditch. Then Caesar burst out from every gate. Swift-rushing cavalry put the enemy to flight, so none could stand to fight at all. He killed a great many and stripped all of their weapons” (135).

The only thing wanting from this book is more commentary and history-checking from the translator, which he insists he deliberately left out to let the power of Caesar’s fiction stand on its own. Otherwise, this is a book that deserved this new edition after being sidelined out of curriculums. Modern war autobiographies tend to brush over the grotesque because writers refrain from calling themselves war-criminals, or war-mongers, or calling war generally immoral. Caesar cannot be trusted as a narrator because of his self-interest, but he exaggerates the propaganda to such an extreme that the story becomes almost a satire about war crimes rather than a serious defense of conquest. International libraries should benefit from holding this book in their collections. Researchers and creative writers interested in Caesar should find both facts and inspiration in this volume.

Is This Burgess’ Autobiographical Confession of Having Killed His Wife?

Anthony Burgess. Beard’s Roman Women. 208pp, color images. ISBN: 978-1-5261-2803-4. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019.


“Cinematic language”, a term from the cover description, summarizes the problem with this novel: it lacks in description. Anthony Burgess appeared frequently in my graduate courses as a founder and leading figure in the magical surrealism movement. This term suggests to me a more literary version of a Russian novel such as Master and Margarita. Instead, this is more of a pop novel with short, choppy sentences, focused on filmographic actions and empty dialogue. The back cover opens thus: “All widowers, it has been said, feel like murderers. Anthony Burgess draws on an autobiographical episode to create the story of a man hunted by his first wife, presumed dead. But is she? Ronald Beard is a modern-day Orpheus, adrift among the ancient ruins of a purgatorial Rome. There, he finds a new love, only to be rudely interrupted by the old…” The most memorable myth about Orpheus is his attempt to rescue his wife from the underworld with help from his magical music. This hardly equates to a man who might have killed his first wife, and hopes she does not show up to ruin a new relationship. As a critic, I find it very annoying when I encounter these types of allusions that attempt to create a supernatural or metaphorical meaning behind a very down-to-earth or plain story. This same summary stresses that this novel is autobiographical; unless an author believes he or she is Orpheus, how can a work be both autobiographical and mythical? Another troubling element is that apparently Bugess “wrote his text… around… David Robinson’s photographs of Rome”. These photos are included in this book. One of these is a color image of a statue of a man in a top-hat. Across from it are these lines: “‘Jewish refugees?’/ ‘No, stupid, the Jews have won the war. These are all Arab. They have names like Hassan ibn Abdullah and so on. Isa binte Ismail.’” The following page has this line: “The thing to do probably was to go out and get very drunk and daub SCREW THE POPE outside the Sistine Chapel…” (130-2). There are insults across these two pages against all three major world religions: this is democratic slander, but to what purpose? Is this magical realism or spiritualism simply because these are mentioned? Approaching anti-Semites or anti-Muslims at a white-nationalism rally in America today will probably generate similar chatter. The bulk of the story is less heated, with one character saying “‘Darling, darling.’” Another responds: “‘Get on with your work while I’m away. Try to learn some Italian.’” This is the sort of empty dialogue that one might find in the worst romance novels or just poorly written nonsense. Some long paragraphs slip into something akin to “literary” language; for example: “His aloneness was the more intense now because he was surrounded by an alien culture and police force. He went into lo studio where Byron and the Shelleys were waiting, people of his own blood, practitioners of a trade not wholly incognate with his own…” (58-9). He goes on to explain how much he, the author/ narrator, has in common with canonical writers such as Byron and the Shelleys. This is almost like Caesar’s attempt to glorify his exploits: the book seems to have been written as propaganda to support Burgess campaign to be immortalized as a great writer. However, Caesar actually conquered an enormous territory, whereas Burgess fails to capture the craft of even mediocre literary writing. The front cover includes Burgess’ hand-held signature in gold, further aggrandizing. A couple of sentences from the last paragraph summarizes what’s wrong with this novel: “he was, he supposed, as happy as he had ever been in his life. Nothing left undone, and a whole night’s drinking in front of him…” (150). Is this a comedic happy ending of a romance novel? Why is the author compelled to say that he has achieved a climax and has gained happiness from life? The “literary” element here is the joke after this happy resolution, wherein the only thing left to make this ending a bit happier is getting drunk. While this turns the nature of the happiness on its head, it fails to impart a deep literary meaning. The book’s summary promised to explain if the narrator might have killed his wife; the editor further promises that this partial-murder is autobiographical, or Burgess might have semi-killed his wife. And the ending is: Burgess had a happy ending wherein he got drunk and forgot all about this nonsense? It was published in the middle of Burgess’ second marriage, but his first wife did die at only 26. He accused her of being a crazed alcoholic, and it seems she died of alcoholism or some other unknown illness. He remarried in the same year as the first wife’s death, making it likely that he started an affair before her death, and might have driven her to a kind of suicide. And this summary hints at an outright murder. Poe also wrote about his wife, who died young of tuberculosis, but he certainly did not insert insults against random religions or the other nonsense squeezed here. The novel is devoid of grief, which is apparent in Poe and other truly-grief stricken writers who write about their loves. If grief is lacking, why set out to discuss the death? Is this a joke about cold-hearted lack of love for his first wife? Other than the fact that a previous wife is dead, there is nothing surreal here: it isn’t even real.

It’s always distressing for me to discover that a puffed-up author lacks substance. I hope readers and librarians will stay away from this book: if you are passionate about highbrow literary fiction, it will depress you. If you are seeking a beautiful eulogy, it will repel your sensibilities. And if you are trying to solve a murder-mystery, you’ll have to read a lot of dribble to come out (at best) with a conviction that the narrator is guilty.

Typically and Primarily Oriented Towards the Economic and Social: A New Translation of Weber’s Opus

Max Weber; Keith Tribe, translator. Economy and Society: A New Translation. $24.95. 520pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674916548. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, April 2019.


The cover blurb does a fair job of summarizing this new translation of a canonical economic text: “the foundational text for the social sciences of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, presenting a framework for understanding the relations among individual actions, social action, economic action, and economic institutions. It also provides a classification of political forms based upon ‘systems of rule’ and ‘rulership’ that has shaped debate about the nature and role of charisma, tradition, legal authority, and bureaucracy.” Weber’s final philosophical text, it is also the mostly highly regarded for the power of its revolutionary message. The blurbs also promise detailed front-matter, and definitely delivers in this regard. The “Introduction” from the translator, Keith Tribe, is 73 pages long, and each of Weber’s chapters is separately introduced with a few additional introductory pages. These introductions come with copious, closely-researched notes with hundreds of citations. They include the book’s publication and translation histories. One curious subheading is “Weber’s ‘Sociology’”, wherein the translator includes a long paragraph from Weber’s letter in 1920, stressing that he is on a “campaign against ‘sociology’”; he questions if he might have actually become a “‘sociologist (according to my own official title!)’”, pursuing it with an “‘individualistic’ method”, rather than in the terms pre-set for this field (57). Tribe clarifies that the “sociology” presented from the first chapter of this text argues “that the motivation of individual action can inform an understanding of social processes and social orders that transcends the intentions of those who are engaged in them” (65). This is a good introduction to the rest of the text because it clarifies that much of this text is convoluted rather than direct. Definitions of economic and social concepts is given in a run-about way, rather than making direct calls for revolution, as can be found in Marx. For example, here is a definition used by Weber: “A means of exchange is a material object accepted in an exchange that is typically and primarily oriented to the persisting chance that it can, for the foreseeable future, be given in exchange for other goods; presuming that this exchange corresponds to the interest of participants, whether this exchange be for all such goods (general means of exchange) or only for particular goods (specific means of exchange)…” (159). I am currently working on editing my own novel, and one piece of advice from an essay by an editor on quick fixes to writing style is deleting most instances of “that” in a text. This long sentence is a great example of when “that” confuses the subject unnecessarily. The editor also recommends deleting adverbs such as “typically and primarily”. What do these signify? Not much. They really just confuse readers. Without all these verbose digressions, Weber would be left with close to the dictionary definition of “means of exchange”, or the first few words following this term. Why did Weber turn the meaningless added word “primarily” bold here? The word “chance” is also stressed, perhaps to highlight that Weber allows that this “means of exchange” might not be exchanged. But if it will not be exchanged, then it is the opposite of this term, and hence should theoretically be irrelevant to this discussion… And how can an exchange be for “general” goods rather than for “specific” goods. I mean, it is a curious philosophical turn, but in reality, if two parties are going to exchange something, they have to agree what specifically rather than generally they will be exchanging. If I want your coat, and I promise to generally give you “something” in return, I doubt you will surrender your coat under these terms… These types of ambiguities and confusions is the reason books such as this have to be read many times by scholars. While a portion of this theory might be nonsensical in isolation, Weber persistenly builds mountains-upon-mountains and much of it carries a great deal of insight and sense… if only readers can decipher it specifically or generally.

Sociologists and economics must read this book, not because it is inspiring or because it is revolutionary or because it is convincing, but rather because it is a canonical text. Everybody else has either read it or has said they read it, but really have not read it. Anybody who manages to read it closely is likely to gain something nobody else has understood about this book before. Too many readers have failed to penetrate this tome cover-to-cover: perhaps you will succeed in this endeavor.

Everything a Small Business Needs to Build a Website

Lisa Sabin-Wilson. WordPress: All-in-One. For Dummies. $39.99. 828pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-119-55315-1. Hoboken (NJ): John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2019.


This is a collection of eight books about WordPress, covering: WordPress basics, setting up, exploring the dashboard, examining SEO, utilizing plugins, customizing your site, publishing your site, and running multiple sites. It is written by Lisa Sabin-Wilson, a co-owner of WebDevStudios, a development company specializing in custom WordPress plugins, themes, and deployments. I have created several of my sites with WordPress, and made a site for one of the authors I have published with Anaphora, so this is a practical topic; I requested this book for review because it might come in handy in building my next website. A few months ago, I was giving a presentation for the Abilene Writers Guild on marketing, and I mentioned that any of them should be able to create their own website. The members of the audience were surprised by this: they seemed to suggest that as a hybrid/ subsidy publisher discussing marketing services I would want to sell the service of creating a website for this group of writers. In truth, building a website for somebody else is a tedious endeavor. And asking an outside contractor to build a WordPress website for you is absurd. This only makes sense if a business needs a highly personalized website with a newly built game or program that performs something WordPress’ current plugins etc. cannot achieve. I recall finding one of these Dummies books in a library or a bookstore when I was building my first website and a WordPress site, in particular, a decade ago. I must have browsed a short version with some basics on site setup. It was simple to follow, and WordPress itself offers sufficient tutorials and how-to content to solve glitches, if they appear. It is also pretty self-explanatory, so that somebody who finds the WordPress site, and clicks to create a site, should build something workable without reviewing how-to pages. There are easier sites to operate, but WordPress approaches the easiest on the market. The “Introduction” clarifies: “Between the hosted service at and the self-hosted software available at, millions of bloggers use WordPress, and to date, WordPress powers 30 percent of the Internet.” It has gained popularity by offering the basic software and access for free (1). While the basic website is super-easy and does not require this thick book to digest, those using WordPress for commercial purposes definitely need to understand some of the specialized topics discussed here. I learned about some of these sporadically over the years. For example, at one point I realized that my gmail email address was not professional. I learned that I needed to have by own URL to create an email address with my company’s name in it: generating A discussion of related topics is offered in this book in sections such as “Establishing Your Domain”, which even covers the cost of a domain name. Some of the detailed steps can be skipped to save money, while others are essential. For example, I still use a basic near-free version, which does not allow me to insert PayPal buttons or other direct payment gathering mechanisms. Occasionally, it is also challenging to insert videos into this basic model, but with a bit of work this is doable. This book should be especially helpful for those who are building an entirely unique website with much more personalization than simply a pay-button. For example, it dives into “file transfer protocol”, a foreign concept for somebody simply uploading a few book cover images or the like. I even learned that WordPress can be installed onto a web server: I just use their website to edit my sites. I have Dreamweaver from CS6, and perhaps exploring this section later will finally teach me how to perform advance tasks I’ve been avoiding with WordPress. I also learned that my websites are not optimized for security: I don’t know if I’ve ever “enabled multifactor authentication” or disabled “theme and plugin editors”, though it seems these are aimed at those who have more than one user with administrative access to the website (and I’m currently the only Anaphora administrator entering these deep waters). Another reason this is a great book is that it’s as up-to-date as books get: there is a long section on the “Block Editor”, and I believe WordPress only added this feature a few months ago. It took me a while to figure out how to add buttons to allow visitors to share content on social media, and there is a chapter on this here: so it’s an awesome book for somebody setting up a business website for the first time (so they can skip the learning curve). On the downside, the intended audience are programmers rather than average users. One of the problems I still face is figuring out the dimensions a background has to have to fit nicely on varied sizes of computer screens. The section customizing template backgrounds includes computer code, rather than the dpi dimensions or other simple measures and rules regarding this element. I located the background dimensions topic in the following section of the book. This portion observes that the recommended “header media” size is “2000 pixels wide by 1200 high”, but recognizes that this is not likely to be a perfect fit, going on to describe how images can be cropped. I have not seen a “crop” option on WordPress before; either this is a new free feature, or it only comes with a paid theme, or it is only available on the downloadable version of WordPress. I’ll explore this when I’ll next edit the images on my sites.

To summarize, I have gotten lost in reading this book, and forgot I was writing a review. Thus, this is the perfect book for those who need precise answers to practically execute their website. I doubt anybody can benefit from buying only eighth of this book separately: I think every user need all of these combined components; even if their uses are not immediately apparent, if you continue using WordPress across decades, even very obscure questions covered in sub-sections will come up. Only those setting out to make a website will benefit from this book: and that’s, apparently, 30% of the internet. This is a great addition to any library’s collection: a library that leaves it out is doing a disservice to its small business community.

A Magnificently Exhaustive Archive on Jefferson’s Retirement

Thomas Jefferson; J. Jefferson Looney, editor. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Volume 15: 1 September 1819 to 31 May 1820. Hardcover: $150.00. 752pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-691182346. Princeton: Princeton University Press, February 19, 2019.


For any researcher of American history or literature, there is nothing better than acquiring a collection of historical letters for a private library. Letters tend to be too digressive to comprehend a volume of them in a single sitting. Researchers spend years inside of archival halls reading hand-written letters, straining their eyes in these public gathering places. To have a box-worth of letters that have been transcribed, edited, and fully annotated is an amazing feeling. I can imagine few circumstances (even if I was spontaneously rich) wherein I could ever purchase any book without a course-requirement for my own collection for $150. But, I definitely hope more libraries purchase these types of collections. It is occasionally difficult to access letter collections even from major city libraries, as these rare books have small printings. The quality of this tome from Princeton should allow it wider dissemination.

Nearly every letter includes detailed annotations to explain distant history and language. For example, a letter from James Madison from October 23, 1819 is accompanied with a note quoting a separate letter from Ellen W. Rrandloph Coolidge to Dolley Madison from Monticello, expressing she cannot reciprocate a visit because she is caring for her Grandfather. She recommends decreasing exercise and letter writing for better health (152-3). The majority of these notes carefully track every single change made to the original letters, or uncertainties regarding the accuracy of the transcriptions. Handwriting is very difficult to transcribe, and includes a good deal of natural spelling errors resulting from the speediness of the genre, so some corrections have to be made for readability in print; it’s great that these are carefully explained (in case, a researcher might gain something from a slight change of phrase).

This particular portion of the Princeton Jefferson letters collection is called the Retirement Series, covering these later years. A brief chronology in the opening pages helps to put the years covered into perspective. He served in Continental Congress 1775-6 before drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He was Governor of Virginia 1779-81. He died in Monticello in 1826. He was President 1801-9. In the year this volume begins, 1819, Jefferson chartered the University of Virginia, and was elected its rector. Jefferson secured a $60,000 loan for the university from the state legislature to pay for seven months of unpaid construction work on the university Oddly, Jefferson’s debts “greatly increased by bankruptcy of Wilson Cary Nicholas”, for which Jefferson took personal responsibility in repaying. This debt is $20,000 from Jefferson’s “endorsement of notes” for the bankruptcy. Nicholas also served as Governor of Virginia, and became a leading Jeffersonian. Nicholas was a land speculator; the panic of 1819 led to the bankruptcy; Jefferson had cosigned the note and so was left to cover the debt. Nicholas died in 1820, also in the span of this volume. Jefferson’s service for the University of Virginia is his final effort before he began writing his memoir and otherwise fully withdrew from public life. Jefferson also exchanges letters with his enslaved carpenter, John Hemmings, during construction work on Poplar Forest.

The frontmatter also includes great maps of the plans for the University of Virginia, which include the names of carpenters and finishers involved in the construction. Another map shows the region where Monticello was located. Yet another is a map of the entire state of Virginia from this period. Color images are included in the center of the book, including copies of the original letters, a sculpture bust, a current photo of Monticello’s preserved Tea Room, a drawing of Poplar Forest furniture, a sketch of Monticello’s West Front, an early draft of the plan for the University of Virginia lands in Jefferson’s hand, and an engraving of the Declaration of Independence.

 The collection is enhanced with official correspondences and formal items such as the Minutes of University of Virginia Board of Visitors, in which Jefferson participated on October 4, 1819. The minutes detail the progress the of the construction effort (80). Many of the letters touch on the various difficulties Jefferson faces as a plantation owner and operator. For example, on February 15, 1820, he writes to James H. McCulloch: “a rain flooded our river, carried off the ice and floated our board, which set me afloat again after 7 months exclusion from market.” He reports this to explain his fiscal difficulties; he attaches $67 (396). Other letters offer curious political insights. For example, Jefferson writes to Mark Langdon Hill on April 5, 1820 with a request for Mark to keep a letter from the late Governor Langdon in “confidence” because he believes its exposure to the public might “rekindle a flame which burnt too long & too fiercely against me…” He detests having been accused of being “Monarchical”, and expresses that he bore these false accusations “with resignation, as one of the duties imposed on me by my post. But I assure you it was among the most painful duties from which I hoped to find relief in retirement. Tranquility is the summum bonum of old age and ill health; and nothing could so much disturb this with me as to awaken angry feelings from the slumber in which I wish them ever to remain” (510-1). This is a powerful explanation for Jefferson’s retirement from politics at the peak of his mental powers: criticism from rivals drove him to withdraw rather than condescending into slander in retaliation.

There are plenty of nuggets such as this on every page of this collection of 618 documents, and still more in the rest of the Jefferson series. I hope it will reach researchers who might find revelations on Jefferson’s biography and American history.

Nonsensical Puffery in Gratitude to the Camera’s Movements

Patrick Keating. The Dynamic Frame: Camera Movement in Classical Hollywood: Film and Culture Series. Paperback: $35.00. 368pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-23119-051-0. New York: Columbia University Press, February 19, 2019.


The cover blurb is a bit unclear as to the central significance of this project, but its “Introduction” does a better job of describing it. It begins by quoting several filmmakers who wrote publicly against moving the camera at all, or in favor of only still-shots for all parts of a film. Then, Patrick Keating explains how actual footage from films from the early decades of filmmaking shows how filmmakers began gradually relying on camera movements without entering the theoretical debate in public forums. They used roller skates and then dolly shots to energize productions. He explains that Mamoulian, Howe, Zanuck and Cukor argued “against dollies and cranes” because these movements appeared to be “careless, deployed for no good reason. The guiding ideal was not efficiency but efficacy.” He summarizes that this book “tells the story of camera movement in classical Hollywood cinema, covering the years from 1924 to 1958. I offer a historical poetics of the technique: a ‘poetics’ because I am concerned with the principles of film construction; ‘historical’ because I explain those principles by situating the technique within the context of the Hollywood studio system” (1-2).

The debate regarding the frivolousness and trickery of moving the camera engaged my interest; however, this digression into poetics loses my interest. A couple pages later, he gives this explanation of how zoom-in on the face shots are engaging to viewers: “The low-angle camera briskly dollies in from a medium shot to a close-up, and Kansas smiles… What the shot lacks in subtlety it gains in expressive force… The low angle allows her to dominate the frame, and the brisk movement evokes her intelligence by suggesting that the idea has come to her in a flash…” (4). Why does Keating feel compelled to include all this glorifying puffery in this discussion? What does “expressive force” have to do with the science of a close-up. A term like this is too general and fails to explain the point of the maneuver. The same zoom-in trick is still used in nearly every film made across the world, as folks continue mimicking it, as if its use is essential to passing cinema. If a film only has still shots or no close-ups today, it is unlikely it would even break into the film festival circuit. It is possible that mind-tricks such as brisk movements and allowing a face to dominate the frame have helped to build character-worship despite the absence of intelligence in what the characters are actually saying. For example, the discussion might be about the weather rather than the murder-mystery at hand, or she might find an answer to the mystery in her imagination without disclosing her thought-process. Poor writing is covered up with these same repeating tricks. I hoped to find out how these repetitions were started, why they spread, and what is stopping new techniques from developing. This book should include the answers, but they are buried under puffery, or flattering remarks that aggrandize the film industry giants, congratulating them on establishing formulas in Hollywood’s first few decades that might remain with us across the coming millennia. The chapters’ titles prevent an easy exploration of the provided contents, with titles such as “Purposes and Parallels” and “Between Subjective and Objective”. What do you think these titles signify? Subjective is the opposite of objective; either somebody is biased and offers puffery in support of bad cinema, or he is objective and presents the unpoetic facts of the case. There are several tables across the book, but they compare very simple elements that fail to show clear significance. The most detailed table offers the placement of two separate characters, Jo and Jimmy within a series of eight shots, displaying where each of them is placed (left or right); if it is a full, medium, medium long, medium close, or long shot; and that their position is “standing” or “seated” (182). A more standard table shows thirty stages of a single shot in Rope (1948) from the perspective of nine different characters; each is marked as “onscreen” or “partial” with no note if he or she is offscreen. What do you think this extensive information demonstrates? Here is the concluding paragraph for the section “The camera had grown more fluid, but its increasing mobility made familiar rhetoric about the ‘all-seeing eye’ seem ever more problematic. Instead of cutting to the most advantageous angle at every possible moment, filmmakers used the camera to make the cinema’s essential selectivity ever more salient. The camera’s gestures could be forceful, as in Rope, or gentle, as in No Way Out, but they were visibly gestures, producing effects not of omniscience but of revelation, concealment, emphasis, and understatement” (255-62). It is easy to let the sounds of this type of scholarly language wash over you. But let’s stop and ponder this. What does it mean that the “camera” has become “fluid”? We have not seen the invention of a fluid versus a solid camera. So, does this mean that camera work has become more diverse? No, the section is called “The Longest Takes”. By definition, he sets out to describe a single type of camera movement in this section: the long take. The notion of a long take is not fluid: it is a long, continuous camera shot; it pretty much follows the action as characters move around. It remains about the same a century later. Now, what does the “all-seeing-eye” have to do with the long take? Sure, the long take might be inspired by the notion that the film is seen from am “omniscient” narrator, who in a godly manner is able to follow the action in a single long shot. The problem is that the author of this scholarly explanation leaves out what “familiar rhetoric” he is referring to and why omniscience is “problematic”? Is he referring to the Big Brother problem of modern government surveillance? Why would he digress there in a section promising to discuss the simple camera movement of a long shot? Then, he raises a good point: the long shot prevents the cinematographer from selecting the best possible shot across the lengthy section of film this long shot covers. A long shot makes the cinematographer’s job easier, as it forbids him from cutting and pasting sections; this lack of effort is explained as an artistic achievement because all of the actions were captured with a single shot. “Salient” in the context of the rest of the sentence probably means “pointing outward”, or it can mean “prominent”; restating the phrase with an insertion of these possibilities: “cinema’s essential selectivity ever more” pointing outward; “cinema’s essential selectivity ever more” prominent. The latter makes more sense. So, by using the long shot filmmakers are empowering the art of the cinema with greater selectivity. If stated directly, this long sentence clearly contradicts itself. By using a single shot, filmmakers are limiting their power and selectivity, rather than increasing in this regard. No argument is inserted in support of how a single shot is more selective than choosing between thousands of potential shots for a collage of images. Then, Keating digresses again into a discussion of forcefulness and gentleness of camera movements: what does this have to do with the length of a shot? After introducing this binary, the sentence ends thus: “not of omniscience but of revelation, concealment, emphasis, and understatement”. The term “omniscience” refers back to the “all-seeing-eye”. However, there is no parallel or even a binary opposition between it and the terms that follow it after a “but”: “revelation, concealment, emphasis, and understatement”. “Omniscience” means to be all-knowing. Revelation is a synonym for knowing all, as the world is fully revealed. However, “concealment” is its antonym, as it refers to what is unknown. The next two terms are even more confusing: what does a long shot have to do with emphasis? The long shot tends to emphasize the larger action, as it moves between characters, scenery and the like. And “understatement” might be related to the gentle versus aggressive camera movement, but what relationship might exist between them is left out. In other words, this paragraph, when viewed as a sum of its parts is nonsensical.

Serious scholars coming across this book are likely to simply put it back on the shelf because scrutinizing every word in every paragraph to derive the nonsense within a book is an exhaustive effort. Meanwhile, scholars who similarly engage in nonsense-building offer the same type of puffery to this nonsense as this author affords the millionaires of the film industry. I view it as part of my job to criticize all books that lack sense in these reviews. I hope this commentary will stop a professor from including this book in a syllabus: don’t torture your students with digressive dribble.

Comprehensive History of Jamaica’s Television Industry

Yvette J. Rowe and Livingston A. White. Still on Air: Producing Television in Small Markets. 258pp, images. ISBN: 978-9-766406752. Jamaica: The University of the West Indies Press, 2019.


The preface does a great job of summarizing this book as: “a detailed analysis of four Jamaican television programmes (Schools’ Challenge Quiz, Profile, Hill an’ Gully Ride and Entertainment Report) by examining the various production elements that have contributed to their success. He book documents their historical, production and broadcast experiences and offers an analysis of the reasons for their longevity. The length of time on air can be an indicator of a show’s success in certain contexts such as small markets for television…” It “documents an aspect of the Jamaican television industry that has never before been given detailed attention. The work provides readers with insights into what is required to produce television programming that is culturally sensitive, affordable and responsive to audiences in small markets” (1). This book achieves exactly what it promises here.

For example, Appendix 3 gives the exact numbers of viewers that tuned into the four focal programs focal to the book across the years they were on air between 1970 and 2015. A separate appendix shows statistics for the longest-running shows in other countries: curious because it demonstrates their market dominance, longevity and other points discussed in the text. The chapters are logically organized and make it easy for researchers to find content. The first chapter covers the breadth of the history of television programming in Jamaica, setting the stage for readers new to the topic. Four body chapters cover the four shows closely analyzed. Additional chapters cover what makes for a show’s longevity, and glances into the future with hope for continued success for Jamaica’s television. Those interested in the past, or currently working in Jamaica can find the most relevant sections with a quick glance at this table. Since this is one of the only books covering this subject, it should be of great interest to scholars in this emerging field, and to practitioners in need to extensive market and artistic research. The historical introduction explains the significance the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) had on founding Jamaica’s television industry. JPC commenced in this business in 1959 with a national public radio station, before creating its first television station in 1963. The first transmission corresponded with Jamaica’s independence celebrations. One of the shows covered began in 1970, shortly after this founding. JPC was a socialist government program until it was divested in 1997 as part of Jamaica’s privatization efforts. Another helpful fact from the introductory materials is that the 2011 census found that Jamaica had 845,000 households with TV sets (12); this explains that the viewing audience averages for these shows in the 100,000-200,000 range in the appendix represent around 10% of the population of 2.8 million, a very high bar when compared with larger countries where even huge shows don’t reach this percentage of the population. Other helpful components from the book are transcripts from the central shows: these should help those who have not seen the productions understand their essence. There are also tables that summarize the genre, creators, language, filming locations and the like. The history is supported with practical information for filmmakers and researchers, such as the funding sources that have gotten and kept these shows on the air. The authors site two funding models: 1. “producers buying airtime from a television station and then getting their own sponsors. These sponsors invariably get advertising in the show either through an actual advertisement shown during a break or in promos, or through product placement or endorsements of the sponsor’s services or products…” 2. “a joint venture between the producer and television station… [T]he marketing department… of the station sells advertising space for the show…” Both of these models feature the producer as a driving financial element in the productions. The writers add that a third model is “emerging in the Jamaican market”, a corporate model similar to the one common in the US: “A corporate entity underwrites a branded show and is the key sponsor with their brand occupying a prominent space…” (71). This means that Jamaica’s television is currently a bull’s market for ambitious producers as they face little competition from corporate entities in accessing viewers. Anybody able to find sponsors, can run a television show. This makes this book relevant for international businesses, rather than only for locals, as there are many opportunities for investment and growth.

The concluding paragraph stresses that the start of the four covered programs in a socialist government-owned entity and their continuation into the commercial, privately owned media marketplace of today “suggests that there must be a compromise between the business imperative and the public good” (139-40). Overall, this is a thorough study of a subject in need of close scrutiny. Instead of propaganda or puffery, this study offers honest explanations of the struggles the television industry has faced in Jamaica, offering hope for continued development.

Why a Third of Americans Have Criminal Records

Rachel Elise Barkow. Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration. Cloth: $35.00. 304pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674-919233-9. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, March 4, 2019.


The summary from the publisher is excellent: “America has the highest incarceration rate among major nations. One in three American adults has a criminal record. We spend vast sums on not just incarceration, but on protection and law enforcement. Despite this, much evidence suggests these very policies increase the risk of crime, leaving us less safe. This counterproductive consequence is directly due to America having politicized criminal justice rather than treating it as a problem to be solved.” Barkow works to address this shortcoming in this study. This topic is particularly relevant to my own experience at the moment. I lost an election for Mayor of Quanah a week ago. After this loss, a contact on LinkedIn commented that politicians exist to keep Americans safe. I observed at the time that only fear-mongers argue that this is a mayor’s primary job. Instead of spreading fear, a good mayor has to focus more energy on helping those in need avoid the extreme poverty and need that might otherwise lead them into crime. This response was not appreciated. The statistic that one in three Americans have a criminal record really hits this point home more so than I was able to express in my gut-reaction. Why are we fighting wars against countries that are not responsible for staging any major attacks on the US: entities within them might have been responsible, but we have been hitting entire countries, wasting resources and lives. On the local level, policing and the law are in a run-away spending and punishing mode. Too many people being punished are innocent of the acts, but police departments are rewarded with funding for arrests and convictions rather than for measures of their accuracy. With these thoughts in the back of my mind, it is exciting to read a book entirely dedicated to research the topic of mass-incarceration with cool detachment, instead of utilizing it in political rhetoric to win an election. Several residents of Quanah mentioned knowing people who were rape victims in Quanah who had been ignored by the local police department: they were asking me to promise to pursue cases against the accused without looking at the case files and before they would vote for me in the election. Why would deciding on the merits of the case be an issue for the Mayor to decide rather than a logical detective on the case that pursues or refrains from pursuing charges based on the merits of the case? All Americans should be asking these questions, and should benefit from this study being seen by those in charge.

The author is highly believable as she is the Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy and the Faculty Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University. She presented some of these ideas previously as a member of the United States Sentencing Commission since 2013. Some of her suggestions have led to the roll back of federal drug sentencing, but clearly most of her ideas have been ignored or she would not have written this lengthy book to explain the problems with the current politicized system.

The chapter titles are a bit vague, but their contents are explained in brief summaries at the start of each of the three parts of the book. Chapter 1 addresses how crimes are lumped together so that minor offenders can receive similar sentences to those on the other extreme. Chapter 2 describes how harsh sentences can undermine instead of assuring public safety because longer sentences make re-offending upon re-entry more likely, among other problems. Chapter 3 stresses that American prisons fail to rehabilitate offenders. I worked as a substitute teacher in LA county juvenile detention facilities, so I can testify to this point. On the last day on this job, a gang of fifteen 16-18-year-olds exposed themselves and threatened to rape me repeatedly across the 9-hour day. I kept trying to teach the assigned lessons, but they kept rushing around the room, repeating violent threats, and otherwise creating an extremely hostile atmosphere. They repeated that the cameras in the room were down. I asked for a guard to come in and defend me several times, but the officers would come in, laugh at the situation, encourage the boys and then would leave me alone with them again. I filed official complaints on this matter at the end of the day. In response the district put me on suspension instead of punishing any of these offenses. My suspension from substituting for LA county was lifted on the day I left LA for PA to begin my PhD studies at IUP. I received a letter that I was cleared of the accusation against me. I taught in several other detention centers, and was harassed and threatened in all of them. Substituting in public schools was also highly threatening: with kids telling me that people they knew were murdered by gang members and the like. But the incarceration facilities took the threat-level to a new height. All of the juveniles were surprised I was actually trying to teach them: they probably face these types of intimidating circumstances daily. The system is obligated to teach juveniles because education is mandatory up through high school in the US. If this is how education is handled when detention centers are required to partake, clearly voluntary education in adult facilities is in a much greater trouble. Well, I have digressed: this book clearly inspires contemplation. I won’t detail the contents of the other chapters as it is obvious that all of them address central challenges relevant to this debate.

The research across the book is spotless. It answers questions readers never imagined existed. For example, she explains that laws that set out to punish sex offenders with 25-year minimums are applied to various categories of people that have to register as sex offenders because they visit a prostitute, urinate in public or streak. All of the juveniles that flashed me might have spent the rest of their lives in jail if this extreme law was enforced. Actually, this exact question is addressed later in the paragraph: “Sex is not required for a teenager to end up on a registry. A high school senior in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who flashed a group of freshman girls on his way to the bathroom pleaded guilty to indecent exposure and had to register under Oklahoma law as a sex offender.” Apparently even a “9-year-old who played ‘doctor’ with a 6-year-old had to register…” (21).

Basically, this book has located most of the absurdities of America’s criminal justice system and digested them in a language acceptable to the general public as well as to researchers and policy makers. Just as the Muller Report, this book cannot have been read by anybody running America’s government, or they would have been clamoring to make these changes. I hope Barkow succeeds in breaking this message through. Based on her statistics, half of Americans have encountered unfairness of law enforcement, as many were put on trial or faced probation without a conviction leading to a criminal record. If all of these people were presented with a short one-page summary of the findings of this book and were asked to vote on keeping the current system or adopting these suggested changes, they would surely vote for the changes (but most probably couldn’t vote because of laws barring voting by convicts). Barkow must have helped write many decisions when she clerked for judges as this shows outstanding legal research and writing. The book is also a great read for anybody who needs to understands the subject to make legal or political arguments on this matter.

How Fakery Rules American Political PR

Judith S. Trent, Robert V. Friedenberg, and Robert E. Denton, Jr. Political Campaign Communication: Principles & Practice, Upgraded Eighth Edition. 22pp. ISBN: 978-1-5381-1005-8. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


I requested this and the other books in this review to prepare for my mayoral campaign. Sadly, I learned little from all of these volumes that I did not know before. Maybe I know a great deal about campaigns or marketing already, or maybe all of these books repeat the same information. A few of these were new editions of an old book on this topic, and the publishers sent the entire new edition for the others. But for this title, Rowman sent only a short 22-page section that was added to this latest edition, without the rest of it. Obviously, this was the least helpful out of this set. I think it made a negative contribution. Here is how the back cover advertises it: “The 2016 presidential campaign was like none other in contemporary history…” Perhaps, I’ve written too many book reviews at this point, but this is the most absurd line of puffery I have read. The next lines I would expect from a serious work of scholarship would be: “It was the most corrupt election in American history, where lobbyists who bought the Democrats faced off against the Russians who bought the Republicans. The Republicans successfully rigged the election, while accusing the Democrats of rigging. During this process, the President paid off a porn star and otherwise committed hundreds of illegal acts, for which several people are already serving prison time. The President will not be charged for any of these crimes because the Republicans are completely corrupted and would not be able to stand up to the people who have corrupted them even if these lunatics start shooting people outside of Trump Tower. While Nixon was pretty crooked, this latest election has made American politics more blatantly corrupt than any other nation in the world because to win this title the crooks have to get away with it.” But that’s not what the cover states. It continues: “…The historical nature of the race in terms of gender, new communication technology and social media, the deep political divide in America, and even the personalities of the candidates provided the environment for a very unique and untraditional campaign.” The new technologies they might be referring to are the bots that flooded social media to create distrust and misinformation that confused American voters. The “divide”… is far more troubling. US elections have been rigged since 1996. Lobbyists have been paying billions to American politicians to pass laws that favor their interests. Early polling and media sway have been used to give the illusion of division. The final results are always close. The point of these close calls is to encourage both Republicans and Democrats to over-commit on their promises and to over-spend on corrupting the elections under the belief that they have a chance to win. In 1996 and in most elections prior to this point, the winner was a clear winner. Clinton won with 379 to 159 electoral votes. Looking at Dole’s versus Clinton’s records, Americans knew who the better candidate was, or perhaps rigging was more clear-cut. But here are the numbers for the elections that followed: 2000: 271: 266/ 50.5: 51 (Bush); 2004: 286: 251/ 62: 59 (Bush); 2008: 365: 173/ 69.5: 60 (Obama); 2012: 332: 206/ 65.4: 60.6 (Obama), 2016: 304: 227/ 63: 65.8 (Trump). No other party received a single electoral vote across these years. Democrats won the popular election in 2000 and 2016, but lost because of direct gerrymandering that skewed the Electoral College into their favor. With these two taken out, Republicans only won one election across these years, Bush’s reelection after the 9/11 attack. Despite clearly not being supported by the majority of American people, Republicans dominated the House and the Senate across much of Obama’s term, seemingly preventing him from actually instituting any significant positive change to match his promises. Instead of coming up with a platform that matches the American people, the Republicans are relying on rigging and corruption, and even if they pay off porn stars in public, they are not being stopped. The Democrats are complicit in this fiasco, or they would have overturned these problems after the 2000 Electoral College disaster. The commencement of legalized torture at this juncture in Guantanamo probably contributed to terrifying Democrats into towing the Republicans’ party line. Instead of saying any of this, the cover includes this point: “fake news: how the media covered the campaign, issues arising from the influence of ‘fake news’ in the coverage, and potential lasting effects on journalistic practice.” Now this book can be declared campaign propaganda for the Republicans. Most of this section is consumed with quotes of outrage, seemingly from the left concerned about the problems, but without commentary in support of either side. A few helpful points appear in one paragraph: “As typical in recent presidential contests, the horse race between the candidates dominated the coverage, consisting of 42 percent followed by scandals and controversies with 17 percent and only 10 percent focusing on policy issues. According to the Tyndall Report, the three major evening news networks devoted just thirty-two minutes to issue coverage in the 2016 general election.” That’s 32 minutes in total across the three of them. Terrorism and foreign policy were the most commonly discussed issue. “In previous presidential elections, coverage surpassed two hundred minutes. However, during the primary season, the networks spent 333 minutes focusing on Donald Trump. Clinton’s emails garnered one hundred minutes of coverage from the networks… Overall, both candidates received highly negative coverage, with 66 percent for Clinton and a record-high 77 percent for Trump” (13). This explains the current election cycle. The top democratic runner began the campaign by pretty much leaking stories about sexually harassing the women he has worked with. Instead of losing because of these invasions of private space, he pushed to the top of the polls, and is probably going to win the nomination. This and other books on election marketing are indicating that to win an election in the US, a runner has to prove they are the most corrupt, foul, idiotic person on the field. Either elections are so cooked, the media coverage is only a “fake” distraction to the cookery, or with half of Americans having criminal records or having dealt with the criminal justice system, perhaps a majority of Americans are in support of corrupt criminals. This is the only piece of “helpful” information in this propagandistic run-around. I hope nobody will buy this book, and instead I hope American politicians and their marketing teams will dig deep inside their fake-Bibles to find some morals.   

How Two Candidates Created Identical Platforms

Sean D. Foreman and Marcia L. Godwin. Local Politics and Mayoral Elections in 21st Century America: The Keys to City Hall. 244pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-415-34736-5. New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.


This book also failed to provide clear, practical advice on how to win an American election with morals intact. Here is the summary from the publisher: “Open contests in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston… offer laboratories to examine electoral trends in urban politics… Boston was rocked by the bombing of the marathon… Detroit is roiled by being the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy, and Chicago, which had an open, competitive election in 2011, is dealing with significant gun violence. San Diego’s mayor resigned… due to sexual harassment charges, and other mayors are surrounded by corruption scandals.” Wow! American cities are burning to the ground. What can this book have to say about this? It continues: “Emerging theories of urban governance, demographic changes, and economic conditions are examined in introductory chapters; the introduction provides a unique and comprehensive focus on major trends in advertisement, changes in campaign strategies, fundraising, and the use of social media at the local level. In Part 2, scholars with expertise in local politics, urban public policy, and governance explore some of the largest and most noteworthy U.S. cities, each of which had a recent, competitive mayoral election…” “Gerrymandering” does not appear in the “Index” for this book despite the promise to cover “demographic changes”. Yes, despite the increase of minorities through in-migration and the like across the last two decades, the party which opposes immigration and minorities has come into power? How? By changing electoral maps to favor them even as the majority of Americans are blatantly on the other side. The other point that draws attention here is “economic conditions”, which seems to be referring back to Detroit, so I turned to this chapter. The structure of this chapter is logical enough. It opens by summarizes the demographics and backgrounds of the two opposing candidates in the election: Michael E. Duggan (white) and Benny Napoleon (black). Then, a brief introduction explains that Duggan is the “first serious white candidate in 40 years” in Detroit, amidst the bankruptcy breakdown. Then, the charter or the structure of Detroit’s government is summarized. Then, a section stresses that Detroit had been Democrat “since the New Deal”. A demographics section summarizes color and economic lines. Then biographies of the candidates. Then the campaign issues: bankruptcy, the emergency manager, and crime. Followed by the “Campaign Strategy”: this section is the reason I requested this book. Instead of setting out to explain the exact strategy that brought a win, it begins by explaining the two sides almost plagiarized the others talking-points: they had an “indiscernibility between their positions on” the major issues; “both opposed the emergency manager and the bankruptcy” (124). Then, the writers repeat the obvious: both used “the Internet, television ads, and newspaper interviews.” Then, they touch on how they both “used video advertisements emphasizing their solidarity with residents, highlights of their revitalization plans, and focusing on their perspective backgrounds” (124-5). It seems as if both candidates paid the same PR firm to run their campaign, and this PR firm replicated the same campaign for both of them. Perhaps the bankruptcy drained the swamp and left both with so little for the election, the PR firm just decided to do half-a-job for half-the-pay.

More importantly for those looking for practical advice in these pages: none of this is as-promised practically helpful. A candidate with enough money to pay a PR firm would not need to read this book. A practicing PR firm would need to know how to psychologically and visually make appealing videos and websites rather than that these are supposed to be made. So, who is this book aimed at? The target audience appears to be introductory, undergraduate politics classes. But what teacher would torture students by having them memorize the biographies and finances of these horrid little elections? I hope I will help you guys to steer clear of this book, unless you hope to become the PR firm hired by both sides to cook an election, and in that case…

Socialist Conquest of Panama City by the US

Marixa Lasso. Erased: The Untold Story of the Panama Canal. $35.00. 352pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674-98444-8. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, February 25, 2019.


The book’s blurb does an excellent job describing why this title is of interest to librarians and general readers as it accuses the US of depopulating the region around the Panama Canal in order to benefit its own businesses while wiping out local infrastructure, culture and population. “Between 1911 and 1916, the United States expelled approximately 40,000 Panamanians from the Canal Zone. In 1912, when the project began, Panama City had a population of about 24,000 and held 14% of the country’s entire population. The creation of the Panama Cana Zone erased an old commercial route dotted with towns and roads that had connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans since the sixteenth century. Entire Panamanian towns located in the ten miles of American territory bordering the area were dismantled and torched. These cities and towns were centuries old, vibrant, economically modern, and entwined with Panamanian politics, history, and culture. Within a few years after the decree, the depopulated areas became a jungle. In lieu of the existing pattern of settlement, the US federal government created an idyllic tropical space, in which the jungle served as a backdrop to manicured suburban towns miraculously cleansed of poverty, unemployment, and even most forms of private property.” The last note is particularly interesting. American corruption favors a few contractors who might gain near-exclusive rights to develop an entire city. Others are prevented from building with restrictive zoning codes and other measures. It seems that the Panama story is a bit more intricate if it involved the elimination of private property all together. This is definitely an intriguing, new argument that deserves to be fully explored. The author, Marixa Lasso, currently teaches at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, in the neighboring country with Panama, a Florida-length away (though Google Maps is not allowing me to calculate driving distance, though there seem to be connecting highways between the university and the Panama Canal). Lasso previously taught in the US at Case Western Reserve University and won NHC and other grants. Thus, she appears to be free of bias towards either of these regions.

The book is organized chronologically, and separated into periods: the port that existed before the build, the creation of the Canal Zone, the decimation of the surrounding towns, what the region became without Panamanians, how the towns turned into the jungle, and what the region looks like today. A few historical photographs demonstrate the arguments, including a family picnic in a jungle that used to be a fort, the view of Balboa administration building, and early photographs and paintings of what this region was like when it was dominated by Panamanians. The towns that were not burned to the ground suffered through floods and other disasters because the Canal construction project created blockages on ancient rivers and otherwise distorted nature in the region (208). There are many surprising details across the book. At one point, Lasso explains that the Zone’s government-built houses for the relocated locals that were too “far from the water” and “were too hot because the ceilings were too low.” The locals complained, explaining the local climate necessitated taller roofs, but they were ignored; these types of discomforts eventually forced most of these people away from the region, leaving only American newcomers running the project in polished cities without a native presence in the outskirts. The descriptions throughout are beautifully written and poetic, but also convey practical and relevant information. They do not veer into nonsensical digressions about trees and spirituality for their own sake. This book has been closely researched and thoroughly edited to welcome and keep readers. It is a great find for any library with a Latin American collection. Researchers of Latin and Central America should find this a thorough and unique perspective to inspire further exploration or to fit into the gaps in earlier studies. This might also be a helpful book in a graduate politics or history class.

Three Millennia of Legal History Asks: Why Are We Still Doing That?

Tamar Herzog. A Short History of European Law: The Last Two and a Half Millennia. 290pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-23786-5. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019.


While Barkow does a great job summarizing the problems with current American law rules, these can better be understood when seen from the wider perspective of this history of European law across a 2,500-year history. We can imagine the existing laws are the only and the best possible laws, but are they remnants of medieval or early-history codes that nobody had the energy to overrule in all these millennia? Why do we have laws against using illegal substances, but not against accepting bribes from lobbyists. Modern politicians and fiction and non-fiction writers like me should find much to inspire our work here. The author, Tamar Herzog teaches history at Harvard University, in affiliation with its Law School. The parts are very logically divided into ancient times, early Middle Ages, late Middle Ages, early modern period, modernity, and the nineteenth century. The chapter titles point to themes that separate these periods: Roman Law, Latin Christendom, jurists, laws related to lords, emperors and popes, English common law, natural law, American and French revolutions, and codification of European law. In the “Introduction”, Herzog explains that one of the inspirations to write this book was when one of her students approached her with clueless excitement over the Magna Carta, causing Herzog to question if she should go off on a lecture regarding how history has manipulated and misunderstood this document, or if she should let the student maintain her thrill at the encounter with this mythological archival piece (1). She decided to explain what we all fail to understand about the history of the law by writing this book.

The book is written is a more conversational style than most law or history books. This should make it easy for a student to read a portion of it closely, important in undergraduate and graduate history classes where very boring and laborious books too often slip into syllabi. The pages are full of curious and surprising revelations. For example, she points out that law courts were originally “optional and required consent of plaintiffs and defendants” before they gradually became mandatory, and their judgements became law rather than suggestions for resolutions to avoid violence (14-5). Those who research modern law policy might find inspiration from this realization, causing them to question why do we have courts, and might this type of lawlessness actually decrease crime as the threat of legal retribution from the victim’s side might be more of a deterrent?

Some portions are a bit too lightly described for my taste. For example, one section, “Questioning Feudalism” mentions that since the 1990s historians have questioned if this concept existed as we imagine it: “a model that rarely (if ever was put into place. Or they maintained that the large variety of situations and practices they uncovered in the archives could never be reduced to a system with clear principles” (66-7). Few of these questioning studies are clearly cited, and what specific archival evidence proves about these systems is left out. The section ends by moving off into “monarchies and states”. This certainly inspires a desire to research this matter further, but if I was studying this book as homework, I would lack a nugget of truth to take away from it. On the other hand, it’s great to see uncertainty in a history book. My own current research into de-attribution of works away from Daniel Defoe proves that what we imagine is “history” is more like fiction that has been repeated often enough to be believed. If there are no answers regarding if there was ever such a thing as feudalism, it’s great that Herzog forgoes the sway of myth and relies on the confusion suggested by facts.

The section called “The Foundational Documents” briskly summarizes the contents of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and explains what these mean in greater legal context (168). Another section explains how the ratification of a civil code procedure in New York led to its adoption in Missouri and dozens of other states. This explains why states have such similar criminal and civil codes to each other. In theory, states can create radically different legal codes, but while there are political divergences on abortion, the death penalty and the like, the civil code is oddly duplicable (226). About half of the book is about relatively modern legal developments many of us have probably read about in high school history classes, and the other half of the book presents information that is entirely foreign, starting with the first written texts. As I imagined, the author states in the end that she hopes to inspire innovation in the law based on these lessons from history. She argues there is a need to “come up with a new paradigm that would replace the old imaginary of a society made of undifferentiated equal citizens linked by an abstract social contract… The new paradigm, instead, would recognize the power of groups and group solidarity as well as the persistence of inequalities and differences by unmaking the metaphors proposed by the French Revolution…” She calls on jurists to propose “methods to imagine a new legal universe for a new society” (243). If it is relatively easy to compress thousands of years of Earth’s legal history into a pretty thin book, humans really have been lacking in imagining innovations in this area. Then again, it is difficult to agree on a change out of fear it might make things worse: for example, separating people into groups and judging them differently does not sound like it would be moral from my perspective.

I hope those who have the power to change the legal system will read this book and will ponder on the possibilities.

De-Regulation Propaganda in Favor of Innovative Crookery

Merritt B. Fox, Lawrence R. Glosten & Gabriel V. Rauterberg. The New Stock Market: Law, Economics, and Policy. Economics: Law: Business. $65.00. 408pp. Cloth: ISBN: 978-0-231-18196-9. New York: Columbia University Press, January 8, 2019.


The blurb does an excellent job of summarizing this technical book, so here it is in full: “The U.S. stock market has been transformed over the last twenty-five years. Once a market in which human beings traded at human speeds, it is now an electronic market pervaded by algorithmic trading, conducted at speeds nearing that of light. High-frequency traders participate in a large portion of all transactions, and a significant minority of all trade occurs on alternative trading systems known as ‘dark pools.’ These developments have been widely criticized, but there is no consensus on the best regulatory response to these dramatic changes./ The New Stock Market offers a comprehensive new look at how these markets work, how they fail, and how they should be regulated. Merritt B. Fox, Lawrence R. Glosten, and Gabriel V. Rauterberg describe stock markets’ institutions and regulatory architecture. They draw on the informational paradigm of microstructure economics to highlight the crucial role of information asymmetries and adverse selection in explaining market behavior, while examining a wide variety of developments in market practices and participants. The result is a compelling account of the stock market’s regulatory framework, fundamental institutions, and economic dynamics, combined with an assessment of its various controversies. The New Stock Market covers a wide range of issues including the practices of high-frequency traders, insider trading, manipulation, short selling, broker-dealer practices, and trading venue fees and rebates. The book illuminates both the existing regulatory structure of our equity trading markets and how we can improve it.” The authors are a Columbia law professor (Merritt B. Fox), a Columbia business professor (Lawrence R. Glosten), and a University of Michigan law professor (Gabriel V. Rauterberg). Given the herculean effort undertaken of understanding innovations in the stock market, clearly three Ivy League professors were needed to tackle this research-mountain. The notes, index and other back matter take up a fourth of the book or over a hundred pages, so it is painstakingly researched.

I requested this book because for the first time in my life, I am sort of starting to save a bit of money. I invested it in a high-interest savings account, and I’ve now seen an actual interest earnings of more than $1. So, this inspired me to research market investment to figure out if I should attempt it in the coming decades, or if I should remain away from risk-taking. I was supposed to become a financial analyst if things had worked out as-planned after college; I worked in this field for a bit, but the job I was hired for was incredibly boring, so I transitioned into researching literature, while using my economics and business knowledge to run my publishing company. One of the problems I encountered with business was the shady trading and financial maneuvers I was exposed to during my college banking internships. The job seemed to be fooling regulators, and if I was unwilling to engage in this, managers kind of pressured me out of the loop and the job. Now, here is a book with chapters on “Manipulation” and “Short Selling”… and the “Dark Pools”. Are these suggesting that to profit in this erratic market, I have to engage in market-manipulation, but in a manner that stays within regulatory guidelines? The section on “High Frequency Trading” or rapid trades carried out with help from computer programs might be more relevant to my attempts to be moral, but surely these programs are expensive or inaccessible to those with limited funds. The opening of this latter chapter xplains that “high-frequency traders (HFTs) post a significant number of the limit orders that ar ched in his fashion and result in executed trades.” As I anticipated the computer uses “algorithms” to calculate the best matches for this rapid-fire trades (95). What would be helpful here is if the writers explained the elements reviewed by these algorithms, so I could develop a mini-one to attempt playing the market myself. Instead the section is pretty digressive as it keeps defining the terms, and then gives an example with a lot of facts but little practical use. In this example, an investor “decides that Agilent’s future cash flows are going to be greater than its current share price suggests.” Then it goes into what the shares are and what they might be, and how one might make a profit if the guess is correct. The missing nugget is in why this investor has decided the price will go up. Is he privy to insider-trading information? If he part of the “dark pools” that will be discussed later in the book? Is he using an algorithm to make this prediction? If the latter, that’s what I want to know: what’s the equation to make this prediction? Looking over other sections, this is a consistent problem throughout: a lack of clear, practical advice for those set on keeping trading legal. The problem is that the authors are propagandizing on the need for further de-regulation rather than setting out to guide new investors. A sub-section called “Appearance of Unfairness” demonstrates this: “Although our previous analysis suggests that anticipatory order cancelation does not actually result in unfairness, HFT practices of this sort are clearly viewed by a substantial portion of the public as being unfair… Normally, the better response to misunderstanding is education, not a change in what people are allowed to do where the activity does not in fact pose a problem…” (122-3). They have dedicated much of their analysis to proving a lack of unfairness? They are trying to convince the public it’s wrong to feel as if they have been wronged by Wall Street? And their answer is to re-educate the public with propaganda to believe that they are not being ripped off by Wall Street? If the activity is not “in fact” causing a problem, why aren’t these authors restating what the problem that doesn’t exist is? The authors are hiding behind big terms to avoid being found out as propagandists for Wall Street, and anti-humanists. I’m the one for whom this system is unfair: a handful of traders are rigging the game, while the rest of us might invest just at the moment before the market crashes in another Great Recession or Depression.

Thus, while I had great hopes that I would be equipped to make a million in the coming year by learning what all the rich people in the market know… In truth, I’ve only learned that Wall Street is bullishly insistent on deregulating themselves into complete lawlessness, even if the rest of the US goes unfairly bankrupt.

A Scholar’s Fight to Prevent Progress: Feelings and Beliefs Blocking De-Attribution from the “Defoe” Canon

Maximillian E. Novak. Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions: His Life and Works. £16.99. 756pp. ISBN: 978-0-199261543. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011 (2001).


I made a special request for this book because a reviewer of one of my Defoe de-attribution essays specified that I had to consult this work if I was going to comment on Defoe’s biography. This is a “definitive” text on Defoe and the latest re-examination of his life. It was published before the 2010 essays came out linguistically questioning Defoe’s authorship of the novels he is famous for. I am particularly curious regarding what it has to say on two points: attribution and Robert Harley. First, I would like to know if there is a mention that these novels do not belong to Defoe and how this might impact the biographical narrative. Much of Defoe’s “biography” is fictional if, as I have determined with certainty, he did not write these novels. For example, biographers have built the place of his birth and family heritage around what he is proposed to have written about the Foes, but he did not write the travel narrative that makes this reference. A review from the Guardian from 2001 points out that researchers were already buzzing about the attributions back then before more formal linguistic declarations: “Defoe’s talents of impersonation and habits of secrecy have left academics to argue over what he did actually write. He was probably responsible for more pages of print than any other major writer, yet much is irrecoverable. Novak is often oddly confident about his ability to detect Defoe’s hand where other scholars have taught caution…” This confidence is problematic because belief without proof does not belong in serious academic discourse. Like Novak, most biographers and past attribution scholars have relied on their feelings about style rather than on the numbers. I work to change this with my own study (7 essays on related subjects), which has been unsurprisingly difficult to place in journals, as it contradicts Novak and thousands of other scholars across hundreds of years of “scholarship.”

The second item I am curious regarding is what other affiliations existed between Defoe and Harley. My research uncovered that Defoe did not write the Dissenters, a book for which he served prison time. Harley invested in eventually freeing him. Harley acted similarly with at least two other writers, and in all cases, he paid heavy bribes to them immediately after and later in life (upon their repeated demands) in exchange for them serving prison time or going to court on sedition charges. Harley became Britain’s first semi-prime minister due to the political machinations resulting from these non-conformist, radical, or otherwise outrageous books.

Here is a mention: “Defoe’s future patron, Harley, was to receive an education in a Dissenting Academy, but he came out an Anglican and a defender of the social fabric… Defoe “believed in the idea of an open society in which the most talented men ought to rise to the top.” This is an example of fictionalized biography. How does the author, Novak, know what Defoe “believed”. This is made to sound as if we have climbed into Defoe’s mind, but without a quote or a hearsay quote to support this proposed belief, it is imaginative rather than factual. “If his education at Newington Green was the best he could have experienced for the improvement of his mind, it may have hardened some of his attitudes against the education given to those studying for orders in the Church of England at Cambridge and Oxford and drawn him closer to some of the more radical social and political ideals of the Dissenters. When Swift mocked Defoe’s ignorance, (p.46) he invited the derision of those belonging to a relatively select club toward those outside the group. Although Defoe knew he was an outsider, he never could quite understand why his obvious abilities did not gain for him membership in the club” (Chapter 2). There is little here about Harley, but this helps to explain how biographers have perpetrated fictitious narratives for hundreds of years. And this is an example of one of the best biographies out there. There is a specific reference to mockery from Swift, but then the author projects feelings of outsideness onto Defoe without concrete evidence. The author might be projecting his own antipathy towards outsiders or insiders onto the struggle between these two authors. Novak’s biography on his UCLA page is brief: strange for a biographer. He completed a PhD from Oxford back in 1961 after oddly completed a second PhD from UCLA in 1958: usually only one PhD is required. He is now professor emeritus at UCLA and no other institutions are listed, so it seems he has been teaching there across the decades. When this biography was released in 2001, it was his first book publication in a couple of decades. Given his Oxford status, the reference to Defoe’s jealousy of Oxford scholars is autobiographical and self-referential for Novak. This is a bit personal for me, as some of the comments I have received on my de-attribution essays suggest the reviewers are not reading the essays, and might be rejecting them because my own PhD is from IUP and I am not affiliated with any major research university. But I digress.

Novak addresses the question of attribution in the “Introduction.” I am learned several new points from these paragraphs, but Novak’s attitude regarding this information is troubling. Novak lists around six mis-attributions of works proven to be by other writers made by critics from 1753 through 1869. Instead of being startled by these daunting repetitions of mis-attribution, Novak concludes thus: “Such errors must be maddening to librarians and cataloguers, but these scholars added hundreds of genuine works to the Defoe canon and enabled us to see him as one of the great writers of his period. Many of their judgements rested on probability rather than hard evidence, but they based their decisions about the canon on a vast amount of reading in contemporary pamphlets and newspapers. Sometimes they had little to go on beyond a knowledge of Defoe’s interests and what they thought to be an ability to recognize his style. Those of us who have continued to write on Defoe owe them an enormous debt and should forgive them their errors. All of us know that there is no very good external evidence for Defoe’s authorship of works such as Captain Singleton or even Roxana, perhaps the work that most interests modern readers and critics, but no one who has read extensively in Defoe’s writings could doubt his authorship of such books for a moment. If much of the Defoe canon rests upon probability rather than certainty, we should acknowledge that, and demonstrate by the connections we can make between such works and those works that are more definitely his how strong the probability of his authorship might actually be.” As this same paragraph confirms, there is no proof Defoe wrote nearly all of the 550+ attributions that have been made to him. Thus, the scholars who have “added hundreds” of works to the canon have mostly added works that don’t belong there. Why would the act of erroneous attribution be of benefit to anybody but the publishers who profit from attributing works to a famous author? Such attributions have also made these scholars careers as they have gained tenure for these “findings”. But scholarship that spreads falsities is a disservice. “Vast” reading apparently failed to educate these scholars away from false attributions. It is possible to “read” or say you read a great deal without understanding any of it. The point regarding Defoe’s “interests” and assuming they can “recognize” Defoe’s “style” is exactly the error I mentioned earlier. A biographer becomes a fiction writer when he or she guesses what Defoe was thinking: without documented proof, Defoe’s thoughts are unknowable. “Style” can be tested today with the computational linguistic methods I describe; nobody should be intuiting stylistic distinctions: they can be gleaned from calculating the size of average words, sentences and the like. I use “probability” to prove the true authors of these works; so critics that have added false attributions were definitely not using accurate “probability” to reach their guesses. This sentence is jaw-dropping: “Those of us who have continued to write on Defoe owe them an enormous debt and should forgive them their errors.” What? We should forgive errors because we are still repeating the same errors unapologetically? No, we should not forgive errors; the point of continuing scholarship and “new” biographies is to correct past errors with new findings. He stresses that “all” agree there is absolutely “no” evidence of Defoe’s authorship of two of his best-known novels; then adds a “but” and insists that “no one” among scholars in this narrow field “could doubt his authorship”. Scholars cannot “doubt” Defoe’s authorship because scholarship, like my own, which presents proof for de-attribution is rejected from publication. Scholars are forbidden from doubting the Defoe attributions by periodicals and publishers who have been repeating the falsities for three hundred years. The facts are absolutely in agreement: Defoe did not write the novels in question. This situation is a scholarly disaster, and Novak’s defense of this misbehavior adds wood to the fire. He concludes by stating that showing similarity between some of “Defoe’s” novels and others proves his authorship of all of them. As I learned, Defoe did not write any of the novels he is famous for. They were written by Robert Paltock. They are similar to Paltock’s Peter Wilkins. Proving that Roxana is similar to Robinson Crusoe only proves a shared authorship, and their shared author is Paltock, not Defoe.

In the following paragraph, Novak comments that Furbank and Owens challenged Defoe’s authorship in 250 works. Furbank and Owens actually published some pieces against their own de-attribution attempts in the following decade, so they are hardly the best defenders of de-attribution. But, Novak posted a rebuttal against their de-attributions in the Huntington Library Quarterly. Curiously this is one of two publications that confirmed the accuracy of my findings, but when I attempted to submit one of the essays for their review and asked if I could quote their agreement, they stopped all communication. Novak accuses Furbank and Owens of bias without any supporting evidence or reasoning. A shocking point here is that Novak utilizes Defoe’s letter to Harley to prove their bias: “This latter opinion runs contrary to the evidence in his letters, particularly his letter to the Secretary of State in 1718, as well as his own statements when confronted with such contradictions.” Harley was the Secretary of State, but on an earlier date, when Defoe is likely to have served the prison sentence for Harley’s dissenting book. Defoe was also a professional satirist: what he said about himself and others was frequently the opposite of the truth, falsehoods made with intentional comedic effect. To be fair, Novak confirms that Furbank and Owen discredit their own findings or the “notion that Defoe’s syntax, style, vocabulary, and use of proverbs and popular phrases was unique”. This has been a problem for de-attribution scholars since Furbank and Owens: they already made this argument and proved it and themselves wrong, so periodicals don’t feel the urgent need to repeat the attempt. Novak concludes this point by stating that the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue disproves their argument because it includes “publishers’ lists, and new ways of distinguishing Defoe’s vocabulary and style from those of his contemporaries through computer analysis.” I followed this source to the British Library. I found a catalog entry for Defoe’s The True-Born Englishman. No “computer analysis” is offered here of this or any other works. There is a short note on the year of publication, but the publisher information is not even really included. The real reason it is possible to de-attribute (rather than attribute) works away from Defoe today is because access to digitized versions of these books make it possible for home-researchers to overrule the few “preeminent” scholars with access to archives that house these 18th century sources. Thus, the reference to this ordinary catalog is nonsensical; WorldCat and other catalogs have more extensive and detailed records.

Novak sticks-to-his-guns, stating this in the opening of the next paragraph: “Andrew Kippis… was able to draw upon a nearly contemporary account of Defoe to comment on how quickly he wrote his pamphlets and books. There is actually nothing extraordinary about the numbers of works ascribed to him. He had the ability to write quickly…” The key term is “nearly contemporary”. In other words, a person without personal knowledge of Defoe said that he writes quickly after Defoe was dead, and Novak believes this is sufficient to conclude that Defoe did indeed write quickly. There have been several stories recently about Danielle Steel having completed 179 books across her life. The record holder for most books “written” is Corin Tellado, a Spanish romance novelist; if he wrote 4,000 books with an average romance length of 50,000 words, then he would have written 200,000,000 words across his 60 years life; subtracting his first 15 years, he had 45 active years. He had to write 12,176 words every single day of these 45 years to meet this word-count, or 869 words per hour in a 14-hour (no weekend) day. 550 books have been attributed to Defoe. One of the only other authors on the most-works-published list from before the age of the modern typewriter is Lope de Vega and this count includes 3,000 individual sonnets as “works”; these would break into only 30 works if they were organized into collections of poetry. Some of the other authors on the list have also had works attributed to them after their deaths, similarly ballooning the numbers. Defoe does not make the list, while some authors have as few as 140 texts, perhaps because of this de-attribution discussion. The use of ghostwriters in the romance novel sphere is notorious; for example, Nora Roberts recently filed a new lawsuit against a romance novelist who utilized a ghostwriting service, which took chunks of Roberts’ novel and replicated it near-exactly. Anybody who attempts writing two romance novels at their top writing speed might discover that repeating a similar formula in two consecutive works is unpleasant. Writing the same type of Cinderella story 14-hours per day every day even after making millions is unlikely. It is more likely that ghostwriters crank these out to the enrichment of the publisher and the author. Ghostwriters or anonymously contracted writers crafted nearly all of the 550 “Defoe” texts in question. Yes, they wrote them quickly. Defoe had several newspapers, and he might have been a quick writer. However, he had a stroke a few years before the publication of the first novels in question, Crusoe, and he was not fully recovered from it. He wrote little in this period because of this illness. Ignoring the facts of his condition in favor of some commentator’s observation that Defoe always wrote quickly is an example of the worst imaginable scholarship.

Novak proceeds to argue that the attributions are correct because they have been repeated by other “distinguished biographers and critics” including “James Sutherland, Pierre Dottin, and J. T. Boulton, all of whom believed they were capable of recognizing Defoe’s style and ideas.” If a group shares a delusion, this does not make the falsehood true. Novak explains that he has “followed the Checklist of John Robert Moore”. I explain in my essays that Moore’s list has been discredited as heavily fictitious; it added several undeserving attributions, contributing to the acceleration in false attributions to Defoe. Beyond blindly following past falsities, Novak has “added a number of works to the canon, from a holograph manuscript I found in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library to pamphlets which to my mind reflect his style and thought. In each case I have published my reasons for believing these works were by Defoe, and I have not changed my mind about them.” He ends the argument there and moves on to a different point in the next section. This conclusion proves Novak’s central bias: he cannot dismantle an industry he helped to build. “Holograph”? The dictionaries I consulted indicate this is not a real world. Perhaps he meant to say “hologram”: but why would 18th century texts be in 3D? More likely it is a typo for “monograph”, but still “no”, as Defoe did not write scholarly books. Adding a 3D modern image or a scholarly monograph would be appropriately absurd for the rest of this discussion, but definitely would counter any reasonable boundaries of scholarship. His “reasons” for “believing” these works are by Defoe is that he simply feels they have a similar “style and thought”. Periodicals and publishers have repeatedly accepted Novak’s beliefs as truths simply because of the length of his publication record; in other words, bad scholarship gives life to its own continuation, whereas good scholarship hoping to contradict it is left unpublished, preventing its authors from flourishing in the field. I cannot continue looking for information on attribution and Harley in this book because I cannot “believe” a word Novak is writing.

An Argument for Decreasing America’s Deficit from the President’s Banker

Alberto Alesina, Carlo Favero and Francesco Giavazzi. Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t. Hardcover: $35.00. 6.125X9.25”, 384pp, 50 b/w images. ISBN: 978-0-691172217. Princeton: Princeton University Press, February 19, 2018.


This book addresses the question of the national deficit, and how this shortfall can best be resolved. Here’s is the summary from the publisher: “Looking at thousands of fiscal measures adopted by sixteen advanced economies since the late 1970s, Austerity assesses the relative effectiveness of tax increases and spending cuts at reducing debt. It shows that spending cuts have much smaller costs in terms of output losses than tax increases. Spending cuts can sometimes be associated with output gains in the case of expansionary austerity and are much more successful than tax increases at reducing the growth of debt. The authors also show that austerity is not necessarily the kiss of death for political careers as is often believed, and provide new insights into the recent cases of European austerity after the financial crisis.” A series of case studies of historic actions is a great way to explore this subject. The deficit should be an accounting error that countries correct with the most efficient strategies known to have worked in the past. If a country cannot afford purchasing the building of new infrastructure or its citizens do not want to contribute towards this and other national causes, it should not be able to borrow uncontrollably to live beyond its means. The book is written by an economics professor from Harvard (Alberto Alesina), a Deutsche Bank Chair in Quantitative Finance (Carlo Favero) and an economics professor at Bocconi University. The Deutsche Bank Chair title stands out, as this bank is currently being investigated for its questionable repeat lending to Trump despite him suing them and borrowing from one of their divisions to pay another; the runners of this bank have been accused of placing their own rewards for over-landing above the bank’s losses that results from these bad investments. Their bonuses depend on the volume of money handed out, not on the profits or losses that result from this lending. Can this be one of the chairs personally responsible for lending to Trump? And this book is about countries paying back their debts? The third chapter is called, “The Punchline in a Nutshell”… maybe this is part of this punchline?

The book is divided into parts on the theory of austerity, different approaches needed for austerity during expansion and recession cycles, assessments of fiscal policy impacts, an analysis of the data from the test cases, impacts austerity has on taxes and the like, distinct characteristics of austerity in Europe, and the impact fiscal cheapness or tax increases has on election results. As if in response to my concerns regarding a lack of specific algorithms in an earlier book I reviewed in this set, there is a detailed section in the concluding portion of the book with the exact detailed calculus/ statistics formulas the authors utilized to evaluate the impacts of austerity on economies. This is great as it allows future researchers to double-check the findings. The entire book is full of graphs, charts, and numerical explanations fit for advanced graduate economics classes.

This study appears to lack a negative bias. In Chapter Eleven, they summarize that the public perception of debt as “not really a problem” is troubling because interests can grow and future generations should not have to pay for the current voting generation’s over-spending (200). In Chapter Eight, they write this: “We do not know what would have happened without austerity: Debt repudiation? Panic? A second round of banking crises? What we do know is that the certainty with which anti-austerity commentators assure us that everything would have been much better is based on ideology, not facts” (117). This is the exact complaint I had with Novak’s insistence on relying on what he believes to be true about Defoe, rather than trusting the facts of the case. Reasonable economists without an agenda have to admit that an eternal deficit can only be a negative for America going forward. It makes recessions and depressions more likely, and makes it less likely that when disaster occurs, the government can fix these problems (as it lacks the funds). Most of those investing in America’s economy will lose money if the deficit endures, and yet the argument for austerity is an outlier rather than the norm in economic and political discussions.

This is a challenging read, but it presents the needed evidence for American politicians to make a more informed decision on spending. Bankers lending to America will also gain needed understanding.

I Used This Book to Recuperate Money from a Lawsuit

Cara O’Neill. Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court, 17th Edition. $29.99. 418pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-1-4133-2490-7. Berkeley: Nolo, March 2018.


This was the most profitable book out of this set for me personally because with it I settled a lawsuit against a contractor who had been refusing to refund the deposit I made for a carport, driveway and stairs. He never started any work, and I could not convince any of the three relevant police departments to file criminal charges. I might never have seen my $2,375 (+ court fees) again if it was not for the guidance from this book. Some of the gems it provided is that interests accumulate on court settlements if a party despite being ordered to do so. The real problem for me was not winning the lawsuit: I had some experience with this step, and it went smoothly. The problem came in when I attempted to actually recuperate the money, and the guy would keep saying he was about to pay me back, but did not do so. This volume had strategies for fishing money out of civil cases I could not have imagined or figured out without it. I tried to find these answers online, but this free publicly-posted information was not helpful. Clearly, an author paid to write a book can do a better job explaining the intricacies of law than advice posted on blogs just trying to generate hits to increase revenue from ads.

The back cover promises exactly what it delivers. This book is for those who want to represent themselves (pro se) in civil court. Unlike books for lawyers that skip points obvious for this group, this book sympathizes with those entering this arena for the first time. The main points it promises to cover are: “file and serve papers; mediate an out-of-court settlement; prepare evidence to support your case; decide how much to sue for; line up persuasive witnesses; present a winning case; and collect money when you win.” Perhaps it is particularly outstanding because this is the 17th edition of this volume. I only received it for free for this review because its author, Cara O’Neill, has diligently edited it near-yearly, and has polished it into its current state of near-perfection. Publishers only send books out for review that are “new” or at least have had new editions released. To continue, there are some websites that provide legal forms, letters and statute of limitation charts out there, but the ones offered here are more trustworthy. O’Neill has been a bankruptcy and litigation attorney and a legal editor for Nolo for twenty years, so the knowledge offered is well-earned. As other Nolo books, the table of contents is very logically and neatly organized. Together with the thorough Index, it is a guarantee that you will find the section that addresses your unique challenge (if it is addressed herein). The process is dissected. This dissection is necessary especially for anybody going into a courtroom for the first time. Being surprised by procedures can startle a litigant into a negative outcome (things move very quickly so being temporarily stunned or speechless is a recipe for disaster). Most of the categories of civil law are discussed. Cara has probably received many comments from readers based on previous editions that inspired some of the questions in the sections presented. Or she might have heard these questions from clients in her practice. For example, she heads to the point in a section called “Cutting Your Claim to Fit the Limit”; litigants definitely need to know if they can ask for the moon, or if a claim has to stay under a limit; theoretically, going over might lead to a negative judgement simply because the limit is breached, so the answer in this section is likely to prevent under or over bidding. It is brilliantly written throughout: I underlined several key points as I read it closely as part of my research. If I ever have to go to civil court again, this is likely to be the only source I will consult for advice.

I highly recommend this book to all pro se civil litigants (defensive and offensive) across the US. There is an over-population of lawyers in America; this book should take some of their business away, and that’s a great thing.

Digressive Hot Air Barely Related to PR for Elections

Darrell M. West. Air Wars: Television Advertising and Social Media in Election Campaigns: 1952-2016. 170pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-5063-2983-3. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2018.


This was one of the most annoying books out of this set. The cover might have contributed to this general sense. It is plain text on a white background. The only image is of a cartoonish outline of a radio tower in the first letter of the title. More to the point, it failed to serve any useful information for the mayoral campaign I was preparing for. I requested this title with the practical intent of utilizing ideas from it. This is probably the reason anybody would purchase this book, unless they are required to do so as part of a marketing or politics class. While the previous book in this set was outstanding because it had reached its 17th edition, this book reached its 7th edition without being much improved by it. The cover promises that it will describe the “evolution of political advertising from 1952 through 2016.” As the other books on political campaigns in this set that touch on the 2016 election, it is described as a miracle rather than a disaster: “the most provocative presidential campaign in recent decades and the surprising victory of Donald Trump…” I was teaching a cultural studies writing class on the Mexican border at UTRGV during this campaign, and I was warning my Mexican American students Trump is likely to win to their detriment across the semester; I guessed he had won based on polling data that came to my phone on election day hours before the polls closed. The victory was not “surprising” because Trump was the only candidate discussed in the news across the election cycle. Even if the coverage was negative, the jokes were selling Trump as a comedy act as if the media chose him as the winner and then rigged the election in his favor. Calling it the “most provocative campaign” stresses the role negativity played in it in a manner that encourages future candidates to similarly push the limits of obscenity to extremes to win not the “hearts and minds”, but to become the biggest and the most evil clown. An average reader would not glimpse this out of this summary. They would focus on the rest of the blurb, which promises to explain “how candidates plan and execute advertising and social media campaigns, how the media cover these campaigns, and how American voters are ultimately influenced by them.” This seems perfect: it will deliver practical guidance on these central elements. However, the book is instead full of hot air. For example, in the section on “Production Techniques” for advertisements, grand statements fail to actually deliver useful information: “Contemporary ads, in contrast, are visually enticing.” Would any candidate consider creating a visual ad that was repulsive? Then, why did this need to be stated? Then this nugget: “Technological advances in television and on the Internet allow ad producers to use colorful images and sophisticated editing techniques to make spots more compelling.” All of us have seen political ads before: we know they are colorful and have pictures in them: the genre of video ads is by definition a set of images. Later in this section, there is a sub-paragraph on how the Republicans darkened Obama’s skin in their anti-Obama ads to stir “racial prejudices” among their base. I have seen this argument in several news stories before, but seeing it here is strange. This is a practical section called “Visual Images”: are they recommending that readers should darken the faces of African American candidates they are running again in negative ads? Is this seriously legal in America? The paragraph ads without a conclusion, welcoming readers to do what is in their best interests with the facts of the case: “People watching Obama ads with light skin gave him negative ratings 33 percent of the time, compared to 45 percent among spots showing him with dark skin” (16-7). This survey proves most Americans are so racist, they even admit it when queried about a presidential candidate. But what does it do for somebody who wants to win on merits and not on racism? I hope nobody else has to suffer through this book. I hope it does not, instead, convince crooks to buy it because it delivers ideas for enhanced crookery. But, my job is to deliver the facts, and let readers decide. I should just add that the crookery’s descriptions are also so full of hot air that they will leave you more confused than educated in the ways to master these back-handed techniques.

An Adequate Introduction to Political Communications: But Needs More Practice, and Less Theory

David L. Helfert. Political Communication in Action: From Theory to Practice. 306pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-62637-681-6. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2018.


While still frustrating, this was a somewhat useful book to help me prepare for my mayoral campaign. I underlined several key points in relevant sections and wrote numerous ideas across the title page, which I later inserted into my campaign plan and schedule. The book is divided into sections that are split between “theory” and “practice”, as the title promises. Some of the chapters, such as the one that establishes the origins of political communication and the one that explains how these ideas are applied in Washington, are created with an intended audience of college students learning about this field in introductory classes. Other chapters explain the “Tools of Political Persuasion”, including: repetition, media, effects, political framing, and framing elections. There are chapters that break down terms that seem familiar, but are revealed to be more than they seem, such as the chapter on “political issues”, which explain these as symbols as well as expressions of the populace’s perspectives. Political research strategies are broken down. The elements of political speeches are digested. TV ads and internet postings are dissected. Most basic questions a PR organizer for a politician would want to know are addressed.

The downside for me was that I became engaged in some of the narrative despite it being pretty useful for my own situation. For example, Helfert includes “Case Study: Framing the War in Iraq.” It is curious to read how “classic propaganda techniques” were “used by the administration: fear, association, the bandwagon effect, inevitable victory, oversimplification, and testimonials. (These techniques are explained in Chapter 13.)” In response, as a joke, I created a handout to my campaign flyer that read: “Stop Quanah from Becoming a Ghost Town!” The problem, according to this study, is that I went for a joking fear-monger as opposed to actually scaring residents into a sense of doom. The rest of the piece explains how the “Evil Dictator” rhetoric created fear of a “mushroom cloud”. It concludes with data that the strategy succeeded in convincing a portion of the public the was a legitimate threat or that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (50-3). Another section I underlined was on “good writing”, which limits adverbs and relies heavily on verbs that communicate short and direct messages easy to grasp (68). Another curious study is one that considers “Bill Clinton’s Delivery” with a review of his stops, gestures and expressions (147). The problem I ran into was that I disagreed with much of the advice and refused to follow it. For example, the book recommends limiting sentences to 8-16 words. I prefer to trust that readers who care about a topic will stick through a long sentence (148). Yet other sections did give me something I can use, like the one about using “white on dark green” or “dark blue” backgrounds to make a message stand out (176).

In other words, there are precious stones hidden inside this book. It grabs readers and pulls them into its web. I just wish it was more consistently helpful. In an ideal world, it would digest a campaign into simple steps that talks an organizer through the process, anticipating questions. The civil litigation Nolo book out of this set achieves this flawless anticipating of needed advice, but this book fumbles too much in abstractions and theory. And it’s all so evil-minded. The law book did not offer advice for crooks on how to avoid civil convictions despite being guilty; so why is this book advising crooked marketers on how to foster fear; why not skip over these faults and focus instead on positive campaign strategies. Or is the point here that there is no data from positive campaigns that do not rely on gimmickry because these never win in America?

When an Editor Publishes Himself and His Friends and Forgets to Edit…

David Sweeting. Directly Elected Mayors in Urban Governance: Impact and Practice. 282pp, tables. ISBN: 978-1-4473-2702-8. Bristol: Policy Press: University of Bristol, 2018.


While the title seemed to suggest a useful book, the contents were far from useful or informative. The problem might begin with the grammatical error in the back cover summary: “The book draws on examples from the Europe, the US and Australasia to examine the impacts, practices and debates of mayoral leadership in different cities and countries.” There are actually at least two mistakes here. First, “the Europe” should not include “the”. Second, the sentence begins by listing regions and ends with a repetition that mentions more general locations. A third issue is that “debates” is a strangely irrelevant term here that also repeats the other two terms in the parallel construction. It then promises to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of the mayoral model”: what alternative to mayors is it alluding to? Are the “disadvantages” suggesting that mayors as a concept should be discarded in favor of a different alternative: lords and barons perhaps? The concluding sentence inflates and puffs up the project by declaring it to be a “valuable resource for those studying or researching public policy…” If the editor had to say this, most of the time this type of puffery isn’t actually true about the book. Another detractor that I learned about from the “Contents” page is that this book is written by dozens of different authors, which cover different chapters. I read a lot of these types of collections in graduate school, where they were frequently required reading. The chapters tend to repeat the same ideas, or fail to have a cohesive message, or otherwise fall short. If a single author is in charge of a book, he or she typically submits the book to the publisher for review, but these compilations seem to bypass this screening process and tend to have lower standards for acceptance. An anthology of canonical thought on a topic might be useful, but “new” research collections are always painful on readers. The three parts of the book are split into essays on the UK, international perspectives, and comparisons between different regions. This organization hints at the loose submission requirements used by the editor, David Sweeting; he might have at least pooled them into themes after the essays came in, but apparently they were so disjointed that only these gigantic categories worked to separate them. The absurdity of the project stands out in the title of the first essay, “Mayoral governance in Bristol: has it made a difference?” It was actually written by Sweeting, and a second author, Robbin Hambleton. Do you think it decides that Bristol should return to a feudal system, forgoing mayoral governance? A couple of pages before the end of this essay, this statement appears: “…a balance needs to be struck between, on the one hand, appropriate centralization of power around the strategic objectives set by the directly elected mayor and, on the other, delegation of authority by the mayor to other players to act on his or her behalf” (32). The chapter is revealed to be about if the mayor or those he hires for a campaign should lead the project. If the mayor cannot lead his own campaign, surely, he or she is too incompetent to become a mayor…

The bulk of this book is hot air: I hope this review will prevent it from being added to political science syllabi: grad students should not be tortured with cyclical nonsense.  

The European Propagandistic Con: Conquering the World Through Fiction

J. C. Sharman. Empires of the Weak: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order. $27.95. 6.125X9.25”, 216pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-691182797. Princeton: Princeton University Press, February 19, 2019.


Here is another great book summary that minimizes the work I have to do to explain a project: “What accounts for the rise of the state, the creation of the first global system, and the dominance of the West? The conventional answer asserts that superior technology, tactics, and institutions forged by Darwinian military competition gave Europeans a decisive advantage in war over other civilizations from 1500 onward. In contrast, Empires of the Weak argues that Europeans actually had no general military superiority in the early modern era. J. C. Sharman shows instead that European expansion from the late fifteenth to the late eighteenth centuries is better explained by deference to strong Asian and African polities, disease in the Americas, and maritime supremacy earned by default because local land-oriented polities were largely indifferent to war and trade at sea./ Europeans were overawed by the mighty Eastern empires of the day, which pioneered key military innovations and were the greatest early modern conquerors. Against the view that the Europeans won for all time, Sharman contends that the imperialism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a relatively transient and anomalous development in world politics that concluded with Western losses in various insurgencies. If the twenty-first century is to be dominated by non-Western powers like China, this represents a return to the norm for the modern era.” The author, J. C. Sharman, is a politics professor at the University of Cambridge.

A section in the “Introduction” on “Eurocentrism” helps to explain why history that has made Europe appear to be superior in military power is mostly fictional, or the result of Europe propagandizing for this superiority in contradiction with the evidence. The abundance of “history and social science written about Europe, particularly Western Europe” exceeds the rest of the world, perhaps because the printing press was invented in Europe around the 1500 turning point Sharman is focusing on. “Many claims about supposedly unique European achievements have turned out to reflect ignorance about the rest of the world” (13).

This book is saturated with research, but a drawback is that the theories are too cyclical, as they keep building without coming to clear conclusions. The point might be that there is a lack of certainty regarding how the West conquered the regions it did in the covered period; but this uncertainty is difficult for a reader to digest as the main points are elusive. For example, a section that addresses the size of armies in Europe concludes with a sentence that “military revolution” is “completely irrelevant to European expansion” in the covered period. Proving that something is irrelevant with a section seems counter-productive (39). Other conclusions are clearer. It seems, the author deliberately avoids surrendering his full conclusions until the end of a chapter, rather than the end of only a section within it. This is a kind of suspense device, as if this history book is a work of fiction in need of keeping the reader guessing. Thus, at the end of Chapter 1, he offers the conclusion that Europeans did not dominate the Indian Ocean and Asia militarily in the early modern period. “Europeans in the Indian Ocean concentrated their coercive efforts primarily on maritime trade, anchored by a network of fortified entrepots. White they were successful in using stand-over tactics and protection rackets against smaller polities (though usually even this required local assistance), Europeans were almost always deferential toward local great powers. The countering powers did not “contest Westerners’ efforts to establish control of key trade routes” (64). Europeans established monopolies on international trade through trickery and consent rather than through dominating the regions they spread into with force. This argument is more logical than the one that suggests Europeans came on tiny ships with a few hundred soldiers and seriously militarily conquered entire empires and continents.

This book is useful for graduate students and researchers interested in furthering the field of social sciences or history. It should be used as a supplement or to understand this subject rather than as a required textbook in a course because the matters discussed would not be easily testable on a multiple-choice exam. International libraries should benefit from holding this volume in their collection, as it offers a fair contradiction to Eurocentric notions that dominate nearly all other history books on this subject.

Corporations are as Ethical as Their Codes: False: X

William M. Klepper. The CEO’s Boss: Tough Love in the Boardroom, Second Edition. Cloth: $35.00. 304pp, tables. ISBN: 978-0-231-18750-3. New York: Columbia Business School Publishing: Columbia University Press, January 8, 2019.


The summary: “In order to avoid another Enron, WorldCom, or Tyco, company directors have assumed a bold and independent role in the boardroom, monitoring the actions and day-to-day operations of the CEO. This dramatic shift has created a new dynamic, one that requires careful negotiation from both parties to get the job done. Giving directors, executives, investors, and stakeholders the tools to make this relationship work, William M. Klepper describes the best techniques for building a productive partnership and establishing a plan of action for a variety of businesses and settings.” This set up is a bit misleading. The deregulations that led to the catastrophic failures of Enron and these other firms occurred between the 1980s and the 2010s. There was a period before this when these companies were much more scrutinized. And what data is there to prove that boards of directors have really taken on closer oversight? And why would boards be less corruptible than their CEO? When I requested this book, I was curious to learn what the structure of corporations was like; what was involved in running a major corporation? I was considering starting a non-profit, and I would have probably needed to create a board for it. I previously had experiences with takeovers of my projects when I worked with other people, and I was curious if there was a practical strategy to overcome these types of problems. Even Steve Jobs was kicked out of his own company, Apple, so what protections are there both for the board and its CEO against abuses by the other side? The summary goes on to promise it will deliver the “eight practices of successful executives”. This makes me suspicious. First, if there were 8-20 strategies that guaranteed billions in profits, they would be over-utilized. In practice, when evaluated without bias, such strategies turn out to be threatening employees with being fired, or evading corporate taxes in tax shelters. Instead of these types of rough-truths about the corruption of modern business, the “strategies” for “success” are typically broad statements about cooperation or dominating presence. Basically, many writers take advantage of a false promise of money (the code behind the term “success”) in exchange for the purchase of a book. The summary goes on to specify these strategies are “facilitating innovation, motivating change, and developing leadership skills, and he explains what directors need to evaluate, such as working style, social behavior, and the handling of stress, before they commit to hiring a CEO.” Realistically, a company needs to invest funds into their research and development branch to innovate, but these types of books suggest that innovation is instead a mystical phenomenon that happens through mind-melding between employees and their bosses.

The first time I read one of these books, it was inspiring, but this is probably the hundredth of these that I have browsed, so it is pretty annoying now. The author teaches management at the Columbia Business School. These lessons on “leadership skills” dominate most business schools’ curriculums. When broken down, the notion that there are “skills” shared by leaders helps men retain positions of power, while women take up a fraction of these leader positions. People who are aggressive and willing to engage in corrupt actions are favored over those who are cooperative and believe in spreading profits and success to a larger percentage of a workforce. The repetitions in these types of books are so pervasive, I can foretell the contents. The first chapter opens the book with repetitive sections on “Commitment to Values”, “…Stakeholders”, “…Risk Assessment”, “…Transparency”, and “…Coaching.” The first of these quotes from credos of organizations where he has worked. The section ends by insisting on inserting this “code” into employees’ contracts and adding annual assessments by the board of “employees’ understanding and living of its company’s core values”. One of the points he quotes from a code from Johnson & Johnson is: “We operate with effective governance and high standards of ethical behavior.” Given that this company is frequently sued for selling cancer-causing or otherwise harmful products, the reality of what the CEO and the board are doing directly contradicts these types of grand statements about their morals. These statements are used as propaganda to shield the company from inspection; these codes are saying: “we would never willfully agree to selling harmful products because as you can see from this code we are committed to ‘ethical behavior’”. Saying they are moral does not make them moral, but it assists efforts to evade being discovered as being immoral (6-9).

The rest of this book repeats similar bits of corporate propaganda, pumping in so much hot air, it is difficult for a reviewer to work through the nonsense to arrive at the intended corporate messages.

Required Reading for Medical Professionals on the True State of American Health

Robert M. Kaplan. More Than Medicine: The Broken Promise of American Healthcare. $29.95. 240pp, 11 illustrations, 4 tables. ISBN: 978-0-674975903. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, February 2018.


This is an ambitious project: to explain what is wrong with America’s healthcare system. I have been pondering this over the last couple of years as I switched to a vegan diet to return to a “normal” BMI of under 145.6 pounds from my peak at 248 pounds. My blood sugar spiked to 105 and my blood pressure went as high as 160 after a root canal, so I had to take action. My blood pressure dropped down to 90 a year into the diet. If I had continued in a state of morbid obesity, I probably would have eventually developed diabetes, and clinical hypertension, necessitating taking the drugs that Kaplan argues are “the best – and most expensive – medical treatments in the world”. If I was in a tenure-track job at that point, the threat of taking medications in the future might not have been as terrifying, but I was facing uncertainty as my one-year academic contract was expiring and I was about to purchase a tiny house to focus on my publishing company (without medical insurance). The cost of getting sick while self-employed was too daunting: veganism was easier to bear. So, understanding why medicine is expensive and ineffective in the US is at the top of my list of interests. This book addresses these exact questions of prevention over utilizing high-tech medicine to fix diet-caused diseases after they have caused damage. The summary explains: “The United States stakes much of its health funding on the promise of high-tech diagnostics and miracle treatments, while ignoring strong evidence that many of the most significant pathways to health are nonmedical. Americans spend millions on drugs for high cholesterol, which increase life expectancy by only six to eight months on average. But they underfund education, which might extend life expectancy by as much as twelve years. Wars on infectious disease have paid off, but clinical trials for chronic conditions—costing billions—rarely confirm that new treatments extend life. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health spends just 3 percent of its budget on research on the social and behavioral determinants of health, even though these factors account for 50 percent of premature deaths.” Kaplan is the Director of Research at the Stanford School of Medicine. He also served as the Associate Director of NIH. These are unusual credentials for somebody supporting diet, exercise, and other preventative measures. Thus far, I have mostly been watching YouTube nutritionists and cardiologists discuss these subjects. I have seen few books from within the establishment that do a good job of addressing these concerns with the research and deliberation it deserves.

As promised, the interior of this book delivers in-depth statistics that are only lightly touched in popular health advisories. For example, Kaplan cites a 2013 YouGov public opinion poll that demonstrated that Americans falsely believe they have the “best health care” in the world (5). Later he explains that “the United States is below average when it comes to health outcomes per dollar spent” (10). The sections are divided into clear headings that present detailed information on each of the topics. There is just enough information to make the points: not too much or too little. He goes on to explain how too much of NIH’s funding is invested in discovering genetic sources for disease, when these are not as effective or reachable as nutritional and other behavioral changes. He writes” we still have little evidence that the Human Genome Project spawned effective new medications…” Despite the “bad press” and studies falling short, the money keeps flowing in this direction (39). He explores several less familiar problems in the system. One curious point he brings up is that too many studies are “irreproducible” or fail to produce the same results if a new trial is undertaken. He cites an example where a “tumor treatment claimed 900 percent improvement in the survival of a mouse population. The replication study found improvement of only 30 percent” (49). In other words, it is possible the initial study was rigged to work, or was an anomaly that does not actually show the drug works; this drug might be applied to patients and fail to produce any positive results, while causing potentially deadly side effects. I have seen several videos mentioning that the American Heart Association has changed the blood pressure it considers as “normal” rather than “elevated”; Kaplan explains this point with numerous citations; a few years before the 2017 change, those over 60 were advised that blood pressure up to “150 mmHg was normal”, but the new guidelines lowered this to 130; Kaplan stresses: “For people over 60, almost everyone is in” the elevated category under these guidelines. And being under 130 is still elevated, just particularly risky; blood pressure has to be under 120 to be technically “normal”. Since almost nobody makes 130, close to 0 probably break 120. The videos I have been watching on YouTube point out that only vegans (and maybe vegetarians) break the 120 mark on average. This revision increased the number of Americans with hypertension to “105.3 million from 74.1”. Nutritionists argue that this re-writing was intended to help doctors put more patients on statin hypertension drugs, and Kaplan confirms this (71). Alongside these relatively well-known points, Kaplan also brings in curious details, such as the exact blood pressure measurements Roosevelt had in the runup to the death of his death of a stroke, 300/190 (80). Kaplan also explains the origins for some of the “ineffective treatments that held the public’s and the doctors’ “faith” long after they were proven to fail, such as the extraction of tumors and their surrounding tissue proposed by William Stewart Halstead (84). Kaplan proposes some helpful solutions to these problems. For example he offers this curious finding: “In the year after Hungary imposed a tax on sugar, salt, and caffeine, 40 percent of manufacturers there changed product formulas to reduce use of the taxed ingredients. As a result, at least one in four Hungarians reduced their consumption of these products by 25-35 percent” (133). This shows that changing policy to raise taxes on toxic and deadly foods changes a population’s behavior (perhaps even without their awareness). He promotes full disclosure from industry to help the public (148).

One thing that’s surprising is the absence of the word “vegan” from the “Index” and from any major section of the discussion. I spotted the term “Mediterranean” as the diet that increases life-expectancy, but Kaplan stops short of explaining that veganism might be the dietary change capable of reversing many of these diseases, whereas moderation in processed foods including meat makes only slight improvements.

While there is some advice here that will be new to readers, a thicker book is needed to dive much deeper into this subject and to offer more practical advice on how innovative researchers can break truly helpful medical inventions through the quicksand of this system, and what specifically must people do to change their behavior to optimize their health. Despite these shortcomings, this book still deserves 5-stars for making these points public in a respected forum like a Harvard University Press publication. This book is required reading for all dietitians and practicing doctors in the US. It presents the minimum of what they must know about our medical system and our health. A doctor who prescribes statins or other over-prescribed drugs without understanding and sharing with this patient that they are less effective than diet alone is committing malpractice. 

A Light Economic History of Renewables with a Look into the Future

Bruce Usher. Renewable Energy: A Primer for the Twenty-First Century. $20.00. 224pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-0-23118-785-5. New York: Columbia University Press: Columbia University Earth Institute Sustainability Primers, January 1, 2019.


Once again, from the publisher: “From wood to coal to oil and gas, the sources of energy on which civilization depends have always changed as technology advances. Now renewables are overtaking fossil fuels, with wind and solar energy becoming cheaper and more competitive every year. Growth in renewable energy will further accelerate as electric vehicles become less expensive than traditional automobiles. Understanding the implications of the energy transition will prepare us for the many changes ahead.” Since climate change is causing some of the most devastating disasters of our times, explaining renewable energy to politicians is one of a few methods that might successfully fix this oversized problem. Thus, the premise is outstanding. It is written from an economics perspective, or as to the likely impact a transition to renewables will have on the global economic system, rather as a scientific study of how renewable energy works and how it is more efficient. The economic slant is the result of Bruce Usher’s professorship for the Columbia Business School. A bit later in the summary, the editor adds this note: “Usher dissects the winners and losers, illustrating how governments and businesses with a far-sighted approach will reap long-term benefits while others will trail behind.” This is a bit too much like fortune-telling for me. Why is the book focused on predicting future impacts? Perhaps knowing that being left behind means economic losses will inspire hesitant countries like America to commit to renewables. But I doubt Usher has a statistical formula to truly look into the future.   

The chapters are divided into types of energy (fire, electricity, renewables, wind, solar), with other chapters covering how renewables are financed, and electric vehicles. The book includes a few photographs of renewables at work. One graph partially addresses my doubts about predicting the future: it shows there has been a steady 66% drop in the price of wind energy between 2009 and 2016 (52); if it has been dropping, it is logically likely to continue dropping into the future (until a logical, still-profitable low-point). Another graph shows the decrease in batteries’ cost, while battery energy density is rising between 2008 and 2015 (88). The visuals throughout are very convincing and helpful to the main argument.

The writing style is somewhat conversational to invite readers in: exemplified by the use of a painting of Prometheus at the end of the second chapter to explain the transition from “Fire to Electricity”. Usher is aiming to engage readers’ emotions. The history of these transitions is related lightly, but with many citations that support each bit of evidence. At the end of the chapter, Usher draws conclusions from the presented evidence, writing that the “basic economic principle” of “cost” is one of “the main drivers of energy transition” between past energy forms such as wood and coal; this explains Usher’s larger argument for the book that the economics of renewables, or their lowering in cost wish push the transition to a positive conclusion for the planet.

This is a little book that runs over Earth’s entire history of renewables. Thus, it is a useful introduction to this topic for general readers and for busy politicians. Libraries should also carry it to allow interested patrons to find points to raise in their next over-dinner political debate.

Getting Away with Legal Jokes: Humorous and Informative

Laura Little. Guilty Pleasures: Comedy and Law in America. Hardcover: $29.95. 232pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-190625764. New York: Oxford University Press, January 1, 2019.


I am a third through this lengthy set of books I am reviewing, so it is refreshing to come across a book with 75 New Yorker cartoons in it. Here is the publisher’s pitch: “both lawyers and judges occasionally strive to be funny to deal with the drudgery of their duties. Just as importantly, though, our legal system is a strong regulator of humor. It encourages some types of humor while muzzling or punishing others. In a sense, law and humor engage a two-way feedback loop: humor provides the raw material for legal regulation and legal regulation inspires humor… [P]rovides a multi-faceted account of American law and humor, looking at constraints on humor (and humor’s effect on law), humor about law, and humor in law.” The points of particular interest to my own research is litigation against humorists, as I am currently researching satirists who were charged with sedition in the 18th century. Today, satirists are more likely to be charged with libel than sedition against the state, but as this book promises to explain comedians can still slip into legal trouble.

The cartoons help illustrate the points raised in this book: I don’t know if they inspired the organization or contents of the book. Some of the cartoons are more factual than funny, but then I seldom laugh at any form of American humor. There are a couple of somewhat amusing cartoons regarding lawyers coming in bulk from giant law firms; one comes with the text: “They’re cheaper in bulk.” The image is of a crate with the label “Acme Legal” which is being carted by a mail worker across a skyscraper office: the crate is full of six lawyers with their heads sticking out of small holes at the top (91).

Some curious chapters are included that are not mentioned in the summary; these include reflections on how humor is litigated in tort, contract and workplace harassment cases. There is also a chapter on the “Theories of Humor.” The latter is useful to my research, as there are few books around that explain topics like humor and satire, as if we all know what these are and how to be funny. Three theories are presented as explanations for what is funny: superiority theory (fools are poked fun of to make listeners feel superior), release theory (relieving “anxiety about taboos”), and incongruity theory (going back to Aristotle’s take that “comedy springs from surprise and deception”) (9-20). The section on jurors is broken down into sections that cover how they are “stupid”, “lazy”, “misbehaving” and lacking in “common-sense”. The section on “Funny Laws” inserts a Trump joke, stating that Trump seriously “preferred” naming an IRS tax code “the Cut Cut Cut Act”, but Democrats blocked not only this, but also the other Republicans’ name, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”; the final name is lengthy, a joke in itself (179).

This pretty hilarious book is written by Laura Little, a law professor at Temple University.

Basically, this is a humor book intended for intellectuals and lawyers and judges in particular. Some members of the general public might laugh at the lawyer jokes and other humorous notes, but they might not plow through the legal discussions to find these treasures. Most major library collections should have one of these as many writers try to be funny in our modern world (even if only on social media), and we all need to know where the boundaries between the law and humor stand.

A Conservationist’s Passion for Carnivores

Luke Hunter. Carnivores of the World, Second Edition. $29.95. 256pp, 7X9.5”, 93 color plates + 425 b/w illustrations, 250 maps. ISBN: 978-0-691182957. Princeton: Princeton University Press, January 21, 2019.


All writers need visual dictionaries, even on subjects they do not typically cover. Matching body parts, types of animals and other words with how these look helps writers to gain a broader command of the language. Access to an encyclopedia of carnivores is also helpful for fiction writers, so they can briefly consult it if they are inserting a wolf or a lion into a story and want to check for accurate information on a species (which can be suspect if found online). Thus, it was an obvious choice to request this beautifully illustrated color book. Here is the publisher’s summary for it: “Covering all 250 species of terrestrial, true carnivores, from the majestic polar bear and predatory wild cats to the tiny least weasel…”  The color paintings and black and white drawings of skulls and footprints included are by the wildlife artist Priscilla Barrett. Princeton offered a review copy because this is a new release of the second edition of the book, updated to include “a distribution map for every species” and updates. “Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, distribution and habitat, feeding ecology, behavior, social patterns, reproduction and demography, status, threats, lifespan, and mortality. An introduction includes a concise overview of taxonomy, conservation, and the distinct families of Carnivora.” The intended audience seems to be wild game hunters going after dangerous carnivores across the world. It is also suitable for scientists studying carnivores, but unlike a bird-watching guide, few folks probably go into the wilderness hoping to track these species to observe their natural beauty. This is why I think another major audience is writers who need this information to bring these species into fictional life, without actually studying them in-person; werewolves, bats and other dangerous creatures appear frequently in modern fantasies, but they are too often covered in broad strokes. These types of books help writers discover unique elements about species, which might be both educational and enthralling for readers. The book also covers endangered species and newly explored hybrids and previously illusive species. Veterinarians should find helpful information here, especially if there is a chance that they might see a rare species brought in by a governmental agency. The author, Luke Hunter, is an Australian biologist and the President of Panthera Corporation, a conservation charity that establishes conservation ranges for wild cat species. The conservation angle (as opposed to the hunting take) is apparent in the elegant beauty of the images and the painstaking information offered, as these animals are revealed rather than put on display as pride-prizes or meal-options.

The chapters are divided into the technical names for the groups of species we are all familiar with (Felidae, Canidae), with sub-sections with their familiar names (cats, dogs). These two groups are actually on the opposite two main branches of the carnivore tree. Canidae are Caniformia together with weasels and bears; Felidae are Feliformia in the league with linsangs, the cat’s closest relatives (6). The detailed genetic and biological information throughout should also be of interest to scientists in these fields looking for a lighter encyclopedia on the subject. For example: “Canid species are largely well defined, although hybridization between Grey Wolves and Coyotes in eastern North America has fueled an ongoing debate about the number of species (9). Discussions of relationships between wild and domestic species and the relationships between close species are common throughout. New research on breeds and intersections is presented, rather than simply recycling standard notions on these separations. I have been seeing films recently on wild cats being bred out of existence by intermingling with domestic cats, and this and many other issues are handled briskly and with only relevant factual information. Each section on a specific species covers their distribution, feeding, behavior, reproduction and threats. Here is an example of the comments on the breeding-with-domestics problem in detail: “Not endangered in any traditional sense, but both hybridize with domestic cats (producing fertile hybrids especially in W Europe; in Scotland, up to 88% of wild-living European Wildcats may be hybrids” (14). Bits of this information are helpful for cartoonists, artists and children’s book authors who too often utilize animals in stories without considering facts about a given species habits. While some kids were watching Lion King in amazement, I was petrified at the notion that all these hostile-to-each-other species were coexisting with a human without the predators eating weaker species; friendships between rival carnivores are also unlikely. If books like this become more popular, perhaps eventually even cartoons made for kids will reflect reality. Untruthful depictions in cartoons might seem innocuous, but children do not understand these are fictitious and might never read a biology book to learn the facts, spreading ignorance, which indirectly encourages the continuation of species extinctions. Another curious thing this book helps with is in dawning the realization that humans really are not a member of the carnivore family tree. I have been thinking about this as I have been learning about veganism. Vegan dieticians argue that humans cannot properly digest large quantities of meat because their digestive systems evolved on fruits and vegetables during their monkey years, and only added grains and other domesticated plants during the agricultural period. The 93 plates of carnivore skulls help to illustrate this point. All of these beasts have enormous canines that are three or more times longer than the other teeth to rip prey apart. Instead humans have short canines for chewing fiber-rich foods into tiny bits, and then a long digestive tract to slowly break these foods apart. The human digestive tract also lacks the acidic, bile and bacteria that breaks giant chunks of raw meat down in carnivores. Humans have to cook their meat to avoid getting sick because they lack these natural protections. The “Glossary” provides a definition for “canine (teeth)” as: “used primarily for killing prey, holding or processing food, and occasionally as weapons in fights between conspecifics or in defense against attack” (249). The detailed descriptions of each animal are offered with care and affection: “Manul, Steppe Cat… Stocky, heavily furred small cat, silvery grey to rufous-grey with faint striping on the body… Face has dark cheek stripes, and the crown is distinctively marked with small spots. Bushy tail is banded with narrow stripes and ends in a dark tip… Pallas’s Cat is poorly adapted for running, and when threatened freezes and flattens itself to the ground, conferring very effective concealment” (18). The drawing of this cat is adorable, especially the black and white sketch of it “hiding” between rocks and grass. This image is juxtaposition across from a more aggressive Fishing Cat in the act of catching and preparing to bite a fish. The divergent characteristics of cat species is explained better in these images than a lengthy description of their timid versus aggressive habits.

It is difficult to put this book down. It is a great find for general readers who just want to read curious facts about carnivores as well as for the specialists mentioned.

A Mix of Horror and Propaganda on the WHO

Marcos Cueto, Theodore M. Brown and Elizabeth Fee. The World Health Organization: A History. 274pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-1-10872884-3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


A few months ago, I was approved as a GSA contractor; it took two years for this to happen. GSA was extremely harassing during the process, requesting every imaginable bit of information, and then nearly denying my application because I run a one-person business. I had to submit hundreds of additional pieces of evidence to SBA to finally receive the approval. After becoming a contractor, I spent weeks collecting email addresses for nearly all of the various state, federal and local governmental agencies across the US (schools, military, infrastructure), and reached out and got on contractor lists for all of these. I applied for a USAID contract aimed to educate non-governmental agencies in Cambodia regarding misappropriation of funds; I proposed a unique online program. USAID has been offering half-a-million annually for this financial education program, sending in contractors to do training, but the problem with misappropriation has continued. My application did not make it into the second round: no reason for the rejection was offered. My online program would have allowed the information to remain permanently online so those in need of it could access it without added costly in-person training sessions from contractors. The winner is probably the same agency that ran these unsuccessful workshops in years past. Given the current debate about corruption in the US government, this is a great time to consider if the majority of our government’s funding is wasted. I am likely to lose the contract in a few months because without any hope of winning a contract, I cannot afford to pay another $200+ for a digital signature application required to submit the quarterly required $0-revenue statement. I paid over $400 so far for this access and for my past contractors to submit assessments of my work. I also invested months of my time into this project. The point of this costly system appears to be to drive contractors into a corrupt competition. I’ve been invited to several meetups in Washington and elsewhere to make contacts in the industry to lobby for my services. Obviously, I cannot afford these trips. Those who invest in these expenses, are likely to be pliable to offer thousands in “lobbyist” fees or barely disguised bribes to win the giant contracts. With money wasted on this effort, it is little wonder that the least effective and the most corrupt contractors win, leaving the world in need, while they and those in government receiving the kickbacks are enriched. I had to begin this review with this disclosure because there are catastrophic problems with America’s government and I doubt this book addresses them. The opening of the cover blurb proves this is a mix of propaganda and reality: “According to its Constitution, the mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) was nothing less than the ‘attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health’ without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic status, or social condition. But how consistently and how well has the WHO pursued this mission since 1946?” As the book on America’s health that I reviewed earlier in this set explains, America’s health is failing, and America is spreading its bad behavioral habits to the rest of the world. If WHO was a US health organization, my doubts would be deeper, but the world-span leaves room for hope that more thoughtful countries are taking the lead. The promise of helping all people attain “the highest possible level of health” is failing internationally, as the latest generation is the first whose life-expectancy has gone down in contrast with past upward trends. The study promises to expose WHO’s “origins and its institutional antecedents… It examines how the WHO was shaped by the particular environments of the postwar period and the Cold War, the relative influence of the US and other approaches to healthcare, and its place alongside sometimes competing international bodies such as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Gates Foundation.” UNICEF helps children and their mothers with food and healthcare. Gates invests in healthcare and education. But why is the World Bank on this list? The World Bank has been accused of making loans to developing countries that have prevented them from developing or caused bankruptcies due to the burden of high interest rates. How is this related to WHO’s health efforts? “The authors re-evaluate the relative success and failure of critical WHO campaigns, from early malaria and smallpox eradication programs to struggles with Ebola today.” If the summary mentions failures, it is likely there are so many of these, that even an author attempting to offer a positive spin could not have ignored them.

The book’s “Acknowledgements” commence with the required statement on funding, which proves that this is a work of propaganda, which does not want to be thought of as such. They “undertook this history… more than ten years ago with initial support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Health Organization. It is important to emphasize, however, that this is not a commissioned or official history. After 2008, we had no financial links with the WHO or the Foundation, and we pursued this book project independently” (xii). First, the WHO funded the initiation of this project. A portion of WHO’s budget, prior to 2008, went towards research for a book about itself. This helps to explain how the WHO and other wasteful organizations spend a large portion of their budget on market themselves, or on propagandizing about the benefits they are providing to keep money from governments and donors flowing in. Second, why would it take three scholars more than a decade to complete a relatively lean history book about a single organization? In my experience, scholars attempt to find additional research grants to stretch profits from this type of a research project. Little unique research is offered in this book, as it is a compilation of well-known, publicly-accessible facts. The researchers did not need to travel into malaria-infected regions to gather this information. So, why else would they need over a decade? And why would this delay make this book any less affiliated with the WHO? The project was not “independent” at the start and since this is the main funding source, how can they claim independence because they waited a decade to publish the findings? Or are they saying they did little to no research on the grant from WHO, and then began working on it after the funding from WHO ran out?

Perhaps the problems with WHO begin at its inception in the aftermath of WWII. It “merged into a single organization four functions of previous international health organizations: centralized epidemiological surveillance, campaigns against epidemics, disease control, and the reform of health systems.” While some view mergers positively, I believe they tend to decrease the effectiveness of the smaller players, who tend to have more energy due to their competitive and independent natures. As any agency or corporation grows beyond a certain point, it tends to increase in corruption and decrease in practical usefulness. A problem with this book is that it focuses on WHO’s role “during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods”. First, the Cold War started in 1945, when WHO was started; second, post- means after, the period after the Cold War is never going to end. Thus, this phrase repeats that this book covers a history between 1945 and the present day; but, it does so by inserting a repetition of the term “Cold War”, stressing that this is an anti-communism history, rather than a history of “health”. They go on to state the book covers WHO’s “unsuccessful attempt to eradicate malaria” and their “successful elimination of smallpox during the 1970s”. The latter actually failed eventually, this year, as smallpox cases are springing up due to anti-vaxxers and the like (1). So, it’s a history about failure of capitalism? Not exactly, or there wouldn’t be so many digressions into the Gates Foundation; apparently, the WHO has been partnering with the World Bank and the Gates (3). I have also been reading recently about WHO’s efforts to shrink Asia’s overpopulation by promoting what became the one-child and abortive policies there, while promoting anti-abortion policies back in the West. These were efforts to stop Asia’s perceived population advantage, and these policies had detrimental impacts on the health of both men and women in the affected countries. Here is how this subject is presented here: “Unprecedented rates of population growth were perceived by sociologists, demographers, and economists as hindering economic development because they drew scarce resources to ‘nonproductive’ segments of society (such as the elderly and children), contributing to underemployment and more uneven distributions of income. Foreign-aid programs for poor countries were thought to be nullified by the rapid pace of population growth. Population control was portrayed as a necessary condition for development…” Thus, “disease-control activities in developing countries were perceived as counterproductive because they decreased the death rate and led to a rise in the number of poor people and an increase in their life spans” (146). The last few phrases are jaw-dropping, and they are left without a counter point to stress how unethical these ideas are. The WHO decided to abandon trying to help the health of people in developing countries because if they managed to improve their health this would only increased their poor populations? There is a short step between these ideas and Hitler’s Concentration Camps as both decrease the population. Obviously, improving health, extends lives and increases a population. If the World deemed it necessary to instead shrink health and population to leave more available land for the rich to settle, they really should not be wasting money on supposedly health-promoting organizations such as the WHO.

While most people would probably expect to find a history of world-improvement in a book about an organization with a mission to improve the world’s health, this is actually a horror story about how world leaders have been investing in depopulation and disease-spread through inaction, corruption, outright racist and classist malice, or ignorance. If you are prepared to be horrified, and it is your job to understand governmental waste, you should read this book.

Rural Americans Are Poor Because of Racism, Sexism and Other Discriminations

Ann R. Tickamyer, Jennifer Sherman, and Jennifer Warlick, editors. Rural Poverty in the United States. 476pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-231-17223-3. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.


The motivation for this study is that: “America’s rural areas have always held a disproportionate share of the nation’s poorest populations… What is it about the geography, demography, and history of rural communities that keeps them poor? In a comprehensive analysis that extends from the Civil War to the present, Rural Poverty in the United States looks at access to human and social capital; food security; healthcare and the environment; homelessness; gender roles and relations; racial inequalities; and immigration trends to isolate the underlying causes of persistent rural poverty.” I requested this book because I live in a rural area and I just finished a campaign for mayor with the promise that I would bring in more people and businesses here if I won. I spoke with several people who told me they did not want new people or businesses moving in. The main reason for this was they feared their jobs would be taken by the newcomers. Businesses also did not want competing grocery stores and the like opening in case their own sales might go down. They explained that the City Council and others in the local government had voted against bringing in what became Vernon College and the Walmarts that were instead positioned in Vernon and Childress, 30 miles away in two directions. What would these conscious decisions to remain small and to deliberately depopulate to limit competition have to do with gender or race? It seems to me the authors of this study are out-of-touch with the realities of rural life. Surely there is plenty of racism in cities as well. The blurb continues by stating that the volume utilizes “sociology, economics, demography, race and gender studies, public health, education, criminal justice, social welfare, and other social science fields. They take a hard look at current and past programs to alleviate rural poverty and use their failures to suggest alternatives…” In reality, there are hardly any programs in place to alleviate poverty, and America’s budgets for welfare and other anti-poverty programs are shrinking. It is absolutely necessary to study this subject to understand what has been done in the past, and what is missing.

The strange mix of perspectives that fail to truly get at the essence of the rural poverty problem might lie in this being another compilation of essays by different scholars. There is a lack of collaboration between them on the larger message, and some repetitions. The first part describes the “geography and demography”… The first of these chapters sets out with a good question: “One important challenge in studying rural America is defining where it begins and where it ends.” The editors utilize a USDA map to separate between metropolitan and non-metropolitan and non-adjacent regions, with the latter being rural. These rural areas make up the majority of US’s map. So, rural poverty really refers to American poverty outside of metropolitan areas (5-6). A later chapter on gender inequality explains: “Highly educated women have increased their employment and wages, but the gains to education are lower in rural than urban areas. The spatial wage gap was only 5 percent for women without a high school diploma, but it was… 26 percent for women with advanced degrees” (123). So, sexism is preventing educated women from escaping poverty in rural areas? If there were laws in place in the US against such discrimination perhaps poverty would be alleviated for women across the board, but this is not the focus of this study. A later chapter focuses solely on violence against women in rural communities. During the campaign I heard from dozens of women that domestic violence and rape by non-partners was not properly prosecuted in the local courts, with deputies letting the men get away with these acts.

The more one reads about the state of America today, the more it seems the country is moving backwards, whereas Americans have a skewed perception of it constantly improving in all areas. These findings are distressing, but it is absolutely necessary for policy makers to understand them. This book is useful for graduate students, library collections, and policy makers.

If the World Is Weighing on You, Move Out of Its Way

Gyles Brandreth. Messing About in Quotes. $14.95. 374pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-881318-7. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.


This is a surprisingly light collection for Oxford of “witty one-liners, funny phrases, and pithy comments.” They come from over 2,500 writers and cover topics such as art and wine. The author, Gyles Brandreth, is known for his “hugely popular Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations”, so while I did not know Oxford did quotation books, they clearly have been winning in this game of popular non-fiction. Brandreth is also a former MP and broadcaster. To begin this review, an appropriate place is the section on “Critics”, with this telling quote: “I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so” by “Sydney Smith, 1771-1845 English clergyman and essayist” (78). The more reviews I read, the more I realize that writing reviews without reading the book is the industry standard. The first critic barely touches a book, and then following critics repeat whatever the first guy said to avoid this effort. Another one from this section that struck me as curious is from Oscar Wilde: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing” (79). I seldom find other people who agree with me that the Titanic and most other modern “tragedies” are hilarious. The strained melodrama and the overt sentimentality crafted by writers to inspire an emotional reaction in readers is funny to writers who view it from the perspective of story-construction. The only joke that made me giggle is this one from the section on “Men and Women”: “Lydia: Every great man has had a woman behind him./ Janet: And every great woman has had some man or other in front of her, tripping her up” by “Dorothy L. Sayers, 1893-1957 English writer” (218). Yes, writers such as Virginia Wolff have historically been driven to suicide or madness by the men in their lives, whereas Einstein and other great men have utilized from their female partner’s intelligence and other helpful assets to move ahead.

This is a tiny, pocket-sized book, with a beautifully illustrated, modernist cover. An elegant place holder is included to recall the spot where you left off if you are browsing through it for inspiration and giggles in small portions. Specific subjects are easy to search for, in case somebody is looking for a joke with a purpose in mind. I might even refer back to this little book for one of my future books if I need something humorous to start a chapter. This book should be in dental offices instead of magazines to give the waiting public something to laugh about.

A Myriad Ways to Make Your Own Stuff

Todd Brock. Backyard Homesteading: All-in-One: for Dummies. $29.99. 660pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-119-55075-4. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2019.


A few years ago, I wrote a book called Radical Agrarian Economics after doing a grant-funded study in the Kentucky Historical Society. I covered the various economic models and compared them with the idea of subsistence or small-scale farming. America’s farming population has shrunk from a majority early in its history to 1% in modern times. The recent shrinkage has been due to the use of expensive machinery, subsidies and other changes that make it difficult for farmers to see a profit unless they scale their farms to a giant size. Each chicken or corn stock sold makes a tiny profit, so a farmer can only afford to repay loans or workers if an enormous quantity is sold. A bad season can lead most medium-sized farms into bankruptcy. Thus, this book’s promise to explain how to “live a more sustainable lifestyle” is obviously of interest to me. Another reason this book sounds engaging is because I now live in a rural community, where livestock, and produce farms are allowed and are common within city limits. Most cities forbid chickens or even cucumbers in residential neighborhoods. In theory, if I run out of money and must subsist on nothing but my “land”, I can attempt raising some chickens and growing some cucumbers. If this day comes, this book will be an essential resource.

Here is the rest of the summary: “Historically referred to as a government program for revitalizing undesirable living areas, ‘homesteading’ today has come to mean the pursuit of a self-sufficient lifestyle. Homesteading can include everything from keeping bees, growing vegetables, and composting to installing solar panels, creating a rain barrel, and canning your own food—plus much more…/ It walks you through the basics of creating your own sustainable homestead and offers expert tips and tricks for making it as easy and successful as possible.” Subjects covered include: raising chickens, keeping bees, composting, and canning. The variety of topics is important because different types of projects can legally and practically be attempted in different regions of the US, in different climates, and under different local laws. It’s great that these five books have been combined: this makes it easier to search for specific items through the index and the like. The book is illustrated with helpful drawings that explain concepts such as how to cut an end and the string from beans (247). Boxes present specific methods for “Air-Drying Fresh Herbs” (351) and other practical applications. These directions are more detailed and reliable than those one might find for free online; I have found some counter-productive or even destructive advice in online searches. Relying on an author with documented experience in the field is a lot less stressful. Todd Brock is this author, and he “is a television writer and producer whose work includes PBS’s Growing a Greener World, DIY Network’s Fresh From the Garden, and HGTV’s Ground Breakers.” I tried finding more information about Brock, but did not find anything that might have indicated his professional credentials outside his television work. My point about trustworthiness would have been supported if he had an agricultural degree or the like. Dummies are a bit less stringent on credentials than Nolo in this regard. Then again, homesteading is intended as something anybody can do at home, rather than as a farming business, so I guess having experience doing this work at home is sufficient to tell others how to do it. I’m just a bit more frightened to follow advice in these pages if some of it might not be first-hand tested. Animals can die. Bugs can eat plants. I might not manage to get a nail into a piece of wood without slipping. Then again, if I bought a “serious” book on agricultural science and attempted to figure out how to take self-sustaining steps with more precision, it would probably be much harder and less fun. Then again, I tend to have more fun while I am succeeding, even if more effort is needed to get there. Thus, don’t trust what I have to say about this book, and perhaps don’t trust this book unless you are prepared to take the risk. One reassurance is that the title page says by “Todd Brock with Bob Beckstrom, Howland Blackiston…” and goes on to list a few dozen other names. This is reassuring, as it is likely that at least one of them contributed personal experience or direct knowledge on the broad range of subjects covered. Brock seems to be more of an editor; and perhaps his contribution was mostly on building chicken coops, as this is a topic he previously published with Dummies on.

The book is built as an introduction for a total beginner and seems to anticipate likely major problems one would encounter. The section on keeping out “birds” and other “critters” stands out to me as I have flocks of birds and rabbits descending on my backyard every other day, and short of building a fence and a top cover, it is hard for me to imagine how I could keep all of them out. There are also specialized and amusing sections on brewing beer, and baking bread. I just spotted “eggs” on the list of ingredients on the “bread” list and realized that I might be breaking my vegan diet by recently adding bagels and other breads back into my diet. Reviewing the sections on needed tools is head-spinning: it seems unlikely I would have the resources to purchase wood for fences, sprinklers and other items if my goal was to subsist off my own farm because my money is running out (81). This is more of a project you have to have some funds to commence. While some of these are time and money consuming, the recipe for making canned bell peppers might only require some specialized canning jars and caps (255). Another section explains how to freeze fruits (298). I frequently encounter challenges with eating all of the fruit I purchase before it spoils, so I am likely to return to this section. There is even a recipe for fermenting kimchi (398). Most of this process seems to be just leaving the jar at room temperature for two to three days, so it might be doable.

If any of these items sound like something you want to attempt, I recommend browsing through the relevant sections in a bookstore to check if you can follow the directions with your resources, and if so, you are likely to be on your way to turning yourself into a homesteader. Libraries in rural areas like here in Quanah should definitely have a copy of this book on their shelves, so folks can attempt these techniques if they want some fresh produce, or need to sustain themselves off their land.

…A Scary Planet Approaches… Let’s Eat Cheese

Anthony Burgess. Puma. Hardcover. 316pp. ISBN: 978-1-5261-3273-4. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018 (1988).


This is a second book by Anthony Burgess: it is a set with the other one: both have the gold signature of his name on the cover. I am very hesitant to dive into this one after the previous disastrous reading. But bravely heading for the summary: “Puma – disentangled from the three-part structure of The End of the World News and published here for the first time in its intended format – is Anthony Burgess’s lost science fiction novel. Set some way into the future, the story details the crushing of the planet Earth by a heavyweight intruder from a distant galaxy – the dreaded Puma. It is a visceral book about the end of history as man has known it. Despite its apocalyptic theme, its earthquakes and tidal waves, murder and madness, Puma is a gloriously-comic novel, steeped in the rich literary heritage of a world soon to be extinguished and celebrating humanity in all its squalid glory. In Burgess’s hands this meditation on destruction, mitigated by the hope of salvation for a select few, becomes powerful exploration of friendship, violence, literature and science at the end of the world.”

Since Burgess is not particularly known for pure science fiction (the term “pure” is echoed in the editor’s “Introduction” (20)), this might be an exception that supersedes the barely present “magical realism” in the other novel reviewed. But the summary then threatens readers with a mysterious “heavyweight intruder”: this is troubling because it is a common trick in the comedic or standard pop novel plotline to not reveal the nature or appearance of the monster, beast or another variation on the evil-devil theme: this revelation is delayed until far into a novel to create suspense through this emission. Too many science fiction and fantasy writers take advantage of this trick to never explain what kind of a creature is attacking the hero or why the attack is taking place: the suspense that something will be revealed later is thus extended beyond the ending. The note on the “end of history” is an example of an extreme ticking-bomb device: the threat of world-destruction is utilized to make readers fearful, so they want to find out how the hero avoids this apocalypse. Put then the editor promises that despite the deaths and destruction, this is a “gloriously-comic novel”. My expectations are very much heightened. I am actually currently also attempting to write a space travel satire, so if it is funny, this book should help me understand the dimensions of this genre.

Jumping in: the “foreword” explains that Burgess has managed to become “one of the most prominent novelists and critics of the twentieth century” despite “his work” being mostly “unavailable.” This is exactly what I was saying in the previous review of Burgess’ novel: he is believed to be a great writer, but few actually read him; critics repeat platitudes to him without even having access to assess the quality of his work. It’s great that Manchester University Press set out to make his novels more accessible; this foreword also explains that their motivation, in part, is that Burgess was one of Manchester University’s graduates (vi). There is more front matter in this project versus the other novel, with a detailed publication history and critical reception. There is some humor in the opening sentence of the novel: “All this happened a long time ago, children, so forgive me if I am vague on detail…” (25). While silly, this vagueness is also a method for bypassing specificity. Then, the narrative slips into theology (as the other novel): describing a fiery appearance in the sky as a godly coming through a “‘birth by a virgin.’” I guess the funny part is that in response, Joey Warwich asks, “‘What’s a virgin?’” (25-6). It is also somewhat humorous that instead of describing or explaining the looming event, a long paragraph discusses the two men believed to be responsible for “the first sighting of Puma” (27). The naming conflict and if it was an asteroid is covered. The problem with this is that the text jumps between ideas without addressing any of them deeply enough for clear comprehension in readers. For example, this same paragraph then states: “Puma was not, as we know, an asteroid. (A megasteroid? Cried Pulham. Pulham’s Unatached Mega Asteroid?) It was a major planet, though not of our solar system. It seemed to have been the satellite of a star unnamed and unlocalised. By some gravitational vagary or other it had become a maverick, a heavenly rogue. That night in Southern Australia brought its first whisper of tidings of great horror…” (27). This is all crucial information, but it is buried in the second half of a paragraph that begins with a silly digression about naming it and what agencies were involved in figuring out what it was. And why is the flow interrupted with parenthesis that contradicts the following sentence: is it a megasteroid or a planet? Because the parenthesis is a quote and have questions at the end, these speculations are left unresolved. Breaking the rhythm of the text with an interruption is a technique to make a text appear more literary in the James Joyce tradition.

Later in the novel, very lengthy paragraphs describe a mixture of ordinary earthly scenes, mixing them with digressions such as: “Puma. Puma, yes. The destructive planet intruder. But surely Puma had been different – a red sore eye, all veined? Now Puma had a silver disc attached, its circumference edged in red, glued to the planet below its centre. The moon and Puma, lord and vassal, were joined tonight in a one-way tug. Then his senses, shocked to deadness by the vision, came alive to fear of the consummation of all things coming…” (111). This is an example of the persistent ticking-bomb device, which builds suspense by describing the horror of an onlooker. Most of the narrative is consumed in repetitive fear-mongering. These high-intensity moments then turn into minimum-action quiet sections. Standard dramatic movement theories argue that high-intensity scenes must be followed by easy-going ones for the reader to recover an urge to be frightened. Thus, for example there is a rambling dialogue regarding “‘nuttin doidy’” while “chewing cheese”. Characters repeat this phrase: “‘There ain’t nuttin doidy in it.’ This seemed to be a reproach. A man said, chewing cheese:/ ‘Doidy? A doidy book?’/ ‘Not doidy, Milligan,’ growled Murphy. ‘If you want sumpn doidy I’ll take you to see Baa Lamb’s Ass at the Angus Wilson.’” (155). This discussion is referencing a SF novel; it seems forced in to add a bit more literary flavor to the work. The disagreement and insults are used to mask the repetitive lack of substance in the discussion.

This is a better novel than Beard’s Roman Women, but the bar is low. This novel might have become great if an editor told the writer to polish it, tossing out the useless digressions and inserting more direct ponderings, but it seems the editor was enamored with the author, and decided to leave the free-thought experiment stand as it was born. I hope students don’t have to read this book in college classes because it is as impossible to read this work cover-to-cover as Ulysses.

Hidden Biases Towards the Fracking Industry

Daniel Raimi. The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution. 262pp, graphs. ISBN: 978-0-231-18486-1. New York: Columbia University Press: Center on Global Energy Policy Series, 2018.


The debate over oil fracking is particularly relevant in the shale territory where I live in Texas. There are several oil rigs across the city, and while the owner object that they do not frack, it is very likely that they do. What impact can this have on me and others who live nearby? What impact is fracking having on the environment? Over the border, in Oklahoma, the region has seen a sharp spike in earthquakes that have knocked down many old towns, so if fracking becomes more popular around here my little house might be taken down by an earthquake in a region where they are naturally highly uncommon. Here is the summary from the publisher: “Over roughly the past decade, oil and gas production in the United States has surged dramatically—thanks largely to technological advances such as high-volume hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as ‘fracking.’ This rapid increase has generated widespread debate, with proponents touting economic and energy-security benefits and opponents highlighting the environmental and social risks of increased oil and gas production.” The author, Raimi promises to deliver a balanced view from both perspectives. Daniel Raimi is a researcher at Resources for the Future (economic nonprofit focusing on the links between energy and the environment) and teaches public policy for the University of Michigan. This biography alone does not disclose any funding from frackers, so it seems possible that the book presents a fair argument. The book sets out to cover: “What is fracking? Does fracking pollute the water supply? Will fracking make the United States energy independent? Does fracking cause earthquakes? How is fracking regulated? Is fracking good for the economy?” Apparently, Raimi traveled “to every major U.S. oil- and gas-producing region” as part of his research to understand “the people and communities affected by the shale revolution, for better and for worse.”

The debate is skewed towards an argument for fracking rather than its environmental dangers. For example, the section on water contamination states: “Dozens of research papers have examined drinking-water quality in regions with extensive oil and gas development, and with a single exception (which I discuss later in this chapter), none have shown that fracking chemicals have migrated from deep underground into drinking-water sources” (34). One of the points discussed later is that stray gases are a bigger danger from fracking than drinking water contamination. The one research paper that has found danger from water contamination is about Bradford County, Pennsylvania: it found methane and 2-n-butoxyethanol in the water. Raimi eases fears by saying that on the fourth tests, these chemicals disappeared (40-2). In the industry was aware of the failed test, they might have taken drastic measures to fix the issue, and they still needed four tests for the results to clear. When I asked local frackers if they do any environmental tests prior to a new drill or later, they replied that they do not. So, across Texas, there are no requirements for them to really test for these problems consistently. The water supply does have to be tested, but perhaps standard tests don’t look into chemicals resulting from fracking. On the other hand, if there are no dangers from fracking in terms of water supply, it is important to spread this information to keep people from panicking if frackers come into their town. The section on “climate change” begins by arguing that oil is better than coal. This is suspicious: a good, “clean” fuel would not need to be compared with one of the worst fuels on the planet to prove it’s safe for the environment (108). Raimi somewhat acknowledges that fracking significantly damages the world by increasing greenhouse-gas emissions, but instead of stopping the practice he proposes strengthening acts such as the Clean Power Plan, which would strengthen fracking, while weakening coal.

This book digresses away from truths, and dances around the issues to reach conclusions favorable to the fracking industry. I don’t trust Raimi’s independence. There are better books out there to base policies around. This is also a difficult read, but somehow also lacking in evidence.

How Giant Banks Blind the Public to Their Benefit

Walter Mattli. Darkness by Design: The Hidden Power in Global Capital Markets. Hardcover: $29.95, 6X9”. 288pp, 17 b/w illustrations, 13 tables. ISBN: 978-0-691180663. Princeton: Princeton University Press, April 2, 2019.


The publisher’s summary is necessary to grasp this complex subject: “Algorithmic high-speed supercomputing has replaced traditional floor trading and human market makers, while centralized exchanges that once ensured fairness and transparency have fragmented into a dizzying array of competing exchanges and trading platforms.” Mattli “exposes the unseen perils of market fragmentation and ‘dark’ markets, some of which are deliberately designed to enable the transfer of wealth from the weak to the powerful./ …[T]races the fall of the traditional exchange model of the NYSE, the world’s leading stock market in the twentieth century, showing how it has come to be supplanted by fragmented markets whose governance is frequently set up to allow unscrupulous operators to exploit conflicts of interest at the expense of an unsuspecting public. Market makers have few obligations, market surveillance is neglected or impossible, enforcement is ineffective, and new technologies are not necessarily used to improve oversight but to offer lucrative preferential market access to select clients in ways that are often hidden. Mattli argues that power politics is central in today’s fragmented markets. He sheds critical light on how the redistribution of power and influence has created new winners and losers in capital markets and lays the groundwork for sensible reforms to combat shady trading schemes and reclaim these markets for the long-term benefit of everyone.” Cryptocurrency comes to mind as I read this and not much else. Shady markets that exist outside the standard popularized exchanges? Unless somebody is trading in illicit substances on the dark web, why would anybody invest their money with players lacking in credibility? It almost seems as if Mattli is referring to fraudulently conning people out of money by getting them to invest in a Ponzi scheme without returns. This summary could have been improved with a bit more polishing.

The “Contents” fail to explain what “dark markets” this is referring to. Chapter 2 focuses on NYSE, but looks at how this popular exchange-place has recently changed. Chapter 3 is about what NYSE used to be like. Chapter 4 is about speed-trading: but just because it’s quick doesn’t mean it’s “dark”. So, how is this relevant to the gloomy summary? Finally, the word “Darkness” appears in Chapter 5. This section explains that the US has the biggest problem with “dark trading” out of most other western countries, so that “the volume of dark trading has tripled in less than a decade to about 37 percent of all trading in 2017” (125). He goes on to explain that he covered dark trading earlier in chapter 2: this just wasn’t apparent from the chapter or section titles. Regardless, he explains that dark trading developed when “large broker-dealers opted to bypass exchanges and instead organize in-house markets for client orders.” In response, exchanges created “their own dark markets”. The problem with all this is “fragmentation” or splitting markets into entities that are harder to regulate, supervise or win in. If a major exchange skimmed profits, a government agency only needs to investigate it to spot these misdeeds, but if it has to go after hundreds of small entities, it cannot cover all these weak points. “Dark pools” offer “institutional investors complete anonymity, thereby preventing information leakage about trading intentions and adverse price movements.” This sound nefarious, but he goes on to write that the “largest dark pool providers” include familiar names such as Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lync, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan. He concludes that their “combined dark pool market share in the United States has been about 70 percent over the past decade.” In other words, this is not a problem of dark web cryptocurrency, but America’s biggest commercial banks are running these schemes (126). This section also includes a fascinatingly detailed table: “Dark Pool Enforcement Actions by the SEC”, which includes the $1-$35 million civil money penalties dark pool owners including Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs have paid for violations such as: “inadequate safeguards and oversight to protect confidential trading information”, “misinformation and omissions of material facts in relations with clients”, “reporting and lack of transparency in relation with regulators”, “failing risk management controls and supervisory procedures”, “unfair and discriminatory market access”, and “other federal securities violations.” A graph then shows that these enforcement actions seem to lead to increased market share growth instead of shrinkage. These problems impact those buying into these schemes and the wider society; the dark pools only benefit the few executives that operate them. Mattli stresses that researchers have learned that “high levels of dark trading tend to adversely affect overall market quality” (125-37).

This is all very revealing and engaging information; it’s just hidden in a poorly organized book-structure. I hope the editor will create a new edition of this book to make it easier for the general public to digest. Anybody considering investing with these giant companies or in dark markets should definitely read this book closely first to understand how this investment might be counter to their interests and profits. Government agencies investigating these schemes should also read this project as they work through these puzzling transactions.

About Like Totally Wars, and Deaths, and Stuff…

Steve Wiegand. U.S. History: for Dummies, 4th Edition. $22.99. 446pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-119-55069-3. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2019.


I gave away all of my U.S. history books long ago, and I frequently write on subjects that necessitate references to this country’s past, so I requested this book to replenish my library in this department. The premise is pretty straight-forward. The editor’s description helps to explain its deeper significance: “From the rise of the Tea Party, to social media’s effect on American life and politics, this new edition fills in the gaps of this Nation’s story… from pre-Columbian civilizations to the 21st century. The explorers, the wars, the leaders, and the eras…” Points covered include: “the deepening divide between the very wealthy and the poor and middle class; divisions between political parties and even geographic regions of the country, including the 2016 election results; the country’s delicate—and precarious—position as the world’s preeminent economic, military, and political power.”

Wiley provides online “quizzes” on this content. The quizzes are probably intended for readers who might be studying for an AP U.S. History exam, or perhaps for those who are home-schooling through high school. I doubt a Dummies book would be assigned in a college or high school class officially. Another possible benefit from this is for those who are migrating to the US and are taking a citizenship test, or the like.

The book is organized chronologically, beginning with Native Americans’ settlement and ending with a chapter on Trump and the issues Trumpian politics have raised. The tone here is pretty satirical, with a section called, “Spying on ourselves”, referring to the US government’s spying on its own citizens. Seeing the heading I assumed, the editor was joking that people are individually spying on themselves. This section ends with a reference to foreign meddling in the US election. The next section picks up on this note with a discussion on “The Russian factor”. I think I have heard nearly all of the bits covered in these sections in news bites. The conversational tone of the narrative, makes me cringe because I find history to be a bit sacred, as it teaches us what has gone right and wrong in the past to inform future decisions. Instead of reverence, the author states things like: “President-elect Trump wasn’t buying it. Over the following 20 months, Trump variously expressed doubt there had been any inference…” (400). I am trying to imaging how a college history book would handle this phrasing. Would it state that Trump accused the investigators of lying? And why is the author inserting a general adverb like “variously” here instead of quoting Trump’s outbursts and clown-acts? He did not express “doubts”; Trump has said openly the other side is lying. The next paragraph starts as if repeating the same thing in a cycle, but seemingly unaware of self-repeating: “But Trump’s skepticism turned to rage when allegations surfaced that his campaign had colluded with the Russians…” (400). Trump is always enraged: he keeps swinging his hands around and goes red-faced as he’s screaming because he’s attempting to project rage every day he’s in the public eye. To check if this writing style is spread across the book or if this is the only way to handle the “special” Trump case, let’s turn back in time. The section called “Reviewing the Troops, the Generals, and the Major Battles” begins thus: “The Civil War was mostly a young man’s fight” (163). There are several problems with this short sentence. The following sentence cites the statistic that enlisted men were mostly under 21, but why make this generalization instead of just stating the fact? The adverb “mostly” is also imprecise: the next sentence also does not name the exact percentage under 21: surely this wasn’t 51%, so the percentage is needed to understand if it was 100 or 51%, a giant leap, and both potentially indicate “mostly”. And given that the Civil War was one of America’s deadliest conflicts, beginning the discussion on the soldiers with a casual statement like this diminishes their sacrifice and the significance of the effort. Elsewhere there are some extremely short paragraph-sized sections, such as “Losing big in Charleston”, which begins with: “This was the worst American defeat of the war”, then gives some statistics, and ends with Lincoln surrendering “his entire army of 5,500 men, along with huge amounts of weapons” (82). To be frank, my jaw dropped on this one. If the author gives the statistic for the number of men surrendered, why not also include the specific number of weapons. In fact, it seems the number of men has to be rounded up to the nearest 500. Why not round it up to 6,000 instead? Who handles the “worst… defeat” in a brisk, hyperbolic paragraph?

This book is my worst nightmare of fictitious history. I am currently researching the mistakes biographers make when they project what they imagine happened into history, calling their imaginings factual because they believe whatever they believe must be right. Well, this is an example of a historian broadly copying whatever past historians said, but deliberately turning non-fiction prose appropriate to the history genre into a chat one might have with a middle-schooler to sound cool. I am going to stop this review here, or I might slip into stronger language. I returned to this review a few days later as I started to recall that I read an earlier edition of this book back around the time when I was taking AP history, maybe as part of my prep for the exam, and I found this book annoying back then too, as I think I returned to my standard classroom textbook having spent a lot of time trying to work out the digressions and nonsense flooding this book; this must be the reason I am having such a strong reaction to it two decades later.

“Most day traders quit after a year or so… try something else”

Ann C. Logue. Day Trading: for Dummies, 4th Edition. $26.99. 356pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-119-55408-0. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2019.


Here is another book I requested hoping I could find simple answers on trading. The book is advertised as intended both for career and part-time market traders. It includes information on “markets and investment strategies as well as the ins and outs on how an actual day trade works and how you can steer clear of common traps.” The first bulletin point on the back cover summarizing the objectives is troubling: “Personality traits traders need”. Is this going to address that a trader needs to be an extravert rather than an introvert or the reverse? If somebody is going to trade their own money from their home office via the computer without talking to anybody in the markets, but rather gathering data through research, they can be an introvert. On the other hand, a trader working in a giant firm where mingling or drinking with co-workers is required nightly, then he or she really must be extroverted. But the act of trading really does not (in itself) require any personality; it requires a close study of the market. If a book promises to fix readers’ personality as it sets out to teach them trading, it is heading down a nonsensical path. The next point is “latest on SEC rules.” Sure this is exactly what I would need to know. Then there is a major point on “cryptocurrencies and ETFs”. Why, of all things out there, are cryptocurrencies given this special place. They are currently diving in value; it’s a horrid time to invest in anything crypto-related; is this mention due to the book being outdated by a few years, or is the author sponsored by crypto money? The last point is: “what you must know about taxes”. Huh? Is this book including a section on how to file a 1040? This is a curious mystery to start with. Can there be special taxes for traders the rest of us are unaware of? I guess it engages interest. The author of this book, Ann C. Logue, is an MBA finance lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

I turned to the “Taxes for Day Traders” category first since it was such a puzzle. It commences by advising readers to hire a tax adviser: this is the obvious move for an author who’s an MBA and probably offers tax advice herself; good way to garner some work. Then the do-it-yourself alternative is pitched with the warning that you have to buy software and gather the copious paperwork for this task. Then, an explanation of the category of “investment income” as opposed to “miscellaneous income”. There is even a section on “deadlines”: theoretically, there is a single annual deadline for everybody… but they mention you can also pay “all year”… All year? I think technically, the alternative is a quarterly payment system. Basically, anybody who cannot figure out to put earnings from trades into the “investment income” category on the forms should never attempt any kind of tax forms or trading themselves. This is all pointless and not helpful.

But all this nonsense is making me very upset, so the next place to look is a section seriously dedicated to: “Controlling Your Emotions” with sub-sections on “Dealing with destructive emotions” and “Watching your walk-away money”. The latter seems odd: it seems to be treating trading as a gambling addiction. This section recommends having 3 months of savings in the bank. 3 months? We are talking about trading as a career and the advice is to only save for 3 months. Why would somebody with only enough to eat for 3 months be investing any money: all of their funds must be saved for an emergency. Only folks a couple of years ahead can gamble money on trades. There are so few people in American with any savings that advising a year of savings would preclude nearly all readers from purchasing the book… The section also includes hot air like this: “The more money in your walk-away fund, the better.” She says this, but she doesn’t mean it, because if this was the case the best scenario would be to keep saving and not to risk any money on trading. Then this: “Most day traders quit after a year or so. There’s nothing wrong with deciding to move on and try something else.” What does this mean? Why isn’t this backed up with specific statistics? Does this mean that the system is so rigged to the house (as with the casino) that “most” traders lose their entire investment within a year? Why would the author be recommending anybody enter a field that nearly everybody will lose at? And if she is recommending quitting at the end of a year, why start? The rest of the emotions section includes sub-sections on boredom, depression and meditation. The “destructive emotions” described are “doubt” and “fear”. Doubt is the most important skill a trader can have. Without doubt, a trader is a lunatic spinning a roulette wheel. Doubt forces a financial analyst to evaluate the options to determine which is likely to result in gains. And the author is an MBA, what are her credentials in psychiatry/ psychology that she is attempting to put readers through therapy? No, she’s right, I’m starting to feel “anger” about all this. As she says “The markets can be maddening”, but traders who write for a profit rather than to impart real useful information are far more “maddening” (254-60).

Debunking the Myth of the Massacre in Boston

Eric Hinderaker. Boston’s Massacre. 358pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674-23738-4. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017.


The publisher’s blurb for this title is very dramatic: “On the night of March 5, 1770, British soldiers fired into a crowd gathered in front of Boston’s Custom House, killing five people. Denounced as an act of unprovoked violence and villainy, the event that came to be known as the Boston Massacre is one of the most familiar incidents in American history, yet one of the least understood. Eric Hinderaker revisits this dramatic episode, examining in forensic detail the facts of that fateful night, the competing narratives that molded public perceptions at the time, and the long campaign afterward to transform the tragedy into a touchstone of American identity./ When Parliament stationed two thousand British troops in Boston beginning in 1768, resentment spread rapidly among the populace. Steeped in traditions of self-government and famous for their Yankee independence, Bostonians were primed to resist the imposition. Living up to their reputation as Britain’s most intransigent North American community, they refused compromise and increasingly interpreted their conflict with Britain as a matter of principle. Relations between Britain and the North American colonies deteriorated precipitously after the shooting at the Custom House, and it soon became the catalyzing incident that placed Boston in the vanguard of the Patriot movement./ Fundamental uncertainties about the night’s events cannot be resolved. But the larger significance of the Boston Massacre extends from the era of the American Revolution to our own time, when the use of violence in policing crowd behavior has once again become a pressing public issue.” There is nothing that can be subtracted here; there are no repetitions or puffery; it is a great start for any book when its summary explains exactly what the book sets out to prove in a direct and engaging manner.

The evidence is neatly presented with a table of eyewitness accounts and detailed notes in the back. The included maps draw the relevant routes and display how few houses or other structures were erected in the Boston area in this period. The book commences by asking obvious questions that have not been asked despite hundreds of research since this event. Why was it called a “massacre” in the press, while plenty of other “shootings” were barely reported on? How did it become the mythic event we are familiar with today (2)? The author engages in archival research to understand the deeper significance of the recorded events; for example, quoting the Gazette as saying the “townspeople” were drawn to the scene of the “crisis” (13). There is an underlying narrative related about what the eight arrested men suffered when they were jailed. These tensions are supported with descriptions and historical background on this jail being newly built to replace a “‘shocking loathsome Place’” that came before it (105). The history is supported with the letters the key players exchanged; for example, Wentworth writes urging Pomeroy to treat Sherwood with leniency because he believes he had “‘most sincerely repented’ for abandoning his regiment” (141). The final chapter discusses the symbolic impact this massacre had through present-day movements such as Black Lives Matter. There is also a section explaining that history books have dampened or highlighted the massacre’s significance depending on the political tides of the day: if it was in the interest or against the interest of the governing body. It is a bit difficult to find the main discovery the author presents with the evidence, but I think here it is: “All of these modifications to the original eyewitness accounts of the oration began to appear in print for the first time nearly half a century after the fact, as writers sought to ennoble the characters of Warren and the other heroes of the era and wrap the second occupation of Boston in a shroud of patriotic glory” (252). In other words, Hinderaker sets out to show how propaganda re-wrote the facts of history with fiction that matched the desired narrative that helped politicians’ objectives.

I am researching similar errors in the wrongful attributions of texts to Defoe and related falsehoods, so I full-heartedly believe Hinderaker’s argument for dispelling myths and finding solid truths. The point of history is to teach us what worked or failed in the past, so we can avoid the mistakes and repeat the successes. If history is false, we might be repeating the mistakes while imagining we are avoiding failures.

Racism as a Tool for Organized Crime

Kathleen Belew. Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. $29.95. 338pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674-28607-8. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018.


A white hood and a rifle are on the cover of this book, so it is rather intimidating. Here is the publisher’s description of what’s inside: “The white power movement[’s]… soldiers are not lone wolves but highly organized cadres motivated by… white supremacy, virulent anticommunism, and apocalyptic faith… [T]he history of a movement that consolidated in the 1970s and 1980s around a potent sense of betrayal in the Vietnam War and made tragic headlines in Waco and Ruby Ridge and with the Oklahoma City bombing and is resurgent under President Trump…” I learned something new here: white supremacists are anti-communist? But they are banding together into communal groups. Together with Belew’s argument that this is a post-Vietnam movement by ex-military members who were programmed with anti-communist believes to explain the attack on Vietnam, the movement seems to be re-interpreted as more anti-Eastern or anti-Russian than anti-colored minorities in the US. The pro-faith component is also strange in this mix; it seems the movement is arguing that the members are the supreme God’s “chosen” people, but this is a rather Jewish notion. I guess Christians believe they will be saved while those of other faiths will go to hell. Regardless, interesting things to ponder. The description continues that post-Vietnam, they “unified people from a variety of militant groups, including Klansmen, neo-Nazis, skinheads, radical tax protestors, and white separatists to form a new movement of loosely affiliated independent cells to avoid detection.” The tax protectors stand out from this list: they are a 1970s movement against paying federal taxes. Their inclusion on the list helps to explain the following continuation of the summary: “The white power movement operated with discipline and clarity, undertaking assassinations, armed robbery, counterfeiting, and weapons trafficking.” “Counterfeiting” and “trafficking” are not the sort of thing religious supremacy defenders would be able to execute without an intellectual criminal element such as this anti-tax branch. It begins to seem as if this is a group of criminals who are utilizing the supremacist label as a type of tax-exempt foundation header. They are carrying out all of the ingredients of organized crime, but instead of being Italian or Mexican Americans, they are just white Americans. The antipathy towards other races almost seems to be a tool to explain defending a block or a turf against rival gangs. To continue: “Its command structure gave women a prominent place and put them in charge of brokering alliances and birthing future recruits.” This is a strange contradiction: either women are “prominent” or they are utilized as birthing-cows. Belew guarantees that the research is substantiated with “years of deep immersion in previously classified FBI files and on extensive interviews…” The reference to “years” is troubling when I hear it because some researchers delay completing a study into years to gain more funding rather than because the project actually needs the extra time. But, the reference to declassified FBI files, and to interviews with affiliates is definitely encouraging for readers interested in understanding “American paramilitarism and the birth of the alt-right.” Kathleen Belew teaches history at University of Chicago.

The book is illustrated with archival photographs of clansmen weapons-training recruits, carrying a wife post-trial, and marching in a parade. The list of archives consulted includes a dozen different libraries, projects and university special collections. She also utilized dozens of newspapers and publicly accessible government sources. She used four court trial transcripts, apparent in the chapters that cover these proceedings. The book is split into three parts on the formation of this “movement”, its operation, and apocalyptic events such as Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing. The term “movement” and references to these groups as “activists” is intentional, as discussed in the “Note to the Reader”: “I use the words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘activist’ to convey a specific type of political action… A white power activist… was not only a proponent of white power ideology but also used that ideology to attempt to bring about change” (x). This language is troubling as it seems to propose viewing this as a movement equivalent to the American or the French Revolution rather than as an organized crime venture in search for profits even if this pursuit cost lives. She is going to mention the problems of their trafficking and other corrupt and illegal activities, but the setup presents a strangely Trumpian perspective.

The link with the Vietnam War is explained to be in the racism this war fostered in the soldiers. They understood their right to be in this war and to commit atrocities on the Vietnamese as a racist struggle against another race. Then they projected this superiority on races back home in the US. One of them argues: “‘Over here, if you kill the enemy, you go to jail. Over there in Vietnam, if you killed the enemy, they gave you a medal… I couldn’t see the difference’” (35). American generals were fostering racism in the War to motivate troops. The warriors hardly understood what communism was, but they could see skin color and identified the others as an “enemy” deserving of extermination. This point is clarified with evidence of misdeeds across several later military conflicts: “the battalion had massacred nearly 1,000 civilians, more than half of them children, in the village of El Mozote… The Salvadoran military encouraged these abuses with its own anticommunist training, but the presence of American mercenary trainers correlated with civilian-targeted violence.” The “mercenaries” were espousing “dehumanizing rhetoric” (90). American has been in another racist war in the Middle East since 2001. Once again, similar rhetoric is convincing the returning mercenaries and soldiers they are allowed to continue the killing and thieving on their “home” ground.

This book presents an over-abundance of research on the subject of racist violence and crime by the US at home and abroad. It uncovers barely touched sources, and explains what on the surface appears to be blind hate. Academic and public libraries should have a copy of this volume to allow those involved in anti-supremacist activism and research to understand the origins and motivations of their foes.

An Intricately Researched Chaucer Biography

Marion Turner. Chaucer: A European Life. $39.95. 600pp, color images. ISBN: 978-0-691-16009-2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.


Since I am in the middle of debunking Defoe’s “biography” as mostly fiction, I had to request this Chaucer biography when I saw it on Princeton’s list. Jumping to the summary: “More than any other canonical English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and worked at the centre of political life…” Marion “reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination./ Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the early circulation of his writings…” This “uncovering” is the perfect reason to set out to write a new biography of a very old life story. It might seem to most readers that historical figures have had their biographies ironed out shortly after their deaths, but most biographers that follow the first biographical outline repeat the same stories without double-checking them. Today, archival sources are more readily available than in the past. Before a researcher had to travel around the world and go blind trying to read barely distinguishable hand-written scribbles. Now, transcribed records are accessible from home and frequently for free to independent researchers. Further, it “documents a series of vivid episodes, moving from the commercial wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence and the kingdom of Navarre, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived side by side.” The narrative and descriptive structure means that this book should be a pleasant read for the general public, rather than being intended only for fellow Chaucer researchers. But the last part of this sentence is curious. Why is the intersection between these faiths mentioned. Was Chaucer Jewish? There are several entries under “Jews” in the Index; the most relevant of these is “expulsion of from England”. This section describes the “structure of communities of late-medieval London; wards were divided by origins, such as Gascony, Germans, and other nationalities. The paragraph concludes thus: “The existence of nearby Olde Iuwerie, however, so named after the expulsion of the Jews in 1290, reminds us that not all immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, were treated equally. The source for this information is Kathy Lavezzo’s The Accommodated Jew: English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton; so rather than being a Jew, it seems the references to Jews are hinting at Chaucer’s antisemitism (27). One example of this is Chaucer’s writing about ritual murders perpetrated by Jews. The summary goes on: “recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan, where he encountered the writings of Dante and Boccaccio.” All of this is very interesting for a student of literature or history, as it offers a verbose set of first-person accounts and historic background regarding major political and social movements of the day. There is also a promise to examine Chaucer’s “writings, taking the reader to the Troy of Troilus and Criseyde, the gardens of the dream visions, and the peripheries and thresholds of The Canterbury Tales.” These descriptions should be helpful to literary scholars interested in gaining a deeper understanding of these works. As all good biographers who want to fill 600 pages must do, Turner digs at every scrap of evidence that remains since that distant time and explores all other accessible information about that building, place or interaction. Marion Turner teaches at the University of Oxford.

The middle-section pages are covered in polished color photographs of a medieval merchant’s house, archival materials, a palace, a medieval church, a painting, a sculpture, the Tower of London and other art pieces. These help to place readers into this distant time. Another useful component is a detailed family tree for Chaucer, including his children and grandchildren. A royal family tree also helps to place the monarchical characters discussed into context. Several maps remind readers of the geo-political spaces Chaucer traveled through across his life. The narrative focus of the book is apparent from the opening of the “General Prologue”, which describes a robbery of a haberdasher shop in London in 1378. This story draws the reader in, but then the author explains what the legal details of what was stolen and what the shop is like says about the “history, law, convention, and social practice” of the period at large beyond the robber and the robbed parties (1-2). Chaucer marches through Europe among troops: allowing the author to explain what the wars of the day were about and the interests and persuasions of the rulers (78-9). One problem is that Turner (like most other biographers) frequently digresses from the facts of the case to speculate on what Chaucer was thinking. The journey into anybody’s mind (if the person discussed did not record these thoughts in a diary, a letter, or even in fiction) is an imaginative rather than a biographic effort. In one example, Turner takes a line from Chaucer’s House of Fame, “‘thou goost hom to thy hous anoon’” and turns it into this conclusion: “by coming home and reading silently and alone, ignoring his neighbours, Geffrey is cutting off his sensual connection with the world… His lack of success with his reading is profoundly connected with his attempting to read in an isolated and disembodied way, separated from communities and the messiness of everyday life” (195). He is saying that he went home, and that he struggled with focusing on his reading, but why would anybody have an easier time reading in a loud communal setting? The “messiness” of life is a general idea that applies to all lives and at all times, and thus fails to communicate any significant point about Chaucer or his reading. There are few of these types of slips into empty speculation in this book. Nearly all of it is focused on relating what is known with certainty rather than guessed with intuition.

An excellent, advanced biography of Chaucer for general readers and scholars alike. The promise to introduce new evidence makes it suitable even for libraries that already have previous Chaucer biographies in their catalogs.   

“Don’t spend time with the ignorant…”

Seneca; James Romm, translator. How to Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management. $16.95. 220pp. ISBN: 978-0-691-18195-0. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.


I requested this and the next title because browsing through philosophy helps me to overcome brief writer’s block spells. I think the best way to be inspired is to read complex mind games that rule ancient philosophy. They just wake up my logic-centers, even if I do not find any specific concepts to apply to my work. I recommend similarly keeping philosophy on the shelf in any household of thinkers.

Here is how the publisher sells this particular booklet of Seneca’s: “In his essay ‘On Anger’ (De Ira), the Roman Stoic thinker Seneca (c. 4 BC–65 AD) argues that anger is the most destructive passion: ‘No plague has cost the human race more dear.’ This was proved by his own life, which he barely preserved under one wrathful emperor, Caligula, and lost under a second, Nero.” The re-issue was made because this is a new translation that picks out the most interesting sections from the longer work. Similarly to the next book covered in these reviews from this series, it offers “original Latin on facing pages”. This is helpful for students of Latin, who want to check their reading ability by glancing between Latin and English. This is a guide on “avoiding and managing anger” for the benefit of the individual and society. Seneca utilizes “historical examples (especially from Caligula’s horrific reign), anecdotes, quips, and soaring flights of eloquence.” Instead of anger, Seneca argues for “forgiveness and compassion that resonates with Christian and Buddhist ethics.” I don’t know why “forgiveness” is particularly Christian as opposed to Jewish or Muslim… Romm also argues that we live in an angry age in need of cooling off as Seneca advises. While there is a lot of talk today about “anger management”, I don’t know if we are really any angrier than we were in Seneca’s time. Then, again global violence is indicative that our civilization is definitely losing its “cool”. James Romm teaches Classics at Bard College.

After reviewing some of the previous books in this set, I am in particular need of some philosophical anger management. Seneca describes how in the evening, after a quarrelsome day, he sits down to examine why he became angry and to cool his anger. He tells himself: “‘…You spoke too combatively in that quarrel, so from now on don’t spend time with the ignorant; if they haven’t learned by now, they don’t want to. You scolded that fellow with less restraint than you should have, and thus gave offense rather than helping him improve: next time consider not the truth of what you say but whether the one you say it to can endure hearing the truth; good folk are glad to be chastised, but the worst sort find their preceptor very grating” (191). I have not heard anything like this from modern anger management coaches, but I believe this is much more helpful advice for practical clash resolution. The most common reason an intellectual is angered in modern society is because he or she encounters ignorance. Ignorant people are angered by the opposite: when they encounter an intellectual who attempts to teach them. Knowledge and ignorance are thus at the heart of the world’s conflicts. The “good” are fighting to retain knowledge; the “worst” of humanity is fighting to do nothing while retaining power by might.

If all this sounds like the type of logic that will help you to calm down about our modern world, I strongly recommend reading this book.

A Philosophy of Warfare

Thucydides; Johanna Hanink, translator. How to Think About War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy. $16.95. 276pp. ISBN: 978-0-691-19015-0. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.


As I browsed through this book, it made me question if war was a choice rather than a part of human nature. If it is a choice, is it an aggressive act of dominance carried out to acquire land and property? If ancient civilizations did not get into the habit of fighting wars, would we be free of them today? Philosophy is needed in this area. This book asks: “What are citizens willing to die for? What justifies foreign invasion? And does might always make right?” Humanity invented writing 6,000 years ago, but the period of Greco-Roman thought from around the time of the publication of this book (2,500 years ago) brought humanity leaps closer to the complex ideologies we have been repeating since. Thucydides bases his theories on “the clash between classical Greece’s mightiest powers—Athens and Sparta”. He “delivered” these speeches “before the Athenian Assembly, as well as” at “Pericles’s funeral oration”.

The translator stresses the “notoriously ruthless” nature of the “Melian Dialogue.” The introduction to this dialogue explains that it is a founding text that is utilized in the “Realist-Idealist” debate. Thucydides relates the history of a military clash between Melians and Athenians, at the end of which the Athenians threaten to end the siege with either a surrender or obliteration. The moral is that Athenians are infected with “cruelty and folly” as they slaughter the Melians for the sale of ruling over them (162-3). In response to the Melians’ pleas for leniency during the negotiations, Athenians argues that they have to conquer Melians because if they remain independent other states will believe this is the case because they have “power” that “makes” Athenians “too afraid to attack” them. “Your destruction would thus not only grant us a larger empire, but greater security as well…” (175). These are brisk explanations for these sides’ strategies, but they compactly explain the reasoning rulers have used to justify attacking weaker enemies since. Athenians represent imperialistic dominance. While westerners imagine that the turn away from colonialism is a recent phenomenon, there has been a struggle within rulers since Greco-Roman times over expanding territories or holding back and this work probably contributed to the shrinkage of this empire over the following millennia.

The translator and introducer, Johanna Hanink, teaches classics at Brown University.

Anybody involved in sending people into battle should read some philosophy on the subject prior to launching the troops. While a purely pacifist book would be ideal, this collection of speeches sprouts some questions that should prevent needless cruelty. Since this is “the first English-language collection of speeches from Thucydides in nearly half a century,” libraries will fill this gap by acquiring this little book.

A Fairytale About the Unreachable Universe

Jo Dunkley. Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide. Cloth: $29.95. 312pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674-984288-0. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: The Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press, April 8, 2019.


I requested this book many months ago when I was conducting research for my science fiction space travel novel. I am now editing this work, so this might still be helpful. However, I believe I failed to examine the description closely enough when I scanned it in the catalog. It explains that instead of describing “black holes and supernovas”, it is going to explain the nature of our universe. “What is really out there? How did it all begin? Where are we going?” Herein lies a problem. I, personally, believe the expanding universe theory and other theories about the nature of our universe are incorrect. Many of these theories are more science fictional than science-based. Our inability to “see” beyond a certain point in the universe because light from there has not reached us yet might be confusing scientists into believing the universe ends there. I even doubt that current measurement systems can tell if a star or even a galaxy is a billion or two billion light years away. Theories on how “it all” began are even more problematic, as they are more theological than scientific. Bibles propose that God created matter out of nothing, but science should not thus conclude that the physical universe began as nothing. Either there might not be a beginning, or there was already energy or matter at the beginning. The question of where we are going is also absurd: the expanding universe theory is one among many competing theories, but it’s the one repeated in the media as gospel. Regardless of truths on these matters, it is hardly significant if the universe has a beginning or an end; from my perspective, current asteroids, the space race, travel to Mars and other neighboring matters are much more useful topics for scientific debate. Despite this setup of focusing on the universal rather than on the micro, the summary then explains that it will look at our neighborhood as well: “explaining the nature of the Solar System, the stars in our night sky, and the Milky Way.” The “nature” of stars? This is too metaphysical for my taste. “She then moves out past nearby galaxies—and back in time—to the horizon of the observable universe, which contains over a hundred billion galaxies, each with billions of stars, many orbited by planets, some of which may host life. These visible objects in space sit in a web of dark matter, mysterious stuff we cannot see or yet understand.” This “dark matter”, in my opinion, stands for everything humanity still does not understand about the universe. If scientists ever discover what is in these spaces, it will stop being “dark matter” to be substituted with a term for whatever it actually is. Then the blurb repeats exactly what I anticipated this book would attempt to cover: “Dunkley traces the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago, past the birth of the Sun and our planets, to today and beyond. She explains cutting-edge debates about such perplexing phenomena as the accelerating expansion of the universe and the possibility that our universe is only one of many.” The latter is referring to the notion that we live in parallel universes. The existence of replicas of ourselves makes for cheap science fiction films that only have to alter a few details about Earth to convince viewers they are seeing a different universe. I really think serious scientists should stop referring to this fantasy. According to Google’s dictionary, the term “universe” means: “all existing matter and space considered as a whole”. “All” space and time encompasses everything, even if it’s far away and unobservable. Light from distant parts of the universe hasn’t reached us, but those outskirts are not a different universe, it’s still the continuation of “all” matter in the single all-encompassing universe. To say there are more than one universe is to say that “all” matter can exist in the same plane as “all” matter of a second universe. But two “all’s” is not possible, just as you can’t have two infinities: infinity is infinite and two of them is still the same quantity of infinity. And having an infinite number of universes in the same dot of space-time would create an infinite number of black holes due to the over-accumulation of matter in each spot of space-time. I hope this will help Jo Dunkley to avoid using these concepts in future books; I definitely hope to avoid reviewing books that slip into this nonsense. These tricks are used because parallel universes have been popularized by science fiction and appear to give readers the “thrill of scientific discovery and a contagious enthusiasm for the endless wonders of space-time”. But anybody reading beyond this first-time excitement is filled with dread over the falsities our most well-paid rocket scientists are spreading.

The book opens with a summary of all of the silly notions about the sky that people had from the dawn of history through the recent history when we finally discovered we were not the center of the universe. Later in the book, Dunkley explores the very problem I mentioned. The “most distant Cepheid stars that we can see with powerful telescopes are about 100 million light-years away, only part of the way out through our supercluster. To judge the distance to more distant galaxies we use instead another standard candle: enormously bright exploding stars that just briefly outshine an entire multi-billion-star galaxy…” (71). Much of this book is about galaxies beyond this 100 million light-year limit. The “candle” method of measuring and analyzing them sounds pre-historic to me. How can astronomers tell with certainty they are seeing giant exploding stars and how can they tell precisely how many million or billion light years away they are? This book dismisses these matters, leaving them for advanced astrophysics classes, but while advanced books offer mathematical formulas and physical explanations for these beliefs, given the proposed distances, it might all be not slightly, but completely wrong. Each astronomy book creates a similar illusion of certainty, but it is in dire need for a lot more “maybes” and “in theories”. By stating these measurements are judgements, an impression of certainty is conveyed. All our measurements can tell is that a spot in the sky is suddenly brighter than other bright spots; the rocket scientist’s job is to interpret this little light show as possessing galactic significance. Exactly what it actually is can never be proven by close-observation and direct sampling because even with the best-imagined technology, the human species cannot survive a two-billion light-year journey. I hope to read less science fiction in the next astronomy book.

You Could Have Written This Book: Babbling About Gravitational Waves

Govert Schilling; Foreword by Martin Rees. Ripples in Spacetime: Einstein, Gravitational Waves, and the Future of Astronomy. 352pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-0-674-23774-2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: The Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019 (2017).


While I love astronomy as a field, I think I might have overloaded on it if my previous review in this set is an indicator. But bravely venturing into the blurb: “It has already been called the scientific breakthrough of the century: the detection of gravitational waves.” It is less than a quarter into the new century; so to say that something is going to be the best invention of the century is to conclude humanity is only going downhill from here. This type of hyperbole detracts from the meaning behind the message. What are “gravitational waves” readers want to know, not if they are the best thing ever discovered. “Einstein predicted these tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime nearly a hundred years ago, but they were never perceived directly until now.” If anything has been “predicted” a century before it is “discovered”, it is likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Scientists were searching for a fictional concept for a century and have finally found it. It is further beyond belief that these waves can explain “the cataclysmic events that shape the universe and a new confirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.” Is this a repetition or did Einstein develop a separate theory of waves and another for relativity, or are the two part of a single theory? Instead of focusing on explaining this science, this book is a history of the “international effort to complete Einstein’s project” and to “capture his elusive ripples…” The history is apparently also a set of biographies, as it promises to detail “personal and professional struggles”. The setting is “Japan’s KAGRA detector, Chile’s Atacama Cosmology Telescope, the South Pole’s BICEP detectors, and the United States’ LIGO labs.” The author admits the “seeming impossibility of developing technologies sensitive enough to detect waves from two colliding black holes in the very distant universe”. First, if gravitational waves exist, why were they searching so far away rather than in our own neighborhood? But then the publisher adds that “the astounding precision of the LIGO detectors” did manage to find the waves. So if humanity had the technology to detect the waves, why is the precision shocking? All this sounds shakier than most of the other astronomy books I have read to-date, so I was not surprised to discover that the author, Govert Schilling is an amateur astronomer, who writes for popular science magazines, rather than a trained astrophysicist.

Gravitational waves disturb space-time created by enormous accelerating masses such as black holes or supernovae, which generate supposedly detectable gravitational radiation. The “Afterword” addresses the detection of these waves in “Colliding Neutron Stars”. This detection occurred in 2017 by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in the moments before the two orbiting neutron stars collided. The same event was also detected from the radioactivity it created on the electromagnetic spectrum. The problem I see is that a group of engineers and investors made an enormous amount of money from the creation of this wave-detector. With a handful of such detectors and as many scientists who have used them, it is too easy to falsify data and to say they detected waves even if all they saw was the same radiation regular telescopes detected. They did not have to actually do much if these waves are fictional. They could create a regular telescope that looked a bit strange and convince governments to fund it. If after a century of “research” and investment, they never detected this strange gravity-wave, they would be discovered as a fraud, but how can anybody double check the potential fraudulence of the finding, if nobody can access this giant Laser to dissect and scrutinize it (306). Since the author is a casual admirer of this subject and not a specialist, he fails to provide sufficient evidence to convince skeptics, or at least to convince me. The book is conversational and digressive throughout making it harder to parse out fact from fiction. For example, he writes: “Naively, you might think that starting out with an extremely massive star will automatically leave you with a pretty massive black hole. But there are a couple of caveats here. First of all, you can’t create a star as massive as you’d like. A huge cloud of gas that is contracting under its own weight will become hot and start to radiate, preventing more gas from raining down on the forming star” (223). Is he saying that a contracting gas cloud prevents the addition of more gas to form a star? These sentences are clearly rephrased from an astronomy book. The original spelled out the steps of this process after explaining the components and stages of star formation. He skips these details and mixes up the key concepts. The cloud is a gas, it is already raining down or contracting, but it can’t rain down? Nonsense. Because he knows he is not grasping these concepts, he begins this explanation by accusing the reader of naivete. He refers to “you” and what you might think because he is not sure if what he is saying accurately reflects scientific facts. The sentence regarding “you” not being able to “create a star as massive as you’d like” is particularly absurd. It’s saying a human, the reader, can “create” a star, but not one of infinite mass. It’s clearly trying to say something other than this, but this is what it is actually saying. This is not a plagiarism of the original textbook because nearly all of the meaning in it is gone, but without meaning, this might as well be a Dadaist absurd play with meaningless noise.

The world is spending billions on astronomy. I hope publishers will refrain from publishing books by amateur astronomers, and instead only relate scientific facts derived by astronomers directly responsible for founding “groundbreaking” discoveries such as gravitational waves.

A Tragic, Absurd Digression on the Philosophy of Stand-Up Comedy

Daniel R. Smith. Comedy and Critique: Stand-Up Comedy and the Professional Ethos of Laughter: Bristol Shorts Research. 206pp. ISBN: 978-1-5292-0015-7. Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2018.


Everybody should attempt stand-up comedy. If nothing else, it is a good way to acclimate to speaking in front of a hostile crowd. Statistics show that people fear public speaking than most other things, so everybody can use some exercise in this department. I tried speaking at open-mic places, and I think this has since helped me feel more comfortable speaking in front of students and at conferences. I am also interested in the theory of comedy as I research and write satire.

This book sets out to explore “British professional stand-up comedy in the wake of the Alternative Comedy movement of the late twentieth century, seeing it as an extension of the politics of the New Left: standing up for oneself as anti-racist, feminist and open to a queering of self and social institutions.” The “Introduction” defines the Alternative movement as something that “jettisoned the impermissible speech (of racism, homophobia, sexism, and so on) from the ‘Working Men’s Clubs’ only to retain the fringe figure of the stand-up in the American tradition: a ‘white, hetero, Jew’, a marginal figure and modernist cultural hero” (8). Wikipedia gives a shorter definition, stating that in Britain this was a style that included sexist and racist materials. A book about the science of making racist and sexist jokes would have been atrocious. But no, this book is about what happened after this movement. Instead, this is about making jokes about being anti-racist and feminist. The book explains how modern humor speaks “‘truth to power’”. It also offers the history of how this radical New Left humor became a profession. I had to translate this blurb for you guys because it’s written in literary-doublespeak. Here is the final sentence verbatim: “Stand-up comedy has made us all sociologists of self, identity and cultural power while also resigning us to a place where a comic sensibility becomes an acknowledgment of the necessity of social change.” No, stand-up comedy has not turned all humans into sociologists. Regardless of if comedy make fun of racism or is racist, it’s just barely literate silly stuff people say for a laugh. I have tried semi-intellectual humor in the comedy club setting, and trust me: nobody gets it. Popular comedians are not “sociologists”; smartness isn’t funny to the majority; if the world changes to one where reading Aristotle is preferred to video games, perhaps one day it will be true that comedians are “sociologists”, but the public will still not pay money to laugh at Aristotelian theorems. Perception of comedy has nothing to do with accepting the need for social change. Conservatives and liberals, feminists and sexists watch and comprehend comedy; some of them acknowledge the need for change, while the other half rejects this need. And returning to the definition of “Alternative Comedy”, why were Jews brought in there? Are Jews even “white”? Jews are ethnically Middle Eastern in origin. And Jews are “cultural” heroes? Are they heroes because they use racist speech in their acts? Only the worst book summaries and introduction ever written leave readers entirely mystified as to what on earth they are attempting to say. The point of this book should, in theory, be extremely simple: to explain the profession and theory of stand-up comedy in our times. The term “Critique” in the title seems to have been taken up as a reason to veer from this into the absurd and nonsensical.

The book is convoluted throughout as it makes strange arguments about seemingly self-explanatory points. One section reminds me of Trump saying there are good people on both sides between racist white supremacists and those who wanted to take down Confederate statues. The section on comedic ideas theft is called: “The thorny issue of comic originality: circuit and fringe”. It questions if the “desire for and philosophical possibility of ownership indexes the existence of a sphere of professional obligation already reliant upon ownership.” Philosophical ownership? Either I own a joke I made, or it can be stolen and reproduced. What is there to philosophize about? Comics have a “professional obligation” to not steal stuff. Instead of saying this or its equivalent, Smith goes on to write: “The circuit clubs worked not upon comic originality nor from the authorial voice of the comedian…” This suggests that Smith is arguing comedy is not something that has to be original or to express uncopiable truths regarding the comedian’s identity, but rather a medium of expression that can be justifiably reused just like recycling soda cans (50). This section ends by saying that comedians who are concerned about their jokes being stolen should “(1) record routines; (2) vocalise potential theft; and (3) make materials hard to copy” (59). This sounds like what a club owner or a thieving comedian would say in response to being confronted by a theft: “Did you record it? That could have happened to me too.” There are no good guys on the other end of this one. Plagiarism of comedy is worse than plagiarizing an essay in a class: like writers, comedians make a living from their jokes. So, just because it’s spoken-word, anybody copying another’s work and making it their own should be prosecuted for the intellectual theft.

This is a book in need of an edit. While nonsense is somewhat comedic; it is tragic when books like this are assigned in graduate classes, and students are left sobbing as they attempt to find bits of logic in the chaos.

A Thorough and Practical Overview of International Criminal Law

Carsten Stahn. A Critical Introduction to International Criminal Law. 448pp. ISBN: 978-1-108-43639-7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.


This is a refreshing return to clear and useful logic in this set of reviews. The blurb succinctly explains why this field is important and the range this book covers: “International criminal law has witnessed a rapid rise after the end of the Cold War. The United Nations refers to the birth of a new ‘age of accountability’, but certain historical objections, such as selectivity or victor’s justice, have never fully gone away, and many of the justice dimensions of international criminal law remain unexplored.” This brings up a few questions for me. First, why would the end of the Cold War boost international law? I would have thought the end of WWII and its Nazi tribunals boosted international justice, but what influence could the fall of the USSR have had on boosting international litigation? I am also perplexed regarding the term “victor’s justice”. The US is imposing tariffs on China instead of taking them to court over accusations of intellectual theft of American inventions. If the US used torture in Guantanamo and across its continuing War on Terror, are trials over these crimes a part of this new wave of litigation? Or if the end of the Cold War caused the spike, does this mean that this book focuses on litigation against Russia in law courts instead of in a Cold War? It explores: “critiques” of the system in “legal theories, case-law and practice” and “scholarship and opinion… through five main themes at the heart of contemporary dilemmas: The shifting contours of criminality and international crimes. The tension between individual and collective responsibility. The challenges of domestic, international, hybrid and regional justice institutions. The foundations of justice procedures. Approaches towards punishment and reparation.”

Ideally, this summary would explain what is meant by “international law” in this context. But I lacking clarity, I will attempt this by diving inside the book. Under “international crimes”, the index lists: human trafficking and terrorism. A sub-section leads to a “Background” section that includes this definition: “International criminal law deals with different types of violations, such as political violence, forced displacement and transfer of persons or protection of goods (e.g. cultural property)…” It “protects individual and collective interests, such as peace and security, individual and group rights or human dignity. Unlike human rights law, it does not primarily seek to frame these interests as rights…” While this seems to be approaching a definition, the author then claims that: “There is no unified theory on what ought to be protected by” it (16).

While this is pretty confusing the “Contents” have specific chapter breakdowns that name the categories this field touches: 1. First Generation Crimes (piracy, slavery, terrorism); 2. Core Crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, crime of aggression); 3. Sidelined Crimes (organized economic crime, crime against the environment, famine-related crimes). It remains a mystery why slavery or piracy increased after the Cold War; was the cold war keeping terrorism at bay, or was it fostering it and caused these problems to erupt after it was over? Either way, anybody who wants to find information in this book, should look over this extremely detailed “Contents” page or the “Index”. The blurb might have been written by the publisher to engage interest rather than to summarize the essence of this project. Most of the information presented should be new and useful to everybody but international lawyers (who should be familiar with these basics). Distinctions are made between domestic and international courts. Detailed descriptions are offered for different types of international courts, such as hybrid courts in Sierra Leon and Lebanon or domestic courts in Cambodia and Africa. The method for enforcing rulings is detailed: obviously a complex matter in situations where even extraditing somebody from a foreign country might be a challenge. The section on “Investigation” offers insights on timing, outsourcing research and admissibility. Nearly all of this is purely informative. Only the last chapter veers into “rethinking” these laws and the theories behind it. Nearly every page is covered with notes on cases, legislation and the like to aid further research. Each section begins by defining the central terms and concepts before jumping into the logistics. For example the section on slavery commences by pointing out: “Slave-trading counts among the first international crimes… Bilateral anti-slavery courts count among some of the first experiments to combat transnational crime” (25). This also helps to address the post-Cold War question: this book covers current international law. To explain this field, the discussion jumps back in history to the founding principles and decisions: these occasionally go back to before the Civil War and at other times to before the Cold War.

This is a direct textbook that treats every word and paragraph as essential to convey a point. Irrelevant and insignificant elements have been deleted. Some of the other books I am reviewing in this set need this editor. Most major libraries should have this book in their collection. While few patrons might face problems with the international courts, many might be interested in developments in the news that touch on these subjects, and might search for a book like this to explain what is going on in these foreign judicial systems.

Brilliant History on the Building Blocks of the Roman Empire

David Potter. The Origin of Empire: Rome from the Republic to Hardian. $35. 448pp, color and b/w photographs. ISBN: 978-0-674659674. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, June 3, 2019.


This and the next book arrived on May 20, as I was approaching the last third of this season’s review set. This hardcover is adorned in an especially beautiful and grand fresco, “Rome’s Triumph over Sicily after Battle of Mylae” by Jacopo Ripanda (1510). The author, David Potter, teaches history at the University of Michigan. Greco-Roman history is telling because it helps to explain our modern political, legal and social systems. Here is the summary for this particular thick version of this story: “Between 264 BCE, when the Roman army crossed into Sicily, and the death of Hadrian nearly three hundred years later, Rome became one of the most successful multicultural empires in history.” Potter describes this gap: “Rome went from republic to mercenary state to bureaucratic empire, from that initial step across the Straits of Messina to the peak of territorial expansion.” Rome’s imperialist conquest is probably the main thing the public associates with its history, so a period that covers the peak of this violence is particularly interesting to general readers. “As other Italian city-states relinquished sovereignty in exchange for an ironclad guarantee of protection, Rome did not simply dominate its potential rivals—it absorbed them by selectively offering citizenship and constructing a tiered membership scheme that allowed Roman citizens to maintain political control without excluding noncitizens from the state’s success. Potter attributes the empire’s ethnic harmony to its relative openness.” Many countries across history took a more xenophobic approach to foreigners and conquered populations, but Napoleon and Rome married these outsiders culturally, inviting them to integrate into these states to strengthen the empire’s numbers and cohesion. “The fall of the republican aristocracy led to the growth of mercenary armies and to the creation of a privatized and militarized state that reached full expression under Julius Caesar. Subsequently, Augustus built a mighty bureaucracy, which went on to manage an empire ruled by a series of inattentive, intemperate, and bullying chief executives.” It is an ambitious project for any book to explain the origins of the concept of an “empire”, but it seems this concept succeeds in this regard.

The book is organized chronologically from 264 BC to 138 AD with parts on warfare, empire building, revolution, dictatorship and monarchy. Many of the chapters are named after the central leader a period is associated with, such as Hannibal or Marius. Detailed maps explain the tracks of warfare and boundary lines. The center pages are filled with radiant color photographs of surviving artifacts such as a ram uncovered from the sea that helped explain the naval conflict between Rome and Carthage. Images of imperial princes, scenic locations of described villas, coins, the ruins of palaces, and carved war scenes helped to place readers into these distant in time places. Additional black and white photographs and diagrams, such as that of the Roman Forum structure, support the text.

The question of when exactly did the Roman “empire” begin is addressed in the “Introduction”. The author argues that the roots of the empire sprung in 264 BC when the Roman army marched from Italy into Sicily. Potter explains several concepts foreign to us today, for example that full members or citizens had “physical ownership of state property”, so that conquered land benefited these members directly rather than from indirect future taxation revenue. Religion and state policies were intertwined, and judgments could be made based on divine inspiration rather than factual proof of wrongdoing. Roman power was spread out to small 2-6,000 person colonies, with Latin status rather than full Roman citizenship: by pledging allegiance as a Latin, a colonial member gained property, he otherwise would not have access to (1-5). After introducing these types of concepts, the book is dense with the details of the history. The narrative of warfare is enriched with philosophical reasons the events happened as they did: “The Romans pressed the issue of Greek freedom, while Antiochus asserted the hereditary claims of his dynasty to land in Europe as well as the Middle East” (90). The author disputes and revises some past history, thus making a new version of this old story more useful: “The numbers Caesar gives for the Helvetians are obviously false, but his claims of their use of Greek may not be” (247). It is refreshing to hear a historian use the words “may not be”: if there is a lack of certainty, truth demands this is inserted into the narrative. There are curious surprises in nearly every paragraph that will draw researchers in; for example: “Roman women were now encouraged to have three children. Men whose wives had the requisite number of children could hold office before the legal minimum age; those who had no children would be cut out of wills. And spouses were supposed to be faithful. Adultery was declared a public crime, to be prosecuted before a new standing court… [T]his was a major change” (308). We are still debating adultery, child-quantity and other related laws today. It is curious to read how Romans experimented with radical and rapid changes rather than gradually changing tastes and preferences. I enjoy learning about Roman history in part because of these types of revelations; anybody searching for “new” political ideas will find plenty to ponder by reviewing the strange events and legal developments across this crucial period in Roman history.

In summary, this is a flawless book. It should inspire and educate all who approach it. It is easy to find specific rulers or events for those doing close research, and it is easy to be lost in just reading an enjoyable, dramatic narrative. Thus, this book will enrich almost any type of library, and will help anybody from an undergraduate to an advanced researcher. It is also safe to assign portions from this book in a graduate or undergraduate class, as the information is neatly digested and verified.   

The Elegant Appropriation of Japanese Tales by a Western Opportunist

Andrei Codrescu, Editor; Jack Zipes, Foreword. Japanese Tales of Lafcadio Hearn. 216pp, 5.5X7.75”. 11 b/w illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-691167756. Princeton: Princeton University Press, July 2, 2019.


I am always delighted to find “new” canonical writers because if a writer is re-discovered by a publisher this tends to mean that the work is of value above most modern authors. Somehow writers from the nineteenth century that remain in the canon produced work that stands out for its density, complexity and moral idealism. The concept of a collection of short stories that used to be popular, but have since faded is especially engaging. The following summary mentions Twain and Stevenson, two of my favorite writers; regional linguistics and descriptions of romanticized foreign places are some of the elements that make their fictions stand out for me. Stevenson migrated to and died on an exotic island and Twain is known for his roaming days as a steamboat captain. Instead of only dedicated a brief portion of his life to exotic travels, Hearn fully merged with Japanese culture, so his take on it as a past-westerner promises to be particularly unique.

The blurb: “Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) was one of the nineteenth century’s best-known writers, his name celebrated alongside those of Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson. Born in Greece and raised in Ireland, Hearn was a true prodigy and world traveler. He worked as a reporter in Cincinnati, New Orleans, and the West Indies before heading to Japan in 1890 on a commission from Harper’s.” The latter was a popular magazine that published Twain and most of the other canonical American writers, paying them better than rival publications. Hearn started working for Harper’s earlier during his West Indies adventures. “There, he married a Japanese woman from a samurai family, changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo, and became a Japanese subject. An avid collector of traditional Japanese tales, legends, and myths, Hearn taught literature and wrote his own tales for both Japanese and Western audiences.” Hearn’s collection of and research into Japan’s literature prior to his composition of these stories is important because merely the move to Japan would not have created sufficiently respectful of the culture stories. Sir Walter Scott is notorious for “creating” Scottish culture with his descriptions of kilts and other cultural artifacts that were not popular until he described them. I don’t know if Hearn similarly invented some of the culture he describes here, but he must have contributed to the popularization of Japanese cultural elements in western architecture, dining and other cultural elements. These tales “are fantastical ghost stories, such as ‘The Corpse-Rider,’ in which a man foils the attempts of his former wife’s ghost to haunt him. Some are love stories in which the beloved is not what she appears to be: in ‘The Story of Aoyagi,’ a young samurai narrowly escapes the wrath of his lord for marrying without permission, only to discover that his wife is the spirit of a willow tree. Throughout this collection, Hearn’s reverence for Japan shines through, and his stories provide insights into the country’s artistic and cultural heritage.” The latter is the point that I am fascinated by. Hearn’s digestion of Japan’s traditions seems to make these more palatable to a western audience than reading the original tales, legends and myths from Japan-born writers. The book is edited and introduced by Andrei Codrescu, who taught English for decades for Louisiana State University, before switching primarily to writing and commenting for NPR.

The black and white photograph of Hearn in samurai attire on the first page after the copyrights page is pretty funny. He is pretty chubby and has a thick mustache. He has his hands somewhat contracted, but not into fists. He is looking to the side with wide-open eyes. Basically, this is a photo of a western tourist who asked a samurai to borrow his robe for a photo. It seems joining a samurai family did not involve required martial arts training. Codrescu’s “Introduction” commences by pointing out that Hearn put on “guises” of being a journalist, a novelist, and “loyal Japanese citizen” (2). Hearn’s biography proves that his move to Japan was not an isolated whim, but a continuation of life-long rebellion. “He is said to have married a black woman and lived with her on the other side of the tracks: a scandal in the segregated city. The Enquirer fired him” (6). Codrescu argues that “death” was a central preoccupation for Hearn, which took a “new meaning in Japan, where death was a starkly defined world. The ghostly world, the activities of the dead, the influence of the dead on the living, the complex Buddhist teachings about death, are in almost every one of Hearn’s essays…” (12). Hearn traveled across Japan in search of stories that would be of interest to Harper’s readers, and came across answers from monks such as: “‘Buddhism teaches that all sexual love must be suppressed… as necessity or hindrance to enlightenment…’” (13). This is a great introduction that explains Hearn’s biography and the represented themes.

The stories themselves deliver the realistic detail I expect of a canonical nineteenth century author. They are full of elegant descriptions such as: “Bamboo shoots and lotus-bulbs were given me for breakfast, and a fan from heaven for a keepsake…” (31). It is also easy to see why Hearn has not maintained dominance in literary studies as Dickens or Twain. His paragraphs and descriptions are a bit truncated. Some sentences are too short and choppy as in: “Do not open it. Above all things, do not open it, – no matter what may happen” (35)! This is standard for a fairy tale, but not for Dickensian precision, my favorite type of dense literary style. There are many descriptions of paintings, straying away from narrative actions (54). Exclamations are over-used, as characters scream and insist that all sorts of things are a matter of life or death (55). The last paragraph of the last story in the book also brings in a painting: “—Evil winds from the West are blowing over Horai… like those long bright bands of cloud that train across the landscapes of Japanese painters… Remember that Horai is also called Shinkiro, which signifies Mirage, —the Vision of the intangible. And the Vision is fading,—never again to appear save in pictures and poems and dreams….” (204). The note from the narrator that teaches readers Japanese and then disintegrates into mysticism is a deliberate attempt to add a foreign flare and exoticism to a pretty inconclusive ending.

I would have been delighted to discover a new favorite writer, but Hearn is not to my liking. It’s all too gimmicky. It seems to be part of a marketing campaign for Japanese culture rather than a truly descriptive description and explanation of the culture and people Hearn met there. Just as I would be disturbed if a similar mimicry of Russian folktales was undertaken by an American, I don’t think a samurai would appreciate this appropriation. While I expect more from Hearn, Codrescu does an excellent job explaining who Hearn was and what these stories mean, so that readers can make a fair assessment based on this primary and secondary evidence.

Advanced Textbook on Phonetics or the Science of Speech

Ratree Wayland. Phonetics: A Practical Introduction. 282pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-1-108-40707-6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


My research leans heavily on linguistics, so this is a useful book to add to my collection. Let’s review the summary: “Speech… exists physiologically as neural and muscular activity, and subsequent articulatory, acoustic and auditory events, and as an abstract, rule-governed system at the psychological level. Together, both levels produce communication by speech.” This strays away from the types of linguistics most relevant to my research; I study linguistic patterns in writing that help to indicate authorial attribution or distinguish different geographic regions. The muscles involved in forming speech are a very specialized subset of phonetics. It is difficult to tell who other than researchers in this field would benefit from these insights. It further covers “the three areas of phonetics: articulatory, acoustic, and auditory or speech perception.” The editor acknowledges that these topics are likely to be convoluted for most: “Students without a linguistics background can be daunted by phonetics, so clear language is used to define linguistics and phonetics concepts with examples and illustrations to ensure understanding.” I have read books before that have tried but failed to achieve this when discussing “perception”. “Furthermore, each chapter concludes with comprehension exercises to reinforce understanding.” This indicates that this book is intended for undergraduate and graduate classes on this topic, as these exercises are designed to help the teacher prepare students for tests. “Online exercises and recordings of speech stimuli from various languages provide additional opportunity to hone perception, production, phonetic transcription skills and acoustic analysis measurement practice.” The latter is very unique, and definitely useful to understand sounds. It is a bit theoretical to read about hearing sounds; listening to the sounds discussed is a more logical approach.

This book is also illustrated with images that help to explain the organs and the like involved in these processes. For example, there is a diagram of electrical currents “traversing the vocal folds” in the neck of a female subject (261). Another diagram shows the component small bones that make up the middle ear (200). Key terms across the book are in bold and accompanied by definitions. Tables give examples of pronunciations of different groups of words (80-1). I previously researched some of these concepts, such as “phonemes” in grammar and linguistics classes during my PhD studies. Without those introductions, everything in this book would seem to be written in a foreign, alien language. Some of the biology of sound creation and hearing almost seems to be intended for medical students rather than for linguists. Other portions require knowledge of advanced physics. Here is an example: “Intensity is the amount of energy transmitted along the wave through an area of one centimeter at right angles to the direction of wave propagation” (205). If you understood what “propagation” and “energy” are referring to, you are probably a good candidate to read this book, otherwise, a few introductory books should come beforehand.

For those who aim to be specialists in this field, this is a thorough review of the related concepts, and probably the best book in its category in terms of clearly conveying complex information on phonetics. If I ever dive deeper into these subjects, I will return to this book to try to uncover its teachings.

A Convoluted and Jumpy Literature Linguistics Textbook

H. D. Adamson. Linguistics and English Literature: An Introduction: Cambridge Introduction to the English Language. 348pp, graphs. ISBN: 978-1-107-62305-7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


Here is a book that promises to be closer to my primarily area of research: “stylistics, the application of linguistics to literary analysis.” It is designed for “undergraduate literature students”. The fields it promises to cover are a bit broad: “literary criticism, as well as a variety of literary genres and popular culture, from poems and contemporary literature to comic book art and advertising.” While there might be a few words in comic art, it’s far-removed from complex literary fiction. This book has similar resources to Wayland’s, including an online “answer booklet for instructors.” Most books that include exercises, quizzes and the like include these instructional versions so instructors don’t have to do the homework themselves to figure out what grades to give students. These are necessary to avoid an instructor missing something in the text and giving a student an incorrect grade on a scored exercise. The book is broken down into sections on: sounds, metaphor, metonymy, syntax, rhythm of poetry and speech, varieties of the English language, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse analysis. It is a standard linguistics or grammar textbook, full of pronunciation guides and trees of sentence or phrase construction.

The term that I searched for in the “Index” that is of top importance to my current research is “attribution”, but this is a comparatively brief list, so this term does not make an appearance. It is also not listed in the “Glossary”, which instead focuses on terms like “alliteration” and “assonance”. The broader term, “computational linguistics” is also absent. Most of the items in the “Index” and names of people who developed the concepts discussed in this study. The most relevant chapter for me is the one on “Discourse Analysis”. The sub-sections are listed after a brief summary of what is covered in each of these chapters; this is different from books that list these subheadings in the “Table of Contents” or just include them as headings without this summary bullet-list. This chapter covers the narrative structure of folktales and personal narratives, points of view (unreliable narrators), and corpus stylistics. The latter is exactly what I have been searching for: approaches to utilizing “computers to analyze literary discourse” (292). The studies cited are from back between 1993 and 1998. This field has stalled since this period with the emergence of linguistic signature deniers working to actively block attribution studies. Adamson describes Biber’s technique for “distinguishing features of various linguistic registers”, including passive constructions, conjunctions, and dependent clauses” to separate “personal” from “formal” writing styles. My own research takes this further by utilizing a combination of 31 different linguistic tests to distinguish more precisely between different authorial styles, but I have been having trouble publishing my work despite its 99% precision. All this method can tell is if a work is formal; there are free online tools available today for calculating precise passive voice and linguistic density, so these approaches from decades ago are very outmoded. There is also a discussion here of collocations or sets of words that always occur together: curious, but again impractical for most court or literary attribution investigations. These methods are applied to analyzing the “mood” of literary works; an example is offered of a poem, “Days”; the researcher searches across several “corpora” for the phrase “days are” and discovers that it is “associated with the end of life”. The last line in the chapter is: “SUVs = Sport Utility Vehicles”. What do SUVs have to do with anything? The analysis of the poem does not have a conclusion as to if the poem has a happy or a sad mood; I guess if it is suggestive of death, this is sad, but this is not directly stated (292-4). If this section has these problems of outdated research and confusing arguments, I would not trust this book for use by graduate students of this field.

Too often, linguistic textbooks are intentionally too convoluted. A textbook should reveal a subject instead of disguising it by lounging between unrelated ideas, leaving out conclusions, and failing to introduce all of the elements needed for students to fully comprehend even the most complex subject. Scholarly essays can digress into minor studies, but a textbook really has to describe the main studies in a field for a succinct overview. The “corpus linguistics” studies cited are far from the leading studies in this field, and they do not contribute to explaining its main objectives or branches. Researchers familiar with this field and able to discern factual from questionable information might find some interesting ideas here, but students are not likely to walk away with a grasp of this subject. Thus, I do not recommend it for class assignment: unless there is no better literary linguistic textbook out there.

Outstanding Overview of the Intricacies and Varieties of English

David Crystal. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Third Edition. 574pp, over 100 color illustrations, maps, tables and graphics. ISBN: 978-1-108-43773-8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


I thoroughly enjoyed reading large sections of this book. Of all the linguistic books I requested in this set, this one is the most helpful for a broad range of subjects. It covers “the history, structure and worldwide use of English”, including “the history of English, with new pages on Shakespeare’s vocabulary and pronunciation, updated statistics on global English use that now cover all countries and the future of English in a post-Brexit Europe, regional and social variations, with fresh insights into the growing cultural identities of ‘new Englishes’, English in everyday use with new sections on gender identities, forensic studies, and ‘big data’ in corpus linguistics, and digital developments, including the emergence of new online varieties in social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.” The “new” plural spelling of “Englishes” is a good example of the hip, modern tone employed. At the same time the content does not talk down to readers, nor simplify the complexities: they are just presented in an entertaining fashion. A general reader browsing through this book should find plenty of surprising revelations.

The book is neatly divided to make content easy to find. The first part covers the history of the English language from its origins through the present, with chapters on Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Modern English and World English. The latter section might be of special interest to comedians who do accents for a living, as it explains the specific distinctions between Canadian, and Australian varieties, as well as the different dialects in America and even the sensitive intricacies of “Black English Vernacular”. The part on “English Vocabulary” explores lexicon (size of a person’s lexicon), etymology (place names, nicknames), lexicon structure (idioms, synonyms), and lexical dimensions (jargon, slogans, slang). The part on “English Grammar” is basically a separate grammar book; it questions if grammar is a myth; in other words, why do teachers prescribe what is traditionally proper instead of letting users decide the rules of language. The discussion on grammar also reviews the structure of words (morphology, nouns, verbs), word classes (parts of speech), and sentence structure (clauses, sentence types, verb phrases). The part on “Spoken and Written English” covers sound systems (vcal organs, consonants, syllables), and the writing system (the alphabet, letter frequency, handwriting analysis, and spelling reform). The alphabet might seem to be a simple concept, but the section includes curious explanations of the transition between the Semitic alphabet and Greek with illustrations. There are also boxes on alternative forms of early handwriting. A cartoon demonstrates the propensity to add an “x” at the end of words in an early period; a massive Viking is teaching this to a tiny dog in the image (270-6). Then a part covers English usage, including discourse varieties (contrast between structure and usage), regional variations (accents and dialects of Scotland, Canada), social variations (gender, religion), personal variation (individual differences, deviance, jokes and puns), electronic variation (netspeak). The final part is on learning English as a Mother Tongue, and unique approaches to language acquisition.

The section on jokes was one of the sections I most enjoyed reading closely. I underlined and wrote down notes on the sections on various types of “Verbal Humour” (430-7). It covers curious linguistic humor, such as invented language. It explains how mixed metaphors are funny. It offers numerous examples of puns and other types of jokes that utilize language tricks. Sound repetition, and alternative spellings are humorous when they reveal an embarrassing treasure beneath the seeming slip. One bit that I related to was the use in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals (1775) of “inappropriately replacing a word or phrase with others of a similar sound and meaning”; these words sound grander, but the meaning is not what the character intended (434). The section on “deviance” even approaches the point I am trying to make in my own linguistic research that writers’ linguistic signatures can be derived by comparing their variance from others from the same time and place. But this section discusses abnormalities employed by writers that are outside the norm for the language (or mistakes) rather than linguistic attribution based on changes in normal usage (420-1).  

This is a brilliant compilation of almost everything anybody would want to know about the English language. It would be an engaging and helpful book for an introductory graduate or undergraduate language class. But even if you are not studying this subject, this is a great book for any writer to possess. If you have an obscure question on construction or regional variations, this book will answer it better than free online sources.

The First Deep Dive into the History of Chinese Architecture

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt. Chinese Architecture: A History. Hardcover: $65.00, 8.75X11.5”. 400pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-691169989. Princeton: Princeton University Press, May 14, 2019.


As a designer, I have to keep up with new and old ideas in various fields of art. Architecture is a branch that can be dismissed by some as commercial, but it is frequently used to distinguish between cultures. Tourists traveling abroad are obligated to visit the “sites”, where, even if they are not aware of it, they are examining different architectural styles. Why do people travel across the world to look at a cathedral or a castle, especially if it represents a governmental structure or religion other than our own? These types of questions are uncommon in books. Architecture books are most frequently brief or merely offer images of the architecture with brief annotations. In contrast, this book is a very thick in-depth analysis of China’s architecture. I taught as an associate professor in Shantou, China for a semester. While I had given up on touristy activities in other places I have visited of-late, I could not resist visiting some temples, forts and other historical sites in that city because they were so foreign from the types of structures I have been exposed to in Europe and America. China’s architecture is engaging because of its varieties of use, function, and aesthetic choices.

Here is the blurb: China’s “architectural achievements range from its earliest walled cities and the First Emperor’s vision of city and empire, to bridges, pagodas, and the twentieth-century constructions of the Socialist state…” Given the number of visitors to China’s Great Wall, it is pretty shocking that this is “the first fully comprehensive survey of Chinese architecture in any language”, covering “forty centuries of architecture, from the genesis of Chinese building through to the twenty-first century and the challenges of urban expansion and globalism.” With billions of people living in China and with China’s propaganda machine, they have not put together a book previously to show the grandeur of its architecture? One possible explanation is China’s Cultural Revolution, which like USSR’s cultural revolution, banned religion and other identifiable cultural elements. USSR did not knock down the Red Square and China did not knock down its Great Wall, but perhaps both preferred to focus on communist monuments, while ignoring the ancient religious and monarchic symbols. Given the uniqueness of this compilation, archeologists, historians and architects should find a well of interesting and useful information here, as Steinhardt describes “excavation sites, gardens, guild halls, and relief sculpture”. Since China’s art has been shamelessly appropriated internationally, the section on its influence “on Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and Tibet” should explain the relationships between their styles, so westerners won’t mistake them. Further: “Architectural examples from Chinese ethnic populations and various religions are examined, such as monasteries, mosques, observatories, and tombs.” Steinhardt goes beyond describing individual constructions to link them into “a standardized system of construction, applicable whether buildings are temples, imperial palaces, or shrines. Every architectural type is based on the models that came before it, and principles established centuries earlier dictate building practices.” This discussion should be particularly helpful for modern architects who are interested in mimicking these styles; I have seen some television shows where modern builds failed because architects failed to account for these types of unique methods and approaches to architecture. Any field moves forward by looking backwards and reviewing what has come before. A review of the history of Chinese architecture should inspire designers to borrow the best of these ideas, mix them, and derive entirely new inventions. The author, Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, teaches East Asian art at the University of Pennsylvania.

The book is organized primarily into dynasties, covering the Hans, Sui and Tang, and the like. A brief “Preface” explains the motivations for this book, as Steinhardt transitioned from studying to teaching Chinese architecture. She also explains that she researched this subject through hard-to-access periodicals and other obscure information for the classes she has taught over the years due to the lack of similar books or fellowships to devote time to nothing but research. The frontmatter includes a list of the relevant Chinese dynasties, and a map of China. The book is printed on thick photo paper and is illustrated with colorful photographs of the discussed architecture. In the “Introduction” she explains that the arts involved in architecture in China have been labeled as crafts, the work of “carpenters, masons, and tilers”; this has caused the names of these creators to be left out of history unlike European architects, who have been glorified as master-artists (1). The book is thoroughly covered in references to various sources supporting precise details, such as the description of a “complex settlement” in Henan province, a site for the discovery of “9 pottery kilns, 10 sacrificial dog burials, 32 urn burials, 45 building foundations, 349 tombs, 370 ash bits, and thousands of other objects including a wind instrument… dated 7000-5800 BCE” (8). This wealth of information and the wide-spread geographic region covered makes this a great book for tourists who want to understand China more intimately. Images of many of the sites depict them in the middle of open fields with hardly a fence around them, so it seems it is pretty easy to access these, and most probably are not crowded by tourists: in part because with this as the first book on this subject, even people living nearby might not know the historical and artistic significance of some of the remaining ruins and structures (180). This book also includes many explanations regarding Chinese names and concepts that are foreign to westerners. For example, here is a description of “Song buildings”: gracefully sloping roof eaves and curved beams in South China during the Northern Song period…” (190-1). One problem with this enormous project is a lack of explanations for most of the historic facts mentioned. For example: this story is used to prove the founding date, 1443, for a Buddhist monastery: “…patron, the eunuch Wang Zhen, who built it as a clan temple. When Wang was forced to commit suicide in 1449, the monastery was taken over by the court” (246). The sentence construction is confusing. And no explanation is offered for why Wang was forced into suicide or why the court could take over his monastery. This avoidance of politically sensitive subjects, and rushing style is pretty common to textbooks and the like I taught from in China. A new edition of this book with help from a Chinese history specialist should help to bring this book to a still higher standard. There are some explanations of the history, but they are truncated short of really revealing the hidden story. A better example of outstanding history writing from this set is the history of the Roman empire. Of course, it does not also attempt to describe distinct architectural styles not just in Rome but across a landmass like China.

Given the popularity of Chinese food and products in the western world, this book should help many of these casual admirers understand what the little drawing of a Chinese monastery on the take-out carton means.

The Gritty Reality of an American Corruption Trial

Maury Nicely. Hoffa in Tennessee: The Chattanooga Trial That Brought Down an Icon. Hardcover. 444pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-1-62190-475-5. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019.


It is a bit dull to only rely on history for information; this is a fresher take on the subject, as it focuses solely on the trial, promising to explain the legal dimensions. Enough has been said about the history behind Hoffa’s actions previously. Much of history can be speculative, but transcripts from a trial are more trustworthy, as those speaking are usually under oath, and evidence has been screened for fraud and other misdeeds.

Here is how the publisher sells this book: “By the early 1960s, Jimmy Hoffa had a stranglehold on the presidency of the Teamsters Union. However, his nemesis, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was convinced that Hoffa was a corrupt force whose heavy-handed influence over the union threatened the nation. As Attorney General, Kennedy established a ‘Get Hoffa Squad’ that set out to unearth criminal wrongdoing by the labor leader in order to remove him from power.” This is a curious take on this matter: the Attorney General begins with an assumption of guilt; why was Kennedy instigating this investigation and not the local prosecutors in the jurisdiction where Hoffa was committing these crimes? “A number of criminal trials in the 1950s and early 1960s resulted in not-guilty verdicts for Hoffa.” The most corrupt operators in America typically avoid trials all together, or escape convictions (i.e. O. J. Simpson). “…After a Christmastime 1962 acquittal in Nashville of charges that Hoffa had illegally received funds from a trucking company in exchange for settling a costly strike, it was discovered that several attempts had been made to bribe jurors.” Yes, corrupt individuals carry on with the same techniques especially when they are facing scrutiny; thus, as Muller carried on an investigation into Trump’s misdeeds, Trump carried on with obstructing justice, threats and the other crimes he was accused of. “Fresh charges of jury tampering in that case were quickly filed against Hoffa and five others.” A juror approached about a bribe in the middle of a corruption trial is less likely to accept it than anybody outside of a trial procedure, explaining why so many witnesses have exposed Trump’s activities during the investigation. Of course, jurors can come forward, but if the judge is corrupt, he or she can be blind to even the most blatant wrongdoing. This explains the following: “Moved to Chattanooga, the new trial was held before a young, relatively untested federal judge named Frank Wilson. The six-week courtroom conflict would devolve into a virtual slugfest in which the defense team felt was necessary to turn its ire against Wilson, hoping to provoke an error and cause a mistrial… Chattanooga trial became the story of a lone, embattled judge struggling mightily to control a legal proceeding that teetered on the edge of bedlam, threatening to spin out of control. In the end, Hoffa was convicted—an extraordinary change of fortune that presaged his downfall and mysterious disappearance a decade later.” The author, Maury Nicely, is a Chattanooga attorney, making it likely the description of this particular judicial system and location is accurately presented. Nicely focuses on the judge almost with personal interest in how Wilson managed to stand up to injustice while others fell in its path.

The story is organized chronologically without easy guideposts in headings to explain where clumps of information lie. This is a challenging organization for a researcher. Instead of digging for the dirt relevant to a criminal question or investigation a lawyer or historian is exploring, this organization is inviting general readers to engage with the book cover-to-cover.

The center of the book is filled with black and white photographs from the trial. At least one photo shows a pro-Hoffa protest that cries out: “Thank you Jimmy! For the Contract”. With signs like this outside the court and in the news, it is easy to see how Jimmy escaped earlier convictions; when the press paints falsely flattering pictures, jurors might actually be convinced they are observing a saint rather than a gangster. A photo of a 1957 McClellan Committee meeting is also interesting, as it shows the chaos of the event, with all the media, lawyers, and an overflowing collection of people looking over the proceedings at the long central table. Another curious piece is the “Questionnaire as to Qualification for Jury Service”, which shows the types of things it asks and how unwanted jurors were screened out. There is even a handwritten note of an exchange between FBI agents. Spice is added to the story by silly items such as “The Ballad of Jimmy Hoffa”, which opens with: “…some folks say he’ll go to jail…” (3). There are many interesting revelations throughout that are not found in lighter histories. For example: “An attempt to fit Partin with a tiny recording device failed – it created a noticeable lump under his clothing. The effort to record the meeting with Hoffa was abandoned” (41). This seems like a corruption from my perspective: they abandoned the recording because they could not find a suit or another method of concealing a microphone? The story is better than any fictional mystery I have read as the events described are as surprising as they are in reality; for example, a witness if advised that “if he could see to it that the ‘kidnapped’ children were returned to their mother, he could also reduce Partin’s bail. A day or two after the children’s return, Partin had been released on a $5,000 bond” (263). There are plenty of kidnapping and government-cooperation agreements in crime dramas, but here it is in a courtroom.

This book should be required in American law schools because without reading the story of the chaos and surprises that can come in a trial, it is impossible to anticipate actual criminal proceedings. TV shows wrap up these stories too quickly, failing to explain the Olympic perseverance needed to handle the constant attacks flying at anybody attempting to fight for justice in this system.

How to Use and Sell Pot

Kim Ronkin Casey with Joe Kraynak. Cannabis: for Dummies. $26.99. 380pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-1-119-55066-2. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2019.


Since I hope my reviews are helpful to as many readers as possible, a book on marijuana is more relevant than most other topics. More than half of Americans have tried pot and 22% regularly use it according to a Yahoo News survey. If it was not a majority of the population, pot would not be legalized by so many states, and seemingly on its way to national legalization. It is odd how Americans are considering making all abortions illegal, but are liberal regarding this substance. Personally, I believe in abstaining from all intoxicating substances, including alcohol and pot. I cannot handle depressants because I prefer to be constantly, manically working, and cannot stand any haziness of mind. I have tried alcohol a few times before, but I just don’t like the sensation. How does Wiley handle this subject? “Pot is hot—for good reason. To date, 30 states have legalized medical marijuana to the tune of nearly $11B in consumer spending. Whether it’s to help alleviate symptoms of an illness or for adults to use recreationally, more people every day are turning to marijuana.” This book “presents the science behind the use of this amazingly therapeutic plant.” I have to stop here: “amazingly”? This is too casual for a serious book on a substance that is still federally controlled on footing equivalent to heroin. I have some doubts if it is even legal to write a book describing marijuana, but one that exclaims propagandistic statements in support of it really seems to be taking a risk. Hopefully they consulted lawyers in advance. At least, I’m sure it’s legal to write a scholarly review of a book about anything, including terrorism and murder. It continues: “hands-on knowledge and education you need to make an informed decision about your cannabis purchase, as a patient and a consumer.” I believe I misunderstood the premise of this book. I reviewed Wiley’s book about Homesteading earlier in this set, and I think I assumed this book would be about growing marijuana rather than using it. But, now that I think about it, a book on growing and distributing marijuana would probably cross the legal line. “Decide for yourself if marijuana is right for you.” This is a bit troubling: I doubt average Americans should trust a Dummies book or themselves regarding any medication, and especially those that are mind-altering. I mean, I don’t think Dummies have used this line a book: “Measles: decide if vaccinations are right for you”. Pot documentaries stress that those who recommend marijuana can do so just because somebody complains of a headache or just asks for it; but I really think a specialist, highly trained doctor is needed to guide patients on this choice. I guess people can choose to drink without consulting a doctor, but then they have to spend a lot more on doctors to fix the liver damage. I really don’t trust the notion that marijuana has absolutely no side effects, unlike liquor, cigarettes and most other abused substances. But I digress: “Manage aches and pains. Gain insight on the effects and possible symptom relief. Enjoy both sweet and savory edibles. Navigate the legal requirements.”

Who wrote this? “Kim Ronkin Casey… recently took a year-long leap into the world of cannabis as the communications manager for one of the leading dispensaries in North America.” What? The author of this book has been high for a year? No, I was mistaken: it says “leap”, not “trip”. I’m still shocked. Casey is an expert in pot because she worked in the marketing department of a dispensary? First, this is troubling because she is disclosing a personal stake in propagating for the pot business: it’s her corporate job to sell this industry. She is not a doctor. She is not a lawyer. And she will make money if you buy pot. If this is not bias, what is?

The book is not as loosely structured as the summary suggests. For example, the section on the legal implications states: “Avoid online scams. Because federal law prohibits marijuana from being transported across state lines, no legitimate business will ship you any cannabis product that contains THC” (47). That’s definitely useful: I have seen TV shows that describe users ordering drugs through the Dark Web, so it is likely many are fooled by these scams. The section on consuming cannabis seriously includes giant photographs of hands demonstrating the procedure for rolling a joint (106-7). Surprisingly, this might be one of the most technically accurate Dummies books I have seen so far. There is a section called “Checking out cannabinoid ratios and amounts”, which defines THC, CBD, CBN, CBG and other short hands that are frequently used in the media, but nobody really understands (126-7). Then, there are less serious but also more frightening sections like, “Northing the Potential Adverse Effects of Cannabis on Pets”, which lists: “drooling” and “staggering” as well as “coma” (182). The last item really should be preventative: if a coma is likely in a pet, surely it can happen for a human too. Consuming too much alcohol can also lead to a coma, but just because other legal substances can kill people too… Administering drugs to pets is also confusing: I don’t see a note on who would prescribe or recommend it to a pet, so it seems one would have to illegally purchase pot to administer it to a pet in one’s care. Can medical and even recreational pot purchased for humans be given to pets without breaking pet-abuse laws? The writers anticipated that all this information is not intended for casual or medicinal users, and included a section on starting a pot business. There are sub-sections on extraction, kitchen operations, marijuana processing and selling strategies (266-8). Well, I’m speechless.

It’s important to educate people on the rules if they are doing something anyway. I do not advise any of my readers to purchase this book, nor to use controlled substances. One group that I can justly recommend this book to is law enforcement officers: to catch drug dealers, you have to understand how they operate, and this book explains a great deal about dealing in most illegal substances, not only a semi-decriminalized one like marijuana. Additionally, officers have to be aware when marijuana is legal to avoid pursuing cases that would fail at trial.

A Review of Stage Characters Across History

William Storm. Dramaturgy and Dramatic Character: A Long View. 232pp. ISBN: 978-1-316-50906-7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018 (2016).


I consulted this book when an editor asked me to build more definition to the characters in a short story I submitted to his magazine. I was trying to find new ways to look at character descriptions. These questions come up frequently in my scholarly research when I look at the structure of fiction. Popular novelists have very mechanical methods for describing a character, naming the color of their hair and eyes, perhaps their height or weight category, and inserting some defining piece of clothing or decoration. The same editor that mentioned this suggestion for the short story also specified that I had to polish unnecessary words out of my sentence constructions. I found some simple methods for deleting words such as “that” and adverbs on line, so I started hoping I might find a similar strategy for treating characters. I do not like the old formula that just adds those same formulaic strokes, but perhaps Dickens and other canonical writers share a strategy in common that makes their characters particularly realistic. I read “Chapter 4: Scientific Character: The How and Why of Naturalism – and After” of this book closely as part of this search.

First, here is a summary of this project: “From the theatre of Dionysus in ancient Greece to the modern stage, William Storm’s book delivers a wide-ranging view of how characters have been conceived at pivotal moments in history.” This is a loaded sentence that is a bit mystifying. The theater cannot exist without a performer or character in front of the audience. I mean, you can have a play without setting, with just a bare stage. But without any human up-front… it’s more of a museum display. Then again, this sentence is approaching the very question I need an answer to: what are the conceptions of “character” structure authors have attempted across the history of fiction. People have near-infinite choice as to how they behave from one day to the next, but authors are restrained by conventions of their day that direct the rules behind the actions of the characters. Understanding the motivations and intentions behind these rules might derive the formula for great characters from among these remnants. “Storm reaffirms dramatic character as not only ancestrally prominent but as a continuing focus of interest. He looks closely at how stage figures compare to fictional characters in books, dramatic media, and other visual arts.” I primarily need to understand character-building for short stories and novels, but dramatic dialogue and actions can help strengthen prose, as failing to compress meaning and tension into dialogue in prose is as problematic as failing to insert sufficient adjectives into the details of how a face looks. “Emphasis is sustained throughout on fundamental questions of how theatrical characterization relates to dramatic structure, style, and genre. Extensive attention is given to how characters think and to aspects of agency, selfhood, and consciousness.” I have looked for similar books, but do not recall any that address just the question of character without time or regional boundaries, and the blurb confirms that this is “the only book to offer a long view of theatrical characterization across this historical span.”

The answers I was seeking were not in these pages, as the conversation was too scattered. This book could have been improved if the author broke down the concept of “character” into the components that it is made up of, explaining each with evidence. Chapter 4 promises a scientific approach, but instead mixes disjoined elements together without sufficient digestion to assist with a deeper understanding of the subject. But perhaps I am failing to find answers because we have defined characters with a limited vocabulary and there isn’t much that can be said about these constructions that has not been said before. “Characterization” is broken down into “factors of social class and economic stats, gender, ancestry, and parentage” as well as “psychological” and “physiological factors”. When building a character, briefly explaining these socio-economic components, and their psychological and physical attributes might be all a writer can do within our current comprehension of humanity. Dramas center on “Darwinian… comparative strengths, adaptability, and survival instincts”, so that heroes survive if they are stronger than the antagonists (88-9). The “gestural or speech mannerisms” is another important tool to build the illusion of originality in a character, or to simulate the “perception of authenticity” (90). A fiction writer has to suspend the audience’s disbelief by making a character appear to be an independent and real human, whereas he or she is actually a text on a page or a repeating dance of words on a stage. A dramatic character can show “completeness”, which viewers “envy” because we are “‘forever becoming’”; in other words life is messy and we must constantly struggle to achieve and succeed; this is why audiences and readers want a conclusion in terms of the story and the character’s development, as we want to see a happy or even a tragic end that we are not likely to see in our own lives, as achieving goals only leads to new goals and none of us are around after the curtain of our final deadly ending (95). One example of great characterization cited is of a male professor “drumming and dancing in his office with a well-intentioned but slightly drunken female student” (99). This combination is pretty common in male-professor-authored fictions about college, which confess of affairs and alcoholism. I wish this example was something far more shocking, something that has perhaps never appeared in fiction before. There are plenty of possibilities for fiction and life to go in very odd directions: shouldn’t these abnormalities be the height of great art: shouldn’t art marvel at the strange that we will not encounter if we embark on a “normal” life. Isn’t the strange more enthralling and suspenseful? The chapter ends with a discussion of a “slide into self-doubt and depression”, as a play depicts the “symptoms and causes from inside his people as well as from without” (102-3). In reality, attempting to show the symptoms and causes of depression in fiction is very clinical and repetitive for audiences: loss of a loved one, feeling like a failure are a couple of overused common causes. Is it a sign of good fiction for an author to repeat the suicide trope by including digressions into a sad childhood or pining for an ex?

There are no easy answers to my questions in this book, but it does inspire many new questions and offers an overview of past research in this field to inspire future researchers to look deeper. This should not be the only book on dramatic character. Nearly every literary criticism study has touched on characters: we now have to stop to question what does the term “character” really mean? Why are we repeating character arcs? Why are we repeating psychological and physiological descriptions? If we stop these repetitions: are there alternatives? Thus, this is a useful book for anybody studying characters in the theater, in fiction, in poetry, and in life. It is equally approachable for graduate students and theatric directors.

A Bi-Partisan Look at the Beef Industry

Joshua Specht. Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America. Hardcover: $27.95, 5.5X8.5”. 352pp, 12 b/w illustrations, 2 maps. ISBN: 978-0-691182315. Princeton: Princeton University Press, May 8, 2019.


Since I switched to a vegan diet a couple of years ago to lose weight, I have watched many films on Netflix and YouTube on the manipulations the meat industry is involved in that have shaped Americans’ and now the world’s diet. Back in high school, health classes taught the food pyramid. The teachers insisted that meat, dairy and processed grains had to make up the majority of a healthy diet. The sections on eating disorders made dieting into a deadly disease, and did not lump weight gain into this category: over eating was acceptable, while undereating was a mental illness. Fellow students frequently made fun of me if they saw me eating fruits. Actually, at one point I think my nickname was “apple girl.” As a kid, I loved fruits, and one of my fantasies before coming to America was eating all the bananas I could eat here, as it was difficult to access bananas back in Russia. In college, I was eating highly processed, high in dairy and meat diet in the cafeteria daily. Two of my closest friends were vegan, but they were very dogmatic about their diet, which seemed extremely restrictive, and they were both under-weight, further convincing me that dieting was a disfunction. In two years of veganism my weight dropped from morbidly obese to normal BMI. One of the reasons it has been easy to maintain this diet other than taking a couple years off teaching to focus on my writing and publishing, is that cutting out meat, dairy and most processed foods has decreased my cravings, which were so overwhelming before I switched that I could not imagine eating less calories than the enormous load I was consuming daily. I never enjoyed that food: I just ate buckets of ice cream and all the Chinese food I could stomach on automatic, even if I wasn’t hungry. I had heard that processed meat was a carcinogen before the switch, but I did not connect frozen fried chicken or beef burgers with the concept of “processed” meat; I think I assumed that this term was referring to very highly processed meats, such as beef jerky or sausages. It is now two years into me watching vegan propaganda regarding how the beef and dairy industries have convinced the US government to create guidelines that favored them over scientific findings on what humans should be eating. Understanding how this happened is clearly important for the health of the world population. If humans developed from apes that relied primarily on fruits, obviously attempting to turn humans into carnivores has been a catastrophic experiment that has contributed to our current obesity epidemic. According to 2014 NHANES Data, 70.2% of Americans are overweight or obese, putting them at much greater risk of diabetes and stroke. Only one in four men is normal-weight; because weight tends to increase with age, 80% of men 50-54 were in these categories; and some of these older men were probably underweight due to illness. Less than 5% get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise. Fewer still also refrain from smoking and drinking. The number of healthy Americans is approaching 0. Given this emergency, if there is a culprit for this crisis, all Americans are invested in learning who or what this is.

Princeton UP explains the premise: “By the late nineteenth century, Americans rich and poor had come to expect high-quality fresh beef with almost every meal. Beef production in the United States had gone from small-scale, localized operations to a highly centralized industry spanning the country, with cattle bred on ranches in the rural West, slaughtered in Chicago, and consumed in the nation’s rapidly growing cities.” I currently live in this “rural West” in Quanah, Texas; I visited a stock show this past year. I was excited to watch the well-groomed and muscular animals presented as they reminded me of my childhood on a farm with chickens, ducks and agricultural plots. If all animals raised on farms in America were in stock show conditions, perhaps eating them would not be as deadly for Americans, but this book explains how the conditions on the mega farms are hostile to animal and human rights. This book depicts “the violent conflict over who would reap the benefits of this new industry and who would bear its heavy costs.” It is about “the big cattle ranchers who helped to drive the nation’s westward expansion, the meatpackers who created a radically new kind of industrialized slaughterhouse, and the stockyard workers who were subjected to the shocking and unsanitary conditions described by Upton Sinclair in his novel The Jungle.” The history covers “Indian wars, Chicago labor unrest, and food riots in the streets of New York.” Joshua Specht “shows how the enduring success of the cattle-beef complex—centralized, low cost, and meatpacker dominated—was a consequence of the meatpackers’ ability to make their interests overlap with those of a hungry public, while the interests of struggling ranchers, desperate workers, and bankrupt butchers took a backseat.” I investigated this question during a serious of interviews I did with farmers in Kentucky for my Radical Agrarian Economics book. When questioned regarding his plans for retirement, one farmer said in an interview that he had no savings to retire, and if the day came when he could no longer work, he planned on killing himself. I left this answer out of that interview out of fear that it might be a self-fulfilling privacy, but in this context, and without naming him, it is a point that is reverberating in my mind. There are farms across the county where I currently live, and most people living off these farms are impoverished. America’s farming population is around 1% today, so most Americans do not sympathize with the minimum wage or even negative income these farmers are making for putting food on our tables. It’s good to see that Specht cares about their struggles as well as about our meat epidemic. One of the reasons the author, Joshua Specht, is less biased on this topic than those who stand firmly against all beef farming or against the vegan philosophy is because he teaches American history at Monash University in Australia, only visiting his base here in Indiana. Distance is likely to have mellowed him to our American divisive politics.

All of the supervisors on my local Hardeman County’s board are still “wealthy ranchers” that Specht writes “dominated state and territorial governments” in the 1870s, when they “supported” and “instigated” wars against the Plains Indians. On top of hurting Native Americans, “a capitalist cabal was exploiting technological change and government corruption to bankrupt traditional butchers, sell diseased meat, and impoverish the worker” (2). The Texas Panhandle is frequently mentioned in the “War” chapter that explains how Plains nomads changed into industrial beef ranches. The rest of the book is divided into sections on the range (cowboys, land ownership, collapse of the industry), market (the process of taking cattle from the ranch to slaughter, disease, low prices), slaughterhouse (refrigeration, dressing, regulation), and table (the process of buying beef, canning). The section on buying beef starts with how it used to be sold directly by butchers (224). Specht explains that as the system expanded and industrialized: “When meat was produced far from where it was consumed, there was risk” (226). It seems public trust in this process was bolstered with propaganda because in reality, even well-refrigerated meat cannot handle the lengthy journeys, processing, and then sitting on the shelf in wait for a buyer. I recall a documentary where a channel tested the meat from groceries stores and discovered that it was frequently colored, pumped with preservatives, had its expiration date altered and was otherwise made to look fresher than it actually was.

This is a thoroughly researched history about the beef industry, but it focuses on the distant past rather than on how the beef industry is still in power today. Of course, it is much harder to learn what is going on in this industry today because businesses are afraid of being reprimanded. The present is not too far removed from these roots, so there is much to learn from the evidence presented here. Vegan activists and farmers alike should find useful information here to help them either defend these animals’ rights, or figure out how to make a profit from this risky industry.

The Victim Might Have Done It: Biased and Confusing Speculations on Food Crimes

Allison Gray and Ronald Hinch, editors. A Handbook of Food Crime: Immoral and Illegal Practices in the Food Industry and What to Do About Them. 442pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-4473-3601-3. Bristol: Policy Press: University of Bristol, 2018.


While the previous book in this set looked into the past and focused on a balanced perspective on the beef industry, this project looks more broadly at all foods, while zooming in on our current problems. In summary: “Never in human history has food been so abundant, widely available, and cheap. Yet that abundance comes with major costs, ones that are largely hidden when we go to the grocery store or a restaurant.” These are costs “to the environment, to animals, to economies and workers, to our own health and well-being. The book builds a powerful case that these ‘costs’ add up to, and should be studied as, actual crimes. The book takes up issues of production practices, marketing, regulation, bioengineering, and proposes radical solutions to the realities of unjust food systems.” If any book could achieve all of these goals, it would be one of the best books released across the past decade. One challenge in its way is that it is a compilation of essays from several different writers, so it lacks cohesion, and might have some repetitions. I have only read anthologies of canonical texts where each of the included essays offers a solid defense of a unique and essential argument. On the bright side, the essays in this collection appear to have been solicited from a diverse range of researchers, each of which is contributing to a central point in the discussion rather than shooting at the same target.

The handbook is divided into sections on: criminality in the food industry; farming and food production (slavery, poisoning of farmers by pesticides); processing, marketing and accessing food (obesity, food adulteration), corporate food and food safety (food fraud, “mass Salmonella poisoning by the Peanut Corporation of America”), food trade and movement (animal transportation, food fraud and regulation, fair trade law), technologies and food (genetics), green food (“Farming and climate change”, food waste, school meals), and questioning and consuming food (consumer reactions).

The mass Peanut poisoning case, described by Paul Leighton (criminology professor at Eastern Michigan University), stands out as particularly representative of the problem of food crime. This case is of the 2008 Salmonella outbreak that “killed nine and officially sickened 714” people when this corporation in Blakely, Georgia sold contaminated products to “snack food makers, schools, the military, nursing homes and disaster relief agencies.” To counter PCA’s denials, a former employee decried on national TV that PCA’s Plainview, Texas facility “had a flooded basement, rodents, and a hole in the roof that dripped bird faeces on the production area; it had never undergone a sanitation inspection” (175). This chapter includes a description of the disease, and why it is harmful. Then, it explains that Salmonella has been used as a weapon of bioterrorism; for example, in 1984, “the Rajneesh sect deliberately introduced Salmonella into the salad bars of restaurants in the Dalles, Oregon. They were testing a plan to incapacitate voters to sway an upcoming local election” (177). Several other cases and the laws preventing this type of terrorism and corporate greed are detailed. This is a powerful way to deliver an argument: the facts presented are so thorough that they are overwhelming and should convince even opponents of regulation.

The second essay of particular interest to me is “Agency and responsibility: The case of the food industry and obesity” by Judith Schrempf-Stirling (management professor at the University of Richmond) and Robert Phillips (same as Schrempf). This essay begins by summarizing the obesity “epidemic” in similar, though less specific terms than my version in the previous review. Then, they name the potential candidates for causing obesity: “portion sizes, aggressive marketing, ignorance about ingredients and their effects, government subsidies, sedentary lifestyle, or a lack of alternatives” (111). However, instead of detailing these, the essay then focuses on the philosophical concept of “agency” or “responsibility”. While proving if consumers are responsible for getting fat, or government and business agencies are responsible for stopping them is curious; I don’t think this is a productive approach in the context of food crime. If it is a crime: the obese population is the victim and the corrupt government policies and misleading business practices are the criminals; questioning if the victim might be responsible for being sold foods that are poisoning their digestive system is counterproductive to solving this epidemic. I personally chose to go vegan to solve my obesity problem, but to do this I undertook a good deal of research into this subject; it is not realistic to expect average Americans to invest the time and energy I have put towards this effort. If it is an epidemic, Americans are paying taxes to the government in part to improve all Americans’ health, so the government has to digest the type of research I and others who succeed with weight loss have done and deliver it in simple tools like the food pyramid: adjusting the current guidelines to more truthfully reflect what humans eat who maintain a healthy weight. For example, I exercise for over an hour every single day: kickboxing and weight training; less than 5% of Americans exercise for the preferred 30 minutes daily; to lose weight, they really have to do closer to an hour (as I’m doing). Instead of fighting to push Americans to exercise, physical education classes are being cut out of the curriculum. Instead of taking an approach like the one I am proposing these authors argue that “addiction” to salt or fat might be to blame. They claim that the “precise causes of obesity remain unclear” (114). No. The causes are very clear: overeating, lack of exercise, processed food, and lack of fiber from fresh produce. They share my argument regarding the consumers failure to self-educate, writing that they “lack the time to acquire nutrition information when buying food. However, even if consumers had time to acquire all the information regarding their food – and even if this were possible given the nature of trade secrets in the food business – they might not be able to make complete sense out of it” (115). This is a sad perspective on humanity’s capacity to learn… I hope it isn’t true; if it is, then just as the food industry has taught consumers how to make the wrong choices, they are capable of teaching the opposite to improve health across the board. In the end, they come to the same conclusion as me that the “responsibility” is “on business and governments to support consumer agency and to decrease the potential addictive effects of food and certain ingredients” (118). However, in the conclusion to the whole essay, they contradict this, writing: “corporations and producers bear less responsibility for the obesity epidemic (or other societal issues)”. It is a consumer’s choice between many available options, some of which are healthy, so it is not all the corporations’ fault (124). There are so many repetitions and cyclical logic in this essay that the contradictions are hidden away. When looking at the whole, this essay is biased on the corporations’ side rather than on the consumers. It fuels the notion that obesity is an unsolvable mystery where corporations and consumers are both victims of the plague of addiction to salt, sugar and fat. In reality, obesity is no mystery: it is a nutritional problem that has been solved by researchers who have uncovered weight loss with whole food plant based, vegan, vegetarian and other types of diets that restrict processed foods, meats, and dairy.

Some essays in this collection are more biased towards industry, while others towards consumers. All of these essays are convoluted, without clearly digesting these problems and the underlying research to present not only facts but the implications and the laws in a manner understandable to a general reader. These essays repeat themselves and avoid direct condemnations. In other discussions this might be fine: for example, when talking about characters in a novel. But this lack of clarity cannot enter a discussion of food crime: it is a crime, so there is a criminal and a victim; any book that makes the victim into possibly a criminal without sufficient proof is dangerous to the public’s wellbeing. Still, it is important to take steps in this direction, even if they are misguided and biased.

The Poor Are Not Lazy: Capitalism Is Torturing Them

Tracy Shildrick. Poverty Propaganda: Exploring the Myths. 186pp. ISBN: 978-1-4473-2398-3. Bristol: Policy Press: University of Bristol, 2018.


I could not resist asking for a title that promises to explain poverty, but as I review the description more closely, the premise is somewhat disturbing: “Does ‘real’ poverty still exist in Britain? How do people differentiate between the supposed ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor? Is there a culture of worklessness passed down from generation to generation?” The book promises to review “historical and contemporary material” to explain contemporary British poverty. On the one hand, I believe poverty results from a lack of jobs that fit what people want to and are able to do. So, if there is poverty, the economy is inefficient: leaving a large section of the population unable to succeed. On the other hand, when I teach college classes, the majority of my students plagiarize and cheat. Cheating and trying to get away with not learning is also prevalent in K-12, as I learned while substitute teaching. In fact, there are hardly any population in America that is eager to learn. The problem of laziness and a desire to refrain from learning is something I can attest to in American and Chinese culture from personal experience. So, it seems likely that most people also prefer to do the minimum in their work-lives. The least effort for the greatest reward is likely to be the goal for most of humanity. Thus, I am conflicted between knowing there are workaholics like me who struggle in life because of corruption and a lack of opportunities; but at the same time there are the anti-workers, who perhaps are “undeserving” of benefits. Distinguishing between the two in how poverty is handled might help society move forward. Where this book falls on this spectrum is unclear from the summary that concludes by promising to highlight “the role of ‘poverty propaganda’ in sustaining class divides in perpetuating poverty and disadvantage in contemporary Britain.” This is a very mysterious proposal: what propaganda can it be alluding to?

The “Introduction” helps to further explain the book’s focus: “people find themselves trapped” in the “cycle… of short-term, low-paid work and on and off inadequate (and increasingly difficulty to access) ‘welfare’ payments”. This volume attempts to propose solutions to end this cycle. They claim that “poverty propaganda” succeeds “not simply” because of “its ability to disguise poverty but its capacity to stigmatize not just those people who are experiencing poverty” but other “disadvantaged… segments”. It “feeds negative, stigmatizing and discriminatory attitudes towards those who are experiencing the condition. It allows punitive and sometimes downright cruel policies to be enacted towards those experiencing the condition, and for those policies to be largely tolerated by a public that buys into the rhetoric of poverty propaganda…” In response, the “undeserving” are “punished”. The author does not doubt the poor public’s worthiness as the summary suggests. He writes that across his twenty years of research, he encountered: “the commitment to paid work that characterizes people’s life histories…” While the previous title I reviewed was uncertain if people are responsible for their obesity, this author is certain that poverty is “self-perpetuating” because it is not a “personal failure” and cannot “be resolved by individual determination and hard work” (1-7). The bulletin points at the end of the introduction state that “aggressive capitalism” is to blame because it produces “inequality” (19-20). The rest of the book presents what the propaganda says about poverty, what the experience of being poor is really like (food kitchens, housing), the “poor work” that keeps people poor, social immobility, discrimination, and overreaching inequality.

This is a philosophical study of human nature and the flaws of capitalism. It reads like a manifesto for expanding the welfare system and putting stricter controls on businesses to help the impoverished class gain mobility. These are all good things, but I disagree with some of the premises. It can’t be true that all people in poverty are determined to find work and want to commit all of their energy to doing a great job, just like the opposite can’t be true. The propaganda is not one sided. In fact, I think the duality of propaganda either arguing that the poor are lazy or that capitalism must be overthrown is maintaining the status-quo. A complex solution is needed that identifies the nature of an individual person’s difficulties and attempts to craft a unique solution for them. Nepotism, preference for immoral workers (in a corrupted business culture), and various other obstacles are keeping the best and smartest impoverished, while the world’s stupidest and most evil climb up over them. Capitalism has been overthrown in the USSR and China in favor of communism, and this change only shrunk the number of people at the top and gave them more money and power over the rest. The rich are perhaps lazier than the poor. If the majority of humanity wanted to work… regardless of class… well it would be a world I cannot imagine… it would be a perfect world. This is a thoughtful book: I just think that it’s contributing to the mythology.

“What Is Theory?” If You Want to Know the Answer, Buy the Book About Pot

Brigitta R. Brunner, editor. Public Relations Theory: Application and Understanding. 252pp. ISBN: 978-1-119-37315-5. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2019.


I requested this book as part of my research for my mayoral run. Upon closer inspection the summary should have kept me away. It promises to explore “the central principles and theoretical components of public relations and their practical applications in actual situations.” It should present “development methods, implementation strategies, management techniques…” Issues covered include: “social and emerging media, globalization, public diplomacy, corporate and investor relations.” The author is Brigitta R. Brunner, a professor at Auburn University. This summary was six times longer, and the rest of it repeated these same points with slightly different wordings. Whenever a summary can be thus truncated, it suggests the interior contents are also full of hot air. Indeed, this is a collection of essays from different writers. While some controversial subjects need multiple perspectives, PR pretty much includes the same set of tasks, so a single PR professional can explain it all better than a committee of people repeating each other.

The first chapter is called: “What Is Theory?” While this might not be problematic for some readers: for me, this signals—hot air. My anticipations are turning into reality here. The opening sentence of this mind-numbing chapter is: “Everyone uses theory, whether they realize it or not” (1). Right. This is exactly what frustrated me about the title: theory encompasses nearly anything humans say or do; anything can be theorized about. So, to spend a chapter asking what theory is implies the editor hopes to spend the entire book saying as little as possible. In other words, PR professionals make a living by making the field as convoluted for outsiders as possible, so they can be paid $10,000 or more by a single author or politician for not much more than emailing a press release to a media contact list. Very few books about PR or marketing simply explain the steps involved in PR to help readers carry on with it on their own. This book seems to be clinging on to the term “theory” in the title to explain that the practical elements will be minimized in favor of repetitive, cyclical nonsense that theorizes on the nature of theory.

Another chapter is on “Diversity”, yet another on “Ethics”, and a third is just titled “Community”. Perhaps you can guess at the first sentence of the latter too: “In a world in which market values and profit-driven practices rule decision-making on every level of society, proposals to consider the impact of our actions on community are considered to be naïve” (141). All of these are outrageous because by failing to communicate anything helpful to readers who need to engage in the practice of PR, these authors are acting unethically and in an anti-communal fashion. This chapter even commences by stating the author believes the readers of this book are “naïve”. The point of this book is to sell it by making it impossible for a browser in a bookstore to gather any useful information, making him or her purchase this book in the hope something more useful will be found when it is read cover-to-cover back home. But, there is nothing between these covers. The “profit” is in the purchase, not in creating a new competitor by educating the reader on what makes for successful PR representative.

Don’t buy this book. If you are looking for more emptiness and meaninglessness in your life… still don’t buy this book. But maybe one of these authors did not write a bunch of nonsense: no, it’s all of them; they have all been infected with unethical self-promotion, and they all think you are too naïve to stop them.

Print Your Own Money with the Law

Katharina Pistor. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Hardcover: $29.95. 304pp, 6X9”, images. ISBN: 978-0-691178974. Princeton: Princeton University Press, May 28, 2019.


In what seems to be a joke after what I just wrote about “theory” in the previous review, the blurb for this title begins thus: “Capital is the defining feature of modern economies, yet most people have no idea where it actually comes from. What is it, exactly, that transforms mere wealth into an asset that automatically creates more wealth?” From my perspective: capital is too self-explanatory to philosophize about it, but putting this aside. This book “explains how capital is created behind closed doors in the offices of private attorneys, and why this little-known fact is one of the biggest reasons for the widening wealth gap between the holders of capital and everybody else.” Alright, the latter brought me on board. Yes, the more I research modern economics and the stock market, the more I realize that wealth is fictional. Bitcoin is an example: mining bitcoin is a process of actively making money out of nothing. If attorneys and a small circle of already wealthy people create wealth, this is the reason for poverty. The same fictional money-creation could happen in capitalism or communism, if the poor accept fictitious wealth as currency. People printing their own money are innately completely self-interested and without any motive to share this wealth with the poor. The author, Katharina Pistor (professor at the Columbia Law School), further “argues that the law selectively ‘codes’ certain assets, endowing them with the capacity to protect and produce private wealth. With the right legal coding, any object, claim, or idea can be turned into capital—and lawyers are the keepers of the code.” I think the media and other structures helps these lawyers sell the fictional claims they come up with; for example, the lawyers can agree that ride-share apps should make their CEOs billions, but the media has to repeat this concept enough times for people to believe it and partake in the scheme. “Pistor describes how they pick and choose among different legal systems and legal devices for the ones that best serve their clients’ needs, and how techniques that were first perfected centuries ago to code landholdings as capital are being used today to code stocks, bonds, ideas, and even expectations—assets that exist only in law… [E]xplores the different ways that debt, complex financial products, and other assets are coded to give financial advantage to their holders.” The book looks at this code, its shapers and government oversight (or lack thereof).

Nearly every chapter has the word “code” in its title. This does not work for me, as I always prefer titles that explain the organization of the content. The first chapter explains some of the mystery regarding this “code”. It is created through “legal devices” including “contract law, property rights, collateral law, trust, corporate, and bankruptcy law.” One of the “most sought-after coding strategies” is for lawyers to help by “shielding assets from taxes”. Before the late nineteenth century, rural land was the most valuable asset of the rich, but industry has shifted wealth towards trusts, financial assets in shares, and intellectual property rights. Shares and the intellect are constructs of the imagination, whereas the size of the land owned is stable and concrete. I think this shift was accelerated by the shift away from keeping gold in America’s treasury to back up the dollar. Just as gold gave real value to money, land was also trustworthy. Without these concrete things to check if wealth is real, lawyers have been crafting castles with contracts (1-5). After this philosophical introduction, Pistor sets out to make this case with specific case law, legislative rules, and historic examples. Chapter “2: Coding Land” commences by describing how the Maya people of Belize won a 2007 Supreme Court case that recognized their “collective land use practices” after “centuries of denials and decades of legal battle” (23). After describing the intricacies of the case, the story is interpreted in terms of the “code” or how legal maneuvers directed the hand of history. In the conclusion to the chapter, Pistor argues that “property rights” and other “legal entitlements” are manipulated in courts to deny “claims to an asset” for some, while granting it to others. On top of winning “priority rights” to assets, the winners also fight to secure “durability” and to have both be “universally enforceable”. In the end: “This is something that private parties, on their own, cannot do; they need a powerful state and its laws to accomplish this” (46). In other words, corrupt governments assign wealth to the people who give them bribes, kickbacks and other corrupting influences; the same system gives nothing to good people who are not privy to this system’s manipulations. Anybody who believes paying for “rights” is immoral loses over a party who engages and claims ownership not just for him or herself but for future generations.

This is a great combination of history, philosophy, and law analysis. Law students considering entering contract law or the other fields touched on should definitely read this book casually over the summer. There are more lawyers in America than elsewhere on this planet. Given the competition out there, this book will give its readers the advantage of understanding how the system really works. These tricks are hidden from average Americans. Any lawyer who hopes to grow rich through the practice of law must understand how the practice of law creates and distributes wealth.

Understanding the Ruins Behind the Myths

Jodi Magness. Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth. Hardcover: $29.95, 6X9”. 288pp, 8 color + 38 b/w illustrations, 2 maps. ISBN: 978-0-691-16710-7. Princeton: Princeton University Press, May 28, 2019.


Millions of tourists visit holy and historic sites annually, but how many understand the story behind these symbols? Humans have built enormous cities across the past century, but few new constructions can garner equal weight with ancient marvels, which are preserved as ruins. When the Twin Towers fell, nobody suggested leaving the ruins in the middle of the city and encouraging tourists to visit them. Israel has one of the largest concentrations of revered ancient ruins on the planet, perhaps matching Rome or Egypt. Rome is known for ruins of coliseums that honor athletes and public buildings that honor politicians. Egypt is known for its burial tombs for pharaohs. Many of the sites in Israel are known for battles fought over them, and frequently lost heroically or serving as turning points in Jewish rebellion against oppression. Muslim Middle Eastern countries prevent entry from those who have an Israeli visitor stamp in their passports, so touring Israel is a political or religious statement. When I visited Israel back in 2002, the heat and dry air gave me a fever, and hiking to view some of the sites made them lose some of their mysticism. Despite this disillusionment, it is tempting to learn more about a site that is a particularly challenging hike, but also a place where Jews made an anti-colonial stand.  

The blurb describes Masada as the site of “the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire./ Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children―the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple―reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel.” Notice the “barren and windswept mountain”: it’s a really, really steep hike. I think we visited the Dead Sea next: I hadn’t brought a swimsuit, so I just watched others float in the salt under the burning sun: it was not enjoyable from that perspective. “The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s… And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author―the Jewish historian Josephus―some scholars question if the event ever took place.” If I had to guess, even without looking at the evidence, I would guess that the mass suicide is definitely a fictitious invention of Josephus. If the Jews wrote the Bible at the base of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim group of religions, myth-building seems to have been a respected profession in early Jewish history.

The author, Jodi Magness, is an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada. This is a trustworthy source of information, as a historian without physical contact with the place would lack textile understanding of its construction. Magness “explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story.” So, while I believe it’s all fictional, Magness sets out to find proof that it is factual. “Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.” It is helpful to know early on that the period covered is around the time of Jesus’ ministry as this is the point between AD and BC and I tend to separate historic events as somewhat prehistoric if they fall before the birth of Christ. Stories about Jewish revolt around the time of Jesus’ birth are curious because they mark a change from mythologies that favored rebellion by people against pharaohs and kings, to those that favored Christian obedience. For Christians rebellion was Devilish as stories of the Devil rebelling against God rose to the forefront of religious ideals.

The chapters are logically organized into Masada’s fall, siege, search for the site, context, other constructions of Herod’s, pre-Herod Judaic structures, first Jewish rebellion against Rome, the Masada occupation, the construction of the mass suicide myth, and a “tour of Masada”.

The “Acknowledgments” commence with the author insisting that she never wanted to write this book, but Princeton’s editor made her do it. This is a bit discouraging for readers. She goes on to describe the funding she was able to generate to sponsor a couple of years of full-time research for this book. If this was her first book, I would be pretty jealous and surprised. An editor contacts her, forces her to write a book, and this means taking a couple of years of teaching because a contract before commencing writing puts her at the top of most fellowship applications. But, no, she has been writing, digging, and teaching on the subject since finishing her PhD in 1989 and doing a post-doctoral fellowship at Brown.

The book is elegantly illustrated with historic maps and photographs of Masada as it is now and as it was in the past. Some of the photographs are aerials in color. Some depict bronze scales of armor, iron arrowhead and one of Masada’s camps: the evidence cited in the discussion of if there was a major military battle on this site in the time specified in the myth.

This is a good history because the elements involved are examined closely based on the surviving archeological evidence. The information is heavily cited. For example, the sections on the structure, composition and organization of the Roman army and camps is intricately painted: “When the Romans arrived at the foot of Masada, they constructed a stone wall, 10-12 feet… high and approximately 4,000 yards… long, which completely encircled the base of the mountain…” (6-7). The attention to the nature of this wall is useful as too many histories swerve into fictional history instead of studying what we know with certainty, as opposed to the mythology that was added by creative historians.

Some sections read more like marketing for tourism of Israel rather than as a scientific or historical exploration. For example, in a section on “The Dead Sea”, a couple of pages are spent on a company near the site called Dead Sea Works (43-5). I recall hearing this name during my tour of the region, as they try to sell salt and the like to tourists.

The spark for the central rebellion is curious; in 66 in Caesarea Maritima, “tensions between Jews and gentiles” had escalated. “A synagogue at Caesarea adjoining a plot of land owned by a Greek, who refused repeated Jewish offers to purchase the property. Instead, the owner built workshops on the property, leaving only a narrow passage to access the synagogue. Upon arrival at the synagogue one Sabbath, the Jews found another Greek conducting a mock sacrifice of birds at the entrance to the passage. Fighting erupted and the cavalry commander stationed at Caesarea intervened. When the Jews appealed to Gessius Florus, he had them arrested.” Then the Greeks “took money from the temple”. The Jews mocked the governor, who in turn “sacked the city and massacred some of the inhabitants… even crucified Jews of equestrian rank…” This is when a band of Jewish rebels started to form (141-2). Crucifixion, squabbles over taxation, disrespect towards religious beliefs: it all sounds like the American Revolution with more violence at the onset, but the Jews’ rebellion sizzled out when it ended in mass suicide.

This is a solid archeological history aimed at both general readers and scholars in this field. Those planning to visit the holy sites in Israel should read books like this one ahead of the trip rather than only the tourist guides to insert meaning into the remaining scattered rocks of history.

A Brilliant Anthology on the Smoky Mountains

Anne Bridges, Russell Clement and Ken Wise. The Terra Incognita Reader: Early Writings from the Great Smoky Mountains. 448pp. ISBN: 978-1-62190-502-8. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019.


An anthology of “literature written about the Smokies prior to the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934./ Based on years of research, the diaries, memoirs, literature, and journalism collected here shed light on various historical and cultural aspects of the Great Smokies, from Smoky Mountain folkways and religion, to the Civil War era and the Cherokee Indians. The chronologically organized works “document the slow progression of change up until the eve of the large-scale disruptions that would be wrought by the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934.” The period and region covered represent a gap in my knowledge of American literature. None of the authors’ names stand out as familiar from my readings over the decades. This is one of the reasons I requested this book: if I have never read an important work before, it’s important to add it into my lexicon. I suspect few people have read any of the included short fictions and non-fictions, so this project should be enriching for a wide audience.  

The summary is too general, so an overview of the topics covered should help readers understand the scope of this project. The first section covers the Cherokee impact on the region; it includes a description of “Charikees… maners”, an “Address to the Whites”, a narrative of a canoe voyage, an escaped convict story, a sketch of reservation life, Indian schooling, Cherokee myths, and a “Ball Play”. The section on “Early Travel and Exploration” covers various travel narratives from across the region, a botanical tour, on mountain geography, tours through the Mountains, and early explorations. “The Formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park” section explores arguments against its founding. The “Mountain History and Culture” section is made up of sub-sections on: “Observations on People, Places, and Things” (white trash, North Carolina, Tennessee, highways, railroad, woodsmen, public health, ballad collection), “Civil War” (reports from colonels, a governor, a volunteer and a cavalryman), “Religion” (preachers, Christian Association, visits from Christians), and “Education: The Pi Beta Phi Settlement School” (notes from founder, a history of the school). The “Mountain Ways” section is broken into two parts: “Moonshine” (outlaw moonshiner’s life, raiding moonshiners) and “Bear Hunting” (hunting and fishing in the mountains). The last three sections of the book are: “Literature of the Great Smoky Mountains” (fiction on lying, cursing, wolves, pretty girls, home, religion, and a mule), “Recreation and Tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains” (tramping, mule travel, hunting journey, backpacking, barometric survey) and “Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains” (flora, flowers, salamanders, duck hawks). This summary of the Contents is necessary because the book covers so many different aspects of life and adventures in this region that are not specified in the summary. These definitely draw the reader inside to experience these adventures from the safety of a book.

I do wish the “Introduction” was longer, but the book makes up for this by including introductory remarks before each of these pieces. For example, one of these intros offers a biographical sketch of one of the covered writers: “Samuel Botsford Buckley, an itinerant botanist from New York, was among the first to leave any sustentative account of travels into the Smokies when he published findings from his botanical excursion to Mount Le Conte in 1854” (64).

This collection is especially useful for students and teachers of the history and culture of this region. For example, an essay ungently called, “A Peculiar People: The ‘Poor White Trash’ Who Inhabit the Tennessee Mountains” by the anonymous J. M. P. O. makes this direct statement: “The young girls are so dirty that, if they have any personal beauty, it is covered. In early life the teeth are discolored and decayed, caused, doubtless, by their constant use of tobacco. Men, women and children chew the weed incessantly, and also smoke and use snuff, spitting with these people is not only a habit, it is a pastime…” (150). This kind of direct reference to the ugly parts of life is pretty unusual in anthologies, but I especially like this kind of reality; it reminds me of Dickensian descriptions. Another attention-grabbing description comes from a 1924 piece by Helen Chew, “The Sugarlands Extension of Little Pigeon” published in The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi. The narrator describes visiting “poorer homes” in the Sugarlands. The narrator and a companion go “through a field” at an “uncomfortable slant, through cornfields and brier patches, until finally, after climbing a fence, we arrived at this two-room house over which was a small loft. A family of nine lived there. We ate our dinner from tin lids from lard buckets. The sweet potatoes were served on a lard can lid. Three broken dishes held the other food to be served. Four of us sat on the only chairs, while the boys stood up around the table. Chickens picked up the crumbs about our feet as we ate. The walls of the kitchen, where we were, were smoked black as coal. In the ‘other room’ large bright blue paper bows were fastened here and there on the walls, a touch the two girls had given to brighten up a cheerless existence. Outside, late summer flowers grew in great abundance, a most striking contrast to the inside” (236-7). While campaigning for Mayor of Quanah, I encountered some shacks with half-fallen roofs like this in the middle of this city in 2019, so these types of places still exist across the US, but people have stopped looking inside and describing them. The modern propaganda is that these places no longer exist and Americans are now mostly middle class or living in polished government housing. Instead of this “dream”, descriptions of real problems both rural and city-dwelling folks face helps politicians and citizens to understand our country better so that wrongs can be alleviated.

This is an excellent collection that truly gathers some of the most outstanding archival materials that touches on a region that is vivid in Americans’ imagination (Smokey Mountains), but works about and from it have failed to rise to the mainstream. The general public can find enjoyment from casually reading these stories as most of them commence on thrilling adventures and take readers to hard-to-reach or forgotten places. Researchers of this time and place will find an enormous amount of information to enrich their understanding of these people, cultures and places.

The Archeology and History of Native American Tiny Cabins

Gregory A. Waselkov, editor. Native American Log Cabins in the Southeast. 236pp, b/w images. ISBN: 978-1-62190-504-2. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019.


I enjoy learning something new from the field of art and design, so this entire book dedicated to Native American log cabins specifically from the southeast region was tempting. Is there a relationship between the honest American politician’s childhood log cabin habitation myth and these traditional Native dwellings? The summary: “Southeastern Native American forms of domestic architecture underwent multiple transitions between the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries.” It tracks “the origins of Native American cabins, structures that incorporated a range of features borrowed from indigenous post-in ground building traditions, Euroamerican horizontal notched-log construction, and elements introduced by Africans and African Americans. Grounded in archaeological investigation, their essays illuminate the distinctive cabin forms developed by various southeastern Native groups, including the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Catawba peoples./ In a rapidly changing social, economic, and political landscape at the frontiers of an expansionist United States, the log cabin, a northern European house form, proved equally adaptable to the needs of settlers, slaves, and Native peoples.” Aha, this explains it: I thought the log cabin might have been derived from Native building structures, but, no, this is about how Native people adopted it as their own from Europeans. “Each found ways to make log cabins their own. Beneath these deceptively simple hewn facades, indigenous principles of correctness guided southeastern Indians’ uses of interior cabin space, creations of raised clay hearths, and maintenance of pits that gave occupants access to the regenerative properties of the Beneath World.” The changes Native people made to European design is an interesting case of reverse appropriation: I have read more studies of westerners appropriating Native or eastern culture. The close look provides “new data, methods, and theory to address an important but understudied phenomenon.”

The introduction includes a section that answers the question probably at the top of everybody’s mind as they approach this book: “Why Study Native-Built Log Cabins?” It replies that assimilation policies forced Native Americans into reservations and away from their previous nomadic “subsistence” lifestyles; this change also pushed them to adopt “American forms of domestic architecture”, with those in poverty building mostly log cabins. The author, Gregory A. Waselkov, explains that his interest in the topic arose from the lack of “evidence of notched-log architecture preserved in the south-eastern archaeological record” (3-5). Thus, this is not so much an exploration of appropriation as an archeological dig for evidence of how these cabins changed over time based on scarce remnants of these quick-to-deteriorate wooden constructions. Some of the evidence comes from drawings of early designs, such as the one in Figure 1.4 of a 1791 Creek House, surrounded by Native Americans in traditional dress (8). The essay by Craig T. Sheldon Jr. includes a detailed section on the “Construction Technology and Materials”, which lists some of these components: “slender saplings or ‘copses’ of hickory, oak, gum, and other species” (28). The essay by both of these writers on building on the “Holy Ground” at the Redstick Creeks details the first recent “archaeological excavation” in this region of a “well-preserved log cabin”. A detailed topographic map of the dig region and of the uncovered cabins helps to place readers on the scene. Drawings from the period and photographs of the excavation also add to the readers’ perception of the adventure of unearthing these hard-to-find, tiny architectural marvels. Much of the remains are small chunks of split log surfaces and interior wall surfaces (54-61). Another essay by Paul Webb considers the Cherokee cabins found at Hickory Log includes a very detailed table that lists dozens of giant pits (around 3-6 feet in length and width) found at this single site (96). The chapter by Brett H. Riggs and Thomas N. Belt on North Carolina mountains and the “Removal Era”, explains what Native American architecture in the region as like before the “small log huts”: “Cherokee people resided in nucleated towns and villages centered on public/corporate facilities that included council houses with associated plazas and town fields. Within these communities, each household typically maintained paired domestic buildings: an octagonal winter hose (…hothouse) and a primary rectangular summer house…” (111-3). It is curious to see the juxtaposition and adoptability of these cultures as they easily changed their housing methods with social demands.

As I was reading these details, I realized that I kind of currently live in a tiny log cabin: well it is a manufactured 427 square foot home, but while it is painted blue, instead of paneling, it has kind of planks of wood lining its exterior. It also stands raised on stilts similar to the ones in some of these images of log cabins. Pondering this sent me on a quest to figure out if tiny houses are really becoming more popular or if they are just hyper-marketed in the media. It was difficult to find any concrete numbers on how many tiny homes have been built across the country. The best indicators I found were from the US Census Bureau’s “Characteristics of New Housing” statistics. These state that in 2017, out of the 795,000 new single-family homes completed, 79,000 had two bedrooms or less, while 362,000 had four or more. Only 30,000 had a single bathroom or less. There were also 358,000 multifamily units and 14,000 multifamily buildings completed that year. In other words, around 30,000 homes were on the small end (not tiny) of the spectrum out of 1,167,000 constructions, or 2.57% of homes, and many of these probably had two bedrooms and might have been up to 1,000 square feet. The size trend has been heading in the opposite direction since before the 70s, as the median house size rose from 507 square feet per person (1,500 per household) in 1970 to 971 per person (2,500 per household) in 2015. In other words, my 427 feet was a bit under the median fifty years ago, but is now twice less than the norm. The tiny house “movement” did not make a dent in this trend, and it might be a ploy by realtors to convince buyers to buy still bigger houses because the problems with living in tiny houses are highlighted as jokes on TV shows and the like. Small houses are used as jokes. And problems with building and housing homeless people in them might help to deepen the stigma against them: they are branded as only fit for homeless people, instead of stressing how those who own them tend to have no mortgage or credit card debt. Unlike these negative portrayals this book offers some inspiration for tiny-building as an American tradition that can be mutated to fit individual needs and the unique environment where the home will be placed. If they are good enough for Honest Abe and Native Americans, they are good enough for independent Americans who want to live debt-free and to minimize their carbon footprint.

The bulk of discussions on archeology focus on the ancient sites in Europe and the Middle East, so it is refreshing to come across a collection of essays that examine digs in America, and review unique cabin designs rather than the types of wealthy plantation houses that dominate discussions of American architecture in the mainstream.

A Comprehensive Legal Textbook on Higher Education

William A. Kaplin, Barbara A. Lee, Neal H. Hutchens, and Jacob H. Rooksby. The Law of Higher Education, Sixth Edition, Volume 1-2. $24.95. 2260pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-119-27184-0. Hoboken: Jossey-Bass: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2019 (1995).


Academia is full of legal challenges. Just earlier today I saw a news article about a professor who was temporarily suspended but reinstated after having sex with two female students. Is it legal to have sex with students? I doubt sexual harassment of professors by students is covered, but given the size of the book perhaps it is. Legality within a university’s rules is a hazier topic than criminal or civil legality. Rape in fraternities just as rape in criminal court rooms can be difficult to pursue. Not just higher education lawyers, but all academics and perhaps all students have to understand the laws that govern this field. Thus, given the choice I requested this book: perhaps it will be practically useful one day, if I return to teaching.

The publisher states that it details “the legal implications of administrative decision making./ In the increasingly litigious environment of higher education,” the authors, William A. Kaplin (law professor at The Catholic University of America), Barbara A. Lee (human resource management professor at Rutgers University), Neal H. Hutchens (lawyer and professor of Higher Education at the University of Mississippi) and Jacob H. Rooksby (dean of the Gonzaga University School of Law since 2018), offer a “legal guide” that spans topics from “hate speech to student suicide, from intellectual property developments to issues involving FERPA.” One of the updates is new content on “Title IX developments and intellectual property”, “new protections for gay and transgender students and employees”, and “faculty academic freedom, student academic freedom, and institutional academic freedom”.

I received the instructors’ version of this giant two-volume hardcover with a “Notice to Instructors” that the Student Version is available in a much thinner variety. This is a record-holder for the longest book I have reviewed to-date. This book is as dense as other competing law books of top-caliber; it is on the opposite complexity level from Wiley’s Dummies series. There are no digressions here, and every argument is heavily supported with case and title law. The book is broken down into sections on dispute resolution (liability and risk management, court litigation, alternative dispute resolution), the legal structure of colleges (governing boards, personnel, affirmative action), faculty (employment, freedom of speech), students (admissions, aid, housing, grading, “Sexual Harassment of Students by Faculty Members”, discipline, student organizations), colleges in relation with local, state and federal governments (zoning, taxes, local police, state and federal funding and regulations, civil rights compliance), relations with external private entities (education and athletic associations, purchasing of goods and services from businesses, collaborating with partners in research).

As I dived into the text in the section that covers faculty hiring, I realized that there are some strange features in this book. For example, one paragraph is entirely enclosed inside parenthesis. Typically, if a whole paragraph is parenthetical, it would be included as a note rather than as a paragraph in the text; and if it’s an entire paragraph, separating it by itself is sufficient to stress its link; also inclosing it in parenthesis is a repetitive double-separation. In fact, the paragraph is a giant note, which begins thus: “(For a discussion of a variety of legal issues related to background checks of applicants and employees, see Barbara A. Lee, ‘Who Are You? Fraudulent Credentials and Background Checks in Academe…’)” It goes on to include a lengthy URL link to a website with a casual article on Research Gate (321). The MLA citation style has stopped including URL links in citations a decade ago because a search engine can find almost any text by its title and/ or name of the author, so including a bulky URL address is wasteful of space. I checked the back of the second volume for notes. There is a lengthy index, including an index of the cases covered. There is also a detailed “Selected Annotated Bibliography” with paragraphs of notes on each of the books covered. There are no separate “Notes” at the back or notes in footnotes: all notes are included in these bulky and intrusive paragraphs or in parenthesis within paragraphs where the sources are utilized. I’m not sure if this is standard in the citation style they are using, but this is the first time I am seeing this variety, and it is distracting me. Actually, there are some notes; I found note #22 on page 384. This note explains that the  report for which a URL link and citation is provided above “was published after the 2016 proposed rule raising the minimum salary level for exempt employees”. Yes, this note is not particularly relevant, but since they already have a giant in-paragraph citation at the top with some conversational information, why not also includes this note content there? I continue to be bewildered by this style. Now that I think about it more, I might have seen it in some law books I browsed while researching case law, but these tend to be entirely made up of summaries of case law, while this book has a description of the rules and implications in the same paragraphs, making the citations seem particularly out of place.

The next section I stopped on was “Unemployment compensation laws”. All of the long-term academic jobs I have held were 9-months one academic year contracts without any summer employment. The schools that hired me were looking for a temporary employee just for that one year, without hope for renewal due to a sudden shortage. I always see a portion of my salary subtracted for the “unemployment insurance program”, which is apparently 6% of “the first $7,000 in wages”, but this bit might be paid by the employer. I have never attempted applying for unemployment at the end of the contract because I don’t believe this situation is covered by unemployment rules, so it’s odd that given the non-terminable nature of a 9-months contract and no chance for unemployment benefits at the end, employees under this contract still have to pay for the “benefit”. As I expected this issue is addressed here: “Although employees of a college or university who work a full calendar year would normally be covered by the unemployment insurance system, it is less clear whether academic-year employees are eligible for unemployment compensation in the summer. The legal standard in most states is whether the claimant has a reasonable assurance of returning to his or her former position at the beginning of the next academic year.” This leaves the question somewhat hazy. I guess this haziness is reflected in the contradictory handling of my particular situation in the courts: “although an appellate court in Indiana ruled that a faculty member who was not reappointed after his one-year teaching contract expired was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he had no expectation of continuing employment beyond that one year and thus his unemployment was ‘voluntary,’ the state supreme court overruled the appellate court, holding that the ‘voluntariness’ of the faculty member’s unemployment resulting from the expiration of a one-year contract was indistinguishable from the dismissal of an at-will employee” (409). I believe I have reviewed unemployment policies at the schools where I have taught and the ineligibility of one-year instructors for unemployment was written into the rules; perhaps these summaries fail to reflect actual case law, but are instead there to avoid an added insurance burden for the university. A majority of contracts in academia today are for adjunct teaching of one or an unspecified quantity of extremely low-pay classes, or at best, you are offered these one-year non-renewal contracts. If universities had to apply for insurance to cover unemployment for the following half-a-year or so for the one-year instructors after this term, they might be more likely to offer three-year or permanent contracts to avoid this hurdle. If I read this section of the book before my previous academic job ended, I might have made an extra $10,000 or so in unemployment payments, so it would have been very helpful.

Having tested this book against questions I’ve had, I can attest that this collection covers almost any higher education related legal question you or your client might have. It is written for law students. Pro se litigants like me, who prefer to battle for their own rights without help from a lawyer, should also find utility in these pages. Academics who want the shelves in their office to look more professional and intimidating might want to purchase this book just for decoration: it is a humongous two-volume set with legal-looking silver text highlights over a deep-blue standard-lawbook-colored hard covers. The information provided is intricately researched and presented with the care the subject deserves.

Casual Advice About Business for Idiots and Intellectuals

Eric Tyson and Bob Nelson. Starting a Business: All-in-One: for Dummies: 6 Books in One. 634pp. Hoboken (NJ): John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2019.


Most entrepreneurs starting their first business are likely to seek guidance on the basics of this process. Today, they might look for free resources online first, but a couple of decades ago, when I was starting to consider starting my first business, I took trips to the bookstore to browse through Dummies books for ideas. They are hardly scholastically precise and much of them can be edited out to improve the read, but they are a good starting point and overview of the major challenges to overcome. Knowing these giant hurdles is likely to avoid stumbling into them unwittingly later.

Wiley summarizes this 10-book compilation thus: “practical advice you need to start any type of business from the ground up, distilled from 10 bestselling For Dummies business titles.” It covers “all startup business phases through the first year of operation”, including writing a “business plan”. I recall writing business plans for the first couple of businesses I started before I stopped this exercise. A business plan is only useful for those who need to apply for a loan, financing, or funding from an outside entity such as a bank or an investor. If you are starting the business with your own capital or if your business does not need start-up funding, you can skip this step. Most books about starting a business focus on the business plan and other texts and forms because these have standard formulas that are recycled in these books, giving them the appearance of insights. On the other hand, it might be a helpful exercise to write out a business plan, following these steps just to understand your idea better, even if you won’t show it to anybody. For example, asking who is going to buy your product, and how much it is going to cost to make it is something I do with new ideas I come up with automatically now without putting these ponderings into official business plans. Perhaps early reviews of these concepts from books like Dummies programmed these questions into my unconscious.  

The book includes “step-by-step instructions… to marketing, branding, taxes, and human resources.” The bullet points specify that this book is intended for those interested in securing “financing” and managing “risks”. The blurb ends by stressing the book is needed to “prepare… you to beat the odds”. This is a reference to the high failure rate for all new businesses. Given the oligopoly that dominates American business today (with only a few giant corporations controlling most economic sectors), small businesses, in general are failing or losing market-share. The only real winners are the 2-5 companies at the top of the sector and the odds of becoming one of them is 1 in 300 million. Of course, small tasks taken at the start of setting up a business might increase the odds in your favor just enough to transition from a failure to a gradual or sudden success, so why not take every possible precaution.

The author, Eric Tyson, is an MBA, and a personal finance counselor. His co-author, Bob Nelson, PhD, specializes in employee engagement, recognition, and rewards.

Here is the breakdown of the 6 books included: “Book 1: Moving from Idea to Reality” (feasibility analysis, refining the idea, business structure, researching the market); “Book 2: Planning for Your Business” (business plan, finding funding, leasing and merchandising, home-based business, online presence, legal structure); “Book 3: Handling Your Finances” (accounting books reporting profits and losses in income statements, balance sheet, cash flows, budgeting, paying taxes); “Book 4: Managing Your Business” (hiring, long-term goals, social responsibility, technology, delegation); “Book 5: Marketing and Promotion” (marketing, market growth, public image, brand name, marketing communications, social marketing); and “Book 6: Staying in Business” (coaching employees, keeping customers, growing). Items like the legal structure have to be handled before commencing on the project to avoid ending up in a structure unsuitable for the idea. The first time I had to show a profit/loss statement or balance sheet was when I applied to become a GSA contractor. Otherwise these are useless. The bank statement should have most of your expanses and profits detailed in it in the modern world, and this should be sufficient to generate an income tax return at the end of the year. If you do plan on applying for financing, sub-contracting or otherwise will need to show where the money is going to another outside or inside entity, those sections should be useful.

A lot of these topics are a bit lacking in practical significance, but others are essential. For example, coaching employees should vary with the type of business you are running. If your employees are making coffee or if they are writing computer code, the coaching would be entirely divergent. As you might expect, the section begins thus: “As a business owner, if you have employees, you are by definition a manager” (557). Yes, this is the definition of a “manager”, but somebody who did not know what the term “manager” means does not have the reading level required to process any 600-page book, even if it was Harry Potter. After these types of generalizations, the step-by-step approach to working with employees recommends meeting with an employee to discuss their career, their strength and weaknesses, and to create a career development plan to take them from where they are now to where they aim to be in the future (561-2). I have had a few dozen jobs in America in various fields. Across all of these, no employer has ever asked me about my strength/ weaknesses nor created a career plan for me. Typically, the relationship with management is one where I am threatened into working as hard as physically possible for as little as possible, with the constant threat of termination hanging over the job. It’s difficult to imagine that there are any sane, calm and helpful managers out there who tell employees that their job is so secure that it’s the employee and not the employer who is crafting the plan ahead: in fact, the employee can write in desired raises… I have hired over a hundred volunteer interns over the years, and I have never had the money to hire any of them after the internship ends for a salaried position. If I ever manage to afford a full or part-time employee, a career plan would involve promotion, and if promotion is written into a type of contract with an employee, this would further push back my ability to hire anybody, as I would have to anticipate a significant annual rate going forward, so I have to know in advance that profits will keep growing at a sufficient rate in the upcoming decade. There are many problems in America today that create tensions between employers and employees, and a career plan is the least of them. Hence, this is an example of the authors offering impractical theory. I think these books can be improved if the writers brought in a new writer who founded and ran an independent business for a decade or two to insert sections on actual problems he or she encountered.

The part on finding funding is a mix of information. It begins by telling people to ask friends and family for money: though I guess this is the most statistically realistic source for most people. Then it dives into more complex schemes like venture capital and selling stocks after going public. Government oversight is covered in a brisk three-paragraph section, “Satisfying the SEC”, which mentions registering with them, listing the company on Nasdaq and NYCSE, and on regional (Chicago) exchanges. I’m pretty sure there are other legal concerns involved in “Satisfying the SEC”, and those who only read this book will be missing some important steps. It’s hardly likely that anybody would take a company public on their own with only a Dummies book for guidance (without a lawyer or an accountant). It seems like this book is designed to convince people to hire people to do this stuff rather than to seriously engage in all this on their own (130-1). I think this book would be more practical if it had more examples, like the one offered shortly after the SEC section with a warning: “Dealing with failure”. It describes a Texas company that attempted to go public; the owner spent more than $65,000 on the registration process to “secure the necessary approvals from the SEC”. It needed to raise between $1.5 and $9.9 million, but within the “offering period” of 90 days, it only raised $300,000 on their website; a “traditional” stock offering also failed, so they had to file for chapter 7 bankruptcy. “The total bill for the IPO was about $250,000, for which the company received nothing” (132). This is an extremely helpful lesson. I spent over $400 on becoming a GSA contractor only to learn that government agencies do not work with small businesses (despite set-aside funds being promised) or they require businesses to have prior experience, which cannot be obtained without already having experience. Instead of paying another $200 for the digital signature certification, I’ll probably slip off GSA’s schedule. GSA’s training warned that winning a contract could have cost $75,000, so I only got away with a $400 bill because I did all of the months-long work myself, and I think some of these funds were for now actually securing a contract, which would require traveling to Washington or Los Angeles to schmooze with these agencies; they are not looking for the best firm, but some kind of underhanded deals. What did this company pay $250,000 for? The system is corrupt if the process of asking for money costs this much money. Maybe businesses would not fight for 0-taxes if they did not see government SEC etc. fees as business-killing barriers to entry. The oligopolies running American business benefit when the cost of starting a competitive business are this high; those already “in” remain because few new entities can enter. Either way, this is a great example that leaves readers with a lot to ponder.

I have always enjoyed browsing through Dummies books, they are very gentle reading. They can be read cover-to-cover without feeling the strain of serious research. Reading them side-by-side with a scholarly book makes the casual language stand out, but it is also clear that they are essential reading for those who need them. This collection of a dozen different books on starting a business is intended for a wide audience of business people, those who hope to get to the top of their field and those who are just pondering their first venture. Everybody has to be familiar with these basics, and if they can take this pill in this casual atmosphere, it might fester in the back of their mind until it blooms decades later.   

There Are No Just Wars: Political Philosophy for Students and Citizens

Colin Bird. An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Second Edition: Cambridge Introduction to Philosophy. 368pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019 (2006).


This is an “introduction to political philosophy” intended for undergraduate students. “It discusses historical and contemporary figures and covers a vast range of topics and debates, including immigration, war, national and global economics, the ethical and political implications of climate change, and the persistence of racial oppression and injustice. It also presents… discussions of perfectionism, utilitarianism, theories of the social contract, and the Marxian tradition of social criticism. Real-life examples introduce students to ways of using philosophical reflection and debates, and open up new perspectives on politics and political issues.”

I minored in political science back in college. Back then this book would have been pretty exciting. I had a curiosity to understand what communism and the social contract really meant, and I wanted to read political philosophy to gain a deeper perception of the global political movements. Wars, poverty, humanitarianism, all seem strange when they are seen through the lens of philosophy. I am trying to recall this excitement to see this book through fresh eyes rather than as one more introductory politics textbook.

The titles of the chapters and sections are a bit difficult to interpret, but this would not matter if it was assigned cover-to-cover and students were obligated to read every word. The book is divided into three parts: 1. “Politics and Critical Morality” (political criticism and morality, the common good, utilitarianism, perfectionism and rational constraints, sympathy, social contract, contracts and general will), 2. “Topics in Political Philosophy” (property and wealth, merit, liberty, famine-relief argument, economic justice, borders and migration, the environment, war and justice, liberty and coercion, democracy and self-government), and 3. “Changing the World: Ideal Futures and Past Injustices” (enlightenment, materialism, racism). Some chapters look at specific theorists and their central ideas, including Marx, Locke and Hobbes. The closest class I took to these topics was back in AP Philosophy class; there we read the central theorists, and then the teacher discussed these ideas rather casually with us as a group. It might have been a more productive class if instead of having to read all of those complex philosophy books on my own to figure out what these concepts and branches of philosophy meant, we also had to read this textbook that digested these central ideas into nuggets of wisdom. On the other hand, reading a volume of Hobbes without any introduction other than the one included from the editor or translator was stimulating because it was extremely challenging.

One example of how this book digests complex ideas is at the onset of “2. The Common Good”, where the author describes how Louis XIV of France is said to have exclaimed: “I am the state”. This statement represents the concept of a “ruler” who views the “resources, inhabitants, or territory” as “exclusively at” their “disposal”. The discussion goes on to contrast this monarchic perspective with a view that sees politics function as serving what is “good” for the common or for the public (40-1). Another contrasting idea presented is the “Hobbesian Contract”, wherein the central goal is “self-preservation” rather than the good of all (95). Once these conflicting concepts are covered, the discussion dives into “real” modern problems such as migration and attempts to apply the concepts to explaining the dualities of arguments for and against migration into foreign territories (192). A few sentences hit home in “The Just War Criteria”, which address if any war can be “just” by proposing “two questions: (a) under what conditions is it ever someone’s place to declare others as enemies and to organize violent attacks against them? (b) How are ‘enemies’ to be properly identified and how is it appropriate to treat them in the course of fighting them” (236-7). I have been checking out of modern politics because I don’t think America has been asking these questions, and its wars have been unjust as a result. If Iraq and Afghanistan did not attack the Twin Towers as political entities, why did America feel justified I going into these places and violently killing thousands of their people without properly identifying the exact guilty parties of the terrorist acts? Even if America killed one innocent person, the war would be unjust, but killing more innocent people than died in the 9/11 attack is clearly a war crime.

This is a good example of how political philosophy is not only essential reading for our morally-bankrupt political leaders, but also for the rest of us as we prepare to vote, or attempt to grasp developments in international politics. This book should be required reading for anybody in federal political positions. Political decisions cannot be made through intuition or self-interest, but instead by weighing the ethical and logical components of a decision. I approve this book for introductory politics classes. While some of it jumps around and digresses, most of it succinctly delivers explanations for concepts that once understood change a citizen’s perspective for life.

The Same Book… Again… A Failure to Communicate

Larry Powell and Joseph Cowart. Political Campaign Communication: Inside and Out, 3rd Edition. 382pp. New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.


This book repeats the same ideas as the other handful of books in this review set on this topic. I just needed practical advice on building a website, a handout and other materials for my mayoral campaign. I ran a search for all newly released titles on this subject and requested them from several different publishers. While before, most of my requests might have been rejected, it seems that since I’m approaching reviewing 500 books, publishers have just started “yes” to nearly all of my requests that touch on anything released in the last couple of years. Sadly, this experiment demonstrated how similar books in any given narrow category are to each other even if they are released from different publishers, different countries, and are written by different authors. All of the writers consult the other competing titles and repeat the main topics and components. If I was contracted to write a new textbook on “political campaign communications”, I might have also consulted past releases and mimicked some of these same movements. Since everybody is doing this, writing a book with entirely innovative and unique ideas is likely to generate a rejection from the publisher. A book that breaks these modes and formulas screams out a declaration of war against the other titles’ repetitions. Publishers mimic books in fields like this in the same way cell phone manufacturers release models that are similar to the top-selling brands. It cannot be an identical copy, and some features might be trademarked, but general attributes can be imitated without infringing on legally protected rights of intellectual ownership. A dozen books on the same subject might not have identical passages, but the summary of the communicated information is likely to be interchangeable. I view this as a catastrophic problem because students who see these repetitions are likely to view plagiarism as an extension and they might be more likely to outright steal paragraphs of text they find online, pasting them into their essays. Publishers who make millions from textbooks sold into classrooms have the resources to demand wholly original content. If there are a dozen political communications books in the market, the next book should find new research into uncovered strategies, or it should not set out to bring another twin into this overcrowded space. 

Here is the summary: “political campaigning through the eyes of both an academic and a political consultant. Unlike others in its field, this text takes a broad view of political campaigning, discussing both theories and principles, along with topics such as political socialization, the role of money, ethics, and critical events.” No, it is not “unlike others”; they all look at campaigning broadly in theory and practice, and cover money and ethics. It promises to consider “changes in the American political environment, with fuller examinations of women and gender, the involvement of social media in political campaigning, political money, and ethics.” There have been no changes for women in politics, unless perhaps there have been some negative changes: like the new total ban on abortions in some states, or the continuing lack of a gender rights amendment to protect discriminatory salaries.

Here is a quote from the section on gender: “Before 1970, few women held major public office at either the state or city level… By 1999, women held more than 20 percent of state legislative offices and were governors of three states. Long gone are the days when Lurleen Wallace campaigned for the governor’s seat in Alabama as a surrogate for her husband, George, who was prohibited by law from seeking an additional term. Today’s female candidates campaign on their own merits and on their own issues” (114). This summary is too general and does not represent the reality of women in politics. I found a Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics table called “Women in the U.S. Congress 2019”, which shows that in 1917 there were no women in Congress. The numbers barely climbed up across most of its history through the 101st Congress in 1989, mostly hovering at 20 congresswomen up until this point. Then the numbers began climbing upwards annually without turning back until the total reached 130 or so in this last 2019 congress, with the last election showing the biggest leap since 1994 or so. The climb in Congress has been steeper than in governors and senate positions, where women still make up not much more than 20 percent. I recall seeing the 1970 number in other books about women and politics but it reflects more of the popular notion that the 60s were culturally and politically revolutionary rather than the reality of when the statistics turned in women’s favor. 1989 and not 1999 or 1970 was the main turning point. And the days of the governor’s wife running for office are nowhere near gone. Clinton utilized her husband’s credentials to run for office. Many female politicians in congress and the senate today are there because their husbands died or could not run for added terms. I did a study of this a while back, and the number of self-made women there because of their established political, legal or business careers is a tiny portion compared to the overwhelming number of women who got there via their family relations. Smart, independent women are still hardly ever voted into office. Making hyperbolic statements that suggest the problem of discrimination against women has been solved in textbooks gives people a false sense of ease, which stops activists from protesting and righting the disaster that rules our political situation.

I hope a publisher reads these reviews and contracts a writer to come up with some new ideas on this over-recycled subject. This is a horrid book unfit for civilized reading.


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