Book Reviews: Spring 2021

By: Anna Faktorovich

A Step Towards Understanding the Origin-Story of Book-Printing

Lorenz Boninger, Niccolo di Lorenzo Della Magna: And the Social World of Florentine Printing, ca. 1470-1493 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021). Hardcover. 210pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-674-25113-7.


My current research is into the monopolistic publishing and theatric practices of the British Renaissance that was dominated by only six linguistically-distinguishable authors or ghostwriters. My findings indicate that two of these writers also held official publishing monopolies (Richard Verstegan and William Byrd), one of them had a family linked to book printing and selling (Ben Jonson) and yet another was investing in theaters and playbooks under pseudonyms such as “William Shakespeare” (William Percy). The linguistic data reveals that the earliest significant publishing ventures in England were tightly controlled by the monarchy and elite groups like the Workshop who blocked access to the press to the public, while publishing titles that made it seem that the British people were free to express their ideas in print. In a feudal country with vagabond laws that outlawed contractual independent authorship, the first generation to begin bringing the theater and books to the public was not composed of hundreds of free-thinking intellectuals, but rather a small group that was largely patronized in exchange for propagandizing the version of British history the monarchy favored. If this was the birth of printing-press book production in Britain, there were also similar acknowledged and secret Workshops across Europe, given the flow of translations between nations. The search to understand these connections and the rules over publishing in Europe pre-1560s led me to this book.

Here is the publisher’s summary: “Lorenz Böninger offers a fresh history of the birth of print in Italy through the story of one of its most important figures, Niccolò di Lorenzo della Magna. After having worked for several years for a judicial court in Florence, Niccolò established his business there and published a number of influential books.” Between these roots and through the 18th century across Europe and in America, contracts with law courts, governors and other governing agencies were some of the earliest secure sources of printing employment with enough guaranteed profit to invest in the tools and labor of starting a press; this created a built-in bias for publishers to prefer for publication propagandistic books not only in these direct governmental contracts, but also in any commercial projects they took on because the state and those who wanted to rule the state remained the main buyer of publicity. “Among these were Marsilio Ficino’s De christiana religione, Leon Battista Alberti’s De re aedificatoria, Cristoforo Landino’s commentaries on Dante’s Commedia, and Francesco Berlinghieri’s Septe giornate della geographia. Many of these books were printed in vernacular Italian.” Latin was the standard language of written communication across Europe, and publishing books that could be used in clerical schools or by the Church (to help sell religion) was just as essential for capitalist publishers as publishing for the State. “Despite his prominence, Niccolò has remained an enigma. A meticulous historical detective, Böninger pieces together the thorough portrait that scholars have been missing.” This is a tough goal for any writer to meet, but the introduction explains that the author was able to access archival sources from these years that were not incorporated into scholarship before. More significantly than learning about this Niccolò (unless he was the dominant printer who functioned under multiple pseudonyms that made it seem there were many printers in Italy) is using what can be gleaned about his business to understand “the Italian printing revolution generally” and in particular the “legal issues that printers confronted, the working conditions in printshops, and the political forces that both encouraged and constrained the publication and dissemination of texts.”

I started reading the “Introduction” closely during a severe thunder-storm with a fading light, and the one criticism that came to mind is that the font is too small to invite such close reading. There is also far too much white space for the margins, or around an inch, instead of the more standard half-inch; I would recommend shrinking the margins and enlarging the font to fix both of these challenges.

Another objection that came to mind is that this “Introduction” is far too scattered in ideas, and thus somebody who is attempting to grasp from it an overview of this subject would be left confused. If this section was called a “Preface”, this scattering might have been more suitable. The section begins as if it is about to summarize the background history of the printing-press from the invention to the period and country that are the focus on this study, but then shifts away from this history. From my perspective, I needed to know the sources for the claims made in this leaping introduction that are largely missing. For example, one paragraph starts with this claim: “Already in the fourteenth century, Florentine citizens prided themselves on one of the highest rates of literacy in Europe”. The source given at the end of this paragraph that then moves on to discussing what they were reading, philosophy and other less concrete subjects, at the back of the book is: Paolo Trovato’s essay “Il libro in Toscana nell’eta di Lorenzo” or “The book in Tuscany in the age of Lorenzo”, on page 58. When I searched for this article online, I found several other books and essays citing it, but it is not publicly accessible. It is very unlikely that Trovato gave a specific percentage of the population of Florence that was reading as early as the fourteenth century, or Böninger would have used the specific number. The vagueness of this extraordinary literacy claim allows all these scholars to repeat the idea that literacy spread in Europe even in feudal times, but my findings contradict these biased repetitions. If one dismisses these claims as unsupported, and then just counts the handful of surviving copies of Hamlet’s first and second quartos, and adds in even the top best-selling books that might have sold hundreds of copies, and computes the extremely high cost of any single book comparative to income of the working class, there is blatantly a statistical error here that needs to be corrected as a starting point of any new research into early European printing. Böninger describes the 1-4 copies that survive of most of the early Florence books himself in the following chapters: “about sixty-eight hundred books from that age are conserved in only one copy, thirty-one hundred in two copies, two thousand in three, fifteen hundred in four, and twelve hundred in five” (20). My findings indicate that this was because ghostwriters made a profit by selling bylines to “authors”, “translators”, “editors” or “contributors”, who wanted the fame of a book publication, and these motivated investors paid both for the high cost of printing and designing the book as well as having it written for them; nobles could thus glorify themselves as wise rulers, and drunken aristocrats could seduce beautiful wives by feigning that they were poets; the statistics confirm that most of them bought only a couple of copies (one for themselves, and the second for the printer in case edits were necessary, or to showcase the work to future buyers).

The history solidifies in the opening chapter of the first part, as it describes that the one “of the first printed books in Florence, Maurus Servius Honoratus’s Commentarii in Vergilii opera, was completed after more than a year of work on 7 October 1472” (15). Now here is a bit of reality, publishing a single book at the dawn of printing took a year of design, type-setting, and labor; when a book cost as much to create as a massive statue or a wall-painting by Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic workshop… this book had to be sponsored by a patron who viewed it as a political or theological tool to strengthen their power, and not as a product that anybody even in the rest of the upper class could afford. Then, Böninger explains that one of the earliest demands from the public for books came alongside the rise of European universities, a buyer that was as instrumental as Church and State. In Florence, the university that demanded “Honoratus’” text that prompted this birth of printing in the city was Studium Generale; before the printing press, one of the students in this university in 1466 valued a copy of “Servius” at “ten gold florins”. However, instead of diving into these curious subjects that demand more research, Böninger leaps to a review of “civic pride” that resulted from the invention of printing into the modern age. Then, Böninger speculates regarding who could have invested in these early printing ventures, just after the fall of the Medici family; he guesses it must have been one of the lead booksellers, Zanobi di Zanobi del Cica, who sold “no less than forty-four copies of Cennini’s book” in late 1473, seemingly to a single “mysterious buyer” the “‘alchemist’ Agostino di Giovanni de’ Cavalli”, a blatant pseudonym, and these books were seized by a goldsmith with whom this “alchemist” left them before disappearing from Florence forever; holding these books off-market for this year only raised their price. While most historians tend to view these types of “mysterious” pseudonyms as the names of benefactors working for the good of humankind, my research repeatedly proves that the use of a pseudonym always indicates fraud (identity-fraud, bribery, forgery, or other crimes). The attribution of pseudonyms has consumed much of literary and historical research since the Renaissance. An example of this quest is when Böninger reviews the previous attribution studies for the pseudonym “printer of Terentius, Pr. 6748” on works such as Boccaccio’s Decamerone between 1470-1; previous scholars have followed the money that suggests that Boccaccio’s work was probably financed by somebody with a name that was entered into public record in connection, and since Niccolo di Lorenzo is one of these rare named printers, he has been assumed to be the underlying “Pr. 6748”. The problem (unacknowledged by Böninger) is that if Lorenzo used a pseudonym once, no printer-byline in these decades can be trusted as all of the other printer names in Florence could have been Lorenzo’s pseudonyms. Böninger does explain that in Part II, he proves this particular hypothesis about “Pr. 6748” could not have been true for “biographic reasons” (21). The failure of previous studies to notice these reasons proves that my own computational-linguistic methods is the only approach to break through the deliberate attribution-confusions these early printers put in place to avoid being prosecuted when their books were proven to be seditious or libelous, or as forged or ghostwritten. If there was no fraud in Florence publishing during these decades, no sensible printer would have used a pseudonym on one of the first books ever printed in Florence; he or she would have made a career by stamping their name on their production. The documents that this book claims have not been reviewed by earlier scholars appear to be largely the court cases, wherein these early printers were imprisoned over failure to repay their debts for their rent, printing presses and the rest because of the low sales of the book-products they were laboring to create; as is the case where in 1485 Ciachi and Niccolo di Lorenzo borrowed money from wool merchant Roberto di Pagnozzo Ridolfi, and then another lender collected on an earlier loan, and this forced Lorenzo into court and prison (94). The link to “wool” is an important revelation for me from this book because it explains how “Philip Henslowe” moved from selling a few wool hides to becoming the leading theater-investor in London; a point that has not been explored in any studies of the British Renaissance I’ve seen.  

I cannot continue the close study of this book despite the many interesting ideas I am learning from it. The main problem stopping me is that I have to interject at most of the statements Böninger makes with my own more likely theories of what the evidence is indicating. Böninger’s distracted jumps from one idea to another (for example, offering the evidence against an attribution in Part II that he starts arguing in Part I) also make it difficult to follow the evidence to learn about any one of these revealing points. The problem might be that there are only 80 pages in the center of the book, while the rest is front and back-matter. This together with the small font has forced or allowed the author to lightly mention different pieces of information, without fully exploring each piece of evidence and all pieces of evidence related to it.

Despite the mentioned shortfalls, this book includes a significant amount of research on a subject that is too often left to assumptions and previous scholars. Hopefully, somebody else will pick up the strings Böninger developed here to tie them together and expand them into a study that only mentions points that can be proven with evidence, and presents all evidence necessary to build a court-worthy defense or accusation against these initiating printers. Thus, it’s a good idea for most academic libraries to buy this book to make it accessible for this future research.

A Step Towards Acknowledging the “Posing” Falsity of Religion

Evan Haefeli, Accidental Pluralism: America and the Religious Politics of English Expansion, 1497-1662 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021). Hardcover. 384pp, 6X9”. 11 halftones. ISBN: 978-0-226-74261-8.


“Evan Haefeli argues that America did not begin as a religiously diverse and tolerant society. It became so only because England’s religious unity collapsed just as America was being colonized. By tying the emergence of American religious toleration to global events, Haefeli creates a true transnationalist history that links developing American realities to political and social conflicts and resolutions in Europe, showing how the relationships among states, churches, and publics were contested from the beginning of the colonial era and produced a society that no one had anticipated.” This is an important study from the perspective of my own research because part of my findings is that the Workshop’s Richard Verstegan, with occasional help from Gabriel Harvey, ghostwrote most of the theological British Renaissance texts on all sides of the religious “debates”: Marprelate tracts and rebuttals, and the “Munday”-bylined English Roman Life as well as the 1581 rebuttal in support of Catholic priests that led to Verstegan’s exile from England. Despite his “exile”, Verstegan ghostwrote the translation of the King James Holy Bible (1611) as well as most of the sermons of clergy such as Richard Bancroft. Despite having this power over the Church of England, Verstegan did not stop the semi-exile of his fellow ghostwriter Josuah Sylvester in 1613 (blatantly the result of Sylvester’s vaguely disguised outlawed Judaism). From the perspective of my findings, the British generation that first formed the big colonies in America, who had been educated in England, would have been exposed to this self-insulting and disagreeing theological ideas that Verstegan concocted. Verstegan became an open Catholic publisher in exile, while he was writing anti-Catholic propaganda for British ghostwriting buyers. Verstegan promoted fringe ideas about theology and helped to birth the religious sects that are still with us today out of obscure theological notes; inspiring religious strife meant a stead stream of ghostwriting labor, as governments and churches that felt attacked by rebellious enemies were more likely to pay to defend themselves in the press and to attack these enemies, than they would have been interested in publishing anything if there were no theological disagreements. The point Haefeli should have raised in this summary is that the first book that was printed in the American colonies, The Bay Psalm Book, was printed in Cambridge in 1639; Harvard University was founded only three years earlier in 1636, and they immediately realized that they needed to have their own press to run a university without any other printer across the colonies. Thus, any discussion of Americans being especially theologically rebellious prior to 1639 is absurd, as they could not have communicated these beliefs in an officially documented medium of the press.

The opening chapters explain that in the first half-century of the British colonialization of the Americas, Britain was still Catholic, and the early colonists reflected this conformity. Haefeli argues that Britain began to show a pluralistic theology when Sir Thomas More’s fictional Utopia showed the conflict between native islanders’ and invaders’ religious beliefs. Then, after England established its independent Church of England, Sir Walter Raleigh’s “patent” for settling the Roanoke colony insisted that his chief goal was the “suppression of false and bad religion”, in favor of the “true religion” (22). Both “Raleigh’s” patent and the words attributed to Elizabeth about this religious “unity” motive were ghostwritten by the Workshop, while they were writing texts that described and glorified various other religious options under other bylines. The Workshop’s goal was to avoid “unity” in favor of conflict that made it necessary to create “spy” networks, and to invest in propaganda. Without a single printer in the British American colonies, Haefeli relies on the books attributed as having been written by explorers of America, such as “Richard Hakluyt’s” Diverse Voyages touching the Discovery of America (1582); while I did not test this travelogue, the “Sir Walter Raleigh”-bylined Dialogue Between a Counselor of State (1628) proved to have also been ghostwritten by Verstegan. Thus, the radicalism of texts attributed to American-voyagers were simply more radical because it was harder for the British courts to prosecute them, and so Verstegan could be less reserved in the degree of radicalism expressed in them. 

The main documentary evidence across this book regarding religion in America comes from church records, including the notes as to why a new church was established by somebody like John Davenport in Massachusetts in 1637; but these notes use standard language that describe the goal of maintaining “liberty and purity of the gospel”, and rarely sound like being uniquely different in their principles or politics than other church charters. The judgement on if some were more “restrictive” has largely fallen to critics like Haefeli. It is easier to prove that some colonies like Massachusetts were “restricting the franchise and the right to hold office to members of the colony’s church”, but most colonies probably had similar limitations even if they did not specify them in legal documents (169). There are many issues raised across this book that have not been raised about religion in early-America before, only these questions are not taken to complete history-re-write conclusions that my study proves are necessary. Haefeli even observes himself the formulaic repetitions among the written faithfulness to the Church statements across these decades: “as for example Arundel made an announcement in which he “said almost nothing about the colony’s religious life, beyond the standard claim it would propagate the ‘Christian Religion’” (209). There was a shift in the final decades that Haefeli studies partially because Verstegan died in 1640, and though he left some theological texts that were published posthumously, he lost the power to supervise the fire in this debate from beyond the grave. Thus, for example, Haefeli observes that the “religious and political balance between Catholics and Protestants” in Maryland “broke down completely” in around 1644, when Richard Ingle commenced “plundering the homes of all Marylanders who would not swear loyalty to Parliament. Posing as Protestant heroes, they targeted Catholics, expelled the Jesuits, and shut down their mission” (234). “Posing” as theologists defending a religious belief is how too many wars across recorded human history have been explained. The application of these pretend-beliefs was just as damaging during these Renaissance pillaging as it is today when Israel attempts to confiscate Palestinian homes on nothing other than theological differences.

This is a positive turn for theological scholarship to take, and I hope Haefeli and others will keep moving in this direction until they arrive at a truer version of the negative role religion has played in artificially creating warfare and genocide on all sides, as the theological ideas do not define the speaker’s capacity for their violent enforcement. Thus, I would recommend all academic libraries to acquire a copy of this book to allow youths and scholars alike to consider if they have blinders on when they think about their own religion in contrast with all other beliefs.

A Nightmare of Bad Editing Advice

Pamela Haag, Revise: The Scholar-Writer’s Essential Guide to Tweaking, Editing, and Perfecting Your Manuscript (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021). Hardcover. 352pp, 5½X8½”. ISBN: 978-0-30024-367-3.


Across the decades I have spent in school and working on my independent research, I have read at least a hundred books about editing. The more I think about them, the more I remember. For every one of the five or so years I spent teaching college English writing, I had to not only read, but also teach at least 10 different writing/editing textbooks. These books were perhaps the first time I noticed how formulaic all writing is, as the same comments tend to be made in a slightly different order about the structure, the grammar, the style and the other traditional elements of “proper” writing. I think I was most shocked by a class I took during my PhD studies, that not only broke down the grammar into much finer elements, but also questioned if the term “standard” or “proper” is wrong in itself. Obviously, we need standard spelling, as the variations in spelling is one of the main reasons I am currently working on translating Early-Modern English texts into Modern-English; spelling began to be standardized just after the Renaissance, while during the Renaissance there were too many words that could be mistaken for each other, and frequently were; then again, a large portion of what is today “standard” English was invented out of Latin or other foreign languages or spoken speech during these decades. Thus, outside of my research into advanced linguistics, very few books about editing or writing surprise me. The summary of this book starts on a note that is not promising because it is trite and false: “Writing and revision are two different skills.” While, the American college curriculum divides these topics into two different departments (literature and composition), it is absolutely impossible to write without being able to read, or to read without knowing the elements of writing. As I write every sentence in these reviews, I am repeatedly questioning the best words or ideas, and tend to erase, rephrase… or stop to choose between different options to continue a thought. It would be very strange if I had ideas in my head that I put down on paper, without any revisionist hesitation. It goes on: “Many scholar-writers have learned something about how to write, but fewer know how to read and revise their own writing, spot editorial issues, and transform a draft from passable to great.” There is some truth to this: in all my years of teaching… (sorry kids) I have not come across any “scholar-writer” who reached the “great” status; but then again, I am currently translating “Shakespeare”/Percy and I just judged that one of his final-decade plays displayed some waning in his writing skills… So, my standard of “greatness” is a bit higher than most. It would be great if this book did indeed begin to approach my standard, instead of merely explain how my students could have gone from a D to an A… “Drawing on before and after examples from more than a decade as a developmental editor of scholarly works, Pamela Haag tackles the most common challenges of scholarly writing. This book is packed with practical, user-friendly advice and is written with warmth, humor, sympathy, and flair.” Oh, no… if any editor promises to have “sympathy”, she is about to give a golden-star-just-for-competing. “…Haag demonstrates how to reconcile clarity with intellectual complexity.” Another bad sign; across the history of writing/editing studies the suggestion that “intellectual complexity” is a negative extreme implies that the audience being addressed are anti-intellectual; sparing these semi-literates from boredom is judged by this group of editors as more important than what the thing being written actually communicates, or the lack of any significant communication in it at all. The intended audience is described as “scholars…self-editing…” or teaching these skills to “graduate and other students on style,” in order to “ultimately, get their work published and praised.” This sets the bar at the ambitious level that this book should teach enough for a new graduate who just started teaching to use it to polish their first book for publication with an academic press. The author’s bio is that she runs an “editorial business”…, which means that it would be in her financial interest if this book did not teach enough for “scholars” to succeed in using it to polish their own work. Just as trainers are motivated to give the minimum information about physical exercise to keep their clients coming back to them for help; an editor who profits from incompetence is not really the best author to write a book that outs the secrets that keep her in business.

The book’s “Contents” avoid the standard writing/editing textbook sections on paragraph/ idea structure, or the standard grammar-book sections of awkward language etc., but it also kind of hits on the stereotypical pieces of advice editors give like the chapter called, “‘Awk.’: Finding Your Cadence, Tone, and Voice”. This is a strange phrasing because an “awkward” sentence refers to a specific lack of clarity in a sentence, whereas “voice” and “tone” are much more general concepts. A reader coming to these headings is immediately going to be confused as these ideas seem “obscure” as the title of the first chapter suggests, “‘Jargon’y, Theory-Heavy, and Obscure’: Handling Specialized Language”.

As these opening parts suggest, the interior includes general statements about writing that fail to be of practical use. For example, “No reader is enticed by an announcement that you’ll be forcing the to do something: The battle… will also force us to…” (57). There is no such rule. Some writing situations require the author forcing readers to “do something”; for example a propogandist book urging readers to start a revolution. On the other hand, why would a writer of standard non-revolutionary prose ever need to be told that they should not be “forcing” readers? Nearly half of this book is a set of long quotes of what the editor cites as bad writing. In the middle of these nonsensical quotes of horrid writing, the editor does not offer specific advice for revision, but rather philosophizes about the essence of the errors: “Other manuscripts I’ve encountered include quotations that are either so out of context that they no longer make sense, or maybe they never made sense to begin with” (149). What is she saying? Why would anybody cite a source if it was nonsensical “to begin with”? Some sections are just ridiculous coming from an editor, as a paragraph where is laments being forced by the word-count limit to cut out words, as they had to pick “through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph to rephrase sentences, remove redundant quotations, and delete recursive passages” (191). What kind of editor is she that she does not look at every paragraph and phrase as a starting point to consider what needs to be subtracted or added?

This book would have been my nightmare assignment if a professor assigned it to me in a graduate writing/editing class. Reading through it closely with the types of nonsense I just mentioned on every page would have made me want to write this very review with my complaints, but of course I wouldn’t have done so if my grade depended on accepting Haag as an authority who is worthy of an “A” and of having her book accepted for publication, while those with higher standard… So, please don’t buy this book, and don’t make library visitors or students suffer through it, and don’t hire editors. Learning the art of self-revision is one of the important skills we must learn to become intellectuals.

The Role of Ghostwritten Propaganda in the Successful British Revolution

Lloyd Bowen, John Poyer: The Civil Wars in Pembrokeshire and the British Revolutions (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2020). Softcover: $14.99. 272pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-78683-654-0.


This book describes a topic that is important to my continuing research, as it represents a gap in my understanding of the 1640s. During this decade, William Percy was the only still-living ghostwriter (out of the six who wrote all of the books I tested from the British Renaissance). Verstegan had been writing the bulk of the religious and political propaganda up to his death in 1640, though some posthumous pieces continued to surface. The question that pulls me into this particular study is if Percy had been pro-revolutionary across his life, and was only able to act on this impulse after Verstegan’s death, or if Verstegan’s death left a political vacuum that was filled by other revolutionaries without Percy having an interest in stopping them. The former is biographically more likely because at least three 7-9th Earls of Northumberland (Percy’s father, his brother and uncle) were imprisoned, executed or assassinated over treasonous rebellion accusations. Hamlet and most of the other Percy-dominantly-ghostwritten “Shakespeare” tragedies show the deadly flaws of monarchs. Thus, it seems logical that it was Percy’s lifelong ambition to start a revolution to overthrow the British monarchy, and in fact there was a decade-long gap in English history between Charles I’s execution just after Percy’s death in 1649 and the start of Charles II’s reign in 1660 (though Charles II was ruling Scotland across this stretch, he only gained the English crown after Oliver Cromwell’s period of dictatorial Commonwealth rule). This temporary overthrow of the English monarchy was in fact the first major revolution against a European power, a century before the American Revolution succeeded in winning a permanent break in 1783. Given that the Workshop had a monopoly of the press and stage from the 1560s to the 1640s, it is not surprising that if Percy was determined on an revolution, one would have succeeded. Thus, my suspicion is that if this book proves “John Poyer” was the spark that ignited the two Civil Wars in part by switching sides, the ideas attributed to “Poyer” might have been Percy’s; the fact that “Poyer” was a craftsman like a glover who became a “mayor” and “governor” of all places in the “Sidney”-dominated Pembroke (several members of the Sidney family hired the Workshop as their ghostwriters), strengthens this case. But “Poyer’s” actions reflect political motives, as he first supported the revolution against Charles I, but then when his governorship was taken away from him after Charles I’s imprisonment, he sided with Charles I and tried to free him, for which he was executed alongside Charles I… Then again, if Percy was using pseudonyms, perhaps Percy also switched sides and he could have been among those executed in 1649 if the year of his death is mis-estimated by a year.

“This is the first book-length treatment of the ‘turncoat’ John Poyer, the man who initiated the Second Civil War through his rebellion in south Wales in 1648. The volume charts Poyer’s rise from a humble glover in Pembroke to become parliament’s most significant supporter in Wales during the First Civil War (1642-6), and argues that he was a more complex and significant individual than most commentators have realised. Poyer’s involvement in the poisonous factional politics of the post-war period (1646-8) is examined, and newly discovered material demonstrates how his career offers fresh insights into the relationship between national and local politics in the 1640s, the use of print and publicity by provincial interest groups, and the importance of local factionalism in understanding the course of the civil war in south Wales. The volume also offers a substantial analysis of Poyer’s posthumous reputation after his execution by firing squad in April 1649.”

The “Preface” explains that the evidence about “Poyer’s” life comes from problematic sources as they are “hostile reports and pamphlets” largely from the “John Eliot of Amroth” (Pembrokeshire) byline who described himself as “Poyer’s” antagonist, who has been assumed to be the author behind “anonymously” released “anti-Poyer” pamphlets. Bowen also explains that “only ghosts” of the texts that could prove who “Poyer” really was survived “have not survived”, including his “first published work, The Relation from 1645”; the “manuscript transcriptions” have survived (as is the case with “Poyer’s” The Grounds & Reasons that survives in a single manuscript copy); this suggests that Percy might have written these, but refrained from publishing them due to censorship. Poyer’s pro-king Declaration is claimed to have been distributed as a manuscript across Wales to help rise the rebels in 1648. Bowen does question this popularity by “Chapter 8”: “Perhaps these pamphlets were circulated only among interested groups in parliament and the army, and what we have here are lobbying documents…” the copy of Grounds was found “among the papers of the Army’s Council’s secretary” (180); what all this really means is that these texts were ghostwritten under contract by England military establishment on both sides of these two Civil Wars; printing a copy of these texts could help to argue the other side is rebelling to start a war, when there is no real opposition, and once the first shot is fired, the manuscript or printed book can be used to explain the need for otherwise unprovoked military action. It is clear that his Vindication was published in 1649 and did survive in the printed-book format (1-4) in a “single copy” (180). “Poyer’s” views are not likely to have reflected Percy’s because “Poyer” first emerged in the press as an anti-Catholic agitator in response to the Catholic rising in Ireland in 1642 (6); whereas, Percy’s family had suffered imprisonment and executions for their right to maintain their Catholic connections. Percy also is not likely to have written any rhetorical non-fiction himself, either pro- or anti-Catholic or -monarchy, so the texts attributed to “Poyer” are more likely to have been the manuscripts Verstegan left unpublished upon his death. “Chapter 1” proves that “Poyer” was likely to have been a pseudonym of a ghostwriter because “we cannot even be certain of his parentage.” There might not even be much documented proof that he had been a general servant, glover, merchant or wool-cleaner, as Bowen claims in the summary of “Poyer’s” life (9). Later in the chapter Bowen cites one of “Poyer’s” contemporary critics who had called him a “glover” in print as an insult in the anonymous (but somehow now “John Eliot”-assigned) A Short Comment upon the Grounds and Reasons of Poyer’s Taking up Arms (1649) that survives in only a single printed copy (180). In contrast, “Poyer” avoids saying anything about his background in his self-attributed texts, saying merely, “I boast not of my parents” in Vindication (16). This refusal to confess a background would have been necessary for a multi-bylined ghostwriter, whereas a commoner who rose to be a governor would have been proud to describe the precise nature of the work he did that taught him about the need for revolutionary change. Bowen explains that the date “Poyer” gave as his approximate birth year (1606) in pre-civil wars lawsuits contradicts the death of perhaps the only “John Poyer’s” father who could match this byline in the previous year (1605) (16). “Poyer” self-identified as a “skinner” in a court deposition in 1636 and as a “glover” in 1639. Yet, he had also been serving as Pembroke’s bailiff since 1633 (17). “Poyer’s” name was clearly fiscally and legally active by the 1630s, even if he had changed his name at the start of the 1630s when the name appeared sporadically in Pembroke. One of the legal disputes that established “Poyer’s” biographical background was a lawsuit brought against him by Lucy Meyrick in 1639, contesting that “Poyer” had taken over her lease without a contract, and had been failing to make the due payments or repairs, under the argument the hand-shake deal was not enforceable; “Poyer” tried to defend his actions by saying that he did try to make repairs and to make a profit from the venture, but failed to do so, and offered to return the property to Meyrick (19); despite the pretense of charity, this fraudulent transaction makes it very likely “Poyer” was a pseudonym intended initially to be used in simple fiscal fraud.

In 1648, “Poyer” was entertaining his troops with food and drink” while selling pro-war propaganda (109). Later that year “Poyer” and “Laugharne” are said to have attempted to publish “resolutions” that would bring “a good agreement in all”, but the publication took longer than it took for blood to spill in a violent conflict in Pembroke: “Poyer fired numerous shots from the Castle and discharged several pieces of ordnance at Fleming and his soldiers shortly after refusing parliament’s ordinance”; this happened to be “The first shots of the Second Civil War” that eventually led to “Poyer’s” execution (124).   

It is very tempting for me to spend the next few days closely reading the rest of the evidence presented in Bowen’s study as it is very revealing regarding the links between ghostwriting and warfare. However, I don’t think it can answer my question regarding Percy’s role unless I linguistically test the texts attributed to “Poyer” against the other texts in my corpus. It does prove many other points that I will perhaps return to later in my study. For the purpose of this review, this is a great book that attempts a very close review of the evidence (and lack thereof) about one particular byline that has been neglected by earlier scholars as a major player in the propaganda wars behind the Civil Wars. Thus, it is a good book for all types of libraries to purchase, and it should serve as a curious supplementary textbook for graduate and undergraduate classes covering this period in British history and literature.

The Revealing Prototype of the Rhetoric Lecture

Robert C. Bartlett, translator; Aristotle, Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021). Softcover: $17. 306pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-226-78990-3.


While William Byrd already had a legal publishing monopoly in music from Elizabeth I by 1575, the Renaissance and the Ghostwriting Workshop behind it really pulled itself together after Gabriel Harvey became a rhetoric lecturer at Cambridge University and published three books on rhetoric that were based on his Latin lectures to the students from 1575-6: Ciceronianus and Rhetor, Vel duorum dierum Oratio, De Natura, Arte, & Exercitatione Rhetorica or Oratory: Or the Two-Day Lecture on Nature, Art and the Rhetorical (1577). Harvey’s Latin lectures have not been translated into English and thus they and Harvey are obscure to modern readers. They did play an enormous role in the development of the younger members of the Workshop including the largely-comedy-specializing Ben Jonson and the largely-tragedy-specializing William Percy (i.e. the two main dramatic “Shake-spears”). Harvey taught them that Greco-Roman classics had to be not only translated into English to make them accessible to educate the British public, but also that these works had to be re-developed and re-written with new ideas and concepts that reflected European beliefs. Harvey chose Rhetor as the title of his second major academic book (he did not publish self-attributed lectures after these in 1577) blatantly to imitate while revising and re-writing (Renaissance means the re-birth of Greco-Roman arts) Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric or Ars Rhetorica. Aristotle in turn writes that he is mimicking the 4th century BC Greek genre of the rhetorical manual, but no equivalent version of an earlier manual has survived; for the ideas to be firmly developed in Aristotle, he had to have read many such manuals indeed. Harvey could not have found the words to describe the rules of proper verbal composition to the “Shake-spears” without first closely studying, and re-interpreting Aristotle’s text. Thus, all teachers of language (any language) have to closely study Aristotle’s Rhetoric at some point of their career to understand the roots of many of the writerly rules that have been repeatedly re-written and re-phrased, but in many ways continue to echo Aristotle’s instructions.

“For more than two thousand years, Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric has shaped thought on the theory and practice of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speech. In three sections, Aristotle discusses what rhetoric is, as well as the three kinds of rhetoric (deliberative, judicial, and epideictic), the three rhetorical modes of persuasion, and the diction, style, and necessary parts of a successful speech. Throughout, Aristotle defends rhetoric as an art and a crucial tool for deliberative politics while also recognizing its capacity to be misused by unscrupulous politicians to mislead or illegitimately persuade others.” This is Robert C. Bartlett “literal, yet easily readable, new translation… one that takes into account important alternatives in the manuscript and is fully annotated to explain historical, literary, and other allusions. Bartlett’s translation is also accompanied by an outline of the argument of each book; copious indexes, including subjects, proper names, and literary citations; a glossary of key terms; and a substantial interpretive essay.” These added parts are essential for a modern reader to begin to understand any ancient text.

While this book is required reading for all academics, Rhetoric is not welcoming for casual readers. “Chapter 1” begins by explaining that most people form persuasive or rhetorical arguments “by accident”, but they can improve their chances of being effective persuaders by learning the “method” behind the “art” of rhetorical argumentative structures. Aristotle explains that “passion” or the stirring of an emotional response (“friendly feeling and hatred”) in jurors or judges might override their ability to understand the facts or “logic” of the other side’s case. However, beyond these few directly communicated concepts, definitions and explanations, Aristotle has a similar tendency to advertise the skills of a rhetorician without actually explaining the precise “art” or the elements needed for an affective speech. In a way, Aristotle set up the very formula still used in writing/editing textbooks such as in the Haag book I reviewed in this set. Even scholars who quote Rhetoric tend to borrow from the types of famous quotes included in a list of nuggets on Goodreads. “There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions-that is, to name them”. This passage echoes the ideas about the difference between persuading with “passion” or “logic” that repeats in waves across this book. But these three points invite readers to find information on the science of “logic” and “emotion” elsewhere, instead of then explaining how these sub-sciences must be manipulated to win the argument. This invitation for readers to purchase the author’s teaching or editing services is apparent in this famous quote: “It was at this point that the transition was first made to the conception that rhetoric was a teachable skill, that it could, usually in return for a fee, be passed from one skilled performer on to others, who might thereby achieve successes in their practical life that would otherwise have eluded them.” It was only logical for this author to invest in writing a book about a skill that paid his bills, if the resulting product would attract more fee-paying students to a university or an editing workshop because the fee for any single book cannot rival the fees that can be levied if students are convinced that they would be guaranteed to “achieve successes” without really doing the rhetorical labor themselves. Thus, Aristotle writes: “it took the rise of democracies and otherwise open societies at Athens and elsewhere to create the climate in which public eloquence became a political indispensability.” The interjection of the censor or editor between the “public” and the press has been the force that has devalued this proposed reason for the public to become rhetorically eloquent. If there was a true access to the written word in Aristotle’s time, and all of Aristotle’s students truly learned these lessons, there should have been far more texts written in that and subsequent generations. True access to speech is democratizing, but the manipulation of the press by tyrants can re-write history to claim tyrants are really democratically-elected leaders. If students can be persuaded purchasing papers is preferrable to the labor of writing them; and politicians can be persuaded to receive money and pre-written legislature from lobbyists instead of developing their own complex rhetorical arguments; then, a society can be described as “free” and “democratic” by its corrupted media, while not really giving any of its members a free voice.

The challenges in Rhetoric are partially overcome if one flips to later sections of this book. While the first 9 Chapters of Book 1 of the book are digressive as they attempt to build a logical argument after defining sub-terms, chapters 10-15 are far more practical as they are designed specifically for lawyers, and provide specific case law, examples, and advice on structuring winning arguments. For example, in a section about ancient and recent “witnesses”, Aristotle cites proverbs as a type of ancient “witness” that can be quoted to convince an audience with an appeal to their wisdom, as in the proverb: “Never do good to an old man”. Then, he practically explains the types of recent witnesses that can be called to the stand to confirm if something did or did not happen (67-8). Much of this advice cannot be practically applied in modern court rooms; for example, Aristotle advocates for bringing in fables from Aesop, and maxims (122-3), and these types of allusions to ancient sources would not be allowed in lawyerly communications, unless they are inserted into opening or closing remarks, and in both of these sections, quoting from classics or proverbs is not currently socially-acceptable. Book 3 on “Diction” and “arrangement of the parts of speech” might be more relevant for literature and rhetoric professors, as it explains the origins of terms such as “metaphor” and “similes” (187). However, this section again is uniquely difficult to comprehend because of its many digressions, and obscure references. For example, a paragraph starts with the claim, “one must intersperse praise into the speech” and then offers examples of empty praise (205). Or a chapter begins by claiming that “slander” can be rebuffed by doing “away with a harsh insinuation”, even if the slander has not been directly “stated”; then, the section questions if a given slander has been “harmful” or “unjust”. To defend whoever said something that is thus potentially slanderous is to contend “that the matter… was an error, or a misfortune, or a necessity…” (197).

The latter example, becomes clear and practical the closer one reads into the details of this argument. Bartlett helped me understand this particular passage better by inserting “[by contending]” before the quote I am citing. Without this phrase, the sentence is far more difficult to interpret. Additionally, a light reading of Rhetoric is not likely to be productive because most of the terms Aristotle uses are now rare, have lost their original meaning, or are the Latin words that were traditionally adopted as-is by rhetoricians but have recently had modern equivalents come into usage. Just on page 197, Bartlett defines the shades of meaning in “topos” (topic), “tropos” (way) and “diabole” (slander) and explains how they were presented differently in the manuscript. He also explains the allusion to Nausicrates (“a student of Isocrates”). The work editors like Bartlett do to make ancient texts accessible to a modern reader are essential for our ability to revive these texts to understand this history from the original sources. This translation can be improved, as a perfect translation would have been a lot easier to read at a glance. But this seems to be an easier to grasp version than the one I read for a class back in high school. For anybody who wants to read Rhetoric for their personal and professional growth, I recommend setting aside a huge bulk of time, and reading it all slowly (checking the definitions as you go). While a lot of it will be frustrating, confusing, repetitive and irrelevant; you are guaranteed to find lessons that have not been noticed before as you interpret them through the lens of your own experiences and interests. Obviously, all libraries and humans on this planet should buy a copy of Rhetoric for their collection.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Ordered an Anti-Revisionist Treatise

James M. Banner Jr., The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History Is Revisionist History (New Haven: Yale University Press, March 16, 2021). Hardcover. 284pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-300-23845-7.


If only the title of this book had actual weight in academia, my attempts to re-write the history of Britain would have found wide-spread access to the press; but the reality is that academia is designed to plagiarize previous versions of history by directly repeating, and occasionally even fabricating new evidence to support blatant falsehoods. Thus, if Banner has managed to find examples of historical revision, they could be a big help in my own attempts. Kirkus Reviews comments on this project start it off on a bad note as they suggest this book lobbies in favor of “historians, who, revisiting past subjects, change their minds”. This suggests that these same historians wrote the previous versions of the history, and then without weight subjects to necessitate the change, just intuitively change how they relate the history. This makes history sound like fiction, where the author-historians are stumbling around and picking the plots that suit their agenda. Here is how the publisher describes it: “History is not, and has never been, inert, certain, merely factual, and beyond reinterpretation.” This is an important statement for all historians to admit, as the claim that even recent history is “factual” can be disproven by the other side of most, if not all political disputes. The book reviews histories from “Thucydides to the origin of the French Revolution to the Civil War… Banner shows why historical knowledge is unlikely ever to be unchanging, why history as a branch of knowledge is always a search for meaning and a constant source of argument, and why history is so essential to individuals’ awareness of their location in the world and to every group and nation’s sense of identity and destiny. He explains why all historians are revisionists while they seek to more fully understand the past, and how they always bring their distinct minds, dispositions, perspectives, and purposes to bear on the subjects they study.” This puffs the task of history-writing as a noble pursuit, but given the giant errors I have found in the history of Britain in my re-attribution studies, the truth is that the “purposes” of all historians across at least the Renaissance was to profit by selling ghostwriting propaganda; whoever, paid the highest amount was awarded with a version of history that set them and their affiliates as the noble, victorious, righteous heroes, while whoever could not pay and stood in opposition of whoever was paying were slandered as the immoral, ungentlemanly rightly-losing villains; in the Renaissance these villain-brands led to the execution of those falsely slandered against. And writing false histories that excited the tensions between Spain and England led to many deaths during the Spanish Armada attack. And the manner in which American textbooks describe foreigners such as Russians (Cold War) or Asians (Japanese interment camps) has a direct negative impact on how these sects are treated, and how they respond to mistreatment in our modern times by the students who read these textbooks. If history is written by whoever can pay to propagandize themselves; then, the rest of humanity is reading puff-pieces that are only to these history-monopolists’ interests. It would be awkward for Banner to say any of these things about historians because he is the ultimate insider in this field, having founded the National History Center of the American Historical Association. As if to confirm my suspicions about the link between the men history is written about and those who write them, and Banner in particular, the “Introduction” opens with the claim that Banner got the idea for this book when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described to Banner during a meeting a group of historians as “revisionists”: “This statement alerted us… to the justice’s readiness, while seeking authoritative knowledge of the subjects he sought to learn about, to dismiss works of history… as not worth his attention” (1). They rightly understood the label “revisionist” to be anti-historical-revision. Banner then set out to defend the right of historians to undertake any “revision” of history at all. A Supreme Court Justice basically ordered Banner and other historians to stop all their scribbling revisions, and Banner’s response was “alert” that he might have to comply with this order… Clearly, all branches of American government have had an extraordinary sway on how historians describe America’s history, if this incident is something Banner felt was worthy of public confession in this particular book.

The start of the first chapter proves that this book is not heading in the right direction as it claims that one of the major causes of revisionists has been “the causes of the American Civil War”. The evidence of these causes has not been revised, but instead historians have moved in the opposite direction as recent white-supremacists have begun revising the history to suggest that “slavery” was not the primary cause. If any history of the Civil War was unbiased, the “causes” would be stated in the Confederate statements about their causes, and they clearly insist that “slavery” is their chief motive. They had to say it was, or the North would not have known this was what the South wanted to achieve. Instead of questioning these few known facts, truly revisionist historians should be reviewing the more interesting sources of who were the byline-holders who first propagated for the Civil War to preserve slavery, and where they published these ideas, and who sponsored these likely ghostwriters. The answer might be that Norther industrialists wanted a Civil War because it meant the destruction of their Southern business rivals. Or there could have been a ghostwriter (akin to Verstegan) who was profiting from the arguments flying in the press between the two sides, and who found that agitating these tensions would help him or her sell books about the War. The length of the War and the number of dead without a withdrawal indicates that something stood in the way of the sides reaching a legal settlement after it was clear the violence would be too costly for all. Banner cannot be interested in digging for these real points of historical contention, as he does not even use a single quotation mark or citation across the first few pages. Instead, he is writing fiction about “passions” being “raw” and pondering about side-blaming (22). He finally inserts the first quote when describing the northern Republican Party’s “view of the war’s causes” as a fight against “southern ‘rebels’ and ‘traitors’”, without explaining who specifically gave them these names. Even when the quotes look at actual things this Party wrote, “slavery” is not included in the quote of what Lincoln is claimed to have blamed the War on, even as this is the conclusion drawn from his quote (24). Banner finds fault with Schouler’s 1880 history book that dared to call the Confederacy “united” and not as a “mere ‘rebellion’ led by a few traitors” (28). The number of people who fought on Confederacy’s side and the name of the Civil War proves factually that this was indeed a “united” effort by an organized counter-government and indeed a “civil war”.

The argument only begins to make sense when Banner steps away from the Civil War entirely in this chapter and reflects thus: “monarchs, dictators, and democrats had long painted the past, as they still do, in hues that might help their regimes and their politics survive, no matter how far they had to pull the actual historical record out of shape to do so” (39). Yes, but Banner just spent the preceding pages tossing the “historical record” into the trash himself. Still many more pages later, Banner finally reflects on when the “history of slavery” changed and argues that it was during the “civil rights” movement, when books such as The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956) reversed “southern apologists’ interpretations of slavery as benign and beneficial to the enslaved” (55). Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Civil War-inspiring Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) settled this question a century earlier to anybody who was at all literate. It’s absurd that the 1956 book became a best-seller by restating this basic fact; but perhaps the arguments published in the interim that argued for the “apologists” were also designed to sell books by agitating the passions of the anti-“apologists”. The absence of cited sources in the body is partially explained by sections in the end called “For Further Reading” (234) that summarize the specific historians that are being labeled revisionist versus anti-revisionist; but good scholarship comes from combining research with descriptions of information gathered from this research; by separating the supporting materials from the narrative of what revisionism is and what it has done, Banner fails to appreciate the search for truth and facts he claims revisionists are interested in.

There might be some curious explanations of revisionist history somewhere in this book, but they are nearly unrecoverable due to all of the nonsense piled on top of it in the front-matter of the book and of the chapters. It would be a painful process for any student to attempt to read this book in a history class. If somebody tries, they will walk away as an anti-revisionists because they’ll assume whatever Banner is doing here is revisionism. In fact, Banner seems to have written a treatise on anti-revisionism disguised as pro-revisionist. This is all very troubling, and given the deadly significance of the topics covered, very disturbing. I hope nobody buys this book, unless Banner can heavily revise it to make whatever point(s) he is trying to make clear.

The Science of Joke-Telling from an Ancient Consul

Marcus Tullius Cicero, How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Humor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, March 30, 2021). Hardcover: $16.95. 328pp. 4.5X6.75”. ISBN: 978-0-691-20616-5.


In our modern world, everybody needs to know how to “tell a joke” and not only the professional comedians. “Timeless advice about how to use humor to win over any audience. Can jokes win a hostile room, a hopeless argument, or even an election? You bet they can, according to” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106- BCE), “and he knew what he was talking about. One of Rome’s greatest politicians, speakers, and lawyers, Cicero was also reputedly one of antiquity’s funniest people. After he was elected commander-in-chief and head of state, his enemies even started calling him ‘the stand-up Consul.’ How to Tell a Joke provides a lively new translation of Cicero’s essential writing on humor alongside that of the later Roman orator and educator Quintilian. The result is a timeless practical guide to how a well-timed joke can win over any audience. As powerful as jokes can be, they are also hugely risky. The line between a witty joke and an offensive one isn’t always clear. Cross it and you’ll look like a clown, or worse. Here, Cicero and Quintilian explore every aspect of telling jokes—while avoiding costly mistakes. Presenting the sections on humor in Cicero’s On the Ideal Orator and Quintilian’s The Education of the Orator, complete with an enlightening introduction and the original Latin on facing pages, How to Tell a Joke examines the risks and rewards of humor and analyzes basic types that readers can use to write their own jokes.” The last mention of practical advice for readers on how to write jokes themselves is an element I have not seen in other similar classic translations I reviewed before. This assistance for readers’ capacity to practically apply ancient lessons is one of the main reasons members of the general public might purchase this book (as well as librarians), so it’s great this editor decided to add it. “Filled with insight, wit, and examples, including more than a few lawyer jokes, How to Tell a Joke will appeal to anyone interested in humor or the art of public speaking. I previously reviewed Michael Fontaine’s other Princeton book on How to Drink, which succeeded in relating a good deal of good jokes (probably because Fontaine learned from Cicero on how to tell these).

The “Introduction” succinctly summarizes Cicero’s biography and his approach to joke-telling, and explained the format of the book. A short note about Quintilian explains that he was “the frist Chair of Latin Rhetoric in Rome” and wrote the included book fragement as his “master textbook on public speaking” (xxiii). And a section explains how Cicero’s comedic insights were revived and adopted in the Renaissance; Fontaine explains that “Shakespeare’s” humor is not of the same brand as Cicero stresses irony, whereas the main Renaissance thinkers that adopted Cicero’s approach were Giovanni Pontano and Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) (xxiv-xxv). The opening section in the book is a dialogue between Antony and Caesar, which is structured as a comedic disagreement. I sympathize with Cicero as he observes that when he reviewed a Greek book called On Humor, he discovered that the book was instead composed mostly of jokes. “But they were so ridiculous when they tried to schematize, systematize, and teach the ‘rules’ behind them that the only thing I could laugh at was how ridiculous they were. And that’s why—to me at least—it seems impossible to teach a course in the topic you want (5). Of course, he does go on to give a lecture on the subject. However, just as he anticipated, after a few basic definitions, he digresses into just telling jokes and other ramblings without explaining the art of jokes. Cicero also includes long quotes from other sources. The other speakers in this dialogue press Caesar to reveal his secrets, but he largely evades a direct answer. The next fragment is from “The Caesarian Section” with “Five Fundamental Questions” to “laughter”. This section does offer practical advice, such as: “the only thing that gets laughs, or the most anyway, are jokes that call out and stigmatize some disgrace in a graceful way” (39). There are similar useful observations in most paragraphs across the rest of the book, as this: “Also funny is when you take something another person says differently from the way it was meant” (109). And: “Jokes are also often couched as nuggets of timeless wisdom”; the example that follows this point is difficult to grasp because it refers to a “proposed bill [restricting the acceptance of] gifts” (133), and some historical research is necessary to grasp what the joke is about. An especially useful bit is the summary of the types of jokes: “laughter is provoked by (1) surprises, (2) making fun of other people’s quirks or giving a funny clue as to our own, (3) comparing a thing to something worse, (4) disingenuousness, (5) non sequiturs, and (6) criticizing stupidity” (137).

This is just a fun book for casual reading that invites readers in. A few sections might have allusions that ask for research, but these can be skimmed over while seeing at least some of the humor behind them. Mostly, all readers will walk away having smiled on most of these pages. It’s always delightful when any book succeeds in doing this. Those who are indeed professional comedians can also come away with a very practical lecture on a subject there are very few textbooks on. So, I recommend this book for the wide consumption of the public, libraries and classes alike. It would have been refreshing if I had been assigned this book in any undergraduate or graduate class.

Russian, Dutch and American Espionage Hacking: Blaming the Other

Jack Devine, Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, March 1, 2021; UK: May 1, 2021). Hardcover: $34.95. 304pp, 6X9”. 13 photographs, index. ISBN: 978-1-64012-378-6.


When I first migrated to the US from Russia in around 1993-4, and began attending a public school in Brooklyn for the first time after spending a year in a Hasidic school, one of the first adults who spoke with me was a gym teacher who asked me how happy I was to have left the horrors of Russia, as he made fun of my Russian name and lack of full integration into Americanized culture. This was a school in Brooklyn, where I was once nearly mugged by a gang of girls on my way to the bus, before they realized I only had enough quarters on me for the bus-fair. And I migrated out of Russia because of discrimination there against Jews. Almost every single person that has met me here in the US since asks me where I’m from, and stops talking to me when I confirm their suspicion that I’m from Russia. It is difficult to explain the isolation and hostility the Cold War mentality sold in the title of this book generates when programmed Americans perceive all Russians as evil enemies to be shunned, if not violently opposed. The title is not The Fight Against Putin’s Aggression or The Fight Against Russian-Hackers’ Aggression, but just a general “fight” against all Russians, who are thus mythically stigmatized as aggressive. If a CIA agent takes on the responsibility of providing proof that Russia is actively conducting any aggressions against the US, this proof has to be beyond doubt, or he or she is fear-mongering and writing counter-propaganda that serves book-sales or US interests instead of presenting the truth.

The book’s summary opens with a puffery that promises this is the latter type of book: “In Spymaster’s Prism the legendary former spymaster Jack Devine details the unending struggle with Russia and its intelligence agencies as it works against our national security.” The puff-words “legendary” and “spymaster” inflate his credentials without describing precisely what espionage he has perpetrated. After all, a spy’s job is to spy abroad on other countries. The discovery of spies or counter-espionage is not what a “spymaster” does but rather is a task handled on US soil by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “Devine tells this story through the unique perspective of a seasoned CIA professional who served more than three decades, some at the highest levels of the agency. He uses his gimlet-eyed view to walk us through the fascinating spy cases and covert action activities of Russia, not only through the Cold War past but up to and including its interference in the Trump era.” Basically, Devine appears to plan on describing what Russia’s spies have been doing since the Cold War, but not what he should know best, or what the American spies have been doing during this period. Yet the blurb insists that this book is “based on personal experience” as well as “exhaustive research”. “…How Russia’s intelligence activities have continued uninterrupted throughout modern history, using fundamentally identical policies and techniques to undermine our democracy.” What does this mean? Russia has been a “democracy” too since 1993 (just before I left; the democratization is the thing that gave me a right to leave Russia). If Russia had an objective “to undermine… democracy”, it should have started with its own democracy; and yet there have not been any changes in this regard. The rhetoric of Cold War fear is useful for American propogandists, but it is entirely irrelevant and irrational in the modern political climate. “He shows in stark terms how intelligence has been modernized and weaponized through the power of the cyber world… A repertoire of better-than-fiction spy stories, giving us an objective, riveting, and candid take on U.S.-Russia relations. He offers key lessons from our intelligence successes and failures over the past seventy-five years that will help us determine how to address our current strategic shortfall, emerge ahead of the Russians, and be prepared for what’s to come from any adversary.”

Given the questions raised by the blurb, I turned first to the 3rd chapter, “A Study in Russian Spycraft” to understand just why the author believes he is qualified to discuss Russia’s side of this conflict. The opening paragraph accuses Russia not only of the “cyber hacking” that appears to have been proven to have been perpetrated by Russia, but also that Russian spies have led “aggressive efforts to establish ties with U.S. political players” (31). The latter cannot be rationally perceived as a problem, as establishing positive friendly terms with U.S. players would be the job of all Russian and otherwise foreign diplomats. But the hacking point is one I’d like to explore. CNN has a timeline on their website of events that seemingly “prove” the hack(s) were by the Russian government. Most of the points describe propagandistic suspicions and accusations, but a few seem to present evidence. The controversy started in September of 2015 when the FBI called the Democratic National Committee and warned them they had been “compromised by Russian hackers”, but actual “scans” found nothing “suspicious”, and yet this call was publicized on American television; any prank call could have prompted the FBI to forward a tip to the DNC; so this is not of anything other than a false accusation. Then, on June 15, 2016, Crowdstrike’s re-testing of the same DNC computers did find “an attack… by two groups associated with Russian intelligence”, “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear”. This claim was countered by a Romanian blogger who confessed of the “theft” or rather the hacking into DNC. While the activities of these hacking entities have been documented and are blatant across the past decade, there is no real proof they are Russian, and still less that they work for the Russian government. “Cozy Bear’s” targets are both commercial and governmental, as they have attacked not only US targets, but also Germany, Uzbekistan and South Korea, without any rational political agenda. It is more troubling that US Intelligence Service “infiltrated this organization and proved they were targeting DNC in 2014 during this group’s first major attack, but they were not able to develop cyber-security tools to protect the DNC or other agencies from a simple “monkeys” video malware, and having “infiltrated” this organization, they did not bring any specific members to a trial. One of the more absurd accusations is that this hacking entity tried to steal data on Covid treatments across North America in July of 2020; Russia authorized the use of the first in the world Covid vaccine only a month later, and its design was unique from the types of vaccines authorized months later in the US; and if Russia wanted to discover that the US was mis-treating or mis-reporting vaccine data; then, the hackers would have released this data to Wikileaks to embarrass the US, and instead whatever research has been gathered across these attacks has been lost. The reports do not even explain who was damaged by these prolonged hacks; if no money was stolen, and no information was released; these activities almost appear to be designed by American spies to create false proof that Russia is an enemy. One of the only official reports on this subject was one given to the Select Committee on Intelligence: US Senate: “On Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election”. The summary repeats my own conclusion that there were no clear “intentions” or a point to the 2016 hack, as it did not achieve anything except for perhaps election-oversight, and the anti-Russian press that the US government sponsored. While the word “Russia” appears 261 times in this report, most of these mentions are general, whereas specifics tend to be worded in a way that disqualifies the Russian government as a potential hacker: “The Flash product did not attribute the attack to Russia or any other particular actor” or that Flash found “suspect IP addresses” had “many unrelated to Russia”. Most mentions of these “Russian government cyber actors” refer to US hearing transcripts, and not rational evidence to explain who these actors are. A rare specific detail is that the Russian Embassy did try to place “a formal request to observe the elections with the Department of State,” as well as “directly” to “state and local election officials.” The latter was viewed as problematic, but only if Americans assume this oversight would have resulted in the discovery of massive voter-fraud in America. Russia’s requests to observe legally were denied because it had previously “refused invitations to participate in the official OSCE mission”; this appears to be a bureaucratic reason that would not have been necessary if there was nothing to hide. Another example of this misinformation in this report is that in State 10 (it’s a secret which state “10” is referring to), cyber-security-exerts called Flash found a “very loud” and “three-pronged attack” perpetrated by IP addresses belonging to the “Netherlands” and “Poland”, but concluded that “Russia” was responsible for this string of attacks; why IP addresses anywhere but in Russia proves Russia’s culpability is mesmerizingly nonsensical. There are no mentions of either “Cozy” or “Fancy Bear” anywhere in this report, and I did not see a single specific name of a Russian agent or agency referenced as evidentiary connected to any of these activities. In one mention of “espionage”, Mr. McCabe comments that the attacks just intuitively seemed like “classic Russian cyber espionage”. If American hackers perpetrated this hack to skew the election towards either Republicans or Democrats; this type of intuitive blame-shifting onto Russia means that the true culprits could have succeeded in interfering in the election without any mainstream media suspicion falling on them. All of the cyber-security experts’ opinions I found in this mini-research project repeats that there is no evidence to link anybody in Russia, and certainly not anybody in the Russian government to these attacks; yet the conclusions ignore the reports self-provided evidence and instead insist Russia’s government was the responsible hacker. I wish there had been proof in this report that Russia was hacking these entities because it would have helped me to understand the hacks that I’ve suffered from… But unless humanity has surrendered the pursuit of the truth; the conclusions of counter-intelligence must reflects its gathered intelligence.

 Returning to Devine’s version of events, he relates the history of how Dutch intelligence discovered the “Cozy Bear” group in 2014. However, the sources I’ve reviewed, Devine insists that the “Cozy Bear” was “launched out of university building next to Red Square in Moscow” (31). He does not cite the source for this information. The link that is used as the sources in the Notes at the back of the book is to a subscription-site, but the article is available on Cyber Peace. The Dutch paper de Volkskrant reports that it was the Dutch spies who spied on Russia’s university building near the Red Square as it hacked into its system because they were “permitted to perform offensive operations: to penetrate and attack hostile networks”; during the following year this Dutch spy spent hacking into this university’s system, he eventually discovered he was spying on Russian hackers who he concluded were the “Cozy Bear”. One certainty here is that the Dutch have a team of 300 hackers in this AIVD department who are spying on international governments… and that’s what this group is accusing Russia of doing too… How can it be legal for the Dutch or Americans to conduct counter-offensives, but not the Russians? The Russians have not even admitted thy have a department that would be capable of anything like what the Dutch explain they did in their hack. The Dutch not only spied on the networks, but also accessed the cameras, and compared these videos to “known Russian spies”. These images led the Dutch to conclude “the hacker group is led by Russia’s external intelligence agency SVR”, or the equivalent of the US CIA. In other words, the Dutch hacked into Russia’s CIA-equivalent and spied on them for years before they observed that Russia’s authorized spies were in turn hacking the US to perform intelligence-gathering on its governmental agencies and to check on election fraud. The Dutch were seeing all of the information the “Russian” hackers were gathering from the American State Department; thus, establishing, via this confession, that the Dutch downloaded all of this data as they were hacking the supposed hackers; it seems as likely that the Dutch just hacked America themselves. After these “Russians”/Dutch have already downloaded most of the data across the span of over a year, the Dutch finally alert the Americans, who finally block these servers’ access to their systems. How can anybody tasked with researching these facts conclude the problem here is anything other than espionage in general on all sides?

Then Devine summarizes Robert Mueller’s report that accuses Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) of running an “influence campaign toward the” US. Devine explains that this IRA is an “independent research group” in St. Petersburg by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, “a close ally of… Putin often called ‘Putin’s Cook’… Project Lakhta allegedly used stolen American identities to create social media accounts, promote rallies, and purchase ads on social media.” Prigozhin’s connection to Putin is merely that he has succeeded in winning huge Russian contracts that have made him rich. Prigozhin was indited by the United States District Court for DC in “US vs. Internet Research Agency…. Prigozhin…” in 2018 for “funding” this Organization (together with oddly one of the companies Prigozhin owned, or Concord Catering… which could not have been staffed with hackers if it was busy food-catering…) Finally, the indictment gives some specifics, as in this example, “on or about May 29, 2016” Prigozhin through his “Organization-controlled social media account, arranged for a real U.S. person to stand in front of the White House in the District of Columbia under false pretenses to hold a sign that read “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss”; which is claimed to be criminal because Prigozhin turned 55 on June 1, 1961. Imagine if Bill Gates started a Facebook group and paid a random person in Russia to stand in front of Kremlin with a sign that said “Happy 61st Birthday Dear Boss” on October 26, 2016 or a couple of days before Gates’ birthday, and Russia responded by filing an indictment against Gates. There is a mention later in the indictment of Prigozhin actually communicating directly about Project Lakhta, but without details, such as if he was arranging for his birthday-surprise, or actually knew anything about hacking. This is all disturbing as it is an active malicious prosecution that fails to undertake the pretense of presenting sufficient evidence to warrant this intrusion. There are no rights of secrecy regarding what a government agency is filing criminal charges about; the suspicion of espionage warrants a much greater volume of evidence to be presented because treason and sedition charges are some of the worst international crimes somebody can be accused of.

Devine largely cites news stories across the following pages, as he describes that the IRA created “470 Facebook sites and 129 event pages designed to impersonate American political organizations” and posted “80,000 divisive political posts” that might have reached “126 million” Americans. One of these was “#HillaryDown” after Hillary Clinton fell ill on September 11, 2016. There were also ads against Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein (32-3). Given this evidence and that all that’s really known about Prigozhin is that he is good at winning government contracts, it is far more likely that Prigozhin would have been hired by the Trump campaign to run these bots and to post these anti-Democrat messages to influence the 2016 election, and this campaign worked as Trump won. The fact that Trump ran a corrupt campaign is assured not only by the number of people on his campaign staff that went to jail for it, but also by the fact that he openly asked “Russia” to help him find Hillary’s emails at around this same time; while the government of Russia had nothing to gain by helping any American politician; Prigozhin could have made millions from Trump for operating this misinformation campaign.

In fact, I personally ran into one of these bots-operators when I tried to post an anti-Cruz message on Twitter, and was immediately attacked in over a hundred harassing posts by several different Twitter accounts that were all clearly operated by the same person, who kept repeating the same types of formulaic insults. This attacker was not Russian. Posting 80,000 posts takes an English-speaking hack-writer.

I cannot continue reviewing this book… because it is not providing any new information that cannot be found in anti-Russian popular press articles. To claim that his findings are based on “personal experiences”, Devine had to have at least focus on describing his own experiences instead of summarizing what reporters have been told by anonymous sources about the Russian enemy. This book and the rest of American coverage about election-hacking in the press is deeply disturbing. The latest wave of accusations that Republicans are at fault for continuing to count the ballots to prove they lost due to election fraud is just a counter-measure to block the blatant fact that Trump won the 2016 election by hacking it. The Republican’s “big lie” is not that the election was stolen from them, but that they stole the election.

American Government’s Incompetent Failures at Solving Kidnappings

Carolyn Cox, The Snatch Racket: The Kidnapping Epidemic That Terrorized 1930s America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, March 1, 2021; UK: May 1, 2021). Hardcover: $34.95. 376pp, 6X9”. 22 photographs, 1 illustration, index. ISBN: 978-1-78914-351-5.


“Although the 1932 kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby was a worldwide sensation, it was only one of an estimated three thousand ransom kidnappings that occurred in the United States that year. The epidemic hit America during the Great Depression and the last days of Prohibition as criminal gangs turned kidnapping into the highly lucrative ‘snatch racket.’ Wealthy families and celebrities purchased kidnap insurance, hired armed chauffeurs and bodyguards, and carried loaded handguns. Some sent their children to school or summer camp in Europe to get them out of harm’s way. ‘Recent Kidnappings in America’ was a regular feature in the New York Times, while Time magazine included kidnappings in its weekly list of notable births, deaths, and other milestones… In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt waged a three-year War against Kidnappers with J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men (newly empowered to carry weapons and make arrests) on the front lines. This first U.S. war against terrorism revolutionized and modernized law enforcement in the United States, dramatically expanding the powers of the federal government in the fight against not only kidnapping but many new types of interstate crime. At the heart of the narrative are some of the most iconic names of the twentieth century: Rockefeller, Ford, Lindbergh, Roosevelt, Hoover, Capone, Schwarzkopf, and Hearst, all caught up in the kidnapping frenzy.”

This blurb honestly reflects that this book is basically a mystery novel or a fictionalized true-crime narrative. The point is to entertain readers with dramatic scenes of violence and desperation. The “Prologue” thus opens with a scene of a ransom-delivery full of whispering, “dark streets” and “shadows”… (1). The mystery might work for some readers. However, what I am seeing is that everybody who was involved in these events in 1932 is now dead. Thus, Carolyn Cox could not have interviewed them to determine the degree of darkness, shadows, or whispering in these interactions. When an author includes a few of these imaginative details in the opening page, this means most of the book is a work of fiction or how Cox imagines events would have happened and not precisely what is factually know about these events. Imagine if you were kidnapped and murdered, and a hundred years later, somebody is writing about the blue dress she imagines you were wearing as you went down a dark street into the clutches of the horrid man who… Well, you would be justifiably upset that instead of spending time on re-examining the evidence to discover who kidnapped you, fiction was being written about your dead body.

The part that is perhaps a bit more useful for a reader is the section that addresses how American authorities finally began attempting to catch and stop these kidnappers. In the chapter “Call National 8-7117”, they describe how $70,000 was delivered to the kidnappers by the victim before the kidnapped victims were recovered. And then, police rounded up everybody mentioned in the story before arresting Kenneth, who happened to have $60,000 on him in the bills the ransom was made in, thus proving he was the perpetrator and leading to charges being made against him for the kidnapping. This is hardly a mystery… or brilliant police work… as it just shows that the kidnapper was too incompetent to know to wash the money. If the FBI was involved in the negotiations, they basically just assisted the kidnappers with getting the money they wanted, and did not set a trap to retrieve the money during the pickup (as tends to be shown in television versions of this kidnapping plot) (112). In the following chapter on the kidnapping “Epidemic”, Cox describes how the government perpetrated the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920, wherein after “deadly letter and package bombs” to “government officials and businessmen”, Attorney General Michell Palmer carried out raids that saw the arrest of nearly 10,000 “radicals and immigrants. Two-thirds of those arrests were made without warrants”. This is a light summary of a government policy to harass and falsely arrest those who were in the opposition party; the equivalent today is easy to imagine if a Republican-controlled President/Attorney General arrested 10,000 Democrats, including Bernie Sanders (leftist radical) and Bob Memendez (Cuban-immigrant US Senator). To avoid a similar “over-reaction”, instead the Attorney General began conducting “semiweekly press conferences” as the “War against Kidnappers was more of a concept than a plan”. The chapter ends with the General writing goals what the plan would achieve. Finally, in the following chapter, “The Road to Paradise”, Cox describes actual proactive actions taken by the FBI to catch the Kellys in a kidnapping, as they were “tapping the telephone lines”, without generating any relevant information. The Kellys were under suspicion because of their “two previous forays into kidnapping” (121-139). I do not see any heroic detective work here.

This is a very bad work of fiction, and a very bad attempt at propaganda. If this book was called American Government’s Incompetent Failures at Solving Kidnappings, it would have delivered on the title-promise. But given the grand promises in the blurb, the facts of what the American officials actually did in these cases do not fit with the mystery-movie plot most readers are likely to expect. I don’t recommend anybody buys this book, unless reading over my comments… they want to figure out what on earth else Cox can be saying in these pages.

The Roots of the Art of Novelistic Satire: Satyricon

Gareth Schmeling, translator; Petronius/ Seneca, Petronius: Satyricon; Seneca: Apocolocyntosis: Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, December 1, 2020). Hardcover: $28.00. 532pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-99737-0.


Given the types of books written about our present moment, it is a relief to escape back into the ancient classics. Out of all the books in this set, I read the most out of the Satyricon. I lingered on it for an unusually long time (given my other writing and research tasks) because my electricity was off for two days during the big Texas power-outage. Without the internet, or a functioning computer (my laptops’ batteries are dead, so when there is no power, I have no computer), I entertained myself with re-reading annotations in Lear and closely reading this ancient satire to cheer myself up as the temperature in my tiny house dropped below zero. I was not disappointed in finding a cheerful distraction in this work, as well as learning a good deal about the roots of modern satire. After reading it, I noticed that the first quarto of the “Shakespeare”-bylined Hamlet (1604) was an early European attempt to revive the Greco-Roman art of satirical fiction writing; Hamlet was turned into more of a tragedy by the second quarto, and European satire is instead largely credited to Cervantes’ efforts in Don Quixote a year later in 1605. The approach Petronius takes to satire is more like the Candide that came a century later in Europe, as clearly the freedom of speech in authorship was far freer in Petronius’ time than in Renaissance Europe. All teachers of writing and literature need to read Satyrica to see for themselves how the world’s literature has gone in repeating circles of style, and how we are currently moving backwards away from this free-satirical-speech ideal. And Schmeling only lightly mentions that this ancient text is likely to be one of the world’s first novels, as it’s in prose and presents the quixotic ramblings of ordinary life in proximate-details.

The Satyrica (Satyricon liber), a comic-picaresque fiction in prose and verse traditionally attributed to the Neronian Petronius (d. AD 66) but possibly of Flavian or Trajanic date, survives only as fragments of a much larger whole. It takes the form of a first-person narrative by the endearing ne’er-do-well Encolpius, a brilliant storyteller, parodist, and mimic who recalls episodes from his past life as a wandering bohemian, living by his wits on the margins of society in Greek southern Italy and encountering a vividly realized array of characters from the early imperial demimonde, including the wealthy freedman Trimalchio, one of the most unforgettable characters in all of Latin literature. Paired with the Satyrica, and likewise in prose and verse, is the Apocolocyntosis (Pumpkinification), a short satirical pamphlet lampooning the death, apotheosis, and attempt to enter heaven of the emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54). If the work of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-AD 65), better known for his austere Stoic moralism, its sarcastic wit and rollicking humor were no doubt inspired by bitterness over his exile at Claudius’ hands in 41-49. For this Loeb edition the Latin texts have been freshly edited and translated, with ample introductions and explanatory notes.”

Gareth Schmeling undersells this book in this blurb. The “Introduction” further explains the authorship mystery; obviously given the radical nature of the content, it is one of histories anonymous authorship-mysteries. Petronius died by “suicide, forced on him by Nero in AD 66” (3-6); so Petronius is a sympathetic byline to credit. The misery described (though hilariously) in Satyrica also seems to be written by somebody with a suicidal soul, even if it is suicidal only in its willingness to speak-truth-to-power. Schmeling rightly proposes a few other potential bylines, since contemporaries (including his chief biographer Tacitus and his Annals) did not credit Petronius with Satyrica.

The first fragment opens in the middle of Encolipus dialogue with Agamemnon. It offers nuggets of advice such as that those who want to succeed under the “harsh demands of art” and “sets his mind to great deeds” must first “put his behavior in good order, adhering to the laws of disciplined living”. However, this rule is satirical as proven by the narrator’s actions across the bulk of this satire’s plot. He lists the things not to do as the very things the narrative later shows him doing: “Let him not, like a dependent, cadge for dinners from drunken hosts, or attach himself to the damned and drown the brilliant flame of his mind in wine” (77). The story really starts when Ascyltos slips away from listening to this lecture of Agamemnon’s, and Encolipus follows him out into the “crowd” to encounter real humanity (79). After a bit of wandering, Encolipus realizes “I had been led into a brothel” by an old trickster woman. This is the first introduction to the subject of sex, and the rest of the meandering plot is littered with different types of sexual partnerships and adventures, between Encolipus, his boy-partner and servant (the pretend-suicidal) Giton, an elderly honored author (81), and a man of around Encolipus age. The homosexual skew of these adventures is not even mentioned in this book’s summary, but it is a story that cannot be understood without this element. It is about men who pursue sexual pleasure with each other through violence, poverty, wealth, power struggles and other mundane and extreme adventures that interrupt their continued attempts to find exciting couplings. The jokes range from Giton’s feigning of suicide to get his way, to the elderly lover’s seduction of all but failure to perform. As in this example: “Even on your good days when you were not impotent, you never had it off with a clean girl” (83). The sexuality is occasionally obscene, as rape of a minor or assault-rapes are described, so this book is not for the censoring mind. The greater value in this work is in those small details around these brief moments of intensity. For example, an absurd law case settlement is described wherein the “return of an extremely valuable cloak” versus a “ragged tunic not worth patching with good material”. Who should keep which item was debated, before accusations of theft were tossed at both traders. These pieces were traded in a manner that benefited the speaker with help from his rhetorical skill, as the other side wanted to avoid going to court and presenting the ragged evidence there (91-3). Anybody who wants to imagine living in ancient times, can get lost in these obstacles that bring so many concepts and items into verbal sight. There were no “slow” moments that I noticed as I read this story, as each event transitioned into another situation of equal interest. The missing sections that interrupt the story are troubling as they drop off the events into oblivion at points of suspense. But it is a curious feeling to have to imagine what happened in these perhaps censored out (by later critics) sections instead of having the author serve the full plot. I am not good at writing puff-pieces, but there is nothing I can find in this archival treasure that’s negative. Just open this story to any page and you will be convinced: “‘So lawsuits turn on nothing more than ordinary bribes, and the knight who sits as juror fixes the amounts at which he can be bought’” (89).

Seneca’s short satire is much more difficult to read for pleasure, as it involves theological discussions about Greco-Roman theology and personifications of it, and much of the dialogue avoid specifying the thing being satirized, as if the author is afraid of being chastised for saying too much (perhaps because this piece had a byline, Seneca’s, on it, and was not anonymous). There are still a few direct satirical accusations such as the lines attributed as having been said by Messalla Corvinus and the attached argument: “‘I am ashamed of my power.’ Gentlemen of the senate, this man here who gives you the impression that he cannot startle a fly, used to kill people as effortlessly as a dog squats on its haunches” (501).

This book can help everybody in times of power-outages, and political power-shortfalls in our modern times. I recommend it for all private and public libraries, and for classes that can logically fit it into a syllabus. If it is important to bring in diversity into the curriculum; this text definitely deserves more space in our education than its exclusion from the mainstream up to this point.

A Prototype for the History Book: The Dramatic History of Rome

J. C. Yardley, translator; Livy, Livy: History of Rome: Books 26-27: Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020). Hardcover: $28.00. 408pp. 4.25X6.4”. ISBN: 978-0-674-99735-6.


The Roman dramas and poetry written in the British Renaissance tends to be at least partially based on Livy’s history. There are only a few such precious historical artifacts from this period for the empire that saw the rise of Christianity and the domination of much of the world under its banner. Thus, a familiarity with Livy’s history is important for all teachers and researchers of not only ancient Roman literature and history but the various other periods and regions (including Europe) that were impacted by this region. History does not repeat itself by luck, but instead when politicians read past histories and imitate devices and decisions that they admire. By being one of the earliest histories, the structure of Livy’s narrative set the genre of the history book, so all current historians can benefit by looking back at this prototype structure.

“Livy (Titus Livius), the great Roman historian, was born at Patavium (Padua) in 64 or 59 BC where after years in Rome he died in AD 12 or 17. Livy’s history, composed as the imperial autocracy of Augustus was replacing the republican system that had stood for over 500 years, presents in splendid style a vivid narrative of Rome’s rise from the traditional foundation of the city in 753 or 751 BC to 9 BC and illustrates the collective and individual virtues necessary to achieve and maintain such greatness. Of its 142 books, conventionally divided into pentads and decads, we have 1-10 and 21-45 complete, and short summaries (periochae) of all the rest except 41 and 43-45; 11-20 are lost, and of the rest only fragments and the summaries remain. The third decad constitutes our fullest surviving account of the momentous Second Punic (or Hannibalic) War, and comprises two recognizable pentads: Books 21-25 narrate the run-up to conflict and Rome’s struggles in its first phase, with Hannibal dominant; Books 26-30 relate Rome’s revival and final victory, as the focus shifts to Scipio Africanus. This edition replaces the original Loeb edition by Frank Gardner Moore.”

J. C. Yardley begins this volume with only a brief thanks to his editor, without an introduction because these volumes come from the middle of the history, and the introduction would have been attached to the first book in the series. There are useful summaries of the events covered at the end of each of these books that were written by Livy himself, so these make further summary from the editor unnecessary. The narrative is equally theological as it is an attempt to depict accurate historical facts. For example, Publius Scipio is described as storming New Carthage, a bold move, so that he “appeared to be of divine descent” by “assuming the toga” and “because a snake was often spotted in his mother’s bedroom” (199). Livy was especially fruitful as a source to borrow from for the busy Renaissance Workshop because he includes many details that bring imagery to mind and already create dramatic tension between the characters. For example, consul Laevinus faces “a crowd of Capuans tearfully begging for permission to approach the senate in Rome to plead with the senators”, but at the same time others in their party leave Rome in ruins as they set fire and half-burn the forum, Vesta’s temple, so Laevinus argued to banish the Capuans from Rome (107). The emotions, the strange violent response, and the political ideologies behind this passage can easily be expanded into scenes by giving the rebels and a few relations of Laevinus personalities. Every paragraph relates a dramatic event that is unusual and sympathy-inspiring. For example, in one scene in a battle Hannibal places elephants at the front to “create some havoc and panic. And, indeed, the beasts did at first disrupt the standards and ranks; and partly by tramping down and partly by scattering in terror anybody near them, they had created a gap in the line at one point” (257). The use of elephants in warfare has continued in different forms through the end of the twentieth century, so understanding how they were used by classic tacticians helps modern filmmakers and fiction-writers to explain the science behind this practice. There are also explanations of public relations conflicts between politicians that are just as relevant to modern clashes in the press. Claudius is described as having been made deliberately “unpopular and hated by the plebs by constantly discrediting him in his speeches” until he went so far as “advocating annulment of his imperium”; Claudius’ relatives had to arrange a leave for Claudius to come to Rome to “clear himself of charges” (287). Livy succinctly describes the challenges the various politicians and military leaders were facing, what they did to change things, and how their attempts played out.

The annotations add useful explanations where the references are too obscure (which is most of them for the Greco-Roman knowledge of the average modern reader); Yardley even points out that the Palladium ancient statue of Athena was only brought to Italy shortly before this book was composed, to “the allusive reference would be easily understood” by the Romans of that time (106). For example, During the siege of Petelia, “inhabitants were obliged to live on such things as grass, roots, and tree bark” (304). The notes also point out instances where other historians disagree on the points claimed by Livy; for example, Yardley notes that according to Livy, when news came of an invading army with vessels heading for Rome, their “reactions varied according to people’s temperaments”; whereas, Polybius “claims that the news caused ‘total confusion and panic’ in Rome” (28-9).

Overall, the translation is very polished and the text is easy to read. This is probably the result of a new editing translator going through after Moore and reforming and rewording the parts the first translator might have missed due to the enormity of the task. This particular volume is a bit insufficient for the needs of my research, as, I need the entire Livy set to check the parts of the history that might be mentioned in any given Renaissance text I am currently translating; having only these two books gives me an idea for Livy’s style without access to the full array of ideas in it. Loeb releases each of the volumes in this series separately as they are translated, and some of the older ones are beyond the limits on only recent books being available for review. I also think these volumes should not only come with Livy’s summaries, but with a timeline of the events covered in each volume or some other tool to make it easier to find relevant information. There is an Index in the back that should be of assistance, if this had been the right volume for a given research question. My own challenges aside, this is a great book that should be added to libraries stacks, unless they already have the previous edition of Livy. There just has to be access to Livy’s history in-full in all small and large libraries to give access to it to readers of all types who have a general or an academic interest in them.

The Origin of Categories and Logic in Medicine: Galen

Ian Johnston, translator; Galen, Galen: On Temperaments: On Non-Uniform Distemperment: The Soul’s Traits Depend on Bodily Temperament: Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020). Hardcover. 476pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-99738-7.


“Galen of Pergamum (129-?199/216), physician to the court of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, was a philosopher, scientist, medical historian, theoretician, and practitioner who wrote forcefully and prolifically on an astonishing range of subjects and whose impact on later eras rivaled that of Aristotle. Galen synthesized the entirety of Greek medicine as a basis for his own doctrines and practice, which comprehensively embraced theory, practical knowledge, experiment, logic, and a deep understanding of human life and society. This volume presents three works of the greatest importance to Galen’s theory and practice of medicine. On Temperaments sets out Galen’s concept of the combination (krasis) of the four elemental qualities (hot, cold, wet, and dry), which is fundamental to his account of the structure and function of the human body and of animal and plant bodies generally, and is in turn essential to his theory of medical practice. The two related works, On Non-Uniform Distemperment and The Soul’s Traits Depend on Bodily Temperament, deal with specific aspects of dyskrasia, which is a disturbance in the combination of these qualities. Appended are two related short treatises, On the Best Constitution of Our Body and On Good Bodily State.”

This book gives access to this ancient author for English readers, when for the preceding century Brock’s translation in 1916 was the “lone representative of Galen’s enormous body of work in the LCL”; and he has hardly been translated by other publishers (viii). Johnston explains that he introduced and translated this book as a medical doctor with consideration for how and why Galen medicine remained dominant in world medicine for an unusually long time (ix). The point that caught my interest from the summary is the use of the “four elements” because William Percy’s (dominant “Shakespeare” tragedian) plays in the Renaissance frequently juxtaposition “dry” and “wet” (especially in Greco-Roman deities of these elements such as Humida and Arida), as well as the “hot” and “cold” ones; this curiosity about these states seems arbitrary from a modern perspective, but Percy must have had Galen’s medical science in mind and not merely the sensations. The introduction summarizes the foreign theory of disease in Galen, and explains how it is connected to the various other medical texts that were made between Alcmaeon in the 5th century BC and Athenaeus in 30 AD. The summaries of each of the texts included in this collection, also explains that the “four elements” (echoing the elements of fire, air, water and earth) were believed by Galen to be blended by “a god or Nature”; explaining the use of deities to represent these. And Percy’s focus largely on the dry/wet juxtaposition is because this was one of the “two antithesis” between the four elements. “Eukrasia is a state in which there is an appropriate balance of the four elemental qualities in a particular entity – that is, neither of the two qualities in each antithesis prevail over the other” (xxiii). While these ideas, on the surface, appear to not be of any practical relevance to modern science, the formation of phlegm and the eruption of wet substances from the body is still viewed as a category of disease. Eventually categorizing bones as distinct from the skin or other organs, first required categorizing basic and obvious elements and then exploring the more complex parts that make up the body. The opening book is very logical and easy to follow, as it spells out the possible interactions and meanings of the elements. “For the wetness is consumed by the predominant heat, and in this way the body becomes hot and dry at the same time, while in those bodies in which the hot remains unconcocted and imperfect, it would be weak, so that it is inevitable that when hotness prevails dryness follows, and when coldness prevails, wetness follows” (17). I can imagine how these types of ideas would have eased the imaginations of early doctors because I am currently experiencing feverish hotness and a runny nose after taking the second doze of the Covid-19 vaccine; seeing people falling ill as if spontaneously and being merely seemingly overrun with excessive wetness or hotness must have been disturbing to doctors who did not know the basics of modern science; thus, having a seemingly logical division between elements that could be applied in combination in a diagnosis would have eased the doctors’ confidence in themselves, if not the patients’ in them.

This book is primarily useful for those in college who hope to later go into medicine. Later, in medical school, there might not be enough time for this type of reading, but reading this type of ancient philosophy on human health should help somebody considering medicine to understand how strange medicine is to most people without medical knowledge, and why the complex subjects taught in medical school are essential for a doctor’s capacity to avoid superstition, intuitive diagnosis, and the simplification of symptoms to basic elements.

Fearfully Moving Towards Quantitative Art Analysis

Diana Seave Greenwald, Painting by Numbers: Data-Driven Histories of Nineteenth-Century Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, February 16, 2021). Hardcover: $35. 256pp, 6X9”. 55 color and 9 B&W illustrations, 14 tables. ISBN: 978-0-69119-245-1.


This book addresses the central question in my own research: if the Renaissance was ghostwritten by only six writers in a monopolistic Workshop; if most of the world’s canonized art and literature an extremely censored record of the most propagandistic or insider-creators, to the detriment of all descending voices? How common is it for artists to use multiple bylines to dominate the in-genres, like impressionism or cubism, while self-puffing only insiders’ works under other bylines in the press, as well as corruptly monopolizing points-of-entry like galleries and museums to favor only their Workshop insiders? Greenwald approaches these questions when she sets out to review the massive volume of art work that has not entered the familiar pieces typically represented in art books. Figuring out which pieces and artists were systemically rejected can help us gain a truer perception of how corruption might have excluded the best artists, while promoting the worst who are willing to manipulate the system to be told they are the best.

“A pathbreaking history of art that uses digital research and economic tools to reveal enduring inequities in the formation of the art historical canon. Painting by Numbers presents a groundbreaking blend of art historical and social scientific methods to chart, for the first time, the sheer scale of nineteenth-century artistic production. With new quantitative evidence for more than five hundred thousand works of art, Diana Seave Greenwald provides fresh insights into the nineteenth century, and the extent to which art historians have focused on a limited—and potentially biased—sample of artwork from that time. She addresses long-standing questions about the effects of industrialization, gender, and empire on the art world, and she models more expansive approaches for studying art history in the age of the digital humanities. Examining art in France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, Greenwald features datasets created from indices and exhibition catalogs that—to date—have been used primarily as finding aids. From this body of information, she reveals the importance of access to the countryside for painters showing images of nature at the Paris Salon, the ways in which time-consuming domestic responsibilities pushed women artists in the United States to work in lower-prestige genres, and how images of empire were largely absent from the walls of London’s Royal Academy at the height of British imperial power. Ultimately, Greenwald considers how many works may have been excluded from art historical inquiry and shows how data can help reintegrate them into the history of art, even after such pieces have disappeared or faded into obscurity. Diana Seave Greenwald is assistant curator of the collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.”

I turned to the data first, and came across “Figure 5.15” that demonstrates the similar bias towards Royal Academy depictions of England over the minority depictions in displayed paintings of Ireland, Scotland and Wales (146). This would be consistent with most of the insider Workshop artists across this stretch of time (1770-1910) working collaboratively in or near London; and actively promoting each other, to the detriment of rivals from the other regions. And Britain’s overseas colonies are still less represented. If these numbers reflected true places where the most interesting artists were working, the rare scenes from overseas colonies would have been far more marketable than the same reproductions of scenes in England. However, I wish there was far more raw and processed data across this book, and some of the visuals just don’t address the points of top-interest. For example, “Table 5.2” oddly only reviews the “Countries Featured in Canvases Exhibited by” the two Daniells: Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) and William Daniell (1769-1837); both of them have pretty similar statistics (Oman: 3/2; India: 87/51). From the perspective of my current research into pseudonyms and plagiarism, the echoes in these numbers suggest a single ghost-artist was working under both of their bylines. The one color painting image included in the book by Thomas is a non-distinctive or standard painting from this period (142), which lacks any clear separation from the two scenes included by John Constable (138) other than the location. Even if these two brothers were painting their own work with formulaic strategies, there are really a lot of other non-represented artists that could have benefited from inclusion in this volume. A more useful representation is a map of “European Countries Shown at the Royal Academy” that includes the visual map with the numbers for each; Italy is the most represented with 2,077 and France second with 1,010 (128); this bias towards Italy and France reflects the bias towards Rome and France in British literary references I’ve noticed as well from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century. It is also not the most interesting question to ask of this data if women drew slightly more “Still Life” drawings; though it is interesting that women featured are largely represented in “miniatures (including cameos)” or the tiny pieces that would not take a lot of room, but would allow the exhibit to advertise the fair inclusion of many women (98-9). Another interesting graph is in “Figure 2.14” of the “Rejection Rate of Submissions to the Royal Academy Annual Exhibition, 1860-1914”; the rejection rate climbs rapidly between 1860 and 1880 and keeps climbing more steadily between 1880 and 1892 or so; it starts at around 50% and ends up as high as near 90% (47). There was mostly a decline in the number of works shown per-artist during the years when the rejection rate was climbing. While this exclusivity might indicate there were more competitors in the pool, and so the quality of the works were elevated, the romantic paintings pre-1860 have been canonized far more than the realist movement of the last decades of the nineteenth century; the impressionists of those later decades are more commonly cited, but they employed simplified artistic techniques instead of elevating art to more precise and complex forms that would have surfaced in a non-corrupted art market.

Greenwald’s commentary on these findings match the non-confrontational summaries she offers of the data. In one conclusion, she criticizes the very quantitative approach she is supposed to be presenting: “In art history, an analogous process can take place: the databased reclamation of historical production is a compression of the individuality of each work. In the datasets, one treats all art as simply a collection of basic attributes: artist, title, year of display, and so forth. This loss of the object can, if taken too far, be just as dangerous to the validity of scholarly conclusions as sample bias” (49). She then digresses into describing the compositions of several specific paintings in detail (51). To much of the remainder of the book includes these types of anti-quantitative philosophies, which fail to really look at the facts the data must have proved that Greenwald chose not to mention. 

Overall, this is an interesting and useful step towards quantitative analysis of art, but it’s only a first step. I hope the next one will not be made by somebody who is afraid to let the data speak for itself. If there are elements in composition, painting style and the like that Greenwald could not quantify, it does not mean that nobody could quantify them; it would take more study and more data gathering to compare these hundreds of thousands of pieces on these finer distinctions, but doing so would truly add a detached, unbiased perspective on art sales and exhibits as the commercial enterprise that it is.

Insider Perspectives on the Loeb Translations

Jeffrey Henderson and Richard Thomas, The Loeb Classical Library and Its Progeny: Proceedings of the First James Loeb Biennial Conference: Munich and Murnau, 18-20, May 2017 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, December 22, 2020). Hardcover: $30.00. 424pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-674-24871-7.


I have been reading books from the Loeb collection since at least 1999, so the “Loeb” name sparks a general association with the edited classics. Thus, a book about Loeb himself and the Loeb Library is a curious perspective, as it is important to understand the publishers behind both good and bad books. “James Loeb (1867-1933), one of the great patrons and philanthropists of his time, left many enduring legacies both to America, where he was born and educated, and to his ancestral Germany, where he spent the second half of his life. Organized in celebration of the sesquicentenary of his birth, the James Loeb Biennial Conferences were convened to commemorate his achievements in four areas: the Loeb Classical Library (2017), collection and connoisseurship (2019), psychology and medicine (2021), and music (2023). The subject of the inaugural 2017 conference was the legacy for which Loeb is best known and the only one to which he attached his name—the Loeb Classical Library, and the three series it has inspired: the I Tatti Renaissance Library, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, and the Murty Classical Library of India. Including discussions by the four General Editors of each Library’s unique history, mission, operations, and challenges, the papers collected in The Loeb Classical Library and Its Progeny also take stock of these series in light of more general themes and questions bearing on translations of ‘classical’ texts and their audiences in a variety of societies past, present, and future.” The main subject in this particular volume is different styles of translation, and this is precisely what I am working on developing now myself for my British Renaissance translation series. I hope to find some tips in these pages for improvement of my own translation style. There are many conflicting options all translators take, and it helps to understand why other translators make the choices they make.

The opening chapter by Jeffrey Henderson reviews the elements of the “Loeb-style” of translation. It also explains the business-end of this series, as it was started with an endowment that sponsored its publications without the need for sales, and only much later began to generate profits that were turned into a research fund. This does not bode well for my own project, which does not have any financial support, and thus commercial sales are necessary from the start. I hope it is not the case the classics is a loss-leader, and that the Loeb series didn’t simply start selling decades into it because of the familiarity of the name… (3-4). Loeb’s intention was that the included translations “in themselves” would be “real pieces of literature, a thing to be read for the pure joy of it” (7). This does seem to be the element that stands out when I read Loeb translations versus other series, the language is polished until it is as smooth as the original was meant to be for readers, and not a “literal” or precise word-for-word match to the original. Henderson also explains that in the 1990s a team of scholars went through the collection and graded it as “A (retain), B (revise) or C (replace)” and used these rankings to schedule 25% of the collection for revision, replacement and expansion (12). This explains why some of the editions I have been reviewing have previous versions credited to a different translator, whose byline is not repeated in the new version, which must be an entire replacement. These edits are explained as having become especially necessary because some of the earlier versions were judged to potentially “give offense” to modern readers, in contrast with contemporaries a hundred years ago.

The section in this book that is most relevant for my translation project is “III: The Challenges of Premodern Translation”. The first article in it by Elizabeth M. Tyler reviews “Reading Classical Antiquity in Old English”. One interesting bit of information in it is that “Old English” was not developed “naturally and independently in many places”, but instead specifically in the English kingdom of Wessex, where it was “promoted” as a “shadow or form of Latin” (155). And Tyler argues that the canonical texts from this period “were absolutely meant to do political work in the royal court, protecting Queen Emma, who commissioned the Encomium and Queen Edith, who commissioned the Vita Aedwardi, from very bitter factionalism” (160). This is an important point for my understanding of the Renaissance, as it establishes that pervious English history had a history of contracting propagandistic ghostwriters, or that Elizabeth I did not invent this practice when she commissioned members of the Workshop.

Another interesting chapter is Stuart Gillespie’s “Amateur Translators of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century” because I have been pondering how close to especially the Workshop’s Seventeenth century translations, the Loeb and other more modern versions are sticking. There were obviously a lot of errors in these “amateur” translations, and these have been accepted as-is in classics that have barely been revised since such as the Verstegan-ghostwritten King James Bible. This essay makes points such as: “It is established that Dryden excised from the printed text of his version of Satire 6 a dozen obscene lines he had at first translated along with the rest” (214). This is curious because I have also been pondering the censorship process that takes a text from the author’s full creation to the version that can be shown to the public. What editors exclude says a great deal about the editing and writing culture of an era, and Dryden must have known from experience that obscenities would not pass the theological level of translation if he inserted these lines into the typeset version.

I did not notice any ridiculously bad essays in this conference collection, so Loeb’s team succeeded where perhaps no other such collection of multiple authors on vaguely related topics has in my reviews. Each of these essays offers specific practical and theoretical information on Loeb and the series’ style and method of translation. Scholars have to look over the table of contents to check if a topic is useful for their individual research. This is not a book intended as a textbook, or one that can be read cover-to-cover. This is just a book that should be available in the major academic libraries for specialized researchers in this field to consult these rarely stated opinions of insider-specialists in the shrinking field of classics translation.

Digressions on Random Stuff Inspired by Boccaccio

Guido Ruggiero, Love and Sex in the Time of Plague: A Decameron Renaissance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, June 1, 2021). Hardcover: Cloth: $49.95. 303pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-67425-782-5.


The topic of this book raises my curiosity because a plague similarly sparked William Percy (according to my linguistic and financial forensic accounting research) to invest in the British Renaissance in founding a theater-duopoly in London in 1593. The association between plagues and authorship is one I hope to understand. Do downturns drive professional writers, publishers and producers to become uniquely inventive in their aftermaths or as they struggle through them to avoid total ruin? These questions are also relevant to the current Covid-19 pandemic, as it remains to be seen if the next phase will be a creative growth or shrinkage for the recovering humanity.

“As a pandemic swept across fourteenth-century Europe, the Decameron offered the ill and grieving a symphony of life and love. For Florentines, the world seemed to be coming to an end. In 1348 the first wave of the Black Death swept across the Italian city, reducing its population from more than 100,000 to less than 40,000. The disease would eventually kill at least half of the population of Europe. Amid the devastation, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron was born. One of the masterpieces of world literature, the Decameron has captivated centuries of readers with its vivid tales of love, loyalty, betrayal, and sex. Despite the death that overwhelmed Florence, Boccaccio’s collection of novelle was, in Guido Ruggiero’s words, a ‘symphony of life.’” The subject of Boccaccio’s Decameron is also relevant for my research because it is frequently utilized as a source on top of which British Renaissance classical poetry and dramas were written; it is one of the most frequent sources used alongside Livy and the rare British histories. “Love and Sex in the Time of Plague guides twenty-first-century readers back to Boccaccio’s world to recapture how his work sounded to fourteenth-century ears.” In “deep portraits of Florentine culture, Ruggiero explores love and sexual relations in a society undergoing convulsive change. In the century before the plague arrived, Florence had become one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe. With the medieval nobility in decline, a new polity was emerging, driven by Il Popolo—the people, fractious and enterprising.”

Guido Ruggiero divides the book into sections by emotions such as “Laughter” and “Sorrow” or themes such as “Violence”. The introduction explains that Boccaccio “promised” his series of a hundred tales “would provide a pleasant diversion from the cruel reality of those empty streets and vacant places that literally haunted their once flourishing city” (2). One thing I wish for at this point is that this was a translation of Boccaccio’s stories, and not criticism about it because it would be far more helpful for my research as I try to trace back the original stories that the Renaissance retellings in Britain were based on. Ruggiero’s reflections about what Boccaccio hoped to do are not productive in this regard. Other lines hint still more strongly that this is not the book I hoped to find; for example, this strange, irrelevant note: “Yet where Boccaccio saw love, he also saw sex” (2). This is not an oddity, but one of many similar general philosophical ponderings: “deeply felt love, as a powerful emotion that threatened to disrupt the civil order of society” was shown “via marriage—presented as literally civilizing both love and sex” (27). Another section broadly claims that some of the tails “deaths are far less tragic” without explaining what “tragic” means or which specific elements were “less” tragic. This idea is abandoned in the next sentence: “The second tale of the day warns about the dangers of self-love” (107).

I can’t review the rest of this book as it is making me noxious. I need to learn about Boccaccio, the history and economics of the plague he faced, and the precise plot structures and linguistics of Decameron, but instead this author if flying into fantastical digressions about love, violence, and the meaning of life and barely touching down to consider the text itself. I don’t recommend this as reading for anybody, or for purchase by libraries. There might be something good in this book, but an editor needs to dump all of the nonsense for it to become readable.  

Entertaining Narratives About Absurd Taxation Adventures

Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod, Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, April 6, 2021). 536pp, 6X9”. Hardcover: $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-691199-54-2.


Most people under-estimate how interesting taxes and economics can be, and do not notice these subjects are at the front of modern media coverage when they dismiss books about finance as not even more engaging. “Governments have always struggled to tax in ways that are effective and tolerably fair. Sometimes they fail grotesquely, as when, in 1898, the British ignited a rebellion in Sierra Leone by imposing a tax on huts—and, in repressing it, ended up burning the very huts they intended to tax.” This seems like a very strange case to be on a look out for, as I can’t imagine how burning the huts was meant to help this situation. “Sometimes they succeed astonishingly, as when, in eighteenth-century Britain, a cut in the tax on tea massively increased revenue… Two leading authorities on taxation, Michael Keen” (Fiscal Affairs Department at the International Monetary Fund) “and Joel Slemrod… tour through… episodes in tax history, both preposterous and dramatic—from the plundering described by Herodotus and an Incan tax payable in lice to the (misremembered) Boston Tea Party” (another interesting point to look into, how can this event be misremembered?) “and the scandals of the Panama Papers.” The “cast” is both in “tax rascals, and even a few tax heroes. While it is hard to fathom the inspiration behind such taxes as one on ships that tended to make them sink, Keen and Slemrod show that yesterday’s tax systems have more in common with ours than we may think. Georgian England’s window tax now seems quaint, but was an ingenious way of judging wealth unobtrusively. And Tsar Peter the Great’s tax on beards aimed to induce the nobility to shave, much like today’s carbon taxes aim to slow global warming.” On “how history illuminates the perennial challenges and timeless principles of taxation—and how the past holds clues to solving the tax problems of today.” Yes, indeed, modern media coverage about negative corporate taxes needing to be raised paints the tax system in seemingly simple terms. But the elements that legalize subsidies and refunds that can give money to corporations instead of taking taxes from them are closer to the types of obscure tax laws this book covers, than a simple matter of setting a corporate tax rate.

I turn first to the curious points raised in the summary. The Boston Tea Party conundrum is explained in the first chapter, as one of those “incidents in tax history” that are actually “well known”. The standard myth is summarized as the Patriots of Liberty dump “tea into Boston Harbor” over “oppressive British taxation.” This myth is busted as the event was actually over a “tax cut” and not a tax increase. Then, the story is explained to really start in India in 1763, when Britain fell into overwhelming debt. The tax cut was the repeal of the stamp duty in America on tea and other products, then came boycotts and other taxes on tea were removed, but the protests continued, so the “British troops killed seven locals on the streets of Boston” in 1770. The tea tax cuts turned out to be problematic for smugglers who could not compete with an artificially low tea price. One of these smugglers was John Hancock, “the richest merchant in Boston”, who could no longer sell either standard British tea or smuggled tea as a result of the preceding measures. This was when Hancock reacted by organizing throwing “35,000 pounds of cut-price tea into Boston Harbor”. The “banners” did indeed read “no taxation without representation”, but this was a propagandistic spin on American businessmen’s fiscal struggles (5-10). This is indeed a curious perspective on these events. I have been finding many faults with world history in my own research, so this mythic misinterpretation confirms but does not surprise my perspective.

The Hut Tax War is the second topic that raised my interest. “Taxing huts was seen as directly undermining property rights”, as the chief felt they had owned their huts previously, and a tax on them suggested a questioning of this ownership. After the war had already been sparked, a royal commissioner investigated and merely “reduced the tax to 3s” (13). There were hut tax revolts in both German East Africa and Sierra Leone.

Another section that drew my attention is about James I, the British king during the years my research studies. This section is called “A Tax on Stupidity”, and it begins with the explanation: “Not our words, but, reportedly, Voltaire’s”, and he was referring to the tax on playing the lottery. “The 1607 establishment of Jamestown—the first British colony in America—was partly financed by a lottery introduced by James I.” The French had previously used lotteries, and now England entered this tax-stream. The money was used “to fund public-works projects such as bridges, libraries, roads and lighthouses”, but fell victim to “Widespread abuses, including bribery of public officials” (78). 

This is a great book that delivers on the high claims in the blurb of combining economic concepts with entertaining storytelling. I think this would be a better read than the latest mystery novel, for those with the time for recreational reading. And researchers of taxation will find many unique perspectives on topics that too often are mythologized in less thoughtful textbooks.

A Collection of Many Previously Unpublished Poems of Sir Walter Scott

P. D. Garside and Gillian Hughes, editors; Walter Scott, Walter Scott: The Shorter Poems (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020). 674pp, 6X9”. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4744-2443-1.


My PhD dissertation and first scholar book with McFarland had a section on Sir Walter Scott, so this is an interesting find. I primary focused on his novels, but unlike long digressive novels, poems tend to summarize the essence of a writer. “A thorough re-evaluation of Scott’s output as a writer of short poems. Includes poems not in the standard edition of Scott’s collected poems or not previously printed anywhere.” I always appreciate first-printings of any inaccessible text. Canonical writers, especially, have to be studied for their full range of writing experiments, and not only the best-sellers they succeeded in marketing. “This fully annotated scholarly edition, based on new archival research, comprises 134 poems, several of which went unpublished, and all of which have been expertly re-edited from early printings or manuscript originals. Walter Scott remained a poet throughout his writing career and this collection of poems ranges chronologically from the earliest efforts of a clever Edinburgh schoolboy to the last works of an old and ailing international celebrity author. The poems span generically songs and ballads, theatrical contributions, epitaphs, translations from Latin, Spanish, French, Gaelic and German, and private jeux d’esprit. The comprehensive editorial apparatus provides readers with the historical and literary context for every poem, engages with the relation of song lyrics to musical settings, and traces all quotations and allusions to books, people and places. Sir Walter Scott,” (1771-1832) “was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet. Many of his works remain classics and include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.” My research focused on his novels about Scottish rebellions, including Rob Roy and Waverley. Scott is known for setting some of the myths and cultural associations we think of immediately when Scotland comes up, like the kilt. Scott researched Scottish legends and culture, but occasionally just invented Scottish cultural elements, which have become traditional after him.

The first few poems are not particularly engaging as they cover common subjects, but are measured and rhymed precisely. The first poem that has unique imagery is “To the Flower of Kelso” about a hunt: “O’er bank and brae my eager horse/ Follows the grey-hounds’ rapid course/ Passes like lightning ford and crag—/ Still the hot chase appears to drag” (4). Another resonating poem is “The Prisoner’s Complaint”, which must have reflected Scott’s personal observations of prisoners during his work as a judge: “Though tired of standing all this time/ I dare na stir a leg;/ Though wishing sair to stretch my arms/ I canna move a peg” (10). The simply Scottish dialect and vocabulary fits the language an impoverished prisoner would have used. Some of these poems are starting to sound familiar, so I think these include poems that were published before with the first-releases interspersed. Some of these poems mimic Renaissance poetry too closely; one example is “To a Lady” even alludes to “The shade of each departed Bard” (15). Amidst these poems, there is also a brief creative essay in “Thomas the Rhymer” or Thomas of Erceldoune, whose history is abridged from “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border”. The following quoted poem frequently alludes to “Spenser’s” Fairy Queen. The editor really needed to interject here with notes at the bottom of the page to explain if this is Scott’s fiction, or if he’s quoting from other sources. There is a brief explanation at the end of the book in “Combined Editorial Notes”, where the editor notes that this legend was “related by Scott in his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft” (1830) (386). And then a longer note on “Thomas the Rhymer” in particular explains that it was “first published in Scott’s ballad Collection Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” (1802). “As Scott remarks at the end of his headnote in the present volume, the first part was a traditional ballad, the second an assemblage of surviving prophecies and tags concerning Thomas the Rhymer, and the third an entirely original composition of his own” (388). It would be somewhat difficult to find these notes as they are not listed in the table of contents, and I found them because I’m reviewing an electronic PDF copy. Then again, I would have figured out the “Notes” addressed each of the poems in the collection if I skimmed through the book in search for this commentary.

Overall, this is a great collection of Scott’s poems that should introduce readers to Scott’s style and Scottish history, without overwhelming them with Scott’s more challenging novels or histories. This is an important book for libraries to add to their collection, as Scottish literature is woefully underrepresented on their shelves (from my own experience looking for it).

My Computational-Linguistics Applied to Patterns of Ovid Adaptation in Renaissance

Lisa S. Starks, editor, Ovid and Adaptation in Early Modern English Theatre (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020). Hardcover. 297pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-4744-3006-7.


One of the patterns I found when I compared the “Shakespeare”-bylined dramas ghostwritten by Ben Jonson to those ghostwritten by William Percy is that Percy was the one who preferred basing his plays on Ovid’s Metamorphosis and other Ovid texts, among other similar patterns of preferential adaptation. All three of the “Shakespeare” plays that use Ovid as a recognizable source are Percy’s: Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tempest and Rome and Juliet. Thus, my hypothesis is that most of the plays covered in this book about adaptations of dramas from this period were predominantly ghostwritten by Percy.

The publisher states that this book “Ovid was a multifaceted icon of lovesickness, endless change, libertinism, emotional torment and violence in early modern England… This is the first collection to use adaptation studies in connection with other contemporary theoretical approaches in analysing early modern transformations of Ovid. It provides innovative perspectives on the ‘Ovids’ that haunted the early modern stage, while exploring intersections between adaptation theory and gender/queer/trans studies, ecofeminism, hauntology, transmediality, rhizomatics and more. This book examines the multidimensional, ubiquitous role that Ovid and Ovidian adaptations played in English Renaissance drama and theatrical performance. Includes chapters on Shakespeare and Marlowe as well as other early modern dramatists.”

The “Index” lists more than the three main texts that my research determined blatantly adapted Ovid. The other “Shakespeare” plays mentioned jointly make up half of the “Shakespeare” plays, so most of these other adaptations are minor-usages with a mixture of Jonson and Percy-ghostwritten texts: Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, Cymbeline, Hamlet, Henry V, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Winter’s Tale and Titus Andronicus. Other “Shakespeare” plays are mentioned across this book without making the Index, so unless “Shakespeare” adapted Ovid in every one of his plays, most of these have to be very light adaptations. For example, when it comes to As You Like It, Starks notes that “Ovid’s specter appears through the character of Rosalind” (103), an example of “a comedic romp of Ovidian lovesickness” (103), and perhaps an allusion to Ovid-as-a-character (105). The latter is explained to be a uniquely Jonsonian device, as Jonson tended to satirize Ovid when he alluded to him (instead of borrowing Ovid’s plots as Percy did). The best example of this is in Ben Jonson’s Poetaster (1602), where Ovid is showcased as a character, who has a “farewell scene” with “Julia that resembles the one in Romeo and Juliet” (104). The Poetaster was part of the “War of the Theatres” or an outburst of self-satirizing or mutual friendly criticism between the ghostwriters of the Workshop (especially between Jonson, Percy, Harvey and Verstegan). Jonson knew about Percy’s preference for adopting Ovid and he exploited this weakness in his own play. Most of the other minor Ovid-adaptations are similarly likely to be “specters”, satirizations, or small allusions. If every allusion in an average “Shakespeare” play counted as an adaptation, there could be hundreds of books written about “adaptations” of hundreds of sources just about this “Shakespeare” corpus.

The “Index” points to a few other conclusions regarding my hypothesis on Ovid. While Percy dominates the dramatic Ovid adaptations under the “Shakespeare”-byline, the “Shakespeare”-assigned poetry that adapts Ovid includes the Harvey-ghostwritten Rape of Lucrece and the Sylvester-ghostwritten Venus and Adonis. Thus, it fits with my linguistic findings that the “Index” lists “Mary Sidney’s” Antonius as one of the leading Ovid adaptations, as both of the tested “Mary”-assigned texts matched the Sylvester signature (not only this Antonius, but also Clorinda); Sylvester borrowed from Ovid in Antonius just as he did in Venus.

A more curious finding are the many adaptations of Ovid under the “Thomas Heywood” byline: Apology for Actors, Fortune by Land or Sea, Gynaikeion, and The Ages. All of the tested “Heywood”-bylined texts matched the Percy linguistic signature. I did not test these four plays with Ovid-borrowings, but it is fair to assume they were also ghostwritten by Percy, and reflect his continued interest in re-writing Ovid for a British audience. The “Index” also cites “John Lyly’s” Love’s Metamorphosis, and my linguistic tests confirmed that it was co-ghostwritten by Percy and Sylvester. “Christopher Marlowe” is another indexed author for Dido, Doctor Faustus and Hero and Leander; out of these three, I only tested Hero and it matched Harvey’s signature; the other two “Marlowe” plays I tested matched Percy’s signature, so the untested “Marlowe” Dido-borrowings cannot be assumed to be either Harvey’s or Percy’s. There are no other writers singled out in the “Index” as uniquely Ovid-borrowing. Thus, my hypothesis that Percy, Sylvester and Harvey preferred borrowing from Ovid, while Jonson liked satirizing their obsession with this ancient author is confirmed.

As I was reviewing the allusions for my mini-study, I did notice that this is one of the rare books about the “Shakespeare” corpus that acknowledges the cross-dressing, gay-marriage and other sexually “deviant” themes as recurring and plot-essential. Most previous scholars I have reviewed do not even mention the cross-dressing or gay plot elements. In “Chapter 1: Queen Gender Informants in Ovid and Shakespeare”, Simone Chess boldly explains: “in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra interrogates the eunuch Mardian about the nature of his affections, and Mardian later speaks as an authority on Cleopatra’s feelings after her supposed death. In both cases, genderqueer—even possibly transgender – characters are seen to be experts on sex, gender, and romance because of their boundarycrossing bodies and lived experience. Shakespeare adapts characteristics and strategies from Ovid’s most non-normative characters (Tiresias, Caenis/Caenus, Iphis) in creating some of his own queerest roles (Mardian, Portia/Balthazar, Viola/Cesario)” (21). The gay-marriage and cross-dressing themes are common in “Shakespeare”, but they are far more dominant in the Jonson-ghostwritten plays like Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, and Twelfth Night that are not mentioned in the “Index”, though they do also appear in some semi-borrowing-from-Ovid plays as in As You Like It, where Rosalind cross-dresses. Reading Ovid might have informed Jonson that representing sexually deviant behavior in dramas was appropriate, but he did not adopt these sexual oddities into his plots to mimic Ovid, and rather to argue for homosexual and cross-dressing rights at a time when buggery was punishable by death. There are no mentions of the Buggery Act of 1533 (or of the word “buggery”) anywhere in this book. And here is how homosexuality is addressed directly: “Notably, I do not refer to homosexuality since early modern passion operated outside the scope of sexual identity”. Instead he chooses to use the term “queer” (58). This is absolutely false and Jonson would have rolled out of his grave to object (if he could). Nobody in the Renaissance could have confessed of being a male homosexual without immediately being executed for it; so, there were confessions of the homosexual “sexual identity”, but this obviously does not mean there were no gay man in that generation…

My study re-attributes all except Jonson’s bylines across this book, so obviously I disagree with nearly every line across this study if I look closely at them. On the other hand, if I step back and acknowledge that these authors cannot be familiar with my findings; then, their conclusions and arguments are all consistent with what they currently know. I also have to object that the discussions of sexuality do not directly acknowledge the reality of the messages related in these Renaissance texts. But again, this book goes further towards an unbiased and honest portrayal of sexuality in Renaissance drama than most of the previous studies. This is another rare book by multiple authors, where the pieces do not include any nonsense or inferior parts, and work together to relate a cohesive message. Thus, this is a good book for academic libraries to add to allow access to it for graduate students and scholars.

He “Didn’t Teach Anything”: The Common Puffery on a Film Professor

Alyssa DeBlasio, The Filmmaker’s Philosopher Merab Mamardashvili and Russian Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019). Hardcover: $100. 218pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-4744-4448-4.


“Known as the ‘Georgian Socrates’ of Soviet philosophy, Merab Mamardashvili was a defining personality of the late-Soviet intelligentsia. In the 1970s and 1980s, he taught required courses in philosophy at Russia’s two leading film schools, helping to educate a generation of internationally prolific directors.” This book “traces the influence of Soviet philosopher Merab Mamardashvili on a generation of Soviet and Russian filmmakers.” It is also “the first study of Mamardashvili’s significant influence on cinema, culture and philosophy in Russia” on “contemporary Russian filmmakers, including Alexander Sokurov, Andrey Zvyagintsev and Alexei Balabanov”.

The “Introduction” opens with a summary of the Russian/Soviet filmmakers Mamardashvili is claimed to have influenced, without explaining exactly what Mamardashvili lectured about and what elements of his teachings have been predominantly echoed in his followers. Instead, one quote from Khotinenko claims that Mamardashvili was a “true philosopher” because he had a “smell of tobacco” (3). In fact, DeBlasio specifically insists that the “films of Mamardashvili’s students” do not share “some common cinematic grammar” (4). Then, how can his influence be deduced? Can it be he has been puffed and repeatedly thanked for some other reason than what he was actually teaching or writing? Instead of looking at “grammar” or structure, DeBlasio suggests his influence is in his “understanding of human consciousness” (4)—a common phrase used by critics who have nothing in particular to say and have been too lazy to actual find echoing plot or linguistic elements when tracing influence. DeBlasio keeps suggesting throughout that Mamardashvili introduced “Pushkinian phenomenon of freedom” in the oppressive Soviet era (4), but this is nonsensical because she does not define just what elements of filmmaking might have been oppressed otherwise. There was a Cultural Revolution in the USSR between the start of the general Revolution in 1917 and the 1930s, during which religion was semi-outlawed in favor of atheism. But this revolution was pro-literacy and pro-intellectual growth, so the development of complex and innovative cinema (as long as it did not have a theological message) would have been inline with Soviet goals. On the other hand, across its history, the USSR did exile (Mamardashvili was “repatriated to his native Georgia by Soviet authorities in 1980” (5)), execute, and otherwise oppress writers who wrote texts that opposed the USSR or its agenda. Thus, the type of freedom Mamardashvili had to be promoting would have been critical of the USSR for him to have provided something new to the culture and to his students, but instead of starting with a search of these transgressive examples DeBlasio reflects generally on his capacity to “raise…human reflection” (5). She finally addresses what Mamardashvili actually wrote in the next section, “The Georgian Socrates”. This section does specify that Mamardashvili lectured on the “immortal soul”. However, then the discussion digresses into general Socratic statements that have nothing to do with “freedom” or modernization. One of the filmmakers interviewed, Nataliia Riazantseva, had a “romantic relationship” with Mamardashvili for “over a decade”, and this transgression into an affair with a student is not even explained or otherwise commented on (6). When she finally comes to addressing just how he was uniquely free-speaking, she observes that his lectures’ “topics” were those “one would not be able to hear in any other lecture hall in Moscow—justice, freedom, the good, and social responsibility” (9). I remember all of these topics being covered in even the first to fourth-grade curriculum that I listened to while I was a child in the USSR in intersecting years. The point of the Russian Revolution was “justice” and “freedom” and “social responsibility” was drilled into Soviet youth with various programs such as the Young Communist League or Komsomol that predominantly performed community service. Volkova even insists he “didn’t teach anything”… I take that at face-value, and dismiss the rest of the quote about him teaching “people freedom” as just puffery-nonsense (9). In fact, Mamardashvili was “reported to the Moscow authorities in the 1970s” for his “bourgeois daily uniform: corduroy jeans that could not be found in Soviet stores, beautiful sweaters purchased abroad, and a pipe” (9-10). The equivalent of this that would make sense to American readers is if an American professor was wearing a giant gold chain worth $200,000, knockoff Jordans, a cat-fur hat, an ivory tusk ring, and smoking a Cuban pipe. My grandfather ran a store in Moscow, so the question of goods not accessible in the USSR due to foreign-brand bans, came up regularly in conversations. It was extremely expensive (in bribes or money) to acquire western goods. While Cuban cigars are regularly advertised in American movies, they have been technically illegal since 1962. Bringing in any goods while there is a ban on them is the same as when gangsters smuggled alcohol during the American prohibition. If Mamardashvili wanted to make a political statement against bans of western goods, he could have written a book about it, and this could have influenced the USSR to change these laws. The Americans’ ban on Cuban cigars was part of this same mutual ban of rival products in the communism vs. non-communism struggle during these decades. While the USSR lifted its bans in the 1990s as the Russian people (but not Mamardashvili) argued for these changes, America still hasn’t lifted the Cuban ban. Mamardashvili was wearing fancy western clothing and other banned items to advertise his coolness to seduce his female students… This is not an example of “freedom”, but rather of exploitation and corruption.

I requested this book because I was hoping to read examples of Soviet film-criticism, under the assumption it would be highly focused on structure and the various elements of great film design. This is not what is offered in this book. Instead, this is an extensive puffery of yet another professor that is admired because he does not teach anything.

Adams (Folger Shakespeare Library Director) Started the “Shakespeare” as White-Supremacist Argument

Hillary Eklund and Wendy Beth Hyman, Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare: Why Renaissance Literature Matters Now (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019). Hardcover: $105. 289pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-4744-5558-9.


Given my current research-field, I had to request this book to review the types of books about “Shakespeare” that are currently being accepted by academic presses, unlike my own revolutionary ideas that this is merely a pseudonym. However, the following summary screams that this is one of those books that pretends to be culturally-sensitive, while it says a bunch of nonsense. “This book is for teachers who want to heighten the intellectual impact of their courses by using their classrooms as a creative space for social formation and action. Its twenty-one chapters provide diverse perspectives on Shakespeare and early modern literature that engage innovation, collaboration, and forward-looking practices. They model ways of mobilizing justice with early modern texts and claim the intellectual benefits of integrating social justice into courses. The book reconceives the relationship between students and Renaissance literature in ways that enable them—and us—to move from classroom discussions to real-life applications… Historicizes the malicious ‘whitening’ of Shakespeare and European culture, recognizing instead multiple, multicultural, accessible Shakespeares”.

The editors’ introduction claims: “Shakespeare, perhaps more than any other literary figure, has been trotted out as a symbol of white cultural supremacy” (2). This extraordinary claim is not supported by any evidence, or specific quotes from supremacists. When I searched for these key words, I came across Shakespeare Is a White Supremacist, a play by an African American and an undergraduate student, Andrew Watring, which was staged by AU Rude Mechanicals. Another mention is in Madeline Sayet’s essay in HowlRound, where she explains that promoting “Shakespeare as the ‘best’ writer of all time is dangerous and white supremacist” on its own. There were several other articles by anti-white-supremacists that criticism “Shakespeare” as a “white guy” who inspired white supremacists. But I did not find a single white supremacist who has quoted or alluded to “Shakespeare” as the reason for his white-supremacist beliefs; this is not a rational movement based on critical assessment of white versus colored literature, but rather a violent mob that wants to fight a race-war for power. Yes, “Shakespeare’s” plays are racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and offensive to a myriad of other groups. However, the cultural battle against “Shakespeare” is not really a fight about “Shakespeare’s” biases, but instead about modern humans’ desire to regress towards simpler reading materials. It is part of the anti-cultural revolution. The promotion of rap over the sonnet is not a positive step towards enlightenment, but a regression in human capacity for literacy. If we are going to stop teaching “Shakespeare”, humanity needs to write superior poetry and dramas, instead of deluding writing to e. e. cummings and the other nonsense writers.

There are aspects of the “Shakespeare” corpus that empower women, and brought a myriad of races and cultures into European literature. I have also found that the texts William Percy could not or did not find a publisher for, or those he left with his byline in his own archives, include still more radical racial, religious and cultural concepts, such as his book that directly describes Muhammad’s Heaven, or a play that presents a myriad of affairs or free love in Cuckholds. “Shakespeare” or Percy was liberal enough to dare to show the cultural equality of the Muslim religion, but his publishers or censors were not brave enough to make these ideas accessible to the public.

These questions are especially addressed in “Chapter 5”, where Jason Demeter argues that the American education system promotes “Shakespeare” “under the banner of a homogenized whiteness, while excluding non-whites from Shakespeare.” Demeter argues that there really has been a movement that utilizes “Shakespeare” as a tool of white supremacy that dates back to Joseph Quincy Adams’ “1932 inaugural address” after he was “appointed director of the Folger Shakespeare Library”, where he argued that “Shakespeare” was “indisputably American” due to the “cultural ties between Britain and the United States”; Anglo-Saxon character was used to define the American identity, while the “Greeks” and “Italians” are presented as part of a “swarm” of “locust” that is invading America through immigration. “Shakespeare” (or Percy/Jonson) would have objected that Greek/Italian or Greco-Roman texts and cultural roots were the main sources he imitated in the plays in this corpus; in contrast, America was a wilderness in the Renaissance that represented an extreme of otherness or foreignness. On top of these racist views of Adams’, Demeter adds that he believes Adams was suggesting that it is “unimaginable that non-whites might achieve similar access to the mainstream through a similar familiarity and mastery of Shakespeare” (69-70). The latter is Demeter’s opinion, and not something he found in Adams’ speech, so Demeter is imaging Adams was far more racist than Adams actual words indicated, and Adams’ own words are very racist.

The point of most of the articles in this book is to be confrontational and divisive instead of offering practical ideas on how to teach “Shakespeare” in the modern classroom. In other cases, authors digress into first-person discussions of how they were taught “Shakespeare” as Emily Griffiths Jones does in her chapter on the global performance of “Shakespeare” in Singapore (global, but in Singapore only?).

One curious essay is by Kirsten N. Mendoza on that “Shakespeare” should be taught with trigger-warnings. Mendoza takes a uniquely rational approach, as he simply explains that the contents of “Shakespeare” plays include extreme sex and violence that have been recorded to cause “panic attacks, vomiting, and fainting” as “occurred during the 2014 revival of Lucy Bailey’s gory production of Titus Andronicus at the Globe.” Mendoza further explains that those with PTSD, or who have thought about suicide, need to be warned about the coverage of war or suicide in a given play. However, the summary of a “Shakespeare” play tends to be sufficient to explain the types of censorable actions that might be included in it. Mendoza recognizes that “trigger warnings” can cause “student resistance to difficult materials”, but instead focuses on the tools to “frame” or to introduce these texts to “optimize access, learning, equity, and respect in the classroom” (97-8). While this is a more rational take than the others in this collection, the headings of the “tools” Mendoza proposes confirm that he is also making an emotional argument: “Learning with emotion” (while witnessing violence); and “Negative physical response” (including encouraging students to physically “leave the classroom”, and giving students “stress balls” to calm them down during group-discussions) (101). Mendoza is suggesting that all students are mentally handicapped, and unable with separating fiction from reality. If these students have done their homework, they should have read introductory materials to a new play and at least the opening pages before the first lecture on any given Early Modern drama. If any of these students are so shocked by a teacher describing that Hamlet kills his step-father that they have to leave the class because they feel a rush of emotions, this means they have never been exposed even to mainstream allusions to Hamlet and certainly not the play itself. Mendoza is giving these students permission and is in fact cheering them if they not only leave and refuse to participate in the assigned curriculum, but also encourages them to play with balls, and talk about their own feelings instead of analyzing the text in question (an avoidance that would really only be necessary if they have not done the assigned reading).

The study of “Shakespeare” should be the study of the rules of classical Renaissance verse and dramatic structure and linguistics. There are also cultural, social, moral, legal and political lessons that each of the plays in the “Shakespeare” canon communicates. The message typically is a satirical/comedic or tragic criticism of the sex and violence depicted. Too many of the plays the Workshop wrote in the Renaissance that more radically fought against religious and legal rules they thought were unjust went unpublished because of censorship laws. To censor “Shakespeare” now based on the appearance of sex or violence alone means having censors that are more aggressive and anti-free-speech than the clerics and government officials during the 16th century. Students have to be taught what a genre like satire is, so they can distinguish for themselves when evil deeds are being criticized, versus when they are being propagated. A large portion of “Shakespeare” is in fact pro-British-monarchy propaganda because the Workshop was sponsored or patronized by these monarchy, aristocrats and clerics. Instances of violence that are deliberately designed to promote the glory of warfare and the power in murdering political rivals have to be explained to students as the propaganda that they are. Only by understanding what propaganda was in the past can students recognize it when they see it being applied in modern films, television series and dramas. Nearly all canonical texts include some scenes of sex and violence in them, and too many of these texts do not deserve the puffing-praise academics have placed in them. But to create a generation of new “Shakespeares”, who can out-write the Bard(s), we have to teach them as if they can become “Shakespeare” if they only learn the elements that he would have learned from his teachers. “Shakespeare’s” teachers did not give him a stress ball and invite him to leave if he’s scared of hearing about all the violence in Ovid; Gabriel Harvey’s Rhetor is probably one of the lectures “Shakespeare” heard from his lecturer while he was a student. Hundreds of years after “Shakespeare”, it should be easy for a high school student to write a text that meets the standards he set; instead, modern students are devolving into a state of “consuming” the violence mindlessly, and needing to be told they have to be “critical engagers” (101).

This book should not be purchased or read by anybody except for by specialists in this field who can separate the facts from fiction, or the hype from accurate critical interpretations. It is making me noxious, and I think I sympathize with the urge to vomit… more so than if I was at a show where torrents of blood and gore at least also provided some absurd entertainment.

A Biased, Misleading and Digressive Attempt to Teach Historical Linguistics

Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, Fourth Edition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, March 2021). Hardcover: $50. 521pp, 6.75X9.5”. 100 b&w illustrations. ISBN: 978-1-4744-6311-9.


“…Introduces students to the important topics in historical linguistics but also shows them how to apply the methods… Abundant examples from a broad range of languages and exercises… The book is distinctive for its integration of the standard topics with others now considered important to the field, including syntactic change, grammaticalization, sociolinguistic contributions to linguistic change, distant genetic relationships, areal linguistics, and linguistic prehistory. The book also offers a defense of the family tree model, a response to recent claims on lexical diffusion/frequency, and a section on why languages diversify and spread. Example from the more familiar English, French, German, and Spanish make the topics more accessible, while those from non-Indo-European languages show the depth and range of the concepts they illustrate. This fourth edition features a larger page format and refreshed layout for a more reader-friendly experience; sixteen restructures and revised chapters and two new chapters on lexical change and semantic change and new coverage of quantitative and corpus research methods; practical exercises and a full bibliography.”

If Lyle Campbell succeeds in doing what the summary promised, I will finally have a book in my collection that explains historical linguistics with rationality and precision. However, problems start in the “Introduction”, where the first section is called “What historical linguistics isn’t”, instead of defining what it is. It digresses into nonsensical contradictions that are basically linguistic-jokes, such as that it is not “the history of linguistics”, or the “origin of human language” (the first word a Neanderthal said?), or that it is about “preserving pure ‘correct’ forms of language” (2-3). Nobody who picks up an advanced linguistics textbook needs to be told any of these points; all that this section achieves is taking up opening pages in irrelevant, digressive humor that would frustrate anybody reading this book to apply it to their complex research experiments.  

Finally, the second section defines historical linguistics as “change in language or languages over time”, so it is concerned with how a language changed between periods such as Old English and Modern English, as opposed to studying either of these on its own (4). Yet its primary goal is not “etymology”, though etymological definitions can be its output (5). A curious example of language change is given in the next section of “Kinds of Linguistic Changes”, where versions of the Old English Bible West-Saxon Gospels (1050), Middle English Wycliff (14th century), King James Bible (Verstegan: 1611) and the Modern English (1961) are compared on a single passage (6). This is not one of the passages that would have been really controversial, as there are several passages Campbell could have covered instead to show the radical translator/censor-driven edits that were undertaken to shift the intended message of the Bible over the centuries. Campbell is more interested in the variants of the meanings, spellings and origins of the alternative words used in these translations, especially the ones that basically communicate the same meaning.

By the second chapter on “Sound Change”, the textbook is fully engaged in defining, applying and otherwise directly diving into the subject with barely any noticeable digressions.

The chapter that is most relevant for my research is the last one on “Quantitative Approaches to Historical Linguistics and Technical Tools”; however, not surprisingly, the opening in this chapter claims some of this field is too controversial, and the rest of the chapter never mentions the words “attribution” or even “style”. Campbell avoids authorial attribution in favor of quantitative approaches that are technically more relevant to her field. An example of a sub-section in this chapter is one that address these concepts: “Glottochronology is defined as a method with the goal of assigning a date to the split-up of some language into daughter languages, whereas lexicostatistics is defined as the statistical manipulation of lexical material for historical inferences (not necessarily associated with dates) (Hymes 1960)” (423). A different sub-section provides interesting definitions of terms such as “phylogenetics: the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms or languages” (435). Given this type of information, I will probably return to this book if I am working on a linguistic problem and need to check if there are specialized terms to describe it that I have forgotten. The section on “probability” applies it to distinctions between languages across periods of time. The problem is that these methods (as Campbell explains) borrow too heavily from how probability is applied to the study of biological evolution, but language and culture does not follow the same types of rules because the rules of language can be entirely manipulated by small sects or rulers with agendas that are nothing like the basic food-sex-death-avoidance instincts of a biological creature. And a section on “distance methods” seems to be related to my own method but its type of “neighbor joining” uses a “tree-like” structure that I found to be misused in quantitative studies that pretend creating branching hundreds-of-levels comparisons can generate a more accurate result, while simply forging the data to match the current byline-attributions (443). Then, Campbell recommends a tool called “Helsinki Corpus of English Texts”, which leads to a page with a search box that does not allow for a search to be carried out as it is “not secure”. There is no mention of how to avoid this problem in Campbell’s book, so it seems she has not tried to use it herself (459). She also recommends ARCHER, but this University of Manchester tool requires that users send a hand-signed form first with a CQPweb username (which can only be acquired by somebody in an academic institution), and the forms are structured as only intended for teachers of a class versus independent or otherwise researchers; independent researchers might also be prevented from using the data they gather by the strict rules against using it for non-non-profit aims, as publishing a book that cites the data can be interpreted as a commercial application. The third tool she recommends, Penn Parsed Corpora of Historical English, just leads to a page that when one clicks to download the Early Modern English version uploads a video file that my virus software scanned as dangerous and that started twitching as I tried playing it, before deleting it from my computer. And after that, Campbell just goes into her half-page “Conclusions” and the “Bibliography” to close out the whole book.

While the center of this book appears to be a rational and accurate set of applicable rules about historical linguistics, the chapter on quantitative linguistics (that I am most familiar with) provides misleading and unhelpful information that cannot be practically applied (in a field that is only relevant for those who will test or apply it in practice). Given the problems I encountered when I read any section closely, it is possible that the sections that seem to be clear and concise and useful as a textbook, might also be misleading and confusing. Thus, I cannot recommend this as a textbook, or as a book for libraries to purchase in case I might be sentencing students to a horror-textbook.

A Polished Collection of Primary Documents from the Ottoman Empire

V. L. Ménage; Colin Imber, editor, Ottoman Historical Documents: The Institutions of an Empire (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2021). Hardcover: $120. 250pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-4744-7936-3.


The necessity for a collection of accessible original Ottoman sources such as this book became apparent to me when I recently translated the William Percy’s dramatic Renaissance comedy Thirsty Arabia from Early Modern English into Modern English. In some ways, Percy’s understanding of Muslim cultures in this play surpasses that of some modern western literature scholars. Instead of coming to understand cultures like the Ottoman better over time, the geo-political boundaries between these regions and the Judeo-Christian world have only made it harder to access accurate information. Judeo-Christian-Muslim should be viewed as three periods in theological mutation, and not as a dual divide between Judeo-Christian and Muslim sects. Restrictions, bans and censorship from all sides have made access to primary source materials that explain the roots of especially the Muslim culture difficult for generalist scholars in the west. While a translation of the Quran directly from Arabic appeared in 1734, many of the surrounding texts that explain how Muslims perceive the Quran are still inaccessible. Given that some of the most violent and destructive modern wars are between Muslims and Judeo-Christians, any sources access to which can help these sides to understand each other better can be the real solutions to the Middle East dilemma, as opposed to diplomacy without such understanding. A similar mutual-comprehension is necessary about the histories of the political structures of foreign players.

“This collection of translated primary sources for Ottoman history shows how the major institutions of Ottoman government developed and functioned. Each chapter covers a key topic: Legitimation and Titulature; Princes; Recruitment into the Sultan’s service; the Vizierate and the Dīvān; the Religio-Legal Institution; Ḳānūnnāmes (sultanic legislation); Taxation and Finance; Waqfs (endowments); and Treaties and Foreign Relations.” It “translates the documents from Ottoman Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Persian, Latin and Italian into English.” It includes explanations of “technical terms and problems of interpretation with annotations and a glossary. Introduces both the government and institutions of the Ottoman Empire, and the different types of source material encountered in historical research. Provides valuable comparative material for historians of the late-mediaeval and early modern periods, and in particular for historians of the Mediterranean and Middle East during this era.” The book is by the late V. L. Ménage (1920-2015), Professor of Turkish at SOAS, London, with edits and additions from Colin Imber, previously a Reader in Turkish at the University of Manchester.

This collection largely presents the government propaganda that the Ottoman Empire released to sell itself as an institution. Topics covered include how the rulers were honored after death, letters and decrees issued by princes, provincial administration reports and accounts, religio-legal texts that applied religious rhetoric or fatwa to items such as land acquisition for masques and neglected-prayer fines, as well as non-theological taxation and finance documents, and finally treaties and other documents that describe foreign relations. Each chapter organizes the documents chronologically, so scholars can find the topic that interests them, and then choose the period relevant for their own research project. The front and back-matter materials also serve to assist busy scholars with sifting through these primary sources, with a glossary of terms, an index, a list of Ottoman Sultans between 1300 and 1687 (important for a quick-check that can then be researched more fully), as well as illustrations, maps and figures throughout. There is even a linguistic “Note” that explains how Latin letters were used to represent unique sounds in Turkish and letters in the Ottoman-Arabic script: this is necessary for anybody who wants to attempt to pronounce the names described in this book accurately. The Preface also provides useful information on the primary author, Menage, explaining that he retired back in 1983, and at that point left this collection to his coworkers in case they wanted to do something with it, and they did not pick it back up until recently as they realized the value of these otherwise inaccessible documents. The map of the Ottoman region between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea helps to visualize that this empire impacted countries that now (or according to modern borders) include Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Sudia Arabia, Yemen, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Albania. This list includes several regions that have had major wars over borders and theology in the recent decades, so understanding the governmental documents that governed these cultures during the equivalent of the European Renaissance will help to understand the roots that are mis-aligning with European ideals. On a lighter note, I was recently working on a translation of the Country Captain where Percy (or the anonymous author) alluded to the big harem, and I had to search online for a while to figure out which harem he was most likely to be referring to. Well, this collection includes a diagram of the harem castle of the second and third courts as its Figure 1; this is a very specific diagram with the positions of an enormous kitchen, stables, gardens, the Throne Room, divan chambers and other sections that are nearly sufficient to attempt to reproduce the castle. Jointly all these assisting materials help to put the reader in this place and time without needing to do much outside research. Thus, it can serve as a stand-alone textbook on this subject.

Just as British Medieval and Renaissance propogandists made up or exaggerate British-king origins stories about knights and magicians, the Ottomans “needed to legitimise their rule in the eyes of their subjects. The basis of their claims to rightful rulership and superiority over rival dynasties is embedded in the largely mythical accounts of the Empire’s origins found in the earliest Ottoman chronicles. These reflect popular oral traditions which circulated in the fifteenth century” (1). The first of these from the Anonymous Chronicles explains the supernatural aspects as a dream. The translations are assisted with explanations or summaries and context alongside the quoted sections of translated text. Another useful visual is “Table 1.1” that explains “Titles adopted by the Ottoman sultans” with a comparison between Arabic, Turkish Persian and Ottoman titles; I only wish there was a longer table to explain the relationship of the variants of the “Caliphal titles” for “imam” and not only this word because in my own research into proper Muslim titles for priests I came across many complex names for how they are supposed to be called in different sects of Muslims and within the sects the different title implications; the table does explain that the Ottomans combined words borrowed from the preceding cultures and languages, for example keeping the Arabic amīr and the Persian mīr as mīr/ emīr. It is hard enough to distinguish between the western priest or pastor, so a review of such terms is essential for westerners to venture into this foreign culture. Another interesting piece is what Prince Korkud left to Istanbul for its governorship in 1483, which includes the enormous sum of “Cash: 100,000 aḳçes”, as well as “Gold üsküf with its red cap and white tuġ”, alongside small items such as, “1 cloak, with rich gold, of red Frankish velvet” (15). The letters are uniquely colorful in specific, as, for example the letter from Prince ʿĀlemşāh’s mother Gülrūḥ to Bāyezīd II: “Because several people spoke of Iskender’s ill-treatment of the people and his embezzling my son your slave’s money [saying] ‘Let us take 20,000 aḳçes as a muḳāṭaʿa,’ they seized the men who made this [complaint], clapped them in irons, and tortured the Muslims by leaving them out in the August sun” (16). Some of this translation is difficult to understand as in the phrase “my son your slave’s money”: the mother is referring to her son, who is a prince, but she is calling him the sultan’s “slave” as a humble address, but on a first reading and without checking who is writing the letter, it seems as if this might be the mother of a slave. Some added punctuation, or an explanation of the “slave” term might have eased this reading. I only mention this because it’s a very interesting letter that is referring to strange abuses by various people against the prince, and it’s confusing why he cannot defend himself against these attackers, and why his mother is complaining on his behalf. Some of the short letters are also intensely dramatic, as the letter on the accession of Bāyezīd II in 1481: “My slave Iskender: when this letter (biti) reaches you, you are to know that I have killed Gedik [Aḥmed Paşa]. It is necessary that you, without delay, have Cem’s son strangled. This is most urgent – but no-one is to know about it. Thus you are to know: you are to place reliance upon the Noble Sign. Written in the third decade of Shawwāl of the year 887 (January 1482)./ In the residence of Edirne.” This is very direct and equivalent brisk communications are largely missing from Medieval British records, so they show an advanced military-governmental structure where even the violent passage of the throne was handled with anticipated foresight.

I have not come across any glitches, missing or confusing pieces in this book. Everything has been thoroughly polished and prepared in a manner that invites readers to spy on this foreign world from the comfort of their own spaces. I strongly recommend this book for the purchase of most types of libraries because nearly all have far too few titles on the Ottoman Empire, and perhaps none that preserve these types of original sources about it. It should make for a great textbook in a special class on the Ottoman Empire, and will help English-speaking researchers in this field make progress in digesting the significance of these materials.

A Fictitious Claim about the “Shakespeare” Pseudonym’s Residence Inside a Church…

Geoffrey Marsh, Living with Shakespeare: Saint Helen’s Parish, London, 1593-1598 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021). Hardcover. 513pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-4744-7972-1.


Edinburgh University Press sent an email invitation to me to a book-launch with the author, Geoffrey Marsh for this book. After I accepted, and offered to ask questions regarding the documents that Marsh thinks prove “Shakespeare” was an actual person and not a pseudonym (as my findings prove), I was first told that Marsh and his co-speaker would not answer my questions, and then without warning I was blocked from even logging into the chat session after taking out time to follow the link. I never received an explanation from Edinburgh regarding this block, I just had to wait for around 5 minutes into the session to figure out I would not be let in. This is perhaps the most aggressive censorship of the press I have seen so far from a publisher in connection with my Renaissance project, as I start to push it out there as a likely self-publication with my own Anaphora Literary Press. Edinburgh rejected my own series without any explanation, and the overseer of this book launch refused to make any comments that might have suggested she or anybody else at Edinburgh read my revolutionary findings about “Shakespeare”. The publicist might have decided to just block me after I joked in my final letter that a discussion about “Shakespeare” without addressing the pseudonym issues I was raising is equivalent to continuing to believe in Santa Clause out of romantic faith, instead of from a place of rational evaluation. I had to make this statement before starting this review, as this incident is definitely biasing me against this book (beyond my preceding questions about it). All scholars should be willing to discuss the basic assumptions behind the byline on the cover of one’s new book. If one recoils from evidence that disprove one’s case, either there is insufficient evidence in the structure of the case, or it is a false claim that can easily be overturned. I challenge anybody who believes in “Shakespeare” to email me at or send a note on my social media, and I will prove you wrong.

Here is Edinburgh’s summary with a few brief explanations of the actual evidence: “In the 1590s, Shakespeare was working with and writing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men at The Theatre, Shoreditch while he was living in the parish of St. Helens, Bishopsgate Street.” Only six of “Shakespeare’s” signatures survive—three of these on “his” will and the other three on commercial transactions: Willm Shak’p’, William Shakspēr, Wm Shakspē, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere and By me William Shakspeare; each of these signature spellings of the name is different from each other and they are also different from how “Shakespeare(s)” wrote the name on the title-pages of the published books. No author of ¾ a million words can have this little recollection on how to spell his own name. These are deliberate misspellings that were intended to mislead censors and accounting auditors to avoid potential prosecution over fraud without a single-spelling legal name that could firmly be attributed to a writer/businessmen potentially subject to prosecution or taxation (as “Shakespeare” was a documented tax-dodger). The last three of these signatures were also executed or signed a few days after the recorded date of “Shakespeare’s” death, so they are from the ghost(writer) of “Shakespeare”. Returning to the summary, the claim that “Shakespeare” was “living in… St. Helens” is absurd, as it suggests he was living inside of this church on Bishopsgate and not elsewhere in the parish. The fact is that the earliest piece of evidence of “Shakespeare’s” residence in London is from his real estate purchase of a large house in Stratford, London in 1597. At average speed, a horse would have needed around half-an-hour to travel between Stratford and the area of Shoreditch/St. Helens that is around 5 miles away. In fact, the first proof that “Shakespeare” invested in the theater comes from a shareholder’s lease for the Globe in 1599; there is no documented proof “Shakespeare” invested in the Theatre at any time in the preceding decade, when Marsh assumes he did so. Most of what previous critics have said about “Shakespeare” is similarly a series of fictions that the critics themselves have forgotten are fictions, and have come to believe are facts.

The summary proceeds: “Living with Shakespeare examines his parish, church, locale, neighbours and their potential influences on his writing—from the radical ‘Paracelsian’ doctors, musicians and public figures—to the international merchants who lived nearby.” Since “Shakespeare” did not live in this church, this is a blatant attempt to profit from the “Shakespeare” popularity to sell tourists on visiting this particular church and its surrounding mentioned locations. “Packed with new discoveries from difficult-to-access manuscript records this book reveals the parish’s complex social, religious, political and neighbourly intersections and influences. Taking a section of Shakespeare’s life, (c. 1593-1598), as he evolved from new ‘arriviste’ in London to established theatre professional…” Again, the first piece of evidence of “Shakespeare” being a “professional” in the theatre is from 1599, the preceding document that shows he was probably an actor, writer or performer (absolutely no designation explaining his role in the troupe was given) in the theater is when his byline appears in the receipt for two comedies presented at Court Revels in 1595. “…The book examines the 100 or so families who lived in his parish and demonstrates how their interests, work and connections formed part of the background environment that Shakespeare probably borrowed from as he reworked existing stories. These people form a fascinating story, which sheds new light on the influences that shaped a great writer as he finished Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice and began to re-establish his family name, status and reputation.” There is no proof any of these plays were even first-performed prior to 1597; Romeo was first-published under the “Shakespeare”-byline in 1623 after an anonymous printing in 1597; and both Midsummer and Merchant were first-published in 1600. The publisher’s blurb concludes with a puffery: “Marsh’s ability to weave primary research and discoveries together with historical narratives, transports readers into Shakespeare’s world and allows them a real glimpse into his daily life.” The problem is that Marsh has not done enough research to establish or to explain the lack of evidence to support the essential claims even in this summary. He might have researched enough about the lives of the people he set out to describe, but to be accurate in his advertising he should have just titled this book, The Lives of 100 or So Families Who Lived in St. Helens Parish: 1593-8.

Part I digresses into the history of “Shakespeare’s” childhood in the 1570s, while only making a brief mention of the central point for this book or the assumption that “Shakespeare” lived in St. Helens in 1597/8; the explanation states that there were rolls such as the Lay Subsidy rolls that only recorded “vital records of the wealthier sections of England’s population in the sixteenth century”, and that these rolls “suggest” that “Shakespeare” lived specifically in “St. Helen’s” during these years. However, when one turns to the notes for this part, they insist that no such evidence is actually to be found in any rolls, as “Shakespeare’s” name is not mentioned in them in connection with London: “Unfortunately, the survival of such rolls is very patchy, both by date and geography. Many surviving rolls are also in poor condition. Such subsidies offered a good way of exploiting foreign immigrants, who all had to pay regardless of income. Ironically, this means that poor immigrants were better documented than their equivalent English residents, whose poverty resulted in historical obscurity” (36-44). Alternatively, there is no documented proof for the premise, and the entire argument in this book regarding “Shakespeare” is faulty. “Shakespeare” was merely a pseudonym. If “Shakespeare” was a real person who invested the over £1,000 that he would have had to invest to become a major holder of shares in the Globe, and this was not a pseudonym, he would have been among the “wealthiest” in London society, and there would have been a note on him in the rolls. Instead, it was William Percy who borrowed £2,400 in 1593 to make these investments in a documented agreement, and he as well as other ghostwriters are behind the texts attributed to “Shakespeare”. Percy would have largely resided with other members of the aristocratic Percy family across the 1590s.

Some of the documents and evidence in this collection might be interesting and useful to proving some points about life in London during the 1590s when the “Shakespeare” byline was originated, it would be absurd for me to evaluate these points of enlightenment when the glaring mistakes are preventing me from focusing on anything else. There might be similar problems in each paragraph of this book, if I research them far enough to hit at these realities.

Reading That Stupefies and Confuses Us

Robert DiYanni, You Are What You Read: A Practical Guide to Reading Well (Princeton: Princeton University Press, April 20, 2021). Paperback: $24.95. 240pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-69120-678-3.


The blurb for this book is an example of what I would recommend no writer that wants to sell a book to a literate reader does: “We are what we read, according to Robert DiYanni.” There should be quotation marks around the saying, if it is a quote; and this phrasing is more of a question than a statement, as the reader is invited to question if DiYanni is alone in believing this. “Reading may delight us or move us…” It can also stupefy and confuse us. “We may read for instruction or inspiration.” “May” is either questioning the possibility or asking for permission, so this statement again suggests the opposite is also possible. “But more than this, in reading we discover ourselves.” The concept of self-discovery has always puzzled me. A human who is illiterate is not him or herself? Who somebody is needs to be found like a lost sock? Somebody who does absolutely nothing but drink and party might know themselves as he writes poems about what he is doing, better than somebody who has been working non-stop since the teens on starting a huge business and lacks the time for empty self-aggrandizement or self-criticism. What does any of this have to do with the task of reading? “We gain access to the lives of others, explore the limitless possibilities of human existence…” There are definitely limits to human existence… I’m not going to go outside in a severe thunderstorm… If I did, there would be less limits on my existence, but my existence might be shorter. “…Develop our understanding of the world around us, and find respite from the hectic demands of everyday life. In You Are What You Read, DiYanni provides a practical guide that shows how we can increase the benefits and pleasures of reading literature by becoming more skillful and engaged readers. DiYanni suggests that we attend first to what authors say and the way in which they say it, rather than rushing to decide what they mean.” I think DiYanni is trying to say that readers should measure the rhythm, calculate the rhyme-rate, and compare the sounds an author is making to bird-sounds… How else can what is meant be less significant than the way they say it? “He considers the various forms of literature, from the essay to the novel, the short story to the poem, demonstrating rewarding approaches to each in sample readings of classic works. Through a series of illuminating oppositions, he explores the paradoxical pleasures of reading: solitary versus social reading, submitting to or resisting the author…” I feel like I’m definitely resisting DiYanni. “…Reading inwardly or outwardly, and more.” Wait, one can either read socially or privately, and also inwardly and outwardly? So the latter is referring to reading indoors or outdoors, or like inside of the soul or outside of the soul? “DiYanni closes with nine recommended reading practices, thoughts on the different experiences of print and digital reading, and advice on what to read and why.” Well, I can advise you guys not to read this book… I guess DiYanni also includes book reviews. “Written in a clear, inviting, and natural style, You Are What You Read is an essential guide for all who want to enrich their reading—and their life.” Is DiYanni promising to pay me in exchange for reading this book? Is there a secret to making money in its pages? If the latter, what does financial advice have to do with a book about reading? This is just the worst book summary I have ever read from a book released by Princeton.

Because I am thinking about “Shakespeare” after the previous book in this set and this author promises to teach what readers should read, I searched for “Shakespeare” to get a sense for this book, rightfully assuming “Shakespeare” would be one of the recommended authors. The first reference to “Shakespeare” occurs in a section on “the author’s truth”, where DiYanni insists all texts have “a truth to tell” before using quotes from “Shakespeare” and other writers to explain that sometimes it can be a partial lie, or a veiled truth; the point of this discussion disintegrates as DiYanni starts thinking about the “relation of truth with beauty” and quotes “Shakespeare”: “truth and beauty shall together thrive” from Sonnet 14 and a semi-self-plagiarism of this idea in Sonnet 54: “O, how much more does beauty beauteous seem/ By that sweet ornament which truth does give!” (29) DiYanni is still digressively discussing “truth” in the second “Shakespeare” reference without a quote when covering it in “dialogue and debate”; as “literature” unlike “argument” is claimed not to “assert anything”: Iago is said to be speaking “for himself, as does Othello, and not for Shakespeare” (45). This is an absurd claim. The author of any literary work is the only person actually speaking in every word written into a play. The characters are not people who the author sticks into a plot, recording what he heard them say in real life. Some segments of the dialogue can be quotes from history or the news. But the definition of fiction is that the characters created express the intended meanings that fit the communicative goals of the author. What DiYanni and others who have said these types of things on this subject are trying to say is that the precise opinions uttered by any single character cannot be projected as the opinions of the author. This is obviously true, as an author fighting against racism can have a character say something racist to use these lines to prove they are racist and to explain their impact. The problem with how DiYanni expresses this idea is that he appears to be listening to the sound of his voice and not paying attention to the meaning of the words coming out. The first logical argument I found in this book was in the next mention in entire section called “Shakespeare and the Classical Oration”, where the “structure of an argument for Greco-Romans was explained in its rhetorical parts, with extensive quotes and explanations applying these rules to “Shakespeare’s” speeches (51-6). Here is another statement I agree with: “Shakespeare and Milton were taught writing through imitating the writers of classical antiquity” (78). But the chapter on “What to Read and Why” digresses into puffing reading lists of mainstream classics, with some odd mentions like Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilia (in the conclusion the heroine rips her love-intended body to pieces with her hands and teeth before killing herself) (195). Then, instead (or in addition) to trying to name book titles, a few pages just list author names alphabetically (197-8).

I hope this book is never assigned in any class, it is one of those worst-imaginable books that nobody can seriously read cover-to-cover even if or especially when reading all is assigned on the syllabus. There are probably a few informative bits of information in there, but the table of contents does not explain where they are, and neither does the summary. There are clues in the Index, but the reader has to know precisely what one is looking for, and that particular subject might be nonsensically handled. I just can’t recommend that this book be purchased by any library or individual reader either because the only thing trying to read it would succeed in doing is repelling readers from reading anything else.


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