Book Reviews: Spring 2022

By: Anna Faktorovich

Financial Investment Textbooks

There have been a few documentaries released recently that have made me question if “ordinary” Americans can or should be engaging in the stock market. One of these documentaries is Gaming Wall Street (2021); the first part covers the GameStop market manipulation where online trolls or advocates pushed small-buyers to over over-purchase a stock beyond any reasonable hope of rational return through profit alone, before the manipulators and the platform they were utilizing rapidly exited or prevented trading, and left the masses either with small gains or losses; and the second half of this series is about market manipulation by financial advisers (under their different titles) such as overcharging in fees, using “creative accounting” to make up trades that did not actually happen, and various other corrupt practices that make the market into a hostile place for investors who are not vividly aware of what is happening to their money. The underlying problem is that a typical US worker invests in a company 401K plan and puts most of the funds into mutual funds that are organized by companies that can charge a significant percentage in fees that can erase most of the gains, while not really providing protection against a sudden crash in the market that costs an investor’s savings, while the mutual fund organizers are still collecting a percentage. And such shortfalls happen with the most ethical fund managers, whereas one can instead stumble into a company like Bernard Madoff’s Investment Securities; just before he was arrested in 2008, his firm was documented by experts as being the 6th largest market maker among the S&P 500 stocks, and all of these investments were entirely fictitious as Madoff had not many any actual trades for either a decade or dating back to the 1970s (depending on the source). This means that there is so little regulation in the US stock market that somebody can be burning billions in investors’ funds, and Wall Street would rate this vandal as one of the top-6 investment managers in the country. Given these obstacles, and the rising threats of a coming Recession, or of run-away Inflation, in this section of the reviews, I am going to analyze what financial textbooks recommend, and if studying any of them fully would help an independent investor figure out how to use zero-fees investment options (Chase and other banks have started offering them to compete with platforms like Robinhood) to profit with minimum risk and maximum retainment of investing profits.

A background overview of investment options will help ground readers in my perspective. The US stock market, according to the S&P 500 index, has been on a downward slide since around January 2022, when it was at a 5-year peak. Up until that point, if somebody had invested in an S&P 500 stock combination in May 2017, and sold them in January 2022, they would have made at least 67% on their investment. The Nasdaq Composite has seen an even higher return over this 5-year period of around 89%. Across most of Nasdaq’s history, it has mostly climbed steadily upwards, but between around 2001 and 2012, long-term investors would not have made much since there were points in both years when it was at around the same number or at around 2400; thus, it would have been less profitable to keep money in the stock market for this decade than in a savings account. Given the turn of the stock market curve steadily downwards across the past half-a-year indicates that this is one of those periods when a simple investment in common stocks is unlikely to yield safe or positive results.

There are a few options for exiting the stock market into other types of investments. Since around April 2020, the Federal Funds Effective Rate has been near-zero, and it is only now, in May of 2022, starting to tick upwards. High-interest savings accounts earn an interest rate that reflects this Fed rate, so when it reaches 2.5%, 5% or its highest-ever peak of around 19%, keeping money in a basic saving account is the safest and most profitable option for an investor. Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury bonds have historically been a safe investment option, and the rate for a 10-year note has reached a high it hasn’t seen since 2018; a 12-months Treasury bond currently yields only 1.89% annually, a 5-year bond yields 2.95% but this requires parking money for all this time without being able to withdraw it (at least not without a penalty). So, the profits from high-interest savings (when the Fed rate is high) can be equal to or higher than the bond investment rate and money can be immediately withdrawn from savings accounts.

The books reviewed in this section are those that I found listed in the syllabi of undergraduate and graduate Investment courses at Ivy League universities. I am going to evaluate these books on how useful they are for a practical investor, as opposed to for a student for whom they are required reading. The simple conclusion I reached is that the only applicable book among these for independent investors is David G. Luenberger’s Investment Science. So, if this was the answer you were interested in, leap into reading it instead of sifting through my struggles with the rest of them. After this research, I also invested myself (for the first time) in the I bonds with the U.S. Department of Treasury because they have a record-high 9.62% annual rate until October; this rate depends on the rate of inflation, and inflation is at a rare peak; money has to remain in the account for at least a year, and then it can be withdrawn at a loss of 3-months’ interests across the following 30-year period.

Options Pricing Mathematics for Experts

Sheldon M. Ross, An Elementary Introduction to Mathematical Finance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). eTextbook. $64. 322pp. ISBN: 978-0-52119-253-8.

****

Avoid reading this textbook first before exploring a few books that explain broad investment terms. The book-summary opens with a surprising statement: “This textbook on the basics of option pricing…” This subject-matter surprised me because the title of this book claims it will describe “Mathematical Finance” in general; if it is all instead about the narrow field of options, it should have had “options” in its title; this way only investors who have decided they plan on investing in options and want to figure out how to do the math will select it. It also dives right into mathematical theorems in its introduction. There is a brief summary of the definition of an “option” as something that “gives one the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a security under specified terms.” It does not define “security”, but this term is defined on Investopedia as a “financial instrument that holds some type of monetary value”, so it can represent things like ownership of a “publicly-traded… stock” or a “creditor relationship with a government body or a corporation”. Investopedia also clears up that “options” differ from “futures” because in the first you pay a certain amount for the right to be able to buy later at a price (depending on if it becomes profitable), whereas in the second you have already paid for something (like a certain amount of gold, or investment in gold) that you are going to get at the preset price you already paid in the future time. The “Introduction and Preface” in this book further clarifies that American options can be “utilized at any time up to exercise time”, while European options can only be exercised at a specified time. This explains why this subject requires such complex sets of mathematical formulas described across this book; the process of investing in options is describing as if one is gambling or placing bets in a future outcome; such projections require precise mathematical calculations of where the world and a specific market is likely to end up; guessing poorly, might lose the entire investment (as you have not purchased a piece of gold, but rather bet on the likelihood you can profit from buying it at a certain price later on, so if you are wrong, you are left without the gold, and having lost your bet-sum). The book’s summary goes on to claim that it “is accessible to readers with limited mathematical training.” To check if this is the case, I scanned the book and came across section “4.4 Continuously Varying Interest Rates”; the equation describes on earlier formulas explained in previous sections, and the complexity of the formula multiplies with over a dozen different elements being incorporated into it with very brief verbal explanations. And the mathematics are described as purely theoretical without clarifying how changes to this formula would be impacted by changes in the real world of estimating risk. In other words, this book is designed who have previously taken advanced mathematics and finance classes, and they now have to take an upper-most level class in a specialized field in an MBA or business honors program; the Examples and Solutions are designed for students who are going to be graded on if they solve the problem correctly, rather than being ideally compatible with an investor who has to find a specific set of formulas that addresses a real-world options problem. The further one reads into this book, the more the elements being measured, such as volatility of a “security”, and the history of its price, are explained as useful for practical applications. But there is only a handful of these clarifying remarks in the introduction before the book leaps into pure mathematics. Individual chapters do not really have introductions, but rather start with brief definitions of a concept and a new formula, and then give mathematic instructions for its application.

The blurb advertises: “explanations of arbitrage, the Black-Scholes option pricing formula, and other topics such as utility functions, optimal portfolio selections, and the capital assets pricing model.” And the “third edition” has added “new chapters on Brownian motion and geometric Brownian motion, stochastic order relations and stochastic dynamic programming, along with expanded sets of exercises and references for all the chapters.”

This book can thus greatly benefit if an investment banker who was an English major came along and re-wrote it by inserting introductory sections that explain with real-world examples what parts of these equations are supposed to be practically applied to what situations, and what they are really measuring (and where such data is to be found). As it stands, it would take months of study for an investor to read it closely enough to be able to apply it to figuring out if an option is worth the risk, and after all this math, they might still be completely wrong as the future is not based on events in the past, even if there is a probability that history will repeat itself.

The Code to Seemingly Cryptic Derived Investment Tools

Paul Wilmott, Sam Howison, Jeff Dewynne, The Mathematics of Financial Derivatives: A Student Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). 336pp. ISBN: 978-0-52149-789-3.

****

The blurb advertises this book as a clear and practical tool. “Finance is… an expanding source for novel and relevant ‘real-world’ mathematics. In this book the authors describe the modelling of financial derivative products from an applied mathematician’s viewpoint, from modelling through analysis to elementary computation. A unified approach to modelling derivative products as partial differential equations is presented, using numerical solutions where appropriate. Some mathematics is assumed, but clear explanations are provided for material beyond elementary calculus, probability, and algebra.”

Neither the preface nor the introduction opens with a definition for the central topic: derivatives. Checking Investopedia again: “a type of financial contract whose value is dependent on an underlying asset, group of assets, or benchmark… These contracts can be used to trade any number of assets and carry their own risks. Prices for derivatives derive from fluctuations in the underlying asset.” In other words, this is a broader category of financial tools that includes betting on what a stock or the like will be worth in the future, as well as a myriad of other types of transactions. The term “derivative” just means there is a bunch of components that is behind this thing that might be hidden by a hedge-fund organizer or the party who one is making a contract with for these second-hand collections.

The introduction begins by explaining the myriad of different markets (stocks, ponds, futures) that can be packaged inside of a derivative transaction. Then, there is a clearer explanation of how options work in reality than the book solely focused on options gave. Then, there are practical graphs and tables from real-world Financial Times records. Basically, if I was in this class, I would be able to figure out these concepts to prepare for a test and to be able to ask questions on the fine points. However, the textbook becomes progressively more convoluted after the introductory sections, and in those sections I can see how students will begin to struggle if a professor does not help them with clarifying remarks. The extensive section on “Put Options” includes sections on the “Black-Scholes Model” and other elements that was covered by Ross, but with the verbal explanations of these ideas that was missing in Ross’ version. But now I think that a still better version of a book about investing would be a set of calculating tools online that gave a list of real-world investment choices, and then suggested the types of calculations that might help an investor to figure out what specific investment type would be most beneficial at any given moment in time to fit with an investor’s limitations and preferences. Such a calculator might include in it access to real-time market fluctuations for different stocks, bonds and the rest, and links to purchase the item that is quantitatively ideal. If math guided humans’ investment decisions, we would minimize irrational bubbles driven by self-interest financial analysts.

The sections on dividend-yields also carefully explains the basic elements before offering more complex specialized situations. However, one of the problems with practically using this book for actual investment is that the chapter and section headings are unclear or fail to explain their practical relevance. One has to already know what the “Crank-Nicolson Method” is or what the “Finite-difference Formula” is in a chapter broadly called “Numerical Methods”, to who they need these sections for their unique investment situation. And chapter 11 is just called “Further Option Theory”, raising the question why all of this was not covered in the previous chapter on options to connect the information more fluidly. If you can paddle through the confusion, there are many very useful definitions with precise explanations of the formulas used for them, such as section “17.9.1 Swaps” that first defines a “swap” as “an agreement between two parties to exchange the interest rate payments on a certain amount, the principal, for a certain length of time”, before giving an example, and demonstrating how one would calculate profitability of the swam with the relevant formula.

Basically, this book is only useful for those who have an idea what they want to invest in, and just look up the relevant terms and go to the sections that cover them. This is easier to do with an electronic version of this book, but the pdf copy I reviewed was blurry and could not be zoomed into beyond the physical dimensions of the printed book, so if this is the copy they sell to the public as well, it might be a challenge. If I ever decide to engage with complex investment tools, I would definitely check back with the content in this book, but I cannot imagine a situation other than if I become an investment banker where I would decide on diving this deep into finance.

A Defense for Relying on Intermediaries Between Seemingly Confusing Markets and Investors

Joel Hasbrouck, Empirical Market Microstructure: The Institutions, Economics, and Econometrics of Securities Trading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 208pp. $70. ISBN: 978-0-19-530164-9.

****

“The interactions that occur in securities markets are among the fastest, most information intensive, and most highly strategic of all economic phenomena. This book is about the institutions that have evolved to handle our trading needs, the economic forces that guide our strategies, and statistical methods of using and interpreting the vast amount of information that these markets produce.”

An Investopedia definition is again needed for a term that is not defined in the blurb or preface. A “security” is simply a “financial instrument that holds some type of monetary value”, the term stands for a range of different ownership types, such as ownership of a stock, a government bond, or an option.

The first 10 chapter titles are abstract and seem to have been designed to confuse, while the last five chapters indicate some practical information inside. The first of these is “Dealers and Their Inventories”; the opening paragraphs explain that a “vendor” has to “maintain an inventory to accommodate randomly arriving purchasers.” This is a barrier to entry that is essential for any independent investor to be aware of. It would have been helpful if this author explained if there are any paths around using vendors for these transactions, and why such vendors cannot purchase items whenever they receive an order for something particular. This need for a large inventory would make it difficult for small investors to help process transactions, as they would be forced to purchase an enormous volume to open themselves to any trades; this initial investment could bankrupt small firms, while pushing only the largest institutions to remain in the game. This monopolization of the vendor-role would make it easy to charge high fees, as investors have to go through a limited number of vendors. At the end of this introduction the author mentions that some “agents” also function in this market (who are not “vendors”) and are thus more like “customers”; but these ideas are not explored as the next section leaps into a case study of a model called Garman (1976) that argues a “dealer” is necessary for such transactions. This defense of the dealer model, instead of explaining how such trades take place in practice is problematic. There is starting to be a theme in these books that is arguing that a specialist is needed to interfere between an investor and the thing he/she is investing in because the tool involved is too convoluted for a common user to grasp. However, this complexity is largely hyped up or derived deliberately to make these tools appear impenetrable. And this built-up complexity makes these financial markets difficult to regulate, allowing for Bernie and other scammers to insist their methods are too convoluted for anybody else to understand them, when this complexity is simply hiding that they are stealing money and building up a wall of confusion to cover this up. A good book for investors should not hype of such confusion, but instead explain what is happening and why the walls of in-between traders, or groupings of many financial elements into derivative clusters are necessary instead of just calculating the basic profitability of individual stocks or bonds by looking at past performance reports, or the like. This problem is partially addressed in section “11.3.1 A First Look at the Data”, “Position records for dealers (in fact, for all traders) are therefore difficult to obtain. There are no public data sets. Most published research is based on data collected for regulatory purposes and/or made available to the researcher under the condition of no further redistribution.” This explains why there is so little real-world examples in these books, as the data that would allow them to give such practical step-by-step examples is not available, and neither are the steps involved in becoming a “trader” or a player in these transactions, and not merely somebody who gives their funds to an insider.

This book is basically a collection of economic theoretical reflections about the nature of “liquidity” in relationship to supply and demand, and advanced math calculations for specific formulas. For example, in section “15.2.2 Random Execution” that begins by explaining a situation where “a group of potential sellers” is “monitoring the market” and each “has an unexpressed reservation price”, and then leaps into the formula to figure out what a “limit bid” should be; the first formula is one that builds on the formula that was explained in a previous section and is already a couple of integers in, and grows across this discussion. So, somebody who is in the middle of this particular situation and needs a formula for figuring out what their bid should be has to read the previous few chapters before starting to understand the formula; if this formula could work it would be helpful, but if one does not know what other people are likely to bid no formula is going to accurately guess what a bet should be to avoid losing to somebody else’s higher bid without insider trading or some other corruption of the process. Thus, I cannot recommend this book to an individual investor, as it will give sparks of insight, along with a wall of confusion. But a specialist in this field should benefit from exploring this book even if the benefit might be in using it to quote it in a book that disagrees with the approach proposed in this book.

Excuses for Irrational Pricing of Assets on Things Other Than True-Worth

Markus K. Brunnermeier, Asset Pricing under Asymmetric Information: Bubbles, Crashes, Technical Analysis, and Herding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, 2013). 261pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-829698-0.

***

“Asset prices are driven by public news and information that is dispersed among many market participants. Traditional asset pricing theories have assumed that all investors hold symmetric information. Research in the past two decades has shown that the inclusion of asymmetric information drastically alters traditional results. This book provides a detailed up‐to‐date survey that serves as a map for students and other researchers navigating through this literature.”

In other words, this book is a theoretical adjustment to a previously widely accepted investment formula. So, it is really a scholarly exercise designed for researchers in this field, and not for investors who are searching for applicable tools.

The chapter titles are cryptic and do not on their own explain the subjects they cover. The “Preface” specifies that the goal of the book is to help researchers anticipate and prevent a major market crash in the market as a whole or for a specific asset. One section that attracted my attention has a title that I am familiar with, “2.3 Bubbles”. It opens with a summary of the famous bubbles, of which the one that touches on my current research into the Renaissance is the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1634-7, where the price of tulips skyrocketed from manic inflation and demand, before collapsing and bankrupting many of the investors. However, instead of addressing this or another specific case study, the discussion then leaps to a theoretical argumentative position: “A bubble is said to occur if an asset price exceeds its fundamental value. The difficulty lies in determining the fundamental value of an asset.” The second sentence insists that assets tend to be of an unknowable value; this type of thinking excuses those who manipulate markets to create bubbles to profit, as they might be steering prices towards their unknowable values, rather than spiking them up from a value that can indeed be determined with basic calculations of profits, losses, and held assets of a specific business. For example, the “tulip” had a known reasonable “fundamental value”, or one that was similar to the value ascribed to the other flowers that were not enduring such a bubble. It is absurd to argue that there was something spiritually or aesthetically superior about the tulip that could have justified the spike; instead, the spike was obviously the result of market manipulation by the traders. The following section starts by explaining that a trader might purchase an asset at above the “fundamental value” if “he thinks that he can resell the asset at an even higher price in a later trading round.” Then citations are offered for this idea, and the math is explained. But these formulas are trying to explain something irrational; in a rational market, why would any trader believe an asset will go above its “fundamental” value; exceptions I can imagine is if a bubble is already in progress, or they have insider knowledge, or they have been convinced by these types of books or theories that assets can climb in value simply because of continuing bidding on them.

Most of the book is far more convoluted than this clearer section suggests. A typical section begins with a general theoretical statement, followed by several citations of those who have argued about this theory, followed by a discussion of concepts in a cyclical manner before the conclusion cites several for sources for further research. None of this is useful for a practical investor. It would also be extremely challenging and uninviting if it was taught in a class, as the contradictions in theories the author presents will only confuse, instead of offering the standard model that can be applied to derive expectedly accurate results.

The Best Advanced Investment Textbook in the Set

David G. Luenberger, Investment Science, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 2014). 630pp. $244.99. ISBN: 978-0-19-974008-6.

*****

“Mathematical coverage of the fundamental topics of intermediate investments, including fixed-income securities, capital asset pricing theory, derivatives, and innovations in optimal portfolio growth and valuation of multi-period risky investments.”

At the first glance at the title, chapter titles, and the summary, this promises to be the best (if not the only) book out of this set for a practical investor. The “Preface” restates this impression by explaining the book is organized so that the simple information is presented first, before subjects turn to the convoluted problems. The “Introduction” explains rudimentary concepts in investing, so readers are familiar with these terms when they surface later in the book. For example, the section on “arbitrage” explains how an investor can borrow a sum, and then lend it out to somebody else at a profit without investing any money of their own. And the section on “hedging” explains it is a form of “insurance” to avoid catastrophic loss of invested funds. Then in Chapter 2, basic terms like “compound interest” are clarified: useful for those who have been out of school for a bit. The detailed list of Contents includes clear section-titles that lead readers towards relevant sections. For example, I was drawn to a section in Chapter 2 called “Evaluation Criteria” because the main question for an investor in stocks is how to calculate or evaluate it for likely profitability; and this section logically begins with a definition of terms and an explanation of this concept before turning to a practical “Example 2.4 (When to cut a tree)”, the explanation begins simply and then builds in complexity at a rate where an average user can understand this example, and how it can be applied to big investment decisions. A following section about the “Siplico gold mine” clarifies that the intended reader for this part of the book is a business owner making decisions about expanding operations and the like, as opposed to an investor who is merely deciding if one should bet money a company’s stock will rise. A later section on “Inflation” and its impact together with taxes and depreciation on profitability is also practically useful. And Chapter 3 begins by defining and explaining “securities”, a basic step that was skipped in the other books. It is as if this is a textbook that is supposed to be purchased in an introductory class, before somebody attempts to pick up any of the others; familiarity with all of the information in this book is assumed by the authors of the other books, as if they are addendums to it, or similar introductory textbooks.

The section on “Savings Deposits” finally reminded me about a safe type of investment I did not mention in the introduction to this set of reviews or a CD or a “certificate of deposit”; this is a bet that has a higher rate of return than a simple high-interest savings account, while avoiding the dangers of risky stock betting. I did mention the US treasury bills, but this section corrects my misunderstanding about them, as apparently the are “highly liquid” because there is “a ready market for them”, so “they can easily” be “sold prior to the maturity date”; though this is the case only with the short-term (up to 52 weeks) bills and not the “Treasury bonds” that are apparently not liquid and given for 10 years or more. Another curious option is purchasing a bond from a company (semi-liquid); this is a safe option as a company would have to declare bankruptcy to fail to deliver the stated return on investment when it sells a bond, whereas the stock price can drop extremely (though it can also rise to generate more significant returns). A following section on “Mortgages” made me consider an idea I have been pondering previously; it should be possible for people to make loans directly to other people for a mortgage, or for schooling without going through an intermediary institution such as a bank, and thus allowing individuals to profit from the enormous sums these institutions make most of the time (unless somebody cannot repay their debt, and then they are typically left with a sellable asset like a house). The section itself explains that mortgage investments are “typically ‘bundled’” with other items by institutions. I searched for the term “mortgages” across the rest of the book and it only came up sporadically in discussions of other things, so how an individual investor can lend money to somebody directly for a mortgage is not covered despite this teasing section. The Index also points out that “Certificate of Deposit” is only mentioned once in this book on page 43, or in the section I mentioned earlier. Thus, all these great simple investment ideas in this opening chapter are only mentioned here, without any mathematical guidance on how to practically choose between the different options. It would have helped if, for example, there was a table that compared the rates offered by banks versus by corporations versus the US government on bonds. It was challenging for me to figure out what the US bond rates indicate, as their graphs do not clearly state if the given interest rates are annual or biannual or the term of the entire bond. This is the type of practical help an investor needs. But it is as if the author of books in this field has never looked at a savings account and questioned what to do with it and needed a guide to conduct the necessary research to reach a rational decision (given the lack of information in free online sources about such a broad question). I tried searching for “certificate of deposit options” and was led mostly to advertisements for institutions selling their wares; a comparative website for CDs offered at most 1.7% in annual returns for a 2-year-term commitment, or about the same as a savings account if the Fed rate keeps going up; and one bank proposed an absurd .05% APY on a $10,000 investment. The textbook mentions CD returns of 10%, and bond returns of 6% as typical, so these advertised rates might be the lowest in the market; but there is no explanation in the textbook how to shop around for the best CD rates available in a market (if they cannot be found with a simple web search). A search for “corporate bonds” lists turned up Fidelity’s financial services, with a special advertisement for this type of investment: “Corporate bonds are among the highest yielding fixed income securities. In fact, the yield differential over Treasuries may be great enough to outpace inflation over the long term.” However, I was searching for a list of corporations that are looking for bond investors, so I could make all of the profits from this transaction, and not for an intermediary to take a percentage of the sale after I have already determined this was likely to be a profitable idea. While Fidelity and other sources had mentioned that “interest rates” can influence bond returns; Investopedia more clearly explains that a rise in the interest rates and inflation can cancel out promised returns on the bond. Since “interest rates” are currently on the rise this is the worst time to invest in these. These types of explanations should have been given in the textbook that mentions bonds from corporations. There is really a huge problem in our capitalist system if something advertised as a “bond” that offers a specific return can actually lead to a loss (just like a stock bet would), if, for example, there is a “restructuring/ corporate events” that manipulate the company and lead to a “steep loss in bond value”; with a system like this corporations are self-interested to manipulate their own reports just to avoid paying bond-holders the sum they had promised (and thus profiting from the investor’s loss).

While this run-around has not yet led me to any easy best-investment decision, Chapter 3 then goes into the practical subject of “Quality Ratings” or checking the riskiness of a bond by their ratings with Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s classification systems; these are indeed useful to avoid investing in something rated “Default Danger” or C to D, and then watching one’s investment spark up into a zero. My question regarding how bond-investments can lead to a loss if it’s supposed to be a guaranteed return is answered in section 3.5: “You may, of course, continue to hold the bond and thereby continue to receive the promised coupon payments and the face value at maturity. This cash flow stream is not affected by interest rates. (That is after all why the bond is classified as a fixed-income security.) But if you plan to sell the bond before maturity, the price will be governed by the price–yield curve.” Thus, the “bond market” graphs that show wild spikes in the market, or the investment firms that say they invest in bonds but show also spiky curvy returns are all referring to cases where an investor pulls out of a “bond” before it has matured or reached the fixed term; those who stick with the bet until the end do receive a “fixed income”. The “interest rates” only impact these fidgety exiters, so this means the current moment (of rising interests) is not uniquely antithetic to this type of an investment. I am still mystified as to if I could find a list of bonds with clearly stated fixed-income rates somewhere to actually dive into this type of investment. Instead of addressing such practical puzzles, the remainder of the section describes mathematic formulas that might come up with such investments. As I dive into the detailed tables for different rates and yields, I strangely miss my college Economics professors; I just have an impulse to come up to one of them to ask why these tables lack basic numbers like the amount earned by the lender, and instead only list the “value” of the shares, and the like. Perhaps the author of this book has not had students like myself asking such questions, so he did not realize such clarifications were necessary.

In summary, this book offers more precise information about the realities of investing than any of the other books that were sent to me for review. It could be greatly improved if the author was given for an editor a real-life investor (with minimum knowledge of this field) who tried to follow the advice in this textbook and encountered real blocks to applying this knowledge. Then, the author might have added sections that would have addressed these puzzles, and future readers would dive fluidly into this book and would end up making rational investment decisions, thus making capitalism itself a bit more rational than a market where nobody really understands how enormous sums of money are grown on nothing but money by some, when such transactions are blocked from the rest (or are manipulated so the rest are steered toward loss-guaranteed options).

Textbook for Asset Managers Who Profit from Third World Savings

Andrew Ang, Asset Management: A Systematic Approach to Factor Investing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 720pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-995932-7.

***

“This book upends the conventional wisdom about asset allocation by showing that what matters aren’t asset class labels but the bundles of overlapping risks they represent. The key… is bad times, and the fact that every investor’s bad times are somewhat different. The notion that bad times are paramount is the guiding principle of the book, which offers a new approach to the age-old problem of where an investor should put their money. This book argues that the traditional approach, with its focus on asset classes, is too crude and ultimately too costly to serve investors adequately. Instead, it focuses… on ‘factor risks,’ the peculiar sets of hard times that cut across asset classes, and that must be the focus of investors’ attention if they are to weather market turmoil and receive the rewards that come with doing so. Optimally harvesting factor premiums for an investor requires identifying personal hard times, and exploiting the difference between them and those of the average investor.”

The introductory chapter is entirely cryptic as readers are given vague ideas about how “bad times” can be good times for investing for those who can sail through bad times without worrying about the “risk”. In other words, those who are already rich are going to see profits even when everybody else in their capitalist economy are suffering. Then, Chapter 1 opens with a case study of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste in Asia to explain how “sovereign wealth funds (SWFs)” impacted this country’s financial situation. This section ends with a cliff-hanger, before the next section defines these funds. This section includes the confession that the author has “advised the Norwegian SWF since 2005”, so the author is a practical player, but he is discussing these investments without making them approachable. He is describing these questions in a manner that would be useful to somebody who wants to be hired as a financial advisor for a small or large asset, as opposed to the investor itself (private or country-wide). But there should not be such a difference in perspective as theory alone is insufficient to actually help a country like Timor that has taken on a fund that is worth 10 times its GDP (as he explains). The introductory comments to this chapter argue that it is better for a country to invest in such a fund instead of spending the savings to fix roads or schools; but this decision in favor of such instruments really primarily benefits the advisors or fund managers who receive a fee regular from the fund, whereas the people could have gained far more benefit over decades from new schools than from the chance of making a return on their savings in the future (by the time the future arrives a generation might have under-educated from decrepit school buildings etc.) On the other hand, the author points out that the Alaska Permanent Fund has been so successful that “all residents of Alaska receive a dividend, which in 2012 was $878.” It would indeed be something if Texas paid all residents such a sum without any investment on their part other than ordinary tax paying and other costs of residence. As I read further into this book, I am starting to notice that this author indeed has experience with writing reports to advise major funds on asset-management. He uses specific cases and statistics and cites these thoroughly, while giving clear explanations on how different decisions have played out. I found myself being drawn into the narrative as I read details such as how the Saudi government moved money out and into its fund depending on the price of oil. However, as I stepped back from these interesting stories, I repeatedly realized that these stories had few practical applications, and even if there were financial lessons drawn from most of them; there is no sections that offer concise practical summaries of what investors must be aware of before or during such investment activities. For example section “2.4” ends with the author’s description of his personal meeting with Timor-Leste’s Financial Minister, which stresses the womanness of this Minister Emilia Pires; it describes her personality and what they said to each other, and specifically she said about the same thing I said earlier in this review, or that she is tempted to instead invest in “schooling” and in fighting “malaria”; he then concludes by deriding her that for the sake of this country’s “legitimacy”, their leaders have to avoid such frivolous subjects like death from malaria, and instead focus on how much money they can make from keeping all of their savings in this fund (that he is being paid to help them manage). Since he did not mention anybody in Timor receiving $800 annually, I am assuming the profitability of this venture is far less certain, and instead of explaining this fact, the author is obviously biased for this investment project.

This book should be an interesting read for a researcher into asset management, or for somebody who is in this field and might personally meet some of these characters the author describes from his own dealings. It might also be required reading for somebody who wants a career in asset management, as it is rare to find books about this profession written by insiders. But this book cannot be recommended for any independent investor, who is researching practical investment options.

Other Scholarly Books

Theories on How English Changed

Don Ringe, A Historical Morphology of English (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021). 219pp. $120: Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4744-5976-1.

****

“A textbook survey of how English morphology has evolved from Old English to the present. Charting the major developments in the morphology of English, this book introduces students to English inflectional and derivational morphology, presenting them with a long-range perspective of language change. It is built around the chronological periods crucial for each type of important large-scale change in the morphology of English, moving from Old, Middle and Early Modern English, to Modern English. The book also explores four sources of linguistic innovation—learner errors in categorical inflectional systems, lexical analogy, productivity in derivational systems and language and dialect contact—illustrating the extent to which the history of English Morphology offers significant information about morphological change in general.”

Chapter 1 opens with a useful definition of terms that grounds readers who might not have taken a linguistics course for a while. This is clearly a textbook designed for an advanced graduate linguistics class, but it would also be useful to researchers of changes in the English language. The “Exercises” at the end of chapters indicate the author wants to be helpful to professors who are considering using this book in their classes; without such exercises, a professor would have to make up linguistic exercises of their own and that may be a task beyond the limits of a semester’s work for a 3-credit course. However, much of this book is focused on major changes and especially on changes in “inflection” (tense, gender, plural/singular). Many of these subjects are curious and I have come across them, such as the use of the “Old English -en” ending to distinguish gender; it reminds me of the Old/German -em endings to make plural words that it was probably echoing given the closeness of these languages. 

Chapter “4: Inflectional Change in Late Old English” drew my interest since the elements that define Old English in contrast with Old German and other languages and variants is what I am currently researching in my translation of Richard Verstegan’s Restitution for Decayed Intelligence (1605). It mentions that “glosses written in the Northumbrian dialect between 950 and 1000” were “the only substantial norther texts that survive from between the eighth century and c. 1300” registered “significant changes” in contrast with pre-8th century texts. This is relevant to my research because the Northumbrian estate belonged to the Percys, or William Percy’s family; in my translation of Jonson and Percy’s co-written Variety (1649), I pointed to several ancient documents from Northumberland’s collection that Percy plagiarized from; I have also matched Percy’s hand to interludes such as the “Ulpian Fulwell”-assigned Like Will to Like (1568) that Percy appears to have written in around 1587, but backdated it to an older time perhaps to increase its value. The presence of oddly-spelled Old English manuscripts in the Northumberland archives for a period for which there are no other texts in Old English across Britain hints that Percy or others in the Workshop might have forged these documents to appear ancient. Given the odd rarity of these Northumbrian documents, this study focuses on texts written after 1100.

After this curious introduction, the text slides into discussions of the loss of gendering of words that started during this Old English period. There are many good examples with explanations on grammatical elements, but it could benefit from having a longer introductory paragraph that explains what the rest of this section is arguing aside for the general deterioration of gendering. In the next section as well, Ringe is arguing against previous conclusions of some scholars, while reaffirming other arguments. But what would be more helpful is if he explained the characteristics of Old English with clear headings for all of the elements that vary between it and Modern English. This book would be far more practically usable for my research if I came across a strange Old English word, and could figure out its unique attributes by searching through a detail table of contents with a section addressing a prefix, suffix, root, gendering-ending, potential misspelling due to a vowel shift, or some other oddity that would help me solve why an author has used it as he did. As it stands this book is very resistant to any reader who attempts to read it cover-to-cover. For example, one paragraph starts with this question: “If the neuter of the default determiner was being used to refer to inanimates in the innovative colloquial register of the glossator’s dialect, what was happening to the inflection of nouns, which in ‘classical’ OE was differentiated by gender?” The previous paragraph does not end with a point that would necessitate this question, as instead it ends with a citation about the “Algonkian language” in the “twentieth century”. And the rest of this paragraph does not dissect what the “default determiner” or “glossator’s dialect” are, and what the answer to this question is, but rather cites several sources that discuss seemingly unrelated subjects like “unstressed vowel” and the “front schwa and a back schwa” (62). Most of this text is unreadable even if a scholar spends a while looking all of these terms up, as well as the texts in question and does other research.

But then section “4.1.3 Gender in Peterborough Chronicle” begins with an interesting claim that the ancient Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was expanded by two different scribes after the burning of the monastery of Peterborough in 1116, the first scribes adding entries “from 1122” until 1131, while the second scribe added entries “in 1154 or shortly thereafter.” Ringe then attempts to figure out if there are changes that occurred between the previous versions of this manuscript and these later insertions. The conclusion is that the scribes produced very different linguistic patterns that Ringe then attempts to explain (despite the small number years between them suggesting this is unlikely). To evaluate if there was a difference and if their conclusions about it or even the presence of two different re-writers is correct, I would have to study these manuscripts, but the handwritten version of Anglo is not easily accessible online, unlike the transcribed printed version(s) that would not have the handwriting variants that Ringe must have noticed to claim there were two different hands. Ringe is not slowing down to explain the rudiments of Old English because this is only one variant, and he has to gallop forward into Middle and Modern English. Those sections are also dense with examples and theories about language change.

I am likely to refer back to this book as I continue my research, but this is not the sort of book or part of a book that I could learn Old English from, even if I decided to take time out from my research to become proficient in this language. Instead, it is a theoretical argument that is responding to many previous theoretical books on this subject. While it can benefit from a re-writing with clarity in mind, it does present an enormous volume of curious details about Old English and its texts that makes it a uniquely valuable and rare book in this field. I would only recommend it to scholars who have already written at least an article on a related subject, and who are prepared to take a deep dive into the newest research on the English language.

Ideal Textbook for the Study of Linguistics, or Lexicology

Laurie Bauer, An Introduction to English Lexicology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021). $120: Hardcover. 223pp. ISBN: 978-1-4744-7789-5.

*****

“A linguistic introduction to the structures and meanings of English words. Covers orthography, synonyms, hyponyms, figurative language, semantic analysis, loan words and dictionaries. Considers the history and morphological structure of English and the influence of borrowing from French, Latin and Greek. Lexicology is about words, their meanings and the relationships between them, their origins and their structure. It combines the study of derivational morphology with lexical semantics.” It “explores the history, meanings and structure of words, the way they are collected in dictionaries and the way they are stored in our minds. It goes beyond examining the morphological structure of words to examine the way words are spelt and the way they sound. At every stage, the book focuses not only on description, but also on the puzzles that words present.”

The preface and the blurb welcome readers into the book and promise a practical guide, rather than a purely theoretical one. The opening “Transcription symbols” table lists the English vowel sounds with examples of their use to help those who might not recall these symbols from earlier study. Then, the “Introduction” begins logically with definitions and explanations of the major terms used in the study of lexicology. One that I appreciated is the explanation of “phonotactics”, such as the rule that some sounds, such as “/sd/ cannot occur either at the beginning or at the end of a word” (2). The awareness that such rules exist is useful for my translation projects, as this explains why I have instinctually made assumptions about what was not the intended letter when texts are too blurry to tell what the letter is. Checking back with this book for specific rules might help specific glitches I encounter in my translations from Early Modern English. Another interesting way of seeing this subject appears in a line that “what counts as a word is sometimes unstable, from a historical point of view” (3). I have been noticing this a good deal in my translations as I research if “after all” or “afterall” is the current “standard” form of spelling, or if one of these is now “archaic”. As I kept reading through the following sections, they all clearly, succinctly and with useful examples explained essential concepts. Another curious explanation that drew my attention is: From time to time, dictionaries list words erroneously, and the word has no existence outside the dictionary. The OED gives a list of such spurious words including banket (‘a term in bricklaying’)” (19). A large part of my argument in the Restitution translation is that dictionaries since this dictionary have been repeating Verstegan’s “Anglo-Saxon” derivation explanations largely without checking if they have any basis in previous reality or if Verstegan made these derivations (or the words they originate from) up; and since most of these dictionaries do not cite Verstegan and just re-use his derivation, scholars have been assuming these derivations are anciently known facts, when they can be “spurious words” that were never used before Restitution. The section on how words are blended to make new words with a list of examples is also curious, as it adds various possibilities beyond taking the first and the last parts of two words (32-33).

However, the narrative becomes problematic from my perspective at the start of Chapter 3, when the “myth of Hengist and Horsa” is used as sufficient evidence to substantiate that Germanic speakers began arriving in Britain from “East Anglia… named for the Angles”, just as the myth proposes, without feeling compelled to add some evidence that would support this linguistic narrative for how or when the Old English and Old German languages came to be nearly identical; Bauer points out that Old English is really even closer to Modern German than to English because of its rate of inflection as well as other components. Bauer does note that this origin-story is a legend, and then also adds that there aren’t enough Celtic words left in English to substantiate how it faded so thoroughly from usage by the coming of German. Bauer adds that the obvious remnants of Latin are the result of Christianity coming from Rome in the sixth century BC. He notes that the term “Anglo-Saxon” refers to the two invading Germanic people from the legends, the Angles and the Saxons, but that this language is “today… more usually called Old English.” One population that could have brought in Old German alongside with Dutch is the Vikings who spoke Germanic Scandinavian languages (like Old Norse and Dutch); the Danish Vikings “settled” on the “seaboard of England” and this was where German and Dutch took root, whereas the Norwegian Vikings settled in “Dublin, the Isle of Man and north-west Britain” where Gaelic and other language variants became dominant. Scandinavian place-names are characterized by the -by ending (meaning “settlement”). Then, after the Norman conquest, the French spoken in English was “Anglo-Norman”, which combined English with French. I also did not realize before that the “Normans brought in the feudal system, and claimed the land” as their possession, while forcing “the English” to work “the land” and pay “tribute to their lords… The Normans also held the high positions in the church.” In other words, the Normans dominated Britain’s Church, State and Private Enterprise, and enslaved the English without learning their Germanic English language. The author even notes that “Shakespeare… notoriously spelt his own name several ways”; this point is one that is central to my research regarding this byline being a blatant pseudonym, as the “author” could not even settle on any one way of spelling it, probably deliberately to dispute a documented by claiming the person was somebody else. Another curious revelation is that the Oxford English Dictionary only gained “this title… in the twentieth century”, in 1928, as it was previously titled A New English Dictionary in 1884, while it was heavily derived from the preceding Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755); this is interesting as I consider why Verstegan’s definitions were adopted into the mainstream of dictionaries. Another revelation for me was an explanation for how one can tell the difference between words derived directly from French or from French via Latin: “Latin populus gave rise to modern French peuple which has got into English as people: the loss of the ending ‑us and the vowel change are products of French, not products of Latin. The real Latin words are the inkhorn terms, borrowed directly from Latin.” The section on how to recognize from which language a word is borrowed from includes details such as the common prefixes and suffixes that help to spot words derived from Latin. Basically, I have come to the middle of this book, and I would be delighted to read the rest of it closely. There is a glossary of terms at the back of the book, as just yet another feature that is designed to be maximally helpful to readers (79-95).

Anybody who reads this textbook will become familiar with the major lessons about English lexicology that have been passed down over the centuries. The entire section about the “Anglo-Saxon” mythologic origin of English needs to be revised, and this is what I am attempting in my translation of Restitution. But these revisions need to be made to all of the books about Britain and the English language, so this is not a fault. With this aside, this is just a delightful and highly informative book that I am certain a student would be happy to study from (a high bar for me).

The Discovery of the Numeric Thematic Sequence Behind “Shakespeare’s” Sonnets

Steven Monte, The Secret Architecture of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021). $110: Hardcover. 353pp. ISBN: 978-1-4744-8147-2.

*****

“This book argues the idea that Shakespeare was deeply engaged with other poets and with pursuing a career as a poet, and that the organizational schemes of the Sonnets have been hiding in plain sight for over four centuries. The fundamental reason why his schemes have gone unnoticed is historical: within decades of his death, conventions of sonnet sequences became unfamiliar, and they have largely remained so since. Weaving together ideas of the Sonnets as a free-standing sequence and as a sonnet sequence among other poets’ complex sequences, we discover new insights into Shakespeare’s career as a poet.”

I obviously had to request this book as it covers a central subject of my BRRAM re-attribution series: “Shakespeare”. But I explain how “Shake-speares” was an absurd pseudonym, and that the texts currently attributed to this byline were created by five different ghostwriters, while this study begins with the assumption there was a guy called “Shakespeare”. While this divergence is the result of my research that the author is not likely to be aware of, the premise behind this book is one that I object to as well. Monte promises to address the “hidden organization” of the sonnets, but there is nothing hidden about the published structure of any text; only the interpretation can be incomplete, whereas the original structure is entirely unhidden to those who care to analyze it. And I object that it is not a good idea to mix this study of structure with a study of the engagement of “Shakespeare… with other poets”, especially when both “Shakespeare” and some of these other poets were pseudonymous bylines or fictitious characters. My concern about the premise further deepens when Monte explained that his “interpretation… is grounded” in the study of “perspective” or the “art of optical illusion”. When critics start to digress into hocus-pocus, nonsense is not far behind. This is precisely what follows as the author digresses into ponderings about the “heart” and the “mind”.

Finally, Monte stops the double-speak and explains the “hidden” structure he is referring to on page 2. Monte explains that Shakespeare’s Sonnets “seventeen groups of poems whose first group contains seventeen sonnets, and whose subsequent groups decrease in size incrementally from sixteen sonnets to one poem.” This is curious, but Monte fails to mention at this point that Sonnets was a combination of a few previously published poetry books: Passionate Pilgrim, Venus and Adonis and Love’s Labors Lost; thus, if there is a declining “pyramid” in Sonnets; it is not “Shakespeare’s” or the “author(s)” contribution, but instead the work of the editor/publisher (probably Verstegan) who selected these specific poems to have this structure out of previous publications. Monte semi-mentions this link to Passionate Pilgrim for the first time on page 24: “Most commentators regard these ‘sugared sonnets’ as Sonnets’ sonnets or as early versions of them. Shakespeare wrote at least some of his sequence before the turn of the seventeenth century, as evidenced by the versions of Sonnets 138 and 144 in The Passionate Pilgrim”.

Then, Monte explains that these groups are thematic, as the first group of 17 sonnets “urge a young man to have children”, while the third is about “betrayal”. It is difficult to believe that this division was not noticed by any previous critics, but when I dissected the first five sonnets, I had to agree they were all indeed hinting at the need for procreation. The first sonnet is indeed about desire’s “increase”, Sonnet II mentions a “child”, III mentions the “womb”, IV mentions it is sad to be “alone”, and V notes that summer ends and winter comes, hinting that flowers need to seed a generation to come.

Then, Monte explains that the “connections” he is going to draw between “Shakespeare and other poets” is not so much their collaboration, as via borrowings from 1590s sequency poetry. He notes that the “last sequence of note is Mary Worth’s Pamphilia and Amphilanthus (1621).” This poetry collection was part of the larger “Wroth”-bylined novel that matched Verstegan’s signature on the 27 computational-linguistic tests I applied to it with my re-attribution study (BRRAM), so it is still more likely Verstegan was the main editor who was re-ordering these “sequence” collections. Monte is likely to have noticed that Sonnets was predominantly ghostwritten by William Byrd, with fragments from other ghostwriters (Ben Jonson, Percy and Gabriel Harvey) that wrote the 1590s poetry Monte finds to be precursors to Sonnets (when it is really written by the same group of authors).

Unlike the metaphysical introduction, the remainder of the book appears to be grounded in detailed analysis of the evidence. I came to a few realizations as I glanced over it, so it is clearly an innovative and revealing study. There are few studies I have come across that actually say anything new about the Renaissance aside for my own BRRAM, so this newness is a very unique feature. Thus, all academic libraries will benefit from adding this book to their “Shakespeare” collections.

How Media Corporations Monopolize and Bankrupt the World

Ross Melnick, Hollywood’s Embassies: How Movie Theaters Projected American Power Around the World (New York: Columbia University Press, April 26, 2022). Softcover: $35. 528pp. ISBN: 978-0-23120-151-3.

***

I have not requested any books from Columbia University Press in this cycle, so it looks like their publicist decided to send a book she thought I would like, and missed the mark. “Beginning in the 1920s, audiences around the globe were seduced not only by Hollywood films but also by lavish movie theaters that were owned and operated by the major American film companies.” This bit of pro-Hollywood propaganda is nauseating; the puffery of a universal adoration of “Hollywood films” is bad enough, but to puff the “movie theaters” they were shown in as “lavish” is just absurd, given they were far less “lavish” than a live-performance theater in Europe. “These theaters aimed to provide a quintessentially ‘American’ experience. Outfitted with American technology and accoutrements, they allowed local audiences to watch American films in an American-owned cinema in a distinctly American way.” There is nothing “American” about film or movie theaters “technology”. Eadweard Muybridge who made the first moving-horse film was British. Louis Le Prince who invented the camera was French. And the French Charles-Émile Reynaud invented the praxinoscope. And most of the first American projects were made specifically in the California School of Fine Arts, so the professors there deserve the credit and not America as a whole.” Americans just much later managed to create formulas for pop films with maximum sex and violence that have seen maximized box-office profits; so there is hardly anything to glorify in this reality. “In a history that stretches from Buenos Aires and Tokyo to Johannesburg and Cairo, Ross Melnick considers these movie houses as cultural embassies.” What this is really saying is that Americans used their film-export to propagandize for all things American, or to advertise American goods and services; there is hardly any positive cultural attributes about a Wild West robbing-shooter, or a nanny who is forced into a relationship by her boss. “He examines how the exhibition of Hollywood films became a constant flow of political and consumerist messaging, selling American ideas, products, and power, especially during fractious eras.” It is amazing how this author is seriously attempting to spin this as a positive. “Melnick demonstrates that while Hollywood’s marketing of luxury and consumption often struck a chord with local audiences, it was also frequently tone-deaf to new social, cultural, racial, and political movements. He argues that the story of Hollywood’s global cinemas is not a simple narrative of cultural and industrial indoctrination and colonization. Instead, it is one of negotiation, booms and busts, successes and failures, adoptions and rejections, and a precursor to later conflicts over the spread of American consumer culture. A truly global account, Hollywood’s Embassies shows how the entanglement of worldwide movie theaters with American empire” (why use a lower-case e here?) “offers a new way of understanding film history and the history of U.S. soft power.”

The Contents divide the book by geographic regions: Europe, Australasia, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East, Africa and Asia. The pro-capitalist and pro-colonial or pro-domineering doctrine or bias behind this book is stressed in an opening quote to Chapter 1 from Jan Dalgliesh’s Console (1978), which declares that back in the 1920s “Colonialism” was not yet a “dirty word”, and the “studio” was actively charged with spreading “the gospel” of Hollywood and its media empires (29). There is a description of how US film distributors broke British laws “against block-booking” and the acquisition of theaters despite promising not to build or facing problems with under-code construction. The United Kingdom via media such as South Wales News in particular was outraged that Americans are “gaining control of a considerable number of cinemas” and are only showing their own American films. This monopoly was held up by “producers or renters of cinema theatres”, who crowded out “local producers” (38-9). This idea might sound innocuous and as a part of standard capitalist business-growth, but it delivers the most dangerous product (propaganda) and limits the expression of all international competitors, who are not allowed to object with their own perspectives of the world, because there are eventually no theaters left who show anything but stamped films made by perhaps a single distributor and a handful of film production companies. If you think the propaganda America has been thus selling to the world for a century is positive, consider that America is likely to become one of 25 countries in the world where abortion is all-together prohibited. Imagine if all you could see in a theater was a film about how a woman had an illegal abortion because her health was in danger, and then for the rest of the movie, an FBI agent is hunting her down while she is on the run as a fugitive, and in the happy ending he finally shoots her. America’s boss-exploitation films have been pretty similar, as in a formulaic romance comedy a male boss forces a female employee into a sexual relationship in the happy ending. And films about the CIA hunting down “evil” dictators or business owners abroad and assassinating them might have great exercise-music and martial arts in them, but they are actively selling the propaganda message that it is legal for Americans employed by the government to go abroad and kill people, or something the same filmmakers ban as an extreme violation if a foreign agency attempts the same on US soil. Also similarly, American films are puffing American companies through product-placements of products like iPhones that thus become over-valued to astronomic levels, when the product is extremely similar to phones that cost a tenth or less of this price. The placement of American fast-food chains into films has sparked a worldwide obesity crisis. Films not only hype junk-food, but also actively satirize and trash the eating of fresh fruits and vegetables, calling vegans “extremists”, and repeating slogans that “milk” is good for bones in screenplay dialogue. The domination of the entertainment the world has access to watch by only five or so international corporations makes it extremely easy for them to market to the masses to surrender all their money to their sponsors.

And it is not even always profitable for these corporations or their shareholders, as the monopolization of a market by buying competitors takes an enormous volume of debt that tends to lead to bankruptcies or for somebody else to acquire you afterwards. This is explained in a section about Fox Film’s acquisition of Hoyts and other entities with help from global investment banks. One of these purchases was Fox buying for $50 million in shares of Loew’s to make it a holder of “42 percent interest in one of its largest rivals”. In other words, it became a controlling voice in the actions of a rival, so it could minimize costs or lower the quality of services, while raising the prices at both entities, while leaving the illusion that there was still competition in the market and it was not a single-player monopoly. And this was just one purchase, as it then bought 49% of Gaumont-British. This string of acquisitions added up to a $150 million debt with “$90 million” in “higher interest short-term loans” (99-100). This is like a gambler spending all of their own and their girl friend’s money, and also borrowing heavily on all of her credit cards, and also taking out short-term paycheck loans (on her paychecks) at 100% interest daily, eventually forcing them to move out of their foreclosed house and into his car, as their debt is acquired by a predator-lender loan-shark. This has pretty much been what business administrators in these media corporations have been doing to force out competitors by eating them for the past few decades, and why there are now only five corporations left, and their market share is shrinking. For example, Walt Disney is worth $238.21 billion and their stock has been crashing since March 2021. Same for Comcast, and Netflix. And AT&T ($140.11 billion) has been crashing since November 2019. Apple alone is worth $2.74 trillion; this is an obscene amount of money to be held by any corporation on earth; this is equivalent to 2.74 billion people all purchasing an iPhone for $1,000; but there were only 7.7 billion people on earth in 2020. And the World Bank ran an article with the title, “Nearly Half the World Lives on Less than $5.50 a Day”, or $2,000 per year. In summary, the puffing of Apple by its media “competitors” has driven nearly every human in the world to spend an extraordinary percentage of their income on an Apple product. Instead of investing into paying for these corporations’ debt over acquiring their rivals, humans could have spent the last century investing in creating useful products that required the employment of the half of humans who otherwise barely survive on only $2,000 annually.

This book normalizes the obscene monopolizing activities of media corporations with the stamp of scholarly approval. I did not notice any major problems in how the book is written; the narrative flows and is engaging. But this is in itself a problem as it lulls readers into perceiving these activities that have pushed independent rivals out of business as a normal part of business, and not as something that has stifled free speech, and free expression for the multitude of voices around the world in favor of a few with enormous debts.

A Fascinating Fraud Case Ruined by a Self-Obsessed Prosecutor

Rob Sand, The Winning Ticket: Uncovering America’s Biggest Lottery Scam (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, May 1, 2022). $29.95: Hardcover. 240pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-64012-371-7.

**

“…An inside look at one of the most complicated yet seat-of-your-pants financial investigations and prosecutions in recent history. Rob Sand, the youngest attorney in his office, was assigned a new case by his boss, who was days away from retirement. Inside the thin accordion binder Sand received was meager evidence that had been gathered over the course of two years by Iowa authorities regarding a suspicious lottery ticket… A mysterious Belizean trust had attempted to claim the $16 million ticket, then decided to forgo the money and maintain anonymity when the State of Iowa demanded to know who had purchased the ticket. Who values anonymity over that much money?… Follows the investigation… to uncover how Eddie Tipton was able to cheat the system to win jackpots over $16 million and go more than a decade without being caught—until Sand inherited the case… The real-life characters…: an honest fireworks salesman, a hoodwinked FBI agent, a crooked Texas lawman, a shady attorney representing a Belizean trust, and, yes, Bigfoot hunters… A new day has dawned in prosecuting complex technological crimes.”

The conclusion of the blurb above is hyperbolically positive, when the case really reveals that the present represents a peak in the dominance of fraud over all sorts of fields around the world. Gambling in general is represented by the media as being the playground of mobsters, while the lottery tends to be positively portrayed simply because it appears to be operated by the government itself, and not by any sub-group of nothing-to-riches immigrant-businessmen, like the Russians or Italians. In reality, institutions that have government backing, including colleges with government funding and the state-run lottery, are far more likely to be corrupted by fraudsters. A few of these cases have been used to suggest that such crooks are caught and punished in America (i.e., College Admissions Scandal), but these show-trials suggest that they are the only cases of their kind, when they hint that most of these fields have been corrupted by crooks and the show-trials are covering-up for the rest. For example, an employee who complains about the obvious theft of government funds from their department by others is less likely to continue complaining if she has seen such successful show-trials, and then she is merely told, “if theft was real, it would have been long-ago caught”. Thus, I disagree with the premise that this case is a rare exception, and instead this case should be used as a precedent to stop everybody else who is likely to be using similar tricks to manipulate lottery outcomes.

The lead author, Rob Sand, of this book holds an appropriate title to qualify him for its authorship as the elected Iowa State Auditor since 2018, and previous Iowa Assistant Attorney General. He was assisted in this job by a professional writer, Reid Forgrave, a newspaper writer with the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. However, it is troubling that the “Prologue” starts with this author joking that his first encounter with a “rigged lottery” was when he “won it” or rigged it when he was a child of twelve, with help from his friend who drew his ticket (ix). The conversation old-folksy tone (such as the exclamation “Holy cow!” is also inappropriate for the subject, which I expected would be helpful with legal precision. A few paragraphs later there is a tirade about how “luck” helped this lawyer win this case, possibly hinting he had to rig the trial to get a rigged lottery scammer (xii). Then, the first chapter begins with him complaining his Attorney Generals Office was “a cramped cubicle”, unlike the office he expected from movie advertisements. Then, he finally gets to the case, but digresses from the purchase of a lottery ticket to his own refraining from gambling on lottery, while questioning if the odds are indeed impossible. He describes minor details in the video of the lottery-rigging purchase before explaining that he had spent “two years” re-watching this video without getting any leads outside of this show (1-5). It is extremely difficult to get into this narrative because the author keeps interrupting the facts with his own personal emotional reactions and anti-dramatic transitions such as, “The bizarre part was what happened next.” And when describing other people the author also mostly imagines what they would have been feeling instead of citing how such information about them could have been found out, as for example, “She assumed the winner would contact the lottery any day. Days passed. No one called” (6). Just turning to a few later random pages, I am convinced this whole book is just white noise, like the diversion comment: “My dad loved bowhunting for deer” (101). These are sentences that start paragraphs, so the author is clearly hoping readers will not read any further. Or this paragraph-starter: “There were two reasons I felt this way. First off is human nature. What I’ve learned about white-collar crime in my years as a prosecutor is this: Generally white-collar crooks don’t get caught on the first try. They are cautious at first, and then they become more and more brazen” (153). While these lines would fit into a TV drama about the court system, in reality a prosecutor that believes this as a fact is biased, as he is searching for extremely obvious white-collar violations, while ignoring repetitive smaller cases by using the excuse that the perpetrators will all eventually begin acting irrationally and would be caught at that point. This excuses the investor from actually investigating non-obvious crime that require intricate research, and instead they just wait with an open net for the lunatic that is going to come running through the town-square with a sign that he just stole millions.

Do not read this book if you value your time; the authors are yelling on every page that you should not look any further, as the book itself is a scam in an attempt to capitalize on the TV-fame of the prosecutor author. If you are an investigator who is involved in serious research of these types of crimes, you would probably lose all of your hair as you find countless mistakes in every sentence of this book.

Obstacles to Scientific Publishing at the Dawn of Print

Nicole Howard, Loath to Print: The Reluctant Scientific Author, 1500-1750 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, April 5, 2022). Hardcover. $55. 232pp. ISBN: 978-1-4214-4368-3.

*****

The premise behind this book is false from my perspective, but since I am researching this period and print, I had to request this title to figure out the author’s perspective. The blurb starts with the question that assumes readers agree with this faulty premise. “Why did so many early modern scientific authors dislike and distrust the printing press?” Then it condescends to potential critics by adding: “While there is no denying the importance of the printing press to the scientific and medical advances of the early modern era, a closer look at authorial attitudes toward this technology refutes simplistic interpretations of how print was viewed at the time. Rather than embracing the press, scientific authors often disliked and distrusted it. In many cases, they sought to avoid putting their work into print altogether.” Having researched the texts of the British Renaissance for the last few years, I have not come across any published “authors” who actively demanded to not be in “print”, unless they were complaining their work has been plagiarized or pirated in print without their permission, or other strange circumstances. Then, the blurb rephrases the question as one about “early modern printing technology from the perspective of the natural philosophers and physicians who relied on it to share ideas… Scientists had many concerns, including the potential for errors to be introduced into their works by printers, the prospect of having their work pirated, and most worrisome, the likelihood that their works would be misunderstood by an audience ill-prepared to negotiate the complexities of the ideas, particularly those that were mathematical or philosophical.” The conclusion here does somewhat explain this strange premise, but these problems were with the quality or with fraudulence in the publishing industry, and not a general anti-press sentiment as the title of this book suggests. It adds that “these concerns led authors in the sciences to develop strategies for controlling, circumventing, or altogether avoiding the broad readership that print afforded,” it “explains how quickly a gap opened between those with scientific knowledge and a lay public—and how such a gap persists today.” The absence of published books among those who are placed in top scientific posts does not indicate a reasonable hesitation to print, but rather is a sign that professors are being traded corruptly to those who have nothing to say in print due to having paper-degrees, and a few ghostwritten publications that have put them in positions of scientific power to block funding to true scientists who would have been delighted to print everything they researched because they would actually be writing it.

During the British Renaissance, as my BRRAM series explains, there were only six ghostwriters who created all of the main texts published across a century. Verstegan and Harvey, especially, ghostwrote non-fiction for the scientists that are likely to be mentioned across this study; they had a legal monopoly over the press since textbooks and other fields were controlled by patents since the dawn of print in London, with Elizabeth I granting patents to William Byrd and a few others. The pressure of ghostwriting an enormous volume of books forced them to heavily self-plagiarize or to re-mix materials they previously printed under other bylines for new clients. When such cases were noticed, they satirized them and thus minimized their impact on their continuing monopoly. Scientists who did not hire them as ghostwriters would not have found a publisher, when printers worked when paid to print, and printers could be even executed for printing a book that was unlicensed by a monopolist, or unregistered or censored for potentially seditious content (science that contradicted the ghostwriters’ clients could be viewed as being seditious against the profits of the “state”).

“Chapter Three” promises to present some new information as it is about “The Controlled Distribution of Scientific Works”. It opens by explaining that in the 16th and 17th centuries authors began to “control… the circulation of their publications”. These authors included the self-published Galileo Galilei (who ended up convicted over blasphemous science). They had their “texts… distributed to chosen recipients… to cultivate patronage and forge new relationships with other scholars… For a mathematician like Galileo, this meant a new position as court mathematician for the Medici, a notable step up from his teaching position in Pisa.” And sending the book to other scientists was necessary to break into “tightly knit groups of scholars who might be willing to share ideas, if not manuscripts”, as writing was frequently “collaborative” (90-1). This same information also perfectly fits my findings regarding the Renaissance Ghostwriting Workshop. At least in Britain, there was a total monopoly over the press, and it was suddenly a requirement for a professor to publish a book to gain a coveted position in a top school or in Court; since literacy among hopeful academics or scientists had not yet reached the heights needed for each of them to have published their own ideas, the only fiscally reasonable strategy was to purchase ghostwriting services and to contract with a publisher to have the book printed and shipped to a list of potential patrons who might grant a reward that would make this investment profitable. Sending books to insider “scientists” was necessary because they were chairs making employment decisions at the top schools, so this was like sending a resume to them.

The author of this book does explain that early printers did not pay authors, but he attempts to make it sound as if some were indirectly paid with free copies. In reality, when they cite details, it is of an author purchasing his full print run. “Johannes Kepler purchased two hundred copies of his Mysterium Cosmographicum”. There is also an explanation for how bestselling scientific authors were helped in the extreme by their powerful patrons: “Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius was circulated by his Medici patrons, and Kepler’s Atronomia Nova was given out only with permission by Rudolf II” (93-4). When the most powerful bankers or a monarch of a country is actively publicizing the scientists that they are patronizing, this monopolizes the market in their favor, while minimizing any rival scientific voices in these fields. Rudolf II’s sponsorship of Kepler is consistent with my findings that both James I and Elizabeth I hired ghostwriters to write their letters, speeches and books, or Verstegan’s direct employment and patronage by both Spain and Rome for his publishing and ghostwriting efforts. The printing press gave rulers the power to propagandize to the masses, and so rulers were competing in the bylines they were puffing and the ghostwriters’ on their staff who puffed them, as much as they were fight military wars for land.

Another chapter that drew my attention is “Chapter Five: Silent Midwives: The Role of Editors in Early Modern Science”. It opens with a quote from John Dryden that happens to mention Harvey (one of my focal ghostwriters): “The circling streams… From dark oblivion Harvey’s name shall save/ While Ent Keeps all the honor that he gave…/ Such is the healing virtue of your pen,/ To perfect cures on books, as well as men.” Though Howard misinterprets this reference as being instead to “William Harvey”, or a likely Gabriel Harvey’s pseudonym. While “Hieronymus Hornschuch” worked as an editor in a print shop in Leipzig in 1608 when his self-attributed Orthotypographia was published in 1608; the style of the book and the comments he made about his editorial work hints that a member of the British Workshop was behind his statements on this topic: “if good seed has been scattered in the typographical field, it will be a hard job for wretched weedy errors to grow there, and there will be no need for anyone who lacks trust in the corrector to read his own proofs and to purge them of such hated traces – a practice which I can testify has been generally harmful to all such people, as is shown by the fact that never were more mistakes found afterwards than in their own published works. Since it is impossible for anyone not fully trained in this school not to go wrong. Therefore it will be best to entrust the work to the corrector who is in duty bound to check and examine everything two or three times” (33-4). The blame would fall to the “corrector” who is credited by name in the byline or as an employee of the shop, and not the underlying ghost-editor such as Verstegan, who thus would have felt completely unmoved by the chance his work was found to have hundreds of errors. He would have certainly felt “distracted and almost worn out in expunging so many errors”, but it was not “at his own cost and the expensive outlay of his time”, but instead Verstegan would have charged his clients for every printing and re-editing stage where he found or appeared to correct while he really added new errors, in the hope of being paid for additional hours of editorial labor (29).

While I disagree with the interpretation of the evidence presented across this book, it is presented in an organized and precise manner. Thus, both students and scholars will benefit either from reading it cover-to-cover or searching through it for relevant information for their own research (since it covers the world of print across a couple of centuries). A copy of this book should be available at all academic libraries to allow access to it for projects from undergraduate essays or professors’ annotations in books.

Enjoyable, Illustrated History of the Incas

Kevin Lane, The Inca: Lost Civilizations (London: Reaktion Books, 2022). $25: Hardcover. 207pp. Color photographs. ISBN: 978-1-78914-546-5.

*****

“From their mythical origins to astonishing feats of engineering,” a “reassessment of one of the great empires of the Americas: the Inca. In their heyday, the Inca ruled over the largest land empire in the Americas, reaching the pinnacle of South American civilization. Known as the ‘Romans of the Americas,’ these fabulous engineers converted the vertiginous, challenging landscapes of the Andes into a fertile region able to feed millions, alongside building royal estates such as Machu Picchu and a 40,000-kilometer-long road network crisscrossed by elegant braided-rope suspension bridges… Including their economy, society, technology, and beliefs. Kevin Lane reconsiders previous theories while proposing new interpretations concerning the timeline of Inca expansion, their political organization, and the role of women in their society.”

The color illustrations across this book are a sufficient reason for any library (both public or academic) to purchase this book, as I have not seen any of these ancient artifacts before, and I have taken some art history classes and have been broadly exposed to the arts. I especially enjoyed finding illustrations of the courtier Incas around a monarch with a crown and staff, where they are wearing elaborate headdresses as well and their weapons and architecture would be suitable for an Egyptian or Roman court; these drew my attention because they are from Poma de Ayala’s Nueva Cronica y Buen Gobierno, Spanish for, New Chronicle and Good Government (1615) (159); I am studying book design from this period, and these illustrations have a very unique style, as if a native Inca artist might have been solicited for the task. Though the second image from this book of a “mummy bundle”, or a skull and bones looks more like a European anti-propaganda about the savage, cannibalistic Incas, as opposed to something a native would relate about their own culture (90).

Some of the illustrations are more practical than artistic, like the photographs of animals and plants native to South America, such as the llama. I noted that the viringo or the Peruvian hairless dog (107-8) looks like many European breeds; I had imagined that humans bred dogs out of wolves, but seeing this species in a region where it was “eaten in the pre-Hispanic Andes” indicates that it is highly unlikely it was domesticated; so, humans’ capacity to alter the evolution of dog breeds might have been over-estimated in other regions. 

The book’s blurb made me curious about these advanced bridges of this civilization, and there is a photograph of the “Q’eswachaka rope bridge near Quehue, Canas, Peru”, one of “only a couple” that currently “exist on the Apurimac River”. I would have been afraid to walk over it, assuming it would wear away, but this “bridge” happens to be “rebuilt by the villagers every year in June from braided grass as part of an annual festival”, so it should at least be freshly sturdy. Though the claim that “one of the larger bridges could have supported, at any one time, weight in excess of 90 tonnes” must be an exaggeration (83-4). I questioned if “tonnes” might not be the same as a “ton”, and discovered that the term “ton” is used in Britain and America, while “tonne” is a more international metric measure for 1,000 kilograms.

Another very useful illustration is the “Map of the Inca Empire and road network, adapted from Terence N. D’Altroy, ‘Funding the Inca Empire’ (2014), and Martti Parsinnen, Tawantinsuyu: El Estado Inca y Su Organizacion Politica (2003)” (80); it includes red dots for the found archeological Inka sites, alongside with the locations of the modern cities on the western coast of South America. The sites stretched at regular intervals through around half of the continent; this helps to put the scope of this population into perspective, as I otherwise have imagined that there are only a few isolated Inca sites such as the famous Machu Picchu. The reference to the “road network” in the blurb suddenly gains significance, as they needed to cut through the brush to be able to travel and trade between these vast geographic regions, while retaining their cultural similarity. Only at the peak of their empire’s conquest did the Romans cut most of the major early roads through Europe, whereas before these regions were uncut wilderness, so the Incas were more advanced than pre-Roman or Dark Ages Europeans.

The intricately painted and sculpted items cataloged across this book show as much ingenuity or artistic merit and Egyptian, Roman or Turkish art from the peaks of their ancient art history; these include a “double-spout vessel, Nazca culture, Peru, c. 6th-7th century AD” (34), and a stone sculpture of a “Camelid conopa” from 1470-1532 (66). The section that explains this beautiful “vessel” categorizes it as part of the Middle Horizon period that was a Renaissance in art that hit different regions at different times between 600 and 1600 AD, which was preceded by the Early Intermediate Period Nazca (AD 1-700) (32-4). There is also a “silver-gold alloy sculpture” of a “Female figure, 1400-1533” (1) that delivers a strangely powerful message; it seems out of place with the others, but I searched online for Incas’ metalwork and found many similar examples that are more elaborate, so it looks like the Incas had mastered metalwork before the Europeans arrived. The photograph of the “royal tomb of the Lord of Sipan, Lambayeque, Peru” appeared extremely realistic for an archeological find until I realized the first word in its title is “Reconstructed” (33); it was a great idea of these archeologists to organize a reconstruction, as the isolated bones or the diagram of a burial site that is typically found in such books does not really visually explain what the people who created it would have seen when they arranged it. This particular site is full of pottery, notes, tools, clothing, and decorations.

At the start of the book there is a “Chronology” that argues that the “First humans in the Americas” appeared in 13,500 BC. According to the Atlantic, this claim has been questioned in 2017 or so with a reexamination of the findings of an archeological digs from back in 1992 called “Cerruti Mastodon” that have potentially found humans in the Americas 130,000 years ago, when they would have had to be Neanderthal or another hominid species since Homo Sapiens only came out of Africa 130,000 years ago; but other researchers in the 70s have tried to claim stone artifacts in the California Calico Hills were 200,000-year-old tools, and these speculations have been dismissed on closer analysis. The “Cerruti” find is not of human bones, but rather of mammoth bones that appear to have been struck with human rock-tools. While my own research would lead me to doubt science in favor of the theories that break the most popular theory, it is very unlikely that a bone fracture would ever be sufficient to prove humans have been in the Americas ten-times longer than the actual fossils argue.

Returning to the “Chronology”, in around 8,000 BC appeared the “first plant domestication in South America”, or between the times places in Asia and Middle East versus those in Europe began this practice; at least some of the inhabitants of the British Isles and other European countries appear to have gone longer than other place as hunter-gatherers before migrations from around Russia brought agriculture to them. Thus, the Americas were ahead of the Europeans in this regard. And the Incas adopted herding, and diverse crops millennia ago.

This is just a great book that every student in North and South America should read before graduating high school. It also has some information that would make it a good college history textbook, or as a research tool for specializing scholars, but it would be most enjoyable for high schoolers who need to learn about the realities of the history of the Americas and who “belongs” here, and who was “civilized” and who was “barbaric” during the colonial period (which is really still continuing to this day).

New Research in the Dying Patwin Language

Lewis C. Lawyer, A Grammar of Patwin (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021). $35: Softcover. 430pp. B&W diagrams. ISBN: 978-1-4962-3042-3.

*****

“A Native American language formerly spoken in hundreds of communities in the interior of California, Patwin (also known as Wintun Tʼewe) is now spoken by a small but growing number of language revitalizationists and their students.” Lawyer “brings together two hundred years of word lists, notebooks, audio recordings, and manuscripts from archives across the United States and synthesizes this scattered collection into the first published description of the Patwin language. This book shines a light on the knowledge of past speakers and researchers with a clear and well-organized description supported by ample archival evidence… Lawyer addresses the full range of grammatical structure with chapters on phonetics, phonology, nominals, nominal modifiers, spatial terms, verbs, and clauses. At every level of grammatical structure there is notable variation between dialects, and this variation is painstakingly described. An introductory chapter situates the language geographically and historically and also gives a detailed account of previous work on the language and of the archival materials on which the study is based…”

A part of my current translation work on Verstegan’s Restitution is sifting through the legendary and sparce evidence for what languages were spoken in the British Isles centuries before the first books on this subject appeared; Verstegan argued for the “Anglo-Saxon” hypothesis (and originated it), or the idea that some of the earliest Britons migrated from Saxony in Germany and thus spoke German, as is confirmed by Old English and Old German being basically the same language at an early stage. Since hundreds of years from now, there might be a historian like myself trying to figure out what the origin and nature of the Patwin language was it is an extremely useful scholarly exercise to study and describe this language while it is still spoken (even if only by revivalists). On the other hand, it is odd that the author is a reference systems manager at Cambridge University Press, who was merely assisted by these active Patwin users; then again, different skills are necessary to catalog a language than to practice using it in a community.

Chapter “One” helpfully begins by explaining: “Patwin is a Native American language, historically spoken in the south-western drainage of the Sacramento River”. It is “a member of the Wintuan language family”, some of which are mutually intelligible. The “Proto-Wintuan homeland was probably in southern Oregon or far-northern California”. A grammar book and a dictionary have been published for Patwin before, but not something like this full grammatical description of the language (1-2). Lawyer clarifies later in this chapter that he did not collect the linguistic evidence he is presenting directly from the current speakers, but rather from the “archival records” because they represent “the entire dialect spectrum of the language, and since these speakers are hesitant to work with linguists” (14). The section that describes the “Materials Consulted” specifies these in detail, so anybody who wants to retest or analyze the basis for these grammatical conclusions can check these sources directly (16-22).

After the introductory chapter, the following chapters focus on addressing separate grammatical categories: phonemics and phonetics, phonology, nominals, pronouns, modifiers, directionals, verbs and clauses. The structure of these chapters is consistent, as they begin with definitions of terms and concepts covered, present a few tables where data on Patwin usage is summarized, and then describe what these tables and other data indicates about Patwin’s grammar. The analysis is precise and detailed, as previous linguistic studies are cited and explained. The material covered is designed for specialists of Patwin, and not for those who want to learn this language recreationally, or even for a graduate class. For example, Fig. 2.4 and 2.5 are of “Vowel-onset shapes after glottalized /t’/” and of the “/C’/ vs. /C?/” sound. The differences are likely to be difficult to distinguish without studying it on a graph, so a common user would not benefit from this data. And the symbol that I substituted with a question-mark is actually a linguistic indicator that is defined when it’s used with other symbols in the opening “Alphabetical List of Morphemes”; it is probably explained more specifically earlier in the book. There are no conclusion sections to these chapters where a given subject is summarized. Then again, each sub-section within a chapter covers different elements, such as “Stress and Intonation” that probably cannot be summarized in relation to each other. Chapter “Two” concludes thus: “The lack of recorded natural conversations makes it difficult to say whether question intonation would typically be rising in ordinary speech. In texts and utterance in the middle of a connected passage may have a final rising pitch, presumably signaling continuity with the next utterance” (57).

Overall, this an incredibly complex study of the grammatical structure of a language that has not been studied with this degree of detail before. It is rare to find any grammar book that pushes beyond repeating what previous grammar textbooks have already stated. Thus, specialists in rare languages, and in particular of Patwin will greatly benefit from having it in their libraries or borrowing it from an academic library to further their relevant research.

Uncensored Study of JFK’s and CIA’s Culpability in Assassinations

James H. Johnston, Murder, Inc.: The CIA Under John F. Kennedy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019). Softcover. $24.95. 343pp. ISBN: 978-1-64012-509-4.

*****

“Late in his life, former president Lyndon B. Johnson told a reporter that he didn’t believe the Warren Commission’s finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy. Johnson thought Cuban president Fidel Castro was behind it. After all, Johnson said, Kennedy was running ‘a damned Murder, Inc., in the Caribbean,’ giving Castro reason to retaliate.” Johnston “tells the story of the CIA’s assassination operations under Kennedy up to his own assassination and beyond… Johnston was a lawyer for the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975, which investigated and first reported on the Castro assassination plots and their relation to Kennedy’s murder. Johnston examines how the CIA steered the Warren Commission and later investigations away from connecting its own assassination operations to Kennedy’s murder. He also looks at the effect this strategy had on the Warren Commission’s conclusions that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that there was no foreign conspiracy. Sourced from in-depth research into the ‘secret files’ declassified by the JFK Records Act and now stored in the National Archives and Records Administration,” this “is the first book to narrate in detail the CIA’s plots against Castro and to delve into the question of why retaliation by Castro against Kennedy was not investigated.”

The book seems to be chronologically organized (as the “Introduction” confirms to be mostly the case), which is a logical approach for a subject that covers so many decades, countries, and players. The chapters are usefully identified with their main subjects, such as “The Bay of Pigs”, which should help those only interested in specific incidents find relevant information.

Both the blurb and the introduction draw readers inside of this book with a gripping and rare narrative. America’s media tends to cover the idea that JFK was assassinated in retaliation for his own assassination plot against Castro as a conspiracy theory, but in the opening pages of this book this theory is proven to be purely factual and supported by boxes of official documents. Desmond FitzGerland, the head of Cuban operations, had been approved to perform a coup in Cuba, and Castro’s friend Rolando Cubela had volunteered to help the Americans carry out Castro’s assassination (x). JFK and the CIA had been so deeply involved with the mob that they believed Castro’s friend had to have been crooked and could not possibly have been a double-sided spy for Castro, who probably reported the plot, prompting Castro to directly or indirectly sponsor counter-assassination efforts just to preserve his own life. Assassinating foreign leaders would logically lead to retaliatory strikes, just as gang-warfare tends to lead to retaliation.

Chapter 2 summarizes the biographies of the main players with precise and relevant details, such as that the US was neutral and even gave military aid to Cuba up until Castro succeeded in winning control over the country and the USSR negotiated a trade deal with them. Then, in 1960 Eisenhower cut off aid to Cuba, and began a trade war against Cuba. Then, during Castro’s speech to the UN, Castro sided with Eisenhower and against Kennedy, who he called “an illiterate and ignorant millionaire” (4). My current research into ghostwriting would strongly support the likelihood that Castro had hit Kennedy in the most vulnerable spot possible if Kennedy was indeed using ghostwriters for his intelligent-sounding speeches, while in reality spending his time on pursing affairs with mobsters’ girlfriends (as the introduction explains), if not with movie-stars. If Kennedy had felt this insult threatened to out this essential character-flaw, he clearly held a grudge against Castro and began the escalation of hostilities that began as soon as he took office. The summary of Oswald’s biography similarly clarifies that while he was living in the USSR and working to gain citizenship, he was running in KGB circles that could have included those affiliated with Cuban issues (8). And the section of JFK confirms Castro’s suspicion that “he was admitted to the best schools, where he was an average student”; this claim is supported in the “Notes” section of the book as being mad according to Dallek’s biography Unfinished Life, which states that JFK’s IQ was “119, which would be considered by today’s standards ‘high average.’”; the unfair advantage he had is documented by the fact that he failed the Latin part of the admission exam to Choate preparatory school, where he graduated 65th out of 110, or below-average. JFK did not have much experience when he won a senate seat primarily on his “personality” (11).

After such an introduction to the topic, I am tempted to read the rest of the book cover-to-cover. Anybody who has even a vague interest in the JFK assassination mystery will be delighted to read this well-polished prose, with intricately cited sources, and yet without simplifications or digressions. Political and historical scholars of this same subject will also want to take a closer look to find evidence to enhance their own research, and to come up with ideas for further research. All types of libraries from small public libraries to giant academic libraries would benefit from having this book on their shelves to make it accessible to students and professors alike.

Artistic Journey into the a Distant Time and Foreign Places

Kenneth McConkey, Towards the Sun: The Artist-Traveller at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2021). $65: Cloth Hardcover. 260pp. Color illustrations. ISBN: 978-1-913-64508-3.

*****

“…Artistic travel at the height of British imperial power… How British travelers, equipped with cameras and canvases, created artworks commemorating scenes and experiences in southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Japan. He introduces us to a generation of painters, trained in academies and artists’ colonies in Europe that acted as crèches for those who would go on to explore life and landscape further afield… Explores key sites visited by artist-travelers and investigates a wide range of artists, including Frank Brangwyn, Mary Cameron, Alfred East, John Lavery, Arthur Melville, and Mortimer Menpes, as well as other under-researched British artists. Drawing the strands together, it redefines the picturesque by considering issues of visualization and verisimilitude, dissemination, and aesthetic value.”

This is a delightful collection of paintings compressed into a single book. Even the interior of the book’s hardcover is decorated with an enormous detailed map of Europe, Middle East and parts of Asia. I wish I could unglue it and post it on my wall, as I frequently have to look up maps of this region for my current research. The travel paintings achieve something like space-and-time-travel as they are vivid illustrations of what these foreign places looked like from a foreigner’s perspective who is mesmerized by the most unique and captivating scenes of authentic life. I am reminded of my own travels in my youth when watching singers or dangers or just observing people and their customs was mesmerizing, and I was not in a rush to get something done. Especially if this pandemic is here to stay, we all need ways to travel widely without leaving our own houses, and this is a great example of such an expedition.

While the images appear to be purely idealistic and non-political to me on a first-impression, McConkey rightly acknowledges them in the context of British imperialism, and the propagandistic message these images delivered. Some of these images might have sold better than those on other subjects because they showed overly-exotic settings, or rural settings that might have made foreign cultures appear to be less industrialized than Britain. The author takes a neutral position on this topic: “Mimicry works both ways and is, as Bhabba points out, profoundly complex in both East and West. Indian and Japanese potentates dress in western suits, while western artists don the burnouse or the kimono” (2). I have noticed this exchange in my own recent research, as, for example, it is difficult to trace where the British people migrated from because there has really been an exchange of populations between Europe, Asia and the Middle East across millennia leading up to the present, so it is too simplistic to say that the British originated from Saxony in Germany, when the migration-invasions by “Vikings”, Normans, Romans and other peoples were just some of the biggest and best known. British people had been visiting places across this wide region for many centuries, with the previous spike in visits to Asia and the Middle East being in Elizabeth’s reign between the time she was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Pope and was forced to make a trade alliance with the Arabic Empire. Earlier in this set of reviews I covered a book that included a 1615 drawing of the Incas; this drawing was basically a cartoon that might have been drawn in Spain, instead of being done by somebody who actually saw these Inca people in South America. There is a world of difference between these vague sketches, and the precise chronicling of the appearance of places and people in the detailed paintings in this book. Before the dawn of color photography, drawing places that were otherwise inaccessible or not easily accessible to a world audience was more akin to war-photography, or an archeological dig, or a cataloging of a shrinking language. They are the best evidence for how the world really was, if mere verbal descriptions are far more likely to have been propaganda or anti-propaganda.

Nearly every painting across this book opens a unique perspective that scholars of these distant times can benefit from. David Murray’s “River and Rail” (1896) depicts a boat on a swampy river with a horse and cart, and flowers at the edge of a farm (7). McConkey explains that the title of this picture refers to the “fast and efficient… steam engine” that had been “pushed to the back of the picture, where it is barely visible” in the background; looking at it again, I noticed it at the far-end of the river. McConkey contrasts it with Tissot’s painting of a gray image of a giant steamship (6). Another drawing is of the domestic setting of a wealthy couple, John Lavery’s “The Greyhound” (1909); the dog is being petted by the man of the house; the decorations in this space are enticing (18). The styles of these images range between an hyper-blurry and impressionistic image by Kennedy to a detailed realistic depiction of artists at work in a studio in Barlett’s “The Neighbors” (1881) (30-1). There is even a dot-drawing of Pissarro’s that depicts a theater scene (32). There are also many paintings that I am tempted to cut out and hang on my walls like the full-page painting, Henry Herbert La Thangue’s “December in Provence (1901), where a girl is watering a potted plant in the middle of a flowering garden (49). And there are some extremely detailed and elaborate paintings like William Logsdail’s “The Piazza San Marco” (1883) that captures the stitched silk of a headdress, the traditional garbs of Arabic visitors with a monkey, the gypsies with barefooted children selling something, the Italian jeaned or otherwise casually panted workers, and the ladies with fans and fancy dresses, all between the gilded architecture of the Square (109). The section about India includes a captivating drawing, Rudolf Swoboda’s “A Peep at the Train” (1892) that depicts three traditionally dressed girls, a boy sitting on a wooden plank and an elderly man hovering over them, alongside with other Indians sitting and walking on the sand in the background; McConkey explains this image as representative of “well-dressed villagers” that the Queen of England might have seen when she commissioned Rudolf to create “portraits of her Indian subjects… ranging from the Viceroy’s retainers down to the lower orders”, after being proclaimed the Empress of India (197-8).

This is just a delightful book, and I am glad I requested it. It should relax and uplift anybody who looks inside, including those who only look at the pictures, and those art history researchers who are interested in the words. This book is a great addition to all big public and academic libraries, as those can never have a big enough art history collection to satisfy their public’s curiosity. And this particular book’s tendency to send viewers on a journey around the world is especially likely to please almost all… except for anti-Orientalists who do not think the Orient or other regions should be exploited for their exoticism. So, if you are one of those who look at art to see the exotic, you will be ecstatic.

The Shades and Textures of Breads Across the World

William Rubel, Bread: A Global History: The Edible Series (London: Reaktion Books, 2011, 2019). $19: Cloth Hardcover. 160pp. 55 illustrations, 47 in color. ISBN: 978-1-86189-854-8.

*****

“…Common to the diets of both the rich and the poor, bread is one of our oldest foods. Loaves and rolls have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and wheat has been found in pits where human settlements flourished 8,000 years ago. Many anthropologists argue that the ability to sow and reap cereals, the grains necessary for making bread, could be one of the main reasons why man settled in communities, and even today the concept of ‘breaking bread together’ is a lasting symbol of the uniting power of a meal. Bread is an innovative mix of traditional history, cultural history, travelogue, and cookbook. Rubel begins with the amazing invention of bread approximately 20,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and ends by speculating on the ways in which cultural forces and advances in biotechnology may influence the development of bread in the twenty-first century. Rubel shows how simple choices, may be responsible for the widespread preference for wheat over other bread grains and for the millennia-old association of elite dining with white bread. He even provides an analysis of the different components of bread, such as crust and crumb, so that readers may better understand the breads they buy. With many recipes integrated with the text and a glossary covering one hundred breads, Bread goes well beyond the simple choice of white or wheat.”

After I went vegan to lose around 100 extra pounds back in 2017, I started watching YouTube videos and reading articles and books about the components of a healthy diet. I initially did not eat any bread, and focused on close to an entirely unprocessed diet. After I reached my diet goal, in around a year, I requested recipe books for review, including a book on baking that pushed me to start experimenting with editing common recipes into vegan options. One of the foods I realized I missed most was bread; but every time I purchased cooked bread from grocery stores it was stale even if I put it in the freezer immediately. So, I researched common and unusual bread recipes, and realized that most breads are vegan (the little butter in them can be a vegetable-oil alternative variety). My initial recipe involved experimenting with whole-wheat flour and more unique flours like semolina (common in challah bread that I had made back during my Hassidic schooling in Brooklyn, New York) and pumpernickel. I tried a few other less utilized flours, but most of these experiments did not taste too great. I also eventually experimented with regular unbleached flour and realized that bread rises a lot better with it than with whole-wheat flour. I also added nuts and oats to my recipe, so there is enough fiber in my bread that the extra fiber in whole-wheat is unnecessary for digestion. Since 2018, I have spent at least three years regularly baking bread with very few modifications. So, I hope to either find some new ideas for adjusting my recipe, or just to enjoy sharing the idea of bread-baking with others. 

The “Introduction” opens with a curious explanation that the law in Mexico still distinguishes bakeries that produce tortillas, as the tortilleria, while “the bakery that produces wheat breads” is called “the panaderia” (7). This is the result of Spanish conquerors refusing to categorize the native bread made in Mexico as being the same food-type as their own bread. It proceeds to summarize the history of earliest breadmaking around the world as recorded not only in archival evidence of break-making remnants, such as “the roll-sized tomb loaves that survived in desiccated form” (29), but also in art including a statue of “A woman grinding flour, Old Kingdom Fifth Dynasty, 2465-2323 BC” (14). The description of how ancient breads are likely to have been made, and unique ingredients added tot hem such as “olive oil, olives, figs and lardoons” (35) should be useful to modern bakers who are interested in adding ancient-like breads to their menus. The modern preference for whole-wheat and other darker breads as healthier is contrasted with earlier preferences for white bread as the luxury item of the rich, as demonstrated in the image of “a white loaf made with the finest flour” that opened “in the oven like a flower”, as depicted in Lubin Bugin’s “Still-life with Chessboard” (1630). The book touched on my current research as it mentioned the likely Verstegan-ghostwritten and “Gervase Markham”-bylined “first modern English-language” cookbook The English Housewife (1615); it describes a recipe for a bread for “hind servants” called “Brown Bread” that included “flour ground from dried peas mixed with boiling water…, sifted wheat, rye and barley flour”; this bread is described as foul-smelling and grotesque in contrast with white breads baked for the top-of-the-house (44). Modern recipes that experiment with a combination of these ingredients would probably design a specialty bread that would be much more expensive than a white bread. Rubel even describes “Markham’s” bread for horses as being “delicious” (45).

Chapter “3: Parameters of Taste” explains the science of bread-making: “Coarse flours produce denser breads than light flours and are almost unheard of in the modern baking trade” (62). Another section discusses the range of crusts from “nearly white to nearly burnt”, with the French preferring the burnt extreme (65), as do I since most of my bread experiments tend to have a very hard crust with bits of nuts that are close-to-burnt (though this is the result of me sticking to a recipe and not wanting to experiment with lowering cook-time, but also since I like a crunchy crust). As a solution to the hard-crust issue, some of “Europe’s elite” have apparently favored when “crust was chipped or rasped off” (66). There is also an explanation on how “bakers of Paris obtained an injunction against bakers who were producing bread with yeast, arguing that yeast was unhealthy”; this was a losing battle because the English did not demonstrate health defects from eating yeast bread; sour dough bread or steaming are alternatives listed to yeast (75-6). I learned something interesting about Russian bread that my previous internet research missed. “Dense, dark loaves made with 100 per cent rye flour, black breads are associated with Russia” (93). I missed the traditional Russian dark bread, and so my first bread experiments included attempting to recreate these, but the recipe I found for “Russian dark bread” advised to use half white flour and the rest “rye”. I have never attempted making bread with only rye or another specialty flour, in part because even half-whole-wheat instead of white did not generate great results. But now I am tempted to attempt a 100% rye experiment. The recipe I had found advised adding cacao to brown the bread, since the flours used are shades of white. There are recipes at the back of this book that include one for “Rye Bread”; it explains: “The gas-trapping structures are triggered by souring, so 100 per cent of rye breads are always sour-leavened.” I have never attempted making sour-bread before. But it does not “require the introduction of a starter to the dough.” Now I am recalling why I have refrained from souring bread, as the recipe requires keeping the dough at room-temperature for 12-24 hours. I cannot imagine leaving any food, and especially anything that is actively souring, outside the fridge. I even keep flour and nuts in the fridge. And then after kneading, it has to sit for another 12 hours. The other recipes also avoid instant yeast and other tricks I have developed to fit my preferences (for example another recipe requires milk), so I can’t really attempt any of them.

While I have not discovered a recipe that would improve my bread baking method, I have decided to test using larger trays to allow the breads to rise higher, as I suspect there aren’t enough “eyes” or holes in my breads because I try to stuff too many of them in a single tray. Though the book does say that it was traditional to bake bread for a fortnight in advance, and it judged unhealthy to eat warm bread right after it was baked.

This book is a great introduction to bread for those who are planning to experiment with purchasing different types of breads at different cultural restaurants or bakeries. The recipes in it are better suited for food historians than for modern cooks, as there is a preference for very unique and difficult to bake breads at home, versus the easiest options. The language of the book is conversational and informative, and I found myself drawn inside and at the end of the book before I could force myself to speed through the review. It is a great read, and a great addition to public libraries, and private collections.

Fictionalized Digression About Drunken Middle Eastern Espionage

Said K. Aburish, Beirut Spy: The St. George Hotel Bar: International Intrigue in the Middle East (London: Unicorn: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1989, 2022). Softcover. £11.99. 256pp. B&W photographs. ISBN: 978-1-914414-51-0.

***

This is a reprint of a pretty old book, and I could only find this short blurb for the previous version online: “An insider’s account of espionage, intrigue and conspiracy in the post-war Middle East, which reads like a thriller.” The last phrase is a trigger-warning for me, as it suggests it is fictitious and written in a digressive style without documentary evidence. “It is peopled with real-life spies, politicians, journalists and diplomats, featuring such famous names as Kim Philby, Miles Copeland, Wilbur Crane and James Russell Barracks.” The back cover of the 2022 edition includes a longer summary. For example, it specifies the “thriller” is “Bond-esque”, an odd addition, but perhaps the Bond films are seeing a resurgence. The updated blurb is far clearer as well as it explains the title by placing all of the dramatic characters into the “luxurious St George Hotel bar, the cosmopolitan centre of Beirut. From the 1950s through to its destruction in 1975 due to civil war, the plots, deals, and stories that came out of this famous hotel and its beachside bar make fascinating reading… Many incidents which went on to shape Middle Eastern history are related here, the plan to restore the monarchy in Baghdad, an attempt to overthrow King Hussein and the assassination of a Syrian president.” The author of this work, Said Aburish “was a Palestinian journalist” who was educated in the west before returning to Beirut to work in the “1950s as a reporter for Radio Free Europe and the Daily Mail”. He covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a balanced perspective, and he also wrote biographies “on three of the most prominent Arabs of the time, Nassar, Arafat and Saddam Hussein”, before he died in 2012.

The Contents strengthen the case that this book is more of a thriller novel than a non-fiction account of espionage, as most of the titles are cryptic instead of explaining what is covered inside, as in: “Yes, Mr Getty” or “Between the Prince and the Prime Minister”. The opening of Chapter “1: The Centre of the Centre of the Middle East” further confirms this style, as it begins as if the author is writing it while drinking “at One P.M…” at “the St George Hotel bar” as he “sat down at this regular table and had his customary five or six afternoon drinks” (13). He is describing Kim Philby, but this conversational style suggests a similar day-drinking habit from the author, as it is hard to imagine how an investigative journalist who is interested in the hard facts could have sat at this bar for decades and just watched these types of drunken scenes without being drunk himself. The reason for this slow introduction is explained before the end of the paragraph, as this Philby disappeared and was never seen “again” at least not in Beirut, though this “famous” spy merely defected, and had not been murdered on that day. Instead of leaping into what this spy had done, the next paragraph turns to CIA agent James Russell Barracks, who after questioning staff, “exhaled a deep sigh of frustration” as he asked “How did he get away?” And this paragraph ends just as abruptly with the note: “Weeks later, Barracks was mysteriously murdered in far-off-Nigeria.” The author does not feel any obligation to stop and explain each of these cases by examining what happened, why, or to review the evidence, as the goal seems to be to entertain readers with a mystery (even if most strings in this mystery will never be solved across this book). For example, in the middle of this book a “deputy secretary’s son-in-law” (or a random nepotism-case) met with Barracks at a lighthouse “bar to confirm their obvious mutual interest”. This description is more suggestive of a date than an investigation that should explain what relevance the nepotism-friend has to the case (111). This same type of broken, choppy, leaping storytelling persists near the end of the book with such opening sentences to paragraphs as: “There was good reason to take the threat seriously.” This paragraph is preceded by a threat issued to the writer himself from the Jordanians to take a “bribe”, or to “leave Beirut in three weeks or I was as good as dead” (177-8).  

I cannot read books that are written in this style as they appear to be designed to solicit paranoia or fear of strange foreign characters, while failing to explain exactly why these characters are killing or threatening each other. Aburish was just going into bars, staring at folks drinking, jotting notes on what folks were saying, and trying to investigate why folks visiting a bar tended to die, disappear to be implicated in espionage. If he had not taken any bribes or if he had been more alert and sober across his time in that bar, I just imagine that this book would have solved a lot more mysteries, but obviously the threat of death due to outing espionage was too much and he opted to instead romanticize events without digging further. A CIA agent who tries to read this book for clues on very cold cases is likely to die of frustration before finding any answers. But those who are choosing between a mystery novel about a spy and this title, would do better to at least go with this version as it is somewhat more based on reality.

Psychological Analysis via Handwriting Patterns

Tracey Trussell, Life Lines: What Your Handwriting Says About You (London: Unicorn: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022). Hardcover. £15. 240pp. Color illustrations. ISBN: 978-1-914414-46-6.

****

“…Our ordinary, organic and often imperfect handwriting is not just a living form of expression and mode of communication… Contains a carefully curated collection of real-life, deeply personal and often raw human-interest stories, drilling down into the nuts and bolts and complexities of our psyches. This ground-breaking book presents a different dialogue about uncovering our hidden selves through the analysis of handwriting. The journey traverses some difficult terrain, lucidly illustrating how our darkest moments can be seen plainly in our writing, but also teaches us some life-enhancing lessons along the way.”

This blurb indicated that I had not requested the book I assumed I was, as I was interested in the science of distinguishing between handwriting styles in a criminal or archival-mystery context, whereas this book is more of a Tarot-card reading of the emotional signals in handwritings. This sense was reinforced by the titles in Part One of this book that question if handwriting changes over time, or if “character” is inherited. These are anti-scientific questions that are designed to question the applicability of handwriting analysis as a hard science to court cases. For example, if a handwriting can change over time this means that differences in styles can be the result of such change, and not indicative of a different hand. This section opens by stating reasonable things like that a handwriting’s characters cannot be identical from day to day or morning to night or mood to mood (unless a piece of writing is automatically written by a machine or font-type). However, then the discussion turns to changes not only between childhood and adulthood, but between different degrees of “maturity” during adulthood. It would be impossible to apply handwriting as a science if it was indeed the case that “Some people’s handwriting rarely changes during their lifetime, while others’ alters dramatically” (28). This is where a serious study of handwriting would cite studies that proved one or the other extreme to be the case, but the author appears to assume that these general assumptions are sufficient. There isn’t a single citation across this entire section.

In “Chapter 2” there is an attempt to describe common handwriting differentiations such as “small middle zone letters (a, c, e…) sitting on the baseline”; but even the ending of this sentence digresses into the “ego” instead of focusing on this trait. Even if there are flashes of logic, most of the book is based on assumptions like that the “left slant” indicates that a female writer “wants to make up her own mind” (26); this type of an argument is why this book reminds me of a Tarot-card reading, as it is describing what somebody is thinking, instead of simply focusing on a spectrum of the emotional range and how it influences all handwritings in similar ways.

I did learn at least one new trick, as the images of handwriting samples across this book include annotating numbered marks over the characters that are discussed in the case. I include many such diagrams in BRRAM, and I tend to discuss features in words that might be difficult to spot, so this is a good way to ease finding what I am seeing for my readers.

The main problem to the parts of this book that do turn towards technical handwriting comparison is that the terms “very large, tall stems” and “upper zone” are not explained in a separate section at the start of the book where terms and concepts should be summarized before leaping into analysis. Learning this vocabulary for how to describe handwriting differences is essential for scholars in this field, so explaining this is essential for an introductory book like this one. Instead, the only summaries are provided in the end of chapters, and they refer to vague personality interpretations. However, some of these points are useful when they are considered more closely. For example, “Chapter 2” ends with the summary that “conscious and intentional thought” is “identified” especially in “trademark signature (reflecting a designed and contrived pose)”, “a persona or calligraphic style of writing”, and first letters in words, “such as upper case or capital letters”; meanwhile, “unconscious though patterns” include “movements towards the end of words, such as end strokes”. While these are rationally useful, other points on this list are not, as the idea that all movements in the “lower zone” are where “unconscious material resides” (50-1). Obviously assuming that all strokes below the center of the text are unconscious is a simplification, and one that is likely to be entirely wrong; humans do not fall asleep every time they make strokes in letters “y” or “g”. However, I did learn from this some words to explain why some of the BRRAM ghostwriters occasionally have very forced and conscious styles, and at others write somewhat differently when they are engaging in more casual scribbling. There isn’t a similar summary in other chapters, which would have greatly improved them.

At the back of the book there are suggestions for how writers can edit their handwriting to make themselves feel happier and less stressed. There are also case studies of writers that have specific mental problems, with comments about their handwriting reflecting these. There are thus flashes of curious and scholarly research mixed with generalizations without supporting evidence. For example, to prove a writer crams letters closer together when they are feeling lonely (as this book argues) should require examples of the handwriting styles of an extremely lonely versus an extremely socially active person to see if one of them is indeed cramming letters in, while the other is over-spreading the letters. Instead, assumptions are made about handwriting styles and then these are applied to psychoanalysis. It would be easy for a casual reader to over-focus on what these generalizations say about their own handwriting or personality; and this can lead to an irrational focus on adjusting one’s handwriting, as this book actively recommends, or studying one’s self through handwriting. A book like this can also perhaps be used to diagnose somebody with a mental illness, when the otherwise do not exhibit any signs of it. For all of these reasons, I do not think this book should be read by the intended audience of general-readers. Specialists in handwriting analysis would be able to separate fact from fiction, but they would already be familiar with the parts that I found to be informative in a few sections of this book. 

The Roots of the Conflict Between Industrialization and the Environment in Early Modern English Swamps

Eric H. Ash, The Draining of the Fens: Projectors, Popular Politics, and State Building in Early Modern England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, February 1, 2022). $39.95: Softcover. 416pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-4214-4330-0.

*****

“The draining of the Fens in eastern England was one of the largest engineering projects in seventeenth-century Europe. A series of Dutch and English ‘projectors,’ working over several decades and with the full support of the Crown, transformed hundreds of thousands of acres of putatively barren wetlands into dry, arable farmland. The drainage project was also supposed to reform the sickly, backward fenlanders into civilized, healthy farmers, to the benefit of the entire commonwealth. As projectors reconstructed entire river systems, these new, artificial channels profoundly altered both the landscape and the lives of those who lived on it… From the 1570s, when draining the whole of the Fens became an imaginable goal for the Crown, through several failed efforts in the early 1600s. The book closes in the 1650s, when, in spite of the project’s enormous difficulty and expense, the draining of the Great Level of the Fens was finally completed… The transformation of the Fens into fertile farmland had unintended ecological consequences that created at least as many problems as it solved… The efficient management and exploitation of fenland natural resources in the rising nation-state of early modern England was a crucial problem for the Crown, one that provoked violent confrontations with fenland inhabitants, who viewed the drainage (and accompanying land seizure) as a grave threat to their local landscape, economy, and way of life.”

The “Introduction” opens with a quote from Ben Jonson’s The Devil Is an Ass, where Merecraft recommends to Fitzdotterel: “To be Duke of those lands, you shall recover: take/ You title, from there, Sir, Duke of the Drowned-lands,/ Or Drowned-land.” This reference and the reference to the “Marches” or “Marshes” in William Percy’s letters and business accounts is likely to be similarly connected with the process of draining fens and turning swamps or marshes into farmland and confiscating this land from independent farmers that had been “commons” to aristocratic feudal Lords (such as the Percys). In around 1606, there was a debate in the House of Commons between “two anonymous commentators” on this issue. The opposing side argued that people living in wetlands had been profiting from the food grown and collected, and other goods that could be gathered from these regions, and they would lose these common holdings as a fee for the drainage, or would end up with land that could not be used for the same purposes. The supporters of draining argued that the drained land would become more “profitable” for large-scale farming, such as pastureland, and that those who farm these regions spend too much of the year in leisure or “idle” without “work”, and thus they would all benefit from the easing of trading from these regions (2-3). The case was clearly unfairly bent in favor of the scheme once it was hatched. This was proven when those who had their commons confiscated and were being forced to move out of their lands began complaining; in response James I wrote to the commissioners of sewers on July 23 (BL, Add. MS 35171, fol. 207r, 1605) with an order for them to “take special care to prevent the spreading of false rumors, to the intent to distaste the people with this proceeding and with the parties employed by us in this service.” He ordered their investigation of “all such discontents (if there are any) and to punish the offenders as appertains, and to advertise us or our Council of such as shall give way to any mutinous speech concerning this action.” Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury (HMC, Salisbury, 17: 435-6, September 27, 1605) that the commoners were “desperately bent” against the project, forcing them to travel “into the most parts of England exclaiming among the baser sort against the work, as tending to the utter undoing of them… that this course of taking away their commons without their consent was only a beginning to deprive all the poor of the realm of theirs.” And they were said to threaten that “if [the Chief Justice Popham] comes into those parts any more about that business, he shall be met with.” Claims of these direct threats were used to make laws to suppress such speech, while also helping to strengthen James I’s and aristocrats’ resolve on this course of rebelliously opposed action (73).

This is a great study that analyzes how the fens were drained from many unique perspectives, and all with documentary evidence and with thorough analysis that does not digress from the central narrative history. I am going to use some of the quotes above in BRRAM, as they help to support arguments I am making in this series. The best proof of good scholarship is if it can be re-used by other scholars, so it is a success from this perspective. I am sure other researchers in this field would also find curious details to help their research in a variety of different fields. As the blurb explains this is a multifaceted study that dives into economics, ecology, history, and other subjects of general and specialist interest. This book is designed for academic libraries that need to cover these types of niches and the newest research, even if it is on very old histories that need to be reinterpreted.

A Beautiful Biography of a Pioneering Female French Writer

Charlotte Cooper-Davis, Christine de Pizan: Life, Work, Legacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, February 8, 2022). Cloth Hardcover, 5.5X8.5”. $22.50. 224pp. 12 color plates, 14 halftones. ISBN: 978-1-78914-442-0.

*****

“The first popular biography of a pioneering feminist thinker and writer of medieval Paris. The daughter of a court intellectual, Christine de Pizan dwelled within the cultural heart of late-medieval Paris. In the face of personal tragedy, she learned the tools of the book trade, writing more than forty works that included poetry, historical and political treatises, and defenses of women… Christine de Pizan’s inspiration came from the world around her,” Cooper-Davis “situates her as an entrepreneur within the context of her times and place, and finally examines her influence on the most avant-garde of feminist artists, through whom she is slowly making a return into mainstream popular culture.”

The first thing that draws readers inside this book are the illustrations on the thick polished pages. These include a curious map of Paris with a fence or another enclosure around the relatively small city. There are also images of female writers in early books. And a photocopy is included of a “Page written entirely in Christine’s hand… folio from the Avision, 1410-15”. There is also a page in the same “Christine’s hand” of corrections in the folio of Le Livre des Trois Vertus (1405). On the opposite page from this image there is a note that the Epistre a la Reine de France (Epistle to the Queen of France) “was effaced from folio” from some “unknown reason… where traces of it can be see”. The fact that these erased lines already had a title and the use of “lead” instead of “brown ink” are discussed in relation to this author’s process of “bookmaking” (69). Another illustration is of an “Incomplete frontispiece” for Livre du Chemin de Long Estude (1405-10) with an elaborate decorative boarder of leaves and flowers (73). There is also a unique component in a diagram of the number of images created by Christine by year between 1405 and 1414, with 1408 spiking at 105 images in a single year (75). And there are illustrations that were used for these books alongside with the text and on separate pages. These are mostly great works of art on their own (100). At the back of the book there are some silly fan modern-art pieces in honor of Christine, such as a mural by Camilla Falsini (2018) (140). The back-matter also includes a useful “Chronology” of the events in Christine’s life. Christine was born in Venice before joining her father in Paris, and marrying at 15, followed in short-succession by the birth of her three children. Only after they grew up somewhat did Chrsitine start writing poetry in 1395 at 31. She presented her first collection to the Queen of France a decade later in 1403. She had to flee Paris when the English conquered it, and then wrote her final work about Joan of Arc helping to lead the French to victory at Orleans, Le Ditie Jehanne d’Arc in 1429, before her death in around 1431, just before Gutenberg’s printing press opened for business in 1450 (so all of Christine’s books are handwritten manuscripts).

Across this book there are curious observations about the process of bookmaking pre-print, such as the note that there are typos as if she is copying from another copy. And in “The Queen’s Manuscript” works that start “on a new quire are quite dirty, the surface of the parchment tarnished and darkened from exposure to the sun and other elements. This suggests that, once the text had been copies, its quires were left loose in the workshop for some time before being bound into a volume—painting the picture of a busy workshop with more than one project underway” (69). This shows how closely Cooper-Davis looked at these images, and the background research she performed on the folio-making process in workshops. This sort of precise comments are uncommon in studies of early texts, so this book is very likely to reveal many similar scholarly treasures to its close readers.

This is a thorough and yet light study designed for general readers, but also likely to help specialists in this field that can benefit from an introductory text before diving further into a study of Christine’s writings. The images throughout are of top-quality, or poster-quality, though the book is small, so they are not huge. The entire book is carefully edited and designed, and I only notice such things when they are of maximum possible quality. There need to be a lot more books about early female writers. The female bylines I studied from the British Renaissance proved to have been written by male ghostwriters, so their firsts are crossed-out in my book, so I would be delighted if there were many female writers in France or in other countries in the preceding century. I did not attempt to check if there is sufficient proof that the attributions to “Christine” are genuine, frankly because it would just be too depressing if there is any chance there was ghostwriterly intervention.

Evidentiary Analysis of the Truths and Legends About Phoenicians

Vadim S. Jigoulov, The Phoenicians: Lost Civilizations (London: Reaktion Books, 2021). $25: Cloth Hardcover. 244pp. 60 illustrations, 35 in color. ISBN: 978-1-78914-478-9.

*****

“…Exploration of this much-mythologized people: their history, artistic heritage, and the scope of their maritime and colonizing activities in the Mediterranean. Two aspects of the book stand out from other studies of Phoenician history: the source-focused approach and the attention paid to the various ways that biases—ancient and modern—have contributed to widespread misconceptions about who the Phoenicians really were. The book describes and analyzes various artifacts (epigraphic, numismatic, and material remains) and considers how historians have derived information about a people with little surviving literature. This analysis includes a critical look at the primary texts (classical, Near Eastern, and biblical), the relationship between the Phoenician and Punic worlds; Phoenician interaction with the Greeks and others…”

Chapter “Two: Lost in Translation: Portrayals of Phoenicians in Graeco-Roman Sources” touches on a subject that I have been contemplating in my current translation of Verstegan’s Restitution. Verstegan struggled with finding sources for the origins of the British people because he had to rely on ancient descriptions of them that tended to even use different terms for them, and altered the names of the places and peoples they originated from. Similarly, the terms “Phoenicians” were first “introduced by Greek writers” as Phoinikes, which is derived from phoinos (blood-red, purple). Because the Greeks had insufficient exposure to this foreign population, their descriptions of them fail to describe the “distinct set of independent city-states of the Levantine coast” and their different cultures, instead presenting them as a “monolithic ethnic group”. They also play a background or minor role in most texts with exceptions such as Euripides’ Phoenician Women; thus, they tend to be sketched briskly and with bias (46-7). Jigoulov explains that the earliest descriptions of the Phoenicians in Homer’s Iliad (8th century BC), which appears to describe Sidonians and Phoenicians as synonyms for the same people, as Phoenicians are classified as expert mariners and craftsmen and Sidonians are classified as great clothiers and potters, but experts are viewed as coming from the same place. Sidon is one of the earliest cities built around the world as it was founded in 3500 BC; by contrast, the kingdom of Egypt was founded in 3150 BC. Sidon was just a city inside of the Phoenician field of influence that grew to span seaside lands across the Middle East and Europe (modern-day Spain), but their landholdings concentrated around Sidon and Tyre (Lebanon). Given the Phoenicians power in seaside regions across most of the Mediterranean Sea for centuries before the Iliad was written, it was an understatement for Homer to describe them merely as skillful seafarers, and the anti-Phoenician propaganda in the Iliad and later Greek and then Roman books. The opening quote in Chapter One from Roman-author Pomponius Mela’s De Situ Orbis, or, Description of the World (1sth century BC) declares that the Phoenicians “devised the alphabet”. And indeed, the Phoenician alphabet was one of the earliest alphabets that developed out of the North Semitic alphabet, and because the Phoenicians trade across the Mediterranean they spread it across the region, and thus the Phoenician alphabet and language appear to be at the base of the tree of the Greek and thus all Western alphabets. The claim that Greek originated in Phoenician was first made by Herodotus’ Histories, which states that the Phoenicians “settled this land, and they transmitted much more lore to the Hellenes, and in particular, taught them the alphabet, which, I believe, the Hellenes did not have previously, but which was originally used by all Phoenicians. With the passage of time, both the sound and the shape of the letters changed.” However, Jigoulov objects that there were earlier alphabets in the region such as the Proto-Cannanite script that was “appearing from the thirteenth century BCE on, examples of which have been found on pottery and other objects in properly identifiable archaeological contexts”. The Phoenician alphabet was just simplified to only 22 consonants, and so the ease of using it made it popular, and thus a variant of it was “adopted by the Greeks”. This is a great example of how archeological evidence can prove legendary or gossip-based claims to be false, but most modern scholars still tend to repeat the cliché claim about the Phoenician alphabet being the originating system. The Phoenician alphabet remained cryptic until it was deciphered in 1758 by Jean-Jacques Barthelemy, so scholars during the Renaissance would not have been able to interpret histories written by ancient Phoenicians or to check if their language was indeed an originator of Greek (79-84). One of the chief inscription sites in Phoenician is the Temple of the Mistress of Byblos from the Persian period; one of the inscriptions reads: “I am Yehawmilk, king of Byblos, son of Yeharbaal, grandson of Urimilk, king of Byblos, whom the lady, Mistress of Byblos, made king over Byblos” (88). This translation was adapted from George Albert Cooke’s A Text-book of North-Semitic Inscriptions: Moabite, Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramiac, Nabataean, Palmyrene, Jewish (Oxford, 1903), 18-19. This inscription has a biblical tendency to focus on ancestry and explanations of how power was attained. On the other hand, Homer was right to be uncertain about the location or identity of the Phoenicians since they lacked firm borders or a unified governmental structure, and were called the “Sea Peoples” in the nearest in around 1200 BC in Egyptian records, when the Phoenician city-state monarchies began to emerge. The Phoenicians tended to avoid warfare and instead to focus on trade, even if they had to pay tributes for peace to rival monarchies.

This is a great book as it ingulfed my attention and I could not put it down. It presents both most-recent findings and ancient documentary evidence. It does not show a bias towards any side in this history, and instead attempts to arrive at the truth about this ancient population. It would be a great read for high school students interested in the origins of writing and culture, and also for college professors specializing in researching the Phoenicians. So, it is a great addition to libraries of all types and sizes. It would also make a great textbook for a class focusing on Phoenicians or a few different ancient civilizations.

A Modernizing, Loosening and De-Versifying of Virgil’s Aeneid

Virgil; David Ferry, translator, The Aeneid (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017, 2022). Softcover. $18. 428pp. ISBN: 978-0-226-81728-6.

*****

“…David Ferry’s… complete translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Ferry has” translated “Latin poetry” such as Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics. He brings to the Aeneid the same… rendering” of “Virgil’s formal, metrical lines into an English that is familiar, all while surrendering none of the poem’s original feel of the ancient world.” Aeneid is a “dramatic poem of daring and adventure, of love and loss, devotion and death. The paperback and e-book editions include a new introduction by Richard F. Thomas, along with a new glossary of names that makes the book even more accessible for students and for general readers coming to the Aeneid for the first time who may need help acclimating to Virgil’s world.”

In the research for my current BRRAM series, I regularly come across citations or allusions to Virgil’s Aeneid. For example, Olaus the Great’s Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, or, History of the Northern Nations (1555) cites the Aeneid in the midst of explaining the pagan theology of the Northerners that Verstegan adopted into his theology of the “Anglo-Saxons”. And Verstegan also directly cites “Virgil’s verses” in Restitution, using it to argue that when the Romans invaded Europe (including Britain) and brought Virgil’s Aeneid with them, the Europeans might have been inspired by this tale to claim that they had their own origins in this ancient Trojan culture, even if this theory was entirely fictitious.

The front-matter does not provide the history of previous English translations of the Aeneid that Ferry’s latest translation is likely to be based on. This history is covered in Evelyn W. Adkin’s “The Mirror’s Reflection: Virgil’s Aeneid in English Translation”, Classics Honors Project, Paper 3 (2006). Geoffrey Chaucer was first to “versify” a two-line fragment in The House of Fame into English. Then, William Caxton’s Eneydos (1490) was a re-translation from a French version. The first complete English translation was by Gavin Douglas in the Scots dialect in 1513. Then, the Workshop is likely to have created a modernized and English-dialect translation with rhymed couplets of fourteen-syllable verse in the “Thomas Phaer” and “Thomas Twine” edition in 1573; this last edition and its derivations would be the one Verstegan would have had in mind. Out of curiosity I found a section at the start of Book 2 in this 1573 edition in a Google Book facsimile to present the difference to you here between it and Ferry’s translation of the same section. I am applying a basic modernization to the 1573 edition’s spelling for clarity.

There is an isle in sight of Troy, and Tenedos it hight [is called],

A wealthy land while Priam’s state and kingdom stood upright,

But now a bay, and harbor bad for ships to lie at-road;

Woefully, there they went, and hid themselves close so that none was seen abroad [outside].

The same first sentence in Ferry’s version:

Not far from the mainland there’s a well-known island,

Called Tenedos, that once was prosperous

When Troy was prosperous, but now is only

A desolate unsafe mooring place for ships.

The Dannans sail to those deserted shores

And hide themselves from us, so that we think

That they are gone for good and that the wind

Has carried them away to their Mycenae,

So Troy at last is free from its long trouble.

The same lines in the Latin version are:

Est in conspectu Tenedos, notissima fama

insula, dives opum Priami dum regna manebant,

nunc tantum sinus et statio male fida carinis:

huc se provecti deserto in litore condunt;

nos abiisse rati et vento petiisse Mycenas.

And here is my own rough translation into English with help from Google Translate:

It was within the sight of Tenedos, an island most known for its fame,

Rich in wealth while Priam’s kingdom remained,

But now only a bay and a safe-haven for ships.

Having advanced there, they leaped upon the shore in the wilderness,

So we would think they had gone, and had sailed for Mycenae with the wind.

The Latin version visibly looks similar to Ferry’s translation, but it uses approximate rhyme in every other line, whereas Ferry does not attempt to rhyme the lines. Ferry also does not reproduce the approximate dactylic meter (one stressed syllable, then two unstressed); nor does he use the hexameter or six-metric-feet length for lines. If Ferry was basing his translation only on the original Latin, he would not have mentioned “Troy” in this section, as Troy is only mentioned again around 15 lines later. He might have relied on a later post-1573 translation that are likely to have gradually continued to modernize the text. The 1573 version is rhymed throughout with couplets, but it also does not fit Virgil’s meter. Ferry’s version is also too loose, as it multiplies the number of lines from 5 to 9 to relate this section. The Latin version includes 804 lines in Book 2, while the same book has 1144 lines in Ferry’s version. It is puzzling why the line numbers are used in such loose translations, if they do not correspond to the original lines; somebody comparing versions is not at all assisted by these unique numbers and digital modern copies allow for automatic searching of a specific line of text without needing line-numbering. The compression of the verse in Latin is a deliberate technique to express concise, precise and vivid strokes, and to avoid digressive or unnecessary content. The 1573 edition was sensitive to this authentic need for compression, and preservation of the content squeezed into each single line, whereas Ferry prefers to attract a general reader with an easily digestible story with fewer syllables-per-word. For example, Ferry repeats “prosperous” twice when contrasting its presence or absence; whereas, Virgil chooses to avoid such repetition by contrasting “wealth” with it being merely a “bay”.

It is fantastic that I am now going to have a full translation of Aeneid in my library, as the earlier translations tend to require me to re-translate them into Modern English to comprehend what they are saying. On the other hand, the Renaissance books that I am analyzing are citing these earlier translations or the original Latin, so if the Ferry’s translation doubles the size of the text, I would be misquoting what the Renaissance authors had in mind if I quoted lines from Ferry. The shortfalls in rhyme and meter in Ferry’s attempt indicate that there is room for a new translator to start over using the original Latin and attempt to come as close as possible to the original poetic measures and line numbers. The dozens of puffing quotes at the start of this book reinforce the idea that it has been warmly received since its 2017 publication, but such over-exuberance is not due given the number of earlier translations, many of which succeeded better than this latest attempt in preserving Virgil’s original intention. Despite these reservations, it is always good to see interest among publishers in helping modern readers access the classics. Though a deluded version of the Aeneid might suggest to readers who have never read it before that it was similarly deluded in the original, which might lower their opinion of Virgil’s poetic capacity.

Can a Medieval Manuscript Be “Found” for the First Time in 1934 without a Forgery Afoot?

Anthony Bale, Margery Kempe: A Mixed Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, January 11, 2022). Cloth Hardcover. $22.50. 256pp, 5.5X8.5”. 23 color plates, 6 halftones. ISBN: 978-1-78914-470-3.

****

“This is a new account of the medieval mystic and pilgrim Margery Kempe. Kempe, who had fourteen children, traveled all over Europe and recorded a series of unusual events and religious visions in her work The Book of Margery Kempe, which is often called the first autobiography in the English language. Anthony Bale charts Kempe’s life and tells her story through the places, relationships, objects, and experiences that influenced her. Extensive quotations from Kempe’s Book accompany generous illustrations, giving a fascinating insight into the life of a medieval woman. Margery Kempe is situated within the religious controversies of her time, and her religious visions and later years put in context. And lastly, Bale tells the extraordinary story of the rediscovery, in the 1930s, of the unique manuscript of her autobiography.”

The last part of this blurb drew my attention, so I turned to chapter “8: Writing and Rediscovery”, which explains that Kempe’s Book survived in “one fifteenth-century manuscript (London, British Library Add. MS 61823, illus. 27) and in two highly abbreviated early printed editions (of c. 1501 and 1521)” (196). Then, suddenly in July of 1934, at Southgate House in the village of Clowne in Derbyshire, the house’s owner, William Butler-Bowdon happened to find this manuscript in “cupboards” in a “clutter of smallish leather bound books”, one of which was a medieval mass-book and the other was this Book in Middle English. By yet another absurd coincidence, one of the guests in the House was Charles Gibbs-Smith of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum; he in turn gave it to several scholars until one of them Hope Emily Allen recognized it as Kempe’s. Allen was then involved in editing the first Middle English publication of the Book in 1940 (199-200). There are no mentions of carbon-dating or other attempts to authenticate this manuscript beyond the word of one of the editors who profited from its publication. Instead, the rest of this chapter focuses on the reception of Kemp since this publication through the present. Bale argues that parts of the Book were previously published in in 1501 and then in a similar version in 1521 by Henry Pepwell. However, the only book I found that Pepwell published in 1521 is The Boke of The Cyte of Ladyes, which does not refer to the “devoute ancres called Margery Kempe of Lynne”. There might be another book of Pepwell’s out there, or Bale might be entirely misquoting this source, probably by relying on Allen’s or another earlier editor’s misquoting that strengthens the case that most of the manuscript is substantiated by earlier editions, as opposed to the idea that it is a re-wording of an earlier book that did not mention “Kempe” into one that credits a female author as its creator to maximize its public appeal. I did find the title Bale is citing, A Short Treatise of Contemplation, in a 1910 modernized collection of Henry Pepwell’s publications. There are 1,821 words in this narrative story fragment called a Treatise. In contrast, the 2005 Penguin edition of the Book based on the 1940 edition has 336 pages without much critical analysis; the text includes a “Preface” and is separated into books and chapters. It is absolutely absurd to assume the texts are related without performing a serious authenticating process. While there are many illustrations across Bale’s book, there is only a single reproduction of a page out of this “unique manuscript of The Book” “found” in 1934, which is housed in the British Library (198). It stands out as inconsistent with standard manuscripts some of which are also included in other places in Bale’s biography. One of these examples is “The Nativity with the Virgin Mary in white, Book of Hours (c. 1500)” (149); it includes very tight margins, no edits within the lines, flowery illustrations around the margins, and firm ink lines for the letters to maximize visibility of the blackletter characters. In contrast, the “Kempe” manuscript is loosely handwritten with rushed and fading strokes, with marginal and in-text edits, with extremely wide margins (as if the author is not concerned about the cost of the paper), and various other elements that at best make it into a Renaissance Workshop forgery, if not a later forgery by those who “found” it in 1934. It is possible that the 1934 manuscript was authentically the work of Kempe, but no attempt has been made to prove this to be the case. Similar assumptions about authenticity are made about most pre-print books when hand-writers did not have to register the date of publication with an official registry, which made it a lot harder to forge texts. It would take little effort to do carbon-dating on this manuscript, and this would make it unnecessary to speculate on its authenticity further. If this was the case, I could have spent this review focusing on what is known about the life of Margery Kempe, instead of in pondering why editors are more romantically enraptured with the story of early female authorship, than with the truth of if women actually had access writing. If there were no early female writers, and if there are many male writers in our times still writing under female names; we might be a lot further behind as women in our access to mainstream publication than we all cheerfully assume.

2 Responses to “Book Reviews: Spring 2022”

  1. Remembered Places June 20, 2022 at 2:20 pm #

    The Henry Pepwell truncated version of Kempe was published in 1521, see https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/early-printed-extracts-of-margery-kempes-book

    I doubt the British Library would allow carbon dating. There are no serious doubts over the authenticity of the manuscript (which had a mid-15th-century letter within it) and was written by a Norwich monk named Richard Salthouse; scholars are divided on when the original book was written.

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    • Anaphora Literary Press June 20, 2022 at 2:32 pm #

      Thanks for sharing the link to this book. I assumed there had to have been an earlier printing for it to have been re-printed in the 1910 collection. Whenever “historical facts” have been carbon dated, they almost always disproved the legendary claims about them. For example, the bodies of Richard III and II in a French tomb proved to have been from an entirely different century. The church would have used the claim that these kings were buried there to bring in tourists/ donations. Thus, if the British Library and other libraries are refusing to carbon date texts that are essential points in the timeline of human history, they know the answers would devalue their own collection, instead of acting in the best interests of science and truth. If you or anybody else do not have doubts about the dating of manuscripts before the age of print, you are too trusty, as most of these texts were not originally dated, or the first dates appeared centuries after the texts were later claimed to have been first-written. Crediting monks or nuns or royals as the authors of these manuscripts make them almost into holy relics that make scholars extremely hesitant to disprove their dating or authorship. If scholars themselves are divided regarding the dating, there is no rational reason for them to be opposed to finding out the answer with a scientific method.

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