Book Reviews: Summer 2019

By: Anna Faktorovich

An Intricate Visual and Textual Journey into the World of Dinosaurs

Ruben Molina-Perez and Asier Larramendi. Dinosaur Facts and Figures: The Theropods and Other Dinosauriformes. $29.95. 288pp, 9.5X11.75”, 2,300 color diagrams, paintings & maps, hardback. ISBN: 978-0691180311. Princeton: Princeton University Press, June 25, 2019.


It is inspiring to open this book and glance at its contents. If I sent this book as a gift to my high school self, it would be the best present imaginable. In fact, it appears the research presented in this book came together in the past few decades, and this is a contributing factor to the curiosities it offers readers. One of these findings is that dinosaurs had feathers, fur and other bodily coverings, rather than all having naked, dense skin. The thousands of drawings in this book were clearly written under the supervision of scientists because they include these types of details. Most of the books I have seen about theropod dinosaurs previously might have also been limited by the number of available drawings. It must have taken a massive effort for artists involved in this project to create 2,300 color diagrams and paintings of 750 species, as well as maps that cover every page. There might be a dozen of popularly-known dinosaur types, and they make it seem as if they were pretty homogenous, but with this larger spectrum of presented creatures, it is easier to imagine what life was like in the dinosaur-age. Each of the drawings is presented next to similar types of creatures from the modern age for size comparison. For example, “Record Smallest” dinosaur is Parvicursor remotus, it is pictured as being similar in size to a dove at 50 cm in length; it has curious single-nail claws instead of a dove’s wings, and very long legs and tail; the artist even inserted a few long hairs over its beak (51). Then on the next page, we are presented with a creature resembling a modern-day sloth, Therizinosaurus cheloniformis, “Record Largest”, which is compared in size to a human, overshadowing the little person with just the size of its enormous three-claw hands at 9 m. Each of these curious creatures is accompanied with their footprints, maps of their geographical regions, and explanations regarding what makes each type unique. The similarity to a “sloth” and its “longest among all known animals” nails are included in “The Strangest” section on this species (52-3). The relationship between modern birds and dinosaurs is easier to see in this pectoral explanation as several dinosaurs looked a lot like birds when they are drawn with features, such as the Eosinopteryx brevipenna (61). The relationship between dinosaur species over time is explained in detailed timelines that date the origins of the central species.

While some reviewers rephrase the publisher’s summaries in reviews, I tend to offer the important portions of these in full quotes to avoid mis-phrasing the author’s or editor’s meaning. In this case, the publisher summarizes that the book is divided into some of the following section types: “‘Comparing Species’ is organized by taxonomic group and gives comparisons of the size of species, how long ago they lived, and when they were discovered. ‘Mesozoic Calendar’ includes spreads showing the positions of the continents at different geological time periods and reconstructions of creatures from each period. ‘Prehistoric Puzzle’ compares bones, teeth, and feathers while ‘Theropod Life’ uses vivid, user-friendly graphics to answer questions such as which dinosaur was the smartest and which had the most powerful bite. Other sections chart theropod distribution on the contemporary world map, provide comprehensive illustrated listings of footprints, compile the physical specifications of all known theropods and Mesozoic birds, and much more.”

The precision and detail I spotted in the images is not accidental. The creators, Rubén Molina-Pérez and Asier Larramendi, are the founders and scientific directors of Eofauna, a company that produces scientifically accurate representations of prehistoric fauna using the most current research available. The illustrations were made by Andrey Atuchin and Sante Mazzei, but clearly there was close collaboration between the team at Eofauna and these artists. Too often scientific images are either very beautiful but scientifically erroneous, or perfect scientifically but are drawn with the art savvy of a middle schooler. The need for this type of art-science collaborations is clear in astronomy just as it is in biology or dinosaur studies.

Glancing at all of this information and these visualizations makes me want to write a science fiction book about dinosaurs because they suddenly seem three-dimensional whereas before they were cartoonish. Many curious details appear as one looks closer, such as “the largest Mesozoic flea”, Pseudopulex magnus (207). I could even insert this specific flea into a fiction, rather than some generic flea-equivalent, or instead of questioning if fleas existed back then. There are also many historic timelines of the findings that uncovered the clues that allow us to imagine or determine what these historic creatures looked like; it is particularly significant to understand that dinosaur, space and other studies are based on centuries of research and changing opinions to make these fields friendlier towards new ideas and new theories. If readers perceive the images as absolute and final replicas of dinosaurs, they would be mislead as only fragments of bones and bits of other matter have survived the millions of years between us, so there is still a long way for science to go, and we might never have a precise replica of these complex lifeforms. The mixture of images and information is a great gateway to introduce younger readers to the most complex subjects; for example, the speed diagram that shows that a modern-day cheetah (105 km/h) is faster than the fastest bird of all time (Dinornis giganteus: 81 km/h) and the fastest dinosaur of the Mesozoic (Ornithomimus edmontonicus: 72 km/h) (173) helps to demonstrate that the planet has been evolving in terms of speed and power, whereas it is easy to imagine that dinosaurs had so much relative power they would have overwhelmed animals such as humans out of existence. The drawings of skulls are more photographic as they replicate located fossils (143).

I hope that the makes of the next Jurassic Park or equivalent film touching on dinosaurs will read this book during the research phase, so the resulting work will be a bit more inline with what is know about this period and these creatures. This book is approachable for everybody from middle schoolers who want to fantasize about dinosaurs to career researchers in this field who need to visualize species characteristics to spot connections and to contemplate undiscovered conclusions. Projects like this redeem the modern publishing industry as they show how art and information can be properly joined and delivered in a beautiful and informative vessel.

A Challenging Astronomy Textbook for Those Questioning Our Universe

Jay M. Pasachoff and Alex Filippenko. The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium, Fifth Edition. 710pp, drawings, photographs. ISBN: 978-1-108-43138-5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


Since I started doing research for a space-travel semi-fictional novel I put together across the past year, I have read several astronomy textbooks as well as books on the subject from astronauts, and researchers. This is an example of a textbook that summarizes the field for an introductory class. I recall reading a version of this type of textbook back during my studies at the University of Massachusetts when I took an astronomy class; that book is by the professor who might still be teaching this class, Thomas T. Arny, Explorations: Introduction to Astronomy, which first came out in 1980 and went through several editions since that time. This Cambridge textbook is perhaps twice thicker than Arny’s. The larger page count might be due to the greater number of illustrations; for example, I have never seen a Table of Contents with several giant images of the night sky in the middle of its pages. This book might be reminding me in particular of Arny’s because it’s leaning towards humor; for example, one of the images in the Contents is of a “balloon alien, as yet unknown in reality” (xvii). Arny used to do a juggling act with planets and other dramatic performances as he taught the subject; including any images in the Contents list is in itself humorous as it breaks scholarly conventions. Given that this is the fifth edition, it is also polished and extra-edited like Arny’s. The difference appears to be that it might be intended for a graduate introductory course rather than an undergraduate one as the first chapters introduce mathematic equations, and other intricate subjects that might lose the attention of younger readers. Instead of describing the basics, it also jumps into the study of light reflection and how astronomical measurements are taken (43-5). This is an important dive as when astronomy is described on its surface, it leaves readers questioning if most of it might be fictitious imaginings rather than tested scientific facts. If I return to editing my space novel, I will definitely read this book closely. This book is very inviting to teachers as it includes entire tests of questions (variations of which teachers might want to include in later exams), and discussion-starting topics. If this book is assigned to undergraduates, it will probably intimidate a lot of students, but graduate students would probably find it to be a relief from the narrower and less pectoral textbooks they might be used to at that level; I think it’s very important to make the most complex subjects visually as well as textually engaging for readers to become imaginatively engaged in subjects to welcome them into the complexities of the formulas and lectures. Much of this book also assumes knowledge of chemistry and physics, as it picks up in the middle of astronomical problems such as the “proton-proton chain” in stars to explain why they shine, rather than first defining a “proton” and the other items involved in this concept (369).  

This new edition covers “advances” such as “New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto, exoplanets, ‘dark matter’, and the direct detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)” and “the latest discoveries on supernovae, and new observations of the region around the four-million-solar-mass black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.” This summary does not specify the grade level this book is intended for, so instructors should review it to check if it fits with the learning objectives for their individual courses. It should be possible to design either a very easy or a very difficult course syllabus by using only this textbook depending on if an instructor assigns and tests on all of it or only the more general sections. Overall, this is one of the better astronomy textbooks I have seen after reviewing a few dozen of them.

At the Intersection Between Propaganda and Nonsense: Confusion in Literary Criticism

Robert Birdwell. The Radical Novel and the Classless Society: Utopian and Proletarian Novels in U.S. Fiction from Bellamy to Ellison. 194pp. ISBN: 978-1-4985-7041-1. Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


This set of reviews includes a disproportionate quantity of books from Rowman’s imprints. I requested these books because I was searching for literary scholarship among the publishers with names that I am familiar with, and Rowman happens to publish more in this genre than the top university publishers I also queried. Harvard, Princeton and the other Ivy League publishers might have at most ten literature-related books per catalog, and these include all branches of international literature, linguistics and other fields; by contrast, Rowman releases at least a hundred books in this field per catalog. As I was looking over the catalog, I was just excited there were so many books to explore that I requested all that somewhat matched my sub-fields of interest. When the first batch of them arrived, as I looked over the books, I recalled the interaction I had with Rowman before. I was doing an exhibit of books for my publishing company, Anaphora, at SAMLA, and Rowman also had an exhibit table there. I spoke with McFarland and all of the other publishers also exhibiting regarding their potential interest in publishing my own research across the days of the conference. One of these publishers was asking for subsidies, one of them wanted to be paid for editing, one of them was not interested in the field of research I was covering (code for me being too low on the academic ladder for them to bother to come up with an explanation for the rejection), and then there was Rowman. Their editor replied with an offer to publish, but specified in this contract that I would be paid $0 for the first 500 copies of the book that sold. I was used to receiving low 8% from profits royalties from McFarland on my first two scholarly books, but 0 was extreme. I checked on WorldCat, and it looked like all of their books sold around 75 copies to libraries, so there was 0% chance my book could sell over 80, and certainly not over 500 copies. The publication did not materialize. It is likely that most academics accept this offer as few probably care if they make any money on their book as there is much more profit to be gained from tenure that comes from finding a publisher than from the pennies paid in royalties. While it is extremely important for academics to have a publisher in the marketplace who is willing to publish hundreds of literary scholarship books even if they sell only 75 copies (versus over 300 per title that my McFarland releases reached), by welcoming a higher percentage of incoming submissions, Rowman is asking critics to evaluate the quality of these books rather than sifting through them in the editing stage. Rowman is not alone in releasing scholarship that has not been strenuously edited, but given that they are a part of one of the most profitable publishers in the world, one would imagine that they have more resources than most to help scholars. Then again, the profit motive means minimizing editing costs to maximize per-title profits; cutting out all royalties for authors certainly also helps in this regard. I wanted to start with this note to point out that I am a bit biased against Rowman due to this professional experience. I predict this note will have been necessary because as I started looking inside these books, I gathered that my comments on them will lean towards the negative.

This particular book appeared to be of interest because my dissertation and my first scholarly book with McFarland was on the “rebellion novel” and this text is about the “radical novel”, seemingly echoing my own ideas. While this work also belongs to the Marxist or economic field of literary criticism, it looks at U.S. literature, while I looked at nineteenth century British texts. Additionally, I primarily considered realistic or history-based fictions, while this work also focuses on utopias by “Edward Bellamy, William Dean Howells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Sutton E. Griggs” as well as the more realistic “proletarian novels by such writers as Robert Cantwell, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, Meridel Le Sueur, Claude McKay, and Ralph Ellison”. If this book only looked at utopias or realism, it might have been a better proposal because mixing these together to show “unity of utopian and Marxist socialisms” promises to be a convoluted or confusing double-speak. The author promises: “We can combine the imagination of the future classless society with present-day socialist strategy. Utopian and proletarian novels help us to imagine—and realize—the classless society as achieving the utopian goal of recognizing race and gender and the Marxist goal of overcoming social class.” The problem I notice here is that this summary sets out to propagandize for the Marxist ideal instead of analyzing the structure, linguistics or the other elements that are supposed to be studied by literature scholars. I have been refraining from doing as much research as I hoped to do in graduate school because of these types of problems across these fields. In theory, Marxist literary analysis should help to explain the economics interplay with fiction; the economic theory should not be inserted to strengthen an argument for socialism. Literary criticism is supposed to be an objective study, rather than a political platform, and yet most criticism is invested in making a political or social argument. Both the left and the right who engage in propaganda are rewarded in academia; the author of this work, for example, “Robert Birdwell is visiting assistant professor in the Department of English at Tulane University.”

The “Introduction” confirms that this book is designed to “show how radical fiction in its imagination of the classless society can inspire and be inspired by… ‘action’” (1). Socialist novels have been used as propaganda to promote tyranny in the USSR and other undemocratic governments, so propagating for strengthening the influence fiction plays on political decisions strays into dangerous grounds. Fiction should definitely show the problems in the world realistically, but twisting these realities to promote revolutions that benefit a few tyrannical individuals is not socially beneficial. The convoluted style this book is written in makes its underlying objectives particularly suspect. As many other problematic scholarly books, it utilizes theory to confuse the covered subjects instead of revealing meanings directly. For example, there is a section in the “Introduction” on “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”; the author offers an extended definition from Raymond Williams to distinguish between “scientific” socialism that observes and analysis “society” versus “utopian” socialism that projects a “desirable future”; in other words the first expresses what society is and the other suggests what it should be. Birdwell does not offer this type of simple explanations, but rather lets the argument digress into free associations. At the end of this section, Birdwell appears to explain the new insight his book is offering when he writes that while one of the theorists he is quoting from, Ernst Bloch, “already blazed a path in this direction”, he “will presently suggest” that Block’s “socialism needs to be updated in order to articulate recognition, and not just redistribution, in its images of the classless society” (11). What relevance does “recognition” have with socialism or literature? Somewhere in the associated digressions in this section the link must have been made, but the dictionary definition of this term cannot possibly fit this meaning. Socialism is all about “redistribution”; if recognition is referring to recognizing the existence of social problems, then socialism has always been about this too. Too often critics who lack original ideas to contribute to a debate make their theories appear innovative by confusing readers with concepts that seem intelligent because they are incomprehensible; however, it is apparent to anybody who reads such nonsense more closely that incomprehensible ideas tend to be nonsensical; ideas must be comprehensible to carry sense to readers. Most of this study is a series of quotations and regurgitations of Hegel (i.e. “Hegel continues, revealing that what is at stake in this dialectic between self and other is not only recognition, but ultimately freedom…” (65), and other socialist thinkers and fiction writers; discussions on these ideas might have been helpful to students if they were explained in detail with careful definitions of terms and concepts, but instead researchers like Birdwell jump around between barely related ideas and quotes to avoid being discovered for gaps in their understanding if they slow down enough to cover any single topic at greater depth.

Publishing to Avoid Perishing: Philosophizing in Circles About Nothing

Nivedita Bagchi. Human Nature and Politics in Utopian and Anti-Utopian Fiction. 78pp. ISBN: 978-1-4985-5166-3. Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


The subject of Nivedita Bagchi’s (professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania) book is similar to Birdwell’s, but instead of considering utopian and realistic fiction, it looks at utopian and anti-utopian fiction. This duality is not clearly expressed in the “Contents”, where chapters are divided by the names of the authors reviewed (Thomas More, Edward Bellamy, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell) rather than by the theoretical distinctions between these two concepts. The name appears to result from the fact that some of these “utopian” fictions express negative or nightmare scenarios while others are more idyllic. With only four main chapters, it is unclear why the author did not choose to focus on either one of these groups or the other to derive a clearer conclusion regarding a narrower genre. The “Introduction” explains the focus is the result of modern popular interest in anti-utopian fiction such as Hunger Games. The “Conclusion” to this “Introduction” begins thus: “While the question of ‘what is human nature’ remains politically relevant, it also remains unsolvable.” From there, Bagchi digresses into random theoretical ponderings, before jumping into a few long quotes before ending by stating that the goal is to demonstrate how the covered writers explore “the question” of “individual freedom” (ix-xxi). It would have been impossible for Bagchi or any critic to find a more general topic to cover in a book than “human nature”, which tends to be used as a joke in discussions of philosophy. This is a pretty thin book for an academic subject, and this introduction takes up much of it. The rest of it goes in nonsensical circles such as: “Believing in the progressive capacity of human beings, Bellamy also believed that linear progress is possible. He derides the idea of cyclical history…” (27). There is no significant difference between progress and linear progress, unless one considers cyclical progress, and if these two are placed in neighboring sentences, they cancel each other out into nonsense. I hope readers will avoid this book is it turns in circles without arriving at meaningful insights.

Babbling About Beautiful Corpses in Films, etc.

Jacqueline Elam and Chase Pielak. Corpse Encounters: An Aesthetics of Death. 186pp. ISBN: 978-1-4985-4393-4. Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


The cover of this title is pretty striking: a skeleton is sitting on a white couch. The concept behind the book is more confusing than this cover suggests: is this a book about how death can be pretty? Fiction seldom polishes skeletons and describes their beauty. Death is usually described in grotesque terms or is portrayed with gruesome imagery. When blood and gore is portrayed beautifully in popular films it is shown as red paint flying, or neatly chopped heads lying on the ground: what is there for a critic to say about such pop indulgences in making death appear beautiful? Four of the chapters have “corpse” or “mummy” in their titles: so this is a narrative about the beauty of the dead body in fiction. The “Introduction” opens with a quote from The Book of Common Prayer: such religious devotion is strange for a scholarly book, which typically would need to present a secular theory. The paragraph then stresses the book is indeed about the presentation of corpses, ending with this strange concluding note: “we also work to redefine what it means to care for corpses” (ix). What does taxidermy or mummification have to do with literary scholarship? While the main chapters’ titles only name Beckett as a focal creator studied, the interior does indeed focus more heavily on popular video representations of corpses such as in Scorsese’s Silence. Elam and Pielak explain that in this film, “Scorsese’s gaze lingers (in ways Endo’s doesn’t) on the numerous scenes of Christian Japanese being tortured, murdered, and cremated” (85). Endo is the author Scorsese adopted to the screen. Torture scenes in a novel involved paragraphs of specific grotesque mutilation descriptions, whereas in a film the blood and bruises are beautified as viewers can tell it is just pretty paint. The problem is that making torture beautiful in films detaches viewers from the moral problems with such actions without the creator needing to describe what specifically happens. The director asks the makeup people and the actors to act out the brisk scene, and it is delivered as a beautiful package in seconds; behind this surface, the impact might be to demoralize and detach viewers from sympathy for others’ suffering. Instead of considering these types of problems, the authors focus on writing up the details of the torture and burial scenes that are missing from the imagery of the film; ending this section thus: “In a perfect Mitford world, all operations would be stripped of any bells and whistles: family and friends would personally drive the corpse of the decedent to the crematorium, which would burn and scatter the body. They definitely wouldn’t be spending money on keepsake jewelry” (85-8). While jewelry is related to beauty, these speculations about what the family etc. might have done have no place in literary criticism. This is not fan fiction, it is supposed to be a theoretical discussion about aesthetics of death; instead of literary insights, the authors are lecturing Scorsese on what he should have done with the corpse (rather than addressing what he did in terms of its meaning, significance, allusions, aesthetic qualities or the like).

The book’s summary promised to explain how “we attend to the corpse,” including “options for disposal: veneered mortuary internment, green burial and its attendant rot, cremation and alkaline hydrolysis, donation and display, and ecological burial.” This “we” seems to be addressing how readers handle the corpses in their lives rather than any corpses in fiction. Then, the theory is introduced without explaining the connection: “we expose the workings of aesthetics that shape corpses, as well as the ways in which corpses spill over, resisting aestheticization.” Beauty shapes corpses? Where are these corpses spilling? By “resisting aestheticization” do they mean that some corpses are too ugly to be made to appear pretty? It seems that the authors searched for a weird topic that allowed them to digress about violence and gore, stopped at the word “corpse” and then circled around it at random across this book. The publisher’s description ends by explaining that death “must be quickly hidden from sight to shield us from the certain trauma of our own demise, or so the unspoken argument goes.” Unspoken? But they just said it… In contrast, it’s very much a cliché to say that death is supposed to be hidden. “Experts—scientists, forensic specialists, death-care professionals, and law enforcement—are the only ones qualified to view the dead for any extended period of time. The rest of us, with only brief doses, inoculate ourselves from the materiality of death in complex and highly ritualized ceremonies.” Many religions allow for the viewing of the dead body as part of these ceremonies, so this is all pretty nonsensical. “Beyond participating in the project of restoring our sense of finitude, we try to make sense of the untouchable, unviewable, haunting, and taboo presence of the corpse itself.” If this was a sociology study of how humanity deals with death all this might be somewhat relevant, but the body of the book looks at how death is handled in films or dramas, and none of this summary even mentions Beckett or any of the other fiction-makers discussed within.

This is another horrid book that I hope readers will avoid: not because it discusses corpses, but because it does so as if it is writing a romanticizing pop mystery about them rather than the promised scholarly monograph.

A History of Star Trek and America

M. Keith Booker. Star Trek: A Cultural History. 192pp. ISBN: 978-1-5381-1275-5. Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


Unlike the previous few books I reviewed from Rowman, this one is more organized and focused. The chapters promise to discuss the history of Star Trek, of American science fiction, and then to connect the show to American history and the history of technology, as well as covering its fans. This type of coverage should be more useful for students who are writing research papers on this popular show. It is difficult to imagine a student sitting through a book about beautiful corpses, but this study should allow them to find specific types of information that might help them make a strong argument in a research paper. The front and back matter is useful in this regard, with a timeline summarizing the series, an index, and episode summaries (which are for some reason marked with different numbers of stars as they are reviewed for relative quality by the authors). The book is illustrated with some black and white stills from the show, which are necessary when discussing a visual medium.

One problem that becomes apparent in the opening of the “Introduction” is that while the episodes in the back are rated, the book as a whole is propagating the grandeur of this series as “the single most important work ever produced by American popular culture” (xi). It is pretty standard for scholarly books to explain the significance of the subject covered in an introduction, but this is too pompous and hints at a bias in favor of the filmmakers, as if this is a paid-for ad. The rest of this chapter is more standard as it summarizes the contents covered in the other chapters. The sections on the history of the show are detailed and heavy on research: this should be useful even for graduate students writing about this popular show. The chapter linking it to American history covers topics such as race (75) and gender (81) by reviewing events, social debates and the like that influenced the show or were influenced by it. While there are some sections that could have been cleaned up or edited out, most of this book is pretty polished, presentable, and delivers useful information. So, I would recommend it for graduate and undergraduate researchers, and even perhaps as one of the assigned text in a popular culture or popular film studies class.  

A Scholar’s Attempt to Read Directors’ Minds

James L. Neibaur. The Monster Movies of Universal Studios. 214pp. ISBN: 978-1-4422-7816-5. Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


The title of this project is suspect as it appears to be a blatant advertisement for Universal Studios, one of the largest film producers internationally (or rather it is a subsidiary of one of the giants). The chapter organization reinforces this idea as they are all named after individual “monster” or “horror” movies Universal released including Dracula, The Bride of Frankenstein, and several other early films from the 1930s and 40s that have not remained at the top of mainstream conversations. The “Prologue” advertises the contents as representing “iconic figures in popular culture” that “continue to be identified”. It is no accident that Dracula and Frankenstein appear frequently in recent creations of popular culture from affiliates of this company, including as references in TV series and even in feature films. Such product-placements help to generate sales for these “classics” decades after their releases as fans of Old Hollywood are reminded of their nostalgia for a pristine past. To avoid being labeled as a similar product-placement, this book really should be presenting the good and the bad about these films, but as is too common in popular culture monographs it is more of a fan-scholarship piece. Occasionally, these books are even funded by the film industry, or are written by those affiliated with it. Neibaur has authored a dozen films on related subjects with Rowman, so he is making a living on writing in this field, but he is not disclosing any clear affiliations with the industry in his biography. Each of the chapters begins like a review with the name of the director, the cast members, and the run time listed in boxes. Then, these chapters offer brief histories of the making of these films, quotes from their screenplays, and some anecdotes from their making. There are too few citations or references for the type of information presented. For example, there are no references in a paragraph that begins thus: “When first given the script, Lou Costello thought it was a terrible idea and told the producers that his youngest child could write a better screenplay…” (152). How did Neibaur learn what Costello was thinking; it does not say that this is what he said, but rather what he thought. So, what source could there have been other than Costello’s diary to express this kind of derogatory pondering, but obviously if this came out of a diary, a scholar would have put the precise way that Costello put it. Thus, it appears that this book offers too much unsubstantiated materials, or information that cannot be trusted by students or scholars working on this subject. The only way these stories are reliable without detailed citations is if they were written by Costello and the other directors and other creatives described in such passages, and if this is the case, they really had to disclose their contribution to such fan-scholarship. Neibaur needs to edit all such passages to clarify the sources, and until then, this is not a suitable source for readers, even if only fans of the genre, because they don’t need more ads in their lives.

What Exactly Was Melville Philosophizing About and Why…

Corey McCall and Tom Nurmi, editors. Melville Among the Philosophers. 232pp. ISBN: 978-1-4985-3674-5. Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


I am a bit exhausted with this set of Rowman titles, so I will begin by considering their summary to solve the puzzle of what the title can possibly be referring to: “For more than a century readers have found Herman Melville’s writing rich with philosophical ideas, yet there has been relatively little written about what, exactly, is philosophically significant about his work and why philosophers are so attracted to Melville in particular.” This is a false statement; most critics writing about Melville discuss his philosophy; perhaps nobody has explained why they chose to write about his philosophy, but the simple answer for this is that there is philosophy in the text, so discussing the text has to involve touching on its philosophizing; what other “why’s” might be derived suggests that this will be a cyclical nonsense digression. “This volume addresses this silence through a series of essays that: (1) examine various philosophical contexts for Melville’s work, (2) take seriously Melville’s writings as philosophy…” This point is just ridiculous: what is the alternative? I guess a critic could have made fun of Melville’s philosophy, but the insertion of “seriously” suggests that McCall and Nurmi are making fun of it; if they were considering it seriously, surely, they would not have included the word “seriously” in a scholarly book description. They continue: “(3) consider how modern philosophers have used Melville and the implications of appropriating Melville for contemporary thought.” It appears this writer just kept writing without pondering the words he or she was putting on the page: what “implications” can this be referring to? The consequences of referring to Melville in philosophy is that readers get to read a bit about a fiction writer while they are reading philosophy; so, what the intended meaning of this phrase is remains clouded in nonsense. They conclude that their text “is ultimately an intervention across literary studies and philosophy”: an intervention is when there is something horridly wrong and you intervene to fix it; instead, Melville scholars have been philosophizing in peace, and here comes a couple of chaotic writers to bring absurdity and confusion to a previously civilized debate. This summary might be particularly unsure about the actual contents of the book because each of the ten chapters is written by a different writer; the editors writing the summary probably did not read any of these chapters and are trying to write the most general summary imaginable that should in theory touch on something in the actual chapters. These chapters are separated into two parts: “Melville as Philosopher” and “Inheriting Melville”, so it seems one is about philosophy in Melville’s texts and the other is about other writers who wrote about Melville. The chapters lean on topics such as “Religion and the Strangeness”, gender, the de-colonial, Nietzschean themes, slavery… None of these are mentioned in the summary. None of them really have anything to do with the others. These chapters are heavy on citations and quotes. However, the philosophizing matches the nonsense in the summary; for example, Jason M. Wirth writes: “If the sea is Space as the God of Prime, then this God is elementally voiceless” (71). I don’t think I need to explain why this is nonsensical, and no context around this sentence can possibly explain why this opens a paragraph in a scholarly chapter. This is yet another book written to avoid perishing in academia rather than to be opened by any literate reader.

The Flawless Military Memoir of Ulysses S. Grant  

John F. Marszalek, David S. Nolen and Louie P. Gallo, editors. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. 784pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-23785-8. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019.


It is always a pleasure to review a scholarly book that has been cleaned up, polished, annotated, fully introduced and otherwise dressed up for consumption. I have seen several references to these memoirs across my research into American publishing and authorship, but have not explored it closely. The clarity and guided research inside is apparent from the informative description of the book: “Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, sold door-to-door by former Union soldiers, were once as ubiquitous in American households as the Bible.” I did not know that soldiers assisted Grant with selling this collection; I have mentioned it in my research as one of the few profitable books Mark Twain published with his own publishing venture; learning why it sold so much better than his other projects explains a good deal, and this was not something Twain or others I reviewed while writing about Twain’s publishing mentioned. Thus, I’ve had a revelation before opening the interior of the book. It is curious that the cover then goes on to mention Twain as an admirer without specifying he was this book’s first publisher; this would ordinarily be misleading, but few people think of Twain as a publisher, so perhaps Harvard’s editors were not thinking of this when they polished this: “Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, and Edmund Wilson hailed them as great literature, and countless presidents, including Clinton and George W. Bush, credit Grant with influencing their own writing.” It is likely that Twain had a heavy hand in editing these memoirs, and this is the reason for their literary quality; also not mentioned, but curious. Twain’s name does not appear in the Index. “Yet a judiciously annotated edition of these memoirs has never been produced until now.” It is absolutely necessary to annotate a memoir by a historical figure such as Grant because without such notes most of his references are too dated for modern readers to gather his implied meanings. The narrative covers events “through the end of the Civil War” including the pre-war years and the war with Mexico “and offering his invaluable perspective on battlefield decision making.” These annotations are especially trustworthy as they have been “compiled by the editors of the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s Presidential Library”.

The “Preface” opens with a propagandistic lauding of Grant is a giant among generals; but when this aggrandizement is done well, as it is here, reading such applause inspires readers to proceed further inside the book rather than being appalled by such nationalistic rhetoric. This explanation of significance is just brief enough to catch interest, and then the editors explain that the Association previously released a thirty-two-volume version of these memoirs back in 1962; thus this is their attempt to edit a classic they previously released in its raw form (xv). The “Introduction” begins by pointing out that prior to this memoir or to the end of Grant’s life, he was “unknown as a writer”, only showing his writing ability in army letters, but being “a hard-driving general… of few words”. To me this suggests that Twain must have had a ghostwriting influence over the general to push this project to fruition, but the editors do not draw this conclusion. They do mention Twain in this context, saying that Grant had replied to Twain’s solicitation by insisting “he could not write”, but still this does not suggest co-authorship… (xvii). Curiously, they then report that the first article Grant sent to Century when he needed cash after he fell victim to a Ponzi scheme proved that “he could not write” so that the “magazine’s editors were shocked at how bad the submitted article was”. We are to believe that while Grant’s writing did not improve much from editorial comments, after he suffered additional problems with his health including developing throat cancer, he suddenly birthed a muse and became a brilliant writer capable of penning volumes of brilliant prose… (xix). I am working on a de-attribution project for Defoe texts at the moment, so I am fixating on wanting to test this memoir against signed war letters and the like from Grant and other books by Twain, but I’ll ignore these urges, as I would need digitized copies of these to proceed, and this would take me on a research byway. Just one more thought on this occurs to me, “Grant” notes in his “Preface” that he was assisted with by “my eldest son, F. D. Grant” and “his brothers, to verify from the records every statement of fact given” (4). Thus, another potential authorial signature is F. D. Grant’s who might have taken the evidence he found in the records and expanded it into narrations, whereas the older Grant preferred stating the bare facts in his war reports and other brisk correspondences.

These memoirs are a Bildungsroman, commencing with Grant’s ancestry, birth and boyhood before moving on to the events that Grant is best known for. The descriptions throughout are highly precise, nothing exact places Grant visited and what he did there. It is a bit strange that Grant writes: “A military life had no charms for me”, finding more interest in his studies (21). This seems counter-characteristic for a war general, who wrote little until apparently being on his deathbed. Putting aside these ponderings, nearly every page is rich with curious historical and cultural descriptions that are of interest to scholars and students of this period. For example, Grant describes how during military preparations, his troop was involved in “securing mules, and getting them broken to harness”; he gives precise details on how these animals were purchased, lassoed, and trained to behave during marches (51). These types of details indicate a knowledgeable author capable of specific and engaging descriptions. A wide variety of topics is covered throughout, like a note on hiring musicians when funds were so short that they had trouble covering the cost of the troops’ food (124). Grant includes a few official correspondences in places where these were available in his collection (296). Those interested in military procedures and strategies, there are numerous painstaking notes on these, such as: “To give additional protection sand bags, bullet-proof, were placed along the tops of the parapets far enough apart to make loop-holes for musketry…” (372). When Grant was refusing to write these memoirs he was saying that the campaigns’ history was already covered by an earlier historian that he gave interviews to; I wonder if this earlier account shares some similarity with this elongated version. I also wonder if some of the research must have come from books on military history and strategies as it is difficult to imagine an ailing deathbed-bound general writing this hyper-polished, brilliantly-researched historical study. Most readers are not likely to have these doubts, and should just benefit from the wealth of information and adventures presented. This is a great read for fun or education for anybody from high school students with some time to read in the summer, to the top researchers of Civil War history searching for primary evidence for this and other covered conflicts. This is a flawless collection of history and philosophy, and a joy to keep on the shelf in case I return to researching this subject.

The Public Relations Secrets Linking the Popularization of Dinosaurs and American Monopolies

Lukas Rieppel. Assembling the Dinosaur: Fossil Hunters, Tycoons, and the Making of a Spectacle. 336pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-73758-7. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, June 24, 2019.


Dinosaurs and their skeletal remains in museums receive a lot of popular media attention in feature films and other cultural artifacts that advertise the value of visiting and observing such exhibits. Dinosaurs make up only a small portion of the evolution of life on earth, but they receive disproportionate interest due to these types of PR campaigns. This book is of scholarly interest because it asks why dinosaurs hold this privileged position. Most fossils are stored in dark rooms and only surface when scientists are examining them, but millions are spent to exhibit dinosaurs in the full grandeur of their size. In fact, while there were plenty of tiny dinosaurs, only the biggest dominate museum spaces. The cover explains this project as the story of “how dinosaurs became a symbol of American power and prosperity and gripped the popular imagination during the Gilded Age, when their fossil remains were collected and displayed in museums financed by North America’s wealthiest business tycoons./ Although dinosaur fossils were first found in England, a series of dramatic discoveries during the late 1800s turned North America into a world center for vertebrate paleontology. At the same time, the United States emerged as the world’s largest industrial economy, and creatures like Tyrannosaurus, Brontosaurus, and Triceratops became emblems of American capitalism. Large, fierce, and spectacular, American dinosaurs dominated the popular imagination, making front-page headlines and appearing in feature films.” In other words, tycoons utilized these remains to advertise their own power and prestige; they spent millions on these displays not to make them available to the common public, but to advertise American businesses to the world press. This campaign worked, just as campaigns for American fast food spread cheeseburgers across the planet. The main difference is that this campaign has evolutionary science at its core, and is not directly selling the dinosaurs but rather using them as a secondary promotional tool for all American industry. So, it is more like the “Got Milk” campaign where the entire dairy industry is propagated for rather than any single milk producer or processor. It is important for us to understand what happened in this campaign now as similar manipulations frequently have more nefarious goals, but due to the relative purity of this campaign, more evidence remains to explain what took place in it. The book “follows dinosaur fossils from the field to the museum…” It is also curious to learn that the manner in which dinosaurs have since been displayed was inspired by circus acts: “Learning from the show-stopping techniques of P. T. Barnum…” It is also interesting to learn that dinosaurs have become more expensive and are restricted to the biggest museums because: “Behind the scenes, museums adopted corporate management practices to control the movement of dinosaur bones, restricting their circulation to influence their meaning and value in popular culture.” There might have been a small dinosaur or other extinct species bone exhibits in most small museums across the world, but this type of market control has limited small competitors from accessing the market. This is pretty anti-capitalistic or rather monopolistic, but Lukas Rieppel leans towards seeing the positive in such practices, as he portrays pro-monopoly propaganda as Americana-to-be-proud-of. Rieppel is an Assistant Professor of History at Brown University; his ability to win fellowships prior to this at Harvard and the American Academy are perhaps telling in this regard, as these schools tend to favor propagandists with a positive take on American history rather than those who propose alternative histories. Given these innate biases, it is brave of Rieppel to touch on the subject of dinosaur exhibits as propaganda because even if he puts a positive spin on this topic, he is still revealing the problems in the interplay between science, popular culture and monopolistic American power.

A few drawings and photographs of famous exhibits illustrate this book. There is also a “Cost of Preparation and Mounting” sheet included with costs that are much lower than modern equivalents (134). The low cost of dinosaurs in the Golden Age when they were popularized helps explain why capitalists were interested in profiting from exhibiting these for a fee. For example, “Reed eventually sold” one of the “most colossal” animals “on Earth” “to Othniel Charles Marsh for just fifty dollars” after discovering it in 1877, remaining employed to Marsh despite these low wages across the following decades until there was an expansion in the market in 1894. After this Marsh received “$1,000 per year” to field discoveries into Yale’s collection, and he was only too happy with this steady salary. Desperate to strike it rich, Marsh kept trying to sell his larger finds with publicity campaigns until one of these attracted Carnegie’s attention, birthing the affiliation between diggers like Marsh and tycoons (76-82). It is pretty common across human history for a single innovation to turn into an industry. It took a miniscule investment for Carnegie to employ Marsh, and the resulting success spurred inflation in the field, which was further aggravated by controls on supply that prevented similarly desperate diggers to easily sell their finds at low rates into the market.

This book is a great find for anybody who is interested in understanding American propaganda, public relations and advertising campaigns. Pop culture represents these types of campaigns as personal narratives, but these types of histories instead offer the details of the mechanics of how they came together and what worked to bloom a small marketing effort into an international sensation. Marketing and PR textbooks do not offer this type of details either because their authors do not dig this far into the archives to figure this stuff out, or because their authors frequently want readers to hire them to carry out the research and development services. Those who want to start their own PR agencies can gain much more by reading these types of histories and skipping the repetitive stuff included in texts on what PR agents are supposed to do. Every page includes some revelations that paint American government and business in new light. For example: “American paleontologists lobbied for legal restrictions to prohibit the sale of vertebrate fossils collected on federally owned land” seemingly to avoid fossils being “lost” to “private collections”, but really to hike up prices and profits (244). Recent cases such as NRA lobbying can be clarified to curious readers by reading about how influence has worked in the past. It is still the same system; the players just shift around or pass these practices to the next generation.

Propaganda Equating Modern Capitalist Gambling with the Romance of Whaling

Tom Nicholas. VC: An American History. $35. 382pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-98800-2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019.


One glitch with this otherwise polished book is that the title is a bit cryptic; I focused on the subtitle “American History”, assuming the VC was an abbreviation of these words even though they did not match; it is possible other potential readers will also be misled. VC is written in beautiful gold letters, but perhaps having one letter on top of the other or the abbreviation without the typical context kept me from spotting the association between it and the term “venture capital”. Either way, the summary clears any such confusions, describing the book as an “exploration of venture financing, from its origins in the whaling industry to Silicon Valley, that shows how venture capital created an epicenter for the development of high-tech innovation.” Once again this is a bit propagandistic for my taste, as it promotes the role of venture capitalism rather than the “innovation” bit of this equation. Too many of the businesses that are awarded capital in Silicon Valley are operated by young mostly incompetent men who are abusive towards female employees and tend to channel money towards their mansions instead of filtering it down to scientists or technology innovators who they hire to turn their capitalist fantasies into reality. The failure of this capital to filter down to the innovators tends to block true progress in industry, and bankrupts too many of these startups, losing investors money. I would have preferred reading a book about these types of problems rather than one that presents this field as an epicenter of perfection. The description goes on to explain the gambling-addict essence of VC, as “outsized returns” are allowed to the few who win “payoffs—a faith in low-probability but substantial financial rewards that rarely materialize.” This gambling is presented as a sign of America’s “spirit of adventure” hard to replicate elsewhere. This same drive towards giant reward-expectations has also stiffened small businesses in the US, and has meant a skewing towards an oligopoly with a few powerful companies running industry, a problem especially prevalent in tech; “unicorns” that gather over a billion in investments before going public make it extremely difficult for the smartest conservative innovators who avoid such gluttony from competing against this monetary volume. America experienced some of its largest periods of expansion when it operated conservatively and when businesses felt responsible for where the money they were spending was going; for example, banks used to be run by those who were their primary investors, or those with small salaries and a serious work-ethic, but these workaholics were sidelined by monopolistic practices that pushed these institutions towards corruption and schemes instead of hard work and true innovation. There is nothing innovative about Facebook or Twitter, or most of the other bubbling tech giants funded by Silicone Valley; they replicate any innovation they see by stealing ideas and attempting to turn them into capital. This book is advertised as a “roller coast of setbacks and success”, but this sends the wrong signals in my direction; I have written about roller coaster popular fiction formulaic plotlines that juxtapose the death threat against the sex drive to keep readers’ attention. I guess it would be interesting to read a scholarly book with extreme sex, violence and corruption in it, but given the propaganda in the rest of the summary, it seems they are selling a positive spin on these dramatic investment opportunities. The author, Tom Nicholas, teaches business at Harvard; I was just listening to some videos about the ties between schools like Harvard and Yale and industry-sponsored research, so this connection only makes me suspect that Nicholas’ perspective might also be skewed by the billions linked to the topic he is exploring.    

One of the things that avoids the obvious pitfalls of bias on this subject is that most of the book is about the distant past rather than about the present, as the “Big Bubble” is covered in the last chapter before the “Epilogue” that considers the present briefly. Thus, the discussion regarding regulation is framed in historic rather than currently developing contexts. On the other hand, there are too many overblownly positive statements throughout; for example the “Introduction” begins thus: “Venture Capital (VC) is largely an American invention” (1). This statement is not followed by any proof for this claim. Funding businesses has been taking place for thousands of years, before America was “discovered”, and in fact this “discovery” was a type of venture capital funded journey sponsored by businesses searching for funds such as the East India Company. Seeing American fundraising as a grand enterprise puts undue emphasis on the part of business that should have a minor significance; carrying out the business and paying off gathered funds is where profits and business grows comes in; the need to raise funds from others should be a chore nobody wants to popularize, and yet it is presented as a required step for business success. Nicholas proposes that VC in America began with the “founding of the Boston-based American Research and development Corporation (ARD) in 1946” because it was “among the first investment firms to attempt to systematize long-tail investing in startups in a way that is analogous to the modern venture capital industry” (1). After making this strange claim, Nicholas contradicts it by arguing that he has discovered that VC reaches further back to whaling fundraising… and that’s why he starts the history with the structure of these capital raising efforts. Whaling represents a narrow type of fishing; the funding used for whaling was developed in the fishing and other trading ventures from the previous centuries. Nicholas presents a diagram to explain the similarities in the structure of whaling and modern venture capital: he utilizes the same quantity of boxes in both trees, with a capital provider or “Limited Partners” in one and “Wealthy Individuals” in the other; the money is shown to flow to a firm or a whaling agent, before going to voyages or entrepreneurs, and then trickling down to the captain or boss, and their employees (22). The same funding model has been around since capitalism was born: aristocrats gave money to the merchant class, who paid workers to execute the industrial or other types of ventures in the hope of gaining a profit. Equating modern run-away capitalism with whaling appears to be a propagandistic attempt to sell it as a romantic pastime, despite the current environmental bans on whaling.

While there seems to be a lot of information in these pages, spotting all of these glitches makes me hesitant to proceed as I don’t trust the author to give a detached history on this subject.

Making Fun of Daoism with Unrelated Cartoons

Zhuangzi; C. C. Tsai, illustrator. The Way of Nature. $22.95. 256pp. ISBN: 978-0-691179742. Princeton: Princeton University Press, July 2, 2019.


Skimming through this book immediately sells it as a fun read. One image that stands out is a drawing of a few white seagulls and a few black crows lined up in formation against each other: “White is beautiful!” “Black is beautiful!” “Gimme a break!” The latter is uttered by a grumpy, short black crow smoking what appears to be a cigarette (99). While this is a touchy subject, the birds are drawn in a manner that is both humorous and artistic, making the debate absurd and lighthearted. English and Chinese text versions make this book a good text for those learning either of these languages while familiar with the other, as the content is amusing and precise; learners of foreign languages also benefit from seeing images that depict texts, so this should also assist with language-acquisition. There are a lot of silly animals throughout. At one point, an anti-meat-eating perspective is presented as “Sacrificial Pigs” are presented in cooked form and also fearing death as they attempt to convince the “Minister of Sacrificial Ceremonies” to spare them (144). The drawings are polished and neatly executed, while also not being too polished or formulaic; they are original and unique, but are not sloppy because of this freedom. This should be a fun book for kids to read if they are interested in Asian culture, or enjoy artistically illustrated books with complex stories.

The cover advertises the artist, C. C. Tsai, as “one of Asia’s most popular cartoonists, and his editions of the Chinese classics have sold more than 40 million copies in over twenty languages. This volume presents Tsai’s delightful graphic adaptation of the profound and humorous Daoist writings of Zhuangzi…” Given the illustrations on racism and veganism that I noted earlier, it is difficult for me to gather what they have to do with Daoism and specifically with Zhuangzi, but perhaps the Chinese text presents the original writings of this classic author, while the English text is a series of cartoonish modern jokes… “Zhuangzi shows why returning to the spontaneity of nature is the only sane response to a world of conflict.” I guess the animals in the book are natural, but I doubt there are any crying pigs or intimidating racist birds in Daoist teachings… As I assumed, “Zhuangzi’s original Chinese text is artfully presented in narrow sidebars on each page, enriching the book for readers and students of Chinese without distracting from the self-contained English-language cartoons.” This means that those who want to learn Chinese or English cannot really check between this text and the cartoons, as each of these state entirely different things, which might have only vague inspirational connections. So, no, language students cannot use this as a textbook, as I had assumed. It is likely that other potential readers will make the same mistake I did in this regard, so I’m leaving my train of thought on this. This type of poking fun at Chinese classics is a common practice for C. C. Tsai, who has released similar comedic-release barely related-to-the-originals cartoons on Confucius, Sunzi, and Laozi.

To summarize, the pictures are well executed and amusing. The text next to these cartoons in English is humorous, and might be entertaining for K-6 readers in English. However, English-language readers who do not think too deeply into what this project represents might walk away with the impression they have read Zhuangzi in these cartoons, whereas they really have not read anything like Zhuangzi unless they can read Chinese and can read the text in the side panels. Meanwhile, kids who can read in Chinese, but not in English are seeing the complex philosophy of Zhuangzi, and some kind of silly pictures with text over them they can’t read, which appear to be making fun of Chinese cultural heritage. This structure makes me ponder if this is part of China’s continuing Cultural Revolution, wherein past religions (Buddhism) and historic scholars are downplayed, while current communist leaders are raised in value. Or perhaps the problem is a failure to communicate between the individuals who worked on distinct parts of this book. Or perhaps nobody has pointed out that this is cultural appropriation that might attempt to pass itself as a Cliff Notes on philosophy, misleading readers into a sense of having gathered a philosopher’s meaning in an easy-to-digest manner, whereas they are really reading modern pop cartoon philosophy. It’s a bit distressing to think about this, but it’s still a pretty good art book…

I Know What I’m Doing When I Lecture You on How You Are Clueless

Agustin Lebron. The Laws of Trading: A Trader’s Guide to Better Decision-Making for Everyone. $29.95. 282pp. ISBN: 978-1-119-57421-7. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2019.


The cover does a good job summarizing why I am hesitant to commence reading this book: “Trading books generally break down into two categories: the ones which claim to teach you how to make money trading, and the memoir-style books recounting scandals and bad behavior. But the former don’t have profitable trades to teach; if they did they’d keep those trades to themselves. And the latter are frequently entertaining, but they don’t leave you with much you can apply in your own life.” The author promises to improve on these shortfalls. However, then he jumps into generalizations: “All of our relationships and decisions involve trading at some level.” Is he saying that this book will be about random relationships: using them to explain trading metaphorically or by association? “For years, behavioral and cognitive scientists have shown us how human decision-making is flawed and biased.” He proposes to train readers like Pavlov’s dogs to react without bias in the prescribed matter in “real-time”. He proposes to offer a single “law per chapter” because he assumes readers would otherwise struggle to “remember” the “concepts” offered. Basically, this author is so aware of the major problems with books about trading that he points these out and then proceeds to write a book that falls into every one of these follies. He has so little regard for his readers, he proposes to show them how to “think about” themselves… Themselves? Us readers can’t even think about ourselves in the correct fashion? Even more amazing is that he proposes to teach people how to “interact” with AI… Interact with AI? It’s a computer program: we are not supposed to interact with it, we are supposed to crunch numbers, data or the like into it and then read the output; we don’t need to say “hello” in the correct manner to an AI program. In conclusion, Agustin Lebron asks: “Do you need to make rational decisions in a competitive environment? Almost everyone does.” Yes, everybody does need to have some rational thoughts; Lebron is aware that such general questions help to sell almost anything: convincing readers they are shortsighted, confused and are not up to the task, makes them feel vulnerable and more likely to buy a book like this one. Usually, writers are just not this obviously spelling out what they are doing on the cover as if foretelling criticisms, but insisting on breaking rules of properly helpful professional writing. Lebron’s biases are obvious from his bio: he’s a mainstream trader with a mega-firm; he makes money from developing “successful trading strategies”, and runs a research firm that is “helping clients integrate modern decision-making approaches in their business.” What can this mean? He helps clients see that they cannot make decisions for themselves to prove that they need to pay him to make these for them.

This book is printed on very thick and sparkly paper typically utilized in color photo books. There are no color images inside, but there are some required black and white graphs and diagrams. The “laws” the chapters are broken down into include: motivation, risk, possibility and adaptation: all extremely general and meaningless. The subtitles for these chapters are just ridiculous: “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” and “Know why you are doing a trade before you trade”. These types of empty platitudes don’t even sound deep if told in a bar while on the tenth beer. When facing pure nonsense like this, I like to turn to a few random pages to check if there is any point in looking further. Thus stumbling around, I find a section on “Reputational and legal risk” that states the obvious: “Trading in financial markets inescapably involves establishing and maintaining good relationships with other entities. Traders need brokers, exchanges, and (for better or worse) regulators. The extent to which your relations have confidence in your ethical standards and your trustworthiness defines your range of free action” (52). Saying a human needs to have “good relations” with a bunch of different types of people is the same as saying: be good. Why would a professional textbook need to contribute this moral lesson? And the rest of this bit of “wisdom” is contradicting this basic lesson. If we should be good, why might “regulators” be “worse”; regulators are the entities that keep people honest, or doing good in terms of their relationships. And why is this strange parenthesis followed by the insistence that readers follow “ethical standards”; by repeating this point, it seems to suggest the opposite. Anybody who attempts to read this book will emerge either deeply confused and ready to hire he author to perform their research for them, or will put it down and move on with their life.

A Nineteenth-Century, Indian Prostitution and Corruption Scandal Under the Microscope of Scholarship

Benjamin B. Cohen. An Appeal to the Ladies of Hyderbad: Scandal in the Raj. $28.95. 368pp. ISBN: 978-0-674987654. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, July 8, 2019.


The cover does a great job explaining why the case described in this book is of interest: “In April 1892, a damning pamphlet circulated in the south Indian city of Hyderabad, the capital of the largest and wealthiest princely state in the British Raj. An anonymous writer charged Mehdi Hasan, an aspiring Muslim lawyer from the north,” who rose to serve as the Chief Justice of Hyderabad’s high court and the Home Secretary position, “and Ellen Donnelly, his Indian-born British wife, with gross sexual misconduct and deception… Who wrote this pamphlet, and was it true?/ Mehdi and Ellen had risen rapidly among Hyderabad’s elites. On a trip to London they even met Queen Victoria. Not long after, a scurrilous pamphlet addressed to ‘the ladies of Hyderabad’ charged the couple with propagating a sham marriage for personal gain. Ellen, it was claimed, had been a prostitute, and Mehdi was accused of making his wife available to men who could advance his career. To avenge his wife and clear his name, Mehdi filed suit against the pamphlet’s printer, prompting a trial that would alter their lives.” This study is based “on private letters, courtroom transcripts, secret government reports, and scathing newspaper accounts”. The author, Benjamin B. Cohen, is Professor of History at the University of Utah.

This project was of particular interest to my current research because it touches on an anonymous pamphlet that sparked this debate: my current research is on attributing anonymous texts to authors based on the linguistic authorial signature all writing betrays. I am also interested in how anonymous texts have played roles in shifting history without betraying the biases of the author. Additionally, prosecution based on rumors rather than factual discoveries also promises to address a continuing problem in the law: wherein subversive, radical, activist and otherwise “undesirable” characters are smeared by baseless accusations. On the other hand, if the allegations were true, this is a curious case that betrays corruption that involves prostitution, and these types of scandals are at the heart of the #MeToo movement.

The book’s front and back matter help to introduce readers who are less familiar with Indian history to its leaders, and various “Significant Figures” discussed throughout. A brief “Glossary” offers translations of some of the Indian language words used throughout into English, including the words for pimp and manservant.

Since it is difficult to judge the perspective of this book without reading the conclusion of the mystery, I commenced reading in the final chapter. The question of the pamphlet’s authorship is answered as it belonging to “a multi-authored” effort, including confessions on the couple from their friends, Server Jung and Syed Ali Bilgrami, and jealous local political leaders and socialites, such as Vasudeva Rao, might have also contributed (279). I have recently concluded that group-collaboration played a significant role in hiding the authorship of major controversial and canonical eighteenth-century texts, so this seems like a probable conclusion. The ending oddly questions if Mehdi and Ellen were even ever officially married: without finding an answer: if they were not married and he was pimping her out… this would hardly make them a very sympathetic example. It is strange that Cohen’s research failed to establish this basic fact that should have been documented. The preceding paragraph to the one opening with a question about the existence of the marriage begins thus: “When Mehdi courted and married Ellen…” They are referred to as a married couple across the book and in the book’s summary, so if the marriage’s existence is doubtful all of these references throughout are misleading (278). Cohen really should have ironed this out: saying the marriage has not been established is fine, but saying that it is a fact when it is doubtful is a scholarly error. Cohen also leaves unanswered the question of if Ellen and her sister Lucy worked as prostitutes prior to Ellen’s move to India, inferring that Ellen might have been “kept by several men who formed a ‘joint stock company’ to help satisfy their carnal needs” (277-8). While this is a conclusion, some evidence for these reflections are needed: if Ellen owned or belonged to this proposed company, there should be ledgers and other documents to prove this, so if these exist and they show that Ellen served a suggestive role in this company, then this is a very likely possibility: so why is this also left as a question. Then again, if Cohen really failed to find conclusive evidence, but saw clues of mischief, he was right to leave this ending vague. The book’s center is full of precise quotes and details on everything known about the case, including bits such as who, if anybody, covered Ellen’s debts upon her death. Cohen utilizes evidence from correspondences to show the complexities of interrelationships between Ellen and the players likely to be involved in authoring the sparking pamphlet (270). Correspondences make up the primary sources delivering proof throughout. The trial resulted in the accusations levied against the couple being shown to lack substantiating evidence (236-7).

In summary, this is a great attempt to uncover evidence for a very cold historical criminal case, which has many lessons to teach modern readers. Cohen appears to present a balanced case that reflects the direction the evidence takes rather than what he believes regarding prostitution, high society or corruption. This book might be a fun summer read for those interested in scandal, but in need of more proof to believe or disbelieve gossip. It is also a great text for those researching international historical scandals of the nineteenth century.

A History of a Place Where Even Its Name Is a Political Controversy

Marie-Janine Calic. The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe. $39.95. 736pp, images. ISBN: 978-0-674-98392-2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, June 10, 2019.


My library can definitely benefit from a history of “southeastern Europe from antiquity to the present”, as can probably all academic and public libraries internationally. Eastern Europe is a less familiar region, and so those in the public sphere who discuss international events can probably all use a handy, relatively short history of the region if a new war, or another conflict sparks in this traditionally volatile region. I visited several countries around the Balkans while living in Russian and later in longer hops from the US, but not the Balkans themselves: I spent time in summer camps in Ukraine, a few summers in Estonia, and a vacation in Italy. The weather in the Balkans is such that it should be the Florida of the region, and yet instead this region is more akin to the Middle East in the level of unrest, poverty and warfare that afflicts it. The cover continues where my thoughts trail off: “We often think of the Balkans as a region beset by turmoil and backwardness, but from late antiquity to the present it has been a dynamic meeting place of cultures and religions… The nascent merchant capitalism of the Mediterranean world helped the Balkan knights fight the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. The deep pull of nationalism led a young Serbian bookworm to spark the conflagration of World War I. The late twentieth century saw political Islam spread like wildfire in a region where Christians and Muslims had long lived side by side. Along with vivid snapshots of revealing moments in time, including Krujë in 1450 and Sarajevo in 1984, Calic introduces fascinating figures rarely found in standard European histories. We meet the Greek merchant and poet Rhigas Velestinlis, whose revolutionary pamphlet called for a general uprising against Ottoman tyranny in 1797. And the Croatian bishop Ivan Dominik Stratiko, who argued passionately for equality of the sexes and whose success with women astonished even his friend Casanova.” This summary definitely sells this history as dense with revealing and insightful events and descriptions of interest to most general and area-specific scholars. The author, Marie-Janine Calic, “is Professor of Eastern and Southeastern European History at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich… She also worked for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague…” Those who study war-torn regions should definitely contribute to governmental intervention in such conflicts as well as in media interviews on them, so in this sense Calic is performing the multifaceted requirements of a modern scholar. I don’t know if serving on the Tribunal and her other government posts influence her perspective on this history, but it is better if she is biased than if she did not know about this region’s story from a personal perspective.

The map of Southeastern Europe at the start of the book does include Italy, Estonia, Ukraine and Russia, but the black border lines of the region seem to stop at the borders with Italy and Russia, rather than including them. It is strange that Greece and Italy are on the same continent and do not have a major sea or ocean between them and these countries, but they are excluded from membership in this region’s geographic designation. The borders of “Southeastern Europe” is actually a hotly debated question, as parts of Italy, Greece, Ukraine and Turkey have been attributed as belonging to the region in discussions of economic and political assistance. The Balkans are easier to define geographically, as this region is isolated by the boundaries of the Balkan Peninsula. Inclusion in NATO and other European governing bodies can be limited for those in the southeast of Europe, or the relatively poorer regions, so the reasons to claim membership or not belonging to this regional title are multiple.

Calic acknowledges these shaky grounds in her “Introduction”. I recently reviewed another Ivy League book that questioned the West’s claims that it has been the well of intellectual progress for the world, pointing out that the East has perhaps had more inventions, while the West has led the way in falsely claiming ownership of these ideas. Here as well, Calic points out this west-centric perspective: “Because the West generally serves as the model and standard in a worldwide process of modernization, other countries and regions can suffer in comparison—through the apparent absence for a Renaissance or Enlightenment, for example, or simply in socioeconomic backwardness.” She also acknowledges that from an “imperial” perspective, this region has been dominated by “imperial centers” such as “Venice, Istanbul, or Vienna”. Calic proposes to avoid referring to specific nations or empires, and instead to present a “translocal, transregional, and translational” perspective (1-2). It is difficult to grasp how any study can avoid referring to cities, countries and boundaries in this region in particular and in a history, but if it is possible to transcend such distinctions, it would be a curious history indeed. Of course, such avoidance is impossible, as Calic demonstrates when she commences the first chapter on the region before 1500 with a discussion of Alexander the Great and his empire (9). Sections are also divided by years and locations, such as “Istanbul, 1683”: these headings are obviously necessary when covering a giant timespan and geographic region, as otherwise readers would be lost (122). Other sections focus on the relationships between world events such as “The American and French Revolutions” on the region (198). There are also discussions on the relationships between members of different religious sects, as this region is next door to the Middle East. For example, “Thessaloniki… was home to the Talmud Torah school, which shaped Jewish pubic and intellectual life for four hundred years” (220). The economy is also covered, with sections on agriculture, or how herders, breeders, farmers and others made a living and practiced their crafts (275). A few black and white images throughout help to illustrate the history and life in these unique places. A chronology in the back helps to summarize the main events that shaped the geography. A “Glossary” of regional words used across the book should help those who are interested in linguistic distinctions. Later chapters explain modern art, architecture and political developments in terms of how these were shaped by the empires and cultures dominant in the region across the previous centuries (446).

This book is designed as a broad introduction to the region. It appears to be aimed at those who plan on traveling to this region for work or those who are tasked with serving in one of these governments, or working with foreign aid organizations serving the region. These and various other parties who are making decisions regarding not only aid, but also investment or tourism across this giant region should read a history like this one to understand the interrelationships between Italy, Russia, and the countries dominant in this area, who have had their borders shift radically over the centuries. Too often people making decisions on international politics have biased or stereotypical beliefs about less publicized regions like this one, so even reading a short Wikipedia summary might help them, but those who want to move beyond the surface needs histories like this to offer intelligent input on what exactly makes this region distinct from western Europe or from the Middle East.   

The First Guide to Europe’s Sea Mammals

Robert Still, Hugh Harrop, Tim Stenton and Luis Dias. Europe’s Sea Mammals: Including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde: A Field Guide to the Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises and Seals. $24.95. 208pp, 5.8X8.25”, 180 color photographs, maps and graphics. ISBN: 978-0-691182162. Princeton: Princeton University Press, June 25, 2019.


Looking over photographs and illustrations of sea mammals is one of the most calming activities imaginable. Swimming in the actual ocean involves risking exposure to toxic waste, poisonous stinging fish and riptides, but reading about life in the ocean delivers the sensation of calmness and a recollection of sea swims without these downsides. Additionally, many popular documentaries and media discussions touch on the dangers sea mammals face due to pollution, overfishing and the like, but they tend to brush over the biology of these creatures, lumping them together into categories such as sharks or dolphins. Since I like to be a bit more informed when I discuss any topic, it is great to have access in my library of this colorful book that catalogs and describes the varieties of sea mammals.   

This is a “photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals”. Surprisingly this is “the only such guide of its kind” for this particular geographic region. I guess sea mammal tourism is more popular in places such as Alaska, Florida or the Caribbean, and it is less associated in the public’s perception with Europe, but since these sea mammals cross oceans in their migrations, they can be spotted in numerous other waters; though I guess if they are advertised as belonging to Europe, these particular sea mammals are probably more stably located in that region. It “covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas.” It was created “by a team of professional tour guides”. It is surprising that guides were in charge of this project as the subjects covered seem more fit for scientists. It “highlights key identification features and includes information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species.” Rather than a scientific description or a tourist’s guide, this book is skewed towards the conservation perspective, as it was produced “with the marine conservation charity ORCA, the book presents mapping data from a decade of surveys, which shows both current distribution and changes over time.” The mixture between tourism (the creator’s primary employment) or whale watching (the proposed audience) and a descriptive nature study guide is a bit confusing. I guess it makes sense. The options are frequently presented as either preserving nature or destroying it, but if profit can be made either from tourism or from consuming the parts of these mammals or profiting from mining for oil in the sea that might destroy them, then I guess there are two conflicting profit motives in this version of the debate. There really has to be somebody paid to defend lifeforms that cannot defend themselves from all-engulfing capitalistic greed.

Because visitors of a tour would typically see only the parts of some of these animals (especially whales) that emerges above the water, this is what many of the photographs show, and these are assisted with illustrations of what a given species roll or glide over the surface of the water looks like, so viewers can recognize which species they are seeing from their boat. In contrast the grey seal is shown as they would typically be seen or in groups with other seals. Another photo shows the distinction between a female and a male seal. Naturally many of the photos are just adorable to the sight, as one image of an “Arctic Ringed Seal pup”, which is just a white hairy furball, with dark sad-looking eyes (116). There is more information in these pages than adorableness, as for example, the section on the blue whale lists its habitat, longevity, feeding habits, behavior, breeding and other details in a page of tiny-font, specific description. The female blue whales are said to give birth to “a single calf, after a 10-12 month gestation period, every 2-3 years” (130). There are also lengthy sections on conservation, or how species are protected, by which agencies, in which parts of the year, and how such restrictions have been violated: “In Russian waters it is included in the Russian Federation Red Book of Threatened Species and in Japan deliberate killing and commercial utilization have been illegal since 2008” (134).

This book is perfectly designed for those going on whale or other sea mammal spotting tours around Europe. Even if there is no guide on your ship, checking this book should answer questions regarding the species you are seeing in or around the water. It should also be informative for veterinarians and other professionals planning on handling sea mammals, as understanding the distinctions between species is some common knowledge they would need.

Simplistic Good vs Bad Biases About the Poor and How They Should Get a Job

David G. Blanchflower. Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone? $29.95: hardcover. 424pp, 6X9”, 32 b/w illustrations, 19 tables. ISBN: 978-0-91181240. Princeton: Princeton University Press, June 18, 2019.


I somewhat disagree with the premise of this book. According to my research, the problem with the unemployment rate is that those who have failed to find a job for a few years and do not qualify for unemployment no longer count as unemployed, but rather as not employed, and thus over half of the country can be not employed, but the unemployment rate might be near-zero; this was the case just before the Great Depression, when it seems the country was close to full employment, but then the unemployment rate dropped rapidly in a few years as those who were not employed before shifted into the unemployment ranking as they finally made new attempts to find work, or found work, but were let go from short-term jobs soon afterwards. Instead of acknowledging this, Blanchflower’s book and most other mainstream accounts choose to see a problem in underemployment rather than the general mis-calculation of the rate. This book as advertised as being “about those who can’t find full-time work at a decent wage—the underemployed—and how their plight is contributing to widespread despair, a worsening drug epidemic, and the unchecked rise of right-wing populism…/ Blanchflower draws on his acclaimed work in the economics of labor and well-being to explain why today’s postrecession economy is vastly different from what came before… Blanchflower shows how many workers are underemployed or have simply given up trying to find a well-paying job, how wage growth has not returned to prerecession levels despite rosy employment indicators, and how general prosperity has not returned since the crash of 2008.” Another strange element here is that the author proposes that he utilizes the original “economic measure” or “‘economics of walking about’”, or simply “seeing… how ordinary people are faring under the recovery, and taking seriously what they say and do.” While researchers should definitely look at “ordinary people”, the results of such subjective viewings cannot be fairly represented in a scholarly study. Just because an individual observed is experiencing a set of problems does not mean these are shared by all other non-workers. And presenting such subjective observations as original is misleading; the author really should be acknowledging that much of the book is based on opinion rather than documented fact. It seems that Blanchflower is instead intentionally hiding his biases and double-speak misdirection, instead stressing in the summary that this is a “candid report”. Scholars are obligated to report the truth in scholarship, as objectivity is one of the pillars of proper scholarly study; so why would any scholar need to stress they are going to be “candid”. And why is he shifting blame onto “the young and the less skilled” as “the worst casualties of underemployment,” and away from “immigrants”? Saying that underemployment is a white-trash problem is as discriminatory as saying it’s the immigrants’ fault. The problem America is having is with runaway, unregulated monopolistic capitalism that is not responsible for the un or non-employment it leaves when it monopolizes industries, but such rhetoric has once again become un-American, as it was in the McCarthy era: whenever America’s government is so corrupt social debate is barred, most Americans return to Depressions and Recessions, while the richest .01% make billions. Instead of stressing the need for de-monopolization and regulation of unbridled industry, Blanchflower sets out to fix “the epidemic of unhappiness and self-destruction”: in other words, if somebody is poor, it is his or her fault, and they should cheer up about it. Naturally, Blanchflower is a privileged Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. If the poor were writing books like this one and working for the National Bureau of Economic Research, American policies might actually change in their favor, but…

The first chapter is called, “What the Whole World Wants Is a Good Job”. This title is discriminatory, biased and makes assumptions not based in fact. Most people can make more money and be happier if they become self-employed instead of being hired to do any job for anybody else. Working for a wage is a short step away from slavery, serfdom, and other gradations of exploitation; the proximity increases as wages decrease and as jobs grow less and less “good”. Nearly all American employers push workers towards extreme productivity levels and tend to avoid paying for overtime or for the added stress while increasing job insecurity to push workers to work even harder or risk the loss of these jobs. This stress culture means that Americans are miserable even in the best jobs in the market. There are plenty of places in the world with alternative work relationships, including communes or other alternative economic patterns. This title also pre-supposes that somebody is saying that the poor do not want work and instead want to be living on social benefits, and these people are supposedly proven wrong by this blatant statement. What if those who find out slavery-like employment system to be harassing are much happier on social benefits instead of being tortured at work; if they do not want the job, the jobs or employers have to change the system to make it more inviting for all people. Plenty of places in the world really have systems where people want and receive good jobs, but this does not exist in America, where Blanchflower looked. In America, there is no leave for pregnancy, no dental insurance, and older men and middle-aged women can be fired for no particular reason. Everybody might want a “good job”, but if none exist: why start a scholarly book with this fantasy?

The interior of the book considers associated problems such as the stagnated wage growth (50), but also proposes that policy makers have already spotted “underemployment” and addressed it (119). Given the problems I’ve noted with the author’s approach to this topic, it is ironic that he includes a section called, “Economic Forecasting Is Broken”: if it is, he is contributing to breaking it. The last paragraph in this section begins with a quote from the Bank of England’s economist that economists in general had “missed the financial crisis”; then he brings in a seemingly similar sentiment from one of his own rivals, David Miles, “who replaced me on the MPC”, who stressed that the Great Recession and its equivalents are “virtually impossible to predict”. The section ends with this childish, unsupported exclamation from Blanchflower: “I don’t think so.” The rest of the section might have touched on measures that predict downturns, but surely the other economists’ statements regarding the unpredictability of such events were taken out of context; the reference to Miles in particular seems to be carried out to spite a rival rather than for any scholarly logical reason. The next section is called, “The State of the Macro Is Bad”. He generally tends to divide things into “good” and “bad” dualities: extremely simplistic for any Ivy League economist dealing with complex numbers and formulas. If macroeconomics in general are “bad” we would be seeing a constant downturn in stock prices, employment and all other measures: so this cannot be true regarding the current “state” of the macro, making this claim nonsensical (165-8). Blanchflower might have had great researchers helping him gather data to insert into this study, but whoever polished or pulled all this information together and crafted the “good” vs. “bad” narrative is a horrid writer. Given these problems, I do not recommend other readers venture into this book, and I hope its editors will dig around, shovel garbage aside, and clean it up prior to re-releasing it for public consumption.  

An Intricate Economic Analysis of a Seemingly Simple Poverty Calculation

Anthony B. Atkinson. Measuring Poverty Around the World. $29.95: hardcover. 408pp, 6X9”, 80 b/w illustrations, 8 tables. ISBN: 978-0-691191225. Princeton: Princeton University Press, June 18, 2019.


This book promises to address the question: “What is poverty and how much of it is there around the globe?… Better measurement of poverty is essential for raising awareness, motivating action, designing good policy, gauging progress, and holding political leaders accountable for meeting targets.” Yes, indeed, and I would argue poverty is improperly measured right here in the US; a great example of this is the unemployment vs under-employment and non-employment measures that skew horrid non-participation in the economy statistics to make them seem positive. Powerful countries such as the US tend to control the definitions of poverty and other relative-power-determining indicators for the world, thus skewing their own image in the positive propaganda direction. Thus, it is indeed curious how Atkinson “integrates international organizations’ measurements of poverty with countries’ own national analyses.” The editors stress that “Atkinson died before he was able to complete the book, but at his request it was edited for publication by two of his colleagues, John Micklewright and Andrea Brandolini.” Despite these contributions, some chapters still remain “unfinished”. Which parts were completed by these colleagues is not specified. They might have written most or nearly none of the text. Atkinson was a fellow at Oxford, and published several books on inequality.

The front cover is a bit strange given the subject of the book: it is a photograph of four oranges against a Chinese newspaper. It is unclear what this is supposed to indicate. Oranges are pretty nutritious and I don’t think they indicate impoverishment or inequality, but rather that those in any economic class can eat nutritious food given its relatively low cost. The Chinese newspaper features what looks like a marathon, so this also suggests good health for all classes through fitness. One inside flap shows slightly rotting potatoes over a few newspapers in another foreign language, so this is more indicative of a poor family eating aging potatoes over a table covered in newspapers. And the other flap has a European language newspaper with crab claws layered over it: while it’s a bad picture, crabs are typically associated with upper class eating today, so this is also confusing. The “jacket image” summary explains: “From ‘The Poverty Line,’ a typology of photographs examining the daily food choices made by people across the world living at the poverty line”. Since these grabbed my attention, these images did a good job of making a viewer ponder about poverty prior to commencing the read.

Around half of the book is divided geographically into chapters on Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Other chapters are divided conceptually into reviews on concepts, data, and development. The table of contents is pretty helpful as it details the sub-headings of the sections and not only the chapter names. The subject of poverty is dissected into its theoretical components and variants in a logical manner throughout. Sections review the various approaches to measuring and understanding impoverishment given the global breadth of this subject. Inside the book is highly fact-based, offering processed data, formulas, explanations for the measures and other analytical details. Most of these explanations should be new to most readers, as they offer unique perspectives on what most perceive as a straightforward numeric problem. For example, they write: “Two major reasons for differences between household survey consumption (income) and the national accounts aggregates are that (1) the two sources record different amounts for the same variables, and (2) the two sources differ in their definitions” (140). This is an insightful observation that is then explained with examples and theory. The missing sections that result from the author’s premature death are left as blatant gaps: for example in the Section on National Reports, there are sub-section headings for the various parts of Africa, but the research on these has not been entered into these sections, so they are just the headings without corresponding content (180). The “Conclusions” are also missing from Chapter 6 (176). And various other parts are left incomplete. The parts that are completed are dense with facts and have few digressions, indicating a lack of over-writing, or brisk writing that aims to carry the central messages across in a limited time. A dual “Afterword” in the end is labeled as being by two other writers, Nicholas Stern and Francois Bourguignon, who each covered one of the chapters. These are about poverty reduction and climate change, so they were probably intended to be chapters rather than an afterword in Atkinson’s original plan. Overall, Atkinson’s portions of the book are less biased than many other books on this subject, as instead of leaning towards a left or a right wing agenda the author’s aim is to accurately report on the problem; for example, he ends one section by summarizing that the data indicates that “people… are ‘missing’ from the poverty count”, including “refugees, the homeless, and those living in war zones”, adding that they “have a particular claim on our compassion” (131).

While the missing sections leave gaps in this research, there is so much information and dense research in the rest of the book, these gaps do not detract from the whole. This is one of the better economic inequality and poverty studies I have seen. There is much here that economists might ponder over in the coming decades.

Outstandingly Annotated Collection of Contemporary Biographies of Galileo

Stefano Gattei, editor, translator. On the Life of Galileo: Vivian’s Historical Account and Other Early Biographies. $49.95. 440pp, 7X10”, 40 b/w illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-691174891. Princeton: Princeton University Press, July 23, 2019.


This book addresses a topic that I just covered in an essay: I pointed out the problem of biographers repeating the earliest biographies on a historic figure without checking the accuracy of the original, and frequently adding new myths or fantasies regarding what a given individual must have done, which are repeated by later biographers as if they are established facts. These problems add up until authors such as Daniel Defoe have over 550 erroneous attributions to books they could not have possibly read, and a story of the events of their lives is built that is likely to only have a few sentences in common with the initial individual’s experiences. The final thick biography is thus a fiction that has been repeated so many times, its author might not be aware who invented these fictitious elements. Lives were barely documented in the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries; even a hundred years ago, few people celebrated birthdays or even knew exactly when they were born. It is especially easy with the quantity we all share on social media today to imagine that these ancient lives can be recreated with enough research, but there might only be a couple of documents and a handful of letters remaining with genuine attributing qualities for either Defoe or Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). Inserting “maybe’s” or other indicators of uncertainty would make biographies of these characters truer, but it might be difficult for average readers to read a text layered with constant uncertainty-interruptions. I mentioned Galileo in this research because he self-published the book about our solar system that knocked Earth from the central position in the system, inviting future scholars to re-analyze the night sky, birthing the ideas that have since developed about astronomy. Galileo was prosecuted by the Inquisition in response to this scandalous self-publication. Defoe was also imprisoned for sedition (a similar charge to heresy in Galileo’s time): both of these men’s crimes were objecting to the errors of their time and demanding modernization via a scientific or truthful interpretation of the universe or our societies. In this context, I am very curious to learn how biased Galileo’s first biographers were, as this would indicate if the biography of Galileo popularized today holds truths or echoes these early biases.

The cover advertises this project as: “The first collection and translation into English of the earliest biographical accounts of Galileo’s life.” It presents a “firsthand picture of Galileo” with “insights into the construction of his public image and the complex intertwining of science, religion, and politics in seventeenth-century Italy.” The texts include Vincenzo Viviani’s Historical Account (1654) “by his last and most devoted pupil” with his “Letter to Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici on the Application of Pendulum to Clocks” (1659), “his 1674 description of Galileo’s later works, and the long inscriptions on the façade of Viviani’s Florentine palace (1702). The collection also includes the ‘Adulatio perniciosa,’ a Latin poem written in 1620 by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini—who, as Pope Urban VIII, would become Galileo’s prosecutor—as well as descriptive accounts that emerged from the Roman court and contemporary European biographers./ Featuring the original texts in Italian, Latin, and French with their English translations on facing pages, this invaluable book shows how Galileo’s pupils, friends, and critics shaped the Galileo myth for centuries to come, and brings together in one volume the primary sources needed to understand the legendary scientist in his time.” These promise to be useful sources indeed, and the original texts in the languages they were first written in should help scholars avoid any errors that might result from slight shifts in modern translations.

The “Contents” list includes several other authors and texts, all covering Galileo from different perspectives. The texts are organized by their publication date from 1654 to 1702, so from a few years before Galileo’s death and into a few decades after it. The “Introduction” offers biographies and textual context explanations for the authors of these primary texts. One of these on Leo Allatius is particularly telling regarding how the political biases of the time skewed all of these biographies: “the trial of 1633 could not but change the situation completely, forcing Allatius to substantially revise the text he had written before the trial and transform the entry on Galileo from a standard entry about a very eminent personality into quite an ambiguous  one, with a rather understated tone. The contrast between the totally inadequate entry on Galileo—which dryly reports some of his achievements and lists some of his works up to The Assayer, published d then years before Allatius’s book was compiled—and Galileo’s eminence as one of the foremost scientists of his time—the Chief Mathematician and Philosopher of the Grand Duke of Tuscan, and a personal friend of Pope Urban VIII’s…” (xxx). World history has been written by politicians with power-hungry agendas, and this trend towards bias continues through the present; this continuation makes it very difficult to point out inaccuracies in current biographies that are being misinterpreted and twisted by propaganda and rival-politics, but it can be spotted and explained when one is looking back hundreds of years to events that do not directly impinge on any active politicians, as has been done in this book.

Each of these biographies is accompanied by extremely detailed notes, which explain if the biographies are substantiated or lacking in proof and which sources might be reviewed in support or in contrast with the potentially biased information presented (72-3). Some of these biographies are much longer than others: Girolamo Ghilini’s piece is perhaps the shortest of the bunch, but it is telling since it compresses his life’s discoveries and concludes thus: “As these most learned works are of the highest value to scholars and teachers in that science, they are very highly praised and offer me the opportunity to honor Galileo’s precious merits by giving him a central place in my Theatre” (99). This type of positive criticism explains how Galileo’s name survived the attacks from courts and propagandists against him: there were too many intellectuals that believed in his findings in talent, and these were more influential on the perspectives of future generations than the smaller politicians and theologians who would have wished Galileo might have faded from history.

If I ever return to studying Galileo, his writing, his research, and his publishing, I would definitely begin by closely reading these biographies and the supporting research presented in this collection. It is a valuable addition to my library. I recommend it for all public and academic libraries, and for researchers at all levels from undergraduate students curious about science to established scholars who have published on Galileo. These biographies offer inspiration for the curious general readers, and intricate proof of the impact of bias on history for those who read below the surface.

Babbling About Monialisms (and about all the irrelevant people dying in revolutions etc.)

George Lawson. Anatomies of Revolution. 288pp. ISBN: 978-1-108-71085-5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This project promises to give “a novel account of how revolutions begin, unfold and end. By combining insights from international relations, sociology, and global history, it outlines the benefits of a ‘global historical sociology’ of revolutionary change, one in which international processes take centre stage.” The last phrase trails off here: what other than “international processes” can be at the center of revolutions: international refers to the whole world and processes can include just about anything, so it seems the researcher is being misleading by adding this nonsensical seeming twist. Without this turn, offering a theory that reflects historical evidence from revolutions is a meaningful concept for scholarly study, but this turn suggests that the book is full of double-speak that refrains from arriving at any clear-cut answers.

As the cover suggests, the interior of this book is littered with problems. For example, the “Contents” are divided into parts that address “Theories” separately from “Histories”. Given that the premise of the book is to explain theory through case studies from history, how can these two be isolated into distinct parts, when they are supposed to be supporting each other? The “Introduction” then commences with an opening so absurd, it’s funny but for the wrong reasons. A section called “What Are Revolutions?” answers with this opening sentence: “There are two main ways of approaching the study of revolution in the contemporary world—and they are both wrong.” The author insists both perspectives are wrong before naming what these are: as a toddler who says “No!” before hearing the question. And why would contemporary revolutions be approached differently from historic revolutions? This bit of nonsense if followed by the summary that some unnamed critics see revolutions everywhere, not only in “Kobane, Caracas, and Tehran”, but also in “Black Lives Matter” and in revolutionaries such as “Elon Musk”. The next paragraph proposes the other perspective on revolutions is that they are “irrelevant to a world in which the big issues of governance and economic development have been settled.” In the post-Soviet world, supposedly some believe revolutions are “minor disturbances” (1-2). Yes, obviously, both of these are wrong, but they are wrong because they are both nonsensical and because no serious scholars has actually voiced either of these perspectives. Who seriously equates a revolution in Caracas with Elon Musk, and who is viewing government overturns as minor revolutions without the capital “R”? The author is expressing his own misguided perceptions and makes them seem as if they belong to other critics, who he is proving wrong to explain the need for his own study. The nonsense dominates across this book. For example, the chapter on “Revolutionary Situations England and Chile” ends with a summary that hops across time and space without connections, as it hovers between seventeenth-century England and the United States, finally summarizing that “English patrimonialism” was “more vulnerable than the Chilean blend of sultanism, neo-patrimonialism…” What? Monialism versus neo-monialism? It seems this is all about the money-isms. All this babbling apparently “points to the need to see revolutionary situations both as contextually located events that contain situated logics and as idealized constructs with casual pathways that contain wider analytical purchase” (123). The “purchase” at the end of this sentence appeared unrelated until I read the bit about the monialisms: now it makes sense: the author is trying to make a living in academia by writing nonsense that can confuse even an Ivy League editor; well, he’s winning at this economic game.

A Mesmerizing Trip Amidst Birds Soaring Above the Oceans

Steve N. G. Howell and Kirk Zufelt. Oceanic Birds of the World: A Photo Guide. $35: paperback. 360pp, 5.75X8.25”, 2,200 color images: 368 color plates, 114 maps. ISBN: 978-0-691175010. Princeton: Princeton University Press, August 20, 2019.


Creative writers describing life on the oceans in fiction or non-fiction can all use a book on their shelf that goes beyond a mere image of a bird or an encyclopedic description of a species to a combined visual and textual categorization of the types of oceanic birds one might find across the world. Bird-watching is a popular pastime on land, so those who enjoy this activity, might also enjoy looking over the images that they cannot encounter on a nature walk. This is also a great art book for those interested in illustrations and photography. The cover advertises it by explaining that the rarely seen oceanic birds: “offer unusual identification challenges—many species look similar and it can be difficult to get good views of fast-flying birds from a moving boat. The first field guide to the world’s oceanic birds in more than two decades… The introduction discusses…” innovations in “seabird taxonomy… Each group and species complex has an introductory overview of its identification challenges, illustrated with clear comparative photos. The text describes flight manner, plumage variation related to age and molt, seasonal occurrence patterns, migration routes, and many other features.” The author is Steve N. G. Howell, “an international bird tour leader with WINGS”, while the photographer is Kirk Zufelt, a physician, who “has spent more than a year at sea over the past decade studying and photographing the world’s seabirds at some of the remotest locations on the planet.” The combination of medical expertise and artistic appreciation, as well as the commercial touring perspectives seem to have been a good combination for this project.

The taxonomy of these birds is divided into: penguins, alcids, diving petrels, petrels, albatrosses, storm-petrels, tropicbirds, frigatebirds, gannets and boobies, skuas and jaegers, gulls and terns, and phalaropes. I have not even heard of most of the categories, so most of these birds look very foreign, unlike the gulls and penguins that are pretty dominant in popular culture. In fact, they are so rare in both scientific and popular discussions that the authors had to invent some of their names: “Few groups of birds have had a more-checkered taxonomic history than seabirds. We have used familiar and established names for the most part, but in some cases we had to coin new names for taxa that lacked them” (8). Abbreviations and terms used are explained in the introductory pages: this is necessary given the complex nature of this topic for the general public (11-2). The text is brief and to-the-point throughout, so that the section on conservation only takes up half-a-page; perhaps such brevity is more convincing than a long lecture, as most college lecturers can attest (29). It appears most of the photographs taken on research missions were turned into paintings, especially since the artist had to create several perspectives of each bird and different ages and sexes, even if they might have only captured a single snapshot from a single perspective on film (90). These paintings are tastefully executed, and are precise in their research, as tiny differentiations between some similar species are stressed. The feeding and other habits are curious to read; for example, the gadfly petrels “Feed by snatching fish and squid near the surface, and by scavenging… Most species nest in burrows and crevices and visit colonies at night…” (92). It is clear the book is written by a team that spent a lot of time actually trying to distinguish these birds at sea, as they describe their distinctions with careful precision. For example, when writing about Wedge-tailed Shearwater birds, they note: “In calm, flight typically unhurried, with wings pressed forward and slightly crooked; wingbeats shallow and easy, interspersed with buoyant glides on arched wings; wheels easily in strong winds, but generally in low arcs, not towering high like heavy-bodied species” (174). Too often writers simplify all birds by describing them flying or their long beaks picking at bits of food, but writers who are more interested in writing a Moby-Dick-sized novel about the sea should find these types of descriptions helpful in learning specific behaviors and characteristics, which can then be utilized in a manner that fits the symbolic or narrative needs of a story.

This is an outstanding book that should be an enjoyable addition for most libraries’ patrons. Anybody with a boat who travels across oceans should also have this guide handy in case they spot a bird and want to figure out what it is, either because they are fishing and its identity might help them figure out what fish might be around, or just to pass the time while learning a bit about their airy neighbors.

Disrupt Students’ Capacity to Learn and Reward Idiocy: A Guide for Obedient Instructors from an Authoritative Administrator

David Gooblar. The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching. $29.95. 272pp. ISBN: 978-0-674984417. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, August 20, 2019.


There are indeed too few books about teaching methodology, and the few books I have found on the subject previously propose lesson plans, or offer generalizations about teaching philosophy. I took a couple of classes on how to teach literature and composition during my PhD program, but I do not recall much practical advice in the books these courses utilized. Professional association sessions on teaching methodology also tend to avoid specifics: this might be because mentorship is a prized asset in academia, so those who benefit from offering it to younger teachers tend to not want to advertise these lessons without equivalent reimbursements in prestige, if not in monetary terms. This particular book comes from the “author of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s popular “Pedagogy Unbound” column…” The summary argues: “College is changing, but the way we train academics is not. Most professors are still trained to be researchers first and teachers a distant second, even as scholars are increasingly expected to excel in the classroom.” In practice, most instructors are asked to teach developmental or introductory classes where the majority of students have broken attention spans that inspire them to frequently disrupt classes, and plagiarism and cheating is rampant. In a climate where a majority of these students might be intoxicated on liquor or drugs, the act of standing in front of a class and attempting to deliver a lecture becomes as contentious as jumping in front of a tank in China. Instead of delivering new research and old information in a unique and engaging manner, teachers are asked to police a student body that expects to receive easy-A’s in exchange for paying astronomical fees that will put them in debt across the following decades, and paying still more to plagiarists-for-hire and the like to avoid learning while they inquire this education debt. Before women and minorities entered academia, there were a few white men who gained tenure and have since refused to perform much more “research”, convincing universities that all scholars are lazy and prefer to plagiarize themselves and their old ideas. These old white men are still there and they will retain these jobs across the coming couple of decades until all tenure is probably going to be eliminated, and the influx of newly minted PhDs who were raised under the idealistic notion that academia was a scholarly endeavor are going to be teaching introductory writing or mathematics to increasingly legally-stoned populace. But, back to the topic of this book: do these new PhDs need to learn how to teach in this anti-intellectual environment? Even if we all wish we can turn back time, the realities of America’s education system persist, so we must all understand this anti-intellectual enemy if we hope to survive or outlast it.

It would be great if this book helped in this regard, but signs of trouble surface: “There has been a revolution in teaching and learning over the past generation, and we now have a whole new understanding of how the brain works and how students learn.” A revolution in learning? I just described this revolution: it’s a revolution wherein anti-intellectual, unfocused and undisciplined plagiarists and cheaters take over the classroom, preventing their studious peers from being able to learn as well. But, no, this scholar perceives this as a positive revolution, apparently a new “brain” has been invented… No, a new “understanding of how the brain works”… What brain science is he going to attempt? What does brain chemistry have to do with teaching, unless he is going to talk about attention-deficit? He is hoping that those who buy this book will be too distracted themselves to ponder about all this by actually reading this book: “But most academics have neither the time nor the resources to catch up to the latest research or train themselves to be excellent teachers.” Why would these lazy academics buy this book, and if the more studious teachers buy this book, why do they need to be lectured about the lazy ones that did not buy this book? Finally, the summary explains these new brain-discoveries: “From active-learning strategies to course design to getting students talking,” it “walks you through the fundamentals of the student-centered classroom, one in which the measure of success is not how well you lecture but how much students learn.” A translation is needed for those outside of academia: professors are ranked in America based on the grades they give their students. A professor who gives easy-A’s to nearly all of their students, receives positive reviews from the students in return; these reviews are used to promote these easy graders, while also helping to fire the honest teachers who give the F’s their students deserve. Focusing on “success” means giving students A’s, and in an environment where the revolution has been for industrial-sized cheating and plagiarism, this easy-grader has to ignore these problems even if their entire class never comes to class, and submits their tests via a representative test-taker. “Active-learning” means that as students are tossing books or gums at the instructor, the nimble instructor has to avoid these obstacles, and ideally should stop coming to class him or herself, to allow students to go play sports or engage in recreational sex, or anything else that avoid “learning”. How else can students be “learning” if the professor is not “lecturing”? Administrators keep this anti-intellectual system going because they make ten-fold the salary of an average instructor; so, obviously, the author of this book belongs to this class: “David Gooblar is Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University.” Academia covers all this anti-intellectualism and academic fraud because it controls the few surviving newspapers and magazines discussing academia without being necessarily run from inside one of these universities, such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has chosen Gooblar to be a representative for “pedagogy”.

While I wish I was wrong about Gooblar’s intentions, the interior confirms what the previous few dozen books I read on this subject have solidified; Gooblar instructs instructors to: “Let Students Own the Course” (give easy A’s and let them stand on their heads if they wish) and that “Assessment Isn’t Just Assessment” (don’t give the grade they deserve, but rather the A administrators require for you to keep your job) in the titles of his chapters. Amazingly the “Introduction” opens by making an incredibly sexist statement: “The most knowledgeable and prepared teacher in the world is a failure if her students don’t learn” (1). Gooblar assumes that the teacher facing this “tumultuous” introductory class full of students incapable of learning must be a woman; whereas male teachers are more likely to enter academia as “assistant professors”, a role that does have research components, and that tends to put these professors in front of a more interested in learning upper level undergraduate or graduate audiences. The writing style throughout is devoid of citations, scholarship, or big words, relying primarily on the innate wisdom Gooblar has apparently gathered from all of his administering (and away from the pesky business of teaching). Here is a random example of this style: “When we construct our syllabi, we devote a higher percentage of the final grade to assignments we think are more important or difficult” (45). Who is this “we”? What might make an assignment “difficult”? What proof does Gooblar have that all syllabi are heavy on “difficult” assignments? This is all pure fiction and nonsense. From the administrator’s perspective, it is all about “Salesmanship”, as the next section is called; it starts with the question: “Why should students take your course?” (46). The answer, an instructor is programmed to give is, “because it is required”… But who are these dim students that pay up to $60,000 per year and don’t know why they have signed up for a course? Asking teachers to sell their courses like a salesman sells watches at the side of the road helps to demean instructors in the students’ eyes, helping to spread the notion that cheating is fitting if academia is made up of salesman who are just after the money, rather than out to impart knowledge. Later in the book, Gooblar offers a standard “Peer Review Worksheet” questions (he must have borrowed from one of his instructors) on one page (94) and on the next he summarizes an anti-intellectual philosophy from Cunningham and Helms: “one goal of a university-level science course should be to disrupt students’ assumptions about scientific knowledge as straightforwardly discovered and verified” (95). Inserting Dadaist absurdity or destructionist-nonsense-philosophy into an introductory science course is the most violent and destructive anti-intellectual act I can imagine. Try to picture a chemistry class, where the instructor insists on giving the wrong directions for a chemistry experiment to prove that scientific facts cannot be verified: the students mix the wrong ingredients, which leads to a giant explosion that takes out the building… I can’t continue reading Gooblar’s book, as if he sets the rest of academia aflame, I might have to agree that it is indeed a “revolution” that I am fighting against.

A Digressive but Engaging Debate on Non-Standard Linguistic Changes

Tim Cassedy. Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language & Identity in the Age of Revolution. 308pp, images. ISBN: 978-1-60938-612-2. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2019.


This is a study of the relationship between language and identity in the nineteenth century, as “language” categorized “people within a” diverse “world… Linguistic differences, especially among English-speakers, seemed to validate the emerging national, racial, local, and regional identity categories…” While it is classist, racist and sexist to describe distinctions between people in this manner in most contexts, linguistic differences have been claimed as grounds where such distinctions are a good thing. There are armies of linguists and popular-culture writers who propagate for an authentic modern African American dialect, stressing that using this culturally-built set of slang terms, contractions, and other linguistic features helps to strengthen the identity of the members of this group. Correcting “broken” English is discouraged in much of modern linguistics, as Englishes are promoted as all equally valid. Even more frequently, popular culture suggests that insults and errors in speech are “cool” or demonstrate higher social standing of the speaker. The linguistic distinctions that have been standardized even in “broken” language in modern times by shared popular audio-visual consumptions, were much more diverse and difficult to code-switch into back in the nineteenth century, the subject of this particular book. “Focusing on six eccentric characters of the time—from the woman known as ‘Princess Caraboo’ to wordsmith Noah Webster—Cassedy shows how each put language at the center of their identities and lived out the possibilities of their era’s linguistic ideas…” How six individuals can summarize the wide field of linguistic distinctions across a century is pretty mysterious, but digging further…

One thing that stands out is the inclusion of unreadable hand-written but automated words in the middle of texts and in the table of contents, which seem to be there for artistic reasons, but only manage to obscure the words they are supposed to spell out (6). Some of the stranger elements in the book are curious, such as the transcription of a series of numbers and stresses over text to represent “Duncan Mackintosh’s phonetic printing system” from 1797 (7). There are several foreign language phrases, some of which do not appear to have been translated (38). The text is full of close research with specific quotations and other evidence of linguistic differences. In one example, the author describes the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on a “wave of political refugees”, who were instructed by a la Dufief, with a note: “His community—his people—were bilinguals in exile in the English-speaking world. He was always between nationalities; he found other people who were between them, too, and let them share his linguistic home. On some level, it might have been important to him not to assimilate into the American or British nations”. The author adds that Dufief kept speaking English with “a horrible French accent” (65). This seems pretty ethnically insensitive; failure to “assimilate” or to change his accent s seen as something that devalues Dufief’s contribution as an English teacher. Most speakers who switch languages after twelve cannot fully adopt an accent even with rigorous modern linguistic training, so it would have been much stranger if Dufief managed to drop his French accent. And to his ears, the Americans were the ones speaking with a horrid accent as they failed to speak proper British English… Discussing almost anything related to linguistics is bound to step into contested waters. Later in the book, the author departs from the concerns of the past to ponder about texting, “like” and other modern linguistic annoyances. She jumps between problems with prescriptive models old and new before concluding: “In historical retrospect, I’m interested in linguistic passions of all kinds, whether or not they seem valid to me… The less interested I become in policing the linguistic boundaries of my own world, the more I like to lose myself in the strangeness, the wonder, and the sheer [??? word in wiggly handwriting] of the past’s linguistic imagination” (222-4). I share Tim Cassedy’s conclusion: it is interesting to argue about linguistics, and I hope all sides could keep arguing without taking offense.

This is a non-linear book that jumps around through history and languages, but given the fluid nature of language this is a fitting style for this complex subject. Therefore, I recommend this book as a curiously honest take on the battles we have been fighting over language. It is probably going to be particularly appreciated by linguists and literature scholars, whereas the very people who it might be defending, or those who retain non-standard linguistic distinctions might either find offense or might miss some of the more intricate insider-jokes and digressive philosophizing Cassedy allows.

Excusing Research Fraud: The International Failure to Regulate Academic Misconduct

Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis; Nicholas Elliott, translator. Fraud in the Lab: The High Stakes of Scientific Research. $35. 224pp. ISBN: 978-0-674979451. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, August 13, 2019.


This book promises to hit the primary problem that is slowing progress in research. This problem has affected my efforts to publish the fifteen essays I wrote related to Defoe de-attribution. The rejection letters I have received strongly hint or directly request payment in exchange for editing services, even if editing is not needed. Ghostwriting is so prevalent in academia that each specialty might have devolved into a single researcher who is still engaging in research, and who uses pseudonyms or other researchers’ names to block rival researchers from entering the field by acting as a “peer reviewer” in the field’s top journals. While in humanities, such fraud is blocking re-attribution, and anti-formulaic fiction studies, when such fraud takes place in the harder sciences, a lot more money and the health and welfare of the public are on the line. Thus, Chevassus and Elliott’s promise to address this research-killing monstrosity is a primary concern for all serious researchers. The book is advertised as coming “From a journalist and former lab researcher, a penetrating investigation of the explosion in cases of scientific fraud and the factors behind it./ In the 1970s, a scientific scandal about painted mice hit the headlines. A cancer researcher was found to have deliberately falsified his experiments by coloring transplanted mouse skin with ink.” In my own experience, fraud is so common, when I asked a computational linguist to double-check my findings with his method, he falsified the findings and emailed proof of this to me; the fraud was “disguised” by him withholding raw data and only sending the summary results, but these still stressed the incongruities of the results and why his results were rigged to dispute my findings. What is surprising about the mice coloring experiment is that somebody managed to publicize this problem, rather than that there was blatant fraud behind it. Researchers who commit fraud positively peer review, promote and otherwise help other fraudulent researchers. I have not been able to find any honest researchers despite submitting my proven research to hundreds of people. It almost seems as if the few instances where lab technicians who constantly supply false drug test results and the like are actually outed and put on trial or criticized in the press are cases of rival fraudsters taking out less dishonest fraudsters. But to return to the summary: “This widely publicized case of scientific misconduct marked the beginning of an epidemic of fraud that plagues the scientific community today.” Galileo was put on trial for explaining the structure of our solar system by the Inquisition: the problem of scientific fraud did not start in the 1970s; it just became illegal in the 1970s to engage in an Inquisition-style fraud, so if these cases have been outed since, they have become headline news and chargeable offenses. “From manipulated results and made-up data to retouched illustrations and plagiarism, cases of scientific fraud have skyrocketed in the past two decades, especially in the biomedical sciences…. Chevassus-au-Louis points to large-scale trends that have led to an environment of heightened competition, extreme self-interest, and emphasis on short-term payoffs. Because of the move toward highly specialized research, fewer experts are qualified to verify experimental findings.” This is the precise problem I am facing as well. The answer almost all journals have given for the rejections after the first few correction requests that I easily revolved has been that they specialize in a different element of the field than the type of research I am attempting. A journal that describe itself as a generalist linguistic, structuralist, computational linguistics or the like journal on its website, when queried specifies that actually they only publish in a much narrower specialization than this broad field. In most of these cases, I found the journals by finding similar attribution studies to my own published in them, but still editors claim that these were published too many years earlier, and now the journal has a different focus. My own computational linguistics attribution method is 96% accurate, whereas rival methods published have demonstrated next to no significant ability to distinguish between authorial signatures; despite these failures, there are societies within computational linguistics that have established themselves as the leaders in the specialty, and they reject all ideas that threaten their dominance by coming up with an attribution method that actually works. Instead of using “verification” as a check by researchers interested in the truth, it is being utilized to block researchers who are not fraudsters, plagiarists, and the like from having their findings “verified”: erroneous, nonsensical, or no reasons are given for the “failure” of the verification check; most of the time researchers all together refuse to attempt a verification, claiming they lack the time or they are in a different narrower field; then, periodicals utilize this lack of access to fair verification to reject thus unverified research findings even if they might be the next Theory of Relativity or might even invent time travel or solve the problem of global warming. In my case, an accurate attribution method would be able to out these very problems by finding ghostwriters who might write most of the content of a given periodical. I have received a stronger volume of insulting rejections than other researchers because beyond threatening to prove established researchers in my field wrong, I am also threatening to prove countless researchers across various fields as guilty of engaging in academic fraud via hiring editors, ghostwriters and the like to compose the academic research they are paid top-dollar for. “And the pace of journal publishing has exacerbated the scientific rewards system—publish or perish holds sway more than ever. Even when instances of misconduct are discovered, researchers often face few consequences, and falsified data may continue to circulate after an article has been retracted.” Further still, the book attempts to highlight “recent initiatives and proposals to reduce the extent of misconduct in the future.” I am really interested in what these initiatives might be, as anything that might help me figure out how to block this misconduct would mean finally breaking my research through this wall of corruption.

I turned to the chapter on what has been done to stop this type of fraud, “14. Scientific Crime”. It begins with a case of Bernard Bihain’s laboratory, wherein a co-collaborator found that the obesity gene findings he was being asked to verify were utilizing falsified data, and reported his colleague over this fraud first to the Office of the Chancellor at their affiliated University of Rennes, and then to France’s Ministry of Research. The Ministry appointed fraud-friendly investigators, overruling the University, to determine no fraud had taken place. The harmed coworkers kept pressing, filing complaints of “authoritarianism, psychological harassment, and negligent handling of toxic products” until Inserm decided to close this lab to avoid further scrutiny; they were likely to escape again, but they decided doing closer to nothing was preferably to continuing the defense. The Delegation of Scientific Integrity was established in the following year, 1999, to handle similar cases: the first such effort in France. While reports have been written since and a handful of cases has come up (mostly disputes regarding primary authorship), no clear data is offered on if fraudsters have been caught with any more regularity since this committee has been established. In fact, most of this chapter seems to suggest that this is mostly a French problem, while American addresses this matter in a better way; whereas, in truth, the problem is so prevalent in America co-writers or co-researchers almost never complain about their collaborators as they are almost always implicated in the fraud. The authors of this book are too apologetic of the fraudsters; for example, in the section on the “Ninio… fiasco” they claim that the problem lay in the computerization of the analytic method, which then prevented the researcher from changing the results to fit the desired conclusion; this makes it seem as if the falsification is less significant, and that the problems have been solved through computerization’s spread across most institutions. Then, they present yet another more recent case wherein comments were posted on PubPeer in 2014 that it seemed data in articles by biologist Olivier Voinnet was fraudulent, appearing to be the same in several aritcles, or be a mirror image or otherwise blatantly false; despite these obvious problems, Voinnet was exonerated by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who operated his lab with thirty other employees. The section concludes: “The manipulated images initially published on PubPeer were in fact due to mistakes made by Voinnet’s former collaborator, today an administrator of the South Province of New Caledonia. Voinnet’s scientific reputation is restored. But he still finds the CNRS’s initial action outrageously harsh” (144-155). The final section blames workaholic writers for these problems in “Publish Less, Publish Better”, suggesting that “competition between employees” is to blame for the spread of fraud (173). Based on the very evidence they present, it appears that competition among researchers is the only thing that outs these fraudsters, as rival researchers point out the fraud others are committing. Blaming those who are capable of writing extremely complex research in a speedy manner for forcing fraudsters to compete by falsifying data shifts blame on the wrong parties. The problem in all this evidence is that fraudsters are constantly excused by their institutions and governing bodies because these agencies are led by those who are guilty of fraud themselves and thus cannot reprimand others committing fraud. There has to be an impartial method in place that evaluates claims of fraud on the facts. Without cases of fraud being not only discovered but also harshly reprimanded, researchers will continue committing fraud under the assumption that even if their fraud is extremely obvious, there is no governing body on Earth that can stop the tide of misconduct.

Ancient Greek Guides on Speech Formulas

Menander Rhetor. Dionysius of Halicarnassus; William H. Race, translator. Ars Rhetorica. $26: hardcover. 496pp. ISBN: 978-0-674997226. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: Loeb Classical Library, June, 2019.


Any library can benefit from the inclusion of Greco-Roman classics. Since the Enlightenment, these classics have influenced world thought because authors have adopted the philosophies, theories or ideas presented in these as the height of human ideology. Even if these ideas are extremely outdated, understanding them helps to clarify the reasons for some of the strange philosophies or beliefs modern branches of the humanities and sciences have retained. Thus, I have requested a few of these annotated re-releases of these classics before, and will continue to request them as they pop up among academic publishers.

“This volume contains three rhetorical treatises dating probably from the reign of Diocletian (AD 285–312) that provide instruction on how to compose epideictic (display) speeches for a wide variety of occasions both public and private. Two are attributed to one Menander Rhetor of Laodicea (in southwestern Turkey); the third, known as the Ars Rhetorica, incorrectly to the earlier historian and literary critic Dionysius of Halicarnassus. These treatises derive from the schools of rhetoric that flourished in the Roman Empire from the 2nd through 4th centuries AD in the Greek East. Although important examples of some genres of occasional prose were composed in the 5th and 4th centuries BC by Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, and especially Isocrates, it was with the flowering of rhetorical prose during the so-called Second Sophistic in the second half of the 2nd century AD that more forms were developed as standard repertoire and became exemplary./ Distinctly Hellenic and richly informed by the prose and poetry of a venerable past, these treatises are addressed to the budding orator contemplating a civic career, one who would speak for his city’s interests to the Roman authorities and be an eloquent defender of its Greek culture and heritage. They provide a window into the literary culture, educational values and practices, and social concerns of these Greeks under Roman rule, in both public and private life, and considerably influenced later literature both pagan and Christian.”

I opened this book a few times already while searching for inspiration with my own scholarly writing. I found a lot of curious ideas. For example, I mentioned in one of my essays that there needs to be an Olympics for writers like Dionysia, and then as I was flipping through this book, I found a suggestion for this type of an Olympic writing event in this collection. This shows that I have more in common in my ideas about how the world and intellectual pursuits should work with 2nd century AD writers than with my contemporaries. I also found some inspiration in the strict ideas expressed regarding the elements of proper rhetorical structure in these pages. Since it worked for me a couple of times, I recommend glancing through this collection as a cure for writer’s block.

This classics series has small book sizes, which is useful for those who want to fit one of these in a pocket if going for a walk or to the beach with it. I personally prefer larger page sizes because I haven’t gone walking or skating in a couple of decades to avoid sun-exposure, but given the booming tourism industry, I think Harvard is right to offer it in this size for this particular market with free vacation time. These collections are also useful for those who are learning Greek, as the Greek original texts are placed next to the precise translations, allowing readers to check their comprehension in the other language. The “Introduction” to the first work by Rhetor does state that the original Greek text contained “many errors and problems”, which were corrected by the edition’s editors. I cannot read Greek, so I cannot check if the errors were only fixed in English or in the Greek version as well (2). This is a relatively short set of introductory remarks that presents only essential information even a casual reader might want to know prior to diving in. The Rhetor text includes instructions on composing various genres such as: Cletic, Sendoff, Philosophical, Mythical, Genealogical and Fictive Hymns, as well as instructions on composition “Praise” for a Country, Cities, Harbors, Gulfs, Acropolis, and guidance on rhetoric speech types such as the Royal Oration, Arrival, Bedtime, Birthday, Consolation, Ambassador, and Leave-taking. Many of these topics still make up commonly used speeches types today: given how most scholars tend to echo older scholars, the prevalence of these types of speeches in our culture might be due to Rhetor isolating them as significant formulas. Since I don’t believe in celebrating birthdays, this is the first section that draws me; it recommends: “praise of his family, followed by his birth, upbringing, activities, and deeds… you should make comparisons…” Several examples of portions of these speeches are given, as in: “‘The most important thing about this child is that he has already inspired speeches about himself’” (259-61). Similar formulas with proposed sentences and general types of information to include can be found in modern how-to-write-a-mystery and the like books. Most of these types of speeches and formulaic novels are very similar to each other because of these types of formula-offering rhetoric textbooks. Ars Rhetorica is repetitive in the types of advice it offers, as it also includes sections on marriage, birthday and funeral speeches. The birthday section also asks speakers to refer to the time of the year, seasons, associated festivals and the like. In the personalized section, it recommends: “praise of… his natural qualities, his build, his strength? If he is big, he is like Ajax; if handsome and brave, like Achilles… If he is a good man, say that he combines spirit with gentleness and is quick to understand. If he is small, say that he is of greater stature in the virtue of his soul…” (395-7). While this is pretty silly, and I would recommend breaking these types of formulas whenever possible to say anything else in such speeches, I find reading this type of advice inspiring because it makes me think about why I find these formulas to be annoying, so that I am more careful to write more original structures and content into my own writing projects.

Unrelated Digressions on Secret Histories and Almost Anything Else

Rebecca Bullard and Rachel Carnell. The Secret History in Literature, 1660-1820. 282pp. ISBN: 978-1-316-60490-8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


While the genre category of “secret histories” has received very little attention thus far, in my recent research into eighteenth century “novels”, I have learned that this genre influenced what the “novel” became and has several structural overlaps with this sibling genre. Scandalous true stories were of interest to the public, but it was too easy for those accused directly to accuse the publisher or author of libel or spreading false rumors about them; to disguise authorship, writers of these were frequently anonymous; but they were still too frequently outed as the responsible parties if their publishers were threatened by authorities. Thus, the solution industrious authors came up with was stating in these works that they were “fictions” or lies, including either changing names, or claiming the text were satires, thus allowing them to sell scandal, but without being sued for making false negative statements made to pass as truths. Thus, this book on secret histories should help my own research, and it should help other critics discuss eighteenth century novels with more accurate terms. Watt and other theorists have been spreading the idea that Defoe and his Crusoe, Moll and Roxana were the “first modern novels”, but this distinction more justly belongs to Haywood and the formula for scandal-and-historic-fiction mixing that she developed, basing this formula on these secret histories’ structures.  

Cambridge introduces the text thus: “Secret history with its claim to expose secrets of state and the sexual intrigues of monarchs and ministers, alarmed and thrilled readers across Europe and America from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Scholars have recognised for some time the important position that the genre occupies within the literary and political culture of the Enlightenment. …[T]his new volume of essays demonstrates for the first time the extent of secret history’s interaction with different literary traditions, including epic poetry, Restoration drama, periodicals, and slave narratives…”

I wish this was a work by a single author rather than a collection of essays, as these types of collections tend to be disorganized, digressive, disjointed, and lacking in research quality. Further signs that this collection does not take the best turn is in its organization into broad parts, one for the seventeenth, another for the eighteenth century and then one on “France and America”. The need to digress into entirely distinct countries from the promise to consider British histories in the description suggests the editors had trouble finding enough contributors writing about this narrow field, so they branched out, but they still did not change the stated focus of the entire collection. The contributors teach at the universities of Oxford, Oklahoma, Reading, British Columbia, and some state universities. The reference to intersections between secret histories and random unrelated genres in the cover blurb become apparent in the titles of the chapters, with one called, “Paradise Lost as a Secret History” and another, “Secret History, Oriental Tale, and Fairy Tale”. The need to draw connections between categories that are distinct for a reason is very frustrating for me lately because I have been pondering the absurdities of nonsensical scholarly connections that post-structuralist, structuralist, formalist and other pretentious forms of literary scholarship make that confuse readers until they give up and close the book without rebelling against this type of nonsense. It is very popular in these to apply the rules of drama to fiction to argue for “show, don’t tell”, which in practice helps to promote airheaded fiction devoid of detail, and instead full of action and other high-drama, death-threat-and-sex-anticipation rollercoasters. It is not only a pointless exercise to compare a fictional, blank verse epic poem like Paradise Lost with the genre of secret histories, but it also repels potential researchers from engaging in discussions because they assume that they have to make similarly absurd stretches if they want to participate. It appears as if some of the other chapters are more logical and useful for those interested in secret histories, including the chapter on “Secret History, Parody, and Satire”, but upon closer examination, it is full of stretched assumptions regarding what their writers were thinking, and philosophizing regarding barely related subjects. The essay is too dense with quotes and summaries of stories and interpretations; and then offers post-theoretical ponderings between these that barely connect with all this evidence. For example, a paragraph on Haywood’s “female inquiry” ends thus: “Haywood’s mid-century Invisible Spy thus shares the Restoration spy’s chameleon-like ability to appeal—if not always successfully—to readers of various political inclinations” (94-5). Re-reading points out the nonsense: (1) How can any scholar quantitatively and objectively compare any two spies’ capacity “to appeal”? Any conclusions in this regard are subjective, or based on if these spies appeal to the individual author of this particular scholarly piece; and writing about what appeals to a critic is the same as writing a critic fancies or likes one character or another; this kind of attraction has no place in scholarly discourse. (2) If the critic has not been able to determine if she or he likes or dislikes the spy, and has no way of telling if readers will share this like or dislike depending on their politics, then why bring this matter up? If this critic arrived at a conclusion that he or she does indeed like the spies, this at least is a conclusion, but absent this decision, the expression of confusion and indecision about his or her potential attraction or repulsion is completely irrelevant and nonsensical.

I wish I found a useful textbook in these pages that might have helped my own research into the problems of fiction and non-fiction classification surrounding the “birth” of the “novel” in eighteenth century Britain, but instead this is a loosely connected set of academic-ladder-climbing essays that record stuff that came into the writers’ mind without any coherent plan or purpose. Thus, I do not recommend others stumble into these woods, but instead look at the secret histories and draw better conclusions for themselves.

A Hymn to the Divinity of Richardson: Sloppy Misinterpretations

Peter Sabor and Betty A. Schellenberg. Samuel Richardson in Context. 356pp. ISBN: 978-1-316-60452-6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


While the editors of this collection claim that Richardson has had a “secured” position in the English canon since “the publication of his novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded in 1740”, he was really stressed as a leader of the “novel” by Ian Watt’s novel “rise” theory; the conclusion that Richardson developed the novel genre has since been repeated by critical books like this one without proof of Richardson’s significance because they claim that his position has been beyond doubt since the beginning. In reality Pamela and Clarissa are epistles or collections of repetitive letters that are nauseating in their returns to the same expressions of yearnings to be married or for specific males that are attracting them. These do not represent what has become the formulaic structure of a “modern” novel, as very few novels utilize this letter format because these letters include openings, closings and other parts that have to repeat on nearly every page, making them extremely difficult for a reader interested in dramatic incident to read. Too many scholars of Richardson’s novels ignore these problems are respond to them with language that suggests they might never have actually read the texts they are putting on a pedestal. This general sense of cluelessness is reflected in this next bit of cover summary: “But how can that place best be described?” The editor has just stated that Richardson has a specific position in a narrow canon, so why does he or she feel the need to question what position he or she just referred to as a settled fact? If this editor was awake enough to cut this sentence out of the summary, much of the premise behind this book might also have been re-written. “Over the three centuries since embarking on his printing career the ‘divine’ novelist has been variously understood as moral crusader, advocate for women, pioneer of the realist novel and print innovator.” Giving Richardson the divinity title is one example of an over-inflation of his impact, while authors like Haywood is dismissed because of her gender. Religion really should be left out of these types of summaries, regardless of the rest. “[T]his new volume of essays identifies his centrality to the emergence of the novel, the self-help book, and the idea of the professional author, as well as his influence on the development of the modern English language, the capitalist economy, and gendered, medicalized, urban, and national identities.” Richardson created gender? Before Richardson there were no “professional” authors? These exaggerations are blatantly over-selling this author, as “one of English literature’s most celebrated novelists.” If anything, this is an example, of over-celebration of Richardson.

The parts of this book are on Richardson’s biography, critical reception, publishing, readership, genres, and society. Like the previous title in the set, this is a collection of essays by dozens of different writers: this spreads the responsibility for its errors across all of these collaborators, so it is more difficult for any critic to find fault with the whole. The chapter on “Critical Reception to 1900” should help to prove the premise. It begins by claiming that all of Richardson’s “novels were bestsellers” and that he had “admirers that included some of Britain’s and Europe’s most sophisticated readers” (64). Instead of offering sales numbers or examples of these admirers, the author, Brian Corman, then jumps into explaining the rivalry Richardson had with Fielding, without pointing to the satires Fielding and his sister wrote about Richardson. In fact, the response to Richardson after the release of Pamela was overwhelmingly negative with several satires coming from most of the establishment: this negativity is what made this work visible in critical spheres, rather than any admiration towards the work. I also recently reviewed an Oxford textbook that explained that very few novelists across the eighteenth century were “bestsellers” and neither Richardson nor Defoe made this list as their books released relatively few editions, whereas Haywood and Barker were indeed bestsellers as their novels went through significantly more printings; other bestsellers from this period are now completely unknown among critics. Without the statistics in this Oxford textbook, critics have been making the types of hyperbolic statements made in this chapter for a century, repeating each other without proof to substantiated these claims.

Most of these chapters are under ten pages, so the lack of space might be blamed for the lack of substantiating details. There are plenty of quotation marks, names and facts throughout these, but most of these restate old conclusions rather than finding anything new to say no the chosen topics. When they do venture into unique perspectives, they tend to digress into strangely nonsensical mixtures, like the chapter on “The Visual Arts” by Lynn Shepherd, who begins by comparing Richardson’s novels to theatrical dramas and paintings, disregarding the fact that they are relatively low on either drama or detailed aesthetic descriptions. Instead of looking at Richardson, Shepherd digresses thus: “Analogies between the ‘sister arts’ of literature and painting are as old as Horace’s famous dictum in his Ars poetica, ‘ut picture poesis’ (as is painting, so is poetry)…” (195). The quote is connecting poetry and painting, not “literature” and painting, and he is not calling them sister arts. If literature and painting are sisters, what art form can possible be further from them in relation? These types of digressions have been utilized for critics to sound smart since the Enlightenment or even since Horace first quoted himself in Greco-Roman times; however, today we have access to so many of these past critical mentions that I have been able to compare criticisms on a few of these topics, and it is amazing how critics repeat the same quotes or near-identical summaries across the centuries once the first critic writes a review summarizing a work. The topic of the essay might change, but these nonsense points about art sisterhoods echo regardless of what the essayist is supposed to be proving.

Young critics who read these types of compilations of nonsense are discouraged from the critical profession, concluding that it regurgitates very old ideas, instead of discovering new ideas. If new connections are made, they stretch reality and connect things that really cannot logically be connected. Meanwhile, new researchers who propose original findings, or even to reflect new published research by other scholars on these topics (i.e. the Oxford history) are rejected from joining these collaborative publishing-for-tenure enterprises. I hope this review discourages critics from allowing this type of corruption of scholarly endeavor to continue. I cannot recommend this book. There might be plenty of evidence and collected facts here, but the bias, and misinterpretations connecting them cannot be trusted by those who are looking for support for their own research.

A Study of Spenser’s Editions that Reveals Canonization without Comprehension

Hazel Wilkinson. Edmund Spenser and the Eighteenth-Century Book. 264pp. ISBN: 978-1-316-64891-9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


Thankfully, this Cambridge book is by a single author, so it seems to be more focused on delivering the details of a narrow argument rather than briskly running through several tiny arguments that through their brevity can only restate their predecessors before they run out of writing space. “Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590–6) occupied an important place in eighteenth-century culture. Spenser influenced almost every major writer of the century, from Alexander Pope to William Wordsworth. What was it like to read Spenser in the eighteenth century? Who made Spenserian books, and how did their owners use and interpret them? The first comprehensive study of all of the eighteenth-century editions of Edmund Spenser addresses these questions through bibliographical analysis, and through examination of the history of the book and of eighteenth-century literature and culture. Within these contexts, Hazel Wilkinson provides new information about the production, contents, texts, and reception of the eighteenth-century editions of Spenser, to illuminate how his cultural presence became so far-reaching.” This type of study can be very helpful because, when done correctly, reviewing the adoption and interpretation of a canonical text across a century can reveal findings regarding its influence on culture and readers. The eighteenth century left little evidence about its culture so what other writers have said about past writers they admired is one of the few voluminous sources of cultural information that have survived from this document-sparse time.

This study is also interesting from my perspective because I used a similar book on the editions of Robinson Crusoe from a century ago to figure out that Defoe and not Charles Gildon wrote Adventures of D—, as any intricate historic summary of editions reveals a great deal about the publishers, authors and editors involved in the project, and these can explain not only attributions, but can also substantiated various other fact-based arguments about literature and its creation. It would have been more revealing if this book considered the earliest editions of Faerie Queene, but probably so little documented proof remains from 1590-6 that there would not have been enough content to write a full book on the subject. Instead, this book considers the main reprintings from across the eighteenth century, spending a chapter on each unique edition, including John Hughes’, Thomas Birch’s, scholarly annotated editions, and a Scottish series. The appendix provides some useful transcriptions of the unique designs, printer information and other components of these editions. Wilkinson seems to share some of my own negative perspectives on critical receptions and evaluations of literature, as, for example, she writes: “Scholarly editing played a significant role in maintaining Spenser’s image of obscurity, while ensuring that he did not slip into actual unintelligibility” (213). The main point of this study seems to be: “gradually eroding exclusivity and broadening appeal is underwritten by the persistent fact that difficulty, even unreadability, have become part of Spenser’s imaginative appeal”; she notes that most readers failed to “finish” the book, and yet paradoxically canonized his “status” (217). The same has been shown to be the case with Richardson via the lack of knowledge modern critics show regarding the actual content of his novels. It is refreshing that Wilkinson appears to not only have looked closely at these obscure editions, but also read into the failure of others to have read them closely enough to come up with true interpretations.

This study should help future researchers as it lays the groundwork for a closer analysis of what the compiled information on these editions is demonstrating in relation to the related topics. Like all good scholarship, it keeps looking closer at a narrow subject, so it explains it with enough depth to contribute something original to the ongoing discussion.

A Collaborative, Dense History of a Millennium in the Byzantine Empire

Jonathan Shepard, editor. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c. 500-1492. 1196pp. ISBN: 978-1-107-68587-1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This is another book I requested because my research takes me in unknowable directions and if I ever venture into this place and time, it would be delightful to have it on my shelve. Finding historical details about these distant times online tends to leave me with either unreliable brief summaries or with digressive theoretical essays that speculate rather than summarize historical facts.

“Byzantium lasted a thousand years, ruled to the end by self-styled ‘emperors of the Romans’. It underwent kaleidoscopic territorial and structural changes, yet recovered repeatedly from disaster: even after the near-impregnable Constantinople fell in 1204, variant forms of the empire reconstituted themselves.” It “tells the story, tracing political and military events, religious controversies and economic change. It offers clear, authoritative chapters on the main events and periods, with more detailed chapters on particular outlying regions, neighbouring powers or aspects of Byzantium.”

It is pretty unusual for histories to be written collaboratively, so when I requested it, I did not expect that this was another project written by a collective of writers. It is edited by a previous Cambridge lecturer, but the fact that he is now retired from teaching there does not really raise my confidence in his ability to rein in the contributors.

Because it includes contributions from dozens of writers, instead of a chronological history that moves over the decades in a logical manner, the chapters hop around in time haphazardly. The only chronological structure is in the distinction between parts into 500-700, 700-1204, and 1204-1492, however even these giant borders are not respected, as the first part includes chapters that covers 224-651: given that this timeframe is included, why didn’t the editor change the name of the part to be 224-700? The breakdown between chapters is partially geographic, with chapters on Persia and the Sasanian monarchy, on Armenia, on the “Arabs”, and “Byzantine Italy”. The Arabs chapter stands out as it stresses the ideologically biased perspective; another chapter is called “Religious missions”, and yet another, “Confronting Islam: emperors versus caliphs”. These titles suggest the authors are clearly on the side of the Christian missionaries and against the “Confronting” Islamists and Arabs. Inside the “Confronting” chapter, it begins by listing the various battles fought in the covered region and period over “Islam”. The narrative is indeed written from the perspective of defending a territory against a Muslim invasion: “Political, topographical and logistical impediments combined with Byzantine military resilience to halt major Arab advances into Anatolia…” (367). Then again, most of history is written from the perspective of its authors, who propagate for their own countries, regions or religions. Other parts of the book step away from religious aspects, and look at more entertaining topics such as, “Palace Intrigues and Coups”: “In 906-7 Patriarch Nicholas I Mystikos made an issue of the marriage of Leo to his mistress, who had recently borne him a longed-for male heir, Constantine. This, Leo’s fourth marriage, flagrantly violated canon law and a recent edict issued by Leo and his father Basil”, which caused an “involuntary abdication in 907” (503). While the organization is chaotic, the details of these chapters are precise and informative. If I was looking inside of this book for ideas on historical facts to incorporate into my fiction or scholarship, I would be able to find sufficient intrigues and curious facts to fill several studies.

Overall, this is an intricately researched and consistently focused historic recitation despite the fact that it was composed by dozens of distinct scholars. It does fit well enough together to craft a coherent history. It is not an easy read, but those who fight through it should emerge satisfied with having ventured inside.

Intricate Study of the Processes of Reading and Printing in the Eighteenth-Century

Eve Tavor Bannet. Eighteenth-Century Manners of Reading: Print Culture and Popular Instruction in the Anglophone Atlantic World. 298pp. ISBN: 978-1-108-40949-0. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This topic interested me because I previously wrote a book on author-publishers that focused heavily on eighteenth-century Britain. The spread of literacy from this century and into the following century was connected with the spread of libraries and public schools; meanwhile, the price of purchasing thicker books remained prohibitively high even for the middle class. Thus, even as people became literate, they had access to so few books that their comprehension level of more complex texts remained low, while there was pressure for them to report that they understood these highbrow works to sell themselves as cultured intellectuals, thus gaining access to high ranks of society. Thus, understanding reading and publishing reveals cultural patterns about life in this period that are otherwise obscure. Literacy and reading is perhaps a bigger problem in our modern world as students spend astronomically prohibitive amounts on their college education, despite the fact that most of them prefer to cheat or plagiarize their way through college: the degree has significance while what they learn as they read has disintegrated. Thus, understanding why activists in the eighteenth century felt that printed books had to decrease in price via libraries and the like and why literacy had to spread might help us to regain some of these ideals in our own modern world.

“The market for print steadily expanded throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world thanks to printers’ efforts to ensure that ordinary people knew how to read and use printed matter. Reading is and was a collection of practices, performed in diverse but always very specific ways. These practices were spread down the social hierarchy through printed guides. Eve Tavor Bannet explores guides to six manners or methods of reading, each with its own social, economic, commercial, intellectual and pedagogical functions, and each promoting a variety of fragmentary and discontinuous reading practices. The increasingly widespread production of periodicals, pamphlets, prefaces, conduct books, conversation-pieces and fictions, together with schoolbooks designed for adults and children, disseminated all that people of all ages and ranks might need or wish to know about reading, and prepared them for new jobs and roles both in Britain and America.”

The interior of this book does not really address what I had hoped to find in it, but then again if a scholar wants to read a good book, he or she typically has to write it themselves. Instead, this book looks at the components of reading as a teacher of language needs to understand it, reviewing syllabic reading, grammars and dictionaries, reading aloud, tasteful language, and mimicry. There are some sections that address the topics that are in my areas of interest, including a section on the power of “Booksellers” or printers in this century, with an explanation on how they control the genres, topics and the like that was allowed to enter print and what gained a wider public consumption versus what died in obscurity (20-1). My own research has demonstrated that most writers who survive through the present moment through canonization at least at some point ran their own publishing ventures, thus allowing them to self-publish complex works that might not have been published by other publishers who might have been more interested in promoting their own creative efforts or efforts that were sponsored by patrons or other interested parties. For example, Richardson and Defoe both operated as printers, releasing some of their best-known works themselves. Defoe, Curll and other printers frequently suffered for their capacity to bypass this pre-publication censorship through self-publication when they were brought on charges for sedition against the crown in the resulting works, regardless of if they were truly the authors, or were only accused of being authors.

Most of the information delivered across this book is very obscure in the best of ways. I have never read about “conversation-pieces” before, a genre that: “provided stylized printed models of conversations… that centered on reading aloud” (109). Knowing about these types of practices and reading-learning patterns should help most researchers of this time and place to understand the audiences for the books released to them. If kids were looking for books to read aloud, this might have influenced the style of some of the popular novels or non-fictions, which might help a researcher explain a pattern or a theory regarding such productions or reader-author connections.

This book is worthy of serious scholarly review and close reading by scholars of this period, as it presents evidence that has been buried in the archives, and needs to become more visible and intertwined with critical discourse that touches on the texts read and printed, but not on how they were read and how they were printed. 

Compressed Research from a Myriad of Fields Associated with John Keats

Michael O’Neill, editor. John Keats in Context. 374pp. ISBN: 978-1-107-67437-0. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This collection of essays covers John Keats (1795–1821) “and his work…” as well as “his influences, contemporaries, and reception, and explore the interaction of poet and world.” This is all very well, but then the summary veers: “The essays consider his enduring but ever-altering appeal…” I am particularly suspicious of studies of “appeal”, as I noted previously in this review set. What is the point of studying popularity or if readers liked a work? This type of popularity-analysis seems to be a waste of scholarly-time. It also promises to “offer revisionary close reading of the poems and letters.” If it achieves true “revisions” or explanations as to how past scholars erred in their conclusions this would be a great example for me to use to understand how I might also manage to convince scholars to make the revisions I have found to be necessary in literary studies. The summary concludes on an odd note that the contents “survey subjects ranging from education, relationships, and religion to art, genre, and film.” It is troubling that at least one of the essays once again dives into religion, instead of sticking to secular topics; but it is still more troubling that yet other essays digress into chats on art and film. I guess “context” can refer to anything in the past or present, but this is not an art history book or a book on film studies, so the editor could not have been knowledgeable enough in these distant subjects to include them in a specialized collection focusing on a single writer with a narrow generic span.

In fact, the first chapter is called, “Biographies and Film”, so the editor thought it was a good idea to dive into this topic rather than first exploring the more standard topics relevant to Keats. Perhaps, the editor was trying to appease readers who are incapable of reading books and can only tolerate film versions of the classics. Oddly enough, this is followed by what I might have expected in a biographic study of Keats: “Formative Years and Medical Training”, before other chapters cover other biographical topics related to his life and letters, including his travel, and the women in his life. There are other cryptic chapters like the one called simply, “Letters”, which presuming goes over all of his letters and attempts to make some kind of conclusions from the bunch of them. This is followed by a very practical chapter called “Manuscripts and Publishing History”, which would definitely be relevant to my own interest in publishing and manuscript studies, and probably would also interest most other scholars of how books are made. After this biographic part, there are parts on cultural context, ideas, poetic influences and intersections with different genres, and critical reception. Nearly all of these chapters stick to narrow topics that can be covered in a chapter, while also addressing the types of intricate details that scholars of Keats need to know as they dive further into various types of analysis. The section on critical reception is broken down by years, so readers can find the periods that are relevant to their particular research project.

The “Letters” chapter review Keats’ letter writing style to understand “the poet’s life”. The trouble is that, as I suspected, the letters lack many clear formulaic patterns, so the author stretches patterns she sees in Keats treatment of women, different types of ideas and friendships. Thus, the long quotes from these letters and interspersed with ponderings such as these: “Self-consciously tracing his development as revealing a similar arc to that of the human animal, Keats claims to be ‘writing at random’ even as the metaphor chosen seems gorgeously apt as it promotes his poetry to the status of the philosophy which he claims is superior to his own imaginative art” (71). There is a reference to the “human animal” in the long quote above this, but Madeleine Callaghan does not even put this phrase in quotes, making it appear as if she is just digressing into random philosophizing about the animalistic nature of mankind. If Keats claims to be babbling, then why is she finding metaphors and deep meanings in what he is saying; critics really need to trust writers when they write about themselves and their craft.

In contrast to Callaghan’s digressive pondering about life, the chapter on publishing history jumps into the details that it needs to cover in just a few pages, inserting very specific and essential information for all scholars of Keats. This chapter is organized chronologically, covering Keats first publishing efforts in 1817 through to 2015, or the present. Those who want to understand which of the editions they might need to check for a specific element, change, or the like should find a helpful introduction to where to look in this brisk summation (75-85).

This is a mixed bag of outstanding and practical scholarship and less focused and more misleading digressive philosophizing. Readers are warned to dig beware of the occasional sprouts of nonsense, and to keep digging until they locate the relevant content to their individual pursuits.

Philosophizing on a Bunch of Different Types of Places

Kevin Gilmartin, editor. Sociable Places: Locating Culture in Romantic-Period Britain. 270pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-107-66374-9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


I requested this book because I was interested in seeing the range of literature studies released from all of the publishers I queried; I hope to publish some academic research, and for this I hope to understand what publishers are accepting for publication; while this might have been a bias in some circumstances, given the number of negative reviews I’m sending in response, I think I have avoided the possibility of bias to help my own publishing efforts. On closer analysis, this particular study appears to demonstrate the problem of literary studies zooming into narrower fields because the same types of analysis appear to have already been performed on the wider subjects. Past studies considered the structure of romantic British fiction in general, then their setting, and now the specific type of location the editor is calling, “sociable places”. The cover explains that this collection spans nearly all genres of the textual and visual: “literature, theater, history, and the visual arts”. This is troubling: given the nature of modern specialization, can any editor polish a collection that jumps between all these foreign fields? It “explores the range of places where British Romantic-period sociability transpired. The book considers how sociability was shaped by place, by the rooms, buildings, landscapes and seascapes where people gathered to converse, to eat and drink, to work and to find entertainment. At the same time, it is clear that sociability shaped place, both in the deliberate construction and configuration of venues for people to gather, and in the way such gatherings transformed how place was experienced and understood. The essays highlight literary and aesthetic experience but also range through popular entertainment and ordinary forms of labor and leisure.” This seems to be theoretical double-speak that threatens nonsense might invade these pages…

Instead of clarifying the confusion the cover introduces, the Contents’ part titles only add to the chaos, as sections are not split by discipline or genre by rather by subjects like “Sociable Spectacle”, “Interior Places” and “Traveling Sociability”. The book as a whole promises to be about social places, so it might have made sense if the split was between interior, exterior and moving spaces, but the parallel is broken as there is no heading among these three for the “exterior”, and “spectacle” suggests a similar type of circus to “traveling” in this context. It seems the editor intended to disorient readers, and this tends to hint the book is continuing to veer into nonsense. And the fourth part is on “Print Relations”, and it covers the Country Book Club and Piccadilly Booksellers, veering completely away from any kind of geographic or setting-related spaces. The most sensible topics appear in the “Traveling” part, with chapters on social activity among the “Ruins”, the “Sea Side” and in the “British Navy”. The “Club” chapter jumps around between various random quotes the author, Ina Ferris, found on clubs in Britain, and only touches down on anything somewhat associated with places in sentences like this: “Country clubs thus did not so much harness themselves to metropolitan modernity as ‘carry home’ its books, and in the process they disappeared from public space or, more accurately, from the space of the public” (45). It is very common for scholars to insert “more accurately” when they know the sentence is nonsensical, but they want to stress that they are working hard to be very precise in their research, so the insertion of this phrase is supposed to make readers feel that if they fail to understand this grand conclusion, the fault is theirs whereas the writer is clearly the pinnacle of accuracy. In this case, Modernity is not related to carrying books home. All books did not disappear from “public spaces”, as some books remain on display in bookstores, libraries, and countless other public spaces. While the author might have invented a brand new definition for the phrase “the space of the public” earlier in this essay, the dictionary definition of this phrase is identical to “public space”, just as “the home of the murderer” is the same as “the murderer’s home”.

The chapter on the ruins reviews how various writers described their travel to these places in fiction and non-fiction: “It is not that Byron ‘invented’ the moonlight tour (surely, when he went to Rome in 1816, he was himself dipping into an embryonic vogue) but rather that he culled widespread recognition for it as a distinctive touristic attraction, helping to make it an appealing and chic thing to do” (189). The author, Christopher Rovee cites a few earlier mentions of the Colosseum across this chapter. It would be extremely difficult to provide sufficient proof that Byron “invented” a tour and even proving that he spread its popularity is a stretch. This is only a few pages into a short chapter with too many pictures and long poems to fit the necessary evidence. Most of literary criticism is based similar conclusions drawn on assumptions rather than facts, so it would not surprise readers to read these lines. If Byron discovered the tour, then there is a significant “finding” the author has made that explains why this essay was worthy of inclusion while thousands of other researchers who might have wanted to participate were excluded.

Discussing setting and place might be a worthy endeavor if this is done in terms of structural patterns, but instead it tends to be handled as a topic that allows for easy digressions into any place on the planet, so that the conclusions are made to appear deeply philosophical, but in truth only glide over random surfaces, collecting unrelated and insignificant evidence, before building words into sentences that appear complex simply because nonsense cannot be understood.

Brushing Against the Scandal of Self-Canonization

Michael Gamer. Romanticism, Self-Canonization, and the Business of Poetry. 312pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-316-61153-1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


If this book achieves its promise, it would be a useful book indeed: “This is the first book to examine how Romantic writers transformed poetic collections to reach new audiences. In a series of case studies, Michael Gamer shows Romantic poets to be fundamentally social authors: working closely with booksellers, intimately involved in literary production, and resolutely concerned with current readers even as they presented themselves as disinterested artists writing for posterity.” My recent authorial re-attribution and publishing history research has demonstrated that Pope and a group of other writers are likely to have staged “literary battles” in the press deliberately to bring both sides’ collections into the public’s awareness, so it confirms this theory of canonical poets as getting there through extremely aggressive self-promotion campaigns. “Exploding the myth of Romantic poets as naive, unworldly, or unconcerned with the practical aspects of literary production, this study shows them instead to be engaged with intellectual property, profit and loss, and the power of reprinting to reshape literary reputation.” My own research has shown that many now canonized authors (especially from these earlier centuries of mainstream printing) engaged in self-publication (Defoe, Dickens, Richardson) and not only self-re-printing, but self-publishing has such a negative connotation today that Michael Gamer might have deliberately avoid exploring this part of the canonization process.

While I can dream about the evidence I would like to find in a collection on this topic, the reality of what this book offers does not begin to meet these expectations. For example: “Self-collecting and self-canonization… require presenting that life and corpus as vibrantly alive and resonating with the social structures that constitute the nation” (51). Self-canonization means adding yourself to the canon through possibly puffing yourself in anonymous reviews, or otherwise releasing collections that include your own work in a canonical context. What does this act of literary self-propagating sabotage have to do with showing life as representing society? Showing life really has nothing to do with collecting or canonization, but is the basic element all fiction and non-fiction has in common. Gamer could not have been more general and nonsensical than he is being in these sentences.

The chapter on Southey’s “Laureate Policy” at least touches on the subject it promises to cover in the conclusion: “The disappearance of ‘Poet Laureate’ from the title page of the Poetical Works attests… that, after nearly a quarter-century, the office had so depreciated in value so as not to be worth claiming” (196). Gamer is approaching a point here about purchasing titles such as “Poet Laureate” in order to bolster a literary career as a strategy that has been employed across the history of highbrow literature, but he stops short of stressing this point in the last sentences of this chapter, instead digressing into how much the office failed to be worth to Southey’s heirs after his death, and what Southey wrote about his looming death and inheritance in general. It seems as if it is no longer “cool” to conclude chapters in modern academic publishing. Why explain what the point of all that evidence was? Why offer your take on the findings? Once an author reaches the needed word-count, it is time to stop abruptly at the end of a long quote, not even connecting what this bit of “wisdom” has to do with the rest of it…

Seneca in Latin… Without Translation

Catharine Edwards, editor. Seneca: Selected Letters: Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. 346pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-0-521-46583-0. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


I enjoy reading ancient texts when I need inspiration, but I was disappointed to find that the central letters are not offered in English, meaning that I cannot read the content that prompted this request. There is a great deal of front matter on Seneca’s biography and on these texts, but it is all very technical, and I am not working on scholarship in this area, so it is unlikely that I could use any of this material in my own research. The letters are advertised as a “guide to Stoic self-improvement but also cast light on Roman attitudes towards slavery, gladiatorial combat and suicide… The commentary explains the more challenging aspects of Seneca’s Latin.” This detailed linguistic analysis is obviously created for students or native speakers of Latin, so this book is meant for this audience and should not be acquired by those outside these groups, as it is unintelligible to all others. The notes propose to explain the “Stoic (and Epicurean) ideas,” “the historical context within which the letters were written and on their literary sophistication.” This might have opened it to a broader audience, but in reality, the sections on context cover things like, “Letters as a Genre”, with brief notes such as a quote from Seneca followed with the interpretation that “his assertion… of the superiority of personal encounters to written text in inculcating sound ethical practice” (8). In other words, Seneca praised speaking in person instead of letter-writing; but this is a section on the letter genre, so why is this negative opinion on the genre inserted instead of explaining the boundaries and elements of the genre under study. Even in the English introductory comments, there are several untranslated words and sentences in Latin. The next section offers some “Stoic Terms and Concepts”, but these really should have been defined in a Glossary; instead there are lumped into phrase-length notes in very long paragraphs that define dozens of these Latin words. Pairs of synonyms are offered for most of these without clear distinctions between them. And all of these terms are utilized in philosophizing on these subjects rather than as distinct definitions: confusing their meaning. For example: “Through the use of perfected reason, humans are able to live in accordance with nature, natura, thus achieving a happy life, uita beata or beatus status (natura in turn is informed by divine ratio, 90.16). This is the highest good, summum bonum” (10). Reason (including ratios) and nature are frequently put in opposition in philosophy, so why they seem to be synonyms here is questionable. What “This” is referring to and what makes up the “highest good” is also confusing: is the happy life, the ratio, or nature “good”? This is not a coffee book. It does not welcome general readers interested in philosophy to enter and look around. Instead, it jumps around between narrow and convoluted ideas without really exploring enough of them to explain these subjects. Thus, I cannot recommend this book. Potential readers have to look inside for themselves to figure out if they can understand and benefit from the Latin and the type of introductory comments offered on Seneca. 

What Researchers Need to Know About the Press in Britain

Joanne Shattock, editor. Journalism and the Periodical Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain. 402pp. ISBN: 978-1-107-44996-1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This book’s summary opens with a note that’s surprising: “Newly commissioned essays…” Commissioned? These guys are paid for contributing a chapter to these collections? This explains why they are eager to participate, but if they are paid for doing them, why aren’t they polishing these with more care. It seems that to prove they are the “leading scholars”, these writers are compelled to make the stringing together of somewhat associated quotes appear to be insightful by using not only long words, but also placing them in an order that disorients and confuses readers. Then, the lack of these type of double-speak in researchers whose primary concern is the truth or communicating in a manner that is understood by readers is utilized to exclude them from being paid and from being canonized as the top researchers in their field through these types of best-researchers collections. The blurb summarizes the goal of this particular collection as reviewing: “the newspaper and periodical press in nineteenth-century Britain. Essays range from studies of periodical formats in the nineteenth century—reviews, magazines and newspapers—to accounts of individual journalists, many of them eminent writers of the day. The uneasy relationship between the new ‘profession’ of journalism and the evolving profession of authorship is investigated, as is the impact of technological innovations, such as the telegraph, the typewriter and new processes of illustration.” Just as with other collections, the editor of this one received essays on countries other than the one he asked for, so he just used them as well, claiming that these digressions “consider the transnational and global dimensions of the British press and its impact in the rest of the world.” The reason for writing yet another study of the press in its various forms is given as due to the recent “digitisation of historical media”, which has opened “new avenues of research”.

The interior of this book is organized with reason and logic, and the chapters promise to cover segments that should help several researchers with their own research. There are practical or straightforward chapters on changes in the format of the periodical, gendered annuals and gift books, graphic satire, and illustrations. There is also an entire chapter called, “The Press and the Law”: there were many law-shaping changes that took place around the censorship and other components relevant to the press in this period, so this information is definitely revealing for most students of the subject. The fourth part of the book considers the journalism of individual canonical writers including Dickens, Harriet Martineau, Wilkie Collins (who worked partially for Dickens), Margaret Oliphant, Marian Evans (reviewer) and Oscar Wilde (“New Journalist”). This separation into unique journalists as well as the practical, legal and theoretical subjects should especially help researchers who are new to this field, or who are looking for information on one specific author, or on one of these topics: they should find it with more ease than if all this stuff was mixed in together.

This neatness is not just a façade, as the interior of the “Law” chapter, for example, marches forward by detailing, defining, and connecting concepts related to press “freedom”, “liberty of expression”, “copyright”, “libel” and other “legal liabilities”, as they were introduced in “legal guides” in this period to inform the members of the press (147). In the Dickens chapter, the author also addresses the important question of international copyrights that comes to mind when one ponders Dickens and the press: with a focus on how Dickens secured copyrights agreements during his readings tour(s) of America. Dickens died shortly after his second tour: because they were much more strenuous than he disclosed: he made these trips primary to secure these copyrights as Americans were stealing his work shamelessly and creating bestsellers without paying him any royalties, so this deal was a matter of survival for him and the other authors his publishing venture represented (313).

This book is polished throughout, without any detectable glitches. Researchers will find it easy to navigate, and should find some useful information they need to know to write intelligently on the subjects covered in these pages. Academic libraries can definitely benefit from having this book in their collection, as most of these journalists are canonical authors who are common topics in undergraduate and graduate essays.

Babblings About the Meaninglessness of Texts on Wandering Women

Ingrid Horrocks. Women Wanderers and the Writing of Mobility, 1784-1814. 298pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-316-63338-0. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This book echoes the “spaces” book I received earlier in this review set, both are from Cambridge; it had a section on travel and also sections on interiors, whereas this book is about travel writing among a single genre in a span of three decades; hopefully, Ingrid Horrocks will commence by explaining why the subject was narrowed thus, as there is no logical reason I can think of that travel writing was uniquely different in this span. “In the last days of the Scandinavian journey that would become the basis of her great post-Revolutionary travel book, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, ‘I am weary of travelling—yet seem to have no home—no resting place to look to—I am strangely cast off’. From this starting point, Ingrid Horrocks reveals the significance of representations of women wanderers in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, particularly in the work of women writers.” Summaries infrequently include entire sentences of quoted matter because it has to contribute significantly to summarizing the book, and this typically is not likely to be found in any quote from another writer’s book, especially if it is not similar in genre and structure to the book being summarized. In this case, this quote only repeats the travel theme in contrast with staying indoors, without adding any explanation as to how or why it is being studied. The editor then comments that the quote is revealing of “significance” of the subject, but if such significance has been revealed it is not apparent from the general observation or from this restatement that there is significance present without this needed bit of direct explanation. “She follows gendered, frequently reluctant wanderers beyond travel narratives into poetry, gothic romances, and sentimental novels, and places them within a long history of uses of the more traditional literary figure of the male wanderer.” Researchers too often wander into other genres when they fail to find sufficient evidence in the primary genre they have chosen. In this case, there were too few canonical travel narratives written in this narrow time and space by women, whereas there were more gothic romances about travel and bits about travel can be found scattered across nearly all poetry collections. More troublingly, the author assumes the “male wanderer” has been “more traditional” without showing statistical proof of this assumption. Horrocks and her readers might hold this gendered assumption because female wanderer stories have been excluded from the canon, and the assumption that they are uncommon in the canon might have contributed to increasing this belief. “Drawing out the relationship between mobility and affect, and illuminating textual forms of wandering, Horrocks shows how paying attention to the figure of the woman wanderer sheds new light on women and travel, and alters assumptions about mobility’s connection with freedom.” The last portion is a curious field of inquiry: the assumption has been that women have been more limited in terms of travel because chauvinism has kept them from the liberties held by men, but if women have spent the last few hundred years being refused work for their gender, and half of them were in the middle class or better, then women would have had more free time for travel than their husbands, who had to work to pay for the family’s expenses. Thus, statistics on how common male versus female travel was in the period in question would start this conversation from a truthful perspective.

In the interior, only one chapter addresses non-fiction travel writing, the one about Wollstonecraft. The others are about changes of scene in poetry, depressing sonnets about travel, the formula of gothic narrative travel, and digressive travels in the novel. The “Introduction” repeats the Wollstonecraft quote, elaborating that the book’s goal is to cover women who dreaded or were terrified of travel, as well as those who enjoyed or had a positive outlook on it; these two extremes pretty much cover all possible emotional responses to travel, so they cancel each other out, making it unnecessary to specify this duality. Then Horrocks stresses the book is about wanderers rather than travelers not simply to avoid using the common genre-defining term, but because she is interested in “digression” in travel rather than purposeful travel because this type of travel is likely to cause the female to become lost and lonely (1). The rest of the book repeats synonyms of loneliness, lost, alone, sad, depressed and the like on nearly every page. These almost seem intended to create a gothic gloom for readers, or to put them in a trance of sadness. Depression really should not be the subject of literary studies without some research into clinical depression or diagnosis of the conditions in scientific terms. Literature is split into tragedies and comedies, and tragedies are supposed to instill a sense of sadness, loneliness and the like on readers: this depressive task of half of world’s literature is innate in the generic structure designed in Greco-Roman times. Critics like Horrocks tend to confuse this job of imparting sadness onto characters and readers as betraying these feelings in the author, but especially in fiction, the emotions displayed are falsehoods and cannot be taken as proof of the character of average female travelers, just as the nature of monarchs should not be extrapolated from the murderous monarchs in Shakespeare. Repeating to the fact characters are sad regarding their wandering across a scholarly book is an exercise that fails to deliver useful research for readers. Horrocks had to step back to explain the sadness is a trope to inspire sympathy through tragedy, but instead she is wallowing in these feelings along side casual readers of these fictions.

Further in the book, problems accumulate. For example, she offers a long quote from one of Charlotte Smith’s sonnets, The Emigrants: “Charged deep with death, upon the waves, far seen,/ Move the war-freighted ships; and fierce and red,/ Flash their destructive fire—The mangled dead…” Emigrants are dying on ships here: while the events are exaggerated: any tragedy is in the facts of the bad conditions of the sea that appears to be swallowing up their lives. Instead of addressing these realities, Horrocks chooses to see the culprit in “wandering”, which in this case is a stand-in for migration, as “endless and meaningless motion”; the text in question demonstrates a definitive end in death for some of these migrants, and they are emigrating for a reason and not meaninglessly. Horrocks’ interpretation seems to be more a reflection of modern anti-immigrant sentiments rather than the message in the sonnet. Perhaps because this interpretation lacks sense, Horrocks then digresses further into meaninglessness: “The ‘I’ inhabited by her wanderer is forever fractured by being separated from its former self, and forever stuck in the singular solitariness of its being in the present moment.” There is no “I” in the quote in question. Horrocks is stretching the “I” of the poet or Smith to apply it to the narrator, assuming that Smith finds these wanderings to be clueless about herself and lonely. There is no proof of this lack of control or identity on the part of the poet in the text, so Horrocks is insulting the author when she calls her depressed and confused without understanding the point of Smith’s narrative (105-7).

Dozens of people are thanked in the acknowledgements for having helped Horrocks edit this book. None of them pointed the problems out that I am stressing? I have attempted to find a reviewer for my de-attribution project and because my research fights against established assumptions, I have not found a single person among hundreds of scholars willing to offer a critique without breaking into insults. Maybe critics are driven to encourage mistakes in fellow critics to make their own research appear better in comparison. Or perhaps Horrocks’ Ivy League degrees have welcomed her into fellowships and mentorships denied to anybody outside this upper club? Whatever the reasons might be for the success of books like Horrocks in finding mentors and publishers, they are just poorly researched, poorly written, and lacking in coherent sense.

Use of the Sex-Drive in the Commercialization of Art  

Lucy Hartley. Democratizing Beauty in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Art and the Politics of Public Life. 300pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-316-63534-6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


Most books on this subject substitute “aesthetics” for “beauty” to make it sound more scholarly. So, the title suggests that it will be more direct in addressing beauty and ugliness than these more politically correct projects. “Could the self-interested pursuit of beauty actually help to establish the moral and political norms that enable democratic society to flourish? In this book, Lucy Hartley identifies a new language for speaking about beauty, which begins to be articulated from the 1830s in a climate of political reform and becomes linked to emerging ideals of equality, liberty, and individuality.” It appears Hartley is attempting to apply modern marketing strategies that sell plastic surgery, cosmetics, diet pills and other beauty-enhancing products to women to spin these as not only positive today, but also democracy-birthing across the nineteenth-century. Thus, at this onset, I am on-guard for what is likely to follow. “Examining British art and art writing by Charles Lock Eastlake, John Ruskin, Walter Pater, Edward Poynter, William Morris, and John Addington Symonds, Hartley traces a debate about what it means to be interested in beauty and whether this preoccupation is necessary to public political life.” My master’s thesis was called, Beauty in Theory and Practice; in this project, I searched for what canonical British authors have written about beauty, and I learned that nearly all writers have at some point either described a beautiful person, or have offered their philosophy of what beauty means. While I could have also stretched what these writers said to political matters, this would have been nonsensical, as I felt I had to stick to explaining the chosen topic of beauty without digressing into things that weren’t in the sections on this specific subject. “Drawing together political history, art history, and theories of society, and supplemented by numerous illustrations,” this book “offers” an “interdisciplinary understanding of the relation of art to its publics.” Promising to explain the relationship between art and its viewers is an over-reach as it involves reading the mind of these “publics”; if these “publics” are actually specific critics and their written statements about their take on beauty in art, this would be a researchable subject, but their opinions only represents their own perspectives and not a majority or all of the public that looked at the works in question.

Most of the black and white art illustrating this book is Greco-Roman or comes from the Renaissance or other earlier periods, rather than from either Britain or the nineteenth century. This should confuse the conclusions Lucy Hartley can draw because the beauty in question represents opinions on beauty from earlier millennia, while the critics analyzed are expressing their beauty-related biases in a different century; these two are not likely to match, so any theory is bound to show this conflicting duality of political and aesthetic interests. The chapters focus on the role the Fine Arts Commission played on changing “taste”, and various vaguer concepts that connect individual critics with changes in the relationship between art and politics.

Things do not improve inside. One paragraph starts thus: “What, then, do we learn about art in the national and for the universal interest?” While a tired instructor can ask this question in the middle of a lecture to check if the students were paying attention, asking this in the middle of a scholarly chapter is a waste of textual space. A paragraph is supposed to begin with the main point it is going to deliver, or at least with the start of a new idea. But this is asking about art in “universal” terms; an equivalent question would be: “What’s all this art stuff about anyway?” Hartley replies to herself thus: “Let us take aesthetic matters first.” The whole book is about “aesthetic matters”, but she is just now starting to take them on page 57? And worse still, she does not address any “aesthetic matters” after this, but instead jumps on the subject of funding for art: “Despite all the commission said on the importance of promoting an English school of painting, it actually assigned much of the work to artists connected in some way or another with the German school of Overbeck and Cornelius.” This is followed with a summary of the work they commissioned across the paragraph with a digressive conclusion unrelated to these facts at the end. And this sentence is nonsensical: the commission promising to promote painting is consistent with it hiring artists; but Hartley sets the hiring as being contradictory to the urge to promote.

The commercialization of art and the politics of art funding are the dominant subjects in the book, while “beauty” is barely touched on. Here is how beauty is addressed: “I want to dwell on… the ‘double line’ of ‘moral’ and ‘physical results’ by considering the symbolic importance of the isolated male nude as, and for, the body aesthetic. The male nude in” Poynter’s “Israel in Egypt takes the strain of moving the giant statue almost like a tiller for the other slave and, simultaneously, breaks the action as if isolated for the aesthetic appreciation of his athletic body” (151-3). There are several nude and semi-nude figures across this epic painting that shows a procession moving an Egyptian statue with the royals trailing behind and observing the operation. Hartley focuses on the one male nude that is pulling the cart in a position where in reality no sane worker would have stood, in the middle of the cart by the statue, facing the royals as he is tiptoeing in the opposite direction of the pull; thus, this guy would be adding to the load instead of helping move the statue; the point of his placement might be to give the royals a pretty body to look at, but Hartley chooses to see it as a political pro-emancipation statement because it was made in 1867, during the American Civil War. After explaining this assumed meaning for a couple of pages, Hartley arrives at the before-mentioned quote. He is arguing that the artist broke the labor-statement with the insertion of a pointless nude for the sake of stressing the beauty of this body rather than to reinforce the “moral” problems of slave labor. There is some sense here, but Hartley does not make it easy for readers as he jumps between far-fetched conclusions and digressive ponderings; for example, inserting “I want to dwell” shows Hartley’s self-indulgence and lack of a pre-determined conclusion in the speculations he is about to relate.

The Context to the Fiction of the Spontaneous Holmes “Fandom”

Janice M. Allan and Christopher Pittard, editors. The Cambridge Companion to Sherlock Holmes. 266pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-316-60959-0. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This book is part of over a century of marketing by the publishers who have held the rights to the Holmes series to keep selling these works as belonging at the birth of the detective genre. Holmes was created at a time when modern policing and scientific detective methods were being born, and this is the reason there are few detective stories written prior to the first Holmes story. This type of fiction has been utilized for governments to propagate for bigger governments because it turns police into all-knowing superheroes capable of always spotting the evil-doer. In modern times, the media is more interested in covering cases of police misconduct and wrongful convictions and executions of the innocent, but this only makes it more necessary for governments to propagate for these myths of infallibility. Even Doyle saw Holmes in a negative light, inserting an opium addiction and other character flaws into the character, but these are sidelined or turned into sins shared with the similarly morally questionable but otherwise impeccable modern police forces. Fan fiction and puffing critics of Holmes build this myth to modern audiences many of whom might have seen TV series or films about Holmes without reading Doyle’s originals. Each of these new adaptations stands to make billions, and so there is a sea of marketing dollars to fund puffed reviews or these types of collections of favorable fan-scholarship.

From this perspective we can now consider the book’s description: “Sherlock Holmes is the most famous fictional detective in history, with a popularity that has never waned since catching the imagination of his late-Victorian readership. This Companion explores Holmes’ popularity and his complex relationship to the late-Victorian and modernist periods; on one hand bearing the imprint of a range of Victorian anxieties and preoccupations, while on the other shaping popular conceptions of criminality, deviance, and the powers of the detective.” You can see how the realities of the pro-police marketing and puffery of the Holmes production lines is spun as an all-loved, society-assisting venture. “‘Contexts’ explores late-Victorian culture, from the emergence of detective fiction to ideas of evolution, gender, and Englishness. ‘Case Studies’ reads selected Holmes adventures in the context of empire, visual culture, and the gothic. Finally, ‘Holmesian Afterlives’ investigates the relationship between Holmes and literary theory, film and theatre adaptations, new Holmesian novels, and the fandom that now surrounds him.” Fandom is sold in scholarly studies as a phenomenon that occurs naturally, as those who like groups of texts gravitate spontaneously towards purchasing the fan fiction, adaptations, toys, Halloween costumes and other affiliated products; in reality, fandom is artificially created by marketers representing these brands. The editors of this collection fail to acknowledge their own participation in selling these products, though to more sophisticated readers; they turn the bias into a seeming affliction with fan-mania. The collection might have been more convincing if its guardians were more detached and critical of the fever of fandom they have collected.

The interior might thus be more revealing than this façade. In an opening chapter on the “History of Detective Fiction”, Merrick Burrow explains that the earliest fans of Doyle’s Holmes stories wrote to Holmes in the hope of being hired as his “domestic servants” or helping his “bookkeeping” (15). I have come across other writers having similar problems after publishing popular works: these are usually grifters who attempt to latch on to people they perceive to have money to milk these resources; the same problem is common among modern athletes who go bankrupt because they lose money to such grifters despite early hundreds of millions. Senseless interest in a story is unlikely whereas an interest in grifting the author, or the author’s interest in forming a perception that he has a fan-base to encourage future publications are monetarily-motivated situations that can be substantiated with this type of research. Burrow then does a good job summarizing the precursors that led to the structure of detective fiction that Doyle settled on, including Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), which “sold over 300,000 copies”. It is pretty common in genre studies for the texts chosen as genre-founding to not really be the first of their kind or the most popular upon release, so these types of “precursor” explanations make the assertion of originality grounded in truthful reflections on the texts the “original” is mimicking (16). While the chapters on context, genre, and policing in Doyle’s time are useful for scholars, the chapters on fandom are more digressive, uncertain, fumbling, and lacking in logic or coherent theory. For example, Bran Nicol concludes his essay with confused ponderings: “What if, in this spirit, we acknowledge that Doyle was not writing short stories but producing novel exercises in literary theory…” He then goes on to explain how this might be the case in his final paragraph, having failed to address this hypothesis earlier. Then, he notes: “The Holmes stories may be formulaic and repetitive, but they are also thrilling…” etc., etc. “when we consider—as many theorists have encouraged us to do—what they can teach us about literature” (197). The note about theorists encouraging readers to see what Doyle is teaching about literature is indeed revealing. Why do theorists keep stressing that we are to learn from Doyle’s theory? If, as Nicol himself concludes the stories are “repetitive”, then they can only teach readers how to write similarly repetitive stories. Theorists who explain these stories must describe these repetitive patterns, but some critics opt to avoid this by instead referring to the lessons readers can learn for themselves regarding the presented “thrills”; in misdirecting readers thus, the theorists avoid having to dig into the science of repetition, and they help support the marketing of the Holmes brand by telling readers that if they fail to see the brilliance of the proposed thrills, they are incompetent at reading.   

This book contains a lot of honest and shocking points regarding the Holmes manufactured “fandom”, but these intricate jokes and criticisms of this industry will only be apparent to scholars who have been studying this subject for decades. Readers who are new to Holmes studies might be mislead into imagining these texts are brilliant, flawless and worthy of continuing worship, at the cost of much better writers who might represent a more negative take on detectives, or who might offer an anti-formulaic innovative storylines, but lack the funding to match this Holmesian marketing machine.

How Reviewers Shape the “Southern” Identity and Fiction

Sarah Gardner. Reviewing the South: The Literary Marketplace and the Southern Renaissance, 1920-1941. 316pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-316-60237-9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


I saw an article in my newsfeed earlier today about what exactly it means to be a “Southern” writer. I did not read it closely this morning, but now I searched for it online and found that it is called, “What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?” by Margaret Renkl; it was actually written a year ago and appeared in the New York Times. It begins by explaining that with internet access and various modern conveniences, writers in the South today have an entirely different experience from the harsh conditions faced by writers a century ago, when they were prompted to pen such agrarian manifestos as, I’ll Take My Stand. I wrote a book called Radical Agrarian Economics, and these agrarian ideas are still expressed by a few farmers like Wendell Berry, who make a living from the land and also happen to be writers. Renkl concludes this article thus: “being a Southern writer has always been more than stereotypes of ceiling fans and panting dogs in dirt yards. Maybe being a Southern writer is only a matter of loving a damaged and damaging place, of loving its flawed and beautiful people, so much that you have to stay there, observing and recording…” This is a very romantic take on this notion. The stereotypes have remained a characteristic element of Southern writing because these linguistics, and cultural oddities are at the heart of what many believe to be Americana or the true American native nature. However, I have a different take on this category. Magazines are divided into geographic regions, and those that accept only Southern or their home state’s writers are expecting to find modernized versions of these old stereotypes. While Renkl has the perception that a Southern writer interacts and depicts these intricacies of impoverished life; since I am anti-social, and I only have brief encounters with people here in Texas, for me, being a Southern writer has just meant purchasing a cheap piece of land to put my little manufactured house on to afford to spend nearly all of my time writing, instead of paying a giant mortgage in a Northern state. There is air conditioning and access to libraries of online information and free review book copies arriving, so I hardly see this geographical choice as a hardship. On the other hand, there are few publishers other than myself in the entire state of Texas, and I don’t think my neighbors appreciate all of my scribbling. So, others might interpret me as belonging to the underclass of impoverished, rural, scraping Southern writers, while I see myself as a minimalist detached from whatever forest fire might be 7 miles away from my house right now.

Having established my biases on this matter, here is the blurb: “The American South received increased attention from national commentators during the interwar era. Beginning in the 1920s, the proliferation of daily book columns and Sunday book supplements in newspapers reflected a growing audience of educated readers and its demand for books and book reviews. This period of intensified scrutiny coincided with a boom in the publishing industry, which, in turn, encouraged newspapers to pay greater attention to the world of books. Reviewing the South shows how northern critics were as much involved in the Southern Literary Renaissance as Southern authors and critics.” This note that “northern critics” created this Southern Renaissance suggests that it was an artificial campaign by northern publishers to ostracize and devalue Southern literary production (both publishing and authorship). In my recent research, I uncovered that Pope appears to have worked in a writing collaborative with Curll and other seeming rivals to promote the books of two “rival” camps by staging a fake literary battle in the press; the sense of duality and conflict attracted readers towards their joint collections, making more money for the writers than they would have without such squabbles because all press is good press. In contrast, while northern critics might have been acting under the guise of flattering Southern writers and publishers, they might have instead aimed to devalue their works’ inferiority to their own via subversive reviews that hid these messages under seeming flattery. “Southern writing, Gardner argues, served as a litmus to gauge Southern exceptionalism. For critics and their readers, nothing less than the region’s ability to contribute to the vibrancy and growth of the nation was at stake.” These points stress the nationalistic tendencies of Southern writing as “exceptionalism” means superiority.

This book is part of the Cambridge Studies on the American South series, so they clearly believe the South is a real entity, rather than an imagined boundary aimed to promote the power of the North and the inferiority of the South. The topics covered in the chapters include: reading culture, migration of Southern writers to Harlem, Jim Crow laws, poverty in the South, the “Most Audacious Book Ever Written by Southerners”, and the role of fiction in propagating amidst the Civil War. The “Audacious” chapter begins with a reference to the agrarian I’ll Take My Stand treatise that Renkl also cites. Instead of viewing it in isolation, Sarah Gardner shows how this work was depicted in a negative light in reviews such as the one that appeared in the “left-wing” New Republic in “Wilson’s cheeky article” that “opens with a vignette on… a tobacco planter”. Gardner then explains how this farmer failed to represent the new generation of Southern writers who were making a living outside agriculture. America’s farming population has been shrinking across the past hundred years and is now at under 1%, and it was seeing a very sharp dip in the period when these agrarian propagandas started appearing, as they were attempting to return American back to its farmer-dominant past. Gardner demonstrates how the fumbling-farmer perspective on agrarians was offensive to the movement and others in the South. In fact, I’ll Take My Stand is the “Audacious” book this chapter is about rather than any obscene, pornographic, or economically radical book I might have imagined as I contemplated the chapter’s title (222-52). This is a curious perspective, and one that is needed in this discussion of what the South is and how reviewers can avoid slandering it. Meanwhile, the chapter on “The World the Reviewers Made” opens with an obscenity lawsuit against God’s Little Acre. Gardner explains that critics came to the book’s aid, calling it “a gritty strain of social realism in Depression-era fiction.” On the other hand, the offended parties were saying the book wrongly depicted scenes such as one where “an impoverished white tenant farmer trades sexual fantasies about his daughter-in-law with an African American sharecropper”. The court dismissed the charges citing that “the support Caldwell had received from critics and… their collective opinion was more valuable than that of Sumner”, or a censor calling for the litigation (14-5). While this seems to be a positive story where the freedom of speech was assisted by critics, it also demonstrates how puffers or marketers can support even obscene books on the basis of merit, while books that lack equivalent funding or mainstream support, but might be more morally reinforced, would have lost this lawsuit, and would have been wiped off the publishing record and into obscurity.

Overall, this book is well-written, well-edited, and addresses the questions all students of Southern literature and the role critics play in establishing the canon should be asking. This book is a useful addition to all academic libraries, as it should help undergraduate, graduate and professorial scholars with exploring this sensitive subject.

Cold War Insults Cloaked in Nonsensical-Double-Speak

Magdalena Baran-Szoltys, Monika Glosowitz, Aleksandra Konarzewska, editors. Imagined Geographies: Central European Spatial Narratives Between 1984 and 2014. $40, paperback. 200pp. ISBN: 978-3-838212-25-8. New York: Columbia University Press, December 4, 2018.


This is yet another book in this set that engages in spatial deconstructivism. This genre of scholarship, chooses any geographic region and time or even a type of space (interior/ exterior), and then writes digressively and nonsensically anything that comes to mind in association with this chosen subject. The “de-construction” is a process of taking literary criticism and running prior findings through a garbage-disposal unit, and then displaying the mixed up bits of garbage in a light that makes them appear to be highbrow and intellectual simply because nobody can find any sense in the nonsense; and they assume that if they cannot understand a text, it must be beyond their comprehension due to its excessive smartness. On top of this nonsense, this particular collection ventures into the politically-charged environment of central Europe, promising to engage in ethnic stereotyping in subversive nonsensical digressions. Obviously, the book does not advertise itself in these terms: “In 1984 Czech writer Milan Kundera published his essay ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’ in the New York Review of Books, which established the framework for disputes about the space ‘between East and West’ for the following thirty years.” This is another example of exaggerated claims that a single work has established an entire genre or a branch of theory. The work in question appeared in the West at the peak of the Cold War; the term “tragedy” in the title suggests that despite being a Czech, the author is biased towards the West’s take on the conflict. “Even today, the echo of those debates is still audible in spatial narratives.” This is an example of a jump from the concrete example of the Cold War piece just detailed to the confusing and hardly related topic of “spatial narratives”; the example is used to give a sense of familiarity, before it is clouded in this vague association to keep readers who are paying attention from entering the interior of this book. “Discussing the way in which literary figures are positioned within new hierarchies such as gender, class, or ethnicity, this volume shows how the space of the imagined Central Europe has been de- and reconstructed. Special attention is paid to the role of the past in shaping contemporary spatial discourse.” The mention of “literary figures” is the reason this book appeared in the literature category I was focusing on requesting from; otherwise, no mention of literature is made, except perhaps the note that Central Europe is being “imagined”, as if it is a fictional place. The final sentence is also a great example of nonsense (one I have seen almost verbatim in several other books): this book promises to describe a history spanning between 1984 and 2014; the latter year was in the “past” by the time the author finished writing this book, so to what “past” and “present” is he referring? All histories look at the past. If the author was considering a distant past and comparing it to the present this might have made sense, but he is looking at the immediate past or the past thirty years, so the past is not distant enough to be all that different from the historical facts of the “present”. I usually tend to just avoid reading these types of books, but my current research necessitates close exploration of the problems that nonsensical criticism spreads through my academic field. This book was accepted by Cambridge despite its lead researcher, Magdalena Baran-Szołtys, being is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Vienna, who was previously a fellow at Harvard. Cambridge rejected my book proposals after I published a couple of books with McFarland long after my PhD, but they accepted this book from a candidate… And she won a fellowship at Harvard just out of her MA studies, but I have been rejected from dozens of fellowships despite numerous conference presentations and publications… I have to understand what is happening in academia as I proceed with my research, as if the best research is always rejected, while nonsense is always promoted… it is my responsibility to at least describe this problem in my journal, so new scholars can familiarize themselves with the state of international scholastic degradation.

There are no surprises inside this book. It is indeed a collection of ethnic stereotypes and digressions on these. “People who represented the aforementioned optics referred to the Enlightenment concept of ‘East’ and ‘West,’ founding ideologically the Josephinism, but rejected the Josephinian idea of Austrians bringing civilization into the ‘savage’ Slavic lands” (65). The repetition of variations of the same word, as if it is gaining a new context here shows the cyclical nature of this digressive discourse. And the authors hit the racist “savage” label to insert tension. So much of this text is a series of long quotes and summaries of other information taken from other sources that it is difficult to find the authors’ “original” contributions in this book. Instead of considering historical events or political theories, most of the text is summarizing actions taken by characters in fiction with deconstructive (i.e. nonsensical) ponderings on these, such as: “That means that Amalia’s imagined resurrection in the text simultaneously symbolizes an individual appropriation of space as well as a creative transformation of historical heritage and personal memories” (110). Translation: Rebirth symbolizes: (1) seizure of “space” and (2) the makeover of customs and recollections. No. Being born again does not stand for confiscating anybody’s land, or changing traditions, and neither are related to the act of remembering stuff. Most sentences in “deconstructive” criticism can be similarly translated into plain English to show that when they are constructed in a comprehensible manner, they signify nothing. Basically, a computer program can put random words together and it will arrive at an average piece of deconstructive criticism; and this is the genre of criticism that is welcomed in scholarly publishing even if the author has yet to complete a PhD.  

How to Calculate Authorial Style

Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad. Register, Genre, and Style, Second Edition, Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. 406pp. ISBN: 978-1-108-44408-8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


This book and others like it is the reason my own accurate method of authorial attribution is being rejected by periodicals and publishers: these texts give the impression that the subject of authorial style has been fully explored, and thus does not need any further consideration It is summarized as introducing “methodological techniques to carry out analyses of text varieties, and provides descriptions of the most important text varieties in English. Part I introduces an analytical framework for studying registers, genre conventions, and styles, while Part II provides more detailed corpus-based descriptions of text varieties in English, including spoken interpersonal varieties, general and professional written varieties and emerging electronic varieties. Part III introduces more advanced analytical approaches and deals with larger theoretical concerns, such as the relationship between register studies and other sub-disciplines of linguistics, and practical applications of register analysis.” A book that promises to create a taxonomy of all registers, genres and styles is over-reaching as each genre has had countless separate books dedicated to describing it. And this book not only promises to describe them, but also to explain how to analyze them comparatively. The third part then proposes to digress into some unspecified other fields of linguistics, further broadening the scope. When a book promises to cover so many unrelated theoretical topics, it usually creates so much chaos inside that all the crammed information cancels itself out into nonsense.

One of the most common problems in text-attribution studies I have been reviewing is that critics such as Furbank and Owens choose isolated phrases based on patterns they identify matching between texts and then conclude that this correlation indicates a shared author. Bias is involved in choosing these phrases, and so the outcome is a confirmation bias, as critics confirm the attribution they wanted to re-establish or add, instead of arriving at the objective truth. This mistake is partly explained and partly proven as a mistake by the manner in which this book explains “register features”, “markers”, “genre markers”, and related narrower concepts. The authors summarize that different genres have different register features such as the quantity of “passive voice verbs” they tend to utilize. Then they point to “register markers” or phrases or expressions that are shared by some “linguistic constructions” such as “baseball game broadcasters”, who, for example, tend to overuse the phrase, “sliding into second”. The problem is that Furbank, Owens and other mis-attributors take the likelihood of these phrase repetitions and conclude that it is possible to find phrases an author tends to repeat, and that they are indicative of a signature; however, some of these phrases are common to the entire register or genre (i.e. most novels, or most mysteries), so stretching this theory from the specified application of these phrases indicating a register to them indicating an authorial signature is likely to lead to false conclusions as works by different authors but within the same register can be mis-identified as sharing an author. Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad specify in the next section’s title, “The Need for Quantitative Analysis” for a reason: taking out phrases without measuring their significance with detached numeric objectivism leads to bias. However, critics miss this mathematic demand, or twist the basic math needed into formulas that can be manipulated to favor the intended attribution conclusion. Running a mathematic analysis on texts can be simple if basic units are measured, or it can be infinitely difficult if an attempt is made to compare long phrases, as language, in practice, crosses the genre, register and other lines theory can assume are ironclad. Biber and Conrad then detail “The Need for a Representative Sample”: but while they are referring to having at least “100-word text excerpts”, this request tends to be taken by reviewers to be referring to astronomically large samples with millions of words. The confusion is reinforced by the vagueness of these sections. For example, on the point around the text-size mentioned above of “how many different texts are enough?” the authors report: “Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers to these questions. Some linguistic features are extremely common and pervasive in texts, like nouns, verbs, or pronouns. For those features, you can compute reliable counts from a few texts that are relatively short (i.e., even 100-word text excerpts). Other features, like relative clauses, are less common: to reliably capture the distribution of those features in a register you would need longer texts and a larger sample of texts…” (54-9). I read several essays and books related to this subject while designing my own computational linguistic analysis, and this is one of the clearer explanations of this field. After testing various features, I learned that the “common” features such as “nouns” are much more reliable in showing a linguistic signature: and this is why they are more accurate in even small word samples. In contrast, the “relative clause” is not only extremely difficult to calculate and analyze even with the best computer programs, but it is also less revealing of authorial style. Yet, Furbank, Owens and most other biased linguistic researchers focus on these improbable to calculate complex features such as relative clauses, and then use the lack of conclusive findings to prove there is no such thing as authorial signatures.

While the summary makes this book appear to be unnecessarily complicating, it is actually one of the more practical books on registers and authorial style in the market. It offers methods and strategies for measuring linguistic patterns for those who have the patience to apply them. Despite these types of linguistic explanations regarding how accurate authorial attributions might be made, these lessons have not yet been combined into the 31-test comparative attribution method I am proposing because it seems there are too many ghostwriters and plagiarists in academia for them to be willing to publicize a method that might prevent them from escaping undetected with such academic misdeeds. There is seemingly nothing wrong with the facts Biber and Conrad present; the problem is in the refusal to properly apply their recommendations.

Re-Writing Enlightenment Imperialism for Modern Anti-Colonialists

Dorinda Outram. The Enlightenment, Fourth Edition, New Approaches to European History. $27.95. 184pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-108-44077-6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


The Enlightenment is introduced as a “period rich with debates on the nature of man, truth and the place of God, with the international circulation of ideas, people and gold. But did the Enlightenment mean the same for men and women, for rich and poor, for Europeans and non-Europeans?” There are a lot of questions in this summary. Why would any period treat the rich and poor in the same manner? It seems the editor had to fill the space on the back cover, and so he or she just kept typing general ponderings. Then, this editor suggests the book also demonstrates how “historical interpretations of the Enlightenment” are continuously changing based on “contemporary socio-economic trends.” If this is true, it means these historians are writing fiction and not history. A history of the Enlightenment are the facts of what happened in this period. Why would these evens be changing just because socio-economic events develop in our current events? If they are changing, this should indicate that historians need to dig into the archives and base the history more firmly on cited or documented information that will not change with time because it is objectively what happened. In other words, if communists take over American politics, the facts regarding current capitalist corruptions should not completely re-write America’s history.

The chapters are divided into subjects on: the social context and consumerism, government, empirical trade, slavery, gender, religion (two chapters on this one), and on the conspiracy or revolution that ended the Enlightenment. Given the generalizations in all of this front and back matter, the “Chronology” really helps to identify the main events that the author, Dorinda Outram, identifies with the Enlightenment; this list begins with the 1686 opening of a Bible study by a priest, followed by Newton’s Principia Mathematica, several books by Locke, the founding of the Bank of England and the New East India Company and “Defoe’s” Robinson Crusoe. The line ends in 1793 with the Second Partition of Poland and the 1792 Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman. Given the randomness of these scientific and literary ventures and the seeming inclusion of colonialism and spread of the Christian religion as its defining characteristics, a basic summary of the “Enlightenment” might be politically-incorrect in the present, so the author begins the first chapter thus: “The Enlightenment has been defined in many different ways.” As if in a joke, this chapter’s final paragraph repeats this sentence: “Enlightenment had many meanings.” Then the paragraph explains what is going to happen in the following chapters, once again without offering a direct definition. The last sentence in the previous paragraph is: “Botanical decisions were also inevitably bound up in the growth of the large-scale empires of the eighteenth century” (1-9). If this concept is not about botany, then it must be about “empires” in the stated century. In other words, this book is about the glory of European empires, propagating for the grandeur of the enslavement and conversion to Christianity of the populations of the rest of the world: obviously, this does not sound like an acceptable idea in modern times, and this mis-match must have been what the cover was referring to regarding the changes of interpretation regarding history as current political preferences change.

While this book is repetitive, inconclusive, digressive and outdated, it achieves what it promises to achieve in its pages: it describes “The Enlightenment”, as truthfully as this controversial topic can be handled in our touchy modernity.

If You Can Solve the Riddles, You Might Understand This Book

Jennifer Riddle Harding. Similes, Puns, and Counterfactuals in Literary Narratives. 172pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-138-92813-8. New York: Routledge, 2019.


A “cognitive analysis of three figures of speech that have readily identifiable forms: similes, puns, and counterfactuals. Harding argues that when deployed in literary narrative, these forms have narrative functions—such as the depiction of conscious experiences, allegorical meanings, and alternative plots—uniquely developed by these more visible figures of speech. Metaphors, by contrast, are often ‘invisible’ in the formal structure of a text.”

The table of contents for this project is set up in a manner that reinforces the attempt to make the subject appear to be more complicating than it is if handled with clear logic. The six main chapters are split into pairs with one that is called simply by the name of the device studied, such as, “Simile” and the next having a convoluted title that suggests it is beyond human comprehension, as in, “Drunken Eloquence: Similes in John Updike’s ‘Transaction’”. The word “drunken” is striking in this context: similes, or comparing things with the word “like” are hardly particularly alcoholic, and I do not recall that Updike was a notorious alcoholic. So is the author, Jennifer Riddle Harding, referring to her own problem with drunkenness? The mystery of who and what is drunken is addressed only in the “Conclusion” to this chapter: “And at last, I will return to a perplexing point that has not been emphasized enough thus far in my discussion: throughout the story, Ed is very drunk!” She quotes several instances of its. Then, she asks: “How is it that a man who is so obviously drunk can also describe events and scenes with lush precision, using ostentatious figurative language?” She argues that this language is enhanced with “apt similes”, which is constructed by a narrator and behind him by a “gifted author”, the drunkenness is an illusion of “naturalness”, rather than a reflection of the author’s lack of control of his own writing style (56-9). I admit that this is a clever mystery to insert into the title that should enhance the readers ability to remain interested in the content related in the chapter. The previous chapter on just “Similes” offers a categorization of different types of similes with narrow examples of their applications. Then, the chapter with the convoluted title considers a specific author’s similes in more depths and with some digressive confusion mixed in. A basic simile is very limited in what it can achieve, and yet this digressive chapter claims that it can replicate “Emotions”, “Actions”, “Self-Ascription” and the like. For example, what does this sentence have to do with similes: “The internal focalization provides access not only to the experiencing perspective of Ed, but also to his feelings about what’s happening?” This reflects the section on unconsciousness and nonconsciousness that preceded this one about emotions, but instead of setting up a linguistic mystery to be solved later, it is just digressing into vaguely related subjects, most of which are not going to be explained as relevant to similes. “Internal focalization” is just introspection or thinking about the self, and it is the same as having “feelings about what’s happening”, so the sentence repeats itself without getting anywhere.

To arrive at meaning and unique explanations regarding these literary concepts in this book, readers have to work through piles of digressions, misdirection, and confusion. There is curious content somewhere in there, but the reader has to first throw out the irrelevant pile-on. Reading scholarly books should not be explorations that uncover the hidden meanings; it is the scholar’s duty to clean away the nonsense, so that stopping on any page offers a clear dissection of the sub-subject. There is still too much information hidden here to dismiss it as a horrid book, but those who value their time should not venture on this linguistic mystery.

Meditating About Thinking About Thinking About Thinking…  

Arthur Redding. Radical Legacies: Twentieth-Century Public Intellectuals in the United States. 162pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-4985-1268-8. Lanham: Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


The summary begins thus: “What use is thinking?” What if it ended there? Now that would have been an original cover blurb, but no: “This study addresses the ways in which modern American thinkers have intervened in the public sphere and attempted to mediate relations between social and political institutions and cultural and intellectual production.” All these words basically repeat the original question: this book is about thinkers, in general. “Chapters on both well-known (Henry Adams, Langston Hughes, C. Wright Mills, Angela Davis) and neglected (Randolph Bourne, Mary McCarthy, Paul Goodman) public intellectuals considers how these figures have address a range of problems, including the dangers and difficulty of critical dissent thought during wartime, the contemporary crisis of the humanities under neoliberalism, the legacy of American anti-intellectualism, academic professionalism, and the perils of consumer culture and popular tastes.” These topics are not limited to stuff related to thinking, but branches out into buying stuff and political stuff. “This book reviews in as critically sympathetic a manner as possible…” The limits of sympathy are a deep point to ponder over, but what does it have to do with thinking? So, it reviews “…a select few of the minor and major currents…” What about the mid-sized currents? But it presses on: “…of twentieth-century American radical thinking…” Radical thinking? What about the consumerist thinking the editor was just mentioning? Still, it goes on: “…in order to see where they might take us, and how they inflect our current social and intellectual predicaments. Arguing that any ‘use-value’ theory of intellectual production is limiting…” Finally, they arrive at their main argument: thinking is useless, and as long as their readers do not engage in this activity, this book should pass undetected, adding a publishing credit to the author (Arthur Redding is professor of English at York University in Toronto) and the publisher, without being discovered to be subversively anti-intellectual, or mindless. It further “endeavors to maintain and expand a space and reassert an argument for the importance of sustained critical reflection on our collective dilemmas today.” It is in the nature of subversion that a writer must state the opposite of the intended meaning beside the intended meaning to create confusion in the reader as to which is the intended meaning: given the mindlessness that dominates, the intent is clear enough. “It assesses a practice of thought that is engaged, committed, involved, and timely, without being necessarily ‘practical’ or even useful.” This is a repetition of “useful” in this single paragraph; but this is hardly surprising, as every sentence says the same thing: this book is deep, deep thoughts about thinking.

At least one page inside is a single long paragraph in a style matching Joyce’s Ulysses. “The real trick is to orchestrate intellectual passion and to sustain it over the course of a term or a year. Here something as simple but pertinent as syllabus design might be illustrative.” He goes on to give examples from his own brilliant design in first person, noting, “even survey courses might best be designed around a core set of problems, much the same set of problems I am meditating upon in this chapter: the link between democracy and cultural production, for example…” (36). If I encountered this guy as my professor, it might have been the one time I switched classes after choosing them prior to the first meeting. He meditates on what he discusses? There is a link between democracy and culture and he teaches this in an American history class? And he is including a page-long paragraph on these meditations in a book that rambles at random about thinking? I cannot go on reading this book… I have got this far because the nonsense is so absurd here, it has to be intentionally horrid writing…

Digressions on Espionage in British Lies

Oliver S. Buckton. Espionage in British Fiction and Film Since 1900: The Changing Enemy. 350pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4985-0482-9. Lanham: Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


After the last few books in this set, at least there is a clear subject here: “the history and development of the British spy novel from its emergence in the early twentieth century, through its growth as a popular genre during the Cold War, to its resurgence in the early twenty-first century.” It focuses on “categories of fictional spying (such as the accidental spy or the professional) and identify each type with a vital period in the evolution of the spy novel and film. A central section of the book considers how, with the creation of James Bond by Ian Fleming in the 1950s, the professional spy was launched on a new career of global popularity, enhanced by the Bond film franchise.” Now things have taken a marketing turn: I don’t see an acknowledgement that this book was funded by the Bond franchise, but this makes it seem as if this bias is obvious. Then, the blurb insists that the bestseller list proves “the continuing appeal of novelists such as John le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, Charles Cumming, Stella Rimington, Daniel Silva, Alec Berenson, Christopher Reich—to name but a few—and illustrates the continued fascination with the spy novel into the twenty-first century, decades after the end of the Cold War.” I have never seen any of these names before. I have read that the New York Times bestseller list can easily be manipulated because it is based on sales statistics at a handful of Manhattan bookstores; publishers can buy these bookstores’ stock to create spikes that make it seem as if their book is a bestseller; by being on the bestseller list, books then actually start selling to readers, reinforcing this assumption, and spiking rankings on less biased lists. If some books make it into biased lists, but buyers don’t actually buy them, then we are left with bestsellers that nobody remembers reading… “There is also a burgeoning critical interest in spy fiction, with a number of new studies appearing in recent years.” If Buckton named those authors, why not name some of these critics too? “A genre that many believed would falter and disappear after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire has shown, if anything, increased signs of vitality.” This book was released in the middle of the Russia-gate scandal where Russia is accused of rigging the US election with help from spies, and this author and editor did not see a connection between this and renewed critical interest in spying? The author does go on to allude to Russia as the “‘changing enemy’—the chief adversary of and threat to Britain and its allies”. USSR is apparently the country-that-shall-not-be-named.

The book’s parts are divided chronologically, 1900-45, 1945-90, and 1900 to the present. The lack of current references to the Russia-spying controversy might be due to most of this book having been written back in 2010, when the author was granted a sabbatical semester. Though there is a more recent note in the Acknowledgements to a Lifelong Learning Society Professor award for 2015-6 (vii-viii). The introduction begins with references to spying connected with nuclear weapons in Iran and NSA surveillance of Americans as well as “Russia’s buildup of troops on the border with Ukraine” (xi).

Most of this book is composed of summarizing the spy plots and characters of the various fictions this book runs through (35). Another portion is dedicated to comparing these once they have been summarized and quoted from (43). It also offers some philosophizing interpretations regarding what the stories appear to be saying about our world, if not about spying: “McGoohan’s series presents a dystopian vision of Western consumer society, in which all foodstuffs, amenities, and social support systems are provided by the State (aka the Village), but at the expense of individual freedom and independence. It is Orwellian… but…” (104). The Village is not equal to the State; it is pretty frustrating that critics tend to make these types of stretches when stretching a fiction to fit with current politics. I guess if this Village is a communal society, and thus related to communism, and thus I guess also to the USSR, but how is any of this related to spying? The paragraph ends by concluding that the Prisoner (the author forgot to italicize the title in this instance) is “a distinctive and dystopian contribution to the ‘spy who knows too much’” (105). The last word in this sentence should have probably been “genre” or “trope”, but as it stands it does not carry the intended point across.

Buckton does make attempts to return to the spy theme in all these plot summaries, but he does not really derive conclusions or meanings out of these examples that might elucidate precise patterns in these espionage narratives. Without clear, logical interconnections, theoretical explanations, and structural and linguistic genre categorizations, the book jumps around between too many barely related ideas without landing on any unified and coherent meaning. Perhaps Buckton needs to write another book on this subject, having reviewed all this information, that moves the discussion from a review to an analysis.

Over-Quoting, Contradiction and Other Amoralities in Waugh Scholarship

Naomi Milthorpe. Evelyn Waugh’s Satire: Texts and Contexts. 182pp. ISBN: 978-1-61147-874-7. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


This book follows the prerequisite of aggrandizing the subject of scholarship in the blurb: “Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966) is one of the twentieth century’s great prose stylists and the author of a suite of devastating satires on modern English life, from his first unforgettably funny novel Decline and Fall, to his last work of fiction, ‘Basil Seal Rides Again.’” The synonyms do not explain how these satires are distinct from others. Since there have been many other studies on Waugh, the summary then promises that this book “renews scholarly debates central to Waugh’s work: the forms of his satire, his attitudes towards modernity and modernism, his place in the literary culture of the interwar period, and his pugnacious (mis)reading of literary and other texts. This study offers new exegetical accounts of the forms and figures of Waugh’s satire, linking original readings of Waugh’s texts to the literary-historical contexts that informed them.”

Each of the chapters covers one or two of Waugh’s novels, focusing on themes such as tears, research, explosive violence, and death. The “Introduction” relates when Waugh was born and touches on his earliest satires, but does not offer sufficient details for readers who are new to Waugh to gain an understanding of who he was (1-2). Then, in a section on “Satire”, Milthorpe explains that Waugh’s satires are amoral in contrast with the satiric traditions of previous generations: “The inconsistency, hypocrisy, cruelty and folly targeted by satire are of course features of contemporary society, but Waugh suggests, satirizing them is pointless in the face of the century’s moral indifference.” While Waugh denied he was a satirist and has a different moral tone to his critiques, in part because unlike most satirists he uses third person narrators, Milthorpe argues that he retains a subversive satiric style under a veil of disregard: “readers are meant to see these” moral “standards lurking behind the arras, and Waugh’s verbal strategy enables an implicit criticism of that narrative world, in which civility might retain some vestigial power, but brutality is allowed to proceed unchecked by authority” (2-5). The rest of the “Introduction” offers useful information on modernism, and other patterns that are later explored across the book. Overall, this is a useful introduction for those who specialize in Waugh and new arrivals in this field.

The interior is heavy in quotations and summaries, which frequently return to the type of satire is being employed. While I wish all of it was related to the chosen satire subject, the scholarly narrative too often digresses in the middle of these plot summaries into general philosophizing that should have been cut out by the editor: “The novel is concerned with knowledge and the means by which humans can discover empirical truth, whether on the map or within the pages of a newspaper…” Just before this moment, Milthorpe is discussing love, journalism, truth, maps and remote territories, and none of these are really connected with this conclusion regarding “knowledge” at the end of a page-long paragraph (75). Perhaps because the evidence presented is mostly just there because it has been gathered rather than to prove a specific point, few paragraphs have concluding sentences, instead ending soon after quotes and random ponderings. The in-text citations with page numbers might be contributing to making this book particularly difficult to read; most books in humanities utilize Chicago citations with notes at the end of chapters or at the end of the book, which means there is only a tiny number next to the text and those who need to know where the information came from can find the page number and the full citation in the note. This text is heavy both on notes and in-text citations, and there are so many quotes and summaries that many paragraphs have a citation in every other line. I use in-text quotes in these reviews because I am using a single source in each review, so the notes would be too repetitive as they rename the author and text’s name or “Ibid”. While this author also reviews a single novel per chapter, a scholarly book is not supposed to be relying only on the novel under examination, but also on other critics’ findings on the work, on the subject, on the genre, on the biography, and the like. The few times when the quotes seize is when the author digresses to summarize a bit about Waugh’s biography, such as his 1947 trip to America (130). Milthorpe might be relying less on biography than some other critics to draw conclusions regarding Waugh and his satires because as he theorizes: “Critics frequently equated the narrator or characters of his novels with Waugh the historical author (this was the case with Basil Seal, whose life adventures seemed to parallel Waugh’s own…) He then inserts a “scathing” review that makes this parallel in the Times Literary Supplement (146).

I wish this was a great book because I am always interested in learning more about satire and about popular writers that I am less familiar with. But while there are flashes of revelation and insight, nearly all of it is a series of disjointed cliff-notes on Waugh’s texts. Even the points I raised from the “Introduction” that seem interesting, actually are self-contradictory; one is left confused if Waugh was a moralist or an amoralist, or if he chided society’s problems or dismissed them as a natural part of an amoral society. All satirists must be moralists because satire is the act of criticizing countries, those in power, and other individuals or institutions; a work that dismisses problems as natural is not a satire. While modernist chaos and digression might make a satire less direct, more subversive, or more confusing, if it detracts from the underlying moral purpose, the work cannot be classified as a satire. Readers who come to this book without this type of knowledge might be turned away from studying satires due to all these confusing critical contradictions. Thus, those new to Waugh or to satire, should not read this book. Advanced scholars working on a dissertation or post-graduate research on Waugh would probably spot a lot more problems with the conclusions drawn than I can think of.

Biased Tirade About the Greatness of Gangster Culture

M. Keith Booker and Isra Daraiseh. Tony Soprano’s America: Gangsters, Guns, and Money. 236pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-0691174921. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


I have never seen the Sopranos as I have not had HBO-access since 1999; I watch streaming and online video content instead. Despite this, these platforms and various other media sources repeat the title of this show so often, that I feel as if I have watched it; I have seen several stills and perhaps some brief fragments advertising the show. This type of popularity is due to only five major corporations owning various types of entertainment platforms. For example, HBO is currently owned by WarnerMedia, which includes CNN, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, Cinemax, bTV Radio Group, Nova, CW, Rotten Tomatoes, Cartoon Networks, Comedy Central, and E! (past). And WarnerMedia is owned by AT&T, which also includes satellite TV, telephone, internet, film/TV/cable production, publishing, news agencies and video games. Most of the articles Wikipedia links to from AT&T’s description is likely to have been written by newspapers owned by AT&T. This agency reviews itself in its own newspapers, TV programming (from CNN to E!), and on seemingly independent mass-review platforms such as Rotten Tomatoes. Thus, I have heard Sopranos referred to on CW shows, on entertainment news programs, in newspaper articles, and the like and all of these might have basically come from the same company that makes this show. It is surprising that this book’s publisher isn’t also owned by AT&T: Rowman is one of the few surviving independent trade and scholarly publishers left in the world, as other popular publishers have either been purchased by the five giants, are affiliated with a university’s agenda, or the like. Because popularity is determined by familiarity, if most people on the planet have heard these repetitive co-advertisements of Sopranos, it is technically true that it is a very familiar show, and because the co-ads are always extremely flattering, scholars can say the following about a barely literate show about an abusive mob family in a scholarly blurb without flinching: “Widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time, The Sopranos is also considered one of the most significant achievements in contemporary American culture.” To avoid criticizing without seeing something, I searched for a Sporanos screenplay and found the original pilot episode script from 8/7/1997, from which the following line by Carmela struck me as relevant in this context: “Tommy watches Godfather 2 all the time. He says the camera work looks just as good as in the movie theater.” Father Phil responds, “Where does Tom rank Goodfellas?” These are some of the more complex bits of dialogue, whereas most lines are Tommy Jr. saying: “What’s going on?” and Meadow bellowing, “You’re so strict about curfew I have to sneak out.” The longer dialogue sections are dedicated to the Godfather and Goodfellas for a reason: they are advertising these other films in a kind of ad-sharing arrangement required to increase your own show’s mentions on future films. With two of these in two random lines I happened to fall upon, it is likely that Sopranos’ has an abnormally high ad-exchange rate, and this has contributed to its own popularity. Meanwhile, do these quotes sound like “the most significant achievements in contemporary American culture”? How can “culture” be defined in this context? This is anti-cultural in the sense that it is anti-intellectual; it can only be especially cultural if it is viewed as representative of a subset of an American populace. Just as Native American cultural dances might be excellent because of their authenticity, Italian gangster culture can be authentically recorded in its natural state and this can be said an excellent cultural artifact simply because it is truthful. Thus, if anything Sopranos are recording the vapid and violent gangster culture in a documentary manner, without adding any artistic flare or design over what life in the represented gangster family is truly like. Instead of acknowledging this airheaded lack of artistic merit, too many popular culture critics raise these junk-shows in status seemingly because their level of sex and violence is effective in maintaining attention from viewers. But, how do these authors, M. Keith Booker and Isra Daraiseh explain this over-blown praise? “The series spearheaded the launch of a new wave of quality programming that has transformed the way people watch, experience, and talk about television. By chronicling the life and crimes of a New Jersey mobster, his family, and his cronies, The Sopranos examines deep themes at the heart of American life, particularly the country’s seedy underbelly.” While “programming” has been enhanced since 1997 with higher quality special effects due to advances in these technologies, reviewing screenplays prior to 1997 and those from the most recent programs does not show any progress in the texts or their artistic complexities. There is no proof of this, and there is definitely no proof that this individual show made any changes in how “people watch” shows. And what exactly is the difference between watching and experiencing a show? If how people “talk about television” has changed it has been because the AT&T and other mega-mergers have spread these ad-sharing campaigns until viewers are not likely to be able to tell the difference between innocuous pop-culture references and marketing ads in favor of sponsored programming. And it is absurd to call a mobster family’s crime chronicles a “deep theme”. And if this mob theme reflects America’s heart, this indicates that America has a mobster culture; given the volume of gun-crime in America, this is a true statement, but running a PR campaign for this mobster culture rather than against is a highly amoral scholarly practice. The book promises to be “examining the elements that account for the show’s popularity and critical acclaim”, but they do not actually raise the types of reasons I am naming here; instead, the standard narrative is one of “natural” popularity and critical applause. The fact that Rotten Tomatoes is one of the main platforms for these critics, and some of the newspapers and magazines that lauded this show are also owned by the same company is not mentioned in this critical narrative of popularity due to superiority. In truth, American culture demonstrates popularity of the inferior in intellect and artistic innovation due to superior funding of these undeserving ventures. Ignoring all this, they claim the show’s “ethnic antihero somehow reflected common themes of contemporary American life, including ethnicity, class, capitalism, therapy, and family dynamics.” Any documentary and any show that describes any family’s life in America, must include their class and family dynamics; and yet the inclusion of these basic components of life is lauded by critics searching for significance as proof of greatness. The authors insist the show “rivals film and literature for its beauty and stunning characterization of modern life”. Anti-intellectuals have been selling the superiority of visual dramatic entertainments without detail or other complexities of highbrow literature across the past century, as owners of TV, film, radio and other non-textual media have been promoting themselves and demoting the written word. These types of hyperbolic statements regarding the superiority of this meaningless little show really stresses the emptiness of these repeated falsities.

Appropriately for the subject, the front cover has “America” and “Tony Soprano’s” name crossed out. The first chapter commences with a story about HBO. This chapter explains that before this show, you could not do gangster crime dramas on TV; this is the shows major achievement: it forced the media to normalize gangster culture. Then, they explain that before this show, TV shows included “antitelevision” messages, warning viewers to avoid over-watching to prevent brain-damage; but this special show stopped all such public-awareness campaigns. This seems to fail to convince the writers themselves, so they start stumbling to explain what exactly is great about all this, until they exclaim that it’s better because some of the scenes are actually connected to each other in a manner that “is almost more literary in nature”. “Literary” is italicized despite the word “almost” preceding it: so the authors are emphatically sure but also not really sure that this gangster drama can be called “literary”. To prove this, they then claim that Episode 5.4 is one of many episodes that includes “allusions to literary novels” because its title plagiarizes Tolstoy’s opening sentence from Anna Karenina: “All Happy Families”. Stealing Tolstoy’s content without giving him credit via quotation marks does not demonstrate the authors of the screenplay are literary, but rather that they are so lazy, they are willing to steal from anybody even from a canonical literary writer, utilizing a quote almost all critics immediately recognize (1-5).

The authors keep trying to support their grand claims despite all of the evidence working in the contrary direction. For example, they call a section “The Metaphysics of The Sopranos”, making it seem like a “deep” intellectual exercise, and then begin it by saying that despite its “secular worldview”, its “overt engagement with religion… occurs primarily at the level of the church as a material institution rather than at the level of any genuine investigation of fundamental religious ideas” (100). Again, the authors promise they are going to talk about metaphysics, but then they explain the show has nothing to do with the abstract concepts or “ideas” of religion; in the same sentence, the also contradict the show’s “secular” spin by stressing that it is in fact heavily non-secular in its pro-church institutional propaganda.

This book demonstrates why researchers have to go where the evidence leads them, instead of attempting to present the evidence and then attempt to claim that it demonstrates the opposite of what it is actually proving. Sopranos is just another gangster drama, which happened to be released in a period when American censorship of extreme violence in mainstream programming was waning. Cultural criticism is necessary as it is important for scholars to criticize current cultural productions; but this criticism cannot be biased by a desire to sell a screenplay to AT&T or by other monetary motivations (disclosed or hidden). Great art has been made about gangsters, about wars, just as it has covered poverty and other tragedies; the subject of the art does not define it as “great”, but rather its style, structure and originality.

A Practical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy

Anthony Preus. Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy, Second Edition. 512pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4422-4638-6. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


I am so relieved that after the last few titles I have been looking over, here is a project I can give an easy 5-stars to just because it executes exactly what it promises to in the title and does this with scholarly professionalism. This is a dictionary of ancient Greek philosophic history. The entries are detailed and useful. If I ever have to write about this place and time, and I come across a complex philosophic term, I can find it alphabetically here and gain a brisk understanding, which I might quote in my own research. I typically search for these terms online, but these offer more meat; similar trustworthy encyclopedias only offer a fragment for free outside of their pay-wall. So, I’m happy to have this practical addition to my library.

“The ancient Greeks were not only the founders of western philosophy, but the actual term ‘philosophy’ is Greek in origin, most likely dating back to the late sixth century BC.” This helps to explain why I need help with Greek terms so frequently; they are common in literary criticism because they explain the original intentions of the words we continue to use through the present in literary criticism and other philosophical branches. “Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Euclid, and Thales are but a few of the better-known philosophers of ancient Greece. During the amazingly fertile period running from roughly the middle of the first millennium BC to the middle of the first millennium AD, the world saw the rise of science, numerous schools of thought, and—many believe—the birth of modern civilization.” Like most second editions, this one is significantly more polished than the first edition; it is sketch to purchase any first encyclopedic attempt as scholars are likely to emerge who spot some mistakes in the first version that needs correction. “This second edition… covers the history of Greek philosophy through a chronology, an introductory essay, a glossary, and an extensive bibliography. The dictionary section has over 1500 cross-referenced entries on important philosophers, concepts, issues, and events.” The author can be trusted as Anthony Preus is a “Distinguished Teaching Professor at Binghamton University, where he has taught since 1964.”

The front and back matter relate the exact information casual readers and researchers need to know to talk intelligently about these topics. The definitions are informative, to-the-point and in places funny. For example, the definition for “cynic” begins by stating that it “literary means ‘doglike’” before adding details on the founding of the “Cynic manner of philosophizing” by Diogenes and Antisthenes (Socrates’ disciple), the nature of cynicism, and later followers of this school (110). Since I mentioned “metaphysics” in the previous review, I stopped at this word with interest: “This word was first used of Aristotle’s treatise, in 14 books, that he himself variously called ‘First Philosophy,’ ‘The Science of Being qua Being,’ or ‘Theology.’… Aristotelian metaphysics includes four complementary sorts of study: ousiology, or the study of entities (ousiai); aitiology, or the study of causes (aitia); axiology, or the study of axioms (axiomata); and theology, or the study of God and the divine…” (246-7). The proximity of “metaphysics” next to theology does not make sense in the context it was used in the Sopranos book is popular modern dictionary definitions of “metaphysics” is used, but this original meaning stresses that theology is one of the four main segments of its purview. While this explains this particular connection, the distinctions between these four schools are very vague in this definition alone, as it is unclear why entities and causes are being placed in opposition or parallel with each other, and why is theology contrasted with the narrower category of sayings? Similar unparallel constructions are utilized in modern nonsense literary theory, which borrows definitions that only complicate a subject instead of elucidating it. While reading this definition would only be the first step if I wanted to write on this subject as it would not provide the answers to these questions, it does succinctly offer the information I would need to begin looking at this problem more deeply.

This is a useful tool for all critics and researchers, even those studying various other languages or histories because Greco-Roman culture survives in echoes in our own international cultures, and understanding these roots is frequently essential to comprehend modern reincarnations of these very old ideas.

Straightforward Essays on Literary Tourism in the British Isles

LuAnn McCracken Fletcher. Literary Tourism and the British Isles: History, Imagination, and the Politics of Place. 322pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4985-8123-3. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


There have been a few philosophies of “place” in this review set, and none of them have addressed the topic in a manner I can appreciate, so my first response is rather negative, but venturing further. The book promises to address “literary tourism’s role in shaping how locations in the British-Irish Isles have been seen, historicized, and valued” through “feminism, cultural studies, geographic and mobilities paradigms, rural studies, ecosystems, philosophy of history, dark tourism, and marketing analyses.” A few of these perspectives promise to deliver straightforward information about tourism, which seems to invite reading, but is also a form of hyper-commercialization, so that the book is selling the consumption of tourism. “They examine guidebooks and travelogues; oral history, pseudo-history, and absent history; and literature that spans Renaissance drama to contemporary popular writers such as Dan Brown, Diana Gabaldon, and J.K. Rowling.” A wide series of perspectives that covers most of the humanities and social sciences can be interesting for readers, but how can all these fields be logically organized and introduced as belonging next to each other? “Places discussed in the collection include ‘the West;’ Wordsworth Country and Brontë Country; Stowe and Scotland; the Globe Theatre and its environs; Limehouse, Rosslyn Chapel, and the imaginary locations of the Harry Potter series.” Mixing imagined and real places is a bit confusing; why would theory on one of these intersect the other? “Taken as a whole, this collection illuminates some of the ways by which ‘the British Isles’ have been created by literary and historical narratives, and, in turn, will continue to be seen as places of cultural importance by visitors, guidebooks, and site sponsors alike.” This last note does answer my main confusion regarding this project; if a scholar can explain a connection, readers can stretch the relevance in their own imagination to meet this reach.

Appropriate for the subject, there are some street plans, photographs of buildings and houses, and illustrations from fiction across the book. Also appropriately given the range of fields covered, each chapter is authored by a different author or a pair of authors. The book is divided into parts that do not correspond fully with the fields listed in the summary, with parts on literature (Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Bronte), “real” history (Writers’ House Museums, Outlander), and popular culture (Da Vinci Code). While the summary promised scholarship would venture into history, ecology, marketing and geography, the chapter titles indicate that all of these are literary studies that touch on different fictions or semi-fictions and the places described in them.

The chapter called “Mist in ‘the West’” is actually focusing on “the symbolic and imaginative power of mist to describe his escape from mass culture” as well as other incarnations of mist in western stories (48). The “Eco-Literary Tourism in Wordsworth Country” chapter reviews the “rise of ecocriticism” and how it turned Wordsworth into a “prophet of environmentalism” (108). The “‘Scott-land’ and Outlander” chapter analyzes how the National Trust of Scotland purchased land before “restoring the battlefield to its ‘authentic’ state”. LuAnn McCracken Fletcher goes on to describe how they determined what the “authentic” state for this site was through archival research. She also offers a history of the relevant battle and the history of the Highlanders and Bonnie Prince Charlie. She does not turn away from pop culture, as she mentions comments left on this subject on “the popular Facebook page Outlander Series” to prove how “Gabaldon’s narrative” has been “powerful” in “revalorizing romantic Jacobitism for fans who have no other source of Scottish history” (206-7).

I am not spotting any absurdities, nonsense, digressions, or unpolished prose in these essays. While the topics are a bit scattered, they all deliver on the promise of the book of describing the connection between literature and tourism. There is an obvious interconnection between the two, so it is beneficial that these scholars are addressing the various relationships that form between the two. Literature can prompt tourists to start visiting new places, and a new interest in specific places can inspire literature. Since literary tourism is particularly popular in our interconnected world, a book like this is needed to explore what this mixture means for our history, culture and literature.

Succinct and Insightful History of Modern Africa

Frederick Cooper. Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present, Second Edition. 320pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-108-72789-1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


The “history of decolonization and independence in Africa,” explaining “the historical process out of which Africa’s position in the world has emerged. Bridging the divide between colonial and post-colonial history, it allows readers to see just what political independence did and did not signify and how men and women, peasants and workers, religious leaders and local leaders sought to refashion the way they lived, worked, and interacted with each other.”

This book is printed on high-quality paper and includes photographs, maps, graphs and other illustrations that support the related information. The chapters cover worker relations and colonial rule, post-war citizenship, post-colonial changes, inequality, segregation, gatekeeping crisis, and on developments in the twenty-first century. This book is clearly designed as a textbook for a modern African history class, as the chapters provide suggested reading lists and additional information on Cambridge’s website. The content in these pages is also useful for those researching or practically assisting with setting Africa-related government policy. For example, a section describes IMF’s response to a drop in export-crop prices of forcing the government to “tighten its belt in the 1980s” (12). Section headings break up the narrative and help readers find the topics that interest their research. Many of these sections are chronologically organized, while others address gender, race, class and other topics across wider timeframes. Most of the details described are likely to be shocking and unfamiliar to American readers. For example, a section describes: “In the Johannesburg area ‘squatter invasions’ were frequent, and between 1944 and 1950 somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 South Africans organized themselves into bands, seized a piece of vacant land somewhere in the peri-urban sprawl, built their shacks as quickly as possible, and defended themselves against police raids” (74). This explains some of the haphazard near-city shacks that are built in South American and African regions, but are typically prevented from forming in western Europe and America by their stronger militarized police forces. Armies of poor people taking collective actions not only to temporarily live on city streets, but to build permanent structures and move into these spaces, even defending themselves against city officials demonstrates their desperation and social organization. The narrative is related dramatically with plenty of specific details on the main actors, locations and the ideals of the sides in conflicts; a limited number of quotes and a reliance of historic summaries and political explanations makes this book easy to read both for general readers and those searching for specific evidence. The failures in infrastructure or government projects that have attempted to help “develop” Africa are explained succinctly. For example, to “find alternatives to cocoa exports”, Ghana’s leaders built a “huge dam over the Volta River” to “produce the electricity to transform Ghana’s abundant bauxite and aluminum.” This led to “thousands of Ghanaians” losing “their land to the lake behind the dam”, but the promise to them that “modern” farming would offset this loss never materialized (142).

If I ever write something that covers a stop in Africa, I would definitely refer to the information in this book. In fact, if my characters were not going to stop on this continent before, the manner this history is related welcomes all readers to come inside and explore it (if not by a physical visit) in its lively and guiding pages.

Encyclopedia on the Millennium Few Understand, but Everybody Blames

Stephen F. Brown and Juan Carlos Flores. Historical Dictionary of Medieval Philosophy and Theology, Second Edition. 430pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-5381-1430-8. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


This is another book that is easy to like. In the past couple of years, my research interests have veered from the nineteenth century back in time to the eighteenth, and some of the history, philosophy, theology and social aspects of this century can only be explained in reference with the Medieval period that preceded it. I have stumbled into those darker ages on occasion, but not in a manner that explains annotations that mention these topics as if readers should be familiar with them. So, a historical dictionary that summaries the most convoluted words from Medieval philosophy and theology is something I am likely to need in the near future. This encyclopedia lists “philosophers and theologians from the medieval Arabian, Jewish, and Christian worlds” and “authors such as Abumashar, Saadiah Gaon and Alcuin from the eighth century and follows the intellectual developments of the three traditions up to the fifteenth-century Ibn Khaldun, Hasdai Crescas and Marsilio Ficino.” I definitely need this book because while the religions sound familiar, I have never read about any of these writers before. “The spiritual journeys presuppose earlier human sources, such as the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Porphyry and various Stoic authors, the revealed teachings of the Jewish Law, the Koran and the Christian Bible.” These older teachings, in contrast, I have read a good deal about, so I was right to request this dictionary, as I (and perhaps most members of the public) have a blind-spot for what exactly happened in Medieval times other than Inquisitions or other forms of torture and deprivation. “The Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine and Gregory the Great, provided examples of theology in their attempts to reconcile revealed truth and man’s philosophical knowledge and deserve attention as pre-medieval contributors to medieval intellectual life. Avicenna and Averroes, Maimonides and Gersonides, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, stand out in the three traditions as special medieval contributors who deserve more attention.”

When I came across the “Chronology”, I, frankly, did not even know the approximate timeframe the Medieval period covered. The first event recorded is 500: “Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite” and his writings; I doubted he could have belonged to Medieval times, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and indeed he does, as apparently this period covers a full millennium between 500 and 1600. The printing press was invented close to the end of this period, and colonialism introduced many shared ideas to the West at the end of this stretch, opening a wealth of historical sources after 1600, so perhaps historians isolate this millennium because of the relative lack of information we have regarding what happened in this span on a per-decade average. In contrast, there were pharaohs and emperors in Athens and Egypt that left more history, archeological remains and authored texts in a few vibrant decades in the prior millennia. Other events in the “Chronology” that are curious is the birth of Muhammad in 570, and Muslims conquered Spain in 711. Most of the notes are about rulers dying, and the publications of major texts. Dante’s books are not listed, but the date of his death is. I have read Dante’s and Machiavelli’s books closely, so I learned that I am more familiar with key Medieval writers than I might have imagined. I would have mentioned these two writers in the summary of this book to clarify the better-known figures it covers, but perhaps specialists in this area are less impressed with this pair. Given the intricacies of the religions and cultural changes across this millennium, I think this book could benefit from a longer introduction in future editions; the “Introduction” also jumps around between only a few periods (scholastic theology in the twelfth century) and a few concepts such as marriage. This light coverage is made up for in the lengthy explanations of some of the terms across the rest of the book. For example, while defining “Augustinianism”, the author offers a brief biography of St. Augustine as one of the “most influential… Fathers of the Church”, before explaining how his followers branched out and the term came to stand for ideas that were loosely associated with the original Father’s teachings (71-2). The same detached and objective attention appears to be given to all of the covered religions, including a detailed analysis of “Exegesis” or “textual interpretation” of the “revelation” text out of the biblical collection, with explanations on its relation to Cabalistic mysticism the Talmud, and various teachers of these branches (127-32). I have not read anything from or about the Talmud for a couple of decades and glancing through these materials makes me want to return to this study just to understand better what Stephen F. Brown and Juan Carlos Flores are referring to in this complex summary.

Anybody who frequently jokes that something is “medieval” or from the “Dark Ages” should have a book like this on their shelf to check if the comparison is accurate. Additionally, anybody who refers to theological or philosophical ideas from these medieval scholars in either casual conversations or research, should check if what they have been told about these teachings is indeed accurate. While reading all of the books of the Torah might be time-prohibitive, reviewing a dictionary entry in a book like this one is an approachable and achievable reference point.

Uncertain Definitions of Horror-Makers

Peter Hutchings. Historical Dictionary of Horror Cinema, Second Edition. 408pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-5381-0243-5. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


While the other two dictionaries I requested out of this series are essential for most cultured readers, this one is very narrow. I requested it because the horror genre comes up frequently in literary theory. Horror exemplifies extremes of suspense or the death-threat that is common to nearly all formulaic fiction: the hero tends to be terrified of death as he or she is attacked by the enemies that create suspense to keep readers’ interest in the storyline. While I strongly dislike the extremely formulaic horror genre, I frequently mention the death-threat and suspense in my own research, so definitions of these types of concepts might be of use to my research: if they are to be found in these pages.

“Horror is one of the most enduring and controversial of all cinematic genres.” To be more accurate, horror as a concept is so general that any film with extreme suspense or an extreme death-threat can be categorized as a horror; thus, while most other genres are much narrower and tend to fade with the decades, horror as a genre will not die until formulaic plotlines are abandoned. “Horror films range from subtle and poetic to graphic and gory, but what links them together is their ability to frighten, disturb, shock, provoke, delight, irritate, and amuse audiences. Horror’s capacity to take the form of our evolving fears and anxieties has ensured not only its notoriety but also its long-term survival and international popularity… The entries cover all major movie villains, including Frankenstein and his monsters, the vampire, the werewolf, the mummy, the zombie, the ghost and the serial killer; film directors, producers, writers, actors, cinematographers, make-up artists, special-effects technicians, and composers who have helped shape horror history; significant production companies; major films that are milestones in the development of the horror genre; and different national traditions in horror cinema—as well as popular themes, formats, conventions, and cycles.” I am not likely to need to look up the definition of a “vampire” in my research, so these entries seem to be aimed for the general audience, or for fans of the genre rather than researchers. The author, Peter Hutchings, is a Professor of Film Studies at Northumbria University.

I searched for “suspense” to check how Hutchings would define it, but did not find a listing for it. There is a listing for “surrealism” and the sub-genre of “surgical horror” in this vicinity instead. Most of the entries across the dictionary are for people, such as directors and actors. There is also a strange entry for “homosexuality”: “The relation between homosexuality and horror cinema is an ambiguous one. When gay characters are featured in horror films (and they do not feature very often), they tend to be associated with the abnormal and the monstrous in a manner that might be construed as homophobic”. “Lesbian vampire” films are offered as an example of this, before a separate note on how many of the makers of horror films were “themselves gay”, including F. W. Murnau and James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein (1935)) (166-7). This is a strange entry as it accuses the genre of homophobia without offering statistics, but rather a few isolated examples that are open to interpretation, and then gets personal and outs horror-makers believed to be gay. This entry appears to have emerged out of the 1950s, as I have not read similar direct conclusions elsewhere. The media frequently mentions these types of broad conclusions or accusations of homophobia, but scholarly texts tend to opt to provide proof and phrase these subjects in gentler terms. The entry begins with a note on “ambiguity”, but if there is uncertainty, why did the author include this entry. It seems the author is afraid to blatantly accusing the industry of homophobia, but the manner of discussing gayness as if it is a moral infection that even afflicts some members of the horror elite makes this note more disturbing from my perspective; I can’t explain why it is disturbing me, but it is making me feel uneasy. This section also stands out because there are so few concept entries; another one I noticed is for “masks”. Then, there is an entry for “The Internet”, with “The” before this common-knowledge concept. It begins thus: “Given the ubiquity of the Internet, it is perhaps surprising how little it has featured in contemporary horror films.” Then, Hutchings offers examples of how it has appeared in some films (174-5). The uncertainty expressed in the word “perhaps” makes it strange that Hutchings did not insert similar uncertainty next to his conclusion that the Internet if uncommon in recent horror films; since he himself proves the opposite with his examples, why isn’t he saying that the Internet is common. It seems he was watching one of these films about the Internet and without any further research decided to make this uncertain and confused entry.

There is something unsettling, strange, disorganized, and marketing-heavy in this dictionary of horror films. The concepts that scholars would need and the more obscure sub-genres are ignored, while obscure directors are promoted. I cannot imagine what audience might benefit from this book.

Shallow Questions from a Nepotists, and Shallower Answers from the Ghosts of Sitcoms’ Past

Paula Finn. Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy. 244pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-5381-0918-2. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


It is pretty difficult to find books that feature direct quotes from sitcom writers, and those that do include these tend to feature platitudes or vague comments that are not of practical use for those who want to become sitcom writers, or for critics who want to ridicule them because these writers tend to be protective of their turf, and thus avoid public scrutiny. Yet, here is a collection that promises to include an entire book of their explanations of this craft.

“While writing comedy, especially good comedy, is serious business—fraught with actor egos, demanding producers, and sleepless nights—it also can result in classic lines of dialogue.” The writers featured include Carl Reiner and Norman Lear. The cover pumps up their standing as the greatest, the best etc., instead of explaining why these were chosen other than perhaps the popularity of the shows they wrote for. “The men and women interviewed here include series creators, show runners, and staff writers… In addition to Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and Lear (All in the Family), this book features in-depth interviews with: James L. Brooks (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons), Al Jean (The Simpsons, The Critic), Leonard Stern (The Honeymooners, Get Smart), Treva Silverman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Ken Estin (Cheers), Matt Williams (Roseanne, Home Improvement), Dava Savel (Ellen), Larry Charles (Seinfeld), David Lee (Frasier), Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond),” and “Mike Reiss (The Simpsons)”, who discuss how “the business of writing funny has never been all laughs”, “the creative process, how they get unstuck, the backstories of iconic episodes, and how they cope with ridiculous censors, outrageous actors, and their own demons and fears.” It is advertising as suitable both for fans and those eager to become comedy writers. The biography of the interviewer, Paula Finn, is that she is “the daughter of Honeymooners writer Herbert Finn”, who has authored ten gift books including Believe in Yourself, When Love Isn’t Easy, and Make This Your Day.” The “Preface” begins with Finn further stressing that she is a comedy writer’s daughter (xix); the nepotism in this advertising of familial connections securing these interviews and book deal for Finn is troubling from my perspective, but Finn seems proud of milking this familial affiliation. Gift books are pretty much a joke in the publishing industry: they are the extreme of commercialization and formulaic repetition. Knowing that I am about to enter a book by a gift book author is terrifying for me as a scholarly critic.

My anxiety is proven true as I look over the interior. The chapters start with little “jokes” or looks “Behind the Scenes”, wherein the writers describe stories about famous people and their silly behaviors: all random and irrelevant for anybody searching for the serious lessons on how to win a comedy gig and to succeed at comedy writing. The rest of the interviews are also airheaded because the types of questions Finn asks are fitting for a gift book writer, but not for a scholarly collection of interviews. For example, she asks: “What kind of humor do you most enjoy writing?” To which Elliot Shoenman answers: “What I find most satisfying is when you get the joke on behavior, and you get the laugh between the lines…” (120-1). Asking what the interviewee finds enjoyable is the most general question imaginable; if she asked what genre or type of comedy Shoenman enjoys, this might have led to some theoretical insights, but as this question is phrased, the nonsense Shoenman says is pretty much all that can be said, especially if the interviewee prefers to avoid giving an answer that might help potential writers learn. In another interview, one of Finn’s questions is just an observation: “My dad wrote The Honeymooners and The Flintstones and—” The response from James L. Brooks is to interrupt with a “compliment”: “Wow. Two great shows” (64). This is all a waste of textual space. In an interview with David Lee, she asks: “How soon into the show did you decide on a Daphne-Niles romance?” To this, Lee offers one of his longest answers, wherein he stumbles over the exact episode when the two first met. More empty air. One practical question: “How many hours a day did you work in the early seasons?” To which, Mike Reiss replies: “It’s no exaggeration to say that, in the beginning, when I ran the show, I worked eighty to one hundred hours a week…” (190). It is a requirement for people who work the least in America to be constantly inflating the number of hours they have worked. Starting the answer with “no exaggeration” is particularly telling as it is followed by the uncertain numbers of 80-100; if 80 is true, then, 100 is an exaggeration in comparison. And, he is saying he can’t recall if he worked 20 hours per day only sleeping for four hours and beginning work without showering or ever eating in a 20-hour span? This summarizes the problem with these types of interviews: the interviewees make a living by being famous and building themselves up into giants in their industries; this perception makes them more money; having a book written about them makes them more money; saying the truth regarding their innate laziness and air-headedness might or might not make them money; they assume nobody will read the details after scanning through some of these dodging answers.

I have read several similar collections of interviews with writers and directors when I was trying to sell screenplays in Hollywood: they all similarly lack substance, but this one stands out as one of the worst such attempts that I have seen. I hope this review will help save another young writer money by encouraging them not to buy this book. There is no easy way of saying this: Hollywood is run by nepotists, idiots, and self-involved egoists. If you are the type of person who performs research, as I do, and wants to read a book that offers guidance from those who made it assuming they will say the truth… the odds of you making it in Hollywood are… tinier than the odds that even these nonsensical interviews were ghostwritten. I am just being direct because this is what I wish I was told twenty years ago when I first read this type of Hollywood-babble book.

Nonsense on Beauty and Other Stuff in Three Random Writers

Petar Penda. Aesthetics and Ideology of D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot. 128pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4985-2805-4. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


As I am approaching this stage of the review process, my patience is running low, as you can perhaps tell from the previous review. So, Petar Penda’s proposal of addressing beauty and some kind of general “ideology” in three randomly chosen authors is not promising to result in an uplifting review. Penda promises “a different perspective on Modernism and what are considered to be its principal features.” Different perspective? What is different about this perspective? Modernism is all about “different” perspectives: this uniqueness or strangeness is one of the only concepts modernist texts share. So, there could not have been any past scholarly studies with the same perspective on works that offer different perspectives… Penda then lists several rather than a single perspective: “fragmentation, disunity, relativity of things, break with tradition, as well as the depiction of life’s disorder, are disputed and seen as aesthetic means for the promotion of certain ideologies.” She is saying: nonsense is made to appear more nonsensical by threading it through the lens of beauty to make otherwise irrelevant connections between this beauty and whatever ideologies might come into my head. After repeating this a few more times, Penda finally returns to what is original about this study: “a somewhat different view on the authors it deals with. They are not only seen as opponents of established religious, political, and social views, but to a certain extent as their perpetrators. This duality concerning their stances is reconciled by their insisting on the aesthetic unity.” This is an example of a contradiction that cancels out all meaning in a set of sentences: Penda is going to prove that these authors all are both for and against religion, politics in general and society in general. And all this stuff is going to be connected with the narrow literary term of “aesthetic unity”, which is only properly applied to balance and proper unification of components in a painting, rather than to beauty across the span of any giant novel.

Just the sort of nonsense one might expect then follows inside as random quotes and summaries are introduced with nonsense theory such as: “This focalization of the political through the characters’ perception and internalization of the materiality of the cityscape is realized by their constant shifts of thought from aspects of the city to their inmost thoughts and vice versa” (50). Translation: characters’ political thoughts about material possessions in cities change when they think about themselves. Words such as “focalization” instead of “focus” distract most readers, who abandon attempting to understand what the author is saying, allowing writers to say nothing under the veil of big words put in a strange and unfamiliar order. In some portions, Penda is describing somewhat reasonable and common theories numerous researchers have expressed before about the he/she gender switching in novels such as Orlando, but then she digresses into nonsense to make it seem as if she is adding original research to these old ideas: “Woolf gives new ideas of what reality is when it comes to the protagonist’s identity” (78-9). Woolf does not offer physical theories about the nature of “reality”. Penda has already spent pages discussing the gender-fluid identity in this novel, so she is simply restating this without repeating the entire argument, instead inserting what seems to be a metaphysical, deep point, but without the context and the actual details that make actually addressing the concept of “reality” difficult in literary theory.

Overall, this is a horrid book on all counts. Scholars familiar with these authors will feel nauseated as they read the regurgitation of familiar theories without proper citations as to which critics made them, and then will feel sickened at reading Penda’s pretentious and nonsensical philosophizing.

“Receives Inputs and Spits Out…”

Daniel C. Strack. Metaphor from the Ground Up: Understanding Figurative Language in Context. 190pp, hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4985-4790-1. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


While most nonsense-theory books discuss extremely vague concepts and apply them to random fictions, this book attempts to define and apply a specific concept to figurative language across the various texts it might be found in. “Conceptual Filtering Theory” is “a theory of mental processing”… Does Strack mean it is a theory of how people think? Isn’t this a subject that should be left to cognitive, behavioral or clinical psychologists and psychiatrists? He continues, “…that describes figurative language communication in terms of conceptual domain projection and contextual disambiguation.” Basically, this is a theory of nonsense making through turning simple subjects into ambiguous or confusing ones. “In an attempt to match theoretical observations from cognitive semantics” (meaning) “and pragmatics” (language usage) “with related knowledge about mental processes from cognitive neuroscience,” (biological nervous system’s workings) “CFT first examines the distributed nature of conceptualization and then uses this background information to explain metonymic” (renaming) “‘binding’ and metaphoric ‘mapping.’” Translation: the theory finds patterns between meaning and language usage by utilizing scientific findings on the nervous system to find and give away concepts before using this nonsense to explain renaming and metaphors. Hopefully, with this translation, my readers can understand that this theory is indeed nonsensical. Unless Strack is a neuroscientist, he cannot deliver an explanation as to how metaphors and the rest can be explained through neuroscience. “Once the perceptual origins of metonymy and metaphor have been demonstrated, CFT offers a detailed account of how salient aspects of conceptualization differentially combine to achieve predictable inferencing results in linguistic communication. In addition, CFT characterizes the role of contextual effects in pruning salient inferencing options and demonstrates how situational frames can be manipulated to guide semantic outcomes. The book as a whole will assert that figurative language processing cannot be characterized in terms of a generically constituted base system that receives inputs and spits out”—the use of “spits” here cannot be accidental, as the author is indeed spitting in the face of any serious researchers who might attempt to work through these babblings—“predictable results according to logical probability in a situational vacuum. Rather, it is a dynamic, context-sensitive process that continually reweights the underlying system so as to rapidly select situation-relevant lines of inferencing from among a variety of salient inferencing options.” This is the worst case of nonsense-theory I have ever seen. I cannot even venture inside this book because the idea of reading another sentence of this stuff makes me physically ill.

One of the Most Racist and Sexist Books I Have Ever Read…  

Norman Kagan. Understanding Comedy Through College Comedies. 188pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-0-7618-7062-3. Lanham: Hamilton Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


While this book promises it “explains the nature of comedy through the study of college comedy films”, readers should consider this as a textbook on what is wrong with modern arts. The existence of a genre of “college comedies” indicates that filmmakers are content to keep reproducing replicas of the same plot at such frequencies that an entire book can be filled with this list. Most viewers are probably nauseated at this point when they see a college comedy come up on their suggested viewing list. Not again, they think. Well, puffing film critics who specialize in film reviews have to come up with slightly changing ways of describing these same plots and characters in an extremely positive light despite their lack of any artistic merit, meaningful dialogue content, or original dramatic incidents. These critics need books like this one that digress at-length on this subject, coming up with all possible manners of puffing junk-movies. But to pick up with the summary, this book covers works that the author, Normal Kagan, calls “classics”: (College, The Freshman); well, he appears to call all of the list a set of classics, but then he specifies that only these first two are actually “classics”, while the others are not, but rather fall into the following categories: “romantic/screwball comedies (Where the Boys Are, Ball of Fire, Sterile Cuckoo); famous comedian comedies (Horse Feathers, The Nutty Professor, The Klumps); intergenerational college comedies (That’s My Boy, Back to School, Old School); social comedies (The Graduate, Breaking Away, Risky Business); political comedies (Getting Straight, Strawberry Statement, Last Supper); ethnic comedies (School Daze, Soul Man, How High)”… “Ethnic comedies”? As a Russian, Jewish woman, I find this category to be offensive because these types of portrayals is the reason every American exposed to this kind of pop-culture I have ever met begins speaking with me by asking, “Where are you from?” and then giggling after I answer, “Russia”, and refusing to converse with me any further… But it goes on: “…and college farces (Charlie’s Aunt, Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Slackers)… Kagan explains comic terminology, concepts, and theories, including Freud’s ‘displaced sexual content’ in Decline of the American Empires, Langer’s ‘vitalism’ in Slacker, Bergson’s ‘anesthesia of the heart’ in The Squid and the Whale, and Frye’s ‘reversal of literary modes’ in Storytelling.” Explaining American junk-comedies in terms of psychological issues is indeed a suitable approach. “The reader will discover the reasons why they are laughing, new reasons to laugh, and new films that will provide new sources of laughter.” I have never laughed at any college comedy before. Whenever, I am forced to watch one due to a lack of other options, I watch it in stone-horror: as I observe the ethnic and gender insults, and psychotic behavior of a set of predominantly male, white lunatics who are out to destroy property, emotions, or to make a mockery of intellectuals. Am I alone in finding these college comedies horrific? Why Kagan is laughing might be explained in his biography as he is not only a professor on this subject at the City University of New York, but also a “Writer/Producer of the USIA’s Science Report,” and “his programs were policy instruments broadcast on 600 television stations in 110 countries. He has written and produced news and documentary films…” I have been referring to pro-film-industry bias, and here is the personification of this bias. Kagan is cross-paid to make comedies and to criticize (puff) them in scholarly books.

The interior of this book is as bad as one might imagine. At the end of the fifth chapter, Kagan just lists a random old college comedy’s title and then writes around five lines of summary about each of these films without making attempts to connect them or explain what lessons about comedy they might hold (62). In fact, he begins most paragraphs across the book in this manner (104-5). Paragraphs that start by continuing films mentioned in a previous paragraph tend to be like this example: “Mark tries to get close to an attractive, bright young black girl in his law class. Meanwhile he’s beaten up by some racists. His black professor growls, ‘You’ve got to work twice as hard as these little white shits!’” (119). Is there any chance Kagan is black, because if he isn’t this is the most racist and simplifying paragraph I have ever read. There is so little research in this book, the entire bibliography and “further reading” section is under four pages. This book just ends in the middle of yet another summary of a bunch of random comedies, without any attempt at a conclusion (182). Earlier in this final chapter, there are ponderings like this: “The two have brutal sex, impassioned faces and bodies absurdly hidden by big red Motion Picture Association censorship blocks” (178). The problem, as Kagan sees it, is not the “brutal sex” but the silly “censorship blocks” preventing Kagan from seeing the details of this encounter… This book is even more horrifying than most college comedies from my perspective…

Socio-Economic Labor Theory on the Early Modern English Theater

Matthew Kendrick. At Work in the Early Modern English Theater: Valuing Labor. 186pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-6114-7826-6. Lanham: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2019.


As a generalist, I tend to make connections across periods, and I need to be especially familiar with literary developments in England across genres from its first books through the twentieth century. Academia has a strange division in teaching specialties by genre, but scholarly books tend to make connections between these genres. The disconnect between the theater and the novel might be contributing to scholarly gaps in the genre they are not trained in in graduate school. This is how much of the scholarship written across the past century makes mistakes when it applies Aristotelian drama theory to the proper structure of novel narratives. The rules governing a relatively short play text heavy in dialogue are the opposite to the rules needed to govern a naturally digressive and description-based novel. Just as a play cannot fit intricate setting and character descriptions, a novel cannot be compressed into pure actions that are natural in a two-hour play. These types of misunderstandings is the reason, all scholars of literature need to study all genres and the neighboring time periods to their own so that they do not make erroneous assumptions if they leave these unexplored. Just as importantly, scholars of literature today have to be aware of politics, cultures, histories and biographies of the writers we write about, as missing a detail in one of these fields can lead to reading a satire as a tragedy, or otherwise misinterpreting the intended meaning of a text. Matthew Kendrick attempts a socio-economic Marxist criticism of the labor difficulties experienced during the mutation of feudalism into capitalism, and how these were portrayed in the theater of this transitional period.

This study promises to explore “the economics of the theater by examining how drama seeks to make sense of changing conceptions of labor. With the growth of commerce and market relations in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England came the corresponding degradation and exploitation of workers, many of whom made their frustrations known through petitions and pamphlets. Poverty affected all sectors of society in early modern England and many laborers, even London citizens from more prosperous trades, could expect to experience periods of impoverishment. This group of precarious laborers included actors and playwrights, many of whom had direct connections to London’s more established trades and occupations./ Scholars have argued that dispossessed laborers turned to other forms of labor in lieu of their traditional livelihoods, including brigandage, piracy, begging, and cozening.”

The playwriters this book focuses on include Jonson, Beaumont, Dekker, Rowley and Shakespeare. The “Acknowledgements” explains that this was a dissertation project at University of Pittsburgh. The “Introduction” opens with a confession from the author that he played Richard III in eighth grade, so these plays have an emotional value for Kendrick. Chapter 1 reviews the different theories of labor and its value that emerged during this early capitalist period. There is a heavier focus on the theory rather than on the realities of the conditions of labor in the theater. Kendrick does find some quotes and other evidence to ground the theoretical concepts. The letters, dramas and other writings of the central dramatists are used as proof as well as they were in a minority of those capable of describing the economic problems they were having in this semi-literate period. For example, Kendrick writes that Dekker was “no stranger to poverty,” and noted that “players” are likely to have “emptie purses at least twice a week” (12). Kendrick also explains that Jonson was a “former bricklayer”, who defined “good writing as a form of skilled labor or artifice” (23). Later in the book, as he covers the economics in the plays, he makes observations regarding “men who purchased knighthood from James’s court” and various other economic particularities and inequalities across this period (59).

While some of the theory is digressive and wanders into some repetitions of the basic concepts of labor economics, nearly all of this book is useful for explaining labor inside of the plays and how it was experienced by workers employed by the theaters staging them. The materials Kendrick has gathered is not easy to come by, so he has done a great job locating, gathering, sorting and processing archival materials into a package that future researchers can utilize to make further connections on labor and the theater in Early Modern England.

Subversive Topics and Techniques in Victorian Literature

Kenneth Womack and James M. Decker, editors. Victorian Literary Cultures: Studies in Textual Subversion. 200pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-6839-3021-1. Lanham: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2019.


A good portion of my research explores subversion because it is frequently misunderstood by critics to mean the opposite of the intended meaning; in fact, when subversion is done correctly, even after centuries of study critics should still remain uncertain regarding the intended meaning. For example, Sir Walter Scott called his series about the Jacobite rebellions Waverley, suggesting wavering between the Whigs and the Tories or between the Jacobite camp and those loyal to the chosen monarch. Evidence from Scott’s biography and personal writings hint that he favored the Jacobite cause, but if he refrained from certainty on this issue as there was a chance of regime change, and even an option that appeared politically-correct at one point might have become seditious for the next administration. The tensions between an author’s true believes and what they could legally say is at the heart of the need for subversion in periods of suppressed freedoms of the press such as the Victorian period covered in this particular study. Kenneth Womack and James M. Decker set out to tackle this complex concept through a “close textual analyses regarding the role of subversive acts or tendencies in Victorian literature. By drawing clear cultural contexts for the works under review—including such canonical texts as Dracula, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, and stories featuring Sherlock Holmes—the critics in this anthology offer groundbreaking studies of subversion as a literary motif./ For some late nineteenth-century British novelists, subversion was a central aspect of their writerly existence. Although—or perhaps because—most Victorian authors composed their works for a general and mixed audience, many writers employed strategies designed to subvert genteel expectations. In addition to using coded and oblique subject matter, such figures also hid their transgressive material ‘in plain sight.’ While some writers sought to critique, and even destabilize, their society, others juxtaposed subversive themes and aesthetics negatively with communal norms in hopes of quashing progressive agendas.”

The book is divided into disciplinary parts on women, ideologies, and genres. The subversive concepts covered include the fight against the “feminine” characterization, pro-adultery sentiments, anti-orientalism, pro-fasting beliefs, hidden comedy in horror, sinning clergymen, and the criminal sins perpetrated by a detective like Sherlock Holmes. The “Introduction” offers a dense theoretical framework for how subversion has been explained by past critics. Sadly, they digress into discussing Bakhtin, Butler and Barthes’ ideas on this subject (xii). This is sad for me because these critics’ ideas on subversion is that subversive techniques should be utilized to disguise nonsense, inconsistencies, lack of logic, inaccuracies and various other errors in their own writing. They utilize big words and placing words in an unfamiliar and confusing order to disorient readers and to make them feel the theory is too deep instead of nonsensical for the confused readers; thus, these critics retain top positions in academia while they write nonsense criticism that is applauded by those who want to avoid reading it as the most brilliant ponderings of the century. If Womack and Decker cite these guys in the introductory comments, either they are about to engage in nonsense criticism themselves, or they have not read these guys and they are just recycling all critics who have mentioned subversion… Then again, they are only editing these essays, so each of the included writers might have unique ideas on the theory and proper applications of the concept of “subversion”.

Troy J. Bassett’s chapter is curious because it asks a question that coincides with my own current research: he attempts to prove that Helen Dickens was “a sister-in-law of the famous novelist”, despite a lack of evidence to firmly establish this. My computational linguistic method could test this theory by analyzing letters from Dickens’ relative, Charles Dickens, and other potential authors. Based on what I have learned about pseudonyms, it is more likely that another author adopted the last name Dickens to capitalize on Dickens’ fame that a relative of Dickens was publishing, but did not take credit for this affiliation. But running linguistic tests has proven to break most of my presuppositions. It is easy to get lost in associations and seeming hints without an objective grounding like a linguistic analysis. Bassett offers biographic summaries that compare what is known about Helen Dickens (the novelist) and Helen Dobson Dickens (the sister-in-law); I have found this type of biographic comparison to be very helpful, but it is easy to slip into confirmation bias without some other secondary proof to see the vast array of biographic detail as proof of an attribution. For all we know prior to linguistic analysis, Helen Dickens could have been the ghostwriter behind all of Charles Dickens’ novels and these novels under her own name were a way for her to reveal her identity subversively. Either way, this is a much needed comparative study because the topic of attribution, ghostwriting and plagiarism is essential for the world to solve its current anti-intellectualism problem.

All of the other chapters appear to be just as engaging and neatly edited. Many of them lean on biographic evidence as sorting subversive techniques out tends to necessitate understanding personal motivations and political affiliations of the author. For example, Nancy Henry concludes: that Eliot’s “recorded comments about divorce indicate a theoretical approval, she and Lewes did not pursue this option for reasons that might never be known, but that that certainly are more complicated than biographies have led us to believe” (59). One of the less coherent chapters is from one of the editors, Kenneth Womack, who keeps returning to Jauss’ levels of interaction” to explain “Marlow’s experiences with Mr. Kurtz”. Womack concludes: “Conrad critiques Empire’s blunt inhumanity—in short, the big lie that allows expansionism to continue unabated and without ethical reflection” (122). Perhaps the choice of topic here is strange as Conrad’s anti-colonialism is hardly subversive: it is pretty blatant in the harsh language the characters and the narrator offer regarding the problems faced by the Europeans and the natives as they travel up to Congo. Some of the other chapters are a bit over-reliant on quotes, as with Ira B. Nadel’s chapter on Dracula. Though she does connect all this evidence in a clear and logical manner: “Readers can confront and escape the admittedly grotesque stakings and deaths through the comic, an element integral rather than extraneous to the novel” (149).

Overall, the good outweighs the bad in this collection: this is difficult to do with any collection of scholarship, as each writer can have unique writerly problems that prevent a reader from penetrating through all of the included content. Given the number of misunderstandings in literary scholarship due to subversions, many more books can be written on this subject and they would all still be delivering new and curious revelations.

The Poetics of Prose and Other Nonsense on the Illiterate Contemporary Novel

Tim Lanzendorfer, editor. The Poetics of Genre in the Contemporary Novel. 292pp, softcover. ISBN: 978-1-4985-1730-0. Lanham: Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


As a publisher and writer, I have to understand current developments in fiction as well as studying my primary research area of 18-19th century British novels. Most other editors and critics also need to be familiar with recent trends to discuss the state of contemporary literature casually if not while employed in these fields. It is frequently difficult to determine what the state of contemporary fiction is because most critics are focusing on evaluating classics from earlier centuries in academia, while reviewers looking over new releases prefer popular or best-selling fiction, which is chosen and puffed because of the number of copies it is selling rather than from its literary superiority. This gap in knowledge should be taken up by scholars who specialize in analyzing the quality of contemporary fiction to inform the rest of us of the works truly deserving of not only prizes in the short-run, but canonization as the top works of this century in the centuries to come.

Tim Lanzendorfer’s study “investigates the role of genre in the contemporary novel.” This at the onset is problematic from my perspective because “genre” too often is used today to stand for formulaic popular fiction that is promoted because it follows the rules of its “genre” rather than for breaking rules and setting new standards. The blurb continues: “taking its departure from the observation that numerous contemporary novelists make use of popular genre influences in what are still widely considered to be literary novels, it sketches the uses, the work, and the value of genre. It suggests the value of a critical look at texts’ genre use for an analysis of the contemporary moment. From this, it develops a broader perspective, suggesting the value of genre criticism and taking into view traditional genres such as the bildungsroman and the metafictional novel as well as the kinds of amalgamated forms which have recently come to prominence. In essays discussing a wide range of authors from Steven Hall to Bret Easton Ellis to Colson Whitehead, the contributors to the volume develop their own readings of genre’s work and valence in the contemporary novel.” While the editor suggests that the support of “popular genre” is a rebellious, new turn, this has actually been the trend in scholarship across the past century. If popular genres were not supported by academia, they or works heavily influenced by their rules would not be winning top international literary fiction awards. On the other hand, the note regarding the Bildungsroman is a strange contrast to metafiction, as one is associated with canonical 18-19th century novels, while metafiction is new and currently somewhat popular. It seems this is one of those collections that stretched to fit the works submitted rather than sticking with the editors’ chosen narrow focus. The reason the term “poetic” was chosen to summarize prose fiction is oddly not explained in this summary; the repetition of this term in the title of the “Introduction” suggests that this choice is intentionally aiming to confuse and disorient readers. In fact, these opening remarks are very anti-poetic, as they criticize complex forms such as the poem for its elitisms. The editor makes the standard defense of pop and formulaic junk-fiction favored among the essays chosen for inclusion in this collection: “If modernist-literary fiction has become curiously sublated into the very thing it set itself off against, a high literature which preserves class (even if perhaps just literary class) distinctions, the contemporary turn to genre fiction might be said to attempt a revival of the democratizing of literature through a similar dissolution of re-appearing boundaries, a peculiarly Rancierian ‘recharge’ of what is literary about the novel” (9). Behind all these big words incomprehensible to the masses this argument is trying to reach is that the giant five international publishers are attempting to profit from selling the least linguistically and structurally complex possible books because these increase sales by reaching the most possible readers among those who are on the border with illiteracy; these fast-fiction books are easy to write as well, lowering the production cost. In truth, literature is supposed to be elitist; pop movies and fiction is equivalent with cheese burgers, they are bad for consumers, but we cannot stop producers from making them. In contrast, scholars of literature and highbrow literature writers should be tasked with writing and promoting the most complex and innovative fictions we can imagine in order to elevate the methods, style and essence of what fiction can achieve. Thus, I categorize these types of studies as anti-intellectual rather than pro-democratic. I will not find the sort of information I am looking for regarding the best modern fiction in these pages.

Across the interior, authors attempt to puff up funk-fiction with quotes from a few canonical anti-intellectual critics, including Bakhtin and Foucault, and by making silly pop-fictions appear to share things in common with Goethe and other classics (79). Other writers cover the favored topic among this group of visual “literature”, with references to a proposed “new audience of pre-verbal children using digital devices”, a concept advertised in the fiction being discussed (117). Elsewhere, the novel is explained as “not so much a marketing tool”. Not so much? More or less? Really, the author knows that fast-fiction is nothing more than precisely a marketing tool, but saying so directly wouldn’t help this marketing effort (154). Yet other essays digress into calling characters and authors crazy with simplistic psychoanalysis: “Unlike Don Quixote, the people for whom this held were not considered insane, because others shared their worldview…” where a character’s “greatest error” is living “in a world of his own”, which is socially unacceptable (203). This statement takes the anti-innovation propaganda to an extreme; not only are formulaic novels and formulaic social structures promoted as superior, but those who are innovative and unique are directly called “insane” by these critics.

Contemporary fiction is so horrid in its failures that scholars studying it might have been driven insane as they try to support fast-fiction with theoretical gymnastics that stretch it as heights of intellectual achievement. Every time I read one of these contemporary fiction theory studies I move further away from actually wanting to read any contemporary fiction to judge it for myself, as I am afraid I will have to begin issuing negative-star-ratings to explain the visceral response I would have to it.

Inspiring Golden Collection of Verrocchio’s Mesmerizing Art

Andrew Butterfield, editor. Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence. 384pp, 9.25X11.75”, 279 color illustrations, $60: hardcover ISBN: 978-0-691183367. Princeton: Princeton University Press, October 22, 2019.


Seeing this book come out of the box made me happier than any of the other books in this set because it is just a beautiful piece of art. The front cover is a close-up of an elegant statue that focuses on a pair of hands. I always gravitated towards drawing hands when I was young and practicing art: they display a lot of character without carrying the weight, size, and other stereotypical ideas regarding human beauty: chubby hands are more appealing in a drawing. The cover’s text is also coated in pinkish gold ink: making it as luxurious to the eye than any piece of jewelry one might display. The back cover is a classical painting of a mother and child, executed with Renaissance elegance and precision. I plan on exhibiting this book on my desk to give my room a bit more style: I am a minimalist so book covers on shelves are the only decorations I allow in my space. 

“Andrea del Verrocchio (c. 1435–1488) was one of the most versatile and inventive artists of the Italian Renaissance. He created art across media, from his spectacular sculptures and paintings to his work in goldsmithing, architecture, and engineering. His expressive, confident drawings provide a key point of contact between sculpture and painting. He led a vibrant workshop where he taught young artists who later became some of the greatest painters of the period, including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Lorenzo di Credi, and Domenico Ghirlandaio.” When I saw the name in the catalog is sounded vaguely familiar, but now seeing it next to da Vinci’s and Botticelli’s names explains why he deserves a massive book dedicated to his work. Teaching others how to become the best artists of all time, according to many, indicates that the teacher’s abilities must have either outflanked them, or his art holds some of these secrets he imparted to them but might not have been able to maximize in his own creations. His influence on these greats also indicates that they contributed to these pieces collaboratively, thus Verrocchio’s pieces are in part also part of the da Vinci and Botticelli canons if collaborative work counts as belonging to the students who executed the details as well as to the master who planned the project. “This beautifully illustrated book presents a comprehensive survey of Verrocchio’s art, spanning his entire career and featuring some fifty sculptures, paintings, and drawings, in addition to works he created with his students. Through incisive scholarly essays, in-depth catalog entries, and breathtaking illustrations, this volume draws on the latest research in art history to show why Verrocchio was one of the most innovative and influential of all Florentine artists.” This massive undertaking is particularly beautiful and polished because it was published in association with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Even inside the cover folds there are close-ups of sketches of the baby that was then executed in paint in the work featured on the back cover. These pen and ink sketches are particular favorites for other artists because they inspire sentimental reflections about our own doodles.

Some art books allow the paintings to speak, but this approach makes readers question why any text was added at all. In contrast, this book includes essays that examine Verrocchio’s art in a scientific manner, considering the nature of his skill, the humanist culture of the period in Florence, Verrocchio’s sculpturally and painting biography, collaboratory workshop culture, and his models. The essays are illustrated with numerous examples of the information covered, and then a catalog shows his sculptures, paintings and drawings in separate sections for those who want to consider these side-by-side. There is plenty of commentary in the catalog as well that describes the art history and techniques in these pieces. The last two essays offer a still more technical look with one on Verocchio’s bronze or metal-work techniques and another on spectral imaging in his painting (the last is written by six different authors jointly, and it does seem the subject is complex enough for collaboration to be needed). The printing is so well executed that Benozzo Gozzoli’s Procession of the Magi (1459-60) has gold elements that sparkle as if the book was printed in gold leaf… It would be difficult to convince me that it wasn’t. I have never put my nose and hands in contact with this much gold before. Zooming into an image of this painting online could not approximate the sensation of studying the lines of the hair from an inch away from a character’s face. It makes me want to draw an imitation of this composition to understand how this painter or collaborative managed these curious details. The strange unrealistic perspective brings the meaning and beauty of the characters to the forefront rather than any proximity of the history portrayed to reality (32-3). The text next to this image explains that past critics have had the misconception that Verrocchio was a “court artist”, whereas in truth he ran a workshop that was hired for contracts by the Medici family, who were wealthy bankers and dabbled in religious politics, rather than serving as monarchs of Florence (34). This type of information is popular-knowledge due to the many TV shows about the Medicis and the artists they hired, but it should help the general public and specialists to refresh their memory on such details as they consider the politics, theology and monetary considerations behind this artwork. The comparative style of this book also focuses on the relative value of art, as it considers why Verrocchio is less prized today than some of his students. For example, the authors position Verrocchio’s statue of David against Donatello’s David; Verrocchio’s version has more defined lines, a more elegant and attractive face, a complex portrait of Goliath’s cut-off head by his foot, and other elements that perhaps should have ingratiated it better to viewers; Verrocchio chose this subject to prove his superiority over the older master on the same subject (55). Scans of some elements and comparisons of several elements such as hands are offered during scholarly discussions, which draw these types of conclusions regarding “spatial effects”: “innovative use of sfumato… to describe and modulate the flesh tones is replicated in paintings as an increased depth… imbuing the figures with a sense of bodily weight and substance” (79-80). The stolen image of Verrocchio’s Crucified Christ with Saints Jerome and Anthony Abbott zooms in so close to one of the saints’ faces that it made me think it was a photograph of an old modern man instead of a painting as I flipped through the book; it is extremely precise in its lines, and the watery and bloodshot eye and the intricate eyebrow leaning over it are executed with photographic precision (198-201). I have been spoiled by receiving books like this one for free in the mail: this is probably the reason I have not gone into a museum once across the past decade after going regularly prior. The stolen image also makes me realize that this book is probably one of the best books ever created for art-forgers. Anybody who wants to execute a precise mimicry of the covered artists’ style, color pigments, shading, and the rest could not find better imagery and explanations than in the pages of this book. Then again, anybody who can sit through closely reading a book like this and admiring the brilliance of these images should probably invest that energy into creating some new art to compete with the brilliance of these masters. Surely, given how much we now understand about their technique and artistry, modern artists can manage to create superior art; and yet, looking over these pieces, I remain convinced that they demonstrate the peak of human artistic talent.

Compressed Primer on International Litigation

Robert Cryer, Darryl Robinson and Sergey Vasiliev. An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure, Fourth Edition. 576pp. ISBN: 978-1-108-74161-3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.


Tiny independent business owners need to be familiar with the law; medium-sized businesses can afford to pay for a lawyer if they have to sue somebody, but tiny businesses have to have owners who can engage in the law pro se. While international law seems to be a far-fetched area of litigation for a tiny business, most business owners end up in other countries on occasion for vacations, business conferences, artistic or research trips, contract labor or other scenarios. Current events are littered with Americans who have gone abroad without knowledge into international law and they did not do well. The American college student who was accused of satanic orgies in Italy and the American tourist who was accused of stealing communist art in Korea come to mind as the worst-case scenarios; the first served years in prison prior to finally proving innocence and the latter died due to an illness contracted during his imprisonment abroad. While death or losing a decade of freedom are far-fetched, even a parking ticket can be arduous without knowledge of not only the language, but also the appropriate legal procedure. I doubt any book can engulf all possible scenarios of law across the world, but this book seems like a good place to start to gain some wisdom on this topic.

“Written by a team of international lawyers with extensive academic and practical experience of international criminal law… Introducing the readers to the fundamental concepts of international criminal law, as well as the domestic and international institutions that enforce that law, this book engages with critical questions, political and moral challenges, and alternatives to international justice.” The book is advertised as having been “cited by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and the highest courts in domestic systems”. There is definitely no higher praise in academia than if your work is cited not merely by other scholars but by practitioners to win cases at the top of the field. Obviously, these top lawyers and judges have to read this type of books to refresh their understanding of their field, but it is a step further for them to cite an introductory textbook in their rulings, briefs and other court documents. If they feel comfortable citing this book, it must be near-flawless and highly-esteemed. Given this high praise, the cover is pretty understated as it is a nearly full-black image with the sun breaking through clouds dimly as it appears either be setting or rising. I might only be noticing this because I am looking at it right after reviewing the golden cover of an art book. It is a good idea for lawbooks’ covers to be understated, as otherwise they would detract from readers paying attention to the interior.

As with the other textbooks I have reviewed on the subject of international law, most of it focuses on extreme cases that most typically come into news reports, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, and torture. But the principles of other national-boundary crossing crimes is also reviewed, including liability, criminal responsibility and aggression. There are also chapters on immunities and alternative methods of resolution. The chapters are accompanied with “Further Reading” sections to assist those who are engaged in practical research for a case, or studying these subjects in law school; this is why I always appreciate starting my own research with a textbook like this one when it is available on a subject, as it tends to guide readers towards reliable sources for the more complex information after establishing the vocabulary and concepts needed to understand them. The histories of the major international criminal prosecutions (Nuremberg and Tokyo) should be helpful for lawyers, especially those who are studying case law, and might need to discuss these realities in their classes or papers. The contents are heavily annotated with references to case law, rules, and other texts discussing these topics. The information is delivered succinctly and addresses the types of questions practitioners might need to know most urgently; for example: “There is no requirement to prove that the perpetrator knew of the illegality… Provided, therefore, that the perpetrator intended to lead their country into a conflict and knew of the circumstances surrounding the conflict, it is not necessary that they knew that the conflict was unlawful” (311). While this information on the mental elements of the “Aggression” crimes category applies primarily to those who start international wars, it also offers interesting general law theory. And researchers who are looking for information for fiction or non-fiction that touches on war crimes should find these types of explanations useful as it shows a war criminal cannot escape prosecution simply through ignorance; though too many war criminals appear to use this type of a defense. One of the reasons for this capacity of international criminals to escape justice is the limitations of providing witness protection similar to the type that can be provided by police or federal agencies at the nation level: “Witnesses are sometimes threatened and even murdered. Pervasive witness interference is now a major challenge at the ICC.” Despite common knowledge about these problems, such protection is left to the “Chambers”, which might not be able to handle the types of problems witnesses are facing (448-9).

In summary, most of the relatively minor criminal problems Americans might face abroad, or foreigners might face in America are not addressed in this study, but the bigger international issues are fully explored. Since America has been engaged in wars in the Middle East non-stop for two decades now since 9/11 and it has been accused of war crimes in Guantanamo as well as of mishandling of illegal migrants on the border, reviewing the types of large-scale human rights violations discussed in these pages is something the current US administration should engage in to weigh if they might be breaking many of the laws in this book.

How Conflicts Are Handled in Reality (Not in Hollywood)

J. Michael Greig, Andrew P. Owsiak and Paul F. Diehl. International Conflict Management. 242pp. ISBN: 978-1-509-530533. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019.


There are too many examples in popular culture of films, television shows, novels and the like to utilize characters who attempt to manage international conflicts. A thriller might feature a muscle-man who stands between different state and national agencies to broker an agreement that focuses on solving the crime at hand. In other stories, these heroes go abroad to negotiate a kidnapper’s ransom request, or to talk about sanctions with a warlord. The tactics utilized in popular culture seem cartoonish, as the lone-tough-guy would hardly be effective in a realistic situation. Thus, writers who compose these fictions, literary scholars who write about such thrillers, as well as those interested in joining the actual process of dispute resolution can benefit from a study like this one. And America’s politicians definitely need a refresher on these techniques, especially the chapters on sanctions and intervention, given the current clashes with China, the Middle East and Russia that have been escalating under a president without diplomatic tact advised in these pages.

“With many interstate and civil disputes experiencing no third-party attempts at conflict management, how can the international community mitigate the effects of and ultimately end such violence? Why, in so many cases, are early, ‘golden opportunities’ for conflict management missed?” This is a set of “varied approaches and factors that promote the de-escalation and the peaceful management of conflict across the globe—from negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and adjudication to peace operations, sanctions, and military or humanitarian intervention. The history, characteristics and agents of each approach are examined in depth, using a wide range of case studies to illustrate successes and failures on the ground.”

The lectures on strategy are assisted with boxes that summarize how real conflicts have been handled in the past; such case examples are always essential when discussing practical human-behavior applications as how people react to a given approach might be the opposite to how they are supposed to react according to theory; for example, one box is on the 1994 “US-North Korea Agreement and Implementation” (106-7). Chapters end with helpful summaries of the points raised; starting with these might help those searching for broad answers to determine which of the discussed methods, procedures, or ideas is most relevant to their situation (155-6). While a lot of the book is pretty theoretical and digressive, there are some very revealing and interesting for general readers sections, such as the summary of the changes in frequency of US engagement of peacekeeping methods. This section argues: “the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s marked the beginning of an era that involved a dramatic expansion in the number of new operations, which took on a series of ‘peacebuilding’ missions in addition to traditional ceasefire-monitoring roles”; the operations in Somalia and Haiti are cited as examples (162). The media tends to refer to peacekeeping in broad terms and as an inevitability, but it is curious to consider how it is a choice for the US to intervene. The current administration is utilizing a strange blend of intervention and isolationism that is unique because it is pretty nonsensical; as these two strategies cancel each other out.

To summarize, this is a great book that anybody writing about fictional or real suspenseful conflicts should read. It is appropriate for both scholars of politics, practicing resolvers, and general readers interested in what is happening in our violent and disagreeable world.

Outstanding Textbook for Dietitians and General Eaters

Joan Gandy, editor. Manual of Dietetic Practice, Sixth Edition. 1014pp. ISBN: 978-1-119-23592-7. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons: Blackwell, 2019.


Two years ago, I converted to a vegan diet when my blood sugar registered at 106, or just above the upper limit for normal blood sugar of 100; while it was under 120, which would have made me pre-diabetic, I decided that it was heading in the wrong direction. As I commenced research on this subject, I realized that my 248-pound weight put me in the morbidly obese category, which apparently significantly increased my risk of early death. I took a food science class back in college, but that class focused on food poisoning and other food-related illnesses rather than on diet. The health classes we had in high school focused on anorexia and other problems with the number on the scale being too low, so when my friends told me about their vegan diet in college, I was terrified they would crumble from under-nourishment. I have since done a lot of research to prove to myself that a vegan diet is one of the only effective strategies for massive weight-loss, as I have gone down to as low as 139-pounds; I wrote an article on my strategies in an earlier issue of CCR. However, most of my research has been from articles on specific issues in scholarly journals and YouTube videos. So, seeing a textbook on dietetics in a catalog prompted me to immediately request it. I hoped I would find practical advice for the questions I have been asking myself, but have been too cheap to go to a dietitian to ask. However, this is not a book about veganism; in fact, veganism is not popular across all medical fields because vegans infrequently need doctors due to their improved health; whereas meat eaters are dietitians chief audience. So, while there is little pro-veganism information in these pages, it is still interesting to review what I need to know if I am going to continue giving myself diet advice. 

“The authoritative guide for dietetic students and both new and experienced dietitians—endorsed by the British Dietetic Association.” This and other dietetic associations are the chief enemies of most vegan doctors on YouTube, as they tend to endorse public policy that supports the meat and dairy industries. “Published on behalf of the British Dietetic Association, this comprehensive resource covers the entire dietetics curriculum, and is an ideal reference text for healthcare professionals to develop their expertise and specialist skills in the realm of dietetic practice. This important guide includes: New data on nutrition and health surveillance programs. Revised and updated evidence-based guidelines for dietetic practice.” This refers to the food pyramid, which has an entire section dedicated to dairy, so it does not really swim up the vegan stream either.

The topics covered inside include: strategies for changing health behavior, dietary assessment, group-specific dietary problems (age, gender, minorities, low-income: for some reason the “childhood” section here includes notes not only on common problems discussed for this age group like autism, but also “Neurology and the ketogenic diet”, but thankfully no equivalent anti-veganism section), approaches to serving special populations such as prisoners and soldiers, clinical advice for handling malnutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, mental health, diabetes, obesity, and various other serious and minor conditions. To summarize, this is a medical textbook designed as a refresher or introduction to the entire field for clinicians. The list of contributors offering advice in this collection is five pages long, or the longest such list I have ever seen, and I have reviewed and read a lot of books. The opening section explains the role of the organization that funded this study, the British Dietetic Association, as a “professional body” rather than a “regulatory” one: “BDA provides guidance, advice, learning and networking opportunities, and professional indemnity insurance cover, all with the aim of supporting the development of safe and effective practitioners” (6). This role means that BDA is reasonably unbiased, and the advice offered should not be directly fed by industry interests. A few people have asked me before to offer practical advice to them on how they can achieve weight loss, and I have been pretty shy in my suggestions, but I think if somebody asked me again, some of the lessons from this book might help me with creating a citation-heavy version of the basic answers I have been giving myself. Then again, this book discusses a series of stepped involved in patient care and management, which probably would frighten away an average YouTuber who offers advice on vegan or general nutrition. Even YouTubers with medical degrees probably do not follow these precise rules of conduct (29). This is a great book to have on the shelf for random problems that might occur later on in my life; few of these are likely to be addressed with anywhere near-precision in online free encyclopedias. For example, there are specific boxes on the foods to avoid during pregnancy, and the vitamins and minerals pregnant women need to consume in set amounts (90). There is a full chapter on “Vegetarianism and vegan diets”, and a giant section in the Index dedicated to the vegan diet, vegetables, and the vegetarian diet. A sub-section of veganism does include “anorexia nervosa” and another is on “bone health”, so these authors’ take on it cannot be all together positive. This doubting attitude is reflected in the stress put first on religious and ethical reasons for adopting the diet and alternative substitute foods that can help vegans feel normal. Under “Health reasons” for adopting this diet, the authors begin thus: “Vegetarians appear to be more health conscious than non-vegetarians, and a vegetarian eating pattern is associated with a lower risk of death from ischaemic heart disease.” The section then offers various other problems that can be solved with a vegan diet, but by starting with “appear” and health-consciousness the editors once again lean towards veganism as an eating disorder rather than as a solution. Those who want to read the good news can fight through these boundaries, but those who are skeptical about it are likely to skip over this option based on this style of introducing it. The next section also addresses in great detail the inadequacies on a vegan diet rather than exploring all of the things it helps with. The details do defend the vegan diet as safe, as for example the section on calcium starts by stating vegans receive significantly less of it, but adds that this is not associated with an “increased fracture risks”. Next there is a section on using the vegan diet to treat chronic diseases, so it really is a fair and balanced perspective, just one that offers all possible safety warnings prior to naming the benefits (131-5).

This is a book that everybody who plans on advising others or themselves about diet should read, or have on their shelf. Even those who go to see a dietician can benefit from researching these subjects themselves in a mostly unbiased source. It is written in a language that is approachable for informed general readers. At the same time, it is complex enough for a practicing dietician to benefit from a quick glance at the index to find information on an unusual problem a patient is facing. This is an excellent textbook and source for general nutritional health information.

Babbling About Humans Rising in Fictions and Evolution

Ian Duncan. Human Forms: The Novel in the Age of Evolution. $35: hardcover, 304pp, 6.125X9.25”.ISBN: 978-0-691-17507-2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, September 3, 2019.


This book is advertised as a “rethinking of the European novel and its relationship to early evolutionary science./ The 120 years between Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871) marked both the rise of the novel and the shift from the presumption of a stable, universal human nature to one that changes over time.” It is a strange choice to select a 1749 start-date for the novel’s rise, as Watt, who wrote the book on this “rise” that is frequently quoted, looked back to “Defoe’s” Crusoe (1719). My own theory and other critics have recently questioned this “rise” theory. Evolutionary theory has also changed from a steady march of progress to one the demonstrates that species intermingled and moved with randomness in stages, rather than constantly improving in a single direction over time. The use of “rise” in this summary suggests the author is going to prefer this century-plus-old conception. Despite using this outmoded perspective, Duncan promises to reorient “our understanding of the novel’s formation during its cultural ascendancy, arguing that fiction produced new knowledge in a period characterized by the interplay between literary and scientific discourses—even as the two were separating into distinct domains.” This is an example of drawing connections between things that lack clear logical links. “Duncan focuses on several crisis points: the contentious formation of a natural history of the human species in the late Enlightenment; the emergence of new genres such as the Romantic bildungsroman…” What does the youth-to-death central-character narrative plotline have to do with evolution? This book promises to digress into ponderings into whatever came into Duncan’s head. Then he attempts to address: “historical novels by Walter Scott and Victor Hugo that confronted the dissolution of the idea of a fixed human nature…” Who said there was a fixed human nature? When did Scott or Hugo digress into ponderings on it being changing? This all seems completely false and misleading. “Charles Dickens’s transformist aesthetic and its challenge to Victorian realism…” What? Dickens was a realist; and it is realistic that things change. He goes on: “George Eliot’s reckoning with the nineteenth-century revolutions in the human and natural sciences. Modeling the modern scientific conception of a developmental human nature, the novel became a major experimental instrument for managing the new set of divisions—between nature and history, individual and species, human and biological life—that replaced the ancient schism between animal body and immortal soul.” While digression is a sin, claiming that you have solved the world’s problems while thus digressing is a scholarly sin: “The first book to explore the interaction of European fiction with ‘the natural history of man’ from the late Enlightenment through the mid-Victorian era…” There have been countless books on evolution, the environment and natural history in general, of “the natural history of man” in particular. If Duncan has not read any of them before starting his own project, this is indeed problematic. Duncan is a Florence Green Bixby Chair in English at the University of California, Berkeley; this is his second book with Princeton University Press. While this cover is outstanding, just looking at this summary would have made me conclude it must be another Rowman book; Princeton’s titles are usually more polished and updated.

The section headings reinforce the strange turn this book takes: “The Faculty of Perfection”, “The Paragon of Animals”, “Infinity or Totality”, “Dark Unhappy Ones”: I think Duncan is just making fun of potential critics with these. He is just steering into total darkness. Two of the main chapters focus on two writers: Dickens and George Eliot, with a look at “science fiction” for the latter; Eliot does not come to mind when I ponder science fiction; it would have been appropriate for the subject for Duncan to examine early science fiction, but he avoids this in favor of stretching reality to fit his march-of-progress narrative.

The interior does not fair better: “Even when (or perhaps, especially when) not making racial difference its theme—it largely went without saying that Bildung, like property, was a white male privilege…” (17). This sentence is full of uncertainties and jumps between concepts before it arrives at a massive claim of racism sexism… Later, without offering proof of this assertion Duncan writes: “Modern criticism withheld from Hugo and Dickens the realist credentials it allowed Balzac…” Duncan goes on to argue that despite these earlier misjudgments Bleak House can indeed be read as an example of “nineteenth-century realism” (128). If he is only considering Watt’s “rise” theory and other anti-communist, racist, march-of-progress theorists than he is arriving at a unique conclusion here, but socialists have been claiming Dickens as a realist since some of the earlier criticisms of his fiction: he wrote a couple of novels on rebellion and revolution, so really seeing Dickens as an anti-realistic or as something other than a realist is just ridiculous.

It is emotionally exhausting to read scholarship with these types of mistakes in them at this stage of this massive set of reviews, so I will stop here.

On Dickens’ Most Unbelievable Novel’s Publishing History

Sean Grass. Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History: Ashgate Studies in Publishing History: Manuscript, Print, Digital. ISBN: 978-1317168218. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, May 15, 2017.


The following set of books were provided via an online platform, which makes these easy to search for specific information during a research project, but difficult to review as material objects, as most readers are likely to encounter these scholarly projects in print.

This particular book is interesting because it reviews the publishing history of one of Dickens’ novels. These types of close analysis of the production of a manuscript and its printing is very useful for biographic, historic and some literary analysis, especially if there are questions of attribution or other textual concerns. The cover summarizes this project thus: “Even within the context of Charles Dickens’s history as a publishing innovator, Our Mutual Friend is notable for what it reveals about Dickens as an author and about Victorian publishing. Marking Dickens’s return to the monthly number format after nearly a decade of writing fiction designed for weekly publication in All the Year Round, Our Mutual Friend emerged against the backdrop of his failing health, troubled relationship with Ellen Ternan, and declining reputation among contemporary critics.” This this is all curious biography, it is unclear how it demonstrates that this is “an extraordinarily odd novel, no less in its contents and unusually heavy revisions than in its marketing by Chapman and Hall, its transformation from a serial into British and U.S. book editions, its contemporary reception by readers and reviewers, and its delightfully uneven reputation among critics in the 150 years since Dickens’s death.” Disagreements among critics are curious because there are so few of them; almost all critics working within the establishment confirm the opinions of their predecessors. For example, in my attribution study, I discovered that critics were saying the same similarity of Peter Wilkins to Crusoe in its first review that critics kept echoing across the following centuries without realizing it is likely that its author, Robert Paltock, was also the author of the anonymous Crusoe. The first critics tend to be paid to puff, and most later critics are paid to repeat “established” opinions these early ponderers bestowed. “Enhanced by four appendices that offer contemporary accounts of the Staplehurst railway accident, information on archival materials, transcripts of all of the contemporary reviews, and a select bibliography of editions…”

While the summary promises to explain the mixed reviews, the “Introduction’s” sub-title refers to it as “The poorest of Mr. Dickens’s works”. It was unfinished, and as Grass has pointed out there were a lot of revisions already made to it; this indicates that Dickens did a lot of heavy edits to his texts and he was far from completing the needed edits on this project; so to judge it based on this incompleteness devalues the editing work all authors do to polish works from conception to publication. These comments open with a note that it is indeed a poorly executed novel, in part because of the “central marriage plot” being “far too saccharine and unconvincing”. It is very annoying to read fellow critics dismissing a book because they fail to be convinced or to believe fiction is true: fiction is a series of lies; the suspension of disbelief is an option readers can engage or avoid, so the quality of fiction should not be judged by the reader’s ability to believe in its truthfulness. Other chapters promise more useful utilizations like the one on how Dickens wrote this book, on early critics, on later critics, and on how the manuscript was prepared for publication.

Historical Essays Related to the Method of Twain’s Humor

David E. E. Sloane. Mark Twain’s Humor. ISBN: 978-1351403160. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, October 24, 2017.


Since I am currently interested in satire, I naturally gravitated towards requesting a book about Twain’s humor. This is a collection of essays by several different writers, so this promises to be more digressive rather than educational regarding how precisely Twain’s humor manages to affect readers and how it is structured. On the bright side many of these essays come from across the centuries of Twain criticism, so these might be some of the better examples of scholarly opinion on the subject.

“Originally published in 1993. The purpose of this volume is to lay out documents which give an estimate of Mark Twain as a humourist in both historical scope and in the analysis of modern scholars. The emphasis in this collection is on how Twain developed from a contemporary humourist among many others of his generation into a major comic writer and American spokesman and, in several more recent essays by younger Twain scholars, the outcomes of that development late in his career.”

The book is divided into critical remarks by periods of Twain’s life: early, middle and late. The topics addressed include: burlesque travel literature, regional studies, the novel genre, dramatic structure, methodless digressions, insightful lecturing, slang, farce, race, fame, anecdotes, banal theology, and autobiographic humor. Many of these are reviews of Twain in general, genres within his canon or individual works.

Since most of these are historic documents, this is an important artifact for Twain’s researchers as it would help a researcher find patterns, changes, or unique key words across these more insightful comments on an American classic.

An Exploration of Printing in the Jacobean Age

P. Langman. Negotiating the Jacobean Printed Book. ISBN: 978-1351915403. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, December 5, 2016.


This book explains the interrelationships between “authors, printers and readers”, with analysis of “the physical nature of books and their place in Jacobean society. The contributors interrogate not just the texts themselves, but the habits, proclamations, letters and problems encountered by authors, printers and readers. Ranging from the funding of perhaps the most important book of the early Jacobean period, the 1611 AV Bible, and the ways in which it changed the balance of power in the King’s Printers, to how the importation of Continental drill manuals by professional soldiers influenced the Privy council, the essays focus on the fissures which open up between practice and proclamation, between manuscript and press, and between print and parliament.”

Most of this book has a very practical and technical approach to the subject. For example, the chapter on the production of the Bible by Graham Rees, concludes thus: “in good hands the King’s Printer patent was a licence to print money on a pretty substantial scale, and certainly on a scale that far exceeded the capacities of other printers. No wonder that the grasping Bonham Norton and John Bill eyed the King’s Printer monopoly so avariciously, and no wonder that the imprudent Robert Barker, once he had lost control of the firm, fought so hard and for so long to recover it.” I have noted the significance of these licences and government printing contracts in my own research on early printing and publishing; in these periods the literate public was too small to profit from selling to them most books; but the Bible was one of the few required texts for most households, so even the poor who could not really afford the high cost of any printed book, saved money to invest in this religious purchase.

In a chapter on changes in the English military drill manual David R. Lawrence utilizes several illustrations of the discussed primary sources, as he offers details of printing and publishing history, include curious points such as this on hack writers: “Markham… is best known as a hack writer who penned more than forty titles on a wide variety of subjects over the course of his long literary career. Where his military books are concerned, Markham’s reputation as a hack is well founded. He borrowed liberally from Panton’s Table for his Schoole for young souldiers, simply removing Panton’s commentaries while retaining his schema for the pike and musket drill.” This type of evidence is particularly useful to my own research because I am exploring how common hackwork was and the techniques hacks utilized to produce texts rapidly and to sell them for a profit. Wages for writers were so low (well, they remain low), that most writers were forced into this type of hacking of old books into new ones to make enough to feed themselves.

To summarize, this is an outstanding book that delivers exactly what it promises, and I am likely to return to it to discover more of what it has to offer. As many other critics have said, early decades of printing remain barely explored by scholars, so there is much to discover here, and these types of studies help to welcome more scholars to venture into these waters.

The Insightful Histories on the Earliest Printed Books in the West

Ian Gadd. The History of the Book in the West: 1455–1700. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, March 2, 2017.


All literary scholars have to question how publishing commenced in the West if they aim to understand later developments, as the habits formed at the onset of any type of endeavor tend to repeat across later ages. “Beginning with one of the crucial technological breakthroughs of Western history—the development of moveable type by Johann Gutenberg”, this book “covers the period that saw the growth and consolidation of the printed book as a significant feature of Western European culture and society.” Thankfully, these essays come from the “past five decades”, rather than having been gathered specifically for this study, making it likely that they represent some of the best scholarship on the subject. They explore: “typography, economics, regulation, bookselling, and reading practices. Books, whether printed or in manuscript, played a major role in the religious, political, and intellectual upheavals of the period, and understanding how books were made, distributed, and encountered provides valuable new insights into the history of Western Europe in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.”

The book is separated into parts by sections on: typography, print’s impact, technology of printing, selling books, and reading. Some curious essay topics that stand out are the connection between the Roman Inquisition and the Venetian press, trade unions in sixteenth-century France, and the one of printing-house practices. The latter essay by D. F. McKenzie offers a wealth of information by reviewing primary documents to conclude:

When the University of Cambridge set up its printing house in 1696, nearly all the records relating to the erection of the building, and then subsequently to its operation throughout the next decade, were preserved. The annual press accounts show clearly the kinds of expenditure involved in running a small printing house; and the workmen’s vouchers for composition, correction and presswork, together with the joiners’, smiths’, glaziers’, plumbers’, typefounders’, fellmongers’, carriers’, and printers’-suppliers’ bills, reveal the week-by-week operations of a printing house in a detail which is, I believe, unparalleled.

A chapter on the impact of printing on reading by Paul Saenger explains how capitalization of the first letters in sentences became standardized: “The marking of capitals denoting the beginning of sentences with red strokes was one of the standard functions of scribes who added rubrication and emendations to incunables.”

This is a great book to have in a scholarly collection to insert bits of little-known wisdom into discussions on related subjects or to double-check the origins of a given typographic, printing or publishing trend. It is intended for other scholars, rather than for readers new to these subjects.

The Insightful Histories on Books’ Developments in the Eighteenth Century

Eleanor F. Shevlin. The History of the Book in the West: 1700–1800. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, March 2, 2017.


This collection is the exact century and region that I have been focusing on researching across the past couple of years, so this will be a book that I will visit again, and I already searched through it prior to starting this review. The central author of my study, Daniel Defoe, only appears in the Index once, in an essay that distinguishes between different illustrations and book design styles, where most of the other canonical authors I have been reviewing, including Richardson and Pope, are also mentioned because they were heavily promoted and their books were some of the more expensive books in the market, utilizing some of these fancier technologies. Materials on design are interesting for me as a designer, but less relevant for my research than publishing history such as contractual documentation or authentication of attributions via corrected manuscript analysis. Still, it is possible later in my study, I will suddenly determine that headpiece illustrations help to determine attribution, and this chapter might turn out to carry more weight than it appears, so it is useful to have access to this title in my digital library.

Here is the book’s blurb: “Influenced by Enlightenment principles and commercial transformations, the history of the book in the eighteenth century witnessed not only the final decades of the hand-press era but also developments and practices that pointed to its future: ‘the foundations of modern copyright; a rapid growth in the publication, circulation, and reading of periodicals; the promotion of niche marketing; alterations to distribution networks; and the emergence of the publisher as a central figure in the book trade, to name a few.’” The growth of the publisher is particularly significant for my project because Defoe and Richardson self-printed or self-published some of their own books, and this ability gave them access and power in a narrow market with few competing publishers; this power allowed them to canonize their own names, helping to carry their grandeur into the present day despite them being far from the most popular writers in their day. Many of these early publishers started some of the tricks and tactics that are still practiced by publishers today, so studying why and how they instituted these practices in the eighteenth century puts modern publishing into a clearer perspective. “The pace and extent of these changes varied greatly within the different sociopolitical contexts across the western world. The volume’s twenty-four articles, many of which proffer broader theoretical implications beyond their specific focus, highlight the era’s range of developments. Complementing these articles, the introductory essay provides an overview of the eighteenth-century book and milestones in its history during this period…”

Some of the other topics covered are: binding, paper, quotation marks, printers and binders, evidence of authorship patterns (power, gender), Stationers Company, British piracy and copyrights law, subscription publishing, the antiquarian trade and auctions, trade publishing, booksellers, periodical press, review journals, serials, schoolbooks and literacy, and libraries and spread of reading. The essay on the first review periodicals or “Review Journals and the Reading Public” by Antonia Forster is particularly relevant to my interests as the “first” London publication dedicated to reviews, Monthly Review, published reviews of Robert Paltock’s Peter Wilkins and other works suspected to be by him a couple of years after it was founded in 1749, thus pushing this author into public consciousness and allowing my linguistic analysis to connect him to the “Defoe” novels from three decades earlier. The section on these beginnings explains that this periodical was preceded by Paris and Amsterdam journals like Denis De Sallo’s Journal des Scavans (1665-1753) and Michel de la Roche’s English Memoirs of Literature (1710-14 and 1717) and the History of the Works of the Learned (1737-43): “These periodicals had extremely limited coverage, however, addressing themselves, as the latter title suggests, to erudite works with small potential audiences. Comprehensive, or would-be comprehensive, coverage of publications in general was offered by the lists of recent publications in the Gentleman’s and London magazines, but these, with only occasional exceptions, were simply book lists.” The texts that survive to this day were nearly all listed in these two magazines, helping later scholars determine not only their existence, but also that they were significant enough to advertise.

This is an example of how convenient electronic books are for finding exact relevant quotes and materials to help new research. And archival scholarship of these darker times in publishing has helped me to understand patterns that might have eluded me if I had to discover this type of information for myself through the archives (even if these were all digitized). For these types of reasons, this is a useful, practical, informative, and insightful collection of essays on a topic that is relevant to nearly all scholars of literature, even if most are not particularly interested in it.

The Autobiographical and Philosophical Writings of Lord Bolingbroke, the Revolutionary

Henry St. J. Bolingbroke. The Works of Lord Bolingbroke. ISBN: 978-0-367-14962-8. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, May 23, 2019.


The publisher’s summary of this book does not really explain Lord Bolingbroke’s significance, but his role was a central one in the subversive games London publishers and authors were playing as it touched on radical-leaning politics in the eighteenth century. Here is how the publisher puts it: “Published in 1967: Accuracy and impartiality have been studied in the following Biography, more than elegance and that labored eulogy, which so often defeats its purpose. The quick genius and diversified attainments of the author and the statesman, have not been allowed to cast a glare over the vices of the man and the specious hollowness of the pretended philosopher.” Why is this editor calling Lord Bolingbroke a “pretend” philosopher: can anybody pretend to philosophize unless it can be proven that their philosophies were ghostwritten; is the editor suggesting the Lord did not write the works included here that are attributed to him? All this is very cryptic.

An explanation as to who Lord Bolingbroke is appears in an autobiographic section called “The Life of Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke”, which details the role he played in the 1715 Jacobite rising:

he brought me word that Scotland was not only ready to take arms, but under some sort of dissatisfaction to be withheld from beginning; that in England the people were exasperated against the government to such a degree, that far from wanting to be encouraged, they could not be restrained from insulting it on every occasion; that the whole tory party was become avowedly Jacobites; that many officers of the army, and the majority of the soldiers, were well affected to the cause; that the city of London was ready to rise, and that the enterprises for seizing of several places, were ripe for execution…

There were not too many other signed accounts describing participation in the Jacobite risings, so this type of evidence is of great historic significance. He returns to this subject in other chapters including “Remarks on the History of England”, “A Letter to Sir William Windham” and “A Final Answer to the Remarks”. The publication history is explained in the front matter; the first edition of this collection was published in 1844 (long after the involved personages were dead), and this book represents the 1967 reprint of it in four volumes. Other philosophizing in this collection includes a few numbers of a series called “The Occasional Writer” and several pamphlets that support social causes including “On the Power of the Prince and the Freedom of the People” and “On Good an Bad Ministers”. The only “pretended” philosophizing here might reflect the 1967 editor’s anti-radical or anti-communist or anti-revolutionary biases, rather than the clear talent and positive social convictions expressed in these pages.

This collection deserves more scholarly attention than it has received so far, perhaps now that it is digitized it will be easier for scholars to locate relevant scholarly evidence inside of it.

A Contextual Biography of an Obscure Victorian Comedian

Richard Moore. W. S. Gilbert and the Context of Comedy. ISBN: 978-1-138-31108-4. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, June 3, 2019.


“To what extent is a great comic writer the product of his time? How far is he (or she) influenced by factors of personal psychology upbringing and environment?” This book describes “the case of W.S. Gilbert”, “challenging the frequently held view that he is pre-eminently a typical Victorian. This it does by tracing his roots back to Ancient Greek comedy and to the various comedic developments that have dominated Western Europe thereafter.” This points to a problem: why would roots in Greek comedy indicate that a comedian was not a “typical Victorian”? Schools taught Greek comedy and tragedy as part of the standard curriculum across the Victorian age, so being influenced by it definitely made any writer “typical” rather than atypical. “Also included is a careful examination of the constraints and limitations that in various forms have long affected comedy-writing, and an evaluation of Gilbert’s particular skills and legacy…” Apparently, a second volume reviews “Genre in W.S. Gilbert”.

This book is pretty unusual, not so much because the summary digresses into nonsense, but because It is one of two books on a relatively unknown Victorian comic, and it focuses on the surrounding context, rather than on Gilbert himself. The “Prologue” offers a brief biography of Gilbert’s life, which started in 1836. Then, the second part, “Modes, Forms, Theories, and Origins” attempts to define “comedy” by locating Gilbert in the other comedians across the 18th century and earlier (including Greco-Roman theatrical terminology and references to Hesiod’s Shield of Herakles and the Greater Dionysia). The main part on “Literary Context” is separated into sections by periods: “From Aristophanes to Shakespeare”, “From Shakespeare to Gilbert” and “The Post-Regency and Victorian Period”. In other words, the entire history of literature is summarized and claimed to be relevant to this single writer.

This is not a useful book for serious literary scholars as it hops around across time and space, barely stopping on the actual comedies the central writer has produced.

An Example of Bad but Canonized Literary Criticism

George Kane. Middle English Literature. ISBN: 978-0-367-22090-7. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, July 1, 2019.


While this work has been recently re-released, it was “originally published in 1951”; it “applies methods of literary evaluation to certain Middle English works. Arguing that previous literary criticism has largely focused on the commentary of their historical, social, philological and religious content, the book suggests that it has led to a thinking that Middle English literature is without artistic value and therefore cannot be compared effectively with later works of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. While traditional analysis has been beneficial to scientific and historical findings, this text seeks to look deeper into the artistic merits of the works and the authors that wrote them, arguing that the authors of these Middle English texts, wrote with the same motivations and experiences of these later authors which in turn informed the artistic basis of these Middle English works. The book looks at Middle English texts through three main areas: the Metrical Romances, the Religious Lyrics and Piers Plowman.”

Reviving and re-evaluating old texts is an impactful scholarly exercise which has revived and canonized several authors who might have remained obscure across centuries. This period is likely to have been called meritless prior to this study because these texts were probably extremely difficult to access before, whereas some of them might have seen new editions published and might have been otherwise made more accessible to scholars, allowing George Kane to reconsider their value.

The “Introduction to the Reissue” offers a brief biography of George Kane’s education at College London and interruption of his PhD thesis for WWII army service. At the end of this note, the editors explain that after completing this book, Kane spent a great deal of time on creating editions of Piers Plowman, a series that concluded with Kane’s 2005 glossary for this book. An aside mentions that the attribution of Plowman to Langland has been questioned by scholars including Kane: this is good news for my own re-attribution research project, as it might be a good idea to test it linguistically against the potential authorial signatures. One of the reasons I enjoy reviewing books is that sometimes I find important clues for my projects in books that might seem entirely unrelated on a first glance.

The value of Kane’s scholarly text itself is questionable. For example, instead of defining the genre of “metrical romances”, Kane spends the start of this chapter digressively pondering about literature in general before drawing this summary as a classification of the genre: “first, in a very general purpose of entertainment by narrative, second, in this narrative being concerned with some one of a very wide range of subjects, and third, in the frequent occurrence of certain characteristics of treatment, some of which are fundamental, and others more properly classified as accidents rather than essentials of the genre.” This is an extremely broad definition that basically avoids defining the subject: a writer who never read a single word out of a metrical romance nor any text about it might have offered this summary. The second part also begins by avoiding a direct definition or summary of the subject of “religious lyrics”. Instead it offers complaints regarding: “Most of the surviving material is anonymous, a fact which forces upon us an approach quite different from the unexacting, intimate, often gossipy biographical criticism that has always been fashionable in the study of English poetry.” In my own research, I have found this reliance on “biographical criticism” to be a central problem across all genres and periods of literary criticism. Especially in cases where these old texts were “anonymous”, critics have been indulging in fictional attributions or have been adding attributions of works they intuitively believe or hope are by an author, and then they utilize the seeming biographical information in these mis-attributed texts to build the biographies of the authors gaining these attributions, before applying these fictional biographies to other mis-attributed texts to explain their significance and meaning. When all these projects, assumptions and fictions are combined the result is nonsense criticism if the attributions can be established with computational linguistics. This need to edit much of the Oxford-scholar dominated European canons is the reason all of these scholars deny the existence of linguistic signatures and argue that computational linguistics cannot be relied on to draw these types of conclusions. It is not accidental that I found this reference in this book, as it permeates across most such books; this one just happens to stress the point because this gap in knowledge is one of the reasons Kane is questioning the central attributions or their lack: this absence is confusing him, and leading to digressive ponderings instead of marching towards biographical arguments pre-determined by past generations of critics.

While it is always useful to look back and consider the history of literary criticism, modern critics should avoid relying on texts like Kane for evidence to build current theories. Much of what he is saying here must have been contradicted by later theorists, and if it hasn’t these types of canonical criticisms are preventing new, accurate theories from being built in fields that appear to have been settled and understood whereas they remain undiscovered and unexplored.

The History and Taxonomy of the Genres of Early Middle English

R. M. Wilson. Early Middle English Literature. ISBN: 978-0-367-22090-7. London: VitaSource Bookshelf: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, July 12, 2019.


This is another older piece of literary scholarship by a different writer, R. M. Wilson. I am interested in this subject because there are too many misunderstandings about earlier English literatures, and I am hoping to find some clarities in these studies, but instead I am finding that these are great sources of the persisting errors, or rather for understanding how some of these misunderstandings were started.

The book is advertised thus: “Originally published in 1939… the book examines authorship and provenance and the effect this had upon the literature of the period. This text examines literature from the period of 1066 to 1300 and addresses the transition between Old and Middle English and looks at the effect the transition of language during this period from Anglo-French to English, had on the literature of the time.”

The table of contents suggests a more organized, structured and reasonable understanding of the subject than Kane’s project. The chapters consider: the impact of the “conquest” on changing the region, Anglo-Latin and Anglo-French roots, the impact of the homiletic tradition, the influence of a couple of texts (Ancren Riwle and Owl and the Nightingale), religious and didactic literature, romance, tales and fables, lyric poetry, and roots of English drama. Kane’s headings were narrow and failed to represent the breadth of the period, but these are reasonably broad and seem to cover the major fictional genres of this age. About half of this book is a summary of the history of the period rather than a literary study though. Once this history ends, Wilson does jump into some curious bits of information regarding the early forms of English literature; for example, the chapter on the homiletic literature in the period shortly after the Conquest, this genre is described thus: “There is no claim to originality; they are simple, straightforward expositions of the Biblical story”. Despite this innocuous start, the chapter ends by adding that these works describe “Christ as the heavenly lover”, and that: “All” homiletic lyrics “are frequently hysterical and occasionally erotic. They probably owe their inspiration to the Latin mystical writings…”

There is clearly a good deal to learn from these theories on the strange-for-modern-readers genres. I recommend closer readings from other scholars to evaluate the accuracy and innovation in the ideas expressed in this study.

A Useful and Thorough History of English Literary History

Laura Ashe. The Oxford English Literary History, Volumes 1 and 5. ISBN: 978-0199575381. Oxford Scholarship Online; Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2017.


Volume I: 1000-1350: Conquest and Transformation

While the Routledge versions of this early English literary history left me questioning their accuracy and biases, these Oxford histories were practically useful as I utilized various details from them in my own research. I found less use for this particular Volume I of this series, as it looks a bit too far into England’s past, but I am sure I will return to it to dig up information in later studies that require a review of this genre-forming era between 1000-1350.

The entire series is advertised as offering an “assessment of the authors, works, cultural traditions, events, and ideas that shaped the literary voices of their age.” It is designed as a textbook for undergraduate and graduate classes on these subjects as well as a resource for scholars. This particular volume explains how “theology saw the focus shift from God the Father to the suffering Christ, while religious experience became ever more highly charged with emotional affectivity and physical devotion. A new philosophy of interiority turned attention inward, to the exploration of self, and the practice of confession expressed that interior reality with unprecedented importance. The old understanding of penitence as a whole and unrepeatable event, a second baptism, was replaced by a new allowance for repeated repentance and penance, and the possibility of continued purgation of sins after death. The concept of love moved centre stage: in Christ’s love as a new explanation for the Passion; in the love of God as the only means of governing the self…” This is a very theological focus for a book about literature or fiction, but these types of theological theories make up a gap in my own understanding of the philosophies and ideals of this period; if God was the main subject of discussion across social classes, then missing how God was interpreted prevents modern readers from comprehending the fictions of this age. It continues to explain how “love” was also central “in the appearance of narrative fiction, where heterosexual love was suddenly represented as the goal of secular life.” It is puzzling how it might be proven that before “love” was less significant and how it became the “goal” in this particular time, but it would be curious if this book does manage to prove this. “In this mode of writing further emerged the figure of the individual, a unique protagonist bound in social and ethical relation with others; from this came a profound recalibration of moral agency, with reference not only to God but to society. More generally, the social and ethical status of secular lives was drastically elevated by the creation and celebration of courtly and chivalric ideals. In England the ideal of kingship was forged and reforged over these centuries, in intimate relation with native ideals of counsel and consent, bound by the law. In the aftermath of Magna Carta, and as parliament grew in reach and importance, a politics of the public sphere emerged, with a literature to match.”

The volume is organized into a section on England’s history in this period, on changes in the structure of England’s kingships, on the refocus on the self, on chevalerie and its romances, on death and on linguistics. The “chevalerie” chapter draws my attention, as I have discussed chivalric romances across a few projects since first looking at Cervantes’ rebellion against Tasso’s chivalric romances via Don Quixote. This chapter reviews: “Secular and religious ‘manuals’ of chivalry are examined for their competing models of behaviour; the Arthurian romances are analysed for their representations of courtliness and chivalry, and contrasted with the pseudo-historical romances of twelfth- and thirteenth-century England.” The section on Sir Gawain interprets him as the product of a poet who is criticizing chevalerie as the knight escapes and becomes a hermit in a forest after saving the kingdom. Plenty of textual examples, summary and background information is offered to familiarize readers with this strange and distant set of fictions and the details on how and why they were produced, and how the more impactful of these texts altered culture. The scholarly narrative is very polished and delivers the information readers need to comprehend the intricacies of this subject.


Volume V: 1645-1714: The Later Seventeenth Century

Once again, here is a time period closer to my own interests, so the topics discussed are more familiar than the strange types of literature composed half-a-millennium earlier covered in Volume I. “This volume covers the period 1645-1714, and removes the traditional literary period labels and boundaries used in earlier studies to categorize the literary culture of late seventeenth-century England. It invites readers to explore the continuities and the literary innovations occurring during six turbulent decades, as English readers and writers lived through unprecedented events including a King tried and executed by Parliament and another exiled, the creation of the national entity ‘Great Britain’, and an expanding English awareness of the New World as well as encounters with the cultures of Asia and the subcontinent.” The United Kingdom formed in this span when the kingdoms of Scotland and England joined, with help from spies like Defoe, some bribery, and some political negotiations. “The period saw the establishment of new concepts of authorship and it saw a dramatic increase of women working as professional, commercial writers. London theatres closed by law in 1642 reopened with new forms of entertainments from musical theatrical spectaculars to contemporary comedies of manners with celebrity actors and actresses. Emerging literary forms such as epistolary fictions and topical essays were circulated and promoted by new media including newspapers, periodical publications, and advertising and laws were changing governing censorship and taking the initial steps in the development of copyright.” Early forms of copyright only applied to printers within England, whereas Americans printed popular British text without attempting to receive permission for at least another hundred years; and many British printers also ignored these laws and printed pirated editions of the books that were selling particularly well, or to annoy rival publishers or authors. “It was a period which produced some of the most profound and influential literary expressions of religious faith from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, while simultaneously giving rise to a culture of libertinism and savage polemical satire, as well as fostering the new dispassionate discourses of experimental sciences and the conventions of popular romance.” The wider availability of access to printers allowed for more diversity in genres, including many that are not mentioned in this summary.

The book is chronologically organized with chapters on the regulation of speech, individual publishers such as Humphrey Moseley, adventure narratives, preparing and selling manuscripts, changes in theatric performances, the Royal Society and promotion of the sciences, genre-leading authors like Samuel Butler, literary criticism and patronage (the combination suggests coverage or puffing or paid-for positive criticism), gender relations, the bookselling trade and selling poetry. Each part begins with a history of the period, followed by a section on the laws relevant to publication, the stage and the like and how they changed in a given period.

The chapter that drew my attention was the one on clubs because I just wrote an essay on collaborative writing utilized in some of the texts previously attributed to Defoe, but I linguistically demonstrated belonged to a collaborative writing project between Pope, Curll and several other top writers, a few of whom were members of the Scriblerian club, so that it seems likely that the writers that joined in this club did not limit their collaborations to writing about martin Scriblerus, but also wrote many canonical texts that have been attributed to single authors such as Pope or Defoe. It would be interesting for me to do future research on the other clubs discussed in this chapter including the Kit-Cat club, which was covered in satirist Ned Ward’s The Secret History of Clubs (1709). Many of the clubs that reached the public’s awareness were satirical clubs, but my research has demonstrated that their purpose was more likely for the promotion of the participating authors, including helping them write, edit, advertise, puff, publish and otherwise lift their texts from obscurity into public awareness. The success of these clubs can be seen in the popularity of their members through the present day even if they sold fewer books than some of the popular female novelists of novel-setting genres who were not invited to join such clubs, but found more readers, especially among other women. Ward also authored The London Spy, and based on Defoe’s involvement in espionage and other dabblers among these writers, it does seem that at least some members of such notorious clubs were there as spies on behalf of the crown (if the entire project was not founded by a government agent with a pre-set mission).  

The text is extremely polished and presents the needed information in a compact manner, addressing just the questions that I might not have even thought of yet, but that happen to inspire new ideas or potential new research streams. I highly recommend this book for all students and teachers of British literature, and I doubt anybody can seriously teach this subject without reading a few books like it.

Histories of the Novel in English

Thomas Keymer. The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Volumes 1 and 12. ISBN: 978-0199580033. Oxford Scholarship Online; Oxford: Oxford University Press, June 2018 (2017).


Volume 1: Prose Fiction in English from the Origins of Print to 1750

The first two Oxford electronic books I reviewed were from their general English literature series, while these two are focusing solely on the novel. There is clearly a great deal to say about the novel genre, as despite some theorists who propose that the formulaic novels are the peak of this larger genre’s achievement, it is in truth a genre that allows most other genres of literature inside of itself without complaining of genre-breaking. A literary novel can include poetry, mini-plays, autobiographical notes from the author, historical summaries, philosophy, and various other types of texts. This first volume in the set is particularly important for current scholars because earlier theories regarding what constitutes the first “modern novel” have been questioned, and demand additional research. This book contributes to proving that the idea that the novel was spontaneously born in 1719 in Robinson Crusoe is absurd, as this work had a lot in common to many similar formulas of narrative that proceeded it. This project focuses on the English novel, so it does not stray too far into discussions of the Spanish Don Quixote or Asian novels from previous centuries, but it does a great job summarizing the world of literature that shaped the streams that merged and became what westerners pegged as the novel in the years leading up to 1750.

The series is advertised as: “a comprehensive, global, and up-to-date history of English-language prose fiction… written by a large, international team of scholars. The series is concerned with novels as a whole, not just the ‘literary’ novel…” This is a distinction between the Bildungsroman, epistolary and other more traditionally highbrow novel forms and the more formulaic or repetitive in structure novels that focus on romantic, thriller or other common themes. Watt and other theorists have spent these past centuries building up the status of the “literary” categories while devaluing the formulaic, but mostly in cases where the latter were written by rival female authors. There is indeed much to be disliked and criticized about formulaic novels, but a Bildungsroman can be even less innovative and more of a hack-job than a wonderfully strange and innovative novel with a romantic theme; these types of overlaps and disagreements is the reason any full review of the “novel” has to consider all of its varieties, as this project does. The volumes also cover “the processes of production, distribution, and reception, and on popular fiction and the fictional sub-genres, as well as outlining the work of major novelists, movements, traditions, and tendencies.”

“Volume 1 explores the long period between the origins of printing in late fifteenth-century England and the establishment of the novel as a recognized, reputable genre in the mid eighteenth century. Later chapters in the volume provide original, authoritative accounts of innovations by the major canonical authors, notably Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, who have traditionally been seen as pioneering ‘the rise of the novel’, in Ian Watt’s famous phrase.” Reading over this section inspired me to write a couple of essays against Watt’s “rise” theory because if it is still appearing in Oxford textbooks, it has not yet been discredited, and it really is time for it to be taken out of serious scholarly research. I have seen unflinching and celebratory references to Watt in several recent essays without notes that his theories are problematic. Part of the absurdity of Watt’s theory stems in its misunderstanding of the term “novel”; he babbles about these writers without closely looking at the contents of the novels he is claiming to be the founders of this multi-faceted genre. For example, I demonstrate the “Defoe” attributions are obviously erroneous as Robert Paltock wrote the “Defoe” “first modern novels”; I also demonstrate that Watt is applauding a standard novel structure in Richardson as if he is not aware Pamela and Clarissa are epistolary and thus do not fit the formula he is ascribing to them. The promotion of this very old theory suggests bias in favor of Watt and other incompetent ancient theories in too many textbooks and theoretical essays. While such biases might be excusable in specialist critics, a textbook for general readers and students new to the field cannot make it seem as if Watt’s theories are uncontroversial, as this is likely to solidify Watt’s flawed perspectives as conclusive regarding the novel. The more problematic of these theories are propaganda for picture books and films over complex literary novels, so supporting these contributes to a wave of anti-intellectualism.

This study does make more progress than many others I have seen in righting these wrongs, but it steps so softly on these problems that the flaws continue festering. “The volume thus establishes a newly comprehensive mapping of early fiction that rectifies the shortcomings and exclusions of established ‘rise of the novel’ scholarship. These include the relative neglect of the importance of women writers, following Behn’s reinvention of romance in the 1680s, in shaping novelistic themes and techniques; a restrictive generic definition based on circumstantial and psychological realism to the exclusion of non-realist modes that flourished for centuries beforehand; a teleological bias that overlooks or downgrades phases and types of fiction production, such as the richly variegated category of Elizabethan fiction, that resist being assimilated into narratives of evolution or ascent; a reductive Anglocentrism that leaves out of account the translation, reception, and pervasive influence from the sixteenth century onwards of, among much else, the ‘ancient novel’ of Apuleius and Heliodorus; Byzantine, Arabian, and Eastern traditions; the Italian novella from Boccaccio to Bandello; Spanish picaresque and anti-romance; and a range of French narrative modes from Rabelais to Marivaux. Alongside these key contexts, the volume treats the emergent novel as, above all, a phenomenon of print culture, with close attention to conditions of authorship, publishing, and reading across the extended period.”

It is a relief that an Oxford textbook is responding to scholarly concerns ahead of many other literary critics. I only hope they will go further to revise the other attribution and theoretical errors that I note in the essays I have been submitting to periodicals: they have all been rejected so far, proving that literary criticism is more resistant to editing than all of the hard sciences combined.

Volume 12: The Novel in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific Since 1950


I was interested in this volume not only because it is a new release, but also because I am on a lookout for a book that explains what fiction has been published recently that is deserving of serious scholarly review. While I request many scholarly books and benefit from reading them, whenever I attempt reading a novel outside the established canon, I become frustrated with its formulaic repetitions and general lack of literary value. So any critics who have reviewed this massive body of unfamiliar releases and can explain which are of particular interest are performing a crucial service to the profession. However, most reviews of this type tend to be biased in favor of mainstream popular fiction or towards particular absurd or nonsense novels that are being puffed by the establishment in reviews and award nominations without actual merit to these texts. If this study is similarly biased or presents useful theories and nominations for text to join the literary canon is found in these pages.

This volume records “the production of English language novels and related prose fiction since 1950 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. After the Second World War, the rise of cultural nationalism in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand and movements towards independence in the Pacific islands, together with the turn toward multiculturalism and transnationalism in the postcolonial world, has called into question the standard national frames for literary history. This has resulted in an increasing recognition of formerly marginalised peoples and a repositioning of these national literatures in a world literary context… The constant interplay between national and regional specificity and transnational linkages is mirrored in the structure of this volume, where parallel sections on national literatures are situated within a broadly inclusive comparative framework. Shifting socio-political and cultural contexts and their effects on novels and novelists, together with shifts in literary genres (realism, modernism, the Gothic, postmodernism) are traced across these different regions. Attention is given not only to major authors but also to Indigenous and multicultural fiction, children’s and young adult novels, and popular fiction.”

Given the geographic diversity of the texts covered, this volume’s front matter rightfully includes a section on “Currency”. Then the main parts of the book are broken down into book history (with chapters on each of the main regions covered), unique regional patterns, international patterns in the modes of fiction (realist, historical, modernist, postcolonial gothic, postmodernist and experimental, and children’s). These are followed by parts for each region, which include theoretical essays on topics such as popular or genre fiction, indigenous and multicultural authors, major authors, and contrasts in patterns between short stories and novels. The final part is on critical reception in newspapers, journals and literary histories.

The parts chosen for inclusion suggest that this book does not address my primary interest in books on recent literatures. Most of these chapters review popular or award-winning authors, or those who are already being promoted or puffed by the giant publishing enterprises behind them. If the primary method of choosing authors for inclusion is the number of books they have sold or even the number of mainstream (likely paid-for) awards won, the resulting study repeats what I can find by running best-seller lists or the names of award-winners. Instead I would have liked to see at least a chapter per region where the author considers a wide array of works to make a value argument for how some texts demonstrate greater literary skill and originality than the other works reviewed. The sections on critical reception stress the problem of bias: newspapers and journals are frequently owned by the same companies publishing these literary or popular fictions, so they puff the works their organizations publish, while refusing reviews or running negative press on texts from rival publishers. While literary histories are supposed to be detached from such concerns through the shield of scholarship, in reality, just like this collection of essays, the works chosen for criticism tend to be the ones that have been puffed the most by mainstream publishers, rather than those with greater merit.

One example of this that stands out is the inclusion of Margaret Atwood in a chapter on “major authors” in Canada. Atwood is particularly popular today in part because of the series based on her The Handmaid’s Tale. This work is extremely outmoded in its portrayal of wifely women in the extreme; while the story might be criticizing this domesticity, it is over-saturated in it. Atwood’s style is light and lacking in heavy description, which might have given the intensity of realism to this grim subject, but instead treats this domesticity in a manner that dismisses wifely contributions. It is extremely obvious that Atwood is chosen as a “major” author solely because of her popularity rather than the quality of her writing. The section on Atwood opens by stating that she was a “cult figure” by the mid-1970s, citing as evidence of this a critic’s applause for her in an entire issue dedicated to saluting her greatness in The Malahat Review. It is likely she was able to promote herself for this type of collection because she had founded the Writers’ Union of Canada, but this affiliation is not stressed as relevant to her cult-status. The partner with whom she founded this Union, Graeme Gibson also reappears as one of Atwood’s early advertisers via a cited interview with Atwood in 1973; such cross-influences demonstrate that Atwood’s fame was likely to have been artificially designed. Most of the section simply summarizes the stories Atwood has done with general laudatory comments rather than with specifics on why they make her rather than her rivals into a “major” author. The section ends thus: “With this dazzling display Atwood continues in her role as cultural chronicler and virtuoso storyteller.” There is no summarizing paragraph here on her distinction, but rather more summaries, including the note on the Gibson interview; this shows there is little that can be concretely concluded about Atwood’s literary skill. The section on the next author among those featured in this chapter, Michael Ondaatje, begins by stressing that he occupies a “different position” for the other two because he is “multicultural”. What relevance does his complex background have to do with the quality of his writing? Skill of fiction-creation is what this chapter is supposed to be celebrating; instead it appears to be a tokenism banquet where authors are chosen and described as significant primarily because of their gender and ethnicity, rather than because whatever it was that they wrote in their fiction. Onaatje’s section ends with a quote preceded with this: “Ondaatje’s novels offer new ways of exploring the old Canadian trope of Unhomeliness”. This is the first and only time “unhomeliness” appears in this chapter. What can it possibly signify? Surely the final chapter is no place to introduce a cryptic term, which is only somewhat explained with the quote from Dennis Lee, which is a piece of nonsense cyclical philosophizing, rather than any kind of an attempt at critical summary of literary quality: “For if you are Canadian, home is a place that is not home to you”.

Sadly, this is not a suitable approach to finding great modern fiction. It is out there, but it is being lost because critics are distracted by puffery, popularity, and other anti-intellectual trends. Thus, I cannot recommend it for those seeking truth regarding who the great current fiction writers are, and the elements that distinguish outstanding literature today.


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