Book Reviews: Summer 2020

Anna Faktorovich

How Literary Catastrophes are Puffed into Classics

Alvaro Santana-Acuna, Ascent to Glory: How One Hundred Years of Solitude Was Written and Became a Global Classic (New York: Columbia University Press, August 11, 2020). Paperback: $28. 384pp. ISBN: 978-0-231-18433-5.

Gabriel García Márquez; Gregory Rabassa, translators, One Hundred Years of Solitude

(New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006). Paperback: $18.99. 448pp. ISBN: 978-0-061-12009-1.


The questions that prompted this study are those that all publishers and authors have to ask if they want to reach an audience. Are classics we are taught in school truly the pinnacles of human literary creation or are they merely the titles that had the highest promotion budgets and thus forced their way into the curriculum. There have been relatively few new commendable classics created in the past hundred years, in contrast with not only literacy but college degrees becoming the average across the globe. The books humans read have been dropping in reading-level across the past few decades, whereas the statistical reading levels are supposed to be going up. These contradictions tend to be blamed on visual mediums becoming more appealing to buyers, and the public at large having a decreasing attention-span for complex books. On the spectrum of literary complexity, One Hundred Years of Solitude is near the middle, but its title symbolizes plotless, drama-less, internal-looking, stream-of-consciousness novels that are stereotypically difficult to read, and yet are frequently assigned in high school, where “solitude” or those who choose to be alone are further ostracized as if being alone is a mental disease. Most of the paragraphs are nearly page-long. The narrative jumps from one point to the next, without allowing those who are going to be expected to answer quiz questions on the content to recall or sift out the main story from the clutter. The story touches on ancestors, then digresses into mythology, then chemistry, then to scurvy and gypsies. An explanation of “the workings of his false teeth” leads a character to undergo a new crisis of bad humor. He did not go back to eating regularly, and he would spend the day walking through the house” (8). It is impossible to grasp the main plot without referring to the book’s summary or reading the entire book. The story’s blurb describes it as a history of a “mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family”. Given this lack of stated cohesive narrative, the story can jump between everybody in this town and between magic and science, or between any other deep ponderings that come into the author’s mind without editorial concerns. While some pieces are deeply philosophical and complex, other bits are simple lines that a child could use in describing his or her village. While this book is a curious literary experiment that can make a useful subject for a PhD dissertation for a student of anti-structural literature. However, it is an intentionally painful read for any youth who attempts to make sense of it without already being familiar with its countless barely touched allusions, and the intentional formlessness that insists on readers following every word or shelving the book just after the purchase. Given these anti-reading obstacles, why has this book been chosen to be taught to youths who are searching for cohesive meaning as their minds take shape? Why has this book continued to sell millions of copies, while all sorts of literary experiments continue to die in obscurity. Puffing this one title as superior leads to enormous profits for its mega-publisher, HarperCollins, and not to the tiny press that ran the first edition. And its author died back in 2014, so if this book remains a classic, this rags-to-riches author will not see any further profits. Might it perhaps be better if schools opened the curriculum to the less “classical” creations that might be of a higher reading level, while being more structured or plotted to allow readers to comprehend them without reading abridgements or encyclopedic entries?

Columbia University Press did a great job summarizing in its blurb why a study of the publishing history of this novel is essential in our intellectually troubling times. “Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude seemed destined for obscurity upon its publication in 1967. The little-known author, small publisher, magical style, and setting in a remote Caribbean village were hardly the usual ingredients for success in the literary marketplace… And what does its trajectory tell us about how a work of art becomes a classic?… Using new documents from the author’s archives, Álvaro Santana-Acuña shows how García Márquez wrote the novel, going beyond the many legends that surround it. He unveils the literary ideas and networks that made possible the book’s creation and initial success. Santana-Acuña then follows this novel’s path in more than seventy countries on five continents and explains how thousands of people and organizations have helped it to become a global classic. Shedding new light on the novel’s imagination, production, and reception”.

The “Introduction” opens with the anecdote that after going bankrupt from writing this enormous novel for eighteen months, Marquez only had enough money to send half of the novel to a single publisher and he mistakenly only sent the second half, and despite this a tiny publisher immediately offered a contract. The following paragraphs hint that this might be merely a legend rather than a factual account. Then, this opening explains that One Hundred has seen enormous profits from sales of rights to video games, cartoons, drinks, and public parks: these product placements, pufferies across different mediums, and profits from resales into mediums that cannot possibly capture the digressive literary nature of this work have been fueling the continuing “classical” status of this title. Puffing a title that is already familiar to the public from being forced to read it at school and seeing it subliminally in other mediums is more likely to generate sales, than attempting to build a similar brand for any new novel (quality is irrelevant in a sales-driven book marketplace). “Part I” begins with a more evidence-based version of how Marquez created this novel, by explaining he began by selling several short stories that were later compiled into the novel. Instead of going bankrupt, Marquez is also describing working as a “itinerant book salesman”. He had worked as a reporter for nearly a decade before selling his first novel in 1955, which was Leaf Storm and not One Hundred, but these details are skimmed over as irrelevant. Acuna does include a chronology that explains that Marquez started leading an “art group called the Mafia” in Mexico City that begins a New Latin American Novel group that has helped its few members to reach international visibility. Something about these literary group ventures generated enough profits that Marquez could afford an agent and an agent thought there was money to be made in Marquez, so he signed with Balcells Agency, which immediately put him into negotiations with top publishers including one of the giants that later came to hold its rights, Harper & Row, but initially it was outbid by a relatively unknown subsidiary, Sudamericana. This top-bidder apparently had an enormous editing budget that paid for critics across the globe to assist Marquez by sending him research and to perform heavy edits. Thus, the sprinkles of random information from mythology to chemistry is likely to be the collected knowledge of hundreds of researchers that was mixed together by the assisting editors without any over-arching ideas regarding where the story was going. This same enormous mafia of reviewers also started puffing this novel a year before its publication and before it was completed, so they puffed it without having read any or certainly not all of it (1-10).

While most of the book paints Marquez biography and the history of this novel in glowing terms, chapter “5: Controversy, Conflict, Collapse” begins in a darker tone. It describes a series of violent incidents highlighted by at least one punch in the face that Marquez took from his “friend” Mario Vargas Llosa, that deteriorated the cohesiveness of the Latin American Boom group in the 1970s making it impossible to continue turning novels from this collaborative into “international best sellers of Latin American literature”. While the causes of this conflict are described as a “mystery”, the problem was obviously that perhaps only one of these authors, Marquez, was puffed by all the others who were not similarly promoted and who made near-nothing for all of their puffing efforts. While the narrative is framed so that these fights are too blame, the salability of the New Latin American Novels was really jeopardized by the relatively poor quality of Hundred Years that repelled book buyers from buying into their next over-puffing (177). The real central point of this controversy was not the punch in the face, but the accusation that Hundred Years was plagiarizing Honore de Balzac’s novel by Miguel Angel Asturias and other accusers. These accusations have been sidelined and ignored, instead of leading to the diminished status of a novel that takes Balzac’s digressive style and overlays it on a different setting without thinking through how Balzac’s story is irrational in this ill-fitting climate (178). Instead of spending at least a section on examining the veracity of the plagiarism accusations, the next section attempts to frame this story as a case of racism or international anti-Latin sentiments. Then, the narrative blames the increased number of periodicals focusing on Latin American literature and their shrinking circulations on the failure of Latin novels after Hundred to find buyers as pufferies and the like in these periodicals go unnoticed by the millions of readers that have to be reached to create an artificial “classic” (193). Other sections of this study are amazingly blunt, as for example there is an explanation that Seix Barrel decided to “award the Biblioteca Breve prize” to Hundred “in order to cash on its best-selling success”, but for this Barrel had to “change the rules of the prize because only novels published the previous year were candidates”, and Hundred was two years too late; the push-back they received over this plan convinced them not to go ahead, but they also decided to cancel this prize going forward. In other words, this explains just how corrupt literary prizes have become: they are created to profit those who run them by attracting the maximum number of writers to pay submission fees, despite the fact that the organizers have pre-determined winners that win because they are already over-puffed and thus likely to attract still more submitters (197). If literary prizes are not awarded on merit, the term “classic” becomes equivalent with paid-for-advertisement-of-profitable-commodity.

Overall, this is a great read for anybody who really wants to understand the rigged game of international classic-making. It can only work for one in a million novels by definition because a publisher can only sell millions of copies of any text if buyers all gravitated toward it to the detriment of all other competitors in the market. Since these winners consistently represent the most corrupt or paid-for pieces of writerly catastrophes, humanity has not seen a readable classic in… a hundred years.

Writing a New Tao Te Ching for Those Who Hate Reading

C. C. Tsai, illustrator; Pico Iyer, author, Laozi: Dao De Jing (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020). $22.95. 167pp. ISBN: 978-0-691-17977-3.


Whenever a publisher begins an introduction of an author with the number of copies he has sold, this almost always means that this author has been over-puffed undesirably, or represents an commercial industry rather than individual self-impression. Princeton begins its blurb thus: “C. C. Tsai is 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.” Past sales define future sales. Knowledge that something is popular attracts people to also buy it in a herd-mentality. This is the reason the Kardashians continuously lobbied Forbes to list Kylie Jenner on their billionaires list by sending falsified financial records, before Forbes finally broke the story of this fraud in May of 2020. By first claiming that one of their unknown Kardashians was already a billionaire, this family was able to gain the loans or investments necessary to create the beauty brand that actually ended up making them money. The commodification of cartooning has been more troublesome than this type of over-selling of previously non-existent but billions-worth-assumed makeup businesses. Across the previous centuries, the field of satirical or cartoonish art has levied social commentary that has convinced despots and shifted political spectrums. If art is allowed to become equivalent to the number of copies it sells rather than to its intrinsic social or artistic value, the world loses not only a mode of human expression, but also the small magazines and publishers that have historically seen tiny but sustaining profits from releasing content that only a few people with similar views are willing to buy, but that can alter the world when these people are swayed into action.    

In this case on top of digesting and recycling independent cartooning, this book also massacres Chinese philosophy as it attempts a serious cartoon version of Laozi’s Dao De Jing, the founding text of Daoism. Traditionally, a cartoon version of serious philosophy would be a satire that would brutally assault the faults in a stale or propagandized dusty textbook, but instead this book attempts to puff and resell this philosophy to a mass-market by simplifying it into a type of Disney-storybook.

The book begins with what is claimed to be a biography of Laozi, but instead the first page offers what might be edited quotes from Laozi’s philosophy rather than a clear explanation regarding who he was. The cartoon-genre means that direct quotes and the writer’s re-interpretation or entirely new content is indistinguishable. So readers can leave this book to quote some of the modern writer’s lines as if they belong to Laozi. After this chaotic or dramatic opening, the next section finally arrives at explaining the history of Daoism, by summarizing: “In China, during the Spring & Autumn and warring states periods (770-221 BCE), numerous schools of thought arose and competed vigorously for domination”, including “Diplomatists”, and “Yin/Yang” together with “Daoism”… Well, actually these bits of information are yelled by a crowd of characters, most of whom are saying nonsense, and so cannot be taken as historical fact. The enormous range of years and the confusing wording of the lines in the summary further indicate that the author was an anti-historian. It is as if somebody who never took a class in basic Chinese history is attempting to get away with saying nonsense under the assumption that folks will just look at the pictures. The fault might also lie in the translation as “Spring & Autumn and Warring Stations Period” appears to be a mis-translation of some specific time of year or period in history that might make sense in the original (5-7). There are actually no Chinese characters offered in these first pages, as they begin on page 8, so if somebody wanted to check this page 7 for translation mistakes, he or she could not do so.

The blurb proposes that this book covers Daoism’s intricacies: “Laozi describes the spontaneity of natural processes, the paradoxical effects of ethical precepts, the limits of language, the values of simplicity, and, above all else, how to go with the flow.”

Some research helped me to separate the original philosophy from the modern cartoonist’s words. In “Chapter 46: There Is No Greater Crime”, there are two different types of texts: those that are in dialogue boxes and those that appear in the middle of the cartoons in the background. The dialogues are added modern explanations, while the lines without these dialogue quotes are original passages. The chapter numbers match the original Tao Te Ching, which is actually a set of short poems of around eight lines each. However, some of the non-dialogue lines appear to have been also added by the modern writing, such as, “There are no Wars, so horses once ridden into battle are used to till the fields.” The original poem includes the lines: “When the Way governs the world,/ The proud stallions drag dung carriages.” It is very strange that a cartoon did not include dung when the original philosopher felt dung was necessary to add some humor to this story… If dung was deleted, I really can’t trust this editor as an authentic source.

The cartoons are elegantly drawn, but they are simplistic and represent computerized mass-art rather than the work of an artist with a unique artistic voice. I don’t think libraries or buyers should purchase this book. I don’t even think it can be useful for students of either English or Chinese since even a few mistakes in a translation book can mean that students will pick up and will repeat the errors.

A Standard-English Translation of Ukrainian-Russian

Nikolai Gogol; Susanne Fusso, translator, The Nose & Other Stories (New York: Columbia University Press, September 1, 2020). $17.95. 368pp. ISBN: 978-0-231-19069-5.


After receiving a B.A. in Eastern European Studies and an M.A. in Comparative Literature (Russian/British), I can say with conviction that nearly all translations from Russian into English are horridly done. If the measure of syllables in Gogol’s Russian versions of these stories is compared with their count in this translation, I’m sure the syllabic average will have been cut in half. The Russian language includes several complexities that not only distinguish words by gender (a missing element in English) but also change them between their polite, plain, and highbrow versions: and only the plain version appears to be taken in translations like this one that relies on choppy, short words and phrases where before there were finely tuned expressions that captured the relationships between characters and their environment. Then again, perhaps what changed is not that this might be the first time I’m reading Gogol in English, but that these stories have always been simple and designed for the mass-public, whereas I perceived them to be sincere and delicate expressions of the human experience in my own formative years.

Here is a quote of an original passage from the opening of “The Nose” that was discussed in the Translation Journal (April 2012): “Приподнявшись немного на кровати, он увидел, что супруга его, довольно почтенная дама, очень любившая пить кофий, вынимала из печи только что испеченные хлебы.” And here is how these lines look in Fusso’s translation: “He raised himself up a little on his bed and saw that his spouse, a rather estimable lady who very much liked to drink coffee, was taking some freshly baked loaves of bread out of the oven” (197). While Fusso distinguishes between “поднявшись” and the semi-rising or hesitant-rising form of “Приподнявшись”, she does not capture the double hesitancy in the following “немного”. Fusso also misses the contrast that is intended with the word “любившая”, which means “loved” rather than merely “liked” (and it is not merely referring to “love” as the second half of this word adds tense, gender and other tints of meaning that are untranslatable). Gogol is contrasting the wife’s passion for coffee and a lack of this emotional intensity for the man who does not really want to rise up out of bed to meet her. While these quotes are of similar length, the linguistic complexities are watered down as if they are a fairy-tale version of Chinese philosophy. The original is a challenging read for college students in Russia, whereas the translation has a density appropriate for middle-school. I think these translations of Russian stories really need to be accompanied with annotations that explain these distinctions, or English readers are just not reading the same stories. 

Fusso’s “Introduction” does a good job with summarizing Gogol’s biography in a straightforward manner that is missing from Russian editions that do not dwell on points such as that Gogol died of “starvation due to excessive penitential fasting” (xv). And she offers useful summaries of these stories for those who need an overview before diving deeper. And Fusso does note that Gogol’s language is unique “because of his Ukrainian-Russian bilingualism” (xix), but she does not attempt to insert these linguistic elements into her translation. In the quote above, “хлебы” is plural, but standard-Russian requires the use of the single “хлеб” even if there were more than one piece of bread. If Fusso attempted to do justice to this misuse, she might have translated simply as “breads”, rather than adding the proper in English “loaves” to the properly-single “bread”. The corrections from Gogol’s Ukrainian-Russian into standard-English is like translating Mark Twain’s southern accents into standard-Russian.

The book’s blurb explains: “Nikolai Gogol’s novel Dead Souls and play The Government Inspector revolutionized Russian literature and continue to entertain generations of readers around the world. Yet Gogol’s peculiar genius comes through most powerfully in his short stories. By turns—or at once—funny, terrifying, and profound… These stories showcase Gogol’s vivid, haunting imagination: an encounter with evil in a darkened church, a downtrodden clerk who dreams only of a new overcoat, a nose that falls off a face and reappears around town on its own, outranking its former owner. Written between 1831 and 1842, they span the colorful setting of rural Ukraine to the unforgiving urban landscape of St. Petersburg to the ancient labyrinth of Rome. Yet they share Gogol’s characteristic obsessions—city crowds, bureaucratic hierarchy and irrationality, the devil in disguise—and a constant undercurrent of the absurd.”

It is very likely that I read Fusso’s earlier project, Designing Dead Souls: An Anatomy of Disorder in Gogol (1993), back during my undergraduate studies when I took an entire class on Gogol’s Dead Souls at Amherst College. I attempted to do some translations at earlier junctures in my career, but somehow students in my classes who were native English-speakers and who barely picked up on Russian basics did better in these types of advanced Russian-only classes than a Russian-native like me. I think I attempted to submit a translation to a journal that better reflected the authentic intentions of the original Russian at some point, but my work was rejected, while rudimentary translations that could be done with Google Translate were published in the journal’s pages. Fusso is still teaching as an honored professor of East European and Eurasian studies at Wesleyan University, and I’ve never heard back after applying for any Russian language or literature teaching positions despite being bilingual, and having been hired for several college English-teaching jobs. Perhaps this has to do with the continuing subversive Cold War between Russian and America. The professors I have had that were native Russian speakers tended to be not particularly well-spoken in English, and hence clearly ill-suited to explain the intricacies of the Russian language to students such as Fusso once was.

My current research has touched on the anonymous translation that Richard Verstegan and Gabriel Harvey undertook in Renaissance Britain that created the King James Bible; their linguistic signatures and phrase repetitions are so constant that the Old and the New testaments match these translators’ style, overriding the meaning and tints of language that separated these versions by centuries of human history. The less knowledge a translator has of the language, vocabulary, tints of meaning, allusions, historical changes in linguistic implications and the like, the more a translation begins to reflect his or her own style to the detriment of the original language’s intentions. By creating pop-novel versions of complex Russian literature, translators erase the real cultural shades that express details that when erased leave readers with misunderstandings and distaste.

While I wish this was a great translation of Gogol that left me feeling elevated and inspired, as I have been while reading the original, reading this translation is like looking at the film version of Romeo + Juliet and feeling a deep revulsion while everybody else in the theater seem delighted by this cute little love story… I don’t think anybody should be buying or reading this translation. I think a publisher should hire truly bilingual translators who might finally create versions of Russian classics that are faithfully represented.

Another Mis-Attributed Edition of Lear

William Shakespeare; Jay Halio, editor; Lois Potter, introducer, The Tragedy of King Lear: The New Cambridge Shakespeare, Third Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). 294pp. ISBN: 978-1-316-64697-7.


I spent the past year writing a book with over 330,000 words in it so far that re-attributes 266 texts from Britain between the 1570s to 1640s to a Ghostwriting Workshop with six authors or linguistic signatures. You can review the data, graphics and other materials that accompany this study on the open-access site: One portion of this book re-attributes “Shakespeare’s” Lear and the anonymous earlier version of Leir to William Percy. While I have been revising and adjusting my own findings across this year, they are now firmly set as I have analyzed 99 different bylines or every single potential author who could have written these groups of linguistically similar texts. I have been submitting the 25 articles that I have completed so far to nearly a hundred different periodicals, including those operated by Cambridge and Oxford university presses. All but two have been rejected without logical explanations, and the two exceptions have been preliminarily accepted, a strange in-between decision I have never seen before: as most of my books or essays have either been accepted or not across my dozens of preceding publications. I requested this book and a few other books for review on the books I am re-attributing, but now that I am faced with reviewing this new release that was finalized after I sent a few articles revising the name of the author, I am at a loss for words. Oxford, Cambridge and other mainstream presses have long held series like this one with “Shakespeare’s” name featured in their titles: The New Cambridge Shakespeare. The myth of “Shakespeare” might be unshakable, and years later I might still be reviewing a new release from this series with the stuck “Shakespeare”-byline even if I will have self-published or made available for free online my findings disproving the veracity of this byline.

The contents of this book appear unimpeachable in the editor’s summary. This “updated critical edition” is claimed to be innovative because Lois Potter “has written a completely new introduction”… Despite this advertisement, the introduction does not really offer anything “new” that has not been repeated in “Shakespeare” textbooks before. It summarizes which scenes were omitted in which versions, offers a brief history of staged productions, and otherwise summarizes the textual history that echoes across its studies. When it mentions Leir, it merely adds in parenthesis: “(anonymous to us, but probably not to Shakespeare)”. Then it mentions that Richard Knowles has observed “nearly a hundred significant details” repeating between Lear and Leir, and concludes from this that “Shakespeare” but have been “reading” this text, without contemplating that the two must share an author given this degree of plagiarism (3-4). After this, the editor digresses into a discussion on “Experiencing the Play”, a title that reinforces the intuitive rather than scholarly approach taken towards interpreting this text.

The blurb continues by explaining that this edition adds “recent productions and reinterpretations of the play, with particular emphasis on its afterlife in global performance and adaptation.” The significance of recent productions can only be an attempt to advertise them to attract viewers because the editor is affiliated with these theaters. Otherwise describing slight alterations made in insignificant re-performances of a play that has been performed for nearly five centuries is mind-numbing. Other elements that add scholarship over yet another reprint of this play is the literary criticism commentary appended in oddly short sections. “Provides a guide to key critical interpretations of the play, including philosophical, political, feminist and ecocritical readings”. There were no female actors allowed in the theater, and feminism should hardly be searched for in Renaissance fictions, and yet this is a central critical approach to take when analyzing distant literatures. The entire “Feminism” section takes a single page. It describes previous critical notes on Lear’s sexism. The editor explains that Lear’s dismissal of Cordelia as if he does not see her identity as a valuable human due to her gender has been ignored by “productions” that need to portray Cordelia and Lear’s relationship as positive rather than “ironic” for the sake of rising dramatic tension and empathy towards Lear (36-7). These excuses for sexism might have been left out without impoverishing readers of this edition. It is hardly useful to read that we must be blind to sexism if we are to fall in love with canonical but misogynous characters…

This edition is heavily annotated, and compresses a good deal of history, textual analysis and other relevant elements into this little book, so I will return to it as I continue my research. I guess of mainstream publishers are never going to adopt my re-attributions, this is as informative as these studies can be while missing the “magician” or the ghostwriter behind the curtain of the “Shakespeare” pseudonym.

A Potentially Useful Introduction to Old English Prose Derailed by Confusion

Paul E. Szarmach, editor, Old English Prose: Basic Readings (London: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2020). 552pp. ISBN: 978-1-138-88363-5.


I am currently particularly interested in Old English literature as I try to understand how it was altered during the Early Modern English period that I am researching. If this was a collection of Old English prose, I would be ecstatic, but instead it is a collection of essays about this literary period. These critical collections on obscure topics are almost uniformly awful because their editors tend to not be familiar enough with these subjects to have chosen or polished the pieces to make them readable or accurate.

The blurb begins: “With the decline of formalism and its predilection for Old English poetry, Old English prose is leaving the periphery and moving into the center of literary and cultural discussion.” A translation of critical-speak is necessary here. “Formalism” refers to a nonsensical branch of literary criticism that instead of analyzing the “form” or “formal” literature, jumps around between nonsensical digressions, while hiding behind double-speak big-words that deteriorate into self-contradicting yelps for anybody with a sufficiently over-blown vocabulary-knowledge to understand them. This field of nonsense-criticism enjoys discussing any topic that almost nobody understands because it allows these critics to digress nonsensically in the hope that the topic is so complex the readers ignorance of it will make the discussion too confusing to understand its underlaying stupidity. The blurb insists the volume dives into issues of “authorship, texts and textuality, source criticism, genre, and forms of historical criticism”.

The suspicions that creeped in as I read this blurb are confirmed by the titles of the chapters. They repeat “King Alfred” and an alternatively spelled Aelfric version of this king’s name together with variations of references to a few texts with theological or monarchical references such as “Aelfric’s Saints’ Lives… and the Problem of Miracles”. There are plenty of articles on the bibliography of this Alfred the Great and on his Bishops or puffing texts, but not a single article addresses the commoners, or the history and culture of these distant times. It seems strange that the long period of Old English is being claimed to have been ruled over by merely a single British king. “Old English” was used between around the 7th to the 11th centuries. While Alfred-attributed translations and prose do dominate these decades, there were Christian texts written in the surrounding centuries, including Martyrology, sermons such as Blickling Homilies and Wessex Gospels. There were also secular translations and writings such as Alexander’s Letter to Aristotle and legal textbooks and documents. Given this spectrum of archival materials, the narrow representation of these centuries as the creation of King Alfred along skews the corpus into a misguided version of history. While the titles are Alfred-centric, the interior does mention some of these other texts. The authors probably had to make these links given the tiny size of this corpus in the pre-printing press centuries. Despite my suspicions to the contrary, at least one of the essays, Mary Clayton’s “Homiliaries and Preaching in Anglo-Saxon England” provides a great deal of intricate historical research that is essential for modern readers to grasp this Old English content. For example, she writes: “This use of saints’ lives or passiones mainly in homiliaries for preaching to the laity is presumably due to the fact that the monks, although they read such texts in the night Office and in the refectory, read them principally from legendaries or passionals, not homiliaries” (170). There is nothing formalist about this historical background, so not all of the entries appear to have taken the editor’s intended critical focus. Other chapters offer more divisive religious perspectives that are suggested by the titles and book summary. One of these is M. R. Godden’s “Aelfric’s Saints’ Lives…”, which comments that a legend was “accepted and admired by those (i.e., the Manichaens) who raged against the vengefulness of the Old Testament” (295). Meanwhile, Hans Sauer’s chapter on “Transmission and Structure of Archbishop Wulfstan’s ‘Commonplace Book’” is incomprehensible as after brief opening remarks, it is full of bibliographical entries that refer to archival materials by their catalog entries without annotations or explanations as to why so many of these entries are inserted here or what they signify. The last paragraph in these nonsensical entries is: “Not in C.” There are no Bs or As in the preceding paragraphs, but there are similar earlier paragraphs that are worded more clearly as, “Also in C, pp. 183-84” (354). So these appear to be references to pieces of a text that is not included or described. A later section of this chapter does include some explanations, but these are interspersed with untranslated foreign-language paragraphs.

Given my linguistic findings regarding Renaissance Middle English literature, I am sure there are plenty of discoveries that researchers could make about Old English prose, but if publishers keep publishing these types of undecipherable or nonsensical and semi-antisemitic “scholarly” books on this period, new researchers will be blocked by entering by this impassable critical jungle.

A Fraudulent Nonsense Book’s Self-Confessions of Market-Manipulations

Carol Alexander and Douglas Cumming, editors, Corruption and Fraud in Financial Markets: Malpractice, Misconduct and Manipulation (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2020). Hardcover. 600pp. ISBN: 978-1-119-42177-1.


The topic of this book is essential for current audiences because of the global pandemic and the numerous other catastrophes unprecedented levels of corruption in financial markets have created. One measure of the link between government upregulation and fraud or negligence is in this week’s lead news story of the revolt in Lebanon over the mismanagement that killed 154 people and destroyed billions of personal wealth as it leveled blocks out of the city of Beirut. There is similar anger in the US directed at Trump’s and other corrupt officials complete inaction or anti-action that has made the US the worst-hit country in the world, the shooting outside of the White House yesterday was of a man shooting at somebody other than the government itself, though the Secret Service responded as if he was attempting to storm the White House by shooting him. The explosion at the port in Beirut is known to have been caused by officials leaving enormous volumes of confiscated explosive chemicals at the port despite complaints by environmentalists and other oversight bodies. It is less firmly established that Trump is personally responsible for the pandemic, or we might have started seeing the same direct attacks on government buildings and chants for “Revolution! Revolution!” here. Americans have been knocking over and defacing some statues and government buildings, so perhaps we are not too far removed. If elections were not nearly always rigged, and if there were any local or national politicians who were truly democratically elected in the interests of the people rather than of the powerful few, this world will not have seen two nuclear bombs used against civilians, or the genocides and other terrors perpetrated by the US just as by its enemies in the century that followed. In a time when computers, the internet, and access to free information makes it easier than ever before for humanity to advance its knowledge, we are instead devolving because of the manipulation of the world’s economy that skews the game of power in the interests of the fraudsters, rather than the rest of humanity.

The book is advertised as addressing “fraud, misconduct, price/volume manipulation and other forms of malpractice. Chapters cover detection, prevention and regulation of corruption and fraud within different financial markets. Written by experts at the forefront of finance and risk management, this book details the many practices that bring potentially devastating consequences, including insider trading, bribery, false disclosure, frontrunning, options backdating, and improper execution or broker-agency relationships. Informed but corrupt traders manipulate prices in dark pools run by investment banks, using anonymous deals to move prices in their own favour, extracting value from ordinary investors time and time again. Strategies such as wash, ladder and spoofing trades are rife, even on regulated exchanges – and in unregulated cryptocurrency exchanges one can even see these manipulative quotes happening real-time in the limit order book.  More generally, financial market misconduct and fraud affects about 15 percent of publicly listed companies each year and the resulting fines can devastate an organisation’s budget and initiate a tailspin from which it may never recover.”

The estimate that only 15% of companies are affected by all of these various types of fraud is obviously wrong, as the true percentage must be very close to 100%. I have looked at several budgets, books and records of these companies and the corresponding government agencies tasked with oversight, and I have never come across any that has clean books and good intentions. If only 15% of companies were influenced by widespread fraud that manipulated their prices this would have triggered the rest of the market to imitate these practices or risk having significantly lower returns that might have threatened their ability to remain in business; this tendency of fraud to spread is how we have arrived at the present moment of complete-corruption.

A generalization such as the 15% estimate is designed to frighten readers into hiring the author to help uncover these schemes rather than to actually (as claimed) “help prevent you and your company from falling victim to unethical practices.” If dark money or crypto-currency transactions that are not quantifiable or identifiable alter the value of a stock, it would be impossible for anybody other than these fraudsters to reverse the damage from these corrupt practices. Even if these manipulations are easy to spot by the companies or their owners with merely this book, what could they do about these unless this book also instructs readers on the precise legal steps they have to take to file federal, state or civil fraud charges against these perpetrators (despite their disguise under cryptocurrency anonymity).

Instead of offering a guide on how to sue improper manipulators interfering with a company, the details of this blurb appear to be directed at having these company managers stop themselves from committing fraud: “Understand the regulations surrounding market misconduct, and how they affect your firm.” Surely, no moral owner needs to be informed regarding what illegal market manipulation is? “Prevent budget-breaking fines and other potentially catastrophic consequences.” Again, anybody who is attempting to prevent infringements from evil entities interfering with one’s business would not be liable to suffer fines from these entities’ misdeeds, but rather would need to know how to file charges against them. “Since the LIBOR scandal, many major banks have been fined billions of dollars for manipulation of prices, exchange rates and interest rates. Headline cases aside, misconduct and fraud is uncomfortably prevalent in a large number of financial firms; it can exist in a wide variety of forms, with practices in multiple departments, making self-governance complex.” Aha, so this book assumes that there are a few evil employees in these companies who are manipulating prices without the top-executives’ knowledge. The type of fraud that can make a significant impact on a stock-price or shift millions to the wrong accounts is noticeable to anybody who scans the books as small unnoticeable transactions would not warrant the types of “billions” in fines that are described here.

While this summary is confusing, the table of contents reflects a clear and rational message that is conveyed inside this book. This is indeed a legal and financial textbook that defines and offers case studies of the various types of manipulations and fraud. It details the penalties and provides specific strategies for internal oversight of the books or other components to catch actors who can be acting against the interests of a publicly traded company. Other front-matter pieces such as a table summary explaining the various legal breaches in the main fraud cases discussed across the book offer help to orient readers. Despite these positive elements, it is difficult to read this book cover-to-cover as the subject demands because of the many generalizations and digressions that instead make readers want to fast-forward. One example is a paragraph that starts with: “Market manipulation takes many forms”, instead of jumping into naming these forms in a brief summary sentence. The following sentences repeat openings such as “Some forms of market manipulations…” before naming each of these (15). It is as if the writers are being paid per-word and they are attempting to stretch this book into the maximum total number of pages without adding the research that is required to actually write new content across each page of a 600-page book. Similarly, another section digresses to note: “This is a very brief description of scalping based on the market price of the Bund…” instead of just continuing this brief or length explanation (296). Restating that you are being brief is not what brevity requires. Another problem in this book are conclusions that are contrary to the stated goal of helping prevent fraud with strict actions. A chapter on enforcement in Canada ends with a paragraph that comments: “other jurisdictions may also need to be concerned about whether their enforcement system for registrant misconduct is effective if it is dispersed…” This closing paragraph is supposed to be summarizing how Canada enforces fraud and what others can learn from these tactics, but instead it digresses into nonsense that I won’t quote to avoid further confusing readers.

This book should not be purchased by any libraries or students. It especially should not be approached by people in charge of companies who are concerned about fraud. Attempting to read this book will confuse top executives and financial analysts far more than the general public because they would understand the mis-directions, deliberate nonsense, and general bad advice littered throughout. It is as if a logical financial analyst wrote a table of contents with the topics that would be useful things for companies and financial managers to understand about fraud, and then the writers digressed from these talking points into an unreadable pile of rubble that looks as if it is a book, but is really mostly a random set of nonsense words put together by an auto-writing program.

A Great Classic Version of a Segment of Roman History

Livy; J. C. Yardley, editor and translator, History of Rome: Books 23-25: Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020). 512pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-99727-1.


In the British Renaissance Livy’s History of Rome was one of the main historical sources that inspired the reinterpretation of these stories into English plays and histories in a revival of the scholarly precision and drama that Livy’s narrative offered. Without ancient sources like it, there were no equivalents in the Dark Ages that could have prompted Europe to re-awaken its scholarly or fictional ambitions. While many histories currently crowd our libraries, the structure and other elements of Livy’s history have consciously and unconsciously shaped how these later histories were written. If there are faults in our current approach to writing about history, these faults should be especially apparent if we look back at Livy’s approach. These are just some of the reasons, all modern readers should be somewhat familiar with Livy’s history and the other classical texts that follow in this set of reviews.  

“Livy (Titus Livius), the great Roman historian, was born at Patavium (Padua) in 64 or 59 BC where after years in Rome he died in AD 12 or 17. Livy’s history, composed as the imperial autocracy of Augustus was replacing the republican system that had stood for over 500 years, presents in splendid style a vivid narrative of Rome’s rise from the traditional foundation of the city in 753 or 751 BC to 9 BC and illustrates the collective and individual virtues necessary to achieve and maintain such greatness. Of its 142 books, conventionally divided into pentads and decads, we have 1–10 and 21–45 complete, and short summaries (periochae) of all the rest except 41 and 43–45; 11–20 are lost, and of the rest only fragments and the summaries remain. The third decad constitutes our fullest surviving account of the momentous Second Punic (or Hannibalic) War, and comprises two recognizable pentads: Books 21–25 narrate the run-up to conflict and Rome’s struggles in its first phase, with Hannibal dominant; Books 26–30 relate Rome’s revival and final victory, as the focus shifts to Scipio Africanus. This edition replaces the original Loeb edition (1940) by Frank Gardner Moore.”

This volume includes Books 23-25 and their summaries, so it is about the causes of the Hannibalic War with a description of Hannibal. The original and the English translation are presented on opposing pages to help those studying either of these languages. There is a helpful Index of terms and names that appear in this volume, but there is no introduction or other explanatory elements. Though there are annotations at the bottom of the pages that explain details that are too far-removed for modern readers to grasp otherwise.

The narrative opens with Hannibal’s dramatic battle strategy as he captures Naples because he was seeking a “coastal city”. He sets up an ambush in the “sunken roads and hidden recesses” and has a small troop “ride up” with “animals taken as booty from the countryside” before them to fool the enemy into believing they are a “small and poorly organized group, which attracted “a cavalry squadron” to charge “at them”, thus creating an ambush that allowed Hannibal to win over these attackers (3-5).

Most of the history is a dramatic narrative of battles, treaties, negotiations, bribes, prisoners captured and other brisk accounts. But there are also some speeches issued by the participants in these battles. For example, Representatives are sent to Hannibal from two won-over tribes address Hannibal by flattering him: “Your courage and success won us over, but no more than did your courtesy and graciousness toward our citizens, whom you returned to us after their capture – so much so that if you, our friend, were safe and sound, we had no fear not only of the Roman people but (if one may say so) even of the wrath of the gods.” The rest of the speech continues after a “But” and an explanation that Hannibal and his troops have once again become hostile setting their “homes ablaze”. These accusations are interspersed with requests for peace and restored “alliance” (149-9).

This is a great book to assign to students of Roman history, but probably just this single volume rather than an entire collection. It is very readable, engaging and offers many lessons on the culture, people, traditions, habits, and other elements and not only about the facts of the related history. Reading later versions of Roman history might present some more truthful accounts based on surviving documents, archeological finds and other evidence, but more frequently later histories have re-written these stories to fit the political or theological interests of later rulers and countries. This is the history that the rulers of these ancient times wanted to tell, so their morals and drives are more truthfully expressed between these lines. All public and university libraries should have this collection of Livy’s history to allow students, researchers, and curious members of the public to skim or devour it upon demand.   

An Ancient Lecture on the Science of Rhetorical Persuasion

Aristotle; J. H. Freese, translator; Gisela Striker, reviser, Art of Rhetoric: Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020). 494pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-99732-5.


Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric appears more broadly in modern critical discussions and in literature or literature theory classes than most of the other books in the Loeb series. The ideas about rhetorical structure that were set in this text have been repeated across two thousand years that followed. It is shocking how few new ideas have been added to the theory of rhetoric after Aristotle’s philosophizing on the subject. A modern composition textbook might look like it is very different as it covers the five-paragraph essay and different essay types, but it is really following the rules of genre and mimicry that Aristotle set as examples of greatness.

“Aristotle (384–322 BC), the great Greek thinker, researcher, and educator, ranks among the most important and influential figures in the history of philosophy, theology, and science. He joined Plato’s Academy in Athens in 367 and remained there for twenty years. After spending three years at the Asian court of a former pupil, Hermeias, he was appointed by Philip of Macedon in 343/2 to become tutor of his teenaged son, Alexander. After Philip’s death in 336, Aristotle became head of his own school, the Lyceum at Athens, whose followers were known as the Peripatetics. Because of anti-Macedonian feeling in Athens after Alexander’s death in 323, he withdrew to Chalcis in Euboea, where he died in 322. Aristotle wrote voluminously on a broad range of subjects analytical, practical, and theoretical. Rhetoric, probably composed while he was still a member of Plato’s Academy, is the first systematic approach to persuasive public speaking based in dialectic, on which he had recently written the first manual.”

The needed “Introduction” summarizes the history of the birth of philosophy or the study of speaking “persuasively” in content and structure. These notes explain some of the complexities or contradictions regarding the anti and pro-rhetoric perspectives that Aristotle and his contemporaries offered. Because of the complex distinct meanings some of the basic words employed in this text had when they were written, the explanations such as the one regarding the distinction between “rhetoric” and “dialectic” in mere arguments for/against a thesis and the broad science of persuasion is useful (xiii). These types of categorizations and explanations were essential to set the foundations for philosophy because without these groupings and sub-definitions, basic ideas about arguments and other concepts that might seem obvious to most readers, might have fallen apart as incomprehensible because they had never been similarly labeled before.

Book I opens with an explanation that it is addressing primarily litigants, who should avoid appealing to emotions, but rather should present the facts logically to “prove” the case in an incorruptible manner. Every sentence across this volume is dense with meaning, and so most of its readers tend to return to it to find new ideas after gaining more practical experience in life. For example, Aristotle writes that “the orator should be able to prove opposites… not that we should do both (for one ought not to persuade people to do what is wrong), but that the real state of the case many not escape us, and that, if another makes an unfair use of arguments, we ourselves may be able to refute them” (11).

One example of how the lessons from Rhetoric are still the unshakable basis of modern composition and creative writing textbooks is this passage: “what is written should be easy to read and easy to utter, which is the same thing. Now, this is not the case when there are many connecting words or when the punctuation is not easy…” Aristotle offers the example of Heraclitus as having a writing style that is particularly “unclear to which word another belongs, whether to what follows or what precedes” (375). While clarity is essential for having one’s writing understood modern critics have employed this point as the basis of the argument that the plainness or the lowest-reading-level writing styles are superior to those that are complex, layered and otherwise linguistically challenging. If Aristotle read these simple to follow extremes, he surely would have objected that he did not mean that the best writing is the type that not only mimics but repeats the same ideas others uttered before in a manner that does not enrich human understanding. The dense philosophy in Rhetoric itself is the type of understandable and yet insightful writing that Aristotle had in mind. Complex ideas have to be related in a style that is understandable, but without simplifying them until the message is erased and there is only pretty noise.

I am tempted to re-read Rhetoric from cover-to-cover just for some inspiration. I would not mind writing an entire book just in response to Aristotle’s treatise. But, Aristotle himself would object to this as unfocused and non-utilitarian use of logic and time. If you are lucky enough to be still in school or college and you have not read Rhetoric before, I strongly recommend buying this book and reading it cover-to-cover, and writing some notes of your own in response to it. Even if Greco-Roman philosophy is not part of the standard modern curriculum, you should assign this and a few other classic texts to yourself. Most libraries I’ve been to already have this book, but since this is a new editing, they should probably buy it again to attract new readers to these crisp newly printed pages.

Appian’s Dramatic History of the Roman Civil Wars

Appian; Brian McGing, editor and translator, Roman History: Volume IV, V, VI: Civil Wars, Books 1-2, 3-4, 5: Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020). 540, 430, 338pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-99729-5, 978-0-674-99730-1, 978-0-674-99731-8.


“Appian (Appianus) is among our principal sources for the history of the Roman Republic, particularly in the second and first centuries BC, and sometimes our only source, as for the Third Punic War and the destruction of Carthage. Born circa AD 95, Appian was an Alexandrian official at ease in the highest political and literary circles who later became a Roman citizen and advocate. He died during the reign of Antoninus Pius (emperor 138–161). Appian’s theme is the process by which the Roman Empire achieved its contemporary prosperity, and his unique method is to trace in individual books the story of each nation’s wars with Rome up through her own civil wars. Although this triumph of ‘harmony and monarchy’ was achieved through characteristic Roman virtues, Appian is unusually objective about Rome’s shortcomings along the way. Of the work’s original 24 books, only the Preface and Books 6–9 and 11–17 are preserved complete or nearly so: those on the Spanish, Hannibalic, African, Illyrian, Syrian, and Mithridatic wars, and five books on the civil wars. This edition of Appian replaces the original Loeb edition by Horace White and provides additional fragments, along with his letter to Fronto.”

Appian’s Roman History re-appears frequently as a source and a point-of-discussion in the Ghostwriting Workshop’s texts I am currently researching for my “Shakespeare” re-attribution project. The Workshop (or most likely Gabriel Harvey, whose style matched Holinshed’s Chronicles) completed the first translation of this text into English anonymously in 1578, and it was used as the basis of several of “Shakespeare’s” and other bylines’ dramas across the following decades. The segments of stories from Appian these canonical Renaissance dramas chose as drama-worthy are frequently repeated in modern films and books. But most of this history has remained uncovered, and is a great, but intricately challenging source for those who are in search of less traveled historical plots. While it is Euro-centric to focus on this ancient Roman history as a central source for new fiction or research, this epoch of human history also tends to be stereotyped by the few dramatic moments that have become cliché. For example, the love affair between Anthony and Cleopatra and the subsequent death of Cleopatra by a poisonous snake, or Caesar’s conquest of Europe and other regions to expand the Empire. The Greco-Roman Empire held international power for many centuries and allowing these few lines of history represent its intentions and philosophies fails to fully take advantage of the lessons of other earliest histories, including this not entirely propagandistically-minded narrative. One drawback of these three volumes of Appian’s history is that they lack an Index, so searching for specific historical heroes or incidents requires referring to other sources where the contents of these sections are summarized, or reading this history cover-to-cover.

 One example that resonates with the current rebellions in America and in places such as Beirut is in the opening pages of Book I of the Civil Wars section. It explains that the public’s acceptance of the rulership gradually changed as politicians began to assassinate each other to gain control or positions. “There were now in many cases dynasties, with faction leaders behaving like monarchs, some of them refusing to disband the armies entrusted to them by the people… Whichever side first got possession of the city, the opposition party took up the fight supposedly against their political opponents, but in reality against their country” (Volume IV, 5-7). A similar tribalism or bi- or multi-party splintering has been similarly employed to explain strife, civil unrest and wars across the following centuries and into the present. Those in power can retain tyrannical power by subversively sponsoring groups to appear to be rebels and attack their own city, while those who sponsor them remain blameless and can step in to appear to be the heroes who capture, torture, banish or execute the rebels. While Appian wrote openly about these evil motives of the apparent conquerors over rebels, it is far more taboo in the media today to accuse even a president such as Trump of this type of backhanded manipulation. The current refusal of Republicans and Democrats to arrive at an agreement to give aid during a pandemic and their tosses of blame at the other party for this failure all serve to avoid both of these parties’ responsibility for the pandemic and the recession we are in, while attempting to shift this blame on the other side. By tossing blame around and working together with the other side, both of these sides can create sufficient confusion to retain political power even if the same type of incompetence can level much of Beirut, or cause massive deaths of wildlife from an oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or cause rebellions and their suppressions in Rome. While a history such as Appian’s does not necessarily provide solutions for these types of political problems, reading these stories should help modern political strategists to gain a new perspective on their own problems.

At least some of the social criticisms present in this book appear in speeches offered by those who rose up to fight against Roman tyrants. In one scene Caesar is shown to crush rebels, and then Pompey stands before senators to issue a speech that criticizes Caesar’s tactics in attaining or attempting to attain monarchical power. “All men of sound mind believe that liberty makes their country, wherever they might be.” He accuses Caesar by ceasing land with help from bribes. “Although you have voted him a public enemy, yet he now sends governors to your provinces… Such is the daring with which he deprives the people of their own political leadership”. Those who help Caesar corruptly gain control over the region are said to “choose to be his slaves instead of his equals.” Pompey promises that he has “not abandoned the struggle on your behalf” (Volume IV, 337-9). The waves and turns of revolutions and revolts across these Roman histories and their popularity in Renaissance dramas are such that there are always new tyrants who rise up against old tyrants by presenting themselves as the saviors before taking the throne and engaging in the same corrupt practices they accuse their predecessors of. The same cycles of accusations and corruption repeat in our modern American politics. In times when writing in support of current rebels and rebellions has been most taboo, rulers and censors have consistently made exceptions for their own rebellions against the evil tyrants that they have overthrown to gain power. The need to justify one’s own violent struggle for power is the reason even if times when the press is tightly controlled, Appian could insert this rebel-rousing speech into Pompey’s mouth, and “Shakespeare” could have Hamlet be the hero as he overthrows his mother and step-father in seemingly justifiable revenge over their assassination of his father. It is amazing how similar Pompey’s speech about the “public enemy” and “liberty” is similar to most of the chest-pounding speeches that modern politicians issue on behalf of their own struggles for the opposite of what these noble words appear to proclaim. Pompey’s victory over Caesar would cost the sacrifice of these very ideals as bribery and massacres would be needed rather than to give the power to the people to truly rule themselves. It is amazing how we keep repeating these cycles without the courage to step back and consider why the one conquering ruler’s victory is worth the suffering of the masses.

 In another speech, Cassius addresses this exact question of how the sides of these Civil Wars differ that might make one of them more righteous than the other. “Brutus and I and all the noblest senators you see are in exile from a tyranny and trying to free their country, while Dolabella is enslaving it to others… This would indeed be a civil war, if we too were aiming at supreme power, but in the present case it is clearly a war between democracy and autocracy. And you appeal to be on behalf of your own autonomy, but you leave a democracy helpless…” He continues to make some of these serious arguments before turning it into an “ironical speech” and exclaiming that if he and his allies are not “Romans, but… exiles or strangers or condemned men…, then…, it is not with us that you have a treaty, but with Romans. And as we are strangers and foreigners in relation to the treaty, we will make war on you, unless you obey us in everything” (Volume V, 307-11). A note from the editor explains that Appian considers all forms of government other than “monarchy” democratic. The same confusion regarding what is truly democratic is still hazy today. In America, the Electoral College has decided at least two of our recent elections in opposition to the choice the democratic elections by most of the people voted. This might have been a version of “democracy” in the eighteenth century when America was established, but this does not mean the modern definition of this term most other countries honor. Appian is clearly cognizant that the joke is on the people if they believe Cassius as there is no different between obeying him “in everything” and being “enslaved” by Caesar.

There are also some interesting travel adventures described in these pages that should have been very engaging to its early readers who might have been amazed by tales of distant places. One of these is about Cornificius journey during a battle through a “waterless region” where “a stream of lava” was “running down to the sea” over “springs”. While it might have been safe to travel these at night, as the locals did, because they were afraid of walking into lava since there was no moon out, they traveled during the day and burned their feet, all while they were having “missiles” thrown at them by the “enemy troops” at the “exits” from this dangerous region. Then, Laronius joined the battle with his three legions, though Cornificius wasn’t sure if “he was a friend” until the attackers abandoned the fight. But then Laronius’ troops tried drinking from the spring and “died” because of its deadly composition despite having been warned. Despite these few deaths, most of Cornificius’ troops escaped to safety with Laronius’ help (Volume VI, 203-7). This is a great example of a strange battle that I have never seen reproduced in fiction. It should look great on the big-screen, if anybody picks up on it. It makes warfare more real as nature and the complexities of human alliances are placed in strange circumstances.

I have not read any fictions that have more dramatic tension, philosophy or narrative curiosities than this history of Appian’s. It has remained in print for thousands of years, and it would have surely been lost long ago if it did not manage to keep readers’ interest better than the alternatives. This is a great book for casual and scholarly readers to have on the shelf either for inspiration or for enrichment of new stories that can be born out of it.

Particularly About Nothing, But Kind of Trying to Be About Art…

Erwin Panofsky; Gerda Panofsky, editor and introducer, Michelangelo’s Design Principles: Particularly in Relation to Those of Raphael (Princeton: Princeton University Press, June 23, 2020). Hardcover: $39.95. 408pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-0-691-16526-4.


The publisher’s description of this manuscript seems suspicious from my current perspective of attribution studies. “In 2012, a manuscript by renowned art historian Erwin Panofsky was rediscovered in a safe in Munich, in the basement of the Central Institute for Art History. Hidden for decades among folders and administrative files was Panofsky’s thesis on Michelangelo—originally submitted to Hamburg University in March of 1920, abandoned when Panofsky fled Hitler’s Germany in 1934, and thought to have been destroyed in the Allied bombings.” If this manuscript was a significant work of scholarship and a slightly earlier version had indeed been submitted in 1920 under the different title of Habilitationsschrift to a press (xii), why didn’t this press publish it, or retain a copy of the manuscript in case it was more suitable once the war ended. Why change the title from the original in this manuscript; the difference in title suggests that a different writer picked up on the short articles Panofsky managed to publish to capitalize on the historic value of his name now that he is dead. “A century on, Michelangelo’s Design Principles makes this remarkable work available for the first time in English. Casting Panofsky’s thought in an entirely new light, Michelangelo’s Design Principles is the legendary scholar’s only book-length examination of the art of the Italian Renaissance.” How can any “scholar” be “legendary” without ever publishing a “book-length” project? This sounds like the book is being over-puffed without supportable evidence to warrant this flattery. “He provides a compelling analysis of Michelangelo’s artistic style and deftly compares it with that of Raphael, situating both Renaissance masters in the broader context of Western art. This illuminating book offers unique perspectives on Panofsky’s early intellectual development and the state of research on Michelangelo and the High Renaissance at a period of transition in art history, when formalist readings of artworks began to take precedence over a biographical approach.” This is contradictory: how can this book address Panofsky’s personal intellectual biography, but not Michelangelo’s: if it does this, it is a work of digressive self-flattery and self-reflection rather than a serious consideration of design. The term “formalist” in this context reinforces the lack of cohesion or clarity likely to be the dominant mode of this admittedly unfinished book. “Featuring an introduction by Gerda Panofsky that discusses the history of the manuscript and the significance of its rediscovery, Michelangelo’s Design Principles is a crucial link between Panofsky’s formalist training as a young art historian and his later work in iconology.” The “Translator’s Note” explains that “Dr. Gerda Panofsky” secured “funding” from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation that made this “translation… possible”. In other words, the puffing remarks on the cover are the result of a Panofsky finding the money to pay for the writerly effort that made this English version possible. This further heightens my suspicions. Gerda is also said to have helped by adding her own “art-historical knowledge” (xiii), so it seems she is being credited as a potential co-author with Erwin. The blurb does not explain Gerda’s familial relationship with Erwin. It does state that she has previously published a second edition of Erwin’s Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and Its Art Treasures, as well as writings of her on for the same general topic of Michelangelo. This lack of clarity and authorial intersections are troubling, but they are also pretty normal in modern academic publishing.

“Erwin’s” “Introduction” begins by accusing “current art-historical writing” of failing to establish “‘influences’” for discussed artists. Since “influences” make up major sections of most past and current critics art theory and biography books, this sets up opposition against something that’s not true (5). The rest of the book has various problems that are the opposite of genius. One section begins thus: “As has already been said, all these impressions were of only peripheral importance for Michelangelo’s work – chance encounters, not significant events” (49). There is a dozen problems with this sentence alone. First, no section should begin by saying that what it is about to say has already been said. Why would something be repeated if it has been said? And if these “impressions” are “peripheral” or insignificant, why are they being presented as evidence? And “impressions” and “events” are two words with different meanings that are being used here as if they are synonyms; this would confuse any reader. Most of the preceding three pages are entirely covered with the editors annotations, with only snippets of “Erwin’s” text. These appear to be referring to “impressions” rather than to “events”. They touch on influences on Michelangelo from Florentine’s and Antiquity’s drawings. After naming a few of these without explaining their specific relevance, the author states: “For all intents and purposes, this exhausts the list of occasions that have come to light to date on which such elements were adopted, inasmuch as they are important for the history of Michelangelo’s style and seem able to withstand critical analysis” (45-9). What critical analysis? Right after these digressive leaps of nonsense, the author begins a section by saying something has already been said.

Any page in this book includes similar absurdities. For example, later the author describes an “allusion to what we have denoted as the ‘cubic constraint’ of Michelangelo’s figure…” (140). This is after a prolonged description of the positioning of the arms, head and legs at various angles in the statue. Cubism was a period in art centuries after Michelangelo’s time, so it is deliberately confusing and counter-productive to attempt to call Michelangelo’s realistic or perhaps romantic sculptures or other art projects cubic. The addition of the second word to this term for it to be “cubic constraint” might have a slightly different implication, but it digresses away from the topic at hand into nonsense all the same.

I am always searching for books that explain art in a new light because they help me to consider new experiments or new interpretations when I am attempting or criticizing art myself. But this book does not deliver on the great ambitions of its blurb’s promises. It just generally does not delivery any valuable information on art because scholarly books and textbooks on any subject have to be coherent if they are to be understood (as Aristotle’s Rhetoric proclaims). I hope I have stopped teachers from assigning this book, and libraries from purchasing it to the burden of browsing patrons.


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