Wrangham presents a compelling, if not always well organized, argument for the importance of cooking in human evolution. Cooked food is easier to digest, allowing more nutrients to be abstracted more quickly. That allows humans to spend less energy digesting food, leading to a smaller digestive track, and more on a larger brain.
Wrangham also makes intriguing arguments both for the control of fire helping to lead to the loss of body hair and for cooking helping to lead to pair bonding. He asks the fascinating question whether cooking helped give rise to gender roles, but I found his argument incomplete. He ends with a somewhat preachy discussion of what the ease of digesting processed food means for today's couch potato society.
It’s the huge irony in the creation of the United States: a country dedicated to freedom but founded on the back of slavery. Morgan confronts that irony head-on and seeks to explain how such contradictions could coexist.
He focuses on Virginia, which had the most slaves of any of the 13 colonies and yet also produced the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as 4 of the first 5 Presidents.
His argument is meticulously researched and presented in great detail. He argues that improvements in the tobacco market meant planters could afford to make the greater initial investment required to purchase slaves, rather than the contracts of indentured servants. The growth of slavery then significantly curtailed the flow of indentured servants into Virginia. This in turn gradually reduced the size of the white underclass, which had previously threatened the security of the Virginia gentry. Building off the classical notions that first, a successful republic requires virtuous citizens, and second, virtue requires economic independence, Morgan argues that republican ideologists were able to ignore those persons, white or black, who didn’t fit the mold. Since such persons, by definition, could not be good republicans, they were not entitled to the benefits of republican liberty.
When the underclass was white, and the distinction was one of class, there was inevitably class conflict, which occasionally would erupt in violence. When the underclass was composed of slaves, however, and the distinction was racial, then whites could unite to think of themselves as special. As they grew more successful, they could even consider themselves virtuous. They thus could throw off what they saw as the corrupting ways of executive tyranny in the mother country, at the same time subjecting another race to much crueler horrors than those against which they rebelled.
Morgan has some great discussions of intellectual trends, including attitudes towards work, class consciousness and fears of tyranny. He discusses only briefly the traditional classical connection between virtue and the success of a republic, and the book would have benefited from a more thorough discussion.
He also mentions that some Virginians were able to see the inconsistencies between their rhetoric and slaveholding. That discussion too could have been fuller.
This is a good explanation of an underappreciated contribution to American history. It highlights the global nature of the war that included the American Revolution and explains how fighting on the Mississippi and in Florida, Central America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean contributed to American success by diluting British attention and resources.
One irksome aspect of the book was the continual reference to the US as colonies until the Treaty of Paris was signed. A more substantive issue is a tension between two central themes of the book. Chavez complains that Spain doesn’t get enough credit for helping foster American independence, while at the same time stressing that Spain got into the war only to serve its own interests. These two themes are not necessarily incompatible, but they should have been reconciled.
Chavez blames John Jay’s failed diplomatic mission to Spain and anti-Catholicism for Americans’ lack of appreciation of Spanish help. While the first reason may be valid, the second flies in the face of American recognition of French assistance. Other possible explanations include: (1) the very caution for which Chavez lauds Spain, (2) the facts that Spain didn’t have a dashing representative like Lafayette or a legend like Franklin to publicize its help, and (3) the effect of the subsequent revolutions in Spain’s colonies. The book does not address these questions.
The book does raise fascinating questions about the longer-term consequences of Spain’s involvement in the American Revolution, including the acceleration in the decline of French finances (Chavez argues that France refused to get involved in the war without promises of Spanish assistance), which helped lead to the French Revolution; the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, which helped spur the independence movements of Spain’s colonies; and American expansion across North America, at the expense of Spain (via France), in the case of Louisiana, and of Spain’s former colony Mexico, in the cases of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
The sound quality is inconsistent, and the narrator’s foreign accents are woeful.
One of the great ironies in intellectual history is that the knowledge of ancient Greece was largely lost to Europe in the early Middle Ages, but was saved in the Islamic world and then reintroduced to Europe through Moslem Spain. This book gives great insight into the middle leg of that story in a thorough and accessible manner. Starr sets out to explain the rise of the Central Asian Enlightenment, describe all its glories, and then explain its decline.
Central Asia, in the centuries both before and during its Enlightenment, was at the crossroads of vast commercial activities. These included the famous Silk Road to China, as well as routes to India, the Middle East and Europe. Starr focuses on how Central Asia was able to use the interactions and wealth brought by such trade to create an intellectual class. This class was both familiar and comfortable with different cultures and languages and was also used to serving as middlemen between different peoples and cultures. Those intellectuals took the ancient knowledge, sifted it through the other influences of the region, integrated it with knowledge from India and China and made substantial contributions of their own.
The book contrasts the acme of the Central Asian Enlightenment with the comparative backwardness of Europe at the time and then further contrasts the opposite trajectories in intellectual history each area subsequently followed.
Starr argues that religious dogmatism and conflict were prime causes of the decline in the Central Asian Enlightenment. While outside the scope of this book, Starr’s other comparisons of Central Asia and Europe lead to the fascinating question of why European intellectuals were able to escape the intellectual conformity imposed, frequently quite violently, by the Roman Catholic Church, which was even more organized and bureaucratic than Islam, while those in Central Asia could not do so.
This is a fascinating story of various movements coalescing into a unique event. It’s told from the viewpoints of multiple participants: the planners, the speakers, the politicians, the volunteers and members of the crowd. It follows the progression of the planning and presentation of the March, with several flashbacks to tell individuals’ stories or to explain particular trends. This technique has the risk of being disjointed, but instead it helps add layer and layer of depth at appropriate points, building in a crescendo to the grand conclusion.
The narrator has a wonderful voice, and is particularly good with the songs. (He does a great Bob Dylan.) There are, however, several mispronunciations that are grating.
This is a fascinating account of a pivotal development in American jurisprudence. It provides a wealth of historical background and perspective, all of which help to explain the development of Holmes’s thinking.
The epilogue provides only a cursory discussion of developments in First Amendment law since the time of Holmes. Given the in-depth analysis of the body of the book, the final summary left this lawyer and student of history wanting more. That, of course, would be a whole textbook.
The first half of this book, through Appomattox, is a detailed, meticulously researched account of Grant’s life and contributions. It convincingly sets forth what distinguished Grant from other Union generals. Brands also sets Grant’s activities within the general context of contemporary events and trends, but that analysis does not go very deep.
The second half of the book is much more rewarding. Of necessity, it deals with the issues and trends of the day and Grant’s influences on and reactions to them, and it focuses less on personal details. It sets forth the accomplishments of his administration, which are too often overshadowed by the scandals at the end of his term. Brands argues that Grant showed the same courage trying to protect the freedmen and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans, that he showed in battle.
The book also raises fascinating questions that deserve greater analysis, including: Did the Radical Republicans in Congress really hijack Reconstruction and direct it in ways Lincoln would never have countenanced, or did they try to save it from Johnson’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Southern Democrats? At the end of the Civil War, Grant was afraid the rebel armies would disintegrate into guerilla bands. While the armies did not “take to the hills,” should the KKK be treated as the reconstituted guerilla force that Grant feared? Sheridan considered the KKK to be terrorists. Had they been treated as such at the time, would civil rights have been established before more than another century had passed?
This is really a history of scientific theories of the moon's origins and makeup, rather than just an explanation of the current prevalent theory. Unlike an earlier reviewer, I found the history of earlier theories interesting, in that they help explain the development of the current Giant Impact theory.
What I found disappointing was the Appendix that addresses the claims of conspiracy theorists that astronauts never reached the moon. This was a very satisfying academic book and didn't need to descend to that level.
This is a great historic panorama of the Mediterranean. It is meticulously researched and cogently presented. As with any work that encompasses 7,000 years, it is in some ways an overview and introduction. At the same time, it provides valuable details into, and insightful analysis of, all historic periods. I therefore disagree with the earlier reviewer in that the book does tell a story, and there are themes. First among these is the cross-cultural mixing that has occurred ever since humans started to cross the sea.
Abulafia sees the nationalism and ethnic cleansing that has occurred since the end of WWI as a terrible break from that tradition. Yet he describes earlier pogroms and deportations, all of which had terrible human costs, but none of which could long prevent such mixing. I would argue that one could evaluate ethnic cleansing as a similar horrible reaction to the persistence of cultural mixing. In that vein, Abulafia also describes how tourism serves to continue such interaction across cultures in the present.
I think Abulafia therefore overstates his disagreements with Braudel. While political history is critical, he describes throughout the book how political decisions were limited by the geography and environments of the Mediterranean and its bordering regions. To me, this exemplifies Braudel’s argument that political history can exist only within the physical, environmental and economic worlds within which it takes place.
This is a great illustration of the series of challenges Mandela faced in attaining his goal as well as the ways he dealt with and overcame them. Unlike most revolutionaries, he was concerned not just with eliminating the injustice against which he fought, but also in creating the society that was to follow. Accordingly, the ways in which he fought apartheid were also calculated to create the nonracial society the ANC espoused.
I had known the general outlines of this story, but I had not been aware of, and was particularly impressed by, how many whites, of all political persuasions, Mandela was able to persuade to join him at each step of his struggles.
These essays are sophisticated historical analyses. A listener needs to be familiar with the major developments of the Revolutionary and early Republican periods as well as with the major historical interpretations of such periods. This is therefore not an introductory work.
It is instead an advanced scholarly work. The essays challenge some of the commonly accepted interpretations of our early history in some intriguing and well argued ways. I found them both convincing and enjoyable.
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