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The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
by Sam Kean
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars Learning from Broken Brains, July 8, 2014
If our brains are functioning the right way, we can see straight, we have good recall of memories important and trivial, we can express ourselves, and we can do a thousand other important things. That’s business as usual (and we ought to take some time every day to think about how astonishing that “usual” is). We take well-functioning brains for granted, partially because the billions of neurons silently send out their billions of signals every second and we have no way of accessing what is going on with them even as they make us “us.” It is when things go wrong that we can learn stuff about how brains do their jobs. In fact, before CAT scans and MRIs and EEGs, injured brains that produced particular symptoms were the only way to tell what the mysterious organs were supposed to be doing had they been uninjured. The history of understanding brain injuries and the diverse symptoms that result is the engrossing subject of _The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery_ (Little, Brown) by science writer Sam Kean. It is a fine story of centuries of scientific effort, with case histories of bizarre symptoms that ought to make all of us a little more grateful about all our brains can do.

We accept that brains are where the thoughts and feelings come from, the organ that more than any other gives us our “selves.” This seems intuitive now, but even this basic idea did not come easily. It wasn’t until around the 1600s that, because brain injuries caused particular symptoms of thinking and acting, most informed thinkers credited the brain with being the center of human nature. It was only in the nineteenth century that scientists began to accept that the brain had circumscribed, specialized regions to do specific tasks. The book’s title comes from an important historical case. King Henri II of France in 1559 recklessly took part in a jousting contest and got a lance through his eye, plus he had some sort of brain injury. (French kings were thereafter prohibited from jousting.) Two of the greatest of physicians at the time were called to attend him, Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius. There was little they could do, as the king had seizures and went in and out of consciousness and blindness, and ten days after the accident he was dead. It is quite astonishing that Queen Catherine allowed the surgeons to do an autopsy, as such research was rare at the time. The surgeons noted with amazement that the king’s skull was intact; before this it was thought that if the skull was uninjured, the brain would have to be, too. The king’s brain had been battered within the skull, with a hemorrhage at the rear. Kean explains that this revolutionary understanding that a closed skull does not mean an intact brain is still not fully learned; we are only recently, for instance, asking to what degree concussions are damaging the cranial contents of our high school or professional football players.

There are many strange syndromes here. A girl had a normal childhood, but at age ten the cells in her amygdala died off, making it impossible for her to feel fear. Studies on her, Kean says, “are a hoot to read, since they consist of scientists dreaming up ever-more-elaborate ways to scare her.” Snakes, haunted houses with monsters in costume, and more have all been tried, but nothing frightens her, although she is pretty normal in all other ways. The famous H. M. had surgery to stop his seizures, and they stopped; his personality originally stayed the same, and all was well, except his ability to remember things was gone. He could not remember if he had eaten or not, or follow instructions to get to the bathroom a second time. He could mow the lawn for his parents; it was obvious to him what part of the lawn had been cut and what remained, but his parents had to tell him every time where they kept the mower. On the other hand, Solomon Shereshevsky could not forget anything, with his mind full of unedited impressions that left him confused and helpless to get on in the world. Toxins and blows to the head can cause Capgras Syndrome, whose sufferers are sure that everyone they know has been replaced by a sinister double. One made a confession of bigamy to his priest, since he had married his wife originally and now was married to her replacement who looked and acted just like the original, but wasn’t. A man with normal sexual urges became a pedophile once a brain tumor pressed just so; surgical removal of the tumor reversed the pedophilia.

All of these cases make a reader wonder, “Who is in charge here?” If a little bleeding or an intruding tumor can make such changes, where is the real person? From neurons through neural tracts through brain specialization centers and all the way through to the process of consciousness (that “defining problem of neuroscience”), Kean’s storytelling is masterful and his explanations graceful. The best part is that we have barely started. We have only been doing neuroscience for a few centuries, and there are still so many mysteries left within the three pound mass we all carry in our crania.


The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America
The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America
by John F. Kasson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.17
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5.0 out of 5 stars Shirley Temple Sociology, July 6, 2014
You can imagine that some artists would have been popular had they come along at any time in history; others merely happened to strike the world’s imagination at just the right time. In the latter category is certainly Shirley Temple, who brightened up for millions of moviegoers the gloom of the 1930s. There have been her autobiography and many appreciative biographies, but John F. Kasson’s _The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America_ (W. W. Norton) is different. In a series of essays, Kasson has chronicled not the life of the star (although he pays close attention to her life between 1931 and 1940 when she was most influential), but her effect on a troubled nation. Thus his book will be enjoyed by movie fans, especially Shirley fans, but it is also a larger overview of the sociology and politics of the times.

In fact, while the first chapter starts with the meeting and marriage of Shirley Temple’s parents, it gives way to pages that have nothing to do with the Temples at all. It is a summary of the boom of the twenties followed by the bust of the thirties, with Herbert Hoover contrasted with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt seemed, unlike Hoover, like someone who could enjoy a good joke. He had a radiant smile that he sincerely flashed often, and it was the perfect opposite of Hoover’s natural frown. He made people feel better; and when that other charming smiler Shirley Temple came along, she, too, made people feel better. Little Shirley Temple didn’t know what sociological functions she was pulling off, and maybe her studio bosses didn’t, either. Of course they wanted to bring smiles, and they did, and they did increase a little bit the nation’s quotient of optimism. Kasson shows, though, that in movies like _The Little Colonel_ or _The Littlest Rebel_ (both 1935), she may have helped her nation come to terms with the Civil War which some people still remembered first hand. The other great influence Shirley had, Kasson shows, was that she made people want to be good consumers. Of course audiences were eager to shell out their dimes for their tickets, but that was just the start. There is a fancy dress ball in _Little Miss Marker_ and a big birthday party for Shirley in _Baby Take a Bow_ and a blow-out Christmas in _Bright Eyes_. “As a model child, Shirley was also an exemplary consumer,” writes Kasson. It wasn’t just an artistic stance upon the screen. There were movie tie-ins, Shirley dolls, tableware, soaps, coloring books, and more; as I type these words, Ebay lists 2,500 different bits of Shirley memorabilia for sale. “Shirley Temple's films, products, and endorsements collectively stimulated the American consumer economy at a crucial time, so much so that to some she appeared to be a relief program all by herself,” says Kasson.

She made a fortune before inevitably growing too old to play her familiar kid roles, and Kasson mentions in the final pages how she lead a useful non-movie life in her later years. That is not the subject of his book, but there is an interesting aspect of the adult Shirley Temple Black that leads one to grant that her strange and distorted upbringing did produce a sensible and thoughtful adult. Only at the urging of her husband did she come to an assessment of her finances, and she found that her father had bought expensive cars and speculated on risky businesses, and her mother had been able to dress fashionably and to bet at the racetracks, and that only pennies remained on every dollar she had brought them. For the rest of her parents’ lives, she said nothing about this discovery. Just like in her movies, she was taking care of the grown-ups who should have known better.


Veni, Vidi, Vici: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Romans but Were Afraid to Ask
Veni, Vidi, Vici: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Romans but Were Afraid to Ask
by P. V. Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.12
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fun with Ancient Roman History, June 27, 2014
They left the world stage almost two thousand years ago, but the ancient Romans left their marks all over the world and continue to do so. Our calendar, for instance, is theirs, and then there are the legal systems, vocabulary, architecture, and what is more, all those gladiator movies. If you didn’t get enough Roman history when you were in school, or even if you did and you want to be entertained by the vast subject, get _Veni, Vidi, Vici: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Romans but Were Afraid to Ask_ (Atlantic Books) by Peter Jones. He is an emeritus professor of the Classics at Cambridge University, but this fact-packed volume is informal and fun, the sort of history that even people who don’t like reading history can find enlightening. Jones’s chapters are basically chronological, from the myths of the foundation of Rome to those Huns who brought it down. Within each chapter are nuggets of a page or less on an important, trivial, but always interesting historical fact, told with enthusiasm and punning good humor.

The Roman system of religion was exceedingly strange. There was the usual pantheon of gods and goddesses ruled over by Jupiter, of course, but then there was a bafflingly huge number of gods to take care of all sorts of minutiae. Just in the agricultural realm, there was a specific named god of ploughing, of weeding, of protection from mildew and rust, and a god of spreading excrement on the fields. Cloacina was the goddess of the sewers. Terminus was the god of boundary stones. Rome was built upon slavery. About 25% of the population at the end of the Republic were slaves, and there was never a shortage of them. There was never any abolition movement. No one questioned that some people ought to be slaves; it was accepted as a natural state. When there were slave rebellions, the slaves were in revolt over specific bad treatment; they never presumed to act against the institution of slavery. One thing that everyone knows about gladiatorial combat is that a crowd, or a single judge, might be called upon at the end of combat, if the combatants had not finally destroyed one another, to be asked, “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” in judgement of whether they should live or die. Yes, the thumb signs happened, but the meaning is equivocal. “There is a slight balance,” writes Jones, “in favor of the belief that ‘thumbs up’ actually meant ‘kill’ (i.e., drive the sword into him) and ‘thumbs down’ meant ‘let be’ (i.e, turn the sword away).” On the final page, Jones reflects that the of all the things the Romans handed down to us, “the enrichment of the Anglo-Saxon language is their most inescapable legacy.” There are languages descended from Latin, but English comes from Anglo-Saxon, with a lot of Latinate words brought into England by the Norman French and other sources. So Jones often explains interesting word origins. He tells you how you can foretell the future just like the Romans did, standing to observe birds and seeing if the birds occupied a good side or bad side of the field of view. In other words, you could be an amateur _auspex_, a Latin word that comes from _auis_ “bird” and _specio_ “I inspect.” And from this we get the word “auspicious.”

Academics and those familiar with the history of Ancient Rome may object that Jones’s book is choppy and in such short segments that it cannot present a coherent history. This is not the book for them. For those of us who just want to be informed and entertained, there is at least one bright fact to be found on every page of this well-informed but unstuffy history.


The World of the Fullo: Work, Economy, and Society in Roman Italy (Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy)
The World of the Fullo: Work, Economy, and Society in Roman Italy (Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy)
by Miko Flohr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $175.75
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Comprehensive Appreciation of an Ancient Roman Craft, June 24, 2014
“Dress for Success” is a maxim for today’s workers, and it may have been the attitude even in ancient Rome. A brilliant white toga would have been a power statement, and if the consuls were less formal, they’d still want their colored robes to be brilliant. How did those Romans get their clothes to shine? That was the job of the _fullo_, or fuller. We have drycleaning and laundry services, but everyone back then knew what the _fullo_ did and how important he was to keeping society clean and bright. His might have been a menial job, but it had craftsmanship and it was essential. So _fullones_ get their due in _The World of the Fullo_ (Oxford University Press) by Miko Flohr. The author is the Assistant Director of the Oxford Roman Economy Project at the University of Oxford, and specializes in Roman cities and their economy, within both of which _fullones_ played a vital role. This book is a detailed academic examination of all aspects of its subject. General readers like me will be surprised that there has been controversy raging among Flohr’s fellow academics over aspects of what _fullones_ did and how they were regarded. I am certainly not an expert in the field, but it is hard to imagine that, unless there are many new archaeological discoveries, this comprehensive work will be surpassed.

_Fullones_ worked in shops called _fullonicae_. The consistent hallmark of a site that can be archaeologically identified as a _fullonica_ is the stalls. These were where the clothes were soaked in water and detergents, which were fuller’s earth and aged urine (for ammonia). The stalls were made so that the fuller could stand in the basin and rest his arms on the top of the half-walls of the stall. The stomping in the stalls got out the spots; it is the most archaeologically apparent aspect of the job, and possibly got the most attention of onlookers. Complete fulling, however, took more steps. In addition to the basins used for the wash, there were larger basins used for rinsing the detergents out. Some may have been connected directly to the aqueduct system, although smaller shops might have simply used water from a fountain in the street. Then the clothes were brushed to raise a nap; it seems that brushes made of hedgehog skin were just the thing, or brushes made of thorns. Then long shears were used to trim the nap, to make it uniform and new-looking. The garments were pressed in a machine with a screw device to apply pressure.
There are a few literary mentions of _fullones_, and there are memorial inscriptions that seem to indicate that a _fullo_ was as good a candidate for posthumous respect as a tailor or a shoemaker. This overthrows the idea that the work of the _fullo_ was regarded as base or dirty. While _fullonicae_ may have been busy with removing dirt, they would have had to have been clean shops themselves to do so, and the problem of smells was slighter than we would think it. Tanners and blacksmiths might have produced more olfactory offensiveness. Significantly, Flohr shows how a _fullonica_ might have been an integral part of an atrium-styled house. Also, there is no evidence that the shops were banned from cities or segregated downwind; anyone who has walked the streets of Pompeii has seen plenty of _fullonicae_ in their places alongside bakeries, taverns, and homes. It may be that Flohr is attempting to increase academic respect for these craftsmen who are the subjects of his research, and he may be partial; his evidence, however, that _fullones_ were not lowly, dirty subjects of contempt is convincing.

The evidence amassed here on this and diverse other aspects is amazing. Particularly charming is a frieze from Pompeii, showing little cupids busy at the steps involved in fulling. As an example of concentrated academic attention to a small slice of history, _The World of the Fullo_ is excellent. Flohr can hardly be accused of making assumptions beyond the evidence he presents, as he examines not just the work of the _fullones_, but also their larger place in the Roman society and economy. On almost every page, he explains variations in findings and the limits of how much archaeology, epigraphy, and literary sources can tell us. This gives us a larger view of economy, trade, and work in ancient Rome. The book is a serious academic monograph, with a degree of detail and documentation that keep it from being light reading, but it is an admirable example of how deep and provocative can be the focused academic attention into a small sphere.


From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town
From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town
by Ingrid D. Rowland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.56
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5.0 out of 5 stars Visiting Pompeii through the Centuries, June 17, 2014
We think of Pompeii as frozen in the year 79 A.D., and maybe it was indeed inert until people started digging around the site in the eighteenth century. From then on, the place has inevitably changed, as people dug in it and restored it to their way of thinking, fantasized about it, took parts of it away, and made it fit for the thousands of visitors who came to wander its streets. It is this story that is told in _From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town_ (Belknap/Harvard) by Ingrid D. Rowland. The author is a professor at the University of Notre Dame in Rome, and her chapters are essays on aspects of the city. Some of them are personal, like her memories of being taken to the area when she was a child (there is a picture here of her as an eight-year-old in Herculaneum, with a Brownie camera dangling from her neck) or her experiences in taking commercial tours from Rome to the region where she has conducted more serious academic tours. While the chapters are chronological, Rowland is a digressive and often witty writer, who obviously enjoys relating facts in a more informal way (nonetheless, there are plenty of footnotes). “This book presents a selection of visitors whose lives were forever altered by their experience of Pompeii, as well as a few who reacted less drastically.” While there are plenty of references to the city, its history, and its archaeology, the story of its afterlife proves to be colorful, frustrating, and funny.

Pompeii’s discovery came after Herculaneum was being dug up, and by 1765 tour guides had added Pompeii to their repertoires for people coming to see the region around Naples. Much of Rowland’s book has to do with visits to Pompeii by famous people. The fifteen-year-old Mozart went in 1770, and it is often said that Mozart’s visit to the site, especially the Temple of Isis, helped inspire parts of _The Magic Flute_. But Rowland admits, “How exactly are we to recognize the reflection of an archaeological site in a musical composition?” Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel _The Last Days of Pompeii_ has characters say things like, “Ho, Diomed, well met! Do you sup with Glaucus to-night?” The 1867 novel, which seems to insert Victorian speech and views into the doomed city, was a bestseller, and it used to be (seriously) recommended for those who were making their first visit to view the ruins. Dickens visited in 1845, and wrote a description in _Pictures of Italy_ which movingly could describe the ruins as we see them even now. He was moved by imagining all those Pompeians wiped out by Vesuvius, but he was disturbed by the Neapolitan cult of the dead. Mark Twain visited in 1875, and in _Innocents Abroad_ wrote acerbically about the Neapolitan belief in the miraculous liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro which helped draw money from onlookers (he’d chuckle to know that the blood is still performing this function). Like Dickens, he was more moved by the ruins of Pompeii itself, and he was inspired by the figure of the “Steadfast Soldier,” a guard whose skeleton was found in his guard-box, refusing to abandon his post just because a volcano was raging. Many other moralists at the time admired the Steadfast Soldier; there is, however, no evidence that the skeleton was any more than some unfortunate Pompeian, fleeing with all the others, who ducked under an arch, not into a guard-box, for shelter. Pierre-Auguste Renoir visited Italy in 1881 after struggling in Paris for twenty years, and was inspired by the classical paintings he saw and by the light. He admired the frescoes from Pompeii that he saw in the National Museum in Naples and on site. His paintings became brighter and more sculptural because of them. In 1994, Hillary Clinton refused to be satisfied with seeing just Herculaneum, and got into Pompeii, although her tour was abbreviated. Secret Service agents went before her room by room to make sure everything was safe, and their protectiveness extended to preventing her from entering a room in the beautiful House of the Vettii where there is a famous statue of the god Priapus with his enormous phallus. This was not going to be a photo op.

In Rowland’s vivid telling, Pompeii proves to be a very lively place indeed. And still the ancient streets are alive with guides and tourists. Buying and selling and arguing go on nearby, just as they did two thousand years ago. The other constant is Mount Vesuvius, which is now overdue for an eruption, and it is quite possible that the whole place will be buried again, along with much of the the surrounding area along the Bay of Naples. The Neapolitans are skeptical about government, and there is every reason to believe that any evacuation plan, even with scientific warnings the ancient Pompeians never had, is going to leave thousands behind when the volcano blows. “There is simply no way to escape the discrepancy of scale between Vesuvius and human beings,” writes Rowland. “It is one of the reasons that Pompeii pulls so on our imagination.”


Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor
Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor
by Ruth Richardson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.17
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5.0 out of 5 stars Finding Young Dickens at Home, June 10, 2014
It might be thought that there could be no further surprises of biographical data about Charles Dickens, one of the world’s most beloved authors, whose life has been covered in scores of biographies. In an illustrative example, though, of the adage “Chance favors the prepared mind,” historian Ruth Richardson was researching something else and discovered that Dickens had lived a few doors down from a London workhouse which must have been his model for such famous scenes as poor Oliver Twist asking for more. Richardson’s _Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist & the London Poor_ (Oxford University Press) tells all about her discovery. (It must be said that after the book was published, others pointed out that her discovery was not news, as it had been reported in books before; even if this is so, her book tells how she came upon the discovery independently, and gives fresh information of how the neighborhood affected Dickens and his stories in many ways.) Anyone interested in the extraordinary life of Dickens or in his novels will find this an illuminating work.

Part of the reason that this story is so involving is that Dickens was very secretive about his origins and upbringing. His children didn’t know about his family’s spell in debtors’ prison nor his childhood labor in a blacking factory until after his death. In 2010 Richardson was asked, in her role as historian, to support a campaign to save one of the last surviving London workhouses. If there was a Samaritan impulse to continue such workhouses, it was often swallowed up by predation. _Oliver Twist_ begins with the theft of a locket from a workhouse corpse, and Oliver and his fellows are farmed out as workers, for the benefit of the woman employed by the Poor Law to run the place. The Dickens family had lived a few doors down from the workhouse, Richardson discovered, in Marylebone at 10 Norfolk Street. Astonishingly, the house still exists, although its address and street name have changed (now 22 Cleveland Street), which helps account for its obscurity in the Dickens biography. Richardson takes us with her on a visit to the place, which is still a corner commercial building, although it is a Greek pie shop, rather than a grocer’s. There are the same panes of glass in the old bow windows, and various doors and domestic hardware that Dickens would have known. The details of what his life was like there and exactly how Norfolk Street and its proximity to the workhouse affected him must remain conjecture; Richardson’s book is full of “Perhaps Dickens...” or “As a child, Dickens might have…” The tentative nature of such statements, however, does not obscure some understanding of Dickens’s history in the locale. There was a pawnbroker’s nearby, across the street from Dickens’s front door and diagonally opposite the workhouse. Not only would it have been an establishment John Dickens knew, a pawnbroker’s shop figures importantly in the plot of _Oliver Twist_. And then there are names. Dickens was famous for dreaming up facetious names like Gradgrind, but he also drew from life. There was an oil merchant down the street from his house named William Sykes; it isn’t too much to suppose that he gave his name to Oliver’s nemesis Bill Sikes.

Besides an account of the early years of Charles Dickens, there is much here about the social conditions of the time, the poor laws, and the religious and governmental view of the poor. Richardson seems to have read carefully everything Dickens wrote, and gives many quotations apt for the environs. Even though much of her book is conjectural about the locale’s effect upon the young Dickens, the conjectures are reasonable, and built on a fascinating foundation of historical and topographic data, explained here with love and enthusiasm.


Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by their Trace Fossils
Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by their Trace Fossils
by Anthony J. Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.19
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tracking the Wily Dinosaur, June 3, 2014
Think back to your last visit to a natural history museum, and remember the dinosaur halls. What do you see? Why, bones and bones, some on shelves, and some in framework that allows the strange creatures to stand up in skeletal form. There they stand, inert. The bones are wonderful for giving us an idea of what the dinosaurs looked like, but not so good at telling us what dinosaurs did. For that, ask an ichnologist. I didn’t even know what ichnology was before I read _Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils_ (Pegasus Books) by Anthony J. Martin. The word dates only from 1851, and means literally the study of footprints, and indeed ichnologists are wild about footprints. “I like to argue,” says Martin, “that dinosaur tracks constitute the ‘real’ fossil record of dinosaurs rather than their bones, which are nice but, well, just a little too _dead_.” There’s more to it, though; dinosaurs left footprints, but also nests, and burrows, and feces. And, surprise, evidence of urination. For those of us who don’t know anything about ichnology, but appreciate stories of how real science is done, Martin’s book is a great introduction.

When an ichnologist comes across footprints, identifying the dinosaur which made them is important, but it is only a small part of what sort of information might be drawn out of the prints. How big was the creature who made the print? What was the gait? Did the animal take a break and just stand, or just sit? Was it with others of its own kind? Is there evidence of any injury? Was it male or female? Patiently, Martin shows that careful measurements and a few calculations can help give answers to such questions, however tentative. We have known about dinosaur eggs since the mid-19th century. Definitive examples of nests, however, were not recognized until around twenty years ago. There really is a diagram here of a long-necked _brachiosaurus_ projectile vomiting from a height of 14 meters, with resultant traces (and below, little theropods fleeing in distress). It’s speculative; no one has found dinosaur vomit yet, but I bet they call for Martin’s help when they do. They have discovered urolites, depressions made in the sand when a dinosaur urinated. Dinosaurs were big animals, and Martin discusses large liquid volumes dropped from suitable heights. “An idealized urination structure made under such conditions should have a central impact crater, closely associated splash marks, and, if a slope is present, linear rill marks caused by excess fluid running down that slope.” Onward, science.

Martin has lots to tell, and he is an entertaining writer with a jocular tone and an eagerness to descend into groan-worthy puns, especially when explaining the investigation of dinosaur excreta. ( To understand why there are so few specimens of fossilized dinosaur urination, for example, “doesn't take a whiz”.) Those like me entirely unacquainted with his field of expertise will find him a genial guide. Readers will also have increased wonder at the activities of the dinosaurs, and at the cleverness of ichnologists to explain what the beasts were doing all those millions of years ago.


The Greatest Movies You'll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World's Greatest Directors
The Greatest Movies You'll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World's Greatest Directors
by Simon Braund
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.52
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lost Films, Lost Opportunities, May 31, 2014
Whittier told us, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” But it is only half true. What if one of the things that might have been was a movie with Jerry Lewis as a clown in a Nazi concentration camp? What if there had been a movie sequel to _Casablanca_? These are “might have beens” about which we can be anything but sad. These two examples are anomalies, though, included in _The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World’s Greatest Directors_ (Cassell Illustrated), edited by Simon Braund. All of these movies were proposed, planned, and may even have been in production, but they are movies that we can only dream about seeing. Some of them had the potential to have been masterworks, and so there is a Whittier-tinged regret over most of the chapters, but the stories of what was proposed and what went wrong are often amusing and surprising.

Let’s clear up that Jerry Lewis movie first. Unlike the other films described here, _The Day the Clown Cried_ isn’t imaginary. It exists. It was made in 1972, and a few people have been shown the rough cut, but it is supposed to be worse than you can imagine. The sequel to _Casablanca_ was written and even casted, and it would have turned the original on its head, revealing that Rick had been a secret agent all along. But let’s get serious. What movie fan wouldn’t want to see the thriller _No Bail for the Judge_ starring Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Harvey, directed by Alfred Hitchcock? It had a dark, humorous script, and was set in Britain, to which the director wanted to return when the film was being contemplated in 1958. Both Hepburn and Hitchcock longed to work together, and it isn’t clear why it didn’t come to pass (stories clash), but perhaps Hitchcock’s tiring of big-budget Technicolor movies was part of it. What he did go on to make was the low-budget, black-and-white _Psycho_, so perhaps we should be happy that Judge never happened. There are many such contingencies here. Charlie Chaplin thought himself up to playing Napoleon in the 1920s, and even had Alistair Cooke to co-write a script. It morphed over years into a fiction project about Napoleon and his doppelganger. It never happened, but the seeds of the plot, a world leader and his double, bore fruit when Chaplin wanted to attack Hitler and anti-semitism in _The Great Dictator_ of 1940. What if Louis Malle had been a little faster in 1982 with _Moon Over Miami_, a comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, fresh off success in _The Blues Brothers_? It was a comedy based on the Abscam scandal, and had a lot going for it, except Belushi died of a cocaine and heroin overdose. Malle was to speculate that if the script had been ready, it would have saved Belushi’s life. It might have been, indeed. Orson Welles is here, over and over; he must be the patron saint of lost films. There is Kubrick’s film of Napoleon, the most heavily researched of films, and with planned thousands of soldiers fighting on the actual battlefields of history. And, golly, how I would have paid gladly to have seen Steven Spielberg’s _The Trial of the Chicago Seven_ with Sacha Baron Cohen, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Will Smith, and Kevin Spacey. Rats.

There are patterns of problems: illnesses, deaths, endless cycles of rewrites, and of course the crises of getting money. The stories are often funny, full of the foibles of players who are rich, obsessive, or egotistical. Braund has written some of the chapters here, but he has sixteen contributors and their work is surprisingly uniform and droll throughout. Each movie gets around four pages, including a tantalizing poster; these are expertly done by a crew of designers, each poster evoking the style of the time the movie would have come out. Each movie has a rating of the likelihood that it might in some form come to a theater near you some day. It’s fun to think that might happen, but for most of these films, they are irrevocably lost dreams.
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Nature's Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us About Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves
Nature's Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us About Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves
by Menno Schilthuizen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.56
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genitals and Other Previously Unappreciated Accomplishments of Evolution, May 25, 2014
Sex is one of the things we humans find really worth doing, and we will spend money, or throw away marriages, or hazard careers in its pursuit. For all its delights, complicated emotional implications, and astonishing anatomical and physiological details, though, human sex is pretty simple, compared to the examples given in _Nature’s Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us about Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves_ (Viking) by evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen. The author describes his own work with snails that not only have their shells spiraled either clockwise or counterclockwise, but have their penises spiraled in the same direction. That is, however, only a few pages within this diverting book, which intends to popularize genitalia research. We know what _Ulysses_ calls the “energetic piston and cylinder movement” involved in sex for us, but it turns out that that is just our branch of the evolutionary tree. Evolution has been at work on our genitals and those of every other animal, and it has produced some of its finest and most bizarre creations in the very organs that bring forth progeny.

It is only in the past few decades that evolutionary biologists have been looking at genitalia. Darwin, like other Victorian gentlemen, averted curiosity from the region, concentrating on the less naughty “secondary sex characteristics,” like plumage, antlers, and prongs on insects’ heads. Genitals, Darwin thought, were simply functional, accomplishing the job of inserting or accepting sperm for fertilization. It is now known that the wild varieties of genitalia have purposes far more refined than just keeping the wrong species from hooking up. Males, like the damselfly, may have penises that are shaped to expel the sperm of predecessors. One of the interesting concepts here is humping; we humans do it all the time, but animals have all sorts of ways of ejecting and injecting liquids into other animals. Indeed there are animals like the spider _Harpactea sadistica_, with male genitals that literally pierce the belly of the female to inject sperm. But coition does involve genitals moving rhythmically for sperm transfer in around three-quarters of creatures, and in some insects, even if there is no thrusting, there is throbbing of the penis. Schilthuizen says that such movements do more than just make sperm release possible; they let the male use the penis not just as a delivery nozzle but as an “internal courtship device,” whereby the knobs and grooves of his equipment best stimulate the female and influence her choice to accept him as suitor and his sperm as the ones she wants to use. Female genitalia and behavior indeed also play a role. Darwin knew how females partook of sexual selection, but they do so, too, at the tiniest anatomical levels. Some female nematodes will take on the sperm of some suitors, and then will dump it with hopes for some better guy to come along. Storing sperm from previous males is done in many species. Some crickets eventually decide that the best way to use sperm from previous encounters is to dine on it, which not only provides nutrition but also clears a space for the sperm from the next male.

Schilthuizen has just the right sense of humor in introducing us to “the animal world’s multipage sex-aid catalog.” It isn’t just anatomy; there are lots of strange behaviors, and plugs inserted by males to keep their sperm from being dumped, and hijacked hormones, and much more. The odd behaviors and anatomies are all designed to play their role in getting genes into the next generation, and we can be sure (at least in lower creatures) that it is all invigoratingly amoral. One researcher exclaimed with glee over the mating behavior of his subject sea slug, “Everything the church forbids is present in this species!” Schilthuizen has a few direct lessons for our own species as well, though he is not sure he agrees with the research that shows that human penises, like those of so many insects, have a shape to drive out previously-inserted semen from someone else. We have evolved to have sex but there are plenty of ways we have our sexual fun, and anyone who uses the internet can see how strange some of those ways of humans are. It is refreshing to see just how vanilla our activities are compared to the ducks, snails, and spiders here. This is a grand book for page after page of the “Oh, wow!” experience.


Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation
Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation
by John Sutherland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.97
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sad Elephantasia, May 20, 2014
We love elephants; think of Horton and Babar, for instance. The elephant house is one of the most visited sections of the zoo, even though the big beasts usually do nothing but stand around. Circuses give top billing of all the animals to the elephants. And because we love them so, we have done elephants little good. That sad conclusion plays throughout the specific story and the larger descriptions within _Jumbo: The Unauthorized Biography of a Victorian Sensation_ (Aurum Press) by the prolific author on Victorian themes, John Sutherland. That “unauthorized” in the title is the book’s first joke; there is much good humor on display here in a truly sad story. The second joke comes before the text, where the author tells us the book isn’t what it says on the cover, “This is not a biography of the world’s most renowned elephant, nor of its famed owners, the London Zoo and Phineas T. Barnum.” In fact, only the first half of the book deals with Jumbo himself; his sad death comes midway in the book, which thereafter covers Jumbo’s afterlife, other less famous elephants, the ivory trade, and more. Sutherland calls this an “elephantasia;” like just about everyone, he clearly loves elephants, and he has written with lightness, puns, and humor, all the while telling an infuriating story of misunderstanding and mistreatment of magnificent animals.

Jumbo was to start in zoos and graduate to the circus. He had been born around 1860 in what is now Eritrea, an orphan so early that his mother was not around to socialize him into being a proper elephant. He wound up in a zoo in Paris, and failed to prosper or make a hit with the public. At the Zoological Society of London he had at least a sympathetic keeper, Matthew Scott. This did not save him from being tormented by whip or spear, but Jumbo was more tractable when Scott was around. Scott had a fondness for the bottle, and any success he had in bonding with Jumbo or getting the elephant to do his bidding is at least partially because Jumbo got his dose, too. When Jumbo was old enough to go through the aggressiveness of hormone-driven male elephant sexuality, the zoo was eager to get rid of him, and P. T. Barnum made a timely offer. The British press milked the protests against selling Jumbo to a Yankee; even then, reader rage was encouraged to increase circulation. But a deal was a deal, and with enormous difficulty in 1882, Jumbo was crated and shipped to his new country. Jumbo was a popular circus attraction until 1885 when he and the rest of the Barnum and Bailey circus were being loaded onto train cars after a show in St. Thomas, Ontario. There was some sort of rail confusion, and a train headed for Jumbo, who for some reason, charged into it, dying instantly as his tusks were driven into his brain. It was not much of a setback for Barnum. He promptly told the papers that Jumbo had died a hero, protecting another elephant. Then Barnum had Jumbo skinned, and stuffed (with extra volume added so he would look bigger), and displayed at a quarter a view. It was a sad end to a sad life.

There is so much more sadness here. There is Topsy the elephant who in 1902 killed a drunken visitor who abused her by feeding her a lighted cigar. She had to be executed, and there was just the man to do so: Thomas Edison wanted to show the world how dangerous alternating current was, and did so by arranging Topsy’s electrocution. To make sure everyone knew that alternating current was so awful it could even kill an elephant, Edison arranged for the procedure to be filmed, and you can see it on YouTube to this day (using alternating current for your computer, of course). Another elephant was hanged for homicide (the unpleasant details of how one would hang an elephant are here). It is happier to learn about Dumbo the elephant, even if the Disney film failed because of Dumbo’s flying attack on the circus, funny enough when the film came out but not funny after Pearl Harbor a few weeks later. Sutherland’s delight in literature is on show; John Donne wrote about elephants, as did Dorothy Parker, and of course Rudyard Kipling. But so did Joseph Conrad; remember that in _Heart of Darkness_, Kurtz was an ivory hunter. And the ivory went to billiard balls and piano keys, and though we have substitutes for those now, there are still rich people who want genuine ivory tchotchkes, and don’t care about cost or elephant welfare. Humans have not played the elephants fair despite our abiding affection for the big, lumbering beasts, and _Jumbo_, for all its weird and funny and sometimes touching stories, is a sorrowful and angry book.


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