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The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution (Stonesong Press Books)
The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution (Stonesong Press Books)
by Linda R. Monk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.99
165 used & new from $1.59

70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to the Constitution, February 7, 2005
Linda R. Monk, author of _The Bill of Rights: A User's Guide_, has done an amazingly fine job with this book. If you want a one-volume introduction to the Constitution of the United States, this is it. (As a lawyer I try to keep an eye out for books I can recommend to people who want to learn how U.S. law works. This one and Jay Feinman's _Law 101_ are two of the best.)

In just over two hundred pages, Monk walks the reader through the text of the entire document (including the Bill of Rights), giving history, relevant cases, and an overview of competing interpretations. Sidebars present relevant quotations from, well, lots of people -- Charlton Heston on the Second Amendment, Ted Nugent on the importance of copyright, and tons of others. Monk makes her selections from across the political spectrum and she carefully refrains from taking sides herself. Terms that won't be familiar to the typical reader are defined in the margins.

Despite what you may have heard, her presentation is neither 'liberal' nor 'revisionist'. (For example, her presentation on the Second Amendment is nicely handled; we hear from all sides, but Monk makes clear that a federal appellate court has held that the right to bear arms is unambiguously an _individual_ right.) In fact, she does remarkably well at presenting all major points of view on each issue within a very short space, and she doesn't slight anyone; any reviewer who thinks otherwise didn't read the book very carefully (if at all).

Don't let the noise from the peanut gallery scare you off. People who don't want a 'living constitution' don't have a clue what it would be like to have a dead one. (For one thing, libertarians -- of whom I am one -- would be miserable. The police wouldn't need warrants to tap phone lines; electronic eavesdropping wasn't a 'search' until 1967, when _Katz v. U.S._ expanded the Fourth Amendment to protect us wherever and whenever we have a 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. And yes, that case is covered in here -- along with _Olmstead_, which it overruled, and _Kyllo_, which expands it to cover thermal imaging.)

Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know what the Constitution says and means. And that should include all Americans -- even the ones who already have copies of the Cato Institute's Constitution and Declaration booklet.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 29, 2012 12:38 AM PDT


Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life
Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life
by Michael Medved
Edition: Hardcover
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145 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part biography, part homily, all Medved, January 24, 2005
I have four main reasons for liking this book.

(1) I like Michael Medved. He's a personable, decent, and intelligent guy; his biography is interesting because he himself is.

(2) Having never been a leftie myself, I enjoy reading accounts by ex-lefties about how they came around to good sense. (And accounts by formerly secular-leftist Jews about how they returned to traditional observance. Medved is good buddies with Rabbi Daniel Lapin, author of _America's Real War_.)

(3) I _dis_agree with Medved often enough (he didn't like the first _Batman_ film!) that his book illustrates an important point: despite what you may have heard, the political right is as intellectually diverse as the left.

(4) Medved seems to have been present, albeit in the background, at nearly every important sociopolitical event of the last four decades. It's like _Forrest Gump_ for conservatives. Heck, he was at Yale with Bush, Kerry, Clinton, and Rodham; his personal accounts of those folks alone are worth reading whether you care about Medved himself or not.

The book itself is arranged into thirty-five 'lessons', each of which is part biography, part homily. For example, Medved launches his tale with an account of his grandparents' immigration to the U.S., but rather than just presenting biographical details, he ties it in with a short account of why he thinks the existence of the United States is divinely providential. This pattern continues throughout the book, with some chapters heavier on the biography and others almost all homiletic.

There's lots of interesting stuff packed into the cracks. You'll find out, e.g., just exactly _which_ film mentioned in _The Golden Turkey Awards_ was actually a hoax.

Medved is, of course, a well-known film critic who thinks (with good reason) that 'Hollyweird' has lost touch with American values and produces films primary to satisfy left-leaning anti-American/anti-religious critics rather than to make money. If you want to know more about his opinions, look up his online columns and read his _Hollywood vs. America_, which I reviewed some years ago.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2009 7:39 PM PDT


Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us)
Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us)
by Mona Charen
Edition: Hardcover
237 used & new from $0.01

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Good intentions' are no substitute for competence, January 24, 2005
If left-liberals really have such good intentions, then how come none of their proposed solutions ever work?

Mona Charen says, in effect, that it's for two reasons:

(1) Such liberals evaluate their efforts by intention rather than by results. They're more interested in their own moral opinion of themselves than they are in the actual well-being of the victims of their misguided 'beneficence'.

(2) Their intentions aren't all that great anyway. Self-reliance and self-responsibility are a sound and reliable moral foundation for a stable social order; compassion and soft-heartedness are not.

In order to substantiate these claims, Charen sorts through some thirty years' worth of 'social programs' drummed up by Sargent Shriver's Bleeding Hearts Club Band -- welfare, affirmative action, programs to deal with mental illness and homelessness, and so forth -- and points out just where and how they have failed. There isn't really any question that they _have_ failed, but if you require persuading on that point, Charen will oblige you.

(She also clears up lots of mysteries in the left-liberal worldview. You may have wondered, for example, why people who have never had a good word to say about traditional families suddenly start slobbering about 'family preservation' when the subject of adoption comes up. It turns out that, in this context, by 'families' they mean 'crack-addicted single mothers and their boyfriends'.)

I've got minor issues here and there. For example, I think there's some overkill in the blame-it-all-on-the-hippies department and some occasional silliness about the 'counterculture'. (Ken Kesey's _One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest_, though plausibly read as favoring some sort of reform of mental-health institutions, is hardly a manifesto for turning genuinely dangerous mental patients loose on the streets. In general, I think Charen resembles too many other current pop-conservative writers in failing to appreciate the real value of 'questioning' even if traditional 'answers' turn out to be right.) I also think she misunderstands or misrepresents Thomas Szasz a bit (and not just because she spells his name 'Szacz'). For that stuff, she loses a star. But her positive case is sound.

Despite a mild lack of appreciation for the need to limit government behavior, she also doesn't claim (as a previous reviewer suggests) that the police should be able to do whatever they want. The problem is that criminals are _let go_ when they're not properly Mirandized, or when search warrants aren't properly executed, or . . . you get the idea. If there were a feasible way to punish the police for cutting corners _without_ freeing known criminals, Charen would presumably be all for it. (And at any rate, even fans of _Miranda_ should agree that some of her examples are pretty egregious.)

A worthy follow-up to _Useful Idiots_ and a nice companion volume to Coulter's _Slander_ and _Treason_, Patterson's _Reckless Disregard_, and all your other current favorite liberals-have-it-all-wrong books.


Why Do People Hate America?
Why Do People Hate America?
by Ziauddin Sardar
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.66
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42 of 74 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stupefyingly bad, January 22, 2005
There aren't all that many things in this world that I absolutely loathe, and very nearly all of them are represented in this book. It gets two stars just because I think the authors are making a genuinely sincere attempt, however egregiously misguided, to answer their titular question. It gets no stars for anything else.

Even the question is misstated: the book should have been called _Why Do Leftist Academicians Hate America?_ Only in the first few pages do the authors even bother to cite a survey of opinions outside the U.S.; the rest of the book is delivered from their navels.

The writing is pretty uniformly horrid; the entire thing reads as though it came from the Postmodernism Generator. There's a lot of stuff about narratives, and texts that code things, and suchlike. (And they could have cut the length of the book in half by deleting every occurrence of the phrase 'as Richard Slotkin argues'.)

The content is pretty Po-Mo as well. We're repeatedly given to understand, for example, that it's a tremendous mistake for America to assume that _our_ concepts of liberty are _everyone's_ concepts of liberty -- but this weird relativism doesn't protect _us_ from the judgment that we're unambiguously wrong to make such assumptions. That's par for the Po-Mo course.

The big items on the Hate America List are hamburgers and cowboy movies. The hamburger gets a particularly vigorous workout in an extended (and badly forced) metaphor having to do with U.S. culture, or something -- but confusingly, actual hamburgers also seem to be at issue every now and then.

I like hamburgers. These authors are wrong when they say hamburgers don't have any nutritional value and aren't really food. But if people in other countries don't want to eat fast food, why, then, they don't need to. Are we seriously to believe that most of the world hates America for selling them hamburgers? Why are they buying them, then?

Plus we get all the usual uncritical acceptance of, and complaints about American indifference to, such 'threats' as global warming (which is very nearly their only example; we're constantly being told that the U.S. ignores otherwise unspecified stuff 'such as global warming'). At one point our authors seriously suggest that people living in the South American rainforest think we're hypocrites because of the way we fail to protect our own wetlands. Again, did they actually _ask_ anybody about this stuff? Does anyone really think that people living in jungles are scratching their heads trying to figure out why Americans drain swamps? (Or that the Americans who drain swamps are the _same_ Americans who fuss about preserving jungles?)

Consistency is not their strong suit. On one page they'll accuse the U.S. of thinking the entire world's interests coincide with its own, and on another they'll get mad at George W. Bush for expressly stating that he's putting America's self-interest ahead of the rest of the world's. Which is it?

And why do they just assume that it's somehow wrong for the President of the U.S. to put U.S. interests first? That's _exactly_ what I want my president to do. You go, George!

There's quite a bit of other stuff that the authors just assume is wrong (and assume we'll agree without discussion). For example, in one passage, the authors carry on at length about the tremendous size and effectiveness of the U.S. military. I was feeling pretty proud about that until I realized the authors thought it was _bad_. Not that they changed my mind or anything; it's just that, at that point, I realized they were _really_ (though not deliberately) arguing that people hate America for our virtues.

Their understanding of economics is nonexistent. They seriously contend -- you may want to sit down for this -- that the U.S. _makes other countries poor by selling them goods at low prices_. I'm not making that up. Sure, the sudden availability of cheap imported widgets may force the local widgetmaker to look for another line of work, but it frees up some of everybody else's income and thereby adds to the total wealth. By what leap of illogic do our authors expand the widgetmaker's temporary misfortune into a permanent condition of an entire community? (And they seem to think there's something indescribably malevolent about ever selling goods below their cost of production. Haven't they ever bought a remaindered book?)

In addition to being annoyed by our high standard of living, they're also pretty incensed that the U.S. refuses to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because we don't recognize a 'right to food'. That there might be a _connection_ between our belief in self-reliance and our great economic prosperity doesn't seem to occur to them; they think, in effect, that the way to keep people from drowning is to declare that everybody has a right to float.

Enough. This isn't serious analysis of anything at all. Skip it unless you want a few good laughs.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 11, 2011 7:57 AM PDT


Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics
Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics
by Linda Chavez
Edition: Hardcover
145 used & new from $0.01

19 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unions, Dems, organized crime, government, and terrorists, January 21, 2005
No, those five categories aren't equivalent. But they do overlap a lot, and after reading this book you may have trouble telling them apart.

The fact -- and it is a fact -- that unions have caused much more harm than they've cured won't be a surprise to anyone who has a practical grasp of economics. The right to bargain collectively does have some small effect, but there's probably never been a union in history that strictly limited itself to collective bargaining. (For example, unions consistently make their strikes more effective than they deserve to be by forcibly preventing 'scabs' from replacing them at the jobs they won't do. Otherwise, most 'strikes' would just be fancy ways to get fired and replaced.)

Moreover, the economic benefits that unions allegedly secure are actually achieved by the businesses themselves -- who would, and do, make them available voluntarily anyway, because businesses compete for employees even more surely than for customers. If a union ever gets employees a better deal than an employer was offering, the strong presumption is that the 'better deal' is significantly less economically feasible.

What may be news to many is the _degree_ to which unions have departed from their ostensible purpose. According to Linda Chavez and Daniel Gray (and their numerous, well-documented sources), Big Labor has gotten _way_ more out of hand than Big Business ever has. And in the process, it's become probably the single most powerful political, economic, and criminal/terrorist force behind what used to be the socialist wing, and is now the mainstream, of the Democratic Party.

Don't take my word for it; read the book. Listen, for example, to union bosses themselves argue, quite publicly, that violence against 'scabs' is justified because voluntarily doing a job that someone else won't do is itself somehow a form of 'violence'. Read the true stories of people who have been the victims of union-led beatings and even sniper attacks on the basis of such a twisted morality. (Then remember that these wackjobs are strong political supporters of the Democratic Party, and think hard about that party's claim to represent the American common man better than the GOP does.)

The chapter on the National Education Association is in some ways the most fascinating. (The NEA didn't begin life as a union, but the IRS has classified it as one for over two decades now.) Consider this argument: 'If our government-monopoly schools perform poorly, let's give them more money, and if they perform well, let's give them less money. Then they'll have plenty of incentive to improve.' If that logic sounds backwards to you, you've just understood what, in a nutshell, is wrong with the entire U.S. educational system -- and thereby demonstrated that you're smarter, in that respect, than everybody who voluntarily joins a teachers' union. You'll understand in _much_ greater detail after you read Chavez's and Gray's chapter on the NEA. (And you'll also understand why Ann Coulter opened her 28 July 2004 column as follows: 'The traditional greeting at the Democratic National Convention is, "Where do you teach?"')

Chavez and Gray document all this and more -- including unions' ties to organized crime and their undertaking of (uniformly far-left) political activity far beyond the scope of their representation in collective bargaining (and for that matter with no regard for the actual political views of their members). There's also a catchall chapter explaining the ill economic effects of unionization in general and documenting the fact that 'right-to-work' states enjoy better economic health than forced-unionism states.

Even people who have long known of the dangers posed by unions will profit immensely from this exposé of American Big Labor.


Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our Security
Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our Security
by Robert Patterson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.84
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who really want peace, January 14, 2005
'[P]eace does not keep itself,' Lt. Col. Robert 'Buzz' Patterson (USAF, ret.) writes; 'conflict is prevented by vigilance and strength, not by appeasement and weakness.' No, might doesn't make right, but on the other hand right _without_ might isn't going to be very effective.

That's an extraordinarily simple point, isn't it? But how thoroughly it's been lost on Patterson's targets (and critics).

That simple point explains why national security is such an important issue, and why it _should_ be an important issue _especially_ to those who love freedom and peace. Without such security (and in particular without a competent and powerful military), our free and peaceful way of life wouldn't survive more than a few hours.

And yet, as Patterson shows, the U.S.'s Democratic leadership for the past thirty-odd years has systematically weakened our national security (again, specifically, our military, but other books show the same thing about e.g. our intelligence capabilities).

There are a couple of eye-opening chapters about the snooty bundle of self-absorption who calls himself John Forbes Kerry, but they're still well worth reading now that the election is over. (For one thing the man might, God help us, try to run again.) And the rest of the book is about other stuff, dating back to the Vietnam era.

You may find bits and pieces to disagree with. But bear in mind that all of Patterson's criticisms center on exactly one point: military preparedness. As with anything else, there are competing ends to balance and tradeoffs are inevitable. If, for example, you think he's mistaken on environmental issues, ask yourself whether you'd rather have your nation defended by the armed forces or by the spotted owl.

Patterson does an excellent job of explaining why the President -- who is, after all, commander in chief of the armed forces -- has to be someone that soldiers can respect. He shows in detail why George W. Bush _is_ such a person (and why Kerry, like so many other left-liberals, is not). But 2004 wasn't our last election for all time, and this will be good stuff to remember in 2008.

Patterson is also extremely effective as an antidote to left-liberal propaganda. He is, for example, at pains to point out that military folks are not 'warmongers'. He also acknowledges that people serving in our armed forces do occasionally commit heinous acts, as a few did at the Abu Ghraib prison. But unlike Saddam Hussein (who did far worse there than those 'idiots' -- that's what Patterson calls them -- ever did) the military _punishes_ such acts (and indeed was already investigating the Abu Ghraib stuff before Seymour Hersh 'broke' the story). These things aren't U.S. policy and indeed are violations of both our policy and our law; the left is just wrong, and culpably so, to contend that the actions of a few at Abu Ghraib somehow make the U.S. morally equivalent to the despotic regime our military has removed from power in Iraq.

(Incidentally, Patterson also devotes a few pages to discrediting Richard Clarke, the noisy and self-important little poltroon who wrote _Against All Enemies_. As I said in my review of that unbook -- which now has more 'not helpful' votes on it than nearly any other review I've ever posted here since I began reviewing in 1998 -- Clarke is a fraud and Patterson has his number.)

If you're the sort of jerk who thinks there's something noble and cool about spitting on soldiers, then skip this book; you're part of the problem and Patterson's not going to fix you. But if you're anybody else, Patterson will have _something_ to say that you'll think is true and important.


Rush in Rio
Rush in Rio
Offered by megahitrecords
Price: $26.99
64 used & new from $3.55

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A three-hour celebration, January 13, 2005
This review is from: Rush in Rio (Audio CD)
Call them the Grateful Living.

For almost entirely opposite reasons, Neil Peart and Robert Hunter are two of my favorite rock lyricists, and Rush and the Dead are two of my favorite bands. The contrasts between them are obvious, but one thing they have in common is that each of them has deliberately attempted, with at least intermittent success, to achieve a measure of self-transcendence through their music.

The difference is that whereas the Dead tried to do it through 'ego-death' (aided by under-the-counter pharmaceuticals that in several cases helped to render them biologically dead as well), Rush does it consciously, intellectually, and 'individualistically', keeping their egos intact, healthy, and sane in the process. (And not coincidentally, their songs themselves tend to involve themes like individual liberty and responsibility, self-reliance, intellectual achievement, the extreme coolness of technology, and admiration for competence and innovation.)

That's one of many reasons why it's fascinating to listen to this CD of their concert in Rio de Janeiro. In this blistering show, they extend their ego-preserving self-transcendence to a crowd of 40,000. Everyone participates, and all of them become 'part of something bigger' without loss to themselves. And you can _hear_ it -- and get involved in it yourself -- because the recording engineers were careful to leave _in_ the sounds of the audience. They're very much a part of the show, and their participation is a vivid reply to the anti-intellectual folks in the peanut gallery who for so long have criticized Rush's music as 'intellectual' and 'soulless'.

I've written in other reviews that even at their 'proggiest', Rush have always managed to keep their music accessible and engaging to even the casual listener. Nothing brings that point home like listening to them perform two of their best-known (and musically difficult) instrumentals ('YYZ' and 'La Villa Strangiato') with forty thousand crazy Brasileiros _singing along_ as though the guys were playing 'Margaritaville'.

The musical performances at this show are good, too -- in some cases magisterial. (I particularly like these versions of 'Red Sector A', 'Dreamline', 'Driven', 'The Pass', 'Bravado', and 'Roll the Bones', which are among my favorite Rush songs anyway. And of course the _Vapor Trails_ stuff was still fresh at the time of this recording.) There's a lovely acoustic version of 'Resist' and some hilarious musical comedy during 'La Villa Strangiato' as Alex cuts up. (At one point Geddy and Neil even perform a brief excerpt from 'The Girl from Ipanema'.)

Be prepared for some of their older material to sound a wee bit different from their versions on _All the World's A Stage_: Alex plays these with his current wall-of-noise guitar sound, and a couple of early pieces (notably '2112', from which they perform 'Overture' and 'The Temples of Syrinx') have been dropped a step and a half so that Geddy doesn't have to reach for those high notes. They're still _good_; they just don't sound exactly like they did when I was in junior high.

(Also be careful with the cardboard CD cover. As other reviewers have noted, taking the CDs in and out of the sleeves can scratch them. You may want to buy jewel cases for these.)

This is a great show and a really good recording of it. Recommended to all Rush fans.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 22, 2007 7:08 PM PDT


Infinite Minds: A Philosophical Cosmology
Infinite Minds: A Philosophical Cosmology
by John Leslie
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from $21.08

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pantheistic cosmology, January 12, 2005
John Leslie may be familiar to readers either through his own work or through J.L Mackie's _The Miracle of Theism_. In the latter, Mackie presented Leslie's 'axiarchism' (essentially, the view that the cosmos exists because it's good that it do so) as a plausible alternative to traditional theism (though an alternative that Mackie himself rejected because he disbelieved in the objectivity of 'value' anyway).

In fact it's not really an 'alternative' to theism; more correctly, it's one possible philosophical understanding _of_ traditional theism, a point Leslie acknowledges here.

In this lucidly written and well-argued volume, Leslie presents his more or less neoplatonic/Spinozistic outlook in accessible terms (updating the version he expounded in _Value and Existence_) and replies to various objections to its plausibility.

His theory can be summarized in two major theses. (a) Everything we mean by 'the universe' simply _is_ the thought of a divine mind. Every object in the universe is either an object of divine thought, or (in the case of conscious beings like ourselves) a portion or subsystem of the divine mind itself. (This 'or' is not exclusive; you and I may well be both such objects and such subsystems.) (b) This divine mind (or perhaps an infinite number of such minds) exists because it's _good_ that it should do so -- i.e., that there should be a mind that, in some relevant sense, 'knows everything worth knowing'. Its existence is one case in which a fundamental sort of 'ethical requiredness' has the power to bring the 'required' state of affairs into being.

For some reason these two theses don't seem as intuitively plausible to everyone as they do to me. So Leslie raises and meets objection after objection in an effort to show how plausible they really are. (Some of the objections are based on recherche topics in set theory, quantum physics, and other such fields, so readers without much philosophical sophistication should be prepared to work a bit. But Leslie's explanations are both clear and self-contained.)

Of course he doesn't remove all controversy (and doesn't claim to; he puts even the strength of his own belief in (b) at better than 50% but far short of certainty). But he does meet quite a lot of nontrivial objections. (And of course he's right that very few questions of philosophical interest have answers that are 'provable' in any strong sense anyway.)

Strictly speaking, one could accept one of his theses but not the other. But Leslie also shows how they're related to each other -- i.e., why the creative-power-of-value argument makes better sense on a pantheistic cosmology and vice versa. (A crucial claim here -- and one that Leslie supports at length -- is the claim that only minds and 'mental stuff' could have a certain requisite sort of unity.)

I won't try to summarize his arguments here; I'll just recommend them to readers who can profit from clear and nuanced philosophical exposition. I think both theses are sound -- and although I was already a panentheist/panpsychist before I read this book, Leslie has given me a lot of additional food for thought. (By the way, Leslie refers to his own theory not as 'panentheism' but as 'pantheism'. I hope we never meet, or we'll have a very boring argument.)

If you like it, you might also check out Timothy Sprigge's _The Vindication of Absolute Idealism_, which is the one that sold me.


State of Fear
State of Fear
by Michael Crichton
Edition: Hardcover
1089 used & new from $0.01

36 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crichton strikes again, January 10, 2005
This review is from: State of Fear (Hardcover)
Geez. A novel with footnotes and a bibliography?

Yes indeed, and the references alone will justify your buying your own copy of this novel rather than just checking it out of the library or borrowing someone else's. Michael Crichton has done his usual excellent job of research, and he's provided sources so that his reader can check his work. (Readers already familiar with the quasi-religious twitchiness of environmentalists on the non-subject of 'global warming' won't be surprised to see the names of Peter Huber and Bjorn Lomborg. But there's _lots_ of other stuff here.)

So it makes the novel a little didactic. (All right, a lot didactic.) Crichton on a soapbox is still Crichton, and he's just as enjoyable to read when -- as here -- he's writing a novel with a clear moral. Since in this case the moral is controversial, he's backed it up with relevant nonfiction.

The moral is essentially that stated by W.K. Clifford over a century ago: 'It is wrong, everywhere and always, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.' And part of what makes it wrong is that when unfounded ideas take hold, people tend to die. When the rubber meets the road, 'caring' and 'good intentions' are irrelevant; intelligence, competence, and knowledge are what matter. Well-meant ignorance is still ignorance, and its victims are still dead. (Go tell the families of the millions killed by malaria that you 'meant well' when you supported the banishing of DDT in the face of an unsubstantiated cancer scare.)

You might expect the plot of the novel to be secondary to the 'lesson'. But it's not; the plot is actually quite engaging and the story is well told. (I read the entire novel in one day because I couldn't put it down.) The meat of it (which is all I'm going to tell you about) is a plan by environmental crazies to cause a few eco-disasters to make the world take their theories more seriously. There's a lot of gripping action, some cool technology, and the occasional bit of thoroughly horrifying gruesomeness. (And since Crichton is working with an ensemble cast here, you never know in advance who will live and who will die. There's no guarantee that _any_ single character will make it to the end of the book.) The characterization isn't much to speak of, but the major characters are drawn with sufficiently bold strokes to be recognizable and consistent.

There's no doubt, though, that the drama is structured around the lessons. For example, there are several passages (these are the ones with all the footnotes) in which one of the characters (John Kenner) engages in conversation with believers in 'global warming', scoring point after point; here the sole dramatic satisfaction is watching Crichton wipe the floor with fuzzy-minded environmentalists through a character who has done his homework and has a clear sense of the need to balance competing ends against one another.

Of course the novel is guaranteed to irk the real-life counterparts of those fuzzy-minded environmentalists. But that's just a side effect (though a pleasant one). The real point is to subject their claims to the rigors of scientific scrutiny.

Great stuff. If you like Crichton, you'll really like this one.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 26, 2008 9:45 AM PST


Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only
Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only
by Shel Silverstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.37
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wickedly funny, January 5, 2005
You surely don't need me to introduce you to the late Sheldon Allan Silverstein. Even if you're not aware that he wrote the lyrics to e.g. 'A Boy Named Sue' and 'Cover of the Rolling Stone', you've undoubtedly at least heard of _The Giving Tree_ and _Where the Sidewalk Ends_ and _A Light in the Attic_ and _Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back_ and _The Missing Piece_ and . . .

You probably don't need me to introduce you to this wickedly hilarious and subversive book, either. It's one of the most side-splitting things Silverstein ever wrote, and if you know who he was, you've probably heard of it. It's brilliant, and it's guaranteed -- maybe even deliberately designed -- to annoy the sort of person who says 'I have a sense of humor, but'. (Which always, _always_ translates to 'I don't have a sense of humor'. You can take that to the bank.)

But if you don't yet have your own copy, you might be put off by the fact that the new edition's title says it's for 'adults only'. That's misleading; in fact it's almost exactly the reverse of the truth. There's no 'adult material' in the entire book -- just some stuff that might be a little risky for kids too young or unsophisticated to understand the jokes.

But the jokes are most definitely for kids -- even really tall, forty-plus ones like me. Do you know any 'adults' who would be amused at the sly hint that you should give Daddy a haircut while he naps because, having spent all his money on toys and oatmeal for _you_, 'poor poor poor poor Daddy' can't afford to go to a barber? Or who would laugh uncontrollably at the suggestion that if you tell the kidnapper your daddy has a lot of money, maybe he'll let you ride in his really keen fast car?

'Adults only', my tochis. Kids understand this humor _way_ better than 'adults' do; any grownup who laughs at it is really a great big kid. I'm giving a copy to one of my daughters for her birthday, with strict instructions not to show it to my wife. [Later note: Her reaction when I gave it to her was to laugh herself silly on every page and say repeatedly, 'That is _so_ wrong.']

Kids are nowhere near as touchy about this dark-humored stuff as 'adults' are. When I was a toddler, my parents used to sing me a cute little song about chopping me up for kindling wood; I don't think I suffered any emotional scars. And most 'nursery rhymes' -- not to mention fairy tales -- are bloodthirsty horror stories. When most kids find out what 'Ring Around the Rosey' is _really_ about, they think it's _cool_.

Your own kids' chances of keeping their sense of humor into 'adulthood' increase immeasurably if they have a copy of this book to help them. Give it to them at once. No loving parent subjects a child to an unnecessary risk of maturity.
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