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This book is about US history, both recent and early. It is not a single narrative, but an anthology of topics. The unifying theme is that all topics discussed in the book have been used as pro-government propaganda, but Woods interprets them all very differently from the view most have heard. The robber barons, the George Bush bubble, the military industrial complex all have a place here.
Some interesting things I learned from this book:
Certainly the most eye-opening thing for me was the analysis of the military-industrial complex and how it diverts American engineers from working on useful projects. Even a "small" military budget of 4% of GDP can have a huge effect on the price of engineers. The "mere" 4% figure actually hides an enormous cost to the economy because of the number of engineers drawn away from useful work. The argument that so much innovation in industry comes ultimately out of the military seems a lot less convincing when you realize that American industry might have twice the number of engineers available if it were not for the military in the first place!
Woods argues persuasively that repealing the Glass-Stegal act was such a minor change that it had nothing to do with the 2008 crash. I had previously accepted the argument that this change worsened the crash because it "deregulated" banks while still guaranteeing them under FDIC. However, the US was the only country ever to separate investment and commercial banking as Glass-Stegal did, so there is no particular reason to think that this change could be the cause of the housing bubble.
Although the book is clearly marketed towards conservatives, you certainly aren't going to become more conservative when you read it. Rather, you will become more radically anti government. At the end of the book, Woods advocates not only nullification, but also secession, agorism, and the Free State Project! This would be a great book to give to some of your tea party friends, but I would recommend it to anyone who still believes government action rescued America from its social and economic problems in the past.
First off, I agree with everything that the previous reviewer said, but would like to add some more information about how much you should NOT buy the BiblioLife edition of this book.
My major complaint is that the book is, in fact, in complete. The BiblioLife edition includes only volume 1 of what was originally published in 2 volumes. Other editions available at Amazon.com include the full text of the book, whereas this one is only the first half. Nothing on the cover indicates that it is incomplete, so it's worse than just a poor-quality book; it's more like fraud.
Another notable flaw is that all footnotes are gone without a trace. I have just received another edition of this book and it is FULL of footnotes written by the author. Under no circumstances whatsoever should you buy the BiblioLife edition of this book.
Bastiat deserves to be considered the greatest economic writer in history. His writing is so lively, so energetic that it grabs you instantly. He is the master of illustrating economic principles with fables: his "broken window" fable is so well-known in the free market camp that whenever anyone ignores opportunity costs we all call it the "broken window fallacy". His characterization of protective tariffs as a kind of "negative railroad" also deserves mention.
I must respectfully disagree with a previous reviewer about the usefulness of volume 2, which contains "Economic Harmonies." Although the fables, pamphlets, and other short works from volume 1 are indisputable classics of economic literature, Economic Harmonies is a real masterpiece. Over and over as I read it, I was struck by how modern it seemed, how many issues it discusses that I talk about all the time! People have been making the same economic fallacies since the beginning of history and Bastiat refutes them all in a manner that is so devastating and so compelling that I could hardly recommend a better introduction to economics than Economic Harmonies.
By the way, this entire series is available as a free pdf download from the Mises Institute.
This is a comic novel about many, many things. There are several interrelated plots going on all at once. There is too much to summarize, but everything is constructed around the theme of the doppleganger. There are many doubles in this book--people who look alike, people who take on one another's identity, people who complement and supplement each other in various ways--and all the subplots look at the double from a different angle.
The humor of this novel is based around absurd characters and bizarre plot twists. However, no matter how ridiculous things get, Truss's characters remain in the moment and true to their natures. Because of this, the story did not strain my suspension of disbelief. To the end I felt invested in the characters. This is what makes the jokes funny and keeps the plot twists interesting.
What makes this book truly memorable is that this tangle of plot twists is all constructed around a theme. Thus, the surprises, while still unexpected, never seem arbitrary. Instead, they all seem perfectly natural, exactly as they should be. Everything seems part of a unified whole, and each twist seems to reveal more of it.
Social Statics is Spencer's great work on sociology and ethics. First, A word about the title: "social statics" is Spencer's term for "equilibrium analysis." Hence, this book is about long-term responses to incentives and the final results of different kinds of policies. Spencer had planned to write another book going beyond equilibrium analysis, which would have been called "Social Dynamics", but he never got around to it. This book is written in a provocative style full of wit and satire, and I would absolutely recommend it to everyone with an interest in political philosophy.
Social Statics is a powerful defense of political libertarianism, which is a political philosophy founded on the principle that the initiation of aggression is always wrong, whether by private individuals or the government. Spencer develops this principle, which he calls the "divine idea", by emphasizing that people pursue happiness by controlling their environment--by maintaining relationships with people they like, and by acquiring the material things that enable them to enjoy life--and in order for this to be possible for everyone, people must respect one another and allow them the liberty to arrange their own property as they see fit. He then goes on, through the rest of the book a social policy which violates it produces adverse incentives that inhibit human happiness, especially in the long-term.
One of the outstanding sections in this book is the one on colonialism. Spencer takes an extremely harsh stance against it and demonstrates in numerous ways how colonialism is harmful both to the oppressors and the oppressed. He first discusses a justification of colonialism provided by contemporary theories which held, absurdly, that the British economy was somehow too productive and would collapse if the government did not aggressively establish new markets abroad. Spencer shows that these doctrines are simply the cover story of special interests that benefit from the subjugation of foreign people.
Another section I greatly enjoyed was that concerning women. Spencer is adamant that women have precisely the same rights as men and he argues this thesis along two fronts: he first disputes evidence given by other contemporary writers that women are mentally inferior to men. This is where Spencer's satire comes out most strongly. He then argues that the divine idea apples to all people regardless of whether a difference of intelligence can be found between two groups. Spencer also argues strongly for the rights of children, who still even today are in many ways treated as slaves. He therefore supports the right of children to run away from home and attempt to make their own way in the world, and he opposes mandatory school attendance laws.
The biggest flaw in this book is Spencer's adoption of Henry George's theory of land-ownership. Spencer believes that it is impossible to homestead land. He argues that no amount of labor is able to remove land from nature, and anyone who uses land exclusively does so at the consent of the community as a whole. He even goes so far as to advocate George's 100% tax on the unimproved value of land! Economically, such a tax would have disastrous consequences: since no profit could be obtained from land, no land owner has the incentive to apportion land to its most productive, most profitable uses. Land, then, would tend to be used for totally inappropriate uneconomical purposes. One other inconsistency in Spencer's program is that he believes reputations can be owned and therefore that anti-slander laws are acceptable.
Let me conclude with a few words concerning Spencer's relationship to social Darwinism. Although Spencer is considered to be the founder of social Darwinism, his views are very different from how social Darwinism is generally understood. First, it is generally understood today that Spencer's ideas of evolution were not strongly influenced by Darwin and, although rather idiosyncratic, are more closely related to Lamarckianism. Spencer does not properly distinguish between people who respond to incentives because they learn to change their behavior and people who respond to incentives because new generations are born with different innate behaviors. For example, Spencer would say that a free market encourages people to become more entrepreneurial, creative, and self-reliant; many modern economists would agree with him, but whereas a modern economist would say that people change simply because they tend to learn which behaviors are more effective, Spencer would say that people change, at least in part, because their struggles result in children who are innately more attuned to overcome those same struggles. Spencer's evolutionism can be happily disgarded without altering most of his conclusions--in fact they would be much stronger without them. It is a general fact of economics that people respond to incentives, and there is no need to assume that this happens for hereditary reasons.
Second, despite having coined the phrase "survival of the fittest", Spencer does not advocate the extermination of poor people or that poor people should be ignored while they die of starvation. Rather, he believes that evolutionary considerations show that charity--both public and private--ultimately is harmful to poor people. A system of charity, he believed, necessarily would lead to a class of dependent poor incapable of surviving on their own. On the other hand, in a society that restrains itself from too much charity, the poor would soon learn how to become wealthy on their own. The result would be a happier and wealthier society. This does not require that poor people die off, only that their behaviors improve with successive generations. Thus, Spencer's views on charity should be seen as more like modern objectivists than what today we call social Darwinism.
Spencer advocated no caste system, no systematic discrimination against any group, and no restrictions on intermarriage. He believed that all people could improve no matter what their ancestry and a system which encouraged improvement--the free market--would bring about that improvement. It was not until Spencer's ideas were selectively appropriated by the statists of his day that the horrors we now associate with social Darwinism--Naziism and the eugenics movement of the American and British progressives--came about. Spencer has been unfairly lumped together with these groups.
I conclude by pointing out that although a large part of this review discusses Spencer's views on race and charity, these topics only occupy a small fraction of the book. For the most part, Social Statics is a consistent and humanitarian defense of libertarian ethics.
This is a vast collection of myths from around the world. There are sections on classical, European, Egyptian, African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian, and American mythology. It's enormous, both in physical size and in the amount of material included. The variety and beauty of the images included in this book is breathtaking. The authors have selected masterpieces by famous artists both ancient and modern, classic illustrations from 19th and 20th century books, outstanding art created by members of the cultures that believed these myths, and even some archeological that help give the stories some context. And just in case it is not already clear, this book is BIG. It is perfect as a coffee table book--virtually impossible to stop flipping through!
In addition to the images, the great value of this book is in the huge variety of stories that have been included. It is the most comprehensive book on world mythology that I have seen. You can find a selection of important stories from just about anywhere in this book. The writing style is good and readable, but not overly witty or memorable--about what you might expect from a book written by a committee.
My only criticism of this book is that ancient Greece is given an unnecessarily large proportion of the book. Ancient Greek mythology takes up roughly 1/3 of the book. It is of course appropriate that Greece should get the lion's share of material both because the Greek myths are the most well-preserved of any body of mythology and also because they have been more influential to the culture for whom this book was intended, but even still, I find the Greek bias to be excessive. The Greek section includes virtually all the stories that have been preserved, other mythologies are related with selections of stories rather than comprehensively. For example, the section on Norse mythology was egregiously short. The ancient Sanskrit epics, the Mahaburata and the Ramayana, are not related with the same level of detail as are the Iliad and Odyssey. I wouldn't want to see the Greek section cut down; what they ought to have done is to make the book several hundred pages longer so as to retell the mythologies of other cultures at the same level of detail.
My criticisms only show this book to be insufficient to satisfy all mythology needs--but this is not true of any book on any topic! Overall, I would recommend this book unhesitatingly to anyone with a strong interest in world mythology.
This is a book on applied theoretical biology which exhorts science fiction writers and other creators of imaginary worlds to develop more realistic biology for their alien life. However, although the book contains many interesting tidbits and tips to this purpose, there is little systematic practical advice on how to imagine realistic biology. The book does not seem to follow any coherent plan and is instead very discursive and unsystematic. A practical guide to imagining realistic alien life ought to include topics such as the following:
* Possible settings for life to originate, possible bases for biological chemistry in each of these, limitations to expand into other environments.
* Detailed discussions of known environments in the solar system, especially those with enough interesting chemistry that life is conceivable.
* Theoretical discussion of biological niches and strategies appropriate to different circumstances.
* In particular, a discussion of evolutionary psychology and its implications for an intelligent species for many different biological niches. For example, what sorts of things might the members of an intelligent eusocial species find to be pleasurable? What internal conflicts would characterize them?
Although this book discusses these topics, they are not developed in a comprehensive or systematic way and really serve only to tantalize the reader without giving him much that he can really use. Instead, the authors spend lots of space criticizing the alien life of famous science fiction stories without relating them to enough theoretical knowledge that the reader could generalize from these specific cases. For example, they criticize the xenomorph from the movie Alien for having teeth. This they consider implausible because teeth only evolved once in Earth's history, whereas many other strategies for grasping and disintegrating food at the start of the digestive system have evolved in other Earth lineages. Therefore, we would expect aliens not to have teeth but to have their own original mouth parts that may not look like anything familiar. In the first place, this criticism contains no real advice on imagining realistic alien mouths, other than that they should not have teeth, and second, it strikes me that Alien would not have been nearly as horrifying and memorable if the xenomorph did not have teeth. The image of a toothy maw strikes ancient parts of human psychology. We have evolved to find teeth fearsome and a more realistic alien would not have been able to achieve the same effect.
Some things discussion I found interesting were the authors' arguments on the abundance of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence. They authors argue that the number of physical processes which could support a mechanism for homeostasis and heredity is likely to be truly vast, far larger than can possibly be imagined. Hence, life should be expected in environments very dissimilar from those familiar to us on Earth. I find these arguments to be plausible. The authors also argue that intelligence, as a strategy for propagation, is so monumentally effective that intelligence should be expected to arise inevitably where ever life has arisen. On Earth, the events that lead to the development of life and to the evolution of intelligence may seem to involve many extraordinarily unlikely coincidences, but the authors have an answer to this. They argue that since we have an extremely limited knowledge of the kinds of environments that can support life, there is no way to know whether any of these coincidences was really necessary or that, without them, some very different form of life might have arisen. Any planet which supports life is likely to appear to have extraordinary coincidences in its past, but these may just as well be seen simply as causes leading to the form life presently takes. However, the authors' faith in the inevitable evolution of intelligence, I suspect, is a lot less meaningful than it may sound at first. Since they give no limit on how long it might take for intelligence to evolve, it may be that in most real circumstances a planet might have to support life far longer than any star or other energy source might last.
There is also a discussion on Creationism with refutations of some creationist arguments, but there are many better sources on this topic elsewhere. Discussions like these generally come as random digressions that do not form any overarching argument. Although this book contains some interesting discussions, I do not think they make the book a worthwhile read.
This remarkable and fascinating book integrates knowledges from geology, chemistry, biology, and astronomy make a comprehensive history of our planet. Although the book is only around 300 pages, the pages are large with two columns of text so the book is actually much longer and more detailed than it may appear. This is a book for people who really want to understand the science of geology, rather than just read a popular presentation. The sheer breadth of knowledge included in it is amazing.
The book begins with the formation of Earth by accretion and hypothesizes briefly concerning the mysterious Hadean eon, then delves into the Archaen eon, including the formation of the moon, the formation of early continents, the chemical processes of bacteria, and the great oxygen catastrophe. Alongside the history of the Proterozoic eon is an excellent theoretical discussion of plate tectonics and the development of different kinds of mountains and other geological features. In general this book contains a lot of theoretical material that is very helpful in understanding the historical material. About half the book is devoted to the Phanerozoic eon even though this eon lasts only roughly 1/10 the history of the Earth. This is due to the Phanerozoic being better understood than previous eons and more also relevant to us--the development of modern animal and plant life took place during this time, after all!
The history of life on Earth is presented from a geological perspective. This is necessary of course because in 1993, reconstructing history by DNA analysis was very primitive. I would have liked to have seen more on the history of life, but that is just my particular prejudice. The reader would benefit from supplementing this book with some modern sources, but all in all it is a great science book.
This book was published in 1993 so unfortunately it is a bit dated. It fails to include the "snowball Earth" hypothesis, now considered to be so important for the development of modern life! The giant impact hypothesis was not the dominant explanation for the K-T extinction event it is today, so it is not presented in much detail here. This is probably the most well-known event in the history of Earth for a reader today.
Alcoholism researchers believe that roughly 10% of people in the U.S. have alcoholism, but I doubt that the proportion of people among your aquaintances whom you know to have alcoholism is anywhere near that figure. This is because most alcoholics are hidden and--they are not the steriotypical smelly old man passed out in an alleyway, but the people around us, and may be young, successful, and attractive.
These people are alcoholics because their behavior changes when they drink, and they become manipulative, spiteful, reckless, or other dangerous things. This sort of behavior, obviously, is dangerous not only to oneself, but to everyone nearby.
Given that alcoholism is so common, we are all put in danger every day of being hurt by an alcoholic, be it a friend or family member who betrays us, a scammer who takes our money, an authority figure who toys with us, or a drunk driver on the road.
This book provides the tools to see the danger in these people so that we can avoid them at the smallest risk to ourselves. It teaches to take little clues seriously, like belittling others or having a big ego, because these may be evidence of much worse. This knowledge is likely to be useful to everyone in any number of circumstances--will this person make a good lover? are my chilren doing what they say they are? will this person be a loyal employee? will this person pay back his loan?
This book is of great practical value, but I think, too, that people will find emotional release from reading the book as well. Because alcoholism is so common, most people have been hurt by an alcoholic but often do not understand what happened. They may even blame themselves. This book will help those people to understand what happened to them and how they can avoid being hurt in the future.
Some previous reviewers have complained of Mr. Thorburn's lack of credentials. I do not think that is particularly worrysome--the premise of the book, that we may recognize alcoholism by bad behavior more easily than by evidence of excess drinking, is sound and follows from a few basic facts about alcoholism: alcholism is very common, and alcoholism causes bad behavior. There may be an other explanation for a person's bad behavior, but since alcoholism is so common, it's the most likely.
Some of the clues listed in this book are based more on the author's experience than on hard scientific data. This is a problem with the book, but not one that could be avoided--the studies just have not been done yet. Because the book aligns well with my own experience of alcoholism, I would be surprised if the very much of this book is overturned in the light of future study, but a lot more work needs to be done.
Alcoholism Myths and Realities contains and refutes over 100 incorrect statements about alcoholism, some of which you have probably said yourself. The two primary themes of this book are (1) alcoholism is caused by biology rather than environment or bad morals, and (2) alcoholism can explain a great deal, perhaps most, of the misbehaviors we observe in people around us.
Even when alcoholism is obvious to all, people often do not identify alcoholism as the cause of the alcoholic's other misbehaviors, but instead take both to be manefestations of some immorality. However, the biology of alcoholism shows us that some people are born with livers that process alcohol differently than most people do, and consequently are able to build up a much higher concentration of toxic chemicals in their brains before they feel sick. These chemicals shut down and eventually damage the neocortex of the brain, leaving nothing to moderate the instinctive, aggressive impulses of the limbic system. With this in mind, it makes more sense to assume that the alcoholism is the cause of misbehaviors, rather than another kind of misbehavior.
If someone repeatedly misbehaves but alcoholism is not obvious, it still makes sense to assume that alcoholism is the cause of these misbehaviors. For one thing, it gives that person the benefit of the doubt, and for another, 10% of people in the US are alcoholics, so you have a pretty good chance of being correct anyway. It may seem strange to suggest alcoholism for someone who may be young, charming, successful, or even idolized by millions; this confusion is resolved when it is understood that alcoholism is a progressive disease. It can take decades for chemical dependancy to develop to such a degree that the alcoholic can no longer hold a job or put up appearances of leading a healthy life. Before this, he likely would have been drinking copiously for many years but was able to keep his excessive use hidden. (Sometimes the distinction is made between "alcoholics" and "alcohol abusers", based on whether or not there is a chemical dependancy on alcohol, but these are really the same people in different stages of the disease.)
When alcoholics drink, however, their behavior in ALL stages of the disease is characterized by reckless, cruel, or destructive misbehaviors, whereas when nonalcoholics drink, their behavior is not. Doug Thorburn shows that an astonishing variety of misbehaviors are associated with alcoholism. Not only were most cult leaders, serial killers, and mass murderers alcoholics (including political tyrants such as Peter the Great and Joseph Stalin), but alcoholism is also common among con men, embezzelers, politicians, racists, and ordinary violent criminals. It is estimated that 80% to 90% of incarcerated prisoners, as well as perhaps 50% of the prison guards, may be alcoholics. Alcoholism is also more common among policemen, doctors, lawers, and actors.
This and other of Doug Thorburn's writings have changed the way I look at the world. What previously appeared to be a disturbing abberation, an incomprehensible contradiction, a motiveless malignancy now seems a perfectly understandable effect of alcoholism. I know how to avoid a great danger--alcoholics are far more damaging to their friends and family than most people realize. Finally, I know not to deny or apologize for bizarre behaviors in my personal and political allies and to see such behaviors for what they are.