Monthly Archives: July 2014

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes…

Most of the historical categories we consider – indeed most of the categories we consider – are constructs of the classification mad nineteenth century. Take, for instance, the Renaissance – nineteenth century rationalist were required to posit that the Enlightenment [another construct] existed and if it was to be a great period of learning the knowledge had to come from somewhere so voila we have the Renascence [as it was first called before French affectations became de rigueur], the rebirth of learning that precedes the Enlightenment. Never mind that all of the learning discovered by the Enlightenment had been known and preserved by the monastic traditions of the Age of Faith that had now become the Dark Ages – who tells the story is often more important than the facts.

Most of our introduction to the classical world came from collections like the Harvard Classics that tried to present enough of Plato, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius reinforced by Cicero and Pliny that confirmed that the Classical World had been composed of a serious gentlemen who were remarkably Victorian in their outlook – no small feat when presenting the ideas of Montaigne and Schiller – but this was a world in which my classics professor used to take us through Ovid by saying, “well there is no need to translate THAT passage.”

The reality of course is that the classical world was pagan and other than a few random tribes wandering through the desert did not even have the teachings of the prophets to guide them. The true enlightenment would come with the introduction of Christianity which is first and foremost a system that grants man dignity by making him part of God’s creation and frees him from the whim and caprice of paganism. What Mount is actually describing is the decline of Christianity and the resurgence of paganism in the modern world. It will not end with reasoned discourse by wise men strolling through a Pantheon. It is ending with planes screaming from the skies in flames and the children who were not flushed down a medical drain while still in their fetal stage wearing suicide vests into crowded markets. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Full circle : how the classical world came back to us Ferdinand Mount London; New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010 Hardcover. 1st ed., later printing. 438 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

So much about the society that is now emerging in the twenty-first century bears an astonishing resemblance to the most prominent features of what we call the classical world – its institutions, its priorities, its entertainment, its physics, its sexual morality, its food, its politics, even its religion.

The ways in which we live our lives correspond – almost eerily so – to the ways in which the Greeks and Romans lived theirs. Whether we are eating and drinking, bathing or exercising or making love, pondering, admiring or enquiring, our habits of thought and action, our diversions and concentrations recreate theirs. It is as though the 1500 years after the fall of Rome had been time out from traditional ways of being human.

This eye-opening book makes us look afresh at who we are and how we got here. Full Circle is profound and often disquieting. Ferdinand Mount peels back 2000 years of history to show how much we are like the ancients, how in ways both trivial and crucial we are them and they are us.

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No one has done more to prevent conflict – no one has made a greater sacrifice for the cause for Peace – than you, America’s proud submarine family. You stand tall among our heroes of the Cold War… Colin Powell

The hunter hunted : submarine versus submarine : encounters from World War I to the present Robert C. Stern London : Chatham, 2007 Hardcover. vi, 248 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., 1 map, 1 port. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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Submariners like to say that at sea there are only two kinds of vessel: submarines and targets. From their inception submarines have been hunters, and for much of their history they have been extremely difficult to counter, so it was inevitable that attempts would be made to use their hunting qualities against their own kind. This book chronicles some of the most significant of those clashes, from primitive beginnings to the dangerous, high-tech cat-and-mouse games of the Cold War era.

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At first submarines were little better than submersible torpedo-boats – and slow, half-blind ones at that – with weapons that could not operate in three-dimensions, so the early encounters occurred with the hunted party on the surface. Even then there were failures, mishaps and ‘friendly fire’ incidents, with mysteries surrounding the fate of some boats that remain unsolved to the present. It was not until 1945, when Venturer sank U864, that a submarine fell prey to another while both were submerged. This is still the only such confirmed sinking, but since 1945 there have been rumours of others, accidental victims of the ‘war by another name’ that characterised the tension between the West and the Soviet Union.

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The book concludes by investigating some of those for which evidence has leaked out. With individual chapters devoted to each incident, the book may be read as a series of dramatic narratives, but taken as a whole it amounts to a complete history of the submarine from an unusual and previously neglected angle.

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The art of reading consists in remembering the essentials and forgetting non essentials… Adolf Hitler

Hitler’s private library : the books that shaped his life Timothy W. Ryback London: Bodley Head, 2009 Softcover. xx, 300 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG

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He was, of course, a man better known for burning books than collecting them and yet by the time he died, aged 56, Adolf Hitler owned an estimated 16,000 volumes – the works of historians, philosophers, poets, playwrights and novelists.

For the first time, Timothy W. Ryback offers a systematic examination of this remarkable collection. The volumes in Hitler’s library are fascinating in themselves but it is the marginalia – the comments, the exclamation marks, the questions and underlinings – even the dirty thumbprints on the pages of a book he read in the trenches of the First World War – which are so revealing.

Hitler’s Private Library provides us with a remarkable view of Hitler’s evolution – and unparalleled insights into his emotional and intellectual world. Utterly compelling, it is also a landmark in our understanding of the Third Reich.

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We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glow-worm… Winston Churchill

In the footsteps of Churchill Richard Holmes New York : Basic Books, c 2005 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 351 p. , [24] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 337-343) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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As one of the most most publicized political leaders of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill holds iconic status in popular memory. In this new biography, military historian Richard Holmes offers a remarkable reappraisal of Churchill by examining the influences that shaped his character. Drawing upon never-before-seen materials such as letters between the young Churchill and his parents, Holmes paints the most complete portrait to date of the man who connived to preserve the empire while ultimately leading his people to defeat and the dust bin of history.

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Detailing the decisive events of Churchill’s life — from his childhood to his experiences in the Boer War through his rapid rise in politics — Holmes demonstrates the central role Churchill’s Toby Jug character played in the perception of his public persona. With an already inflated sense of self, Churchill had several lucky escapes in combat — in the Boer War and in the trenches of WWI — convincing him that he was destined for greatness. In the Footsteps of Churchill uncovers a surprisingly different Churchill — both admirable and difficult — through the lens of his character.

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Forget about Nobel prizes; they aren’t really very important… Herbert Simon

Experiment eleven : Dark Secrets Behind The Discovery of a Wonder Drug Peter Pringle New York, Walker, 2012 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 278 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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In 1943, Albert Schatz, a young Rutgers College Ph.D. student, worked on a wartime project in microbiology professor Selman Waksman’s lab, searching for an antibiotic to fight infections on the front lines and at home. In his eleventh experiment on a common bacterium found in farmyard soil, Schatz discovered streptomycin, the first effective cure for tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

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As director of Schatz’s research, Waksman took credit for the discovery, belittled Schatz’s work, and secretly enriched himself with royalties from the streptomycin patent filed by the pharmaceutical company Merck. In an unprecedented lawsuit, young Schatz sued Waksman, and was awarded the title of “co-discoverer” and a share of the royalties. But two years later, Professor Waksman alone was awarded the Nobel Prize. Schatz disappeared into academic obscurity.

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Pringle unravels the intrigues behind one of the most important discoveries in the history of medicine. The story unfolds on a tiny college campus in New Jersey, but its repercussions spread worldwide. The streptomycin patent was a breakthrough for the drug companies, overturning patent limits on products of nature and paving the way for today’s biotech world. As dozens more antibiotics were found, many from the same family as streptomycin, the drug companies created oligopolies and reaped big profits. Pringle uses firsthand accounts and archives in the United States and Europe to reveal the intensely human story behind the discovery that started a revolution in the treatment of infectious diseases and shaped the future of Big Pharma.

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