In Likkutei Dibburim, a collection of stories and memoirs by the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, the author describes his father, Rebbe Rashab, playing lapta in Yalta, Crimea.

Apparently pub trivia has become a source of great amusement in this age where factoids have replaced knowledge and it is more important to remember who is credited with having said what than it is to understand what was said, in what context it was said and what its meaning is – in that context as well as in a current application. We contrarians hold that it is far more important to know how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem than it is to know that Pythagoras was probably not its author. If you are a major league manager it is better to know how to apply an infield shift than it is to have opinions on baseball vs. cricket or whether the Russians really did invent the game – as they have claimed.

Many historians have labeled the fifth through twelfth centuries an age of faith and would dismiss the thirteenth through eighteenth as the revival of paganism rather than reformation, renascence and enlightenment as the popular historians might have them. While this account of science in the middle east is interesting the suppositions about its influence on the west are somewhat like the Russian claim to have invented baseball – whatever their merits may be it doesn’t change the fact that it is America’s pastime and that however much like Russian Stengelize may sound he, and Yogi, were uniquely American.

The house of wisdom : how Arabic science saved ancient knowledge and gave us the Renaissance Jim Al-Khalili New York : Penguin Press, 2011 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxix, 302 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 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

A mythic view of the medieval middle eastern world’s scientific innovations, which preceded the European Renaissance. This legacy of science and philosophy has long been hidden from the West. British born Iraqi claimant – physicist Jim Al-Khalili unveils that legacy to fascinating effect by returning to its roots in the middle east that would advance science and jump-start the European Renaissance.

Attributing all of this to the Koranic injunction to study closely all of God’s works, rulers throughout the Islamic world funded armies of scholars who gathered and translated Persian, Sanskrit, and Greek texts he ignores the facts of the centuries of learning that preceded Islam. From the ninth through the fourteenth centuries, these scholars built upon those foundations a scientific revolution that bridged the one-thousand-year gap between the ancient Greeks and the European Renaissance.

Claiming the innovations that we think of as hallmarks of Western science were actually the result of Arab ingenuity: Astronomers laid the foundations for the heliocentric model of the solar system long before Copernicus; physicians accurately described blood circulation and the inner workings of the eye ages before Europeans solved those mysteries; physicists made discoveries that laid the foundation for Newton’s theories of optics. But the most significant legacy of Middle Eastern science was its evidence-based approach-the lack of which kept Europeans in the dark throughout the Dark Ages. The father of this experimental approach to science – what we call the scientific method – was an Iraqi physicist who applied it centuries before Europeans first dabbled in it.

Al-Khalili details not only how discoveries like these were made, but also how they changed European minds and how they were ultimately obscured by later Western versions of the same principles. Al-Khalili places the reader in the intellectual and cultural hothouses of the Arab Enlightenment: the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, one of the world’s greatest academies, the holy city of Isfahan, the melting pots of Damascus and Cairo, and the embattled Islamic outposts of Spain.

Al-Khalili tackles two tantalizing questions: Why did the Arab world enter its own Dark Age after such a dazzling enlightenment? And how much did Arabic learning contribute to making the Western world as we know it? That he fails to answer either satisfactorily is the result of the failure of his central premise coupled with the multiple failures to set his facts in their proper contexts. While the book does offer a somewhat skewed view of science in the middle east it fails to show how the area was a bridge from east to west, the importance of the contributions of the east or how it was the influence of Islam that largely destroyed that bridge from the 7th through the 19th centuries.

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And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire… Numbers 31:10

How often does the thought occur that the government no longer holds any values that your neighbors do? Does it pop up as you go about your daily life far removed from the nexus of power? Do you dismiss it with an attitude of what they do there doesn’t affect us here? Maybe your community does not have such a picturesque castle overlooking it and maybe your traditions do not go back to the feudal times but if you don’t do something to stop them not all of your disdain, nor even all of your history, will save you. Ask the people of Wurttemberg.

Hitler’s home front : Wurttemberg under the Nazis Jill Stephenson London ; New York : Hambledon Continuum, 2006 Hardcover. 1st ed. xiv, 512 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [367]-495) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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What was life like for ordinary Germans under Hitler? Hitler’s Home Front paints a picture of life in Wurttemberg, a region in south-west Germany, during the rise to power and rule of the Nazis. It concentrates in particular on life in the countryside.

Many Wurttembergers, while not actively opposing Hitler, carried on their normal lives before 1939, with their traditional loyalties, to region, village, church and family, largely ignoring the claims of Nazism. The Nazis did not kill its own citizens (other than the Jews) in the way that Stalinist Russia did, and there were limits to the numbers and power of the Gestapo and to the reach of the Nazi state.

Yet the region could not escape the catastrophic effect of the war, as conscription, labour shortages, migrant labour, bombing, hunger and defeat overwhelmed the lives of everyone. From the fantasy of the castle – which could not protect the countryside in ways it had before – the citizens learned all too well the dangers of a centralized state that they held no values in common with but whose ideology could lead them to ruin.

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If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. Nothing in the paper today, we sigh… Lord Acton

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Lenin, Stalin and Hitler : the age of social catastrophe Robert Gellately London : Jonathan Cape, 2007 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 696 p., [24] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 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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Between 1914 and 1945 European society was in almost continuous upheaval, enduring two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust and the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Gellately argues that these tragedies are all inextricably linked and that to consider them as discrete events is to misunderstand their entire genesis and character.

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Crucially, Gellately makes clear how previous studies comparing the Soviet and Nazi dictatorships are fatally flawed by neglecting the importance of Lenin in the unfolding drama and, in his rejection of the myth of the ‘good’ Lenin, creates a ground-breaking account of all three dictatorships.

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The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with most unnecessary attention but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of man who have folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it… Adam Smith

Adam Smith is far more often quoted – almost always out of context – than read and is credited with being the eternal advocate of capital and self-interest to guide the market which, as a deus et machina, drives the affairs of all mankind. He is the darling of conservatives who blithely ignore his pronouncements such as, It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion, or, No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable, and thereby miss his warning, Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions.

The difference between a moral theologian and a moral philosopher is that the theologian applies principles of moral law to specific problems and arrives at specific solutions. Thus from Paul we can learn not only what the Romans or  Thessalonians were dealing with but we can learn what solutions they were offered two millennia ago that still apply today. Unfortunately for his adherents Smith held, with most of his enlightenment counterparts, that Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition, and he would have certainly dismissed Paul as a representative of both.

The core of his science – which would be picked by Kant, Hegel and Marx – was that Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this – no dog exchanges bones with another, and here we can also hear the whisper that will become the roar of Darwinism that MAN IS AN ANIMAL! To his credit Smith, the man, would probably be appalled by where his adherents have taken his thought and Ross offers a fine portrait of a man who did not believe economics should be a dismal science. Unfortunately his only defense was sentimentality and his thoughts remoulded by the frigidity of Gallican logic and the realpolitik of  the Teutonic iron fist would help shape modern materialism that almost makes the capitalism that he advocated seem benevolent.

 

The life of Adam Smith Ian Simpson Ross Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2010 Hardcover. 2nd ed. xxxii, 589 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [491]-555) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Few would argue that Adam Smith was one of the great minds of the eighteenth century. He is perceived through his best-known book, The Wealth of Nations, as the founder of economics as a science, and his ideas about the free market and the role of the state continue to influence modern economic thought. Yet Smith achieved even more as a man of letters, as a moralist, historian, and critic.

The Life of Adam Smith, the first full-scale biography of Smith in a hundred years, is a superb account of Smith’s life and work, encompassing a career that spanned some of the defining moments in world history, including the American and French Revolutions.

Here author Ian Simpson Ross examines Smith’s family life, education, career, intellectual circle (including David Hume and Francois Quesnay), and his contemporaries (the likes of Immanuel Kant, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson), bringing to life this great thinker and author.

Readers will meet Smith as a student at a lively Glasgow University and at a sleepy Oxford; a freelance lecturer delivering popular classes on rhetoric; an innovative university teacher; then a tutor travelling abroad with a Duke; an acclaimed political economist; a policy advisor to governments during and after the American Revolution; and finally, if paradoxically in view of his strongly held tenets, a Commissioner of Customs coping with free traders in the smuggling business.

But it his impact as a writer that continues to set Adam Smith apart today. The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, as the British Parliament was deep in debate about the American colonies, continues to influence modern economic theory throughout the world. Ross paints a vivid portrait of Smith’s personal life, revealing a man of singular generosity of spirit, who believed that with wit and logic and sensitivity, we might aspire to virtue rather than wealth, and so become members of a truly civil society.

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The greatest fraud this country has ever known. An amusing and charming fellow but a man entirely without a conscience…. Roosevelt was the perfect politician… H. L. Mencken

In one of the ironies of history FDR rode to the Capitol to declare war on the Empire of Japan in a bullet proof limousine that the federal government had seized from Al Capone. We credit this as ironical because ever since June 4, 1940 and the final evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk – or since Churchill’s becoming prime minister on May 10, 1940 – these two had worked hand in glove to maneuver the United States into the war using tactics that might have caused Capone to blush. While this book doesn’t reveal anything previously unknown it does provide a good digest of one day that contains many of the elements of the deceptions that FDR used throughout his presidency to rule and ruin.

Pearl Harbor bombing. USS Downes and Cassin. The jumbled mass of wreckage in the foreground of drydock number one are the U.S. destroyers, Downes (left) and Cassin (right). The battleship in the rear is the USS Pennsylvania, 33,100 ton flagship of the Pacific Fleet, which suffered relatively light damage during the Japanese attack. The Pennsylvania was repaired shortly after the attack. Main and auxiliary machinery fittings of the Downes and Cassin are being transferred to new hulls

Pearl Harbor bombing. USS Downes and Cassin. The jumbled mass of wreckage in the foreground of drydock number one are the U.S. destroyers, Downes (left) and Cassin (right). The battleship in the rear is the USS Pennsylvania, 33,100 ton flagship of the Pacific Fleet, which suffered relatively light damage during the Japanese attack. The Pennsylvania was repaired shortly after the attack. Main and auxiliary machinery fittings of the Downes and Cassin are being transferred to new hulls

Pearl Harbor : FDR leads the nation into war Steven M. Gillon New York : Basic Books, c 2011 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvi, 224 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

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the declaration of war as Sen. Tom Connally holds the watch to fix the exact time

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the declaration of war as Sen. Tom Connally holds the watch to fix the exact time

Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” History would prove him correct; the events of that day-when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor – ended the Great Depression, changed the course of FDR’s presidency, and swept America into World War II. In Pearl Harbor, Gillon provides a minute-by-minute account of Roosevelt’s manipulations and equivocations in the wake of the most devastating military assault on American in history. FDR proved both decisive and deceptive, inspiring the nation while keeping the real facts of the causes and costs of the attack a secret from congressional leaders and the public.

Corner of Montgomery and Market Streets, Monday morning, December 8, 1941, after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. San Francisco, California

Corner of Montgomery and Market Streets, Monday morning, December 8, 1941, after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. San Francisco, California

Pearl Harbor explores the anxious and emotional events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor, showing how the president and the American public responded in the pivotal twenty-four hours that followed, a period in which America burst from precarious peace into total war.

Seamen at Kaneohe Naval Air Station decorate the graves of their fellow sailors killed at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

Seamen at Kaneohe Naval Air Station decorate the graves of their fellow sailors killed at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

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