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review 2018-11-16 04:05
Red. Blue. Green. No Matter What Your Politics...
American Dialogue: The Founders and Us -... American Dialogue: The Founders and Us - Joseph J. Ellis,Arthur Morey

...you have to read this book. Joseph J. Ellis explains it all. In his clear and concise style, he dives deeply into four issues that have plagued our nation since our founding-- racism/slavery, economic inequality, American imperialism and the doctrine of original--explaining why these four issues have brought us to where we are today and how they have shaped our current political quagmire.

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text 2018-11-15 15:22
Reading progress update: I've read 85 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

 

Reading about the new Triassic research was very interesting.  Back in 2013, I read My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek and realized that there was a lot of work going on in that time period. 

 

Interestingly, when I attended a lecture at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology back in October, the lecturer (whose name seems to have completely escaped me) was talking about crocodile hearts--namely that they were structurally like the heart of endothermic animals, so it looked like modern crocodiles were descended from warm-blooded ancestors.  The pseudosuchians that Brusatte talks about seem to fill the bill--active predators who would have needed to be endothermic in order to pursue prey.  Crocs have since become ectothermic ambush predators, but retain that endothermic heart structure.

 

I also appreciated his description of Bob Bakker on page 77:

"...renowned for his high energy lectures, delivered in the style of an evangelist testifying to his congregation."

 

This is exactly how Bob is!  When he was promoting his 1995 novel Raptor Red, he stopped here in Calgary and gave an evening talk at the Calgary Zoo.  I was a new docent at the zoo at the time and as a dinosaur enthusiast, I was there with bells on. 

 

It was shortly after the Jurassic Park movie had come out (1993) and Bakker was talking about the raptors in that movie.  The actual fossil velociraptors were only about turkey size, but Spielberg had deemed those "not scary enough" so he increased their size by several orders of magnitude.  In the meanwhile, fossils of a large raptor called Utahraptor had been described and were about the right size.  Bakker was calling Spielberg a prophet and urging us to "Praise Speilberg!"  I got a great kick out of that evening.

 

I must admit that I was skim reading the notes and checking the index to this book last night and I'm a bit disappointed at how little Canadian scientists and older scientists of Bakker's vintage that this author cites.  I live in a dinosaur hot-spot, with Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum in my back yard and I know that a ton of significant fossils and research originate here.  This may end up being my biggest disappointment with this book.

 

A reconstruction of Utahraptor (from Wikipedia).

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review 2018-11-15 15:13
Podcast #124 is up!
The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson - Mark R. Cheathem

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Mark Cheathem about his new book on presidential campaigning in antebellum America. Enjoy!

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review 2018-11-14 15:44
What is fascism?
The Anatomy of Fascism - Robert O. Paxton

Over the past few years, the word "fascist" has been deployed increasingly to describe modern-day political movements in the United States, Hungary, Greece, and Italy, to name a few places. The word brings with it some of the most odious associations from the 20th century, namely Nazi Germany and the most devastating war in human history. Yet to what degree is the label appropriate and to what extent is it more melodramatic epithet than an appropriate description?

 

It was in part to answer that question that I picked up a copy of Robert O. Paxton's book. As a longtime historian of 20th century France and author of a seminal work on the Vichy regime, he brings a perspective to the question that is not predominantly Italian or German. This shows in the narrative, as his work uses fascist movements in nearly every European country to draw out commonalities that explain the fascist phenomenon. As he demonstrates, fascism can be traced as far back as the 1880s, with elements of it proposed by authors and politicians across Europe in order to mobilize the growing population of voters (thanks to new measures of enfranchisement) to causes other than communism. Until then, it was assumed by nearly everyone that such voters would be automatic supporters for socialist movements. Fascism proposed a different appeal, one based around nationalist elements which socialism ostensibly rejected.

 

Despite this, fascism remained undeveloped until it emerged in Italy in the aftermath of the First World War. This gave Benito Mussolini and his comrades a flexibility in crafting an appeal that won over the established elites in Italian politics and society. From this emerged a pattern that Paxton identifies in the emergence of fascism in both Italy and later in Germany, which was their acceptance by existing leaders as a precondition for power. Contrary to the myth of Mussolini's "March on Rome," nowhere did fascism take over by seizing power; instead they were offered it by conservative politicians as a solution to political turmoil and the threatened emergence of a radical left-wing alternative. It was the absence of an alternative on the right which led to the acceptance of fascism; where such alternatives (of a more traditional right-authoritarian variety) existed, fascism remained on the fringes. The nature of their ascent into power also defined the regimes that emerged, which were characterized by tension between fascists and more traditional conservatives, and often proved to be far less revolutionary in practice than their rhetoric promised.

 

Paxton's analysis is buttressed by a sure command of his subject. He ranges widely over the era, comparing and contrasting national groups in a way that allows him to come up an overarching analysis of it as a movement. All of this leads him to this final definition:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. (p. 218)

While elements of this are certainly present today, they are hardly unique to fascism and exist in various forms across the political spectrum. Just as important, as Paxton demonstrates, is the context: one in which existing institutions are so distrusted or discredited that the broader population is willing to sit by and watch as they are compromised, bypassed, or dismantled in the name of achieving fascism's goals. Paxton's arguments here, made a decade before Donald Trump first embarked on his candidacy, are as true now as they were then. Reading them helped me to appreciate better the challenge of fascism, both in interwar Europe and in our world today. Everyone seeking to understand it would do well to start with this perceptive and well-argued book.

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review 2018-11-12 12:20
Toxicology in Antiquity Volume I by Philip Wexler
History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity Volume I - Philip Wexler

TITLE:  History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity Volume I

 

AUTHOR:  Various.  Philip Wexler (ed)

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2014

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9781306820622

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DESCRIPTION:

"Toxicology in Antiquity" is the first in a series of short format works covering key accomplishments, scientists, and events in the broad field of toxicology, including environmental health and chemical safety. This first volume sets the tone for the series and starts at the very beginning, historically speaking, with a look at toxicology in ancient times. The book explains that before scientific research methods were developed, toxicology thrived as a very practical discipline. People living in ancient civilizations readily learned to distinguish safe substances from hazardous ones, how to avoid these hazardous substances, and how to use them to inflict harm on enemies.It also describes scholars who compiled compendia of toxic agents.
Provides the historical background for understanding modern toxicologyIllustrates the ways ancient civilizations learned to distinguish safe from hazardous substances, how to avoid the hazardous substances and how to use them against enemies
"

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An interesting, but somewhat superficial examination of toxicology in antiquity, each chapter covering a different topic and written by a different expert.  Topics include toxicology in Ancient Egypt, the Death of Cleopatra, Mithridates and his universal antidote, venoms and poisons in ancient Greek literature, the Death of Alexander the Great, the execution of Socrates, the Oracle at Delphi, Lead poisoning in Ancient Rome, as well as poisons, poisoners and poisoning in Ancient Rome.  Some chapters where better than others in terms of detail in covering the chapter topic.  Overall, interesting, but topics were of mixed quality.

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