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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

________________________

 

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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review 2018-11-12 00:29
100 Women of Faith
100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls: Unforgettable Tales of Women of Faith - Fischer, Jean

Amidst the myriad compilations of famous and notable people, “100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls” stands out in that it highlights specifically women of faith. This includes some women who were not necessarily praiseworthy but who nevertheless provide valuable lessons through their actions. One page is dedicated to each of the one hundred women portrayed alphabetically, alongside which is an illustration of them, and this setup is very advantageous for being brief and for possibly reading this in a devotional style, focusing on one woman per day. The women include Biblical characters as well as historical figures and a few contemporary ones. The Biblical women’s stories include the relevant Scriptures, and all of the stories end with a moral message related to the Bible along with a Scripture quotation. Not all of the stories have happy endings; some of the women were martyred for their faith, and although the author mentions that some were tortured, there are no graphic details. When mature words were used, such as “martyr” or “heresy”, a definition was given, and all of the Scripture references were quoted in easy-to-understand language. This is a beautiful collection of the lives of inspirational women of faith, some of whom have otherwise been lost to the annals of history, and a wonderful book for tweens and young teens.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

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review 2018-11-08 00:48
Reading progress update: I've read 100% -- of yet another overhyped book.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte,Patrick Lawlor
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

He redeemed himself a bit with the nonfiction part of the T-Rex chapter, but man, that narrative tone and his "I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread and I'm best buddies with all the cool kids in paleontology (even the long-dead ones)" attitude seriously grated pretty much from page 1 to literally the last words of the book.

 

Also, pro writing tip, Mr., um, Dr. Brusatte: If you seriously think it's a good idea to begin a chapter with a dramatic, pseudo-fictionalized scene involving T-Rex and a bunch of other dinosaurs, and you're telling it from the POV of one of those other dinosaurs, you'll want to avoid describing T-Rex as "a monster bigger than a city bus".  Because I'm pretty sure a dinosaur would have had no idea what a city bus was going to be looking like some 66+ million earth years after the extinction of its own species.  It's all about narrative perspective, you see ...

 

Oh, well.  Next!

 

Read for the Flat Book Society and the New Year's Eve square of the 24 Tasks of the Festive Season.

 

 

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url 2018-11-07 16:42
Podcast #123 is up!
Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal - Patrick Fuliang Shan

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Patrick Fuliang Shan about his new biography of Yuan Shikai, the imperial official who became president of China before embarking on a failed bid to become emperor. Enjoy!

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