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Category: Social Behavior

Book Review: Dreamland
(Sam Quinones)

“Dreamland” is about opiate addition, and about an America most of us don’t see. Those most affected by the explosion in opiate use chronicled in “Dreamland” are members of the white underclass, a group with no champions and no power, and therefore little focus on its problems. To the extent it affects those not in the white underclass, the addiction is frequently hidden. Either way, we see little of it. Quinones forces this America forward and explains it. And he simultaneously shows how this America is the bastard child of unfettered welfare and private greed, midwifed by the decayed culture of our time.

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Book Review: Coming Apart
(Charles Murray)

This is a deeply pessimistic book. Charles Murray warns, Cassandra-like, of the ill effects that are resulting and will result from the economic and cultural divergence between the upper and lower classes. Even so, he tries to be optimistic, and he succeeds in being optimistic himself, but he doesn’t succeed in convincing the reader to be optimistic.

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Book Review: Defying Hitler: A Memoir (Sebastian Haffner)

“Defying Hitler” is one of those relatively few books (available widely in English at least) that are contemporaneous memoirs of events relating to the Third Reich. Any book, memoir or not, written after the war necessarily suffers from hindsight perception, so contemporaneous material is particularly interesting. (The classic modern example is Victor Klemperer’s diaries, which cover the war and pre-war period.) “Defying Hitler” was written in 1939, covering events in 1933, and was only published after the author’s death in 1999. The title of the book is a misnomer, because Haffner didn’t defy Hitler at all (which is his point).

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Book Review: This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
(Reinhart & Rogoff)

Unfortunately, this book is nearly unreadable. Oh, I’m sure it’s readable if you’re a professional or academic economist. But for the casual reader, even one with a pretty good background knowledge of economics, it’s mostly an endless series of highly technical, loosely related charts, graphs and conclusions. All this to agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes, 2500 years ago, that “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

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Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature (Steven Pinker)

This is a sprawling mess of a book. Flashes of arguably brilliant insight alternate with meandering musings. Fascinating narrow conclusions are drawn from carefully parsed evidence—and then sweeping conclusions are drawn from highly dubious evidence. Historical insights are used incisively in an argument—then the next argument is undermined by total historical illiteracy. At the end, the reader is left uncertain whether he has read 800 pages of genius, 800 pages of authoritative-sounding-but-meaningless fluff, or something in between. But I’ll go with the last one.

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Book Review: A Study of History, Vol. 1: Abridgement of Volumes I-VI
(Arnold Toynbee)

I really wanted to like this book. It’s regarded as a classic, from a time before the study of history became corrupted by political correctness. From a time when the ascendancy of a civilization was taken for granted as a good, and history was not dominated by gender and race “studies,” but focused on the reality of history and what could be objectively learned from it.

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Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
(Nicholas Wade)

Whether this book is good or bad depends largely on what you expect it to be. If you expect it to be a cautious attempt to open up to discussion the subject of the existence of distinct races and genetic racial differences, and how those might affect social structures and institutions, you will think it is good. If you expect it to be a definitive proof of one interpretation or another of those same matters, you will think it is bad, for it is nothing of the sort. And, of course, if you are stuck in the old politically dictated paradigm that all differences among humans are purely random or cultural, and that “race is a social construct,” you will think it is mad, bad and dangerous to know.

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Book Review: War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage
(Lawrence Keeley)

Anthropology and ethnography are definitely not areas about which I know much, so it is hard for me to tell where this book fits into the professional literature. It is a hybrid—a book by a professional anthropologist, meant largely for a popular audience, but not written in a popular style. It is, however, a book that appears to have had a very significant, if not generally acknowledged, impact on popular culture, in that it destroyed the idea that primitive peoples were peaceful, and established the opposite. That is, it established that every group of pre-civilized human people for tens of thousands of years, from small bands of hunter-gatherers through organized chiefdoms, engaged in continuous horrendous violence.

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