“Albion’s Seed” is a classic work of ethnography. It is refreshing to read because a book like it could not be written today (it was published in 1989). It’s not that the book has any political angle. Rather, it’s that it totally fails to acknowledge today’s left-liberal preoccupations, in particular the fictive primacy of “identity” and “inclusion” (used, of course, either as a political tool to demand unearned and undeserved benefits, or as a masochistic whip to indulge one’s own irrational self-hatred). In fact, “Albion’s Seed” offers no focus on identity other than ethnic identity as derived from Britain. And there is no effort at inclusion at all, only an effort at truth. Nor does it suggest there is anything evil about America, another necessary abasement for a history to be accepted by the Left. What the book does provide is a huge range of facts, carefully parsed and clearly communicated to the non-specialist reader, in service of explaining why America is what it is today.
“The High House” is a startlingly original book. It is, in some ways, young adult fantasy. In other ways, it is fully adult allegory. Naturally, such double effect, whether of allegory or some other adult theme, is the hallmark of all great fiction putatively directed at the young, from the “Chronicles of Narnia” to “Alice In Wonderland.” (This is why I think that in a few decades, nobody will remember Harry Potter—sure, it’s original, in many ways, but it is what it is. There is nothing to unpack.) Much of the allegory in “The High House” is Christian, or rather Judeo-Christian, as well as conservative in its view of reality, aside from religion. But the book is compelling simply as a fiction read, for young adult or old adult.
Barry Strauss is a master of the “you are there” style of popular historical writing. His books are accessible and gripping narratives about discrete historical episodes, including Spartacus, the Trojan War, and the death of Caesar. I’m a fan, of course. I’ve read most of his books, and I’m working on finishing the rest. “The Battle of Salamis” was the first popular book written by Strauss, and it well deserves the praise often heaped on it.
I read Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, And Why” as a counterpoint to Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable.” Both are survivor books, very different in their approach, but with significant conclusions in common. Gonzales focuses more on accidents: unexpected twists that challenge people in stressful situations they chose to put themselves in, primarily wilderness and sporting recreational activities. Gonzales focuses little on true disasters, where our daily lives are suddenly interrupted by a wholly unexpected catastrophic and immediately life threatening event from which we must escape; Ripley focuses on true disasters. Gonzales focuses a lot on scientific, technical biological explanations; Ripley talks a lot about pseudo-scientific evolutionary biology. Gonzales is a more florid writer on a semi-autobiographical quest following a life of adventure; Ripley is a straightforward young writer trying to analyze what others do.
The Unthinkable is basically a self-improvement manual. But the promised self-improvement isn’t better organization, inner peace or higher task efficiency; rather it is increased odds of living through a disaster. And while the book accomplishes the goal of self-help for the attentive reader, even more it shows that who lives and who dies mostly results from characteristics of the individual. Many of these are innate and wholly unchangeable, such as sex, intelligence and ability to absorb stress, each of which is a critical factor in survival. Some are merely extremely difficult to change and in practice immutable for the individual, such as culture and education. Few are easy to change—but any bit helps, I suppose.
[This is a colloquy between myself and a friend of mine. Italics are her; regular text is me. She is responding initially to a comment I had made about “evil not-for-profits.”] I don’t understand, but without the rhetoric, I really want to see the world through your eyes regarding your comment about “evil not-for-profit…” How is it that people who sacrifice so much for others are evil? I’m a corporate attorney and admire the heck out of people able to do something I’m too greedy to do. While they walk the walk (of spiritual leaders, etc.), I’m just a coward saving money for my own kids’ education, etc. How are they “evil”? Mostly it’s a joke, meant to highlight the absurdity of classifying a businessman as inherently evil. But, given that you ask, here are some thoughts: 1) What makes you think people who work for “not-for-profit” entities “sacrifice so much for others”? That may be true for some, a very few. Let’s say, for example, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. But generally, that’s not …