“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers w...more“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.”
With that paragraph, Thomas Malthus launched one of the most controversial arguments of the modern age. The idea that mankind will one day be so numerous that there will be insufficient sustenance. Although Malthus refused to put his money where his mouth was (namely by estimating a date that this would happen), his thoughts and analysis have left a lasting impression on philosophy, politics, economics, sociology, and other fields.
Malthus’ Essay, subsequently revised as the Reverend became more optimistic, drew admiration from Darwin and a characteristic childishness (in calling his work childish) from Marx.
Exceptionally well written and analysed, Malthus’ work is possibly more important today than when it was first published. Who could have predicted in 1798 that the world’s population would increase sevenfold over the next two centuries? And who, more importantly, knows what to do about it if, indeed, action is needed?(less)
I am sure that the usual jibes have been and will be thrown at Mike Denham's study of the wastefulness of British governments. His criticism of the NH...moreI am sure that the usual jibes have been and will be thrown at Mike Denham's study of the wastefulness of British governments. His criticism of the NHS, for one, will have many shrieking and foaming at the mouth with all sorts of unjustified, inaccurate, meaningless nonsense which, while understandable to a small extent, is stifling debate about how the nation can right its current path in the face of so many foreseeable difficulties.
From statistics on the number of UK public servants earning over £100,000 a year, to falling productivity, to the future burden of current pension liabilities, to the great teaching standards debate, Denham pushes the reader to consider the lengths to which we must soon go to avoid catastrophic shortfalls around the corner. Using statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the Office of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among many others, the author paints a dark picture and attempts to open a debate which is sorely needed: for that he must be applauded.
While Mike Denham may undeniably be a supporter of many an unpopular current government policy, and therefore biased in the eyes of many, 'Burning Our Money' is a much needed position audit on UK plc. Denham has offered a measured, analytical, and thoroughly researched work not into the failings of Britain, but into what we are currently getting for our money, why we deserve better, and how to get it.(less)
Gang Leader for a Day tells the story of a Chicago-based sociology postgraduate student who looks beyond the stale debates on poverty that his faculty...moreGang Leader for a Day tells the story of a Chicago-based sociology postgraduate student who looks beyond the stale debates on poverty that his faculty likes to dictate with statistics and gets out into the poorest area he can find. Befriending (in a sense) a gang leader, Sudhir Venkatesh sees both the brutality of gang life and some of its positive impact on the community first hand. Venkatesh's experiences are generally well written up, although his naivete is at times infuriating.
If I could suggest one thing to add to the book, it would be a summary of his findings and the paper he wrote which earnt him a place at Harvard. The story as is is enthralling and more balanced than I suspect many could be, but without some inkling into the author's conclusions it is a little frustrating.(less)
A wide variety of insightful writings by one of the foremost thinkers of his age, The Portable Machiavelli demonstrates the author's divergent interes...moreA wide variety of insightful writings by one of the foremost thinkers of his age, The Portable Machiavelli demonstrates the author's divergent interests and talents. Known largely for The Prince, an examination of how a ruler should best control his territory and his people, Machaivelli the playwright also deserves credit, though as a military tactician and practitioner he appears to have fallen amusingly short.(less)
Throughout the first half of the 19th century, British agricultural policy was governed by the Corn Law, which protected British cereal producers from...moreThroughout the first half of the 19th century, British agricultural policy was governed by the Corn Law, which protected British cereal producers from cheaper import competition.
Thomas Malthus fiercely attacked the legislation as protectionist and counter-productive in a text which, as the spectre of protectionism threatens to make its way back into public policy, is once again very relevant.(less)
First off I am going to admit that I did not finish this book. This is exceptionally rare for me, especially with non-fiction. However, Richard Wilkin...moreFirst off I am going to admit that I did not finish this book. This is exceptionally rare for me, especially with non-fiction. However, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have produced a work of such little serious worth that I have been compelled to cease wading through its treacle-like flow for fear of the anger it brings on causing a heart attack.
Secondly, let me state plainly that I firmly believe that increased equality is advantageous to society in many, many ways. I think that an increased number of well educated, healthy people puts less of a burden on the state and pushes a society forward in terms of productivity and other measures of economic worth.
So, to the review. I should have known that when Wilkinson and Picket did not title their work 'Does Equality Make Societies Better', as a serious investigation would have, but rather plastered their biases all over the front cover, that the result would be poor.
Yet there is so much attempted good in here. The authors refuse to use their own measures, adopting only widely accepted scales. They draw evidence from a wide range of credible sources (the number of studies investigated is, frankly, staggering), and the work that they put in is worthy of much merit.
They appear, however, to have fallen into the giant hole that secondary school pupils are told about in their first science lessons (and which applies equally to 'the dismal science' of economics) - start out assuming nothing and having left your prejudices at the door. Allow me to provide quotes to back up my view.
"During the Second World War, for example, working class incomes rose by 9% while incomes of the middle class fell by 7%; rates of relative poverty were halved. The resulting sense of camaraderie and social cohesion not only led to better health - crime rates also fell." - at no point does it seem to cross the writers' minds to investigate whether working class incomes rose because thousands and thousands of men joined the army, or to ask whether this new-found 'camaraderie' was in fact linked to the burst of patriotism that accompanied the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and resulting conflict.
At another point the authors chose several graphs to aid a point they were trying to make about the idea that "Life expectancy is related to inequality in rich countries." The USA and UK have greater social inequality and lower life expectancy than Scandinavian nations and Japan. Would the healthy Japanese diet or active Scandinavian lifestyle not have anything to do with this? Not a word on the subject from Wilkinson and Pickett. The argument put forward on this point reminded me of the tale of the man who woke up one morning with his shoes on, suffering from a raging headache. He deduced that falling asleep without having removed one's footwear is bad for one's health, when in fact he should have realised that drinking a lot of alcohol can result in headaches and an inability to undo shoe laces or think about undressing before bed.
One more, to shuffle my tired point a little further along its path. The authors investigated mental health problems and their relation to inequality. They used many examples of what different psychologists, philosophers and economists have called 'status anxiety,' 'luxury fever,' and 'affluenza'. Apparently consumerism is to blame for mental health issues. By the time I got this far I was beginning to wonder when that great bogeyman 'consumerism' was going to have to take the fall for whatever ills the authors had discovered. Mental health issues have been around since time began, which is a small hole shot in this particular argumental boat; the vessel sinks altogether when we consider that many rich people are great consumers AND great sufferers from mental health issues - they can be confident, successful and wealthy, like buying things and STILL lack a vital chemical here or there which causes them undue sadness, depression or other mental ailment. The premise that the increase in products and related adjusted habits of the Western world is responsible for mental health crises is, at best, unproven. Few studies of undeveloped countries' issues and none of pre-consumer society exist for us to compare.
In conclusion I can only say that 'The Spirit Level' proved a disappointment to the point I reached. The authors clearly had their conclusion ready before they collated the evidence and failed to adequately question many of the findings to which they came. I regret that such an opportunity to rightly demonstrate that equality is good has been squandered, but squandered it has been and I can only compare the work of Wilkinson and Pickett to that of scientists who falsify climate change data to support their agenda - the result is quite the opposite.
This book has been saved from the dustbin of 1* only because nothing is as bad as Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road'.(less)
An extremely interesting book, first published in 1841, on the insanity that drives investment bubbles. Well written, if a little wordy in its own mid...moreAn extremely interesting book, first published in 1841, on the insanity that drives investment bubbles. Well written, if a little wordy in its own mid-19th century way, it features such well known phenomena as the Tulip Mania that engulfed Holland in the middle of the 1600s as well as other, more obscure tales.(less)
This being the first book I've read on the history of Islam, I can't really comment on the accuracy of Lesley Hazleton's work. It is, however, a very...moreThis being the first book I've read on the history of Islam, I can't really comment on the accuracy of Lesley Hazleton's work. It is, however, a very engaging work, which cuts out much of the potential confusion of having many characters with similar names and gets to the point.
The split between the Sunni (literally, those who follow the 'sunna', or reports of how the Prophet Muhammad lived his life) and Shia (literally, 'Shiat Ali', or followers of Ali, Muhammad's adopted son) is one which, as Hazleton points out, has become more pronounced, more entrenched and more hateful as time has gone on, and particularly in the last hundred years, as non-Muslims became involved in the politics of the Middle East. The author does a very good job of knitting together the stories passed down from the seventh century and those immediately following it, and modern Sunni-Shia tensions.
She has also done an exceptional job of bringing to the reader's attention the origins of Wahhabi Islam, the branch which set itself aside as the pure, or fundamental, branch, which has since spawned the Saud ruling family of Saudi Arabia as well as Al-Qaeda. There is one report in particular that brings to one's attention the misguided morality of early Wahhabis, when a group of them invaded a village, tricked a man into claiming to be an apostate (someone who has turned their back on Islam and is therefore seen as worse than a non-believer who has never been a part of the religion), and set about killing him in a date orchard. As they were about to bring their swords down upon him a date fell from its branch and one of the Wahabs picked it up and ate it. The others turned on him furiously to order him to find the owner and pay him. In doing so, one drew his sword, accidentally killing a cow that was standing close behind him, and he too was forced to find the farmer to pay for this 'theft'. The farmer thus paid, the men set about executing the apostate, having previously forced him to watch as they murdered his wife and unborn child in a most brutal manner.
Such stories go a long way to understanding the different forces pressing in on early Islam and, when twinned with current tensions, particularly in Iraq, make the various fractures and their results easier to understand.
Hazleton does appear to have more sympathy for the Shia over the Sunni, though this may be justified. For this reader's liking she has too much time for Ali, a man who hated civil war but led his armies into three of them. There is also an overall feeling that the treatment given to Muhammad's proud and often vicious ninth wife, Aisha, lacks balance, though of all the historical characters I have encountered thus far Aisha does appear to be one of the most complex, and the difficulty of balancing her story is far from unforgivable.
In all a very good piece of work and one that has left me interested and looking for more on the subject.(less)
Before I get into this review, a couple of disclaimers, if I may.
First of all, I'm not an American and was not put through the American school system,...moreBefore I get into this review, a couple of disclaimers, if I may.
First of all, I'm not an American and was not put through the American school system, which means I have no first hand experience of the standard of history teaching referred to by James Loewen. I'm British and count myself extremely fortunate to have attended a very good school at home.
Secondly, I am aware that history in many countries is twisted a little for either feelgood or nationalist purposes, depending on how you choose to view these distortions. British history is not taught in a particularly balanced fashion in the UK, especially with regard to more modern issues such as the Irish 'troubles'.
That said, I am aware of some of the appalling atrocities committed by the England and then the British down the years. I know, for example, of the pogrom against the Jews of York in that city's castle in 1190, and that one of the reasons for this was the debt a local noble owed and did not wish to pay. I know that Oliver Cromwell's invasion of Ireland was a disgustingly bloody affair and that much more recently indefensible acts have been carried out in that country in the name of the United Kingdom. I could go on with British actions in India, for example, much of Africa, or even initial English colonisation efforts in North America, but the point has been made: we should know of these things and we do.
In America, it would seem, teaching the past failings of the state and its people is a no-no, leaving a populace unable to critically consider how it came to be where it is now and often in possession of a history which is simply not true. Loewen points out with exceptional lucidity such examples as Columbus who, American textbooks claim, sailed west, discovered the Americas and found that the world was not, after all, flat. The previous sentence can only be said to be true if it ends 'sailed west'. He most certainly did not discover the Americas - which were populated when he arrived - and sailors had known for centuries that the earth was curved - a ship's hull disappearing over the horizon before its sails will tell anyone that
Loewen does not simply stick to disabusing us of the simple untruths of history, however. He viciously, and quite rightly, attacks coverage of Woodrow Wilson, a white supremacist who interfered in the affairs of other nations, often creating long term problems both locally and for America itself, by continually launching invasions of other states; most recent American interventions in Iran and Lebanon, which have created sectarian and political issues in those countries; and even the Vietnam War, portrayed as a moral intervention when it most certainly was not.
What Loewen is at pains to point out, and what he covers so well, is that the books that are used to teach Americans about how they came to be where they are today paint government after government as lily-white, and their 'mistakes' as misunderstandings. Wrongful executions, the napalming of vast swathes of jungle in Vietnam and Laos, continued attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and many other unforgivable horrors - all are either painted as the unfortunate errors of a nation striving to do right, or otherwise totally ignored as inconvenient.
'Lies My Teacher Told Me' is a damning indictment of how American high school students are taught about their country. Thoroughly researched and bursting with cutting, to the point arguments, if James Loewen's work has not yet brought about a change in an education system run by interest groups then it's about time it did. America is not alone in distorting its history beyond recognition - Russians are taught a version of history so far from the truth it should not be called history at all - but for a country which would like to pride itself on openness and progress, Loewen asks questions which demand answers.(less)