It would be hard to improve on the above description. Salty octogenarian Texas journalist Quinn is one of the retailing Goliath's severest critics, an...moreIt would be hard to improve on the above description. Salty octogenarian Texas journalist Quinn is one of the retailing Goliath's severest critics, and his newspaper background stands him in good stead in digging out the solid facts of his story and presenting them in a clear, cogent fashion. He stops short of calling for a complete boycott of Wal-mart, recognizing the difficulties that might pose for many readers (I personally boycott this scourge of our country and its economy, but the rest of my family doesn't); but he certainly exposes the insidious nature of its business practices, and suggests basic steps consumers can take to fight back against it.
Neither genuine democracy, economic justice, or the opportunity for ordinary people to live a life of reasonable prosperity can survive in the kind of economy Wal-mart is well on its way to creating: one in which virtually the entire populace is forced into economic serfdom for the enrichment of one corporation, no small business can exist, and the terms of economic life for everybody are dictated at will by a handful of corporate executives. (And to glorify that state of affairs as "free enterprise" is an abuse of language of Orwellian proportions.) This is why monopoly practices were supposedly outlawed in the U.S. in 1890; and Wal-mart's ability to flout that law with impunity, with the economic and bipartisan political power it already has (Hilary Clinton, for instance, is a major stockholder), is just a foretaste of what it could do as its power grows along with its "market share." In my opinion, this book is a wakeup call for every person who cares about whether or not our kids will still be able to live in the kind of America for whose survival our parents generation fought for in WWII. It ought to be in every library in the U.S!(less)
In one Goodreads group which some of my friends belong to, they're having a discussion of the ethics of giving a book a one-star rating with no explan...moreIn one Goodreads group which some of my friends belong to, they're having a discussion of the ethics of giving a book a one-star rating with no explanatory review; one person likened the practice to a drive-by shooting. I could see her point; but in my case, on the rare occasions I've done it, it's been with nonfiction books read in the past that I didn't have leisure to review, but didn't want people who might browse my shelves to think I agreed with or endorsed, just because I'd read them. This book is a prime example. :-) Books like it might also be a prime example of why one of these Goodreads friends observes that he sometimes has trouble deciding whether to classify a book as "nonfiction" or fiction; the author certainly wants readers to view it as nonfiction, but a factual basis isn't one of its attributes.
Von Daniken's thesis (which sold a surprising number of books, and has made him a prosperous man) is that, from the Old Stone Age down into the ancient Iron Age, Earth was repeatedly visited, on all parts of the globe, by advanced aliens who are responsible for all of mankind's religions, and for virtually all the architectural and scientific achievements of the ancient world. Every detail of early history and prehistory, and an array of physical artifacts, are interpreted in light of this claim, and these interpretations are then advanced as "evidence" for it. (His claims regarding at least two of these "artifacts" were demonstrated, and subsequently admitted by him, to be false; the PBS series Nova unmasked one of them as a deliberate fraud, and he subsequently defended the fraud as an ethically legitimate way of getting people to believe him.) He constantly portrays himself and anyone who believes him uncritically as heroes of free inquiry and bold unfettered thought, while any doubts as to his claims (such as the skepicism of the entire scientific community) is ascribed to obvious intellectual cowardice and obscurantist conformism. (Von Daniken himself has no scientific or archaeological credentials --the blurb on one edition of this book calls him an "autodidact" in archaeology, which means self-taught, but sounds more impressive in Greek-- but he does have two documented prison terms for fraud and embezzlement under his belt.) Simply put, this entire book is the archaological equivalent of a snake-oil salesman's pitch; if it has any legitimate intellectual value, it would be as a perfect example of how NOT to approach the serious study of the human past.
(The 1986 date given for the book is for the paperback edition; I read the hardcover edition, which came out a number of years earlier.) Phipps, a lib...more(The 1986 date given for the book is for the paperback edition; I read the hardcover edition, which came out a number of years earlier.) Phipps, a liberal Protestant scholar, takes issue with the profoundly anti-sex, ultra-ascetic strain of thought that took deep root in the developing Catholic/Orthodox Church of the 2nd and succeeding Christian centuries, with its attendant glorification of perpetual celibacy (a strain that also exerted a historic influence even on Protestantism). He documents this movement pretty solidly, and convincingly demonstrates that it runs counter to the Biblical, Hebraic view of creation, the body and sexuality.
In Phipps view, the doctrines of both Jesus' and Mary's perpetual virginity, as well as of the Virgin Birth, arose as by-products of this essentially heretical asceticism. The third point, of course, is his weakest. The Virgin Birth is clearly taught already in the New Testament (his attempt to argue the contrary is ludicrous), and taught because it reflects historical reality, not a disparagement of sex. In my opinion, though, he is on surer ground in arguing that Jesus and Mary both followed the normal and Biblical pattern of their culture: chaste and monogamous marriage, in which sex played a normal part. Virtually all Protestants recognize that the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity has no Biblical or historical basis. The case for Jesus' celibacy rests only on an argument from silence: if no wife is mentioned, he must not have had one. As Phipps convincingly points out, if his wife died before he began his ministry and they had no children, the N.T. writers had no reason to mention her; and the argument from silence actually cuts the other way: if a radical departure on Jesus' part from normal Jewish social and religious duty (for marriage was held to be no less than a commanded duty) isn't mentioned in the N.T., then it probably didn't occur. (less)
Note, May 22, 2013: Some of the discussion below convinced me that I should add a couple of clarifying sentences, which I've just done.
With the curren...moreNote, May 22, 2013: Some of the discussion below convinced me that I should add a couple of clarifying sentences, which I've just done.
With the current controversies over the projected "Ground Zero" mosque and the threatened Koran burning, a review of the Koran (also spelled Quran; there isn't always a one-on-one correspondence of Arabic and Latin letters) seemed topical. That might seem ground that angels fear to tread, fraught as it is with controversy, deeply-felt sensibilities for some, and the potential for verbal abuse and even physical violence in response. (It's also a challenge to distinguish between a review of the Koran per se and a full-blown discussion of Islam and its role in the world; the two subjects inevitably impinge on each other, but they aren't identical.) But Goodreads exists to provide book discussion --especially discussion of books with ideas that greatly impact the modern world; and by any definition, this one fits that description. Reviews so far tend to fall into three camps: those by Moslems lauding the book to the skies, those by Christian and Jewish believers angrily attacking it, and those by skeptics who see it as a prime example of the ludicrous nature of any and all religions. My own perspective is that of a committed Christian believer convinced of the truth claims of Jesus Christ. That stance is not only compatible with an effort to be fair in describing and evaluating others' beliefs in an attitude of respect for fellow human beings, but positively mandates it.
Unlike the Bible, which contains the writings of many authors spread over millenia, the Koran preserves the oral discourses of just one man, Mohammed, during his lifetime in seventh-century Arabia. (So it has a single basic historical-cultural context, and reflects the theology and style of just one author.) Moslems regard Mohammed as the last and ultimate prophet of God ("Allah" is simply the Arabic word for God, cognate with the Hebrew "El") --and by "God," they mean the God of the ancient Near Eastern religious tradition that also underlies the Bible, the God who revealed Himself to Noah and Abraham. (This in itself doesn't mean that their beliefs perfectly comprehend Him --arguably, nobody perfectly comprehends Him-- but it does mean that "Allah" should not be viewed by Christians as some alien deity comparable to Baal or Molech.) Mohammed's words were dictated to scribes; he was himself illiterate (not a disgrace, in that time and place). Raised in a polytheistic environment, he had some personal contact with Jews, and mostly second-hand information about Christian beliefs, and he connected Jewish and Christian conceptions of God with the primitive monotheistic tradition of his Arab ancestors, but he obviously never read either the Old or New Testaments. He viewed himself as a prophet called to uphold God's cause, and claimed Divine authority for his words.
The content of the Koran itself is sermonic material; it lays down some laws, which reflect a fairly primitive tribal society, and touches incidentally on theology in places, but the overwhelming majority of the content is a pounding reinteration of the twin themes of demand for absolute loyalty and obedience to God and threats of judgment against the disobedient, expressed over and over with a high degree of repetitive language (useful for memorization in a mainly oral culture) and in what I found to be a turgid style. (For me, it was a chore to read, and I think it would be for most Occidental readers.) Naturally, for Christian readers the obvious question here is the legitimacy of Mohammed's claim that this represents divinely inspired teaching. That this is not a claim to be rejected a priori is indicated by the fact that there are an increasing number of Moslems who accept Jesus as the Savior, and who see this as compatible with various views of Mohammed's prophetic role as legitimate. (See "Moslem Followers of Jesus?" by Joseph Cumming, Christianity Today, Dec. 2009, p. 32-5.) There is no hint here of the gospel of grace through faith on the basis of Christ's sacrifice, and not much hint of Divine compassion (beyond pro forma statements that God is "compassionate and merciful" --though here He doesn't sound like it); and the legislation allows things like slavery, polygamy and the subordination of women, and prescribes the death penalty much more liberally than we would. The same, however, can be said of parts of the Old Testament (though the Koranic command to cut off the hands of thieves and its encouragement of wife-beating goes beyond anything found in the Mosaic law). Those parts are set in a total context of Divine revelation that modifies or qualifies them; we accept them as Scripture, but if our sole understanding of God came from, say, the book of Obadiah, we'd have a severely mutilated picture. Much of the content of the Koran, on the most charitable assessment, could be seen as primitive and incomplete, in the same sense as some of the Old Testament that we can now view through the lens of progressive revelation and of Divine accommodation to limited human understanding on the part of the people He had to work with; a parent, as Calvin pointed out, speaks baby talk to an infant. (Though Mohammed lived in a time long after Christ, for all practical purposes his part of the world was a pre-Christian culture, and neither he nor his people had heard the gospel in anything like a coherent or understandable sense.)
IMO, though, there are aspects of the Koran that resist such a charitable view. To be sure, the stress on God's oneness is an Old Testament theme that no New Testament believer would deny, either; and even the insistence that God does not beget can be taken as a refutation of a misunderstanding of Christian doctrine, much as James in his epistle rebuts a misunderstanding of Pauline theology, not the genuine article. (God did not literally beget Jesus by sexual intercourse with Mary, in the manner of pagan gods siring children on human women, and no Christian believer would argue that He did.) But from a Christian standpoint, the Koranic insistence that Jesus was not really killed by his enemies, but was rescued by God, is incompatible with Divine revelation (not to mention history). It stems from the conviction that God must always necessarily rescue and vindicate the righteous, in this world --which, experientially, is NOT true-- and from (understandable) ignorance of the vicarious role of Jesus' death. Here again, Mohammed's lack of acquaintance with the New Testament was a serious liability --much as a lack of acquaintance with the Koran would be a liability to anyone making claims about Islam. (That isn't, obviously, anything that he could have helped; he had the information that could realistically be available to him in his time and place. By all accounts, he was actively interested in obtaining verbal information about both Judaism and Christianity; he can't be faulted for inevitable gaps in what he could acquire that way.) Also, while the Old Testament applies the Mosaic Law only to Israel, and the New Testament supersedes the letter of it with the spirit/Spirit, the Koran suggests no such limits for its laws --which is seen by strict Moslems today as a mandate to impose them on the entire world! Finally (and related to the latter) the Koran in places clearly commands a Moslem theocracy as the form of human government, and calls for its forcible imposition on the world. To be sure, not all Moslems are inclined to follow this to the letter. But this kind of Koranic teaching (coupled with its death penalty provisions for blasphemy and apostasy) certainly creates a built-in ratchet towards intolerance and religious violence, and provides religious justification for social policies which, no matter how constructive or mitigating they might have been in 7th-century tribal society, today more often create and perpetuate horrible injustice rather than mitigate it. To be wisely aware of this is not the same thing as calling for persecution of peaceful Moslems.
So in conclusion, my recommendation regarding the Koran is to read it, not burn it --but read it with a discerning critical faculty. :-) (less)
Actually, I read this book through, piece-by-piece, in the college library at odd moments during my junior college days in the early 70s, but never ch...moreActually, I read this book through, piece-by-piece, in the college library at odd moments during my junior college days in the early 70s, but never checked it out. Since I couldn't at first remember if I'd read it all the way through, and felt I needed a refresher before reviewing it, I decided to reread it. That was an interesting experience; the book contributed a lot to my own intellectual formation as a college student, so I was reviewing my own spiritual/ideological pilgrimage as well as the book in the last few days.
In itself, the book is not a great intellectual masterpiece, or anything resembling it (in fact, it has the academic "print or perish" dictum stamped all over it as its probable major reason for existing); it is somewhat disjointed, with several of its thematic chapters being reworked articles that were originally published separately, and Guttmann's conclusions often don't seem to follow from the examples he adduces. It could also be said of him that, as E. E. Evans-Pritchard remarked of A. E. Crawley, he "is not a particularly lucid writer." Despite the title, this is not a narrative history of Conservative thought in America, but a series of sketch surveys of particular writers --and Guttmann often seems to devote as much or more attention to writers he is arguing were NOT Conservative [the capitalization is his] as to those that he concedes were. Nor, as an avowed socialist and skeptic, is the author very sympathetic to his subject (though, in his conclusion, he allows some merit to Conservative ideals). Nevertheless, this work does have strengths that made an important impression on me as a youth.
First, while I don't share his rigid definitions (more on this below) Guttmann makes the important point that not every claimant to the label "conservative" actually is so; in fact, the "libertarian" cult of unbridled laissez-faire economics represented by National Review and Barry Goldwater has virtually nothing in common with Conservatism in the tradition of Edmund Burke, and the political alliance between the two was not a marriage made in heaven. (Forty years later, this point has been made clearer by the split between the paleo-conservatives represented by The American Conservative and the GOP of Bush and McCain.) As a young man who'd grown up in an ultra-"conservative" church and a small-town Iowa community dominated by the Republican party, and who defined myself automatically in "conservative" terms, this was eye-opening and liberating, helping me to realize that my visceral discomfort with Big Business and cutthroat economics had good conservative credentials, and that knee- jerk labeling is a poor substitute for substantive thought. Second, being a literary rather than a political scholar (he argues that the political weakness of Conservatism in America from the get-go made it more important as a literary than as a political movement), Guttmann has a fresh perspective on the discussion, which was interesting to me as a reader of literature. Finally, the book just presented a wealth of fascinating factual information about American intellectual history, and an introduction to a number of thinkers I'd never heard of, such as Joseph de Maistre, Orestes Brownson, and the Southern Agrarians of the 1930s. All of this is presented in a fairly jargon-free style that makes for a quick read (though the author's occasional untranslated Latin or French words and phrases can be irritating!).
Perhaps the major weakness of the book is Guttmann's rigid insistence on defining Conservatism strictly as a viewpoint whose essential features are support for social and economic inequality and a union of Church and State, and rejection of political democracy and of the idea of natural human rights. (The main reason Conservatism by his definition is so rare in America is that he defines it in terms which practically no American since 1776 would be prepared to accept. :-) ). In a time of socio-economic and political breakdown and flux, those of us who don't fondly imagine the coming of a Utopia invented full-blown from a drawing board that's a pure blank look rather to past thought as a guide for the present and the future. IMO, speaking as someone who sees himself as a paleo -conservative, we can find useful models in a conservatism whose essential features, rather, are support for caring communities bound together by face-to-face relationships, for tradition as a shared social glue that gives continuity to our society, for stable and loving families based on faithful monogamous marriage, for private property as something everybody ought to have, for the rule of law as opposed to the rule of unbridled power, and for voluntary acceptance of religious truth (which, as Guttmann recognizes, has a prophetic as well as a priestly tradition) as the highest moral and philosophical authority --a conservatism which can draw from Locke and Jefferson as well as from Burke.(less)
Note, Feb. 25, 2013: I revised this review slightly, to add a link at the bottom to the Bork book I mentioned in the first paragraph. (At the time I w...moreNote, Feb. 25, 2013: I revised this review slightly, to add a link at the bottom to the Bork book I mentioned in the first paragraph. (At the time I wrote the review, I didn't know how to embed links.)
There was never a time in my life when I wasn't pro-life (though I never thought much about the matter until my high school years, which coincided with the orchestrated push for abortion legalization), so this book isn't responsible for my convictions on the life issues; but it gave me a wealth of factual information and a cogent rational foundation for my thinking. Obviously, I read an even older edition than the one cited above; there are far more current editions, and I'd recommend that a person read one of those rather than this one, since some of the 1972 content is dated. It preceded the Roe vs. Wade decision, for instance, so doesn't address the constitutional issues that raises (these are dealt with in parts of Robert Bork's The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law). But, obviously, I have to review the edition I read; and it remains a worthwhile introduction to the issue. (My five-star rating was revised upward from my generic three-star rating for most nonfiction, and reflects the importance of the book in my intellectual formation, and the universal importance of its subject.)
The short, to-the-point chapters are written in clear language meant to communicate to the average reader, and employ a question-and-answer format. They basically present the biological facts of fetal development and the (grisly) mechanics of abortion methods --Wilkie, the first president of the National Right to Life Committee, was a medical doctor, and wrote from that perspective-- (though, again because of the 1972 date, the abortion drug RU-486 and the partial-birth abortion method are not dealt with); deal with the social consequences of legalized abortion, and demolish the various specious arguments for it; and make the ethical and philosophical case for social protection of the unborn, and of weak and vulnerable humans in general. Important points made are that, while the demand of conscience that we treat the helpless humanely and mercifully is, for many people, supported by religious prescription, it is not in itself a purely sectarian religious taboo, but a basic behavioral principle with purely secular social benefits (Wilkie himself was a Roman Catholic, but he does not argue his case from Catholic dogma); and that the arbitrary exclusion of ANY members of the human species from our definition of who we have to treat as "human" automatically exposes ALL members to the potential of the same exclusion, thus opening up a slippery slope. (The latter point, of course, was borne out by the ensuing pushes for infanticide and euthanasia, both much more "acceptable" and widely practiced now than in 1972.)
This is not, obviously, the most current resource on the subject, and there are many facets of the debate which can be profitably explored in other books. But for a starting point in education on the subject, a reader could still do a lot worse than this one!