Unlike many people, I've never kept reading material by the commode (my wife says I take so long as it is that it wouldn't be wise to get me into read...moreUnlike many people, I've never kept reading material by the commode (my wife says I take so long as it is that it wouldn't be wise to get me into reading anything there!). But one of my sons-in-law does; and I've recently been having to spend a lot of time at his house, and haven't had much time to read anywhere else. Being an antique dealer, most of the books he keeps are antique price guides, etc., which don't really interest me; but this one actually did capture and hold my interest.
Written by a journalist who describes himself as "a fulltime antique and collecting nutcase" of about ten years standing, this is an introduction to collectibles (many of which are, or can be, antiques, defined as over a hundred years old), and to collecting, and possibly selling or trading what you collect, as a hobby. (It's also consciously aimed at the reader of normally modest financial means, not the wealthy.) Lewis recommends specializing in a particular line of collectible, but since he's addressing the beginner who hasn't yet decided what to collect, the first nine chapters of the book (subdivided by a number of bolded headings) provide basic overviews of a wide range of collectible items, including toys, kitchen utensils, books, paper ephemera and writing materials, the trappings of rock music, and much else. Not exhaustive, his treatments give thumbnail histories of the items being collected and specific pointers on how to determine date and quality of items, what to look for, etc. Most are accompanied by a few bibliographic suggestions for in-depth reading, and contact information for hobbyist organizations and/or specialist dealers. The 1981 date means that this material doesn't include the large number of relevant Internet sites that undoubtedly exist today, but the material that is there probably isn't too dated to be useful; and the sample prices mentioned (though this isn't a price guide per se)in this field can still be useful as rough guides, according to my son-in-law, since prices vary more by individual situation than over time. Sample prices are quoted in both U.S. and British money, and organizational information appears for both countries; the text suggests that the intended audience is both American and British. There are also a lot of illustrations here, though none in color. All of these sections have some really fascinating tidbits of social history information, which makes the book a treasure trove for anyone interested in the material culture of the past. Occasionally, Lewis uses a term without clearly defining it, or has a description of some object or process that's not clear; but his prose is lucid for the most part.
One section that elicited more reflection than most was the one (pp. 86-91; three of those pages are taken up by full or nearly full-page illustrations) on "Early Erotica." It should be said that "erotica" is not necessarily equivalent to "porn" (indeed, Lewis draws some distinctions between the material he's discussing and modern porn, to the disadvantage of the latter). A facile, one-on-one automatic equation of nudity with pornography/obscenity isn't justified; as Frank Schaeffer reminds us in Sham Pearls for Real Swine, the classical artists of the past rightly saw the human form as the apex of created beauty, which brought glory to the Creator. Admittedly, the motivations of the artists behind the material discussed here were usually less exalted, but I think much of it can still be viewed in the same spirit. True, one illustration here, a page from a book by the notorious 16th-century libertine writer/artist Aretino, can fairly be called obscene (though his woodcut couples make the human body look grotesque instead of alluring, and are probably relatively unrevealing and tame compared to modern examples --though I thankfully don't have any firsthand basis for comparison!), but that's one page out of 184. But the other two illustrations, though they each show a female with a bared breast, don't actually come across to me as salacious or arousing lust. Granted, that's the reaction of a 59-year-old; both would have exerted more fascination for me as a teen. But even then, I think my reaction would have been similar in kind if not degree. In assessing imagery like this, a lot depends on attitude: a male who thinks all women ought to be his sex slaves won't view any woman with respect, no matter how many layers of clothing she puts on. But if you associate sex essentially with love and commitment, and regard all women as deserving of respect, just happening to see a woman undressed or partly undressed won't cause you to think of her in a demeaning way; it's possible to just appreciate her beauty as a good part of a beautiful world, and go on. Anyway, that's my theory on the subject! (Personally, though, I don't plan to start collecting erotica, early or otherwise. :-) )
The last three chapters provide basic thumbnail information on how to display, restore and care for various types, and materials, of antiques and collectibles; advice on shopping for antiques (and many of the scams Lewis warns against remind us that the antique trade can be a cutthroat business --though he doesn't suggest the common practice of knowingly buying something valuable from a ignorant owner for a pittance, and indeed presupposes that his readers will do all or most of their buying from dealers), and the author's speculations about future trends in collecting. (He expected burgeoning interest in miniatures; I don't know the field enough to tell whether or not that happened.) To sum it up, this is an excellent basic introduction for a novice or a generalist with an interest in this area --not an in-depth treatment of anything for the specialist, but a good starting point-- and a great light read for any social history buff!(less)
Thom Hartmann is a liberal (he prefers to avoid the l-word, with "progressive") talk-radio host and writer of popular-level books on current issues. (...moreThom Hartmann is a liberal (he prefers to avoid the l-word, with "progressive") talk-radio host and writer of popular-level books on current issues. (To his credit, he's also quite active, along with his wife, in philanthropy for children in need, and relief work abroad.) His core subject here is one of the most crucially important and timely ones imaginable: the ongoing drastic deformation of society, the economy, government, and law in America and around the world, at the hands of profit-driven megacorporations intent on concentrating all the world's wealth and power into their few hands. He lays this deformation bare under a piercing searchlight, and what he reveals is appalling; before I read this, I already considered myself relatively knowledgeable about the problem, but he exposed information that even shocked me. And he makes it clear that the principal legal weapon of these corporations is a warped interpretation of corporate "personhood."
While Hartmann isn't an historian (and it often shows), he's researched some themes and key events in American history thoroughly enough to be on sure ground. As he documents, abuses of power by multinational corporations working hand in glove with bought politicians to create monopolies and exploit the masses are nothing new; they were rife in the 18th century, with the East India Company one of the biggest players. The Boston Tea Party, and the boiling unrest it symbolized, wasn't solely about a tax on tea; the tea dumped into Boston harbor was tax-free tea, brought in by the East India Company in a sweetheart deal with Parliament, which would allow them to undersell and bankrupt all of their small American competitors who were selling taxed tea. America's founders were familiar with these abuses and didn't appreciate them; most were opposed to monopoly and supportive of small business and healthily competitive free enterprise (in the actual, lexical sense of the term). The legal and political climate they created in early America was one in which active Federal and especially state regulation of corporations and their business practices and political activities, for the common good, was taken for granted.
In English/American common law, however, corporations traditionally were reckoned as "artificial persons," a legal fiction that allowed them to do some of the same things a natural person can, such as own property and be a party to a lawsuit. At this point, it was not argued by anybody that corporations did or should possess all the rights of "natural persons" (that is, flesh-and-blood human beings). After the passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, aimed at protecting the rights of freed slaves, however, this amendment was highjacked by corporate lawyers who now argued exactly that, in a barrage of lawsuits aimed at striking down any regulation of corporate actions. Their crucial victory is usually supposed to be the 1886 Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad case, in which most historians tell us that the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are "persons" for 14th Amendment purposes. In fact, as Hartmann amply documents, the Court's actual opinion explicitly refused to rule on that claim; the subsequent misrepresentation of the ruling rests entirely on a headnote by the court clerk (despite two explicit Supreme Court rulings that headnotes have no legal force), probably written with a deliberately disingenuous intention. Since 1886, corporations have repeatedly used the courts to assert their "rights" as "persons" not to be "unequally" taxed vis a vis individuals; to be protected from health and safety inspections; and even to falsely advertise, on the grounds that this is constitutionally-protected "free speech." A major milestone in this campaign was the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that any restriction on corporate expenditures for political advertising are an unconstitutional violation of their "free speech" rights as "persons."
Besides a veritable chamber of horrors of actual U.S. court rulings in favor of corporate abuses, the book provides a wealth of statistics on the accelerating concentration of national and global wealth into a relatively few hands, and the attendant actual decline of wages (if the figures are adjusted for inflation) of most Americans. Hartmann also documents a disturbing trend towards state laws criminalizing any "whistle-blowing" of corporate secrets, and perverted use of the concept of "libel" to criminalize criticism of corporate actions and poolicies, such as the laws in 13 states that make it a crime to "disparage the food supply" by suggesting that it's contaminated by corporation-caused pollutions or unsanitary practices. And he gives attention to the corporate-caused systematic destruction of small business and of human-scaled community. He also documents the increasing monopoly domination of the news (and other) media by megacorporations, and their willingness to use this dominance to silence criticism and promote their own agendas.
To remedy this death threat posed to our democracy and economy, the author proposes a two-pronged approach. On one track, he favors the enactment of local (city, town, county or township) regulations of corporate behavior, creating more opportunity for litigation that may give the court system a chance to correct its past misinterpretation of the Constitution (as, say, Brown vs. the Board of Education corrected Plessy vs. Ferguson). On another track, he favors a push for a constitutional amendment making it explicit that the rights of persons extend only to natural, not artificial, persons (though I don't share his optimism that the Supreme Court would change its rulings in that event, given a legal culture that denies the normative significance of the written text of the Constitution anyway.)
In all of the above, I found Hartmann's analysis sound, timely and educational. (For instance, it convinced me that the Citizens United decision was not only incorrectly decided, but bad policy; I was previously inclined to oppose restrictions on political ads run by bona fide non-profit issue-oriented groups that are incorporated, but there's no legal way to separate the bona fide ones from the fronts for for-profit corporations. The McCain-Feingold Act didn't prevent individuals, or candidates, from exercising their free speech rights.) The core message of the book is one everybody should be made aware of, and would, considered by itself, have merited a 4 or 5-star rating. So, why did it only get three? The answer could be summed up as flawed presentation, and gratuitous ideological posturing.
As a talk-radio host, Hartmann can probably get by with being rather disorganized and repetitive in his comments; the medium doesn't lend itself to sustained, well-organized presentation of developed arguments. In a book, though, you need the latter, and here it's too often lacking. His ignorance of history, outside of the narrow areas where he's really researched, makes his attempts at broad historical analysis so cringe-inducingly oversimplified, distorted and actually erroneous that they're essentially waste of paper. He also has more than occasional misuses of terms here. But more importantly, even though he recognizes at one point that the traditional Democrats vs. Republicans and Tories vs. Labor party distinctions are less relevant than the fundamental distinction between the politicians working for corporations and those working for ordinary citizens (and explicitly demonstrates that "Third Way" politicos like Clinton, Blair, and Obama are tools, not opponents, of the corporations), he's still a highly partisan child of the hard Left, for whom the Democratic Party is his old school tie and Republicans are essentially incarnations of evil. This colors his writing repeatedly, and demonstrates that although there are coalescent possibilities galore in his core program (and it stands no chance of being enacted without a coalescent realignment of political allegiances!), ever getting those possibilities realized is going to be an uphill battle. When he's forced to recognize that some Republicans/conservatives agree with aspects of his case, his response is sometimes to disparage them anyway, as when the fact that Chief Justice Rehnquist felt that the Santa Clara "precedent" was wrongly decided and that corporations do NOT have human rights is met with a completely gratuitous and poorly-reasoned "racism" smear. And he goes out of his way to drag in every irrelevant liberal shibboleth he can think of; his enthusiasm for Roe vs. Wade, for instance, grates like long fingernails scraping over a blackboard, and demonstrates that his enthusiasm for faithful constitutional interpretation is confined to cases where he'd like the result. (In fairness, though, his only chapter-long excursion into irrelevant ideological territory, his attack on the 2000 Supreme Court ruling in the Bush-Gore Florida electoral vote battle, does provide factual information that the more superficial media accounts did not, and convinces me that the Supreme Court intervened in the case improperly.) His examples of horrible behavior are invariably drawn from the Right, as with the revelation (which he conclusively proves) that right-wing organizations and campaigns are hiring people to post pre-supplied talking points on the Internet, wherever sites allow people to comment --a phenomenon I find as alarming as any he describes here. (But if the Right is doing this --and they are-- does anyone seriously imagine that the Left is not?)
In summary, then, this is a flawed presentation of a serious (make that vitally-important!) wake-up call about a serious threat to our basic foundation as a nation. Even with its flaws, I think it would be a worthwhile eye-opener for many people to read, because it presents facts and arguments in one place that aren't often met with, and might not be as compactly assembled in very many other books. If you "take the meat, and throw away the bone," you can still find a lot of meat here!(less)
Just now, I was amazed to discover that, when I first set up my Goodreads shelves back in 2008, I somehow forgot to include this book! The oversight i...moreJust now, I was amazed to discover that, when I first set up my Goodreads shelves back in 2008, I somehow forgot to include this book! The oversight is stunning, when you consider that this is easily one of the most fascinating and intellectually stimulating books I've ever read. Ralph Linton was, in his day, a world-class scholar in the field of cultural anthropology, a wide-ranging traveler knowledgeable about the entire panorama of mankind's cultural history. Here, he set out to condense as much of that knowledge as he could into one volume written for the intelligent and interested layman, without jargon or footnotes (though he does append an over 16-page bibliography, broken down by chapters), and written in a style that's the very opposite of dry and dull. He unfortunately died in 1953, before entirely finishing the work; but the project was completed by Adelin Linton from his extensive notes, and transcriptions of the lecture series which inspired the book. The genesis of the material in lecture form contributes to the wit and facility with concrete examples displayed here, and I'd guess that he was very popular with students at the universities where he taught (which included Columbia and Yale).
While this isn't a conventional history book as such, much of its material is an invaluable resource for the study of world history; in fact, I referred to it often when I taught World Civilization I at the college level. The 51 chapters are divided into ten parts. The first of these deals with human origins, and the description of the world of the Pleistocene in which modern humans first appear on the scene. While Linton was an evolutionist, he doesn't dwell on that subject; his concern is primarily in describing how people developed once they were here, more so than in speculating on how they got here. (He also regards Neanderthals as fully human, not as some separate species of "ape-men," and on this point I believe he makes a better case than William Fix in The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution or Hugh Ross in The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis). The next part deals with human races, or physical anthropology (unlike most evolutionists of his generation, Linton was NOT racist), and the processes of social and cultural development. Then we move on to "Basic Inventions" that ultimately facilitated civilization: fire and tools, domestication of plants and animals (agriculture), metallurgy, writing, etc., and the formation of the first cities and states. Part Four covers hunter-gatherer cultures, both as they existed in the Old Stone Age and as they have existed in some places in historical times.
Each part of the remainder of the book treats a particular geographic area and the development of its distinctive cultural complexes, usually from prehistory down to the point where there began to be significant outside contact to the point of undermining or diluting the basic cultural distinctiveness, or fusing it into something else. The areas looked at are: Southeast Asia; Southwest Asia (the Middle East) and Neolithic Europe; the ancient Mediterranean and early Islamic worlds; Africa; the Orient (India, China and Japan); and the New World before Columbus.
For someone who has a fundamental curiosity about how the world around him/her got to be the way it is, and what the human past was like (which describes me pretty well!) this book is a treasure; it really brings out how much of our basic culture is ancient or even prehistoric in origin. There's a wealth of absorbing detail here (Linton can make even primitive iron-working processes interesting!). A lot of illustrations enhance the book, and it's also well indexed. All in all, a book that remains highly educational and brain-stimulating, more than fifty years after it was published!(less)
Goodreads author Carolyn Jourdan is one of my longest-standing Goodreads friends; but back in 2007, when this book first came out and before I'd ever...moreGoodreads author Carolyn Jourdan is one of my longest-standing Goodreads friends; but back in 2007, when this book first came out and before I'd ever heard of Goodreads, I'd read a review of it in Library Journal or Booklist (maybe both) and been intrigued by it. I usually don't read memoirs, except for James Herriot's books, but this one caught my interest. So, when I had a chance to snag a copy on BookMooch awhile ago, I grabbed it up. I'm really glad I finally made time to read it!
The Goodreads description actually gives a good sketch of the situation that confronted Carolyn during the year that this book covers, and the decision that emerged from it. What it may not fully convey is the flavor of the book. It's not a bit pat or treacly; the author doesn't try to portray herself as a saint, and her struggle with the idea of giving up a $100,000-a-year job as a Senate committee counsel, and a lifestyle she liked, in order to opt for a much less heralded and lucrative place of service is portrayed with unflinching honesty. That makes her decision all the more powerful in the end; it wasn't something she effortlessly fell into, but a conscious, deliberate choice of the kind of things that matter most in life. Along the way, she provides us as readers with a wonderful ride.
Appalachia is where I've lived for more than 20 years, so I could relate to the setting here. She doesn't romanticize it, though she makes it clear that it's a place of great natural beauty, a place where communities of friends and family who actually help each other can still be found, and a place with a cultural ethos that's not wholly homogenized by modernity. But it's also a place of widespread poverty, ravaged by prescription drug addiction, and not immune to the social dysfunctions of modern life. Above, I mentioned James Herriot's books as memoirs I liked. Some reviewers have actually compared this book to his work; and allowing for the differences in time and place, there are similarities in the rural setting, the tone, and the fascinating character portrayals of the patients --which here even include some animals; Dr. Jourdan wasn't a veterinarian, but he saw a few four-legged patients nonetheless. (The goat on the cover of the edition I read came in for an X-ray. :-) ) There's abundant humor in these pages; I laughed out loud several times. But humor sometimes serves to hold back tears, because medical practice necessarily involves its tragedies, too; patients die, and they're not always the patients we think are "ready" to die. And there's a goodly share of wisdom, too, homespun or hard-won; and ultimate triumph that makes the spirit soar. It's no secret that I tend to prefer fiction over nonfiction in my reads, but this is nonfiction that's as readable as a novel --a high-quality, serious novel that has something worthwhile to say (as opposed to what passes for a modern "literary" novel).
I'm trying not to make this review too long; but one point that cries out to be made, and that the reader can't help but take from the book, is the contrast between the older personal, service-oriented kind of medicine exemplified in this book by Dr. Jourdan (a doctor, for instance, who still made housecalls, and didn't charge indigent patients), and the modern bureaucratic, profit-driven model we're told we have to settle for now. We all know the former is better, but we've gotten accustomed to wringing our hands and bewailing its loss. This book shows us that we don't have to do that; that human-scaled medicine is a viable option for the present, given people determined to make it work.
Very strict Christian readers may be put off by the fact that Carolyn and her family and friends don't totally eschew a certain amount of bad language of the d-, h- and s-word sort at times, and she faithfully reproduces that dialogue as it was. And a couple of conversations involve theological speculations that aren't strictly orthodox. For my part, I honestly wasn't bothered by either factor here. (As far as theology goes, I'd rather see people take God seriously enough to think about him, even in ways I don't agree with, than to ignore Him; and the latter is something our author doesn't do.)
While the author doesn't try to make herself a plaster saint on a pedestal here, and laughs at her own foibles as much as at anybody's, the personality that's revealed here is a really likeable one: kind, smart, caring (and at times a little zany :-) ). I'm proud to say that we're "friends" (even in the limited sense that word sometimes bears on Goodreads); and getting to know her, even through the medium of a book, is one of the best treats this read has to offer.
Note: in the back, the edition I read has a short but interesting "Conversation With the Author," and even some discussion questions for book clubs who want to do this book as a read. I'm not sure if all the editions have these; but I highly recommend the book in any edition!(less)
Most of my textbooks in high school and college weren't especially memorable or worthwhile as reading, though I suppose I learned things from all of t...moreMost of my textbooks in high school and college weren't especially memorable or worthwhile as reading, though I suppose I learned things from all of them. A few, though, stayed in my memory because they really had interesting content (at the time) to me, and were intellectually stimulating. This is one from that select latter group. It introduced me to the idea that human society can be studied systematically, that even in the midst of human variety and diversity there are broad patterns; and it taught me pretty much the basic framework of what I know about sociological concepts and theory.
After introducing sociology as a science, Landis organizes the rest of his 34 chapters into very broad units. Among the topics covered are the role of heredity and environment; culture; the socialization process; social change and social control; the family; politics and economics; social problems; and the role of religion. Writing before the epochal convulsions of the late 60s, his descriptive treatment of then-current conditions, of course, is quite dated. Interestingly, he also doesn't deal with the role of gender in society, an omission that would have been corrected if the book had been published recently. (There is, in fact, a whole array of later editions, but I'm reviewing only the one I actually used and read, and have in hand.) On the plus side, however, it's also free from the heavy weight of ideological baggage that tended to dominate post-60s textbooks. The author's own perspective is probably that of what one of my college history teachers would have called the "bourgeoisie liberal," but he actually makes a clear (and largely successful) attempt to avoid bias and present a balanced treatment of the subject(s). For instance, the treatment of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is not an invidious attack, and even includes positive comments.
With some supplementation to describe current conditions, many parts of this book would still be useful and relevant. A reader wanting to glean a basic view of sociology, or even home-schoolers looking for a textbook, might not find this a bad starting place, even in 2009.(less)
American writer Marguerite Henry, whose life spanned most of the 20th century (1902-97), was best known for her mostly nonfiction books on horse-relat...moreAmerican writer Marguerite Henry, whose life spanned most of the 20th century (1902-97), was best known for her mostly nonfiction books on horse-related subjects, written for children but capable of also being appreciated by adults. Since my wife is an avid horse-lover, it's not surprising that Henry's work is up her alley. We read this one together sometime in the mid-80s (1986 is a guess), as well as the author's King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian, and I really liked both of them myself.
Here, Henry turned her attention to the plight of the mustangs, wild horses of the American West descended from stock that escaped from the Spanish conquistadores, through the lens of the life story (up to 1966, when the book was written) of the activist who was primarily responsible for preventing them from being slaughtered into extinction in the 20th century. Velma Bronn "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston (1912-1977) was born and raised in Nevada, of pioneer stock; her father was actually fed, as an infant, on the milk of a captured mustang mare when his mother was unable to nurse him, a story Annie's grandmother passed down to her. As a girl, she was given a mustang pony, Hobo, who became a cherished friend. Early in her married life, she discovered that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, at the behest of wealthy ranchers who begrudged the grass the mustangs ate, was sponsoring brutal aerial round-ups of whole herds, and selling them to the pet food industry for slaughter with the intention of totally exterminating the breed. She began a crusade to save them, beginning with her local county commissioners, that ultimately led to her testifying in the halls of Congress. Aerial round-ups were outlawed in 1959 through the passage of the "Wild Horse Annie Law;" and Federal Reserves for mustangs established in the years that followed. (She was also active in promoting the passage of the more comprehensive protections in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, though that took place after Henry wrote this book.)
Though the title page doesn't use the stock phrase "as told to..." the author recounts Annie's story(except for the short epilogue, "Roaming Free") in the first person, presumably with Henry's seasoned editing. The result is felicitous; the story reads like a novel, proving that real life can be as fascinating as fiction. We see Annie's pioneer roots, her childhood in Reno and on her parent's small ranch, including her harrowing bout with polio that left her face somewhat disfigured, her dawning love for neighbor boy Charlie Johnston (they married when she was about 18, and he about 24), the couple's early struggles to make ends meet, her discovery of the horrors of mustang slaughter, and the story of her activism, from its local beginnings and leading up to her dramatic, epochal testimony to a Congressional committee. (Many of the highlights of that testimony are reproduced here, including a thumbnail sketch of the contributions of the mustangs to the settlement of the West.) The reading level would be appropriate for the average middle schooler and above, but isn't too simplistic for adults, either; it's a fascinating tale, chock-full of dramatic incident. It makes the issues in the struggle crystal clear, and it's a very real testament to the power of grass-roots activism in a democracy. Annie's undergirding faith in God also comes through clearly (though other sources indicate that her personality was a bit saltier than Henry shows).
From the vantage point of 1966, Henry and Annie couldn't have foreseen that today, almost 50 years later, the mustangs would again be in the crosshairs of extinction, as the same powerful ranching and horsemeat interests (today with the additional market of overseas human consumption of horseflesh!) buy political influence in Congress and the BLM, to defy, circumvent and bend the law in order to turn back the clock. (That's a sobering reminder that, in the scope of history, there are no "lost causes," simply because there are no permanently won causes; every victory for decency and justice has to be embraced, maintained and defended by the succeeding generations, or it'll be forgotten and pushed aside by renascent indecency and injustice. :-( ). But even though the book doesn't mention the current struggle or make people aware it exists, it would still be a good starting point for educating both kids and adults about the issue. It's still a relevant book --maybe even more so today than when it was first published!(less)
The development, over a period of thousands of years, of democracy --the idea that the people of a nation should ultimately rule themselves through la...moreThe development, over a period of thousands of years, of democracy --the idea that the people of a nation should ultimately rule themselves through laws made by elected representatives responsible to them-- has to rank as one of the major achievements of Western civilization. It's closely related to a second major Western achievement: the concept of the rule of law, the idea that law is binding on everybody and that the powerful can't simply ignore or defy it whenever they want to. And since the early days of the Roman republic, when the plebians demanded that the laws be written and posted for ALL to read, rather than kept as an oral tradition under the dubious guardianship of the patricians, law has come to mean written law, with the basic assumption that written language can and does communicate objective meaning, and that the literate are capable of understanding it through reading. Most of these achievements and assumptions faced bitter opposition throughout their history, and all of them face powerful opposition today. In the present-day U.S., a key battleground in this ancient conflict is the so-called "original intent" vs. "living Constitution" controversy, which centers on the basic question of whether written law is binding on those who wield power (especially judicial power), or whether they can and should reinterpret it as anything whatsoever that they want it to be.
Before reading this book (which is aptly subtitled "The Political Seduction of the Law"), I was already pretty familiar with this background and with the particular wrinkles it's assumed in modern U.S. legal culture, mostly from reading in periodical sources over the years. I read this book to compare it with the views I'd already formed on the subject, as well as to possibly learn something new. Since the book I'm currently reading basically deals with matters of law (and of abuse of judicial power), I thought it might be a good time to go back and retrospectively review this one as well.
A former Yale law professor, U.S. Solicitor General and Federal judge, author Bork is of course well-known (to those who follow public affairs) for his rejected nomination to the Supreme Court during the Reagan administration. He's a serious thinker on constitutional law and legal policy (more serious than most of the senators who voted against his nomination), and an articulate expositor of the view that the Constitution and statute law have objective, discernible meaning which is binding on judges to enforce, regardless of their personal views and policy preferences. Here, after a short introduction that summarizes this view and its significance in the modern U.S. context, he divides the main body of the book into three parts.
First, he presents a history of U.S. Supreme Court constitutional jurisprudence (up to 1990, when this book was written), going back to its earliest beginnings, which demonstrates that, although today the idea is more aggressively and openly embraced and defended, the practice of justices reading their own political preferences into the Constitution and law with no actual basis in the text of either is nothing new. And though Bork is a hated boogeyman for the Left, he makes it clear that this practice has historically also --and just as illegitimately-- been a common one in the service of "conservative" agendas (or, at least, oligarchic and elitist agendas wrapped in "conservative" rhetoric), such as the defense of slavery and the striking down of economic regulations. He pays particular attention to the brainchild of Chief Justice Taney, the theory of "substantive due process," (as opposed to real due process), under which not only must the administrative procedures of the law be fair, but the substance of the law itself must conform to the judge's personal view of fairness. (Taney, for instance, felt that legal prohibition of slavery was "unfair" to slave owners.) In the second part, he summarizes and rebuts the major contemporary legal theories that purport to justify judicial departure from the written text of the law, and to explain what "authority," if any, should be put in its place. This is probably the driest section of the book, and the hardest even for educated non-lawyer readers to understand. My impression is that here the Yale professor in him sort of takes over, and that he's writing this for lawyers and law students in a milieu where all of these theories are to be taken seriously, and failure to adequately address one of them opens you to the charge of being an intellectual lightweight. By the time he's done, that's not a charge his critics can throw at him (at least, not fairly), but it may leave most readers a bit glassy-eyed. Finally, the third part is a first-hand account of his confirmation battle, in which battle lines were drawn in an openly-politicized process that was frankly about what political agendas he would or wouldn't serve on the court (rather than about his fitness to impartially apply the law as it's written), and what that presages for future Supreme Court nominations. One of the most important parts of the book may be the appendix --the text of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, which even most educated Americans have never read, and about which most are totally clueless.
I didn't go a full five stars in my rating here, because I think there are areas where he could have made his case better and more clearly for ordinary readers. One point that's not sufficiently stressed, IMO (though he mentions it) is that the Constitution itself does provide a procedure by which it CAN be changed to address new conditions and realities, so that the only alternative to a "constitution" made out of silly-putty in the hands of an unelected clerisy of judges isn't, as we're constantly told by the media, a hopelessly outdated document that can never be changed --rather, it's democratically enacted change by the people's representatives, requiring a process and a high degree of consensus that guarantees that changes aren't made frivolously. A second point that's not addressed is the role of postmodernism as the genesis of a lot of the current assault on the written Constitution, with its glorification of total subjectivism and its solipsistic denial that language can have any shared meaning between any two people. (That more basic discussion could have productively replaced the part on the different permutations of "living Constitution" theory, since it underlies all of them.) Related to the question of language and its meaning, there is a long-standing legal doctrine that when legal language is claimed to actually be ambiguous, a court is obliged to construe it in the way that a hypothetical "reasonable person" would. This test would eliminate a vast amount of judicial contortions of the English language, but Bork doesn't discuss it here. I could raise other quibbles, and occasional disagreements, as well. But in the main, this is a very solid discussion of a crucially important subject, and one that I think most readers could learn from. Despite the dense subject matter of some of it, it's mostly accessible reading, presented with good humor and a lot of genuine wit (Bork must have been popular as a lecturer, at least with students who didn't automatically hate him for his beliefs).
One final note is worth mentioning here. Bork doesn't discuss this in the book, but one of the main arguments of people who demonize him is based on the fact that during the Watergate crisis, after Attorney General Eliot Richardson and his deputy had resigned rather than obey Nixon's order to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor, it fell to Bork as the number three official in the department to do it --proof positive, say the demonizers, that he was a willing accomplice of the crook Nixon. The truth of the matter, as I learned years ago from reading accounts of the matter more detailed than the sound bites, was that Bork was as disgusted as the other two and wanted to resign also. He was prevailed upon by Richardson not to, on the grounds that if he did "there would be no Justice Department" left; and having accepted the felt 'duty" of staying on, he reluctantly carried out Nixon's order, under protest. One might argue that he should have resigned, no matter what Richardson thought that would do to the department. (In his shoes, I probably would have.) Nevertheless, this does show him in a different light than the totally unscrupulous and villainous one in which he's usually misrepresented.(less)
This is definitely not the sort of book you'd read from cover to cover, unless you're reviewing it for a journal, as I did several years ago (I actual...moreThis is definitely not the sort of book you'd read from cover to cover, unless you're reviewing it for a journal, as I did several years ago (I actually read the 1999 edition, but I'm assuming that the only major change since then is the annual updating of the content). It is, however, a very valuable reference resource if your interested in writing either fiction or nonfiction for the Christian market. The core of the book are two sections listing, respectively, book publishers and periodicals; the latter section is broken down into categories. (Indexes indicate particular subject or genre areas each of these markets is interested in.) Each entry provides contact information, and info about payment practices, openness to new/ unagented writers, amount published each year, etc. There are also features such as lists of Christian literary agents, writer's groups, and conferences. Every writer for this market should have access to a recent edition of this title!(less)
I read this book at a time in my life when I was seriously considering joining the Amish, if they'd take me, and wanted a good, basic how-to book on s...moreI read this book at a time in my life when I was seriously considering joining the Amish, if they'd take me, and wanted a good, basic how-to book on subsistence farming --not the high- tech, commercial, "agribusiness" type. Ultimately, my search for God's will in my life led me in a different vocational direction; but this book definitely provided me with a wealth of practical information that would have been useful for a career of small-scale farming. (For instance, one suggestion I still recall is that you paint your tool handles a bright, vivid color, rather than the usual dull brown, so they're much easier to find if they're dropped in tall grass or brush.)
Though it's not a recent book, I think this would still be a useful practical resource for the modern "back-to-the-land" movement. And that's a movement that will be more and more relevant as we move into an economy of oil scarcity, and as the failure and human costs of globalization become more apparent.(less)