Clinton Wilcox's Reviews > Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice

Life's Work by Willie  Parker
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did not like it

It's not often I give a book a one star rating, but this book deserves it. I only have so many characters, so this is going to be an abridged review. You can find my full review on Amazon or on the Life Training Institute blog.

Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker is a new book defending abortion rights by an African-American doctor who is a self-proclaimed "Christian" (the reason for the quotes around Christian will become evident below). For all the lip service Parker says about rationality and wanting to approach the issue rationally, I've rarely read a more irrational defense of abortion rights.

Doctor Parker is, having grown up a poor black kid with all the struggles that brings with it, adamant about protecting the rights of women by ensuring that they have the "right to abortion." Unfortunately, what Parker doesn't understand is that by dehumanizing the unborn, he is doing exactly what white people used to do to black slaves, dehumanizing them so that they can justify killing them because they're in the way of what bigger and stronger people want. He actually says, unironically, that "A fetus is not 'a person.' It is not, therefore, entitled to the rights of 'a person'" (p. 154). I bet Parker is glad white people aren't saying that about black people any longer.

This is going to be a fairly lengthy review. Parker has said a number of things that I should respond to. I'm going to split it up into four sections and show the various reasons his book is so irrationally argued: First, I'll show how he has contradicted himself in several places, even sometimes in the same paragraph. Then I'll respond to some of his pseudo-scientific arguments against the humanity of the fetus. After that, I'll respond to some of his pseudo-biblical arguments for abortion. Then finally I'll show why Parker is not a Christian in any meaningful sense, based on some of the statements he makes in his book.

A few preliminary notes. Parker's book commits a couple of critical errors. He has no table of contents in his book, and he doesn't source any of the information he uses. Absolutely none. He does occasionally allude to another source that might support something he is saying, but he doesn't actually source anything. As such, I can't look up his information to know whether or not he's telling the truth on any of it. Additionally, Parker has failed the ideological turing test. Badly. He tries to tell his abortion-choice readers what pro-lifers believe and think. He tries to put on an air of charitability, but in reality he doesn't know what he's talking about. Parker never responds to any of the scientific arguments pro-life people make. Instead, he continually insists the only reason pro-life people are opposing abortion is because they want to control womens' bodies (which is an all-too-common claim) and because they want white women to have as many babies as they can to continue being the dominant race in the United States (this is seriously an assertion he makes in his ninth chapter, titled "Black Genocide and the White Majority"). I guess black people and other minorities are invisible to Parker unless they worship at the altar of abortion rights.

Despite the subtitle to Parker's book, it's mainly an autobiography. He really presents no "moral argument" throughout the book other than "I grew up in a difficult situation, so I need to give women abortions to help them through their difficult situations." Other than that, he does present a few arguments from science and Scripture that I'll be getting into in their respective sections. The only other thing worth mentioning is that he claims certain people, like Martin Luther King, Jr., as his heroes and thinks of them in his fight for "abortion rights." Of course, he completely ignores the fact that King, a Baptist minister, opposed same-sex marriage and opposed abortion. But let's not let facts get in the way of polemics.

I'm not going to talk about literally everything in the book, but I'll hit most of the highlights.

Contradictions

One contradiction appears early on (p. 10). He says that [one of] the underlying assumptions behind these pro-life laws is that their doctors can't be trusted to tell them the truth, when in the paragraph immediately preceding that he fully admitted that he refuses to tell them simple things such as "abstinence is the surest way of birth control."

In chapter two, he describes a doctor he gives the pseudonym Dr. Sweet as a lovely person, having a "gentle, nonconfrontational demeanor." A couple of paragraphs later, he describes this sweet, nonconfrontational, lovely person as waging a war on abortion rights.

There are, of course, others. But one of the most glaring contradictions occurs on p. 195. Parker writes that he will not perform abortions after the point of viability, but since he doesn't believe morality is absolute, he will refer out for them. He tells of a mother who is seeking an abortion for her daughter, so Parker referred them to clinics in Colorado and New Mexico. Then he writes, "I did not tell them that the doctors in those places would probably not perform the procedure because, at twenty-eight weeks, patient preference -- or 'I messed up' -- is not a medical indication. It is not my role to block anyone from pursuing their interest or to withhold information." At this point I was asking myself if he even pays attention to himself. In the span of two sentences he says he doesn't withhold information from anyone right after informing us that he withheld information from a mother and daughter seeking an abortion.

Arguments from Science

Let's now talk about Parker's pseudo-scientific claims. Parker doesn't believe the fetus is equal to a baby or a child because it can't survive outside the uterus since it can't breathe, nor can it form anything like thoughts. Of course, he never justifies why these things are necessary to be equal to us older people; he just assumes it. The only reason the fetus can't breathe or form thoughts is because it is too young to do so. And of course, the fetus does breathe, it just breathes via the umbilical cord, not through its nose. It is still taking in oxygen. Then he says that despite what "the antis" say (his not-so-nice term for pro-life people), a fetus can't feel pain up until 29 completed gestational weeks. He says this is the scientific consensus, though he doesn't give any source to support his claim.

Chapter eight is where Parker really tries to offer a more extensive scientific case. He first starts off by stating that no one (not doctors, legislators, etc.) judges or shames cancer patients for their decisions, even if those decisions lead to death. This really shows Parker's inability to understand the other side, because of course there's a difference in performing an act that one foresees may be detrimental to him- or herself (such as refusing cancer treatment to remain lucid as long as possible, even though getting treatment may extend her life) and performing an act that results in the death of another human being (i.e. having an abortion).

Parker goes on to state that the political conversation around abortion has "obliterated truth and crushed any nuanced understanding of what it means to live a human life" (p. 143). By this he means that pro-life people are too black and white by arguing that human life begins at fertilization. Parker doesn't believe we can pinpoint when human life begins because "life is a process" (and of course, he completely ignores the fact that his own argument means that he can't even prove a human infant or the woman he gives the abortion to is alive, since he makes no attempt to tell us when human life begins).

Parker tries to put himself forth as an authority on when life begins, but as an astronomer is not an authority on evolution, nor is a biologist an authority on what the atmosphere of Mars is composed of, Parker is not an authority on whether or not embryos are human beings just because he has scientific training -- embryologists are, and they consistently agree, without significant controversy, that human life begins at fertilization. Parker's a pretty lousy doctor if he doesn't even know this basic biological fact. Of course, he dismisses the idea that "life begins at conception" as a "deeply held religious belief" and doesn't even attempt to interact with the scientific arguments pro-life people give for that view. He then appeals to Justice Blackmun's ruling in Roe v. Wade, though, of course, Blackmun's ruling was not scientific in nature -- it was philosophical (and bad philosophy, at that). I bet Parker would not accept as an argument for young-earth creationism that "scientists, philosophers, and theologians all disagree on the age of the earth, so neither should we take any particular stance on what the age of the earth is." But this is exactly the kind of reasoning Blackmun used in Roe, and Parker apparently finds it quite convincing.

Parker also repeats the myth that abortion was illegal in common law to protect the life and safety of women. This is a false narrative (though Parker doesn't seem very interested in refuting false narratives if they agree with his). As Joseph Dellapenna showed in his book Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, abortion was illegal in common law to protect the life of the fetus, not to protect the health of the mother. A stark difference is that Dellapenna has provided many, many sources to support his claims, and Parker doesn't offer a single one to support his.

Parker then tries to argue that life is a continuous process -- the man and woman are alive, the sperm and ovum cells are alive, and the resulting zygote is alive. This is, of course, not new information, nor is it particularly interesting. Of course life is a continuous process. But there is a zero point at which the sperm and ovum cells cease to exist and a new, genetically distinct human organism arises in its place. This is the consensus among embryologists, even abortion-choice embryologists. Parker mistakenly thinks this shows that there's no point at which the "switch for life is flipped on," so to speak. But Parker is wrong. He even tells his readers on p. 181 of his book, "Life is a process. Your life is a process." Considering this is the main reason he denies human embryos and fetuses are alive, to be consistent he must not believe anyone reading his book is alive.

He next speaks of embryos that implant but fail to thrive, resulting in miscarriages. Aside from the fact that, again, he doesn't source his claim that as many as one in five embryos fail to thrive, he seems to indicate that an embryo's failing to thrive means that it isn't a "life." Of course, many infants fail to thrive, as well. Perhaps Parker would be okay with infanticide, since his scientific argument would also show that infants are not "lives" based on his ridiculous criteria.

Arguments from Scripture

Parker fancies himself as a modern day Apostle Paul (though he doesn't seem to accept Paul's admonition not to forsake the assembling together, as had become the habit of some). On page 15 of his book, Parker talks about the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus told the people who wanted to stone her "if any of you are without sin, go and cast the first stone." Of course, what he fails to mention is that Jesus also told her "go and sin no more." In other words, "leave your life of adultery." Parker's Jesus is a Jesus who does not judge the sins of man (boy is he in for a shock). Additionally, on page 69, Parker tells us he offers a counternarrative to the disapproval of Christianity: "...that God gave every woman gifts and the agency to realize those gifts, and that nothing about choosing to terminate a pregnancy or to delay childbearing puts a woman outside of God's love." Of course, this "modern day Apostle Paul" also seems to have forgotten that Paul wrote, in Romans, "Shall we sin so that grace can abound? Certainly not!" Parker is no philosopher. He doesn't seem to understand that having the volition (the agency) to do something does not mean that we are justified in making any choice we make just because we have it.

Parker, himself, repeats the oft-asserted claim that Christianity is sexist. He claims that Christianity "threw Eve under the bus" (a slogan he repeats several times throughout the book), and while it's true Adam tried to blame Eve for his sin, what Parker conveniently leaves out is that Adam was punished for sinning, just like Eve was, and Jesus proclaimed that it would be through a woman that Christ would eventually conquer Satan. However, as David Marshall points out, Christianity does not oppress women; just the opposite. It has always been the great liberator of women (see his article here and the subsequent parts in this series for evidence for that claim). Just a couple of examples: it was Christians who discouraged female infanticide in the early Roman world. And let's not forget that it was Jesus, in the Scriptures, who opposed Jewish societal etiquette and talked to women (such as the Samaritan woman at the well).

Parker reinterprets Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermon I've Been to the Mountaintop and his discussion of the Good Samaritan. This is not unique to Parker; abortion-choice philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson also abused the Good Samaritan tale to justify her stance on abortion rights. Parker sees himself as the "good Samaritan" in performing abortions on women he thinks are in need of them.

In chapter seven, Parker attempts to make a more detailed Biblical case for supporting abortion rights. He argues that the Bible does not contain the word "abortion" in it. Of course, this is just the old argument from silence fallacy. The Bible not expressly condemning it does not mean the Bible condones it. What we do have is one of the earliest Christian documents, The Didache, expressly forbidding both abortion and infanticide, so to claim that Christianity is consistent with support for abortion is historically and theologically confused. The Bible also says "you shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13, Deut. 5:17), that child sacrifice had never even entered God's mind to command (Jer. 19:5), and that Jesus had high regard for children (Matt. 18:6, Matt. 19:14). That God would support abortion to make our lives easier is a concept that is foreign to Scripture.

He refers to the passage in Exodus in which if two men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman, if her child dies the offender is to pay the husband a fine. He uses this to illustrate that the loss of the fetus was not a capital crime. I have responded to this passage elsewhere, but briefly, what is in mind here is not miscarriage, but premature birth. If the two men are fighting, the baby is born prematurely, and there is no further harm, the man must pay the husband a fine. But if there is loss of life (either the mother's or child's), then the offender was to be put to death.

Parker also alleges that throughout Jewish Scripture, a fetus becomes human only when its head emerges from the birth canal. Aside from not supporting his claim with any sources, this is absurd on the face of it. It may be different in other Jewish texts, but at least in the Torah, the same word for "child" is used to refer to either unborn or born children. The text makes no differentiation between children.

Parker is Not a Christian in any Meaningful Sense

Parker simply worships a god of his own creation. Throughout the book, he uses phrases such as "the god I worship", or "the god I believe in". This is likely because he doesn't believe there is any right interpretation of Scripture (p. 127) and that there is no such thing as absolute morality (p. 195). However, Parker's beliefs land him square outside of orthodoxy, meaning that he is not a Christian in any meaningful sense. Of course, this won't prevent people like Gloria Steinem and Cecile Richards from holding him up and saying, "see, you can be a Christian and pro-life." As Parker proves in his book based on his rejection of it, you can't be an orthodox Christian and pro-life.

On page 55 of his book, Parker writes the following: "God is love, and God does not judge; but God's people can become overly pious and haughty, and they can become inflexible." It is astounding that anyone who thinks himself a Christian can believe that God doesn't judge. Would you try to tell that to Ananias and Sapphira? To Tyre and Sidon? To Sodom and Gomorrah? To the Canaanites? To the Amalekites? The list goes on and on. Hebrews 9:27 states, "It is appointed for man to die once, and after this comes judgment." All over Scripture we're told that God will judge the quick and the dead. What Bible has Parker been reading? It's also worth noting that despite the fact Parker thinks God doesn't judge, and he condemns pro-life people as being "overly pious and haughty," Parker has no qualms with judging pro-life people ten ways to Sunday, going so far as to bear false witness against pro-life people (but maybe he doesn't think the Ten Commandments are very important, either).

He goes on to state that "I began to understand that I had to find a thinking person's religion or abandon God entirely," and by that he obviously means "I had to find a religion that wouldn't judge me for my immoral acts, even killing unborn children." Some of the most brilliant people who have ever lived have been Christians. There were a long line of physicians before Willie Parker who were followers of Jesus and treated all human life, even unborn human life, as if it is sacred.

I could go on and on, but this is enough to show how irrational Dr. Parker actually is in his defense of abortion rights and his performing abortions. This is really only the tip of the iceberg of what's wrong with Parker's book. On p. 29, he writes the following: "The living, breathing women who carried those fetuses in utero were cast as less than fully human -- either as criminals, on the one hand, or mentally incompetent on the other -- and thus not in possession of any rights at all." In this sentence, he seems to be stating that criminals and the mentally incompetent are less than human and not deserving of rights. This is barbaric. I hope he didn't mean what he actually wrote, which would just make him a sloppy communicator, not a barbaric person.

Unfortunately Doctor Parker is completely oblivious to the plight of the unborn throughout this book. The First-Wave Feminists understood that as women were treated as property, it was shameful for any woman to then treat her own child as property to be disposed of as she saw fit. Unfortunately Doctor Parker didn't get this memo, as despite how black people have been treated in our country, he is perfectly willing to dehumanize the unborn because they are in the way of something they want, be it not being pregnant, financial freedom, etc. He has the audacity to frame his fight for "abortion rights" in the language of civil rights, despite the fact that he kills innocent human children. His own lack of self-awareness is astonishing.

Doctor Parker's book is garbage. It is not worth reading, so save your money. The best defense of abortion in print is still David Boonin's A Defense of Abortion. Considering the poor level of critical thinking abortion-choice activists tend to be at, I don't see this changing any time soon.
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May 5, 2017 – Finished Reading
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Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

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message 1: by Alison (new)

Alison Goforth "He actually says, unironically, that "A fetus is not 'a person.' Is it not, therefore, entitled to the rights of 'a person'" (p. 154). I bet Parker is glad white people aren't saying that about black people any longer."

You cannot possibly describe an unborn fetus to the life of a Black person. I didn't have to read any more of your review after that statement to ensure that your opinion is not one I will put any thought into.


Clinton Wilcox Alison wrote: ""He actually says, unironically, that "A fetus is not 'a person.' Is it not, therefore, entitled to the rights of 'a person'" (p. 154). I bet Parker is glad white people aren't saying that about bl..."

In other words, your abortion-choice stance is based on emotion rather than logic and evidence? The only difference is that now it's politically correct to dehumanize the human embryo and fetus, just like it was once politically correct to dehumanize black people. If I have erred in my argument, then it is incumbent upon you to present a counterargument. If you have none, then you are intellectually obligated to agree with my position. Stop making excuses to avoid engaging with my argument.


Meredith Alison, you took the words right out of my mouth. That's where I stopped reading this rant, too.


Clinton Wilcox Meredith wrote: "Alison, you took the words right out of my mouth. That's where I stopped reading this rant, too."

Again, thanks for reinforcing that support for abortion is largely based on emotion rather than reason. That only strengthens my resolve that the pro-life position is the correct one.


message 5: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Clinton - thank you for a wonderful review. It is so sad to see otherwise intelligent, kind people justifying the killing of unwanted human beings. I appreciate your speaking up for those without a voice. As a mother of 5, I am well aware that life begins at conception. I also have 3 adopted siblings and I will be forever grateful that they were given a chance at life. They have made the world a better place and I mourn the loss of all the babies who are denied a chance at life. I love Mother Teresa's response to why we haven't yet had a female president. "Because she has probably been aborted," replied Mother Teresa. Please keep speaking out for the weakest among us!


Clinton Wilcox Alicia wrote: "Clinton - thank you for a wonderful review. It is so sad to see otherwise intelligent, kind people justifying the killing of unwanted human beings. I appreciate your speaking up for those without a..."

Thanks so much!


Primrosebarks I'm currently reading this book and have been looking for thoughtful counter-arguments to it. Until now, I haven't known what to think about this book. As a nursing student I opted out of participating in an abortion-providing clinic.But this "abridged review" by Ms. Wilcox is offensive. It is neither civil nor rational. Lacking a thoughtful, educated view of the other side of this issue, I am left with the impression that there is only one mature voice of reason, that of Dr. Parker.

The construct missing from this painful discussion is this: "One man's faith is another man's superstition". Ultimately, the abortion debate is about moral boundaries: respecting that women, in spite of whatever personal beliefs we have about the beginning and end of life, deserve an opportunity to live out their own moral values. Sadly, these civilized boundaries are not respected in many of our states, and they are certainly not respected by this "reviewer". The sarcastic rant that tries to diminish the logic and compassion of this doctor, and the lack of a thoughtful, intelligent counterpoint to this book---predisposes me to believe in the rationality and righteousness of Dr. Parker's work.

(Comment edited 7/19/17: I have finished reading the book and still haven't found an intelligent counterargument on Goodreads.)


message 8: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Here are a few "intelligent counterarguments" for you:

The embracing and celebrating of abortion sadly affects all of us: "The greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion, which is war against the child. The mother doesn't learn to love, but kills to solve her own problems. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want...We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other." -Mother Teresa of Calcutta
- - -
Saying "I would never have an abortion, but I think others can make their own choice about it," is like saying, "I would never lynch someone because of their skin color, but I will allow others to make their own choice about whether or not they will lynch someone." In both cases, we have a choice to either speak up for the vulnerable who are being brutally murdered or to stand by and allow others to kill an innocent human being.
- - -
"There is one overarching moral issue running through modern politics: the issue of whether you are on the side of eliminating abortion, or whether you believe it is fine to rip babies apart. While other political and moral issues are absolutely important, all of them stacked together do not equal the gravity of abortion. Period. One’s intelligence should easily be able to arrive at this. The right to life is the right upon which ALL other rights exist. The right to immigrate, the right to equal pay, the right to privacy, etc., only make sense if you are a living being. Life is the right upon which all others stand. If you disagree with this, spend the time examining the reason for your own bias: denying someone a right which you yourself received; the right to simply live. Shame on you. If there was a Presidential candidate running for office who wanted to “gas Jews,” or to “hang blacks,” no one would even entertain him as a candidate, no matter what the rest of his platform entailed. I am astounded why the same is not true with abortion." --Carlos Martins
- - -
According to a former abortion supporter:
http://www.nationalreview.com/article...
- - -
"Genocide: the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation." Yep, the definition fits: those who are aborted are PEOPLE (not bunnies or beetles), 7+ million qualifies as a LARGE GROUP, the killing is DELIBERATE, and Margaret Sanger (founder of PP) did target a particular ethnic group (innocent black babies are victimized in nearly 36 percent of the abortion deaths in the United States, though blacks represent only 12.8 percent of the population). The word "genocide" seems to apply perfectly.
- - -
In conclusion, any thinking person who opposes genocide and violence against innocent human beings should be able to understand these "thoughtful counterarguments." But if the word "choice" prevails over "genocide" and "violence" in your world view, then I guess we just won't ever agree!


Anna Kidurka I read "Life's Work" and found it an entertaining biography and inspirational. I admire anyone who can overcome their fundamentalist religious upbringing and come into the 21st Century, where women are no longer under the boots of clergy or men.

Re: "embryologists are, and they consistently agree, without significant controversy, that human life begins at fertilization.": You must not have had a graduate level biology class. Your statement is totally false. For example, the most world renowned embryologist, Dr. Lewis Wolpert, is pro-choice:

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop. I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being.”--Dr. Lewis Wolpert, developmental and evolutionary biologist, author of "Principles of Development" and “Triumph of the Embryo”

“I’m also confident that the freshly fertilized zygote is not human, either. There’s more to being human than bearing a cell with the right collection of genes.”--Dr. Paul Myers, developmental biologist

Developmental biologists view reproduction as a cycle, not a starting point with fertilization:

“The idea that "life begins at conception" is not a scientific one. Since the disproof of 'spontaneous generation' (1668-1859), we have known that life only derives from life. Life arose billions of years ago and has continued since as a cycle. Assigning a beginning to a cycle (like the year) is arbitrary.”--Dr. Robert Wyman, neurobiologist


message 10: by Primrosebarks (last edited Jul 21, 2017 03:46PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Primrosebarks This is in response to message 8.

Alicia wrote: 'But if the word "choice" prevails over "genocide" and "violence" in your world view, then I guess we just won't ever agree! '

This has never been about "choice" vs. "genocide". It is about our understanding of when a human life begins. I see the formation of life as a process, not a spark suddenly created at a specific moment in time.

Trying thinking backward about it: at what point does someone die? "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande examines what constitutes death. As a healthcare professional working in life support in ICUs for 20 years I attended the deaths of many infants, children, and adults. There is never a singular event that defines death: it is an accumulation of system failures that begin in early adulthood and progress, culminating in an irreversible state. As Anna shared, and Dr. Parker wrote in the last half of his book, the beginning of life is also a process, not a singular event.

There is no scientific basis for your "sudden spark" theory. That is simply a romantic notion that has been passed down to you from authoritarian figures. It is a powerful, useful tool to control others because it restricts a woman's free agency.

Now, you may believe in the "sudden spark" theory. That is fine. (I am using "you" as a generality, not "you" specifically, Alicia.) But your belief ought not to allow you to violate my freedom simply because I believe something more nuanced and complex. That is immoral. And that is what Dr. Parker is writing about.

Quoting apologists for your belief adds no credibility, nor does using provocative language. Attempting to shame me creates hostility. (Again, the general you, thinking of the behavior of protestors outside a womens' healthcare facility.) The best way to change my behavior is to find a way to change my world view. We need to find a different way of communicating, otherwise we'll be shouting at each other for generations to come, and nothing will change.



message 11: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna Kidurka Alicia wrote: "Clinton - thank you for a wonderful review. It is so sad to see otherwise intelligent, kind people justifying the killing of unwanted human beings. I appreciate your speaking up for those without a..."

In response to the very fertile Alicia: Teresa was a monster, who believed that suffering brought one closer to her version of an invisible megalomaniac deity. Many religious fanatics believe this nonsense, and we sensible people will continue to beat back these ignoramuses. For example, another such ignoramus is Matt Schaefer, R TX, who thinks women should be forced to bear stillborns and inviable fetuses to term because of his personal bible-humping beliefs that “suffering” is “part of the human condition, since sin entered the world”.

You are aware, aren't you, Alicia, that you slaughtered more "babies" than you produced? For every successful embryo that manages to implant in a uterine wall, it's estimated that 5 to 9 early embryos miscarry. Half of these "lost" embryos are perfectly viable. Therefore, "spare" embryos, er “spare children” in your vernacular, are produced for almost every pregnancy (Drs. Michael Sandel; John Opitz; former President's Council on Bioethics). Some researchers think that on average it takes a year for a couple to become pregnant, and they estimate a death rate of embryos as high as 11 out of 12.

So, where is the outrage that all these embryos, er, "children" are callously being killed in the quest for one child to be born?


Tucker I liked this book a lot. I also appreciate some of the criticisms you make in this review.

When I was reading, I, too, got stuck on the sentence on p. 195. When his patients plan to seek a second opinion, he says, “I did not tell them that the doctors in those places would probably not perform the procedure…It is not my role to…withhold information.” That sentence was not well written and indeed appears contradictory. If I may propose a way to resolve it, my best guess is that he meant he did not want to discourage the patient from seeking a second opinion, as he preferred to let them gain information on their own. He withheld his speculation that the other doctors wouldn't perform the procedure so as not to interfere with the women taking the initiative to find out that those doctors might in fact help them after all.

But that is very minor.

I liked the first part of your review. I agree with you that the book would have been more useful and persuasive if he had included a few sources for his scientific claims. When I was reading, I wasn’t thinking about that because I was enjoying the experience of having him set out the basic assumptions and then move on to the details of his views. It was refreshing to me to hear a doctor say Not factually true…moving on, but I can see how if those initial, unsourced assumptions are intuitively jarring to the reader then the reader would not be prepared or willing to hear more.

I also agree with you that he could have given more attention to his opponents’ claim that an embryo ought to have full human rights and what might follow logically for people who hold that belief (i.e. how they think one should behave toward something with full human rights that happens to be inside one’s uterus, something with the biological instinct to want to live, something that might not yet feel pain or hold opinions but probably will someday). When you read the book, you sort of have to go with his assumption that an embryo is probably not entitled to full human rights and then you will likely be more satisfied with what he has to say after that, whereas someone who questions the initial assumption that an embryo doesn’t start the day with a full set of rights will end up engaging with the book in a different way.

Here’s what I think he did really well: He stated how every woman has a different situation and a different reason for choosing abortion, and he illustrated how difficult it is to judge, and how unnecessary it is for him as a physician to judge. He described the importance of a woman’s autonomy. For him, the exercise of that autonomy is related to overcoming the collective memory of slavery, as slaves did not control their own wombs. He said that a woman’s ability to make this important choice about her life is sacred and that his ability to assist her medically is sacred. He places a lot of trust in a woman’s knowledge and judgment.

I thought he made a good argument related to fatal fetal anomalies. It’s the usual argument, but he presented it briefly and well. The baby, once born, will not survive long and will spend its only moments in pain. As the pregnancy advances, the woman’s health is also increasingly at risk. Abortion may be more compassionate to the fetus and the woman in this scenario. Delivering a baby only to watch it die in pain is not obviously (to me, anyway) a stroke in favor of human dignity and human rights.

I am not Christian so I won’t get involved in a debate over what real Christians ought to believe. I will say, though, that right off the bat, Parker made some statements that I detected as being of a liberal humanist nature, about humans assigning meaning and value and deciding for ourselves what is right. I acknowledge that some religious people make such a humanist attitude part of their faith, while for others this attitude is incompatible with a worldview in which God assigns meaning and value and judges human choices. I recuse myself from saying which approach to faith is correct. I have no opinion about what makes a good Christian. I am just casually noting that Parker's worldview related to abortion didn’t seem to require belief in God or have much of a role for God.


message 13: by Roni (new) - rated it 5 stars

Roni Clinton - you accused Meredith and Alison of using emotion rather than logic , but on what basis do you find they are basing their opinions on emotion?

Ironically , I find that you are using emotion
or some form of distorted logic.
A full grown, fully developed fetus (or an individual of color) does not compare to a fetus at the time of an abortion. The medical community have formed a consensus about this and others here have listed developmental science to support this. So, it follows, *logically* that a fetus at 20 weeks is vastly different than a full grown person of color. Therefore you cannot make the comparison between terminating a pregnancy, and the murder of a person of color. By making the comparison, I feel they you are just using inflammatory imagery (and emotion) to confuse the issue.


Clinton Wilcox Primrosebarks wrote: "I'm currently reading this book and have been looking for thoughtful counter-arguments to it. Until now, I haven't known what to think about this book. As a nursing student I opted out of participa..."

First, it's Mr., not Ms., Wilcox. But I prefer not to be on a last name basis with people.

"But this 'abridged review' by Ms. Wilcox is offensive. It is neither civil nor rational."

Please explain how my review lacks rationality. And if you find my review offensive (which it is not), you should reject Parker's arguments because they are much more offensive to pro-life people than I have been to Dr. Parker. But of course, rejecting an argument because you perceive the one making it is abrasive or otherwise offensive is, itself, irrational. In fact, it commits a logical fallacy, the ad hominem fallacy. The perceived offensiveness of my tone does not to refute any of the arguments I make.

So again, please tell me which of my responses are not rational.

"Lacking a thoughtful, educated view of the other side of this issue, I am left with the impression that there is only one mature voice of reason, that of Dr. Parker."

This is clearly confirmation bias talking. If offensiveness is what you judge truth or falsity by, Parker's ninth chapter, alone, should send you running to the pro-life side.

"The construct missing from this painful discussion is this: 'One man's faith is another man's superstition'.

My position is based on the science of embryology, that human life begins at fertilization (which is a unanimous and indisputable point among embryologists), and the moral position that intentionally killing an innocent human being are wrong. Are you telling me you think these are faith-based or superstitious beliefs?

"Ultimately, the abortion debate is about moral boundaries: respecting that women, in spite of whatever personal beliefs we have about the beginning and end of life, deserve an opportunity to live out their own moral values."

No, the abortion debate is about what are the unborn? If they are human beings, then we cannot allow women to make the choice to kill them, anymore than we can "respect that parents, in spite of whatever personal beliefs we have about the beginning and end of life, deserve an opportunity to live out their own moral values" and kill their toddlers or adolescents.

"Sadly, these civilized boundaries are not respected in many of our states, and they are certainly not respected by this 'reviewer'."

If you feel my tone was too harsh, then I apologize. But please understand, Parker drew the first blood. Parker's book is not civil, nor is it well-reasoned. Parker clearly doesn't understand the beliefs or motivations that pro-life people have, and his book is deeply offensive to people who disagree with him, to say nothing of simply being libelous.

"The sarcastic rant that tries to diminish the logic and compassion of this doctor, and the lack of a thoughtful, intelligent counterpoint to this book---predisposes me to believe in the rationality and righteousness of Dr. Parker's work."

Again, you're going to have to point out what you think is irrational. I would hope that you don't think it's irrational merely because it disagrees with you. That, itself, would be irrational.


Clinton Wilcox Anna wrote: "I read "Life's Work" and found it an entertaining biography and inspirational. I admire anyone who can overcome their fundamentalist religious upbringing and come into the 21st Century, where women..."

"I admire anyone who can overcome their fundamentalist religious upbringing and come into the 21st Century, where women are no longer under the boots of clergy or men."

My position is based on science and philosophy, not merely religion. It is consistent with my religion but that is not the same thing as being grounded in it. Also, "it's the [current year]" is not a good argument. It commits the chronological snobbery logical fallacy. Truth is not dependent on the current year. If the pro-life position is true, it is always true, even in the modern era.

"You must not have had a graduate level biology class. Your statement is totally false. For example, the most world renowned embryologist, Dr. Lewis Wolpert, is pro-choice:"

Lewis Wolpert is a developmental biologist, not an embryologist (a different field). My claim is not that all *scientists* agree, necessarily, because many scientists are terrible when it comes to philosophy and tend to conflate the question of the biology of life beginning with the philosophy of personhood. I have interacted with other biologists, such as PZ Myers, who do this same thing. I have also met biologists (pro-choice biologists, nonetheless) who agree with us that we have the science right.

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop. I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being.”--Dr. Lewis Wolpert, developmental and evolutionary biologist, author of "Principles of Development" and “Triumph of the Embryo”

Could you provide me a specific source for this claim? I'll have to check it out, but Wolpert is almost certainly false. And while I don't have a Ph.D. in biology or embryology, I can tell you right now (as someone educated in philosophy) that Wolpert is making a philosophical claim about personhood, not a biological claim about humanity. He says he talked to a "fertilized egg" (a misnomer, it's a zygote) and they make it quite clear that they are not human beings -- this means that Dr. Wolpert believes to be a "human being", you must have the capacity for speech and for reasoning. But this is a philosophical claim -- no embryologist believes these are necessary to belong to the biological species Homo sapiens. Doctor Wolpert is also wrong about the claim that we didn't come from a zygote, but that's another discussion altogether.

“I’m also confident that the freshly fertilized zygote is not human, either. There’s more to being human than bearing a cell with the right collection of genes.”--Dr. Paul Myers, developmental biologist

Again, not an embryologist, and he's making a philosophical claim and disguising it as a scientific one.

"Developmental biologists view reproduction as a cycle, not a starting point with fertilization:

'The idea that "life begins at conception" is not a scientific one. Since the disproof of "spontaneous generation" (1668-1859), we have known that life only derives from life. Life arose billions of years ago and has continued since as a cycle. Assigning a beginning to a cycle (like the year) is arbitrary.'--Dr. Robert Wyman, neurobiologist"

Again, not an embryologist. And again, he's trying to obfuscate the issue. We're not talking about when human life began, we're talking about when an individual's life begins. Embryologists Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller know this, and still say:

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a 'moment') is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte."
-- Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001. p. 8.

Embryologists know that life began a long time ago, but they also know that each individual human life begins at fertilization. Here are some others:

“The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices.”
--Malcolm Watts, “A New Ethic for Medicine and Society,” California Medicine, September 1970.

"Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”
--Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. p. 16.

And this is what Alan Guttmacher wrote all the way back in 1933:

“We of today know that man is born of sexual union; that he starts life as an embryo within the body of the female; and that the embryo is formed from the fusion of two single cells, the ovum and the sperm. This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.”
--Alan Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.

It's simply undeniable that an individual human life begins at fertilization. This is a biological fact, one that even pro-choice philosophers agree with.


Clinton Wilcox Tucker wrote: "I liked this book a lot. I also appreciate some of the criticisms you make in this review.

When I was reading, I, too, got stuck on the sentence on p. 195. When his patients plan to seek a second ..."


"When I was reading, I, too, got stuck on the sentence on p. 195..."

That's possible, and yeah, that's a minor point. Most of the reasons I was pointing out inconsistencies in his statements is because I was getting tired of Parker asserting that I'm the irrational one.

"I agree with you that the book would have been more useful and persuasive if he had included a few sources for his scientific claims."

I'm not saying the book isn't well-written. It is. But from the title of the book, Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, I was expecting more of an academic treatment of the issue (I've read books by philosophers, such as Michael Tooley, Peter Singer, David Boonin, Eileen McDonagh, Wayne Sumner, etc.). What I got, instead, was a memoir with a few unsubstantiated claims sprinkled throughout. If he was a little more upfront about the purpose of his book, I wouldn't have treated it as an academic work. I would have treated it for what it was.

"I also agree with you that he could have given more attention to his opponents’ claim that an embryo ought to have full human rights and what might follow logically for people who hold that belief (i.e. how they think one should behave toward something with full human rights that happens to be inside one’s uterus, something with the biological instinct to want to live, something that might not yet feel pain or hold opinions but probably will someday)."

Yes. This would have been preferable than to be told, constantly, that I want to control women's bodies and sexual conduct and I want more white babies and less black babies. But he couldn't be honest about what pro-life people believe and still maintain these claims about us. He'd have to concede that pro-life people really are motivated by respect for the unborn and not hatred for women or black people.

"When you read the book, you sort of have to go with his assumption that an embryo is probably not entitled to full human rights and then you will likely be more satisfied with what he has to say after that, whereas someone who questions the initial assumption that an embryo doesn’t start the day with a full set of rights will end up engaging with the book in a different way."

Yes, I agree with your point here. But considering that he wants to make a moral argument for choice, you have to engage with what the other side argues. If the pro-life argument is correct, that abortion is wrong because it intentionally kills an innocent human being, then simply offering an argument for his own position doesn't do the work. He has to refute our argument.

"Here’s what I think he did really well: He stated how every woman has a different situation and a different reason for choosing abortion, and he illustrated how difficult it is to judge, and how unnecessary it is for him as a physician to judge. He described the importance of a woman’s autonomy."

Yes, I agree that he did this really well. One of the good points of the book is that I did come away with a better appreciation for some of the complexities of the situations that women deal with. What he didn't follow up with, though, was how the complexity of these situations justifies abortion.

"For him, the exercise of that autonomy is related to overcoming the collective memory of slavery, as slaves did not control their own wombs. He said that a woman’s ability to make this important choice about her life is sacred and that his ability to assist her medically is sacred. He places a lot of trust in a woman’s knowledge and judgment."

Right, but this is the puzzling thing. He dehumanizes the unborn in the same way that whites dehumanized black people (he even states, matter-of-factly, that embryos are not persons and do not have the rights of persons). Given his background, I would expect him to be sympathetic to the plight of these young human beings. In fact, the early feminists, the ones fighting for women's suffrage, were pro-life specifically because they came from a background in which they were dehumanized and used by men, and they considered it barbaric that they should, then, turn around and treat their children in the womb the same way.

"I thought he made a good argument related to fatal fetal anomalies. It’s the usual argument, but he presented it briefly and well. The baby, once born, will not survive long and will spend its only moments in pain. As the pregnancy advances, the woman’s health is also increasingly at risk. Abortion may be more compassionate to the fetus and the woman in this scenario. Delivering a baby only to watch it die in pain is not obviously (to me, anyway) a stroke in favor of human dignity and human rights. "

Yes, this is one of the hard cases. The morality of this, though, I would say is more along the lines of euthanasia than abortion. Is it ever right to end a life early if the person in question only has a life of pain and suffering ahead of him. But this is only a very small minority of all abortions. According to Guttmacher, the hard cases (i.e. fatal fetal diagnosis, rape, mother's life in jeopardy) makes up only about 1% of all abortions. The only 99% are for socioeconomic reasons. So even if a pro-life person conceded abortion is acceptable in the case of a fatal fetal diagnosis, that wouldn't, then, justify abortion in all other cases.

"I am not Christian so I won’t get involved in a debate over what real Christians ought to believe. I will say, though, that right off the bat, Parker made some statements that I detected as being of a liberal humanist nature, about humans assigning meaning and value and deciding for ourselves what is right. I acknowledge that some religious people make such a humanist attitude part of their faith, while for others this attitude is incompatible with a worldview in which God assigns meaning and value and judges human choices. I recuse myself from saying which approach to faith is correct. I have no opinion about what makes a good Christian. I am just casually noting that Parker's worldview related to abortion didn’t seem to require belief in God or have much of a role for God. "

No, it doesn't, just like the pro-life position doesn't require a belief in God (I have pro-life friends who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, etc.). I only mentioned them because he brought them up in his book. I am certainly comfortable having a discussion on abortion without bringing in religious arguments.


message 17: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Thanks for the scientific proof, Clinton. Interestingly, here is confirmation from Planned Parenthood that life begins at conception. In a 1952 pamphlet promoting birth control, Planned Parenthood states very clearly that abortion "kills the life of a baby after it has begun."

To see the actual brochure distributed by Planned Parenthood:
https://savethestorks.com/2017/06/10-... (see number 9 on this list)

https://www.liveaction.org/news/plann...


Clinton Wilcox Roni wrote: "Clinton - you accused Meredith and Alison of using emotion rather than logic , but on what basis do you find they are basing their opinions on emotion?

Ironically , I find that you are using emot..."


"Clinton - you accused Meredith and Alison of using emotion rather than logic , but on what basis do you find they are basing their opinions on emotion?"

On the basis that they pinpointed one statement I made that offended them, then rejected my entire critique based on that offense.

"A full grown, fully developed fetus (or an individual of color) does not compare to a fetus at the time of an abortion."

You're going to need to unpack this a little bit. First, not fetus is ever fully developed. What differentiates the embryo from the fetus stage is that by two months in utero, all of the embryo's faculties are in place, and all they need is to develop, grow, and strengthen. But development doesn't end at birth. We develop well into adulthood, reaching our intellectual peak sometime around age 25. Second, late-term abortions do happen, even though they are rare. Third, there are definitely qualitative differences between an early embryo and a late-term fetus. They are smaller, less developed, etc. But none of these changes justify rightly killing one while wrongly killing another. It is the same individual at all points in its development, so it is equally valuable in terms of human value at all points. I'm not sure what is wrong with this logic. Perhaps you can respond.

"The medical community have formed a consensus about this and others here have listed developmental science to support this."

Yes, and that consensus is that life begins at fertilization. See my comment above (message 15) for more on that.

"So, it follows, *logically* that a fetus at 20 weeks is vastly different than a full grown person of color."

Only qualitatively. Not fundamentally. In other words, none of these changes makes the developing entity move from something that lacks value to something that has value.

"Therefore you cannot make the comparison between terminating a pregnancy, and the murder of a person of color."

There are certain differences. I'm not comparing every aspect. Murdering a black person may be *more wrong* because that person can suffer, he may have children or other dependents depending on him, etc. But in terms of killing an intrinsically valuable human being, both acts of killing are equally wrong. Here's another thing both killing an embryo/fetus and killing a black person have in common: both have futures that you are robbing from them.

"By making the comparison, I feel they you are just using inflammatory imagery (and emotion) to confuse the issue."

I'm not doing that. Perhaps you can go through my comment here and respond to some of my points if you feel I've gone wrong somewhere.


Clinton Wilcox Alicia wrote: "Thanks for the scientific proof, Clinton. Interestingly, here is confirmation from Planned Parenthood that life begins at conception. In a 1952 pamphlet promoting birth control, Planned Parenthood ..."

Yes, that's an excellent resource. Planned Parenthood used to be quite honest about what an abortion is and what differentiates abortion from contraception.


Shawna You are really misrepresenting his ideas, but at least you took the time to read the book.


Primrosebarks Clinton, I have given great thought to your request for a response to your complaints. I wrote out a long, considered answer, responding point by point, with annotated sources. But then I realized that this format offered by Goodreads is a review of books, and responses to those reviews. I realized that you are attempting to subvert that by making it All About You And Your Agenda. As my Dad would say, you’re being a jerk.

If you want a discussion, then open a discussion forum. Book reviews are not an appropriate venue to hammer on about your agenda.

That being said, as a degreed college graduate in two sciences and the liberal arts, I have some comments about the quality of your reasoning:

-You don’t understand the proper use of ad hominem attacks, as you committed 11 of them, by my count, in your original review, and that is why you got my attention. You attacked the man, not the idea. A review that makes personal attacks like that is offensive.

-You use obscure libertarian ideology, which is neither common or accepted in mainstream thought, to shore up your defense, and without documentation. This is an error that is usually slapped out of freshmen in their first year in college. Clearly, you demonstrate why there is still a dire need for a liberal arts college education.

-You have a poor understanding of science. As a “student of embryology” you have no understanding of why a working definition to describe a scope of research for embryologists does not equal a medical definition of life on which to construct a useful, medically humane legislation. As someone else pointed out, your comprehension is shallow and misinformed.

-There is no universally accepted definition of “orthodox Christianity”. You’re using this lie in order to make yet another ad hominem attack on Dr. Parker. It is crass and sloppy. It shows who you are. You didn’t bother to do some independent research (….in which you’d have discovered there is no such thing as a universally accepted definition of “orthodox Christianity”).

I Googled you. I found your Youtube speeches. I found that you are a poorly spoken, poorly educated man who is strangely fixated on a woman’s fecundity and oddly desperate to pass judgment on it.

Consider this: when a woman is pregnant, she is putting her life at risk. If she survives the delivery (which is much less likely in the U.S. today than in the past, thanks to draconian measures by your beloved conservatives), her body and her life will be changed forever. That you think that saving some theoretical life composed of a cell cluster that no one even knows exists is a greater moral imperative is creepy and sick, especially considering that the vast majority of medical professionals do not believe that that cell cluster is a human life, and to legislate based on this is a horrendous distortion of ethics and justice.

But I decided not to bother to respond in detail as you demanded, mostly because, Clinton, you’re trying to turn these reviews to a dialogue that is all about you and your agenda. This is a book review forum, not your personal platform. Go open a forum discussion and see if you can get any bites there. Haranguing on about it here is disrespectful of Goodread’s intentions.

I have no further comments on your diatribe, now or in the future. Just drop it.

(For anyone still bothering to read this thread, please Google Clinton Wilcox and listen to him on YouTube. This should give you pause. If you want to learn more about the science of embryology, Google “life begins at conception”, and then Google “life does not begin at conception”. Please read top hits from both in order to get a better understanding of the debate, and why embryologists’ definition is useful in defining their scope of research, but objectionable to obstetricians, gynocologists, and medical ethicists as a realistic definition in order to make responsible and ethical decisions about human life.)


message 22: by Clinton (last edited Dec 15, 2017 09:02AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Clinton Wilcox Primrosebarks wrote: "Clinton, I have given great thought to your request for a response to your complaints. I wrote out a long, considered answer, responding point by point, with annotated sources. But then I realized ..."

Sorry, Primrose, but the only one acting like a jerk here is you. I have given reasons for my statements. You could at least have the honesty to tell us why you refuse to have a discussion rather than simply hiding because an excuse about this being a book review and responses to those reviews. You admit responses to those reviews are an acceptable use of this format, then you say you don't want to respond to my review because that's not the point of this format. Which is it?

I am also educated in logic. I have several logic textbooks on my shelves (all of which I have read) and several books on logical fallacies (all of which I have also read). You don't understand what an ad hominem fallacy actually is. You, of course, allude to 11 ad hominem attacks in my review but haven't bothered to point out even one of these alleged attacks. To say nothing of your rank hypocrisy in making ad hominem attacks about me. You are a random stranger on YouTube. Your opinion of me doesn't mean anything. I have spoken to many groups of people. Everywhere I speak, without exception, I have people thanking me because they had never heard a rational defense of the position that I hold. And a lot of people have been impressed by my talks. So I have your bad opinion of me, versus a lot of other people who enjoyed my presentations. Thankfully my meaning in life is not dependent on what random strangers on the internet think about me.

Your criticism of my review was unfounded and didn't offer any counterpoints to try and show why you thought I was mistaken. As such, my review stands.

As you've basically stated you don't intend to comment anymore, I'm not going to say anything else, except simply to restate that the consensus of experts, the embryologists, is that life begins at fertilization. As you're unwilling to defend any of your statements, further comment isn't necessary.


Clinton Wilcox Shawna wrote: "You are really misrepresenting his ideas, but at least you took the time to read the book."

Hi, Shawna. Could you be more specific? Which ideas do you believe I'm misrepresenting?


message 24: by G (new) - rated it 1 star

G Brilliant review


Clinton Wilcox G wrote: "Brilliant review"

Thanks! Unfortunately several people weren't as impressed with it.


message 26: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Where did you get the sources for your exegesis of the Exodus passage of the law in regards to when a man causes a woman to miscarry? Also, which word in the actual Hebrew in the old testament is used for born and unborn children? And, what was your source for that translation? As you said in your review, sources are important. You raised a few issues I haven't heard of before and I would appreciate being able to look at those sources. Thank you for the detailed review. I don't like books that don't give sources for their arguments/information.


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