Christopher B. Kreb’s A Most Dangerous Book Tacitus’ Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich (2011)

At the end of the first century AD the Roman historian Tacitus wrote a work describing people he refers to as Germans. In contrast to the Romans, these people emerge from Tacitus as a hardy and vigorous folk who had preserved their purity of blood, being free of any taint from inter-marriage. Such a portrayal was congenial to later Germans (who may have had little in […]

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Stephen Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ (2011)

This is a book with a heartening argument: as time passes, humans are becoming less violent. Beginning with statistics that seem to show that fewer people are being killed in warfare, Pinker goes on to examine the decline in capital punishment and slavery, and the various recent movements for civil, women’s, homosexual and animal rights.  If this were not enough to […]

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Paul Crook’s Grafton Elliot Smith, Egyptology and the Diffusion of Culture (2012)

The work of the eminent anthropologist and archeologist Grafton Elliot Smith (1871-1937) was always controversial. He argued that Egypt was the source of many of the aspects of civilization in other parts of the world, and that similarities among cultures in different parts of the world often the product of diffusion rather than independent discoveries. Recent scholars have been dismissive; […]

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Detective Fiction and the Case of Adam Dalgliesh

There’s a lot to enjoy in detective stories. I have pounded the mean pavements of Chicago with the ill-organised V. I. Warshawski, marvelled at the low-life losers who hang out with Kinky Friedman, admired the technological acumen of Liz Carlyle, and laughed out loud at the failure of the Feng Shui detective, speaker of a learned but not idiomatic form of English, […]

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Ian Morris’ Why the West Rules – for now (ii)

The Index of Social Development devised by Ian Morris awards precise numbers for the social development of both West and East at different times in the past.  Being incompetent at maths, most historians are disinclined to crunch numbers and feel vaguely uneasy about attempts to do so in a meaningful way. But this is no reason not to take Morris’ Index seriously, and it […]

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Christopher Cook’s The Philokalia and the Inner Life On Passions and Prayer

This recent book (2011) examines the teachings of the Philokalia, a collection of texts on Orthodoxspiritual life written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries, from the perspective of a psychiatrist with a particular interest in addictive behaviour who is also an Anglican priest. Starting with an arresting notion of Evagrios that humans are shepherds whose thoughts are to be cared for […]

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Two Helpers

We seem to be living in a world that is changing quickly. I remember reading once that there may be an error of vision that leads us to see things this way; in a row of telegraph poles, the distance between the two nearest us seems larger than the distances between all the other poles combined.  Nevertheless, it looks as though we […]

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