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Reviews Written by
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium)

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Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary Thought
Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary Thought
by George Christopher Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 46.95
26 used & new from CDN$ 27.36

5.0 out of 5 stars The potency of natural selection is largely underestimated, Jan. 3 2004
Another reader has already given an excellent summary of this book. I would like to stress only some important points in my comment.
One should have a rather good knowledge of basic algebra, statistics, botany and biology to fully understand this book.
This is a key text about Darwinism. Its influence cannot be overestimated, as show a few excerpts hereafter: 'there is nothing in the basic structure of the theory of natural selection that would suggest the idea of any kind of cumulative progress' and 'Evolution was a by-product of the maintenance of adaptation'.
These sentences are cornerstones of today's theories on Darwinism (see the works of the late S.J. Gould or Richard Dawkins).
In a cool style, but with compelling arguments, the author wipes the floor with his opponents' theories about group adaptations, instead of adaptations on the individual level.
He also stresses the fundamentally different roles of male and female mammals for the production of offspring and the evolutionary impact of female choice.
But there is more: (adapted sentence)'If some organisms were not entirely self-seeking, they, and Nature in general, would be more ethically acceptable. In most theological systems it is necessary that the creator be benevolent and that this benevolence is shown in his creation. If Nature is found to be malicious or morally indifferent, the creator is presumably too. For many, peace in mind might be difficult with the acceptance of these conclusions, but this is hardly a basis for making decisions in biology'.
This sentence is still today too big a swallow for the moral elite, unable to comprehend their own Darwinian behaviour and unable to think about the fact that 'natural selection, albeit stupid, is a story of unending arms races, slaughter and suffering' (G.C. Williams in 'Plan and Purpose in Nature').
An essential book by a superb free mind.

Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
by Stephen Jay Gould
Edition: Paperback
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Natural selection is not a synonym of progress, Dec 29 2003
This book is a forceful illustration of some basic theorems presented by G.C. Williams in his book 'Adaptation and Natural selection': 'there is nothing in the basic structure of the theory of natural selection that would suggest the idea of any kind of cumulative progress' and 'Evolution was a by-product of the maintenance of adaptation'.
Gould corroborates these theorems by showing that the main modus of life on this planet is and has always been 'bacterial'.
He explains clearly that the second law of thermodynamics is only valid for closed systems, not for the earth.
He stresses also that cultural changes are fundamentally different from Darwinian evolutions. The former are Lamarckian, the latter are forced by the less efficient process of natural selection.
But Gould warns rightly that the enormous technological revolutions are not necessarily cultural or moral improvements because of the real risk of, e.g., environmental poisoning or a nuclear catastrophe.
One needs a basic knowledge of statistics to fully understand the book.
In his vigorous and persuasive style, S.J. Gould puts some good-looking scientific and moral ideas into a coffin.
Not to be missed.

Human Nature: A Critical Reader
Human Nature: A Critical Reader
by Laura Betzig
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 2.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Knowledge = power. Darwin's theory is the route to knowledge, Dec 26 2003
This book is a compilation of 18 pioneering articles on Darwinism.
Very original is the fact that the different authors are commenting on their research 10 or more years after the publication.
One needs a rather profound knowledge of statistics in order to fully understand some, not all, the articles.
These researches were not only very original but sometimes also disturbing, like Hrdy's work on infanticide, or Chagnon's research on the Yanomanö tribe, which was used against the tribe by 'financial' interests in the 'development' of their territory.
For me, the most important article was the one by Tooby and Cosmides, who brilliantly refuted and even ridiculed the SSS Model of the content-free, independent mind. They proved that the human mind is not a blank which works with general purpose mental processes. On the contrary, the mind contains specialized mechanisms which evolved as adaptations to the social environment (see also, Lumsden and Wilson's 'Promethean Fire').
This book is an essential read for all those who are interested in the human nature.

The War on Freedom: How and Why America Was Attacked, September 11th, 2001
The War on Freedom: How and Why America Was Attacked, September 11th, 2001
by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
Edition: Paperback
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A miscalculated provocation, Dec 26 2003
This formidably documented book is not a final verdict on the 9/11 attacks, but it clearly exposes some very strange and disturbing facts. Into the bargain, it poses the right question: who benefited?
The author presents a strong case that the 9/11 attacks were a miscalculated provocation - the extent of the damage was grossly underestimated.
To support his thesis, Ahmed piles up a wealth of information: e.g. the leader of the 9/11 attacks received money from the chief of the Pakistani intelligence, who acted in accord with other US covert actions; the Taliban and the madrasas were set up by the US; the FBI's failure to apprehend suspected terrorists was the result of high level blocks; an inquiry into this intelligence failure was also blocked; Bin Laden had powerful protectors in Washington; intelligence agencies had extensive advance warnings of the attacks and were in various ways complicit in those attacks; the US defence system had amply the time to intercept the hijacked planes, but did nothing ... One can go on!
Apparently, powerful elements in the intelligence community and the Bush Administration believed that a 'minor' damage would contribute to a 'greater good' for those in power. This greater good was 'still more power to the powerful': the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, the weapons industry, the oil industry and their Bush Administration.
In fact, those are the winners of the 'War on Terror', by giving nearly almighty power to the intelligence units: a coup d'etat against the US constitution with curtailment of civil liberties, basic freedoms and human rights. On the other hand, the US defence budget reaches new highs and military intervention with nuclear weapons is now planned. A peace dividend is farther away than ever.
The author explains clearly the geostrategic importance of Afghanistan for the exploration of the enormous oil and gas reserves in the Caspian region.
He even predicted the military intervention in Iraq.
This is a very disturbing and frightening book with a perfect title. A must read.

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character
The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character
by Samuel Noah Kramer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 30.57
32 used & new from CDN$ 10.32

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a city without watchdogs, the fox is the overseer, Dec 26 2003
Based on few and hardly decipherable documents, Prof. Kramer sketches us the originality, importance, history and legacy of a till recent times unknown people, the Sumerians.
He gives us a fair view of their city organization (a bicameral congress), social organization (individualism and family), laws (written), agriculture (irrigation), cuneiform language, education (schools and mathematics), architecture (ziggurats) and anthropomorphic religion.
Of course, we are still in a very primitive society with legal selling of children, extremely brutal justice, temple prostitution and where the price of a grown man slave is less than the price of an ass.
We get also a good idea of the 'modern' Sumerian character: aggressive competition, drive for prestige and superiority, the importance of material prosperity and their counterparts: fear, hatred and wars.
Prof. Kramer gives us also an excellent explanation of cuneiform writing and mathematics. The meaning of the words is identical with the objects pictured. So, words are a picture of the external world (Wittgenstein!).
A large part of the book concerns the high quality of the Sumerian literature. It influenced the Bible (the paradise and the creation of man), the Greek and most of all the Acadian literature with 'The Descent of Ishtar in the Underworld' (to raise the dead) and the Epic of Gilgamesh (the quest for eternal life).
The Sumerian history shows us that from the beginning of mankind very 'modern' problems surfaced: taxation to finance wars, the struggle between the temple and the palace or the battle between the few (powerful) and the many.
A very interesting book, not only for historians.

Shadow Shoguns: The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Postwar Political Machine
Shadow Shoguns: The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Postwar Political Machine
by Jacob Schlesinger
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.77
12 used & new from CDN$ 19.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Politics is power. Power is numbers., Dec 26 2003
This is a far better book than the more theoretical approach by Karel van Wolferen in 'The Enigma of Japanese Power'.
After reading this book there is no enigma anymore.
Jacob M. Schlesinger reveals extremely clearly how the Japanese system worked and who pulled the strings. He shows that Japanese politics in the last half of the 20th century was firmly controlled by four men, with Kakuei Tanaka as the most predominant tycoon.
Tanaka's tactics were very simple: use his home base as a platform for his political career by lavishy spending state money in his election district and by buying votes; use his financial clout to control the Japanese majority party; become still richer by corrupting the state bureaucracy, bid-rigging (200 % and more margin) and briberies (by private companies).
In fact, the author shows clearly that the whole system was controlled by a corrupt oligachy.
The men in power were not afraid of racket type interventions. One example: the ruling government proposed stiff taxes on automobiles. After the automobile industry paid heavy contributions to the party in charge, the bill was watered down.
This book is an exemplary analysis of a corrupt political system. Not to be missed.

Three Roads To Quantum Gravity
Three Roads To Quantum Gravity
by Lee Smolin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.97
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.44

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a dynamic discrete space-time 'is' is an illusion, Dec 26 2003
Prof. Smolin is a brilliant teacher.
His first book 'The Life of the Cosmos' contained already the simplest and brightest explanations of the basic elements, processes and principles of modern physics. Here he does it again with the latest progress in the search for a theory of quantum gravity: loop quantum gravity, string theory and black hole thermodynamics.
He dissects the strenghts and weaknesses of the different approaches and shows how they culminate into the holographic principle, where one set of events receives information about other parts of the world.
Lee Smolin explains in a very comprehensible vocabulary that space and time are not continuous, but discrete; that the world is made of processes, not things; and that the world is nothing more than an evolving network of relationships, of which causality is the most important.
These characteristics have important philosophical implications; e.g. they refute the belief that observer dependence rules out objectivity.
This book contains some mind-boggling propositions. One from Lee Smolin himself, where he admits that he doesn't belief in the uncertainty principle, although he continues to work with it. Another one is the use of the whole universe as an instrument.
In the end, the author is very optimistic and predicts that a theory of quantum gravity will be found in the first decades of the 21st century.
This book is a fascinating tale about the real nature of the universe. A must read.

The Anatomy of Power
The Anatomy of Power
by John Kenneth Galbraith
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The love of power is the love of ourselves, Dec 24 2003
This review is from: The Anatomy of Power (Paperback)
For prof. Galbraith there are three sorts of power (condign, compensating and conditioned) and three sources of power (personality, property and organization).
With these elements he sketches a historical evolution of the West from feudalism to capitalism, integrating as diverse aspects as politics, economics, religion, the family, the military, advertising, media and education.
This book was written in 1983, in a sometimes cynical tone, especially in the comments on politicians, businessmen and the military. It contains positive and negative elements.
The author predicted the omnipotence of the military and the intelligence organizations, as well as their obsessive need for a specific enemy.
He saw the rise of the organizational power, but not the fact that the influence of the transnational corporations would dwarf state and trade union power (see N. Hertz - The silent take-over).
A mistake is his underestimation of the power of the media and their message controlled by the powerful.
Also, the Darwinian aspect of power is not commented on.
But, this small book is still a very worth-while read.

Before The Big Bang
Before The Big Bang
Edition: Hardcover
18 used & new from CDN$ 1.16

1.0 out of 5 stars A terrible ratatouille, Dec 24 2003
This review is from: Before The Big Bang (Hardcover)
Prof. Sternglass's theory is based on priest Lemaitre's primeval atom, that should have been composed by an electron and a positron. This primeval atom should have existed before the Big Bang. More, it should have created it by its division. And further divisions should have formed the whole universe!
As this is not enough, the author returns to Einstein's universal fluid (the ether) and pretends that the physical origin of 'space curvature' is provoked by an internal circulation of the ether in a vortex ring.
Needless to say that the author doesn't believe in the Standard Model, and surely not in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.
The only interesting pages in this book are reports of the author's meetings with Einstein (who defends determinism), Bohr (who defends freedom) and Feynman (who crushes him).
The rest of the book is a terrible waste of time.

Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison
Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison
by David Chandler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 27.09
37 used & new from CDN$ 4.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Terrified and terrifying, Dec 24 2003
Prof. Chandler gives us a remarkably deep analysis of Pol Pot's secret prison S-21, which within the autogenocide of the Cambodian people stands out as a haunting symbol. It reflected the unlimited paranoia of Angkar and its schizophrenic regime that 'was at once terrified and terrifying, omnipotent and continually under threat'.
All family members (women, children and BABIES) of the condemned were slaughtered. Only 7 of the 14000 inmates survived.
As prof. Chandler remarks chillingly: 'a reign of terror and continuous revolution requires a continuous supply of enemies.'
There were no limits. As one of the interrogators rightly asked: 'If Angkar arrests everybody, who will be left to make a revolution?'
The same subject has been treated by Ben Kiernan in his book 'The Pol Pot regime'. But whereas Ben Kiernan sees racism as the main motive behind the murderous regime, prof. Chandler digs far deeper and concludes clinically that 'the real truth behind S-21 is to be found in ourselves'!
Indeed, the S-21 experience is not unique in the 20th century with its Nazi camps, communist show trials, Indonesian, Rwandan and Bosnian mass killings, Argentinean tortures ...
He remarks also that the Cambodian regime was an imported phenomenon. The Khmer leaders were all recruited and educated by the Stalinist French PC in the 1950s.
This nearly unbearable book should be read as a reminder that 'ordinary people can commit demonic acts' (R. F. Lifton).
David Chandler is not afraid to say 'how things really are' (L. Betzig).
A terrifying book about a terrifying experience.

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