Saturday, May 26, 2007

Just checking in...

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth.

I haven't given up thinking.

Instead, I just fell vicitm to whatever creeping crud is going around at the moment. A head cold, basically, that then tried to make an end-run into a chest cold. It started with a headche a week ago today, and at first I thought my allergies were just playing their usual games. Pretty soon, though, I knew it was something more.

Actually, I'm feeling a lot better now. I can read again without getting a headache...there for a couple of days it actually hurt to read. I slept almost all night without waking up last night. I haven't used nearly as many tissues the past couple of days...and I can breathe through my nose again most of the time. I no longer sound like I'm going to cough up a lung...although part of the time my voice still sounds like somebody took a file to my vocal cords. But I'm still going to go to bed early tonight, take my Tylenol, and try to sleep late in the morning.

Maybe my dreams won't be so bizarre tonight as they have been the past few nights...when I've been able to sleep, I've been having some dreams with special effects that would put Lucas and Spielberg to shame.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

In which I attempt to avoid speaking ill of the dead...

Jerry Falwell died on Tuesday.

I was not a fan of the man, or of his religious or political rhetoric. On the other hand I was a bit dismayed at some of the expressions of glee I saw different places on the internet after his passing. I don’t particularly like the way that, when someone dies, they automatically become a saint in the eyes of many people no matter what they did in life. But I also was raised to believe that if you’re going to speak ill of the dead, you should probably wait until their body is cold and they are in the ground to do it. That’s just common courtesy.

Still, Rev. Falwell was a polarizing person. You pretty much either loved him or hated him, or at least you felt one way or the other about the positions he espoused. He really didn’t leave much room for a middle ground. So I suppose it was inevitable that some of the reactions to his death were going to be of a less than sympathetic nature. I think my favorite comment, because it got the point across that he was not necessarily a tolerant man without being really rude about it, came in the form of a cartoon in the op-ed section of the San Francisco Chronicle (I don‘t recall whether it was on Wednesday or Thursday). It had Rev. Falwell arriving at the pearly gates to find that it wasn’t St. Peter in charge, but TinkyWinky. Rev. Falwell’s thought bubble said simply, “Uh-oh.” Indeed.

The Chronicle, on Friday, also ran a column by Mark Morford which might be seen as a little more mean-spirited if you were a follower of the good Reverend, but which I thought made a pretty good point. After a short introduction Morford simply ran a series of quotes from Falwell’s career, without further comment. The point, I think, was that it wasn’t “the liberal press” or “secular humanists” or anyone but Rev. Falwell himself that created the impression that perhaps he wasn’t going to be that nice to you if you didn’t agree with him. Morford included some of the famous sayings of Rev. Falwell: his placing of blame for the 9/11 attacks; his insistence that the Bible is the inerrant word of God in all matters - not just of faith but of science and politics as well; his belief that AIDS was God’s way of punishing not only gays but any culture that allows them to exist in peace.

But we all knew he said those things and believed them, and we either agreed or disagreed. The quote that perhaps disturbed me the most, though, was this one: “If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.” Which, I think, demonstrates that he was one of those folks who think that anyone who does not agree with them completely on all issues is trash and deserves whatever ill they get. That’s pretty extremist thinking, in my opinion. It opens the way for things like holy wars. My own feeling is that exactly that sort of tribal thinking, “us v. them” thinking, is exactly what is wrong with the world today.

So. Perhaps I’ve violated my own rule about not speaking ill of the dead before they’re buried (I don’t think the funeral is until sometime next week). I won’t write much more here about Rev. Falwell, in any case. But I would like to use the occasion of his passing to urge everyone who reads this blog to seek out and read a book that I discovered last year: Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg. The Reverend Falwell figures in the book, but so do a whole lot of other people who are, if anything, more radical in their thinking than he ever considered being. Which is sort of a frightening thought. These are the people who believe that secular law - the United States Constitution and the United States Code, and the various legal codes of the states - should be replaced by the Bible and the laws contained therein. Which would be great if they were talking about things like “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. But they aren’t. They’re talking Old Testament law - things like the death penalty for apostasy or for sassing your parents. I guess that, to be fair, I must report that one of the advocates of these laws claims that not all back-talking children would be stoned to death, but that the punishment would just remain as “an option”. Amazing.

They’re also talking dominionism, which is the principle that Christians have a God-given right to rule over everyone else. Dominionism emerged from Christian Reconstruction, a strictly fundamentalist view taught by Rousas John Rushdoony that says that Jesus won’t return until after the millennium and that Christians have to build the kingdom here on earth on their own until he gets here. By any means necessary, apparently. There might not be many who hold to the extreme positions of the Christian Reconstructionists but, as Goldberg’s book points out, some individuals in high positions in US government have consorted with them and those who carry their message. Very high positions. You’d know their names. And while not all fundamentalists carry their beliefs as far as the Reconstructionists would like, Reconstructionist thinking has influenced the Christian right through the writings of such prominent evangelists as Pat Robertson. This pushes the conversation even further to the right, and makes positions that weren’t previously acceptable to reasonable people look ever more reasonable in contrast. They do this in the political as well as the religious arena.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any interest in living in anything that looks like a theocracy, which is what some of the folks in Goldberg’s book have in mind. And while I don’t see such an extreme thing happening anytime soon, and neither does Goldberg (p. 181), I think we ignore these people at our own peril. And so, I use the occasion of Jerry Falwell’s death to invite you to read Kingdom Coming as a way of not ignoring the fact that there are people out there who would like to make you live according to their beliefs, which are not necessarily as benign as you might assume and which make the things Jerry Falwell said seem positively reasonable.

Friday, May 18, 2007

And the good news is...

This is the best news I've heard in ages.

No, seriously. You can read it for yourself in the L.A. Times: Southern California is getting a new drive-in theater. It is called the Star-Vu (a worthy name for a drive-in), and it opens tonight on one of the parking lots of the Orange County Fairgrounds, thanks to what the Times article calls "four baby-boomers" with a newfangled French inflatable movie screen. It is slated to operate all year round, except for during the run of the OC Fair, which will need the parking spaces.

Now, you've got to understand...I've had a long relationship with drive-ins. Starting when I was just a baby, my family had a long-standing tradition of going to the drive-in every Friday night. Later on, when I was in high school, my first job was working in the snack bar of a drive-in at the Sunday Swap-Meet. I love drive-ins, and I miss them dreadfully. Locally the last one closed a few years ago so that the money-men could build a Costco. Personally, I think they robbed the community of a cultural treasure. The drive-in I worked at closed even before that, and now up-scale houses stand where I once enjoyed all the James Bond movies before anyone worried about whether they were suitable for younger viewers and where I once shopped for books among the swap-meet stalls during my breaks from work.

Forty years ago, there were 107 drive-ins in Southern California (and I'll wager that I attended a good number of them at one time or another). Now, with the opening of the Star-Vu tonight, there are ten. I sure hope this marks the beginning of a new trend.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Review: "The Last Cato", by Matilde Asensi

It seems like I just can’t stay away from those everything-you-know-is-wrong, Da Vinci Code-style, religious-conspiracy historical thrillers these days. It’s probably a character flaw or something on my part, but if that’s the worst flaw I have I’m not going to sweat it. Anyway, I’ve read several of these recently, the most recent being The Last Cato, by Matilde Asensi. At least it has the virtue of not being a Da Vinci clone - Ms. Asensi’s book was published in Spanish in 2001, while The Da Vinci Code didn’t hit the stores until 2003.

The Last Cato begins with Roman Catholic sister and world-renowned paleographer (paleography is the study of ancient handwriting) Dr. Ottavia Salina being pulled from her normal duties at the Vatican to help figure out who is stealing pieces of the True Cross from churches around the world. The only clue, at least initially, is the body of an Ethiopian killed in the crash of a small plane. His body is covered with mysterious scars in the form of crosses and letters. After figuring out, with the help of Captain Kaspar Glauser-Roist of the Swiss Guard, what the scars mean, or at least the source of their designs, Ottavia is abruptly dismissed from the investigation and told to go back to her usual work. She objects to this vociferously and reveals that she has accessed information about the investigation that she was not authorized to have. This earns her dismissal from her Vatican position and exile by her order to an obscure post in Ireland.

No sooner, however, than her plane lands in Dublin Ottavia is bundled right back onto a plane back to Rome. She never even gets to leave the airport in Ireland. Only when she arrives back at the Vatican dose she discover that all is forgiven and that her job - and her place on the investigation - have been restored to her. She also learns that a third investigator has been added to the team, a part-Egyptian /part-Italian Coptic Catholic non-believing archaeologist, Professor Farag Boswell. In the week between Ottavia’s dismissal and her reinstatement, Kaspar and Farag have been to the Sinai and returned with a purloined manuscript that gives them more clues about the group that has been taking the pieces of the cross. Before long, they figure out that Dante’s Purgatory provides the guidebook they need to find the paradise on earth of this ancient order. And that is where the quest really begins.

There is probably a little too much Dante here for some readers. Still, I enjoyed how Ms. Asensi integrated information from his writings into the process of the protagonists’ analysis and following of the clues provided there. I’m definitely interested now in reading the middle installment of The Divine Comedy (I’ve only read the Inferno before). My own biggest problem with the story is a side plot concerning Ottavia’s Sicilian family and its “coincidental” role in altering the nun’s outlook on a number of issues. That seemed a bit too coincidental to me. It was just too obvious a plot device, and I saw it coming long before its implications came home to roost, so to speak. That isn’t enough of a quibble, though, to have substantially harmed my enjoyment of the story. In fact, the last half of the book was really difficult for me to put down.

Another small problem I had with the book was the translation, and it is a problem that many translations seem to have. At times, the dialogue didn’t quite ring true. This wasn’t anything glaring, but more little things that just didn’t scan quite correctly as the characters spoke to one another. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the way the characters developed, how their relationships came together, and how each was changed (or not) by the experiences they had together.

I hadn’t heard of The Last Cato or its author before I happened on it in a bookstore earlier in the week. I bought it primarily because the back-cover blurb made the book sound like a good read. Quibbles aside, that is exactly what it was. I wouldn’t call it great literature by any means, but it was fun even as it had some substance to it and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this sort of novel.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another interview: This time John asks the questions...

Okay, here's one more round of the "five questions" interview meme. This time John, from Mind on Fire has posed the questions. I think he missed his calling; he asks great questions and gets his interviewee to talk (write, in this case) entirely too much.

If you could be a character from any SF series which would you choose and why?

I’d be Mendoza, from Kage Baker’s “Company” novels. It sort of frightens me what that says about my psychological makeup, but nonetheless…. Mendoza, if you haven’t met her, is a cyborg, an immortal rescued from the not-so-loving arms of the Spanish Inquisition by Facilitator Joseph. Joseph is employed by The Company which, in the 24th century has discovered not only how to make infants and young children immortal, but how to travel in time. As a cyborg, Mendoza also works, as a Preserver. Her specialty is botany. Mendoza, however, is not a good cyborg. She doesn’t much like the Company, the Company wishes that she had never been made a cyborg, and she just doesn’t behave. Which is why she gets banished to around 150,000 years ago - that way, she’s out of the way and can’t cause the Company any more trouble - or so it hopes.

So, as to the why…Maybe it’s because Mendoza seems to embody one of my favorite sayings: she’s old enough to know better - way old enough - but is still young enough not to care. She knows she’s going to get in trouble, but she goes ahead and follows her heart anyway. Other than that, I don’t know. All I know is that I connected faster with Mendoza than I have with just about any fictional character I can think of.

Fill in the following: I am a [blank] junkie. Explain.

I am a music junkie. I need my music, and it doesn’t much matter what kind it is. I don’t really love hip-hop (in fact I’ve been known to express the opinion that while hip-hop is art, it isn’t really music as far as I’m concerned), and country music isn’t my favorite (but I listen to a lot more of it than I used to, since I’ve been learning more about all the cross-pollination between country and rock), but I’ll even listen to those if there’s nothing else.

I trace this addiction back to February 9, 1964. I was seven years old and spent part of the evening hiding behind the piano (it was a Sunday and I had school the next day, so I was supposed to be in bed by 7:30) watching the Beatles in their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Changed my life. After that, while all of my little fellow and sister second-graders were running home after school to watch cartoons, I was running home to watch the daily local L. A. imitations of American Bandstand. Ever since then, if I go too long without hearing some music I get just about as cranky as I do if I go too long without reading, which would have been the alternate answer for this question.

Quick! What were the last seven books you read?

Now, this one is easy, but only because I’ve been keeping a list this year. You’ve caught me in a cycle of reading more of what my best friend calls “popcorn books” than I usually do, but that’s fine. Reading is for fun, too. So, here is the list, slightly annotated, of the last seven books I’ve read, beginning with the most recently finished:

All Saints, Liam Callanan (2007) - fiction, and a very loopy book - that‘s the best word I can think of to describe it. Most of the characters, teachers and students at a Roman Catholic high school, are pretty dysfunctional. But Callanan manages to portray them as fully human even when they are doing things that are not admirable. Oh, and John…this book takes place in your neck of the woods; the fictional school is in Newport Beach and UC Irvine even makes a couple of quick appearances.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C. Mann (2005; trade paperback edition, 2006) - Anthropology/archaeology/history. Mann discusses new ideas of the life the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere led before and at contact with Europeans. Excellent book. I highly recommend it. (See my review, below)

Tutu Deadly, Natalie M. Roberts (2007) - fiction; of all things, a comical murder mystery. This one is supposed to be the first of a continuing series featuring a dance teacher in Utah who “doesn’t always play well with the other adults”.

The Collar, Jonathan Englert (2006) - Anthropology/sociology/religion. Follows a year in the lives of several Roman Catholic seminarians, very frank without being dismissive of the religious journeys of the men portrayed. If I were teaching a class in the anthropology or sociology of religion, this is one of the books I’d teach.

Michelangelo’s Notebook, Paul Christopher (2005) - Da Vinci Code territory; very much popcorn reading. So much so that I don’t remember much of the plot even though it hasn’t been long since I read it.

The Alexandria Link, Steve Berry (2007) - Also in the mold of Dan Brown, except with better writing and plotting. The protagonist is an ex-government lawyer on the trail of what really happened to the great library at Alexandria. Of course, the bad guys want to get their first. Again, popcorn reading, but of a better quality.

Hotel California: The true-life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and their many friends, Barney Hoskins (2006) - Music; Hoskins is a music writer and critic, and he’s really done his homework here, having at one time or another interviewed most of the people he writes about. Frankly, there’s a lot of gossip here, but especially if you love the music of this era and genre as I do there is also a good deal of deep background on who influenced who musically, who worked with who on what music. I liked this book a lot.

Why did you become Mormon? Why did you leave?

I became Mormon mostly, I have to admit, because I knew a lot of Mormons at the time - I was baptized when I was 16. But, I had also gone to seminary for about a year with a friend and I figured that what the Mormons were teaching made just as much sense as what I’d heard in any other church I’d ever gone to. I was especially impressed by the second-chance thing, aka baptism for the dead. I’d had a bad experience previously visiting a church and getting into an argument with the Sunday school teacher when she said that people who died without hearing about Christ were just out of luck and were destined to spend eternity burning in hell. Oddly, when I went to participate in baptisms for the dead in the L.A. temple I was so creeped out by it that I didn’t want to ever go to the temple again under any circumstances.

When I left for good (I was in and out, active and inactive, for an extended period of time), it was after a revelation I had one Sunday afternoon as I was teaching a Relief Society lesson. As I was talking, I realized that I didn’t believe most of what I was saying, that I was being a hypocrite, and that I just couldn’t do that anymore and have any respect for myself. I don’t know why it happened just then. I’d been having arguments with myself about doctrine, about custom in the church, about everything about the church, for years. I’d literally be alone in the car and arguing with myself about stuff like blacks and the priesthood, about the place and role of women in the church, about various points of doctrine and history. But that afternoon was it. I just couldn’t do it anymore. And I never went back.

What world event would you like to see in your lifetime?

My first instinct, when I read this question, was to flutter my hand in my best beauty queen/Miss Congeniality imitation (I adore that movie) and say something like “world peace”. And that would be wonderful. And politically correct. But if I were really to be completely honest, as much as I’d like to see everybody just get along, what I would really like to see is proof…convincing, irrefutable proof that there is other intelligent life in the universe. Heck, maybe then it would turn out that Ronald Reagan was right about something and that knowing there was someone else out there would help bring us together, make us realize that the lifeboat comparison is really true - we are all in this together and if we keep fighting, we’re all going to drown. Is that what they call having one’s cake and eating it too?

Again, as before...
it's your turn. If you would like to be interviewed by me (littlemissattitude) and pass this meme along, here's what you need to do:

1) Leave me a comment telling me you want to be interviewed. Either leave your e-mail address in the comment or e-mail me at ElnFrei at aol dot com with your addy.

2) I will respond by e-mailing you five questions of my choice.

3) You answer the questions in your blog.

4) When you post your answers, include this explanation in the post and offer to interview someone else.

5) You send five questions of your choice to those who ask to be interviewed.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Happy Birthday, Debbie Sparks...

It's May 9. That means that it's Debbie Sparks's birthday. I almost feel guilty remembering that, because I don't remember most of my friends' birthdays, even those I've been friends with virtually all my life. I only knew Debbie Sparks for two school years. Yet I always remember her birthday.

There's a reason for that, though. The second year I knew her, 1970, when we were in the 8th grade, her birthday fell on a Saturday. She had a huge party in the afternoon, and then all of us were off to a concert at the local high school that evening. It was a big deal, too, because it was a big name group - The Grass Roots. You might not know the name, but if you listen to Classic Rock stations you've probably heard some of their music: "Midnight Confessions", "Let's Live For Today", "Sooner or Later". Anyway, it was around the time of their biggest popularity, yet they were playing a show in the gym of the high school, a benefit for the district's PTA's. I know how it came about...the drummer had grown up in town, and someone had used their connections. It was a big thing for me, as they were my favorite band that year. And how often does your favorite band play a show in what will be your high school gym? I still listen to their music on a fairly regular basis.

All that is an aside, though, important now simply because it is the reason I remember Debbie Sparks's birthday. Not long after that, Debbie and her family moved to Oklahoma. We wrote letters back and forth for awhile, and I talked to her on the phone a couple of times after she moved, but it wasn't that long before we lost touch. But still, on May 9 every year I wonder what has happened to her. The last time I heard from her, I think, she was in college, seeing some guy - fairly seriously, it seemed - and simply living her life. I don't know if they ever married, but I assume she got married at some point. Had kids. Most people do. There's a fairly good chance that she's a grandmother by now.

So...there's next to no chance Debbie will read this. But still, Happy Birthday Debbie Sparks. Hope it was a good one. Hope you're having a good life.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Boys behaving badly...

I don’t want to be in the position of promoting or perpetuating stereotypes…of males or anyone else. I certainly don’t like it when other folks do that with stereotypes of females. So I’ll say this right up front: Most men mature right on schedule, while some women never grow up. On the other hand, sometimes I just have to wonder…

Is it testosterone? Is it something on the Y-chromosome?

Yesterday evening, on the way to the bank and the library, I got stuck at a traffic light next to a car full of boys. I use that word - “boys” - deliberately, even though I never looked over at the car and so I have no way of knowing how old they were. You’ll understand why I didn’t look in just a minute. However, from their voices, I would imagine that they were all - it sounded like three or four of them - somewhere in their mid to late teens.

As soon as they realized that there were women in the next car (mine) and that our windows were down (at around six p.m. it was still around 90 degrees F, and gas is much too expensive to use the car’s air conditioning), they started in, very loud. At least every other word was an F-bomb. There were disgustingly graphic descriptions of sex acts and cannibalism. It was a very long light, and they went on and on and on.

I refused to even acknowledge that I heard them, since that was what they so obviously wanted. To shock and to provoke a reaction. Sorry boys; I wasn’t shocked, and you had just proved how infantile you can act. I did wonder if their parents have any idea exactly how rude and vile their sons can be (not likely, and I doubt they would believe it if someone told them). I had a fantasy of washing their mouths out with soap - I’m not a prude, and I’d be lying if I tried to claim that I never use the word “fuck” - but what was coming out of their mouths was particularly vile. The light changed, finally. I suppose they went on to annoy someone else at the next light.

Fast forward five minutes, as I turned into the parking lot at the bank. The bank was, of course, closed by that time, and the parking lot was empty. Just as I was approaching the parking spaces closest to the ATMs, a car turned into another driveway into the lot, sped up to beat me, and made a tire-screeching u-turn into the spot I was about to take. It was an obviously expensive car…I want to say a Jag, but I’m not very good at identifying makes and models…and the man who emerged was in his mid-forties and dressed as if he belongs to the country club set, or aspires to it. I guess he felt it would be an affront to his manhood or something if he let another driver take the closest parking space or something. Surely it couldn’t have been the whole step or two more he would have had to walk had he parked in the space I ended up taking. The parking space isn’t even the issue here. As I said, the difference was a matter of a couple of steps. Not a big deal as far as I was concerned. The issue, rather, is how willing he was to take the chance of a collision - if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have hit him - just to get his way.

It isn’t merely a question of chronological age, as these two examples show. I don’t know what it is a question of, to be honest. A need to be acknowledged as dominant? Sheer selfishness? Just a bid for attention? The anthropologist in me wonders if anyone has studied this, has established if men in our culture here in the US really do have an ingrained need to act in these sorts of ways at a greater rate than women. Or was I just in a position twice within five minutes to witness these various little male tantrums? Because that’s what they were in both cases, I think, when it comes right down to it.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Review: "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus", Charles C. Mann

I just finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann (Vintage Books, 2006; Knopf hardback edition, 2005). If you have any interest at all in anthropology or archaeology, or in the history of the Western Hemisphere, especially that period before the Europeans arrived, you will probably find this book fascinating.

Mann addresses several topics here. One is the idea that the Western Hemisphere was much more populous at European contact than was previously believed. It is possible, he writes, that there were more people in the Western Hemisphere in 1491 than there were in Europe, and that at the city of Tenochtitlan - the Aztec capital - had more inhabitants at contact than did any European city of the time. Mann also looks at the ongoing arguments over when the first inhabitants of the hemisphere arrived and how and when - and how fast - they spread out over the land. In addition, he presents new evidence that, far from being an untouched land on which the native inhabitants made no mark, the Western Hemisphere had been extensively transformed by those who lived here. The reason the land appeared so pristine when settlers arrived after the initial 100 to 200 year period of conquest was that so many of the inhabitants had been killed off, mostly by the spread of diseases carried by the first Europeans to arrive, perhaps as much as 90 to 95 percent of the population in some areas.

Previous to European contact, Mann writes, the high population of the hemisphere had turned the land into a “managed” environment. However, by the time settlers arrived so much of the population had died that there were not enough people left to keep the environment under control. Farmed land was overgrown by forest, for example on the east coast of what is now the United States. Populations of species such as bison and passenger pigeons, which had been kept to manageable numbers by the Indians, exploded when hunting declined along with the human population. He even presents new evidence that the Amazon region, long thought to have been sparsely settled by small and unsophisticated groups, never extensively farmed due to the unsuitability of the soil, was actually was one of those highly managed areas that for thousands of years supported large, fairly advanced cultures that subsisted mostly by farming rather than by hunting and gathering. Some of this information has not been welcomed, especially by environmentalists, including the idea that part of the management of the Amazon was done through what he calls a “slash and char” process that allowed the inhabitants to add charcoal to the soil and enhanced its suitability for farming. But, Mann writes, this wasn’t the wholesale burning that modern developers have practiced to their own economic gain and showing evidence that the process was used is not the same thing as supporting what has gone on in the region more recently.

While Mann writes that more and more anthropologists and archaeologists are coming to accept the new evidence he reports and the new picture of conditions in the Western Hemisphere before European contact that this evidence supports, there is still significant dissent to these new views. He presents both sides of the debate even though it is fairly clear that he favors the new paradigm. He also proposes that there are political reasons why some individuals, both in and out of the anthropological community, cling to the old view that there were few people here when the Europeans arrived, and that most of them were unsophisticated both culturally and technologically. This old view, he argues, makes the European occupation of the hemisphere more palatable than having to face the possibility that they came and took over land that was already possessed by large and sophisticated civilizations that were in some cases different only in detail and not in substance from those in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Mann, a science writer for such publications as Science and The Atlantic Monthly is a good writer who presents the stories he tells with wit and humanity. The arguments he presents for his premises are quite convincing, for the most part. He has documented his research extensively - the book contains 52 pages of endnotes and the bibliography runs to 58 pages. Obviously, he does not expect the reader to take his word for the evidence he presents, and in fact in the Afterword to the paperback edition of the book he explicitly states that he “wanted to have a fuller bibliography than is usual in popular works - I wanted to point people to the original sources, so that readers who were interested could find out more.” There is clearly more to be said on these subjects, and newer and even more extensive evidence could modify or overturn some of the ideas Mann presents and advocates for. Such is the nature of science, and of history. Still, this overview of the subject as it stands is interesting, valuable, and a very good read.