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Gabor Laszlo Varkonyi

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Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, And The Nature Of Society
Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, And The Nature Of Society
by David Sloan Wilson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Group selection explained, 2 Feb. 2013
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For a long time, group selection did not seem logical to me: as Richard Dawkins and others have explained it on numerous occasions, even if a cooperating group could in principle always defeat individualists, any such group will be highly vulnerable to free-riding cheaters, to the point that cheaters would eventually take over any such group, thereby destroying any possible advantages cooperation might have had.

The explanation for group selection is simple. (Once you've understood it.) What if non-cheating members could cooperate not only against outsiders, but they would also monitor the group itself, policing the cheaters? If the cost of policing is low, and the punishment imposed on cheaters is grave, than once such a cooperating group has been created (by accident, by some pre-adaptations coming together in a lucky way, etc., no need to explain it now), then from that point on it will be an evolutionarily stable equilibrium. This much we can find out sitting at our desks, it is as simple and logical a concept as evolution itself - yet just as deceptively elusive. Just one such elusive point is that policing the cheaters of course means delimiting the group as well - the category of cheaters presumably includes non-members as well. Another elusive point is that there is no need to start from a kinship group, although having kinship will of course smooth things out. If a group can enhance the fitness of all of its members, than even a non-kinship group can work well. It can even work well if it only increases the fitness on average.

Once we've established that in principle there could be group selection if there is policing inside the group, combing out cheaters, we can turn to the next question of whether we can find it in reality. David Sloan Wilson gives some examples from the animal kingdom but then turns to humans. After all, his main topic is nothing less but religion as an organising force among humans, which - David Sloan Wilson suspects - could just as well be a vehicle of such group selection. He first examines morality itself, which could hardly have evolved if it was easy to fake. Apparently (despite the proliferation of psychopaths among us) nobody can consistently fake being a reasonably good person, unless one really is one.

The author then goes on to show that religious systems are complex moral systems and group organising forces, which usually enhance the fitness of their members both through changing their behaviour for their own good (think about how practicing Catholics have more children on average than us nonbelievers or how the religious tend to abuse drugs less than the nonreligious) and for making them altruistic towards other members of the group (which will lead to numerous advantages, even if some will inevitably be lost to some unavoidable cheating). He gives some examples of religious groups which don't enhance fitness: the Shakers refrained from having sex altogether, much like Catholic priests, monks, and nuns (it should be emphasised that Catholics only prescribe such behaviour to a very small portion of their members), and after adoption from orphanages became impossible, they simply died out. Orphanages themselves are a relatively modern invention, a cult like the Shakers could not have existed before that at all. In other words, if a religion harms its members' fitness, it will go extinct. If it doesn't enhance it - other religious groups will tend to outcompete it, as has happened with Paganism vis-à-vis Christianity.

David Sloan Wilson gives many examples of how religions tend to enhance their members' fitness, the most detailed example being Calvinism (where because of the concept of predestination converts were not easily accepted), but then he goes on to analyse the Bali temples, Judaism, and early Christianity.

One of the other reviewers mentions that the author has a "Christian stance". That might be the case, and I might have been a superficial reader, but from the book I found no evidence of his being a Christian. The argument that "being a Christian is good for you in this world" doesn't strike me as particularly religious (although some Christians have made this argument to me before), actually it sounds like an atheistic way of explaining why one needs religion even while not believing any of the fairy tales of a resurrecting Son of God and His being one God in three divine persons. A Christian he might be, but here he is presenting us with an atheistic explanation of religion: after all, if religion was an evolutionary disadvantage, then its persistence would be a difficult thing to explain for nonbelievers. Not any more!

Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Symphony 9 (DG The Originals)
Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Symphony 9 (DG The Originals)
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £7.30

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best stereo recording of the Ninth, 29 Dec. 2012
Beethoven's Ninth is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. The more significant I find a piece, the more recordings I try to put my hands on, because usually different recordings highlight different aspects of the same piece, so I'm not much of a partisan of any recording in particular, even though there are some that I tend to listen to many more times than to others. I currently own over fifteen recordings of the Ninth (I still don't own many that others mention in their reviews here and elsewhere as definitive, so I guess I'll keep purchasing more and more recordings in the future), and this is among the top 2 I listen to, the other one being Furtwängler's 1954 Lucerne recording (Beethoven - Symphony No.9 (Hybrid SACD)).

It's approach is quite different from Furtwängler, it feels tighter, much less subjective, the tempi are generally faster (the Adagio actually feels as slow and beautiful to me as Furtwängler's recordings, even though it takes up roughly 5-10% less time than the Furtwängler recordings I own, the reason is probably that the Scherzo is so much faster, proceeding at a breakneck tempo), and altogether it's more dramatic, which I tend to like. Don't mistake me, Furtwängler's recordings also have drama, and also rank among the greatest recordings ever (I am never sure if I could only take one which one I would choose, a late Furtwängler recording or this Fricsay, but I hope I'll never have to make that choice), and depending on the mood one can always prefer one over the other.

This Fricsay recording is the first ever stereo recording of this symphony, and the sound quality is surprisingly good, although there is a slight background hiss, which I usually don't notice anymore, I'm so used to it. Of course modern recordings have better sound quality, but fortunately I'm not much of an audiophile. However, I made the mistake of first downloading the mp3 (from, since I live in Switzerland), and later on as it became one of my favorites, I purchased the CD as well. Even though - as already mentioned - I'm not much into sound quality, the lossless is better sound quality than the official mp3. (I usually don't hear the difference between a 320 mp3 and a lossless, but I think the officially sold mp3 is somewhere in the range of 200-250 bitrate, and I think it's worth the extra few pounds (or euros) is definitely worth it. You'll also never regret having to pay twice.

It was recorded in December 1957 and January and April 1958. There is a significance in the beautifully played Egmont overture, which opens the CD: during the days of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, after the Radio Budapest building was damaged in the fighting and the broadcast had to move to a small temporary studio, an old record of the Egmont overture was the only music available, so this piece was played night and day in the intervals between official announcements. For this reason, in Hungary, Egmont is and was considered to be the music of the revolution. This must have been known to Fricsay, a Hungarian, just a bit more than a year after the events, and it shows: this is my favorite recording of the Egmont overture. I also think Egmont is a fitting introduction to the Ninth, although often (if I don't have time) I only listen to that, and sometimes I skip it and start with the symphony.

I thought it might be useful if I gave a list of the other recordings I have and how I like them. I have four and a half recordings from Furtwängler, two from 1942 (superb interpretation and terrible sound quality, especially the April one), two from 1951 Bayreuth (semi-live from EMI and live from Orfeo), I love both, 1954 Lucerne, which is my favorite from Furtwängler and together with Fricsay my favorite ever. I have three recordings from Karajan (1955, 1963, 1977), I would give four stars to the first two of those (good, but not really great) and three stars to the 1977 one. I always thought I disliked Karajan until realizing it's only his Beethoven that I don't like. I have a recording by Bernstein (late seventies, with the Wiener), and also an early Abbado (eighties, Wiener) and both are great (five stars), although I prefer both Fricsay and Furtwängler over these ones. I have Ansermet, and I would give four stars to that (somehow the approach is too light to me), I have Jos van Immerseel (period practice, just a few years old), which I like, but with the Ninth would probably only receive four stars from me. Harnoncourt, whose Ninth I dislike, three stars only. Celibidache, whose Beethoven I don't like at all, it would receive two stars only. Bernard Haitink with LSO (recent recording), which would also probably receive four stars from me. Barenboim (recent recording with Divan), four stars again, although I like his approach, it somehow doesn't work for me in this recording, it feels a bit like a good idea done badly (or at least not so well).

A strange thing is that I tend to like the other symphonies of those whose Ninth I dislike and vice versa: as if I would prefer a lighter approach elsewhere and a more traditional/Romantic approach in the Ninth. Fricsay is not different: Symphonies nos 3 "Héroïque", 5, 7 & 8 (French Import) I didn't really like at all.

Stalin's Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of World War II on the Eastern Front
Stalin's Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of World War II on the Eastern Front
by Constantine Pleshakov
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Badly written polemics instead of cold and objective scholarship, 17 April 2012
I wrote a somewhat more flattering review (giving even 4 stars...) a few years ago on, but now after having read so many better books, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone anymore. Maybe if you have already read a hundred books on the subject, and have a critical eye, this might be a good hundred-first one...

He tends to mix up a lot of details with questionable theories, and his polemical style criticizing the Soviet leadership really makes one wonder if he was writing scholarship or a political pamphlet. Yes, we know that Stalin was a mass murderer, we also know that under his leadership the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians were wasted, etc., but it gets more difficult after a while to read all the emotional polemics.

Now Pleshakov's theory that Stalin wanted to attack Germany by early July 1941 is not widely accepted, and there is no hard evidence whatsoever supporting it. It is just one possible explanation of Stalin's actions (or the lack of them) before Barbarossa, and (in my point of view) not even the most likely. Still Pleshakov regards it to be fact, and although he admits the lack of evidence, some readers may believe that what they're reading is the only (or at least by far the most likely) explanation of the known facts. Well, it is not.

It also seems to be a little far-flung to attribute (as he does) present-day Russian alcohol consumption patterns to Stalin's decision to give vodka to the troops before attacks.

He also has a number of conversations in a book supposedly being a piece of scholarship - of course, there are no sources, how could there be for literal transcripts of conversations...

A smaller problem is the type of citations he chose, which is endnotes without properly citing in the text, and only indicating at the end which paragraph has and which has not citations. It would be much easier to check his citations if the endnotes were flagged by numbers so that it would have been easier to follow them.

Other commenters have already mentioned the problems with his usage of terminology, he keeps referring to Soviet "panzer" corps and divisions instead of Mechanized or Tank formations, which is confusing and also less precise. Calling all German planes Junkers was a common thing for Soviet soldiers at the time, but it is unusual for a present-day historian...

I don't quite recommend this book to anyone, except for the fanatics who already have perspective and read a lot on the war, especially the German-Soviet front. (Generally called the Eastern Front, although it was Western for the Soviets...)

Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews
Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews
by Albert S. Lindemann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very useful and thorough examination of the subject, 16 April 2012
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Albert Lindemann's book tackles a very sensitive and complex topic called "modern antisemitism". I have read many analyses of the topic (usually as introductory parts of books dealing with the holocaust), but they were all quite one-sided, not aiming at understanding the phenomenon, but rather at morally condemning it. Which is all fine, but in order to understand, you have to imagine putting your feet in the anti-Semites shoes, and this kind of understanding hardly goes well with moral condemnation, at least not in the same time. You first have to understand, then subsequently you can morally condemn. Or even better, you can leave it to the reader. After all, most of us don't need to be told by a historian that murdering millions of innocent civilians is a monstrous crime. (Even Himmler and Heydrich knew that much...) It's also anachronistic, using a kind of 21st century morality to evaluate the motives and thinking of 19th century people.

Lindemann doesn't shy away from describing the role of the Jews themselves, in a similar sense as a victimologist might describe the role a victim played in a crime. After all, Jews were themselves as much the subjects as the objects of history, quickly rising from an oppressed minority into the ranks of the middle classes and the elite. They also played highly visible and active roles in modern finance, and neither were they passive in politics: while many Jews became important politicians in a number of countries, many wealthy Jews financed politics (most famously perhaps Jacob Schiff and Paul Warburg, in an effort to topple the anti-Semitic Russian regime, financing some Russian revolutionaries and the Japanese war effort against Tsarist Russia), and they were active in the field of culture and science as well. These activities were not always pleasant to gentiles (at least not to all them), however, and they more often than not provoked hostility from some quarters. This hostility was usually not totally justified, but it was not totally irrational either. It was also unfair to a good many Jews (as all ethnic prejudice inevitably is), but there were some good reasons why it was so.

Now this is the most sensitive issue of all, because it smacks of "the Jews had it coming". However, in real history there are rarely purely innocent victims, neither is there true evil. Even Genghis Khan or Tamerlane can be understood, so why would anti-Semites or the Nazis be an exception? It - needless to say - doesn't mean that understanding some Nazi motives (why they hated the Jews) will give them excuse for murdering millions of people. It's also very important to keep in mind that what the book deals with was anti-Semitism before the holocaust. We should also remember that the large majority of anti-Semites in the 19th or early 20th centuries never even dreamed of murdering even one Jew, let alone millions of them, indeed most of them didn't even want to expel them, and many (maybe most?) of them didn't even want any legal discrimination against them. They simply disliked Jews, and that was all.

Of course, in a world where many people dislike Jews, it is more likely for a totally anti-Semitic madman to come to power, and then start murdering them by the millions. However, while probably being disliked by so many people around the world was a more or less inevitable consequence of living in a diaspora (after all, people generally tend to dislike and sometimes hate their neighbors - Serbs and Croats, Serbs and Hungarians, Hungarians and Slovaks, Hungarians and Romanians, Czechs and Slovaks, Poles and Germans, at some point in time Hungarians and Croatians, Hungarians and Austrians/Germans, French and English, English and Scots, the list is endless, and involves virtually all possible combinations of neighboring nations), being murdered in their millions was not at all so inevitable.

Maybe not all readers will be convinced by Lindemann's conclusions, or like his tone, but I find it definitely worth being read.

The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
by J. Adam Tooze
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best analyes to be found on the Nazi economy and ideology, 12 April 2012
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I originally expected the book to be about the German war economy only, but I was pleasantly surprised that it actually puts the economy in a wider perspective, both writing about the German war effort in general and - more importantly - about the role Nazi ideology played in German economic policy, war aims, and the conduct of the war, and even sheds light on some aspects of and possible reasons for the holocaust and other genocidal actions of the regime.

He presents us with a picture of a Germany that was not as modern as the most modern contemporary states (far less modern than the US, and even somewhat poorer than France or the UK), and much less developed than 21st century first world countries. We learn of the modern (at least by the standards of the time) and the backwards (but not very much backwards by the standards of the time) points of Nazi ideology, and how these informed their actions.

Definitely worth to read for anybody seriously interested in Nazism, actually I think this is the best concise history around not only of the Nazi war economy but of Nazi Germany in general.

The Destruction of the European Jews
The Destruction of the European Jews
by Raul Hilberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £130.00

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for anybody interested in the holocaust, 2 April 2012
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This magnificent study contains all the basic facts and the decision process about the holocaust. It's well-written, so you can read it relatively fast, and contains the most up-to-date sources. I suspect some parts have been updated in this third edition using the most recent findings, e.g. on the question of what kind of orders were given to the Einsatzgruppen in summer 1941 or Himmler's meeting with Hitler in December 1941. Even where it was obviously written half a century ago based on sources available at the time, he augmented the notes with references to newer findings and works that have since appeared.

Even though some other works shed some light on some aspects of the holocaust (most especially The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy) which are not dealt with here, reading Hilberg's work is essential before reading anything else. If you want to get in-depth knowledge by only reading one book on the holocaust, then this is the one to go for.

My only (slight) complaint is the chapter dealing with the history of antisemitism. I don't quite understand why most holocaust scholars need to deal with subjects (Middle Ages, Early Modern period, 19th century etc.) which are not the focus of their interest and where therefore their analysis is doomed to be shallower than in their main subject... But this is just a small part of the whole, the three volumes as a whole and almost throughout are worth reading and are highly recommended.

Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
by Jared M. Diamond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good and fascinating story - it's a shame it's largely false, 3 Dec. 2011
If you want a politically correct explanation why it was Europeans and not East Africans who colonized the world, then this is a must for you. If you're just interested in that question, you might also want to read this, but be warned. Much of his thesis is not tenable in light of newer evidence, and Diamond actually had to leave out or grossly misinterpret evidence available at the time of writing.

His explanation is that biologically there's not much difference between say New Guineans and Europeans (except for the better immune system and lower intelligence of the latter), and that geography could explain most of the variation in human achievement. Now geography might indeed be important, but in more ways than he is willing to acknowledge. E.g. he is not even discussing the role of larger population sizes on evolution (larger populations produce more useful mutations than small ones), the role that large open continents played in evolution (not only ideas and inventions, but also useful alleles can cover the distance much better, thus peoples living in the largest continent might have received not only many more ideas and inventions and seeds from neighboring peoples but also many more useful alleles), or the fact that agriculture created an environment radically differing from that of hunting-gathering environment, which must have had strong selection pressures. (Although, of course, he could not have known the newest findings on the matter, evidence of very strong selection and very strong physiological as well as probably psychological differences between Mesolithic and present-day populations. Still some of the findings were already known, and I find his treatment of the topic too tendentious.)

Just an example of the tendentiousness of his explanations: he muses about the New Guinean highlanders being probably more intelligent than Europeans. He bases this on his impressions on his New Guinean friends. Never mind that his friends could be the most intelligent highlanders (e.g. the leader of a cargo cult) who in any case want to befriend an alien. Never mind that there is (and already was at the time of his writing) a vast literature showing that Africans and other indigenous peoples around the world show remarkably low intelligence on IQ tests. (The reasons for this are and were debated, so one might argue this is not genetic, but environmental. But still, if he is willing to mention that he thinks Europeans are less intelligent than others, why did he not mention that this is a case of his impressions vs. IQ tests?) He also doesn't sound too convincing when he mentions one of his anecdotal evidence, a leader of a cargo cult. He remarks that this person was very intelligent to ask a question that most Europeans never even ask: that is, why is it that "cargo" (products of technology including ships and airplanes) are only carried to New Guinea by Europeans and not the other way around? (One might answer that most Europeans of course would ask the question was it not verboten by political correctness...) Now he also mentions that the cargo cult leader thinks the Europeans have better magic. And of course he thinks Europeans explanations to the origins of technology (like factories and science) are only deceptions. Now it seems to me that the question this cargo cult leader asks might be intelligent, but his answer to that is not very intelligent. Asking a question that an intelligent child might ask is not a sign of supreme intelligence, only if one's expectations about these people are already comfortably low.

Another example is his claim that China was on the verge of an industrial revolution in the 13th century... far from it. They were on the verge of inventing the steam engine, but the industrial revolution is far more than the steam engine. I'm not to deny the genius of the Chinese people in inventing so many useful practical inventions (not to mention their later track record of successfully adapting modern technologies), but they lacked science in the modern sense of the world. Chinese scientists never (never before contact with the West, that is) strived to find out new theories or to disprove received wisdom. Au contraire, they were extremely traditionalist. Therefore, the invention of the steam engine could not have led to an industrial revolution, if only because after a few decades the industrial revolution needed modern science, which they lacked. (It's also worth noting that many of the first great inventors had good knowledge of theoretical science, James Watt being a case in point. A tinkerer he might have been, but a tinkerer with a sound theoretical knowledge of the science of his day.)

I think that some of his theories might have something to them (including his explanations on the role geographical fragmentation might have played), but he vastly overstates his point. Six years ago I found it fascinating (I didn't have problems with the repetitions other reviewers are complaining about), but now I think he didn't set out with an open mind to answer his question, but rather he just wanted to find the proofs for the conclusion he had already reached when he had set out. I would propose to read 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution before (or instead of) this.

10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
by Gregory Cochran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Instead of being over, evolution has actually been at its fastest over the past 10,000 years, 2 Dec. 2011
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In this fascinating book the authors explain how human evolution has continued since the invention of agriculture, and how it has affected the course of history.

This is a very compelling account of how and why human evolution could not have stopped and indeed has accelerated over the past tens of millenia, and especially since the onset of agriculture. Radically changed environments (first Europe/Asia/etc. instead of Africa, then agricultural environment and gradually strenghening law enforcement instead of hunting-gathering and tribal or even lower level anarchy) and a swelling population (supplying an ever increasing number of useful mutations) meant a huge acceleration of evolution.

The book doesn't shy away from questions of race. They convincingly argue what others (most notably Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele in Race: The Reality of Human Differences) have already shown, that race is much deeper than skin-deep.

It's not very long (a bit more than 200 short pages, including a number of pictures) and is well-written and easy to read, I finished it on a Sunday afternoon, so if you take it with you for a long vacation take some other books as well...

The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Studies in Critical Social Sciences (Brill Academic))
The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Studies in Critical Social Sciences (Brill Academic))
by Ricardo Duchesne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £102.72

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A grandiose account on the uniqueness of the West, 26 Nov. 2011
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I have never heard the name of Ricardo Duchesne before, but this work establishes him as one of the best social scientists, at least in my view. (Disclaimer: I'm not a social scientist.) The book stretches several millenia and topics, of which I can only give some samples.

Duchesne views Western civilization (starting with the Greeks, and, as we'll see, actually much earlier) as largely unique among the large cultures of the world. He explains that many of the multiculturalists are actually relying on Western ideas of universal human equality, or of the equality of cultures across the globe (a uniquely Western idea, not a wonder that most multiculturalists are in fact Westerners), and similar ideas. So while many people argue that the West is a non-existent civilization, or that it's the worst or most aggressive civilization - well, the West is the only culture which produced people criticizing their own culture in these terms.

Duchesne's point of view is largely Hegelian and non-materialistic, which makes it possible for him to think not in terms of economic development only. He accepts that for example Western Europe was not more developed circa 1750 than China - but in the same time makes a very good case of why it was largely unlikely that China would ever have had an industrial revolution, whereas it was only a question of time in the West. One compelling case is the case of Western science: China had a lot of practical knowledge, but didn't have anything like modern science, for example no Chinese philosopher or scientist ever made fame (before the Europeans arrived, that is) by disproving the theories held at his time, whereas in the West it was and is the dream of any scientist - to disprove received wisdom.

He debunks many of the politically correct statements of "world-history". The statement that "China (or India, the Middle East, etc.) had similar science to the West" I just mentioned, another one is that "China was on the verge of industrial revolution in the 13th century". While it's true that the Chinese were very close to inventing the steam engine, but it would have been just that - highly developed medieval technology plus the steam engine. The industrial revolution meant a constant flow of inventions, which after the first half century increasingly needed modern science - which was present in Europe by the time of the Industrial Revolution, but was absent in China in both the 13th and the 18th centuries. This is not to deny the genius of the Chinese people, who invented many things way before the Europeans started to adapt them. However, the Europeans showed a quite pronounced readiness to adapt anything foreign. (Just as the contemporary Chinese and Japanese are ready to adapt foreign inventions.) Duchesne is convincing when he argues that actually adapting foreign technologies (which most of the time meant modifications and adjustments to local circumstances, and often involved several improvements) is just as much a sign of vitality and inventiveness as inventions themselves.

Finding new limits, overcoming obstacles for their own sake, questioning knowledge - this is what Duchesne calls an aristocratic spirit. Striving for the best, being the best by virtue - that is what the ancient Greeks equated aristocracy with. Although we nowadays tend to think of aristocracy only as an oppressive and exploitative class, Duchesne shows that it is an oversimplification. The aristocrats were obligated to be virtuous, for example almost all of the philosophers and political and military leaders we now remember of as "the Greeks" were in fact aristocrats by birth, even the leaders of democracy. Now Duchesne shows that this was a feature of many European warrior-aristocracies (and for a long time even after they were largely civilized), and that many of the general population were co-opted to that spirit.

Another unique feature of European was a relatively egalitarian (actually egalitarian-aristocratic) spirit. (Only aristocrats were members of the group of equals, serfs etc. had no equality, obviously.) A king in Europe was usually a first among equals, at least among the aristocrats, at the very least no member of the nobility or aristocracy had to kowtow or prostrate themselves before a king. This is in quite in contrast to the despotic cultures of the rest of the world, almost anywhere. While some other warrior aristocracies (most notably Japan) had similar "noblesse oblige" ethos, the egalitarianism was missing. (The notion that for example the king or overlord also had obligations to the vassals, not only the other way around, and when breaking the terms, the vassals had the right to resist.)

Duchesne shows quite compellingly that most of the unique features go back millenia, and he traces it back to the Indo-European bands that gradually conquered much of Europe sometime in the 5th-3rd millenia BC. These bands then became the warrior aristocracies, and slowly superimposed their languages and also to a large extent their spirits on the European populations at large.

I think the strength of the book is the only weakness: the lack of a materialistic perspective makes it such a compelling reading, and this is what makes him notice unique things (e.g. Greek democracy - in spite of its many flaws, which the Greeks themselves were the first to point out, it was an institution without parallel outside of Europe until modern times), which are not so readily noticeable to evolutionists (who tend to concentrate on economic development only). On the other hand, first, I think that striving for prestige (which in his view is evolutionarily disadvantageous) can actually have evolutionary benefits (depending on a number of parameters), and this could be an - admittedly lowly, materialistic - explanation for such high spirits. He also never mentions the possibility of genetic differences among European and non-European populations, even while he believes that these traits are very persistent, apparently even present in much of present-day populations. (On the other hand, since there's no evidence to date for such differences, and neither do I think it would be easy for anybody to get grants to investigate, it's probably better not to mention it.)

The Mismeasure of Man
The Mismeasure of Man
by Stephen Jay Gould
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

9 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A fraudulent book, don't waste your time on it, 24 Nov. 2011
This review is from: The Mismeasure of Man (Paperback)
I read this book several years ago, and at the time I believed both the facts represented here and the conclusions of the author. Now I'm angry for being misled by such a high authority. His facts were fraudulent (he - either deliberately or at least negligently - presents false data, defaming long dead sincere scientists), and even his conclusions seem to be disproved by more recent findings. I would propose Race: The Reality of Human Differences or The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution instead.

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