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Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding In Plain Sight
Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding In Plain Sight
by M. E. Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'I am probably smarter than you, dear reader', 24 Feb. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I found this book fascinating, but it divides Amazon reviewers. I give several quotations below, so if you are thinking of buying it, you can decide if its style appeals to you:

"I am probably smarter than you, dear reader, but I know that in the rare instance this will not be true."

"I don't like people knowing things about me because it just means more things to remember I can't lie about"

"[at social gatherings] If I'm not listening, I'm probably telling a joke or shamelessly flattering you. I would probably rather not be talking to you at all, but since I am I might as well be polishing my charm"

"The Mid-West, a place so characterless it was as if it had been fashioned out of cardboard"

"I have to have a way to blow off steam. So I ruin people. It's not illegal, it's difficult to prove, and I get to flex my power"

"If I were only ruthless when I needed to be or only towards people who "deserved" it, I don't think I could be as effective. I would be constantly questioning myself - is this person worth it? Do I really need to be going after them in a particular way? Instead, my natural inclination is to be aggressive to everyone."

"I adhere to a religion [she is a Mormon]... The practice of it is just good sense - it keeps you out of prison and safely hidden in the crowd. But the heart of morality is something I have never understood."

"Most sociopaths want to hide their identity, but I don't want to hide forever...I want everyone to know that I'm a natural human variant. I want to take off the mask."

In places she uses more words than necessary, but she still writes readably and effectively.

`Sociopaths', one of whom is the subject of this book, are people who have a mental condition that includes having no conscience, remorse or shame and no intrinsic sympathy for the suffering of others.

Many sociopaths are convicted criminals. These are the ones most likely to be diagnosed and studied. The psychiatric professions have put a lot of effort into studying criminal sociopaths, perhaps because studying them is all that they can do with them, as there is no known cure.

A greater number of sociopaths live apparently normal lives, observing and copying normal reactions to appear like the rest of us. They may control their behaviour in their own interest to avoid punishment and gain acceptance, but have no inhibition about deceiving, manipulating and harming us when it is to their advantage. One or two of your neighbours, relatives, colleagues, doctors or local Sunday School teachers, including some who appear charming and caring, may be sociopaths of this kind.

There are academic and 'pop' psychology books about sociopaths, generally treating their condition purely as a `bad thing', written by researchers who are not (or do not admit to be) sociopaths themselves. `Confessions of a Sociopath' is unusual in that while the author, a former Assistant Professor of Law from the western USA, has obviously read up about research on the subject, she is not a psychologist or anything like that. She is an authority on sociopaths because she is one herself.

She knew from an early age she was not like others. Adults might assume her self-centred, cruel or wild acts were normal childish behaviour. Other children, however, could tell she was different. The author learned to mimic the reactions that others appeared to expect and made friends at school, although she used to e.g. enjoy forming a group of 3 friends, and then manipulate the other 2 to set them against each other.

As a young woman, the author was told by someone she worked with that she was a `sociopath'. At first she thought little of it. Finally, after her irresponsible behaviour led to her being unemployed and alone, the author thought more seriously about what was different about her. She sought professional diagnosis which confirmed that, as she had begun to suspect from reading about the subject, she was a sociopath. She recalls that the doctor who diagnosed her at times seemed close to tears as she told him about her life.

She began a blog about the subject `SociopathWorld.com', which is still going.

She admits that she found it harder to write this book, without a live audience or the rapid feedback of comments on her blog, to know the effect her words have on readers. Indeed she admits she does not really understand how people who feel sympathy or a sense of `right' and `wrong' think at all. Looking at such things as an outsider they often seem to her, probably often rightly sometimes, inconsistent and illogical.

She is quite clear that sociopaths can love, although it is like a little child's love: intense, possessive and self-interested.

As scientists now find is true of many things, there is probably an inherited component to being a sociopath, but the cause is unlikely to be as simple or inevitable as just having certain genes.

The author relates tne condition to the lack of a `sense of self'. I found that harder to understand, as she is aware enough of herself to put her own needs and desires before other people's. I think she means she has no sense her identity is bound up with being e.g. `a respectable member of the community',`feminine' or `masculine'. Consequently, she has few inhibitions against behaving in ways that go against any of those statuses e.g. like many sociopaths, she is bisexual and inclined to behave recklessly.

I suspect that the remorseless (and therefore sociopathic??) logic of evolution by natural selection favours the survival of sociopaths as a small percentage of the population, often giving them a competitive advantage within their societies, and sometimes their societies over rival nations, as long as they never become so numerous that society falls apart for lack of trust and loyalty, which would reduce the chances of survival of all its members, including the sociopaths.

The author is not ashamed to be a sociopath but can see it might have been better for her and for society if she was not.

She has constructive ideas about how, as there is no known cure for sociopaths, society could steer them away from crime and towards less harmful behaviours. Uncomfortable though it may make many of us may feel, I do not think we should dismiss her arguments that society benefits from having sociopaths to do jobs that require ruthless logic and/or the ability to coolly risk danger or social disapproval e.g. investment analyst, spy. For some reason she also considers my own day job of lawyer to be a good profession for sociopaths.

In any autobiography, it is possible that the author is not telling the truth about themselves. As a sociopath, `ME Thomas' (she admits this is a pseudonym) would have no problem of conscience lying to us if she wanted to do so. The odd thing is, to a remarkable degree I think she was actually telling the truth this time.

Google `ME Thomas law' and at time of writing you will find details of a former Assistant Professor of intellectual property law at a college in Texas, whose career very closely fits what the author of this book says about herself. She is said on the Internet to have been exposed as `ME Thomas' in 2013 and to have lost her academic position because of it. A couple of images show her then having attractive long black hair and being in her early thirties.

In later interviews and her blog, while she still uses the pseudonym ME Thomas, she refers to having suffered career consequences from being `outed' as a sociopath. She does not say if she is in other employment now. Perhaps risking public exposure was an example of the recklessness she admits is often characteristic of sociopaths.

If you search for `ME Thomas Sociopath' on YouTube you may find a recorded radio interview in which her (no doubt sometimes deceptive) charm comes over, and, although less lively, a couple of semi-disguised TV appearances, especially the second half of an episode of an American programe called `Doctor Phil'.


The Master [DVD]
The Master [DVD]
Dvd ~ Philip Seymour Hoffman
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: £8.63

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Excellent acting, important questions, tedious film. Too long & too slow, 6 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: The Master [DVD] (DVD)
If you have seen Joaquin Phoenix playing parts ranging from the villainous Roman Emperor Commodus in 'Gladiator' to the Country Music singer Johnny Cash in 'Walk the Line' you know how versatile he can be. Here he puts in another unique and convincing performance as an ex-serviceman mentally disturbed by his experiences in World War II, who finds a temporary refuge by joining a strange cult 'The Cause', whose leader spouts profound sounding platitudes and exploits the naivety of his followers.

This film therefore raises important questions about the many dubious, eccentric cults originated in modern times by charismatic but exploitative leaders. (Could 1 or 2 of the world's so called 'Great Religions', or their sects, be just the most successful and enduring of such cults from past ages? Check the career of Joseph Smith, or another prophet who for fear of his followers' reaction I dare not name, but you can possibly guess.)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who I regret recently died suddenly) is good as the leader of the cult, the 'Master' of the film's title. Amy Adams, playing his wife, shows she can put in a more memorable and less 'prettified' performance than in her several more light-hearted films.

The problem is that none of the above changes the fact that this film is TOO FRACKING LONG, SLOW and lacking in characters we can identify with to count as entertainment.

The solution would not be to cut out scenes. The problem is that every shot that could have been 3 seconds takes 4 or 5, every significant pause (the 'Master' believes in signifcant pauses) a second or two longer than it need be for us to get the point, every question the Master repeats 3 or 4 times (that is also part of his technique) could be repeated twice only to achieve the effect.

If someone went through this film editing out the unnecessary second or two from most shots we might even have a watchable and interesting film without loss of plot or meaning.

Hence pehaps why I have strangely found myself agreeing simultaneously with most of what both the 1 star and the 5 star reviewers say here on Amazon.


Black Swan [DVD]
Black Swan [DVD]
Dvd ~ Natalie Portman
Offered by rsdvd
Price: £3.75

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Expected to Like but Didn't, 4 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Black Swan [DVD] (DVD)
The star Natalie Portman can be an extremely good actress, and I like the ballet Swan Lake, which the story of this film is built around, so I expected to like this film, but didn't.

Too long, somehow felt 'cold', visually too much black and white and not enough colour. It just did not involve me emotionally.


Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
by Julie Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

5.0 out of 5 stars "Identifying details, individuals and events have been altered...Also, sometimes I just made stuff up", 4 Feb. 2014
"For the sake of discretion, many identifying details, individuals and events throughout this book have been altered...Also, sometimes I just made stuff up"

Thus begins Julie Powell's enjoyable and charming account of a year of her life, when she sets out to cook within one year all 524 recipes in Julia Child's 1961 classic American cookbook `Mastering the Art of French Cooking'.

There is no need to be interested in French cooking to enjoy reading this. It is fun because of the style in which it is written and the often amusing details of the rest of the author's life in that year, including her work, family, friends and cats. However, the Project to complete all the recipes, interspersed with occasional scenes from the life of the cookery writer Julia Child herself, gives the book a structure that a general memoir of a year in the life of a 30 year old secretary and failed actress would otherwise lack. The authoress Julie Powell's life is complicated by the need to e.g. carry live lobsters home on the subway after a day's work to attempt `Grande Cuisine' in her cramped kitchen in the New York Borough of Queens.

A film Julie and Julia [DVD] [2010] of this book stars Meryl Streep as Julia Child, and Amy Adams as Julie Powell herself. The film is good, if slightly prettified in places, and with the Julia Child scenes expanded, but is otherwise quite faithful.

I think the book is better, but if you plan to experience both then, as with most films of books, it works better to see the film first and then read the book after. That way the film's images help you to visualise what you are reading and you are not annoyed at the changes all films of books inevitably make to the original story.

Bon Appétit!


Angel Pavement
Angel Pavement
by J.B. Priestley
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars really brings to life London 'Between the Wars', 9 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Angel Pavement (Paperback)
`Angel Pavement', written 1929-30, concerns a commercial scam, but is not a thriller or a crime novel. What it does do is really bring to life a time that did not yet know it was 'Between the Wars'. Things in this novel 'fit' with what I was told of my grandparents' lives around this time.

Britain was trying to get on with its peacetime business and put the 1914-18 War behind it. The City of London was a commercial district but not yet a purely financial one. It sold real things, from veneers to tea to 'carnival novelties', not just moved money around. It was mostly accepted that senior positions could go to mediocrities by nepotism, and that employers could hire and fire as they pleased, but employers also sometimes felt a paternal duty to their employees.

It was a world in which the novelist could hint gently to his readers that an unmarried secretary in her mid-twenties might contemplate having an affair with a man, but could not discuss such things openly.

The period in which JB Priestley wrote this novel was about half way between our time and that of Charles Dickens, and it 'feels' half way between the two. Priestley sometimes writes a little like a Dickens with more modern language, easier to read for a modern audience although with less comedy.

Like many novels of the time and earlier, he has a cast of characters each important in their own right rather than a single hero or heroine

In nice and unusual touches the author reminds us of the other people who must be living other lives in the background to his story but whose tales he does not have time to tell. A few pages into the book, we are introduced to the fictional London street `Angel Pavement' and specifically number 8, on which the events of the novel are mostly centred, the office of Twigg & Dersingham, suppliers of lacquers and inlays, who do not yet know that they are about to be shaken up by a business buccaneer.

Before introducing us to them the author runs through the other businesses in that little street, most of whom are not mentioned again, but to remind us that other stories may be taking place behind their doors too.

Then the day begins at Twigg and Dersingham with the cleaning ladies before the arrival of the office staff, who will be the real subject of the story. Here the author gives just enough detail to make us aware that although the early morning cleaners are not seen again in the novel they must still be there working away each morning before his main characters arrive, and that the cleaners are also people potentially with stories of their own.

Likewise later in the novel, while describing two characters on a 'date' in a giant, ornate new central London cinema, the author briefly digresses the two unnamed businessmen far away in California, one of them dying of cancer at the time who, unknown to his main characters, had a year or two previously planned the building of the grand cinema in which they now sit.

Priestley himself was more thoughtful, educated and political than the characters he portrays here, but he probably remebered enough of his own beginnings as a commercial clerk in Bradford to know what such people and their lives were like. He succeeds in writing about them unpatronisingly and with sympathy.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 5, 2014 5:06 PM GMT


Cloud Atlas [DVD + UV Copy] [2013]
Cloud Atlas [DVD + UV Copy] [2013]
Dvd ~ Tom Hanks
Price: £5.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars demanding but satisfying, and like nothing else, 14 Nov. 2013
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If you watch any part of Cloud Atlas you may wonder why some people are so excited about it. However, watch the whole and by the end you may find yourself just as excited about it too.

With 6 stories from different centuries intercut, it is a long film and demands a fair amount of concentration to follow. You will only `get' some things if you watch it 2 or 3 times. Hence probably its comparative lack of success on cinema release, but also why it is suited to DVD/ Blu-Ray, allowing people to view it with breaks, over more than one day and/or re-play scenes as they wish.

Although some reviewers call this as a 'sci-fi' film, that is misleading. Only 2 of the 6 stories in this film are at all science fiction. Another 2 are pure historical drama (nineteenth century Pacific, and 1930s Britain), one is a thriller set in 1970s California, one really a comedy, although with elements of menace, set in contemporary Britain and 2 are set in a future Korea or Hawaii, one of which ends outside Earth altogether.

Despite seeing an only lukewarm newspaper review I took a chance and bought 'Cloud Atlas' because of the actors and actresses in it, favourable Amazon customer reviews and what sounded like an interesting idea of many of the same actors and actresses playing parts in many or all of the different stories, sometimes the same person even playing both male and female roles.

It is a tribute both to the versatility of the actors (some of whom break out of their usual typecasting) and also the skill of their make up and prosthetics people, that it is hard on first viewing to recognise even famous actors in all the different roles they play.

Most of the actors shine more in some of their roles than others.

Doona Bae is great in the 22nd Century Korean story (reminiscent of Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner) but makes less impression otherwise. Her scenes in the 22nd Century Korean story with James D'Arcy interviewing her for the archive before her final punishment seem on one level devoid of emotion but on another highly charged and ultimately memorable.

Tom Hanks is striking (and hard to recognise) as an Irish hard man turned author, a menacing client of Jim Broadbent in one of his best roles in the film as the mild mannered publisher Timothy Cavendish, the kind of role he is particularly associated with. Jim Broadbent is also good (disguised behind a beard) less obviously for him as the selfish and cantankerous composer Vyvyan Ayres in the 1930s story.

Halle Berry, who has the last line in the film, is consistently good in all her significant roles in this film but not outstanding in any of them, but although somewhat getting on in years now, still adds some of her glamour, especially in the 1970s story as an investigative journalist.

Susan Sarandon's parts are sadly too small to be able to say much about them, nice though it is to see her.

Hugh Grant and especially Hugo Weaving are both good as a series of villains.

There are some little connections between the stories (e.g. a character in the 1970s story buys a rare record of the 'Cloud Atlas Sextet' written by a character in the 1930s story). Several involve a conflict between authority and freedom. I do not know whether the film says anything very profound or original about this, but somehow it feels as though it does.

As I am sure you have already realised, Cloud Atlas is not for the person who only likes films with spaceships and gun fights or only likes light comedies or romances, although it does have elements of all these genres within it.

For many other people, a demanding but satisfying film and worth the effort.


Zero Dark Thirty [DVD] [2012]
Zero Dark Thirty [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Jessica Chastain
Offered by streetsahead
Price: £4.25

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars long, serious, sometimes grim and uncomfortable - & wonderful!, 31 Oct. 2013
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This film, about the tracking down over many years especially after 9/11, and death, of the Islamist terrorist warlord Osama bin Laden, is long, serious, sometimes grim and uncomfortable, but still wonderful!

There is no satisfyingly happy ending, or indeed clear ending at all, for the main character, (not Osama bin Laden, who is scarcely seen and says not a single line in the film), a young CIA agent, played by Jessica Chastain, who has devoted her entire working life (or entire adult life, there is not much in her life but work) to locating Osama bin Laden.

I have not seen Jessica Chastain in anything else and do not know if she is always this good. Playing a quiet, earnest character not given to spontaneity, not directly involved in most of the action scenes and with no love life would not seem to give obvious scope to demonstrate great acting talent, yet somehow she manages to be outstanding.

She and the film may have been largely passed over for Oscars due to political controversy and its portrayal of the uglier sides of interrogation and of combat in an area where women and children are present. It becomes uncomfortably apparent that, like most conflicts, the 'War on Terror' is not and probably cannot be a simple contest of good versus evil but of different shades of grey, but that is hardly a new discovery, and a world in which the CIA eventually wear down Al Quaeda will almost certainly be better than a worild in which Al Quaeda win.

All credit to the Director Kathryn Bigelow, and also to Mark Boal who wrote the script. He has not worked on many films before but did have a role in writing the story for another serious but good film on another aspect of the United States painful invovlement in Middle Eastern conflicts In The Valley Of Elah [DVD] [2008].

According to Wikipedia, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal were researching and writing a script for a proposed film of a different story about the conflict between US forces and Al Quaeda in Afghanistan when the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been tracked down and killed in a nighttime raid by US forces on a walled house in Pakistan. They realised that story had greater potential, shelved the earlier project but used the knowledge they had gained from it in making 'Zero Dark Thirty'.

The film was apparently provisionally called 'For God and Country'. I am glad they changed it. The eventual title 'Zero Dark Thirty' is military speak for 30 minutes after midnight, although strangely I am not sure that the phrase is used in the film.


LANA DEL REY Greatest Hits/Live at iTunes Festival/Videos CD DVD BOX
LANA DEL REY Greatest Hits/Live at iTunes Festival/Videos CD DVD BOX

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I say she the bestest", 20 Oct. 2013
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Lana Del Rey, originally of Lake Placid, New York State, at her bestest is wonderful: as a song writer (really worth looking up the full lyrics to her songs on the internet), in her music videos which she has a hand in producing, in her fashion model-like appearance, in certainly the deeper of her two different singing voices, in her backing musicians and the variety of instruments played, and in the instrumental introductions to her songs.

I am really glad I bought this combined DVD & CD. However, there are a few things to understand before you part with your money, to avoid disappointment through wrong expectations.

'Greatest Hits' collections are more often released by artists who have been well known for years and have a large body of released work to choose from. When this was issued Lana had only one full album she allowed to be on sale, the best-selling Born to Die, plus various singles, videos, extended plays and other work e.g. her song 'Young and Beautiful' in the 'Great Gatsby' film.

If you already have Born to Die you will already have about half the songs featured here, although not the (mostly very good) videos associated with them or footage of Lana performing some of them live at the 2012 London itunes Festival. This CD/DVD has a total of 41 tracks but some songs are included both on the CD and as videos ('Blue Jeans' is included as audio, as 2 different videos and as concert footage, but all different either visually or audially). Hence there are only about 23 different songs included.

Perhaps play the CD version in the car and the DVD at home. Different performances and/or videos of the same songs can revivify them if you have already know one version well.

The itunes concert performances are less polished than the released recordings of the same songs. Lana starts the uncertainly but gets better and more confident, especially after getting down from the stage to shake hands with, sometimes embrace and be photographed with those in the front row of the audience during 'Video Games'. For some reason, I do not know if it is just the possibility of re-takes, Lana seems much more comfortable and accomplished in videos and photographs, including those that require her to act a part, rather than live concerts. This makes me wonder if she could be successful acting in a film role.

A highlight of the DVD for me is her version of Leonard Cohen's 'Chelsea Hotel No 2'. Whatever purists who prefer 'street credibility' to enjoyment may say, Lana's version is better than Leonard Cohen's. She sings so sweetly and delicately that the very different implication of a woman rather than (as in the original) a man sing the line 'You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception' and the fairly explicit 'Giving me head on the unmade bed while the limousines wait in the street' are not as jarring as they might be.

Likewise in her other songs, despite several times using the 'f' word, referring to receiving (not giving) oral sex and occasionally using what I thought was the mainly British glottal stop ("Wha' I wan'" for "What I want"), Lana amazingly does it all so gracefully that she still seems ladylike.

Her videos mostly avoid the empty pretentiousness of many pop videos, although I am not sure enthroning her flanked by computer generated tigers in a Baroque Cathedral near the begining of Born to Die suits a song that, although about a grand theme (death), is about people probably meant to be ordinary in their station in life.

In several videos Lana goes for an Art Deco 1920s -40s look. This fits well with her appearance and voice e.g. the striking beginning of the 'Burning Desire' video. By contrast the apparently less sophisticated 'home movie' style of the 'Summer Wine' video (performed with her then boyfriend as a video only) nicely matches the naivety of the man in the song.

At the beginning or end of some videos added narration in Lana's voice or other material turns a song that could be just a mood piece into a story e.g. the material based on footage of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy respectively at the beginning and end of the 'Carmen' and 'National Anthem' videos turn them into stories obviously about these women and their relationships with President Kennedy, even if the man who represents him in the videos is black.

Some songs are better than others and a few I can skip, but perhaps you can't expect anyone to be brilliant more than two-thirds of the time.

The small fold out case holding the DVD and CD is glossy laminated cardboard and plastic, adorned with a total of 6 pictures of Lana in various states of dress and undress. The two inside the cover may provoke exclamations such as 'Did we forget clothes today? Or are clothes sick?' However, they are clearly meant to be 'Art' rather than pornography.

You may or may not know that before she officially burst on the world as a long brown haired megastar with the Born to Die album, Lana used to perform under her real name Elizabeth or 'Lizzy' Grant, with medium length dyed blonde hair and her own original nose. She then looked and sometimes sounded rather like Debbie Harry of Blondie, with other songs more reminiscent of Bob Dylan, except of course that, unlike Dylan, Lana is female and can sing.

At the end of this period she co-wrote and recorded an entire album called 'Lana Del Ray [she now spells it Rey] a.k.a. Lizzy Grant' which could perhaps have made her a star, although probably not as big a star. Remarkably, having done all the work writing and recording that album she bought back the rights and withdrew it from sale soon after release. She had decided, probably rightly, that she would be even more successful with a different image and style, too different from the first album for the public to be able to relate to both at once. Her music, her career, up to her.

Only one track from this original album, the overly slow (although I liked the chorus) 'Yayo' is on this compilation. Other songs from that album currently hide unofficially on YouTube, presumably earning Lana no dollars directly, but do seem touching (try 'Queen of the Gas Station') and I hope in time will be reintegrated into her repertoire.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2014 1:22 PM BST


The Descent of Man: Selection in Relation to Sex (Penguin Classics)
The Descent of Man: Selection in Relation to Sex (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Darwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Darwin Rocks! But this book needs updated zoology notes, 11 Sept. 2013
Charles Darwin published this book 12 years after 'The Origin of Species', his very controversial volume that had introduced his idea of evolution by natural selection to the public, on which Darwin had worked on for 20 years before he dared publish it.

By the time he got round to writing this follow up `The Descent of Man', everyone who was going to be shocked or alienated by his theories already had been shocked or alienated and Darwin now had less to lose. Hence he could write less cautiously and produce a livelier read than what I have read of the Origin of Species.

Darwin's brilliance, hard work and love for and knowledge of the natural world shine out from the abundance of interesting and detailed examples he uses to support his arguments.

However, publisher please note, a modern zoologist should have annotated when any of these examples has been qualified by later research or the scientific name of a species has changed since Darwin's day.

In the first part of the book Darwin says plainly what he could only imply in his earlier evolution book, about the origins of "Man" i.e. us, Homo Sapiens. [You can't expect a Nineteenth Century writer to have the recent modern politically correct inhibitions about using the word 'Man' to mean 'Humanity Male and Female'. I use "Man" in Darwin's sense below only for brevity.]

Likewise probably no modern author would get way with Darwin's politically incorrect `thought experiment' in this book, even if there was an element of truth in it at the time, as to whether natural selection would favour the survival of wild and improvident Irish `Celts' or sober Scottish `Teutons'. (His question was whether the Irish, who were presumed to yield to their impulses and marry and have children regardless of whether they could afford to look after them, would in the long term increase more or less than the more responsible Scots, who were presumed to marry and have children only when they could afford to do so, resulting in fewer children born but a higher proportion surviving.)

When Darwin wrote, there was not a single known fossil of any species directly ancestral to ours. There were also none to show a connection between early Man and Africa nor kinship between Man and Apes. Just by reasoning from what he could observe, Darwin concluded that man and ape evolved from a common ancestor, and probably did so in Africa. Pure conjecture at the time, but, most experts now agree, absolutely right.

(Fossils were already known then from Germany of the extinct parallel human species Homo Neanderthalis, but Neanderthals were mostly our species' cousins and early contemporaries, rather than our ancestors.)

In this book, published in 1871, Darwin was already and correctly sceptical of the received wisdom of his time that Man is unique in being `a tool using animal'. He was finally vindicated only by Jane Goodall's observations of chimpanzees in the 1960s.

Apart from human evolution, the other big idea in this book is evolution by "Sexual Selection". That is, species evolve not only from the pressure of direct competition for food, resistance to disease, avoiding predators etc. but also due to choices of mates. What the opposite sex find attractive can lead in time to the peacock's tail, the male Bower Bird's decoration of his ground nest and the human's blonde hair, all of which on the face of it are an unnecessary waste of resources and/or make their owners dangerously visible to predators. However, there are reasons why mates may choose those who are healthy and successful enough that they can afford to display these extravagant traits

This takes up the second half or more of the book and Darwin deploys interesting and effective examples. The problem is that there has been so much research since his day and so many species have been re-classified that one cannot know which of the many examples can still be relied on as accurate science and which species are still known by the same names. This could surely have been clarified by modern notes. Due to the lack of this, many readers will want only to dip into this part of the book to get the gist of Darwin's argument and a sense of how much work and detailed knowledge as then available he had put into developing his theories.

Overall, this is an especially impressive achievement given that Darwin did all this for the love of it, without any academic salary or career need to complete or publish research, with his ability to work limited by a chronic illness and despite people telling him he risked eternal Hell Fire in daring to speculate scientifically on Man's origins. Fortunately, if a just God should exist, I am sure He is kinder than that.


Man Plus (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Man Plus (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Frederik Pohl
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars first rate little book, 24 Aug. 2013
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The other favourable reviewers here already described the plot of this first rate little book very well so to avoid duplication I just add this.

Even if 40 year old science fiction is not what you would normally think of reading, this book could be worth trying.

It is the story of how an astronaut, a man called Roger Torroway,'s body is rebuilt to be able to survive on Mars. This may sound like yet another of the many immitations of the 'Frankenstein's Monster' myth, of a thinking machine created by human science that risks getting out of control of its creators. In a way it is, although by the end of the book we discover that the real Frankenstein's Monster is not Roger Torroway but something else, which is not actually malevolent but is deviously concerned for itself and not its human creators.

The story ends with some questions and plot strands resolved, some unresolved and an unexpected new mystery. However, the story seems somehow meant to end like this and I do not think the author himself had further answers in his mind at the time.

The author did co-write a sequel many years later called Mars Plus that at time of writing no one has reviewed on Amazon.co.uk. Four people have reviewed it on the American Amazon.com but all but one found it disappointing and say that the sequel does not spend much time on the questions raised or characters left at the end of Man Plus anyway. The only favourable review seems to refer to another of the author's books and to have been posted there accidentally.

It is therefore probably best that we accept that the story ends here, with Roger Torroway, his mostly robotic body able to experience the Martian surface unconfined by a space suit, looking up through the thinner Martian atmosphere with enhanced senses at familiar and unfamiliar stars, knowing it may be best that he is never reunited with his beloved wife Dorrie back on Earth, to whom he now appears a metallic monster.

This is the first science fiction novel I have read for more than 20 years. I tried it because I liked a short story by the same author Frederick Pohl in a compilation of otherwise very varying interest by different authors The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories (Mammoth Books). [Should you wish to know, Pohl's story in that book is called 'Waiting for the Olympians' and set in an alternative history in which the Roman Empire survived to the present day and now has a space exploration programe. Christianity never got going as a religion because a merciful Roman Governor pardoned Jesus and deprived him of martyrdom.]


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