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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars provocative critique of human culture
We are lucky if we encounter once in our lives SOMETHING that forces us to reconsider who we think we are, the basic assumptions we make, individually and collectively, about the origins of culture. I've been lucky enough to find two books that have forced me to examine myself and my fundamental thinking about what makes us human. Carl Jung's ANSWER TO JOB and...
Published on 23 Jun. 1999

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy Scholarship, Flimsy Thesis
Shlain seems to think that if he keeps throwing information at his readers, they will be impressed (or overwhelmed) by the wide-ranging research he must have done, and be convinced of his thesis. But all he's actually done is read some books by other people and present their sometimes controversial ideas as facts; this is the essence of sloppy scholarship.
A...
Published on 19 Jun. 1999


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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy Scholarship, Flimsy Thesis, 19 Jun. 1999
By A Customer
Shlain seems to think that if he keeps throwing information at his readers, they will be impressed (or overwhelmed) by the wide-ranging research he must have done, and be convinced of his thesis. But all he's actually done is read some books by other people and present their sometimes controversial ideas as facts; this is the essence of sloppy scholarship.
A notable example is showcased on page 382, where there is a photo supposedly of "Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce." But it's not Hanmaton Yalatkik ("Chief Joseph"); it's a member of one of the Plains Indian nations, as can be seen clearly from his eagle feather headdress (the Nez Perce were not Plains Indians). If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the worth of a picture with a wildly innaccurate caption?
Toward the end of the book he discusses EEGs, which measure brain waves. The dominant brain wave when reading a printed page, he tells us, is the beta wave, while the dominant wave when a person watches TV is the alpha wave. But there's another activity where the dominant one is the alpha wave: meditation. Here he's clever, because he never equates watching TV with meditating; but the entire structure of the book is meant to bring the reader to that very conclusion. Why doesn't Shlain tell us which brain wave is dominant when we eat, or dream, or have sex? Studies of these activities have been conducted since the EEG was invented, but too many relevant facts threaten his thesis, so a fuller context must be ignored. This isn't just sloppy scholarship--this is manipulation.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof!, 28 Feb. 1999
By A Customer
After digesting Leonard Shlain's AVG hypothesis, I was left wondering if I had just experienced a brilliant, revolutionalry discovery, or the biggest pile of bull I'd ever read. It was an interesting intellectual exercise to come to the conclusion that it was most likely the latter. Shlain's hypothesis was interesting, but there was nothing he presented that convinced me that it had to be true, or was even likely to be true. The idea that the *process* of reading or viewing images has powerful effects on the brain that are independent of the *content* is so radical that it requires extraordinary proof to be accepted as true. Dr. Shlain has gathered interesting anecdotal evidence to support his ideas, but makes a huge leap by identifying the mental process of reading as being key. Even if literacy is correlated with women's oppression, what are the alternative hypotheses? Maybe literacy allows laws to be firmly codified and spread throughout a culture, allowing more organized government or repression that would favor a patriarchy. If this were the case, television could be expected to have an impact similar to literacy, instead of the opposite, liberating effect, as Shlain claims. He does not have a satisfactory answer to my question of how current media images of violence and female oppression could possibly be beneficial to women. Finally, Shlain's biological argument was very weak. As a neuroscientist, I am always skeptical of male/female, left/right brain ideas. When Shlain extended this metaphor to say that the rod photoreceptors in the eye are "feminine" and the cones are "masculine" I really began to tune out. I am disheartened by the lack of critical examination of Shlain's ideas and urge others to critically evaluate his work before accepting it as truth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars provocative critique of human culture, 23 Jun. 1999
By A Customer
We are lucky if we encounter once in our lives SOMETHING that forces us to reconsider who we think we are, the basic assumptions we make, individually and collectively, about the origins of culture. I've been lucky enough to find two books that have forced me to examine myself and my fundamental thinking about what makes us human. Carl Jung's ANSWER TO JOB and Leonard Schlain's ALPHABET VERSUS THE GODDESS both shake the foundations of how we, at least in the Western world, define ourselves, and, consequently, define the divine.
I found myself, over the course of the week I spent reading The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, stopping to reconsider what his thesis meant to my understanding of art, politics, intimacy, my career as an English teacher, how I was raised, how I learned to read. Dr. Schlain gives us tools to reflect on the forces that hold us in their grip -- image and written word.
I can see how some might find themselves challenged by Dr. Schlain's scholarship and compelling thesis and find themselves resisting the reflection and reconsideration the book demands. This work is not for the dogmatic nor the defensive. It is for those who sincerely question the foundations of their world view.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing but unconvincing, 4 Aug. 1999
By A Customer
Shlain has an interesting thesis, his scholarship is impressive, and the book is fun and provoking to read. But his argument ultimately fails (I feel) because the right brain vs. left brain dichotomy he bases it on simply doesn't agree with the facts: although it's abundantly clear from recent research that the two halves of the brain have their areas of specialization, it's also clear that their differences aren't as marked as people commonly think, and that the two "brains" need to work together or we can't make sense of the world around us. (See Robert E. Ornstein's latest book, "The Right Mind," for a concise summary of the current state of our understanding.) Shlain's discussion of how language shapes our thought processes is pretty solid (and has been echoed by other writers, e.g., David Abram and Thom Hartmann), although I think he takes it too far: research shows that a person whose language has 20 different words for "snow" doesn't actually SEE snow in a different way than someone whose language has two or three; he just has a better vocabulary in which to describe it. In general, I enjoyed reading the book, but I think it needs to be taken with about a pound of salt because its central thesis is flawed.
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3.0 out of 5 stars a highly speculative book with an interesting thesis, 11 Dec. 1998
By A Customer
"The Alphabet versus the Goddess" presents an interesting thesis concerning the relationship between female status and alphabet literacy. But it is evident that Leonard Shalin has rather limited knowledge in non-medical fields such as psychology, greek mythology and art. Consequently his arguement that the advent of literacy denigrated the female image throughout time is often one-sided and only a small part of the big picture. Shalin eliminated contradictions to his own thesis by simply ignoring them. His refusal to acknowledge evidence which would serve as counterarguements to his own thesis dramatically weakens the validity of his claim. At times his thesis does not even seem convincing enough. Besides his claim that alphabet literacy stimulates the left brain which embodies masculine values, there is no additional analysis to link the alphabet to mass misogynistic behaviors except that the alphabet happen to be present at certain times in history when there were unexplainable female-shunning phenomenons. Furthermore, I personally remain skeptical to Shalin's claim that since Jesus Christ and Lao Tzu both respected women and their love lives remained obscure to historians, both of these prominent figures were most likely female. This argument is seriously flawed. But the same logic I could say that Shalin himself is a woman for writing such a feminine book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars garbage in, garbage out, 9 May 1999
By A Customer
Anyone who has studied even a smidgen of cultural anthropology would realize that Shlain's argument carries no weight. Where are all the pre-literate societies which practice goddess worship and treat women fairly? The fact is that the inequitable treatment of women is just as much if not even more prevalent in pre-literate societies as it is in literate ones.
Shlain is exploiting the naive and undeserved attention which so many people offer for no other reason than that the author has before his name those magic letters "Dr". He should reserve that title for his working life. If his ideas had been forced to stand up under their own strength then the precious resources of paper and ink which were wasted on this book might have been saved for a better purpose.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Read., 20 Sept. 2000
By A Customer
'The Alphabet Versus the Goddess' is certainly the most intriguing book I've read in a while and Leonard Shlain puts his theory across most convincingly. He takes us from evolution through to the internet- along the way detailing example after example of ways in which women's rights were obliterated shortly after the introduction of literacy to the culture.
Bringing together many disparate subjects- physiology, religion, witch hunting, dyslexia, the devil, women's rights- disecting them and throwing out an amazing hypothesis, Leonard Shlain reminds me, in a way, of Tom Robbins...though with the humour taken out (if you can imagine that)...very often throughout the book I felt that same frisson I feel when reading Tom Robbins' books- "this is crazy and exciting and, damn, it makes so much sense!"
*Everyday* I'd go into work and end up with a small crowd of women around me as I regurgitated what I had read the night before, all of them sat in stunned amazement...
I highly HIGHLY recommend this book to both men and women as we all have a lot to learn from it. Amazing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting history book, 11 Dec. 1998
By A Customer
This book has an interesting topic. Analyzing the left and the right brain to decide masculine and femine power in the world. His thesis is that with the advent of the written culture(writing is a left brain function),man who's left brain is more developed, is able to supress the woman. This is interesting, and he sticks to his topic in the first quarter of the book, but past that he just goes into history. At first it has a relevant topic to his thesis, but after a while it is hard to see the link. He never goes back to his thesis in these history ventures, and this makes it hard to see why he is using the examples. The history is interesting to learn about, but he picks and chooses his facts, and does not state the full picture. This was a decent book to read, but I was a little upset with him straying from his main point. -RM
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shlain's grasp of linguistics is far too weak, 21 May 1999
By A Customer
In this book, Shlain argues that the adoption of alphabetic scripts in ancient times triggered massive, unwelcome changes in apparently unconnected areas of human thought and society, chiefly involving shifts in the direction of 'linear', non-holistic thinking, an excessive concern with logic and science, and patriarchical systems in which women and their ideas have been suppressed and undervalued. In developing his case, he naturally ranges widely outside his own field of expertise (surgery). I am able to comment authoritatively only on his linguistics; but, given that the discipline is so central to his thesis, the major problems which he has in this area are crucial. These include: a) sporadic confusion of languages and their writing systems; b) sporadic confusion of alphabetic writing and writing systems generally; c) neglect of syllabic writing systems; d) some inaccurate and dated terminology/perspectives on logographic writing systems such as that of Chinese; e) utter confusion of phonemes and speech sounds (some specific comments in this area are wildly wrong); f) adoption of a wrong and misleading definition of the term 'alphabet'; g) apparently limited awareness of the range of views among contemporary linguists; h) adoption of speculative and partisan accounts of the early stages of human language and society; i) inadequately supported claims to the effect that many major historical developments were largely caused by the adoption of alphabetic script (it is not difficult to see the effects of a near-universal causal factor if one is determined to do so; but much more systematic and objective investigation would be required before one could actually demonstrate the validity of such a thesis). Whatever Shlain's other strengths, he should have acquired a much stronger grasp of linguistics before developing theories in this area. My extended comments on Shlain's linguistics will appear in The Skeptic shortly; watch the Australian Skeptics web site.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Shlain may be a good surgeon, but he is a poor historian, 18 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
I started this book with high hopes, intrigued by Dr. Shlain's analysis of the evolution of humans and his explanation of our physiology.
However, as he delved into the historical record. I found myself more and more disappointed. He makes broad sweeping assertions without analysis, and he falls into the classic amateur historian's trap of focusing solely on events that bolster his case without even mentioning contrary evidence, nor considering whether there may be alternate explanations for the events he claims support his theory. He argues in one place that the Akkadians conquered the Sumerians, adopted their writing (cuneiform) and it was this adoption that gave rise to their patriarchialism - never considering that it may have been a patriarchal structure that enabled them to conquer Sumer in the first place. Then, to demonstrate this patriarchy, he shifts in mid-sentence and without explanation or transition from Akkad to Babylon.
He casually accepts as proven facts interpretations that are even today highly controversial or that have simply been proven wrong. For example, he writes about the JEPD(R) documentary hypothesis for the development of the Hebrew Scripture without ever once conceding that it IS a hypothesis which is still controversial and undergoing revision. He quotes without question Josephus' story of Pompey visiting the Second Temple and being astonished that its sanctum sanctorum was empty; we know from Roman records that Pompey never set foot in Jerusalem.
I was also nonplussed by his implication that grammar is a function of writing, not speech, an assertion casually tossed off as though he had never heard a mother correct her child's chatter. But where he finally lost me for good was in his discussion of rites of passage; while admitting that the Bible and the Talmud never once discuss the concept of a bar mitzvah, he then blithely asserts that the bar mitzvah proves that ancient Judaism valued literacy more highly than physical stamina in their young men. The bar mitzvah ceremony is at most 300 years old!
Anachronistic back-dating is hardly uncommon among polemicists, but no serious historian would be so sloppy. From the evidence of his earlier chapters, Dr. Shlain knows medicine, and that is what he should stick to.
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