January 20, 2008February 17, 2008Meeting Report

February 1, 2008

Book Reviews

Five members presented reviews at this meeting.

Leon Lefson

Good Capitalism/Bad Capitalism, William Baumol, Robert E. Litan and Carl J. Schramm, hardcover, 321 pages, Yale University Press (2007)

Leon started by opining that the three authors were prominent capitalist, establishment economists and as such, he was expecting that point of view to be prevalent throughout the book. In this regard, he was not disappointed. The economists, in his view, toed the line of the Milton Friedman school of economic thought. Leon referred to Friedman as the “Godfather of the Bush Administration” and an arch advocate of the free market approach. Further, he conveyed the authors’ thesis as a reiteration of Margaret Thatcher’s “TINA” (There Is No Alternative.) Thatcher was referring to free market capitalism and she coined the term after the fall of the Soviet Union. The implication here is that we cannot allow other economic models to exist in the world. In the current world, we see how the U.S. and its allies treat countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina, who adopt communist and socialist economic models. Other countries are to view these examples and understand they will be ostracized if they attempt similar programs. This implication of TINA is not mentioned in the book.

The title of the book comes from the authors’ categorization of types of capitalism; namely state guided, oligarchic, big firm and entrepreneurial. Leon pointed out that it is clear that the authors favor the big firm and entrepreneurial forms. He also pointed out that they don’t take into consideration Karl Marx’s economic theories. In the end, Leon said he could not recommend this book.

For a more complete review, you can read Leon’s own words in the archived online version of the January/February 2008 issue of Because People Matter (http://bpmnews.org). (At press time, the archive was unavailable.)

Wayne Luney

The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson, hardcover, 320 pages, Riverhead Hardcover (2006)

Steven Johnson expounds on the birth of public health policy as we know it today—born out of the work of Dr. John Snow in 1854 London. There was a cholera outbreak and the way Snow used scientific methods to find the source, thus putting an end to the epidemic, became a model for future disease control methodology. Although the cause of cholera was not known in 1854, Snow theorized that the source of disease might be found by plotting the locations of infections and looking to see what might be at the center of the outbreak area. As it turns out, what was at the center was a well. Snow convinced the local authority, a priest by the name of Whitehead, to close the well, and soon the epidemic ceased.

Dr. Snow, Wayne noted, was one of those who introduced the use of ether during medical procedures and in fact administered it to Queen Victoria. Wayne recommends the book.

Bill Potts

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, Christopher Hitchens, editor, paperback, 499 pages, DaCapo Press (2007)

This book is a compilation. Bill commented that the introduction, by Hitchens, was possibly the longest book introduction he had ever encountered. Although it might seem an easy task to put together a collection of previously published works, and although many Humanists and other skeptics will no doubt already have some of the titles in their collections, Bill pointed out that the compilation was rather impressive and would make a good addition to most such collections. The authors between the covers of this book cover a wide gamut of time periods and perspectives. Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris and Salman Rushdie are among the authors of the fifty-six selections. Bill recommends the book.

Carl Seratt

The Assault on Reason, Al Gore, hardcover, 320 pages, The Penguin Press HC (2007)

Carl gave a brief, but positive summary of this, Al Gore’s most recent tome. The subject matter covered, Carl explained, is predictable and includes the Bush administration, the politics of fear, the concentration of wealth, and the current assault on individual liberties. The main thrust of this book, which Carl recommends, is that, when reason itself is put at risk, so too is democracy.

What Would Jefferson Do: A Return to Democracy, Thom Hartmann, paperback, 304 pages, Three Rivers Press (2005)

Carl commented on Hartmann’s book by pointing out that he covers much of the same ground as Gore, but with an emphasis on government processes and how to go about change. The author claims that Jefferson would keep Social Security out of corporate hands, bust monopolies, and keep church and state separate. Carl recommends this book too.

Jerry Bachman

Short Stories (?) by Raymond Carver

The first of Jerry’s books was a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. I regret I did not capture the exact title of this book. There are several titles available that fit the general characteristics Jerry described. He recommends the author in general and noted that a film was made incorporating multiple Carver books. A quick search on the internet uncovers Short Cuts as the film in question. The film by Robert Altman is described by Altman as, “I think what I did is I made ‘Carver soup’ out of these stories.”

The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Daniel Quinn, paperback, 352 pages, Bantam (1997)

Jerry also reviewed The Story of B, about a man from a Jesuit sect whose job was looking for the anti-Christ resurrected. The sect, which had been dormant, kicks into action when B makes himself an anti-Christ prospect in their eyes by virtue of his circumstances and actions. The story conveys a message of the effects agriculture has had on our society. The author of this book, Daniel Quinn, is also the author of Ishmael, which was the basis for the movie, Instinct, a recent HAGSA/AOF movie night movie.

Report prepared by Brian Jones, Recorder


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