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History - Natural & Human
Or does it?

Real heroes often die for a cause—the real ones that is. But the histories are written by those who survived. In what the Russians call the Great War, the Russians eulogize Marshall Zhukov. No doubt he was a great man. But what he did came at the great expense of his soldiers, not to mention the common folk caught in the way by either the German juggernaut or Zhukov’s great march westward to Berlin and Hitler in his bunker. Were these people who gave their very lives not the truer heroes?

We Americans have our Paul Revere, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Jimmy Doolittle who led great battles, daring game-changing rides, or raids. How much help did they get? Tons—in both lives and exchequer—like Zhukov.

India doesn’t deify people, but they hold Mahatma Ghandi in the greatest possible esteem for throwing off the yoke of the British empire. So also, South Africa claims Nelson Mandela as it liberator. Neither commanded a great army as such. But they created and led movements requiring sacrifices that too often included death. All of these great gentlemen are given hero status by their kinfolk—and often by the world as well. Those sacrificed are rarely if ever celebrated or even mentioned in the pop history book accounts we are given during the march each of us takes on the road to citizenship in our society.
Life Ascending By Nick Lane, Research Fellow, University College London.

Extended book Review

In the beginning the earth was null and void of life. But certain precursors were there. As the earth grew by accretion from hot gases left over by second generation supernova, they became trapped by their common gravity. The light and heavy elements segregated in response. The denser materials sank to the center, forming a core of nickel and iron that still exists as the core of our planet. The less-dense outer layers formed a thickening shell about the core. These layers, comprised of mixtures of heavy and light elements found comfortable arrangements by forming minerals of this composition and that, peridotite and pyoxene being prominent members. Antigorite happens to incorporate water into its structure. With the passage of time, these minerals reacted to one another at high temperatures and pressures to form the various varieties of serpentine. The outermost layer is made up of the lightest elements, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and the noble gases—that do not react to form dense compounds. Earth atmosphere and oceans are comprised mostly of just the four light gases. In-fall from space included methane, and water as well as other organic substances that include amino acids. From this odd random mixture of minerals, organics, liquids and gases, life arose spontaneously, given the impetus of a thermal gradient conveniently provided by the central star of this new solar system as well as the volcanism of the new earth, life arose. What happened from there is the subject Lane develops so admirably and vividly, that we could not put the book down until we had devoured it.
Richard Dawkins

Extended Book Review

We were ready to find fault and take issue with the author as soon as we picked up this book. We were put off by its very title. Using the word selfish personifies a random process, and is totally unnecessary if not an outright distraction. Single cells, even large clumps of cells have no neural system. Indeed the bulk of all life on earth cannot harbor an emotion such as selfishness. So we were unprepared for what we began reading. On the first page of text, (the introduction) Dawkins tackles our concerns head on, concluding that such personification enables understanding of evolution on a personal, emotional level. The huge advantage of this approach is that lay readers (most of us by far) will not only better understand, but remember its many lessons. With that accomplished, it is a much easier to find motivation to realize evolution is a random process. Far from the usual aspersions, evolution is the most exciting example of the power of natural random processes to evolve living things among which humans are the latest rung in the ladder. Although Dawkins occasionally strays into political science that serves little purpose beyond the illustrative anecdote, "The Selfish Gene" immediately became a book we could not put down.
Our great brains give us awareness. They also give us the ability to imagine, but at a great price: The certainty that life comes to an end for each of us. Being able to talk about life beyond life gives us a huge advantage over the other kingdoms of life. At the same time it is an albatross. For our fears about death and purpose become contagious words that instill yet more fear in others.
Michael Ruse

Extended Book Review

This book came to us as part reference materials collected for our field research into natural history. It addresses the heated controversy between Darwinists and the Intelligent Design folks in an evenhanded manner. One of these folks maintains a Web Site we critique.

During January of this year, we joined a tour group in retracing the voyage of the Beagle, the ship Darwin traveled on while collecting specimens of flora and fauna which eventually led to his theory of evolution. As the saying goes, we are from Missouri; we have to see it for ourselves, not so much to understand, but to get the feel of it, to see the evidence that so convinced Darwin of its logical consistency. Our second purpose was to better understand the origins of our violent natures. Our notes and photos must await another time.

Ruse is a gifted writer in two ways: Not only does he keep your attention, but he makes the arcane simple. Unlike many authors on Evolution, Ruse does not deny all value in religion. He does, however, let the chips fall where they may and leaves the question of faith and its interpretation up to the reader as she or he will.
Most Recent Update: 14 Mar 2010

Return to Natural History

Natural history, evident at first only from fossils of earlier times, became more readable with the advent of the scientific method. Social evolution evolved apace among the more advanced eukaria, in that survival of a species depended in part upon its behavior.
Founder of Empire
Alan Axelrod
Book Review

Elizabeth I may have been a more descriptive title, but CEO she certainly was -- for a nation.
Richard Dawkins
Book Review with commentary

Updated 14 May 2010

Dawkins combines science with storytelling as few writers can. He brings evolution to life in its beauty and depth, its probabilistic meanderings, yet certain of some direction, even to a non-competitive dead end.
27 B. C. - 180 A. D. The period known as the Pax Romana.

How Octavian became Augustus and founded the Pax. Deanne Winnat, University of Central Arkansas.
Gandhi and Mandela achieved great things via this route and we admire what they did and for what they are or were as people. Their procedures worked because their adversaries were civilized to a large degree.
A simple chronology, relying in part on "Islam" by Karen Armstrong, and other sources is presented here.
A focus of attention in 2001, Afghanistan is now back burner.
A "Feudal" Dynasty in Modern Times

As the Ottoman Empire dissolved during World War II, Ibn Saud of the House of Saud worked quickly to consolidate his family's power over the Arabian Peninsula.
Some Ramifications of Cultures in Conflict

Islam dates from 610 of the Common Era when, according to the Qur'an, the Prophet Mohammed had an experience that changed the history of the world.
The only thing new in the world is the history that you don't know.
Harry S. Truman
It is not just history that repeats itself, fables do too. That is, of course, if they happen to be politically correct.
The history of terrorism dates from the century before the common era. One of the earliest accounts of terrorism was carried out by religious fanatics two millennia ago.
Latest Revision: 17 June 2010

Our jungle/savanna heritage plays a role in human violence. This page provides that backdrop.

Self-Delusion and the Enamor Trap

Walter Gratzer
Book Review with commentary

History is replete with examples where conservative ideologues in society fought new science.
March of Folly -- From Troy to Vietnam
Barbara Tuchman
Book Review With Commentary

This is a profound but very readable book. The March of Folly reads the historical rhythm of waves, cresting and crashing again and again in monotony. Again and again, Kings and democrats alike persist in stubborn belief that their power is not only invincible but infinitely wise.
Islam -- A Short History
Karen Armstrong
Book Review With Commentary

Ms Armstrong writes a different kind of book for our times--a book sensitive to and respectful of Islam. As a Christian might view Christianity, she views Islam. She provides a chronology of major events with short descriptions of each.
Rev: Oct, Dec 2005 Feb 2007

We live in a confounding world. The curiosity of humankind is never satisfied.