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index of book reviews by abelard
New translation, the Magna Carta

book and other reviews

index of book reviews by abelard

what sounds like an excellent book on Einstein and his work
A usefully written review:

“Much has been made of the fact that Einstein was an undistinguished patent officer when he published his astonishing set of papers in 1905, including the first paper on the special theory of relativity. The common image is that of an isolated and neglected young genius who made a living at an uninspiring routine job by day but in his spare time dreamed up the most revolutionary physical theory of all time. Not so, says Galison. Not only did Einstein actually enjoy his patent-office job, but the work there taught him about the technologies of electromagnetic clock-coordination, which was one of the chief preoccupations of the engineering world in the half-century following 1860. And in the streets of Einstein's Bern, as in many other major European cities at that time, there were coordinated clocks all around.”

You are advised to look at the reviews here for a wider feel.

Galison image credit: Einstein’s clocks, Poincaré’s maps: empires of time by
Peter Louis Galison, 2003, W.W. Norton & Company, 0393020010, $16.77 hbk [] {advert}

the web address for this article is



a curious-sounding book on mutations

“Mutants is a fascinating account of both how we are created and how we are inexorably undone. Mutation sounds frightening, and it is frightening: Humans are deformed by a nightmarish array of defects. Yet without mutations, we could not exist, for alterations in the genome have taken us far indeed. "We are, in many ways," Leroi muses, "merely worms writ large"—albeit big, hairy, talking worms. And we are progressing still, each of us playing our part, with our personal arrays of both new and inherited mutations.”

image Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body
By Armand Marie Leroi
2003, Viking, 0670031100, $18.17 hbk [] {advert}

the web address for this article is


General Franco—right-winger or left-winger

Franco by Paul Preston

Very hard to read, nevertheless highly recommended if you seriously want the facts and can tolerate the heavy decoration of soft ‘left’ spin.You will also need good maps of Spain to read this book to the full.

It is more fruitful, in studying macro-politics, to consider personalities, events and trends in terms of dictators and libertarians, rather than repeating the false left/right rhetoric used by various left-‘whingers’ to justify their latest revolution or dictatorship.

Some few countries have evolved peaceably from aristocracy to various degrees of democracy, others have spilt much blood in that transition.

Franco stopped a communist revolution in Spain in the 1930s, again with much blood. Later, he also appears to have presided over a (fairly) peaceful transition to democracy. It was the Spanish Revolution that soured George Orwell’s naïve belief in the left, as he watched them attempt to crush the anarchists so they, the communists, could take over. The split between these two groups, of course, eased Franco’s task in suppressing the revolution.

This 800-page book on Franco is written by a standard lefty academic. It contains good research, but is very naïve on psychology and politics. Franco was one of the most successful dictators of the 20th century, he maintained control until the end.

On reading the book, I was struck by the enormous effort made in order to tell the reader how awful, stupid and incompetent was Franco. I was also interested to see a considerable list of others saying how brilliant the book is. It is very good on the detailed collection of data, but as analysis I am very unimpressed.

Franco is not a sympathetic character, but he was not incompetent by any means. It would equally be possible to present him as highly effective and even beneficial to Spain. He kept (poverty-stricken) Spain out of the war in Europe. He kept communism out of Spain. He allowed the transition to a modern economy and a constitutional democracy. According to the author, all this was accidental and not at all what Franco intended. I am most unconvinced, reading between the lines of the continual ‘telling you what to think’ commentary.

Left and Right

Whether you wish to call him ‘left’ or ‘right’, the end result has been steady modernisation, as it is throughout the developed world. For all the dictators and all the rhetoric, what works advances—and that is liberal democracy.

In a sense, many of these dictators are dinosaurs, they seem to hold back progress rather than advance it. Further, they have a tendency to go on foreign adventures, killing large numbers in the process.

In my view, mostly they are a considerable nuisance. Franco was at the centre of much killing, but many were much worse.

He ran a police state in one of the more backward countries of Europe, some are still attempting that in other backward countries. Are such people a necessary part of modernising backward uneducated nations?

The British had their dose with Cromwell, the French with Napoleon. These dictators just came earlier.

Will you ask whether Cromwell or Napoleon were ‘right’ or ‘left’?


'Franco' by Paul Preston. Image credit:

Franco, Paul Preston, 1993, Fontana paperback, 0006862101
11.89 [] {advert}

800 reading pages, plus 200 pages of references, includes photo selection that is adequate, but no more. Lacks useful maps.


'Homage to Catalona' by George Orwell. Image credit:

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell,
first edition 1952

2003, Penguin, 0141187379, £4.79
[] {advert}

1980, Harvest, 0156421178, $10.40
[] {advert}


Animal Farm
, George Orwell

See also, George Orwell: selected quotations

'Homage to Catalona' by George Orwell. Image credit:




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riley at the tate britain
[the ‘original’ gallery on Milbank, London]

Bridget Riley (born 1931) has an exhibition at the Tate from 26 June to 28 September 2003.

Highly recommended show for your cultural medicine in this age of ersatz throw away ‘art’.

Riley’s work, although not in the top flight, continues to mature as is the way with abstract artists. They almost invariably improve as they gain more experience.

For reasons unclear, the main fascination seems to be with her earlier black and white op art work. Perhaps people find it ‘easy’ or ‘startling’, but her later colour work grows ever more interesting and sophisticated to the practised eye. Well, it would, wouldn’t it?

Bridget Riley is a very English painter who shows greater discipline than most modern British painters. Like Max Bill, she has never seemed to have the confidence to leave her measuring instruments behind; nor has she embraced his exuberance, instead using a more pastel palette reminiscent of Ben Nicholson.

Unlike most recent British artists, who have expressed themselves in any modernist terms, her work shows the greater seriousness and intensity of the substantial artist who works right through a theme wherever it may take her, in order to fully understand it, before moving on to the next stage. In this, she shows personality similarities to Frank Stella.

I hope she has many more years painting in her, as I am curious as to where she will go next. There are very few painters, let alone British ones, who interest me that much!

1961 op art painting

Two pages with nine works from various periods, with enlargements available.

Four enlargeable images.
Top to bottom: from 2001 (better version below), 1981, 1966, 1961.

A poor repro. of a late mid-period work (approx. 1996).

Repros of two paintings from 1999.

A small clean repro. of an item from 2001.

PDF in Spanish.
Has about 12 poor-quality scans, but gives a general idea.

related material
Max Bill
A useful example here.
Various images are linked from this page,
for instance, try this one.

Ben Nicholson
To give an idea, here are several examples:
Two items here, six items, also this page and this one. The last two items are held by the Tate Gallery.

Frank Stella
Here and here, you may see Stella in his transition from hard edge to a more lyrical style.

Much of his later work is sculptural and impressively monumental (not easily seen from photographs), but sometimes gives the impression of emanating from a production line that is running too fast. Maybe this page will give you an idea.

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a writer of whom you should be aware

Schlosser, fresh from writing on the problems of the junk food industry, has now produced a book covering the pornography industry, marijuana, and illegal mexican migrant labour.

“Schlosser has not finished with the shadow side of American life. His next project will complete a trilogy that aims "to understand the history of the last 30 years". The book will wrestle with a beast whose power dwarfs that of the Golden Arches: the US prison system. This vast carceral industry now houses 2 million-plus inmates. Among them are tens of thousands of the innocuous pot-heads whose heartbreaking histories we hear in Reefer Madness. One of America's wars may have ended lately. What Schlosser calls its "war on nonconformists" is inflicting heavier casualties than ever.”

Schlosser catalogues the seamier and more depressing side of the American Dream and the corruption that is becoming known as ‘crony capitalism’: that is, the destructive relationships between money and irresponsible corrupt government.

Another clumsy, but easily read, related item may be found here, but the problems are better catalogued in the following books :
A green history of the world by C. Ponting
and The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

related material
drugs, smoking and addiction (document at
america’s great shame (news and comment item)


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drugs, smoking and addiction (document at

america’s great shame (news and comment item)

excellent article about what remains of hitler’s library Four GoldenYak (tm) Award

This article fills an important and long-standing hole in the study of Adolph Hitler, and does the task well.

related material
The psychology and development of Adolph Hitler Schicklegruber
Did Hitler know about the holocaust? A psychological assessment


the web address for this article is


related material
The psychology and development of Adolph Hitler Schicklegruber

Did Hitler know about the holocaust? A psychological assessment

William Hogarth: satirist, social commentator, a social activist and .... artist

The series, the Four Stages of Cruelty, like so much of Hogarth’s work, is a matter of morality. Careless violence to animals leads to careless violence to people, leads to death, then punishment. Even in the eighteenth century, some had a sensibility to causing pain to defenceless animals (and to humans).

For those interested in British eighteenth century society, in fine draughtsmanship, in art history, in decoding literary references and allegories in pictures, this neatly presented site provides material for a short glimpse, or an extended study, of this British artist and commentator. Three GoldenYak (tm) award

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vaiable words
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