Four Short Reviews (Part 3)

The final installment of reviews written during my Florentine Exile. I hope.

The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C. Mann

Progress. Progress seems to be the touchstone of many modern movements. For good or for ill, we measure our current society by “how far we’ve come” from the “old days”.

In our so-called progress, humanity’s population has grown to a size some seem untenable. This book examines the two “founders” of the modern schools of thought regarding our current position and how best to proceed.

William Vogt, the Prophet, spearheaded the modern environmental movement and advocates for humanity to cut back in both use and reproduction and to live within its means. Norman Borlaug, the Wizard, sought to find innovative ways to produce higher-yielding crops that could withstand a variety of climates and yet produce a yield sufficient to feed the world.

By examining the lives of these men, Mann attempts to impart and understanding of the underpinnings of our ideas about population. He does not necessarily set out to give answers, but rather hope our answers will be founded on facts rather than either fear or misplaced hope.


Paul by N.T. Wright

My first book by Wright was The Day the Revolution Began and it almost put me off Wright when his discussion of sin became – to me – theologically unsound.

I’m glad I stuck with him and picked up this book. In Paul, Wright gives an exemplary biography of one of Christianity’s great apostles and helps us understand Paul’s writings from a cultural, historical, and personal perspective.

Rather than reducing Paul’s writings, Wright magnified them, helping us appreciate Paul the preacher and understand his letters as his original audience received them.


The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone

I love to cook, but never considered how the ingredients I love to use first found their way to American markets.

In this book, Stone sets out to tell the story of David Fairchild and the men who worked with him to expand America’s palate.

A sweeping tale of adventure and intrigue, this book is a must-read for those who love to eat.


The Internationalists by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro

I read this book after being challenged on Twitter by one of the authors, Scott Shapiro, regarding the effectiveness of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

As it has been almost four months since I finished the book, my recollection may be somewhat spotty.

The Internationalists attempts to trace war as politics throughout the modern era as it moved from first response to “last resort”.

The chapters explaining war as legitimate response to international disputes proved intriguing; however, the central argument that Kellogg-Briand changed the world is far-fetched. Far from outlawing war, Kellogg-Briand only made it harder to wage. As evidence, see every year from 1946-present. The only reason the pact has had any modicum of success is due to major powers’ willingness to abide by it. Though the authors argue Kellogg-Briand ended the age of “might makes right”, it would be better to say “might redefined right”.

The authors hold up the Nuremberg Trials as proof-positive that Kellogg-Briand works. However, I find this argument historically disingenuous. It is no contradiction to say Nazi war criminals deserved the gallows while also admitting Nuremberg was a kangaroo court looking for whatever precedent would support their predetermined verdicts. No panel, jury, or tribunal would have offered a fair trial, and rather than vindicating Kellogg-Briand, Nuremberg proved yet again that might makes right.

Again, I’m not saying the Nazi war criminals should have been let go. Nuremberg was a strange series of trials, and in some ways it might have been better to arrange certain “accidents” or just skip the trials altogether and go straight to firing squads.

Anyway.

Though Kellogg-Briand hasn’t fundamentally changed the world, it has offered us a short reprieve. Our reprieve ends when one sufficiently disgruntled and determined nation or group of nations decides once again to redefine “right”.

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