Lies as Fuel for Slaughter; Truth as Wellspring of Courage

Yesterday, by chance, reading involved two things: a chapter of history and a short story.  Written by men living 2300 years apart, these describe the very same thing: the workings of the human heart, in particular at times of trial, and the results of those workings in terms of human suffering and survival. In the history, people lied to everyone about everything in an attempt to save their own skins, and failed, earning themselves sordid deaths.  In the story, a man is led by his absolute devotion to truth at least to die with integrity after having behaved well.

Thucydides claims to have based his history on near reports, and to have fleshed it out with his own considered reconstructions of the speeches made by the great men on all sides during the Peloponnesian War.  That’s fine; all well and good, but to read it is to scan multiple recursions of the same theme, here paraphrased:

The Plutonians sent forty ships to lay waste the lands of the Apricotians.  The Apricotians did not submit, so the Plutonians slaughtered them all, burned the city, raised a trophy, and sailed home.

Then the reader arrives at Chapter X, “The Corcyrean Revolution,”  to be startled awake on reading this:

The Corcyrean revolution began with the return of the prisoners taken in the sea-fights off Epidamnus . . . the accused, rendered desperate by law . . . banded together armed with daggers, and suddenly bursting into the senate killed Peithias and sixty others, senators and private persons . . . 

After a day’s interval hostilities recommenced, victory remaining with the commons, [over the oligarchs] who had the advantage in numbers and position, the women also valiantly assisting them, pelting with tiles from the houses, and supporting the mêlée with a fortitude beyond their sex. Towards dusk, the oligarchs in full rout, fearing that the victorious commons might assault and carry the arsenal and put them to the sword, fired the houses round the market -place and the lodging-houses . . . 

The Corcyreans, made aware of the approach of the Athenian fleet . . . slew such of their enemies as they laid hands on . . . Next they went to the sanctuary of Hera and persuaded about fifty men to take their trial, and condemned them all to death.  The mass of the suppliants who had refused to do so, on seeing what was taking place, slew each other there in the consecrated ground; while some hanged themselves upon the trees, and others destroyed themselves as they were severally able. . .  the Corcyreans were engaged in butchering those of their fellow-citizens whom they regarded as their enemies: and although the crime imputed was that of attempting to put down the democracy, some were slain also for private hatred, others by their debtors because of he monies owed to them.  Death thus raged in every shape; and as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go; sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the alter or slain upon it . . .

Now Thucydides moves from the particular to the general.

. . . struggles being everywhere made by the popular chiefs to bring in the Athenians, and by the oligarchs to introduce the Lacedaemonians. . .   The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same;

Too right, says the 20th-century reader, who now wonders if she is actually reading a news story:

. . . Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any.  Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense.  The advocate of extrme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected.  To succeed in a plot was t0 have a shrewd head, to divine a plot still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. 

 

Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 short story The Blood of the Martyrs concerns an apolitical scientific researcher and professor, imprisoned in “the castle” by the soldiers of “The Dictator.” The Professor dispassionately assesses the near likelihood of his execution.  He does not betray his students, who apparently have been self-organizing into a force in opposition to The Dictator –  but he does not articulate to himself why he does not betray them despite beatings and condemnation to death.

Only at the very end, when The Dictator personally demands, in exchange for his life on terms, that he lie about science – do State Science, speak in scientific language in service to the State – does the Professor make his refusal.  He does not spell it out for himself in his mind; he simply recalls the faces of his students who came to him over the years for one thing: truth, and the pursuit of truth.

He paused again, seeing their faces before him. . . From all over the world they had come – they wore cheap overcoats, they were hungry for knowledge, they ate the bad, starchy food of the poor restaurants . . . a few were promising – all must be given the truth. It did not matter if they died, but they must be given the truth.  Otherwise there could be no continuity and no science. 

. . . not to tell lies to young men on one’s own subject. . . .They had given him their terrible confidence – not for love or kindness, but because they had found him honest.  It was too late to change.

The Professor will not lie for the State, even to save his life.  His death is sordid only externally; internally his integrity gives him calm. He dies thinking of the young men to whom he has not lied.

So, some will lie, and participate in lies, in an attempt to evade murder, or merely to advance themselves.  Other will refuse to lie, because to lie would be to commit painful betrayal to the highest value.  For Benét’s character, it is not a matter of anguished calculation or conjecture.  It just is so.  That is the source of his personal courage: faithfulness to what is so.

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This Week’s Book Review – Code Name: Lise

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

“Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 9, 2019

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis, Gallery Books, 2019, 385 pages, $27

On July 16, 1940, Winston Churchill began an effort to “set Europe ablaze,” creating the Special Operations Executive to strike at Nazi Germany from within Occupied Europe — the nations conquered by Germany. One of the agents recruited to infiltrate into France was Odette Sampson, a married mother of three.

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis tells her story.

Sampson was born in France, but had moved to Britain between World War I and II after marrying an Englishman. She wanted to do her bit for Britain after France fell in June 1940, and offered her services. She thought she could be useful as a translator. Instead, as Loftis shows, the SOE saw her as a perfect agent to infiltrate into occupied France. They convinced her to do so, leaving her children with relatives in Britain.

Assigned to the SPINDLE network, she served in Southern France, then run by the German-friendly Vichy government. She was a courier, carrying messages, money, and munitions to other agents. Women could move more freely than men.

She proved competent, gaining the trust and admiration of the network’s leader, Peter Churchill. Danger brought the two together. Their relationship passed from admiration to love, although neither acted on their inclinations while active agents.

In turn, the SPINDLE network was being tracked by Hugo Bleicher, a sergeant in the Geheime Feldpolitzei. He proved outstanding at counterespionage, successfully turning one SPINDLE agent and rolling up the network. He captured Sampson and Churchill as they attempted to escape to Switzerland.

When captured, Sampson claimed she was married to Churchill and that he was related to the British Prime Minister. Both claims were false. The Germans believed it, and ultimately it kept the two from being executed due to their “hostage” value. They also were sheltered and fostered by Bleicher, an oddly humane counterspy.

Loftis follows the story from its origins through the end of the lives of the participants, well after the war’s end. “Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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Do You Remember When……. ?

      • All the girls had ugly gym uniforms?
      • It took five minutes for the TV warm up?
      • Nearly everyone’s Mom was at home when the kids got home from school?
      • Nobody owned a purebred dog?
      • When a quarter was a decent allowance?
      • You’d reach into a muddy gutter for a penny?
      • Your Mom wore nylons that came in two pieces?
      • All your male teachers wore neckties and female teachers had their hair done every day and wore high heels?
      • You got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped, without asking, all for free, every time?
      • And you didn’t pay for air.
      • And, you got trading stamps to boot?
      • Laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels hidden inside the box?
      • It was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents?
      • They threatened to keep kids back a grade if they failed . . .and they did?
      • When a 57 Chevy was everyone’s dream car… to cruise, peel out, lay rubber or watch submarine races, and people went steady?
      • No one ever asked where the car keys were because they were always in the car, in the ignition, and the doors were never locked?
      • Lying on your back in the grass with your friends and saying things like,”That cloud looks like a …”
      • and playing baseball with no adults to help kids with the rules of the game?
      • Stuff from the store came without safety caps and hermetic seals because no one had yet tried to poison a perfect stranger?
      • And with all our progress, don’t you just wish, just once, you could slip back in time and savor the slower pace, and share it with the children of today?
      • When being sent to the principal’s office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited the student at home?
      • Basically we were in fear for our lives, but it wasn’t because of drive-by shootings, drugs, gangs, etc.
      • Our parents and grandparents were a much bigger threat!
      • But we survived because their love was greater than the threat.
      • As well as summers filled with bike rides, baseball games, Hula Hoops, bowling and visits to the pool, and eating Kool-Aid powder with sugar.
      • Didn’t that feel good, just to go back and say, “Yeah, I remember that”?

      I am sharing this with you today because it ends with a double dog dare to pass it on.
      To remember what a double dog dare is, read on.

      • And remember that the perfect age is somewhere between old enough to know better and too young to care.
      • How many of these do you remember?
      • Candy cigarettes
      • Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water inside
      • Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles
      • Coffee shops with table side jukeboxes
      • Blackjack, Clove and Teaberry chewing gum.
      • Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers
      • Newsreels before the movie
      • P.F. Fliers
      • Telephone numbers with a word prefix….(Raymond 4-601).
      • Party lines
      • Peashooters
      • Howdy Dowdy
      • 45 RPM records
      • Green Stamps
      • Hi-Fi’s
      • Metal ice cubes trays with levers
      • Mimeograph paper
      • Beanie and Cecil
      • Roller-skate keys
      • Cork pop guns
      • Drive ins
      • Studebakers
      • Washing machines with wringers
      • The Fuller Brush Man
      • Reel-To-Reel tape recorders
      • Tinkertoys
      • Erector Sets
      • The Fort Apache Play Set
      • Lincoln Logs
      • 15 cent McDonald hamburgers
      • 5 cent packs of baseball cards – with that awful pink slab of bubble gum
      • Penny candy
      • 35 cent a gallon gasoline, (I remember 29 cent gasoline!)
      • Jiffy Pop popcorn
      • eeny-meeny-miney-moe
      • Mistakes were corrected by simply exclaiming, “Do Over!”?
      • “Race issue” meant arguing about who ran the fastest?
      • Catching the fireflies could happily occupy an entire evening?
      • It wasn’t odd to have two or three “Best Friends”?
      • The worst thing you could catch from the opposite sex was “cooties”?
      • Having a weapon in school meant being caught with a slingshot?
      • A foot of snow was a dream come true?
      • Saturday morning cartoons weren’t 30-minute commercials for action figures?
      • “Oly-oly-oxen-free” made perfect sense?
      • Spinning around, getting dizzy, and falling down was cause for giggles?
      • The worst embarrassment was being picked last for a team?
      • War was a card game?
      • Baseball cards in the spokes transformed any bike into a motorcycle?
      • Taking drugs meant orange-flavored chewable aspirin?
      • Water balloons were the ultimate weapon?

      If you can remember most or all of these, then you have lived!!!!!!!
      Pass this on to anyone who may need a break from their “grown-up” life . . .
      I double-dog-dare-ya!

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A Curmudgeon Looks Ahead

The Red Headed Irish Wisecracker and I are entering another phase transition. It is time for us to set up our terminal residence after going through all previous phases of newlywed, parents, job relocation, parents, job relocation, major illness, recovery, empty nesters, downsizing and location central to the grandchildren.

Time to end stairs, setup the basics the way we want and build a new place.

We are abandoning Oregon for the slightly less crazy Washington, still home to no income tax.

So now I am beset with the plague of opportunity to set it up the “way I always wanted” and dealing with backup generators, security systems, what cables to which room, mesh wifi or not and so forth. In other words I am having fun.

I hear the noise on the television, the fake angst and look around and realize that many things are going great.

Jobs are plentiful and a generation is finding the joy of being needed as opposed to expendable, with rising wages.

Medicine is better than ever with advances that creep in without fanfare but change the game. Surgery is microintrusive rather than macro, cancer is a condition you can beat rather than a death sentence for many, emergency care , courtesy of several nasty wars has advanced greatly.

We may even return to the moon in less than a decade.

Awareness is rising that the old institutions like industrial model education, globalism as an economic model and rule by bureaucracy are inadequate to the task of providing prosperity for most.

My optimism remains undimmed. My grandchildren can have a republic, if they can keep it.

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S.P.Q.Ratburger

S.P.Q.Ratburger!

As some of you may have read in a post yesterday, I have decided to cancel my subscription at another site and spend a lot more time here. As part of that decision, I have given a group that I used to run there a domum novam (new home) here on Ratburger.

The group S.P.Q.Ratburger, a Latin language group, is now open to all diners. So, if you can read, write, or even speak Latin, then stop on by.

And if you’re a total novice and just want to learn, then submit a saying or phrase, comic or serious. Once a week I will choose one, translate it, and explain the mechanics of the translation.

Hey, it’s not like you have to lead your armies across a river and spark a civil war. Stop by.

Valete!

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This Week’s Book Review – Gray Day

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Gray Day’ details uncovering a cyber spy

By MARK LARDAS

Mar 25, 2019

“Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy,” by Eric O’Neill, Crown, 304 pages, 2019, $27

In 2000, FBI agent Eric O’Neill’s career was in eclipse. He had married a German foreign national. She was from the former East Germany and viewed as a potential security risk. Germany might have reunified and the Soviet Union gone, but Russia was still there. Because of that he got tapped for the biggest case of his career.

“Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy,” by Eric O’Neill recounts what happens next.

Robert Hanssen was selling secrets to Russia and earlier the Soviet Union. The FBI needed to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. They wanted him in prison. He had been betraying the United States for decades and his revelations had led to the execution of several spies working for the United States. He was going to retire in April 2001.

The FBI set a trap for Hanssen. They put him in charge of a new FBI cybersecurity group, offering Hanssen a new batch of secrets to sell. They wanted O’Neill to be his deputy, to spy on Hanssen. O’Neill agreed.

The book follows the effort to trap Hanssen, as seen through the eyes of O’Neill. Despite Hanssen’s new posting being an FBI deception, as O’Neill shows, it filled a desperate need. The FBI entered the 21st century with its computer technology mired in the early 1980s and organizational attitudes toward computers from the 1960s. Hanssen’s spying exploited that.

“Gray Day” (Hanssen’s code name in the investigation) shows O’Neill cope with the pressure of juggling an abusive boss (Hanssen), keeping up with his schoolwork (O’Neill was a law student) and keeping his marriage intact — while secretly investigating his boss.

The book reads like a John Le Carre spy novel, but the events happened. Some names are disguised. O’Neill walks readers through the methods the FBI used to weave a net around Hanssen, including success and failures. He also shows the personal cost to him. His marriage started unravelling due to the pressures of the investigation.

“Gray Day” is a book that keeps readers on the edge of their seat, and contains an important message about data security.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III: The memoir of Jens Müller

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘The Great Escape’ is history’s most famous prison break

By MARK LARDAS

Mar 12, 2019

“The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III: The memoir of Jens Müller,” by Jens Müller, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 192 pages, $32.95

The Great Escape is probably history’s most famous jailbreak. In 1944, 76 men tunneled out of a German prisoner of war (POW) camp. The escape has been discussed in many books, starting with escape participant Paul Brickhill’s 1950 book “The Great Escape.” It was also the subject of a 1963 movie.

“The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III: The memoir of Jens Müller,” by Jens Müller, is a first-person account of the escape by one of three men who successfully reached Allied lines during the escape.

The book covers more than the escape. It’s Müller’s story of life as a POW, starting with the flight when he was shot down through his return to Great Britain. Müller was Norwegian, studying engineering in Switzerland when World War II started in 1939. After the 1940 German invasion of Norway, Müller left school to join the Norwegian forces in exile.

He became a Spitfire pilot serving in a Royal Air Force Norwegian squadron. After escaping, he served as a flight instructor in Canada. Following World War II, he became an airline pilot for Norway’s national airline.

His account is brief and straightforward, told in the words of a man who spoke plainly. He writes with a matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, even when describing startling events. He describes a three-day ordeal in a life-raft in taciturn words, and downplays his risks during the escape (50 of the 73 men recaptured were shot by the Gestapo, including almost all non-British escapees).

He wrote these memoirs in 1946 in Norwegian. It was published as Tre Kom Tilbake (Three Returned), but the book and Müller were largely forgotten over the next seven decades. This is the first English translation of the book. It includes a foreword by Müller’s son, and is annotated by editor Asgeir Ueland. The annotations provide information a modern reader might not know and information available today, which was unknown to Müller.

“The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III” offers a fascinating look at the 1940s, recapturing the feel of both the war and postwar era. A brief read; it is interesting.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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“You can’t handle the truth.”

Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace has been airbrushed out by Google. This must be for our own protection.  If we knew the historical truth it might affect our thinking in the wrong ways.

Redactors just have to redact!

Your thoughts on airbrushing history.

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This Week’s Book Review – Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Lady Death’ the story of a successful sniper

By MARK LARDAS

Feb 12, 2019

“Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper,” by Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Greenhill Books, 2018, 272 pages, $32.95

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the Soviet Army’s most successful female sniper during World War II. A fourth-year history student when Hitler invaded Russia, she quit school to enlist as a sniper. In 1941 and 1942 she racked up 309 kills.

“Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper,” by Lyudmila Pavlichenko, is an English translation of her memoirs. She died in 1974, leaving a manuscript copy of her memoirs, which remained unpublished until this century.

In it she recounts her life, with a primary emphasis on her wartime experiences. She shows how she became an expert marksman before the war, joining shooting teams at work and in school, becoming fascinated with both the machinery of the rifle and the art of shooting.

She put those skills to good use when Russia was invaded. Enlisting as a private, she served as a sniper in the 25th Rifle Division. She recounts her experiences during the summer of 1941 through the spring of 1942. She fought at the sieges of Odessa and Sevastopol, was wounded several times, promoted to lieutenant (and command of a sniper platoon), married a husband and saw him die in combat. These experiences are described in the chapters covering her combat career.

Wounded near the end of the latter siege, she was evacuated before Sevastopol fell. She had become famous, the subject of several published Soviet “histories” she states invented exploits for dramatic purposes.

Against her objections (she had a husband to avenge) she was sent to the United States on Stalin’s orders as a Soviet student representative to an international youth conference. There she met and was befriended by Eleanor Roosevelt. This is as fascinating an account as her combat recollections. The United States, Canada, and Britain were environments to which she had never been exposed.

Pavlichenko was an unapologetic communist, who grew up a privileged member of the nomenclature, the Soviet elite. This colors her history of events. She mentions Hitler invading Poland, but fails to mention the Soviets aided Hitler.

Regardless, “Lady Death,” is fascinating, and Pavlichenko’s beliefs don’t change her real accomplishments. This is a book worth reading.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Stanley Marcus

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Stanley Marcus’ highly entertaining and informative

By MARK LARDAS

Feb 5, 2019

“Stanley Marcus: The Relentless Reign of a Merchant Prince,” by Thomas E. Alexander, State House Press, 2018, 280 pages,$19.95

Neiman Marcus is Texas’ signature department store. It was the first place where Texas and high fashion converged. It remained the Texas arbiter of fashion throughout the 20th century.

“Stanley Marcus: The Relentless Reign of a Merchant Prince,” by Thomas E. Alexander, is a biography of the man who turned Neiman Marcus into the aristocrat of department stores.

Stanley Marcus did not found Neiman Marcus. His father and uncle did. They, along with Stanley’s aunt, made Neiman Marcus into Dallas’s leading store. Herbert Marcus’ salesmanship and insistence on customer satisfaction, Carrie Neiman’s (nee Marcus) fashion sense and Al Neiman’s shrewd management of expenses proved a perfect fit for a Dallas growing wealthy through then-new oil money. The new-money rich could go to Neiman Marcus, get dressed right without feeling condescended to.

Stanley Marcus became the prince inheriting this kingdom because he was Herbert’s oldest son (Al and Carrie had none). That was how family businesses ran back then. But, as in a fairy tale, he had a magic touch when it came to retailing luxury goods.

Alexander’s biography shows how Stanley Marcus transformed Neiman Marcus from Dallas’ leading department store to an American fashion icon. Alexander shows how in the 1930s Marcus managed to make Dallas a fashion center by a combination of fashion sense, marketing and exclusivity. Neiman Marcus was the first fashion store outside of New York City advertising nationally, creating a national identity.

The book is told from an insider’s perspective. Alexander became Neiman Marcus’ sales promotion director in 1970. He worked directly with Stanley Marcus for decades, becoming close friends with Marcus. Alexander’s accounts of the store’s fashion “fortnights” (two- and later three-week marketing extravaganzas focusing on fashions of a country) are often personal recollections. He recounts the successes, failures and challenges met. A similar approach frames his accounts of the company’s expansion to other cities.

“Stanley Marcus: The Relentless Reign of a Merchant Prince” is a book praising a respected friend who has passed. It’s also a highly entertaining and informative look at a great store and the man most responsible for its greatness.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Ganges

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Ganges’ offers insight into the forces that shaped modern India

By MARK LARDAS

Jan 22, 2019

“Ganges: The Many Pasts of an Indian River,” by Sudipta Sen, Yale University Press, 2018, 464 pages, $30

The Ganges is one of the world’s great rivers, and India’s most sacred river.

“Ganges: The Many Pasts of an Indian River,” by Sudipta Sen, is a study of the river.

The book is part history, part meditation, and part religious study. Sen looks at the history of the Ganges River basin and explores the river’s impact on India’s culture. He examines how three of the world’s major religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam — affected those living in the Ganges River basin, and were in turn affected by the Ganges.

The river emerges from the Himalayas gathering size and strength until it empties into a wide delta at the Bay of Bengal’s northern coast. The river is considered sacred; fed by other sacred rivers. Its waters are considered healing.

Ironically, despite today’s contamination, Sen reveals there may be rational basis for the belief. Trace chemicals from the river’s sources and a bacteria-eating virus inhabiting the river’s banks clean the water of harmful diseases — given enough time. Sailing-era British ships filled water casks from the Ganges because the water stayed drinkable longer.

Sen starts at the beginning and goes to the end. The book’s opening chapters start at the river’s sources and cover the ancient pre-history of the river. Subsequent chapters move downstream and later in history. The book concludes at the river’s mouth, during the opening years of the British Raj, ending in the late 19th century.

Sen reveals the central role the Ganges basin played in India’s history. Indian civilization grew among the fertile soils of Northern India’s plains through which the river and its tributaries flow. He catches the ebb and flow of the indigenous empires that grew there, and shows how they confronted outsiders.

Northern India was part of a greater Eurasian culture. It was located on caravan routes linking China with Europe. Trade always played an important part of life in the Ganges basin. Sen shows how this region confronted waves of would-be conquerors, from Alexandrian Greeks through sailing-era Europeans.

“Ganges” is a book which works on many levels, offering insight into the forces that shaped modern India.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Thomas Cromwell

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Thomas Cromwell, from commoner to Britain’s principal nobleman

By MARK LARDAS

Jan 8, 2019

“Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life,” by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Viking, 2018, 752 pages, $40

Today, many confuse Thomas Cromwell with his distant descendant, Oliver Cromwell. Others were introduced to him in C. J. Sansom’s first two Matthew Shardlake’s historical mystery novels as Henry VIII’s chief, but sinister adviser.

“Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life,” by Diarmaid MacCulloch is a biography of Cromwell who, when remembered is credited with the dissolution of church properties and, along with Thomas Cramner, as one of the twin pillars of Britain’s Protestant Reformation.

MacCulloch provides a fresh appraisal of Cromwell in this book, a man more nuanced than Sansom’s bully, and as significant as Oliver Cromwell. MacCulloch reveals Cromwell receives too much credit for monastic dissolution, and was more equivocal about introducing Protestantism than commonly believed.

McCulloch spends considerable time on Cromwell’s early life, before his meteoric rise in the 1530s from an obscure lawyer to Henry VIII’s chief minister. This is valuable because it puts Cromwell’s actions in context.

A yeoman’s son, Cromwell left to make his fortune on the continent, returning after several years in Italy. On the strength of his Italian connections, Cromwell entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey, who was then Henry’s leading minister. Through sheer ability Cromwell rose to become Wolsey’s chief deputy, playing a leading role in dissolving dysfunctional monasteries (experience he used later for Henry). Wolsey was tolerant of religious dissent, including that of Cromwell who already favored evangelism (the precursor of Protestantism).

Cromwell attracted Henry’s attention and transferred to Henry’s service, when Cromwell could further his religious beliefs. He maintained Wolsey’s tradition of toleration, initially remaining cordial to Catholics and friend to Princess Mary.

Henry advanced Cromwell, but at the price of Cromwell serving Henry’s whims, eventually forcing Cromwell to adopt positions he disliked. Yet Cromwell was well rewarded — rising from a commoner to Britain’s principal nobleman in just six years.

His fall was even swifter. When he displeased Henry (chiefly over promoting Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves) Cromwell was attainted, convicted of treason, and executed within one year.

MacCulloch’s biography is long, but rewarding. He brings Cromwell to life, stripping away myth to reveal a great, but flawed man.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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