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Some Interesting Books from 1999

Review by Martha Quillen

Favorite Books – January 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

TIME, LOVE, MEMORY, A Great Biologist and his Quest for the Origins of Behavior by Jonathan Weiner is a beautifully written book relating some of the history of DNA research. Weiner makes understanding complicated genetic research easy — by illuminating the stories of the scientists, and even the fruit flies. By the time you finish, you’ll not only have a fair idea about how we got from Mendel to modern genetic engineering, you might even harbor a fond affection for those surprisingly complex little insects who gave their all to this research.

With some reservations, I recommend two thought-provoking, but not entirely agreeable, books.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain is almost guaranteed to make everyone mad. Shlain contends that developing alphabets actually changed the minds of men, making them more left-brained, more linear in their thinking, more analytic, more masculine, less artistic, and less feeling.

Shlain fails entirely in proving his thesis — since after a while it becomes obvious that what he likes he calls right-brained and feminine, and what he doesn’t like he calls left-brained and masculine. Even though he’s a surgeon by profession, Shlain offers little evidence for his theories. But he does present a preponderance of religious material detailing the development of some downright virulent anti-feminist sentiment.

As Shlain sees it, Christianity started with an oral tradition offering a universal message of hope, love, forgiveness and redemption for everyone. But then, several hundred years later, the message got written down, and over the centuries added to — by Origen, by Tertullian, by Jerome, by Augustine — until eventually the texts associated women with cattle, chattel, and evil.

Shlain presents pretty much the same developments from the Old Testament, Greek and Roman mythology, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, and many other religions. The author can be positively maddening. He wanders off on tangents that cannot be believed. He pines over the loss of the old goddess religions and ignores their legacy of human sacrifice and slavery. In the end, Shlain’s hypothesis pretty much comes off as absolute bunk.

But even so, he puts together a curiously compelling narration documenting an escalating and cruel war between the sexes — which gets so depressing that you’ll probably throw this book away before you finish it. This is a book you can argue with, rage against, and even hate, but one that you probably won’t forget.

MY SECOND DUBIOUS CHOICE is A Moment On The Earth, by Gregg Easterbrook. Easterbrook proposes a new kind of environmentalism called eco-realism. The author discredits most of the hype and exaggeration of traditional environmentalism, and proposes that we start a new environmental movement based on truth and employing — rather than disdaining — modern technology.

Easterbrook takes himself too seriously, and his book is too long. Although he believes in environmentalism, at times he does such a good job debunking the traditional scare stories that Louisiana Pacific must be proud. Yet if you’ve read Al Gore, Dave Foreman and Rachel Carson, this is a good book to offer some balance — and some hope. Though he tends to go on and on, Easterbrook writes well and clearly. He presents more facts than you probably want, but he offers some insight and pragmatism to a topic ordinarily lavished with hyperbole.

On the national level in the last few years most authors seem to have a serious ax to grind. So if you want an honest picture of the environment, religion, politics or history you’ve often got to read five or six books.

And of course, we can’t forget our favorite authors. As regional publishers convinced that local subjects are paramount, we heartily recommend Hal Walter’s Pack Burro Stories, Ed Quillen’s Deep in the Heart of the Rockies, all of Stephen Voynick’s readable and informative works, and Laurie Wagner Buyer’s poetry collection, Red Colt Canyon. The new anthology of Central Colorado Writers, Valley Voices, Passages put out by the Chaffee County Council on the Arts also offers a refreshingly regional outlook with stories, poems and essays.