Friday, November 26, 2010

The Salvaging of Civilization - H. G. Wells

Cover of "The Salvaging of Civilization: ...Cover via AmazonIntroduction

As a fan of science fiction, the name H. G. Wells is awe striking. While Jules Verne definitely predated H. G. Wells with his marvellous A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) vs. The Time Machine (1895), he is nonetheless seen as the co-father of the genre.The Salvaging of Civilization (1921) is the first nonfiction work that I have read. It is available for free at

It is a coincidence that much of what was written in this book echoes many of the ideas from More's Utopia, which I very recently reviewed. Also, I was teaching an essay class today which featured the topic and concept of 'groupthink.' Basically, the theory behind groupthink is that a strong leader or individual leads either a group of yes-men, or individuals who all share the same or a similar point-of-view. So these three things are going through my mind as I prepare for my review.


A brief, and perhaps unnecessary note, is that his essay was published not too long after the cessation of WWI. The terror and destructive power of which Europe, and perhaps the world, had never seen from man's wars up to that point. It wouldn't be long before his prophecy of there being much worse weapons brought about by technology coming to bear on civilization. He believed in a world government which would rule other lesser governments when these lesser governments came into conflict. "The true history of mankind and of the possibilities of this vision of a single world state that history opens out to us." And yet this contrasts stiffly with his declaration that men ought to judge whether a government is right enough to warrant following: "This is the plain duty of every honest man to-day, to judge his magistrate before he obeys him, and to render unto Caesar nothing that he owes to God and mankind." Are we to be individuals with individual states, or are we not?


A contention that More and Wells most certainly would have had would have been over the place of religion within a civilized society. Where Wells declares, "The most popular religions are those which hold out the widest hopes of damnation," More contended that permissive and tolerant religion would rule the perfect society, and that the atheist is the bane of a peaceful and law-abiding culture.

Wells talks deeply about the idea of a new type of Bible. He points out that in the distant past, the Bible as we know it today was a living document: the authors thereof would cut and paste segments of the book. I suspect that it wasn't until John's Revelations that the act of doing so was considered problematic.

Wells points out that many parts of the Bible were basically designed to educate its readers/listeners with history, offer suggestions of survival, but he does not dwell on the moral aspects therein.

Several sections he suggests would be cut would be found in Job (a great literary work, but unnecessary) and Leviticus. Of Leviticus he writes, "So far as redundancy goes, a great deal of the Book of Leviticus, for example, seems not vitally necessary for the ordinary citizen of to-day." Certainly the context of the Bible is not necessarily applicable to the vast populations of Christendom today. Survival in a desert is not necessarily the same as survival in a concrete and glass jungle today.

He would add historical events that have occurred since the last addendum to the Bible. Also, wisdom, and in particular, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; I think he would have also included Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream had he heard it.

A primary and secondary list of books he believed ought to exist in an apocryphal collection of compulsory literature to be read followed by a collection of non-compulsory literature which would also be highly regarded.


He also calls for extensive educational reform. He decries the inadequacy of education in his day, and promotes the idea of using technology to improve the delivery of the variety of school subjects: "Instead of the teacher having to pretend, as he usually pretends now, to a complete knowledge of the foreign language he can really only smatter, he would become the honest assistant of the real teaching instrument—the gramophone." Later he refers to a 'cinematograph' which I believe is either a television or a projector. The lack of talent in the live teacher would be made up for by the skill and genius of the teacher in some central hub who would produce and have manufactured the records to play the content.

Finally, he also mentions that education should be a life-long exercise. This is an echo of More's position which suggests that in Utopia, Everyman continues his studies past the completion of regular studies.


I do not support everything he has stated. A lot of it, in particular his suggestions for educational reform, have come about. I am referencing his suggested use of technology in the classroom. I cannot understate the usefulness of the Internet with such tools as YouTube, the image collection from Google, Google Earth, Google's translator, etc., to the effectiveness of my lessons. However, I feel that there is a great deal of room left for improvement.

While I appreciate there is a need for the elimination of war, I don't believe in homogenizing the world. While I believe in education becoming a universal right, I also find myself against the idea of universal education. Also, watching experiments on a TV cannot substitute for hands-on experimenting.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fanny Laviot - A Lady's Captivity Among Chinese Pirates

Chinese Junk Keying. 1848 engraving.Image via WikipediaFanny Laviot's "A Lady's Captivity Among Chinese Pirates" is a true story account of a woman who went abroad from France looking for an adventure who falls into the hands of Chinese pirates. It is written in first person, as it is an autobiographical account. The book can be downloaded freely from

She and her friend at first tried to make a life in San Francisco. The descriptions of San Francisco are quite arresting. She describes how divided the city was (perhaps still is?) by ethnicity. In particular, how she described how black people were treated was startling. For what reason, in San Francisco, were blacks so pitifully treated? After some time and the misfortune of having her property burn down in a large fire, Fanny sets off for another voyage.

This voyage, however, would be more brutal than the last. After leaving Hong Kong, she along with the crew of the Caldera, get struck by a typhoon. The typhoon cripples the ship, which makes her an easy target for Chinese pirates. The pirates waste no time in finding the Caldera, boarding her, and looting everything; also, taking prisoner the captain, crew, and passengers.

Laviot suffers harsh conditions in captivity. The pirates threw her and her friend Than-Sing, a Chinese merchant. After suffering the hold of a junk (a type of boat) for several weeks, she and her friend survive confinement, abuse, great fear, and the threat of murder. When she was finally rescued, she was so unlike herself that she hardly recognized herself in a mirror. Thereafter, she became a bit of a celebrity.

The story is very well written and translated. The imagery wrought by her pen's vocabulary was skillful and descriptive without being pedantic.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Shunned House - H. P. Lovecraft

Grave of H. P. LovecraftImage via WikipediaThe very name of H. P. Lovecraft is so often uttered with the same breath as Edgar Allan Poe. Having been an admirer of Poe's for quite some time, Lovecraft has always been on my radar, but "The Shunned House" is the first of his stories that I have read. "The Shunned House" can be found, for free, at

It's a tale about a haunted house. Every inhabitant to live in the house has been cursed, and had subsequently died in that house or had had their minds twisted such that they were then sent to an asylum.

The hero of the story is never named. Though, it is written in first person. Perhaps I am to assume that the hero is Lovecraft himself. Through an all night vigil, he and his uncle watch the basement of the 'shunned house' to see what might be seen. However, this is to exact the cost of his uncle who somehow mysteriously vanishes or putrefies. Thereafter, armed with a pick-axe and acid, the hero manages to banish the spectre of horror from the house.

The language is positively amusing in how heavily it depends on macabre vocabulary. It is also amusing to read about the use of bleeding edge technology in the era within which this tale was written. Of course, seeming primitive to the early twenty-first century, it also makes me think of all the technology used in modern ghost busters' arsenal.

I still believe that people who are afraid of ghosts are more susceptible to believing in them. Hearing or seeing one, to me, would be a great curiosity that would not induce fear. Surely, how could I not engage in an interview with a ghost? Since I shall surely become one in the not too distant future...
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thomas More's "Utopia"

Cover of "Utopia (Penguin Classics)"Cover of Utopia (Penguin Classics)Thomas More's Utopia has been on my reading list for quite some time. Being particularly interested in dystopic fiction (Zamyatin's We, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Orwell's 1984 as examples), it was of course of interest to me to go to the original source of dystopia and go directly to the author and text known as Utopia. Utopia can be found at for free!

Utopia is said to be derived from Plato's Republic. It has been a long time since I read the Republic, so I'll have to take the general consensus for granted, as I won't be reading it again in the near future. It is basically a one sided conversation where someone relates a description of this Utopian civilization to More. I wouldn't be surprised if the reason for this is so that none of the religious nut-wings could burn him as a heretic for writing this.

The most interesting part of Utopia was the religious organization of the Utopians. They had temples, and at the temple every religious sect of the society would go to worship. The temples themselves lacked any sort of decoration, symbols, or other indications that would be pertinent to a particular belief. It is said that the worshippers of the planets were allowed to pray alongside those who worshipped Jesus. However, it can be said that More put down atheist leanings when he said that those who lacked faith had no sense of morality and would do all manner of bad things. Nonetheless, there is a fairly heavy push to suggest that the Utopians were very accepting and even enthusiastic about the adoption of Christianity.

However, for the most part, it sounded very dystopian to me. The fashion of the day is that everyone wears exactly the same clothing as the next. The value of gold is flipped around so that it becomes the substance which encumbers the slave class. Diamonds and other gems are the playthings of young children that are later forgotten as they mature.

A strong link could be made between the ideals of Communism and the ideals portrayed in Utopia. That is not to confused the communism of the former USSR or any other rendition of the ideal. For, the prince himself of Utopia wears the same clothing as every Utopian. His home is the same as any other. Every home is virtually the same. Every four years, there is a rotation where everyone moves into a different home. Of course, in the USSR, leaders lived quite well. Even eating is generally done socially. People eat in some kind of communal dining room. The food is prepared by women who are on rotating shifts, as well as they're responsible for the cleaning.

Basic labour is divided equally among almost all. Each member of the society must help with agriculture. Nearly everyone is required to work for two years on the farms which nourish the cities.

Negative aspects include that in order for one to travel between cities, one must first obtain permission from the prince. The few offences are often severely punished with slavery. Some offences would include adultery and travelling without papers. There also seems to be a lot for the feminist to be desired. Women have their place, and it's not on equal footing with men.

I would not want to live in this Utopian society. In fact, I would have to say that everyone's version of Utopia is likely another's dystopia.
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The Pirate City, an Algerian Tale; R. M. Ballantyne

Cover of "The Pirate City: An Algerine Ta...Cover via AmazonThis is a review of "The Pirate City" by R. M. Ballantyne. Publication is 1874. Ballantyne was a fairly prolific writer of a variety of youth adventure books.

There is just something that draws the baser elements of my character to the history and mythology of the pirate. Therefore, when I saw "The Pirate City, an Algerian Tale," on a list of recent releases from, I felt obliged to download it.

In the beginning, three characters are sent off to fates that none of them wants: Mariano, to be a clerk; Juliet, to be a nun; Lucien, to that of a priest.

As they sail off from Sicily to their unwanted fates, however, a pirate who will be well known throughout the tale as Sidi Hassan. He and his crew capture the ship and the three characters, alongside a Jew named Bacri who does everything in his power to help the three during the fight between the two ships and then even more as the three are brought into the Pirate City.

There is no known reason why Bacri decides to help these three. And for the way they treat him, it is hard to understand what his motivation is. In the end, though, without his help, they would have all died at the hands of the Turks who run the city.

Juliet is taken to a British consul's villa, Colonel Langley, to become the servant and slave to his wife, Agnes. Often the Langley couple are described as being superior to those around them in many ways.

Eventually, the king of city, referred to as the Dey, is disposed by a ruthless man. He, in turn, is disposed by one of his allies in the coup who is executed as soon as the coup is successful.

In the end, a small British fleet, under the command of Lord Exmouth, destroy the pirate city and liberate most of the slaves and effectively cripple the power of the pirate city which would never quite recover from the attack.


The problem I had with this book relates to the way Bacri is treated. Even at the end of the tale, we find that he is strangled. Bacri is essential to the survival of all the important characters in the story. Yet, the author has him strangled at the end.

It's also difficult to reconcile with the way Christians are promoted, and the way that the other religions are denigrated. Also, for parents of younger children, there might be some objectionable violence graphically depicted in the tale.

Nonetheless, it was a fun book to read.
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The Atheist's Mass by Honoré de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac, by NadarImage via WikipediaFor a long time I've been eyeing Balzac as someone with whom I should be well acquainted - to his literature at least. Though I would like to read it in French, I simply haven't got the patience for it. These days, I'm taxing myself enough with my Korean language lessons. In any case, "The Atheist's Mass" was the first story I've read on My Magic Book.

Balzac's "The Atheist's Mass" intrigued me because of the seeming conflict between the concepts of atheist and mass. An atheist wouldn't normally have a mass. So I wondered if it related to a cult of atheists, or if he was going to make devils out of atheists. However, this was not the case.

The story really read more like a character study than anything. It was somewhat dry. It was simply that a successful man, Desplein, had been befriended by another who was deeply religious. As his friend died, he'd sworn to hold a mass for him in his remembrance. True to his word, he purchased a mass from a church which was conducted four times every year.

I fully expected a lot of jabs about atheists and such throughout the story. For, atheists have been and still are maligned around the world. Right up until the end I was surprised to see none of this. However, near the end of the story, Desplein declares, "That, my dear fellow, is as much as a man who holds my opinions can allow himself. But God must be a good fellow; He cannot owe me any grudge. I swear to you, I would give my whole fortune if faith such as Bourgeat's could enter my brain." It definitely suggests that he sees greater value in the religious faith than all his temporal trappings. It should be noted that "The Atheist's Mass" is just one part of a much larger work The Human Comedy (La Comédie humaine). For a much better study of the story, Michael Cummings has written a rather complete analysis of the tale at Cumming's Study Guides. The story itself can be found at
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Starting a new Blog

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...Cover via AmazonA few weeks ago, thanks to Leon Sterling, got my Kindle ebook reader. Since then, I've been chewing and digesting a lot more than I have in ages.

The Amazon Kindle really is worth having. While I can read books on my laptop, it's not really very easy to tote around. It's fairly big. The second thing is that the LCD, while a vast improvement over the CRT it replaced, and imminently in danger from LED adoption, simply is not as easy to view for the eyes as e-ink.

Now, another thing worth mentioning is that I'm a lover of classical literature. Thanks to groups such as, I have access to more than 30,000 books which are all free, thanks to the expiration date of their copyright.

I have read more books in the last three or four weeks than I have in years. I've decided to start a blog review of the books I read on my Kindle, which I often refer to as my Magic Book for the simple reason that now I can carry a library around with me, wherever I go.

On the other hand, I'm also waiting patiently for the day when a colour version comes out for around $200. That would definitely be nice, since I also like reading magazines.
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