Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Old Age (A Beginner’s Guide)

By: Michael Kinsley

Narrated by: Danny Campbell

Michael Kinsley is an American political journalist and commentator. One may remember Kinsley on television a few years ago as a clever political commentator who figuratively fenced with conservatives like Pat Buchanan and William Buckley. He seemed a contrast to conservatives even while co-hosting with Buchanan on CNN and acting as moderator on “William Buckley’s Firing Line”. Kinsley exhibited a sly sense of humor. “Old Age” is a short book that exhibits that same slyness.

Kinsley notes he is 65 years old as he writes “Old Age”. He reveals his trials with Parkinson’s disease as an introduction to what it means to be nearing the end of one’s life. Though he has a less aggressive form of Parkinson’s, he notes his trembling hands and slow movement are more pronounced than when first diagnosed when he was 43 years old.

Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

Kinsley explains the medical treatment he has received to mitigate symptoms. He writes about brain surgery and the medicine he takes and how both have helped him cope with the disease. Kinsley recounts the effect the pills have in improving how he feels for a few hours while having to take more pills when their effect wears off. Though this is Kinsley’s explanation of his personal experience, it is not the primary message of his book. His goal is to explain to baby boomers like himself about the end game of life.

As most know, Michael J. Fox has dealt with Parkinson’s disease since he was diagnosed at the age of 29.

Boomers who are nearer the end than the middle or beginning of life understand Kinsley’s reason for writing “Old Age”. Kinsley notes the greatest change in a healthy boomer’s ageing is the loss of driving privileges. City dwellers might take exception to that observation, but his point is that losing one’s license is a loss of individual freedom.

Kinsley is preparing “baby boomers” for their future.

Kinsley suggests most boomers will realize there is no next step for their career. That may be true for boomers working for someone but less true for those in business for themselves. Nevertheless, loss of employment is a blow to many boomers who feel they have lost purpose in life when there is no next step for their career.

Kinsley argues most boomers who have mid-life success, as measured by material gain, were “losers” in high school. Interesting thought but listener/readers might want some statistical proof.

What is high school success? Is it popularity, (being class-president)? Is it being a sports star? Is it top grades? Is it just getting a basic education? It seems the last two are reliable indicators of future success. Being a sports’ star or being popular is like threading a needle while walking on a waterbed because it is difficult to transfer high school sport’s skill and popularity to the wide world.

The greatest concern a boomer may have as one ages is the potential for dementia.

An area where one may agree with Kinsley’s observation is fear of the loss of cognitive skill. Mental decline manifests in communication difficulties, getting lost in familiar places, having difficulty balancing a checkbook, knowing what day it is, or losing the desire to learn new things.

What every ageing person wishes is–to live for as long as they have their “marbles”. Once cognitive abilities cross over a threshold of self-knowledge, humans are burdens to society.  

Kinsley implies wealth is wasted on the aged who have lost self-awareness. Kinsley argues reputation is important. That seems false to the person who is dead but has relevance to those left behind. Humans are living longer but, as Kinsley notes, longevity is not the issue. It is quality of life and reputation that matter.

There may be a brief period of assisted living when one cannot take care of themselves, but hospice and in some cases euthanasia, seem more humane for one who reaches their final stage of life.

The final chapter of Kinsley’s book seems to fall off the rail of reason. Kinsley argues the wealth of modern America is largely inherited (not made) by the boomer generation and it should be confiscated to eliminate the national debt.

Kinsley suggests the wealth of America should be committed to eliminating the national debt.

This may have been a “tongue in cheek” suggestion but the idea of beggaring the boomer generation to eliminate national debt ignores the reality of homelessness, support of nations like Ukraine under siege, and the plague of inequality and discrimination in America. It also ignores baby boomers who have truly earned rather than inherited their wealth. In the end, Kinsley gives listeners a laugh while addressing a very difficult time of life, “Old Age”.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World)

By: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Robert Bucholz

Robert O. Bucholz (Professor at Loyola University in Chicago, Graduate of Oxford and Cornell.)

Robert Bucholz’s brief history of London walks the curious through ancient and modern streets of London. Like John Wayne in “True Grit”, this history shows what grit means to British Londoners. Possibly as far back as 1750 BC, archeological remains show evidence of a community on the Thames that later becomes the site of London. Around the year 43 AD Londinium was founded by the Romans. It became the capital of Roman Britain with a population estimated at 60,000 inhabitants.

King Aethelberhtl (589-616AD.)

The Saxons displace the Romans in the 5th century AD. An Anglo-Saxon (mixture of German and British descendants) was established as King. His name is Aethelberht (spelling varies). He was the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity.

Bucholz notes Saint Mellitus is the first bishop of London appointed when a Cathedral is dedicated to St. Paul in AD 604. Though the site (the highest point in the city, Ludgate Hill) is the same today as then, the original cathedral evolved and was replaced four times.

St. Paul Today

It was destroyed in the “Great Fire of London” in 1666 and soon after rebuilt to its current form at the direction of Christopher Wren.

“Great Fire of London” in 1666

In 1066 the Saxons are replaced by the Normans (mixture of Vikings and French). They rule into the 1400s when the Tudor’ monarchs (a mixture of Welsh and English) come to power. King Henry VII, and then Henry VIII take charge.

King Henry VIII (1491-1547, Coronation 1509)

It is the reign of Henry VIII that is most well-known, in part, because of the split that occurs between the Roman Catholic Church and England’s Protestant Anglican Church. The other reason Henry becomes well-known is because of his future wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he has beheaded. The consequence of church schism reverberates through the rest of London’s history.

Bucholz gives a brief history of Chaucer who is born around 1340 and lives until 1400. Chaucer lives in the heart of London. Though Chaucer is known to most as the author of the Canterbury Tales, he is an important servant of the crown as comptroller of customs at the Port of London.

LONDON 1600s

Bucholz reminds his audience of the first Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She is shown as a consummate politician by opening herself to the London public.

The wealth of the empire was diminished by the devaluation of money and profligacy of King Henry the VIII. Elizabeth’s political skill replenishes the royal coffers. London grows to an estimated 200,000 residents. Though the wealth of the royal coffers improves, poverty rises dramatically. Bucholz notes the population increase in London rises faster than the economic benefits to its people. The increase is not from natural births but from the country people moving into the city in greater numbers than can be handled by the local economy. Bucholz notes more babies die than needed to replace the population that dies from natural causes.

Bucholz briefly recounts the unsuccessful gunpowder revolution during James I’s reign (1601-1625). James I is not a popular King. Though he manages to bring Scotland into the empire, the rift between Catholics and protestants continues to roil the country. At the same time, poverty increases as London’s population expands.

Jumping to the 1800s, Bucholz addresses the consequence of London’s rapid growth. Now the population is nearing a million. Pollution, crime, and poverty are aggravated by industrialization. Crime is an everyday reality ranging from pickpockets to, to prostitution, to the infamous “Jack the Ripper” murders. The Thames is a running sewer, streets are spottily paved, the city is dark or poorly lit by candles, burning torches are carried by guides who will pick your pocket as often as guide you through the city.

The infamous London fog is caused by coal burning factories and home heating demands. This is the London which Charles Dickens writes of in “A Christmas Carol”, “Oliver Twist”, “Great Expectations” and “A Tale of Two Cities”.

LONDON 1800s

Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850, Home Secy, Chancellor of ther Exchequer, Prime Minister served from1828-1846.)

Each 19th century problem is attacked by London’s leaders. In 1829, Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel forms a municipal police force. Initially, it was formed for the countryside on the outskirts of London but became institutionalized and eventually adopted within the London city boundaries. Those who were employed in these new police wore uniforms, including distinctive hats. They became known as “Bobbies”, possibly because of Peel’s first name. By 1851, there were 13,000 police across England and Wales.


Cholera infected the London’s population because of Thames’ pollution.

By 1858, the stink from the Thames was so great in the summer that one had to hold their nose. Cholera and the stink of the river dropped dramatically when a large system of sewers was built. It was commissioned by the Metropolitan Board of Works which became the London County Council in 1889. It was designed by Joseph Bazalgette, an English civil engineer. It took 9 years to build with future repairs and improvements as the years passed and the population continued to grow.

Its estimated length is around 82 miles of brick main sewers and 1,100 miles of street sewers.

Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891, English Civil Engineer.)

A British Clean Air Act was passed in 1956. The key to its abatement was the reduction of coal burning particle emissions. Of course, pollution remains a worldwide problem.

London fog worsened through to the 1950s. In December 1952, the pollution level grew so dense, 150,000 people were hospitalized and an estimated 4,000 died.

Bucholz reminds listeners of Londoner’s grit during WWI and WWII. WWI introduces the reality of war to every 20th and 21st century human. The consequence of war never leaves those who experience it. PTSD is not diagnosed in WWI but found as an incurable disorder in all subsequent wars. It is never cured but many have learned how to live with it. With the help of friends and medical assistance, PTSD is managed by many but not all.

Visiting London today is a great pleasure. It has some of the greatest theatres, museums, and entertainments of the world. Bucholz’s history of London shows political unrest, pollution, poverty, and crime are killers but there are solutions.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Fishing (How the Sea Fed Civilization)

By: Brian Fagan

Narrated by: Shaun Grindell

Brian Fagan (British Author, Profesor of Anthropology at U of C. Santa Barbara. PhD from Cambridge University.)

Brian Fagan reveals where humanity came from, the ways in which humans populated the world, and more particularly how early humans relied on fishing. Fagan exposes a trail of archaeological details that show humans have been fish eaters from their evolutionary bipedal hunter/gatherer beginnings.

Fagan suggests humanity evolves because hunter/gatherers were not only animal hunters and berry munchers but fishing people. Fagan’s research suggests humans have been fish eaters since the beginning of their self-awareness.

Fagan figuratively and literally travels the world to itemize artifacts of human remains that show fishing exists in the earliest known communities of the world. Fagan reinforces Graeber and Wengrow by noting communities of human beings were not created as a result of one thing like farming but on many activities based on survival and/or identity. (Few archeologists disagree on one fact. The human animal began in Africa. When “Lucy” or some being like her evolved, all became descendants of Africa.)

Ancient Fishing Spear Africa

Fagan notes fragments of rock in pre-history African’ sites were honed with barbs to stop fish from wiggling free after being speared.

The survival of any species is dependent on nourishment. In civilization’s beginning, archaeologists surmise human ancestors became hunter-gatherers to survive. Humanity formed into groups from a survival instinct that led to communal association. Fagan’s archeological research revealed artifacts that show hunter-gatherers found fishing as an integral part of humanity’s drive to survive. He notes fragments of rock in pre-history African’ sites were honed with barbs to stop fish from wiggling free after being speared. Fish skeletons were found near the homed spear heads.  Fagan finds barbed artifacts near Kenyan and Tanzanian lakes in Africa. Fagan notes, the earliest spear heads had barbs on one side while later spear heads had barbs on both sides.

A second interesting finding by Fagan is that fish farming is found in early Chinese civilizations. In 1000 BCE, a written record by Fan Li (in the Zhou dynasty 1112-221 BCE) describes a carp farm designed to feed a popular demand for fish.

It is a surprise to find fish farming has such a long history.

Fagan notes preservation techniques used by early ancestors. Salt is used to dry fish to preserve it for sailors’ consumption on long voyages and for general consumption when harvests are greater than a market can consume.

Fagan reminds listeners/readers of the immense size of fish. One fish could serve a village for weeks. Southern and Ocean sunfish weight well over 2 tons, some sturgeon and sharp-tail molas near 2 tons, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna over 1400 pounds, Pacific Bluefin Tuna over 900 pounds, a Goliath Grouper over 600 pounds, halibut, Warsaw Grouper, and Yellow Fin Tuna over 400 pounds, while lesser size cod are nearer 100 pounds.

Today, catching fish by hand or spear is limited, while all other forms are used by more serious sport and commercial fishing operations. Sport and commercial fishing, along with rising human consumption, have depleted fish populations around the world. The size of fish has fallen, along with their populations because they no longer live as long or are harvested to extinction.

A part of Fagan’s fish-eating history is shellfish harvesting and consumption. The remains of shellfish are found in ancient sites. Some cultures use the shells as a form of exchange, others as a form of adornment and sometimes as musical or tonal instruments.

Shell Fossils
Several chapters at the end of Fagan’s book recount the consequences of global warming and the insatiable demand of fish eaters that are depleting the world’s fish habitats and populations.

Fagan offers interesting insights to listener/readers on the origin of fishing’s ancient, present, and future importance to humanity.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Dawn of Everything (A New History of Humanity)

By: David Graeber, David Wengrow

Narrated by: Mark Williams

David Graeber and David Wengrow persuasively reject the view of farming as a critical step leading to tribes, hamlets, villages, cities, and future nation-states. Graber and Wengrow’s archeological research reveal human remains and structures are found in many areas of the world long before any evidence of farming. Their research suggests hunter-gatherer populations created and sustained stable communities with remnants of worship, government rule, and tools for construction, punishment, and defense. These early civilizations knew nothing of or practiced any form of organized farming.

Graeber and Wengrow argue early civilizations did not arrive as a result of organized farming.

The goal of the author’s research is to find an answer to the question of why inequality plagues civilization. They suggest inequality is (in part) created by the myth propounded  by stories like the bibles’ garden of Eden. The myth of original sin and redemption sets many precedents for inequality and redemption through good works. Their archaeological research suggests the plague of inequality has never been cured because history and archaeological evidence shows civilization wobbles between extremes. First, there is the altruism of sharing benefits of life with everyone. Second is the realism of what is mine is mine. Graeber and Wengrow argue there is history and archeological evidence proving both extremes exist but the second prevails more than the first. It would seem the first is more likely to preserve humanity, and the second to end it.

The goal of the author’s research is to find an answer to the question of why inequality plagues civilization.

Graeber and Wengrow offer a story of “sharing” by the American Indian leader Kondiaronk who saved his tribe by playing the Iroquois and French against each other to keep his tribe whole. Kondiaronk becomes an arbitrator for peace between the Iroquois and French. He secures peace for the French, Iroquois, and the Huron tribe of which he is a part.

Kondiaronk (French Canadian depiction.)

Kondiaronk becomes an arbitrator for peace between the Iroquois and French and secures peace for the French, Iroquois, and Huron tribe of which he is a part.

The authors say Kondiaronk is invited to France and finds monarchy a terrible form of government. He considers its hierarchy of wealth and privilege an abomination. His criticism revolves around the “mine is mine” hierarchal structure that impoverishes much of French society. Kondiaronk returns to Canada where he is buried in Montreal’s Notre-Dame church.

The “mine is mine” examples are more numerous than the “sharing” and distributive benefits Kondiaronk endorses. Schizogenesis is a phenomenon identified by Graeber and Wengrow in examination of Chinese, Roman, Persian, and other empires’ remains. Schizogenesis is defined as “creation of division”. It is social behavior of “get everything you can” and don’t worry about anyone else. The authors note archeological remains of most ancient civilizations are schizogenetic. Excerptions are a few North American Indian tribes and some Mesoamerican societies.

If authors’ stories of great empires schizogenesis are not enough, today’s Russian invasion of Ukraine is tomorrow’s archeological reminder of the phenomena.

There seems a slim hope for humanity in the example of Kondiaronk. Global warming is every nation’s problem. Humanity has a choice of “sharing” or continuing to fight each other until there is nothing left to fight over. In the past, many civilizations have fallen because of schizogenesis but now the world is at risk. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Global warming is every nation’s problem. Humanity has a choice of “sharing” or continuing to fight each other until there is nothing left to fight over.

This is a long book. It covers many subject areas that could be books of their own. As an example: the remains of civilization offer evidence that women’s equality, if not superiority, may have been exhibited during the hunter-gather phase of social development. The authors suggest women may have been the scientists of their time by experimenting with farming practices as farms became a part of civilization. Increasing and improving product grown on farms required experimentation. Who tended the farms?  The authors suggest it would have been women while men were hunting and gathering.

Part of the authors story covers America’s Mississippi River Valley and Etowah River area of Georgia to show how communal life grows in parts of what becomes the United States. Both areas leave burial mounds filled with hints of how their civilizations were formed, how they were governed, and why they disappeared. Both are founded on hereditary male leaders with some influence exercised by democratically elected council members. The authors note there is a belief in the importance of dreams that presage Freudian thought and its influence on lived life. It seems both areas grew with hierarchical governance by Tribal chiefs who lived, worked, and died in conflicts with competing tribes. (This is more evidence of schizogenetic life.) Farming is certainly a part of these societies but not as a formative cause of creation.

America’s Mississippi River Valley burial mounds.

The greater chiefs were memorialized by ritual mounds.

This is not light reading or listening, and it remains a speculative story of civilizations’ growth, and organization. It seems a more careful examination of archeological evidence than the farming explanations from different authors like Fukuyama, Diamond, Pinker, and Harari.

Of course, Fukuyama is a political theorist, Diamond and Harari are historians, and Pinker is a cognitive scientist. All are well regarded professionals. What Graeber and Wengrow add is evidence that suggests a different interpretation of the past.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland

By: Fintan O’Toole

Narrated by: Aidan Kelly

Fintan O’Toole (Author, award winning Irish journalist and political comentator for The Irish Times)

Fintan O’Toole helps one understand something about mid-20th century Ireland. O’Toole is born in Northern Ireland in 1958. That year becomes the beginning of his story. O’Toole touches on pre-1958 Ireland but only through literature and brief mentions of earlier history.

O’Toole’s story is fascinating but knowing an Irish population as an “…Ourselves…” is elusive. O’Toole is an excellent writer who reveals his self-understanding, but it is a vain effort to understand a singular society’s self-understanding. No population in the world can understand itself because of its complexity.

O’Toole explains post-WWII’ aid did not come to Ireland because of its neutrality during the war. The hardship in Ireland is difficult in years before and after WWII.

One suspects most Americans do not know that Ireland remained neutral in WWII. (This is not to say the Irish did not side with the west because thousands joined Allied forces on their own.) Education levels in Ireland were low because of little industrialization that would provide taxes or revenues needed for teachers and classrooms. The teaching available is through the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland and it is only after 1958 that the church began to fund education beyond grade school.

Great emphasis is placed on classroom order in Catholic schools with a ruler or open hand slap at young students who have wrong answers or who act in what is considered disruptive behavior.

Conditions of school in Northern Ireland were harsh with Catholic brethren who severely punished students for minor classroom disruptions. O’Toole notes many who experience that disciplinary environment retrospectively praise it as a character builder. However, O’Toole notes some students were sexually abused by their Catholic school masters. Pedophilia is a festering sore in Catholic church’ history. O’Toole implies it is a pox spread in Ireland’s 1960s Catholic schools. As history has shown, Catholic pedophilia extends far beyond Ireland.

O’Toole tells of many conflicts in the sixties through the nineties, without enough context. Because there is a mixture of religious conflict and Irish independence, it is difficult for a reader/listener to have perspective on O’Toole’s history of 30 years of “Troubles”.

Even we self-centered and ignorant Americans know one of the great conflicts of the world is between Irish Catholic’s and Protestant’s. The violence of each against the other is unfathomable to most Americans. O’Toole underestimates American knowledge of the causes and consequences of the “Troubles” in Ireland.

It seems most religions argue there is no God but God or Allah but Allah. Whether one calls themselves Catholic or Protestant, God seems the only concept upon which the largest religions agree. Religious conflict in Ireland is made more complex by the desire of some Irish to be independent of England while others wish for union. It would have been helpful to have a clearer explanation of the origin of the “Troubles”.

The cruelty during the time of the “Troubles” is horrendous. O’Toole’s stories of IRA atrocity are mind-numbing, including children in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the same time, captured IRA prisoners are as poorly clothed and cared for as though they were abandoned dogs. Many lived in their sweat, and excrement which made them either sick or dead. Some went on hunger strikes to resist with death as their end.

The Ireland of which O’Toole writes is Catholic because he is raised Catholic.

O’Toole explains “don’t ask, don’t see, don’t say” is a mantra of those who plan and do wrong. It applies to Irelands loosely explained “Troubles”, but he argues it also applies to the Catholic Church, and later the financial industry in Ireland in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As wealth accumulates among those who benefit from Ireland’s economic growth, they look for ways to hide their earnings. The earnings are sometimes legitimately earned, sometimes not, but all wish to evade taxation and/or incarceration. O’Toole explains Ireland’s banking industry colludes with those money makers who wish to hide their income.

On February 6, 2002, Allied Irish Bank – Ireland’s second-biggest bank was investigated for apparent currency fraud at its Baltimore-based subsidiary, Allfirst, perpetrated by a trader named John Rusnak. 

Irish bankers and businessmen colluded to make it appear Irish residents lived abroad and should not be taxed for their income in Ireland. O’Toole explains the Irish government loses millions of pounds that could have been used for public services because of that collusion.

O’Toole’s notes women in Ireland of the 1950s and 60s are treated as child bearers and servers to men. They could not sue for divorce for any reason. They could not work outside the home. Women could not practice any form of birth control. Women were subject to their husband’s desires and could not object to either beatings or sexual intimacy.

O’Toole shows that any intelligent human being will overcome denied rights by fighting, fleeing, or subverting unequal treatment. Many Irish emigrate, some surreptitiously rebel. The example O’Toole gives is Irish doctors and pharmacists provide birth control pills to women based on falsely claimed menstrual problems to hide their real intent of avoiding pregnancy. Women had to fight unequal treatment or flee.

Misogyny in Ireland seems even more pernicious than in the earlier years of America.

O’Toole explains how prosperity comes to Ireland with acceptance into the European Union. (Northern Ireland later rejects the E.U. along with Great Britain.)

Eliminating trade barriers enriches farmers and begins industrializing the country while broadening economic diversification. To the church, O’Toole explains there is a concern over the loss of Catholic influence on the population. To the public there is great hope for an improvement in the Irish standard of living.

The benefit to farming is significant because of the price paid for goods within the E.U. O’Toole explains success in industrial growth is less significant, undoubtedly because of lack of infrastructure. There were also displaced workers in trades that could not compete with European prices. However, O’Toole notes women were significantly benefited by job opportunities created in a growing economy. Women were finally liberated from only working at home.

O’Toole explains economic improvement did not cure all Ireland’s ills and in fact created new 20th century problems beyond sexual inequality.

The gap between rich and poor did not change with economic wealth. Drugs became a serious health problem that O’Toole compares to the slums of New York. The biggest beneficiaries of joining the European Union were Irish farmers who were able to get better prices for their produce. Industry lagged and craftsmen disappeared. The truth of O’Toole’s view is that human nature is the same everywhere. America, China, Russia, Ukraine, North Korea- all are motivated by money, power, and/or prestige. Human nature corrupts us all, regardless of government form, rule of law, or intent.

O’Toole chooses to become a journalist despite discouragement by a local paper that might have hired him out of college. O’Toole explains his life in a way that infers he is smarter than many of his peers. That intelligence paves his way through college and on to a successful career as an investigative journalist and author.

In the end, O’Toole shows himself as a Catholic heretic, if not atheist or agnostic, by not following the dictates of the church. Neither Ireland nor the world have reason to believe they are morally or economically better or worse than other nations of the world. We are all in the same leaky boat. Only time and societal evolution will cure or kill us.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power

By: Thomas Christensen

Narrated by: Alan Sklar

Thomas J. Christensen (Author, American political scientist, professor of international relations at Columbia University, advisor to U.S. Presidents.)

Thomas Christensen addresses “The China Challenge” with a capsulized history of communist party’ leadership from Mao to Xi. Christensen offers perspective to China’s support of North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Russia in the 21st century.

North Korea is losing the war when Mao commits the Chinese Army that pushes American troops back to the 38th parallel. That demarcation became part of a peace agreement that created two nation-states, North and South Korea. Despite the obvious domestic mistakes of the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution, Mao’s entry to the Korean war made him a revered hero to China and the communist party. Mao’s nearly divine adoration is evident to anyone who visits Beijing’s Memorial Hall Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square.

Nationalism and history are at the heart of China’s support of non-western countries. Though “The China Challenge” is published in 2015, before Ukraine’s invasion, it offers insight to China’s response to international events that seem irrational to many western citizens. Christensen’s history disabuses reader/listeners of Xi’s irrationality. Mao’s resolve in the Korean war reinforces President Xi’s belief in the utility and strength of the Chinese Communist Party.

North Korea—The brutality of the Korean war killed an estimated 1,500,000 North Koreans, and 716,000 Chinese

Development difference between South and North Korea exemplified by light projection at night.

Christensen notes the importance of China’s tempering influence on North Korean provocation while refusing to treat North Korean leadership as either rogue or irrational.

Contrary to George Bush’s monumental mistakes in Iraq, Christensen shows the American administration’s concerted effort to stop North Korea’s nuclear bomb ambitions. Along with Bush’s successful diplomatic effort to reduce tension with China over Taiwan by speaking of a “one China policy”, the Bush administration puts an economic initiative together for American economic support of North Korea in return for denuclearization. China supports the effort, but North Korea turns it down.

Christensen is unable to disclose the details of an economic package for North Korea in return for denuclearization but George Bush’s success in getting China’s support is remarkable and largely unrealized by the public.

Syria—Despite the brutality of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, China maintains close ties with Syria because of Xi’s belief in defending Syria’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. This is a consistent posture of China regarding other nations hostile to democracy.

Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria

Xi consistently supports authoritarian rulers’ right to rule without interference from outside interests.

Iran—Xi criticizes President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation agreement. Christensen notes China, like other nuclear powers in the world, believes in non-proliferation of nuclear bomb capability. Xi consistently supports Iran’s independence for the same reason noted for Syria.

Ali Khamenei (Iran Supreme Leader)

Xi believes every nation has a right to rule without interference from outside interests. An added economic reason is Iran’s supply of oil and petrochemicals to China.

Russia— Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Xi is not considered. The invasion is not addressed by Christensen because it had not happened at the time of this book. Russia’s invasion seems a violation of the sovereignty principal Xi endorses. Ukraine’s history as once being a part of the U.S.S.R. gives  political spin to Xi. Of course, this relates to China’s interest in repatriating Taiwan. An interesting point noted by Christensen about Taiwan is America’s choice to provide F-16s for their defense during George Bush ‘s administration, contrasting with President Biden’s statement that any supply of arms by China to Russia will have consequences. Biden reminds Xi of the many corporations that left Russia when they invaded Ukraine. One wonders about America’s threat to Xi if China chooses to provide arms to Russia. In light of America’s supply of F-16s to Taiwan, Xi might not care about the economic consequence of American companies leaving China.

Ukraine War

Christensen implies there is a love/hate relationship between Russia and China. The love is Xi’s policy of non-intervention in a countries sovereignty. The hate is the history of Chinese leaders who chose the path of communism and found Russia abandoned Stalinist beliefs that Mao supported. Xi is an authoritarian. He believes in the importance of the communist party and uses it to achieve nationalist objectives.


Christensen goes on to write about global warming and the world’s inadequate response.

Over 60% of the world’s pollution is caused by four government jurisdictions, i.e., America, China, the E.U., and India. China and America alone cause 40% of the pollution. On a per-capita basis, America is the worst, but China shows the most visible impact, measured by air quality and water. In a trip to China, one can see the main rivers in China are loaded with refuse.

At times, air pollution is so thick in Beijing that one cannot safely drive a car because drivers are unable to see the road or other vehicles.

Christensen does not believe either China or America or any nation-state will be singular hegemons of the world. Christensen implies “balance of power” will always be the guiding principle of international relations. China is faced with problems greater than America because of demographics (high population and aging statistics) and its early stage of economic development. China’s present economy and environmental conditions create a longer road for China’s rise to broad citizen prosperity.

The fundamental theme of Christensen’s book is American leadership needs to understand China better. Only with understanding will respect be engendered and comity restored. Both China’s and America’s leaders realize humanity lives on spaceship earth. Without nation-state respect and comity, all nations (not to mention humans) are destined for the grave.


 Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Life on Our Planet (My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future)

By: Sir David Attenborough, Jonnie Hughes

Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

In a memoir of one man’s life, David Attenborough (with the help of Jonnie Hughes) reviews earth’s degraded environment and humanity’s future. Sir Attenborough tells a personal story of his life as an English broadcaster, biologist, natural historian, and author.

Attenborough recalls his education as an educated naturalist, BBC commentator, and program producer of travels, the environment, and species decline around the world. His career spans over 50 years of experience–from meeting famous conservationists like Jane Goodall to exploring remote islands in search of native culture.

In nearly a century of life, Attenborough reflects on what he has personally experienced on earth with a life-long interest in environment. The first half of the book is about the beginning of civilization and environmental despoliation. The last half of Attenborough and Hughes’ story is about their “…Vision for the Future”.

From recollections of the 1950s to the present, “A Life on Our Planet” is earmarked by population growth and wilderness decline.

Attenborough and Hughes describe earth as a closed system. His analogy is that earth is a petri dish that grows bacteria that will consume the world if humans fail to change their ways. Interspecies dependance is challenged and changed by environmental degradation caused by human activity. From the destruction of whales in the era of whale hunting to deforestation of land by farming and industry, the authors argue the earth is being murdered by humanity.

Global warming from industrialization and deforestation accelerates earth’s death by warming oceans. Just as the cycle of life in the sea is disrupted by global warming–removing forests, overhunting, and species extinction disrupt life on land.

Coral turns from a living, colorful paradise to a dead and crumbling, bleached underwater forest. Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Much of what Attenborough notes is evident when one personally travels the world. In a recent trip to Southeast Asia, a Hmong guide explains how diet of people in Cambodia changed because of the loss of wild game in the country. Snakes and spiders were rarely eaten by native Cambodians. Now they are considered a delicacy and a source of income for people who raise them for consumption. In visiting Norway, fish farming is a growing industry to replenish depleted salmon stock, and despite Norway’s oil wealth, wind farms are seen throughout the country.

Listening to “A Life on Our Planet”, one holds their breath to hear the last half of Attenborough and Hughes’ book for their “…Vision for the Future.” So many authors decry the fate of humanity, one becomes jaded by dire predictions of ecologists and environmental experts.

Is there a solution that does not end with the extinction of human life? Life on earth is unlikely to end from human environmental mistakes, but human beings are one of many species on earth that will disappear if humanity fails to respond to the environmental crises of its own making.

The author’s “…Vision for the Future” gives one hope.

Except for their mistaken belief that measuring GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of success is an underlying singular cause of the world’s environmental disaster, they offer the idea of re-wilding the world. GDP will always be a part of societies’ measurement of success. However, the idea of re-wilding earth is a realistic solution to human life’s environmental Armageddon.

The principle of re-wilding the world is a practical solution that does not deny the natural instincts of humankind. The authors are suggesting countries of the world need to focus on bio-diversity policies that re-introduce lost species and promote current species of life.

A big step would be international agreement on fishing restrictions in different areas of the world (for enforced periods of time) that will allow ocean and waterway fish and mammal species to naturally propagate.

Similar to that is happening with Western Australia Fishing Restrictions.

According to science and experimental proof of established fishing area restrictions, food availability for a rising human population will improve.

A second point made by the authors is that women around the world must be liberated.

Repression of women has kept half the world from realizing its full potential. With free choice, women will be able to make their own decisions about work, family, and productivity. It is no coincidence that population growth in America slowed with the liberation of women who chose to have or not have children.

A third visionary idea is a nation’s choice on sources of energy.

Geothermal energy in New Zealand as an example.

Choosing to abandon fossil fuels will improve the air we breathe and reduce overheating of land and sea. In choosing renewable energy sources, the authors note two small countries have abandoned fossil fuels. Surprisingly, one is Albania. Having traveled there a few years ago, one could see how enterprising and vibrant the economy of Albania appears to be. The other fossil fuel independent country is Iceland which uses earth’s thermal energy to warm their homes from a sustainable, pollution free energy source.

A concern is raised about an aging population like that in Japan where women have chosen not to have children. What is unwritten by the authors is that many countries fail to open their borders to young people from other countries that have no work and limited opportunity in their home countries. There needs to be a growing understanding that all people of the world are on the same spaceship. In a perfect world, all people would be treated equally. It is not a perfect world, but GDP can drive countries to be more open to immigration.

“Dallas, Texas, United States – May 1, 2010 a large group of demonstrators carry banners and wave flags during a pro-immigration march on May Day.”

Attenborough has lived a long and interesting life. He offers listeners wisdom from being a witness to the truth about the world in which we live. This is not a story of the end of “…Life on Our Planet” but a formula for humanity’s continuation.

Humans can continue to despoil the environment. The consequence only makes human habitation impossible. Trees and wildlife are rewilding Chernobyl. Only humankind is unable to return.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Hidden History of Burma (Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century)

By: Thant Myint-U

Narrated by: Assaf Cohen

Author, Thant Myint-U, is the son of the former secretary-general of the UN, U Thant (1961-1971). His circle of acquaintances ranges from Presidents to diplomats to people on the street.

U Thant (Secretary-General of the United Nations 1961-1971, died in 1974 at the age of 65.)

Thant Myint-U’s report on Burma (aka today’s Myanmar) reveals a capitalist’s “canary in a coal mine”. “The Hidden History of Burma” reveals what can happen in capitalist countries that ignore the rising gap between rich and poor.

Like canaries, all people are not the same.

Thant Myint-U resurrects the reputation of Aung Suu Kyi, a leader of conscience. He exposes Myanmar’s 2021 military revolution and its unfair trial of Burma’s storied and unfairly maligned national patriot. Thant Myint-U’s history implies no leader of conscience could withstand the inept Burmese government’s management of human diversity that led to the accusation of Rohingya genocide in 2020.

Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese politician, diplomat, author and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureat. She is the daughter of Aung San, the Father of Independent Burma.)

Aung San (Burmese politician, Father of Burma independence from British rule, assassinated six months before independence granted.)

All capitalist economies are threatened by human greed when capitalism is unregulated. Capitalism falters when it fails to provide an adequate safety net to its citizens. When countries fail to offer an opportunity to acquire the basic needs of life, the poor disproportionately die. When the poor are not treated equitably by society, they have two choices. One is to bare unfair treatment and die. The other is to fight unfair treatment and die. (Note that is not to suggest hand-outs but to suggest hand-ups to jobs, income, and opportunity.)

Human nature compels a turn to God when one feels out of control.

One reason the Islamic religion is the fastest growing religion in the world is because many Muslims are poor. They live in countries where governments fail to treat diversity as a strength, not a burden.

Burma’s return to military autocracy is shown by Thant Myint-U to be a consequence of the gap between rich and poor, largely caused by an unregulated capitalist economy. Lack of capitalist regulation in autocracies or democracies make the rich richer and the poor poorer, the twain do meet but mostly in conflict.

Diversity in countries of the world is not new. Some level of diversity exists in every country.

Democracy is a form of government that can offer a voice to diversity. When democracy fails to respond to that voice, it risks revolution, and its consequence-autocracy. In “The Hidden History of Burma, Thant Myint-U shows Myanmar’s government is not listening to the voices of diversity.


There is a lesson for America in the story of Burma. The gap between rich and poor is rising. American Democratic capitalism is listening but struggling with its response. America does not have the history of Burma, but government leaders can learn something from Burma’s inept reaction to diversity.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Lies That Bind (Rethinking Identity)

By: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Narrated by: Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)

Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.

The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.

However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.

Kwame Anthony Appiah casts a lifebuoy to those swimming in the stormy sea of democracy.

Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.

“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.

Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.

Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist, historian, and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.

Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)

In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.

A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.

Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.

Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.

On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. The safety-net is one which provides equal access to education, health care, and employment, i.e., without regard to sex, race, religion, or ethnic qualification. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Other Slavery (The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America)

By: Andrés Reséndez

                                                           Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin

Andrés Reséndez (Author, Historian, Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.)

One suspects “The Other Slavery” is unknown or misremembered by most Americans. “The Other Slavery” is not about America’s civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation, or Abraham Lincoln. It is about indigenous peoples and their adaptation to a world turned upside down by newcomers from foreign lands.

Andrés Reséndez mostly focuses on the North American continent, particularly west and southwestern American territories and Mexico, but he also touches on slavery in Chile.

As is well known, slavery has been a societal constant since the beginning of recorded history. Today, it appears in pornography, low wage peonage, so-called re-education camps, and political/social incarcerations. What Reséndez explains is that Indian tribes of the west are increasingly incentivized by slavery with the arrival of foreigners. Though slavery may have been used by Indians earlier in history, it became a significant source of revenue for warring tribes.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano (aka Cortez), 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca.

Reséndez reminds listeners of internecine wars of early America when conquistadores and Indians ruled the American southwest.

One Indian tribe captures a different tribes’ sons, and daughters to trade for money, horses, guns, and butter from the Spanish or later settlers who need cheap labor or who seek domestic help and/or carnal pleasure. Reséndez notes young women’s slavery prices are higher than young men’s because of their dual service as domestic laborers and sex objects. Over time, as Spanish land holders are replaced by American land holders, Indians remain a source and victim of the slave industry.

Men, women, and children are used by land holders and competing Indian tribes as barter for trade.

Though slavery is the primary story, Reséndez notes wars between Spanish land barons and Pueblo Indians occur over rights to the land.

Santa Fe, New Mexico becomes a focal point of conflict between Pueblo Indians and the Spanish. The victimization of Pueblo Indian slaves leads to a rebellion that removes Spain from the New Mexico territory, at least for several years. However, the lure of silver brings Spain back with a slave trade resurgence in southwestern territories of America. Reséndez  explains the slave trade becomes endemic as silver is discovered in Mexico and the southwest territories.

The need for cheap labor in silver mines multiplies the value of Indian slaves in the southwest.

The slave trade never dies. Greed drives Indian tribes to steal people from different Indian’ tribes to profit from human sales to landowners looking for cheap labor. Reséndez notes it is not just Indians victimizing Indians but American and Spanish landowners buying young men and women Indians and other human victims to serve as low-cost labor for silver mining, farming, and domestic service.

Reséndez notes male slaves were more difficult to manage than women slaves but for strength males were coveted for their labor in silver mining. Some of the mines were deep in the earth, all were dangerous. Underground mines were flooded with carcinogenic mercury tailings that shortened the lives of those who worked there.

Slavery goes by many names. As is known by historians, the Dawes act further victimizes native Americans.

Reséndez reveals how slavery has always been a part of society. Self-interest is a motive force of human nature. Slavery is found in penal colonies of authoritarian governments to provide cheap labor. Slavery is also found in democratic governments that legislatively reduce the cost of labor based on corporate influence on public policy. A free market, not lobbyist influence, should determine public policy.

The hope for elimination of slavery lies in government policy that reinforces belief in human equality and a balance between corporate profit and cost of labor as determined by a free market.