Posted in book review

Isaac Newton as he was

Isaac Newton: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I never particularly liked Newton despite his paramount discovery of the law of Universal Gravity from the fallen apple tree in his mother’s little garden. Maybe it was his somber, irate facial expression adorned with a long white wig. He was a reluctant spiritual godfather of physicists Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, whose theoretical findings are based on and upgraded from Newtonian laws of physics. However, being a keen observer of human characteristics, I am inclined to write the review about Newton’s personality traits, not a drab biological chronology and analyses of his laws of motion.

Isaac Newton was never the kind of chap whom you could be jovial with. If you caught Newton in a cafeteria or a coffeehouse and asked for an autograph, he would first give you a look with an exasperated grimacing and either reluctantly succumb to your request if he was in a good mood or curtly said, “I am busy.” His gaucheness in social interactions might be due to a deficiency in maternal affection and care. Newton’s mother willingly separated from her young and tender son when she married her second husband after the death of Newton’s father, whose name was also Isaac Newton. Although I object to profiling any kind and any person because it leads to a grave miscarriage of justice in many cases, Newton’s character profile doesn’t read favorably in any of his writings. To illustrate, Newton used to be harsh on his family servants, whom he often mistreated with corporeal measures and hit his younger sister. Nevertheless, his genius purchased indemnity for all his character flaws and beautified them as individual eccentricities endemic to the intellectual elites.

But the illustrated Godfather of Science was also a discreet practitioner of alchemy in search of the Philosopher’s Stone to turn it into gold. I wonder if all of the laws of motion Newton discovered were unexpected comeuppance of his private practice of alchemy. Not surprisingly, Newton kept his behind-the-façade business, and it was until the mid-18th century that the truth came to shine in his journal. Despite its occultist nature and nuance, Alchemy was also not too far from chemistry in studying metals according to three principles: Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury, based on four elements of air, earth, fire, and water. To this fascinating manipulation of heaven and earth, Aristotle added the 5th element of aether that was believed to fill the universe beyond the terrestrial sphere. The weightlessness due to the absence of gravity occurs in outer space full of invisible aether propagating light waves. As Newton’s principal muse to inspire his scientific musings, Aristotle is plausible to understand Newton’s fascination with alchemy. He treated it not as a magical practice but as a branch of chemistry that would have looked magical to the uninitiated.

Grumpy as he was, Newton was nonetheless a remarkable individual who devoted life to the pursuit of truth, a satisfaction of reason, in the temple of science, believing there are more than material bodies in this world, which became a foundation of quantum physics. With his head filled with the mystery of numbers and frail body subsisted on the nourishment on the mind, Newton was a lifetime bachelor without chivalric anecdotes or sybaritic tell-tales. Instead, he spurred his energy on his studies, wallowing in the delicacy of quiet and uneventful solitude. Newton influenced multidisciplinary studies including philosophy, and music, with his laws of motion, especially making the word “inertia” so democratically popular with the public that British pop band Blur made it a title song in their first Leisure album. You don’t have to like Newton to appreciate his contribution to the consilience of science and humanities. But it wouldn’t hurt you to learn what makes him enshrined in the Parthenon of civilization of humankind, even though he wasn’t a nice person to chat with.

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‘Joan of Arc: A Life from beginning to end’ by Hourly History – review

Joan of Arc: A Life From Beginning to EndJoan of Arc: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They condemned her as an irreparable heretic, apostate, idolater, and witch and then burned her at stake even though she saved them from their enemy. And yet, in spite of such egregious treachery of her own countrymen, she knew no surrender to fear with stalwart faith in the Cause she intransigently believed to be her divine mission from the greatest man above as the flame rose to her nose, and then engulfed her therein, turning her to ashes. She was no less a figure than Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, the Virgin of Lorraine, whose bravery and belief – be it ever spiritual or psychological- epitomizes existential will to meaningfulness to live a purposeful life, as is vividly and elegantly related in this book.

Each chapter draws up on the substantial aspects of Joan’s purposes, acts, and achievements rather than illustrates religious or spiritual overtones in anecdotes or legends to glow her in a halo. The narrative takes us to where Joan of Arc witnessed the English occupiers’ hectoring of her village folks, including little children by beating, and we feel her indignation at the perpetrators of such violence on her soil. We also come to know that the divine messages she received were not directly from God but through St. Michael, the archangel, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine as the messengers of God with the three divine missions. That Joan of Arc had three cardinal missions of (1) taking up arms; (2) rallying the French to defeat the English occupying army; and (3) putting the Dauphine Charles on the French throne betokens her guiding lights of her life, her purpose of life that constantly reminded her of a “why” to live for. So we follow Joan, a tall and lean girl with her raven hair cut in bob attired in shining armor that weighted about twenty pounds to the frontlines of hand-to-hand combats fighting against the English army without her helmet on to boost morale of the French soldiers and got her neck pierced by an arrow. Then the narrative puts us forward to the dark cell of Joan harassed by five lewd English guards and to the heaps of stake where her body was consumed to ashes.

The lucidly vivid descriptions of each chapter in cogently casual narrative are the elemental force of this book that brings the grist to the mill for the visualization of the whole story as though it were played on a screen. In fact, while I was reading toward the end of the book, a song called “Bigmouth Strikes Again” by the Smiths, in which Morrissey sings, “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt” was starting to being played in my mental stereo set with heightened emotions. It also illustrates the canonical facts that many of us may be unaware of: (1) that it was the French, including the dauphin who later became Charles VI wholly thanks to Joan, who sold her to the English; (2) that Joan, for none other reason than being only human, attempted at several escapes which ended in foils; and that (3) it was twenty-two years after her death on fraudulent grounds of treachery and heresy that the Trial of Rehabilitation exonerated her from such preposterously erroneous charges, thanks to the troubling conscience of Charles VI who belatedly endeavored to make it happen.

This is an excellent primer on further study on Joan of Arc with a comprehensive overview of the time as regards the relationship between the Church and the politics, the role of the Church, and its dominance over society, let alone people. It will induce you to look at Joan of Arc not as mythological French virgin whose legacy exclusively appertains to the French as their patron saint only, but as a human who tried to do what she believed was right despite any biological or social inhibitions that she had to rise above. In this regard, Joan is an emblematic figure of courage, hope, and self will to achieve her existential values as someone with purposes in life, someone whom we can identify with in one way or another in our daily struggles of contemporary life. Upon reading this book, you will come to understand what made the American humorist Mark Twain offer such approbation: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” Indeed, her steadfast attitude toward her firm belief is something we can deem truly inspiring and remedial to apply to our own way of fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks in life.

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‘The Sumerians: A History From Beginning to End’, by Hourly History – review

The Sumerians: A History From Beginning to End (Mesopotamia History Book 1)The Sumerians: A History From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been interested in this mysterious ancient people who were the first inventor of the systematic written language in the history of human civilization. No eminent academics have ascertained where they were from. Subsequently, many a civilization claimed to be their descendants, ranging from the Caucasians to the Indians and even to the Far Easterners. But one thing is certain that the civilization of this enigmatic people merits itself as the cradle of civilization on the grounds of the following characteristics: (1) social structure based upon diverse economic sectors; (2) religious system concomitant with system of government; (3) advances in technology contributing to the cultural and scientific enterprises; and (4) written language, which is the bedrock of any known human civilization. They were the Sumerians. In fact, the Sumerian legacies are the sine qua non of a broad substratum of our modern cultural and social infrastructure. Notwithstanding such contributions, the Sumerians are still veiled in mysterious mist; no one knows for sure where these people came from and then vanished, leaving us with their brilliant legacies as their gifts to human history. Which makes the Sumerians all the more interesting and enigmatic as vividly and elegantly related in this book.

The Sumerian civilization burgeoned in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, also known as one of the River-Valley Civilizations, in modern day Iraq for almost 4,000 years. The staging of the Sumerians in history was akin to a dramatic entrance of a dark horse on stage. In around 3,300 B.C. a group of outsiders with “straight black heads” from nowhere, and they called themselves “Sumerians.” However shady and murky their backgrounds might be, the Sumerians were already smart and practical when they arrived at the land with their already fully developed written language and scientific knowledge, especially on irrigation systems. To elucidate, the priests oversaw the design and building of irrigation systems as something of civil engineers who also controlled the building of embankments to prevent flooding of agricultural land during rainy season in order to allow the rapid transport of produce from farms to cities. In fact, these two inventions are regarded as the most highly advanced and influential enterprises that betoken their cultural sophistication and engineering feats that are hardly inferior to those of ours in modern time. The irrigation resulted from a need of bringing water from the rivers to the fields, and the whole procedure was exclusively operated by the priests, who negotiated with farmers for water supply in exchange of a portion of the harvested crop.

With respect to the writing system, it is known as “the cuniform” engraved in the form of wedge-shaped markings made in wet clay using sharp reeds. And this the necessity of writing came from an accounting need of recording the amounts of agricultural produce. But the Sumerian writing was more than a language of commerce. It also blossomed into an art of literature modeled for other writings, such as famous biblical stories of the Garden of Eden, the Ark of Noah, and the Book of Job were all based upon Sumerian stories allegedly based upon true events that had occurred to them. Also, the words “saffron” and “cane” we use today are derived from the cuniform.

Since Sumerians also instituted farming of the land, instead of being a nomadic hunter-gather people, they established a village as a permanent settlement, which begot food surpluses, creating diverse social structures, including a compartmentalized class system and various types of work unrelated to farming. Sumerians also produced the first codes of law and the first written literature in the form of pieces of writing, such as the Sumerian proverbs as wittingly inserted in the beginning of every chapter of this book. For instance, on the subject of married life one Sumerian man uttered thus: “For his pleasure he got married. On his thinking it over, he got divorced.”Which also bespeaks a permission of divorce in Sumerian society. Sumerians treasured monogamous marriage in which a man gave gifts to the bride and her family upon agreement to a marriage contract. Besides, women were not confined in domestic restraints; they could work as scribes, weavers, and proprietress of businesses.

There were four strata of social class in Sumerian society as follows:

  • Nobles: Senior priests and warriors and their families who owned the most of the land. The nobles distinguished themselves by resplendent clothing made of fine fabrics and impressive jewelry with their shaved heads. They all lived in temples and palaces in the center of the cities where the irrigation systems and commercial centers were located.
  • Commoners: Traders, artisans, merchants, scribes, and craftsmen. In fact, scribes were held in high esteem because of their dual role as accountants. Commoners also owned a small portion of land.
  • Clients: Senior administrators and temple personnel working for nobles who lived in small houses in highly congested streets close to the city walls or outside cities on farms.
  • Slaves: Manual laborers who were prisoners of war or sold into slavery due to the inability to pay the debts. Also, fathers of free people could sell their children into slavery to raise the funds. (So Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge in which a man sold his wife and daughter in a public market had its legal foundation in the Sumerian practice.) However, slaves could merry free people and purchase manumission themselves.

The emergence of the above-referenced class system indicates that the Sumerian economic infrastructure was constituted by a variety of business sectors developed in the cities with food surpluses, highly advanced irrigation systems to transport water from the rivers to the farms, and solid military prowess endowed by professional solders and inventions of steel chariots used at war for the first time in history.

In conclusion, the Sumerian contributions to our modern civilization as a collective enterprise are deeply entrenched in many aspects of our life, whether or not we know or even care, because well, let’s face it, history is written by a winner, a victor, a survivor who lives to tell beyond the boundaries of time and space. In this regard, the Sumerians might not be ostentatious de riguer per se victors because just like their mysterious origin, their demise as a sovereign entity with their direct descendants to whom their cultural artifacts and legacies stunned the proliferation of its heritage. Nonetheless, the Sumerian civilization bestrides one of the world’s most significant ancient civilizations that left indelible marks on our cumulative cultural progress as elliptically put by the following Sumerian proverb: “What comes out from the heart of the tree is known by the heart of the tree.” You see, the Sumerians were indeed brilliant. Nothing could be further from the truth.