covers ad larger image
morton ad morton ad 1 remarkable story ad nine covers ad morton ad morton ad


Turn of Mind

by Alice LaPlante

Atlantic Monthly Press | 2011 | 305 pages | $24.00

Reviewed by Sarah Vogelsong

alice laplant

Novelists sitting down to work inevitably face two important decisions. The first concerns the content of the novel and the second concerns the form that that content will take, or the framework on which the story is hung. Human imagination is virtually boundless and the world is full of strange and fantastic stories, so the generation of cohesive and compelling content is itself no small feat—but it is the way in which an author approaches the second task of determining structure that distinguishes the storyteller from the artist.

The artist realizes that half or more of the story is its framework, in the same way that the poured concrete of a house’s foundation sets firm its shape, size, atmosphere, and proportions. The perspective that an author takes, how narration will proceed, what will be revealed and what concealed are all issues of equal importance with a book’s who, what, when, and where.

Form brings drama and depth to content, and content gives form humanity, beauty, and a reason to exist at all. These elements are co-dependent: novels that rely too heavily on form bog down in academicism and pedantry, and novels that are completely driven by content veer toward the journalistic. An artist allows the two to inform each other, and it is this unity that produces the truth and understanding that characterize our best literature.

Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind is a brilliant example of this fusion of form and content. The story is gripping, and in the hands of a less sensitive author could easily have become a standard thriller. Its main character and narrator, Dr. Jennifer White, is a 65-year-old former hand surgeon who is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Some eight months after her diagnosis, already suffering from significant loss of memory and unexpected bouts of aggression, Dr. White’s neighbor and friend Amanda is found dead in her house with four fingers neatly cut off.

Luckily, LaPlante is not content to merely focus on the process of the murder investigation; rather, she allows this story to shape and unfold jointly with the account of Dr. White’s illness.

The most unique aspect of this unusual novel is its strong and complete narrative voice. It would have been simple for LaPlante to use a third-person narrative or assign that role to one of White’s children or her caretaker. But by placing White in this position, the reader gains a whole new level of investment in the story, as well as great insight into its characters and themes. The portrayal of White is nothing short of masterful.

Early in the novel, the doctor explains that she keeps a notebook in order to maintain control of a life that is increasingly slipping away from her—an explanation that is entirely in keeping with a character who is often controlled and clinical to the point of coldness.

The narrative slips smoothly between the present and the past, aligning with White’s mental degeneration. The opening line of the book—“Something has happened”—perfectly sets the course of the novel, which demands that the reader also undergo the painful process of facing increasingly incomprehensible situations. Certain details are repeated again and again as the gaps in the doctor’s mind grow wider, but the lapses permit long-buried memories to resurface, fleshing out the complicated relationships between the characters and illuminating their present situations.

The other characters are consistent and finely drawn as well, with careful attention paid to the rhythm and tone of their interactions with the narrator. White’s daughter, Fiona, a somewhat unstable girl juggling great responsibilities, leaves her mother several long, self-involved stories in the notebook. (who?) requests are shorter, more aggressive, less pleading.

What ultimately emerges from Turn of Mind is a profound account of dying and, particularly, the process of human corruption. Hands are critically important to this story and to the character of Dr. White. They appear not only in her surgery and as missing fingers on Amanda’s dead body, but in the many religious icons that Dr. White cherishes. When the detective in charge of the murder case asks Dr. White why Amanda’s fingers may have been cut off after death, she proposes that the severing might be a symbolic gesture of stopping corruption and rot from spreading to the more vital parts of the body.

Tellingly, the doctor identifies corruption as her greatest fear, defining it as “the act or process of tainting or contaminating something. To cause something that has integrity to become rotten.” And, as the doctor’s reserve and barriers break down over the course of the novel, she muses on her decision to focus on hands as a career: “I want the hands, the fingers, the parts that connect us to the things of this world.” Coming from a woman whose relationships are mostly based on power dynamics, her words strike a surprising note of longing and vulnerability.

Turn of Mind is essentially a tragic novel. For all of its characters’ striving toward purity and ethical behavior, LaPlante seems to gently be reminding her readers that corruption—whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical—is unavoidable for human beings. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the novel, I was reminded of the great words of T. S. Eliot, crying out at the conclusion of The Wasteland: “These fragments I have shored against my ruin.” In the face of ruin brought by life and death, the fragments offered here by LaPlante are indeed worth much.

Return to home page



by R. Zamora Linmark

Coffee House Press | 2011 | 355 pages | $15.95

Reviewed by Michael Carey

author r zamor linmark

Before reading Linmark’s Leche, I had limited experience with Filipinos and even less knowledge of their history and culture. Linmark’s writing captures both and explores them with insight and humor while working through the story of the main character, Vince’s, search for home.

Vince is a gay Filipino American who moved to Hawaii from San Vicente in the Philippines at the age of ten to be with his parents. They had left him and his two siblings to be raised by their grandfather. His parents abandoned him. Years later, he is abandoned once again when his grandfather sends him back to his parents, where he witnesses their struggling marriage and eventual divorce. Vince has lost his sense of home. Thirteen years after moving to Hawaii and after several failed relationships, Vince is finally ready to find the answers to the questions that plague his mind.

Vince is first runner-up in a pageant and wins a trip to Manila to escort the queen of a festival. Linmark paints the city’s chaos, heat, passion, and life through Vince’s experience there. I found Vince’s complaining overwhelming at times and funny at others, but as I learned more about Vince, his character became real and life-like. Dealing with his own personal issues Vince looks for love and lust, stands up to his national identity, and is shaken by dreams (the bangungut is believed to kill Filipinos in their sleep).

Leche is a book about contradiction:  the title, the country it takes place in, and the quest Vince finds himself on without even realizing it. The word leche in Spanish means “milk,” while in the Philippines, it is a curse word, “shit”. Leche both provides nourishment and is filth. Throughout the book, Linmark strategically places lists of tourist tips. They are humorous and interesting, and when the story didn’t quite peak my interest, I would look ahead to see how much further until I reached another set of tourist tips. Having said that, the last two of the book read:

   The culture is open and growing and continuing to change as the country and its people survive, and in this it breaks from the constraints of stereotypes. As for Vince, his journey through Manila and his memories grow more personal and deep through the novel. We finally see what Vince struggles with and hope that he has found his answer, as it wasn’t stated explicitly (for me) in the end. It wasn’t until I reread the introductory quotes that I found some form of understanding. “Resist – a plot is brought home – The tour,” is from Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels. And “But to draw the lessons of the good that came my way, I will describe the other things I saw,” from Dante’s Inferno. Linmark chose these quotes to bring the reader’s attention to the theme that it is the lessons learned along the journey that show us home.

Linmark has created an exceptional journey of growth and discovery. I had my own reservations at times while reading Leche, but I found the arc to be rewarding in the end. I now question whether I would like to visit the Philippines based on Linmark’s colorful descriptions of Manila, but the wealth of history and culture he presents along with Vince’s story make me feel like I was already there.

Return to home page


Gryphon: New and Selected Stories

by Charles Baxter

Pantheon | 2011 | 416 pages | $27.95

Reviewed by Sally Cobau

charles baxter

Sleight of Hand:  The Enigmatic Stories of Charles Baxter

If you go to Charles Baxter’s website, you will be invited to ask the author a question—any question.  It seemed so perfectly “Baxter-ish” (at least the Baxter I knew from his stories and novels) so I set about formulating my question.  I think of Baxter as a heady writer, not lofty exactly, but sometimes his intelligence (or rather his characters’ intelligence) gets them in trouble.  (Their laziness/dreaminess gets them in trouble, too.)

Finally I decided on a rather bland question, although Baxter is far from a bland writer.  I asked him how his writing had changed since he’d gotten older.  I fired my e-mail into the “great void” and wondered how long it would take for a response.  Maybe there would be no response.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I checked my e-mail a couple of hours later and there was a reply.

I wondered briefly, but worriedly if perhaps Charles Baxter shouldn’t have been doing something better with him time instead of answering e-mail, but then I just got excited that an author I admired had written me back.

If this were a Baxter story that e-mail would lead to something mysterious--perhaps an unnerving encounter or at least a perplexing kink in the consciousness of the protagonist (me).

As it was, Baxter replied with a straightforward enough answer about how his writing has evolved, yet a trace of the mischievous, quixotic writer was there in the e-mail.  Thank goodness.  That’s what I expect from a writer who makes me stew over his writing to a ridiculous degree.  I know I shouldn’t be thinking about one of his characters when I wake up at night, but that’s how “under the skin” his stories can get.  I want to solve the puzzles in his stories, to reach some sort of Keats-ian “truth,” but there is no truth in these slippery stories.  Or rather the truth is always just out of reach.

The stories in Gryphon: New and Selected Stories are varied in the respect that they are told from different perspectives—the elderly, teenagers, women, men—but they have some elements in common.  Most of the stories are unsettling, slightly jarring, although it is often hard to pinpoint exactly why they are jarring and what is unsettling about them. 

The stories can start simply enough—a blossoming romance, working in the garden—but “reality” soon shifts and cracks within the characters’ lives.  Rather than being scared by an event or person the characters should probably be scared of, the characters seem to crave an erosion of boring, choking normalcy.  For example when a man stalks a woman who has a newborn (he actually breaks into the woman’s house), rather than being frightened, the woman is intrigued and begins to date him.  As readers we feel that what she’s doing is foolish, but she is lonely enough to want this, and in fact, the dating results in a much-needed change for the woman. 

The stories may seem to be heading towards a catastrophic ending, only to have Baxter pull back and leave the ending hanging.  Often it is hard to determine whether characters are “good” or “bad.”  No story fits this bill more acutely than “Kiss Away.”  I read this story ten or so years ago and it gave me the creeps (but in an oh-so-good way); I read the story again to review this collection and I swear I was unnerved all over again, though I knew the ending.

The plot of the story is fairly simple.  A girl named Jodie falls in love with a guy named Glaze.  Glaze is a typical Baxter male--a kind of reckless, unambitious “dude.”  By thirds, magician, clown, and young child, Glaze is the perfect anti-hero, and unapologetic about being a “drop-out.”  Jodie who is craving a “big love” falls madly in love with him.  They start making plans together and Jodie finds herself happier than she’s ever been. 

The only oddity is a trickster character who lurks in the shadows (a fat guy with hideous eyes) who says he can grant Jodie’s wishes.  Jodie basically ignores him, but then gets a message from a distraught female, an ex-lover of Glaze’s who insists on meeting up with Jodie.  When they meet at a restaurant, a very pregnant woman soon claims that Glaze was abusive—that he would binge drink and then beat her up. 

Although Jodie is certain that the woman is making it all up, there is enough in the story to make her question her relationship.  In the end, Jodie is left with her lover, but the relationship has become tenuous.  Why she believes the woman is hard to say.  Or maybe she doesn’t, but the reader does.  In any case, I leave the story feeling disoriented—much like the character of Jodie—confused about what I think I know.

Also on Baxter’s website, is a series of questions and answers (by Baxter) about his short story “Gryphon,” the title story in the collection.  Like my feelings in “Kiss Away,” my reaction to the story was visceral.  In this case, a substitute teacher named Miss Ferenczi comes in to the narrator’s class and virtually turns the children’s perception of reality on its head.  Instead of relying on history, she uses myths to educate the children.  Instead of giving the children “rules,” she makes suggestions.  She goes pretty far with her musings and stories, yet when the children learn from Miss Ferenczi, they are fully engaged with the world and full of wonder. 

At one point in the story, Miss Ferenczi reads the children’s fortunes.  She tells the class that one of the children will die (the narrator’s future is also read, yet we never learn what she tells him).  Needless to say, this causes quite a commotion and Miss Ferenczi is dismissed.  I feel that many authors would end the story, perhaps in the last paragraph, with a pithy explanation that the boy’s fortune does come true—that he does eventually die.  In that case, the reader may feel more compelled to appreciate Miss Ferenczi.  However, we do not learn the fates of the students or of how the knowledge (misknowledge?) will affect them.  Rather they return to “normal life” and “normal schooling,” perhaps irrevocably altered.

In a different sort of story—one of the last ones in the collection—a writer is sent on assignment to interview a millionaire recluse for a men’s magazine.  The writer finds himself ensnared by the Idaho wilderness and entangled in a complex domestic situation—the millionaire has not only a wife and girlfriend, but possibly a love relationship with his kids’ tutor as well.  The feel of the story is creepy, cinematic, full of innuendo.  One feels that the narrator could easily slip from his life into the exotic world offered in the story.  Perhaps we are always one step away from a different reality, a life that could be ours if we made even the smallest move.

Although I enjoy Baxter’s novels, his short stories seem especially suited for his peculiar style.  Sometimes the play between dreaminess and reality doesn’t hold in his longer works, but in short stories the tension between the two makes the stories crackle with energy and intensity.

There are stories where ambiguity is not wanted.  But then there are stories like Baxter’s where the mystery is part of the beauty.  There are some lines from poems and songs that have puzzled me for years.  Sometimes I return to these words in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.  I want to know what they mean—a line from a Neal Young song, a line from the poets Leonard Cohen and Emily Dickinson, a line from Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana.

It may seem a silly thing to puzzle inscrutable words and phrases deep into the night and whenever I mention the lines I wonder about to other people, they look at me like I’m a fool for spending so much time on something that is indeed unknowable, but I cannot help myself. 

Baxter’s like this—though I’ll never know whether Glaze is good or bad—evil, in fact, or just a happy-go-lucky hippie kid, I still like to form my brain around the question.  Maybe it just relates to human need to make sense out of the unruliness around us.  After all, we often possibly choose to ignore the mysteries that are right in front of us.

Return to home page


The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories

by Susi Wyss

A Holt Paperback | 2011 | 226 pages | $15.00

Reviewed by Madeleine Mysko

Woven Stories

susi wyss

Some time ago, at a literary festival in Baltimore, I took a seat under a tent and heard Susi Wyss read from a story that I remember now as having been drawn from her years of working in Africa. Though I don’t recall the mention of a novel, I do recall the sense that I was listening to but a snatch of a larger narrative. That day in Baltimore, as the crowds drifted past the tent where a small but appreciative audience had gathered, I could feel the pull of strong threads at the edges of the brief passage Wyss read to us.

Now I have the pleasure of reading Susi Wyss’s debut novel, The Civilized World.  The novel bears a subtitle: A Novel in Stories. I’ll confess up front that, as a devotee of the short story—a form that commercial publishers tend to give short shrift in their quest for the next best-selling novel—I was put off by that subtitle, suspecting that it was just a marketing ploy to attract readers who pass over short stories. As for me, I prefer to discover for myself, thank you very much, what I hold in my hands—novel or story collection, or some nonce form they’re calling a “novel-in-stories” (something other than “linked stories”?)

It is a fact that four of the nine chapters in The Civilized World have appeared already in respected literary journals, not as novel excerpts but as stories standing strong in their own right.  And yet The Civilized World is not a collection of well-crafted stories tied up in one package by a common theme (such as multiculturalism) or by a shared setting (such as Africa). Nor is it a collection of stories in which a character might appear front and center in one story and then reappear, like Alfred Hitchcock in cameo, on the opposite street corner of the next story. My suspicion about the subtitle aside, in the end it seems to me that Wyss does indeed present the reader with a novel, and that she has indeed woven that novel out of separate stories.  Moreover, Wyss’s weaving methods are wise and artful; to remove any one of the story threads would be to unravel the beautiful whole.

And so we follow Adjoa from Ghana, whose travel to the Ivory Coast brings her both the money to open a beauty salon back home and a heart-breaking loss; Ophelia from Connecticut, whose travel to Malawi with her foreign service husband strains their marriage; Comfort from Accra, whose travel to the United States is necessary because her son Ekow (now called Peter) has married the American Linda; and Janice of the title story, whose years in Africa afford her an understanding of region and culture, while at the same time distancing her from the country she long ago called home.

Throughout, Wyss manages to create crossings for the separate story lines that are convincing and compelling.  She gets double and triple duty out of each character’s very distinctive point of view. Remarkably, these characters—women so different from each other, not only in origin and culture but also in temperament—share parallel conflicts that are all the more shimmering for light they cast, one on the other. Their parallel conflicts have to do with children and the longing for them, with husbands and lovers, with attitudes about race and culture, and ultimately with the true meaning of “home” in the civilized world.

I know that sometimes a good short story becomes the kernel from which a novel later grows. Characters can hang with a writer, begging more time in which to wander and grow old. Certain places—I think of Joyce’s Dublin— begin to generate characters too large to be confined in a slim book of stories. But The Civilized World doesn’t read like a good story that was subsequently elongated, any more than it reads like several good stories pieced together. Rather it reads like a novel that developed over time, out of that wisdom time affords a mature writer—a novel in which separate stories become multiple levels of each other, as though it were always meant to be.

It seems to me that Comfort is on to something when she tells the women in Adjoa’s Precious Brother Beauty Salon that “there are no accidents,” that there must be a reason why certain paths cross in this life. Comfort is also the character who says wryly that travel is a good thing, because at the very least it makes you glad to get home—bittersweet irony in that for the reader, who has traveled with Comfort to the foreignness of Washington, D.C., where her son Ekow/Peter is a father now, and where she learns that the strange trees losing their leaves aren’t actually dead, but are living out a cycle—“a cycle that paralleled life itself, including her own.”

Readers know that there are no accidents in a well-crafted novel. Behind this novel there is an author whose methods are sure and deliberate, who allows one character to ask the question—“What does it mean to be civilized anyway?”—and then allows the novel to answer “in stories.”

Madeleine Mysko is a poet, essayist, and author of the novel, Bringing Vincent Home (Plain View Press, 2007).  She teaches creative writing in the Advanced Academic Programs of The Johns Hopkins University.  A registered nurse, she serves as coordinator of the “Reflections” column for American Journal of Nursing.

Return to home page


Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion

by Michael Levy

Henry  Holt & Company | 2011 | 240 pages

Reviewed by Janet Garber

michael levy

Fun and Games in China

Most HR people will tell you that one of the most difficult tasks we encounter is the one assigned to me (“You’re HR; you do it!”) back in 1985: to tell an employee that she has B.O.  This was not a mild case either – fellow employees insisted they could not work in the same room.  They couldn’t breathe.  They suggested to me that maybe it was her exotic diet, too much curry in her food, and did those people really bathe as often as Americans?  Oy vey, I thought, I better intervene before this turns into an international incident or, more likely, a human rights discrimination case.

I brought the young lady into my office and asked casually about her morning routine.  I suggested that a morning shower was a good idea.  I inquired about her commute.  Well, she told me she took the train to our Long Island town and then proceeded to walk the two or three miles to the office.  Aha!  Eureka!  So I had the cause – perhaps – now to communicate as delicately as possible what the problem was.  I don’t remember my exact words all these years later, but I remember her exact words:  “I don’t get it.” 

All I could think was how many different ways are there to tell someone they stink?!  I prayed – not for the last time in my career – for the floor under my desk to open up and swallow me.  I looked at the floor and saw that wasn’t going to happen.  I started in again.

I was reminded of this incident on page 55 of Kosher Chinese when Mike Levy, Peace Corps Volunteer in rural China in 2005, is faced with telling a sweet college student why the English name she has chosen for herself – Pussy – is not a great choice.  She doesn’t get it either and the resulting conversation is laugh-out-loud funny.  And then he’s confronted with Moron and Shitty, who insists she likes the sound of her name.

At this point in the book, I was hopeful – could Mike Levy be another Bill Bryson?  Only A Walk in the Woods gets me hysterical, giggling and snorting no matter where I happen to be reading.  But alas –

Mike is a genial narrator who shares his two years in Guiyang with us.  He’s 29, has taught in the U.S. and now is assigned to teaching ESL classes to both undergrads and graduate students.  He’s tall, reasonably athletic and willing so he’s drafted onto the basketball team.  He’s curious so he wanders into a village of Chinese ethnic minorities, deemed “dangerous,” and makes the acquaintance of some adorable elementary school students whose lives he tries to enrich.  And finally, because he’s Jewish, secular but observant of kosher rules, he creates a Friday night ritual with some of his students whose knowledge of Jews does not extend beyond Einstein and Marx.

Mike determines to open up the minds of his students, get them talking freely.  He immerses himself in local culture, overcoming his squeamishness, meeting his students more than halfway, eventually digging into delicacies like fried insects, dog meat and (ready for this?) deer cock wine.  They are patient with him, explaining that China now practices “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” though most of them are not completely sure what this entails.  Sadly, they realize that they have very limited prospects, living in a rural area rather than in Beijing or Shanghai.  More than one professes to feeling extremely lost in today’s society and turn to him for counsel on matters ranging from real estate to love matches.

Often Mike corrects his students on factual detail: No, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is not Jewish.  But they won’t brook correction; the standard reply is, “We read it in a book.”  Just when he starts to feel superior about American culture, they point out some of the hypocrisies as they see them: American capitalism is all about power and money, the power is in the hands of the corporations and the rich, voting is not important because George Bush can’t run for another term anyway so there is nothing to hold him to the law.  We see the immense gulf in understanding and communicating.  “Every explanation required a definition; every definition required a history lesson; every history lesson required an interpretation. Why didn’t’ the FBI follow the law?  What was the law?  What did the Patriot Act actually say?  Was it constitutional?   There wasn’t time to give Shitty a lesson on the separation of powers, or tell Kitten about Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.” Anyone who has ever traveled abroad and interacted with the natives has experienced this kind of culture gap though here it is more pronounced than usual. 

This book is deceptively simple, a good read, charming and funny, but also one that gives the reader much to mull over.  This reader wished for a bit more in the way of confidences: Mike tells us he’s attracted to a few women, actually lusts after them, but never mentions whether, in two years, he has any romantic adventures.  Surely, that would have added to an understanding of the Chinese culture! 

So we’re to believe that teaching and playing basketball and drinking great quantities of liquor, a social necessity, are enough to keep him happy.  I didn’t buy it.  Something’s missing from this story and it detracts from the whole.   He’s a red-blooded American male in his prime – he needed to at least comment on his lack of romance, if that’s what it was. 

Another quibble:  the title!  It’s really silly and attention getting, but a misleading distraction.  An East Coast middle-class American lands in an alien landscape and finds he has as much to learn about their way of thinking as he has to teach them about his own.  By his own admission, he’s a secular Jew, a sometime agnostic who enjoys the rituals and traditions of Judaism – ok, but so what?  Would his experiences have been that different if he had been a Christian from Kansas?  Fuhgettaboutit!  Mike, next time, give us some juicy details so we can really understand the East-West divide!

Return to home page


Leonardo to the Internet: Technology & Culture from the Renaissance to the Present

by Thomas J. Misa

John Hopkins University Press

Reviewed by Ken Liebeskind

thomas j misa

A book that traces the history of technology from the Renaissance to the modern day has a lot to cover. One thinks of technology as a means to advance human culture and opportunity, but Thomas J. Misa’s  Leonardo to the Internet focuses on the ways it has been used to wage war, from Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of gunpowder weapons to the development of nuclear bombs during World War II.

The book spans from discussions of Leonardo “exploded-view drawings for wheel lock assemblies and a magnificent drawing of workers guiding a huge cannon barrel through the midst of a bustling foundry”, to U.S. Brigadier General Leslie Groves, who spearheaded the uranium enrichment process prior to the development of the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima


“The Hiroshima bomb,” Misa’s notes, was “a simple gun-type device code named Little Boy, worked by firing one subcritical mass of uranium-235 into another, creating a single larger critical mass.”.

    Misa also examines poison gas manufacture during World War I and points out that “German soldiers attacked the village of Ypres, in Flanders, opened 6,000 cylinders of chlorine and watched a yellow-green cloud scatter the French defenders.”

    He then quickly moves ahead to the entanglement of the German chemical industry with the Third Reich, focusing on I.G. Farben pointing out that “Farben made synthetic explosives, synthetic fuels and synthetic rubber for the National Socialist war effort. Many have never forgiven its provision to the Nazis of Zyklon B (the death camp gas), its nerve-gas experiments on camp inmates and its use of up to 35,000 slave laborers to build a synthetic rubber complex at Auschwitz.”

    The U.S. was the first to develop nuclear weapons because Germany lagged behind, despite early efforts by German physicists to split the uranium nucleus. “The German effort was hampered by Hitler’s anti-Semitic ravings, which had driven away Germany’s Jewish scientists, among them many of the country’s leading atomic physicists.”.

    The military theme doesn’t stop with 20th century warfare but continues into the computer era, with a discussion of the Internet’s military origins “Many of the important technical milestones – the Rand concept of packet switching (1964), the Navy-funded Alohanet that led to the Ethernet (1970-72), the Defense Department’s ARPANET (1972) and the rapid adoption of internet-working protocols—were exclusively funded or heavily promoted or even outright mandated by the military services,” he writes

   In his discussion of the Internet, Misa chronicles the early period from the 1960s to the mid ‘80s when the military was prominent. to the commercialization of the Internet in the late 1990s when the network was privatized, and the World Wide Web became popular. Misa covers the invention of email, the establishment on domain names and the emergence of an “inter-network” when private ISPs provided the high speed backbones that carried the bulk of long distance traffic.

     Misa returns to a military theme near the end of the book to discuss cyberwarfare, which ranges from Chinese cyberattacks against the U.S. from 2003 to 2005, to the debacle between China and Google that led Google to withdraw from China’s search market in 2010.

    The book includes ten chapters that each cover a different period of history with a different theme, with “The Means of Destruction, 1936-1990” the only one specifically devoted to military matters. But the means of destruction crop up throughout the book, from the Renaissance to the modern day. We also get discussions of moveable type, the printing press, railroads, ship building, mining and smelting technologies and more, in a book that covers technological development over the past 500 years and its impact on Western culture.

Return to home page