Monday, March 27, 2017

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

The Map that Changed the World tells the tale of “a map whose making signified the beginnings of an era not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed human beings to start at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something about their own origins.” In setting out to tell the story of what he sees as the most important map of the 19th century, Simon Winchester ends up telling the story of the map’s creator: William Smith.  In doing so, he not only describes the birth of the new science of geology, but also provides a compelling picture of late 18th and early 19th century England from the perspective of the struggling middle and lower classes.  By telling the story of William Smith and his stratigraphical map of England, Winchester introduces the reader to the economic, social, cultural, and scientific issues of the day, which may be the most important feature of his book.

The map in question is William Smith’s groundbreaking geological map that showed, in vivid color, the age and type of rocks throughout England and Wales.  Interestingly, Scotland and Ireland are excluded from Smith’s colossal undertaking, which required him to cover the length and breadth of the area on foot.  Winchester claims that this particular map is ultimately responsible for “the making of great fortunes – in oil, in iron, in coal, and in other countries of diamonds, tin, platinum, and silver – that were won by explorers who used such maps.  It is the map that laid the foundations of a field of study that culminated in the work of Charles Darwin.”  According to Winchester, the creation of the map is different from all of the other great scientific creations of mankind because it is the sole creation of one man, not a group effort.

Other than the development of geology as a unique and separate area of research, Winchester focuses on changes in England’s economy and a move away from the literal interpretation of Scripture for the explanation of all phenomena, as well as social barriers from within England’s natural philosophy establishment to those from the lower classes.  The first two areas are critical to the development of the map and the direction of William Smith’s life, and show how he was able to support himself while creating the map, while the third illustrates the political infighting among scientists and the dangers of not publishing what are now known as “least publishable units” to lay claim to a specific area of inquiry so that the unscrupulous could not claim it as their own after copying research notes or learning new methods directly from the source.

Economically, turn of the century England experienced drastic changes, one directly related to geology and one related more to the quality and quantity of food produced by English farms.  Geology became economically important as the use of coal increased exponentially, methods for its extraction improved, and the creation of canals for inexpensive transportation of coal from mine to market grew.  Coal was used for heating, for powering the fires of industries, for use in the new steam engines, and after conversion to tar to fuel lamps.  Technological increases, particularly the use of steam engines, allowed coal to be mined at greater depths and with less risk to the miners. At the same time mine owners, desiring to increase their profits by reducing their transportation costs, began building canals from their mines to the location of their markets. These three coal-related issues combined to increase interest in geology, when William Smith showed that the location of coal deposits could be extrapolated from the rocks found in a region.

Smith came to this conclusion after he noted that the rock strata in mines in a small geographical area all appeared in the same order and with the same slope.  This meant that he could tell approximately where and at what depth coal seams could be found in an area.  After traveling throughout England and Wales studying various rock formations he was able to determine what strata were located under a given location.  Canals come into the picture because their construction, in which Smith was consulted, gave him the chance to examine the strata through which the canal was cut.  This enabled him to determine which strata were found in the different regions the canal ran through, increasing his understanding of the geographical layout of England.  He had also correlated the appearance of fossils with different rock strata and noted that the fossils, like the strata always appeared in the same order.  This allowed him to examine the fossils found on the ground and determine what strata lay beneath – laying the groundwork for the creation of his geological map.

The other major change in the English economy that Winchester focuses on in telling the tale of William Smith and his map is agriculture.  The great new innovation in English agriculture was the enclosure acts, which radically altered English agriculture by enclosing fields for the use of individual farmers and increased agricultural efficiency.  The old method of English farming held the fields near a village in common, with farmers taking strips of land for themselves and leaving others fallow, while the new method closed off the fields and introduced the use of new machines, new theories of crop rotation, and the introduction of new livestock.  According to Winchester this economic change resulted in better foods such as white bread and roast beef, and a lengthening of the English lifespan.  Winchester introduces this for several reasons.  First, the world of agricultural change was that which Smith was born into: his birthplace of Churchill was not “enclosed” until the 1770s.  Second, Winchester sees it as part of a greater trend of enhanced knowledge of the world and comfort in it that was the hallmark of the era.

As well researched and readable as The Map that Changed the World is, it also has some quirky problems.  The first is the minor issue that Winchester frequently steps aside to describe landscapes, houses, farms, and stone as plain, pretty or uninspiring.  It is not entirely clear whether this is a value judgment, or if it is meant only to provide the reader a different feel for different locales.  One excellent example is his description of Smith’s birthplace of Churchill, which Winchester describes the new system as creating “the English countryside that we still see today, mannered, orderly, and inordinately pretty,” while the old method “was woefully inefficient, the landscape it created plain and uninteresting.” He also notes that the weathering of older stone buildings “are quite sublime.” The only time that it is obvious that Winchester may be passing a value judgment that might interfere with his objectivity is found in the prologue, in which he calls Smith’s map “incomparably beautiful.”

An additional issue with Winchester’s text is his digression into his own childhood experiences in Dorset with its Jurassic period strata and his early fascination fossils.  It would be easy to dismiss this as merely an attempt to draw the reader further into the story of geology and his love for it, or to provide a more personal feel for how William Smith felt when discovering his first fossils, or noting that he could read the strata from the lay of the land.  It seems strange that Winchester would choose to insert himself into the text in this manner, where it had not had the feel of a personal journey before.  It is also interesting that the text quickly loses this personal touch.  It almost seems as if Winchester is attempting to makes a connection between himself and Smith, no matter how tenuous.


These two issues aside, The Map that Changed the World is valuable on many levels.  First, it re-introduces modern society to another of the great scientific minds that laid the groundwork for our understanding in the world.  If, as Winchester claims, Smith’s geological work ultimately led to Darwin’s Origin of Species, then he deserves the same level of approbation as Einstein, Newton, and Copernicus.  Second, it provides the reader with a look at the changes in English society at the turn of the 19th century almost from the perspective of the individuals they affected.  A major benefit of Winchester’s informal tone is that his work is accessible enough for readers to feel some of what Smith and others experienced.  Finally, Winchester shows that the world of science is beset by the same vanities and prejudices as the societies the scientists are part of.  By showing that Greenbough went through a large amount of effort to in effect steal Smith’s work on the map, Winchester shows that scientists frequently have the same motivations as the “regular” people.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Isaac Newton

“Newton was not the first of the age of reason.  He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.” John Maynard Keynes’ words to his students perfectly describe the Isaac Newton portrayed by James Gleick in his unswerving biography.  Simply named Isaac Newton, Gleick’s short book shows Newton as an eccentric scientist-philosopher, who shrank from public debate of his theories, avoided human contact, saved the coinage of Great Britain, challenged the teachings of the Anglican Church, and brought about the modern age of scientific inquiry.

The greatness and importance of Isaac Newton is intuitive to modern Americans due to his prominent place in high school physics texts, which teach his three laws of motion as the basis of modern physics.  What is left out of high school education is the impact that his theories and methods had on methods of scientific discovery. Gleick attributes a move toward precise measurement of time, space and chemicals to Newton, saying that, “like no other experimenter of his time, alchemist or chemist, he weighed his chemicals precisely, in a balance scale.  Obsessed as always with the finest degrees of measurement, he recorded weights to the nearest quarter of a grain.  He measured time, too; here a precise unit was an eighth of an hour.” However, his apparent penchant for measurement did not always make it into the accounts of Newton’s experiments.

Newton’s description of his Experimentum Crucis, which he claimed showed that light consisted of “Rays differently refrangible”, and that color was an inherent attribute of light, was received with some consternation and his methods disputed.  The account of Experimentum Crucis was published by the Royal Society, and debated in its newsletter.  While there were varying opinions regarding the nature of light, particularly whether is was a wave like sound or a particle of some kind, the true uproar was that other members of the Royal Society could not reproduce his results at the long distances he described. This controversy calls into question the importance that Newton placed on precise reporting of his results, although Gleick notes that the experiment reported did not occur all at once, but rather was a summary of months of observation. The episode also calls into question Newton’s dedication to reasoned intellectual debate.

After fifteen months of debate, Newton announced that he wished to cease all correspondence saying that, “I intend to be no further solicitous about matters of Philosophy.  And therefore I hope you will not take it ill if you find me ever refusing doing any thing more in that kind.”  In Gleick’s reading of the affair, Newton had “sacrificed his tranquility” after sharing his discovery and wished to withdraw to the peace of Cambridge.  Newton’s withdrawal from open debate at this point represented his penchant for avoiding close contact with society, including his students at Cambridge, and his distaste for being challenged that is in some way reminiscent of Galileo’s dealings with his critics.

Isaac Newton’s religious beliefs occupy a significant place in Gleick’s work, although their relevance to his thesis is not obvious at first.  Newton’s theology differed from that of the Anglican Church and Trinity College where he held a fellowship in one important aspect that separates him from orthodox Christianity to this day; he rejected the theological construct of the Holy Trinity.  Gleick introduces Newton’s theological differences with the Church of England to illustrate three things: his relationship with the hierarchy of his college, his approach to research, and his connection to philosophy as much as science.

Newton’s rejection of the Trinity became an issue when he reached the seventh year of fellowship at Trinity College, when he would normally be required to enter Holy Orders.  This requirement existed because England’s collegiate system primarily existed to expand and promote the practice of Christianity. Newton denied the divinity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit due to his intense study of various versions and copies of scripture, of which he made copious notes.  If his heretical beliefs had become public knowledge, Newton could have lost his position at Trinity College and been imprisoned.  Somehow, Newton was able to keep his theology secret and also receive a dispensation from the king from entering Holy Orders, though Gleick’s notes indicate that no one knows how the King was persuaded to intervene on Newton’s behalf.

The real significance of Newton’s Arianist beliefs in Gleick’s text is to demonstrate the vigor and precision he pursued research of all types with, as well as to show that Newton combined philosophy, religion, and science as interchangeable aspects of knowledge.  In the case of theology and the Trinity, Gleick describes Newton as assiduously comparing English Bibles to those written in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French and examined the teachings of early Christian thinkers.  According to Gleick, Newton’s motivation with his Biblical studies was the same as that for his precise inquiries into mathematics and alchemy: he was doing God’s work to recover knowledge that had been lost, hidden, or altered by the blasphemous. Gleick contends that Newton was either the last philosopher who practiced science, or the last scientist who practiced philosophy until the arrival of Albert Einstein on the scientific scene.

In addition to showing that Newton applied substantial vigor to all of his researches, it also provides an explanation for Newton’s work beyond that of curiosity or to provide support for himself beyond the farming of his forefathers.  The belief that he was called by God to bring Truth to the world can provide easy explanation for his single-mindedness in pursuing a line of research, as well as his antipathy for debate and his dislike for those who challenged his methods and theories.  Those who challenged what he saw as God’s work were either ignorant or deliberately trying to keep mankind in the dark.

Gleick’s final example of Newton’s passion for precision earned him a knighthood.  In 1696, with the English economy suffering with a debased coinage that was susceptible to counterfeiting and trimming, Newton accepted the position of Warden of the Mint, and was charged with a complete re-coinage of Great Britain’s currency.  During his tenure at the mint, not only did Newton make an extraordinary amount of money, but also he ensured that the nation’s coins were the most uniform in weight and purity with the technology at hand. Strangely, while interesting and somewhat useful in continuing to illustrate Newton’s insistence on measurement and his service to England, it does not mention his methods at all, other than to say, “he ran the Mint with diligence and even ferocity.  He was, after all, the master of melters and assayers who multiplied gold and silver on a scale that alchemists only dreamed of.” Given that Gleick dealt with Newton’s penchant for measurements of all types when discussing his alchemical, physical, and mathematical endeavors, it is difficult to fathom why he spent much space on Newton’s efforts at the Mint other than to explain his knighthood and wealth in later life.

In all, Gleick does an admirable job of examining Newton’s successes and failures, his quirks and excesses.  He shines at showing, in the later portions of the text Newton’s influence on later thinkers.  Gleick credits Newton’s proof that all of nature obeys rules, which he attributed to God, for the inspiration for the Declaration of Independence. He also awards Newton credit for turning science away from flights of fancy and toward things that can be empirically proven and tested, in effect separating science from philosophy until Einstein’s theory of relativity posited without proof that less time passed for those moving at light speed than for those moving more slowly.  Ultimately, Gleick lays all of the results of Newton’s work on his insistence on measurement of phenomena, which proved to be the birth of the modern scientific method.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires in Time

Contrary to popular belief in the United States, Einstein did not operate in a scientific vacuum, and his time as a patent “clerk” in Bern was not a dead-end that was a complete waste of his talents and abilities. At least that is the opinion of Peter Galison’s Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps.  Focusing on the time period between 1890 and 1910, Galison examines the role of developments in coordinated time theory, the impact of France’s Ecole Polytechnique on research methods, and the training Einstein received in the patent office in the development of his theory of special relativity.  At the same time, Galison places both the adoption of standard measurements for time, space and geography in the context of late 19th century international politics and traditions of European scientific thought.

Although it is disguised in biographical studies of Henry Poincare and Albert Einstein, Galison’s real target seems to be the development of the theory of special relativity, which he ultimately attributes to Einstein.  Although he credits Einstein with the discovery, Galison repeatedly states that the theory was the outgrowth of physics research involving electromagnetic fields and time coordination efforts of cities, railroads, and nations.  In this respect, the biographical treatment of Einstein and Poincare is merely a tool that provides understanding of the main topic.  This is not to imply that Einstein and Poincare are an afterthought, rather they are the main characters in a story that involves them, but is not about them.

The reason Galison takes this tack is that it provides the most accessible method for discussing the development of the theory of relativity in the greater context of scientific inquiry and the pressures of international competition over weights and measures, universal time standards, and the location of the prime meridian.  However, at times, Galison focuses so much on these issues that it is easy to lose sight of Einstein, Poincare, and relativity.  It can be argued that Galison provides so much background and historical context that it overwhelms the reader with excessive amounts of detail.

Galison chooses Einstein as one of his two speakers on the topic of coordinated time and relativity simply because it was Einstein’s 1905 paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” that signaled the change from an emphasis on classical mechanics in the study of physics to a new theoretical-practical model.  Poincare, on the other hand, is chosen as the foremost practitioner of the practical mechanical philosophy, and a product of the foremost school of engineering in Europe. The contrast between the scientific philosophies of the two men allows Galison to illustrate the profound significance of the change represented by Einstein’s theory of special relativity, and is easiest to illustrate biographically.

Before leaping into the intricacies of international relations, the training of engineers, or the workings of Swiss patent offices, Galison takes the time to explain Einstein’s theory of special relativity and how it was different from prevailing thought on how electromagnetic fields work.  In 1905, when Einstein introduced the theory of special relativity, most physicists believed that light waves moved through some unknown substance as waves in the ocean or sound waves through the air.  Unable to quantify the unknown media light moved through, 19th century physicists dubbed it ether, and hoped that eventually they would be able to identify it empirically. The problem with using ether to explain physical phenomena went beyond merely being unable to quantify it or study its effects; it required that identical events require multiple explanations depending on minimal changes in the experiment.  The example Einstein used to introduce his theory was that under the old classical mechanics methodology using ether, the electricity generated in a coil when near a magnet was explained differently depending on whether the coil moved toward the magnet, or the magnet moved closer to the coil.  Einstein believed that there should be a single explanation for the electrical field generated regardless of whether the coil or magnet moved, and he blamed the requirement for separate explanations on physicist’s insistence that ether existed.

Einstein’s solution was to dispose of the ether entirely.  He did this for two reasons.  First, he believed that there should be a single explanation for what he saw as a single problem, and second, because the existence of ether could not be demonstrated empirically.  Without any proof of ether’s existence, Einstein saw no reason to jump through scientifically questionable hoops to account for it.  This led him to the postulate that there was “no way to tell which unaccelerated reference frame was at rest”, which meant that physical objects that were not accelerating behaved independently of the reference frame they occupied. This new principle of relativity is interesting not only in the impact it had on 20th century scientific understanding, but that Galileo had noted that when at sea in smooth waters, experiments, such as ball drops, behaved in the same manner they did on land.  As Galison puts it, “There was simply was no way to use any part of mechanics to tell whether a room was ‘really’ at rest or ‘really’ moving.” The general idea behind the theory of relativity was understood for at least three hundred years before Einstein published his paper.

Relativity enters into Galison’s broader topic due to Einstein’s extension of it to the speed of light.  Einstein contended that the speed of light was always exactly the same, regardless of the speed of the source relative to the observer.  What this meant was that rather than light moving at 300,000 kilometers per second + the speed of the source, light always moved at exactly 300,000 kilometers per second.  This impacted physicists’ conception of simultaneity, which in turn affected ideas of how the coordination of disparately located clocks should be done.  Einstein insisted that the concept of simultaneity be defined procedurally, saying that just because he received to signals at the same moment did not mean they were sent at the same moment if the signals traveled different distances.  Einstein demonstrated the solution using a clock coordination scenario, which was particularly apt given the importance of clock coordination for the running of trains and the prestige of governments. Einstein’s procedure for clock coordination said that users should have, “one observer at the origin A send a light signal when his clock says 12:00 to B at a distance d from A; the light signal reflects off B and returns to A.  Einstein has B set her clock to noon plus half the round trip time.” If the speed of light remained the same in any direction, then it could be used to determine trip time so that clocks could be easily coordinated over large distances.

In isolation, Einstein’s theory, even with its deliberate inclusion of a procedure for time coordination, could have been significant only to scientists.  However, Galison points out that it had an almost immediate impact on time coordination, which stretched along rail lines and across oceans, due to the research of James Clerk Maxwell.  A Cambridge physicist, Maxwell developed a theory that “showed light to be nothing more than electric waves.” This allowed Einstein’s theory of relativity to have an immediate impact as railroads and telegraph stations used electricity to coordinate their clocks.

The immediate applicability of the theory of relativity to clock coordination highlights two issues of international concern at the turn of the 20th century, which Galison concentrates heavily on.  The first issue was the development of standard units of measure for both weight and distance.  After diplomatic maneuvering the honor of creating, distributing, and storing the standard meter and kilogram fell to France, which painstakingly created the copies to be held by other nations and kept the originals and “witnesses” in carefully protected vaults.  The second issue was of standardized, universal time, and it was much more difficult to resolve.

Galison discusses in detail the task of laying undersea telegraph cables, which were used both for communication, but also for mapping and time coordination.  While the use of the cables for time coordination is an immediately obvious use of the cables given Einstein and Maxwell’s work, their use for mapping is not so intuitive.  Both mapping and time coordination were prerequisites for the adoption of universal time standards.

Mapping comes into the equation because of the difficulty of mapping accurate longitude lines.  Longitudinal calculation requires extremely precise measurement of time, a task that was near impossible with the chronometers available for rail and shipboard use.  Laying undersea telegraph cables, which could be used for time coordination, also allowed cartographers to determine extremely precise calculation of the longitude of the receiving stations.  While this solved the problem of determining exactly where any geographic location was in relation to another, it did not solve the issue of where to start counting longitude from, which was a political issue.


For the public, the solution to the international political dispute over where the prime meridian should be located is what makes Einstein’s theory of special relativity relevant.  This dispute, which focused on whether the prime meridian, or longitude of zero degrees, should be at Greenwich, England, or Paris, France, was ultimately decide by the United States’ adoption of standardized time zones based on Greenwich as the zero line and England’s dominant role in overseas shipping.  Of course, Galison does not immediately leap to this conclusion, and continues to discuss the lives and training of both Poincare and Einstein after discussing it, but this is the essence of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps.  As he says himself, his work is the story of the development time coordination, and the adoption of a universal time standard represents the ultimate in time coordination, which is ultimately the legacy of Henri Poincare and Albert Einstein.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

Arguably the greatest scientific mind of the early modern era, Galileo Galilei challenged the Catholic Church’s stance that the Copernican theory that the Earth was not the stable center of the Universe, while attempting to stay true to his faith, and Dava Sobel relies on the letters of his eldest daughter Suor Maria Celeste Galilei to show the depth of the conflict between the two imperatives.  These letters provide Sobel with the title for her work, although after reading the text, the subtitle, “A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love”, seems more apt than the main title, “Galileo’s Daughter,” because the text focuses far more on Galileo and his life than Marie Celeste.
           
Indeed the title of Sobel’s work, in conjunction with the opening pages, imply that Galileo’s tale will be told through the eyes of Marie Celeste via her surviving letters to her father.  The reality of Galileo’s Daughter is quite different, with Marie Celeste’s letters not truly coming to the forefront until Galileo’s confrontation with Pope Urban VIII and the Office of the Holy Inquisition over his espousal of Copernicus’ work in his book Dialogue of Galileo Galilei…Concerning the two Chief Systems of the World, Ptolemaic and Copernican, Propounding inconclusively the philosophical and physical reasons as much for one side as for the other.  The extensive bibliography and notes show that the vast majority of the material in Galileo’s Daughter comes from sources other than Marie Celeste’s letters to her illustrious father.  As a result, readers who expect to gather great insights into Galileo though the eyes of his daughter may find themselves looking for more.

In truth, a biography that focused entirely on Suor Maria Celeste Galilei’s life and her interactions with Galileo would be only marginally interesting to any but the most dedicated Galileo scholars.  These dedicated individuals are the ones who seek out, as Sobel did, Marie Celeste’s letters are decipher them on their own, or seek out direct translations of the type that appear scattered throughout the text as supporting material.  Rather than taking that tack, Sobel seamlessly intertwines existing Galileo scholarship with English translations of the letters to provide an emotional and familial context for Galileo’s ordeal.

Sobel places Galileo’s work and life in historical perspective by focusing on four key events: the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Copernicus’ promulgation of the Pythagorean theory of the sun-centered solar system, the election of Galileo’s friend as Pope Urban VIII, and Galileo’s refinement of the telescope as an astronomical instrument.  The first three factors combined to negatively color the Church’s official response to the publication of Galileo’s controversial Dialogue, while the third placed Galileo in the position to confirm Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun through empirical observation.  Galileo’s confirmation of this theory is what placed him in conflict with the Church in Rome and the Office of the Holy Inquisition.  This conflict did not develop immediately, and Sobel uses Marie Celeste’s letters to trace its course and impact on Galileo’s psyche.

Galileo was first drawn into conflict with the Church as a result of his popularity in Rome and elsewhere, which was derived from his assault on the Aristotelian system of physics in his astronomical works The Starry Messenger and History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their PhenomenaThe Starry Messenger described the surface of the moon and its phases, four moons orbiting Jupiter, and movement of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter across the heavens.  History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their Phenomena described and traced the paths of sunspots during the Sun’s revolution on its axis.  These two works combined with Galileo’s public debates with critics regarding the behavior of masses in water to attack the basis of Aristotelian and Biblical dictum that the heavens were forever unchanging.  Galileo’s success debating his opponents and advocates of traditional views of physics was exacerbated by the humiliation he dealt opponents through physical demonstrations, as well as his popularity in the Roman and Florentine social scenes.

According to Sobel, the first indication that he might experience problems with the church due to his scientific discoveries came from a friend in Rome, who wrote to him, “that a certain crowd of ill-disposed men envious of your virtue and merits met at the house of the archbishop there [in Florence] and put their heads together in a mad quest for any means by which they could damage you, either with regard to the motion of the earth or otherwise.” This warning came during his work on Bodies in Water, which disputed Aristotelian theories regarding the behavior of objects floating in water and inflamed his enemies, may have provided the final impetus Galileo needed to send his daughters into the convent for their protection.  The publication of History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their Phenomena caused his critics to take things to a more dangerous level by involving the Church hierarchy, and according to Sobel, Galileo gave them a perfect opening to attack him.

The ammunition that Galileo’s critics used against him were a letter he sent to his former student and friend Benedetto Castelli, who had earned the displeasure of Pisa’s Grand Duchess Mother Madama Cristina with his discussion of the moons of Jupiter and the motion of the planets around the Sun, and a letter sent by Galileo to the Grand Duchess in an attempt to explain how Copernican theory did not dispute the contents of the Bible. Galileo’s argument, which Sobel quotes extensively, was that not only did Copernican theory explain Joshua’s stopping of the Sun’s course across the sky better than Aristotelian theory, but that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit in such a way as to explain events and the path to salvation to those who would not understand the more complex workings of the universe.   Galileo also contended that Scripture could not be interpreted literally, but must be accepted allegorically in order to avoid heresy at all turns.  Unfortunately for Galileo his letter to Castelli was copied and distributed repeatedly, only to fall into the hands of his enemies.  After altered copies of his letters to Castelli were presented to the Office of the Holy Inquisition, Galileo went to Rome to defend his theories before the Princes of the Church.

At this juncture, Sobel uses the letters of those around Galileo to describe his mental state.  The Tuscan ambassador, Piero Guicciardini, noted that “He is passionately involved in this fight of his and he does not see or sense what it involves, with the result that he will be tripped up and will get himself into trouble, together with anyone who supports his views.  For he is vehement and stubborn and very worked up in this matter and it is impossible, when he is around, to escape from his hands.” However, she still has not introduced much in the way of letters or personality of Marie Celeste.  Granted her age at this point, thirteen years, in Galileo’s career was such that the any letters may not have produced significant insight into his life or character.

Galileo used his time in Rome to develop a new theory concerning the Earth’s tides to support the theories of Copernicus without using his observation of the heavens.  However, this new evidence would not assist him in his interviews with the representatives of the Office of the Holy Inquisition.  Based in part of the Council of Trent’s dictum reserving to the church the sole ability of interpreting Scripture, Copernican theory was declared heretical, and Galileo was formally instructed to cease discussing or teaching the theories of Copernicus with anyone.  While leaving Galileo free to research other scientific and philosophical issues, this particular instruction would play a large part in his formal trial for heresy after the publication of Dialogues. It is that trial and his subsequent imprisonment that allows Sobel to use Marie Celeste’s letters as the foundation into her revelation of Galileo the man.

The second half of Galileo’s Daughter, telling the tale of Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition and imprisonment, provides Sobel with the material to pain her picture of Galileo as a dedicated scientist, Catholic, and father.  It also allows her to introduce Marie Celeste as a dutiful daughter both to Galileo and the Church.  Galileo’s second and most serious misadventure with the Church was caused by his misplaced belief that the election of his friend and fellow philosopher as Pope Urban VIII would allow him more freedom to explore Copernican theories.

            Marie Celeste’s letters, as presented by Sobel, present an interesting mix of emotional support, need, descriptions of daily life in the abbey, and the domestic affairs of running Galileo’s household.  At least while Galileo was in Rome and during his imprisonment, Marie Celeste ran his household from her home in the abbey.  One example of her concern for Galileo is evident in a letter to him at Rome, “on the one hand, this gives me great distress, convinced as I am that you find yourself with scant peace of mind, and perhaps also deprived of all bodily comforts.” She later wrote to him to offer solace after Dialogue was banned, saying, “My dearest lord father, now is the time to avail yourself of that prudence which the Lord God has granted you, bearing these blows with that strength of spirit which your religion, your profession, and your age require.  And since you, by virtue of your vast experience, can lay claim to full cognizance of the fallacy and instability of everything in this miserable world, you must not make too much of these storms, but rather take hope that they will soon subside and transform themselves from troubles into as many satisfactions.” Many of the letters devote large sections to the management of Galileo’s home and its grounds, such as the disposition of wine, lemons, and beans, or maintenance of the structures.  This part of Galileo’s Daughter is the most compelling as it most clearly illustrates the relationship between Galileo and Marie Celeste, and provides a clear picture of Italian life during the 17th century.

What Dava Sobel has achieved with Galileo’s Daughter is definitely not a biography of Suor Marie Celeste Galilei, or even a work that focuses on her relationship with her father, but a fully textured look at the life of her father Galileo in which Marie Celeste’s letters play a decisive part in adding much of the color and emotion to the story.  Sobel’s achievement with Galileo’s Daughter is not limited to her portrayal of Galileo, his work, and relationship with his children, but extends into international politics, Church politics, and competition among Europe’s foremost thinkers for notoriety.  She is also able to entwine all of the above with a subtle examination of 17th century Italian life, at least for those with a modicum of success, influence, and privilege.  The overall effect is to immerse the reader while expounding on the trials and tribulations of one of Europe’s most influential thinkers.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Warrior Culture vs. the Ideal of Cincinnatus

The wake of the spreading Marines United scandal, which now encompasses all four branches of the U.S. military provides yet another good opportunity to discuss the best archetypes on which to model military service. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq exposed the unpreparedness of some support and combat support personnel to defend themselves against insurgents operating in rear areas, the Department of Defense adopted the model of the "warrior" as a means to emphasize the skills and attitudes that military leaders believed were necessary to successfully fight the war. That led to increased focus on hand-to-hand combat (called "combatives" by the Air Force), weapons training, and an emphasis on grit and dedication to mission completion. These features of what became known as "warrior culture" were what many observers had expected of service members regardless of war or peace, so it was surprising that all four branches felt the need to "return" to this mindset, which seems familiar in light of the Ranger Creed, which was a significant part of my ROTC experience during the early 1990s.

Warrior culture also includes some concepts that don't seem to fit with modern warfare, discipline in the ranks, self-sacrifice for the greater good rather than maintenance of personal position, and the creation of a privileged class who bear arms. As Angry Staff Officer notes, the embrace of warrior culture by the U.S. military and sixteen years of warfare have the side-effect of placing "warriors," especially those in the SOF community on a pedestal. It also has led some members of the military to embrace outmoded past models of warriors such as the Spartans or Crusaders without any careful consideration of the origins and uses of those models. Spartans were the top level of a society that valorized military service above all other endeavors, in which warriors depended upon the work of slaves. Angry Staff Officer also discusses some of the more unsavory features of Spartan society. If the Spartan focus on the military sounds grand to you, more research than reading or watching Frank Miller's 300 is in order.

Crusaders similarly relied on the downtrodden portions of medieval European society, They received rank and privileges based on agreeing to bear arms for their social superiors and to protect the civilians living on their fiefs. Knights sat in judgment over the people on their lands, collected fees, rents, and labor from them, and were supposed to protect them. The relationship between lords, vassals, and serfs was bounded by a kind of medieval constitutionality, defined by contract. Reality was quite different from the ideal, and peasants were usually at the mercy of the armored knight and his henchmen unless they managed to run away to a city and managed to live their unmolested for a year and a day (Stadtluft macht frei nach Jahr und Tag). Like the warriors of Sparta, medieval knights provide a poor model for the modern American military because, as Angry Staff Officer argues, neither group was based on a society with the values of freedom and liberty that form the core of American democracy.

Philosopher Maurine Kaurin also offers a critique of both warrior culture and Marines United by arguing that Marines United is based on the flawed ideal of the Entitled Warrior, who demands special privileges, including sexual privileges, based on carrying arms and fighting for the state. Membership in the warrior caste is the exclusive purview of heterosexual men according to these Entitled Warriors, helping explain their resistance to the inclusion of women and LGBTQ soldiers in the ranks, These Entitled Warriors cannot even admit to the possibility that spreading explicit photos and videos of female service members are a violation of professional ethics and values because they don't consider those women as being their equals despite having shared experiences of war. So much does any critique of these practices injure their pride that the Entitled Warriors respond with death threats against even other male service members who oppose them.

A better model for the American model is one offered by Kaurin in both books and blog posts - that of the Guardian, adapted from Plato. While also a special social class like the Warrior, the Guardian has a different focus. Guardians also use violence as a tool to protect the Republic, but it is not their primary method of solving problems. Rather than being above society as Spartans or knights, Guardians are the servants of society within the ethical framework of defense and protection rather than violence. The Guardian represents a sort of middle path between the warrior and the citizen-soldier of the American ideal.

Absent a radical change in American outlook, it is likely that the viability of the citizen-soldier perished in the ashes of Vietnam and the creation of the All Volunteer Force. The AVF moved the U.S. military away from being an institution that everyone had the opportunity or duty to serve in, to one connected to increasingly small parts of American society. The problem is that these developments seem to lead to the creation of a class of soldier unlike anything that Americans have seen in the past when the model was the citizen-soldier, ideally trained in the militia, but more likely to have been called up en masse to serve for a specific conflict. This was how the American military handled wars before the advent of the Cold War, and the concept survived until the final days of the Vietnam War.

The citizen-soldier's outlook is that of the Greek poleis other than Sparta, in which citizens owed service to defend the state. They served for set periods of time before returning home to their shops, ships, or farms. The legions of the Roman Republic operated in the same way until the Punic Wars placed such harsh demands on Roman citizens that they were driven from their farms by debt, making them unable to provide military service for Rome (leading Julius Caesar and his successors to purchase the loyalty of the legions with promises of a secure retirement). The epitome of the citizen-soldier in the ancient world was  L. Quinctius Cincinnatus, who famously served as Dictator of Rome twice, each time returning to his farm as soon as he defeated Rome's enemies, once after just thirteen days.

George Washington is the most famous American follower of Cincinnatus' methods of leadership, having multiple episodes of military service (French and Indian War; American Revolution), followed by two terms as President of the United States. Washington deliberately stepped down each time to return to his plantation at Mount Vernon as an example to his peers and succeeding generations of American leaders. Other American military leaders followed Washington's example: Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and George Herbert Walker Bush all performed their military and political service before stepping aside and returning to other endeavors.

If the model of the citizen-soldier is no longer applicable for the U.S. military, these concepts need to be molded into its replacements, whether warrior or guardian - that soldiers service the people, and after their service become one of the people again. That transition will need to be managed by military and civilian leaders to help veterans acclimate into the civilian world, to provide the skills and education to succeed as civilians, and medical and metal healthcare. More importantly, military leaders must work to inculcate the ideal of the soldier as Guardian and servant to the people rather than the current "warrior" mindset that is the current vogue.

Bathsheba’s Breast: Women, Cancer & History

For most of its three hundred pages, Bathsheba’s Breast utilizes biographical sketches, primarily of well-known historical figures, to illustrate the millennia old struggle of women against a disease that is uniquely theirs: breast cancer.  Bathsheba’s Breast concentrates on several themes central to the disease: the pervasiveness of the disease through the centuries, the progress in and barbarity of treatments, and the social problems associated with treatment and research. 

The pervasiveness and impartiality of breast cancer pervades almost the entire text of Bathsheba’s Breast.  This theme is introduced with the example of Atossa, Queen of the Persian Empire in 490 B.C.  Atossa found a lump, which she feared was cancerous and kept hidden until forced to seek help.  She ultimately sought treatment from a Greek slave, who lanced the lesion on her breast.  Luckily for Atossa, the sore was merely an abscess, not a tumor. It falls to other unfortunates to supply Bathsheba’s Breast with more concrete examples of the fear and horror experience by women actually afflicted by breast cancer.

The Byzantine Empress Theodora provides an excellent backdrop for the discussion of ancient techniques of treating breast cancer, though she refused the recommended treatment of mastectomy, and used painkillers to maintain her dignity while dying.  Anne of Austria, the wife of Louis XIII of France, and late Renaissance nuns show the pervasiveness of the disease and that it crossed all social strata.  After spending many years visiting convents and witnessing the full effects of breast cancer in the nuns there, including a nun whose cancer had destroyed a large portion of her torso, Anne knew exactly what might lay in store for her when she found a lump in her breast.  However, understanding the course of treatment and denial also kept her from seeking medical help for months.  Anne suffered through a long and painful course of treatment that had little chance of success due to the medical technology of the age.

The second major theme of Bathsheba’s Breast is of the progress made in the fight against the disease over the millennia, as well as the horror of the treatments inflicted upon women by their male doctors. Reading the text gives the distinct impression that in many ways the conception of breast cancer has run full circle from systemic disorder to localized disorder and back again. This process is well documented by Olson and runs throughout.  Beginning with the humoral theory advanced by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C., physicians believed that breast cancer and other ailments were caused by imbalances of forces within the body.  Interestingly enough, although not really germane to the discussion at hand, Hippocrates is responsible for the modern name of cancer, which he called karkinos after its crab-like appearance.  Clarissimus Galen, who further categorized different lesions and cancers, took up the torch of humoral theory in the ancient world.  After an interlude caused by the breakup of the Roman Empire, Galen’s theory was taken up again during the Renaissance and help sway into the 18th century.  Galen’s humoral theories were responsible for the practices of bloodletting and purging performed by European doctors at the time Anne of Austria was stricken with breast cancer.  One prominent physician blamed her condition on her hedonistic lifestyle, in which she studiously avoided bleeding.  Humoral theory ultimately fell into disuse and surgical procedures began to dominate treatment.

Despite the portrayal of humoral theory being in the ascendant during this time, however, Bathsheba’s Breast also seems to indicate that one of the first options suggested for Anne of Austria was surgical.  This option was rejected in her case due to the advanced state of her disease when she sought help.  Perhaps this was the beginning of the sea change in medical practice that would soon occur.  Olson uses the cases of Mary Washington and Nabby Adams to show that the change in practice from bleeding and humoral theory to one of surgery was not long incoming.  By the beginning of the 19th century, surgery was the preferred solution among learned medical practicians.  In Bathsheba’s Breast this also signals the change from a systemic approach to a more localized one.  This change represents another major theme in the work, as it is emphasized repeatedly, that even in the latter half of the 20th century most doctors treated breast cancer as if the disease was strictly restricted to the breast until it started to metastasize to other parts of the body.

When the surgical method reached its height after the introduction of the radical mastectomy in 1890, so too did the fear of treatment among women.  Bathsheba’s Breast not only delivers graphic descriptions of both the radical mastectomy and the super radical mastectomy, which removed the breast, lymph nodes, and much of the chest muscle in an attempt to remove all possible cancer cells, but it describes the surgeons who performed the procedure as only concerned with preserving the lives of their patients.  The emphasis on saving or extending lives at any cost prevented the surgeons from understanding the emotional and physical damage they were causing their patients.  The philosophy of maiming women, as Olson describes it, continued to dominate American breast cancer treatment into the late 20th century, when it was at last challenged by simple mastectomy or lumpectomy combined with radiation and chemical therapies.  Interestingly, success rates for the less drastic surgery are not much different from far more invasive procedures.

One of the most important issues discussed regarding treatment of breast cancer, both ancient and modern, is that most of the doctors are male, while most of the patients are female.  An interesting correlation between the ratios of surgical oncologists of each gender and the preferred treatment method is suggested.  According to the text, in the United States, where surgeons continued to favor aggressive surgery as the primary breast cancer treatment, more practitioners are male.  This is in contrast with European nations, where a larger ratio of practitioners is female, and where less invasive and damaging treatments were adopted earlier.  This implies that the greater “cruelty” of American treatments compared to European ones (for little difference in success rates) is due to a lack of empathy by the health provider for the emotional damage caused by drastic procedures.  Whether this is due to gender or economics is open to debate, which Bathsheba’s Breast readily illustrates.

These issues are hardly the only ones raised in Bathsheba’s Breast, they are just the most important ones.  A more thorough analysis would also discuss social factors that prevent women from seeking early treatment, or political factors that aid or hinder research into cures.  Other topics presented also include the current state of research and the impact on both research and society resulting from the publicity surrounding high profile breast cancer cases such as Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev

Zubok and Pleshakov have multiple goals for Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, including the use of newly opened Soviet and Chinese archives to achieve a new understanding of the driving factors in the early Cold War from the Soviet perspective.  Other authors have attempted to produce similar works, notably Gaddis in We Now Know.  However, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War takes a different tack, made possible by the fact that the authors were educated under the Soviet system, being born in Moscow and Yalta during the 1950s.  Their unique background allows Zubok and Pleshakov to approach the topic of Soviet Cold War leadership with an understanding of Russian history, values and goals that is not possible for a non-Russian.  Zubok and Pleshakov’s Russian background also makes for some challenges in translating documents feelings and shared understanding to the American audience, especially as they intended Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War for a broad American audience, not just academics.  All of this combines to lead to the conclusion that three main factors created the Kremlin’s view of the Cold War: the personalities of Soviet leaders, the ideological and geopolitical motives of those leaders, and the policies of the United States.

Inside the Cold War is organized in chapters devoted to an individual leader or set of leaders that had a significant impact on the Soviet approach to the Cold War.  Because Zubok and Pleshakov present the leaders in the order of their ascent to power, this arrangement has an almost pseudo-chronological effect as well, although some of the events in the different chapters may overlap to some extent.  With the traditional stance that the Cold War began approximately at the end of World War II, Inside the Cold War begins with Stalin.

In their discussion of Stalin, Zubok and Pleshakov take the stance that, in addition to the frequently cited paranoia and self-identification with the State, Stalin acted within a complex Russian national messianic complex that was inherited from the Tsarist period.  This argument can be summed in this manner:  from the 15th century the Tsars, and by extension the Russian people, had seen themselves as the guardians of Christianity with the Russian Empire a third Roman Empire.  As such, it was the duty of Russians to expand the Empire to save mankind.  The idea of Russia as the savior of mankind was further enhanced by the view that Russians had protected the West from the Mongol Hordes, had stopped Napoleon from conquering Europe in the 19th century, and then Hitler in the 20th century.  Zubok and Pleshakov further argue that Soviet leaders, particularly after Lenin, combined the traditional Russian ideal that the Russian Empire had the mission to save the world from a “militant anti-Christ” with the universalist doctrine of Marxism to form a revolutionary-imperial doctrine that informed their decision-making.  Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War claims that Stalin internalized this Russian national messianic ideal, and that it drove his expansion in Eastern Europe and support for nationalist movements in colonial areas such as Southeast Asia.

Although Zubok and Pleshakov continue to make the case that Stalin truly hoped for post-war cooperation between the “Big Three”, and therefore, waited before making truly expansionist moves and supporting revolutionary movements at the end of the war, the death of FDR and the election loss by Churchill unsettled him, as he was used to dealing with small numbers of equals.  This awakened his inherent paranoia: he did not consider either Truman or Atlee to be his equals and did not trust their motives.  The atomic bomb used on Hiroshima heightened his sense of insecurity, particularly toward American intentions in Japan.  According to Zubok and Pleshakov, Stalin worried that a quick Japanese surrender would deprive the Soviet Union of the defensive perimeter of Outer Mongolia, Manchuria, and North Korea he wanted in the Far East.  Atomic bombs combined with American and British air power could also be used to attack critical targets within Russia proper, which upset his vision of the supremacy of the Red Army against the two sea powers.  The atomic bomb caused Stalin to push for his East European security zone with more vigor, as it would provide additional attack warning and anti-aircraft defenses for American attacks to negotiate.  It also caused him to place much more emphasis on the Soviet Union’s atomic weapons program, which made excellent use of intelligence information acquired from agents in the United States.

The result of Stalin’s change of heart regarding international cooperation caused him to return to his conception of a revolutionary-imperial power.  Where the Soviet Union had refrained from supporting Greek, Macedonian, and Vietnamese revolutionaries immediately after World War II, after the use of the atomic bomb, he lent aid to the Chinese fighting Chiang Kai-shek and to Kim Il Sung in North Korea, ultimately giving North Korea the weapons, training, and approval for their attack on South Korea.

Zubok and Pleshakov, then move to a discussion of the roles of Molotov and Zhdanov in the creation of the Eastern Bloc and development of a clear revolutionary-imperial ideology.  Both of these discussions are important, but more interesting is the analysis of the potentially radical change in the Cold War environment provided by Beria and Malenkov, who attempted to split control over the Soviet Union’s foreign policy between themselves upon Stalin’s death.  These two men, according to Zubok and Pleshakov, are responsible for sudden changes in Soviet foreign policy upon the death of Stalin.  Beria controlled the NKVD and the Soviet Atomic bomb production projects, and was driven primarily by the accrual of power. He used terror and coercion as motivators. Malenkov, in contrast, was a capable administrator who was not driven by dogma or a search for power, but pragmatism.  These two men were the ones chosen by Stalin for his secret tasks and projects such as restructuring military and intelligence organizations, atomic weapons projects, and missile technology development.

At first, it appears that Beria and Malenkov worked subtly within the Presidium, asking pointed foreign policy questions and requesting that issues be revisited.  The issues included peace in Korea, policy toward Germany, Iran, Turkey, and Austria, as well as internal changes like amnesty to a million prisoners in the Gulag.  Beria supported a united and neutral Germany whether it was socialist, or not, and called for the disbanding of collective farms and the cessation of policies discouraging capitalism in general.  Beria supported these ideas on the theory that Germany was the entire source of the Cold War conflict between the United States and Soviet Union.  He shared this view with Malenkov, but the rest of the Presidium did not agree.

Beria and Malenkov lost the struggle for power when Khrushchev, who had maintained control of most of the Soviet Union’s domestic policy, suddenly sided with Molotov to denounce Beria’s policies as anti-Soviet.  Malenkov was eased out of his position after he declared in speeches that warned that thermonuclear weapons could destroy world civilization.  According to Zubok and Pleshakov, this flew in the face of the Soviet revolutionary-imperial theory motivating the Politburo, and as a result Malenkov was ultimately removed from the Central Committee and sent into exile.  Khrushchev continued to reform Soviet foreign policy, but with a different goal than Beria and Malenkov, who had sought peace with the West.

Khrushchev’s reform of Soviet policy sought to mend fences with other Socialist countries by addressing their grievances against the high-handed policies of Stalin.  To promote amity with China, Yugoslavia and others, Khrushchev discarded Soviet military bases and economic concessions with those countries and sought to show that Soviet foreign policy was aimed at promoting the spread of Socialism, not merely enhancing Soviet status. Khrushchev used the new military capabilities of the Soviet Union, including ballistic missiles and hydrogen bombs to promote his interpretation of the revolutionary-imperial paradigm.

According to Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, Khrushchev’s personality and foreign policy seem full of contradictions.  While fully embracing Stalin’s revolutionary-imperial doctrine, the basis for Soviet demands in Eastern Europe, and placing the blame for the Cold War on Western leaders, particularly Truman and Churchill, he spent political capital denouncing Stalin’s crimes and seeking peace with the United States.  By seeking peace with the United States, despite his feeling that the Soviet Union had been poorly treated at the end of World War II, he cost the Soviet Union its most valuable ally: China.

Additional contradictions appear in other aspects of Khrushchev’s foreign policy, particularly in his efforts to promote Communist revolutions around the world while attempting to pursue d├ętente with the West.  Zubok and Pleshakov point out that he failed to see the contradiction in this dichotomy, and blame the dual nature of Khrushchev’s foreign policy goals for the increased tensions of his reign between 1954-1964.  Khrushchev’s almost schizophrenic nature is again illustrated by the claim that at the same time he recognized the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and missile systems, he ordered his air defense forces to shoot down any unidentified aircraft in Soviet airspace.  While claiming that he knew how close to the brink he could push the United States after Dulles’ announcement of the “massive retaliation” policy, he ordered nuclear missiles placed in Cuba to threaten the United States’ mainland.  A final part of Khrushchev’s foreign policy strategy was the belief that the nuclear deadlock between the United States and Soviet Union made it possible to support revolutionary movements around the world at no real risk to the Soviet Union itself.  This belief would drag the Soviets into military interventions in Afghanistan. Angola, and the Horn of Africa.

Zubok and Pleshakov continue to discuss the Sino-Soviet schism and difficulties in Germany, including the erection of the Berlin Wall, before turning to relations between Khrushchev and Kennedy.  The illustration of the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit meeting in Vienna is a good illustration of opportunities lost because Khrushchev was operating on assumptions that the American President could not understand and that Khrushchev underestimated the resolve of Kennedy and the relative balance of nuclear power between the two nations.  It is particularly interesting that Khrushchev took Kennedy’s endeavors to seek a more prudent type of diplomacy between the two nuclear powers as a sign of weakness, and dismissed Kennedy as not having the depth or stature of Eisenhower. Khrushchev’s underestimation of Kennedy led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

With Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, Zubok and Pleshakov have provided a valuable and insightful look at the inner workings of the Soviet leadership and how those leaders affected Soviet-American relations in the post-war period.  They do this using methods that are unique to their work.  First, the utilize newly available Soviet and Chinese archives and apply their understanding of Russian history and cultural identity to “read between the lines” to draw deeper meaning from documents such as secret and coded communications that they claim rely on the Soviet mentality to convey their true and fullest meaning.  This has the potential of adding a much greater understanding of what those documents actually refer to.  However, there is also the danger that Zubok and Pleshakov may read in detail that simply does not exist in these documents.  Not being able to read the mind of a Molotov or a Beria means that they must rely on their memories of what it was like to live under the Soviet system to fill in gaps.  This is particularly true of an individual such as Stalin who they maintain opened up only to his second wife, who committed suicide in 1937.  With no letters or diaries discussing the thoughts or what Zubok and Pleshakov portray as an almost introverted and intensely private man is fraught with dangers.  The main danger, of course, is that Zubok and Pleshakov read into the evidence they do have from other sources what they wish to see there.

Another weakness is that although American policies and acts are mentioned in some places, it is quite sporadic.  It makes it difficult to assess how some of the policies or perceived policies of the West impacted Soviet thinking.  Although some like brinksmanship, which is assigned solely to the Eisenhower Administration, is mentioned, as is the policy of “massive retaliation”, little mention is made of the policies of Truman at the start of the Cold War.  Similarly, no mention is made whether the implicit exclusion of South Korea from the American defensive perimeter had any impact on Stalin’s decision to support Kim Il Sung’s request to invade the South.  American authors frequently cite the South Korean exclusion in at least one speech as a key event in the decision for North Korea to attack, as it implied that the United States would not intervene.

That said, the insight into the psychology of the Soviet Union’s leaders is quite valuable, especially after it is put into the context of Russian history and the ideological perspective dominant among those leaders.  The idea of the doctrine of revolutionary-imperialism that takes an pre-existing Russian messianic mind-set and melds it with the Marxist-Leninist doctrine that world revolution is inevitable is particularly instructive when applied to the expansionist policies of Stalin and the support for nationalist-communist insurgencies in the third world by both Stalin and Khrushchev.  Although it is not stated in Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, this philosophy was bound to run up against the American universalist ideal of democratic and capitalist systems everywhere.


Finally, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War is a valuable resource for understanding the development of the early Cold War Era, especially when combined with works that focus on the Western perspective because it deals with those unfathomable questions that Western-oriented texts cannot deal with, the most nagging being “What drove Stalin, Molotov, and Khrushchev to make the decisions they made and act in the manner they did.”  Zubok and Pleshakov’s work is also eminently readable for either an academic or non-academic audience, and should be accessible to the authors’ stated target audience: the American reading public.  In this it is assisted by not apologizing for the acts of Stalin or others, calling them criminal or misinformed when appropriate.  Despite a few problems, Zubok and Pleshakov achieve their goal of providing the reader with a greater understanding of the other side of the Cold War.