Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2017 Evelyn C. Leeper.

ON EVIL by Terry Eagleton:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/27/2010]

ON EVIL by Terry Eagleton (ISBN 978-0-300-15106-0) does not, in my opinion, add much to the philosophical discussion of evil, but the first section--an analysis of evil in several works of fiction--is worth reading. The works he covers are William Golding's PINCHER MARTIN (and other Golding novels), Flann O'Brien's THE THIRD POLICEMAN, Graham Greene's BRIGHTON ROCK, and Thomas Mann's DOCTOR FAUSTUS, as well as "Macbeth", "Othello", and others in less detail. I mention these, because while Eagleton gives some plot details, a lot of what he says assumes that the reader is familiar with these works. (Well, he is a Professor of English Literature. Perhaps he taught a course on evil in literature and then adapted it for the book?) But as a discussion of what evil is, and why there is evil, the ground covered seems fairly familiar.

To order On Evil from, click here.

THE GREAT MOVIES by Roger Ebert:

Roger Ebert quotes only the best in his book THE GREAT MOVIES. (See his article on "Star Wars" for an example of what I mean.) But though his selection of a hundred films which he calls "Great Movies" is sure to generate the arguments and discussions that such lists always do, I found myself reading only the articles about films I had already seen. Maybe it was that the other films were so uncommon that it was unlikely I would ever see them. (Many were foreign films, and not always as well known as Bergman's or Kurosawa's.) I suppose I prefer books that discuss influences and trends rather than films in (semi-)isolation.

To order The Great Movies from, click here.

A KISS IS STILL A KISS by Roger Ebert:

Roger Ebert's A KISS IS STILL A KISS doesn't have a thematic thread running through it, but since it is a collection of interviews that were never part of a single theme, that's less of a problem. It's also Ebert's first book, so the style is a lot less polished than his later books.

To order A Kiss Is Still a Kiss from, click here.

The Book of Ecclesiastes/The Book of Job:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/27/2006]

Our discussion group this month discussed the books of "Ecclesiastes" and "Job". As well as talking about the content, we talked about various translations as well: I had been reading the King James version, the New International Version (with annotations), the Jewish Publication Society translation, and the Catholic version (Douai/Confraternity). The latter was the most modern sounding of the four, even though it was the second oldest. We also talked about how the works get abridged. For example, during World War II, the United States Army published "Bibles" for the troops to carry in their shirt pockets. These were a New Testament for the Christians and an abridged Jewish Scriptures ("Old Testament") for the Jews. (I do not know if they had differing versions of the New Testament for Catholics and Protestants.) Obviously, the Jewish Scriptures had to be abridged--they would need really, really thin paper to make the whole thing fit in a shirt pocket. So for the "Job", they kept the first couple of chapters, the last couple of chapters (mostly), and cut the entire center section with Job's four "friends"! And of course we discovered the source of all sorts of sayings, phrases, and titles, as well as the inspiration for such authors as Roger Zelazny ("A Rose for Ecclesiastes") and James Morrow (BLAMELESS IN ABADDON, reviewed in the 10/11/1996 issue of the MT VOID).

THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/08/2005]

I watched the film THE NAME OF THE ROSE recently, so I decided to re-read the Umberto Eco novel (ISBN 0-156-00131-4). The movie was actually a fairly decent adaptation, as these things go. But a lot of the theological discussion had to be cut, and they had to give it a Hollywood ending (i.e., the library still burns, but the girl survives). This is similar to the adaptation of THE CLUB DUMAS by Arturo Perez-Reverte into the film THE NINTH GATE. In that, one reason for the title change was that the entire Alexander Dumas thread was dropped. I suppose that means we could still see a movie called THE CLUB DUMAS which contains that thread. Somehow, though, I doubt there will be another movie of THE NAME OF THE ROSE containing the theological threads.

To order The Name of the Rose from, click here.

THE SIGN OF THREE: DUPIN, HOLMES, PEIRCE edited by Umberto Eco and Thomas A. Sebeok (Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20487-9, 1983/1988, 236pp, trade paperback).

This collection of ten essays centers around the idea of $quot;abduction.$quot; Abduction appears to be a term coined by Charles S. Peirce to signify what might be considered the third side of the triangle whose other two sides are induction and deduction. (Peirce was an American philosopher of the late 19th Century and the founder of the pragmatic movement.) Abduction (also called retroduction) does not attempt, as do induction and deduction, to predict the future, but rather to explain the past. Peirce used a bag of beans to explain the three forms:

Peirce also apparently posited that we have a tendency to guess correctly about the world. (If that were true, why do we have so many contradictory religions--or scientific theories?) He further claimed that this was due to our subconscious reading of $quot;clues$quot; that we don't consciously recognize.

The application of all this to Holmes's methods is obvious. (Dupin, in spite of top billing, is not as much in evidence in these essays.) Holmes's deductive methods are clearly abduction, and his ability to take details unnoticed by others and $quot;guess$quot; correctly from them certainly helps support Peirce's claim (if the doings of a fictional character can be said to support a real-life claim--but then Holmes's observational talents were derived from the real-life Dr. Bell's, who is discussed in one of the essays).

The essays provide an explanation of Peirce's theories and then apply them to the various Sherlockian stories, as well as to other uses. (The most interesting was a discussion of Giovanni Morelli's method of attributing artworks, and its application to $quot;The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.$quot;) At times descending (or ascending) into the academically abstruse, these essays nonetheless provide valuable insights into Holmes's methods even for the non-academic reader. This is not the first analysis of Sherlock Holmes I would recommend that someone read, but for those familiar with the more common studies, this would be an interesting next step.

To order The Sign of Three: Holmes, Dupin, Peirce from, click here.

WAR OF THE WORLDS by adapted and abridged by Ian Edginton and illustrated by D'Israeli:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/27/2006]

The Darkhorse Comics version of H. G. Wells's WAR OF THE WORLDS, adapted and abridged by Ian Edginton and illustrated by D'Israeli is now complete on-line at: (It will also be released as a hardcover book in February 2006, ISBN 1-59307-474-3.) Edginton and D'Israeli previously collaborated on a sequel, SCARLET TRACES (ISBN 1-56971-940-3).

In my review of the original Wells novel in the 07/08/05 issue of the MT VOID, I discussed some of the anti-Semitic phrases that disappeared in later editions. In the Darkhorse version, D'Israeli takes the revision a step further, and portrays as Jewish the family that shelters and cares for the narrator after the Martians have been defeated. An interesting touch, though one wonders if Wells would have approved.

To order Darkhouse's War of the Worlds from, click here.

WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER by David Edmonds and John Eidinow:

David Edmonds and John Eidinow's WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER spends much more time on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, and other twentieth century philosophers than it does on the actual meeting of Wittgenstein and Popper in which Wittgenstein may or may not have threatened Popper with a fireplace poker. In some ways, trying to resolve what happens is representative of their philosophical differences.

(For those who don't know, Wittgenstein and Popper met once, in a meeting of a philosophical discussion group. The discussion turned into an argument and Wittgenstein picked up a fireplace poker and either waved it around for emphasis or threatened Popper with it, depending on whom you ask.)

When Wittgenstein and Popper were both back in Austria, there was created "the Vienna Circle" of philosophers. It claimed that only two kinds of statements were meaningful. The first were those "inherently" true, either by definition (e.g., "All triangles have three sides"), or as syllogisms (e.g., "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; Therefore Socrates is mortal.") The second are those which are empirical and verifiable (e.g., "It is raining outside now.") All other statements were meaningless.

The first major problem pointed out to this was Hempel's Paradox. That is, consider the statement "all ravens are black." To verify this one would presumably go out and look at ravens. If the raven was black, this would support that statement. But the statement is identical to "all non-black objects are not ravens," so presumably anything supporting that would also support "all ravens are black." So looking at a red object and discovering that it was a rose rather than a raven should help verify "all ravens are black." (And it would also presumably support "all ravens are white" as well!)

There was also the observation that observing a million ravens which were black really didn't tell you anything about the million-and-first. (This is the Problem of Induction.)

But Popper really gave the theory the coup-de-grace when he pointed out that the claim of the Vienna Circle was neither inherently true, nor empirical and verifiable. Hence it was meaningless, so why were they wasting their time on it?!

(He tried substituting the notion of "falsifiability," but it's not clear that got philosophers much further.)

Anyway, the argument that Wittgenstein and Popper got into was whether there were any philosophical problems at all (Popper's claim), or whether they all boiled down to puzzles and definitons (Wittgenstein's position).

Wittgenstein is certainly the better known of the two these days, although Popper may have done work with more relevance. I would love to read his work THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES, but it's a bit pricey (and apparently only volume 1 of the two volumes is even in print--ironically, my library system has only volume 2!). One of his main points in that seems to be that it isn't as important to create a political system in which the people can choose the government so much as one in which people can remove the government without a civil war. (Example: Hitler was chosen by democratic vote, but there was no provision for removing him.)

One final note: The authors observe that Wittgenstein was a major philosopher of the twentieth century--perhaps the major philosopher--and would have been the jewel in the crown of any university, yet during his lifetime published only three works (one of which was a grammar for German schoolchildren). He would never have survived in today's "publish-or-perish" atmosphere.

All this is obviously just a sampling of the book, which I obviously recommend to anyone interested in modern philosophy.

To order Wittgenstein's Poker from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/09/2012]

I also listened to the Teaching Company (a.k.a. Great Courses) LOST CHRISTIANITIES: CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES AND THE BATTLES OVER AUTHENTICATION (Professor Bart D. Ehrman) (ISBN 979-1-56585-555-6), a 24-lesson course I had on cassette which I listened to on my Walkman. (I did not even waste any batteries, as I find that when the batteries that we use in our palmtops are too weak for that purpose, I can still get several hours of Walkman use out of them.) This course is heavily based on the Nag Hammadi library and also Gnostic writings and teachings, with only minor attention to other "heresies".

To order Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/25/2007]

MISQUOTING JESUS: THE STORY BEHIND WHO CHANGED THE BIBLE AND WHY by Bart D. Ehrman (ISBN-10 0-060-85951-2, ISBN-13 978-0-060-85951-0) has annoyed those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible (especially the New Testament), buoyed up those who feel that it is the work of fallible people with agendas, and baffled those who do not want to follow the minutiae of translations and copyists. I found it most interesting when Ehrman focuses on a specific verse or verses and traces their history through various manuscripts in detail (e.g. Mark 1:41, Luke 22:43-44, Hebrews 2:8-9). He is less convincing when he moves into more general claims about why it is likely that some verses were changed, rather than providing more substantive evidence. (Of course, one of Ehrman's contentions is that not all differences can be tracked back, and some will have to be analyzed more probabilistically.)

To order Misquoting Jesus from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/01/2005]

Bart D. Ehrman's TRUTH AND FICTION IN THE DA VINCI CODE (ISBN 0-19-518140-9) could be considered yet another book in the ever-growing list of "Da Vinci Code" books (was it in the New Yorker where I saw a cartoon showing a bookstore with an entire section labeled "Da Vinci Code"?), but it is a debunker of the book, not yet another prop to its claims. Ehrman begins by saying that he has no complaint with the fiction aspect of Dan Brown's book--in fact, as fiction he likes it a lot--but he does take issue with Brown's claim that "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Ehrman addresses only the documents, but that is sufficient. One might charitably say that perhaps Brown's claim is like that at the beginning of the film FARGO, which says that that movie was based on a true story--in both cases, part of the fiction rather than the truth. Early on in the "Da Vinci" craze, Ehrman put together a list of ten errors in its claims, and this book elaborates on them. These include (but are not limited to) Brown's characters' claims that Constantine was instrumental in deciding what gospels were included in the New Testament, that before this there were dozens of gospels and thousands of documents to choose from, that the Dead Sea Scrolls were Christian in nature, and that before Constantine Jesus was not considered divine. This is must reading for anyone interested in the claims of the phenomenon.

To order Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code from, click here.

AT EASE: STORIES I TELL TO FRIENDS by Dwight David Eisenhower:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/05/2004]

While at the Eisenhower presidential Library & Museum this past summer, I bought President Eisenhower's AT EASE: STORIES I TELL TO FRIENDS (ISBN 0-915992-04-3). This is another collection of anecdotes, covering the period up to, but not including, his Presidency. It also has only a few pages on World War II, since (as he says) that was covered at great detail in his book CRUSADE IN EUROPE (which I have not read). As with the man himself, it is genial enough but not particularly intellectual, inspiring, or involving. One interesting note: he attributes his desire to create a decent interstate highway system to a cross-country road trip of Army vehicles that he made after World War I. I may lend this to my father, who was in World War II (though not in Europe), and certainly would remember more about Eisenhower than I do.

To order At Ease from, click here.

"Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal El-Mohtar:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/30/2017]

"Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press): This is yet another re-imagining of the various tropes of fairy tales--a bit didactic, but then fairy tales have traditionally come with morals or messages of some sort, so I suppose this one should also.

TWELVE FAIR KINGDOMS by Suzette Haden Elgin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/04/2003]

I started Suzette Haden Elgin's TWELVE FAIR KINGDOMS, the first of her "Ozark" trilogy, but other than the islands on this distant planet having names similar to Arkansas and Tennessee, and a geography that is basically a mirror image of the geography here (except with islands), there seemed to be nothing Ozarkian about the society. (Oh, there were "Grannies", but the social hierarchy and structure put them in a different position than the traditional Ozark "Granny".)

To order Twelve Fair Kingdoms from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/20/2005]

Dave Elliott's A FIELD GUIDE TO MONSTERS: THIS BOOK COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE (ISBN 1-592-58088-2) purports to be a serious book about monsters, in the style of field guides to poisonous snakes or mushrooms. It looked like it could be a humorous tongue-in-cheek book, but was so riddled with errors that I found it more annoying than humorous. For example, the location indicated on the map for the Amazon habitat of the Creature from the Black Lagoon is nowhere near the Amazon; the shark in JAWS was not a "mutated fish, lizard, or dinosaur"; sharks appeared as monsters in films before 1976; the Loch Ness Monster appeared first in THE SECRET OF THE LOCH in 1934, years before the 1996 film LOCH NESS Elliott gives as it first appearance; and Tyrannosaurus rex appeared pre-dates Elliott's citation of the 1996 JURASSIC PARK by over sixty years, having appeared in the 1933 KING KONG. And I only got as far as page 47. Not recommended.

To order A Field Guide to Monsters from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/06/2015]

In FOUNDING BROTHERS by Joseph J. Ellis (ISBN 978-0-375-70525-3), Ellis writes about people such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and so on, but he writes not of the man but of the moment. He does not cover Washington's career except as it pertains to the moment: Washington's "Farewell Address". Jefferson is described only for his role in the dinner meeting of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison about the assumption of Revolutionary War debt by the Federal government and the ultimate location of the nation's capital. (These seem unconnected but were both involved in the "Compromise of 1790".) Not surprisingly, Aaron Burr is covered only for his part in the "Interview in Weehawken." (Duels were euphemistically called "interviews".) The chapter about the duel reads something like "CSI: Weehawken" in that it spends a lot of time analyzing the evidence and testimony about the duel to determine exactly what happened: who fired first, whether each of them was actually attempting to hit the other, and so on. This is because after Burr and Hamilton were in position and started counting (or whatever), everyone else either left or turned their backs so that they could all truthfully say that they did not witness any duel.

However, there is also an interconnectedness in people's lives. Hamilton is a major player in several of the moments chosen, for example, but discussion of him is confined to those events.

At one point, Ellis encapsulates one of the dilemmas of alternate history: "Though we might wish otherwise, the history of what might have been is usually not history at all, mixing together as it does the messy tangle of past experience with the clairvoyant certainty of our present preferences."

The chapter about a moment of abolitionist effort, is called "The Silence" because for decades there was an agreement never to talk in American politics directly about slavery (and naturally the agreement was also unspoken). One need only look at the oblique references to slaves and slavery in the Constitution to see how this worked. At the time, Benjamin Franklin wrote (under the pseudonym "Historicus", supposedly reporting something written by Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, but it fact penned entirely by him) a speech which took all of the arguments for slavery given by white Southerners and with very few changes (e.g., the Koran for the Bible) and explained why it was good and proper for Muslims to enslave Christians and keep them enslaved in perpetuity. Oddly, this did not convince Southerners to change their minds.

To order Founding Brothers from, click here.

MONSTERS OF THE SEA by Richard Ellis:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/07/2008]

And speaking of the sea, MONSTERS OF THE SEA by Richard Ellis (ISBN-13 978-1-59228-967-7, ISBN-10 1-59228-967-3) is a study of "sea monsters"--the various historical sightings and an analysis of what they were (or might be)--as well as long sections on the biology and behavior of the actual creatures of the sea. This is basically a book of cryptozoology ("the science of 'hidden' animals"), an area which has become more popular of late, as technological developments have allowed scientists to probe deeper into the oceans, either with diving machines or with cameras.

To order Monsters of the Sea from, click here.

"Ministry of Space" by Warren Ellis, Chris Weston, and Laura Martin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/12/2005]

Warren Ellis, Chris Weston, and Laura Martin (nee DePuy), "Ministry of Space" (ISBN 1-582-40423-2): There was a lot of debate as to which Sidewise category this graphic work belonged; eventually it was but in the Short Form on the basis of the average amount of time it took people to read it. (The version we got was two-volume work with no page numbers, but it's around eighty pages.) This is another in a current spate of alternate British space programs. I thought the denouement obvious, and the last frame did not seem to me to be consistent with the rest of the story, but I can't deny that the visuals make this a better story than it would be if told strictly in words.

To order "Ministry of Space" from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/07/2006]

I bought A NARRATIVE OF A 1823 TOUR THROUGH HAWAI`I by William Ellis (ISBN 1-56647-605-4) while on vacation in Hawai`i (along with Mark Twain's LETTERS FROM HAWAI`I (reviewed in the 06/02/06 issue of the MT VOID). The Twain is from the late 19th century, while this is from a much earlier time, and a very different perspective. Twain was a cynic; Ellis was a missionary. As such, Ellis spends a lot of time talking about the religious situation: preaching to the natives, convincing them to abandon their heathen religion, and so on. (The old religion had been officially abandoned several years before the missionaries arrived, so in some sense they were a little late for that. But it is clear from Ellis's narrative that there was still a strong belief in Pele, even if the other gods were discarded, and in fact, this seems to continue into the present.) A few things caught my eye. At one point, the author is trying to convince a man not to weed his garden on the Sabbath, and it occurs to me that while there seemed to be very strict rules about working on the Sabbath, these rules defined work as something men did. When the author finished telling the man not to work on the Sabbath, he probably went back to his home and ate a special Sunday dinner prepared by his wife.

Ellis also talks about the legend of a giant named Mankareoreo, who supposedly could pick coconuts as he walked by the trees and could wade into water six fathoms deep without getting wet above his waist. Then Ellis says, "The Hawaiians are fond of the marvellous, as well as many people who are better informed; and probably this passion, together with the distance of time since Mankareoreo existed, has led them to magnify one of Umi's followers, of perhaps a little larger stature than his fellows, into a giant sixty feet high." [page 101] Of course, if you asked this missionary about whether Goliath was a giant (or whether Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, or whether Joshua made the sun stand still), he would probably have insisted that of course all those were facts.

Later when he is talking to people on the Big Island, I get the feeling that all the positive things they say about Captain Cook is more that they are being polite and telling the missionaries what they want to hear, than actually giving their account of what happened.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/21/2006]

Ellis met a woman claiming to be Pele, but when someone else attempts to discredit her by saying, "[it] is you that have destroyed the king's land, devoured his people, and spoiled all the fishing grounds. Ever since you came to the islands, you have been busied in mischief; you soiled the greater part of the island, shook it to pieces, or cursed it with barrenness, by inundating it with lava. You never did any good, and if I were the king, I would throw you all into the sea, or banish you from the islands. Hawaii would be quiet if you were away." To which the woman/Pele replied that even worse than her destruction was "the rum of the foreigners, whose God you are so fond of. Their diseases and their rum have destroyed more of the king's men, than all the volcanoes on the island." As Ellis says later on, "It was exceedingly painful to hear an idolatrous priestess declaring that the conduct of those, by whom they had been visited from countries called Christian, had been productive of consequences more injurious and fatal to the unsuspecting and unenlightened Hawaiians, than these dreadful phenomenon in nature, which they had been accustomed to attribute to the most destructive of their imaginary deities, and to know also that such a declaration was too true to be contradicted."

And in an amazing passage, Ellis writes that before Europeans arrived, the Hawaiians ate with their fingers, reclining on the ground. Now, however, "their] intercourse with foreigners of late years has taught many of the chiefs to prefer a bedstead to the ground, and a mattress to a mat, to sit on a chair, eat at a table, use a knife and fork, &c. This we think advantageous, not only to those who visit them for purposes of commerce, but to the natives themselves, as it increases their wants, and consequently stimulates to habits of industry"!

To order A Narrative of an 1823 Tour Through Hawai`i from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/22/2004]

I also read Lisa Endlich's OPTICAL ILLUSIONS: LUCENT AND THE CRASH OF TELECOM (ISBN 0-743-22667-4). For anyone who worked for Lucent during the period covered, there will not be a lot of new information, and most of the book is about the higher-ups. There is some discussion of Bell Labs which those of us from Bell Labs might find interesting, but this is one I'd recommend you borrow from the library rather than buy (especially all of you who found yourself laid off or retired early and are now getting by on a tighter budget thanks to Lucent :-( ). (Another book I would like to read is Narain Gehani's BELL LABS: LIFE IN THE CROWN JEWEL (ISBN 0-929-30627-9) but none of the libraries around here seems to have it.)

To order Optical Illusions from, click here.

MEMORY BOOK by Howard Engel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/16/2011]

MEMORY BOOK by Howard Engel (ISBN 978-0-7867-1644-9) is an unusual book with an unusual history. Engel had written several novels about private investigator Benny Cooperman, but then one day he woke up and discovered he could no longer read. It was not aphasia, but alexia sine agraphia--he could still write. So taking the advice, "When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade," he wrote a novel in which Cooperman wakes up in a hospital with alexia sine agraphia and amnesia. All he knows is what the police tell him: that someone bashed him in the head and dropped him in a dumpster. There's a bit of Josephine Tey here as well, as Cooperman tries to solve the mystery from his hospital bed.

(Oliver Sacks wrote about the case of Howard Engel in "The Case of Anna H." In yet another one of those weird synchronicities, I finished this book the same day Netflix delivered the film THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED [2011]. THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED is based on another case Sacks wrote about, in "The Last Hippie".)

To order Memory Book from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/05/2016]

BOOK BUSINESS: PUBLISHING PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE by Jacob Epstein (ISBN 978-0-393-04984-1) was published in 2001 and is "an expanded version of three lectures ... delivered in October 1999." While Epstein was a major figure in the publishing industry, and the book is a fascinating glimpse into various aspects of it, many things Epstein says or predicts have turned out to be incorrect.

For example, he describes the origins of the "Library of America" series of books, as well as its purpose: to keep in print "all of American literature worth having." However, he then says, "The Library of America has now published substantially all the work for which it was created and for which rights are available. Its obligation hereafter is to husband its resources so that this work remains in print and accessible to readers, and to ensure that funds are on hand for the publication of twentieth-century writers as rights permit." Here Epstein seems to have limited its ambit to the nineteenth century, with only a nod to the twentieth century. One wonders what he would think of the "Library of America" volumes of Philip K. Dick and H. P. Lovecraft being published.

He also badly misjudges, which he described at the time as "essentially a retail bookstore with sidelines in music, toys, electronic gadgets, drugstore items, and so on." And so it was at the time, and even Epstein suggested, "Perhaps will evolve into another kind of business, a brokerage for a variety of goods and services or and advertising medium. Perhaps it will become an online distributor of electronic texts. As its losses grew, there was talk of 'leveraging its customer base,' jargon for selling access to its millions to sellers of other products." Prescient, you say? But Epstein went on, "But Amazon's book buyers may not be equally interested in other products while Amazon's affiliated retailers will face the same low margins that afflict Amazon itself." He concluded that Amazon's business model could not succeed. I think he may have been wrong there.

To order Book Business from, click here.

"Newton's Mass" by Timons Esaias:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/25/2005]

Anyone who is aware of the book MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES will be familiar with the idea of attributing incorrect meanings and uses to objects. There is also a lot of revisionism going on, where people try to find more politically correct interpretations of practices. And "The Soldier and the Deck of Cards" (available at combines these two ideas. Now Timons Esaias has incorporated this approach into "Newton's Mass", a poem in the December 2005 issue of ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION, which begins "How the pine tree came to be / integral to Newton's birthday / is unclear", and then proceeds to explain the meanings of the various symbols. Anyone who has ever had a discussion about the origin and meaning of various Christmas symbols should read this.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/01/2008]

SPELLBOUND: THE SURPRISING ORIGINS AND ASTONISHING SECRETS OF ENGLISH SPELLING by James Essinger (ISBN-13 978-0-385-34084-7, ISBN-10 0-385-34084-2) is more a history of the English language and less an explanation about spelling. Essinger also makes some mistakes, or rather, has some misunderstandings. He refers to "a holy book, such as the Christian Bible, the Muslim Koran, or the Jewish Talmud" (page xxviii). The Talmud is not really a holy book; it is more a set of annotations to the Torah, which is a holy book. He says of "kosher" that it "has come to mean in modern English not just food that is prepared according to Jewish but also, more broadly, anything that is correct, genuine, and legitimate" (page 26). The only problem is that that is what it means in Hebrew; one speaks of a "kosher scroll" in a mezuzah, for example.

And in writing about languages which do not use the Roman alphabet, Essinger says, "where there is an accepted romanization system, the writing of a foreign nonalphabetic name is fairly straighforward. But a strange-looking name in a foreign language that is written using Roman letters will not have any standardized way of being written" (page 52). If it is already in Roman letters, why change it at all?

On page 77 he gives a sample of text written in the International Phoentic Alphabet (IPA). I found myself thinking how interesting it looked. Then on page 78 he says, "purely phonetic writing looks absolutely horrendous, as the physical appearance of Hamlet's speech in the IPA shows all too well." Well, that wasn't my reaction at all!

Essinger talks about how the English language became basically a completely different language by 1500 from what it was in 1400, and the "Great Vowel Shift", which made what had been pronounced "Saw it is team to say the shows on the sarm fate noo," to our present "So it is time to see the shoes on the same feet now." Again, though, a lot of this is only marginally related to spelling.

To order Spellbound from, click here.

ALIVE! by Loren D. Estleman:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/07/2013]

At first glance, ALIVE! by Loren D. Estleman (ISBN 978-0-7653-3331-5) appeared to be an alternate history in which Bela Lugosi did not turn down the role of the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN and Rudolph Valentino became a private detective. In fact, the picture and references to Lugosi as the Monster on the cover refer entirely to the ten minutes of test footage of his that was shot and then lost, and Valentino (no first name is ever given) is a "film detective" working for the Film Preservation Department at UCLA. When a friend of Valentino's is murdered and it turns out to involve the lost footage, Valentino starts investigating. There's even a character patterned after Forrest J. Ackerman.

Estleman makes a couple of mistakes. He says the town of Tarzana was named by Edgar Rice Burroughs after his jungle hero. Burroughs named Tarzana Ranch (which he then subdivided and sold as a whites-only community under a restrictive covenant; it was ten years later that the residents named the town Tarzana.

And he mistakenly refers to "As it was with the DRACULA star's signature accent, one had only to assume Karloff's stiff-legged, groping-armed walk to tell people ... whom he was imitating." But the groping arms came about in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN when the Monster was supposedly blind (from a bad blood transfusion), and that was well after Karloff stopped playing the Monster. And who was playing the Monster in that film? None other than Bela Lugosi, meaning that ironically it is Lugosi's performance that people imitate to portray Karloff!

All in all, ALIVE! Is an okay mystery, but clearly aimed (along with the rest of the series) primarily at film fans.

To order Alive! from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/14/2013]

THE PERILS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Loren D. Estleman (ISBN 978-1-440-54414-9) is a collection of mostly previously published short stories about Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, even those I had not seen before often were a bit obvious in their solutions.

Estleman writes, "It is my belief that THE PERILS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is the first single author collection of short stories published since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's own THE CASE-BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES..." Well, no--June Thomson wrote several, and Tracy Cooper-Posey, Ted Riccardi, Alan Stockwell, and Sebastian Wolfe each wrote at least wrote one. And those are just the ones I've run across.

To order The Perils of Sherlock Holmes from, click here.

GRAPHIC CLASSICS from Eureka Productions:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/13/2008]

Eureka Productions has a series called GRAPHIC CLASSICS, each of which has six to ten short pieces by the featured author, each done by a different person (or people). For example, the H. P. LOVECRAFT volume (ISBN-13 978-0-9746648-9-7, ISBN-10 0-9746648-9-8) has "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" adapted by Alex Burrows and illustrated by Simon Gane, "The Shadow Out of Time" adapted and illustrated by Matt Howarth, and so on. This means that if you do not like the style of one piece, you may like the next. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" had (in my opinion) too many panels that were almost entirely black and dark gray. "Dreams in the Witch-House" has a very stark (one might almost say harsh) black and white look. "Sweet Ermengarde" uses a much lighter touch, with thinner lines and more detail. "The Cats of Ulthar" is basically a text story with one large illustration on each page. And so on. Similarly, the MARK TWAIN volume (ISBN-13 978-0-9787919-2-6, ISBN-10 0-9787919-2-4) has a variety of styles as well. I would love to see GOTHIC CLASSICS (ISBN-13 978-0-9787919-2-2, ISBN-10 0-9787919-2-4), which features NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen and THE MYSTERY OF UDOLPHO by Ann Radcliffe, among others. How they manage to condense a full novel down to forty pages or so is perhaps something I do not want to see--even CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED had more pages than that, I think--but I am still curious.

Of course, a large part of the attraction of both Lovecraft and Twain is their language, and what the graphic form often does is to sacrifice some of the text for pictures. As such, it's more comparable to a film made from the story, rather than the story itself.

Oddly, the Lovecraft volume is catalogued as fiction, but the Twain appears to be given Dewey Decimal number 741. I have no idea why, but it is no wonder that books go missing on the shelf. It would not surprise me that someone might end up shelving these two together, and then one becomes unfindable.

To order Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft from, click here.

To order Graphic Classics: Mark Twain from, click here.

TIME STATION LONDON by David Evans (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00364-8, 1996, 249pp, mass market paperback):

This is basically a time travel story with alternate history aspects, rather than an alternate history novel, and is very much patterned on Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" series. (Here it's the "Temporal Corps.") The story itself has some promise (renegade time travelers are trying to assassinate Churchill and affect the outcome of World War II). But Evans doesn't have the skill that Anderson does (given that Anderson holds the record for most fiction Hugos--seven--this is not surprising), and the story never seems to take off. And perhaps more damaging is that Evans over-uses the time travel idea, which makes the story very non-chronological and also means that the reader soon realizes that it is too easy to get around problems using time travel. If nothing is permanent, why care about anyone or anything? And what tension is there in such a story?

There are other problems. One is that Evans seems to be stuck on the letter "S"; his three main female characters are Samantha, Sandy, and Sally. (He has a male character named Steven as well.) And he is sloppy with his history. For example, a character gets his Elizabethan English module replaced with one for the 1940s and also gets a smallpox vaccination for the latter period. Wouldn't he have gotten one for the earlier period already? And a character from the early 1950s trained in the 2700s refers to people in the 1940s as "you James Bond types."

Obviously, there will be other stories in this milieu. (For one thing, the back cover says, "Don't miss this thrilling debut of the all-new Time Station series!") But I found it rather flat and uninteresting, and recommend you seek out Anderson's stories instead.

To order Time Station London from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/25/2005]

Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate's INTRODUCING EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY (ISBN 1-84046-043-1) is yet another in the Totem graphic book series, but this one has an interesting backstory as well. Apparently the first edition of the book had a caricature of psychologist Steven Rose on page 155 with a word bubble saying, "Whether you become a genius or an idiot depends entirely on what environment you live in." Rose vehemently objected to this, and the new version says, "Genes aren't everything; the environment matters too". ( has more information about this.)

But page 117 is perhaps even more interesting. This has a picture of a page of personal ads ("Beautiful, intelligent, outgoing women ... seeks LTR with good-looking, sociable, professional male" sort of thing. Evans's claim is that these ads show that people are seeking the characteristics that would make someone a good parent ("kindness, patience, generosity and trustworthiness"). The illustration shows someone with a big black pen has circled some of the ads. But curiously the same black pen seems also to have crossed out certain words. The words are "gay", "gay female", and "gay woman". Now why would they do that? It seems unlikely it was done simply as censorship of something people might find objectionable--there are drawings in the book that are certainly more explicit. More likely they actually contradict the author's' point about mating characteristics, so they are simply and crudely crossed out. Perhaps the authors' did not notice the ads on the first pass. These ads could be pointed at as an example of looking for partners without parenting in mind (though of course many gay people are parents). But why include a page that has these ads and then black them out? Why not find a page without them? With all the pages of personal ads in the world, certainly one page could be found that does not include references to gays. The whole thing almost looks as though Evans and Zarate wanted people to call attention to the existence of contradictory evidence. Without asking the authors we may never know.

To order Introducing Evolutionary Psychology from, click here.

BLONDE ROOTS by Bernadine Evaristo:

[From MT VOID, 03/27/2009]

I read BLONDE ROOTS by Bernadine Evaristo (ISBN-13 978-1-59448-863-4, ISBN-10 1-59448-863-0). Let me start by saying that I may have been reading a different book than Evaristo was writing (as they say). But there were problems in this book, and it's not just something that requires a "willing suspension of disbelief," but which undermines the entire premise.

Okay, here goes. The idea of this is (according to the jacket) "what if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed, and Africans had enslaved Europe?" Now that may be a sort of obvious premise, but it at least seems to have possibilities. However, these are dashed on page -4 (that's "minus 4"), when one encounters a map of Evaristo's world. It contains "Amarika", which looks and is positioned like "America" in our world except for an archipelago of islands containing the cities of "New Ambossa" and "New Londolo". So far, so good. But in the Old World, she has swapped "Europa" and "Aphrika". And although "England" is on the new Europa, there is a Britain-shaped island northwest of of Aphrika called the "United Kingdom of Great Ambossa" with a capital of "Londolo" (which explains "New Londolo").

To avoid putting Europa in the tropics and Aphrika in the temperate zone, everything has been moved south so that the equator runs just south of what seems to be Greenland, the middle of Great Ambossa, and what would be the Sahara region of your Africa. So when the jacket says that the Africans enslave the Europeans, we still have the situation of the people from the north enslaving those from the south. (The map seems to have everything in the Southern Hempisphere, which does move the slave trade a bit south.)

One problem, though, is that if one looks at the proportions of the land masses on the map, Europa still seems to be in a tropical area. Another is that the map does not show any land connection between Aphrika and Europa which would account for a population which evolved on one continent migrating to the other. (Okay, maybe it's off the edge of the page.)

Almost lost in all this geographical confusion is the wholesale adoption of European names, "Aphrikanized" a bit but still recognizable: Voodoomass, Paddinto Station and the Bakalo Line on the Londolo Tube, Edgwa, and so on.

This playing fast and loose with words extends to more mundane expressions. Doris talks about being with someone "24/7". She talks about clothing being size 4 or size 20. She even says things like, "She's like totally spoiled, y'know?"

There are posters for films called GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER, TO SIR WITH HATE, and LITTLE WHYTE SAMBO, ESQ. There's a hymn titled "When the Saints Go Marchin' In".

And ultimately, the book undermines many of the basic premises of what we "know" about the slave trade, and makes unclear what Evaristo is trying to say. What we have in BLONDE ROOTS are Aphrikans from the tropics with black skin enslaving Europanes in a (more) temperate zone with white skin apparently only because Aphrika is north of Europa. The culture of the Aphrikans seems based on African culture, and the culture of the Europanes seems based on European culture. There is no explanation of whether the Aphrikans are more technologically advanced than the Europanes and hence able to enslave them for that reason, or whether there was some other reason. (One would think that living in a harsher climate would force a culture to advance its technology at least somewhat, but maybe not.) The technology is certainly inconsistent: they seem to have a knowledge of DNA, as well as highrises and skateboards, even though in transportation they haven't gotten past trains. (The question of when this takes place is never answered. It reminds me of the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, which seem to take place in a central Europe which is a mixture of the then+-present and sometime around 1890. In any case, the technology levels in Aphrika and Europa don't seem different enough to account for the widespread slave trade.

Actually, Annalee Newitz summed this problem up in someone's blog by noting 1) the difficulty of maintaining paper documents and wooden housing in a tropical climate, 2) the lack of stone for building in Africa/Aphrika, 3) the tse-tse fly preventing the effective use of calvary or farm animals in Africa/Aphrika, 4) the heat of Africa/Aphrika precluding heavy body armor, and 5) the scarcity of African/Aphrikan plants and animals suitable for domestication.

Here's the problem, then: if Evaristo made just swapped Europe and Africa, then all that would change would have been skin color--and even that would not, because that is due in large part to climate. But by keeping Aphrika tropical and Europa colder, she ignores that these are among the factors that would have created the societies or cultures that would make Europa capable of dominating Afrika rather than vice versa.

But as it stands, an Aphrikan culture similar to our African one is the slave-holding society. So it isn't culture that makes slavers. (So much for the glorification of African cultures with the claim that they would never have done such a thing--which of course they did in our world, but that's another story.) And it isn't climate, given that in Evaristo's world the hot climate people have enslaved the cold climate people. And it isn't skin color (well, it wouldn't be, would it?). Apparently it is pure chance.

And, as has been pointed out, in our world Romans enslaved Angles, Turks enslaved Europeans, and even in some cases, Africans enslaved Europeans.

And it is not as if Evaristo is the first author to do this black-white reversal. There is the duology LION'S BLOOD and ZULU HEART by Steven Barnes, and "Lion Time in Timbuctoo" by Robert Silverberg, both of which rely on a much more severe Bubonic Plague of 1348 than our world experienced.

Some think even this would be insufficient. Someone else said, "I think to have an African dominated global civilization we'd have to change history much earlier and then reverse events several times again later on. I think the inflection point would actually be the defeat of Twenty-Fifth Egyptian Dynasty at the Battle of Sile by the Assyrians."

And my last complaint is aimed not just at Evaristo, but at a lot of authors who, for whatever reason, decide to attempt to write in dialect. Here is a passage which is a snippet of spoken dialogue:

"I been meaning to aks yu dis. I want mi bwoy Yao to have more storee in his hed dan what go round in mine about dis damn place, which, kwite franklee, give me flamin hedake all de time! Yao will neva git outa dis hellhole exept to be sold to some odder plantashun, but de wurld out dere will get into his hed if you help him reed an rite. I have contakt in de big house who will git book fe me."

Now, this is harder to read that the "correct" spelling would be. The argument is that this reminds the reader that the person would sound different. But all it does is remind the reader that English spelling is irrational.

"I been meaning": This (and other examples) do actually represent different grammar.

"aks", "dis", "dan", "dere", "odder": These actually represent different pronunciations.

"yu": What is the point of this? It is pronounced exactly the same way as "you".

"I want mi bwoy": Is "mi" pronounced "my" (in which case why change it, or "mee" (in which case "mee" would be better)?

"storee", "hed", "kwite franklee", "hedake", "plantashun", "wurld", "hed", "reed", "rite": Why not "story", "head", "quite frankly", "headache", "plantation", "world", "head", "read", "write"?

"damn": And if one is going to change spelling to match pronunciation, this should be "dam".

"hellhole": This just seems an odd word to find in this long dialect speech.

This book has gotten good reviews from others, but I found it very predictable, and cannot really recommend it.

To order Blonde Roots from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/04/2013]

The premise of LANGUAGE: THE CULTURAL TOOL by Daniel L. Everett (ISBN 978-0-307-37853-8) is that language develops as a tool and so all its characteristics can be attributed to that function. If a language has no words for counting, it is because the users of that language have no need for such words. If they needed them, the words would be invented. (Or as it turns out in some cases, when people think that a language has no word for some concept, they are just wrong.)

Everett bases a lot of his conclusions on Piraha, an Amazonian language that he learned while a missionary to the Piraha people. While his examples o support his thesis, I am cautious about believing it, since in the past people have put forth theories with supporting evidence from languages they had learned, and only later it was discovered that they had learned them imperfectly. (For example, it was said that the Navajo had no way to conceptualize time the way we do because the Navajo language lacks the words for it. The former turns out to be false, and in fact the latter is not entirely true either.)

For those who like language oddities, Everett gives us "garden path sentences" which mislead the reader:

And what Everett calls "ambiguous sentences", but are really ambiguous headlines:

To order Language: The Cultural Tool from, click here.

THE MANLY MOVIE GUIDE by David Everitt and Harold Schechter:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/14/2004]

David Everitt and Harold Schechter's THE MANLY MOVIE GUIDE (ISBN 1-57297-308-0, Boulevard Books) is incredibly politically incorrect--but that's the idea. Sample from the comments on THE BIG SLEEP: "Many critics have noted that this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's mystery novel does not make any sense. And in fact, there is at least one murder that goes completely unexplained. All of which points up one of the great advantages of being a man. Since small cinematic details like plot, character motivation, and logic don't really matter to us anyway, we're free to enjoy this movie as a pure exercise in wise-talking, double-dealing, blackjack-slugging virility." The book also includes some very specialized categories--one of my favorites is "The Best Sci-Fi Creature Movies Of 1955 Directed By Jack Arnold That Feature Clint Eastwood In Miniscule Roles" (hint: there are two). "The Only Manly Merchant-Ivory Film" is THE DECEIVERS, and for "Noteworthy Gladiator Movies That Do Not Feature Woody Strode" they say, "We're sorry, but we can't think of any." Silly, but fun.

To order The Manly Movie Guide from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/02/2015]

THE FICTIONAL MAN by Al Ewing (ISBN 978-1-78108-094-8) has an interesting premise: cloning has been perfected, but rather than cloning a "new" person as an infant, they somehow can download a personality into a fully grown clone. And this personality is that of a fictional character, whether from literature or from film or from television. (I don't think there were any from video games.) Oh, and this has apparently been going on for a while, so this is really an alternate history in the same way that Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO is. That is, there is a not any real change in society, or politics, or economics, just a minor change in one aspect of how the world works. In THE FICTIONAL MAN, there are clones ("Fictionals") who are basically like actors, but not considered "Real" people. They are discriminated against, relationships between real people and Fictionals are considered perverse and disgusting, and so on. And herein lies the problem: none of this is subtle. The parallels between the social attitudes towards Fictionals and those towards various racial, religious, or other minority groups is just too obvious. There are a lot of ironies, with Fictionals wishing they were Real, and Reals wishing they were (or at least pretending to be) Fictional. There is even a term for Fictionals so derogatory that it is usually referred to only as the "P-word" (okay, it's "Pinnochio"). There is also some discussion of what difference (if any).there is between Reals and Fictionals. (Hint: At first it seems there is, but it turns out not to be necessarily true simply because of how the Fictionals are created.) I enjoyed some of the discussions, but I kept wishing there was more to the book.

To order The Fictional Man from, click here.

The Book of Exodus:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/09/2004]

In celebration of Passover, I just re-read the book of Exodus, and have a question, an observation, and what I think is a radical theory.

The question: Exodus 4:24-26 says, "And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision." There are way too many "he"s without clear antecedents here--what exactly is going on?

The observation: All those people opposed to same-sex marriage on the "slippery slope" argument that it could lead to incest don't seem to comment on Moses's parentage as related in Exodus 6:20 ("And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years."). And while this is before the explicit prohibition at Sinai, so was Lot and his daughters, which they do consider wrong.

And finally, the radical theory: The general consensus seems to be that the "Ten Commandments" engraved on the tablets are those given in Exodus 20:3-17. But those first ten there are followed by a bunch of others. And later in Exodus 34:1 we read, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest." And then in Exodus 34:10-11 we get, "And he said, Behold, I make a covenant.... Observe thou that which I command thee this day...." And finally in Exodus 34:17-27 we get the following (my divisions, and my numbering added in brackets):

[1] Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

[2] The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

[3] All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. ...

[4] Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

[5] And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

[6] Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel....

[7] Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven;

[8] neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

[9] The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

[10] Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

And then Exodus 34:27 concludes with "And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel."

Now, that strikes me as clearly stating that these are the "Ten Commandments" engraved on the tablets, rather than the earlier ones. Comments?

(I also wish those politicians who always want to point to the various commandments would engrave this one in their offices: "And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous" (Exodus 23:8).)

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/23/2004]

A follow-up on my theory regarding the Ten Commandments: Someone on another mailing list says that in the original Hebrew the description given in Exodus 34 is not of commandments (either "mitzvot" or "chu-kim u'mishpatim"), but simply words or things ("d'varim"). This is an answer of sorts, but I still don't know why it says that these are what was written on the tablets--that would seem to imply more importance than just plain words.

I'll assume you can find this one on your own. :-)

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