The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote 

by Sharyl Attkisson
Harper Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“In the news business a ‘great get’ used to mean that you, as a reporter got an exclusive story as a result of your ingenuity, shore-leather journalism, and persistence. Today it simply means you’re the recipient of a White House or political party leak.”

Imagine your friend just told you that the former President of the United States was dealing drugs from the White House. This friend quoted several articles from apparent reputable news sources who are calling for the prosecution of the former president. The story is everywhere, echoed on the twenty-four hour news cycle. You are shocked, but then after a cursory examination of the facts, you realize that the story sources are unnamed, the facts are unsubstantiated, and the experts are questionable. Your friend has bought into fake news—a smear campaign against the former president’s legacy. Your friend is an intelligent, good person, but you are embarrassed for him or her, that they were duped so completely.

Now, substitute former president for current president and switch drug dealing for Russian collusion. The story is just as bogus as the first example, but the person duped by it could be you. It has you upset and repeating it to friends, and the people running the smear campaign are patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

This scenario isn’t entirely your fault. You’re a busy, industrious person, who relies on the snippets of news gathered from print, radio, and/or television. Unfortunately, those sources are the dog being wagged by the vast smear industry on both the left and right side of politics. You likely don’t know who the smear merchants are, how they work, and how much they influence twenty-first century thought. Luckily, Sharyl Attkisson, one of the last investigative journalists of integrity left in a field of pretty faces and posers, identifies the producers of heavily biased and fake news and their methods of delivery. It’s a fascinating and startling tour, which exposes just how far journalism has fallen.

Attkisson begins by mapping the various groups and modes that deal in negative information, where an adherence to the truth is practiced if and only if it serves their purposes. Once the exclusive domain of PR firms and media departments, smears are generated routinely by super PACS, think tanks, nonprofits, shadow organizations accepting and allocating dark money, activist journalists, and a variety of real and fake persons and groups on the Internet. These organizations carry a billion dollar war chest, feeding multi-layers of slime producers through shadowy sub-organizations and multi-pronged subterfuge. With tremendous manpower and resources, they can mobilize at a moment’s notice to sway the public away from reason—all while appearing to be either the exclusive authority on a particular subject, from a different origin than in actuality, and/or much larger in numbers when in fact the source could be a single person you’ve never heard of yet posing as thousands.

“During the ’90s the flow of misinformation was established.”
–David Brock, political operative

Master propagandist and Nazi Joseph Goebbels, who had mastered Edward Bernays philosophies of mass persuasion and weaponizing information, believed that the truth could be manufactured by the state. While Goebbels might be daunted by the extent of the current propaganda industry, its objective has remained consistent: to obtain and maintain power by any means possible.

The American smear can trace its roots to the earliest days of politics. Jefferson, for example, smeared Adams through the press to effectively boot him from office and assume his job. Attkisson reveals today’s players—men like David Brock, a failed conservative gun for hire turned left-wing political operative, and his flagship organization Media Matters. He is both admired and reviled, depending on whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of his dirty work. This giant of the smear industry has likely rationalized his actions as a necessary means to an end. Keep in mind that Hitler and Stalin employed the same logic and tactics—the deliberate isolation and personal destruction of anyone who did not tout the party line.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect for Attkisson is the media’s willingness to play along with smear tactics, behaving as an echo chamber for dirt without factual verification and in some cases generating the dirt themselves. Many of today’s journalists want “to change the world.” This would be fine if it meant the traditional journalism role of informing the public by recording events and uncovering facts, but the sentiment seems to be to actually change the world via reporting. This makes it easier for activist journalists, of which there is no shortage, to accept questionable leads to advance both their careers and personal agendas. In the past, a news bureau editor would ask reporters to “go find a story,” perhaps with a lead or two in hand. Today, a news bureau editor says, “This is the story. Now go find supporting material,” which often includes unnamed sources and little else. The storynow comes from high up in the corporate boardrooms and government hierarchy, instead of down on the streets where stories actually exist. Keep in mind that a former editor of Pravda, Russia’s premiere state newspaper, once admitted that it didn’t matter if the people realized that its newspaper’s stories were not true, only that they, the soviet government, determined the truth.

“[Trump thinks] he can control exactly what people think, and that is our job.”
–Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC

The result of activist smear journalism has been threefold. First, the average consciousness is no longer tangent to the facts, missing stories altogether and absorbing mostly commentary designed to obfuscate reality. You have to operate as your own journalist to uncover what’s really happening—digging, probing, and questioning everything—an impractical task in a busy world. Second, the thinking public has lost faith in once-heralded media institutions. Media outlets have pared down their editorial focus to a handful of topics, and then put on blinders to resist the facts. Like Pravda, they’ve predetermined the truth. Great, prizewinning journalists have walked their halls, and some still do, but the media has self-tarred and feathered itself via a lack of journalistic integrity. They’re hopping around, burning, half-crazed at times, and they are the only ones who don’t see the hideous joke they’ve become. Third, this journalistic implosion kicked open the door for a brash, big-mouthed, brilliant, bully outsider to become President of the United States, simply because he pointed out that the media was dishonest, and then the media lifted up this candidate by, well, lying about him.

And if you didn’t see the last election as anything other than a people’s revolution—about insiders vs. outsiders, about the players vs. the citizens, about socialist insurgency vs. libertarian pushback—then you weren’t paying attention. You were likely still mesmerized by the big media machine and its droning message.

“I think we spend too much time in New York.”
–Dean Baquet, executive editor New York Times

Sharyl Attkisson is no conservative. Her reporting on the Bush administration’s Halliburton connection, for example, was insightful and relentless. However, for turning a spotlight on the media, Attkisson has drawn fire from the smear merchants who cannot understand why doing her job includes investigating both sides of the political fence. It’s a good thing she’s a tough veteran of news ink. She’ll survive. Her book bravely dives into the bad, the ugly, and the ugliest of modern media. If you want to remain ignorant, don’t read The Smear. Keep regurgitating media talking points. They love it! The only question will be: How much power are you going to lend these people by not paying attention, by not calling them out? Attkisson has called them out.

Throughout the book, the author maintains grace and an obvious passion for a field and the principles it had once pledged to uphold. Her writing is clear, accessible, and carries appropriate depth for the subject matter without being condescending or leading. Isn’t that what good journalists are supposed to do? She should change her name to something other than a journalist, perhaps traditional journalist or truth teller or fearless fact finder. Or maybe those other guys should change their names to political hacks or yellow journalists or flat out liars.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Advertisements

JFK and the Reagan Revolution: A Secret History of American Prosperity

by Lawrence Kudlow and Brian Domitrovic
Portfolio Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Circumstances called for final and definitive policy—and Kennedy chose Treasury’s recommendation: supply-side economics.”

To many, the study and discipline of economics seems like a dark science practiced by witch doctors who are more skilled at explaining what just happened in the world of business and finance than making sense of current developments. Very few experts make salient arguments, much less absorb the breadth of the important issues, instead delving into the details and missing the point altogether. However, Kudlow and Domitrovic’s recent offering on late twentieth century American prosperity makes sense of what worked and what struggles to work, thereby laying down an obvious course too simple and effective to ignore.

Lawrence Kudlow—an economic commentator and former presidential administration advisor—and Brian Domitrovic—a professor, historian, and economic institute researcher—examine the genesis of President Kennedy’s economic strategy and, later, its reemergence within President Reagan’s administration. In the early Kennedy days, the economy lagged, unemployment was rampant, and taxes were high and full of loopholes. Kennedy, gaining his feet in the Oval Office, stayed the course with dismal results, but as the economy floundered and the president’s experience grew, he listened to different voices within his administration. They told him to cut taxes and aim for growth. This bold economic move would become an important yet forgotten component of Kennedy’s legacy, perhaps overshadowed by his civil rights achievements. As any philosopher or student of sociology would know, it is extremely difficult to elevate a society within a challenging economic framework. Historically, lasting change comes with an improvement of conditions. Drastic change, and not always for the better, foments under dire conditions.

Central to the prosperity discussion is the Keynesian vs. Supply-side economics debate. In brief, Keynesian economists assert that the economy is influenced by the aggregate demand of consumption, government spending, exports, and investments, which are often supported by a large and heavy-spending government—think stimulus money and regular intervention by various federal regulatory bodies. Supply-side economists push for low taxation and deregulation, allowing for greater flow of goods at lower prices, which in turn leads to more jobs and higher wages. Keynesians believe that a large government fueled by hearty taxes allows the authorities to tinker with economic metrics to the benefit of the people. Supply-siders want to shrink government and let the economy run itself, increasing tax revenue through economic growth.

Most presidents are faced with a choice to accept Keynesian economics. The successful administrations battle it. While it took Kennedy’s assassination to solidify both his growth-oriented economic vision and key civil rights legislation, these choices led to golden years of prosperity for the middle class on both economic and social fronts. Years later, when President Reagan inherited a lackluster economy, he summoned much of Kennedy’s plan to recreate a new American revival. (In turn, President Clinton coat-tailed this movement by mostly leaving their system alone.) The similarity between the diverse figures of Kennedy and Reagan was an ability to listen to and sift through a cadre of intelligent advice and their core faith in the middle class as the heart and soul of the nation. Their plan was deceivingly simple: lower taxes in business and income, which stimulates production and jobs and then results in additional tax revenue via motivated wage earners and corporate expansion. As a result, most everyone is working and self-empowered.

The authors use straightforward language, historical anecdotes, and key sources to map the successes and failures of both the Kennedy and Reagan economic plans. By marrying the course of these historic presidencies, the authors highlight American progress, while contrasting it against its left and right turns into faltering policies. During the discussion, the authors limit their personal politics, even though it is indeed politics that impedes real growth again and again. If there were an E=MC2 for economics, the C or constant in the equation would be misguided and dirty politics. As the authors reveal, the interplay of politics and economics has become so contentious that both parties to various degrees have abandoned their legacies of success. And everyone but Washington seems to be suffering.

This is a compelling and important book, which should be delivered to every senator and congressman as required reading.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Grape Olive Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture

by Matt Goulding
Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“You can tell how serious a culture is about an animal by how thoroughly they butcher it.”

Spain is a conundrum. Married to the past, modernized by the European Union, unified and fractured by blood and history, it is a country that embraces both common and diverse cultures with grace. It’s a happy family about to burst into a bitter feud at any moment, but the food and lifestyle that surrounds it is as good as it gets in Europe while coming off as deceivingly simple. This landscape is covered in Goulding’s excellent tour of Spanish food and living from top to bottom and east to west. However, the book after all is titled, Grape Olive Pig, and so let’s begin there, folding in Goulding’s observations along the way.

Spanish wine—the grape part of the discussion—is misunderstood and misclassified in America. As they say in Spain, they need to do a better job of advertising their varietals, at least as good of a job as they do in France or Italy. Keep in mind, there have been times when Spain provided grapes to France due to vine disease or France would have had no wine to drink. Always seeking simplicity and the perfect note, Spanish wine covers the palate as well as any country’s offerings, but if wine is something you prefer to drink with food, cava—Spain’s answer to champagne—is what to drink everywhere else. There’s a cava for every taste and budget, and it’s sold in stores beside soda pop and water. So much so that you might think Spaniards drink cava instead of water. Well, some do.

Olives are the thing you get while awaiting a meal, although they could be served as part of a tapas spread. This makes them seem like a second thought, but this is in no way true. The olive has been mastered in this country, and they are reason enough to return. They are stuffed, pitted, or served au naturale and on the stem, but they aren’t cured to the extent of their Italian cousins. This exhibits a fundamental attitude about Spanish cooking: Leave the ingredients alone; seek out the freshest and finest, and let them do their best work unmolested. The elements of a Spanish meal are easily identifiable, leaving no place for them to hide and nary a cover-up.

The way in which Spaniards prepare the pig is second to none. Italians will argue, but this reviewer has gotten down and dirty with both and gives the edge to Spain, although either one would leave you in porcine bliss. Again, the start is paramount to success. The black-footed ibérico pig—free-ranged and fed a diet of acorns—serves up the finest sausages and hams on the planet. The varieties are complex, succulent, and individual signatures of Spain’s regions.

In this cultural guide and musings, Goulding, an expat and resident of charming and accessible Barcelona, circumnavigates Spain’s regions and serves up history and food through both personal and cultural reflection. Spain’s pivotal importance in western culture requires a wide-angle lens, but to provide illumination, the author drops into details at just the right moment to offer the essence of each stop along the way. He reiterates the culture’s emphasis on simple, fresh market ingredients—a salad consists of just-picked lettuce, liberally applied olive oil, and salt; paella requires saffron rice, salt, pepper, and the right pan and staples to determine its outcome; meat is freshly butchered and simply grilled with little and often no seasoning; and dozens of tempting variations build up from olive oil and tomato smeared bread.

This is not Goulding’s first rodeo on the food tour. He’s an experienced chef and columnist, who’s written a similar food memoir in Rice Noodle Fish, also plumbing the elemental nature of travel experience within the local cuisine. So watch out. He’s got more to say about what you might eat in the future. However, you’re not going to stick this book among your cookbooks, and you’re not going to place it on your bookshelf beside Como agua para chocolate. You’re going to drop it on your coffee table and invite friends to take it home, but then bring it back. Promise?

In a time when it seems as if the art book is giving way to mass-produced paperbacks that disintegrate faster than an Antarctic ice shelf, the hard cover production of Grape Olive Pig is gorgeous, a labor of love with an engrossing layout and beautiful photos, graphics, and lettering. The writing reveals intimate knowledge of Spanish food, but hooks you with a shared memoir that kisses the line of overly personal but never crosses it. That’s the tease that keeps this book moving forward and allows you to see the overview of Spanish cuisine while making sense of it. This book is perfectly composed, with the just the right and freshest ingredients.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Should You Purchase Social Media Friends and Followers?

Recently we noticed a competitor had a large number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but when we looked closer using a few of the common Internet analysis tools, we discovered that the overwhelming majority of these friends and followers were inactive accounts, nearly 85%. While it’s possible that these followers compose the dullest collection of people in the world, it is more likely that these followers were purchased and are therefore utterly worthless.

We’ve all seen the ads to purchase social media friends and followers. You cannot have a Twitter account without encountering the vendors who promise 10,000 followers for around $100. It’s very enticing to suddenly boost your numbers to amazing levels, but these vendors are predominantly selling connections to accounts that are not regularly monitored, probably not ever, and not by people who are actually interested in you. Mostly these are dummy accounts, designed to prop up social media numbers. The industry refers to these as “fake followers.”

Some level of fake followers will always be connected to your social media accounts. It’s unavoidable and typically in the single digits, but let’s examine the reasons why you should not purchase social media followers.

Integrity: While it’s deceptive to fool your friends and family, it is unethical to sell goods and services on the illusion of popularity. Many customers flock toward apparently popular market choices. When a rock band, for example, boosts their profile with a fake following, it’s a dicey decision that may or may not pay off with increased attention, but when a buyer’s purchase decision hinges on the seller’s ability to reach other people, such as boasting a large Twitter audience, deceiving the buyer with a fake audience is illegal.

Reputation: Organic social media growth is difficult, requiring a relentless dedication to providing useful and/or interesting content. There’s no cheating this factor. Large numbers of fake followers will be discovered. People will notice your anemic discussion rate—low percentages of replies, re-posts, and re-tweets, etc. On your social media timelines or by using any of the available Internet analysis tools, informed people will uncover the sudden burst and subsequent drop in new friends and followers, which coincides with the time you purchased your fake fan base. Moreover, customers will notice that they aren’t getting the anticipated public relations push because your social media followers aren’t real people.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Not only will you not be able to trend on Facebook and Twitter, which is something we covet above most social media efforts, search engine algorithms will spot your fake audience and penalize your rankings via their ever-present and omnipotent SEO. You can buy a social media following, but you cannot make it do anything. It’s a dead beast, and search engines will drive past it on the digital highway.

Publicity scams go back as far as biblical times, but the short term gain never outweighs the eventual damage. Buying a fake audience will hurt you in the long run, while attracting a following through concrete value will achieve legitimate results. For example, if you liked this article, you might consider following us on Twitter, subscribing to our blog, or requesting a book review. Thank you.

There are many social media auditing tools to choose from. According to TwitterAudit.com, here are some statistics for the top Tweeters:

@BarackObama, 51% fake

@JustinBeiber, 48% fake

@KimKardashian,  44% fake

@TheEllenShow, 36% fake

Free Women, Free Men: Sex – Gender – Feminism

by Camille Paglia
Pantheon Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“…the sexes are caught in a comedy of historical indebtedness. Man, repelled by his debt to physical mother, created an alternate reality, a heterocosm to give him the illusion of freedom. Woman, at first content to accept man’s protections but now inflamed with desire for her own illusory freedom, invades man’s systems and suppresses her indebtedness to him as she steals them.”

Bob Dylan once said that he’d never run out of material because “man can’t change.” This applies to the so-called battle of the sexes. It will always be afoot, changing only boundaries and battlefronts, and therefore author and intellect Camille Paglia will never run out of material. In her collection of essays spanning three decades, she doesn’t further the conflict as much as calling for real progress. She tries to make sense of the way we live now. And plenty sense, she does make.

Paglia writes about two main themes: modern feminism and contemporary academia. Fair enough. Most writers cover only two or three topics within their lifetimes, but pigeonholing this author into just two themes would be a gross simplification. While modern feminism and academia can be explosive topics—and the author admits to dropping bombs down the hatch and into their coveted halls—she delivers a common sense approach to her analysis that is often avoided on those fronts. By questioning their misguided efforts to achieve noble goals, she ends up challenging the working precepts of feminism and academia today.

Among her most common sense articles is “Rape and Modern Sex War.” It was originally an op-ed piece for the New York Times and ultimately one of her most contentious essays. Although she claims that the piece was diced and sliced by both editors and detractors across the globe, its message is clear: Rape is an unacceptable crime in a civilized society, but women will always need to be careful. Accepting that men can be a combustible breed, only a small fraction of one percent are rapists. Still, that fraction, given the right circumstances, can be dangerous, and a woman roaming freely in society must be alert to her specific dynamic and situation. Any person for that matter must be responsible for her/his own safety whenever possible. This simple advice evoked the ire of modern feminists, who on campus have positioned all incoming freshman males as potential rapists and therefore induced stifling constraints like overprotective mothers. They found the author’s call for personal responsibility to be insensitive if not outrageous, which is stunning for organizations hoping to train young men and women to go out into the dirty world. This reaction to Paglia’s article—revisited within the book’s introduction—delineates both the naiveté and recklessness of modern feminism and academia as a combined force.

“The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil” furthers the argument of academic regression. Campuses have transformed into idealistic and protective havens that fail to identify the evil inherent in mankind. With the infantilizing of students and the naive commitment to state of mind politics, students inside the campus bubble are left vulnerable by their own actions and to those who prey upon risky choices. Perhaps the author might have additionally recognized the indoctrination of campus-wide atheism, which ignores evil en route to debunking the existence of God as an all-powerful entity for good. Essential to the Judeo-Christian tradition and other religions is the battle between good and evil and, most importantly, the understanding of each. While campus religious indoctrination is no less acceptable than promoting atheistic beliefs, the campus chapel relationship continues to be dismantled, cutting off an avenue for students to learn about evil or at the very least know of its existence. In the absence of informed caution, there will be blind, misguided fear once trouble bursts the campus bubble, and a scared and ignorant group is historically easy to manipulate.

In “Are Men Obsolete?” the author explores the male as endangered species. As absurd as it sounds, the extinction of men, or at least the erasure of maleness, is a hallmark of radical feminism. As women continue to populate power positions within society, it’s the men who predominantly perform the dirty, hair-raising jobs, and when dark times arrive, women still glance at the men, if only furtively so, to get moving and fight for the risky solutions. And men do without question. While there will always be exceptions on both sides of the divide, they will be rare, and the reaction will be predictable along gender lines, driven by a combination of innate sensibilities and nature. She concludes by pointing out that the end of men would undoubtedly, outside of a sci-fi-horror-like society, result in the extinction of women as well. Each sex requires the other, and it’s time to acknowledge the strengths of each going forward.

Few will argue that feminism began as a righteous equality movement that demanded inclusion in a male-dominated society, but as the author points out, modern feminism has morphed into a disgruntled separatist scheme keen on exaggerating and vilifying male uniqueness. Its extreme elements want to erase maleness altogether, and in doing so, they have diminished what is unique and powerful about womanhood in order to create an idealistic homogeneous society. Why do you think millennial males so soundly ignored the January 2017 vagina monologues in Washington DC? In a modern world, it should make no difference whether one has a vagina or not. But of course it matters. Still, modern feminists have rejected biology and the undeniable differences between men and women that have equally shared in the shaping of civilization. It’s a kind of suicide of thought that willingly blinds itself to half of the facts.

This reckless course has been heartily supported by academia and enforced by a super-parental control body on campus that suppresses free speech and thought. As a result, intellectual discourse has suffered irreparable harm, not to mention damaging a generation of male creativeness and entrepreneurship. The modern male has to escape academia to succeed, rather than grow within its crucible. In truth, the modern female would do well to absorb as little of this poison as possible and work to secure her power position within society, not by force or politically correct control, but by her uniqueness and innate skill.

Paglia questions why modern academia has selected a course of thought suppression over its seminal nature of thought crucible—that once-hallowed proving ground for analyzing any idea. Great American thinker Eric Hoffer has the answer: The universities have been overrun by intellectuals (mostly of the modern Feminist and Marxist variety or some combination of the two), and the intellectual longs to turn the world into a giant classroom in order to indoctrinate their singular vein of thought. Everyone else gets punished severely for thinking out of line. Throughout history, we’ve seen this bloodless behavior repeated by those who usurp power.

Policies on campus and in government appear to be fear-driven and fear-inducing, but luckily we have Paglia bravely speaking out against the intellectual zombies that seek to stunt true progress and real intellectual discourse. Certainly she’s taken hits from various quarters for her outspokenness, but as this collection of essays proves, she has stood the test of time. More importantly, her arguments are as bulletproof as anyone’s anywhere and worthy of authentic discussion. In a time of regressive thought and destructive trends, Paglia is one of mans’ best friends.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Who Pays for Book Reviews?

The short answer is everyone, although it might not be evident at first. National publishing trade magazines present the illusion that they are fair and balanced—a familiar phrase—in their review coverage, but given a closer look, these publications thrive on the sales of expensive advertising space, including their front and back covers. Other national trades don’t even hide the fact that they charge hundreds of dollars per review. You’ll notice that very few small publishers are mentioned in their pages. The presses that cannot afford ad space and review fees coincidentally go unmentioned, and all independent presses (i.e. micro presses and self-publishers) are typically barred from book review consideration.

Consider that advertising fees are built into the budgets of large press books, and when you purchase one, you are in effect paying for their media coverage somewhere along the line. There is simply no justification for highlighting or featuring the next murder-mystery redux novel in any of the media outlets, other than it is big business for the monolithic presses and they have the dollars to push their product. We are a capitalist society, and profit drives many editorial decisions. Any author who manages his/her own marketing has run into a media outlet (print, radio, etc.) that has promised increased coverage with the purchase of advertising space or time. While many local newspapers still hold an air of integrity, these venues are drying up faster than the rapidly fading printed news industry.

This state of affairs casts a long shadow over literature. One byproduct is that the large commercial presses, by virtue of supplying the economic lifeblood to the publishing media, control what reaches the reading public. Due to either politics or economics, certain genres and ideas are not desirable to large presses, and therefore, vital topics are kept from the public discourse, while excellent independent press authors go unnoticed. In the end, they turn to the Internet for help.

A survey of the web reveals hundreds of review outlets—some specialized, others general. Many of these reviewers write for free, and their coverage is professionally uneven. These are hobby sites. Meanwhile the Internet has killed the three-headed monster of publishing: paper, ink, and distribution. Through the years, paper and ink became increasingly expensive, and most recently rising gas prices (i.e. a distribution cost) was the death knell for most brick and mortar publications, but in the digital age, the Internet can more than fill the need while providing work for dedicated journalists.

In late 2009, the US Review of Books was created for two reasons: first, to provide inexpensive access to professional book reviewers for all authors and, second, to pay the writers a fair wage for their work. In eight years, the US Review has employed dozens of reviewers and written nearly ten thousand reviews to mostly happy authors. They are mostly happy, because the USR’s reviewers are honest and thoughtful. If a book is hackneyed or wasn’t properly edited, perhaps for style and spelling, the review is going to mention these facts. Luckily that isn’t the norm, and the large presses are starting to notice and quietly submit their books for value media coverage. Seeing the future, publicity agents and author services companies are also integrating the US Review into their marketing plans. Good books deserve serious consideration and discussion, regardless of where and how the book is published.

As the millennials—sometimes called the Digital Generation—assumes authority, the Internet and all modes of digital transfer will take control. It makes sense; it’s convenient and mostly green technology. Outlets like the US Review of Books will continue to expand in order to fill authors’ marketing needs while providing employment opportunities to the writing/journalist force.

Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World’s Most Famous Human Fossils

by Lydia Pyne
Viking

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“The stories of these seven fossils speak, in no small way, to the fragility of fame and the contingency of celebrity.”

What does it take to be a rock star in the world of fossils? Must the find be significant, lucky, or have the support of the scientific community? Reaching back four million years, historian and anthropologist Lydia Pyne plots man’s time on Earth through seven famous skeletons that take on a life of their own and reveal more truth about humanity than what is contained within their bones.

Beginning in 1908 with The Old Man of La Chapelle, a seminal million-year-old Neanderthal discovery is unearthed near a small French village. Pyne walks us through the scene of the crime, so to speak, which includes a remarkable find that like others was lucky to be located at all. This was the cusp of the great expansion of the sciences. Disciplines were forming, and dreams of splitting the atom took shape. While human fossils had been discovered prior, the Old Man or homo neanderthalensis and the ensuing research therein helped to frame the science for the next century.

We then visit the Piltdown Man. In 1915, amateur anthropologist Charles Dawson “discovered” and, then later with the help of more prominent experts, presented the so-called “missing link.” Was it the illusive and highly coveted bridge between man and ape? For four decades, experts debated its authenticity while simultaneously adoring it. This may have been in part a case of people wanting it to be true. Veiled in secrecy, it was eventually exposed as a clever assembly of man and ape fragments, fooling even the great Charles Darwin. One can only imagine the parlor wages lost, as well as the reputations of avid supporters. Still, as the author documents, the Piltdown Man’s ascent to notoriety remains, albeit one of a grand hoax. Pyne shows that stumbles in science are often a combination of hubris, passion, and a present lack of analytical tools and skills. Every discovery must be built from the ground up, or it cannot be placed in the pantheon.

At the end of this chain of seven renown dead ancestors, Pyne discusses Karab, and it is the climatic story line. Discovered by a nine-year-old in South Africa while exploring his father’s dig site, it rose as the most significant find of our young century. This two-million-year-old partial skeleton is still under research. Australopithecus sediba is believed to fill in an evolutionary step of modern man and helps to fuel the greater debate until the next rock star find.

Trough Payne’s insightful narrative, the scientists of this realm and their personalities, as well as their friends and enemies, play a major role in many of the fossils’ fate. Most of the bones were unearthed in the pre-Internet days—a time of missives and well-honed connections to the anthropological community and the wealth that supported it. Some key skeletons were lost, remaining only in records. Yet as the letters, drawings, and publications cross the seas and academic halls, the author shows us that a skeleton’s discovery can be just as important as the debate it inspires and the resulting redirection of scientific thinking.

Some believe the overriding journey of science has been to explain God—to either explain Him away or to discover His truth. Regardless of your personal bent, the understanding of man’s emergence through time is at the very least vital to our understanding of the future. Our ancestors or the man-like cousins, whichever you prefer, went extinct by either circumstance or fundamental flaws, but they paved a path toward our existence today. One aspect is clear: Humans will either adapt or suffer a similar fate.

The book is at times a heavy read for the layman, but Pyne makes the effort to engage and enlighten by humanizing the subject matter. While this is not a new movement in nonfiction narrative, it is an increasingly prevalent mode for the scientific discussion of complex issues, and it appears to be an increasingly present tool of scientific women who execute it with aplomb, saliency, and passion. Place Pyne in that category. As our understanding races even further ahead of the common man’s grasp, Pyne keeps us in touch with both the people and facts of discovery within a lasting read.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review