Friday, June 17, 2022

Review of Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World without Redemption by Mark C. Taylor

This review was written by Eugene Kernes 

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics
Intriguing Connections = What Is The Power Of Belief Systems?
Watch Short Review


“Economic and technological transformations never take place in a vacuum but are closely related to broad cultural changes.  The shift from an industrial to a network economy coincides with the transition form modernism to postmodernism in the arts, architecture, literature, philosophy, and religion.” – Mark C. Taylor, Chapter 1: Paper Trails, Page 28

“Religion, art, and economics are caught in interwoven webs that can never be unraveled.  It is no more possible to understand economics without religion and art than it is to understand religion and art apart from economics.” – Mark C. Taylor, Chapter 3: Figuring Capital, Page 117

“In their long and tangled histories, it is often impossible to know whether money represent God or God represents money.  It is also difficult to be sure whether God and money represent something or “nothin.”  Both religion and financial markets are, after all, confidence games.” – Mark C. Taylor, Chapter 4: Money Matters, Page 122

Economists are influenced by the culture that they come from.  Economic ideas are part of the cultural and religious framework of their era.  A mutual interdependence between culture, religion, and economics that creates a range of ways that people can interact with each other.  With different aspects in either culture, religion, and economics bringing different formations of the interactions.

God and gold function the same in the economy, as they provide a firm foundation that anchor religious, moral, and economic values.  They provide certainty and securities in a world without them.  Crises appear when the foundation disappears.  Religion did not disappear, it was transformed.  God has been transformed into the market, for the market was claimed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  Hard to tell whether religion or markets produce something or nothing, for they are confidence games.  They are beliefs about others, beliefs about potentials, rather than the actual capabilities.  Faith in their foundations.   Confidence games that frequently fall apart under the weight of their reality.  
Markets were transformed by technological changes.  Different strategies were needed to deal with how people interact with the technological changes.  Economic and technological transformations were related to broader cultural changes. Cultural and economic processes had feedback loops, as they are mutually determined.  An example comes from the art world, as the art world changed from being under patronage to supporting themselves with their work, their work has changed.  Their economic situations changed how art is performed. 

To reference the various ways economics is tied to culture, required references to various philosophical, religious, and cultural understandings.  The book can be more difficult to read without a background in these various understandings.  Possible to make different connections with different references, or knowing more details of the references given. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•How are economic ideas tied to culture?
•How did religion influence economics?
•How did culture change to economic needs?
•How did technological change impact economics?
•Why do people want protection from risk?  What was the impact of strategies to limit risk?
•Why are religion and markets referenced as confidence games?

Book Details
Publisher:         The University of Chicago Press
Edition ISBN:  9780226791661
Pages to read:   338
Publication:     2004
1st Edition:      2004
Format:            Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          4
Overall           3

Monday, June 13, 2022

Review of Buddha by Karen Armstrong

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes 

Book can be found in:
Genre = Sociology, Mythology and Religion
Book Club Event = Book List (11/19/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Biographies: Auto, Memoir, and Other Types

Watch Short Review


“At its worst, this habit of optimism allows us to bury our heads in the sand, deny the ubiquity of pain in ourselves and others, and to immure ourselves in a state of deliberate heartlessness to ensure our emotional survival.  The Buddha would have had little time for this.  In his view, the spiritual life cannot begin until people allow themselves to be invaded by the reality of suffering, realize how fully it permeates our whole experience, and feel the pain of all other beings, even those whom we do not find congenial.” – Karen Armstrong, Introduction, Page xxvii

“He would teach his disciples to do the same, and insisted that nobody must take his teachings on hearsay.  They must validate his solutions empirically, in their own experience, and find for themselves that his method really worked.  They could expect no help from the gods.” – Karen Armstrong, Chapter 1: Renunciation, Page 7

“He noticed how his own “unskillful” actions could harm other people and that even his motivation could be injurious.  So, the Buddha concluded, our intentions were Kamma and had consequences.  The intentions, conscious or unconscious, that inspired our actions were mental acts that were just as important as any external deeds.” – Karen Armstrong, Dhamma, Page 110


Siddhatta Gotama became the Buddha, which means Enlightened or Awakened One.  Much about the Buddha’s life and teaching are shrouded in mystery because the sources about them came much later, after Buddha’s death.  Even before Buddha, India had a spiritual tradition and culture, supporting those who sought the spiritual life.  Monks were providing a social benefit, in satisfying the spiritual need.  But during Buddha’s era, there was a spiritual crisis, as many people were disillusioned.  Many had made sacrifices to the gods, but the sacrifices did not help them.  They decided to rely on themselves.  

To go on the spiritual path, Gotama needed to renounce many attachments, as attachments made it hard to break free.  Gotama joined the spiritual movement, and sought out teachers.  Trying out many practices, Gotama found many of them fundamentally flawed.  Creating suffering without spiritual benefits.  But then Gotama figured out a spiritual path, and became the Buddha.  Aspired to a Middle Way, a way between extremes of self-indulgence, and of asceticism.  While searching for total equanimity towards others.  The Buddha taught others not accept teachings uncritically, even to test Buddha’s own teaching.  Not to rely on false props.  To not deny the pain and suffering, but to understand the pain of others, even of detractors.


There are very little sources on Gotama during Gotama’s lifetime.  Most sources about the Buddha and Buddhism came after.  Sometimes centuries after.  A council was formed after the Buddha died, some 50 years after.  A council meant assess the various doctrines and practices.  A second council was formed about 100 years after.  The written scriptures by this time had become more formal, and it is these scriptures that are known.  The surviving text is more than a millennia after the Buddha.

The scriptures came from memory, which has a problematic transmission of ideas.  A lot of the material was probability lost.  The material could have been misunderstood.  The monks would have projected their own views unto the Buddha.  The authenticity of the claims is in question.  

The legend is a credible historical fact.  Gotama’s personality and preferences are shrouded in mystery.  What is known of the Buddha is the self-control, equanimity, and transhuman serenity.

History of a Movement:

People of India have a long tradition of venerating those that seek the spiritual.  The monks were providing a social benefit, usually with great sacrifice to themselves.  

Aryan Indians dominated India by 1000 B.C.E., divided society into four classes.  The brahmins were the priestly caste, who were the decision makers and took responsibility for society.  The second class were the ksatriya, warriors dedicated to government and defense.  The third class were the vaisya, who were farmers, merchants, and others which delt with the economy.  The fourth and lowest caste were sudras, who were slaves or outcasts.  The classes were not initially hereditary, as individuals could move between them if they possessed the required skills.  But by Gotama’s time, the class system had become sacred and immutable.

During the 9th to 3rd century, there were many diverse sets of ideas and people who searched to better philosophical and spiritual life.  An era referred to as the Axial Age. A pivotal time for humanity, for understanding.  Many taught how to cope with misery, with a flawed world.  Nobody is sure what caused the Axial Age, the intellectual empowerment within China, India, and Iran.  Some later dominant religious faiths, came from restatements of the Axial Age impulse.  

A pre-Axial religion was the Verdic.  Kept external controls of society using rites.  Preventing development or change.  But for the new religions, the sages no longer accepted the external conformity.  Recognized the internal thoughts that preceded action.  The Axial sages took a critical understanding of the prior views, and reinterpreted them.  Added morals and ethics to their religion.  As ethics allowed the individual to take responsibility of action, rather than rely on magic.  

The scripts were put to the test of society.  Religious life mattered to everyone, rather than a few eccentrics.  Not a private affair of the priestly caste, but meant for everyone.  Which enabled transmission of the faith to the many.  Rather than blind acceptance, what was sought was inquiry and discussion.  Teachers would debate their views in public forums, with crowds gathering to hear their thoughts.  When a sangha entered a community, many would seek them out and question them about their views, and discuss their merits.  These values of the Axial age were the backdrop values of Gotama.

The reinterpreted Vedas provided more spirituality and internalized significance.  The Sages spiritual goal became brahman.  An impersonal essence of the universe, a source for existence.  Pervaded everything in reality.  Salvation began to be a spiritual realization that the brahman was the eternal reality.  An absolute higher than the gods, and one’s identity.

During the 6th century B.C.E., there was a spiritual crisis in the region.  A widespread disillusionment, primarily with the gods.  For giving the gods sacrifices did not help the people.  People decided that they must rely on themselves.  Many felt that spiritual practices that worked for their ancestors, did not work for them.  People were desperate for a new religious solution.

Times were changing due to many regions becoming trading posts.  Merchants were on the rise, and protected by many kingdoms.  The merchants were mostly mobile, and did not fit into the old rituals.  Creating a spiritual vacuum.

Indian society felt imprisoned by the cycle of rebirth.  The eternal pain and suffering that rebirth brought with it.  Rather than consider the extra time rebirth would provide, they focused on the pain of redeath.  To go through the chronic suffering again and again, was intolerable.

During Buddha’s life time, there were many renouncers.  People seeking what Indian ascetics called homelessness.  Many sought homelessness to obtain a spiritual life, which Gotama wanted to join.  People who attained homelessness were seen going forth on a noble quest of the holy life.  Many competed for the privilege of feeding them.  Some became their patrons and disciples.  The renunciants were not considered dropouts.   The monks left structured space and pursued radical freedom.  They cast aside the caste system.  They began to be as mobile as the merchants.  

Renouncers were meant to seek spiritually, but there had been those who joined them because they sought refuge from the law, or were actual dropouts.  But by Gotama’s spiritual journey, the renouncers had become more organized because the efficient kingdoms would not allow anyone to not contribute to society.  The renouncers, even the uncommitted, needed to have an ideology to justify their existence.  This was meant to prove that they were not parasites, but were philosophers.  Philosophers who could facilitate spiritual improvement in others.  The teachers and their sangha, their associations, were as competitive in the spread of their views as merchants were competitive in spreading their wares.

Buddhist Development:

Buddhism was developed in response to Gotama’s personal history.  Not studying the works of others.  But Gotama did interact with other spiritual figures.  Gotama found more problems within the alternatives ways to achieve enlightenment, than actual help to achieve enlightenment.

Gotama was said to be destined to become a Universal Monarch, a cakkavatti, or achieve supreme spiritual enlightenment.  These two identities were in conflict as the cakkavatti would have to rely on force.  To make Gotama into a cakkavatti, Gotama’s father protected Gotama from reality.  Creating a pleasure-palace to make sure nothing upsetting happened.  Gotama became a virtual prisoner.  A place that created a mind in denial.  Denial that prevents development of the personality.  Living in a delusion.  Even within a safety prison, somehow those who were different, came across Gotama.  These individuals inspired Gotama to search for an understanding to their differences.

Gotama had found palace life constricting, with pointless tasks and duties.  Creating a desire to join the renouncers.  To join the homelessness movement.  To avoid the domesticity lifestyle.  To join the spiritual movement, Gotama would need to renounce Gotama’s family and leave behind many other treasures.  The problem with family and treasures was that they created attachment.  Attachments that made it very hard to break free.  Family life and highest form of spiritual life were incompatible.  

Early on, Gotama saw grim cycles of suffering.  Starting from the pain of birth, and leading to physical problems, illnesses, death, and corruption.  Gotama was emotionally invested in family life, but were also fragile and vulnerable.  The attachment would only bring pain.  Knowing that suffering was in store for loved ones, detracted from the joy in the relationships.

Gotama’s family was from a region where Aryan culture did not impact, and had no caste system.  Although Gotama was not part of a caste system, Gotama initially introduced Gotama as part of the ksatriya, a member responsible for government.  Being part of ksatriya gave Gotama a lot of favor and access to many important social figures, while being an objective outsider.  

Gotama was looking for a teacher, and a sangha.  Gotama had tried many different ways to achieve enlightenment from various teachers.  Many just created suffering without spiritual benefits.  Some achieved temporary enlightenment.  Each had fundamental flaws.  Gotama would not accept anything based on trust, and warned Gotama’s sangha to not accept anything on hearsay.  To not accept ideas uncritically.  What they needed to do was test the views, and make sure that the views resonated with their own experiences.  

Gotama started to develop a Middle Way.  Between the extremes of shunning physical and emotional self-indulgence, and the extremes of asceticism.  Gotama’s aspiration was to achieve total equanimity towards others.  Having neither attraction nor antipathy.  Needing to divest completely from egotism.  An abandonment of preferences, in favor of disinterested benevolence.  

After achieving enlightenment, and becoming the Buddha, Gotama did not want to teach Gotama’s views.  Knowledge that was obtained was ineffable, and could not be put into words.  Each individual would need to find their own enlightenment.  But being alone within a private enlightenment would fail a principle of Buddhism, and therefor Gotama sought to spread what was learned.  Unlike other religions, Buddhism would not seek to destroy former philosophies.  But accepted tolerant partnership with the prior spiritual ways.  

Initial attempts at finding followers were difficult, as there are those that did think or want to believe that someone could achieve that which Gotama was describing.  But Gotama was able to convince those who knew Gotama before.  After which, Gotama was described as being able to convince many people at a time.  

Some of Buddha disciples created different schools of thought on Buddhism.  Because the Buddha praised both, making them authentic.  Authenticity in spite of being different, meant that the different schools could coexist peacefully unlike other religions.

Buddha is usually depicted in silent solitary meditation, but after Buddha started to teach, Buddha was rarely left alone.  Usually accompanied by many others, which Buddha requested at times to quite down.

Buddhism is meant for everyone, but practically appealed to the upper classes and intellectuals.  The full teachings would be possible for monks, those who fully devoted themselves to achieving enlightenment.  Lay disciples that toiled with commercial or reproductive desires, would have to wait until their rebirth for more favorable circumstances.  By practicing Buddhism, and appropriate morality, would allow people earn merit for their next life, while also behaving more appropriately in the present one.  Part of the reason for the lack of religious equality was because literacy was rare.  During those times, to understand Buddhism would require seeking a teacher, rather than studying a text.    

Although Buddha would teach to men and women, and accept both as being equal in becoming monks.  There are Buddhist text referring to women as inferior, and after being accepted into Buddhism, having far stricter codes of conduct.  The differences reflect when the texts of Buddhism were written, reflecting their era’s principles.

Buddha’s Sangha was more a republic than a monarchy.  No central authority or controlling ruler.  Everyone on the council was equal.  Each monk was responsible for oneself.  Yet there were monks who sought leadership, and sowed dissension.  Created an atmosphere of egotism, which was incompatible with the spiritual life.  Much like in public life, the Sangha were not immune from selfishness, ambition, and dissension.

Buddhist Thoughts:

Buddhist do not value charismatic leadership, which is keeping to Siddhatta Gotama’s view.  Rather than rely on charismatic leaders, reliance needs to be on one’s own efforts and self-motivation.  Charismatic leadership is a distraction for spiritual progress.  Everyone can achieve what Siddhatta Gotama did, and obtain enlightenment.  People can become dependence on charismatic leadership, which can prevent self-understanding.  

The Self or a Supreme Being would inflate the ego, therefor is too limiting and while creating an impediment to enlightenment.  A deity giving a seal of sacred approval is unskillful, for it creates a prop for damaging and dangerous egotism that the individual would need to transcend.  Enlightenment required a rejection of false props.  Even without wanting to, the Buddha has become glorified.  In some Buddhist schools, Gotama is virtually deified.    

Seeking emotional survival through positive thoughts, enables avoidance of one’s pain and the pain of others.   For the Buddha, spiritual cannot begin until the acceptance of the reality of suffering.  That suffering is ubiquitous.  To understand the pain of others, even of detractors.  Refusing to consider suffering means being unprepared when tragedy befalls.

Nibbana is achieved when the passions are extinguished.  Attachments and delusions are removed.  Buddhism creates an understanding that everything is impermanent.  The mental acts that inspired actions were just as important as external forces.  That actions have consequences.  The self is an illusion, for the personality keeps changing.

Teachings of the Buddha are meant to be tested, and validated empirically using their own experiences.


There are many fascinating comparative analysis and historical backgrounds.  But the comparative references can sometimes prevent learning what impacted the Buddha, rather than those who Buddha is compared with.   

Much of Buddhism focuses on the individual, the internal reality.   Teaching self-control.  That focus meant that the external reality was under emphasized, not as well understood.  Although there were interactions with the external, the responses focused on the personal reactions.  The focus made teaching and helping others become enlightened difficult, because interacting with others requires an understanding of the external reality.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What does Buddha mean?
•What do we know of the Buddha?
•How do we know what is known of the Buddha?
•What is enlightenment?
•How does someone achieve enlightenment?
•What is the historical Indian tradition and culture before the Buddha?
•What were the social conditions during Buddha’s lifetime?
•What is the Middle-Way?
•What are the renouncers?
•What is the caste system?
•What is the Axial Age?
•What were the spiritual traditions before the Axial Age?
•How did Buddhism interact with the alternative spiritual ways?
•Why was there a spiritual crisis during the 6th century B.C.E.?
•How did merchants influence spiritual thought?
•How did people consider the cycle of life?
•What was Buddha’s personal history?
•Why did Buddha leave palace life?
•What happened when Buddha found teachers?
•How did the Buddha spread Buddhism?
•How was Buddha’s Sangha organized?
•For whom is Buddhism for?
•What did Buddha think about charismatic leaders and deities?
•What is Nibbana?
•Why consider pain and suffering?

Book Details
Publisher:         Viking Penguin [Penguin Group]
Edition ISBN:  0670891932
Pages to read:   206
Publication:     2001
1st Edition:      2001
Format:            Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5

Friday, June 10, 2022

Review of Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip by Stuart E. Hample

This review was written by Eugene Kernes 

Book can be found in:
Genre = Philosophy
Intriguing Connections = Want a Laugh?
Watch Review


“Following Rollin’s advice, Woody doggedly performed, week after week.  Gradually he gained confidence, until the audience was his plaything.” – Stuart Hample, “Cartoonist Walks Into a Bar…”, Page 9

“Woody, the pen-and-ink protagonist, just as in many of his early movies, was angst-ridden flawed, fearful, insecure, inadequate, pessimistic, urban, single, lustful, rejected by women – often after a round of pretentious dialectics.  And he was cowed by mechanical objects, and a touch misanthropic.” – Stuart Hample, “Cartoonist Walks Into a Bar…”, Page 14

“Woody said, “I take that as a compliment.  If a comic persona can reveal the pain, then that is a mark of how dep the humor is.  In the long run, that’s what gives it dimension.  Of course, if the depressing stuff overwhelms the strip, then you have nothing.”” – Stuart Hample, “Cartoonist Walks Into a Bar…”, Page 22



Woody Allen was not always a success.  Early on, many people did not understand Woody’s comedy, Woody’s humor.  The humor was self-deprecating, witty, and intellectual.  Showing a flawed and insecure person, who is very introspective.  The humor was for those who understood the philosophical references.  Woody did not want to underestimate the audience.  Willing to lose part of an audience with esoteric references.  Taking up the advice to keep trying, Woody kept practicing.  Practicing boosted confidence, and created an understanding of how to captivate audiences. 

Stuart Hample met Woody Allen before Woody became famous.  As Hample wanted an alternative income, Hample decided to ask Woody about making comic strips about Woody.  But by this time, Woody was famous, and did not need more money.  Woody was resistant, but ended up accepting.  Although most of the work was Hample’s, Hample was excited to get help with the jokes from Woody.


The quality of comedy is varied.  Varied partly because of the individual background of the reader, because those who understand the humor will consider it having more quality.  Some comic strips require understanding of their era.  The humor sometimes needs more time to understand, while others can be quick to read and understand.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What does Woody Allen think of Woody?
•What did Woody Allen parents think of Woody?
•Why does Woody Allen go to a psychologist?
•Why did Stuart Hample want to do a Woody Allen comic strip?
•What does Woody Allen think about humor?
•What philosophical references did you pick up on? 

Book Details
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts [ABRAMS]
Edition ISBN:  9780810957428
Pages to read:   233
Publication:     2009
1st Edition:      2009
Format:            Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          3
Overall           4

Monday, June 6, 2022

Review of Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History, Empires
Book Club Event = Book List (07/30/2022)
Watch Short Review


“Not only was her history written by her enemies, but it was her misfortune to have been on everyone’s minds just as Latin poetry came into its own.  She survives literarily in a language hostile to her.  The fictions have only proliferated” – Stacy Schiff, Chapter I: That Egyptian Woman, Page 14

“Caesar felt it incumbent upon him to arbitrate their dispute, as a decade earlier he and Pompey had together lobbied for their father.  A table Egypt was in Rome’s best interest, the more so when there were substantial debts to be paid.” – Stacy Schiff, Chapter II: Dead Men Don’t Bite, Page 20

“Cleopatra’s subjects had no compunction about massing at the palace gates and loudly howling their demands.  Very little was required to set off an explosion.  For two centuries they had freely and wildly deposed, exiled, and assassinated Ptolemies.” – Stacy Schiff, Chapter IIIL Cleopatra Captures The Old Man By Magic, Page 53



During Cleopatra’s era, Egypt was a Roman protectorate.  Their politics and policies were heavily intertwined.  Egypt needed Rome for political stability.  Rome needed Egypt for its food and wealth.  Roman politics were often unstable, and had many political polarizations.  Cleopatra, much like Cleopatra’s predecessors, needed to pick which Roman to support politically.  A wrong choice meant political catastrophe, or worse.  Choosing wisely would mean stability.  Under immense pressure and uncertainty, Cleopatra was able to successfully find a Roman ally.  Initially in the form of Julius Caesar, then in Mark Anthony.  Using wit not only to gain their favor, but bear their children.  Cleopatra is often perceived as a shamelessly seductive woman, but Cleopatra’s power came from understanding social conditions, strategic political maneuvering, skillful direction of an economy, and military command.  Cleopatra was a leader, a Pharaoh, taking up the image of the Egyptian goddess Isis, who brilliantly navigated many perilous situations to secure Egypt’s power.  

Who Was Cleopatra?:

There are not many reliable sources on and about Cleopatra.  Even Cleopatra’s appearance is shrouded in mystery, as the known version comes from surviving image in coinage.  Many of the claims about Cleopatra are derogatory, because they were written by Cleopatra’s opposition.  Literacy increased during Cleopatra’s time, but the language of that increased literacy was Latin, a language used by many to create fictionalized accounts of Cleopatra.  

Cleopatra was the successor of one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Ptolemy.  Ptolemy claimed Egypt shortly after Alexander the Great’s death.  Ptolemy came from Macedonian aristocracy.  Cleopatra was not seen as Egyptian by the Egyptians.  The name, Cleopatra is itself a Macedonian name, meaning ‘Glory of Her Fatherland.’   The link with Alexander the Great gave legitimacy to the Ptolemies ruling Egypt.

Sibling marriage was an Egyptian custom.  For the Ptolemies, it was meant to stabilize the family, but had the effect of concentrating wealth and power.  Creating a cycle of succession crisis, with the use of poison and daggers.  Among Macedonian aristocracy, there was ample precedent for murdering siblings.  During Cleopatra’s time, family history of murder was no different, as close family wanted Cleopatra assassinated, and Cleopatra reciprocated in kind.  Cleopatra was formally married to Cleopatra’s brother, with whom Cleopatra was at war with.  The dispute caused a disturbance in Egypt.  The dispute created political instability.  A dispute that was interfered with by Caesar.  

Girls, of elite status or no, went to school.  Cleopatra had a really good educational upbringing.  Alexandria had many scholars, and was a recognized center of learning.  Not only did Cleopatra have access to the best tutors, but also access to the library of Alexandria.  For any inquiry, Cleopatra did not need to go far to obtain.

Egypt was an oral culture.  Knowing how to talk was important, which Cleopatra knew how to talk, because Cleopatra received praise for verbal dexterity even from detractors.  Cleopatra was eloquent and charismatic.  Unlike predecessors who learned Greek, but did not learn the language of the people’s they ruled.  Cleopatra learned Egyptian as well.  When Cleopatra became the sovereign, to gain the support of the indigenous population, paid tribute to native gods.  Pharaohs were revered, but also tested.  

Egyptian Culture, Economy, and History:

Cleopatra had a lot of control over the economy.  Had control over production of food and taxes.  Daily measurements and comparative data were used to make decisions.  Egypt’s harvests provided food in abundance, and from them the Pharaohs power was derived.  Egyptian officials distributed seed, which was required to be returned during harvesttime.

Unlike Rome, Egypt had a dense bureaucracy.  A government which had controls in every industry.  A bureaucracy that was intent on making sure the monarch taxed the people, while the people filled the coffers.  

Fiscal policy was based on a hierarchy of people which created a lot of opportunities to abuse the system.  Many were willing to arbitrate conflict to enrich themselves.  Cleopatra had to intervene regularly between the people and the officials.  Even the highest held offices abused their positions.  

Under Cleopatra’s guidance, many aspects of the economy stabilized and prospered.  Villages, art, science, and culture flourished.  Egypt was primarily administered by Greeks, while primarily worked by Egyptians.  Caused a lot of resentment.  

Contracts in Greek and Egypt were subject to their respective laws.  Egyptian women had more rights than Greek or Roman counterparts.  Roman women needed to be inconspicuous, and had no political or legal rights.  While in Rome, Cleopatra made a spectacle, such as issuing dinner invitations.

A Roman Choice:

For Cleopatra and predecessors, Rome was a protector of Egyptian monarchs.  Without Rome’s disruptive power, Cleopatra and predecessors would not have had their thrones.  Rome had many internal feuds that impacted Egypt.  Cleopatra and predecessors needed to select which side of the feud to take.  The crown hinged on the choice that was made.  Choosing wrong meant losing power behind the throne.  As for the Egyptians, they did not appreciate Rome’s interference.  Not only did the Alexandrians not want to become Roman subjects, but previously installed monarchs by Rome had asked for heavy taxes without justifiable reasons.  

Between the feud of Caesar and Pompey the Great, Cleopatra and Cleopatra’s father favored Pompey the Great.  Within this dispute, Pompey was on the losing end.  Cleopatra bet on Pompey, and lost.  Pompey then wanted entry to Egypt.  Admitting entry or denying entry, would create political tension.  Before a reply, Pompey was stabbed to death by Ptolemy’s advisors who had wanted to earn Caesar’s favor.  Caesar went to Egypt, chasing Pompey.  Caesar did not favor the tribute that Ptolemy’s advisors gave. 

Rioting in Alexandria was common, and had no problem massing at the palace gates.  There is a history of the people assassinating the rulers, and making demands of them.  Alexandrians thought that either Caesar would interfere, or seek conquest.  Riots greeted Caesar.  Egyptian autonomy was at stake.  What the Egyptians had was cleverness and resources.

As Caesar was in Alexandria, Caesar decided to arbitrate the royal dispute.  An attempt to stabilize Egypt, which would be in Rome’s interest, especially with debts to be repaid.  When Caesar made the summons of the Egyptian King and Queen, Cleopatra’s entry was being barred.  Cleopatra had an army for the conflict with Cleopatra’s husband, but to get into the city, Cleopatra used wit and stealth.  Got into talks before Cleopatra’s husband.  With Cleopatra’s influence, Caesar began to favor Cleopatra.  

Cleopatra must have been very persuasive with Caesar because Cleopatra had nothing to offer.  Caesar would have been within Caesar’s rights to annex Egypt, and murder Cleopatra for a truce with Egypt.  The reason for wanting a stable Egypt, is because Egypt produced a lot of surplus food.  Enough to feed all of Rome, or starve the city.  A stable Egypt was strategic for Caesar and Cleopatra.  A Roman would have caused instability, and therefor Rome would not have a secure food supply.  Caesar needed a reliable non-Roman to rule Egypt.  Caesar not only trusted Cleopatra, but had confidence in Cleopatra’s ability to rule.  Caesar wanted to reconcile the royal dispute, with Cleopatra ruling Egypt as partner with Rome.  This was contrary to Ptolemy advisers’ expectations, as they thought they had more control of the situation.

The Alexandrians were revolting, and were being marshaled by Cleopatra’s husband who did not favor Caesar’s favorable view of Cleopatra.  With Caesar and Cleopatra barricaded, what they heard are the claims that Rome liked to interfere with who ruled, with the policies enacted therefor being unfavorable to the Egyptians.  Cleopatra and Caesar were stuck in close proximity for 6 months.  Within that time, Cleopatra emerged pregnant.  

Motherhood strengthened Cleopatra’s political agenda, securing a future.  The child would give Cleopatra an heir, and strength ties with Rome.  The child was Caesar’s.  From the Roman perspective, the event was an embarrassment.  From the Egyptians, Caesar was neither a Ptolemy nor royal.  What the child, Caesarion, did was allow Cleopatra to rule without intervention.  Making Cleopatra’s husband irrelevant.  With the child, Cleopatra had control of imagery and government.

Rome’s diplomacy between the power brokers relied on marriage.  Alliances lasting until the individual who bound the people died.  The relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra was unusual in many respects, which includes that Cleopatra entered into the relationship willingly.  An independence of mind and enterprising spirit which unsettled those who wrote about Cleopatra.  

Caesar’s death was a significant political setback to Cleopatra.  Losing Cleopatra’s Roman champion made Cleopatra’s situations insecure.  Cleopatra was blamed for many of Caesar’s decisions to obtain more power, and change Roman society to be more like Egyptian.  The death of Caesar caused a hunt for the murderers.  With empty coffers, the enemies of Rome were targeted for assassination so that their wealth could be appropriated.  

The battle for power in Rome involved Mark Anthony and Octavian.  Cleopatra was able to get an alliance with Mark Anthony, with whom Cleopatra had twins.  For a time, Cleopatra, Anthony, and Octavian had a political triumvirate, but Anthony’s and Octavian’s personality differences and feuds escalated, causing infighting.  

While they were still politically united, Octavian and Anthony took Roman legions to conquer regions.  Anthony wanted Parthia, which could not be had without Cleopatra’s monetary support.  With this support, power had shifted.  But Octavian was gaining more favor and influence than Anthony.  Eventually causing Anthony and Cleopatra to commit suicide.  Then reshaped history to fit Octavian’s version.  


Egypt and the Roman Empire were intimately tied.  Although there are explanations of Roman society, there are decisions and events based in the Roman Empire, which had an impact on Egypt, that would make more sense given more information on the Roman Empire.  The story is about Cleopatra, and Egyptian history, but an understanding of Roman’s turn from a Republic to Empire, would support in understanding the context and situations of this book.  

There were many authors during and after Cleopatra who used derogatory claims against Cleopatra.  The way they portrayed Cleopatra was not historically accurate, and reflected the social context that the authors lived with.  Schiff does more than correct the historical record of the derogatory claims, as Schiff also reproaches the individuals who made the derogatory claims.  As if the individuals would have made the same claims under a different social context.  The many and repetitive reproaches, take away from reading the history. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•Who was Cleopatra?
•Who normally told Cleopatra’s history?
•Where did Cleopatra’s power come from?
•How did Cleopatra get educated? 
•Who are Cleopatra’s predecessors?
•How were Cleopatra’s family affairs handled? 
•What role did Rome have in Egypt?
•For what purpose did Egypt need Rome?
•For what purpose did Rome need Egypt?
•How did Roman politics impact Egypt? 
•How did Cleopatra control the economy?
•Why was there a lot of corruption in the Egyptian bureaucracy?
•Why did Caesar choose to favor Cleopatra? 
•Why did Mark Anthony support Cleopatra?
•Why had many people, Roman or Egyptian, not support Cleopatra?
•Why was Cleopatra willing and able to travel to Rome?
•How did Egyptian knowledge influence Rome?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780316121804
Pages to read:   284
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      2010
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Review of Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean by Jennifer Browdy De Hernandez

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Sociology
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“We had gone to police stations and army posts; we we had talked to priests and military chaplains; we had asked friends if they knew of contacts at the clandestine centers who would be able to say if our children were alive.  But the army knew very well how to create a climate of terror in the family of the abducted victim” – Raquel Partnoy, Chapter 3: The Silent Witness, Page 33

“We are done being cushions for your projected fears.  We are tired of being your sacrificial lambs and scapegoats.” – Gloria Anzaldua, Chapter 8: Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers, Page 83

“Fundamentally, I started writing to save my life.  Yes, my own life first.  I see the same impulse in my students – the dark, the queer, the mixed-blood, the violated – turning to the written page with a relentless passion, a drive to avenge their own silence, invisibility, and erasure as living, innately expressive human beings.” – Cherrie Moraga, Chapter 10” Art in America con Acento, Pages 105-106



This book is a collection of writing and art, from various perspectives and regions, seeking to understand injustice.  To resolve injustice, injustice has to be made overt.  What the authors do, is make injustice salient, observable.  Enabling everyone to understand what injustice means in practice.  The lived experiences.  After making injustice overt and recognizable, can actions be taken to rectify the injustices.  Many started to write, or do artistic work, to give voice to their suffering.  Writing to avenge silence.  Writing to make sense of the world.  From writing and art, the individuals obtain what the world does not give.  It takes more than blaming everything on others to rectify the situation.  It takes activism.  Taking responsibility for the situation, and then trying to improve upon it.  Traumatic experiences can be very different, but victims tend to be scapegoats for projected fears.  Culture is a dynamic process in which peoples are not passive bystanders, but active participates in the evolving social experience.  


There are a lot of traumatic experiences within the book, making it emotionally difficult to read continuously.  Each chapter is a different author, a different voice.  Creating a lack of flow. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What is injustice?
•How did the authors deal with injustice?
•How is culture formed?
•How does one take responsibility?
•Who are the victims?
•Why do people write? 
•How to resolve injustice?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780896087088
Pages to read:   214
Publication:     2003
1st Edition:      2003
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall           3