The Story of

From Plato to
Voltaire and the
French Enlightenment

Will Durant
Grover Gardner,

(Audio Editions)
The Right Bacon
Well, they're all here. That vicious anti-Democratic Plato --- and, of course, the love of his life, Socrates, dying slowly, in his cell, his last words telling his friends not to weep. "I didn't ask for there to be women here," he said. But then he recovered enough to remember his debt to his friend Kinesos, asking that it be paid.

We have dry, encyclopædic, long-winded Aristotle with the Big Five: Ethics, Politics, Metaphysics, Logic, and ... o hell, what's the other one? I could never remember, can you?

Which must be why I flunked out of Philosophy 101. Hundreds of students, at that doughty old college, in the darkened hall, Professor Duly Drabb droning on with his yellowed notes, my friend Friedrich droning on in deep sleep beside me.

There's Francis Bacon, not Francis Bacon the British painter, god knows (wish it were) but the "father of the modern scientific method," going on methodically, doing a bit of droning himself, in the Novum Organum.

The Wrong Bacon
Then comes the great lens-grinder, Baruch de Spinoza. At last.

I was at Scripps Clinic the other week, getting my eyes done. (Cataracts. A terrible mistake. Don't even think of doing it without getting in touch with me.)

Anyway, the young pimply fellow who parked my car for me saw these philosophy discs all over the dash and asked, "Are you interested in philosophy?"

"Actually, no," I said. "But we got this box of CDs, and I thought I would give it the old college try, and somehow I couldn't stop."

I explained that I didn't know squat about von Leibniz and Nietzsche and Thomas à Becket, and I told him about Prof. Drabb, and how I had flunked, but at least now I know at least something about them. Like the fact that Voltaire wrote Candide when he was my age. And that it took him three days. And when they finally stuck him in the ground, they wrote on his tombstone, "Here lies Voltaire." Nothing more.

"It's my major at the University," said parking lot attendant.

"How can you stand it," I asked.

"Good teacher," he said. "Who's your favorite philosopher?" he asked.

"It's a toss-up between Socrates and Spinoza."

At the word "Spinoza," his face lit up. I tell you, it was as if I had handed him a $20 tip. "No kidding. Spinoza." It wasn't so much his philosophy, I explained, whatever it was that I could make out of the Ethics; it was Spinoza himself that killed me. "They excommunicated him," I said to my new student philosophy pal.

I told him I liked the fact that Spinoza lived poor, grinding out those lenses, that whenever anyone sent him money, he sent it right back. And that he died at the age of forty-four. We agreed that Spinoza was a martyr to Philosophy.

§     §     §

The Story of Philosophy runs eight discs, a little less than eight hours. Gardner's voice is pleasant enough, serious, studious --- as it should be.

The Other Bacon
But for the life of me I still can't figure out how this Durant fellow got the time to read everything. And this is just Volume I. How could he put all this stuff together, much less cook up a biography for each of the philosophers featured here, stick in his own opinions, and then give substantive excerpts from what he thinks of as the most important works by each of them.

The book The Story of Philosophy came out in 1926, when Durant was forty years old. It was an immediate hit. (Can you imagine a thick book on philosophy getting anywhere up on the USA Today hit list now?) Then Durant and wife Ariel went on to do The Story of Civilization in eleven volumes. I can hardly wait to get started on that one.

What else do I have to do when I am commuting to work? But I have to tell you I almost ran off the road with boredom as me and Durant (and reader Gardener) were struggling through Bacon. Not the painter, I assure you. God would that he were here.

--- L. W. Milam

Why Some
Like It

Food, Genes, and
Cultural Diversity

Gary Paul Nabhan
(Island Press)
"We are what our ancestors ate" the author tells us. The ancestors of the people of Sardinia ate fava beans. No kidding. And no matter that the favas produced Baghdad Fever --- lassitude and nausea. At the same time this particular bean made it so that the citizens of that island were protected against malaria.

On Crete, the traditional diet was wild bitter greens, garbanzos, lentils, barley, land-snails, goat and shellfish --- all swimming in olive oil. The result is that the islanders have the "lowest rate of heart disease anywhere in the world."

Habit and tradition made Italian farmers "soak olives in brine or drench them with lye. This deactivates the bitter glucosides in freshly picked but uncured olives, although,"

    all they know is that either of these curing processes works to make the olives edible or in some cases, delectable.

In the same way, women who prepare manioc in Africa or Latin America literally spit in the soup. This turns it sweet and edible.

    The detoxification of otherwise nutritious plant foods did not begin in some antiseptic laboratory run by PhDs in chemistry; it began at the hearths of farmers and foragers who learned by trial and error to transform the value of these plants using other potent substances found well within their reach: salt water, clay, fermented fruit juice, and saliva.

Nabhan takes us on a journey to various isolated areas of the world to see how indigenous peoples created their own medicines-as-food, to show how the very genes of "natives" were and are changed by what they consumed.

The corollary of this is that contemporary diets --- those awful MacBurgers that you and I love so much --- have turned a healthy people overweight and sickly. For example, the Pima and Papago of northern Mexico now have the highest rates of diabetes in the world.

The big question is posed by a supposedly illiterate Seri quoted by the author: "Why did their grandparents not have it? Why were the old time Pima and Papago who I knew skinny and healthy?"

    It is a change in the diet, not their blood. They are no longer eating the bighorn sheep, mule deer, desert tortoise, cactus fruit, and mesquite pods. Pan Bimbo bread, Coke, sandwiches, and chicharrones are the problem.

The author claims that this change in eating habits is affecting not millions but billions of people all over the world. "Because some people have been untethered from the foods to which their metabolisms are best adapted, some 3 to 4 billion of your neighbors on this planet now suffer nutritional-related diseases, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, allergies, among other maladies."

§     §     §

Nabhan has an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, Why Some Like It Hot suffers from its own disease, which we might identify as the recessive gene disjunctia. The author seeks to make some fairly obscure scientific observations interesting and understandable to the poor layman, but then he gets tangled up in such phraseology as

    Women with two copies of the recessive gene and hemizygous men with one copy have reduced enzyme activity and are somewhat anemic. However, it is hemizygous men --- with no dominant or 'normal' gene for enzyme activity at all --- that are usually deficient in enzyme activity, especially if they have the recessive G6PD Mediterranean allele.

Then he breaks out of his sci-talk mode to relate tales about him and his ladyfriend who, it turns out, have vastly different reactions to capsaicin --- hot peppers. From this he dives into a lengthy discussion of what attracts birds to hot peppers while driving away the four-legged animals. These diverse changes in tone gives the feeling of a book that has been spliced together by computer, not by art.

At the end, Nabhan takes us on a journey to Hawaii, where Native Hawaiians are returning to their "traditional culture-based diets." This diet of taro, sweet potato, fern shoots, seaweed, native fruits, fish and fowl is referred to as the Hawaiian Diet™.

TM? Eh? The "special nutritional needs of Native Hawaiians ... rooted in the nature of island biogeography" is now trade-marked? Does this mean that you or I cannot try it out, or even offer it to those who are suffering from fast-food-itis --- without paying some ridiculous patent fee?

--- Lolita Lark
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