The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta, and the Struggle for Ancient Greece

( Worth reading short history lesson of land that gave birth to Western civilization)
By Jennifer T. Roberts

Oxford University Press, 2017

Two and a half millennia ago, on the tiny Greek island of Sphacteria, something unthinkable happened. In the spring of 425 B.C., a small garrison of Athenian hoplites (heavily-armored spearmen who provided the staple of Greek fighting forces) landed on the sandy promontory of Pylos in the southern Peloponnese, and promptly began setting up camp for a long-term occupation. Their objective was to build a raiding base against the mighty Peloponnesian city of Sparta, against whom the Athenians had been waging war for six consecutive years, but the presence of an Athenian army within arm’s length of the Spartan homeland drew a swift response. Soon, a Spartan army was marching out to lay siege to Pylos. To block the entrance to the harbor, and prevent food and supplies from reaching the beleaguered fort, 420 Spartans took up position on the wooded island of Sphacteria just offshore. As Athenian stomachs grumbled, the Spartans settled in for certain victory.

But the they had made a dreadful miscalculation. The Athenians were the mightiest sea power of the ancient world, with a vastly larger and more experienced navy than the landlubbing Peloponnesians. Within days, a fleet of Athenian triremes had seized control of the harbor and encircled the tiny force of soldiers on Sphacteria. Now it was the Spartans’ turn to starve. For several weeks, intrepid smugglers supplied the stranded Sphacteria with food and water, tying waterproof sacks to the backs of helot slaves, who darted between Athenian patrol ships. But they could only buy so much time, and when a freak forest fire cleared the island of foliage and revealed clearly the position of the Spartans, it was the Athenians’ cue to launch an all-out assault on the haggard troops. True to form, the Spartans fought bravely, attempting to bring their enemy into open combat. But the Athenians were wily, sending archers and rock-throwers against the Spartans’ flanks, dodging into the hills when chased, steadily and painfully pressing the Spartans closer to the shore. At last, the jig was up: the Spartan commander sent a message to the capital, begging instruction or relief. The unhelpful answer returned: “The Spartans order you to make your own decision about yourselves, so long as you do nothing dishonourable.” And so, the hungry soldiers of Sphacteria did something that no Spartan army had done in living memory: they surrendered themselves alive.

That story, told in the ancient account of the writer and general Thucydides, has provided a perfect set piece for historians ever since, not only for its dramatic twists, but because it seemed to embody the very spirit of two diametrically opposed antagonists. Here were the Spartans — brave, hardy, immune to complaint in their suffering, but also a bit dense and hidebound in their ways — brought to heel by the crafty, scheming men of Athens. These were no mere cities, but the yin and yang of Greek society, each representing the antithesis of the other: no wonder, Thucydides implies, they were destined to wage an epic war that would bring the Greek world crashing down around them.

That grueling conflict is the subject of Jennifer T. Roberts’ gripping, concise, and effortlessly readable account, The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta, and the Struggle for Ancient Greece. Roberts sees the battle between Athens and Sparta as the great crux of classical Greek history, and her narrative encompasses not only the catastrophic, 27-year Peloponnesian War (the subject of Thucydides’ account), but an entire century and a half of warfare, rival alliances, and diplomatic backbiting that would eventually drag an entire political system into catastrophe.

The long book review end with following paragraph

“Jennifer Roberts surely did not intend to write a parable for the modern age, having begun her book some time before America unhappily made way for a Critias of its own. Nevertheless, in telling a story of men who uprooted a vibrant and dynamic society, and of norms and institutions that were ultimately powerless to stop them, that is precisely what she has done. Time and again, Roberts argues against a deterministic theory of history: the notion that wars and coups were all necessitated by the forces of history. Rather, she reminds us, it was the choices of individual actors that made the difference.”

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posted by f.sheikh

BOOK REVIEW Name: Conflicts of Fitness.Islam, America and Evolutionary Psychology

Name: Conflicts of Fitness.Islam, America and Evolutionary Psychology
Author: A.S. Amin
ISBN-13 # 978-1483442846
Publisher: Lulu,
Available from Lulu and Amazon; Price $11.99
Disclaimer: I have a slight conflict of interest in reviewing the book “Conflicts of Fitness”; May be a little more than slight. The author is my son.
If you are looking for a book that takes a very clinical – sometimes too clinical – and a Darwinian look at things like love, courtship, marriage, divorce, pornography, feminism, polygyny, women’s role in Islam and even hip hop lyrics, you need to read this book.
The title is not very catchy nor indicative of the book’s contents; the subtitle clarifies it a bit but it’s the introduction that clarifies the “fitness” in the title; it refers to “reproductive fitness.”
 The book starts with a defense of Islam’s allowance of polygyny – a risky venture, especially nowadays – on the basis of maximizing a society’s reproductive fitness. It has you assume some unreal assumptions about mating possibilities in an imaginary village that most readers may find too far fetched. But the basic scientific arguments regarding polygyny that the author makes cannot easily be dismissed as nonsense or medieval; the author infers that it  just happens to be one of the traditions that like any other traditions like monogamy, “serial monogamy”, polyandry has its plusses and minuses.
The book then goes on to explain other aspects of Islam that are usually criticized in the non Muslim world – like veiling, early marriage, women’s reduced access to divorce, women’s subordination etc. – on the basis of reproductive fitness and “reproductive climate”. Again, very few would like those practices in Islam – the author even looks at these issues from the angle ” Is it Islam or is it Muslims”  and seems to infer that it is more Muslims than Islam – but the scientific arguments offered for those practices’ defense cannot easily be denied.
The author then compares the cultural differences between the Muslim world and the West, again from the point of view of reproductive fitness. He describes the advantages and disadvantages of each system taking examples of feminism, late marriages, no marriages, serial monogamy, cultural and generation gaps and uses a lot of hip hop lyrics to explain the West’s method of achieving reproductive fitness. Some readers may find some concepts repeated too many times but given the novelty of the author’s hypotheses and the possible difficulty to grasp them by a person without a scientific background , the repetition may be justified.
If your knowledge of philosophy is limited to Aristotle, Aquinas and Kant etc.,  you’ll become  familiar with more contemporary “philosophers” like Jay-Z, 50 cent and Tupac Shakur after reading this book. The author has used many of their lyrics to explain his points and you’ll become familiar with words like “wifey”, “humpin'” etc.
All in all it is an easy and informative read, a fairly short book that can be finished in one sitting; but it’s possible you may want to read it a second time, as I did.
Shoeb Amin

What’s so great about Christianity? Book Review by Dr. Shoeb Amin

BOOK REVIEW by Dr. Shoeb Amin


Title: What’s so great about Christianity?

Author: Dinesh D’Souza

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

ISBN-13: 978-1-4143-2601-6

I just finished reading this book recently; it is one of those books I’ll have to read a second time. It is so full of important facts and novel perspectives on many of the issues about religious and atheistic beliefs, it is hard to digest and remember it all after one reading – at least it was for me.

A word about the author: Dinesh D’Souza is an Indian American, a Conservative who worked as a policy adviser for Ronald Reagan, and is affiliated with American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution and is considered a Christian apologist. Most of us have heard some unsavory things about him including a charge for illegal political contributions to which he pleaded guilty. But don’t let the above introduction turn you off of this book.

A word about the title: Even though it is about defending Christianity, you could use some of the same arguments the author makes in the book to defend any religion. So again don’t let the title turn you off. of the book.

I’ve read a couple of books that deal with the same issues; this was much easy to read, based more on logic and science and less on esoteric concepts and metaphysics . This is evident in chapters like “Christianity and Reason: The Theological Roots of Science; From Logos to Cosmos: Christianity and the Invention of Invention; Paley (referring to William Paley who propounded the “watchmaker” argument) Was Right: Evolution and the Argument from Design. In this last chapter he actually describes evolution as more correct than the biblical account; and there are many other examples where he favors the scientific explanation over religious dogma, which I found refreshing, coming from somebody with his credentials.

I’ll just let some of the reviews listed in the book do the talking. Michael Shermer, publisher of “Skeptic” magazine writes: “But he is a first-rate scholar whom I feel absolutely compelled to read…..  and although non-Christians and non-theists may disagree with some of his arguments, we ignore him at our peril. D’Souza takes the debate to a new level. Read it”. Dallas Willard, author of “the Divine Conspiracy” writes: “Pastors, teachers, believers, and the sincerely perplexed will find this book indispensable”. I might add atheists to that list too.

My opinion: Read it!


Shoeb Amin


Mother, Son, Schizophrenia


 ( Shared by Nasik Elahi)

There is a lot of suffering in this house,” the Indian photographer Sohrab Hura writes in a note printed at the beginning of his photo journal “Life Is Elsewhere.” In 1999, when Hura was seventeen years old, his mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and in the following years the house they shared was overtaken by her illness. In the book, which Hura self-published last month, he describes her screaming obscenities, obsessively changing the locks on the door, beating him with a stick, and at times disbelieving that he was her son. “Our initial years were spent hiding from the world,” he writes. “Hers out of paranoia and mine out of embarrassment and anger towards who she had become.”

From the anguish of this situation, Hura—who last year became the second Indian photographer ever to become a nominee member of Magnum Photos—created a loving and assiduously candid photographic portrait of his mother. Produced between 2005 and 2011, his images show her isolated and claustrophobic existence: a nightgown she was wearing when forcibly hospitalized dangles alone in the frame; wrinkles ripple darkly across the sheets of an empty bed. But the house is also a space of tentative safety and tranquility. In a photo from 2008, Elsa, his mother’s dog and primary companion, stares at the camera from the halo of a cone collar; behind her, on the bed, Hura’s mother sleeps peacefully.