(This review first appeared in the review section of Amazon. I have made some grammatical corrections in the text below.)
I bought this book for my children and thought that I would read it in advance. Glad I did. Pretty shocking stuff and if this is representative of the type of propaganda our children are being taught, then we are all in trouble.
First, the good stuff — limited though it might be. The book is very well and entertainingly written, and is particularly commendable for its structure, linking natural history, pre-history and history together in a logical and fluent manner.
The problem is the content. In fact, the sub-title of the book should probably be “How white, male Europeans ruined everything” because that is the dominant theme of the book.
For example, the chapter on “Hunter-Gatherer” was sub-titled “How humans lived in a state of nature for 99 per cent of their history on earth without permanent homes, full-time jobs or private possessions”, concluding that “Stone Age man lived well, happily and mostly in peace.” Really? Strange how we don’t find these characteristics in primitive modern-day tribes which closely replicate Stone Age existence — that is, we don’t find them unless you happen to be a Margaret Mead with more political beliefs than scientific ones. For that matter, we don’t even find them in the behavior of our primate cousins, who battle over hierarchy, access to scarce resources and reproductive opportunities continuously.
But the real aim of the author becomes known when he turns to the 19th century. For example, his comments on colonialism: “(n)ineteenth-century Europe’s financial and material gains were made a the expense of the native populations of Asia, America, Africa and Australia….Yet by the time most African countries received their political independence in the second half of the twentieth century, their land had been exhausted, their raw materials removed, their economies sucked dry by loans, and trade agreements locked their populatons in poverty….To add to their economic woes, many colonies won their poltical independence only for their governments to fall into the hands of corrupt, despotic rulers, who, with weapons sold to them by developed nations, greedily clung to power. In this way, ethnic and tribal disputes still predominate today, even after the tyranny of arbitrary colonial rule….These are some of the reasons why Capitalism has failed to make amends for the colonialism of the past.” You see? Those nasty white, male Europeans, with their evil Capitalism, are responsible for everything, even down to this day. Africa’s failure has nothing to do with indigenous factors such as the absence of the rule of law, the systematic violence, the mass corruption, the absence of civil society and individual freedom, and the the rival gangs of looters who call themselves political parties. No, had they never been touched by those white, male Europeans and their evil Capitalist system, Africa would doubtlessly be in a state of primordial bliss today.
But Lloyd really waxes enthusiastic when he can talk about his hero: Karl Marx, whom he introduces in a chapter sub-titled “How some people tried to resist the advance of Western civilization, wishing instead to return to a more natural order….” Marx wrote his “prophetic manifesto”, which “proved uncannily accurate” as to “the course of Capitalism and the rise of the suppressed proleteriat”. Marx, it appears, was well on the way to leading mankind back to the bliss of a “more natural order”, with the assistance of his similarly idealistic follower Lenin (he of the “you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs” fame), when his revolution was stolen by Stalin, who “had different ideas” and whose “goal of industrialization was far removed from Lenin’s ideal of creating a classless and equal society”. In this way, Lloyd repeats the “hijacking” myth, without even bothering to mention the strange fact that every Communist society has been similarly “hijacked”, which might lead a somewhat less biased observer to wonder if there wasn’t something inherently bad in the Communist system. He also fails to mention that every society built upon Marxist principals did not produce “a more natural order”, unless your idea of a more natural order was nearly universal privation (except for the chosen few apparatchiki), complete political and social oppression, and total environmental devastation. No, instead Lloyd sums up his review of Marx with “(t)he ghost of Karl Marx haunts anyone who believes in the supremacy and wisdom of the human system of economic organisation called Capitalism.” Sorry, but I think that a fairer summery would be that the ghost of Karl Marx haunts the few remaining morons who actually believe that this intellectual charlatan had something meaningful to say.
After he finishes praising Marx, Lloyd throws in a few more political-economic jewels, such as (when commenting about the deaths in World War II) “in reality these deaths were as a result of two wars, although arguably they both stemmed from the same inexorable rise of global Capitalism.” And: “Between them, cheap Chinese labour and the rich oilfields of Saudi Arabia underpin today’s global economy” — I sure hope that someone told Steven Jobs that before he wasted his time trying to innovate and create immensely valuable and desirable products out of base metals, sand and electronic bits. And then finally this old chestnut: “Broadcast media…transformed the ability of manufacturers to sell their products through advertising. Modern economic growth can now rely on marketing agencies developing elaborate strategies for convincing millions of consumers to buy products not found in nature that no one really needs,” by which Lloyd apparently means that ONLY products found in nature can satisfy a TRUE human need, which is a belief that I am sure Lloyd adheres to rigorously in his personal life.
But the good news is that Lloyd’s book is not a product found in nature and therefore we can ignore it without doing damage to our “state of nature” or violating a “more natural order”. And I suggest that this is one area where we should follow Lloyd’s preaching. But nowhere else. Please.
Roger Barris, Switzerland