Tag Archives: Napoleon

Trinkets of Deceit

“Do not put your faith in such trinkets of deceit!”

Dracula – Bram Stoker

I think I have covered my youthful ambition to be a history teacher before. I may even have admitted that I really wanted to be a University lecturer but was trying not to show off. As I sit here, surrounded by chaos, I reflect that if I had become a lecturer, this would be a perfectly acceptable way to organise my workspace.

I think it’s high time that someone wrote a book on marketing and the Nazi party. This thought first came to mind when I saw a young man strutting up and down in a  military collectors’ shop admiring his reflection in a display case as he held a Nazi dagger at his hip.

This was, to be accurate, my third thought. The first was that I’d like to slap some sense into him and the second was that he needed a psychiatrist.

The Romans knew a bit about pageantry and psychology, with their Triumphs and circuses. Napoleon knew some too – “You call these medals and ribbons baubles; well it is with such baubles that men are led.”

The Nazis, with their reliance on mythology, medals and regalia, were just treading an old path, but they did it well. The rest, as they say, is history.

I looked a long time to find a balanced article about it, because people tend to have strong views on the Nazis. It’s tricky, but the lesson I draw from it is that the heraldry of the Nazi party still draws people in.

It’s interesting to draw a parallel between the building of the Nazi Party and the modern marketing industry, and how the techniques of the modern industry were foreshadowed by the Nazis. We’ve had books on leadership that purport to be written by Attila the Hun, Henry V and Jean-Luc Picard, how about  marketing book written in the character of Josef Goebbels? If you can make that popular, you really would be performing marketing at a high level.

Remember, when thinking about the Nazis that Milgram’s experiments proved that the German’s weren’t the only people who would follow orders even though it caused great distress to others The Stanford Prison Experiments not only showed that groups would band together, but pointed the way to later events.

We are not the civilised people that we like to think we are. In fact, when you look at modern politics we may actually be in a worse position as our minds are poisoned by a bombardment of false news.

Just one more example before I go. In 1919 the Allied Powers imposed a damaging and humiliating peace settlement on Germany and the Central Powers. This gave the Germans something to unite against. Alex Ferguson, in making Manchester United one of the most successful teams in British football history, used the same technique. He also used the technique of refusing to speak to the Press because they were all against him.

Does that sound familiar?

Book Review – Elements of Murder

The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

John Emsley

Hardcover: 436 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (28 April 2005)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0641823894

ISBN-13: 978-0641823893

It has everything I want from a book – science, history and murder. It’s not a book everyone would enjoy but to geeks like me it’s fascinating to know that a broken thermometer played a part in the development of photography. I’m also intrigued to find that Pope Alexander VI  was poisoned in 1503 after dining with his son (well, they were Borgias), and that “perpetual pills” were made from antimony. When swallowed, they would pass through the gut, and irritate the gut into clearing itself out. They would then be retrieved, washed and used again. I’m not surprised their use has died out. I still shudder at the thought of what happened when I swallowed one of my gold crowns.

If you prefer environmentalism to murder you can read it as a book on the damage done to humans, fish and the atmosphere, with examples from history and from modern times.

If science is your thing, there is plenty available, possibly too much.

The book covers the poisons Mercury, Arsenic, Antimony, Lead, Thallium and “Other poisonous elements”. There are other poisons available, but these are the ones in the book – the clue is in the word “element” in the title. If you want a book on poisons in general you need a different book. If, for instance, you were interested in general poisons  (and I am making no judgement here) you may be better with a book on plants.

It’s not an easy read because the detail is quite dense, and you have to concentrate, but it is interesting and informative.

I won’t lie, it’s patchy, and there are slow bits because some of the poisoning cases are well known (like Napoleon’s death by wallpaper) and because the science sometimes goes on a bit, but I like the history and there are hundreds of items of trivia to be gleaned from a reading of the book. I’m not going to criticise a book just because of my inability to process science writing.

It’s going back on the shelf for now, but after leafing through it for examples of trivia, I’ll be reading it again soon.