“Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon,” by Bronwen Dickey

“If trained animal professionals with years of dog-handling experience aren’t good at visually identifying breeds, then what does that say about the rest of us?”


“By World War I, pit bulls were so beloved as national symbols that we literally and figuratively wrapped them in the flag. We even called them “Yankee terriers.”


“Dogs have evolved to understand us better over the millennia, but in modern pet culture we appear doomed to understand them less.”


― Bronwen Dickey, Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon


Pitt Bull Cover

The illuminating story of how a popular breed of dog became the most demonized and supposedly the most dangerous of dogs—and what role humans have played in the transformation.

From this:

To This:


Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did you view Pit Bulls before reading this book?  Has your viewpoint changed?  Is so, why?
  2.  In Chapter Nine the book discusses “moral panic” which is defined as inappropriate hysteria about a novel, obscure, or previously ignored phenomenon.  The book gives examples of this which include early eighties claims of satanic ritual child abuse and the witch hunts that spread across medieval Europe.   Can you think of other examples?  Does it surprise you that, not just individuals, but entire cultures and societies can suffer from irrational hysteria?
  3. Reading this book reminds me of the classic “How to Lie with Statistics.”  The author also explores how unfounded opinions and speculation can morph overtime into scientific fact.  Did reading this book make you more skeptical about arguments based on statistics and data?  
  4. The book illustrates the remarkably patience and tolerance of dogs.  A mid-sized dog could, at any time, seriously maim a person.  Yet it so rarely happens.  There are only an average of thirty-five fatal dog attacks a year.  Are you surprised that, when you look at the data, dogs and men coexist remarkably well. 
  5. In addition to amazingly pronounced problem of dog breed identification, a major problem with evaluating dog breed “aggressiveness” is the myriad of variables involved in dog attacks, e.g., was the dog tethered, was the dog provoked, was the dog subject to neglect or environmental stress.  Do we lack sufficient data to make this determination?
  6. Finally, as always, did you like the book?  The writer’s style?  Did you learn anything that will stay with you?

About the Author:

Pit Bull Author

Bonwen Dickey is a contributing editor at The Oxford American. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Outside, Slate, Garden & Gun, Best American Travel Writing, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Independent Weekly, among other publications. She lives in North Carolina.




https://www.npr.org/2016/05/10/477350069/friend-or-fiend-pit-bull-explores-the-          history-of-americas-most-feared-dog




“Night (The Night Trilogy #1),” by Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (Translator)

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Night-Book ImageNight-To Remain Silent









Discussion Questions:

1. As Night begins, Eliezer is so moved by faith that he weeps when he prays. He is also searching for a deeper understanding of the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah. How does Eliezer’s relationship with his faith and with God change as the book progresses?

2. While Nazi terror is only a rumor or distant threat, Eliezer’s father chooses to remain in Sighet. Once they are forced into the ghetto, Eliezer’s father tells his older children that they can go live with their former maid in her village, but that he will stay in the ghetto with their mother and little sister. Eliezer says, “Naturally, we refused to be separated” (p. 20). Can you sympathize with their choice? What would it feel like for a family to have to choose to leave their home or separate from each other? Are there places in the world where families are faced with this decision now?

3.  What literal and symbolic meanings does “night” have in the book?

Night-Barbed Wire

Night-Jews arrive at Auschwitz-II

“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II (Birkenau), Poland during the German occupation, May/June 1944. Jews were sent either to work or to the gas chamber. The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album.

Night First they came

4.  Early in the book, after Moishe the Beadle escapes his execution, no one, not even Eliezer, believes his tales (p. 7). Even when the Germans arrive in Sighet and move all the Jews into ghettos, the Jewish townspeople seem to ignore or suppress their fears. “Most people thought that we would remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Afterward everything would be as before” (p. 12). What might be the reasons for the townspeople’s widespread denial of the evidence facing them?

Night-Shot Like Dogs

5. When Eliezer sees his father being beaten with an iron bar, he keeps silent and thinks of “stealing away” so he won’t have to watch what’s happening (p. 54). Instead of directing his anger at the Kapo, he becomes mad at his father. What do you think is really going on inside of Eliezer? Who is he really mad at?

6.  Think of the kapos and the little blonde pipel who is hanged on page 64. Who are the bystanders? Who are the perpetrators? Who are the victims in Night? Do these roles sometimes overlap?

7.  At the end of Night, Wiesel writes: “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me” (p. 115). What parts of Eliezer died during his captivity? What was born in their place?

Night-Where is God

8.  What scenes from Night do you remember most vividly? Have they made you look at the world or your family differently?


Fritz Klein, the camp doctor, standing in a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen after the camp’s liberation by the British 11th Armoured Division, April 1945

Night At Every Step

About the Author:

night Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

Born in Sighet, Romania
September 30, 1928
Died: July 02, 2016
Genre: Memoir, Fiction

Eliezer Wiesel was a Romania-born American novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor of Hungarian Jewish descent. He was the author of over 40 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust and his imprisonment in several concentration camps.

Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind,” noting that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps,” as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace,” Wiesel has delivered a powerful message “of peace, atonement and human dignity” to humanity.

On November 30, 2006 Wiesel received an honorary knighthood in London, England in recognition of his work toward raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.

“Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,” by Jack Weatherford

“A leader should demonstrate his thoughts and opinions through his actions, not through his words.”
― Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

“The first key to leadership was self-control, particularly the mastery of pride, which was something more difficult, he explained, to subdue than a wild lion and anger, which was more difficult to defeat than the greatest wrestler. He warned them that “if you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.”

“If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead. Even the highest mountain had animals that step on it.”

― Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan-Book Cover

Ghengis Khan-Image and Pop Notes

An astounding number of people in Central Asia are estimated to be the descendants of Genghis Khan. Geneticists have begun to trace a variant of the Y chromosome transmitted only through the male line in the DNA of a huge number of Central Asian males—estimated at 17 million—who appear to share a common progenitor, dating back to the 13th century.

In Genghis Khan, Weatherford resurrects the true history of Genghis Khan, from the story of his relentless rise through Mongol tribal culture to the waging of his devastatingly successful wars and the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed.



Ghengis Khan-Image and Pop Notes
The U.S. legal and governmental systems are far more based upon Genghis Khan’s model than religious sources such as The Ten Commandments.   Instead of the Commandments, Roy Moore should have put a statue of Khan in front of his courthouse. 




Genghis Khan-Map

“Victory did not come to the one who played by the rules; it came to the one who made the rules and imposed them on his enemy.”
― Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Discussion Questions:

1). How important, according to Jack Weatherford, were the Genghis Khan and the Mongols to the “making of the modern world”? What are the various ways in which Weatherford suggests they shaped the modern world?

2). What are the strengths and weaknesses of Weatherford’s presentation? To what extent do you accept his argument that the Mongols are the pivots upon which modern world history turns?

3). How would you begin to describe the Mongol way of war? How and why did the Mongol empire spread so quickly? Where, when and how was the Mongol expansion halted?

4).  What other features of Mongol culture seem most interesting, and why? What was most distinctive about such social institutions and relationships as religion, law and gender roles?

5).  How and why has the image of Genghis Khan and the Mongols shifted over the centuries? What has been the story of this “afterlife” in Europe from the 14th century onwards? What have been the most important positive and negative stereotypes and how would you begin to account for these?

6).  To what extent does the historic clash between nomadic groups and urban cultures provide a key to understanding both the Mongols and they ways in which they have been portrayed down through the ages?

7.)  Does the life of Genghis Khan offer backing for the “Great Man” theory of history? How important were his individual character and decisions for the rise of the Mongol Empire? How is it possible that an outcast child could rise from such a lowly beginning to become the Great Khan?

8.)  How would you compare and contrast Khubilai Khan with Genghis Khan? How did the process of empire-building change the Mongols? To what extent is it appropriate to speak of a Pax Mongolica?

9).  What, in your own opinion, are the most important legacies of Genghis Khan and the Mongols?

Genghis Khan-Mongolian Shaman

A Mongolian Shaman

Genghis Khan Burial Place

Khan’s Gravesite

Genghis Khan Mongols-using-Chinese-gunpowder-bombs-during-the-Mongol-Invasions-of-Japan-1281

Khan’s Army Using Chinese Gunpowder Bombs

Genghis Khan Map of Empire

Extent of the Mongolian Empire

Ghengis Khan on Horseback

Ghengis Khan on Horseback

Ghengis Khan-Spirit Banners

Spirit Banners

Genghis Khan-Monument

Monument to Genghis Khan

About the Author: Ghengis Jack Weatherford.jpg

Jack McIver Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota. He is best known for his 2004 book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. His other books include The History of Money; Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World; and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire.


“The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb,” by Neal Bascomb

The Winter Fortress - Cover

NONFICTION: A suspenseful, well-researched retelling of the heroes of Telemark, who prevented Hitler from developing the bomb.  If the “heroes of Telemark” had failed and Hitler got the bomb, London might have disappeared in a blast and the Allies could have lost the war. “By God’s mercy,” Winston Churchill declared following the bombing of Hiroshima at war’s end, “British and American science outpaced all German efforts.”


Winter Fortress Memorial

The saboteurs’ memorial at Vemork

Winter Fortress Picture of Participants

Surrounding their boss 

Leif Tronstad (front row, center) are most of the Vemork saboteurs, including (front row left to right) Jens Anton Poulsson and Joachim Ronneberg, and (back row left to right) Hans Storhaug, Fredrik Kayser, Kasper Idland, Claus Helberg, and Birger Stromsheim.

Winter Fortress Vemork Picture Color

Winter Fortress DF-Hydro (1944)

DF “Hydro” was a steam-driven railway ferry which was lowered on Lake Tinn by Norwegian sabotage during World War II .

Discussion Questions:

1).  Nazi occupation of Norway was unremittingly brutal.  The price for resistance was quite high.  To what lengths would you have gone to resist German Occupation?

On the other hand, countrymen did not forget collaborators and quickly punished them once liberated:

2).  While Bascomb explains, with remarkably accessible clarity, the state of nuclear physics at the time and the importance of heavy water to the German efforts to build a bomb, the heart of the story is how a small band of Norwegians escaped to England, trained and slipped back to Norway to deny Hitler this awesome power.  Was Bascomb right to focus on the individual stories of the saboteurs?  Does this tactic work well in non-fiction?

3). How do modern military heroes compare to those in Winter Fortress?

For examples of Iraqi war heroes, see:


4).  What tactical lessons can be learned from the events chronicled in Winter Fortress?

5).  Is there any comparison between the race to stop Hitler and his atomic program and today’s efforts to stop North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs?

6).  There is no seeming end to the bravery shown by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).  In the Pacific arena, Americans showed extreme bravery and grit in engagements such as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  Is Tom Brokaw right that this generation was “The Greatest Generation”? 

See https://www.amazon.com/Greatest-Generation-Tom-Brokaw/dp/0812975294

7).  Finally, would you recommend this book to anyone or just WW2 buffs?

Winter Fortress Vemork DiagramWinter Fortress The-Heros-of-Telemark-1965

Winter Fortress DF-Hydro (1944)

DF “Hydro” was a steam-driven railway ferry sent to the bottom of Lake Tinn by Norwegian sabotage during World War II .

A World War II primer in thirteen minutes:


Interview with Bascomb:


About the Author:

Winter Fortress Neal-Bascomb

Neal Bascomb is a national award-winning, and New York Times bestselling author of a number of books.  All of Bascomb’s books are non-fiction narratives focused on inspiring stories of adventure or achievement. His work has been translated into over eighteen languages, featured in several documentaries, and optioned for major film and television projects.

Born in Colorado and raised in St. Louis, he is the product of public school and lots of time playing hockey. He earned a double degree in Economics and English Literature at Miami University (Ohio), lived in Europe for several years as a journalist (London, Dublin, and Paris), and worked as an editor at St. Martin’s Press (New York). In 2000, he started writing books full time.

His first book HIGHER was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writer award and was featured in a History Channel documentary. His second THE PERFECT MILE was a New York Times bestseller and frequently ranks as one of the top books on running. His third RED MUTINY won the United States Maritime Literature Award and critical acclaim around the world. His fourth HUNTING EICHMANN was an international bestseller and led to a young adult edition called NAZI HUNTERS that was the 2014 winner of the YALSA Award, Sydney Taylor Book Award (Gold Medal), among numerous others. His fifth book THE NEW COOL was optioned by major producer Scott Rudin for film. His sixth ONE MORE STEP, focused on the first man with cerebral palsy to climb Kilimanjaro and finish the Kona Ironman, was a New York Times bestseller as well.

An avid hiker, skier, and coffee drinker, he is happily settled in Seattle, Washington with his family.




“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” by Matthew Desmond

It doesn’t happen every week (or every month, or even year), but every once in a while a book comes along that changes the national conversation… Evicted looks to be one of those books.
Pamela Paul, Ed. – New York Times Book Review

“Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”
― Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Last April, Matthew Desmond won the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for “Evicted.”

Evicted-Book Cover

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever been evicted or do you know anyone who has? If the answer is yes, what was your/their experience like, and how has it affected your/their life?

2. What was your experience reading Evicted? Were you surprised by what you learned? Was any particular scene or character’s story emotionally painful for you to witness?

3. Many people have very codified perceptions of “people who get evicted” and suspect that those people are largely responsible—through bad decision making—for their circumstances. Did you feel this way before reading Evicted? Why or why not? Did your opinions change after reading the book? If so, how?

4. In Evicted, author Matthew Desmond takes a narrative approach to an important topic and follows the stories of several real people. Which person’s story were you most drawn to and why?

5. Sherrena Tarver claimed to have found her calling as an inner-city entrepreneur, stating, “The ’hood is good. There’s a lot of money there” (page 152). How did Sherrena profit from being a landlord in poor communities? Do you think her profits were justified? What responsibilities do landlords have when renting their property? What risks do they take? Do you sympathize with Sherrena or not?

6. On Larraine and her late boyfriend Glen’s anniversary, she spends her monthly allocation of food stamps on “two lobster tails, shrimp, king crab legs, salad, and lemon meringue pie” (page 218). Can you relate to her decision? How might you have judged her differently without knowing the backstory that Desmond provides?

7. Because they have children, Arleen, Vanetta, and Pam and Ned frequently find themselves shut out of available housing and resort to lies in order to secure a place to live. Are these lies justified? If you have children, how far would you go to shelter your family?

8. Although eviction is the central issue in Evicted, affordable housing interacts intimately with many other social issues. For example: Do parents who have trouble finding/providing safe housing for their children deserve to have their children taken away and put in foster care? Would affordable housing make it easier for addicts and recovering addicts (such as Scott) to enroll in programs that increase chances of rehabilitation? What other major issues can you think of that eviction affects, whether in this book or in the world in general?

9. How does race factor into the types of struggles faced by the individuals profiled in Evicted? What about being a woman? Or a single parent?

10. Did reading Evicted inspire you to want to help others in positions similar to those of the people in the book? If so, how do you think you might get involved? (Hint: Visit JustShelter.org to learn more about groups and organizations in your local area who are already fighting the good fight!)

11. Why do you think Crystal made the decision to let Arleen and her sons stay until they found another residence? How did tenants such as Crystal and Arleen rely on friends and extended kin networks to get by? Did this do anything to lift them out of poverty or distress? What limitations do these short-term relationships have? Why do you think agencies such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children seek to limit kin dependence?

12. Landlords repeatedly turned down Pam and Ned’s rental applications because they have children. Why? Do you think families with children should have any protection when seeking housing? Why do you think families with children were not considered a protected class when Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968? Do you think it is fair for landlords to charge tenants with children monthly surcharges and children-damage deposits? Why or why not?

13. Why did Doreen choose not to call Sherrena when the house was in desperate need of repair? Do you agree that “The house failed the tenants, and the tenants failed the house” (page 256)? What effects does living in a home that is not decent or functional have on a person’s psychological and emotional health?

14. Do you think housing should be a right in America?

15. Many Americans still believe that the typical low-income family lives in public housing. Unfortunately, the opposite is true; only 1 in 4 families who qualify for any kind of housing assistance receive it. In Evicted, Desmond proposes a universal housing voucher program. What do you think of that idea?

16. The government spends much more money on homeowner tax benefits for affluent families than on housing assistance to poor families. Is this situation justified? How would you address this issue?

About the Author:

Evicted-Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond is an American sociologist and urban ethnographer. He is currently the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Co-Director of the Justice and Poverty Project. The author of several books, including the award-winning book, “On the Fireline,” and “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2015 for his work on poverty in America.

“Shoe Dog,” by Phil Knight

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

“Give up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop”

“Life is growth. You grow or you die”

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight takes us through Knight’s tumultuous journey in creating Nike. From importing shoes from Japan, to designing the first pair of Nikes, to keeping up with growth, this book shows the struggles and sacrifices it takes to build a business.


1).  Consider these episodes Knight reveals and ponder the ethical questions they present:

  • Example #1. Lying about having a company he doesn’t have yet:

In his very first meeting with Onitsuka, the Japanese company manufacturing the Tiger shoes which Knight goes on to distribute, he lies about having a company. Having walked in with no more than the information he prepared for a Stanford GSB class project, Knight delivers his presentation and makes up a company name on the spot which he doesn’t have.  “Blue Ribbon,” I blurted. “Gentlemen, I represent Blue Ribbon Sports of Portland, Oregon.”

  • Example #2. Lying about an office he doesn’t have yet:

When a competing distributor of Tiger shoes, who Knight dubs ‘The Marlboro Man’ begins to compete against them with national ads, Knight flies out to Japan to meet with Onitsuka again. Faced with the concern that the Japanese company wants a larger U.S. Distributor, he lies again.

Onitsuka wanted for its U.S. distributor someone bigger, more established, a firm that could handle the workload. A firm with offices on the East Coast. “But, but,” I spluttered, “Blue Ribbon does have offices on the East Coast.”  The lie is so successful that he wins the deal.

  • Example #3. Stealing information from his opponent

Over time, the relationship with Onitsuka begins to sour and Knight suspects that Kitami, the export manager, is talking to his competition. In order to verify this he steals valuable information during a visit to his offices.  The moment he was out of sight I jumped from behind my desk. I opened his briefcase and rummaged through and took out what looked like the folder he’d been referring to. I slid it under my desk blotter, then jumped behind my desk and put my elbows on the blotter.

  • Example #4.  Dating your student

As an adjunct professor, Knights meets and starts dating “Penny.”  They eventually get married and still are today.


Phil and Penny Knight

2).  Consider these five leadership takeaways from Shoe Dog:

  • Form a great team:

  • Never Give Up:

  • Fake it Till You Make It:
  • Travel the World in Your Early 20s:
  • Get Lucky:

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     3)  Reviews on Goodreads claim this book is, e.g., “one is the best business memoir I ever read,”  Do you agree?  Why or why not.

Review of “Shoe Dog” by Bill Gates: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Shoe-Dog

Phil Knight Discusses “Shoe Dog”: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/nike-creator-phil-knight-discusses-book-shoe-dog-38665783

About the Author:

One of the world’s most influential business executives, Phil Knight is the founder of Nike, Inc. He served as CEO of the company from 1964 to 2004, as board chairman through 2016, and he is currently Chairman Emertius. He lives in Oregon with his wife, Penny.Shoe Dog-Author Image

“The Power of Myth,” by Joseph Campbell (Author), Bill Moyers (Collaborator)

“The symbols of mythology and legend are all around  us, embedded in the fabric of our daily lives, and  the Moyers-Campbell dialogues are a welcome guide  to recognizing and understanding their meanings.”  — Cincinnati Post.

Power of Myth Angel

Power of Myth Cover

Quotes from “The Power of Myth”:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

“I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman or child.”

“Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.”

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”

“Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.”

Power of Myth-Follow Your Bliss

Discussion Questions:

Power of Myth-Tiresias

Tiresias strikes two snakes with a stick, and is transformed into a woman by Hera. Engraving by Johann Ulrich Kraus c. 1690. Taken from Die Verwandlungen des Ovidii (The Metamorphoses of Ovid).

1. Myths reveal spiritual truths about the world. Marriage demands a shift in our spiritual identity and view of the self: “[Marriage is] a purely mythological image signifying the sacrifice of the visible entity for a transcendent good” (p.7).

Summarize Campbell’s critiques of modern-day marriages and how they differ from true “spiritual” marriages.

  • transcend — to travel beyond a boundary (physical, psychological, spiritual, etc.)
Power of Myth Theseus

Roman Mosiac: Theseus & Minotauros.  Pompeii, Italy

Power of Myth-The Heros

The Heroes, Watercolor by William Russel Flint, 1912.

2. Campbell explains that modern life is “demythologized” (p.11), lacking the rituals that connect us to our human condition. Lacking rituals that connect the individual to the culture, people are left to their own devices to make sense of the world, often placing the individual interpretation of life against that of the society. “America,” states Campbell, “has no ethos” (p.10). Instead of stories that convey “the wisdom of life” (p.11), we have lawyers and professionals who focus on specialized issues, but are often ignoring the greater reality.

What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?

  • Rollo May — a 20th century American existentialist psychologist
  • Ethos — “the understood, unwritten rules by which people live” (p.10)
  • Alexander de Tocqueville — A French political thinker and historian who visited America and commented on the roles of individuals and their nations
  • Heinrich Zimmer — a 20th century art historian who explored the differences between Western and Indian art
Power of Myth Mechanical Icarus

Mechanical Icarus

3. Campbell and Moyers discuss the impact of films as potential replacements for myths.Campbell questions whether films can replace mythology because the screen-writers often lack mythological understanding. When they do, such as George Lucas in creating Star Wars, the mythological heroes and archetypes can be revealed effectively to a modern audience that lacks the references.

Why is it that films affect us? Why may the experience be more moving in a theatre as opposed to streaming it at home? Why does a film actor assume the “condition of a god” in a movie theatre but only “celebrity”status on television?

  • Douglas Fairbanks — an early 20th century silent film actor who portrayed swaggering, sword-wielding heroes, such as Robin Hood, Don Juan, and assorted pirates
  • Pablo Picasso — 20th century Spanish painter who invented the art form known as cubism (in avant garde art form that depicts images as broken pieces depicting its subject from a variety of viewpoints)
  • Faust — a protagonist in many 16th-19th century German stories who sells his soul to the devil
  • Mephistopheles —an alternate identity for Satan, chief of the demons, developed in Renaissance literature

    Power of Myth-Mephistoles

    Mephistopheles (demon or devil).  Mr. Shitana’s attire and manner achieved a “Mephistophelian effect.”  Cards on the Table, by Agatha Christie (1936).

4. Campbell explores the symbolism on the reverse of the dollar bill and how it reflected the Age of Reason (sometimes called The Age of Enlightenment) from which the nation was born. Take one out of your wallet and examine it.

Are the symbols on the reverse side of the dollar bill mythological?

Power of Myth-First Great Seal

  • Deist — one who follows Deism, the belief in God through reason and knowledge, not through revelation or holy books; Deism often promotes the concept of the “Divine Clock Winder,” suggesting that God created the universe, but is now sitting back and watching the creatures of creation live on their own terms; many of the Founding Fathers were Deists
  • Angelus — a prayer in the Catholic Church that recites “Ave, Maria” (“Hail, Mary”) three times in its chorus
  • manifest — “to manifest” means “to show, understand, demonstrate, or embody something clearly”; therefore, a manifestation is the object that contains this knowledge or reality

5. Campbell describes the differences between our society and the mythological cultures, suggesting that our world view projected from the Bible is out of date with the realities of the modern world discovered through reason. Myths can transcend time and place, but cultural dogma cannot. The world has changed enormously in the past 3,000 years, but the Western religions are locked in the past. The letter from Chief Seattle illustrates the difference in world view between modern societies and the mythological mind set: “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.”

How do we live without myths? Why does Campbell say that America is moving too quickly to become mythologized? What are the four functions of mythology? Which of these four still operate in America today?

  • Paleolithic moral order — “Paleolithic” means “Stone Age,” reflecting the hinters/gatherers and earlyagricultural societies that used myths to communicate natural truths
  • Chief Seattle — a Suquamish Indian chief near Puget Sound who delivered a stunning speech after he signed the Nisqually Treaty in 1846; the subsequent war led to the death and internment of the Native Americans in that region by the U.S. government

Power of Myth-Chief Seattle

6. Campbell explains that all humans live through the same stages of life and they recognize universal images (archetypes), such as the serpent and the bird. Myths help us to see the God inside the Man; that universal truths exist inside our subconscious brains (dreams) that are interpreted in terms of the individual experience. Individual dreams tend to reflect the public mythology; when they don’t, only a hero can bring these two views into accord.

Why do myths reflect what we know inside is true? Why does Campbell call myth “the public dream”?

Theodore Roethke — a 20th century American poet

  • Christ — an ancient Indo-European term meaning “the anointed one” or “covered in oil”; related words include “grime,” “grease,” and “cream”
  • Shiva — the Hindu god of destruction and part of the Hindu Triad: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
  • Sigmund Freud — a 19th/20th century Austrian neurologist who established psychoanalysis (the study of the interplay between the conscious and subconscious levels of the human brain)
  • Carl Jung — a 20th century Swiss psychiatrist, pioneer of dream analysis, and the founder of analytical psychology (the study of the forces and motivations of human behavior)
Power of Myth-Divine Dance of Shiva

The Divine Dance of Shiva

7. Campbell discusses how myths need to be read metaphorically, not literally. Myths are written in poetry, not prose, which is intended to allow the reader access to the unknown — that which escapes the confines of language. Campbell examines a few important Christian concepts through the mythological perspective, which existed during the first few centuries of Christianity, specifically with the Gnostics.

What is a metaphor and how does it operate in religion?

  • Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich, or also Freiherr von Hardenberg) — an 18th century Romantic author and philosopher who sought to describe the process by which man can establish harmony with Nature
  • Gospel of Thomas — one of many Christian Apocryphal texts that were excluded from the Bible when it was assembled by Pope Damasus at the Roman Council in 382 CE; these Apocrypa were often rejected by Roman bishops because they revealed Jesus more as man than God, as well as a mystic whose teachings were more in accord with mythology and the concepts of the sacred feminine
  • Gnosticism — Gnostics were early Christians who believed in “gnosis,” or the awareness of God through personal experience, as well as a dualistic divinity (light and dark divine forces in conflict with each other); they were persecuted and discredited by the early Roman Church
  • purgatory — a state/place between heaven and hell where the soul is purged of its sins in order to ascend into heaven; a main setting of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso); there is no mention of purgatory in the Bible, and the Catholic Church recently has backed away from this concept
Power of Myth-Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark, by T. Poulakis after engraving of J. Sadeler (17th century).

8. Campbell discusses the Santa Claus myth and how it operates to form relationships between parents and children. But the adult world ponders evil as well as good, so myths provide spiritual guidance for us to accept the dualities of life — both the bad with the good. We contribute and receive good and evil by participating in the game of life. Therefore, we must come to understand how our world of dualities operates, and to learn to avoid judging the world based on our bias of one duality over another. Myths teach us that. Campbell relates some tales from the Hindu “Rig Veda” and “The Upanishads,” high spiritual works.

What is the metaphor of Santa Clause? Why do myths teach us to not judge against evil?

  • Thanatos — The Greek personification of death (Roman Mors). He was the son of Night and the brother of Sleep, and his presence was fearsome. The Romans depicted him as a cherub. Freud’s theory of the Death instinct hypothesized that humans have two primal drives in opposition: Eros (lust, desire for pleasure) and Thanatos (the drive to end the struggle of life and to pass quietly into the grave).

Power of Myth-Upanishads

Power of Myth-Thanatos

Thanatos, Hypnos, Hermes, and the body of Sarpedon, Athenian red-figure calyx krater (a handled vase-like container), circa 6th B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art

9. Campbell describes his experiences inside ancient temple caves that depict mythological rites on the walls and ceilings. Acting as today’s cathedrals do, the cave places the participant inside another world from which to contemplate the mysteries of life. Girls are initiated into these mysteries by Nature herself, bringing the first menstruation, but boys must voluntarily be initiated into manhood through their societies. This is demonstrated by the stories of Australian aboriginal rites of manhood.

How are men and women initiated into adulthood differently? Why was there “no chance of relapsing back to boyhood” after participating in the aboriginal ritual?

  • William Wordsworth — A prominent English Romantic poet (1770-1850) who initiated the Romantic Age with his publication of Lyrical Ballads, poems that promoted the beauty and power of Nature
  • Bushmen — hunter/gatherer tribes from southern Africa
  • Samurai — feudal military noblemen from pre-industrial Japan; the name means “those who serve in close attendance to nobility”; they wielded the katana, the Japanese long sword
  • Martin Buber — An Austrian-born Jewish philosopher (1878-1965) famous for his essay Ich und Du (I and Thou) that examines the means of connecting with that which is different from us
  • “I,” “Thou,” and “It” — Buber’s philosophical construct that explains that the self (the “I”) is always understood in relation to the other, and that our relationship with the other must be understood either as an extension of the self (“I-Thou”) or as separate from the self (“I-It”)

10. Joseph Campbell was raised Catholic in New York City, and he witnessed many procedural changes to the rituals in his lifetime. In the past, rituals helped people to grow and develop into responsible members of their societies and their environments, but now these rituals have been reduced to catch phrases and symbolic spectacles that do not thrust the recipient into a new mindset, unless they choose to go there voluntarily. In short, Campbell argues that today’s Western rituals are a lot of show, but offer little substance, because they have been “dumbed down” and sterilized.

Why does Campbell criticize the Catholic Church for changing the delivery of the Mass from Latin to English in the mid-20th century? Why does Campbell claim that many of our rituals are now “dead”?

Power of Myth-Wheel of Life

Buddhist Painting: Wheel of Life

Joseph Campbell’s Influence on Star Wars:

Power of Myth Hero's Journey

For fun:

My Sweet Lord.  George Harrison wrote this song to serve as his accolade to the Hindu god Krishna as well as a call to abandon religious sectarianism as evidenced by his deliberate blending of the Hebrew word “hallelujah” with chants of “Hare Krishna” and Vedic prayer.

About the Author:

Power of Myth-Author Image

Joseph John Campbell was an American mythology professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.

Average rating for all of his books on Amazon: 4.3 · 201,349 ratings · 5,158 reviews

  • The Power of Myth 
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces The Hero With a Thousand Faces
  • Myths to Live By
  • Primitive Mythology (The Ma… Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God, #1)
  • The Hero’s Adventure: Power… The Hero’s Adventure: Power of Myth 1
  • Oriental Mythology (The Mas… Oriental Mythology (The Masks of God, #2)
  • Pathways to Bliss: Mytholog… Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
  • A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
  • Occidental Mythology (The M… Occidental Mythology (The Masks of God, #3)
  • Creative Mythology (The Mas… Creative Mythology (The Masks of God, #4)