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Restored: "Ch. 1 Under Montana's Big Sky" 
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Post Restored: "Ch. 1 Under Montana's Big Sky"
This thread is for discussing Ch. 1 - Under Montana's Big Sky.

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Wed Jun 08, 2005 1:18 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 1 Under Montana's Big Sky"
Loricat
Senior
Posts: 112
(4/6/05 10:21 am)


While reading Chapter 1, I had a couple of discussion questions drift through my head (it's a different experience reading with a group, ain't it? This is my first time outside of university), but the only thing that stuck was the environmental situation that Diamond lays out in Montana. It brings to mind the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report by a group of 1,300 experts from 95 countries. It's a 200+ page report in its entirety, but there are summaries. [No, I have not read the report -- yet -- but it is sitting on my desktop in its .pdf file.]

What's disturbing is how the mainstream media has pretty much ignored it, or dismissed it -- one analysis of this response is at Metroblog. (The blogger is my hubby, so while I'm loyal to his blog, he is actually a really good writer. ;) )

Lori



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1276
(4/8/05 1:28 pm)


As I have said before, as a species, we are gluttons.

It is sad what is happening to Montana, and other places as well. My main cause of concern is that the 'old' Montanan's cannot preserve the way of life they have enjoyed.

Yes, we all have to adapt to modern times, but it is still sad to see such a beautiful environment be raped by big business (mining, logging and whatnot) and then used as a playgroud for those who have done the raping (the 'new' Montanans).

Those who are buying up land in Montana do not contribute much to the state by way of taxes, according to Diamond's research, due to loopholes and residency laws. It is the entitlement attitude of those who feel that because they have achieved in life (if you want to call amassing money achieving) they have a right to do whatever they like and at any cost.

I am all for those who work for their money being able to live as they choose, but not at the expense of the land and resources of the nation (any nation). Socialism is not the answer, but I do feel that those who benefit from the wealth of our society most have an obligation to ensure that there is no destruction or hardship placed on those that have to work three jobs to survive...and NOT because they are lazy...but because the economy warrents it.

I just think it is sad that so many industries are so short sighted about resource preservation. Diamond does defend industry to an extent, but even if the majority are prudent, any one large company can destroy an ecosystem to the extent that many lives are changed.

I was very touched by the last part of the chapter and the story of one of the old timers, John Cook, about how he wants to die: by his own plan, to control the one thing in life that is usually out of our control and that is death. This is someone who has witnessed the ravaging of the home he loved. This is a person we can take some lessons from.


Mr. P.



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 385
(4/9/05 12:47 am)


misterpessimistic: As I have said before, as a species, we are gluttons.

I'd say it's more a cultural phenomenon than one determined by species. Particularly in the modern West, were so much of our scientific effort is geared towards making us "the masters and possessors of nature".

Yes, we all have to adapt to modern times, but it is still sad to see such a beautiful environment be raped by big business (mining, logging and whatnot) and then used as a playgroud for those who have done the raping (the 'new' Montanans).

Well, modern times in this instance is determined primarily by personal choices, magnified by cultural unity. If we weren't consuming disposable paper and mineral products on such a disproportionate level, the mining and logging industries would have a much smaller niche to fill.

It is the entitlement attitude of those who feel that because they have achieved in life (if you want to call amassing money achieving) they have a right to do whatever they like and at any cost.

I don't think it's primarily entitlement that drives them. It's the awareness that there is a demand, and fulfulling that demand will allow them to profit. Remove the demand, and the lack of profit to be made will change the terms of interest over spaces like Montana.




misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1322
(4/13/05 1:55 pm)


Quote:
I'd say it's more a cultural phenomenon than one determined by species. Particularly in the modern West, were so much of our scientific effort is geared towards making us "the masters and possessors of nature".


Perhaps, but I wonder if a similar scenario would emerge if the modern west was subtracted from the equation.

Do you really see science as trying to possess nature? I see it as trying to understand nature. I can agree with you assertion that it will try to master nature, but that still does not equate to being gluttonous to me.

Quote:
If we weren't consuming disposable paper and mineral products on such a disproportionate level, the mining and logging industries would have a much smaller niche to fill.


Yes, the masses have much potential to effectuate change, but will it ever happen? I dont know. Do you think that business has the upper hand in controlling what the masses consume and how we live? Do you think business is self sustaining in that it may create the need for the products it makes? I always wondered (and I have no proof, this is just a thought) if the Anti-Virus and Adware companies perpetuate viruses and adware to keep their products in demand.

So how much control can the masses have over making a change? How could this be achieved? Does demand emanate from the consumer or is it created by the producer?

Mr. P.


MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 414
(4/14/05 12:37 am)


misterpessimistic: Do you really see science as trying to possess nature? I see it as trying to understand nature.

"Pure science" has always been about knowledge, but I don't think science has been pure very much at all since te traidtional division between science and philosophy. Most science today is subordinated to the technological drive, to "progress", which I would say is, yes, primarily concerned with the domination and subjection of nature to human desire.

Yes, the masses have much potential to effectuate change, but will it ever happen?

I suspect that change is inevitable, but that it will come as the result of a collapse. I don't know that it will be the sort of collapse that is Jared Diamond's explicit subject, but collapse seems, to me, inevitable. I imagine that it will be more analogous to the collapse of the Roman empire, a social and cultural collapse rather than the devestation and potential annihilation of a people.

Do you think that business has the upper hand in controlling what the masses consume and how we live? Do you think business is self sustaining in that it may create the need for the products it makes?

Yes and no. I would say that "business", which we're taking here in a rather jargoned sense, is only possible in a society where the middle classes (also jargoned) have the sort of sustained income (or access to debt) that allows them to buy luxury items in quantity. And to some degree, the social system that affords us those luxuries depends on our willingness to buy them. But to some extent that willingness is undirected, and Business has developed a number of techniques in order to direct that willingness towards certain objects during certain periods of time. This leads to the modern concepts of fashion and fad. (It's probably no coincidence that those modern terms are so closely related to France, the birthplace of the buorgeiose.) But even without Business directing that willingness, the social and economic system facilitates the "will to luxury", and our rate of consumption would probably exceed indefinitely sustainable methods no matter what the specific object of our spending happened to be at any given time.

So how much control can the masses have over making a change?

I think that if you break the masses down to their obvious basic unit, the answer is, none. At least, not the sort of fundamental change that makes our resources indefinitely sustainable. Because the basic unit of the "masses" (again, jargoned) is the individual, and the individual has all of this expendible income that is ultimately waste if not spent. Change here means a socio-ecnomic shift on a very broad scale, and the only obvious goal towards which we might shoot is the sort of "conservativism" Karen Armstrong talked about in "The Battle for God", one founded on an agrarian culture. There may be other systems available to us, but they're almost all either hypothetical rather than practical (communism, anyone?) or they're even more regressive than agrarianism (how about nomadism, or a hunter-gatherer culture?).




Loricat
Graduate
Posts: 142
(4/14/05 1:22 pm)


Consumption...if we embraced simplicity in our lives, if we got out from under the constant need to have more, to have one step better than the guy next door, we'd live such easier lives.

There was an article recently in Atlantic Monthly about the difference between leisure and idleness. Essentially, leisure is desireable, because it comes after you've worked, it is something you earn, and normally you pay for it. So you are an active part of the consumption culture when you work for your leisure, and buy the toys/travel packages to enjoy it. Idleness, on the other hand, is free. This is not skiing down a slope in designer ski wear, this is sitting in a park on a bench, writing poetry, or reading. Costs you nothing, and is therefore not consuming, and society looks down their nose at it.

In BC, there is a political party called the Work Less Party. Their mandate is obvious (cut the work week down to 32 hours/week) and far too difficult to achieve (businesses would never go for it). But what they are really promoting is a lifestyle where if you consume less, if you buy 'stuff' only in cash (thus reducing your consumer debt), if you simplify your life, if you want to spend more quality time with yourself & your family, then a shorter work week makes sense.

Lori



yellowlight
Hooked on Phonics
Posts: 38
(4/15/05 6:57 pm)


Just a few observations about Chapter 1:

Quote:
Some of the people recently establishing homes in the valley are extremely wealthy......but Ravalli County is nevertheless one of the poorest counties in the state of Montana, which in turn is nearly the poorest state in the U.S.

A symbolic landmark in the Bitterroot Valley's recent economic transformation ....when a 2,600 acre farm called the Bitterroot Stock Farm....was acquired by the wealthy brokerage house owner Charles Schwab.....includes about 125 sites for what are called either houses or "cabins"....a structure of up to six bedrooms and 6,000 square feet selling for $800,000 or more.....a club membership initiation fee of $125,000, which is more than seven times the average annual income of Ravalli County residents....many of the owners arrive by private jet and rarely shop or set foot in Hamilton


I believe that this is a classic example of the clash of the economic classes. The wealthy in this country on the whole give no thought of how their wants and desires can effect others. The "value" of the land in the Bitterroot Valley is seen only for their recreational purposes, not for the value that can be brought by ranching/dairy/agricultural which could also help with jobs for the local economy. The price of the land and housing is so over-inflated so that only the wealthy can afford to buy, thus effectively squeezing out the middle-class and of course the lower class of the population. They don't stay in the state long enough to have to pay taxes to help maintain or upgrade the education system, road maintenance, public services-fire, police, etc. Sounds like that they basically stay "with their own kind" and don't even contribute to the local economy by shopping in the local town (which with that kind of shopping power could be a big capital boost to local businesses); It is this kind of "elitist" mentality that has been the catalyst of revolutions which have overthrown governments in other countries in the past. Yes it could be argued that the country club does in fact offer employment, but would it really outweigh the employment that could be gained if part of the land was used for agricultural purposes and the economic growth by the utilization of local goods and services?

Concerning mining, toxic wastes, and responsibility:

ARCO and their response/reaction to the toxic waste problem that they acquired by the acquisition of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company is a great example of big corporation greed. First, the closure of the mining company eliminated "thousands of jobs and three-quarters of the economic base for the Butte area." Then they thought it was unfair to hold them responsible to clean up the damage caused by the previous owners. Then they continually denied that the toxic sediments were responsible for the reduction of fish, and the liability for arsenic in the groundwater that caused cases of cancer in the area. It seemed to me, both as a citizen and as a business-person, that when one acquires a business, one acquires both the good and the bad. While ARCO could definitely maintain that they did not do the damage, to think that they have no responsibility to fix the problem, since they indeed did acquire the problem is ludicrous. Sorry, but you cannot tell me that ARCO was not aware of the problem or at the very least could conceive that there might be a problem that they would have discussed with the owners and check out for themselves before the acquisition was final. I mean, come on, ARCO is not a little mom-and-pop run business that did not already have experience with extracting natural products from the earth. Yes, I do understand the enormous costs that surrounds the solution to the problem, BUT we are still speaking of a company that has assets in the billions. Sorry that the stock holders don't get as big a dividend, the overall positive results the company could get by showing that they do indeed care about the environmental and their fellow American citizens livelihood by aggressively working toward a solution to the problem. It's also ironic that ARCO doesn't have the capital to correct this problem, but they have funds for a grass-roots organization to bolster their case for no correction, and of course funds that are ear-marked for political contributions.

On the other hand, as Diamonds states, it is not only the businesses that can be blamed, but also the apathy of the people. When there is no outrage because "it's not problem", "it doesn't effect me", "Oh No, don't make my taxes higher", "there really is no big problem", etc., then the policy makers (who are bought off by business) don't see the need to make the needed changes to force corrections to be made to first clean up "the mess" and second to prevent it from happening in the future.

The subject of mass consumption has risen in this thread which is a huge issue in the United States. We as a whole are a very gluttonous society. It has "Me, Me, Me". Yes this truly is the land of opportunities, but not the opportunities are not equal for all. If things continue status quo, the middle-class will be shut out to the point where there will only be two economic classes - those who have and those who cannot afford to have; There has been quarried the relationship of the media and the masses - I say they perpetuate each other. Just watch commercials now days and wonder the demographic to which they are targeting - see the relationship of the TV program and the business which paid for advertisement time slots; For those of us that are parents, we can see first-hand the effect of advertising as we heard the "I wants" and "I wishes" from our children. Then reflect on the effect that it has directly on us. We are the ones buying the SUV's, the plasma TVs, the jet skis, the new homes. Now there is no disgrace in having the ability to acquire these things, the disgrace is when you step over or even on other persons to get what you want? Are you giving back while you are receiving?





Wed Jun 08, 2005 1:24 pm
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Post Re: Restored: "Ch. 1 Under Montana's Big Sky"
Loricat
Masters
Posts: 153
(4/19/05 10:57 am)


yellowlight, that was one passionate response! good for you -- venting some of the rage we feel at the way society in the United States and Canada has developed helps the soul a bit. What we do need to do is try to make changes in our own lives -- small changes, or large, but definitely adjusting the way in which we view the world. Adopting principles in our own lives that will hopefully filter through our communities and foster some change. But I'm an optimist, in a lot of ways.

Question: how do you feel about Diamond's tone of balance, or shared responsibility? He outlines the damages these mining companies etc. have done, then says:

Quote:
"Plum Creek is organized as a profit-making business, not a charity. If Montana citizens want Plum Creek to do things that would diminish its profits, it's their responsibility to get their politicians to pass and enforce laws demanding those things, or to buy out the lands and manage them differently." (p.43)


I believe he has a point...to a point. But then we're stuck with the limitations of a democracy -- getting enough people to care and take on the responsibility, with its higher taxes or what-have-you.

Another related item is the care of the forests -- and the trophy homes built next to the highly flammable forest, uncared for because of the amount of money it would cost, or the assumption that any cutting is bad, even if it would make the area less likely to go up in an inferno....who is responsible for the kind of education needed?

Lori



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1367
(4/25/05 11:33 am)


Quote:
Most science today is subordinated to the technological drive, to "progress", which I would say is, yes, primarily concerned with the domination and subjection of nature to human desire.


Good point. Even though I do not fully think this is all bad. Good science, by it's nature, SHOULD lead to progress. Medicine, space travel, communications...these are all good for our society. And if we realize the need and have the ability to do so, why should we not try to manipulate nature to our advantage? It can be a double edged sword, I know.

Quote:
I suspect that change is inevitable, but that it will come as the result of a collapse. I don't know that it will be the sort of collapse that is Jared Diamond's explicit subject, but collapse seems, to me, inevitable. I imagine that it will be more analogous to the collapse of the Roman empire, a social and cultural collapse rather than the devestation and potential annihilation of a people.


I agree...I have had feelings of major, but unwanted, change within my lifetime since I was a teen. I am not saying I think it will happen all at once, but it just may. Things HAVE to change IMO...we just cannot sustain ourselves with the state of the world as it exists today. Capitalism needs a tweak and politics needs to be euthanized.

Mr. P.



misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1368
(4/25/05 12:09 pm)


Quote:
I believe that this is a classic example of the clash of the economic classes. The wealthy in this country on the whole give no thought of how their wants and desires can affect others.


Has this not always been the case between the wealthy and the not so wealthy?

Quote:
They don't stay in the state long enough to have to pay taxes to help maintain or upgrade the education system, road maintenance, public services-fire, police, etc. Sounds like that they basically stay "with their own kind" and don't even contribute to the local economy by shopping in the local town (which with that kind of shopping power could be a big capital boost to local businesses); It is this kind of "elitist" mentality that has been the catalyst of revolutions which have overthrown governments in other countries in the past.


And it is these same Elitists that vilify the Intellectuals. At least the intellectuals consider things other than personal comfort and self-absorption. Anyway. I agree with this pissed off feeling. It is very obnoxious to see and hear wealthy people talk down about others, just because of income levels and position. I have dealt with this personally in my former employment (and I imagine it will be present at the new to an extent). Many times I had to bite my tongue when my employer would describe the 'undesirably' people we did not want to do business with. Many of these 'undesirably' people could have been friends or family of mine. People who have everyday problems that cannot be assuaged by vast stores of money. People that cannot even live paycheck to paycheck because one paycheck just cannot stretch that far. People who were not lucky enough to be born into a good situation and actually have to struggle to survive.

It makes me sick. Some of these millionaire CEO's and white collar crap heads utilize a near criminal swidden system of self aggrandizement. The problem is, the 'land' never rejuvenates for those who have to stick around.

Quote:
It seemed to me, both as a citizen and as a business-person, that when one acquires a business, one acquires both the good and the bad.


I always thought that too. Assets and Liabilities are assumed in an acquisition. An owner entity reaping the rewards from the same opertaion that has caused much damage to the surrounding environment, without having to answer for those damages should not be allowed to happen.

Quote:
Sorry that the stock holders don't get as big a dividend, the overall positive results the company could get by showing that they do indeed care about the environmental and their fellow American citizens livelihood by aggressively working toward a solution to the problem.


But why does ARCO need to worry about any general public good will. I never heard of ARCO (I have heard of BP) and I never heard of this situation. It is invisible to most people you and I know. People go to the gas station and have their local company deliver fuel oil. We do not tend to ask questions about where this is coming from, instead we hope that the next delivery of oil is not breaking $2 per gallon and hoping that the temperature stays warm enough to keep the heat off. All ARCO has to do is please the purchasers, which are other businesses. That is the problem. Businesses generally do not care about anything but making $$.

Quote:
We as a whole are a very gluttonous society.


I still assert that this is a trait of the species. Humans are all for conservation when they have little. As Diamonds 5 point framework states, over consumption is a problem many human societies have had and have paid the price for. If it was not the USA, it would be someone else. I am not saying that we should not change, but I am saying that blaming the USA for the worlds problems is short-sighted at best.

Quote:
Just watch commercials now days and wonder the demographic to which they are targeting


Yes...can ANYONE here afford a new Lexus or Mercedes for a Christmas present? Can anyone who watches weekday, nightime TV afford these things? No. The people who can generally afford these things are working at the office at these times. They have no quality of life aside from the toys they can buy, and at that point, they do not NEED tv to inform them of their desires. The TV is to show those who do not have what they are missing. IMO.

Mr. P.



MadArchitect
Brand Spankin' New
Posts: 453
(4/25/05 9:00 pm)


misterpessimistic: Good science, by it's nature, SHOULD lead to progress. Medicine, space travel, communications...these are all good for our society.

Progress in a particular field is not, in and of itself, bad. What concerns me is the ideology of Progress that seems to underly a great deal of humanism. Two closely related examples I've seen recently are Stephen Jay Gould's bizarre description of progress as our potential salvation and Michael Shermer's notion of historical transcendence. I've already talked about the former in my "Readings from the staff skeptic" thread; the latter I'll probably be discussing later on tonight. A pivotal question in all of this is, how do we guage when progress is in the interests of that captial-P Progress, and when it tends rather to contribute to social and cultural disintegration or stagnation under the guise of technological progress.

And if we realize the need and have the ability to do so, why should we not try to manipulate nature to our advantage?

The foremost reason in my mind is that we seem to suffer from an inability to properly guage the extent to which we are capable of safely manipulating nature.

Capitalism needs a tweak and politics needs to be euthanized.

I'm not sure capitalism is a viable long-term option, particularly when you measure the long term in centuries rather than generations. At some point, we have to ask ourselves whether or not capitalism is possible as a thriving economic system that does not consume more quickly than it replaces. As for politics, that strikes me as a necessary consequence of our cohabitation. It, too, needs to and very likely will undergo some severe changes, but I seriously doubt that politics itself can be excised from human civilization.

I still assert that this is a trait of the species.

I think an examination of European agrarian culture after the fall of Rome and prior to the Agricultural Revolutions of the late Middle Ages will tend to contradict that assertion.



ginof
Lost in Space
Posts: 46
(4/25/05 10:41 pm)


p37 - While not central to the theme of the book (I think), the idea that a company is there for it's shareholders and no one else is one take on a very important topic. Obviously, not everyone feels that way. Additionally, I've been reading lately that 'ethical' companies actually provide better financial results. This was a recent cover article in Business Ethics magazine.



ginof
Lost in Space
Posts: 49
(4/27/05 12:54 am)


ok, I've finally taken the time to read the other posts and I have a couple of comments:

1) Mr. P - are you SURE socialism isn't the answer????

2) While I am sure it is easy to sympathize with the locals complaining about how these out of towners don't pay taxes, I'm sure they pay property tax and I am very, very sure that if Montana had some crazy tax scheme, they wouldnt' be there. For example, if Montana had a tax that made you give 10% of your net worth (no matter where it was made) to montana in the form of tax each year, I'm sure these wealthy people would not go there, regardless of how beautiful it was. My point is that states frequently make 'deals with the devil' in order to attract business and development in order to make income on other tax schemes such as payroll taxes, etc. anyone who doubts this should look at the history of states trying to court japanese car companies looking to build factories in the U.S.

3) I'm not sure I agree with the statement that the 'people raping the land are the ones now enjoying it' specifically, Chuck Schwab made his money in brokerage, not mining or ranching. Same it true for the former CEO of my employer who is also a multimillionaire and made his money in computer software. The point is that many of these out of towners are not the ones who closed the mines etc.



tarav
Graduate
Posts: 285
(4/30/05 3:03 pm)


After reading the discussion between Nick and Gino, I remembered a part in the book that is relevant to their discourse. While Diamond emphasizes the bad feelings between the new and old Montanans, he does spend a few paragraphs highlighting some of the positive results of the wealthy newcomers. Gino mentions, " I'm sure they pay property tax". I just thought I'd point out that on p. 60 Diamond quotes Emil Erhardt saying, "The Stock Farm provides employment with high-paying jobs, it pays a high fraction of the property taxes for the whole Bitterroot Valley,..." Also John Cook is quoted on p. 61 saying, "...if Charles Schwab hadn't bought up all that land, it wouldn't still be providing wildlife habitat and green open space..." On page 62 Diamond also discusses how a wealthy out-of-stater bought 1,600 acres of land for a wildlife refuge.




misterpessimistic
Enlightened One
Posts: 1384
(4/30/05 3:28 pm)


Quote:
1) Mr. P - are you SURE socialism isn't the answer????


I am not SURE of anything...of that I am sure! ;)

Quote:
3) I'm not sure I agree with the statement that the 'people raping the land are the ones now enjoying it' specifically, Chuck Schwab made his money in brokerage, not mining or ranching.


Ok...I generalized...but many people who make money in other fields depend on mining and and other extraction industries. An example that has a loose connection to your former CEO:

software>computers>silicone, gallium-arsenide.

Mining is very important to the computer, and thus the software industries. And mining and logging are commodities, and thus make money for Schwab.

Mr. P.

That is everything we lost from this thread.





Wed Jun 08, 2005 1:30 pm
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