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dchaikin's last thread of 2013

This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin causes his own troubles in 2013.

Club Read 2013

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Edited: Jan 2, 2014, 12:46am Top

Just starting a new thread because the old thread was "long" by Spalding standards.

Books I'm currently reading:

Books Recently Read:

Edited: Oct 29, 2013, 9:47pm Top

For Robert:

Edited: Dec 2, 2013, 12:12am Top

Old threads: 2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2

2013 List of Books Read - All these links go to my posts in other threads


1. Miami by Joan Didion (read Dec 29 - Jan 6)
2. The Gettysburg Review : Volume 10, Number 2 : Summer 1997 (read Dec 4 - Jan 19)
3. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, illustrated by E. H. Shepard, E. H. (read ~Dec 27 - Jan 23, with my son)
4. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max (read Jan 1-24)
5. 1 & 2 Kings in The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Fully Revised and Updated), edited by Harold W. Attridge (read Sept 22 - Jan 28, with a long break of Nov/Dec)
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison (read Jan 8-30)


7. Stickman Odyssey : An Epic Doodle : Book One by Christopher Ford (Read Feb 8)
8. Parable Hunter by Ricardo Pau-Llosa (read Jan 20 - Feb 21)
9. The Epic of Gilgamesh - Read an abridgement translated by E. A. Speiser in The Ancient Near East : An Anthology of Texts and Pictures edited by James B. Pritchard (Read Feb 23)
10. Toni Morrison's Beloved : a Casebook - edited by William L. Andrews & Nellie Y. McKay (Feb 7-25)


11. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare, edited by David M. Bevington & David Scott Kastan (Feb 25 - Mar 12)
12. Hamlet, a Guide (The Shakespeare Handbooks) by Alistair McCallum (Feb 25 - Mar 12)
13. Driven to Distraction : Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood (Revised) by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey (read Mar 12-20)
14. The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament by Brendan Powell Smith (Read Mar 1-28)
15. Seeking Palestine : New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home by Penny Johnson & Raja Shehadeh, editors (read Mar 21-29)


16. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (read Mar 30 - Apr 13)
17. 1 & 2 Chronicles in The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version (read Feb 10 - Apr 16)
18. Introducing Wittgenstein by John Heaton & illustrated by Judy Groves (read Apr 18-20)
19. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (read Jan 25 - Apr 27)
20. Re Arts & Letters : Real West - Volume XVII, Number 1, Spring 1991 (read Mar 15 - Apr 27)
21. Wittgenstein : A Very Short Introduction by A. C. Grayling (read Apr 20-28)


22. Feynman by Jim Ottaviani & illustrated by Leland Myrick (read May 1-6)
23. Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretation) (read Apr 13 - May 12)
24. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (read May 16-21)
25. Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds (read May 20-28)


26. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (read May 22 - June 16)
27. The Paris Review 196, Spring 2011 (read Apr 27- June 23)
28. Strike sparks : selected poems, 1980-2002 by Sharon Olds (read June 2-26)


29. The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño (read June 24 - July 2)
- The Book of Ezra in The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Read June 1- July 3)
30. Sula by Toni Morrison (read July 3-8)
31. Treat Your Own Neck by Robin McKenzie (read July 9)
32. Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds (reread June 29 - July 16)
33. Stickman Odyssey: Book Two: The wrath of Zozimos by Christopher Ford (read July 30)
34. The Trophies of Time : English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century by Graham Parry (Read mainly July 9-31)


35. The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion by Michael Mosley & John Lynch (Feb 18 - Aug 5)
36. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (read July 20 - Aug 8)
37. William Stukeley : Science, Religion and Archaeology in Eighteenth-Century England by David Boyd Haycock (read July 31 - Aug 11)
38. The Clockwork Universe : Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick (read Aug 11-18)
39. The Road from the Past : Traveling Through History in France by Ina Caro (read Aug 6-24)
40. The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne & Ernest H. Shepard (read Jan 25 - Aug 26)


41. Science Deified & Science Defied : The Historical Significance of Science in Western Culture, From the Bronze Age to the Beginnings of the Modern Era, ca. 3500 B.C. to ca. A.D. 1640 by Richard Olson (read Aug 26 - Sep 3)
42. Mayflower (Audio Book) by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by George Guidall (Listened to Aug 27 - Sep 10)

Edited: Jan 1, 2014, 9:19am Top

2013 List of Books Read - Continued - Links go to the relevant posts on this thread

SEPTEMBER (continued)

- The Book of Nehemiah in The Jerusalem Bible (Read Sep 14)
43. Nine Horses by Billy Collins (read Aug 8 - Sep 20)
44. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Audio Book) by David G. McCullough, narrated by Edward Herrmann & David G. McCullough (Listened to Sep 13-29)


45. Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Audio Book) by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Roy Samuelson (listened to Sep 30-Oct 4)
46. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (read Oct 1-13)
47. Midnight Rising : John Brown and Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Audio Book) by Tony Horwitz, narrated by Daniel Oreskes (listened to Oct 5-16)
48. Masada : Herod's Fortress and the Zealots' Last Stand by Yigael Yadin (read Oct 13-16)
49. How the Irish Saved Civilization : The Untold Story of Ireland's Role in the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Audio Book) by Thomas Cahill, narrated by Donal Donnelly (listened to Oct 16-24)
50. Sacrificing Truth : Archaeology and the Myth of Masada by Nachman Ben-Yehuda (read Oct 17-26)
51. Vermilion Sea : A Naturalist's Journey in Baja California by John Janovy, Jr. (read Sep 15 - Oct 27)
52. The year 1000 : What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium (Audio Book) by Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger, narrated by Grover Gardner (listened Oct 24-29)
53. A Theory of Flight by Andrew X Pham (read Sep 24 - Oct 29)


54. The Property by Rutu Modan (Read Oct 30 - Nov 1)
55. Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams and Jefferson (Audio Book) by Gore Vidal, narrated by Paul Hecht (listened Oct 29 - Nov 4)
56. Jerusalem : Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle (Read Nov 2-5)
57. The Elements: The New Guide to the Building Blocks of Our Universe by Jack Challoner (Oct 5 - Nov 18)
58. 1776 (Audio) by David G. McCullough (listened Nov 4-18)
59. Black Box by Amos Oz (read Nov 2-23)
60. Sarah's Ten Fingers by Isabelle Stamler (read Nov 24-30)


61. The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy (The Great Courses) by Edward J. Larson (listened Nov 19 - Dec 2)
62. A Geologic Adventure Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina (North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin 98) by Mark W. Carter, Carl E. Merschat & William F. Wilson (Read Nov 29-Dec 06)
63. Pyongyang : A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (read Dec 6-7)
64. A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting by Guy Delisle (read Dec 7)
65. A Voyage Long and Strange (Audio Book) by Tony Horwitz (listened Dec 2-10)
66. Cuba: Poems by Ricardo Pau-Llosa (read Sep 21- Dec 11)
67. Houston Then And Now by William Dylan Powell (read Dec 31)

Currently Reading
- The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, Volume 1, 2004 (started Dec 12)
- One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson (started listening Dec 10)
- Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas : A Field Guide to Favorite Place from Chimney Rock to Charleston (A Southern Gateway Guide) by Kevin G. Stewart & Mary-Russell Roberson (started Nov 26)
- Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas (started Sep 5)- intermediate notes here
- The Literary Guide to the Bible by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode (Editors) (started Jan 21, 2012, reading along with the Bible)
- How to Read the Bible : A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel (Started Nov 28, 2011, reading along with the bible)

Likely Abandonned
- A Wolf at the Door : and Other Retold Fairy Tales edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (started Apr 13)
- The Ancient Near East : An Anthology of Texts and Pictures by James B. Pritchard (read bits Feb 18 & read Gilgamesh Feb 23. Too much here though.)
- Toni Morrison : Conversations by Toni Morrison, Carolyn C. Denard (Editor) (skimmed for Beloved references on Feb 1)
- The Epic of Gilgamesh (Norton Critical Editions) by Benjamin R. Foster (read the intro and 1st four tablets May 14-15...just not in the right place to re-read this now.)
- The Revolution in Science, 1500-1750 by A. Rupert Hall (started Sep 4) - returned to the library
- Science and Religion : Some Historical Perspectives by John Hedley Brooke (started Aug 17) - returned to the library

Oct 28, 2013, 10:39pm Top

saving 3

Oct 28, 2013, 10:43pm Top

43. Nine Horses by Billy Collins (2002, 116 pages, read Aug 8 - Sep 20)

Sorry, nothing to say except that my mind read the words and remembers thinking this was pretty good, but not much else. Brain was in weird place, and words were having to push their way through mental brambles, so who knows how much I actually got out this even as I read it.

Edited: Oct 28, 2013, 11:10pm Top

44. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Audio Book) by David G. McCullough, narrated by Edward Herrmann & David G. McCullough (2011, 861 pages in paper format, listened to Sep 13-29)

This was coup for audio books for me - an 800 page book I never would have touched in paper form, and yet I listened to the whole thing and I enjoyed it. I'm officially sold.

McCullough seems to do everything possible to keep readers away from this book. It's enormous, the topic is not naturally interesting to the average reader, and, if that isn't off-putting, the introduction surely is, quoting a miscellaneous group of secondary persons in America history about a city in a time and place foreign to American readers in so many ways. If the CD player isn't just motoring on by itself, I don't make it past page 10. But the CD kept playing and there was traffic and so I just kept listening and suddenly this got very interesting...

and it remained interesting. I don't think I could mention all the key personalities that McCullough brings to life here, but he brings them to life as soon as he focuses in on them - James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse as an artist, and only later the inventor of the Morse code, Oliver Wendell Holmes as a medical student, Charles Sumner the Massachusetts abolitionist senator most famous for getting beaten by a cane on the senate floor....oops, I'm doing what the intro did. Who cares about these guys? But McCullough made them so interesting - and the artists - Augustus St. Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassat, Winslow Homer and then some.

A history of Paris through American eyes, what the reader gets is an oblique history of a most entertaining kind of both Paris and the United States. You see everything from 1830 to 1900, but never straight up, only from over in the corner of one person's view of the Louve, or some other artists studio, or whatnot.

The accidental highlight is the America medical students. They come to Paris in the 1830's, and, like so many of these Americans, they find inspiration to work and work hard. They pick out and hover around the best French medical teachers, who are not necessary the most famous physicians, and they excelled, inspiring their teachers, and they brought it all back to America. By the 1870's American medical students had stopped coming to Paris, there was no need. This was both an inspiring and moving section.

So recommended. And, consider audio.

Oct 29, 2013, 12:04am Top

Intriguing review of The Greater Journey. You are right, it's not a book I would naturally have picked up, but it sounds interesting. Thanks for a fun review.

and congrats on a new thread. It always makes me feel so organized to start a new thread.

and I like your "Likely Abandoned" category. I tag mine "bookmark stuck", as I always hope I'll get back there some day in a different/better frame of mind. There are so many reasons why I abandon a book, but the completist in me (as Darryl says), always makes me feel guilty about it.

Oct 29, 2013, 7:39am Top

I've marked two books in my Currently Reading section "Paused" -- I like to think I'll get back to them sooner rather than later! But I do have an "Interrupted" category for books I think I"m likely to finish eventually and "Abandoned" for those that I've completly given up on.

Oct 29, 2013, 9:11am Top

Nice new thread, Dan. I'm glad you enjoyed The Greater Journey. Some books just lend themselves to an audio version.

Oct 29, 2013, 11:34am Top

Welcome to my new thread Lisa, Rebecca and Colleen. Part of the reason five of those books are "likely abandoned" is that I had to return my copy to the library. So, not only do I need motivation to physically open then up again to read them, but also to request them again and then pick then up a week or so later...

Yes, Colleen, I agree some books just seem to work better for me in audio. It's an interesting lesson I'm learning.

Edited: Oct 29, 2013, 9:13pm Top

Interesting review, Dan. If I weren't so addicted to NPR, I'd pick it up for my commute. Maybe I'll read it when I retire (that seems to be my mantra lately).

Oct 29, 2013, 8:59pm Top

You could put a picture of a lion in 2, Dan.


Oct 29, 2013, 9:49pm Top

Just for you, Robert.

Jane, probably I would be a better person if I listened to NPR too...but the audio books are more fun.

Oct 29, 2013, 11:18pm Top

MARVELOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! forgive the screaming.


Oct 29, 2013, 11:24pm Top

45. Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Audio Book) by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Roy Samuelson (2012, 266 pages in paper format, listened to Sep 30 - Oct 4)

Another audio book. This is a winner of the Newberry Honor and other children's books awards, as well and a National Book Award finalist, which left me wondering what to expect. It was thoroughly entertaining. The story of making of atomic bomb almost as a thriller. Sheinkin did a great job of making this a story, and of capturing characters, especially Robert Oppenheimer, but of so many others, even Mo Berg, a second rate baseball player hired as a hitman to assassinate a leading German physicists. The clueless Berg somehow correctly concluded the German wasn't close to making an atomic bomb. I was happy to have Richard Feynman brought life in an inspiring way. At then end Sheinkin makes an effort at looking at the consequences of this episode, and it's sad and then scary...and there is the question of, well, the reality was the Germans were never close to making an atomic bomb, so it wasn't necessary (The reaction of the German physicists to news of the bomb was a fascinating piece. They were so relieved not to have invented the bomb themselves!) But all-in-all Sheinkin doesn't spend much time on the big after story. His story is done.

Oct 29, 2013, 11:25pm Top

#15 : )

Oct 30, 2013, 4:43am Top

Great review of The Greater Journey, Dan. The part about the medical students training there is particularly interesting, so I'll add it to my wish list.

Oct 30, 2013, 8:56pm Top

It looks like you are back in the swing of things here. :) Congrats on a new thread and that cover for Cuba:Poems caught my attention right away!

You've sold me on the McCullough book.
Who cares about these guys?
I do. Stuff like that feeds my inner history/trivia nerd.

Oct 31, 2013, 6:42am Top

Darryl - it's a lot of book to read for what is mostly in one section. But it is a very good section. I think you would appreciate it.

Susie - isn't that a terrific cover for Cuba. As for The Greater Journey - I think it's one you would enjoy. The Lincoln era is covered....and he is quoted...just saying.

Oct 31, 2013, 1:11pm Top

How are you liking the Cuba poems?

Oct 31, 2013, 1:22pm Top

Well, I'm still in a weird place with poetry. I like them, but I think I have read more complex poetry...or poetry with more layers accessible to me. Sometimes I think he brings in a lot of color to the exiles view of Cuba - to complex emotional reactions related to how long one lived there and what their own sense of place there was - or is.

Oct 31, 2013, 1:33pm Top

I may have to check that out. Thanks.

Edited: Nov 6, 2013, 9:43am Top

46. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (2011, 512 pages, read Oct 1-13)

I don't really want to pick this book apart, but mainly just send my sympathies to anyone else in the world who may feel compelled to read this against their will. Hoffman wanted to write a feminine perspective to the Sicari suicides on Masada in 73 CE (as reported by Josephus). She added an at best odd desert wandering romance and very-non-biblical witch. Don't waste your time.

Nov 5, 2013, 11:36pm Top

I have heard the same thing from others, Dan. When I first heard about the book, I was eager to read it, but now I avoid it, even when it's on the $1 shelf at the library. Although part of me is curious, like rubbernecking at a car wreck.

Nov 6, 2013, 7:01am Top

Never heard of that one, but glad to have the warning. I can't remember if you got to Masada when you were in Israel, but I found it a dramatic place when I was there 20 years ago.

Nov 6, 2013, 7:14am Top

Dan, Thank you for the warning. I am not sure I could have completed the book if I had your reactions.

Nov 6, 2013, 9:55am Top

Lisa - if you have a need to heavily criticize a book, then I can recommend this one to you. : )

Rebecca - I did tour Masada and I thought if was super cool with the views and the giant cisterns, the swimming pool and so on. My eyes were drawn to the rocks, but I hadn't (and haven't) looked up anything about them. I don't recall feeling the drama - but then I'm naturally cynical and Masada was different than advertised. If we buy Josephus, it was a pretty crummy group who killed themselves up there. And if we come to any other conclusions about them, we are only using our imaginations - like historical constellations. Their is a palace and a siege wall facing toward the palace, and a critical record written by a roman-friendly Jewish turncoat. Now make up the rest...

Colleen - it's possible it took more out of me than I fully realized. Having trouble reading a regular book ever since.

Nov 6, 2013, 10:13am Top

Well, by drama, I meant it was a dramatic setting, for much the same reasons you did. I have no opinion (i.e., I've never really investigated) what really happened there, but it's still quit a spot.

Nov 6, 2013, 10:30am Top

>28 dchaikin:, It's odd how reading a bad book makes it more difficult to read a "real" book afterwards. I don't mean a book that you just didn't like, for these can be well written, I mean a truly bad book. Hope you bounce back soon. Maybe your poetic trip to Cuba help.

Nov 6, 2013, 10:32am Top

rubbernecking a bad book! LOL!

Edited: Nov 7, 2013, 12:15am Top

47. Midnight Rising : John Brown and Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Audio Book) by Tony Horwitz, narrated by Daniel Oreskes (2011, 384 pages in paper format, listened Oct 5 -16)

I always wondered about John Brown, and imagined he must have been one quite curious figure close up. It seems I was wrong. A failed businessman with a pattern - over confidence in risky endeavors with little sense of the risk involved and no effort to protect himself. That's my summary. I don't think Horwitz put it that way. Anyway - the same kind of thing happened at Harper's Ferry - the midnight raid of the books title. The raid never had a chance of any kind of success, but Horwitz shows us the tactics in close detail...and they were moronic.

But something odd happened after the raid. Brown somehow survived, one of two to be captured alive and not executed on the spot during the raid. Then he was questioned and put on trial. And while he was a terrible speaker, his words traveled in print. In a very simple and elegant logic Brown cleanly and clearly undermined, really to it's core, slavery. And he did it in such a way that it hit home with the gentlemanly south. On trial and death row, Brown's words had a weight that accomplished everything he had hoped Harper's Ferry would. The infamous maniac of bleeding Kansas became a rallying point, and may have been the spark that finally led to the American Civil War.

I listened in audio. I thought it a little strange that Daniel Oreskes narrated so seriously, since I tend to see Horwitz's reporting as characterized with a slightly sly humor. But, if that is here, Oreskes buries it. He does one other weird thing. When a character is quoted, he changes his voice for the quotation...but then he doesn't change his voice back after the quote.

As it was an audio book I listened to while commuting, it was painless...but I didn't enjoy the book. Horwitz spends an exorbitant amount of time on Brown's background, his story leading up to Harper's Ferry and all the planning done for Harper's Ferry - all of which turns out to not be that interesting, at least not to me. Disappointing since I like Horwitz. Read at your own risk, and then keep your expectations low.

ETA - Reading themes that led me here: found in search a recently published history audio available at my library.

Nov 6, 2013, 9:31pm Top

Glad to read your thoughts on the Horwitz's book; it's been on my WL for a while. The narrator who doesn't change his voice back after a quote would annoy me way too much so think I'll hold out for a print version!

One thing I learned from Douglass and Lincoln was the personal friendship Brown and Douglass had. Does the book talk about that?

Nov 6, 2013, 9:53pm Top

Susie - yet, a bit. It actually was quite interesting when Brown tried to recruit Douglas to join the raid. The book quotes Douglas about how he talked it out with Brown and pointed out all the obvious logistical problems, and deciphered the hopelessness of it, and refused join. One gets the sense it was a very awkward moment for Douglas. While his decision would seem to be a completely normal one, Douglas was later torn about it, and felt had acted cowardly, or at least said so publicly. After Harper's Ferry, Douglas's praise of Brown was effusive.

Edited: Nov 6, 2013, 10:26pm Top

Susie - if you're interested, there is a lot of easily accessible information on Brown and Douglas online. Douglas wrote about Brown extensively and passionately.

Some links:
An nice essay on their relationship: Admiration and Ambivalence: Frederick Douglass and John Brown

The Harper's Ferry Nation Park website quotes an 1881 summary of Brown by Douglas: Frederick Douglass at Harpers Ferry

Horwitz quotes Douglas's letter to a news paper editor, when Douglas was accused of involvement in the raid. (Douglas fled the country). The letter can be found in full in many places (like Here). The moving lines Horwitz quotes: "I have not one word to say in defense or vindication of my character for courage. I have always been more distinguished for running than fighting — tried by the Harper's Ferry insurrection test I am most miserably deficient"

Nov 7, 2013, 12:13am Top

Thanks for the info! I'm off to check out those links. There is a new book, To Raise Up A Nation about Brown & Douglass that looks very promising.

Nov 7, 2013, 7:18am Top

Nice review of Midnight Rising, Dan.

Nov 7, 2013, 8:03am Top

I read a biography of John Brown in my pre-LT days, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds. This sounds like it covers some of the same territory in a more lively way; there was a lot of historical background in the bio I read.

Nov 7, 2013, 8:53am Top

Very interesting review of the Horwitz book. I've always believed that the Brown Raid wasn't so much a direct trigger for the war but played into the paranoia of the elite south, and played into the fear of a radicalized North.

Nov 7, 2013, 11:32am Top

I could have predicted that Alice Hoffman would not be a good fit for you, even with a more "serious" story than she usually writes! Sorry it was so bad...

Nov 7, 2013, 5:26pm Top

Interesting review an thanks for the links.

Nov 7, 2013, 10:42pm Top

#36 Thanks for mentioning To Raise up Nation - Douglas I'm very interested...but I've kind of had my fill of Brown...

#37 Thanks Darryl

#38 Rebecca - Reynolds book sound much better, and gets nice reviews.

#39 Kevin - I find that comment interesting for two reasons. One because you might be right, but the other because it highlights all that Horwitz does cover. He focused entirely on the raid and therefore failed to place Harper's Ferry within the bigger historical context...which means his main conclusion, the books subtitle, isn't actually supported by the text.

#40 Katie - You know everyone else in the book club I read it for enjoyed it. I was the only male there and they seemed to blame that aspect of me as the root cause behind my dislike. (The book discussion was enjoyable.)

#41 thank Merrikay.

One last thought on Midnight Rising. I read through the LT reviews and was glad there were a few who noted the boring over accumulation of not-interesting details. But we are a decided minority. The book gets a lot of praise, including from reviewers I recognize and generally appreciate.

Edited: Nov 7, 2013, 11:16pm Top

Masada : Herod's fortress and the Zealots' last stand by Yigael Yadin (1966, 256 pages, read Oct 13-16)
translated from Hebrew by Moshe Pearlman

It was entertaining to read this and right afterward read a book that trashes it. It's something of a classic as the excavation of Masada was apparently second only the King Tut in hoopla, or whatever the right word is. Also this is a fun read full of terrific pictures, even if they are now almost 60 years old.

So, why is it trashed? Because the interpretation a purely imaginative - I can't call it Yadin's imagination, he simply confirmed the popular Masada myth. But he had no evidence to do so. In Yadin's version we have a story of Jews who did everything they could to stand up to Rome, and here made their last stand, finally committing mass suicide, thereby depriving Rome of a real victory and making of themselves heroes of legend. His evidence is Josephus and his archeology. The story was very inspiring to all concerned with Israel's creation, especially those fighting, who felt they could relate to the suffering on Masada. The site of Masada is now an almost mandatory destination of tourists, and used heavily in Israeli military ceremony.

But...well..see Josephus doesn't talk about Zealots on Masada. In his story they were murderous loons called the Sicari who freely killed other Jews and anyone else to get at supplies they might need. Josephus notes the hundreds of woman and children they massacred at a nearby community in Ein Gedi. Their mass suicide may have been a sign of their inability to fight, and hence a sort of giving up. They could have fought to the death instead... Of course Josephus was a Jewish traitor, who joined the Romans, so maybe he's not all that reliable. But, he's the only source. And Yadin praises his accuracy!

And..well...there is a ruined palace on Masada (supposed built by King Herod as an escape, if necessary) and there is a Roman siege wall, and ramp and the Roman camps are still there. But there isn't much evidence about the Sicari or Zealots or whoever they were. Someone was up there and the Romans got them...but there isn't really any archeological evidence about who they were. (A few scraps of scrolls were recovered by Yadin, and these are of biblical writing.)

The last critical complaint is that this book was Yadin's only major publication on his findings here. His complete findings were never published during his lifetime. That's weird and unprofessional.

But, still, the myth and artifacts together are quite entertaining, even if we don't quite know what any of this means.


Reading themes that led me here: Masada.

Nov 8, 2013, 9:51am Top

Fun review!

Nov 8, 2013, 10:10am Top

A very enlightening review of Masada. I'd heard of Masada and Josephus before, of course, but did not realize there were such strong doubts about the authenticity of the legend or the reliability of Josephus.

Nov 8, 2013, 1:12pm Top

Masada: This is all new to me Dan. I have only come across the word as one of the groups that John Zorn leads and so it was good to learn about the background.

Nov 8, 2013, 10:58pm Top

And..and...and -- it seems Masada remains quite a mystery and an enigma.

Nov 9, 2013, 11:38am Top

But, still, the myth and artifacts together are quite entertaining, even if we don't quite know what any of this means.
Mysteries in history. Always fun.
Also, I didn't know Josephus was a Jewish traitor. He's filed in my brain as simply "historian."

Nov 9, 2013, 11:55am Top

#44 - thanks R!

#45 - Steven - this was news to me too. I intended to follow up that Hoffman book with this one by Yadin (which I've wondered about since I lived with my parents and it was on the shelf) and also whatever new-ish book I could find. I didn't expect the newer book to thrash Yadin - as it's main topic.

#46 - Bas - that seems odd to me, LOL. Maybe my Jewishness or my Americanness has given me a warped sense of cultural literacy, but I thought everyone knew the story of Masada - the mythical version anyway.

#47 - : )

Edited: Nov 9, 2013, 12:14pm Top

#48 - Susie - Josephus was a Jewish military leader of some sort who came over to the Romans during the 66 CE Jewish revolt and told Vespasian he would become Roman Emperor. Vespasian did, Josephus went with him to Rome and wrote a history of the Jews and a history of the 66 revolt. This is unique in the Roman Empire - to have a non-Roman write about the history if their own people.

My Roman Empire professor told a great story abut how Josephus was part of a group of military leaders of some sort that agreed to commit collective suicide instead of surrender. There were maybe 20 of them. When only he and one other person were still alive, they decided to surrender instead! I have no idea what his source was, but it has to make you wonder about, among other things, Josephus's writing on another collective suicide. For the record - suicide is not considered an acceptable practice in Judaism - then or now.

Nov 9, 2013, 12:17pm Top

49. I'm with you, Dan; I thought everyone knew the mythical version of Masada too, but you're probably right about my knowing it because I'm Jewish (albeit very poorly educated in Jewish tradition).

Edited: Nov 9, 2013, 3:48pm Top

I read that story in Elias Canetti, I think it was crowds and power
I nearly said earlier but could not remember if Josephus was a survivor of that, I thought he was, it's a chilling read and as I remember it was he who was quoted telling the story.

Edit - in fact I'll reread it, as I remember it the final trick was worse than you say with the penultimate survivor. A horrible story.

Nov 10, 2013, 12:16pm Top

Very interesting perspectives on Josephus and the Masada story, and Yigal Yadin's interpretation. The crucial aspect here is that Josephus IS the only 'witness' to any of the history that put anything down for posterity, and is therefore the only source. It certainly makes sense that writing as an historian of the Roman Empire - in Rome - the Judeo-Israelite commander Yosef ben-Mattityahu becoming Roman citizen Josephus Flavius - had an interest in not antagonising his ultimate benefactor General Vespasian. As Vespasian becomes Emperor it would be logical that his claim to the throne is somewhat bolstered by a history declaring the epic victory over the Jewish Revolt. Did Josephus 'big up' the significance and impact of that particular Revolt in the 60s? Would the mass-suicide story at Masada lend extra credence to the fanaticism of the 'zealots' and their level of conflict with the might of the Roman legions? Probably.

There were other outposts of Jewish rebellion that held out against the Roman quashing of the rebellion for even longer than Masada, such as Gamla. Sat in the area now known as the 'Golan Heights', the name Gamla comes from the Hebrew for camel - the remote hill-top settlement was shaped rather like a camel's hump and incredibly difficult to subdue militarily. It's a place just as fascinating as Masada and not as congested with tourists - or as hot!). But the Masada story suited Josephus' purpose, and certainly didn't upset Vespasian or his son Titus' impressions of themselves as 'mighty victors' of an historic nation... and the fact that it also fit the mid-20th century Zionist narrative that Yadin was emboldening didn't hurt either.

Still, the archaeological riches at Masada remain vast and of great importance. There are remains of King Herod's winter palace there, and several late Israelite communities that offer modern scholars much to learn from.

Nov 10, 2013, 12:27pm Top

But there is no reason for tension. The world is red and strange

Nov 10, 2013, 12:28pm Top

Sorry Paul, that wasn't directed toward you. That is me trying to deal with Amos Oz - which is getting very complicated in my head in what I think is a good way. I'll now go read your post...

Edited: Nov 10, 2013, 12:53pm Top

#53 - Paul - Masada is fascinating. Would have been nice if Yadin could have been more - well less datable in his work. Really Yadin may have been trapped. How could he say no to the most spectacular archeological ruins in Israel? And how could he possibly divert Israel from it's patriotic inertial drive? But another perspective could have found the balance. They would have needed to maybe be more humble and less in the flow of showing off. Yadin made a hero out of himself - for the time. For the histories he only clouded the matter. Goodness - aren't I just melodramatic. Too much coffee and Amos Oz maybe.

Nachman Ben-Yehuda says, in a side comment, the story in Gamla is actually heroic, much more so than that in Masada. That was the first I had heard of Gamla. I need to be careful where I drop my obsessions - I may have some research to do in the Roman era Jews...

Nov 10, 2013, 12:51pm Top

The Masada discussion has been very interesting and enlightening. I know next to nothing about it.

Nov 10, 2013, 2:12pm Top

I reread Josephus' account of his capture in Canetti, who includes it as an example of a survivor. I didn't reread Canetti's own commentary entirely - I'm not sure I enjoyed that when I first read it. But Josephus' story is fascinating - of course written in the aftermath. He says he had led a strong resistance, but found himself sheltering with a group of others in a hidden cave until found (don't remember now if it was twenty or forty) - then the Romans tried to persuade him to surrender and guarantee his safety as the leader of such a resistance, and but his companions were not having that, would have killed him first and he describes a very tense argument where he is dealing with this person by person almost as though they were in combat and persuaded them not to kill him, I imagine a leader at the height of his skills in convincing them on a personal basis. They then decided to commit suicide, but this was against God's law - so he comes up with an idea to draw lots, one lot winner killed by the next and so on and the last to commit suicide as basically that at least would be a bit more understandable by God (not what he says but my take). Surprise surprise the cynic in me thinks, Josephus is in the last pair and does persuade the second last fellow to just give himself up. What gets me is just his chutzpah to do all this, and I'm thinking as those numbers dwindled how he managed it so no one thought twice about the suicide thing and where he went in it, partly I sense from that earlier argument he must have convinced them he was prepared to die -- and he had been such a good leader. The doubter in me doubts him, and there were doubters then, including amongst the Romans. but he then convinced them he did this as a prophet really, that he had dreamt and predicted he'd be captured alive before the siege (apparently confirmed by others he says) to tell the then not Emperor yet Vespasian that he would become Emperor and that was how he won the Romans around, as many wanted to kill him and at first Vespasian wanted to send him to Nero at least. Fascinating, and I think his argument is that this divine message was the imperative that drove his actions in the cave. And the cynic / doubter in me wonders, and yet.

I hope you don't mind my précis, but thought you may be interested in a bit more info. As to Masada I know little really.

Nov 10, 2013, 2:34pm Top

Very interesting. This is making me want to finally take Josephus by Tessa Rajak off the shelf in the not too distant future. I've had it for a few years now and maybe 2014 will be the year to read it.

Edited: Nov 10, 2013, 3:50pm Top

Tony - I thank you. You have succinctly answered a mystery of mine. What gets me is that this is Josephus's version, so it's written in the best possible light - a trickster standing in pools of blood of his own maneuvering, Weird. What was the reality?! Did he exaggerate the blood and his powers of manipulation? Or did he play down some murderous rampage into an act of more respectable survival? Or something completely different.

Paul - I have added the Rajak to my wishlist. I have Jewish Wars around here somewhere. I was supposed to read that copy during my Roman Empire university class, but I don't believe I have ever opened it.

Nov 10, 2013, 11:03pm Top

Fascinating. But I simply cannot begin an obsessive reading binge in another area of history right now. I'm relying on your thread to learn more about this one. *holding myself back from searching my local library for books on Josephus*

Nov 10, 2013, 11:05pm Top

I gave in and posted a review trashing The Dovekeepers. Consider it an effort to balance all those positive reviews (Or the odd negative reviews that miss the problem with the writing quality. Some complain about it beings slow. On amazon, there are complaints that it is critical of observant Jews. Whatever.) Anyway, it's here: http://www.librarything.com/review/102211191

Nov 10, 2013, 11:07pm Top

No promises Lisa! : ) At least not from me personally.

Nov 11, 2013, 5:47pm Top

oh Lord the more I read.........the more I don't know. I'm getting a headache. It's all too much for me. I'm going to go find a brain dead mystery.

Nov 19, 2013, 10:36pm Top

I was behind before spending yet another week away from LT...now way way behind again...here and on all your threads...

Nov 21, 2013, 9:16pm Top

Well yes Dan but I bet your WL is is a little lighter for it!

Nov 24, 2013, 12:05am Top

Well, Merrikay, for now. I intend to catch up. Also, my office handed me another amazon gift card and I just ordered another bunch of books. Now, if only my office would give me time to read any of them...

I'll mention the books here as they arrive. The four I bought on Kindle are the Robert Fagles translations of The Illiad and The Odyssey, Sarah's Ten Fingers by Isabelle Stamier (for a RL group read at my synagogue), and A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz.

Nov 24, 2013, 6:53am Top

Those Amazon cards are amazingly easy to use aren't they? Other than the choosing which books to buy. :)

Nov 24, 2013, 7:29am Top

What a nice thing for your office to do (I remember when they did it the last time they were surprised that you were spending it all on books!). I am interested in reading The Iliad and The Odyssey* but have been putting this off for years. I'll be interested in your reading of them and maybe it will inspire me.

*By the way, your touchstone points to a different book called "The Odyssey." There are more than 40 books on the touchstone list before you get to the one-volume Homer's Odyssey (there is one broken into two volumes higher up). I can't imagine how any algorithm they use for touchstones would do this!!!!

Nov 24, 2013, 9:09am Top

>69 rebeccanyc: There are known issues with touchstones for the excessively popular books.

Edited: Nov 24, 2013, 11:55pm Top

49. How the Irish Saved Civilization : The Untold Story of Ireland's Role in the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Audio Book) by Thomas Cahill, narrated by Donal Donnelly (1995, 246 pages in paper format, listened to Oct 16-24)

I actually own a used paperback copy of this book, but used an audio CD version from my library. Probably a mistake, except that I don't know when I might actually read it, and listening is easy lately - well sort of.

The problem with this on audio is that Donal Donnelly reads in a heavy Irish brogue accent which is entertaining for about five minutes, then annoying, and, when he reads longs quotes from Augustus or from St Patrick (I didn't listen close enough to know where these St. Patrick quotes originated from) - forget it. He drones, the difficult phrasings get lost in incoherent noise and, well...ug.

As for the content, there is an interesting story here in how the fall of Roman civilization was so complete throughout Europe, but Celtic Ireland became Christian and saw intellectual flowering - if you like, the Celtic intellect became both Christianized and written down. So, the Irish became preservers of the Latin texts and later reintroduced Latin Christianity back into Europe, become key missionaries though the early middle ages.

But it's not all clear to me, partly because of Donnelly and partly because of Cahill. Cahill doesn't simply give a nice clean straightforward history, instead he relishes in the eras - hovering close on Augustus in African, and St. Patrick, and then many of these key Irish Christian leaders later on. I think it was good stuff, but tough to listen to...so I'm not sure.

Reading themes that led me here: Another random audio book on history, available at my library.

Nov 25, 2013, 12:05am Top

I remember from Kenneth Clarke's "Civilisation" TV series long ago the story of how Christian civilization clung to the western isles of Ireland during the Dark Ages. But then more recently I read how a monk named Augustine came to England from Rome and "corrected" the errors of Celitic Christianity, becoming a saint and the first Archbishop of Canterbury for asserting papal supremacy. There seems to be a contradiction there in who saved whom from what. It doesn't sound like How the Irish Saved Civilization provides many answers.

Nov 25, 2013, 8:22am Top

I have a long non-expert answer to that...maybe Wikipedia would be better. Anyway Archbishop Augustine, not to be confused with the much more important St. Augustine of Hippo, is credited with bringing Christianity to pagan Saxon England, and being the founder of the English Church in 597. St. Patrick, who was not Irish, is credited with converting Celtic Ireland to Christianity in the 400's. The significance is that Irish Christianity predates and was entirely independent of English Christianity (and of England's Roman heritage).

There were theological tussles between England and Ireland, especially about when to celebrate Easter. But, as I understand it, it was a clash between two well-developed traditions each with it's own links to mainland Europe. The Irish tradition was probably a lot more highly regarded from the view of any (theoretical?) independent witness. The Irish conceded this Easter battle (which is probably significance is some more political way) and eventually the English became prevalent and wrote histories that naturally undermined Irish achievements. So from the English point of view in the written histories, they did "correct" Irish Christianity.

Nov 25, 2013, 8:59am Top

What I still don't see is this bit about "saving civilization." Certainly they managed to save their own version of Christianity while most of England reverted to paganism with the Saxon invasion, but what did the Irish do that influenced--much less "saved"--anything outside the British Isles?

Edited: Nov 25, 2013, 10:13am Top

What I know is spotty...

As far as I know, the Celtic and Roman "English" or Welsh or whatever were mostly never Christian and so did not revert to paganism, but changed from Celtic to Roman to Saxon paganism...if they makes sense. But, really, I'm not sure about any of that.

The Irish seem to have played a critical part in preserving the Roman Latin heritage, especially the Christian part. When the Irish missionaries began to spread through Europe, they found various forms of pagans and Latin as a language largely forgotten, with the Latin writing mostly lost to Europe. So these missionaries reintroduced it - thereby playing a roll in saving Roman heritage. Cahill relishes in describing late Roman civilization, and how the Irish, by preserving Roman heritage were essentially preserving civilization.If you believe Cahill, without the Irish this Latin language heritage is lost from Europe. Surely that is an exaggeration...I would like to know the opinions of the popes of these times. Did they speak Latin? Anyway, I've forgotten the names but many key religious centers in Europe were supposedly founded by Irish missionaries and acquired their first libraries by copying the works preserved in Ireland.

Edited: Nov 25, 2013, 11:33am Top

50. Sacrificing Truth : Archaeology and the Myth of Masada by Nachman Ben-Yehuda (2002, 226 pages, read Oct 17-26)

A painful experience, and more I wanted to get out of this book the deeper I seemed to self-inflict the pain on my little overly expectant brain.

OK, let's be clear, Nachman Ben-Yehuda is apparently the main critic of Yigael Yadin's Masada (see my earlier review - post 43 on this thread), and the criticism is necessary. And what Ben-Yehuda says is probably correct, and the ideas he says he is exploring are nothing less than fascinating. I kept reading phrases thinking that's a great idea to explore.


First - Ben-Yehuda's criticism of Yadin isn't sophisticated and doesn't require any sophistication. It's very simple. Yadin took a few archeological facts and contrived a Jewish-focused history (while ignoring or playing down what could really have been explored and fleshed out - namely the nature of Palace on Masada, before the rebellion, and the nature of the Roman seige).

And second, Ben-Yehuda's writing is painful. He constantly tells us what he is doing without actually doing it, if that makes sense. Over and over he says he is looking at the nature of falsifying scientific information scientifically, and using Masada as his medium. But what he is really doing is simply summarizing his Masada arguments (the same ones over and over), which he has previously published elsewhere. Then he gives us all these interesting ideas about how to explore what Yadin was doing and why - but never really gets very deep. Just kill me now...

If you are like me and still read the damn book (curse justified!) then you will learn several interesting things about Masada. Of course it would have been nice if all this were laid out differently. Also you will be introduced to several interesting thought points about Masada, and science, and science for propaganda, and falsifying science for propaganda, and of roll of egos in this, and all this for better or worse. This is all interesting and enlightening stuff. So there is value here...

But mainly I felt this was book talking about a completely different book that probably should have been written instead. Hated reading it, hated finding value in it, but did find value...

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Masada

Nov 25, 2013, 11:18am Top

I feel your frustration Dan.

It's not always nice to have our myths discredited and exposed, especially when you don't like the writer who is doing it.

Nov 25, 2013, 11:32am Top

Bas - I'm totally cool with having the myth discredited, blast away. It's the writing I didn't like. I hate the "this-is-what-I'm-going-to-tell-you" style of writing, especially when the author never really gets around to actually telling you...

Edited: Nov 25, 2013, 12:01pm Top

51. Vermilion Sea : A Naturalist's Journey in Baja California by John Janovy, Jr. (1992, 229 pages, read Sep 15 - Oct 27)

I love the idea of getting lost in a naturists book, even if it doesn't always work out the way I intended. I found this one promising.

There are good and bad things up front. The main good is Baja California which is a wonderfully complex and unique world of nature, cut off and yet not from the rest of the continent.

The bad left me with a little trouble getting into this. I think there were two main reasons. First of all, instead of a naturalist going off on his own, Janovy is a biology professor specializing in parasites who joins a student field trip, run by another professor, to Baja California to look at things that are outside his expertise. Second is that Janovy clearly wants to make bigger points - but I felt he begins to do this too soon in the book. I haven't bought in yet, and he is making large philosophical points about life from what he sees in Baja. The problem is that Janovy isn't the kind of writer who can pull all this off so easily.

But sometimes a reader needs patience. After coming to terms with what Janovy was actually doing, I was able to climb aboard and ride along his observations and sense of wonder about snails, whales, a museum in the middle of nowhere, art, biology, life in general and our separation from the natural world, and maybe even a little bit about scientific perspective.

Reading themes that led me here: naturalism, of course, and probably geology, even if it's a little of topic. And, most importantly, a book from the TBR pile.

Edited: Nov 25, 2013, 1:03pm Top

Well Vermillion Sea should have been a nice little relaxation after the Masada one. Maybe the Kayaking one that this touchstone is actually going to! It's in my library but not on the near horizon for my reading. I'm hanging out with Jane Fonda right now.

Nov 25, 2013, 5:56pm Top

How annoying about the Masada book. That would drive me crazy too.

Nov 25, 2013, 7:11pm Top

Yeah - too bad about the Ben Yehuda book on Masada. There has to be a decent book on the place out there surely? Nice review of Vermilion Sea as well.

Nov 25, 2013, 8:32pm Top

Have you started Ten Fingers yet? I'm interested in hearing how it is. Not cheap but the kindle is only $3.99.

Edited: Nov 25, 2013, 9:10pm Top

Thanks Merrikay, Rebecca and Paul.

I was trying to be nice in my Vemilion Sea review because I actually liked the book overall, but rereading it, it seems just critical.

Merrikay - it's too early to say anything about Sarah's Ten Fingers. Chapter 1 was about life in a Jewish family in a small Christian Ukranian village in the early 1900's, which was quite interesting. But they left Ukranian Russia/Soviet Union and just arrived in Brooklyn. It's nonfiction sort of - the main character, Sarah, a single mother of...7(?)...is maybe the author's grandmother(?). The third person narrator generally knows Sarah's thoughts.

Nov 25, 2013, 10:41pm Top

Tx Dan. My bestie counts on me to find her good books about Russia for her to read at the end of the semester since she is still teaching and I am not. She is the child of Russian immigrants to the U.S. I was lucky enough to have dinner at her home last night with three other Russian families, one who came to the U.S. via Australia, one through South America, I think one through China. They've all been here for decades and known each other since before they were born :) and we had some good conversations about politics, religion, Pushkin and vodka. My husband and I were the only non-Russians and only liberals in attendance and it was SO fun. What a great opportunity for me to hear their perspective. They had their adult children with them so we had two generations of adults. Let me know about the book.

Nov 26, 2013, 11:18pm Top

Intriguing reading -- though I'm not sure there's one here that I'd pick up -- but great hearing your thoughts and summaries.

Nov 29, 2013, 1:31am Top

Jane - I might try to talk you into Amos Oz sometime, but not those last several...

Merrikay - I've become very fond of the much too long Sarah's Ten Fingers. There is only one of 29 chapters on Russia. But Stamler keeps writing and writing and she has so far captured the world of immigrant Russian Jews in NYC and her own experiences growing up there (NYC) during the depression and beyond. I'm in the 1950's and she is dealing with a husband drafted for Korea, segregation in Maryland, various forms of anti-semitism and hatred of Germans by her, VD, wonky school systems, a first car, etc etc...and that Just covers one year. Even her dog gets multiple sections...and she only had the dog this one year. And yet i still like it quite a bit.

Nov 29, 2013, 4:46pm Top

Thanks Dan. Hmmm. Think I should check it out. It was interesting to me that of the people in the conversation I mention in 85 above - the older ones (65) state they experienced no discrimination in the U.S., while the one who is about 55 said she did in gradeschool in San Francisco. I realize it depends on time and circumstances - interesting tho as usually it is the ones who have been in the new country the longest who experience less discrimination. Think I would like to read of the NYC experience.

Edited: Nov 29, 2013, 4:50pm Top

P.S. What do you mean about it's too long? Should be tightened up? getting boring?

Well it's not a cheap book but the kindle is 3.99. Don't know if that is for weekend sale or normal price so think I should jump on it. Reading the sample first.

ETA: AND my library doesn't have it.

Edited: Nov 29, 2013, 6:58pm Top

mk - it's 500 pages and covers lots and lots of details getting slower and slower as it gets closer to the present. And there are so many tiny details and no clear reason as to why to include them -- or why not to. But it stays entertaining anyway.

Nov 30, 2013, 1:15pm Top

Thanks Dan.

Nov 30, 2013, 11:54pm Top

I found How the Irish Saved Civilization entertaining, but history-lite in that there was little documentation, if I remember correctly. More an introduction or jumping off point, but enough for me at the time, and quite readable. I thought the title was a marketing gimmick to make people pick up the book.

Agreeing with Paul, There has to be a decent book on the place (Masada) out there surely?

Dec 3, 2013, 10:31pm Top

Lisa - I would like to find that book on Masada. I agree with you about How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Edited: Dec 3, 2013, 10:57pm Top

Books, books, books...and they come.

Before amazon dropped off my order, I was in Asheville, North Carolina where I was able to return to a terrific little store called Malaprop Books, and purchase a graphic novel: We Won't See Auschwitz by Jérémie Dres. And from the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center I took home three books: A Geologic Adventure Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, North Carolina Nature Writing : Four Centuries of Personal Narratives and Descriptions edited by Richard Rankin, and The Mountains-To-Sea Trail Across North Carolina : Walking a Thousand Miles Through Wildness, Culture and History by Danny Bernstein

Then amazon delivered...
The Story Begins: Essays on Literature by Amos Oz
--- Because I liked Black Box and this was a rare Amos Oz book not available in Kindle ebook format.
A Time of Gifts & Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
--- My wishlist comment credits Rebecca in 2010, but I've heard about these from many places, including from Linda and from Le Salon's Macumbeira
The Marsh Arabs & Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger
--- My wishlist credits Linda's reviews in January.
Burma Chronicles, Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China & A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, all cartoons chronicles by Guy Delisle
--- because I loved his Jerusalem : Chronicles from the Holy City
The Homeric Hymns by Homer, translated by Jules Cashford
--- This was a mistake...what I really wanted was the version Steven reviewed, translated by Susan Shelmerdine
Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry
--- My wishlist credits janepriceestrada from 2009! It also came up here recently, maybe a few times
A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua
--- On my wishlist and I don't remember why. This Israeli book caught my attention at the right time.
Geologic History of Florida : major events that formed the Sunshine State by Albert C. Hine
--- Nielsen posted a link to www.netgalley.com , where I found this and here it is. My wife looked at it and said, "It's a text book!" But I'm already fascinated having discovered the Bahama Fracture zone (separating African basements rocks from, um, something else) and having found a quick explanation of the Miami oolite.

Dec 4, 2013, 7:01am Top

Great list of books, and I'm glad you've bought the Leigh Fermor books and Rising Tide. I hope you enjoy them. I also put The Marsh Arabs and Arabian Sands on my wishlist after Linda reviewed them. Happy reading!

Dec 4, 2013, 12:52pm Top

I have the same Leigh Fermor and Wilfred Thesiger books on my wishlist. Did you see the photos that Linda(?) posted with her review? I kept them bookmarked. Here are the Arabia ones: http://www.prmprints.com/category/9592/thesiger-collection/arabia. Do the books include photos?

I have one or two Oz books on the shelf, and there they languish. I want to get to A Tale of Love and Darkness, but it keeps getting pushed aside for something else. Darryl (kidzdoc) thought Scenes from Village Life "unforgettable" and a five star read.

I read A Woman in Jerusalem a few years ago, which I liked more than The Liberated Bride, but haven't been compelled to seek out more of his books. I'll be curious to see what you think.

Dec 4, 2013, 9:11pm Top

Looks like you have your reading waiting for you in the near future!

Edited: Dec 4, 2013, 9:45pm Top

Rebecca - I think I'm most excited about Leigh Fermor.

Lisa - My Thesiger copies include the photos, which are gorgeous. I'm looking forward to more Oz. I should get to them soon, while I'm motivated...we'll see. Thanks for the comments on Yehoshua.

Jane - I do, seventeen new books...

... actually 18 because somehow I missed:
Empires of the Indus : the story of a river by Alice Albinia

well...actually 19 because kids got me this for Hanukkah:

Dec 4, 2013, 9:58pm Top

Another to add, although not one I plan to read. MJ's review inspired me to buy Great Design by Philip Wilkinson for my wife as a Hanukkah present. (She's a Graphic Designer)

Dec 4, 2013, 11:44pm Top

The Book Depository just delivered The Book of Flights by J. M. G. Le Clezio.

Dec 5, 2013, 9:36am Top

94> Nice! I'm very glad I'm not the only one who picked up the Geologic History of Florida for fun. I hope you enjoy it.

Dec 5, 2013, 9:50am Top

Nice! Have fun with the Delisles. I sure enjoy his books.

Edited: Dec 5, 2013, 9:49pm Top

52. The Year 1000 : What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World (Audio Book) by Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger, narrated by Grover Gardner (1999, 230 pages in paper format, listened Oct 24-29)

I can't, at the moment, recall of a single fact from this book, but it was thoroughly entertaining to listen to. My commutes were fascinating and fact-inundated for a week or so. Recommended for those so inclined.

(Note there is a newer book with a similar title. I can't vouch for the new one.)

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: History-themed audio book available at my library

Edited: Dec 5, 2013, 9:58pm Top

53. A Theory of Flight by Andrew X Pham (2012, 120 pages, read Sep 24 - Oct 29)

Pham claims this is his best book yet. I haven't read his other books on Vietnam, but they get great reviews. This was thin to pointless. It covers Pham's peripatetic life in California avoiding employment, dabbling in several bad relationships, and flying a trike. Harmless maybe, a quick read, but you're not missing anything by skipping it.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Wanted to read Pham and this was cheap on Kindle.

Edited: Dec 5, 2013, 10:42pm Top

54. The Property by Rutu Modan (2013, 222 pages, read Oct 30 - Nov 1)
translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

I think I expected something droll and disturbing in this graphic novel about a young woman joining her grandmother in traveling from Israel to Poland to reclaim a property lost during the Holocaust. Not sure, but, regardless, I wanted to try it because I really enjoyed Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds. Well, this was terrific. Touching, yet charming and complicated in the clash of cultures, generations and histories. Much going on here, including a somehow entertaining cynicism at the Holocaust tourist industry. Recommended.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Israeli literature

Edited: Dec 5, 2013, 9:51pm Top

55. Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams and Jefferson (Audio Book) by Gore Vidal, narrated by Paul Hecht (2003, 208 pages in paper form, listened Oct 29 - Nov 4)

Discursive musings is probably enough of a description. Vidal brings in many curious details. Being who he is, it seems Vidal was simply drawn not to the three icons of his title but to the person he seems to have considered the smartest in room, so so speak. Alexander Hamilton, the main author of the Federalist Papers, somehow crops of everywhere, good and bad. Overall these are entertaining wanderings and there is just something fascinating in any random pieces spoken and written by the characters from this era.

One touching aspect was listening to Gore Vidal, in his own voice, discuss an interview he had with then president John F. Kennedy. Kennedy wondered how nascent America could be full of such a rich array of brilliant minds, something so much richer than his impression of the people he had to deal with. He said they were somehow better then. Vidal couldn't really answer, and claims this book is his reply.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: History-themed audio book available at my library

Dec 5, 2013, 10:35pm Top

The Property sounds very interesting, and I haven't yet read anything by this author. Onto the list it goes.

Edited: Dec 6, 2013, 9:11pm Top

Lisa - just because I wasn't clear and in case you didn't know, The Property is a graphic novel. (I just changed the review). If you get a hold of a copy, hope you enjoy.

Dec 5, 2013, 11:16pm Top

Don't know anything about A Theory of Flight, but I found Catfish and Mandala fascinating. But I have to say, my Vietnamese daughter-in-law was thoroughly disenchanted with Pham -- I think the dysfunctional family dynamics turned her off.

Dec 6, 2013, 12:02am Top

Jane, I had your reviews in mind, along with others, when I picked up Pham. I may still try his other books. Interesting about your DIL's reaction.

Dec 6, 2013, 12:15pm Top

#108 I didn't realize it was a graphic novel until I added it to my wishlist, but that's okay. I like GN memoirs too.

Dec 6, 2013, 12:35pm Top

I also liked The Property. Glad you reminded me I meant to get her Exit Wounds and my library has it. Yay!

Dec 6, 2013, 9:16pm Top

Lisa - Glad I posted that

Merrikay - Your review encouraged me to read The Property. I want to cheer you on to read Exit Wounds. I thought it was terrific. Hope you do get it and enjoy it.

Dec 6, 2013, 10:53pm Top

An interesting series of books. I gather that Inventing a Nation didn't necessarily answer the question whether or not "they were somehow better then."

Dec 7, 2013, 12:53am Top

Well, you have me thinking, Steven. I think in Vidal's mind he presented a description of how they were, and I think the main point he makes is that this group was pretty special. Individually they were all flawed with various limitations and vanities and whatnot, but as a group they fed off each other even as they wrestled with each other, even as they wrestled with their own personal contradictions. They really thought and fought things through, and somehow with some kind of high-handed and driven integrity. It's not something that is likely to happen on this level, or with this amount of world-changing influence, very often, if ever again.

On one hand I knew this before reading Vidal's book and I don't think this kind of observation is unique, nor did it change my overall impression of the big picture. But Vidal certainly does have his own unique take on it. And, any serious take on it is bound to be fascinating.

Edited: Dec 7, 2013, 1:02am Top

I loved this cartoon memoir. I wrote the review below just after finishing, on Nov 5. I don't think I can do any better now.

56. Jerusalem : Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle (2012, 336 pages, Read Nov 2-5)
translated from French by Helge Dascher

I closed this in quite a state - very emotional and sad and wishing the world were different - and also kind of surprised this book suddenly got to me so strongly.

Delisle spent a year living in East Jerusalem. His girlfriend worked for Doctors without Borders and he took care of the very young kids and drew and made comic connections. As a French Canadian and an atheist he makes an interesting outsider in Israel. And he goes everywhere - in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron - getting tours from a variety of Palestinians & Israeli Jews of varying sanities. It's impressive how much detail he covers. There is so much and yet I can't think of any glaring misses and I learned a ton.

The book is a chronicle of his life, but it's also a tour of as many different aspects of Israel as he could capture. And, for a graphic book, the pace is slow. It takes some time to get through, which has a nice side affect giving every aspect he wants to capture it's full due...and of allowing the book to build on itself without the reader fully realizing what is happening. He does, in many places, catch the reader off guard, as cynical observation and humorous side story suddenly becomes engagingly emotional.

I'll be looking for more of his books.*

*Actually I just bought three, and I just started reading a fourth I picked up at the library.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Israel

Edited: Dec 7, 2013, 8:41pm Top

57. The Elements: The New Guide to the Building Blocks of Our Universe by Jack Challoner (2012, 160 pages, read Oct 5 - Nov 18)

I enjoyed working through this, while thinking about atomic structure. I probably should comment about the book's structure, which is nice in concept. Challoner ties everything back to the idea that every element is the same stuff, they are simply a variation of three parts - protons, neutrons and electrons. And he does a nice jobs of organizing the elements by groups in the table of elements, which allows a nice way to make comparisons of similars and the very different types. And there are many nice pictures. A problem is that it can get really slow when you read about many different elements in a row that are really quite similar. And I know it wasn't just me, because just as these sections got old, mistakes in the text starting cropping out everywhere. Apparently the editor had the same problem.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: no clue, just something I found on my library's new book shelf.

Dec 7, 2013, 4:21pm Top

Dan I hope your wife enjoys Great Design. Such a selection you've been acquiring and reading and reviewing. A Rock is Lively caught my eye (something I recently read touched on animate vs. inanimate and the increasingly fine line between) and then while looking it up I discovered a whole world of children's math/science books that I would have loved as a kid.

Dec 7, 2013, 6:09pm Top

And I know it wasn't just me, because just as these sections got old, mistakes in the text starting cropping out everywhere. Apparently the editor had the same problem. If there was an editor!

Edited: Dec 7, 2013, 8:41pm Top

MJ - one of my favorite aspects of being a parent is all the children's science books.

Rebecca - Good point. I have no idea how editing works, so I had kind of assumed all books had an editor of some sort. I had to return the book to the library, so I can't check for a credited editor.

Edited: Dec 8, 2013, 11:04am Top

58. 1776 by David G. McCullough (who also narrated) (2005, 400 pages in paper form, listened Nov 4 - 18)

Another audio, and another very good one. McCullough reads this one himself, very nicely. The lesson I learned is that I know nothing about the actual war part of the American Revolutionary War . The book only covers part of the war, from late 1775, shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill, to the end of 1776 when Washington crossed the Delaware (the only part of the book familiar to me).

What happened then, you say? Besides the Delaware, this stuff in this book is, I think, pretty obscure stuff. In brief, the colonials have a sort of successful siege of Boston and finally declared independence. Then they are routed in New York, and again at Ft. Washington and the army dissolves to few thousand men. And then Washington crossed the Delaware and...McCullough argues that never has such a small event by such a small number of people had such a world changing impact. The victory was impressive but should have been insignificant. The impact was the effect it had on attitudes of the colonials, the English and of France.

And then the book stops. We don't get to Valley Forge, or the French and the marquis de La Fayette, or the end. I was surprised to find Alexander Hamilton covered in I think a single sentence. (And now I really want to go learn the rest. )

McCullough does such a great job bringing this to stuff to life. I felt the tension of the dissolving colonial army, where whole units would walk away at critical times because their contracts were up and the stress of wondering what to do. And Washington comes across wonderfully.

George Washington is the hero and center of the book. Unqualified, under-experienced, arrogant but humble to realities, and flawed in many ways, he perseveres by staying and expressing calm and composure, by realizing his limitations and those of his army, by his ability to learn on the way, and by having an excellent sense of people. With no qualified military leaders, he hand-selected Henry Knox almost out of the blue to be his artillery man, and he probably could not have found anyone better. When Nathanael Greene's misjudgment caused a huge military defeat at Fort Washington, Washington responds by protecting him from criticism, keeping his best and most careful general in his job.

One episode particularly moved me. The ragged remnant the defeated colonial army is retreating across New Jersey and confidence in Washington at it’s lowest point. It was his darkest moment. Then Washington, apparently unaware a letter was private, opened a letter between maybe his closest friend and general Charles Lee. Lee was his best qualified and most arrogant general. The letter blasts Washington as a poor general in need of replacement by Lee...in agreement with this close friend of his. Freshly exposed that he has been undermined by about his closest friend, what must Washington have felt? What should he do about the letter? He wrote a note of apology for opening the letter, resealed it and sent it on…

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: History-themed audio book available at my library, and also McCullough.

Dec 7, 2013, 10:53pm Top

The only book I've read by McCullough is the very short In the Dark Streets Shineth. After reading your review of 1776, I think I need to read more by him.

Dec 8, 2013, 3:51am Top

Awaiting your review of the evolution course lectures. I have them too and will listen to them if you deem them worthy. :)

Dec 8, 2013, 8:55am Top

Susie - I just saw your review but have not read it yet. This was my second by McCullough, both audio. He is a great story teller.

Jonathan - I won't have much of a review of Larson's lectures. He doesn't go very deep. His last two lectures are on how the creationists moved from fringe to basically mainstream, and this was all new to me and fascinating.

Dec 8, 2013, 10:44am Top

Nice review of 1776, Dan. I hope to get to it soon.

Dec 8, 2013, 12:36pm Top

I've found that reading the actual history of the revolution to be absolutely fascinating. So much myth surrounds the events that reading sober historic account shatters all those decent perceptions. For instances when people imagine Valley Forge the think of this great army of mostly Anglo-Americans (i.e. British decent) farmers and middle class folks, but actual surveys of the army from that time reveal that the few men left at Valley Forge were mostly marginalized immigrants and the poor use to harsh conditions and prepared for the suffering. Those that could leave Valley Forge did. I think it's actually more inspiring that a group of marginalized men endured the harsh conditions to save the cause and become the backbone of our nation's army rather than a bunch of patrotic settlers enduring for the cause.

Dec 8, 2013, 1:16pm Top

Kevin, you are torturing me! Now I feel even more need to go find out about the rest of this war.

Dec 8, 2013, 1:40pm Top

Another McCullough book I have on the shelf waiting. I must get back to some of my American history books. Theme for 2014?

Dec 8, 2013, 1:50pm Top

Hmmm...think I'll drag out that old 1985 movie Revolution with Al Pacino. and read 1776.

I like how you pointed out about Jeruselum that slow moving isn't necessarily bad. Really great point.

Let us know how your wife likes the Design book. It just sounds so interesting to me.

Dec 8, 2013, 5:00pm Top

Dan, I haven't read McCullough's 1776. It sounds like I really need to. I haven't read many of his books, but I've found the ones I've read to be informative and enjoyable. I loved The Johnstown Flood. You could feel yourself living the horror.

Dec 8, 2013, 10:44pm Top

Lisa - Whoa, David McCullough has written a lot of books. I didn't realize that. I might consider joining you on an American history theme in 2014, although I'm not sure my reading is stable enough.

Merrikay - Be sure to read MJ's review of Great Design (which wants to touchstone at Slaughter-house five!), if you haven't yet. Although my wife is excited and wants to read, I have no clue if or when she will get to it. She is a graphic designer very interested in all design. So I think the fact that she is excited by it is something of a compliment...assuming she is not just being nice...

Nana - The Johnstown Flood interests me, both this book and the subject in general.

Edited: Dec 11, 2013, 3:52pm Top

Please feel free to skip this post.

Religion and the Decline: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England of Magic by Keith Thomas

Thoughts 1/3 of the way through

I was flying through all these history of science themed books when I slammed into this wall. It's not just a door stop at about 800 pages (varies per edition), it's slow slow slow. Each paragraph has multiple citations, and most the citations list multiple sources, some of them very obscure. The amount of information packed in every sentence is astonishing...and the amount of research Thomas must have done is mind-boggling to me. This was Thomas's first book, published in 1971, and he has since been knighted.

So, anyway, I need to get some thoughts out on this before I forget. Wish I had done this in September.

In the Prologue we learn that this was an era of health desperation. Mortality is high, and medical understanding is very very low. Men and women are pretty much all suffering from some ailments, and are routinely dying of mysterious causes. Medicine isn't helping, and the best medical help one can get is often avoiding any medical attention at all. Since there only a tiny number of doctors, the poor don't have access to medical help anyway. A lucky break. Enter magic.

Section one - Religion

For a short time now I've read about how the reformation led to Europe's technological explosion. But, this brings up a connection between the reformation and the scientific revolution that I had never thought about before.

In a nutshell, Catholic England is full Catholic magic. Part of the conversion strategy for early Christianity was to take pre-Christian religious traditions and Christianize them. It's was a half-step that allowed people to sort of slide into Christianity. The result in England is fascinating complex of magical mythologies, many local to a region. When the English Reformation comes, all of this magic becomes blasted as heretical. There is quite a bit of irony in that; the key tools use to convert the English to Christianity become the aspects of Catholicism that are most criticized. There is also a sad aspect, not covered here, in that the English are essentially wiping out their history. These magical rites preserved the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and other heritages, and it is all heavily attacked.

The extreme in the English Reformation are the Puritans. For them anything that strikes as magical in any way in anathema. All comes from God who works in his own mysterious ways. That is, religion suddenly has nothing directly to offer, especially materially. It only offers some inner strength, if you like, and a potentially nice afterlife. If you think about this enough, you might notice this is a huge step toward atheism. Once you take God out of anything tangible, and you leave him as just something in the mind...well, you can then just take out God altogether, without effecting your day-to-day doing. Obviously the Puritans didn't see it that way, but they lead the way away from the benefits of religious magic and straight toward total independence of the magic - that is atheism.

Section two - Magic

Thomas covers extensive and fascinating varieties and trivia of magic in England, and of the competition between the Church and the magicians, or conjurers, or witches, or cunning men or whatever. There is a whole continuum from pure magic, to magic with Christian prayers, to Christian magic. In Catholic England there is something like a fierce territorial war over who has the better magic, the church or the magicians. And what is Christian and what is not is kind of arbitrary.

But the Church has the power and determines...what is natural and what is not, or, if you like, what is godly and what is diabolical. In this way the Catholic church begins to undermine magic, and brings belief closer to what is actually natural. Once we get to the Reformation and then the Puritans, there is no magic, period.

When describing these Christian and non-Christian forms of magic, Thomas touches on psychology. His conclusion is qualified by maybes, but in a more bold way these magicians were master psychologists. What they provided for their clients were often not magical answers but psychological comfort. Sometimes it is a simple as confirming an answer that a client already felt was correct, but typically had no objective way of determining. Sometimes they provide a much more sophisticated therapy that was, at least sometimes, as good as anything available today. One of the side-effects of religious reform (which comes across here as more like the removal of religion), is that this stuff is wiped out without consideration. I would argue that this is mostly true even today. We talk about religion verse science and what they offer. Science argues for facts. Religions is, I'm boldly going way outside and beyond Thomas here, a form a psycho-therapy. (Hopefully I've buried this deeply enough that I haven't offended too many people. Anyway, these are preliminary and experimental thoughts.)

Here is my summary of how Thomas concludes:
- magic is always a problem for the Church
- Catholicism, which included a lot of magic, essentially fought a territorial war over magic, claiming indirectly to have the better magic.
- The Reformation strips much of this out. It also strips ministers of their mystique. They are no longer notable for their celibacy and they no longer have the magic ability to do the mass. However, there is actually less of an attack on magic in general, as it's not really a competitor anymore.
- The Puritan idea is the magic is just too easy. Man must earn anything he gains. The leads to many things, including technological innovation. This filters down successfully and eventually heavily reduces the popular acceptance of magic.

I just started Section three, on Astrology

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: History of science

Dec 9, 2013, 12:22am Top

I'd give that a thumbs up if it were a review. I'm looking forward to the rest.


Dec 9, 2013, 7:40am Top

Robert - thanks!

Dec 9, 2013, 7:44am Top

I've had that on the TBR since it was mentioned here a while ago, but since I won't be getting to it any time soon I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Dec 9, 2013, 9:28am Top

Since it sounds like a bear to read, I am very happy to skip it and read your fabulous concepts summary instead. Fascinating stuff!

Dec 9, 2013, 9:47am Top

On 1776, a few years ago I took a graduate course on the military history of colonial America, and the conclusion offered was that there was no way Britain could prevent the independence of the the colonies as long as they remained united. The colonials didn't even need to field a competent army; they just had to wait out the patience of the British public who were tired of paying for an unpopular war when, at best, all they could do was occupy a few coastal cities. It kind of de-mythifies things to see it that way, but doesn't diminish Washington's stature in my mind.

Your partial review of Religion and the Decline of Magic makes it sound like a fascinating book, notwithstanding its difficulties. It brought to mind things I've read and observed about Catholicism in Latin America where Christianity has only been around a few hundred years and still incorporates many pre-Columbian elements. The Day of the Dead, for example.

The idea of Puritanism paving the way for atheism by removing magic from Christianity has me wondering about those Protestant denominations that have re-incorporated magical elements such as faith healing, speaking in tongues, demonic possession, etc. Does Thomas say anything about this?

Dec 9, 2013, 9:52am Top

Wow, I have just discovered that I know nothing about the American Revolution. No surprise as it isn't really covered here in school and I didn't take any American History after school. I say this to excuse my first question, which would be about terminology. Wouldn't both sides at that time have had colonists supporting them? I realize the English Crown and its army were trying desperately to suppress the revolt, but surely they had supporters among the colonists? I see I need to read this.

Keep on with the Thomas work. It is well worth it. Great summary so far.

Dec 9, 2013, 10:13am Top

#138 - Yes, the loyalists were called "Tories" as opposed to the "Patriots" who were for independence. They were particularly strong in the southern colonies which were largely agricultural and depended on England as a market for their goods (but even there they were the minority). The northern colonies where there was a developing industrial economy wanted to be able to market their products in Europe independently of British controls and taxes and buy raw materials from outside the British Empire. Support for independence was stronger there. Many southern families were of divided loyalties, including one branch of my ancestors in South Carolina. Some joined the patriots, others stayed loyal to the king. After the war many of the Tories, including some of my relatives, chose to migrate to Canada, many going to Nova Scotia.

Dec 9, 2013, 10:20am Top

>139 StevenTX: "After the war many of the Tories, including some of my relatives, chose to migrate to Canada, many going to Nova Scotia."

Steven, That is something I didn't know, and I find it very interesting. I know that some of my father's relatives fought on the British side during the war. And then skip ahead, my grandfather was born in Nova Scotia. I was told that he didn't live there, but that they were on holiday visiting relatives. I wonder if it has anything to do with that. I will have to do some digging. Thank you.

Dec 9, 2013, 4:34pm Top

Thanks for the explanation Steven. I wasn't aware there was such a divide between the northern and southern colonies.

I've lived a good part of my life in Nova Scotia and the Loyalists still call themselves that to this day (full name United Empire Loyalists) and still hold their Tory views. There are also quite a number of them in the neighbouring province of New Brunswick. That migration and the Boston Tea Party were the highlights of what I learned in grade eight about the US. In the Atlantic Provinces, the northern former colonies are often referred to as the Boston States.

Dec 9, 2013, 9:39pm Top

Thanks Rebecca, Lisa, Steven & Sassy for the comments on my Religion and the Decline of Magic post.

And Lisa, I still recommend the book, but it's slow going.

Steven (and Kevin and anyone else) - where should I turn to find out about the rest of the Revolutionary War?
As for the today's snake healers and speakers in tongues and whatnot, they fall outside what Keith Thomas covers, but I think it's safe to say their magic has a long history.

138-141 - very interesting conversation. What do those who identify themselves with 18th-century American Tories think about the US today? American "patriots" came in many colors and were probably a minority of the population. But Tories were in a tough spot. When the English took New York, which was heavily Torrie, all was OK. But when the English abandoned Boston and evacuated the Tories with them, it was the last these Tories ever saw of these soon-to-be independent colonies.

And here's food for thought: McCullough says that at the time of the revolution the British colonies had the highest standard of living of anywhere in the world. He doesn't defend the comment and it seems hard to believe. But, these weren't starving down-trodden desperates forced to rebel.

Dec 9, 2013, 11:47pm Top

Dan, I too have that book on my shelf, and I think I will read it as part of my 14 in 14 "Doorstoppers" category for next year. The subject has been on my mind as we have read Anglo-Saxon pagan literature in my Early Medieval Literature course this quarter. My professor did talk a bit about how writers like Bede and the author of Caedmon's Hymn used Anglo-Saxon vocabulary and ways of thinking to describe Christianity. Unfortunately we didn't get to see this firsthand because said prof is pagan and doesn't teach the Anglo-Saxon Christian literature. (We have not looked at Bede, "Caedmon's Hymn," or the "Dream of the Rood" all quarter.) I suspect much of the enchanted world of paganism survived. I wish Thomas had ranged earlier than the Renaissance so we could see how that connects to his thesis.

Dec 10, 2013, 4:48am Top

Excellent reviews Dan, just catching up.

I am learning a little American History reading your thread.

Religion and the Decline of magic looks like it's going to be a must read for me. Please keep posting your thoughts on the book as you read through.

Edited: Dec 10, 2013, 7:05am Top

From the little I have in my Library it seems I would go with:

Almost a Miracle gives a quick overview of the entire war of Independence, not too detailed, but it is pretty through for someone like me who isn't all that interested in the minutiae of battles.

The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence from the Library of America. The amount of primary sources and prespectives in this volume it is hard not to learn something new. I've been reading it for five years now and have only made it and still have several hundred pages to go. So much outside research. Library of America editions always shine a glaring light on history from those who lived it. I recommend all their history books. I don't own any of the fiction material they put out but I'm sure the quality is just as good.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Read years ago. Very good book and again a through overview but long and dry.

There doesn't seem to be Bruce Catton, James Mcpherson, or Shelby Foote for the Revolution which is a shame. So most of what I know is pieced together from books and articles.

Dec 10, 2013, 7:03am Top

Thanks Bas. You must have a different perspective on the break away of those ungrateful colonies.

Dec 10, 2013, 7:10am Top

Kevin - Good stuff. I think Almost a Miracle might be the perfect book to start with.

Dec 10, 2013, 7:37pm Top

#143 - Jonathan, apologies, I missed your post! I'm very entertained by your Doorstoppers category. As for Thomas, his specialty seems to be early modern England. Will have to look elsewhere for Pagan persistence.

Dec 10, 2013, 11:06pm Top

I haven't read much since Colonial History in college, but I have a couple of promising books on my shelf:

Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War by Edwin Burrows

Here is a review by HistReader:

Forgotten Patriots embarks on the dark topic of prisoners-of-war and their inevitable maltreatment. Most never think of the Revolutionary War as a civil war, but it was just that! British Loyalists living as colonists fought "rebels" with vigor of how anyone would treat a traitor.

Centered around New York, but also lightly discussing prisons around Philadelphia, PA, Edwin G. Burrows covers in depth, the poorly recorded world of prisoners - not all of which were captured on the battlefield, nor were they all combatants! Occupied New York was turned into a prison town. Sugar houses were converted haphazardly into prisons. When space ran out, churches not affiliated with the Church of England were desecrated by becoming prisons. Eventually, prison populations and disease forced the British to employ men-of-war ships to be moored in the near-by bays. These ultimately became floating death mills. Tens of thousands of American rebels were run through these buildings and ships; an estimated fifty percent perished from starvation, disease or insanity.

The first 200 pages are devoted to detailing what scant information is available. Most of the records to ascertain the best accounts of the horror and numbers of prisoners (left to estimation) are autobiographical narratives, newspaper accounts and other propagandist material. He finishes up the history with some perspective, by comparing the events and toll British imprisonment took on Americans with other wars; only the Civil War surpasses the amount of deaths, battlefield and otherwise.

The final chapter (before the epilogue) could be mistaken for current political activity. Both parties in the trailing decades used bones and skulls littering the shoreline of Wallabout Bay for their partisan benefit. It is reminiscent of the aftermath of the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks.

As many books as I have read on this period, and more specifically Benjamin Franklin, Forgotten Patriots did a wonderful job discussing William Franklin's campaign of war ad terrorem. Plundering activity took place over a several year period, designed to harass Americans, it was carried out under the group of Tories known as The Refugee Club. The British government put an end to the sanctioned group after they took a prisoner and hanged him.

The First Salute by Barbara Tuchman

Here's Richard's (richardderus) review:

The American Revolution is so often romanticized and distorted by the political needs of Government and Policy that its reality, a ragtag rebellion of seditious wealthy men subsidized by the long-term enemies of England, gets completely lost. Tuchman, in her trademark popular-narrative, chatty style, reminds us that, had things gone a different way, we'd be *horrified* at the foolhardy yahoos who thought they could break the safe, profitable cocoon of Empire.

It's why I enjoy her books. She doesn't stint on facts, but she doesn't stint on personalities and ideas either. She has an eye for the telling detail, and she's not afraid to gore anyone's ox.

Easy reading, informative, and surprising. What more can a non-academic hist'ry reader ask for?

Dec 11, 2013, 2:29pm Top

Thanks Lisa! I would not want to have been a prisoner of war in that war. At least the survivors weren't sold into slavery, like in the Indian wars. I really do want to read Tuchman, and have two of her books in the house. I'll keep The First Salute in mind.

Edited: Dec 11, 2013, 10:34pm Top

59. Black Box by Amos Oz (1986, 259 pages, read Nov 2-23)

The first normal book I had read in awhile, excluding all the audio books, graphic novels, and other oddball stuff (It is the only novel I have read since July, when I read Toni Morrison's Sula). And it took me awhile, with gaps of time in between. An epistolary novel, it first took me some time to get into it, and then, once I did get involved, it just seemed to get so intense - mind you this was partly my state of mind.

This is a tragic love story, where love and hatred are so densely interwoven, they cannot be untangled. The book begins long after Alec and Ilana's divorce and after Ilana has remarried Michel

A born Harlet.
Yes. I know you would say that {about me}, with your oceanic wickedness glimmering like the northern lights in the depths of your grey eyes. But no, Alex. You are mistaken. This deceit is different: every time I deceived you with your friends, with your superiors in the army, with your pupils, with the electrician or the plumber, I was always trying to approach you by deceiving you. It was always you I had in mind. Even when I was screaming aloud. Especially then. As it is written in letters of gold above the Holy Ark in Michel's synagogue: I have placed the Lord before me always.

And this is Israel. An enmeshment of clashing fanatical and irreverent views on religion, with serious political consequences. Oz dives right in. Somewhere in here Alec publishes a book which gets reviews like these:

...sheds new light--or, rather, deep shade--on the psychopathology of various faiths...

..an ice-cold analysis of the phenomenon of messianic fervor...

...maintains that all world-reformers since the dawn of history have actually sold their souls to the devil of fanaticism...

Letters go back and forth from the Ilana, her husband, her son, Alec and Alec's very entertaining lawyer, along with other odd bits thrown in. Old feelings are dug up and dealt with anew. Here Alex is writing to Ilana, and beginning to deal with her affect on him:

Try to picture this man, if you can, thinner than you remember and with much less hair, in dark blue corduroy trousers and a red cashmere sweater. Even though, in principle, as you say, he is in black and white. Standing at the window with his brow pressed against the glass. The eyes, in which you detect an "arctic malice" search the outside world where the light is fading. And his hands are in his pockets. Clenched. Every few minutes he shrugs his shoulders for some reason and hums in a British sort of way. A coldness passes through his bones. He shudders, removes his hands from his pockets, and clasps his shoulders with his arms crossed. This is the embrace of those who have nobody. And yet, for all that, a tight-coiled animal element still endows his silent standing by the window with some characteristic of inner tension: as though flexed to leap back like lightning and anticipate his assailants.

But there is no reason for tension. The world is red and strange.

I'm not sure I will be able to draw anyone else into this particular work of Oz's, but it has drawn me into wanting to read more Oz. This is a complex and thought-provoking work. I still think about the vanity of it all, and still wonder exactly who did what to whom with these letters. These writers evolve. Ilana opens the book with a melodramatic letter that almost turned me off, but later she finds her muse, so to speak, and becomes the most interesting character and the best letter writer in the book. Recommended.

Michel, you ought to take care. Even an old snake can still bite for a finale. I may still have a drop left in my poison gland.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Israel

Edited: Dec 15, 2013, 11:05pm Top

Another book from my synagogue's book club. I wrote this on Dec 2, just after seeing the author, who visited my temple. My temple requested some of us write reviews of amazon. I know these kind of reviews tend to be overly nice. If you are looking to read between the lines, this is actually a pretty honest review. I enjoyed the book, which felt like a formalized oral history really nicely reworked into bite-size pieces. But it does get carried away and go on too long.

60. Sarah's Ten Fingers by Isabelle Stamler (2012, 504 pages, read Nov 24-30)

Recenly I saw Isabelle Stamler talk about this book, which she discussed with a group at my synagogue. Sarah's Ten Fingers is a family history, and Stamler's first book. She began writing this after retiring from a 40-year teaching career. Sarah is her maternal grandmother, a Jewish immigrant who arrived in New York from a tiny Russian village with a handful of Jewish families. She was a single mother of several children. When talking about her extended family she would hold up her hands and say, in Yiddish, how she only had ten fingers, and ask which one could she spare, hence the books title.

The writing is very formal, always in third person, even if Isabelle is the subject. The content however, is constantly fascinating and entertaining. The book is written in short sections, each a little story of its own, telling the family tale. The overall effect is charming and moving and very informative. As Isabelle told us, it's not a history book, but history is what comes out of it.

The main history is that of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and for this audience the book is especially of value. While the details in this book are unique to Isabelle Stamler and her family, it fills in the atmosphere of a larger picture that covers many similar families. So many Jewish immigrant families have similar histories, of leaving Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms and antisemitism to start over from scratch in a new country where antisemitism was much toned down and much less violent. The first generation suffered through years of hard work and poverty, and then suffered again through the depression which ruined many of their nascent grand ideas. But through the long haul, many of the descendants of these families succeeded in post-war America and today make up a large percentage of American Jewry.

Unique to Isabelle’s story is the strong and independent women in her life. Both her mother and Sarah, her grandmother, were single financially independent woman while their children were young.

Two books came to mind while reading this. The first was Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, a highly regarded personal history of growing up depression era Iowa. Like Kalish, Stamler's writing is very formal, but her stories are all thoroughly entertaining, and charming effect is similar. The other book this brings to mind is Our Parents' Lives: The Americanization of Eastern European Jews by Neil M. Cowan & Ruth Schwartz Cowan, which is an oral history of Eastern European Jewish immigrants (and an absolutely fascinating collection).

Stamler's book is essentially an oral history. When she talked about the book she would get carried away telling her same stories right from the book, in almost the same manner, until she would stop herself and say read the book. I asked Stamler why she wrote in third person, and she said she didn't know she just wrote that way.

The book is longer than it should be. It seems Stamler could not stop writing, and once she gets to her own life, she adds more and more detail, which slows the book down. There is no clear reason why she includes all this detail, but there also is no reason why not to include it either. And it is consistently entertaining and enlightening. From Isabelle’s life stories we learn quite a bit about life in last 1940's and 1950's. She touches on American antisemitism, racism, over-empowered public school administrators, and many other aspects of the era.

Overall this is charming history of full of strong women in the Jewish immigrant world who deal with the limitations and compromises of their time and their cultures. There is much to learn here and much enjoyment to it.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: synagogue book club

Dec 11, 2013, 10:30pm Top

Although the Oz sounds odd, the snippets you quote us are well-written and compelling. I have two Oz books on my shelf, unread: A Tale of Love and Darkness and Close to Death: Two Stories. I think I'll go pull the former off the shelf and add it to the sooner-rather-than-later pile. Nice review.

Dec 11, 2013, 10:43pm Top

Lisa - Maybe the reviewer presented it a bit oddly. I would not characterize it as odd in anyway. I'm hoping to read A Tale of Love and Darkness sometime soon.

Dec 13, 2013, 10:57am Top

Excellent review Dan. I am certain that I will never get to read the Stamler book but Black Box sounds interesting.

Dec 13, 2013, 4:28pm Top

As I was reading your review, I kept thinking that as an oral history, this would make a wonderful audio book in Yiddish. Doesn't seem to be out there though, although it would certainly bring some pleasure to a vanishing generation who lived those stories.

Dec 13, 2013, 11:50pm Top

Thanks Bas. I'm hoping to read more Oz soon

Sassy - I kept waiting for her to start speaking Yiddish when she talked about her book, but she never did, just mentioned a few words. I think your idea is great. However, I'm not sure Isabelle Stamler sees her book as an oral history in the way I do. If she did, she probably would have written it in 1st person, instead of 3rd.

Dec 14, 2013, 1:22pm Top

Dan - fantastic review of Black Box! It's one of Amos' that I haven't read yet, but I will certainly get to it one day.

Now to get back to your thread about 60-odd posts back, 'cos I'm a bit behind with yours, which I'm off now to rectify...

Dec 14, 2013, 7:44pm Top

Thanks Paul. I need to return the favor, except I'm closer to 80 posts behind... : (

Dec 15, 2013, 2:48am Top

Enjoyed your review of the Stamler book, Dan. :)

Edited: Dec 15, 2013, 10:29am Top

>132 dchaikin: Wow, that's sounds like an intriguing book! Does the history in this book work into your thoughts about the current religion/science environment? (do you think the author would today think that religion is still the poor man's psychology?) I've read quite a bit on religion and the concept of witchcraft during this period, but certainly not on the level of the book you are reading. Must look into this author's other books...

And the idea that Puritanism led the way to atheism.... (not my route exactly, but it certainly was one factor :-)

Dec 15, 2013, 8:33pm Top

....and all caught up! Phew. Fascinating thread as ever - I can't keep up with it!

So much here that is either on my wishlist or subjects that interest me... Guy DeLisle, Rutu Modan, history of religion, American War of Independence (that's what us Limeys call it...), Amos Oz... all this AND continental drift?!?

One thing I want to say though - read Wilfred Thesiger as soon as the mood takes you. As well as the stunning photography - he was probably the last of the great explorers. The Empty Quarter is a fantastic piece of travelogue - maybe one for the RG theme read 2014? - and The Marsh Arabs is a beautiful tribute to a now largely vanished world. So shocking that he was in those places only in the 1950s - but that so much has changed so rapidly. Any time I see a modern shot or clip of the corniche in Dubai or Abu Dhabi on TV, and see all the weird and wonderful constructions in those very 21st century places, I think of Thesiger's remarks on the coming of the motor car and the airplane to the Trucial Coast back in the mid-20th century - following fast in the wake of the Oil discoveries. Those places were the tiniest of fishing villages back then. He knew it would change for ever - and quick!

I once very foolishly let an opportunity to interview him dwindle and fade, when he was in his dotage at a care home not far from my parents. I've regretted it ever since, and now of course it's too late... I have his My Life and Travels to read up on the shelf next to his earlier classics. They sit in a very honored end of one of my favourite shelves... I think I'll have to get back to Thesiger in 2014.

Dec 15, 2013, 10:46pm Top

Thanks Jonathan!

Lois - Thomas's expertise seems to be the 16th & 17th century. He doesn't relate any of it to modern stuff, only my thought processes did. I don't imagine the current religion-science clash (there isn't another word for it) links to this era in any simple way. My next review will comment on that, however. Funny about the Puritanism-to-atheism-vs-personal story. The point Keith Thomas emphasizes is the the Puritans were hyper-rational, or tried to be. While I think that clearly points toward atheism, I don't believe Thomas overtly makes that claim. But Puritans certainly never had an atheist intentions, that would have horrified them.

Paul - thanks...wait, continental drift?....searching my own thread...maybe a reference to Baja California or the Geologic History of Florida? Thanks so much for the all info on Thesiger, terrific encouragement.

Edited: Dec 15, 2013, 11:05pm Top

61. The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy (The Great Courses) by Edward J. Larson (2001, 224 pages in paper form, listened Nov 19 - Dec 2)

This was the first time I tried The Great Courses. Larson is Harvard Law graduate, but he is not a historian, scientist or expert in the history of science, and that shows. Also his time is limited to twelve lectures of 30 minutes each, which keeps the content pretty thin.

I would divide the lectures into four themes - before Darwin, Darwin, after Darwin, and the development of the religious creationist movement. His coverage of science before Darwin was terrible, and his coverage of Darwin is only OK. He does a much better job looking at the twentieth century, and the neo-Darwinian synthesis. When he covers the Scopes trial, it almost seems like another lecturer takes over. We are showered with interesting details and careful characterizations and suddenly the atmosphere comes alive. I suspect Larson may be most comfortable with the legal side of things.

But the most interesting part of the book was his history of the rise of the creationist movement in the United States, a movement that really only began to grow maybe 50 years ago. I found it very interesting how the mainstream churches lost their influence. The scientific community left the church altogether. The religious conservative community abandoned these churches for more evangelic and fundamentalist churches. Religious groups that were historically fringe suddenly became influential. This is actually really sad in more than one way. In the 1920's the Scientists and religious leaders had a dialogue with each other which filtered down to communities at large. Now the scientists are on one extreme, the creationists are on another, and in the middle are the not-so-influential mainline churches (and synagogues) with their fading memberships and attendance. So, there is no longer a meeting ground where a healthy dialogue can take place.

I gave the overall work a low rating because the content is thin, and the author came across to me as not an expert in everything covered. But, still, it's worth listening to.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: History-themed audio book available at my library

Edited: Dec 15, 2013, 11:06pm Top

62. A Geologic Adventure Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina (North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin 98) by Mark W. Carter, Carl E. Merschat & William F. Wilson (1999, 60 pages, read Nov 29 - Dec 6)

For those interested, the simplified geologic maps are really nice and I think I got a nice overview of the geology and geologic history of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is some suffering in the text, which can come across as pedantic; and whihc doesn't handle well the repetitive aspects that are natural to road-side geological guides (i.e. giving the same explanation every time something is seen, even if it's seen over and over again)

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: a visit to Asheville, NC

Dec 16, 2013, 4:56am Top

#162 I share Paul's enthusiasm for Wilfred Thesiger.

Dec 16, 2013, 5:55am Top

Nice one Barry! He was an impressive man alright, and a very decent writer as well.

Dan - continental drift - I was being very obtuse and probably referring to your geological reads across the year - yes, the Florida book, and the one on Baja earlier on. And now the Blue Ridge Mountains as well. At who else's thread could I consider Amos Oz, the rise of the 'creationists', Thesiger's photographs, and some sedimentary drift all in the same moments?!

Club Read is like a moveable anthology of favourite magazines.

Dec 16, 2013, 6:01am Top

(Did you mention sedimentary drift? Maybe that's my own warped imagination... I'd better get off LT for a bit and do some Christmas shopping!)

Dec 16, 2013, 7:54am Top

>163 dchaikin: Digressive but Interesting Tidbit: It can be noted that, here in the US in the early 19th century, the Transcendentalists originally were a split within the Congregational church, the then current expression of the Puritan tradition. Or, as wiki puts it: they were a reaction against 18th century rationalism (and a lot of other things).

I really look forward to your further comments on the book. I'm tempted to chase it down based on your comments thus far, but I know I'd probably never get around to reading it.

Dec 16, 2013, 10:01am Top

Hey Dan Great review of the Edward J Larson book. A few years ago I read his Summer for the Gods book about the Scopes trial and remember it being very through and compelling history. Learned a lot about the actual trial that was lost to myth. Interesting point about the science and history of science aspects, I can't recall clearly how well those were done in Summer for the Gods.

Dec 16, 2013, 5:15pm Top

Dan, excellent critical review of The Theory of Evolution. I have one or two from the Great Courses and I hadn't thought till now to enter them here.

Dec 16, 2013, 5:26pm Top

Great reviews, Dan. I have been a bit too busy to comment on your thread, but I have been reading it.

Dec 16, 2013, 10:44pm Top

Paul - My thread feels especially unique now. Enjoy your shopping.

Lois - your post demands I know what a Transcendentalist is, and what the Congregational Church is...maybe a a good history book on 19th US religious developments would help me.

Kevin - I had no idea Larson had a book out on the Scopes trial. That makes good sense. And yes, he makes it clear in his lectures that there is a big rift between the myth and reality of the Scopes trial.

MJ - I would like to know your thoughts on any Great Courses you might recommend.

Hi Colleen. You do better at keeping up then I do. Thanks.

Dec 16, 2013, 10:45pm Top

Bas - noted on Thesiger.

Edited: Jan 1, 2014, 9:28am Top

63. Pyongyang : A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (2003, 176 pages, read Dec 6-7)
Translated from French by Helge Dascher

The coverage of on North Korea is limited, but it's still Delisle. This is chronicle of a period of time Delisle spent in Pyongyang as some kind of adviser to an animation studio. In his own way he brings an entertaining color to everyone he describes, whether other foreigners, his indecipherable and always present Korean guides, or the very young accordion players on the cover whose strain to play and keep their perfect smiles is painfully visible and symbolic. The problem is that he isn't able to go anywhere so he doesn't actually see North Korea...or even much of Pyongyang.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Delisle

Edited: Jan 1, 2014, 9:28am Top

64. A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting by Guy Delisle (2013, 190 pages, read Dec 7)
Translated from French by Helge Dascher

This is good fun and I laughed out loud and I appreciated the artwork, but these 190 pages take 30 minutes to read, at most.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Delisle

Edited: Jan 1, 2014, 9:28am Top

65. A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World (audio book) by Tony Horwitz (who also narrated), (2008, 464 pages in paper from, Listened Dec 2-10)

My latest audio. It was only OK. A great idea that somehow wasn't as entertaining as it should have been.

Horwitz covers the pre-Pilgrim history of North America exploration, while interviewing serious historian, reenactors, oddballs obsessers, etc. It should be a fun mixture of historical trivia and entertaining interviews. He covers the Vikings, Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Coronado, de Soto, Roanoke Island, Jamestown and finally Plymouth. I didn't know de Soto reached the Savannah river, or that his brief visit marks the end of Indian civilization through that region.

But I never fully enjoyed the book. First of all Horwitz reads somehow wrong. He sounds like he is reading prose, or maybe like a reporter reading shocking news while trying to maintain impartiality. Anyway, I thought the tone was dour. Also the structure doesn't fully work. The history-to-interview-to-history-to-next-topic seems to abbreviate everything and drag it out at the same time. It got old, and by the end I was getting impatient for it finish.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: History-themed audio book available at my library/audio-book of book on my TBR

Dec 18, 2013, 1:37pm Top

Too bad your latest wasn't that good. I'm impressed you made it to the end. BTW, I love the title "A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting". There are many parenting books that take themselves too seriously. It's nice to poke fun at ourselves once in a while. (She says while reading Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens).

Dec 18, 2013, 3:57pm Top

Nice reviews 175-177. I have Pyongyang : A Journey in North Korea on the wishlist. What about Kim III Stalinising his Uncle last week?! Simultaneously chilling and fascinating. Is it the start of a ruthless purge I wonder, or a sign that his grip on power is actually weaker than previously considered? I heard that the executed Uncle was the key man in relations with Beijing - the Chinese leadership is not pleased at all apparently.

Too bad your latest Tony Horwitz was only so-so.

Dec 18, 2013, 4:53pm Top

>73 dchaikin: Your lifetime may not be long enough to know everything:-)

Dec 18, 2013, 8:07pm Top

- "I'm impressed you made it to the end." - Actually it's not so hard with audio and a commute.
- And this made me laugh, but you must be a great mom - "It's nice to poke fun at ourselves once in a while. (She says while reading Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens)."

Paul - I didn't know about Kim Jong Il executing his uncle and appointed mentor (Jang Song Taek). Bad stuff there.

Lois - My lifetime is the wrong order of magnitude.

Edited: Jan 1, 2014, 9:27am Top

66. Cuba: Poems by Ricardo Pau-Llosa (1993, 108 pages, read Sep 21 - Dec 11)

This catches me up probably for the first time all year, although it also makes six so-so books in row for me. (and six miscellaneous books - two audio, two graphic, one geology roadside guide and a poetry collection)

I never did figure out how to read this. There are many interesting things said on many different aspects of the world of Cuban exile, and it was touching. But I never got the poetry part of it. I kept wanting Pau-Llosa to write an essay clearly setting out his thinking, instead the poem I was reading.

ETA: Reading themes that led me here: Florida literature, poetry

Dec 18, 2013, 8:51pm Top

I like your review of Cuba: Carnegie-Mellon Poetry. Not sure why our touchstones are different.

Dec 19, 2013, 12:28am Top

Thanks mk. I think the touchstones are matching now.

Dec 19, 2013, 5:56pm Top

>173 dchaikin: Dan I need to get back to the physics Great Course I acquired on DVD ... right now what I remember most from it is when the instructor stands in a distracting spot in relation to a background image of an atom:

Dec 19, 2013, 10:06pm Top

MJ - That picture makes me laugh.

Dec 20, 2013, 3:21am Top

> 185

Clearly intentional!

Dec 21, 2013, 12:21am Top

Religion and the Decline: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England of Magic by Keith Thomas

Miscellanies from 2/3 of the way through.

I have now read sections on Astrology and Prophecy, and started a fascinating section on witches. I want to get out my thoughts, but they are not so well structured. So, below, just miscellany.


There are four parts to the astrologer’s art:
- general predictions
- nativities (that is what the timing of your birth means for your character and future)
- elections (choosing the right moment for an action),
- horary questions (What does it mean for the future because an event happened at a particular time, with a specific astronomical make-up)

Some useful advice:
’If thou want’st an heir, or man-child to inherit thy land, observe a time when the masculine planets and signs ascend, and {are} in full power and force, then take thy female, and cast in thy seed, and thou shalt have a man-child.’
The odd part about astronomy is that it had intellectual acceptance for about 200 years. That is a long time for a false science.

Astrology was not usually seen as religious or as in competition with religion. This was something of an accomplishment as it was used for many of same reasons - namely for advice on what to do. Avoiding a clash with religion took some smooth talking from the astrologers. Since astrology never works better than random chance, all successful astrologers had ready explanations for any incorrect predictions. One of those was that God could reach in and make changes that contradicted the prediction in the stars, and hence the normal outcome. It works out as a defense of God.

But, by side-stepping the religion, I found the astrology section much less interesting than the other sections. It lacked the drama and soul searching.

But still there is this odd reality that the leading early scientists in England fully believed and appreciated astrology as a real and valuable tool for some 200 years. There is something to be said for checking your data, or not.

Astrology was half a science. The practitioners had to know the sky and know the future of the sky. And they worked at it in order to understand what the sky was telling them. That they concluded it told them something useful (other than the obvious regarding night-vs-day and the seasons), doesn’t mean the effort to be scientific wasn’t there, it only means the application of science was a failure.

And yes, even Isaac Newton also had astrological tendencies, or at least curiosities. He tried to correlate major stellar events to major events in history (Thomas doesn’t comment on his conclusions).

Thomas explains it quite elegantly this way:
“In the absence of any rival system of scientific explanation, and in particular of the social sciences -- sociology, social anthropology, social psychology -- there was no other existing body of thought, religion apart, which even began to offer so all-embracing an explanation for the baffling variousness of human affairs. Nor had the sciences of medicine, biology and meteorology developed enough to offer a convincing and complete understanding of the world of nature. This was the intellectual vacuum which astrology moved in to fill, bringing with it the earliest attempts at a universal law.”

The fall of astrology from the intellectual community came with Galileo and acceptance of the Copernicus’s solar centered system (and presumably with Newton’s findings). It wasn’t that these ideas undid all the astrological math, forcing astrologers to rethink everything, which they did. It simply appears that the acceptance of a better stellar model brought with it a healthy skepticism.

Astrology was big stuff under King Henry VIII, but it seems to have peaked with the astrologer William Lilly, who flourished during the English Civil War and Interregnum (roughly 1644 to 1660). Sly was he was, he still apparently fell out of favor once Charles II became king...even though Charles II was known to contact astrologers. By the time Lilly passed away, in 1681, he was already starting to come under heavy ridicule. Astrology, the 200 year fad for intellectuals, was fading and by about 1700 was out.


It seems that any old writing, or even apparently old writing, could become a prophecy. Many were excitingly discovered over and over again. And prophecies had a habit of being self-fulling, or, as Hobbes put it, were ‘many times the principal cause of the event foretold

The main foundation seems to be the writing of Geoffrey of Monmouth. But there were other sources too. The main prophets were Merlin, Bede, Sir Thomas Becket (whose shrine is the destination in The Canterbury Tales), Mother Shipton (who may have never existed), and Nostradamus - who actually became more significant later on, the 18th century.

The influence of prophecy faded out as history became more structured and it was discovered that many prophecies were forgeries written later. One could usually date them by their accuracy. When detail dissolved out and the prophecy got more vague and inaccurate, that pretty much marks time of composition

What is interesting is that once skepticism took over, even legitimately old prophecies were no longer taken seriously.

But there this oddity.
”The publication of ancient prophecies reached its peak during the Interregnum, even though the historical work which had undermined their intellectual respectability had been carried out decades before. The paradox was that, like so much other occult medieval learning, ancient prophecies were widely distributed at the very time when educated men could no longer take them seriously

A mental shift was necessary to undermine prophecy - and Thomas argues it was change. In a cyclic world prophecy makes sense, actually they assume a continuity. But in the rapidly changing world of 18th-century England, it became hard to believe that those in the past could have foreseen the existing types of problems.

Thomas also makes an interesting social study of prophecy. The was a rebellious sense underlying prophecy. During the reign of King Henry VIII this was big stuff, as Catholics prophets kept predicting doom for England for breaking with the church. There was a big effort to imprison these Catholic prophets. Thomas would argue he had it wrong. The prophecies didn’t cause rebellion, but instead rebellion inspired the prophecies as their justification. Consistent with this is that prophecy was often used as a way to implement major change without the discomfort that comes along with it. Radical changes are shown to have past approval within prophecies. The English monarchs learned to use this to their advantage.

Dec 21, 2013, 4:56am Top

Great to see you posting more thoughts on Religion and the Decline of Magic

Dec 21, 2013, 7:32am Top

I am enjoying your comments on Religion and the Decline of Magic.

Dec 21, 2013, 11:15am Top

So interesting, especially about prophecy and the "mental shift". Sounds like you are really enjoying the book.

Dec 21, 2013, 11:24am Top

Barry, Colleen and Merriay - thanks! I think I'm enjoying the book, at least it's keeping me busy.

Dec 21, 2013, 12:43pm Top

I wonder when I will get to the book myself, and I'm enjoying your thoughts as you go along.

Dec 21, 2013, 12:50pm Top

Interesting comments again on Religion and the Decline of Magic.

It's curious that astrology, of all the pseudo-sciences, lives on despite its being so easy to discredit. Most of our newspapers have an astrology column every day, yet they would laugh at the idea of publishing the latest prophecies or witch sightings. I'm sure this is in part because, as you report, astrology has somehow managed to coexist peacefully with religion.

Dec 22, 2013, 8:35am Top

Thanks Rebecca.

Steven - As I read this I'm trying to get sense of what kinds of people believed in this stuff and what kinds thought it was nonsense. That aspect is not clearly covered, although Thomas does touch on it a lot and provides numerous examples to help give the reader a sense of the reality...or at least a sense of what information is available.

Anyway, per astrology, he doesn't explain why it persists, but he does show that in the intelligentsia is was a 200 year fad. I think that applies today. The scientific community doesn't care about astrology except as an historical oddity.

Dec 22, 2013, 9:01am Top

>32 dchaikin: Dan, I'm trying to catch up, so bear with me as I jump back a bit. If you are at all still interested in John Brown after Midnight Rising, I would strongly recommend Russell Banks' Cloudsplitter. While Banks emphasizes that it is solely a work of fiction, I thought it was a masterpiece of character development and an interesting portrayal of what the Brown's lives may have been like. I have several times visited the site of the family's farm outside of Lake Placid and having read the book, could clearly envision them there.

Dec 22, 2013, 9:15am Top

Noting, Linda. I put it on my wishlist.

Edited: Dec 22, 2013, 9:33am Top

In the mood for lists...

LT has a users collection of top five list here: Top Five Books of 2013

So, I tried to do that and was please to discover how difficult it was. The selected top five:

1. Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison
2. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (2012) by D. T. Max
3. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1601) by William Shakespeare
4. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998) by Anne Fadiman
5. Seeking Palestine (2013) by Penny Johnson & Raja Shehadeh

Clearly a list of personal favorites, not a "best" book (which would be Hamlet ?)

but there were several other great books I read this year...

Dec 22, 2013, 9:43am Top

So, I listed a top twenty, which became impossible because when I tried to compare, say The Trophies of Time with Song of Solomon. But, still, I forced a list. So, the honorable mentions, so to speak, numbered 6-20:

6. Jerusalem : Chronicles from the Holy City (2012) by Guy Delisle
7. Miami (1987) by Joan Didion
8. Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) by Keith Thomas (I'm only 2/3 through this)
9. Song of Solomon (1977) by Toni Morrison
10. The Trophies of Time : English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century (1995) by Graham Parry
11. Strike sparks : selected poems, 1980-2002 (2004) by Sharon Olds
12. Sula (1973) by Toni Morrison
13. The Clockwork Universe (2011) by Edward Dolnick
14. Steve Jobs (2011) by Walter Isaacson
15. The Third Reich (2011 - but written 1989?) by Roberto Bolaño
16. Black Box (1986) by Amos Oz
17. Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Audio Book) (2012) by Steve Sheinkin (highest ranked audio book)
18. The year 1000 (Audio Book) (1999) by Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger
19. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Audio Book) (2011) by David G. McCullough
20. The Bluest Eye (1970) by Toni Morrison

Dec 22, 2013, 9:43am Top

Well, that was fun.

Dec 22, 2013, 11:08am Top

It drove me crazy trying to do that. I got a little reframe hearing you say you were pleased to discover how difficult it was.

Dec 22, 2013, 12:00pm Top

Dan, I'm not quite ready to pick my favorites for the year, because I also think it will be difficult to choose. I might try later this week. I have such busy week. Fun, but busy!

Edited: Dec 22, 2013, 6:09pm Top

I am also not ready to pick my favorites, nor will they be as systematically organized as yours. By the way, we now have a "best of 2013" thread here,, so when you have a chance please copy your posts over there -- if you're so inclined, of course.

I think everyone on LT must know by now that I love Ex Libris too; the only other books on your list I've read are the four Toni Morrisons but I read them so many years ago, they've faded from my memory. So lots to think about on your list.

Dec 22, 2013, 5:41pm Top

R - I will copy it over when I get to a regular computer. I've just been on the iPhone all afternoon.

Dec 22, 2013, 6:15pm Top

A top twenty! Used to be very significant when I was a dedicated follower of the pop charts. 3 Toni Morrisons in your top twenty, reminds me I must get to her soon.

Dec 22, 2013, 10:49pm Top

Merrikay - it is a good problem, since it probably means it was a good year of readings. But, I think I had forgotten how many books I had read and really liked this year until I looked over my list.

Colleen - I just happen to be in the middle of a long book that I may not finish this year, so doing the list now works for me. Enjoy your week.

Rebecca - Your comments make me feel good about the list. I can be very systematic in some quirky ways.

Bas - it's not every year I have a top 20. Morrison was a great experience for me. My reading changed tracks completely at some point and I stopped reading her novels. Too bad. More for the future, of course, but it can be hard to find that right mindset again. I admire your year-long persistence on various themes.

Dec 23, 2013, 12:20am Top

Some other fun year-end stats (assuming I finish Religion and the Decline of Magic)

25 Paperback
17 Hardcover
12 ebook
10 audio
3 magazines

Types of books
16 History
7 Novels
6 Graphic, Poetry & Science books
3 Bible-related, Biographies, Literary reviews & books on Literary criticism
2 Classics, Essay collections, Memoirs, books on Philosophy, Juvenile books, & Medical books
1 Journalism-style books, and Fantasy book

Or, another perspective
32 normal books
35 other - By which I mean: Audio, Graphic, Poetry, Magazines, Juvenile, and one that was really a glorified physical therapy pamphlet.

18 from TBR list (current TBR is 571)
2 were old literary magazines (not exactly on my tbr, also not including the old Paris Review I bought at a used book sale)
21 new
-- 3 were planned buys
-- 18 were random buys
28 from the library
-- 2 were audio versions of books on my TBR
-- 11 were planned reads
-- 15 were random

I acquired 118 books in 2013. (As a house, we discarded about 300, but I don't know how many were "mine". )

Countries in the books
Note - these are not by author, but by my own associations. It is either the place written about, or the culture that seems to be mainly contributing to the text. This list is by nature subjective and inconsistent. I think it means something, but it may not.
25 United States
9 Israel
7 England
3 unknown
2 Denmark, France, & Hundred Acre Wood
1 Canada, Cuba, Iraq, Ireland, Mexico, North Korea, Poland and Spain

Author Gender
45 male
15 female
7 both or who knows

note - I thought Toni Morrison might keep me more gender balanced, but once I switched to history books, almost all the authors were male.

End Thoughts:
- I like the amount of good and rewarding books I encountered. It seems like I read a lot of very good ones. Also I'm happy I read so many books associated with Israel.

- Regrets - Wish there was/were more gender balance, normal books, novels, magazines, memoirs and maybe biographies. Also I wish I was still partially following my original plan to read through the bible, more Morrison and more prep for re-reading Infinite Jest.

- not denting the TBR doesn't bother me. But when my wife suggested I don't buy anymore books this coming year, I had to disagree without explanation, since my explanation is not exactly worked out. But not-buying-more-books does not fit within my realm of comprehension.

Dec 23, 2013, 3:41am Top

But not-buying-more-books does not fit within my realm of comprehension.

Oh yes, I agree, I can say "we probably shouldn't go to the big festivals this year (where we'll come away with 50 books)" but I could never even think of simply not buying anything the whole year!! Blasphemy! :P

Edited: Dec 23, 2013, 7:49am Top

>188 dchaikin: Dan, is his book centered around the UK? Just thinking about other things like Tarot and Kaballah/Cabala (I don't know a lot about the latter, but I believe some of uses might fall in the 'magic' category). I'm enjoying your review of the various parts of the book, experiencing it vicariously through your reading (because I know I'll never get to it at this point in my life)

Love your analysis of your year's reading. I always enjoying doing this also. I noticed particularly your regrets. Now, if I were a psychologist...

Dec 23, 2013, 8:43am Top

PmM - I think we are surrounded by like minds in this aspect here on LT : )

Lois - thanks! The book is entirely focused on England (not even the whole UK), and only touches on other places, such as the rest of Europe, as it applies to England specifically. I don't recall any reference to Cabala. I think there was discussion on cards of some kind, I can't remember exactly. (I did text searches of "Cabala" and "tarot" and they came up with no results)

Dec 23, 2013, 9:09am Top

>210 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. I looked up Tarot after I posted and it seems it became a thing around the early part of the era in which you are reading. Cabala, as applied by others outside the Jewish tradition, seems to lean more towards the magic than the mysticism around the same time -- though much more reading would be needed to suss it out (gawd, I have such a ricochet brain these days)

Dec 23, 2013, 6:38pm Top

Lois - that's for another project.

Dec 23, 2013, 6:40pm Top

more reading summary - dates

2010's...24 (2013...5)

Dec 28, 2013, 11:42am Top

Dan, I really want to get back on board with Bible reading for next year too. It looks like we got lost at Nehemiah. That sounds like a good starting place to me. Tolle, legge!

Dec 31, 2013, 7:54am Top

Dan, I am curious to see where your reading takes you in 2014. I've enjoyed following your thread. Happy New Year!

Dec 31, 2013, 11:24am Top

Colleen - thanks. I have been stalled why out of town. I have time to read, but have not been able to sit down and read a book. Too much going on, I guess. Anyway, home today, looking forward to getting back to routine.

I have been thinking a lot about 2014:
Old Testament
History of Science
Israeli lit
Random TBR stuff
All of it? None of it?
Where do I fit in a regular new novel?
Will I fit in HHhH?
Am I over planning? Under planning?
At what point does my TBR begin to look like one ginormous and intimidating book? Or my reading plan?

Dec 31, 2013, 11:28am Top

But now that Colleen has me thinking about it, here are some lessons from 2013:

- the more i think about what I'm reading the more I enjoy it.
- the more I think about numbers or the next book, the less I enjoy what I'm reading
- planning strangles my reading
- but planning leads toward more rewarding reading
- there is a balance, but I haven't been able to focus and work it out
- Maybe that would be a good way to start 2014.

Dec 31, 2013, 11:39am Top

planning strangles my reading

I'm afraid that is true of my reading as well. I tend to read what I want, which often leads to strings of books on related topics. So I still get the reward of more in depth study of a topic, but it works better for me than trying to plan it ahead of time. I do enjoy some challenges, but I tend to work at it from the back end. Read what I want and then try to stuff them into the challenges. I feel terribly unscientific and unorganized when I look at some readers' plans, but it works for me. I think you will probably like a little more structure, but I thought I would share.

Dec 31, 2013, 12:52pm Top

#218 Ditto! I'm with you, Lisa, on not being organized in my reading -- but that's what works for me.

Dec 31, 2013, 1:34pm Top

> 218

I try to plan as well, but then I have to read for school and it all goes to pot. Hence my 14 in 14, which I will mostly do most of in the summer.

Dec 31, 2013, 4:58pm Top

Well I finally caught up -- much food for thought. I've been planning to read religion and the Decline of Magic for years, but given it's length, it will have to wait for summer (or retirement). Happy New Year, Dan!

Dec 31, 2013, 6:41pm Top

You've just gotta have a plan

Dec 31, 2013, 7:15pm Top


Dec 31, 2013, 7:47pm Top

A plan for Dan man
Like Nigel in XTC
Somewhere worlds collide

Dec 31, 2013, 8:56pm Top

That reference required some googling.

Jan 1, 2014, 9:26am Top

67. Houston Then And Now by William Dylan Powell (2003, 143 pages, read Dec 31)

I kind of re-discovered this while re-arranging books and thought I should read it. An annoying hyper-happy, promotional-feeling introduction did not discourage me, but didn't help the book any. The trivia helped pass some time.

Reading themes that led me here: Houston, but really just a random book around the house that caught my attention

I expect this closes my 2013 thread

Group: Club Read 2013

180 members

23,523 messages


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