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lorax jumps in

Dewey Decimal Challenge

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Edited: Oct 9, 2014, 10:26am Top

I've been dragging my heels on this one for a while now. I've been doing the LC Challenge instead, since I understand that system better, and since it doesn't think nearly 10% of all classification space should be devoted to Christianity. But this group is much more active, so I'm jumping in anyway, for a modified version.

I'm mostly aiming for the "100" divisions (how many is it really, when you take out the "no longer used" categories?) but giving myself full permission to ignore the 200s. I'll do the same "one post per top-level category" system that most people seem to use.

(Started May 20, 2009, but including books read before that date.)

Edited: Apr 11, 2016, 10:32am Top

000: Computer science, information & general works

001 The Demon-Haunted World
002 The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History
003 Chaos: Making a New Science
004 Where Wizards Stay Up Late
005 Crypto
006 The Emperor's New Mind

011 More Book Lust (added 5/17/2010)
016 The Art of Noir

020 The Information (added 1/28/2014)
022 The Book on the Bookshelf
025 Search: How the Data Explosion makes us Smarter (added 4/10/2016)
027 The Story of Libraries (added 10/27/2015)
028 Rereadings (added 8/27/2012)

031 The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest
032 The Visual Miscellaneum (added 2/25/2013)
039 Codex Seraphinianus

069 Treasures of the British Museum

070 And Say Hi to Joyce

081 The John McPhee Reader

091 The Voynich Manuscript (finished 8/11/2010)

Missing divisions:

040 Not assigned or no longer used
050 Magazines, journals & serials

It looks like 050 will be the only reasonable one there. Are people counting magazines there, rather than in their subject area? Edit: To my surprise there was a readable and interesting 091 -- fortunately the "books about X" clause helps out here, so it doesn't actually have to be a manuscript to count.

May 18, 2009, 4:40pm Top

I recommend The Voynich Manuscript as an 091 :)

Edited: Mar 20, 2017, 2:03pm Top

100: Philosophy and psychology

102 Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar (3/20/2017)

111 The Infinite Book (added 4/13/2016)

121 Doubt (added 5/14/2013)
126 The Mind's I
128 Broca's Brain

133 Why People Believe Weird Things (added 10/12)

152 A Natural History of the Senses
153 How the Mind Works
154 The Mind at Night (added 5/17/2016)
155 Last Child in the Woods
158 Ask for It (added 3/28/2011)

160 Crimes against Logic (added 8/23/2016)

174 Doing Nothing (added 5/11/2014)
177 I don't know (added 9/13/2013)

194 Descartes' Bones (added 4/16/2015)

Missing divisions:

140 Specific philosophical schools
180 Ancient, medieval, Oriental philosophy

Edited: Feb 19, 9:47am Top

200: Religion

200 Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms (2/19/2019)
204 I Want to be Left Behind (added 4/05/2011)

211 The Happy Atheist (finished 3/15/2015)

220 The Year of Living Biblically (added 5/12/2014)

230 Welcome: A Unitarian Universalist Primer

241 God Believes in Love (added 5/23/2013)

255 If Nuns ruled the World (added 8/21/2018)

261 On Care for our Common Home by Pope Francis (added 2/23/2017)

277 Letter to a Christian Nation (added 5/26)

293 Norse Mythology (3/2/2017)
294 Ramayana
295 In Search of Zarathustra (9/6/2016)
297 No god but God (12/15/2016)
299 Going Clear (8/27/2014)

The UU book is only in the 230s by historical accident. It certainly wouldn't be there if the classification system were developed today -- it isn't Christian at all. (It has the same issues in the LC system, too.)

Not tracking missing divisions here, because while I appreciate Zoe's consideration I am not going to worry about this category.

Edited: Jun 26, 2018, 12:10pm Top

400: Language

400 The Language Instinct
401 How Language Works
403 The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language
404 The Bilingual Edge (added 5/15/2013)
408 The Last Speakers (finished 4/28/2011)
409 Empires of the Word (finished 11/26/2012)

410 Lingo (2/25/2016)
411 Lost Languages (finished 10/24/2010)
412 Damp Squid (finished 6/30/2017)
413 They Have a Word For It
415 Words and Rules
417 Spoken Here
418 Le Ton Beau de Marot
419 Talking Hands (5/2011)

420 Made in America
421 Righting the Mother Tongue (added 3/14/2016)
422 Origins of the Specious (added 10/03/2013)
423 Reading the OED (added 6/18/2009)
425 The Secret Life of Pronouns (added 1/10/2017)
427 Do You Speak American? (added 5/17/2015)
428 The Fight for English (added 6/23/2018)

439 Born to Kvetch (added 1/20/2010)

440 The Story of French (added 7/06/2016)

450 La Bella Lingua (added 6/20/2017)

460 The Story of Spanish (added 1/20/2015)

470 Ad Infinitum (added 2/16/2016)

487 Riddle of the Labyrinth (added 3/13/2014)

492 Empires of the Plain (added 2/14/2018)
493 The Keys of Egypt (added 7/20/2009)
499 In the Land of Invented Languages (added 2/04/2011)

Missing divisions: none!

Edited: Jul 6, 2018, 4:07pm Top

500: Science

500 Short History of Nearly Everything
501 The Half-Life of Facts (3/15/2016)
502 The Ig Nobel Prizes 2 (7/11/2013)
506 Seeing Further (8/06/2013)
507 The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (added 6/23/2010)
508 The Silent Landscape
509 The Age of Wonder (added 2/02/2011)

510 Godel, Escher, Bach
511 Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences
512 Linear Algebra and Its Applications
513 Finding Zero (swapped in Dec 2014)
514 The Poincare Conjecture (added 7/13/2011)
515 Elementary Differential Equations
516 The Golden Ratio
518 When Computers were Human (added 8/04/2014)
519 The Signal and the Noise (swapped in June 2013)

520 Cosmos
521 Feynman's Lost Lecture (added 4/25/2010)
522 Giant Telescopes (added 8/10/2011)
523 Galactic Astronomy
525 Flat Earth (added 1/10/2017)
526 Longitude: The True Story...
529 Faster

530 The Feynman Lectures on Physics
531 Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems
532 The Archimedes Codex
534 The Sound Book (added 11/4/2015)
535 Optics and Optical Instruments
536 Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics
537 Introduction to Electrodynamics
538 North Pole, South Pole (added 5/15/2013)
539 The Particle at the End of the Universe (swapped in 8/15/2015)

540 The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse
543 Spectra of Atoms and Molecules
546 The Disappearing Spoon
547 Giant Molecules (7/7/2018)

550 The Map that Changed the World
551 Waves and Beaches
553 Salt: A World History
555 Colliding Continents (3/9/2018)
557 Annals of the Former World
558 Devil in the Mountain (10/18/2017)
559 Roadside Geology of Hawai'i

560 Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale
562 The Crucible of Creation (added 5/15/2013)
565 Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution (added 8/5/2015)
567 How to Build a Dinosaur (5/3/2010)
568 Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the evolution of bird flight (12/9)
569 Mammoth: The resurrection of an Ice Age giant (9/8)

570 Naming Nature (8/26/2014)
571 Packing for Mars (6/18/2013)
572 The Making of the Fittest (3/12/2014)
573 The Third Chimpanzee
574 Voyage of the Sanderling
575 The Panda's Thumb
576 The Outer Reaches of Life
577 Where the Wild Things Were (8/29/2009)
578 Return to Wild America
579 Microcosm (11/2012)

581 Seed to Seed (5/2011)
582 A Field Guide to Hawaii's Trees and Shrubs
583 Colorado Desert Wildflowers
584 The Forgiveness of Nature (10/21/2016)
585 The Wild Trees
587 Oaxaca Journal (5/2012)

590 The Animal Review (1/2011)
591 Last Chance to See
592 Waiting for Aphrodite (9/18/2010)
593 Coral (6/03/2015)
594 The Search for the Giant Squid (3/25/2010)
595 Four Wings and a Prayer (6/15/2009)
596 The Kingdom of Rarities (1/30/2015)
597 A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians
598 The Big Year
599 The Red Queen


Missing divisions: none!

Let me just say that the 520s are an area where Dewey really shows its age. It's frankly ludicrous that every single one of the textbooks for a PhD in astronomy are in 523 (with the exception of a couple that aren't in the 520s at all) -- all of modern astronomy is shoehorned into one subcategory, and most of the rest are totally obsolete.

Edited: May 19, 2009, 3:43pm Top

439 Born to kvetch was a pretty amusing look at yiddish - some chapters more than others - there were entire chapters devoted to cursing and body parts, so perhaps not for the faint of heart! But just a suggestion for the Germanic languages category.

May 19, 2009, 3:56pm Top

9> Thanks for the suggestion! It looks amusing.

Edited: Mar 31, 2017, 11:35am Top

900: History, geography, and biography

902 The Cartoon History of the Universe
909 The Discoverers

910 Sailing Alone Around the World
911 Lost States by Michael Trinklein (12/22/2014)
912 Maphead by Ken Jennings (2/2014) - previously was National Geographic Atlas of the World
913 The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek
914 Notes from a Small Island
915 Lost on Planet China (added 8/7/2009)
916 Whatever You Do, Don't Run (added 10/28/2009)
917 Road Fever
918 Darwin Slept Here
919 In A Sunburned Country

920 Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
929 The Language of Names (added 7/21/2011)

930 Time Detectives (added 11/03/2009)
932 Red Land, Black Land (swapped in 10/03/2014)
935 Persian Fire (added 3/31/2017)
936 Seahenge
937 SPQR (added 3/28/2016)
939 The Road to Ubar

940 Medieval Europe: A Short History
941 The Isles: A History
944 A Year in Provence
945 Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa (added 6/25/2009)
946 Driving over Lemons
948 The Almost Nearly Perfect People (finished 7/29/2016)
949 Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (added 12/11/2013)

950 Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (added 10/27/2015)
951 Fried Eggs with Chopsticks
952 Samurai William (added 12/30/2014)
953 Woman who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen (added 2/10/2017)
954 India: A History
955 Persepolis 2
957 Tuva Or Bust! (added 7/8/2010)
958 The Taliban Shuffle (added 8/24/2016)
959 Freedom from Fear and Other Writings (added 5/12/2014)

960 Into Africa (added 6/12/2010)
966 Timbuktu (added 8/04/2014)
968 Long Walk to Freedom (added 9/01/2011)

970 1491
971 Sable Island
972 An Embarrassment of Mangoes
973 I'm A Stranger Here Myself
974 The Perfect Storm
975 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
976 The Girls of Atomic City (swapped in 2/4/2015)
977 The Children's Blizzard
978 The Worst Hard Time
979 A Crack in the Edge of the World (added 3/4/2010)

981 The Unconquered (added 12/19/2013)
982 On a Hoof and a Prayer (added 1/20/2010)
985 Turn Right at Machu Picchu (added 8/27/2012)

993 Kiwis Might Fly (added 6/2/2014)
996 Surviving Paradise (finished 3/01/3015)
998 The Ends of the Earth (finished 9/08/2010)
999 Other Worlds

Missing divisions: none!

Edited: May 26, 2009, 6:49pm Top

Standing as of 5/20/2009:


If I ignore the 200s, I need only 28 more categories to complete the 100s challenge. However I've already done the easy ones -- there's only one on my TBR (and it's in the 200s), none on my wishlist, and two or three that got mentioned here that are on my "investigate further" list.

May 20, 2009, 11:35pm Top

If you're interested in stories of decipherment, I've read a bunch of those in the 400s:

The Linguist and the Emperor in 493 (about the decipherment of hieroglyphics; I'm sure there are plenty of other books like this in the category too)

Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon in 492

The Decipherment of Linear B in 487 (I can't remember how technical this one was, though)

There are also various general books about languages, like The Story of French in 440, though I haven't yet read it myself.

May 21, 2009, 12:57pm Top


Thanks _Zoe_; I'd actually gone through your library and found the first two. I've been waffling between The Linguist and the Emperor and The Keys of Egypt; if you've read the latter, which would you say has more emphasis on the decipherment vs. the biography?

May 21, 2009, 1:06pm Top

I haven't read The Keys of Egypt, but I'd actually recommend it anyway. It's co-written by the author of Empires of the Plain, which I enjoyed. I thought The Linguist and the Emperor was a bit too light to be really satisfying, though it's been a while and I can't remember the specifics. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

May 21, 2009, 1:54pm Top

I read The Decipherment of Linear B when I was about 13 or 14, so it's probably nerd material, but it can't be all that technical.

Edited: Nov 7, 2014, 9:24am Top

(posted 05/26/2009)

277: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

892: Gilgamesh (Stephen Mitchell translation)

I will update the main posts as well.

Edited: Nov 7, 2014, 9:23am Top

While perusing the list of categories looking for areas where I might find something interesting I noticed two more where I've read something that I didn't initially notice above (posted 05/29/2009):

918: Darwin Slept Here by Eric Simons

(This was in my catalog, but misclassified as a 910. It's frustrating that unlike the LC system there isn't a single authority, so when sources differ (and there is no number, or no clear winner, on LT) I have to make a best guess.)

839: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (read way back in high school, but hey, I don't see this one happening otherwise.)

Adding these to the main tracking posts, but not dating them -- I'm only dating actual new reads.

Edited: Nov 6, 2014, 10:45am Top

I'm entering my Read but Not Owned collection, and came across a few more (posted 06/09/2009):

039: Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini

If my cursory scan is correct, I'm the only person in the group with a book in 039!

327: Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky

559: Roadside Geology of Hawai'i by Richard Hazlett

873: The Golden Ass by Apuleius

(That's the only new division from the bunch, and it means I have all 10 for 800, as well as for 500).

976: Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? by Molly Ivins

Getting all 10 sections for the 97xs is now seeming quite reasonable -- I have a possible title for 979, leaving only 971 (Canada). Recommendations, as always, welcome.

Jun 9, 2009, 4:45pm Top

Heh, but what does it mean to read the Codex Seraphinianus?

Jun 9, 2009, 4:51pm Top

Well, I read it as much as anyone can. You may not count it, but you're stricter than most.

Jun 9, 2009, 4:54pm Top

Yeah, it's true, I'm unusually picky. Oh well, maybe someday someone will decipher it.

Edited: Dec 9, 2015, 10:28am Top

595: Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern (posted 06/15/2009)

I'm starting to wish I'd split the 500s into multiple posts; the touchstones are sluggish.

Edited: Dec 9, 2015, 10:35am Top

423: Reading the OED by Ammon Shea (posted 06/18/2009)

I'm not sure but I think I may be the only person here who didn't read The Professor and the Madman for this category. This was a fun book, very suited for reading in short increments as I did. For those who read The Know-it-All for 031, this is the same schtick, but for the OED rather than the Encyclopedia Brittannica -- the author describes his year spent reading the OED, interspersed with discussions of words he found interesting or amusing. (I was pleased to see that "ambisinister", a word I've coined playfully to describe being clumsy with both hands, is in fact a real word appearing in the OED.)

Jun 23, 2009, 12:07am Top

One other suggestion for the 400s--I like to pick up old travel phrase books in various languages. They're usually short, and I find them entertaining. I have a couple of War Department ones from World War II and some other miscellaneous ones. Because I can actually read them all the way through, I've counted some of those in the standard usage categories. They're educational as well--now I can say, "Are you a sniper?" in Italian. Very useful.

Jun 23, 2009, 1:35am Top

@ 28

how do you find those?

Jun 23, 2009, 7:48am Top

Used book stores or sales, mainly. After getting one of the war department ones from a university book sale (for 50 cents), I've gotten a couple of other off eBay because I like them so much.

Edited: Nov 4, 2014, 1:33pm Top

945: Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa by Nicholas Shrady (posted 06/25/2009)

Slight and forgettable. Really more a "history of Pisa, with the tower as a focus" than anything else. What was the most interesting part to me -- the various projects to stabilize the tower over the centuries -- were glossed over much too quickly.

Jun 25, 2009, 4:45pm Top

Too bad, it sounds like it should have been interesting.

Jun 25, 2009, 4:58pm Top


Yeah, it was a disappointment. At least I picked it up for fifty cents at a book sale.

Edited: Nov 3, 2014, 10:36am Top

(posted 07/01/2009)

827: 1066 And All That by W.C. Sellar

Edited: Nov 3, 2014, 10:25am Top

(posted 07/06/2009)

660: Shrinking the Cat by Sue Hubbell

Jul 6, 2009, 4:26pm Top

>35 lorax:
That's a good candidate for the "books with great titles" thread that's floating around somewhere.

Edited: Nov 3, 2014, 10:23am Top

(posted 07/20/2009)

493: The Keys of Egypt by Lesley Adkins

This was something of a disappointment; there was more on the biography and less focus on the actual decipherment than I would have liked. It's made me reconsider whether I want to read the other Adkins book on decipherment (Empires of the Plain, which Zoe mentioned upthread), if it's just going to be more of the same.

Jul 20, 2009, 2:19pm Top

I'm sorry if I misled you! If you don't want any biography, you probably shouldn't bother with Empires of the Plain. But you might still enjoy Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet or The Decipherment of Linear B.

Jul 20, 2009, 2:56pm Top


Well, you said you hadn't read Keys of Egypt, so you didn't mislead me, I did that all on my own. :) And I don't mind a little biography mixed in with the history, the balance of this was just a little too much on the biography side.

Edited: Oct 31, 2014, 1:58pm Top

(posted 08/07/2009)

628: Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet by John C. Ryan

This is a good one for those of you struggling with the 600s -- while it's a little dated and didn't have much I didn't know, it was still interesting -- it looks at seven small things like the bicycle and the clothesline and the environmental benefits of using them.

915: Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

Bill Bryson-style travel narrative about China. I'm amused that this one falls in the travel section (which it should), while the fairly similar Fried Eggs with Chopsticks has just enough history mixed in between the travel sections to get classified as 951 (history).

Edited: Oct 31, 2014, 1:55pm Top

577: Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg (posted 08/29/2009)

This was an Early Reviewer book. My review is at


Highly recommended.

Aug 31, 2009, 2:37pm Top

What a wonderful review of Where the wild things were. I have now immediately added it to my wishlist.

It's interesting though - the debate about top-down (ie predators control what ecosystems look like and how they function) vs. bottom-up (ie. the supply/limitation of nutrients controls ecosystems via the growth of primary producers - plants - and hence primary consumers - herbivores - and secondary consumers - omnivores and carnivores) goes back and forth, and some ecosystems show evidence of one while others show evidence of the other, etc. Likely, it is not hard and fast, but a spectrum whose rules we still don't fully understand.

It's really cool that the book starts out with the otter and star fish examples. Those papers are very famous within the ecology and marine biology communities, and are getting to be considered 'classic' by many. I remember reading them for classes I've taken.

Sep 1, 2009, 2:36pm Top

Thanks, bfertig! I agree that the top-down vs bottom-up issue is probably a false dichotomy, and I'm glad that someone who actually knows what they're talking about agrees. :)

Edited: Oct 31, 2014, 1:52pm Top

634: Introduction to Fire in California by David Carle (posted 09/01/2009)

I've had this on my shelf for about a year now, and was finally prompted to pick it up by the Station Fire which is now burning near us (not close enough to be a threat -- just close enough to ruin the air, and have very impressive views of flaming mountains when they aren't obscured by smoke).

This should be required reading for anyone living in southern California.

Edited: Sep 1, 2009, 3:46pm Top

Interesting - I received Wildfire and Americans from someone on Bookmooch - it looked interesting at the time, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Have you read that one? It's 307 (Communities), so it could give you another DDN as well.

Edited: Oct 30, 2014, 12:06pm Top

(posted 09/08/2009)

569: Mammoth: the resurrection of an Ice Age giant by Richard Stone

Edited: Oct 30, 2014, 12:05pm Top

Two after a long lull (posted 10/12/2009):

643: Homes and Other Black Holes by Dave Barry

What an easy one!

133: Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer

This was my first for the 130s, which was my first new division since July, and in what would be an extremely tough category for me.

Edited: Oct 15, 2009, 5:06pm Top

>47 lorax:
What did you think of Why People Believe Weird Things? It's a subject that's always interested me. I read How We Know What Isn't So last year and enjoyed it, especially the first parts of the book that talked about the cognitive and social elements of how we are given and how we perceive information (backed with simple psychology experiments). The later parts just devolved into the author pointing out how silly some of these beliefs were instead of tying them back to the earlier topics. I know the beliefs are silly - that's what makes the topic interesting to me. Does the author really dig into why people believe these things?

Edited: Oct 30, 2014, 11:54am Top

916: Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison (posted 10/27/2009)

This was very enjoyable.

Oct 27, 2009, 1:26pm Top


Sorry I missed your question earlier! It does dig into the "why" somewhat, especially in the introductory and concluding chapters, but I wouldn't say that's the sole focus.

Oct 28, 2009, 8:34pm Top

Thanks. I read a bit of the introduction at the library today. It seems interesting. And I need something for the category - it's either this or a history book the Salem witch trials.

Edited: Oct 27, 2014, 4:34pm Top

(posted 11/03/2009)

930: Time Detectives by Brian Fagan

This is a good popular overview of a number of interesting archaeological finds, with the unifying theme of 'archaeology isn't just digging up pots anymore'. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Nov 3, 2009, 10:11pm Top

#52 This one looks very interesting, I'm adding it to the wishlist to check out later.

Nov 4, 2009, 5:08pm Top

Agreed, I was convinced I wanted to be an archeologist when I was a kid.

Edited: Oct 27, 2014, 4:34pm Top

(posted 12/09/2009)

568: Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the evolution of bird flight by Pat Shipman

This was okay, nothing special, but not exactly boring either. It's a tough category, though, so I was glad to have this one!

Edited: Oct 27, 2014, 4:20pm Top

(posted 12/15/2009)

954: India: A History by John Keay

Finally! I've been reading this on and off (a couple chapters between other non-fiction books) for what seems like forever. I'd been looking for years for a good, comprehensive history of India that didn't start when the British arrived (or worse, when they left) and this fit the bill in spades -- sufficiently comprehensive that it was very slow going and hard to follow at times. I would have liked it to be a little less of the kings-and-battles school of history, though I do understand that sometimes that's all that's available.

650: Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich

This, on the other hand, was a quick read. Not as good as Ehrenreich's earlier Nickel and Dimed but still worth a read.

Dec 15, 2009, 9:41pm Top

#56 India, A History looks very interesting, I've added it to the wishlist. Have you seen that Keay has another - similar - book out called China, A History? Will fit in #951, if you don't already have something there.

Edited: Oct 24, 2014, 11:58am Top

895: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (posted 01/04/2010)

Thanks for the suggestion, sjmccreary -- I already have 951 covered, but hopefully someone else will find the recommendation useful. (And I've had enough Big Fat History Tomes for a while, but that does look like one to come back to later!)

Edited: Oct 24, 2014, 11:51am Top

(posted 01/20/2010)

439: Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex

I finally got around to reading this based on bfertig's recommendation from way back in May. It was interesting, even though I'm very much not the target audience for it -- I would have liked a bit more on Yiddishisms in English, and why they're so widespread, but that just wasn't what this book was about. Still, pickings are slim in the 400s, so I did appreciate the suggestion.

982: On a Hoof and a Prayer by Polly Evans

This would have fit equally well in 918 (South American travel) and 982 (Argentine history), since it's almost exactly equally divided between the two categories. My copy had it in 982, though, so that's what I'm going with. Entertaining and a quick read.

Jan 20, 2010, 2:20pm Top

Status as of 1/10/2010:

10/10 (100%)
71/99 (72%)
190/908 (21%)

Jan 20, 2010, 2:38pm Top

You're really moving along with this!

Jan 21, 2010, 2:18am Top

I was planning on reading Born to Kvetch too. Is it going to fly right over my head if I'm not sufficiently Jewish?

Jan 21, 2010, 8:06am Top

59, 62. Yes, there could have been more on the Yiddishisms in English and their spread, that would have been interesting as well. I wonder if it has something to do with Jews in Hollywood and the media - it's easy to spread words/phrases/ideas that way, and there is a long history there.

Um, it probably does have a target audience... of which I'm a part and so I did enjoy it and found myself actually laughing out loud at times, which is *extremely* rare for me; hence my recommendation. Other times I was pretty chagrined - it's not a *pleasant* language and didn't evolve to be beautiful. That being said, I felt it was pretty good at explaining itself, the general context and such, so I don't know that one has to be 'sufficiently Jewish' to appreciate it.

And there are some wonderfully creative ways to express displeasure with someone - much better than the common words used today generally. There's a whole chapter on cursing out people. I have a couple favorites from the book. For example, 'S/he should live as a chandelier; hang by day and burn by night!' Not that I've ever actually used any of these or directed them towards anyone. But they are a lot more creative!

Jan 21, 2010, 4:55pm Top

Good to hear. I'd heard that you miss a good bit of the humor in a lot of Jewish books unless you were raised Jewish and know Yiddish.

Edited: Feb 2, 2010, 5:33pm Top

"It looks like 050 will be the only reasonable one there. Are people counting magazines there, rather than in their subject area?"

I found a interesting book in 051 so apparently there are actual books in that division. The book is one of the few on my 000 tbr list I am pretty excited about. It's about 19th century men's magazines.

The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York

Feb 2, 2010, 6:05pm Top

I read The World Through a Monocle, about the New Yorker, for 051. It's pretty good. If you click on the touchstone, you can see my review.

Edited: Oct 23, 2014, 10:10am Top

382: A Splendid Exchange by William Bernstein (posted 02/09/2010)

This wasn't perfect (I'm going to write a review, and will post a link when I have) but it was a very interesting history of trade and globalization. For me the book dragged a bit in the last couple of chapters, especially the final chapter when the author's own opinions became more obvious and relevant (since modern political and economic views aren't terribly relevant when discussing Sumer or the Silk Road, this only mattered late in the book.) Still, very much worth reading.

Edited: Oct 23, 2014, 10:08am Top

(posted 03/05/2010)

690: A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke

Think A Year in Provence in Morocco, with more emphasis on house renovation, and you're pretty much there. Quick, fluffy read, but gets a hard category.

979: A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester

Very interesting history of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; I was initially skeptical about whether a single event could fill an entire book, but between seismological background for people unfamiliar with the basics and a quick history of San Francisco up to 1906, it had just the right level of detail. Recommended.

Edited: Oct 23, 2014, 10:05am Top

594: The Search for the Giant Squid by Richard Ellis (posted 03/25/2010)

Outdated if viewed as a book on the current understanding of giant squids, but interesting enough as a historical overview (which is mostly what it was intended as), and there doesn't appear to be anything more up-to-date out there.

Mar 26, 2010, 8:33am Top

Too bad there's not something more recent. It's such an interesting topic.

Edited: Oct 23, 2014, 10:06am Top

681: The Difference Engine by Doron Swade (posted 04/11/2010)

Not to be confused with the alternate history (and proto-steampunk) novel by William Gibson, this is a history of Babbage's difference engine and a modern re-creation. It was pretty interesting -- the author does a lot of de-mythologizing of Babbage and (especially) Lovelace; he may have been a bit too harsh in places, but they're still interesting enough without the modern deification. The first two-thirds of the book are historical, and the final third is about an attempt to build a full-scale difference engine to Babbage's plans, to see whether it would have been possible to build a working model with nineteenth-century engineering. (Babbage had a working engine, but it wasn't full-scale.)

I was initially surprised by the placement of this book (681 is "Precision Instruments"), but from a nineteenth-century perspective, that's exactly what this is -- the DDC was developed after the difference engine and before computers, after all, so in its own context this is a perfectly good category for this book.

Edited: Oct 23, 2014, 10:06am Top

521: Feynman's Lost Lecture by David Goodstein (posted 04/25/2010)

Well, I found this interesting, but I'm not sure that that's going to be a universal. It's about a lecture Feynman gave, after he was no longer teaching the Caltech freshmen (so it isn't in the Feynman Lectures) about Newton's proof that planetary orbits are elliptical. It's very clever -- purely geometric -- but, despite not requiring any advanced math, is not trivial to follow. Goodstein first discusses the history of the problem, and outlines the proof in detail, before providing a transcript of Feynman's lecture. I wish there were actual photos of the diagrams Feynman used, rather than re-creations, but I understand that they just aren't available. Due to the extremely outdated arrangement of the 520s (where all of modern astronomy is in 523), the 520s are a difficult section, and I was glad to find this one.

May 1, 2010, 7:03pm Top

I'd really like to give that Feynman book a try someday. I've come close several times after picking it up in the library and the putting it right back down. I'm just intimidated by the math. I was never lost in high school geometry but never went any further than that and would probably need some reference beside while I read it. Just need to put the effort in I suppose. I think I can, I think I can . . .

May 1, 2010, 10:24pm Top

I missed the Difference Machine post, but since we have a bit of xkcd I think we ought to have some Kate Beaton too.

Edited: Oct 21, 2014, 9:37am Top


And, of course, some Sydney Padua.

567: How to Build a Dinosaur by Jack Horner (posted 05/04/2010)

This was entertaining, but despite being short it seemed padded with background details about dinosaur paleontology and the evolutionary history of birds. The core idea -- tweaking gene expression in birds to produce something that looks like a dinosaur -- was probably only a long article's worth. Still, as a book purchased in the airport (!) that hadn't even been on my radar, it was an interesting read.

Edited: Oct 21, 2014, 9:36am Top

011: More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (posted 05/17/2010)

Not intended to be read through, but this way (admittedly, reading it in snippets of a few minutes over the course of a couple weeks) I get to count it for the challenge. This did very bad things to my wishlist, or at least to my "investigate these books" list, and I'm sure I'll revisit it in a more normal fashion (e.g. "I'm feeling like a book about X, what's good") in the future. Just as soon as I've read the 20 books it already added to my list.

May 17, 2010, 12:55pm Top

Those books look so good, but I don't exactly need help finding things to read at the moment!

May 17, 2010, 1:11pm Top

It's been a year since I started the challenge (well, one day less than a year, but I'm not going to finish any new sections in the next day) so it's a good time for a roundup of progress:

Classes: 10/10
Divisions: 72/99
Sections: 197/908

When I started, I was at:

Classes: 10/10
Divisions: 65/99
Sections: 167/908 (This is not quite what I have in my first post, because this is including my read-but-not-owned that were added to my library and thus to this list after that post.)

As an aside I note that I've added at least one section to every class except the 7xx in the last year. I do have a couple 7xx on my TBR shelf; maybe I should move them up the queue!

May 17, 2010, 5:16pm Top

That's some serious progress. I just passed my one year mark too, but I didn't take steps to keep track of how many I read in my first year. I'm keeping count now within the calendar year so I can pat myself on the back come New Years.

May 17, 2010, 8:29pm Top

Great progress! I don't think I've been getting through more than ten categories in a year.

May 22, 2010, 1:24am Top

Nice progress.

Have you been adding reviews for each finished book?

May 22, 2010, 1:58pm Top


Thank you!

No, I haven't been reviewing every book; there are brief reactions to a few of them here, but I've only reviewed a few (ER books or those where I both had something to say and it hadn't already been said by other reviewers.)

I am going to review one of my current Dewey reads, though, because I'm liking it a lot and there aren't any reviews on LT yet.

Edited: Oct 21, 2014, 9:35am Top

913: The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe (posted 06/02/2010)

This very short book (which I read due to a recommendation on this group -- I no longer remember who mentioned it, but thank you!) is mostly an attempt to recreate the titular voyage from the 4th century BC, from what is now Marseilles to, according to the author, Iceland by way of the British Isles. (The route is uncertain since the text of Pytheas's description of the voyage has been lost, and we have only second-and third-hand references to it to work from.) Cunliffe provides brief archaeological evidence for what the various regions Pytheas encountered would have been like, and uses these to argue for his recreation of the route (where the tin was mined, where amber was gathered, etc.)

Edited: Oct 17, 2014, 9:46am Top

960: Into Africa: A Journey Through the Ancient Empires by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle (posted 06/15/2010)

My first new division since March.

I'd been looking for a while for a history of Africa with a longer timeline than post-colonialism, and something a little less gloomy than the child-soldier/refugee stories that seem to fill the Africa section of my local bookstore. I no longer remember how I stumbled on this one, but I'm glad I did. Jointly written by a historian and a South African writer whose family has lived in South Africa for centuries, this book provides a brief overview of the history of the entire continent based on ancient empires (as the subtitle suggests); interpersing history (which tends to become depressingly repetitive after a couple dozen countries: shifting tribal alliances, empires, conquest, migration, European contact, slavery, colonialism, democracy, coup) with vivid descriptions of modern Africa, the book covers the entire continent, and I'm pretty sure that every country at least gets mentioned briefly.

Jun 18, 2010, 5:15pm Top

#84 That actually sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review.

Edited: Oct 17, 2014, 9:45am Top

I just realized that I've been negligent about updating this (posted 07/06/2010):

507: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson

See my review.

798: Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman by Polly Evans

Travel writer Polly Evans goes to the Yukon in winter (thus putting this squarely into the category of "interesting to read about other people doing this, but I'd never dream of doing it myself" travel literature) to go dogsledding. I've loaned this to my friend who has an Alaskan Husky (in Southern California!), figuring that if I enjoyed it as a thorough cat person, she'd love it.

Jul 6, 2010, 1:51pm Top

Good review, definitely worth the wait.

Edited: Oct 17, 2014, 9:40am Top

Thanks fundevogel!

Since it took me so long to enter the last two I have another one already (07/08/2010):

957: Tuva Or Bust! by Ralph Leighton

This was a fun little book about Richard Feynman's attempt, with a few of his friends (one of whom was the author) to visit Tuva, an obscure region of what was then the Soviet Union and which is now best-known for "throat singing". Sadly Feynman never made the trip, though the author did eventually succeed, but the story of all the attempts they made and the Tuvan pen-pal they acquired was a lot of fun anyway. (In a side note of interest to members of this group, I note that when someone writes a book about a famous physicist trying to travel to what is technically Siberia (the Asian part of Russia), you get what may be the only book in the world that's cross-classified as QC/Physics by the LC and 957/History of Siberia by Dewey!)

Jul 8, 2010, 3:13pm Top

If you like physics, Six Easy Pieces by Feynman is spectacular.

Jul 8, 2010, 3:44pm Top


I'm not really the target audience for that one, but thank you -- it may be a useful recommendation for someone else here!

Jul 8, 2010, 6:06pm Top

89, 90 -- My book club read Six Easy Pieces, but it wasn't easy enough for me! But I found it interesting how often he said "we don't really know . . . "

Edited: Oct 17, 2014, 9:41am Top

307: The Works: Anatomy of a City by Kate Ascher (posted 08/02/2010)

My wife bought this not from any particular interest in infrastructure or urban planning but because of the neat graphical design of the book; it was clear from flipping through it in the bookstore that someone had really read their Tufte. It is a beautifully put together book that happens to be about how a city works, and specifically about New York City. I've never even been in NYC (not counting changing planes at the airport), and have no particular interest in it, but this book was fascinating, both in the little details and in the big-picture stuff (like just how deeply, profoundly unsustainable New York is!) The book sometimes seemed to be mostly for an extremely insular New York audience (are there really people who don't know that 911 is a nationwide thing?) but with a little skimming of some of the more specific details it was still interesting as a detailed case study.

Aug 2, 2010, 3:53pm Top

I think I already have one for 307, but that sounds fascinating.

Edited: Oct 15, 2014, 1:26pm Top

091: The Voynich Manuscript by Gerry Kennedy (posted 08/11/2010)

Recommended by Kira waaaaay back in message 3. Thanks, Kira! It was indeed interesting.

Aug 11, 2010, 3:14pm Top

I just read an article on that the other day arguing it was a fraud probably made to bilk a credulous collector. Sadly I can't find the article.

Aug 11, 2010, 3:19pm Top


That's certainly one of the hypotheses discussed in the book, and the one the authors find most believable (and me too), though the question of when the fraud took place (i.e. was it Voynich himself, the 'discoverer' of the manuscript, or was it an earlier fraud?) remains unanswered.

Aug 11, 2010, 4:07pm Top

Hmm, I'm going to have to read this one eventually.

Edited: Oct 15, 2014, 1:24pm Top

381: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Shell (posted 08/16/2010)

Disjointed. I was stuck in an airport, I'd finished my other book, this was the most readable-looking thing in the bookstore. The chapters individually are usually pretty interesting, there's some neat facts in here, but it doesn't hold together and Shell doesn't offer any suggestions for what to do about the problems she describes.

Aug 18, 2010, 7:18am Top

Thanks for the reminder about The Voynich Manuscript; I was just thinking I needed something in the 000s.

Edited: Oct 15, 2014, 1:23pm Top

998: The Ends of the Earth edited by Elizabeth Kolbert (posted 09/08/2010)

I had a surprisingly hard time finding something for 998 -- it seems like all the Antarctic exploration books I looked at were just filed under 910. Still, this collection of excerpts, both fiction and non-fiction, fit the bill, was mostly interesting, and added several books to my wishlist. I did find some of the Antarctic portions repetitive; the journals from one early expedition are much like those from another, in their repetition of cold, lack of food, and miles covered in sledging.

With a 99x I'm now 10/10 in the 900s (as well as in the 500s and 800s)!

Sep 10, 2010, 12:01pm Top

#100 Congratulations on another 10/10 milestone! You're way ahead of me - the most I've got is 6/10 in the 800's and 5/10 in the 300's and 900's.

Sep 10, 2010, 9:18pm Top


Thanks! Being a scientist by training helped a lot in the 500s, and getting 10/10 in the 900s was one of my goals for 2010. (I think I had 7/10 when I started the challenge.)

Sep 11, 2010, 12:46pm Top

#102 - lucky you! Being an accountant by training only provides me with a few sections in the 650's (which also seems to include secretarial topics like shorthand). However, I see that I haven't even filled in the few spaces that I do have professional reading for.

I recall you mentioning before that your area of expertise is astronomy - is that right? Can you recommend anything in that field for a non-scientist that hasn't been dumbed down too much? (Just because I didn't study science doesn't mean that I'm incapable of learning. It annoys me when authors oversimplify things.)

Sep 11, 2010, 12:48pm Top

Congratulations on the 900s!

Sep 22, 2010, 4:37pm Top

sjmmcreary, unfortunately, I don't tend to actually read much popular-level astronomy these days, so I don't have any first-hand recommendations. Neil Tyson's books like Death by Black Hole might be interesting. Stephen Hawking certainly isn't dumbed down, but A Brief History of Time is probably showing its age, and it's also rather narrow in focus on cosmology rather than observational astronomy. Frankly the best material here is probably in magazines like Astronomy or Sky & Telescope.

carlym, thank you! That was one of my goals for 2010 -- I'd been sitting at one book left for each of the goals for a while, until I realized that it was September already and I needed to actually focus if I wanted to reach them.

Edited: Oct 15, 2014, 1:22pm Top

592: Waiting for Aphrodite by Sue Hubbell (posted 09/22/2010)

Eh. A set of article-length writings (though there's no indication they were actually published independently) about various invertebrates the author found interesting, interspersed with personal anecdotes about why they interest her. Accessible, informative in parts, but just not that interesting or well-written.

Edited: Oct 13, 2014, 2:00pm Top

338: Farmer Jane by Temra Costa (posted 10/14/2010)

A long-delayed ER book. My review is here.

Edited: Oct 13, 2014, 2:00pm Top

411: Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson (posted 10/25/2010)

This book was a lot of fun. I like both linguistics and codes and puzzles, and undeciphered scripts fall very nicely at the intersection of the two. It's a very nicely put-together, extensively illustrated volume talking about decipherment, starting out with short histories of three important successful decipherments (Egyptian hieroglyphics, Linear B, and the Mayan glyphs), and moving on to discuss a dozen or so undeciphered scripts. I was going to recommend it to _Zoe_ specifically before I checked and saw that she already has it in her library; oh well.

Oct 26, 2010, 11:09am Top

That one has been on my wishlist for a while now. I keep hoping it will pop up on BookMooch so I can snag a copy. Now even more so.

Oct 26, 2010, 1:39pm Top

I still appreciate the recommendation, since I haven't actually gotten around to reading the book yet!

Edited: Oct 13, 2014, 1:57pm Top

794: The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine by Tom Standage (posted 12/01/2010)

Profoundly mediocre.

Dec 1, 2010, 3:37pm Top

That's a shame. The Turk is probably one of the most interesting hoaxes I've heard of.

Dec 1, 2010, 5:34pm Top

>111 lorax: Oh, that's too bad. It's a fun topic. In fact, I'm still tempted to read the book despite its mediocrity.

Dec 2, 2010, 10:42am Top

112, 113>

I know! Such a great topic, and I've enjoyed Standage's other books, but this one just didn't do it for me. I think there just may not have been enough material for a book here; there was a bit too much blow-by-blow ("And then he took the Turk to another city, where it played against X. And then Y published another explanation that wasn't quite right.") for my tastes; I'd have liked more contextualization (the parts talking about automata in general and at the end talking about computer chess were among the better parts of the book).

fundevogel, one of the things that was interesting is that I'm not sure anymore that "hoax" is the best word to use, since I'm not sure the intent to deceive was there. It may have been more akin to stage magic, especially toward the end of the Turk's career; nobody was expected to believe that an automaton was really playing chess on its own, and the fun was in trying to figure out how the trick was done. It may have started off as a hoax, in that people were supposed to believe it really was autonomous, but that didn't last as long as the Turk did.

I should point out that I try to keep my ratings relatively balanced; the 2.5 stars I gave this is "Below average", not "Book-hurlingly awful" as it would be for some.

Edited: Oct 10, 2014, 9:51am Top

A few more squeaked in before the end of 2010 (posted 12/29/2010):

636: Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien

A short memoir about a South Dakota rancher's transition from raising cattle (ecologically devastating) to raising bison (much better for the prairie). Nothing too profound, but well-written (the author's a novelist) and interesting enough if you have some interest in the region. It reminded me a bit of Waiting for Coyote's Call, which was an ER offering (which I didn't request, because it was an ebook) which some people may have read. I finished this one a few weeks ago and forgot to update the thread.

590: The Animal Review by Jacob Lentz

I'm almost embarrassed to count this piece of fluff (a Christmas gift from my brother in our annual book exchange, overcompensating for the Serious Weighty Novels he's given the past few years) but it's a valid fit for the category. With tongue firmly in cheek the authors assign grades to various animals (pandas: fail, for their difficulty reproducing. King cobras: A+, because are you going to tell the cobra it got a bad grade?) Amusing, but don't spend money on a thin read-once humor book that will take you half an hour to read. (This was an ER offering, which I didn't request at the time.)

359: The Frigate Surprise by Brian Lavery and Geoff Hunt

I don't need to say much here. If you're a Patrick O'Brian fan, you'll be interested anyway; if not, you won't. This is a beautifully illustrated volume (Hunt did the cover illustrations for the Aubrey/Maturin books) covering the history of the real HMS Surprise (which in reality was decommissioned when Aubrey gets the captaincy in fiction.) This also got me a VA in the LC Challenge.

Not bad, considering I didn't seek any of these out as new categories!

Edited: Oct 9, 2014, 9:08am Top

509: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes (posted 02/03/2011)

My review appears to have been eaten by gremlins, so while I'm trying to see if I have a local copy saved (I used to do all my reviews in Google Docs, but lately for some reason it's been unusably slow for me), I'll just say that this was a bit of a disappointment; it reminded me of why I don't read many biographies, by spending too much time on the personal lives of the scientists involved (and spending only a sentence or two on some major discoveries that weren't the ones he'd chosen to focus on.) One line about Davy's discovery of sodium, but pages worth of his (not very good) poetry. Holmes also strays too far out of his area of expertise when he tries to mention modern analogues, particularly the Hubble Space Telescope, and fails miserably; everything he says about is is misinterpreted, missing the point, or just plain wrong. It mostly gets very good reviews, and I don't think it's a bad book; it just didn't work for me.

Edited: Oct 9, 2014, 9:06am Top

499: In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent (posted 02/04/2011)

This was an absolute delight. It's a history of, as the title suggests, invented languages, which mostly sort themselves into three historical eras (the philosophical attempts to design a 'perfect' language derived from a hierarchical arrangement of all the concepts in the universe; the utopian attempts to foster peace and understanding through a universal language (the most successful of which is Esperanto); and the languages created for the sheer fun of playing with language, the best-known of which is Klingon (which, I was surprised to learn, was actually created by a real linguist, and has a full and very complicated grammar including many features not found in any European languages and not found together in any natural language, rather than just being a bunch of words to be substituted into English sentences.) The creators of the just-for-fun languages come off better than most of the utopians (many of whom seem rather megalomaniacal), and Okrent doesn't take the easy route of mocking speakers of Esperanto or Klingon.

One bit toward the end, when she's attending a conference for creators of languages, struck me in particular, since it expresses a sentiment I think almost anyone who's been a graduate student in any field can identify with:

I was...reminded of the reasons I had gone into linguistics in the first place -- my own heart-fluttering fascination with languages. Over the years that visceral feeling had been somewhat dampened by the intellectual focus that an academic track demands. All linguists begin with that spark of love for language, but they sometimes end up so involved in supporting a theory or gathering evidence against someone else's theory that they forget it. Languages become cold bundles of data that they pick through for what they need. There is value in this kind of activity, and sometimes excitement as well, but it rarely inspires delight.

If I were the type to write in books, this would get a big fat YES THIS in the margin. Substitute "astronomy" for "linguistics" and other suitable replacements, and it's exactly right. Sometimes things are a lot more fun at the amateur level when you can remember what got you excited in the first place rather than wondering why your code won't compile.

By the way, for anyone doing the LC Challenge as well, this is a PM, which is a difficult category too.

Feb 5, 2011, 10:43am Top

That sounds fascinating! Thanks for the recommendation and great review.

Feb 5, 2011, 11:02am Top

Thanks, carlym, I really enjoyed it.

Edited: Oct 9, 2014, 9:04am Top

624: Why Buildings Stand Up by Mario Salvadori (posted 03/01/2011)

To make a long story short, I read this because my father-in-law doesn't have a copy of Why Buildings Fall Down. It's an overview of exactly what the title suggests (though "buildings" should be understood to include other large structures like bridges); a chapter on a particular structural element like arches or roofs, followed, usually, by a chapter about a particular building exemplifying that element, like the Brooklyn Bridge for bridges. The example chapters were pretty interesting, but the general chapters dragged. This could have been improved by better illustrations, I think. The book's not at all technical, and that may actually be a detriment; a few sketched force diagrams could have really helped me understand what the author was talking about in several places.

Mar 3, 2011, 5:16pm Top

>120 lorax:
I read that some time ago. I don't have the strongest recollection of it but do agree that the chapters on specific structures stood out. It was the first thing I ever read that really made me appreciate the Eiffel Tower.

Mar 16, 2011, 12:20pm Top

117 > that sounds really great!

Edited: Oct 7, 2014, 11:12am Top

158: Ask For It: How women can use the power of negotiation

I belatedly realized that this surpassingly dull bit of career-development drivel (my wife had been it hounding me to read it; finishing it was the easier course of action compared to explaining why I didn't) at least gets me a new section on the challenge, its only redeeming feature.

Edited: Oct 7, 2014, 11:11am Top

204: I want to be left behind (posted 04/05/2011)

Not what I was expecting, and a bit of a disappointment, but the 2xx are hard enough for me that anything that didn't make me want to throw the book against the wall is probably a good thing here. (And it's even a new division, my first for 2011; those are getting harder and harder to come by.)

Edited: Oct 7, 2014, 11:09am Top

614: The Ghost Map (posted 04/15/2011)

Late to the party on this one, I'm afraid. An interesting read, but not one to read at the breakfast table.

May 3, 2011, 5:37pm Top

#124 The fact that you refrained from throwng this book against the wall is impressive. I have to admit that it sounds awful to me. But congrats on the new division.

In an unusual turn of events, none of your books ended up on my wishlist this month! (I'm bracing myself for next month.)

Edited: Oct 7, 2014, 11:08am Top

408: The Last Speakers (posted 05/20/2011)

I already had this on my shelf when fundevogel posted her review, or I may not have picked it up, despite it filling a difficult category. It's more about dying cultures than languages; Harrison argues that if you've got a single word for, say, "uncastrated three-year-old male reindeer", it's easier to talk about reindeer than otherwise, but that's about as far as his emphasis on language goes. He doesn't actually go into what makes these languages interesting linguistically at all, which risks suggesting to most readers that languages are just a collection of vocabulary with nothing interesting structurally going on. I'd have liked to see more than one brief mention early on about actual issues of linguistics.

(As an aside, Harrison totally misses the point on the whole tiresome "How many 'Eskimo' words for snow are there" thing; even I know that most of it's just that many of the Inuit languages are agglutinative, so that what would be a long string of adjectives in English is a single word. There's nothing profound revealed by having "freshly fallen snow with a hard crust on top" be all smushed together instead in one word instead of nine, if your language is one that routinely does that sort of thing and makes words as needed.)

Edited: May 20, 2011, 3:50pm Top

Disappointing right? It got me all excited with the early chapter about how language can influence cognitive process with the bit about the how that nomadic tribe communicated location and directions and then it just fizzled out.

Do you think it ought to be taken off the suggestions wiki or left with a caveat?

May 20, 2011, 4:30pm Top


I'm inclined to leave it with a caveat. In my opinion it wasn't actively bad, just disappointing. If someone finds something that's actually good for that category, though, I'd remove this one.

Edited: Oct 6, 2014, 11:14am Top

(posted 06/14/2011)

419: Talking Hands by Margalit Fox

Talking Hands is a riveting account of the linguistics of sign language and language in general through the lens of a small village in Israel. In the Bedouin village of Al-Sayyid, thanks to a small founding population and continued isolation, approximately 4% of the population is deaf; enough that rather than each deaf individual developing an ad hoc system of “homesign” to communicate with their immediate family, the community developed a unique sign language used by both deaf and hearing residents. “Signing villages”, as they are called, arise under these circumstances, but the unique languages they develop tend to last only a few generations before migrations and the influence of the locally dominant sign language kill them off.

The book alternates chapters between the account of a team of linguists visiting Al-Sayyid to study the language, as a rare window into the early stages of language creation development, and a more general overview of the linguistics of sign and of languages in general. The Al-Sayyid chapters describe the linguists’ efforts to learn about the unique language of the village; ironically, because they aren’t sent away to special schools for the deaf where they learn Israeli Sign, the hearing residents often use a ‘purer’ version of the language than the deaf residents.

581: Seed to Seed by Nicholas Harberd

Boy was this a bust. Extremely technical details of how particular genetic expressions and proteins affect plant growth, interspersed with stream-of-consciousness meanderings about the author's day-to-day experiences with plants. The contrast between the two was not interesting or insightful, and despite Halberd's efforts did not give me a sense of science and everyday life existing side-by-side; it gave me a sense that he had taken a personal journal and a lab notebook, threw the sentences in the air, and put them back together in an arbitrary order.

Jun 14, 2011, 11:24am Top

Lorax, the 419 sounds really interesting. My parents and one set of grandparents were deaf so this is an interesting subject for me. Another wishlist book! Thank you.

Edited: Oct 6, 2014, 11:12am Top

514: The Poincare Conjecture by Donal O'Shea (posted 07/13/2011)

A very readable account of the history of what was one of the longest-standing unanswered questions in mathematics when it was finally proven several years ago. O'Shea does a very good job of making very difficult math indeed seem to be hovering just out of reach, without using a single equation in the text. (The lack of equations was actually detrimental once or twice; when he was explaining the concept of the three-sphere, a higher-dimensional analogue of the sphere, it would have helped if he'd reassured us that, yes, it is indeed represented by w^2 + x^2 + y^2 + z^2 = 1, rather than just providing a topological definition and leaving it at that.) Recommended for anyone with any interest at all in math, and it gets a tough category.

Jul 13, 2011, 10:23pm Top

Oh, that looks like a good one, thanks!

Jul 17, 2011, 10:32am Top

It's too bad that of your last three books, two look interesting, but I own the one that was a dud! Plant biology has never been very interesting to me, anyway.

Edited: Oct 3, 2014, 1:55pm Top

So far behind!

I don't think these are necessarily in order, but since my last post I've read (posted 09/02/2011):

391: Indigo: In search of the color that seduced the world by Catherine McKinley

This was an ER book, and the marketing material was a trifle misleading. My review is here, but in a nutshell, it's a memoir, not a microhistory. Fine as such, but not what I was expecting or hoping for.

522: Giant Telescopes by Patrick McCray

I enjoyed this quite a bit, but I don't think a general audience really would. A new 52x is pretty difficult for me; as I've noted many times before, that's an area where Dewey really shows its age, and the classification bears no resemblance to the modern field of astronomy. 522 gets books on telescopes, but not on the instruments that go on them (which go off in 621 for engineering or 535 for optics depending on the whim of the cataloger). This is a case-study of the Gemini telescopes, among the first in the modern era of large telescopes. If I didn't already know most of the people involved, I doubt I would have found this very interesting. While I haven't read it, I think The Perfect Machine about the much earlier construction of the Palomar telescope would be a better 522 for a general audience.

929: The Language of Names by Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays

See my review.

968: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

I felt really bad about not having read this. I'm sure I was the last person on the planet to read it and have very little to add.

Edited: Oct 1, 2014, 9:15am Top

A few more, from the last couple of months (updated 11/01/2011):

546: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

An interesting, easy read. The conceit is that it finds something interesting to say about each of the elements, either chemically or historically; obviously, this is easier for some than for others, but it succeeds fairly well, and it's a fun little read. (The title comes from a parlor trick where someone makes a spoon out of gallium, a metal which is solid at room temperature but liquid at human body temperature; they then give the spoon to a guest to use to stir their tea, and watch with amusement as the spoon dissolves into the unsuspecting guest's beverage. Obviously the tea is not to be consumed after this.)

936: Seahenge by Francis Pryor

The title here is a little misleading; the titular henge makes up only a small part of the book. That's actually a good thing; an entire book about the find would probably have been much too detailed for a popular-level book. Instead, this is an overview of the author's career in the archaeology of Bronze Age Britain. He talks about a variety of finds, from their discovery (usually using clever aerial imaging techniques to find differences in vegetation due to wetter or drier ground over old sites) through the actual excavation to the interpretation of the findings. I'm a little skeptical of his readiness to attribute ritual significance to anything and everything (I was reminded of David Macaulay's excellent Motel of the Mysteries), but I enjoyed the book and learned a lot. The actual discussion of Seahenge itself was one of the less interesting parts of the book, to be honest.

939: The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp

Coincidentally, another archaeological detective story, this one about the search for a "lost city" in what is now Oman, that was mentioned in old documents and appeared on ancient maps but was completely unknown. I picked this up because I remembered hearing about how satellite imagery was used to find it, by registering the different appearance of the packed ground under old caravan routes than elsewhere. That was a brief part of this book, most of which covered descriptions of earlier, unsuccessful quests for the city and of the actual successful expedition, which was described in tedious detail -- not just the actual digging, but dull little anecdotes about parceling out the MREs they were eating among Muslims, vegetarians, and omnivorous Americans. It wasn't a bad book, but I'd definitely recommend Seahenge for a 93x long before this one.

999: Other Worlds by Michael Lemonick

This was a hard category to nail down! 999 is supposed to be "history of other worlds", but books about space exploration go in 629, so nothing about the Apollo program is here, books about possible future Mars exploration seem to be in 919 ("travel to other regions"), technical books about SETI are all over the place, and most books on exoplanets are in 523. Somehow, this one -- a multi-pronged overview of the early days (i.e. mid- and late-1990s) of astrobiology -- ended up here. There wasn't really anything new here for me, but I did enjoy it anyway. It's quite dated (when it was written, only a handful of exoplanets were known, compared to more than 600 now) but would be a good introduction to the field.

Edited: Sep 26, 2014, 2:43pm Top

blows away dust and cobwebs

Wow, it's been a while since I've remembered to update here. Process has slowed, of course, but not by that much! Let's see, where did I leave off? (Posted 05/03/2012)

330: Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman

I actually read this one quite a while ago, but somehow I neglected to update this at the time; I probably didn't notice that it was a new category. Or maybe I just updated the LC challenge and forgot to update here. At any rate, highly recommended; it made me smarter.

516: The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio

Solidly average. But hey, do you have a better suggestion for geometry?

587: Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks

When I first saw the classification on this one I thought it must be misfiled, but no, this really is where it belongs. This is a brief account of Sacks' trip to Oaxaca with a group of fern enthusiasts, to observe and study the region's diverse and unusual ferns. There's enough focus on the plants to justify the classification and enough discussion of the other attractions of the region and the fern enthuiasts themselves to make it interesting. This is the one I just finished, and what made me actually remember to update here.

633: The Complete Chile Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt

Another long-ago read, that I only noticed when I was going through my catalog to see what I'd missed for this update. This was an ER book long ago, and my review is here.

971: Sable Island by Marq de Villiers

A strange little book about a strange little place, a sand-dune island far off the coast of Nova Scotia. This finished up the 97x for me.

May 3, 2012, 2:56pm Top

Update as of May 2012:

I've read books from all ten classes.

I've read books from all divisions in three classes: 5xx, 8xx, and 9xx.

I've read books from all sections in two divisions: 00x (counting only the sections that are actually used, 001-006; 007-009 are unassigned and I've never actually seen a book assigned to 000 that I believe belongs there rather than being misclassified) and 97x.

I have read books from:

10/10 (100%) of classes
76/99 (77%) of divisions
237/908 (26%) of sections

Incidentally, I decided not to read How to Lie with Statistics for 311. I'm not going to learn anything from it - it's quite elementary - and it's in 311 only by historical accident; newer editions are in 519 with the rest of the probability and statistics books. So I really would be reading it purely for the tick, and I'm not going to do that. I've never understood why social-science stats are separated out into the 310s while statistics for every other application are put in with probability and the rest of math, either.

Edited: Sep 24, 2014, 10:17am Top

631: Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth (posted 05/23/2012)

It's a shame that this wasn't a better book, since this is such a tough category. It's a disconnected series of musings about, as the title suggests, dirt. It was much more philosophical and less factual than I'd been expecting. It does have the virtues of being both short and readable, though, so if you really want something for this category you could do worse.

Jun 19, 2012, 10:08am Top

"...social-science stats are separated out into the 310s while statistics for every other application are put in with probability and the rest of math, either."

I had thought it was something along the lines of stats such as X number of people live 'here' or do 'this' or some other tidbit that one might whip out as a conversation starter vs. experimental statistical applications, probability, math, etc.

but honestly i haven't looked that closely at it so am not sure if this breakdown is accurate ... or worthwhile if indeed the case.

Jun 19, 2012, 11:16am Top


Ah, so "demographics" then rather than "statistics" per se? That makes sense (though it doesn't explain the former placement of How to Lie with Statistics in the 31x.)

Jun 19, 2012, 12:56pm Top

a lot of the examples in how to lie were of demographic nature -- and showing how to skew demographics, say by using a mean vs median or by careful selection of sample size or population.. it got into some issues of probability and representativeness, but from what i recall didn't go as much into depth about things like detection limits (read: alpha) or power of the tests (read: beta), etc. and dealt only cursory with error (from what i recall).

Edited: Sep 23, 2014, 10:57am Top

Update from the last few months (posted 08/27/2012):

028: Rereadings edited by Anne Fadiman

The introduction to this book was intriguing, with Fadiman talking about revisiting the Narnia books with her young son, and noticing all sorts of problematic issues and plot problems that she hadn't noticed as a kid, and worrying about them, and her son not caring. Rereading once-cherished books with adult eyes was a great premise, so I picked up the book. Unfortunately, most of the essays didn't live up to this promise. The problem for me was twofold - first, the age cutoff for first reading was too old at 25, so that many of the writers chose a book they'd loved in college or graduate school, rather than admitting to a childhood infatuation with Nancy Drew or a high school obsession with Tolkien. Second, and related, most of the choices were unfamiliar to me, and several seemed deliberately pretentious. The ones I found most enjoyable were in fact where the writer stuck closer to the spirit of the introduction - one about a series of nurse novels, and one about Andersen's "The Snow Queen". Former English majors would probably get a lot more out of this than I did.

824: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

The 8xx are an interesting class here. For most of us, the majority of our books are in 813 and 823, but past those and a few for literature originally in major European languages it rapidly becomes hard slogging. (Classicists will have an easier go of it, I suspect, with Latin and Greek each getting their own division). So I'm always happy when I can knock off another section here. My Name is Red is set in sixteenth-century Ottoman Istanbul, among a group of miniaturists commissioned to illustrate a book for the Sultan. The plot, for what it matters, is a murder mystery - one among the group has been murdered by another, and as Black (recently returned from afar) investigates, the reader is supposed to uncover the culprit from the interweaving stories told by various other characters. (I failed, paying too much attention to detail rather than to voice. This effort echoes one of the recurring motifs of the book about the nature of individual artistic style, frowned upon in the society of the time. I'm not a good enough reviewer to talk about this in detail, but I am glad I read it.

985: Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

After tackling the Pamuk I needed something a little easier going. This is an account of the author's attempt to retrace the steps of Hiram Bingham, the first outsider to find the Incan city of Machu Picchu (I say "outsider" in an attempt to distinguish not only the Incan inhabitants who left the city but also the local Peruvian inhabitants who knew it was there and just didn't make a big deal of it). Since it interweaves the very entertaining story of his own journey with historical accounts of Bingham's travels and discussions of what is known about Incan history, it gets the "history" classification rather than the "travel" (books of this sort can often go either way). I still plan on picking up something more substantial like the Last Days of the Incas that's been on my wishlist for ages, but this will do for the category.

Aug 27, 2012, 1:47pm Top

I like the premise of Rereadings and have been hoping to re-read a few of the books that I really enjoyed in middle school and high school. It's a little scary though, the possibility of overwriting the thrill I remember having. It's a shame the book didn't live up to it's introduction.

Edited: Aug 31, 2012, 1:50pm Top

I actually haven't benefited from the classics advantage, but I think that's because I've been too picky about what I list and read. If a book consists of 1/3 text and 2/3 commentary, I haven't been counting it as "read" because there's so much of it that I'll just have glanced through randomly. And so that eliminates pretty much everything I've read. Meanwhile, I've always avoided reading books in translation because I could in theory read them in the original. But that takes time, so I don't.

I've been eyeing Turn Right at Machu Picchu in the bookstore lately. Would you recommend it as worthwhile reading beyond this challenge?

Aug 31, 2012, 3:01pm Top


I would still recommend it, yeah; it's just not going to give you a lot of details on the Incan history, as opposed to the current situation and Bingham's explorations.

Edited: Sep 22, 2014, 1:29pm Top

Last few months got me: (posted 11/27/2012)

409: Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler

This was very interesting, and an approach I hadn't encountered before. It's a history of the rise, spread, and decline of major world languages, from Akkadian and Sumerian to English. It's not primarily focused on changes in the languages themselves, though that is mentioned, more on how and why they spread as they did. Ostler talks about the different ways that languages spread and the reasons people have for learning them, with each chapter focused on a different world language.

579: Microcosm: E. Coli and the new science of life by Carl Zimmer

An interesting look at one of the most ubiquitous organisms on the planet, and how much we've learned from it about life in general.

Nov 27, 2012, 10:25am Top

My pace has been slowing lately; I'm now at

10/10 (100%) of classes
76/99 (77%) of divisions
243/908 (27%) of sections

My next milestone will probably be to get all ten divisions in the 6xx, since I have a 677 on my TBR stack;
I think I'm going to focus for a bit on reading the new divisions in my TBR pile. I'd like to be able to complete more "all sections in a division", but that doesn't seem very likely - they all seem to have one or two really problematic ones.

Nov 27, 2012, 12:14pm Top

I'm looking forward to reading Empires of the Word one day.

Nov 27, 2012, 2:41pm Top

I just picked up Empires of the Word recently and I'm glad to see that it's better than I expected.

The language class is a finicky one to find books for...

Nov 29, 2012, 1:06pm Top

149, 150>

It's quite interesting. The language class is an odd one - there's a lot of good stuff in 40x and 41x, but unless you're learning a language and have lots of references around for it (that you're actually going to count as having read, which most people aren't going to do for a dictionary or the like) the later divisions get pretty thin on the ground.

Edited: Sep 17, 2014, 9:38am Top

(posted 02/25/2013)

032: The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless

620: To Engineer is Human by Henry Petroski

For the first time in a long while I've been able to double-dip new Dewey and new LC categories, so I'm just going to link to my post over in the LC Challenge group.

Feb 28, 2013, 9:46pm Top

Petroski is a great author for these challenges.

Feb 28, 2013, 10:09pm Top

Um, responding to an old comment....

I actually like the fact that a lot of the language class is about learning languages. I have this idea of the challenge being about getting a good 19th-century education, and so I should really be familiar with French and German and Greek and Latin, to the point of having read grammars. At least one day, ideally ;)

Edited: Sep 16, 2014, 11:26am Top

Catching up... (posted 05/14/2013)

121: Doubt by Jennifer Michael Hecht

A very dense history of doubters - exactly what they're doubting is less important for the book than the fact that they did, and it of course changes over time. It's very respectful to all the religious beliefs that it discusses, and many or most of the figures described, especially earlier on, are not atheists in the modern sense but exist entirely within their religious context. (That didn't stop the hierarchies from regarding them as dangerous heretics, of course!)

404: The Bilingual Edge by Kendall King

See my review. Don't bother if you aren't a parent and reasonably multilingual yourself (more than my "I can along haltingly and stumblingly in Spanish"), even though it's a tough category. All it did was make me feel like I'll be letting my son down because I'm not comfortably bilingual enough to carry on actual conversations in another language.

538: North Pole, South Pole by Gillian Turner

There are some of the 53X categories that have an odd excluded middle of books; there are books intended for little kids, books intended for graduate students and above in physics, and absolutely nothing in the middle. A good example of this is 533, on fluid dynamics; there are books about “air” for small children, intimidating textbooks on fluid mechanics for physicists, and a desert in between. (Just so you know where I’m coming from on the “intimidating” bit, I have an undergraduate degree in physics and a PhD in astronomy. I’ve taken graduate-level courses in general relativity and quantum mechanics. These are nothing compared to the terror that is fluid dynamics, which is why it’s not often a required class. The equations for GR and QM are at least soluble; the question of whether or not the key equations for fluid mechanics even always have solutions in all situations is considered one of the most important unsolved questions in mathematics.)

Until recently, 538 (magnetism) was one of these categories; books for little kids playing with magnets and an odd few textbooks on NMR, and not much else - the unification of electricity and magnetism was more or less contemporaneous with Dewey’s original work (allowing for some time for the understanding to percolate down to the general public), so his classification has in this case as in so many others been overtaken by events, with modern texts on electromagnetism falling in 537. A history of the study of geomagnetism, though, pretty neatly falls into this elusive category, and this is one - it's interesting and readable to boot!

562: The Crucible of Creation by Simon Conway Morris

Sort of an odd duck, this combines a fairly detailed description of various Burgess shale fossils in context with some axe-grinding against Gould's Wonderful Life that seemed out of place (it's not Gould's fault that Hallucigenia was originally identified wrong-way-up, and Morris so spectacularly misses the point of Gould's almost tautologically obvious "if you reran the history of the earth you wouldn't get humans" that it seems almost deliberate.) The part about the biology and the fossils is quite interesting, so I'd skip the first two chapters (containing some axe-grinding and a rather tedious overview of geological time that's pitched much lower than the rest of the book) if I were you. I particularly liked the "time machine" conceit to describe what the animals may have looked and acted like in life, though I wish he would have said whether the colors he attributes to them are anything other than pure speculation.

May 14, 2013, 11:36am Top

Doubt sounds interesting and I don't have anything in that section. Going on the list. Nice review - thanks! How do you like this weird touchstone?

May 14, 2013, 11:42am Top

By the way - did you like I Want to be Left Behind and the Guerrilla Girls book? I love their work (GG) and the title of the other one really makes me laugh.

Edited: May 14, 2013, 11:45am Top


It's been an irritation for quite some time that the touchstone algorithm will pick a popular book that happens to contain a word over one where the title is just the word in question!


I want to be left behind was a major disappointment - the title sounded so wonderful! But the 2xx (other than the 29x) are like pulling teeth for me, so anything that I could actually finish and didn't make me want to throw it against the wall is probably as good as I'll get.

I liked the GG book.

I've been perusing your library by the way - very interesting!

May 14, 2013, 11:52am Top

Thanks - I have a pretty insatiable curiosity. I got to see the Guerrilla Girls by the way when they came to our local state university. It was pretty fun, especially as it's a pretty conservative campus.

Too bad about left behind, but my library has it so at least it won't cost me anything to check it out. It would make a nice tee shirt.

Edited: Sep 16, 2014, 11:23am Top

241: God Believes in Love by Gene Robinson (posted 05/23/2013)

This is not a book I ever would have picked up on my own - a book written from a Christian perspective, for Christians, trying to convince them that same-sex marriage is okay is not exactly the sort of thing that an atheist happily married to another woman is going to find useful. Still, it was a gift from my (also not Christian) mother-in-law, and I took it in the spirit in which it was intended and read it. It's short, and it got me a new division. It's exactly what it sounds like - an examination and debunking of the most common Christian arguments against marriage equality from the most prominent gay clergyman in the country.

May 23, 2013, 9:04am Top

I'm glad you're managing to find some readable books in the 200s, even if they aren't great.

May 23, 2013, 10:06am Top

Well, I think that for its target audience it would be a very good book. I'm just not in the target audience.

May 23, 2013, 11:26am Top


You might enjoy this clip of Wolf Blitzer trying to get a tornado victim to thank the lord she survived.

May 23, 2013, 11:57am Top

It's weird that so much of the news in this country feels the need to set itself within a religious context when the story has nothing to do with religion. It makes it hard to take them seriously when they pander to religion.

Edited: Sep 15, 2014, 1:04pm Top

571: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (posted 06/19/2013)

Roach writes very popular pop-nonfiction, but for one reason or another none of her earlier works appealed to me. (Stiff? Morbid. Spook? Either reducible to one sentence: "There is no evidence for any sort of afterlife, but many formulations are non-disprovable and thus not amenable to scientific inquiry" or credulous nonsense. Bonk? Almost certainly too heteronormative for my taste. (Note to people for whom that word may be unfamiliar; that's not the same thing as "anti-gay". That's "assuming that people, or in this case sex, is heterosexual unless there's a compelling reason for it to be otherwise", and in this case would mean relegating non-heterosexual sex to a single section or an occasional footnote rather than discussing it throughout the book.)

This one, though, didn't push any of my "avoid" buttons, and it netted me a new section, so I thought I'd give it a try. Roach's style annoyed me at times - she was too much in love with her own cleverness and seemed to be laughing at her own jokes, and there were a few too many "X did not return my email/phone calls" for my liking, but it was an interesting enough subject. (I will add, though, that the "sex in space" section did nothing to counter my suspicions about Bonk.) The title's a trifle misleading, since the focus is more historical than forward-looking - while long-haul space station stays could be viewed as preparation for crewed missions to Mars that's more marketing than reality - but I suppose there's no pithy one-word title for "Space Biology!"

I'll probably pick up her new Gulp when it's out in paperback (I still need a 612), but this doesn't make me rethink my opinions of any of her earlier work.

Jun 19, 2013, 9:42am Top

Mid-year overview:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 77/99 78%
Sections: 250/908 28%

My mini-challenge for the year for 2013 was to read four new sections in the 5xx, my strongest class (I have three so far, and a half-dozen TBR to choose from), three total from my three weakest classes (1xx, 2xx, and 4xx; I have four) and three more overall to get me to a total of ten new sections (counting the extra 2xx, I have two already, and am currently reading another). So I should have no problem meeting that.

Jun 23, 2013, 1:59pm Top

Mary Roach's earlier books might not be quite what you think. I read Spook and Bonk and thought they were both pretty hilarious. She takes a very anthropological approach to both subjects and did not seem to be promoting a viewpoint. In Spook, she is certainly not trying to gather scientific evidence in favor of an afterlife or anything like that; she has a decidedly skeptical attitude. The parts I remember from Bonk relate to weird scientific and quasi-scientific studies of sex--more about the mechanics/biology of sex than the sociology or psychology of sex, so I didn't really find it to have a hetero or homosexual viewpoint (although maybe, as a heterosexual, I don't notice a slant in that direction). I would say that a good summary of all her books would be, "Here are some things you probably didn't know that I found odd, interesting, or funny."

Not every book is for every person, so I'm not trying to convince you to read these, but just to provide some info.

Jun 23, 2013, 2:27pm Top

What she said.

Edited: Jun 23, 2013, 5:32pm Top


I am 99.9% sure that if a heterosexual person did not notice anything in a book about "the mechanics and biology of sex" that it is heteronormative. You'd have noticed if every section mentioned non-het sex. This isn't saying anything negative about you, just that fish tend not to be quite as aware of water as land animals are. Regardless, though, this isn't the place for this discussion; I was just (fruitlessly, apparently) hoping to short-circuit the inevitable "Oh, Roach is amazing, you should read all of her books!" recommendations.

Jun 23, 2013, 6:52pm Top

That's a good point and makes sense lorax. I get it.

Edited: Sep 15, 2014, 1:02pm Top

502: The Ig Nobel Prizes 2 by Marc Abrahams (posted 07/11/2013)

Whee, a new Dewey from a bathroom read! This is a fun little compilation of summaries of work earning the "Ig Nobel Prizes" over the years, an "honor" given to work that is either trivial (a fluid-mechanics simulation to determine why shower curtains billow inwards), bizarre (the anti-grizzly-bear suit of armor) or actively bad (the invention of the junk bond). There's not much out there for 502 - it's sufficiently generic that works aimed at scientists are going to fall under their subject areas rather than here - so this book or its predecessor are almost certainly your best bets.

Jul 11, 2013, 12:28pm Top

Nice choice! I have another one by Abrahams slated for my go at DDC 502.

Edited: Sep 15, 2014, 1:02pm Top

506: Seeing Further edited by Bill Bryson (posed 8/06/2013)

Back when I started this challenge, and was looking around on LT for good books in various sections, I concluded that there were some where the only way I'd ever get a book would be if something new was published. This is one of those sections; "Societies", under general science, doesn't have a lot to offer - except for a book about the Royal Society! This isn't a history, as I was initially expecting; it's a collection of varied articles, some of a more historical or biographical bent and some more pop-science, related in some way (some more directly than others) to the Royal Society, founded 350 years ago and serving as a who's who of British scientists throughout its history. As can be expected from any anthology, the quality and interest of the essays was variable, but overall this was well worth a read.

Edited: Sep 11, 2014, 11:20am Top

347: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (posted 08/13/2013)

I'd been wanting to read this since I read reviews when it came out, relating Sotomayor's story of learning to give herself insulin injections at the age of nine. My wife felt the same way and actually bothered to put a hold on it at the library. (I don't tend to use the library much; I don't like feeling pressured that I have to read THIS book NOW, and besides our local library isn't very good. I'd rather do what I call "book rental" - buy a cheap copy from Better World Books or at a library sale, and donate it back to the Friends of the Library for another sale when I'm done with it, which may be years later.)

(For any non-Americans who may be reading this I should mention that Sotomayor is currently a US Supreme Court Justice, Obama's first nominee.) The first half of the book lives up to its promise - she talks about growing up in the projects in New York with an alcoholic father, going to a Catholic school where the nuns knew she was smart but didn't know what to do with a smart, ambitious girl and didn't know how to teach anything other than rote memorization of facts. The descriptions of her family are very well-written and intensely personal, to the extent that I doubt she used a ghostwriter. As a result, she struggles at college (Princeton) from never having learned to synthesize information or write an essay presenting a central argument. The book becomes less interesting following her graduation from law school; she made the decision to stop when she became a federal district court judge in 1992, so her rise to the high court is not discussed, and frankly the discussion of her life as a prosecutor and in private practice aren't terribly interesting. Overall, though, it's a very good book, and if you don't need it for the Dewey there's no shame in putting it down when your interest starts flagging.

Aug 14, 2013, 10:40am Top

I was doing a little catalog maintenance and realized that I can swap out my old stats textbook for an actual readable book in 519, Nate Silver's excellent The Signal and the Noise.

Aug 14, 2013, 3:26pm Top

>174 lorax:

I wonder how she could get into Princeton if she didn't know how to synthesize information or write an essay presenting a central argument?

Sep 13, 2013, 11:09am Top


It was largely based on her obvious potential and raw intelligence; it was the early days of affirmative action, and they recognized that a Puerto Rican woman from the projects in the Bronx may not have had the same educational opportunities as their traditional student body of rich white men.

Edited: Sep 11, 2014, 11:18am Top

177: I don't know by Leah Hagar Cohen (posted 09/13/2013)

(Darn it, if I hadn't responded to Ella_Jill, I could have had the message number match the section! Talk about a blown opportunity.)

Anyway, this was my ER book, and I haven't reviewed it yet but wanted to post here while I remembered. I'll link to the review later. This is a very short book (just over 100 pages in mass-marked paperback format) about more or less exactly what the subtitle claims. It discusses the reasons people have for being unwilling or unable to admit ignorance or uncertainty, and the consequences of that fear. There's an interesting undercurrent of impostor syndrome throughout the book, never actually called out by name but always there; if you're worried that you're a fraud and don't belong where you are, you're going to be less willing to ever admit you don't know something (and risk confirming the impression you think others have of you), whereas if you're confident in your own abilities and that not knowing one particular thing isn't totally damning, you're more likely to admit that ignorance.

Recommended even if you don't need the category.

Sep 13, 2013, 1:31pm Top

Hehe :). Quick, edit and switch the two messages!

Sep 17, 2013, 6:25pm Top

177 well said

Edited: Sep 11, 2014, 11:17am Top

422: Origins of the Specious by Patricia O'Connor (posted 10/03/2013)

This is a book to be used as a weapon against annoying prescriptivist pedants - the sort who tell you that you shouldn't split infinitives in English, or that because "they" is a plural pronoun it cannot also be a singular one (oddly, nobody seems to have the same objection to "you"!) It's a slim volume, so giving it to them or using the information in it is probably a better approach than physically hitting them on the head with it, but honestly I'd have no objection to the latter. :-)

This isn't a usage book (at least one of the reviews on LT seems a little confused on that point); rather, it discusses the origin of many misconceptions about what constitutes "proper" usage (like the split-infinitive and no-singular-they "rules"); some were arbitrarily invented at some point, some were once correct but have become obsolete with language change, and others may be technically correct but not worth the fight (though the etymology of the word "niggardly" is not racist, enough people think it is that it's not worth using the word and causing serious pain; just say "miserly" instead). It's an enjoyable read - as long as you aren't a prescriptivist pedant, who may be annoyed that the book doesn't claim to provide a Final Word on the "correct" version of English.

Oct 3, 2013, 11:09am Top

That sounds fun! I am getting sloppier daily since I have retired. Some days I still care, some I don't, but a I spend larger amounts of time on smaller keyboards and autocorrect takes over my life.......

Oct 3, 2013, 2:29pm Top

And how! I love that more people are learning to embrace language as the democratic beast it is rather insisting on its governance by arcane rules.

Oct 3, 2013, 2:51pm Top

ah I love how you said that funde!

Oct 3, 2013, 9:16pm Top

thank you :)

Edited: Sep 10, 2014, 3:20pm Top

667: A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield (posted 11/07/2013)

(Note: the prevailing classification for this book on LT is 677, which is for textiles. While that's not an obviously outright fabrication, 667 is for dyeing, which is where my individual copy has it and which is IMO the best fit. It's too bad, because I don't have anything in 67x, but I'm not going to start picking convenient misclassifications just to get new divisions.)

A couple years ago I read Indigo as an ER read, and was disappointed; I'd hoped for a microhistory of the dye, talking about its origin, importance, and usage. What I got then was a memoir; in A Perfect Red I got everything I wanted then. With the frame of discussing the dye cochineal, derived from an insect that feeds on prickly pear cacti, this book discusses the interpretations and class association of color throughout European history, the Spanish colonies in the New World, the development of synthetic dyes (Perkins and mauve are name-checked here, which makes me want to read Mauve and complete the set of "books about dyes" on LT), and the resurgence of natural coloring in food with the findings of health concerns surrounding synthetics. (Cochineal is still widely used today in food, though vegans have started to complain as they realize it's derived from insects, and some manufacturers are moving away from it.)

Edited: Sep 10, 2014, 3:18pm Top

949: Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin (posted 12/11/2013)

It's fortunate that this history is arranged thematically as well as chronologically, which is more conducive to dipping in and out, because it's taken me a while to finish this one. An interesting read about a time period I really knew very little about; it's such a fascinating era that I'm surprised there isn't more historical fiction set there. (I mean, come on, an emperor assassinated by a group that snuck into the palace as part of a musical group for the Christmas celebrations? You couldn't make this stuff up.)

Edited: Sep 10, 2014, 3:16pm Top

981: The Unconquered by Scott Wallace (posted 12/19/2013)

The subtitle ("In search of the Amazon's last uncontacted tribes") is a bit misleading, since there is quite deliberately no attempt to make contact, the notion of "uncontacted" is a bit slippery, and the expedition knows more or less where the particular tribe in question is to be found, they just want to get a more specific idea. That said, this is an interesting read, leaning more toward the adventure story than the serious history end of things.

In the heart of the Amazon live a number of tribes who remain independent of the modern global community. The book generally describes them as "uncontacted", but acknowledges it's not quite as clear-cut as that; there have been no formal attempts to contact them (and the policy of FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation of Brazil, is to make sure it stays that way; there's a large reserve set aside in the rainforest for uncontacted people, where outsiders are not allowed to enter without official permission), but they have direct contact with other indigenous tribes who do have regular contact with the outside world, and have been attacked by (and attacked) poachers and loggers in the area illegally. The author briefly touches on the question of whether preventing contact is truly in the best interests of the tribes, but points out that they are not ignorant of the existence of an outside world, just of the details of it, and could choose to initiate contact at any point by travelling downriver. I'm not wholly convinced, but will admit the author knows more about the situation than I do.

The book describes an expedition in 2002 to establish the location of the "Arrow People", while avoiding actually contacting them. There's a lot about the logistics and hardships involved in an expedition through the heart of the Amazon, first on motorboats, then on foot, and finally on dugout canoes, mixed in with more general discussion of the issues at hand.

Dec 19, 2013, 11:06am Top

2013 year-end overview:

It's not quite year's end yet, but since there's nothing I'm currently reading that will net me a new section I'm pretty confident that I can go ahead and post this now.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 78/99 79%
Sections: 258/908 28%

I'm starting to think that, as a long-term goal, getting all 99 divisions may be an achievable target. (I have five new ones on my TBR stack!)

For next year my primary goal will be to get one new section in each class; I'll also try to focus on reading those new divisions that I already have.

Dec 19, 2013, 12:55pm Top

Congratulations! That's awesome in the true sense of the word.

I did some reading but haven't posted. My numbers are messed up and I haven't found the patience to fix that yet.

Also liked your review of The Unconquered.

Dec 19, 2013, 2:25pm Top


I'm looking forward to seeing your posts, numbers or no numbers.

Dec 29, 2013, 10:12am Top

You're right, the divisions seem like a realistic goal! The sections--even omitting the nearly impossible ones--will be a life-long project, I think.

Edited: Sep 8, 2014, 10:21am Top

Several good ones so far this year (how did it get to be March already?):

(posted 3/12/2014):

020: The Information by James Gleick:

When I got this book I was expecting it to be a history of modern information theory, starting with Claude Shannon's post-war work and moving on into the era of the Internet and "big data". I got that, and it was fascinating, but I also got the first 200 pages of "prehistory" of information, discussing the far earlier information revolutions of the development of writing and literacy (which drew many of the same complaints about "people can't remember anything anymore" that modern smartphones have) and the printing press. The digressions in the earlier part of the book: explaining the workings of African "talking drums"; a history of dictionaries and the development of the notion of alphabetical order; the need for the telephone number as a separate invention from the telephone; etc. were at least as interesting to me as the cast of familiar faces (Turing, Godel, Shannon) in the latter part of the book. Gleick has been a bit hit-or-miss for me, but this was a definite hit.

487: Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox:

Highly recommended. I greatly enjoyed Fox's Talking Hands (see this post for my thoughts) and I find stories about decipherment fascinating, so I was really excited to hear about this book about the decipherment of the Linear B script. (Zoe had recommended one earlier, but it never really sounded quite good enough for me to pick it up. I'm glad I waited; this was great.) It describes the work of three key figures in the discovery and decipherment of the Linear B tablets, one of whom (not coincidentally a woman) previously usually got short shrift. No knowledge of linguistics or Greek is necessary.

This was a new division for me as well, in the difficult 4xx.

572: The Making of the Fittest by Sean Carroll:

This was a great overview of the current (as of ~2005) state of evolutionary genetics; this is neat stuff. I hadn't realized how much was known about very specific genetic variations between different species (like exactly how color vision has appeared, and how various types of birds have different colors they can see, with the same mutation having recurred multiple times.) Neat stuff.

I have a 174 in progress, but it's a bit of a snooze and is slow going.

May 2, 2014, 4:51pm Top

You read the most interesting books! Thanks for 3 new ones for the wishlist.

Edited: Sep 4, 2014, 9:04am Top

174: Doing Nothing by Tom Lutz (posted 5/12/2014)

A bit of a snooze. This is a detailed, vaguely chronological look at the various forms of voluntarily not working - or of doing as little work as necessary - throughout American history, looking both at specific people and at general cultural trends. It was moderately interesting but could have done with a little tightening up. It might make an interesting pairing with Studs Terkel's Working, which is my tentative plan for a 3xx for this year.

220: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

The 2xx, and especially the Christianity-focused sections - which are most of them - aren't very easy for non-religious people with an allergy to being preached at. (No recommendations, please, I requested that once before and got a lot of preachy recommendations despite specifying otherwise.) So a fluffy little thing in the bloggy "My year of doing this weird thing" genre was just about right. It is what it says in the title, and was entertaining enough. Jacobs' encounters with various sects who follow a more-literal-than-usual interpretation of the Bible was probably the best part of the book.

959: Freedom from Fear and Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi

I felt bad that I'd never read this. Now I'm not sure that I should have - the "other writings" padding is, well, padding, including essays by the author on Burmese literature and articles by others about the author. The core section with her explicitly political writing is maybe a third of the book.

May 12, 2014, 10:21am Top

I'm looking forward to reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth at some point!

And I'm glad you found a decent 220 to read.

Edited: Sep 3, 2014, 9:06am Top

793: Brainiac by Ken Jennings (posted 6/02/2014)

I'd not been tremendously interested in this one - the title is more than a little off-putting, and a straightforward account of his time on Jeopardy! would have been rather repetitive and dull, especially since I've already read Prisoner of Trebekistan. I liked Jennings' Maphead, though, so I thought I'd give this one a chance, since it is a new section. It was actually fairly entertaining; the book is divided between an account of his time on Jeopardy (he acknowledges that the show hadn't really appreciated the advantage a long-time champion would have from sheer familiarity with the mechanics of the buzzer and of play) and a more general exploration of the popularity of trivia in many forms (college Quiz Bowls, Trivial Pursuit games, pub trivia nights, etc.).

993: Kiwis might fly by Polly Evans

By now I've read enough Polly Evans to know exactly what I'm going to get - an unexceptional and amusing travel narrative of a quirky method of traveling (this time by motorcycle, having passed her motorcycle test just days before departing for New Zealand) interspersed with just enough historical background to push the classification into the "history" rather than the "travel" section. The framing device here (a search for the "stereotypical Kiwi bloke", which was not a stereotype I'd ever heard of - maybe it's English) was tedious but not as intrusive as I'd feared. Forgettable but amusing.

Jun 2, 2014, 5:11pm Top

It's been a while, so here's a progress update:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 79/99 79%
Sections: 266/908 28%

My 2014 mini-challenge was to get one new section from each class. With 7/10 of those completed (I still need a 3xx, a 6xx, and an 8xx) I'm well on my way. (As some of you may have noticed I tend to set achievable mini-challenges.) I'm enjoying the enforced breadth that this challenge gives and may do the same thing next year.

Edited: Sep 3, 2014, 9:04am Top

388: Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee (posted 8/04/2014)

The seams show here a bit more than in some McPhee - it's obviously a themed collection of articles, with the theme in this case being "getting stuff from Point A to Point B". McPhee rides along with a trucker hauling hazardous chemicals around, on a tug wrangling fifteen barges, and a coal train. He talks about the amazing sorting mechanisms at UPS's central depots, scaled-down training vessels where ship captains practice on models of massive vessels in a Swiss lake, and how lobsters get from Maine to Montana without dying en route. A bit uneven, as all such collections are, but mostly entertaining, and certainly as entertaining as a book about trucks and barges can be.

518: When Computers Were Human by David Alan Grier

(This completes the 51x for me - 517 is no longer used, but I do have a college textbook for that category anyway. I do count textbooks even if I didn't do every single problem in them.)

Once upon a time, "computer" was a job description, rather than a machine. That much I knew, and that most "computers" were women. Grier, himself a mathematician became interested in the subject when his grandmother offhandedly mentioned "you know, I took calculus once" - unfortunately he didn't realize until later just how remarkable that statement was. Grier talks about how the tedium of numerical analysis done by hand and the need for jobs during the Great Depression conspired to create the Mathematical Tables project - teams of mostly women, doing simple, repetitive calculations all day long. Mathematicans broke down complex calculations into small pieces which were doled out according to difficulty (most people only performed additions, a rare few did divisions) and used to compile massive tables of useful numbers for use by scientists and engineers. I found this interesting, but it's definitely not for everyone - it's an admittedly dry subject. (But a difficult section - this may be the only book here that isn't a textbook or a compilation of algorithms.)

801: Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

I've liked Chabon's fiction that I've read, and had been mulling over this one anyway - when I saw it would get me a new section, and in the difficult 8xx at that, it sealed the deal. I enjoyed this a lot - it's partly essays about authors or books (not book reviews per se) and partly about writing or experiences in his life that ended up shaping his writing. He is unapologetically a fan of genre, and of comic books, which is refreshing from someone who is taken as Serious Literature - but then, there aren't many people who have won both a Pulitzer and a Hugo award. I'd read maybe half of the books/authors he talked about, and definitely got more out of those essays than the ones about authors I wasn't familiar with, but even those were interesting reads.

966: Timbuktu by Marq de Villiers

A look at a city famous mostly for being so famously remote and inaccessible, that at one point was a major center of trade and learning and now is a sad shadow of its former self. My main complaint is that the focus was so narrow that I found myself wanting more contextualization - how did the Spanish discovery of massive quantities of gold in the New World affect the trade routes from the previous center of gold in the old empire of Ghana (not to be confused with the modern country of the same name)? How did the desertification of the Sahel, mentioned in passing as changes to the vegetation and the animal life in the region, affect the local political structures? I've read several books by de Villiers and found each of them interesting. This was no exception.

I now only have one book left to read for my 2014 mini-challenge, something in the 6xx. I have a few TBR, so it's just a matter of picking one.

Edited: Sep 2, 2014, 4:53pm Top

In the interest of completeness, I have to add one I noticed while perusing my library for other purposes:

646: Kinki Kreations by Jena Renee Williams (posted 8/04/2014)

Not a general-interest book by any means, but one I found extremely useful in caring for my son's hair, and since it's not a category I'm likely to read anything else in I'm choosing to list it.

Aug 4, 2014, 12:01pm Top

You're making great progress in some difficult categories. And congratulations on being so close to completing your 2014 mini-challenge!

Aug 4, 2014, 2:09pm Top

Thanks! Nice to see you're still reading here, even if you aren't updating your thread - I really should look in on your 75 Books thread one day. (I assume that's still where you're spending most of your LT time these days?)

Aug 4, 2014, 2:57pm Top

I'll try to do a thread update soon—I did glance through my recent reads earlier today and see that there are at least a couple relevant for this challenge. I hope you do come and visit in my 75 Books thread too :) (I always regret that the group didn't work out for you, because I enjoyed following your complete reads for the brief time that it lasted). My thread there has also been pretty neglected this year, but usually I update it at least once a month. Mostly I've just been distracted with other things this year—too much travelling in the first half, wedding planning, an unhelpful supervisor causing more stress on top of everything else—so LT has fallen by the wayside a bit.

Aug 15, 2014, 12:13pm Top

>203 _Zoe_: Sorry to hear you're having such a stressful year! (Argh to unhelpful supervisors, mine was almost totally hands-off so I do sympathize. Do you have a comprehensible-to-outsiders summary of what your thesis is about?

Aug 15, 2014, 12:20pm Top

I wanted to have some additional metrics to track besides the overall number of divisions and sections.


Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

I wanted to start tracking this because it's an area where I hope to make progress in the next year.

Edited: Sep 2, 2014, 4:42pm Top

570: Naming Nature by Carol K. Yoon (posted 8/26/2014)

Really interesting take on biological taxonomy - the author discusses both how the science of taxonomy has developed from Linneaus to the modern era of DNA similarity and the natural human tendency to classify and structure the world. The latter is something I've been noticing with my toddler; many people are struck by how rapidly children recognize all dogs as dogs, but I've noticed how he extends the few words he knows to cover more of the world. (Tomatoes are "apples", and so were peaches until he learned that word. All bears are "bao bao", since he was quite taken with the baby panda a month ago, and lion cubs are cats, though adult lions aren't. But I digress.) Yoon is a bit too fond of a couple taxonomic curiosities, especially what she calls "the death of the fish" (that lungfish are more closely related to mammals than to other fish, so "there's no such thing as fish" - a rather overblown statement of what could more narrowly be expressed as "lungfish aren't really fish, any more than whales are." I take issue with her conclusion valorizing intuitive taxonomy (though I do understand her reasoning), but it's a good book nonetheless.

This completes the 57x for me.

Edited: Sep 2, 2014, 4:39pm Top

299: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (posted 8/28/2014)

This isn't one I would have picked up on my own, but my wife had a copy and found it interesting, so I gave it a try. The author is a journalist first and foremost, and this is essentially a work of very, very long-form journalism, a history and account of Scientology. I found the middle part - after Hubbard actually comes up with the idea, but before his death - most interesting, and it drags significantly toward the end when it becomes a repetitive series of accounts of people attempting to leave the organization and the attacks they face. The author is meticulous about documenting his sources, and in the afterword says, in essence, "The Scientologists have only themselves to blame if they feel this is an unbalanced account, since they wouldn't actually let me talk to anyone who would give a positive viewpoint." From reading Kate Bornstein's A Queer and Pleasant Danger I already had some sense of the depths of abusiveness within Scientology and that they weren't just a bunch of harmless kooks, but that part would be pretty eye-opening to someone who hadn't read Bornstein's book.

I can't recommend this - it's not bad, it's just boring. Read Bornstein's memoir instead (though it's a 305) and skim this one.

Sep 2, 2014, 4:38pm Top

Housekeeping note:

I am going through and (slowly!) adding cover images to the posts. Since this will obscure the date information I'm going to be adding the original posting date as well to the posts.

Sep 3, 2014, 8:40am Top

>208 lorax: Since this will obscure the date information

Sigh: http://www.librarything.com/topic/156642 .

Sep 3, 2014, 10:42am Top

>209 qebo:

Sigh indeed.

Edited: Nov 10, 2014, 9:44am Top

Current status:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 80/99 81%
Sections: 274/908 30%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Oct 8, 2014, 2:51pm Top

612: Gulp by Mary Roach

I think I'm done with Roach. Gulp shared the flaws of Packing for Mars and then some. This is not a pop-science book that teaches fundamentals about a topic while recounting amusing and interesting side issues, or humorous anecdotes; the humorous anecdotes are all that's here, without the more fundamental information. (For sophomoric values of humor. If toilet jokes and making fun of people's names amuse you, you'll get along well with Roach.) Roach seems to be trying to be one of the cool kids, mocking actual scientists, while still making a living writing pop science.

Oct 23, 2014, 10:12am Top

My thread is looking so much prettier with all the cover images! I should have done this ages ago.

Oct 23, 2014, 10:46am Top

I like the covers!

I once started a Mary Roach book, Bonk. But I don't think I ended up reading more than a chapter, and I was really surprised because everyone in the world seemed to love her. I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone in finding that her work isn't for me.

Also, I'm not deliberately ignoring your earlier question about a brief description of my thesis, but somehow I never feel like writing about it during my break time on LT. I'm sorry, and I promise I'll get to it eventually!

Dec 4, 2014, 10:24am Top

I've swapped out the rather tenuous title I had for 513 in favor of Finding Zero, my latest ER read. My review is here.

Dec 17, 2014, 2:45pm Top

While hunting for possibilities in unfilled sections I found that I had an incorrect classification for a book in my library, and that the correct one is actually new:

604: 100 Diagrams that Changed the World by Scott Christianson

This was an Early Reviewer book for me back in September 2012, and my review is at


Edited: Dec 23, 2014, 9:08am Top

911: Lost States by Michael Trinklein

After blazing through the rest of the 91x, I've been stalled on the 911, Historical Geography, for years now. It's mostly used for historical atlases - fascinating, to be sure, but not suited for being read straight through.

Lost States is a breezy coffee-table type book telling stories of various failed proposals for US states. I doubt it would be of interest to non-Americans, but for anyone who ever had to learn "Fifty Nifty United States" it's a fun read. Each proposal gets a two-page spread, one with text and one with a map of some sort - obviously, as a result, none of the proposals are described in much detail, and after a while they tend to blend together. (Was Transylvania the pre-West-Virginia West Virginia, or was that Vandalia?) The proposals for the most part fall into three categories: alternative suggestions for carving up territories that later became US states (think "East and West Dakota" rather than North and South), attempts by parts of a state to secede and form a new state (with varying degrees of seriousness, many being publicity stunts more than anything else as an attempt to draw attention to issues one part of the state felt were being ignored), or proposals to take over all or part of another country, with or without their consent. One of the most interesting for me was a variation on the latter - after World War II, many residents of Newfoundland (then a "Dominion" of the UK; the book described them as an independent country, but I think that's not quite right) were in favor of joining the United States. The US wasn't interested, and both Canada and the UK were opposed to the notion, so it didn't receive serious consideration.

Fun, easy read for a tough category. Recommended.

(Now is also a reasonable time, while I'm at it, to swap out the atlas I had in 912 in favor of Ken Jenning's Maphead. I'm not going to do a year-end roundup yet, since I'm still hoping to finish another one before the end of the year.)

Dec 30, 2014, 2:06pm Top

And one last new section to round out 2014:

952: Samurai William by Giles Milton

Not recommended. I'd enjoyed Milton's Nathaniel's Nutmeg about the spice trade, which was biography-esque, and thought I'd give this one a try as well. In this one Milton didn't get the balance between specific and general right for me; not enough context, too many gory details of exactly how the Japanese at the time executed criminals. Honestly if I hadn't needed the section I don't think I'd have finished it.

Dec 30, 2014, 2:09pm Top

So, year-end roundup for 2014:

Current status:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 80/99 81%
Sections: 278/908 31%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

At the end of 2013 I had 78 divisions and 258 sections, so I got two new divisions and twenty sections. Not bad!

Jan 20, 2015, 9:50am Top

Starting off the year with a new division in the challenging 4xx:

460: The Story of Spanish by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow

This was really good. The authors - neither is a native speaker of Spanish, though they've both studied the language - explore the spread and evolution of the Spanish language, from its roots as a dialect of Latin (though the word "español" itself is one of the very few pre-Latin survivals in the language, deriving from the Phoenician for "land of the rabbits") to the question of the status of "Spanglish" - is it slang, a version of Spanish, or a version of English, or none of these? No knowledge of Spanish is necessary, though a basic familiarity will enrich some of the details of the book - I was surprised to learn that the version of the alphabet I learned in high school is now outdated, with the former letters "ch" and "ll" having been eliminated.

Anyone who enjoyed Ostler's superb Empires of the Word (see my brief discussion) will like this, which is a less-academic treatment of the same ground for one of the languages in much more detail. One of the later parts that I found interesting described the difficulty in writing Spanish for an international audience with numerous versions of the language - unlike for English, where two major versions of the language (American English and British English) dominate, there are multiple equally-important versions of Spanish, so authors of international documents need to settle on standard terminology that is universally comprehensible.

Since I enjoyed this one so much I'll probably pick up The Story of French by the same authors for a 440, even though my French is nonexistent (as compared to my Spanish, which is merely pathetic and very, very rusty.)

Jan 20, 2015, 5:38pm Top

Congratulations on making such great progress last year!

And I'm glad to hear good things about The Story of Spanish. I have The Story of French sitting on my shelves somewhere, so maybe this will give me an extra push to actually read it.

Empires of the Word is also unread on my shelf. Sigh.

Edited: Jan 20, 2015, 7:52pm Top

Those stories sound very interesting, and not like something I'd normally read. My French is very poor*, and my Spanish is worse (but on the upside, my Italian is only awful), so I'm not sure what I'd get out of them. But I will add them to my wish list and see.

*Like many Canadians, I can read "cereal box French". My husband can also understand "hockey game French" because his team--the Montreal Canadiens--were often only shown on the French channel.

Jan 21, 2015, 9:14am Top

"cereal box French"! I love it. That's probably not too far off my Spanish at this point. I can read newspaper headlines but not generally articles. I can read books for really little kids. The last actual conversation I had in Spanish was about a year and a half ago. We were at the Smithsonian Folklife festival, and the theme was "endangered languages". We started talking with a Oaxacan woman - Spanish wasn't a first language for either of us, which helped. She was asking about our kid. Between not knowing the word for "adopted" and the cultural differences I'm not sure how much of "He doesn't have a father, he has two mothers, we are both his mothers" actually got across.

Edited: Jan 26, 2015, 9:37am Top

365: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

After reading the amazing Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick (see my review, I discovered that there are actually quite a lot of accounts from North Korean escapees/defectors. This one sounded particularly interesting since it profiles such a different experience from Nothing To Envy - the man featured here was born and lived in one of North Korea's notorious labor camps, "Camp 14", and is the only person born in a camp known to have escaped.

It's hard to imagine a life more isolated from the outside world. Even within the closed-off, repressive, and extremely poor country of North Korea the residents of the camps are isolated, utterly controlled, and extremely poor. Residents, including children, were routinely beaten (sometimes fatally) for minor offenses like stealing a few grains of corn or just because the guards were bored. One of Shin's earliest memories was of watching an execution of people caught trying to escape.

Shin tells the story of his life in the camp, watching his mother and elder brother executed for trying to escape and being tortured for suspected involvement. (He later says that he in fact informed on his relatives, attempting to save his own life, but that the teacher he reported them to did not pass along the source of the information.) Eventually he meets another prisoner, formerly from Pyongyang, whose stories motivate Shin to hatch a plan for escape.

The latter part of the book details the titular escape, from the camp and then from North Korea itself, and Shin's difficult attempts to function in a normal society, when he lacked not only any practical skills for holding a job or living on his own but also basic ability to trust anyone - having never trusted or been trusted, cared about anyone or been cared about, he was extremely paranoid and suffering from PTSD.

You may have noticed I'm talking about what the book says, and what Shin describes, rather than what actually happened. There's a reason for this. Harden mentions that Shin had for a long time not told about his role in his mother's death, and discusses the difficulty of fact-checking anything from inside North Korea and the impossibility of doing so in this case. As I was in the middle of reading this book, I saw an article on NPR saying that Shin had again changed his story, more substantially - that part of his childhood had been spent in a different, less brutal camp, and that he had made another escape attempt and been captured. I'm not actually surprised by this, and it doesn't change my opinion of the book much - Shin had already changed his story, he had never been taught to value honesty or trust, so why should readers expect this account to be entirely trustworthy? It's a compelling story nonetheless; I'm glad I know where some of the holes are, though.

Jan 30, 2015, 1:52pm Top

596: The Kingdom of Rarities by Eric Dinerstein

A study of the phenomenon of rare species, focusing on charismatic vertebrates (mammals and birds), rather than a wider scope including plants and insects that would have landed this in another section (fortunately for me!) Dinerstein talks a bit about different types of rarity, both species that are naturally rare (including both apex predators and species with very narrow habitat specialization) and species that have become rare due to human actions. (He resisted the temptation to allude to Twelfth Night in this discussion, which I clearly am unable to do.) The overall structure follows a series of trips to the range of a variety of rare animals - rhinos in Nepal, the Kirtland's Warbler in Michigan, a host of species in Hawaii) that highlight different causes of rarity. The structure makes it a little disconnected, with little overall synthesis, that keeps this book only "pretty good", but it's still "pretty good." It didn't blow me away the way, say, Where the Wild Things Were (link is to my review) did, but it's worth reading if the subject interests you at all.

Jan 30, 2015, 4:13pm Top

But what about those that achieve rareness? ;)

Mar 2, 2015, 4:04pm Top

996: Surviving Paradise by Peter Rudiak-Gould

If you know anything about the Marshall Islands, it's probably one of two things, depending on your age and interests - that they're disappearing due to climate change, or that they played a role in World War II. Either way, you'll finish this knowing a lot more.

This book could easily have been a disaster. The author writes about his year spent as a volunteer English teacher on the remote atoll of Ujae in the Marshall Islands - remote even by the standards of the Pacific Islands, a place where Tuesday is "airplane day" and he had to abandon half of his luggage before arriving due to the weight limits on the plane. With a naive young man traveling so far to impart knowledge, it would have been very easy for the author to fall into the trap of "white knowledge, brown wisdom". Fortunately that wasn't the case; he recognizes and acknowledges his own naivete early on, and discusses his own cultural disconnect as much as the Marshallese culture he struggles to understand.

One of the more interesting aspects for me was the integration of aspects of modern technology with traditional Marshallese life. Most islanders live a more-or-less subsistence lifestyle; there are no stores on the island, and buying and selling are limited to the "supply boat" that visits every few months bringing staples like rice and coffee and collecting coconut. The Marshallese men sail traditional outrigger canoes with modern tarps for sails, and spear fish with fiberglass spears.

Mar 16, 2015, 10:17am Top

211: The Happy Atheist by P.Z. Myers

I've enjoyed Myers' Pharyngula blog in the past, so decided to pick this up. Slight and forgettable, it does not escape the dichotomy of atheism and fundamentalism as the only alternatives. As someone who knows a lot of non-fundamentalists from various religions, and as an atheist member of a UU church, I found that tedious. This was less about atheism than about fundamentalism, and as such was a tired rehash. A quick read, and not awful by any means, but it's not a keeper for me.

Mar 16, 2015, 11:54am Top

I'm somehow always particularly happy to see that you read a book in the 200s, I guess because that seems like the most difficult. And then I feel guilty about it, because obviously I should be happier for your accomplishments in categories that you care about. Sorry :(

And to compound my inappropriate comments, I just want to say (in completely the wrong thread) that I remember loving The Persian Boy when I read it years ago. It's probably past time for a reread.

Mar 16, 2015, 2:20pm Top

>228 lorax: I think I've entered the "mostly indifferent" stage of my atheism so I think I'd probably have a similar reaction. My opinions and thoughts on religion and atheism haven't really changed, but I'd rather spend my time and energy with my extant interests rather than what I don't believe in.

If you don't mind me asking, how's the UU church? I've been curious about it off and on but I've never been to one.

Mar 16, 2015, 2:30pm Top


Don't be sorry! Getting a new 5xx or 9xx is still easy, getting a readable 2xx is a challenge. (Now, if I could find a readable book in the parts of the 5xx that I specialized in - 52x or 53x - that would be worthy of celebration, but the 53x have the problem of "kids' books and graduate-level texts, nothing in between" for the parts I don't have yet and most of the 52x I don't have yet are all-but-empty.

As for The Persian Boy, I hope you know that I'd give you an invite for the Diverse Book Challenge if you wanted, even just to post on other people's threads. I wish those group-level TOS Tim was talking about had been implemented, so rather than having invite-only as the only mechanism to keep out the trolls we could presume good faith until people demonstrated otherwise and then actually get rid of them.


I like it, but different congregations vary a lot in level of theism. There was a thread on Happy Heathens a while back where I posted about it; here's a link. Mostly people there don't consider whether or not someone believes in God to be terribly interesting and asking about it to be rather nosy.

Mar 17, 2015, 3:47pm Top

>231 lorax: Phew, in that case I'll thoroughly cheer your completion of a 2xx!

And I think I will take you up on that offer of an invite to the diversity challenge group, thank you :). Even though I probably won't get started until next year, it's never too early to plan! And it would be nice to be able to comment occasionally on other people's reading.

Mar 19, 2015, 7:55pm Top

>231 lorax: Thanks for the info. I'm planning on checking out my local UU this week and seeing what's what.

Apr 1, 2015, 10:33am Top

Quarterly progress:

So far I've read six new sections this year (one of which I just remembered and still need to post about) including two new divisions.

Current status:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 82/99 83%
Sections: 284/908 31%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Apr 16, 2015, 10:09am Top

323: The Radical King edited by Cornel West

I'm still working on my review of this excellent ER book, but I'll say that I recommend it highly. I was a little surprised to snag it - the black history section of my library is pretty paltry, and the civil-rights era portion even more so. Maybe the queer history stuff helped? At any rate, this is a collection of many of King's writings and speeches (focusing on the lesser-known material, but including "Letter from Birmingham Jail", which I'm not sure I'd read in its entirety. Like most people who've been at all active in the marriage equality movement I could quote the bit about waiting for a more convenient time, but the letter is actually a lot longer than I'd remembered). It's thematically organized, so the development of particular arguments or turns of phrase is plain, and aims to give a more complete picture of his positions and work than the cartoonish one many Americans have, both in the range of issues he was concerned with and in the fierceness of nonviolence.

Apr 16, 2015, 10:18am Top

194: Descartes' Bones by Russell Shorto

Another new division in the very difficult for me 1xx. And that's about all I have to say about it - in the past I've had a number of times when I said "I only picked this up because of the challenge, but I'm glad I did"; in this case, it was a slog to finish, and I don't think I would have bothered if I didn't need the section (and indeed the division). The subtitle is "A skeletal history of the conflict between faith and reason", and I'd hoped that the titular bones would be more of a framing story for a broader discussion of the issues. Sadly this was more narrowly focused than I'd hoped on the fate of Descartes' actual skeleton after his death, and while that would have been interesting for a long magazine article wasn't interesting enough to sustain an entire book.

This does put me at three new divisions for the year, toward my goal of five.

May 21, 2015, 9:49am Top

427: Do You Speak American? by Robert MacNeil

A very readable though somewhat shallow overview of American dialects and variations. It is unapologetically descriptivist, the authors being linguists, and focuses primarily on geographic and ethnic varieties of American English. One of the more interesting points to me was that, contrary to popular belief, dialects are not universally being flattened out by mass media and geographic mobility; people frequently adopt the accent and vocabulary patterns of their new homes (especially in places like Texas with strong geographic identities), or adopt code-switching rather than abandoning their own speech patterns in favor of a more "standard" version.

The book is about ten years old, just old enough for the final section about computer speech recognition and synthesis to be "so close and yet so far". The author talks with someone developing a speech synthesizer for satellite navigation in luxury cars; the developer correctly predicts that in the future the cost will come down, and speech recognition and synthesis will be universal; what he misses is that rather than everyone having a dozen things that talk to them, we'd all have phones that talk to us, and use them to intermediate with everything else.

Edited: Jun 3, 2015, 9:44am Top

593: Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise by Steve Jones

This book meanders around topics vaguely related to coral (though with very little spent on the ecology of coral reefs, other then mentioning their biodiversity and importance), including weird segues into the economics of diamonds and the history of nuclear testing. It doesn't hang together well at all, though most of the individual portions are interesting. It would have benefited from actually talking more about coral, and the pony would have been some nice color pictures of different types.

One of my mini-challenges for 2015 was to finish off another division, and with this one I've completed the 59x. Hooray!

Jun 22, 2015, 11:10am Top

676: On Paper by Nicholas Basbanes

Another new division, netting me all ten divisions for the 6xx. This is a very readable and interesting look at the history and many uses of paper; like many microhistories it makes the reader think about something utterly ubiquitous and completely taken for granted. Certainly when I started reading I was thinking primarily about paper as a basis for printed reading material, which while it certainly plays an important role was not the majority of the book, which talks about special-purpose papers (ranging from paper for US currency to what are delicately referred to as disposable hygienic products) and paper as a medium for art (not only prints but also origami and the like). The final chapter, a look at the massive amount of paper debris in New York City following 9/11, was somewhat shoehorned in but very interesting, well-written, and sensitive. Recommended.

Jun 25, 2015, 4:29pm Top

896: Sunjata as told by Bamba Suso and Banna Kanute

This was a difficult category. The literature categories are based on original language, not the nationality of the author, so an author from Africa writing in English or French would be in 823 or 843, not 896. But this is a translation of two retellings of the Epic of Sundiata from the Gambia, which has survived in the oral tradition. Having two versions gives the reader a sense of which elements are common and what varies, which was a really nice touch. This is a tale that was completely unfamiliar to me, and having the different versions to triangulate from was nice. While many of the key plot elements were the same (like the supernaturally prolonged pregnancy of Sunjata's mother - that poor woman!) many differed, as well as the general context; one of the two versions here is set in a very specifically Islamic framework while the other doesn't mention Islam at all.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in epic literature in general. And it's very short; the two versions together come to less than 100 pages, plus notes.

Jun 25, 2015, 4:42pm Top

Well, there are five days left in the quarter, but I'm not reading any new categories (and don't have any on deck, either), so I may as well go ahead with the current status update:

So far I've read eleven new sections this year including four new divisions.

Current status:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 84/99 85%
Sections: 289/908 32%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Edited: Aug 5, 2015, 9:16am Top

565: Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey

A surprisingly interesting read about trilobites, the formerly-ubiquitous arthropods that vanished 250 million years ago after having filled the oceans for over 200 million years. Fortey clearly loves his subject matter (he's actually a scientist studying trilobites, rather than a journalist, so the book is refreshingly free of dull asides about the personal lives of scientists) and gives an accessible overview of the history and current knowledge of the little critters. (And they were little; I'd had a vague sense that most trilobites were maybe six inches or a foot long, when in reality most were more like two inches.)

Edited: Nov 2, 2015, 12:01pm Top

027: The Story of Libraries by Fred Lerner

Wow, it's been a while! I've still got plenty of new sections TBR (including another current read), but just haven't read any recently. At any rate, this was a decent read - a thematically rather than strictly chronological discussion of the history of libraries. It started out more strictly chronological, discussing the development of libraries in various world cultures, before (post-Gutenberg, more or less) moving to a thematic discussion of different topics - public and professional libraries, children's libraries, modern cataloging. It's just new enough to talk about computerized catalogs and other topics, but this part seems a little bolted on (I suspect it may have been absent from the first edition), and a reference to microfilm seems oddly dated.

Edited to add: After this, I only need a 7xx to meet one of my yearly goals of one new section from each class. I have one TBR, which will also complete my other remaining goal of five new divisions.

Oct 28, 2015, 10:28am Top

950: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

This was really interesting! Weatherford is attempting to reclaim the reputation of Genghis Khan and devotes a lot of time to the cultural developments in the Mongol Empire (notably religious tolerance; in an entertaining bit, he describes a debate between Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists that in the Mongol competitive tradition involved drinking between rounds; by the end, with nobody able to convince anyone, the Christians were singing hymns, the Muslims reciting the Quran, and the Buddhists silently meditating at everyone, with everyone concerned too drunk to hurt anyone). He acknowledges the slaughter inherent in warfare and conquest but argues, not unreasonably, that the Mongols were no worse than anyone else at the time; the sack of Baghdad was, after all, probably no worse than the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders around the same time.

Nov 4, 2015, 3:34pm Top

534: The Sound Book: The science of the sonic wonders of the world by Trevor Cox (finished 11/03/2015)

Subtitle included because without it, the touchstones start off with the Harry Potter books and meander through a random selection of novels none of which include "Sound" or "Book" in the title. Of course when I actually search for a Harry Potter title, it's fourth after the movie, a Lego game, and something else I forget, so I suppose it's only fair.

Anyway. This is a very rare case where the Dewey I am using for the book is not the one in my copy, nor the one used by the Library of Congress (which is the same). Both of those use 550, which OCLC's "classify" tool says is used almost exactly as often as 534. 550 is general geology; 534 is the physics of sound, which is a much better fit. The LC classifier, which is where I suspect all the libraries using 550 got theirs from, really fell down for this one.

This was a really fun read, well-written and knowledgable about what seems like a very dry subject (acoustics), talking about echoes and resonators and various sonic oddities while sneaking in some actual science. (Where's the place in the world where sound takes longest to die away, and why? How do whispering chambers work? What about "chirping staircases" that send back a handclap as a descending whistle?) 534 is a tough, tough section, almost up there with 533 in the "books for little kids and for graduate students, but not much in between" department, and I was delighted to stumble upon this gem. Highly recommended even for non-challenge reasons.

Nov 24, 2015, 9:55am Top

733: The Elgin Affair by Theodore Vrettos

Major disappointment. The actual theft/acquisition of the sculptures was a small part of the book, and the later controversy over returning them relegated to an epilogue; the bulk of the book was made up with details of the Elgins' difficulties in returning home (travel through France for English travelers during the Napoleonic Wars being somewhat difficult) and with Lady Elgin's love affair with a one of Elgin's assistants. I would never have bothered to finish if I had any other even remotely promising book for this category.

Nov 24, 2015, 11:04am Top

I forgot to mention that that was a new division for me (73x), meaning I've completed my mini-challenge for 2015!

I have only 14 divisions remaining (not counting the no-longer-used 04x). I'm not optimistic about actually getting all of them, but I do hope to get close. Not next year, but in a couple more!

Nov 30, 2015, 11:14am Top

373: First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar by Alison Stewart

I live just outside Washington, DC, but I borrowed this book about the history of the locally-famous Dunbar School, the first public high school in America for Black students, from my mom, a retired teacher living in the Midwest. For the first part of its existence, the alumni list includes numerous luminaries of Black history and culture, since it was an academically rigorous school drawing from the large African-American population of Washington, DC and even prompting families to move to the area so their children could attend. In 1954, however, as a result of school desegregation {*}, Dunbar like all other schools became a neighborhood school, drawing from the local population - black kids who had attended low-quality segregated schools and were unprepared for high school. With the general decline in the quality of DC public schools in subsequent decades, modern Dunbar is struggling but starting to improve in recent years.

{*} Since the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly mentions "States", Brown vs. Board, which was decided on Fourteen Amendment grounds, was not actually the relevant decision; instead, Bolling vs. Sharpe, announced on the same day on due process grounds, was decisive. I did not know this either before reading this; it seems mostly like the justices needed to find some grounds to rule against segregation in the District of Columbia and due process was the best available option.

Dec 9, 2015, 9:48am Top

Housekeeping note:

Is anyone reading this? If so, is the length becoming unwieldy? I'm thinking about starting a thread continuation at the beginning of the year, but if nobody else is bothered by the long thread it's easier for me to keep it all together.

Dec 9, 2015, 9:58am Top

Congratulations on completing your mini-challenge!

I haven't noticed any problems with the length of the thread.

Dec 9, 2015, 10:33am Top

I find that LT handles long threads just fine now days so I don't even notice them anymore. The only time threads become unwieldily, I find, is when there are a lot of large pictures. So you're all good.

Dec 16, 2015, 3:11pm Top

638: Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop

This lightweight microhistory is in equal parts about honey and beekeeping, without a great deal about the bees themselves (which probably helps keep this in the agricultural 63x rather than the entymological 595 where I've already read several titles). The author follows a Florida beekeeper over the course of a year, interspersing her discussion of modern apiculture with historical background and discussion of honey itself. The book shows its age with the lack of any mention of colony collapse disorder, and the "medical uses of honey" section omits my favorite bit, that controlled studies have shown honey to be more effective against coughing than any cough syrup available over the counter in the US; the parents of one of my kid's preschool classmates actually send her in with honey as a cough remedy when she's getting over a cold! (Those studies probably postdate the book as well.)

Jan 8, 2016, 10:42am Top

I forgot to do my year-end roundup! Oh well, it's still January, it's not too late, right?

In 2015 I read 18 new sections including five new divisions. Slightly fewer sections than in 2014, but more divisions; concentrating on them as a goal really helped.

Current status:

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 85/99 85%
Sections: 295/908 32%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

I'll be concentrating on divisions again this year, but they're starting to get thin on the ground.

Not currently reading anything for the challenge, but I do have a few TBR waiting.

Feb 7, 2016, 1:45pm Top

341: Capital of the World by Charlene Mires

Two things drew me to this book; the chance to get a new category in both the Dewey and LC Challenges, but also the mention of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the state where I grew up (though on the other side of the state) as a candidate for the host of the United Nations headquarters. Although it may now seem inevitable, it quite obviously wasn't the case that New York City was destined to be the headquarters from the moment the idea for the UN was developed, and for much of the site-selection process major cities were specifically excluded.

Many communities across the US campaigned actively to bring the UN to their region, even though they never had a chance due to remoteness, both from major US cities and from Europe in an era when commercial air travel was in its infancy; when the boosters who refuse to take "no" for an answer meet the diplomats for whom "Your suggestion will be given all due consideration" is the closest to "no" they can speak, these doomed candidates (particularly the Black Hills) kept going far longer than they should have.

Moderately interesting, perhaps more so for New Yorkers or people with a particular interest in the UN.

Edited: Feb 16, 2016, 12:01pm Top

470: Ad Infinitum by Nicholas Ostler

In February 2013, then-Pope Benedict held a press conference, in Latin like all official Vatican matters. Few reporters were present; even among reporters covering the Vatican, Latin speakers are few and far between in the 21st century. Thus, a single reporter scooped the world on the historic announcement of Benedict's resignation, since she was able to immediately understand the Latin rather than waiting for a translation.

While this took place several years after the publication of Ad Infinitum, it perfectly encapsulates the marginalization of Latin in the modern era described in the final chapter of the book. The history (or "biography", as the conceit of the subtitle has it) begins with the emergence of Latin from a host of dialects spoken on the Italian peninsula and its spread as an imperial language of power. While the Romans never forced their subjects to stop speaking their native languages (unlike later European imperial powers), Latin was required for any position of power and it quickly replaced the earlier languages throughout much of the empire (with notable exceptions including England).

Latin did not, of course, die with the fall of Rome; for centuries people in what are now the Romance-speaking countries of Europe spoke increasingly mutually incomprehensible "Latins". Increased trade and interactions revealed the extent of the language change, and classical Latin became an international lingua franca; the insistence on adherence to "proper" classical usage makes more sense in a context where speakers still consider their language to be very Latinate. The book follows the decline of Latin as it was replaced with other international languages in more and more contexts until even reporters charged with covering the Vatican - the one place outside of classics departments where Latin is still in daily use - could miss a once-in-a-millennium announcement thanks to not speaking the language.

Edited: Feb 25, 2016, 2:40pm Top

712: Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

What better time than mid-February, season of snow and seed catalogs, when the first signs of spring are starting to show in the Mid-Atlantic (the maples are starting to bud and the crocuses are sprouting), to dream of summer bounty? I've paged through Edible Landscaping in the past, when my wife and I were working up the courage to go ahead and put the raised veggie beds in the front yard (our backyard is shaded in summer), but this time I actually read it through, with an eye to how to make the veggie beds both attractive and productive. (So far our approach has been a separate wildflower bed along the street to screen the veggies; they salt-treat our roads in winter, so we couldn't grow edibles that close to the road anyway, and it's pretty.) Creasy talks about how to integrate edible and ornamental plants, focusing especially on the attractive plants that serve both of those roles, on scales from redoing an entire large yard to an apartment patio. She talks about a lot of different zones but her personal experience is in the California Bay Area so she devotes a bit more time to winter gardens than those of us in more northerly climates may find useful. The comprehensive dictionary of edibles at the back, with pictures and growing suggestions for everything alphabetically from almonds to walnuts (zucchini is filed under "squash") is alone worth the book.

She talks about front-yard edibles in the yard being a kid-magnet, and is absolutely right; the kids down the block would stop by almost daily to ask for a strawberry in the springtime, and our own preschooler will reliably devour veggies off the plant that he'll ignore when they're cut up on his plate. (It helps that he thinks he's getting away with something when he grabs a sweet red pepper and runs off with it!) We're known in the neighborhood as "the house with the tomatoes in the front yard", and I'm fine with that.

Feb 22, 2016, 8:56am Top

Ad Infinitum looks good. I have another Nicholas Ostler book on my Dewey TBR list, too, so I'm glad to see you liked this one.

Feb 25, 2016, 10:41am Top

>257 carlym:

Which one? I really liked Empires of the Word, probably more so than Ad Infinitum, and haven't yet read The Last Lingua Franca (which won't be a new Dewey for me).

Feb 25, 2016, 10:53am Top

410: Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages by Gaston Dorren

This is an entertaining and informative book that is eminently suited to being read a few pages at a time, which is exactly how I did it - cramming sixty chapters into a 300-page book means that you can devote five minutes to reading what Dorren finds interesting about Basque or Icelandic, and have a good stopping point.

Most chapters are focused on a single language, ranging in familiarity from French and Russian through Welsh and Basque to those like Sorbian (not a typo) and Gagauz that most readers will never have heard of. Dorren talks about different aspects of each language; sometimes spelling or history, sometimes grammatical issues, sometimes as a representative member of a particular family. It's breezy and entertaining, but still informative. Each chapter ends with an example or two of words that English has borrowed from the language in question (when there are any - sadly, not even English's magpie-like vocabulary acquisition has successfully stolen from every language on the planet) and one that Dorren thinks English could benefit from stealing (again, when there are any - in the chapter on Yiddish he throws up his hands and admits we've already got most of the good ones.)

410 has a lot of introductory linguistics textbooks, so if you're looking for something entertaining and readable this is a really good choice.

Feb 25, 2016, 1:40pm Top

I have a hard copy of Ad Infinitum and plan to read Empires of the Word on Scribd. I'm also interested in your thoughts on Edible Landscaping--I have got to do something with my (small) yard this spring and would like to do better with herbs and other edibles.

Feb 25, 2016, 2:41pm Top

Thanks for the prod, I've put my thoughts above.

Feb 25, 2016, 7:39pm Top

Thanks! I'm guessing the advice may be too warm-weather for you but not hot enough for me--I'm in Texas and find that "full sun" references in gardening materials don't really mean our "full sun"--but it still looks good.

Feb 25, 2016, 9:10pm Top

>262 carlym:

The details in the appendix are very comprehensive, including lots of stuff that's only Zone 10 or 11 like bananas and coconut palms, and she gives a lot of examples from various climactic zones, it's just her own personal experience is from that Edenic Californian climate where, as long as it rains, pretty much anything that doesn't require extensive winter chill will flourish.

I lived in Tucson for eight years - I know all about when "full sun" doesn't actually mean it, and about how limited the single-variable zone data that only accounts for winter minimum temperature is - Tucson is in the same hardiness zone as Portland, OR by that measure but pretty much nothing that will survive in one will grow in the other, and those that would like tomatoes need to be treated completely differently.

Feb 25, 2016, 10:23pm Top

That's great. Thanks.

Mar 14, 2016, 11:20am Top

421: Righting the Mother Tongue by David Wolman

As the subtitle explains, this short volume deals with the history of English spelling; the author considers himself a poor speller, which prompted his interest and investigation. The history begins somewhat later than many might expect; spelling is, naturally, only of general concern to the literate, so while Old English spelling was of concern primarily to monks and a few scribes, after the development of the printing press and the massive drop in the price of books, more people began reading and thus being exposed to the spelling of words. (Naturally, he quotes Caxton's famous bit on eggs.) Between the printing press and the spell-checker he takes the time to discuss various spelling-reform efforts, the degree to which differences between British and American spellings of words can be attributed to Noah Webster's dictionary, and the resurgence of spelling bees in the 2000s. It's a slight read and an easy one.

Edited: Mar 14, 2016, 11:24am Top

After a slow start to the year I'm finally ramping up; I'm nearly done with a 501 (The Half-Life of Facts) and am very slowly making my way through a 937 (SPQR). Progress!

Mar 16, 2016, 2:57pm Top

501: The Half-Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman

The title's a little overblown, but this was a really interesting book. Arbesman is doing a sort of meta-science here, looking at how and how quickly "facts" - things we think we know about the world - turn out to be incorrect in light of further knowledge. The half-life metaphor turns out not to be altogether incorrect; we don't know which particular facts will turn out to be wrong, but for many fields we can estimate how long it will be before half of current knowledge turns out to be incorrect (this is defined in various ways for various fields; it may be citation rates of scientific papers, or stuff that gets taught in medical school, and so forth). It's well-researched and very interesting, and while I can pick nits with the methodology in some portions (at least in my former field of astronomy, many classic papers stop being cited not because they are no longer considered correct but because they become part of the landscape; to cite an extreme example, nobody cites Galileo anymore but that doesn't mean he's wrong about heliocentricity. For a more typical example, people in my subfield rarely cited the classic paper from 1955 that gave rise to a particular relationship - but everyone still uses that relationship and gets very excited when they think they have found a deviation.

The book, more so than many, cries out for online errata and updates - not because it is particularly prone to error but because by its very nature the outdatedness of the examples it uses will be especially interesting. In one notable case, an example Arbesman discusses is the case of Brontosaurus, which many of us grew up with as a dinosaur; some of us learned that there was really no such thing as the Brontosaurus, it was really just an Apatosaurus, and that's where Half-Life of Facts leaves it. Except that shortly after the publication of the book, some paleontologists argued (though they haven't convinced everyone yet) that there really was a Brontosaurus after all. In another, in a discussion of machine learning algorithms and things that computers are better at than people and vice versa, he mentions image recognition as an area where humans still beat computers; in the past year or two, though, that may no longer be the case; humans doing identification exercises on the same ImageNet set of images used to test computer vision algorithms find success rates comparable to or slightly poorer than the best algorithms. The best computers can't beat everyone yet, but I'd say we're about at parity now, and will probably soon reach that point.

Mar 29, 2016, 11:09am Top

937: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

A well-written and accessible history of ancient Rome, with more of a focus on general themes rather than a chronology of names and dates. (Occasionally she'd drop a name expecting the reader to be familiar with it, or reference someone she had mentioned earlier in an aside and expect us to remember the name, but for the most part she didn't expect much previous familiarity with the subject.) Rather than ending with the fall of Rome as a naive non-expert like me might expect, she stopped a couple centuries earlier when the emperor Caracalla extended full citizenship to all free men living throughout the empire (though Beard explains that this edict of seeming equality was rapidly followed by the creation of two classes of citizenship, so that rights formerly reserved to "citizens" rather than mere residents were now available only to the higher class of citizens, resulting in little change for the average man.)

Mar 29, 2016, 11:43am Top

>267 lorax: Your review The Half-Life of Facts (no touchstones at the moment) was really interesting. Thanks!

Mar 30, 2016, 1:29pm Top

>269 Nickelini:

Thanks! I'd be interested to hear your take on it, if you end up picking it up.

Mar 30, 2016, 1:33pm Top

Well, we have a day left in the quarter but I'm not going to finished another Dewey book today or tomorrow, so I may as well do the quarterly status check now.

So far in 2016 I have read seven books for the challenge, including two new divisions (71x and 47x); for my mini-challenges I have 2/5 new divisions, and new sections from 5/10 classes.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 87/99 88%
Sections: 302/908 33%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Apr 11, 2016, 10:39am Top

025: Search: How the Data Explosion makes us Smarter by Stefan Weitz

What a waste of time. At least it was short.

I was hoping for something to counteract the common lament of "dependence on Google/smartphones is making us dumb" - an argument I haven't ever had much patience for given that pretty much exactly the same thing was said about the spread of widespread literacy, lamenting about how people didn't have to remember things now that they could just read them. The subtitle seemed promising in that respect, and in conjunction with an aside in the excellent Half-life of Facts (see above) about how if we don't remember something we can't remember something wrong I went in with high hopes.

Unfortunately, Search was instead a rah-rah bit of technoboosterism about how the coming age of everything being connected will make our lives easier and everything more convenient, with the "smarter" bit limited to a little speculation about how freeing up mental energy from not thinking about when to leave for the airport (because in Weitz's future, your phone will know when your flight leaves and what current traffic situations are and just go ahead and call you an Uber and let you know when it's here) will maybe let people do more stuff that requires their brains. (The particular example I gave isn't in the book, but it's representative; Weitz is all about how letting services share data that already exists can enable cool stuff. He explicitly handwaves away concerns about privacy or corporations being reluctant to share their valuable data with "Let's assume these problems are solved.)

This went straight to the donate pile.

Edited: Apr 13, 2016, 3:41pm Top

111: The Infinite Book by John Barrow

A new division for me in the challenging 1xx. Barrow discusses the concept of infinity from a variety of perspectives - philosophical, mathematical, cosmological, and religious, with varying success. The explanation of Cantor's diagonalization procedure (which demonstrates that the set of real numbers is "larger" than the set of rational numbers) is clear but wasn't as mind-blowing for me as it would be for someone encountering the notion for the first time. The cosmological aspects were dated even at the time (2005); Barrow seems to be clinging to the comfortable possibility of a closed universe.

May 17, 2016, 11:55am Top

154: The Mind at Night by Andrea Rock

A historically-inclined overview of the science of dreaming; when during sleep dreams take place, how often they are remembered, the evolution and possible purposes of dreaming, and so forth. Among the more interesting aspects were discussions of how the (false) notion that most people dream in black and white most of the time arose (it first showed up in the early 20th century, with the invention of black-and-white movies) and the revelation that sleep studies that wake people up at intervals during the night find that people spend much of their sleep in very boring and prosaic dreams about everyday activities, but that the more bizarre dreams tend to be remembered since they take place closer to waking. Rock discusses possible evolutionary reasons for why we don't remember most of our dreams, and fMRI-based explanations for "dream logic". If you're looking for a 154 that isn't woo-woo dream interpretation, this is a good bet.

May 20, 2016, 9:35am Top

854: How to Travel with a Salmon by Umberto Eco

Humor is tricky, humor in translation doubly so. This collection of humorous (primarily satirical) essays was hit-or-miss for me; some of them, especially the title essay, were quite amusing, others elicited a mild smile, and the longest, an extended parody of criticism of poetry, dragged on far too long.

Jun 6, 2016, 10:17am Top

632: Locust: The devastating rise and mysterious disappearance of the insect that shaped the American frontier by Jeffrey Lockwood

The Rocky Mountain locust was the scourge of the American prairies in the late 1800s; if you remember the scene in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about the massive swarm of "grasshoppers", this is the species that was the culprit. Within two decades, the locust population dropped from trillions of individuals, with a biomass comparable to that of the American bison prior to the decimation by settlers, to extinction or near-extinction. Lockwood examines the question of why.

The book opens by describing the locust outbreaks at their height, and the complete helplessness of attempts to stop the swarms or prevent their recurrence. The new states or territories, full of newcomers promised free land under the Homestead Act, had no resources even to feed the farmers whose crops were wiped out in the course of a single afternoon. After this gripping opening, the book drags in the early middle with biographical sketches of key entomologists who studied the locust at the time, then picks up again when it gets back to the insects, this time with the gradual realization in the 1890s that the feared swarms were no longer happening. He explores various hypotheses, including a (now discredited) suggestion that the locust was a migratory, swarming phase of a much more benign grasshopper (with the implication that the swarms could recur if conditions became right), various sorts of ecological change due to the settling of the prairies, and the notion that (much like the massive flocks of passenger pigeons) the massive swarms were not an equilibrium condition but themselves the result of ecological disturbance. In the final chapters Lockwood himself enters the picture, leading expeditions to attempt to find frozen remains of the locust in Rocky Mountain glaciers, and arrives at a prosaic but very plausible explanation for the locusts' disappearance.

Jun 6, 2016, 10:42am Top

>276 lorax: arrives at a prosaic but very plausible explanation for the locusts' disappearance.

Well, don't keep me in suspense! What's the reason. I'll never read this book, but your two paragraphs were very interesting.

Jun 6, 2016, 1:45pm Top

A lifecycle bottleneck, basically. He talks about how 90% of the North American population of monarch butterflies could be wiped out if a few groves in Mexico, where the eastern populations winter, were cut down (the western population overwinters in coastal California), and suggested that the Rocky Mountain locust was similarly dependent on highly specific sites between its swarm periods. Based on historical records of where they preferred to lay eggs, and what foods were preferred by or harmful to the nymphs (young locusts), he suggested that they relied on valleys around mountain streams in the Rockies, which were also preferred by settlers for their access to water, and that between soil disturbance from plowing, flooding from the change in vegetation, and planting of vegetation that the nymphs didn't do well on, the locusts were wiped out in their "permanent zone" where they were concentrated when not in swarm.

Jun 6, 2016, 2:59pm Top

>278 lorax: That's so interesting! Thanks for the detailed explanation. I hope we don't lose the butterflies. Locusts I'm not so sad about.

Jun 6, 2016, 3:23pm Top

>279 Nickelini:

Honestly, those groves are pretty well-protected. I'm more concerned about the butterflies here in North America, what with Roundup everywhere so there's not much milkweed anymore, and what with all the insecticides. It's gotten to be where seeing a monarch is a rare occasion in the summer, rather than a daily one, for me.

Jun 16, 2016, 6:57pm Top

Just wanted to say that I always appreciate your reviews here, even if I don't post much.

Edited: Jun 19, 2016, 4:13pm Top

The dream book looks good. All the 154s I have seen are, as you say, woo-woo dream interpretation, and I just can't manage that.

Jul 6, 2016, 11:47am Top

440: The Story of French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow

I read The Story of Spanish by the same authors a year or so ago and was sufficiently impressed that despite knowing nothing of French I decided to pick this one up. It was a real slog for me, and it's tough to say whether that's because I don't know any French, the authors are fluent in French but not in Spanish, or the aspects that the authors chose to focus on in this book were just less interesting to me - they devoted a lot of time in this volume to the post-colonial use of French as an international language both in former colonies and, more interestingly, elsewhere as a deliberate alternative to English, and less time on the earlier development of modern French than they did in the book on Spanish. I doubt I would have finished if it hadn't been for the challenge, and especially since this was a new division for me.

Jul 6, 2016, 11:53am Top

Slightly belated quarterly status check:

So far in 2016 I have read 13 new sections, including two new divisions (11x and 44x); for my mini-challenge I have 4/5 new divisions and new sections in 9/10 classes. I'm well on track to finishing my mini-challenge and have TBR books lined up both for the new division and the remaining class (can't double-dip this one, I'm afraid - the class I haven't covered yet is 2xx, and my TBR there is in 20x where I've already read several).

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 89/99 90%
Sections: 308/908 34%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Jul 8, 2016, 11:46am Top

That's good progress!

Aug 1, 2016, 10:57am Top

948: The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

More of an overview of the state of modern Scandinavia with some "how did things get here" background than a history per se, this has sections on the five Nordic countries (Booth acknowledges that they aren't all technically Scandinavia but uses the term anyway), and on how the rosy view among American progressives and many Brits isn't necessarily quite accurate. It was interesting if a bit disjointed due to Booth's decision to write separate sections on each country rather than a more thematic overview, so that within, say, the Finland section there might be a chapter on their views of Sweden and so forth.

Aug 23, 2016, 10:39am Top

160: Crimes against Logic by Jamie Whyte

Another new division in the difficult-for-me 1xx! That's the second new 1xx for me this year, and the fourth new division overall. Only nine divisions left until I've read one book from all of them. I don't actually expect to actually get there anytime soon, since there are a couple where my strategy for now is "wait until someone writes a decent book that goes here", but I should be able to get to only having 2 or 3 left within the next couple years.

This short volume looked like it might be something a little different from a listing of logical fallacies; to an extent, it was, but it did include some fairly standard recitation of some of the more common fallacies (though it doesn't give the Latin names for most of them.) The author pretty clearly has a few political axes to grind that come up in some of his examples, but it's short enough that it's not too obnoxious. Not a keeper for me, but it wasn't a drag to get through, either.

Aug 23, 2016, 10:54am Top

958: The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

Between when I purchased this memoir and when I read it, I learned that it was made into a movie, so I found myself unable to read without envisioning the author as Tina Fey. (It worked pretty well - I didn't see the movie but it seems like a decent casting.) Kim Barker is a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, who finds herself covering South Asia (particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan) after 9/11 not because she's particularly qualified but because she's willing to go and, as a single person without children, doesn't have any major attachments at home. She manages to not only meet but befriend many significant figures in regional politics, and has the terrible luck to always seem to schedule her rare vacations for the day right before major news stories erupt, meaning she both misses the story and has to cut her trip short. (She decides, for instance, to avoid all news coverage for a couple days over Christmas 2004 when on vacation, meaning she's blindsided by a call from her editor beginning with "I assume you're working on a story about the tsunami?"

Barker finds herself strangely attached to the adrenaline-soaked world of the war correspondent, to the point that when she's ultimately downsized as newspapers everywhere slash their reporting staff she wanders unemployed in Afghanistan for a while before coming to her senses and returning to the US (at which point she presumably decides to start writing a memoir, for lack of anything better to do.)

There's no shortage of 958 out there, but if you want something a little less violent and gung-ho than most of the WAR WAR WAR options seem to be, this isn't a bad pick.

Aug 24, 2016, 1:44pm Top

>287 lorax:: On the 1xx divisions you don't have, I recommend The Analects of Confucius in 181. It was one of the few books I genuinely enjoyed reading in my college philosophy class.

>288 lorax:: I'm going to look for this one. I knew the Tina Fey movie was based on a true story, but I didn't know it was a book first.

Aug 26, 2016, 9:38am Top

>289 carlym:


Also, based on your review and a couple others I saw I ordered that book about the nuns you talked about in your thread. Watch this space! I probably won't get to it anytime soon, but hey, that was one of the tough divisions for me, so I'm certainly going to give it a try.

Aug 26, 2016, 3:04pm Top

I hope you like the nuns book! I have been focusing on this challenge and hope to have some new books read in the more obscure categories soon.

Sep 9, 2016, 2:46pm Top

295: In Search of Zarathustra by Paul Kriwaczek

Hey, look, a 2xx! Granted, it's a 29x, the section for non-Christian books, but I'm happy with any 2xx I can get - especially because this means I've met both my goals for the year. The structure of this combination history and travelogue takes a bit of getting used to; Kriwaczek works his way backwards through history tracing what he believes to be Zoroastrian influences from the relatively recent back to Zoroaster himself, which means we bump into Nietzsche relatively early on. It gets more interesting to me once we leave various Christian heresies which may or may not have been influenced by Zoroastrian thought (the idea of two more or less equally powerful opposing gods seems to be sufficiently obvious that it could have evolved multiple times simultaneously, after all) and get to Iran, both with thinly Islamized survivals of Zoroastrian practices and to actual Zoroastrian history and beliefs.

Sep 21, 2016, 2:36pm Top

I have this on my wishlist for 295! It seems like you were ambivalent about it--worth reading, or should I look for something else?

Sep 22, 2016, 10:54am Top

>293 carlym:

Oh, it's worth reading. It's just a rough start, but it gets better.

Edited: Sep 28, 2016, 1:19pm Top

615: The Demon under the Microscope by Thomas Hager

An engaging microhistory of the discovery of sulfa drugs, the first antibiotics, which revolutionized medicine (though with the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it looks as though that era is rapidly coming to a close). We're used to hearing stories of discoveries and breakthroughs in science, including medicine, as a single person's Eureka Moment, a single dramatic action. A doctor in Vienna orders physicians in his institute to wash their hands between performing autopsies and delivering babies, dramatically lowering the rate of death of new mothers from childbed fever. Alexander Fleming notices bacteria failing to grow in a petri dish contaminated by bread mold. John Snow removes a pump handle and stops a cholera epidemic. This is very much not that kind of story; it's the story of how scientific research more usually takes place, with a team of people doing slow, methodical research most of which yields no results. Spurred by his experiences as a medic in World War One where he watched many soldiers survive their initial wounds only to die of infection, he set about to find a weapon against strep bacteria. He and his team focused on using dyes as carrier molecules, testing hundreds of variants on mice unsuccessfully before finding a chemical that worked - only to later discover that their own blind spot had led them astray, as French rivals found the dye portion to be unnecessary and that the cheap, easily manufactured "sulfa" portion of the drug was the effective portion. The era of sulfa as the primary antibiotic was brief, with penicillin replacing it for many applications shortly after WWII, but the conceptual breakthrough was immense.

Sep 28, 2016, 1:24pm Top

I may as well do the quarterly status check while I'm here, so I don't forget.

So far in 2016 I have read 18 new sections, and five new divisions; I've completed both of my mini-challenges for the year.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 90/99 91%
Sections: 312/908 34%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Edited: Oct 24, 2016, 2:42pm Top

584: The Forgiveness of Nature by Graham Harvey

About as exciting as watching grass grow.

I'd been hoping for more of a natural history of grasses and grasslands. When I think of grasses, I think of the North American prairies, the steppes of Central Asia, the pampas of South America. I do not think of sheep-grazing meadows of England, but that's most of what this book is about, with one chapter devoted to the prairies. There were interesting tidbits here and there (a chapter on the history of lawnmowers, as well as the prairie bit), but any time Harvey got back to meadows or British agriculture I got bored.

Dec 12, 2016, 11:11am Top

I don't often post about anything other than the first book for a topic, but since my 581 was so tremendously dull I thought it's worth mentioning the book I just finished, The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson, which was engaging and informative and everything that Seed to Seed was not. Very much worth reading.

Dec 15, 2016, 12:57pm Top

297: No god but God by Reza Aslan

A mostly very readable history of Islam written by a liberal Muslim who is a scholar of religion (he was in the news a few years ago, when he wrote Zealot, which I haven't read but is on my potential list.) My main quibble is that since it is a history of Islam the religion rather than a more general history of how the religion has influenced the world, it skips over things like the Crusades and the golden age of Islamic science, while covering theological disputes in detail. Still, all I knew about the history of Islam I got from Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe (which cleverly keeps Muhammed just offscreen or hidden inside a building in each panel featuring him, making a game of the famous prohibition on depicting him), so this filled a major gap in my knowledge. And it got me a new 2xx, even if it is in the relatively-easy 29x.

Dec 15, 2016, 1:05pm Top

Time to think about my mini-challenge for next year. For the past couple of years I've been doing what I think of as a breadth-based challenge to get new sections in each class. I'm going to switch gears a bit for next year, since 0xx and 8xx are getting thin on the ground for me, and move to a depth-based approach to complete more divisions. I'm going to still try to get some new divisions, but move from a pure count to a depth-based approach there as well.

So, in 2017, my goal will be to:

* "Division-complete" another class so that I have at least one book from each division. This will probably be 4xx, where all I need is a 45x.

* Complete two more divisions. One will probably be 95x, where I have both sections that I need on my TBR shelves.

I'll also try for at least ten new sections overall.

Jan 3, 2017, 9:54am Top

Well, I didn't finish anything new in the last two weeks, so here's the 2016 year-end roundup:

* I met both of the goals for my mini-challenge (5 new divisions, and a new section in each class).

* I read a total of 20 new sections and five new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 90/99 91%
Sections: 314/908 34%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

I have two new sections in progress, a 425 and a 525.

Jan 10, 2017, 11:53am Top

525: Flat Earth: The history of an infamous idea by Christine Garwood

Longtime members of this group may remember my rant about the 52x as an area where the DDC really shows its nineteenth-century roots. So I suppose it's natural that a history of a very nineteenth-century notion, the flat earth, fills one of the few remaining sections for me in this division. (My academic background is in astronomy, but almost all modern astronomy materials are in 523.) Garwood begins by reminding the reader that all educated people have known the earth is round for many centuries (though she points out that we have no idea what, if anything, the average uneducated person in the Middle Ages thought about the shape of the earth), briefly discusses the origin of the old urban legend that Columbus had to convince skeptics of the shape of the earth, and quickly dives into her main area: a detailed history of flat-earthers from the mid-nineteenth-century through almost the present day. The level of detail is a bit tedious, and the main interest for me is something Garwood touches on late in the book, the analogies to modern young-earth creationists (not only in a fanatical devotion to biblical literalism, but also in co-opting the language and concepts of science and in an utterly bizarre version of interpreting evidence wherein any possible result is found to 'confirm' the desired hypothesis.

Jan 10, 2017, 12:43pm Top

425: The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker

The title's a little misleading; this isn't about pronouns per se, but about the nearly-invisible "function words" in general (which do include pronouns), and how their usage reflects our attitudes, personality, and social status. (As an example, counter to popular misconception, people who lack confidence tend to use "I" more frequently and "we" less often.) Pennebaker is a sociologist, not a linguist, which shows in his exclusive focus on English (with a paragraph-length nod here or there to other languages, but no discussion of languages where pronouns and other 'function words' break down very differently from English; those with no articles, or with multiple versions of 'we', or where relative social status is encoded in pronouns, etc.)

I've actually done some basic text analysis, and was frustrated by the lack of detail about any of the technical tools; sentiment analysis was sort of touched on a little bit, but it wasn't at all clear that the tools he mentioned were anything more interesting than straight word counting (perhaps even without normalization?)

Edited: Mar 31, 2017, 11:56am Top

953: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Jennifer Steil

Current and recent geopolitics mean that it seems like books on the Middle East are distinctly gendered; there are war-and-terror focused books featuring guns and/or men in military uniform on the cover, and there are women's memoirs. See https://www.librarything.com/mds/956 or https://www.librarything.com/mds/958 to see what I mean.

Having little patience for violence or sensationalism, I find the latter more to my liking. The Woman who Fell from the Sky is American journalist Jennifer Steil's account of her time running the Yemen Observer newspaper, trying to teach the journalists there basic journalistic concepts like use of multiple sources, separation between advertising and news, and meeting deadlines. Yemen is a country most Americans know very little about, and while the balance between discussion of the country as a whole and the workings of the paper lean a bit more toward the paper than I'd like, I still learned quite a bit. As a Western woman, Steil enjoys a unique position; as a woman, she is able to access women-only spaces and talk freely with Yemeni women, but as a Westerner she is able to access male spaces as well and is not restricted to women's spaces. As a result this is a more complete picture of the country than a Western man would be able to provide.

My primary complaint is that the ending feels rushed, especially with the tacked-on love story (I know it's what happened to her, but that doesn't mean she needed to include it) involving the British ambassador.

Feb 22, 2017, 10:34am Top

261: On Care for our Common Home by Pope Francis

I've heard it said that the current Pope is more popular among non-Catholics than among Catholics, and while the singular of data is not anecdote I'm an example of that suggestion. His encyclical on climate change got a lot of attention when it came out a year ago, and I'd been meaning to pick it up - I just didn't want to be seen reading something so blatantly religious on the subway (No offense to Catholics or other religious folk, I hope.) So once I started doing my subway reading on the tablet I picked it up. The first two-thirds or so were really not very explicitly Catholic at all; he ends up reaching some conclusions and making some points about the interconnectedness of life on Earth and the importance of all people that I as a UU see as very Unitarian, starting from totally different axioms. And in a country where the most visible and vocal sect of religious involvement in secular affairs is loudly and proudly anti-science, anti-environment, and anti-equality in all forms it's refreshing to see something so deeply in favor of all of those. It was a bit strange, though, to read something set in such a completely different context from anything I've read - almost all of the abundant footnotes cite only other Catholic writings, a totally parallel set of literature. The last third got more specifically Christian (though most Protestants wouldn't find much to object to, I think) and lost my interest. Still, it was short, it got me a tough new division, and it stretched my comfort zone a bit, exactly what this challenge ought to do.

Mar 3, 2017, 1:30pm Top

293: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I really enjoyed this. I'd been wanting to read some Norse mythology for a while now, but hadn't really found anything suitable - I wasn't interested in something for kids, but I didn't feel up to tackling the Eddas head-on. So I was delighted when I heard Gaiman was writing a retelling - I trust his ear for myth, and he did a decent job with Loki in Sandman.

These aren't for young kids; while the language is simple and straightforward, there's a lot of violence and death here, up to and including the end of the world. The choice of simple prose reminds me of the beginning of Heaney's translation of Beowulf, where the Old English "Hwaet", so often translated as an overblown "Hark!" or "Lo!", is instead rendered as "So." They're stories told around the fire, not being declaimed by a great poet. While it's a short book and a quick read, it's probably best to savor it, reading a tale or two a night, which is what I did.

While it left me wanting more, it's important to emphasize that these are retellings, not new stories, and some modern things like character development are lacking; Loki doesn't have a motivation for what he does, he does what he does because he's Loki, and that's his nature. Taken on its own terms, it's a highly readable version of a pantheon less familiar to most of us than the Greek but no less interesting.

Mar 20, 2017, 2:11pm Top

102: Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart

I don't really have much to say about this; the conceit is amusing, but the jokes are mostly ones you've heard before and only slightly related to the philosophical concepts they're supposed to illuminate (at least from the point of view of someone with a 101-at-best understanding of the field, which is squarely where this book is aimed, as a 101-level intro or refresher.) It's a quick read, at least.

Mar 29, 2017, 3:32pm Top

780: The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause

I really enjoyed this one. Krause is a musician-turned ecologist, focusing on recordings of "soundscapes", the entire auditory picture of a portion of the natural world. Prior investigations had focused exclusively on specific sounds of individual animals; this is a lion, this is a warbler, this is a humpback whale. (Birdsong recordings in particular are almost obsessive about singling out the target animal to the exclusion of all context. Krause focuses on the big picture, how the sounds of different species fit together with each species (or, in some cases, each individual) finding a unclaimed part of time- and frequency-space in order to be heard. He speculates just enough about how this interposition of different sounds influenced the development of human music rather than someplace in the 5xx, but the real joy of this book is the recordings on his website, noted at relevant points by musical notes in the text. (Minor quibble: I'd much have preferred the indicator to come before the text, rather than after, so I could be listening as I read, rather than "Read, stop to listen to a 2-minute recording, resume reading".) Krause points that his library of soundscape recordings spanning decades can demonstrate the change in species number and abundance more so than images can, and gives an example of a logged forest where a thin strip of uncut trees were left close to roads and trails; the forest looked unchanged, but was virtually silent after logging compared to the rich combination of sounds beforehand. Recommended.

Edited: Mar 31, 2017, 11:49am Top

935: Persian Fire by Tom Holland

Another that I wouldn't have picked up without the challenge to prod me, and while it was slow going in places I'm glad I did. Holland gives a close and thorough account of the Greco-Persian wars, starting with brief histories of both sides of the conflict and eventually narrowing to a detailed account of key battles. I would have appreciated a reference in the back with key names, though; it was a bit difficult for me to keep all the key players straight at times.

Mar 31, 2017, 11:56am Top

And now I can do my quarterly summary, since I knew I was going to finish that one by the end of the month!

So far I've read eight new sections this year (one of which I just remembered and still need to post about) including two new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 92/99 93%
Sections: 322/908 35%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

For a while now, there have been a few sections where I keep thinking "Eventually, someone will write something interesting here". Finally this year I checked off one of those with Gaiman's Norse Mythology, and I have another one on my TBR shelf that I may or may not get to this year.

Mar 31, 2017, 12:02pm Top

My remaining divisions are:

05x Magazines, journals & serials: No ideas.
14x Specific philosophical schools: TBR
18x Ancient, medieval, Oriental philosophy: One possibility.
25x Christian orders & local churches: TBR
28x Christian sects and denominations: One possibility.
31x General statistics: No ideas.
45x Romance languages; Italian, etc.: One possibility.

Please do not recommend How to Lie with Statistics as a 31x. Current classification puts it in 519, with all the rest of the statistics books; 311 is an old classification. I have plenty of 519s and use statistics much more advanced than anything in that book every day for my job and have absolutely zero desire to read it. 31x appears to be more of a "demographics" classification these days, and I'm hoping something will turn up there eventually. 05x is a bit harder; any magazines I'm interested in are subject-specific enough that anything about them goes in a subject area. All I see in 05x seems to be about either Mad or The New Yorker, neither of which interests me. Suggestions in either of those divisions are welcome.

Edited: Jun 20, 2017, 4:14pm Top

799: All Fishermen are Liars by Linda Greenlaw

There are two sections for fishing, 799 and 639; 799 is filed under recreation, while 639 is filed near agriculture and "animal husbandry"; for the most part, books about commercial fishing are in 639 and those about hobby fishing in 799. While Greenlaw is a professional swordfishing captain (and describes herself as a "fisherman", sharing my utter lack of a good non-gendered word for the profession), this claims to be a bunch of stories told in a bar between friends, and leans more toward the recreational end of things. At any rate, the classification is unanimous on OCLC Classify, so it's good enough for me.

Edited: Jun 20, 2017, 4:14pm Top

450: La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales

Noting without comment, because I'm behind and just need to get caught up. More about Italy and Italian culture than the Italian language, but enough about the language to squeak into the 4xx.

Edited: Oct 18, 2017, 10:08am Top

412: Damp Squid by Jeremy Butterfield

Not a terribly new book, covering fairly standard material on the evolution and status of various English words - the interest here lies in the source material, the massive Oxford corpus of written English that includes both published material and online documents. Not a keeper for me but an entertaining enough read.

Jul 3, 2017, 11:00am Top

Quarterly summary:

So far I've read eleven new sections this year including three new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 93/99 94%
Sections: 325/908 35%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
4xx, 5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Oct 3, 2017, 10:40am Top

Wow, it's been a while! And unlike most of my long gaps in the past, it's not that I forgot to update the thread; I just haven't been reading much that applies. I did manage to finish one this quarter though - slow going to be sure, but it's in the difficult-for-me 2xx.

291: A History of God by Karen Armstrong

A very thorough look at the history of Western monotheism (i.e. the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) from a sympathetic but relatively neutral perspective - she's been a nun and an atheist before settling on a mystical Christianity. Her sympathy toward mysticism and against literalist, fundamentalist readings is clear, but its very clarity means the reader can easily account for it, and her discussion of the three religions is evenhanded. My major complaint, which was exacerbated by my reading this book slowly and with gaps, is her tendency to refer back to someone mentioned briefly fifty or a hundred pages ago and assume the reader remembers the details. Fortunately the index is good.

Oct 3, 2017, 10:43am Top

So, my quarterly update:

So far I've read twelve new sections this year including three new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 92/99 93%
Sections: 326/908 35%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
4xx, 5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

I'm reading two new sections now, so I should get in some more updates this quarter than last! One of them will finish of the 95x, too, and thus complete my mini-challenge for the year.

Oct 18, 2017, 10:08am Top

558: Devil in the Mountain by Simon Lamb

Despite the sensationalist title this is a good, readable book about the geology of the Andes. It's not so simple as "subduction zone == mountains" which is the cartoon I had had in my head; in particular the Altiplano, the flat, high-elevation portion of Bolivia where the author spends much of his time doing research, requires a more complicated explanation. Not too technical, and a good balance of science with giving a sense for what doing geological fieldwork is actually like. (The envy he has surrounding the beautifully detailed geological maps that oil companies have, which they do not let anyone else see, was very tangible. Beautiful, beautiful data, all locked up.)

Oct 18, 2017, 10:22am Top

331: Working by Studs Terkel

One of the great American oral histories, this is a lengthy series of short interviews, done in the early 1970s, with Americans (mostly in and around Chicago) about their jobs, how they view their jobs, how their jobs make them feel, how other people react to their jobs. Terkel makes a deliberate decision to, for the most part, not talk with highly educated people, figuring that doctors and lawyers have enough space to tell their own stories.

As a tech-sector person in the 2010s, what strikes me is how long many of the people Terkel talks to spend at a single job - decades, in many cases. You can see echoes here of some of what Trump's supporters want to return to - the idea that, if you're a white man, you can just get a job at 20 and then have that until you retire. No job-hunting, no new skills, just put in your time and be confident that your job will always be there and always be the same. It's totally foreign to me. Since it was the 1970s, of course, there was lots of casual racism and sexism from the interviewees. (Lots of guys patting themselves on the back for thinking things like "Yeah, as long as they keep to themselves and work hard, I don't mind working with black guys.")

It took me a long time to finish this, since I'd read one or two interviews at a time, but it's well-suited to that treatment.

Oct 20, 2017, 3:48pm Top

956: Desert Queen by Janet Wallach

Biography of a woman I'm afraid I had never heard of, Gertrude Bell, a wealthy English woman who, after failing to find a husband (and she did try), traveled to the Middle East, a region she rapidly became fascinated with and where she spent most of her life in a quasi-diplomatic role and where she literally helped create the borders of modern Iraq, with all the associated difficulties. (The book was written in 1995, after the first Gulf War, with a new afterword in 2005 during the current Iraq war.) I find biographies tedious most of the time, but when it's someone who I *didn't* know about previously the details are less annoying to me for some reason.

This completes the 95x for me.

Oct 20, 2017, 6:07pm Top

You've been making great progress lately! I added Working to my TBR list.

And I saw an interesting film about Gertrude Bell a couple of years ago, so I'd like to read about her in more detail eventually.

Nov 21, 2017, 10:58am Top

637: The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

This book was just enough about cheese and cheesemaking to squeak into the 637 (on most copies; 946 is second on both LT and OCLC classify) - a good thing, since the alternatives are cheesemaking cookbooks. (I actually do have one. I haven't read it cover-to-cover and thus don't count it.) Paterniti, who writes mostly for magazines, tells the story of becoming fascinated first by what was at the time the most expensive cheese sold in the US and then by the story of its maker in a small village in Spain. This is mostly the story of Ambrosio, who painstakingly recreated his family's ancestral cheese recipe and successfully marketed it internationally before losing the cheese and the company, either due to betrayal by his friends or his own poor business decisions (Paterniti's attempt to untangle this story make up much of the book, along with his accounts of Spanish village life in the early 2000s.) Not a keeper, not one I'd reread, but a pleasant enough story.

Edited: Dec 1, 2017, 2:20pm Top

I've already requested The Telling Room from my library - it sounds like a great way to get through 637.

When I start getting stuck for books, I'm going to come back and mine from your list!

Feb 14, 2018, 10:04am Top

492: Empires of the Plain by Lesley Adkins

Many years ago, when I was first starting this challenge, _Zoe_ recommended this, with the caveat that it was more a biography than a story of the decipherment. So while it was in the back of my brain for quite some time, it never rose up the priority queue. But new sections are getting harder and harder to find, so I ended up picking this up anyway. It is indeed a biography - of a very interesting person, to be sure, but it was enormously frustrating in that, as so many biographies do, it skipped right over the details of what they did to deserve having their biography written! I've rated this two stars, meaning below average - not a keeper, but not unfinishably awful, either. Still, it's my first new section of the year, which counts for something.

Feb 14, 2018, 10:10am Top

Which reminds me, I never did do my year-end roundup for 2017! So:

In 2017 I read fifteen new sections, including three new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 93/99 94%
Sections: 329/908 36%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
4xx, 5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 95x, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

I want to get two more divisions this year (a modest goal, but there are only six left) and finish off at least one more division (most likely 63x, where I need only a 630).

Feb 14, 2018, 12:14pm Top

I feel a bit guilty for recommending a book that was merely "not unfinishably awful", but I'm glad you were able to complete a new section!

Edited: Jul 9, 2018, 9:41pm Top

Zoe (326):

I feel a bit guilty for recommending a book that was merely "not unfinishably awful", but I'm glad you were able to complete a new section!

You were very clear that it was a biography! Don't feel guilty.

Mar 13, 2018, 9:59am Top

555: Colliding Continents by Mike Searle

Like Devil in the Mountain, but for the Himalayas, with much more technical detail about the geology and much scarier mountaineering to actually get to the sites. If you aren't doing the challenge, you could probably pick just one to get your orogeny fix, but they're both good candidates for their respective sections here.

Apr 18, 2018, 10:18am Top

709: Loot by Sharon Waxman

An even-handed and only slightly dated look at the debate surrounding returning antiquities to their countries of origin, both famous pieces taken centuries ago which were probably legal at the time (under laws written by the nations taking them) and those recently purchased with varying degrees of care for their provenance.

Jun 26, 2018, 12:15pm Top

428: The Fight for English by David Crystal

This is best described as "a history of English prescriptivism by a linguist". As a linguist rather than a self-described grammar snob, Crystal has little patience with the arbitrary and artificial "rules" of prescriptivists (things like "don't split an infinitive" and "don't end a sentence with a preposition" - rules which have never been universally followed by native speakers, and which were imposed because they made English more like Latin. Most books in 428 are exactly the sort of "despite speaking English fluently for your entire life, you're doing it wrong because you don't follow these invented rules" manuals Crystal derides (well, that or misclassified children's books), so this was the obvious best choice for me.

Jul 6, 2018, 4:11pm Top

547: Giant Molecules by Walter Gratzer

I'd have liked a bit more about the discovery and development of these molecules rather than just the chemistry. As it was the level of explanation was a bit odd - explaining basic high school chemistry in the first chapter and then jumping with both feet into much more difficult territory without stopping to explain the more difficult concepts. Not a keeper for me.

Jul 6, 2018, 4:15pm Top

Midway through 2018, here's a progress update:

So far in 2018 I have read five new sections, and no new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 93/99 94%
Sections: 334/908 37%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
4xx, 5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 95x, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Aug 2, 2018, 10:22am Top

782: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda

It's been a while since I got a new section that wasn't something I actively sought out for the challenge. But we finally actually got to see Hamilton - the touring production is in Washington, DC for an extended run - and my wife borrowed this from the library. It's both an account of the making of the show from its earliest beginnings through to the start of the Broadway run and a complete set of lyrics. It made me realize how many references went zooming right over my head because I'm not familiar enough with the genre to pick up on the nods and even direct quotes that Manuel was making in his lyrics.

Aug 7, 2018, 2:21pm Top

610: Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Not quite a biography, because it avoids the cardinal sin of biographies of spending 90% of the pages on everything other than what makes the person you're reading about interesting and/or famous. Let's call it a portrait, then - it reads like nothing so much as a very, very long feature magazine article about Dr. Paul Farmer, a doctor who devoted his life to improving public health (especially TB treatment) in the poorest parts of the world, primarily Haiti but also part of Peru and Russia. He mostly avoids the "white savior" issue by working very directly with locals and listening to what they actually need rather than what he thinks they should need, and by very clearly having no interest in getting any sort of credit or praise for his actions. I hadn't heard of him, and honestly that may be where I find biographies to actually be interesting - I don't get annoyed by "irrelevant" parts or bored by stuff I already know.

Aug 11, 2018, 9:04am Top

I just read Devil in the Mountain (it had been on my shelf for a while) and then bought Colliding Continents! I'm glad to see you liked Colliding Continents.

Aug 21, 2018, 11:31am Top

255: If Nuns Ruled the World by Jo Piazza

Wow, an interesting 2xx, and one that's in one of the Christianity sections (i.e. everything but 20x and 29x) to boot! Jo Piazza, who is agnostic herself, profiles ten American nuns who are in one way or the other defying stereotypes and, for the most part, working to make the world better in real and tangible ways (the one exception is a long-distance runner - interesting but not really world-changing). As an atheist myself I found the more interesting sections to be where the women were working in the world outside the Catholic Church - opposing Republican cuts to the social safety net, working against nuclear weapons, helping the children born to women in prison - rather than those working on reforming the Catholic Church itself (working on the ordination of women, or on being more inclusive toward gays and lesbians). There's no larger context or synthesis - just ten interesting profiles of ten interesting women. I'm afraid I no longer remember whose thread I first saw this book on, but thanks to whoever it was. New divisions are really hard to come by these days.

Aug 21, 2018, 11:07pm Top

>336 lorax: I loved If Nuns Ruled the World - unfortunately, I read it well before I started the Dewey Decimal Challenge! I wonder if it's cheating to read it again.....

Aug 22, 2018, 10:18am Top

I'm even counting books I read before I started the challenge, so I certainly wouldn't consider a reread to be cheating! I love finding these little gems tucked away in obscure sections.

Dec 5, 2018, 4:52pm Top

670: How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers by Sharon Rose

A series of brief explanations of the history and manufacture of various common objects. The level of detail on the actual "how things are made" part is uneven, and the book is a bit dated, which makes for some amusing parts where the "future development" speculation misses the mark entirely. Most of the objects haven't changed much, though - jeans and zippers are still made in the same way, even if the 15-year-old speculations on future developments in light bulbs turn out to have missed the mark.

Edited: Jan 3, 11:35am Top

2018 year-end progress check:

In 2018 I read only nine new sections, my fewest by quite a bit (but then, there are fewer sections remaining, so that's not terribly surprising) and no new divisions.

Classes: 10/10 100%
Divisions: 93/99 94%
Sections: 338/908 37%

Division-Complete Classes (classes where I have read at least one book from every division):
4xx, 5xx, 6xx, 7xx, 8xx, 9xx

Complete Divisions (divisions where I have read at least one book from each section):
00x, 51x, 57x, 59x, 91x, 92x*, 95x, 97x

(*The 92x is something of a special case, since only 920 and 929 are currently in use.)

Jan 3, 11:35am Top

2019 goals:

I want to get at least one, ideally two, new divisions this year. I'd also like to complete all sections in another division. There are a couple where I only need to read one section to do that, so it should be possible.

Feb 19, 9:55am Top

Finally, the first new section of the year:

200: Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell

I no longer remember how I heard about this - maybe a review on NPR? - but I'm glad I remembered it. Russell, a former British diplomat, spent years traveling around the Middle East, meeting followers of minority (and, from a Western standpoint, "obscure") religions and learning what he could about their practices and beliefs. These range from the relatively well-understood Zoroastrians to some like the Druze where not even all members of the religion are familiar with their beliefs, as such knowledge is restricted to the priesthood. Russell discusses how dispersal - both to the larger cities in the Middle East and to large Western cities threatens the survival of religions that are primarily based in community rather than belief. This was a fascinating read.

Mar 5, 3:56pm Top

893: Writings from Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

The 8xx are a weird one for most of us, I expect - anyone who reads fiction is going to have lots and lots of them, but primarily in only a handful of sections. So a new 8xx is a rare occasion, for me - my last one was back in 2016, it appears. This is an anthology of mostly very-brief translations of ancient Egyptian writings - "writings" is used here rather than "literature" since much of what is here wouldn't be considered literature, but instead are letters or accounts of military exploits or prayers. The individual pieces are short enough that this is an easy one to dip into and out of, which is exactly what I did.

Mar 5, 4:05pm Top

353: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

A heartbreaking look at individual cases of innocent men on death row in the US, along with brief looks at the US criminal justice system as a whole and in particular the increasing reliance on trying children as young as 13 as adults (and, until the Supreme Court recently ruled otherwise, sentencing them to live without parole at those young ages). Probably best appreciated by people who learn by anecdote rather than by statistics, with its narrow focus on a few specific cases. It's a well-written and important book; my main quibble is that, in its focus on the most obvious cases of overt racism in the criminal justice system, it could make it easy for people to assume the problem is all one of Alabama judges literally named for Robert E. Lee and outspokenly racist cops fabricating evidence, rather than of more subtle systematic biases nationwide.

Mar 5, 11:56pm Top

>342 lorax:
That sounds interesting, although I'm not sure I want to actually read it. But I'm fascinated with how all the branches of ancient religions reach out into the current religions that are common today. I don't see that they are all so separate as most believers believe.

Group: Dewey Decimal Challenge

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