Book Thread

Discussion in 'Media Central' started by RickDeckard, Dec 23, 2012.

  1. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    The Age of Capital, 1848-1975 by Eric Hobsbawm

    The next in Hobsbawm's series on modern history, this one covers a relatively short period of around a quarter century. Hobsbawm describes this as the period after the failure of the 1848 revolutions where capitalism stabilised, and undergoing perhaps the most extraordinary boom ever witnessed, headed off the threat of revolution that had been constant for several decades and became in some sense "permanent". Capitalism itself abandoned its revolutionary origins and began a gradual accommodation with movements for political democracy. The growth of nationalism (and I found this astonishing) founded nations - if not yet always states - out of whole cloth, by standardising language, culture and identity through new education systems.
    The period is marked by the application of new technologies to the process of industrialisation. Primary among these are the railway and the telegraph. We see the growing ostentatiousness of the bourgeois (despite their austere origins) and the beginnings of rising living standards more generally.

    Events are again covered in very broad strokes - which makes it somewhat jarring that Hobsbawm references the life and work of Karl Marx (who was active in this period) dozens of times. Some of it is interesting but it is often out of place.

    Hobsbawm's perspective on the arts is interesting. Dominated by realism, he finds the output of this time lacking compared to its predecessor. The notable exception is that of the novel - where we find Dickens, Elliot, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Melville. My own reading tends to agree that this is when more of the greats were perhaps produced than any other.
    And overconfidence is evident in the sciences. Social sciences overreached by attempting to apply simple theories to human society and physical science incorrectly gave the impression it was nearing completion.

    The period ends with the onset of a long depression, shortly after the unification of Germany (Bismarck emerges as a masterful figure) and the drowning of the Paris Commune in blood. By this stage, the hegemony of Britain had found rivals - in the US, Germany, Japan and elsewhere and the stage was set for an era of imperialist competition.
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  2. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    Mudd's Angels - J.A. Lawrence

    Well, as long as I'm Mudding around.

    This is the culmination of James Blish's novelizations of TOS (or as the introduction calls it, "the first three seasons ... of the live Star Trek series"). Blish wrote the two Mudd episodes and intended to add his own story to fill out the book, but died, leaving his widow to write/finish it. I'm no expert but the prose all feels believably Blish to me. The plot is the kind of creativity/borderline insanity you really only get with these Bantams and the early Pockets.

    Anyway, the third story begins with a galaxy-wide dilithium shortage. Somehow all the mining operations' contracts with their respective governments simultaneously expired and businesses with blatantly fake names have been buying up all the dilithium and paying for it with hot chicks.

    Standard Mudd so far, but then we get a psychohistorian, a replica of the Taj Mahal, numerous Aruhu units programmed solely for pleasure :shep:, Chekov recovering racial Mongolian memories while under hypnosis, and all the timey-spacey stuff that happens when you hit the galactic barrier at warp 9 (you get kicked out to the next galaxy over and your dilithium balloons like a Galactus-sized Violet Beauregarde). Also starships apparently go through dilithium like a locomotive goes through coal. And subspace contains all the subspace messages that have ever been and will ever be sent, you just have to know how to tune your receiver for the one you want. And Spock swears "by the Ratiocination of Irm" out of nowhere. The '70s, man.

    Also, as in Blish's Spock Must Die!, the main characters get to debate about the nature of souls a bit. Also this version of the real Stella is very different from the one in the last book.

    Oh yes, and finally - finally! - we get to watch as our heroes stumble back to a starbase from their latest adventure and try to explain their way out of a future laden with straitjackets. It's a wild ride.
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  3. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    FDR's Last Year - Jim Bishop

    Six hundred pages, published in 1974, about the period from April 1944 to FDR's burial in April 1945. It's built on a fair bibliography and a number of interviews with those still alive.


    New terms: branch water, six-bitter, janissary, Spuyten "not something a tween made up for a fantasy world" Duyvil.
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  4. RickDeckard

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    Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death by Nick Lane

    There's not that much new in the world of physics to read about so I decided to broaden my horizons and go for something about biochemistry for a change. This is the study of the chemistry of life.
    Taking as its starting point that the centrality of genetics to biology has become too much of a fixation, Lane instead focuses on metabolism. This is the process that takes place inside cells, powered by the Krebs cycle, the reverse-Krebs cycle and some variants. It is used to provide energy for living things. Astonishingly this chemical cycle exists in an unbroken chain from living things now back billions of years ago to the origins of life and the author conducts a kind of archaeology on the evolution of this process, among other things.
    In doing so, he gets fairly heavily into chemistry - rhyming off a lot of material about carbon-based molecules, citric acid and TSA. Lacking much grounding in any of this stuff, I struggled to keep up and was happy to be able to grasp the general idea in most instances. But it was worth persevering for the insights provided.
    One chapter deals with the origins of life. This is a contested subject but Lane believes it took place in subthermal vents, lacking sunlight. The chemical processes used were such that energy was at a premium for a very long time and the evolution of life proceeded slowly. It was the switch to metabolising oxygen that led to the Cambrian explosion around 500 million years ago - the diversification of life into many more complex and larger forms. The discussion is interesting for its bearing on other interesting topics - that of climate change driven by atmospheric content and of the vast improbability of life itself.
    Another chapter deals with cancer. The common understanding of this is that it is driven by genetic mutation - but Lane reveals that as a terrible oversimplification. Mutation itself is perhaps less responsible than the cellular environment - for instance the same mutation that causes cancer in one environment will have no effect in another.
    And then we have ageing - and a very interesting take that there is no driver for natural selection to screen out genes that kill us as we get older. It essentially happens because metabolism becomes less efficient and slows down. As we know, exercise and diet can help to mitigate the decline.
    A final chapter dealing with the nature of consciousness is perhaps an overreach. While still interesting (nobody really knows why anaesthetics work - wow) the contention that it arises from cells in my view just begs the question yet leaves too much unexplained. And as per usual, I don't care myself for the mini-bio's of the scientists involved - but overall, this is worthwhile if you're willing to put the work in.
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  5. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, A Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt - David McCullough

    A biography by the 1776 guy, covering Theodore "Teddy" "Teedie" "Thee" Roosevelt's formative years.

    As you can guess, a lot of time is spent on the remarkable Roosevelt family. Theodore Sr. was admired by everyone, including little Theodore, who spent the rest of his life trying to live up to his standard. Sr. was an abolitionist Northerner who married a firm Southerner and they had to keep their loyalties on the down-low during the Civil War. Sr. paid for a substitute when he was drafted (and probably regretted it the rest of his life) while Mittie and her family sent care packages south when Sr. wasn't looking. But Sr. was a great philanthropist who eventually joined the Republican Party as a reformer and fought to save our country from being led by a President Conkling. Mittie herself gets a better treatment in this book than she apparently had been getting, being a loving, intelligent mother and one of the great hostesses of her New York City (the family was old money that kept making money). Sr.'s brother went into politics as a Tammany Hall Democrat and eventually turned against the Tammany machine.

    Theodore Jr.'s sisters were likewise strong characters. His sister Bamie might have had the best brain, but tuberculosis caused her back pain and difficulties throughout her life. His brother Elliott, while an admirable person, developed fainting spells and eventually a drinking problem. And one of his grandmothers was Martha Stewart.

    Theodore Jr. himself had asthma and other problems. The author includes a whole chapter on asthma and its experience as understood in 1981. His father finally told him in so many words that he would have to make himself a body to match his mind, and Jr. accepted the challenge. Eventually, through boxing and adventures out West, he would muscle up. But he was always an avid reader, especially of science and heroic adventure, and always a keen observer even before he realized he needed glasses. Everyone in the family was constantly writing letters to each other, which have been preserved, but Jr. was also a good diarist.

    After various adventures Theodore himself gets into politics, starting in the state legislature, where, as at Harvard, he's rather an absurd figure. A scrawny dandy with a goofy voice and relentless, "ruthless righteousness". Between the Cigar Bill and the Westbrook scandal, he makes a name for himself as a fearless reformer, becoming a leader of the Republican legislators. But his failure to block Blaine's nomination at the presidential convention is a key disappointment, causing him to huff off out West to be a rancher for a while. The books he writes about ranching help to develop the popular view of Old West cowboys we have today. The book ends with Theodore returning East and shockingly marrying an old sweetheart mere years after his beloved first wife died in childbirth.

    The picture is of a loving, close-knit, wealthy family with almost sickening pet names for each other. Every death or severe health complication hits the whole family hard. Theodore does everything intensely and has a hard time dealing with failure or loss. When his first wife Alice dies, he abandons the newborn to his sister and throws himself heavily into his politics, barely or never speaking of Alice again. Above all he wants to live up to his father in moral stature and action, although he finds he is his own person who has to go about reform in his own way.

    New words: dahabeah, zick-zack, bourse, colporteur, Cleopatra's Needle, Fenian, clerestory

    Back for an encore: Spuyten "what the heck is a" Duyvil
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  6. RickDeckard

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    The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    For my semi-regular doorstopper, I decided to go with something more contemporary rather than the 19th century fare where this length is more typical. This is the first in a series of historical fiction by the author, set against the backdrop of a cathedral town in England at differing points of its history, this one in medieval times. An intriguing premise.
    The main plot concerns the construction of the cathedral and via a series of time jumps spans around 50 years - taking in the period of English history known as 'The Anarchy' where competing claims to the throne fought it out. The characters include the head of a monastery, his bishop, some local barons, the master-builders of the cathedral, their families and various others. With some historical cameos thrown in for good measure.
    Follett was before this a writer of thrillers. It shows, and I feel that ultimately his reach exceeds his grasp.
    Approached as a page-turner it's highly readable, none of the language or the concepts being overly heavy. The characters are none too complex. There are bad guys who consistently do awful things and good guys who oppose them. While life is shown to be markedly different from our time - we see infant mortality, famine, a lack of law & order and so forth, none of the moral perceptions of the characters will challenge a modern reader. I have to say that a work set 900 years ago should do more on this front.
    Those without knowledge of the history will perhaps learn from it. We see the rivalry between the crown, barons and the church which ultimately developed into the modern branches of government. We see the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. But those with any real knowledge of the period are likely to be irritated by anachronisms.
    Not sure if I'll go back for the sequels. This came with a reputation that it perhaps doesn't deserve. Hilary Mantel may be better.
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  7. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    A Pocket Book Of Short Stories - M. Edmund Speare, ed. (1941)

    22 short stories by 22 of "the greatest Continental, English and American writers", most of whom I don't think I'd read yet. The editor picked the entries based on strong character writing.

    I'd also read only two of the stories before. Several new stories I recognized, including du Maupassant's "The Necklace", Hemingway's "The Killers", and the original monkey's paw. A few women authors are included. All good stories. Thomas Mann gets a passing grade after disliking the two of his I'd read before. Ring Lardner writes out a Weird Al song. Chekhov tells the life of one of those women who usually lives in the background with "devoted mother and wife" as her entire personality. Saki suggests maybe we shouldn't teach cats to talk. O. Henry takes up the challenge to prove you can write a story about Nashville.

    But, Poe and Twain aside, the story that might stick with me the most poignantly is Ivan Bunin's "The Gentleman from San Francisco", about a gentleman from San Francisco who takes his family on a European cruise as wealthy Americans will do. Good character work, good societal observation, great environmental description, and a moral point left to the reader to define for oneself.
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  8. RickDeckard

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    The Age of Empire by Eric Hobsbawm

    Third in Hobsbawm's series about the history of the modern world, the period covered here is from the latter part of the 19th century up to the outbreak of the Great War.
    As indicated by the title, this was the era in which the dominance of Britain broke down and a number of peers engaged in imperialist competition, building their own empires. The upshot was the end to both free trade and the dominance of liberalism, replaced by protectionism in economics and increasingly facing both nationalism and socialism in the political sphere as political democracy gained ground. All of this was obviously central to the outbreak of the war - a major turning point in world history.
    The first half of the period saw a deep depression for world capitalism, paradoxically leading to an accelerated increase in living standards. This was succeeded by what has been regarded as the "Belle Epoque" - mainly by elites - where their profits returned.
    Much of this was new to me and I learned a lot - but this time I felt that things began to drag a little as Hobsbawm switched from the economic to social sphere - dealing with changes for women, in philosophy, in science and so forth. Additionally as we move towards the Russian Revolution, the authors biases are obvious - in what he does not say as much as what he does. This stuff is of more interest from the point of view of historiography than of history. And when I get to the last volume which covers the bulk of the 20th century, I suspect that will be my general feeling on that as well.
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  9. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    Worlds of Star Trek Deep Space Nine Volume One - Una McCormack, Heather Jarman

    The first story, "The Lotus Flower", is set on Cardassia. How much Keiko is in it? Miles O' -- no, that doesn't really work. But she's heading up a proposal to terraform part of Cardassia into supporting cutting-edge agriculture, following the devastation of the Dominion War. Opposing her are traditionalists, political factions, and eventually terrorism. On her side are Garak and hopefully a visiting Vedek. There are also various Cardassians trying to get used to this democracy idea that the Federation is, uh, helping them build up. It's very "walk you through these ideas step by step", in a story mindset more than hand-wringing or soapboxing. A little world-building, solid story, it's good but not especially remarkable.

    "Paradigm" is the Andor story, built on a couple of DS9 books I haven't read. When the acknowledgements mention Tolkien, Miyazaki, and Kurosawa, then are followed with a Sarah Mclachlan lyric, you know you're in for some kind of read.

    The main POV character is Prynn Tenmei. She's a human, she's the Defiant's senior flight controller, and somewhere in her past she took a level in Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's also increasingly hot for the other main character, the Andorian Shar, who's just been summoned back to Andor for his mom-A's political needs but without an invitation to his fiancée-A's funeral. (These Andorians have two male and two female sexes.)

    Prynn increasingly has the hots for Shar, and as the story progresses maybe he's beginning to reciprocate. But this story also has terrorism and tension rooted in traditionalism, centered in the intricate relations around the Andorians four-person bond, against the backdrop of the whole species dying off because they aren't reproducing fast enough.

    There is a lot of world-building in this in several directions, enjoyable without getting in the way of pacing. Pretty good.
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  10. RickDeckard

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    Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis

    Varoufakis's latest continues many the threads left off at the end of his earlier book, The Global Minotaur, which concluded with the 2008 economic crisis.
    He asserts that we're in a new economic age. The first was that governed by the Bretton Woods system, where US dollar surpluses backed by gold sustained the world economy. The second followed the collapse of this in the early 70s, where US deficits and Wall Street were used to recycle money around the world. Now we're in an era where the global economy is dependent on central-bank money printing. In fact, this is part of what justifies his rather large claim that capitalism is dead. Technology companies have grown after 2008 not because they are profitable but because this central bank money has made its way to them. They have subsequently created digital fiefdoms - hence "technofeudalism" - where value is created voluntarily by users and to the extent that things are sold, it is not in any sort of market. We know these fiefdoms under names such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and so forth.
    It has quite a lot of explanatory power. Its strength is in taking recent events which we are all aware of - the rise of big tech, the pandemic, the Ukraine War, US-China rivalry and weaving these together in a way that makes them all more explicable.
    One sobering point made is that the seizure of Russian assets is a historical first and that it has driven other countries towards creating a yuan-backed alternative system, coinciding with the rise of two competing blocs of technofeudalists (in the US and China). The situation resembles nothing so much as UK-German competition in the runup to World War I.

    Varoufakis takes some time to pre-empt against the main objection to his thesis - that this isn't the end of capitalism but merely yet another mutation. I'm not convinced. Some of these conditions appear to have been temporary (e.g. low interest rates) But time will tell. The device of addressing the book to his late father throughout is also unnecessary and distracting. However overall it's another readable and interesting offering from him.
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  11. RickDeckard

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    Stakeknife's Dirty War by Richard O'Rawe

    During the Northern Ireland troubles, particularly the latter phase in the 1980s, a major arena of conflict was the intelligence war. British intelligence attempted to plant and recruit agents within the IRA in order to learn about and disrupt its operations. The IRA attempted to weed out informers and frequently killed them.
    It has been known for some now that a major British asset within the IRA was Freddie Scapaticci, codename Stakeknife - who was incredibly none other than the head of the IRA's security unit, responsible for catching informers. This is his story. And as with some other books I've read recently, despite being very familiar with all of this subject matter, the passage of time and new information has allowed for a clearer perspective.

    Richard O'Rawe is a former IRA volunteer himself and has a lot of access to the people involved, even if some contribute anonymously. The picture he paints is shocking. Scapaticci is a narcissistic psychopath, involved in probably dozens of murders and apparently enjoying the power he has in two worlds. However he is a cog in a bigger machine. Through him and others (the IRA was rife with informers) British intelligence knew the identities of every IRA member and were in a position to decide whether or not each IRA operation proceeded - for years on end. They used their power to eliminate those they wanted out of the way, and to ensure that others were kept at large. Included in this was the killing of total innocents and the killing of their own agents.
    O'Rawe even comes to some conclusions about Martin McGuinness - an even more senior person - suggesting that he was an informant too.

    I'll add my own disclaimer here, because I'm not convinced that O'Rawe does this firmly or consistently enough. Double-agents and people who have axes to grind are not almost the most reliable. Some of what is portrayed here might be untrue. There's an enquiry (Kenova) live at the moment hoping to get to the bottom of it all. Unsurprisingly, British intelligence and their political allies are trying to blunt its edge. Time will tell if there is ever justice, but Stakeknife himself died recently having evaded it.
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  12. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    $18 bundle of 38 Pratchett audiobooks redeemable for Americans through kobo.com

    If you've never Discworlded before and aren't sure you'll like it, at least get the $10 bundle for Guards! Guards!.
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  13. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    Sons Of The Profits: or There's No Business Like Grow Business: The Seattle Story 1851 - 1901 - William C. Speidel

    It's "special guest speaker day" and you and your classmates file into the room to find a grandfatherly old man already there, relaxed in a comfortable chair.

    For the next three hours he regales you with the history of his native city in a friendly, informal but professional tone. He knows his material inside and out, all he needs is a chair and a couple of transparencies, he's clearly delivered this talk hundreds of times, all you have to do is listen to it wash over you.

    He talks mainly of individuals out to make their fortunes, with a few statistics for context, and of their internal power struggles, and fighting with Tacoma to become the premier city in the region, and wrestling with the railroads, and of rebuilding after a fire, and morals facing off against money over the red light district, and the frenzy of power struggles to bring in the business from the Klondike gold rush, and the political friction between a frontier town on the make and the stricter governmental ideas preferred by those back east. All in easy little paragraphed bites with a gentle, wry humor about them that never strays into folksiness.

    This is what reading this book is like. It's entertaining and educational. Speidel makes a point of blowing away his day's warm and fuzzy legends about Seattle's early days to show the chicanery and greed that constantly kept it growing.

    One of my favorite bits was near the end, when several other cities were trying to get the would-be gold miners' business. Local newspapers would print Associated Press releases on the front in tiny print, then put the more important local news in larger print inside. The PR guy hired by Seattle would comb through the AP pieces for things to get mad about, then write to other newspapers in the country demanding a correction. The other papers' editors might not even be sure they ran the offending AP article, but they would print the "Seattle is great actually" correction in the large print where everyone could see it.
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  14. NAHTMMM

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    The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime - Michael Sims (ed.)

    A small collection of non-violent crime fiction from about 1895 - 1925. The editor notes that this "was the first great era in which fictional crime was allowed to pay", as Edwardian culture reacted against Victorian culture. He also notes that he could find plenty of female detectives and killers from this period, but very few non-violent female offenders, and in fact there's only one in this book.

    The stories are all good and include several characters, such as the bold Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, who were famous in their day. Several have a Watsonian sidekick to highlight the star's brilliance.

    I certainly appreciated "The Willow Walk" by Sinclair Lewis and O. Henry's philanthromathematics. But I think the tales that entertained me most might be William Hope Hodgson's "The Diamond Spy", about a ship captain who is irritated by a passenger who is clearly a secret agent looking for diamond smuggling, and Frederick Anderson's story of a blind magician who seeks to outwit a millionaires club in "Blind Man's Buff".
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  15. RickDeckard

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    Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti

    Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race", which I'd read some time ago was a striking if limited work that whetted my appetite for some of his fiction writing. This is his first collection of short stories, released some years earlier.
    The general theme is one of cosmic horror, with lashings of extreme pessimism and the macabre. Among the perverse conceptions - a manakin brought to life but unable to move. An asylum where people are driven insane. Mind control. A fictional story intruding on the real world.

    It's uneven and some stories work better than others. Mostly it's told from an intimate first person point of view, identifying the reader very closely with the narrator - often proceeding to some bizarre rug-pulls where the narrator (and therefore the readers) sense of self is called into question.

    Some may obviously find this kind of thing depressing and alarming. But I found it mostly very stimulating, and I do hear that Ligotti got better in later writings. So I'll check those out in due course.
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  16. RickDeckard

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    The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm

    The final volume in Hobsbawm's series about the history of the modern world, this one takes in a much longer period than any of the previous three - covering what's referred to as the 'short 20th century' - from the outbreak of war in 1914 to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This can be further divided into three broad periods - the Age of Catastrophe (the world wars and the events in between), the Golden Age (the postwar period up to the 1970s) and the Age of Crisis (the neoliberal era beginning in the 1970s).

    This is territory that I'm already very familiar with, so what's most interesting here is Hobsbawm's perspective - particularly since we're now 30 years further on - so much as the events themselves. On that front it pays to familiar with his ideologically leanings - he was a lifelong supporter of the Soviet Union. He is dismissive (hostile even) towards the nationalism of small countries. Predictably and hilariously scathing towards the Nazis. Alarmed by the worldwide death of the peasant classes and the related and consequential atomisation of society.

    To his credit he does not shy away from the crimes of Stalinism either - however his admiration for the methods of the Bolshevik revolution and vanguardism generally I found problematic. He exalts 'order' and 'discipline' to an excessive degree. Put alongside other of this foibles - an almost mournful attitude towards the triumph of popular culture over high art and the label "Tory Communist" which has been applied to Hobsbawm seems apt.

    I found the assertion that the 20th century ideological wars will someday be regarded as having the same relevance as 16th century religious wars as insightful.

    Overall, the range of his knowledge is impressive, doubly so given that the 19th century and not the 20th is his specialist area. The book ends on a depressing tone, with world systems unable to deal with the problems that were coming - the Soviet Union having collapsed and neoliberal capitalism in the process of accelerating inequalities and showing no signs of addressing escalating ecological calamity.
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  17. RickDeckard

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    The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

    A short novel which was written by Tolstoy in the latter part of his career, this concerns the titular Ivan Ilyich, a middle-aged legal official living a comfortable life in provincial 19th century Russia. He's not particularly remarkable. In point of the story, he could be any of us - and he suddenly falls gravely ill. The book describes the course of his illness and his death, seen primarily through his eyes.

    Written in an often ironic tone, it's very readable and as such I'd recommend it as a taster to anyone who is daunted by the prospect of War and Peace. At times moving, a couple of passages stood out for me on that score. The 'Caesar' monologue is breathtaking. 'Was it Caesar who had kissed his mother’s hand like that, and was it for Caesar that the silken folds of his mother’s dress had rustled the way they did?'

    A central theme is how Ivan finds how dishonest people are just as unbearable as the pain - his wife, his daughter, his colleagues and others go through the motions of caring for him - but they aren't really interested. Ivan realises that he's done something very wrong in his life to produce this situation.

    There is a stark, almost unbearably cruel quality to the story that might almost put it in the same category of a Kafka tale - right up until the final epiphany, which is somewhat open to interpretation but probably sits alongside Tolstoy's idealisation of a more earthy and ascetic existence, developed elsewhere.

    Highly recommended.
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  18. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories - Patricia Craig (ed)

    Thirty-three short stories, a handful of which don't really qualify as detective stories IMO but are welcome anyway. It's hard to come up with a short-short list of standouts (Holmes is cheating), but none are weak either.

    Arthur Morrison and H.C Bailey are available on gutenberg.org, and I might give them a go as writing good examples of the kind of Doyle/Christie detective writer I prefer. There's a couple of other detectives I wouldn't mind coming across in a used bookstore either.

    Other standouts, not necessarily for their detective qualities, include Carter Dickson's "The House in Goblin Wood", Christianna Brand's "The Hornet's Nest", Michael Underwood's "Murder at St Oswald's", Crispin and Bush's "Baker Dies", and Ruth Rendell's "Thornapple". The last one demonstrates that a well-told story can be quite effective even if you see the turns in the plot coming a mile off.

    New words: reredos, flex meaning power cord, rood screen, sea-pinks, toper, uxorious, barathea, cabinet pudding, Adam fireplace

    New words from the previous book: consol, kerosene circuit, Achates, dooryard
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  19. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost - Lucy Banks

    An urban fantasy (I guess) about a timid academic whose beloved mother dies. To fulfull her last request, he goes in search of a Dr. Ribero and finds a dysfunctionally functional supernatural pest control agency on its last legs (the ghosts are the pests). It's a breezy read and enjoyable enough. But the first couple chapters or so are a little, uh. Paradoxically, you need grace to write a constantly stuttering, hesitant main character's POV in an enjoyable way. This is the author's first novel, so Kester is a little grindy on the nerves until he loosens up a bit. But as I said, it's enjoyable.
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  20. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    On the Run: A Mafia Childhood by Greg & Gina Hill

    Goodfellas is one of my favourite movies, and Wiseguy on which it was based was also an enjoyable read. I'm probably getting over-obsessed by reading the biography of the guys children, but here we are.
    Greg & Gina were not yet teenagers when they went on the run from the Mafia. The book is written in the first person from their point of view, alternating between them. Greg is angry and unforgiving towards his father. Gina is less so.

    The early chapters cover some familiar ground - the events depicted in Goodfellas leading up to Henry Hill's entry to the witness protection program - albeit from a different perspective. It's a bit redundant when you're already familiar. After that things get more interesting - the family moves around several locations trying to get away from their old lives. Henry ruins everything repeatedly. They get kicked out of the program. There's more drugs and violence. We see how the release of the book and subsequent notoriety affected the family.

    In perhaps the least surprising revelation ever, it seems that the real Henry Hill was much more of a scumbag than even depicted in Goodfellas. Obviously that story was told from his perspective and it his sins are somewhat obscured by a sense of charisma and glamour. But the way his kids tell it, he was a feckless drunk, a sometimes junky, compulsively and thoughtlessly destroying the lives of those around him.

    You've got to have some admiration for the kids who seem to have made decent lives for themselves despite growing up in the midst of all of this. So I'll say that this was worthwhile as a bit of a deconstruction and a reality-check.
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  21. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    Doughnut - Tom Holt

    There is an extremely non-zero chance that Mr. Holt has read HhGttG.

    Theo Bernstein, brilliant theoretical physicist billionaire, made a slight oopsie and now Europe contains a gap where the biggest hadron collider ever built used to be. He's lost his wife, his money, his reputation, everything but the clothes on his back. It's all rather unfair. He leads a miserable life until his mentor dies and leaves him a small box containing a tiny bottle that is going to rewrite everything -- and I mean everything -- Theo knows about the multiverse.

    Holt is only Douglas Adams-lite, but he is Adams-lite, and his sense of humor, grand scale seen through a narrow, bewildered viewpoint, complicated but followable plotting, and willingness to throw in quirky twists for the heck of it fill much the same niche. Very enjoyable, if not the total joy I was hoping it would be after the first few pages.
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  22. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

    Many will have heard of this or read it themselves. It's got a large reputation, both as one of Clarke's better works and as one of the best works of 20th century sci-fi. The story is set a couple of hundred years in the future and concerns the appearance of a large object (Rama) of alien origin travelling through the solar system. A team of explorers sets out to investigate it.

    Clarke's focus is very much on the science as much as the fiction. The technical and scientific tasks associated with the mission are explored in some detail.
    Of course, with the work being 50 years old it's striking how much of the actual science has dated, particularly around things like astrophysics - Pluto is still a planet here and the steady-state theory still gets a hearing.

    As usual for Clarke the language and plot are generally straightforward. But there is a lot left unresolved by the end, and the inexplicability of the artifact is kind of the point. On that I'll admit to feeling a little cheated.
    There are sequels written decades later by Clarke with Gentry Lee. But apparently they are very different and this was originally intended as a standalone work, so not sure they're for me.
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  23. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said

    A follow-on from Said's much-acclaimed Orientalism, this seeks to analyse the relationship between imperialism and the culture (mostly works of literature) that the societies affected by it produces. He reviews western literature from the imperialist age, that produced in response in colonial and post-colonial societies, and finally attempts to chart a way forward, rejecting both the idea of a restrictive western canon and new national literature in favour of a more transcendent and inclusive world literature.

    In this, he considers both works which foreground imperialism (such as that of Conrad) and those where it's more in the background (Dickens, Austen). He shows that the genteel society written of by Austen for example was possible only because of wealth extracted from colonies and that the indications of this in the novels both served to demonstrate and reinforce the 'othering' of the people affected.

    I'd read some of the stuff that he gets into, but far from it all. To get full value from this one probably needs a doctorate in literature.

    There's a relationship with the works of Gramsci, Fanon and Chomsky - figures referenced repeatedly. Maybe it's because I'm from a culture that has a long history of being on the wrong side of imperialism, but much of this stuff seems kind of obvious to me, rendered here in quite a dry style that can be punishing at times but ultimately rewarding. Someone should do an update of this focusing on modern culture like movies and TV.
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  24. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Perpetually sondering

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    Show Them You're Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College - Jeff Hobbs

    Sort of a time capsule, this book focuses on several high schooler seniors and their friends as they go through the 2016-2017 school year. Two, including an undocumented immigrant applying for DACA, attend a charter school. The other two are in Beverly Hills.

    The author writes about the boys as individuals, not seeking to generalize their experiences to the rest of their respective demographics. And yet there is plenty of time given to the broader scope of education, to the boys being well aware of others like them around the country, and how they are all competing for spots in a higher educational system that sometimes seems oppressively byzantine and unfair.

    There is a lot of emphasis given to how these students are trying to make themselves attractive to colleges through transcripts and essays, but also to their daily lives with friends, running marathons, arguing with family, and just reflecting on society and their place in it, and what high school has meant to them and what it might mean decades later. The election gets space without overwhelming the "Winter" section.

    Other parts of the education system, like guidance counselors and college assessors, get space, maybe more than necessary. But as a time capsule of an educational system in transition, worthwhile space I suppose.
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  25. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    The Hundred Years War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi

    A topical one on Palestine written by Rashid Khalidi who is a prominent academic on the subject and was a sometimes participant, involved in negotation teams at various points. It's one-sided but perhaps it needs to be.

    He covers the period starting with the Balfour Declaration, at which point a well-organised and well-connected Zionist movement was seeking to transform the territory (which had at the turn of the century been populated overwhelmingly by Arabs) into a Jewish homeland. From there we go through the decades of a Jewish para-state being built, the Arab Revolt, the holocaust (decisive in that it caused a demographic shift), the Nakba, subsequent Arab-Israeli wars and so forth.

    One is often tempted to think of the conflict as being perennial and frozen - but it certainly hasn't been. After the Nakba, there was a period where Palestinian identity was all but extinguished. Only in the 1960s did it emerge as a political voice as the PLO - largely in the refugee communities. And only in the 1980s did Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza become serious actors.

    It's mostly very depressing and dispiriting. Khalidi is excoriating towards the Palestinian leadership - both for their historic failure to engage world opinion and for more specific ones during the period when he was involved. The Oslo process is argued to be a total capitulation with the PA adopting the position of collaborator, now running the occupied territories on behalf of Israel after the first intifada showed them to be ungovernable.

    The book ends with the Palestinian cause in as weak of a position as ever. Aside from the counsel that Palestinians unite and do a better job at building support internationally, options were limited and the outlook grim. Of course, this was even before the current genocide and with what is documented in the book, it is difficult to believe that the logic of the situation could have led anywhere else.
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  26. Mirah

    Mirah Powerful Vagina Energy

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    I have 2 book recommendations today.

    "Grandma Gatewood's Walk" by Ben Montgomery. A story of a woman who walked the Appalachian Trail when she was 67 in 1955. She was the first woman to solo hike the trail and then hiked it 3 more times.

    And one of my other favorite books is
    "Lost Treasure of the China Bar" by Douglas Withrow
    A story about a Filipina girl who is captured by pirates eventually ending up in the Cascades and the American Old West. It takes place in the 1850's and is a historic novel.
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  27. Mirah

    Mirah Powerful Vagina Energy

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    Has anyone read Lessons in Chemistry? by Bonnie Garmus.

    It came highly recommended. I finally started reading it. I am in the 4th chapter or so and already there is a rape, a suicide, misogyny. Also I wasn't expecting there to be any romance.
    I'll review it again when I am done reading it.
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  28. Crosis36

    Crosis36 Author

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    I've not read Lessons in Chemistry. I wasn't interested before, but you've intrigued me.
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  29. Crosis36

    Crosis36 Author

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    I've been on a foreign language reading kick recently. Just finished:
    The Twenty Days of Turin, by Georgio de Maria - First written in 1975, it's unsettling in a way that only Italians seem able to do. If you like Giallo, give this a look. It's also eerily predictive of just how awful social media, and Twitter in particular, would be.

    Tender Is The Flesh, by Augustina Bazterrica - Very unsettling, but engrossing. It continuously surprises you all the way to the end, and manages to disturb you without being grotesque.

    I Am Behind You, by John Lindqvist - It's slow-moving, with characters that are mostly awful people, but if you're patient it has a great story to tell. It's supposed to be part of a trilogy apparently, I'll have to look into it.
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  30. Mirah

    Mirah Powerful Vagina Energy

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    Which part intrigued you?
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