What I’m reading (and you?)

I usually read only one book at a time, but for some reason I’m now engaged with four. That makes it hard, because I have to choose, of an evening, which one to continue; and unless I alternate them frequently, I forget what I’ve read a week ago. Here are the four, one of which I’ve not started; links go to the Amazon sites.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols (Oxford University Press, 2017). Nichols is a Professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the Harvard Extension School (Wikipedia adds that he’s “a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion”), and in this book examines why Americans are deeply suspicious of genuine experts while attracted to bogus experts like Gwyneth Paltrow. Unfortunately, it’s largely one long cry of “get off my lawn,” blaming the ignorance and unwillingness to learn of regular Americans on the devaluation of genuine experts (like himself: he’s a scholar of Russia and the former Soviet Union). Nichols is probably right, but there’s a lot of repetition in his argument and more than a whiff of curmudgeonliness.) There’s one chapter on the commodification of American colleges and students’ consequent attacks on free speech and on the expertise of professors, but if you’ve read this site, you won’t learn that much. I’d give it a 5/10.

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, by Michael Tisserand (Harper, 2016). Although I’m not much for comics, Krazy Kat, drawn by Herriman from 1913 to 1944, is an exception. (I also love Little Nemo.) Krazy was a bizarre strip with surrealistic artwork, and, well, let me pull up Wikipedia to give you the plot:

The strip focuses on the curious relationship between a guileless, carefree, simple-minded cat named Krazy of indeterminate gender (referred to as both “he” and “she”) and a short-tempered mouse named Ignatz. Krazy nurses an unrequited love for the mouse. However, Ignatz despises Krazy and constantly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy’s head, which Krazy interprets as a sign of affection, uttering grateful replies such as “Li’l dollink, allus f’etful”, or “Li’l ainjil”. A third principal character, Offisa Bull Pupp, often appears and tries to “protect” Krazy by thwarting Ignatz’ attempts and imprisoning him. Later on, Offisa Pupp falls in love with Krazy.

Despite the slapstick simplicity of the general premise, the detailed characterization, combined with Herriman’s visual and verbal creativity, made Krazy Kat one of the first comics to be widely praised by intellectuals and treated as “serious” art. Art critic Gilbert Seldes wrote a lengthy panegyric to the strip in 1924, calling it “the most amusing and fantastic and satisfactory work of art produced in America today.”  Poet E. E. Cummings, another Herriman admirer, wrote the introduction to the first collection of the strip in book form. These critical appraisals by Seldes and Cummings were influential in establishing Krazy Kat‘s reputation as a work of genius. Though Krazy Kat was only a modest success during its initial run, in more recent years, many modern cartoonists have cited the strip as a major influence.

Matthew and I both love this strip, though I’d be hard pressed to tell you why. It features a cat of undetermined gender, and Matthew and I are both ailurophiles, but there’s not really a plot: week after week Krazy gets beaned by Ignatz and loves the mouse all the more. Here’s an example of the strip; note how the background changes from frame to frame:

I’m reading the book because Matthew brought it to my attention: it turns out that Herriman was half black, born to a Creole family in New Orleans, but hid it for his entire life because he looked white (he did have curly hair, which he hid under a hat). Had Herriman revealed his ancestry in that era, he would never have gotten a job with any newspaper.  Only recently did a researcher, who dug out Herriman’s birth certificate, discover this fact. And it explains a lot about Herriman’s obsession, throughout his cartooning life, with race and skin color. Early in his career Herriman was a straight-out racist (or at last catered to racism), drawing big-lipped “golliwog” caricatures of blacks, but his views got more complex when he started drawing Krazy Kat.

The strips are filled with strange language and allusions to classical literature, as well as big words, and it’s just a trip.

I’m only halfway through the book, when he starts drawing Krazy, so I can’t judge it as a whole, but it has held my attention. There is, however, a sad dearth of Krazy Kat strips reproduced. There should be at least one on every page!

Here’s one of Herriman’s early (non-Krazy) racist strips in which a black man tries to pretend he’s a Scot:

Practical Ethics, 3rd Edition, by Peter Singer (Cambridge University Press 2011). This is a modern classic of philosophy that’s used worldwide in ethics classes. As its title suggests, it’s not a dry analysis of “the meaning of meaning”, or an attempt to revise our conception of free will, but a compendium of hard and incisive thought on substantive practical issues like abortion, euthanasia, the eating of animals, how we should sacrifice to help the poor, affirmative action, and so on. His stand is unashamedly utilitarian and consequentialist (I agree), and his writing is crystal clear.  You may not agree with Singer on all issues, but he makes you think and reassess your own opinions—something that his kneejerk opponents adamantly resist. I give this a 10/10, and consider it the ultimate refutation of those who say that philosophy is of no value. I’m about halfway through, but I’m already willing to give it top marks.

Freud: The Making of an Illusion, by Frederick Crews (2017, Metropolitan).  This book will be released on August 22, but I got a copy in the mail because Fred is a friend. A former professor and chair in the English Department of UC Berkeley, Fred has long studied and written about Freud as almost an avocation, but a deeply scholarly one. His work (and that of others) has shown that Freud was largely a charlatan, with psychoanalysis having many traits of a religion (a god-figure, the tendency to make stuff up and comport every possible observation with preconceived notions, etc.). Several of Crews’s critiques of Freud have been published in The New York Review of Books (see herehere and here, for instance), and he published a short book critical of Freud, The Memory Wars, in 1993. That one includes letters from those who wrote to the NYRB attacking Crews’s thesis, as well as Crews’s dismantling of these critics.

I haven’t read this book yet, but Fred is a terrific writer and I’m going to start it within a day or so.  (If you want a hoot, by the way, Crews’s Postmodern Pooh, a satirical series of chapters analyzing Pooh from various “lit-crit” points of view, is a classic. Crews clearly has no truck with postmodernism, and the book is hilarious.)

Here are the Amazon notes on the new book:

Since the 1970s, Sigmund Freud’s scientific reputation has been in an accelerating tailspin―but nonetheless the idea persists that some of his contributions were visionary discoveries of lasting value. Now, drawing on rarely consulted archives, Frederick Crews has assembled a great volume of evidence that reveals a surprising new Freud: a man who blundered tragicomically in his dealings with patients, who in fact never cured anyone, who promoted cocaine as a miracle drug capable of curing a wide range of diseases, and who advanced his career through falsifying case histories and betraying the mentors who had helped him to rise. The legend has persisted, Crews shows, thanks to Freud’s fictive self-invention as a master detective of the psyche, and later through a campaign of censorship and falsification conducted by his followers.

A monumental biographical study and a slashing critique, Freud: The Making of an Illusion will stand as the last word on one of the most significant and contested figures of the twentieth century.

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading, and what do you like?


  1. John Hamill
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I recall being amazed by the genius of Turing’s 1936 paper when I was a Computer Science under-graduate (some decades ago). Let’s see if a more wizened and cynical me is similarly amazed …


    • unconventionalnaming
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      I love this book.

      He walks you slowly through the paper paragraph by paragraph, adding context to help explain what problem the “machine” is solving and it’s implications. He also discusses the tragedy of Alan Turing.

      • bric
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 3:43 am | Permalink

        I’m no mathematician but I have been fascinated by this paper for many years, while knowing that my understanding of it is to say the least superficial. I really need to get this book . . . then on to Gödel!

        • John Hamill
          Posted August 1, 2017 at 8:08 am | Permalink

          Yes … GEB is also on my list!!

      • John Hamill
        Posted August 1, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        Delighted to hear that … can’t wait to get into it now!

  2. Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    The only book that I’m currently reading is ‘120 Days of Sodom’ by Marquis de Sade but I have some others lined up as well.

    I also have a post which I’m keeping updated to track my reading over the year.

  3. Alan Clark
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Inside Interesting Integrals: A Collection of Sneaky Tricks, Sly Substitutions, and Numerous Other Stupendously Clever, Awesomely Wicked, and Devilishly Seductive Manoeuvres for Computing Nearly 200 Perplexing Definite Integrals From Physics, Engineering, and Mathematics – By Paul Nahin

    It is living up to its description!

  4. ashdeville
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Gravity’s Rainbow – again.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I’ve only read it twice. Thanks for reminding me.

    • bric
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      I hope you are following the Pynchon in Public Podcast reading of GR


      • ashdeville
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Subscribed! Ta!

        • bric
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          Also useful to have around is Steven Weisenburger’s Gravity’s Rainbow Companion (Georgia University Press)
          Not exactly useful but an impressive feat is Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow by Zak Smith (Tin House Books 2006) which is pretty much what it says

          • ashdeville
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

            Ta again! Used the Companion on my third reading. Never heard of the other one which I will certainly rectify.

            Wrote my degree dissertation on GR thirty years ago – never had these kinds of resources back then!

      • Posted August 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the link. I had a good friend who wanted me to read GR to see if I could understand the last part, because he couldn’t. Neither could I. If anybody can, I’d be happy to hear from you. It’s easy to find my email address.

    • Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:27 am | Permalink

      That’s been on my bookshelf for years, next to Ulysses, in the category of Books I’m Afraid Of. Should I go for it? I just finished The Tin Drum, which was difficult. I have The Leopard and The Ground Beneath Her Feet on deck.

      • bric
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 4:38 am | Permalink

        It’s really hard to know whether to recommend a book like GR; I wouldn’t hesitate to say read Ulysses for example, but GR is different: not only is it long it is complex structurally, historically, semantically, and morally; it delves deep into obscenities not only sexual and lavatorial but military economic and medical. And yet reading it, holding the whole messy extraordinary extravagance in your mind is a unique experience. Quoting Jonathan Franzen on Gaddis’s J R: ‘. . . a story like this would never fit into a “Simpsons” format. A story like this, where the difficulty is the difficulty of life itself, is what a novel is for.’
        I would suggest having a look at the GR wiki
        for an idea of what’s ahead – after all if it’s on your shelf what’s stopping you?
        Another useful preparation for both Ulysses and GR is to read Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, directly in the case of Ulysses as Nabokov analyses the book quite thoroughly, in the case of GR I think Pynchon (who was a pupil of Nabokov) has learned from Nabokov’s view of realism in literature

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        HAHA! I like that category “books I’m afraid of”.

  5. Debbie Coplan
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Clarence Darrow For The Defense
    By Irving Stone
    A great book–

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      I have that book, as yet unread. Thank you for the recommendation!

  6. Steve
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst, by Robert M Sapolsky.
    Sapolsky is a very engaging writer.

    • Rita
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      +1 for “Behave”

      • jwthomas
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        +2 for “Behave.” I doubt a more important book will appear during the rest of the year.
        I also doubt that it will make any dent in public policy until voters stop electing authoritarian personalities to public office.

        • Neal Lewis
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          +3 for Behave. It’s well written given the density of the topic and broad knowledge required (and discussed) for understanding it.

          • merilee
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

            Got Behave cued up on my Kindle. Currently reading At the Existentialist Cafe (which I’m not as thrilled with as I thought I would be), the first in Robert Caro’s LBJ series, The Tale of the Dueling Neuroscientists by Sam Kean, and The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau (’65 Pulitzer winner). Oh, also A Man called Ove, which is light, touching, and delightful.

        • Hal
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          +4 for Behave, and Sean Carroll B. Carroll’s Brave Genius, a dual biography of Jacques Monod and Albert Camus. Monod’s Chance and Necessity is next.

          • Merilee
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

            Brave Genius is really good. I have Monod’s book but have not gotten to it yet.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I’m just about to start this book. Looks interesting.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      I have this one lined up as well.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      About to start it.

  7. Bernardo
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I am currently half through Consilience by E. O. Wilson. A little dry but very interesting nonetheless.

  8. Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I usually read two books at a time – a fiction and non-fiction. Just finished Chang’s Wild Swans that tells the story of three generations of women growing up in China. The privations and attack on reason during Mao’s Cultural Revolution were astounding. I’m still working through Knausgaard’s 6,000 page My Struggle which I love. Next up is a re-read of Singer’s Shosha.

    • nicky
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      I may be mistaken, but that definitely sounds like 2 non-fiction books.
      I read Chang’s ‘Wild Swans’ years ago, (probably 2 decades?) I can recommend it. It was fascinating, and a must read for the Ctrl-left.

      • Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        You skipped over the ‘unusually’ but Knausgaard is considered autofiction. It’s a stretch for me but he argues that while the framework is factual he makes up the details. This is only his retelling, too. He agrees that other family members remember things differently. I think it’s an end-around some nasty family business.

  9. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    The Atheist Muslim by Ali A. Rizvi is an actually entertaining glimpse into the author’s life as well as arguably the best exposition of arguments for atheism in general that I’ve read anywhere. Just finished it.

    Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari an almost relentlessly optimistic view about how the human species and probably most other species on the planet are about to be supplanted by a new species whose capabilities we are unable to imagine with our human brains after the currently ongoing project of merging our brains with computers really gets going. Has some interesting insights on the difference and even conflict between having all your survival needs met with minimal effort and happiness.

    About a third of the way through it.

    • Fernando Peregrin
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      What a coincidence! I am also reading Homo Deus, in the long and tedious sessions of chemotherapy. I just started it

      The Atheist Muslim seems interesting. I put it on the waiting list of books to read. Thanks for the information

  10. Fernando Peregrin
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Freud waited anxiously each year for the announcement of the Nobel Prize winners. He thought he was a great scientist and he deserved it. He had to settle for the Göthe prize of 1930, the biggest German literary award. Sometimes it has been awarded to musicians, like Hans Pfitzner, or scientists, like Max Plank.

    It is true that he was a great author. When I was young and reading fluently in German, I read a couple of his books, very well written. Quite clear, but wrong as it is known today

  11. mfdempsey1946
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    “Chimes At Midnight — Orson Welles, Director (edited by Bridget Gellert Lyons.

    The last and greatest of the Shakespeare-based films that Welles directed — AKA “Falstaff” after its central character, whom Welles portrays in addition to compiling the screenplay from diverse works in which Falstaff figures, along with other material from Holinshed’s Chronicles.

    Cursed over the years by budgetary woes and resulting technical problems with its sound track, this film has come eloquently to life thanks to its carefully restored Criterion release. It now seems like the greatest Welles film.

    The book offers a transcript of the production, plus reviews and other commentaries. I’m reading it to prepare for what I hope will be many more visits to “Chimes At Midnight” and its neglected wonders — among them a shatteringly brilliant medieval battle scene that has never been surpassed.

    • BJ
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      I had no idea Criterion released Falstaff. I have to get it!

      I have many Criterion editions in my film collection, and I’d love to know what others have in theirs. Mine are as follows:

      Solaris, The Bad Sleep Well, Rififi, Brazil, Naked Lunch, Videodrome, Shallow Grave, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

      Of course, I have many other collector’s editions of other films that haven’t been released by Criterion.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the list. I check some of these out.

        I’d be very disappointed if you didn’t have the original Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky. His other films should not be missed either. I like everything by Ozu, Wes Anderson, Paul Anderson, Coen brothers, Krzysztof Kieślowski. Throw in The Turin Horse by Béla Tarr.

        • BJ
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          The only film I haven’t seen by any of those directors is Tarr’s The Turin Horse. I have to admit I don’t think I’ve seen any of his films.

          Solaris is my absolute favorite film of all time, and thus sits first in my collection. All of Tarkovsky’s work is excellent, especially Solaris and Stalker.

          While I enjoy PTA’s work, I consider him somewhat overrated. I hated the soundtrack for There Will Be Blood (though it was an otherwise excellent film, if somewhat carried by the lead performances), and I absolutely loathe Magnolia. The latter strikes me as a student film given a Hollywood budget and actors — infused with what are supposed to be deep and heady themes and imagery, but ultimately painfully obvious and overwrought. How do you feel about it?

          • jwthomas
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

            The rain of frogs a la Charles Fort saves “Magnolia”. How can it be obvious and overwrought when I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to mean?:) It’s no worse than anything by David Lynch.

            • Merilee
              Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

              I enjoyed Magnolia but would not want to be tested on its meaning.

            • rickflick
              Posted July 29, 2017 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

              I was puzzled by the frogs too. I knew the phenomenon had been recorded many times in history and there is a reference in the bible. Here’s what Wikipedia has:

              While convincing Philip Baker Hall to do the film by explaining the significance of the rain of frogs, the actor told him a story about when he was in the mountains of Italy and got caught in bad weather—a mix of rain, snow and tiny frogs. Hall had to pull off the road until the storm passed. The rain of frogs was inspired by the works of Charles Fort and Anderson claims that he was unaware that it was also a reference in The Bible when he first wrote the sequence.[16] At the time the filmmaker came across the notion of a rain of frogs, he was “going through a weird, personal time”, and he started to understand “why people turn to religion in times of trouble, and maybe my form of finding religion was reading about rains of frogs and realizing that makes sense to me somehow”.

              Magnolia (1999) has an underlying theme of unexplained events, taken from the 1920s and ’30s works of Charles Fort. Fortean author Loren Coleman has written a chapter about this motion picture, entitled “The Teleporting Animals and Magnolia”, in one of his recent books. The film has many hidden Fortean themes, notably “falling frogs”. In one scene, one of Fort’s books is visible on a table in a library and there is an end credit thanking him by name.

              • Merilee
                Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

                Weren’t there frogs in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother Where art Thou, too?

              • rickflick
                Posted July 30, 2017 at 5:27 am | Permalink

                One of the characters, Pete, gets turned into a frog. Later the frog is crushed.

          • rickflick
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

            Magnolia followed the release of Boogie Nights, which I liked more, but still I liked Magnolia. It is a portrait of often tragic lives in California. The lives are distraught and troubled. The film portrays most of the characters sympathetically which keeps us engaged. The acting and characterizations are very compelling. I really would like to see it again, and now that I’m thinking about it, I will.

      • jwthomas
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        You can stream “Chimes at Midnight” and many other of the Criterion films mentioned here by joining Film Struck for $10.99 a month. There’s a 14 day free trial.

        • BJ
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          I signed up for Filmstruck when it first started, but they didn’t have much up at that point. Is it better now? Do they have more of the modern Criterion releases? I’m more interested in the films they’ve released post-1965 or so.

          And thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll definitely check that out.

          • jwthomas
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

            Like other streaming services they shuffle films in and out to make way for more and put on hold those that are no longer getting hits. You can keep track of films coming and going on the Film Struck site.

            The problem with the idea of getting newer films for Criterion is one of obtaining the reproduction rights. These days everybody is bidding for the rights to interesting films and whoever has the most money to spend makes the difference. Criterion is a relatively small organization.

            Amazon Prime has a lot of newer films that Criterion may someday
            reissue. You can check their current offerings for free. Search by Director or actor.

            Unfortunately, nobody at all seems to own the rights to “Nashville.”

            • BJ
              Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

              I actually own the Nashville DVD. I guess it’s out of print now, but I’m sure you can find a used one on Amazon.

              I have Amazon Prime and love it. MUchiha better than Netflix for movies, especially foreign. I watch tons of Korean films on there.

              When I mention modern films from Criterion, it’s like I said before: post-1965. I’m not looking for films from the last decade. But I’ll check out what’s on there now.

              And finally, we come to Magnolia. While the frogs may be open to interpretation (though I think it’s pretty clearly about everything falling apart/coming to a head), everything else in the movie is, as I said, obvious and overwrought. No relationship goes anywhere surprising, Tom Cruise is the only truly engaging storyline, and I wouldn’t in any way compare it to a Lynch film. Lynch is cryptic and almost entirely metaphorical much of the time. The only thing in Magnolias about which you might be able to say the same thing is the aforementioned frogs. It’s fine that other people like it, but I don’t think my criticism is unfair and, at the very least, I hope we might at least agree that it’s not the amazing piece of cinema so many seem to think it is (but hey, maybe we don’t agree on that).

              Also, I’m not a huge Lynch fan. I really like Eraserhead, enjoy Wild at Heart, and find almost everything he has done cryptic for the sake of it. He certainly has a visual style that’s interesting at times, but one can say that for many directors.

    • BJ
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      By the way, if you enjoy books about the creative process of film, I would recommend Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies. It’s short and probably more for those interested making films, but it’s still very interesting to laypeople like myself.

      • jwthomas
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        I’m currently reading
        “The Extraordinary Image: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and the Reimagining of Cinema,”
        by Robert Kolker, a book as fascinating as its title suggests.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      It’s certainly the very best of Welles’ three Shakespeare films, and seems to have had a slightly better budget than the other two.

      It’s a signficant influence on Gus Van Zandts’s “My Own Private Idaho” which puts the story in the modern era.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I like that Freud is smoking a cigar on the cover. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” I heard those words in a British comedy skit from someone playing Freud during the attempts to impeach Clinton. For some reason they’ve always stuck with me.

    I’m reading That Time May Come, which is the 8th and last in a series and I don’t want it to end. I hope there will be more. They follow the (fictional) life of Cristobel Alvarez, a converso who escaped the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal with her doctor father in the late 16th century disguised as a boy.

    She retains her disguise in London, enabling her to become a doctor, a cryptanalyst for Elizabeth I’s spymaster, and more. Her friends include well known figures of the time such as a young Will Shakespeare. Basically, she somehow gets involved in all the major historical events of the time, and not just in England. She also travels on missions to the Netherlands, Portugal, and Muscovy. The historical detail is very accurate and you get a great impression of what life was really like at the time.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Author Ann Swinfen.

      • Frank Bath
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        In that case you must read the ‘Flashman’ novels by George MacDonald Fraser, in which the cowardly Eton Cad gets involved in the historical events of the time. A hoot. I’ll definitely look at your reads.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

          I will. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

        • David Coxill
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

          Hi ,i think Flashman went to Rugby school ,not Eton .

        • Matt Jenkins
          Posted August 1, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          Rugby, not Eton! Best in my view: Royal Flash!

      • Rita
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        I love historical fiction, especially when it’s a series! I enjoyed Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Morland Dynasty series that starts out in 1434 and follows a family from York, England. There are 35(yay!) books in the series, the last one starts in 1931.

        Now the Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez is on my list, thanks.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I’ll look them up.

          There are others I’ve enjoyed even more than the Alvarez Chronicles, and new ones are coming out about once a year. All are historically accurate, which is important to me.

          Matthew Bartholomew chronicles by Susanna Gregory. Bartholomew is a physician and lecturer at Cambridge University in the mid 14th century who solves murders with his best friend Brother Michael.

          The Thomas Chaloner series, also by Susanna Gregory. Chaloner was a spy for the Parliamentarians during the inter-regnum, but the series is about him doing the same work for the Earl of Clarendon following the restoration (1660).

          Athelstan mysteries by Paul Doherty. Athelstan is a priest in Southwark during the reign of Richard II when John of Gaunt is the regent. They’re not that well written at the beginning of the series (even the name of Athelstan’s cat changes its spelling!) but there’s something about them, and the writing gets better.

          Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremayne. Tremayne is an historian in his own right. They’re set in Ireland in the 7th century at a time just before the Roman Catholic Church got a grip and Celtic Christianity was still widespread. Woman were much more highly regarded and could, like Fidelma, become lawyers. Also the clergy could marry and have children. A few books into the series Fidelma marries a monk that she has been working with regularly to solve mysteries.

          Another is the Shardlake novels by CJ Samson. Shardlake is a lawyer in Elizabethan England. These are extremely well written, but there are only six and afaik there will be no more.

    • Fernando Peregrin
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      JAC, I can not believe you censured my replay about the Black Legend and the Spanish Inquisition. I have read a lot of what has been written at the scholarly and academic level about the Spanish Inquisition and what I wrote in your blog is based on real facts and historically proven, not on myths and legends.

      I always thought you were a passionate seeker of the truth of the facts. As a loyal reader and admirer of yours – I link many of your great comments on my Fadebook page – I think I have the right to protest your censorship

      • Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        I haven’t “censured’ anything of yours, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about comment #20, it went through fine above.

        But I’m sorry to say that you’re way out of line here, and your sneer in the last paragraph demands an apology.

        • Matt Jenkins
          Posted August 1, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          It didn’t sound like a sneer to me, just somebody feeling hurt.

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 2, 2017 at 4:10 am | Permalink

            I agree. Especially the way Fernando stressed that he is a loyal reader and admirer.

            I suspect he wrote a post that disappeared into the ether (WordPress glitch? wrong key struck accidentally?) and mistakenly assumed censure. I’ve had comments fail to appear that I was sure I’d submitted–frustrating but it happens.

            (Lots of readers here think Jerry has more time to spend policing comments than is physically possible!)

  13. Denis Westphalen
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I am currently reading “The Silk Roads – a New History of the World” by Peter Frankopan.

    • mrclaw69
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      It’s on my list: any good?

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Do you like it? I have it on my list.

  14. Frank Bath
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading one of the Patrick O’Brien novels. One of twenty, I seem to have missed it. ‘The Reverse of the Medal.’ His sea going adventures of the wooden navy are easily the best historical novels ever written, and that’s not just my opinion. (You may have seen the film ‘Master and Commander’. If not do so.)
    I recently enjoyed Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ – an insightful gallop through human history. A great read. And the follow up ‘Homo Deus’ which I thought went on and on…
    I have a Le Carré in the starting blocks, and am looking forward to Sapolsky’s mighty tome.

    • mrclaw69
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      I too liked Sapiens overall, but didn’t you find his definition of ‘religion’ just waaaaaay too vague?

      I got the feeling he deliberately kept it that way so he could refer to economics, politics, science, human rights, etc, etc as ‘religions’. It seemed rather too contrived to me. I also defy any relgious person to recognise his definition of religion…

    • DrBrydon
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      I need to re-read the O’Brien books.

    • bric
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      New Le Carré in September – and it’s back to the Smiley World

      • merilee
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink


      • David Coxill
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        I liked the spy that came in from the cold ,and the honourable schoolboy and the perfect spy .
        Someone is supposed to have gone into a book shop and asked for the new spy novel by Robert Carrier ,the salesperson is supposed to have replied ,you mean the pie who came in from the cold.

        • bric
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          A Perfect Spy is one of those books that transcends genre and becomes simply a very fine novel; Philip Roth called it the best English novel since the War

  15. Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I have just read the Jersey Boys by Sally Mott Freeman, a WWII memoir of three brothers
    in the Pacific and a funny medical memoir about a surgical intern who endures her tough internship by letting go of the irrationalities of her faith in God, called The Surgeon’s Obol, by A. Stuart.

  16. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Like Steve who commented above I just got Sapolsky’s Behave, and for fiction I have Robert Crais’ Suspect, a crime novel told partly from the point of view of a German Shepherd. (May have been alerted to the Crais by a commenter here?)
    And I love Herriman’s illustrations for Don Marquis’ Archy and Mehitabel. There’s a cat for you!

  17. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading “God’s Funeral” by A.N. Wilson. A very interesting and informative read.

  18. BJ
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m currently reading Irvine Welsh’s Filth. Before that, I read Bertrand Russel’s The ABC of Relativity, which is so wonderfully written I’ve read it several times over the years.

    Regarding Freud: I feel like anyone who has done even a cursory study of psychology has known for at least a couple of decades that nearly everything Freud said was absurd. I’m curious to know what the book suggested in this post might have to add, so I would love to see a review when you’ve finished reading it, Jerry.

    Despite being a charlatan, nobody can deny that Freud had a great and important influence on the development of an entire field. I think it’s still important to recognize this, though we shouldn’t be teaching almost anything of his unless it’s from a critical viewpoint.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      The field, psychoanalysis, is, as far as I can see, itself a big sham (I had some sessions a long time ago, and it was just bizarre). Founding that field is to Freud’s eternal shame. Truly, I can’t see any contribution Freud made to modern thought; even the idea of the unconscious was accepted long before he came along.

      I haven’t read this one, but I don’t think people know the gory details of how Freud made stuff up, misused cocaine, violated his own therapeutic guidelines, and so on. All people generally know is that “no one accepts Freud any more.” But they don’t know why, and they should.

      • Perluigi Ballabeni
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        You are lucky in the States if there no one accepts Freud any more. I am afraid in Europe he is still pretty popular. The French Philosopher Michel Onfray was heavily criticized by plenty of psychoanalists, not only in France, when he published a book against Freud a few years ago.

      • BJ
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        I don’t really mean psychoanalysis, but more that his development of that largely sham field at least partially contributed to psychology and its popularization.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

        Wikipedia reports that
        “The term [unconscious] was coined by the 18th-century German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge.”

        Freud was big on seeing how the unccnscious was manifested in dreams, slips of the tongue and jokes, and a storehouse for ideas that are actively repressed.

        IMO, one of Freud’s most interesting ideas is sublimation, but this can be found in Nietzsche. Freud IMO is correct that sublimation is preferable to repression. Here is what Fred (Nietzsche not Crews or Schelling) said about it.

        There is, strictly speaking, neither unselfish conduct, nor a wholly disinterested point of view. Both are simply sublimations in which the basic element seems almost evaporated and betrays its presence only to the keenest observation. All that we need and that could possibly be given us in the present state of development of the sciences, is a chemistry of the moral, religious, aesthetic conceptions and feeling, as well as of those emotions which we experience in the affairs, great and small, of society and civilization, and which we are sensible of even in solitude. But what if this chemistry established the fact that, even in its domain, the most magnificent results were attained with the basest and most despised ingredients?”

  19. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I have been really slow doing any reading for the last year or so because I have found migraines and various medications have made me too tired to read, especially at night when I can get my reading done. So, I’ve been reading, for a long time, the last book of the Hyperion series: The Rise of Endymion. I’m also reading the first book of the Culture series: Consider Phlebas which I am reading as both an Amazon eBook as well as an audiobook with whispersync so I can listen sometimes & read other times.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I really liked that series. Dan Simmons has a wonderful imagination and engaging style. Another great book of his (not sci fi) is Drood. It’s based on Charles Dickens’ last and unfinished book. It is surreal at times (lots of opium users) and has a great plot and characters. His depiction of Dickens seemed accurate from what little I know of his life and character.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        I’ll have to keep that book in mind. I wish the series came to the screen but I’m afraid they’d butcher it at the same time. I really like how they portray AI and human dependence on it and I have an affinity for A. Bettick.

        • bric
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          Aren’t the Simmons Ancient Greek capers more n your line? I much preferred them to the Hyperion series

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

            I guess I, as Walt Whitman writes, “contain multitudes”.

            • bric
              Posted July 30, 2017 at 4:45 am | Permalink

              All the best people do 🙂 Also the book by Ed Yong is a very good read

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 30, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                Ha! A serendipitous recommendation. I’ve put it on my list.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Diana, given your long history with migraines, I’d like to recommend “When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress” by Gabor Mate. You might find it helpful.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I think my body is saying “f*ck you”. My doctor upped my beta blocker and I don’t want to curse it, but when we had that low pressure cold front go through a couple days ago, I felt like a migraine was coming but I didn’t get one. Others I know who suffer from migraines, did.

        • BJ
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          One thing that really helped with my migraines is nortryptiline. It’s usually for tension headaches (which itself is an off-label use, but that’s not an uncommon thing when it comes to psychiatric pharmaceuticals, and nothing to fear) but may help with migraines as well. I’m not sure, but if you haven’t tried it, perhaps ask your doctor if it may help. Nortryptiline’s normal usage is in depression.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 30, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            Thanks, right now I use Relpax which is a triptan. The trick with triptans is you can’t take them too many times in a row or you will get a rebound headache. I also take propranolol beta blocker 3x a day as a preventative. I took a couple different anti depressants and they didn’t seem to work plus I have a hard time tolerating them as they make me tired. I also tried topiramate (aka topamax) as a preventative but the bummer with that is it slows down your Neurons chatting to one another and that caused me to have really bad aphasia and I just couldn’t think very quickly so that was just awful. I also have tried lyrics which just makes you fat though I think topiramate and lyrics helped break the daily cycle of migraines.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 30, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

              Lyrics = Lyrica

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        Just found the kindle edition and bought it!

        • Posted August 1, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          I hope it convinces you to reduce your sources of stress wherever possible. It sucks to be in pain so often.

  20. Fernando Peregrin
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    About the Spanish Inquisition, is the author based on the erroneous and false history of the famous Spanish Black Legend?


  21. Cruzrad
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Almost finished reading a just published book, “The One Device- The Secret History of the iPhone”, by Brian Merchant. Well written and well researched. An engaging story about the most successful consumer product of all time.

  22. mrclaw69
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    The Aquariums of Pyongyang – by Kang Chol-hwan (about his time in a North Korean concentration camp)

    A Short History of Slavery – by James Walvin

    The Atheist Muslim – Ali Rizvi

    Areopagitica – John Milton

    As well as news articles, etc.

    No science at the mo – although I’ll be starting Mukherjee’s The Gene and Nick Lane’s Vital Question soon.


    Have just finished:

    I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that – By Ben Goldacre (compilation of his Bad Science articles)

    ISIS: A History – by Fawad Gerges

    The Way of the Strangers – by Graeme Wood (about ISIS’ folowers in the West)

    Nothing is True and Everything is Possible – by Peter Pomerantsev (about Russian media under Putin)

    The Shadow World – Andrew Feinstein (on the global arms trade)

    The Palestine-Israel Conflict – by Dan Cohn-Sherlock and Dawoud El-Alami (it’s effectively 3 books: 1 from a Jewish perspective; 1 from a Palestinian perspective; 1 a dialogue between the two authors)

    Mein Kampf (it was really tenuous, boring and terribly written!)

    • David Coxill
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      I bought Mein Kampf a few years back ,haven’t got round to reading it ,i felt embarrassed ,so i got a book about the Jews in Germany from 1743 to 1933, called the pity of it by Amos Elon .

      • mrclaw69
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        To be honest, I only read it because I thought I *had* to – in the same way as I’ve read The Communist Manifesto, and have added Das Kapital and Smith’s Wealth of nations to my reading list. Regardless of how ‘good’ they actually are, they’ve been hugely influential on the world.

        Mein Kampf is just terrible. Endless lecturing on the history of the Austrian Empire (which, tbh, I’m in no position to be able to Fisk as I’m no historian!); tedious ranting about how he understands the Bolsheviks’ arguments better than they do themselves (yet he never gives a single example, or engages with any of them!); ridiculous contradictory positions on the Jews (they make up both the media/art world and the Bourgeoisie, *and* the very Bolsheviks who plan to overthrow those groups!).

        It’s a badly-written and obnoxious book – although *nowhere near* as racist or obnoxious as the Bible/Qur’an.

  23. claudia baker
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Three books at the moment:

    Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts (Penguin 2014). Only on page 61 but loving it so far.

    On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder (Tim Duggan Books 2017). A tiny 126 page book, which got great reviews and seems apropos given the times we live in. I have read Bloodlines: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Snyder and found it fascinating, albeit disturbing.

    Re-reading Paradise Lost by John Milton. Going though it in small snippets, as it’s a hard slog but brilliant. Haven’t really looked at it since University days, and getting so much more out of it now. The writing is mind-blowing.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      When I read Paradise Lost in school, I kept coming to the lecture and titling my notes with synonyms for “lost”: “Paradise Misplaced” etc. I like the portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost and it made me appreciate Neil Gaiman’s version much more.

      • claudia baker
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        I’m not familiar with Neil Gaiman’s version. Have to check that out.

        My favourite image in PL is Satan chained to a burning lake.

        In University I took a course totally dedicated to Milton’s works. Having been brought up catholic, I was, of course, familiar with all the bible stuff. It amazed me that there were students in the class who didn’t have the foggiest what the Prof was talking about half the time because they’d been brought up without any religion indoctrination. At the time I felt sorry for them, that they had to have every little thing explained to them: “Sir, what is original sin?”. Now I know they were the lucky ones, as it took me years to shake off the horrors of the brainwashing.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          I was one of those students who had no idea about biblical references. I had to buy a book about biblical allegory. I knew all the Classical references well. Basically I was the embodiment of all that is pagan – even in my name.

          Neil Gaiman’s Satan in Good Omens is very Miltonesque. I think you’d like it. I think the same or similar character is in his Sandman graphic novels and if you watch Lucifer the TV series, that character is much like Gaiman’s as well.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

            Good Omens crossed my mind (for no apparent reason) on my trip a few weeks ago and I was thinking it’s high time I re-read it.

            A most enjoyable book.

            (And while I think of it, Stardust the movie – based on Gaiman’s book of the same name – I found to be a most enjoyable watch).


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 29, 2017 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

              I’ll have to find that movie!

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        @Diana MacPherson

        Literary wordplay along the lines of “Paradise Misplaced” has been a staple of a British BBC radio programme “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue”, comedy panel game, almost since it began 45 years ago. It still runs – over 50 series & I suppose you can get it via internet radio or the BBC World Service.

        Christopher Hitchens & Salman Rushdie used to play it too: “The Big Gatesby” etc.

        Here’s Hitch talking about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSB_Id7-E0w

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Haha thanks! I think I do have that type of humour.

        • bric
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          You’ll have had your tea?
          There’s a ISIHAC website, but sad to say no pictures of Samantha (or Sven)

        • David Coxill
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          Talking of Fitzgerald ,wasn’t he the prisoner of Zelda .HAHA.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I just picked up On Tyranny for a flight. Short but wise and level-headed.

      • Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. I’m going to pass this on to a young person I know who is just starting to become politically engaged.

        • Merilee
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          Got that one cued on my kindle as well. Supposed to be very good! Also hoping to get to Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands soon ( which someone else mentioned…)

    • jwthomas
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Read Milton out loud to yourself. Hearing it is more enjoyable than just reading it and a different experience entirely.

      • claudia baker
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        Good suggestion. I’ll try that.

  24. claudia baker
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    “Bloodlands”, not bloodlines. Auto-correct doesn’t like the word ‘bloodlands’. Who can blame it?

    • David Coxill
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Still on the book i started in Jan,”The Discovers “,by Daniel J Boorstin ,for some reason don’t fel like reading ,i like History ,not much non fiction apart from Terry Pratchett .
      I am a bit ashamed to say i am interested in 20Th Century history ,my number one niece thinks i am a Nazi because a lot of my books have Swastaki’s and photos of you know who on the covers ,i have a lot of books on Soviet Russia ,she hasn’t said i am a communist.
      I replied using the quote “Those who do not remember the past are commended to relive it ”
      In the Independent a few days ago there was a story about that tithead david irving ,he held a reception in Georgia ,someone drew a swastaki on a menu and handed it back to an African American waitress .
      There were a lot of comments about it ,and they turned to the subject of the Holocaust ,there were some people who said the Holocaust never happened ,soon put them right.

      • David Coxill
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Forgot to say i bought “Bloodlands ” a few books ago ,don’t know when i will get round to reading it.

        • claudia baker
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          It’s very good. I like Snyder’s writing style.

      • nicky
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        Read Boorstin’s “The Discoverers” decades ago. At the time I found it somewhat irritating, because I found it too conventional, if I remember correctly. Nothing really unexpected. However, it was a long time ago, and I might be more positive now.

        • David Coxill
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          It is a bit wide ranging ,have you read the 2 other books in the series ,if that is the right word .

  25. Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Currently reading “Behave” by Sapolsky. ‘Nuf said.

    Just finished Eric Kandel’s “The age of insight”, a fascinating mixture of history (early 20th-c. Vienna), neuroscience (Kandel got the Novel for his studies of learning.) and art theory. Curiously, Kandel spends much time defending Freud, altho on a rather superficial level, it seems to me.

    Also reading Scott Aaronson’s “Quantum computing since Democritus”. Rather difficult going for me, but very interesting. And funny.

    And re-reading “Wuthering Heights”, which is much different from what I remembered.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      LOVE Wuthering Heights. By far one of my favs from Vickie’s Old England. That and Tess of the D’urbervilles. Natasha Kinski helped with that one.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I never read Wuthering Heights but I did read Shirley a long time ago. I never would have read books from that era had I not been forced to and I’m glad I was. I like George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss and many of Jane Austen’s stuff.

  26. DrBrydon
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I am almost finished re-reading Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s Dunkirk: Fight To The Last Man, which focuses on the defense of the pocket around Dunkirk. When I am done, I will begin re-reading Walter Lord’s The Miracle of Dunkirk, which focuses on the evacuation proper.

    I am traveling west this week, so for the plane rides I’ve picked up Ian Worthington’s By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire, as well as the Pen and Sword reprint of S. G. P. Ward’s Wellington’s Headquarters. A Study of the Administrative Problems in the Peninsula 1809-1814. I will read the later with much satisfaction, and a cheerful “screw you!” to book dealers who think the original edition warrants $142 price tag. Too late, boys.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Good ol’ Alex the Great! When I took a course about him, the professor was a bit of a jerk and decided that we had to have a background in another history course, even though it wasn’t a prerequisite. That meant that I was super confused by words like “satrap”. I did like the names of the men Alex surrounded himself with like “Kleitos the Black” and “One-Eye” (Monophthalmos) because they sounded like a bunch of pirates.

    • David Coxill
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Have your read “The court of the Red Tsar ” by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore?.

      • DrBeydon
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        Yes, although that’s actually by his brother, Simon. I thought it was excellent.

        • David Coxill
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

          I didn’t know that ,two writers with the same silly name .lol .

  27. Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I finished Myth by Robert A. Segal, in the excellent Very Short Introduction series. By the way, there is none on Speciation. Does anyone know an author who is an expert in the field, wrote a book about it, and had the ability to write it? 😉

    I give Myth a 9/10. It’s clearly laid out, well written (though I’m not a native speaker) and appears to give an excellent account of various disciplines concerned with the study of myth. The missing tenth point is for being a bit too light on the Jesus Myth. The book is very central on dying-and-reborn kings, a god of vegetation who needs renewal, king as a scapegoat etc. He also talks about understanding myths as having some function in cycles, day, seasons, dream-wake etcetera

    In my mind, I quickly saw harvest and “killing” of the vegetation god, and guilt of the peoples for having killed him. And renewal and forgiveness come spring, marking the arrival of the new king-god of vegetation. Now take Easter, east-as-sunrise, new beginning, cycles etc. plus omnipresent fertility symbology, eggs, rabbits at Easter and it’s very hard to not see what I deem dead obvious: Jesus is really based on the vegetation god-king myth, that also is central to the Adonis myth.

    Alas, Robert A. Segal never goes there, even though Jesus comes up a few times and he writes about scholars often being unwilling to dissect their Christian myths. In this sense, the book fails its intoductory purpose as I have no idea what respected scholars say about “my” thesis (as I write, it’s such obvious that I would find it impossible that nobody has dissected it from that angle, such obvious that I expected Segal leading up to it, but he doesn’t).

  28. Jenny Haniver
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading Ancient Obscenities: Their Nature and Use in the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds. Never know when I’ll need to use a choice ancient obscenity (such as: “Bene caca et irruma medicos,” which goes something like: “Shit well and fuck the doctors in the ass.”

    Also rereading Sam Harris’s Free Will because my medico challenged my rejection of it, though I wouldn’t want to see my medico irrumated.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Oops! It’s “irrima” not “irruma.”

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Forgot to mention Risible Rhymes by Muhammad ibn Mahfuz al-Sanhuri, translated by my friend, Humphrey Davies. “Written in mid-17th century Egypt, Risible Rhymes is in part a short, comic disquisition on “rural” verse, mocking the pretensions and absurdities of uneducated poets from Egypt’s countryside.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Haha that obscenities book sounds great. I’ll have to pick that one up!

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        Here’s a description from the U. Mich. website: “Ancient Obscenities inquires into the Greco-Roman handling of explicit representations of the body in its excretory and sexual functions, taking as its point of departure the modern preoccupation with the obscene. The essays in this volume offer new interpretations of materials that have been perceived by generations of modern readers as “obscene”: the explicit sexual references of Greek iambic poetry and Juvenal’s satires, Aristophanic aischrologia, Priapic poetics, and the scatology of Pompeian graffiti. Other essays venture in an even more provocative fashion into texts that are not immediately associated with the obscene: the Orphic Hymn to Demeter, Herodotus, the supposedly prim scripts of Plautus and the Attic orators.”

        You should also try to find The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy by Jeffrey Henderson. And The Latin Sexual Vocabulary by James N. Adams.

        I’ve had such bad luck with medicos that I’ve designed a T-shirt superimposing the Bene caca quote over a caduceus. Just don’t know if I’d have the nerve to wear it to the dr., because I’d probably be sent to a specialist for a special irrumation.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          Haha. I don’t think doctors would get it unless it was explained.

          I now have to figure out when I can use the phrase, “Priapic poetics”.

        • Jiten
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          If you’re going to print the quote on a t-shirt put it over a Rod of Asclepius, not caduceus.

    • Posted July 30, 2017 at 3:28 am | Permalink

      I’d like to read that book about obscenties. 😉 But on Ammazon it’s going for 82 euros!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I think it’s because it’s a scholarly work and they are somehow expensive because of some publishing reason. I will probably get it from the library.

  29. El Abogado del Diablo
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Tom Nichols book was interesting, I recommend it. I am currently reading a lot about Stoicism, now The Art of Living, by John Sellars.

  30. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    His work (and that of others) has shown that Freud was largely a charlatan, with psychoanalysis having many traits of a religion …

    Of the three bearded prophets of the 19th century — Darwin, Marx, and Freud — it seems only the first has stood up to scientific analysis. There’s no gainsaying, though, the impact the latter two also had on 20th century intellectual history. And despite the faltering of their overarching theories, they bequeathed us concepts that remain essential analytical tools.

    I’m reading a collection of short stories by Ann Beattie (whom I’d never read much of before, outside a couple stories in the slicks, and whom, I must confess, I still sometimes confuse with Annie Dillard, for no better reason than the similarities of their first names and their near-contemporaneous arrival on the literary scene).

  31. ashdeville
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    The Abyssinian translation of Fuevre’s Amatonique Altrego.

    To be accurate I’m reading it in Braille.

    • bric
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Word on the street has it that the Akkadian version rendered on artisan stone is what the kids are into

  32. Jenny Haniver
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Fredrick Crews is one of my favorite thinkers and writers. Must read this new book on Freud, but I’ve read his others on F and what more can he say? Obviously lots.

  33. Randy schenck
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I could recommend any book by Andrew J. Bacevich and his latest is America’s War for the Greater Middle East. He is an excellent Military Historian and International Relations professor retired at Boston University. His background includes graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, served for 23 years as a commissioned officer in the US Army. His PhD in American diplomatic history is from Princeton.

    Also, someone here, I can’t remember who, recommended, America 1927 by Bill Bryson. I am currently about half way through this one and it is a very good review and history in the 1920s. Favorite line – (The dome was dedicated by Herbert Hoover, who would go, it was said, to the opening of a drawer.)

    • David Coxill
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Hi ,read 1927 a few years ago ,didn’t know that such a lot happened in that year ,the only thing i thought happened was Charles Lindberg flight across the Atlantic .HAHA .

  34. Mark R.
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. He is one of my favorite non-fiction writers: clear, erudite and witty. This book is filled with great advice, funny anecdotes, and clever insight. I got a little lost on the section with trees and parsed sentences; the diagrams were hard for me to follow. On the last chapter now.

    I like to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. Before this, I read Don Delillo’s Libra. A study and different take on the Kennedy assassination. Delillo is a master of dialogue, and uses this talent to create very interesting and in-depth characters.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      Pinker’s books always take a while to get thru, but are worth it. “The Sense of Style” is the only one I started and couldn’t finish; the trees and diagrams defeated me. Can those parts be skipped without losing the point of the book?

      • Posted July 30, 2017 at 3:28 am | Permalink


      • Mark R.
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        I agree with Coel.

  35. David Jorling
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I usually read two books at a time; one for each floor of my house. That way I don’t waste precious reading time going to another floor looking for a book. I am currently reading “Hue” by Mark Bowden. Almost finished. Actually I have a difficult time putting it down. Brings the waste, and disgrace, of the Vietnam war to life. Also reading Bart Ehrman’s book, “How Jesus became God” after sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. A fascinating study of the gullibility of humankind to be so easily indoctrinated by fiction. Next on my list is “Homo Deus”, Yuval Noah Harari’s sequel to “Sapiens”.

  36. Perluigi Ballabeni
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I love the Krazy Kat strips, the character I like best is Bum Bill Bee. And of course I enjoy every the stupid Kat is hit by a brick. These strips also are linguistically challenging to me, given that I am not an English speaker: good excercise for my brain.

    Right now I am reading Gli zii di Sicilia (The uncles from Sicily) by Leonardo Sciascia, an Italian writer of the 20th century.

  37. Perluigi Ballabeni
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I love reading the Krazy Kat strips, the character I like best is Bum Bill Bee. And of course I enjoy every the stupid Kat is hit by a brick. These strips also are linguistically challenging to me, given that I am not an English speaker: good excercise for my brain.

    Right now I am reading Gli zii di Sicilia (The uncles from Sicily) by Leonardo Sciascia, an Italian writer of the 20th century.

    • Perluigi Ballabeni
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Sorry for the mess. I did not intend to publish the smae thing twice.

    • nicky
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      At the time I read Krazy Kat in, of all journals, ‘Harakiri’, if I remember correctly. I’m also not sure they translated it, I think it was just the original in, well, English?

  38. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I can’t read the second cartoon strip even when expanded. Here is a larger format for those with the same problem: http://www.ignatzmouse.net/pics/archives/misc/mm-impussanates-scotchman.jpg

  39. phil brown
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    There are a few Krazy Kat strips that have fun with skin colour (or fur colour, rather). Krazy is of course black while Ignatz is white, and there are strips where either Ignatz is blackened somehow (e.g. by falling in soot) which causes Krazy to think him ugly and detestable, or Krazy is whitened somehow (e.g. by having flour dumped on him), which causes Ignatz to find him beautiful and fall in love with him. It’s all rather odd, especially in relation to Herriman’s secretiveness about his own ancestry (which Jerry mentions). Are these strips racist humour or are they satirising racism? I find it hard to tell, though I lean toward the more charitable interpretation.

    Krazy’s ambiguous gender-identity and possible homosexuality seem really surprising given the time the strips were published. Maybe they got away with it because the strips are so damn weird that conservatives would only manage a couple of panels before giving up?

  40. Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Almost finished Life, by Professor Dr Keith Richards, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry & 5 string open G tuning. Very well written and surprisingly well remembered.

  41. J Cook
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I read a slew of books at onetime thanks to Napa County Library. One of the best.
    Reclaiming Israel’s History, David Brog; The Greatest Story Ever Told- So Far, Lawrence Krauss; Playing to the Edge, Michael V. Hayden; Caesar’s Last Breath, Sam Kean; Why Time Flies, Alan Burdick. I listened to Sam Harris’ podcast with Gavin DeBecker a few days ago and am now reading The Gift of Fear. And a couple of novels. In the car I’m listening to Simon Winchester’s ‘Pacific’.
    Good thing I’m retired eh?
    Oh, and I mowed the lower orchard with the tractor this morning.

  42. J Cook
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Diana, read Henry Miller if you want some “Priapic Poetics”.
    Patrick O’Brian! I’ve read his series on wooden navy many times. Forrester’s Hornblower novels are good too If you don’t get tired of his self flagellation.

  43. bric
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I tend to listen rather than read these days; I’ve got to the end of my complete Dickens (Barnaby Rudge was the only one I couldn’t complete) and followed that up with Audible’s new complete Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry, with his own introductions: 72 hours of delight!
    And after that The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, surely one of the funniest books ever.
    In actual type on the page; The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet. Roland Barthes was run over by a laundry van on his way home from lunch with Francois Mitterand: was it an accident or a plot? Rather metaphysical, somewhat post-modern and altogether quite a hoot.

  44. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carroll’s “From Eternity To Here”. And I consume web comics regularly, but mostly with delay-of-credulity-realism or -tending-to-realism manga stories with a sensible amount of depth, like Girl Genius or Sluggy Freelance.

    consider it the ultimate refutation of those who say that philosophy is of no value.

    This is, I think, possibly a strawman claim. The usual claim is that it has no knowledge value. Utilitarianism is but one of many possible ethical systems, which like many religions is problematic for the field. Its utility – if you will – has to be adjudicated by other means.

    However there is a social (jurisprudence) and even science value. In science hypotheses can be generated by any means. (Though I note that internal means are – by far – the most fruitful.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      On second though, maybe claiming science value is too far, at that. Evolutionary psychology would not make much contact with utilitarianism, at least for now, I think.

  45. Đani Stojanov
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Portrait of a lady – Henry James

  46. Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Recently read:

    1. Numero Zero – Umberto Eco

    “Fledgling newspaper … financed by a powerful media magnate” “Farcical, serious, satiric, and tragic”

    2. Jesus Before the Gospels – Bart D. Ehrman

    Oral history begun 45 to 60 years after the death of Jesus and the effect of individual and cultural memory on the stories

    Currently reading:

    1. The Siege – Arturo Perez-Reverte

    Siege of Spanish Cadiz in 1811 by Bonaparte’s French army

    2. Sun Born – W Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

    Second novel of three about Cahokia,the largest mound complex in North America before the arrival of the Europeans

  47. Michiel
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Currently reading some Discworld book (can’t recall the title off the top of my head). I just love those books as a nice little bit of escapism before bedtime.
    Also I’m reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I actually bought this for my girlfriend but she’s still reading some other book so I thought I’d give it a go. I have a soft spot for self-development books and this is seems pretty decent.

    Just today I ordered a couple of books online, including another Discworld book and, on a more serious note, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, mainly because I watched that Richard Dawkins interview that our gracious host posted, and he recommended this book. I just read Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth a couple of weeks ago which was also really great. It’s the third book of him I’ve read after The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.

  48. Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
    Robert Sapolsky.
    Excellent but not easy.

    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      About 5 years ago I ran into Steven Pinker at an event (Ciudad de las Ideas) in Puebla, Mexico, and I asked him if there was a book he would recommend on ‘why Freud was wrong’. He recommended Crews book, which I bought and read and loved.
      He also recommended Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science, And Psychoanalysis, by Richard Webster, which I also read and enjoyed.

  49. Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading a lot of Harvey Fergusson lately. Mencken liked him. I thought all of the following were very good:
    “Blood of the Conquerors”
    “Capitol Hill”
    “Women and Wives”
    and his nonfiction “Modern Man: His Belief and Behavior”
    Online (Google Books) I’ve been reading “Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains” (1847) by Frederick Ruxton.

  50. Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I usually ‘read’ many books at a time – I dip in and out of them as my interest changes. Since installing them on my iPad the number has drastically increased, probably due to the benefits of portability. The list is long and all titles are non fiction /science /technology related.

    I really can’t read fiction anymore – there’s no pleasure in learning about someone else’s imaginings of how the world could be/was. I just want the data of how it is. Although good prose is always fun to read.


    • Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Reading has been my main entertainment most of my life from when I first learned to read. Retired now, I can devote whatever amount of time I want to reading. I read 5 to 7 books a week, but, as you might suppose, a number of those are fictional. But, I also read books on history, mythology, religions, sociology, archeology, paleontolgy, etc. Not being skilled in hard sciences or maths, I read much less of these topics. My loss. I also read poetry, newspapers, magazines, signs, graffiti, almost anything and everything. One never knows when or where something unexpected and wonderful will turn up.

      I’ll be adding many of the books mentioned here to my reading list also.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:36 am | Permalink

        I’m jealous. I’m a voracious (though not particularly speedy) reader–my annual goal is 100 books, and while I rarely make it, I do come close.

        The theory was that I was going to retire this year, and probably be able to double that number, but pecuniary considerations (read: medical insurance) intruded, and I may possibly be chained to my desk for another three years.

        I can’t really say out loud who my least favorite person in the world is nowadays, but I can give you a hint: his initials are “P” (as in “Paul”), “R” (as in “Ryan”).

  51. claudia baker
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Just when my pile of books-to-be-read had gone down a smidge, along comes this post and now I have to add SO MANY!!! As J Cook said above, ‘good thing I’m retired eh?” (Are you Canadian J Cook?)

    Oh, and I stained the deck today.

    • David Coxill
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      You should see your doctor at once .lol
      I am haunted by the fear that i will never read all the books i have .
      When i get a non- fiction book the first thing i do is look at the Bibliography for books i have not come across .

      • claudia baker
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        I do that too – check the bibliography. Then I feel depressed because there is not enough time in one lifetime to read all one wants to read.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Oh I know! The two books I’m reading came from recommendations from a similar post here years ago.

  52. Jiten
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading Richard Dawkins’s Science in the Soul. I think it’s fantastic. Just finished Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is not what it seems. I loved it. Very well written and clear exposition. On the to read list is A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna.

  53. James Walker
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I recently decided I wanted to read Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle”. I went to my favourite bookstore in Melbourne (Readings Carlton) and had a choice between a Penguin edition ($20) or a Vintage edition that included both the Voyage and “The Origin of Species ($15), so I bought the latter, never having read the Origin. I’m currently in the middle of the Galapagos islands.

    • Michiel
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      I did start The Voyage of the Beagle a while ago but didn’t finish it. It was interesting but for me at some point it was just too much about gauchos in South America and not enough about discovering evolution 🙂

  54. Kiwi Dave
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I have just started Viking The Norse Warrior’s Unofficial Manual by John Haywood, a sort of How to be a Viking for Dummies -highly readable, entertaining and informative.

  55. Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I got all interested in the history of the Black Sea and the Scythians, cimmeriansetc etc and as much as is known about the folk wanderings across Europe from about the fourth or fifth millenium BC until early AD and the various sources of Celtic culture, since I am a Scot.I highly recommend Neal Ascherson-The Black Sea which is more general and very well written. I got interested because I apparently carry a couple of SNPs in my mitochondrial genome which are characteristic of the original hunter/gatherer population before the farming peoples began moving out of the levant and pontic regions and in some places merged with older populations and in some places wiped them out. Only 1-2% of the current population in the British Isles carry the markers of the original population so I guess maybe that population was largely wiped out.

  56. Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Just wrapping up Beatrice Otto’s “Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around The World”. It’s well documented enough to satisfy the scholars, but entertaining enough for us lay folk. I like this book because it looks into court jesters in China and India, as well as Europe and it goes into detail about the different relationships they had to their sponsors. It really humanizes a lot of these characters and allows the reader to see them as actual people, albeit with extremely unusual occupations.

    In the Summer I’m too busy to read more than one book at a time, but next in line is Robert Saplosky’s “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”, a copy of which is sitting in my living room just waiting to be read. I love his lectures and can’t wait to read his book!

    Krazy Kat is one of my great inspirations and I’d love to get a hold of Tisserand’s biography of George Herriman. The beauty of Krazy Kat isn’t just Herriman’s whimsical use of language, but the way he combines it with an incredibly inventive use of pen and ink. The daily strips don’t display his artwork to full advantage; for that you have to look at the full page Sunday strips. Even without the charming text, the pictures are mesmerizing and take you into a benign world of playful fantasy. He plays with layout like no one else; I think George Herriman is the best cartoonist ever! I have the entire run of Fantagraphics’ “Krazy and Ignatz: The Complete Full Page Comic Strips”, as well as many collection of the daily strips and various other books, but the only biographical information I’ve read about Herriman comes from the introductions to these books. I’ve been wanting to read the Tisserand book for some time, but then Saplosky’s book came out and shot to the top of my “must read” list.

    So much to read, so little time…

  57. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I had the odd experience 5 years ago of having lunch with 4 Berkeley academics, one of whom was Fred Crews, and not discovering it was FC until after he had left.

    I am currently reading a memoir of lost religious faith “Faith Interupted” by Eric Lax. He is also the author of a good bio of Woody Allen.
    I am about to start “How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog” and the first “Game of Thrones” novel.

  58. Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    “The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature” By Mark Ridley;
    “Settlers of the Marsh” by Frederick Philip Grove.

    • Merilee
      Posted July 29, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      How’re you liking The Red Queen? It’s been waving from my shelves for a while…

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Heh, I was about to ask the same thing.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:38 am | Permalink

          I loved “The Red Queen”.

          • nicky
            Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

            Second that.

      • Posted July 29, 2017 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        So far so good. Ridley’s got an interesting and witty style. I do have to pay attention and re-read passages sometimes, when the genetic material gets dense and sciencey. I’ve learned a lot after a few chapters.

        • Merilee
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

          Good! I really loved his Nature via Nurture, and also have his new Genome.

          • nicky
            Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink

            “Genome” is nearly 2 decades old (late nineties), is there a new, updated version? If so I’ll get it immediately!
            I think his most recent book is “The Rational Optimist”, also about 6-7 years old by now. He proposes the theory that trade is what advanced human civilisation. Very interesting and highly recommended.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      I’ve bought three books today based on reader recommendations. This is one of them, thanks.

  59. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Haynes Workshop Manual for the Mazda Tribute / Ford Escape. (Well, you did ask. It has an air leak in an engine breather hose).

    Skunk Works, by Ben Rich who was manager of the eponymous Lockheed division after Kelly Johnson. They always worked on the limit of what was possible, with the U2, the SR71 and the F117. One thing (among many) I find intriguing is that the F117’s aerodynamically horrible shape – and in particular, the absence of any curves whatever, it’s all flat planes and edges – is (my conclusion, I don’t think Rich specifically states this) down to the limitations of computing power at the time. They could calculate radar reflections off edges and planes but curved surfaces would have involved an order of magnitude more computation.

    Working my way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series in order (up to The Last Continent now) for the second time.

    And Simon Singh’s The Code Book.

    The observant will note that none of these are very recent. I don’t feel the need to keep up with new trends, and I’d as soon re-read a good book as a new one. (When I do find a really good new book (new to me that is) – in defiance of Sturgeon’s Law – I’m delighted. This doesn’t happen all that often).


    • David Coxill
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      When i told number one niece that i was going to read the Discworld books in the order they were written she said i was Anal retentive .

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        Mebbe. But they are even more enjoyable that way, as he does use jokes, situations, and characters from previous books in the newer ones.

  60. W.Benson
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Anthony Crawforth, 2009, “The Butterfly Hunter: The Life of Henry Walter Bates” and
    W. B. Turrill, 1963, “Joseph Dalton Hooker: Botanist, Explorer, and Administrator.”

    • David Coxill
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Have you come across “Darwin’s Armada “by Iain McCalman?, It is about the voyages taken by Darwin ,Hooker,Huxley,and Wallace .

  61. Toby
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I just finished “The Better Angels of Our Nature” & am now onto “The Sense of Style”, both by Steven Pinker. I like non-fiction by people with whom I can relate; it’s usually cultural analysis with a good dose of biology, come to think of it.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I have about 50 pages to go in “The Sense of Style”; I’ve really enjoyed it and have learned a lot. I read “The Better Angels of Our Nature” a couple years ago; it’s a terrific and important book.

  62. Mark Andrews
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps reflecting the times in which Krazy Kat was written, I like how “wasn’t” and “shouldn’t” are written “was n’t” and “should n’t”.

  63. kelskye
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Right now I’m easing The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova. It’s a really great exploration of the psychology behind con artists, how they operate, and why we fall for it. What makes it more entertaining is the book is littered with well-told audacious examples throughout to illustrate what con artists are capable of achieving.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      …what con artists are capable of achieving.

      Like becoming the President of the United States?

  64. Mark Joseph
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    I usually read only one book at a time, but for some reason I’m now engaged with four.

    Very interesting PCC(E). I always have four books going–one non-fiction, one novel, one book of short stories, and whatever novel I read to my wife while she’s cooking. The last three are all science fiction and fantasy, as that is what both she and I enjoy.

    The non-fiction book I’m currently reading is one that some of you may possibly have heard of, “Origin of Species” by a certain C. Darwin. Almost done with it (just two chapters left). It is astonishing just how much of modern evolutionary biology he foresaw.

    I just started the seventh book in the ten-book “Black Company” series by Glen Cook (I’m a complete sucker for swords and sorcery!)

    Today I finished reading Niven and Pournelle’s “The Mote in God’s Eye” to my wife. Next up will be “Interesting Times,” the 17th of the Discworld books; I’ve read her the first 16 in order. There is nothing funnier.

    Based on the comments, I’d be interested in knowing what media the heavy readers on this web site prefer (dead tree, audio, e-book), and whether the norm is to read books one at a time, or to have several going at once. I read nearly all paper books. I listen to a few, and read very few e-books (though I always have one on my Kindle app, just in case I get stuck waiting in line or something).

    Happy reading!

    • bric
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      I used to be a big hard scifi reader, but the only stuff I have read recently is the Poseidon’s Children series by Alistair Reynolds. I think it was the space-travelling talking miniature elephants that got me hooked.
      As to media, I’m old and retired and do a lot of walking with or without my dog, so audio-books are my main source, followed owing to failing eyesight by e-books (I use a Kobo Aura 1 for it’s big screen) and then the occasional paper book, of which I have an awful lot; if it’s anything with pictures a real book still scores heavily.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Alastair Reynolds is my current favorite! I’ve read all of the Revelation Space series, which are completely and fantabulously awesome, and have his others on my radar.

        I walk a lot too, and that’s the time for audiobooks and podcast stories, but at home it’s all paper books.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          I’ll have to look those up. I’m always on the look out for good sci fi & I’ve found some good recommendations on WEIT.

  65. Diane G.
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 1:11 am | Permalink


  66. Tim Milburn
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    I’m reading “The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics” (2014) by Kenan Malik. It seems to be well written, and well researched. I got it at the book stall at the Maryam Namazie conference in London. Sadly I couldn’t see Malik there because I could only afford the 1st day, and he appeared on the 2nd. It was a good conference on the first day, though more about passion and activism than anything cerebral.

    • Posted July 30, 2017 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      I, also, get into Kenan Malik. He has a wordpress blog called pandaemonium. I find him very precise and thoughful and down to earth. Haven’t managed to read the ‘moral compass’ book yet-not convinced such a compass is possible. He is also a very fine photographer. Fine set of photographs this am on bleak landscapes in Britain.

      • Tim Milburn
        Posted July 30, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        I haven’t looked up that blog yet, but will. Thanks for the tip. Even if you think that we can’t find a moral compass, it might still be useful to find out how peopled have tried, and what consequences it had. (And the cover of the book is also rather marvellous!)

        • Posted July 30, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          Oh, I don’t mean there is not morality. It seems to be built into us.But whenever someone tries to frame it or put it into language it gets stuck and (some) folks try to turn it into a set of rules-some kind of fundamentalism. But reality it seems is endlessly creative and shifty. And rules just become beliefs etc etc. I have read quite a bit and continue to. I think maybe most of us try to sort this out during our lives. I have found many ways of framing this in the literature and the many traditions around the world many of them very clarifying and have become much more open to seeing thru the language and practices to get to a more fundamental(?)view.
          Thank you for your response.

    • Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      About cerebral—I just began ‘Religion in Human Evolution’ by Robert Bellah. It gets rousing reviews. It is quite academic and so far,for me simply misses the point whatever the point is.

  67. marvol19
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the recent tips, PCC(E) 🙂
    Had added Sokolsky and now Singer’s books to my wish list.

    I tend to read ~3-4 books at the same time (the advantage of a Kindle), switching frequently. I like the diversity this gives me.
    1) World Without End – Ken Follett, the follow up to Pillars of the Earth. If anything it’s better than that one.
    2) the Discworld series (currently in Wyrd Sisters, I think that’s the 6th). Funny and witty.
    3) the Dune sage by Frank Herbert, just at three quarters of the first book. Dark but brilliant SF.
    4) Erewhon by Samuel Butler. Don’t actually know why, I could remember this being recommended but not by whom or why. Oh well.

  68. Posted July 30, 2017 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    The Trials of the Lancshire Witches, which took place not far from here.

  69. nicky
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I generally read 2-3 new books at a time, and several rereads. At present I’m halfway in Nick Lane’s “The Vital Question”, an absolute Must Read (I think our host recommended it a few weeks ago). However, I do not read it when I’m tired, it needs attentiveness.
    I’m also halfway a lighter book, “Octopus!” by Catherine Harmon Courage. I’ve always been fascinated by octopuses, and cephalopods in general. The book is good and I do like it, but it somehow irritates a bit sometimes, maybe the ‘journalistic’, slightly ‘popular’ style? Can’t really put my finger on it.

    [And then there are lots of books I reread or reread passages from inbetween, when I feel like something else. Books such as Dawkin’s “The Ancestors Tale” and others, Judson’s “Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice.. etc”, Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” Jones’s “The Single Helix”, passages from John Alan Paulos, Peter Ward, Steve Gould, David Quammen, our guest (of course), etc., but also fiction such as Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee detectives, Raymond Chandler’s detectives, Asimov’s SF or some SF compilations, short stories by Bosman, White and Maugham, etc.]

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:28 am | Permalink

      “[And then there are lots of books I reread or reread passages from inbetween, when I feel like something else…”

      What a good idea! I’m looking at all the previously-read books on my shelves & variously stacked all through the house…

      • nicky
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Yes, there are so many books I’d like to reread, but I do not often get to it, just a few. Due to this thread I’m also rereading Robert van Gulik’s “Necklace and Calabash”, one of his most ‘escapist’ Judge Dee stories. I think these stories are very, very much underestimated, they are, apart from well constructed detectives, real ethnographic monuments. I do not think any “Westerner” had a better grip on traditional Chinese culture than he had (apparently he spoke fluent Mandarin, as well as several Chinese ‘Dialects’, such as Cantonese, too). His deep love, knowledge of, and admiration for Chinese culture is ‘dripping from the pages’. In his “Four Fingers” a quite short story, he also unobtrusively shows his knowledge of apes (gibbons and humans in particular). A fascinating man he must have been.

        Wanted to reread my ‘Harakiri’s, ‘Charlie Hebdo’s and ‘Fluide Glacial’s, only to discover they have disappeared during my rather frequent moves over the last decades. 😦

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 1, 2017 at 2:38 am | Permalink

          Just Googled van Gulik–he does indeed sound fascinating. 🙂

          I’d need to Google two of your final 3 references as well–such eclectic tastes!

  70. Posted July 30, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Just finished “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll and enjoyed it. Not sure what is next, maybe some (science) fiction!

  71. bobkillian
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Many thanks to this thread’s contributors: my wish list has grown longer. Sapolsky and Fry’s Sherlock Holmes first.

    Reading The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Just starting, but I’m hooked.

    Also finishing Devil’s Bargain: Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and the Storming of the Presidency. Appalling but not surprising.

  72. Hempenstein
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Nick Lane’s ‘The Vital Question’ has been mentioned twice in the comments already, and I thoroughly endorse that. As mentioned here a couple wks ago in a comment, it should especially be read before taking Introductory Chemistry, to pre-load a sense of the importance of the redox tables.

    One that AFAIK hasn’t been mentioned here is Andrea Wulf’s ‘The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s World’ I really knew nothing about Humboldt before reading it. To say that Humboldt influenced Darwin and Thoreau is an understatement. Altho it is far from the entire focus of the book, it’s easy to conclude that Origin of Species and Walden might never have been written without the inspiration of Humboldt. At the very least, Darwin’s existence during the voyage seems to have been propelled by enthusiastically reading Humboldt.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:59 am | Permalink

      Yes, I loved The Invention of Nature!

    • bric
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      I first came across this Humboldt in Daniel Kehlmann’s Measuring the World, a fictional account of his travels; unfortunately I hadn’t realized there were two Humboldt brothers and got distracted trying to fit all that adventuring in with his brother Wilhelm’s life of academia and diplomacy. Got it in the end.

      • Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:13 am | Permalink

        Gerard Helferich’s “Humboldt’s cosmos” gives a gripping account of Humboldt’s travels in South America. It was a real eye-opener for me.

    • nicky
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      As a child I read a kind of biography of von Humboldt (for children), he instantly became one of my childhood heroes. Among other things I remember how he was plagued by ‘sandfleas’ under his toenails, that realy stuck! 🙂

  73. Hugo
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Die Stalinorgel; Gert Ledig

  74. bric
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t mention any P G Wodehouse, but that would be like saying I eat bread every day.
    This is just great

    • Merilee
      Posted July 30, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Love the Bertie Russell P.G. Wodehouse exchange!!

  75. Filippo
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I am gradually getting through Booker T. Washington’s, “My Higher Education,” having read his “Up from Slavery” a few years ago.

    Regarding the latter book, despite myself, I can never forget his description of his delight as a child at the great treat of a baked sweet potato with butter (and perhaps brown sugar?) on it (as compared to his sleeping on a dirt floor clothed in rags with his two siblings, and his mother having “stolen” a chicken so that she could cook it during the night for her children). (Earlier this summer I stood at his birthplace in Hardy, VA, and walked in the woods where he cavorted as a child.)

    And making his bed under a wooden sidewalk the night before he presented himself to a matron at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. He couldn’t afford the tuition. The best he could hope for was to be allowed to work in the wee hours of the morning, lighting fireplaces and whatnot. As a test of his worthiness, the matron tasked him to clean a room. A minimum of three times he wiped down the walls and swept the floors of the room, in hopes of making himself worthy of being accepted for admission. The matron responded, “I guess you’ll do.”

    I try to remember this, among other incidents of people dealing with major adversities in life, whenever I’m tempted to complain about some minor inconvenience.

  76. Phil Rounds
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading “Lunar Descent” by Allan Steele. Good Sci-fi is all that keeps me from believing that the world is doomed by idiotic superstitions and ignorant faux-populist politicians. When 40% of the US population is essentially scientifically illiterate, science fiction represents the world i would prefer to live in!

  77. Posted July 31, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Reading “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America” by John McWhorter. John is an African-American professor of English at Colombia University, who argues that much of the relative lack of achievement between black American students and other racial groups can no longer be attributed solely to racism, but rather to flaws within African-American culture. He names three distinct categories of flaws (“Victimology”, “Separatism”, and “Anti-intellectualism”) and discusses their origins, nature, and effects.

    The book is well-written as one would expect from an English prof, but relies heavily on anecdotal evidence (much of it from John’s experiences growing up as a black man in the US and the difficulties he consistently encountered while teaching black students). This is definitely a book that I will actually research some of the few studies that John cites that did not pass the sniff test (such as data purporting to show that poverty alone does not explain why black students tend to score so poorly on aptitude exams like the SAT or ACT). That being said, I would recommend this to anyone interested in this subject, and I will probably read John’s follow-up to this book, which is called “Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America”.

  78. Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Galbraith’s book The Great Crash of 1929, & The Future by Al Gore…

  79. rickflick
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I’ve just started reading “Behave”, by Sapolsky. Sapolsky did a Big Think video in which he discusses free will – it doesn’t exist. But, curiously he identifies behavior as it originates in biology and never brings in the idea of a determined universe at the level of physics.


    • Posted August 1, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      I noticed that too. And frankly, I find the argument from biology more convincing than the argument from physics. Guess I grew up when physical determinism was out of style and so I have trouble getting used to it again. Which means my hesitation is biological, not physical. 😉

      • rickflick
        Posted August 1, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Probably the biological level of determinism is closer to intuition.

  80. Matt Jenkins
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Just re-read ‘Glued to Games’ by R. Ryan and S. Rigby; about the different psychological needs satisfied by computer games. It’s a fun read and I often found myself thinking about how a workplace or class can fail because it ignores these same needs.

  81. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 2, 2017 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    As long as we read, I tell myself, that’s what matters.

    An excerpt from the pile – in this case, The Prism and the Pendulum, by Robert P. Crease, Random House, 2003 (paperback 2004):

    Right after chapter 7, about Foucault’s Pendulum – perhaps readers have seen this:

    Science and the Sublime

    “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we still are just able to endure and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” -Rilke

    Foucault’s pendulum has what we might call a sublime beauty. Alongside the kind of beauty that presents us with clear visions and that integrates us with nature – making us feel more at home in the world – the sublime disconcerts because it confronts us with a terrible power. In the sublime, we experience our existence as puny and insignificant, and nature as incomprehensible and overwhelming : nature as an alien power.

    [ThyroidPlanet]: In the same book, an interesting, arresting quote:

    “The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.” – Henri Poincare

  82. Nick Wickham
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Am pleased that the boot continues to get comprehensively stuck into Fraud – never could understand how he gained traction. Give me Shakespeare any day.

    Colonel Belchamps Battlefield Tour by Adrian Crisp. Published: 28/06/2017
    ISBN: 9781788036818
    eISBN: 9781788038225
    Format: Paperback/eBook

    I have just finished reading this first novel by physician, Dr Adrian Crisp, a retired rheumatologist in Cambridge, UK. It is a wartime love story with a twist. There are elements in the book which provide additional emotional weight, namely the death of the author’s son in a road accident in 1990, which he wrote about in the British Medical Journal two years later (BMJ 1992;305:1581-2)
    and this is woven into the narrative. What I found myself responding to was the historical detail and the powerful and compelling, but dispassionate story-telling which became a page-turner – I read the book at one sitting on an international flight. The story continues to resonate, partly I think because I could identify in many ways with the narrator, but the story itself was gripping and became a ‘lived experience’ – I am no literary critic, but this seems to be the essence of good writing.

    and waiting on my Kindle (among many!):

    Evolution: A View from the 21st Century. James A Shapiro
    ISBN 978-0-13-278093

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