Current Reading - April 2021

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Current Reading - April 2021

huhtikuu 2, 2021, 7:15 am

First out of the gate. Finished up The Sword and the Shield yesterday evening, which functions as a joint political life of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King for the BLM generation. It's mostly a synthetic work but since I figure that it's a quasi-textbook (the author is a professor of government) it's fine for what it is.

huhtikuu 2, 2021, 2:04 pm

On the recommendation of another LT member I picked up and just finished Trails of the Smoky Hill: From Coronado to the Cow Towns by Wayne C. Lee and Howard C. Raynesford. It covered a number of subjects, from the Indian Wars to the railroads to the cow towns, but by focusing on western Kansas and being more detailed about those places and events it made it more interesting to read.

huhtikuu 2, 2021, 3:53 pm

I finished In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s by Clayborne Carson. This extremely interesting volume traces the development, achievements and ultimate demise of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee one of the eminent organizations in the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South in the early- to mid-1960s. By the late 60s, the group had evolved to enter the forefront of the Black Nationalist movement. I think that, together, this book and Black Against Empire, the terrific history of the Black Panthers that I read last year, go a long way toward providing a good picture of the crucial events of those days.

huhtikuu 5, 2021, 6:59 am

Finished Crap - A History of Cheap Stuff in America, which delivers just what it says it does but which is, probably inevitably, a little scattershot. This is inasmuch as it covers everything from the "five and ten" store to nasty novelty items, and is really more of a history of a business model than anything else.

huhtikuu 6, 2021, 6:00 pm

Read another couple of books, although I didn't finish either, as I found them disappointing and I don't have enough time to finish books I'm not enjoying.

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father by Stephen Fried. I really thought I'd enjoy this because while I've head of Rush I never knew much about him. Unfortunately the author felt obliged to mention and discuss seeming every person Rush ever came in contact with while not stepping back and giving the narrative a bigger, overview look at the situation. Maybe in the past I would have struggled through and found the later activities of Rush in the revolution to be more interesting and make the poor early reading worthwhile, but not now.

Mars Gets New Chariots: The Iron Horse in Combat, 1861-65 by Lt Col Alan Koenig. A very odd name of course, but with possibilities as it try to discuss the role of the railroads in the American Civil War, as the author notes, with a closer look at their tactical use. Sadly the book, which is a doctoral thesis, is rather poorly written. Often a paragraph will start off with a theme statement then be followed by several examples, with little development or follow through on each one. Basically it is a collection of anecdotal events grouped by subject.

huhtikuu 8, 2021, 7:36 am

>5 jztemple: I know that feeling!

huhtikuu 8, 2021, 7:40 am

Speaking of which, that brings us to Charles and Ada, which is basically an exercise in historical fan-fic where the author spends a good bit of time speculating on the prospects of a romantic relationship between Babbage and Lovelace. It turns out that Essinger has a stage production about the life of Madame Lovelace, suggesting that historical fan-fic is precisely the point. I wouldn't quite say that I want that hour or so of my life back but it's certainly not a book I'd recommend!

huhtikuu 8, 2021, 9:44 am

I've started on China Marches West, which we spoke a bit about in a previous thread.

I read a lot about the Qing and Inner Asia last year, so this is a bit of a follow up. Indeed, part of the reason I'm reading it is that the Zunghar* didn't seem to get their due in The Chinggisid Age.

* Also spelt as "Jungar", "Dzungar", and sundry other variants, and sometimes known as "Kalmuks" or variants thereof. The rendering of Mongolian names into Latin letters is confused and inconsistent in general, but this group seems to be hit particularly hard**. The official Latinization of the modern Mongolian Cyrillic spelling is apparently "Züüngar".

** To make it better, they're a subgroup of the Oirat, whose name has also been Englished as Oyirad, Ölöd, Eleuth, etc.

huhtikuu 9, 2021, 9:52 am

I completed Alabama A Guide To the Deep South, an American Guide Series book supervised by the Federal Writers Project, for the 2nd time after 20 years. The chapters covering a lot of the social, artistic and related history are well done for a depression era book. I'm continuing to push through all of them now since I have them all now!!

huhtikuu 9, 2021, 6:31 pm

Finished Stars Beneath the Sea: The Pioneers of Diving by Trevor Norton. This is a series of short biographies of people, not all of whom where actually divers, but mostly were associated with developing the techniques and explorations of diving.

huhtikuu 12, 2021, 8:16 am

Finished China's Good War yesterday evening, an examination of Beijing's efforts to make a usable past since it joined the international community after the demise of Mao.

huhtikuu 13, 2021, 5:39 pm

Finished an interesting and very well written Tycoon's War: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America's Most Famous Military Adventurer by Stephen Dando-Collins. The sub-title is accurate but rather misleading about the content of the book. The book is really a biography of William Walker, probably the most famous of the mid-nineteenth century filibusters. I have read bits and pieces about Walker and his actions in Nicaragua, but this book really does a fine job of telling the whole story, which is rather fascinating. Vanderbilt's involvement was more in the way of funding a multi-national coalition which overthrew Walker, as well as sending in various agents.

huhtikuu 14, 2021, 12:56 pm

Queens of the Crusades by Alison Weir
New and #2 in the "England's Medieval Queens" series. I'm reading a library copy. It's been 4 years since the 1st volume!

I like the cover selection for the US edition--it has a lovely section of tapestry.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 18, 2021, 2:48 pm

I finished The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson's latest biography is a long an fascinating account of the development of the science of gene editing, as filtered through the life, experience and accomplishments of Jennifer Doudna, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020. Isaacson, a clear and straightforward writer, does an excellent job of weaving his narrative between Doudna's life story, the concepts of genetics, the progress of the science as discoveries are made, the many scientists that mentored Doudna and with whom she has collaborated and/or competed.

The story of how, over a period of several decades, Doudna and her colleagues discovered the features of DNA and, especially, RNA that allowed them to understand how these enzymes work, and especially the way that RNA is effective in actually cutting to pieces the DNA of invaders like viruses, is fascinating indeed, and Isaacson tells the story very well. He's adept at providing just enough of the technical description of the processes involved to give a lay reader enough of a general idea of what's going on without getting bogged down in too much detail. I actually experienced an element of "willing suspension of disbelief" during the proceedings that I found wholly appropriate. It was fascinating for me to learn, for example, that the genetic techniques being studied and applied by humans now are essentially the same ones that bacteria have been using to fight off viruses for billions of years.

And then, as Isaacson was doing his obviously years-long research for this biography, the Covid pandemic hit. The final section of the book describes the ways in which the academic scientific community quickly swung into action, cooperating in areas that would have been sources of competition previously, to create the new sort of vaccines--utilizing RNA manipulation for the first time in vaccine technology--that we are now using to combat Covid.

Isaacson does not skip over the fact that, when Doudna was a young woman deciding upon a career, the idea that "women can be scientists" was one that met stiff resistance within the world of science and in the culture in general. Her role as a pioneer, not among the very first women scientists, of course, but in the vanguard of the generation that battered down many (certainly not all) of the roadblocks taken for granted by previous generations, is stressed, as is her role as a mentor.

There is a lot more in this rich and fertile book, which is at once a biography of a fascinating woman, a primer for how science and private industry inter-relate in our society, a history of the science of genetics, a look inside the war against Covid, and an outline of the ethical/philosophical questions that we are going to be grappling with over these new capabilities.

huhtikuu 19, 2021, 8:07 am

Knocked off a couple of short works that fall between the chairs of military and political history; Westmoreland's War and War in Peace. Neither were bad but neither can I say that I learned that much that I didn't already know. The second did lead me to try coining an aphorism: The soul of fascism is aggrieved entitlement.

huhtikuu 19, 2021, 6:23 pm

A few years ago I read a two volume history of the War of 1812 by Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, especially Canadiana and Canadian history. The work was very interesting to me since it looked at the War from a Canadian point of view and so I started collecting books on battles and campaigns that occurred on the U.S./Canadian border.

I just finished on of those books, Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813 by James E. Elliott. The book actually covers the entire, short campaign from the initial American invasion of the Niagara peninsula through their defeat at Stoney Creek and subsequent withdrawal back to the Niagara river. It is an interesting story about how a poorly trained, equipped and led American force almost caused the capitulation of Upper Canada but after a confusing night action were so rattled that they retreated pell-mell back to their starting point and threw away almost everything they had gained.

Also contained in the book is a look at later efforts to explore and preserve the battlefield. There are other interesting features in the book, including numerous appendices covering weapons, orders of battle and casualties. The book has a plethora of end notes for those who enjoy exploring those. Very highly recommended.

huhtikuu 25, 2021, 9:14 am

A 17th century pick-up manual titled The Mysteries of Love & Eloquence, or, The arts of wooing and complementing as they are manag'd in the Spring Garden, Hide Park, the New Exchange, and other eminent places : a work in which is drawn to the life the deportments of the most accomplisht persons, the mode of their courtly entertainments, treatments of their ladies at balls, their accustom'd sports, drolls and fancies, the witchcrafts of their perswasive language in their approaches, or other more secret dispatches, by Edward Phillips, published 1658, which is as awesome and awful as you're probably imagining.

huhtikuu 25, 2021, 5:06 pm

First off, I read High Green and the Bark Peelers. A good way to describe the book is to call it a comfortable read about a small New England railroad. It MIGHT make it to the read it again list.

The next book was Plain Enemies discussing the various Indian wars in the northern plains and the Rockies. I couldn't finish it. How many ways can you torture and kill someone?

In the preface toward the end there was a single sentence paragraph. "It was a dirty war."

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 27, 2021, 8:17 am

>18 ulmannc: "How many ways can you torture and kill someone?" You'd just love the work that I'm about two-thirds of the way through, Surviving Genocide, which deals with the question of whether the long-term thrust of "Indian Removal" should be regarded as genocide, or "merely" ethnic cleansing.

Speaking of which I finished it this morning; an important work of scholarship that puts all the pieces of the puzzle together in terms of the expulsion of most of the First Nations from East of the Mississippi.

huhtikuu 29, 2021, 11:32 am

Mateusz Fafinski's short article about medieval library users has been reprinted in Time magazine. The original is still available free, with fewer flashing adverts, from History Today and might interest readers here:

huhtikuu 30, 2021, 8:52 am

Ending the month with The Army in Cromwellian England, which turns the question on its head of why did the Cromwellian order fall, by suggesting that how it came into being in the first place was something of a fluke.