This was a disappointing read, since I had wanted more details on Patterson’s research and thoughts about the evidence supporting that Tutankhamen was...moreThis was a disappointing read, since I had wanted more details on Patterson’s research and thoughts about the evidence supporting that Tutankhamen was killed. While I wasn’t expecting a work of historical scholarship, I did not anticipate that he was going to dramatize his interpretation of this slice of Egyptian history. This would have been fine, but I will be honest and admit that I wasn’t in the mood for it. Especially since the writing style is clipped, with a Dick and Jane cadence. I do not care for it.
There were two reasons I did not like the book. The first is that Patterson talks up his research. Due to the exposition style, it was unclear how much research he had done, compared to pure invention. I don’t mean that Patterson did not get the dates and major events right, but since drama requires a bit more flavor, there are certainly liberties he took with constructing the details of Egyptian life. The dialogue is one example; the thoughts and motivations he ascribes to the pharoah, queen, and the court functionaries are another. However, this wouldn’t be so bad if the pieces of research leading to his thesis, that King Tut was murdered, wasn’t so weak.
The weakness in the evidence and the long build-up make up the second fault. As far as I could tell, Patterson calls this a homicide based on a cranial wound (as determined from CT scans of the mummy skull), the elevation of 3 pharoahs from Tut’s court, and the small tomb and lack of hieroglyphic records of Tut. The fresh piece of evidence is in fact the head wound. The rest of the evidence had been known, and certainly the circumstances described does not rule out murder. The fact that following Tut, all three subsequent rulers came from his court is consistent with foul play. First, Tut’s wife/sister succeeded him, then his court advisor, then his general. Human ambition being what it is, one can construct all sorts of stories about Tut’s wife and the court advisor. The lack of mention in the hieroglyphic record may be due to incompleteness in the the record, although it could also be interpreted as the systematic obliteration of Tut’s legacy. Burying Tut in a small tomb also could indicate carelessness, and at least diffidence in how the pharaoh was laid to rest. But it might just mean that Tut was not liked. Or it could mean the murder was going through the motions of the burial. But then why would the murdered line the small tomb with treasure? One might think the head wound would prove crucial to Patterson’s case that tips the theory in favor of murder.
Yet Patterson, in his dramatization, documents the wound as stemming from a chariot fall. Hmm. And, during the assassination scene, the killer supposedly suffocated the pharaoh (fine, that was fiction. I suppose Patterson found it to be weird to have the killer strike the pharaoh on the exact spot injured from the fall – there was only a single wound to the head.) So the smashing new bits of insight wasn’t even used to weave a consistent story regarding the murder of Tut. That I found strange. The lead up to the supposed new piece of evidence did not pay off. That would be fine for any writer but Patterson: he is a writer of detective stories. Are his other books so poorly tied together?
Although I had been expecting something a bit more serious (it certainly makes for good copy for a detective story writer to do a bit of crime investigation), the fact that the historical tidbits were translated into a story didn’t bother me, in and of itself. Yes, there are issues concerning the provenance of each detail, but as a whole, it works as one amateur’s interpretation of how Egypt’s ruling class lived. At some point, with the difficulty in translating hieroglyphics and the length of time separating us from the pharaohs, a scholar’s educated reconstruction of how these Egyptians lived may not fair any better than what Patterson can invent based on his research.
There were also other minor problems. Patterson wove three stories together: the story of the pharaohs, Patterson’s modern day research, and Howard Carter’s excavation of Egypt and his finding Tut’s tomb. Patterson, on two occasions, wrote of Carter’s removal from active excavation, and merely alluded to Carter’s personality clashes with his superiors. But somehow, Patterson did not recount the details of the arguments that led to Carter’s removal. He simply just wrote that Carter was about to flout the wrong people… and left it at that.
So, the major problem was that Patterson played up the historical research he and his co-author performed. It may have been submerged into the background details of the pharaoh’s story. But Patterson didn’t describe in clear terms what new evidence he had, and the story he wrote differed in interpretation, but not substance, from what was already known. And given the circumstantial evidence surrounding Tut’s tomb and succession, it seems strange that no one had posited that Tut was murdered, as Patterson seems to be suggesting.(less)
I read Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball. I enjoyed his book, as it is a fun survey of NBA history. The book isn’t just a numbers game or just bre...moreI read Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball. I enjoyed his book, as it is a fun survey of NBA history. The book isn’t just a numbers game or just breaking down plays. It includes enough human interest elements that it should appeal to a casual fan or diffident parties (like me; I can count the number of basketball games I’ve seen – TV or live – on both hands.) Simmons does a fantastic job of conveying his love of basketball. For me, he really brought different basketball eras to life, inserting comments from players, coaches, and sportswriters. He also seems fairly astute in breaking down plays and describing the flow of the game.
Yes, I bought the book because I think Bill Simmons’s writing. If you enjoy his blog, you will find that same breezy conversation style here. The man has a gift for dropping pop culture references and making it germane to his arguments. But what I like most is that he is earnest in trying to understand and to make his readers appreciate the people who play a game for a living.
His segment on Elgin Baylor was moving, in showing how racism affected this one man; in some ways, it was probably more effective than if he just talked in general terms about the 1960’s. His whole book works because it stays at the personal level. Even in his discussion of teams and individual players, he takes pains to discuss how this person was and is regarded by his peers and teammates.
In this way, I think Simmons did a fantastic job of making a case that basketball can contain as much historical perspective as baseball. This is something that should not have to be argued. Baseball has a lock on “the generational game by which history can be measured” status. What seems important is that there are human elements that make it accessible between generations: things like fathers taking their sons to the games, talking about the games and players, the excitement of watching breathtaking physical acts that expand how one views the human condition, and the joy and agony of championship wins and losses. While baseball’s slow pace lends itself to the way history moves one (periods where nothing seems to happen punctuated by drama), it doesn’t mean other things happen in a vacuum. Style of play, the way the players are treated, and the composition of the player demographic all reflect the times. These games can be a reflection of society, and one can see the influence of racial injustice in something as mundane as box scores as integration occurred.
Simmons blend basketball performance, its history, and its social environment of basketball effectively, some examples could be found in his discussion of Dr. J, Russell, Baylor, Kareem, and Jordan. In discussing why there probably won’t be another Michael Jordan (or Hakeem, or Kevin McHale), he takes inventive routes. Most of his points relate to societal/basketball environment pressures. Players are drafted sooner, the high pay scale for draft picks lower motivation to prove their worth, and perhaps society itself would actively discourage players from behaving as competitively as Jordan did. I suppose it’s interesting, but I’m not sure if that matters so much if the player is perceived to be an excellent player. Regardless, it seems to me that Simmons has been thinking about these things for some time. And I found it fun to read his take on basketball.
And I liked this book because it gives the lie to the weird view that someone who hasn’t done something cannot make reasonable, intelligent statements about it. Simmons wasn’t a professional basketball player, but he certainly uses every resource available to absorb the history and characters populating the game. He read a fair bit, he watched and rewatched games, he talked to players, he talked to people who covered basketball and he watched some more. And he isn’t afraid to raise issues that occur to readers; you’ll see what I mean when you read his footnotes.
The book (and his podcast) confirms my opinion of Simmons as the smart friend who’d be a blast to have (one who bleeds Celtics green, watches sports for a living, and must keep up with Hollywood gossip, gambles, and pop culture because it gives him ammunition for columns).
There are some issues with the book, mainly in how statistical analysis of basketball is portrayed. I should be upfront and say that these issues did not detract from his arguments (for reasons that will be clear later), but I wish he would reconcile eyeball and statistical information. And because I’ve decided one focus of this blog should be how non-scientists deal with science (and scientists), I thought I should offer some thoughts on some of these issues.