I'm nearly at the end of the book -- some three pages in fact, having just looked -- and ... I don't know.
The author clearly has a very strong sense o...moreI'm nearly at the end of the book -- some three pages in fact, having just looked -- and ... I don't know.
The author clearly has a very strong sense of Fact and Not!Fact. He spends a lot of time reviewing how Not!Facts get treated as facts, and diagramming the way conspiracy theories develop, interlock, and support each others lies -- the same names over and over.
And yet. If he does it in the last three pages, then it's more than I'm expecting. I'll do him the credit of assuming he wants you to draw your own conclusions. And so: human beings crave the illusion of order and narrative structure. The first thing we do out of any event is turn it into a narrative -- beginning, middle, end. Conspiracy theories save us from the terrible fear that there is no one in charge. We're all just making it up as we go along. Control is an illusion. Shit happens because we don't stop it in time,a nd we're not perfect.
It struck me very much, and I don't know how much of this was Aaronovitch's framing, that conspiracy theories are a way of letting yourself believe someone's in charge; there *is* a plan; you *can* fight against the things you fear.
Of course, it's a lie. Life doesn't come in narratives; people do things that make no sense. No one is omniscient and endowed with precognition. That hindsight is always 20/20. it's much easier to pick out the significant stuff once it's all over and you can decide which bits *were* the significant stuff.
It falls in closely with something that I've taken from Pratchett, on Pan Narrans -- the storytelling ape. We construct stories to make reality look manageable. They are lies, and we implicitly understand they are lies: incomplete and inaccurate. And as long as we remember that they are lies that are based on facts, and not lies based on lies, they are a useful shorthand. Right up until someone takes a French satire about Napoleon III and turns it into the Protocols of Zion, and causes untold grief, pain and death thereby.
It made fascinating reading, but the author didn't take the book where I expected him to. A little heavy going, repetitive in places, and his anecdotes re heavyhanded and unnecessary (possibly since I buy the basic premise that bright people can be gullible and credulous, given the right topic), and he starts losing his grip on his contempt every now and again. But interesting. And of course, one is free to draw ones own conclusions.
ETA: The last three pages *did* go into the tendency of the human mind to see patterns and construct narrative. I still think he'd have done better to pull the thread out sooner, and thereby strengthen the premise by illustrating his point rather than lining up all the illustrations and going: see what I mean?(less)
I picked up a book thinking huh, Christmas present for my mother, and then somehow it was gone 1 in the morning and I'm still. reading.it.
I read the A...moreI picked up a book thinking huh, Christmas present for my mother, and then somehow it was gone 1 in the morning and I'm still. reading.it.
I read the Anya Seton book, and I knew it probably wasn't quite like that, so when I saw a book on Katherine Swinford I may have pounced on it. I have mixed feelings about it.
Alison Weir takes a very small amount of cloth and cuts an exceedingly large coat from it. The cultural and political stuff is fascinating -- I remember enough from socio-economic history of the middle ages that this all slots neatly into the hundred years war, the black death and the Lollards.
And of course, there's Chaucer, and Lancaster and it's all good fun with 700 years distance :-). I did get a certain amount of whiplash from her attitude to Froissart -- depending on whether she likes the inferences or not he's reliable ... or not. And the whole business of taking a possibility and then treating it as established fact and relying on it for the next rather flimsy assumption -- and then taking to task other historians doing the exact same thing (such as assuming that every gift to Katherine related to her relationship with John, and then when similar or greater gifts are handed to other women then no, no those aren't evidence of affairs. Except when they are. *sigh*) is annoying and frustrating. Also, dishonest.
The fire which destroyed the Savoy Palace also destroyed key financial records. More importantly, so little remains from the fourteenth century that much of our history of that period is anecdotal and based on accounts never intended for the purposes to which they are now put, and which bear the weight of historical enquiry with varying degrees of success.
Weir makes no real attempt to derive Katherine's character except from the facts, and from a scattering of maybe fewer than fifty points it's hard to really feel that yes, this was the woman who captivated John of Gaunt. I was left fascinated but ultimately unsatisfied.
That said, it's a riveting read. Flimsy fabric and all. (less)