An amazing and astonishing book, and one that I think that everyone should read. Although I have to admit I found the last few chapters a bit more of...moreAn amazing and astonishing book, and one that I think that everyone should read. Although I have to admit I found the last few chapters a bit more of slog than the first several.
Pinter expects people will have a hard time believing that violence has declined dramatically throughout history, and especially in recent decades; after all we hear about murders and wars and so on on the news all the time. So he spends the first several chapters going over all kinds of violence (wars, murder, rape, torture, witch hunts, genocide, etc.) and provides charts showing the decline in all of them throughout history, often with more detail on how they have declined recently. He also goes over why it's believed each kind of violence has declined. His tone is analytical and occasionally wry (when needed), since the sheer numbers of people who have suffered and died, and the few times when he gets into details (mostly in the chapter on torture; where he spells out what was standard procedure in most of Europe throughout much of its history) are truly horrifying. One statistic that stuck with me is that the rate of violent death in pre-historic groups (as figured from the remains we've found) was 15%, and that number is also characteristic of many hunter-gatherer cultures in recent history. Think about that; of every 100 people you know, 15 of them would die by violence. The murder rate in the US today is about 3 people per 100,000. The most boring, beige, suburban subdivision begins to look like the epitome of civilization, as indeed it is.
The later chapters go into more depth on the reasons that violence has declined tremendously in the last few centuries, and especially the last sixty years. Pinter is not trying to say that violence will never go up again, or that it will ever totally disappear, but that by figuring out what ideas and movements have contributed to the decline of violence we can hopefully encourage those ideas, encourage peace and peacefulness, keep the rate of violence low and hopefully make it decline more. (less)
I had forgotten how slow this is in getting started! And it is amazing how much the movie has overlaid what I remember of the book, even though I've r...moreI had forgotten how slow this is in getting started! And it is amazing how much the movie has overlaid what I remember of the book, even though I've read this book many, many times. I would have sworn that this first book ended at the same point as the first movie- the death of Boromir, but that is not the case at all.(less)
This was a delightful and fascinating book. It's very readable and entertaining and I don't think that I will ever look at language quite the same way...moreThis was a delightful and fascinating book. It's very readable and entertaining and I don't think that I will ever look at language quite the same way again. I wished, quite early on in the book, that I had read it(or had it to read) twenty years ago when I was teaching English in Japan. It made a lot of issues and problems that my students were facing much clearer to me, and if nothing else I wish I'd been able to explain to my students WHY English spelling is so screwy.
The author doesn't try to tackle how words evolved; he starts with what he refers to as the "Me Tarzan" stage, and shows how simply and easily more complex grammar evolved from there. And his chapters on how and why grammar and language devolves, how case endings for nouns got lost, pronunciation slips, and words change from one syntactic category to another are also both very clear and really fascinating. (less)
I really liked this book. It was similar in ways to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; kind of set in that Victorian-sort of steam-punk England, but al...moreI really liked this book. It was similar in ways to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; kind of set in that Victorian-sort of steam-punk England, but also extremely inventive in the cultures and creatures that inhabited it. (less)