The king wants a son, Sir Thomas – what are you going to do about it? King Henry, eight of that name and possibly last of the Tudors, has decided to The king wants a son, Sir Thomas – what are you going to do about it? King Henry, eight of that name and possibly last of the Tudors, has decided to change wives. His lawful queen, Catherine of Aragon, has so far only given him one long-lived child: a girl, utterly useless for succession purposes. Convinced that his marriage is cursed, Henry seeks to have it declared null and void by the Pope, but said pontiff is unwilling. He already made special dispensation for Henry to marry his brother’s widow in the first place; now they want to him to un-dispensate? Anxious to replace Catherine with a younger model, and in fear of dying without a proper heir, Henry decides to resolve the succession problem via secession. Assume leadership of the Church in England, appoint someone pliable as archbishop, and hey presto, instant divorce. Henry can do nearly what he wants; the Pope may object, but he is across the Channel, and even the Queen’s Hapsburg family doesn’t have the energy to invade England just for marriage counseling. Henry intimidates both Parliament and the church into giving in, but still—there is an itch of sanction. The compliance of dogs is easy to find; they can be appeased with food or cowed with beatings, and dog-men abound here, epitomized in the person of Richard Rich What Henry needs to sooth any lingering qualms that he is following the straight and narrow path is approval from a man of virtue and conscience – a man like his Chancellor, Sir Thomas More. But More cannot approve; he is a faithful husband and doting father to several daughters, and a good Catholic who finds Henry’s easy disposal of his wife and the Church’s authority to be utterly alarming. Choosing discretion as the better part of valor, More retires from the court in the wake of Henry’s break with the church, but Henry is not content. He and his minions want either More’s sanction, or his destruction. “A Man for All Seasons” follows the king’s pursuit of More, a path that ends only with the subject's martyrdom. More never explicitly opposes the king’s behavior; never writes a tract, never denounces him from the chair of office, never even says a word to his wife. His silence, however, is forbidding, and the king will not have it. There can be no law in England save the King’s – not even More’s private reign over his conscience. The import of “A Man” is not lost centuries ever the times they portray, nor decades after the play was written. Its championing of conscience against coercion, of moral conviction against swaggering license, remain relevant so long as those in authority continue to pursue their every impulse, dressing their wrath and lust for power in the clothes of law and demanding obedience. Sophie Scholl lost her head for the same reason More lost his; they had a better one than the king’s. More’s stand for conscience was such that the Church of England – which More opposed – hails him as a saint. Truly he was as Holt describes him, a man for all seasons, including ours. ...more
Bernie Gunther was an ordinary police detective in wild, wonderful Weimar until Germany’s economy collapsed and fringe parties swept into power. His Bernie Gunther was an ordinary police detective in wild, wonderful Weimar until Germany’s economy collapsed and fringe parties swept into power. His police department absorbed by the SS, he wears the uniform of a party and of an ideology he loathes – and does a poor job of even pretending to tolerate. His antipathy for the Party makes a man of Bernie’s talents a useful tool, however, at least to Joseph Goebbels. With no career prospects or political ambition, the detective can be hired for a little bit of innocent work that the master of deceit would prefer to keep concealed from his rivals in evil miniondom, like Himmler. For instance, Goebbels has his eye on a certain starlet who is waffling on cinema as a career prospect, despite being a Siren-like beauty who is sure to become the continent’s most popular actress. Officially, of course, the chief of propaganda wants to keep her engaged making films to glorify the fatherland, but he also has more intimate engagements in mind – the kind that married men have no business in making. The problem is that the poor dear is distracted by her long-missing father, lost in war-torn Yugoslavia. What he’d like for Gunther to do is pop down to the most hellish place in Europe short of Auschwitz for a spell, find dear old dad, and then report back to Berlin.
Nothing is ever so simple, of course. Gunther has already encountered some soul-harrowing scenes since the Nazis took power in 1933; he has seen massacres on both the Soviet and Nazi sides of the battle-lines, and been exposed to the Final Solution in action. Yugoslavia, however, is a bloodbath to be endured only with the native whiskey,:Gunther’s report makes even Goebbels blanch at the horror of it. There, the princes of hell on earth decorate their strongholds with skulls on pikes, and photographs of executions, like something out of a nightmare. The usual psychological defenses – sarcasm, booze, and cigarettes – don’t quite do the trick. To survive, Gunther counterattacks: he falls in love. If the hormone rush from becoming infatuated with Germany's foremost sex symbol doesn't do the trick, then perhaps the thrill of chasing a girl who is not only married, but a mistress-potential for one of the most powerful men in the reich will. Eventually the action moves to Switzerland, where Americans mistake Gunther for a German general and hilarity ensues. Amid even more death, however, the piece of a puzzle which has lingered on Gunther's mind for a year finally falls into place.
The Lady from Zagreb is a very well-done detective novel, putting its wartime Europe setting to good effect and linking several mysteries together. The humor is biting, as ever; on learning that a fellow officer is writing yet another novel, Gunther comments that there will always be room in Germany for more novels, provided his countrymen keep burning them. In an early scene, a man is literally killed by Hitler; a bust of Adolf is used as a bludgeon. Against the backdrop of both the Holocaust and the obscene carnage of Yugoslavia, however, even that humor fails to prevent this from being an utterly distressing novel, set in a land of desecration and filled with horror and manipulation. Not even Gunther's relationship with Dalia is free from the cloud of horror, unsurprising given Goebbels' close presence. Certainly there's no fault in creativity or research; the book is littered with odd little details that must have been strange research finds, like a U-boat parked on the autobahn; one of Gunther's escapes is especially captivating. As thrilling as it is, Zagreb is more than touch dispiriting on the whole, however. ...more
In the darkest hour of the Hundred Years War, a teenage girl re-inspired both a defeated nation and a despondent king to fight again for what was theiIn the darkest hour of the Hundred Years War, a teenage girl re-inspired both a defeated nation and a despondent king to fight again for what was theirs. She -- Joan of Arc -- would be captured by her enemies and condemned a heretic by the English, but later vindicated by the Church. In 1920, in fact, Joan was pronounced a saint. Shaw's play no doubt follows on the heels of the news of her canonization. Scoffing at saintly romanticization of the Maid, Shaw chose to pay tribute to her in his own way, making her an apostle of Whiggism. “Saint Joan” pays tribute to the Maid’s time in the historical sun, relegating unpleasant battle-and-execution bits to the background and focusing instead on her conflicts with the silly men she is forced to enlighten. Considering that the title character is burned alive, the play is far funnier than it has a right to be, from the opening scene with a duke arguing with his page almost to the end, where the man Joan made king is visited by the shades of his past after her vindication. Shaw fills the play with modern conceits; his characters seem to wish they were living in the 1920s instead of the rotten ol’ middle ages. They even invent words like Protestant and Nationalism to describe how Joan makes them feel.
Shaw’s Joan is more ambiguous than this, however; he endeavors to save her from beatification and her enemies from damnation in the same stroke. Joan as written is not ‘saintly’ she is cheeky. Assuming familiarity with lords of the realm and lords of the church alike, she gives as good as she gets when they argue her down with reason, or scold her for acting so presumptuously. The irreverent, tomboyish Joan may be the star of the play, but her opponents are no villains. They may be guilty of pious fraud at times, but their arguments seem perfectly sensible, and prompt a reader to wonder just where Shaw’s sympathies lie. When the churchmen accuse Joan’s patriotic zeal of threatening to divide Christendom into nations and in so doing, dethrone Christ and allow the world to perish in a welter of war, the graveyards of the Great War do not seem far removed from Shaw’s mind. They are less villains than men moved to horror through fear, and happily ere the conclusion is reached they experience the genuine crisis of remorse, repenting in turn. Although Shaw is just as guilty as having the Maid carry his own standard as any of the old romanticists, “Saint Joan” succeeds in granting both her and her enemies humanity and redemption. ...more
The Egyptians surveys the entire course of Egyptian history, from ancient settlements to the 1990s, in a mere 300 pages. Were this not ambitious enougThe Egyptians surveys the entire course of Egyptian history, from ancient settlements to the 1990s, in a mere 300 pages. Were this not ambitious enough, Watterson does not limit herself to mere politics, but includes separate sections on religion, architecture, law, and economy. The approach is reminiscent of Will Durant's symphonic history. Pyramid-like, The Egyptians is bottom-heavy: two-thirds of the book is devoted to the ancients, with the Roman, Christian, Islamic, and modern periods sharing the last third together. The scale is immense, as it has been Egypt's fortune or misfortune to be an combatant or an object of interest to nearly every great power around the Mediterranean. Egypt's longevity is such that she has been conquered by two wholly different Persias, an epoch apart. In the beginning Egypt was star of her own story, an insular union of two kingdoms fixed on the Nile; after outside invasion by the Hyksos, Egypt overcame her conquerors and became an empire in her own right. The land of the Nile would go the way of all empires, however, falling to Persia, then the Macedonians and their successors -- Rome, Constantinople, the caliphate, and Turkey. Through history Egypt has also been the plaything of other empires, like the French and British. Even Hitler attempted conquest, while trying to rescue Italian pretensions of a resurrected Rome. Aside from a brief interlude during the Islamic civil wars, Egypt had to wait until the 20th century to be ruled by her own people again. Despite the generations of new reigning powers and the trauma they inflicted -- Ptolemies are utterly horrifying in their abuse, what with one king marrying his sister, then his niece, then murdering his own child and sending the body to his sister--wife to taunt her -- Egypt endures. Given the chaos of Egypt in recent years, such resilience is a hopeful sign. ...more
A galaxy can be a small world. When James T. Kirk attended a performance of The Tempest put on by volunteers nursing refugees in the middle of a war zA galaxy can be a small world. When James T. Kirk attended a performance of The Tempest put on by volunteers nursing refugees in the middle of a war zone, he didn’t expect to encounter a woman who tried to kill him. Admittedly, he has that effect on women, but the last time he laid eyes on Lenore Karidian, she was being hauled off to an insane asylum after the killing blast she meant for Kirk dispatched her father instead. It’s been over twenty years since, but there she is on the stage, immersed in Shakespeare once more. But is it her only repeat performance? Kirk has come to help mediate peace between two planets locked in a bitter war, and whatever fragile hope for bloodshed’s end is lost when the leading counselors for both sides find themselves murdered on Kirk’s own ship. The murders are utter copies of Lenore’s past crimes, when in her youth she sought to kill anyone who could identify her disguised father as a war criminal. Although Ambassador Kevin Riley – Kirk’s colleague and former crewman, previously poisoned by Lenore and saved only by Dr. McCoy’s swift action – is quick to believe the femme fatale is up to her old tricks, Kirk suspects there is more to the story. The stakes grow after both sides in the war somehow learn that Karidian had a criminal past, and explode into fury against the Federation they blame for harboring a known criminal. Even as two of his officers are arrested by an alien military, a raging mob takes innocent aid workers hostage. Even worse, Spock and Scotty – said arrestees – were on the brink of discovering a conspiracy that threatened not only the peace, but the lives of millions.
Foul Deeds will Rise is a classic Trek tale, an action-mystery reminiscent of the shows themselves, complete with abundant references to Shakespeare. Plotwise, Cox’s writing is perfectly entertaining, with action unfolding in three different locations at one point, all building together to the same finale, with the occasional fun bit of dialogue thrown in. It does seem odd that a murder investigation on a starship would involve virtually no reference to security tapes being checked, but how nice it is to see a mystery solved by sleuthing instead of computers!...more
"This is my password," said the King as he drew his sword. "The light is dawning, the lie broken. Now guard thee, miscreant, for I am Tirian of Narnia"This is my password," said the King as he drew his sword. "The light is dawning, the lie broken. Now guard thee, miscreant, for I am Tirian of Narnia."
In The Magician's Nephew, the great lion Aslan sang Narnia into existence and commissioned a human boy to plant a special tree to protect it against evil. But now the Tree has fallen, and a Lie reigns. The story begins with a malevolent ape and his witless donkey companion discovering the skin of a lion. Shift, the ape, has an idea: skin the lion, dress the donkey in it, and use this guise to awe the woodland folk into doing his bidding! Hundreds of years have passed since anyone saw the great Lion, Aslan himself, and the lie succeeds -- to the destruction of Narnia.Consumed by avarice, Shift begins ordering the destruction of Narnia's enchanted forests in the name of "Aslan", selling it piecemeal to the dreaded Calormen and even inviting their soldiers into Narnia. The king Tirian, captured early after falling for the deceit himself, is in no place to prevent his people being massacred and his cities destroyed. At this hour of greatest crisis, Jill and Eustace are called into Narnia to take up the Lion's banner one more time. For this is the last battle, the great battle, and one where Narnia's foe is not a mere witch presuming power, or a greedy horde of warlords, but a winged beast that smells of death and devours everything in its path. Although Narnia's enemies have always cloaked themselves in deceit -- the Witch as a Queen, most consistently -- here lie is compounded upon lie. No sooner do our party of heroes (Eustace, Jill, the rescued Tirian, and a unicorn to begin with) unravel part of the diabolical plot than does the Ape add another. Yet the Ape is being controlled by another party, and they still by another. Some Narnians are frightened by all this, and run away; some decide the battle isn't worth bothering with, and retreat into their own narrow issues (like the dwarves, who become nasty little chauvinists). Our heroes know only one thing: they are between the paws of Aslan, and they would rather perish fighting the Ape and his death-god than betray the lion. So it goes, and such is this literary version of the Book of Revelation, with its antichrist, astronomic fireworks, and all-consuming finale. Virtually all of the major characters throughout the series make appearances, making it a glorious reunion of sorts, The Last Battle is darker and more intense than the other books, however, and if I read it as a child I probably would have had nightmares about it. The witch of previous books was evil, but in a Disney villain way; the baddies here are positively revolting, between the Ape perverting good to evil and the death-thing invoked by the Calormen. While I can imagine future re-reads of various Chronicles books, The Last Battle is a little too rapturous. ...more
Escaping from bullies in their oppressively modern boarding school, Eustace Scubbs and his friend Jill Pole opened a door and promptly fell into NarniEscaping from bullies in their oppressively modern boarding school, Eustace Scubbs and his friend Jill Pole opened a door and promptly fell into Narnia. Visits to Narnia always come unexpectedly, and never without purpose. Though only a year has passed since Eustance's sea voyage with Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, and their Narnian comrades, a lifetime has passed for the friends left behind. Young Caspian is now an aged, bearded king driven to despair over his son, ten years missing. According to story, he was last seen in the company of a beautiful woman, dressed in green, while hunting for a serpent which killed his mother. A dozen of Narnian lords have ventured into the northern wastes where the Prince was last seen in the hopes of finding him, to no avail: they never come back. Now it's time to send in the A-Team: Aslan, and the heroes he has chosen. Armed with four signs and a very pessimistic frog-thing, Eustace and Jill journey into the land of the giants and discover the truth of the prince's captivity. If only they listened more; they might have known that the lady in green who greeted them in the giant lands, and referred them to a Giantish city ("they'd love to have you for the August feast") was up to no good. Previous Narnian adventures have seen innocents in distress rescued, mysterious objects returned to their rightful owners, beasts dispatched, spells broken -- but now the heroes, like Odysseus, must descend into the Underworld, fighting their own fears along the way. Jill, like the other children thrown into Narnia's animal-dramas, proves resilient. Despite missing clue after clue, they continue to rise to the occasion -- as they do when the Witch, having captured them deep within the bowels of the Earth, attempts to enchant them into believing her realm is the summation of reality, and that their memories of Aslan and the skies above are mere dreams. Pleasant dreams, to be sure, but dreams nontheless. Some dreams, however, have more weight than reality, and so they fight on....more
There are unwanted gifts, and then there are unwanted gifts that pull your only son into a fantasy world of dangerous creatures, powerful enchantmentsThere are unwanted gifts, and then there are unwanted gifts that pull your only son into a fantasy world of dangerous creatures, powerful enchantments, and the odd supernatural beging. These last are usually called books, but a certain portrait of a ship at sea can do the same thing. At any rate, that’s what happened to Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their obnoxious cousin Eustace. One moment they were sitting in a guest bedroom, staring at it, and the next they were on the ship with the boy-prince whose throne they’d help win. With his country at peace, regal Caspian decided to set out to find some lost countrymen, and perhaps discover the End of the World. So begins The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a tale of Narnian adventures at sea. There’s no enormous stakes here, just the call of the open ocean, a thirst for adventure slaked only by salt spray as a ship of merry friends sails into the unknown. They have a serious mission in discovering the fate of several nobles who were sent on fools’ errands by the wicked regent who attempted to kill Prince Caspian. The forlorn peers have met various fates; some, eaten by dragons; others turned to gold; still others captivated by spells. The character of Eustace makes for a particularly entertaining tale, not because he’s a delight because he’s such a boor. He’s a very modern boy, Eustace, raised by parents who know better than everyone else, and whose head is filled with practical things like the workings of watermills, and no cranial capacity given over to dragons. It’s a pity, for when he was turned into a dragon it might have helped to know what such a thing was! The humorless Eustace is completely out of place in this magical world, although he takes the existence of talking, combative mice in stride. The mishaps and adventures aren’t mere amusement; each carries with it some moral import. This is most obvious on the isle of Deadwater, where the party encounters a pool of water that turns anything immersed in it into gold; the wealth is tantalizing and deadly. Aslan makes infrequent appearances, offering mercy or a warning to those who err. Lewis’ interweaving of Christian themes and European myths continues, with an ending that makes plain Aslan’s significance....more
ar below the green hills of Narnia lays a vast desert, and just south of it, the mysterious land of Calorman. Here a shipwrecked baby was rescued by aar below the green hills of Narnia lays a vast desert, and just south of it, the mysterious land of Calorman. Here a shipwrecked baby was rescued by a fisherman, one not unkind but not terribly loving, either -- a man who called the boy his son, but was willing to sell him as a slave to the first rich warlord ambling by his house. Informed of the warlord's cruelty by the lord's talking horse, the boy and said horse decide to run away together -- to go north, beyond the desert to the legendary land of Narnia. In The Horse and his Boy we find a Narnia tale where it is merely a dreamt-of destination to the extreme north, where Edmund and his sister appear as visitors from afar, paying their respects to another king. The visit of Susan stirs part of the plot, as her beauty drives the Calorman prince insane with lust and he decides to invade Narnia to take her by force after his first lock-her-up-and-marry-her plan didn't work. Shasta's dream of trekking north, surviving the desert wastes, takes on new importance; having learned of the wicked prince's secret plan, he must somehow warn Narnia of the invasion-in-the-making. Calorman, with its deserts and turbaned warriors wielding scimitars, brings to mind "The Orient" -- perhaps inspired by the Ottoman Empire, a chronic threat to southern Europe. Through the story we moved from the 'exotic' to the more familiar, complete with Aslan's presence. He is neither named nor known until the conclusion of the story, where exhausted characters on the brink of lost spirit learn that he has been there all long, and will see them through to the end. Of the Narnia books I've read so far, The Horse and his Boy is the most traditionally plotted; the characters start one place, they end up another, and along the journey they grow up-- not physically, but they transcend fear and vanity to act decisively and nobly. (Even the horse, who was already grown but needed some emotional maturity.)...more
Once upon a time four children stumbled through an ordinary-looking wardrobe into another world altogether, a place called Narnia where they became itOnce upon a time four children stumbled through an ordinary-looking wardrobe into another world altogether, a place called Narnia where they became its kings and queens and fought great battles under the banner of a noble lion, its creator and champion. Then they returned to their own ordinary lives, but not for long. A year after their return, the four siblings – Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan – found themselves snatched from a train station and deposited on a mysterious island. They soon discovered that they had returned to Narnia, more than a millennium after their former reign. Their beloved talking animal friends had been slain or driven into hiding; their former favorite places were in ruins and surrendered to wilderness; their lord Aslan was absent, and cruel men ruled in their stead. From a lone dwarf in the wild, the Pevensies learn what has happened since their departure, and decide to go to the aid of young Prince Caspian, the last human defender of Old Narnia. Prince Caspian is a story in two parts; first, Caspian’s revolt against the evil kingdom he was technically heir to, the desperate war against his tyrannical uncle, and his grasping-at-straws move that called the four legends from the past to come to his aide. The battle that follows has plenty of heroics, but most satisfying is the character of Edmund; the once nasty boy who betrayed his family to the White Witch is selfless here, the model of ‘nobility’. It is a tale simple, fast, and sweet, with both gentle humor and adventure to stir the heart. ...more
Diggory and Polly were just two kids on vacation exploring a forbidding-looking attic. They didn’t intend to witnesss Creation, let alone accidently uDiggory and Polly were just two kids on vacation exploring a forbidding-looking attic. They didn’t intend to witnesss Creation, let alone accidently unleash evil into it. Like the more familiar Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe – for which this serves as a prequel -- The Magician’s Nephew retells a Christian story, this time of the Creation and Fall, incorporating creatures and symbols from other western traditions as well. The trouble begins when Diggory’s uncle, a man with a taste for the occult, discovers a way to send beings into another world. He’s tolerably sure he knows of a way to fetch them back, but not positive enough to test it on himself – that’s what nephews are for. Diggory and Polly, having discovered the warlock-wannabe’s lair, become his unwilling test subjects and are thrown into a mysterious netherworld that allows travel between different places like our own Earth and Narnia. One world proves a desperate landscape, lit by a dying sun and filled with lifelessness reigned over by a wax-still woman. A nearby bell teases visitors; ring it and heaven knows what will happen, but let it be still and the prospect of what might have been will agonize them forever. Over the warnings of the far more sensible Polly, Diggory rings the bell – and awakes a creature who will one day be known as the White Witch. The meat of the story of Narnia fans happens halfway through, when the Witch, the children, and a few innocent bystanders fall into a world which is without form and void – until they hear singing. The dream-weaver is Aslan, the great lion, and his songs call life into being. The witch ruins things, but in the end the children are able to accomplish a mission for Aslan which sends her into retreat at least for a little while. As with its predecessor, The Magician’s Nephew abounds in symbols, creatures, and objects from across the western imagination. A forbidden tree in the midst of the garden, for instance, hangs low with not just any fruit, but silvery apples reminiscent of Eris’ Apple of Discord. The garden appears long after the 'fall' of the novel; this is not a Chrstian story reold with different characters, but in a different way altogether; unlike Lion, wherein Aslan did all the heavy lifting, here he human characters, principally Diggory, to prove capable of growing beyond their mistakes through accomplishments more impressive than great physical deads. Narnia continues to be a lovely, enchanting story....more
Ornament of the World is the story of a unique civilization in medieval Europe, one which ultimately disintegrated but left a hopeful legacy. For hun Ornament of the World is the story of a unique civilization in medieval Europe, one which ultimately disintegrated but left a hopeful legacy. For hundreds of years, Europe hosted a distinctly Islamic polity: Andalusia, the last stand of the Umayyads. The inheritors of Muhammad’s empire, they were driven out by a palace coup and reestablished themselves across the Mediterranean, building a glorious realm of their own. They brought the best of an ascendant civilization and combined it with the remnants of the classical world; theirs was a world of fusion which allowed not only Muslims, but Christians and Jews to flourish and contribute as well. Ornament covers a thousand years of Spanish history, mixing literature, art, and politics to deliver with flourish the story of a lost but golden age. Though heavily romanticized, the author’s lovestruck tone makes it an enticing introduction to medieval Spain.
In subject and intent, Ornament is quite similar to A Vanished World, but much tidier. It begins, for instance, with the rise of Islam, and from there moves forward in the time-honored chronological fashion. Following the death of Muhammad, leadership of the Islamic polity fell to a series of caliphs, one of whom – Ali – was especially consequential. Under his reign, the Umayyad caliphate, Islam expanded in leaps and bounds. Success ever breeds resentment, however and Ali found himself murdered along with much of his family. A minor relation fled to Spain and there begins the story of Andalusia. Amid the first Muslim civil war, however, the princeling didn't come alone. He and his followers found Iberia ripe for the picking, and in a matter of time had conquered most of the peninsula. "Woe to the vanquished!" was not the case, however, as the resident Christian and Jewish populations found themselves officially protected by the new state- - for a small consideration, of course. Al-andalusia and its capital of Cordoba would go so resplendent that a later successor would presume to claim himself the Caliph, the princeps of Islam.. Islamic politics would be their undoing however; another faction would rebel against the reigning Abassids and make their stronghold in Tunis, just a stone’s throw from Iberia. When the Umayyads later sought help from the north African Muslims against the resurgent Christians, their allies found their Spanish brethren much too decadent and proceeded to wreck and take over the place, Fourth Crusade style.
The loss of unity following the Umayyads did not destroy the creative culture they established, however; instead, leading city-states competed to out-do the other to restore that glory, just as after the fall of Rome states like Venice, Genoa, and Florence competed against the other. While the Italians engaged in petty wars and magnificent frescoes, the Moors engaged in petty wars and mesmerizing poetry. Menocal has done prior work on Arabic literature, so not surprisingly language, prose, and verse receive a lot of attention. The emphasis on literature extends to the Christians and Jews; Hebrew adopted elements of Arabic verse and flourished in its own right. This was a period of intercultural collaboration; in Toledo, for instance, Arabic and Jewish scholars worked on translating Aristotelian texts, which then drifted into Europe, replete with commentaries. Just as Muslim mosques and fortresses in Iberia began with Roman bones -- so did resurgent Christian powers adopt elements of Arabic architecture, even in areas where the Umayyads and their successors never reigned. Eventually the Castille-Aragon alliance would overwhelm the predominately Moorish south, effecting the Reconquest
Ornament compares well to its sister-rival, Vanished World; for instance, the Muslim sack of Compostela, which appeared rather randomly in Vanished, features here as part of the Umayyads’s Iberian downfall.The same general who leads a military coup against them also attacked the Christian shrine. This same episode also accounts for the contrasting versions of St. James – one meek and mild, the other the Muslim-slayer. After his shrine was desecrated and his pilgrims murdered, the peaceful James returned to have his revenge. Hell hath no fury like a saint scorned! This covers nearly a thousand years of history in a mere three hundred pages, though, and a lot of that is taken up with swooning over literature and poetry; this is utterly enjoyable, of course, but it does meant that the political sketch is an outline at best, so this is by no means a complete story. It is a loving tribute to the life of art and philosophy that found a home in Islamic Spain, however....more
In Under the Eagle, Simon Scarrow introduced readers to two legionnaires: Macro, a grizzled veteran, and Cato, a young bookish sort straight from RomeIn Under the Eagle, Simon Scarrow introduced readers to two legionnaires: Macro, a grizzled veteran, and Cato, a young bookish sort straight from Rome , a boy made an officer because of his father’s influence. No one though Cato would make it as a soldier, let alone as a leader of men, but in Germania and the beginning of the invasion of Britain he proved himself. Now the Romans are moving further inland, where some scattered tribes are uniting under the Catuvellauni banner, whose leader intends to crush the small but stubborn invasion force. In The Eagle’s Conquest, Rome struggles to make a decisive strike against the barbarian horde, even as our two officers find evidence that points toward someone within Rome working to undermine the invasion. Worse yet, the Emperor is coming to take personal charge of the campaign, and Rome’s enemies may find the murky bogs and chaotic wilderness of Britain an ideal spot to induce a little regime change. As the plot thickens, Rome’s forces crashes through thickets and wade through bogs, constantly fighting the natives and hovering on the verge of utter fatigue. Rome’s goal is to crush the opposing army outright, as other as-yet neutral tribes may join if the legions falter; their opponent, however, stays on the run and likes to rest near terrain that puts paid to any ideas about maintaining any kind of troop cohesion. Cato continues to mature as a man, taking command of his entire cohort during an especially frantic bit of fighting and vying with a personal enemy within the ranks, one who costs him dearly. Humor abounds, more in the dialogue than with physical humor this time, and the author unintentionally adds to this by writing the invading Romans in his own vernacular. It’s “bloody hell” this, and “jolly good” that, as our Roman chaps brave painted stinking hordes, a landscape not kind to invading armies, and the fickleness of woman. The book ends with one word – “Boudica” – that promises all kinds of fun to come. ...more
Here Be Dragons takes readers to the Welsh Marches in 13th century England. King John, remembered for losing England’s ancestral holdings in France anHere Be Dragons takes readers to the Welsh Marches in 13th century England. King John, remembered for losing England’s ancestral holdings in France and being gelded by his own barons via the Great Charter , reigns. His struggles with the powers of Europe are not limited to the Continent, however, for restive Wales is far from defeated. The Welsh stand apart, increasingly united under one very savvy and battle-hardened prince, and not even the marriage of John’s daughter to said prince will neutralize them. Although this is first in a trilogy about the feuding brothers of the prince, Here be Dragons is wholly dominated by the relationship between King John, Llewyln of Wales, and Joanna – the woman who stood between them. John’s illegitimate daughter and Llewyln’s unpopular Norman wife, Joanna will spent decades trying to keep the peace between the two in a feud that becomes increasingly bitter. The appeal of the novel is the balancing act she plays between two more or less sympathetic men in opposition, though both have faults and John is far harder to redeem. (Such a feat is made possibly only by having a narrator who sees him as kindly father who rescues her from impoverished bastardy.) After John’s demise, the similarly acrimonious relationship between Joanna, her eldest stepson Gruffydd, and her natural son Dafvdd, rises to the top. It’s a basic case of sibling rivalry, with Gruffydd loathing his half-Norman half-brother and fearing that the influence of the “Norman witch” will lead young Dafydd to usurp him as the heir apparent. The writing consists largely of characters talking or arguing, interspersed with bits of historic and cultural background information filling in gaps. There’s more nonfictional narrative than fictional, but Joanna’s ordeal – and the spotlight on Wales’ powers -- help overcome that, at least for the first five hundred pages. (After that the arguments and mini-lectures on Welsh history grow wearisome, but happily there’s a late-game catastrophic failure of moral judgment to infuse some drama into the plot.) For the reader who doesn’t mind a novel that’s half nonfiction, Here be Dragons offers a rare look at the Plantagenet from both inside and out....more
How many men does it take to make a revolution? The American Revolution is usually taken to include the rising animus against the political authorityHow many men does it take to make a revolution? The American Revolution is usually taken to include the rising animus against the political authority of Great Britain, a desire for independence, and the war against Britain itself. The revolution did not create an independent American nation, however; it created thirteen. United in common cause against the armies of Parliament, peacetime threatened to cause dissolution. The liabilities of the Articles of Confederation, and the threat of the American seaboard becoming some Italian-like quilt of squabbling chiefdoms,, prompted some of the states’ leading lights to vie not only for stronger ties between the states, but for the creation of a more cohesive nation. In The Quartet, veteran Revolution historian Joseph Ellis examines the role of four particular men in effecting a transformational shift in American politics, forging a new American nation out of thirteen. What they created was only the beginning of that union, but it was enough. Here delivered is a history of the Constitutional convention, told through the men who made it so.
Argue as we may over the question of where sovereignty ultimately lies – with the States, or with the national government -- prior to the Constitution no one doubted that the states were sovereign. The Articles of Confederation, written to facilitate the war effort between the colonies-turned-states, gave the central authority virtually no muscle. Genuine authority lay in the States and their respective armies, which frustrated to no end those tasked with the confederation’s responsibilities. Roger Morrison, for instance, initially tasked with getting the fledgling republic’s financial house in order, found virtually no support. The States balked at the smallest contributions, either from short-sighted shrewdness or long-term paranoia. The states’ refusal to help with national provisions, even to pay the soldiers who carried the hope of the rebellion on their shoulders, nearly lead to a militia coup. Only the charisma of George Washington prevented matters from taking a tragic turn; it would not be the last time his shoulders bore the weight of the American enterprise. .John Jay was likewise frustrated trying to arrange treaties, as the States insisted on making their own. Europe gazed across the Atlantic and viewed the new project with derision, almost taking bets on when the states would go their own way.
The Articles were failing to make the American project a go, but this was an age of ambitious and remarkably intelligent men willingly to be bold with their and other people's fortunes. Having taken readers through the stresspoints of the Articles, Ellis shifts to the effort that Madison and Hamilton spearheaded to call a convention to amend the Articles, a convention that replace them altogether. This took some doing; many Americans were quite happy with an impotent central government. Virginians didn't want to be saddled with other states' debts, and Rhode Island didn't want New York and other large states pushing it around. Any effort to strengthen an outside authority -- a foreign power -- smacked of tyranny. Hamilton, Jay, and company were looking ahead, however; they saw that the world's future lay in the American frontier, and the states needed to work together if that was to be taken advantage of. At the first attempt in Annapolis to gather a convention, most of the states were no-shows. But Washington himself supported the cause, and Madison came to the second convention prepared to argue the case for a Constitution. Washington was the trump card, the demigod who imbued the cause with moral authority; he even circulated the odd letter to lend active support. Madison stayed on the floor throughout the constitutional process, and afterwards he and Hamilton -- with a little help from John Jay -- took up the pen to argue for its ratification in New York. Washington remained vital to the constitutional cause even after it was written, signed, and ratified; if the nation's first president were anyone but -- if the electors faltered and put an anti-federalist anywhere near the executive seat -- all efforts might be forfeit. Here Hamilton plays another part, influencing the election to ensure that John Adams didn't come close to threatening Washington's victory. Eventually the Federalists would be routed in what Thomas Jefferson referred to as 'the second American revolution' -- his election -- by then the course of the nation was set.
The Quartet is classic Ellis, seeing history as made by the actions of individual actors, not the inevitable outcome of enormous socio-economic reactions. Ellis' creates an intimate history, one ruled by personal relationships; one chapter called "The Courting" speaks of Washington's seduction and consummation by Jay and Madison into the nationalist cause. While the four aren't as tightly-knitted together as the title suggests ("orchestrating" the revolution as if they were a conspiracy with an intricate plan), their unity at an opportune moment caused a sea change in American political history. Though favoring the Federalist cause, Ellis doesn't too much overplay his hand: he points out for instance that the Federalist Papers only have limited use, being the propaganda work of the nation's most avowed nationalists, and written for a particular New York audience. His emphasis on relationships does prompt a misread of Madison's character: while prior to the Revolution, Madison argued for the Federalists and a national union; afterwards he was the darling of the Democratic-Republican cause against Federalism. Ellis sees this as entirely the result of Jefferson returning to America and Madison abandoning his ideas to support his mentor, as if Madison wasn't capable of having nuanced political sensibilities that supported a golden mean between centralization and anarchy. These are slight quibbles, however; Ellis has yet again produced an enthralling political drama, perfect for a quick dip into Revolutionary history.
Related: Madison and the Making of America, Kevin Gutzman, focusing entirely on this Constitutional Convention where Madison played center stage. Founding Brothers, Joseph Ellis. Of all the Ellis I've read, this places the most emphasis on political relationships....more
Spock was right. Having a thing is often not as pleasant as wanting a thing. It is not logical, but it is often true. Such was the case with the spiceSpock was right. Having a thing is often not as pleasant as wanting a thing. It is not logical, but it is often true. Such was the case with the spice trade, which so tantalized the west that it spurred on a new epoch in human history and fell victim to its own success. For centuries, spices tantalized civilizations across the Old World, uniting them in pursuit. Romans wrote with alarm about the mound of gold and silver being lost to the east in the pursuit of clouds of incense and strange-tasting food. For the west, mystery was a key component in their appeal; they always arrived via streams of middle-men, and no one seemed to know they were were ultimately sourced. (Their guesses based on hearsay could run wild, like Herodotus' Histories. ) Although none of the pined-for substances mace, cinnamon, etc) had preservative powers, they did add subtle and exotic tastes to food that made them attractive even to China, closer to the source. Keay fellows galleys, cogs, and carracks across the seas and through time, beginning with the Roman Empire and moving through medieval conflicts between Christian and Muslim traders before ultimately arriving in the globalized world that the spice trade helped create.
The spice trade's history is worth considering because of its legacy; its traffic was more than mere goods and services. They were utter obsessions to both the European and Arab worlds, and the drive to find them -- to control them, even - spurred on the Age of Discovery and the beginning of a global economy. Because of the antagonism between the Christo-Islamic political spheres Europeans embarked on great adventures to find quicker and better sea routes to the 'spice islands'; they engaged in brutal wars, both against on another and whatever poor souls lay in their way. (Hungry, desperate men with guns don't make for ideal guests, let alone neighbors.) Eventually Europe would win control of spice route trade points from the Arab world, and conquer the spice sources directly. The competition was such -- first between Spain and Portugal, and then even more furiously between English and Dutch trading companies -- that the spice trade fell victim of its own success. So many ships were traveling from Europe to the indies -- around Africa, around the Americas, through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf -- that markets were glutted. A warehouse in England might have a half-decade worth of surplus peppercorn, and this in the age of Sail! The wooden road that now linked Europe, Asian, and American shores brought much more with than spices: it brought competition. Spices now had to contend with regular supplies of coffee, chocolate, chili peppers, tea, sugar -- an entire banquet of new and exotic tastes. The mysterious allure of spices had been lost in discovery, and now they were an old pleasure fading against new possibilities, both in Europe and in Asia. Just as the spice trade united the classical world, Islam, China, and renaissance Europe through the ages, its pursuit led to an Earth increasingly united in trade. The age of Discovery came not from scientific or religious idealism, but sheer appetite.
Keay uses his prior research into China and India here to good effect, drawing on Roman, Arabic, and Asian primary sources to delve into the Mediterranean powers' search for those goods from afar. Although this is a text heavy with details, they don't weight down the narrative too much. The only real limitation of the book is the complete lack of maps, which is problematic considering how large a role geography plays here. I largely read this to introduce myself to Keay's writings, and will definitely try more of his histories.
For most, philosophy is a subject that screams impotent academic prattle, the practice of strange individuals who are clearly paid too much to gaze i For most, philosophy is a subject that screams impotent academic prattle, the practice of strange individuals who are clearly paid too much to gaze into their navels and pontificate on the Meaning of Lint. That reputation is a modern one, achieved only in the last century, for most of western history philosophy was the common fount of all knowledge and artistic endeavor. It guided not only men’s thoughts about how the world was, but how they should act within it. The streets of ancient Athens were alive with debate on how man should live. Philosophers' answers were not uniform; names mentioned together in survey courses now, then disagreed with one another vehemently. In Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, author Jules Evans introduces the principles and practices of several Greek schools which, while at loggerheads on many issues, were united by some core convictions: namely, that the world was rational, that man could be happy within it, and that he could use his rationality to achieve that happiness.
Evans covers a wide variety of Greek schools, some more than others. The schools are sampled in one-chapter lessons, and the author presents them as though the reader is visiting a day-seminar. (Lunch, naturally, is taken with the Epicureans.) Some schools of thought receive more attention than others; the Stoics, for instance, run across three chapters in the early morning, with Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, and Seneca all providing distinct skills. Some of the lessons provide mental tricks, like using mottoes to remember principles. Underlying many of the schools, however, is the principle of mindfulness. A dark night of the soul brought Evans to Athens in the first place; in a period of crisis, he was introduced to therapeutic techniques borrowed from Stoicism. Learning to be aware of his emotions, to realize he had the ability to step away from them, allowed Evans to climb out of a mental pit. He developed mental habits like auditing his thoughts and learned to stop dwelling on the negative. Our misery is often self-inflicted; as Marcus Aurelius wrote, we are more troubled by our reactions about things than the things in themselves. Although Epicureanism has a much different basis than Stoicism, both work to effect a calm, contented mental state amid life's troubles. Stoicism is martial and trains the soul to be immune to the worse that may come, at its most intense calling for a person to retreat into a citadel of the mind. Epicureanism calls for a retreat, too, a kind of detachment from the cares of the world; but instead of being impervious to all care and stolidly devoted to the pursuit of virtue, the Epicurean seeks to focus on a few key ingredients: community, self-reliance, and mindful simplicity. The true Epicurean seeks to be the master of pleasure, by downshifting his expectations so as to manufacture a feast out of a little cup of cheese. The pervasive theme throughout is mindfulness, even extending to the final chapter on dying well. Though moderns close our eyes to Charon, pushing off our arrival at his boat through medicine and miracle-working machines, death is inescapable. The boatman waits for us all; we must truly seize the day.
Philosophy for Life is an important book to consider, for the problems it sought to remedy are universal. Misfortune and unhappiness did not vanish simply because we are 'modern'; knowledge and technology have not conquered the human heart. When we are inundated with material wealth - literal lifetimes of entertainment at our fingertips, grocery stores and online markets offering goods to feed every taste and appetite -- we stand in danger of being overwhelmed and addicted, constantly chasing after new and increasingly intense hits, like a victim of drugs. Epicurus has the answer. Similarly, as our brain misfires trying to make sense of the world, imposing purpose when there is none -- growing wrathful at a car that pulls out in front of us as if they meant to frustrate our travel -- the Stoa stands as a relief. Similarly, when the news is so utterly discouraging, constantly placing the worse of our behavior on display, it is helpful to follow Plutarch's example and deliberately consider the lives of the good and the heroic; to take inspiration from their example.
There are limits to Philosophy for Life, chiefly in its emphasis on the individual as the sole actor in achieving his happiness. The Stoics believe that people were members of a community; not simply individual units within a collective, but members-- distinct, purposeful in relation to one another. The Epicureans, too, stressed the need for companionship. These suggest that there is wisdom in traditions like Buddhism and Christianity which stress the need to die to the self, rather than ruled by it; we live not just for ourselves. Religions which emphasize communal ties are frequently the subject of dismissal for Evans, chiefly Christianity. This aside, however, the variety of thought, and the satisfying practicality of it all, recommend Evans to readers interested in living wisely.
"Humanist Spirituality", an introduction to the basics of Cynicism, Skepticism, and Stoicism, with the author (a Unitarian Univeralist minister) arguing that Stoicism has the most promise as a rational-yet- introspective path for an increasingly secular world. http://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/Essays/h...
Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living, Mark Vernon. Though not quite as serious, this was produced first and made numerous connections to various movments which have realized the same principles as the Stoics, Epicureans, etc. http://thisweekatthelibrary.blogspot....
The days are dark for Angeln. Surrounded by enemies and increasingly depopulated as her people flee to more peaceful fields in Britain, her king has sThe days are dark for Angeln. Surrounded by enemies and increasingly depopulated as her people flee to more peaceful fields in Britain, her king has seen fit to enlist one-time enemies as allies against the Danes. The outlook for Leofric is especially grim; his father is missing on campaign, and himself so sickly that his grave has already been dug. When the entire folk gathers at the king's city as a show of force to convince the Danes to keep their distance, matters grow far worse. A personal grudge leads to a bloodfeud, and Leofric finds himself kinless, destitute, and declared outlaw. His village burned, he must flee to the wilderness and find refuge among others left for dead. In time the sickly boy will find the courage and strength needed to claim vengeance for his murdered uncle and restore his family's lands.
Leofric: Sword of the Angles is a hero's-journey story set in dark-age Europe, at a time when Rome is dead but not buried, an age where the woods are dark and deep and home to monsters that require Beowulfs to slay them. War looms, though the combat of Leofric is almost strictly personal, limited to Leofric and a companion or two fleeing, fighting, or ambushing those who will not be happy until the young man is dead. Although the author acknowledges in his notes section that information on the Angles prior to their arrival in Britain is hard to come by, gaps are readily filled in by borrowing cultural references to the Franks and other Germanic tribes, and what details are available are worked in craftily; there is no awkward lecturing here, only a man pursuing his fate against a host of trouble. Some pieces of narrative are particularly mesmerizing, like the moment when Leofric's "dragon" awakes. This is his blood-heat, a surge of adrenaline and battle rage that allows him evade death and turn it on his enemies. Although he triumphs in part by the end, some unfinished business --an enemy who escaped to Britain -- begs for a sequel. Considering that Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred is on death's door these days (hovering about in the doorframe, actually), I would welcome more Leofric!
Vanished World sets medieval Spain before the reader with the warning; we may be blessed or cursed by emulating its example. The Iberian peninsula isVanished World sets medieval Spain before the reader with the warning; we may be blessed or cursed by emulating its example. The Iberian peninsula is the very perimeter of western Europe, within a stone's throw of both the vast continent of Africa and the looming expanse of the Atlantic. Despite its apparent remoteness, Iberia was throughout the ages in the very thick of the action -- the pitch wherin civilizations clashed. In an earlier age, Rome and Carthage sparred; a thousand years later, Visigoths and Muslims fought. The invasion of Spain in 711 by the Umayyad caliphate made the former province of the Romans, then yet another ruin ruled by nominally Christian barbarians, into an outpost of a far larger, far more sophisticated civilization, where it enjoyed a golden age that was for Europe a preview of the Renaissance and enlightenment. Here the gifts of the Greeks were preserved and built on; here both Islam and Rabbinic Judaism grew in new directions. Vanished World is a brief and romantic history of medieval Spain, one brimming with hope that we can all just get along.
Until the triumph of Ferdinand and Isabella, who united their kingdoms and created a state commanding the peninsula, Iberia was home to a multitude of peoples and minor states. While many were drawn by commercial cross-traffic, others came to carve out kingdoms, like the Visigoths and their successors from Africa, the Umayyads. Iberia was fractured and destitute, lingering in a winter of civilization that was chased away by an eastern wind. Unlike the barely literate Goths, the Muslim invaders were part of a vibrant, culturally rich civilization on the ascendant. Sweeping over the peninsula, they infused it with new life, creating a social order that allowed their new subjects to participate in it. Although the calpihate would falter after the death of its leader, breaking into squabbling branches that were brushed aside by a Castillian comeback, it reigned for several hundred years and created an environment that brought the best of human passion, creativity, and intelligence to the surface. After an introduction which establishes an outline of Spain's political history. most of the book is given over to sections which explore different aspects of the civilization that prevailed between the fall of the Goths and the rise of Castille. These include chapters on the growth of science, as Muslim and Jewish scholars built upon Greek knowledge and advanced it considerably, as well as some on religious revolution; the Judeo-Muslim mystical traditions both flourished in the Iberian setting. Downey's vision for the book is made apparent in contrasting several pairs of legends. The patron saint of Spain. St. James, was remembered alternatively as either a humble and kind apostle who spread the Gospel to the furthest reaches of the continent, or as Santiago the Muslim-Slayer, who was said to have appeared and led a Christian army to victory. A similar contrast is offered by the Song of Roland, depicting Charlemagne as a Christian warrior fighting the fiendish Muslims, and the story of El Cid, who found honor and friendship among the ranks of both. Christian and Muslim need not spar, Downey writes, offering various examples of cross-cultural pollination and episodes of historical cooperation, as when Christian and Muslim powers joined together to fight...other Muslim powers.
Although the subject is fascinating and I wanted badly to like it, in truth the book is limited. Downey is a very casual historian, chatty and informal. That can work to a degree, but sometimes retards a reader's ability to take the text seriously. Assuming one is completely oblivious to intellectual life in the medieval epoch, Vanished World will be quite exciting. Personally, Spangenburg and Moser's history of science covered this ground too well for me to take much here, though I did find the bits about Sufism and Kabbalah of interest. The history is also heavily sanitized in view of Downey's objection. It's a laudable goal, of course, and he does mention a few trifling incidents of unpleasantness, but haranguing Christians for the Crusades is hardly fair when no mention of the Battle of Tours is made. Sixty years after the conquest of Spain by Moorish armies, the Umayyads advanced on France itself, meeting defeat scarcely 150 miles from Paris. Humans will never cease to war with one another, though, regardless of religion; Christians may fight Muslims, but as this and countless other books demonstrate, they will happily dig into one another as well. We're a hot-blooded species given to destruction. That considering, it's nice to review the many ways we are capable of working together, as Downey does here, touching on science, art, medicine, and even the invention of cowboys.
Look for a future comparison to Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain....more
In Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky detailed the surprisingly impactful career of a table condiment on human history. The importance of salted fiIn Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky detailed the surprisingly impactful career of a table condiment on human history. The importance of salted fish, both as food and as an industry, popped up again and again, not surprising given that five years earlier Kurlansky had penned an entire book on cod. For coastal peoples, fishing is more than a leisure sport done at the river; it is the sustenance of life itself, the foundation of regional economies. North Atlantic cod have been especially important in this regard, keeping food on the table in England, Spain, Iceland, and New England. Town seals featured the codfish prominently; in Boston, an artifical one hung from the rafters of city hall. In the mid-20th century, several European powers engaged in "cod wars" in which their commerical and quasi-military coast guards grappled with one another, ramming their ships and cutting trawl lines. They were fighting not just to ensure that their respective nations got a good piece of the cod pie, but that the pie would be there in the future. This history of cod has an ecological point, for man's rapacious appetitite and creative gift for fashioning technology to maximize yields has frequently driven populations into peril. Cod demonstates the problem of the commons, in which resources held in public are abused and exhausted; not until nations began aggressively quartering off sections of the ocean and fighting off the competition were populations of the fish possible to measure and protect. Despite moratoriums and restrictive quotas, the codfish have not rebounded as quickly as expected; their future seems to lie in 'farms' (like catfish ponds), a somewhat depressing spectre.
Related: Russ Roberts of EconTalk interviewed the CEO of a seafood restaurant enterprise this past Monday, discussing the problems of the fish industry today. He followed it today with a podcast on the oyster business. (Roberts has also interviewed people about the potato chip and bottled milk businesses.) ...more
Networked computers are no longer the hulking monsters of the 1970s, only found in industrial and military installations. In the second decade of theNetworked computers are no longer the hulking monsters of the 1970s, only found in industrial and military installations. In the second decade of the 21st century, they are as common as phones -- in fact, for many of us, they are our phones. Their ubiquity allows us to connect all the various aspects of our lives to an infinite degree; we can do taxes or engage in research while traveling, stream lectures during exercise, and lose ourselves in TriviaCrack while on dates that aren't going so well. But the pervasive natures of web-connected devices doesn't just create space for leisure, education, and personal work, however: it's also an opportunity for parties interested in accessing and exploiting our personal data -- businesses, criminals, and the government. In Ten Don'ts On Your Digital Devices, Eric Rzesut and Daniel Bachrach offer a crash course in basic digitial security, one which fairly well covers the basics for people who never realized that the same smartphones which allow them access to a world of information also expose them to a world of quicksand, disasters, and predators.
This is a technological briefing that doesn't get too technical, allowing even the most tech-oblivious to get a handle on the new territory they're covering. Some lessons are utterly basic, like remembering that phones, tablets, and laptops can now contain information just as sensitive as that found in a wallet of credit cards and government identities, and should be guarded with the same ferocity. Others pass along information gained only by experience, like learning to detect phishing attacks -- emails disguised as legitimate correspondence containing innocent-looking links that lead one's digitial information to being plundered. Even the paranoid, myself included, may find updated threat information here: I wasn't aware that some phones are enabled by the manufacturer to automatically connect to whatever wireless networks are in the area, exposing unwitting users who check their bank statements on the phone without realizing it's switched to Johnny Ne'er-do-Well's network instead of their service provider's. Ever section includes a basic review of the issue, followed by suggestions. Some are behavior-related (as in, "Don't pay your credit card bill on a McDonalds wifi connection", but some list alternatives and relevant tools. Short but full of useful information, Ten Don't's is a good review of basic personal digital security that offers a lot of suggestions for people who want to tread more carefully.
Related: Internet Police: How Crime Went Online (and the Police Followed), Nate Anderson @ war: the military-internet complex, Shane Harris ...more
'ICC is a-checkin' on down the line I'm a little overweight, and my logbook's way behind But nothin' bothers me tonight, I can dodge all the scales all
'ICC is a-checkin' on down the line I'm a little overweight, and my logbook's way behind But nothin' bothers me tonight, I can dodge all the scales all right Six days on the road, and I'm gonna make it home tonight.' ("Six Days on the Road", Dave Dudley)
Whatever images spring to mind at the mention of “sociology professor”, that of a long-haired truck driver probably isn’t one of them. Yet Lawrence Ouellet was, before becoming an academic, a genuine working man – a soldier, a telephone lineman, and most notably a trucker. In Pedal to the Metal, two of his dissimilar passions meet. Drawing on his experience at three different small contractors, and referencing a range of social theorists including Thorstein Veblen, the book not only delivers a sense of what it is like to be truck driver, but explores the truckers’ motives in connection with deeper economic principles. Ouellet takes readers on a ridealong at each subject company, sharing both his and his coworkers’ experiences and thoughts about their work, detailing the job’s particularities.
The book develops toward a section on the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic awards, with Ouellet concluding that different aspects of the work appeal to different men. Those who are merely workers – men who exchange their time for money and take little pleasure in the job itself – don’t mind routine and value jobs mostly for comfortable pay. On the other end of the scale are ‘super truckers’ who are primarily attracted to the job because of mythic appeal; they enjoy playing the part of the outlaw, the rugged man who dominates a vast machine and spends his days trekking across the country, tackling mountains and evading the law. These men prefer to work at companies where destinations are highly variable, allowing for constant challenges that demand the best rigs money can buy – and who often express their pride in what they do by sinking their own money into customizing trucks further. Ouellet sees most truck drivers as being attracted to the work because of its mystique, though over time they drift toward the conventional because of the demands of family. No young father wants his glimpses of his children to be limited to once-a-month layovers. Trucking as a lifestyle defies the tendencies of capitalisim (in the author’s view) to reduce men to mere economic units.It’s a criticism shared in spirit by Wendell Berry, who scorns ‘employees’ – men with no real connection to the work beyond pay. Ouelett’s is certainly no mere prole, for near the book’s end he recounts the pains and glories of trucking with passion that makes plain his genuine love for it.
Pedal to the Metal has much to recommend it for anyone remotely interested in trucking, both as a career choice and as one of the most important elements of all economies regardless of scale. It certainly has no rival in giving readers both insight into the everyday work, coupled with a study of sociological probing into the values of the men attracted to it. Its only real disadvantage is its publication date; based on research done in the 1970s and 1980s, modern truckers work under far more technological scrutiny and regulatory restraint. Men who pride themselves on taking a load of petroleum up and down mountains without incident, who through experience gain the wisdom to choose superior routes, are now reduced to being monitored constantly, their location and speed within a search query’s tap by the home office. The men in this study who despised the notion of being company men, of allowing the boss to get the better of them, would no doubt chafe under the constant eye of conditions today -. Trucking may yet one day be the sole domain of “company men”, shuttling back and forth on preset routes, and taking little pleasure from operating under the steady LED eyes of the machine. If nothing else, Pedal will bring back to mind the days when truckers were truly cowboys of the highway.
In ancient Egyptian mythology, the souls of the dead were weighed before the gods. In Before the Throne, the dead pharaohs, generals, leaders, and dicIn ancient Egyptian mythology, the souls of the dead were weighed before the gods. In Before the Throne, the dead pharaohs, generals, leaders, and dictator-presidents of Egypt process before the heavenly court, where the great lord of their ancestors, Osiris, sits waiting to judge them. Even as Egypt is conquered and her people forget the gods, Osiris and his divine family maintain a watchful eye on the Land of the Nile, whose people are theirs. Originally written in Arabic in the 1980s, Before the Throne is a history of an ancient people, who have endured much but have finally regained independence, told through a fantastical trial.
Some sixty men and women are brought before Osiris's throne, and at first their judgments follow a fairly predictable formula: Thoth, the court reporter, offers a brief recap of the individual's life, followed by the defendant asserting his merits. Osiris is rarely impressed, cross-examining to the point of grilling his mortal subject, while his sister-wife Isis plays the part of public defender, offering grounds for mercy. Most of the time the subject in question is allowed -- if grudgingly -- admittance to glory, while some are cast into purgatory and a rare few into Hell itself. As more pharaohs pass muster, however, they become active spectators to successive trials; great pharaohs bemoan their descendants' stupidity in losing hard-won gains, or exult in their successors' steadfast defense of Egypt's people against a multitude of greater empires, fighting to their last. The ranks of the judged include noble pharaohs and revolutionaries alike, and they bicker with one another and the defendants. Akhenaten, for instance, noted for turning away from Egyptian mythology in favor of a new monotheism, is written as single-minded religious fanatic who is profoundly unhappy with every leader who follows until he sees in the rise of Islam the fulfillment of his own vision. After the Persian conquest, when Egyptians endure many centuries of foreign rule, individuals who fought for Egypt as Egypt are singled for scrutiny; the gods acknowledge limits to their sovereignty, as they begin wishing leaders success in their Christian and Islamic trials. They are Egypt's gods, even if Egypt has become the domain of another deity.
Translated from the Arabic, this is a most curious book. There is virtually no awkwardness in the translation, although each rulers' time is so short that few have personality. The few who do (Akhenaten ) gain it only by complaining in every trial, least until Osiris demands that they behave. The fact that Mahfouz is writing for a predominately Muslim audience while wanting to connect to the gods of Egypt's past reveals itself in the complete lack of concern on the god's part about Akhenaten's revelation, and the fact that they acknowledge their children have become the wards of the Abrahamic faiths. Judging by the book's conclusion, in which some of the major subjects implore Egyptians to learn the lessons of their lives -- lessons like the importance of justice, of fighting for Egypt as a thing itself distinct from the Arab people or from global Islam, of revolution as a progressive force to realize the nation's potential -- Magfouz wrote to offer encouragement in a time when Egypt was struggling to find its place in the "modern" middle east, finally governing itself again and trying to contend against powers like the United States as unrest was sweeping the middle east. The book's published translation so soon after the Arab spring, in which again the land was given with chaos, is a most appropriate season for looking back at the leaders of the past, both noble monarchs and revolutionary leaders of the people, and examining where they failed and where they prospered. ...more