Pinker connects some fairly disparate seeming facts: people in Sardinian villages have some of the world's longest lifespans; people with serious illnPinker connects some fairly disparate seeming facts: people in Sardinian villages have some of the world's longest lifespans; people with serious illnesses are more likely to survive, the more people they socialize with regularly; computers, ipads, and tablets in classrooms do not increase student performance; children who are read to learn more and develop better social skills. The connection she finds and argues for, with a dizzying array of experts and studies in support, is that face-to-face interactions with other people have measurable impacts on human health and happiness.
As someone who is not terribly sociable and has never had a lot of close friends, I find her argument a little disturbing but Pinker does include studies of introverts. They do tend to die earlier, suffer more depression and earlier dementia, and so on, if they don't have the social feedback of face-to-face interaction, even if they need less of it or fewer contacts.
Her chapters on education and young people are fascinating, too, because the science seems to show that online friends and interactions do not have the same effect as face-to-face interactions and actually tend cause loneliness and depression. Television, computers, and mobile phones are harmful, she finds, not so much because of what they do themselves but because of what they *replace* -- meaningful interactions with other humans and the opportunity read other's body language and responses to us, which we may be biologically predisposed to need. Fascinating and well worth reading....more
One of Haggard's most famous books, this is an adventure tale about two Englishmen traveling to a forgotten city in Africa to pursue one's family legaOne of Haggard's most famous books, this is an adventure tale about two Englishmen traveling to a forgotten city in Africa to pursue one's family legacy -- vengeance against a woman who slew an ancestor 2000 years earlier and is supposedly immortal, and who is queen to a savage tribe that calls he She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.
This book is sometimes criticized for misogynist, ethnocentric, and even racist remarks made by the narrator, who has a very Victorian sensibility, but Haggard was fairly progressive for his time. He is also at "maximum verbosity" in this one, a fact his narrator occasionally seems to recognize and wryly apologize for. Though there is not as much action as you might expect from Haggard, there is a lot more introspection and philosophizing on the part of the narrator than usual, and though contemporaries thought Haggard compared poorly to R.L. Stevenson, I find his writing rather good.
I listened to a LibriVox recording of this, and a few of the chapters had distractingly bad readers, but not so bad as to spoil Haggard's story. ...more
A charming and surprisingly deep fairy tale. George MacDonald always claimed he didn't write for children, but for the child-like, and though this wasA charming and surprisingly deep fairy tale. George MacDonald always claimed he didn't write for children, but for the child-like, and though this was first publishing in 1872, it doesn't have the usual heavy-handed moralism of nineteenth century children's lit. But it is deeply moral, and there is some allegory going on that it would probably take a few re-readings to completely decipher. However, even taken strictly at face value the story is exciting and imaginative.
I listened to a particularly good LibrVox recording of this. The reader dramatized the various characters in a humorous manner, giving the miners and goblins Welsh accents, while the royalty and their servants had accents appropriate to their classes, and it felt a bit like be read to by Terry Jones. Highly recommended....more
This was an enjoyable read. Mutter's career saw many big changes in medical theory and practice, and the author celebrates his role in championing plaThis was an enjoyable read. Mutter's career saw many big changes in medical theory and practice, and the author celebrates his role in championing plastic surgery for the deformed and burn victims, the use of anesthesia, germ theory, and the importance cleanliness; the author also argues that his compassion and insistence that patients be treated with dignity and decency were perhaps his greatest legacy, for many of his students went on to great things. Today he is best remembered for the surgical technique that bears his name (using a flap of skin to repair or replace damaged tissue) and for Philadelphia's famous Mutter Museum, which houses a massive collection of medical specimens and oddities.
Because of his pioneering work in plastic/restorative surgery, and perhaps because of the museum, the book does include a number of illustrations and descriptions that make this something you won't want to read while eating. This is probably to be expected in any book about 19th century medicine, though.
*full disclosure, I won a free copy of this book via the Goodreads "first-reads" program and was asked to post a review.*...more
De Camp is always pretty solid, and this collection of some of his stories (plus one famous essay about how English might change over the coming centuDe Camp is always pretty solid, and this collection of some of his stories (plus one famous essay about how English might change over the coming centuries) is pretty good. My favorites would be "The Command" and "Hyperpilosity" (two very early sci-fi pieces) and "The emperor's fan" and "Two yards of dragon," two later fantasy tales. "Hyperpilosity" is a satirical story, perhaps most interesting because De Camp describes a prion-based disease long before prions were even known to exist. "The command" features a convincingly depicted nonhuman protagonist, but to say more would be a bit of a spoiler. "The emperor's fan" is about a magical fan that can cause people to disappear, and how it an absent-minded, somewhat incompetent emperor misuses it. "Two yards of dragon" is a very clever romance about a squire on a quest to slay a dragon, but who completely disregards chivalry and the conventions of such stories. The other stories are mostly pretty good, but a few drag on too long. ...more
This is a compilation of Dunsany's first two books of short stories, all of which are written in a style hovering between Lang's fairy tales and the KThis is a compilation of Dunsany's first two books of short stories, all of which are written in a style hovering between Lang's fairy tales and the King James Bible, which make perfect sense as these stories have same mix of didactism and strangeness you find in fairy tales and Old Testament stories. The editor, S.T. Joshi, points out that these were written shortly after Dunsany read some Nietzsche, and I imagine he must have read Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as his style is remarkably similar to the style of Thomas Common's translation. (I'd swear Dunsany was actually copying the Common translation of that book but it did not appear until a few years after The Gods of Pegana.)
Having all the Pegana stories in one volume actually decreases the effectiveness of the stories in my opinion -- it encourages the reader to plow through the book rather than ruminate on them. While some of the stories are relatively straightforward, and others seem to defy analysis, for the most part the irony is thick and and the prose, while probably satirical of Yeats (who had a bit of a rivalry with Dunsany), is often worth savoring.
Some critics have found these stories to be a bit shallow and criticize their lack of reverence, indeed some question whether Dunsany has any knowledge of religion and myth*, but I think that criticism betrays a failure to understand that these stories, while sometimes lacking a clear "message" or deep meaning, taken collectively work on multiple levels. The individual stories are interesting, occasionally moving, works of surreal fancy. As a "cycle" of myths, they depict a pantheon of utterly amoral and fickle gods, dramatizing the conflict of faith and reason in Dunsany's time (and ours). You would be hard pressed to find a more pointed parable of the nature of faith than "The men of Yarnith," and the stories of a succession of prophets ("Yonath the prophet," etc.) are excellent satires of religious authority and pride.
*[For example, the Pegana panthoen does not mention agricultural or fertility gods, which at least one critic says shows Dunsany's lack of understanding of how real myths work. But Dunsany includes Wohoon ("the lord of noises in the night") and a thousand other minor godlings. So is that a mistaken omission or wicked satire?]
I'd give five stars to both The Gods of Pegana and Time and the Gods, but the compilation I'm reviewing here unfortunately has a number of defects that Joshi's generally good introduction does not quite make up for. First, the Sydney Sime illustrations of the original are lacking. Secondly, Dunsnay's own introductions are omitted. Lastly, Joshi's introduction, and the publisher's feckless efforts to present the stories as somehow belonging to the Cthulhu Mythos, distract the reader. Dunsany may not have been one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, but he deserves better than to be treated like a footnote to H.P. Lovecraft (who, indeed, admitted his own debt to Dunsany and made embarrassing attempts to copy his style). So, I'd only go with this edition if you have no better options available....more
A monumental effort to identify pretty much every reference to unicorns in the writings of naturalists, theologians, and philosophers through the 19thA monumental effort to identify pretty much every reference to unicorns in the writings of naturalists, theologians, and philosophers through the 19th century, "The lore of the unicorn" is more concerned with how unicorns functioned as allegory and how the scholars of the past explained the nature and significance of the beast, than it is with identifying the origins of the legends, though the author does a good job of that as well. I found myself more interested in the early chapters, which present the legends and beliefs about the magical properties of unicorn horns, than the later chapters, which explore the literature of unicorns and the scholarly disputes about them. Shepard is sympathetic to his credulous sources, and while there was hardly a need to explain the origins of the various reports of unicorns we find in travelers' tales and so on, he does a good job of exploring all the possible influences on the legend -- the rhinoceros and the powers imputed to its horn in the East; antelope, cattle and goats in foreign lands, some of which have their horns cultivated into unnatural positions and even merged into a single horn by their keepers; and the narhwal, which supplied the "alicorn" (unicorn horn) that European kings and princes valued at a price many times its weight in gold.
The writing is mostly clear, but overburdened with footnotes and allusions that would tax anyone's attention and make this book seem a bit more antiquated than even its original year of publication would suggest. (Originally published in 1930, it reads more like the late 19th century treatises of Sabine Baring-Gould and his ilk.)...more
After a nuclear war destroys most of the country, a few civilized enclaves exist on the margins of the vast waste called the "deadlands". Our affableAfter a nuclear war destroys most of the country, a few civilized enclaves exist on the margins of the vast waste called the "deadlands". Our affable narrator is a deadlander -- a survivor driven by the constant, irresistible urge to murder other people. We follow along as he spends a few days in the company of some other deadlanders in a simple adventure that tests his ability to trust others. Will he murder, or be murdered by, Alice, a cryptic murderer with one hand, or Pops, an elderly deadlander who claims to have given up murder? Leiber's witty banter, unusual vision of a post-apocalyptic world, and casual violence make this a very enjoyable read.
I actually listened to, rather than read, this one, and the LibriVox recording was exceptionally well done by a reader who captures Leiber's dark humor very well....more
A clever time-travel story which focuses on the political and economic ramifications of a time machine. The characters and plot are sketched somewhatA clever time-travel story which focuses on the political and economic ramifications of a time machine. The characters and plot are sketched somewhat thinly (this is really a long short story or short novella) but the whole is well executed and entertaining. ...more
This was *almost* like nothing else I've read. I say almost because in hindsight it is clear that a *lot* of stuff I've read was very heavily influencThis was *almost* like nothing else I've read. I say almost because in hindsight it is clear that a *lot* of stuff I've read was very heavily influenced by this strange, gory, pedantic, surreal narrative. Without "Pym" we would probably not have "Moby Dick," "At the mountains of madness," or a number of Borges' stories... not to mention a vast number of pulp "weird tales" that take cues from this. Many other authors have of course used the unreliable narrator/fiction presented as factual memoir trope, but Poe combines it with a story so dream-like (well, nightmarish might be a better term) and an allegory so obtuse that it does not seem like anyone agrees about what, if anything, it all means. Indeed Poe admitted, when a critic panned it, that the story was rather silly. At the same time you can't help but notice that the story is filled with phenomena that seems pregnant with significance that the narrator misses, denies, or deliberately covers up... makes repeated references to certain colors, and to alcohol, and the contrast between civilized and savages... invokes religious imagery... includes long discourses on sailing and shipping, on animals and geology, and weather, that are a mixture of fact and bizarre fancy ... it all seems like an elaborately concocted allegory that must have been meaningful to Poe.
I have seen this book described as Poe's "least accessible work" and based on my admittedly limited reading of his stuff I agree. The story is an adventure yarn that describes a series a cliffhangers and narrow escapes, truly horrific scenes (the ship with the seagulls is an indelible image), and eventually stranger and stranger incidents. Poe was influenced by a variety of ideas then-current, including the "hollow earth" theory. The work is perhaps most infamous for the abrupt ending, which is extremely mysterious and reinforces the dream-like quality of the whole book.
I listened to this rather than read it, and the Librivox recording suffered in places from some really terrible readers -- the book was read by a variety of volunteers who each took one or more chapters. In fact I had to skip two chapters due to the reader's sing-song delivery and strangely affected accent. Most of the readers were ok though....more