The History Book Club discussion


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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
Peter Flom, here is your new thread for 2012.

Our Required Format:


1. My Early Life 1874-1904 by Winston Churchill Winston Churchill Winston S. Churchill
Finish date: March 2008
Genre: (whatever genre the book happens to be)
Rating: A
Review: Add text here. You can add text from a review you have written but no links to any review elsewhere even goodreads. And that is about it. Just make sure to number consecutively and just add the months.

message 2: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:17AM) (new)

Peter Flom 1. Taking Sudoku Seriously: The Math Behind the World's Most Popular Pencil Puzzle Jason Rosenhouse
Finish date: January 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Math
Review: At one level, a lot of people say Sudoku is not a math puzzle - because you could just as easily use letters instead of numbers. But the authors know this just means Sudoku is not an arithmetic puzzle, and they also know that arithmetic really doesn't have that much to do with math.

message 3: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:17AM) (new)

Peter Flom 2. Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik Naomi Novik Naomi Novik
Finish date: January 2012
Rating: B-
Genre: Historical fantasy.
Review: Volume 3 of the Temeraire series, which imagines the Napoleonic wars with the addition of air power in the form of dragons. Temeraire and Lawrence are off to China, and then back to England with lots of adventures.

message 4: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:19AM) (new)

Peter Flom 3. Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin Forty Years of Funny Stuff by Calvin Trillin Calvin Trillin Calvin Trillin
Finish date: January 2012
Genre: Humor
Rating: A
Review: Collection of essays from the last 40 years by the inimitable Mr. Trillin. Funny and sensible. Food, politics and deadline poems.

message 5: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:19AM) (new)

Peter Flom 4. The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30) (Tiffany Aching #1) by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett
Finish date: January 2012
Rating: A+
Genre: Fantasy
Review: This is a "young adult" novel. But, when Terry Pratchett is writing "young" means "not dead yet". It's a fantasy; the heroine is Tiffany Aching, age 9, who lives on a farm and wants to grow up to be a witch. Why? Because an old woman who was accused of being a witch was recently bullied to death, and Tiffany doesn't want that to happen again. Her allies are the Nac Mac Feegle, the "Wee Free Men" (think of leprechauns and you'll have some idea).

Wonderful stuff for anyone. And if you happen to know a girl, age around 9 .....

message 6: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:20AM) (new)

Peter Flom February
5. A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32) by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett
Finish date: February, 2012
Rating: A+
Genre: Fantasy
Review: Volume 2 of the adventures of Tiffany Aching. Just wonderful. Terry Pratchett at the top of his form, which is very good form indeed.

message 7: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:20AM) (new)

Peter Flom 6. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett
Finish date: February 2012
Rating: A+
Genre: Fantasy
Review: The third (and penultimate) book in the Tiffany Aching series. Tiffany has to battle the Wintersmith, or spring will never return.

message 8: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:24AM) (new)

Peter Flom 7. I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38) by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett
Finish date: February 2012
Rating: A+
Genre: Fantasy
Review: The final book in the Tiffany Aching series. Tiffany gains more experience on her way to being a full-fledged witch.

message 9: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:25AM) (new)

Peter Flom March
8. The Best American Science Writing 2009 by Natalie Angier Natalie Angier
Finish date: March 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Science
Review: A collection of science essays. My interest in the various essays varies, but that's more a function of me than of the book. The quality of the essays is consistently fine.

message 10: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:25AM) (new)

Peter Flom 9. The Better Angels of Our Nature Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker Steven Pinker Steven Pinker
Finish date: March 2012
Rating: A-
Genre: Social science
Review: The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined is a work of great breadth and some depth. In it, the versatile Steven Pinker has two goals: First, to show that, over time, violence has declined and second, to explain why this has happened. He succeeds brilliantly in the first, and quite well in the second, as well.

To many, the goals of The Better Angels of our Nature may seem nonsensical. There is a widespread feeling that violence has increased over time. The 20th century, after all, saw World Wars I and II, encompassing the deaths of tens of millions. Pinker notes that the reaction of many to his proposal was incredulity. Yet, in the first part of this book Pinker shows that, indeed, violence has declined. Indeed, it has declined dramatically. He shows that this has happened on many time scales (from millions of years to decades) and many levels of violence, from major international wars to family violence. People today are less likely to die a violent death than people from any previous point in human history.

For example: Since 1945, no army has crossed the Rhine (the European river) in anger. That's more than 60 years. The last time that this had not happened for such a long period was in 333 AD, when the Romans controlled things. A second example: For many centuries, not only was the death penalty widespread, but ingenuity was used to make the deaths as painful as possible. Nowadays, fewer and fewer countries use the death penalty, they use it less often, and they attempt to make the death as painless as possible. A third example: Until relatively recently it was considered normal and even admirable for the "man of the house" to use extreme violence against his wife and children. And, for one last example, the 20th century was by no means the first century to witness massive genocide; but it was the first century where genocide was considered remarkable.

Pinker expands on this theme, noting that the better angels of our nature also account for less violence towards other species (and points out that modern factory farms were matched in earlier times); increased rights for women and minorities and more.

In the second part of The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker attempts to explain why this is so. This part contains considerable detail at different levels, from neuroanatomy to philosophy. I find the former rather uninteresting, but Pinker is an expert.

The Better Angels of our Nature is a big book (696 pages plus notes and bibliography). In the final chapter "On Angel's Wings" he gives a summary of why violence has declined. He first poses the "Pacifist's Dilemma" which is similar to the famous prisoner's dilemma: In a contest between two contestants, if both choose peace, each gets a small reward; if both choose war, each gets a large penalty. But if one chooses war and the other chooses peace, then the one who chooses peace gets an even bigger penalty (for defeat) and the one who chooses war gets an even bigger reward (for victory). In this contest, neither contestant has an impetus to choose peace.

But there are ways out of the dilemma. The first is government, which places an extra penalty on anyone engaging in violence. The second is commerce, which greatly increases the rewards of peace. The third is feminization, or the increasing presence and power of women, which removes some of the penalty of defeat and some of the reward for victory. And two additional ways out of the dilemma are the expanding circle of humanity (recognizing the rights of others) and the escalator of reason (the valuing of reason and intelligence over other qualities).

I think The Better Angels of our Nature is a great and important book; everyone interested in human nature should read it. No book is without flaws, of course. It is true that Pinker spends more time discussing "Western" history than that of the rest of the world. It is true that he picks facts which make his case. But these two flaws are smaller than they might appear. First, while Steven Pinker does spend considerable time studying the west, he also does bring in wars from all over the world. Second, every author picks certain facts - no book can include everything! But the story Pinker tells is convincing. Violence has declined.

message 11: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:31AM) (new)

Peter Flom 10. The Chalk Girl (Kathleen Mallory, #10) by Carol O'Connell Carol O'Connell Carol O'Connell
Finish date: March 2012
Genre: Mystery
Rating: B
Review: There are some things Carol O'Connell does very well, there are some she does not so well, and there are some that are just annoying.

What Carol O'Connell does best is draw complex characters, especially those that are odd or unusual. Chief among these is Mallory, who has been the protagonist for many of O'Connell's novels, starting with Mallory's Oracle back in 1995. Mallory is a street child, abandoned by her parents, and she becomes (in that first book) the foster child of Lou Markowitz, a detective in the New York Police Department. Mallory reminds many of Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of the "Millennium" novels by Stieg Larson. It's true that both are women, both love computers and both were abused as children. But Mallory is tall and beautiful, whereas Salander is neither. In addition, Mallory thrives on order and precision, which Salander did not.

Other characters in The Chalk Girl include the usual cast of characters from the series: Most notable areMallory's partner, Sgt. Riker; her friend Charles Butler (who is a genius). New characters include Coco, a little girl, also found wandering alone, who has Williams Syndrome, and a collection of sociopaths, child and adult, who are involved in various horrid acts, some of them criminal.

What O'Connell does not quite so well is plot. The plot here is too complex, involving multiple murders, betrayals, incompetent acts, revenge plots and suicides. It all focuses around people who are left to die of starvation or dehydration by The Hunger Artist, a serial killer, and around efforts by Mallory et al. to find the killer. But the complications get to be too much, and this spoils the resolution a bit.

One very annoying habit of O'Connell's is that she starts many sentences with the word "and". It's almost as if she wrote the novel and then had an editor tell her that she needed to break up some of her sentences, and the only way she could think to do this was to throw in a period and add an 'and'. This may not bother you as much as it bothered me.

message 12: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:33AM) (new)

Peter Flom April
11. Embassytown by China Miéville China Miéville China Miéville
Finish date: April 2012
Rating: A+
Genre: Science Fiction
Review: China Mieville is a very talented writer. Mieville has won the Arthur C. Clarke award three times (and Embassytown is on this year's short list); he has also won the Hugo once, and Embassytown is nominated this year. He needs all his talents to pull off what he pulls off with Embassytown

Embassytown is told in the first person by Avice Benner Cho, who resides in Embassytown on the planet Arieke. The chief feature of this novel is the relation between the dominant natives of Arieke (the Ariekene, also known as Hosts), humans and language. The Hosts are among the most interesting aliens I have read about in 45 years of reading science fiction. They are as smart (or smarter) than people, but they are very different. Primary among those differences is their language. They cannot lie. They cannot use metaphor (that is, statements such as "I am a rock") because they are lies. They can use similes only if there are exemplars of that simile, and Cho is also known as "the girl who was hurt in the darkness and ate what was given to her" because she was induced to do that in order that the Hosts could use her as a simile. In addition, the language is dual, spoken by two voices at once. The Hosts themselves are also dual.

And, while humans can learn Language, and can understand Ariekene speech, the Hosts can only understand humans when two people are speaking at once; and those people have to be very special, in order to replicate, as closely as possible, the dual nature of Host speech. Humans manage first to find such people and then to genetically engineer them. Such people are called ambassadors. At the beginning of Embassytown things are tranquil. Then an ambassador arrives who doesn't quite speak properly.

The effects of this on Ariekene society are vast and profound, and make up most of the body of Embassytown. Without spoiling the novel, I can say that war ensues, and Cho's efforts in that war offer revelations to both humans and Ariekene.

Embassytown is a difficult novel; but its rewards more than make up for its difficulties.

Highly recommended, for those who like to think a lot while they read.

message 13: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:32AM) (new)

Peter Flom 12. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi John Scalzi John Scalzi
Finish date: April 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Science fiction
Review: Jack Halloway is a miner on distant planet Zarathustra. He loves his dog, fights with his girlfriend and argues with people in authority. Then he discovers a new life form - like a cat. And he hits a huge vein of ore. Nothing profound here, but it's a lot of fun.

message 14: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:32AM) (new)

Peter Flom 13. The Last Colony (Old Man's War, #3) by John Scalzi John Scalzi John Scalzi
Finish date: April 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Science fiction
Review: The Last Colony by John Scalzi is the third book in a series that began with Old Man’s War and continued with The Ghost Brigades. You should probably read those two first, but you can read Last Colony on its own, there are enough clues to allow you to follow along, but you will miss some references.

At the beginning of The Last Colony, John Perry, the hero of the first two books, has retired from his days fighting aliens for the Colonial Union and is living a quiet life as the ombudsman in a village on the planet Huckleberry. He has married Jane Sagan, his lover from previous books, and they have an adopted teenage daughter. Perry and Sagan are back in normal human bodies, having giving up their enhanced bodies when they stopped being soldiers (as I said, you should probably read the first two books first!)

Then he gets a visit from his former commander, asking (if not quite ordering) him and his family to move to a new colony. They accept, with some ambivalence. But then weird stuff starts to happen.

As with any book by John Scalzi, there’s humor here. The plot is pretty interesting and the pages keep turning. There’s nothing profound here, and no one is going to call Scalzi a great prose stylist, but he knows how to put sentences and paragraphs together. I diidn’t enjoy either The Ghost Brigades or The Last Colony as much as Old Man’s War but the books are all entertaining. Recommended.

message 15: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:33AM) (new)

Peter Flom May
14. The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1 The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro
Finish date: May 2012
Rating: A
Genre: Biography
Review: This volume covers roughly the first 40 years of Johnson's life. Anyone who wants to understand LBJ should read this (if they have the time!) and anyone who wants to know (if they need to) what the New Deal meant for America, particularly one of its poorest areas (the hill country of Texas) should read it too

message 16: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:34AM) (new)

Peter Flom 15. Eric (Discworld, #9) by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett
Finish date: May 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Fantasy
Review: A Discworld book. Eric is a smart but nebbishy 13 year old. He wants to summon a demon and make a deal - beautiful women, ultimate power, lots of money. Three wishes. But instead of a demon, he gets Rincewind, the most incompetent wizard ever.

message 17: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:35AM) (new)

Peter Flom 16. The Years of Lyndon Johnson Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro
Robert A. Caro
Finish date: May 2012
Rating: A
Genre: Biography
Review: The 2nd of what will be 5 volumes in a magisterial biography of Johnson. This is dark stuff: In the first part of this volume, Johnson is stymied in his quest for power and pursues money with both hands. In the second part, he is back to politics, and being dirty, even for mid-century Texas politics, which is saying something.

message 18: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:36AM) (new)

Peter Flom May
17. The Universal Computer The Road from Leibniz to Turing by Martin Davis Martin Davis
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: B+
Genre: Math
Review: A fascinating look at the philosophy and logic that underlie all modern computers, such as the one I am typing this on. It is also a joint biography of seven very smart men: Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz, George Boole, Gottlob Frege, Georg Cantor, David Hilbert, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing.

Leibniz (1646 – 1716) was a German polymath: Lawyer, diplomat, philospher, mathematician etc. He conceived of the idea of a truly universal computer – one that would operate not just on numbers but on all of human knowledge. His dream was to code all concepts into numbers and then design a computer that would operate on those numbers, so that all human reasoning would be calculation. Clearly, this dream has not been realized. It may never be (my opinion is that it won’t).

George Boole (1815 – 1864) was an English mathematician and logician. He is best known for publishing a book with the modest title “The laws of thought”. This book radically revised and expanded logic, which had been more-or-less locked into being just what Aristotle had thought it should be.

Gottlob Frege (1848 – 1925) was a German mathematician, logician and philosopher. He made major advances in the axiomitization of mathematics, but had the very unpleasant experience of having his major work undermined just as it was going to press, when he received a letter from Bertrand Russell pointing out major flaws in his system.

Georg Cantor (1845 – 1918) was a German mathematician. He invented set theory and was the first person to come up with a sensible way of dealing with the mathematics of infinite numbers.

David Hilbert (1862 – 1943) was another German mathematician. He did fundamental work in many areas of math, but for this book’s purposes is most known for his statement “we must know, we shall know”, expressing his belief that all of mathematics can be known, and for his support of Cantor.

Kurt Gödel (1906 – 1978) was an Austrian (for a change!) mathematician. He proved that Hilbert’s statement was wrong, at least about some mathematical statements. More specifically, he showed that there is no formal mathematical system that is both complete and consistent.


Alan Turing (1912 – 1954) was an English logician and mathematician. As the book points out, it is not possible to say that any one person invented the computer. But if you had to pick one person, Turing would probably be the one. In particular, he invented the idea of what became known as a Turing machine, and proved that a simple but infininte tape of paper, with a single head for reading and writing and erasing, could be programmed to do all sorts of things.

What a fascinating group! And Martin Davis does a very good job of summarizing their thoughts and expressing them clearly. I warmly recommend this book to anyone interested in computers and logic.

message 19: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:37AM) (new)

Peter Flom June
18. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson Neal Stephenson
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: A+
Genre: Fiction
Review: What Cryptonomicon is:

Big - Cryptonomicon is 1100 pages long
Complicated - Cryptonomicon has 3 plot lines, set in two different time periods (late 20th century and World War II). It has a dozen major characters and scores of minor characters (including some historical people. There's a brief but hysterical cameo appearance by a very young Ronald Reagan; a not at all funny cameo by Herman Goering and several mentions of Winston Churchill and Admiral Yamamoto. But the main historical person in Cryptonomicon is Alan Turing
Funny - there are a lot of humorous bits in Cryptonomicon. Stephenson includes, for example, a long passage on the correct way to eat Captain Crunch cereal (including where the milk should be stored in the refrigerator and what size spoon should be used). Stephenson's portrayal of certain aspects of modernist academic thought is also hysterical.
Geeky - One of the main foci of Cryptonomicon is codes. Another is the early development of computers These are geeky subjects. Many of the main characters are brilliant mathematicians or computer programmers.
Deep - Stephenson has thoughts on some big subjects, and they are laced throughout Cryptonomicon. Subjects such as the Holocaust (and how to prevent genocide), the nature of love, war, peace, secrecy, how families work and the relationship of individual values to different cultures.

What Cryptonomicon is not

Boring - Neal Stephenson manages to keep Cryptonomicon zipping right along. Reading it is like being on three express trains at once, all headed to the same station.
Easy - OK, you probably got that already. Cryptonomicon is not an easy novel. It requires some attention.
Science fiction - Although Cryptonomicon is usually shelved with science fiction novels, it really isn't one. Part of it is set in the present day and part in the past; none in the future. None of it involves aliens. And, although science and (especially) technology is certainly a big part of Cryptonomicon, it doesn't dominate the book.

Why Cryptonomicon is my favorite novel (or one of them, anyway):

I like all the subjects that Cryptonomicon focuses on.

I like the way Neal Stephenson keeps things going with the three plotlines.
I like the asides and digressions - these may bother some readers of Cryptonomicon, but I think it's just Stephenson having fun. He's incredibly erudite, and it shows, but it never seems like showing off. Fourth, I think he captures a lot of the nature of his geeky characters,
I really like how many of the characters are complex. There are a few truly irredeemable people in Cryptonomicon, and properly so. But most of the characters are complicated - with good points and bad. Like real people.

message 20: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:38AM) (new)

Peter Flom 19. Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake, #3) by C.J. Sansom C.J. Sansom C.J. Sansom
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: A
Genre: Historical fiction
The third in the Matthew Shardlake mysteries set in Tudor England.

Sovereign is the third in the Matthew Shardlake series of mysteries set in Tudor England; I think it’s the best yet (and they were all good).

In Sovereign Shardlake is sent to York to guard a prisoner and make sure he stays healthy so he can be tortured properly in the Tower of London. Shardlake is driven to such work by debts he owes on his late father’s land; his patron, Archbishop Cranmer, has promised to pay him handsomely for his work. This sort of moral ambiguity is everywhere in Sovereign .

Also travelling north is King Henry VIII and his entourage, in a huge progress (as royal travels are known). This complicates matters enormously, as the progress creates all sorts of obstacles. The King is headed north to quell possible rebellion, for the north is still largely Catholic, and there is great resentment towards the King’s imposition of the new religion.

But then a glazier dies, and things rapidly get complicated. Multiple attempts are made on Shardlake’s life, and he finds himself embroiled in matters at the highest levels, including whether Henry is the rightful King of England. In Tudor England, it was not safe to even be suspected of having such knowledge.

Sovereign succeeds magnificently, both as a mystery novel and as historical fiction. Although I am not expert on Tudor England, reviews by those who are convince me he gets the history correct; but more than this, he captures and conveys the mood of the time and place.

message 21: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:38AM) (new)

Peter Flom 20. Mallworld by Somtow Sucharitkul Somtow Sucharitkul
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Science fiction
Review: Mallworld. The biggest mall in the universe. Or, at least, what the humans know of the universe. It’s a kilometer long and filled with every variety of shop and restaurant. There’s a suicide parlor (The Way Out Corp), a baby factory (Storkways), churches, temples….. but no bookstore, because who reads?

It’s also full of Selespridar, the nearly humanoid aliens who have shunted mankind into a pocket universe that is bounded at Saturn. We get out when we are mature. Meantime, the Selespridar are benevolent.

Mallworld by Somtow Sucharitkul contains a collection of short stories about Mallworld, The humans are being examined by a high ranking Selespridar to see if we are ready. Each story illuminates another bit of Mallworld.

There’s nothing profound here, but it’s easy reading and well written and has a nice comic edge.

message 22: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:39AM) (new)

Peter Flom 21. Choice of Evil (Burke, #11) by Andrew Vachss Andrew Vachss Andrew Vachss
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: B-
Genre: Fiction
Review: This is part of the Burke series; I liked the early books in this series best. Warning: This whole series is very dark and deals with abuse of various kinds, including child abuse.

In Choice of Evil , Burke's girlfriend has been killed by a homophobe. Now a killer is killing all the homophobes he can find. Then Burke is contacted by an organization that wants him to find the killer so they can help him escape.

message 23: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:40AM) (new)

Peter Flom 22. Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins Ace Atkins Ace Atkins
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: B+
Genre: Mystery
Review: This is a continuation of the late Robert Parker's Spenser novels.

At the start of Lullaby, Spenser is sitting in his office when a 14 year old girl enters, asking him to investigate the murder of her mother 4 years earlier. This girl, Mattie, is a new addition to the Spenser series, and she is a powerful and interesting character. Living with her alcoholic grandmother in the projects in Southie, she is struggling hard to help raise her two younger sisters. She’s both tough and vulnerable; altogether one of the most interesting of Spenser’s clients in a long time.

One issue I have with this book is that the cover has Robert Parker’s name in larger letters than the actual author’s (Ace Atkins). Robert Parker did not write this book. Ace Atkins is a fine writer, but he is not Robert Parker (although the Parker estate did choose him to continue the series).

That said, Lullaby is a pretty good imitation of Robert Parker’s style. It’s not exactly right, but it’s very close.

message 24: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:42AM) (new)

Peter Flom 23. The Choke Artist Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever by David Yoo David Yoo David Yoo
Finish date: June 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Memoir
Review: The memoirs of a Korean-American writer who constantly fails to measure up to his own and his parents' visions of what he should be. Funny but also touching.
Note: Although David Yoo writes young adult novels, this is not for that audience.

message 25: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:42AM) (new)

Peter Flom July
24. The Philosophical Breakfast Club Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World by Laura J. Snyder Laura J. Snyder Laura J. Snyder
Finish date: July 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Science
Review: A group biography of Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell and Richard Jones, four friends who met at Cambridge early in the 19th century, and of how, together, they changed the role of science into something like what it is today.

message 26: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:43AM) (new)

Peter Flom 25. The Measure of Reality Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600 by Alfred W. Crosby Alfred W. Crosby Alfred W. Crosby
Finish date: July 2012
Rating: A
Genre: Math, history
Review: Eight hundred years ago, in 1250 CE, western Europe was not a world leader in much of anything. Other places had better science, more income, more trade and so on. Somehow, though, western Europeans (and their descendants) became dominant (for good and ill). How did this happen?

In The Measure of Reality, distinguished historian Alfred W. Crosby offers his hypotheses: The main reason was that the west, to a greater extent than other places, became numerate and mensurate. That is, they became committed to a world view that valued measurement. This change was monumental. This numeracy is so much a part of our lives that we find it difficult to imagine life without it. It does not involve high levels of mathematics; it involves the permeation of measurement into all aspects of life. When we ask what time it is, we look at a clock or watch (or computer).

In 1250, according to The Measure of Reality, we not only did not look at clocks (they hadn't been invented yet) but we did not have the concept of precise time keeping. Hours were marked by church bells, and the times between the bells was not precise, it was not even as accurate as it could be. In 1250, music was not written; but musical notation demands precise notions of time (this precision developed slowly, and Crosby traces it). In 1250, painting was not representational. But then perspective was developed (and Crosby traces it). In 1250, companies kept records (if they kept them at all) in a narrative form. Then double entry bookkeeping was developed.

The key point of The Measure of Reality is that our notion of the world, our way of making sense of things, changed from one that was purely qualitative to one that is largely quantitative. Crosby does an excellent job of making this point, with interesting details about various aspects of our cultural history. However, The Measure of Reality fails, in my view, to show how this change led to western dominance.

The Measure of Reality is a fascinating and short (240 pages) book. One way of judging a book like this is to look at its index. Here are some sets of terms in The Measure of Reality's index: The first five entries are

abacco schools
Peter Abelard
Abu Ma'shar
Adelard of Bath

Here are the first 5 under the letter M:

Ma fin est non commencement
Guillaume de Machaut
Niccolo Machiavelli
Francesco di Giorgio Martini

and here are the last 5

Benedetto Zaccaria
Treaty of Zaragoza
Eviatar Zerubavel
Victor Zuckerkandl

quite a variety and lots of unfamiliar (to me, anyway) items.

message 27: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:44AM) (new)

Peter Flom 26. Touched by an Alien (Katherine "Kitty" Katt, #1) by Gini Koch Gini Koch Gini Koch
Finish date: July 2012
Rating: B
Review: SF-Romance-comedy. The Earth is being invaded by evil aliens. But don't worry, the Alpha-Centurions are here to help defend us (and have sex with us too!). When the heroine Katherine "Kitty" Katt defeats one of the aliens using a Mont Blanc pen, she is recruited by the ACers to join their secret organization. There's lots of "science" that's unexplained (many ACers have powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men) but never mind. There's lots of action (in both senses of the word) and humor and the plot keeps zipping along.

message 28: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:44AM) (new)

Peter Flom 27. Making Modern Science A Historical Survey by Peter J. Bowler Peter J. Bowler
Finish date: July 2012
Rating: C+
Genre: Science
Review: A survey of the history of science from Copernicus to now. I expected to like this more.

message 29: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:45AM) (new)

Peter Flom August
28. Cop Hater (87th Precinct, #1) by Ed McBain Ed McBain Ed McBain
Finish date: August 2012
Rating: C
Genre: Mystery
Review: The first in the famous 87th precinct series. I don't see what the fuss is about; the writing is clunky to an absurd degree. It's interesting as a view into the past, since it was written in the 1950s. But unless the series is better, later, I don't get it.

message 30: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:45AM) (new)

Peter Flom 29. The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover Sean Chercover Sean Chercover
Finish date: August 2012
Rating: B+
Genre: Mystery
Review: The protagonist is a detective for the Catholic Church, investigating miracles. Politics removes him from that post, and he's off to investigate a mysterious evangelist, who happens to be his uncle and who raised him as a child. Interesting.

message 31: by Peter (last edited Sep 13, 2012 11:46AM) (new)

Peter Flom September
30. Beat the Reaper (Peter Brown #1) by Josh Bazell Josh Bazell Josh Bazell
Finish date: September 2012
Rating: B+
Genre: Mystery
Review: The story of a doctor (and former hit-man for the mafia) who now has to keep one of his former associates alive or face retribution of the worst kind. Dark. The author's view of nearly everything (from medicine to international relations to holocaust memory to the mafia) is grim. But it was a good book and kept me turning the pages.

message 32: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Excellent, Peter. Review Bentley's first format message 1, because you are missing some things:

1. You are missing a lot of author links. Go ahead and put those in. (You need author link with the photo).
2. When you get to a new month, don't forget to add it on top of the post.
3. Add a genre to each post.

Thanks for sharing some good stuff.

message 33: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom Hi Brian

I'll fix up the links (that was carelessness).
Not sure what you mean by the new month - do you mean just add e.g. "February" at the top?
Is there a standard list of genres?


message 34: by Bryan (last edited Sep 13, 2012 09:56AM) (new)

Bryan Craig For the months, that is exactly right, just put up top.

There is no standard list of genres, so whatever fits best.


message 35: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom Bentley wrote: "Bentley wrote: "Peter Flom, here is your new thread for 2012.

Our Required Format:


1. [bookcover:My Early Life 18741904]Winston ChurchillWinston S. Churchill
Finish date..."

Oh, OK. I didn't realize that third bit was needed

message 36: by Vicki, Assisting Moderator - Ancient Roman History (new)

Vicki Cline | 3833 comments Mod
Hi, Peter. It's great to meet another reader interested in math. If I may be so bold, here are a few recommendations, both fiction and non-fiction.

Logicomix An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis by Apostolos Doxiadis Apostolos Doxiadis (non-fiction)
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture A Novel of Mathematical Obsession by Apostolos Doxiadis by Apostolos Doxiadis Apostolos Doxiadis (fiction)
The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt by David Leavitt David Leavitt (fiction)
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa by Yoko Ogawa Yoko Ogawa (fiction)

I enjoyed all of them a lot and I hope you will too.

message 37: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
You are doing great Peter.

message 38: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom Vicki wrote: "Hi, Peter. It's great to meet another reader interested in math. If I may be so bold, here are a few recommendations, both fiction and non-fiction.

[bookcover:Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth..."

Hi Vicki... thanks! Of those, I've only read Logiccomix. Do you know of any good math book groups on Goodreads?

message 39: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom 31. To Promote the General Welfare: The Case for Big Government ed. by Steven Conn
Date Finished: September 2012
Genre: History/politics
Rating: B+
Review: To Promote the General Welfare: The Case for Big Government is a collection of essays edited by Steven Conn. The first chapter is an introduction; each of the next eight chapters reviews the role of the federal government in one area of our lives; the last chapter is a summary. Overall, I thought this book was very good, making a convincing case for the role of the federal government while not over-selling it or ignoring some ill-advised efforts.

The title "To promote the general welfare" comes from the preamble to the United States Constitution. One of the reasons that "we the people of the United States" did "ordain and establish" the constitution was to "promote the general welfare". The editor's impetus for this book is described in the preface, where he notes the irony of seeing signs decrying big government posted by the side of highways built by that government, on land irrigated by the federal government, in areas where much employment was on military installations that are, of course, funded by the federal government.

The first chapter of To Promote the General Welfare is "Looking for Government in All the Wrong Places" by Brian Balogh. Balogh notes that big government has always existed in the United States, but that it has often been hidden. Many people have always objected to "big government" in the abstract, yet relied on (and approved of) individual programs run by the federal government. For example, the federal government began building and improving roads long before there were cars to drive on them.

Chapter 2 is "Transportation and the Uniting of the Nation" by Zachary M. Schrag. Schrag details the role of the federal government in transportation from the colonial era to the present. Federalist 14, in particular, makes the case for a federal role in transportation, saying that "... roads will everywhere be shortened". Schrag notes that the sheer size of the United States (even at its founding, it was seven times the size of the British Isles) makes transportation key. But he also notes that some policies led to railroad monopolies and the destruction of mass transportation.

Chapter 3 is "Uncle Sam at the Blackboard". In it, Jonathan Zimmerman, discusses the federal government's role in education. This also began near our nation's founding. A 1784 ordinance says that all U.S. territories must devote 1/16th of every town to support public schools. The federal government's role in education has included Pell Grants, integration orders and massive payments to schools. Overall, Zimmerman shows that it has been a necessary and positive role but does not neglect some misfirings.

Chapter 4 is "Banking on Government" by Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, and it is is about the role of the federal government in banking from the founding of the first national bank to the FDIC and beyond. Chapter 5 is "Twenty Nine Helmets" by Kevin Boyle. Boyle discusses the role of the federal government in safety and work. In Chapter 6 "The Right to a Decent Home" Thomas J. Sugrue analyzes housing. Chapter 7, "Solving the Nation's Number One Health Problem(s)" is by Karen Kruse Thomas and discusses medicine, where the role of the federal government has been particularly salutary, helping to develop thousands of new medicines, train many doctors and nurses, provide health care to people who could not otherwise get it, and so on.

In chapter 8 "Culture for the People" Steven Conn discusses one of the most controversial aspects of the federal government - the arts. In chapter 9 Richard R. John talks about the federal government and communications - from post offices to the internet. The final chapter of To Promote the General Welfare is a summary by Paul C. Light and is titled "From Endeavor to Achievement and Back Again".

Overall, I enjoyed this short book (233 pages including notes and index). I learned a lot. I do wish it had a bibliography (ideally, one with annotations) as many books have been written about the topics that each chapter covers.

message 40: by Peter (last edited Sep 17, 2012 07:31AM) (new)

Peter Flom 32. Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8) by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett
Date finished: September 2012
Rating: A
Genre: Fantasy
Review: This book, the 8th one in the Discworld series, introduces the Night Watch, including Sam Vimes, Sgt. Colon, Nobby Nobbs and Carrot Ironfounderson. At the start of the book, the Watch is moribund. Vimes is a drunk and the others do nothing. But now, a Dragon has come to Ankh Morpork. And suddenly, everyone is shouting "Guards! Guards!"

Although all the Discworld novels are at least good, this one (and Small Gods (Discworld, #13) by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett ) are the first where Pratchett shows that he is more than just a funny writer (not that that's so easy!).

message 41: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Hey Peter:

I think you hit the default on "add book/author" search (link). There is a book cover:

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8) by Terry Pratchett

Also, don't forget to cite his other book at the end with a book cover and author.

message 42: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
Peter, you are doing a great job. But always remember the citations have three parts like your first effort and always the author's link which is pretty much 98% of the time available.

Small Gods (Discworld, #13) by Terry Pratchett by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett

message 43: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom 33. The Tao of Bridge 200 Principles to Transform Your Game and Your Life by Brent Manley by Brent Manley
Date: September
Rating: B
Genre: Bridge
Review: This book says it will "transform your game and your life". Well, that's a bit hyperbolic. It's a good collection of bridge tips; Manley writes well and he knows a lot about bridge. But the life tips that accompany the bridge tips are pretty mundane.

message 44: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) I can always use some good bridge tips!!!

message 45: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom Jill wrote: "I can always use some good bridge tips!!!"
Hello fellow bridge player!

message 46: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) We are a bridge playing family.....I am probably the worst player of the group!!!

message 47: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom 34. Alien Tango (Katherine "Kitty" Katt, #2) by Gini Koch Gini Koch Gini Koch
Date: September
Rating: B-
Genre: Fantasy/Romance/SF
Review: The second volume in the Alien series. The heroine, Katherine (Kitty) Katt continues to fight evil, have sex with an alien and so on. If you take this book for what it is, it's not bad.

message 48: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom 35. The Man of Numbers Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution by Keith J. Devlin Keith J. Devlin Keith J. Devlin
Date: September
Rating: B
Genre: Math
Review: Leonardo of Pisa, better known as Fibonacci, is probably most known today for the series that bears his name:

1 1 2 3 5 8 13.....

where the first two numbers are 1's and each succeeding number is the sum of the two previous. But Fibonacci was also the first European author to fully recognize the importance of Hindu/Arabic numbers, and he wrote a famous text: Liber Abacci, about their use. (This is properly translated as book of calculation, not book of the abacus; indeed, it shows how to replace abaci with numbers).

Here, Devlin tells the story of this book, of Leonardo, of Pisa in the 12th/13th century, and of math surrounding the book.

The Man of Numbers Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution by Keith J. Devlin does best about the math, which is not surprising since its author is a mathematician.

message 49: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom 36. More Points Schmoints! by Marty A. Bergen Marty A. Bergen(no photo)
Date: September 2012
Rating: B
Genre: Bridge
Review: A collection of short (2-5 page) essays on various bridge topics. If you liked Points Schmoints! Bergen's Winning Bridge Secrets by Marty A. Bergen you will probably like this.

message 50: by Peter (new)

Peter Flom OCTOBER
37. Alien in the Family (Katherine "Kitty" Katt, #3) by Gini Koch by Gini Koch Gini Koch
Date: October 2012
Genre: Humor/fantasy/romance
Rating: C
Review: The continuing adventures of Katherine (Kitty) Katt, defender of humanity and fiance of an alien. Kitty and Jeff are getting married. But how to plan a wedding to an alien? Especially when you have to fight off evil aliens at the same time?

This series is degenerating, in my view, and getting too silly.

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