2022 Reading Challenge discussion

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ARCHIVE 2018 > Jennifer's 2018 Reading Challenge: 40 books

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message 1: by Jennifer (last edited Dec 23, 2017 08:06PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments In 2017, I surpassed my original goal of 24 books about halfway through the year and revised it upward to a total of 36. Because I love to read I did not stop after completing the 36, and so I think 40 will be a good number to shoot for in 2018. Because I met my 15,000 page goal, but much later in the year, I am shooting for 15,500 pages this year.

Other than Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad, which I plan on completing in 2018, I do not have any particular titles in mind, but I will be updating as I complete books.

My 2017 list and updates are here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...


message 2: by BMAD_addicts (new)

BMAD_addicts | 100 comments Good Luck!! Its nice to see that your so motivated to increase the book you read each year 🙌 i hope ill be able to do that too....

Have a great year 😘


message 3: by Susy (last edited Dec 25, 2017 01:46PM) (new)

Susy (susysstories) Jennifer wrote: "In 2017, I surpassed my original goal of 24 books about halfway through the year and revised it upward to a total of 36. Because I love to read I did not stop after completing the 36, and so I thin..."

I had the same thing happening to me. It is so rewarding surpassing your initial goal isn’t it? Congratulations on that! And of course good luck with your new goal! Happy reading!


message 4: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments My brother gave me a Kindle for Christmas! A great gift and I think it will help me make a dent in my reading list :)


message 5: by Susy (new)

Susy (susysstories) Jennifer wrote: "My brother gave me a Kindle for Christmas! A great gift and I think it will help me make a dent in my reading list :)"

That is a cool gift indeed! Enjoy!


message 6: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12049 comments Best of luck in the coming year!


message 7: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments I have decided to give one of the themed challenges a try - a first for me. It is the 2018 quarterly challenge "Places and Spaces." I will shoot for three and go from there.

1. The sky: Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds

2. The ocean: Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

3. An island: The Song Of The Dodo: Island Biogeography In An Age Of Extinctions

Happy New Year, everyone!


message 8: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (1/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (393/15,500) - message 256

My review:

“Remarkably quickly after their arrival, Bess and Louisa were known to be fashionable unmarried girls with a fortune who must therefore want husbands.” (page 111).

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton, you’ll love this real-life story of four sisters who took England by storm in the early nineteenth century. Marianne, Bess, Louisa, and Emily were all wealthy American heiresses raised to be educated, politically and financially savvy, fashionable, and fiercely independent, and all of them wound up marrying English aristocrats (in some cases several in succession). Decades before the first of the “dollar princesses” arrived, Marianne became the first American marchioness and courtier when she became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Adelaide. Meanwhile, Louisa married the son of a duke (and eventually became Duchess of Leeds) and Bess married a baron.

This provided some interesting insight into early Anglo-American relations – while political relations began to thaw after the end of the War of 1812, social attitudes were significantly chillier and some of the sisters’ marriages were bitterly opposed by their English in-laws. However, both political and social attitudes changed for the worst after the Panic of 1837 and the subsequent defaulting of several states on their debt, which dramatically affected British banks as well as American banks. While not mentioned, the nearly contemporaneous Oregon boundary dispute probably didn’t help. While the sisters’ social positions and British titles protected them, this wasn’t true for most Americans in Britain. Things got so bad it looked like a third Anglo-American war might break out, and because of this climate, the US return of the fully restored HMS Resolute had an incredibly dramatic impact.

I also found it interesting that, while the rights of women at the time were restricted on both sides of the Atlantic, English women seemed to have even fewer rights to their own property than American women. The book includes an account of how some people in England were resentful that Marianne’s husband did not have access to her wealth, which had been previously ring-fenced as “her own absolute property” and then put into a trust. However, if Marianne had been English, all her property would have automatically become her husband’s and she would not have retained any control over it. In addition, most states in the United States had enacted Married Women’s Property Laws well before England. Connecticut’s 1809 statute enabling married women to write wills independently of their husbands was an early example, and by the 1850’s the majority of states had gone even further in equalizing the legal rights of married and unmarried women. But England did not enact its Married Women’s Property Law until 1882, and married women who wanted to exercise any control over their money and how they invested it had to take the legal precaution of listing their accounts in the name of either a single or widowed female friend. Hence Bess (who was the last of the sisters to marry) managed accounts that actually belonged to Marianne and Louisa. And when Bess did marry in her late forties, she put all her American assets in one trust and all her British in another and then specified that they were for her sole and separate use, which had the practical effect of allowing her to retain the same amount of control over it that she would have had if she had remained single.

I enjoyed the fact that the sisters’ story was primarily told through their letters, which allowed me to see their individual personalities better. The family tree at the beginning was extremely helpful, especially since the Carroll family had three branches, and they didn’t always harmoniously interact. I also appreciated how the amounts of money listed in British pounds were also translated into dollars, as it gave me some better perspective, although I’m still not sure whether the dollar amounts corresponded to the amounts then or now; a note at the beginning explaining the amounts and perhaps some rough conversion factors would have helped immensely. I also wish there had been a little more detail on Richard Caton – the sisters’ father. But overall, a good read.


message 9: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just started Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny.

I did not know this book existed until I found it on the "New Books" shelf of the library. I love US history and it looked interesting, so I brought it home with me. It is due first, so I'm postponing reading my next planned book (Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842) until I finish this one.


message 10: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 10, 2018 06:24PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (2/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (688/15,500) - message 307

This reads more like a thriller novel that will keep you up half the night than the history it actually is. Because it was so different from the nonfiction history books I usually read, I was initially unsure whether I would like it when I started reading, but once I got into it I couldn't stop reading. And because it is about the defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812, I already knew how it ended!

One thing I've noticed about the War of 1812 in general is that most of the accounts seem to be somewhat biased, although I suppose that comes with the territory - an inconclusive war in which no territory changed hands and the treaty that ended it was basically an agreement to end hostilities and did not even address the casus belli (and British and American historians even disagree on whether the fact that the British rules about impressment were technically rescinded before the start of hostilities meant the whole war had no real basis). Not only that, but "The Great Compromiser" Henry Clay, who helped negotiate the treaty didn't approve of it either - and considering that he brokered the compromises that delayed the onset of the US Civil War by at least a decade, that's saying something!

From what I could see this tended toward the American point of view, although the British point of view was not completely ignored. Most interestingly, the book pointed out that to Great Britain and most of the rest of Europe, the Louisiana Purchase was not seen as a legitimate acquisition of territory by the United States - to most of Europe, Napoleon had stolen the land from Spain and had no right to sell it.

Another interesting tidbit: Thomas ap Catesby Jones, the US Navy commander who worked with Jackson to defend New Orleans, was the inspiration for Commodore J- in Moby-Dick or, The Whale.

Recommended for people who think they don't like history.


message 11: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just started Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, which is a book I've been wanting to read for awhile.


message 12: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 03, 2018 08:18PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 and loved it!

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (3/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (1,140/15,500) - message 413
My Places and Spaces Quarterly goal of 3 books, with the place being the ocean (1/3)

My thoughts:

The achievements of the US South Pacific Exploration Expedition were spectacular. During its four years at sea between 1838 and 1842, it logged 87,000 miles; surveyed 280 Pacific Islands; created 180 charts (some of which were in use as late as World War Two); and mapped 800 miles of coastline in the Pacific Northwest and 1,500 miles of the Antarctic coastline. The collection of specimens and artifacts the Expedition’s scientists amassed became the foundation for the Smithsonian’s scientific collections, and the US Botanic Garden, the National Herbarium, the US Hydrographic Office, and the Naval Observatory all owe their existence to the Expedition.

So why has no one heard of it? I would say the main reason the Expedition is not more well-known was a catastrophic failure in leadership; among its many consequences was that its commander Charles Wilkes irreversibly alienated everyone who could have helped him salvage both his own and the Expedition’s reputation and more successfully preserve its memory. A series of courts-martial and mutual recriminations followed the Expedition’s return to the United States, and although the commander was ultimately found not guilty on most of the charges, it was too late to repair the damage. The partisan political climate at the time of the Expedition’s return, as well as some delicate international negotiations, also made it inexpedient to trumpet its achievements at the time.

The Expedition’s broader legacy, though, shines undimmed. One of the greatest was the formation of the Smithsonian itself. The Expedition had returned with a vast array of ethnographic artifacts – the total of four thousand was more than Cook had collected during all three of his voyages. Tens of thousands of geological, botanical, and zoological specimens had also been collected. Then there were the charts and voluminous meteorological, astronomical, magnetic, and oceanographic data. Assembling and analyzing all the data and caring for and displaying the vast collections would have taxed the combined resources of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world at the time – Germany, France, and England – let alone those of a relatively young United States that at the time was considered little more than a scientific backwater. Fortunately for the United States, a representative from the estate of James Smithson had arrived in 1838 with over half a million dollars – equivalent to eleven million today – with instructions that it be used to establish an institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Until the Expedition returned in 1842, no one could agree on the exact nature of that institution, and Smithson’s bequest might not have ever been used for a museum if the Expedition had not taken place. Wilkes himself took on protecting the entire collection, and if it hadn’t been for him the US Botanic Garden might not exist at all. And although he had initially made it difficult for the scientists to work effectively during the voyage, he backed them to the hilt afterwards. He successfully lobbied Congress for decades to obtain the necessary funds for publishing all the scientific reports that would flow from the Expedition’s vast quantities of data, and as a result the reputation of the United States as a leader in international science skyrocketed.

Wilkes’s lobbying also had the effect of convincing Congress that the pursuit of scientific knowledge was essential to the country’s progress. As the United States expanded westward, Congress repeatedly funded sophisticated exploring and surveying expeditions, and all of them included at least one scientist. Between 1840 and 1860, Congress subsidized the publication of sixty works associated with the exploration of the West and funded fifteen naval expeditions around the world. The financial outlay would be enormous – between a quarter and a third of the annual federal budget – and never quite matched at any other time in US history, not even during the Space Race. All of this set an important precedent, and if the billions in grant money flowing from the NIH and NSF is any indication, the commitment remains. This commitment to funding scientific research and advancing knowledge may be the Expedition’s greatest legacy of all.

The Expedition also left a little-known literary legacy, because traces of it repeatedly appear in the pages of Moby-Dick or, The Whale. Herman Melville carefully studied the Expedition’s records as part of the research for his masterpiece, the novel itself contains references to the Expedition and its findings, and it is believed Charles Wilkes was the model for Captain Ahab.

I highly recommend this book as providing new information and insight into an obscure part of US history that should be much better-known than it is.

Favorite Quotes:

“As the Ex. Ex. was proving, exploration was as much about discovering what did not exist as it was about finding something new.” (page 77).

Best one-sentence description of a real-life island I have read in a long time: “Macquarie Island, a wave-washed, penguin-infested pile of rocks 2,100 miles to the south [of Australia].” (page 154)

Recommended for: adventure-lovers, scientists, naturalists, lovers of ships and the sea, US history lovers


message 13: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just started Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. I sought this out because I very much enjoyed The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species, which was written by the same author.


message 14: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 04, 2018 12:06PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (4/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (1,572/15,500) - message 555
My Places and Spaces Challenge goal of 3, with the place being the sky (2/3)

My thoughts:

I loved this book – the subject matter has always fascinated me, and the writing was literary and in some places almost lyrical. And I learned a lot, because this book is about a lot more than just geese flying in the familiar “V” formation.

First things first: migration isn’t so much about bad weather as it is food. Given enough food, a bird can withstand extremely harsh winter conditions – most famously, Emperor penguins nest on ice during the Antarctic winter. Black-capped chickadees are non-migratory and spend their winters in Canada and northern New England, but their diet is seed-based and they can find enough to eat to sustain a blazing metabolic furnace – their average body temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, some tropical bird species such as parrots will migrate within the tropics to follow the flowering or fruiting seasons of the plants they depend on for food. Second, migration is a lot more complicated than the north-to-south-and-back-again that we usually associate with birds. Some species migrate along an east-west axis – the harlequin duck nests in the Rockies but migrates west to the Pacific coast and common diving ducks nest in Utah but migrate east to the Atlantic coast. Other species migrate vertically, switching between lower altitudes in the winter and higher altitudes in the summer, and a few species counterintuitively reverse this pattern. Different subpopulations of the same species may also use dramatically different migration routes.

Migratory birds connect the world in a way very few other things do, and that applies both geographically and politically. The arctic tern may forge the most spectacular geographic link of all – every year they migrate from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again. When the Arctic summer days are long, the terns have plenty of light to hunt fish, but as the Arctic winter approaches and the days grow shorter, they embark on a journey to Antarctica, arriving just in time to take advantage of the long summer days there. During the Antarctic fall, they leave for the Arctic again and arrive in time for its long summer days. An average Arctic tern can easily clock 22,000 miles a year. Another example is the bar-tailed godwit, which nests in Alaska but winters in New Zealand. To prepare for its 6,800-mile nonstop flight, a bar-tailed godwit will boost its fat reserves to 55 percent of its body weight, and then its kidneys, liver, and gut will all shrink to a fraction of their normal size, with the combined effect of maximizing its fuel supply while minimizing its weight. A blackpoll warbler is five and a half inches long and weighs half an ounce, but small size is no obstacle – they nest in western Alaska and winter in the western Amazon, giving them the longest migration of any North American songbird. Most incredibly, they don’t even take the most direct route; instead, they travel east across Canada, and then go south. There are two different routes south, but the most remarkable involves flying over the open ocean to catch the northwesterly winds that will help propel them to Bermuda, and from Bermuda they can pick up the subtropical trades to reach South America. That overwater trip normally lasts from forty to fifty hours nonstop and covers two thousand miles. Like other migratory birds, it relies on its fat reserves for fuel, and gets the equivalent of 720,000 mpg.

Politically, one of the first federal environmental laws (enacted in 1918) was enacted specifically to protect migrating birds – the signatories to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act now include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Russia, and Japan. The desire to save as many migratory bird species as possible has also spawned unprecedented informal conservation efforts – virtually every country in North America, Central America, and South America has signed on to massive conservation efforts including research, education, and habitat protection. An example is the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, which has identified and sometimes prompted the conservation of four million acres of wetlands between Argentina and Alaska which thirty million migratory shorebirds depend on for survival.

I found the writing style beautiful and the book just sang to me in general. Some parts read like they would be equally at home in a novel. The opening sentence for one chapter read, “In winter, the salt marsh hisses. The wind, which is rarely still on the wide, open flats along the Delmarva Peninsula, draws its fingers through the dried tips of the cordgrass, tall and thick enough to hide a man; the sound it makes is sibilant and empty, an endless sigh.” (page 222). Another part described the author’s experience during one birdwatching trip: “Over and over again, small explosions of birds would materialize out of the sky, whirring from on high, beyond the limit of vision and into the trees like bolts, until the woods were stuffed to overflowing with them.” (page 251). A paragraph describing man-made ecological havoc ended with, “This was habitat hell, an impoverished, completely alien ecosystem, imposed on the land like some organic form of demonic possession.” (page 154).

There was also a fabulous section that illustrated the ecological importance of cheniers by describing migration from the point of view of a small songbird:

“Let’s say you’re a bird, a little bitty Tennessee warbler that weighs as much as four pennies. You left Celestun, Yucatan, at dark the previous day, and ever since you’ve been flapping without rest, twenty beats a second for eighteen hours. At first you had a tailwind from the south, but in the middle of the night you encountered a squall line, with battering rain that forced you lower and lower toward the deadly sea. You pushed through that with scant feet to spare, salt spray from the whitecaps stinging your eyes, but when the rain ceased the wind did not, hammering you in the face, cold and gusty as you stubbornly regained altitude. The little deposits of fat beneath your skin – pale, yellowish mounds under your wings and in the hollow of your neck, which you accumulated by eating uncounted small tropical insects, are nearly gone. Soon your body will start catabolizing muscle tissue, a desperate act of self-cannibalism with only one purpose, to get you across the six hundred miles of fatal water.

Finally, from your vantage point at 4,000 feet, you can see a dark rim on the horizon, like a lid on the ocean. Land. Are you overjoyed, relieved, delighted? If you are, the celebration is premature; over the next half hour, as you draw closer and closer, you see nothing but flat, empty marsh beyond the breakers. That’s fine if you’re a grebe or gallinule, but you’re a forest bird and you need woods – trees for cover and tree-dwelling bugs for food. That’s where the cheniers come in.” (page 268).

This stuck with me long after I had turned the page (and even the chapter), and I kept turning back to it. It also made me think I might like to read a novel written from the point of view of a bird.

The book closed with a discussion of human attitudes toward nature and conservation, and this paragraph stood out:

“So tell me, what is a blackburnian warbler worth, orange and ebony like a jungle tiger? A pair of scissor-tailed flycatchers? A flock of orioles? I suppose that depends on how you measure such things. We can weigh the tangibles and the intangibles, retail sales and spiritual renewal, tourist dollars and checkmarks on a life list. But in the end such measures are pointless; we should probably just stand aside and watch with quiet humility as another generation of travelers flies north, compelled by a priceless bravery buried deep in their genes.” (pages 272-273).

And it ended on a note of hope: “So my optimism isn’t rooted in logic. It is a fragile emotion, much bruised by reality – a slender slip of a thing, but still standing. Besides, there’s no future in pessimism.” (page 370).

Highly recommended.


message 15: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Recently started The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. I've heard about this book for some time, and just decided to give it a try.


message 16: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12049 comments Jennifer you are making great progress this year!!! I hope you have a great month in February reading some more wonderful books


message 17: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Stumbled across the Recommended Nonfiction Lists Challenge and decided to join for obvious reasons :)

Because I actually have some fiction reading in mind for this year, I've only signed up for twenty-four right now, although that may change later on.


message 18: by Susy (new)

Susy (susysstories) Jennifer wrote: "Stumbled across the Recommended Nonfiction Lists Challenge and decided to join for obvious reasons :)

Because I actually have some fiction reading in mind for this year, I've only signed up for t..."


👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻


message 19: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 10, 2018 06:13PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (5/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (2,273/15,500) - message 608
My Places and Spaces Challenge goal of 3, with the place being an island (3/3) - Completed!
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists Challenge goal of 24 (5/24)

My thoughts:

This book was maddening. It had enough good points to keep me going to the end, but enough irksome points that I almost quit reading.

I’ll start with some of its better points; while some parts were virtually bone-dry, they were more than made up for by the large portions that were compulsively readable. The islands and island-equivalents were well-described, and the maps were also helpful. The book also did a good job at making most of the scientists come to life. I also appreciated the breakdown of the extremely large chapters (in some cases over one hundred pages each) into much shorter and more digestible subsections (many were only a few pages long – perhaps five or ten at most).

Now for what drove me nuts. First, this book is in need of an editor. I have nothing against long books per se, but when a book about island biogeography starts describing an investigation into a murder with unclear motives and a mugging in Rio, it becomes rather annoying. Same thing with the multiple accounts of the travails involved in not speaking the local language very well. Once or twice is understandable, and even more so if it impacts the science or has some other significance – and there were a few places where it did, but not very many. In addition, the author seems to have an odd relationship with his subject matter. For example, he spent literally pages discussing the ratites in detail, and another couple pages on ground-dwelling carabid beetles – and then said, “Have you forgotten the ratites? Good. Now I invite you to forget also the geophilic carabids.” (page 203). Which made me want to scream, then why did you go on about them so much? I’m fortunate I have an interest in biology in general, because if I hadn’t, things like this would have made me feel like I had wasted my time.

The final portion of the book expanded on the idea of how insular species – both on actual islands and functional islands (such as a nature reserve surrounded by developed land) are at higher risk of extinction – and as functional islands become more and more prevalent, the risk of extinction for more and more species will rapidly increase. I thought this section included some of the most poignant quotes. The best may be, “the future we’re currently headed toward [is] a future of soul-withering biological loneliness.” (page 635). It also included a perspective I had never really thought of before: “as we extinguish a large portion of the planet’s biological diversity, we will lose also a large portion of our world’s beauty, complexity, intellectual interest, spiritual depth, and ecological health…sterilizing our own biosphere represents a form of suicide.” (page 607). There is also this, aimed at people who don’t really see the problem with the steadily increasing rate of extinctions:

“There’s a voice that says: So what? It’s not my voice, it’s probably not yours, but it makes itself heard in the arenas of public opinion, querulous and smug and fortified by just a little knowledge, which is always a dangerous thing. So what if a bunch of species go extinct? It says. Extinction is a natural process. Darwin himself said so, didn’t he? Extinction is the complement of evolution, making room for new species to evolve. There have always been extinctions. So why worry about those extinctions currently being caused by humanity? And there has always been a pilot light burning in your furnace. So why worry when your house is on fire?” (page 605).

Because this book discusses a lot of exotic locales, I will add that it isn’t necessary to jet off to Indonesia, Madagascar, or the Amazon to improve your understanding of island biogeography. I recently had the opportunity to visit Saguaro National Park, which consists of two discrete districts separated by the City of Tucson. While hiking in one of the districts, I came upon a fabulous vista and was surprised to see that I could immediately identify one of the boundaries of the park. People had built right up to it, and the imaginary line between the protected park and everything else suddenly became real. Then and there, I finally understood what biogeographers were talking about when they argued that the national parks were becoming functional islands. But in this case, the park with its two districts would seem to be a functional archipelago, with the western district being the larger island (it is surrounded by state and local preserves, whereas the Eastern District is not), and I’d be interested in any studies that approached it from this perspective.

Some other quotes that I enjoyed:

“Australia is evolution’s largest and most extravagant demonstration of alternate realities.” (page 139)

Homo sapiens in general has the attention span of a cricket.” (page 166)

“That’s what faith is: belief that transcends data.” (page 305).


message 20: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments I decided to dip a toe into fiction this year, and have just started on Heartless. I loved Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, and when I saw this book described as a prequel, I knew I had to read it.


message 21: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12049 comments I believe Heartless is a buddy read for this month if you want to jump in. Here is the link.

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

happy reading!


message 22: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 17, 2018 04:00PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Heartless.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (6/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (2,726/15,500) - message 637
My Places and Spaces Challenge goal of 3, with the place being Wonderland (4/3)
My February Mini-Challenge Library Lovers Day goal of 2 (1/2)

First things first: if you have not read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, stop right now and read both before opening this book. I thoroughly enjoyed all the allusions to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, and the book will make a lot more sense, including the references to cards and the description of playing croquet with the King of Hearts. And the account of how the White Rabbit got his pocket watch. The tale of the Jabberwock is also found in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, as are the Red and White Queens. (Note: for those who have not already read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There but have already started on this one, I have marked spoilers for all three).

My favorite allusion may have been the “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” riddle that showed up at Jest’s introduction in this book and at the Mad Tea Party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. At the Mad Tea Party, the riddle was unanswerable, and many people thought Lewis Carroll did not intend for there to be an answer. However, according to the author’s note, Lewis Carroll actually had an answer in mind (part of which was included in this novel), “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat, and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front.” Note that “nevar” is “raven” spelled backwards – Lewis Carroll enjoyed that sort of word play. Other proposed answers: “Because both have quills dipped in ink” (David B. Jodrey, Jr. in The Annotated Alice) and this one from Tony Weston, “Because a writing desk is a rest for pens and a raven is a pest for wrens.” In that tradition of word play, there was some fun word play in this book as well. My two favorites were quotes from the marginalia in the household cookbook: “Clarify the butter first or it will confuse the other ingredients” and “Don’t let the tomatoes stew for too long as they’re like to become bitter and resentful.”

I also thought there were some great evocations of Wonderland, including this description of Catherine trying to find out what time it was:

“Catherine glanced at the cuckoo clock on the wall…Her pulse skipped as she heard a faint wheezing coming from inside the clock. “Oh! Cuckoo, did you doze off again? She smacked her palm against the clock’s side and the door sprang open, revealing a tiny red bird, fast asleep. “Cuckoo!”

The bird startled awake with a mad flap of his wings. “Oh my, oh heavens,” he squawked, rubbing his eyes with the tips of his wings. “What time is it?”

“Whatever are you asking me for?”” (page 8).

Given the descriptions of the insects in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, I also enjoyed this: “The rosebushes fell behind, replaced with towering green hedges that thundered with the fiery bolts of lightning bugs.” (page 58). Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There also includes the White Queen saying, “Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” In this book, Cath uses the same phrase, prompting Jest to suggest that, “that’s a very queenly thing to say” and (view spoiler).

There are also plenty of white roses in the book. (view spoiler) This made me think back to the scene in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where the gardeners were trying to paint the white roses red.

Also, including a raven character who talks using the same rhythm and rhyming scheme of the Poe poem was pure brilliance.

However, I found the ending somewhat frustrating, especially the part about the prophecies. That part of the plot seemed to come out of nowhere, and I think there was a missed opportunity here. If the Fates and the prophecies had been incorporated at the beginning, then a major theme throughout the book could have been the attempts of all of the main characters to defy destiny. I was also frustrated with the prophecies because even after several readings of the events, I was still unclear as to how some of them were fulfilled.

In addition, this doesn’t entirely link up with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.. For example, (view spoiler). Also, there is no explanation of how Cath became (view spoiler), or of who Time actually is (especially given that in Alice’s Adventures Time is also a “someone”). Given that this book goes into enough detail to give the backstory of the White Rabbit’s housekeeper, whose name is mentioned in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I don’t think this is too much to ask. Also, I wish the reality of Wonderland had been more clearly addressed, especially because at the end of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Alice described her adventures as (view spoiler).


message 24: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 18, 2018 06:07PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (7/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 (3,097/15,500) - message 655
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists Challenge goal of 24 (6/24)
My February Mini-Challenge Library Lovers Day goal of 2 (2/2) Completed!

My thoughts:

While I enjoyed learning more about vanilla, this was a somewhat frustrating read. For one thing, I think this book is in dire need of a copyeditor. I found it rather disorganized and there were several sections that did not seem to follow from anything previously discussed. There were also portions containing a great deal of extraneous information. And there were multiple sentences that simply made no sense scattered throughout, and every time I came across one it drove me to distraction. This book also lacked an index, which made it almost impossible to refer to previously provided information when necessary. I had no idea how much I appreciated indices before this.

Including the recipes was a great idea, but it would have been even better if more of them had been linked more closely to the text. For example, during a discussion of Tahitian vanilla, the text said that since fresh fish is a dietary staple in Tahiti, almost everyone had a recipe for mahi-mahi in vanilla cream sauce. But the recipe that immediately followed this section was not for mahi-mahi in vanilla cream sauce but for papaya chicken, which was not previously discussed at all. The last chapter was devoted to a variety of vanilla recipes and was interesting because it showed some of the savory applications of vanilla (an aspect I did not think much of at all before).

Provided you get past its weaknesses, you can extract (pun intended) a great deal of information from this book, and that is why I rated it as I did. Vanilla is the world’s most labor-intensive commodity crop, and probably the only one that comes from an orchid (vanilla is the only orchid in the world to produce an edible fruit). Most vanilla is propagated through vine cuttings, and it takes a small cutting about three years to produce its first flowers. For best results each flower must be hand-pollinated, and the flowers last less than a day (a flower will bloom early in the morning, wilt by mid-morning, and die by the afternoon). The fruit, which resembles a giant green bean, will reach its full size about six weeks later. But before it can be harvested, it must remain on the vine for anywhere between six to nine months before it begins to ripen. Just before it fully ripens, it is harvested, but it is still nowhere near ready for market. A newly harvested vanilla bean actually has no aroma and no flavor. The flavor and fragrance are a result of a complex curing and drying process lasting between six and nine months, during which the beans will be wrapped in cloth, stored in boxes for hours or even days, massaged, and laid in the sun to dry every morning and then brought in to rest every evening. In the process the beans will lose close to eighty percent of their water content, meaning that it takes five to six tons of green vanilla beans to produce one ton of cured, dried, and conditioned vanilla. Want to guess why real vanilla is so expensive?

Also, despite what its name seems to suggest, the compound vanillin comprises less than thirty percent of vanilla’s flavor and fragrance profile. It is estimated that between 250 and 500 distinct compounds contribute to its unique flavor and fragrance. Given its molecular complexity, it is ironic that when we want to say something is typical or no-frills we sometimes describe it as “plain vanilla.” No one knows for sure where the saying came from, but historically it would have been incomprehensible; in 1845 one lady was complimented with the phrase, “You flavor everything; you are the vanilla of society.” And currently the demand for so-called “plain vanilla” is soaring, to the point that vanilla has surpassed dairy as the primary expense for ice cream manufacturers.

On a personal note, I still remember the time as a child when I decided that anything that smelled as heavenly as vanilla extract had to taste at least as good – and tasted it straight out of the bottle!


message 25: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 22, 2018 01:52PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just started Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin. I am fascinated by medieval history and have a professional background in law and science, so it was pretty much inevitable that a book like this would make it onto my reading list.


message 26: by Phill (new)

Phill | 30 comments You write amazing reviews/thoughts! I really enjoyed reading it and you have inspired me to think more while reading! Thanks.


message 27: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 23, 2018 01:23PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Phill wrote: "You write amazing reviews/thoughts! I really enjoyed reading it and you have inspired me to think more while reading! Thanks."

Thanks, and I'm glad you like them. To me, there's just way too much interesting information in each book to let it pass without trying to say a little about it. Last year I tried doing something similar for my books, but got a little off. So one of my goals is to write about each book I read this year. Have you written any for your books?


message 28: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12049 comments You are doing great. Hoping March is a great month for you.


message 29: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 28, 2018 11:06PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Recently finished Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (8/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (3,479/15,500) - message 746
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (7/24)

My thoughts:

Lector intende: Laetaberis - Reader, pay attention. You will enjoy yourself.” Apuleius, Metamorphoseon, i.I.

I enjoyed this book on a lot of different levels. First, I found it very well-written, thoroughly researched, and scholarly without being dry. While there is a lot of Latin in it and even more in the endnotes, you don’t have to know Latin to read and enjoy it (although I am sure it is even better if you do). Translations into modern English are provided alongside every Latin quote. And especially after the last book I read, I was pleased with the extensive endnotes and the presence of an index.

More substantively, this was an intriguing history of Latin, starting in the early days of the Romans in Latium, when Latin was just one of many European languages and its rise to become a vastly influential language was by no means inevitable. During its early days, it coexisted with the now-lost European languages of Lusitanian, Celtiberian, Tartessian, Iberian, Ligurian, Lepontic, Rhaetic, Venetic, Etruscan (although Latin seems to have borrowed from Etruscan more so than any of the others), Picene, Oscan (as in Toscany, or Tuscany), Messapian, Sicel, Sardinian, Dacian, Getic, and Paeonian. But as the Roman Empire grew, Latin went with it and by and large wiped out every other European language in its path. It is estimated that in the five centuries from 100 BC to AD 400, the number of known languages in the parts of western Europe that were under Rome fell from thirty to just five: Latin, Welsh, Basque, Albanian, and Gaulish, and Gaulish was already on its way out.

Although Rome’s military might was initially responsible for the widespread use and development of Latin, the most important factor by far was that it was adopted by Catholic Christianity before the fall of the Empire. Over the course of three centuries, Christians were able to convert their community from a tiny minority within the Empire into its vast majority. In the process, it supplanted Rome’s traditional religion as well as its traditional tolerance for variety in people’s devotional lives. In fact, Christianity went from being encouraged to being enforced by the fifth century. What is interesting about this is that most of the Christian scriptures and liturgies were predominantly in Greek and were only later translated into Latin, and, at least in the west, those translations went on to supersede the original Greek. The book discussed two motives for the change, one practical and one political, and each probably fed on the other to intensify the effect. Practically speaking, Latin was the vernacular for most of the western population at the time. Before reading this, I had never really thought of Latin as ever having been a vernacular language with native speakers.

But there was also a political motive. As emperor, Constantine had founded Constantinople in Byzantium as a competing capital for the Empire in 324. This opened a rift between the Latin-speaking west and the Greek-speaking east, and the rift only deepened over time. After the west fell to Germanic invaders, the east partly reconquered it, but then lost it again. The west felt a need to assert its identity over an increasingly powerful, independent, and Latin-ignorant Greek east, and a sense of “Rome (and Latin) for the Romans” began to grow. The west ultimately developed into “a world where Pax Romana aspired to present itself as Pax Christiana, [and] the Latin Rite became the linking bond of the familia Christi, the Roman Catholic Church, linking its members to Rome as well as to each other,” (page 127) despite the fact that it excluded the Roman east. Along with the political and linguistic differences, and possibly because of them, theological tensions between the Roman and Greek bishops began to rise as well. It was interesting to think of the language divide as having contributed to the Great Schism and I had never thought of it in that context before. Under the circumstances, it seems amazing the Great Schism didn’t happen hundreds of years earlier.

As western Europe descended into the Dark Ages, “Catholic Christianity ultimately proved the most significant institution throughout this period: it sustained the identity, and language, of the Romans’ descendants in the centuries after the Empire’s defenses collapsed, even when their temporal rulers found it impossible to defend fixed borders or define a clear law of succession. Through their Church, they remained Romans; and their religion reminded them to speak Latin.” (Page 138).

An interesting effect of linking Latin to Christianity was that the entire surviving corpus of Latin literature, both sacred and secular, became seen as the “literary heritage of Christendom.” (Page 193). The logic went as follows: since God had overseen everything in history, He had also overseen the studies of classical civilization and its discoveries. Thus, “it was not necessary, indeed it was wrong, to be intellectually puritan and condemn anything at all on the grounds of its source.” (Page 202). So, Terrence, Cicero, and Virgil became included in the same list as the Bible and the Church Fathers, and with the exception of Holy Scripture, all of the works were of comparable authority. To be sure, some of them had to be interpreted allegorically or metaphorically to ensure they accorded with divine revelation, but they were all to be read and respected as equal witnesses to truth about the world. In this view, it was equally acceptable for monks to copy Livy as it was for them to copy Christian commentaries on the Bible. This phenomenon helped ensure that Latin became the language of learning for people with native languages as diverse as Irish, English, German, Polish, Hungarian, Norse, Latvian, and Estonian. An interesting sidelight is that, among the classical authors, Virgil came to hold a special place because his Fourth Ecologue was seen as foretelling the birth of Christ. He became seen as an unofficial pagan prophet, and it was because of this tradition that Dante considered him a suitable guide in the The Divine Comedy.

During the high Middle Ages, scholars began to relax the classical restraints on Latin word formation and create large quantities of new words to accommodate the large influx of Arabic knowledge. In addition, new words and terms were also needed to accommodate the development of medieval scholasticism. The change was such that the language became known as scholastic Latin. The decline of Latin as a living language can actually be traced to a Renaissance reaction against the earlier linguistic innovations in favor of a purer, more pristine form embodied in the works of Cicero. In fact, the ideal became Ciceronian Latin. However, the new words from scholastic Latin became entrenched in the vernacular languages – witness revisio, humanista, essentialiter, durabilis, definitivus, and innovation – which English borrowed and Anglicized, and have become perfectly acceptable standard English. During the Renaissance, Latin was still a living language that had developed an old, massive root structure during the scholastic era. It had strong links with the vernaculars that coexisted with it, and that made it easier to learn. Thus, the Renaissance effort to sever classical Latin from scholastic Latin also led to severing classical Latin from the rapidly evolving vernaculars. This made it more difficult to learn but also made it harder to use it in modern discourse, as the whole reason scholastic Latin had developed was because Ciceronian Latin could not accommodate them. And as the vernaculars developed and either adopted or created the necessary words, they became are more important part of modern discourse, while Latin began to decline. An interesting idea on why Latin may have declined even faster is that it is very difficult to express deep emotion in a language that neither the speaker nor the audience has acquired either during or shortly after early childhood. While the vernacular languages were learned in the appropriate timeframe, Latin was not. There was also the effect of the Protestant Reformation, with its insistence on the use of the vernacular both for Scripture and worship, meaning that the link between Latin and Christianity became more tenuous.

As time progressed, Latin became even more removed from its roots and disconnected from the realities of western Europe:

“By the end of the sixteenth century, Greek was being studied in parallel with Latin all over western Europe. It is worth pausing to note how strange these studies had become, by comparison with the language studies of earlier centuries.

Both Greek and Latin were now valued for their associations with a glorious distant past, by teachers and students resolutely oblivious of their actual recent histories. The sad contemporary fate of real Greeks under Ottoman rule was of no more interest to Hellenists than the histories of Charlemagne or Peter Abelard were to Latinists.

Contrast this with the linguistic concerns of Ramon Llull in the thirteenth century. For him, Latin had been a medium for widespread communication with his intellectual peers, in a continuous tradition that went back for over a millennium, and foreign languages were valued as a means of contact with the pagan world beyond.

So although this knowledge of Greek, as of pre-Christian Latin, was opening up fascinating new worlds for western Europeans, they were worlds that now only existed in their own reconstructions. In this sense, Europe’s new love affair with the classics – dead classics – was profoundly inward-looking.” (Page 249).

Now, there are only a few places that Latin can be said to have held on. One is in legal terminology, illustrated in phrases such as stare decisis and mens rea. Many maxims of statutory interpretation are still expressed in Latin, including expressio unius est exclusive alterius (the expression of one option is the exclusion of the other) and cessante ratione legis cessat lex ipsa (when the reason for a law ceases, so does the law). However, “legal Latin has become a remnant within a residue, a set of terms and phrases, not a fully functioning language.” (Page 291).

The only other place is the sciences, and it is ironic that a language currently described as “dead" should be so central to the life sciences in particular. Linnaeus established the use of Latin for scientific names and descriptions; he felt so strongly about using Latin for this purpose that he Latinized his own name – Charles Linn became Carolus Linnaeus, which is how we know him today. He was a botanist, and so insisted most strongly on Latin for plant descriptions: he laid down the rule – still followed in official botanical descriptions – that a plant should be described using a Latin genus and species name, followed by a phrase in the ablative case to indicate the distinctive properties of the species. The names of the visible parts of a flower are also derived almost exclusively from Latin. And of course, there is the system of binomial nomenclature used to name all species today, in which every known organism is assigned a Latin genus and species name (its scientific name). This system made the leap into international science, and is now followed worldwide – to the extent that papers published in Chinese characters include scientific names in the Latin (or Roman) alphabet.

My favorite Latin phrase? Per aspera ad astra - Through difficulties to the stars.


message 30: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 28, 2018 11:14PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin also gave an interesting account of how the development of Christianity affected both the development of books and of reading in western Europe. I thought it was interesting enough to share (especially on this website) and since I was running out of space in the last post, I decided to do another one.

Delivering sermons became popular relatively early in the history of Christianity, and preachers liked to be able to quote from Scripture as necessary. This created a problem, though, because the scriptures were lengthy, and were not written in the kind of deathless prose that would have been easy to memorize. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an ancient Greek or Roman "book" was a called a volume but was actually a scroll that was designed to be read from beginning to end, with the reader simultaneously unrolled on the right and rolling it up again on the left. This meant that bookmarking or ready reference to passages for citation was virtually impossible.

The solution to this problem appears to have been to invent, or at least popularize, the book as we now know it. During the second century, the codex (literally 'wood block') was being pioneered. A codex took the form of a hinged set of pages, originally made of wood (hence the name), but later of parchment. Codices were initially used to make account books, which only required a few pages. The innovation here was to replace the wood with ordinary writing materials, which allowed the codex to grow and store considerable quantities of text. Because of the layout of the codex, pages could be individually consulted in random order, something that had been impossible before. The convenience of a codex for text storage and retrieval ultimately won out, even though it was more labor-intensive to make a codex than a scroll. In this way, "the exigencies of the Christian sermon had given rise to the text-publishing format that is still in use, and indeed dominant, to this day, after almost two millennia, including a major intervening revolution in the form of the printing press.” (Page 121).

Not only that, but Christianity also seems to have encouraged the development of silent reading. Previously, reading had always been a kind of performance, in which the reader would convert the written characters on the page into a stream of spoken language, both for his own benefit and for any others present. Obviously, this could cause problems if more than one person in the same room wanted to read different texts at the same time, but it does not appear that silent reading was ever considered as a solution.

The first reference in the western tradition to silent reading appeared in Saint Augustine's Confessions, which included an almost incredulous account of how Bishop Ambrose of Milan approached reading: "But when he read, his eyes were led over the pages and his heart sought out the understanding, while his voice and tongue were quiet."

While Augustine understood what was going on, he had more trouble understanding why. He speculated that the bishop must have been trying to save his voice, or perhaps to save potential listeners from perplexity, in case they might have overheard him reading something that was too difficult for them. The idea that silent reading was something perfectly ordinary didn't seem to occur to him at all.


message 32: by Jennifer (last edited Mar 04, 2018 10:08AM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Recently finished Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (9/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (3,671/15,500) - message 778
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (8/24)

A determination of latitude is based on natural phenomena, but a determination of longitude is ultimately based on the artificial measurement of time. Because of this fundamental distinction, navigators learned how to fix their latitude very early on but had far greater difficulties with longitude, especially at sea. But you need both to successfully navigate. This book tells the story of the four hundred year quest to solve the riddle of longitude once for all, and touches on some of the other important discoveries that were made along the way.

A determination of longitude requires knowing the time at a specified reference point, as well as the local time. Once you have the two times, it is possible to convert the hour distance into a geographical separation. This is because the earth takes twenty-four hours to complete a full three hundred sixty-degree revolution, so one hour will mark one twenty-fourth of a spin, or fifteen degrees. The fifteen degrees will also correspond to the distance travelled, but because the earth is spherical, the distance travelled will decrease as the latitude increases. But it all comes back to knowing the time difference, and a precise determination of the hour in two different places at once was virtually impossible as late as the era of pendulum clocks, which were unreliable at sea.

At the time scientists were consumed with what became known as the “longitude problem,” there were two solutions: either find a way to tell the difference without using a shipboard mechanical clock, or to build a better clock. Most astronomers of the day approached the problem by trying to find a “clock” in the night sky. The most persistent idea was proposed as early as 1514 and became known as the lunar distance method. This method is based on the fact that the moon travels a distance roughly equal to its own width every hour. At night, it appears to walk across the field of fixed stars at this pace, and in the daytime (the moon is up in the daytime for half of each month), it moves toward or away from the sun. The idea was that if astronomers could map the position of the stars along the moon’s path, they could predict when the moon would pass each one – on every moonlit night for years to come. In addition, the relative positions of the sun and moon during the daylight hours would need to be mapped. After all that work, tables of the moon’s movements could be compiled, along with the time of each star meeting predicted for a place whose longitude would serve as the zero-degree reference point. Armed with that information, a navigator could compare the time he observed the moon near a given star with the time the same conjunction was supposed to occur in the skies over the reference location. He could then determine his longitude by finding the difference in hours between the two places, and then multiplying that number by fifteen degrees. However, there were several problems with the lunar distance method – the difficulty of accumulating the necessary astronomical data and the lack of an instrument that would allow navigators at sea to accurately measure moon-to-star distances from a rolling ship.

On the other end of the spectrum, John Harrison, a brilliant clockmaker, set out to build a better clock. In 1735, he successfully built the first sea clock, which could reliably give the local time as well as the time at a given reference point. Because this clock was the first in a series of attempts, it became known as Harrison’s Number One, which was later shortened to H-1. The book included a picture of H-1, which looks so much like a sailing ship that I thought Harrison had deliberately designed it that way. He didn’t - H-1 was originally housed in a now-lost cabinet – but the resemblance is so strong that the book describes it as “a model ship, escaped from its bottle, afloat on the sea of time.” (Page 78). By Harrison’s time, Parliament had passed the Longitude Act, which offered extremely large awards to anyone who could come up with a “practicable and useful” method of accurately determining longitude (the more accurate the determination, the larger the award). To determine what was “practicable and useful” and then distribute the prize money, the Longitude Act established a blue-ribbon panel of judges that became known as the Board of Longitude. Harrison took H-1 to the Board to claim the prize, and a series of increasingly acrimonious battles with the Board ensued. Even though all his chronometers worked successfully and with the required degree of accuracy, he never did get the full award, although an additional grant from Parliament made up most of the difference.

While we use descendants of Harrison’s chronometers today, I think it’s worth pointing out that the now forgotten lunar distance method was also found to be successful. After the necessary astronomical data had been collected, the only problem left was finding a suitable instrument that sailors could use to measure the distance between the moon and the stars. That instrument, the octant, was invented in 1731. The octant then rapidly evolved into an even more accurate device, the sextant. Captain Joshua Slocum even used the lunar distance method when he made the first solo circumnavigation of the world in 1895-1898. In his book Sailing Alone around the World, he discussed using the method:

“I found from the result of three observations, after long wrestling with lunar tables, that her longitude agreed within five miles of that by dead-reckoning. This was wonderful; both, however, might be in error, but somehow I felt confident that both were nearly true, and that in a few hours more I should see land; and so it happened, for then I made out the island of Nukahiva, the southernmost of the Marquesas group, clear-cut and lofty. The verified longitude when abreast was somewhere between the two reckonings; this was extraordinary. All navigators will tell you that from one day to another a ship may lose or gain more than five miles in her sailing-account, and again, in the matter of lunars, even expert lunarians are considered as doing clever work when they average within eight miles of the truth...

The result of these observations naturally tickled my vanity, for I knew it was something to stand on a great ship’s deck and with two assistants take lunar observations approximately near the truth. As one of the poorest of American sailors, I was proud of the little achievement alone on the sloop, even by chance though it may have been...

The work of the lunarian, though seldom practised in these days of chronometers, is beautifully edifying, and there is nothing in the realm of navigation that lifts one’s heart up more in adoration.”

I think there's another thing to be said for the lunar distance method as well, and that is that it will work in a much more low-tech environment. And sometimes that can be very important indeed. Consider this: after a hiatus of a century, and despite the development of advanced GPS technology, the military is considering reinstating courses in celestial navigation, including training on how to use a sextant. The reason? An instrument such as a sextant doesn't rely on a system of complex moving parts, doesn't require electricity, can't be jammed by enemy forces, and doesn't emit any signals that an enemy could home in on. There is also the advantage that celestial navigation in general relies on astronomical phenomena that can't be faked, intercepted, or otherwise manipulated.

Also, Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds pointed out that many birds also use celestial navigation, although exactly how remains a mystery.

Favorite quote: “And since time sets its own tempo, like a heartbeat or an ebb tide, timepieces don’t really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they’re able.” (Page 34).


message 34: by Jennifer (last edited Mar 12, 2018 06:12PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Recently finished Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (10/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (3,944/15,500) - message 825
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (9/24)

My thoughts:

This book tells the story of the famous tulip craze in seventeenth-century Holland.

Well before the craze, tulips were valued as expensive exotic ornamentals and quickly became status symbols; many wealthy people with country houses liked to show off their wealth by planting tulips. There were also wealthy tulip connoisseurs who loved the flowers for their own sake, and they continued to pay large sums for true rarities as late as 100 years after the crash.

One of the things that drove the fascination with and demand for tulips was their wide variety of colors and coloration patterns. The colors were far more intense and well-defined than in any other flowers known at the time. They formed unique patterns on the petals, tending to appear as feathers or flames running up the center of each petal and sometimes along the edges as well. Dutch tulip experts took to using these variations in color and pattern to grade their flowers. The most sought-after tulips, deemed “superbly fine,” were varieties that were almost entirely white or yellow in color and had flames of violet, red, or brown in narrow bands running along the center and the edges of each petal. Tulips with these patterns are described as "broken." However, this is not at all normal for botanical tulips, which are well-known for their robust, simple color schemes. The botanists and horticulturists of the time believed the differences were due to mutations and sought to develop breeding lines for the superbly fine varieties. But every attempt to create a line that would breed true failed.

The top botanists of the day also noted that tulips from broken bulbs were smaller and weaker than ones from unbroken bulbs, and that the most superbly fine tulips rarely produced viable offsets. The botanists and horticulturists pressed on, but with no knowledge of either modern genetics or plant pathology, they found the riddle insoluble. We now know that the superbly fine broken tulips so coveted by the Dutch were actually diseased. They were infected by the tulip mosaic virus, and the most visible symptom is a broken color pattern. Because the disease severely affected their ability to reproduce, none of the seventeenth-century tulips the Dutch were willing to pay so much for have living descendants. We only know what they look like because some tulip breeders created illustrated catalogues so that they could sell their bulbs more easily. A few artists also painted still-life paintings of the most famous rarities.

Both cultural and economic factors drove the bulb craze. Because the most desirable tulips had the most trouble reproducing, they were the rarest, and their rarity made them even more desirable. Demand rapidly outpaced supply, and the bulbs became increasingly lucrative to grow. Plus growing bulbs didn’t require much up-front investment; a few tulip seeds or bulbs and access to a small plot of land. It seemed like a quick, easy way of making money, and was particularly attractive to Dutch craftsmen, who worked long and hard for very low wages.

Culturally, there was a unique belief that social mobility was the birthright of every Dutchman. Because this belief was common at all levels of society, anyone fortunate enough to succeed would not be automatically excluded from the very top. So, artisans did not feel they had to resign themselves to a difficult life. It was not unheard of for an artisan to invest his savings in a tiny share in a trading ship, save the minute profits that resulted, and repeat the cycle until they were also able to buy a ship. And if there was an easier and faster way to achieve the same result – well, why not?

There is evidence that the tulip craze started to pick up around 1633 in the form of a house with three stone tulips carved into its façade; the flowers were placed there to commemorate the sale of the house for three rare tulips. Around the same time, a Frisian farmhouse and its adjoining land also changed hands for a packet of bulbs. Previously, people had used money to buy tulips, but now some of them were using tulips as money. Most of the bulbs on the market at this time were not absolute rarities such as the famous Semper Augustus – which could not be purchased at any price for the simple reason that it was not for sale. Its owner refused to sell at any price. But there were several other superbly fine varieties on the market, and growers also began offering bulbs of somewhat lower quality to anyone who could pay. Prices gradually increased at first but began rapidly climbing near the end of 1634 and throughout 1635. And by the winter of 1636, the value of some bulbs could double in as little as a week.

The botany of tulips also drove the formation of a tulip futures market, as traders perceived that the offsets of a valuable bulb also had value. But offsets take several years to mature, and because the tulip dealers had no intention of ever cultivating tulips, they saw no point in waiting. Instead, they bought and sold promissory notes, which gave details about the tulip in question and the date when its offsets would be lifted and ready for collection. Futures markets, while still novel, were not entirely unheard of at the time; merchants trading in commodities on the Dutch stock exchange had invented the futures markets about thirty years ago. A merchant awaiting a cargo from overseas needed a way to protect himself in case the price of his goods fell before they arrived. The solution was for the merchant to sell the risk that his commodities would fall in value, in return for a deposit (say 10 percent) of the agreed price. This assured he would receive a definite sum of money on a fixed date and could plan accordingly. The buyer can also benefit, but only if he can successfully predict whether prices will rise or fall. For example, a tulip trader with 50 guilders might agree to buy five 100-guilder Goudas. His 50 guilders would be enough to pay a 10 percent deposit on each bulb. If the price of Goudas at lifting time had doubled, then his initial investment of fifty guilders would have grown to 1,000 guilders. If he sold the Goudas at this new, higher price, he could pay the rest of his obligation and make a profit of five hundred guilders. But if the price of Goudas fell by half, the same trader would be facing a loss of two hundred guilders – and possible bankruptcy.

Because it is inherently risky, the futures trade is highly regulated today. No such regulation existed in the seventeenth century, but the risk for commodities on the stock exchange was mitigated by the fact that only knowledgeable merchants and stock exchange specialists participated. But tulip futures were traded outside the stock exchange by people who had very little knowledge of either tulips or finances. They were almost all amateurs who conducted their business at local taverns. A "college" of tulip growers and dealers would meet two or three times a week in a tavern’s private back room to buy and sell, as well as talk, drink, and smoke tobacco (after reading some of this I was surprised it wasn’t something else). Before the tulip trade really took off, a college would meet for a few hours, but as the craze mounted meetings that started in the morning might not finish until early into the next morning. Each deal was celebrated with a call for wine, and the buyer paid a commission of “wine money” on every purchase. The Dutch practice back then was to serve wine in large pitchers that could hold a gallon or more, so alcohol was never in short supply. This explains a lot about both the nature and the excesses of the mania: One seldom makes rational decisions while partying with friends late into the night with lots of alcohol on hand.

The colleges did not particularly care whether their members had enough money to cover their debts or even whether they owned the tulips they traded. It was perfectly possible for a tulip trader to sell tulips he could not deliver to buyers who did not have cash to pay for them. A trader who owned no bulbs might buy promissory notes, quickly resell them, and then use the profits to buy more. The tulips the colleges dealt in were seldom if ever the superbly fine varieties that connoisseurs or wealthy traders would find desirable. Instead, they were bulbs of the second rank, and when even these became out of reach, they began to deal in the most common and least desirable varieties. These varieties were either unicolored or poorly variegated, and most were descendants of the earliest varieties to reach the United Provinces. By the beginning of 1637, even these previously worthless bulbs were phenomenally increasing in price. There had always been at least some justification for the high prices for superbly fine tulips, because even during the mania there was a small but genuine demand from the old tulip connoisseurs – the people who actually wanted to plant them. But no connoisseur was interested in these common, low-quality tulips, and no one in the colleges planned on cultivating them either. They appear to have been traded simply because they were the only bulbs that were left.

Once even the most common bulbs were selling for dozens or even hundreds of guilders, there were no longer any affordable varieties available for purchase, and no new dealers could enter the market. Meanwhile, a few established traders were selling and taking their profits, which meant that a shrinking group of dealers with a limited amount of capital had to somehow sustain a constant increase in prices. And with every price increase, more dealers were priced out of the market. Starved of money and bulbs, the market quickly flamed out. The influx of cheap, common bulbs also effectively prevented the market from recovering. In almost all bull markets there are also bears. But most of the bulbs traded at the height of the mania were literally worthless – before the craze they had been thrown in with the trash, and they only had value in the eyes of those who had traded for them. So no bear traders were interested in what was left.

Almost every dealer had also heavily speculated in tulip futures. So in addition to their deposits on tulips that were now worthless, they would also have to pay even more when the bulbs were lifted. Most of the dealers defaulted, meaning the growers were also in trouble. However, the growers managed to recover somewhat through the export trade, and this laid the foundation for Holland’s modern-day bulb industry.

Surprisingly for a financial calamity with such a notorious reputation, the tulip crash had very few short-term or long-term repercussions. It had been almost exclusively a poor-man's craze, so the stock market and trade remained unaffected, and no general recession followed.

Today, bulb growers have learned how to produce tulips year-round, and there are no futures markets in tulips. The tulip mosaic virus has also been eradicated, and there are no more broken tulips. However, thanks to careful cross-breeding, today's tulip connoisseurs can select from a variety of flared and flamed flowers.

I appreciated the table at the beginning of the book that provided the 1636 prices of other common items as well as some average incomes for various professions, which helped immensely in giving perspective to the prices people were willing to pay for tulip bulbs. But the book was crying out for pictures of the flowers.


message 35: by Jennifer (last edited Mar 12, 2018 05:38PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments An appropriate image for Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. The tulips in this period painting are of the famed variety Semper Augustus.

Hans Bollongier - Stilleven met bloemen - Google Art Project


message 37: by Jennifer (last edited Mar 21, 2018 10:14PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Recently finished Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (11/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (4,312/15,500) - message 859
My Places and Spaces Challenge goal of 3, with the place being Byzantium (5/3)
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (10/24)

This book traced the influence of the Byzantium’s influence on the cultures of western Europe, the Islamic World, and the Slavs in eastern Europe. Fortunately for my sanity, the book was divided into three different sections, but all the events happened during the same timeframe.

I found this intriguing and gained a new perspective on western European history in particular. One of the things that drove me crazy was that there was a lot of discussion of architecture and the visual arts in general, but no pictures were included. I’ve included some below.

In western Europe, the Byzantine impact may well have been the most widespread and longest-lived, because it had both intellectual and artistic components. In some ways, it may have been both the cause and the cure of the Dark Ages in the West.

After the barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome in 476, Italy began to recover under the Gothic king Theoderic. By that time the Goths had helped create what is now known as a “sub-Roman” civilization, essentially half-Roman and half-barbarian. The Goths were Christian Arians, and had started building churches adorned with mosaics:

Sant Apollinare Nuovo North Wall Panorama 01

At the far left of this mosaic is a portrayal of the city of Ravenna, which gives an idea of the architecture of the time. Originally, another set of mosaics portrayed Theoderic and his Gothic retinue, but the Byzantines destroyed these after its sixth-century reconquest of Italy. The Byzantine reconquest lasted over a decade, from 535 to 553, and engulfed the Italian peninsula in an incredibly destructive war; the reconquest resulted in more destruction than the original barbarian invasions - and Rome underwent three barbarian sacks - and was the true cause of the Dark Ages. Byzantium won, and Emperor Justinian built the San Vitale church in Ravenna, the new capital, out of gratitude. Ravenna contains some of the best-preserved Byzantine mosaics in the world, including the famous mosaics of Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora in San Vitale, and the two “gaze limpidly across fifteen yards of apse and as many centuries.”

Justinian:

Sanvitale03

Theodora:

Sanvitale04

Boethius was Theoderic’s chief advisor but Theoderic later had him imprisoned and executed. It was during his imprisonment that Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy – a mixture of poetry and prose that ended up becoming second only to the Bible in its influence in the West during the Middle Ages. Boethius was perhaps the last person of cultural significance in the West to know Greek and Greek philosophy; after his death that knowledge was not recovered until the time of Thomas Aquinas and the other Scholastic philosophers. He had originally planned on translating all of Aristotle’s and Plato’s works into Latin and then reconciling them, and if he had gotten the chance, the intellectual history of western Europe would have been very different. As it was, he never got to Plato at all, but before his death he had made small inroads into Aristotle’s work, in the form of six pieces on logic that became known as the Organon. The Organon included most of the basics of Aristotelian rationalism, including the use of syllogistic reasoning. This translation was unfortunately ignored for hundreds of years, but Boethius did have a lasting impact on western education, because he had also compiled dense technical texts on arithmetic, music theory, astronomy, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology. These works became standard reading in western higher education throughout the Middle Ages and even into the Renaissance.

Cassiodorus was Boethius’ replacement, and was sent to Constantinople after Ravenna fell and the Goths were defeated. Cassiodorus became a monk while he was in Constantinople but returned to Italy to start a monastery – while neither particularly large nor long-lived, it was the first monastery in western Europe to include a scriptorium; it is likely that Cassiodorus brought the idea back from Byzantium, where monasteries and some private homes also had them. The idea spread, and soon all monasteries in western Europe had them.

Byzantium suffered from its own Dark Age, but it began later and ended earlier than those of the West, partly because a strong central state survived, as did many schools. This was not true in western Europe, primarily due to Byzantium’s attempted reconquest, which petered out after Justinian’s death and ended up creating a power vacuum. But power abhors a vacuum, and the result was a Lombard invasion that destroyed even more. So while Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient authors survived in Byzantium, they were lost in the West. The same was true of the advanced artistry of mosaics, painting, carving, book illumination, and cloisonné enamel, all of which only gradually filtered back to western Europe. Reading all of this began to give me the feeling that there may have been more to the 1203 sack of Constantinople than meets the eye. The East had left the West to fend for itself after the barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome. And just as the West began to recover, its central government and its centers of higher education and the arts were thoroughly destroyed in a decades-long war started by the irredentist East, which remained intact and wealthy. The book points out that the Byzantines never forgave or forgot the sack, but doesn't mention how long it took the West to forget and forgive its traumatic losses at the hands of the Byzantines, which led to its centuries-long Dark Ages.

The Lombard invasions had another effect. The papacy in Rome became increasingly isolated and threatened by the Lombards, and since Byzantium didn't intervene, the popes looked north to the Franks for protection. This alliance reached its apogee with the papal coronation of Charlemagne as the new "Emperor of Rome" and the creation of the Holy Roman Empire.

Byzantium’s knowledge was brought to the West largely because of the Hesychast controversy, which pitted Byzantine humanists, who wanted to preserve pagan classical knowledge, against Byzantium’s Eastern Orthodox monks, who were far more interested in preserving Christian knowledge. One monk compared pagan philosophy to “snake poison.” The humanists wanted to apply Aristotelian logic to theological issues, arguing that truths about God could not be demonstrated but could be rationally inferred – they would have approved of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. They probably also would have approved of the Western attitude toward all Latin literature, as described in Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin. The monks argued that truths about God could be demonstrated through mystical experiences but could not be rationally known. The monks ultimately won, and the humanists began to migrate to western Europe, especially to Italy. Venice, which had the strongest links to Byzantium of all, was a particularly attractive destination. Byzantine artisans heavily contributed to the design of the Basilica di San Marco, and that church was in fact modeled on the now-lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople:

Veneza47

To get an idea of the Byzantine influence inside, here’s a picture of a mosaic inside one of the domes:

Venice SMarco Vault2

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the stream of humanists to Italy picked up, and by the early 1500’s, the combined efforts of the Byzantine and Italian humanists had achieved their shared goal of preserving and propagating ancient Greek literature.

I also thought this perspective on the fall of Constantinople was especially interesting:

“The humanists were more conscious of shared history and eventually became more open to the West, which reciprocated with a flattering interest in their beloved ancient literature.

Many would convert to Catholicism. To them, Christian solidarity seemed the reasonable, obvious – indeed only – way to escape political extinction at Turkish hands, and appeared to be attainable only if the Orthodox church was willing to compromise with the Catholics.

But they were out of step with the Byzantine mainstream and its champions, the monks. A devout people with its back to the wall can be pushed deeper and deeper into hardening religious nativism, in the end even preferring national suicide to religious compromise. This is what happened to the Byzantines. In that sense, Byzantium chose its fate. Military conquest by the Turks was less of an evil than spiritual submission to the hated Catholics. Without strict adherence to Orthodoxy there could be no hope of spiritual salvation, and spiritual salvation came before political survival.”

I'm running out of space but want to discuss the rest of the book more, so this is continued below...


message 38: by Jennifer (last edited Mar 19, 2018 11:35AM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments While Byzantium did have an impact on Islamic civilization, it was not as profound or as long-lasting as in either western Europe or the Slavic world.

The eighth-century caliph al-Mansur probably began a systematic effort to make ancient Greek learning available in Arabic. However, a movement to translate Greek literature into Arabic substantially predated this time. It was mostly the result of Eastern Orthodox persecution of Nestorians and Monophysites as heretics in Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Byzantine empire. Both groups fled to Persia and became multilingual; most spoke Persian as their first language, but most also knew Syriac and Greek, which were both used in their liturgies, as well as Arabic, which was spoken by the governing class. Because of the religious controversies between the Eastern Orthodox and Nestorians, and because the Nestorians embarked on a series of missions to places as far away as China, the Nestorians wanted religious texts in their own language, and began translating Greek works well before the Arab conquests. Later they branched into secular learning as well. Because Syriac is closely related to Arabic, it was very easy to translate a Syriac text of a Greek work into Arabic. By the time of the Arab conquests, they had also established an extensive network of schools and monasteries, which were allowed to remain undisturbed. They were thus in a unique position to impart secular Greek learning to the Arabs. Medicine and science especially benefited; all of the important medical texts at the time were in Greek, which meant the Nestorians nearly monopolized medicine. More scientific works in other areas followed, and a student at a Nestorian school could study mathematics, geography, zoology, meteorology, and astronomy. And later on, philosophy, music, and basic grammar and rhetoric also became available. Other Arab scholars joined the translation movement, which ended around 1000.

Like the Byzantines, the Islamic world went through its own version of the Hesychasm controversy, pitting reason against faith. And also as in Byzantium, those on the side of faith prevailed. But one scholar on the side of reason had a strong intellectual impact in western Europe. Averroes argued that reason and faith were two different ways of perceiving theological truths, and so the two would never conflict. “Within decades, Averroes and his commentaries [on Aristotle], conveniently accessible in nearby Spain, had sparked the rise of Scholasticism; for Thomas Aquinas, who built his thought squarely on Averroes’ Aristotelian commentaries, Averroes was simply “the Commentator.”” (Page 171).

Another thing I did not realize was the political dimensions of the iconoclastic movement. During this time, Muslim forces were invading Byzantine lands and winning battles. The justification for iconoclasm was that "icons had failed to bring victory against the Muslims, who themselves were known for banning human images in religious art. It seemed God was punishing the empire for having wandered into the error of idolatry in the age before the Arabs, when icons had jumped into public prominence.” (Page 142). It didn't help that the iconoclastic rulers tended to win battles and the rulers who supported reinstating the icons tended to lose battles. And the two most vocal supporters of the icons were both empresses, neither of whom had much military success. However, after two iconoclastic periods (one in 726-787 and the other in 815-843), the icons were ultimately restored, and this restoration is still celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox church.

I also found this idea interesting: “Byzantium’s stubborn survival [after the second failed Umayyad siege] has another set of implications. In the West, too, the Arab advance posed a grave threat. Having occupied North Africa and Spain, invading Muslim armies were turned back only in central France, at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. But had Byzantium fallen a decade and a half earlier, the Arabs might have been able to mount a simultaneous invasion from the East, catching Europe in a pincer. The outcome might just possibly have been a Muslim Europe.” (Page 136).

The story of Byzantium’s impact on the Slavic world begins with Moravia, whose prince asked the Byzantines to send a mission to his country. Two brothers, best known by their monastic names of Cyril and Methodius, answered the call. Both were fluent in Greek and Slav, which had not yet split into the various Slavic languages. Slav was also as of yet an unwritten language, so before the brothers left, Cyril invented an alphabet for it, which allowed him to translate the Gospels into Slavic. That alphabet was known as Glagolitic, and Cyril also used it to create a Slavic liturgy. The new written language became known as Old Church Slavonic. When some Catholic priests expressed their disapproval of a liturgy in the new language, Cyril responded with a passionate defense of the idea that people ought to be able to celebrate the liturgy in their own language – which makes me think he might well have had something to say to Martin Luther. After Cyril died, Methodius continued to work in Moravia and translated even more works into Old Church Slavonic. But after Methodius died, the Franks expelled his followers from Moravia and into Bulgaria, and they took Old Church Slavonic with them.

Several decades after Cyril’s death, the Bulgarians invented an alphabet based on a simplified version of Glagolitic, which became known as Cyrillic. Cyrillic began to replace Glagolitic in Old Church Slavonic literature soon afterwards. I am guessing that because Old Church Slavonic would have never gotten off the ground without Cyril’s Glagolitic alphabet, and the new alphabet was related to the old one, Cyrillic was named in Cyril’s honor.

Christianity, Cyrillic, and Old Church Slavonic all ultimately made their way to Russia. After the Russian ruler Vladimir converted, he “invited” his subjects to convert as well, but he wanted to make sure they knew what they were converting to. He sent out priests to the towns and cities and also started an educational program to teach aristocratic children how to read and write Cyrillic and study Old Church Slavonic writings dating from the time of Cyril. Before this, the Russians had had no alphabet, and in introducing Cyrillic, Vladimir was laying the foundation for all of Russian literature to follow. Old Church Slavonic is now a dead language, but it is still used in the liturgies of most Slavic Orthodox churches, which is somewhat ironic given Cyril’s strong feelings about people being able to celebrate the liturgy in their own language.

An interesting linguistic aside:

“The ancient world had been split in two linguistic halves, Latin and Greek. During the Middle Ages, a shadow version of this same dividing line was extended north from the Mediterranean to bisect the colder, wetter Slavic world. Running right through the Balkans and up into Eastern Europe, the line was drawn by missionaries such as Cyril and Methodius and their Western counterparts.

This shadow line marked the divide not between two languages, for the people nearly all spoke Slavic, but between two alphabets. Slavs on one side looked west, to Rome, accepting the Catholic faith and using the Latin alphabet. Today, they are Poles, Czechs, Slovenes. Slavs on the other side looked east, to Byzantium, accepting Orthodoxy and using the Cyrillic alphabet. They are Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Serbs, and others who in the past made up the Byzantine Commonwealth. Some, such as the Hungarians and the Czechs, straddled the line. In most cases, the original Slavic has branched out into the separate languages spoken today, but the Orthodox Serbs and the Catholic Croats still speak the same language, Serbo-Croatian. They just write it differently.” (Pages 210-211).

One of the things that struck me most while reading this, as well as Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, was the important role of Christianity in preserving and propagating both sacred and secular knowledge. I think it's unfortunate that so much of that heritage has been overlooked.


message 39: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Recently started The Everglades: River of Grass.


message 40: by Jennifer (last edited Jul 06, 2019 10:38PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished The Everglades: River of Grass.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (12/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (4,792/15,500) - message 878
My Places and Spaces Challenge goal of 3, with the place being a marsh (6/3)
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (11/24)
My personal Women's History Month goal to read at least one nonfiction book written by or about a woman; in this case, the author is Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a well-known environmental writer.

I was somewhat disappointed, but I should say right now that this was very well-written and parts – especially in the first chapter – were quite poetic. But I had been hoping for a book about the ecology of the Everglades and the movement to preserve it, and instead of natural history this focused almost exclusively on human history, although the opening chapter did describe the nature and several chapters near the end did discuss some of the conservation issues. The book included some vividly gory accounts of people dying in bloody massacres (and they weren’t even quotes from primary sources), and I found them sickening enough that I almost put this on my did-not-finish shelf. A few parts seemed to drag for me as well, but I'm glad I stuck with it. In fairness I cannot say this was a bad book, only that it was not for me.

That said, I did come across several passages I especially enjoyed, and I would have been thrilled if the entire book had gone on in this vein:

“The great piles of vapor from the Gulf Stream, amazing cumulus clouds that soar higher than tropic mountains from their even bases four thousand feet above the horizon, stand in ranked and glistening splendor in those summer nights; twenty thousand feet or more they tower tremendous, cool-pearl, frosty heights, blue-shadowed in the blue-blazing days.” (Page 17).

“The water is timeless, forever new and eternal. Only the rock, which time shaped and will outlast, records unimaginable ages.” (Page 33).


message 42: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments I finished Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor on 3/29.

I started reading Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World, because at the time it had the least number of renewals left. But yesterday, I discovered that the next library book on my list, 1808: The Flight of the Emperor: How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World, had suddenly gone from having two renewals to having none.

So I've temporarily suspended both my goal of writing out my thoughts about each book I finish before getting too far into the next one, as well as my normal one-book-at-a-time policy. In other words, I'm now reading in panic mode :)


message 43: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12049 comments I hope that April brings you many more five star reads.


message 44: by Jennifer (last edited Apr 09, 2018 05:48PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments I recently finished Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor.

This will count toward

My overall goal of 40 books (13/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (5,144/15,500) - message 1009
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (12/24)
My personal Women's History Month goal to read at least one nonfiction book written by or about a woman - in this case a book about an extraordinary woman written by a woman.

My thoughts:

This book tells the story of Marie Tharpe, a remarkable oceanographer who was decades ahead of her time and the first scientist to map the seafloor. During her work with Bruce Heezen, she discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which became one of the most crucial pieces of evidence for the theory of continental drift. Although well-known and universally accepted today, the theory of continental drift was seen as a crackpot idea when it was originally proposed in 1912.

Marie’s exposure to science began early. Her father worked for the USDA’s Bureau of Soils as a surveyor making maps of where particular kinds of soil were in the United States and took her with him when he collected samples. This activity was especially unusual for a girl in the 1920’s, but it gave Marie a chance to travel around the country and see many of its topographical features. On one of these trips, she crossed the Appalachian Mountains, and the book recounted how she had been deeply disappointed in them – she had been expecting them to be more like the mountains of the Alps, which she had just learned about in school. I couldn’t help but wonder if she would have felt differently had she known that after the Alleghenian orogeny the Appalachians stood as high as the Himalayas do today; the lower heights and rounded tops of today’s Appalachians that disappointed her so are the result of millions of years of erosion, and the Appalachians are one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges.

However, Marie did not originally set out to study geology. In fact, she went to college at Ohio University as an English/music major. During her studies, she decided to take a class in historical geology, and found that she liked it. She went on to take physical geology, and that was how she met the professor whose advice ultimately gave her the opportunity to make her geological maps. Marie described Dr. Clarence Dow as a mentor who had the ability to recognize budding talent when he saw it. He suggested that Marie take a drafting class. Drafting wasn’t usually a skill required to become a geologist, but Dr. Dow knew it would help her to get a job in the area. He knew it was unlikely that a woman would ever be allowed to do fieldwork, but a woman who knew how to draft and make geological maps would be able to work in an office. Marie followed his advice and was one of only three female students in a class of seventy-three. Marie said the class allowed her to start learning how to see things in three dimensions, which helped her career in oceanography.

Marie pursued graduate work in geology after she saw a flyer outside of Dow’s office which described a program offered by the University of Michigan. The program included an accelerated geology degree, along with a guaranteed job in the petroleum industry after graduation. Because it was 1942 and most of the men were off fighting in World War Two, the University of Michigan expected that most of the students would be female. Dr. Dow encouraged her to participate, and she did, earning her master’s in geology. After graduating, she started working as an assistant to the senior geologist at the head office of the Stanolind Oil Company in Tulsa. As part of her work, she contributed to decisions about where and when to start and stop drilling, pulling geological maps and files when necessary. She found it boring but was grateful that she did not have to participate in micropaleontology, which was just about the only other job in petroleum geology open to women, and what most of them did. It involved spending all day at a microscope counting phytoplankton fossils. Their presence in rocks is an indicator for the presence of petroleum, so this was useful and relevant work. Marie was even more disgusted with the fact that this was just about the only option available for women with graduate degrees in geology. While she was in Tulsa, she also completed a BS in mathematics.

Marie eventually married David Flanagan (they divorced after a few years) and went with him to New York in 1948. She was looking for something to do with her knowledge and experience in geology, and so she went to the geology department at Columbia University and asked if anything was available. It turned out that there was; her knowledge of drafting allowed her to get a job in Dr. Maurice Ewing’s geology laboratory. However, her work was more along the lines of a laboratory assistant than as a scientist in her own right; she worked as an assistant to the male graduate students, served as a human calculator in a day before personal computers, and drafted copies of simple maps and diagrams. Reading this, I thought back to the women described in the The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, who were also interested in doing scientific research and put to work as human calculators, and how that pattern should have, at least by now, undermined the idea – common even now – that women can’t do math.

It was in Dr. Ewing’s laboratory that she met Bruce Heezen in 1952. Bruce became one of her most important friends and colleagues, and later on they became “more than friends.” While no one is exactly sure what their personal relationship was like and they never married, it’s telling that after Bruce died of a heart attack, Marie received many letters of condolence, and they were written as if to a widow. Bruce was interested in learning more about continental rises and abyssal plains. A continental rise is “a continent’s final dip down to the deep ocean floor; it slopes gradually, and where it ends the abyssal plain begins.” (Page 95). The deep ocean floor is known as the abyssal plain, and in some ways the abyssal plain is similar to a continental plain. For example, the book described the Atlantic abyssal plain as a “vast area of land with all the topographical character of the Midwest.” (Page 95). The main tool they use to find out more about the seafloor was a fathometer, a shipboard instrument that measures the distance between the surface and the ocean floor by sending out a sonar ping and then recording how long it takes for the ping to return to the ship. Its stylus automatically traces the results, with depth on the y-axis and distance on the x-axis, producing what is known as a fathogram. Marie used fathograms that Bruce collected to create her maps.

When Marie began work, she plotted the depths of peaks, troughs, and other changes of slope with a 40:1 vertical exaggeration. This meant that each inch on the vertical axis represented one nautical mile, while each inch on the horizontal axis represented forty miles. The exaggeration made ridges appear far taller than they really were and valleys appear far deeper, but it also helped show subtle changes in the ocean floor that otherwise would not have been visible (which is why Marie and Bruce decided to use it). The fathogram readings were marked with the latitude and longitude of each reading, along with the depth. So Marie was able to mark depths at specific locations, and had enough data to make dots approximately every inch. Then she began connecting her dots, but because no one knew what happened in between, she had to interpolate as she drew the lines and hypothesize where no data was available. Marie’s work required scientific skill and was based on her training as a geologist, and Bruce recognized that what she was doing was scientific in nature and gave her credit for her work on the map. However, her name did not appear on any of the major published papers based on her work.

As she worked, Marie found an area where the North Atlantic Ocean floor began to gain elevation, and from the data she could tell that it was a range as opposed to an isolated underwater mountain. As she studied it further and started plotting it, she noticed there was a deep notch – a rift – running along its crest. She called Bruce in to look at it, and that was when they had their first big argument, over whether it actually existed. The existence of such a rift was strong evidence the theory of continental drift was correct, and the theory was so reviled that on some level many scientists, including Bruce, didn’t want it to be correct. Bruce wasn’t alone; after Jacques Cousteau received a copy of the map, he decided to prove them wrong by using an underwater camera. But he wound up finding the rift and captured it on film:

“On the screen the ridge looks like a big black mountain with ooze creeping down its side. The camera scales it, climbing up and up until it’s clear that it has reached the summit – there’s nothing but water at the top of the frame. And then the camera starts coming down the other side and you can see into the rift valley as far as the camera lights will reach, see the hardly touched pillows of young lava with barely any sediment on top of them. Marie knowns, just like everyone in the room [at the oceanography conference] knows, that if the Mid-Atlantic Ridge had split down the middle as shown on her map, rifted, the other half of it has to be ahead.

“When the other half of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge materializes out of the dark water on the screen, the shot is a twin of the scene they’d seen moments before.” (Pages 129-130).

Bruce also had a contract with Bell Laboratories, which was owned in equal parts by AT&T and Western Electric and was where engineers researched and developed the technology that Western Electric built and that AT&T used. At the time, Bell was working on developing a transatlantic telephone cable system and needed seafloor data so that they could route the cable to minimize the chance of breakages. Bruce realized that part of this required knowing earthquake patterns on the Atlantic seafloor, and he had also gotten a new lay assistant, Harold Foster, who had outside funding. Bruce had Foster begin plotting earthquake epicenters on maps that were on the same scale as the ones that Marie was working on. This wasn’t normal for the time, when seismologists, bathymetric scientists, and coring scientists each made their own maps, often using different scales and rarely showing their work to one another. But as a result, they had a major breakthrough: when Marie’s map and Foster’s map were superimposed, they found that the earthquake epicenters didn’t cluster on the slopes of the mid-Atlantic Ridge but were within Marie’s rift valley. This provided even more evidence for continental drift; we now know that magma rises through the rift, creating new crustal material that pushes the existing oceanic crust away, which results in not only all the local earthquakes but also in the continents moving on their tectonic plates. The process has caused a very small but measurable increase in the width of the Atlantic and a corresponding decrease in the width of the Pacific.

Marie continued her work in submarine cartography for years. Between 1957 and 1961, Marie completed a map of the South Atlantic, including the Caribbean and Scotia seas as well as the eastern edge of the South Pacific. Such a map had never been made before. And by the beginning of the 1970’s, Marie had mapped nearly all of the ocean floors on Earth.

Continued below...


message 45: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Later in her life, Marie donated her maps and papers, as well as some of Bruce’s, to the Map and Geography Division of the Library of Congress before she died in 2006, where they now form the Heezen-Tharp collection. The Library of Congress honored Marie as one of the four greatest cartographers of the twentieth century and displayed some of her maps at a celebration of the centennial of the Division of Map and Geography Division.

When Marie started her work, only a fraction of one percent of the ocean floor had been studied in any detail. But even today, we still know very little about the ocean floor. In a 2004 study, the US Naval Research Laboratory estimated it would take two hundred ship years to completely map the ocean floor in detail – a single ship would take two hundred years, twenty ships ten years, or one hundred ships two years. We do have new sonar technology, but even that hasn’t seemed to help much. Only about ten percent of the ocean floor has been surveyed using multibeam sonar, which means that for all practical purposes only ten percent of the ocean floor has been studied in any detail. For comparison, scientists have mapped the surface of Venus in several thousand times more detail, the surface of the moon in a thousand times more detail, and the surface of Mars in two hundred fifty times more detail. In other words, we know more about the topographies of Mars, Venus, and the moon than we do about the topography of our own planet. That’s insane.

I would encourage the study of oceanography and oceanology in general, if only because trying to understand the planet by studying only twenty-five percent of its surface just will not work.

A current map of the worldwide ocean floor:

Elevation.jpg
Public Domain, Link



A bathymetric and altimetric map of the world:

AYool topography 15min.png
By Plumbago - English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, Link




message 46: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments I have just decided on another personal goal. Because Arbor Day and Earth Day are both in April, I want to read at least one book about environmental concerns by the end of this month.


message 47: by Jennifer (last edited Jul 05, 2019 08:50PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments I finished 1808: The Flight of the Emperor: How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World on April 6, 2018.

This will count for:

My overall goal of 40 books (14/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (5,480/15,500) - message 1128
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (13/24)

This book tells the story of how the Portuguese royal family tricked Napoleon and fled to Brazil in 1808. They successfully reconstituted their court and a government-in-exile, which laid the groundwork for Brazil to unify and ultimately become an independent country.

In 1807, Napoleon was threatening to invade Portugal. To save themselves, the Portuguese royal family negotiated a secret agreement with Britain that would allow them to flee to Rio de Janeiro. In exchange for British naval protection on the way, the prince regent Dom Joao agreed to open the ports of Brazil to foreign commerce; before this time, only Portuguese ships were authorized to conduct trade in the colony. At first, only Dom Joao’s son (the heir to the throne) was supposed to go, but the plans quickly started to change, and ultimately the royal family and the entire Portuguese court – between ten and fifteen thousand people – would travel to Rio de Janeiro. Before he left, Joao emptied the royal treasury, which amounted to nearly half the currency in circulation in Portugal. He also departed with a large number of diamonds that had just arrived from the Brazilian diamond mines in Minas Gerais, and presumably were not intended to be returned there. A new printing press, shipped from London and still in its original packaging, was also loaded. It would become the first legal printing press in Brazil; in an attempt to prevent the spread of potentially revolutionary ideas in the colony, the Portuguese had expressly banned the existence of printing presses in Brazil.

By all accounts the voyage was miserable. Some of the ships were infected with lice, and the women had to shave their heads and spread antiseptic sulfur on their scalps (upon reaching Brazil, they wrapped their heads in turbans for appearance’s sake, and so the women of Rio de Janeiro jumped to the conclusion that cropped hair and turbans were all the rage in Europe). Even salted meat spoiled in the heat of the tropics, and the drinking water became contaminated. Everyone was also at extreme risk of developing scurvy because of the lack of fruits and other fresh food (although sauerkraut is also an excellent source of vitamin C). This was especially true on non-British ships – in 1793 the British navy began distributing lemon juice to its sailors on a regular basis – but the practice was not common elsewhere. The next country to distribute vitamin C doses to its sailors appears to have been the United States, but by coincidence it did not begin to do so until 1808.

Along the way, the fleet of ships separated, even though the original plan had the entire fleet staying together and heading directly to Rio de Janeiro. At first, most historians believed that the ships got separated in a storm, but new evidence suggests that Prince Joao deliberately changed course. For strategic reasons, he wanted to land in Bahia first. This was because he would need a united Brazil if he was going to succeed, and landing in Salvador (in Bahia) would help. This was because Salvador had originally been the capital of the colony, but in 1763 it had lost that status to Rio de Janeiro. Even though it remained an important commercial and political center, its residents still felt resentful about the power transfer. There had even been an attempt at secession. So when Prince Joao landed there first, it was he way of signaling that Salvador and Bahia as a whole were still important. He also decided to announce the opening of Brazilian ports to foreign commerce in Salvador, which was the most significant change in Portuguese policy toward Brazil in years. His strategy worked, although I wondered why this wouldn’t have set off tremendous resentment in the south – and given that most of the Brazilian gold and diamonds exported to Portugal came from Minas Gerais (near Rio de Janeiro) – it would have been just as important not to alienate them. This is especially true because, unlike Great Britain and the United States, Portugal did not start industrializing in the early nineteenth century. Instead, it imported virtually all its goods and financed itself by extracting resources from its colonies without investing in their infrastructure or any other “unnecessary” improvements. At the time, this seemed like a viable option – in 1699, the first shipment of Brazilian gold arrived in Portugal, and diamond deposits were discovered in 1729. On top of this, Brazil was also a major exporter of tobacco, sugarcane, and slaves. And the economic heart of this activity in Brazil was centered around Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Also, Brazil was anything but a unified entity at the time. Instead, it was made up of a group of semi-autonomous regions, which did not have much in the way of commercial or any other relations with one another. Each province had its own government, militia, and treasury, and each more or less ignored the existence of the others (in some ways this sounds like the states of the United States – each with their own governments, treasuries, national guard units, and even flags – although the states most certainly did not ignore one another, and still don’t). And because Portugal literally could not afford to lose Brazil, Portugal had every incentive to maintain the status quo and prevent the provinces from uniting. One early directive from the crown to the governor general was to “impede communication from one captaincy to the other through the backlands, unless it is duly authorized.” A 1733 law even prohibited building new roads, although this appears to have been more of an effort to halt smuggling than anything else. Portugal also did its best to keep “dangerous” ideas derived from the American and French Revolutions from reaching Brazil. As mentioned before, the export of printing presses to Brazil was forbidden. The free circulation of books and newspapers was not permitted, and in 1798 the governor of Bahia instituted a new censorship regime upon finding evidence that prominent citizens in Salvador were being “infected with abominable French principles.” The Portuguese government even announced its intention to jail Alexander von Humboldt, a naturalist who had been exploring the Amazon in search of new flora and fauna, because it thought he could disseminate “dangerous ideas.”

Perhaps one of the ways Prince Joao made Rio de Janeiro feel important was to wait until he arrived there to announce that he would revoke a 1785 law that prohibited manufacturing any goods within Brazil, which was another major change that effectively ended the colonial system. Much later, Prince Joao also raised Brazil to the status of a kingdom, in union with Portugal and the Algarves, with the practical effect that Rio de Janeiro became the official seat of the court. This was mostly so that the Portuguese monarchy could have a voice and a vote as the Treaty of Vienna was being negotiated; until then, Lisbon was the only Portuguese seat that other European rulers recognized.

One of the reasons transplanting the Portuguese government worked so well was because the idea of moving it to Brazil was an old one, and had been discussed at least as early as the 1580’s. Some of the initial planning for the transition had been done as well. The reasoning was that Portugal was a small country with a relatively small population and very few resources to maintain an army sufficient to defend itself against the other European powers. Its Brazilian colony, on the other hand, had more natural resources, a larger population, and was easier to defend against most European powers, which were an ocean away. But despite the planning, there were still issues. One of the first was the sheer number of people involved. Before the arrival of the court, Rio de Janeiro, it had a population of about sixty thousand people, so the ten to fifteen thousand people who arrived with the royal family had a significant impact. For example, it severely strained the housing market, and rents doubled in a matter of months. A great deal of resentment was also caused after the Portuguese government began evicting residents of fine homes so that those homes would then be available for Portuguese and British nobility (reading about things like this makes me thankful for the Bill of Rights). There was also the problem that the court did not have the money to meet its expenses and showed no inclinations to economize. For example, just before its return to Portugal, the court consumed over 500 hens, chickens, pigeons, and turkeys and over 1,000 eggs per day, which resulted in not only a market shortage of fowl but also a yearly expenditure of nearly 900 million reis or $31.5 million today. And by the time the court returned to Portugal in 1821, the deficit had grown more than twenty times its original size. Joao did his best to bring in money by creating lists of voluntary donations, which the rich and powerful eagerly signed up for with the expectation of receiving special favors, and by indiscriminately raising taxes and duties, which the Brazilians resented, especially because they could not see any benefits from paying them.

Another reason the flight to Brazil was so successful was because Portugal and Britain already had an alliance in place. This partnership is one of the oldest in the world and dates back to 1147, when English crusaders on their way to the Holy Land to fight the Second Crusade helped Afonso de Borgonha, the first king of Portugal, to expel the Moors and conquer Lisbon. The two countries later made their first trading agreement in 1308. Portugal invoked its alliance with Britain whenever Spain or France threatened its independence, but Britain also benefited. Britain could not have conquered the Rock of Gibralter – which it still holds today – without Portugal’s help in 1704. And when Napoleon began his Egyptian campaign in 1799, the Portuguese navy sent ships to help block Malta. Two years later, it was Portugal that needed help in fighting off a Spanish invasion, and Britain sent money and troops to help out. It was against this backdrop that Joao asked for – and received – British assistance in 1807. And after the royal family fled, Portugal essentially became a British protectorate.

Continued below...


message 48: by Jennifer (last edited May 01, 2018 01:01PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments While Brazil benefited immensely from the transfer of the court, Portugal itself suffered. The effects of the Napoleonic invasion were severe, but there were other problems as well. The opening of the Brazilian ports and the special commercial treaty with the English hurt almost all of the Portuguese merchants, and many went bankrupt. The merchants and other townspeople also suffered from the high duties that had originally been imposed to help finance the fight against Napoleon but were never reduced even after Napoleon was defeated. And on top of that, almost all of their tax money was flowing to Brazil to finance the court, and Joao was not interested in returning to Portugal at all. The British correctly sensed that things in Portugal were getting out of control and began pressuring Joao to return as early as 1814, but he delayed another seven years. But by that time a revolt had already begun, with the revolutionaries calling on the Cortes (a council of state that hadn’t met since 1699) to draft a new liberal constitution. But in 1821, King Joao finally bowed to the demands of both the British and the revolutionaries and reluctantly returned to Portugal, where he swore to support the new constitution. He left his son behind to govern Brazil, and the prince later became the first emperor of Brazil. The author of this book is planning on a trilogy; the second book will tell the story of the prince and how he became emperor, and the third will tell how Brazil became a republic. Unfortunately, the others are in Portuguese and so far as I know have not yet been translated into English.

This hypothetical was also interesting:

“One way of evaluating Joao VI’s legacy is to approach the question in reverse: What would Brazil be today if the court hadn’t arrived? Despite their reluctance to engage in such conjectures, most historians agree that the country simply wouldn’t exist in its present state. In the most likely hypothesis, independence and the republic might have come sooner, but the old Portuguese colony would have fragmented into a patchwork of small autonomous countries resembling their Spanish American neighbors and with little affinity beyond a shared language. We can envision the chief consequence of this separation: This Brazil in pieces wouldn’t even come close to having the power and influence that it exerts over Latin America today. In the absence of a large, integrated Brazil, this role would fall probably to Argentina, the second largest country on the continent.” (Page 236).

“Without the transfer of the Portuguese court, regional conflicts would have deepened to the point where separation between the provinces would have become inevitable…Thanks to Joao VI, Brazil maintained itself as a country of continental proportions – larger than Australia – and today the chief heir of Portuguese culture and language.” (Page 238).


message 49: by Jennifer (last edited Apr 29, 2018 03:10PM) (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just finished Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World.

My overall goal of 40 books (15/40)
My Let's Turn Pages goal of 15,500 pages (5,969,/15,500) - message 1128
My Recommended Nonfiction Lists challenge of 24 (14/24)

My thoughts:

I sought this out because I read and enjoyed a different book by the same author, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America.

This book was interesting and gave an incredible overview of the times and a great deal of insight into the circumstances under which New England was settled. In particular, I found the fact that the New England colonies originally paid their way with beaver pelts very interesting, and this is hardly ever brought up in the traditional accounts. I also found the discussion of the Mayflower Compact very interesting, and it is definitely one of the legal documents the Framers drew on (among other things, it specified the wishes of the people outweighed those of crown if it ever came to making a choice between the two). The idea that New England never would have taken off had it not been possible to import cattle was also interesting and something I had never thought of before. And there is a lot more to the story as well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much unity in the narrative as there was in An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America, and I enjoyed that book more.

This was a lot shorter than usual because the book was sprawling and covered so much information that doing what I usually do would have taken forever, and possibly driven me insane :)


message 50: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 708 comments Just started Silent Spring.


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