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5-Nov-2016
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The following are mini-reviews of books I read in 2014.
Also see the full index of books I've read.


  [Book cover]

Kim

by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1901)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: Kim

  [Book cover]

Helen

by Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1834)

Helen is the book equivalent of a "chick flick"—a featureless romance—with pretentious French phrases and fragments of English verse scattered throughout. This was the last novel by Mrs. Edgeworth and I would have expected something more mature (although Wikipedia says she purposefully tried not to focus on moral lessons in this book).

Project Gutenberg eBook: Helen

  [Book cover]

Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease

by Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince

...

  [Book cover]

When Science Goes Wrong: Twelve Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery

by Simon LeVay

An interesting book, but the title is misleading: science is not going wrong in the stories told. In the first case, the science—using fetal brain cells to treat Parkinson's Disease—is in the research phase. A man suffering from Parkinson's is not able to get in any of the groups studying this method of treatment, so he finds a shady surgeon who takes him to an out-of-the-way, third-world-level hospital in China, where fetuses are sold on the street, to perform the procedure. The patient receives some temporary relief, but then dies suddenly. The autopsy is gruesome and, to my mind, reveals that the science is not at fault, it's the shady surgeon.

Another case involves a nuclear mini-reactor built by the military which blows up in 1961 during a maintenance procedure; 3 men were killed. Again, the science was not at fault, it was the engineering. The design of the reactor had a single point of failure during the maintenance procedure—and it failed in this instance. Later reactors were redesigned to not have a single point of failure.

A third case involved the release of anthrax into the air from a biological weapons?/defense? laboratory in Russia. An air filter was clogged up, so it was removed and a note was left for the next shift that the filter should be replaced before starting up the equipment. The filter wasn't replaced, the vent was wide open, and the equipment was restarted—about 40 people died downwind from the facility.

One last case. A nuclear researcher seems to have incredible luck creating new chemical elements (beyond the end of the Periodic Table). Luck? Science gone wrong? No, fraud.

  [Book cover]

Shirley

by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1849)

...

Jane Eyre was a fine story, but, in my lonely opinion, not well-written. Or, should I say, it was too well-written. When Jane recorded her thoughts (on the book page, not in a diary), they were written in high-falutin' language. I was constantly asking myself, "Who thinks like that?" Shirley suffers from the same problem, but to a lesser extent. For example, Caroline Helstone, a giddy 18-year-old, says to her 30-something, distantly related uncle, Robert Moore:

"Yes, an old English book—one that you like; and I will choose a part of it that is toned quite in harmony with something in you. It shall waken your nature, fill your mind with music; it shall pass like a skilful hand over your heart, and make its strings sound. Your heart is a lyre, Robert; but the lot of your life has not been a minstrel to sweep it, and it is often silent. Let glorious William [Shakespeare] come near and touch it. You will see how he will draw the English power and melody out of its chords."
Who talks like that in real life? Oh, well, perhaps I am alone in thinking that Anne Brontë was more talented than Charlotte and Emily and that her novels were better than her sisters'. Go ahead, hit me over the head with a large-print copy of War and Peace!

Project Gutenberg eBook: Shirley

  [Book cover]

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

by David R. Montgomery

...

Also see the Water Footprint Network.

  [Book cover]

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data

by Charles Wheelan

Oops! I got about 20 pages into this book and realized I didn't really feel like reading an introduction to statistics. Then, I figured, it's not too long a book, so I might as well go ahead and finish it. It is a very interesting book, a non-mathematical introduction to statistics with loads of examples of the correct use of statistics and the incorrect or purposefully misleading use of statistics.

  [Book cover]

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico

by Lew Wallace (1827-1905) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1873)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico

  [Book cover]

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

by David Quammen

...

  [Book cover]

The Heir of Redclyffe

by Charlotte M. Yonge (1823-1901) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1853)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Heir of Redclyffe

  [Book cover]

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo

by Sean B. Carroll

...

Also see Evolutionary developmental biology (Wikipedia).

  [Book cover]

The Red Ledger

by Frank L. Packard (1877-1942) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1926)

...

Project Gutenberg Canada eBook: The Red Ledger

  [Book cover]

Nothing: From Absolute Zero to Cosmic Oblivion—Amazing Insights into Nothingness

by Jeremy Webb, ed.

...

Also see New Scientist's special, "The nature of nothingness".

  [Book cover]

The Daughter of Time

by Josephine Tey (1896-1952) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1951)

...

Project Gutenberg Canada eBook: The Daughter of Time

  [Book cover]

The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization

by Michael C. Corballis

...

  [Book cover]

Villette

by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1853)

An Englishwoman, Lucy Snowe, travels to a fictional, French-speaking town, Villette, to "seek her fortune" as a governess. She ends up teaching in a private school. Lucy is not the most beautiful person nor the brightest, but, by applying herself, she manages to make her way in the world.

The plot pulled me into the story right away and the book was interesting. Two aspects of the writing stood out for me. First, a lot of the dialog is in French, not for effect as in Helen, but because the story takes place in a French-speaking environment. Fragments I remember from high-school French sufficed for some passages, but I had to skim over most such conversations. Second, there were a lot of English words I had never seen before; for example, "ichor" (the gold blood of the gods) and "oppugnant" (opposing). I wish my E-reader had a dictionary!

Project Gutenberg eBook: Villette

  [Book cover]

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

by Svante Pääbo

...

Also see "Svante Pääbo on creationist reactions to Neanderthal interbreeding".

  [Book cover]

The Charing Cross Mystery

by Joseph S. Fletcher (1863-1935) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1923)

...

Project Gutenberg Canada eBook: The Charing Cross Mystery

  [Book cover]

Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

by Elaine Pagels (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

Rachel Gray: A Tale Founded on Fact

by Julia Kavanagh (1824-1877) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1855)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: Rachel Gray: A Tale Founded on Fact

  [Book cover]

Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentlemen Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail

by Stephen R. Brown

... James Lind ...

Also see The James Lind Library—"Explaining and illustrating the development of fair tests of treatments in health care". The site, primarily devoted to scholarly information about conducting clinical tests of health treatments, includes an excellent article by Iain Milne, "Who was James Lind, and what exactly did he achieve?" Milne's article provides a well-researched and readable account of what is known about Lind (not much!) and, in particular, looks at his 1753 book, A treatise of the scurvy. Lind's research is put in historical context with an examination of earlier reports on the treatment of scurvy and of subsequent developments in the ensuing centuries.

  [Book cover]

The Adventures of Roderick Random

by Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1748)

Stephen R. Brown's book above, Scurvy, made use of Smollett's comic novel, The Adventures of Roderick Random, as a source for describing the abysmal conditions aboard British Navy vessels at the time James Lind was attempting to treat scurvy in British seamen. In the novel, Roderick Random served at one time as a naval-surgeon's mate and an account is given of his experiences caring for sick sailors in horrendous conditions.

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Adventures of Roderick Random

  [Book cover]

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction

by David Quammen

(I read up to about page 200 of this 1000-page book and there are a couple of other books I'd rather be reading. Should I stop and switch? Okay, try a little longer. I'm approaching page 500—should I stop now? Oh, the author is talking about post-war Guam and my father was stationed on Guam in World War II; I've got to read this. Pages 600, 700, and 800 slip easily by. I'm not too far from 1000 when the book abruptly ends around page 850; the rest is a glossary, footnotes, and an index. I'm glad I read the book, but it could have been half the length.)

... Island Biogeography ...

There are a lot of things I don't know, among which is the fact that elephants can swim. Wow! Quammen describes them swimming between Sober Island and Sri Lanka, a fair distance.

Also see Nick Matzke's "The Monkey's Voyage Will Take You on a Voyage Throught a Biogeographic Revolution" about the "dispersal versus vicariance" controversy.

  [Book cover]

Camilla, or A Picture of Youth

by Fanny Burney (1752-1840) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1796)

The first 100 pages of Camilla set in place all the pieces for a good, rustic English novel. Rustic, well, not totally—the characters travelled around to urban and coastal cities. The next 500 pages dragged on and on, with a single thought running continuously through my head: "Edgar, you putz, stop listening to Dr. Marchmont and talk to Camilla. Camilla, get a clue, stop putting yourself in compromising situations, and talk to Edgar." The last couple of hundred pages was like a wild roller-coaster ride, well worth the preceding 600 pages.

One pleasure I find in reading earlier English novels is differences in the use of language. A couple of novels I've read recently use the word unexceptionable where we would now use exceptional. (Current authors sometimes confuse unexceptionable with unexceptional.) Another example is the not infrequent use of the word desert ("that which is deserved or merited"), which only survives to the present day in the often misspelled just deserts. Burney introduces my favorite: horse-ponded. A horse pond is a pond dug for watering horses. I'm guessing that horse-ponding someone means to duck them in a horse pond. Aside from appearing in Burney's Camilla and Cecilia, the only other occurrence of horse-ponded I could find was in The Male-Coquette, by playwright and Burney admirer David Garrick.

Also see "Disability studies—Victorian; women's perspectives", which mentions Eugenia, Camilla's sister. Spoiler Alert!

Project Gutenberg eBook: Camilla, or A Picture of Youth

  [Book cover]

The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC - 1492 AD

by Simon Schama (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress

by Fanny Burney (1752-1840) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1782)

...

Girlebooks: Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress

  [Book cover]

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

by Charles C. Mann (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

by Charles C. Mann (Wikipedia)

...

Also see "Megadeath in Mexico" (Discover magazine), an alternative view about smallpox epidemics following the Europeans' arrival in the New World.

  [Book cover]

Lady Audley's Secret

by Mary E. Braddon (1835-1915) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1862)

Lady Audley's Secret is Braddon's most famous novel. It may very well be her best, but as I write this in September 2015, a year later, I haven't the vaguest remembrance of the story. I tried refreshing my memory of the plot at Wikipedia, but that didn't help. To be fair, I can't remember the storylines of a lot of the other fiction I've read. Braddon's Thou Art The Man (which I finished reading in September 2015) is very good and I'm currently (September 2015 again!) nearing completion of Henry Dunbar. The latter was published two years after Lady Audley's Secret and, in my opinion, is not as finely crafted as Thou Art The Man, published 30 years later.

In the passage, "a diary, perhaps, or a memorandum-booksome obscure rival of Letsome", Letsome probably refers to Sampson Letsome's The Preacher's Assistant.

Project Gutenberg eBook: Lady Audley's Secret

  [Book cover]

Rebecca

by Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1938)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So begins Rebecca. For a reason that escapes me, this sentence is considered one of the most famous opening lines of a story. Oh, well!

After reading so many Victorian and pre-Victorian British novels, Rebecca, published in 1938, was a change of pace. The writing had a modern, almost stainless-steel-like tone to it, but I quickly got used to it. The plot was excellent, although I would have liked to have seen some of the loose ends tied up at the end of the story.

While reading the book, I happened upon a one-sentence spoiler on the web. It reminded me of the end of a black and white movie I saw many years ago; I only saw the very end, not the whole movie. Sure enough, Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation (IMDB) of the novel was released in 1940.

Also see The Daphne du Maurier Web Site.

  [Book cover]

Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World

by Mike Davis

...

  [Book cover]

Ethan Frome

by Edith Wharton (1862-1937) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1911)

A little over 80 pages, this book is short, but it's a well-told story. Ethan is a 28-year-old farmer who is barely keeping his head above water in a small, snowy, and very cold Massachusetts town. He lives with his sickly, 35-year-old wife, Zeena, who is cared for by her young cousin Mattie. Ethan falls in love with Mattie. The book has a surprise twist at the end, tragic but nonetheless humorous in a way.

Project Gutenberg eBook: Ethan Frome

  [Book cover]

Mr. Meeson's Will

by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1888)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: Mr. Meeson's Will

  [Book cover]

1492: The Year the World Began

by Felipe Fernández-Armesto (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

The Lamplighter

by Maria S. Cummins (1827-1866) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1854)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Lamplighter

  [Book cover]

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species

by Sean B. Carroll

...

  [Book cover]

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

by David McCullough (Wikipedia)

...

Some trivia ... The medical director, William C. Gorgas, was a fan of H. Rider Haggard's novels. LuAnn de Lesseps of the "reality" TV show, The Real Housewives of New York City, was formerly married to Alexandre de Lesseps, a descendant of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who oversaw the building of the Suez Canal and the French attempt at the Panama Canal.

Also see Wikipedia's Panama Canal and the History of the Panama Canal.

  [Book cover]

Lavinia

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Aeneas was a Trojan warrior (and son of Aphrodite/Venus) who, according to Virgil's Aeneid, founded Rome; his family tree shows Romulus and Remus as descendants of Aeneas and his second wife, Lavinia. Not much is said about Lavinia in Virgil's poem, so Ursula K. Le Guin has written her story, told from Lavinia's point of view.

...

  [Book cover]

The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850

by Brian Fagan (Wikipedia)

...

Also see the Little Ice Age (Wikipedia).

  [Book cover]

The Scarlet Letter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1850)

Word of the book: galliard - lively, spirited.

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Scarlet Letter

  [Book cover]

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

by Harriet A. Jacobs (1813-1897) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1861)

This is the partial autobiography of a slave, Harriet Jacobs. The book was originally published under a pseudonym, Linda Brent, which is why everyone calls her "Linda" in the book. I didn't learn more from the book about slavery than I already knew; Jacobs alludes to the horrors of slavery, but does not go into the graphic detail that modern media do. However, her story is fascinating. When she escapes, she doesn't go far; she goes into the nearby town and hides in some type of shed in her grandmother's house. The space is very cramped and she is exposed to the cold of winter and heat of summer. She lives there, with slaveholders periodically searching around for her, for a few years, before finally escaping to New York. Because of the cramped living space, she has trouble climbing stairs. I was surprised at the extent to which her owners went to try and recover her, including several trips up to New York.

Project Gutenberg eBook: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

  [Book Cover]

Thérèse Raquin

by Émile Zola (1840-1902) (Wikipedia) (Translation by Edward Vizetelly) (pub. 1867, original French)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: Thérèse Raquin

  [Book cover]

Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure

by Tim Jeal (Wikipedia)

...

Reddit comment by kohoutek:

"There is no one universally accepted definition for the source of a river. Common definitions include: Also, depending on definition, the source can vary by season, and temporary flows are created and dry up."

Top Gear, Season 9, Episode 6:

Richard Hammond: "If the other explorer Livingstone bloke were alive, he would drive a Subaru Impreza WRX estate."
Jeremy Clarkson: "Yeah, but Speke, my favourite of all the Victorian explorers ... Beemer man."

  [Book cover]

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

by Jordan Ellenberg (Wikipedia)

I was a bit scared when I read Ellenberg's Wikipedia entry: child prodigy, math competitions, awards, etc. I wondered what the book would be like. The book is great. You would have no idea that Ellenberg is a genius until the very end of the book when he brings his own background up in the course of trying to get people at all levels of ability to learn and enjoy math.

Conservatives may be a little discomfited when Ellenberg dissects some dubious mathematics underlying some Republican talking points that came up in the 2012 election cycle. Well, they were loud and widespread talking points and Ellenberg was able to use them to caution you in how you use mathematics.

  [Book cover]

Riceyman Steps

by Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1923)

... Riceyman Square ...

Word of the book: Bovril - "a thick, salty meat extract" (Wikipedia).

Feedbooks eBook: Riceyman Steps

  [Book cover]

North Pole, South Pole: The Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth's Magnetism

by Gillian Turner

...

Also see Wikipedia's "Earth's magnetic field", and NOAA's Geomagnetism.

  [Book cover]

The Clever Woman of the Family

by Charlotte M. Yonge (1823-1901) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1865)

(The story takes place a few years after the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and sometime after the publication of George Eliot's Silas Marner in 1861.)

Rachel is the "clever woman" of the title, a somewhat awkward young lady who is intelligent and outspoken; consequently, she rubs people—both neighbors and family—the wrong way. Rachel is constantly searching for a purpose in life; unfortunately, her opinion on a particular issue is easily swayed by the most recent thing she has read or heard about the issue.

The most interesting and admirable character in the book, to my mind, is a British soldier who was wounded in the Sepoy Mutiny. He sees through Rachel's abrasive exterior and falls in love with her. Rachel is oblivious to his developing interest. (This is not a spoiler since Yonge reveals all this early in the book.)

A number of online reviewers have noted the blatant slur against Jews, uttered by the interesting and admirable character mentioned above. This attitude towards Jews is not surprising in Victorian novels, so I was not especially shocked. Unremarked upon by the reviewers are a joke about Muslims ("Mahometans") thirty pages later (spoken by the same interesting and admirable character), the frequent racism against Indians (some of the characters had been stationed in India), and the overarching sense that the Church of England is the One True Religion™.

The prejudices of authors can often be strange bedfellows. One woman I read about was an activist and writer on behalf of Native Americans, but thought blacks were an inferior race who deserved the treatment they received. Another American, a minister and writer, was an ardent abolitionist who meanwhile felt that the Irish were an inferior race; he actually encouraged their immigration because he felt they would take all the menial jobs and thereby elevate "real" Americans. As I said, strange!

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Clever Woman of the Family

  [Book Cover]

The Black Tulip

by Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1850)

...

Feedbooks eBook: The Black Tulip

  [Book Cover]

An Antarctic Mystery

by Jules Verne (1828-1905) (Wikipedia) (Translation by Frances Cashel Hoey) (pub. 1897, original French)

Jules Verne was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and wrote this sequel to Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. If you haven't read Poe's book, not to worry—Verne briefly retells it in chapter 5 of his book. The story picks up eleven years after Poe's story leaves off.

Word of the book: phanerogam - a plant that reproduces via seeds rather than spores.

Project Gutenberg eBook: An Antarctic Mystery

  [Book Cover]

7 Billion: How Your World Will Change

National Geographic Magazine Special Series 2011

The United Nations predicted that the world population would reach 7 billion by the end of 2011. (October 31, 2011 was chosen as a symbolic date.) By 2050, the population is expected to reach 9 billion. National Geographic Magazine published a series of articles examining the consequences of and solutions for the growing population. It's very good reading, but brief, so I'll have to search out other books that go into greater detail.

... Albertine Rift Valley ...

  [Book cover]

Marivosa

by Baroness Emmuska Orczy (1865-1947) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1930)

An Irishman, Tim, travels to Brazil in the 1920s to track down the former husband of his uncle's widow. "Hold-Hands Juliana", as she was known, had inherited the family estate and fortune and Tim wanted them back. The plot had promise and, in the hands of a better writer, could have produced an exciting adventure story. However, Baroness Orczy's writing was dreadful, not to mention rascist. If you're willing to plow through her writing, you'll pick up plot points here and there that will maintain some level of interest in the story.

Word of the book: soughing - "A soft rustling or murmuring sound", as made by the wind in the trees, for example.

Project Gutenberg Canada eBook: Authors "O" - (scroll down)

  [Book cover]

Zoom: How Everything Moves, from Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees

by Bob Berman (Wikipedia)

This book covers all kinds of motion, both large and small. From the fastest animals (cheetahs and sailfish, excluding diving animals such as birds or humans) to fast-growing plants (bamboo can grow 3 feet in one day), from subatomic particles to the whole universe. There are so many different things to pique your interest that my only complaint about the book is that it is too short—I wish Dr. "Skyman Bob" Berman had gone into more depth on each subject.

  [Book cover]

A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

by Robert M. Sapolsky (Wikipedia)

Dr. Sapolsky is a neuroscientist/primatologist who spent 20 years studying the same troop of baboons in Kenya. Periodically, he would tranquilize and draw blood from individual baboons; the level of stress hormones in the blood would then be tested. What he found confirmed his hypothesis that the lower a baboon was in the troop's social hierarchy, the higher the stress experienced by the baboon. This finding and other research led him to write Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, which presented the ideas that poor people and depressed people experience high levels of stress—essentially a constant fight-or-flight response—and asked what are the health consequences of these ongoing high-stress levels.

When I began reading A Primate's Memoir, I was disappointed that it wasn't one of Sapolsky's usual science books. As the title says, it's a memoir of his time spent studying baboons. Once that sank into my head, I enjoyed the book immensely. There are a lot of interesting stories he tells, but one facet of his sojourn in the African wild that piqued my interest was that he had no weapons. Once, he and the hyena researcher over on the next hill pooled their money and purchased a shotgun. They spent the first day shooting at tin cans and never used the gun after that.

  [Book cover]

The Incredible Honeymoon

by Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1921)

An adventure/romance for adults by the author of The Railway Children—and "adventure" is a bit of a stretch. The story is lightweight, although there are some excellent bits of writing here and there in the book.

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Incredible Honeymoon

  [Book cover]

The Language Wars: A History of Proper English

by Henry Hitchings (Wikipedia)

Henry Hitchings? Henry Hitchings? Henry Higgins?! Too close to be a coincidence!

...

  [Book cover]

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

...

Also see Henrietta Lacks (Wikipedia) and "Q&A: NIH Brokers HeLa Genome Deal".

  [Book cover]

Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA

by Daniel J. Fairbanks

...

  [Book cover]

Benito Cereno

by Herman Melville (1819-1891) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1855)

...

Also see Greg Grandin's "Who Ain't a Slave? Historical fact and the fiction of 'Benito Cereno'".

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Piazza Tales (includes Benito Cereno)

  [Book cover]

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink

by Sarah Rose

... Robert Fortune ...

Also see Lu Yu's Ch'a Ching (Wikipedia).

  [Book Cover]

Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1871)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: Desperate Remedies

Feedbooks eBook: Desperate Remedies

  [Book cover]

Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo

by John Varley (Wikipedia)

I saw this science fiction novella discussed in Jim Wright's "Decisions and Regret". Varley's story is interesting and so is Wright's post.

  [Book cover]

The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India

by Rupa Viswanath

... Dalit (Wikipedia) ...

Also see the Dalit Foundation and the Dalit Freedom Network.

  [Book cover]

A Bell for Adano

by John Hersey (1914-1993) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1944)

My uncle served in the infantry invading Italy in World War II, so Hersey's book drew my attention. During the Allied invasion, Major Victor Joppolo is put in charge of the town of Adano, a fictional town on the island of Sicily. He does a good job of restoring the town to normalcy, but finally falls victim to a clueless general. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for 1945, the story would make a good World War II movie and it did: A Bell for Adano (IMDB).

  [Book cover]

Mammoth

by John Varley (Wikipedia)

There are obvious parallels to be drawn between this book and Jurassic Park, except that this involves a time machine and mammoths instead of dinosaurs. The first half of the book is good; the second half is a little boring, consisting mainly of a conventional chase scene in the present day—no science fiction. However, the ending winds up everything well, pulling all the loose threads of the story line together in an elegant way.

  [Book cover]

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon

by Paul Rosolie

As Jordan Ellenberg was a child prodigy at mathematics, Paul Rosolie seemed to have been a child prodigy at life in all its forms. This book is about his post-high-school adventures as a naturalist/environmentalist in the Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region (Wikipedia) at the westernmost extent of the Amazon in Peru. Rosolie is full of life; he is excited about every new thing he sees, every new thing he learns. Given that other books of this nature discuss mosquitoes, ants, foot fungi, etc., I'm led to conclude that Rosolie was even excited about the discomforts and dangers of living in Amazonia! Only towards the end of the book does he mention how he can't live without his mosquito net that was just eaten by a caiman.

Word of the book: tapetum - a membrane behind the retina of primarily nocturnal animals. Light passing through the retina is reflected by the membrane back onto the retina, thus increasing the exposure at the cost of blurring the image. Tapeta is the cause of eyeshine, the bright reflection of an animal's eyes at night.

Also see Tamandua Rainforest Expeditions.

  [Book cover]

The People of the Mist

by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1894)

Leonard and his brother are left penniless after their father embezzles their inheritance and Leonard's once-future-father-in-law squashes any chance of his marrying his love. The two brothers travel to Africa to seek their fortune. After the other brother dies, Leonard embarks upon several unbelievable adventures, during which he finds a new love. It's a pretty good book.

For some odd reason, Haggard gets gravity wrong. Otter grabs a priest and jumps off a stone colossus into a pool of water. The priest, who is heavier, hits the water first! Regardless, Otter is a cool guy.

... Pierre Bosquet on the Charge of the Light Brigade: C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre: c'est de la folie. ("It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.") ...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The People of the Mist

  [Book cover]

Toilers of the Sea

by Victor Hugo (1802-1885) (Wikipedia), translated by William Moy Thomas (Wikipedia) (pub. 1866, original French)

...

The Little Douvre is bent against the upright Great Douvre on the right:

[Douvres]

Project Gutenberg eBook: Toilers of the Sea

  [Book cover]

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

by Stephen Jay Gould (Wikipedia),

...

Also see The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive and the "Showdown on the Burgess Shale" between Simon Conway Morris and Gould. (Search the Internet for "Conway Morris" for more recent information about him than you'll find in Gould's book.)

  [Book Cover]

Dead Men Tell No Tales

by E. W. Hornung (1866-1921) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1899)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: Dead Men Tell No Tales

  [Book cover]

The Sea-Wolf

by Jack London (1876-1916) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1904)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Sea-Wolf

Feedbooks eBook: The Sea-Wolf

  [Book cover]

The Rosary

by Florence L. Barclay (1862-1921) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1909)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Rosary

Girlebooks eBook: The Rosary

  [Book cover]

Women and Islam: Myths, Apologies, and the Limits of Feminist Critique

by Ibtissam Bouachrine

My daughter is majoring in Women's Studies, so I have a little bit of familiarity with some of the terminology used, especially intersectionality. ...

  [Book cover]

Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature

by David Quammen

...

  [Book cover]

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1962)

...

  [Book cover]

Silence: A Christian History

by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

The Fixer

by Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1966)

...

When I was reading the book's Wikipedia page, I learned that The Fixer was a fictional account of an actual event, the "Beiliss Affair". In fact, Beiliss's descendants accused Malamud of plagiarizing Beiliss's memoirs. Regardless, read Malamud's book first and then about the Beiliss Affair.

  [Book cover]

A Speck on the Sea: Epic Voyages in the Most Improbable Vessels

by William Longyard

When I was a child, my parents gave me Madmen of the Atlantic (by Jean Merrien, illustrated by Jacques Roubille, and translated by Oliver Coburn) as a Christmas or birthday present.

[Book cover]
The book was about people sailing, rowing, and motoring across the Atlantic Ocean in small boats. I loved the book and I can't remember how many times I reread it.

... Duckworks Magazine book review ...

  [Book cover]

Adventures of the Mad Monk Ji Gong: The Drunken Wisdom of China's Most Famous Chan Buddhist Monk

by Guo Xiaoting, translated by John Robert Shaw (d. 2005)

The book begins with a superb introduction by Victoria Cass, who lays out the historical/political context in which Guo Xiaoting wrote (turn-of-the century China). She even mentions the floods described in Late Victorian Holocausts.

... Ji Gong ...

Also see "Charlestown Resident Publishes English Translation of Ancient Chinese Monk's Tales".

  [Book cover]

Economic Fables

by Ariel Rubinstein (Wikipedia)

... book site

  [Book cover]

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

...

  [Book cover]

Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution's Greatest Puzzle

by Andreas Wagner

... Hugo De Vries:

To put it in the terms chosen lately by Mr. Arthur Harris in a friendly criticism of my views: "Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest."

  [Book cover]

The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

by Alan Taylor (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

Cholera: The Biography

by Christopher Hamlin

...

... book review in the Social History of Medicine

Tergiversative
Veridicality

  [Illustration]

The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1911)

Although I'm a big fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden wasn't really on my to-read list. However, it was mentioned in Cholera: The Biography (above), so I decided to try it. The story is about a young English girl, Mary Lennox, born and raised in India. A cholera epidemic carries off her parents and many of the household servants. Mary, a child with sour looks and a personality to match, is sent to England to live with her miserable uncle, who has never gotten over the loss of his wife.

The Secret Garden is a children's book, but it offers a lot for adults, too. The portrayal of nature awakening in the springtime is beautiful and uplifting.

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Secret Garden

  [Illustration]

Mother

by Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1873)

...

The mother develops a maternal interest in her son's friend, the "Little Russian", Andrey Stepanovich. She is concerned that his ragged boots will do him no good in the snow. He responds (with, I'm sure, a big grin on his face):

"You know, you are my real mother. Only you don't want to acknowledge it to people because I am so ugly."

Project Gutenberg eBook: Mother

  [Book cover]

The Book of Job: A Biography

by Mark Larrimore

...

Also see his blog, Sunny Side Up.

  [Book cover]

The Lady of the Camellias

by Alexandre Dumas fils (1824-1895) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1848, original French)

...

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Lady of the Camellias

  [Book cover]

Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1955)

I set out to read Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, but a few pages in I learned she is a literature professor. Suspecting there might be literary allusions to Lolita, I decided I should read the original first.

Nabokov's Lolita, set in the late 1940s and early 1950s, is about a man with a proclivity for young girls, specifically a 12-year-old named Dolores. Her mother calls her "Lo" for short, so the man calls her "Lo, Lola, Lolita". For me, the only redeeming aspect of the book is that it is very well written. The subject matter is intended to shock and it does, but that doesn't make the book any better. For more opinions, see Goodreads reviews by other ordinary readers.

Nabokov uses an abundance of fancy/unknown words, but one caught my eye and will be the word of the book: incondite - "Badly-arranged, ill-composed, disorderly (especially of artistic works)." It obviously reminded me of recondite, which Nabokov does use later in the book. Interestingly, Nabokov first wrote Lolita in English and later made a Russian translation.

  [Book cover]

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

by Azar Nafisi

...

Also see Hossein Fatemi's photographs in "[Another] view of Iran".

  [Book cover]

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes

by Jamyang Norbu (Wikipedia)

...

  [Book cover]

The Rugged Road

by Theresa Wallach (Introduction and Biographies by Barry M. Jones)

... Florence Blenkiron ...

Also see:

  [Book cover]

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

by Adam Hochschild (Wikipedia)

... Congo Free State ...

Also see:

  [Book cover]

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

by Michael J. Sandel (Wikipedia) (pub. 2012)

...

Also see Harvard University's Justice with Michael Sandel.

  [Book cover]

An Image of God: The Catholic Struggle with Eugenics

by Sharon M. Leon

In the United States these days, conservatives often invoke a reverse chain of events to attack Planned Parenthood, an organization devoted to providing reproductive health services (including, in a small percentage of cases, abortions) to women. The chain goes like this: abortions -> Planned Parenthood -> Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood -> Margaret Sanger was active in the eugenics movement. (Actually, Margaret Sanger founded two organizations that later merged into one and that was later named Planned Parenthood.)

As Sharon Leon shows, the eugenics movement of the early 20th century (in the USA and other countries) was not especially controversial. Who doesn't want healthy, smart children? Even the Catholic Church was fine with the goals of eugenics and some of the leaders in the eugenics movement were Catholic. What finally broke the Church away from eugenics were the issues of birth control and forced sterilization, both of which were antithetical to Church teachings. Abortion doesn't seem to have played a part in eugenics, perhaps because medical technology hadn't advanced to the point at which a pregnant mother could learn if her baby was developing normally.

  [Book cover]

Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth

by Lee Jackson

Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map—about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London— discusses system(s) of sewage disposal at the time. His book piqued my interest in the subject and Lee Jackson's Dirty Old London was the perfect book to answer my questions.

Victorian London was a densely populated city with a rapidly rising population; it was considered one of the filthiest cities among comparable cities around the world ...

Victorian London was not a unique case. Densely populated "Dirty Old" cities are still with us. Witness the beginning of the popular movie, Slumdog Millionaire (Wikipedia), or the present-day book below, Richard Connerney's The Upside-Down Tree, in which the author lives in a populous, relatively poor Indian city with the same problems as Victorian London.

The last 5 chapters of Dirty Old London cover the following additional topics:

(With respect to Chapter 5, see Catharine Arnold's Necropolis: London and its Dead.)

Words of the book—or that you might not know if you're not British:

Also see:

  [Book cover]

The Upside-Down Tree: India's Changing Culture

by Richard Connerney

...

Word of the book (and Dictionary.com's Word of the Day, February 1, 2011!): ambisinister - "clumsy or unskillful with both hands". Connerney wrote, "I feared I had simply become ambisinister until I realized that his sitar had fewer frets than mine did."


Alex Measday  /  E-mail