August 31, 2005

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, August 2005

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks
Partial summary by Sageman. Deserves a full review.
Elizabeth Moon, Trading in Danger
Mind-candy science fiction.
Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, Athens on Trial: The Antidemocratic Tradition in Western Thought
More exactly, a history of the changing historical images of the classical Athenian democracy, reflecting the overwhelmingly anti-democratic nature of the great traditions of western civilization. Roberts makes no pretense to give a full survey of the anti-democratic tradition, a much broader subject. There's a favorable take in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which points out a few small errors of fact.
Vivian Gornick, The Romance of American Communism
A sympathetic, but definitely not indulgent, attempt at empathetic understanding of people who were members of the Communist Part (USA) from about 1920 to (pretty sharply) 1956: where they came from, how they lived as Commmunists, what happened to them afterwards. Written in 1974; the only parts which feel dated are the ones where Gornick seems to assume that the new social movements heralded a new, different and successful kind of American socialism.
Jacob Weisberg, In Defense of Government: The Fall and Rise of Public Trust
Interesting arguments, which deserve to be considered separately from Weisberg's remarks on contemporary (early 1996) politics, now of merely historical interest.
Frank Roosevelt and David Belkin (eds.), Why Market Socialism? Voices from Dissent
Michael D. Coe, Breaking the Maya Code
The story of the 20th century decipherment of Mayan writing, and the obstacles which held it up for so long. (As Coe makes plain in the book, this is really not much like breaking a code at all.) Coe was an early advocate of what has proved to be the correct approach, but only a marginal participant; this puts him in a good place to tell the story accessibly. The Mayan world, as revealed by their writing, seems incredibly weird and frankly repulsive; but this is of a piece with all ancient civilizations, really.
Laura Lippman, By a Spider's Thread
Or: the custody case from hell. Latest installment in Lippman's excellent mystery series. No previous acquaintance with the series is really necessary, though.
Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan
How Christians became so big on (literally) demonizing their opponents. More exactly, Pagels goes into detail on why the Gospel-writers and other early Christians would've felt this was an appropriate thing to do, but hasn't even a sketch as to why this feature of the movement persisted among later Christians, when so many others did not. (This seems to me a too-common failing among historians.)
Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History
Entirely right-headed and sensible; obviously one of the most intellectually promising directions in which the study of literature (and, more broadly, culture) could go: mathematical, abstracting, more concerned with large patterns and populations than essentializing types or "exemplary" individuals and interpretations thereof, and extremely skeptical about treating cultural changes as reflections of or adaptations to social transformations. This deserves a full review, and hopefully will get one soon... At about twenty-five cents a page, too damn expensive. (Verso sent me a review copy without my asking, which I attribute to the fact that Prof. Moretti is both a scholar and — having read this — a gentleman.)
6000+ more words on this theme.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;

Posted at August 31, 2005 23:59 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth