November 30, 2005

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

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Peter Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past
A nicely-turned little essay (150 or so pages), with copious illustrative quotations, on how the Renaissance developed a proper historical sense — with the ability to criticize sources and traditions, give explanations, and recognize change — out of the exceedingly unpromising materials left them by their medieval predecessors, and by imitating the ancients, especially the Romans. Burke assumes a reader familiar with at least the outlines of Renaissance history, but little more. The concluding few pages on the comparative sociology of historiography (i.e., China) are however unsatisfactory; see rather Brown's Hierarchy, History, and Human Nature: The Social Origins of Historical Consciousness.
Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe
Nothing, actually, to do with Tartars. Instead a moving mixture of the way certain sorts of twilight, and certain harsh landscapes, can evoke feelings of mystery and intimations of some great beyond; the way youth slips through our fingers; the way life can slip through our fingers; the cost of a letting everything slip away while waiting for some great moment of glory; ways of meeting death. Having just finished the book, I discover a nice essay on it by Tim Parks.
Walter Jon Williams, Dread Empire's Fall: The Praxis, The Sundering, Conventions of War
Space opera, with ugly cover art and highly misleading blurbs; also really good novels. The politics is in some respects standard-issue space opera feudalism, but Williams has actually thought about how that could work, and what it would mean for most people. (His nobles are the descendants of the principal collaborators in the genocidal conquest of humanity by aliens, for example — and there is no inspiring plebian revolt in the offing.) The real strength, here, though, is in his ability to evoke social situations, and emotions. I don't think I've ever read a better portrayal of the special intoxication which comes when sexual love coincides with intellectual collaboration. And The Praxis, in particular, contains an embedded novella about identity, ambition, friendship and betrayal which is simply devastating, and integral to the larger plot.
Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy
Or: the vast right wing conspiracy: how it works and for whom. There are a lot of important (and depressing) ideas and findings in this. Cries out out for both detailed empirical, scientific work (via social network analysis), and political activism (though I'm less sure what the best way to go is there). For more details, see Henry Farrell's review.
Gavin Young, In Search of Conrad
Sailing around southeast Asia, re-visiting the scenes of Conrad's life and fiction. Utterly charming; makes me wish I didn't get sea-sick, and fills me with a craving to read more Conrad.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted at November 30, 2005 23:59 | permanent link

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