August 31, 2008

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, August 2008

Patricia Briggs, Cry Wolf
Werewolf-flavored mind-candy.
Peter Goin, Humanature
Photos of "the earth as transformed by human action" (mines, kudzu, over-grown ruins, straightened rivers, artificial wetlands, flood control systems, zoo habitats carefully constructed to look untouched by human hands), largely in the south. Tedious introduction (by the photographer) tries to get beyond the pristine wilderness vs. totally spoilt dichotomy, but ultimately I think fails. (Cf.) Worth it for the pictures.
Kat Richardson, Poltergeist
Sequel to Greywalker. Continuing adventures of a Seattle PI who finds herself, much against her will, a shaman (though she doesn't call it that); this time investigating Parapsychology Gone Horribly Awry.
Karin Slaughter, Fractured
Typically engrossing, and squickening, crime fiction. Sequel to Triptych, but works as a stand-alone as well.
Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces
Post-singularity struggles over the future of humanity and the nature of the universe, with sword-fights, poetry, and talking cats. Not one of Williams's most emotionally intense books, but definitely one of his most enjoyable, which is really saying something. (I suspect the lack of emotional depth is, itself, a reflection of the deliberate superficiality of the view-point character, part of his way of coping with being a very, very, very old man in a strange and fluid world.)
Samuel A. Goudsmit, Alsos
Tracking down the German atomic bomb effort, just behind the advancing Allied armies. His conclusions — that the Germans never got very far, but that this was entirely due to their being on the wrong track technically, and complacent about their superiority, rather than a deliberate humanitarian effort, as e.g. Heisenberg liked to imply afterwards — appear to be entirely correct. Also includes broader thoughts about the organization of the German war-research effort.
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America
How 19th-century globalization let the US develop into an economic juggernaut with an usually weak and incapable central government, and the difficulties this caused when that globalization collapsed during the First World War, leaving us in charge. No other country worked like us because no other country had, or has, our position in the global flows of goods, money and people.
(As a methodological point, Rauchway seems to find it unproblematic that a certain set of institutions should form Back In The Day, when they fit conditions (or at least fit-well-enough-for-the-purposes-of-the-powerful) and then tend to survive later, when they did not fit so well. But I would like some explanation of why adaptive processes had an easier time working in the earlier period, as opposed to the later one. Or perhaps this is just an effect of historical foreshortening, that there were lags and mis-fits as the focal institutions were established and supplanted earlier ones, but this is shaded off into the past, and more time is spent on the end of the period, when new mis-fits developed.)
Update, 25 September 2008: Eric was gracious enough to post a reply.
Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477--1806
An attempt at a total history of the country which, perhaps more than any other, was the furnace in which modernity was forged, embracing political, military, social, economic, cultural, artistic, theological and scientific developments and their inter-relations. (British readers may find the description of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as the last successful invasion of the British Isles a bit hard to swallow, but facts are facts.) Surprisingly readable despite running to 1100 pages.
Stephen Murdoch, IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea
Popular-science debunking. Not deep, but plenty deep. enough. (Of course, I would think that.)
Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli, Creatures of the Night
Karin Slaughter, Beyond Reach
Meth-heads! Skinheads! Lies! Outstandingly gruesome murders! (I can't think of anything more to say that isn't full of spoilers: the ending involves sudden killing off a highly-sympathetic major character. This comes across like a surprise kick to the gut. While in retrospect I appreciate the reasons for this — see Slaughter's own explanation — part of me is still going "Noooo!!!", which is, of course, exactly effect she was aiming at.)
Dale Furutani, Death at the Crossroads
Historical mystery/Kurosawa homage.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; IQ; Physics; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Beloved Republic; The Dismal Science; Writing for Antiquity

Posted at August 31, 2008 23:59 | permanent link

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