Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, August 2018
conservation notice: I have no taste. I also have no qualifications
to discuss folklore, structuralism, optics and painting in the early modern
Netherlands, Aztec culture, or Cold War espionage.
- Vladimir I. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale [as Morfologija skazki, Leningrad, 1928; translated by Svatava Pirkova-Jakobson, Indiana University Press, 1958; second edition, revised by Louis A. Wagner and with an introduction by Alan Dundes, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968]
- Due to popular demand, I've spun off the 1600 words I wrote about this
into a independent
- Mind candy, historical fantasy/horror division: European shapechangers
(not werewolves, exactly) in Mughal India, and modern Calcutta. Angst ensues.
(I was very disappointed that the narrator's deep dark secret, at the very end,
proves to be something as mundane as cross-dressing.)
- Laura J. Snyder, Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing
- Parallel lives of two 17th century inhabitants of Delft --- not revelatory
as either art history or history of science, but deftly done, even to the
explanations of some fairly involved optics.
- Garrett Birkhoff, Hydrodynamics: A Study in Logic, Fact, and Similitude
- This is Birkhoff surveying the state of hydrodynamics in 1950, and in
particular looking at why some theoretical results so conspicuously fail to
match observations (the "logic" part), and when the uses of physical
scale models can be justified (the "similtude" part). For the former, his
diagnosis is not just mathematical sloppiness on the part of physicists, or
making inappropriate approximations, but taking inconsistent
assumptions. The latter part largely turns on the method of dimensional
analysis, its limitations, and how it can be seen as a special case of more
general group-theoretic approaches to finding similar solutions to partial
- These are, of course, more general morals about mathematical
modeling, but nobody who isn't pretty familiar with hydrodynamics and group
theory will get anything out of this book.
- An incidental observation: It's striking to me that Birkhoff cites many
much (relatively) older works than a contemporary writer would, and that he
cites plenty of French- and German- language publications. (I can't remember
if he cites any Italian or Russian works in the original, rather than
translations.) There is a little lesson here about the transformation of
- Donald B. Rubin, Multiple Imputation for Nonresponse in Surveys
- "Imputation" is the more dignified name statistics gives for "making stuff
up to fill in missing observations". (To be fair, that's a mouthful.)
Rubin was, back in the day, a very forceful and necessary advocate for
multiple imputation, i.e., for making up a whole bunch of different
things to fill in the missing observations, and trying them all out, to make
sure that your results aren't just creatures of accidents in your imputation.
While this is clearly almost always a better idea than single imputation, there
are also, clearly, some details that will need to be pinned down. This short
(258 pp.) book does a remarkably good job of pinning down those details in an
easy-to-follow way. It also includes a summary of Rubin's equally-influential
work on missing data, i.e., when exactly it's a problem for what kinds of
inferences. Some of the computational advice is antiquated, and I could have
wished it was less Bayesian, but it's still a very nice piece of work.
- Ob. "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Academic Publishing System": Wiley
has kept the book in print, as a "classic", but the list price is \$ 158, or
over sixty cents per page.
- Inga Clendinnen, Aztecs: An Interpretation
- This is a brilliant book, a learned, intelligent and sympathetic attempt to
try understand something of how things must have felt to what must stirke most
readers as a very strange and unsympathetic society. I also cannot help but
feel that huge chunks of it are massive speculations, starting from the first
substantive chapter on Aztec notions of "the sacred" and going on from there.
The sources seem to me just too thin, and too peculiar*, to support the very
elaborate interpretations Clendinnen erects upon them. (Which doesn't mean she
was wrong.) But she was the expert who was immersed in the source
material, not me.
- ObLinkage: Abandoned Footnotes on Clendinnen.
- [*]: Largely, they are
accounts given many decades after the conquest, and it seems unclear how much
of them was the sources recalling what happened, as opposed to giving their
views about what ought to have happened, or what they wanted Spanish
missionaries and their helpers to think happened. Even if they were
doing their best to stick to their memories of the facts, they couldn't
possible have experienced, say, the new fire ceremony which took place every 52
years more than once, and that, perhaps, when they were quite
- David E. Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal
- In which the poisonous legacy of the Stalinist purges inspires a Soviet
engineer to volunteer to spy for the US, extremely successfully.
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Writing for Antiquity;
The Commonwealth of Letters;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
Enigmas of Chance
Posted at August 31, 2018 23:59 | permanent link