What are we reading?

It’s past time for a “what are we reading” thread. I’ve just finished one book and am about 40% through another.

The one I just finished was inspired by my love of the Beatles, and I had high hopes for it because it goes through every Beatles song, analyzing it musically, explaining its roots, and judging it (I love someone judging music!).  It’s this one (click to go to the Wikipedia article about it), written by music critic “Ian MacDonald“, whose real name is Ian MacCormick. (He committed suicide in 2003 at age 54.)

I’ll let Wikipedia summarize the format:

The book’s main section comprises entries on every song recorded by the group, in order of first recording date, rather than date of release. Each entry includes a list of the musicians and instruments present on the track, the song’s producers and engineers, and the dates of its recording sessions and its first UK and US releases. MacDonald provides musicological and sociological commentary on each song, ranging in length from a single sentence for “Wild Honey Pie” to several pages for tracks such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand“, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Revolution 1“.

The book also contains the essay “Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade”, MacDonald’s analysis of the Beatles’ relationship to the social and cultural changes of the 1960s. Later editions of the book added further commentary: the preface to the first revised edition discusses the British art school scene that spawned the Beatles and some of the differences between British and US culture that affect the two nations’ respective views of the group; and the second covers subjects such as the Beatles’ continued popularity into the 21st century, criticism of their lyrics, and the death of George Harrison. The book concludes with a month-by-month chronology of the 1960s (consisting of a table listing events in the Beatles’ career alongside significant events in UK pop music, current affairs and culture), a bibliography, a glossary, a discography, and an index of songs and their keys.

The book was critically acclaimed, though the article notes that Paul McCartney has taken issue with some of the factual statements.  The introductory essay I found a bit turgid, for, at least in this book, MacDonald is not an engaging writer. that essay is more like an academic article than part of a trade book, but it’s still well worth reading. But I found the main section, going through the Beatle’s songs in chronological order of recording, to be fascinating. If nothing else, it astonishes you with the ability of the group (mainly, of course, Lennon and McCartney) to turn out ever-changing songs, from rockers (“Back in the USSR”) through lovely ballads (“Yesterday,” “In My Life”) to songs that had no obvious precursors in rock (“A Day in the Life,” “Penny Lane”). MacDonald’s expertise as a music critic is quite useful in his analyses of the songs, and in understanding why he thinks they’re either good (most of them) or lame. I found myself repeatedly putting down the book to listen to the tracks discussed, and you will, too. It certainly supported my view that the Beatles were, by far, the best rock group that ever put out a song.

The final essay is a splenetic but excellent disquisition on why the Beatles represented the height of rock, which, in MacDonald’s take, peaked in 1966 and has gone downhill ever since. He has no truck with much later rock, and he also says that jazz, too, reached its peak decades ago and is pretty much worthless. Since I agree with these opinions, I recommend the book!

And here’s a book I just got from the publisher, who hoped I’d review it (I may here, but I doubt any newspaper or mainstream website will ask). Click on screenshot to go to the Amazon link:

Based on knowing the authors’ work, I expected an enjoyable takedown of wokeness and cancel culture, but instead got something better: a trenchant and scholarly analysis of postmodernism and how it gave rise to Critical Theory: of Race, Gender, Colonialism, and so on.  So although I didn’t have my own biases buttressed (yes, the authors are pretty much on my side), I instead learned something about philosophy and history. And that is better. I’m only about 40% of the way through yet, deep into the analysis of Critical Race Theory, so I can’t summarize what’s in the last half. But if you want to understand why wokeness is as it is, and where it came from, this book is essential. It’s well written, too.

146 Comments

  1. BobTerrace
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m still reading “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky with a 2 day diversion to read Mary Trump. There us a lot to digest from Sapolsky.

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      It takes a while to get through Sapolky, but worth the effort. A little bit at a time. Finished Ed Yong’s I contain Multitudes and am making my way through David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo, which is wonderful. Also picked up John Barth’s Once Upon a Time: A
      Floating Opera (not THE Floating Opera, which was one of his earliest books.) It’s quiet, meditative, perhaps less weird than many of his others I’ve read and loved.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Spoiler alert .. The really good thing about Behave … right at the end there is a four or five page summary in bullet point form.

      • BobTerrace
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        Yes, he has been hinting about the last chapter in the 550 pages I have read.

        • merilee
          Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          We’ve gotta read that for the quiz.

    • Jon
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      There certainly is a lot to digest, but well worth it. When I finished it, I reckoned that it was about three books worth of information and ideas. I just hope that I digested it well enough that the lessons from it have stuck in my mind.

  2. Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I just read/reread two translations of Omar Khayyám: those of Edward Fitzgerald and Richard Le Gallienne. Gorgeous stuff!

    I’m currently reading Paul Preston’s ‘The Spanish Civil War’ as I might be taking a course on that conflict in university (and may also be writing my undergrad dissertation on Orwell in Spain). It’s very good so far. Such a fascinating period. I also recently read Helen Graham’s Very Short Introduction to the war- also very good (the VSIs are almost always excellent introductions to topics).

    I too was honoured with an early copy of Cynical Theories- the next 60% is as good as the first 40! I’ve got a review in the works for publication soon.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      I am a big fan of the Fitzgerald “translation”, which is actually a complete reworking of thoughts ad parables, but I don’t know the other one.

      • Posted July 24, 2020 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        It’s also excellent. And probably even less a translation- the title page of the Gallienne has it as ‘A Paraphrase from Several Literal Translations’. But it’s very beautiful and pushes the irreligious angle even further:

        ‘The Koran! well, come put me to the test —
        Lovely old book in hideous error drest —
        ⁠Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
        The unbeliever knows his Koran best.’

        Le Gallienne was, incidentally, a one time lover of Oscar Wilde’s. His ‘Paraphrase’ can be found here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Rubáiyát_of_Omar_Khayyám_(Le_Gallienne).

        • Posted July 24, 2020 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for this, Daniel. This shall be my summer reading amidst my plants.

  3. Robert Seidel
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m currently reading a history of the Hanseatic League, the merchant organisation which controlled trade on the Baltic and North Sea in the High Middle Ages. It’s quite engrossing to see all the kinds of coercive maneuvers they pulled to maintain their privileged access to foreign markets. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Sounds interesting. What’s its name?

      • Robert Seidel
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        The German Hansa, by Philippe Dollinger.

  4. Frank
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I can remember reading the first edition of Revolution in the Head, and being blown away by all the little things or nuances he gleaned from each song – things I never would have noticed on my own in very familiar songs. In only a few cases did I disagree with his assessment of song quality or importance. I also read the 3rd edition, in which he nicely incorporated information from the Anthology releases in the 90s. It is a pity that Macdonald is no longer around – given the plethora of Beatle demos, alternate versions, and conversations available on YouTube, I would guess that he would give us further insights with his considerable musical expertise and “ears” for the music. RITH is a must for all serious Beatle fans, notwithstanding some of McCartney’s quibbles and corrections.

    • prinzler
      Posted July 25, 2020 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Totally agree. There are quibbles I have in the book, but it’s still brilliant.

  5. Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I am re-reading “Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are incompatible” by someone named Coyne.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      That guy? Whatever happened to him anyway? He used to come around here pretty regularly, then just up and disappeared one day. Heard he mighta taken up duck farming.

  6. DrBrydon
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I am reading Bernhard Knollenberg’s Growth of the American Revolution: 1766–1775, and then I am going to Basil Williams The Whig Supremacy in the Oxford History of England.

  7. peter alexander
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    There is an excellent review of ‘Cynical Theories’ by Jonathan Church in Quillette:

    https://quillette.com/2020/07/20/the-truth-according-to-social-justice-a-review-of-cynical-theories/

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Pluckrose and Lindsay – or maybe it’s Jonathan Church misinterpreting them – well somebody is missing the mark a bit. Wokeness and Critical Theory don’t have to claim to be Truth. That’s the “beauty” of relativism – since there is supposedly no capital T Truth, you can push any little t truth you want will full vim and vigor and ignore any dissent. Or humiliate the dissenters, or shoot them – it’s not like there is any moral Truth either.

      • phoffman56
        Posted July 25, 2020 at 5:46 am | Permalink

        Yes, for the 999th time:

        ‘It is an objective truth that objective truth does not exist.’

        Maybe one could formalize that into yet another proof of Godel’s incompleteness.

  8. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Interesting picks

    A couple I just got started with are from Robert Bruce Thompson’s O’Reilly titles – the chemistry and the biology “all lab no lecture” books. (It’s not really “no lecture” but that’s the angle.) Reader Of WEIT – especially the astro photographers – might like his astronomy books, though I haven’t read them.

    A couple links :

    https://www.oreilly.com/pub/au/422

    His own page :
    https://www.ttgnet.com/

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Having not read the second link until now, I am saddened to learn that Thompson died 20 January 2018.

      Also typo : “Readers” not “Reader”. It was the result of a standoff with autocorrect…. hmmm … how about “autoproofread”? That’s what we need!

  9. Rick Bannister
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    In non-fiction I am currently reading Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an epic trail of destruction by David Enrich. I recently read and enjoyed Churchill and Orwell by Thomas E. Ricks.
    In fiction I just finished Agency by William Gibson. It includes what I think is the most convincing depiction of AI since Data in Star Trek Trek TNG. No, it is more convincing than Data.
    I am about to start reading One Good Turn by Ann Cleeves, the first novel in a new series by the author of the Shetland mysteries which were the basis of the excellent TV series now available on Netflix.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      I would be interested in reading Agency. Question: it appears to be the second part in a trilogy where the first is Peripheral and the the third has yet to be released. Did you read Peripheral? If so, is it necessary to read it first?

      Without giving much away, what makes the AI more convincing than Star Trek’s Data? I can certainly see problems with Data. For one thing, he wasn’t supposed to have emotions, at least at the beginning, but his conversations with others belied that, although it was a reasonable concession to entertainment value.

      • Rick Bannister
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        Yes I have read Peripheral and it would certainly help to read it first. Mainly because it introduced an unusual concept of time travel/alternate worlds. I agree with your comment on Data. The fact that there were many different writers involved over the life of the series who had different concepts of the character may explain some of the inconsistencies.

        I just found Gibson’s explanations of his AI’s origins more plausible. The character also seemed more real; no doubt a tribute to his writing.

        • Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I will read Peripheral first.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 24, 2020 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

          You may want to read Diaspora by Greg Egan. Michael Fisher recommended it to me and it’s very interesting how the AIs evolve & live. The physics is super hard and I don’t know that I understood all of it but it is very interesting.

    • Posted July 25, 2020 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      I am about to start reading One Good Turn by Ann Cleeves, the first novel in a new series

      Interesting. I’ve just finished The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, which was published in 2019, and is the first novel in the Two Rivers series, set in North Devon. It is up to her high standard, and I can recommend it. However, in the fly leaf list, there is no mention of One Good Turn, so presumably it is newer.

      • Rick Bannister
        Posted July 25, 2020 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        Oops. I don’t know why I typed that title. The book I am about to read IS The Long Call.

  10. Barry Lyons
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading three books:

    “How Fascism Works” by Jason Stanley
    “God: The Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger
    “Even the Dead” by Benjamin Black (the most recent of the seven Quirke novels)

    Next: “The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump” by Corey Robin (second edition) — a friend tells me this is an excellent book for understanding how the U.S. got to where it is today

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I really enjoyed Stenger’s book when I read it.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      I have not read that one from Stenger, but I am sure it would be good. I very much enjoyed his The Fallacy Of Fine Tuning: Why The Universe Is Not Designed For Us. I just bleeped over the math equations since he explained what it all means.

  11. Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to recommendations here, I am reading Caro’s biography trilogy on LBJ. It is an eye-opener. I had no idea what an amoral, corrupt, power-hungry, lying, crooked SOB LBJ was. I’m no longer so sure that the conspiracy theory about LBJ being behind JFK’s murder is silly.

  12. rickflick
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Reading Matthew Cobb’s, Idea of the Brain. He challenges a number of myths that have been floating around. He attacks the common understanding of localization of function, for example, showing that most of what we thought we knew doesn’t hold up. The brain is super-networked. Last section is on consciousness.
    Thanks for the two reviews Jerry. You make them both sound inviting.

    • C.
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I really struggled with the middle third or so of the book. I had similar issues with his DNA book. However, I did enjoy the later section about the left/right brain myths and the split brain stuff was fascinating. Still, there are so many names that appear once or twice, so many competing and contradictory theories that I really got bogged down and was only reading a few pages at a time. I guess my brain wasn’t up to it. And frankly, I wasn’t keen on tw@tter being a source for citations any more than I am them being the basis for so much “news”. I cannot imagine this practice will be good for historical research but we shall see.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        Only reading a few pages at a time may not be such a bad thing. Unless your brain is in a hurry. 😉

  13. Robert Bray
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    ‘The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne’

  14. Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I just finished Andrew Bacevich’s America’s war for the greater middle east, a military history. He goes from Carter thru Obama, explaining clearly how the USA got deeper and deeper embroiled over there, from Afghanistan, thru Iraq, the Baltic states and on thru about 2014. The deepening involvement was matched only by the increasing lack of understanding of either what was wanted or how to get there — not to mention military stupidity. Very eye-opening.

    Now reading Matthew Cobb’s Idea of the brain, which is an interesting take on brain science. I’ve learned a lot about how we got where we are.

    And I”m deeply into one great book about physics, Physics from symmetry, by Jakob Schwichtenberg. It starts by teaching group theory and then uses that — and almost only that — to derive almost all of modern physics, in particular, the Standard Model (but not general relativity, of course). It’s very mathy and not for the faint of heart, but the approach is — to my knowledge — one other physicists (no names) talk a lot about but never explain for non-experts.

  15. Karst
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Reading “Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court’s Fifty-year Battle for a More Unjust America” by Adam Cohen. Frightening account of the Supreme Court by a journalist who graduated from Harvard Law School.

    After reading this, I will probably change my mind and support court packing if Trump gets another nomination through before inauguration day 2021 and if he loses the November election.

    • sgo
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      I just finished that one, and thought it was really great. Quite an eye opener.

  16. C.
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Just finished Peter Singer’s “The Expanding Circle” which wasn’t at all what I expected and felt was hit or miss. Some of his arguments rang hollow for me and his attacks on Wilson sometimes felt akin to quote mining.

    Up next is Charles Murray’s “Human Diversity”, to be read secretly and behind closed doors for personal safety.

    As an escape from the collapse of civilization and since I can’t afford another degree even the universitied were open I’ve been reading Libbie H. Hyman’s text book from the early 1920’s, Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy but as I lack the requisite specimens I’m using computer images. She was quite an amazing scientist and a personal hero of mine.

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Still reading the latest Murderbot book. It takes me a while these days.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I read the first one on someones’ recommendation here. I really liked it. Been intending to return to the series when I can.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        I love the Murderbot series. The second one is my favourite. At least I think it was the second one. Murderbot basically goes on a big adventure.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      I eat those things up like candy, or maybe cocaine or crystal meth. Luckily the dealer has a limited supply, so I can still have a life.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Yeah I feel the same. And Murderbot has some really great lines. I think it would make a great movie.

  18. stephen barrett
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Fate is the Hunter, Gann, Ernest K.
    Interesting account about the early days of commercial aviation.

  19. Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I am reading Remain In Love, a memoir of Talking Heads’ drummer Chris Frantz who is married to one of my favorite bass players Tina Weymouth.

    I just finished Rule of the Bone. A fairly enjoyable coming-of-age novel written in the 1990s

  20. AlTazim
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Funny enough, since I learned thanks to your blog that today would have been Zelda Fitzgerald’s 120th birthday, I have been reading a collection of the short stories of her husband F. Scott. Favorite so far is The Ice Palace. I’ve found that I get a lot more, both historically and intellectually, than I do from non-fiction, too much of which (especially stuff published in the past 10-20 years) tends toward didacticism.

  21. J Cook
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    The ‘Cynical Theories’ is on the reserve list for me at my local-excellent- library. currently reading by Freeman Dyson; Origins of Life”, By William Von Hippel, The Social Leap, by Bill Bryson, The Body, by Adam Cohen, Supreme Inequality.
    Also rereading by C.S. Forester, The Good Shepard which is now a motion picture with a different title with Tom Hanks.
    (My copy, a first edition, is inscribed to my father who was Forester’s lawyer for many years and a family friend. Any one know how to get in touch with Hanks or his agent. I am unloading stuff and would give this to him.)

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      To find Hanks, since he’s a published author, I’d go to the publisher’s website for the book. A letter to them would probably get the process started.

  22. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Fixin’ to go on a fiction binge. Been a while now, and I can feel one comin’ on. This world’s gotten to be a real drag. ‘Tis a far, far better place where I go now, than I have known recently.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Do they still publish fiction? I thought that genre was renamed “White House press briefing”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        I was thinkin’ of starting with something perhaps a tad less dystopian (then again, even Dante Alighieri’s Inferno would fit that bill). 🙂

      • Filippo
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        “Do they still publish fiction?”

        Perhaps the same could be reasonably asked of non-fiction (fact?), what with “creative non-fiction.”

        (I have before me Booker T. Washington’s “My Larger Education.” There are many other books calling out to me, as the Sirens to Odysseus.)

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Doesn’t quite scan like the Dickens🤓
      Funny how reading things like murder mysteries can be cheering in troubled times. Kinda like listening to the blues when you’re love$sick.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I kept watching apocalypse movies when I was sick with the flu (which happened almost every year at one place I worked because it was a modern office that was shut right and everyone came to work sick.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      My last fiction read was Bunker’s “No Beast so Fierce”. Recommended by you as a matter of fact on one of these “What are you Reading?posts. It was a riveting page-turner, beyond gritty, and puts you squarely inside the criminal mind; I can see how it influenced Tarantino and Elmore Leonard. Bunker has an uncanny ability to describe scenes as if you’re watching a movie. Great dialogue writer as well. BTW, have you read any of his other works that you’d recommend?

  23. Blue
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Simultaneously, er, serially, o’course.
    All upon the nightstand, right now,
    these newly borrowed eight ones:

    The View from Flyover Country:
    Dispatches From the Forgotten America.
    Kendzior, Sarah.

    Most Blessed of the Patriarchs:
    Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.
    Gordon – Reed, Annette and Onuf, Peter S.

    A Very Stable Genius:
    Donald J Trump’s Testing of America.
    Rucker, Philip and Leonnig, Carol.

    Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir.
    Crawford, Lacy.

    Fascism: A Warning.
    Albright, Madeleine.

    Know My Name. A Memoir.
    Miller, Chanel.

    Epidemics and Society:
    From the Black Death to the Present. Snowden, Frank M.

    The Birchbark House.
    Erdrich, Louise.

    Blue

  24. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I just finished the complete stories of Truman Capote. Definitely unique, but I thought mixed in quality. Before that, a book that I think was recommended here: Break, Blow, Burn, poetry interpreted by Camille Paglia.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I recommended the Paglia book. Before you give up on Capote, though, read “A Christmas Memory,” which is truly a great piece of writing. It’s as good as anything he ever wrote.

  25. David Harper
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Recently finished: “Welcome to Britain” by Colin Yeo, which describes the appalling and dysfunctional state of Britain’s immigration laws; “Full-Rip 9.0” by Sandi Doughton, a fascinating exploration of the history (and future) of major catastrophic seismic events in the Pacific Northwest; “Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air” by Jackson Ford, the second in his series of sci-fi novels about a small and highly secret team of government agents based in LA, one of whom has psychokinetic powers.

    Currently reading: Anne Applebaum’s “Twilight of Democracy”; Lewis Lockwood’s “The Music and Life of Beethoven”. Also “Modern FORTRAN Explained”, but not for pleasure, I assure you.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      That is one funny title!

      • David Harper
        Posted July 25, 2020 at 1:16 am | Permalink

        I know. You really don’t expect to see “modern” and “FORTRAN” next to one another.

        • merilee
          Posted July 25, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

          So FORTRAN is still in use, I assume for mathematical applications?

          • Posted July 29, 2020 at 7:21 am | Permalink

            R (which is really popular) offers a FORTRAN API or the like, so maybe that’s it?

  26. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m tackling a light summer read, Europe: A History by Norman Davies.

  27. Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Currently reading Carlo Rovelli’s “Reality Is Not What It Seems,” which is a book about “the journey to quantum gravity.” I bought it because there are many books about string theory, but not as much said about Loop Quantum Gravity, which I want to understand better. Just getting into that section of the book, though.

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      What do you think so far? I like what I’ve seen online from Rovelli, so if you like this one I’ll probably look for it myself.

      • Posted July 30, 2020 at 7:02 am | Permalink

        Excellent so far. About halfway through, I’ve already found new ways of looking at concepts I’ve learned from others previously.

        • Posted July 30, 2020 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I just placed a hold on the e-book with my local library.

        • Posted August 23, 2020 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          I finished reading Carlo Rovelli’s book Reality is not what it seems and posted a review on my website. Which is under my real name, per the Roolz. Just click on my name in this comment to get there. Maybe you can solve my black hole question.

    • Posted July 25, 2020 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      I can recommend Rovelli. His book on time is especially enthralling.

  28. Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I recently read “The Great Mortality” by John Kelly. I wondered if it would make this pandemic scarier, but the Black Death was so overwhelmingly deadly that there’s little comparison. Lots of quotes from contemporary sources. The book meanders through background material that varies in interest (for me) but I recommend it.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Kelly is an interesting guy. I met him and he described how he worked on his many books. He basically spent all day every day in his study reading and writing. I doubt he has trouble adapting to the pandemic.

  29. Debra Coplan
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I just finished “Simply Brilliant”. (Someone mentioned it on this website.)
    Now I’m reading “The History of Manners”.

  30. Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin
    Fascinating memoir; wish that I had discovered this book many years ago. For those of you who love roughing in the wilds as I do, then this is a good read including a lot of Darwinian and natural philosophy discussion by Henno and Herman. I need to find a book in the original German to read.

    GoodReads Intro: Threatened with Internment for the duration of World War II, two young German geologists, Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, sought refuge in the Namib Desert and lived a Robinson Crusoe existence for two and a half years. How they mastered their situation, what they did, thought and observed are the subject of The Sheltering Desert. In it lies the vastness of the landscape, the clear skies, nature’s silence in the joy or suffering of her creatures, and the stillness in which the reader, too, may take refuge from the wrongs of civilization.

  31. Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I recently finished The Serengeti Rules by Sean Carroll (the biologist, not the physicist). Another great read! Right now I just want light entertainment so I am reading a Terry Pratchett book that I never got around to. Later I have Sean Carrolls’ Remarkable Creatures book waiting for me.

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Loved Serengeti Rules!

  32. Steve Pollard
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Gosh, you lot are pretty seductive. Only 30-odd comments in, and I already have about 15 books I need to read – in addition to our host’s two recommendations. Can’t think how I missed the MacDonald first time round; but it clearly demands to be got.

    I have been diverted from my lockdown project of re-reading Joyce to re-reading bits of Updike. I pulled his book of short stories ‘The Afterlife’ (1994) off the shelf the other day, and now can’t put it down. I suppose liking Updike puts one beyond the pale (or at any rate beyond the woke) these days. I don’t care.

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      I like Updike’s stories and essays and poems; his novels not so much.

  33. jezgrove
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I recently read Music Man by the recording engineer Glyn Johns. He was involved in The Rolling Stones’ early stuff, worked with The Beatles and with George Harrison’s on his solo stuff, the first couple of Eagles and Steve Miller Band albums, the first Led Zeppelin album (his little brother Andy worked on their next four). The list of people he worked with is endless, and he has some amazing anecdotes as you’d expect. He claims to have avoided drugs, so he was there in the ’60s but unusually can remember the details, too.

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 25, 2020 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      Doh! Just rereading the thread to catch up on changes overnight (there are always so many interesting suggestions of books I’ve not heard of, or have but haven’t got round to) and noticed that I got the title wrong in my own comment. It should be Sound Man – it came out in 2014. Johns was a record producer, as well as engineer, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

  34. Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m noticing a lot of people here read multiple books at the same time. I just can’t do that! I can read books quickly, but only one at a time. More than that is just irritating to me- I prefer to stick with what I’m on rather than flit between things. I wonder if that’s a personality trait, something psychological? (I’ll defend myself and rule out cognitive deficiency since, as I said, I read a lot and quickly- just not serially!)

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Actually scratch that, maybe I am a dunce- serial computation is one at a time, isn’t it? Oh, I don’t know. You know what I mean.

      Note to self: don’t use terms from computer science, you don’t have the first clue about computer science. Dear oh dear…

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      For me it depends

      One fiction title I read recently… well… a while ago… I _had_ to plow through it in two dedicated afternoons. I was lucky to have the chance. I was also particularly interested in it.

      Then I was back to looking at Moby Dick, telling myself “one day, one day…”

    • Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      My guess is that they are listing books that they’ve recently acquired, only one of which they are actually reading. They expect to read the others soon, but still one at a time. Of course, my only reason to believe this is that this is what I do. 😉 I will admit that I’ve occasionally been reading two books at the same time but it is rare. It often means that I’m losing interest in one of them and may soon abandon it.

      • Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        I do know computer science but I’m pretty sure “serially” is understood outside that world. Google says:

        1. in a series or sequence.
        “his stories were published serially in periodicals”

      • Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s usually how I feel- one book at a time is usually enough to hold my interest. I also feel I’m dividing energy and not giving enough to either book if I’m reading two at a time.

        • Posted July 24, 2020 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          I think the relevant computer science term would be “priority queue”. When we hear about a book an a website like this one, find it sufficiently interesting, amd acquire a copy, we then insert into the ToBeRead queue. We take an item off the queue when we start reading it. It’s a priority queue, rather than just a FIFO (first in, first out) queue, because we can take books off the queue in whatever order we desire. Ok, enough of that.

      • merilee
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        I’m usually reading 5 or 6 at a time.

        • Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          Wow! I couldn’t do that. I like to immerse myself in one book at a time. I guess you could call it binge reading though I virtually never read a book at one sitting no matter how short it is.

    • Joshua Z. Miller (thinkcritical.pinecast.co)
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      For me, it depends on whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I can plow through nonfiction books at the same time, but I lose track of the characters in fiction books if I read them in tandem.

    • C.
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      I will read something straight through if it really grabs me. As a teen I read Stephen King’s The Stand in about 5 days. But, if something is a bit more intellectually challenging, like Mathew Cobb’s brain book, I might need to rest the little gray cells by diving into something unrelated, like reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, as I recently did. I have read things in a single sitting, like some of CW Gusewelle’s books, but they’re short and at a newspaper reading level. I’m also bad about buying multiple books that arrive while I’m reading something else and I’ll get distracted by the new arrivals. You just gotta do what’s suites you. Books are a buffet for the brain and you gotta eat whatever you are craving.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      I only read multiple books at a time while attending University. Once out, I’ve never read two books at once. I can do it, but it’s just not enjoyable for me.

      • phoffman56
        Posted July 25, 2020 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        I’ve read many multiple books, sometimes more than one at the same time. But much more recently, it’s been multiple multiple books.

        Oops wrong thread; should be under ‘words and phrases that are not my favs’.

        A book all about number theory could be called a multiple book, of course.

  35. Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, there is a Channel 4 appreciation by Howard Goodall, Composer of the Year at the 2009 Classic BRIT Awards, on how The Beatles were so good at youtube, here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQS91wVdvYc
    A breakdown of what makes certain songs so innovative: mainly the 66-68 period. A bit hyperbolic, maybe, he thinks that the Beatles saved western music in general. But in my most fannish moments I think he’s right.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      His theme for Blackadder is nice!

      Can’t recall how Mr. Bean goes…..

      [ makes Rowan Atkinson “looking around “ eyes and face ]

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        Oh I remembered!

        The choral bit! Beautiful!

    • rickflick
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      I’d love to know what McCartney thinks of Goodall’s doc. Has anyone seen a public comment from Paul? Somehow I’m imagining a scene from Woody Allen where Paul is pulled out from behind a poster to tell us Goodall doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 😊

      • Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        I suppose, Rickflick, it depends on who McCartney, like all of us, wants to be respected by. When it comes to history and techniques of musical styles, Goodall knows his glass onions. If I were as good an orchestral arranger as Macca I’d take that.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

          I guess if he had quibbles, he’d keep them to himself. Goodall offers a lot of praise.

    • aljones909
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      Snap. I pointed Jerry to that doc a couple of years ago. I’m sure he watched it (judging from a reply). It’s very good. In the opening few minutes….
      “they may have revered the previous generation of rock n’ rollers, like Elvis and Chuck Berry, but what they were about to do to music would outstrip their achievements one hundred fold”

  36. phoffman56
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    When I needed some diversion from trying to understand more clearly the crucial differences between mathematicians’ versus philosophers’ attitudes about formal logic and how they teach it (much reading there),

    I did read
    “Beyond The Trees–A journey alone through Canada’s arctic” by David Shoalts.

    This describes his successful 2017 solitary struggle to ‘canoe journey’ ~4,000 km., essentially from the top of the Mackenzie River to Hudson Bay, mostly upriver (against the flow) and across lakes often as dangerous as the mid-Atlantic, not living off the land but with 3 airplane re-supplies, all squeezed in from just after icemelt in late June, and before winter begins (awful early near Hudson Bay), roughly at the latitude of the Arctic Circle.

    Pardon the two ridiculously long sentences.

    In contrast!, he writes well, better than I expected. His journey ‘celebrates’ the 150th anniversary of Canada’s existence (1867).

    In a way, this virus time is almost going too fast for me, the earlier above close to a 100 page PDF so far, and nowhere near satisfactory yet.

    • phoffman56
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, ADAM Shoalts. Why did I say David??

    • Posted July 29, 2020 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      You might want to read some stuff from my CMU colleagues (and committee members) Wilfried Sieg and Jeremy Avigad on your topic. They work in various interdisciplinary logic programs (including the one I did) and have eclectic backgrounds.

      What I have discovered is the *beginning* stuff is different (arguments vs. formal systems), converges around the limitative results and then diverges again, with the traditional philosopher worried more about non-classical logics and the mathematicians go for proof theory and model theory. But that’s a guess.

      • phoffman56
        Posted July 29, 2020 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        Thanks, Keith, I’ll take a look at those.

        But my particular interests there are much more specific, perhaps mundane. Largely they have arisen from that huge insult (IMHO) to the discipline of formal logic which Zalta and Oppenheimer have foisted on 4 separate supposedly scholarly journals with their 45 pages of 3 ‘scholarly’ papers.

        We’ve actually both touched on this before. It is their claim to have translated the Anselm ontological argument, for the existence of god, into ordinary 1st order logic, not modal. Maybe a poor translation, and I actually admire Anselm for what he did in the context of about a millenium ago.

        But if an accurate translation, it shows the utter triviality of the argument, that argument being that one can deduce ‘god exists’ from the premise that ‘2=2 implies that god exists’. It’s not ‘2=2’ but it is a logically valid formula that an undergraduate could prove to be one in 3 simple lines of quantifier manipulation.

        Are a majority of philosophical logic professors actually that ignorant of the details and purposes of formal logic? Many of their texts look more like professional job training courses for the Chartered Logic Accounting (non?)profession. I know of some who are not, e.g. George Boolos, of course.

  37. Joshua Z. Miller (thinkcritical.pinecast.co)
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been meandering my way through the basic books of economics. I’ve been reading ‘Capitalism and Freedom’ by Friedman. It’s easy to see how the Post-Soviet Estonian economy did well under the advice of this book.

  38. Joshua Z. Miller (thinkcritical.pinecast.co)
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been meandering my way through the basic books of economics. I’ve been reading ‘Capitalism and Freedom’ by Friedman. It’s easy to see how the Post-Soviet Estonian economy did well under the advice of this book.

  39. Roger Lambert
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    So cool that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” merited several pages. It’s not most people’s favorite song, or one nominated for especial merit by most.

    But for me, the first five seconds of that song (as well as the first ten seconds of “Purple Haze) are the two most poignant and seminal moments of my young musical life. They changed me forever, defined me.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      I completely understand that; the opening piano chords in Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” released when I was nine years old, have pretty much remained my musical touchstone for the last mumblety-mumble years.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 24, 2020 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        That song takes me right back to my childhood.

    • phoffman56
      Posted July 25, 2020 at 5:30 am | Permalink

      How many pages for “Why don’t we do it in the road?” Could it be read before they got up off the road because someone started watching? (joking of course!)

      Beatles, Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, The Band ..are all big favourites of mine, but I’ve never found any writing on that sort of music turns my crank. Some gap in my own psyche. Robbie Robertson’s autobiography is an example; couldn’t pick it up again after 99 pages or so.

      But the de La Grange bio of Gustav Mahler–couldn’t put it down, esp. 1st volume.

      I like to think my son and grandson, both professional rock musicians, got some genes for that from me, if that has any biological sense to it!

      • jezgrove
        Posted July 25, 2020 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        Maybe they inherited some rock jeans, too?

        • phoffman56
          Posted July 25, 2020 at 6:17 am | Permalink

          Good joke.

          Just to spoil it, no, I’ve weighed within 5 of 165 lbs for 60 years, so never leave my old clothes; just keep wearing them when “no one will be looking”.

  40. Doug
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Just finished “Heirs of the Founders” by H. W. Brand. It’s the story of John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, three of the most important American politicians in the first half of the 19th century. I knew a fair amount about the Revolution and the early republic, as well as the Civil War; less about the period in between. This book helped fill in that gap.

  41. Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I thought 2020 was bad but our little crappy era pales when compared to Great Britain during the blitz. “The Splendid and the Vile” is a real page turner and keeps our virus in a little perspective.

  42. aljones909
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    I read the Ian McDonald book a long time ago. Time to read it again.

  43. Posted July 24, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    _How Democracies Die_ by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. So far the authors have unimpressed me with a central claim – that elites should prevent extremists from running as candidate leaders of major parties. I don’t think they have a definition of extremist that would exclude Trump or Victor Orban but fail to exclude Lincoln. I’m about 1/4 way through and will try a bit more but might quit soon.

    On the lighter side, _The Riyria Chronicles_ by Michael J Sullivan.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      I started that but I find all those books so depressing that I find I just can’t deal sigh them so I put them back on the shelf for a while.

  44. Mark R.
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I just finished Greenblatt’s “The Swerve” which was recommended by WEIT readers from Barry McGuire’s “Reader’s Photos” post. I’m so pleased to have read it. I love well written/researched books about the Middle Ages, but I’ve never read a book that so eloquently connects the dots of how the Renaissance lead to the Enlightenment and the modern world. This work was thoroughly engrossing. I learned a lot…I never even heard of Poggio, and Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things” was just an inkling in my mind.

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      The Swerve was really good. I was somehow disappointed In his book on Shakespeare, though.

  45. Ben Curtis
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I just finished “Girl” by Edna O’Brien – and would recommend it. I expected it to be good, but it was better than I expected.

    I am also reading a new novel, “Travellers,” by Helon Habila and would strongly recommend it for the pure storytelling ability the author exhibits. He is new to me, but he is a strong writer and I will be looking for future works. Its main theme is the contemporary refugee diaspora.

    Of particular interest, perhaps, to readers of this blog, is “Ducks, Newburyport,” by Lucy Ellmann. It took about 60 pages to realize I liked it (its over 1000 pages with very few periods), but masterfully done, if funny, and has a lot of current political relevance.

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      I plan to begin Ducks,Newburyport tomorrow. Looking forward to it. Glad you liked it.

    • merilee
      Posted July 24, 2020 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      I plan to begin Ducks,Newburyport tomorrow. Looking forward to it. Glad you liked it.

      • jezgrove
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:08 am | Permalink

        Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today! (Sorry, terrible joke about the double post…)

        • merilee
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Yes, bad joke😬 I’ve read 20 of the 1000 pages and I believe it’s going to be quite the ride.

  46. Mark Joseph
    Posted July 24, 2020 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Besides the usual truckload of science fiction (currently, like #9 above, William Gibson, but mine is “Virtual Light”), the non-fiction book I’m reading (actually, listening to) is Christopher Hitchens’ book of collected essays, “And Yet…” Not really my usual thing, but I think I could listen to or read Hitch’s analysis of the phone book. The guy was a genius.

    Of particular interest (besides the incisive anti-religiosity in general, and anti-Islam in particular) to readers here might be one essay on when he was disinvited after having accepted an invitation to speak. Also, listening to him savage Hillary Clinton at very great length makes me sad that he could not have stuck around to do the same to Drumpf, as many of the criticisms he makes of Hillary apply even more so to Der Pumpkinführer.

  47. mightyog
    Posted July 25, 2020 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I just finished Nathalia Holt’s “Rise of the Rocket Girls” – a biography of sorts of the Jet Propulsion Lab with its focus on the women who work there, first as computers (when ‘doing the math’ was womens’ work) and later as computer programmers for JPL’s & NASA’s exploration of our solar system.
    Before that, Sue Leaf’s “Minnesota’s Geologist” – biography of Newton Winchell and the first geological survey of Minnesota. He very much made a name for himself and went on to become a founder of the Geological Society of America, publisher of American Geologist, and much more.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 30, 2020 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m now reading Rise of the Rocket Girls. There is a lot of interesting info there, but I’m very disappointed with the writing style. It’s not elegant. Seems aimed at about the middle school level. Should it be shelved in the Juvenile section? The invention of magnetic tape data storage is described as tape coated with rust?
      Very weak technically. Spacecraft on reentry burns up because the atmosphere is combustible? Also, it leans heavily on the young women computers getting married before their expiration date. I wish there was something on this subject written by Tom Wolfe.

  48. Posted July 25, 2020 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Currently working my way enjoyably through the Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child, which I love. Recently completed two Chris Brookmyre novels, Dead Girl Walking, and Fallen Angel, both brilliantly plotted and well-written (I’m a fan!).

    Right now I’m reading A Race with Love And Death, a biography of Britain’s first great Grand Prix driver, by Richard Williams. Well-written and interesting if you are interested in racing cars in the 1930s.

  49. pballabeni@bluewin.ch
    Posted July 25, 2020 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Rereading Saramago’s História do cerco de Lisboa in Italian translation. I still like it as much as 18 years ago.
    Trying to start Reznick’s Origin Then and Now but I have not yet decided whether to read it completely before reading the Origin or to read it in parallel with the latter; or maybe Darwin first and then Reznick.

  50. KD33
    Posted July 25, 2020 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    It makes me so sad to hear anyone say:
    “the height of rock, which, in MacDonald’s take, peaked in 1966 and has gone downhill ever since. He has no truck with much later rock, and he also says that jazz, too, reached its peak decades ago and is pretty much worthless.”

    So ossified in thinking. The Beatles may be the greatest, but is so much great music since then. And it’s all at your fingertips. If you really think like MacDonald, enlist someone who is passionate about music from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, or any period, and have the give you a tour of what they love so you don’t miss out.

  51. Oliver S.
    Posted July 25, 2020 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to reading Pluckrose’s & Lindsay’s book. In this context, I strongly recommend the New Discourses website, and especially Lindsay’s text “Naming the Enemy: Critical Social Justice”: https://newdiscourses.com/2020/02/naming-enemy-critical-social-justice/

    His succinct characterization of “wokeism” aka “the Critical Social Justice ideology” as “an anti-liberal fusion of postmodern theory and Neo-Marxist Critical Theory” is the best I’ve ever seen or heard. It hits the nail on the head!

  52. Oliver S.
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another recommendable book: Robby Soave’s PANIC ATTACK: YOUNG RADICALS IN THE AGE OF TRUMP (https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250169884)

  53. Posted July 29, 2020 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Rereading with notes some stuff (mainly 18th century aesthetics) for my musician friend.

  54. merilee
    Posted July 30, 2020 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    @Ken K
    Probably have the wrong post but on Trevor Noah tonight he said that Trump had gone way beyong dog whistle to steel drums🤣

  55. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 26, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I just got Revolution in the Head – the table beginning on page 300 is fascinating!

    The whole book (well, what I’ve looked at so far), evokes an experience like simultaneously listening to the music and *reading the album materials*!


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