What we’re reading now

August 30, 2021 • 11:00 am

After polishing off Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—a post-apocalyptic novel permeated with McCarthy’s inimitable prose (and I recommend the book very highly)—I need to keep reading, as there’s still no place interesting outside the U.S. that’s safe or accessible for travel.  I thus took three books out of the library to keep me busy for a while.

Occasionally I get a hankering to read every Booker Prize winner since they started awarding the prize in 1969.  So far I’ve read only seven (Midnight’s Children was my favorite), so there’s a long way to go. The reason I want to do this is that there are too many fiction books to read, and few reliable guides; but I’ve enjoyed every Booker Prize novel I’ve ever read. So I picked out two more.

The first one, below, is by an author with whom I have a love-hate relationship. Naipaul can write like a dream—A House for Mr. Biswas is an all-time classic—but he can be splenetic and downright patronizing, as when he writes about his visits to India (he was actually from Trinidad of Indian ancestry). I hoped that this one, his only Booker winner, would be as good as Biswas. It’s a good book, but doesn’t come up to that standard. It is in fact a very weird novel, consisting of three disconnected tales, about Indians who move to the U.S., about Trinidadians who move to London, and about Brits who move to Africa.  I suppose the connection between the stories is revealed by the title. I’m only 2/3 of the way through, but so far it looks as if the “theme” is that people who move to find freedom only find more enslavement. The third tale is by far the best, a classic, “on the road” story about a gay white Brit and a woman bent on adultery with a different man, who take a long drive in an African country experiencing revolution. I’d recommend the book, but if you haven’t read Naipaul, go to Biswas first. Truly, I’m not yet sure why this one won the Booker, but I’m not yet through.

I haven’t started the book below yet, published in 1973 and a Booker winner that year, but I’m a sucker for novels about India, as I love the country. Ergo, Midnight’s Children as my favorite Booker Winner, and I also love The Raj Quartet and A Passage to India. I also love novels by Indian expats like Jhumpa Lahiri or inpats like Arundhati Roy.  The book below attracted me because of the plot summary and blurbs on Wikipedia:

Inspired by events such as the sieges of Cawnapore (Kanpur) and Lucknow, the book details the siege of a fictional Indian town, Krishnapur, during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 from the perspective of the British residents. The main characters find themselves subject to the increasing strictures and deprivation of the siege, which reverses the “normal” structure of life where Europeans govern Asian subjects. The book portrays an India under the control of the East India Company, as was the case in 1857. The absurdity of the class system in a town no one can leave becomes a source of comic invention, though the text is serious in intent and tone.

. . .Walter Clemons in Newsweek on 21 October 1974 said it was “a work of wit, lively historical reconstruction and imaginative intensity.”

John Spurling said in the New Statesman on 21 September 1973 that it was “a masterpiece”

On 2 September 1973 Julian Symons wrote in The Sunday Times that Farrell is “one of the half-dozen British writers under forty whose work should be read by anybody inclined to think that no interesting novels are being written today.”

That sounds like it’s worth a try.

I came to this book by an unusual route. (It’s not a Booker winner.) I was listening to a song on YouTube suggested by a reader: Karen Carpenter’s version of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina“, and then got hooked into the YouTube suggestion of Madonna singing the same song” from the movie version of “Evita“.  Since I heard that, and several other versions, I realized that I know very little about Eva Peron despite the huge role she played (and still plays) in the history of Argentina. So I needed to fill that lacuna, and this book appeared to be the biography that was recommended most often. (It also appears to be the one that inspired the musical.)

The Evita legend freaks me out, as it’s played on a foreign stage, and involves a poor woman who hits the big time, using her fame as an actress, a beauty, and Juan Peron’s wife to do good for the poor. But her motivations may be more than altruistic, or so suggest the lyrics of Lloyd-Webber/Rice song—a pastiche of trite emotions and self-aggrandizement set to a beautiful tune. I need to find out how much of Evita was empathy and how much was self promotion. Regardless, her story, her death at 33 from uterine cancer, and the preservation of her body (Juan Peron used to put it on the dinner table as he ate), is just plain weird, and I want to know about it. And I want to know what she did to make her more beloved of her people than was her husband.

A brief but informative biography:

Here’s Eva Peron’s state funeral in 1952—an unusual ceremony for the wife of a President. But she was adored by the “common people’ of Argentina. The video has no sound, but doesn’t need any.

A rare video of Eva Peron being interviewed:

And to see a popular post on my favorite 20 books of the last 200 years (along with those chosen by my friend Tim), go here.

This, of course, is my call for you to recommend books you’re reading or have read recently, as I often find my own material from readers’ suggestions. Please comment below.

90 thoughts on “What we’re reading now

  1. Tamim Ansary, Afghani expat’s Games Without Rules: The often interrupted history of Afghanistan. Published in 2012 but still, perhaps eternally, pertinent.

  2. Have you ever read anything by Miguel Delibes? A Spanish writer, 1920-2010, unjustly (in my opinion) deprived of the Nobel Prize. I like his prose a lot. My favourite are ‘The heretic’ and ‘Five Hours with Mario’. I don’t know about the translations, but in Spanish both are excellent.
    Right now I’m reading ‘Los vencejos’, the last novel by F. Aramburu, whose ‘Homeland’ won every prize in Spain a few years ago. Also, HBO made a t.v. series It’s is about ETA and the Basque conflict. Describes pretty well the feelings and lives of the people those days. I found it easy to read, somewhat predictable but fine overall.

  3. There was a film based on The Road, some of which was shot here in Greater Braddock, but it wasn’t particularly good. At the time I heard that the book was much better.

    But for post-apocalyptical viewing, and since it’s the season, The End of August at the Hotel Ozone now available as full-length, free, remains my favorite.

    1. I thought The Road film adaptation was very good. Some of it was shot in Southern Ontario too and when the winter gets cold and grey I think of The Road.

    2. I didn’t like the movie of The Road, either, despite the wonderful Javier Bardem. But I also am not a fan of post-apocalyptic stuff.

      1. I think maybe you’re conflating The Road with another movie adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country for Old Men, Merilee, only the latter of which starred Javier Bardem.

        1. You’re absolutely right, Ken🙀 I actually didn’t much like either movie but did like the book No Country for Old Men. Liked most of the McCarthys I’ve read, except for The Road. Too many books, too little memory…

  4. All readers interested in Darwin should consider the magnificent novel about the voyage of HMS Beagle by Harry Thompson entitled This Thing of Darkness (2005). It is a wonderfully-imagined and beautifully-written work, although, in truth, it has rather more to do with FitzRoy than with Darwin himself. The story of the writing of this truly splendid book is also fascinating and sad, since it was published only weeks before the author (who wrote and produced comedy in London) died, at only 45, of cancer, having spent more than a decade researching and writing his only novel.

    1. A great book, though I fear that those more familiar with the history might take issue with it, especially the portrayal of Darwin. For what it’s worth, I created the (not very good) Wikipedia article about the book a few years ago.

  5. I am reading David Dallin’s Soviet Espionage (1956). It’s a survey that looks at Europe, Canada, and the US. It is interesting to see what was known then (a lot), as opposed to what we know today from the release of classified material since the end of the Cold War. I am also reading Virginia Postrel’s The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, which is fascinating, and I strongly recommend.

  6. I’m currently re-reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. It was excellent when I read it 20 years ago and seems downright prophetic now. It’s a nonfiction work about water in the American West that was published in 1986. It lays out the history of water projects in the west and the foolishness behind so much of our efforts to “green the desert”. The writing is excellent and reading this book killed my ambitions for moving west when I was younger.

    I read The Road a few months ago and enjoyed the writing style but couldn’t get into the story. Maybe I need to give it another chance. I just didn’t care what happened to the main characters so it was hard for me to really engage in the story.

  7. Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. It’s beautiful. I may have even liked it better than his hit novel from many years back, Never Let Me Go.

    1. I really loved Never Let Me Go, one of these novels to think endlessly about. Klara and the Sun is on my inconstant list. Next one, I guess.

    2. I wholeheartedly agree. Ishigro’s ability to slowly develop the story is akin to a finely crafted musical composition building to a climax.

  8. I am reading “Hitler:Downfall 1939-1945” by Volker Ullrich. This is volume 2 of Ullrich;s monumental biography, translated from the German. The frightening part is not that Hitler was psychotic, but that so many Gemans became his toadies, particularly those in the government, military, and security services. And, yes, it can happen here.

  9. I’m 60% through The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It was released in 1975 by a Vietnam Vet and is about future wars where soldiers can use sort of black holes to fight alien species. The main character’s many leapings through these black holes cause him to age only a couple of years while people on earth age 20, then hundreds of years. The earth he initially returns to is completely unrelatable for him, which echos the feelings of vets who return to their homes after combat. Some of it is interesting for an earth of the 2000s as people start using gender neutral pronouns so it was a bit prescient. It is a commentary on never going home. I read it after I read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, which is different but also uses war and combat as the backdrop. I like both of them and they are a break from working through the Expanse series which I think is really excellent in its science, character development, story telling, and political commentary. I just finished Book 6 (Babylon’s Ashes) of the Expanse series & I am reading the novellas in order as well so I’ve also finished reading the novella, Strange Dogs.

    I also like the Murderbot series and read the latest, Fugitive Telemetry but didn’t find it as funny & entertaining as the pervious ones. There is a new Bobiverse I want to read but I kind of got bored of the last one so I don’t know how interesting this one will be for me.

    1. I read Forever War way back in college. The friend who told me about it said that Haldeman wrote it as an answer to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

      1. Yes, it makes more sense than Starship Troopers but I always say Starship Troopers as a parody of war propaganda.

    2. I haven’t read Fugitive Telemetry, but I’ve read the previous 5 and liked them.

      If you liked the Murderbot stories you might also like the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I really liked these as well.

  10. I agree with PCC(E) about the Naipaul. It’s far from his best book, and one gets the impression that the judges gave him the Booker as a sort of lifetime achievement award, rather than because ‘In a Free State’ was actually the best book of the year.

    The Farrell is a great novel, and well worth anyone’s time. So are his other books that make gentle (or not so gentle) mockery of the pretensions of British colonialism, ‘Troubles’ (about Ireland) and ‘The Singapore Grip’ (about Singapore in WW2).

    I have just finished reading Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’, which is a worthy successor to ‘Mountains of the Mind’, ‘The Old Ways’, and his other books about humans in nature. It is about the whole other world beneath our feet, from caves in the Mendips to the Paris catacombs to nuclear waste disposal sites. It is beautifully written, even though he gets a bit ‘spiritual’ and rather close to woo from time to time. Still, very strongly recommended!

    1. Yes, Macfarlane is a great descriptive writer although the spiritual aspects can be cloying. He passed about a mile from here on his walk for The Old Ways.

  11. I’m quite a fan of VS Naipaul. His best and most readable ones are, besides “A house for Mr Biswas” , “Miguel street” and “The Mimic Men”.
    Contrary to our host, I particularly like his history and travel books such as “Among the Believers, an Islamic Journey”, “A Bend in the River”, “India, a Wounded Cvilisation”, “India, a Million Mutinies Now” or “Beyond belief”.
    I’m sure that “In a Free State” won a Booker prize, and justly so.
    There is only one book I couldn’t finish, too dense? too slow? and that is “the Enigma of arrival” not recommended for readers not used to Naipaul. Maybe if I read it again now I would enjoy it more?
    The greatest quote I can remember is: “Nothing here has been fashioned with love or even skill; there is as a result nothing on which the eye rests with pleasure” (from “the Mimic Men” IIRC). That quote often spooks through my brain, haunts me, on many occasions.
    All that being said, I think VS Naipaul is undoubtedly one of the Greats, and deserving his Nobel prize.

    1. A Bend in the River is great! I’ve likec all the Naipaul that I’ve read, including those by his late brother, Shiva.

  12. I’m reading “The Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright. It’s been sitting on my shelf since … well, since I think you or one of your readers recommended it, years ago. Seemed appropriate.

    After that, I think I’ll need something uplifting, but I don’t know what yet. Maybe a fantasy.

      1. Now reading – also in Penguin/ Allen Lane
        Britain’s Europe – a Thousand Years of Conflict & Cooperation by Brendan Simms.

        Fascinating – it shows the contrasting pulls to participate in European affairs or draw outward to the maritime world, are deeply underlying themes of our history in the British Isles, pushing the drive to empire for example. I did not realize England got Bombay via Charles II’s marriage to Catherine of Braganza…

    1. Try Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Written as a journal I found it well done for light reading and it had a satisfying ending. Also Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and The Starless Sea may fit your need.

      1. I’m talking about The Looming Tower.
        Btw, I was reminded of the Turgenev by finally reading Nabokov’s excellent Lectures in Russian Literature.

  13. … the preservation of her [Eva Peron’s] body (Juan Peron used to put it on the dinner table as he ate) …

    As one does.

  14. I recently read Helen Joyce’s new (2021) Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality – highly recommended! I finally finished McWhorter’s entertaining Nine Nasty Words (a slim volume, but one I read a chapter at a time between other things). On the pile are Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees and Matthew Cobb’s The Idea of the Brain which I started months ago and put aside when things got busy and inexplicably didn’t resume. (I’m not very good at reading non-fiction in the evenings for some reason.)

    On the fiction front, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun was interesting, albeit rather weird – I haven’t read his earlier work, so not sure how it compares. C. J. Sansom’s Tombland, one of his Matthew Shardlake series set in Tudor England, was good but depressing. And Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water was somewhat disappointing after his very original and clever debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (for some bizarre reason titled The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the US); the latter is also worth checking out!

  15. I am reading “Helgoland,” by Carlo Rovelli. It’s about quantum theory and very good, but I find I have to put it down after each couple of pages and stare into space and ponder.

  16. My current book is Out on a Limb by Andrew Sullivan.

    I am enjoying it. The chapters (articles) on Catholicism are heavy sledding. He is heavy on Gay issues and Catholicism (no one should be surprised).

    In my opinion, I find his writing more enjoyable as it gets more recent. He becomes more concrete and less philosophical.

    Just prior: Chris Bowers’ biography of Novak Djokovic, which I enjoyed a lot. (Djoker may complete the calendar Salm and rack up his historic 21st major singles title here in two weeks in New York.)

    Just before that, The Yearling, which I found recommended here a few weeks back, perhaps by Jerry. I liked it but it was a bit too self-consciously “crafted” for my taste.

    Before that: This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan, which was excellent, though a bit less cohesive than his earlier How to Change Your Mind, on a similar subject, also excellent.

    Before that: The Company by Stephen Bown, which was a good history of the Hudson Bay Company.

  17. It’s not light and happy reading but I am reading “Young Men and Fire”. It’s about the smokejumpers in the Mann Gulch fire in Montana 1949. They were young, healthy men who jumped from a plane into fighting this fire. The author goes on a quest to find out what went wrong by studying documents.
    He also looked at how fire, wind and geography operated in this tragedy.
    We have so many huge fires out here in California, I decided to read this.

  18. I recommend a novel by a French writer: A Corner of the Veil (1996), by Laurence Cosse. There, a former priest receives a revelation from God and writes a nine-page document that even practiced skeptics agree is an unarguable proof of the existence of God, allowing every person to have a direct relationship with the deity. The novel traces the reaction of the Church and the French Government to the existence of this proof. Not a great book, but an interesting speculation of what would happen if there was such a proof. Would any organized religion be necessary and what would be the social, political and economic consequences of everyone suddenly having an unshakeable faith in God?

  19. I mentioned it on this site just a week or so ago: Kate Masur’s “Until Justice Be Done – America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction” and I have finally, after reading Mathew’s book, “The Brain” at the start of our 18 month quarantine, just purchased and started to read his “The Resistance”. My wife has an Alexa unit in the house which notifies us of amazon deliveries and this morning started out with its anodyne electronic voice announcing: “The resistance has arrived”. I did not know whether to check the front porch or take shelter.

  20. I finished Infinite Jest prior to reading Klara and the Sun. Different as night and day but both were well worth reading. What David Foster Wallace was able to do with words, creative description, sentence structure, and multiple imaginative story threads is amazing. Just finished Paranesi by Susanna Clarke. It’s a fantasy written as a journal in the style of the late 1800’s and she does a credible job of it. Easy to read and enjoyable.

    On deck, not necessarily in order, are Oblivion, the last collection of short works by David Foster Wallace; Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie; Possession by A. S. Byatt, a Booker Prize winner; The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (everyone seems to be reading him); Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (on which the sci-fi series The Expanse was based. I thought the Amazon Prime series was very well done); and am currently 1/2 way through Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky, one of the better science writers.

    1. I’m half-way through Sapolsky’s 700?-page Behave, and have Zebra “on deck”. Excellent, intelligent, witty writer.

    2. ‘Possession’ is one of my favorite novels. When I think of it I particularly recall its Dickinsonian pastiche lyric poetry.

      1. I read the first few pages and think it will be my next read. Thanks for the comment. Dickens’ Bleak House is in my top 5.

  21. Farrell’s Krishnapur and also Troubles are both superb. I have read almost all the Booker shortlisters (regular and international) in the past 15 or so years and though many have been excellent, I would recommend very few from last year. They have been relentlessly grim. I did recently finish William Vollmann’s magisterial novel about WWII Germany and Russia, Europe Central. Highly recommended. Have finally started reading Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, which is very witty. Not fiction, but David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo is very good.

    1. And I just realized I had NOT read Farrell’s Singapore one, though have it, and also found a fourth one of his on my shelves, The Hill Country. Thanks for the reminder.

  22. I can’t find the post, but wasn’t there some talk about reading A. C. Grayling’s “History of Philosophy?” Is anyone reading it and enjoying it?

    1. Yes, I finished it but couldn’t get excited. It’s a good capsule history of philosophy, but there’s too much stuff to go over in so short a space, and it was more a dutiful read than an enjoyable one.

      1. I generally agree with Jerry here, but also found several vignettes that piqued my interest or reminded me of people or history i had studied long ago and inspired me to give them a new look now with the additional experiences I have had over the years.

  23. I spent a week in Manapouri, Fiordland, recently. If you have been there Jerry you will know that it rains a lot? Cold, rainy days meant I did more reading than usual.

    Books I have read lately. Dave Barry’s, Book Of Bad Songs, this is a funny book and easy to read. It’s all over in less than an hour. How To Read An Insect by Ross Piper. This is an informative and interesting book and has piqued my interest in insects. Can anyone recommend more books about insects? Green Lights, Matthew McConaughey, it’s OK, interesting in parts.

    I am also reading and enjoying West With The Night by Beryl Markham. I think Jerry recommended this book? And, I am still wading through Red Comet, The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, by Heather Clark. This book is scholarly and well-written but the 941 page tome is dense. It is almost a day by day, hour by hour account of Plath’s short and fiery life. There is a lot to take in so I can only read a few pages at a time.

    1. Page 426 here. I’m enjoying the author’s “fly-on-the-wall” approach to providing details of Plath’s life—128 pages of EndNotes alone! I wonder how long it took her to write this book?

  24. Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels. I’m just finishing “Phineas Finn,” the second of the series. It has lots of confusing stuff about Parliament in the 1860s that is about as impenetrable to me as P.G. Wodehouse’s occasional detours onto the cricket field, but the writing is wonderful and the drama of the characters’ love interests is irresistible.

    1. A brilliant series – I was astonished by the references to Plantagenet Palliser’s (fictional, obviously) plans for decimal coinage in the UK in the 1870s, a century before it actually came to pass!

      1. Some pretty horrendous anti-Semitism later on – Trollope was very much “of his time” in that respect, sadly.

        1. It’s always a jolt when I encounter a racial epithet or stereotype in works like these or in Dickens’s novels. Surely they would be more enlightened today.

  25. WEIT reader Publius just mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson’s near-future climate emergency novel The Ministry for the Future below the line of our host’s previous post: an excellent and optimistic book rooted in science fiction not too far removed from science fact.

    1. Thanks Jez. I got busy and didn’t have time to follow your suggestion earlier. I think Ministry for the Future is really an important book that should be widely read. I’ve also been on a George Orwell binge this summer. I’ve now read all of his books, and just bought a collection of essays compiled by George Packer — All Art is Propaganda. By and by, I want to read Christopher Hitchens Why Orwell Matters.

  26. Should you ever be tempted to read the 1980 winner, Rites of Passage by William Golding, I’d suggest you recover from the inevitable disappointment by reading the runner-up, the far better Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.

  27. Just a bit of my summer reading:

    “The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll” by Jean Nathan. The biography of Dare Wright who became famous for her “Lonely Doll” series of children’s books. Wright was a stunningly beautiful woman who had successful careers as a fashion model, fashion photographer and author. Her private life was a nightmarish combination of “Mommie Dearest” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”. My older sister owned a couple of the Lonely Doll books which are illustrated with black and white photos of dolls, stuffed animals and sometimes live animals. As a kid, I found them a bit creepy. This book explains it all.

    “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir. The third novel by Andy Weir, author of “The Martian” (we will not speak of his second novel). School teacher turned astronaut Ryland Grace wakes from suspended animation to find himself entering the Tau Ceti solar system. The rest of his crew is long dead due to a malfunction of the suspended animation system. Grace is suffering from amnesia, barely able to remember his name or what his mission entails. As memory slowly returns he realizes that all life on Earth is on the verge of extinction and that he is on a suicide mission to find the answer before it is too late. Then an alien ship enters the system. A great first contact story as well as hard science problem solving in the vein of “The Martian”.

    “The Forge of God” by Greg Bear. The ultimate end of the world tale. Aliens arrive on Earth with conflicting stories, weird geological formations appear at random sites overnight all over the world and an unstoppable Doomsday device is counting down.

    “T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us” by Carole Hooven. Everything you wanted to know about testosterone and its effects on human and animal behavior. Get ready for refresher lessons in biochemestry and physiology 101. The chapter on Chinese eunuchs and Italian castratti is horrifying.

    1. That had me clutching my gonads!

      Try The Alteration by Kingsley Amis – a world where Luther became pope & there is a boy with a great voice they want to turn into a castrati…

  28. I just finished reading “Of Ants and Dinosaurs” by Cixin Liu, a fanciful strory about the dinosaurs (brute strength and imagination but no technical prowess) and ants (organisation and technical skills but no imagination) working with each other to develop a technological civilisation which (spoilers?) ultimately fails for reasons related to ongoing issues in our own world. As in “The Three-Body Problem”, Liu is quite good at exploring how technology might develop differently in other cultures.

    I’ve re-started Adrian Goldsworthy’s “Pax Romana”, which I got for Christmas a few years ago and got about a third of the way through but got distracted by other stuff. It’s an interesting take on war and peace in the ancient world.

  29. Non-fiction: Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch-America During the King Years 1954-1963 is a brilliant account of racial politics and the civil rights movement. MLK jr. is brought to life as a complex, educated and fully human leader. It is daunting at nearly 1000 pages but is worth the commitment.

    If you prefer gritty noir novels, the new series by Walter Mosley The Leonid McGill novels is worth a look. I finished The Long Fall rather quickly and just started Known to Evil. Set in New York City with a complex and flawed reformed fixer, raised by an African American communist. I’m hooked. Of course, l loved Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series.

  30. A Farewell to the Ice by Chris Wadham – about the science of Arctic ice & how we are so screwed by the poor response to climate science, particularly over methane. 🥺

    The Song of Simon de Montfort by Sophie Therese Ambler – very good mediaeval history about a man who really DID change the world.

    About to start –
    Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn -“synthesis of art, science & philosophy” themes of “inheritance, determinism, freedom, consciousness”… involving a scientist.

  31. For enjoyable reading, the Flashman novels and the Aubrey-Maturin novels. Plenty of pleasant hours reading over a coffee and pastry, which is one way of judging a book’s worth, prizes or not.

  32. Recently finished Paleofantasty: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. It’s by Marlene Zuk, an anthropologist. She reviews the “pop science” of the fad diets and presumptions of sex that are based on the mistaken beliefs that human evolution was frozen in time from when our ancestors roamed the planes eating only meat and berries, and also breaks down the ideas in “Sex Before Dawn” which are used to justify a polygamous lifestyle. It seems that human behavior in the pre-dawn ages varied greatly and there is no real generalization to use to suddenly reveal to our spouses in order to goad them into having a threesome. Do, or don’t, but don’t blame science for it.

    I’ve had the argument with my brother, who is generally smarter than me, about whether or not cereals are the most damaging foods to our body and our brains. He maintains that they have produced over 11,000 years of brain fog and neurological pathologies, based on the works of Dr. David Perlmutter. To me it never seemed to make any sort of logical sense, let alone could never account for the varying environments in which humans adapted our diets to match the food that was available. (and why would humans start to cultivate grains if we hadn’t been eating the wild versions of them? Teosinte, anyone?)

    Dr. Zuk answers those questions, supporting my argument with established research.

  33. From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun. It came out in 2000 (millennially, I’m sure) and represents the thought of an immensely learned, if conservative, historian who, at age 93, was deeply worried about the ‘decline of the West’.

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