What I’m reading

August 15, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’m doing a bunch of reading trying to balance science with non-science (the latter mostly fiction). Click on the book cover reproductions to go to the Amazon links.

Science: Flights of Fancy by Richard Dawkins.  It’s a good book and I learned a lot, though it’s centered more on the adaptation of flight than on concepts. However, Richard does bring in a lot of the ideas (the genic viewpoint, adaptive compromise, the necessity of step-by-step adaptation, and so on) from his earlier works. I’m wondering if this isn’t Richard’s equivalent of Darwin’s book on earthworms, where he instantiated with worms his idea that even small changes can add up to big results over a long period of time. The book seems to be written for young adults, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot. Nota bene: there will be an “event”

More science: A lot of stuff on the Galápagos to prepare me for lecturing in February. (I prepare well in advance!) It’s good to revisit the old stuff, so I reread these books:

I haven’t read The Voyage of the Beagle for decades, and it was instructive to go through it again. The section on the Galápagos is very short, and I’d forgotten that it didn’t contribute much to The Origin. Reading this and other sources, it’s clear that Darwin did not have an “aha moment” in the islands, and in fact only used them trivially in constructing his big theory. One reason is that he messed up his collecting notes, especially for finches and tortoises, and thus was unable to suss out their meaning until others (notably the ornithologist John Gould) properly classified the species. I was also surprised at how judgmental Darwin was about animals, finding them “odious”, “horrible” and “ugly” (he has very few kind words to say about the marine iguanas!). But he was young: only 22 when he embarked on the 5-year voyage. The book is alternatingly boring and absorbing, the latter when he comes close to thoughts about evolution (he was a creationist on the trip). There is far too much geology, since Darwin was more engaged with geology than biology when he went aboard.

It’s interesting to contrast the sickly Darwin of his later years with the robust youth described in his journal, a time when he’d camp out in the snow in a blanket and ride all day through swamps in the rain, not to mention hiking up every mountain he saw.

Beagle, which made Darwin’s reputation as a naturalist, was published three years after his return to England, and within five years after that he was a full-fledged advocate of evolution and natural selection. But he was timorous, and only published his ideas when forced to by Wallace’s coincidental discovery of natural selection in 1858.  The Origin, which came out in 1859, was published fully 23 years after the Beagle returned to port.

Here’s a good book on the influence of the Galápagos on biological thought, beginning with the discovery of the uninhabited islands in the 16th century and continuing on to the present day. Darwin’s own trip to the archipelago occupies about 1.5 chapters.

And I went back to the Galápagos section of Janet Browne’s magisterial two-volume biography of Darwin: Voyaging and The Power of Place. The first book ends as he arrives home on the Beagle, never to leave England again. This is truly the definitive biography of Darwin, and I was amazed, on rereading the Beagle section, at how much scholarship Browne managed to sneak into a biography that is truly a page turner. You MUST read this book: both volumes.

Fiction: I once again started Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinchbut for some reason found it unreadable: the writing seemed too self-conscious to me. Only rarely do I start a book and not finish it, so I’ll never know how it comes out.

On the advice of two friends, I got the book below instead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015—a year after Tartt’s book won the same prize. I’ve just started it, but it’s a parallel narrative of two young people: a blind French girl who flees Paris for Saint-Malo with her father, and a German youth who’s destined to fight for the Nazis. As I’m only a wee bit into it, I can’t pass final judgment, but it hooked me instantly, and I can see why it was so lauded. This one I know I’ll finish.

This is, of course, your impetus to tell us all what you are reading, and whether you recommend it.

83 thoughts on “What I’m reading

  1. All the Light is wonderful.
    Me: fiction: I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. A 2004 college-campus novel. I don’t know how or why I obtained a hardback first edition, but I decided to read it because it is large and will open up some much-needed shelf space. So far, slightly dated (naturally), believable student characters (I knew some back then), wry observations, far too many adjectives.
    I just finished a great unauthorized biography of Tom Waits, Lowside of the Road by Barney Hoskyns (2009).

    1. Charlotte Simmons (the title, I take it, is a play on Flaubert’s declaration “Madame Bovary, c’est moi“) is my least favorite of Wolfe’s four novels. Like all Wolfe’s novels, it has some great set pieces (the football-game tailgating party comes to mind) . But the obsession with college kids’ sex lives and bodies by the then-74-year-old Wolfe I found a bit, well, creepy. Plus, while those around her are vividly depicted, the title character seemed something of a cipher.

      Of Wolfe’s four novels, I think his second, A Man in Full, while flawed, his best.

  2. I just finished The Story of B by Daniel Quinn, a rehash/review/expansion of his well-known book Ishmael, which I read a few years ago. I would be very much interested in knowing if you have read them and, if so, what you thought of them.

    I recommend them highly; even if you don’t agree with everything in them, or even with the main thesis, they are quite thought-provoking.

    1. An acquaintance recently recommended Quinn’s books, also highly. I picked up a copy of Ishmael and am looking forward to starting it soon.

  3. I’m currently reading “Ritual” by Dimitris Xygalatas. I’m about 60% through it. The author has specialised in the studying the role of ritual in human society. Some interesting psychological and neurological research cited, but I’m not sure that, so far, it has told me much that I didn’t intuitively feel to be the case.

    I recently finished “The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived the Holocaust” by Tzvetan Todorov. Instead of asking why it is that people do evil, he turns that around and asks ‘Why do good?’ Or, as he puts it in the book, “…when we know that evil is striking our neighbour, the question is, do we do anything about it? And if so, why? And how?” As the title suggests he concludes our capacity to do good is “fragile”.

  4. Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions by Sabine Hossenfelder.
    I’ve tried and I couldn’t resist until its half. Science cannot dismantle and is not allowed to patronize religious beliefs.

  5. I’m on object 89 of Neil MacGregor’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” I learned of the book on one of these very same WEIT posts. Each listed object has 4-5 pages describing what it is and its historical significance. He starts with chopping tools from the Olduvai Gorge in Africa a million years ago and goes through the millennia to present times, describing all sorts of remarkable objects from around the world. Some are well known, like the Rosetta stone or Clovis points, but the vast majority I was unfamiliar with. He also quotes scholars he has interviewed who are experts on the disparate objects he describes. It’s a large book with many descriptive full-color photos; actually I think it was recommended the time you wanted a “large tome” for your last Antarctic adventure.

    As I wrote yesterday, my next book will be Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children.” I always alternate between non-fiction and fiction books.

    Thanks for the Darwin recommendations. I think I’ll pick up Browne’s two volumes. I enjoy these posts a lot, and they always add books to my bookshelves. I haven’t been disappointed by any recommendation yet! 🙂

  6. Voyage of the Beagle: had to read twice because the tales of the treatment of indigenous people horrified me so much (why was I surprised??) that I tried to wash the taint out of my brain. It did not work. The fossils he found were most interesting to me.

    Janet Browne: neither are available for Kindle and I can’t read text any longer. 🙁

    Goldfinch: on my to-read list like forever.
    All the Light . . . it’s time for a re-read. And a re-cry.

    Now finishing a simply awful romance that I was asked to review. That’ll never happen again after my review.

    Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship (PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award (2022)). I’m going to cry, I can tell.

    Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: should be required of every American. It has totally demolished the New England Congregational propaganda I was brought up on. Not to mention of course, everything else.

    Origin of Species; annotated, unabridged. Tried to get most accurate annotator version.

    and others . . .

    But have you considered The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World
    by Riley Black? It’s like a disaster movie with lots of evolution thrown in. It’s a re-read for me.

  7. I recently finished “Tyll” by Daniel Kehlmann. It’s the story of the trickster Tyll Eulenspiegel as a history of the 30 Years War, which I knew very little about. I ended up also reading a lot about (deposed) The Winter King and Queen of Bohemia. It turns out the current British royal family is descended from them. Funny how these things work out.

    1. The exploits of Tijl Uilenspiegel (Ulenspieghel -literally ‘owls mirror’) and his buddy Lamme Goedzak are/were bread and cake for Dutch and Flemish youth half a century ago, I’m not sure about the present though. They were the monumental guys to outwit authority, clerics and many others, time and again. They were nasty, naughty and 100% anticlerical.

      1. I have heard that another translation is “wipe-mirror”, with “mirror” as a euphemism for “ass” 🙂

  8. I read The Goldfinch on Audible. The narration was superb. But at about two thirds of the way through it seemed to take a very odd and unbelievable direction. I recently read Dawkin’s Books do Furnish a Life, and now I’m listening to it on Audible. Richard narrates.

    1. Pre-divorce his wife used to read parts of his books… I may get around to that one day, but I read both his memoirs, the second last year, & found the second very dull & over long.

  9. I read the Voyage about 15 plus years ago & I found it all interesting. I read several related books -I have loads of Darwin books.

    I read the Doerr a few years ago with the RI Fiction Lab reading group. I seem to recall I found it well written but not fabulous, but I quickly forget fiction.

    I am reading several books as I often do – being a student ruined me as a reader as I had to read lots of different things at the same time.

    “They All Love Jack” by Bruce Robinson, somehow about Jack the Ripper & masons, a sort of anti Victorian-establishment rant as far as I can see 70 odd pages in, perhaps wrong but a good read, A fat fat book.

    “In Search of the Dark Ages” by Michael Wood, a new updated edition of his classic from 40 years ago, taking 14 people from British history from Boudicca to William the Bastard.

    “Empires of the Word” by Nicholas Ostler on language history by language ‘empires’ -very fat!

    “River Kings” by Cat Jarman – archaeology & vikings.

    “Novacene” by James Lovelock- thin so should be a quick read.

    “Invasive Aliens” by Dan Eatherley on biological hitchhikers & introductions.

    “Gallowglass” by S.J. Morden – a scifi about mining asteroids in near future space – the sort of scifi I prefer with some plausibility.

    Oh yes & dipping into “Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings” by John Rogerson who was at Manchester then Sheffield.

    See? Ruined as a reader…

  10. I just finished Russell Nye’s Fettered Freedom: Civil Liberties and the Slavery Controversy, 1830-1860, which I strongly recommend. It looks at the attitudes towards civil liberties in relation to the increasingly vituperative debate about slavery. It has chapters on academic freedom and press freedom, among others. I am just about to finish Jonathan Haslam’s The Spectre of War: International Communism and the Origins of World War II, which unfortunately needed either to be a much longer book or a much shorter one. I feel the need for some fiction for a change.

  11. I am in the middle of “The Nazi Menace” (2020) by Benjamin Carter Hett. A page-turner, despite the unfortunately melodramatic title. It is a minutely detailed history of the internal politics in Germany and Britain, and to a lesser extent the USSR and the USA, that determined the lead-up to and opening stage of WWII, 1937-1940. It is particularly detailed about the senior German military officers (Generals Beck and von Witzleben, Admiral Canaris, etc.) who were prepared to overthrow the Nazi regime in 1938 if Britain and France had threatened to go to war in defense of Czechoslovakia, rather than indulging Hitler as they did at Munich.

    1. Did the British & French know of them? More to the point, would they have removed the Nazis or just been nicer Nazis?

      1. Very relevant questions, both addressed in the book. On the 1st question: the Brits were abundantly informed, but couldn’t know how serious the German military conspirators were. [We know today, inasmuch as all three whom I mentioned were executed by the Nazis late in the war, Canaris just weeks before the German surrender in 1945.] On the 2nd: the anti-Nazi military were old-line German conservatives of the kind who had thought they could make use of and control the Nazis, but had learned better by 1938. They correctly feared that Hitler was leading Germany into a war which would be disastrous.

  12. I highly recommend the books about Tibet under the Chinese for the last 50+ years by Eliot Pattison. I read the first four novels about 15 – 20 years ago.
    I recently ordered the whole set of 9 – 10 books to reread and read. Pattison knew whereof he wrote.

  13. I recently read Sabine Hossenfelder’s “Existential Physics”, then finished (again) Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “Rationality: From AI to Zombies”, and am now reading his “Inadequate Equilibria” again. On his “recommendation” I’ve been trying to read “Probability Theory: The Logic of Science” by E.T. Jaynes, but I lack a bit of the background needed to make it fast reading, so I’m taking it in chunks. I recently read the first book by Antonio Padilla*, “Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them.” Of his and Hossenfelder’s books, I prefer “Fantastic Numbers,” which is great fun and nicely done for a first popular science book by a working scientist. Hossenfelder is a fun thinker…but her book is a bit too superficial for my taste. But I would never hesitate to recommend Yudkowsky’s books.

    I haven’t been able to stomach ANY fiction other than the occasional Japanese “light novel” (a few of which are actually rather heavy, like “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas”), and those only few and far between. I used to consume and repeatedly reconsume fiction without letup, but I can’t seem even to watch movies anymore, even my old favorites. Probably a symptom of something.

    *Of Numberphile and Sixty Symbols “fame”.

  14. I’m rereading Joan Didion’s 1979 essay collection, The White Album. I reread Didion’s first collection of essays (the one that first made her reputation), Slouching Toward Bethlehem, as a show of respect immediately after her death about a year and a half ago.

    I had no plans to reread The White Album, too, but pulled out my copy the other day to look up something in one of the pieces, and things just sort of took off from there. It was these two essay collections that established her as a master of the form.

      1. Her deepest disdain was for the tacky governor’s mansion Ronnie & Nancy had built in Sacramento (at great taxpayer expense), but in which no California governor has ever resided. (Jerry Brown — who succeeded Reagan as CA governor, as his father “Pat” Brown had preceded Reagan — refused to move into the monstrosity, instead renting an apartment near the state capitol building and sleeping on a mattress on the floor.)

        Some of the topics in Didion’s two great essay collections are a bit dated (as one would expect of pieces written in the Sixties and Seventies) but her prose are every bit as graceful as I’d remembered them.

  15. I am in the process of reading (mostly rereading) all of Dicken’s novels in chronological order. I am currently in the middle of his fifth, Barnaby Rudge. It is one of his two historical novels, A Tale of Two Cities being the other. His insight into human nature and his ability to make each character unique is astounding. I found his description of how Lord George Gordon and his sycophantic aides amassed the mob and incited the Gordon Riots of 1780 by propagating “…terrors and alarms which no man understood” , and “…secret invitations to join the Great Protestant Association in defense of religion, life, and liberty…” eerily similar to the machinations of Trump and his followers. No wonder Dickens is still read today.
    For non-fiction I have just started Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition by Patricia S. Churchland which combines philosophy with neuroscience to examine how we determine right from wrong.

    1. … eerily similar to the machinations of Trump and his followers.

      Donald Trump — as grifty as Fagin, as insincere as Uriah Heep.

  16. If you haven’t read it, “Galapagos” by Kurt Vonnegut is a nice fiction with an amusing view on human evolution at the end of the novel.

      1. Speaking of Messrs. Vonnegut and Thompson, this is from the review of Fear & Loathing On the Campaign Trail ’72 that Uncle Kurt wrote for Harper’s magazine:

        The disease is fatal. There is no known cure. The most we can do for the poor devil, it seems to me, is to name his disease in his honor. From this moment on, let all those who feel that Americans can be as easily led to beauty as to ugliness, to truth as to public relations, to joy as to bitterness, be said to be suffering from Hunter Thompson’s disease.

  17. Dear me, what a lot of interesting titles that I haven’t read or got on my must-read list. Must do better!

    I have had Frank Wilczek’s ‘A Beautiful Question’ on my shelf for a year or so, and got round to reading it on my holiday last week. It’s (another) survey of the development of physics, from Pythagoras and Plato to the latest manifestations of the ‘Standard Model’ (which Wilczek prefers to call the ‘Core Theory’), with an emphasis throughout on the beauty of the equations that describe reality. I find some of the links with the ancient philosophers to be a bit strained, and I don’t much care for some of his quasi-religious language (he keeps talking about the Artisan of the Universe). But still, a different perspective, and I would say worth reading.

    In addition, I have just re-read ‘At Swim-Two-Birds’ by Flann O’Brien (Brian O Nolan), for the first time for many years. It’s still pretty funny and anarchic.

    1. I read Wilczek’s “Fundamentals”, and particularly loved the fact that he had named the theoretical particle the axion after a detergent the name of which he had liked when younger. He seems to take great joy in his work, at the very least, and of course, he is very smart. I agree about quasi-religious language tendencies, though.

    2. I need to re-read O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman.” That book had me rolling, it was so funny and strange. I started, but didn’t finish “At Swim Two Birds”…that was years ago. I should try it again.

  18. I’m currently on a modern history/politics binge. Current books open are “Bad Blood”, John Carryrou’s story of the Holmes/Theranos fiasco, and “Not One Inch” by Mary Serotte, a somewhat dense but also compelling history of the collapse of the Soviet Union and events that followed (controlling Soviet nukes and the expansion of NATO), And I just finished “Watergate: A New History” by Garrett Graff, sort of a romp down memory lane for this contemporary of PCC-E.

    1. Bad Blood is terrific, better than any of the recent novels I’ve tried to read. Very timely too because Holmes comes up for sentancing in September

  19. Has anyone here ever read “The Muqaddimah” by Ibn Khaldoun?

    It’s one to the greatest books I’ve ever read…written in the latish 1300s, it is an Islamic history of the world and also on historiography.

  20. Funny: I could not bear All the Light You Cannot See, though I did finish it, but quite liked The Goldfinch. I think I found the Doerr overly flowery and cheesy, though It’s been some years since I read it. Same reason I disliked The God of Small Things, though it did have a very pretty cover🤓
    I’m currently thrilled by Richard Powers’s The Gold-Bug Variations, a 1991 novel about DNA and many other things. Brilliant writer, and this book is not as preachy as his more recent Overstory and Bewilderment.

  21. Having Dr. Coyne lecture in the midst of a Galapagos trip sounds like a rare treat.

    In the current environment, I felt drawn to reread Norman McLean’s “Young Men and Fire”, as well as his son John’s “The Esperanza Fire”, and “Fire on the Mountain”.

    Robert E. noted that he has been unable to stand fiction for some time. I have not been reading any either, but when driving, I have been listening to the works of John Scalzi, of which I recommend “Red Shirts” as fun and interesting.

  22. I just finished “The Theory of Everything” by John Maynard Smith.
    Before that I read “Everybody Hertz” which I really loved. It’s about frequency and vibrations.
    Now I will read “Elusive” by Frank Close. This is subtitled How Peter Higgs solved the Mystery of Mass.
    I loved “The Goldfinch”.

      1. I was intrigued by the idea that he wrote a book on the theory of everything! The theory of evolution, of course, is squarely within his purview.

  23. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles. Only 36 pages in, and I’m very hooked.

    I’d previously read his A Gentleman in Moscow, which had me convinced he was probably Russian. Nope. Just an incredibly gifted writer.

  24. I been reading two books on Ireland: A New Ireland by Naill O’Dowd and We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole. Both are about the remarkable social and political transformation of the Emerald Isle.
    I’m nearly finished with Jim Al-Khalili’s The Joy of Science. The small book has bite-sized chapters.
    And, on recommendation by a niece, I’m halfway through Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

    1. Speaking of Ireland, I’ve just begun Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French, part of a trilogy of novels about Ireland in 1798. by the former head of the Berkeley English dept. Excellent so far, though have had to take notes on the many characters. Could not finush Crawdads…

  25. The language in All the Light is rich and visually satisfying. Just finished About Grace. I didn’t like as much as All the Light. Next read is Cloud Cuckoo Land.

  26. Right now I am reading Arguably Essays by Christopher Hitchens. A very wide range of subject matter and a great display of his wit and wisdom.
    For a change of pace I just finished reading The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. I figured if it was worth making a movie and a Netflix series It was worth a try and was not disappointed.
    I have placed a hold at my library for Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishigguro. The estimated wait time is 13 weeks but I expect it will be well worth waiting for.

  27. I am presently reading the book Speciation by Dr. Coyne and Allen Orr. This is a fascinating read; however, it’s a bit challenging because it’s written for those with PhD’s in Evolutionary [Biology]. I do not have those credentials. Notwithstanding, I am learning a lot and I highly recommend this book!

    1. Well, thanks, but I discouraged all my non-biologist friends from reading the book as it’s for specialists in evolution. Those who did read it found it too hard, and I said, “I told you not to buy it!” But I’m glad you’re learning something from it.

  28. I read “Flights of Fancy” a while back, and found it very interesting, but the thing that fascinates me most is the avian gas exchange system. Without its unidirectional, continuous air flow and cross-current blood flow, its arguable that it would have been a prerequisite for the high metabolic demands of flight.
    I’m surprised creationists haven’t got on to it, as I can’t figure out how it could have evolved in a step-by-step manner, with functional intermediate steps (though as a biology teacher, I have no doubt it must, somehow, did).
    While it’s easy to see how the blind-ending, tidal flow system of other tetrapods such as mammals could have evolved by enlargement of an invagination of the back of the pharynx, the avian system needs the bellows action of two sets of air sacs – posterior inspiratory and anterior expiratory, and I can’t envisage any intermediate stages.
    At some point the creationists are going to leap on this and say it couldn’t have evolved step-by-step, and at the moment I couldn’t rebut them. Though just because I can’t find such a rebuttal, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – just can’t think of it.
    I’d love Richard Dawkins to put his brain to work on this one – like the bacterial flagellum, it’s a challenge.

    1. I suggest you check out the research of Colleen Farmer. She has found that airflow is also unidirectional through the lungs of birds’ fellow archosaurs the crocodylians. Further, it is achieved without air sacs or mechanical valves. Voila! Intermediate!

      1. Thanks, Chas – I was aware of unidirectional flow in crocodilians and that they don’t have air sacs, but even without air sacs (which I accept are not a pre-requisite for unidirectional air flow), that still doesn’t solve the problem of how uni-directional flow got started – unlike tidal flow in other tetrapods.

  29. I love Donna Tartt’s books. I can imagine though that some may find Goldfinch tedious.

    I really enjoyed Doerr’s book All The Light, and should like to reread it.

    I recently finished Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and thought it better than I maybe expected. Reading “The Sinner and the Saint” by Kevin Birmingham about Dostoevsky and the making of Crime and Punishment prompted me.

    I am currently reading Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid about Icelandic women and Iceland’s progress on women’s rights. She’s the president’s wife (!) and an immigrant. The book is well written, funny, and very interesting.

    I am going to reread Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels.

    1. I have never read The Sandman but have enjoyed many of Gaiman’s non-graphic books. I am currently watching and enjoying the Netflix series.

  30. I have a lot of driving coming up so I just downloaded the audiobook version of All the Light We Cannot See. Thanks for the recommendation.

    I’m currently reading The Bad Popes by Russell Chamberlin and am finding it a tough slog. The writing is good but he gives me way too much credit in my knowledge of the subject. He sweeps through major events with a few crisp sentences that would surely sound witty to a reader who knew what the hell the author was talking about. If history of the Catholic church is your bag then you’ve probably already read this book. If not, don’t start your education on the subject with this volume.

  31. Both Robert Elessar and Max+Blancke mention a flight from reading fiction. I’ve
    experienced the same symptom myself since reaching retirement age, some time ago. Does our shift toward non-fiction reading reflect the wisdom of age, or just the beginning of senile dementia? I hope to continue enjoying my dementia.

  32. Like Jerry, I try to read a mix of nonfiction and fiction, keeping two books in the mix at all times. Which I pick up at any time depends on my mood and how well my brain seems to be functioning at the moment. Of course, sometimes a book grabs you where you must drop the other for a while.

    Just finished two books, both I recommend. First, Silverview, the last completed novel by John le Carre before his death in 2020. I am saddened, of course, that there won’t be any more coming. But I haven’t read them all, which I intend to rectify. I wouldn’t put Silverview in the class of the Karla triology, but how many novels of any recent author could stand worthy of that comparison? Happily, the estimable Mick Herron is now on the beat.

    The second I recently finished is The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives, by Adolph L. Reed Jr. While I knew of Dr. Reed, I was drawn to this book after reading his interview by Yascha Mounk on Persuasion, a site Jerry drew to my attention some while back. As Reed notes, he is part of the last generation of Americans with a living memory of Jim Crow. And he argues that an understanding of the South’s second “peculiar institution” is as important to grasping our present condition as knowledge of the first. Reed is a Marxist, I am not, but we share some views on the present “woke” ascendancy. Perhaps a brief quote here will give an idea of his thought:

    A crucial error made by exuberant radicals at least since the 1960s has been
    assuming that their discovery of exploitation and oppression must also be fresh
    news to more beleaguered victims. . . . They self-righteously announce the
    obvious and offer only unthinkably remote, millennial routes to justice like
    “revolution” or “unity” (or now, reparations).

    My current reads are All for Nothing, by Walter Kempowski, and What Makes Biology Unique? by Ernst Mayr.

    1. I’ve got the Kempowski on my Read Me Soon pile. LOVE Mick Herron! Disappointed in Silverview but loved all of Le Carré’s previous works.

  33. I’m agree with those above who recommend Dickens, especially the later novels. His Circumlocution Office in the chapter “Containing the Whole Science of Government” in “Little Dorrit”, my favourite of his, is a masterly description of being given the run-around by any bureaucracy, and the crooked banker Mr Merdle is very relevant. I too have recently read “At Swim-Two-Birds”, and add my recommendation. I’ve also been reading a lot of George Orwell’s non-fiction – the essays and “Homage to Catalonia” – which is brilliant. I’m having another crack at “Midnight’s Children”, but still can’t get on with the way it’s written.I do really like Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” which covers some of the same period. I don’t like much pop physics, but I’ve recently discovered a small masterpiece originally published in 1945, “The Einstein Theory of Relativity” by Lillian Lieber. Starting with what used to be basic school maths it explains the guts of special and general relativity, including tensors, with great clarity. Recommended by Ray D’Inverno, author of a standard text on the subject. I will also admit to a great fondness for the books of Marian Keyes. Sometimes dismissed as lightweight chick-lit, they are more than that, and cover sometimes quite dark themes, but with an always guaranteed upbeat ending. Perfect for certain moods.

  34. Another book I recently read was Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. It’s about the relationship between fungi and people. I didn’t realize until checking into a recent post by PCC(E), that he is the son of the notorious Rupert Sheldrake.

    Nevertheless, having read the book before I learned this, I was quite impressed. The science seemed solid (if there was any woo, it was well concealed), and was well-documented in the notes and bibliography. Though there was some modern “cool signaling” (analogous to virtue signaling), and the inevitable chapter on magic mushrooms, there was also very interesting information on truffles, and quite a bit of actual fungal biology.

    Has anyone else read this? Any opinions?

  35. Many thanks to our host for stimulating all the respondents to suggest some of their reading ideas. Many are new titles for me, although I have read some of them in the past. Here are a few I have recently finished.

    Based on our host’s comment posted a few weeks ago about Kazuo Ishiguro (maybe the best writer currently writing in English), I decided to read a few. I have completed four so far: “Remains of the Day”, “Never Let Me Go”, “When We Were Orphans”, and “Klara and the Sun”. I’m not in position to judge him to be the best writer, but in each of these four, he demonstrates the ability to present each story in a unique and appropriate voice. I enjoyed “Remains…” the best, and “Never… probably the least.

    I have recently enjoyed a few general mathematics and science books: “The Mathematics of Life” by I. Stewart; “The Great Equations” by R. Crease; “Einstein” by W. Isaacson; and an oldie, The Earth: An Intimate History by R. Fortey

    Others I can recommend: “The Free World” by L. Menand; “The Florentines: From Dante to Galileo” by P. Strathern; and “Hamnet” by M. O’Farrell

    For diversion, I await all of M. Connally’s ‘detective’ books about Bosch and Haller.

  36. Chilkoot Pass, the most famous trail in the north
    Archie Satterfield
    this is a great read if you are interested in adventure history and the Klondike,

  37. On the last of the ten novel roman-fleuve ‘Alms for Oblivion’ by Simon Raven which I am re-reading with great pleasure. It gives Powell’s ‘A Dance To The Music of Time’ a run for its money. Next up is ‘The Man From the Future’ about John von Neumann, then comes Jared Diamond’s ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’ (be careful to buy the adult version, not the adaptation for kids!) and then Arnold Bennett’s two volume novel on the ‘Imperial Palace’. After that, all that’s in the pipeline is a technical history of British convoys during the Napoleonic Wars.

  38. I’ve just started Simon Edge’s satirical The End of the World is Flat – a little early to tell, but it’s fairly amusing so far. It is a parody of the LGBTQWERTY campaign organisation Stonewall and its transition (no pun intended) from a respected group that successfully fought for the rights of gay men, bisexuals, and lesbians to a purveyor of extreme transgender ideology. It also pokes fun at progressives’ enthusiasm for policing language and tearing down statues. It was just 99p for the Kindle version recently (and may still be).

  39. Hmm. Finishing George Saunders’s latest. Maybe my last read and review (Because I’m old.) Imo it is an example of what is/has gone wrong. Regarding “education”, values, and the future. Errg.

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