Book – Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species

It always me amazes that so many Americans refuse to accept the fact of evolution, a century and a half after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. It’s still a fascinating book, though of course many of the details have changed.
The full title of the book is “On the Origin of Species by Means of natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. What’s interesting is that the ideas in the book were already under discussion before publication, and as the years went on, Darwin , worked to provide answers to criticisms he knew would occur, spending several chapters refuting his critics. So each subsequent edition of Origin was slightly different, the closest Darwin’s time could come to blogging.

What’s also amazing is the sheer number of people with whom he corresponded. The book is written in a very conversational style, and Darwin frequently uses information gathered from his many correspondents. He states his ideas clearly, then methodically brings in evidence to support them across a wide range of fields. One of the common arguments by creationists is that the eye couldn’t have ‘just happened’, but Darwin anticipated this line of reasoning, and creationists should read his discussion of the many ways in which optical apparati have evolved in multiple creatures, often for original purposes other than sight.
The final paragraph of the book bears repeating, [and Stephen J Gould used it as the inspiration for his monthly magazine columns]:

“There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
This passage also reminds us that, again, contrary to what creationists might say, Darwin did not address the Origin of life itself. Instead, he describes the scientific background that permits the development of species after life started.
Much has changed since Darwin’s time – remember that his era didn’t even know what genes were, much less had any concept of the process by which DNA encodes the entire organism. So it’s no surprise that Darwin got some of the details wrong. No scientist has ever been 100% correct, but that’s the beauty of the scientific method. Unlike religion and other dogmatic faiths, science thrives on criticism, rethinking, and experimental demonstration of hypotheses. This makes the Theory of Evolution one of the most solid intellectual constructions of all time. It is the basis for our understanding of the natural world, and supports modern biology.

Book – Gore Vidal – Inventing a Nation

American Revolution comes to life

The broadside was a common form of media during the American Revolutio.  Inventing a Nation is such a broadside – a compact melange of anecdotal history, contemporary commentary and unabashed partisan rhetoric — in other words, a great read! Vidal surveys the period from 1776 to 1800, concentrating on the personalities and writings of Hamilton, Adams, Washington, & Jefferson. Along the way, he contrasts 18th century politics and political philosophy with 21st century politics. Other times he’s satisfied with the quick jab, as when he quotes Adams’ view of the newly arrived French minister as a comparison with “our first unelected president”:

John Adams had known Genet’s family in France: he had also known the boy himself. Politely, he received the fiery minister and then wrapped him round with Adamsian analysis of the graveyard sort: “A youth totally destitute of all experience in popular government, popular assemblies, or conventions of any kind: very little accustomed to reflect upon his own or his fellow creatures’ hearts; wholly ignorant of the law of nature and nations . . . ” Adams did grant him “a declamatory style. . . a flitting, fluttering imagination, an ardor in his temper, and a civil deportment.” Thus two centuries ago the witty French had sent us an archetypal personality whose American avatar would one’ day be placed in Washington’s by now rickety chair.

But Vidal’s slyness is only a cover for his real subject — the creation of a government that could hold democracy at bay without the trappings of a monarchy. The book is not much longer than an old-style New Yorker series, and he summarizes major events like the constitutional convention to provide details of the men involved, as seen by themselves and their peers. Early on he shows the prescience of many of the founders:

At eighty-one Franklin was too feeble to address the convention on its handiwork, and so a friend read for him the following words: “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well-administred; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administred for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other. Now, two centuries and sixteen years later, Franklin’s blunt dark prophecy has come true: popular corruption has indeed given birth to that Despotic Government which he foresaw as inevitable at our birth. Unsurprisingly, a third edition of the admirable Benjamin Franklin: His Lift As He Wrote It, by Esmon Wright, is now on sale (Harvard University Press, 1996) with’ significantly-inevitably?, Franklin’s somber prediction cut out, thus silencing our only great ancestral voice to predict Enron et seq., not to mention November 2000, and, following that, des­potism whose traditional activity, war, now hedges us all around” No wonder that so many academic histories of our republic and its origins tend to gaze fixedly upon the sunny aspects of a history growing ever darker. No wonder they choose to disregard the wise, eerily prescient voice of the authentic Franklin in favor of the jolly fat ventriloquist of common lore, with his simple maxims for simple folk; to ignore his key to our earthly political invention in favor of that lesser key which he attached to a kite in order to attract heavenly fire.

In the afterword Vidal pushes the point home, starting from his discussion of the Alien & Sedition Acts, progenitors of the Patriot Act, he follows Jefferson’s careful defense of civil rights with his orchestration of the states counterattack that resulted in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

In a sense Jefferson had made his case in the first Kentucky Resolution from which Breckinridge had eliminated the core
argument “where powers are assumed [by the Federal government] which have not been delegated [in the Constitution], a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact. . . to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of powers by others within their own limits.” Thus Jefferson in 1798 had spoken in favor of the principle of nullification. But the first resolution asked for no more than a general sense of the States that the two Federalist Acts were unconstitutional.

Jefferson had to act cautiously, for, even as Vice President, his mere criticism of the acts of Adams & Hamilton could be a violation of the Sedition Act. [Not so different from today’s Bush supporters who declare any dissent being aid and comfort to the enemy.] In this case, the ultimate confrontation was avoided by Jefferson’s electoral defeat of Adams and immediate
suspension of the 2 acts. But nullification remained an inflammatory concept lurking within the Constitution; exploding in the Civil War 2 generations later. Today, Vidal sees it as perhaps the last defense of the states when the Federal Executive abrogates power.

I’ve only traced here one of several threads Vidal ties to contemporary issues. Others include Hamilton’s creation of the financial system, and Marshall’s bold construction of judicial review. Shortness doesn’t prevent Vidal from presenting many arguments that are vital to today’s national politics. Conservatives’ knee-jerk reactions in reviews are amusing since much of the discussion in the book is of ideas any true conservative should hold as core values!

  • Washington’s Crossing – a Review  An invading force gets bogged down while fighting an insurgency.
    While it could be ripped from today’s headlines, this is actually a book about the American Revolution. This is an impressive work on many levels.
  • History as a Work in Progress History is always a subjective process and the best we can hope is that historians tell us what their particular biases are
  • Best History Book Reviews
  • Download royalty free images of History
  • American Presidents Trivia Game From Zachary to Abe and back from Adams to Wilson, how much do you know about our American Presidents? US Presidents Trivia — challenging for any ability or knowledge level.

Books – Alexander the Great

Steven Pressfield

  • The Virtues of War – Alexander’s story thru his own eyes.
  • The Afghan Campaign-A Macedonian solider’s account of the last years of the long war fought by Alexander’s Army in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare

Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy  holds up to a second reading after 40 years – her story is of the young boy who first takes control of a kingdom, Fire From Heaven.  He discovers the divinity deep within him. In the second book, victories come easily as he conquers ever eastwards, and the story is told by his servant/lover, Bagoas, The Persian Boy. Then, Alexander’s death is expanded from the previous book, the successors, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antiochus, begin their political and military takeovers  in Funeral Games, shattering Alexander’s empire.

Freya Stark – Alexander’s Path

  • “Eighty percent of Afghans today live in the same exact landscape Alexander the Great must have beheld when he sacked Balkh in 327 B.C., and Genghis Khan when he sacked it again in 1221: walls of straw and mud, half-gnawed away by weather and age; hand-sown fields tilled by doubled-over farmers in unbleached robes with knobbly, wooden tools. Most have no electricity. No clean water. No paved roads. No doctors nearby…” Foreign Affairs, 4/28/2010 

 

In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. By Seth G. Jones. presents the war in its historical context, beginning with Alexander the Great and the proven ability of Afghans to bring down strong empires

More on

Book – Byzantium – John Julius Norwich

Final assault and the fall of Constantinople in 1453
This is a trilogy consisting of:

      • Byzantium – The Early Centuries
      • Byzantium – The Apogee
      • Byzantium – The Decline and Fall

There’s also an abridged version, in one volume, but I  find it difficult to consider missing out on so much. Norwich writes for the lay reader, but relies heavily on primary sources, often with intriguing quotes.  Despite the potential for dry history, he instead presents a lively and fascinating account of the millennium of Byzantine history, starting with Constantine and ending with the Ottoman conquest. Beginning with a quote from W.E.H. Lecky, 1869,

  • Of that Byzantine empire the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed.. …The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude of perpetual fratricides.”, he comments, “This somewhat startling diatribe… although to modern ears it is perhaps not quite so effective as the author meant it to be — his last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining — the fact remains that, for the past 200 years and more, what used to be known as the Later Roman Empire has had an atrocious press.  “

 

Norwich proceeds to prove that point in 3 volumes of readable history filled with tales both heroic and despicable.

The footnotes are as intriguing as the main text. After describing how

  • the soldiers everywhere proclaimed that they would accept on none but Constantine’s sons, reigning jointly.  With Crispus dead, that left the three sons born to Fausta; the Caesar in Gaul Constantine II, the Caesar in the East Constantius, and the Caesar in Italy Constans”,

he footnotes

  • The distressing lack of imagination shown by Constantine in the naming of his
    children has caused much confusion among past historians, to say nothing of
    their readers.  The latter can take comfort in the knowledge that it lasts
    for a single generation only — which, in a history such as this, is soon over

His style is brisk and interlocking, writing on the broader European history, he’ll follow one thread for several years, then return to the main branch and continue on.  The current year under discussion is always in the upper right corner of the page, making it easier to follow the twists and turns of the plot.   The book is so well written that one can easily jump in anywhere and pick up the flow.

One of the major benefits of this leisurely treatment is the ability to correct historic misunderstandings and mistakes.  The first and most interesting is his emphasis on the fact that the ‘barbarian’ invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries were almost always led by christianized tribes (Goths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Visigoths) looking for a land to settle their people.
And in many cases, these were not invasions, but uprisings and revolts of peoples who had been promised land and security by the emperor(s) and then been ignored.  The case of Alaric is of particular interest — history books typically spend a paragraph at best and describe him as an invading brute, whose invasion of Italy is stopped only by a courageous pope.   In fact, Alaric and his Visigoths had been alllied with the Roman Empire for some years, and it was only after they had been continually denied their promised lands that Alaric invaded.  (He was opposed by the Vandal Stilicho who led the Imperial forces. Another interesting view is the ‘fall’ of the Roman Empire (western) in 476. The last Western emperor, Romulus Augustulus abdicated in favor of Odoacer, whose goal was to continue to rule as a subject of the Eastern Emperor. Rather than a major turning point in history, Norwich explains

  • it is also undeniable that most people in Italy at the time, watching the young ex-emperor settle himself into his comfortable Campanian villa, would have been astounded to learn that they were living through one of the great
    watersheds of European history.  For nearly a century now that had grown used to seeing barbarian generals at the seat of power.  There had been Arbogast the Frank, then Stilicho the Vandal, then Aetius — who, though a
    Roman, was almost certainly of Germanic origin on this father’s side — then Ricimer the Suevian.  Was the Scyrian Odoacer, they might have asked so very different from these? 

The answer is that he was — though for one reason only.  He had refused to accept a Western Emperor.  In the past those Emperors may have been little more than puppets; nevertheless they bore the title of Augustus, and as such they were both a symbol and a constant reminder of the imperial authority.  Without them, that authority was soon forgotten.  Odoacer had request the rank of Patrician; but the title that he preferred to use was Rex. In less than sixty years, Italy would be so far lost as to need a full-scale reconquest by Justinian.  I would be two and a quarter centuries before another Emperor appeared in the West; when he died, his capital would be in Germany rather than in Italy, and he would be a rival rather than a colleague — not a Roman but a Frank.

It’s always difficult for modern readers to fully understand any previous culture, and for the Byzantine case, Norwich spends extra time trying to convey a sense of the importance of religion in every day affairs.  Many of the political arguments revolved around the propagation and extermination of various heresies.  Despite the attempts of various councils convened by the Emperors, heresies such as the Arian, Nestorian and monophysite continued to prosper.  What’s particularly interesting is that the history is not a simple progression of orthodox emperors and allied
clergy fighting a successful battle against heterodox opinion.  Rather it’s a much more complex situation in which Arian or monophysite ideas would control the state and church for long periods.  Only after the fact can one look back to see the emergence of the orthodox.   Splits between east and west were also common, but sometimes even comical:

In 482, the Emperor Zeno’s attempt to

  • heal the breach by means of a circular letter known as the Henoticon, had proved spectacularly unsuccessful.  It had sought to paper over the differences .. and, like all such compromises, it had aroused the implacable hostility of both sides.  Most outraged of all were Pope Simplicius in Rome and his successor Felix III, whose anger was still further increased by the appointment to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, with the bless of both Zeno and Acacius, of one Paul the Stammerer, a cleric whose utterances, when comprehensible at all, were violently monophysite in character. At a synod held in Rome in 484, Pope Felix had gone so far as to excommunicate the
    Patriarch of Constantinople — a sentence which, in default of any orthodox ecclesiastic courageous enough to pronounce it, had been transcribed on to a piece of parchment and pinned to the back of Acacius’s cope during a service in St. Sophia, when he was not looking, whereat the Patriarch, discovering it a few moments later, instantly excommunicated him back, thereby not only placing the see of Constantinople on the same hierarchical level as that of Rome but simultaneously confirming and open schism between the two churches that was to last for the next thirty-five years.

The Byzantium trilogy contains a good index, and excellent tables of the emperors, and family trees for the often confusing lineages. The maps are adequate, but as so often happens, fail to contain many of the important place names contained in the text. Luckily there are many excellent historical atlases available as complements.  While expensive ($45 each in hard cover), Byzantium is well worth the price.

Other links:

Books about Turkey

Byzantine Ruins

Book – King Hereafter – Retelling MacBeth

In Dunnett’s unique retelling of the Macbeth story  most resemblance to Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’ is purely incidental. Like the re-visioning of the Arthur tales by Bernard Cornwell, Mary Stewart,  and many others, the
barebones of what we think we know of the story become mere background whispers. Here, the death of Duncan occurs as a minor tremor in the plot. Instead, we’re dropped into the tightly wound world of medieval politics, trade and family feuding so familiar from Dunnett’s two historical fiction series – the Niccolo and Lymond books.

Once again, her hero is an underestimated young man, bright and adept in both trade and politics. This time the setting is the northern portion of Great Britain, the Orkneys and Scandinavia at the height of the Viking successor empires. They squabble to control Denmark and England culminating, after this narrative, in 1066 and all that. Tight, intricate
plotting is her trademark, and once more, allegiances and kingdoms bloom, thrive and then are shattered in the course of a paragraph. And there are the expected setpieces – races along the oars of speeding Viking longships, and ice skate
races in the wintry Orkneys. The only downside is that this is a standalone tale, with no sequels. Never light reading, Dunnett is at the top of my list of historical novelists.

Among the other ideas she incorporates are the  concepts of the pre-capitalist, pre-mercantilist kingdoms [in Philip Bobbitt’s terms, Princely states rather than Kingly states as described in The Shield of Achilles, ] where the ‘monarch’ might actually hold little land. His power relied on holding together an amalgam of territories that had no natural borders. Instead ties of tribal nature still held, while the mechanism was held together by new economic concepts like cash money:

Nowadays, money was something all men had need of. The church required it, to pay armies to push the Saracens back in the Mediterranean; to fight off the heathenish tribes of the Baltic; to establish churches and send her missions
abroad. Kings required it, to bribe their enemies and to pay their friends for services rendered where land was wanting or inappropriate; to hire fleets with, and foreign fighting-men; to buy the luxuries that their status demanded.

And since not every country could make money or, having made it, could protect the place where it was kept, a trade in money was always there: money that did not go rotten or stink or require great ships to carry it backwards and forwards, or fail altogether if the weather was bad or some tribe of ignorant savages wiped out the seed and the growers. Money which grew of its own accord: in Exeter, in Alston, in the Hertz mountains where the Emperor Henry had made his new’palace

 

Book – Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

I find it hard to imagine two more fascinating cities than Venice and Varanasi. While  New York, Paris, Prague, Mexico City all have their attractions, if I had quickly to choose one place to spend a week it would likely be a choice between the Vs.  So when I happened on Geoff Dyer’s new book I knew he was writing for me.  Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is a pair of novellas, intricately linked, yet totally separate.  In the first Jeff Atman [sanskrit for one’s true self ] is in Venice to write about the Biennale  for a British journal.  Venice and the art world form the backdrop to a week of Bellinis and cocaine, quick trysts with famous art and an alluring stranger.  A vaparetto map of Venice is useful in keeping track of their watery peregrinations, hitting all the highlights of Venice, and many of the more subtle aspects such as the cemetery island of Ste. Michelle.  They constantly cross over cultural hotspots, what will be known in hindusim as tirthas.  Varanasi being one of the most powerful of all tirthas.

The first half of the book is bright, fast, funny, sexy- always moving, day and night barely recognized. Yet he realizes that he is missing something. The San Rocco school and its Veronese painting of the crucifixion present him with a
curious puzzle.

everybody in the painting he was looking at was looking at the crucified Christ, even the two thieves who were getting crucified alongside him, even people like the guy on the horse, who was looking at something else. Atman didn’t know how long he sat there, staring at this painting, not having any thoughts about it, willing on an epiphany that never came, never happened, just seeing it, looking at. Perhaps that was the epiphany, surrounding himself to
what he was seeing.

The second novella is contemplative, thoughtful, and sexless, with repetitive movements space through a spiritual landscape. He wanders down to the cremation ghats:

the whole operation at Manikarnika was really labor-intensive, like one of those Salgano photographs of peasants toiling on the mountainside – a mountainside, in this case that had been so thoroughly worked over that it was
no longer a mountain . There were great stacks of wood, higher than houses, forever getting added to and denuded as logs were weighed out to fuel the never ending need for fires. Barges arrived, crammed with logs that were carried to
the shore, so big that only one or two could be carried at a time, slung like animals, stiff and heavy, over the shoulders of the men carrying them. The wood was stacked, chopped, weighed and carried down to the water again, probably
weighed again. Each cremation required a ton of wood.: Ton in the sense of a lot, not a specific unit of measurement. Smoke smudged the sky, blackening the temples and buildings crowded around the fires. Cows chewed on soggy marigolds, picking picking through the ash that the rivers dark edge. The water was sooty and dark, burned. Some dogs were there too. Half a dozen fires were burning, tended by the men who worked ther. People were standing around talking while, all the time, wood was lugged back and forth and fires were prodded with branches. It was like watching the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, as it might have occurred if Berenice no industry and a vast surplus manpower, all employed in the service of death.

He had planned to spend only a few days in Varanasi, and though he tried to wander alone he he realized that was impossible: By the time you have shown the first flicker of interest in doing, seeing or buying anything in India,
someone will have read the signs and acted on that, will be trying to turn this wish – for interest is a wish, desire, and, as such, constitutes demand – into a reality, to his or her financial benefits. I only learned this later

while during the tourist itinerary starts to slip outward cover the city and as advising. He ends up staying for weeks stretching to months:

I bought a couple of the little candle coracles, lit them and watched them wobble and float away . They were lovely, and it was lovely, at first, being on the crowded water in the faded light, waiting for things to begin. Almost as soon as it began, though, the ceremony became disappointing. You didn’t have to be a particularly discerning tourist to see that this was an exhausted pageant, drummed up for tourists, a son et lumiere with a cast of hundreds. Any significance it was supposed to have had been drained, possibly a long time ago or maybe just yesterday, or even now, right before our eyes. The event had bled itself white, but each night it had to bleed afresh, which only
made it seem more stale and bloodless. It was like trying to glimpse, in a performance of The Mousetrap, the ravaged majesty of Macbeth. The air was frantic with others, dense with harshly amplified chanting, the sound of conches
and the clamor of bells. I left before the and, before it had even got going

· Varanasi is filled with small temples at every turning

shortly after this I found myself outside Temple – I didn’t know which one, but that was not the big one Vishwanath, with all the airport security: metal detectors circuits. That’s why there are so many soldiers around: because
Vishwanath the Golden Temple, and the mosque were practically on top of each other goading the faithful, inciting them to live in peace. It was the old neighbors from hell scenario, raised to the level of intense theological
principle and proximity. There is no God but God, says that one place there are millions of them says the other. The fact that were able to get along for years did not mean that, at the drop of a hat, they would not be at one another’s
throats
.

As he observes the manner in which definition becomes obscured , a similar process affects his life:

I noticed a small blue shrine, the size of an emergency phone on the side of the motorway. in the middle of the shrine, where the phone would’ve been there was an orange blob, a worn shape.. Within the general roundness, it was
possible to make out the lump of the body and the smaller lump ofa head, but more rounded, less defined than a Henry Moore version of any God. Who was it ? Ganesh? It could’ve been any of them. There was not even residue of definition, but this did not suggest that its power had diminished or been shrunk; the sense was that its essence had become more concentrated. The feeling was not of erosion or diminution, but of withdrawal. The God, whoever it was, had retreated into itself. By reducing it self almost space to nothing, by coming so close to that which could not be identified as,, it had become more nakedly itself. I felt sure of this, even though I did not know who is what I was seeing.

The two parts of the book are completely separate yet it’s impossible to read
without making connections at every turning of a page

Books – Venice

Venice Guides and Travel writing

Venice Rough Guide Venice and Veneto: Great introduction to Venice.  Its restaurant and hotel suggestions are good, but it really shines in describing the city, and offering suggestions for many days’ walks — much better in fact, than several ‘walking’ guides we also consulted.  Good maps complement a sensible layout of this maze of a city.

The ‘Brief History’ does an excellent job, and prepares you for delving deeper with an extensive reading
list.

“Nobody arrives in Venice and sees the city for the first time. Depicted and described so often that its image has become part of the
European collective consciousness, Venice can initially create the slightly anticlimactic feeling that everything looks exactly as it should.
The water-lapped palaces along the Canal Grande are just as the brochure photographs made them out to be, Piazza San Marco does indeed look as perfect as a film set, and the panorama across the water from the Palazzo Ducale is precisely as Canaletto painted it. The sense of familiarity soon fades, however, as details of the scene begin to catch the attention – a strange carving high on a wall, a boat being manoeuvred round an impossible corner, a window through which a painted ceiling can be seen. And the longer one looks, the stranger and more intriguing Venice becomes “

—– John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

This is a delightful book — both for the opinions expressed and the wonderful pomposity with which they are presented.   It’s impossible not to learn about art and architecture from this book, but it also (perhaps not intentionally) makes Woody Allen’s or Steve Martin’s New Yorker pieces seem like downers.  The man has no humility and there is no opinion other than his. For example – “I have said that the two orders, Doric and Corinthian, are the roots of all European
architecture.  You have, perhaps, heard of five orders: but there are only two real orders; and there can never be any more until doomsday.”
  Yet somehow the clarity and vitality of his description allows you to continue reading.   I was fortunate enough to pick this up in Venice, so I was able to search out his examples of the 5 worst buildings in Venice, and similar Ruskinisms.  — Some examples:

“The work of the Lombard was to give hardihood and system to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom;  that of the Arab was to punish idolatry, and to proclaim the spirituality of worship.  The Lombard covered every church which he build with the sculptured representations of bodily exercises – hunting and war.  The Arab banished all imagination of creature form from his temples, and proclaimed from their minarets, ‘There is no god but  God’.  Opposite, in their character and mission, alike in their magnificence of energy, they came from the North and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream; they met and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire; and the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of the opposite eddies, charged with embayed fragments of the Roman wreck, is VENICE.”

“…this solitude was anciently chosen by man for his habitation. They little thought, who first drove the stakes into the san and strewed the ocean reeds for their rest, that their children were to be the princes of that ocean, and their palaces its pride;… Had deeper currents divided their islands, hostile navies would again and again have reduced the rising city into servitude; had stronger surges beaten their shores, all the richness and refinement of Venetian architecture must have been exchanged for the walls and bulwarks of an ordinary seaport. Had there been no tide.. the narrow canals of the city would have become noisome, and the marsh in which it was built pestiferous. Had the tide been only a foot or eighteen inches higher in its rise, the water-access to the doors of the palaces would have been impossible… Eighteen inches more of difference between the level of flood and ebb would have rendered the doorsteps of every palace, at low water, a treacherous mass of weeds and limpets, and the entire system of water-carriage for the higher classes, in their easy and daily intercourse, must have been done away with. The streets of the city would have been widened, its networks of canals filled up, and all the peculiar character of the place and the people destroyed.”

Ruskin’s Venice : The Stones Revisited by Sarah Quill (Photographer)
This makes the perfect and beautiful companion book to John Ruskin’s eccentric views of this city. Using Ruskin’s text as a guide Quill also wanders the city capturing Ruskin’s ideas, while producing her own view of this captivating island fantasy.

John Julius Norwich — A History of Venice

shorter than his Byzantium trilogy, but just as readable

Fiction & Essays

  • Vikram SethAn Equal Music – set in Venice, portrays the intimate workings of a string quartet.
  • Thomas Mann – A Death in Venice
  • Blue Guide to Venice
  • Geoff Dyer – Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
  • Jan Morris The World of Venice
  • Joseph Brodsky – Watermark – essays by the poet from a winter spent in Venice
  • Jason Goodwin – The Bellini Card – Yashmin the eunuch leaves his beloved Istanbul to investigate a mysterious painting in Venice. One of a series of mysteries set in 19th century Ottoman empire
  • Dorothy DunnettNiccolo Rising (House of Niccolo) one of several of her books that take place in Venice
  • Ian McEwan – The Comfort of Strangers – the eeriness of Venice and its moldering nobility set the backdrop for this twisted tale. The movie with Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken is unforgettable
  • Download royalty free images of Venice

Book – Newt Gingrich’s Gettysburg

 

What if Lee Won at Gettysburg?

Artillery firing, during Civil War battle reenactment Confederate soldiers advance, Civil War battle reenactment

A counterfactual history trilogy of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath consisting of:

  • Gettysburg
  • Grant Comes East
  • Never Call Retreat

The first volume covers the battle of Gettysburg, though with strategic maneuvers beyond anything contemplated by the actual participants. Like any successful counterfactual history, the authors are careful in their initial changes – in fact, most readers will not even be aware of the changes the authors introduce in the battle up to the end of the first day’s fighting. But by this point enough small changes have already occurred to allow Lee to produce a strategic masterstroke on a par with Jackson’s Chancellorsville march. From here the story rapidly diverges from what we know as history, but never beyond possibility, and it’s amusing to see various participants like Sykes, Sickles, Joshua Chamberlain and others perform in this parallel universe.
The battles scenes are excellent and provide a closeup look at the experience of individual soldiers. We witness how the opposing sides would arrange unofficial truces when the battles end. You’ll probably suspect that the climactic battle of the second book won’t resolve everything since there’s still that third volume! But that never subtracts from the tension & suspense of these books. Great
historical fiction – my only regret is that Gingrich didn’t start writing novels earlier, rather than spending so much time fighting other battles in Congress.
One small annoyance is the tendency of the authors to put anachronistic quotes in the mouths of their actors. The most prominent one was during a race between the armies towards the coast in which a general remarks “let the man on the farthest edge of the flanking troops touch the sea with his sleeve” – a statement actually made 50 years later in World War I by a German general during their flanking attack through Belgium. There are several more of these pillaged pedantries scattered thru the books, but their effect, fortunately, is minimal. One last quibble is why, (from laziness or publication schedule?) they chose to title the last book ‘Never Call Retreat’ – a title previously used by one of the masters of  Civil War history, Bruce Catton.

Even Lee can seem banal when words are put into his mouth:

“We turn this back into a battle of maneuver, gentlemen, the thing we have always done best, the thing that our opponents have never mastered. But let me say it before all of you quite clearly. I am not seeking a half victory. By abandoning this field, some will see that as an admission of defeat, something we have never yet done, completely abandon a field. In so doing we return to a war of maneuver. We cut their line of supply while at the same time continuing to secure our own line of supply by moving our wagon trains back down to Green­castle. The ultimate goal must be to force the Army of the Potomac into territory that we choose and then fight a battle to finish this once and for all”

He looked carefully at each one in turn. “That is what I will expect from you, what our country expects from all of us, and nothing less is acceptable.
We are here to win not just a battle.”

He paused for a moment.

“We are here to win a war.”

Gingrich is better in describing the details of Civil War close combat:

“… along that terrible, invisible line that seems to appear on a battlefront, a line that not even the brav­est will pass, knowing that to take but one more step forward is death.

Some were demoralized, clutching the ground; others, in shock, were cradling wounded, dying, and dead comrades. Most settled down to the grim task at hand. Raising rifles, taking aim up the slope, firing, grounding muskets, reloading and firing again.

In the coldest sense of military logic, this battered line was the shield, the soak off, having taken the first position and now stalling in front of the second. Their job was simply to absorb the blows, to die, to inflict some death upon those dug in until the second and third lines came up, still relatively unscathed, to push the attack closer in.

And so across the next ten minutes they gave everything they had, these volunteers turned professionals, the pride of the Army of the Potomac, the pride of the Republic. Thousands of acts of courage were committed, none to be recorded except in the memories of those who were there, the greatest courage of all simply to stand on the volley line, to fire, to reload, and all the time the litany chant in the background… “Pour it in to them. Close on the colors, boys. Pour it into them!”

Two hundred yards to the rear, the next assault wave reached the outh bank of the flood plain, their officers ordering a halt, letting the men catch their breath for a few minutes, to gulp down some water, while forward their comrades died.

Atop the crest the Confederate forces blazed away, some of the men, acknowledged sharpshooters, calling for others to load, to pass their guns up, making sure that every shot counted, though in the still air, now laced again by showers, the smoke quickly built to a hanging cloud of fog.

Men were falling in the trenches, though not near as many as down on the open slope. Rifle balls smacked into the loosely piled dirt, spraying the men; shots when they hit tended to strike arms raised while ramming or, far more deadly, in the chest or face.

A growing line of dead and wounded lay directly behind the trench, dragged out of the way so as to not be trampled under.

The Union artillery was again in full play, though aiming in most cases too high out of fear of striking their own battle line in the con­fusion. But enough shots were tearing in to do terrible damage…

 

 

Book – Washington’s Crossing

 

David Hackett Fischer
An invading force gets bogged down while fighting an insurgency. While it could be ripped from today’s headlines, this is actually a book about the American Revolution. This is an impressive work on many levels. It’s an excellent history of George Washington’s first year as commander of the Continental army. It also provides insights into the conduct of the war and the morale of the armies that provided the ultimate success. Along the way, Fischer shows that much of what we ‘know’ about this period is incorrect. It’s amazing at this point that there can be so much new information available [The diaries of Hessian Colonel Eward, e.g., only became available in English in 1979]

The early chapters are devoted to Washington’s challenge in bringing a true motley crew of independent regiments together as a continental army. He describes vastly different concepts of such basic values as liberty:

One backcountry company came from Culpeper County, in western Virginia on the east slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. … and mustered three hundred men with bucktails in their hats and tomahawks or scalping knives in their belts…Part of their “savage-looking equipments” may have been their flag…. the dark image of a timber rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

… This was an idea of liberty as reciprocal rights that belonged to all the people, a thought very different from the exclusive rights of New England towns, or the hierarchical rights of Virginia, or the individual autonomy of the backsettlers. … Their version of liberty was more radical in thought and act than any other unit’s in the army. But these men were devoted to the American cause and willing to fight in its defense.

A historiography at the back of the book is a standalone essay on the process of historical description and analysis, showing how over 200 years of study have processed historical fact to produce narrative with varying intentions.

A perhaps unintended effect is Fischer’s description of William Howe’s campaign to pacify the colonies, focusing on bringing New Jersey back into the British fold. His descriptions of the local insurgencies that opposed Howe are eerily familiar to today’s dispatches from Iraq.The actual offenses 2 centuries apart are different, but the refusal of officers to stop outrages, sparks an insurgency:

gathered by county justices and clergymen … They documented an epidemic of rape in New Jersey by British soldiers: “Three women were most horribly ravished by them, one of them an old woman nearly seventy years of age, ….” Others described gang rapes not only by private soldiers but by officers: “British officers, four or five, sometimes more, sometimes less in a gang, went about the town by night entering into houses and openly inquiring for women.”

Americans were shocked by the number of cases, by their scale, and by the involvement of British officers. The Pennsylvania Council of Safety reported another such an incident near Woodbridge, New Jersey: A “gentleman in that part of the country was alarmed by the cries and shrieks of a most lovely daughter; he found an officer, a British officer in the act of ravishing her, he instantly put him to death; two other officers rushed in with their fusees, and fired two balls into the father,” who was severely wounded.

Howe insisted that these reports were nothing but American propaganda…Junior officers in his army knew better. Captain John Peebles, commander of a grenadier company of the Royal Highland Regiment, wrote sadly in his diary on Christmas Eve 1776, “In orders a man condemned to suffer death for a Rape, but pardon’d at the intercession of the injured party; the second instance, tho’ there have been other shocking abuses of that nature that have not come to public notice. The story of the poor old man and his daughter in Long Island was very bad indeed, hard is the fate of many who suffer indiscriminately in a civil war. “

As always, the continuing occupation, with insufficient troops to complete its mission, then feeds further

Small bands of armed men ambushed mounted British couriers on the road. They killed a British officer and his servant, attacked foraging parties in the countryside, and shot at Hessian sentries. Captain Friedrich von Miinchausen wrote on December 14,1776, “It is now very unsafe for us to travel in Jersey. The rascal peasants meet our men alone or in small unarmed groups. They have their rifles hidden in the bushes, or ditches, and the like. When they believe they are sure of success and they see one or several men belonging to our army, they shoot them in the head, then quickly hide their rifles and pretend they
know nothing.”

The result was a spontaneous rising … Mott himself recruited men who were ready to take up arms against the British and Hessians. Other leaders did the same. Colonel David Chambers of the Hunterdon militia led a band in Amwell Township east of Coryell’s Ferry. These men did not go into the town of Trenton or attack its outposts, but when Hessian Jaegers or British dragoons or small foraging parties left the town and went up the Delaware Valley along the River Road, or northwest toward Flemington and Lambertville, or north toward Princeton, the Jerseymen attacked. Colonel RaIl began to lose men every day, and the strength of the militia increased. On December 16, Colonel Chambers sent prisoners across the river to George Washington: two Regulars, and one “Malitious Active Tory” who had “assembled and spirited the negroes against us.” On December 17, a patrol of British dragoons went upriver toward Pennington and McConkey’s Ferry. They were intercepted by the Hunterdon men, and one dragoon was” deadly wounded.” On December 18, another dragoon was killed on the road to Maidenhead by a party that was reported to be more than a hundred strong. On December 19, three grenadiers in the Lossberg regiment were captured while out forag­ing. On December 20, RaIl sent a patrol of Jagers and dragoons four miles upriver to Howell’s Ferry, where they met 150 Hunterdon men commanded by Captain John Anderson; the Americans came off second best and lost three or four men.

The Jerseymen forced RaIl to send dispatches to Princeton with an escort of a hundred men, which some British commanders thought absurd. But the growing scale of attacks by the Hunterdon militia supported his judgment. RaIl was rapidly losing control of the countryside, even to the outskirts of Trenton. He could not patrol up the river even to Howell’s Ferry, four miles upstream, without losing men. McConkey’s Ferry ten miles distant was beyond his reach. The Hessian commander could identify the American leaders by name, and he could defeat the Hunterdon militia in a stand­up fight, but he could not stop them from striking again and again, and vanishing into country that they knew so well. In all of this the Jersey men went far beyond instructions from Washington. This Hunterdon Rising was an autonomous event, by angry men against a hated oppressor.

… another American officer began to attack from a different direction. …Grenadier Reuber called the raiders with darkened faces “black Negroes and yellow dogs.” He added, “We had to watch out. . . . They crossed the Delaware to our side, set some houses on fire, and then retreated. Again everything was quiet. . . but we had to watch out. “

The American rebels kept up constant pressure on the isolated Hessian garrison. The description of the constant stress on the troops could be taken directly from reports of US Marines in Iraq and similar to Sebastian Junger’s reporting in War

“The Hessian garrison suffered few casualties in these repeated raids from the river, but they lost sleep and confidence and their morale was badly shaken. Rumors of impending attacks multiplied. On December 20 or 21, Reuber remembered that “the inhabitants of the town circulated a rumor that the rebels wanted to surprise us. We did not have any idea of such a thing, and thought the rebels were unable to do so.” But their colonel took no chances. Reuber wrote, “Early in the morning Commander Rall selected a strong force from his brigade, also a cannon, and we must march in two divisions, along the Delaware, to see about the Americans attempting to cross the Delaware for an aggression. There was no sign of it, and we marched to near Frankfort, which was situated on the other side of the Delaware.. There we could see Americans. Rall stopped us and we joined with the other divisions and returned to Trenton. All was quiet again.

“… He explained to Donop, “I have not made any redoubts or any kind of fortifications because I have the enemy in all directions.” For security the guns were kept in the center of town. Reuber wrote that every soldier was ordered to sleep “fully dressed like he was on watch. The officers and sergeants must enforce this order.”

Even the desperate but unanswered calls from commanders on the ground sound eerily like the pleas for more troops in Iraq that were ignored by Rumsfeld et al:

“Rall called for help. He sent many messages asking for assistance from Donop below Bordentown, General Leslie in Princeton, and Major General Grant at Brunswick. Rall reported that his Trenton garrison was exhausted, the town was indefensible, and attacks were increasing. Only one senior officer took Rall’s worries very seriously: In Princeton, Alexander Leslie, an excellent officer, moved quickly. As early as December 18 he wrote to Rall, “I’ve ordered the first Light Infantry to be at Trenton tomorrow at 10 o’clock and I take the 2d Light Infantry and 300 Men of the 2d brigade to Maidenhead to be in the way if needed. “31 Leslie also sent troops on December 21. Reuber recalled, “Saturday afternoon before Christmas came three English regiments from Princeton to Trenton for reinforcement and when they came to town and Major Rall settled them, they were ordered to turn around and march back to Princeton. ”

Fischer ably brings the narrative to a close:

In the winter campaign of 1776-77, Washington and the Continental army found a solution that had many elements. Part of it was flexibility and opportunism in high degree. Throughout the Revolution George Washington’s strategic purposes were constant: to win independence by maintaining American resolve to continue the war, by preserving an American army in being, and by raising the cost of the war to the enemy. Washington was always fixed on these strategic ends but flexible in operational means. …The diversity of operations in the winter campaign was the first clear example of a style that persisted through the war. He was quick to modify his plans with changing circumstances and adapted more easily than his opponents. Washington was a man of steadfast principle but also a military opportunist. Many American leaders would follow that example: Greene and Morgan, Lee and Jackson, Grant and Sherman, Eisenhower and Bradley, Nimitz and Patton, Schwarzkopf and Franks.

Another element in this American approach to war-fighting a new way of controlling initiative and tempo in war. After many defeats around New York, American leaders learned the urgent importance of seizing the initiative and holding it. George Washington and his lieutenants did more than merely surprise the Hessian garrison at Trenton on the morning after Christmas. They improvised a series of surprises through a period of twelve weeks. By that method they seized the initiative from their opponents and kept it … Washington made it a formal principle in the army, when he ordered his generals to drive the campaign and not “be drove.”

Initiative was largely about the control of time in campaigning. English historian George Otto Trevelyan wrote that George Washington succeeded at Trenton and Princeton because he “caught the occasion by the forelock.” In New Jersey, American leaders learned to make time itself into a weapon. They did it by controlling the tempo and rhythm of the campaign. Day after day through the winter campaign, the Americans called the tune and set the beat. By that method, they retained the initiative for many weeks and kept British commanders off balance. The material and moral impact was very great, especially when a small force was able to control the tempo of war against a stronger enemy. Events happened at a time and place of their choosing. From all this another American tradition developed. It appeared in the Civil War, in both theaters in World War II, and in discussions of tempo by Pentagon, planners in the twenty-first century.

The central figure was George Washington himself. In the winter campaign of 1776-77, he developed a system of intelligence that became part of his new way of war. Washington personally recruited secret agents, with orders to report to him alone, and employed Nathaniel Sackett, of the New York Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, to construct an entire network in New York with agents male and female, of every rank and station. It is impossible to know the full extent of Washington’s intelligence operations, for he cloaked them in secrecy, but beyond doubt he was very active in this work.

Washington also asked Continental generals and militia commanders to gather their own intelligence, and even to run their own agents…lHis attitudes toward intelligence-gathering were different from those of leaders in closed societies, who sought to monopolize intelligence and prohibited efforts they did not con­trol. Washington was comfortable with an open system, in which others were not only permitted but actively encouraged to have a high degree of autonomy. This free and open system of information-gathering engaged the efforts of many people, produced multiple sources, and got better results than closed systems. It was another reason why free societies often have more effective intelligence systems than closed societies.

All of these elements came together in the winter campaign of 1776-77: boldness and prudence, flexibility and opportunism, initiative and tempo, speed and concentration, force multipliers, and intelligence. They defined a new way of war that would continue to appear through the Revolution and in many American
wars.

I’ve focused here on particular passages that highlight similarities with modern insurgencies and occupations, but the book is also an excellent military history of the Trenton campaign and its significance to the American Revolution. Of special interest are the over 40 pages of appendices with detailed orders of battle, weather records, and other information that will be of use to military modelers and gamers.

Finally, unlike so many histories, the maps are excellent – specifically designed to illuminate the text.

 

 

 

Other Links:

Books – Nautical Fiction

Under the broad heading of nautical fiction, there are tales of the Vikings, and tales of the industrial wars of the 20th century, but by far the most prolific and interesting stories deal with the Napoleonic era of 1790 – 1815 . Few other periods give an author enough scope to develop his character over many novels, and provide enough foes to enable frequent promotions. Curiously, novels about the lower decks, while available, rarely can carry on  beyond a single volume, perhaps because the drama in a ship of war is concentrated in the hands of one man, and the rest of the ship’s community has little room for freely chosen action.  CS Forester’s Hornblower series was long the standard for other authors to approach, and none surpassed it until Patrick O’Brian.In the non series category, there are more to choose from. Known mostly for his land based historical novels of 18th century colonial & revolutionary America, Kenneth Roberts‘ Lively Lady still holds up as a compelling story of privateers in the War of 1812. Rabble in Arms is the story of the greatest hero of the revolution – Benedict Arnold. Nautically this inland saga describes Arnold’s Fabian strategy of building a small fleet on Lake Champlain that fatally delayed Burgoyne’s advance from Canada to the Hudson Valley

The Aubrey series by Patrick O’Brian is easily the best nautical series ever written — far superior to Hornblower, Bolitho and the others. Read them in order, or out of sequence, each is a gem. O’Brian is to the nautical novel what Le Carre is to the spy genre – excelling in their chosen form, while creating literature.  O’Brian combines detailed seamanship with intricate plotting. All the characters develop as  the series progresses, and it’s worth starting the series over  to see how much was foreshadowed in the early books.

C. Northcote Parkinson [of P’s Law], wrote several entertaining novels in this genre, including “Devil to Pay” and “Fireship”

Julian Stockwin‘s tales of Thomas Kydd show the times from the view of a pressed landsman, starting at the bottom. Unfortunately, they lack any compelling interest after the first volume; I started the second but couldn’t get very far into it.

Bernard Cornwell

  • Killer’s Wake –
    Combining thrilling sailing adventure with a mystery set in modern England,
    Cornwell does it again.
  • Sharpe’s Trafalgar – Written after the main books in the series, this prequel describes how Sharpe returned home from India, just in time to run into Nelson’s ultimate Victory.  Sharpe makes an easy adjustment to life at sea and the battle sequences are superb.

    And even more nautical fiction

    Others include

    • Maryatt’s Two Years Before the Mast – the story of sailors on the west
      coast of   California in the early 1800s
    • The Man Without a Country – A homily on why bad language is never
      appropriate. Set during the war of 1812
    • Moby Dick
    • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
    • Susan Sontag – The Volcano Lover
    • Life of Pi
    • The Nautical Chart – Arturo Perez-Reverte
    • Shadow Divers:
    • Tilman : Eight Sailing/Mountain-Exploration books, omnibus volumes

    Other links:

  • Tall Ships
  • World War II Naval vessels
  • Life of Pi
  • Noah’s Flood
  • The Nautical Chart – Arturo Perez-Reverte
  • Shadow Divers:  The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything
    to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II – history rewoven
  • Tilman : Eight Sailing/Mountain-Exploration books, omnibus volumes

Evolution – Books & Resources

Charles Darwin and the Origin of Modern Biology
Creationism exposed
Misconceptions about EvolutionMore Maps and charts of  evolution, plate tectonics and geology
Map – 1997 – Human Evolution – National Geographic Map – 1989 – March Toward Extinction
Map – 2000 – The Peopling of the Americas Map – 1993 – North America in the Age of Dinosaurs

More Maps and charts of  evolution, plate tectonics and geology

The Evolution of God

The Beak of the Finch

This book explains one of the most famous examples of evolution – Darwin’s finches. The original population from the mainland Ecuador became isolated on the Galapagos islands, and different paths led to variants; eventually if isolated long enough the variants can be recognized as separate species

Meanwhile, on the mainland any beneficial changes would quickly spread through the entire population, so that group would also differ from the original colonizers. The book follows current researchers in the Galapagos

Species is really an artificial construct – for most large animals, it’s easy, say, to tell lions from tigers. but yaks and cattle interbreed and their offspring are backcrossed leading to many intermediate forms. Thus you’ll never ‘see’ a species jump out of nothing. it’s only after the 2 populations have changed enough that you can declare there’s a new species

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors -Nicholas Wade.
An excellent recap of the last half century of research into human origins.

Easily the best book on evolution for the non-scientist since ‘Beak of the Finch’. ‘Before the Dawn’ will be familiar to anyone who reads the NY Times Tuesday Science section – many of the discussions in the book started as articles Wade has written over many years there. Now he synthesizes those pieces and shows how a new consensus is developing and how once heretical theories like Greenberg’s on language are being supported by new research in genetics and molecular biology. As others have mentioned, some of his suggestions need more support, but in a time when scientific ignorance is getting worse, this is a great book to recommend for anyone.

Evolution of Cooperation
Robert Axelrod — If living things evolve through competition, how can cooperation ever emerge? Despite the abundant evidence of cooperation all around us, there existed no purely naturalistic answer to this question until 1979, when Robert Axelrod famously ran a computer tournament featuring a standard game-theory exercise called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. To everyone’s surprise, the program that won the tournament, named Tit for Tat, was not only the simplest but the most “cooperative” entrant. This unexpected victory proved that cooperation–one might even say altruism–is mathematically possible and therefore needs no hidden hand or divine agent to create and sustain it.Wisdom of the Genes
The intersection of genetics, evolutionary science and molecular biology has produced remarkable findings in recent years. Jumping genes–pieces of DNA that move about the chromosomes–have been found to play an influential role. Parasites that actually live inside DNA can trigger mutations. Many biologists, among them UCLA professor Wills, believe that the process of evolution has grown easier over the eons because certain gene patterns turn some species into ever-more-agile adapters to environmental changes. How
butterflies mimic look-alike cousins, the mix of marsupial and placental mammals in Australia and South America and the reign of the therapsids during the 50-million-year stretch before the dinosaurs are some of the intriguing phenomena Wills discusses in this lively primer of modern evolutionary theory. He uses apt analogies and examples but avoids oversimplification. Illustrations.     From Publishers Weekly

The Evolution Game in Action:

 Science Fictionalized:

Hopeful Monsters shows the interplay of biology, physics, philosophy and politics. Skipping the usual banal comparisons, we’re embedded in the period between the world wars. Themes of uncertainty, quantum mechanics and relativity weave the plot. Following a British boy and a German girl, the book proceeds in a series of back looking narratives that take place in the major cockpits of the 1920 – 1930s – from Weimar Berlin to Bolshevik Russia and Civil War Spain. With Fascism and Communism playing for dominance across the continent, politics is brutal and vital. But the characters also try to find a way to create a meaningful life. Significant characters whose views permeate the book include Wittgenstein, Heideigger, the Lamarckian scientists Kammerer and Lysenko, Einstein, and many others. Never a didactic presentation, the novel presents a clear understanding of the major intellectual trends of the 20th century. Others have set their stories in this fermentive period but usually just as a background. Here it’s an essential element to the plot.

Great for book club discussions – you’ll find no end of ways to interpret and discuss this book

Science Books – Reviews & Recommendations

Science Books – Reviews & Recommendations

Proof of creation
More Science Resources
Plate Tectonics
Geology books
Evolution and Biology
Top 10 Creationist Distortions of Evolution
Critical Thinking – How science differs from pseudoscience 
Noah’s Flood a Review
Dinosaurs and Geology maps from National Geographic
Ancient Astronomy in Beijing China
Richard Dawkins & Evolution
Best Dinosaur Museums in the World 
Religion 
Charles Darwin and the Origin of Modern Biology

Philosophy

What’s New – Book Reviews

Book Reviews – Recent additions & updates