Baker's Miscellaney

Record our reading attempts, successes, and failures for 2014.

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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby wildlx » 11 Nov 2014, 10:25

lol Brilliant summary, Baker! I'm just sorry that the dingoes disappointed you ;-)!
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby Baker » 27 Dec 2014, 07:27

A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid by John Romer

4stars

This turned out to be just the book I wanted. It covers the history of the Nile region from when the first hunter-gatherers settled down to plant and harvest crops in places like the Faiyum wadi right up to the building of Khufu's pyramid--which is known at the Great Pyramid of Giza--in the Fourth Dynasty. What I really enjoyed about this book was how it was written. Romer discusses the evidence--and lack of it--for what we think we know about the differnt periods. He also examines some of the established narratives for that history, and explains how they say more about the culture of the archaeologists who came up with them than the actual evidence warrants. I loved the fact that he periodically laid out what evidence there is--and this might only consist of a few graffiti scratched in rocks in the desert--and how we ought to be careful about building too airy a superstructure on faint foundations. One memorable example he uses to illustrate how little we know was a woman called Hetep-heres. We have the woman's intestines but know absolutely nothing about her beyond her name. What I also appreciated was that he made no bones about the fact that people who lived several thousand years ago were not less intelligent than we are, and we ought not to patronisingly assume they were.

Egypt takes us from hunter-gatherers to a state system where 25% of the male population worked on pyramid building in just 1500 years. The amazing fecundity of the Nile was the key factor here, since you need huge surpluses to support a non-agricultural population that large. How a state, with a monarch, came into being isn't laid out--of course--but Romer shows us how we can infer developments from the evidence of incredible organisation. The Great Pyramid is an amazing feat of building**--whose precision we don't come close to matching in modern buildings--but it's the organisation that made its construction possible that was the awesome part for me.

I'm really glad I read this on my tablet. Yes, the book contains photographs and line drawing illustrating it, but I punctuated my reading with Google searches to see things like pots, Narmer's Palette, the statues of Rahotep and Nofret, the Bent pyramid, etc etc. That ability to augment the book on the spot with more in-depth searches and images contributed hugely to my enjoyment and appreciation of the book.

I also greatly enjoyed Romer's prose style. He writes for a reader, and does it well. I half expected sand to trickle from my tablet.



------------
**It took the advent of Napoleon's surveyors in the nineteenth century to realise the Great Pyramid was not perfect in all dimensions. The base is over 230 m (9,000") long on each side, with the largest difference of 4.6 cm (1.8 "). Their measuring equipment consisted of rods, plumb lines, and water levels. As Romer explains, the Pyramid itself became its own theodolite: the builders checked the dimensions and geometry as they built to ensure straight lines and correct any sagging or subsidence. For a spot of mind-blowing, check out this: http://www.khufu.dk/article/dimensions-outer.htm
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby wildlx » 29 Dec 2014, 06:47

Seems interesting. I've always been interested in ancient Egypt :).
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby Baker » 31 May 2015, 09:38

I keep forgetting to record the books I've read or started to read. So, I thought I'd try something different. Friday was our annual pilgrimmage to the Red Cross Book Sale. As per ususal, Fran and I spent hours poring over tens of thousands of books and came home with a few.

I found an app that let me scan ISBN barcodes and search for details of the book and create a list. Only three books didn't have ISBNs, so I've manually them at the bottom of this list. I'm planning to keep track of when I read one of these books.

BTW I noticed, when going through the fiction books, that I found myself explicity thinking to myself: "I don't want to read about any more men." So, the only fiction books I bought were about women or written by a woman author I hadn't read any of." Also, when I found a biography of Charles Darwin's wife, I realised I had, until that point, no idea that he had had a wife let alone her name. Also, I found myself not buying things like Xenophon or other classics, because I could download copies from Gutenburg and read them on my tablet. Bonus smiles for one time I was going through the pay desk and the two stacks of books had the biographies of Trotsky and Mao on the top--it could also have included Kruschev for max commie points.

And, yes, we also scored some operas. So, on a cold winter's weekend, we've been sitting in the lounge, with the fire going, the dog and cats with us, a nice drop of wine or beer to sip, in an orgy of reading.

1 Zamoyski, Adam 1812
2 Atwood, Margaret In Other Worlds: Science Fiction and the Human Imagination
3 Leyser, Henrietta Medieval Women: 450 1500: Social History Of Women in England, 450 1500
4 Gould, Stephen Jay Dinosaur in a Haystack
5 Kleinschmidt, Harald Charles V: the World Emperor
6 Herman, Eleanor Sex With Kings: 500 Years Of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge
7 Kurlansky, Mark Salt
8 Henriques, Diana B. Wizard Of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death Of Trust, The
9 Herrera, Hayden Frida: a Biography Of Frida Kahlo
10 Massie, Robert K. Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming Of the Great War
11 Tokitsu, Kenji|Miyamoto, Musashi Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings
12 Himmler, Katrin Himmler Brothers: a German Family History, The
13 Gould, Joan Spinning Straw Into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman's Life
14 Robertson, Geoffrey Tyrannicide Brief, The
15 Krugman, Paul|Krugman, Paul R. Great Unravelling, The
16 Galbraith, John Kenneth History Of Economics: the Past As the Present, A
17 Le Tissier, Tony|MBE, Tony Le Tissier Death Was Our Companion: the Final Days Of the Third Reich
18 Posner, Gerald|Ware, John|Posner, Gerald L. Mengele: the Complete Story
19 Campbell, John Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher: From Grocer's Daughter to Iron Lady, The
20 Weintraub, Stanley Victoria: Biography Of a Queen
21 Taubman, William Khrushchev: the Man and His Era
22 Chernow, Ron House Of Morgan, The
23 Short, Philip Mao: a Life
24 Behr, Edward Samuel|Behr, Edward Hirohito: Behind the Myth
25 Gleick, James Isaac Newton
26 Service, Robert Trotsky: a Biography
27 Pakula, Hannah Uncommon Woman: the Life Of Princess Vicky: the Empress Frederick, An
28 Palmer, Alan Warwick|Palmer, Alan Kaiser: Warlord Of the Second Reich, The
29 Mayhew, Margaret Bluebirds
30 Fry, Stephen Paperweight
31 Healey, Edna Emma Darwin
32 Beevor, Antony Mystery Of Olga Chekhova, The
33 Proulx, Annie That Old Ace in the Hole
34 Goebbels, Joseph|Barry, Richard|Trevor-Roper, Hugh Redwald Diaries
35 Boyer, Carl B.|Asimov, Isaac|Merzbach, Uta C. History Of Mathematics, A
36 Atwood, Margaret Dancing Girls and Other Stories
37 Savage, Anne Anglo Saxon Chronicles, The
38 Wighton, Charles Heydrich, Hitler's Most Evil Henchman
39 Stolpe, Sven Christina of Sweden
40 Romer, John Romer's Egypt
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby wildlx » 01 Jun 2015, 08:04

Wow. Did you buy all those books? I only read n.2.
BTW I also prioritize women in fiction, and have been doing that for years.
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby Baker » 01 Jun 2015, 08:33

Yes, I did buy all those. Fran bought even more.

Zamoyski, Adam 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow

At the book sale, as I was combing the table of "WAR" books, it dawned on me that I was not at all interested in books about battles or stuff like that: I wanted to read about people. (YOu can see on my list books about prominent Nazis.) This book about Napoleon's invasion of Russia is an exception. This has exerted a fascination on me for many years. I remember as a young teen buying a book on 1812 in a sale bin. It was excerpts from the diaries and letters of people who participated in, or were affected by, the march. That's what interests me: the experiences of people. This book has a strong and easily read narrative structure generously including excerpts from letters, diaries, and reminiscences of the participants.

The horror of the event is mind-numbing. It's hard to get reliable numbers, but Zamoyski calculates that the action accounted for a million deaths. Napoleon's army--which comprised not just French, but members from all his allies, including Portuguese, Germans, Italians, Croats, Spaniards, and Dutch--went from about 450,000 men who crossed into Russia in June to 30,000 who crossed back into Poland in December. The horrors they endured have to be read to be believed. The battle of Borodino caused more casualties than any single battle before World War 1. But the battles accounted for a small part of the casualties. The temperatures soared during the advance on MOscow, and plummeted on the retreat to numbers like -35 C. This army was not equipped with any winter clothing--since armies in that time did not fight during winter.
One of the more interesting things to emerge from the written accounts of the retreat is that there seems to have been a threshold beneath which the men cheated, killed, and even ate each other and above which they clung to human dignity, a sense of duty, and even aspired to happiness.
[...]
Although circumstances obviously had a major effect, this threshold does not seem to have anything to do with luck, and eveything to do with character.


And it wasn't just men. The French army was accompanied by uncounted tens of thousands of camp followers. Some of those do get a mention, inlcuding women who went into labour during the retreat.
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby Baker » 02 Jun 2015, 08:18

Henriques, Diana B. The Wizard Of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death Of Trust

Madoff's gigantic Ponzi scheme imploded during the 2008 GFC, so I didn't pay a lot of attention to it. This book gives a lot of detail into what he did--and didn't do!--and how he accumulated so many victims. After having read the book, I'm disgusted that more people weren't locked away for it. It's not uncommon for regulatory agencies to make a distinction between ordinary investors and high net-worth individuals. The latter are the sort who are assumed to be sophisticated investors and who can afford to lose $1 million without undue hardship. Only the latter are supposed to be able to invest with the uber-risky hedge funds. Madoff's thousands of victims included people who were not high net-worth individuals. How that happened was through "feeder funds", where hedge funds, and quasi-mutual funds, bundled smaller investors into funds that they gave to Madoff to "invest". The hedge fund managers earned 20% commission on any profits recorded for the funds. None of the many feeder fund managers did any due diligence. Most did not disclose that all the money was going to Madoff. More than a few lied about the nature of the investments the fund dabbled with. The managers of those funds are the ones who ought to be behind bars with Madoff. Many of them steered friends and business acquaintences, whose financial situations they were well aware of, into the Madoff funds. Funds, I must make explicit, that did not come with any documentation. Madoff didn't answer questions about what he was doing or who his counterparties were (there weren't any, because he never did any trades.) These fund managers channelled everything into one company, despite the first rule of investing: never put all your eggs in one basket.

The book is clearly written from court depositions and personal communications between the author and Madoff. The explanations and walk-through of Madoff's scheme was easy to read and follow. What I did find odd was the author's habit of describing what people wore, such as the FBI agents or SEC lawyers. She also took a bit of license with creating emotional reactions and thoughts when recounting meetings she was not present for. That I found odd and unnecessary.

A good thing the author did was end quite a few chapters with a reminder that Madoff was a consummate liar, so how much of what we'd just read about him was true?

My quote from the book:
Madoff was not inhumanly monstrous. He was monstrously human. He was greedy for money and praise. [...] Just like us--only more so.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby FranW » 04 Jun 2015, 07:21

Fran did NOT buy "even more". My stack is smaller than hers.

Plus, half of what I bought were cookbooks, which means Bakey gets to eat more yummy stuff as I try new recipes. So there. lol
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby Proofrdr » 04 Jun 2015, 12:25

Bravo for that, Fran. I am firmly convinced that one can never have enough cookbooks.Image
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Re: Baker's Miscellaney

Postby wildlx » 04 Jun 2015, 19:47

Baker, you seem to be on a reading phase. However, why are you posting on the 2014 thread?
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