What Are We Reading?

We’ve been fogged in here in Chicago for the last five days, after a week of brutally cold weather: perfect for reading. And a good time, too. My family’s go-to Christmas gifts are books, and I have a bunch of new ones, so here’s some of what I’ve been reading.

Current and recent books

1. The Tyranny of the Minority by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. This was the choice of a member of our book club, not a personal choice. It’s a discussion of the counter-majoritarian provisions of the Constitution and the counter-majoritarian norms and institutions that it spawned. It’s a depressing list, especially because the authors contrast it with the rules of other democracies.

The authors think the Republican Party is in the hands of people who oppose democracy because their  policy views are anathema to the vast majority of Americans. They don’t go into the question of why this is so, which means they don’t emphasize the role of the filthy rich and their lunatic goals.

The last chapter of such books is supposed to be the hopeful part filled with solutions. But it’s just as depressing as the rest of the book.

2. The Secret Lives Of Colors by Kassia St. Clair. This is a collection of 75 short essays on 75 different colors. St. Clair wrote them for British Elle Decoration. Each gives us some idea of the origin of the color, how it is made, it’s uses and other things she thinks are interesting. Puce was named by Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette wore gowns of puce in the summer of 1775, and he supposedly said it was the color of “puce”, the French word for flea. Scarlet isn’t the color I think of either. Here’s a link to the .pdf color chart.

The first time I went to the Pompidou I saw one of the works of the post-WWII artist Yves Klein: a flat canvas in the color he patented called International Klein Blue. It was entrancing. Also hilarious. Klein patented the color. Here’s the Wikipedia entry, with a swatch of the color.  It merits notice in St. Clair’s book.

3. Eve by Cat Bohonnan is an exploration of the evolution of the female human body. Bohannon is a terrific writer, as ready with a smart-ass quip as she is with a lucid description of recent research on oligosaccharides. I’m in the chapter on mother’s milk, and can talk your ear off about the marvelous fluids that create babies and the interactions between mother and baby created by this feature of all mammals. But I won’t.

Bohannon studies the evolution of cognition and narrative, about which she says “my field of research required I read regularly in at least three different disciplines (cognitive psychology, evolutionary theories of cognition, and computational linguistics)”. It shows. The problem she saw is that science treats the male body as the norm, ignoring the important fact that it’s women’s bodies that make the babies. Bohannon has two offspring (as she puts it on her personal webpage), and tells us a little about her experiences. The result is a wholistic narrative that keeps me involved in what might otherwise be a technical explication.

4. The Marquis Who Mustn’t by Courtney Milan. This is an entry in a series about a 19th C. English village populated by Asian immigrants. I really liked Milan’s earlier books, especially the series The Brothers Sinister. This one uses a technique common in romance novels: of constant repetition of the problems of the main characters. It feels like padding when we are reminded for the 25th time that the woman thinks she’s ugly and no one will love her. I did learn a bit about pottery-making, but I admit to skipping a number of pages that felt repetitive.

Other books of interest

1. The Education of a Golfer by Sam Snead and Scott Carter. I saw a tweet about books you read as a 12-year old more than once, and after a bit of thought I remembered this book. I was an avid golfer starting in 6th grade. I played with my dad and we often watched golf on TV, so I knew about Slammin’ Sammy Snead, Arnold Palmer and the great Julius Boros, who had the most beautiful swing I ever saw. I don’t remember how I found it, but I must have read it over and over, because when I saw that tweet I remembered the story about the chinchillas.

2. I’ll be re-reading Possession by A. S. Byatt, a book I’ve read at least 10 times since seeing a review in the New York Times book section. This book is a mixture of action, romance, feminist theory, 19th C. Poetry, and much more, told in multiple voices and through many eyes. Each thread of the storyline feels real and each reading has revealed a new aspect.

The book was made into a 2008 movie starring Gweneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam, not to be confused with the horror flick of the same name. It necessarily leaves out most of the stuff that makes the book so fascinating. Eckhart is too handsome and self-assured to be a good Roland, but the other three characters are very good. I’d forgotten that Paltrow could act.

3. Among the books I gave as gifts at Christmas was Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. it’s a delightful book, inspired by a galling event in Garmus’ life. I think my spouse read it for a book club focused on fiction by women, and I found it in our shared Kindle library (my eyes are bad, and I can only read in e-formats.) It’s a sort of feminist romance novel, but it’s much more. I couldn’t help but think a bit about my own mother, who did graduate courses in modern literature, focusing on Faulkner, while raising seven offstring.

4. I’ll be re-reading chapter 9 of The Origins Of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt for the next entries in my series on rights. It’s titled “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man”, and can be read as a stand-alone essay on the subject. I didn’t discuss this chapter in detail when I did my series on this book, but it’s a good way of thinking about rights from a practical standpoint without focusing on current right-wing claims of rights like the right to force other people to give birth or the right of every gun shop to sell to every loon who walks in.

So, that’s me. What are you reading? What do you have on your table waiting to be read?


89 replies
  1. mattchew says:

    Arendt is crucial during these times, thanks for sharing. Currently reading The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Not sure what’s on deck!

    • Ed Walker says:

      I love that book, and the story about its publication is also interesting. Several years ago I was touring Moscow with a private guide who took us to the Novodevichy Cemetery. She showed us his gravestone, saying he was one of her favorite writers; and was pleased and maybe a bit surprised that some rando from Chicago had read his masterpiece. There’s a pic of the gravestone in this Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novodevichy_Cemetery

      • John Paul Jones says:

        Bulgakov has a great short satirical novel called “Heart of a Dog.” A scientist transforms a dog into an intelligent being (it’s never clear whether it becomes humanoid, so far as I recall), and it quickly becomes a Bolshevik where its ability to parrot jargon serves it well. It’s been over a half century since I read it, but I remember it as funny and mordant. I think Grove Press brought it out in the wake of the success of Master and Margarita.

    • swmarks53 says:

      I first read this book about two years ago and it has risen to the top of my charts. I’m still not sure whether I like the Jerusalem or the Moscow part of this book the most. Of course, the intertwining of the two is the mastery of Bulgakov. Per Harold Bloom’s assessment of “The Inferno” as Dante’s rewriting of Christianity, I see this book as a rewriting of sorts as well. Satan is as much of a part of Pilate’s redemption as Christ. Those last scenes of the flight from Moscow and the ascension on the path of light are among the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read. And all of this with satire at its best.

    • KittyRehn says:

      I had a professor assign On Totalitarianism for a class a few years ago and it’s definitely a text I find myself thinking about and referencing frequently, specifically the section on front organizations and the other structural aspects of totalitarian regimes. Haunting stuff, especially in this climate.

  2. Badger Robert says:

    I am reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson. It was free. He endeavored but the challenge was too large for him with respect to slavery.

    • Grain of Sand says:

      Mention of Jefferson reminded me of reading David McCullough’s John Adams. You’ll find Jefferson woven throughout, but John and Abigail are the stars. Was so worth reading.

  3. RipNoLonger says:

    Thanks for that great list of books to read – and some to re-read.

    I’m also curious about others reading habits – times-of-day, how many on-going books, how far to get into a book before deciding it isn’t worth it.

    For me, I usually have 2-4 books on-going, mostly non-fiction and frequently scientific/technical. I can’t absorb too many “facts” at a single reading so I space them out. I’ll drop a book if I can’t relate to the subject matter at some level – it doesn’t have to involve me but I need to empathize with some thread. And I almost never read during the day.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I generally read for a few hours in the afternoon. I have a couple of places to sit, a reclining chair and a sofa chaise, because I don’t want the distraction of the internet.

      I rarely stop reading books, a habit I started in high school when I was reading 19th C books like Silas Marner and The Charterhouse of Parma, books that required me to focus really hard. However, when I read nonfiction I occasionally skip a chapter or two when I know the material or it just isn’t interesting.

  4. c-i-v-i-l says:

    I’d read another book by Levitsky and Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. It’s unfortunately quite timely.

  5. Ginevra diBenci says:

    At the moment I’m reading the backs of grown men pounding each other on a greenish field. Flowers, Mahomes, Kelce, they say. Highly entertaining.

    Over Christmas I took in Unmentionable, a breezy history of Victorian secrets about sex, menstruation, and peeing down your leg because apparently underpants weren’t a thing yet. Traded that in for my sister’s copy of The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, which is almost certainly out of print now but highly worth reading if you can find it, a haunting story of obsession and self-delusion.

    I wish I hadn’t already read Strongmen, so I could read it now for the first time.

  6. boloboffin says:

    I finished La Guin’s Hainish novels this week. I’m looking to buy The Dispossessed in hardback.

    I’m now reading Determined by Sapolsky, with Bowden’s Mystery Cults in the Ancient World and Miller’s Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity idling and ready. In fact, I have the sample of Miller’s Resurrection up and reading at Amazon right this second.

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    • pH unbalanced says:

      I’m listening to a podcast right now, “Shelved by Genre” which is doing a close reading of LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Only one episode in, but it’s quite interesting so far.

      • boloboffin says:

        I have the first Earthsea novel as well! But I’ve got so much non-fic to work through right now…

  7. 90's Country says:

    I wish I had the patience to read more books. It seems to have dwindled with age.
    My stepdaughter gave me two books for Christmas:
    Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo- I remember reading “The Burning Plain” in college. This novel by Rulfo is considered a masterpiece, at least that’s what it says on the cover. I’d forgotten how different Latin American writing is. Settings and characters are constantly in flux in this book. Not an easy read but I got through it.
    The Night Watchman by Louise Erdich- When George W was “elected” I had to stop reading fiction. Fact had become stranger. The last couple years I’ve been able to veer back, after not finishing countless non-fiction books. So I’m a newbie when it comes to Louise Erdich, and had no idea this book won the Pulitzer. I recommend this one.
    Thanks Ed.

    • Tech Support says:

      Just read something recently about how it’s common for people to trend away from long-form fiction as they age. The suggested explanation was that novels are more taxing on our memory (oh this was the character that was introduced in chapter four), and that making a point of reading novels was a strategy for preserving cognitive skills.

      • RipNoLonger says:

        That makes a lot of sense – trying to hold a lot of connected thoughts in ones memory. I guess the Russian novelists have perfected the technique (100s of characters that pop in and out over 1000s of pages.)

        Still, trying to follow some very dense exposition on why a particular scientific formula can be applied to some esoteric event seems adequately taxing to this aging brain.

      • Legonaut says:

        I enjoy fiction, but my internal buffers fill quickly if the scope of characters/settings/etc. gets too large, especially for multi-volume fantasy (where authors love making up worlds & languages). I find I have to read successive novels in quick succession, or I lose track of too many details; it’s why I refuse to read George R. R. Martin until he finishes the damn books.

        • DrFunguy says:

          I refuse to read any more Martin (after the first GoT) because he’s boring and pointless with insipid characters. I hear he’s quite popular. Is a mystery.

      • pasadena beggar says:

        My theory about why people “age” out of reading fiction is the limitations of fiction, itself. Given an individual’s age and the persistence and enthusiasm of their reading, by the time they’ve reached “aged”, they may have read hundreds, if not thousands, of books, many of which were fiction. There are only so many themes in fiction, and only so many plots. Even allowing for novelty and genre, one is bound to encounter a feeling of “oh, this book is like that book”, or “didn’t I already read this”?

        Also having the idea that one is running out of time to answer the many questions one might still have, one finds oneself turning more and more to non-fiction.

        That’s what I think, anyway.

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    • CCK98280 says:

      90’s: I recommend another wonderful book by Louise Erdrich: “The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.” It was the first of her books I read, and I’m still enamored of her writing.

  8. Tech Support says:

    Most recent book was dipping back into Neal Stephenson’s earlier work with Diamond Age. A moderately near future examination of ubiquitous nanotechnology. The economic upheaval that results from the irrelevancy of traditional manufacturing basically ends nation states as we know it, but thanks to intellectual property laws, poverty and class division are as prevalent as ever.

    Neal Stephenson has a distinctive style to his writing. He gleefully pelts you with a stream of two-dollar words (some of them invented) in a cadence that might encourage you to read him out loud on open mic night at the coffee shop. While Diamond Age is no exception, his vision of a neo-Victorian culture seems to have inspired him to find his inner Jane Austen in some passages, while other sections of the book tell a parallel story in classic fairy tale form.

    On the nonfiction side, the most recent book was Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Dr. Peter Attia. Being a book on aging and longevity, I went into it with some degree of skepticism. However, instead of getting oversold, under-researched pet theories or This One Trick(tm) oversimplification, I was impressed at the degree to which the book focused on a pragmatic application of recent science, and emphasized things everybody can do without being wealthy enough to do the not-covered-by-insurance things that Dr. Attia’s patients encounter his his private practice.

    If there is one major shortcoming in the book, it is that Dr. Attia makes clear (with an unfortunate display of the obliviousness of the wealthy) that he and his patients live in that world of people who can afford doing all sorts of things insurance is unwilling to cover. His goal is to stimulate a conversation about access to more forward-thinking healthcare, but sometimes it just comes across as flexing.

    • pH unbalanced says:

      I just re-read The Diamond Age this summer — so many interesting things going on. I’d recommend it as a good place to start with Stephenson; it’s not quite as long or dense as most of his novels, and you’ll know by the end of it if he’s an author you want to read more of.

      • Tech Support says:

        That was my first of his, and it made a lasting impression. The “read him out loud” idea pretty much hit from the beginning, because I was introduced to the book when a friend basically crashed into my apartment while a bunch of us were hanging out and made us drop everything so he could read the first two chapters to us on the spot.

    • DrFunguy says:

      I read Stephenson’s Termination Shock a year or two ago. An almost plausible tale of a wealthy technocrat undertaking geoengineering to reverse climate change.
      I like a lot of his novels, Cryptonomicon may be my favorite, spanning three generations of intertwined families with a primer on cryptography and a cherry on top (happy ending). But I really enjoyed Reamde and so course Snow Crash.
      Presently I find myself too busy to read much beyond the necessary technical stuff for work and professional development.

  9. gmokegmoke says:

    Just finished On Hitler’s Mein Kampf: The Poetics of National Socialism by Albrecht Koschorke, this morning and will compile my notes on this very useful and short book soon.

    Also How Do You Live? by Genzaburō Yoshino, which Miyazaki used as an inspiration for his movie “The Boy and the Heron.” Very Japanese but also very good meditation on growing up and learning “how to live.”

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  10. rockfarmer says:

    Favorite books I’ve read in the past three months: “The Friend”, by Sigrid Nunez. Friendship, grief, healing, the soul-bond we humans can share with dogs. Luminous.
    “How Civil Wars Start” by Barbara F. Walter. She’s an academic who’s been studying civil wars for three decades. Sobering (no, terrifying), written for laypeople. Essential.
    “The Vaster Wilds” by Lauren Groff. A favorite writer’s latest. I’ll read anything by her. She’s a marvel. Unlike anything she’s written before. Dark, terrifying, beautiful. Highly recommended.
    “A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson. A follow-up to her marvelous WWII novel, “Life after Life.” Tells the life story of Teddy, brother of the main character from “LAL,” with singular focus on his experiences as an RAF bomber pilot. Extraordinary. I had the great fortune to be raised by and to meet and know many WWII vets who were similarly exceptional human beings. I will read anything by Ms. Atkinson.
    “Black Swan Green,” by David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”), a poetic and vibrant coming of age story of a 13 year old boy in 1980s UK. Like Atkinson and Groff, Mitchell is a favorite writer.
    For sheer fun: “There is No Antimemetics Division” by qntm (pen name of British writer Sam Hughes). If Liu Cixin, William Gibson and H.P. Lovecraft (minus the racism) had a baby, it would be this book. I just finished it a day ago. Brilliantly constructed Sci-Fi/Weird novel told in short, brilliantly interlocking chapters. Intellectually challenging, mind-blowing, no redeeming social value at all, such a delight to read.

    • RipNoLonger says:

      I hadn’t heard of the Antimimetics before but this sounds fascinating. You had me at Liu Cixin. Thanks, I think.

      • rockfarmer says:

        It’s not a long book, comprised of many short chapters, and can be read in a few sittings. If you’re like me, though, when you get to the end of a chapter, you’ll say to yourself “WHAT did I just read?” and immediately read it again. Ingeniously constructed, beautifully written. Hughes is self-published through Amazon; the paperback, new, was only $6, I think. I first heard about it from a review in Lithub.com, a book-lover’s site I check out regularly. Read some reviews on GoodReads; you’ll be able to tell if it’s for you. Or you can also check out the Wiki site dedicated to SCP (“Secure/Contain/Protect”) fiction where most of Hughes’ writing first appears. THAT was all new to me, too.

  11. Skillethead says:

    Hey Ed, I’m working on a book on how to look at art, and the colors book will make great reading for me, and give me material for “boxes of interest” insertions in the book. Thanks for the tip!

    Right now I’m reading; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It’s a novel about a rather strange individual with lots of material about perfumes.

    • Epicurus says:

      Have had Perfume for years. Fascinated by the perfume material.

      This book would be a subset of your intended book but it might be of interest to you.

      Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art by John Szarkowski.

      The author says a hope of the book “is to suggest some of the ways in which photography touches the broader issues of modern art and modern sensibility”.

  12. Matt___B says:

    “How Propaganda Works” by Jason Stanley. Political philosopher Stanley, whose parents survived the Holocaust, is a Yale compatriot of historian Tim Snyder and Snyder’s wife Marci Shore.

  13. Rayne says:

    I don’t work on a book at a time. I have multiple piles of tsundoku. This one happens to be closest at hand.

    • ecsCoffee says:

      tsundoku – thank you for the new word!

      Also, I *adored* Naomi Novik’s Deadly Education trilogy. Extremely effective escapism. Rather detrimental to getting a full night’s sleep though.

      • Rayne says:

        I’m struggling with Novik’s trilogy. I loved and devoured her Temeraire series, though, so much I’ve even read fanfiction of the same.

  14. Kick the Darkness says:

    Your series peaked my interest in Tomasello’s Evolution of Agency, so I recently finished that. Currently working my way through Sharlet’s The Undertow, seeing how his takeaways on the cultural underpinnings of MAGA align with my own experiences of the nascent form of it growing up. For work related background I’ve been reading Griffiths and Stotz “Genetics and Philosophy” which has to do with the extent to which we can understand how biological order is determined by genetic information. It is sort of technical but very readable and, to my surprise, really engaging which is why I’m mentioning it. so it goes from the abstract view of the gene as an hypothetical agent of heritability ala Mendel to discovery of its material properties and then abstracting it once again into information networks to try and understand how genes operate collectively. and then whether the anti-reductionist methods of systems biology will be able to yield meaningful insights into how such networks specify order.

  15. dakine01 says:

    I recently completed the Barbra Streisand autobiography and it was a fun read. Informative with a conversational tone

    I’m also slowly working my way through re-reading “The First Man of Rome,” the first book in Colleen McCullough ‘s Masters of Rome historical novels series that begins about a hundred years before Julius Caesar and continues through Anthony and Cleopatra. Eight books in all

    • MsJennyMD says:

      I too read My Name is Barbra. An entertaining storyteller about her “behind the screen” experiences unfolding her visions and creativity. Watched a few concerts from the past as her magnificent voice and interpretation of lyrics emotionally entices the audience.

      Now reading “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus

    • Peterr says:

      I’ve been working through the Masters of Rome series myself – current working on “The October Horse.” This time, I am lingering over more of the historical details of Roman life and culture at the time, as opposed to the flow of the action. I love her “author’s afterward” comments at the end of each book, where she lays out some of the significant decisions she had to make as to which sources/theories to credit, which to discard, and how/why she chose to fill in certain gaps.

      Makes me wish I had written her before she died, to take up her up on her offer to send folks a copy of her bibliographies.

    • paulpfixion says:

      Oh, Masters of Rome looks perfect! Thanks to you and Peter for the comments, this series is now on the top of the heap for evening reading.

  16. Just Some Guy says:

    So far this year:

    Peter Weiss, “The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume I”
    Don DeLillo, “Libra”
    Alistair Moffat, “Before Scotland: A Prehistory”
    Flann O’Brien, “At Swim-Two-Birds”


    Laszlo Krasznahorkai, “War & War”

  17. orvillej says:

    Just finished the graphic novel version of Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning. An amazing look at how racism is part of the DNA of the USA and I like the way this version breaks it all down in a very readable, understandable way. I read the text version, too, but I think this graphic novel really expands the demographic that might be able to benefit from this scholarship.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I hope you’re right about the graphic novel, I gave it to my 13 year old granddaughter for Christmas. I think the younger generation much prefers them.

  18. theartistvvv says:

    This week I read my last 3 unread Andrew Vachss novels, *Signwave*, *Shockwave*, and *Aftershock*, and re-read James Lee Burke’s *Another Kind of Eden*. I hadda commute to the Loop twice, so that’s about 5 hours of reading time right there.

    Currently reading Ken Bruen’s *Callous*.

  19. Ithaqua0 says:

    Possession is excellent; I’ve never seen the movie though.

    Just finished Ed Yong’s “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us.” A fascinating read with a strong science bent, but not too technical for the non-scientist. Really eye-opening :). I can’t recommend it highly enough. You’ll learn more about bats, electric fish, elephants, mole rats, etc., than you thought there was to know. Owls are amazing, but everything is, really.

    Also: The Wager, by the guy who wrote Killers of the Flower Moon (the book.) About a British frigate that wrecked on a tiny island on the west coast of Patagonia ca. 1740, and what happened after that. Only 36 people survived, making harrowing journeys in cobbled-together little craft back to “civilization” – in the case of three of them, basically taken there by the Native Americans after their attempt failed. Lord Byron’s grandfather was a midshipman on the Wager, and wrote a lot of stuff down; left England at age 16, finally made it back at 22, eventually became an Admiral. A great read, but missing a little something.

  20. I Never Lie and am Always Right says:

    Recent reads: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Armor of Light by Ken Follett.

    Currently reading: 1932 by Scott Martelle, The Theory of Everything Else by Dan Schreiber

  21. vertalio says:

    Just finished “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” by Cormac McCarthy, his final two, then turned right around and read them both again. What a mind. Both more accessible than I expected, with little physical violence, and near-perfect dialogue (Stella Maris is entirely dialogue).

  22. Epicurus says:

    Holiday presents read:

    Longstreet: The Confederate General Who Defied The South by Elizabeth Varon. Informative and relevant stuff about Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Super Volcanoes: What They Reveal About The Earth And The Worlds Beyond by Robin Andrews. Begins pretty much with Kilauea and ends with the volcanoes of Jupiter’s Io. Fascinating stuff.

    A Waiter in Paris by Edward Chisholm. British Journalist becomes Parisian waiter or minor civilizations clash. What I did for love (and necessity).

    Several fiction books by Martin Cruz Smith and Elmore Leonard and perhaps the strangest book I ever read – The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt. Fiction story about a six year old prodigy.

    Several to be read, but first up is A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. King Lear and his family come to Iowa.

  23. Zeno Vatali says:

    I am halfway through “What do we Need Men For? A Modest Proposal” by E. Jean Carroll. She is a very funny writer. I’m so glad she won all that money!

  24. coalesced says:

    Half-way through The Origins Of Totalitarianism as we speak and a huge thank you for the link to your series on it.

  25. Eschscholzia says:

    Eve by Cat Bohonnan sounds like it might be Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s “The Woman who Never Evolved” for a new generation of readers, covering a new generation of evolutionary ecology & mating systems. Hrdy’s dissertation was on infanticide by dominant male Lemurs, where the naïve thought was it happened in times of resource shortages. Hrdy’s fieldwork showed it was nothing of the sort: rather, dominant males only lasted in power a couple of years, and lactating females might not come back into estrous before the male was deposed. Infanticide gave the dominant male more chances to successfully leave his own offspring. [Infanticide by males in pride or harem mating systems has been found in other primates.] She went one step further and hypothesized that females evolved their own strategies to minimize infanticide, very much against the dominant assumptions in evolutionary ecology of mating systems. She showed that natural selection acts on female mating and reproductive strategies every bit as much as it does on males, in primates, mammals, and birds.

    I’m currently reading two books, one of which parallels Eve and The Woman who Never Evolved: “We are the Land” by Damon Akins & William Bauer. In most histories of California, the indigenous peoples are either ignored or at best treated as passive, helpless victims. But the indigenous people were not passive: they strategized and explored and learned, attempting to leverage the different waves of European invaders in interactions with their neighbors, to trade for goods, and to mitigate or reduce the devastation happening to them. [The recent historic understanding of the conquest of Mexico has a similar emphasis on the agency of the locals, not the blind self-reported awesomeness of Cortez.] The cool part is that each chapter is followed by a section on “native spaces”: how a particular set of peoples lived in a part of California.

    The other is a modern statistics book I need to re-read: Stroup’s Generalized Linear Mixed Models. Fortunately, as a reviewer in a statistics journal noted, this book is both extremely well-written and dryly humorous, things no one expects in a hard core statistics book.

  26. Harry Eagar says:

    ‘Palo Alto’ by Malcolm Harris, purchased after hearing it praised by some radio talking head. Full of lively anecdotes but as economic history, calling it shallow is too kind.

  27. Tetman Callis says:

    Yesterday I finished 𝑀𝑟. 𝐺𝑎𝑡𝑙𝑖𝑛𝑔’𝑠 𝑇𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑀𝑎𝑟𝑣𝑒𝑙, Julia Keller’s biography of the man who invented that enduring killing machine. He invented several other contraptions besides, most of them pertaining to agriculture, though in so far as he is remembered at all, it is in the name of his machine gun. He was once as famous as Edison, and grew wealthy from his combination of mechanical ingenuity and business sense, though he is largely forgotten now. Keller’s book is a well-sourced look at the man and his times (19th-century United States).

    On the side burner, I continue with my long-delayed read of the US Army “Green Book” history of the Second World War. This is a reading project I put off for a while — there is so much else to read — but I thought I’d better get started on it. I’m to volume IV of the 80 or so volumes. The early volumes are all about planning and logistics. The one I’m on is 𝑆𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑔𝑖𝑐 𝑃𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝐶𝑜𝑎𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑊𝑎𝑟𝑓𝑎𝑟𝑒: 1943-1944. It’s not as dry as it may sound, though it is fairly dry. A taste for such books is an acquired taste, I guess, and I’ve been a history buff my whole life. I hadn’t realized before reading this series just how hobbled the American and British options were by difficulties with shipping. There were just never enough cargo ships and troop ships and landing craft.

    History is not the only I subject I read. Next up on my short stack is 𝑛𝑎𝑘𝑒𝑑 by David Sedaris. He’s the guy who first rose to fame through his public radio piece about working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s. I heard him read in a bookstore before he reached the concert hall level of fame, and he was remarkably funny. That was when he was touring to promote his book 𝑀𝑒 𝑇𝑎𝑙𝑘 𝑃𝑟𝑒𝑡𝑡𝑦 𝑂𝑛𝑒 𝐷𝑎𝑦 (a copy of which I bought and he cleverly autographed). 𝑛𝑎𝑘𝑒𝑑 came out even before that, and it seems it will prove amusing. A nice distraction from our current dire days, calling to me from a time not so long ago yet seeming to be on the other side of an almost unbridgeable rupture.

    • Rayne says:

      I fell in love with Sedaris listening to him reading his essays on NPR slots during my morning commutes back when I was a corporate drone. The essay SantaLand Diaries which spawned his book, Holidays on Ice, made me laugh so hard I didn’t know if I was going to have to pull over and take a breather before I arrived at the office. Good stuff.

      • fatvegan000 says:

        I love Sedaris, too. I totally admire (and am admittedly a little envious of) how he finds humor in his somewhat dysfunctional family.

        Not sure if it was in Holidays on Ice, but the incident with the poop-colored bathroom towels made me laugh until my stomach hurt!

  28. Ravenclaw says:

    Here it’s a mixture of what I need/ought to read professionally (clinical psychologist in academia) and the occasional bit of fun, or at least stuff outside my field. Hmm, let’s see…

    The Other Side of Prospect: recently published look at a hardscrabble Black neighborhood in New Haven, with interesting background history traced through 1-2 families, then centering on three people: a murdered grandfather, the decent kid who did time for it, and the one who actually killed him. I keep having to put it down after 20 pages or so because it’s emotionally activating, but I’m pressing on because it’s both important and good.

    Classifying Criminal Offenders with the MMPI-2: Yeah, professional interest & also relates in a way to a study I’m working on. The authors undertook a decades-long project sorting offenders into broad categories using this major personality test, then investigating further into the qualities associated with each. Should probably be required reading for those going into the corrections field.

    Nazis of Copley Square: about the Christian Front movement in Boston in the late 1930s. Also relates to my project, which centers on a Front leader/would-be dictator in New York who was interned during the war and underwent psychoanalysis. Anyway, this book is by a solid historian who understands the role played by a then-popular strand of theology in the movement.

    The Woods of Arcady: The second book in a proposed trilogy by Michael Moorcock. I loved the first volume, The Whispering Swarm, which is a kind of memoirized fantasy (as opposed to a fictionalized memoir) set in mid-century London. This one is giving me a hard time because he’s writing in an intentionally challenging style, not developing a plot as such so far. It’s probably brilliant but it may be a while before I make much headway.

    The O.S.S. and I: Loosely connected with my research (very loosely) and a rather old book but great fun. The author, a psychologist, wangles his way into the O.S.S. despite poor eyesight. He was closely involved in their training program and eventually convinced them to send him into Nazi-occupied France to work with the Maquis (resistance). Seems too good to be true, but he has photographs.

    There’s more, but that’s already too much for anyone to attend to.

    • Greg Hunter says:

      “Classifying Criminal Offenders with the MMPI-2” – I had never heard of it before and I went down the rabbit hole with that data. I understand confirmation bias as well as the shouts of correlation/causation along with my lack of understanding all the changes in the MMPI scales over time, but my 4 hour diversion did seem to bear fruit. For the record I believe that exposure to neurotoxins, especially Lead, had a sizable role in driving human behavior.

      I found many studies that used MMPI data to tease out criminally deviant behavior but I cannot see anyway to get a hold of the original data to see where the MMPI 4-3 profile were born and raised.

      I also had not realized that schizophrenia was Lead exposure indicator and that Blacks were more likely to be diagnosed with this condition than Whites, Latinos or Asians. It could be racial bias, but it could also provide more data that Blacks lived in higher Lead exposure areas.

      I would love to get my hands on the raw data from some of these MMPI studies.


        • Greg Hunter says:

          Thanks, I gave it a read and I have become more and more jaded about how we addressed pollution issues as well as tracking down those harmed by that pollution. I talk about Bhopal a great deal when I educate the next generation about why these regulations matter as we live in a time where people have been convinced it is all over reach. Nothing could be further from the truth. HIPAA is another law that Americans love, but they fail to see how much protection that law has afforded polluters, pharmaceutical makers and medical malpractice.

          I could provide lists of places and projects that need to be re-evaluated for impacts to communities. Crime, drug abuse and other erratic behaviors can be linked to historic pollution, if you just look. South Chicago, East St. Louis, Baltimore, Pueblo, Colorado and Butte, MT are other cities with pollution based crime.

  29. DChom123 says:

    A good surfer is a sign of ill spent youth. I was a pretty good surfer thus, revisiting my youth and quite enjoying “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan

  30. Greg Hunter says:

    Thanks for all the book recommendations! In the age of podcasting I have been immersed in a great deal of that media; however, a new Audible account let me expand my book consumption. It has been a refreshing change and my range has been influenced by those on this blog as well as the NYT Book Review.

    All the SInner’s Bleed – SA Crosby – Interesting way to look at racism in America.

    The 272 – Rachel L. Swarns – I did not think I could dislike religion anymore until I “read” that book.

    The Housemaid – Freida McFadden – Brain candy with a social message.

    How Rights went Wrong – Jamal Greene – I needed to understand US judicial history and philosophy. It helped me a great deal.

    Sabbath’s Theater – Philip Roth – I am still thinking about this book as Mr. Roth was writing about a time that I lived through or heard stories through that lens even though my exposure was WASP and not Jewish. Penthouse Letters level of porn with deep dives into issues that drive peoples lives as well as end them.

    Spare – Prince Harry – Philip Roth covers WWII to mid 1990s history of America and the world, while Harry uses his Forrest Gump like journey of being an extra in a play where he went off script in all the most interesting ways. Harry helped me more fully understand grief, Afghanistan, the desire for some parents to trip up their own children, sibling rivalry, responsible drug use and racism.

  31. Chirrut Imwe says:

    I’ve been on an Annie Proulx jag lately – her short stories are well written, varied and interesting.

    My oldest left a number of books at the house from a degree in linguistics, which I have been working my way through. Of late I am very much enjoying “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” by Guy Deutscher. I would be curious to know if “The Secret Life of Colors” spends any time on the debate surrounding how societies develop the language of color, and how/why colors get different names in different societies.

    • Rayne says:

      I flounced Proulx’s Barkskins. My mother loved it so I felt sure I would, too. Unfortunately I’ve read enough early Canadian history that it just seemed thin, like she phoned it in. Lot of words invested but it didn’t work for me.

      WRT linguistics — you might consider The Geography of Thought by Richard E. Nisbett and The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter. Not perfect texts but illuminating in their own way, may help develop your understanding of color terminology across cultures.

      • Chirrut Imwe says:

        My favs in what I loosely term ‘Western Americana’ are Ivan Doig and Kent Haruf. Alas, there will be no more fiction from those two, but I continue find the genre compelling.

      • Chirrut Imwe says:

        Did my comment get stuck in moderation purgatory?

        [Moderator’s note: your comment from 12:10 p.m. today has been released for publication. Very sorry, not certain exactly why it was stuck — may have been one word which triggered the algorithm. /~Rayne]

    • Ed Walker says:

      The Secret Lives Of Colors is light-weight, but there is some discussion of the different ways cultural groups perceive colors.

      My kids left a number of books at home, and I’ve adopted some of them. My favorites are The Histories of Herodotus and The Pre-Socratics, which is a book of short passages from Greek philosophers that somehow survived the centuries.

  32. HorsewomaninPA says:

    Inspired by the Emptywheel blog, I read Hunter Biden’s memoir, “Beautiful Things”. Not a great writer, but with background from this blog, I found it very interesting.
    Inspired by finding out that a distant relative of mine, 4x great-grandfather, served as a guard to George Washington during the Revolutionary War, I’m reading “Revolution on the Hudson” by George Daughan. Love this. Did you know that Great Britain had 150 ships in the Royal Navy at the time and sent almost half to North America for the war? That really struck me.
    Re-reading “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder – such a difference in pace when comparing it to more modern fiction.
    And a just-for-fun (but now regret it) “Game of Thrones” by George Martin – what a horrible writer!
    And a masterpiece that I would highly recommend – “This is Happiness” by Niall Williams. It was wonderful!

    • Tech Support says:

      Two unrelated observations:

      First, I read in the last week that it is estimated that Russia currently has something like 40% of it’s entire armed forces in Ukraine currently. I don’t know if the comparison is relevant or superficial, but it’s something to think about.

      The other bit is… I have studiously avoided all things Game of Thrones because George RR Martin earned his reputation for gleefully torturing his own characters back in the 1980s. He wrote/edited an anthology of superhero-inspired SF short stories called Wild Cards. As a comic book loving teenager at the time, I ate up the first few volumes until it became clear that I was being invited to read the equivalent of ants under a magnifying glass.

      Before the HBO series, GoT was being promoted as “Harry Potter for grown-ups” and I was about to give it a try when I found out who was behind it, and then noped right out of that idea.

      • dar_5678 says:

        I came to Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) late. Just before the HBO series was released, amid all the geek pre-hype, I thought “well I’ll give it a try”.

        You mentioned elsewhere on this post that you are a Neal Stephenson fan, and (rightly!) called out the first two chapters of Snow Crash.

        I recommend that you read the first chapter of the first book (A Game of Thrones). If it doesn’t inspire you to keep going, then by all means quit. I thought I’d give the first chapter a quick read right before going to bed, to see if I should just skip the whole thing. I was sucked in immediately, up til 5am, and didn’t regret a single page of the following 3500 over the five books. He’s a great writer. (I will read Niall Williams now to see what I’m missing, but the bar is high!)

        I started watching the TV show but gave up after a few episodes because it wasn’t even slightly as interesting as the books.

  33. nord dakota says:

    I have a long standing habit of buying thrift store books. It’s how I have stumbled into many very good writers. It works because most of the shelves are filled with pulp romance, crime, and beach novels, so anything that does not fall into those areas sticks out. The Master and Margarita is one that I found there. Another was Greenlanders, by Jane Smiley. It’s been some years, but I recall the language being almost Biblical. It was also unsettling. From what I can tell she adheres pretty closely to the late years of Icelandic settlement in Greenland. I was very much taken aback at the very beginning, when a settler carries his cows from the byre where they have wintered out to pasture, reflecting on tales of a time when winters did not last so long cattle’s legs were too weak from disuse to walk by spring. I had to go to the internet where I learned how much smaller medieval cattle were). The climate change in Greenlanders is from cold to warm, but climate change nonetheless. Isolation was due to multiple causes–climate change making the passages more dangerous, development of market for elephant tusks replacing narwhale horns as a source of ivory, plagues in Europe. As the cold and isolation increase, cultural and religious traditions fray, replaced by fringe superstitions. Written in 1988, it feels prophetic now.

    I started using Kindle during the pandemic and with too many books in the house using it again. It’s annoying what Libby counts as literature though when I check out books using it.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I always got a twinge at Barnes & Noble which insisted on shelving Ayn Rand books in the philosophy section, along with a bunch of self-help titles.

    • Grain of Sand says:

      I read the Greenlanders during a stay in Lithuania in winter of 1992. I have vivid memories, perhaps in part due to no hot water in my abode. Smiley is a good writer, but I’ve only made it all the way through a couple of her books.

      I am also partial to thrift store finds …..

      • Baltimark says:

        Jane was my freshman Honors English teacher at Iowa State back in ’83, a few years before she gained broad recognition. She was one of those profs who would routinely write 500 to 1,000 words of constructive feedback on every assignment for every student. She certainly sharpened my compositional skills but even moreso my tools for critical reading. I’m partial to her academic satire Moo, in part though not only for the ample trainspotting opportunities for any Cyclone kicking around Ames in the mid-80s (the Ames, I might add, that was the childhood home of Neal Stephenson).

  34. Harry Eagar says:

    Speaking of books, now that my grandchildren have started reading a lot, I have been amazed by what is being produced by the Kid Industrial Complex.

    One granddaughter, who is 12, is racing through a series of YA novels placing children in realistic plots concerning World War 2. Nothing new there — I read G.A. Henty at that age — but the level of sophistication is much higher.

  35. gruntfuttock says:

    I read Possession many, many years ago and don’t recall much other than that I enjoyed it. I should probably add it to my pile for a reread. Arendt also happens to be in the to read pile.
    Currently, I am reading The Dictionary People, which looks at some of the many and varied people who provided quotations for the Oxford English Dictionary, and revisiting Preacher (I read it when it was coming out as a monthly comic but there are now some handy omnibus volumes which save me having to dig through boxes of comics). Like Rayne, I tend to have multiple titles on the go at once.

  36. GV-San-Ya says:

    Finishing the final chapters of Geddy Lee’s autobiography, “My Effin’ Life”. It’s interesting to watch his youthful libertarianism transform into a more compassionate and practical brand of democratic socialism, as he comes to the conclusion that “Sure, we [Canadians] pay more in taxes than many others do, but I prefer to live in a world that gives a shit, even for people I don’t know.” That’s important, coming from the singer of a band whose songs have been linked to —and sometimes used to justify— a brand of Ayn Rand-ian everyone-for-themselves-ism.

    One devastating early chapter describes how Geddy’s parents met and fell in love in a Nazi concentration camp. Such a remarkable, unimaginable story, and a timely reminder of how fascism has a way of sneaking up on us.

    • Baltimark says:

      My second concert ever. Always, though decreasingly, on the nose and didactic with Neil’s lyrics but still magnificent. I never really had a problem queuing up Moving Pictures and Sandinista! on the same multi-album spindle-drop turntable. Besides, Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron is basically a novella-length version of The Trees, though certainly he never dedicated anything to “the revolutionary genius of Ayn Rand.” As for Geddy, let me put in a good word for his sometimes underated bass work; its fluidity and liveliness leavens Neil’s accomplished but sometimes science-projecty drum work.

      • GV-San-Ya says:

        Well said on all counts, Baltimark!
        I always found The Trees to be a remarkably efficient work. It feels “epic” and yet it clocks-in at under five minutes. Although the narrative can be seen as an argument against Affirmative Action, that may miss the point. Regardless, it prompted a lot of thought in my teenage-rocker mind in the 80s, and to this day, still brings about interesting conversations (such as this one). For that, I am forever grateful to Rush.

  37. yydennek says:

    The books listed in the thread, did commenters learn about them in non-religious settings?Taxpayers have been and will be paying much greater amounts for K-12 religious schools, specifically, expansion of education vouchers and SCOTUS- approved religious charter schools. Since right wing religion is the source of recent book bans in the US, any concerns? -a bit of a transition in topic-comments from South Dakota Republican state Rep. Phil Jensen (reported at Keloland Media Group ,1-22-2024, “House Panel Nixes State School -Lunch Subsidy”) – explaining his vote against money for school lunches for kids in need, he said, “(The Apostle Paul) didn’t issue that directive (to care for the needy) to the government. He issued it to the (Catholic) Church,…we are the hands and feet of Jesus…we can meet the needs of this effort…” S.D.’s budget surplus is close to $100 mil and the state government lunch program cost is $570,000. (Btw- presumably unknown to Jensen, local, state and federal governments provided 2/3rds of Catholic charities’ support in 2013. The remainder of support was tax-avoided charitable donations.) If the commenters here were hungry kids and they could go to a public school with no lunches provided or to a free (tax-supported) religious school that had lunch, which would they choose and which books would they be exposed to?

  38. Honeybee says:

    Timothy Snyder’s “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.” While its style tends to be slightly redundant, this book shares many insights about philosophical underpinnings of V. Putin’s cockeyed worldview.

  39. KittyRehn says:

    Ithaca by Claire North was my Christmas gift to myself, and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for some feminist historical fiction. As for non-fiction, I recently picked up The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London by Dale H. Porter for a school project, and it has me absolutely hooked. I’m swamped with reading for school, but I’ve also been working my way through Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey. It’s a lovely translation and an absolutely gorgeous book to boot.

  40. paulpfixion says:

    I just finished a couple of books by Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez–The Sound of Things Falling and The Shape of the Ruins. Falling is partly about Peace Corps volunteers folding into and influencing the early cocaine and marijuana trade, but that is only one of the “Things” that makes a noise during descent in the novel. I really enjoyed it. The Shape of the Ruins was also a page turner, but focused more on the psychology of conspiracy theory in a country filled with conspiracies and political intrigue. It has been challenging recently to communicate with certain old friends and even new acquaintances who are caught up in any of the popular conspiracy theories of the day. This book does a wonderful job of exploring the story of an unwilling novelist’s embroilment in the web of political mysteries in Colombia, most interestingly the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.

    I’m currently reading a much less satisfying Conquistadores: A New History, by Fernando Cervantes. While the book has some fascinating portions that really open up the imagination to what life may have been like for a 16th century imperialist, Cervantes seems very sympathetic to the Catholic mission. I feel the entire book has been deeply clouded by this bias, so, now I need to find a more objective lens to rebalance. If anyone has any suggestions I’d be in your debt!

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