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What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

'Age of Reason' and 'Common Sense' by Thomas Paine. What has happened to our government?

 

My gut answer would be that you guys down there are too invested in fetishising your sacred texts. Now for a positive contribution: rereading Chris Wickham's Inheritance of Rome: Shedding Light on the Dark Ages, 400-1000 while reading Peter Heather's Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe.

 

Now, Heather is mildly famous for his attempt to go back to the kind of history written about the "Germanische Voelkerwanderung" before World War II. In those ancient times, German historians, admittedly taking actual Roman accounts as their point of departure, created a picture of a vast movement of peoples from the barbaric north into the Roman Empire beginning, say, 165AD and culminating with the overthrow of the Empire by the Goths and Vandals. The significance of World War II as a moment of historiographic change is that German historians woke from their nationalist sleep of reason and asked themselves about the relationship between labels and people. Even if our sources are at all plausible in telling us that the Goths are in northern Poland in 165AD, Ukraine in 300, and Italy in 476, how is it actually useful to say that these are somehow the same Goths? The much more interesting question is why people choose to call themselves Goths, or why others call them Goths. This leads us in turn to very different explanations for the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

So when Heather comes along and basically says, "no, modern archaeology shows that there really were Goths and they really were Germanic, and they really did make these great migrations," he's got a hard road to walk. Way back in 1996, he laid out his thesis here, and, while I'm not an expert, and Walter Goffart's* book that I'm linking to goes a little overboard in reaction, the criticism seemed devastating. Now with his big mass market book, Heather is back, and he's just amazing. "Yeah, there's this criticism. And, yeah, there's that evidence. And, yeah, lots of people disagree with me. But I'm still right, so suck it."

 

Thank Heavens for Wikipedia, or I wouldn't be able to check his every cite as I go. It's going to be hard to pull this kind of stuff in a few years, I must say. It's like the Internet quoters who don't realise that people can just cut and paste to Google and be right back with their "Actually, Abraham Lincoln didn't say that."

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

'Age of Reason' and 'Common Sense' by Thomas Paine. What has happened to our government?

 

Lobbying -> corporate interest trumps public interest.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

The Orchid Thief. It's about orchid fanciers, and one in particular who had a cleverdumb scheme to get Indians to take endangered orchid species from national parks. I loved the part where the author talks about meeting an orchid collector who said he used to be into bridge but got out because bridge people were too weird and obsessive and now he has three different alarm systems for his greenhouse so he can relax more.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I just finished reading The Hundred Greatest Stars by James B. Kaler. Highly recommended! :thumbup:

 

I learned more about astronomy from that book than I did in an entire semester of college Astronomy.

 

Kaler's a solid astronomer, so chances are most of those things you learned are correct, too. That's less common than one might hope, actually. :straight:

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

The Real Men in Black: Evidence, Famous Cases & True Stories of These Mysterious Men & their Connection to UFO Phenomena by Nick Redfern

Rating: ** out of *****

 

Not as compelling' date=' IMO, as his Body Snatchers in the Desert. In this book, Redfern seems to recognize that he doesn't have enough evidence to make a persuasive argument in favor of any particular interpretation of the "Men in Black" phenomenon, so he sort of promotes all of them at once. Unfortunately, other than a few vague anecdotes, some of which can definitely be taken very innocuously, I didn't encounter much new information in this one...[/quote']

 

Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence by Bill James

Rating: *** out of *****

 

As always, I'm a fan of Bill James's writing style. And I learned a bit about many crime stories I previously knew nothing about. It's arranged roughly in chronological order, and it's interesting to note, especially for older crimes, which ones are still famous today, and which have mostly left the society's consciousness, despite being hugely famous in their time. It's a different angle from which to write about popular crime stories, and it's definitely a worthwhile look.

 

But overall, Popular Crime seems to lose its way about halfway through. It starts out in the first half of the book as primarily a look at which crimes become famous, why they become famous, and what that might tell us about ourselves and our society at the time of the crime. But later, as the timeline advances up to crimes that occurred during James's adult lifetime, it seems to become largely commentary about why James liked or didn't like, or agreed with or didn't agree with, books about various famous crimes.

 

What began as James's thoughts about crime, fame, society, and how they intertwine, turns into James's thoughts about other crime books and authors. And the latter, perhaps predictably, isn't nearly as interesting...

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

So you've probably always wondered how exactly the Roman Empire fell. I know I have, and I've been doing some research. The question arose: how big was the population of the Roman Empire? It turns out that this is controversial. Holy crap, is it controversial. Walter Scheidel covers the basic issues in the introduction to Scheidel, ed., Debating Roman Demography.

 

The problem is that we have explicit numbers, taken from Emperor Augustus' Res Gestae, a document that someone helpfully carved on the wall of a few temples in Turkey. Augustus tells us that the last census of Roman citizens before the one he did, completed in 79BC returned 900,000 Roman citizens. The one that he did was not only better, but returned 4.2 million Roman citizens.

 

Holy crap: 900,000 to 4.2 million in 50 years? Something's wrong here. The data is skewed. One way to skew it is that the criteria for counting has changed, and the 4.2 million includes widows and orphans. This gives us the "low count" of an Italian population of c. 7 million and an Empire-wide population of c. 60 million. Or it doesn't, but the 900,000 count is in some other way restrictive. (For example, citizens had to come to Rome to be counted, and presumably most didn't bother.) In which case we have the "high count" of c. 13 million Italians in the Roman Empire, and an Imperial population of c. 100 million.

 

So all this is based on surviving literary evidence, beginning with the Res Gestae. What else can we use? Perhaps we can knock out a suitable database from the ever-accelerating pace of archaeological investigation?

 

Well, Alessandro Launaro thinks he can do this, and lays out his case in Peasants and Slaves: The Rural Population of Roman Italy (200BC to AD100) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). His conclusion? The high count is too low. Thus, although he wiggles a bit in laying this out for us straightforwardly, the Italian population in 1AD was perhaps 14 million, and the Empire's upwards of 120 million.

 

Since the conventional estimate is that Italy's population in c. 1250AD era is c. 12.5 million, the population of the peninsula had fallen slightly since Roman times. Which only sounds completely crazy when you realise that dense urban populations had not yet appeared in the vast Po Valley of northern Italy in Roman times.

 

By extension, the population of the Empire must have fallen by about two-thirds in the period of the fall of the Empire, whatever we decide that to have been. That's pretty scary if you tell an "exogenous" story, in which volcanoes or climate cycles or plagues are enough to inflict all this misery. But I have my doubts. It's hard enough for an ancient population to expand quickly, what with all the babies and the mothers dying. (Note that the "life expectancy at birth of 28" figure has been calculated to apply to the Roman Imperial families, including only natural deaths, so that wealth is no protection from the lethality of life in the deep past.)

 

So what happened? Here's another book that I'm reading: James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. It's the sequel to this, which I'm surprised our board libertarians haven't been all into.

 

Scott says that we've conventionally understood the history of southeast Asia as one in which states rise in the ricelands of the bottoms and expand upwards into the mountains, encountering there the eternal barbarian, living in clan and tribe, rejecting civilisation because they're, like, barbarians and everything.

 

Rather, he says, we should see the highland barbarians as refugees from the state. The uplands are their protection from "schemes to improve the human condition" that instead become schemes for the relentless exploitation of the governed. So the refugees escape government. They abandon the religion, language, family names, even education preferred by the state as they flee into the mountains.

 

The implication? We tell the story of the Roman Empire as one of being overrun by barbarians from without. What if what actually happened was one long flight from the Empire? Abandoning their farms and towns and fleeing, sometimes across the frontier, sometimes into internal "shatter zones," the people of Rome fled, and barbarised.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

Kaler's a solid astronomer' date=' so chances are most of those things you learned are correct, too. That's less common than one might hope, actually. :straight:[/quote']

 

That's good to hear. I was hoping you'd weigh in on this, what with you being an expert in the field and all. :thumbup:

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I am nearly finished with a book I got for Christmas, Catapult: A History, by Tracey Rihll.

 

A pretty detailed, formal historical investigation of catapults in classical antiquity and medieval Europe. (There's just about nothing from outside the Mediterranean basin, except the few activities of Alexander and the Romans that got a bit further east.) She makes the interesting suggestions that personal crossbows (that is, musket-class sort of weaponry) were relatively common in the Roman (and other) armies, and that those were "inswinging" arm torsion catapults rather than "outswinging" arm. This is an "outswinging" arm torsion catapult; I haven't found as clear an image of an inswinger yet. Perhaps old hat to real antquities buffs, but I hadn't heard of them before.

 

Some other goodies as well. She suggests that we can add the arrow slit to the list of inventions that seem to have come from Archimedes, for example, and that the crossbow really didn't get started until a particular place and moment in time: Syracuse, about 399 BC.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I'm not quite finished, but am reading "Fighting The Forces : What's At Stake In Buffy the Vampire Slayer" by Rhonda V Wilcox and David Lavery (eds). A series of articles looking at the popular T V show from a variety of perspectives. Written by academics, but more interesting than I originally thought it would be.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I just finished "Operation Crossroads". It's about the first two tests at Bikini Atoll. It's kind of revealing, how the scientists argued with the military, about the need for the tests at all; it wasn't about testing weapons so much as a navy vs. army air force. The navy wanted the tests to prove they could survive nukes, the air force didn't want the tests because they were afraid it would prove the navy right. The scientists didn't want the tests at Bikini because it was inconventient, and General Leslie Groves didn't want the tests at all because it would use up 3 of the 7 operational nukes the country had at the time!

 

The first test used a B-29 to drop the bomb on the 'ghost fleet', and was so off target that it ruined a good fraction of the experiments. There are very few pictures of the first test, because the cameras were aimed at the wrong spot. The second test had more success, being rigged underneath a small ship to detonate underwater. It sank several ships outright, and badly contaminated the survivors with radioactive seawater. Which lead to tragedy: the navy tried to decontaminate the ships, ignoring the warnings of the scientists about the dangers of radiation. Many men died of radiation caused illnesses in the years that followed. Of course, the government denied that there were any radiation caused illnesses at all. The third test (deep underwater) was cancelled, due to a desire to not waste the limited supply of nuclear weapons AND because the Navy felt they had what they needed to 'prove' that ships weren't that vulnerable to atomics.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

So, Tribby...did you learn how to be a woman? ;)

 

Lesson 1...Text/apply makeup while driving.

 

Lesson 2...Kick smarta$$ed Bozimus in gonads.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

So, Tribby...did you learn how to be a woman? ;)

 

Lesson 1...Text/apply makeup while driving.

 

Lesson 2...Kick smarta$$ed Bozimus in gonads.

 

It's a good read for men and women but I'd say it is more for the Europeans although I stand to be proved wrong.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I am nearly finished with a book I got for Christmas' date=' [i']Catapult: A History[/i], by Tracey Rihll.

 

A pretty detailed, formal historical investigation of catapults in classical antiquity and medieval Europe. (There's just about nothing from outside the Mediterranean basin, except the few activities of Alexander and the Romans that got a bit further east.) She makes the interesting suggestions that personal crossbows (that is, musket-class sort of weaponry) were relatively common in the Roman (and other) armies, and that those were "inswinging" arm torsion catapults rather than "outswinging" arm. This is an "outswinging" arm torsion catapult; I haven't found as clear an image of an inswinger yet. Perhaps old hat to real antquities buffs, but I hadn't heard of them before.

 

Some other goodies as well. She suggests that we can add the arrow slit to the list of inventions that seem to have come from Archimedes, for example, and that the crossbow really didn't get started until a particular place and moment in time: Syracuse, about 399 BC.

 

How amazing. The big history of technology study (Lawrence, Greek Aims in Fortification) isn't available online. Thank Heavens someone is protecting the copyright holder!

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I just finished Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) by "The Bloggess" Jenny Lawson

 

lets-pretend.jpg

 

Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

 

Funniest thing I've read in a long, long time. I spent most of it laughing out loud. A book for "intellectual misfits," it's one of those rare books that is both humorous and touching. Sometimes blogs don't translate so well to long form print, but this one absolutely does. Highly recommended.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I have just finished "The Supergirls" by Mike Madrid. It is a sometimes scathing look at the way female superheroes have been portrayed in comics from Miss Fury to Jenny Sparks !

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I have just finished "The Supergirls" by Mike Madrid. It is a sometimes scathing look at the way female superheroes have been portrayed in comics from Miss Fury to Jenny Sparks !

I have a theory that, in the alternate DC and Marvel universes, the superheroes we see are actually runway models in TV shows.

 

The real supers don't look pretty automatically.

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

Just finished "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" by James D. Hornfisch.

 

Taffy 3, equipped with 6 converted cargo ship aircraft carriers (CVEs), escorted by 3 destroyers (DD) and 4 'escort destroyers' (DE) were preparing for thier morning ground support for the troops ashore on Leyte and anti-submarine patrol when over the horizon comes 4 battleships (including Yamato, world's largest), 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.

The American carriers immediatly launch whatever aircraft they have ready for combat, however they were armed (Mostly fragmentation bombs, napalm, and depth charges) while the destroyers ("Tin Cans" in navy slang) first laid smoke then closed into torpedo range. Last stand time indeed, as destroyers first launched torpedoes then turned around and *pretended* to launch more torpedoes. Aircraft dropped bombs etc. then turned around on fake bomb runs.

 

Drama on the high seas, told almost entirely from the point of view of Americans who were there. As history, it's shaky, since it relies almost exclusively on American sources, but as action/adventure, well, they should make a movie of it.

(Clint Eastwood as Admiral Clifton Sprague. "Admiral, look! They're getting away!"

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

Just finished "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" by James D. Hornfisch.

 

Taffy 3, equipped with 6 converted cargo ship aircraft carriers (CVEs), escorted by 3 destroyers (DD) and 4 'escort destroyers' (DE) were preparing for thier morning ground support for the troops ashore on Leyte and anti-submarine patrol when over the horizon comes 4 battleships (including Yamato, world's largest), 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.

The American carriers immediatly launch whatever aircraft they have ready for combat, however they were armed (Mostly fragmentation bombs, napalm, and depth charges) while the destroyers ("Tin Cans" in navy slang) first laid smoke then closed into torpedo range. Last stand time indeed, as destroyers first launched torpedoes then turned around and *pretended* to launch more torpedoes. Aircraft dropped bombs etc. then turned around on fake bomb runs.

 

Drama on the high seas, told almost entirely from the point of view of Americans who were there. As history, it's shaky, since it relies almost exclusively on American sources, but as action/adventure, well, they should make a movie of it.

(Clint Eastwood as Admiral Clifton Sprague. "Admiral, look! They're getting away!"

 

This one is on my "to read" list!!!

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

Just finished "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" by James D. Hornfisch.

 

Taffy 3, equipped with 6 converted cargo ship aircraft carriers (CVEs), escorted by 3 destroyers (DD) and 4 'escort destroyers' (DE) were preparing for thier morning ground support for the troops ashore on Leyte and anti-submarine patrol when over the horizon comes 4 battleships (including Yamato, world's largest), 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.

The American carriers immediatly launch whatever aircraft they have ready for combat, however they were armed (Mostly fragmentation bombs, napalm, and depth charges) while the destroyers ("Tin Cans" in navy slang) first laid smoke then closed into torpedo range. Last stand time indeed, as destroyers first launched torpedoes then turned around and *pretended* to launch more torpedoes. Aircraft dropped bombs etc. then turned around on fake bomb runs.

 

Drama on the high seas, told almost entirely from the point of view of Americans who were there. As history, it's shaky, since it relies almost exclusively on American sources, but as action/adventure, well, they should make a movie of it.

(Clint Eastwood as Admiral Clifton Sprague. "Admiral, look! They're getting away!"

That is one of my favorite naval actions (the battle of Samar) . I remember another lovely quote from the battle; when the japanese cruisers were closing in some wit said "We are sucking them in to 40mm range" ! There is also the quote from someone talking to Clifton Sprague after the battle when it was claimed (by the Japanese apparently) that the U S Escort Carriers were making 30 + knots "I knew you were scared Cliff, but I didn't know you were THAT scared !"

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Re: What Non-Fiction Book have you just finished?

 

I have a theory that, in the alternate DC and Marvel universes, the superheroes we see are actually runway models in TV shows.

 

The real supers don't look pretty automatically.

 

I don't know. I have this idea that superpowers are handed out by some cosmic entity that comes down and says "Excuse me Miss McPherson, Miss Decker, Miss Sims would you like super powers ?"

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