Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic  - Terry Pratchett

This is an entertaining, enchanting, humorous and mind-boggling introduction to the Discworld.   You can tell this is an early work from Pratchett - the writing isn't as good as newer works and the Discworld is still a work in progress.  But this is still a lovely entertaining book.  In this first Discworld novel, an ineffective wizard (Rincewind) that is very good at surviving, a naive tourist (Twoflower), and his many legged luggage (made from sapient pear wood) have many adventures with such things as the "fascinating" denizens of Ankh-Morkpork, dragons that only exist if you believe in them, barbarians, trolls and the edge of the Disc.  This book ends on a cliff-hanger so having the next book (The Light Fantastic) at hand is recommended. 

 

The cover art of my old much-loved paperback has the delightfully crazy art of Josh Kirby. 

 

I also listened to the audio-book, which I found well paced and nicely presented.

 

The Library of Greek Mythology by Apollodorus

The Library of Greek Mythology (Oxford World's Classics) - Robin Hard, Apollodorus

TITLE:  The Library of Greek Mythology

 

AUTHOR:  Apollodorus

 

TRANSLATOR:  Robin Hard

 

PUBLICATION:  Oxford's World Classics

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780199536320

_________________________________________

DESCRIPTION:

"The only work of its kind to survive from classical antiquity, the Library of Apollodorus is a unique guide to Greek mythology, from the origins of the universe to the Trojan War.

Apollodorus' Library has been used as a source book by classicists from the time of its compilation in the 1st-2nd century BC to the present, influencing writers from antiquity to Robert Graves. It provides a complete history of Greek myth, telling the story of each of the great families of heroic mythology, and the various adventures associated with the main heroes and heroines, from Jason and Perseus to Heracles and Helen of Troy. As a primary source for Greek myth, as a reference work, and as an indication of how the Greeks themselves viewed their mythical traditions, the Library is indispensable to anyone who has an interest in classical mythology.

Robin Hard's accessible and fluent translation is supplemented by comprehensive notes, a map and full genealogical tables. The introduction gives a detailed account of the Library's sources and situates it within the fascinating narrative traditions of Greek mythology.
"

__________________________________________

 

It's a bit difficult to review such an ancient text.  It is what it is - an encylopedic summary of Greek mythology, with a lot of "so-and-so begot so-an-so" and so-and-so killed so-and-so".  Sometimes there are variations of the myths and these are included.  The Library by Apollodorus would make an informative read for anyone obsessed with Greek Mythology.

 

Regarding the translation and publication - the translation is easy to read, the notes usefull and the introduction interesting.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine: An Invention - Ursula K. Le Guin, W.A. Dwiggins, H.G. Wells

Interesting concept, but the execution fell a bit flat (or old fashioned - it was written in 1895). Central themes, besides the minor time-travel aspect, include how the social class divide and technological innovations have altered humanity. This book provides something to think about.

Lamarck's Revenge by Peter Ward

Lamarck's Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution's Past and Present - Peter Ward

TITLE:  Lamarck's Revenge:  How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution's Past and Present

AUTHOR:  Peter Ward

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

FORMAT:  Hardcover

ISBN13: 9781632866158

_______________________________
DESCRIPTION:
 
"Epigenetics upends natural selection and genetic mutation as the sole engines of evolution, and offers startling insights into our future heritable traits.

In the 1700s, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first described epigenetics to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics; however, his theory was supplanted in the 1800s by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection through heritable genetic mutations. But natural selection could not adequately explain how rapidly species re-diversified and repopulated after mass extinctions. Now advances in the study of DNA and RNA have resurrected epigenetics, which can create radical physical and physiological changes in subsequent generations by the simple addition of a single small molecule, thus passing along a propensity for molecules to attach in the same places in the next generation.

Epigenetics is a complex process, but paleontologist and astrobiologist Peter Ward breaks it down for general readers, using the epigenetic paradigm to reexamine how the history of our species—from deep time to the outbreak of the Black Plague and into the present—has left its mark on our physiology, behavior, and intelligence. Most alarming are chapters about epigenetic changes we are undergoing now triggered by toxins, environmental pollutants, famine, poor nutrition, and overexposure to violence.

Lamarck’s Revenge is an eye-opening and provocative exploration of how traits are inherited, and how outside influences drive what we pass along to our progeny.
"
________________________________
 
I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, it has interesting information about the role of epigenetics in evolution.  Nessa Carey beautifully described the biological functioning of epigenetics in her book The Epigenetic Revolution, but didn't focus on how this effects the evolution of species in any great detail.  This book deals with epigenetics and how this effects the genetics and evolution of species, as well as the Theory of Evolution.  This book starts off with a history of science focused on Lamarck and Darwin, then a superficial explanation of what epigenetics is and how it works, followed by the effects of epigenetics on evolution, then the history of life (especially focusing on the sudden expansion of life and body forms after the great mass extinctions), then human history from the Ice Age to present times and our possible future (with far too much speculation). 
 
One of the major problems with this book are the exceptionally lengthy run-on sentences, made longer by the really long clauses in parenthesis stuffed within the very long sentences, especially in the first half of the book (the author settles down a bit in the second half of the book).  There is also a great deal of repetition with the information, not to mention all the personal opinions and biases  (repeated constantly) by the author, all the tangential "stuff" (repeated constantly) about climate warming, pollution, evil parents, great extinction events and their causes, condemnation of other scientists (especially Darwin) because they didn't automatically worship Lamarck (whose ideas are simplified and used as a vehicle in this book), random insertions of irrelevant material, not to mention the political asides.  The organisation of the book could also use some assistance and the author jumps all over the place (especially in the first half of the book), and sub-sections just end in the middle of developing an idea (apparently editors are an extinct species). The explanations dealing with epigenetics in general (in the first third of the book) are not particularly clear or coherent, and the run-on, multi-parenthesized (is this even a word?) sentences do not help in understanding this relatively new concept.
 
If you want to know about epigenetics, read The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey.  If you want a book about epigenetics and evolution, wait for someone else to write a more coherent text (maybe one day Nick Lane can cover this topic - with diagrams where necessary).  If you really need to read this book, borrow it first.
 
 
Note:  If you found this review long winded, convoluted, with too many parenthesized run-on sentences... well, that's what the book is like.

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

The King of Elfland's Daughter - Lord Dunsany, Neil Gaiman

This is a faery tale that focuses on the story that happens after the marriage of the elf-princess with the mortal prince.  Getting what you asked for isn't always a good thing.  The writing is lyrical and ethereal.  The story entertaining and enchanting, if occassionaly a bit slow.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer   Wright

TITLE:  Get Well Soon:  History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

 

AUTHOR:  Jennifer Wright

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781627797467

_____________________________

DESCRIPTION:

"A humorous book about history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them.

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.
"

________________________________________________________

 

*********************POSSIBLE SPOILERS**********************************

________________________________________________________

 

REVIEW:

 

This poorly written book is a collection of superficial, sensationalist, chatty chapters on a variety of epidemics (and two extras) that are supposed to be history’s worst plagues (some are, some aren’t) and the heroes (or more likely ignorant fools according to the author) who fought them.  There is no original content or any type of original insights in this book, but there are a vast quantity of quotes straight from other (better written) books.  This book is long on opinions and short on science, so if you are looking for science, try any of the recommended books below.  The topics covered include:  the Antonine Plague; Bubonic Plague; Dancing Plague; Smallpox; Syphilis; Tuberculosis; Cholera; Leprosy; Typhoid; Spanish Flu; Encephalitis Lethargica; Lobotomies; Polio; and as an afterthought, HIV/AIDS

 

Wright spends little time discussing the origins and emergence of most the epidemics covered in this book.  There is a very limited examination of what the disease actually does to a human body (other than the gory bits usually including pustules) or how widespread and devasting it was in terms of socio-economic factors (especially the later chapters).  Only a few chapters explain how that particular epidemic ended or even if it did end or what the status of that particular disease is currently.  Some of the chosen epidemics weren’t the “worst plagues” by any means or even an epidemic (depending on the definition), or even diseases for that matter (e.g. chapter on lobotomies and dancing plague).  The author does not provide a partial view of the topic, and can’t wait to assign villains or heroes to each disease, or to insult and mock anyone she feels like. 

 

Some of the information presented in this book is suspect, or at least outdated, especially in the chapters dealing with TB, cholera, polio, leprosy and Antonine plague.  Wikipedia is not a valid reference.  It is also apparent from the excessive insertions of the author’s own opinions that she didn’t bother to research the topics or the people involved too closely either.  The author also contradicts herself in the matter of informed consent – informed consent is necessary when she agrees with it, but unnecessary when she doesn’t agree with it.  In addition, if you are going to use a graphic (in a published book of all places!) to show the rate of medical progress over time, learn to draw a proper graph with defined, labelled axes (or get someone else to do it!), instead of a random floating line which means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

 

Wright has an especially aggravating writing style.  Altogether, the writing style was too juvenile and frivolous for the subject matter (squealing, ditzy Hollywood cheerleaders come to mind).  Each chapter comes across as a series of book reports covering a different epidemic per chapter – written by an immature teenager or a vapid blogger.  The specific chapters rely predominantly on one major source, usually a much better written book on the topic.  This book is an simplistic and biased glossing of historical epidemics (mostly) that the author has used as an opportunity to snicker, criticise, preach her opinions and sensationalise in terms of emphasizing the unpleasant side-effects of the disease (pustules, rotting noses, the more disgusting the better etc).  

 

The book is stuffed with flat jokes (the jokes weren't even vaguely funny), dated pop-culture reference, snide and snarky comments,  speculations, not to mention the author’s excessive and continuous interjections of her mean-spirited opinions, and political commentary, which were unwarranted, irrelevant, not to mention unprofessional.  Wright makes broad sweeping generalizations and seems to be uninterested in viewing these epidemics within their historical context.  The tone is dripping with sarcasm and contempt for the poor people that suffered from these terrible disease, and Heaven save you from the author’s vicious pen, if you were one of the unfortunate doctors who were trying to help with the limited knowledge and instrumentation of pre-21st century medical knowledge.

 

It is possible to write medical nonfiction in an interesting manner without sounding like a vapid teenager.  I learnt more about the author from all her snide opinions than any of the diseases from this book.  This book comes across as a poor imitation of a Mary Roach book, so if you like Mary Roach’s books, you might (possibly) like this one.  If you want a book that tells you something of the how, where and why of a variety of diseases; you need to look elsewhere.  I found Wright’s shallow, cruel and arrogantly opinionated writing style an insult to the reader and personally repellent.

 

 

POST SCRIPT:

 

For those people who think the Ancient Roman cities did not have sewer systems, please do some basic research:

 

SHORT VERSION

Roman sewers – ancient Roman toilets, poop, pipes

 

 MORE DETAILS

What toilets and sewers tell us about ancient Roman sanitation

Rome Is Still Technically Using One Of The First Sewer Systems In The World

Aqueducts and Wastewater Systems of Rome

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS

 

Compilation of Diseases:

~The Coming Plague:  Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

~New Killer Diseases:  How the Alarming Evolution of Germs Threatens Us All by Elinor Levy

~The History of Disease in Ancient Times by Philip Norrie

~Viruses, Plagues, and History:  Past, Present and Future (Revised, Updated Edition) by Michael B.A. Oldstone

 

Plumbing and Personal Hygiene:

~Flushed:  How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter

~The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society by David Waltner-Toews

~The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History by Katherine Ashenburg

 ~The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

 

Diseases in General:

~Spillover:  Emerging Diseases, Animal Hosts, and the Future of Human Health by David Quammen

~Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark

~An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections by Ron Barrett & George Armelagos

 

Specific Diseases:

~The Great Mortality:  An Intimate Hsitory of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

~Dancing Plague:  The Strange True Story of an Extraordinary Illness by John Waller

~Superbug:  The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

~Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy

 

Other:

~Strange Medicine:  A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Ages by Nathan Belofsky

~Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett [This book gives a great insight into how disease progressed in different countries and the social conditions and public health failings (and victories) that shaped how we understand infectious disease].

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne

The Extraordinary Journeys: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Oxford World's Classics) - Jules Verne

TITLE: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas

 

AUTHOR: Jules Verne

 

TRANSLATOR: William Butcher

 

EDITION: Oxford World's Classics

 

DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2009 (reissue)

 

FORMAT: Paperback

 

ISBN-13: 9780199539277

______________________________

Description:

"French naturalist Dr Aronnax embarks on an expedition to hunt down a sea monster, only to discover instead the Nautilus, a remarkable submarine built by the enigmatic Captain Nemo. Together Nemo and Aronnax explore the underwater marvels, undergo a transcendent experience amongst the ruins of Atlantis, and plant a black flag at the South Pole. But Nemo's mission is one of revenge—and his methods coldly efficient.

This new and unabridged translation by the father of Verne studies brilliantly conveys the novel's varying tones and range. This edition also presents important manuscript discoveries, together with previously unpublished information on Verne's artistic and scientific reference.
"

______________________________

Review:

 

When a giant sea creatures starts sinking ships, Dr Aronnax (a marine biologist), his unflappable manservant Conceil, and hot tempered harpooner Ned Land, are invited to join the hunting parting in an attempt to catch it.  Well, things don't go as planned and they end up as the unwilling (sort of) guests of Captain Nemo. Thus commences the fascinating, fast paced, exciting, and at at times, terrifying adventures under the seas (with the occassional land expedition interrupted by cannibals) inside the Nautilus (which is in itself absolutely fascinating).  I love that Verne included such things as an underwater passage between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, Atlantis, pearl fishing, shark hunting, a journey to the South Pole, giant squid and a host of other wierd and wonderful experiences. The relationship between Captain Nemo and Dr Aronnax is particularly fascinating, as is the development of the relationships between the unwilling guests.  Conceil is at times amusing, even though he doesn't intend to be.  Dr Aronnax is a marine biologist so every organism he comes across gets mentioned and classified, along with an encyclopedia worth of facts.  This might annoy some readers, but they can just be skimmed over those bits, though they will miss out on the ocean panarama described.  

 

This is another Jules Verne novel that got butchered and abridged in translation.  This new unabridged translation by William Butcher aims to be faithful to the original French novel and makes use of both manuscripts Verne produced while working on this novel.  I found this translation to be well done, with the narrative flowing smoothly.  The book includes relevant notes, which are of great help when Verne refers to scholars, ships captains, local politics and other goodies.  This edition also has in interesting introduction which discusses certain aspects of the book, what Verne intended with this novel from letters to his publisher, the bits his publisher insisted he change (he was worried about offending the Russians), amongst others.  The extra information adds additional depth to the story and I'm pleased it was included.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

A History of Disease in Ancient Times: More Lethal Than War by Philip Norrie

A History of Disease in Ancient Times: More Lethal than War - Philip Norrie

TITLE:  A History of Disease in Ancient Times: More Lethal Than War

 

AUTHOR:  Philip Norrie

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2016

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9783319289366

__________________________

DESCRIPTION:


"This book shows how bubonic plague and smallpox helped end the Hittite Empire, the Bronze Age in the Near East and later the Carthaginian Empire. The book will examine all the possible infectious diseases present in ancient times and show that life was a daily struggle for survival either avoiding or fighting against these infectious disease epidemics. The book will argue that infectious disease epidemics are a critical link in the chain of causation for the demise of most civilizations in the ancient world and that ancient historians should no longer ignore them, as is currently the case."

___________________________

REVIEW:

 

Dr. Philip Norrie has produced a delectable book that explores the way in which infectious diseases affected the course of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern history.  I get the impression this book is the result of the author’s doctoral thesis rewritten into a book.  A wealth of interesting and new (to me) information was provided, without personal asides or irrelevant commentary.  The author presents evidence for epidemic impacts from a variety of sources – historic, archaeologic, linguistic, medical, social, anthropological and economic.  Author makes use of the available evidence to prove his hypothesis.  Speculation is kept to a minimum and clearly explained when necessary. 

 

The general hypothesis is that most major changes in the Ancient world were precipitated by infectious disease epidemics.  Dr Norrie also succeeded in illustrating that disease can have a significant impact on major historic events.  The author makes use of several examples such as the end of the Hittite Empire, the end of the Near Eastern Bronze Age in c.1200 B.C., the end of Carthage; and interesting anomalies in Ancient Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep III.   The type of infectious disease causing the epidemic is also examined.  Dr Norrie shows the reader that disease, in the form of several infectious disease epidemics, fits the medical model to explain three factors about the end of the Bronze Age:  (1) the short time frame of the Catastrophe; (2) the mass migrations of the general population but also the “Sea Peoples”; and (3) the abandonment of cities during the Catastrophe.  This book offers new perspectives, possibilities and insights into the role that epidemics played in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean history.  I find Dr Norrie’s arguments convincing and logical.

 

Dr Norrie is also at pains to emphasise the lack of attention that ancient historians have given to the effect of epidemics.  In the author’s own words, he hopes that,

in future, ancient historians consider the potential role of infectious disease in the histories they research and subsequently write.  If disease is not considered and is ignored, as is the current situation, then the resultant history may be incomplete and thus flawed; because you cannot administer or feed let alone defend your empire if your citizens are dying en-masse due to an infectious disease epidemic”.

 

This isn’t just a dry thesis on ancient epidemics, but a text full of interesting information, causes, effects, and the occassional personal history (where possible).  Who knew that Ramses V had smallpox, or there are Egyptian wall murals showing polio sufferers with leg braces?  Or that the Hittites used tularemia (rabbit fever) infected sheep as the first form of germ warfare 3200 years ago.  Or that the bubonic plague might have been carried to Egypt from India via a trade vessel? Or that Amenhotep III moved his capital from the plague infested river side to the middle of the desert?  Or that Carthage would have conquered the Mediterranean except for all the diseases that decimated the Carthagian army in Sicily. 

 

This book has a juicy selection of references and a variety of notes, as well as a section on the heart-rending Plague Prayers of the Hittite King Mursili II pleading with the gods to save his people from the pestilence afflicting them and ruining his kingdom. 

 

Dr. Norrie has published an interesting, clearly-written, perfectly understandable, concise piece of research.  I look forward to whatever he publishes on his current research topic - the role of disease in the demise of the Sumerian and Indus Valley Civilizations.

 

FYI (because I've never heard of it before):  Tularemia info

Child of an Ancient City by Tad Williams & Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Child of an Ancient City - Tad Williams, Nina Kiriki Hoffman

From the blurb:

 

"Sitting around their dinner table, replete from a mighty banquet, Ibn Fahad and Masrur al-Adan - two of the Caliph of Bagdad's most trusted servants - are called upon to tell tales.  Tales of the unknown north, where they ventured in their youth as guards to a caravan.

 

As their tale unfolds, a creeping horror floods over the listeners - and also over the two storytellers, remembering a time when their excellence at spinning fables was, like Scherazade, the only attribute which kept them alive."

________________________

 

This is a short story (only 80 pages) that involves a story within a story, with adventure and a non-standard vampire (no glitter!!).  Just a fun, though atmospheric, romp for an afternoon read (not for bedtime reading though).  The handfull of black and white illustrations where pretty neat.

The Curious Life of Krill by Stephen Nicol

The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World - Stephen Hamilton Nicol

TITLE:  The Curious Life of Krill:  A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World

 

AUTHOR:  Stephen Nicol

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-61091-853-4

__________________________

DESCRIPTION:

 

"Krill-it’s a familiar word that conjures oceans, whales, and swimming crustaceans. Scientists say they are one of most abundant animals on the planet. But when pressed, few people can accurately describe krill or explain their ecological importance. Antarctic krill have used their extraordinary adaptive skills to survive and thrive for millions of years in a dark, icy world far from human interference. But with climate change melting ice caps at the top and bottom of the world, and increased human activity and pollution, their evolutionary flexibility to withstand these new pressures may not be enough.

Eminent krill scientist Stephen Nicol wants us to know more about this enigmatic creature of the sea. He argues that it’s critical to understand krill’s complex biology in order to protect them as the krill fishing industry expands. This account of Antarctic krill-one of the largest of eighty-five krill species-takes us to the Southern Ocean to learn firsthand the difficulties and rewards of studying krill in its habitat. Nicol lays to rest the notion that krill are simply microscopic, shrimplike whale food but are in fact midway up the food chain, consumers of phytoplankton and themselves consumed by whales, seals, and penguins. From his early education about the sex lives of krill in the Bay of Fundy to a krill tattoo gone awry, Nicol uses humor and personal stories to bring the biology and beauty of krill alive. In the final chapters, he examines the possibility of an increasingly ice-free Southern Ocean and what that means for the fate of krill-and us.

Ocean enthusiasts will come away with a newfound appreciation for the complex ecology of a species we have much to learn from, and many reasons to protect."

_____________________________

 

This is a book about Krill fisheries, the methods used to study Krill and the organisations involved in the conservation of Krill.  The book is rather short on the actual science of Krill life, other than the bits that are involved in finding out where the Krill congregate so they can be harvested.  The chapter explaining the Southern Ocean was interesting and beautifully written.  The chapter on Krill conservation efforts involves a whole lot of commissions, conventions, meetings and politicing which makes for dull reading.  The writing is poetic, but tends to be repetitative in some instances.  I got that Krill weren't microscopic bugs the first time the author mentioned it.  He didn't need to repeat it at least 3 times each chapter.  An interesting book, but extremely superficial where it covers the curious life of Krill, and rather more detailed about fishing, studying and conserving Krill.

 

NOTE:  This book is specifically about the Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba), and does not deal with Krill found elsewhere.

 

THE BOOK by Keith Houston

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time - Keith Houston

TITLE:  The Book:  A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time

 

AUTHOR:  Keith Houston

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2016

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780393244793

____________________________

From the blurb:

"We may love books, but do we know what lies behind them? In The Book, Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, thread, glue, and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the words on its pages―of civilizations, empires, human ingenuity, and madness. In an invitingly tactile history of this 2,000-year-old medium, Houston follows the development of writing, printing, the art of illustrations, and binding to show how we have moved from cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls to the hardcovers and paperbacks of today. Sure to delight book lovers of all stripes with its lush, full-color illustrations, The Book gives us the momentous and surprising history behind humanity’s most important―and universal―information technology."

_____________________________

 

This is a book about books - including the history and development of writing, ink, writing surfaces (papyrus, parchment, paper), printing, illustrations, illuminations, binding and general book manufacture.  This book contains a great deal of information presented in digestible chunks, with amusing observations thrown in, though it does tend to be somewhat repetitious.  This is no doubt partly an effect of the structure of the book in four parts [The Page; The Text;  Illustrations; and Form], which lead to some jumping back and forth in time.  Houston relays many stories that include social history, cultural history, accidental discoveries, and biographical details of the people that had a hand in the eventual production of the printed book.  The writing style is fairly digestible with some attention given to printing and binding details.  The information is interesting and the colour illustrations beautiful, though a more chronological story would have appealed to me more.  This book would provide an agreeable summary and introductory text to the history of the book from ancient times to the current technological era.

 

 

 

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Oxford World's Classics) - William Butcher, Jules Verne

TITLE:  Journey to the Centre of the Earth

 

AUTHOR:  Jules Verne

 

TRANSLATOR:  William Butcher

 

EDITION:  Oxford World's Classics

 

DATE OF PUBLICATION:  2008 (reissue)

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780199538072

______________________________

Description:

 

"Now available in a new translation, this classic of nineteenth century French literature has been consistently praised for its style and its vision of the world. Professor Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel travel across Iceland, and then down through an extinct crater toward a sunless sea where they enter a living past and are confronted with the origins of man. Exploring the prehistory of the globe, this novel can also be read as a psychological quest, for the journey itself is as important as arrival or discovery. Verne's distinctive combination of realism and Romanticism has marked figures as diverse as Sartre and Tournier, Mark Twain and Conan Doyle."

______________________________

 

Journey to the Centre of the Earth is an exciting adventure story that is well plotted and fast paced with interesting characters.  This book revolves around the (sometimes nail-biting) subterreanean adventures of the excitable Professor Lidenbrock (who reminds me of the overly-energetic Alexander von Humboldt), his nephew Axel, and eventually the frightfully competent Icelander Hans.  The wonderously fantastical prehistoric and geological settings are beautifully described.  The story is fantastic, but neither full-out fantasy or science-fiction.  Everything described by Jules Verne in the book in terms of geology and natural history reflects the state of scientific knowledge at the time of writing (1864) - except (of course) the fantastical bits. 

 

From a variety of comments on the internet, apparently the previous English translations of this book have been butchered with insertions, omissions, name changes and clunky writing.  This new translation by William Butcher aims to be faithful to the original French novel.  I found this translation to be well done, with the narrative flowing smoothly.  It didn't read like a translation at all.  The book includes notes where relevant.  This edition also has in interesting introduction which discusses certain aspects of the book, as well as important aspects of Jules Verne's life.

 

 

 

Dracula: Prince of Many Faces by Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times - Raymond T. McNally, Radu Florescu

TITLE:  Dracula:  Prince of Many Faces (His Life & His Times)

 

AUTHORS:  Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  1989

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780316286565

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From the blurb:

"Dracula: Prince of Many Faces reveals the extraordinary life and times of the infamous Vlad Dracula of Romania (1431-1476), nicknamed the Impaler.  Dreaded by his enemies, emulated by later rulers like Ivan the Terrible, honored by his countrymen even today, Vlad Dracula was surely one of the most intriguing figures to have stalked the corridors of European and Asian capitals in the fifteenth century.

 

Vlad Dracula aslo served as the inspiration for Bram stoker's classic vampire tale.  However, as this biography proves, "the real Dracula is far more interesting than the fictional vampire created by Bram Stoker" (Houston Chronicle).  Covering Vlad Dracula's entire life and subsequent legend, this book includes "a fascinating chapter on the mystery of Dracula's empty grave" (New York Time Book Review)."

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Florescue and McNally have written a a biography about Vlad the Impaler that is interesting, rich in detail, even-handed and circumspect.  The book does a wonderful job of weaving together Dracula's personal life and ambitions with the cultural, social, political and military realities of the time.  The authors also manage to separate fact from speculation without ruining the flow of the narrative.  They were also at pains to separate the myth from the man.  The book also examines Bram Stoker's Dracula novel in light of the real Dracula and his country.  Dracula:  Prince of Many Faces examines who Dracula was to various people - his family, his countrymen, the neighbouring states and his Ottoman enemies. Overall, this is one of the better biographies I have enjoyed.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

The Revolution of Jack Frost by K M Robinson

The Revolution Of Jack Frost - K.M. Robinson

TITLE:  The Revolution of Jack Frost
 

AUTHOR:   K M Robinson

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:       

6 November 2018

 

FORMAT: ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9781948583077

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NOTE: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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Book Description:

    "No one inside the snow globe knows that Morozoko Industries is controlling their weather, testing them to form a stronger race that can survive the fall out from the bombs being dropped in the outside world—all they know is that they must survive the harsh Winter that lasts a month and use the few days of Spring, Summer, and Fall to gather enough supplies to survive.

    When the seasons start shifting, Genesis and her boyfriend, Jack, know something has gone wrong. As their team begins to find technology that they don’t have access to inside their snow globe of a world, it looks more and more like one of their own is working against them.

    Genesis soon discovers Morozoko Industries is to blame, but when a foreign enemy tries to destroy their weather program to make sure their destructive life-altering bombs succeed in destroying the outside world, their only chance is to  shut down the machine that is spinning out of control and save the lives of everyone inside the bunker--at any cost."

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This is something of a light dystopian/science fiction novel written in a simple style that young teenagers might find appealing.  The concept was interesting enough, but the execution fell a bit flat.  There were far too many mild romance scenes inserted randomly throughout that detracted from the story.  There were also too many unanswere questions or missed opportunities for extended world building.  The characters also have done with a bit more personality and conflict - especially the group of secondary characters.  They came across as docile sheep, following whatever instructions are given without question and not even twitching when they find out their world wasn't what they thought it was.   The writing of the first half of the novel was a bit stilted, almost like a novice writer.  The second half picked up pace and intensity.  This wasn't a bad book, but it could have been better.

Interruptions!!!!

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