A Farewell to Alms
by Gregory Clark. Possibly the most annoying book I'll read this year - but I knew it would be going in; I just wanted to see whether the reviews I had read had conveyed an accurate impression. Sure enough, they have. Clark is a conservative English economist who thinks that it's your own fault you're poor if you didn't have the good sense to choose to be born White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And that the English class system is actually the ideal system for breeding the sorts of person who would be perfectly suited for taking over industrial capitalism. We have graphs that don't show what he claims in the text they show, mistakes of correlation for causation, switching of cause and effect, and a great many blanket statements with no supporting evidence whatsoever.
Countries such as Malawia or Tanzania would be better off in material terms had they never had contact with the industrialized world and instead continued in their preindustrial state.
the rest of the world advances?
...there is ample evidence that wealth, and wealth alone, is the crucial determinant of lifestyles, both within and between societies.
And later on he goes to state equally blanketly that wealth, and the amount of stuff you can purchase as a consumer, are the main, if not only, determinants of how happy you are. Oh, and here's another one, wherein he manages to get things exactly backward:
...Europeans were lucky to be a filthy people who squatted happily above their own feces, stored in basement cesspits, in cities such as London. Poor hygiene, sombined with high urbanization rates with their attendant health issues, meant income had to be high to maintain the population in eighteenth-century England and the Netherlands. The Japanese, with a more highly developed sense of cleanliness, could maintain the level of population at miserable levels of material comforts, and they were accordingly condemned to subsist on a much more limited income.
He makes fun of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel
and pretends that comparing wages and prices in Malawi in 2001 is not completely apples-to-oranges with English wages in 1800, as though subsistence farming were exactly the same in both, and the types of craftspeople needed, and products needed, were the same in both, and as though initial climate conditions, health conditions, geography, degree of urbanization, etc., were the same in both, so that he can prove that the English are superior in all ways. He feels that the only area where England historically was not perhaps perfect was in the area of intellectual property rights. Really. Enough of that. Let's change the subject, he's not worth continuing with.The History of the Snowman
by Bob Eckstein. Very funny, though those who collect snowglobes may be a little offended at his suggestion that they are the ultimate form of kitsch. This would be a perfect secular winter holiday gift for many people. And the illustrations are the best part - the history of the use of snowmen in advertisements, the very first occurance of a snowman in artwork in recorded history, the world's largest snowman. He runs into feminist criticisms of snowmen
, and also a giant French snow-woman representing revolutionary Paris. Perhaps my favorite illustration was the print of an anonymously-done fresco in Italy from 1403, the very first depiction of a snowball fight in recorded history. INcluding a lady in full dress being smushed in the face by a snowball.Your Inner Fish
by Neil Shubin. A must for biology nerds; perhaps a skip for people who have no idea what a Hox
gene is - although portions of the book are about gross anatomy, it's not just molecular biology. I should note that I have been reading this one at supper while squirrel_magnet
has been reading Napoleon's Buttons
which is pop science about organic chemistry; we have looked really
nerdy. Anyway, Shubin, the guy who more or less discovered Tiktaalik, the fish with wrists, is a good writer, and we hear lots about what it's like to go on paleontological expeditions, as well as how to give a skate an extra set of wings.The Book of Ballads
illustrated by Charles Vess. Introduction by Terri Windling. Various fantasy authors (and Sharyn McCrumb, who uses folk songs in her mysteries) pick their favorite Child ballads and construct some sort of back-story, and then Vess illustrates the backstory and parts of the ballad. Neil Gaiman chooses "The False Knight on the Road" and we see the boy at home with his elderly ma before heading off to school. Jane Yolen chooses "King Henry" which is one of my favorites of Steeleye Span's - oh, and in the back of the book, there's a discography of various groups who have recorded these songs, with Steeleye and Fairport Convention being the main suspects, of course. Sharyn McCrumb chose "Thomas the Rhymer." Midori Snyder chose "Barbara Allen" with perhaps the most complicated backstory. Elaine Lee chose "Tam-Lin" and I was least happy with the illustrations of that - not a style I liked at all. Anyway, there's several more, and if you are fantasy fan or folk-song fan or both (yes, I'm looking at you, angevin2
), you will want to take a look at this book.This is my Funniest
edited by Mike Resnick. An anthology of "leading science fiction writers present their funniest stories ever" thereby proving that an author is not necessarily the best judge of what's funny. My favorite was Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" but although it's funny, I don't think it's his funniest. Gardner Dozois' "The Hanging Curve" didn't even strike me as funny (and there's an intended pun there.) Anyway, there were enough good ones that it wasn't a waste of time, but not enough that you'd necessarily want to pay brand new trade paperback prices - used would be about right.
More later. Mostly, we've been doing house stuff - spent most of yesterday putting together flat-pack furniture in the new house; today and the next couple days, the electricity is off there while the electricians do the upgrades on the circuit box and attendant matters, so maybe we'll actually do some packing over here instead.