Recent Reviews of 2010

It is always good to think critically about that which our minds ingest.

29 September 2010

Bruce Farcau is an engaging and humorous writer of history, but how can one write about a border conflict war like the Guerra del Pacifico and include no maps!?! Farcau's The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884 was an international affairs tour de force of writing, detailing battles, intrigue and personalities involved in crisp detail. Readers who are not already intimately familiar with the area's geography, however, will require maps and diagram, easily found online, to augment the text. For example, I have included at right Wikipedia's excellent map on the lands involved in the war.

Farcau does a masterful job of placing the war in historical context with comparisons to the US Civil War which preceded it and the First World War which was to follow. All three countries were deeply affected by the war and this book doesn't mince words about the idiots on either side, nor does it give short shrift to the heroes. Overall, it's worth a read as one part of a general study of the conflict along South America's west coast.

18 September 2010

Today I finished reading Connie Barlow's The Ghosts of Evolution At times a bit too light for my taste, overall I had difficulty putting it down. When we first moved to Nebraska and went on a walk in the woods the kids noticed a strange tree with spoinkies all over the trunk. My first thought was to the San Diego Zoo, where I had also seen trees with spoinky-trunkedness. I thought this must be some escapee from a garden of some gardener of unusual things, brought here by the nearby Salt Creek. Then the kids saw another and another and another. Having recently read Paul Martin's book on mammoth and other Pleistocene extinctions in North America, my thoughts went immediately to bark-scraping mammoths and I looked to see how high these giant spikes went: at least 20 ft, clearly above the height needed to deter anything around today. I made a mental note to find the name of this tree so I might plant one when I was living on land I own again.

Next Spring at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City I found a labeled sample of the tree: Honey Locust it was called. Someone there called it a pest and said that cattle eat the seed pods. I hadn't noticed the seed pods before. They look a lot like those not-actually-vanilla-bean tree pods from Sunnyvale. I don't know if it was in Nebraska or California, but I also remember struggling to open a pod and discovering the sticky green interior, which got classified in my brain under the "really weird" heading.

Fast forward to today when I discover to my great delight that the book I picked up at the Mammoth Dig Site in South Dakota this summer's main character is none other than Honey Locust!!! I want to shout for joy at the excitement! Connie Barlow's even been to the elephant retirement colony in Tennessee where sadly they don't allow the elephants to breed. She shares all of my Paul Martin inspired dreams for the reintroduction of megafauna to North America and wrote a book about plant species that miss them from that perspective. The book tells an incomplete tale though, and is only an inspirational jumping off point for future study. Still, it's very inspiring!

28 April 2010

Chris Given-Wilson's Chronicles is an excellent piece of historiography on English chronicling, assuming, of course, one is not interested in the art of chronicling in its full European context. Although offhand references are made to chronicles in France, Spain and Italy to drive home a point Given-Wilson lacks an English chronicle to show, these references are fleeting and the reader is left with the impression that there is a much wider corpus than the current work considers. That being said, the book is well structured and rarely off topic. Given-Wilson is clearly an expert in his field and elucidates his subject with ease, demonstrating the who, why, where and what of chronicles with copious examples. Those like myself not intimately familiar with medieval English history will want to consult an outside reference from time to time to understand these anecdotes in context. A secondary criticism would be the short shrift the how of chronicling gets - topics like ink and the preparation of vellum are only briefly mentioned.

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Last Modified: 29 September 2010 by Brad Wogsland.