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Read any good books lately?

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Anyone read any good history books recently? I'm about to read one on the sinking of the Andrea Doria, and have a biography of Jennie Jerome Chuchill waiting in the wings.

Rob
 

rousseau

Contributor
I've been in a bit of a pause for history with library closures, but one I own that I'd been going through recently is Crawford Young's The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective. I think it'd be considered comparative politics rather than history, but I consider Young's books historical as well as political.

Young was a brilliant scholar, likely the world-leading academic on African politics until he died earlier this year. One of the few authors of non-fiction whose output I own the majority of. His writing and research is impeccable.
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
Two excellent biographies, for U.S. History:

John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds. Learn about this very influential man, but also get a look at the ante-bellum U.S. It surprised me how many in both North and South compared their America to the England at time of its Civil War. Northerners were Puritans, and John Brown was often compared to Oliver Cromwell. Southerners were Cavaliers. John Brown was a tremendous person, comparable to Joan of Arc, or even (according to W.R. Emerson and others) Jesus Christ. Without John Brown's inspiring martyrdom, the North would have eventually acquiesced to the Confederate Secession.

Citizen Hearst: A Biography of William Randolph Hearst, by W.A. Swanberg. This is a fun read about another influential American, with many insights into the America of his era. The movie Citizen Kane was not an exaggeration — just the opposite! The true stories of Hearst are almost unbelievable.
 

jab

Veteran Member
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Larson
Had I Known: Collected Essays by Ehrenreich
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Moore
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
I also read Radium Girls and was shocked, appalled, and educated at the same time. I recently read a biography ogf Brown, but I dunno if that's the one.

haven't gotten to the biography of Jennie Churchill yet, but the book on the Andrea Doria was educational. Am now reading a biography of Howard Hughes.

Rob
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Stagg vs. Yost: The birth of cutthroat football. A fascinating look at the early, truly vicious days of college football, when things were more violent, more corrupt amd far more open about it than they were even a generation later.

Rob
 

Szuchow

Comrade Cat
The Light that Failed: A Reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes is worth reading. It's interesting take on success of populists in Poland and Hungary and quite good info on Putin policy.
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Am now reading rick Perlstein's Reaganland. I thoroughly enjoyed his previous works, which is a history of modern conservative starting with Goldwater's run in 1964. Perlstein's books aren't hard to read, but they're dense with information and ideas.

Rob
 

SLD

Veteran Member
Reading The Reckoning by Prit Buttar, about the collapse and defeat of Army Group South in the Ukraine and Romania in 1944. Fascinating reading of military history. I didn’t realize that numerous other Armies were encircled after Stalingrad but at least Hitler allowed them to break out. Still was rough on German troops though. Hard to fight your way backwards.
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Making a point of reading about countries not my own at this point: I have two books dealing with the history of Ireland, and a biography of Simon Bolivar.

Rob
 

skepticalbip

Contributor
Read any good books lately?
Would interesting books do?

DEAR READER, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il by Michael Malice I found interesting and informative. Malice visited North Korea and collected the materials that are used for teaching history in the schools in NK... so essentially what North Koreans believe about the world, their country, and about Kim Jong Il. It reveled a rather odd (sometimes fanciful or even magical) alternate reality North Koreans live in.

One example:
The Titanic sinking was a sign to the world from the heavens that the "Dear Leader" (Kim Jong Il) had been born.

I wouldn't necessarily call it a good book but it was definitely an interesting book.
 
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T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
Because I became re-interested in the Shakespeare Authorship Question I read Looney's Shakespeare Identified and followed that up with Mark Anderson's Shakespeare by Another Name. Both made the case for the 17th Earl of Oxford being the primary composer of the Shakespeare Canon. Very interesting reading.
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
If "World History" includes Prehistory, I have three books to recommend:

(1) Memory Code by Lynne Kelly. (There are different editions of this work. The earlier one I read was less expensive than the Amazon price I see for this one.) Kelly's controversial idea — that preliterate societies were dependent on mnemonic devices — has changed the views of many top anthropologists. The memory device could be a portable board, still found in primitive African and Australian societies as in this photo:
lukasa-writing.jpg
... or much larger, like the monoliths and pavilions for music at Stonehenge.

(2) Europe Between the Oceans (9000 BC to 1000 AD) by Barry Cunliffe. A good look at Europe's pre-history (although when he wrote the book, Cunliffe lacked modern understanding of the very important Indo-European expansion).

(3) Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings by Jean Manco. This will fill in some of the picture Cunliffe misses, but will appeal most only to those interested in details of DNA evidence.
 

ideologyhunter

Veteran Member
We Survived (compiled by Eric H. Boehm) was published in 1949 and reissued in 2003. It collects the stories of 14 survivors of Nazi persecution. Boehm was a press officer with the occupation government, and in that position he sought out survivors with stories to tell. I have read the first three narratives, and they are riveting. The first chapter is the story of a Jewish lady who was given shelter by a courageous young woman who had only a small apartment to share with her, which put both of them in extreme peril. (They were in Berlin, and when the air raids began in earnest, their situation quickly got desperate.) The second chapter is by a man who joined a Communist youth group in the mid-30s and quickly drew the attention of the Gestapo. In April 1945, as the Reich was collapsing, he was ordered into a column of men who were designated to be shot by the SS... The third narrative concerns an art student who was assigned to the Luftwaffe's painters' unit -- he was to produce stirring propaganda art showing Germany's brave pilots. But he loathed the Nazis, and began to cultivate friendships with others who shared his views. Before long, he was denounced by men who had heard him spreading defeatist views.
Well worth reading. I'm about 80 pages in (of 300+) and I think I'll finish it tomorrow.
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Finished Tim Pat Coogan's biography of Michael Collins -- I have his book on The Twelve Apostles (The Irish freedom fighters) on order. Never read too much about modern Irish history and felt it was a gap I needed to fill.

Am currently reading Young and Damned and Fair -- an excellent biography of Catherine Howard, the second "beheaded" in the list of Henry VIII's poor wives. The author does a good job of making it clear she wasn't particularly anyone's pawn, and wasn't promiscuous by any definition of the word, but she still seems to have been in well over her head as Henry's wife, and not been overly wise, either.

Rob
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
The thread title asks for books we've read "lately", but I'm here to recommend a book I read decades ago. I expect scathing reviews as soon as I mention the author's name, so please read the whole post before pounding on the Reply botton! And anyway, further discussion of this book definitely requires its own thread.

I recommend The Sign and the Seal by Graham Hancock. It will present an interesting new perspective on the earliest history of the Jewish religion, the Knights Templar, Ethiopia and more.

Graham Hancock's career can be broken into three distinct phases:
  • He was an accomplished writer of non-fiction. He worked as correspondent for The Economist and several newspapers. His books included Ethiopia: The Challenge of Hunger.
  • He became obsessed with the Ethiopian legend that the Ark of the Covenant is housed today in Axum, Ethiopia. Yes, that Ark of the Covenant, allegedly containing the stone tablets on which the Finger of Yahweh had inscribed the Ten Commandments. Between 1989 and 1995 Hancock published only one book: The Sign and the Seal, a report on his investigations into the Ark of the Covenant. As an indication of this obsession, he notes on the dedication page that his (first) marriage did not survive the writing of the book.
  • The Sign and the Seal became a major bestseller. Perhaps in part because he had found a path to wealth, he then authored or co-authored a number of books about lost civilizations and so on, widely derided as pseudo-science or conspiracy-theory crackpottery. Let us NOT discuss those books.
I think that The Sign and the Seal should be judged on its own merits. Even if we stipulate that his later books were crackpottery, it doesn't follow that everything in this book is wrong. And there is much of interest in the book.

Even if you decide that EVERY hypothesis Hancock presents is false, and that his accounts of history are distorted, the book is still an interesting read! He presents a very personal narrative, e.g. about his trip through a war-zone to reach the city of Axum. And if the elaborate patterns he weaves together to support his wild hypotheses are indeed fabricated, you may still admire his handicraft at weaving these patterns!

One simple fact assures me that "scholars" have not given this book fair attention. Two on-line reviewers state that the book supports the Ethiopian myth that the Ark was brought to Ethiopia in the time of King Solomon by followers of Menelik, Solomon's son by the Queen of Sheba. In fact Hancock specifically rejects that myth; much of the book is taken up with reasons that myth is wrong, and a very different proposal is developed with much detail and much evidence. Yet reviewers get this completely wrong! Clearly they've made no effort to even skim the book, yet are happy to pontificate about it.

Example: there was a Jewish temple on Elephantine Island near present-day Aswan. This was a rather recent discovery and should be of great interest to Jewish scholars, yet it seems almost ignored — an unsettling mystery they'd rather not think about? Yet the Elephantine temple meshes perfectly with the hypothesis Hancock constructs.

Discussion of the  Qemant people and Beta Israel intrigued me and made me interested in the earliest history of the Hebrew people. There is much more of interest in Hancock's book, even if you reject his constructions as overly fanciful.
 

ideologyhunter

Veteran Member
In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust (1990) by Robert Marshall
Horrifying but often inspiring account of Jews who escaped the Lvov ghetto as the Germans set about executing all the remaining inhabitants. They'd prepared a tunnel into the Lvov sewers. A desperate mob of refugees followed the original group, but within a few weeks, only a core group remained, and by the end of their ordeal, some 14 months later, the group numbered about 12. They survived because a Polish sewer worker took up their cause and made daily trips down to their hiding place, with whatever food he could find for them. One of the survivors gave birth in their refuge, which led to an excruciating scene.
This true story was filmed as In Darkness in 2011.
 
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southernhybrid

Contributor
I have been neglecting my book reading over the past few years, but I finally finished "Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari.


I really enjoyed the book and learned some things I had never knew much about or had considered before. After finishing it, I've decided that humans would have been better off if we had remained as hunter gatherers, instead of fucking up the planet and so many of the other species on it.
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
The term "hunter-gatherer" is a bit of a misnomer. These non-farmers also engaged in fishing and (e.g. on the coastlines of Western and NW Europe) shell-collecting and beach-combing. (And what about Pitted Ware, a Copper Age hunter-gatherer culture along the Scandinavian coastline? They were heavily into trading and, perhaps piracy! Experts?)

I have been neglecting my book reading over the past few years, but I finally finished "Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari.


I really enjoyed the book and learned some things I had never knew much about or had considered before. After finishing it, I've decided that humans would have been better off if we had remained as hunter gatherers, instead of fucking up the planet and so many of the other species on it.

Are you a Luddite like me? :) :)

And what is the typical goal of modern-day working man? To save toward early retirement so he can engage in hunting, gathering, fishing, and beach-combing!
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
(2) Europe Between the Oceans (9000 BC to 1000 AD) by Barry Cunliffe. A good look at Europe's pre-history (although when he wrote the book, Cunliffe lacked modern understanding of the very important Indo-European expansion).

(3) Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings by Jean Manco. This will fill in some of the picture Cunliffe misses, but will appeal most only to those interested in details of DNA evidence.

Cunliffe's book is a treasure! HOWEVER it has severe flaws, many of which are covered in Manco's book. Not only does Cunliffe misrepresent the I-E Expansion, but he has ZERO mentions of the Pitted Ware culture and ZERO mentions of the closely related Comb Ceramic culture. (These cultures may seem unimportant for anyone uninterested in the Nordic Bronze Age, Jasdorf Iron Age, and proto-Germanic language, but these topics have much interest and mystery.)

One reason these cultures are of interest is that they appear to be Farmers who deliberately reverted to Hunting-Gathering!

Pitted Ware and/or Comb Ceramic probably developed into the (Finnic-speaking) Fenni people the Romans called "wild." It may be of interest to note that the N Y-haplogroup is rare outside Saami and Finns ... except for the Rurikid Dynasty of Russia!

(The great Rurikid Dynasty not only ruled Russia for the better part of 7 centuries, culminating in the Czardom of Ivan the Terrible, but agnates of Riurik continued to serve as Princes, at least in the South, until the Revolution. Several defunct Lords of the House of Riurik live today in London.)
 

skepticalbip

Contributor
And what is the typical goal of modern-day working man? To save toward early retirement so he can engage in hunting, gathering, fishing, and beach-combing!
Yes, but the goal is to do all that in comfort meaning from a comfortable residence with electrical power, heat, AC, medical care in a modern hospital if needed, access to a well stocked grocery store and/or restaurant, transportation, entertainment, etc.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
I recently finished John Man's The Mongol Empire, which starts with a biography of Ghengis Khan but goes on to lay out the history of the Mongol Empire. The Mongol Empire expanded primarily under the religious delusion of the Mongols that they were tasked by Heaven to rule over the world. Ultimately, they expanded into the Middle East and Europe. The height of their empire came under Kublai Khan, who created the boundaries of modern day China. This is really a fascinating story that I did not know very much about, before I read this book. Although Ghengis Khan himself was totally illiterate, he was a natural military and political genius. As his army spread over most of the known world, he brought complete annihilation to those who opposed him, but he established a completely new order that included religious freedom for those who survived and served in his empire. The Mongol armies that invaded the Middle East combined forces with local Christians to beat down the Islamic nations in their path. Those that invaded to the north (creating the "stans" that exist today) allied with Turkic-speaking Muslims to beat down the Christians in Europe. Later on, Kublai focused most of his attention on conquering China, but his dreams of assimilating Japan resulted in catastrophic failure. Nevertheless, the extent of Mongol rule extended over most of the known world during his lifetime. Also, the author spends some time debunking myths that Marco Polo had spread in his famous account of his travels.
 

ideologyhunter

Veteran Member
The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England (2007) by Diane Rapaport
Rapaport combed through the dockets of 17th and 18th century courts in various colonies, and wrote up in 3- to 5- page summaries the details of about two dozen cases. The offenses include public nudity, adultery, hog stealing, public drunkenness, blasphemy, libel, and highway robbery. The judgments included steep fines in an age when much trade was done through barter, and, much more distressingly, public whipping. Some of the cases arose in what must have been long and boring winters. There was a round of partying around Harvard in December 1676 involving some fun-loving women and some distracted Harvard students. The authorities soon moved in on them. There was the case of a husband who cheered up his pregnant wife in the winter of 1661-2 by bringing in friends for card games, which soon led to the bunch of them being arrested.
There's the case of salty Joan Andrews, who was arrested essentially for trash talking. After one of her convictions, she went out and told people that "she cared not a turd for <Judge> Rishworth nor any magistrate in the world." Of course someone snitched, and this time Joan was given a sentence of 20 lashes on her bare skin. The sentence was commuted when the judge was told she was pregnant; her husband was then assessed a steep fine of five pounds.
My favorite passage comes in a discussion of the endless church services in Puritan towns, and how teenagers, despite the threat of harsh punishment, could sometimes not endure sitting for hours as the pastor orated. "<Three Puritan boys> disrupted Ipswich meetings by 'prating together', or 'spitting in one another's faces, pricking one another's legs, justing boys off their seats, heaving things into the other gallery among the girls who sat there'".
Short, readable, very entertaining.
 

southernhybrid

Contributor
The term "hunter-gatherer" is a bit of a misnomer. These non-farmers also engaged in fishing and (e.g. on the coastlines of Western and NW Europe) shell-collecting and beach-combing. (And what about Pitted Ware, a Copper Age hunter-gatherer culture along the Scandinavian coastline? They were heavily into trading and, perhaps piracy! Experts?)

I have been neglecting my book reading over the past few years, but I finally finished "Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari.


I really enjoyed the book and learned some things I had never knew much about or had considered before. After finishing it, I've decided that humans would have been better off if we had remained as hunter gatherers, instead of fucking up the planet and so many of the other species on it.

Are you a Luddite like me? :) :)

And what is the typical goal of modern-day working man? To save toward early retirement so he can engage in hunting, gathering, fishing, and beach-combing!

Fishing is related to hunting, but regardless of what name you want to give early societies, they shared everything, worked fewer hours than modern humans and there was no such thing as class differences, like we see today. The book gave a lengthy description of the Agricultural Revolution and how it resulted in classism. It doesn't take a genius to look around and see how things went downhill from there.

Of course we can't go back and change the past, but I was ignorant of the negative influences of the Agricultural Revolution. Sure, humans were better fed, but those at the bottom were exploited by those who made it to the top. I imagine that the author's views were somewhat skewed, as we all have our own biases, but much of what I read in his highly acclaimed book was backed up by convincing evidence.

The author claims that life was less stressful during the hunter gathering era. Even if that's not totally true, look at how people are treated today in the work place. There are so many who work long hours with little pay or job security. Maybe it was inevitable that we would become self centered, vicious creatures, but the book gave me a different perspective about a lot of things that I never really thought much about. Plus, it was interesting. Now I'm reading a book about the evolution of dogs, my favorite species and one of my favorite subjects to read about. Woof Woof.
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
I recently finished John Man's The Mongol Empire, which starts with a biography of Ghengis Khan but goes on to lay out the history of the Mongol Empire. (snip)

Sounds interesting. I read a biography of Khan but know less about the overall history of the empire. Thank you.

I'm reading a biography of Lew Wallace, who was a competent general for the northern side during the Civil War, and also the author of Ben Hur. Wallace's biggest contribution was losing the battle of Monocacy, because win or lose he managed to delay Confederate troops from getting to Washington DC before the city was ready to defend itself.

-- Wallace wasn't a great military mind, but the book says he figured this out going into the battle; that driving off Jubal Early would have been a bonus, but the important thing was to hold his troops' advance as long as possible.

Rob
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Just starting a book about the Dyatlov Pass incident. It looks interesting and it's something I knew nothing about.

Rob
 

Tigers!

Veteran Member
Reread Anne Applebaum's Gulag a history of the Gulags in USSR from 1919 to the fall of the USSR in 1989.
Reading the sheer number of people thrown into those camps, the deaths, injuries, waste and inhumanity makes me wonder why many still consider humans are basically good.
 

ideologyhunter

Veteran Member
Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember (1988) edited by James Mellon 460 pp.
In the mid-30s, with former slaves becoming a fast-diminishing group, the Federal Writers Project sent interviewers out to get their stories. Mellon took the transcripts and fashioned this profound and fascinating book from them. He chose 29 slave narratives to run full length, and assembled another nine sections, called Voices, in which he gives brief quotations from a number of speakers on a given theme.
These people speak for all of America's slaves, and their keen memories of plantation life will move any reader who knows even the bare basics of history. There is a lot of wisdom in their words. Mellon saved some of the best material he had for the last few pages, in a Voices section called The Younger Generation, Reflections and Conclusions. I'll quote two selections that made me stop and reread.
Delicia Patterson said:
I think the time will soon be when people won't be looked on as regards to whether you are black or white, but all on the same equality. I may not live to see it, but it is on the way. Many don't believe it, but I know it.
(Quite a conclusion from an elderly former slave, speaking during the Depression.)
Cornelius Holmes told his interviewer:
Though de slave question am settled, de race question will be wid us always, until Jesus comes de second time. It's in our politics, in our justice courts, on our highways, on our sidewalks, in our manners, in our 'ligion, and in our thoughts, all de day and every day.
De Good Marster pity both sides. In de end, will it be settled by hate or by de policy of love your neighbor as you do yourself? Who knows. Dere's not much promise, at de 'mediate moment, for de risin' generation of either side, and I means no disrespect to you.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
First book I read, still have, I just reread. A Short History of the World by HG Wells. It was the book aunt Nina used to get me back on a literate track back in second grade. Still kept me entertained, even nodding my head, 73 years on.
 

Mediancat

Super Moderator
Staff member
Have been reading a number of books about the Negro Leagues -- biographies of Willie Wells, Rube Foster and cool Papa Bell, a history of the Baltimore Black Sox, and I have Only the Ball Was White on hold at the local library. Fascinating stuff.

Rob
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
The Dawn of Everything

The Atlantic has a review (subtitled "A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change") of a book titled The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow. I've not read the book but plan to order it.

Here are some excerpts from the review:
They describe an indigenous Amazonian society that shifted seasonally between two entirely different forms of social organization (small, authoritarian nomadic bands during the dry months; large, consensual horticultural settlements during the rainy season).

...

[T]he authors’ most compelling instance of urban egalitarianism is undoubtedly Teotihuacan, a Mesoamerican city that rivaled imperial Rome, its contemporary, for size and magnificence. After sliding toward authoritarianism, its people abruptly changed course, abandoning monument-building and human sacrifice for the construction of high-quality public housing. “Many citizens,” the authors write, “enjoyed a standard of living that is rarely achieved across such a wide sector of urban society in any period of urban history, including our own.”

...

In a remarkable chapter, they describe the encounter between early French arrivals in North America, primarily Jesuit missionaries, and a series of Native intellectuals—individuals who had inherited a long tradition of political conflict and debate and who had thought deeply and spoke incisively on such matters as “generosity, sociability, material wealth, crime, punishment and liberty.”

The Indigenous critique, as articulated by these figures in conversation with their French interlocutors, amounted to a wholesale condemnation of French—and, by extension, European—society: its incessant competition, its paucity of kindness and mutual care, its religious dogmatism and irrationalism, and most of all, its horrific inequality and lack of freedom. The authors persuasively argue that Indigenous ideas, carried back and publicized in Europe, went on to inspire the Enlightenment (the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy, they note, had theretofore been all but absent from the Western philosophical tradition). They go further, making the case that the conventional account of human history as a saga of material progress was developed in reaction to the Indigenous critique in order to salvage the honor of the West.
 
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