Thursday, 27 August 2015

What I've been reading

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The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead. There are no signs of violence, but his face is hideously distorted with terror. Years earlier, a hound-like beast with blazing eyes and dripping jaws was reported to have torn out the throat of Hugo Baskerville. Has the spectral destroyer struck again?"
A good story - obviously I've read it before, but it must have been a long time ago because I barely remembered any details, let alone whodunnit. This Sherlock Holmes anthology is certainly living up to its promise so far.

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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
by G. K. Chesterton

narrated by Simon Vance
"Gabriel Syme is a poet of law. Lucian Gregory is a poetic anarchist. As the poets protest their respective philosophies, they strike a challenge. In the ruckus that ensues, the Central European Council of Anarchists elects Syme to the post of Thursday, one of their seven chief council positions."
This started badly and ended badly, but the middle was quite good. I didn't think I would relate to a story about anarchists, but I just substituted the word 'baddies', which worked well enough. The identity of the anarchist known as Sunday was revealed towards the end (it wasn't really a surprise), but after that the whole thing stopped making any sense at all. I got the impression that the author didn't really know himself how to finish it.

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The Goshawk
by T. H. White
"This is the record of an intense clash of wills during the training of a great, beautiful hawk, in which the pride and endurance of the wild raptor are worn down and broken by the almost insane willpower of the schoolmaster falconer."
This is referenced extensively in Helen Macdonald's recent bestseller 'H is for Hawk', and having read that and unearthed this from my shelves it was obvious that I needed to read it. It's not quite as brutal as Macdonald makes out - she seemed to quote the worst bits, but even so, White has a tough time with his hawk and the hawk has a worse time with him. A classic for the aspiring austringer or falconer or someone like me who is a little bit obsessed with these birds; I don't think normal people would find much of interest other than to consider how things have changed since those difficult postwar years.

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Guns, Germs and Steel
by Jared Diamond
"Since 1500, Europeans have, for better and worse, called the tune that the world has danced to. This book tries to explain why, and suggests that the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals and the free flow of information. The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government and communication, and increased resistance to disease. Finally, fragmented Europe harnessed the power of competitive innovation in ways that China did not."
This was recommended ever so long ago, when I started my degree in 2007 and I've been looking out for it ever since. One of the lecturers was encouraging us to read around our subject, which is what I do quite a lot, so in return for this recommendation I provided him with a whole load of suggestions of other interesting books about science. In comparison with the books I recommended, this one is a dud as far as I'm concerned. The question the author sets out to answer is why Europeans tended to dominate the societies they met rather than being assimilated or even dominated by them, the simple answer being the title of the book. The discussion then becomes exceedingly anthropological, and I am not particularly keen on lengthy discussion about the development of farming and pottery or the spread of language throughout Austronesia. So read 'The Goshawk' if you are interested in birds of prey and read this if you are interested in anthropology, and avoid them both if you're not.

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