Thursday, June 11, 2009

The bookshelf

Lots of slacker reading over the past month:

George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire: Went back through volumes 2 through 4 of the series. Classic swords-and-politics fantasy that features the words "fuck" and "cunt" too often for me to try to inveigle my 13YO into reading 'em. If you read this kind of thing and haven't picked up A Game of Thrones, do so.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5: No good reason for me to've picked these up, since I can't imagine ever running another D&D game. But the new 4th edition is so appallingly bad (we already *had* computer gaming, thanks), I thought I might should snag these while I could. I like what the 3d edition did with skills and feats -- it's entertaining to try to reconstruct Uma Thurman's Kill Bill character -- but combat seems like it must take FOREVER now.

Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: A book that seems like I should've read it 10 years ago. It's good as it goes, but his crow's-eye view of the last 500 years in terms of military and economic competition seems like a well-worn tale. I'm hoping that when I hit the 19th century, it will all sound a bit less like my college textbooks.

David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War: As someone who always suspiciously avoided reading Churchill's big book, I found Reynolds' study vindicating; he meticulously studies what Churchill omitted or spun, and often relates those changes to postwar issues revolving around the Cold War and Churchill's quest for the premiership (again). One has to be a serious WW2/Churchill buff to find this interesting rather than painful, n.b.

John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture: His assessment of Aristotle may be dubious, but this is a must-read book on torture in democratic states: how it happens, how it's addressed, how it's swept under the rug. Soldiers in Israel, police in Chicago, spooks in Britain -- they all torture, they all lie about it, they all get slaps on the wrist.

Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell: His Caesar biography was a from-the-library read, as he didn't seem to add much beyond a more careful appreciation of Caesar as soldier; but I picked this one up on the strength of its contention with such works as Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire. Rather than "the Barbarians, on the Frontiers, with a Battleaxe," Goldsworthy's culprit is "the Romans, amongst Themselves, with a Gladius" -- civil war brought down the empire, without which there's no particular reason why Rome couldn't have continued to fend off the barbarians. Or so I gather from reviews and the preface. Right now I've only just seen Alexander Severus into his untimely grave, so the thesis hasn't unfolded very much. (The best Caesar bio IMHO continues to be Meier's, btw.)

Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography: Stalin's never been as fleshed-out a baddie as Hitler in my reading, so I picked this one up to gather what the current view seems to be. It still reads nothing like, say, Kershaw's Hitler (being, for one thing, less than half the length), but I suspect we still just don't have anything like the degree of documentation of Stalin -- there are advantages to being a successful despot. The author goes to some length to be fair to Stalin where called for, which I gather is going to make the 1930s look just that much worse.


  1. I love Ice and Fire, even though the fourth book seemed to drag on without accomplishing much... Please, sir, show us more about how paranoid, incompetent, clueless, drunk, and getting-fat-but-blames-her-dressmaker Cersei is!

    But really, the biggest problem with it is that he WON'T FINISH IT... You hear me, Martin?!? Are you out there listening?? FINISH IT!!! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, PLEASE FINISH IT!

    Rant done. Move along. Nothing to see here.

  2. It was not a good sign how many *new* threads he introduced in Crows. Tolstoy is easy by comparison. Martin's book is snowballing on him. God knows where that whole Maesters subplot is going.

    Cersei's chapters were plausible but not terribly interesting; a character who's just plain evil is harder to write. I thought Martin did better w/ Theon Greyjoy.

    Anyway, curious whether Tyrion and Dany meet up in Dragons, and whether we get STILL MORE new characters. As it stands, he can't possibly finish the series with the book after that, which is a scary prospect. He may just be getting tired out, which is even scarier.