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Books! (Crime and Poetry Edition)

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part I (Ed. David Marcum, 2017/#87): A collection of Holmesian pastiches; some attempts at formal innovation, slight parody, or unusual points of view, but generally speaking it aims for straightforward new adventures in the classical style, and often successfully. The quality is uneven, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part II (Ed. David Marcum, 2017/#88): See above.

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part III (Ed. David Marcum, 2017/#89): See above.

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part IV (Ed. David Marcum, 2017/#90): See above.

Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus (Rainer Maria Rilke, tr. A. Poulin Jr., 2017/#91): Not unproblematic — and, overall, it's not my metaphysics — but with many beautiful turns of phrase, and even of thought. But do note [personal profile] ratcreature's observations about the translation.

Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (Harold Bloom, 2017/#92): A short compilation of somewhat disjointed comments of Bloom on Hamlet, as a sort of companion to the Hamlet chapter of his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. He has changed some of views, but marginally; by and large, not much new.


Books! (Books and Wars Edition)

Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Filippo de Vivo, 2017/#81): A look at how the Venetian (well, patrician) model of politics was based on not only political, but also informational exclusion — to the degree that even the Senate was kept on the dark about whatever the Council of Ten (or rather, the Collegio) wanted — not so much, or entirely, due to what we'd call operational secrecy, but rather because it fostered an image of rational, calm unanimity, devoid of internal conflict; it was, after all, the Serenissima. In practice, of course, this wasn't quite true: pretty much all political maneuvering between patricians took place by definition by discussing information they shouldn't have, and the physical closeness of the city meant that, literally and metaphorically, everybody overheard pretty much everything (one way in which we underestimate the impact of non-printed written material is how we've forgotten the way manuscripts could be copied fast and distributed widely very quickly, as well as the practice of communal reading, which make pretty much everybody, regardless of literacy, accessible by the written word). Venice was one of the pioneers in what we call journalism, although it was mostly in the form of paid subscriptions to manuscript avvisi, something closer to the private newsletters of experts than to public news. The fact that apothecaries and barbershops doubled as places of sociability where news were discussed, and in fact sometimes kept avvisi lying around for people to read, feels quite modern, and predates the usual coffee shop model of a public sphere; noting, though, that it was an heterogeneous "public" devoid of any political power; most "news", graffiti, etc, were created by informational specialists for and directed to patricians and other politically enabled people, not what we'd call the public. This broke down, temporarily and hilariously, during the Interdict of 1606-1607. You see, part of the legal tradition of the age was that a law, to be valid, had to be properly communicated to everybody (unilateral commands from above being the primary meaning of comunicazione)(we still do that, although the process is taken as a matter of course), and people was used to pretending not to have heard of new laws. Well, when — for the usual reasons of fights over overlapping spheres of authority — the Pope went ahead and interdicted the Republic, forbidding priest from preaching and giving sacraments. As the dispute had been kept relatively secret all along — diplomacy not being the damn plebeians' business — the Republic's counter-move was to (a) announce that, whatever crazy rumour had been going around about the Pope doing something, it was (a1) false, and (a2) invalid, because nobody had heard of it (the first direct intervention from Paolo Sarpi, consultant), (b) censor letters (and oral communication whenever possible) to prevent mentions of the interdict, and (c) threaten priests with immediate death if they complied with this thing they hadn't heard about and didn't exist. Lawyers. And in fact it did make sense contextually: the Church also played by those rules, and the immediate threat of death was considered a valid reason for priests to ignore something that wasn't a direct order from the Pope. Hence, for the first (and, in Venice, the last for a long while) time, they went public with a war of pamphlets; not directly aimed at the populace, but mostly at the priests and each others' elite, but of course echoing everywhere in a way most elite observers found quite outre (washerwomen discussing theology(!?!?)). It was all both worrisome (the Spanish not disinclined to put troops into play) and rather ridiculous for everybody (a theologico/political horde of stampeding elephants in a very small and crowded room). Anyway, when the thing threatened to go out of control in terms of people talking about things they shouldn't talk about, both Rome and Venice made peace: Venice gave the jailed priests that had been the excuse for everything to the French, who them gave them to the Pope, Rome lifted the Interdict, Venice pretended nothing had been lifted, everybody agreed that sub rosa was the best way to do this kind of thing, and it was seldom if ever mentioned in official histories afterward. Recommended, it goes without saying.

Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability (Eyal Weizman, 2017/#82): A fascinating, powerful, painstaking research and rhetorical method — putting together buildings, satellites, historical pictures and text, witnesses, geology, etc into a single representation (as coherent as the data is, but no more) — to recreate events taking places at multiple scales of space, time, and politics. The events described in the book as application cases, though, are very difficult to process at a number of levels. It wasn't an easy book to read, but definitely a worthwhile one.

Infinity Wars (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2017/#83): A collection of SF stories with a military (but not militaristic) bent. Unsurprisingly but disquietingly, the background of most of the is a Jackpot-ing planet (to use Gibson's term), which might be the contemporary version of what the nuclear apocalypse was up until the 80s. None of them really bad, most of them good-ish.

Memories and Studies (William James, 2017/#84): Notes from reviews, talks about other people, etc, rather than technical ones, so it's less argumentative than, at times, well, celebratory (or mourning). Still, not uninteresting, and I do enjoy James general point of view (although in issues like spiritualism he's unsettingly unsettled, and, even if a pacifist, his ideas about the "military type" as an inherently good addition to any society is, to say the least, suspect).

Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (Eds. Mike Resnick, Martin H. Greenberg, 2017/#85): Non-canon holmesiana in sci-fi contexts, as you'd imagine. A few duds, but some of the ones in the past are quite good — the contemporary and future ones tend more to the sort of ironic or humorous pastiche that's not really my cup of tea.

Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book (Alessandro Marzo Magno, 2017/#86): A bit hagiographical of both Manutius and Venice, and the writing is a bit hurried, but it's interesting enough, with lots of tidbits and interesting people completely new to me.


Books! (Empire is a Verb Edition)

Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion, 1822-1922 (David Gange, 2017/#75): The past is indeed a foreign country: 19th century Britain was so stepped in Biblical culture than for a very, very long while Egyptology was about finding information about Joseph, the Exodus, etc (mirroring how Schliemann was believed to have found not only Troy, but basically the entire settings and props of the very literally accurate Homeric epic). Sometimes it was about pre-Christian prefigurations of Christianity (both occultists of the "Western school" and very traditional Christians believed this). Not a lot of attention was given to Champollion's work for a very long time. When it ceased to be about the Bible, it was because it began to be about eugenics and the entire psychosocial freakout about race. Yay.

The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order (Otto Georg Von Simson, 2017/#76): I'm not sure how canonical (pun not intended, but not regreted either) is noawadays this interpretation, but even if a creative misreading in the Bloomian sense, this is a fascinating view of Gothic architecture (in the Medieval original, not post-Medieval interpretation). The basic idea is that, mostly via St Augustine, the Neoplatonists, and a certain St. Dennis that conflated both a medieval local saint and the nearly Apostolic Pseudo-Dionysius, the basic structure of the cosmos was geometrical (in the sense of ratios), which meant musico-mathematical (in the Pythagorean sense), which meant in a way architectonical (in the Augustinan sense in which music and architecture aren't spiritual because they transmit beauty, the transmit beauty because they are spiritual); God was the Architect, His cosmos theologically transparent, the first self-revelation, before the Incarnation. In that sense, a building guided by divine proportions of geometrical nature (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, the "true measure" of the square root of two, the Golden Ratio, etc) wasn't, unlike the Romanesque case, an *image* of the trascendental (which, in the Medieval metaphysics, was the only real), but rather a *model*, and in that sense, sharing, in a way both anagogical and literal, the trascendent. Abbot Suger, whom the author grants a lot of control on the design, is told to have built theology, a phrase I like very much, where light — the least "physical" of the physical phenomena — and proportion were, well, transparently the point. By the way, Solomon's Temple was held to have been the first of the divinely inspired buildings (its measurements, as described by the Bible, of critical architectural-metaphysical (less of a distinction for them) importance). The book doesn't mention this, but *now* I get why the Freemasons traced their origins to the builders of Solomon's temple, through the Medieval ones (this is, before it got mixed with the pre-Champollion pseudo-Egyptian strain of occultism), and why they chose the compass and the angle as symbols. If you grant all of the above metaphysics (in whatever diluted or mostly-forgotten format), then the builders of Solomon's Temple had direct access to metaphysically central secrets about the true structure of the universe, some of which they could conceivably have transmitted through (anachronistic for most of the period) guilds. My impression is that by the time of the Masonic order, they had forgotten the actual theology behind the architectural metaphor, so they used whatever version of the Hermetic Misunderstanding they had at hand (I mean, the idea of macro-micro correspondences is indeed Neoplatonic, but they focused on, as it were, ideographic or linguistic similitudes rather than geometrical (in the contextual sense) anagogical relationships. Even disregarding the Pagan content, I suspect neither Sugernor Augustine would have approved of a God that were less a Musician/Architect than an Edward Nygma. It wasn't how things sounded or looked like, but how they embodied, always imperfectly, metaphysical truths (of course, this is one interpretation of one intellectual strand in one place and time; it could even not be enough to be a good partial description — but it's certainly an interesting description of a fascinating worldview, and that's enough to recommend the book).

Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest General (Richard A. Gabriel, 2017/#77): A bit hagiographical, and somewhat repetitive, but it's not uninteresting, and it's inarguable that Subotain was one of the greats. It's interesting how, to a larger degree than I thought, the Mongol conquests sort of happened (e.g., the thing with the caravan which ended up with the conquest of the Khwarezmid Empire, a brutal and strategically brilliant campaign). Another thing this book reinforced for me is how, for most of history and for most political organizations, paying tribute/bribes/lunch money to each other was one of those things, and didn't seem to feel like a mortal disgrace to anybody. Plenty of ways to save face, anyway. (I do wonder if democracies are somewhat less rational in that sense.) The author claims that the Mongol operational art ended up influencing WWII Germany through the ideas they picked up from the Soviets before the war, which they learned, surprisingly or perhaps not, not from their painful history with the Mongols, but from historical research of the steppe people in their territory (which the conveniently forgot when Stalin did one of his purges). It's a somewhat tenous link, depending on the influence of specific people at specific moments, but I find it believable enough.

A Tale of Two Monasteries: Westminster and Saint-Denis in the Thirteenth Century (William Chester Jordan, 2017/#78): What the title says. Those two monasteries, playing no small role in the political and religious (not that the difference was that clear at the time) lives of England and sort-of-France, are an interesting point of view to look at those countries at that moment in time, specially because the kings of France and England at the time (two each) were devout in ways closely related to those monasteries.

The Manchu Way (Mark Elliott, 2017/#79): Elliott's thesis is that the root of the Quin dynasty's Eight Banners was ultimately ethnic: by separating physically, culturally, and economically (manchus in the banners system, i.e., manchus, were forbidden from doing anything else except official positions), they attempted to keep a separate identity that guaranteed the survival of the dynasty (initially through old-fashioned intimidation, but, as the reputation of the banners quickly went from being fearsome warriors to being lazy, corrupt, and incompetent, mostly through the fact of separation itself). It was fiscally ruinous, and to the extent that it worked it did so in a circular way: it didn't prevent Manchus from losing not only their traditional martial skills, but also even their ability to speak their original language, but eventually pertencence to the banners, and the corresponding lifestyle characteristics (none of them martial, and mostly based around the fact that their "ate the Emperor's rice"), came to define manchuness. Paraphrasing the author, ethnicity is a characteristic of how an interaction is read, rather than of a population — regardless of which the court's eventual, and futile, attempts to reduce the expenses involved went always along the lines of priviledging "blood" Manchus bannermen over Mongols, but mainly over the Chinese bannermen. All in all, a very interesting look at an aspect of Chinese history I hadn't had the slightlest knowledge of.

Spain in Italy: Politics, Society, and Religion 1500-1700 (Ed. Thomas Dandelet, John Marino, 2017/#80): A quite interesing, if diverse, set of essays about the ways Spain (or the crown of Castile, and/or Charles V/Philip II/Philip III, and/or etc) ruled over, influeced, or failed to different parts and aspects of Italy. It was all very Habsburg even to begin with: they had very different claims over Milan, Naples, and Sicily (and types and levels of influence; Cosimo I's marriage with the daughter of the Toledo viceroy was, apparently, huge at a number of levels), different rights vis a vis the Church, a complex sets of relationships with the (very varied) local societies, etc. A fun factoid: the Spanish — both the crown and the people — paid for a lot of St. Peter's as we know it. Somehow and unsurprisingly Italian tourist guides don't quite mention it.


Books! (Arcana imperii Edition)

Normal (Warren Ellis, 2017/#69): A novella sold independently, or a Kindle single if you'd like. The dialog doesn't escape the usual Ellis-isms, and neither does the premise, but when said premise is weird mystery in a psychiatric asylum for (sometimes temporarily) burned-out futurists, that's probably a plus. Recommended, although don't expect it to be SF or futuristic; it's very much Weird Present.

The Final Deduction (Rex Stout , 2017/#70): A reread. Satisfactory.

Passenger to Frankfurt (Agatha Christie, 2017/#71): The weirdest Agatha Christie book I've ever read, and not in a good way. The short version of the plot: spoilersCollapse ). By the way, the books' cover mentioned Poirot, which was a filthy lie, but by the time I realized how much of a multi-lane, miles-long traffic apocalypse the thing was, I just had to keep reading to see how bad it could and did get.

The Under Dog and Other Stories (Agatha Christie, 2017/#72): A classic collection of Poirot short(ish) stories.

The Big Four (Agatha Christie, 2017/#73): A hybrid of the previous two books. It's Poirot versus an international cabal of four evil geniuses dedicated and actually awfully close to actual world domination; Number Three is an evil scientific genius, Number Four is a murderous genius actor, Number Two is the world's richest man, and Number One is Fu Manchu with the serial numbers perfunctorily filed off. Along the way, Christie makes fun of Conan Doyle, reiterates the idea of an evil cabal using drugs to turn youth into violent protesters, and has pretty much everybody insult poor Captain Hastings.

~The Best Science Fiction of the Year Vol. 2 (Ed. Neil Clarke, unfinished): I stopped halfway; it's not that they aren't well-written, but the repetitive background beats of bone-deep tired, awkwardly dystopian despair with the occasional sort-of-poetical semi-redemption has gotten on my nerves (and, yes, I realize how ironic is for me to complain about that). Used to like this kind of story, will probably go back to liking it again at some point, but right now it's too *realistic* a mood, and these stories were just leaving on my mouth the same awful aftertaste news, even nominally good news, does these days (not, of course, discounting the effect of unrelated personal going-ons).

Electing the Pope in Early Modern Italy, 1450-1700(Miles Pattenden, 2017/#74): An interesting study on the impact of the process by which Popes came to power on the nature and development of Church history, particularly the Papal States. The Church had (and at least de iure still has) a very unique political system: it's a theocratic absolutism where the ruler has an unique relationship with the divine, but it's also an elective position where the Pope is chosen from a relatively large number of candidates — by and large the same people voting — that came from a very varied set of backgrounds. This led to a number of interesting effects: Despite how horrid actual Conclaves were, they fact that they existed was the only real power they had, which means they wanted to exercise it as carefully, effectively, and often as possible. Also, the voting process was never even as remotely isolated as they were supposed to be, and yet they all had to pretend their choice of Pope had been inspired by the Holy Spirit, lest the figure of the Pope, and by extension, their own, lack legitimacy. But the Pope's authority, although personal, was highly perishable — there was a lot of political, pragmatic, and doctrinal back and forth over time to handle the problem of who, if anybody, was in charge of what, if anything, during Sede Vacante; Rome, never a safe city, became particularly violent during those interregnums for much of this period. And because it was quite impossible for Popes (who came often and increasingly from powerful Italian, and specially Roman, families) to keep the post in the family, which meant they had to grab as much money as they could as fast as they could, yet making as few enemies as possible, before they died, because the next Pope was very likely to come from a rival faction, and the only concern limiting his actions against yours would be fear of setting a precedent for the next one. Needless to say, this didn't lead to much fiscal responsibility. (Relatedly, there's an interesting analysis about how the Papal States had quite sophisticated financial and bureaucratic systems for the age — venality, for all of its bad reputation, was an almost universal feature of secular states, not dissimilar to annuities or perpetual bonds backed by specific sources of revenue — but one that wasn't driven by exploding military costs, as was the case for large contemporary states, but rather as the slow development of a sort of para-Papal government structure capable of partially isolating elites and processes from the frequently changing boss.)


Edge of Infinity (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2017/#61): A good collection of contemporary SF stories; they all take place in the Solar System but outside Earth, and most, although not all of them, are at least somewhat related to exploration and colonization efforts.

The Economy of Renaissance Florence (Richard A. Goldthwaite, 2017/#62): Riveting. Renaissance Florence was weirdly modern from some points of view — widespread accounting skills (even artisans kept double-entry books) meant something not unlike a decentralized P2P lending market, as well as an intuitive understanding of money as different from tangible monies — although its preeminence in historiography might be partly due to the relatively huge amount of surviving documents compared to other cities, as well as the fascinating figure of the Medicis. From a diachronic angle, the shifts in their economy (from locally sourced textiles to a purely import/export based industry, the shift in routes from and to the Levant and Northern Europe, their gradual fall of competitiveness in international banking against the Genose, etc) opens a good window into the general evolution of Europe's economy, punctuated by the humanly horrifying but in the middle term economically invigorating small issue of the Black Death. The way everybody almost openly used bills of exchange and other loopholes to get around the Church's prohibition of usury is kind of funny, but indicates that even a precapitalist (if not psychologically so) society can still be deeply Christian in many ways. Highly recommended.

Bridging Infinity (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2017/#63): Up to the usual standard of Strahan collections: contemporary, mostly good to quite good, mostly but not exclusively from the usual suspects.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659: The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries' Wars (Geoffrey Parker, 2017/#64): A good zoom-in complement to the author's The Grand Strategy of Philip II. It makes the argument — with as much quantitative evidence as it's feasible to provide for that scenario and era — that the Spanish were, obviously within the technical and organizational limits of Early Modern Europe, quite efficient at raising money, moving it around, and using it to fight wars (and in fact made a couple of significant advances in that area that nowadays are taken for granted, for example providing soldiers with medical services, food, lodging, and other forms of payment in kind). Their chronic shortages of money (the Eighty Years' War goes a long way to explain what "the borrower from Hell" was using all that money for), practically systematized mutinies (to the soldiers' credit, often began after, and not triggered by, military actions), and eventual defeat have more to do with a combination of technological changes (the trace italienne architecture making the shell-and-storm style of siege unfeasible, with encircle-and-starve the only feasible yet slow and expensive alternative) and, fundamentally, strategic overreach made unavoidable by Philip II's (and IV's, although not III's) religious commitments. Even Hapsburg Spain would have had to drop some of their goals of forcing the Netherlands to be Catholic, putting a Catholic in the French throne, driving back Protestants in Germany, keeping the Turks in check, not squeezing Catalonia dry, invading England, dominating the Indies trade, and keeping Portugal under control (and I'm probably forgetting a long-term war or two). A Hapsburg Netherlands, even if not Catholic, would've been an enormous asset to the Empire, made the defense of the Italian coast very feasible, give the Spanish a built-in financial network, and made the Indies trade even more profitable (not to mention giving them a ready-made navy to help protect the Spanish treasure fleet from the English). But that wouldn't have been Philip II; for good and for ill, very few rulers in history had been so thoroughly trained since birth for his role, both political and religious, and even fewer took his duties so seriously.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B (Ed. Ben Bova, 2017/#65): Eleven classic SF novellas. Most of them rereads, not all good by contemporary standards, but always well deserving of the epithet of classic.

Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (David Armitage, 2017/#66): Traces the history of the (highly contested) concept of civil war, touching on the Greeks but beginning with the Romans, who, Armitage argues, were the first to have civil wars in the sense that we understand the term, as they were the first to have both the kind of impersonal civil arena and the highly organized war as quintessentially structuring, State-driven, and by definition foreigner-targeting activity that makes the concept both applicable and oxymoronic; for Romans the experience of a civil war was a conceptually traumatic one, not because they were unused to violence, even internal violence with political ends, but because *war* was something else. A civil war, in Armitage's reading, was something of a conceptual revolution. The book traces what you might call the constant war about what a civil war is, isn't, and might mean, with special emphasis on the case of the the United States (after all, it wasn't irrelevant whether the Confederation was a separate (set of) state(s) repeating what the thirteen colonies had originally done, or if they were an integral part of the US in rebellion, both in politico-philosophical and diplomatic, and hence economic and military, terms), and contemporary practice (roughly speaking, nations cannot legally interfere with other nation's handling of internal rebellions, but once it's a civil war, both sides have claims to legitimacy, so then it's whatever works for you... an interesting angle I hadn't considered). I'm not entirely sure how much I believe the uniqueness of the Roman concept (the author, IIRC, mentions his lack of familiarity with, say, the Chinese tradition, where the concept of a contested Mandate of Heaven means you could have a related if fundamentally different idea of what a civil war can be), but it's an interesting book.

Prisoner's Base (Rex Stout, 2017/#67): A good Nero Wolfe story. I love how even when you see the solution of the case coming from far away, that doesn't diminish one bit the pleasure of reading the book.

Time Quarry (Clifford D. Simak, 2017/#68): Not the best Superpowered Prophet novel out there, nor the best Android Rebellion novel, nor the best Thinly Veiled Space Metaphor of the British Empire novel, nor the best Time Travel Shenannigans novel, nor the best Eganesque Platonic Realism novel, but the sheer accumulation of different tropes (I might be forgetting some) is on itself interesting. Not unenjoyable, if you make the necessary allowances for gender politics etc.


Books! (Apocalypses and Violence Edition)

Ancient Perspectives: Maps and Their Place in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece & Rome (Ed. Richard J. A. Talbert, 2017/#55): The main takeaway from this collection of essays is the variety of ways in which map-like things have been thought about, made, and used. Part of it due to slow progress in measurement tools and techniques, but mostly because a Cartesian representation of space wasn't necessarily a goal, or even conceivable. Maps have often been used for their cosmological (which never fails to be political) meanings, or representing what we'd call topological rather than metric relationships. I think this book makes a good historical preface to The Imperial Security State, which shows, specially in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, the crystallization of what we recognize as the Modern map (not coincidentally, a map that both requires and is required by the Modern State; you could make a pop-history superficial argument that large-scale political organizations are defined by the maps they make and use).

The Delirium Brief (Charlie Stross, 2017/#56): Is it me, or are the Laundry books getting more bloody depressing over time. Not that the premise doesn't justify it, but clearly Stross had no intention at all of making this an episodic series of books.

The Nameless Thing (Melville Davisson Post, 2017/#57): The framing is that of a closed-room mystery, but that's mostly a thin excuse for a priest, a judge, and a doctor to swap stories arguing for different concepts of and explanations for fate/Ananke/Nemesis/Divine Retribution/etc (not the same things, I know). Writing and plotting are weird, but the strangest part of the book is that, as far as I can tell, nobody in it, not even the author, seems to doubt that things work out in the end as they should, they just disagree as to how exactly that happens.

The Prehistory of the Crusades: Missionary War and the Baltic Crusades (Burnam W. Reynolds, 2017/#58): The author argues that the Baltic Crusades weren't the odd ducks they are usually thought to be, but rather a natural extrapolation of long-existing patterns and ambiguities in ideas of what a crusade is, baptism by treaty, etc. It spends a lot of time on definitional (what is a Crusade?) and ethical (when, and in what ways, can violent war be justified to gain converts or territory? when can it be thought of as defensive? etc) questions. It felt weird at the beginning, but then it became obvious (not in a sense of "gotcha," as the author never hid it, more as a matter of mutually unspoken assumptions) that the author is thinking and writing from a Christian point of view (not ignoring the brutality of war, or even attacking a secular worldview, but, I think, trying to make the whole thing more normatively valid than somebody writing from a purely secular point of view would care to try). I just googled a bit about the author, and, yes, he does seem to think and write from a normatively religious position, although, I hasten to add, not visibly bigoted, pro-violence, or academically unprofessional, and certainly not uninformative.

Dominion of God: Christendom and Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (Brett Edward Whalen, 2017/#59): A very interesting history of how the idea of Apocalypse — more specifically, the script for the Apocalypse — interacted with politics in Medieval Europe. To summarize: the Fathers taught not to look too much into the details, because they can't be known; of course, that's too much of a temptation; the general consensus was you needed three things before going into the Antichrist phase of it: 1. retake Jerusalem, 2. purify the Church, 3. convert (most) everybody ; so the First Crusade was kind of a high point in hope, and to a lesser degree the Fourth; needless to say, it didn't quite pan out, so just as during the first century CE, Explanations Had to Be Made; a bit before, De Fiore extended the Old/New Testament isomorphism into a very detailed map of things; a lot of people bought the idea, including the Church at first; not so much later, what with the drastic reform implied, the fact that there'd be an evil Pope at some point, etc; there was some Trinitarian theological points involved (because of course), and also whether you could use leavened bread during the Eucharist (because why not worry about that); also, Franciscans and Dominicans sort of thought they were going to be at the forefront of (if not the) new Church, and then had to said they didn't think that, so the Popes wouldn't trash them; eventually as the Church definitely lost political power, and the idea of a practical Apocalypse as per the Bible receded into the historical next Monday, it stopped being much of an issue (with occasional flare-ups during the whole Luther thing, etc, but no longer really an overriding issue). Last fun fact: at some point, the Grand Strategy of the Church included converting the Mongols, an interesting scenario for an Eric Flint AU, but not much of a realistic plan.

ConCom: Conflict Communication A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication (Rory Miller, 2017/#60): It's highly problematic pop psychology based on the usual facile evolutionary psychology arguments, and, more to the point, it's written by a white male able-bodied law enforcement officer usually in positions of relative authority and exposed to potential violence, some of it under his control, and more exclusively useful to similar readers than, I think, the text implies. But some of the advice is practical, most particularly for testosterone-driven young male white able-bodied people in similar positions, which you could summarize as: violence for the sake of status games is stupid and can get you killed (and assuming something is a status game when it's really somebody trying to kill you *will* get you killed). My feeling is that this is a lesson that you have to be a in a certain position of privilege to need to learn — patriarchies have very direct ways of "teaching" females not to play status games in violent ways, or even at all — but it's not a bad one to learn if you do need to. A book I'd recommend to testosterone-driven male teenagers in America-like societies (and people behaving as such), but probably not to anybody else.


Books! (Courtly Life Edition)

Collected Poems 1909-1962 (T. S. Eliot, 2017/#43): The more Catholic he gets, the more his poetry suffers. But he's an incisive painter of the fleeting psychological moment, with almost the casual venom of a Wilde, and has an astoundingly precise command of the English language, particularly when he's describing what he cannot describe. It's a weird combination of skills and weaknesses. (For what it's worth, I had already read most of the poems in this collection; the new ones were mostly minor or casual poems that didn't feel particularly interesting.)

The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies (Ed. A. J. S. Spawforth, 2017/#44): A suggestive collection of papers about courts in (some) ancient monarchies, with emphasis on conceptual and structural issues rather than purely descriptive material. There's a lot of heterogeneity in terms of available material (between e.g. Ancient Egypt and Augustan Rome) as well as some heterogeneity in the analytical style of the authors, but it was certainly interesting.

Economy of the Unlost (Anne Carson, 2017/#45): As most books of literary analysis, it's more suggestive than analytical (particularly the more analytical it gets), but it's a fascinating one, specially about Simonides, who, besides being an all-around famous poet, apparently was the best epitaph writer of Antiquity, invented the method of loci for mnemonics (the classic one, pun not intended), and added a string to the lyre and a few letters to the Greek alphabet. Oh, and he was the first poet to demand and get money for creating poetry. A highly recommended book, with the caveat stated above.

Royal Courts in Dynastic States and Empires (Ed. Jeroen Duindam, Tülay Artan, and Metin Kunt, 2017/#46): Heterogeneous in approaches and conclusions, and at times extremely focused on a single event or person, but no less interesting because of it.

In Defiance of Time: Antiquarian Writing in Early Modern England (Angus Vine, 2017/#47): A charming if not excessively strong romp through what you could call proto-antiquarian writing.

The Dynastic Centre and the Provinces: Agents and Interactions (Ed. Jeroen Duindam and Sabine Dabringhaus, 2017/#48): Something of a complement to the two books above about court life: a set of essays about how different empires (some European, a couple of Chinese dynasties, and the Ottoman Empire) managed the relationship between center and periphery; viceroys, troubleshooting agents, royal entrances into cities, and so on. Very interesting.


Books! (Wars and Coups Edition)

Governing Through Technology: Information Artifacts and Social Practice (Jannis Kallinikos, 2017/#37): Basically "The Medium is the Message" for ERP software and the internet in general (weirdly, I don't recall it mentioning McLuhan). It makes the interesting remark than even before we "negotiate" with a technology we've already been affected by (trained to be conversant with) it, and that the flexibility of software comes paired with extremely rigid constraints. I would add: we confuse the number of options with their range (this feels like a short way to describe a lot of situations...). I think it misses the mark in a number of things, but it's certainly an interesting book.

Eliphas Levi and the French Occult Revival (Christopher McIntosh, 2017/#38): An entertaining book, if not one that'll reinforce your faith on the rational powers of the human mind.

Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (Josiah Osgood, 2017/#39): A cleverly titled book about the civil war(s) between the murder of Julius Caesar and the immediate aftermath of Actium. It's a period of time I haven't read much about — a lot of history books go "Republic, Caesar, Ides, mumblemumble, Augustus." Yet the way the book describes it, it was a deeply traumatic period pretty much around the Mediterranean, and particularly in Italy, and you can't really understand Augustus' empire (or, it turns out, Roman imperial literature) without the background of the wars. Highly recommended.

Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (David M. Perry, 2017/#40): Mostly a study of the ways people narrated and reacted to the transfer plunder pious theft movement of sacred relics from Constantinople to the West after the Fourth Crusade, with something of an emphasis on Venice. Not as much as I had hoped, though, and with more textual analysis than I'd have liked, so the book was a relative disappointment.

Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups (Naunihal Singh, 2017/#41): A reasonable application of game theory (more specifically, the concept of coordination games) to coups. It actually applies to most organizational changes, I think.

The Atlantic in World History (Karen Ordahl Kupperman, 2017/#42): A short, somewhat impressionistic look at history with the Atlantic Ocean as the guiding focus. Interesting facts and observations, but probably not as structured as it could be.


The Terror (Arthur Machen, 2017/#31): Much like The Great God Pan, I found it ridiculous in form, content, politics, and spirit, and yet somehow not unenjoyable. Censorship plays a large role in this novel, but not as something to be feared — the whole text lies upon a bedrock of trust in the Government — and the explanation of the explanation, so to speak, echoes the least agreeable sides of Chesterton (now that I think about it, there's more than one Chestertonian element in the novel, not all of them unsatisfactory ones).

Harvesting the Biosphere (Vaclav Smil, 2017/#32): Mostly a bunch of numbers interleaved with why most of those numbers are unavoidably imprecise estimations, with some drily snarky asides as to how other numbers are avoidably imprecise estimations, but as those numbers are probably our current best guesses as to how much biomass the Earth creates every year and how much we take off it (for varying definitions of both, historically and in the past) it's a pretty fascinating book. You could make a good case for having a year-long high school course based on his books; they can be usefully understood without a lot of background, and they provide the same sort of framework that, e.g., general historical surveys do, but for aspects of the world that are seldom covered.

Pax Romana (Adrian Goldsworthy, 2017/#33): Something of a complement to The Limits of Empire, with more of an emphasis on the way the Empire worked, rather than on the ways it didn't. It's not sparing on the brutal and self-serving nature of Rome, but puts it in the context of a world where that was pretty much the norm, and notes that local polities, at least at the beginning of Roman influence, saw them more than anything as a tool in their own internal conflicts. A good book.

Popes, Cardinals, and War (D. S. Chambers, 2017/#34): As described by its subtitle: The Military Church in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe. Interesting, although heavier on events than causal forces (and the epilogue is a bit uncomfortable; you'll know what I mean if you read it). Read just after Pax Romana, at some level it feels like a farce — can't anybody *keep* a conquest any more, dammit? — but the comparison isn't fair. The Romans first expanded in that same geographical environment, which was also a patchwork of near-peer polities, but everything from economics to the military was different (in large part due to the Romans' own developments) and they never had to deal with the temptation of inviting the French, the Spanish, etc (given how often *they* were called into a zone in the same way, you could read this book as karmic comeuppance for the previous one, if you were so inclined).

Understanding Latin Literature (Susanna Morton Braund, 2017/#35): A very good introductory text, specially for a relative newcomer like me.

Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 2017/#36): A frequent reread. This time around, I noticed that you could stage a version of the play where almost everybody is, as Tumblr says, "sassy af" (with Hamlet on his own category of "savage af") without changing a single word, just adding ironical expressions and eye-rolling at key places, which I'm not convinced isn't how Shakespeare directed it. Heck, even the melancholy Dane spends almost as much time cracking jokes as deploring the world, some of them quite bawdy. The audience might have cried or booed at Ophelia's death (and, I'm sure, cheered during the duel), but they also laughed a lot. By the same token, Polonius can be played as much less of a fool than he's usually portrayed as; he doesn't necessarily lack self-awareness or insight (although he's handicapped by lacking Hamlet's supernaturally sourced information), and if nothing else, he knows his job. He's overly verbose, yes, and slow to get to the point, but (a) part of it is just CYA I can relate to, (b) I shouldn't cast that particular stone, and (c) Hamlet of all people shouldn't cast that particular stone. Hamlet's relationship with Yorick gets a lot of analytical millage, but I think the young prince got part of his love of and skill in verbal jousting from Polonius, whether he knows and accepts it or not. He certainly didn't get it from his father! This directing choice, I think, wouldn't be Shakespeare's, with the foolish counselor being such an obvious character, but I can see their interactions framed by Polonius' perpetual expression of long-suffering patience as the Prince keeps throwing barbs he knows very well Polonius won't reply to in public. Frankly, I think insofar as Hamlet gives a rat's ass about anything in Denmark, he cares about his mother; the only times he really gets into the spirit of things while not being cajoled by the ghost (bad pun not intended) is when he's berating her, when he thinks the King is *in her room* (in contrast with every other time he has been near the King, here he didn't had to talk himself into or out of doing anything, he just went from zero to *swordstab* in half a second) and after the King has accidentally killed her. Even after he foils the King's first death trap for him he's just "meh, I'll get him in a bit."


cass, can you not

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