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Books! (War, Money, and Reading Edition)

China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Peter C. Perdue, 2018/#19): A very explicitly and consistently non-teleological description of how the Quin did and didn't take over Central Eurasia, told, as much as the sources allow, from the point of view of everybody involved (non-homogeneous as each group, by itself, was): the Quin (also/and/as Manchus, the Russians, the multiple Mongol loosely defined and always-shifting alliances and individuals, the Tibetan kingdom and their factions. The author makes a good point of how dealing with Central Eurasia was part of the impetus behind what we now call State formation for both Russia and China, and that the Zunghars (eventually the best-structured, and more nearly proto-state of the post-Chinggis Mongolian groups) were also attempting to do so; it's just that the others had better resources, and their treaties (anachronistic retro-nationalist readings aside), did much to curtail the geographical and strategic mobility that was so useful for them). Understanding a bit the historical roots contemporary China's obsession with Tibet, if nothing else, made reading the book worth it; Tibetan Buddhism was a pretty important lever of influence on the Mongolian tribes, and when eventually the Quin took over it, it became an structural part of their "gathering" of Mongolian tribes into the civilized world. The northwest was a dangerous, traumatic place for non-Yuan dynasties, so finally conquering it (insofar as they did) was re-framed post facto as the epochal closure of a preordained "natural" domain. (Frankly, I'm so used to "see" Tibet from the Western-centric-at-one-remove point of view of India, that the fact that it was in many ways even more strongly connected to the Mongols required a bit of an obvious-in-retrospect reorientation). A funny tidbit: When the fifth Dalai Lama died, his secular-right-hand-sort-of-person didn't tell the Kangxi emperor, and kept up the diplomatic-religious correspondence, for nine years. They claimed it was under the not-late-just-about-to-reincarnate-Lama's orders, but Kangxi was furious, and it was in fact one of the reasons/excuses/justifications for the later, more direct takeover; I semi-seriously semi-believe Chinese rulers have kept up an specific grudge about that ever since. Also, the Treaty of Nerchinsk between the Tsar and the Quin (which, by setting up a relatively well-defined frontier, the reciprocal return of deserters, and, most importantly, kept the Russians from helping any Mongols making a funnny move towards or away from the Quin if they wanted to keep access to the fur trade (basically, the Russians went to Central Eurasia purely for the money; Orthodox Christianity was a retcon. the Chinese cared about security), was so lethal a move against the Mongols) was discussed in Latin, because neither side wanted to use the others' native tongue(s) (or maybe trusted whatever translators they had gotten), but there was a couple of Jesuits there, and I think a Pole working with the Russians who knew Latin, so Latin it was. The Jesuits worked hard to keep everybody from talking directly to anybody else, and got some sweet concessions from the Chinese along the side (not that it helped them over the long term, but kudos on an spirited and very Bene Gesserit attempt; actually they were there because the Kangxi emperor took weekly geometry classes from them, and had them do an state-of-the-art map of China (Beijing is at longitude zero, of course), something that every other empire and would-be empirewas into at the time, by the way; the book spends quite a bit of time on things like cartography, historiography, and even currency systems — all part and parcel not just of how the Quin took over Central Eurasia, but of how they attempted and/or succeeded to make it mean what they wanted it to). I guess the point of this awfully structured paragraph is that it's an interesting book, long but worth the read.

Minotauro 10 (Spanish SF magazine sourced off The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 2018/#20): Not really good, but you can't fault their creative ambition.

The Medieval Super-Companies: A Study of the Peruzzi Company of Florence (Edwin S. Hunt, 2018/#21): A relatively but not overly detailed study of the creation (not quite rise) and fall of the Peruzzi Company, one of the Big Three huge, geographically dispersed, multi-line companies in Medieval Florence (not as large as uncritical historians would have them be, but certainly large enough; the later Medici Bank had better press and a higher profile, but less size — not being engaged in commodity trading, it didn't need to). The author criticizes the usual narrative about their fall due to Edward III's debt delinquency (loans to the English Crown having been a late, and rather last-ditch, move by the Peruzzi Company), and adscribes it to price controls on grain at both supply (Naples) and demand (Florence); this low-margin, high-volume, politically sensitive business was the core of their economic growth, and the justification of their size (the other one being wool and cloth, although at a lower volume and with lower total profits), but as monarchies became better at extracting revenue themselves and managing their expenditures slightly better, the grain-monopolies-in-exchange-for-lax-personal-credit model was no longer necessary for them (that said, companies were close to, but not identical with, their founding families, so even if in theory there was unlimited liability, in practice Florentine businesspeople were shrewd enough, and the family was diversified enough politically and economically, for the Peruzzi to remain wealthy and politically important even after the company closed). I think this shows a large degree of continuity between Medieval and typically Early Modern concerns — urban logistics and finding money for increasingly expensive wars was less a typically modern issue than a continuously deepening problem, each solution just raising the bar for the next round (this increasingly efficient conversion of economic resources into sophisticated, lethal warfare might be part of the mechanisms behind the competitive advantage/troubling preponderance of Western traders to resort to organized violence noted in The Political Economy of Merchant Empires).

The Preserving Machine (Philip K. Dick, 2018/#22): A collection of short and slightly-less-short stories, all quite good (within the constraints of his linguistic and cosmological beats). PKD is pretty much unsurpassed at having unsettling things happen to unsympathetic characters as their cosmos unravels in non unrelated ways. That worming feeling of ontological ugliness sapping into everything, the Ubik feeling, is a signature move. By the way: I don't follow the academic work on him, but, at least in popular consciousness, I suspect he's highly underrated as an anti-capitalistic, anti-totalitarian writer (his concerns with work and the economy have to do with the way they structure the universe almost in an objective way, whatever that might mean, in sanity-sapping, soul-destroying ways; also, let's not forget that he had Nixon literally be the Demiurge or at least a manifestation of; what he would have made of the human walking simulacrum of a president thinly stretched over a raging void of emotional emptiness that is Trump is probably best not thought of).

Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England (David Allan, 2018/#23): Despite what other historiography says, the XVII-th to mid-XVIIIth centuries in England seem to have been something of a high watershed for the activity of commonplacing; even as tastes shifted from the Greco-Latin classics to the newly dominant vernacular poets and periodicals (and the retrospective canonization of Shakespeare), the practice of writing down significant fragments in some sort of indexed structure (fun fact: Locke came up with an alphabetic index system that, of course, had no a priori categories; this mostly replaced the old High Renaissance categories) continued, related both to old practices of oral culture — rhetoric being, ever since the Greeks, the very pragmatic root of the common-place, and common-placing — and newer forms of text-driven self-analysis and self-fashioning a la Montaigne, although leveraging strong threads of private Protestant piety (and regular preaching as requiring a constant stream of quotable materials and ideas, a la blogging). The author postulates that it was only when paper and printing technologies collapsed the price of the printed page enough to make book sharing no longer mandatory, and with the rise of the novel — a longer, not really commonplaceable form that encouraged impressionistic immersion rather than reworking and reuse — that commonplace really want away. This isn't part of the book, but I found the hypertextual practices of quotation, re-work, reuse, and commentary pretty similar to modern practices; LiveJournal can sometimes be a commonplace book of course, but also social networks, even if the commonplace was in principle assumed to be private (although in practice it was often shared).

A Europe of Courts, a Europe of Factions, Political Groups at Early Modern Centres of Power (1550-1700) (Ed. Rubén González Cuerva and Alexander Koller, 2018/#24): In short, faction was a form of invective ("you're a faction!", "no, *you* are!") and analytical framework deployed by relative outsiders (e.g. ambassadors, historians, or losers in political battles), rather than long-lasting, ideologically coherent groupings with clear agendas and strategies; in practice, all alliances were contingent, personal, and shifting, established across multiple, not always compatible fronts of material and social interest, dynastic loyalties, nascent forms of "national" (or rather territorial) identities, religion, and a long etc (as you can imagine, the Hapsburg tentacles added a lot of complexity to this; the issue of the Twelve Years' Truce with the Dutch involved multiple courts, treasuries, religious priorities and what not, never mind the fact that after a generation of war, and given the way large-scale war could be so damn profitable within the loose accounting mechanisms of the era, there was a lot of present and future money to be thought of). The closest you get in the period to the traditional parties are the Albaist and Ebolists in Philip II's Spain, which did have conflicting views about the empire (with the former emphasizing a more Spain-led, homogeneous, militantly catholic counterpart to the rather more composite-ish idea of the latter; but of course everything was also personal and cultural and whatnot).


The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350-1750 (Ed. James D. Tracy, 2018/#13): Some of the essays are conceptually old-fashioned and not really enlightening, but others are quite fascinating. The main analytical surprise for me (and, as second-order observation, a note on not really post-colonial aspects of some of my historical understanding) is to how large a degree merchant empires were based not on any advantage in sailing, financial, or commercial technology, but rather on military technology (better guns), and above all on more savage military practices. Battles in which the objective was to kill enemy forces, as opposed to slave them or just drive them away so you can take booty, were relatively rare in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, specially when unrelated to outright invasion. The quantum duality between trade and organized violence, at that scale and with that level of intensity, was something new in, say, the Indian Ocean (apparently, it was something new also in the Mediterranean a bit before, when traders from the North-Western countries of Europe began to appear in force, pun intended). At least in areas where their sparse forces could make good their often over-grandiose claims, European traders were quite happy to bully their way wherever they couldn't compete or entice markets (the later Opium Wars were just a continuation of previous practices in that sense). True technological and organizational superiority wouldn't come until Industrial Revolution. Another completely new to me, and, I understand, somewhat controversial observation is that Tokugawa Japan was probably the second-largest exporter of silver of its age, all of which eventually went, also, to China. So we have a world market in silver in which increased Chinese demand (caused in part by the collapse of previous developments in paper money) affected, because of China's size and prosperity, the economy and long-range trading patterns of both Tokugawa Japan and Hapsburg Spain. The author of that essay notes that control of the silver mines probably helped or even made possible the unification of Japan by the faction that did, as well as its economic progress, and noted how it fueled and extended the global and somewhat anti-capitalistic (or, rather, anti-secular (or rather, specifically and intensely Catholic, let's keep anachronisms to a minimum)) Hapsburg wars, with almost fatal consequences for the Northern Atlantic economies (that's a very fair point, although I would qualify it by saying that, because warfare/trade/empire at the time was, ideologies aside, always "outsourced" — Hapsburg Spain actually involved, enriched, and developed everything from Genoese bankers and (handwavingly) Italian engineers to (even more handwavingly) German "military entrepreneurs" — so, while not harmless to, say, the Netherlands and England, and of course horrifyingly destructive in Germany itself, the Hapsburg wars were as "modern" in practice as they weren't in ideological intent).

Le Fanu's Gothic: The Rhetoric of Darkness (Victor Sage, 2018/#14): A critical look at the Gothic narrative techniques (in addition to the Gothic narrative elements) in Le Fanu's fiction. The author makes a very interesting analysis of how Le Fanu plays with narrative authority — the voices in his stories don't always know what's going on, and they might or might not be aware of this fact, or warn the reader. His stories are Gothic not just in plots and settings, but in how they work one of Gothic's central meta-plots, the revenant or unholy resurrection of a vengeful, repressed past, into the very mechanism of the story — they are (through multiple, not always well-justified evidenciary layers) themselves past events or even past narrations, which the act of reading (by ourselves) bring back to life, in the sense that it often activates readings that are at odds with what the surrounding frame would have them be and do. To be more concrete: when an skeptic writes down semi-clinically a superstitious oral tradition about a ghost, the oral tradition is in some sense dead, and the text is supposed to be a museum exhibit or painting of a passive and manipulable thing, but if Le Fanu (as opposed to the skeptic supposedly writing it) does things right, then we read the story as potentially (Watsonianly) true, and hence "alive"; that story is as much of a resurrected spirit as a ghost. Le Fanu does this a lot, and sometimes through multiple layers of indirection. An interesting side analysis is how this relates to the Protestant Ascendancy in both its (bloody) origin and end; after such traumatic societal events, is it surprising that Ireland felt haunted in and by itself?

Ciencia Ficción Selección 26 (2018/#15): A handful of SF shorts stories from 1957 to 1975. Indifferently written and not better translated, but something of a guilty pleasure; after all, I pretty much grew up reading collections like this one.

Earthworks (Brian Aldiss, 2018/#16): Everybody is broken in this world physically, mentally, and emotionally, including the world itself — almost total loss of agricultural fertility, together with sustained high reproductive rates, will do that; this is a world of chronic, massive, hunger when working ruthlessly and inhumanly at peak efficiency. A bleak and very specific if not uninteresting scenario, and, as usual in Aldiss' novels, reality isn't always solid, nor agency is necessarily a thing. An interesting point is that African countries are the world leaders (not through a Wakanda of sorts, but rather as they are the last countries still capable of feeding their populations relatively well). Perhaps not a classic, but a good one.

Nightfall and Other Stories (Isaac Asimov, 2018/#17): The usual Asimov disclaimers apply: neither an stylist nor a subtle weaver of plots (his stories are, mostly, wrappers for an intellectual puzzle, even the book-length ones), he's — if you'll pardon the overuse of the vernacular with its outdated (but in this case chronologically appropriate) and often exclusionist implications — a nerdy nerd writing very nerdy things for a readership of nerds, and the latter is, even after he's no longer the force he was (his was the first famous person's death I felt that touched me; I remember thinking when I read the news that I would eventually read all of his books, which given his legendarily prolific nature, felt like something was lost to the, or my, world (I never got around to that anyway, and I doubt I will; let's be honest, a lot of his books are at best serviceable, and the science popularization ones — which he himself claimed he wrote just after learning about things, and then forgot everything about right away — were enjoyable, but are already of at most completist value)) what makes him enjoyable (plus or maybe mostly a lot of nostalgia). I apologize for the awful syntax of the previous phrase.

Ghostly Tales Vol. 1 (Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 2018/#18): Just a couple of stories. Atmospheric, I guess, but rather bland (although that's of course contextual, and after all Gothic is more about atmosphere than event, more or less, sort of, in a way).


Steam Power and Sea Power: Coal, the Royal Navy, and the British Empire, c. 1870-1914 (Steven Gray, 2018/#7): The thing about steam power for warships is that it's much better than sail, but it requires a hell of a logistics infrastructure to keep your ships coaled. Specially if you, like the Royal Navy, insist on using insofar as possible only the best coal. Luckily for the Royal Navy, that turned out to be Welsh coal (with some New Zealand coal a close second) — it burns hotter, handles better, generates less soot and a cleaner, less revealing smoke — something they discovered through a continuous very deliberate set of experiments with every type of coal in the world they could try (I'm reminded of the biological crossover experiments attempted in the Imperial Botanical Gardens, particularly their very serious research program regarding tea and India). That was a stroke of geological/geopolitical luck, but it did mean setting up and defending (the urgency of which didn't really occur to them institutionally until the 1880s or so) a literally global network of coaling stations. Unlike every other fleet, they had then independent, reliable access to coal that couldn't easily be denied by enemies (the American Great White Fleet suffered quite the embarrassments during their world tour — great technology, but poor global logistics — and the Russian fleet during their war with Japan was heavily harassed and slowed down by the British' hampering of access to their coal resources), which proved helpful up to and during the First World War (that said, during war the technology moved towards oil, which is even more convenient but has a different geopolitical footprint, which left the British wrong-footed compared to the American, and led to, e.g., the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and derived... happenings). Besides an interesting and at times detailed look at the logistics and geopolitics of the infrastructure underlying coal (as the saying goes, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics (but if they ignore sociology then they end up in unwinnable quagmires... but that's a different issue)), as well as the coaling stations as "places of Empire" where sailors would interact with their peers (hierarchies of rank and race: as important to the British as you'd imagine), places, cultures, etc. Quite interesting.

Teutonic Knights (William Urban, 2018/#8): The author is something of an apologetic, and has a somewhat conservative approach to both society and historiography, but the topic is interesting enough. It's fascinating how the Order shifted from the Holy Land to Prussia almost by a series of accidents, and the lights its successes and failures shine on the rest of the Middle Ages; it was never a major player, but it could be a revealing one.

Secretaries and Statecraft in the Early Modern World (Ed. Paul M. Dover, 2018/#9): A collection of articles on informal proto-Prime Ministers, chancellors, highly-placed scribes, etc., from the Mughal court to the Spanish one. Less a survey than a sampling, and with a strong emphasis on the mechanics of paperwork and information flow (specially in terms of what we call foreign relationships). Recommended (and, to my more-ignorant-than-usual eyes, revealing about the Persianate cultural ecumene, to mix cultural reference frameworks). Quoth that Games of Thrones scene, *power* is power, but even under Early Modern frameworks of political legitimacy, the increasing complexity of economies and armies made more sophisticated systems of information management useful to the sovereign, and that of course could be turned into some degree of conditional personal power (a procedural version of the familiar model of the bourgeois-monarchical alliance). The contemporary political and even psychological analogies are obvious, if not necessarily linear.

The House on the Borderland (William Hope Hodgson, 2018/#10): An earlier, slightly less unhinged, more Stapledon-ish, and more English Lovecraft. This tale is told a bit more cleverly than it looks at first, and it's perhaps significantly more ambitious in weirdly throwaway ways — plenty of weird things happen during its short span, each enough to build a story on, none of them really fully explored. Not an astoundingly good book, but an interesting one.

In Dante's Wake: Reading from Medieval to Modern in the Augustinian Tradition (John Freccero, 2018/#11): A collection of essays; some of them are directly about Dante, but the common thread is rather the concept of literary interiority — the autobiography/confession/etc. as less reflection than construction of a self, and the ways this is and isn't possible (in a Christian framework) in the absence of Divine grace. I enjoyed the most the bits about Dante; the description of the fundamental difference between Dante-the-pilgrim and Dante-the-author — how the former can even sympathize with people in Hell even as it was the latter who *put* them there, the somewhat non-obvious for a secular reader like myself fact that, regardless of how they are described and what they say, the fact that they are in Hell undermines terminally any possible self- or other-justification — seems quite on point.

The Lone Wolf (Louis Joseph Vance, 2018/#12): A by-the-numbers, age-bound, but nonetheless at times entertaining tale about a Master Thief, but one that skips over most of his career. It's both very Pulp and rather sentimental — the skills of a (demi-)Lupin with the emotional makeup of a romantic novel protagonist. The mixture is rather weird, but the tale wasn't unenjoyable.


The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (Daniel Goffman, 2018/#1): Focuses on similitudes and relationships as much as in differences and distance; after all, the Ottomans weren't just Islamic (rather heterodox ones at the beginning, although this changed after they took over the Sunni sacred sites) and Turkish, but they also took from the Byzantine empire not just Constantinople, but also peoples, government structures, and so on, and even, in a way, their role as heirs of the Roman empire and as the hub of the Eastern Mediterranean. The author emphasizes the adaptability of the Ottomans, a necessary trait given that at one point most of the people they ruled were Christian. They were helped in this by Islam's approach to non-Muslims in their territories, which under the more flexible readings of its tenets can be allowed to exist lightly taxed (compared to some of the Christian states they took over, specially when Orthodox ruled Latin or vice versa; the Ottomans conquered so much so quickly in part because and most often where they were fighting societies where rulers badly abused the ruled, even by the standards of the age) and in some minor but significant ways self-governed, although of course not equal to Muslims. Not tolerance in the modern sense, by any degree, but still better than what most Christian societies offered at the time. The author makes the interesting point that this sort of formal allowances given by the Ottomans to traders from Europe might have inspired some of Venice's seminal developments in diplomatic practice. Paraphrasing, ultimately the Ottoman Empire didn't collapse as much as failed to keep up with Northwest Europe, hardly an indicator of inherent civilizational inferiority when you consider that pretty much nobody in the Eastern Mediterranean did, Italian city-states included.

The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (Timothy Brook, 2018/#2): A look at China during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It's a very good book; it mixes (without overdetermining developments) ecological changes, cultural changes, economics, and long-distance interactions in interesting ways. In many senses, what we (i.e., me, a not very informed layperson) think of as classic China is really a reflection of/construct of the late Ming, so seeing how they came to be, and in response to what, is illuminating. Besides, the book begins with dragon sightings, and what more can anybody ask for?

Mediterranean Identities in the Premodern Era: Entrepôts, Islands, Empires (Ed. John Watins and Kathryn L. Reyerson, 2018/#3): Some of the essays are interesting: a look at the multiple material translatios Venetians used to define their identity, the fascinating issues of janissary identity, the pragmatics of polyglot rulership, even, to a degree, the strange "gineteadas aren't Moorish, they are *Trojan*, read the Aeneid" thing of post-Reconquista Spain, or the a posteriori troublesome in their historical echoes biological metaphors of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega); other were, I'm afraid, quite bad. But the good ones justify picking up the book.

The Chinese State in Ming Society (Timothy Brook, 2018/#4): What it says in the can. The Ming state was both absurdly intrusive (for Medieval/Early Modern standards) and quite weak. The dynastic founder's initial reorganization of spatial arrangements is fascinating as an attempt (as is his pivot from pro-Buddhism (as an orphan he lived in a monastery) to awfully suspicious of unregistered, vagrant monks), but more successful than latter attempts to keep up to date registers of who lived where, or, as tax bases changed, what was raised where and who owned what. Given the size of the Empire and the sparseness of bureaucracy — the central government's lowest functionary wasn't somebody you'd necessarily ever see unless you were part of the local gentry — mapping taxable resources was both critical and impossible; all things said, I don't think they did a bad job. Ditto when it comes to rice polders and larger common infrastructure; getting local gentry to paid for them, specially as social arrangements shifted and things became more mercantile and wealth-driven by the late Ming, was a headache. Even censorship was, practically speaking, outside the power of the late Ming, given the fascinatingly huge and pervasive commercial book sector (the size and number of private libraries, and the sheer social spread of reading as a pleasure activity in late Ming China, makes the West at the time look positively ridiculous; I knew there had been a catch-up process, but I hadn't internalized how large it had to be. The fact that schools had to first build libraries because, as gifts from the Emperor, the official books coming from the court (the Four Treasures) had to be appropriately housed is kind of funny. Another tidbit that struck me: the way some Emperors sold what were basically "monk certificates" as a way to raise extra revenue — because monks didn't pay taxes, everybody understood that this was a way to pay, as it were, all your taxes in advance, forever, so nobody took those certificates into account when estimating the monk population (as moving, non-tax-paying/corvee-able? people, monks were rather suspect). Very highly recommended.

Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952 (Ed. Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, 2018/#5): Short version: the British were pretty much indefensible on this, but then, so was almost everybody else. I hadn't realized the structural importance of opium not just at the level of international trade, but also for colony- and state-building in South and East Asia. In many places it was the first mass consumption "recreational" commodity, as well as a necessary ergogenic for early forms of exploitative export-driven enterprises — more significantly, addicting (already indebted) workers in mines and plantations to opium meant that essentially work was free; this made viable previously unprofitable projects. It was so profitably taxable, in fact, that pretty much every colonial, occupation, or native regime found difficult to reject the revenues, and most did a back and forth between different forms of opium farming and government monopolies (with justifications varying between "control it because we need the money" and "control is so we can eventually shut it down"), and, generally speaking, only did away with opium for good when popular opinion shifted drastically against it. A very special mention goes to Du Yuesheng, the most powerful boss of the Green Gang in Shanghai during the 1920s and 30s, incredibly well-connected politically, and all around an slippery son of a bitch. One of the articles refers to him as "the Chinese Al Capone," but that'd only be true if Al Capone had had or controlled banks, newspapers, logistics companies, and a huge cetera.

Revolution: The History of England from the Battle of the Boyne to the Battle of Waterloo (Peter Ackroyd, 2018/#6): Another volume of his history of England; as readable and interesting as the previous ones.


Books! (Mostly Murder Edition)

The Crusader States (Malcolm Barber, 2017/#93): I'm left wondering if they were at all possible. With "armies" consisting sometimes of a handful of knights and a political system that led to almost continuous infighting due to potentially unstable chains of loyalty as power bases and dynastic arrangement shifted almost daily, the insane chain of politico-military logistics between their European power bases and the East was perhaps an impossible problem from the beginning. I would put it this way: a Western knight was a fantastic piece of military technology (and an acceptable-to-unstable one for political rule) but one that had to be produced in Europe and shipped at a tremendous expense, not the least costs the fact that it was necessarily produced in reduced numbers, and was the bedrock of existing political arrangements in their homelands. You could send enough of them to win battles, but it was a very rough environment, so to hold territory you had to keep a continuous stream, and that was perhaps more than what the production base in the Europe could sustain without risking its own stability (semi-metaphorically speaking). It's a testament to the strength of their religious commitments that they did as much as they actually managed to (and in fact, as I wrote elsewhere, crusades with saner logistical routes (Spain) or against weaker opponents (the Baltic) did work.

Gothic Romanticism: Architecture, Politics, and Literary Form (Tom Duggett , 2017/#94): An interesting look at the complex relationship of the English (focusing mainly on Wordsworth) with the multiple meanings they assigned to the term Gothic, from barbaric obscurantism (Spain) to an "spiritually vital", "organic", politico-cultural tradition (i.e., *not* atheistic, start-from-scratch Revolutionary France); you can understand how they Peninsular War was a bit of a pickle, although they seemed very taken with the "Gothic heroism" of the Spanish despite their distaste for the "Gothic obscurity" of Catholic rule. It makes large, speculative points about Wordsworth's work I'm in no position to comment upon, not that any idea about architectural-literary isomorphims isn't going to find me receptive. By and large, though, it's perhaps best seen as a milder reflection of the overall blood-soil-and-metaphysics darkening of European civilization from Romanticism up to the not unrelated World Wars, and as a literary appendix to A Most Dangerous Book's comment on the let's say problematic influence of Tacitus' Germania.

The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures (ed. Mike Ashley, 2017/#95): What the title says. Mostly straightforwardly pseudocanonical, with some digressions about early and late cases, but not really any attempts at canon subversion. Unavoidably uneven, but overall pleasant.

The Vacant See in Early Modern Rome: A Social History of the Papal Interregnum (John M. Hunt, 2017/#96): Interestingly, Early Modern Romans had this idea about the sede vacante being a period where you could pretty much do whatever you wanted, and it was all legal. That wasn't true, but, as (a) most Papal government processes stalled during the period, (b) the Conclave and the Popolo Romano (the usually very very powerless city notables) fought each other over issues of jurisdiction during this brief period where they did matter, somewhat, and (c) everybody from Ambassadors to Cardinals to whoever could afford to brought hired soldiers and hired thugs (assuming you could tell the difference), it turned out to be slightly true de facto, enough that levels of violence spiked during the interregnum. It seems people would sometimes deliberately wait for years until the next sede vacante in order to take vengeance for some slight or another (money issues, insults, affairs, you name it). Also spiked: pasquinades and general invective, mostly about the just-dead Pope (specially if he was one of the really hated ones, like Paul IV); still illegal and frowned upon rather violently by the Inquisition, but harder to stop when everybody's doing it. What they did manage to eventually stop: betting. All in all, a quite interesting look at a rather unique political event — Early Modern Monarchies were all about the continuity of the king's sacral body, etc, but the Church took the discontinuity quite seriously.

Hamlet in Purgatory (Stephen Greenblatt, 2017/#97): Ultimately centered on Hamlet's Ghost, of course, but touching more generally in the life and, pun somewhat intended, after-life of the concept of Purgatory in England; it might be impossible to understand the Reformation without the innovation, and resistance to, Purgatory. I hadn't know there was a supposed phyisical entrance to Purgatory in Lough Derb, set up by Saint Patrick (a very classical/medieval thing, of course). Not uninteresting in terms of pure Shakesperean criticism, too.

The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms: The Struggle for Dominion, 1200-1500 (David S. H. Abulafia, 2017/#98): Made me reframe a bit how I see that part of history; that Sicily and the south of Italy were among the wealthiest and strongest areas of Europe at the beginning of the period is of course well-known to historians, but feels weird nonetheless (a reflection of biases in popular historiography and later political history). That said, the absurdly complicated and at time apparently dynastic maneuverings of the age does explain why everybody and their second cousin on the distaff side were trying to grab a piece of Italy (or rather what they thought they had a legitimate-ish enough shot at it). We need to get Naples as an springboard to get Jerusalem isn't any more or less strange than everything else going on at that moment, what with the two Sicilies and the weirdness that is pre-Spain Spain (not entirely irrelevant to the recent Spanish nearxit).

Gambit (Rex Stout, 2017/#99): Satisfactory.

Trouble in Triplicate (Rex Stout, 2017/#100): A reread.

A Maze of Death (Philip K. Dick, 2017/#101): Some things that for Philip K. Dick are demiurgic, vaguely menacing, and fundamentally alien(-to-the-spark) constructs: gods, drugs, marriage, machines, schizophrenia, companies, advertising, jobs, robots, doctors, pets, sex, history, time, manufacturing. This isn't a borgesian list, but a concrete, if partial, one. The observation can be taken too literally, of course (although I think he eventually did) but it's empirically true that a lot of our subjective experience, including things that seem to lie at the core of our understanding of ourselves and our lives, is (a) mediated through conceptual and perceptual constructs, (b) partially the result of historical evolution and change, (c) but also at least partially designed, (d) by people and (collective, nonhuman) entities not necessarily with our best interests in mind. Just saying.

Whose body? (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#102): cf below.

Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#103): cf below.

Unnatural Death (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#104): cf below.

Lord Peter Views the Body (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#105): cf below.

The Unpleasentness at the Bellona Club (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#106): cf below.

Strong Poison (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#107): cf below.

Five Red Herrings (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#108): cf below.

Have His Carcase (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#109): cf below.

Murder Must Advertise (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#110): cf below.

The Nine Tailors (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#111): cf below.

Gaudy Night (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#112): cf below.

Busman's Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#113): The Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane series surprised me in a positive way. It is an archetypal English cozy detective mysteries sort of affair, to a very large degree, and also thoroughly rooted in its historical and social context, but it's also a sympathetic criticism of genre, society, and characters. Without spoiling anything, the ending of Busman's Honeymoon is, not a retcon of the series' arc, but rather a reminder of what we were told, and knew, was going on through the books (and not just re: the romantic plot, which is on its own also a very interesting and extremely rare one; we need more Harriet Vanes). Highly recommended.

Anywhen (James Blish, 2017/#114): A collection of SF short stories; not classics, but (mostly) in the classic style.

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.



cass, can you not

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