After a good introductory essay on collecting, railroads, and photography, Brouws presents vernacular photos of trains, railroaders, and the railroad landscape. The black and white photos, which range from the early 20th century to the early 1960s, were taken by raifans, railroad employees, and that most prolific of artists, “anonymous”. There’s a lot of variety in the collection, and a lot of quality.
I enjoyed this book about the references to Troy (modern Hisarlik, Turkey) in contemporary documents (Hittite tablets, etc.) and the internal evidence in the Iliad for the antiquity of the story (names used that were antique even in Homer’s day, for example). Despite its deliberate and methodical pace it’s a fascinating book. Latacz makes a good case that the Iliad — written around 800 BC — contains elements that predate Homer and that it’s plausible that the city known as Wilusa to the Hittites was invaded by Greeks circa 1300 BC. I do wish that there was more in the book about the identification of the Troy VII layer at Hisarlik with the Troy of the Trojan War; Latacz does write about Manfred Korfman’s thesis that Troy VII is part of a larger city than previously thought.
This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. Harper synthesizes the latest climate, archaeological, and DNA research to tell the story of the influence of disease and climate on the fall of Rome. He avoids the trap of saying climate or disease “caused” the fall. He does claim that they weakend the empire and that at some point they combined with political factors to rob it of its resilience. He also points out how an earlier benign climate, specifically the “Roman Climate Optimum” from 250 BC to 450 AD contributed to the success of the Roman Empire.
The breadth of this book is remarkable; I learned new (to me) things about history, geology, climatology, astronomy, and biology. But he never ignores the human factors of fails to focus on how climate and disease affected individuals as well as the empire.
This is an engaging memoir about a classics professor and his father. The father takes the son’s class in “The Odyssey” and they subsequently take an Odyssey-themed Mediterranean cruise. Mendelsohn presents his relationship with his dad in counterpoint to that of Ulysses and his son Telemachus.
Mendolsohn’s refusal to use quotation marks is an irritating affectation. Despite that, I liked the book, both as a memoir and as a book about Homer’s epic.
The book plods, it relies way too much on participants’ self-justifying after-war memoirs (especially Churchill’s), and it barely mentions anyone below the rank of captain. It reads like a book that was written to fulfill a contract rather than because of the author’s passion for the subject (unlike “Dreadnought”).
This book is about the border region where Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey meet. It’s more reportage than travelogue and though I prefer the structure of the travelogue (e.g., “Where the West Ends” on a similar topic) I learned a lot from the book even if I didn’t care for Kassabova’s impressionistic/anecdotal approach.
These borderlands are an interesting area with a bloody, tragic history where refugees mix with people holding on to rural ways of life in the face of urbanization and assaults on the environment and where former border guards live with the memories of people they killed or captured who were trying to escape Communism. It’s also a region whose population has been churned by various forced migrations, ethnic cleansing, and coerced religious conversions.
This is a collection of interviews with the creators, cast, and crew of The Best TV Show Ever Made. It’s interesting reading for a fan of the show (I’ve watched the entire series twice), but it is just a collection of interviews, interviews that sometimes contradict each other and are of varying quality.
I liked it for what it was, and appreciated it as a chance to see how a collaborative work is made, but would have enjoyed it more had the author provided more of his own reporting and interpretation.
This is an entertainingly skeptical look at Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It’s the story of naive libertarians basing “currency” (yeah, right) on dodgy software architectures. What could go wrong?
The best way to summarize the book is to quote a couple of paragraphs from the conclusion:
The one constant is: new ideas in finance bring new starry-eyed naïfs, and new predators. New technologies will keep being used as an excuse to put an extra layer of flim-flam over old scams, in an ongoing historical reenactment of the reasons for each and every financial regulation.
Everything to do with cryptocurrencies and blockchains is the domain of fast-talking conmen. If anyone tries to sell you on either, … run.
This book has three interleaved narratives: a very good account of what Wall Street was like in the years leading up to and immediately after the Crash of 1929, the story of how FDR’s administration imposed regulation on the “gentlemen’s club” New York Stock Exchange, and the story of how Richard Whitney, respected exchange president, ended up in prison for embezzling money.
The story of how Wall Street worked in the early years of the 20th century and what the crash was like from the floor of the exchange was for me the most entertaining part. It was a time when investors formed “pools” and used other mostly legal (then) tricks to manipulate stock prices. You can see these same maneuvers today in the world of cryptocurrency.
Whitney’s story was sadly interesting. It reminded me a lot of the Bernie Madoff story.
A side note: this is the one thousandth post since I started this blog (then called “Reader’s Diary”) back in 2001 .