Reality Conditions

Monday, May 22, 2006

Recent Book Buying

Taking advantadge of a "buy 3 for the price of 2" offer at the university bookshop, I have enlarged my book collection by the following six books for the price of four (which was £35). I have read so far the first two of them.

1) Jared Diamond, Collapse. By the author of the best science book I read in 2005, Guns, Germs and Steel, comes this exploration of how and why human societies meet or avoid enviromental collapse. From lots of interesting examples from little-known bits of history (like the Norse settlers in Greenland, the civilization of Easter Island, or the causes leading to the Rwanda genocide) Diamond attempts to derive lessons for our present and future. Not as excellent as GG&S, but still a highly recommended read.

2) Sophia McDougall, Romanitas. How would the world be like today if the Roman empire had not fell? This novel explores this question, presenting a Rome that rules half of the world (with only Japan as a rival superpower) and that combines present-day technology with institutions like slavery and crucifixion. The concept is fascinating, but unfortunately the book spends too little time exploring the society, history, philosophy, etc. of this Roman Empire and presents instead a formulaic thriller about a murder conspiracy that forces the imperial heir to run away and hide with escaped slaves. The plot does not fail to be gripping after some slowness of pace in the opening, but the premise could have been used for something much better.

3) Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. A fantasy set in a sort of 19th century Britain in which magic is real. I bought it reasoning that a book to which a Crooked Timber seminar was dedicated cannot fail to be good.

4) Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale. Dawkins telling the complete and detailed evolutionary story that lead from the origin of life to us? Surely unmissable.

5) Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. When I read Northern Lights a few years ago I was not overly impressed by it. But afterwards I read so much praise for Pullman's trilogy that I gave its first volume a second chance some months ago, and found it more interesting. Interesting enough to buy these other two volumes to see how the parallel universes concept and the anti-religious implications ara developed. Having read C.S. Lewis' Narnia books last year and knowing that Pullman intended to write a sort of atheist response to Narnia was an important factor that added to my curiosity.


  • Hi Alejandro, I also read Northern Lights some years ago. Despite my friends praising Pullman's books, I found it neither an interesting story nor well written. So, let me know if the other ones are better, maybe I would consider giving them a try. Best, B.

    By Blogger Bee, at 12:54 PM, May 23, 2006  

  • Clarke's book is definitely quite good; it sprawls, so it should have been cut down quite a bit; but it is still delightful reading.

    Pullman's trilogy is fairly good, too, although I think that if you try to read them as a response to Narnia, you might be disappointed. Pullman's real target, I think, is Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. This is the source of a lot of the strength of His Dark Materials -- it has a very grand and epic sweep that is quite lovely; it's a rewritten Paradise Lost, in which God is an imposter who has become tired of his con game, and the Fall is a good thing. It's also the source of a lot of its weakness: the characters get introduced, are interesting for a while, then go running about without doing much.

    By Blogger Brandon, at 11:09 AM, May 24, 2006  

  • Thanks to both for the comments. I hope to write up my opinion on the trilogy when I finish reading it, but it may quite some time before that!

    I regret to say I haven´t read Milton. Hope that does not take too much out of the books.

    By Blogger Alejandro, at 10:51 PM, May 25, 2006  

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is really great and unique.
    besides, do you know how to pronounce the names of the characters in the bk?
    such as "Segundus", "Childermass"

    By Blogger Seal&Vito, at 10:10 AM, May 28, 2006  

  • My copy of JS&MN was bought for the same reason, and was abducted during my visit to Argentina.

    Come to think of it, so was Guns, Germs and Steel.

    By Anonymous Euge, at 10:10 PM, May 31, 2006  

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