Thursday, March 31, 2005

What I'm reading now

As I mentioned yesterday, logging will be light until sometime this weekend or next Monday. There are two reasons. First, my parents are in town, and I won't be spending a lot of time composing those epic posts like the one I did this Monday. The second reason is that I'm gearing up to host Tangled Bank next week. (Did you get your submission in yet? If not, what are you waiting for?) I'll probably manage to post something almost every day, but it's likely to be the short blogging variety of links and brief comments--with the exception of today, for the simple reason that I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and never got around to posting it. What better use for it than right now?

I don't think I've ever done one of these posts since starting Respectful Insolence, but I thought it might be fun to describe the sorts of books Orac likes to read. In the old days (back when I was in high school, college, and medical school), most of my reading fare consisted of science fiction. In those days, I'd devour a book a week on average. Unfortunately, work, and the amount of reading of the medical and scientific literature that I have to do, made reading for pleasure more difficult, and now that I've started bloggin I find that I spend a lot of the timethat I would in the past have spent reading books blogging (and reading magazines like The Atlantic) . Although I still get into science fiction and fantasy, over the last ten years or so as my pace of reading for pleasure slowed down, it seems that those genres have been making up progressively less and less of what I read and history and other topics have been making up more and more. don't get me wrong. I still love science fiction/fantasy, and, in fact, J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is my favorite work of fiction of all time. (I've read it cover to cover at least five times since I first discovered it 30 years ago, and I often pick it up and just read the occasional chapter that I like.) Nothing even comes close. However, as I've gotten older, I've diversified.

In any case, right now, I'm near the end of reading American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman. I'm a relative newcomer to reading about the Lincoln assassination in any depth; consequently there was a lot in here that I didn't know. What makes this a fascinating read is that Kauffmann has, wherever possible, gone back to the original documents about the investigation, roamed the very paths that Booth took while escaping Washington, stayed at the Booth family home, and even burned down a tobacco shed like the one Booth was ultimately trapped in, to see how fast a fire would be likely to consume such a building. He developed a sophisticated database, into which he entered his primary source documents, and, using this tool, found connections that were not apparent before. I had never realized how much Booth had traveled and how very clever he had been putting together his conspiracy, sometimes even binding his conspirators to him by producing evidence that (he knew) investigators would find and use to tie them to the plot even if they later tried to disavow knowledge. On the other hand, he was a vain man, prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. From all this, he weaves together a history that describes the multiple strands as they happen and, during Booth's flight from Washington, reads almost like an adventure novel, as Booth eludes government troops and is finally cornered on Samuel Garrett's farm.

Before that, believe it or not, I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. All in all, I found it to be an enjoyable read. As a latecomer to the Harry Potter series (people I know have been bugging me to read it and I finally caved), I've been trying to work my way through it before the next book comes out this summer. Clearly, the books have been getting steadily better, and this was the best yet. After I finish the Lincoln book, I plan on moving on to the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I've even gotten my wife to start reading the series. She's almost through the second book.

Finally, before these two books, here are some recent reads over the last four or five months or so. I recommend them all:
  1. Frederick Taylor, Dresden: Tuesday February 13, 1945. An excellent comprehensive history of the Dresden bombing.
  2. Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich. The first of a planned three-volume history of the Third Reich. Well-written and detailed, without being dull.
  3. Greg Bear, Darwin's Children. The sequel to Darwin's Radio. Greg Bear is one of my favorite science fiction authors. Darwin's Children is not as good as its predecessor, but still a strong example of hard SF from a master of the genre.
  4. Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945. A little dry for my tastes, but a good history of the last battle for Berlin.
  5. Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. A highly entertaining and informative look at what sorts of things are done with cadavers. Wait. I think I read this a year ago. It doesn't matter. It's so good that I highly recommend it. Consider it a light-hearted look at death...
On deck, sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, we have (in no particular order):
  1. Sherwin Nuland, The Mysteries Within
  2. Norman Davies, Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
  3. Joe Haldeman, The Forever War
  4. Robert J. Sawyer, Calculating God
  5. Max Hastings, Armaggedon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945
  6. Gregory Benford, Across the Sea of Suns
  7. Robert J. Sawyer, Hominids
  8. Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness
  9. Stephen R. Donaldson, The Runes of the Earth (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 1). OK, I haven't bought this one yet, but it's on my list of must-buy books. I really liked the first two Thomas Covenant trilogies.)
  10. Deborah E. Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.
Hey, this is fun. Maybe I'll do a series of posts about my favorite books over the years.

5 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 3/31/2005 2:26 PM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

The Third Reich is one of my topics of interest - Evan's book has been criticized because he does not read German. Have you heard of Michael Burleigh's history of the Reich? It is supposed to be excellent, and is on my shelf.

I'm reading Ralf Georg Reuth's bio of Goebbels right now. After that perhaps The Portage to San Cristobal of A. H.

 

At 3/31/2005 10:07 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Actually, I did read Michael Burleigh's history. It was quite good, but very dry. It was rather a struggle to get through.

I read The Portage to San Cristobal of A. H. many years ago. It's quite good.

 

At 4/01/2005 5:08 AM, Anonymous firefall said...

(a) Is there any point reading Evans, after slogging my way through Shirer? (seriously - I'm just a dilettante on Big Two).

(b) move The Forever War to the top of your pile (and consider buying '1968' to read as a counterpoint afterwards). Haldeman is far from my favourite author, but TFW is far and away his best work, and is simply outstanding.

 

At 4/05/2005 9:00 AM, Anonymous Ricardo Azevedo said...

If you're a fan of the "Lord of the Rings" and the Harry Potter series I would strongly recommend Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

 

At 4/21/2005 1:46 PM, Blogger HaloJonesFan said...

I, too, recommend "His Dark Materials", if you're interested in something that is a complete contrast to the Harry Potter books in style, tone, content, assumed reading level, enjoyability, and quality.

 

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