Monday, February 23, 2009

This Week at the Library (23/2)

Books this Update:
  • Mythology, Edith Hamilton
  • The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, Peter Quammen
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill
I began this week with Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which is concerned chiefly with the Greco-Roman legends. Hamilton is an author I have read before in The Way of the Greeks and The Echo of Greece. Although the book recounts Greek and Roman legends, she tacks on -- curiously enough -- a little bit about the Norse gods as well. After introducing the reader to a full cast of characters, Hamilton begins to retell the legends of old, organized smartly by theme. The book reads well, and I recommend it to those who are interested.

Next I read (belatedly) The Reluctant Mr. Darwin. I intended to read it for Darwin Week, but alas! My sense of time is not what it once was and I forgot to check the book out early enough to have it read. This is a very readable Darwin biography that concentrates on him and the development of The Origin of Species, beginning with the return of the Beagle to England. The development of the theory takes place over four chapters, while the sixth gives a history of The Origin of Species with comment on its style. The last chapters are of Darwin's decline and death. It is quite brief, and chiefly of interest to those who are interested in the making of the theory itself and not so much interested in his early life.

I ended the week by continuing in Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History series, this week reading Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. Re-reading may or may not be more appropriate, as I remember picking this book up five or so years ago. The book is a survey of classical Greek history, beginning in the mists of the past with The Illiad and ending with a Greece that is assimilating into Roman culture. Along the way, Cahill attempts to demonstrate how Greeks ideas have influenced our perceptions of "How to Fight", "How to Feel", "How to Party", "How to Rule", "How to Think", and "How to See". Cahill also manages to make these topics fit into a chronological framework. He also introduces each chapter with a story out of Greek mythology to convey to the reader the sense that we are only glimpsing fragments of who the Greeks were: we cannot understand them in their wholeness. "History must be learned in pieces," he comments in his very first sentence to the reader.

Pick of the Week: Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Thomas Cahill

Next Week:
  • The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill
  • Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome, Robert Harris
  • 10 Things Your Minister Wants To Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job), Oliver Thomas
  • What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula
I accidentally posted this week last week, so most of this list has been seen before. I had to make one replacement, as someone lost or destroyed Selected Writings from Cicero.

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