Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Week at the Library (19/7)

Books this Update:
  • Dolphins, Jacques Yves-Cousteau
  • The Force Unleashed, Sean Williams
  • A History of the Arab Peoples, Albert Hourani
  • The Venus Throw, Steven Saylor
  • The Essential Koran, translated and edited by Thomas Clearly.

I began this week with Jacques Yves-Cousteau's accounts of his dolphin studies onboard the Calypso, including his thoughts on dolphin intelligence and dolphin-human relations, supplemented by plenty of pictures. I found this to be more interesting than his Whales -- not because of the topics, but because Cousteau spends more time here writing on what the information means and less of simply recounting the information.

I finished Sean William's The Force Unleashed next, it being a Star Wars novel set five or so years before A New Hope. The principle character of the novel is Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. Vader has trained Starkiller for many years to be his accomplice in overthrowing the Emperor. The Force Unleashed is part of a multi-media release: this story is also being told in graphic novel and video game form. Although slow at first, it became more enjoyable once the main character was thrown out of an airlock.

Moving on to history, I read A History of the Arab Peoples. Author Albert Hourani begins with Muhammad and ends in the late 1980s, attempting to mention everything in between. There's a lot of scope here, so detailed information is hard to come by -- especially after the rise of the Ottoman Turks. Hourani deals not only with political and religious history, but with geography and social history as well -- devoting specific sections to describing what life in the cities was like for people at various periods. I think the book is most suitable for general reference.

I returned to Steven Saylor's Roma sub Rosa series starring Gordianus the Finder, a private eye of sorts. The book's plot concerns the trial of Marcus Caelius, accused of murdering an Alexandrian philosopher who had come as part of a delegation to lobby on Egypt's behalf in the Roman senate. The theme of the book is the power of Venus, as nearly every major character in the novel is thrown into the plot through the madness of eros in some way or another. Gordianus, in contrast to the rest of Rome, is driven not by power or lust by by the pursuit of truth -- which may or may not feature into the actual trial. As usual, Saylor takes the transcripts of an ancient trial and breathes life into them while giving the readers an enjoyable story.

Throughout the week I read from The Essential Koran, selected readings from the Islamic text. The poetic verses concern the glory of God, urge humans to live justly, and promises justice (and judgement) when the final reckoning comes -- and it will, soon. The Arabic may lose something in translation, as most poetry does. It was helpful for me to see some of Islam's "primary source".

Pick of the Week: The Venus Throw, Steven Saylor

Quotation of the Week: "The water is always freshest at the mouth of the spring." - Gordianus the Finder, as written by Steven Saylor in The Venus Throw. This is an idiom similar to "Get it straight from the horse's mouth."

Next Week:
  • Casebook of the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov. Guess who bought this on Amazon last week for $5?
  • The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr. Over the weekend I listened to a podcast on this man, a Christian theological and political thinker who has inspired both President Obama and Senator John McCain. Niebuhr came up in other podcasts from the same source, so my curiosity was picqued.
  • The Japanese Experience: A Short History of Japan, W.G. Beasley. I'm checking this book out in prepration for a Japanese history course I'm taking this fall.
  • The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama.
  • Catalina's Riddle, Steven Saylor
  • Who Needs God?, Harold Kushner. A Conservative rabbi writes to people who are "spiritual, but not religious".

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