Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Week at the Library (12/11)

Books this Update:
  • A Gladiator Dies Only Once, Steven Saylor
  • The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins
  • Off the Books, Sudhir Venkatesh
  • Caesar's Judgment, Steven Saylor
  • An Honorable German, Charles McCain
  • Robert Ingersoll, David Anderson
In this past two weeks, I have been continuing in the Roma sub Rosa series, first with A Gladiator Dies Only Once -- a collection of short stories set in the beginning of the series -- and Caesar's Judgment, one of the last books in the series proper.  Both books are examples of Saylor at his best, putting together interesting stories, believable characters, and a lively historical setting. Caesar's Judgment is more of a political thriller than a mystery novel, but this certainty doesn't detract from the experience. A Gladiator Dies Only Once in particular is now a favorite.

The Roma sub Rosa series wasn't the only bit of historical fiction I read, as just recently I finished the excellent An Honorable German, one of the finest WW2-era novels I've read. Author Charles McCain's main character is a German naval officer named Max Brekendorf, and the story follows him as he matures both as a military officer and a person. Characterization is particularly strong in this book, and it tells a story that should be more known -- that of Germans who were neither Nazis nor helpless and impotent bystanders.

In terms of nonfiction, I read Richard Dawkins' latest release -- The Greatest Show on Earth, a rather thorough and quite readable case for evolution complete with Dawkins' usual wry humor and fantastic color plates, following it up with Sudhir Venkatesh's Off the Books, a detailed look at the underground economy of urban slums, that gives the reader a grim look at what people do to get by in the absence of job opportunities and effective law enforcement.  I finished with a biography of "beloved Colonel Bob", Robert G. Ingersoll. I started the biography in the spring but wasn't able to finish it before summer arrived and I lost convenient access to my university library, but the book gave me plenty of background information about the life of a man I find admirable, and made my mental image of him a bit more polished, as author David Anderson doesn't shy away from Ingersoll's faults.

Pick of the Week: I'm leaning toward either A Gladiator Dies Only Once or An Honorable German.

Quotation of the Week: "Gentlemen -- we are arguing about words, not reality." - Richard Dawkins, pointing out the problems in scientists, historians, and others who attach themselves too strongly to labels and descriptions that may limit their perceptions. The necessity of breaking label-boxes is especially salient for me as a history and sociological student.

Upcoming Potentials:
  • No Less Than Victory, Jeff Shaara: the final book in his WW2-European Theatre trilogy. It's a new release, so I may have trouble getting it from my local library...
  • The Best of Robert G. Ingersoll: Selections from his Writings and Speeches, ed. Roger Greely. Guess why I decided to finish that Ingersoll biography this week?
  • The Triumph of Caesar, Steven Saylor. This is the last book in the Roma sub Rosa series: it's also the only book I'm sure I'll be reading next week.
  • Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Volume 1.  I'll be reading this in the next week, but I probably won't finish it for a while: like my Black Widower collections, I prefer to read this a little at a time.

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