Wednesday, October 13, 2010

These Weeks at the Library (28 Sept - 13 October)

Two weeks ago at the library, I...

  • ...started with Spook, Mary Roach's investigations into tales of the afterlife.
  • Stephen Fry in America, the titular British humorist's account of his state-by-state tour of the United States, followed that. 
  • Christine by Stephen King proved to be a fun horror story about a possessed car. 
  • The Life of Greece brought up the rear. The book was second in Durant's Story of Civilization, and covered Greece from its original settlers to the death of Alexander and rise of Rome. Heavy on literature and poetry, and reminded me how little people change in politics.

This week, I started off with:

  • Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, a playful history of human space flight and which is replete with information on how humans adjust to living without gravity, blue skies, and flushing toilets.
  • Full Circle,  the first Voyager book in a few years, introduced a new author to the Voyager Relaunch series, closed off the old plots, caught Voyager's family up with Destiny, and set the little ship that could off to new adventures in the Delta Quadrant. 
  • Caesar and Christ by Will Durant followed that. I didn't think I'd finish it so quickly, but I do like my Romans. The book is dominated by Rome's political history.
  • My last complete read was The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, enjoying "Self Reliance" in particular. The book is of most interest to those interested in Emerson and Thoreau's Transcendentalism. 
  • I also  read from Full House: the Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould. Gould was one of the United States' big names in popular science, but I've never read from him. The central premise of this book -- that increasing complexity in evolution is not the norm, but rather an exception and that modern animals are merely the results of evolution so far, not the fore-told promise of life -- is one I'm familiar and agree with. My interest started waning during an extended section on baseball statistics. 

Selected Passages:
"And I know Admiral Nechayev agrees," Janeway went on, 'though frankly I was incredibly shocked when we arrived at our meeting stark naked."
"Admiral Montgomery didn't seem to notice," she went on. "I guess things at Starfleet Command have changed quite a bit since we left..."
"Hm-mm," Chakotay murmured, then paused as her words finally pierced his internal musings. "What?" (Full Circle, Kirsten Beyer. )

"Power dements more surely than it corrupts." - a paraphrase of Will Durant, Caesar and Christ.

"Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter. Fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ." - Durant, Caesar and Christ.

"Historians divide the past into epochs, years, and events, as thought divides the world into groups, individuals, and things; but history, like nature, knows only continuity amid change: historia non facit saltum -- history makes no leaps. " (Will Durant, The Life of Greece)

Civilization does not die, it migrates; it changes its habitat and its dress, but it lives on. The decay of one civilization, as of one individual, makes room for the growth of another: life sheds the old skin, and surprises death with fresh youth. Greek civilization is alive; it moves in every breath of mind that we breathe; so much of it remains that none of us in one lifetime could absorb it all. We know its defects -- its insane and pitiless wars, its stagnant slavery, it s subjection of women, its lack of moral restraint, its corrupt individualism, its tragic failure to unite liberty with order and peace. But those who cherish freedom, reason, and beauty will not linger over these blemishes. They will hear behind the turmoil of political history the voices of Solon and Socrates, of Plato and Euripides, of Phidias and Praxiteles, of Epicurus and Archimedes; they will be grateful for the existence of such men, and will seek their company across alien centuries. They will think of Greece as the bright morning of that Western civilization which,  with all its kindred faults, is our nourishment and our life. (Will Durant, The Life of Greece)

Potentials for Next Week:

  • Unworthy, the follow up to Full Circle by Kirsten Beyer. I just finished a few minutes ago, actually.
  • Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, which I'm a dozen or so pages away from completing.
  • The Roman Way, Edith Hamilton. Reading Durant's Roman book reminded me that I've never read The Greek Way's 'sequel'. 
  • The Good Guy, Dean Koontz. A friend has reccommended the author to me several times, and after looking up the plot summaries of my library's Koontz holdings, this novel about a man who is mistaken for a hitman and paid to kill a stranger sounds the most interesting. 
  • The World is Flat, which appears to be on the effects of globalization. I thought about reading this on Columbus Day just for laughs --- a persistent fiction that Columbus probed to the intellectual elite of Europe that the world was around lingers in the United States -- but was more interested in my Romans. 
  • The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Natural World, which is a big ol' book on science I would've missed had I not been sitting on the floor looking for an obscure introduction to Latin. It's a gorgeous-looking book, and I expect great pleasure from reading it.
  • I also have The Age of Faith checked out, but it's a right monster of a book (1100+ pages of elegant prose  in a diminutive font)  and I'm taking a brief recess from the Story of Civilization to give my mind a break before I start reading about the Byzantine empire, medieval Europe, and the rise of Islam.
  • I'm also going to be perusing Teach Yourself Latin, largely out of interest for its rules of grammar. Durant often quotes the Latin and English translations side by side, and the different sentence structure makes me curious.


  1. I've started Full House: the Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould too....

    ...and then stalled.....

  2. It wouldn't have happened to be somewhere around the baseball stats, would it?

  3. Page 67 - seems to be talking about the evolution of horses....


Thank you for visiting! Because of some very clever spambots, I've had to start moderating comments more strictly, but they're approved throughout the day.