Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mapping Human History

Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past through Our Genes
© 2002 Steve Olson
292 pages

Mapping Human History caught my attention a couple of weeks ago given my interests in evolution and anthropology. Author Steve Olson offers a quick history of human settlement throughout the globe, throwing in some light genetics discussion along the way. He uses specific populations as case studies to demonstrate how genetic historians can track certain haplotypes through time. This is more difficult than it sounds, because despite the distance between human populations and the role of geography in separating particular groups from the other, human beings as a group are unusually homogeneous: the little differences of skin tone and nose width are infinitesimal compared the many similarities, leading Olson to discount not just 'races', but most ethnic groups. In Olson's research, finding long strands of 'junk' DNA that have no known purpose was easier than tracking genes with a role in influencing our outward appearances.  He believes that as time progresses and globalization continues its course, race as a concept will fade away. He uses Hawaii to imagine what a society might be like.

Interesting and readable; it's a different perspective for history students like myself, one worth considering. Especially interesting to me this week given that I'm reading a history of native America is that there's some genetic evidence to support the idea that there were humans in North America before the big Clovis expansion which is usually the attributed cause of the Americas' indigenous population. While archaeologists have found some artifacts on the east coast and Central America  that are far older than previously expected,  some native Americans also carry in them a particular haplotype absent in Asians, but present in but long-time removed from Europeans. This would mean that people carrying European genes arrived and intermarried with the various people of North American before Leif Erikson and the Age of Discovery.  This haplotype has also appeared in northern Siberia, which might mean they followed the same course that the Clovis people did. Historians already utilize clues from language and art styles to piece together the histories of people, and genetic seems a fascinating new addition to the 'toolbox'.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Fictional BFFs

Top ten characters I'd like to be best friends with....well, this is going to be fun.

1. Ducky, California Diaries (Ann M. Martin)

Ducky is a sixteen-year old guy living alone with his older brother while his parents explore Pompeii. A sophomore in high school, Ducky is feeling the strain of growing up as his two childhood best friends move away from him. This is a shame, because Ducky's a great guy. Ducky is cool. He has his own eccentric sense of style, he's fun to be around, and he's always there for his friends -- going out of his way to support them, like the time he drove to Venice to find Sunny after she ran away. He makes his appearance in the series by rescuing a few humiliated freshmen who just escaped  dangerous hazing incident, and remains devoted to the welfare of his friends throughout the series -- even stopping a suicide attempt.

2. Dobie Gillis,  The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (Max Shulman)

Dobie Gillis is not a good guy to be friends with.  He's girl-crazy! He's always out of money and asking for more from friends, and he wouldn't think twice about "borrowing" your car to chase some girl halfway across the continent because he's so madly in love and must woo her.  How can you study for exams with a fellow who's always staring dopily in the distance or moaning over his romance woes?  But you can't help being friends with Dobie, because he's charming -- and hilarious. How can you resist listening to the results of his latest scheme gone awry? " And he really is an interesting fellow, with varied interests in Egypt, chemistry, and philosophy. (Okay, so he only took chemistry to get close to that one girl, and together they called themselves Pierre and Marie, and they were locked in a schoolroom closet for the better part of a weekend with only pickles to tide them over while they feverishly worked out solutions to the work they'd missed during the term when they were being proper hedonists instead of academics.)

3. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

Hermione is such a lovable little smart-ass know-it-all. I wouldn't want to join her in nearly getting killed (every.single.year), but most of my friends tend to be nerds of one stripe or another -- mostly history geeks or music majors. Given my own fondness for books, seems we'd hit it off.

Except on days when Ravenclaw battled Gryffindor on the quidditch pitch, I guess.

4. Aximili Esgarrouth Isthill - okay, let's just go with "Ax". Animorphs

All the kids in the animorphs crew seem like good people to be around, with the exception of Rachel, who is crazy aggressive and loves malls.  Tobias and Marco are the most likable to me, but the human kids have a tough time psychologically coping with years of brutal guerrilla war against the Yeerks who are attempting to take over the world -- especially Marco, who fights them as an actual gorilla. Doesn't help that the military leader of the Yeerks has taken oer his mother's body.  Aximili comes from a culture used to fighting the Yeerks, and his alien perspective makes even watching commercials with him interesting. He can be oddly logical, but at the same time is full of pride. Just...don't let him go near a food court, especially not one with a Cinnabon.  He's also the source of many running jokes.

Ax: We have twenty-six of your minutes left.
Marco: We're on Earth, Ax. They're everyone's minutes.
Ax: (quite deliberately) We now have twenty-five of your minutes.

Jake: Don't call me prince, Ax.
Ax: Yes, Prince Jake.

5. Sam Yeager, WorldWar/Colonization series, Harry Turtledove

In my experience characters named 'Sam' tend to be everymen, and Sam Yeager surely fits the bill. Readers meet him in the WorldWar series as a minor league baseball player who turned soldier after the outbreak of World War 2. Sam passed his long hours on trains during his ballplaying days reading magazines like Astounding Stories, enjoying authors like Asimov and Lester del Ray.  When World War 2 is interrupted by an invasion of spacefaring lizards, Sam's SF-strengthened imagination allows him to work with lizard POWs. He  becomes the United States' chief expert and is later sent as an ambassador to the lizard Homeworld when the various nations of Earth begin sending ships out into space.  He remained likable throughout the series, especially when he stood up against his own government in ethical protest.

6. Liz Ortecho & Alex Manes, Roswell High
Liz is the girl on cover one, while Alex is the male on cover two.
You know, not everyone responds well to learning that one of their friends is an alien, but Liz and  Alex don't hesitate to step up and help.  They didn't know what they were getting into. I like Liz immediately as someone quiet and interested in science, but Alex's geekiness was endearing as well. He proved to be like Ducky, going out of his way to be there for people who needed him: once he sat all night outside another character's bedroom talking to her after her boyfriend was murdered by the cold-eyed sheriff.

7. Ponyboy Curtis (The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton)

The narrator of The Outsiders, Ponyboy lives with his brothers Sodapop and Darry in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like everyone else in their neighborhood, they're 'greasers' -- poor, working-class kids who find more support from their gang than from school or society. Though his brothers try to keep him from the violent part of gang life, Ponyboy gets in a spot of trouble after he and his friend Johnny are attacked by a couple of rich kids looking for trouble and has to go on the run.  He remains throughout the book a good kid in a tough spot, and I wanted to join him and Johnny while they were hiding in the woods. He seems like good company.

8. Hari Seldon

In the original  Foundation series, Hari Seldon is a passionate scientist who wanted to preserve civilization, and his Seldon Plan makes him into a godlike figure for members of the series who lived centuries after him -- they only see him as a holgraphic personage who appears in moments of crisis. The prequel books (Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation) visit Hari in his youth as he develops the field of psychohistory. Seldon is in part based on Asimov, so I can't help but like him.

9. Gordianus the Finder, Roma sub Rosa (Steven Saylor)

Gordianus the Finder is a fundamentally decent man living in the last days of the Roman Republic. He matures throughout the series from a young thirty-something into a bearded elder, having spent his life working as the Roman version of a private detective.  Gordianus' decency stands out in his times, and as much as he dislikes politics he's forever being drawn into it: his famous honesty makes him a favorite hire of the day's ambitious politicians, and through Gordianus' eyes the reader gets to experience the struggles for power between Crassus, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, and many others.

10. Klaus & Violet Baudelaire, Series of Unfortunate Events (Daniel Handler)

Okay, I'm not sure which I like more.  At first I just thought of Klaus, but a friend was surprised I hadn't picked Violet. And then so was I...so I'm going to cheat. Who can choose between two clever, courageous kids such as these?

I suppose in a pinch I'd choose Klaus, because he's forever reading.

Honorable Mentions: Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary),  the Alden kids (Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny) though they're rich and clannish.  Harry Potter, though he's got a big chip on his shoulder. M&M from That was Then, This is Now; Johnny from The Outsiders. The Narrator from H.G. Well's various novels.

I enjoy playing The Sims 2, and many of these characters and other characters from their series have their names in my neighborhood. One of my favorite sims is named Hari Seldon, and he used to be the town's immortal god-like mayor. His adopted son is Harry Seldon, who looks suspiciously like Harry Potter.  I just borrow names from the rest.

Teaser Tuesday (30 November)

Last Teaser Tuesday of the month -- they go by so quickly.

"I am Alma Gristede," she said. "I am beautiful."
Well, sir, this took me aback, you may be sure! "Hey," I said, "That's MY line."
"I know," she said. "I was just trying to save time."

I Was a Teenage Dwarf, Max Shulman

"Um, what I said about your decades of experience...I wasn't calling you old or anything." 
"No, of course not. I understand."
"I just mean --"
"I know."
"A little maturity, it's very becoming on a woman."
"You're definitely still hot."
Deanna threw her a sidelong look. "You'd better believe it, kiddo."

p. 134, Orion's Hounds. (Christopher L. Bennett) Things get a little awkward between Troi and the first officer of the Titan.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Orion's Hounds

Star Trek Titan: Orion's Hounds
© 2005 Christopher L. Bennett
400 pages
On the cover: Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi; Daphne Ashbrook as Melora Pazlar; CGI as Dr. Ree.

When Captain William Riker accepted command of the USS Titan, he looked forward to continuing the mission that drew him to Starfleet in the first place -- the peaceful exploration of the galaxy and promotion of Federation ideals. In its few few months of operations, however, the Titan and her crew have been bogged down by political wrangling and high-stakes rescue missions. Now, at long last, the Titan is heading into deep space to see what the future holds.

Scotty might say of the future that “there be whales here!” Soon after entering uncharted territory,  powerful waves of panic, confusion, and grief overwhelm the telepathically sensitive crewmembers of the Titan, especially Commander Tuvok at tactical.  Tuvok, Troi, and others identify the source of their agitation as a nearby school of vast creatures (cosmozoans) who live in the vacuum of space -- a school being hunted by humanoids who use the corpses of the sentient cosmozoans (“space jellies”) as ships.  Horrified at the prospect of ritualized murder and exploitation, Riker and the Titan seek to meditate a peace. Naturally, the situation is not as simple as it seems.

Though David Mack’s crossover Destiny trilogy gave my proper introduction to the Titan crew, I began planning to visit the Titan series as soon as I finished The Buried Age and decided I wanted to read more of this Christopher L. Bennett.  He doesn’t disappoint: while his character drama is just as strong as Mack’s or Kirsten Beyer’s, he adds to it a fascinating science story with ethical dilemmas a-plenty. Cosmozoans are an interesting subject in themselves. They are life forms quite different from us, existing in space as comfortably as we stride on land or as fish in the ocean, finding a home in turbulent stellar nurseries and fighting on a scale beyond ship-to-ship combat. The villains are nuanced, appearing both cruel and civilized at times: while subscribing to a hunter culture, they’re not universally obsessed by it. There’s no obvious disconnect between Martin and Mangel’s Titan and Bennett’s:  the ship's crew is evolving realistically, the many varied characters invented to staff the Titan still adjusting to their many differences.  I appreciated Bennett’s way of conveying telepathic communication, which made it clear that telepathy isn’t necessarily the direct beaming of sentences into someone’s head, but actual feelings that are difficult to articulate.  His attention on two of Titan’s more exotic crewmembers (an aquatic and a  hilarious grandmotherly insectoid) was another high point.

Orion’s Hounds is an especially satisfying Titan novel, full of interest and humor, and I am glad that Mack and Bennett kindled my interest in the Titan series . I picked the novel up at Sunday lunch and spent the day with it, distracted only by my finding a Trek production  on YouTube that merited my attention (Of Gods and Men, a 40th anniversary ‘gift to the fans’ from many of the Trek actors) As much as I’d like to read Over a Torrent Sea next (Bennett’s other Titan novel), I’ll probably read the chronologically next book in the series.


Friday, November 26, 2010

The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head

The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: A Psychiatrist's Stories of His Most Bizarre Cases
© 2010 Gary Small & Gigi Vorgan
267 pages

In the summer of 2006 I read a fascinating book by V.S. Ramachandran called Phantoms of the Brain, in which the author-neurologist described his attempts to understand the biological causes of mental phantasms like phantom limbs. The book incited an enduring interest in psychology in me, and this collection by Gary Small seemed right up my ally. It's an altogether different book from Ramachandran, who used his patients as the jumping off point for chapters on the brain and nervous system. Instead, Small simply writes about his stranger cases, his attempts to help the patients, and their impact on him.

The fifteen cases discussed are certainly fascinating: the most notable for me involved a woman who thought Small was having sex with her with his eyes and  the man who felt as though his left hand belonged to someone else and certainly had no place on his body. The young lady who fell into a diabetic coma and reflexively adopted one of her favorite yoga postures to relax was also interesting. Though most of the patients  in this book were diagnosed with emotional neurosis of one form or another, others resulted from body chemistry. Though the cases are used more for entertainment than education (not exclusively, though), Small discusses his case history with perfect respect.

Because of Small's writing style and the fact that the cases recorded here span thirty years of Small's life,  the reader also follows the career of a psychiatrist. In his reflections -- typically including discussion of his private life -- Small reveals how he slowly grew into his role as a psychiatrist. The intimidated intern in chapter one grows into an accomplished, veteran doctor with patented PET-scan variants and various medical foundations by book's end.

Worth reading if you're interested in curiosities of the mind or in human-interest stories in general.


  • Phantoms in the Brain, V.S. Ramachandran
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (and Other Clinical Tales), Oliver Sachs
  • The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, V.S. Ramachandran. Not that related, but it's scheduled to be released in January and it sounds like a must-read. 

I Was a Teenage Dwarf

 I Was a Teenage Dwarf (Wild Adventures of a Pint-Sized Don Juan)
© 1959 Max Shulman
182 pages

I purchased this book online through a used book store during the summer, and picked it up to read last week when I wanted a fun story and had exhausted my weekly reading to the point where my only options were genetics or theology. I purchased the book immediately after finding out that it is the predecessor of one of my favorite books: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.While Many Loves collected twelve different stories about the same character (with endings so varied they cannot possibly fit into the same continuity),  Teenage Dwarf follows Dobie through middle school into marriage and tell in ten separate parts a larger story -- Dobie's pursuit of love and what he learns along the way. In almost every story (save "The Costly Child"), Dobie pursues the girl next door. Since people constantly move out of the home next to his (its flat room attracts sea gulls, who constantly drop clam shells on it to get at the meat inside), Dobie is constantly pursuing a different girl and invariably sees his every triumph or loss rendered moot.

Though the book was fine for a laugh (and was strangely serious at the end),  it didn't send me into spasms as I'd expected from Dobie Gillis. I love this guy -- I've been re-reading Many Loves since high school, collapsing on the floor in a fit of laughter every time, and I fully expected lightening to strike twice. This book's  Dobie isn't near the outrageous scamp of Shulman's following collection. Proto-Dobie seems to have few outside friends, no other drive other than to find female company.  Dobie is more like Archie Andrews here than the cocky, 'sensitive intellectual' whom I'm so fond of. Of course, hilarity is in the eye of the beholder. While I was smirking  and merely chucking while reading this, another reader had this reaction:

 I was asked to leave my high school library because it was study period, and I was reading Teenage Dwarf, and I started laughing so loudly that I could not control myself. Basically, I GUFFAWED into the studious silence. Tears streamed down my face, despite the fact that I was being “Sh”ed left and right. I finally had to just gather up my book bag and stagger out into the hall, where I stood, and literally HOWLED with laughter, by myself, for a good 5 minutes.
I can count the writers on one hand who are that feckin’ funny.
I enjoyed the book, but not as much as Many Loves or Barefoot Boy with Cheek. I found it mildly silly: not absurdist, but just a little wacky. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Booking through Thursday: Thanks!

Booking through Thursday wants to know:  What authors and books are you most thankful for?

  • Beverly Cleary, Gertrude Chandler-Warner, and R.L. Stine, for so many hours of childhood entertainment...
  • Melinda Metz, Anne M. Martin, K. A. Applegate, and S.D. Perry for the same during middle- and high school.
  • J.K. Rowling, Robert Harris,  and  Steven Saylor for the same in recent years. 
  • John Grisham, for souring me on the 'rat race'.
  • Robert Green Ingersoll, for being such an implacable and ferocious fighter for free thought, liberty, and human creativity. His lectures and oratory lit a fire under me. 
  • Carl Sagan, for igniting my curiosity and turning it into awe at the natural world.
  • Eugenie Scott, for freeing me from dogma. 
  • Doug Muder, for introducing me to Stoicism.
  • Isaac Asimov, for all his humor, charm, love of humanity, wonderful stories, and ability to see every human endeavor as part of a vast, beautiful tapestry.
  • Marcus Aurelius,  for getting me through some tough times and allowing me to see what it is like to live with deliberation. 
  • Neil Postman, for cautioning me against being addicted to entertainment.
  • Walter J. Boyne, whose The Influence of Air Power Upon History has been the starting point for many a term paper. 
  • Howard Zinn, for introducing me to the role that direct action has had in political history, and allowing me to see that even if every election is bought, there's still hope for democracy as long as the people themselves are willing to act. 
  • Frances and Joseph Gies, for changing the way I view the medieval era...and Ray Spangenburg and Diane Kit Moser for opening me up to the history of science.

Well, I could go on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Week at the Library (10-24 November)

Week before last I fell ill with a sinus infection the day after going to the library, and I didn't read a thing for nearly a week. Last week's reading was all carryover. Frank by James Kaplan and The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell made for lively reading, which I needed given that I was and still am working through Augustine's Confessions.  He's a very somber fellow. I also read most of Mapping Human History, which I'll finish shortly, and the first Titan novel which was good fun. Selected passages from the week's reading will follow...

Next week's potentials:

  • Mapping Human History by Steve Olson, which I'm almost done with. Interesting mix of anthropological history and genetics.
  • The Confessions, Augustine of Hippo. He's been a very bad boy.
  • The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head, Gary Small. (I'm almost tempted to leave you with that, but it has more in common with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat than Playboy: The Calisthenics Issue.
  • The Pale Horseman, Bernard Cornwell. Sequel to the Last Kingdom. Looking forward to more Norse heartiness.
  • The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan. A couple of friends recommended this to me. One of them even begged.
  • The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America, James Wilson I wanted to read some history this week, and badly, but I couldn't find anything compelling. This one did attract my attention three times while browsing, though.

Selected Passages & Quotations:
Henry dispensed his famous, breezy charm rather like the English weather, in sunny intervals alternating with long, cloudy spells and sudden bursts of thunder. The charm was of the rib-poking ,back-slapping, arm-around-the-shoulder, punch-in-the-belly kind, which, depending on the mood of the week, could betoken either rapid promotion or imminent arrest. Henry wallowed in the praise droolingly lavished on him by his courtiers and foreign ambassadors: Henry the gallant, Henry the clever, Henry the nimble, Henry the superstar, He was the only king with his personal band, hired to go touring with him and featuring the eighteen-year-old as lead singer-songwriters. 
(History of Britain, Simon Schama)

Afterward Bacon congratulated Harry James on his new boy singer. "Not so loud," James replied. "The kid's name is Sinatra. He considers himself the greatest vocalist in the business. Get that! No one ever heard of him. He's never had a hit record. He looks like a wet rag. But he says he is the greatest. If he hears you compliment him, he'll demand a raise tonight."
 (p. 78, Frank: the Voice, James Kaplan)

"Just call out the tunes," [Dorsey] told Sinatra, "and Joey will play `em for you."
This went fine for three or four numbers, Bushkin said -- until Sinatra turned around and said, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes". The lovely Kern-Harbach tune has a notoriously tricky middle section, a chord modulation that looks great on paper but can be hell to pull from memory. Under pressure, Bushkin simply blanked. "Next thing I know, Frank was out there singing it all by himself...a capella. I was so embarrassed. I mean, Jesus, all the guys were looking at me, so I just turned around and walked away from the piano!"
The cream of New York society -- gents in dinner jackets, dames in gowns; a few hundred fancy prom kids, all dressed to the nines -- stood hushed, craning their necks to see, while the skinny boy with the greasy hair filled the big room with song, all by himself.
"And that is the night," Joe Bushkin said, "that Frank Sinatra happened."

(p. 111, Frank)

And Frank Sinatra had one more astounding thing at twenty-three: a plan. He was going to knock over Crosby. He knew it in the pit of his gut. Not even Nancy knew the true height of his hubris. 


The 100 Book Challenge

There is an interesting note going around in which people claim the BBC believes people have only read six of the below books. This is probably not true, for there is no mention the book list on the BBC website, and  the list itself suffered from poor editing: The Complete Works of Shakespeare is mentioned, but so is Hamlet; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is present, but made redundant by The Chronicles of Narnia

Instructions: Copy this if you would like to play. Bold those books which you've read completely.  Italicize those which you start but  did not finish.  
1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen 
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling 
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee 
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell 
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens 
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy  
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk 
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger 
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot 
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald 
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens 
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy 
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll 
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis 
34. Emma -Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis 
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini 
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden 
40. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell 
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown 
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery 
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel 
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen 
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
 60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt 
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold 
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac 
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69.Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson 
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76.The Inferno - Dante
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
 82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell 
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker 
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom 
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks 
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams 
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute 
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (23 November)

'Tis Teaser Tuesday time!

Feeling the words, and remembering how Billie could tell you her whole life story in the glide of a note, Frank began to sing the lyrics as if he really meant them, and something happened.
The girls, dancing with their dates, began to stop mid-step and stare at him.

p.59, Frank: the Voice. James Kaplan

"Jack, we're in trouble," Sinatra said.
It was his one phone call. He and Ava were in the Indio police station, feeling much soberer than they had an hour before, when, whooping and hollering, they had both emptied their pistols, then reloaded and emptied them again, shattering streetlights and several store windows. Then there was the town's single unfortunate passerby, drunk as the shooters, whose shirtfront and belly had been creased by an errant .38 slug.

p. 374, Frank: the Voice.

Top Ten Holiday Books

Ten books to read for the holidays? Well! I don't know ten Christmas-themed books, so I'll also tack on a few books I may read during the next month.

1. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

This story is one of my very favorites. I watch the Patrick Stewart version every year (several times) and last year read the novella for the first time. I plan to do so this year and every year hereafter.

2. Skipping Christmas, John Grisham

Luther Krank is starting to believe this whole Christmas thing is one big racket. Why on earth should he spent thousands of dollars on banal gifts and parties, or put himself through hours of stress decorating and throwing said parties, for the sake of a single day? Shouldn't he enjoy the season? And so Luther Krank blows seasonal madness a raspberry,  arranges to go on a cruise, and happily spends November and December working on his tan and preparing himself to look good in a speedo while his neighbors fume. And it almost works...until the phone rings.

3. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror,  Christopher Moore.

Moore wrote Lamb and A Dirty Job, both of which were riots, so I'm expecting good things.

4.  Santa & Pete: A Novel of Christmas Present and Past, Christopher Moore.

Didn't know this was even in the library. Maybe I'll read it. I have no idea what it is about, but as mentioned prior I like Moore.

5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris

Sedaris' essay collections are always good for a laugh, but this book contains a section ("Six to Eight Black Men") about Christmas in the Netherlands which is seasonally appropriate and hilarious of course. Listen to him read it here. ("Wait, St. Nicholas would kick you?")

6. Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris

Home of the SantaLand diaries!

7. The Grand Design, Stephen Hawkings

Science is awesome.

8. The Kobayashi Maru and The Romulan War: Beneath Raptor's Wings by Martin & Mangels

I've had these for going on a month now, but I'm still waiting on another before starting in.

9. The Age of Faith, Will Durant

I have fallen right off the Story of Civilization treadmill, but I aim to get back on.

10. Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game, David Mack

I did it! I said I'd catch up with the Relaunch books this year, and here I am planning to read a book released just in October.

Honorable mentions: Isaac Asimov's Christmas and his Twelve Frights of Christmas. These are not by him, but edited. I've never read them, but I found their book covers when googling for a picture of him dressed as Santa Claus.

(I was, alas! Unsuccessful.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Frank: The Voice

Frank: The Voice
© 2010 James Kaplan
786 pages

"I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet... a pawn and a king,  I've been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing -- each time I find myself layin' flat on my face, I just pick! myself! up! and get back in the race! (From the tune that made me love him, "That's Life")

All my life, I've known who Frank Sinatra was. He died in 1998 and I saw him on television -- he wore a tuxedo and sang, and everyone called him "Ol' Blue Eyes".  When Deep Space Nine introduce the character Vic Fontaine -- a 1960s lounge singer who sang Sinatra standards -- I realized I really liked the music Vic sang. I ddn't know what it was called -- swing? -- but I knew I liked it and I knew Frank Sinatra was famous for it. So in 2004 I bought "The Very Good Years", Sinatra's reprise collections, and I've been wild for his music ever since. So naturally, when I saw Frank grinning at me from the library's new books section, I checked the book out immediately.

In my obsession with Sinatra, I've read more than a fair few biographies of Frank, and there are none more thorough than this. Frank isn't a complete biography, but covers his meteoric rise, fall ("Icarus") and resurgence ("Phoenix"), culminating in his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1953. Kaplan's website refers to this as the 'first' volume in his biography of Sinatra. If it's anything like this, I'll be reading it. Drawing from numerous biographies (Frank's, Ava Gardener's, and others) as well as official new sources,  Kaplan paints a picture of Sinatra as a scrappy kid from Hoboken who, driven by a domineering mother and his own staggering ambition, clawed his way to national prominence through determination and a gift for making music.  Regardless of what else you might say about him, says Kaplan, Sinatra was an artist dedicated to the craft of sharing music. He poured himself into the songs, performing them rather than singing them -- and this earnestness, combined with his fixation on greatness and a gift for making the right friends,  sent him to the top.

Sinatra's sudden decline and fall in the late forties and early fifties is usually panned in other biographies I've read: his voice cracked and his career tumbled downhill as mysteriously as he rocketed up the first time, they say. Kaplan sees it as a change in the public mood following the conclusion of World War 2. No one wanted to hear Sinatra artfully yearning -- they wanted gaiety and novelty numbers, and Sinatra's cockiness -- chasing women though he was married,  unrepentant partying, and occasional fisticuffs with the press -- lost him the adoration of a nation. If he wanted it back, he'd have to work for it -- and that he did.  I've never read a biography with so much attention on Sinatra's decline, fall, and triumph, and for that reason alone I'd recommend this to Sinatra fans. This book is more on Sinatra the man than Sinatra the legend,  and he has his virtues as well as his vices. Kaplan describes Sinatra a man full of feeling: when that feeling was released into his music, he was majestic -- but terrible when he released his feeling by chasing women or punching aggressive photographers.

Would this book have made me a fan of Sinatra if I just heard the man's music today? I'd still be impressed by his strength of will, that never-giving-up attitude that pushed him through advertising, the spirit I heard in "That's Life!". I probably wouldn't so keen on the skirt-chasing and arrogance borne of success, but it seems from the biography that the 'Icarus' years gave him some degree of humility. He matures with age and exits with grace. I look forward to Kaplan's furthering the story -- the best is yet to come.


  • Eight-page excerpt, Vanity Fair
  • Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra, George Jacobs
  • The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin', Bill Zehme
  • Frank Sinatra: an American Legend, Nancy Sinatra
  • Frank Sinatra: My Father, Nancy Sinatra
  • My Father's Daughter: A Memoir, Tina Sinatra
  • Sinatra: the Artist and the Man,  John Lahr.  This has one of my favorite stories of young Frank staring across the river at New York and saying, "I'm gonna make it. One of these days I'm going to leave this place, and I'm going to be big in New York". I'm paraphrasing of course, but the idea of him standing in a run-down neighborhood and staring the glittering lights of New York City, making his mind up that he was going to succeed, has always stuck with me.
  • And there are the Ratpack books, like Shawn Levy's Rat Pack Confidential.

We're grateful to those flocks who wear the bobby socks, 'cause without them we both must agree --
...we never would have made it with our personality! (Frank Sinatra and a friend, "Personality")

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom
© 2005 Bernard Cornwell
333 pages

My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred and his father was also called Uhtred.[...]   I look at those parchments, which are deeds saying that Uhtred, son of Uhtred, is the lawful and sole owner of the lands that are carefully marked by stone and by dykes, by oaks and by ash, by marsh and by sea, and I dream of those lands, wave-beaten and wild beneath the wind-driven sky. I dream, and know that one day I will take back the land from those who stole it from me.

I picked The Last Kingdom up to read after lunch today, and it maintained my attention all through the afternoon as the sun sank into the horizon.  It was a pleasure. I've  read a couple of Cornwell novels before and have enjoyed them, but none so much as this!  The Last Kingdom is the story of Uhtred, a young Northumbrian boy captured in battle by a Danish war chief who took such delight in the sight of a ten-year-old boy charging him with a sword that he adopted him as a son. Uhtred grows up with the Vikings as they subdue one Anglo-Saxon kingdom after another, until at last only one stands against them: Wessex, led by the young King Alfred who assumed the throne after the death of his elders in battle.

Though Uhtred is a Northumbrian noble,  he grows to love the Danes who adopted him, and for good reason: dialogue and characterization convey the sense that the Danes are a people "unafraid of live",  ever wild  and exuberant.  Their unbound pleasure is infectious. Despite his adoration for his new father and brothers, Uhtred still feels in his bones a loyalty to his family's lands in Northumbria, and he intends on ruling there regardless of which side claims him as their own. When he fights, he does so for himself -- for the joy of the hunt, to avenge himself upon those who have wronged him, to prove himself a man and a lord of men. Judging from the book's inside cover I thought Uthred would simply make one decision to return to the side of Alfred, but Cornwell's tale is not so simplistic. Uthred is truly his own man, and I look forward to continuing in the series.

As mentioned before, Cornwell's use of language conveys the energy of the Danes: though 'villains', I enjoyed their every appearance. As I suspect is usual for Cornwell, the world is rich in detail, and quite immersive. England in the 800s is a land between cultures: Rome's legacy still stands, and the Anglo-Saxon warriors who seized Britain from the Celts following the Empire's departure are slowly growing into the notion of being a country ruled by law rather than swords. Alfred is the exemplar of this trend, possessed by the desire to bring order to the chaos and establish a single English state. The Danes laugh at the civilized virtues and at Alfred's 'womanly religion', preferring instead the starkness of a fight and the religion of their ancestors. They aren't alone, for more than a few Anglo-Saxons have not yet been Christianized and silently pay homage to Woden rather than Jesus. Uhtred is such a one.  Even so, they're not stock villains:  they pillage and raid, and they seek to conquer England and make it their home, but Alfred's ancestors did the same to the Celts and would receive the same in kind from the Normans in two hundred years.  (England is a dangerous place to live during the early medieval period...)

Rollicking good read --  I'll be continuing in this series and recommend Cornwall to historical fiction readers with gusto.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Taking Wing

Star Trek Titan (Book One): Taking Wing
© 2005 Michael Martin & Andy Mangels
370 pages

On the cover: Johnathan Frakes as Captain William Riker; Dina Meyer as Commander Donatra; Marina Sirtis as Commander Deanna Troi; and Jude Cicolella  as Commander Suran.

The last Next Generation movie, Nemesis, saw most of Picard's senior staff move on to different assignments after the mass-assassination of the Romulan Senate by Shinzon, who was stopped only by the death of Commander Data among dozens of others.  William Riker finally accepted a command of his own -- the new USS Titan -- and his newly-wed partner Deanna Troi joined him there as the ship's chief counselor and diplomatic officer.

After a long ten years fighting the Borg and the Dominion, Riker is excited about the Titan's place in history: the Luna-class ship is part of a class dedicated to scientific enterprise and exploration, and Riker and his crew will be setting forth on a long-term mission that will take them far beyond the Federation borders.  Even before they are underway, however, the admiralty informs Riker that they need him to take a page from his mentor's book and head for Romulus to meditate between various ambitious factions in the post-Shinzon Romulus who want a say in where the Empire goes next. The new leader Tal-Aura rules a divided camp and does not yet have the support of the Romulan fleet, while the long-oppressed Remans simmer on the edge of revolt.

Titan introduces a wealth of new characters into the new extended universe, and from a variety of species: Riker's chief medical officer "superficially resembles" a dinosaur who specializes in obstetrics, and another officer hails from a race who live underwater. Since the Titan crew featured in Destiny, I already know some of them, but the variety is fascinating.  While the political plot turned me off the first time I "tried" to read this in  2005 (I gave up after twenty pages, which baffles me now), it is not as bad as I remembered  or feared,  and another thread following a Starfleet operative disguised as a Romulan and attempting to make contact with the Romulan underground -- who is caught, imprisoned, and forced to organize a little prison riot -- allows a favorite character of mine to join the Titan crew. The Remans themselves are given some life by Martin and Mangels: in Nemesis they only existed as mooks and as an evil viceroy.

The Titan series has been popular with Trek literature readers, and though I've not experienced it in full, Taking Wing offers a taste of what's to come. There's no scientific exploration, but the characters have my attention. The plot kept me interested even though I thought I knew how it would end (I didn't), and I'll definitely be continuing in the series. I keep thinking I bought The Red King (#2) five years ago as well, but I didn't see it in my box of Trek books from that period, and I'm not sure I bought it. My next Titan read will thus be Christopher L. Bennett's Orion's Hounds, and er..well, the reason I revisited the Titan series was so I could read more of him.  I'm looking forward to it.  I'm also looking forward (next year) to continuing in the A Time to  series which lead up to Nemesis, as judging from this book both the Federation and Picard were put through the wringer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Britain: At the Edge of the World?

A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D.
© 2000 Simon Schama
414 pages

Image from audio-book version, as I could not find a suitable image for the standard cover. I get the feeling that Schama has name recognition in Britain, judging by its size on the cover.

During the summer I read Simon Schama's twice-recommended Citizens in honor of Bastille Day, and when I learned that Schama has also produced works in English history, I realized how appropriate it would be to read from him during the week of Guy Fawkes Day in Britain.  A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? is the first volume in Schama's series on British history, this volume spanning early Celtic societies to the death of Queen Elizabeth. Although titled a history of Britain, England receives the lion's share of attention: Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are usually only mentioned in connection to English history, although one chapter ("Natives and Aliens") catches the reader up on Scotland  during the Wars of the Roses and another section in "The Queen's Body" follows Mary's flight into England.

The tone of At the Edge of the World?  is more personal than Citizens': Schama's fast-paced narrative is lively enough, but he often pauses and focuses on particular scenes, inviting the reader to imagine what history must have felt like to the people who lived it. Perhaps owing to the book's origin in television, Schama also enjoys treating the reader to salacious gossip, especially during the Tudor period. (Henry VIII,  I must admit, lent himself well to such stories.) Schama is delightful to read here, reminding me of Alistair Horne's La Belle France. This is an exhilarating charge through English history, full of dashing figures immensely sure of themselves. Though I am somewhat versed in English history, Schama managed to throw a few surprises my way -- I had no idea that an early English historian tried to connect England's history to classical mythology by presenting the settlers of the Welsh, Scots, Irish, and Anglo-Saxons as grandchildren of Aeneas, the young Trojan who -- if you believe Virgil --  fled the wrath of the Greeks and established a new Troy, Rome, along the banks of the Tiber.  The book's illustrations are a high point: the text is replete with large prints of paintings, sketches, and medieval texts alongside photos of English architecture, typically castles and cathedrals. The resolution of the scanned documents is sufficiently detailed that I could read  from the first chapter of the Gospel of John in its Tyndale translation.

Good book for someone looking for an introduction to English history, and those familiar with the subject can still enjoy its humor, not to mention those gorgeous illustrations.  My only fault with the book is its treatment of the Hundred Years War, which is scarcely mentioned. It barely managed to hang on to background status.  Perhaps the war is worth mentioning more in French history texts than in English surveys?  If you're curious, I'd recommend Desmond Seward's The Hundred Years War: the English in France.


  • Peoples of the British Isles: from Prehistoric Times to 1688, Standford E. Lehmberg.  My English history professor assigned this when I took English history two years ago. He also assigned its succeeding volumes for the second half of that course in the spring.  (Not that we needed them, his exams are always pulled from the lectures.) 

Booking through Thursday: Borrowing

Booking through Thursday wants to know: Who would you rather borrow from? Your library? Or a Friend?(Or don’t your friends trust you to return their books?) And, DO you return books you borrow?

Most of my reading comes from libraries, either public or university: this blog originated from a series of posts detailing my weekly trips to the library, whence the name. I borrowed the majority of the Timeline-191 and parts of the WorldWar series by Harry Turtledove from the acquaintance to encouraged me to read them, but beyond this I have borrowed little from friends: The Moscow Option, Mere Christianity, and The Compleat Gentleman are the only three examples that come to mind, and I did not enjoy the latter two because the acquaintances wanted to know immediately how I liked the books. I like to mull things over, and -- well, I didn't enjoy either book, and being diplomatic but honest is difficult.

Back in middle school I became interested in the Animorphs series (in which middle-school kids engage in guerilla warfare using the ability to morph into animals), but my parents forbade me from reading them. Naturally I read them anyway, and devised a clever (so I thought) way to buy the books without my parents being privy: when we entered a shopping center, I left one door of our car unlocked, bought the books I wanted, hid them inside the car, locked the door, and then infiltrated the store once more to browse as normal. I couldn't do this for every book in the series so I started a borrowing/lending group among my friends, and in that way I was able to stay caught up. (I still have a journal from that period detailing which books I currently had lent out, the name of the persons who had them, and the books I was currently borrowing and from whom.

I have only lent two books in the last couple of years: Anton Myrer's Once an Eagle to the acquaintance who let me borrow his dozen Turtledove books, and Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn, to an overworked sociology professor I'm fond of. I still haven't gotten that one back after a year, but I consider it a gift to him by now. Goodness knows he's worth it, considering the lectures, book discussions, and other conversations with him I've enjoyed and learned from these past years. Besides, he's a Marxist and I figure reminding him about the book over and over again will earn me a wry joke about property.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top Ten Villains, Degenerates, Criminals, and Dastardly Cads

This week's top ten list features the best of the worst -- check it out at the Broke and the Bookish. Gul Dukat (below) is my favorite villain, but he doesn't appear in many books. Presented in no real order.

And it's so easy when you're evil!
This is the life you see, the Devil tips his hat to me.
I do it all because I'm Evil, and I do it all for free --
Your tears are all the pay I'll ever need!
("When You're Evil", Voltaire)

1. Elsevan Dupris, Roswell High (Melinda Metz)
Roswell High introduced Dupris as a sleazy tabloid journalist who effects an air of southern gentility, ambling around town with a walking stick, white suit, and straw hat while interviewing people with an oily charm. His habits of knowing a little too much about people and leering at teenage girls make him creepy enough, but he turns into the series' second presiding villain -- a sadistic religious revolutionary with a strange obsession with the 1950s, who caused the Roswell crash.

Most iconic scene: Dupris, torturing people in a replica of the Brady Bunch home while 1950s sitcoms play in the background.
Cover:  Actors portraying Michael Guerin, Max Evans, and Maria DeLuca.

2. Iago, Othello (William Shakespeare)

What's a villains list without Iago? Iago is the master villain, full of bitterness and malice who destroys lives with sinister touches and soft whispers while masquerading as an honest, good friend.

Most iconic scene:  When I think of Iago, I don't think of a particular scene as such, but of these lines: "I hate the Moor; And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets he has done my office: I know not if 't be true; but I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety."

3. Aubrey, In the Forests of the Night (Amelia Atwater-Rhodes)

In the Forests of the Night is the story of Risika and Aubrey, two vampires with a mutual hatred spanning two centuries. Aubrey helped destroy Risika's family when she was still Rachel, a mortal girl living in colonial New England, and he oversaw her conversion into a creature of the night.  The two ripen in their powers to become the two most powerful vampires alive, though neither can long tolerate the other: Risika hates Aubrey, and only her fear of being destroyed prevents her from attacking him. When he begins to attack the few things of beauty she still enjoys as a vampire, they start toward a final confrontation.

Most iconic scene: A repeated visual of Aubrey standing in front of Risika, staring at her with cold, smug eyes and tossing a silver knife carelessly in his hands -- daring her to attack him.

Cover: I believe that is Aubrey on the cover of Demon in my View, but I always imagined him as David Foley from "Blast from the Past"...but sinister and evil. I think it's because of their dress sense. Aubrey is always described as a deliberate dresser with a particular style, and one of Foley's suits reminded me me of this.

4. Count Olaf,  A Series of Unfortunate Events (Daniel Handler)

Hilarious and sadistic. At first Count Olaf appears to want the Baudelaire fortune, but as the series progresses it appears the fortune would have  just been an ancillary benefit to killing off all of his old enemies and anyone who knew about his life of dastardly plots and villainous deeds.

Most iconic scene: Olaf, stuffed in a cage and promising the kids that if they betray their mutual hosts/captors and let him out,  they can be his servants once he defeats the villagers and declares the island they're stranded on to be Olaf-land.

 5. Clarence Potter, Timeline-191 series. Harry Turtledove

Potter serves as a foil to Jake Featherson, a Hitler-figure who takes over the southern confederacy during the Second Great War. (What do you mean, you have no idea what I'm talking about?) Intelligent but patriotic, Potter swallows his pride and contempt for Featherson's beliefs and demagogic approach to gathering power because he believes Featherston can be used to restore the Confederacy to its pre-Great War glory. He becomes an intelligence officer and one of Feather's few confidants. Potter remained likable for most of the series, but his actions in the endgame soured on me. I never liked what he fought for, but I respected him for it until he led an atomic attack on Philadelphia.

Most iconic scene: Potter planning to assassinate Featherson at a rally, and having instead to save the man's life from an incautious socialist revolutionary to prevent chaos from ensuing.

I should note that the above image is not of Potter, but of a rebel artillery captain from the film Gettysburg, played by James Patrick Stuart. I always used his face for Potter, in part because I liked the characters. Stuart shows up immediately as the artillery commander  in this clip.

6. Courtney Massengale, Once an Eagle. (Anton Myrer)

Though both Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale  join the US Army at the start of the Great War, Sam earns his commission through hard work, leadership in the trenches, and persistent displays of superior character while Courtney relies on family influence to arrange a cozy job far from danger. Courtney is a political animal, a schemer, who sees war and martial prowess as a means of gaining glory and prestige: Sam just wants to keep his men alive and do good. The book follows them through to the start of the Vietnam War, when both are generals -- surviving depression and another calamitous fight in their own ways. I've read that the military adores this book.

Most iconic scene: I haven't read the book in four, perhaps five years, so many scenes and their details have left my mind. The introduction of Massengale sets the stage, as the snobbish lieutenant turns his nose up at bedraggled Sergeant Sam Damon and his men, fresh from the front lines of the trenches.

7. The Mule, Foundation and Empire. Isaac Asimov.

The Mule isn't so much a villain as he is a wrench in a good man's plans. Asimov didn't write villains: his antagonists tended to be people whose desires and ambitions simply ran counter to those of the protagonist, and sometimes both sides made mistakes. I don't remember the Mule as being evil, unless you count occasional mind-control as mean, but he had to be stopped for the sake of the galactic human race.

Most iconic scene: The Mule was mostly a grim spectre in Foundation and Empire, rarely showing up in person. (That the reader knew of!) There are thus few scenes with him in the book, but I first realized how good he was at getting his way when he managed to turn his prisoners into his personal bodyguard, and the ship he'd been held in irons on into a personal transport.

8. Cataline, Cataline's Riddle. Steven Saylor; Conspirata, Robert Harris.

If you believe Cicero, Cataline ate babies for breakfast and murdered as a leisure activity. In real life, Cataline  was accused of conspiring to lead an insurrection against Rome's aristocratic elite on behalf of the plebeians, which isn't far-fetched considering both the elite and the dispossessed were constantly trying to kill the other's leaders and achieve supremacy.  Saylor's Catalina isn't so much a villain as an intriguing character.  Is he plotting against the Roman state? Probably. Is that a bad thing?  Is Cataline wrong for wanting to strip away the authority of the aristocrats, who dissolved the people's tribunes and have killed their every advocate?

9. Great Benefit, The Rainmaker. John Grisham.

The financial officers of Great Benefit have figured out the perfect way to make lots of money: sell cheap insurance to low-income families and automatically deny any and all claims filed to collect on that insurance. Even if their 'customers' could overcome their distrust of lawyers, they probably can't afford to pay one to sue on their behalf. On the off-chance someone does sue, employees who know anything and who are willing to talk can be shut up through legal and illegal means.

The Rainmaker is the story of a young, wet-behind-the-ears law graduate who takes on a massive insurance company and exposes their methodical plan to prey on those who can't defend themselves. It is one of my two favorite Grisham works (the other being The Last Juror), in part because profiteering corporations are a lot more likely to hurt people than a Hitler-wizard. And speaking of which...

10. The Malfoys (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)
"Do remind me. Have I made a sneering remark about your wealth or breeding yet?"

Do Lucius and Draco Malfoy deserve to be considered as villains? Probably not. They're despicable people, easy to hate, and I devoutly wished all manner of unpleasantness upon them while reading the books -- but they're just bullies who would be nothing without their support of Lord Voldemort. Today's list isn't just about villains, though: it's also about degenerates.  In every scene the Malfoys featured, they managed to be cruel,arrogant, petty, and obsessed by power and appearance. Every time I read the Half-Blood prince, I am astonished that Rowling manages to make me feel sorry for pathetic Draco.

Honorable Mention: Dolores Umbridge is similarly contemptible, personifying everything anyone has ever disliked about government officials or authority figures. She deserved much worse than she got.

Most iconic scene: The Malfoys were contemptible every time we saw them, but sending Hagrid to Akaban and nearly getting Buckbeat killed in Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban were particularly...mean-spirited moves. Jason Isaacs is so very good at playing contemptible characters.