Monday, October 22, 2012

This Week at the Library (22 October)

A day or so ago, I finished the second book in Bernard Cornwell's King Arthur trilogy, Enemy of God, and realized with a sigh that last year, I only purchased the first two books in the series. Why I didn't this, I can't recall, except that it didn't seem prudent to buy an entire trilogy when I had no idea if I'd like it. But why would I have thought this, when the trilogy was by Bernard Cornwell, who delights me like no other?  And so despite my being utterly enraptured by the story, I'll have to wait until the third book, which I ordered this weekend, can be shipped to me.  It should arrive at roughly the same time as the books I purchased for my upcoming tribute-to-England reading, which will include Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island.  I'll be reading those around 5 November, the date of Guy Fawkes night.  Bryson never fails to amuse, so I'm looking forward to that.

This week, I'm reading Bitterly Divided:  the South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams, which declares the idea of southern unity a lie, and examines the way the Confederacy was wracked by dissent from its very beginnings.  This was a predominant theme in A People's History of the Civil War, which Williams also wrote, and I took such heart in it that I began looking around for more books in this area of scholarship. It's a promising story of human defiance so far -- of draft dodgers, Union sympathizers fighting guerilla-style, slave revolts, and armed women seizing goods from the marketplace when speculators drove the price of bread too high.

On another note, I'm pursuing another passion of mine: the Apocalypse.  I've read a fair few books on religion in the past five or six years, but only a few have really made their mark on my mind. One of those was Bart Ehrman's God's Problem, which explores three biblical explanations for the origins of evil and suffering. Theodicy isn't an issue for me, but one of the three biblical approaches was rooted in what Ehrman calls apocalypticism, the idea that the world is a battlefield between spiritual forces of good and evil, and that miracles are manifestations of the power of these forces, and that one day a chosen one will win the ultimate victory for good.  This part of the Zoroastrian religion influenced Judaism, and thus Christianity and Islam, and it's one of the reasons people today are somewhat insane.  While I knew the western religions had picked up dualism from Persia, I didn't realize the Messiah bit was connected to that until I read Ehrman, and learning that threw a lot of light on a question that's been bugging me since 2005 about Judaism's evolution.  Anyhoo, since reading God's Problem, I've wanted to find out more, and so last week  I purchased Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Ehrman's portrayal of the historical Jesus as someone who believed that the world was ending the week after next.  My hope is that he'll expand on Apocalpyticism.

Last this past week I read Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation, by Joseph T. Hallman, in which Hallman gives a history of American penalism while traveling throughout the country and visiting its most pivotal prisons. One out of every one hundred Americans is in prison, which is quite a statistic: "the land of free" leads the world in incarceration, putting even police states like China to shame.  Prisons are big business, and that's the point of Hallman's book. Whereas in the past prisons were thought to be "reformatories" that might fix crime, or at least a place of last resort, now they're a source of revenue. Prisoners are captive consumers and cheap labor, and the enormous facilities that keep them isolated from society are the economic backbone of counties across the nation that have seen their industries move overseas for cheap labor of their own.  Now prisoners are "clients", and cities hope for their numbers to grow.

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