Wednesday, March 12, 2014

This week at the library: Chimpanzees, El Niño, and simple living

This week at the library I've been working through a lull, having finished my last Stack o' Books and having not yet gotten another one. My plans to fetch said stack were modified after I did a twelve-mile hike through hills on Saturday and consequently spent Sunday in bed watching episodes of The Office on DVD. Turns out I'm not as rough and ready as I thought.  I've been waiting for some books to arrive in the post;  one was ordered weeks ago from Georgia. I could walked over and gotten it by this point! Happily it arrived today. I've been biding my time reading a book on composting.  

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two science books which won’t quite get full comments. The second was Frans de Waal’s Good-Natured, which concerns empathy in animals and  particularly chimpanzees. Considering how much of the book focuses on the same chimpanzees and topics covered in previous works, it’s somewhat redundant; throughout he argues that animals like elephants and chimpanzees are quite socially intelligent,  and delivers example after example to demonstrate how monkeys and chimpanzees act in anticipation of one another’s emotional states, motivated by personal attachment as well as selfish concern.  It’s eye-opening and wondrous if you’ve not read de Waal before, but…I have, and very recently. 

On a different note I read through Brian Fagan’s Floods, Famines, and Emperors, which first attributes the decline of various nation-states to El Niño periods. Considering that in dirt another scientist pinned the decline of some of the same nation-states on their used-up soil,  Flood is something of an example of specialists interpreting everything according to their unique focus. Midway he looks at the stresses climate change has put on historic nations in general, but that is done with more punch in Jared Diamond’s Collapse.  I much prefer the humility of dirt, which offered soil exhaustion as one source of decline, but not The One True Reason.  Fagan remains unique in the field of paleoclimatology, or archaeological meteorology, however.

Presently, I'm reading a delightful book on simple living, and anticipate receiving The Metropolitan Revolution through interlibrary loan shortly enough. Some reviews are in the works for Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England and On Desire, the latter being nearly finished.  Daily Life took some getting into; the first chapter is a formidable treatment of sunken earth homes which even I couldn't take to. Happily after that there's trade, family life, and other such merriment.  Now that I've read about the Anglo-Saxons, I'm free to read The Vikings: can't put the cart before the warhorse!

So, after a busy weekend outdoors and in, the lull is passed and it's on for a few more interesting books. Happy reading, all!

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