Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Books That I Have Read And Don't Have in Bibliography Files Because I'm Careless Like That

[Edit: I posted in a bit of hurry because I had to get put myself to bed for a 5AM shift tomorrow. Since then my schedule has turned into a 10AM start, and I'm going to fix me some infelicities.]

Just a somewhat eclectic list of books that I have read (and mostly bought) over the last few years --good posting for a zombie day. Books get on this list by two votes: either it blew my mind, or I liked it enough to buy it. The two aren't mutually exclusive, but I've been able to afford a library card since getting out of school, whereas the "vote with my pocket" category is broken down into before-my-student-loan-made-a-big-crater and after-I-climbed-out-of-the-hole. In between, there are fun stories about meth-addled room-mates and bedroom-and-a-den living in Kitsilano, if anyone is interested.

Niall Barr, Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein (London: Overlook, 2005). What can I say? A guilty pleasure inclusion.

Stephen Bungay, The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain (London: Aurum Press, 2000). I'm going to stand on my small authority and say that this is the best history of the campaign yet. The link is to to an illustrated edition, because there just isn't enough memory-hogging on the Intertubes yet.

Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley, etc.: UCP, 1999). Enough said already.

Barry W. Cunliffe, Europe Between the Oceans: Themes and Variations, 9000 BC to AD 1000 (Yale: YUP, 2008). Great book, great author, great publishing value! The extension to 1000AD was not well pulled off, but a good summary of where Cunliffe stands.

B.S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001). Long awaited, and worth the wait. Now if only Bert would accept that I'm right about the casting of iron guns.

Harro Höpfl, Jesuit Political Thought: The Society of Jesus and the State, c. 1540--1630 (Cambridge: CUP, 2004). Considering how much we think we know about the Society of Jesus and early modern political thought, this book is a revelation. Such a revelation that I'm going to let it stand in on this list for a far more comprehensive work, Philip Benedict's history of the so-called Calvinist churches. Benedict has written a great book, but it didn't set me on fire the way that Höpfl did.

Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (London: Wiley-Blackwell [check back next week in case this changes; also, nice going on presenting your bibliographic data on the Web, dudes], 2001). Hugely ambitious, and first of a promised two volume work. For which see Strachan, below for hideous threats to stimulate activity.

David Mindell, Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, And Computing Before Cybernetics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002). So we've got this new technology, right? They're called computers? And we've got no idea how we got where we are. People can get away with writing stupid, stupid books on the subject because professional historians don't do this sort of stuff. Maybe we should start? Maybe, to put it more accurately, someone much smarter than I, who actually gets this stuff, could start? Thanks, David. (I could have cited Malcolm Campbell-Kelly instead, but Mindell drilled deeper.)

Mark Munn, The Mother of the Gods, Athens, And the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion (Berkeley, etc.: UCP, 2006). There's this edifice of established ancient history, a tripod erected to the Olympian Twelve that towers over us. Actually, it looks a little precarious since Burkert blew up one of its legs. Oops! There goes another, done in by a crazy Italian suicide bomber! Now Munn does for the last ...And, crap, it just hangs there in the air, unsupported. Maybe we should pull our narrative out from under it before it remembers about gravity?

Graham Rhys-Jones, The Loss of the Bismarck: An Avoidable Disaster (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999). The title may leave the impression that Annapolis has been colonised by Neo-Nazis, but this is the first treatment of the Bismarck chase that seems to have been written by an actual naval strategist. Hello? Turns out that navigation is important in naval campaigns? See, this is the advantage in having experts write on subjects like these.

N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Oceans: A Naval History of Britain, 1649--1815 (New York: Norton, 2004). Volume 2? Volume 2 of what? Safeguard of the Sea was Volume 1, so is this the second volume of a work that has a title? Nice going, bibliographer/title-writing guys. That bitch aside, this is the masterwork of a great historian. And unlike many such works, Rodger is not afraid to take bold new positions in what others would regard as a chance to sum up and be done.

Susan Ronald, The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire (New York: HarperCollins, 2008). Timely revisionism, and perhaps also showing that when you write about monarchs, you should have a personal touch? Ah, I'm probably descending into gendered essentialism again.

Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility And Science in Seventeenth Century England (Chcago, etc.: UCP, 1994). Needs more religion. Most early modern history does.

Hew Strachan, The First World War Volume 1 (Oxford: OUP, 2001). Doctor Strachan? Not to feel like you're under pressure or anything, but I doubt that you would enjoy being locked in a room with George R. R. Martin until you both produce a manuscript.

Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400--800AD (Oxford: OUP, 2006). If I'm right about the consequences of short-run demographic history (and the way that tenure is failing to promote research and publication in the humanities, but that's another story), this ought to be a golden age of historical scholarship right now. So it's perhaps not surprising that we are seeing works reminiscent of the greatest scholarship. In this case, we have a work that is very similar to Braudel's Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II. Wickham's Framing recalls the first part of Braudel's classic, Inheritance of Rome the second part. I make this comparison in a formal sense, of course. Wickham's approach is most definitely not Braudel's. And pardon the non-sequitur, but holy crap, I've got to get to the library! Holy crap! I'm tempted to just order it now ....done.

Corner Vann Woodward and Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815--1848 (Oxford, etc.: OUP, 2007). With authors' names like that, you don't have to be Glenn Beck to suspect that you're getting the Whig party line. But a masterpiece nonetheless and a huge boost to the Oxford History of America series. Neither of the two volumes in the series that I have picked up since have been anywhere near as impressive. The title, though... I've had pretty avid lay readers of history steer clear of the book just because it mentions "God" in the title. I would have gone off over "Transformation" instead, had I been in the mood to be dismissive.

Adam T. Smith, The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities (Berkeley, etc.: UCP, 2003). It blew up my brain! Tone's a bit smug, but then, he is a prof at the University of Chicago, so it could be worse.

Benjamin Woolley, Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Founding of America (New York: HarperCollins, 2007). Read alongside this for the long-run perspective.

Norman Yoffee, Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations (Cambridge: CUP, 2005). "Nothing is more normal than for an early state to fail." Or something like that. Post-processual archaeological theory has the potential to transform the whole historical project. This is a very lucid undertaking in the field.

John Zammito, A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-Positivism in the Study of Science From Quine to Latour (Chicago: UCP. 2004). The sound you hear is me patting myself on the back for reading this fascinating but challenging book cover to cover. Screw the self-congratulation, though. This is lucid coverage of a big and important subject. Note the inclusion of Quine, who doesn't even get into Suppe. This would be a great assignment for a graduate seminar. It's argumentative, taking, for example, a cautiously positive view of Sokal at risk of Michael Berubé dropping another "hilarious," but also offering us cautious affirmation of our intuitive belief in epistemic progress. And it's the same account that I mocked when Glenn Deer presented it in an undergraduate seminar in 1989. Colour me embarrassed!


  1. I just finished Strachan myself, and I'm pretty sure that the reason we don't have volume II and III is not with the author. From his forward I understood that in 2001 he had all three volumes at least mostly done, and in 2004 he wrote a single volume history of the entire war.

    My guess is that despite the critical acclaim that Volume I: To Arms recieved, it didn't sell very well. I will admit that when I explained to my family that I was reading a thousand page book on World War One through the end of 1914... they mocked me a lot. Even though it was very well done, I can definitely see it not selling particularly well. So if the publisher came to him and suggested he shorten down three thousand pages to a few hundred...

    Really enjoy these lists: just added about 5-6 books to my to-read list.


  2. It could be, but the spinning out of portions of First World War Vol 1 into three separately published volumes suggests that there's some kind of audience for the project.

    Surely there's similar publishing gold to be found in the next two volumes. I'm not going to second guess Strachan's choices here. I'll be glad to have the next volumes, when and if they're done. If he doesn't get them done, I understand.

    But I do reserve the right to bitch about it on the Internet. That's what it's for!

  3. If my friends' facebook statuses are anything to go by, I gather GRRM has just given a completion date for his next book today...

    I'll have to look up the Zammito - it's not one I'm familiar with. I didn't think that any of the Berube I'd read on the Sokal stuff was particularly unfair - anything in particular you were referring to?

  4. By a remarkable coincidence indeed, Dances With Dragons will come out this July in the beach-reading season, between the first season of the HBO series and the second. I'm almost tempted to be cynical.

    On Berube on Sokal I'm just aping his delivery of hilarious in comment threads when people reference the whole "transgressing the law of gravity by walking out of a tenth story window" thing. He's usually such a smart and even-tempered guy that it always struck me as showing a little touchiness.

    Zammito can speak for himself, and in contrast to Berube, he is brutal towards Social Text. I was going to fess off to just showing off, but a quick rereading of Zammito and Berube suggests that I should have more faith in my reading. Critical science studies really did claim to attack epistemology of science. Reducing that to an editor's error, as Berube does, is to evade the import of the hoax.

    Or something like that. Oh God. I disagreed with Michael Berube on the Interweb. I'm going to get my arse handed to me in the unlikely event he notices.

  5. Yeah, I think Social Text deserved pretty much all it got, and Sokal's not unreasonable; it's his bandwaggon-jumpers that get tiresome. (As indeed are the wilder fringes of the STS community, but hey...) As a former aero engineering guy, I have a gut-level attraction to the 'no relativists at 30,000 feet' argument, but actual engineering epistemology is far more interesting.