[Book Review] Evening conversations with a long-dead Mayan priestess

thefallingwomanThe Falling Woman by Pat Murphy

“I was mad because I said words they did not wish to hear, because they could not control me, they could not drag me along like a tethered dog. And so they said I was mad.”

When Elizabeth, an archaeologist with a track record of making incredible discoveries, looks at a historic site, she sees not just the ruins, but the ghosts of the people and civilizations that once existed there.  It’s a gift she’s learned to live with, and keeps secret lest it gets her labeled crazy and thrown out of academia and into a hospital. But her simple archaeological routine is shattered when, during an investigation of ancient Mayan ruins, the shadow of a long-dead priestess sees Liz and speaks to her…and Liz’ daughter arrives out of the blue, mourning her father’s death and hoping to reconnect with her mother. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Short Review of a Short History

The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson 

Read by Richard Matthews

Take-home messages:

  1. Hell hath no fury as two scientists bickering.
  2. Science consists of scientists bickering, feuding, and/or driving each other into obscurity or suicide.
  3. In the large scheme of things, the existence of humanity is a monumental accident and a rather fleeting millisecond.
  4. People are really rather terrible.
  5. People are really rather terrible for the planet.

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[ Book Review ] History for the history geeks, Russian-style

Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes

(The second edition)

With this book, I am taking a brief break from light space opera and diving into a more substantial text. Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes offers a comprehensive  overview of Russian history from its state formation during the first millennium AD to 1880 — the decade when “the ancien regime in the traditional sense died a quiet death.” (xxi)

Through frequent contrasts with Western Europe, Pipes draws the reader down the chronology of the rise of the Russian empire and the forces, internal and external, that shaped its history. For me, this books stands out for the attention it pays to building the foundation for an understanding of Russian culture, from the geographical and climatic conditions, to the Mongol takeover, its legacy, and the presence and quality of the Christian Orthodox church.

Rather than presenting history as a series of discrete events, Pipes stresses social, economic, and political connections as it presents a continuous narrative. However, this is a historical text, heavy with detail and tangential asides, shifting from the historical narrative , the etymology of “Russia”, to the manner in which terms like “patrimony”, “despot” and “feudalism” are (and whether they should) be used to refer to the Russian Empire and its organization.

The book is not an airplane read, nor is it, despite the dry wit that is occasionally apparent in the narrative, a light piece of nonfiction. I would not recommend this to someone who has no prior interest in either history, Russia, or the Soviet Union.

That said, the book is well written, and if you have any interest in Russian history, it is a must read.