The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann

Hello my dears! How’s this rainy, cold, delightful, hopefully blanket-wrapped afternoon treating you (also, if you’re not wrapped up and/or snuggled with a pet on a day like today…what is your life like and why did you make it that way?).

David Grann just might be my favourite non-fiction author. I loooooved The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon sounds amazing (I’m waiting for it to get released in soft cover though, cause I don’t make that Hardcover money). He’s just got such a good ear for a compelling story. I think it has something to do with his obsession with obsessives (which I touched on a little, in my review for Z), his drive to figure out what drives other people to dive into a subject to the point where it consumes them, where it’s detrimental to their health and well-being. There’s just something about how wrapped up people get that I find really fascinating.

I was a little nervous about this one because it’s a different format, a collection of long pieces rather than a full, book-length story, which is a different beast. I was worried some of the stories would seem condensed, that there wouldn’t be enough space to get into the nitty gritty of a good tale of madness and obsession. But it’s where he started out, where he cut his writers teeth (that’s a weird saying, right?) and you can tell. He seems at home with the form, comfortable with it, and all the stories are just the right length for the medium. So comfortable, in fact, that even though I had intended to read this in piecemeal between other novels, as a sort of palette cleanser, I ended up just binging right through it.

Before I wrap this up I will say that normally with a collection of an author’s shorter works, there are a handful that I don’t connect with, and one or two that I skip altogether, but in this collection I read through and really enjoyed them all. The closest I came in this book was probably the story about the dude who’s hunting giant squids. It was still really interesting, but not quite as up my alley as the one about the man who collected Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries right up until the day that he ended up in one himself, or the Aryan Brotherhood’s stranglehold on American prisons, or a post-industrial ghost town in the States that’s mostly run by the mob.

Recommended for lovers of good, well-researched investigative journalism, people who are looking for a quality, diverse book binge, and anybody that digs a good story about people who tumble a little too far down the rabbit hole.

VBR

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Right off the top you gals, this one is a tough read.

Not tough in the sense that it’s a slog or that you have to push your way through. Kind of the opposite, actually. I was propelled through this book, captivated by it, couldn’t put it down. I usually read on the train on my way to work, but this is the first time I can remember that I would read all day before my shift, read while walking to and from transit, and only put it away when my boss started giving me the side eye. It’s not the writing that’s tough, it’s the subject. This book is about hunger, yeah, but it’s also about suffering and humiliation, about craving love and comfort and acceptance, about never finding it, or finding it and not recognizing it, finding it and losing it, finding it and having it not be enough. This book is about a lot of things and none of them are easy.

When Gay was a small child she went through something horrendous, something that changed her and altered the course of her entire life. I’m not going to get into what the event itself actually is (I tried a couple of times and just…read the book. Gay was there, it happened to her, and she’s a better writer than me anyways), but I will warn you that it does have to do with sexual violence and it’s…very difficult to read. Gay’s great talent as a writer is her voice, her ability to make you empathize and relate to her, to connect with and feel like you understand her. In anything else of hers that I’ve read that’s a strength, and it’s a strength here too, it’s just a complicated one. It hurts to watch somebody you’re connecting with suffer so much.

I’ve never read a memoir quite like this one, one so concerned with the body. It makes sense, it’s what this part of her story is all about. The invasion of it, the effort she went through to change it, the consequences of that change. And she has such an interesting view of the body, one so different from my own. For myself, I see my body and me as one. There’s no difference, no space, between the two. But Roxane constantly refers to her body as a structure separate from herself, as a prison, a fortress, a cage, a cave. Always things that you can either hide or be held in. For her, maybe that’s not that far from the truth. She used food to turn her body into a stronghold. Big, imposing, impregnable, but inescapable as well. Sometimes she loves her body and how strong it is, sometimes she hates the limits it puts on her, but she’s always aware of it, in a way I’ve never experienced. Things that most people take for granted are constant sources of stress and anxiety for her: shopping, going for walks with friends, getting on an airplane, going to events (she tells a story about an event that she had to speak at where there was an elevated stage, about three feet off the ground, and no stairs. After visibly struggling in front of the audience to get on to the stage, eventually having to be helped up by some of the other speakers, she sat on the flimsy, thin wooden chair that they’d placed on the stage for her and heard a crack. She was able to use the strength of her legs to take her weight off the chair enough so that it didn’t break, but she was so humiliated by the experience that she threw up in her mouth and had to swallow it), and even what she can and can’t eat in public. She says to a friend that offers her chips at one point that people “that look like me don’t get to eat food like that in public.”

Which brings me to my next point. Can we please, as a society, just stop being shitty to people about their bodies? The constant comments and intrusions that Gay has to face from people all the time, the humiliations, are unacceptable. No person should be subjected to that kind of treatment. And I know, I know, you say that you’re concerned about their health and whatever, but let’s be honest here, you’re really not. You’re trying to make yourself feel good about your own body, your own flaws, by framing somebody else’s as being worse. You’re putting someone else down to make yourself feel good. It’s what children and bullies do, so grow up and cut it the fuck out.

This book is, without a doubt, one of the rawest and most intimate memoirs I’ve ever read. And so universally human too. I felt myself constantly surprised by how relatable I found it. I may not have experienced the trauma that she has, or lived in the body she’s lived in, or done the things she’s done, but I kept seeing myself in her reactions and desires. Her hungers are the ones we all feel, for food yeah, but also for love and affection and respect, safety and security and comfort. For peace. I hope she finds it.

Recommended for those who like intimate, personal accounts of tragedy, those who like intelligent, sharp takes on difficult things we don’t often talk about, and people who don’t mind ugly crying on a bus full of strangers. Really though, read this book.

VBR

 

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I have such a crush on this lady.

Roxane Gay was another one of those authors who I’ve been hearing about for years, but never really got around to reading. Then she had a couple of big media moments over the last little bit that kept floating her name to the top of the book news world and eventually bumped her up on my list. One, her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body just recently came out to some rave reviews (which, despite my staggering, towering, unconquerable TBR pile, I just bought a copy of yesterday, partly because I enjoyed reading Bad Feminist so much, mostly because I have no self control) and two, when S&S inexplicably gave that vile, slime-ball, shockjock Milo whateverhisnameis a book deal, Roxane Gay pulled out of some stuff with them (because she’s a fucking boss). It’s not like I wouldn’t have read her without these things, but they definitely pushed me to dig her up from the depths of my bookshelves a little sooner than I might have.

I’m soooooo happy that I did.

Gay is a smart as fuck, take no shit woman with a keen eye and a savage writing talent. She tears apart our culture (some pop, some not) with her bare hands, peeling back the skin to expose the layers of misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia that lay beneath. Most of the time she doesn’t have to dig deep. Sometimes she doesn’t have to dig at all. And that may sound a little…lecturey, or finger waggy, but it’s really not. It’s educational, but it’s also filled with hope and humor. There’s a lot wrong with the world, and she knows it, but she’s not beat down by it, can still find things to laugh about. She’s got such a sharp, wicked sense of humor that even when she was talking about some really bleak shit I found myself laughing along with her.

Gay also has a lot of empathy and understanding (most of the time) for people and their fears, the things that stop them from being their best selves. She even admits to it readily when she does the same (she likes hip hop and acknowledges that it’s a complicated love, that you can nod your head along to a catchy song while hating the lyrics that degrade your entire gender). She may get angry sometimes, and rightfully so, but she’s never mean, never unfair. She just wants us all to be better, herself included.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best collections of essays I’ve ever read. I normally don’t read them all in one go, usually I split them up with short story collections or read them alongside a novel, bit by bit. But I read this one front to back and almost entirely in one sitting. I’d get done with one essay, be about to put it down and do something else, and I’d think “just one more”, over and over again, until eventually I had no more “one more”s to go. I didn’t agree with her one hundred percent of the time (though I did a lot), but she’s got such a sharp insight, such a unique mind, that there was something to be learned in each and every one of these pieces. And the writing! Uggghhhhh. This woman is the writer that I want to be, that I’m trying to be, that I fear I’ll never live up to.

I’d recommend this book for people who identify as feminist, for people who identify as definitely not feminist or anti-feminist (which I’m a little bit less forgiving of then she is. I mean…come on, anti-feminist? If gender quality is something that you’re actively against then you can do me the kindness of unfollowing my blog, and do us all the kindness of fucking off to live in a monastery somewhere. The kind where they don’t let you access the internet. Or talk. Or have kids), and for people who are on the fence about their feminism. So…everybody. Go out and buy it!

Anywhoodle, that’s all for now! Speak to ya soon 🙂

VBR

 

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Because the last one was so short, and only kind of a review, I decided I’d write another one for ya today. And because the sun is shining and summer is in full bloom out here, I decided to write about a book that tackles one of the bleakest parts of European history. Hurrah!
This is my favourite book by one of my all-time favourite nonfiction authors.
Larson has written a lot of great stuff (The Devil in the White City is a contender for my favourite one of his as well. I have a morbid fascination with serial killers, and an almost as morbid fascination with obsession. I love stories about people whose whole lives have been sucked up by something, how that can, for just a little bit, make them great, before everything else around them collapses from lack of attention. I don’t know why it interests me so much, but the things that obsessives can achieve before their almost inevitable downfall has always captivated me. Plus H.H. Holmes is one doozy of a serial killer. Crazy, gross, horrific stuff), but this is the one that feels the most important to me right now.
I’m not going to go too much into the current political climate (you’re on the internet, you’ve spent just as much time being bombarded, day after endless day, by that stuff as I have), but I figure once I’m done talking about this book, you’ll probably know what I mean.
It’s the story of an American ambassador and his family in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Now there’s been tons of books about Nazi Germany, I’ve read a few of them myself, but I’ve never read one that had this perspective on it. This is a prime view of a progressive, wealthy, relatively liberal country slowly turning down the road of fascism, heading down the path that led to one of the most horrific events in modern history. Fully understanding why it happened is…a task. It’s so complicated, and people who are smarter than I am have butted their heads up against before and failed. But I think this book has a good handle on one of the facets of it.
The family in the novel have regular contact with the German elite, both the Nazis and the intellectuals who despise them. At the beginning of the novel everybody has heard the stories about violence against the Jewish population, but nobody really believes them (that and an undercurrent of broad, universal antisemitism, not just in Germans but in everybody, tend to undermine any of the reports of violence that have been spreading about). Their country is a relatively progressive, safe place, and they can’t believe that anything too bad could really happen there. They all seem pretty secure in the idea that somebody would stop it if it did. Besides, it’s not happening to them, not affecting their families and loved ones. Not yet. But bit by bit you watch as the family, and everybody around them, comes into more and more contact with the rising tide of fascism, the violence and the racism and irrationality of the Nazis. By the time people realize that it’s not a passing phase, that this party and their petty, ridiculous leader are not actually a joke, it’s too late. They and their loved ones are no longer safe. The Nazis have too much power and they’re too quick to use it.
I don’t need to spell out to you why I think this is an important idea to have out there right now, better writers than me have already made the comparison, and more eloquently than I could. But even if you disagree with my interpretation of recent events, this is an interesting and important read. Watching a modern society slide into that kind of brutality is infuriating and depressing, but it’s also fascinating.
For lovers of nonfiction, history, WWII, and a unique perspective on events that have already been talked to death. (And I know I say this a bit, but) Also just anybody. This is a really good book you guys, and I think ya’ll would like it :).


VBR

PS. This is a dark book about a dark topic, so maybe in retaliation to that (and other things) go out there and spread a little love around. Tell somebody you think they look great (but don’t be creepy), or offer to help somebody you see struggling, or maybe just buy the coffee of the person standing behind you in line at your local cafe. It doesn’t have to be big, but every nice thing you do adds to our side of the scale. Let’s tip that shit in our favour. ❤

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Lately I’ve been hearing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ name everywhere. It started when his book, Between the World and Me, blew up after it was published in 2015. Everybody had an opinion about it, and most of them were good. Every bookish person I know, bloggers, podcasters, and…what do you call those things again? The ones who you eat burritos with sometimes, and every now and again when you’re quietly reading a book somewhere, they’re also reading a book quietly nearby? Also the name of a sitcom from the nineties that was funny when you were a kid, but now when you go back and watch it it’s reaaaaaally homophobic and of its time…nope, can’t think of it. I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually. Anywho! Every bookish person I know was gushing (what a gross word) about this guy and how important his book is, and more importantly, how good it is. And I see it everywhere. New copies of it are still on the front display shelf of my favourite book store, two years later. That’s gotta mean something.
But because I’m the type of person that I am, and because I buy books as often as most people buy food, I’ve been waiting to find it used and marked down a little in price. The math isn’t hard. I buy cheaper, used books, I get more books. The more books I get, the happier I am. Simple. But try as I might (and trust me, I’ve been looking) Between the World and Me is nowhere to be found. It’s been two years now and I haven’t come across it once. For a book that’s sold as much as this one has, that’s bananas. That means that almost everybody that bought it (at least where I live) got enough out of it, connected with it enough, to want to keep it. That’s incredible. (Either that or they all hated it enough to want to watch it burn themselves. I can’t say for sure which one, but I think the former is a pretty safe bet).
So when I came across this memoir in the used section, I snatched it up. I couldn’t wait. Finally, something of his that I could buy with a clean conscience. After two years of waiting I’d get to see what the hype was about.
And honestly? It didn’t disappoint. I had crazy high expectations for this (see above overly long intro) and I still finished off liking it more than I thought I would. This dude has a hypnotic rhythm to his writing, a lyrical, melodic style that carries you through so quickly that every time I ran up against the end of the chapter I was surprised. He’s a beautiful writer, with a voice all his own. The subject matter was fascinating (coming of age stories always get me, especially when they give insight to a lifestyle and culture that differs this much from the one that I was raised in), but even if it had been about different species of potatoes I still would have stuck with it for the writing alone.
If there was one thing that caught me up while reading this, popped me out of the story every now and again, it was that this book is so specifically set, so deep into the culture and the time that he’s writing about, that I missed a lot of the references. We grew up in different decades, different cultures, across a whole continent from one another. That’s a lot of space, a lot of distance. I’m not complaining, a window into a different life is the whole reason I read memoirs, I just thought I’d give you a wee heads up so you’d expect it. Unless you’re really attuned to the language and pop-culture of the eighties in Baltimore, you’re probably gonna have a time or two where you’re left scratching your head. Which is fine, it’s part of what reading is about. And hey, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. Reading! Hurray!
So I think I get it now, why all those people kept their books. I’ve read a decent amount of memoirs in my time, but this one left a deeper impression than most. It’s pretty fresh on the mind, but I’m willing to bet that in the next few weeks and months it’ll still be rattling around in there, calling my attention. Or maybe not, it’s hard to know which books will still have an impact on you months or years from now. Either way, I bought a full-price copy of Between the World and Me yesterday, and I don’t feel bad about it at all.
For people who like coming of age stories, people who are interested in Baltimore in the eighties, a window into the lives of people living among the crack boom and uncertainty and violence of that decade, or people that just like to read interesting stories, written beautifully. If you haven’t read anything by this guy, you should really get out there and pick something up.


VBR

PS. His run on Black Panther is really dope. People have been having mixed reactions to it, calling it boring or whatever, but I think most of them just need to relax a little. It’s only two trade paperbacks in at the moment and it’s a bit of a slow burn. I have faith in this guy, and so should you. Just give it a little more time to bloom before you abandon it.

PPS. Friends.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Continuing my trend of being super contemporary and timely, (does doing something twice, poorly, count as a trend?) I’m going to write a review of this book that I read a few months ago, that was released a few years ago, because of a movie that’s coming out soon(ish? Or maybe it’s already out? I could just google the release date, but I’m not gonna).

I love this book. A lot.

I live in a really rainy, dreary, overcast pacific northwest city (ten bonus points and a hug if you can guess which one) that had a record number of rainy, dreary, pacific northwest-y days this winter. I’ve got a high tolerance, and even fondness most of the time, for that kind of thing, but by the end of this winter even I was starting to drag a bit. Worse than that, I’d been in a major reading slump for months, one of the worst I’ve ever had. No matter what I picked up, I just couldn’t really sink into anything. I’d grab something, read a few pages, and pop it back onto the shelf. Even the old tried and true method of action packed and fantasy oriented didn’t work. Eventually I gave up, increased my TV and podcast intake to fill the gaps, and went about my dreary, bookless days.

It was during one of these podcasts (All The Books. It’s great, you should check it out) I was reminded about this book. They’d talked about it a bunch of times before, and one of them even mentioned it was one of her favourite books. I had it sitting on my shelf at home and I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
I was instantly sucked in. I’ve never met David Grann before, he has absolutely no idea who I am, but I can’t help but feel, down in the deepest parts of my bookish lil’ heart, that this was designed specifically to delight me. It has an eccentric, larger than life, Alan Quartermain/Indiana Jones-esque main character, an old school society of adventurers, history facts (my favourite!), more information about the amazon than you could shake a stick at, war, intrigue, murder, aspiring movie stars, hapless wanna-be explorers, and just about anything else you could ask for. Did you know that there was actually a group in England called the Royal Geographical Society that trained “gentleman explorers” to head out and explore the world, mapping it as they went, and that these adventurers, loyal to the Empire, often acted as spies for the crown? How fucking cool is that? (And yes, I am aware that they helped to propogate the British Empire, which was most definitely a bad, one of the baddest bads. But you gotta admit, it’s also crazy interesting). By page two I was intrigued. By page fifty I was considering calling in sick for work.

Even though this story is bananas and chock-full of interesting characters and natural narrative hooks, I don’t think it would’ve been the same if anybody other than Grann had written it. The guy’s got a great eye for what makes a story compelling (I will admit that we seem to share a common love for obsessive types. I think all the most intriguing stories are, in one way or another, born out of obsession), and he writes about the people involved with genuine enthusiasm and empathy. As you’re reading you get the sense that he’s just as invested in getting to the bottom of the story as you are.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I loved this book. I’d recommend it for anybody who loves history or adventure or fun facts or even just a good story well told. And i’d especially recommend it for people who are going through a reading slump or a month-long case of the Mondays. I’m not going to pretend that it completely wiped away my blues, or that it caused the sun to shine or the birds to sing. But, for a few hours, it did make me forget about the rain.

Love you folks,

VBR

The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead

Hey, hey guys! I’m being contemporary today! I’m writing a review for a book that I just finished reading. That’s right. Not a fantasy series I finished half a decade ago, or a beloved memoir/book on writing that I first read when I was twenty, but I book that I finished just. last. night. Aren’t you proud of me? I mean, sure, it was published a couple of years ago and isn’t in any way relevant to what’s going on in the world right now, not a part of the zeitgeist (blegh! Is there any way of using that word without sounding like a total dickhead? “Stop using the word zeitgeist, ya dickhead!” Found it). But, you know, baby steps and all that.

On to the review!

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it, and I think it’s pretty obvious why:

I do not give a shit about poker.

I get why some people are into it, the rush of the gamble or the math or the strategy, but I have never been interested in it and I never will be. Whenever Whitehead talked about any of the technical stuff behind poker, I could feel my attention starting to drift. I’ve never read anything about the game before (or played it even. See aforementioned disinterest), so I thought it might be neat to pick up a book about it and learn a little bit. This one got bonus points for being written by an author that I like, who’s got chops, who has something to say. Turns out I was wrong. I didn’t have a terrible time, but I didn’t have a great time, and I definitely didn’t retain any of the poker information he doled out throughout the course of the book. It held such little interest to me that it vanished, cheap Vegas magician style, as soon as I read it. In one eye and out the other.

But that’s not Whitehead’s fault! He’s great! His voice, his intelligence and his particular brand of self-deprecating humor, are what kept me going throughout this book. In any other hands a book like this would’ve been a total dud for me, but even when I was tapping my foot hoping the cards-y stuff would end soon, he would slip a joke in that genuinely made me smile. I like this dude a lot, and am excited to read some of his stuff that falls a little more within my wheelhouse (I’m coming for you Zone One). This one just wasn’t for me. And I’m okay with that. Not every book has to be.

Good for people who like poker, or maybe are interested in learning just a little about it, and those who love jokes about sadness and despair. Also jerky enthusiasts.

Ta ta for now 🙂

VBR

On Writing by Stephen King

I’m going to let ya’ll know, right off the top, that I have a particular and everlasting love of this book. I’ve reread it probably three times now, which is more than most other books, especially considering it’s a nonfiction (I don’t think I’ve ever gone back and reread a nonfiction book before).
The first time I read it was during my very first creative writing course. I was struggling, a lot, I’d hit a wall and I couldn’t seem to push through it. Nothing I was writing was good enough, even down to the sentence by sentence stuff, and I couldn’t seem to get anything on the page that I didn’t just immediately erase. If anybody that’s reading this has ever had that experience before, you know how defeating it can be. To have an idea that your insecurities, disguised as perfectionism, just won’t let you express. I talked to my teacher and he tried to guide me through it a bit, but when that didn’t work he lent me a copy of this book. I don’t know what it was about King’s writing, maybe it’s the matter of fact way that he talks about just putting shit down and editing it later, or the way that he lets you in to his life and the times when he’s had trouble getting back to writing, but it really helped get me over that hump.
The second time was another slump. I’d just gotten out of a bad relationship and I was having trouble getting things out again. I had ideas a plenty, but most of them seemed like hack trash. I was perusing a used bookstore, my normal pick me up activity when I’m feeling a little blue, and I came across this and remembered how much help it had been the last time so I picked it up. Again, even though I knew what was in the book this time, his steady hand and matter of fact explanations about the craft of writing, the bits and bolts of it, his assurance that you’re the only one hindering yourself when it comes to writing (but also, you should really never do this and this and this), really saw me through my slump.
Now it’s become my writing slump ritual. I feel sorry for myself for a week or two, I eat too many pastries and spend hours sifting through musty old book stores, and then I pick up this book, and read it, and remember that the only thing I need to do in order to write again is to want to.

Love,

VBR

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker

“As one becomes aware of the decline of violence, the world begins to look different. The past seems less innocent; the present less sinister.”

I’m not sure why I’ve decided to review this book now. It’s not a new book and it’s been a while since I read it. I just saw it sitting on my shelf and got to thinking about it, about how hopeful it is and how starkly it contrasts with most of the news being pumped through on my feed. I think it carries a really important message, one that sounds a bit of a rallying cry to those that refuse to believe things are only getting worse and worse, and one that deserves to get spread around as much as possible.

It’s not very often that you read a book that completely changes the way that you think about things. I’d always known that I had a problem with that “everything these days is so much worse than it was when I was a kid” thing that people always say, but I never really pushed back against it. I disagreed, but I wasn’t able to articulate the reasons why it didn’t seem right to me that we were living in an era of unprecedented crime and danger, even though we could see rights for several marginalized groups steadily improving over the course of the last few decades, that I myself could come out of the closet in a small rural community and have almost no issues (there were a few, but nothing like what I would have gone through twenty, even ten, years before. I may not have always been happy with the way people talked to me, but I was safe). Better Angels Of Our Nature not only gave me the tools and knowledge I needed to confirm my suspicions that we were, in fact, doing okay, but also provided me with a complete change in perspective when looking at the current state of mankind.
This book goes through and systematically picks apart the idea of continually declining morals, using historical context (being alive in medieval times, or industrial revolution times, or ANY time before now was fucking bleak), statistical information regarding death by violent causes (often even low balling past numbers and high balling current numbers just to make it seem fair), and giving some pretty good reasons why people always seem to think the world is spiraling out of control (historical myopia, confirmation bias, increased access to information regarding crimes through media, etc.).
Brief warning before you dive into this one, it’s a brick of a book. It’s big and it’s full of lots of statistical data and facts about the human brain and behavior, so you’ve got to be prepared to parse through a lot of that kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, this book is not a slog. Stephen Pinker is a great writer with an engaging voice and humor to spare, but it does require a lot of attention and more than a little effort to get through.
I’m worried that I’ve left the impression that this book is a clinical dissection of things, and that’s not really the case. It’s very well argued, Stephen Pinker is an academic and structures his argument like one, but the message behind it is a really hopeful, human one. He makes the argument that we should be proud of ourselves for what we’ve managed to do so far and that we shouldn’t give up pushing for progress, because when we’ve done it in the past we’ve made some (albeit limited) progress. Societal advancement is a stop and start, stuttering, sometimes slightly backsliding process, but it does have a general upwards tick to it.
Anyways, this was a really good, informative, hopeful read. If you’re a human behavioral nerd like me, a history nerd like me, or you just want a book that will prove to you the world is not barrelling down a barren slope into an open, bone strewn pit, you should give it a go.
🙂
VBR

1491 By Charles C. Mann

Hey! So I know I said I wasn’t going to post anything for a few days because of that bummer of a book that I was reading (and just finished, hurray!), but I remembered that I’d been meaning to give a quick blurb about this lil’ bundle of joy and totally forgot about it.

I picked it up after hearing a bunch of (mildly misrepresentative) shout outs to it on the various outlets of Cracked.com’s comedy conglomerate. It’s not normally where I get my book picks from, but those guys seem like a relatively smart bunch of dumbies, and I’d heard some good things from a few other people. Also, despite being a huge history nerd, pre-colonial Americas has never really been my area of expertise, and I was hoping to fill in a few of those (embarrassingly large) gaps.

If you’re looking to do the same, this book won’t let you down. I found it incredibly informative and entertaining. It busted up and did away with all the incorrect and condescendingly racist ideas about the pre-European Americas I’d left my public school education with. The biggest being that it was a pristine wilderness sparsely populated by bands of hunter gatherers. Turns out, there’s a lot of evidence that not only were the Americas heavily populated, in some parts of South America it was a contender for most populous place on Earth. On top of that, the reason the wilderness seemed so wild, was not because it hadn’t been cultivated (it had, very extensively and with a high degree of sophistication), but because the diseases that we brought with us, that traveled ahead of our attempts at colonization, wiped out everybody that was maintaining the land before we got there.

Now, it wasn’t all interesting information and preconception busting fun times though. There’s a portion of the book, a probably forty or fifty page chunk in the middle, that is mostly centred completely around academic warfare (who was pushing different agendas and points of view, and why) that I found reaaaaaaaaaaaally hard to get through. I understand why it was there, I do (the author is attempting to explain the fact that this information is still not being taught in highschools, though it’s been a pretty prevalent point of view among academics for like fifty years), but if there’s anything I find less interesting than old stuffy intellectuals getting into a dick measuring contest over academic prestige, I haven’t come across it yet. Still, there was some genuinely neat information still peppered throughout that section, and it wasn’t enough of a slog to really effect my recommendation.

Well, I think that about sums it up. Get this book! It’s great! Learning is the best! Wahoo!

VBR

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