Three Quick Book Reviews

October 13th, 2016

I haven’t been posting book reviews for a while; indeed, for the last six months I haven’t been doing much of anything. I have continued to read, but I’m taking the time to re-read some of the better books, rather than wasting my time reading new books that don’t teach me much. Herewith a few of these:

The World That Trade Created, by Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik
I greatly respect Mr. Pomeranz’ other works, but this is just a collection of magazine columns in which the authors relate interesting trade-related anecdotes from history. Yes, there are some interesting little tales here, but as my learning has expanded my intellectual horizon, I find myself yearning for real meat in my reading. This stuff is just too light for a heavy-duty guy like me. I’m sure that almost anybody with a passing interest in history would find it fun. But not me.

Cosmic Apprentice, by Dorian Sagan
The reviews for this book promised a truly unique perspective on scientific matters. Boy, were they right! The perspective presented in this book is so unique that I don’t get it. This guy loves to write long sentences with big words in a more poetic than scientific sense. I found his writing tedious, and most people find my writing tedious!

Keeping Together in Time, by William H. O’Neil
Mr. O’Neil is one of the finest history writers of the previous generation. I have gobbled up his previous works with much slobbering. And this is his worst book by far. I don’t know what possessed him to write such slop. He starts off with an interesting hypothesis: that communal dancing and military marching induce a powerful sense of togetherness, a bond between the participants that overwhelms the day-to-day frictions of life. He definitely has a strong case for the emotional power of military close-order marching. It serves no purpose whatever in modern military tactics — and group of men bunched tightly together would make a juicy target for modern weapons. But it builds an intense bond among the soldiers, a bond so strong that they will sacrifice their lives for each other. This much is well known. Unfortunately, Mr. O’Neil tried to extend the concept way too far, delving in human evolution, religious behavior, and all manner of other social phenomena — without anything substantial to say about it. He jabbers away for page after page with nothingburger prose, consuming my precious time with so many words with so little meaning. Oh, well, you can’t win ‘em all. I still think he’s one of the greatest history writers of the second half of the twentieth century.

As you can see, I’ve been reading more and enjoying it less. I’m spending more time re-reading books that I know to be good. At my age, they all seem fresh and new!