Just read, Conquest by David Day

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A short break from fiction to have a look at Conquest: How societies overwhelm others by David Day. This book was recommended as useful reading for a history course I am doing and it is useful for anyone interested in the ways in which peoples and societies attempted to conquer and supplant others throughout history. At the same time, this process of supplanting cultures and societies still goes on, so it is an interesting read. Yet, I wish I’d read this before I started my course because the book is  more of an overview and sometimes just touches the surface without much detailed analysis. It is particularly strong on South East Asia/ Pacific, Australia and North America but weak on Central and Latin America and Africa. The processes involved though are fascinating, particularly the various foundation myths and propaganda employed by the supplanting societies alongside the various ideologies used for moral justification of conquests. These usually involved ‘civilising’ missions and also, weirdly, one country telling another ‘we’ll take that bit of land as you don’t seem to have populated it enough so we’d like to populate it with our people, thanks’ as the Japanese seem to have done in Manchuria. I also found it quite incredible that some countries still deny the existence of major ethnic groups within their territories. Most fascinating of all is the idea that while the white Europeans were the ones that did most of the supplanting in places like North America, Australia and elsewhere hundreds of years ago, some of the societies they founded are now experiencing a slower population growth, so Day’s suggestion that they would be, in turn, supplanted by other immigrant societies over time, seems pretty reasonable.

Anyway, since I finished Conquest, I’ve moved on to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest, 60 or so pages in, I can’t quite make up my mind about it and keep asking myself all sorts of questions. It’s clearly ambitious but I can’t quite decide if it is pretentious, it feels so. All the very long sentences, dozens of abbreviations and the end notes scream pretension but at the same time they demand my attention and involvement as a reader and that is a lot more than many books ask of you. I haven’t quite gotten emotionally involved with it yet but want to keep reading it if only to find out whether I will or not. At nearly 1,000 pages though, this is a lot to ask. I feel slightly stupid for starting it this week, we’re away this weekend and it’s a bit heavy to carry but if I leave it for a bit now, will I actually pick it up again when we get back? Think I’ll decide once I start packing, it’s not like there’s a lack of books to take with…

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