Just read, Guns, germs and steel, Jared Diamond

IMG_0466I really wish I’d read this book years ago. Earlier this year, I read Jared Diamond’s Collapse and very much enjoyed it but I didn’t enjoy this book quite so much for several reasons. Firstly, and this is why I wish I read it years ago, the ideas and theories it discusses have become fairly well established since the book was first published in 1997. Namely that the onset of food production led to formation of organised societies, which could then dedicate people and resources to development of technology, statecraft and culture, and this ultimately led to conquest of the New World and other parts of the world by the Europeans (to simplify). Furthermore, that the onset of food production and animal domestication was influenced by a variety of environmental factors including geography, continent orientation (East-West and North-South axis) and isolation. So, some peoples ended up having more of a head start in development through pretty much being in the right place at the right time. While Diamond didn’t originate some of these ideas, he does provide a very good synthesis by applying studies of environment, ecology, linguistics and so on to history. Of course, these ideas now make a lot of sense and I was perhaps hoping to learn more from this book, especially as I’ve just been studying conquest of the New World. So, basically this book was not quite in the right place at the right time for me, which really is a shame. The other reason why I didn’t enjoy it quite so much was its repetitiveness, which did get a bit infuriating at times. I did, however, like the conclusion very much and there’s no doubt that this is a very good book.

In other reading related news, I am really enjoying Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale, although am getting through it quite slowly (has been relegated to ‘occasional bed reading’ as Diamond took priority for being ‘important for study’). Am going to read Niall Ferguson’s Colossus next as ‘important for study’, it’s referenced in my course books and I’ve had it for years so may as well get on with it.


Just read, The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

 This is a great little book and I am glad I’ve finally read it. Must have had it for at least a couple of years and I’ve no idea why I waited for so long to read it. Penelope Fitzgerald wrote it in 1978 and a lot of people now probably aren’t familiar with her work, which is a shame. I guess that every generation has authors it has grown up with, then with the classics and the new books, some very good authors outside that generation and perhaps not quite deemed ‘classic’ become less well known to readers of a certain age. The Bookshop is a great example how to say a lot with a very few words, there is nothing unnecessary here, certainly no pretentious language, just excellent observation. And the ending, well, I won’t talk about it but it made me think.

I bough Fitzgerald’s Offshore at the same time so am looking forward to reading it soon. However, the one book of hers that I really, really want to read is The Blue Notebook, the one about German Romantic poet and philosopher Novalis. I am super fond of German Romantics, studied them a bit not so long ago, they were a bit tricky to get on with at first, all that talk of artists as priests and art galleries as temples but, in the end, I did get on with them and they served me very well in an exam. I am certain that The Guardian’s list of 1,000 novels everyone should read first told me of Penelope Fitzgerald, it really is a great resource for finding good books I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

So, I am working hard at reducing my ‘pile of shame’ books before another load of titles comes at Christmas. I’m sort of ‘on track’ for my November reading list even though I’ve thrown in a couple of unexpected non-fiction titles into the mix, thinking they’d be helpful with the history course I am doing at the moment. Currently reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and having read his Collapse earlier this year, at least I am familiar with some of his ideas so am getting through it fairly quickly. Next non-study related book is going to be the latest Kate Summerscale, the one about the Victorian divorce scandal.

Just read, Conquistadors, Michael Wood

This book accompanied Michael Wood’s BBC series of the same name, Beloved said we saw it. I’ve no memory of it but then it was shown in 2000. Very odd how my brain chooses what sort of information to keep, for example, I remember his series on Alexander the Great much better and think that may have been shown in the ’90s. Anyway, thought I’d read Conquistadors as I am studying empires and imperialism, currently on early modern empires and someone on my course mentioned it. I’d just been reading from a number of accounts written around the time of the Spanish conquest of the New World and Beloved said he had this book. Didn’t even mind if I ‘defaced’ it (underlined and wrote in margins, at least I only ever do this in pencil).

It’s an easy read, part travelogue part popular history and it’s pretty good, especially in helping to understand the world of Aztecs and Incas, their culture and beliefs at the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. It does pretty well in bringing those worlds back to life and contrasting them with the greed of the Spanish. However, without going into too much detail, it’s more of a basic introduction and wasn’t quite what I was looking for. No causality as my tutor would say. It was quite an enjoyable read (although frustrating in parts when I knew Wood skipped or didn’t clarify some detail or other) but don’t think it’ll be useful for the essay I’ve got to write in the next few weeks. Having said that, it didn’t take long to read and I am still ‘on schedule’, although not for much longer it seems…

At the start of this month, I promised myself I could buy more books if I read certain titles from my rather large ‘pile of shame’ and I started off very well. Have been reading Conquistadors on bus to work and am also reading The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald at home. I have to admit to cheating though, have already bought the new books I wanted – felt obliged to, was ordering some Christmas presents from Amazon and thought I may as well get the books I ‘desperately’ need. Now undecided whether to keep them under wraps, I fear that if I open the package, my reading schedule will never be fulfilled! Thing is, I now finally have (yay!) Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, have wanted to read it for ages and think right now, it may actually be the perfect time to read it, may come in useful for essay. See, this is what happens, I really am a hopeless case, I have the best intentions to read all the books I have but get so easily distracted… at least I will finish Penelope Fitzgerald, it’s quite good you know (note to self: must also get the one about Novalis, The Blue Notebook).