What I’ve been reading

1. Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.  Haven’t I read too many recent books about him already?  Well, this is the best one and will make my “best of the year” list.  Now if we could only have a renaissance of interest in his brother, Wilhelm von Humboldt…

2. James Shapiro, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.  What was the political and social setting in which Lear was composed?  Recommended, substantive throughout with hardly a wasted page.

3. Pallavi Aiyar, New Old World: An Indian Journalist Discovers the Changing Face of Europe.  I’ve been waiting for a book like this to be written, and now it exists.  It’s fun, and full of good humor.

4. Eka Kurniawan, Beauty is a Wound.  It’s been called the Garcia Marquez of Indonesia, and it is one of the country’s classic novels, newly translated into English.  Here is a good NYT review.


It was quite late in life that I learnt how Humboldt got through so much work - there were two of the bugger.

This also explains Mises impressive contributions to mathematics.

And Weiszacker in economics and government.

Another German naturalist whose name is plastered across a half dozen animals, Steller, was just one guy, who died at age 37 but managed to pack a lot of discoveries into his short life.

@dearieme- Bugger? As in buggerer? You do know that Humboldt, who among other things has a region in Colorado and a squid named after him, was homosexual? If so, you have a promising career as a caption writer for The Economist.

2. For $9.99, I'd probably have pushed the button, but $14.99 for a Kindle edition is above my 'hmmm -- looks like it could be interesting' impulse purchase price. But I can always wait for used print copies to show up for sale. And in the meantime, there are always plenty of other things to read (like "New, Old World" which is already available used for under $9 including shipping). Stupid, stupid publishers. I'd prefer a kindle edition, but if the electronic copy is 50% more than a used hardcover, I'll figure out how to find another space in the bookshelves.

@Slocum - (slow cum?) - or, you could go to this Russian pirate site and download a lot of books free: http://en.bookfi.org/

I used to keep this address close to my vest, like a good fishing hole, but the copyright police have found them and cracked down on them, so they don't offer every possible book anymore, just stuff that apparently the publishers don't feel is worth protecting via cease-and-desist letters, that is, non best-sellers.

How generous of you, Ray, to assist others in stealing from writers. Perhaps next you might help aspiring burglars by posting my home address and times I'll be away.

How would he know when you are away? Maybe we finally learned who the girlfrienf half his age really is.

In fairness about 90% of what he is stealing, he is stealing from the publishers.

I say, let it burn. Publishers have been ripping us off for so long that while I would not steal a book myself, I have no problems whatsoever with every other reader in the world doing so.

Dunno. I have very tiny moral pangs about downloading a pirated pdf. I sure would have moral apoplexy to burgle your house.

As a connoisseur of Russian pirate sites I prefer http://libgen.io/

3. Pallavi Aiyar, New Old World: An Indian Journalist Discovers the Changing Face of Europe. I’ve been waiting for a book like this to be written, and now it exists.

Me too. Hopefully with increasing general prosperity, more Indians will travel the world and express their observations about other cultures (even the richest ones) in a scientific manner. Hitherto, it has almost always been the other way round; we have been the subjects of anthropological studies for Europeans and Americans. But, as is mentioned in the free Amazon preview of this book, there is no level playing field in our world when it comes to the freedom to travel (let alone immigrate). Just getting a travel visa, and if one gets that, passing immigration control in rich countries, is a cumbersome and harrowing process for those of us who are not blessed with pale skins.

What about the Belorussians, Moldovans, and Chinese?

What about them?

Do their pale skins help them get visas?

I believe she's the daughter of free marketish economist Swaminathan Aiyar. If my intuition is correct, she'd have glossed over immigration and it's seminal role in changing Europe in this book. I remember reading an excerpt in which she's dumb enough to let someone steal her luggage as soon as she lands in Brussels. Does she say if the con men were of a certain ethnicity?

It's doubly dumb if she's Indian & gets her stuff stolen abroad. A few years in India will hone your anti-con instincts like nothing else.

Rahul, it does sound dumb (Iyer mentions the anecdote in the book; I read the free excerpt on Amazon.) But I can sympathize with her and relate; one tends to loosen one's guard in supposedly safer and more honest Western countries as compared to, say, India. Born and raised in India, my radar was always on alerts for thieves and scamsters. But living abroad can blunt that radar; I've learned some painful lessons.

In this case, she had two (male) friends standing with her, but none of them bothered to keep their eye on the luggage (this was IN Brussels airport.)

(Based on the free Amazon excerpt):

She was not sure about the ethnicity, but when the cop pointedly asked her if he was North African, she said it was possible.

Even in the excerpt, there is a fair amount about immigration. So I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the major themes of the book. Don't think she considers it to have a "seminal role in changing Europe"; more like fulfilling the (what she considers real) labor requirements in Europe as native Europeans keep reducing in numbers.

Yes. "North African".

If you're reading about Alexander von Humboldt, you might enjoy this historical novel which alternates between him and his brother: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307277399/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0307277399&linkCode=as2&tag=yostpori-20&linkId=INULIQZTA4KFPUJP

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