What I’ve been reading

1. Jörn Leonhard, Pandora’s Box: A History of the First World War.  This is probably the meatiest and most comprehensive WWI book yet published.  It covers the origins of the war, preparation for fighting, public reactions, war aims, the course of battle, war economies, internal politics, the battlefields, how it ended, and more, all at 1,060 Belknap Press pages.  Translated from the German, it doesn’t exactly spring to life in your lap, but it is consistently intelligent and thoughtful.  Amazingly the author is only fifty years old.

2. Martin Goodman, A History of Judaism.  Imagine a scholarly history of Judaism, told from the points of view of the time, rather than treating so many events as lead-ups to later anti-Semitism: “My attempt to provide an objective version of Judaism may strike some readers as naive.”  I found the book to be a useful mood affiliation jiu jitsu, plus it has plenty of information that competing sources don’t, most of all about the immediate post-Temple period.  Recommended.

William Deringer, Calculated Values: Finance, Politics, and the Quantitative Age, covers the rise of numerical reasoning in 17th century Britain.

Domenico Starnone’s self-contained short novel Trick is now out, translation and introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Comments

'useful mood affiliation jiu jitsu'

Such an effulgent insight.

Such effluent?

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clockwork - mock on if you want - God knows why you would want to - but those were some well written blurbs, and that is all the author tried to do - spend a few minutes out of his day to write a line or two about the books he has been reading. It is called "communication".

For the record, though, by age 50 Shakespeare had written most of his famous plays and all of his best ones, Vergil had written all of the Aeneid, Homer had finished the Iliad and started the Odyssey, and even Gibbon (to bring a historian in a propos) was most of the way through his (admittedly unreliable) long hours of writing an unreliable classic (but I repeat myself)

in case you are wondering Lear (written after Shakespeare's 50th birthday) is a second-rate play compared to Shakespeare at his best just as the Inferno is second-rate compared to Dante at his best.

if you weren't wondering, sorry for wasting your time.

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“Homer had finished the Iliad and started the Odyssey”?

Seems you have some biographical Homer info the rest of us don’t.

Thor - having studied Western literature for 30 years I have come to the conclusion most of the Odyssey was written by a poet who had lived (and developed as a poet) for at least 20 more years than the person who wrote the most mature parts of the Iliad. Considering that the Iliad could not realistically have been finished before the Bard was 30, it follows that the Odyssey was written at a point in Homer's life where one could truthfully say that, by the age of 50 (30 plus 20), "Homer had finished the Iliad and started the Odyssey" (the other key to the timing is that no great poet would have started to compose an Odyssey like the Odyssey Homer wrote after the age of 50 - great poets don't wait that long - at least I can think of no comparable example, the closest being Dante's age when he started the Paradiso, but I consider the Paradiso to begin about 25 cantos into the Purgatorio).

All of this is based on publicly available information circa 2010 or so, which is the last time I visited a library with a decent collection of classical scholarship. I could be wrong but my best guess is that, if I am wrong, it is only in minor details. I think it is slightly less likely that I am wrong because "Homer" was not the poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey, at least not in the way we think of a poet now in 2018: of course no reasonable person would exclude that possibility.

Good, thanks. I am still inclined to favor the multiple author or collaborative theory, with perhaps an especially talented poet/singer at the centre.

M. L. West is worth reading for his insights.

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'but those were some well written blurbs,'

Well, first one has to assume that Prof. Cowen actually read a 1000 page book completely through, however. Which he may have, of course - though if you assume a certain number of pages an hour - keeping in mind this is 'meaty' reading - such as 100 pages an hour, then that was 10 full hours out of Prof. Cowen's life. That 100 pages an hour is not extreme, I knew a professor at GMU who could easily read 200 pages an hour, as long as she was not particularly interested in the text's 'meatiness' - on the other end of the scale, she could also spend an hour on one page.

The real point worthy of mockery is how careful the post title is - 'What I’ve been reading.' You are welcome to visit several links where Prof. Cowen details his reading habits. Look around yourself if you do not wish to believe this, but essentially Prof. Cowen considers a book read after perusing a few pages before liberating it, feeling no need to waste his time reading a book to its end. Likely a useful skill for someone interested in blurbing book where he collect affiliate money for each book purchase made from a link here. One can safely assume that Prof. Cowen sells a fair number of books, providing the sort of incentive that public choice economists love to identify in how people act, and then ascribing that incentivie as the motive for those actions.

'It is called “communication”.

Actually, as signified by the highlighted 'mood affiliation' as a marker of Prof. Cowen's particular stylistic habits, at this web site the proper term is probably 'status signalling communication.'

Well, as an example, if John Lennon's lyrics were not full of what some people call status signaling they would be indistinguishable from the lyrics of the Monkees.

You think Cowen does a lot of it you should hear me at ball game when I get started on my old Casey Stengel anecdotes.

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You'd think someone who talks to Stephen pinker about toilet assassination would know how to offer critical commentary Harold Bloom Cowan is not.

Bloom, for all his genius, is fundamentally unsound on the ancient classics written in Greek, and overrates to an embarrassing degree the popular Yankee Transcendentalists of the 19th century.

Cowan, as you call him, would understand that line. Would you, Burgessian railer?

Bloom is a maniac. He is gnostic toting bag hander. As if these nuances in religiosity aren't another form of zealotry. Just because you give an example, Yale, doesn't mean you argument is sound. It's bullshit. Look, I think the beats are underrated.

I think the beats are big do great but I like H Bloom on certain authors, like Cormac McCarthy.

Bloody autocorrect.

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The WW1 book is a voluminous tome, but probably something I could get into especially as this is the centennial year of the armistice. I liked " The guns of August" but it covers only the very beginning of the war. As far as novels " All quiet on the western front" , " Goodbye to all that" ( Robert Graves) and Roland Dorgeles " wooden crosses" (Les croix de bois) - not well known in English - made a lasting impression on me.

https://www.amazon.com/Wooden-crosses-Roland-Dorgeles-ebook/dp/B06XTFJMCZ/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1519278734&sr=1-4&keywords=wooden+crosses

Well "Goodbye to all that" is not really a novel but Grave's autobiography, a lot of which focuses on his experiences in WW1

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Peter Hart's book, _The Great War_ is also excellent. It's about half the length of Leonhard's book (which I have not read) so it may be a question of how in-depth you want to go. Hart also focuses on military operations rather than politics.

Mark Thompson's _The White War_ is a tour de force, about Italy's experience during WW I. He is perhaps a little too critical of the Italians, who were after all just secondary players in the war, but he describes not just the military and political aspects but the cultural ones as well -- I've never read a book of military history that paid so much attention to the relationship between a war and the arts including not just poetry but sculpture as well. Erwin Rommel makes a cameo appearance as a young Oberleutnant, leading a few companies to brilliant successes in the Battle of Caporetto.

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This seems to assume that the only things worth reading about World War One are trite anti-war tracts. Some mention of Ernst Jünger ought to be mandatory.

I would not say that "wooden crosses" is anti-war. It can be read this way but objectively it is a realistic and grim painting on the war, and it was liked by many veterans groups who were certainly not "anti-war".

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Yes, these three are all very good books, with Remarque's "all quiet" the best in my opinion. "Les croix de bois" is quite well-known in France. Anecdotically it was in a tense competition for the Prix Goncourt (the main French literary price) in 1919 with Proust's second volume of "In search of lost time". It is difficult to imagine more contrasting novels, one about the miserable life and deaths of soldiers in the trenches, and one about the vacation and love/sex life of rich young oisive people near the ocean. Proust's victory caused quite a lot of outrage. (In my opinion, Proust is absolutely great and miles above any other "Prix Goncourt". Therefore they should have given it to Dorgeles)

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Three interesting books, thsnks.

Fwiw, Martin Goodman’s earlier book Rome and Jerusalem on “the Jewish war” is really good.

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Before reading any book on WWI, it is a requirement that this time line (or a more simplified one) be memorized. I have: https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-one/timeline-of-world-war-one/

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Talking of Judaism, I recently got started on Howard Sachar's "History of Israel" - a two volume book that focuses on the last 200 years of Jewish history.

Curious to know the thoughts of people out here who might have read it.

I've only read B. Morris's book "Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist–Arab Conflict, 1881–2001"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Morris

I did not realize he was even controversial until just now (I knew he was left-wing), but I guess it depends on what version of history you learned in primary school as a child, which is usually the baseline.

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With respect to #1, do historians of WWI agree with this assessment? Its great that TC thinks this is the meatiest WWI overview yet published but I am not sure why we should credit this sort of hyperbole from a non-expert.

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From Amazon: "Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world ... over the course of more than three millennia." I don't know of any evidence that Judaism has existed for more than three millennia. The books of the OT seem to have been written long after the times they purport to report. The essential characters in the yarns seem to have been fictional. It's true that there is archaeological evidence of a cessation of pig-keeping about 3000 years ago in the high country of Palestine: though that's fascinating it's hardly enough to prove that the villagers were followers of Judaism. For a start, the evidence is against their having been monotheistic.

In fairness, though, the texts confess that most of the people most of the time were far from exemplary followers of Judaism.

"The Law of Moses was well established by second century BCE and for some centuries before that. According to Jewish tradition, the Law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Modern scholarship places its development many centuries later. The first attempt to formulate a (somewhat) comprehensive Law is found in Deuteronomy, which appears to have originated in the late seventh century BCE, in the reign of King Josiah, although in view of its restriction of the power of the king it is unlikely to have been promulgated by Josiah. During the Babylonian Exile, Deuteronomy was expanded and combined with other traditional material, including the Priestly Laws, to make up the Torah as we know it. This Torah plays no part in the Judean restoration after the Exile. It appears to have been unknown in Judah prior to the arrival of Ezra, which is usually dated to 458 BCE. (According to the Book of Ezra, the people in Jerusalem were unaware of the festival of Sukkoth)." So two-and-a-half millennia would be defensible.

"The official status of the Torah after the time of Ezra did not entail that it was closely observed. Rather, it had iconic importance, in the sense that people revered it even if they did not pay much attention to its content." That's your point, I suppose?

Source: http://asorblog.org/2017/08/08/invention-judaism-torah-jewish-identity-deuteronomy-paul/

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"Amazingly the author is only fifty years old."

Cowen was only 49 when he published The Great Stagnation.

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