This starts off as being just an explanation of how geology works — deposition over time, the way rocks are transformed and eroded, etc, etc. The last couple of chapters start getting into the stuff I’m really interested in: how material remains of humans might weather and last, to be found for potential future alien archaeologists. I didn’t really love Zalasiewicz’s attempts at sci-fi, with his commentary on these alien archaeologists/anthropologists and what they might think. Like most people, he sticks too close to the way humans think, and doesn’t try and figure out what the alien equivalent of “it must be for ritual purposes” might be.
(For instance, imagine a society entirely driven by scientific experiment. Instead of interpreting everything as ritual, they’d assume it was an attempt to find out what would happen if you did x and y! And then they’d try it for themselves! Doesn’t that sound interesting as an idea?)
Mostly pretty standard stuff, but the last couple of chapters were worth it.
That is, Happy New Year to everyone, if you don’t speak Welsh. (It’s okay. Neither do I.)
I’m not sure how many people will be interested in this, but I saw Chuckles’ pie charts and decided I rather liked the idea — if nothing else, for the sake of self-reflection! I’ve tried not to be too excessive, though. Below you’ll find a line graph showing how many books I read per month, and then for comparison, how many points I earned in Game of Books for each month. Below that there’s a pie chart showing what genres I’ve been reading, and another showing the sources of the books I read. You can click to embiggen. I used this site to make my graphs.
A note on how I calculated genres: on the rare occasions when a book was hard to pin down, I marked it in multiple genres, but for the most part I assigned each book a single genre.
Total read: 311
Number of rereads: 21
Total page count: 56,886
Most-read genre per month:
Number of ratings:
Five stars: 16
Four stars: 155
Three stars: 105
Two stars: 29
One star: 6
I was a bit surprised by some of this — clearly my comics consumption has been hit hard by the fact that I was boycotting Marvel while Steve Rogers was a Nazi. My non-fiction consumption has gone sharply up, but given I’m in my third year of a science degree, I’m not terribly surprised by the amount of science I’m reading. SF was a sizeable genre throughout the year, but never beat out non-fiction or fantasy for being the most read in a single month.
Perhaps most surprising to me was the fact that I’ve actually read quite a bit of horror this year. It’s not really my kind of genre at all!
This is probably the least amount I’ve read in terms of total number of books in many years, but I have tackled my backlog somewhat and kept much more on top of reading the books I bought than usual. Game of Books worked out well, prompting me to read books that had been hanging around for longer, but I can always do better next year. (And yes, Game of Books is returning; I’ll make the spreadsheet later today, but probably won’t post about it until tomorrow. Let me know if you need a link sooner!)
It’s been a rough year in some ways, but we’ve survived it and here we are. Here’s to 2018 — may it bring us all joy (and many books).
I didn’t actually know much about Rapa Nui before I read this book, apart from knowing of the existence of the moai and a vague idea that their civilisation committed “ecocide”, stripping their island of too many resources for it to recover and impoverishing their local environment for good. Hunt and Lipo strongly suggest otherwise, talking about the evidence of clever farming techniques designed to get the best out of the soil, and discussing the actual culprit for the devastation (invasive species brought by boat). I didn’t know about lithic mulching before, for instance, a method of covering soil with broken-up rock in order to allow the elements to leach minerals out of it and into the soil.
Hunt and Lipo discuss the moai as well, of course, discussing their purpose and how they were moved into place, but as part of the bigger context of the society on Rapa Nui and the challenges they had to deal with. I found it an enjoyable and evidence-based approach to a topic I didn’t know much about before — bravo.
I picked this up after visiting the Head-Smashed-In interpretive centre; I rather thought it would be interesting to read about the First Nations people of Canada, considering my parents-in-law live there and I’ve visited a few times, and it’s a definite gap in my knowledge. Brink might not be Blackfoot himself, but he’s worked with Blackfoot people, he’s worked on the site for a long time, and he’s received praise from several First Nations people for this book.
It’s obvious that he respects everything that went into a buffalo jump. He’s careful to note that they didn’t always work, that they weren’t always done for the same purposes, etc, etc, but where he can he discusses the generalities from the seasonal differences in buffalo and the nutrition they offer, and the understanding the people had of their prey. Brink does a great job of showing how specialised their methods were and how refined the whole process was, and respecting the knowledge and skill they put into it and into modifying their landscape to make it work.
Sometimes, the information is a bit too exhaustive — I know more than I’d like about the fat deposits in bison now, honestly. But it makes sense as a thorough examination of the subject, and I think it’s mostly pretty interesting. I especially appreciated the part about the development of the interpretive centre, though; Brink acknowledges where and why that didn’t go as well as it could, and acknowledges mistakes that are on his shoulders. It’s also pretty fascinating to read about the development of a place you’ve actually been to! It’s probably a three-star book in terms of personal interest and enjoyment, but for scholarship it deserves higher.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 10th July 2018
Prime Meridian is a rather quiet novella, following the low-key struggle of life in Mexico City for its protagonist, Amelia, while she dreams of life in the colonies on Mars. There’s no intense action, just an emotional undercurrent of bitterness and the fear that she’ll never escape Mexico City and her life there. There’s an honesty about Amelia’s character — not always likeable, for the reader or for the people around her — but always truthful, doing what she can to live her life and not kidding herself about it.
To say too much about this book wouldn’t spoil it, but I don’t think I can go too deeply into it. It’s wrenching in a way that has nothing to do with big worldwide events or apocalyptic calamities. It’s just about people, and the hope of getting out.
Reading this a second time, I liked it more; I think my theory the first time I read it that it’d lost some of its freshness because I’d been reading too many Phryne books in a row was probably true. It gives us a glimpse of a different Phryne, and the experiences that made her the person she was, covering her life in Paris just after the war, and that’s pretty interesting — you can see it informing the way she chooses her lovers in the present-day of the books, and how she really became tough as nails.
It’s also nice because the book gives us a little more focus on Bert and Cec — a little more of a glimpse at their history and their bond, and some of their friends.
Against that, the plot with the girl who was going to marry a chef feels very light, almost inconsequential. It does help keep the book moving along when there’s a lot of other emotions that could make it heavy-going, but it’s not memorable or especially interesting in itself.
This isn’t a bad book in terms of examining the relationship between humans and animals, and their impact on us… as long as you’re talking about the positive impact. The impact on health of close contact with animals leading to zoonotic illnesses is skipped entirely, though, and domestication/farming is generally painted as an unambiguously good thing. Not that Fagan is wrong in saying that animals have impacted us for the better in many ways, but it felt one-sided — especially given that there are various animal diseases that have become endemic in humans which we’d be rather better off without, and which probably wouldn’t have adapted so well to humans if we hadn’t given them such excellent opportunities.
Still, it’s an interesting book and Fagan works with archaeological and genetic evidence to give as complete a picture as he can.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
I’m still halfway through Kushiel’s Dart, and I’m most of the way through Brian Fagan’s book on Cro-Magnon peoples. It’s interesting in itself, but a lot of the info isn’t new to me at all, and some of it is a little out of date. Also, it might not be the best choice while in the middle of some species of flu-like virus, though luckily that seems to be pretty much over now.
What have you recently finished reading?
Not much, regrettably. I just finished How the Zebra Got Its Stripes by Léo Grasset, though; it’s entertaining and sometimes informative, but pretty light and very short. And now I know more than I wanted to know about the sex lives of hyenas.
What will you be reading next?
I’m not sure, but I’m tempted to reread The Goblin Emperor to see out the year after my sister bet me that I’d read it at least twice this year and in fact, I proved that I haven’t even read it once in 2017. Oddly though, I’m not sure if I quite feel like it…
What are you reading? Get anything interesting for Christmas that you had to dive straight into?
Three Stones Make a Wall is an overview of a lot of different archaeological sites and how archaeology is actually done there, and how it has been done in the past. It only glancingly deals with sites about which whole books can or should be written, but it does so by highlighting everything that’s so fascinating about them, and it definitely whetted my appetite for more. It’s easy to read and not technical at all, and if you have read specialist books on any of the digs mentioned — Schliemann’s dig at Troy, for instance — then it won’t be new to you, but Cline’s enthusiasm makes it worth reading anyway.
His choice of sites is reasonably diverse, too, including Greek and Roman sites, Native American sites, Biblical sites and more. Honestly, if you’re looking for a general book to give you a survey of archaeology, or give you some ideas for sites you want to learn more about, I recommend this whole-heartedly. It’s the pop-archaeology book I was longing for, after a childhood raised on Channel 4’s Time Team. It includes a list of sources, so you can look things up for yourself, and contextualises each dig and discovery beautifully. In retrospect, I’m giving it five stars for being exactly what I wanted at exactly the right moment.
If you’re looking for something substantial, it probably won’t be for you, but if you’re grasshopper minded like me and enjoy the idea of getting a tour of half the globe in archaeology, it’s great.