Tag: non-fiction


Review – Cro-Magnon

Posted 22 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Cro-Magnon by Brian FaganCro-Magnon, Brian Fagan

Cro-Magnon is reasonably informative, albeit perhaps a little out of date and about as focused on the Neanderthals as on the Cro-Magnons. It had fairly similar information to a lot of other books I’ve read about human evolution, not really managing to make the Cro-Magnons stand out as a specific group worth a whole book. The recreations were mostly pretty uninspired, and the assumption that gender roles would be something straight out of a 50s sitcom (as someone else put it) was pretty eyeroll inducing.

There is some interesting info here, but in the end… I got a little bored, I guess. Not much of it is sticking with me, except my eyerolling at the idea that women were subordinate to men from the start.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Written World

Posted 21 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Written World by Martin PuchnerThe Written World, Martin Puchner

I’ve seen some complaints about the historical accuracy of this, particularly in regard to the earliest sections, but I’m unable to judge because it’s not really my area of history at all — inasfar as I know my history anyway, which is often patchy. I simply enjoyed The Written World as a summary, from one perspective, of how some stories and books have changed the world in being written (or in the case of previously oral works, written down). Puchner writes compellingly about books I haven’t read yet, and really makes them sound tempting — The Tale of Genji, for example (though he also makes Don Quixote sound fascinating, and I did not love that at all).

It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you love books and you want to read about some books that have been important in shaping society, then this should be right up your street (up your bookshelf?).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fossils: The Key to the Past

Posted 19 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fossils by Richard ForteyFossils: The Key to the Past, Richard Fortey

This is probably more of a reference book than one to read straight through; it’s beautifully illustrated with sketches and photographs reproducing common and interesting fossils, and it has advice on how to identify fossils, clean them up and store them, along with the relatively straightforward explanations of how fossils form, how they can be useful, and specific titbits on various different individual fossils.

The information wasn’t new to me, and it isn’t Fortey’s finest writing, though he can always make geology sound fascinating. It’s a beautiful book, though, and one I’ll definitely keep for reference.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Priam’s Gold

Posted 16 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Priam's Gold by Caroline MoorheadPriam’s Gold, Caroline Moorehead

This book is actually more of a biography of Heinrich Schliemann than a discussion of the excavations at Troy; although it does follow “Priam’s Treasure” and what has happened to it since Schliemann excavated it, including commentary on the politics that surrounded its loss and (eventual) subsequent retrieval, the main focus is Schliemann, his life, and his work as an archaeologist. There’s a lot of it taken up with Schliemann’s life before he found Troy, and a fair amount of time spent on evaluating the truth of his account of the excavation and indeed other aspects of his life.

There is some discussion of Troy and specifically the treasure found there, and there are some insights to other excavations led by Schliemann, but if you’re looking for an archaeology book, this isn’t quite it. There’s a lot more time spent on what languages Schliemann could speak and his relationships with his wives than on actual archaeology. It’s interesting, but not entirely what I hoped for.

Rating: /5

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Review – The Power of Babel

Posted 13 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Power of Babel by John McWhorterThe Power of Babel, John McWhorter

It’s been a little too long since I read this to write a detailed review, but on the whole I found it readable and interesting. At times it began to feel belaboured in terms of the examples given and the detail gone into, though of course, I’ve also read various other books about linguistics and so I had some grounding in what I was reading already. For the most part, McWhorter avoids being prescriptive about language and tracks change in language as how language works — which you’d expect, or hope for at least, in a linguist, but it isn’t always the case.

There’s some interesting stuff particularly on creoles and pidgins, which somewhat debunks the idea that a pidgin becomes a creole through children speaking it, etc. Not that there’s no truth to it, but McWhorter complicates the picture a little.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Sutton Hoo Story

Posted 12 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sutton Hoo Story by Martin CarverThe Sutton Hoo Story, Martin Carver

If you’re interested in the Sutton Hoo burials and the history of the whole site, including a detailed examination of how the sites were excavated and when, this is definitely a good resource. If you’re more interested in the more spectacular finds at Sutton Hoo, i.e. the contents of Mound 1, then that isn’t the focus here and although there are lots of helpful illustrations and a fair number of colour pictures, it’s not all about treasure.

For me, as with a lot of archaeology books, I find myself wondering about some of the author’s assertions. For example, that over a century people would ‘undoubtedly’ remember who was buried in a particular place. I find myself pretty doubtful about that, especially in earlier times when generations were rather shorter than they are now.

Overall, though, there’s some interesting information and speculation here, and I’d say it’s worth reading.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Bones of Contention

Posted 11 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Bones of Contention by Paul ChambersBones of Contention: The Archaeopteryx Scandals, Paul Chambers

I never quite realised before I read this how much controversy Archaeopteryx stirred up, or the petty quarrels between opposing professors and palaeontologists. I found it interesting that Chambers gave serious consideration to the ideas of people who say that birds aren’t descended directly from dinosaurs; as he says, some of the arguments against that direct relationship do make sense and are worth considering, even though there’s also plenty of evidence on the other side.

Altogether, this is a great analysis of Archaeopteryx, its impact, and what it symbolised. There’s mini biographies of various scientists, including Huxley (Darwin’s Bulldog), and some of them are surprisingly fascinating. In a way, this is more about arguments about evolution via natural selection and “missing links” than it is specifically about Archaeopteryx, although there is plenty of info here about the fossil itself as well.

Readable and interesting, though at times there’s a bit too much about the feuds of ridiculous scientists who just wanted to prove each other wrong.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Tutankhamen

Posted 8 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Tutankhamen by Christiane Desroches-NoblecourtTutankhamen, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt

I read this when I was a kid — I think I got my copy from my mother, who was about as fascinated by Tutankhamen as I was. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt’s book is a serious, albeit now somewhat outdated, analysis of the objects found in Tutankhamen’s tomb and their significance, along with how Howard Carter found the site and the context of Tutankhamen’s reign. It can be pretty dry and serious, describing some of the artefacts in detail; I was surprised to realise that I read it with as much attention as a child as I did now as an adult. Clearly, Tutankhamen’s treasure cast a spell on me!

If you’re looking for the very latest information, of course this isn’t going to help. But if you’re looking for a solid introduction to the tomb and the early interpretations of the objects found within, I suspect this is one of the best. More so where the objects are concerned than where the mummy itself is concerned, though.

Despite the fact that some of it is dry, it’s worth remembering that this book kept me spellbound as a nine or ten year old, and again as a twenty-eight year old. It’s fascinating stuff.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Suspicious Minds

Posted 5 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Suspicious Minds by Rob BrothertonSuspicious Minds, Rob Brotherton

Suspicious Minds is not a book about conspiracy theories in the sense of recounting different conspiracy theories for the sake of convincing you of them, or indeed of debunking them. Instead it examines what makes people so susceptible to believing in conspiracies, with a good deal of sympathy — it can be tempting to ask what on earth some people are even thinking to believe the outrageous things they do, but Brotherton doesn’t laugh at them too much. Instead, he shows why the human brain is so prone to believing these things, so easy to influence.

It mostly wasn’t surprising to me, but it’s a good summary of what we know about conspiracy thinking, and it’s a healthy reminder to mind what you believe yourself lest you end up exclaiming that the naked emperor is wearing the most fabulous clothes.

It’s a Bloomsbury Sigma book, though, and I’m relatively unsurprised that it’s good; they tend to be very readable and cover interesting topics. I’m just about at the point where I’m willing to pick them up regardless of the subject.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Earth After Us

Posted 2 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Earth After UsThe Earth After Us, Jan Zalasiewicz

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.

Rating: 3/5

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