Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reading Updates

Here is the post I intended to write last night. It's long and a bit dull and I won't be even slightly offended if you don't want to read it. But for those of you who want to know what I'm reading- here you go. As you may have noticed, my book reviews have reduced dramatically in frequency. I assure you this development is not for lack of reading. In fact, I've read more in the last 3 weeks than I had in months. If I were to write about everything I read, I would hardly have time to do anything else, much less time to post about food, decorations, etc. So, I'm just going to post about books I read for fun (if I ever get a chance to read for fun again) and then give quick overviews of what I read. I'm going to try and do these posts on a weekly basis, but we will see how it goes. So, for the last several weeks, here is my run down (I'm only doing books, not articles- I'm not crazy, really).

That Noble Dream by Novick. Gives a summary of the history of the profession of historians in America. Quite dry and dense, full of unnecessary detail, but it's a good starting point.

Ecological Imperialism by Crosby. Provides an alternative explanation for why Europeans were so successful at imperialism (an alternative to the better weapons explanation). Has excellent examples, reads really well and quickly. Some of my co-students suggested that it fell in the "apologist" camp of historians- basically trying to play down the sometimes horrific violence against the natives. I disagreed with that argument.

Ceremonies of Possession by Seed. I really enjoyed this book. Analyzes the different modes of imperialism used by English, French and Spain. This book attempts to make clear the separations in European culture and how those differences influenced cultural exchange in their respective colonies.

Ambivalent Conquests by Clendinnen. Clendinnen talks about the experience and relations between the Mayans and the Spaniards in the Yucatan- particular the conflict over religion. While she does an incredible job finding and exploring  facts and sources- I found the organization of the book to be confusing and it hindered her argument. Her descriptions of torture and violence are also pretty gruesome.
The Poverty of Historicism by Popper. This book, as well as the next two, were pretty awful for someone who doesn't like science. I fall into that category. I don't have much nice to say, so I'm not going to really say anything at all. But basically, all three are comparing and contrasting the differences between social and natural sciences and arguing, to different degrees, how social sciences should replicate the natural sciences.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn.
The Emergence of Professional Social Science by Haskell.
The Return of Martin Guerre by Davis. This book reads like a novel (and takes all of about an hour to read because it's really short). A movie was also produced about the story.While the writing is fabulous and the story is incredibly interesting, I think Davis makes far too many conclusions based on insufficient evidence. Either way, it was fun to read.
The Cheese and the Worms by Ginzburg. This book was another example of a great story. The main character/person in focus is Menocchio. He lived in Italy and had some really radical religious ideas that he was eventually burned alive for espousing. The book essentially follows his trials and attempts to pin down the origins of Menocchio's eccentric theology. While the story was fabulous, I think the writing was not good at all and the organization was counterproductive. Either way it was still a decent read, but frankly, I think it's hard to screw up Menocchio's story.
The Midwife's Tale by Ulrich. This book has been my favorite, by far, of all of my assignments to date. Ulrich's mastery of the diary of Martha Ballard is inspiring and at times, almost unbelievable. Her ability to create and pull a life from the basic words Ballard left on the page is amazing.
The Spanish Frontier in North America by Weber. This book is about as text-booky as I will be reading. It really provides an enormous summary (in detail) of the Spanish experience in North America. I think Weber does an excellent job of demonstrating the changing, dynamic character of Spanish imperialism and ultimately what caused the empire to collapse. One weakness of the book was a lack of information about how the Spaniards in New Spain acquired native customs or were influenced by the natives in their area.

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