Monday, January 22, 2007

Books On My Bedside Table...

Who Was The Man In The Iron Mask? And Other Historical Mysteries, by Hugh Ross Williamson.
“This is a title of historical "whodunits", in which the author uses techniques of modern detection to answer such questions as: Who was Elizabeth I's father? Did Buckingham poison James I? Who was the Man in the Iron Mask? And who was King Charles I's executioner?” It's sort of dense, with small print and a lot of footnotes. Total history-geek stuff. I’m loving it.

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach
My mom gave me this for Christmas, since she’s aware that I’m gotten quite interested in personal investing over the last few years. Part of it is questions to ask yourself about what you want from your investments, which is very thought-provoking. For example, since I don't have children, I have no interest in building up wealth to leave them. I'm all about providing for myself in my old age.
The other part is advice on how to actually pick your investments, which is less pressing to me because I have an extremely good personal financial advisor who tells me what I should do, and plus I have Max, who knows his way around basic personal investment quite well and is happy to explain stuff to me. But education is never a waste.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, by John Kelly
“The author tracks the medieval plague from its beginnings in Central Asia to its devastating impact on the teeming cities of Europe, painting a vivid picture of what the end of the world looked like in the 14th century.” My interest in history has typically been in post- Renaissance periods, but I do like socio-medical stuff, and this was interesting. You know that Monty Python sketch where the medieval guy is wheeling a cart along crying out, “Bring out your dead!” and people are throwing bodies onto it? Apparently they actually did that.

A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable, by John Steele Gordon.
“Shedding fascinating new light on an American saga, Gordon explores the laying of the transatlantic cable in 1866, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century.” I’m not so much on American history, but the engineering aspect of this caught my fancy. Strange to consider that communication between America and Europe used to be only as fast as a ship could sail. And it looks like Gordon gets into the personalities of the different people, which is what makes a book like this interesting to me.

The Family That Couldn't Sleep: a Medical Mystery, by D. T. Max
"Beginning with the story of an Italian clan whose members die of a mysterious inability to sleep, Max traces science's tortuous path toward understanding prion diseases—a category that includes scrapie in sheep, B.S.E. in cows, and kuru, a disease spread by cannibalism which decimated one New Guinean tribe." I think I mentioned this a few weeks ago, and it’s as good as I thought it would be. I now have a basic grasp of what prions are, and how they work - or don’t. Not for the hypochondriacs, though, or the easily suggestible. You’ll start flipping yourself out every time you can’t sleep, thinking you have prion disease.

The Life and Revolutionary Times of Eugene Vidocq: Criminal, Spy and Private Eye, by James Morton. “A gloriously enjoyable historical romp through the eighteenth century - in the company of a man who was many things to many men - a jewel thief, a spy, a policeman and a private eye.” Exactly the sort of thing I like - a biography of an unusual and little-known person who led an interesting and varied life. I haven’t started it yet, but it looks like great fun.

Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Clement Dennett
This looks fascinating. It’s a scientific analysis of religion and it’s pros and cons, and a discussion of how religion came to be in the first place. Although human nature being what it is, anything that can be called opiate of the masses could hardly fail to be invented. I'm sure it'll be quite thought-provoking.

No comments: