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Search tags: conitnental-europe
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review 2016-06-03 21:33
Sudden Death
Sudden Death: A Novel - Álvaro Enrigue,Natasha Wimmer

"As I write, I don't know what this book is about", p. 203.

I don't really know either, but I don't feel bad about it after reading that.

I learned a lot about random things: real tennis, 16th century Popes and bishop and cardinals, Mexican featherwork, Caravaggio, Cortes. Thanks you google and wikipedia for being there for me as I read. Mostly I guess the book is about various people in the 16th century. Is the tennis game an allegory? I have no idea, I am not good with allegories. What does this book mean? I have no idea.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-05-09 22:08
Numero Zero
Numero Zero - Umberto Eco,Richard Dixon

I loved the buildup and idea of this novel: creating a newspaper that will guess/investigate upcoming scandals. But it's not meant to ever exist--it is meant to get the creator/owner into the "inner circle" of publishers. By scaring the existing paper publishers with his incredible newspaper that will not report what has happened, but what might happen. And to do this, his team will create 12 "fake" papers based on past dates. Because it's easy to predict the news when it is in the past. And the paper isn't really the point at all--it's actually to be a book on the fake paper that will be ghostwritten by one of the staff. Only the editor and the staff writer know this.

It all sounds so absurd.

And then one of the editors begins researching a conspiracy theory involving Mussolini, his double, the WWII left-behinds, the CIA, the Vatican, Argentina, etc. His fellow staff think it sounds crazy (and suspect he is crazy).

Great build up, but I found the ending to be a let down. That guy ends up dead. Was it random, or did the CIA/Mafia shut him up? "Paper" is shuttered. But then the BBC has a documentary that is even crazier than his theories--complete with participant interviews. So was his murder random after all?

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review 2016-01-09 22:49
Voices from Chernobyl
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster - Swietłana Aleksijewicz,Keith Gessen

An excellent collection of oral histories. And an important collection of oral histories. Alexievich interviewed many people affected by Chernobyl—evacuated residents, re-settlers (largely the elderly who lived in the area their entire lives and ethnic Russians fleeing southern/eastern former USSR states), soldiers, doctors, liquidators, all sorts of people. I wonder what source material she has that she did not include in this collection—and I hope she has stored it well. This is a historical gold mine in so many ways.

What I found especially interesting is the idea, mentioned by many, that they were Soviets, raised in the USSR. When they were told to go, they went. When they were not given what they were promised, they worked anyway. They did their best. They took their certificates and medals. They did not shirk their duties even though they knew something wasn't right. They were easily bribed by seemingly small amounts of money. And for the most part they are not sad—at least, the survivors are not. The widows are angry. Some of those that had power and went with the party line feel extreme guilt. Even the Russians that fled wars in former USSR states are angry that this is the only place they are welcome. And now so much of what was left has been stolen and sold. Sold where? To whom? Will they be able t track this stuff simply be following leukemia or thyroid cancer concentrations?

I do wish that there were more context provided here. A map. Photos. A timeline of what is known. A timeline of symptoms/illnesses to be expected and that have occurred.

I am a little shocked that this sort of work won Alexievich a Nobel Prize in Literature. I can see history, or journalism. I do not even know what all of the categories are. But literature?

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review 2015-12-20 00:59
The Invention of Nature
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

The Humboldt Current. Humboldt County (CA and NV). Humboldt State University (CA) and Universidad Humboldt (Venezuela). These and the many other "Humboldt" place names aren't honoring different Humboldts. They are all honoring one--Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

And while Americans are not very familiar with Humboldt, in Germany and especially in South America, he is very well known.

So who was Alexander von Humboldt? In the early 19th century he traveled through much of South America studying plants, geology, rivers, animals, and the economic systems in place. He climbed mountains and rafted rivers. He met and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, knew Goethe, and was long supported by Prussian nobility (even while living in Paris during Bonaparte's reign). He later, at the age of 60, traveled through Russia to the China/Mongolia border and back. He wrote many, many books on natural history, geology, and occasionally on politics.

In this biography, Wulf introduces this man, whom most readers will not be familiar with at all. Even though we know the name "Humboldt" as a place name. Even though we know his ideas—that plants and animals live in zones determined by elevation and latitude; that man's actions can destroy nature (deforestation, over-irrigation); that nature is a web, with all parts acting together. He was the first naturalist to use drawings and diagrams rather than paragraphs of text alone to illustrate ideas. He first used isotherms (those lines that connect same/similar temperatures on maps). And we know well those he influenced with his  books, travels, and ideas: Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, and John Muir. Students of ecology might recognize some others as well: Ernst Haeckel and the artist Frederic Edwin Church.

As Wulf suggests, we know longer know his name because so many of his ideas have become the norm.

A well- and thoroughly researched biography. I have only 2 complaints: on page 55 the word "watershed" is used when "divide" is meant. Twice in one paragraph. As in "All the scientific understanding of the day suggested that the Orinoco and Amazon basins had to be separated by a watershed because the idea of a natural waterway linking two large rivers was against all empirical evidence." Separated by a DIVIDE. The basins mentioned are each a watershed. UGH how does this stuff get through? And, second, rather than footnotes (my favorite) or properly noted endnotes, this books uses those annoying endnote-style notes that are NOT noted in the text. So you don't know when to refer to them. Annoying and frustrating.

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