The list has been cleared and I've seeded it with three random selections.
Please add any titles you'd like the group to vote on as the January group read.
PLEASE DO NOT BE SHY! If you want a title there, please add it - even if it's been added and voted on before.
Huggins says: vote early! vote often!
Extended holidays, book bingo, absolutely the worst cold I've had in memory, the advent of spring. What's the common thread? My dropping the ball with The Flat Book Society. I am a terrible moderator. Huggins has already beaten me about the head with 6 of his eight arms.
So the winner by popular vote this month (I didn't even vote, that's how much a slacker I've been) is The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte :
The dinosaurs. Sixty-six million years ago, the Earth’s most fearsome creatures vanished. Today they remain one of our planet’s great mysteries. Now The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs reveals their extraordinary, 200-million-year-long story as never before.
In this captivating narrative (enlivened with more than seventy original illustrations and photographs), Steve Brusatte, a young American paleontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of the field—naming fifteen new species and leading groundbreaking scientific studies and fieldwork—masterfully tells the complete, surprising, and new history of the dinosaurs, drawing on cutting-edge science to dramatically bring to life their lost world and illuminate their enigmatic origins, spectacular flourishing, astonishing diversity, cataclysmic extinction, and startling living legacy.
Captivating and revelatory, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a book for the ages.
Brusatte traces the evolution of dinosaurs from their inauspicious start as small shadow dwellers—themselves the beneficiaries of a mass extinction caused by volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Triassic period—into the dominant array of species every wide-eyed child memorizes today, T. rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, and more. This gifted scientist and writer re-creates the dinosaurs’ peak during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, when thousands of species thrived, and winged and feathered dinosaurs, the prehistoric ancestors of modern birds, emerged. The story continues to the end of the Cretaceous period, when a giant asteroid or comet struck the planet and nearly every dinosaur species (but not all) died out, in the most extraordinary extinction event in earth’s history, one full of lessons for today as we confront a “sixth extinction.”
Brusatte also recalls compelling stories from his globe-trotting expeditions during one of the most exciting eras in dinosaur research—which he calls “a new golden age of discovery”—and offers thrilling accounts of some of the remarkable findings he and his colleagues have made, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs; monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex; and paradigm-shifting feathered raptors from China.
An electrifying scientific history that unearths the dinosaurs’ epic saga, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs will be a definitive and treasured account for decades to come.
So, who is up for some cutting-edge dinosaur reading? We start November 1st and anyone and everyone is welcome.
by Jennifer Wright
One of my fellow reader/reviewers over at Booklikes had stated that this book read like a compilation of blog entries, written by "an overconfident twenty-something with an only superficial grasp of history and medicine and science." I seconded that statement, because the writing style in this book is extremely informal, with a lot of opinionated side-quips, and tons of speculation masquerading as scientific fact or historical data. I'm not saying that this book doesn't have anything to offer, but to be honest, it doesn't offer what it seems to have been marketed to offer: a look at history's worst plagues and the heroes who fought them. Instead, I feel like the title should have been changed to something along the lines of "Some Sensational Stories About Plagues, Medical Horrors, and History that Interested This Author."
The book is very Anglo-centric, focusing mostly on how these plagues affected America or the European nations. But a cursory search of, say, leprosy, shows that this is a disease that impacted, and still impacts, hundreds of countries never mentioned in this book. Wright's focus, however, was the leper colony of Moloka'i and the story of Father Damien. While I didn't mind reading about the wonder who was Father Damien, this chapter on Leprosy left a lot to be desired.
Much like a lot of her other chapters, Wright doesn't dwell very long on the science of each plague, and instead spends a good amount of time on tangents and speculative asides. In fact, she doesn't spend a whole lot of them with the plagues themselves, because a lot of her side tangents, some of which have nothing to do with the plague (re: Comoddus's incestuous lusts circa 'The Antonine Plague') take up more pages than were necessary.
After the first couple chapters in this book, I realized that I'd have to change my mindset before continuing on. The writing style wasn't what I'd been expecting, and even up to the end, still wasn't a writing style that worked for me. There were too many of those opinionated side-quips, too many random and ill-used pop culture references, and a lot of times, Jennifer Wright will insert her own imagining of how she would recreate certain parts of history if left to her devices.
I'm always trying to rewrite the scripts for history, the way some people must mentally rewrite the scripts for disappointing episodes of their favorite television shows.
First of all, yes I can relate to mentally rewriting scripts for disappointing episodes of a favorite television show; and at least Wright is aware of her own habits. Of course, I also don't try to sell my rewritten scripts as fact in a popular science book, currently worth $12.99 via Kindle.
As I think I might have mentioned in another update, this book tries too hard to be informal and personal by adding random pop culture references, and short humorous (?) commentary, possibly in an attempt to lighten the mood of the context. After all, this is a book about devastation and tragedy, with millions of deaths and a lot of suffering communities and nations over history. I'm never opposed to dark humor, but you have to do it right. At some points, Wright DID manage to make my lips quirk, but other times, I just didn't quite understand her humor. The timing always felt off, or the insertions felt awkward. Whatever it was, it didn't work for me. And a lot of times, I didn't understand the connection--I grew up in America, but I've never been big on the pop culture trivia.
She also inserted exclamations almost everywhere! Even when said exclamation probably wasn't warranted! A lot of her opinions were exclamations! A lot of her speculations and asides were exclamations!
But they failed to really do the job of being exciting or surprising in their exclamation point usage.
If it is one thing I will say in favor of this book, it's that Jennifer Wright truly DOES seem passionate about the subject and each plague's impact on human life and society. Her stance on vaccinations, hygiene, sanitation, general health... all good points to emphasize. Her stance on behaviors towards humankind and the diseases that afflict us is sincere--the message not to treat people badly just because of the disease is a good one. Being kind, supportive, and understanding is a message I think needs to be put out there more often. We don't become afflicted with something deadly as a punishment from some higher judgment--diseases don't pick and choose who they affect, and pathogens aren't discriminatory.
As a popular science book, she could have focused more on the science and medicine of these plagues she is show-casing. But show-casing is really what she is doing in this book, choosing specific stories that seem to interest her about each plague rather than giving more details about the specific plague itself. Truly, the only chapter I felt had the most sincere presentation was the 'Smallpox' chapter, but unfortunately, she didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
But the rest seemed to hinge greatly on some sensational aspect of each disease: Syphilis and the rotting noses, Tuberculosis and how people glamorized it, for examples.
Then there were the chapters on 'Dancing Plague' and 'Lobotomies,' which, in honest truth, I don't see as counting as true plagues. Lobotomies as a medical horror I can see, but this is a book about plagues, so if she truly wanted to write a book about medical horrors that included a chapter on lobotomies, she should serious reconsider the title to her book.
I can see this book interesting a lot of people, if only because it DOES present a lot of tidbit information that many might find intriguing. In some instances, you DO find yourself wanting to learn more, from a much more detailed, well-informed source. In some chapters, she DOES manage to tell me things I didn't already know, although I would confirm her facts from my own research if inclined to do so. For the most part, this book is, at best, an overview, which I feel would have been better off in a blog format, where expectations might be a bit lower than as a book you had to pay for.
|Flat Book Society - September 2018 Read|
|Halloween Bingo 2018
(anything related to the end of the world, doomsday cults, or a post-apocalypse world)
**This book was approved by our Halloween Bingo hosts for the Doomsday square, and by default, the Creepy Raven Free Space.**
I finally finished this one. The delay was a combination of being on holiday, and needing to put some space between my experience of this book and the experience of others, as I was starting to feel like I was losing my objectivity regarding my feelings about this book.
So, my feelings: Get Well Soon was poorly sub-titled and marketed. As a popular science book, or a popular history-about-science book, it fails. As an introductory anthropological and cultural survey of how society has historically reacted to epidemics and pandemics, I think its excellent.
Furthermore, while I like her writing style a lot, it is polarising. Jennifer Wright is a 30-something author whose voice is informal, irreverent and snarky. She writes the way friends - good friends - talk when they don't have to behave themselves. She uses this no-nonsense voice to sometimes share her thoughts about topics that are themselves, polarising.
So this is a book that isn't going to appeal to everyone. It particularly isn't going to appeal - at all - to anyone looking for a more sober, scientifically-focused exploration of the topic. After reading the whole thing, I'm pretty sure it was never meant to, at least, not from the author's perspective.
"If you take nothing else away from this book, I hope it's that sick people are not villains."
This is a recurring theme from start to finish. Wright's objective seems to be to focus a spotlight on humanity's reaction to mass illness throughout history, whether good or bad. Her hope in doing so is that perhaps those who read this book will learn from history rather than doom themselves to repeat it. She does this is the frankest, bluntest possible way, with a lot of snarky humor.
In this objective, I believe she succeeds. I think those of us who could be labeled as 'prolific readers' or those who voraciously devour their favorite subjects, might lose perspective on how well-informed, or not, most people today are. Society today is at least as divided as it's been at almost any other time in history, and a good deal of opinion is shaped via the internet, a source we all know can be about as accurate as a round of the telephone game.
In this context, I think the book is fantastic. Jennifer Wright seems to be a popular author of columns in various newspapers and magazines; if even a handful of her fans from Harper's Bazaar, et al, read this book simply because she wrote it, and they come away having learned something they didn't know before they started, or thinking harder about their responsibility in society, then Wright will have succeeded where others have failed. (And yes, I'm generally pessimistic about the world I live in - my country is being run by an orange lunatic; I think I'm entitled to a bit of pessimism.)
I'm not one of her magazine/newspaper fans. In fact it wasn't until after I'd started this that I realised I'd ever read anything by her before. I'm also quantitatively better read, if not qualitatively (some would argue), and I can say that not only did I enjoy this book a great deal, but I learned more than I expected to. For example, I had no idea that the Spanish Flu wasn't actually Spanish, but probably American, and I had no idea that it killed so many Americans. Granted, most of my knowledge of the Spanish Flu comes from British fiction, but it's a testament to the horrifying effectiveness of government censorship during WWI that you still don't read about it in American fiction, and this is a disease that killed in one month more Americans than the US Civil War. I'd also never heard of Encephalitis Lethargica, and sort of wish I never had. Even on the diseases I knew more about, Wright managed to impart something new for me, and in at least 2 chapters, left me misty eyed over the power people have when they choose to be selfless.
As a popular science book meant to tackle a complicated topic in a palatable way, this book is a fail; there's not nearly enough scientific discussion or data here to qualify this as such a book. But as a popular, cultural overview of the way societies throughout history have succeeded or failed to handle epidemics when they happened and the importance of rational, humane leaders and populace in times of crises, I think Wright succeeds very well.
The tragedy of this book is that it's marketed to the very people who are bound to be disappointed by it and likely don't need its message, and the people who might gain the most from it are likely to pass it by because they think it'll be too boring and dry.
I read this for The Flat Book Society's September read, but it also qualifies for the Doomsday square in Halloween Bingo.