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review 2020-11-11 06:44
Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens by Robin Waterfield
Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece - Robin A.H. Waterfield

A nicely written, easy to understand if somewhat bland, introductory history book about Ancient Greece.  The author covers the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Eras of Greek history in more or less even spacing, with chapters devoted to thematic topics like the economy and social stratification.  Maps and photographs are included.

Ancient Greece:  From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times by Thomas R. Martin.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-06-15 11:33
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves - Matt Ridley

TITLE:  The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves


AUTHOR:  Matt Ridley




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  9780007267125



"Life is getting better—and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down — all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years.

Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization—which started more than 100,000 years ago—has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.

This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.





The Rational Optimist takes a look at human history from the Stone Age to the present (2010) and how prosperity evolves.  This is an interesting look at how everything is not doom and gloom and that things will (probably) get better (unless government interferes too much).

PS:  Farming is not fun and idyllic - it's hard work!  And the world is definitely better with a modern functioning sewage system than without one.

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review 2020-02-10 11:52
How Invention Begins by John H. Leinhard
How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines - John H. Leinhard

TITLE:  How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines


AUTHOR:  John H. Leinhard




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  9780195341201



"In How Invention Begins, Lienhard reconciles the ends of invention with the individual leaps upon which they are built, illuminating the vast web of individual inspirations that lie behind whole technologies. He traces, for instance, the way in which thousands of people applied their combined inventive genius to airplanes, railroad engines, and automobiles. As he does so, it becomes clear that a collective desire, an upwelling of fascination, a spirit of the times--a Zeitgeist--laid its hold upon inventors. The thing they all sought to create was speed itself. Likewise, Lienhard shows that when we trace the astonishingly complex technology of printing books, we come at last to that which we desire from books--the knowledge, the learning, that they provide. Can we speak of speed or education as inventions? To do so, he concludes, is certainly no greater a stretch than it is to call radio or the telephone an "invention."

Throughout this marvelous volume, Lienhard illuminates these webs of insight or inspiration by weaving a fabric of anecdote, history, and technical detail--all of which come together to provide a full and satisfying portrait of the true nature of invention.




Informative and interesting.  Does what is says in the blurb.  "Stuff" doesn't get invented in a vacuum!

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review 2019-09-07 10:59
In Search of the Immortals by Howard Reid
In Search of the Immortals: Mummies, Death and the Afterlife - Howard Reid


TITLE:  In Search of the Immortals: Mummies, Death and the Afterlife


AUTHOR:  Howard Reid




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9780747275558


NOTE:  Re-read




"Everyone knows that the ancient Egyptians were great mummifiers, and their sarcophagi and bandage-wrapped corpses are familiar images to us all.  Yet across the vast sweep of history, we finid many other great cultures iin which the bodies of the dead were preserved as a matter of course.


In coastal Peru were the Chinchorros, whose mummifying culture flowered several millennia before Egypt's, and in the Andes were the Chachapoyas, the 'Cloud People', a lost civilisation which has only recently begun to be understood.  In China's Taklamakan desert, the oddly Caucasian-looking people who established the Silk Route, which made possible the first trade between East and West, have left behind stunningly lifelike mummies.  The ritually sacrificed bodies preserved in the peat bogs of northern Europe give us an extraordinary insight into life in the Dark Ages.  And in the Canary Islands, perhaps most surprisingly of all, lived the Guanches, whose sophisticated mummification techniques - and whose cultural links with the Egyptians - Howard Reid explores here for the first time.


Taking his extraordinary first-hand experiences of discovering and filming mummies all over the world as his starting point, Howard Reid brings these ancient cultures vividly to life.  And in so doing, In Search of the Immortals comes to represent his personal quest to find an answer to that most epic and timeless of human problems:  the meaning of death."




This is a nicely written, and somewhat personal, book (with colour photographs) about the author's quest to discover the meaning of death by taking a look at the cultures that preserved the bodies of their dead.  Reid starts off in the Old World with the mummies of the Taklamakan desert, Siberia,the bog people of northern Europe, the mummies of Ancient Egypt and the Canary Islands.  He then moves on to the mummy cultures of South America - the Chinchorros, the 'Cloud People' and what remains of the Inca mummies.  The author provides a description of the preserved bodies, how the mummies were created, some information about the cultures that produced them and a fair amount of speculation (where information is completely absent) about the religious views of these peoples and why they preserved their dead in this fashion.  This book is an overview of the various mummy cultures - not an extensive text on the subject.  I found this book to provide an fascinating glimpse into ancient civilizations and their view of the afterlife. 




  • The Tarim Mummies:  Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West by J.P Mallory
  • Mummy Congress:  Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead by Heather Pringle [more scientific look at mummies]
  • Ice Maiden:  Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes by Johan Reinhard
  • Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe's Ancient Mystery by Miranda Aldhouse-Green
  • Iceman by Brenda Fowler [aka how not to do archaeology]
  • The Amazons:  Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-08-05 09:29
The Intimate Bond by Brian Fagan
The Intimate Bond: How Animals Shaped Human History - Brian M. Fagan


TITLE:   The Intimate Bond: How Animals Shaped Human History


AUTHOR:  Brian M. Fagan




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781620405727




"Animals, and our ever-changing relationship with them, have left an indelible mark on human history. From the dawn of our existence, animals and humans have been constantly redefining their relationship with one another, and entire civilizations have risen and fallen upon this curious bond we share with our fellow fauna. Brian Fagan unfolds this fascinating story from the first wolf who wandered into our prehistoric ancestors' camp and found companionship, to empires built on the backs of horses, donkeys, and camels, to the industrial age when some animals became commodities, often brutally exploited, and others became pets, nurtured and pampered, sometimes to absurd extremes.

Through an in-depth analysis of six truly transformative human-animal relationships, Fagan shows how our habits and our very way of life were considerably and irreversibly altered by our intimate bond with animals. Among other stories, Fagan explores how herding changed human behavior; how the humble donkey helped launch the process of globalization; and how the horse carried a hearty band of nomads across the world and toppled the emperor of China.

With characteristic care and penetrating insight, Fagan reveals the profound influence that animals have exercised on human history and how, in fact, they often drove it.




The Intimate Bond is an introductory text that takes a look at the historical relationship between humans and animals.  Fagan deals mostly with the domestication and uses of wolves/dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, donkeys, horses, and camels.  Each chapter begins with a speculative fictional narrative. Then Fagan makes use of anthropology/ paleontological information with a passing mention of any relevant DNA studies to show us when and how domestication took place and then what uses that particular animal had - usually as food, means of transport or raw material for clothing.   Fagan also adds a fair amount of his romantic idea of pre-industrial farming.  The chapter on donkeys is particularly interesting in terms of the history of large scale trade caravans.  The chapter on the use of horses in war is particularly depressing and horrifying.  There are also several chapters dedicated to the past and present treatment of animals in Britain.  Fagan does leave out completely the transfer of diseases (zoonoses) from domesticated animals to humans (e.g. TB), which I feel had an important influence on human society.  None-the-less, an interesting historical perspecitve on the relationship between humans and their animals.




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