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review 2018-10-22 05:47
The Pharaoh's Treasure: The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization by John Gaudet
The Pharaoh`s Treasure - The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization - John Gaudet

TITLE:  The Pharaoh's Treasure: The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization

 

AUTHOR:  John Gaudet

 

DATE PUBLISHED: October 2018

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781681778532

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DESCRIPTION:

"For our entire history, humans have always searched for new ways to share information. This innate compulsion led to the origin of writing on the rock walls of caves and coffin lids or carving on tablets. But it was with the advent of papyrus paper when the ability to record and transmit information exploded, allowing for an exchanging of ideas from the banks of the Nile throughout the Mediterranean—and the civilized world—for the first time in human history.  

In The Pharaoh’s Treasure, John Gaudet looks at this pivotal transition to papyrus paper, which would become the most commonly used information medium in the world for more than 4,000 years. Far from fragile, papyrus paper is an especially durable writing surface; papyrus books and documents in ancient and medieval times had a usable life of hundreds of years, and this durability has allowed items like the famous Nag Hammadi codices from the third and fourth century to survive. 

The story of this material that was prized by both scholars and kings reveals how papyrus paper is more than a relic of our ancient past, but a key to understanding how ideas and information shaped humanity in the ancient and early modern world.
"

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Gaudet has written a delightfully interesting and informative book that covers everything papyrus in terms of paper.  He covers topics such as the ancient locations of papyrus; it's various uses; the invention and evolution of papyrus paper; the business of manufacture and distribution of papyrus sheets from Egypt, across the Mediterranean region and beyond; and it's eventual eclipse by rag paper.   The numerous historical stories about archaeological discoveries, daring "rescue" attempts and some horror stories are well told and make this book something other than a dry rendition of the evolution of the papyrus scroll.  Of course, you can't have a book about papyrus paper and not mention the numerous ancient (and not so ancient) libraries that stored them.  This book compliments the author's previous book [Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World: From Ancient Egypt to Today's Water Wars] which deals more specifically with the papyrus plant; as well as Keith Houston's book [The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time] which deals with paper and the evolution of the book, but doesn't not spend too much time on papyrus paper specifically.

 

 

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review 2018-10-18 17:08
Ten Drugs by Thomas Hager
Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine - Thomas Hager

TITLE:   Ten Drugs:  How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine
 

AUTHOR:  Thomas Hager

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:  5 March 2019

 

FORMAT:  ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13: 978-1-4197-3440-3

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NOTE: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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DESCRIPTION:

"Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of our culture and the practice of medicine. 

​Beginning with opium, the “joy plant,” which has been used for 10,000 years, Hager tells a captivating story of medicine. His subjects include the largely forgotten female pioneer who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, the infamous knockout drops, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, the first antipsychotic, which helped empty public mental hospitals, Viagra, statins, and the new frontier of monoclonal antibodies. This is a deep, wide-ranging, and wildly entertaining book.
"

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REVIEW:

 

Ten Drugs is an entertaining, yet informative look at a number of drugs that have shaped medical history and today's world.  This isn't a scholarly history of the pharmaceutical industry, but rather a collection of chapters about a variety of drugs that have shaped medical history.  This book is a nicely written (and fascinating) introduction to the history of drug discovery and medicine, as well as providing information on how the pharmaceutical industry evolved and functions.  Each chapter deals with a specific group of drugs and are bound together by common themes such as drug evolution, growth of the pharmaceutical industry, changing public attitudes and changes in medical practices and laws.  Chapters are devoted to the following topics:  opium; smallpox and vaccinations; chloral hydrate (the first totally synthetic drug and original date rape drug); herion, opiates and addiction; the not so "magic bullet" antibiotics; antipsychotics; lifestyle drugs, viagra, and birthcontrol; opioids; statins; and monoclonal antibodies.  The book concludes with a look at the future of drugs, with personalized and digitized medicine.

Hager states that this book is aimed at people who know a little about drugs and want to learn more.  In this regard, Hager has succeeded in writing a book that is (in my opinion) accessible, entertaining, informative and interesting, to the general public. I particularly appreciated the author's (mostly) objective and clear writing style.

 

 

 

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review 2018-10-02 08:53
The Golden Ratio by Gary B. Meisner, Rafael Araujo
The Golden Ratio: The Divine Beauty of Mathematics - Gary Meisner,Rafael Araujo

TITLE:  The Golden Ratio:  The Divine Beauty of Mathematics

 

AUTHOR:  Gary B. Meisner, Rafael Araujo (illustrator)

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  23 October 2018

 

FORMAT:  ARC PDF

 

ISBN-13:  9781631064869

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NOTE: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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DESCRIPTION:

The Golden Ratio examines the presence of this divine number in art and architecture throughout history, as well as its ubiquity among plants, animals, and even the cosmos. This gorgeous book features clear, entertaining, and enlightening commentary alongside stunning full-color illustrations by Venezuelan artist and architect Rafael Araujo.

 

From the pyramids of Giza, to quasicrystals, to the proportions of the human face, the golden ratio has an infinite capacity to generate shapes with exquisite properties. 

 

With its lush format and layflat dimensions that closely approximate the golden ratio, this is the ultimate coffee table book for math enthusiasts, architects, designers, and fans of sacred geometry."

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The Golden Ration by Gary Meisner is an exquisitely illustration, beautifully and clearly written introductory book about the Golden Ratio and related subjects.  There are lovely full-colour illustrations and photographs on nearly every page.  The book begins with the unique properties of the golden ratio and then continues on to its appearance in art and design, architecture (pyramids, cathedrals, musical instruments), nature (leaf and petal arrangements, fractals, spirals, facial proportions, buckyballs, quantum physics, golden DNA, the nautilus controversy), and many other interesting mathematical goodies such as tessellations, platonic solids, the Fibonacci sequence, Pascal’s Triangles etc.  The book also includes appendices that deal with critical thinking, notes and further reading, and “Golden Constructions”.  There are a number of equations and geometrical illustrations, but nothing particularly complicated.  In the author’s own words:  “not everything is based on the golden ratio, but the number of places in which it seems to appear is truly amazing and we are sure to uncover it more and more as technology advances and out knowledge of the physical universe expands”. 

 

This is definately a book I will be adding to my library.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-07 03:06
Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

TITLE:  Get Well Soon:  History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

 

AUTHOR:  Jennifer Wright

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781627797467

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DESCRIPTION:

"A humorous book about history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them.

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.
"

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*********************POSSIBLE SPOILERS**********************************

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REVIEW:

 

This poorly written book is a collection of superficial, sensationalist, chatty chapters on a variety of epidemics (and two extras) that are supposed to be history’s worst plagues (some are, some aren’t) and the heroes (or more likely ignorant fools according to the author) who fought them.  There is no original content or any type of original insights in this book, but there are a vast quantity of quotes straight from other (better written) books.  This book is long on opinions and short on science, so if you are looking for science, try any of the recommended books below.  The topics covered include:  the Antonine Plague; Bubonic Plague; Dancing Plague; Smallpox; Syphilis; Tuberculosis; Cholera; Leprosy; Typhoid; Spanish Flu; Encephalitis Lethargica; Lobotomies; Polio; and as an afterthought, HIV/AIDS

 

Wright spends little time discussing the origins and emergence of most the epidemics covered in this book.  There is a very limited examination of what the disease actually does to a human body (other than the gory bits usually including pustules) or how widespread and devasting it was in terms of socio-economic factors (especially the later chapters).  Only a few chapters explain how that particular epidemic ended or even if it did end or what the status of that particular disease is currently.  Some of the chosen epidemics weren’t the “worst plagues” by any means or even an epidemic (depending on the definition), or even diseases for that matter (e.g. chapter on lobotomies and dancing plague).  The author does not provide a partial view of the topic, and can’t wait to assign villains or heroes to each disease, or to insult and mock anyone she feels like. 

 

Some of the information presented in this book is suspect, or at least outdated, especially in the chapters dealing with TB, cholera, polio, leprosy and Antonine plague.  Wikipedia is not a valid reference.  It is also apparent from the excessive insertions of the author’s own opinions that she didn’t bother to research the topics or the people involved too closely either.  The author also contradicts herself in the matter of informed consent – informed consent is necessary when she agrees with it, but unnecessary when she doesn’t agree with it.  In addition, if you are going to use a graphic (in a published book of all places!) to show the rate of medical progress over time, learn to draw a proper graph with defined, labelled axes (or get someone else to do it!), instead of a random floating line which means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

 

Wright has an especially aggravating writing style.  Altogether, the writing style was too juvenile and frivolous for the subject matter (squealing, ditzy Hollywood cheerleaders come to mind).  Each chapter comes across as a series of book reports covering a different epidemic per chapter – written by an immature teenager or a vapid blogger.  The specific chapters rely predominantly on one major source, usually a much better written book on the topic.  This book is an simplistic and biased glossing of historical epidemics (mostly) that the author has used as an opportunity to snicker, criticise, preach her opinions and sensationalise in terms of emphasizing the unpleasant side-effects of the disease (pustules, rotting noses, the more disgusting the better etc).  

 

The book is stuffed with flat jokes (the jokes weren't even vaguely funny), dated pop-culture reference, snide and snarky comments,  speculations, not to mention the author’s excessive and continuous interjections of her mean-spirited opinions, and political commentary, which were unwarranted, irrelevant, not to mention unprofessional.  Wright makes broad sweeping generalizations and seems to be uninterested in viewing these epidemics within their historical context.  The tone is dripping with sarcasm and contempt for the poor people that suffered from these terrible disease, and Heaven save you from the author’s vicious pen, if you were one of the unfortunate doctors who were trying to help with the limited knowledge and instrumentation of pre-21st century medical knowledge.

 

It is possible to write medical nonfiction in an interesting manner without sounding like a vapid teenager.  I learnt more about the author from all her snide opinions than any of the diseases from this book.  This book comes across as a poor imitation of a Mary Roach book, so if you like Mary Roach’s books, you might (possibly) like this one.  If you want a book that tells you something of the how, where and why of a variety of diseases; you need to look elsewhere.  I found Wright’s shallow, cruel and arrogantly opinionated writing style an insult to the reader and personally repellent.

 

 

POST SCRIPT:

 

For those people who think the Ancient Roman cities did not have sewer systems, please do some basic research:

 

SHORT VERSION

Roman sewers – ancient Roman toilets, poop, pipes

 

 MORE DETAILS

What toilets and sewers tell us about ancient Roman sanitation

Rome Is Still Technically Using One Of The First Sewer Systems In The World

Aqueducts and Wastewater Systems of Rome

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS

 

Compilation of Diseases:

~The Coming Plague:  Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

~New Killer Diseases:  How the Alarming Evolution of Germs Threatens Us All by Elinor Levy

~The History of Disease in Ancient Times by Philip Norrie

~Viruses, Plagues, and History:  Past, Present and Future (Revised, Updated Edition) by Michael B.A. Oldstone

 

Plumbing and Personal Hygiene:

~Flushed:  How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter

~The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society by David Waltner-Toews

~The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History by Katherine Ashenburg

 ~The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

 

Diseases in General:

~Spillover:  Emerging Diseases, Animal Hosts, and the Future of Human Health by David Quammen

~Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark

~An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections by Ron Barrett & George Armelagos

 

Specific Diseases:

~The Great Mortality:  An Intimate Hsitory of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

~Dancing Plague:  The Strange True Story of an Extraordinary Illness by John Waller

~Superbug:  The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

~Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy

 

Other:

~Strange Medicine:  A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Ages by Nathan Belofsky

~Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett [This book gives a great insight into how disease progressed in different countries and the social conditions and public health failings (and victories) that shaped how we understand infectious disease].

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-03 16:12
A History of Disease in Ancient Times: More Lethal Than War by Philip Norrie
A History of Disease in Ancient Times: More Lethal than War - Philip Norrie

TITLE:  A History of Disease in Ancient Times: More Lethal Than War

 

AUTHOR:  Philip Norrie

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2016

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9783319289366

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DESCRIPTION:


"This book shows how bubonic plague and smallpox helped end the Hittite Empire, the Bronze Age in the Near East and later the Carthaginian Empire. The book will examine all the possible infectious diseases present in ancient times and show that life was a daily struggle for survival either avoiding or fighting against these infectious disease epidemics. The book will argue that infectious disease epidemics are a critical link in the chain of causation for the demise of most civilizations in the ancient world and that ancient historians should no longer ignore them, as is currently the case."

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REVIEW:

 

Dr. Philip Norrie has produced a delectable book that explores the way in which infectious diseases affected the course of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern history.  I get the impression this book is the result of the author’s doctoral thesis rewritten into a book.  A wealth of interesting and new (to me) information was provided, without personal asides or irrelevant commentary.  The author presents evidence for epidemic impacts from a variety of sources – historic, archaeologic, linguistic, medical, social, anthropological and economic.  Author makes use of the available evidence to prove his hypothesis.  Speculation is kept to a minimum and clearly explained when necessary. 

 

The general hypothesis is that most major changes in the Ancient world were precipitated by infectious disease epidemics.  Dr Norrie also succeeded in illustrating that disease can have a significant impact on major historic events.  The author makes use of several examples such as the end of the Hittite Empire, the end of the Near Eastern Bronze Age in c.1200 B.C., the end of Carthage; and interesting anomalies in Ancient Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep III.   The type of infectious disease causing the epidemic is also examined.  Dr Norrie shows the reader that disease, in the form of several infectious disease epidemics, fits the medical model to explain three factors about the end of the Bronze Age:  (1) the short time frame of the Catastrophe; (2) the mass migrations of the general population but also the “Sea Peoples”; and (3) the abandonment of cities during the Catastrophe.  This book offers new perspectives, possibilities and insights into the role that epidemics played in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean history.  I find Dr Norrie’s arguments convincing and logical.

 

Dr Norrie is also at pains to emphasise the lack of attention that ancient historians have given to the effect of epidemics.  In the author’s own words, he hopes that,

in future, ancient historians consider the potential role of infectious disease in the histories they research and subsequently write.  If disease is not considered and is ignored, as is the current situation, then the resultant history may be incomplete and thus flawed; because you cannot administer or feed let alone defend your empire if your citizens are dying en-masse due to an infectious disease epidemic”.

 

This isn’t just a dry thesis on ancient epidemics, but a text full of interesting information, causes, effects, and the occassional personal history (where possible).  Who knew that Ramses V had smallpox, or there are Egyptian wall murals showing polio sufferers with leg braces?  Or that the Hittites used tularemia (rabbit fever) infected sheep as the first form of germ warfare 3200 years ago.  Or that the bubonic plague might have been carried to Egypt from India via a trade vessel? Or that Amenhotep III moved his capital from the plague infested river side to the middle of the desert?  Or that Carthage would have conquered the Mediterranean except for all the diseases that decimated the Carthagian army in Sicily. 

 

This book has a juicy selection of references and a variety of notes, as well as a section on the heart-rending Plague Prayers of the Hittite King Mursili II pleading with the gods to save his people from the pestilence afflicting them and ruining his kingdom. 

 

Dr. Norrie has published an interesting, clearly-written, perfectly understandable, concise piece of research.  I look forward to whatever he publishes on his current research topic - the role of disease in the demise of the Sumerian and Indus Valley Civilizations.

 

FYI (because I've never heard of it before):  Tularemia info

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