Creating one of these lists is difficult, because scholars don’t read a lot of similar books end to end like novel readers, but dip into a variety of books looking for data. I reserve the right to skip some things I read and decide when a partial read ‘counts.’Read more
Dan Davies, Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal the Workings of the World. US edition (Scribner: New York and London, 2018)
Lying for Money is one part a monograph by someone who has studied and taught a problem for decades, and one part an extended blog post. It is also a bleak book. Davies thinks that fraud grows out of the cost of verifying facts and the techniques by which managers simplify the world to make it comprehensible (legible in James C. Scott’s terms). The cost of auditing or checking references appears every day, but the cost of discovering that one of your nurses never completed high school and one of your suppliers disappeared overseas with your money only comes up occasionally, so people tend to take fewer and fewer precautions until they suffer for it. Whereas some fictional fraudsters target the psychology of individuals, Davies’ fraudersters target the psychology of institutions and cultural expectations about what is trustworthy and authoritative. Very few large frauds are the fraudster’s only attempt: many get out of prison for one fraud and are trusted with other people’s money a few years later. (I would be interested to hear more on why fraudsters are often the victims of other fraudsters, and sometimes throw in money to keep the illusion alive when they could just take it and run).Read more
In July an online talk by Philip Blood (probably this guy) and a pass through Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy made me think of the old debate about the effectiveness of the American, British, and Commonwealth armies in the Second World War. I had not known that Six Armies in Normandy was just Keegan’s second book from 1982, and that my 1994 Penguin edition was a reprint (A.J.P. Taylor wrote a blurb!)
Keegan’s book shows his strengths and weaknesses as a historian: it is beautifully written, expresses his unique view of the world, but rarely acknowledges doubt or explains where his facts and interpretations come from. Keegan gives himself authority by dropping in French and German phrases and alluding to prestigious novelists and playwrights, but not by showing that he understands a mass of evidence and arguments and can argue why his interpretation is best. The maps are inadequate, the photos numerous but ornamental. Because Six Armies in Normandy rarely cites sources, and because I’m not a specialist in WW II, I will not try to review it. But I will use some quotes to show places where I might have been wrong or where I don’t know how to balance two ways of thinking.Read more
The Greek Hoplite Phalanx is a survey of warfare on land in Athenian literature. That is both more and less than the title promises. Readers who sit down with it over long winter nights or lazy summer days will find thoughtful comments on many old questions. Readers who want something broad or concise may be less satisfied. In many ways it resembles John Kinloch Anderson’s Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon from 1970.Read more
Dan Gardner’s Future Babble (McClelland and Stewart Ltd.: Toronto, 2010) is a pop book with a structural theory for why so many people get called out to predict the future using methods which fail nine times out of ten, then called back out after one failed prediction to make another. It relies upon earlier trade books (such as Phil Tetlock‘s work on expert judgement and When Prophecy Fails) and the psychology of cognitive biases and heuristics. One of Gardner’s favourite case studies is Paul Ehrlich who like Noam Chomsky spent most of his career repeating ideas he had in the 1960s (but whose ideas were much more easily falsified: the death rate did not rapidly rise from the late 1970s, and people all around the world start having smaller families once women have the ability to chose).Read more
Tobias Capwell, Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3: Continental Armour in England, 1435-1500 (Thomas Del Mar Ltd.: Great Britain, 2022) only for sale from the publisher
My copy of Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3 arrived in December 2022. I hope to publish a review somewhere which will count on my CV, so I will be brief here.Read more
While many aspects of my life hobble along, some of my print publications have been coming out like arrows in a Scythian battle over the past few months! I wrote about the family of Akhenaten, swords in archaic Greece, reviewed Matthew Waters’ book on Cyrus the Great, and turned my first book into an article which is more concise and focused on giving my best guesses at answers rather than on why its really hard to know about the armies of the Teispids and Achaemenids.Read more
Martin Rundkvist, Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats: Elite Settlements and Political Geography AD 375–1000 in Östergötland, Sweden (Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien: Stockholm, Sweden, 2011) academia.edu
The first time I read Martin Rundkvist’s book on early medieval southern Sweden, I realized that Sweden is weird. That is because for the past two or three thousand years, the area has never been conquered or occupied by foreigners bringing an alien language and culture. The closest things to that are the arrival of Christianity and whatever happened in northern Scandinavia between Indo-European speakers, Finno-Urgic speakers, and whoever was there before them. I struggle to think of anywhere else in the world which could say the same. Norway got invaded by outsiders once in 1940, and Denmark sometimes had trouble with (Latin Christian) Carolingians, British, or Prussians, but basically wars in southern Scandinavia were between Southern Scandinavians whom the proverbial Martian would have a hard time telling apart.Read more
Joumala Medlej, Inks & Paints of the Middle East : A Handbook of Abbasid Art Technology. Revised edition (Majnoura: London, 2021) GBP 20 https://majnouna.com/shop/books/
Inks and Paints of the Middle East is a practical summary of six Arabic treatises on making ink and paint dating from roughly 900 to 1400 CE (300 to 800 AH). Rather than translations, it provides illustrated descriptions of the different processes from making brushes and reed pens to gathering and grinding pigments to mixing them with each other and with binders. Endnotes discuss the scholarly details such as the sources for specific recipes (and some practical questions whether lead white pigment is safe to use, p. 115 n. 129). Most of these texts have never been printed or translated into a European language, or the existing translations and editions are inaccurate (few scholars are skilled in both medieval Arabic paleography and in the kitchen chemistry of making paint and ink).Read more
I’ve never been sure how to do these since I switched from reading like a novel-lover (reading books in my native language from cover to cover then sending them back to the library) to reading like a scholar (dipping in and out of books, reading in languages I am not fluent in). Should magazines count? Individual short stories read online? Books and stories heard over the radio or on a mobile computer? And there is no sense making this into another piece of unpaid work keeping records of what I read! But I feel like doing one at the end of this year.
I err on the side of including things which don’t appear in my academic notes and reading list so might otherwise be unrecorded.
I am not including books which I read in manuscript.
This post might include some things from the last week of 2021. See previous discussion about unpaid work!Read more