Monday, December 29, 2014


I picked up 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, a little while ago and then put it down, assuming that it was going to be a little dry. That was a mistake.

Charles C. Mann is writer of research. He studies things and then writes about them. Magazines, books, etc. He describes some of the early research he did for this book as research for smaller projects: articles about newer discoveries about earlier Central and South American Indians. He describes how some of these newer discoveries were at odds with what he learned (we all learned) in high school. Information printed in our textbooks based on the prominent theories of the time, taken as fact, but without a lot corroborating evidence. What Mann was finding, as that in many cases, that corroborating evidence is only recently being discovered, and a lot of what we used to think was true was based on the only evidence available, 50 or even 100 years ago, in the form of journal and log entries by Europeans who visited the Americas and documented what they saw, in some cases incorrectly either from a lack of understanding, and lack of investigation, or simply exaggerated to please whomever was footing the bill for their trip.

Mann compiles the most recent archeological evidence and compares and contrasts the current theories on early American Indian populations and their civilizations and they way the may have lived before the Europeans arrived. Its a fascinating look at cultures that now appear to have been much more complex, advanced, and populace then I thought. Mann discusses how even now, theories based on new data still contrast with one another. The science is still very much in process, so this makes for an extremely informative snapshot of what the current thinking is on the myriad cultures that inhabited these lands for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. And the language he uses really helps translate the scientific theses into terms I could get my head around.

Mann wrote a follow-up, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, in 2011, so I'll have to keep my eye out for that one.

Read this book.

the enlish girl

Its been a while since I've posted what I've been reading so I have a little bit of a backlog which I'm trying to get cleaned up. The English Girl is a Gabriel Allon story by Daniel Silva; I've read a few of these since the first one I found in the English language section of an Italian bookstore in the town I was visiting. The selections was small so I figured it would make much difference, and I was pleasantly surprised. Since then I've read a few of Silva's books and they've been pretty good. I actually had another one on my list to read next: The Fallen Angel, but I couldn't find it and found this one instead. I had planned to read a non-fiction story a few books ago and kept putting it off. This was one of the infills.

The English girl in question disappears under some pretty mysterious circumstances while vacationing with some friends on a tropical island. This particular girl happens to work for the British government, but not in a very lofty position. One that wouldn't normally require British secret service to look into, but they do need to look into it because this particular girl happens to be pretty closely connected to someone pretty high up in British governance. So high up that they can't even risk British secret service being involved, so they turn to Gabriel Allon for a favor.

The plan is pretty simple, find out where she is and get her back before they kill her.

It doesn't go according to plan.

Allon is an interesting character because he becomes too personally involved in his work. What other spy novel writer constantly remind us is that this kind of personal involvement gets you killed; but in Allon's case, its an asset. What typically surprises me is how a character that can be so caring, can also be so brutal when it comes to carrying out his duties, but Silva manages to make that dichotomy balance in this character. I think its why he's so fun to read.

I also sense the emergence of a new character in this book, and I get the feeling we'll see this character again. its a mystery

never go back

After picking up the book I'm reading right now, I didn't make it through the introduction before I decided to put it down and read something more fun first. Its nice to switch it up, and the Truman Capote book was a little heavy to lead right into another slog, so I went to the pile of books my wife has burned through looking for something fast. I found Never Go Back, a Jack Reacher book by Lee Child. It turned out pretty well. For me that is. And not for anybody who got in Reacher's way.

I've read a number of the Jack Reacher stories, and while you get to know the Reacher character pretty well after a while, Child does a pretty good job of spinning a story that doesn't lean too heavily on the same things. What makes these stories fun, at least for me, is the mysteries or problems that Reacher has to solve are typically complex, and take some work to unravel, and Reacher isn't a genius, he just keeps at it, and the problems he has to solve typically require both brawn and brains. And knowing when to use each for maximum efficiency.

Another good installment.