Aslet, Clive. The American Country House.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

The “country house” is an archetypal British phenomenon, a result of the strict class system that prevailed until the Great War, but does it have a counterpart in the United States? Aslet, one of the principle editors of Country Life, thinks so — but there are major differences.


Anthony, David W. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Half the world’s population speaks Indo-European languages, all of which descend from a now-extinct original language (spoken 5,000-10,000 years ago) that has been gradually and carefully reconstructed by historical linguists (and Anthony spends several chapters explaining how they did it). The question is, who were those people whose everyday language it was?


Published in: on 28 April 2015 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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French, Tana. The Likeness.

NY: Viking, 2008.

I really liked the author’s first novel, In the Woods, but this second one about the Dublin Murder Squad is even better. Detective Cassie Maddox, who was the main supporting player the first time around, is the principal character here, and a much more sympathetic one than her ex-partner. She’s floating along in Domestic Violence — the previous homicide case pretty much made her head explode and DV is more manageable for now — when her boyfriend, Sam O’Neill, still in Murder, calls in a panic to make sure she’s still alive.


Alford, Henry. Would It Kill You to Stop Doing that? A Modern Guide to Manners.

NY: Twelve, 2012.

I read a lot of books on etiquette and public behavior, both historical works and present-day guides. It’s an area of social history I find of particular interest, and when you get past the proper use of the fish knife and the language of visiting cards and polite cell phone usage, there really isn’t that much difference between the 1850s and Miss Manners.


Published in: on 22 April 2015 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Feder, Kenneth L. Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology.

Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.

Feder is a working anthropologist from Connecticut with a particular interest in fraudulent archaeology and he’s written several earlier books. He does good service with this volume of short articles in pointing out the idiocy of belief in Atlantis, or Van Daniken, or “King Tut’s Curse,” or the Shroud of Turin, or the Mayan end of the world in 2012 — although none of these actually are archaeological.


Published in: on 20 April 2015 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ellis, Warren. Global Frequency.

NY: DC Comics, 2013.

“You’re on the global frequency.” That’s what a thousand and one specialists in science, psychology, criminology, diplomatics, and mayhem are likely to hear when Aleph, the central controller, calls them on their special sat-phones. Global Frequency is a semi-covert international rescue organization founded by the ubiquitous Miranda Zero as a means to try to save the world from itself.


Published in: on 17 April 2015 at 5:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Alford, Kenneth D. Civil War Museum Treasures: Outstanding Artifacts and the Stories Behind Them.

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

Most Civil War “tour guides” concentrate on battlefields and postwar monuments, but this one focuses on museums with significant collections of material remains associated with the war. However, it’s really just a sampling and leaves out a great many repositories worth knowing about.


Published in: on 15 April 2015 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nicholson, Shirley. A Victorian Household: Based on the Diaries of Marion Sambourne.

London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1988.

I have a longstanding interest in Victorian and Edwardian social history and one of the best ways to satisfy that interest is to read diaries written during the period. Third-person histories and biographies are permeated with later interpretation and memoirs are often edited with a large dose of foreshadowing and second-guessing (“Little did we know,” and so on). But a daily diary knows nothing about will happen tomorrow, or what will turn out to be important to later readers. It’s about as close as you can come to time travel.


Published in: on 13 April 2015 at 4:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Markoe, Glenn E. Phoenicians. (Peoples of the Past series)

Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

For a culture that had such a profound effect on the course of Middle Eastern and Western European history generally, we know remarkably little about the Phoenicians — not even what they called themselves, though something close to “Canaanite” is probably a good guess.


Published in: on 10 April 2015 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bear, Greg. Blood Music.

NY: Arbor House, 1985.

Bear is a generally a pretty good hard-SF author whom many people assume is a working scientist, like Larry Niven. Nope. Just an English major who’s really, really good at research and at deploying jargon and presenting semi-scientific explanations that simply sound right. This striking novel was expanded from a Hugo- and Nebula-winning novelette, and was nominated for both of those prizes in its longer form as well.