Book Review: Leonardo Da Vinci

Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo Da Vinci. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017)

Everyone knows about Leonardo Da Vinci. He’s one of the artists referred to by one name, and the “Mona Lisa” is in all art books, or parodied, or used for a meme, and attracts all the attention of people visiting the Louvre Museum. For a while Da Vinci conspiracies were trendy, and engineers have attempted to see if his ideas for machines would work. Some do, some don’t. He is often considered the ultimate Renaissance man – artist, writer, engineer, scientist, costume designer, diplomat, scholar, builder of machines. Walter Isaacson puts Da Vinci’s story into a single, easy-to-read volume with excellent illustrations. Continue reading


What the Blogger is Reading: Jan ’18 Edition

Feng, Li. Early China: A Social and Cultural History This is a general overview drawing from Chinese and Western scholarship. It focuses on the Bronze Age cultures through the end of the Han (220 AD or so). It is filling in some gaps, and kicking off ideas I need to finish the Work In Progress.

Marx, Karl The Portable Karl Marx Because I need to review some of his ideas, but I am not in the mood (and don’t have the dedicated quiet time and space) to read through The German Ideology and Theses on Feuerbach and Kapital in German. Reading Marx reminds me 1) how much background in German philosophy you need to follow many of his ideas and 2) why he’s almost as impenetrable as Hegel. You’d think the writer of some of the worst books (in terms of effects on humanity) in recent history would have been a little clearer, but that’s a feature, not a bug, according to his later followers.

Shendge, Malati J. The Civilized Demons: The Harappans in the RigVeda The book is rather odd. The author considers the Rig Veda to be a mythologization of historical accounts of the invasion of the Indus watershed by the Indo-Aryans, and looks at how the archaeological and linguistic and textual evidence conflict and coincide. The book went very slowly at first, and you have to be either 1) really interested in the topic, or 2) really familiar with the material either archaeological or the Vedas, or 3) determined to plow through, because she knows her stuff and is not afraid to heap reference onto dig report onto quotation. I’m not entirely certain if I’m convinced, but she sparked a new fantasy novel, so I’m going to read through to the end.

Isaacson, Walter Leonardo Da Vinci. Great book! My parents gave me this for Christmas, and I’m slowly working my way through it, in part slowly to savor the writing and illustrations, in part slowly because it is a fat book and I can’t read it around Athena T. Cat once she claims my lap in the evenings. Highly, highly recommend for anyone interested in the artist, in his world, and in how his works are analyzed.

Dollinger, Philippe. Die Hanse This is an updated and lightly revised edition of the book about the Hanseatic League. It is in German, and I am reading it to refresh that part of my mind for the sequel to Of Merchant and Magic. I need to know more about the kontors and how they functioned, plus more economic hard data than my other references have.

Also in German I’m reading a guide to the medieval imperial cities of Eastern Germany (yes, the book is pre 1990) such as Goslar, Magdeburg, Quedlinburg, and others. And a tourist guide to Quedlinburg, in case the former Stazi* lady is still the guide in the church. No, I am not kidding. She was memorable in all the wrong ways, and DadRed kept trying to angle around to see if she had knife blades under the toes of her boots.**

For those keeping score, yes, I finally finished Peter Wilson’s Heart of Europe about the Holy Roman Empire. There is so much in that book to consider and chew on… It and Judson’s volume on the later Habsburg Empire, like Andrew Wheatcroft’s look at the Habsburg – Ottoman wars, have changed how I teach that area.

There are a few other things I’m nibbling on, but these are the main ones, plus some work-related reading. Over the Christmas Break I read both of Vox Day’s SJW books. I disagree with some of his ideas, but the first book in particular was useful to get the exact chronology of some of the recent cultural tempests hammered out (like GamerGate). The minutes of the Supreme Dark Lord’s meeting with his henchmen is hysterically funny, especially since I’ve met some of the individuals involved. (“John, I just want the revised manuscript.” “Oh, sorry, sir. Here it is.”)

*WordPress, Stazi is not a misspelling of SETI.

**Watch From Russia With Love. My hand to Bog, that was the tour guide’s twin sister.

Book Review: Insurgents

Ball, Margaret. Insurgents (2017) Kindle Edition

Margaret Ball sent me an announcement of the release of Insurgents and asked for reviews. At the time I agreed, bought a copy, started it, and put it down. I abandoned the book because the female protagonist hit all my contemporary fiction “run away” buttons: self-centered, immature, manipulative, and (probably) unwilling to change. However, over time, guilt pushed me into reading the rest of the book. I’m very glad I did.

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Reading for the Road

At some point in the dim past, a need met an opportunity. Namely, parents and others got tired of car passengers asking “What’s that? What’s that sign say? Why do the rocks look funny? What’s the name of that mountain?” And Mountain Press of Missoula Montana found a solution: The Roadside Geology of [state/park] series. I grew up with them, and as soon as a new version of the one for Texas appeared I snapped it up. Continue reading

Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism

Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thanks for visiting.

Kengor, Paul. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism: The Killingest Idea Ever (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2017) print edition

I’ve been a reader of the P.I.G. guides since the inaugural volume, Robert Spencer’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades. Some books are better than others, but this one is among the best. Yes, it is opinionated. Yes, it is brutal about some things, quoting first-hand accounts of the horrors of Communism in the USSR, Cambodia, and elsewhere. But the sources are excellent, the presentation is good, and you get a lot of information in a relatively compact package. Continue reading

Leo Lionni’s Frederick

There are a few illustrated children’s books I grew up with that left a very deep mark on me. Tomi di Paola’s books, Ashanti to Zulu about the peoples of Africa, dinosaur and paleontology books, Three Trees of the Samurai, Holling C. Holling’s books, and one called Catundra about an overweight cat and how she slims down.

Leo Lionni’s story Frederick was one of these. The book is fifty years old this year, and is a wonderful story about the importance of Odds in societies. The author was Dutch, and did many children’s books, a lot of them about mice, including Frederick. I discovered it as a audio-tape and read-along book Mom and Dad got at the library. Continue reading