Books Read ~ 2014

My Pre-Thesis PresentationI’ll be doing this list just as I have all the others from years past ( 2013, 2012, 2011). You get the name of the book, the author, the genre and the date completed. If the book was worthy of a note–positive or negative–I give it one. Otherwise, consider it an average book. If there is an *next to the book that means you’d be wise to get yourself a copy and read it.

My goal, as it is every year, is to read 52 books a year, that is on average one a week. One thing to note: this year I read almost 25% more than I did last year and last year I read 75, which astonished me. This year? Ninety and heading towards ninety one as I write this.

Anyway, let’s get to it:

1. Du Fu: A Life in Poetry trans. David Young: poetry, completed January 7, 2014

The single greatest Chinese poet ever. This is an excellent volume with which to get acquainted.

2. Time Among the Maya by Ronald Wright: non-fiction, completed January 12, 2014

This was a solid book in the context of my reading: I had just returned from Guatemala and Tikal in particular. Well written and interesting. But, since I returned to the Mayan region in the summer and excavated by hand a portion of a pyramid I no longer have any interest in the Mayans, at all.

3. The Purpose of the Past by Gordon Wood: history, completed January 20, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

4. The World of Late Antiquity by Peter Brown: history, completed January 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

5. The Fall of Rome by Bryan Ward-Perkins: history, completed January 24, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*6. The Columbian Exchange by Alfred Crosby: history, completed January 24, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. This book really needs no introduction. Any man or woman who considers him or herself to be well-educated should have read this book at least once. Linguistics!

7. Becoming Mex-Am by George Sanchez: history, completed January 28, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

8. Christians and Pagans by Ramsay MacMullen: history, completed January 31, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

9. The Broken Spears by Miguel Leon-Portilla: history, completed February 1, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

10. Brown in the Windy City by Lilia Fernandez: history, completed February 2, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

11. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels: history, completed February 7, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

12. Lieutenant Nun by Catalina de Erauso: memoir, completed February 9, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*13. Cannery Women and Lives by Vicki Ruiz: history, completed February 9, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. This book by historian Vicki Ruiz is splendid. It’s a capsule of a time when collective-action was possible and immanent in America, even for minorities like Chicanas. Of all the Chicano history I read this year–and I read close to 20 books–this book was the standout.

14. The Albigensian Crusade by Joseph Strayer: history, completed February 9, 2014 Readings

Assigned for a graduate history course.

16. Saints and Their Miracles by R. Van Dam: history, completed February 15, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

17. History in Six Glasses by Tom Standage: history, completed February 16, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

18. From the Jaws of Victory by Matt Garcia: history, completed February 18, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*19. Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot: history, completed February 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. However, this was THE book of the year. It is the gold standard of what post-modern theory and methodology can do to the telling and uncovering of history. This is a must read.

20. The Zoot-Suit Riots by Mauricio Mazon: history, completed February 25, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

21. Muhamed & Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne: history, completed February 27, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

22. Muhamed & Charl Reconsidered by Hodges&Whitehouse: history, March 1, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

23. Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon by Mauricio Pagan: history, March 2, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

24. City of Kings by Rosario Castellanos: fiction, March 16, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

25. Youth, Identity, Power by Carlos Munoz: history, March 17, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

26. Forces of Habit by David T. Courtwright: history, March 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

27. Raza Si! Guerra No! by Lorena Oropeza: history, March 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

28. Early Growth Euro Econ by Georges Duby: history, March 21, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Readings

29. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor: travel, March 31, 2014

The final installment of PLM’s great trilogy of his youthful excursion walking from the Hook-of-Holland to Istanbul. The first half was lovely, full of his excellent story-telling prose. The last half was clearly patched together by the editors in the aftermath of his death so as to get something published and finish the story.

30. The First European Revolution by R.I. Moore: history, April 4, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

31. Human Trafficking by Louise Shelley: anthropology, April 6, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

32. Medieval Women by Eileen Power: history, April 11, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

33. History Short Intro by John H. Arnold: history, April 14, 2014

Wanted to see how well the Oxford Very Short Introductions hold up across the board by starting with what I know: history. This one was okay.

34. Marginal Society Paris by B. Geremek: history, April 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

35. A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald: essays, April 22, 2014

Another posthumous book, this one in all parts more coherent and well done than Patrick Leigh Fermor’s, but still lacking in that final draft kind of way. Reading it reminded me that we lost a future Nobel Prize winner when Sebald died. A Little Light Reading

36. Medieval Rural Economy by G. Duby: history, April 25, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

37. My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan: memoir, April 27, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

38. A Primer for World History by A. Burton: history, April 27, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

39. The Horse in Human History by P. Kelekna: history, May 3, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.  A decent history of the role horses played in human history, not without flaws, however.

40. Nomads and the Outside World by AM Khazanov: anthropology, May 4 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis. The gold standard of anthropology on nomads.

41. Early Seljuq History by A.C.S. Peacock: history, May 9, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.

*42. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes: fiction, May 23, 2014

This was a very fun and interesting spin and take on Noah’s Ark. I highly recommend it.

43. Devil Colony by James Rollins: fiction, May 27, 2014

Garbage fiction, fun to read, good to clear the mind. Ultimately just rubbish. Life of a Student

44. The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell: fiction, June 1, 2014

Garbage fiction, fun to read, good to clear the mind. Ultimately just rubbish.

45. A History of the Seljuks by Ibrahim Kafesoglu: history, June 13, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.

46. Turkestan Down To Mongol Invasion by Vasily Barthold: history, June 19, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.

47. Earthly Measures by Edward Hirsch: poetry, June 20, 2014

*48. Ambivalent Conquests by Inga Clendinnen: history, June 21, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. This book is the book to help the reader gain a better appreciation of the Inquisition in New Spain.

*49. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig: fiction, June 30, 2014

Zweig: what is there to say? Get the book, read it. You can thank me later.

50. Napoleon’s Defeat by Philippe-Paul de Segur: history, July 13, 2014

A personal memoir from one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp. Quite fascinating inside portrait of Napoleon and how the myth got made. Simulacra

51. The Fire Gospel by Michael Faber: fiction, July 28, 2014

Garbage fiction, fun to read, good to clear the mind. Ultimately just rubbish.

52. Modern Inquisitions by Irene Silverblatt: history, August 10, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

53. Go Betweens by Alida Metcalf: history, August 16, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

54. Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge: memoir, August 17, 2014

This was an excellent, if difficult book. One of the many books circling around Marxism I read this year. Serge is an important character in the early 20th century attempt to create Communism from nothing.

55. Fear by Gabriel Chevallier: fiction, August 24, 2014

France’s version of All Quiet on the Western Front.

56. Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart: poetry, August 28, 2014

57. The Professor and the Siren by G.T. Lampedusa: fiction, August 31, 2014

An interesting and edifying novella.

58. Recreating Africa by James H. Sweet: history, September 8, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

59. The Faces of Honor by Johnson and Lipsett-Rivera:  history, September 13, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

60. On Being Blue by William H. Gass: belles-lettres, September 16, 2014

In essence a long essay on the color and definition and uses of the word blue.

61. Women Who Live Evil Lives by Martha Few: history, September 19, 2014 

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

62. The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt: fiction, September 20, 2014

Another post-modern novel. Well done. Not overlong. Compelling story of New York in the 90s.

63. The Mexican Frontier by David J. Weber: history, September 21, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

64. The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche: philosophy, September 28, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Reading

65. Foucault for Beginners by Lydia Fillingham: philosophy, September 28, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

66. Line in the Sand by Rachel St. John: history, September 29, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

67. Imperial Subjects by Fisher and O’Hara, eds: history, September 29, 2014. 

Assigned for a graduate history course.

68. The Great Seljuks  by Aziz Basan: history, September 29, 2014

Future source for Master’s thesis.

*69. America by Jean Baudrillard: philosophy, October 1, 2014

My first full Baudrillard text. Fascinating view of America by one of France’s premier post-modern theorists, especially in the context of my drive to Joshua Tree National Park this summer.

70. The White Scourge by Neil Foley: history, October 13, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

71. Origin Family, Property, State by Friedrich Engels: philosophy, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

72. Troublesome Border by Oscar J. Martinez: history, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

73. Three Essays on Sexuality by Sigmund Freud: psychology, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

74. Marx for Beginners by Rius: philosophy, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*75. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson: poetry, October 26, 2014

A great poem.

76. Civilization and Discontents by Sigmund Freud: philosophy, November 2, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

77. From Out of the Shadows by Vicki Ruiz: history, November 3, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Color

78. Marx, A Short Intro by Peter Singer: philosophy, November 13, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

79. Before Homosexuality in Arabia by Khaled el-Rouayheb: history, November 21, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

80. Quixote’s Soldiers by David Montejano: history, November 24, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

81. Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste by Philip Mirowski: history, November 24, 2014

Blockbuster book that I will not recommend for the following reason: you must have a.) a background in theory and philosophy and b.) a background in finance and economics to get anything from this book. It’s a tough read but ultimately helped me connect the dots between the neoliberal agenda and why there was no reform after the Financial Crisis in 2008.

82. Warriors of the Cloisters by Christopher I. Beckwith: history, December 3, 2014

Future source for Master’s thesis.

83. Places Left Unfinished by John Phillip Santos: memoir, December 6, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

84. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 by Michel Foucault: history, December 6, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. This was a disturbing book. In it one can see Foucault emerging as a neoliberal. Although he is not quite there yet in this text, he is getting close. The depiction of how power is distributed is also disturbing. The way he relates it, power is of its own self, indwelling, immanent. Human agency means nothing to it. Now, what is says about sexuality is fascinating: basically this: sexuality as the sum of being is principally a Western thing. Other cultures, like Islam and China and Japan don’t see sexuality as the defining aspect of humans, but simply as pleasure. Only the West obsesses about it, which is one reason the West and Islam don’t understand each other. We see Islam as repressed. They see us as debauched. Both views, from the viewpoint of the observer are valid. Study

85. Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon: fiction, December 7, 2014

My first Simenon mystery. Well done.

*86. Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn: history, December 11, 2014
Future source for Master’s thesis. This book should be read by anyone who considers him or herself educated. It’s a part of the modern canon.

87. How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs by De Lacy O’Leary: history, December 13, 2014

Future source for Master’s thesis.

88. The Landbreakers by John Ehle: fiction, December 21, 2014

This book captures the language of Appalachia better than any other I’ve read. It’s like reading Justified, but takes place in 1780s.

89. Red Doc by Ann Carson: poetry, December 26, 2014 Found Poetry

Sequel to Autobiography of RedNot as good as the first.

90. The Archeology of Knowledge by Michel Foucault: philosophy, December 29, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Dense, difficult but important book in the emergence of Foucault as a proto-neoliberal.

91. Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher: theory, December 29, 2014

92. Abolition of Political Parties by Simone Weil: theory, December 31, 2014

This is a book written in 1943 about the Free France exiles in the UK. It has relevance today for contemporary American politics. Political parties should be banned.

Any lessons from this year? No, not really. I read a lot of theory–and I am not ashamed to admit I read several “Beginner’s Guides to So-and-So” first before reading the full text of their works, Marx and Foucault being prime among them. I’m glad I did. It always helps give me a framework for understanding what’s being said.  If you are going to wrestle with the original text of philosophers and know how dense philosophical prose can be, I highly recommend this approach. Most of the theory I read was for one course, A History of Human Sexuality. This course confronted me with multiple ideas and constructs I’d never dealt with before. I can see why modern Anglo-American Conservatives despise the Post-Moderns: they have given historians and philosophers and anthropologists, etc . . . a way of looking at the world that de-essentialized core values, namely Enlightenment Values, and has shown what those core values were built on. For example, people have always wondered about the mindset of a man who could own slaves, have a slave girl as his concubine and write a document as magnificent as our Declaration of Independence, one of the great Enlightenment era texts. Using the tools of Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, Lyotard and Jameson one can put Thomas Jefferson in his proper context and come to see how he could essentialize rights for white men, but not include all men (and women, for that matter). It wasn’t hypocrisy for him, it’s just the way Enlightenment thinking was structured. Conservatives don’t want to look at this, and yet they use the methods of the Post-Moderns to tear everything liberals and the Left have done. Once they wreck everything, the neoliberals come in and patch things up the way they want them. To understand how that happens you must read Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste by Philip Mirowski. Good Reading

I also read a fuckton of history. I didn’t read nearly enough fiction, but I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon, what with me being in grad school and all.

I did read five books of poetry. That’s something new I’ve been doing: reading a book of poetry all the way through. What I do is leave the book by my bedside and read a handful of poems every night. I must confess: Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog was pretty lame. My poetry professor, Edward Hirsch’s Earthly Measures, was quite lovely. And Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red was a real standout, although the sequel, Red Doc, was flat out weird and disjointed.

Any large themes? Yes, two. First, this was the year of re-investigating Marx and Marxist thought. I had done this in my undergad, as I almost did a Soviet/Russian studies degree. However, I was young and callow then. Furthermore, this year there are several books that I am reading that remain half done regarding Marxism, including Jameson, Marcuse and others. Second, this year was dominated by Chicano studies. Had you asked me a year ago if this is what I wanted to spend half my first year reading I would have said, “nope.” But I am the better for it theoretically, methodologically and personally. I have a much more realistic grounding of how America has totally dominated Mexico since 1846 and how one of the effects of that dominance is the persistent displacement of people North. This is the big secret no one in the US or Mexico talks about: the dominance, not undocumented labor, which is just a symptom.

That being said, the other half of my year was dominated by Central Asia, which included a return journey and a twenty page paper that now serves as the foundation for my Master’s thesis. The thing I’ve loved the most about this year has been my seminar classes, the rough and tumble of debate, the intellectual ferment, engaging with smart people on an almost daily basis. It’s been fantastic and reminds me that I made the right decision returning to school, no matter my age.

Bookshelf Porn

The Road Beckons

Xunantunich's western friezeTomorrow morning I catch the southbound bus to Laredo at 900.

I’ll arrive in Laredo about 1145, walk across the border at International Bridge #1, take the city bus to the new primera classe bus station and catch the first available to Mexico City.

After that, who knows? I have to be in Belize on July 5th, which makes zipping across the Yucatan a tight schedule.

I’ll then be in Belize working on an archaeological dig for 25 days. I will leave August 1 for the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

And then, who knows?

I suspect you’ll be getting a boatload of posts on the ancient Mayans.

This is the best place to keep up with me while I am away.

Peoples Of The Silk Road

My father likes to take photos of people, whereas I usually take photos of landscapes and architecture. Both are excellent ways of penetrating the veil of foreign lands, so to speak.

Last night Dad emailed me a deluge of photos and asked if I would upload them to Flickr. “Hell yes,” I told him.

Here they are. There are 90 new photos, mostly in chronological order from Kyrgyzstan to Istanbul.

The full set is available here or at the photo above.

As always, enjoy!

Why Did The Aral Sea Die?

Why did the Aral Sea die, because it categorically did not have to?

Qara Qum Canal

Here’s the majority of the problem, the answer as it were: Turkmenistan chose to destroy it.

How? It’s the water shown in the photo above: it’s called the Qara Qum Canal.

It channels water from the Amu Darya (the classical Oxus) at Turkmenabat, along the border with Uzbekistan all the way across the Qara Qum Desert to Ashgabat, bleeding the Amu Darya dry, and still failing to slake the thirst of the most hideously gaudy cities planet earth. (Inferior only to Vegas on the vulgarity quotient.)

It carries 13 km³ of water away from the Amu Darya into the desert onwards to Ashgabat. Along its 1,375 kilometer route through the dry wastes of Turkmenistan it loses 50% of the water it siphons away from the Amu Darya due to evaporation. Staggeringly inefficient, as it is. Also preventable. 

The Turkmens chose a lifestyle and standard of living approaching the gauche opulence of a Persian Gulf despotism (not that American ecological choices are much better) and this is why the Aral Sea died.

Now, consider this: 50% of that whAral Sea: 1989-2008ich the Turkmen’s siphon from the Amu Darya evaporates, right?

Now, take Uzbekistan which gets the other 50% of the river.

Uzbekistan engages in another form of breathless stupidity: they grow cotton (a notorious water hog) and rice, yes rice, in the desert with Amu Darya water and their irrigation projects lose another 50% due to evaporation, which also is entirely preventable.

So, before the water even irrigates anything in Uzbekistan or reaches Ashgabat fully half the entire river is lost to piss-poor irrigation technology, technology that could have been upgraded in the 90s for a fraction of what it is now costing both countries in ecological damage due to the effects of the disappearance of the sea.

“What about Kazakhstan,” you ask?

Kazakhstan is the only nation that has done anything to save it’s portion of the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya (the classical Jaxartes) feeds the north of the Aral Sea. Several years ago the Kazakhs created realistic conservation policies and also built a dam to hold back the water from evaporating, thereby creating the Little Aral Sea. Yes, it’s something, but it’s still too little, too late.

This is the result of a human policy with global implications. The obvious question is what happens when the glaciers in the Pamirs, you know, those things up in the hills that feed the Amu Darya, disappear due to global warming?

I don’t know, exactly, but it will be bloody and brutal.

Last Photos from Istanbul

Here are the last 52 photos from Istanbul.

They speak for themselves.

The full set is here.

The beginning of this last batch begins here and moves backwards.

Enjoy.

The Ghosts of A Great and Forgotten City

How does one express the feelings, the visceral swirl of emotions, when a dream comes true?

How does one describe a city that was once the glory of the world? Where all of the great medieval minds flocked, where Alexander walked, where Algebra was invented, where the algorithm was invented, where the concept of zero, or nothingness, was wedded with Arabic numerals to create the foundations of modern science?

Finally, a place utterly ravaged by the Mongols in 1221?

I don’t know.

But I have now seen it, and in its ruin, in the years of wear and erosion and desert winds and Siberian snows, Russian Czars and totalitarian dictators, it is still a place of profound ghosts. It may be deathly silent here, but Merv has much to say.

An immensely important name forgotten by the hustle and bustle of the modern world and a place to whom we all owe a great debt. And now, a place I have been so very lucky to have seen with my own eyes.

I hope you find something of all this in the photos because they do not do the mystery justice.

Enjoy!

Crazy Like A Fox

Desert Fox

Desert fox at a watering hole in the Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan.

Yep, that sums me up. Crazy like a fox.

Here is the first set of Turkmenistan photos.

The full Silk Road set can be found here.

The start of this most recent set can be seen here and moving backwards as always.

Enjoy!

Something I Once Said

Five years ago, almost to the day I left Istanbul for Denmark. I should never have left. I don’t have many regrets in life. I can count them on three fingers. One of them was leaving Istanbul on June 1, 2009. Early that spring I said this about Istanbul, “fuck it man, I’d wade through a river of shit ten times to see this place.” In many ways I’ve waded through several of those metaphorical rivers of shit over the last five years.

And then there was today. Clouds lowered over the city. It’s been pissing rain here for a week, flooding many parts of the city and more rain was expected.

Babil Sokak“Fuck it,” I said, grabbed my backpack (the same one I bought here in 2009), hailed a cab and rode to Taksim. I had business to take care of. The cabbie left me at Babil Sokak, my old street. It hasn’t changed. I guess I haven’t, either.

Damnitall.

My eyes puddled up and the whole crazy mess of city assaulted me at once. The old guy where I ate breakfast every morning recognized me. I stopped at Hasan’s, my old barber. He gave me a great shave, trimming the beard up nicely. Hasan said he had missed me, asked me, “where have you been my Texas friend? Please stay for tea.”

I did, choked up, holding back the tears.

Five years.

What was it Horace said? “Jealous time flees.”

Jealous and fleeting, indeed.

Istanbul, June 5 2014

I walked down Cumurriyet Caddesi, this time unable to hold back the tears.

How I so love this city: the filth, the crowds, the covered women, the women in miniskirts, the men in coats, the touts, the louts, the traffic and the smells: roasting chestnuts, roasting corn, steaming tea in tulip shaped glasses, musty bricks laid before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

I walked past the Galata Tower and turned the corner onto the Golden Horn Bridge and then a miracle happened, just for me.

The clouds evaporated. The Bosporus turned from sullen gray to green. Ferries cut cottony tails across the Sea of Marmara. Fishermen cast lines off the bridge and the whole city was just as golden and magnificent as I ever remembered it.

I was home.

Return from a Black Hole

Zoroastrian Symbolism on a MosqueFlew into Istanbul today, just a few hours ago as a matter of fact, from the desert totalitarian state of Turkmenistan.

I can hear a trio of seagulls cackling over the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the skies are threatening rain. It is a magnificent way to return to Istanbul.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that I will be living here, and soon. Every cell in my body tells me this is home.

I am only going to upload the photos up to our departure of Bukhara today.

Tomorrow I will upload some of the photos from Turkmenistan.

The full set can be found here, per my usual practice.

The most recent photo can be seen here and then click backwards.

Enjoy!

More Photos


I’ve posted some more photos. The full set is here.

You can start with this one, the newest and work your way backward.

Bandwidth is just ridiculously slow here. So, this is as good as it gets.

Furthermore, when I leave Bukhara Saturday morning for Turkmenistan I have been informed it is an internet black hole so you will definitely not hear from me for at least a week. Sorry, I have no control over such things.

Enjoy!