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    • I am rereading Maury Klein's "Days of Defiance" published 1997 - a retelling of the the history of the USA from the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln to the fall of Fort Sumter, and the beginning of the bloodiest conflict this nation has ever experienced. Much of it is detailed by quotes from letters written by people living through the experience. It seems pertinent to me, because it puts the present political turmoil into perspective, and helps me realize the present turmoil in comparison to that of the spring of 1861.

      As a side note, I read Mr Klein's book about a decade ago, and little noted how often Frederick Law Olmstead was quoted, as I knew little about who Mr. Olmstead was back then. Most New Yorkers know him as the designer of Central Park. Some Americans may know he was the designer of much of Washington DC. But before he was a gardener, he was a reporter for northern newspapers.

      Since then I have read several books either written by Mr Olmstead, or about him, and so his comments take on greater depth to me now.

      Tony Horwitz ( an author I have enjoyed for many years ) wrote "Spying on the South: An Odyssey across the American Divide" in which he retraces paths taken by Frederick Law Olmstead in the 1850s travelling on foot, or horseback, in the ante Bellum South, interviewing and questioning citizens and slaves and reporting to northern newspapers.

      He would stop at private homes and ask to spend the night as a traveller, eating with the homeowners, and sleeping on the straw in their barns or homes.

      Mr Olmstead wrote three books about traveling in the South before the Civil War and all three are available on a Kimble for pennies. Well worth reading.

      1) A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States 1852

      2) A Journey in the Back Country 1860

      3) A Journey through Texas: Or a Saddle Trip on the South Western Frontier

      All three books explored the justification for slavery, and how the southerners felt about it and lived with it. Hardly topics for polite conversation in the ante Bellum South. Indeed, by 1860, quite probably illegal to discuss in much of the South.

      Some historical books are a dry recitation of facts and dates - Maury Klein's book is none of that - It is a picture painted by the words and letters of the men and women caught in the turbulence of the months leading up to the fall of Fort Sumter, and how this country wandered unwittingly almost, into the greatest human slaughter it has ever experienced.

      One has to walk through the graveyards at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Arlington, and the 11 other National Cemetaries to begin to appreciate the scale of the casualties - and those are just the Union Military dead. Not the civilians killed by disease, inanition, lack of law and order, and hunger, nor the Confederate dead. Some estimates are as high as almost 800,000 total lives in a nation of just 31 million souls - Union Forces, Confederate Forces, and civillians on both sides.

      Try to imagine if the USA lost an equivalent percentage of its population today - that would be almost 8 million people - almost equal to the populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston combined.....

      I also finished Erik Larson's "The Splendid and the Vile" - an interesting study of the early years of Churchill's leadership in the UK up into the Battle of Britain. Lots of tidbits about the British upper classes and how they comported themselves. Larson is a great author and always seems to hold my interest, even about subjects I didn't think I was that interested in.

    • Is history your main reading interest or just current interest? I’m reading a Fernand Braudel book at the moment but haven’t read much history recently, though I have in the past. I did a paper on the civil war when I did my honors degree in university. In it I argued that the war was caused not so much because of slavery but the unequal expansion of slavery into new states. I’ve forgotten much of what I did know about it but it’s important to always consider the ideas, mores, folkways and culture that people are growing up in at the time. It’s easy to vilify people looking back in history as I’m sure our future populations will look back on things we did with much condemnation. I’m glad things continue to move generally towards more equality. As long as we keep talking about inequality, things will continue to move mostly in the right direction. The MeToo movement is a case in point.

    • Yes, I think initally the political conflict leading to the Civil War was how to manage the new states in the west - slave or free? But that really came down to whether the South was going to continue to dominate the federal government - ultimately, the population in the North and West outgrew the South, and caused it to lose the political influence it had from the Revolution, and that lead to the Civil War and the 14th and 15th amendments freeing the slaves and giving them the vote.

      I read many different species of books - I do like good history books that are informative and entertaining. I loved Ron Chernow's "Grant" for those reasons.

      But I also read fiction, science fiction, and how to books from time to time. Neal Stephenson's work I often enjoy a great deal.

      I tend to find authors I enjoy - and then try to continue reading other works by them - One of my favorites is David Roberts, who was a first rate mountaineer with several first ascents in Alaska - who wrote over 29 books covering topics from why I climb mountains, to explorations of the American south west, and finally wrote about his own impending death with insight and courage. I have not read all of his books, but I have 19 of his volumes on my bookshelf...

      I am not a mountainer, but I have read many of his books about explorers and exploration. His book "Four Against the Arctic" tells of four Russian seal hunters abandoned on Svalbard in the 1740s, who survived over six years in the high Artic in an area with the highest concentration of polar bears in the world. And no green plants - hence a concern about scurvy.

      It was so exciting, it led to my flying to Svalbard, over 1200 miles north of Oslo, for a week in 2016 to photograph polar bears. And to watch our Swedish navigator swim in the Arctic ocean at 82º N in a Bikini.

      Mr. Roberts wiki page is mostly about his climbing exploits. He has also written books with Ed Viesturs and Conrad Anker, both renowned climbers as well. Amazon has a great artist's page about him also

      Another author I enjoy a great deal is Craig Childs - who is a desert rat from the American southwest who goes hiking in the desert, often without water, as he is confident he will find what water he needs...... His opening page in his book "The Secret Knowledge of Water" states "There are two easy ways of dying in the desert - thirst and drowning" and he goes on to point out you are far more likely to drown in the desert than die of thirst according to statistical records in the USA.

      He has also written about Chaco Canyon in "House of Rain" Chaco Canyon is the location of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and was a major center in the paleo Indian cultures of northern New Mexico in the 11th century AD. They traded with cultures all over mid America.

      If you're a motorcyclist, not a biker, Neil Peart, who was the drummer for "Rush" for 40 years, was also an author with several books mostly about riding motorcycles between concert settings, and thinking and watching along the way. I have read several of his volumes, and found him quite erudite, knowledgeable and entertaining who often left me with things to reflect about.

      Those few authors I have mentioned should keep most explorers entertained for quite some time. I've been reading them for almost twenty years or more.

    • Thanks for the considerable time you took to give me feedback on what you've been reading and books/authors that may be of interest to me. I used to be seriously into technical rock climbing and long trad routes but not any more. A book that came to mind when you started saying books you've read is one called Adrift by Steven Callahan. He survived a 76 day journey on a small dingy adrift in the ocean. It's an amazing story and one I'll never forget. I think you'd like that book from what you've said.

      I also read science fiction, science and an assortment of other genres. Not too much fiction as there's just too much to learn and too little time. I'm sure you know the feeling.

    • For a period of about a decade, it felt that at least once a year there was a new movie based on a Stephen King novel or short story. You may want to explore some of his short story collections next. They explore more than just the horror genre.

      King also wrote novels under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, including the science fiction novel The Running Man, which was turned into a movie.

    • I’m reading Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. Dude can seriously write. He won a Pulitzer and has been nominated for several.

      From a product design perspective, it’s totally fascinating to me how brands like Prego can revolutionize pasta sauce and take over the world with innovations like chunky sauce.

      But it’s also terrifying to see how much is accomplished by unbelievable doses of sugar, fat and salt. Resistance is futile.

    • True?

      “I would have to say that it's been an unqualified failure,” Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of nutrition advocacy organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said of the “Let's Move” campaign. “I would certainly give (Obama) credit for raising the profile of the issue. Where I think they went wrong is that they ended up doing more harm than good by convincing Americans that the causes of it were things that were completely fictional.” 

      Barnard felt the campaign has focused too much of its attention toward reducing sugar intake and not enough to limiting consumption of cheese, meat and grains. Others also have pointed out the childhood obesity rate has not gone down since the start of “Let's Move.” 

      Nearly 17% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 were obese in 2012, according to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in JAMA, a rate that has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. (Source)

    • I didn’t know he said that and I’m surprised to hear it, but I have the utmost respect for Dr. Barnard and trust his insight more than my own. Up to this point I admired the program.

      One thing I will say, is no program seems able to fend off the food industry. I thought Kennedy’s program of Presidential fitness was great, but that was before the food companies got so savvy. We did a good job against smoking, but not sugar.

    • The Waking


      I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
      I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
      I learn by going where I have to go.

      We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
      I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
      I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

      Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
      God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
      And learn by going where I have to go.

      Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
      The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
      I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

      Great Nature has another thing to do   
      To you and me; so take the lively air,   
      And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

      This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
      What falls away is always. And is near.   
      I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
      I learn by going where I have to go.

    • According to the interviews and research done by Jeremy Caulfield the cause for obesity is a combination of portion sizes being too big and an excess of nutritionally void foods and drinks. Portion size mainly and this is a result of industry and marketing.

    • I've been meaning to read Larson's book. Currently reading The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Written by Timothy Egan, this is such an indepth account of a terrible time in American history. It follows several families and their communities through the rise and fall of the high plains. The destruction of native grass to plant wheat. The desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. People dying from inhaling incredibly amounts of dust; just awful. Unfortunately we don't seem to learn from history. We're currently slowly killing the Amazon in order to generate more farmland.

    • I'm always amazed at the amount of sugar in some pasta sauces, red sauces. I really like spicy tangy red sauce ( which has very little sugar if any ), but I suspect that sugar is added to some brands of spaghetti sauce to make it more palatable to children, and this makes mother's purchase it, because the kids like it and eat it.

      This is not to say that I like the added sugar, but that I understand that food designed to appeal to children tends toward sweetness.

      I always remember the young families I see in McDonalds, standing in line, as the mother asks their 3 or 5 year old child what they want to eat; as I think to myself, when did dietary decisions become the provence of toddlers??


    • I’m rereading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2011. It’s central premise is that the Internet is rewiring our brains for the worse.

      But what makes it fascinating is that it explores how technology throughout history has impacted how we perceive and interact with reality.

      The introduction of maps had a profound impact on abstract thinking. Clocks changed us from an agrarian keeping-track-of-time-is-irreverent society to a more regimented by time society: religious orders invested in developing the technology for multiple prayer times throughout the day.

      They also delve into the science of neuroplasticity.

      London cabbies had exceedingly large brain sections that cover spatial reasoning while less used brain areas were smaller. Piano students who “practiced” by mentally playing songs in their mind for two hours a week had the same level of brain growth as students who physically practiced during those two hours. And monkeys, who were given pliers to reach food, ended up with brain scans indicating that the brain now viewed the pliers as an extension of their fingers.

    • I have downloaded "The Shallows" to read, after your recommendation, and peaking at the first few paragraphs on Amazon, talking about Marshall McLuhan and the quote "The medium is the message" from McLuhan's "Understanding Media"

      I actually read Mc:Luhan's book many years ago, and remembered that specific phrase "the medium is the message"

      I found it interesting, because a significant fraction of the book I am currently rereading ( that I mentioned in my post above) "Days of Defiance" about the beginning of the Civil War, quotes at length from newspapers of the 1860s and their loss of accuracy and truth in news, partly due to the instantaneous transmittance of news via the telegraph - the digital transmission medium of that era which the citizens found dizzying and distressing according to letters and articles of that period...

      This reminds me a a quote I posted earlier here on Cake in the "Not For Sissies" thread


      I was leafing through Peter Beard's "The End of the Game" originally written back in 1963, about the effects of the "taming" of Africa by western civilisation and found a quote attributed to Tertullian 337AD. I haven't been able to find this quote via google, so I'm not certain of its veracity, but it sounds like it might be.


      "Surely it is obvious enough, if one looks at the whole world that it is becoming daily better cultivated and more fully peopled, All places are now accessible, all are well known; most pleasant farms have obliterated all traces of what were once dreary and dangerous wastes; cultivated fields and subdued forests, flocks and herds have expelled wild beasts; sandy deserts are sown; rocks are planted; marshes are drained; and where once were solitary cottages, there are now large cities. No longer are islands dreaded, nor their rocky shores feared; everywhere are houses and inhabitants. Our teeming population is the strongest evidence: our numbers are burdensome to the world which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In every deed, pestilence, and famine and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as a means of the pruning of the luxuriance of the human race". 

    • It’s been several years since I read The Shallows, and so I was surprised to see how much history of technology was discussed: I thought it would have started with neuroplasticity and gone from there to the effects of the internet, however, it’s a much more enjoyable read this way.

      In addition, you develop a much more nuanced view of history. And you realize the effect that any piece of “intellectual technology” can have on our brain, be it the printing press, the telegraph during the Civil War, or VR goggles.

      The Internet and it’s related devices, however, make for much more addictive technology compared to a book or a telegram. It’s why Steve Jobs retricted his children’s use of iPads.

    • I read Adrift years ago when it was first published, I believe, back in 1986.

      With your interest in rock climbing and moutaineering, you might enjoy David Roberts' book "The Last of His Kind" about Bradford Washburn. Washburn is regarded as one of the best climbers in Alaskan history, and some think the best mountain photographer of all time. Washburn possesses 9 first ascents in North America. He also climbed in Asia and Europe.

      Worth a read if you're into mountaineering at all.

      A good introduction into Roberts' skills as a writer too.

    • A year ago or so, in a different thread here on cake, about things to read, I saw a strong recommendation for Lionel Shriver's "The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047" so it ended up on my Kindle.

      It didn't grab my attention initially, but recently I came across an article about Lionel Shriver which repeaked my interest a bit, so I have begun reading it. A lot of very funny, very dark, politically incorrect humor.

      It was published in 2016 - but reading it now, it seems very much like it was very presciently about the current days in its depiction of hoarding, multi-generation family’s struggling with living in small apartments.

      It is a story about a family living in the USA who lives through a collapse of the dollar due to the governments failure to honor its very large debts, and the resulting equality that occurs when everyone is hungry, homeless, and profoundly poor. Modern Monetary Theory come to life....

      It has some great humor, and some great pathos, and some biting satire. And I'm only halfway through.

    • Finished The Children of Men and it is one of those rare cases where I actually thought the film was better.

      The first half of the novel is a combination of world building and diary entries. I didn't really care for the protagonist's diary entries about growing up with his cousin. The world is very much an Orwellian dystopia, albeit without the ability to have children.

      The second half of the novel was where the film drew inspiration (someone becoming pregnant and them being on the run). It was a VERY good read for that half.

    • I have consumed the freshly published Piranesi by Susanne Clark in an afternoon, with much pleasure. It's beautifully done and spoke to my inner hillbilly hylozoism in rich velvety tones.

    • If you liked Children of Men and especially the latter part, you might like Afterland by Lauren Beukes; it has been described as being a sort of Children of Men meet Handmaid's Tale (I sort of :) agree )