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What books are we reading now?


Beyond the rim
I thought it might be a good idea to see what books people around here are reading at the moment, maybe we might get a good review which might inspire people to get a particularly good read.

Firstly me - at the moment I am plowing through Colleen McCullough's 'Masters Of Rome' series. Six books in all, I have gotten through 'The First Man In Rome', 'The Grass Crown', and now I am up to 'Fortune's Favourites'.

I must say these are excellent. They tell the story of the fall of the great Roman Republic, from the rise of Gaius Marius in 110 BC, to the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

The prose is easy to read, the descriptions of people, places and events are very well done, and (most importantly for me) the history is very accurate.

I am enjoying these immensely, as this is my first real go at historical novels as opposed to straight history books. She makes the people of this ancient time real and believable, and makes their motivations, drives and passions leap off the pages.

These are highly recommended.
I'm rereading George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series in anticpation of the next book in the series coming out soon.
I'm reading Becoming A Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild by Susan McCarthy. It is about how animals grow up, how they learn, and whether animal behaviour is innate, learned, ora mixture of both.

McCullough's Rome books are terrific. I really wish someone would just adapt them for a mini-series and spare use crap like ABC's nitwit mini-series. I haven't seen the HBO/BBC collaboration yet (I don't get HBO but I understand the debut will be during one of their free preview weekends), but I'm not hopeful. From what I've seen they haven't even got the togas right (they never do.) If someone would have read one of McCullough's novels they could at least have fixed that detail. :)

I read collected the Masters of Rome books in hardcover as each came out, so I envy you the ability to read them straight through. (And probably save a small fortune if you've bought them in paperback.) Anyone who thinks waiting months between episodes of B5 is painful should try waiting three years or so between books in a favorite series.

I love the historical discussion that makes its way into the author's notes and even the glossary. A novelist, unlike an historian, cannot fall back on "acccounts differ as to whether Marius or Sulla won this battle". She must choose one or the other, and tell the story that way. When McCullough explains such decisions in the back of the book I am almost always persuaded by her reasoning, and sometimes think the novelist's feeling for human behavior gives her an edge in figuring out what is most likely to have happened in a given situation, given the circumstances and the people involved. The relationship she establishes between Sulla and the Julian clan is a example of a literary choice that suddenly makes sense of a number of otherwise puzzling historical events. Later in the series she suggests that ordinary human vanity led Cicero to break chronological order when publishing a group of speeches he had givn - to end on a "stronger" note - and that this has led historians to misdate an important event in Gaius Julius Caesar's life. Similarly the most sensible solution to the so-called "Third Murderer Problem" in Shakespeare's Scottish Play came from an actor and director, not an academic, who understood that a play is not a text to be analyzed but a score to be played. None of the academic candidates for the 3rd killer would have meant anything to someone in the audience watching the play for what was probably the first and only time in his or her life. And that's who Shakespeare was writing for. So if he was going to bother to slip in a third murderer, he was going to use a character the audience would recognize right off and whose identity would mean something to them. (If you want to see the theory fleshed out read Bullets for M***** by Marvin Kaye, in which an actor is murdered during a performance of the play, and to solve the mystery the amateur sleuths have to first figure out who the third murderer was.)

Quagmire: Assume you're reading The Republic in translation (English?) If so I recommend Alan Bloom's. I'd also recommend (after you finish reading the dialogue) Eva Brann's* The Music of "The Republic", a collection which includes a revised version of her classic essay of the same name along with other reflections on Plato, Socrates and the Dialogues, which was published last year. One of them is a fine piece she co-authored on the problems of translating Plato. Ms. Brann was one of my teachers many years ago and I found the book by accident on Amazon.com along with another, Open Secrets/Inward Prospects,, a collection of thoughts and essays that amounts to an intellectual sketchbook. It was just published this year and I'm mildly suprised to see that she's still teaching, giving how many years have passed since she introduced me to the wonders of Homer, the riddles of Plato and the flinty logic of Aristotle.

The two books are actually among the ones I'm reading at the moment. (I usually have a couple going at any given time - one by the nightstand, one in the bathroom, one at work for rainy or too hot lunch hours when I forward my calls and eat at my desk.) I have Open Secrets on the nightstand, Music at work. This week's bathroom book is G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, a witty and charming book well worth reading just for the prose, even if you have no interest in the subject matter or are actively hostile to religion in general and Christiatiny in particular. I've probably read it a dozen tilmes. It is one of those books that I tend to go through every year or so, it always gives me new things to think about.

Besides, who could resist the man who wrote the following:

"I have always believed - I still believe - that sincere pessimism is the one unpardonable sin. Insincere pessimism is a social accomplisment, rather agreeable than otherwise."


"Mr. Blatchford is not only an Early Christian, he is the only Early Christian who really ought to have been eaten by lions."

Chesterton and his wife were close friends of George Bernard. Shaw ("if I had to describe my friend Mr. Shaw I should say that he has a heroically large and generous heart, but that it is not, alas, in the right place.") Shaw was a militant anti-cleric who loathed Christianity and disagreed with Shaw on nearly every subject. The two often publicly debated various topics in lecture halls, as well as in newspaper and magazine articles. I wonder what strange gift they found that allowed them to disagree without being disagreeable?

My other "current" book is David McCullough's 1776, a follow-up to his award-winning (and wonderful) John Adams. I've always been interested in the period, and McCullough (no relation to Colleen) is a magnificent writer. (As well as a maginficent speaker. If you've ever watched a Ken Burns PBS documentary you've heard his voice somewhere in the narration. He was the prinicple narrator for The Civil War and The Brooklyn Bridge, for example.)


Been meaning to check out that Rome series.

Currently on Battle Cry For Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson and also making my way through The Invisibles comic series (currently on the 5th of 7 collections).
I'm slowly progressing through Dan Simmons' "Phases of Gravity," which is a fascinating book; incredibly lyrical and descriptive yet very simple, it focuses on an aging Apollo astronaut looking for meaning in life in a wide variety of ways and places.
Been meaning to check out that Rome series.

The books or the HBO series? The books are great. The HBO series looks - interesting. Certainly better than that ABC crap, Empire or whatever it was called.


Both, but my post was specifically referring to the books.

As for the TV show, HBO has earned respect in my eyes (the only TV network to do so) and it at least deserves a chance. I don't have the same standards of historical accuracy and probably not the knowledge to apply them as you do, so unless I see something really obviously bullshit (like that Julius Ceasar is a woman or something) then I'll probably enjoy it.

I didn't even bother trying to watch ABC's version. Network TV is dead to me.
Currently reading Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. Have been catching up on a lot of books I've been wanting to read for a long time but never got to :p
The HBO series Rome, premiers tonight, Sunday, 9:00pm DST, IIRC. I've set my DVR to get it. Of course there will be repeats. I'll check it out, but I feel like one highbrow period soap opera a lifetime may be enough for me, and I did watch I, Claudius religiously, many years ago. Also, I'm still pissed at HBO for dropping Carnivale, so it will have to be pretty darned good for me to continue watching!

Your enthusiasm for these books is well founded. They are indeed brilliant, and an excellent companion to a very well researched history book that recounts the very same era. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it: ‘Rubicon’ by Tom Holland. Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/det...nce&s=books

I tend to avoid the majority of historical mini-series, as they tend to irritate me when I start to pick holes in their portrayal of events and persons involved. As an example, I just had the profound misfortune to watch again (after some 20 years) ‘The Three Hundred Spartans’. Ye gods, it was bad. You just know it was going to be bad when at the very beginning, in setting up the film, it describes Greece as the last bastion of freedom in the world, facing the looming tyranny of Persia. Which of course it is, if a) you consider Athens to be the whole of Greece, and b) if you ignore the newly established Roman Republic just across the Adriatic!

Which is why this Masters of Rome series is such a treat. As you said, even when she speculates (as in the marriage of Sulla to a never mentioned second daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar), her reasoning is based upon some serious research and well thought out arguments.

What’s even more rewarding for me is the way she humanises monsters in Roman history, like Sulla. Upright Roman citizen one moment, brutal dictator the next, and never does it seem contradictory. And I can tell you, I have hardly ever been moved by prose as I was when she recounted the death of Drusus, in his attempt to halt the imminent start of the Social War – brilliant.

I am currently up to Sulla’s being made Dictator of Rome. I am intrigued by the fact that Sulla appears to have been diabetic, which accounts for his physical deterioration during the First Mithridatic War. She doesn’t actually spell it out as such, but his symptoms seem unmistakable. I wonder if she has sourced this from the historical accounts?

Re: G. K. Chesterton – yes he is a very good writer, isn’t he. I haven’t read ‘Orthodoxy’, though I have read ‘The Everlasting Man’, which I found to be very impressive and very well reasoned. It sounds like I’ll have to give ‘Orthodoxy’ a go.
My hard drive fried, so some books have been interrupted but:

How To Talk to a Liberal, by Ann Coulter.

The Garbage Generation, by Daniel Amneus.

Any book I find in my library by author and Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. I really recommend the dark book Abel Sanchez. On how envy can really screw up your life.

Read all short novels and poems I could find by modernist author Ruben Dario this summer. If translation is available, very recommended. Anything is good :)

John Locke's essays. His 2 Treaties on Government and Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Dunno what else to recommend. Been reading mostly non fiction.
How To Talk to a Liberal What's that like? I read Coulter's other two books last year - they were dreadful - but interesting in a train-wreck kind of way.

I have finished Becoming a Tiger . It was an interesting book, and unlike many books of this nature, quite funny.

I am now reading Sex, Lies and Politics by Larry Flynt. Not surprisingly, it is full of colourful language. However, Flynt does have some interesting and relevant things to say.
That was always what was so interesting about Flint. At least what little I've read about him. I gather he was rough, rude, but then he'd surprise you by making a point. :LOL:

I think they made a movie about his life, starring the guy who played the young, out-there bartender in "Cheers".

Ah, I promised myself I'd finish rereading the Harry Potter series, so I'm about halfway through book 5. Nice, easy reading. :D

I'm moving to Bester's "The Stars My Destination" next. I haven't decided what to read after that, so this thread may be a great help to me. :)

Are the Harry Potter books worth reading? I've avoided them, as I feel kinda weird reading a book that's geared towards 12 year old kids (at least the first one was).

Are they something worth reading, or am I likely to forget about them the instant I put them down?
Flynt is a fantastic misogynist. The only reason he got any sympathy and "credibility" is because his enemies are often even more absurd then he is.

The film about his life was called The People Vs Larry Flynt and it's very entertaining. Yes it starred Woody Harrelson and also Courtney Love really stretching herself as a junkie slut.

I wanted to write a book called "How To Talk To Ann Coulter" but didn't because it would only be one word: "don't"
How To Talk to a Liberal What's that like? I read Coulter's other two books last year - they were dreadful - but interesting in a train-wreck kind of way.

Didn't finish it - pc problems-, but it's hilarious. She's a great writer and columnist and no wonder she pisses everyone off. It is mainly a collection of many of her columns on many issues with an introduction. This woman should either run for president or keep making herself rich writing satire that is not, hah.

Also, since I like it, assume you hate it.