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Grand unified books thread

Started by Syt, March 16, 2009, 01:52:42 AM

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Jacob

Quote from: Admiral Yi on September 05, 2022, 10:25:47 PMCan you elaborate a bit?  It's common knowledge that part of the motivation for Columbus' journeys was to cut the Muslim middleman out of the spice trade, but you seem to be suggesting more personal to it.

Europeans were mean to the First Nations of the New World because Europeans hated Muslims, and since those First Nations were brown and non-Christians they got the Muslim treatment.

Jacob

Quote from: The Brain on September 06, 2022, 01:11:59 AM*fingerguns temple* Put it down? :unsure:

I've never been to a fingerguns temple, no. Whereever you choose to worship is fine by me, as long as you don't harm anyone.

Jacob

Quote from: Habbaku on September 05, 2022, 08:56:41 PMI think you made the correct decision. When it came out, I was lured in by the title, but held off purchase after reading a pretty damning review of it:

https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/debate

Yikes!

But yeah, that rings true to me after reading the first handful of chapters.

Luckily I got it from the library, so I don't feel too bad.

Oexmelin

Oh, yeah. The review of Mikhail made the rounds as being an increasingly rare harsh takedown within academic circles - I used it in my graduate seminar (we had read Mikhail on the grain trade in 18th c. Egypt).
Que le grand cric me croque !

Habbaku

How do you feel about that development (it being rarer), Oex?

From my history-nerd-that-reads-academic-works-but-isn't-otherwise-involved perspective, I'd want them to be rarer only because the field has matured to the point where it's no longer necessary. I'm hoping it's not mere reluctance to tear down shoddy work.
The medievals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers.

Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people.

-J. R. R. Tolkien

Jacob

Yeah I'm curious too Oex? Is it thought to be excessively harsh where it shouldn't be, or is it more of a "good thing that we still maintain standards, we should do more of this"?

Oexmelin

#4806
I am a bit ambivalent about it, to be honest.

First, the critique by Subrahmanyan & Co. of Mikhail isn't a true academic critique, in the sense that they reacted to the attention Mikhail's book got in the non-specialized press. This is a result of the divorce between academic books, being read by fewer and fewer readers, and the trade books, that benefit from press agents etc. In a sense, they were acting from the fear that a bad book may make a durable impression.

Now, in academic journals, there are indeed fewer and fewer "take-downs". On the one hand, I agree with you if this means that  old quarrels between "schools" or "camps", as existed before, are no longer featured. These often were wars of ego, rather than conflicts of interpretation.

However, there *were* often conflicts of interpretation - and these deserved to be debated, even if somewhat harshly at times, if only to make some of the opposing points stand out. And they still deserve to be debated. Are they? I am not sure. Book reviews are often polite affairs, and it's not always there that you get harsh words - often, you find that in review essays. But review essays are no longer very much valued by tenure and promotion committees, and they take an insane amount of time (and prudence) during which you may as well have published two or three articles on your own research. The pressures to publish have also had other impacts that would otherwise warrant careful consideration from readers: pressures to cut corners, more and more work to absorb quickly, which in turn offer fewer and fewer insights (and thus, less to critique); tenure has become a lot more difficult, and thus, reviewers often tend to look with a lot more benevolence what comes their way (because the stakes are perceived as being so high).

In short, there are a few concerning developments - at least to me. They mostly concern "ordinary critique" within the field, and not the sort of full-on take down you wondered about, so in a way, I agree with you. It's a good thing they are mostly gone. But I wish we could perhaps take a step back, and think about the sorts of fault lines we necessarily create within any discipline. What do we disagree on, and why?

The general trends of our times have also had their impact. I think we have collectively - inside academia and out - lost a bit of our skills for critique; it seems to oscillate wildly between unhinged and polite cough, with very little in between. And critique has become, at least in certain topics, embedded not just in politics, as before, but in morals. I think it was easier to dissociate one's politics from one's own being: the critique of the historiography of "New Capitalism History", which often had very little time for "Capitalism", found itself quickly entangled with issues of slavery, in a four way matrix between assholes who had a point, nice people who were mistaken, assholes who were mistaken, and nice people who had a point...  But that's probably an old problem.
Que le grand cric me croque !

Sheilbh

Interesting - on the embedded in politics and morality I occasionally see a glimpse of what's happening on the Medievalists internet and good lord. It's a lot of stuff and complicated, difficult for someone from the outside to try and untangle that four way matrix of what's a fair or interesting point, what's just dick-ish behaviour etc.

I wonder if it perhaps becomes more fraught the less directly connected it is to our current politics (and morals).

Interesting how much overlaps with what I've read from writers about the decline of literary criticism and criticism as a skill (but there - I also suspect tastes and what readers want from fiction, including "literary" fiction, is shifting).
Let's bomb Russia!

The Minsky Moment

I'm reminded of the story of a colleague who responded to a vicious take down of Lawrence Stone by Hugh Trevor Roper by saying "Stone may be no historian, but Trevor-Roper is no gentleman."

(Nb I quite like Stone's book on the ECW when I read it years ago)
The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
--Joan Robinson

crazy canuck

Quote from: Oexmelin on September 06, 2022, 11:57:29 AMI am a bit ambivalent about it, to be honest.

First, the critique by Subrahmanyan & Co. of Mikhail isn't a true academic critique, in the sense that they reacted to the attention Mikhail's book got in the non-specialized press. This is a result of the divorce between academic books, being read by fewer and fewer readers, and the trade books, that benefit from press agents etc. In a sense, they were acting from the fear that a bad book may make a durable impression.

Now, in academic journals, there are indeed fewer and fewer "take-downs". On the one hand, I agree with you if this means that  old quarrels between "schools" or "camps", as existed before, are no longer featured. These often were wars of ego, rather than conflicts of interpretation.

However, there *were* often conflicts of interpretation - and these deserved to be debated, even if somewhat harshly at times, if only to make some of the opposing points stand out. And they still deserve to be debated. Are they? I am not sure. Book reviews are often polite affairs, and it's not always there that you get harsh words - often, you find that in review essays. But review essays are no longer very much valued by tenure and promotion committees, and they take an insane amount of time (and prudence) during which you may as well have published two or three articles on your own research. The pressures to publish have also had other impacts that would otherwise warrant careful consideration from readers: pressures to cut corners, more and more work to absorb quickly, which in turn offer fewer and fewer insights (and thus, less to critique); tenure has become a lot more difficult, and thus, reviewers often tend to look with a lot more benevolence what comes their way (because the stakes are perceived as being so high).

In short, there are a few concerning developments - at least to me. They mostly concern "ordinary critique" within the field, and not the sort of full-on take down you wondered about, so in a way, I agree with you. It's a good thing they are mostly gone. But I wish we could perhaps take a step back, and think about the sorts of fault lines we necessarily create within any discipline. What do we disagree on, and why?

The general trends of our times have also had their impact. I think we have collectively - inside academia and out - lost a bit of our skills for critique; it seems to oscillate wildly between unhinged and polite cough, with very little in between. And critique has become, at least in certain topics, embedded not just in politics, as before, but in morals. I think it was easier to dissociate one's politics from one's own being: the critique of the historiography of "New Capitalism History", which often had very little time for "Capitalism", found itself quickly entangled with issues of slavery, in a four way matrix between assholes who had a point, nice people who were mistaken, assholes who were mistaken, and nice people who had a point...  But that's probably an old problem.

Somewhat of a tangent, but part of it is that knowledge has become an industry. As with all industry the emphasis then is on measurable productivity, rather than ideas and deep thought and analysis.

I want you to panic

https://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/jan/25/i-want-you-to-panic-16-year-old-greta-thunberg-issues-climate-warning-at-davos-video

"Woke" is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history.

Syt

Orlando Figes is coming out with a new book:

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/59808056-the-story-of-russia

QuoteFrom "the great storyteller of Russian history" (Financial Times), a brilliant account of the national mythologies and imperial ideologies that have shaped Russia's past and politics—essential reading for understanding the country today

The Story of Russia is a fresh approach to the thousand years of Russia's history, concerned as much with the ideas that have shaped how Russians think about their past as it is with the events and personalities comprising it. No other country has reimagined its own story so often, in a perpetual effort to stay in step with the shifts of ruling ideologies.

From the founding of Kievan Rus in the first millennium to Putin's war against Ukraine, Orlando Figes explores the ideas that have guided Russia's actions throughout its long and troubled existence. Whether he's describing the crowning of Ivan the Terrible in a candlelit cathedral or the dramatic upheaval of the peasant revolution, he reveals the impulses, often unappreciated or misunderstood by foreigners, that have driven Russian history: the medieval myth of Mother Russia's holy mission to the world; the imperial tendency toward autocratic rule; the popular belief in a paternal tsar dispensing truth and justice; the cult of sacrifice rooted in the idea of the "Russian soul"; and always, the nationalist myth of Russia's unjust treatment by the West.

How the Russians came to tell their story and to revise it so often as they went along is not only a vital aspect of their history; it is also our best means of understanding how the country thinks and acts today. Based on a lifetime of scholarship and enthrallingly written, The Story of Russia is quintessential Figes: sweeping, revelatory, and masterful.

Here's The Grauniad's review: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/sep/01/the-story-of-russia-by-orlando-figes-review-what-putin-sees-in-the-past

Figes' prvious books include A People's Tragedy, a tome about the Russian Revolution 1891-1924, and The Crimean War a tome about the Crimean War, both sit at 800-1000 pages and also on my shelf, unfortunately still unread. -_-
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

Syt

Meanwhile I'm giving Beevor's World War Two another whirl. It's more narrative than deep analysis, but that's fine for me for the Asian theater coverage, because I'm not too familiar with events there, beyond the broad strokes and the post-Pearl Harbor campaigns.

Though the section of the pre-1939 fighting in China between Nationalists, Reds and Japanese is hard to follow without looking at a map. The place names and persons, besides the "biggest" are not exactly household names for me.  :blush:
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

Sheilbh

Quote from: Syt on September 08, 2022, 08:26:59 AMThough the section of the pre-1939 fighting in China between Nationalists, Reds and Japanese is hard to follow without looking at a map. The place names and persons, besides the "biggest" are not exactly household names for me.  :blush:
If you're interested and want a similar narrative on the war in China I realy recommend Rana Mitter's book on it. And it has maps and a list of major figures at the front :blush:
Let's bomb Russia!

Syt

Thanks. :) I also have John Toland's The Rising Sun still sitting in my backlog. It's not exactly a small book, and by now over 50 years old, but it was recommended to me as a well readable account from the Japanese point of view that uses a lot of primary sources research.
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

grumbler

If you are interested in a highly analytical view of the Sino-Japanese war in China (up to Dec 1941),  A Gathering Darkness by HP Willmott and Haruo Tohmatsu is highly recommended.  Notable also for the insane Kindle price that I doubt a single person has paid.  The paperback price is high but worth it, especially for the interaction of the Japanese domestic political situation and the decisions made about the war.  Has some Chinese domestic political stuff I'd never seen before, as well.
The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.   -G'Kar

Bayraktar!