Monday, June 18, 2018

Favorite Book Covers

I have accepted Lisa Masters' challenge to post the covers of seven books I love. I'm tweaking the rules she passed on to me, though. Instead of asking a friend to take up the challenge every time I post a cover, I'll just ask one friend on Day Seven. Or you can just accept the challenge on your own without my prompting. In addition, I'll post a brief explanation of why I like this book.

Day One

"Son of the Morning Star" is a poetic attempt to penetrate the mystery of why Custer failed at the Little Bighorn. In order to do so, Evan Connell runs far afield, delving into many other mysteries of life on the Great Plains in the 19th Century, such as the practice of "counting coup," the inexperience of his troops (a number had barely ever seen a Native American before), and their surprise when they discovered a dying longtime laundress was a man. Just a great work!

Day Two

Of all my professors in college, UNM's Ferenc Szasz was my favorite. He taught American cultural, religious, and intellectual history. It was from him I learned delightful things like: the mindset of the Puritans; Francis Schlatter, the second coming of the Messiah in New Mexico; and the Littlefield allegorical interpretation of the Wizard of Oz.

Szasz was an authority on 19th Century American Protestantism, and nothing made him happier than learning about the teachings of obscure preachers trying to make a go of it in overwhelmingly-Catholic New Mexico.

"The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion" is based on large amounts of Manhattan Project material declassified in the 1980s, particularly the meteorology (the same batch of material that formed the basis of Peter Sellars opera, "Dr. Atomic"). In Szasz's characteristic way, he focuses on what people in the Manhattan Project believed.

Szasz's wife, Margaret Connell-Szasz, wrote about her husband: "His training was in social and intellectual history, which is almost a nonexistent field now. Because of that, it meant that he was interested in everything in American history - in society, culture, the intellectual world; just common, ordinary, everyday things that included folk history, philosophy, religion, science - you name it." Szasz was about the History of Everything, and I am proud to have studied under him.

Ferenc Szasz gave this lecture in 2009 at Los Alamos. Here is Part 4 of 7, where he introduces some of the geniuses of the Manhattan Project (with a brief sound glitch):

Day Three

Strangely enough, I don't believe I've fully read this book, a memoir by my first ballet instructor and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo veteran, George Zoritch. That's OK: ballet is about doing anyway. Zoritch came from a generation of expatriate Russian nobility that transformed the world of dance in the 1930s an 40s. What an (opinionated) man! Ballet is the best art, ever!

George Zoritch, in Hollywood:

Day Four

Pekka Hämäläinen's "The Comanche Empire" follows the story of a band of Shoshone who decided not to follow the buffalo north with their compatriots on their newly-obtained horses, but instead to cross into the Colorado Plateau, forge an alliance with the Utes about 1710, and begin raiding the Spaniards of northern New Mexico, who had just returned after the Pueblo Revolt. The Comanches soon became the terror of the Southwest, sweeping aside Spaniards and Apache alike, far into Texas and Mexico. At their height, the Comanches controlled a territory roughly the size of Mexico, but never numbered more than about 50,000. A very odd, nearly-empty horseback empire.

The Comanches could have eliminated the Spaniards, but chose instead to abuse and control them, because they had useful armaments. The Spaniards tried various defenses, which proved weak against the Comanche (but later bore fruit against the Navajo). Certain Governors of New Mexico stood out for their statesmanship under difficult circumstances (Cachupín & de Anza).

This book is a reminder that politics in the past was even more-miserable and complicated than it is today.

Day Five

Back in the early Seventies, California's schools were the envy of the nation, but as real estate inflation accelerated, so too did property taxes, igniting a rebellion among home owners, particularly those on fixed incomes. Proposition 13's passage heralded the conservative dominance in America we've seen since 1978. Needless to say, the collapse of high-quality California public education followed almost instantaneously. Even though homeowners led the charge, Corporate America profited most from the sharp reduction in property taxes.

When the California Gubernatorial Recall campaign accelerated in the summer of 2003, and 135 people declared their candidacies for Governor (including myself), we all had to quickly assemble platforms on which to run. I ran on Proposition 13 repeal, and based my campaign entirely on this book.

Day Six

I love puzzles. Over the last thirty years, there has been a great deal of progress in puzzling out how the Maya understood the cosmos, what their constellations were, and what they meant to them. "Maya Cosmos," written in 1994, is right on the cusp of understanding, where the authors piece together what they know, accounting for precession over the last two millennia. It's all exceedingly complex. Inscriptions of Mayan cosmic symbols represent sky maps.

The sky was a rich pageant of Creation. For example, on August 13, 690 AD (the inauguration of an important holiday), the Milky Way begins as the Crocodile Tree at sunset, and then transforms into a great canoe, which then sinks underwater as the hours pass by. The Turtle and the Stones of Creation (what we call the belt of Orion) reach the zenith by sunrise.

A number of important stories and legends play out as the sky rotates. By understanding these stories, the reasons why certain days are Mayan holidays can finally be understood and referenced against the sky.

Day Seven
This is day seven; the final day.

Ernest Dimnet (1866-1954) was a French priest, writer and lecturer. In his 1928 book "The Art of Thinking," Dimnet discusses "Preserving One's Thoughts":

"To keep no track of what one learns or thinks is as foolish as to till and seed one's lands with great pains, and when the harvest is ripe turn one's back upon it and think of it no more.

Some people have extraordinarily retentive memories and can do with a minimum of notes, but phenomenal exceptions do not count. Most men who have made a name in literature, politics, or business have found it necessary to have a paper memory and those who have thought it possible to dispense with the drudgery of forming such a one have inevitably someday rued it. For humorists who define memory as the faculty enabling us to forget only emphasize an unfortunate truth. Striking or vivid impressions which we imagine can never be effaced from our consciousness do not survive in it more than a few weeks, sometimes a few days, unless something is done to give them permanence. A busy life teaches even congenital idleness to do that. Anybody whom his fate compels to use his brain actively soon realizes that he cannot afford to lose any of his resources, and he devises some plan for stopping waste. If he is rich enough he buys the assistance of a trained secretary. If not, he reads the books in which the methods of erudition or those of business (they are almost alike) are expounded, or he invents devices of his own. We marvel at the immense knowledge which some writers possess of what used to be called foreign politics but should be called at present the politics of us all. We wonder at the enormousness of the archives they must keep and the difficulty for even them to find their way through that mass of papers. As a matter of fact, folio volumes of coarse paper on which clippings from the newspapers can be glued according to some happy combination of the vertical and the horizontal are all that is necessary. Red ink annotations will provide indication of richer dossiers. The secret is to clip all that seems important at once. Newspapers are historical documents prepared by men and women generally ignorant of, and indifferent to, history. An occurrence of far-reaching consequence may be mentioned in an inconspicuous column and in unemphatic type by so-called specialists who do not realize its importance and will never allude to it again. If the passage is not filed at once its absence may mean the loss of a capital link in the chain of events.

Facts are only the material for thought. Thoughts themselves, that is to say, the illumination produced in our mind by the presence of rich facts, should be preserved even more carefully."

What Dimnet describes above is, in essence, pre-Internet blogging. The habit of blogging preserves information and the annotations one makes generates thought. It is a very good habit to have.

No comments:

Post a Comment