Friday, February 10, 2017

So What Have I Been Reading Lately 1st edition

When I was in the 4th or 5th grade, the class went to the library in the basement of the Jr High School across the street and we were told to select a book, we could check out, read and write a book report on.  I selected a biography of Andrew Carnegie.  I recall being enthralled with the book, the story of his life from a young penniless Scottish immigrant, to wealthy industrialist, to philanthropist. I poured my heart into writing the book report.  It was work beyond my years.  The teacher proceeded to tear apart my choice of book, I had not chosen a "proper work of literature."  After chipping off a chunk of my self esteem, and likely some bluster and tears on my part, she grudgingly agreed to GIVE me a barely passing grade, on what was probably the best work of writing of my young life. Needless to say, I was not terribly enthusiastic about reading for a decade after that.  

I recall when I graduated from high school, one of the speakers saying that projections were that I would read much more as an adult, than I had as a student - I thought he was out to lunch.  A couple of years later, bored in an office job, I discovered the joy of reading.  I still have strange taste in books.  I seldom read fiction. I don't really see the point in most fiction - I see enough problems of real people - to spend time reading about the fictional problems of fictional people.  I read a lot of narrative, travel, a little history, some business, some popular psychology, some law, some aging, some public policy, some urban development, some sociology or modern anthropology, and biography.  Mostly non-fiction.

My daily commute to and from work on the subway trains of Washington DC, provides me with about an hour a day, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon, of reading time.  I almost always have my Kindle in my bag - it almost always has 4 or 5 books on it, usually 2 or more are being read at one time.  

So what have I been reading?  
I just finished SPQR A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard. She is a professor at Cambridge.  Jay says I probably met her when I went to the Oxford Patristics Conference with him about 15 years ago. 

The book starts in about 200 BCE and runs until about 200 CE, and focuses on Rome, with minimal references to the Roman Empire - that stretched from Great Briton to  Egypt. Professor Beard explains that a history of the Roman Empire would fill several volumes the size of this (and at just over 500 pages, this is no quick read.) The book is a good balance of political process, social history, military history, and the day to day culture of life in Rome.  If refers to history, archaeology, and literature.  It is a long read, but easily accessible by someone who not a scholar of ancient studies.  The book is intended for a mass market, but I could see it as a good text for a survey course on Rome.  I enjoyed the book.  I was able to identify places I have visited and names I have heard - over nearly 25 years with Jay.  I found the book to be a good balance (I loath military history - military history is touched on as needed to understand Rome, but is not droned on about for pages and pages.)  The book expanded my understanding of Rome.  I am ready to go back to Rome. 

So what are you reading? 


  1. I am reading SPQR! I was given it for Christmas by my partner, who knows i adore Mary Beard. We have seen her here on a series about Rome not all that long ago.

  2. I have been knitting more than reading lately. like you, I don't read fiction (there's enough fiction going down in real life); travel, bio, autobio, baseball, history are my choices.

  3. Right now 'One on One' which is a collection of short stories about recovery.
    Andrew Carnegie biography? What an incredible choice of books.
    I recall teachers who did similar things as I grew up. Those were the bad teachers. Teachers whose fragile ego was shored up by tearing apart a good student's effort.

  4. I am reading (of all things!) a book on the history of poison.