A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

The best of the gods - Dionysus, god of theatre, grapes, and wine. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/71987294019717556/

The best of the gods – Dionysus, god of theatre, grapes, and wine. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/71987294019717556/

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Historical Book Review for the Week:

I did have a book I was going to review – actually it’s the book I was going to review last week that got bumped after I got sucked into a different on, this book isn’t really having a great run – but this past week was the last week of this semester and I actually just submitted my final paper at somewhere around 11pm last night.  My brain is quite literally about to start leaking out of my ears at this point so I’ve decided to hold off on a book review this week out of fear that it might be made up entirely of incoherent nonsense.

 

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A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

A mural of the god Typhon from Tuscany, Italy.  Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/71987294019683127/

A mural of the god Typhon from Tuscany, Italy. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/71987294019683127/

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization by Stephen Cave

Immortality by Stephen Cave

I, as returning visitors to this blog may have noticed, read a lot of historical non-fiction.  This means that, with the exception of some truly outlandish theories, most of what I read has at least parts which overlap with ideas and information that I have accumulated over the years.  This is in no way a bad thing, it just means that when I find a completely new take or concept of something I tend to get really excited.  This is my excuse for doing nothing other than read this book for 8 hours yesterday.  Seriously, I had a different book in mind to cover for today’s post and I was going to read this one over the upcoming week and talk about it next Sunday.  And yet here we are.

The author suggests that there are four central concepts of immortality which are universal ideas and have been interwoven into every culture throughout every period of history.  The four immortality concepts are the following:

  1. Staying alive
  2. Resurrection
  3. Soul
  4. Legacy

Through numerous historical examples this book shows how these four ideas have been interconnected and progressed through by various cultures and key individuals throughout the progress of human history.  Obviously, on the surface, the idea of immortality seems to be an ideal which we should all aspire to.  but the author is very careful to demonstrate the holes in logic and the negative results of what could happen if we ever did manage to live forever.  Finally, once he has finished destroying the likelihood of humans ever living forever, Stephen Cave asks what i believe is the most important question of all: can people learn to live without the comfort of these ideas and accept death as inevitable?

A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

A Third Intermediate Period Dynasty Egyptian Chalice.

A Third Intermediate Period Dynasty Egyptian Chalice.

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Historical Book Review for the Week:

Stuff You Missed in History Class by How Stuff Works

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Well it’s hard for me to say for certain if I did in fact miss a lot of the information covered by this book in history class but I will admit that there was a lot of information that I either had no pre-existing knowledge about or  very little so the title ended up being pretty much spot on for me! I think what I liked best about this particular book is that, through the title as well as the tone of the content, it manages to cover areas of history that you probably really should have an idea about without being unbearably snide and condescending about the whole thing; there definitely isn’t any presence of a ‘well if we have to break it down for some members of the class’ vibe.  Which I appreciated since one of the sections covered by this book is the Spanish Inquisition.  You’ve probably heard of it; kind of a big deal, happened ages ago, in Spain, it involved an inquisition…that, in combination with a really short 1-2 pg. scene in ‘Good Omens’ by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (hilarious book, not exactly a noted historically accurate text) has made up the bulk of my knowledge for the past three decades.  So, while this book in no way covers all the details or delves into any sort of in-depth analysis, I now know something about what I think we all can agree was kind of a big, historical, deal.

A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

An Etruscan tomb belonging to a large family. Make a note, I will expect nothing less from my own funerary arrangement.  Iamge from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/105623553736575352/

An Etruscan tomb belonging to a large family. Make a note, I will expect nothing less from my own funerary arrangements. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/105623553736575352/

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Historical Book Review for the Week:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

On a side not, this book is also one that has a cover which makes it impossible to misplace.

On a side not, this book is also one that has a cover which makes it impossible to misplace.

Basically, everything you need to know about this book is the following:

It is spectacular and everyone reading this should immediately drop whatever it is that they’re doing, track down a copy, and read it.

Henrietta Lacks was a black American woman who was born and lived in poverty for the entirety of her tragically short life and, for many years after her unfortunately early death, continued to be an unknown figure despite the fact that her genes have become one of the most important tools in the field of medicine.  Cells which were removed from her in 1951 during the attempts to remove the cancerous tumors in her body which would shortly after go on to take her life – and which were taken without her knowledge – ended up becoming vital to the development of the polio vaccine, cloning procedures, and gene mapping among other developments. In addition to her cells being bought and sold around the world by the billions they are priceless to the progress of medicine as well as the improvement of health standards worldwide. In glaring contrast to the contribution that her genetics have made to the world, her family still lives in poverty today and is unable to afford health insurance.  In this book, Rebecca Skloot does a phenomenal job of describing the progress of medicine since Henrietta’s cells were discovered to have unique properties while combining these important developments with the very human and rather heartbreaking personal story of Ms. Lacks and her family.  It provides a glaring contrast in the areas of ethics, race, education, wealth, science, and medicine and nowhere is this more clear than in the areas of the book that are focused around Henrietta’s daughter, a woman who grew up not knowing her mother and who no one ever bothered to explain her family’s contribution to the world of medicine explained to her.

A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

The prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira which date to approximately 35000 years ago.  Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/35747390767993552/

The prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira which date to approximately 35000 years ago. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/35747390767993552/

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Historical Book Review for the Week:

A Left Handed History of the World by Ed Wright

A Left Handed History of the World

If anyone ever needed proof as to why it’s always a great idea to buy gifts for people that you yourself wouldn’t mind having if the situation arises – I bought this book for my dad as a Christmas gift probably almost 10 years ago (seeing as he’s a left-handed history buff) but he never ended up reading it. Sooo…it comes to me!

Through what is essentially a collection of case studies, ‘A Left Handed History of the World’ examines the fact that, despite only around 10% of the world being left handed, an unexpectedly large percentage of the most influential people in history have been lefties including 16% of the presidents of the Unites States

While the case studies themselves are interesting, and cover everyone from Julius Caesar Michelangelo to Newton to Beethoven to Jimmy Hendrix to Bill Gates, it is the descriptions of how lefties have been treated at various times and by various cultures throughout history that was the most intriguing to me.  On the flip side, the discussion of various left-handed traits and the differences between left-handed and right-handed people felt more like generalizations and stereotypes disguised as given facts.

All-in-all; it’s an interesting and unique historical examination but it feels a bit rough around the edges at times, like it could have done with a few more goes around the editing room.