Friday, November 16, 2007

Library of Congress Is Missing Things

"Investigators for the congressional library have told lawmakers on a House oversight committee that its review of the retrieval system for the general collection concluded that a 17 percent of materials requested could not be found."

"The number of not-on-shelf books has dropped each year. A quality assurance team in the past several months has reduced that rate to 10 percent," said Deanna Marcum, the associate librarian for library services. Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is one of the world's largest research facilities. It has 135 million items, including almost 20 million books, 59.5 million items in the manuscript division, and nearly 3 million sound recordings and radio and television broadcasts. It has 615 miles of shelving.

Rodric Braithwaite

Braithwaite wrote Moscow 1941. There's a mention in The New Yorker on October 23, 2007. Braithwaite was the UK ambassador to Mosco from 1988 to 1992, and he apparently worked hard on gathering materials for the book, "a symphonic evocation of a great city at war," The New Yorker said.

The Modern World

Joseph J. Ellis reviewed The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 in the NY Times. Author Jay Winick has "an uncanny knack for syntheizing the work of others," Ellis wrote. Ellis's fundamental comment on the book is that personalities of political leaders receive too much credit and the underlying forces receive too little emphasis. It sounds like a well done and well conceived book.

Rick Atkinson

Rick Atkinson is working on a trilogy of WW2 books. The Time reviewer referred to "genuinely new materials and perspectives." That's referring to The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, by Rick Atkinson.

Here is an Atkinson bibliography: see
  • (1989) The Long Gray Line. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-48008-6.
  • (1993) Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-60290-4.
  • (2002) An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6288-2.
  • (2004) In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7561-5.
  • (2007) The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6289-0.
The Army at Dawn won a Pulitzer Prize.

Charles Darwin

At Amazon, they're promoting a new paperback version of Darwin's The Descent of Man: The Concise Edition.

Concise is good, considering how Victorian Darwin was. We might describe him as long-winded by today's short-attention-span standards. But there is a lot to like about Darwin. He was an amateur before know-it-all professional experts got the public to believe that experts know everything and ordinary citizens know nothing.

In part because he married his wealthy cousin (they were part of the family that became wealthy making Wedgewood china), Darwin had the luxury of being able to devote himself to interesting projects without having to worry about getting paid for them. He had his basic idea at a relatively young age, like most scientists, apparently. But he mulled over the idea and let it gestate. He spent a long time gathering evidence and collecting his thoughts into a well articulated and coherent statement. In part Origin of Species is so long because he had collected so much data to support the thesis. Our country would be better off if we had more people who devoted themselves to collecting data to support interesting theories. It doesn't happen often now. Maybe it happened rarely in the past, too. Anyway, I think we lack people like Darwin who are careful about making bold assertions and who make bold assertions after gathering a lot of evidence. I admire Darwin. - 10k -

This site purports to be the complete works of Charles Darwin online:

Monday, November 12, 2007

achronoliterate v. aliterate

This was in Anu Garg's AWADMail dated November 11:

From: William Abbott (wbabbott3
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--aliterate

Maybe I am an achronoliterate (I made that up), someone who does not
have enough time to read everything that he wants to read!

If there's a word for a person who is interested in reading but doesn't have enough time to read all the books he wants to read, then it must be a pretty common phenomenon. This came up in the context of the word "aliterate," which Garg says is a person who can read but is not interested enough to do so.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Books I Haven't Read

In today's New York Times, Jay McInerney reviews a book called How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. This blog is all about books I haven't read.

The professor, Pierre Broyard, says talking about books that you did not read constitutes "an authentic creative activity." Broyard says, the reviewer tells us, "All education should strive to help those receiving it to gain enough freedom in relation to works of art to themselves become writers and artists." I want to thank Professor Broyard for allowing me to engage creative activity without reading any of these books I have noted in this blog. I also like the idea that someone else is doing what I am doing--not reading particular books, but talking about them nonetheless. If we can extrapolate from my own experience, I'd say it was a social trend, since there's a book and a blog about books the authors haven't read.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Allen Brinkley writes: " "Voters have not changed their ideology very much. Most evidence suggests that a majority of Americans remain relatively moderate and pragmatic. But many have lost interest, and confidence, in the political system and the government, leaving the most fervent party loyalists with greatly increased influence on the choice of candidates and policies." He was reviewing Ronald Brownstein's The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America in tomorrow's New York Times.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" -- Richard Brookhiser in the NY Times says that this book is really about both Thomas Paine and Burke's Reflection on the Revolution in France. That's the classic conversation between Whigs and Tories, between "two masters of polemic." One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

Gordon S. Wood writes reviews in The new York Review of Books:

Infamous Scribblers is an entertaining account of where we came from:

A WRITER'S "concerns are with all mankind," wrote Thomas Paine in 1777, "and though he cannot command their obedience, he can assign them their duty." "Poor Paine [is] not the most prudent man in the world," wrote an American a few years later. These books support both judgments.

Tom Paine, by John Keane (Little, Brown, 644 pp., $27.95): John Keane's biography is hard going, thanks to its clumsy and cacophonous prose. To take one instance out of hundreds, Keane writes, of the style of Rights of Man, that "its author presented himself as a burping, farting rebel" -- and he means it as a compliment:
Thomas Paine, the great writer of inspiring (some said inflammatory) texts that sparked the Revolution, clearly felt that church and state should be separate, according to author Harvey J. Kaye in his book, “Thomas Paine and the Promise of America.” Kaye writes:

“Paine’s appreciation of America’s religious diversity and the need to divorce church from state, along with his skillful articulation of Bible story, American history and providential intent, also appealed to many of Virginia’s smallholders, the great majority of whom were Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, who strongly resented the power and authority of the colony’s Anglican establishment” (page 55).

So from their earliest times Methodists and America share a reciprocal, informal influence – among other things, an independent spirit and an affinity for Trinitarian order (witness our common identity of legislative, executive and judicial branches in our respective governments).

Sunday, November 4, 2007


I admit to being a Francophile. I noticed the New York Times reviewed The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War," by Graham Robb, reviewed as the lead review in the Book Review section of the Times today. Sounds like a very interesting book.

Here's a URL for NYT review (it's different on line from the one that appeared in the newspaper)(signing may be required):
The guardian's review appears on line here:,,2165224,00.html

Here's a sentence from the Guardian review: "Graham Robb's first aim in this elegant, entertaining and occasionally brilliant overview of France past and present is to argue that France still matters - but not for the reasons that we usually ascribe to 'la Grande Nation'." The Guardian disses France, but the UK takes a different angle from the one in the US.

The Middle Stage HOMEPAGE, by Chandrahas Choudhury, wrote this:
His new book takes the reader into the mental and physical universe of the millions of faceless people who, over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were at the work of "discovering France" – gradually working their way into a sense of a world larger than that of their immediate village and province. The word pays, Robb observes, is translated today as "country" but it derives from pagus, or the area controlled by a tribe, and refers not so much to the abstract nation but to a smaller region that people thought of as home: "A pays was the area in which everything was familiar...To someone with little experience of the world, the pays could be measured in fields and furrows."

Graham Robb's books:
# Baudelaire: Lecteur de Balzac (1988), ISBN 2-7143-0279-3 (French)
# Baudelaire (1989), ISBN 0-241-12458-1, translation of 1987 French text by Claude Pichois
# La Poésie de Baudelaire et la poésie française, 1838-1852 (1993), ISBN 2-7007-1657-4, criticism (French)
# Balzac: A Biography (1994), ISBN 0-330-33237-6
# Unlocking Mallarmé (1996), ISBN 0-03-000648-1
# Victor Hugo (1997), ISBN 0-330-33707-6
# Rimbaud (2000), ISBN 0-330-48282-3
# Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century (2003), ISBN 0-330-48223-8
# The Discovery of France. A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War. (2007), Illustrated, 454 pp. WW Norton and Co.

One Effect of World War I

The New York Times today reviewed Alan Kramer's "Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War." Montefiore, the Times reviewer, called it an "important" book and a "stimulating, scholarly and shrewd book." Pretty high praise. (signin may be required) Here's what the web site says: Professor Kramer scarcely needs any introduction. Co-author, with John Horne, of the award-winning German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (2001) and author of The West German Economy 1945-1955 (1991) along with many, many articles, Professor Kramer’s latest book, Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Montefiore, the Times reviewer, has a Wikipedia entry: