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What books are you reading right now?

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Posted on Mar 27, 2017, 1:25:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 27, 2017, 1:45:55 PM PDT
Figaro says:
I finally got to and through Laura LeBow's entertaining and clever The Figaro Murders, thus far the first of a two volume historical mystery series. Set in 1780"s Vienna under the "enlightened" Emperor Joseph II, the story centers on Lorenzo da Ponte, librettist to Mozart, poet, man about town, and "character" in his own right. Da Ponte and Mozart are busy finishing up and getting The Marriage of Figaro on stage amidst that rather nasty "politics of opera" in Vienna in those days. The opera concomitantly provides the framework for the broader story of the novel. The center of action is the house of Count Gabler, where the occupants match up with characters in the opera. But their "characters" in the story, the sequence of the action, and their ultimate fates are often different. It all starts when Da Ponte's good friend and "barber" who used to be valet to the Count (the Figaro match-up), asks Da Ponte to locate his birth mother after his shop has been closed for indebtedness. He visits the Count's house to meet with "Susanna," after which the Cherubino character -- a nasty little s$%# who's been bedding the Countess -- is murdered. The Emperor dubs Da Ponte as the best person to solve the case. He moves in under the guise as poetry instructor to the Countess to smoke out the killer AND a suspected spy for King Frederick of Prussia. So, he's looking for the killer, the spy, and the barber's birth mother and working like hell to get the opera on the road. Busy man. Then the Countess is murdered and the Barbarina character is seriously injured. Alas, it's the Italian music master (Basilio match) who is the villain of the piece, who then kills himself. Everyone is identified, and the opera is a smashing success. Exhausted, Da Ponte just wants to get back to music.

Despite best intentions, I'm hooked. The sequel is Sent to the Devil. Da Ponte and Mozart are fine tuning Don Giovanni for its opening in Vienna after its successful premier in Prague -- then the bodies start falling and our favorite sleuth is back at it again. More on that later. Very clever. Have a go.

Posted on Mar 27, 2017, 12:05:25 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Fascinating, Figaro, thank you. John Roebling's eldest son Washington Roebling has just taken over as Chief Engineer from his father John Roebling, dead from an accident of tetanus, in my audiobook.

I think author David McCullough may have mentioned Ken burns ih a length preface, but remember nothing about the grandson who helped win WWII.with amphibious craft and bridges. Thank you. . It's a remarkable story, involving everyone from Grant and Buchanan to Boss Tweed and the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher/ <amu emgomeeromg toi,[js amd sp,e dosasters. dpwm tp tje cp;;a[ses om Wasjomgtpm amd Ohio, with mention of early suspension bridges in Wales and Switzerland.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 27, 2017, 11:32:05 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 27, 2017, 1:27:10 PM PDT
Figaro says:
The Brooklyn Bridge is a subject of continual fascination -- not least because I've walked it several times -- and McCullough does a splendid job. In the same vein, I received the other day one of Ken Burns' early efforts, Brooklyn Bridge. I'm anxious to get into it. You mention the great German immigrant and engineer John A. Roebling central to construction of the Bridge. Engineering derring-do ran in the family. His great grandson, Donald Roebling contributed, perhaps unwittingly, to winning World War II. He developed, initially as a hurricane rescue vehicle, the Roebling Alligator that so impressed the Navy that it was further developed into the amphibious assault tractor central to projecting American forces against both Pacific and European enemies. Roebling was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Truman in 1948 for outstanding service to the US. Quite a family.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2017, 3:43:56 PM PDT

Best of luck with your repatriation and anything else that's going on. I know you're contending with hot weather, which is one of my least favorite things too. Au revoir back at you.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2017, 3:42:17 PM PDT

I know what you mean. I took a bunch of stuff with me when I went hiking in Slovenia, in the Julian Alps. There was no need. That's all of the hiking in the Alps I've done. We went to Mt. Triglav. It was a bit scary with those cables bolted into the side of the mountain being the only thing between you and oblivion. Sometimes they would go on for 1/8 of a mile. We didn't have harnesses. At one point the cables were broken and we had to free climb on the face of a 1000+ ft. drop. At this wiser age, I would have noped the f- out of there. I think things are a bit tamer in countries that didn't emerge from behind the iron curtain. An Italian guy I knew told me I was crazy to have done that trail without a harness. In retrospect, I have to agree.

The only countries in Europe that I've spent any real time in are Poland and Slovenia. I keep nagging my wife to go to France. I wonder how it feels to be nagged as a woman. It probably feels like what it would be like to be an owl who is suddenly picked up by a giant mouse.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2017, 2:07:04 PM PDT
Lez Lee says:
My friend goes on organised hillwalking tours in the French Pyrenees, with accommodation in good quality hostels. There are about a dozen people in a group with different ages and backgrounds and she always has a great time. The food is amazing and inexpensive even at small country cafés.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2017, 1:47:30 PM PDT
Summer hiking on the Alps, hut to hut, is much different from the Sierra style. For one thing you need less gear so you can lighten up or indulge in comfort items. Huts often have decent food and beer and barrack-style sleeping. Do some research on trails and huts before you go. Sleeping on the trail, Sierra-style, is not a good option - and will likely be in the rain. Most trails have few switchbacks. At least this was my experience.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2017, 4:13:35 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 24, 2017, 12:53:12 PM PDT
Gregory G. says:

Whilst my problems are perhaps not as important as beer and sausages (the food that fueled the Schlieffen Plan) nevertheless arranging my repatriation to Australia keeps me busy enough to decide to bow out of this forum for a while-so I bid you au revoir.

I yam what I yam-is the first rule of the Vegetarian's Credo,is it not?

See you 'round the traps.

Posted on Mar 24, 2017, 3:33:12 AM PDT
Lez Lee says:
Happy birthday to Lawrence Ferlinghetti who is 98 today!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2017, 10:41:55 PM PDT

If Greg hadn't loaded me up with a bunch of great histories to read, I would take another read of "Steppenwolf" and "Unter dem Rad". Of course, the nice thing about Hesse is that, with the exception of "The Glass Bead Game", his books are short reads. Oh yeah, "Narcissus and Goldmund" is another favorite. I'm not a big fan of "Siddhartha" and "Journey to the East". And, I can't remember what "Klingsor's Last Summer", "Knulp", and "Gertrude" are about. I should do the due diligence and read those last three again.

As for Thomas Mann, I liked his "Dr. Faustus", but I was lulled by "The Magic Mountain". On about page 920 or so, I said to my wife, "Something happened finally!". She said, "Did a ghost appear?". I said "Yes.", crestfallen. She had called it. Maybe I won't get it unless I go to a sanitarium in the Alps. Sounds nice...except for all the other people in the sanitarium. Maybe I'll just go hiking in the Alps. I've almost convinced my wife that we should go hiking, drinking, and eating in France this summer. I've never been, and I've heard they're better at eating and drinking than we are, at least quality-wise. Volume-wise, my money's on me.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2017, 10:32:35 PM PDT

I got my 10 gallons of beer bottled just now, so things are better. I've brewed so much that I have 4 more batches of beer to bottle and only enough space for 2 batches. You know what that means... Well, it means that it's time to make sausage, of course. Then, I can have an out-of-synch Oktoberfest.

As for Oppenheimer, I remember some that I read in Richard Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", which I read about 30 years ago. He seemed like a very talented guy at keeping things on track. Managing scientists is like herding cats. It's sad that the climate of the country after the war was such that he was suspected as a traitor. It seems hard to believe.

As for Philbrick, I will probably eventually read all of his histories eventually. He does write well, and it's easy stuff to digest. I do also like the tough nuts like Daniel Boorstin. I admire his intellect a lot. I try to recommend his books to people, but no one ever comes back having finished them. They're well worth the effort in my opinion. I also liked Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence" which was kind of a social history of Europe. Barbara Tuchman is another. In particular, her "Distant Mirror" and "The Proud Tower" stand out to me as excellent syntheses. I just wish I could chat with people like that on a weekly basis. I would gladly brew the beer for the chats. Where I live, people can barely put together sentences. It's more like: "Me hungry. Me eat now." The only cure for that is to read some Edgar Rice Burroughs to put things in perspective.

As for roots, the Burning Bush never cared about its roots. It said, "I am what I am.". If Popeye and the Burning Bush can get behind the same idea, I'm all for it.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2017, 4:33:54 PM PDT
B. A. Dilger says:
Edgar Self----I recommended Charles Stross' "Halting State " on this thread a couple of years ago. Anyone try it?

Posted on Mar 23, 2017, 4:03:42 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
I'm thinking more and more about James Blish's "Cities in Flight", Mayor Amalfi of Scranton PA and NYC, Okies, rogue cities/states that seem more and more plausible, and those ever-lovin' spindizzies, not to mention the biggest cosmic boondoggle, that bridge to nowhere on Jupiter, costlier even than Alaska or Nicaragua's canal.

Total estimated economic wealth locked up in energy production: $70 trillion, or about a year's GNP of the entire world as we know it, four or five times U.S. GNP, or about 3.5 times the U.S. national debt limit, just conveniently unsuspended by Congress. Pretty soon, you're talking about r e a l money, as Everett Dirksen liked to threaten, thunderously, in his sub-bargain basement voice of doom.

Posted on Mar 23, 2017, 3:57:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 23, 2017, 4:50:43 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Any of you Sci-Fi fans know Charlie Stross of "Glass House", "Solitary Sky" or something like that. He's also dead on climate change, fossil fuels, Adam Smith and economic theory. He has ideas about gtrump's being in control and under the thumb of energy oligarchs, including Russia.

Stross is born in Leeds, England, and lives somewhere in the U.K., possibly Scotland.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2017, 3:50:34 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 23, 2017, 4:09:58 PM PDT
Gregory G. says:

Well...yes..a good rant,preferably on a daily basis,is highly recommended by your Surgeon General,who,in your case,just happens to be Alphonse Hackenslash ex CSA-"Old Minnie" to his patients. :-)

I am 1/8th Scots but as I have never had the slightest desire to wear a kilt or eat a deep fried Mars bar I feel somewhat cut adrift from my cultural roots.Sigh.

However sometimes in History the indigenous thing comes back to bite you...

At Mactan harbor in the Philippines there is a white obelisk.
On one side it reads:

"Here on 27th April 1521 the great Portuguese navigator Hernando de Magallanes,in the service of the King of Spain,was slain by native Filipinos"

On the other side..

"Here on this spot the great chieftain Lapu Lapu repelled an attack by Ferdinand Magellan,killing him and sending his forces away."

As quoted in,

Laurence Bergreen,

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2017, 10:31:44 PM PDT

I used to be a true jingo. At the age of 18, I had decided to join the Army *if* they would let me try out for Airborne. My plan was then to try for the Green Berets. I had more testosterone than brains then. My test scores were high, and the recruiter was honest. He said, we want to use your brain. We're not going to put you where you can get shot. I admire his honesty, but I wanted to crawl through mud and kill commies and terrorists. Fortunately for me, the recruiter was honest, the wall fell when I was 18, and the terrorists hadn't gotten their game on yet. There was literally nothing to do with a rifle or sharp-edged weapon unless you wanted to get into the mess in Yugoslavia. I said to heck with it and went to college. It actually took George W. Bush to turn me off jingoism. I'm a slow study.

Funny thing is that we want to glorify something. Now, we glorify indigenous peoples (however that can make sense if we all sprouted from Africa). From my readings, a little experience living with Native Americans would both baffle and frighten just about anyone who is taken with the idea. My ethnic background has some native blood to it, but I was only in one tribal dance, and it wasn't even my tribe. I have none of the culture. I respect some things about some Native American cultures, but many more things remain unintelligible to me. Indigenous people are just as fallible as we are; they just don't have the ability to do bad things on the scale that modern humans do.

We also glorify the anti-hero nowadays, and that flat out soils me kimbies. It's all fine and good to realize that 99% of the human race or more are not heroes, but I think we should all aspire in our own way or at least appreciate the heroic.

I'm sure you wanted to see a rant (sarcasm). Sorry for the rant; it's been a long day. And, I haven't had time to bottle 10 gallons of beer that are ready. That's enough to make one testy.

Anyway, I will keep the second book you mention in mind. I haven't made it to the mid-late 1800s yet. One thing I'm interested in doing is to see how innovations in the American Civil War spawned innovations abroad. I just learned today that the first really effective land mines were used by Confederate forces to compensate for inferior numbers. Next thing you know, the Germans are making them. I know that nearly every European country had observers on both sides of the war. I think the Civil War was really the true turning point where mankind learned to kill efficiently - even if disease was still killing more than bullets could.

Posted on Mar 22, 2017, 6:02:32 PM PDT
Gregory G. says:
...and for the thread,

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

A fascinating read-tho' I am beginning to curse small print.Must get my eyes checked as soon as I get back to Australia.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2017, 5:42:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2017, 5:44:34 PM PDT
Gregory G. says:

Bang on! About the Kimbies..and other things..;-)

I like Philbrick because of his relatively plain style and the fact that he beats no big patriotic drums-it is how it is..

Don't forget to read his book on Custer which explores similar themes and is again written in a straightforward manner.

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

A book on the War of 1812 which I liked,despite its horrendously lurid cover,was Steve Vogel;

Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner: The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation

Written by a journalist, my initial reaction was " we go again.." but it turns out to be a thrilling and eminently fair minded account of the action.

Life is full of surprises.

Posted on Mar 22, 2017, 3:18:01 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
"The Great Bridge" by David McCullough, 1971. A lot of German engineering. Starting in earnest in 1867, the bulding of the Brooklyn Bridge in full context by Chief Engineer froebling, a German immigrant who built aqueducts, canal lifts, and other bridges besides his great work. He was incidentally also a manufacturer of steel wire rope. Oh. Hemp wouldn't cut it, much to the hemp rope makers' regret.

He had first settled near Pittsburgh, founding a tow2n of German immigrants, all officially documented, , named Saxonburg on his second try, but then he got bored.

Posted on Mar 22, 2017, 12:08:48 PM PDT
Recent orders:

Gray Hat Hacking The Ethical Hacker's Handbook, Fourth Edition
The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware
Exploring Raspberry Pi: Interfacing to the Real World with Embedded Linux
Windows 10 In Depth (includes Content Update Program)

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2017, 9:17:52 AM PDT
B. A. Dilger,

It was interesting to see how barbarity manifested itself differently between the settlers and the Native Americans. The Native Americans would sometimes torture captive combatants to death, which was abhorrent to the settlers. The settlers often adopted a 'no quarter' type of slaughter when overrunning a native village or camp. There were very few fatalities in most native-native conflicts. It has strange parallels with how the Italian city states used to approach war. They used mercenaries to fight their battles. The mercenaries didn't often kill each other but rather treated battle as a sport...until the French came through and taught them about wholesale slaughter. Not that the Italians, in earlier times, were against destructive and punitive mortal warfare. They were, of course, very good at it. It was just how things evolved among the wealthy city states, which were a somewhat new invention. Anyway, it's interesting to see parallels among very disparate cultures.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2017, 8:44:38 AM PDT
B. A. Dilger says:
The three French and Indian Wars throughout the 1700's were very nasty affairs. My late mother traced a family line to 1740's Virginia where an ancestor and his two sons, along with 20 men, were massacred there.

Posted on Mar 22, 2017, 8:28:01 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
And speaking of unfinished books, I'm thinking of returning to and finishing Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time", which I took with me into the Army and ended up burning in our barracks pot-bellied stove to keep warm in the cold winter of `95`-1952 in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, when Gov ernor Fine was in office and commanding the Pennsylvania National Guard, also hedquartered at IGMR near Lebanon-Harrisburg.

I've looked through Joyce's "Ulysses" but have never read it and never will.

Posted on Mar 22, 2017, 8:24:53 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2017, 8:34:20 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Many readers know only "Death in Venice" and "Buddenb rooks" and on the strength of them, or their weaknesses, decided they don't care for Thomas Mann and wonder what all the fuss is about. Budden rooks is the story of nn'z own family in Luebeck, and the Venice tale, which many know only from the film, is factually reported by Mann from every detail of his family's vacation in Italy during an outbreak of cholera.

For the record, as we've done for Hermann Hesse and Andre Gide, Mann's list of books includes "Royal Highness", "Reflections of a Non-Political Man", "The Magic Mountain", "Mario and the Magician", Tonio Kroeger and Other Stories", "Joseph and his Brothers", "Lotte in Weimar" (his Goethe novel, which was quoted in evidence at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials), "The Transposed Heads", a tale of India; "The Holy Sinner" about Pope Gregory the Gereat; "Felix Krull, Confidence Man", "Doctor Faustus", "The Black Swan", "Essays of Three Decades", "Stories of Three Decades", "The Story of a Novel" about the making of "Doctor Faustus"; "The Tables of the Law"; ""Order of the Day", his wartime propaganda beroadcasts for the U.S. State Department, "Selected Letters", and individual volumes of his exchanges of letters with Erich Kahler, Hermann Hesse, and others.; d"Friedrich the Great and the Grand Coalition", "Late Essays".

So there's more than just "Death in Venice" and "Buddenb rooks". Not compulsory of course, just for information. Nobel Prie in Literature, 1929., five years after publication of "Magic Mountain" in 1924.

Mann's several essays on Wagner, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Goethe, "the old Theodore Fontane", author of "Effie Briest, Theodore Sturm, may be of interest to readers in those fields. He also wrote a play about the time of the Medicis and, I think, Savanarola' early poems; and juvenilia and early short-stories, uncollected, although some were re-written or subsumed into later works.

In my lifetime of reading so far, I rate "Magic Mountain" as the best book I've read, and "Doctor Faustus" as the most extraordinary. They both prominently are about music, particularly the second. His novella "Tonio Kroeger" is consciously written in sonata-Allegro form. In youth Mann was a good amateur violinist, playing chamber music with friends. He and Einstein could have played violin duets at Princeton.

Posted on Mar 22, 2017, 8:08:27 AM PDT
I just finished "Mayflower" by Nathaniel Philbrick in order to gain some idea of King Phillip's War. It was good to have a better understanding of just how fragile our existence was in the early days of what was to become the USA. After King Phillip's War, which eliminated about 8% of the able-bodied English settlers, the GDP took about 100 years to reach levels prior to the war. I had no idea. I nearly wet me Kimbies (to borrow a phrase from Greg). I'm going to employ that phrase regularly. I have no idea what Kimbies are, but I suspect that they are the Australian equivalent of Pampers.
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