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Category Archives: Culture

The Fate of Rome

The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, by Kyle Harper. Princeton University Press, 2017. 418 pages. ★★★★★ This book is an extraordinary piece of scholarship. It’s also a demanding and dense read. Kyle Harper retells the story of Rome, adding new findings that were not available until relatively recently. We […]

La saison des camélias

The abbey’s camélias have have reached above the roof line. It’s time for pruning, I think. The bee was working the camélias at 42 degrees F. And yes, when I think of camélias I always think of La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas the younger, which, before my French started getting rusty, I read […]

Against the Grain

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, by James C. Scott. Yale University Press, 2017. 312 pages. Why did human beings abandon their hunter-gatherer livelihoods, build the first towns and cities — and therefore create the first governments? This book uses new findings from archeology, epidemiology and climatology that may radically change […]

Let’s just talk about the truck

The flag on the back is the Christian flag, which is commonly flown in King, North Carolina. Also note the bumper stickers in the lower photo. We could talk about why a surplus military vehicle belonging to the Pfafftown (North Carolina) militia, a right-wing paramilitary group, showed up at the polling place for the Nov. […]

Umberto Eco

Sean Connery and Christian Slater in “The Name of the Rose” The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, 1980. English translation 1983. What? I’m reviewing a book that was first published 37 years ago? Oh well. No one ever accused me of being au courant. I have tried several times in the past to read […]

Why is linguistics so rarefied?

I think a lot about language. I often have questions about language that are very difficult to find answers to. That’s not true of most sciences. If I have a question about physics (insofar as there are answers to questions about physics), I can find an answer in no time. (As a science fiction writer, […]

Preserving culture

Foxfire students interviewing Aunt Arie — photo by Foxfire Fund, Inc. There are some strange ideas kicking around these days about what it means to preserve culture. But preserving culture is hard work and a labor of love. Many, many people are doing this work. It involves books, books, and more books. It is being […]

Total eclipse

I saw the eclipse inside the zone of totality at Franklin, North Carolina. Franklin is in the Great Smoky Mountains and is inside the Nantahala National Forest. I was with two friends, and we turned it into a tailgate party followed by dinner in Asheville. This was my second total eclipse, so I knew what […]

Game of Thrones

In looking through the blog logs yesterday, I noticed that someone searched for “Game of Thrones.” It seems odd in retrospect that I haven’t really blogged about the greatest achievement in fantasy since Tolkien, both in literature and in television. (I’m open to the argument that George R.R. Martin’s achievement has surpassed Tolkien’s.) The reason, […]

How to win: Torture the language and muddle the story

I pay very little attention to the science fiction and fantasy publishing industry anymore. Almost every book I try to read, I end up flinging away in frustration after the first few pages. Almost no one knows how to write, and almost no one knows how to tell a story. Instead, what passes for “good […]