The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century
Translating ancient classics is a long-honored way to bring new life into old books for new readers. It is also a genre that has changed how it translates works over time, from more classic translations to more modern translations that some people feel play fast and loose with the translations. This author falls into the latter camp, where he strongly feels that translators have lost all meaning of the works they translate by modernizing the language too much. This fairly lengthy work is a combination of a couple of things. First, it is a long treatise on how translation has gone all wrong and the ways to make it right. The second part contains his own translations of some ancient Greek works.
While not everyone will agree with his views–myself, I am split about 50/50 on his arguments–he does make some good points that I hope scholars and translators will pay attention to. Just because you want to make it sound modern does not make it a correct translation. Mr. Duban has brought to light something that is generally not talked about but should be.
Jeffrey M. Duban
ClanDonnell: A Storied History of Ireland
David McDonnell tells Ireland’s history through a unique lens, tracing the history of the original Clan Donnell (Donald in Scotland) and offshoot clans (McDonnells, McDonalds, O’Donnells, etc.) that dominated the Hebrides Islands, Highland Scotland, and much of Ireland, until the English subjugated the island in the 17th century.
McDonnell has a story-teller’s voice, though his richly textured and layered 900-plus-page book is factual. Familiar historic figures star in this story, but the author shows a Donnell, a Donald, or a McDonnell on the scene at every turn, including “The Troubles” of the 1900s. It’s a mesmerizing book that feels like a personal journey through Ireland’s history.
In the Clan Era, there was much travel between Scotland and what was Ireland at that time: not a nation, but an amalgam of small kingdoms headed by clan leaders chosen by their clan members and associated clans. The McDonnell clan was predominant in the north but migrated south as well. “Redshanks” and “Gallowglass warriors” (well-trained Scots mercenaries loyal to McDonnell clan in Northern Ireland) could be rented out to other clans in both places, which gave the McDonnells more power and land for their clans. (The English were terrified of these warriors.)
Early Scots who immigrated assimilated easily into the Irish clans. Viking invasions of the 8th and 10th centuries also assimilated into Celtic clans. The Celtic clan culture worked for more than a thousand years, and author McDonnell raises a good question: Who really is Irish? Ireland was invaded over centuries by many different groups — all of whom wove themselves into the culture and became part of the Ireland we know today.
A clan leader’s first concern was to provide what was best for the clan. That changed with the Norman and English invasions in the late 12th century. Clan leaders who made peace with the invaders became earls instead; their clan members became tenants. Later, English colonizers turned this to their own advantage: when these Irish earls were recalcitrant, they were replaced with English landlords, most of them absentee landlords. The subjugation of Ireland became complete under Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, James I (who encouraged Protestants from the Scottish lowlands to immigrate into what is now Ulster), and Cromwell, whose system of forfeiture reduced most Irish to subsistence or homelessness long before the potato blight of the 1840s. James I and Cromwell set the scenes for “The Hunger” and Diaspora of the 1840s, and the horrendous “Troubles” in the 20th century. At every event in this absorbing book, one meets a McDonnell or two — some on one side, some on the other. There were McDonnell landlords and earls, McDonnell members of the IRA. Some fought for England in WWI.
As promised, McDonnell doesn’t litter pages with footnotes, claiming they make for a tedious read. I do think the book could have benefitted from appendices in the back with more timelines and maps. An index would have been helpful, too. I had to do a lot of re-reading and page-turning to keep track of events. That said, this is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in Irish history.
The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, A Brief History
When it comes to reading textbooks or primers on particular subjects, the key really is that the writing keep the reader’s interest, otherwise their mind is likely to wander and/or become bored with the subject matter they are reading about. Thankfully, Jack L. Schwartzwald’s brief history on the ancient Near East, Greece and Rome has an interesting and engaging voice that grabs the reader’s attention right from the beginning and keeps them going for the whole book.
This “brief history” is still a good 190-odd pages of informational text, along with an extensive bibliography and thorough index, giving the reader quick references at their fingertips. For those readers looking to read it cover to cover, the book is divided into three chapters: “The Cradle of Civilization: The Ancient Near East,’ “The Cradle of Western Civilization: Ancient Greece,” and “The Cradle of the Nation-State: Ancient Rome.” While it seems like heavy reading to digest the entire book with just three chapter breaks, especially on this none-too-easy subject, each chapter is subdivided into sections with titles to allow for breaks and digestion of the material. The shortest chapter is the first one at 30 pages, which is sad, because it is such an import period in history that lead to the foundation and creation of so much that came after, nevertheless it is clear that while Schwartzwald knows plenty about the ancient Near East, it is ancient Greece and Rome where he dedicates his true knowledge.
The history telling is straightforward, with lots of names and dates throughout the text, as the author lays out the history and events and happenings in succinct paragraphs. There is not a lot of discussion or synthesis here, as this is a “brief history” after all and nothing more. Schwartzwald is giving you the quick history of these times and places so that you can speedily digest and understand it. If you are looking for further, deeper material, that is what the bibliography is for. But in this way the book also serves as an excellent reference tool, along with the index, so that if the reader is tackling something in depth, but wants a quick refresher on a specific period in the ancient Near East, Greece or Rome, this book does the job well.
What is perhaps surprising about the book is that it is all text, with not a single picture, table, graphic, or depiction of a graphic source. While, again, it is a “brief history” and meant for a quick and thorough reading of the time period, one would expect maybe a photo or two, a Roman statue or Greek piece of architecture, or even Hammurabi’s code of laws; something to break up the text and help make it all the more real for the reader. Nevertheless, the book does its job of providing a “brief history” of the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, where the reader will not become lost and overwhelmed by too much, but able to digest everything in titled sections. It is an ideal book for someone taking an ancient history class and looking to get a feel for the history they are about to learn about or for the average reader wanting to learn more about the period, but not having to absorb a heavy and overwhelming tome. The people, dates, and events in the book are all laid out in chronological order, allowing the reader to take it all in swiftly and comprehensively.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
For the Western world, cities in the East have difficult names, are exotic, perhaps backwards, and rarely considered to have an impact on Western politics and society. This book’s aim is to present a case that these cities, and the empires that once claimed them continue to have a real influence on today’s economies all over the globe. World histories typically suffer from two main criticisms: They do not take in to account all factors that lead to major world events, focusing instead on only a few main ones which they claim are relevant. The second criticism is that they do not take into account all world events, sometimes ignoring large portions of history especially if these historical narratives are at odds with the historian’s world view.
This book attempts to explain world events arising from events and attitudes along the Silk Road (defined as the network of trade routes from China to the Mediterranean). It also reduces the impetus for major events to economic motives. In the process it focuses unevenly on certain historical events and epochs – a criticism that can be levelled against virtually any historical account.
The narrative is chronological starting with the Persian Empire, and speculating about the future. Along the way the trade and transportation of goods along the Silk Road is discussed which brings in its wake other consequences. One such consequence is the evolution of religions along the Silk Road as they compete and trade ideas with each other. Another is the transmission of disease that brought the Black Death to Europe. The Atlantic Trade is also discussed and tied to trade along the Silk Road, as are major conflicts. In recent times, the world has looked to the West as a model of sophistication. This book predicts that current world events will move the center of the world back to the Silk Road – where it claims it has traditionally been. Readers may not agree with the views presented in this book. However it does provide an alternate viewpoint. For those who embrace alternate viewpoints, or are curious about them, this would be a good book.
The Unfolding of American Labor Law
In this academically challenging and scholarly rigorous debut book, Kahana carefully traces the evolution of labor law in the United States from the period after the Revolutionary War, until the middle of the nineteenth century. The book is divided into two parts: the first spells out the evolution of American labor law, the second takes on a particular case study.
In the first part of the book, Kahana sets out to argue that American labor law, rather than being an off-shoot of English common law, is best described as a unique entity shaped by the distinct realities of American social circumstances. The main target of his arguments are those scholars who have argued that American labor law found its roots in the master-servant relationship in feudal England, which formed the basis of English common law, and which was therefore central in the formation of American law. Kahana works carefully through both legal commentaries, as well as records of the way that the law was actually practiced to develop his arguments for American exceptionalism on this topic.
In the second part of the book, Kahana digs into a particular case study — Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw – and outlines his particular important contributions to American Labor Law. His role exemplified the American, rather than English system, through a strong defense of unionization, and a constant reliance on the American tradition of individual responsibility and individual freedom. Kahana makes a credible argument in favor of Shaw’s important place in developing the uniquely American labor law tradition.
Throughout these two broad arguments, Kahana is constantly teasing out the differences in these two approaches, and supporting his argument for American exceptionalism. The audience for this academic text will include both legal and historical scholars, as well as those with a specific interest in the history of this area of law. The lay-reader will find the content of this text daunting, but anyone with an interest in this specialized area of legal history will want to become familiar with the arguments contained here.
Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat
In twelve delightfully detailed chapters, science journalist Marta Zaraska reveals how we have become so fixated on meat in our diets. From the onset of life as microbes engulfed other microbes, the body’s demand for sustenance evolved into devouring both plants and animals. Religions, customs, rulers, topography, and geography frequently dictated the diet. Wealthier and more powerful countries tended to consume more meat—be it pork, cow, sheep, dog, horse, rat, fowl, or fish. The more carnivorous selection by the early hunter-gatherer is credited for enabling the increase in brain size. The umami component of meat seduced the consumer with its appealing protein flavor. However, plants also possess this umami essence especially in soy products, therefore vegetarians can also harvest this special quality in foods. Now with our increasing concern regarding meat consumption and its possible association with the incidence of diabetes, heart problems, cancer, and possibly obesity, dietary changes towards a plant diet seem indicated. Such a change would reduce cattle raising and reduce water demands, pollution, and global warming. Read the fascinating stories of cultural influences on eating habits, novel recipes shaping soy veggies into pseudo-steaks and burgers, and lab grown meat on petri dishes, along with the horror stories of how animals are treated. The contents are engrossing.