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Author Topic: History books.  (Read 10205 times)

Be My Head

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History books.
« on: 28 Oct 2009, 12:42 »

I want to know what history books you've really enjoyed reading. Of particular interest to me is European and Asian history. I'm reading The Judgment of Paris right now and it's fascinating. More books on France covering the first revolution up to the turn of the century would be appreciated (ones that you've read).
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pilsner

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Re: History books.
« Reply #1 on: 28 Oct 2009, 13:06 »

Oooh nice thread idea. 

Just finished Niall Ferguson's The War of the World.  It's a good but imperfect attempt to lay out the progression from the growth of racial hatred in the nation state to war based genocide in the course of WWI and WWII.  Ferguson's thesis involves the dissolution of the great European empires, the emergence of new and virtually unprecedented levels of racial homogeneity, and the corresponding growth as a political force of paranoia regarding miscegenation.  I found the book provocative and compelling, although frustrating in it's limited scope.

I haven't read many books on French history at all, but can strongly recommend the article on the Dreyfus Affair in the New Yorker about a month back.  Actually it was a book review of a book on the Dreyfus Affair -- I can track it down if you are interesting.  It was fascinating to me because I know virtually nothing about turn of the century French antisemitism, so I can't say whether it adds anything to the discussion for someone who is better informed than I.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #2 on: 28 Oct 2009, 14:38 »

Jonathan Spence is great if you're interested in Chinese history. The Search for Modern China is a long but very readable book, starting at the end of the Ming (late seventeenth century) and going all the way up to when the book was published in the early nineties.

Google Books link
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Be My Head

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Re: History books.
« Reply #3 on: 28 Oct 2009, 14:44 »

That looks amazing. I'll definitely look into getting a copy. Chinese history is fascinating to me.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #4 on: 28 Oct 2009, 14:46 »

I remember reading this book back in grade school.  I don't remember any historical books I've read since.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #5 on: 28 Oct 2009, 19:32 »

Some of my favorite history books have been written by Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: the fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies choose to succeed or fail are the two that I've read. I want to read The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal as I hear thats his best book.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #6 on: 28 Oct 2009, 23:14 »

I read some biographies about historical figures..if that's interesting or counts.  Simon Sebag Montefiore has 2 books on Stalin that are just mindblowing.  Stalin: In The Court of the Red Tsar, as well as Young Stalin. 
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Re: History books.
« Reply #7 on: 28 Oct 2009, 23:16 »

Will Ferguson writes excellent books about Canadian history.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #8 on: 29 Oct 2009, 01:15 »

Some of my favorite history books have been written by Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: the fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies choose to succeed or fail are the two that I've read.

So several years ago I find myself on a long train ride next to an ichthyologist.  We get to talking and Guns, Germs and Steel comes up.  With a look of contempt, Mister Ichthyologist tells me that Steve Irwin has written more peer reviewed articles than Jared Diamond.  At the time I think I changed the topic to smelt or something, but in retrospect that seems pretty funny in a morbid sort of way.
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scarred

Re: History books.
« Reply #9 on: 29 Oct 2009, 02:13 »

Will Ferguson writes excellent books about Canadian history.

Canadian.... history?

Isn't it all just a bunch of guys in flannel drinking beer and saying "Eh"?
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Re: History books.
« Reply #10 on: 29 Oct 2009, 02:30 »

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Making_of_the_Atomic_Bomb

Now, I'm nowhere near nerdy enough to get the actual science. But it's not all science that's involved. There's politics and war and stuff as well!!

Plus, it's interesting to see this thing grow, with tiny little steps taken by many, many people. 
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Re: History books.
« Reply #11 on: 29 Oct 2009, 05:19 »

I was reading a book about the Hezbollah not so long ago. Didn't finish it though, cause I had to bring it back to the library.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #12 on: 29 Oct 2009, 06:12 »

Some of my favorite history books have been written by Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: the fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies choose to succeed or fail are the two that I've read.

So several years ago I find myself on a long train ride next to an ichthyologist.  We get to talking and Guns, Germs and Steel comes up.  With a look of contempt, Mister Ichthyologist tells me that Steve Irwin has written more peer reviewed articles than Jared Diamond.  At the time I think I changed the topic to smelt or something, but in retrospect that seems pretty funny in a morbid sort of way.

I never knew there was so much controversy over his books. Did a little google search and found that there has been defamation lawsuits filed against him for his depiction of Papau New Guinea tribes and he has had to redact and change some names. Who knew. I always took what he wrote as being scientific and not journalistic, guess i was wrong even according to him it was all meant to be taken as Journalism and not accurate Science. Kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
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pilsner

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Re: History books.
« Reply #13 on: 29 Oct 2009, 08:03 »

Heh, I felt the same way when I found out that The Prophet is basically some stuff that Khalil Gibran made up because he felt like it.  And read a little bit of his biography.  That being said, most of the people who I've spoken with with doctorates in the natural sciences give some of the insights in Guns, Germs and Steel some credit -- he just isn't quite as authoritative as he presents himself.  Generally I find that to be the case for most generalists attempting inter-disciplinary theories with an eye on a popular audience....
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Re: History books.
« Reply #14 on: 29 Oct 2009, 08:15 »

Yeah there was the same sort of controversy over the Freakonomics dudes, who are incredibly popular yet also in many cases spectacularly wrong. Pop science is sort of a problem, because actual science is boring and when you're out partying you need something to start a conversation with that is interesting and makes you look smarter than you are. All that you need to be a widely-read theorist is an interesting corrolation in a single or handful of studies, which is just as good as thorough proof of causation right? Increased abortion leads to lower crime rates! Drunk driving is 8x safer than walking home from the bar! Yackety Schmackety do!
« Last Edit: 29 Oct 2009, 08:17 by KvP »
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Re: History books.
« Reply #15 on: 29 Oct 2009, 08:22 »

It's contemporary history, but Mark Bowden's book "Black Hawk Down" is fantastic.  The movie became an action movie, but that's not really what the book is about.

Aside from that, Humphrey Burton writes a great biography of Leonard Bernstein, if you like biographies about fantastic musicians.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #16 on: 29 Oct 2009, 08:41 »

Try "Lies my History Teacher Told Me: Everything Your US History Textbook Got Wrong".  It's a great way to learn how capitalism has completely whitewashed American history.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #17 on: 29 Oct 2009, 08:46 »

There's Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a doorstopper of a book that contains a very thorough narrative of Abraham Lincoln's political career, as well as some food for thought if you're into American politics in general, as the scene was obviously way, way different back then. If you're not big on reading the audiobook is also excellent and much less dense.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #18 on: 29 Oct 2009, 08:53 »

Try "Lies my History Teacher Told Me: Everything Your US History Textbook Got Wrong".  It's a great way to learn how capitalism has completely whitewashed American history.

No, no, the Freemasons whitewashed American history.  Capitalism shtupped your sister without a rubber, and now she has to work in a Walmart to support the baby she gave fetal alcohol syndrome because she didn't know she was pregnant.

Yackety Schmackety do!




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Re: History books.
« Reply #19 on: 29 Oct 2009, 11:53 »

On a more serious note,

The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser - a very well written and interesting history of the Anglo-Scottish Border

Where the Hell Are the Guns?, Guns of Normandy and the Guns of Victory - George Blackburn - the story of 2nd Field Battery From the start of WWII to the end, it is absolutely hilarious at points and gives an awesome worm's eye view of history

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces - Florescue and McNally

Vampires, Burial and Death - Not quite history, but an overview of how many aspects of what we call vampirism relate to historical burial practices

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Re: History books.
« Reply #20 on: 29 Oct 2009, 15:29 »

I want to know what history books you've really enjoyed reading. Of particular interest to me is European and Asian history. I'm reading The Judgment of Paris right now and it's fascinating. More books on France covering the first revolution up to the turn of the century would be appreciated (ones that you've read).

I saw this thread, and immediately though to myself "Hmm, I'm going to go in there and recommend Judgment of Paris." Awesome read.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #21 on: 29 Oct 2009, 20:11 »

Churchill's The World Crisis is a great read if you're interested in the history of the Great War.  So is Von Kluck's The March on Paris and the Battle of the Marne.

It's not exactly history, I'm currently reading (in my very limited free time) John Wansbrough's Quranic Studies, which is a book on Quranic exegesis.  I figure it counts since it's an investigation into the historical underpinnings of the Quran, though it's a bit difficult to get through without an understanding of Arabic and Hebrew.

I'm probably going to read Hussain Haqqani's Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military next, because it appears to be an expansion on his The Ideologies of South Asian Jihadi Groups article in the first volume of Current Trends in Islamic Idealogy which is a very quick history of the various Islamic revival groups that have spawned Jihadi movements in Pakistan since 1947, and will be pretty useful in my research and writing.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #22 on: 30 Oct 2009, 03:05 »

Yeah there was the same sort of controversy over the Freakonomics dudes, who are incredibly popular yet also in many cases spectacularly wrong. Pop science is sort of a problem, because actual science is boring and when you're out partying you need something to start a conversation with that is interesting and makes you look smarter than you are. All that you need to be a widely-read theorist is an interesting corrolation in a single or handful of studies, which is just as good as thorough proof of causation right? Increased abortion leads to lower crime rates! Drunk driving is 8x safer than walking home from the bar! Yackety Schmackety do!

One of those dudes was on The Daily Show a few days ago and he seemed pretty sensible. I'd need to rewatch the interview but I'm pretty sure he made it pretty clear that he was not a climate change skeptic and that he didn't think that C02 wasn't responsible for global warming. The point he made on the show was that to him it seemed irrational to not consider (admittedly, somewhat outlandish) measures that attempted to reverse climate damage and negate future emissions while we attempt to transition to alternative energy sources. Also that most proposed solutions for climate changed relied on people acting pretty contrary to basic human nature i.e; not being lazy and resistant to change.

I haven't read the book so I can't really speak to what's in there, of course. The whole interview could've basically been a big backpedal, for all I know.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #23 on: 30 Oct 2009, 04:34 »

Screw books, it's all about podcasts now:

'stuff you missed in history class' by howstuffworks.com is pretty awesome.

Welcome to the modern world.
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David_Dovey

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Re: History books.
« Reply #24 on: 30 Oct 2009, 05:04 »

I am very crazy about Mike Duncan's "The History of Rome" podcast. A super quality jaunt through the entire history of Rome, from the founding legends of Aeneas arriving in Italy after the Trojan War, to Romulus founding the city, from The Seven Kings to Republic, to Civil War and Empire, right up to the fall of The Western Empire at the hands of the barbarian hordes. At the moment he is covering the Year of the Four Emperors (70 AD). Perfectly pitched in terms of the amount of detail gone into, reliance on ancient sources compared to modern sources, and weighing up competing historical views. Mike also has a pretty great, dry sense of humour, with one solid chuckle per episode, at least.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #25 on: 30 Oct 2009, 18:18 »

One of those dudes was on The Daily Show a few days ago and he seemed pretty sensible. I'd need to rewatch the interview but I'm pretty sure he made it pretty clear that he was not a climate change skeptic and that he didn't think that C02 wasn't responsible for global warming. The point he made on the show was that to him it seemed irrational to not consider (admittedly, somewhat outlandish) measures that attempted to reverse climate damage and negate future emissions while we attempt to transition to alternative energy sources. Also that most proposed solutions for climate changed relied on people acting pretty contrary to basic human nature i.e; not being lazy and resistant to change.

I haven't read the book so I can't really speak to what's in there, of course. The whole interview could've basically been a big backpedal, for all I know.
That would be Steven Levitt, who by all accounts seems to be a pretty okay guy, and his professional work is quite respected. I guess the Freakonomics stuff is just how he makes his money. I don't think the other dudes have bonafides. Anyway, leaving aside whatever he said on the show, what matters is what he wrote, and the problem is that Levitt and his ilk speak authoritatively on research when their understanding of the research is limited. You get things like the Climate Change chapter, that contains embarrassing distortions and lack of knowledge. It's no different from a seminarian trying to write a scholarly book on archaeology. At best he's just going to misappropriate the research to what he knows. It leaves the people who did the research and know the implications of it struggling to have their voices heard on exactly what it does mean. Soon enough you have kids who believe that the world is 6,000 years old because they read in a book once that carbon dating is wildly unreliable.

It's like that guy you know who always admonishes people to "look at both sides" of an issue like climate change or immigration reform or gay adoption or whatever. All he's really doing is trying to support an illegitimate position in spite of evidence to the contrary.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #26 on: 03 Nov 2009, 14:03 »

Some of my favorite history books have been written by Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: the fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies choose to succeed or fail are the two that I've read. I want to read The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal as I hear thats his best book.
I haven't read it, but the snippets I've heard or seen of Collapse are atrocious collapsist primitivist nonsense and only make sense if you buy into the frankly laughable idea that capitalism is the only possiblity - it's less than three hundred years old for heaven's sake. England is three times older than that. Guns, Germs, and Steel was pretty good though, even if Engels covered some of the basic points a hundred and fifty years previous. Also, to be hoenst I would trust someone with anthropological, archaeological, or even historical training to write a book covering science-y bits than the other way around.

Eric Hobsbawm's quadrilogy of world history - Age of Revolution, Age of Capital, Age of Empire, and Age of Extremes - are some of the best overview works of modern history 1789-1991, even if they're getting on a bit by now. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States and E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class are also classics. (Hint: the best history is usually written by Marxists or people of a similar background.)

The French Revolution is one of those continually contested battlegrounds in history, and we're probably around due for another reinterpretation of it (anyone doing European history at undergraduate level, there's an idea, I think it's Marxism's turn to bat again). George Lefebvre is probably still pretty good, to be honest, as is George Rudé. (Yes I have a soft spot for Marxist historians - that's because a) unlike the average historian, they don't pretend to be ideologically unbaggaged, and b) they usually have a methodology, something the average historian lacks.)
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pilsner

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Re: History books.
« Reply #27 on: 03 Nov 2009, 19:20 »

I'm not sure what I'm enjoying more, the fact that you called a book called Collapse "collapsist"  or the fact that the word "collapsist" has somehow escaped the purview of every dictionary of which I am aware.  

Protip:  when sneering at books, use words that exist.
« Last Edit: 03 Nov 2009, 19:26 by pilsner »
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Aurjay

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Re: History books.
« Reply #28 on: 03 Nov 2009, 19:52 »

Its been awhile since I've read Collapse but If i remember correctly that's not what it was about at all. it was more about overusing your resources and then basically being left in a decline. I think the model he used was a town in Colorado or somewhere similar that basically poisoned their environment and couldn't sustainably live off it anymore. granted its been awile so please forgive me if im wrong but i really don't remember Capitalism being featured that prominently in the book.   
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Re: History books.
« Reply #29 on: 04 Nov 2009, 05:22 »

Protip:  when sneering at books, use words that exist.

The word exists, it's right there. I can see it and read it and even understand what it's meaning is by context.

It's cute that you think that dictionaries are accurate representations of every word ever.
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pilsner

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Re: History books.
« Reply #30 on: 05 Nov 2009, 20:09 »

I think you're being unfairly collapsist.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #31 on: 05 Nov 2009, 22:31 »

I'm not sure what I'm enjoying more, the fact that you called a book called Collapse "collapsist"  or the fact that the word "collapsist" has somehow escaped the purview of every dictionary of which I am aware.  

Protip:  when sneering at books, use words that exist.

You should have checked the german/english dictionary, which clearly defines collapsist as Zusammenbruchstheoretiker.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #32 on: 13 Nov 2009, 12:30 »

Its been awhile since I've read Collapse but If i remember correctly that's not what it was about at all. it was more about overusing your resources and then basically being left in a decline. I think the model he used was a town in Colorado or somewhere similar that basically poisoned their environment and couldn't sustainably live off it anymore. granted its been awile so please forgive me if im wrong but i really don't remember Capitalism being featured that prominently in the book.   
My reading of what I've seen of Collapse is that the process of decline is inevitable and part of any society possible, which is obviously ludicrous. And capitalism is an unavoidable part of any book that deals with world systems of the past three hundred years, just as feudalism is an unavoidable part of books about mediaeval Europe.

To elaborate a little on the term 'collapsist' (one which I have regularly used and heard used in discussions on topics such as peak oil and other such fantasies), it probably would be more formally expressed as 'neo-Malthusian' - although that is a word with a meaning significantly less apparent from context. Claims that the world is reaching a sudden and unavoidable tipping point, and that we are all doomed, essentially. The peak oil fans are a perfect example.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #33 on: 14 Nov 2009, 13:47 »

We are history

Xenophon had one of his books made into a [img=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Warriors_%28film%29]http://film[/img] and he's prettya pretty cool dude.
I'm more into first hand history books rather than books about history.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #34 on: 14 Nov 2009, 21:34 »

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peak oil and other such fantasies

What makes you think "peak oil" is a fantasy?
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Re: History books.
« Reply #35 on: 14 Nov 2009, 21:46 »

Because, like global warming, those liberal scientists all tend to agree on it.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #36 on: 15 Nov 2009, 01:44 »

Given that I know Odi to be a mostly reasonable person, i think he is not denying peak oil as such but the idea that peak oil is THE issue which tips the world into turmoil.

Of more interest to me is the idea that decline is not an inevitable part of a society.


On topic, although not on the same academic level (or intent) than several of the books on this thread, I can credit a good chunk of my interest in anything to Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe series.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #37 on: 15 Nov 2009, 02:04 »

I forgot to mention The Professor And The Madman, which is about the creation of the OED.
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Re: History books.
« Reply #38 on: 15 Nov 2009, 02:28 »

For some bullshit assignment in my International Relations class I've gone all the way back to 2000 or thereabouts and pulled out a little old book called Blowback, which was a timely herald of the post-9/11 years.

As far as Peak Oil goes, I believe Odi wrote a post some time ago in another thread talking about how it was one of those things that was always supposed to be terrifyingly imminent but somehow never quite happened with the severity of consequences people always imagined. They seem to resemble most those less secular people who are perpetually anticipating the End Times. Even with something like Climate Change, which we can be assured exists, there are people we could call "collapsists" who say that we're past the point where any meaningful reforms can be implemented. Recall that UN report that said we were close to that threshold for permanent alterations to the climate. But there's a significant debate over the exact dimensions of the problem. With the data we have there doesn't seem much we can say in exact terms for the future.
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supersheep

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Re: History books.
« Reply #39 on: 17 Nov 2009, 10:44 »

Yes, I'm not going to deny that there is some point at which the amount of oil produced will peak and then drop - that is a simple mathematical fact. But that's the trivial sense. What I deny is the conclusion that this leads to INEXORABLE CATASTROPHE. We will not suddenly drop from our present peak back to the stone age, nor will oil prices shoot up immediately. In fact, rising oil prices make it more economical to extract oil from marginal sources, so oil will continue (even at higher prices) for a lot longer than peak oil fans would have you believe. To be honest, I think it's perfectly within the capabilities of capital to successfully manage a transition away from fossil fuels without major systemic shock. Also, if peak oil was a legitimate near-term concern and/or a cause for collapse then capitalism would notice and the price of oil would shoot up (note that the opposite is not true, as speculative trading is the probable cause for the recent oil price peak.

Malthus was, and always will be, wrong. (Except in the trivial sense of there being an upper limit to how many people the earth can physically support, but once again - simple mathematical fact. It's also far greater than our current population.)
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Beren

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Re: History books.
« Reply #40 on: 18 Nov 2009, 11:28 »

I quite liked this biography of Robert Oppenheimer, American Prometheus. It's a bit long, but quite in depth. Not specifically history, exactly, but it ends up being a rather decent overview of the los alamos project and then Oppenheimer's trials and tribulations with McCarthy.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.
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pilsner

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Re: History books.
« Reply #41 on: 18 Nov 2009, 17:50 »

My reading of what I've seen of Collapse is that the process of decline is inevitable and part of any society possible, which is obviously ludicrous. And capitalism is an unavoidable part of any book that deals with world systems of the past three hundred years, just as feudalism is an unavoidable part of books about mediaeval Europe.

To elaborate a little on the term 'collapsist' (one which I have regularly used and heard used in discussions on topics such as peak oil and other such fantasies), it probably would be more formally expressed as 'neo-Malthusian' - although that is a word with a meaning significantly less apparent from context. Claims that the world is reaching a sudden and unavoidable tipping point, and that we are all doomed, essentially. The peak oil fans are a perfect example.

A few pages into the book, Diamond says that he's not predicting the collapse of the US.  The subtitle of the book is "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed."  Therefore your contention, based on your non-reading of the book, that Collapse is about the inevitability of social decline is wrong.

Moreover, your use of the phrase "obviously ludicrous" in the context of a discussion that reasonable people have seen fit to take either side of for the better part of three centuries strikes is sophomoric.  Indeed, depending on your definition of what constitutes social collapse, and given the difficulty of proving a negative, taking the position that there are societies which will never collapse, which indeed will remain coherent for eons, appears ... brave.

Finally, your critique of Malthus relies on a cartoonish understanding of the man's writings which elides the real and widely recognized contributions which Malthus made to British economic and social thought.  While his theory that population would always run ahead of social production failed to anticipate the agricultural revolution, his reversed the earlier economic assumption that greater fertility would always lead to greater national wealth.  This has since become economic dogma. 
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supersheep

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Re: History books.
« Reply #42 on: 18 Nov 2009, 19:31 »

While this is probably now a thread for Discuss rather than here, I do feel that merits a response.

Firstly, from the very off I did say that it was on my reading of only part of the book, and those parts I read conveyed that particular message. Pointing out what I pointed out myself isn't something that deserves much praise or Argument Points(TM). I mean, it was the very first sentence I posted in this thread. But I will give you a point because I probably should read a whole book before I state it's wrong.

Sophomoric, nice. I should have known better than to use hyperbole in a discussion, as people must have told me a million times. I will hold to the statement that collapse is not an inbuilt part of society - once again, something I got from my reading. If Diamond's arguments are not along those lines then he is pretty poor at expressing himself. Maybe it was written between the lines? I've never been good at doing that - all I see between the lines are spaces.

You get another point for criticising my knowledge of Malthus - you're right, I haven't read him either, I thought that it would be pointless to read the work of someone who's been discredited by every event since he wrote and whom no sensible authorities I can find agree with. Of course, part of my definition of a sensible authority is "thinks Malthus is a load of donkey penis" so that is perhaps a rather circular piece of reasoning. You will get TWO WHOLE EXTRA POINTS if you can explain to me - preferably in cartoonish terms, because that's the only thing I understand - the relevance of Malthus' explanation that babies don't equal money to the statement that his theories about population were bunk.

PROTIP: Be more patronising next time - it's a good way of convincing people your argument is there!
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