Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Description of the World - Part 3

Laurence Peter, Peter’s Quotations (If I remember correctly, this was a stocking stuffer given me in Christmas 1977 by my nephew Peter. Opening it at random, I encounter a quote from Eisenhower: “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.” Another example of the dangers of playing the Take and Read game described by Augustine in the Confessions. Augustine hit on a passage of scripture beginning “not in chambering and wantonness…” and subsequently became a saint. I do not believe that will happen in my case.)

Charles Mackinnon, The Observer’s Book of Heraldry (Apparently I got tired of wondering what color giles is.)

Dr. L. Wieger, S.J., Chinese Characters: Their origin, etymology, history, classification, and signification (I couldn’t figure out any better way of understanding how Chinese characters work than to learn a few. This is a book I’ve pulled down and poured over many, many times. One of the things I poured over it was coffee. The book is definitely battle scarred, but it’s a Dover book and they can take a lot of abuse.)

James D. McCawley, The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters (I live in San Francisco on a block with two Chinese restaurants and within a couple of blocks of perhaps another half dozen. I learned a bit about how to read the menus in self defense. Of course most of the menus are all English, but some of ‘em aren’t and I have the recurrent  suspicion that the Chinese version of some of the items actually reads “Countryman, do not order this!”)

Kevin Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (OK, it seems eccentric, even to me, that I actually read 950 pages on this burning topic. Thing is, though, the book isn’t dull. The particulars of history are often a great deal more illuminating than the generalities, especially if they are well narrated and explained by a competent historian. But there’s something more specific that turned out to be interesting about this passage of history. Charles got fed up with Parliament very early in his reign and dispensed with it with fair success for many years, though it took a lot of doing to finance the government without the ability to levy new taxes. The question is not why his maneuvers failed but why they succeeded for so long. What happened that eventually made it necessary for Charles to call for a new Parliament with disastrous consequences? Sharpe points to various blunders made by the King and his men, but as near as I can tell, the same crew was as incompetent at the beginning as at the end of the personal rule. I think what did change was the climate; Europe became significantly colder and stormier as the 17th Century wore on. Historians are generally reluctant to ascribe changes to environmental causes, ergo the epidemic of mistakes. I expect that the effects of global warming will produce a similar apparent increase in elite stupidity.)

U.S.Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters (Like many other readers, I’m impressed with Grant’s style, which is eloquent because it is so plain.)

W.T. Sherman, Memoirs (This is the second book in a two-volume set with Grant’s Memoirs. I wrote in the margin of page 183 “that Gen Sherman founded LSU is not the least amazing fact I have encountered in history.” I did some business at LSU years ago. As I recall, Sherman’s role in the the school’s history was kept pretty quiet. Well, as the song goes “College boys from LSU. Go in dumb, come out dumb.” In his prewar military career Sherman was assigned to duty at the Presidio in San Francisco. His ship foundered off the Golden Gate a few miles from where I’m sitting right now. He eventually got ashore, of course, and arrived in the city on a rowboat from Marin.)

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