Worth Reading (Fiction)

  • Mamet, David: Chicago: A Novel
    In Roaring 20's Chicago, a Great War veteran turned hard-boiled reporter falls in love with the wrong woman and then seeks to find her killer.
  • Nelson DeMille: The Cuban Affair: A Novel
    Two million dollars to charter a boat for a fishing tournament? A great way for the owner to pay off the boat's mortgage, but it turns out to include slipping into Castro's prison island in search of a lost (and perhaps imaginary) treasure.
  • Kate Atkinson: Life After Life: A Novel
    Ursula Todd has the opportunity to relive her life, over and over and over, moving steadily through the Great War and its sequels and accumulating shards of memory.
  • Connie Willis: Crosstalk: A Novel
    An empathy app leads to complications involving telepathy, Irish women and a true love that runs most unsmoothly. Classic Willis comedy.
  • Mark Steyn: The Prisoner of Windsor
    In a 21st Century sequel to Anthony Hope, the heir to the Ruritanian throne must fill in for the kidnaped Prime Minister of Great Britain.
  • Tim Powers: My Brother's Keeper
    Werewolves, the Brontë sisters, their wayward brother, their heroic dog and a conspiracy to unleash an almost dead deity.
  • Tim Powers: Declare: A Novel
    An intricate Cold War fantasy that seems so plausible that one wonders whether it is the true story of why the Soviet Union rose and collapsed.
  • H.F.M. Prescott: The Man on a Donkey
    Set during the Pilgrimage of Grace, this is the rare historical novel that captures the mindset of the actors. The hero, Robert Aske, was martyred in a way that makes burning at the stake look merciful.
  • Theodore Odrach: Wave of Terror
    Based on the author's experiences when the Soviet Union occupied his homeland after the Stalin-Hitler Pact, this book melds Chekov and Solzhenitsyn. By stages, the isolated folk of the Pripyet Marshes learn that there are worse masters than their former Polish overlords.
  • Simon Montefiore: Sashenka: A Novel
    Both grim and funny, this historical novel peers into the inner world of an upper class Russian girl turned loyal Bolshevik, highlighting her youthful fling at revolution-making in Petrograd, her fall from grace under Stalin, and an historian's effort, after the end of communism, to ascertain her fate.
  • Harry Turtledove: The Man with the Iron Heart
    Can the U.S. maintain its resolve against a defeated enemy's terrorist campaign? Imagining a post-World War II Nazi insurgency, Harry Turtledove puts this question into a new context. As Reinhard von Heydrich's "werewolves" devastate Germany, war-weary Americans call for withdrawal, regardless of the consequences.
  • Neal Stephenson: Anathem
    If you have not a smidgen of interest in how Platonic philosophy relates to the "many worlds" version of quantum mechanics, you still may like this novel, though you'll probably wish that the characters talked less. Persevere. After a slow start, the story grows compelling, and the intellectual dialogues turn out not to be digressions.
  • Alfred Duggan: Lord Geoffrey's Fancy
    Perhaps the finest book of one of England's finest historical novelists. The setting is 13th Century Greece, where Crusaders fought each other and the shattered Byzantine Empire. The history is accurate, the writing graceful and the characters not merely modern people in fancy dress.
  • Rodney Bolt: History Play : The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe
    A pseudo-history springing from the premise that Shakespeare's flashy predecessor survived the famous Deptford brawl and fled to the continent, where he secretly wrote almost all of the Bard's works. A clever, tongue-in-cheek reworking of literary history that also recreates the milieu shared by many real Elizabethan exiles.
  • Charles W. Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, and Essays (Library of America, 131)
    Fiction and essays by a black American writer who deserves a wider audience.
  • Harry Turtledove: Gunpowder Empire
    Debut of a juvenile series set in parallel worlds. 22nd century teen siblings, trapped without adult aid in a besieged city, must cope with the bizarre (to them) customs and prejudices of a never-fallen Roman Empire.
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Monday, October 12, 2009


“On this most reviled of national holidays”

I cannot begin to imagine what straw man you are inveighing against here, but surely MLK Day remains a close second, with President’s Day (compacted from Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays) following at their heels.

“First, America in 1492 was, except for Australia, the most technologically backward of the continents.”

That statement depends on what you call “technology”. According to most modern historians, the Amerindians were generally taller, stronger and healthier with longer life expectancies than the short, dirty, smelly, underfed Europeans that confronted them at the end of the 15th Century. What the Europeans really had going for them was horses and pigs. The horses gave them tactical battle superiority and the pigs gave them disease carriers. The Amerindians had very few defenses for either and no counter offensives. The short, smelly European survivors of the Bubonic Plague visited their largess upon the New World with the inevitable results whose causes can only be denied by Creationists.

“The Amerinds had invented the wheel, and they used it for children’s toys.”

Meanwhile, the moldboard plow, invented in China in the 2nd Century, did not appear in Europe until the 17th Century as an import, after which European agriculture became phenomenally more efficient.

“Literacy, mathematics and astronomy were devoted to the glorification of rulers and gods;”

This sounds very much like Europe prior to the age of Columbus, and very much like an argument for some form of racial superiority proved by the fact that Europe “woke up” to “technology” before the Amerindians. Much of what Europe “discovered” was, like the plow that it subsequently appropriated, already in the hands of the Chinese or Muslims. What the Amerindians lacked was the relatively safe interaction with other cultures that the Europeans enjoyed.

“they laid no foundation for the natural sciences.”

Right. They ONLY developed maize which has replaced all other grains as the fundamental grain of the Western economy and essentially enslaved the world to its dominance. Greenhouse gases? Think beef forced to eat corn, for cows cannot be bred but only anesthetized and inoculated to digest it.

“Second, and probably more important, the wealthiest and most impressive New World civilizations suffered from political institutions that guaranteed failure in the face of any severe challenge.”

Well, if that isn’t a tautological argument then I don’t know what is one. “It happened therefore it had to happen.” It wasn’t the dictatorships that failed, it was the economies as whole populations fell to disease. You might see the hand of God here, I see Darwin.

“Columbus Day commemorates not a lone man but a series of men and events. They were not the actions of saints unblemished by greed, bigotry and brutality. Without them, nonetheless, the world, both Old and New, would be a more miserable place.”

And if, in some alternate universe, you were a descendant of the Amerindian conquerors of Europe, would you not say the same about “Atawallpa Day”? Despite the continuing poverty and illiteracy of the third world bequeathed upon that alternate Europe by your “ancestors”?


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Books by Tom Veal

Worth Reading (Non-Fiction)