Sunday, December 07, 2008

Egypt is awesome



I suspect that some of you are similar, but ever since I was a kid, I was HUGE into Egyptology. I loved how completely foreign everything about ancient Egypt was, considering my being raised in a distinctly Western manner, surrounded by Judeo-Christian this and Greco-Roman that. Archaeology sounded awesome no matter where it would have led.

In the past few years I've been rediscovering awesomeness about any and all ancient culture, largely thanks to my best friend's endless joy when he talks about great Romans or later Western philosophers. I never tire of it. And hermitic commenter J-Aesthete, to whom I credit nearly all of my nearly two-year journey with Aestheticism, has had me occasionally reading some snippets about India.

Most recently I did some light reading about the scientific climate during the period of medieval Islam, with particular interest in the art of automata. Interestingly Japan also has a tradition of automata called karakuri, which were, like most of Japan's early culture, heavily inspired by Chinese imports.

I read a lot, and while I used to read mostly fiction I've recently become much more interested in the popular science side of things, on a large range of subjects. I have bought and read quite a few books of that nature since I've been here, most recently "This Is Your Brain On Music", which, while it was a fun enough read, I found too simple in many parts and too difficult in some others. I'm interested in this sort of thing because I think it's just so dang cool but that didn't translate into fantastic grades in science and math classes.

If anyone has any recommendations for good, interesting non-fiction on any subject like this (politics is also one I consume a lot of), I welcome any and all guidance in the right direction. I feel bad because I feel sheepish having not yet read what are probably the three most popular popular science books (Freakonomics, The World is Flat, Guns Germs & Steel), so if any of those are must-reads then let me know.

mmmmmmmmmm books


Scatter in Depth said...

I was really really into Egyptian stuff when I was younger. To the point that I ended up branching off when I was heavily involved in studying witchcraft towards Kemetic Reconstruction.

Mmmmmm...I swear I was just looking at this book at the library that my Biology teacher couldn't shut up about if she tried, but the name is escaping me right now. Maybe I can stumble on it again.

The last good book that was science(ish) that I read was probably this one. I think its far more theory than he would like you to believe, but its thought provoking none the less.

I'm finally started reading again. I don't know how I convinced myself that I was wasting my time. Its kind of strange in a way, I almost feel like my attention span has really shrunk. I'm like working my way back up or something. I live one intersection away from the biggest library in town now, so I'm skipping through the aisles 'bout twice a week now.

What is this Aestheticism thing? Google was little help.

Go said...

"Freakonomics" is illuminating and "Guns, Germs & Steel" is life-changing -- they'll totally alter/improve how you understand history (esp. colonialism), race/class politics, all kinds of cool stuff.

You know how when you play a game too much, you end up memorizing it? Well these books are like memorizing why things are the way they are, so when you're in grad school and someone mentioned oppresive western stuff and gives lots of wrong reasons why, you can know the real answers (hint: latitude, baby!)

After "Guns," Diamonds next book is "Collapse" which tells about how cultures die out / kill themselves (sorta like mini extinction events -- the most memorable one is about these Vikings who landed on some island and ended up cutting down all the trees over the course of several generations.)

I also dug "The Murderer Next Door" a lot.

Elec said...

Laura: I'm so glad you discovered your library! Even my local library has a surprisingly well-stocked English section. The Japanese section is nice too. :-P

Go: Ah, good! I was worried for some reason. I'll snag those things immediately.

There was a book I read a long time ago about a LDS guy who was like this crazy expert forger and he killed some people and it was AMAZING.

Also I've been really interested to read The Devil in the White City.

"Murderer" sounds fascinating.
If I can ever find a free moment in my life ever again I will be making a Kinokuniya trip! :D

liath said...

Hi Elec,
Speaking as an archaeologist myself I totally understand the interest that lots of people develop for this area.It can easily become an obsession. I was fascinated by Egypt as a kid, and this continued and eventually led me to study Egyptology and the archaeology of the Middle East as courses during my degree... however now-a-days my research is in British prehistory instead...*sigh*...we don't get so many shiny things over here and excavation is usually wading through muddy trenches rather than the sandy ones (it's a lot less glamorous let me tell ya!)But it has it's compensations.
Anyhow...books...yep, some excellent Egyptology volumes out there. One of my favourite accessible ones is "The Lost Tomb" (the excavation of KV5 Egyptian Burial site of Sons of Ramesses II) by Dr Kent R Weeks.It documents one of the most exciting discoveries of recent times. Brilliant book. (give me a shout if you want to know of others too - I'm totally happy to recommend.)

On another note...
I hope you pass the JLPT 1 ! I'm sure you will ;)


Lisa said...

Freakonomics was really excellent. Readable, and had very convincing sections on why drug dealers live with their mothers and statistical evidence that sumo wrestlers throw matches.

As a history grad student, I have heard mixed reviews on Guns, Germs and Steel. I liked the book when I read it and I think Diamond makes some good points that Western colonialism / hegemony is a product of chance more than anything. However, supposedly historians are challenging a lot of sub-arguments.

Here's some other books I've read this year that I (and a fair percentage of my fellow grad students) liked. Keep in mind that my tolerance for crappy writing and academic BS has grown since starting history g.s. ^^;

The History of Sexuality, Michele Foucault. Not really about sexuality as much as how power functions in society. Brilliant, but at times hard to understand.

Gender Trouble, Judith Butler. Hard reading, but I wish I was as smart as Butler. This is I guess one of the most influential books on feminist/gender theory and it's probably the most brilliant thing I've read this semester. Also heavy going.

If you are interested in colonialism, Mary Louise Pratt's Imperial Eyes is one of the first books to talk about native responses to colonialism. Very well written, as I recall. Eve Powell's Another Shade of Colonialism is about how Great Britain was trying to colonize Egypt at the same time Egypt was trying to colonize Sudan. It's densely written if you are like me and don't know so much about Egypt in the 1800s but it's still worth reading because the ideas are so good.

You should probably take this with a grain of salt, because my Mom can't stand any of the books I've tried to get her to read. Too academic, she says. Although if you do like these I can probably recommend more - I think I read around 2 books a week on average for school. Also I'm starting an independent reading on Japanese history; I can let you know how those are too if you'd like

Lisa said...

ETA, I've heard nothing but good reviews of The Devil in the White City. Mom liked it, as did a lot of people in my department. I should probably read it too.

There's a lot of other stuff on the World Fairs right now, if you like it and want some academic books on it.

Faith said...

Feynman's ramblings/books are all pretty awesome. The big one is "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman", which is a bunch of stories he's picked up after a few decades of traveling around being a brainy physics dude.

Also Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is fiction but contains both science AND old stuff, going through the beginnings of natural philosophy in the 17th century, with guys like Newton, Hooke, Leibniz, etc. - a lot of smart people going around doing a lot of smart things. Plus there's India, Japan and pretty much everything else (which you can do, when you've got 3000 pages).

La Carmina said...

I once asked for book recommendations and got nearly a hundred replies o__O Thought some of the picks might interest you! You can see them at:

Elec said...


Lisa: yes, yes, yes, and yes. Thanks for those! As for Japanese history/lit/etc, all things Japanese was my focus in college so I probably own all of the ones you might recommend. :-P

Faith: Sounds good!

Carmina: DANG I will slowly make my way through those, haha.