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Books read, late February

Philip Ball, Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler. This was fairly short and contained entertaining/appalling anecdotes as well as a pretty comprehensive idea of which physicists went which ways under the Nazi regime and why. Ball walked a very fine line very, very well: he didn’t overstate Nazi sympathies based on continued residence in Germany (even talking about why it could be hard for Germans of any religious/ethnic background to find places elsewhere in the world), but at the same time he was not really up for overstated nonsense about who was in danger and why. Good stuff.

Ellen Datlow, ed., The Doll Collection. Discussed elsewhere.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman, A Red Heart of Memories. Structurally weird but doing fantasy things I don’t really see elsewhere. I find Hoffman’s prose very readable but somehow manage to forget to get more of her stuff for large swaths of time and then binge.

Beverley Jackson, Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition. Despite the title, this will not be an erotic book for the vast majority of readers. (Some people would find the manual to their crockpot erotic. Never say never; the world is full of differences.) It’s a pictorial history of Chinese women’s foot-binding and the shoes that covered the bound feet. Jackson manages not to exoticize the historical binding of Chinese women’s feet while exoticizing literally everything else about the existence of Chinese people, which was quite, um, the accomplishment. (See what I didn’t do there?) The photos speak for themselves and are fascinating and horrifying. And splendid: the needlework put into these shoes is astonishing.

Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America. What a strange book. It ends with 1920, and I get why: because Prohibition is such a huge topic. Still, in 1920 the Progressive Movement had not really fallen, and Prohibition is a huge relevant topic. Also it barely mentioned the Tafts and skated past the longer-term effects of Roosevelt and Wilson. I was glad to see some more obscure figures covered, but…this is not going to be enough if you’re looking for a history of the Progressive Movement. It has interesting tidbits but huge incomprehensible gaps.

Richard Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization. The ancient Mediterranean is not one of my main things, but this seemed like a reasonably well-done history of a civilization not much covered except as The Opponent, so it was a good gap to fill in.

Andrew C. Nahm, Introduction to Korean History and Culture. It fascinates me how the various people I’ve read trying to write a history of Korea focus so differently. It’s fun to watch. Anyway, this one–like pretty much everything else I’ve read–spends half its time on the twentieth century, which is frustrating for someone whose main interest is three to five centuries earlier. Still good stuff, though; if you’re going to start reading about Korean history, this is as good a place as any and much better than some.

Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Does what it says on the tin…if you assume that only white women worked in turn-of-the-century New York. Which: hahaha no. Or if you assume that non-white women had the same access and interest in leisure activities in that era, which, seriously, come on, can anybody say rise of jazz? But it was really solid on white ethnicity and religious variability, and there’s good detail here for those who want more texture in a heroine of this era (or even a hero). Just…the dimension that was missing was a bit glaring to me.

Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell. So…back in the day my college friends and I discovered Connie Willis books. And we tore through them and raved over them and loved them. And then I picked up the collaborations between her and Cynthia Felice. And fie! no! how horrible they were! And we gnashed our teeth and muttered dire imprecations about Cynthia Felice for ruuuuuining our Connie Willis books. But then! I graduated, and I went to a convention where Connie Willis was the GoH, and she was on panels talking about how the collaboration had worked. And it turned out that every single thing that I liked in those books was Cynthia Felice, and every single thing that I thought was horrible was Connie Willis. So! While I know Jennifer Graham somewhat, I don’t know what balance of ideas in this book was hers and what was Rob Thomas’s. (For those of you who are not Marshmallows, Thomas is the original creator of the series.) But! Given the amount of control a co-writer of tie-in novels has compared to the creator of the series, I strongly suspect that the scenes with Veronica and Logan buying and training a puppy were Jen Graham’s and the…direction…that the overall plot arc regarding long-time beloved characters took…was Rob Thomas. The first of these tie-in novels was good fun, like a middle-of-the-road episode maybe. This one…I only recommend it to Marshmallows who will want to know in detail where the continuity is going. But if you do read it, email me and we can…discuss. Possibly with many ellipses.

Richard von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune: Money and Monetary Policy in China, 1000-1700. Does what it says on the tin. If you don’t want to read about when they issued what coins and which counterfeiting techniques were prevalent, you will probably not be tempted anyway.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, The Last Changeling. Second in its series, very much a series book, but with new fun elements and clear and significant furtherance of the plot. And not in a way that made me want to punch anybody, either, so go people who are not Rob Thomas. Um. Wait. That was my outside voice. Anyway, this is Faerie fantasy with one of the main characters an apprentice midwife not just in name but in personality/practice, and I really enjoy that.

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