The Sciences

Summer books, what's readable?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJul 27, 2010 7:08 PM


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Danny reminded me that I still hadn't read Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. Since I know him a bit (at least internet "know") I've decided I can't put it off any longer, and I'll tackle it soon. I just finished two books, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, 1783-1939 and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire. I can recommend the first, but not the second. Since I will (or plan to) review Replenishing the Earth, I won't say more about it here. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens was written by the author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. The author is a bit on the pro-Mongol side (he always ends up making Genghis Khan a benevolent warlord!), and his writing style doesn't have the density which I prefer in these sorts of works, but Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World was a serviceable book. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens on the other hand is too sensational, and it seems rather obvious that the source material was much thinner than for Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (he admits as much repeatedly), so he had to include a lot of apocryphal material, with caveats, to fill it out. I much preferred The Cambridge History of Inner Asia: The Chinggisid Age, which I read earlier this summer. A naturally more turgid work without a central narrative (each chapter was written by a different academic), but lots of dense data. So what are you reading? What would you recommend? Over the years I've noticed I don't read much science in book form; I much prefer papers. But since I don't read physics or chemistry papers that means I haven't recharged my familiarity, at least on a superficial level, with these fields in years. So I plan to a hit a few popular physics books at some point summer. And I'm always up for economics, world history, international affairs, cognitive psychology, etc.* I suspect I'll avoid fiction until George R. R. Martin gets his next book out, but that might mean I'll avoid fiction for a long time. * In my short-term stack The Sea Kingdoms: The Story of Celtic Britain and Ireland, Lives of Confucius: Civilization's Greatest Sage Through the Ages, Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World's Prosperity Depends on It and The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. In my medium-term "must-read" queue, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like and Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century.

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