The spring cleaning continues. I say goodbye to five more books. They’ll be donated to the local library on Tuesday. As before, there is no theme with these books. They were arranged alphabetically and they’re going to the library alphabetically.
Title: Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology
First published: 1951, rev. 1967
This is an early survey of the archeology of the ancient world, focusing on the ancient Aegean, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Americas. The author focuses on writings from the early explorers and excavators. There is one section of black and white plates with some iconic pics.
The info is dated, but it’s written with a scene of adventure and admiration that makes the reading fun.
Bio: C. W. Ceram (1915-1972), pseudonym of Kurt W. Marek, a German writer and journalist specializing in ancient cultures, particularly ancient Egypt. According to Wikipedia, Marek wrote Nazi propaganda, but the entry offers no citation for this claim. His New York Times obituary claims he was drafted, fought in Norway and Italy, and taken prisoner by US forces in Italy. He lived for a while in the United States.
Title: Why Things Are the Way They Are (1998)
First published: 1998
This is a discussion of material physics intended for the general reader. The topics include crystals, particles and waves, the atom, etc. Chandrasekhar uses mathematics, but they’re not overtaxing. I can say this with confidence because I read the book, and my head did not explode. At the same time, I would not exactly call it a breeze. It does take a bit of effort. I found the reading rewarding and interesting.
Bio: B. S. Chandrasekhar (b. 1928) is a physicist and another author I had trouble finding much bio info on. The blurb on the back of the book says he was educated in Nanjangud, Bangalore, Delhi, and Oxford. He conducts research and teaches in universities in the US, England, India, Switzerland, and Germany. Though given what his age must be now as opposed to when the blurb was written, I imagine he’s slowed down a bit.
Title: They Wrote on Clay
First published: 1938, rev.1966
Although dated and imbued with orientalism (“Dissonant to Western ears is the music of this modern oriental orchestra”), this book nevertheless describes what it was like to uncover for the first time in millennia the clay cuneiform tablets of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations and read familiar stories. Black and white photographs dot the pages.
Bio: Edward Chiera (1885-1933) was an Italian-American Assyriologist, linguist, archaeologist. He is primarily remembered for the recovery of cuneiform tablets during a series of digs at Khorsabad during the 1920s. According to his obituary in the Chicago University Press, he passed away at the age of 48 after a prolonged illness.
Title: Breaking the Maya Code
First published: 1992
This examines both the history of decipherment with respect to cuneiform, hieroglyphic, and Linear B, and the specific story of Mayan glyphs and the author’s work in the field. While the book is not a technical manual, it breaks down in detail how glyphs work and includes some Mayan language, grammar with showing translations. The author discusses some work of colleagues and students, not all of whom he agrees with. Nevertheless, he presents disagreements respectfully. This is not an easy or light book to get through, but I enjoyed it and remain grateful to the author.
Bio: Michael D. Coe (1929-2019) was Charles J. MacCurdy Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. He was an American archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher, and author, primarily known for his research in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies, particularly for his work on the Maya civilization, where he is regarded as one of the foremost Mayanist scholars of the latter 20th century. During the Korean War, Coe worked for the CIA as a part of the front organization Western Enterprises in Taiwan created to subvert Mao’s China. He wrote many scientific papers across a broad range of archaeological, anthropological, and ethnohistorical topics. He also popular works for the non-specialist audience, such as The Maya (1966) and Breaking the Maya Code (1992). He also co-authored the book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs (1962, sixth edition, 2008) with Rex Koontz.
Title: The Mind of the Bible-Believer
First published: 1988
One of the reasons I’m posting this on Friday and not Thursday is that I started rereading so much of this book. The author’s thesis is that the Bible is a mind-control tool that evangelical Christianity uses it for political advantage. The author and many others (like Senator McClosky) were instrumental in the collapse of televangelist Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential bid, not by any dirty underhand smear campaign but by repeating Robertson’s own words.
The author became a born-again Christian as an adult and remained a practicing Christian for three years. He even enrolled in a (Protestant) seminary, where, as he describes it, he had a sudden and complete loss of faith. He woke up, said morning prayers when a thought he describes as “extraneous” occurred to him, “The door to paradise stands open, and now I’m going to close it.” He associated this with a work by Kafka. “In that moment,” he writes, “the entire Christian indoctrination collapsed like a house of cards.”
In conclusion on Robertson, he writes:
…I expect Robertson to fade from view. … When someone does come along who can overcome the fragmentation and disagreement on issues that now substantially neutralize the Religious Right as a force in national politics—and it will take a few years for that to occur—he will not particularly resemble Robertson or any other current Religious Right leader.
This was written around 1988. Pretty damn scary.
One is not likely to call this a joy to read. It is densely written, with footnotes that take up half a page at times. The author often quotes source material at length. Yet, for those willing to forge ahead, there are poignant moments and insights.
Bio: Edmund D. Cohen Unfortunately, I can find little bio info on this author. According to the book blurb, he has a Ph.D. in psychology. Later, he earned a J.D. from National Law Center at George Washington University.