Spring Clean #18

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This is the next group of books to go to the library. The end is in sight. The current shelf is nearly clear. The single remaining shelf is only half full. I will miss these books, but I like the idea of other people enjoying them—and having shelves to put stray books on.

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The Stuff: This is a compendium of spoiler-free plot summaries and trivia about Agatha Christie’s many books, their adaptation for plays and movies, biographical info on Christie, and other bits and pieces of information for the Christie fan. The book summaries are short and arranged chronologically. A few essays offer topical discussions: poison, the “cruder” methods (i.e., knives and such), plus original fiction such as a piece written in the persona of Hercule Poirot about how to survive a getaway at an English country house (“I Wouldn’t Go in There If I Were You”). The reader is offered crossword puzzles only a true Christie aficionado could solve without recourse to the answers. Pictures of book covers, movie posters or stills, or other items decorate nearly every page.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Because the chapters are so short, the reader can put the book down at any time and return to it. This is a great browse book

Bio: Richard Anthony Riley (b. 1946) has worked as a journalist, playwright, and freelance writer. He served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America. In addition to the current book, he had edited with Pam McAllister, The Bedside, Bathtub, & Armchair Companion to Sherlock Holmes and The Bedside, Bathtub, & Armchair Companion Shakespeare.

Pam McAllister is a blogger and activist Christian feminist. In addition to the books mentioned above, on which she collaborated with Dick Riley, she’s written and/or edited The Bedside, Bathtub, & Armchair Companion to Mark Twain and Death Defying: Dismantling the Execution Machinery in 21st Century U.S.A. On her website, she says, “My writing and music grow out of my identity as an ACTIVIST, a feminist and pacifist-with-attitude, a woman of faith bent on finding the sacred in the ordinary.”

Title: The New Bedside, Bathtub, & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie
Editors: Dick Riley (b. 1946) and Pam McAllister
First published: 1989

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The Stuff: This is a primer on the history of Babylon, starting with prehistory and ending with the Neo-Babylonian Empire, roughly 500 BCE. It deals with political history, some aspects of everyday life, language, a brief lesson in pronunciation, and some stories. That’s a lot of info to get into 174 pages. Frequent black-and-white photos and drawings, maps, and a section of color plates or excavated artifacts illustrate the pages.

Because this is an overview, the reading can be dry at times. Nevertheless, there is a lot of interesting information, especially when Saggs quotes poetry or laws. As part of his personal interest in the Bible, he has a list of biblical references in the back.

The book was published as part of a Peoples of the Past series.

Bio: Henry William Frederick Saggs (1920-2005) was a British classicist and orientalist. Saggs was a professor of Semitic languages at University College, Cardiff, from 1966 until 1983. His work as an epigraphist with the archaeologist Max Mallowan excavating the Assyrian capital Nimrud in present-day Iraq led to the discovery of royal archives, including the original correspondence of the Assyrian kings. In addition to his scholarly publications, he wrote books for a larger audience, including The Greatness that was Babylon (1962) and Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria (1965). He continued publishing after retiring with books such as The Might that was Assyria (1984) and a revised edition of The Greatness that was Babylon (1988).

Author: H. W. F. Saggs (1920-2005)
First published: 1995

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The Stuff: This focuses on Mediterranean civilizations: ancient Egypt, Mesopotamian civilizations, Israel, Crete, Syria, Anatolia, Persia, and the Indus Valley. While the author offers a chronological chart, the book is arranged by topic: “Writing,” “Education,” “Trade,” “Law,” etc. He often offers brief quotes from texts. The final chapters survey mathematics and astronomy, medicine, and religion. Such a quick overview is just a taste. It is an interesting read. An aside is the author’s interest in the Bible. He has a list of biblical references in the back.

Bio: see The Babylonians

Title: Civilization Before Greece and Rome
Author: H. W. F. Saggs (1920-2005)
First published: 1989

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The stuff: This is a collection of twenty fictional detective stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. Most of the stories were published between 1928 and 1939. Three latecomers were published posthumously in 1972. The collection also includes an essay on Sayers’ religious views and a parody of one of the most famous novels, Gaudy Nights (1935), “Greedy Nights.” As might be expected, some of the stories are better than others. It is long. One nice thing is that Lord Peter ages. He marries and has a child.

Bio: Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) was a British detective fiction writer and poet. She is best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey books and short stories, but she considered her best work to be a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. She studied classical and modern languages. She was a friend of such luminaries as C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and J. R. R. Tolkien. She worked writing copy for an advertising firm

Title: Lord Peter (1972)
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)
First published: 1972

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The Stuff: The two authors spend time in East Africa, where their fieldwork included flintknapping and using tools they made for tasks such as butchering an elephant that died of natural causes. They compare cutting the thick elephant skin to cutting a tire with a razor blade. They say that using tools is essential for making humans, but this alone does not distinguish us from other animals. They advance the idea that tool usage played a vital role in human evolution.

Many chapters begin with a scene of prehistory as it might have been. The authors also describe their own fieldwork and excavation sites in Africa. This is interesting. I enjoyed this book.

Bio: Kathy D. Schick (b. 1949) is an American archaeologist and paleoanthropologist. She is a professor emeritus in the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University, Bloomington, and is a founder and co-director of the Stone Age Institute. In addition to extensive professional publications, Schick has written Strong Age Sites in the Making for broader audiences. She and co-author Nicholas Toth are married.

Nicholas Toth (b. 1952) is an American archaeologist and paleoanthropologist. He is a Professor in the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University and founder and co-director of the Stone Age Institute. Toth’s archaeological and experimental research has focused on the stone tool technology of Early Stone Age hominins who produced Oldowan and Acheulean artifacts discovered across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. He and co-author Kathy D. Schick are married.

Title: Making Silent Stone Speak: Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology
Author: Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth
First published: 1993

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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