What I Read August: Nonfiction
I read/finished the most books per month this month: 15. Four of these are nonfiction. We’ll start with the heavy
1. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry by Philip D. Morgan. I will be brief. I’m not going into the topic, not the scope here, just the scholarship. Exactly the type of meticulous research and analysis that I think all historians should use. Reminded me of my favorite Albion’s Seed in the scholarly rigor. I do think he could have cut out some redundancy in the end and much detail in the beginning (I don’t need to understand every single step of the cultivation process of every plant to understand his point about the grueling brutality). So for my self-imposed U.S. history course, I have 2 out of 3 books in less than two years (maybe when I’m 40 I will have completed it), still, with all the books out there that are a great percentage.
2. Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky by Paul Johnson. Yes, this was rather disappointing. I didn’t think the author wrote well. His points, clarity, structure, and continuity are unclear and convoluted. I do appreciate learning about some of these people, but I don’t understand his decision-making process for including others. I have to say I thought he made mostly poor choices. I wouldn’t call all his choice intellectuals and of those who might be not all were/are all that influential.
Now “ad hominem” came to mind, and many other reviewers claimed that the author made this fallacy, but I think that is misplaced and misconstrued here. I don’t think he is analyzing these people’s arguments; however, like I said before, clarity is not his strong point (if he has a strong point?). I don’t choose arguments based on people, but I do think you should reject immoral people even if their arguments aren’t sound; the ends do not justify the means. Logical argument is not the only consideration, there are also morality and persuasion. However, immoral and fallible are often confused.
I would definitely state that most of these people are terribly immoral and massively hypocritical. Some reviewers said he only focused on the bad. Quite frankly, unless he lied, no good could cover all the bad that he described in these people. I think it is good to know the failings of influential people, particularly if they practiced a lack of ethics and lied in their contributions to society. However, I don’t think we need to know all the biographies of unimportant people (which adjective I think describes most of these in terms of intellectual influence). And we certainly don’t need to know a gross level of scandal.
That I think is the worst part of this book. His disgusting, obsessive, voyeuristic descriptions of sexual issues. I felt that he had some sort of complex. I mean he gave waaay more detail to this, graphic in my opinion, than any other issues he described. Immorality and abuse can and should be stated, but I don’t need to know such vile detail that he too clearly enjoyed giving. Some of the things he shared didn’t even relate to the major figures he featured. Even if the book had been well-written, I’m not sure that that would justify reading this. I wish I had put it down. Actually, I should have put several books down this month.*
3. Belles on Their Toes by Ernestine Gilbreth and Frank Gilbreth, Jr. Sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen. I found this even funnier than the first although I will note that some may be uncomfortable with the at times slightly suggestive humor.
4. Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light by Amy Thomas This is indescribably silly, trivial, and poorly written. I didn’t really learn much about Paris or Parisian culture. The author focused on
#1 Flinging a slew of French food terms that meant nothing to me without pronunciation aids (which is frustrating); I couldn’t appreciate learning about new food because I couldn’t understand what the food was.
#2 Switching back between New York and Paris restaurants. Um, what about the rest of the city of Paris. And the book isn’t about New York.
#3 Herself and her embarrassing, insecure, awkward, immature #firstworldproblems.
I had no connotations, no knowledge to draw from to understand any of the French terms she threw at me. I felt like she was being intentionally snooty and ostentatious without being in the least educational. I wish I had put this down, a waste of time; I learned so much more from my skimming of Lessons from Madame Chic, and I’m sure there are tons of better books on Paris and Parisian food. This book is one of the most poorly written I’ve ever read; it is clearly all about the author having a publishing deal for herself.
Not a great nonfiction month, especially considering the fact that I had at least one guaranteed excellent nonfiction book on my shelf that I could have been reading instead of the absurd/awful ones.
*Oh, and he also quoted foul language. Again, just stated that the person cursed or something. I hate when people write for shock value. That distracts from the rest of the writing, which oftentimes in such cases is weak.