Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Illustrated book by the author of "Hyperbole and a Half". This book is a lot darker than the last one, covering some terrible events in her life. Divorce, serious illness, the death of her sister. Has some amusing stories and some touching stories. Not as light as I was expecting but glad I read it.
What I'm Reading 2
Blue Moon by Lee Child. Jack Reacher arrives in a town dominated by two rival gangs, one controlling each side, and takes on both. Decent entry in the series, not exceptional.
What I'm Reading 3
The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic War Dr Kathryn Lomas. Good history book in the same "Profile History of the Ancient" series as "Imperial Tragedy". Title is a bit misleading as it ends just before the Punic Wars. It covers the Roman Republic from what's known of its earliest days to gaining control of the whole Italian peninsula.
Bit disappointed that it didn't cover those too. There's lots of material about Rome covering the Roman Revolution which changed it from a Republic to an Empire; Julius Caesar's campaigns against the Gauls; and the collapse of the Western empire. But the important question of how Rome rose to dominate the Mediterranean region often doesn't get much attention. People have a vague picture from Caesar of sophisticated Roman legions defeating disorganised barbarians, but that doesn't explain the rise of the Republic. The Mediterranean was full of city-states that had been using sophisticated and ever-evolving tactics for centuries, up to the Macedonian sarissa phalanxes with professional soldiers who could perform sophisticated manoeuvres combining cavalry, heavy infantry, light infantry and archers. The Roman managed to generally defeat them using part-time soldier/farmers. The Romans didn't have sophisticated arms either: their swords were standard, they gave up the spear entirely partway through the Republican period, and their pilum (javelin) wasn't new technology. Roman enemies like Mithridates sometimes tried to create "imitation legions" copying their structure and tactics, but weren't successful. In Renaissance times people enthused with Roman writings tried to create "Sword and Buckler men" using Roman tactics, but didn't find a way to overcome the fundamental problem that a formation of spearmen can stab a formation of swordsmen before the sword are in reach. Basically I think there's information we're just missing about how Roman tactics actually worked.
This book doesn't cover military tactics much. It does point out the less interesting reason that the Romans were successful: massive amounts of manpower. Firstly they eagerly recruited allies to work with them. After defeating the Latins early on they signed a treaty committing them to fighting in each others interest, and sharing the loot from wars 50-50. That seems to have been something they kept up. Secondly they maintained a large body of citizens who were liable for military service. Unusually, freed slaves became citizens, allies who settled were allowed to be citizens. They founded colonies whose members were Roman cities. Unlike, say, Sparta where the numbers of citizen/soldiers diminished, the Romans had a huge depth of manpower from both citizens and allies. They were able to use this in fighting long wars of attrition.
The book is a pretty thorough look at the history, and points out the limits of our knowledge rather than make conjectures. Lomas is good at pointing out how later Romans projected their own political structure and disagreements into the past where they don't necessarily belong. That's good but we don't have nearly as much firm knowledge of things like the Struggle of the Orders as we'd like.
Where the book is good is the context of Iron Age Italy, where the archaeology gives us a pretty good idea of the mixture of Hellenic and local cultures. They seem to have mixed a great deal, not just with cultural contact but also within the same cities. Elites seem to have been pretty mobile, moving from city to city easily.
Overall a good book if you have a strong amateur interest in Ancient Rome, but might be a bit too focused on the less famous stuff for others.
What I'm Watching
Borat 2. Decent sequel, I think I preferred it to the original. Though it's more of a challenge now that Sacha Baron Cohen is so recognisable, it felt like the movie had a bit more heart with the characters actually developing.
What I'm Watching
The Mandalorian. Watched both series and liked them, though there are all few uneven episodes. Felt good to see some different parts of the Star Wars universe, the Space Western vibe is a change, and the characters are likable. The end of the second series brings in more familiar characters which I think will be a mistake: I think we've seen enough of them and it would be good if the occasional Star Wars baddie could stay dead for once.
What I'm Watching
Spider-Man: Far From Home. Adequate sequel but the high school drama with some decidedly elderly high schoolers is very formulaic.
Been under various tiers of lockdown for a while. Wife was away for a few weeks over Christmas so was just me and the kid on Christmas Day. Was pretty nice and relaxed in general, kid seemed to take it in stride. He got a full load of presents and a full Christmas dinner which are the main things. Pulling crackers was a bit boring though.
Wife is back now. School is doing home learning again, this time with a full timetable instead of the half day. Bit of a struggle to do that and a full time job, especially as their marking schedule doesn't allow us to do the work at weekends like before.
At work have moved to a new technology stack (React/Redux at the top), we're about the last team to move over so I'm feeling very behind. Managed to do some online courses over the holidays but not as much time as I would have liked, feels like a problem to get anything done.
Articles. SF writers on world-building.
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