The First Kingdom by Max Adams. History book covering what we know of the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from Britain and the independent kingdoms that emerged.
A really good read. Takes a critical look at the source Gildas who he points out was writing an actual sermon which almost certainly exaggerates the problems. Also points out that at first there weren't really signs of fortifications. DNA evidence from a settlement that seems to have gone from a Romanized to a Germanic culture shows that the DNA of the inhabitants didn't change, which suggests that they adopted a different culture rather than being invaded and replaced.
This all adds up to a picture of a rather more peaceful transition than we used to imagine. (Though invasions certainly followed in later centuries.) It's a bit speculative but you can imagine the Roman withdrawal as being a good thing: an extractive elite left and the locals were free to go back to farming, it wasn't possible to keep slaves doing mass production anymore.
Definitely an interesting book and worth a read.
What I'm Reading 2
How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It by K.J. Parker. Fantasy novel, sequel to "Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City" (with a different protagonist). A new leader takes control of a Rome-like city under siege from its former allies and has to try to defend it.
Stretches belief a bit, but has a great mix of sardonic humour, action and genuine historical details. I liked the reinvention of the linothorax. Apparently there is a third in the series on the way, will definitely be looking out for it.
What I'm Reading 3
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Children's book. An orphan adopted by an eccentric bachelor has to flee some kind of Victorian social services and go to Paris in search of her lost mother. I thought the eccentricity was a bit eye-rollingly forced but the kid liked it in the end.
What I'm Reading 4
A History of the Bible by John Barton. Excellent book doing exactly what it says. Starts with a brief history of the region, then goes though how the texts of the bible were created, selected and interpreted through the years.
There doesn't actually seem to have been much controversy over the selection of material for the bible. By the time it was made offical, a pretty solid consensus had emerged of which books counted. Alternative gospels like Thomas weren't taken very seriously.
It shouldn't be surprising, but much of the bible was interpreted metaphorically right from the start: Barton cites evidence if anyone doubted that.
One thing I didn't know was that Martin Luther excluded some texts from his bible which are generally included, like some of the letters of Paul, which most scholars seem to regard as inauthentic. Barton reports one theory by scholars wanting to include them, that St Paul took extra Greek lessons in mid-life and wrote these letters in old age, thus explaining why they have a more modern vocabulary and don't include his characteristic grammatical errors.
Another interesting point is that he discusses how the style of the original texts varies, with the Gospel of Mark apparently written by someone who didn't know Greek very well in simple language with many errors, and the Gospel of John written in an elaborate style. That's something that doesn't really come across in translation where everything is put into a consistent and correct style.
Overall, fascinating book, well worth a read if you have any interest in the subject.
What I'm Reading 5
Charmed Life by Dianna Wynne Jones. Classic children's book that was one of my favourites, with two orphaned children taken from their foster parent to live in a grand country house with the mysterious Chrestomanci. Was glad to see that the kid was as enthralled by it as I was, was spellbound at time and hysterical with laughter at others.
What I'm Reading 6
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Science fiction book with genetically engineered animal-human hybrids fighting in small wars for corporate overlords. Pretty decent with well thought out ideas.
What I'm Reading 7
Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Sequel to "Dogs of War" mostly set on a Mars that's being terraformed. I actually liked this better than the first volume, has more variety of ideas and some interesting characters.
What I'm Reading 8
V2 by Robert Harris. Decent historical thriller with his usual impeccable research, based on true events. A researcher joins an attempt to track down the launch sites of the V2 rockets using rapid maths, also tells the story of a German scientist working on them. Has an interesting depiction of an amoral Werner von Braun cynically playing both sides.
Off work for Christmas now. Bit depressed that with the Omicron wave running wild in London can't do much: can't visit family, can't go to a panto, can't use the time to go to museums and such with the kid.
Kid's been sick for a week with some kind of tummy upset. Seems to be getting better very gradually but I'm a bit shocked at how long it's dragged on. The doctor didn't seem worried by the duration though, he reckoned if it had been appendicitis it would have been finished much quicker. Hoping he gets better soon.
Seven books left in the posting backlog...
Your brain on lions.
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