June 28th, 2010

sentences that worry me

I finished Okrent, and it's the first book in a very long time that I was sad to finish. I could have read that book for weeks and been happy. Amazing stuff. A review will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I'm already worried about _Dirt: the Erosion of Civilizations_, by Montgomery. Never mind the Wendell Berry epigraph. How about this sentence:

"Yet why would so many unrelated civilizations like the Greeks, Romans, and Mayans all last about a thousand years?"

That is about the worst "when did you stop beating your wife" question I've seen in a nominally academic book in a while (University of California Press). (1) Asserting that the Greek and Roman civilizations are "unrelated" is wacky. (2) Asserting that any of the three civilizations lasted "about a thousand years" is controversial (and multiplying that error by three does not help). And _even if_ those two problems (which are serious) didn't exist, I could think of dozens of alternative explanations (and so have plenty of better historians before me). No one should be allowed to do that to a poor English sentence. There's only so much one grammatical construct can take. Never mind the reader.

I already know the other soil/food/civilization book I have lying around waiting for me (_Empires of Food_) has deep, dark problems (altho I am _so_ looking forward to disemboweling it). Maybe it's the entire topic area? Soil erosion/conservation is a really important issue. It deserves better than this.