walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Read This, Not That: Higham, Campbell and James

There's a book out, called something like _Eat This, Not That_. I don't recommend it. But it is a catchy title.

I've been trying to read (and mostly avoiding reading) John Higham's _Strangers in the Land_ for days now. Probably over a week. It's long, academic, and from a half century or more ago. It's a history of an idea, and I'm always skeptical of those. I'm a lot more interested in what people do than trying to figure out why they do it. I can't understand why people do stuff now -- but I'm really quite good at figuring out what they did. I tend to figure if that's the way my world is, I'm probably not going to experience anything different in the past. Looking over decades of reviews of _Strangers in the Land_ and Higham's own reservations about its thesis, I feel relatively confident in dis-recommending it. You need to know an unbelievable amount to make any sense out of it at all. And honestly, it's just not that compelling as an explanation. It _was_ compelling. It isn't now. That says a lot.

I realized that I had bought five books in the time I was failing to read Higham, and decided to just go read them instead. Jack Campbell's latest, _The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught_ was a ton of fun. He had a series (_The Lost Fleet_) which seemed to end when the fleet ceased to be lost. However, the story of "Black Jack" Geary wasn't something to be given up lightly, so after Geary and Desjani get married and visit her parents on Kosatka for a few weeks, they're back with the fleet and sent out on a suicide mission to explore the space controlled by the "enigma" people. Geary being Geary, he's such an idiot he doesn't realize he's been sent out there to die or at least disappear, despite an ungodly amount of evidence. Also, such an idiot he sort of neglects to die. And, in the process of exploring enigma/alien territory, stumbles across another batch of aliens far more aggressive. Nice little cliffhanger there.

I really love these people, probably because Campbell does such a great job depicting the ancestor worship thing.

Is it fair to say you should read book n in a series of trashy military sf instead of the history of nativism? Probably not. I'm now 7% into _Popular Crime_ by Bill James and I love, love, love this book. I'm sure at some point he'll piss me off, but I'm betting I'll recover. What's not to love about a guy who says he's read a thousand books about crime (and I'm prepared to believe that as a literal truth)? And who suggests that by refusing to take this subject "seriously" or at least intellectually, we've walled ourselves off from a lot of opportunities to understand present day realities. Plus, he does a better job of skewering 19th century Boston/New England than I have ever seen done and there's no venom involved at all.

Best of all, this is a man who does not make careless generalizations.

A real review of _Popular Crime_ will hopefully occur in the next few days. I don't expect I will ever produce a real review of Higham (altho you never know).
Tags: book review, not-a-book-review
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