Saturday, January 09, 2010

Neener, neener, neener...or, another archaeological paradigm bites the dust...

I have to say that this news made me do a little happy dance, sitting here in my office chair.

Sphere is reporting that the British archaeological journal Antiquity has published a paper outlining evidence showing that a large-scale, monument-building pre-Columbian civilization did indeed exist in the Amazon basin, possibly dating back to around AD 800. This directly contradicts the prevailing paradigm that the Amazon basin was never capable of supporting more than small bands of people and certainly not a settlement that housed upwards of 60,000 people, which is what the authors of the Antiquity paper claim, adding that they have so far uncovered only around 10 percent of the existing remains of the city.

The find vindicates the beliefs of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who vanished in the area of the find in 1925, along with one of his sons and another gentleman while searching for the remains of the "lost city" he thought he had evidence for.

Last year, I read The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann, which tells about Fawcett's obsession, the obsession of later explorers to find out what happened to the disappeared Englishman and his party, and the search by a few archaeologists to overturn the reigning paradigm and find evidence that the Amazon was, indeed, the home of a large-scale vanished civilization. The news of this new find only makes me more enthusiastic about my recommendation of this very good book, as well as of a book I reviewed in this blog back in 2007, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann, which also spent some time looking at the existing paradigm and newer ideas of who might have lived in the Amazon basin in the past and how large their settlements might have been.

If I haven't said it before, or haven't said it emphatically enough, go find Brann's book, and Mann's, and read them.

Unfortunately, part of this story is not good. The road to this new discovery was opened only because of extensive clear-cutting of the Amazon forest. Nothing is perfect, I suppose, but I really wish that these new remains could have been found without so much destruction having been done to the enviroment of the Amazon basin.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A year of reading...

I thought I'd post the list of books I read in 2009.

I'm not especially happy with it. I had hoped to read 52 books during the year, one a week. As you will see, I didn't even make quite half that.

It isn't that I didn't read a lot last year, but more that most of what I read was not in the form of books. I read a lot for work; none of that made it onto the list. I also read quite a bit of other stuff on the, articles, even some fan fiction (some of it horrendous, but some of it very good). Again, there is no place on the list for any of those.

But...I did manage to read 24 books. Sitting in the restaurant tonight, reading after I finished eating, I got into a conversation with one of the waitstaff. She seemed to think that 24 books in a year is a lot. But one year, quite a few years ago, I read 100 books in a year. I know people who regularly read even more than that.

The list:

Finished, January:
1 *Censoring Science, by Mark Bowen
2 Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay
3 *The Longest Cave, by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson (re-read)
4 Dearly Devoted Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (warning: the "ick factor" very high in this book)
5 Wives and Sisters, by Natalie R. Collins
6 The Twilight Streets, by Gary Russell
7 Torchwood: SkyPoint, by Phil Ford
8 Slow Decay, by Andy Lane
9 Something in the Water, by Trevor Baxendale
10 The Aztec Heresy, by Paul Christopher
11 Rainbow Drive, by Roderick Thorp
12 Trace Memory, by David Llewellyn
13 The Last Colony, by John Scalzi
14 Joplin’s Ghost, by Tananarive Due
15 *From Housewife to Heretic, by Sonia Johnson (re-read)
16 *History as Mystery, by Michael Parenti
17 *West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State, by Mark Arax
18 Devil Bones, by Kathy Reichs
19 Amazon Ink, by Lori Devoti
20 CSI: Sin City, by Max Allan Collins
21 *Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit, by Matt McCarthy
22 *A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, by Michael Barkun
23 *The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann
24 The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly

The starred titles are non-fiction. I'm a little disappointed that there are only eight of those out of the 24 books I read, just a third of the total. Especially since, of the others, nine books have some relation to television shows, another third plus one. Not that those were all bad, trashy novels; some of them were quite good.

One out of those nine books related to series television, I should note, is only related to it's show ("Bones") because the lead character of both have the same name and the show is "based on" the series of mysteries. In another case, the "Dexter" books, one is the basis of the show's first season, which stuck very close to the novel, while the other is the basis of the second season, but the two diverge greatly. Another five are related to the British science-fiction series "Torchwood". Those are actually my favorites in this category, despite a slight variation in quality, simply because I like the show so much.

The books I read this year that I would recommend most highly are, among the non-fiction, West of the West, by Mark Arax and The Lost City of Z by David Grann. Both were fascinating, spectacular books.

And, of course, The Longest Cave, by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson, simply because it is my favorite book in the world. I've read it more times than I can count; it's my go-to book when I'm not happy with the world and want to be cheered up. That the book is about cave exploration may well say something about me, but I'm not sure what that might be.

Among the fiction, I would most recommend The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly. Then again, I would recommend anything of his that I've read. Also, Joplin's Ghost, by Tannarive Due, is a remarkable book that blends two different cultural movements from two different generations which might not really be all that different at all. Rainbow Drive, by Roderick Thorp, is also a good mystery, enhanced by the fact that it was written before the advent of a cell phone in every pocket, providing a pocket lesson in how much that one technological advance has changed our culture.

Other than that, I'm not going to tell you too much about any of these books. I've written about a few of them here before, but aside from that I want you to go out and seek them out for yourselves, and I don't want you to think you know enough abaout them that you'll say that you might not be interested in them. I want them to be surprises to you.

I think some of them will be good surprises.

My goal for this year, by the way, is to read 40 books. I really, secretly, hope I can reach the book a week goal I set last year, but I thought it might be a good idea to scale back expectations just a bit.