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dispatches from my sofa

I wonder, “how do historians do their work?” So I google “how historians work”. First result is a book titled How Historians Work. Spiffy!

It’s a collection of interviews with historians, and it’s looking less spiffy by page 8. Many of the interviewees are connected to a certain Grady McWhiney, who apparently was an inspiration for the book. Regarding one of his works, the short biography says, “[a]lthough criticized by historians, many Southerners took the book to heart…” I tend to parse this as “although bogus, people wanted to hear it.”

But the interviews were mostly satisfying. My favorites were Richard Allan Baker from the Senate Historical Office, Elizabeth Shown Mills for interesting discussion of genealogy, and Eugene Genovese because in his photo he’s smoking a cigarette which recalled subliminally-implanted associations of coolness. The interviewees frequently discuss research, note-taking techniques, and time allocation, so my curiosity about day-to-day life was addressed.

The most important takeaway from the interviews is probably that, per Forrest McDonald’s practice, historical narrative is best constructed while sitting naked on the front porch of your farmhouse.

I’ve been playing Rayman Origins and this is stuck in my head now:

The audiobook of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is completely engrossing. It was disappointing to find that only the first book of the series had multiple voice actors - Fall of Hyperion was inevitably a little less immersive. Some of the ideas seemed to be heading in a pretty cheesy direction, too (the strong nuclear force is love? srsly?) but maybe those are just meant to be particular characters’ perspectives; wouldn’t be fair to judge before the end. Which I don’t feel motivated to reach right now.

Journey through Genius tantalized me with this quote: “Schnirelmann proved in 1931 that any even number can be written as the sum of not more than 300,000 primes.” Disappointingly, from a search online, I couldn’t tell if that was actually accurate; Wikipedia suggests Schnirelmann proved it was at most 20 and that the number has been narrowed to at most 6 since then, but it’s not easy for me to check its source, either.

Anyway, the book did a good job of getting me interested in some math topics. At some point, now, I want to learn more about set theory.

I probably shouldn’t complain that A History of Philosophy: Volume III was a little hard to follow, given that I didn’t read volumes one or two, or even the recap of them included in the book. But really I’m just not very good yet at taking a broad discussion of a large number of people and picking what to remember. (IV seems easier so far; it appears to be more focused on a small number of individuals, and had a very helpful introduction.)

I’ve been somewhat randomly selecting supposed classics that I haven’t read before (which is most of them). I vaguely knew how Of Mice and Men ended; I’m glad I read the book to see that there’s much more to it than the impression I’d absorbed beforehand. The Old Man and the Sea has not turned me into a rabid fan of Hemingway, but was worthwhile, I think. Metamorphosis (chosen with the goal of learning why “Kafkaesque” is a word) did not fail to fascinate.

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