Xmas Loot 2013.

Once again we had the family over, and once again I’m pretty beat, so without further ado, the presents of LH interest (there was also some nice scotch):

Melville: His World and Work, by Andrew Delbanco
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard
A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period, by William M. Schniedewind
The Russian Origins of the First World War, by Sean McMeekin
We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity, by Anindita Banerjee
And for you movie fans:
Early Fassbinder (Criterion Collection)

I’m looking forward to all of them; my hearty thanks to the generous givers.  And to all my readers, in the words of Trond Engen at AJP’s place: God jul til folk og fe [Merry Christmas to people and animals]!


  1. Not to compete or anything, but I got The Affirmative Action Empire and I am reading it with enthusiasm.

  2. Heh. I see that the author of A Social History of Hebrew is William M. Schniedewind. Recently the contributor TR complained that the name of one of the characters in Doktor Faustus, Nepomuk Schneidewind (yes, the “i” and “e” are transposed), was inappropriate for a seraphic child. According to this, there are about 300 persons (or families ?) worldwide with this name, including one in the Antarctis. There is the Green politician Charlotte Schneidewind-Hartnagel, for instance.

  3. Music in the Castle of Heaven, A Portrait of J.S. Bach by John Eliot Gardiner, the eminent English conductor, was the real heavyweight under the tree for me this year. I can think of no one better qualified to write it. Also a couple of British political autobiographies, and a new history of The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris. Each generation of historians seem to find new interpretations of the sources, and he reads well.

  4. Trond Engen says

    The new Norsk etymologisk ordbok, by Yann de Caprona. A reprint of Etymologisk ordbog over det norske og det danske sprog, by Hjalmar Falk & Alf Torp. One novel and two graphic novels. Fewer books than usual for me, since some of the usual givers joined forces and gave me a Kindle.

  5. The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology. Unlike others from the series, it’s an actual handbook and not a bunch of papers on the same broadly defined subject.
    “The Norman Conquest” by Marc Morris looks great, but what the fudge? The Kindle version on amazon.co.uk is 4.31GBP (5.2 EUR), but on amazon.com, it’s 14.39 USD (10.5 EUR). What giveth?

  6. slawkenbergius says

    Warning: take the McMeekin with a big grain of salt. Among other reasons, he’s employed at a Turkish university, so there are certain… built-in incentives to his particular reading of Russo-Armenian relations, for example.

  7. Yeah, I noticed his employment (and his prefatory apology to “my Turkish friends” for referring to Istanbul as Constantinople), and I’ve got a dish of salt ready at hand because I know a big part of his thesis is a claim that Russian foreign policy involved a heavy concentration on acquiring the Straits, and I just don’t believe that’s true. Of course I’ll see what he has to say and if his evidence is strong enough I’ll accept it, but I’ve read quite a lot about all this stuff and as far as I know the Straits were a vague fantasy on the part of almost everyone and an actual, practical goal for almost no one besides Pavel Milyukov (who was considered something of a crackpot for taking it so seriously). To me, it’s like the Chinese attitude toward Vietnam: when I was in Taiwan, I was astonished at how many people assured me that Vietnam was inherently part of China (because it had been such for a thousand years, even though that was a thousand years ago), and I presume if the conditions were right, the Chinese government would be happy to gobble it up a la Tibet, but it would be ludicrous to paint the conquest of Vietnam as an important goal of Chinese foreign policy.

  8. Stu: I think the objection was more to “Nepomuk”, as an un-childlike name. I wonder if there’s a hypocoristic form of it, and what it is.

  9. bulbul: It’s £ 8.99 in paperback in London. I presume the price difference for the ebook is a bad joke by amazon. If it were a physical book, not published in the US, the price difference might just be justified.
    I got the paperback here in London because (a) I still like reading some books on paper and (b) my six month old Asus tablet recently refused to turn on, and haven’t yet replaced it. When it worked, I did find some fascinating books on Gutenberg. I particularly enjoyed one from the 19th century by the Chaplain of the Deal lifeboat, on the Channel coast, which covered the notorious Goodwin Sands, by sail and oars. He went out with them often and it was really heroic stuff. But I digress …

  10. From here:

    The doomed child’s name Nepomuk, in the 19th century quite popular in Austria and southern Germany and middle name of the composer Hummel and the playwright Johann Nestroy, can be seen as an allusion to the high rococo, the ‘re-echoing of movement’, in the St John Nepomuk Church architecture by the Asam brothers in Munich (as described and interpreted by Heinrich Wölfflin).

  11. Or more directly from here (from your link: “This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.”).

  12. My wordy book for Xmas: “Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7)”.

  13. Case in point (regarding the Russia/WWI book): He says “Russian plans to conquer Turkey received a major fillip with the Young Turk ‘Revolution’ of July 1908,” then describes General Staff plans for a possible seizure of Constantinople as if that were proof, then continues “Russia’s rulers, then, were hardly pacifists by inclination,” as if General Staff plans = Russian policy. For god’s sake, the military in every country have plans for pretty much every conceivable war they might find themselves fighting! He’s going to have to do a lot better than that.

  14. Or more directly from here

    Yes, I saw that. I usually look up German stuff in the German WiPe, so without thinking I went directly to the article there on Doktor Faustus. Having perused it without finding the passage about Hummel and Nestroy, I merely linked to “gradesaver”.

  15. And the “Polish Salient” map shows the following labels, north to south: Estonia, Courland (Latvia), Lithuania. In point of fact, until the Revolution there were four administrative divisions, Estonia, Livonia, Courland (or Kurland), and Lithuania; the middle two eventually became Latvia.

  16. Merry Christmas everyone! Hat: Another warning: Colin Woodard’s treatment of “New France” (i.e. Quebec and Louisiana) in his book is so superficial and uninformed as to be worthless.

  17. Paul,

    no worries, I found an alternative source (the iBookStore sells one for 7.99 EUR). You are right, Morris does read well.

  18. Another warning: Colin Woodard’s treatment of “New France” (i.e. Quebec and Louisiana) in his book is so superficial and uninformed as to be worthless.

    Thanks! I appreciate all such warnings.

  19. bulbul (5th comment):

    Some British and Canadian publishers seem to have a ‘screw the Yanks’ policy. Prices of DVDs have come down quite a bit in the 8-10 years since I bought the BBC Shakespeare, but they are still proportional to what they were: Americans can buy 20 plays in four 5-DVD sets (Tragedies I-II, Comedies, Histories), while British buyers can buy all 37 for less than half as much money – less than one-fourth the price per play.

    When I bought the UK set, prices were $600 vs $240 or so (including shipping), now they’re $400 (list price) vs ₤ 66 (~$108) plus shipping), again for 20 plays vs 37. Amazon US is currently discounting the U.S. boxes to $274 total, but that’s still more than twice the price of the much larger UK set. In short, I came out way ahead buying the UK set plus a brand-new all-region DVD player, which has come in handy for a few other titles since then. Of course, the 17 plays not included in the U.S. box sets are exactly the ones you’re least likely to see in a theater, and therefore most likely to want to see on DVD as a second-best.

    Back when the Canadian dollar was worth only $0.66 or so U.S., one Canadian publisher had the same price for all their books, but required Americans to pay in U.S. dollars, while everyone else in the world could pay in Canadian dollars. It was basically a 50% surcharge on American bookbuyers.

  20. Just discovered McMeekin calls Russia’s Naval Minister, Ivan Grigorovich, “Grigorevich” not only in this book but in at least two others. I’m beginning to wonder just how good his Russian is.

  21. Michael,

    thank you for the examples, it is pretty consistent with my experience, especially when it comes to DVD and BluRay sets. Funny thing is, amazon.co.uk won’t even let me shop in their Kindle Store whereas amazon.com has no problem with my EU credit card and address.

  22. McMeekin transliterates жертвами [zhertvami, ‘by sacrifices’] as “zhortvami.” Yeah, I’m pretty dubious about his knowledge of Russian.

  23. “Four Gandhari Samyuktagama Sutras” here. In retrospect I probably should have accepted it with more equanimity. Merry Christmas to all.

  24. My favourite bit of sports journalism over the Christmas period was something like: “Reither hared down the right: lovely Reither, metres made”.

  25. McMeekin calls Russia’s Naval Minister, Ivan Grigorovich, “Grigorevich”

    Transformers 3, part of which I watched last night, contains scenes made to look as if they had been filmed in the Chernobyl plant. Signage texts above the buildings are in sort-of Cyrillic characters – Ukrainian ? Anyway, an adjectival form of Chernobyl appears to be (transliterated here) “chornobylskaya” or something like that. Why is that first “o” there, instead of an “e” ? Does the Russian form of the name contain an “ë” without the trema ?

  26. OK, I found this in the German WiPe: (ukrainisch Чорнобиль, russisch Чернобыль/Tschernobyl)

  27. Having read the brief article on Ukrainian, I am struck by this: how specialized and contingent is my idea of my “native language” ! How shot through with unreflected political and historical Selbstverständnis is my notion of “English” ! I think USA and Great Britain, and glance aside with cosmopolitan tolerance at attempts by Indians to speak proper English !

    I do have such an attitude, more or less. The important thing initially is to see that this attitude exists and has certain functions (to be identified as time goes on). Part of this attitude is a disposition to see things in terms of right and wrong.

    The attitude is not “wrong”, it is characteristic. To brand it as “wrong” would be merely to exercise the attitude with regard to itself – by which nothing is learned and nothing accomplished. What I need is to gain an additional viewpoint, not to trade in one viewpoint for another.

  28. I wonder if there’s a hypocoristic form of it


  29. There are two kinds of historians, judges (who at least try to evaluate the evidence impartially and are not focused on assigning blame) and lawyers (who are openly pleading a case and trying to prove one or another party guilty); McMeekin is definitely in the latter camp. He’s an honorable lawyer, he isn’t deceptive and is open about where the evidence supports him and where it doesn’t, but he skews everything he can in the direction of trying to prove it was all Russia’s fault (countering, of course, the now-standard assumption that it was all Germany’s fault). It’s a useful corrective if read cautiously, but when he writes “All this is true, so far as it goes. But it does not go very far if the goal is to prove that the Germans beat Russia to the punch,” it can be turned around and applied to his book with “the Germans” and “Russia” reversed.

  30. I got The Affirmative Action Empire and I am reading it with enthusiasm.

    Coincidentally, I got James Steffen’s (very interesting) The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov, which namechecks that book and shows how the strange stick-and-carrot approach the Soviets took with their “nationalities question” affected one particular individual.

    Transformers 3, part of which I watched last night

    Jeez Louise, why would you want to do that to yourself?

  31. Evgeni V. Pavlov says

    We Modern People is a disappointingly bad book – got it too, read a bit, such horrid writing…

  32. Rats, I’m sorry to hear that! I’ll give it a try, of course.

  33. Jeez Louise, why would you want to do that to yourself [watch Transformers 3] ?

    Because I am interested in the character of the hero’s mother. In the first two films she displayed a wonderful mixture of out-of-the-box bossiness, retrofeminist appeals and motormouth melodramatics. It sufficed to subdue her two males.

  34. This is one of those subplots, or petit récits, that attract the attention even of those who are suspicious of the grand récit which surrounds them. The Transformers movies are highly creative post-modernist schlock.

  35. For the first time in years, someone gave me a book: Oak; The Frame of Civilization (William Bryant Logan), a truly inspired choice. Unfortunately, it’s already in my library and I’ve already read it.

  36. That is perhaps why people don’t give you books: it is quite likely that you already have them. I now take the simple course, at least near Christmas and birthday times, of ordering books and then handing them on arrival to my intimates, saying, Give me this. I am then pleased (though not surprised) to receive them.

  37. I have been eyeing the Schniedewind from afar and would love to hear your opinion.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Another warning: Colin Woodard’s treatment of “New France” (i.e. Quebec and Louisiana) in his book is so superficial and uninformed as to be worthless.

    Not surprising. I just read the Amazon preview, however, and it’s fascinating.

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