READING WITH XIPHOS #7 PT. 2

readingwithxiphos1_thumb Hidely-ho boys and girls. Here’s part two of the world renowned and wickedly popular Reading with Xiphos series. Enjoy!

a_conspiracy_of_paper_book_cover_01A Conspiracy of Paper (David List 2000): When I saw the title of this book in the little library here, I had two thoughts almost at the same time. The first was, that’s  a cool sounding title. The second one was, I bet this book is written by some stuffed shirt Englishman in the 20’s and was interminably long and was about smug well dressed people walking around manicured parks and talking, then having some tea. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it down and found out it was a New York Times notable book from 2000 and not 1920. Even better, it turned out the book was one of my favorite fiction genres historical crime/detective stories, like In The Name of the Rose and The Alienist.

The Conspiracy of Paper is like I said, a detective story set in 1720 London. The story is told through the memoirs of an old man, Benjamin Weaver (nee Lienzo), the London born son of Sephardic Jews who had fled the Inquisition in Portugal. Weaver had a falling out with his father as a teenager and left their Jewish enclave and struck out on his own into the world of greater London. Weaver was not a typical Jew of the time, he didn’t want to hide in the shadows like his father and his contemporaries did. Also Weaver liked to fight and eventually entered the brutal world of bare knuckle fighting and made a name for himself (and some money) as the Lion of Judea. After sustaining a serious career ending injury, Weaver meets the doctor who eventually becomes his sidekick. Since he can’t fight anymore and needing to earn a living, Weaver has to find a new line of work so he drifted over to the continent and became a smuggler, highwayman and burglar. This didn’t last long because his innate honesty and his upbringing forced him to stop so back to London he goes.

Trading on his fame as a boxer, Weaver finds work as a “thief taker” which is a combination PI, debt collector, personal security, assets recovery specialist and bounty hunter mostly for the posh set of London, the businessmen and nobles. Weaver excels as a thief taker because unlike the other thief takers of the time, Weaver is honest, industrious and doesn’t rip of his own clients. Into his lap falls a case that changes his life.

The case that comes to him has a connection to his own father who had died years before. Weaver’s client claims that both his father and Weaver’s were murdered and he hires him to find out why. During the course of the investigation we crisscross London and its various levels of society from the drawing room of nobles to its lowest public houses, brothels and the coffee houses where the stock jobbers (traders) of the newly minted London Stock Exchange ply their trade.

What is interesting about this book is it’s essentially a story about stock fraud with murder via Dashiell Hammett since the catalyst of the story is The Great South Seas Stock Bubble of 1720. Stock fraud and manipulation, bank fraud and the inner workings of the new paper currency are explored. Thrown into the mix, Weaver has a rapprochement with his family, community and religion.

I highly recommend this book. It’s an engaging detective story with an interesting PI and great attention to details of the period.

Longitude-740479Longitude (Dava Sobel 1995): I’ll keep this short since I’m probably the only person interested in this. The book is about the quest of various governments to figure out how to measure longitude at sea. On land it was relatively easy, if labor intensive, to map longitude but on the water it was near impossible until watchmaker John Harrison developed the marine chronometer in 1728. Prior to the chronometers development, open water sailing was done through dead reckoning which lead to a lot of maritime disasters. The book details both Harrison’s meticulous building of the chronometer and the bigger political war raged over the development of one of the most important pieces of technology ever created by man.

400000000000000388178_s4Declaration of the Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America (Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie 2011): I read a review of this book in Kirkus Review back in May and I was intrigued by it enough that when it hit the book store at the end of June I had a friend buy a copy and ship it over. I’m now about halfway though it and while I agree with a lot of it, I do find two problems so far with the book. The authors, Welch and Gillespie who are writers for Reason magazine, haven’t provided any new ideas on how to change things and often speak in generalities and most importantly one of their main ideas I disagree with totally. The authors think the “Millennial” generation is naturally libertarian due to the expanded choices presented by the Internet. While I agree in principle with that idea, the problem with that is the Internet itself. In many ways it has made people dumber since they have a distressing tendency to believe everything on the Internet as true especially if it fits their own beliefs (known as confirmation bias). How many times have you had a conversation with 18-22 year old (and older or younger for that matter) where they site blogs and message boards as stone cold fact and proof, for example, “according to Huffpo, Above Top Secret, Prison Planet, Coast To Coast AM or Schmuckitelli’s blog etc.” The belief that anything on the Internet is true is dangerous. The Internet has provided the world with untold accesses to information the likes of which has never been seen before. Unfortunately it has also overwhelmed most people under 35, and many over 35 for that matter, since they have almost no framework to absorb and use the info the Internet provides. The Millennials are even worse than older generations at assimilating Internet information.

I am going to do something here I have not done before and link to an outside review. I’m doing that because it’s a well written critique and I have not finished the book yet.

George Will’s review from the Washington Post

I like George Will, he is an excellent writer, clear thinker, smart as hell, non doctrinaire and looks spiffy in a bow tie and that’s not an easy look to pull off. Plus he’s a seam-head that doesn’t have much use for Bud Selig which is a good thing. I hope he becomes Commissioner of MLB if they can ever get rid of Selig.

9780345496898Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik 2010): Here you go Pillow, something to ease the pain of your birthday series! This is the sixth and most recent book in the excellent Temeraire series. This book finds Temeraire and Will Laurence along with their crew, Iserkia (who came along in order to bang Temeraire), three eggs and their candidates including the slimy scumbag from book 1 Jeremy Rankin, banished to the rude and crude colony of New South Wales. Our heroes land themselves squarely in the middle of a political mess between the deposed governor William Bligh (yes he of the HMAV Bounty fame) and the current Governor who took over in a coup. When Laurence recognizes the quagmire they’ve landed in, he decides to take a job mapping a route from Sydney through the Blue Mountains. In typical Temeraire fashion, the simple job lands them in a jackpot. One of the eggs they are carrying gets stolen and off in pursuit they go. The trip takes them across the interior desert to the far coast. Along the way they solve the mystery of Australian dragons or lack thereof, have run-ins with Aborigines and find out that the Chinese have established an illegal trading center which has some “special” security.

This is a different sort of Temeraire book since it moves decidedly away from the Napoleonic Wars and casts Laurence and Temeraire out on their own. Technically they are prisoners yet Will Laurence is more or less the commanding Officer of the Aviators even though he was court marshaled in book 6. I liked the new direction for the story but reading some reviews, a lot of fans wanted more of the same and thought the new direction was weak. I recommend this book but understand it’s a big departure from prior books of the series.

chaosChaos: Making A New Science (James Glieck 1987): I will keep this short in recognition that again, probably nobody but me has any interest in this book and subject. Chaos is a staggering work of genius and I’m jealous of James Glieck’s ability to take an amazingly esoteric and beautiful subject like Chaos Theory and make it accessible and understandable to anybody. Glieck’s book was written at the dawn of Chaos Theory and even though the field has grown by leaps and bounds, this book is still the finest primer on the subject written. Chaos profiles the development of the theory and the mathematicians and scientists behind a paradigm shifting idea. Chaos Theory, boiled downed to its most basic idea, is finding order in underlying and unrelated data. Getting all sciencey sounding, what that means is Chaos Theory is the study of dynamical systems (weather, markets, biology, etc.) that are highly sensitive to the initial conditions around it. In human speak all that means is Chaos Theory is the study of what is commonly referred to as the Butterfly Effect.

Xiphos

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About Xiphos0311

Sporadic genius but mostly IDGAF.

61 responses to “READING WITH XIPHOS #7 PT. 2”

  1. Jarv says :

    Longitude was also a cracking series on Channel 4. Compelling story, brilliantly told. Good read, that one.

    Confirmation Bias is a plague. It’s the worst thing about the Guardian.

    Best description of chaos theory I found is in Stoppard’s Arcadia:Finding islands of order in a sea of ash.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      I forgot to put in a bit about the series which like you said was very good.

      • Jarv says :

        Extremely good- dealt with a supremely complicated subject with a lot of style.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        Fantastic bit of TV. Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons are both on fine form. Love the duel stories through out.

        I’m a big Harrison fan.

      • Jarv says :

        Brilliantly done series. British TV can still do it on occasion.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I agree that the series was top notch. It’s an engaging well made series and that didn’t play fast and loose with what actually happened. The acting was great.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        Jarv, if you remember Only Fools And Horses find a Harrison watch and finally become millionaires (in what should have been the final episode of the series before they flogged it to death).

        Great episode

      • Droid says :

        This time next year Rodney….

      • Jarv says :

        That was the final episode. Well past its best by then. The blow up dolls was probably the best.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        No, they did one or two more. They (of course) lost their money, Uncle Alf had died, and he had problems with Damien. Dont think I watched more than 10 mins on it.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      That is an interesting definition of Chaos Theory I like the visual of it.

  2. Jarv says :

    Still need to start Temeraire, but I’m still stuck on the stupid Wind Up Bird Chronicle and I won’t let it defeat me.

    • Droid says :

      I’ve got 4 or 5 of them if you want to borrow them. I’ve read the first two.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      What ever the Wind Up Bird chronicles is I am sure Temeraire will away any bad taste it left.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s my fault for being pretentious. I’m rereading Murakami, and I couldn’t remember it at all. I’m about half way through and the cunt has spent 3 chapters sitting at the bottom of a well. It isn’t bad for the first quarter and has nosedived horribly.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        One thing you can say definitely say about Temeraire is that it is far from pretentious. It’s just straight forward entertainment and well written entertainment at that.

      • Jarv says :

        Looking forward to it. I was going to take them all to Spain, but that got fucked. I may take them in October.

        Lord knows what I was thinking of with Murakami, I’ve already read them. I know what they are.

        *Bangs pointy head on table*

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        no need to bang your pointy head we’ve all done that.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m roughly 400 pages in. I just wish the cunt would climb out of the well.

        It’s painful.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        somebody needs to kick that well sitting bastard in the ass.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s already happened. Not hard enough.

  3. just pillow talk says :

    I just started reading book six, so I can’t say whether I’ll like the new direction. But I have a feeling I will because they are on their own. It’s sort of similar to China, but completely on their own as opposed to the undercurrent of the war, etc.

    A Conspiracy of Paper sounds interesting.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Pillow at first with book six I was a little bit hesitant but after the first couple of chapters I bought in. There end up being a new dragon thrown into the mix that is interesting.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      A CoP was very interesting I was surprised how good it was. Apparently it’s a series with the same charter and I think there was a prequel of sorts that takes place in Holland.

  4. Bartleby says :

    Good article as always Xi. Longitutde is a surprisingly engaging book. Enjoyed it very much.

    I liked Tongue of Serpents quite a bit too. For me, the change of pace was nice and refreshing and points to something I like about the series; it isn’t just business as usual in the fantasy factory.

    This one opens up and airs out what has mostly been a pretty compact and straightforward series.

    It’s not better than the others, but it isn’t noticeably weaker just becausse it’s changing pace.

    I think I want to read Conspiracy of Paper.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Thanks Jonah.

      Yeah Longitude could have been a drab dreary read but Sobel infused it with a lot of life. I’m genuinely surprised that the book was read and like by so many. I read it because I like sailing and am always interested in things related to it.

      Yep agree about ToS. The new direction really has the possibility of opening up the series to new direction. I like the new dragon and I really enjoyed Demane stepping up in a major role.

    • just pillow talk says :

      Nice…didn’t know you have read the series too Jonah.

      Just a general question: has Novak hinted on how long the series will go? I’m assuming to the ending of the war, though I could see a stand-alone book, if you will, go after the whole issue of Dragon rights. Wonder if she’ll resolve that whole point…

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I read somewhere that she has a definite end point in mind for the series but not the actual number of books. She figures maybe nine or ten but I’m sure if the money is good enough…

      • just pillow talk says :

        As long of the quality doesn’t take a nosedive, I’m down with as many books as she wants to put out.

  5. tombando says :

    Not a big George Will fan, he comes off as being too stuck in 1984/Reagan is my hero for me. His baseball writings–well Bill James is more my taste, that or Roger Angell. But each to their own Xiphos. Bud Selig is a tool and should have been ‘contracted’ outta baseball along w/ the Brewers years back.

    Conspiracy of Paper however looks GOOD, I will track that down and give it a looksee. Are there any strange people mixed up w/ Goats in there we should look out for-?

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      I don’t really agree with the Reagan comment, since I Will be refreshingly non-ideological but like you say to each their own. Roger Angell writings gets on my nerves some times he seems somewhat myopic and very east coast oriented, which I’m not and you are.

      Nope no odd Portuguese just some references to living in Portugal and how bad it was for Jews there. It’s a strong book Tom give it a whirl i bet you will agree.

      • TomBodet says :

        Yeah Angell is a Noo Yoiker, born and bred, huge Mets and Sawks fan from wayy back. His writings can be really good–Late Innings is the one collection of his I enjoy the most.

        Sounds like a good recommendation there Xiphos.

  6. just pillow talk says :

    BTW Xi, you do an excellent job on these book reviews. You clearly get a bunch of us excited by at least one book each time out it seems.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Thanks Pillows.

      I try to balance these between fiction and nonfiction then give y’all taste of the books and not ruin anything and avoid interjecting too much of my own opinion so everyone can go in fresh and make up their own minds.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Very well written Xi, I will seek out Cop and longitude at earliest.
        i echo bando on Will though.

        He is the type of man who will use his intelligence to rationalize his positions, instead of reaching a decision based upon intelligence.

        In short, if he wants to support position A he will find a way to bend his rationale to fit the position he wants.

        He is one of scariest types, a very intelligent man, who would rationalize any decision because it suits his ideology.

        I daresay this man would find a strong rationale (in his mind) to support every type of restriction on freedom for those he deems his lessers.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        TKD could you point out where Will ever advocated restrictions on peoples liberty? I read him fairly often and I’ve never seen any indication of that.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        isn’t providing rationales for your position the basics of intellectual discourse?

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        I liken it to creationists Xi.
        You have a few extraordinarily intelligent people (I am obviously not including the rest made up of nitwits halfwits and dimwits) who when confronted with a reality they can not accept, use their intelligence to craft a different one, rationalizing all they way.

        It is like the unscrupulous scientist who has a a hypothesis that he desperately wants to turn into a theory. In some cases he may manipulate the data to fit his hypothesis and thus become a theory.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        creationist aren’t intelligent they’re fucking morons each and every one but at least they’re honest unlike the Intelligent Design motherfuckers who dress up creationism in vaguely believable sounding rhetoric.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        You would be surprised at the level of education – and supposed intelligence that some creationists possess.
        I am a Catholic, born and raised and educated.
        I have encountered many of the same faith – some with quite a few advanced degrees after their names, that do believe in creationism. And they will lend their not inconsiderable intellectual weight to the cause. Now, i have never been swayed buy it, but I certainly listened to what they had to say because that is the only way you learn. Still, there are many who not only listen but nod their heads in agreement when someone of known high intellectual achievements argues in favor of a position.

        Will is the sort who would bend his intellect to fit the position he espouses, instead of espousing a position based upon intellectual rigor.

        Now, of course he does not always do this – very few do, and he sometimes comes across a reasonable, but he has far too much written history to escape this known tendency.

      • Jarv says :

        they will lend their not inconsiderable intellectual weight to the cause.

        Sarah Palin?

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        palin! ha! uh no. she has the intellectual heft of a porcupine – but she has a great body

  7. Continentalop says :

    Interesting list of books Xi. I’m going to check out a couple of them (A Conspiracy of Paper and Longitude especially).

    BTW – have you ever read the Lucifer Principle? I think I might have recommended it before. I think it would be right up your alley.

  8. Continentalop says :

    And for a self-described “dumb” redneck you read a lot of deep shit.

  9. Toadkillerdog says :

    Sorry for delay Xi, some people actually think I should work!
    The noive!

    I do not readily have any written examples of Will to go by, if I applied myself i may be able to dig up some of his early 80’s screeds, but the thing about Will is his is not a pat Buchanan type of fire and brimstone conservative.
    He couches his more detestable opinions and thoughts in a manner that lends itself to sound rational, but is really in a codespeak.

    For example :
    ‘States rights’ is a very well known code speak here is a quick defiintion I lifted from internets.

    “States rights” dresses itself up as anti-tyrannical language, but it’s actually pro-tyranny. It’s about crafting a nation that makes it the easiest to use government power to override individual rights.”

    States rights really came into flower with George Wallace who wanted to protect states rights to limit freedom for Blacks in alabama.

    Today, you still see the southern tier of states using these terms, and you bet your bottom dollar it is still about restricting rights to some of its citizens.

    Arizona and texas currently are the biggest proponents of States Rights, and guess who else supports that?

    That is just one example off top of my head, I have detested George Will for a very long time

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      states rights came in to flower with George Wallace the former democrat governor from Alabama? See that’s funny becasue I thought the states rights ideas came to bloom in the ninth and tenth amendments in the bill rights, the arguments in the federalist and anti federalist papers(both were strong believers in individual and states rights and that includes the proponents of strong central government like Hamilton) and the revolution.

      What does Arizona and Texas have to with this argument and who am I guessing supports that? I don’t follow this. Is Arizona wrong to think that the Feds should, you know, do their constitutional mandated job of protecting the borders? Why does Arizona have to bear the brunt of the illegal alien invasion or when there was one since Mexico has better employment numbers then the United States now.

      And lastly “code speak” you know who pushes that particular idea? grievance hustlers and race pimps like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Whenever they get backed up by somebody using logic and facts out comes the veiled racism claim about “code word” being used.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Lets not get punctilious over the term ‘states rights’ – of course it originated earlier than it’s association with George Wallace – the democrat governor of Alabama.

        I said ‘it came into flower’ with Wallace. I was referring to the term by it’s widely known political and racially charged component.

        Terms or code speak such as ‘states rights’ ‘southern strategy’ ‘strict constructionist’ etc etc. have been around for decades and were used and are still used (not southern strategy – which originated with Nixon) today.

        They had nothing to do with jackson or sharpton or any of that ilk, who may have picked up on the terminology later and perhaps even pushed it into the mainstream – which is ironic considering their positions outside of the mainstream.

        No, these are well known terms that political operatives have employed for a long time.

        Getting back to Will for a moment, lets look at ‘strict constructionist’, on the surface its seems to be against so called judicial activists and their ‘assault’ on the constitution.

        I am certainly no liberal, and I do find that some judicial interpretation goes too far, but under the doctrine of ‘strict constructionist’ – it ‘evolved’ from a mere code speak to a ‘doctrine’ by fiat, what you now have are people who think the constitution should be frozen.

        That the words put down over two hundred years ago by men of that age, should forever be the basis of the present day.

        Think about that. Quite a few of those men, the best and brightest of their day men who espoused freedom and justice, were in fact slave holders. large slave holders at that.

        Slavery had been abolished in other enlightened capitals of the world, but it was ingrained and getting moreso here – in the bastion of liberty.

        Within that document, Blacks were not even citizens, not even true human beings. To a lesser extent, women had no rights either.

        And yet, you have people today who will tell you that the constitution should never be altered – that amendments to it are a bad thing (ERA for example) that interpretation of it must be based upon what the founders meant – as if they know.

        I love (most) of the ideas behind the constitution, and the men who wrote it knew that they were not some untouchable Gods, with infallible wisdom.
        They created mechanism for change – the amendment procedure.

        Although why it should take 2/3 of the states to tell a black person that they are in fact human and a citizen, or a woman that she in fact does have the same rights as any man, does baffle me.

        Still, these men were not infallible and they knew it, but just try and interpret the Constitution for today, and you get howls of protest – from guess who? Georgie boy.

        To Arizona and Texas, well I know you are from AZ, and i know AZ has problems with illegal immigrants, but AZ has long been known as one of the more intolerant States. That does not mean that it’s citizens are intolerant, but it’s government structure most certainly is.

        I agree strongly that AZ needs help to protect it’s border, but it also can not be allowed to trample the rights of it citizens – all of its citizens.

  10. Bartleby says :

    Oh, and I forgot. I’ve read Gleick’s book too. That’s a really neat read, and as you say, it’s not really been surpassed in its exploration of the subject. I remember reading it and having my hair blown back a little. It’s not the ideas so much as how he presents them. It’s almost like pop poetry in the way he distills these concepts.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    Excellent write-up as always. I shall file these titles for future reference. I’m looking forward to getting into the Temeraire series. ‘Conspiracy of Paper’ sounds interesting as well.

    Nice one, Xi.

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