Monday, March 24, 2003

Recent Reading

Why We Hurt, Frank T. Vertosick Jr. Interesting look at causes and cures for various kinds of pain. Written by a neurosurgeon. It’s good but not great; the author never offers the insight into disease, pain, and personhood that characterizes his distinguished colleague Oliver Sacks. Still, worth getting from the library.

Crimes of Passion: An Unblinking Look at Murderous Love, Howard Engel. Annoyingly faux-scholarly look at true crime, without offering much in the way of new insight into why love goes wrong. The pedestrian style makes it no fun to read, while the many minor inaccuracies cast doubt on everything he writes. A fair bit of it seems to be cribbed from a couple of sources.

The Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers. Using information gleaned from Sayers’ writing, Walsh comes up with a new story of Lord Peter and Harriet Vane during the early period of World War II. It’s OK, definitely worth the trip to the library, but the dialogue doesn’t sound like the characters, and too many plot elements are swiped from the earlier books. Also, what happened to Mango, Harriet’s maid? If she’s gone off to do war work, we should be told. Not nearly as good as Thrones, Dominations, in which Walsh completed a Sayers manuscript. I could see the seams in that one, but I’ve gone back several times to reread it anyway.

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz. Fascinating, even-handed look at the voyages of Captain Cook. Examines everything from the conditions of life on board a sailing ship to the effect Cook and those who followed him had on the societies he discovered. Plus examinations of modern Tahiti, Australia, and other far-flung places Cook reached. I was left marveling at the courage of the captain, but also lamenting the way European culture and germs destroyed other societies. Highly recommended. So is Confederates in the Attic, a previous book by the same author.

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