Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “nonfiction”

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #65 The Maya 8th Edition by Michael D. Coe

This book is the companion volume to Mexico from the Olmecs to the Aztecs by the same author.  It details what we know (based mainly on archaeological finds) about Mayan culture, focusing primarily on the pre-Columbian civilizations.  It is a fascinating, if slightly dry, book (I imagine it’s primarily used as a textbook).  Mainly it details digs and ancient sites and what was found on these digs (there’s a lot of description of pottery and wall paintings).  I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a basic text on the Maya.  I imagine this book would be really handy for travelers planning on visiting some of the sites described in the book.  In fact, there’s a short chapter at the end of the book that specifically addresses travel to Mexico and Guatemala to visit various Mayan sites.  There’s not really much more to say about this book.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR4 Review #43: Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress by Debra Ginsberg

Cannonball Read IV: Book #43/52
Published: 2000
Pages: 298
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

I was a waitress in college and I LOVED it. It’s such a hard job, but so satisfying to walk away every night with a wad of cash. I’ve always thought the world would be a little bit of a better place if every person had to spend six months of their life as a waiter or waitress. You literally learn to deal with every type of person whether as a customer or as a co-worker.

I picked up this book at a used bookstore and was hoping it was better than the behind-the-scenes book I read last year about the cruise ship waiter. It was okay, but focused more on the writer’s personal life than his actual job. Waiting was the waitressing memoir I’d been looking for.

Read the full review in my blog.

Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #26: Sister Queens

I loved this book.  A parallel biography of Juana and Katherine (within limits, there is much more documentation available on Katherine).  This book made me see Katherine in a new light, while also giving some time to a person that is usually just written off as the crazy sister/mother/queen that’s had to be locked up.

Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #22: Joss Whedon

Critical analysis on Joss Whedon and all his works – very reader friendly; not necessarily ground breaking but a nice reference and starting point from which to expand further (most of the articles are a bit short).

Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #17: A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson and the Appalachian Trail.  Mostly entertaining, first half maybe a bit more so than the second half.  Also, for avid hikers, he doesn’t actually finish the entire trail so this may or may not shade someone’s view of the book.  (Given that this is Bryson, I don’t think that really counts as a spoiler since it’s not like people read Bryson for the plot as much as the tangents and the random ancedotes).

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #53 Mexico from the Olmecs to the Aztecs by Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz (6th edition)

After reading Charles C. Mann’s fantastic 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus, I became very curious about Pre-Columbian history so I bought a small selection of books on the topic from  Mexico from the Olmecs to the Aztecs is clearly intended to be used in a classroom environment (sort of a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica 101 textbook) and is the companion to Coe’s The Maya.  Because there are so many Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mesoamerica, Coe divided up the subject into two volumes, one devoted to the Maya and the other to everyone else.

This book is very well-researched and provides a good overview of Mesoamerican history up till the Spanish conquest of the region.  The writing is a little dry but is always very clear.  The pre-history part is particularly difficult to get through as Coe basically just sums up the findings of archeologists.  I like that he is very clear about differentiating between what we know (these pottery shards and pyramids were found here under such and such circumstances) and how various academics have interpreted these pieces of evidence.  Coe provides plenty of photographs, detailed illustrations and maps, which were both pleasant to look at and extremely helpful (particularly when he gets into how bodies where buried or how excavated cities were laid out).

I had no idea, until reading Mann’s book, just how populace or advanced the cultures were in Mesoamerica.  It amazes me to think of how, because of the lack of domesticable animals, ancient Mesoamerican civilizations evolved in a completely different way from the European model.  These people were forced to become extraordinarily proficient vegetable cultivators (we still don’t know how they developed maize, for instance) because the only animal they could domesticate was the dog (yeah, they ate dog).  No cows, no horses, no chickens, no pigs.  Because they had no big beasts of burden, they only used the wheel for toys.  So no carts, no ploughs.  Everything was cultivated by hand.  Any animal they ate (other than the dog) had to be caught.  Maize and legumes were developed as complementary proteins long before anyone even knew what a complete protein was.  Almost every cuisine we can think of would look entirely different without the influence of New World agriculture.  Tomatoes, chili peppers and potatoes are just three of the foods that did not exist anywhere else in the world prior to the European exposure to America.

Obviously, this topic is fascinating to me.  If you’re interested in it as well, I definitely recommend checking out this book.

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #34-36: The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick

Target: Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1-19

Profile: History, Nonfiction, Cartoons!

If I were being honest, I wouldn’t be able to include the first omnibus edition of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History in this Cannonball, as I’ve read it enough to have dog ended every other page.  If I were being really honest, I’d have to admit that the book was the only reason I passed my Western Civ classes in high school and college.  But upon reading the second and third omnibuses, I felt it wouldn’t be fair to the series as a whole to leave out the first one that did such a good job of capturing my imagination as a child and a teenager, and instilled in me a love of history that survives to this day.

As with most ‘big’ projects, it’s easier to define Gonick’s Cartoon History by what it isn’t   It is not an attempt to professionally summarize the breadth of human history.  Nor is it just a comic rendering of western civilization’s greatest hits.  The books present a version of history that is entertaining on its own, capitalizing on the larger-than-life figures and bizarre incidents that riddle the history books.  Where archaeology and recorded history fail, Gonick fills in the blanks with the mythologies and legends of the cultures he’s examining.  He attempts to place these pieces of fiction within their factual contexts, such as the real war against Troy that formed the backdrop for Homer’s Iliad.  The result is a ‘dried out’ version of these stories, stripped of much of the supernatural or religious trappings, but given new life in the context of history.

Read the rest of the review…

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 42: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Description from Amazon: “Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world.  A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall’s team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.

Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people — including himself — to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer’s eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.”

I don’t really have a lot to add to the official description, as this is a nonfiction memoir, so a lot of the “stuff” I assess and critique in fiction are off the table here. I will note that Krakauer is an exceptional writer, so reading this does have the feel and pace of reading a suspenseful novel. It’s obvious that, as a reporter, Krakauer has made a point of gathering as much information and as many interviews as he could, and doing so has resulted in — what seemed to me to be — a comprehensive, insightful, empathetic, and reasoned take on the events of May 10/11, 1996. Into Thin Air is not without its controversy and detractors, but I think for his part Krakauer was able to elegantly cover a very sensitive subject.  In addition to the straightforward recollection of the summit attempt, Krakauer also engages in fascinating personal reflection and reveals a great deal of his own survivor’s guilt and grief. And, even though I know everyone loves to play psychologist on the internet, I wouldn’t be surprised if his emotional state after the disaster could be considered straight-up PTSD.

The way this book has written gives it wide-ranging appeal beyond the obvious target group of mountaineers and lovers of the outdoors. Though this bestseller is some 15 years old at this point, it’s well worth a read if somehow you, like me, had managed to miss it up until now.

Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #14: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

The first novel in a mystery series with Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell.  Not bad.

lyndamk #cbr4 review #20: The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson

A hawk and a dove walk into a bar. Read more at my blog …

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