Weekend Reading

Four articles to help you stand out from the herd this weekend:

America at war by Edith Wharton in the Times Literary Supplement – a speech delivered in French in 1918, on the American wartime character, and the difference between the Americans and the French.

Tulip mania: the classic story of a Dutch financial bubble is mostly wrong by Tim Hartford at theconversation.com

The brutal world of sheep fighting: the illegal sport beloved by Algeria’s ‘lost generation’ by Hannah Rae Armstrong in the Guardian. Who knew sheep fighting was a thing?

The Peculiar Business of Being Russian-American in Trump’s USA by Anastasia Edel at NYR daily “In the age of Trump … if the Russians didn’t exist, it would have been a good idea to invent us.”


Weekend Reading

Friday morning, middle of February. I can’t jump to conclusions, but I’d be surprised if this butterfly’s progeny are yet en route from Mexico. There is still time left in the Appalachian winter, so let us remain calm.

There’s no snow on the ground right now, but these hills fill their creeks for summer by rain in winter, and they are busy about doing it just now. If there will be a sunny day in all the month of February no one can say which one it will be.

Two recommendations today for interesting weekend reading:

Above the Treeline about travel along the Northwest Passage by Teva Harrison at Granta.com, and

How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future by James Suzman at evonomics.com.


My Finnish ESL (English as a second language) wife once accidentally grafted the portmanteau “grandiotic,” just testing it, not sure if it was a word. I don’t think it is a word, but it’s descriptive. Grandiose and idiotic.

“How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future” sounds grandiotic, but it shouldn’t. It leads into an interesting field of thought about the fundamental nature of work, how work works, and a question: if we employ people nowadays in soul-shattering jobs just to get their forty hours a week, well, should we?

Suzman’s article compliments the well-reviewed new book Against the Grain by James C. Scott, which proposes a newer theory of the transition from hunter-gatherers to, as the author calls it, sedentism. On the topic of humanity’s deep past, see also The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade. Together they help frame pre-agricultural society against whatever is coming at us in the age of automation.

Last night I started a clickable collection of articles on this topic under the heading “Future of Work” that you can find in the Categories sidebar. There are more links there that comprise way more than a weekend’s reading.

Enough for now. Have a lovely weekend.

Weekend Reading

It often happens here in Appalachia that our dreams turn to spring and our weather turns torrential, and this weekend we are told to expect more than an inch of rain. We do not, however, anticipate rain like in the photo. In that event, our few short days in Guatemala were attacked first by a volcanic eruption that stranded us there for a few missed days of work (the volcano that ate our homework) and then by a tropical storm off the west coast that flooded our little town and required a careful evacuation to Guatemala City.

None of that is on tap for this weekend here. There should be ample time for staying out of the rain with a few good reads.

I have been instantly engaged by this week’s new arrival in hardback, No Friends But the Mountains by Judith Matloff. It looks like a book to be enjoyed slowly, maybe a chapter at a time across a few weeks. Ms. Matloff describes conflict at altitude, the irascible nature of mountain folk in Albania, Central America, the Himalaya and Caucasus regions. In her introduction, Ms. Matloff hits on something I’ve always thought about the Assad Alawites’ peculiar version of Islam up in the Latakia Mountains, when she writes, “Religion imposed by colonial outsiders fails to take firm root, or is incorporated into indigenous beliefs.” My impression is that the Alawites have been up in those hills so long, the outsiders were Arabs bringing the original Islam.

Shorter form, try The Edge of the Petri Dish by Charles Mann at thebreakthrough.org, subtitled “Can Humankind Avoid Its Biological Destiny?” Mann is known for 1491, a survey of the Western Hemisphere world awaiting the Europeans.

I mostly agree with Damir Marusic’s The Dangers of Democratic Determinism at The American Interest (There is a paywall after one article per month). He tries to explain Eastern Europeans’ reluctance to admit refugees, saying “the events of 1989 are best understood not as a casting off of the false god of communism and an embrace of universally true western values” (as Western Europeans and Americans understood them) but rather as “emancipation from crumbling empires.” The last thing you want to do when you get your nation back, Marusic suggests, is dilute it right away with foreigners.

At thebaffler.com, Yasha Levine asks, “Why are internet companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?” in an article titled Surveillance Valley.

And one more: As we peek through our fingers at Cape Town to see what will happen next, consider The African Anthropocene by Gabrielle Hecht at Aeon.com, subtitled “The Anthropocene feels different depending on where you are – too often, the ‘we’ of the world is white and Western.”

Have a lovely weekend. I leave you for now with a couple more photos from that weekend in Guatemala.

Weekend Reading

A few items to ponder at your leisure this weekend:

The Feud That Captures the Fight For Serbia’s Future by Valerie Hopkins at World Politics Review
The Untreatable by Gavin Francis in the LRB (on the centenary of the Spanish Flu)
Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It by Declan Walsh in The New York Times
Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment In Dedicated Listening by James Jackson Toth at NPR.org
Michel de Montaigne: On Solitude by Paula Marvelly at The Culturium
Unfriendly Skies by David Dayen at The American Prospect

Weekend Reading

The deep south is still stuck in our cold wave. Here are some suggestions for another indoor weekend of interesting reading:

A Thousand and One Nights at the Call Centre by Anjali Puri at TheWire.in, which leads to
The Best Job in Town by Katherine Boo (pdf)
Trans-Siberian Railway by Giulia Mangione in Calvert Journal
My year of living ignorantly: I entered a news blackout the day Trump was elected by Christopher Hebert in the Guardian
When the Soviet Union Paid Pepsi in Warships by Anne Ewbank at Atlas Obscura
Transcript of interview with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson from U.S. House Intelligence Committee (pdf)

Got time to buy me a cup of coffee?

January Weekend Reading

A review of my Instapaper saves this week turns up these worthwhile articles from the web, best enjoyed inside and cozy, as in this photo of Grindelwald and Mt. Eiger at night. Enjoy these, and have a lovely weekend.

How to Remember a King by Antonia Colibasanu at Real Clear World
The Rhyme of History by Margaret Macmillan at Brookings.edu
Why humans need to rethink their place in the animal kingdom by Simon Barnes at the New Statesman
What really happened to Joshua Boyle and his family by Adnan R. Khan in Macleans
Why did New York’s JFK Struggle to Cope With its Flight Backlog? by Jason Rabinowitz at thepointsguy.com

Cold Winter Weekend Reading

Next week I think I’ll post a vignette from a trip to West Africa, some form of which should work its way into my eventual book about African travel. As for now, along with everyone else on the U.S. east coast, I’ll be spending this weekend mostly indoors. Here’s some engaging reading to enjoy by the fire, or wherever you are:

Spies, Dossiers, and the Insane Lengths Restaurants Go to Track and Influence Food Critics in the Washingtonian by Jessica Sidman
One of Us at laphamsquarterly.org by John Jeremiah Sullivan
The Bridge to Nowhere and the Bays Road at East of Elveden by my friend Laurence Mitchell
Will globalisation go into reverse? in Prospect Magazine by Barry Eichengreen
The monster beneath at 1843magazine.com by Helen Gordon
They Began a New Era in The New York Review of Books by James Salter (recommended as a Salter fan. I can also recommend the 2013 compilation of Salter’s travel writing, There and Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter)

Cheers for now.