Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

“Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 258 pages.
Read from January 22, 2019 to January 31, 2019.

This is not a book I would have normally picked up which is why book clubs are so amazing. This funny and slightly morbid travelogue is about all the assassinated Presidents of America. Sarah Vowell has a very entertaining writing style which makes you wish that she could have authored every single history book you read in school.

You likely know who Sarah Vowell is but may not recognize her face. She has a unique voice and is involved in a number of popular podcasts but she is best known for her voice in The Incredibles Movie as the character, Violet. In this novel, Sarah goes on a road trip visiting all the murder sites of each of the assassinated Presidents throughout American history. This isn’t your typical vacation and the author recognizes her strange obsessions with humour as she drags her reluctant friends and family around the country with her in order to feed her assassination hobby. Sarah discusses the political reasonings and outfall of each of the assassinations as well as giving some, often hilarious, insights into the lives of each of the presidents and how they have come to change the face of America today.

I can’t say I have ever cared about dead America Presidents but Sarah’s passion, wit and humour on the subject comes through in her writing and this book made for an enjoyable and engaging read.

 

 

 

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

A biologist tries his hand at anthropology and does a pretty decent job.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 480 pages.
Read from October 25, 2017 to November 27, 2017.

“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

I honestly did not know that this book was published in 1997. I remember working at Chapters in 2005 and this book being very popular so I assumed that it was published at that time. Little did I know that this book created such a wave that it became a basis and main theory contender for how humans developed in countries all over the world. What is even weirder is that Diamond is not even an anthropologist, he is a biologist! After spending 30 years of his career in New Guinea he wanted to answer one of the biggest questions in anthropology: Why did some areas of the world develop more than others?

“Why you white men have so much cargo [i.e., steel tools and other products of civilization] and we New Guineans have so little?”

Diamond’s basic argument is that farming and agriculture enabled some areas to develop faster than others as the lands native and natural vegetation and species adapted and took well to domestication, like the Fertile Crescent. The abundance of easily available and mass-produced native vegetation allowed for the expansion of a population which then leads to more innovations and progressions. Some areas of the globe, like New Guinea, did not have the land, space, population or resources to introduce farming and agriculture making it an unstainable move away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  Hunter-gatherers have to put all their time and energy into attaining food, leaving little time for other innovations and developments.  Hunting and gathering is no easy feat either. It requires a lot of specific skills and knowledge and within that other types of innovations are made. Diamond goes into detailed examples of the progression of human history in a variety of areas around the globe as well as the spread of contagion, military developments and the invention and use of writing and its effects.

giphy (1)Diamond’s arguments and examples are solid and I was intrigued for the first half of the novel but sadly, towards the end, I was found the content a bit dry, regardless of the facts he was presenting and their importance. I suppose it is because I read this novel 21 years after its initial publication in which, Diamond’s ideas and arguments already seem so commonplace, but I imagine when his book was first published it would have been quite revolutionary.

I do not know how Diamond’s works hold up in the current anthropological environment but the book is still an important one to consider reading. Especially if you have ever asked yourself the same question Diamond did, which I would say is one of the most important questions of human history. Diamond’s intention was to show a scientific and anti-racist approach to some of the ‘whys’ of our human history. I believe he succeeded in that.

In short, Europe’s colonization of Africa had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography—in particular, to the continents’ different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species. That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate.”

Shame: A Brief History by Peter N. Stearns

Shame, we have all felt it. However, the majority of people undermine how much it has shaped the world that we interact with everyday.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 182 pages.
Read from July 11, 2017 to July 20, 2017.

Shame, as an emotion, has a core meaning, in relating individuals to wider social groups and norms — real or imagined

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Shame, we have all felt it. However, the majority of people undermine how much it has shaped the world that we interact with everyday.  From our sexual behaviour, politics, self-worth, and even our upbringing.  What is shame and what makes it different from guilt? For many scholars, this has been a broad and difficult definition to tackle and an even harder topic to discuss in terms of history and its impact on modern society.  Peter N. Stearns attempts to address these grey areas with his new book which, is set to be published in September 2017.

Guilty people apologize and also take steps to avoid repetition. Shame, in contrast, is a more global emotion, which can emerge in response to the same kind of wrong act and violation of standards. It may develop earlier in life than guilt– guilt requires more cognitive sorting capacity– but above all it emphasizes self-abasement. It is the self that is at fault, not the commission of the act. This creates greater pain and intensity than guilt. A shamed person feels very bad indeed– but also makes it more difficult to escape.”

The novel opens with the widely debated matter of shame versus guilt and whether or not shame is a primal human emotion. In order to address the history of shame, the author breaks down the novel into four more additional chapters to address each stage in history and how shame is built and progresses through time.

The author draws from a wide-variety of knowledge and cultures to provide excellent examples of shame from across the globe.  The most impressionable chapter of the book was by far the last chapter which addressed shame in modern-day USA. The reason I felt this chapter was successful was that it was channelled and concise where as the previous chapters, while interesting and insightful, covered a globally large scope on shame.  As a result, I also felt that the author missed out on key topics of shame, specifically with women’s sexuality and minorities, both historically and for our present day. While it was mentioned and discussed to a point, surely a large portion of how shame is structured and how it has created our current social and cultural society was built and carried on the backs of shamed women and minorities? Perhaps it is too presumptuous for me to suggest that, however, this book would have benefited from discussing the effects of shame within one country or continent, rather than that of the whole world.

In the last chapter, the author also discusses how technology and social media has given rise to a revival of shame in the modern-day. I also appreciated the references and discussions that the author made in relation to other current researchers on shame, such as Brené Brown.

Overall, this novel is an intriguing look into how shame has shaped our world over the years and how it is currently effecting our everyday lives. The majority of this book is historical in nature but there are also some good sociological and psychological insights as well. I would recommend this book for those looking for an academic read on a topic that is worthy of more exploration.

A big thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.