Book Notes, April to June 2018
Empire by Stephen Howe — Howe splits empires into those on land and those of sea. Land empires being those that grew by overland expansion, extending frontiers, like the Roman or the Ottoman. We maybe don’t even think of the ones that still exist as being empires, like the Russian, Chinese or American. The sea power empires are the European kind of the last 500 years, the ones that really spread over the globe. The book mostly focusses on these, the impact and aftermath of that imperialism.
The economic balance sheet of colonialism, for both imperialist and colonized countries, presents a hugely complex, mixed record: one over which economic historians have long disputed, and will continue to do so. […] In some, indeed, all the preconditions for future commercial and industrial dynamism were present, as in India with its huge production of textiles. Colonial rule destroyed these conditions where they existed, and blocked the possibility of their emerging elsewhere. Colonized areas were forced into acting as sources of underpriced raw materials for European industry and of cheap, often forced or enslaved, labour. They were not allowed to develop industries of their own, except in the few cases where this suited European needs.
How to Be Miserable by Randy J. Paterson — I picked this up after watching CGP Grey’s short video, which I bet sold a lot of copies. Here’s Grey:
Aim toward the mirage of happiness rather than improving the ship upon which you sail. Last, but most important, follow your instincts. Navigation deeper into the sea of sadness is quite easy, for there is a dark magnetic field that points the compass of your impulses in the right direction once you get started. You will want to stay indoors, you will want to not exercise, you will want to sleep in, you will want to do what you know will make you sadder after you’ve done it.
The Bridge by Geert Mak — The fifth, current, Galata Bridge is not architecturally interesting but its location and history are remarkable. And the memory of walking over it has stuck with me: a city of its own with its fishermen, street sellers, pickpockets and hustlers.
Orhan Pamuk writes of the bridge in The Museum of Innocence but I wondered who else had. The reason this book is a great read is that Mak spent the time to get the stories of the characters who make the bridge home, and passes these stories on with empathy.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge — Eddo-Lodge says the title of this book comes from
The gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us.
There were plenty of times reading the book I felt that disconnect, felt the awkwardness of having to think about how that experience differs from mine. I spend close to zero time thinking about what it means to be white. Recommended.
Call for the Dead by John Le Carré — After A Small Town in Germany I went back to the first of the Smiley novels.
A Murder of Quality by John Le Carré — The second Smiley novel is a murder thriller.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré — The third Smiley novel is back to espionage and to East Germany. OK, this one is really great.