I just bought four books (actual, real books…not eBooks) and I’m pretty excited about diving into them but who the hell am I kidding? I’ve got seven books I’m currently reading, so it’s probably going to be next March by the time I get around to these four.
Anyway, these are the books that have just struck my fancy:
This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession
I’ve been fascinated with the effect music has on us not just emotionally but physically as well since reading Music, The Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain, so it’s no surprise that This Is Your Brain On Music caught my eye.
From Publishers Weekly: Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it.
Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making, without losing an affectionate appreciation for the songs he’s reducing to neural impulses. Levitin is the ideal guide to this material: he enjoyed a successful career as a rock musician and studio producer before turning to cognitive neuroscience, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a top researcher into how our brains interpret music. Though the book starts off a little dryly (the first chapter is a crash course in music theory), Levitin’s snappy prose and relaxed style quickly win one over and will leave readers thinking about the contents of their iPods in an entirely new way.
The Artist, The Philosopher, and The Warrior
Now to the history books, starting with Italy, one of my favorite places. The top of the cover of The Artist, The Philosopher, and The Warrior cites “Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the world they shaped.” That was enough to sell me this book.
If you subscribe to the theory that great individuals shape history, the Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia are certainly three prime candidates for the shaping of the Italy of the Renaissance period and of Western civilization.
Amazon’s book description: The Renaissance was a child of many fathers–none more important than the three iconic figures whose intersecting lives provide the basis for this astonishing work of narrative history: Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesar Borgia. Each could not have been more different. They would meet only for a short time in 1502 but the events that transpired, would significantly alter their perceptions–and the course of Western history.
In 1502, Italy was riven by conflict, with the city of Florence as the ultimate prize. Machiavelli, the consummate political manipulator, attempted to placate the savage Borgia by volunteering the services of Da Vinci as Borgia’s chief military engineer. That autumn, the three men embarked together on a brief, perilous, and fateful journey through the mountains, remote villages and hill towns of the Italian Romagna–the details of which were revealed in Machiavelli’s often-daily dispatches and Da Vinci’s meticulous notebooks.
In a book that is at once a gripping adventure story and a trenchant analysis of how men make history, The Artist, the Philosopher and the Warrior limns each man’s personality, their interactions, and the forces that shaped their world. Superbly written, meticulously researched, here is a work of narrative genius–whose subject is the very nature of genius itself.
The American Civil War: A Military History
I’ve been looking for a concise history of the American Civil War for years so when I saw The American Civil War with John Keegan, one of the foremost military historians, as the author, I had to buy it.
From Publishers Weekly: American scholars tend to write the Civil War as a great national epic, but Keegan, an Englishman with a matchless knowledge of comparative military history, approaches it as a choice specimen with fascinating oddities. His more thematic treatment has its shortcomings—his campaign and battle narratives can be cursory and ill-paced—but it pays off in far-ranging discussions of broader features: the North’s strategic challenge in trying to subdue a vast Confederacy ringed by formidable natural obstacles and lacking in significant military targets; the importance of generalship; the unusual frequency of bloody yet indecisive battles; and the fierceness with which soldiers fought their countrymen for largely ideological motives.
Keegan soars above the conflict to delineate its contours, occasionally swooping low to expand on a telling detail or a moment of valor or pathos. Some of his thoughts, as on the unique femininity of Southern women and how the Civil War stymied socialism in America, are less than cogent. Still, Keegan’s elegant prose and breadth of learning make this a stimulating, if idiosyncratic, interpretation of the war.
Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels
The title Revolutionary Deists simply struck me as ammunition against the rewriting of our history as embodied in the belligerent idiocy of the Tea Party.
Amazon description: For some eighty-five years–between, roughly, 1725 and 1810–the American colonies were agitated by what can only be described as a revolutionary movement. This was not the well-known political revolution that culminated in the War of Independence, but a revolution in religious and ethical thought. Its proponents called their radical viewpoint “deism.” They challenged Christian orthodoxy and instead endorsed a belief system that celebrated the power of human reason and saw nature as God’s handiwork and the only revelation of divine will.
In this illuminating discussion of American deism, philosopher Kerry Walters presents an overview of the main tenets of deism, showing how its influence rose swiftly and for a time became a highly controversial subject of debate in the colonies.
The deists were students of the Enlightenment and took a keen interest in the scientific study of nature. They were thus critical of orthodox Christianity for its superstitious belief in miracles, persecution of dissent, and suppression of independent thought and expression.
At the heart of his book are profiles of six “rational infidels,” most of whom are quite familiar to Americans as founding fathers or colonial patriots: Benjamin Franklin (the ambivalent deist), Thomas Jefferson (a critic of Christian supernaturalism but an admirer of its ethics), Ethan Allen (the rough-edged “frontier deist”), Thomas Paine (the arch iconoclast and author of The Age of Reason), Elihu Palmer (the tireless crusader for deism and perhaps its most influential proponent), and Philip Freneau (a poet whose popular verses combined deism with early romanticism).
This is a fascinating study of America’s first culture war, one that in many ways has continued to this day.