A Loeb Classical Library Reader by Loeb Classical Library
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This reader was just a joy to work through. A nice selection of classic Greek and Latin texts, with the original language opposite an English translation. It was fun to try to remember some of my Greek and also to try to work through some Latin that I could figure out from experience, English vocabulary and knowing a little Spanish. I’d read some of the pieces, but most of the Latin selections were new to me.
I really enjoyed Terence’s play “The Brothers” (p. 126) with regard to how to raise children: the authoritarian vs the loving way. Cicero’s “On Duties” (p. 132) was excellent. One thing he wrote was that one should not enrich themselves by stealing from their neighbors. I thought of the idea of the “social contract” and was pleased to see that this work has had such an impact up through today.
It was very exciting to read Pliny the Younger’s letter about the eruption of Vesuvius that killed his uncle, Pliny the Elder (p. 207). To read a first hand account, even though it was written many years after the eruption, was thrilling. It rooted a historical experience into a personal frame.
And finally, I loved the Latin phrase that Virgil coined in his Aeneid (p. 152): “Timeo Danous et dona ferentis” … ‘I fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts.’
Poetry of Byron by George Byron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Rarely has a book, read in such small doses, given me such pleasure. Matthew Arnold certainly pulled together a wonderful sampling of Byron’s poetry. I’ve carried this tiny volume around the house and throughout Wales and London, sampling a poem here and there as I had time, often before bed. Almost every selection brought me joy and made me think. The samples pulled me out of time and place and let me simply enjoy the words and imagery. Well done, Lord Byron and Mr. Arnold.
Some of the pieces stood out more than the others. The samples from Childe Harold: Solitude (p. 27) and Bereavement (p. 31). The excepts from the Prisoner of Chillon volume were great as well: The Dream (p. 35) and Bonnnivard and His Brothers (p. 119). The poem She Walks in Beauty (p. 46) was sublime. So simple, so short, yet so wonderful. I have a copy of Mazeppa and was happy to revisit “his ride” (p. 159). I’d never read any of Manfred, but after reading Act i, Scene 2 and Act ii, Scene 2, I’ve added it to my list of things to acquire and read. Likewise, Cain was new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt “Cain and Adah” (p. 228). A great critique of original sin and how we react when we are burdened by the crimes of our parents. I definitely felt a sense of Milton in this piece, so I look forward to reading it in its entirety some day.
The Wyvern Mystery by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’m a big fan of Le Fanu’s short stories, especially his collection “In a Glass, Darkly”. I think The Wyvern Mystery would have been better if it wasn’t novel length. It rambled on for far too long, even though most chapters were only a few pages in length each. Things were also tied up way to neatly in the final few chapters. I’m glad I read this but hope that two of his other novels that are on my to read list are better.
The Grave: A Poem by Robert Blair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An enjoyable read, especially since my copy has Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard appended to it. It was common to see the two of these bound together. I like that the Gray came later, since Blair’s poem was very dark and grim. Gray’s, while also profound, is a little lighter in spirit and a nice way to end an evening of reading about life and death. That could partly be due to its rhymed meter. I think I preferred the blank verse of Blair’s poem when engaging such a subject.
Overall, very pleased to have encountered these poems.
Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World by Amir Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was an interesting romp through some of the mathematics of the 16th and 17th centuries. The author’s larger goal was to tie the battle regarding infinitesimals (which would lead eventually to calculus and modern analysis) to the rise of modernity across Europe. He succeeds on the first part but I think fails on the linkage. It’s a clever hook but it feels like he’s forcing the facts into his thesis to make a gripping story, not because they cleanly fit.
This is not a math textbook, but there are some neat things for the reader to work through. I enjoyed even more the history of the mathematicians: where they were from, how they were educated, what they did, who they worked for, who they collaborated and fought with, etc. That was very interesting and worth reading the book just to get their stories.
The writing was repetitive. Points were made, reiterated, reflected upon and written again. I felt whole chapters could have been reduced to several paragraphs. This topic would have been better suited to a long article instead of a book-length piece. While redundancy can be forgiven (one can always skim), the author was often melodramatic. I can tell he was excited about his topic and that excitement was contagious, but he went overboard in trying to make each paragraph feel like a cliff-hanger of a poor television series. I kept waiting for music to cue up and hear the announcer from Batman say “What will become of Cavalieri? What secrets does Guldin have up his sleeve? Tune in next paragraph to find out.” [Yes, I am being consciously melodramatic here.]
I’d originally thought of giving this book two stars, but I looked at my reviews from the last two years and I thought that would be unfair. So, I gave it three stars. I did learn things and I enjoyed the history of mathematics, religion and politics.
Notes from Sotheby’s; being a compilation of 2,032 notes from Catalogues of book-sales which have taken place in the rooms of Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, between the years 1885-1909 by Frank Karslake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Another fabulously fun read of one of my “books on books”. This one is an alphabetical encyclopedia of volumes sold at Sotheby’s around the turn of the 20th century. Each entry gives bibliographic information about the actual edition, its history and provenance and sometimes a pithy comment on the item. Books from the 15th century until the 19th are listed.
I learned some intriguing things, especially about Shakespeare. Some of the books sold were either read or referenced by Shakespeare when he was writing his plays. Others mention the bard or his theater, the Globe, including a map from a mid-17th century book that showed the location of the Globe before the Great Fire of 1666. Shakespeare may have drawn the character names of Rosencrantz and Guidenstern from the frontispiece of a book written by Tycho Brahe in 1602. The names were included in a list of Dutch nobles on that item.
I just love these types of books, because many of these items are gone or in private collections or university libraries. Through these entries, I can “visit” with them, at least for a short while and marvel at all that has come before.
I was thinking about this in 2014 and 2015 and wrote it down on an index card just a few weeks ago. I thought I’d lay it down here. I want:
- to have someone like me holding a treasured volume of a book I wrote, long after I’m dead
- to seed the future with the children of my mind
- to quell the questions of others about my chosen vocation
- to quell the incessant question in my own head as to whether I can accomplish these things that make me happy