Summer sure flew by! I won’t bore you with all the details, but my summer has been a whirlwind of life milestones, fieldwork, and grinding away at my day job. So here I am sneaking in a last minute post on five books I’ve read or revisited in the past few months.
The Last Neanderthal
by Claire Cameron
I reviewed this book (among others) on the final GDAH episode to be hosted on the Archaeology Podcast Network. Hear Daniel Kwan’s book recommendations on that show as well! The Last Neanderthal weaves multiple story lines along the arc of a bioarchaeologist studying Neanderthal remains. Without giving any spoilers, this novel explores some of the issues women deal with as academics and professionals – particularly in STEM fields. The pressures the main protagonist contends with are echoed in an imaginative reconstruction of what life would have been like for a female Neanderthal in a time of rapid environmental and cultural change. I’ve been listening to it on Audible while I do work around the house and my family gets to hear some lines that sound really awkward out of context.
This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy
by Matthew Karp
This piece of historical non-fiction provides an important context to the horrifying racial injustice that is increasingly exposed in America. It also puts to rest a lot of the fallacies, revisionist histories, and exceptionalism surrounding the American Civil War. The prose is fast and sharp, chock full of informative bits without bogging the reader down with jargon. The use of historical dialogue emphasizes many of Karp’s points, and outlines the individuals and events that shaped the social and economic policies that developed many of the structural inequalities our country struggles with today. One thing I was surprised to learn was the immense complexity and global scale of political-economic machinations in the antebellum South. Karp by no means glorifies slaveholders, but his delivery of historical fact comes off very even-tempered.
World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction
by Immanuel Wallerstein
This also couldn’t be a more timely read. World-Systems Analysis is a must-read primer for understanding the broader contexts of current shifts in power, economy, and charismatic demagogues. This short and to-the-point book explains how centralized authority erodes, the Global South becomes unstable, and despotic figures rise to power by stoking the frustrations of a labor class that’s spread too thin. For all the clear-headed directness of Wallerstein’s approach, there are some big criticisms of World-Systems Theory (WST) – mainly, that it doesn’t accommodate human agency and takes a perspective that is too broad. WST is an important addition to your critical social theory repertoire.
The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest
by Timothy Egan
The Good Rain is a fascinating work of historical non-fiction that places the Pacific Northwest in context on multiple scales. Egan weaves geologic, environmental, and social perspectives together that highlight the interdependence of healthy forests, healthy streams, and healthy people and animals. This book is loaded with interesting historical trivia – like how Cape Disappointment got its name, along with the origins for many other odd place-names in the PNW. Did you know the Columbia River used to flow so violently that Euroamerican explorers dreaded navigating it, and it wiped out an entire town in a massive flood? This book makes much of the historical, ethnographic, archaeological, and environmental knowledge of the region relevant to present settings.
The Art of Raising a Puppy
by the Monks of New Skete
Ok, so this one has nothing to do with archaeology or social theory, but remember how I mentioned some serious life milestones happened this summer? One of them was adopting a puppy! This is THE BOOK on raising a puppy, written by a bunch of monks who make it their life’s work to raise puppies. Kinda makes me want to be a monk… Some of the things that make this book so useful are the emphases on physical and cognitive developmental phases, and acknowledging differing perspectives on training. The section on the window of intense neuroplasticity at around 3-12 weeks old is particularly crucial, and sets up a lot of the timing and methods of training and shaping a dog’s behavior. If you’re thinking of raising a puppy, you need to read this book. I’ll bring this back around to archaeology with the upcoming Fall 2017 Reading List, with a selection of books on human-animal interaction.
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