Tag Archives: Catherine Merridale

2017 Roundup and list of Books Reviewed

This year I continued daily posts, which I have done for just under four years now.  Overall, traffic to the blog was up about 18% over 2016.

As always, the coverage is mainly review and commentary on topics of interest to me, including “the new way of work”, robots, dinosaurs, cryptocurrency/blockchain, quantum cryptography, internet of too Many things, computer software in general, and so on.

This year I continued weekly posts noting and commenting on books I have read.  Most of the books were recently published, with a few older ones.   (Listed below.)

Throughout the year, I offered a number of “great names for a band”, in tribute to Dave Barry who pioneered the genre.  Most of these are “sciency”, inspired by technical articles I read and commented on.

Countershading
Banded tail
Dinosaur bandit mask
Paleocoloration
Beryllium hydride
Biomimetic Robotic Zebrafish
Chicxulub    [Note:  pronounced ( /ˈtʃiːkʃʊluːb/; Mayan: [tʃʼikʃuluɓ])]
The Chicxulub Event
We Are Children of Chicxulub
Thanks to Chicxulub
Brought to You By Chicxulub
Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs
As Greenland Darkens
Recent Mass Loss
Larsen C
My Raptor Posse
A Rip of Raptors
Personal Raptor
The Robot Raptor Revue
Final Five Orbits
Kuiper Belt & Braces
A Belt of Kuiper
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Fog World Congress
Penguin Guano

Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa


Books Reviewed in 2017

Overall I posted 79 book reviews, 58 fiction and 21 non-fiction.

In fiction, these include old favorites (Donna Leon, Charles Stross, Thomas Perry, Tim Dorsey, Ian McDonald, Gregory Maguire, Tom Holt).

Some new favorites include Richard Kadrey,  Viet Thanh Nguyen, Emma Straub.

I really liked Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, and Touch by Courtney Maum, but my best reads for the year have to be

Joe Ide,  IQ and Righteious.  <<links>> Righteous by Joe Ide

In non-fiction, I liked Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell and Eugenia Chengs Beyond InfinityHow America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein is both good and important.

<<links>>

But at the top, I’d probably pick

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

List of Books Reviewed

Q4

Fiction

First Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg
The Adventurist by J. Bradford Hipps
Artemis by Andy Weir
Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire
Willful Behavior by Donna Leon
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams
Righteous by Joe Ide
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Border Child by Michel Stone
Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Non-fiction

Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern
After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

Books Reviewed In Q3 2017

Fiction

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
The Management Style of Supreme Beings by Tom Holt
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Arlington Park by Rachael Cusk
Transition by Rachael Cusk
Death at La Fenece by Donna Leon
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell
Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng

Books Reviewed Second Quarter

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton

Books Reviewed Q1 2017

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
Wonderland by Steven Johnson
Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson


That’s all for 2017!  Happy New Year!

 

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Roundup, Books Reviewed

A bit of housekeeping at the end of Q2.

The usual

This quarter has seen daily posts, a steady stream of comments on research papers* and general articles on favorite topics including blockchains, the new economy, solar power, environmental sensing, computer security, and “brilliantly executed BS”.

I’ve begun to pay attention to Quantum Computing, which is surely a coming thing.

And Robots! And Dinosaurs!

*Note: discussion of scientific and technical research always refers to the primary sources.


Books Reviewed This Quarter

A summary of the books reviewed in the second quarter.

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton


Some ideas for band names

 Following the lead of Sensei Dave Barry, I occasionally suggest names for bands.

This quarter’s harvest include:

Penguin Guano
Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa

 

 

 

Book Review: “Lenin on the Train” by Catherine Merridale

Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale

This is the centennial of one of the most dramatic and iconic episodes of the twentieth century, Lenin’s return to Russia from exile in Switzerland. Permitted and aided by the Germans, the great radical Lenin was injected into the seething revolution that had already deposed the Tsar and was threatening to knock Russia out of the war.

Lenin was transported through hostile Germany in a “sealed train”, which is a marvelous image, and led irresistibly to thoughts of a virulent virus being delivered as a weapon. At the same time, the Soviet state’s cult of Lenin had no interest in gritty details of what really happened.

Merridale revisits this episode both historically and in person. She traced the actual route north through Germany, across to Sweden, north to the border crossing to Finland, and there south to Petrograd.

Most of the book is about the context for this remarkable trip, the successful Petrograd uprising, and the wild turbulence immediately after the fall of the Romanovs. Russia was at the end of its tether, starving and bled by the war. The revolution raised hopes for peace and bread, but no one knew how to deliver, or to govern in any meaningful sense.

Foreign powers had a huge stake in Russia’s future. The allies wanted Russia to keep fighting Germany, the axis hoped for Russia to make a separate piece. Not surprisingly, all these powers sought to stir the pot and influence the new government with money and propaganda.

Lenin was a hard liner, instant on immediate peace in order to pursue revolution and civil war. This position was what Germany desired, and the allies feared.

As the revolution unfolded, thousands of émigrés and exiles sought to return to Russia. This was nearly impossible because of the war. The various warring powers prevented many from returning, fearing their own interests would be damaged. For Lenin, this mean that he could not return via France or Italy, because the allies

In this environment, the German decided that letting Lenin return would suit their goals. It had to be done delicately, because anyone obviously sponsored by Germany would be suspected of collusion with the enemy.

For this reason, Lenin sought to appear at arms length from German influence, demanding that the train by treated as if it were extra-territorial, “sealed” from contact with Germans. Later versions in the West told this as Germany seeking to isolate Lenin from contact with their own people. Maybe that was part of the idea, but it wasn’t the main point. In any case, the train was only symbolically sealed. At one point, there was a chalk line demarking the “Russian” section from the “German” section of the car.

Merridale gives us a great sense of the many “what ifs” around this trip. In particular, what if he had been intercepted and disappeared? The crossing point into Finland was a wild west of war-time intrigue, awash with spies, smugglers, and ne’er-do-wells of all sorts. As she says, it would have been easy for Lenin to disappear into the cold mists and no one would have known.

But allied intelligence dis not act, nor did Russian rival stop him. So he came through and arrived in his famous scene at the Finland Station. (This book makes clear why that was the place he was arriving—just look at the map.) This began his leadership of the radical Bolshevik party, and ultimate total victory in the civil war he preached.

Much of the book recounts the various factions and leaders of the revolution. With the distance of time, Merridale recounts how the radicals in Russia and oversees were not only surprised by the rebellion, but actively counseled against it. When handed power, most of them did not know what to do, and many did not seem to want to govern for real.

Lenin himself did know what he wanted to do, and was prepared to do whatever was necessary. He was not especially popular, and his program was radical to the point of lunacy. But his ruthless determination won out.

In another huge “what if”, Lenin was dogged with accusations that he was a German agent. He certainly accepted German help to get home, and it is widely suspected that the Bolsheviks received money from German intelligence. At one point, he was investigated and could have been arrested as a traitor. But the evidence was weak, and there were many false claims, and he escaped.

Over the years, there have been many fairy tales, but little solid evidence of direct German aid can be found today. Given that Lenin was following his long-held policies, he scarcely needed Germans to pay him. But his party did need money, so who knows what clandestine flows might have happened?

IN the end, the centennial year of the Lenin’s trip is distinctly ambiguous. Outside of Russia, few now or care about these long past events. Within Russia, the decades of Lenin worship have ended, and the current government is more interested in rehabilitating the Romanov era than celebrating the discredited revolution.

Lenin’s radicalism doesn’t sit well in contemporary Russia, and his advocacy of local self-determination is antithetical to the current government’s programs. His fire-breathing advocacy for direct democracy and appropriation of property probably don’t sit well either.

Still, while much of the twentieth century ahs been erased, Lenin himself cannot be disappeared so easily. When Vladimir Putin (accurately) criticized Lenin’s support for national autonomy, particularly in Ukraine, undermined Russian unity, the push back was intense and forced a climb down. “Lenin has a charisma that still holds many Russians in its grip.” (p. 289)

This is an interesting book, and it is probably important that it was written now, before the past is further effaced by time and contemporary politics. The Russian revolution, world communism, and the cold war have been powerful, polarizing forces in their time, and views of Lenin and his rail trek have been viewed differently through these lenses. Today, after the collapse of communism and rise of Putin in Russia, we have yet another perspective,

This is still one of the great romantic episodes of history, and certainly one of the great “what ifs”. What would Russian and the world be like, if Lenin had not made it through?

As a child of the 70s, I certainly felt familiar with the swirling waters of radical politics. Lot’s of naïve enthusiasm, plenty of words, murky loyalties, too much theory and too loose grasp on real life politics and governing. Enough time has passed now that we can see and sympathize a bit with all the actors, the Russians, exiles, foreign meddlers.

It was a blazing bright moment, when anything was possible. But we also know what was coming, and how things played out. What if.


  1. Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews