Tag Archives: Paul Strathern

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!

 

Book Review: “Napoleon in Egypt” by Paul Strathern

Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern

Napoleon Bonaparte is the epitome of Romantic history, heroic and meglomaniacal, a brutal conqueror who swept away the remnants of medieval Europe, and ushered in the modern industrial age.

One of the strangest episodes of his career was his invasion of Egypt in 1798. This expedition failed by every reasonable measure, but galvanized the modern study of Egyptology, revolutionized Europeans understandings of their deep prehistoric roots, and, with the acquisition of the Rosetta stone, led to deciphering the Hieroglyphs, unreadable for some 1500 years.

It’s an interesting story all the way around.

The revolutionary government in France was happy to get rid of a dangerously popular and ambitions general by sending him off to Africa. Bonaparte himself had dreams of a new empire, from Cairo to India, in the footsteps of Alexander.  The invasion overturned the wars and big power politics:  Napoleon threatened British interests in India, while invading a province of their own ally, Turkey.

The invasion was also a major cultural event. It was a significant new European intrusion into the Moslem heartland, with predictable visceral reactions by the invaded. At the same time, it shook the disorganized and stagnant Ottoman state, and thrust the Moslem world into the Napoleonic World War.  And, in the end, the scientists and artists attached to the army galvanized European knowledge of the mysteries and glories of Egypt.

The French expedition was a fiasco from the start. The giant, slow moving fleet was almost intersected by a British task force before even arriving.  Once ashore, the French were able to drive off the glittery but ineffective Mameluke defense, and “liberated” the Egyptians from their feudal rule. These nominally atheist French revolutionaries claimed to be friends of Islam and allied to the Ottomans (who neither requested nor approved the invasion of their territory).

Things went pear shaped when the British squadron returned and sank the French fleet. The Army of the Orient was on its own in hostile country.  Yet they soldiered on, inspired by their charismatic and successful leader.  Predictably, the army was worn down by disease, battle, and uprising.  Also predictably, the French never understood the Egyptians, and vice versa.  In short, it was a horrible, wasteful mess, with many thousands killed and injured on all sides.

Stymied and defeated by Turkish and British forces, the expedition ended with the remarkable exit of Napoleon. Abandoning his army, he slipped back to France to seize power.  Desertion of an army in the field would be a career killer for most people, but this latter day Alexander survived to become Emperor and plunge Europe into many more years of brutal warfare.


This book is interesting in the light of recent history.  Over the last century, this region has experience a series of European incursions, with greater and greater costs on all sides. Egypt and neighboring Palestine have seen war and uprisings, which we cannot help but see echoed in Napoleon’s escapade.

At the same time, Napoleon’s expedition was one of the best documented “encounters”, as Europeans discovered a totally unknown, “alien” civilization.  Unlike the American encounters of the sixteenth century, Egypt was hiding in plain sight.  Europeans knew of Egypt from Greek and Roman writings, and had visited (and invaded) often.  But somehow, the tides of time as well as cultural biases had blinded Europeans to the age, magnitude, and originality of Egyptian civilization.

With his intent to “civilize” and also to encyclopedically document Egypt, Napoleon brought an elite cadre of “savants” to Egypt, and gave them sponsorship and resources, in part because he himself was fascinated.  The serendipitous result was that a critical mass of the right people were in place to discover ruins and relics, and recognize their significance.  This aspect of the Egyptian fiasco can’t help remind us of the best of academic research seen in later years—much of which was also side effects of big power military sponsorship.


Napoleon in Egypt is an interesting story, but Strathern’s viewpoint is limited.

Overall, Strathern gives a fairly straightforward rendition of events, mainly from a French perspective (which is copiously documented). He seems rather sympathetic to the French “civilizing” mission, and goes to great lengths to not condemn Bonaparte’s egotistical excesses and bizarre fantasies of world domination.

He is fairly sanguine about the horrible cost to the French army, the people of Egypt, and the other forces who contended for control.  Annoyingly, he lets slip a few comments about “advanced” Europeans and “backward” Egyptians, and has comparatively little to say about what Egyptians and other locals thought of the invaders.

Strathern seems to have no explanation for the deep anger and hatred many Moslems felt over the cultural impositions of the French, even though it is obvious why they didn’t want to be occupied, didn’t appreciate the intrusion of French culture, and did not enjoy the foreign appropriation of their food, cities, money, and women.


Recent decades have taught us the hazards of wading in to conflicts with inadequate understanding or respect for the local history and culture. It is important to remember that this story is not historical romance nor parable.  It is as current as today’s headlines, and it was horrible indeed for almost everyone involved.


  1. Paul Strathern, Napoleon in Egypt, New York, Bantam Books, 2007.

 

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