The Ra Expeditions
The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl, 4/5
Heyerdahl is at it again, living out a real-life adventure story as he sails across the Atlantic in a boat made of reeds and rope. I love how the author researches and resurrects ancient technology, but I didn’t find this book to be as fresh and compelling as his account of the Kon-Tiki expedition. This was just a bit more calculated and agenda-driven, lacking the magical sense of adventure and soul that infused Heyerdahl’s earlier portrayal of his journey aboard the famous balsa wood raft. I suspect it was the Kon-Tiki fame and corresponding sense of responsibility that stole away some of the spontaneity of his earlier adventures.
N.B. I would suggest nobody buy this 1988 Scribner Laidlaw edition, which not only lacks the original photographs but, annoyingly, still includes captions for them.
Why I read it: My brother intended to reread it during our trip to Norway, but I hijacked it.
Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought by David Hackett Fischer, 5/5
Fallacies everywhere! Browsing through eleven categories of faulty reasoning, all illustrated by examples from published works of historical scholarship, made me feel like a kid in a candy shop. My initial reservation–that it isn’t very respectable to do nothing but pick apart the works of one’s colleagues–was satisfactorily addressed in Fischer’s deliciously cogent introduction to the book. Here, the author acknowledges the dual impossibility and necessity of defining a logical approach to the study of history and justifies his negative method with the respectable goal “to extract from these mistakes [in other historians’ reasoning] a few rough rules of procedure” (xviii).
Though some may find his approach off-puttingly critical, the author is no intellectual slouch–many of the fallacies he addresses are so subtle that I am impressed he could identify them at all, much less find relevant examples in the wild. Though the topic is very specific, the application is broad–historians aren’t the only ones who are susceptible to fallacies of question-framing, factual verification, factual significance, generalization, narration, causation, motivation, composition, analogy, semantical distortion and substantive distraction.
Why I read it: The title caught my eye as I was browsing through Easton’s Books. The owner was so surprised that someone was actually interested in the book (he’d almost thrown it out, thinking no one would ever buy it) that he gave me a discount and said I’d made his day.
The Child from the Sea
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge, 1/5
This tedious attempt to legitimize the relationship between King Charles II of England and Lucy Walter, one of his numerous mistresses, is painfully contrived. The dialogue is stilted, the characters unlikeable, the romantic scenes unbearably sappy, and the whole thing suffers from a pervasive moral ambiguity that causes painful cognitive dissonance. For example, Lucy and one of the king’s good friends have a one-night fling that results in pregnancy, but according to the author “both had the gift of a dedicated loyalty” and “were faithful to the core” (473). I guess I’m just one of those who “would not have understood, if they could have seen it made visible, the quality of the integrity that despite their failures gave such distinction to Lucy and her lover” (473). Integrity?! Is this backwards day?
Despite constant attempts to make Lucy appear the victim of malicious gossip, the political climate of the times, and her own big-hearted, “Welsh” emotionalism, I felt that even the author no longer liked the main character by the end of the book. And that was the romanticized, fictional version of her…
[Why I read it: my friend, Alison, passed it along to me, [rightly] thinking that I would enjoy the Welsh references.]