On the reading table lately

Been a while, so these cover a span of reading.

I'm in the midst of my friend Adrienne Mayor's The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy, and can report that Mr. M is quite a poisonous but complicated handful -- a dark and deadly echo of his hero and model, Alexander -- and this reconstruction a splendid read.

A few weeks ago I finished Thomas Ricks' The Gamble, an excellent account of the surge in Iraq. Ricks -- who earlier wrote Fiasco, a devastating indictment of the run-up to the war, makes three things quite clear:

  1. The surge was not about more soldiers, but soldiers doing different things -- protecting the populace rather than hunting the enemy. They killed fewer enemies -- but reduced even further the number of new enemies made.
  2. This made things safer for both Iraqis and Americans, but didn't necessarily solve any long-term problems.
  3. We're going to be there a long long time.

While researching a feature I wrote that will be appearing soon in a major magazine near you, I read:

Deborah Blum's Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. First-rate history of science here, and a fascinating look at Harry Harlow, a monkey researcher whose powerful but sometimes disturbing experiments in the middle decades of last century helped replace a cold behavioralist view of infancy and childhood with the theories of attachment and bonding that still rule today.

The 10,000-Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, by Harry Harpending and Gregory Cochran. "The Beak of the Finch (a favorite of mine), but this time about us.

And amid those I read Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, which went through me like a bullet. Withering. Beautiful.

More like this

The 10,000-year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Evolution, of which I've so far read about 1000 words -- but I just got it. Appears to be The Beak of the Finch (faster than expected evolutionary changes) in humans, but with this delicious addtion: the idea that culture can drive evolution,…
The Poisoner's Handbook, is out next week and in a recent interview I found myself trying to explain why I'm now writing about poison and murder when my last book was about supernatural research and the one before that about the biology of love and affection. I know, it sounds like I have a short…
I just finished reading Erica Goode's Times story on the suicides of four soldiers who served together in a small North Carolina-based Guard unit in Iraq from 2006 to spring 2007. This is a witheringly painful story. Goode, who has done quite a bit of science writing as well as substantial…
The normal story we are told is that as rose civilization, so declined evolution. The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, inverts that formula as indicated by the title. The idea that humans are beyond evolution isn't limited just to non-scientists, Steve Jones,…