19 December 2014

Many Thoughts on Actual Books

First things first, Hikidashi will be completed this weekend. All the lines outside bubbles made this deceptively easy work take a lot more of my time than I'd anticipated. Moving on...

With the year coming to a close, I've realized how little manga I've actually read this year. That's not to say I'm losing interest in this hobby, but putting all those hours in translating manga doesn't exactly make me want to go and read more manga with my remaining time. For the past few years, I've mostly spent that remaining time on vidya but this year, I've rediscovered my love for reading actual books. So while this is primarily a manga blog, I thought maybe writing down my thoughts on 10 interesting books I've read this year might encourage you to not neglect books without pictures *gasp* as I have for a short while. If you're poor and/or don't have a good library near you, this site is your friend. This is a bit of a long post, so congrats to those who can make it through all my drivel. If you guys find it interesting enough, I may do more in the future.

Also, I'm always open to book recommendations, though mostly of the non-fiction variety, so feel free to name some if you wish.  
A History of the Byzantine State and Society:
I've read my fair share of history, and with a lot of states, it's the usual rise and decline pattern. The classic model is you have the great founder and expander of the realm, followed by 2nd and 3rd generation rulers who consolidate the new holdings by reforming law, economy, and military. And then from the 4th generation on, all goes to hell with a never-ending string of decadent and grossly incompetent rulers who've been pampered all their lives. If you're lucky, you have a reformer or two that can stave off the inevitable decline for a while. So it feels like most states blow their load right from the get-go, and the remaining two-thirds of their history is just frustrating foreplay. But Byzantium? Whoo boy, this is some sick ride right out of rollercoaster tycoon. BARBARIANS EVERYWHERE. RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSIES. HOLY WARS. CIVIL WARS UP THE WAZOO. Byzantine history's got everything in spades. If you don't like Byzantine history, I really have to question if you're even interested in history at all. The book switches between chapters of narrative history and analysis of state and society, balancing the drama and academic views nicely. And as a fan of military history, I really enjoyed the section devoted to military expenditure and organization throughout the centuries. None of that pretentious, "Warre is savagery, high culture and trade is the only proper subject for academics." 

And yes, it's listed at 1044 pages, but it's really only 850 if excluding bibliography and endnotes. This may still seem long but you've gotta consider that Treadgold is dealing with over a 1000 years of history so he's constantly pushing forward through topics and not just droning on about a single issue to rack up the page length. So while not intended for the average person, if you're interested in history, read it! Deus vult!
The Invisible Gorilla:
If you've ever taken a psych class at uni, you're probably aware of the famous "invisible gorilla test," but for those of you who haven't heard of it, this book will make for an entertaining and enlightening read, as it shakes every bit of confidence you have about your memory, intuition, and perception. Especially relevant nowadays, with cases like the Michael Brown shooting that have a lot of so-called "witness testimonies." A short pop-science book with a highly readable style. What's not to like?
The Great Cat Massacre:
Sort of an oldie as it's from the early 80s, but good books never go out of style, as they say. Darnton writes a series of essays exploring the mindset of French subjects in the decades leading up to the French Revolution. Despite the impression you might get from the eye-catching title, it's not your usual pop. history full of wacky or overly simplified “facts.” It's a serious cultural history book written by a scholar who treads a delicate balance of targeting both students of history and a wider public. Luckily for the latter, Darnton only touches lightly upon his chosen methodology and its associated strengths/weaknesses so as to not lose the average reader from his interesting findings (and are they ever interesting!). The book is split up into 6 separate topics: fairy tales, a curious incident of a worker’s revolt involving a cat massacre, a resident’s account of his city, an inspector's report on men of letters, Diderot's organization of the Encyclopédie, and the French people reading Rousseau.

The first chapter's all about exploring possible cultural meaning in popular fairy tales through analyzing the social milieu of the time. In Darnton's analysis, Little Red Riding Hood isn't some tale about menstruation, virginity, ego, id, or whatever kind of crap that you might hear from a kid in an English class trying to get a passing grade. Instead, he focuses on why certain elements, like starvation, step-mothers but not step-fathers, or trickery appear time and time again in fairy tales popular in this time period. After explaining how these could have been a logical reflection of the life the average French peasant lived, he then goes on to contrast variants popular in France with those popular in Germany, Italy, and England. Not to give the whole chapter away, but for instance, many variants popular in France feature crass elements and heroes succeeding through craft and cunning, whereas macabre and fantastical elements are far more prevalent among German variants, and the English preferring more wholesome variants. All in all, a fascinating chapter that went a long way in answering some of my questions on why fairy tales are so fucked up, which I’d been pondering more since I scanlated Morohoshi's Sneewittchen (I swear to god, if there’s one more fucking Kraut who tries to point out it’s actually Schneewittchen...).

The eponymous second chapter is all about why a bunch of journeymen treated like galley-slaves decided to revolt against their oppressors by engaging in some good ol' cat-killing. I'm not sure why Darnton assumes that the modern day reader would find this act so horrifically baffling. While I'd personally never harm an animal unless in self-defense, I thought the hilarity of the massacre was immediately evident. Nevertheless, the hilarity of the cruel joke turns out to be multi-layered so his thorough analyses was very much welcome. Plus, I now finally know how (or at least, a possible explanation) the bizarre German word "Katzenmusik" came about.

The chapter on Diderot's Encyclopédie can be a little dense, but quite rewarding once you get through it. Darnton gives you a good explanation on why Denis Diderot's Tree of Knowledge, while superficially similar to that of Francis Bacon's, was profoundly different and what we can infer about the mindset of French intellectuals from those differences. As for the final chapter on the French people reading Rousseau, you get a good sense of just how foreign the world we call the past is, when activities that you take for granted like reading have such profound differences between then and now.

I found the middle two chapters rather dull, but if a book’s going to have some dull bits, it's fortunate that they come in the middle, since the strong start and finish will leave a more than favourable lasting-impression.
China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty:
Part of the "History of Imperial China" series, it's got the usual pros and cons of the other books in the series. The pro is that it offers a thorough survey, ranging from administration, economy, religion, culture, military, etc. It also gives you a good view into the kinds of revisionist or post-revisionist views popular with current academics.

The con is, admittedly a rather unfair complaint, is that as a survey that assumes some level of familiarity with Chinese history from the reader, it can confuse or fail to be "gripping" enough for newcomers to Chinese history. The problem is rooted in the dismissal of narrative history by most modern-day historians. They feel that narrative history leans too heavily on the "Great Man theory" of history and thus too simplistic and skewed. While I'm no strong-believer on the Great Man theory, you have to admit it makes for an exciting read. Of course, the academic may scoff at this, as his grant and funding doesn't come from how "entertaining" he is to the public, but rather his ability to come up with new interpretations and make his stamp on academia. This is sadly why I think most people don't give a shit about history. Your average person isn't just gonna think to himself one day, "Hey, I'd love to learn about the state and society of 9th century Byzantium!" But tell him how about how much of a fucking badass Basil the Macedonian was and he may go on to read more about the rest of Byzantine history. With Chinese history, you have a fair number of these academia-focused books tackling the society, religion, and economy of imperial China but a complete dearth of books about interesting figures aimed at a more general audience. Xiang Yu? Wu Qi? Who the fuck are they? At least with European history, there's already a huge library dealing with guys like Richard the Lionhearted, Hernan Cortes, or Gustavus Adolphus and their exploits which can potentially draw in new fans.

Take for example the An Lushan rebellion during Tang-China. China's Cosmopolitan Empire is so focused on talking about how the society actually worked instead of the dramatis personae that the reader will only learn that some guy called An Lushan started a rebellion and failed. Ah, what a shame! A missed opportunity to tell the tragic love of Yang Guifei or the heroic defense of Yongqiu and Suiyang by Zhang Xun. This is why I so enjoyed the A History of Byzantine State and Society. Although it doesn't exactly go pop. history-level of narrative history, it does make an effort to tell an interesting narrative while balanced by more academic discussions such as financial expenditure or the rise and decline of iconoclasm.

Then again, I can imagine even if a historian would want to write that sort of narrative history, the publisher may point out there's absolutely no money in that so he should stick to the already established demographic: students of history. Hmm, sort of reminds me of the current anime industry's cyclical repression of appealing to a wider demographic...

But enough petty complaints. If you are already interested in Chinese history and want to learn the sort of revisionist views trending with current academics, this book's great. As a guy who was only aware of the traditional view of the Tang dynasty, that is to say, "Look how glorious everything is! Oh wait, here comes the An Lushan rebellion. Welp, show's over. Go home, folks," I was completely caught by surprise at the monumental changes in society that laid the foundation for the Song dynasty. Decline of the old entrenched blue-bloods, rise of the South and a meritocratic ethos. Lewis is right. In many ways, the latter half is just as, if not more, interesting as the lustre of the first half when it comes to Tang history. It's like being told barbarians sacked Rome in 476 and ended the Roman empire, only to later find out Rome, which wasn't even the capital at the time, was never sacked in 476, and there's like, another 1000 years of more Roman history.
The Great Rebalancing:
First things first, I've never taken a business or economics class in my life so I'm rather clueless in this area. But as I've been reading more articles about economic history, I realized I should at least read up on a couple economy books to familiarize myself. Fortunately, I think I've chosen a very good book to get started. An easily accessible book about the state of the global economy today by an economist who doesn't get caught up in baffling jargon or political agendas . Using clear examples and a step-by-step explanation of the balance between savings and trade, he states why a lot of typical arguments like, "Oh, the laziness of the PIGS countries of Europe are ruining the Euro," or "China's gonna take over the global economy with their stupendously high trade surplus and GDP" you often hear in the news is flat-out wrong. Centering around the idea of trade imbalances, he states why the US, European, and Asian economies are all in for a rude awakening. Why China's economy is on the brink of a recession like Brazil and Japan before it, why the US dollar being used as a global currency is economically detrimental to the US, and why the trade surplus nations are just as responsible for the Euro's troubles as the trade deficit nations, are just some of the major arguments in the book. Again, I'm no student of economics so I'm hardly qualified to judge how sound his arguments are, but at least he writes clearly and doesn't stray into topics outside his field of expertise such as sociology or global politics to make inane theories that could never be tested. Pettis also runs a blog so google that if you like this book.
Lost Colony:
An absolutely charming "I-can't-believe-it's-not-historical-fiction!" account of the Sino-Dutch war, THIS is how you do popular history. Not by spouting gross exaggerations, sloppy fact-checking, and inane theories as you'd find in How the Irish Saved Civilization or Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. You might be thinking, "Sino-Dutch war? Is this some fedora-tier trash meant only for historical hipsters?" No, it's a riveting story about the badass Chinese pirate Koxinga taking on some equally badass Dutch of the VOC over the possession of Taiwan during the fall of the Ming Empire and the Dutch golden age. Pirates, dramatic personalities, and battles in exotic settings makes this a page-turner you can just breeze right through like it's Harry Potter. Makes me wish for a Hollywood adaptation, really. The author also adds a healthy dosage of scholarly discussion about the military revolution in Europe as opposed to Asia, so it doesn't end up feeling totally like fluff history. Recommended highly for everyone.
Jesus Interrupted:
I'm not a religious person, but I admit I am fascinated by the Christian Church as an institution and it's enormous influence on human history. And despite the Bible's importance in history, I am woefully ignorant regarding its contents so I thought I'd try to correct some of that and came across this. Now the book's sub-title, Revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible and why we don't know about them, might give you some second-thoughts on whether it'll be chock full of circlejerking atheist arguments like "The Bible said π = 3, haha! Checkmate. Atheists: 1. Christians: 0." Fortunately, it's nothing of the sort and the book is in, no way, an attempt to debunk Christianity. It's an introduction to critical theories yielded by New Testament scholars about the Bible if we treat it like any other piece of historical document. Topics covered include: Who really wrote it? What were the underlying intents in each gospel's author(s) and the inclusion/exclusion of stories? What do we really know about Jesus and what he tried to do?

Particularly interesting are the so-called inconsistencies in the gospels. Most of them are trivial, but the ones talked about at length are those that lend to profoundly different interpretations, so you'd lose the underlying messages by thinking it's like the case of blind men touching an elephant and trying to consolidate all the differing points. On the whole, the arguments make a lot of sense since early Christianity is hardly the same thing as modern-day Christianity. Like all other religions, Christianity too underwent doctrinal evolution. Although Ehrman says the information presented are widely-accepted views and taught in most seminary schools, the theories he agrees with are bound to get the most attention in his own book so it's probably best to follow up by reading what other respected scholars have to say on the subject. Then again, that applies for just about any non-fiction book.
Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution:
There's a trend among modern historians to counter the traditional Euro-centric view of history by trying to push back the great divergence between the West and the East as late as possible, or by talking about how much the East impacted the West. While it's true that modern-day numerals originate from India, gunpowder from China, or that Alhazen's treatise on optics was highly influential to European scholars, none of it really addresses the question of why didn't other civilizations build on their respective scientific progress while Europe alone did in the 17th century? This book answers this question without fear of being political incorrect by examining the fundamental differences in the education system and its ability to breed an ethos of scientific curiosity in the civilizations of Europe, Islam, India, and China. Huff does this by using the telescope as a case-study. Invented at the start of the 17th century, it was spread to the Islamic world, India, and China all in a matter of a few decades. In each of these civilizations, there were Westerners who talked of its significance yet the scientific response by all of them were deficient. I particularly found the Chinese response most interesting. There, you have an empire that actually conducted objective tests on whose astronomical methods were superior. The Jesuit scholars won and the Chinese officials conceded that the European techniques were indeed more accurate. But the response? Stiff resistance by the majority despite an enthusiastic minority. Even the Kangxi emperor, one of the greatest monarchs ever and well-noted for his intellectual curiosity, dismissed any idea of reforming education to incorporate Western classics. This conservative mindset is best crystallized in the quote by the Chinese Confucian scholar Yang Guangxian:
It is better to have no good astronomy than to have Westerners in China. If there is no good astronomy, this is no worse than the Han situation when astronomers did not know the principle of apposition between the sun and the moon and consequently claimed that the solar eclipses often appeared on the last days of the month; still the Han dynasty enjoyed dignity and prosperity that lasted for four hundred years.

The second half of the book provides a good overview of the Scientific Revolution in Europe, discussing new discoveries in anatomy, microbiology, atmospheric pressure, electricity, and magnetism. After reading this book, I have a new-found respect for the absolutely based as fuck European scientists bringing modernity to the world so we can now all sit on our asses and browse the internet.
War in Human Civilization:
Us history nerds have already long been inured by the popular public notion that history is useless. But while a subset of history nerds interested in art, cultural, or religious history (fascinating in their own right) could at least affect an air of "high culture," the smaller subset interested in military history is denied that same refuge. I don't think it's a reach to say that this "unhealthy interest" in war is, at best, misunderstood, or at worst, seen as juvenile, in the way a 5 year old boy makes his T-rex figure massacre a platoon of G.I. Joes. Although there are indeed people purely interested in war because of Top-Gun fantasies or romantic notions of knights and legionaries decked in shiny armour, there are probably just as many who see war's glory as moonshine and yet still wish to learn more about it. I can't speak for all members in this latter group, but my primary interest in war stems from its transformative, rather than destructive, influence on human history. As such, Azar Gat's extremely comprehensive book on this aspect of war is the very crystallization of why I have this "unhealthy interest," as my dad would say. Upon reading it, you’ll realize exactly why war should be studied and not brushed aside to make room for "high-culture," whatever that may mean for each generation and culture throughout the ages.

The book is roughly divided into 3 parts: 1) Warfare in pre-history, 2) Warfare in the age of agricultural civilizations, and 3) Warfare in the modern industrialized age. In part 1, Gat starts off by discussing how our innate violent tendencies can be traced not just to Neolithic or Paleolithic times, but likely further up in time if aggressive practices shown in other primates is any indication. This game of "let's kick the can Rousseau's ideas," seems to be a popular pastime among academics in recent decades, with Steven Pinker being its most famous player today, having written both, The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of our Nature. So if you've read his works, the facts presented will be standard stuff. If you haven't, you’re in for a good ride. After establishing the history of violence, Gat addresses why violence has been so long-lived in human nature through application of evolutionary psychology theories. He seems to be quite an avid supporter of evolutionary psychology, so your enjoyment of this section is really up to your opinion on whether or not this field is "hot and exciting" or just "hot-air" (I personally lean towards the former).

While some authors might call it a day at this point, Gat really gets down to work in part 2 as he talks about the transformation of tribal raids to state warfare with standing armies. You could say that this part is essentially a retelling of Tilly’s competition-centric idea that "War made the State, and the State made War," but Gat’s ideas are much wider in scope and far more nuanced, as he incorporates many other factors such as ethnicism, economy type, non-sedentary polities (pastoral nomads, namely), or tactical power-balance of troops (whether dominated by infantry or cavalry).

As much as I enjoyed this section, two minor things did annoy me (neither of which undermines Gat's main points). One was his claim that state-formation occurred the latest for Norway among Scandinavian polities, not Sweden. I was immediately taken aback by this, since all the material I've read indicates it was the Norwegians who first took to overseas raiding, signaling the start of the Viking Age. In fact, it was Norway's early accumulation of wealth via raiding that most likely explains why the so-called "first king of Norway" Harald Fairhair precedes both Denmark and Sweden’s first kings, Gorm the Old and Eric the Victorious. And before any Dane or Swede gets mad at me, when I say “the first king”, I mean the first king with some sort of reliable historical evidence.

The second minor annoyance is his discussion of Japanese state-formation and evolution seems quite shallow because he completely omits any mention of the early polities of the Korean peninsula. When the early Japanese polities received higher cultural learnings from the continent, they usually weren't getting a raw, unadulterated form of it, they were getting it in a form filtered by cultural attitudes of the middlemen, such as Goguryeo or Baekje, which explains how an art historian can find links from Scythia in the Pontic-Caspian steppe all the way to Honshu in Japanese artifacts.

I assume this is largely due to the lack of easily available academic literature regarding Korean history written in English, but it’s a real missed opportunity. For instance, Gat theorizes on specific conditions that inhibit or induce feudalism to explain why feudalism-proper really only emerged in Europe and Japan. He then applies them to compare Japan's transition into feudalism in the 12th century to the decline of feudalism from the Zhou to Qin dynasties. Although this isn't a bad comparison by any means, I think it’d be far more effective to do a comparative case study between Goryeo-Korea and Heian-Japan to explain why the military-led coups that affected both these states with similar geography during the 12th century (1170 for Goryeo, 1185 for Japan) led one to transition into feudalism while the other to have its scholar-officials reassert themselves again. Like I said, a missed opportunity indeed.

The last part dealing with warfare from the gunpowder age and on is also quite insightful, as he focuses mainly on how things like gunpowder, square-rigged ships, and new fortifications changed or failed to change the balance of warfare. A good overview and counter-argument to Roberts/Parker's military revolution theory is given here. If you're already well-versed in the debate concerning the military revolution of early modern Europe, you'll probably find the discussion of decreasing warfare in the industrialized age far more interesting. The issues covered in that section deal with how types of government (autocratic or liberal), economy (protectionist or free-trade), and society (traditional or modern) affect their approaches to war and how effective said approaches can be. And as expected for a post-9/11 book about war, the very last topic deals with the rise of unconventional warfare. The only disappointing point about this last part is the complete lack of discussion about the quality vs. quantity debate. I think most military-focused books covering WW2 and the Cold War would definitely give its 2 cents on the issue so it is rather surprising that Gat has not done so. It is something that more people need to be aware of, lest more monstrosities like the F-35 are built.

But overall, War in Human Civilization is a great read that I’d recommend over and over. Don’t mind the page length, that just means the fun lasts longer!
The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody:
Like British dry humour? Like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Read this book and fall in love. Interest in history not necessary.
The Son Also Rises:
No, this isn't Hemingway. This is a study in socioeconomic mobility across 150~200 years in various countries throughout the world. Now if that sounds boring to you, think again, because it's actually all about the nature vs. nurture debate. And if Clark's interpretation on the over-representation of nobility in high-paying, well-respected fields like medicine, law, or government and the surprisingly similar persistence rates (how fast the "over-performers" regress to the mean) across generations and cultures is as sound as he claims, then it's another nail in the nurture coffin. Even if you're an ardent believer in the biological equality of all humans and don't want to touch the debate concerning heritability of IQ even with a 10-foot pole... It might be worth doing some reading, so you're more of an educated skeptic and not a guy going, "LALALA, I can't hear you!"

A warning beforehand that as interesting as the book's conclusions are, this is more of scientific paper and less of what an average person considers a "book," so the prose may be dull and repetitive. Rewarding if you can get through it though.
Well, that's it for now. I was sort of wondering whether or not to talk about Kubota Masashi's Military Revolution in Japan, but I think this post has gone on more than long enough. Maybe next time.

20 comments:

  1. I've long been a grateful admirer of your work, and as a fellow history nerd, you again have my thanks for these particular recommendations. Military histories have usually been a bit dry for my taste, but I've sampled them and will continue to do so in the future, as only a fool would discount the perspectives they provide. You may enjoy "Rising Up and Rising Down" by Vollmann, which is more of a philosophical treatise, but is also chock full of history both ancient and modern, and which delves into the history of and justifications concerning violence. Not exactly pertinent, but I hope it helps, and thanks again for all your work.

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  2. "None of that pretentious, "Warre is savagery, high culture and trade is the only proper subject for academics." " shots fired at John Green.

    Why Rousseau? they should have go with Hobbes!

    But i am not interested at all on the love life of Yang Guifei! i will skip that one (tragic love is already plagued in anime, don't need to go and read a history book to find the same content). Wait they actually ignore his love life? ok bookmarked it.

    I actually don't like Harry Potter, but i fucking love pirates!

    Oh you eurocentrist, you, i will read that one too.

    Really? practically half this post was about "War in Human Civilization" you have nothing else to say about these other 2 books, i mean we read this far down the way you could... you know, give us a more solid idea of what they are about (specially for the second one, and actually the review for the first one doesn't says much neither).

    Actually despite what it may look like, it is quite a varied list of history books upon different topics.

    You should have talked about that book as a recommended additional complementary lecture when you mentioned how the Japanese section of "War in Human Civilization" had its issues, however i don't even know if the book would bee relevant as far as solving the shortcoming of the first goes, but really by now i don't want to hear about it, maybe another time.

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  3. Thanks for writing this up, I will definitely check some of these out. Also, good work this year Hox!

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  4. Mr. Hox, you're a gentleman and a scholar.

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  5. pls marry me hox

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  6. Thanks for the write-up! Now I am interested in the book about the Byzantine empire. I too think that the book on the Tang empire was a bit dry and less engaging. But not all books of this series (History of Imperial China; HUP) are like this. Timothy Brooks' "The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties" is much more engaging. Still not a narrative history. But Timothy Brooks is a great scholar of sinology and a great writer. Almost anything he writes keeps my attention. You should read Vermeer's Hat as well.

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  7. yo hox, any recommendation similarity to /pol/'s torrent book.

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  8. Sheesh, Hox, you must be really good at managing your time. I think the only book I got through recently was Mapping Decline a somewhat academic work documenting white flight in the St. Louis area. On deck is Dark Tide, about the collapse of a molasses tank...

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  9. Interesting recommendations Hox. On history, I am much more interested in "why did history happened this way instead of that way" rather than "what happened in history" so the Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution really interests me.

    Rather unrelated, but what books about mathematics would you recommend for beginners in math (high-school level math education) to understand basic math tools and inquiries like Math Girls?

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    1. Hmm... Well, a standard 1st-year college math textbook would pretty much cover it all, but since textbooks are quite long, it's best to just google the specific topic for online resources to help you understand it.

      In the first volume, other than basic trigonometry and algebraic operations that every high-school graduate would have covered, there are 3 distinct topics that pop up.Some of this stuff is briefly explained in the manga, of course, so you may not need to google it.

      1) Matrices. Nothing too deep, just a simple multiplication of 4 by 4 matrices. Google "multiplying matrices" to get a basic understanding of how this is done.

      2) Arithmetic and geometric sequences. Again, nothing too complex. Just a basic understanding of what they are and how to express general formulas for them.

      3) Complex Plane. Required are an understanding of how to express a complex number as a vector on the complex plane (Argand diagram) and an alternate expression on the polar coordinate system using radians.

      Vol 2 is a little harder, but all the work and explanation is given in the manga, so just read carefully and you should be able to understand it. The important concepts touched in this volume are:

      1)Convergence or divergence of infinite series. Just a barebones understanding of what these terms mean is needed.

      2) Expressing an infinite sequence as a generation function and vice-versa.


      With that all said, reading mathematics isn't the same as reading facts in the social sciences. Its not immediately perceptible and you often need to read it over a few times and think about it to see if you actually understand it or are just parroting what the book said.

      Outside of textbooks, general books about the history of mathematics is a fascinating topic as well, and I'd recommend looking into them. Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire is a good one dealing with the Riemann hypothesis.

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  10. Thanks for the for the suggestions/reviews, i'll read some of those. Always appreciate a good book.

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  11. I take it you're not fond of Arthur Herman.

    Have you read his Gandhi and Churchill book Hox? It's on my reading list since it's a Pulitzer finalist but knowing that he's a follower of the great man theory (which I disagree with) and your offhand remark about his book make me rather reluctant.

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    1. I haven't read his books, but my offhand remark was about Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, not Herman's How the Scots Invented the Modern World. I have reservations about the title, but not having read the book, I can't pass any judgment on it.

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  12. I love it when you post longer stuff like this, keep 'em coming! Maybe try writing about video games some time.

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  13. Thanks for sharing that online book library link. You absolutely made my day, so many books I can't obtain where I live, so easy to access them!

    Thank you, Hox!!! I will check the books you suggested once I am done demolishing all the books I finally found in that website!

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  14. Thanks for the recommendations, all of them look pretty cool.

    Right now I am reading "War in human civilization" and it is pretty awesome thus far.

    There is a minor point I didn't like though: in the first part the author mentions offhandedly that innate gender differences in "spatial reasoning" may account for gender imbalance in elite math performance, but the scientific evidence in this matter seems to suggest quite clearly that this is not so, tests scores in things like sat and mathematical olympiads seem to be equal among genders when things like stereotype threat are taken out. There is a gender imbalance at the elite level but in the face of the evidence it is more plausible that this is entirely due to cultural factors. That particular pronouncement striked me as irresponsible even.

    This point exemplifies my main gripe with evolutionary sociology, it allows one to make many plausible claims that are very hard to substantiate with more rigorous evidence.

    On an entirely unrelated note, have you seen the book "the princeton companion to mathematics"?

    I recommend it to you as you have expressed intererest in the history of mathematics. This book has some history but it is pretty basic.

    The really cool parts are the 3,4, and 5; where from a background in undergraduate math (say, calculus with epsilon-deltas, maybe a bit more I am not sure) it maps a pretty good landscape of modern mathematics, ideas and insights. It can't be as thoroughly rigorous as a math book, but I think it is still the best for giving the short heuristic "picture" of a ton of branches of mathematics.

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    1. >particular pronouncement striked me as irresponsible even

      Not really. Politically incorrect, yes, but the author is merely admitting that one, there is a cognitive difference between genders and two, these MIGHT explain under-representation of females at the.highest levels. There definitely are many cognitive studies which reveal gender differences, and to claim that there is a possibility that these differences lead to real-world outcomes is hardly unreasonable.

      >tests scores in things like sat and mathematical olympiads seem to be equal among genders when things like stereotype threat are taken out

      First of all, I don't think SAT math scores would count as "elite performance." IMO performance, however, does and to my knowledge, there is a well-noted large gender gap. I'm not quite sure what you mean by "equal among genders when things like stereotype threats are taken out," so you'll have to point the specific studies you have in mind to me.

      Yes, female performance in IMO does vary across cultures, but in all cultures, females are still underrepresented. Yes, the gender gap in IMO has narrowed over the years, but there's no real reason to assume that it'll ever achieve complete equality. I’ve yet to see anyone claiming that females have achieved parity in IMO so if you do have facts to refute this, feel free to enlighten me.

      At the end of the day, the simple fact is that males have higher genetic variance than females. My thinking is that this has more to do with male over-representation at things like the IMO. But of course, this is irrelevant when talking about averages and medians.

      >have you seen the book "the princeton companion to mathematics
      No, but I'll check it out at a later time. Thanks for the rec.

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    2. Yes, you are right. I tried to find the studies in question (about IMO) and couldn't, they probably don't exist, part of the problem is that it is very difficult to measure innate mathematics ability, divorced from its environment. So I wish to retract my earlier statement and as a result this almost eradicates my already minor misgivings.

      I still think that a social explanation is just as plausible as a genetic one, and seeing that there is gender discrimination in the mathematics profession, it would seem that at the very least there is a composite cause.

      For example gender discrimination in orchestras were reduced when players auditioned behind a curtain, and I don't see why a genetic explanation in this case is not equally fitting.

      So I think that a stronger caveat in the statement by the author is warranted, but seeing as the topic was quite secondary to his point, I can ignore it.

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  15. Hey, I have a question: is Water Margin by Yokoyama going to follow AFTER the Three Kingdoms series finish? :P :')

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    1. You mean if I'll scanlate Water Margin after Sangokushi? Probably not. It is definitely something that eventually needs to be done as its success was what led Yokoyama to do more Chinese-history related manga, but I'm more attracted to his historical works which came towards the end of his career (90s).

      I'm probably going to end up doing either his adaptation of Shiji or Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, after I wrap up Sangokushi. I'm leaning towards the former as its episodic content will allow me to work on it sporadically with other projects.

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