Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Reading List 2011

 My Book Shelf # 18

Summer is over in India, the monsoons are upon us, but it is still mid-summer in the U.S. So here is a belated  reading list. These are books I have read, am reading and will be reading..

1) The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam by Eliza Griswold

2) Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel

3) The Invention of Air: A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America by Steven Johnson

4) A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein

5) Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

6) The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 by Brian M. Fagan

7) Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

8) The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger

There is a common theme running through most of them and that is exogenous influences on civilization. How climatic and ecological change through millenia have triggered changes in human society with growing and falling populations and a hunt for resources leading to agricultural innovations, migration of people and languages, trade and formation of global exchange networks resulting in confrontations and the evolution of different social, political and religious systems.

The last two are the odd ones out. I have not read much Shakespeare, but Will in the World is an utterly engrossing reconstruction of Elizabethan England and the human ecology in which Shakespeare thrived. 

The Hindus: An Alternative History has been derided by some and praised by others. I have barely flipped through it and have found it interesting. It is as the title suggests the story of Hindus and Hinduism read between the lines of the elite textual corpus. The story as recorded mostly by male Brahmins in the elite literature like the Vedas, the Epics like the Mahabharat and other Sanskrit texts is but one view. The contribution to the evolution of Hinduism of the "other" i.e. women,  the non-Sanskrit populace, the vernacular speaking plebes, and the lower and marginal castes is also immense and has to be gleaned out often from both textual and non textual sources. Not a very comforting thought for fundamentalists, but I can't think how it can be otherwise.

Also See : My Book Shelf


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