Thursday, April 18, 2013

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, volume I: 62% Complete

My apologies for going so long between updates.  I'm really enjoying A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.  Churchill's writing is funny, engaging and opinionated.  I do a lot of my reading in between classes at school and a couple of times, I have nearly laughed out loud while sitting in my classroom.
There haven't been many vocabulary words that I haven't known, but I do have one for you.  The word is "hypocaust" which is "a hollow space under the floor of an ancient Roman building, into which hot air was sent for heating a room or bath"  (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).  I was familiar with this concept, but I didn't know that word for it.
I have run across so many quotes which are entertaining or interesting or both, but I have to choose a few to share with you.
First, from the beginning of the book, as the Bronze Age gives way to the Iron Age:
"At this point the march of invention brought a new factor upon the scene.  Iron was dug and forged.  Men armed with iron entered Britain from the continent and killed the men of bronze.  At this point we can plainly recognize across the vanished millenniums a fellow-being.  A biped capable of slaying another with iron is evidently to modern eyes a man and a brother.  It cannot be doubted that for smashing skulls, whether long-headed or round, iron is best."
(On a side note, shouldn't the plural of millennium be millennia?  But who am I to correct Churchill...)
On the subject of King Arthur:
"And wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law, and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round."
Could it be that perhaps Churchill saw himself as a second Arthur, if you will?
In the next quote he has just related a rather romantic (in the older sense of the word) story of a love triangle involving Henry II, his wife Eleanor, and a woman simply called "Fair Rosamond."
"Tiresome investigators have undermined this excellent tale, but it certainly should find its place in any history worthy of the name."
I love how Churchill, while writing a history book, puts the excellence of the tale above the "tiresome" factual history.  He seemed to be rolling his eyes in disgust at anyone who might suggest that this story didn't actually happen.
And lastly, not a quote, but an interesting tidbit.  I was, of course, familiar with the name Plantagenet, applied as a sort of surname to the kings and queens of England from Henry II to Richard III.  But apparently this name comes from the emblem of Henry II's house, the broom (plant, not cleaning instrument specifically), which in Latin is called the planta genesta, literally broom plant.
Before I close, I want to send out my sympathies to all those affected in the bombings in Boston and the plant explosion in Texas.  May you be embraced by peace and comfort.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples: Beginning

The next book I'm going to tackle is A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill.  (N.B. On the cover of the book, there is no hyphen between "English" and "Speaking;" however, as there should be one and as it does appear on the title page, I will be putting it in.) For some reason there is no copy of this book for Kindle, as far as I can tell.  Fortunately, the Seattle Public Library has them so I am borrowing them from there, in hard copy. This gives me a chance to use the lovely bookmark my sister gave me for Christmas. (One of the few downsides to Kindle, I've found, is that you don't get to use bookmarks.) 
The book was originally written by Churchill (who was, of course, prime minister of the United Kingdom during and after World War II) in the 1930's.  It's publication was delayed by the war, however, and it was not published until the mid-1950's.  The book is four-volumes long (although there is an abridged, one-volume version available) and covers the history of Britain and it's former colonies from the invasion by Rome in 55 BC to the beginning of the first World War in 1914.
The book tends to focus mainly on military history and political movement, rather than social or economic history.  Another British prime minister, Clement Attlee, suggested that the book should have been titled, "Things in History that Interest Me."  Nevertheless, the book has endured the test of time for it's judgment of war and politics and for Churchill's lively writing style.  It was one of the books mentioned when Churchill won his Nobel Prize for Literature.
This is a book I've been interested in reading for a long time but have put off because of it's length, but I'm excited to begin.  Because I will be reading each volume separately, and because I don't know the page lengths of all the volumes, I will report my progress through each volume as a percentage of that volume's total length, not a percentage of the whole book.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On the Origin of Species: 100% Complete

Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples came in at the library, and I was so excited to start it that I buckled down and finished Darwin over the weekend. 
I also had some good news this week! I got a job as a certified nursing assistant at a retirement home and I found out I got accepted to nursing school beginning in the fall! So I'm going to try to do a lot of extra reading between now and September so I will have a little wiggle room once I start nursing school.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and I understood more of it than I expected to.  It did seem to be a little repetitive occasionally but not annoyingly so.  I found Darwin's rather conversational writing style refreshing.
The final vocabulary word from this book is "fecundate" which means to fertilize.
One thing I enjoyed about Darwin was his rather "grass-roots" experimental methods.  In my biology class last quarter, my teacher shared a story about Darwin putting dead birds in his bathtub full of salt water to see how long they could theoretically float in the ocean before sinking.  In some cases, he had rotting birds in the bathtub for more than a month or two.  I can just imagine how enthusiastic his wife was about that.  So when I came across this passage, I once again pictured Darwin conducting his "experiments" with his characteristic enthusiasm:
"In the course of two months, I picked up in my garden 12 kinds of seeds, out of the excrement of small birds, and these seemed perfect, and some of them, which I tried, germinated."
Next up: A History of the English-Speaking Peoples!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On the Origin of Species; 56% Complete

I'm still plugging through.  Despite my initial cockiness, I have to admit I'm understanding less and less of this book as I work through it.  But I do understand some and those parts at least are still interesting. I put a hold on the first volume of Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples at the Seattle Public Library (it's not available for Kindle), so I want to wrap this book up so I can start reading that when it comes in.
The word of the day is "fecundate" which means to fertilize.
I have another interesting story for you that Darwin tells:
"One of the strongest instances of an animal apparently performing an action for the sole good of another, with which I am acquainted, is that of aphides voluntarily yielding their sweet excretion to ants: that they do so voluntarily, the following facts show.  I removed all the ants from a group of about a dozen aphids on a dock-plant, and prevented their attendance during several hours.  After this interval, I felt sure that the aphides would want to excrete.  I watched them for some time through a lens, but not one excreted; I then tickled and stroked them with a hair in the same manner, as well as I could, as the ants do with their antennae; but not one excreted.  Afterwards I allowed an ant to visit them, and it immediately seemed, by its eager way of running about, to be well aware what a rich flock it had discovered; it them began to play with its antennae on the abdomen first of one aphis and then of another; and each aphis, as soon as it felt the antennae, immediately lifted up its abdomen and excreted a limpid drop of sweet juice, which was eagerly devoured by the ant.  Even the quite young aphides behaved in this manner, showing that the action was instinctive, and not the result of experience.  But as the excretion is extremely viscid, it is probably a convenience to the aphides to have it removed; and therefore probably the aphides do not instinctively excrete for the sole good of the ants."