Most of our posts are short, but a handful are considerably longer. Among the longer pieces is a review of an innovative novel, Maison Cristina, a serio-comic work which escapes conventional categories of fiction. It’s an intellectual work that escapes dullness, too. A lively non-fiction book is Beebe Bahrami’s Cafe Neandertal, about a dig in France uncovering Neandertal (or Neanderthal) bones. Neanderthals were our ancestors who came before homo sapiens and populated the globe for far longer than we late comers. Cafe Neandertal is unlike any other book you’ll read on paleoanthropology. Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom, is about artificial intelligence and machine learning, a rather dire book when it talks about our future, but fascinating. Ada’s Algorithm is about Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, the young woman who wrote the world’s first computer program. The author, James Essinger, gives us a deft portrait of this remarkable woman. Click on the book titles to see the reviews.
By the way, you’ll notice that our scribes are working on pages, not on long scrolls. Writing on pages and then gathering those pages into books was the new technology of the Middle Ages. The newly invented book gave readers the amazing opportunity of going from the beginning of a text to the middle or the end or to anyplace in between just by turning a few pages! No more having to unwind a long scroll and then rewind it back. (Just how tedious this could be was rediscovered in the early years of the computer when magnetized tapes were used to store data; to find things on the tape, you had to wind or rewind back and forth, much as you would on a scroll.) Furthermore, the pages were flat, not rolled up, so you could paint gorgeously colored illustrations on the pages. Indeed, the paintings, often done with gold leaf, were so brilliant and glowing they were called, as they still are today, illuminations. A book with pictures — just like the illustration up there right now. It was wonderful! What would they think of next?