So, without further ado, I present books 21 - 39 of 2010:
(An * indicates a particularly excellent or memorable book.)
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The 8:55 to Baghdad
Andrew Eames was in Aleppo when he discovered that Agatha Christie had stayed at the same hotel, some 70 years earlier.
He became intrigued, and decided to learn more. He discovered, what was to him, a totally unexpected side of the maven of drawing room mysteries - an adventurous side with a passion for archeology.
He became so fascinated, that he set off to follow her journey by train, from the well-heeled community of Sunningdale in England, to Baghdad. Of course, the journey was quite a different one in 2002, from Christie's in 1928, especially given the proximity to the events of 9/11.
Eames is so wonderfully descriptive, that you can smell the spices of the Middle Eastern bazaar, or the polish of the gleaming brass fixtures and marquetry of the train.
He is also terrific at imparting colorful, ineresing historical facts about everything from the history of The Orient Express, the specific coach he rode in, and even historic personalities who had ridden the exact same coach; to Biblical history. Eames seems to have done his research very well.
He writes just as vibrantly about the personalities that he encountered and the situations in which he found himself.
I loved this book unreservedly and have definitely added it to my list of favorites!
Thus does Duke's Henry Petroski come up with The Book on the Bookshelf. The primary focus of a civil engineer includes elements in compression and tension, suggesting the shelf, but without items to place on those shelves, the engineering problem is different. Scrolls can be placed in pigeonholes, or, for portability, The Ark of The Covenant. The relatively few hand-lettered books (as binding technologies improved) might be kept under lock and key in a special chest. What happens, though, when the emperor or archbishop dies, and the collection passes to the new emperor, or the new archbishop? And what does the emperor or archbishop do to prevent friends from borrowing books and not returning them? Book Review No. 14 will recommend The Book on the Bookshelf for providing readable answers to these questions, and much else. There will be no spoilers, but readers ought contemplate the evolution of the library stack, the imperative that paper be kept far from flame, and the tradeoff inherent in securing relatively expensive books yet making them available to researchers. Casual readers, and the need to organize books, let alone systematically catalogue them, come later. (An appendix offers a taxonomy of organization schemes that is itself instructive.) Note that at the Cold Spring Shops library, respecting one principle implies the violation of several others.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)