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Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, &…
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Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, & Einstein's Brain: The Remarkable… (edició 1996)

de Harvey Rachlin

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaConverses
1491144,834 (3.64)No n'hi ha cap
The author uses such objects as the Wright brothers' airplane, the Hope diamond, and Anne Frank's diary to tell about the roles these objects played, the people who possessed them or were affected by them, and how the artifacts were handed down through the ages.
Títol:Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, & Einstein's Brain: The Remarkable Stories Behind the Great Objects and Artifacts of History, from Antiquity to the Modern Era (Henry Holt Reference Book)
Autors:Harvey Rachlin
Informació:Henry Holt & Co (1996), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 402 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca, Violet
Etiquetes:non-fiction, history, archaeology

Detalls de l'obra

Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, & Einstein's Brain: The Remarkable Stories Behind the Great Objects and Artifacts of History, from Antiquity to the Modern Era (Henry Holt Reference Book) de Harvey Rachlin

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A lot of authors might not realize it, but there are some of us who do actually read introductions. I bought this book at a Half Price Bookstore and I remember flipping through some of the chapters before deciding to get it. If I'd have read only the introduction I'd not have purchased it. I know that the author's trying to sum up what the book's about, but it reads like some of the dull textbooks I had in 5th grade. When it references specifics and stories things sound more interesting, but when generalizing the writing is just dull. And the topics don't flow from paragraph to paragraph - there's a jumping around among subjects. It reminds me a lot of papers I wrote when pulling an all nighter. Here, let me quote:

[I'll skip the intro 'each artifact tells a tale of the past' paragraphs.]

p. 2 "That these things still exist, having endured destructive natural processes, capricious human behavior, and the ravages of time, is incredible. But the discovery of the artifact marks only the beginning of a long process of scholarly research. Sometimes it is a challenge for experts to determine just what an artifact is. After all relics of antiquity do not come with labels attached. If you found the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, or the tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, they would not be inscribed "The Holy Grail," or "The Ten Commandments." Painstaking study, analysis, and debate attend the identification of artifacts. And at the end of that process, our conclusions remain conjecture, more or less."

p 4 "Over time, some artifacts attained special significance, gradually growing in historical value until they became national, even international, treasures. In the meantime, however, many important relics were handled rather haphazardly. Often their significance went unrecognized for centuries. Around the world today are numerous extant artifacts having wonderful provenances and histories. They are housed in museums, libraries, archives, and other institutions as well as collections in the private domain."

Even the 5th grade me would have been bored and skipped all this. These generalizing paragraphs are sandwiched between paragraphs with examples - but many of those devolve into lists (and sometimes interesting things listed, with museum location, aren't even in the book). Once or twice the author discusses difficulties in his research and finding artifacts only to discover that the reality wasn't what was advertised. Frankly that should have been the sort of thing to tell in this chapter - it's odd that an editor somewhere didn't cut out all the rest.

We'll see if reading the chapters devoted to each artifact are better. I'm hoping there will be some detail in preservation and storage issues, since that can be some of the more interesting stories museums have in keeping certain items.

I'll note here that the book does have a Sources and Bibliography, so no matter how the introduction might make me worry about the rest of the book I'll know at least it's got references.

Later: Except those references aren't good at all.

So now at at the point where I've decided that I have so many other books that are actually good, well researched and footnoted history books, that this book has convinced me that it it Not Worth The Time to Read More. I waited until reading up to 36 pages in, to allow myself enough decision time. Actually both the continuing style of writing (not good) and the presentation of the facts made the decision for me. It helped to get to the King Tut chapter because that discovery has been so well documented and then continued to be studied in the following years (in other words LOTS of reference material available) that I could know from my own experience (reading, documentaries, articles in science magazines, etc.; I was once very into reading up on Egyptian archeology.)

So from one of the quotes you've already seen I noted that the author is into the "archeology can be used to back factual basis of the Bible." That's ok to the extent that it isn't your main goal - there have been plenty of Biblical archeologist that allow what they wish to find (their expectations) effect their actual findings. But then this is a problem for a historian, when this gets into your text in this way:

p. 30 "...Much ancient Egyptian life was based on superstition and idol worship; the society was organized around the constant need to placate Egypt's fierce and wrathful gods. But after the exhumation of King Tut's tomb, a sequence of tragic occurrences caused many to wonder if those gods had been disturbed."

That first sentence isn't something most historians would write. It makes value judgements - because there were images of gods it's assumed these were idols, not representative images in place of gods, etc. (This can be logically presented, but just laid out as a statement rather than something that must be proved? Or at least a reference/footnote as to what facts this judgement has been derived from? Not good. You could easily make a case that any church with a cross or a crucifix in it is worshiping that as an idol and have a vast amount of theologians disagree. This just isn't how you present history.)

Also an eyeroller is the "wrathful gods" bit, which is pulled from nowhere in the text and is only there because it leads us into the concept of King Tut's curse. We then get two paragraphs on the deaths by curse (which, I know from past reading, occurred over a long time span so if it was a curse it waited a long time before killing certain people), then one paragraph as to whether it's true which then wraps up:

p. 31 "...Yet while the sequence of calamitous events surely seems uncanny to a reasonable mind, it must be considered that many of the protagonists and minor players did live out normal lives; Carter himself lived to the age of sixty-five."

This is an author who wants to have it both ways - a long summation of how it could be called a curse, and then one sentence which waffles and says "maybe not." This is called not really playing fair with the evidence, because a curse is a much more exciting subject. My attitude is that the history itself is exciting enough - if you can write well enough to maintain interest and make good use of what scholarship is available.

At that point I asked "what IS this author using as reference material?!" Because with a publication date of 1996 there's a lot out there. Here's what the "Sources and Bibliography" section gives us for the Tut chapter (the book actually does use a reference style, I don't feel like copying out the whole thing):

Howard Carter and A. C. Mace's The Tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen, 2 vols - 1923

Carter's Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen, new introcution, 1977

Michael Carter's Tutankhamen, the Golden Monarch, 1972

Leonard Cottrell's The Secrets of Tutankhamen's Tomb, 1964

An article from Newsday (from the London Observer) "Debunking 'Tut Curse,'" September 21, 1993

Shirley Glubok's Discovering Tut-Ankh-Amen's Tomb, abridged and adapted from The Tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen by Howard Carter,etc; 1968.

From looking at this - assuming the author did research well before the 1996 publication of this book - the most recent information used was from a 1993 periodical, and one which doesn't specialize in either history or archeology. (There are a LOT of very thorough and readable books and articles by archeologists available out there. They aren't hidden away.) The rest of those references are great for the history of the dig (but only for what was known through dig tech of the 1920s), but not so much for understanding the ancient Egyptians, their culture or religion. In fact there's a great deal of information about ancient Egyptians that 1920s era archeologists had completely wrong ideas about. (Not to mention that the training then was pretty vague, depending on whether archeology was a hobby someone was dabbling with or whether they'd actually had a college background in history/antiquities/etc.) I'm not familiar with any of the 60s and 70s texts listed, but there is a LOT of much more current history texts on Egypt and specifically the archeology of Egypt than listed here. That only 6 are listed...well, this made me stop and recheck all the references in the chapters to come. The results are not good. It's what might - MIGHT - be something a high school student could get by with if they didn't have access to a good library, and that's ignoring the internet.

Short version: wikipedia has better references and - in many of their topics - more interesting writing than this book. In fact here, check this out - the King Tut page - note that there are 48 footnotes. Which is saying something since wikipedia uses mainly secondary sources. (And having been a teacher myself, I've always, always given a standard "use wikipedia only as a jumping off point, you have to fact check everything from that site!" speech. So if I'm urging you to go to wikipedia over this book? Not good.)

After the Tut chapter I had started to read the chapter dealing with The Black Obelisk (which wikipedia more clearly refers to as Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, even though I was starting to feel this was a book with issues. The entire first page was retelling the biblical story, and in a very dull manner - and which I noted, in a book that had been slight on specific text references, had cited the location of the story in 1 Kings. (I should add here that I'm a Presbyterian, and I'm familiar with this book and the particular story.) When we hop into the 1800s when the obelisk was found we hear about the Ottoman empire at the time, and a specific leader (Layard is the archeologist in this story):

p. 35 "...At Mosul, Layard proffered letters of introduction from the British Embassy at Constantinople to the governor, Mohammad Pasha, a disfigured tyrant who levied tariffs upon tribes of the territory to pay for the care of his teeth, decayed by food he lowered himself to accept from them."

This was the true stopping point - such a badly written sentence, and I'd really begun to doubt whether I could trust any of the facts used in the book, based on the small amount of sources (and their age) given. Not to mention that whenever you read older histories of this area of the world - if your people are writing from within the British Empire - there's going to be difficulty when you try to get an accurate picture of what the native culture is/was like. From the references I'm not sure we can trust the book's account. (Sources given: Biblical Archeology Review from 1991, the 1849 book by Austin Henry Layard, Treasures from Biblical Times from 1985, Archeology and the Old Testament from 1958, and The New International Dictionary of the Bible from 1987.)

I really hope the author has been able to find better research methods with the use of the internet. But I was a grad student in the 90s and doing a lot of research at all sorts of libraries - so the lack of internet can't be an excuse.

So that's where I had to stop. And I'm someone that often finishes books, whether I'm into the writer's style or not.

Normally I take a book back to the used book store. This time, no. Someone young who has an actual interest in history, or museums and preservation, or archeology might get their hands on this thinking it would be something fun to read. Or worse, use it as a source for a class paper. So no, I think I'll find another use for it.

If I seem particularly cranky here it's because this is such a wasted opportunity. I picked up many books like this (telling short stories about interesting items or events in history) when I was in grade school that only caused me to be more interested in history, and seek out more scholarly books.
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  bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
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The author uses such objects as the Wright brothers' airplane, the Hope diamond, and Anne Frank's diary to tell about the roles these objects played, the people who possessed them or were affected by them, and how the artifacts were handed down through the ages.

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