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The book I’ve always wanted

Everyone once in a while, someone sends you an interesting link that just happens to answer a question you’ve long been asking.  You see, I’ve always loved history, but I can’t for the life of me contextualize it.  I was once humiliated in a college class for accidentally suggesting that Biblical times predate ancient Greece because, well, I might have sort of thought they did up until that time.  I mean, I knew they were both old, don’t get me wrong.  And the second it was out of my mouth I knew for a million reasons that it made no sense.  I just have no innate sense of the timeline of history and how each piece fits together.  (Incidentally, I also have this problem with neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  Fort Greene is where in regards to Park Slope??)

So when Rachel sent me this link to a post on The Awl about books that teach you about the world, I was totally thrilled to find this:

“Before I read this book—I later came to realize—I had no consistent mental timeline for human history. Because everything I had learned in school I had learned in discrete sections: US history was separate from European history which was separate from “World” history, and I had no real idea of how the events I learned about in each of these classes interrelated with one another. But in this history, the Basques, who have maintained a stable society in the same place of the world, Euskadi, since before the Roman Empire, become the continuous line through which to view and analyze the events of Western history, as Kurlansky does a phenomenal job plotting the parallels between changes in Basque culture with what was going on elsewhere in the world.”

The answer to the question I’ve always been asking myself is apparently, “Read The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky.”  Handy!  The only things I really know about Basque country relate to soccer and the perplexing anomaly that is their language, so I’d actually be kind of excited to find out more.  Conveniently, I’ve also long been asking myself “Which Mark Kurlansky book should I read first?”

Two questions: one answer.  Just the way I like it.

So what book have you always needed?  Maybe someone else can chime in with your perfect answer.

15 Responses to The book I’ve always wanted

  1. Kendall says:

    I have always wanted a cookbook that tells you why certain flavors and textures go well together. Like, a cookbook that explains the science behind taste combinations so that I can make my own recipes. I know there are books like The Flavor Bible that list different ingredients, but I really want to know *why* they go together. It would be so helpful in putting together meals or creating unique recipes.

  2. RamseyH says:

    Kendall, look up “Cooking for Geeks.” There are lots of really interesting explanations in it for why certain things work, and which groups of flavors go together, etc. However in the end there is no real exact science to combining flavors because it is impossible to tell what will react with what and then be pleasing to the tongue.

  3. Hey, history can be tough to learn for that reason. We’re seldom taught how events in different periods affect each other, and end up with the sense that different parts of the world were isolated from each other. And your response in that college class might not have been so off-base, depending on which era of Biblical history you mean. The Kingdom of Israel was around 1000 BC while ancient Greece is usually categorized as really starting between 800-600 BC, and even those scholars who think books like those in the Torah, Judges, Samuel, etc., weren’t fully composed until around 600 concede that they were created by piecing together earlier fragments. (And there are certainly schools that think they were written much earlier, as Jewish and Christian traditions hold.) Now if you thought the events in the New Testament predated Greece…yeah, you had been misinformed.

    I just want a book that tells, in clear terms, who influenced who in terms of literature, etc.

    • Lauren says:

      Oh, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, Kristin! But no, it was just all kinds of wrong. It’s not so much that I THOUGHT that, exactly, so much as I said something that would only have made sense if it were true. I hadn’t really reasoned it through, and I’m sure if I’d have tried to work it out, I’d have known the Ancient Greeks predate the New Testament. At least I hope I would have–BC versus AD makes that pretty clear. It was more that in my brain I was thinking “very olden times” and “very olden times” without actually having any easily recollected chronology in my head. I think I’ve done the same with the Greeks and Romans at times. Both are just sort of way back when to me.

      And coincidentally, I’m almost sure it came up specifically in terms of literary influence. I think I alleged that some mythology was ripping off the Bible, when it was clearly the other way around. If you find out what that book is, do tell me, because I’d like that, too!

  4. We study history out of context. That’s the problem. I taught in a school where the AP English teacher was teaching Arthur Miller’s The Crucible without teaching Joseph McCarthy and the red scare. The kids thought it was a history of the Salem Witch Trials. I taught theatre, so I spent a class period on the black list, Lillian Hellman, and Dashiell Hammett.

    I still believe the best way to study history is to read literature.

    • Lauren says:

      It’s certainly the best way for ME to learn it! Only problem is that you’ve got to have a reliable source to say, “Well, not exactly like that…”

  5. Lauren says:

    Thanks for the replies, everyone! I’m off to buy the Kurlansky book now.

    And I can’t help thinking that perhaps what I’d really like is a big wall chart chronology. Maybe a history one and a literary influence one, with big enough type that if I put them on the empty wall right in front of my desk, I’d eventually learn them as I stare off into the distance while pondering my blog entries!

  6. Joelle says:

    Lauren,
    When I was a junior in college, I signed up for the History of Western Civilization. Being from Oregon, I thought it was going to be a class all about the west…how it was won, etc. Haha! Boy, was I surprised! It was a great class at least!

  7. Joelle says:

    What I’m interested in is a book about dreams. Not what they mean, but how they’re formed/created. Like for example, when someone in my dream is really witty, is that wit actually coming from my subconscious, or is it something I picked up along the way from someone else and it plants itself into my dream? I’m particularly interested in art. For example, I have had dreams where someone is reading aloud from a really lovely book. Is this a book I’ve read and don’t remember? Or is my brain making it all up? Sometimes it’s very, very good writing. or sometimes someone will sing a song. Is it a real song I’ve got imprinted on my brain somehow? Or is this dream person creating it? And if I have the ability to write books and songs in my dreams, how can I tap into this? Or can I?

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