What I've Read:
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus: Second Edition – Charles C Mann.
Reread of a book I haven't read since high school. This is not so much a comprehensive history of precontact America – as Mann points out, that would be an impossible task to put in one volume – as an overview of a couple of the major subjects of dispute and some of what the author arbitrarily chose as the most interesting areas a lot of research is available for, constructed in the form of an argument that American history is just as important and interesting as Old World/European history.
In general, I think this book is good as a lay person's introduction to the subject of precontact American history, particularly if that lay person is not themselves indigenous. I was rereading it to get some major points of reference as a starting point for more research reading, and it was good for that. I think the section about early contact in New England is particularly good as an antidote to the mythological history taught in the American public school system; an introduction to the politics of what was going on immediately precontact among the Wampanoag really helps flesh out that encounter and why people involved made the decisions they did. Mann does a good job of making the subject of history interesting – he's a writer, rather than an academic, being a journalist, and it shows in ways that are mostly positive – and of highlighting culture while still remembering the subjects are human.
That said, there are some things about his approach and tone that really rubbed me the wrong way. I think he's sometimes too credulous about taking research conclusions that are basically speculation at their word (We have no idea what the Mississippian cultures believed; stratification of wealth is a reasonable conclusion from mass retainer sacrifice, but theocratic kings that claimed the ability to control the weather really isn't), but I can't blame a journalist who set out to familiarize the public with current scholarly consensus too hard for the flaws of archaeology.
What really bothers me is his approach to talking about disease, and when it comes up in that context, morality. [content warning: the rest of this review will talk about genocide in America with examples, with a brief mention of the Nazis.]
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Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom – Bruce E. Johansen, Donald A. Grinde, Jr, Barbara Mann.
I picked this up under the impression it was about the case that the US Constitution was based off of or significantly influenced by the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois government. What it actually is is a history of academic backlash in response to that idea. It's okay at that, but somewhat circular – I have the impression the chapters were written separately from each other as essays, and as a result the same point is sometimes referenced more than once in essentially the same context, and there's no particularly coherent structure. I sometimes got the feeling I was reading the same essay over and over again with different wording each time.
Also, the epilogue (written, I note, by someone other than the authors of the rest of the book) includes a surprise endorsement of the Burning Times myth in the context of claiming that white Americans aren't psychics because everyone with genetic psychic ability in Europe was burnt at the stake, so, uh, yeah.
The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher
Reread of a book I've reviewed here before.
Creative Color: A dynamic approach for artists and designers – Faber Birren.
Pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a book about the use of color in art, which starts with basic color theory and types of color schemes, then moves on into techniques for creating various effects like luster, and finishes with some theoretical discussion about using color in 3d space. Biased heavily towards painters, though – most of the exercises include instructions for mixing your own paint and the theory is phrased in those terms. I did generally understand the points that were being made, but some of it may be a little difficult to apply as a graphic artist.
That said I thought it was helpful and actually interesting in terms of theory as well as what I can do with it, which is somewhat unusual for a technique book. I got excited about some of his illustrative experiments, not just wanting to try applying them. His tone is hilariously biased (he calls one particular color scale the most beautiful about a million times), and he also has that infuriating habit of many older male writers of using “he” and “man” constantly, which made me think the book was a lot older than it was until I checked the front and saw the edition was from the late eighties. This may annoy you, too.
I liked his ideas about how skyscrapers should be decorated to make use of being able to put color in three dimensions, though. I wish someone had taken him up on that idea so I could see it in person instead of just trying to imagine it.
What I'm Reading Now
Archaeology of the Iroquois: Selected Readings and Research Sources – edited by Jordan Kerber.
Meant to familiarize the reader with the general state of the field, a long series of republished articles. Very, very mixed bag, as any textbook like that kind of has to be. Why can't archaeologists get it through their heads that glottochronology is disproven? Why do archaeologists insist on using historical linguists' work and then claiming they don't know what they're talking about anyway?