Friday, October 5, 2012

John A. Long

John Long is vice president of research and collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His books include Frozen in Time: Prehistoric Life of Antarctica and The Rise of Fishes.

His new book is The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading.  Long's reply:
Every night my wife and I try to find some time to read aloud to each other, and for fun right now we going through book 5 of George Martin’s Game of Thrones series, entitled A Dance with Dragons. I find the act of reading to each other a lot of fun and we each try and outdo one another with theatrical intonations, really getting into the characters as we perceive them. As both of us are writers we find the exercise a great way to improve our writing skills. Plus the books are total fantasy escapism, set in beautifully complex imaginary worlds of old.

For research on the next book I’m writing (a sequel to Dawn of the Deed about the history of biological fertilization), I’m reading a text book about sexuality in ancient Greek times, Eva Keuls’s Reign of the Phallus (University of California Press, 1993). It’s a stunning book, a real eye and mind opener to how the ancients perceived sex, women, and the role of sexual politics in their society. I visited Athens in June this year to set the mood for writing the opening chapter about Aristotle. I bought the book up at the Getty Villa shop, without doubt one of the nicest places to pick up books on ancient history.

Another book I just read recently and thoroughly enjoyed was Mike Brown’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. This book is an engrossing tale of the day to day work of making big astronomical discoveries, as recounted by Brown, an internationally famous astronomer based at Caltech who was the main player in relegating the once ‘planet Pluto’ to being just another large body in the Kuiper belt. I heard him speak about it at one of our museum’s “First Friday” gigs this year and went straight out to buy his book. I particularly liked his humanizing of science, showing how the highlights (eg falling in love, marriage, births) and routines of life intermesh almost imperceptibly with the act of making big scientific finds. The international intrigue and politics of when someone else from another astronomy group attempts to ‘steal your unpublished discovery’ reads like a James Bond plot involving secret codes to hide outer solar system co-ordinates of newly discovered dwarf planets.

In between all this heavy stuff, the science that I live and breathe daily, I also like to delve into a little biography. I was dragged into this genre kicking and screaming when my wife Heather began writing a book on the life of a 1920’s silent film actress, Claire Adams, who starred in many great films but may have been deliberately written out of Hollywood history by her first husband, Benjamin B. Hampton, who wrote the first definite history of Hollywood but seems to have accidentally left dear wifey out. So I enjoy reading Heather’s blog entitled ‘Chasing Claire Adams’ as well as her draft chapters as they roll off the production line. The book is now completed and in fine tuning mode, but still searching for the right publisher.

Through Heather’s attendance at the International Biographers meetings, she brings back stacks of new books after each meeting, all signed by their authors. I’ve since read and totally enjoyed Stacy Schiff’s amazing journey into the life of Cleopatra (2010), Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John Farrell (2011), and have Lois Banner’s Marilyn: the Passion and the Paradox (2012) waiting for me as soon as Heather puts it down.
Learn more about The Dawn of the Deed at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Dawn of the Deed.

--Marshal Zeringue