Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Alexander H. Harcourt

Alexander H. Harcourt is Professor Emeritus in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Davis. He is the coauthor of Gorilla Society and Human Biogeography and co-editor of Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals.

His new book is Humankind: How Biology and Geography Shape Human Diversity.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Harcourt's reply:
Bernard Cornwell’s Waterloo.

Waterloo was published in 2014, but I came across it just this last month, May 2015, in the wonderful Daunt Books on Fulham Rd. in London. Let me give an example of the store’s excellence. I had just got back from Sicily. A friend told me about Leonardo Sciascia, a writer from there, dead 15 years ago. In a spirit of extravagant, even ridiculous optimism, I asked the salesperson behind the Daunt counter if by any chance they had any Sciascia. Instead of a puzzled look, he took me straight to the foreign authors bookshelves, and there pointed to five books by Sciascia. I bought the lot.

Back to Waterloo. Much has been written about the battle of Waterloo. But Bernard Cornwell with his skill as a fiction writer, most relevantly of the Richard Sharpe Napoleonic Wars series, energetically and fascinatingly describes that awful day. And the aftermath - the wounded left for days some of them, stripped by looters, even killed if they struggled.

The book reminded me once again of the tactical and strategic brilliance of Wellington (I am not one of Wellington’s several detractors). Taken completely by surprise just three days previously at Napoleon’s sudden appearance with a massive army, Wellington as so often deployed his army along a ridge, so forcing Napoleon to attack uphill. And the rest is history, improved in the retelling.

Cornwell’s book is about only Waterloo. For a general history of Wellington’s soldiering, Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington. The Years of the Sword is outstanding.

Ben Pastor’s Tin Sky.

This is the fourth in Ben Pastor’s Martin von Bora series from the almost always superb Bitter Lemon Press. The Press publishes mostly non-English language crime fiction translated into English. Going for a dozen years now, it has produced the works of around fifty authors from across the world.

Ben Pastor’s detective is Wehrmacht officer Martin von Bora. All the von Bora books take place during WWII. Others in the series are, in order, Lumen, Liar Moon, and A Dark Song of Blood. Of the previous two that I reviewed on Amazon, I wrote:
Fascinating. A combination of whodunit, and psychological exploration of conflict of loyalties - personal, professional, idealogical. P.D. James could not have penned it better.

A flawless interweaving of detective story, conflict of loyalties, and unexpected complexity of character in a time, WWII, when our sympathies should be straightforward, but which Ben Pastor skillfully manipulates down unexpected paths.
Tin Sky is set in the Ukraine during the 1943 German counter-offensive there against the Russians. The book promises to be as excellent a read as the others, judging from praise in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Sunday Times, and from the first few pages that I have read, along with page 99 - where if von Bora does not buy the magnificent stallion, its owner will kill it to sell its flesh.
Learn more about Humankind at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue