I’ve been reading quite a lot lately, but I’ve been having some trouble converting what I’ve read into potential blog posts. This is not because the books have been particularly tedious or overtly political (although a couple have) but the reverse – quite often, there was so much I wanted to say that I didn’t know where to start.
For example, one of the books I read recently was East West Street by Philippe Sands. Now, on the surface, this is a book about Nuremburg and the development of international criminal law, in particular relating to genocide and crimes against humanity. I say “on the surface” because it very quickly becomes apparent that the book is about so much more; a brief history of Poland from 1900-1945, biographies of the two men at the heart of the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity, and also the Nazi governor of Poland who was tried at Nuremburg; a story of how all of this has impacted on Sands’ own family history as a child of Polish Jews who fled as soon as they could. It’s very reminiscent of The Hare With The Amber Eyes, but instead of a collection of netsuke featuring international criminal law.
I’ve also read Collecting the World, which is a biography of Hans Sloane, the man whose incessant collecting formed the basis of not only the British and Natural History Museums, but also Chelsea Physic Garden. He also gave his name to Sloane Square and Hans Place in London and, like many men of his time, made his money through slavery and sugar production.
One of the books that made me incredibly angry was This Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, which is the only book I’ve found so far that deals with Australia as a penal colony. I was shocked by a lot of what I read, by the treatment not only of the convicts and free settlers but also the Aboriginal tribes they came into contact with. I can quite understand why many Australians insist that they are not convict born; whilst it’s easy to decry that as snobbery, I think I’d be pretty ashamed to admit it as well.
Lastly, I’ve also read Hidden Figures, the story of four African American women mathematicians who helped put a man on the moon. If I’m going to be honest, as a description that tells you nothing, because it starts with the creation of the US Air Force, the development of fighter aircraft, the breaking of the sound barrier and only in the second half of the book does it start to deal with the space race. By this time, we have also dealt with the realities of segregation in Virginia in the 1950s, met more than four gifted African American women and got a taste for some of the work that they were responsible for. I don’t know where I’d start if I wanted to write a blog post about this, because there is so much in it.
I will try to do better in future, but as I’ve just discovered that Naomi Klein has a new book out – which I will read, and I don’t doubt will make me very angry indeed – I may have to write about other things for a while.