Friday, 5 October 2012

Grumpy old book review

I thought, since I live in France, that it would be a sensible idea to read up a bit on French history, since I know very little of it.   After looking at various options and reviews, I settled on the book in the Cambridge Illustrated History series.   It's variously described as authoritative, well-written, a tour de force, etc., so I figured it would be worth a punt even at 32 euros. I haven't read very far into the book yet, but already the author's style is starting to irritate. A couple of examples:
The shift towards a farming existence is conventionally described as one of "Man's" greatest achievements. Yet.... the initial impetus came from women rather than "Man".
Now I wouldn't mind so much, but the use of the word "man" in this context denotes mankind, humankind if you prefer, or humanity, rather than men. Historians, had they meant that "the shift... was one of men's greatest achievements", would presumably have said so.  So we then have to wade through the author's tedious destruction of this straw man. I have the feeling that it's about needing to say "Look how PC I'm being, aren't I a good boy?".   Perhaps that's what it takes to get a reference book published these days, but I find it irritating.  All the author needed to say was
"The shift towards a farming existence is conventionally described as one of man(kind)'s greatest achievements, and the initial impetus came from women".
A bit later on in the book, we have this, when discussing the maximum population counts of some of France's (Gaul's) earliest cities:
"...its biggest conurbations - Narbonne, Nîmes, Lyon, Autun, Reims and Trier - did not exceed the 20,000 to 30,000 population band."
 Now the problem I have with this, is that I don't know what the author is trying to say: I have to guess.  It's the use of the word "exceed" together with a population "band" that confuses me.  If he means that the populations did not exceed 30,000, then he should say so, and there is no need to mention the 20,000 figure because it means nothing.  If he means that all the towns listed had population counts of between 20,000 and 30,000 then that's what he should say instead.  There are plenty of other possible meanings as well.  All he has to do is choose one and write it.

A final comment.  This is from the Cambridge University Press.  My alma mater.  Is this the best they can do?  The shame!!

On a more positive note, I haven't, for a long time, enjoyed any novel as much as I have enjoyed "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and its sequel "The Girl Who Played with Fire".  Those dashed cunning marketing chappies at Amazon hooked me with a cheapo Kindle download of the first one, and, as they doubtless planned, I got hooked, and paid much more for the second.  I wonder if they have ever traded street drugs?  I'm going to have to wait for a rainy week to download the third one, since I can't put them down, and really should be in the garden as much as the weather permits.


the fly in the web said...

Dreadful standard of writing and the second excerpt sounded as if it had been 'lifted' wholesale from somewhere.

Mark In Mayenne said...

Glad it's not just me.

Zimbabwe said...

The fly says it all!!

Amazon are good at hooking you with cheap books then you want to read the next in a series at high prices :-)
Have a good weekend. Diane

Mark In Mayenne said...

To tell the truth, I don't mind getting hooked as long as I don't think I'm getting ripped off. I do find it a bit disappointing that I can usually get "consumable" books for less than the Kindle price second-hand, but I'm starting to find the Kindle format way too convenient.
You too, enjoy the weekend; hope you don't get too much rain.

Zimbabwe said...

You are right the kindle is very convenient especially when you live in a country where English books are not easily available. Certainly not in our area anyway. Diane

James Higham said...

This is from the Cambridge University Press. My alma mater. Is this the best they can do? The shame!!

The errors in their EFL texts too are shameful. New generation writing them now.

Mark In Mayenne said...

James, well no-one teaches English grammar any more, so there's no point in trying to understand it from anything written in the last, say.... 40 years?

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