Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book learning #57

Lincoln's melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk

This is a Presidential biography, not a textbook on depression. I picked it up (almost three years ago) as a presidential biography, enjoyed that part and also enjoyed the mental health part.

As mentioned, it's taken me almost three years to finish this. A transatlantic move can do that. A transatlantic move and a missing book, a missing book that is then picked up again in between some others.

Despite the logistical struggle to read and finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this account of Lincoln's life, work and mental health. The contrasts between the fabulously gothic nineteenth century approach to the mind and the more clinical twentieth/twenty first century treatment of depression was illuminating. The accounts of Lincoln's own depression and struggles centered the work in a way that a more straightforward narrative about depression would probably not. In short, I learned a bit about depression that I would not have done otherwise. I also learned a bit about Lincoln.

I absolutely loved the gothic tone, found the overview of Lincoln's career fascinating and was completely absorbed by the Civil War chapters ( LIke so many, this was the Lincoln I first learned about). This book (or at least the final couple of chapters that I've just polished off prior to a few new arrivals on the 25th) perfectly fitted my present mood, the dark winter nights, the bitter cold, the American gothic Victoriana. Wonderful stuff.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book learning #56

The secret history of the IRA by Ed Moloney.

I've always been interested in Irish history, always felt that republicanism made sense. Reading this didn't change anything in particular, didn't cast any new light on the main events as they were often passed over with a glance. This was not a chronological account of the last 40 years. The real story here was the internal politics of the IRA since 1969 and the dealings of a certain Gerry Adams in taking over the organisation and heading it into a peace process that continues to this day.

In some respects it read like the Sopranos, just not as nice. There were aspects of the story that baffled me, no mention of the Brighton Bomb of 1984. The Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 were never mentioned (although the Balcombe Street gang, who one can assume had a hand in the bombings were on a number of occaisions) and many of the attrocities were quickly passed over. Reading on, you began to understand, this was not about a list of bombings and murder but how the IRA leadership dealt with it's continual internal feuding, negotiating and violent games. Still, the last split, which created the Real IRA was detailed, their most notorious action, the 1998 Omagh bombing was not.

The political side of it was fascinating, the posturing on all sides, the deals with Libya, the global angle, the role of the Catholic church and also seeing how the situation changed over the years from civil rights marches in the late 60s through the terror of the 70s into the stalemate and near defeat of the IRA in the 80s.

I enjoyed this, absorbing once I got beyond some of the annoying omissions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas gifts

Ah, Christmas in a primary school. Gifts a plenty, Just check out a couple of examples from this year's haul.

The thoughtful, considerate English girl who appreciates that Christmas is about Jesus but also that one should not neglect the sophisticated palate.


The fantastically Kochmanesque American kid who gets it. He just gets it.