Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reading for Winter Break

Here are two terrific books,  one about Cleopatra  from the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Stacy Schiff, and the other about the development of nationalism, called Imagined Communities, by the recently deceased writer, Benedict Anderson.

I'm reading Anderson's book now.  The New Republic calls it "far and away the most influential study of nationalism."

Anderson does not see nationalism as an entirely negative force. He says that it inspires love, poetry, and fiction.

He traces the development of nationalism to the convergence of capitalism and print technology in the 16th century.

Print technology made it easier for people speaking different languages to understand each other and it fixed language so it was not subject to change by scribes. Print language also created what Anderson calls "languages of power." For example, he notes that there is "High German, the king's English, and, later, Central Thai"  which were ... "elevated to a new politico-cultural eminence."

According to this fascinating obituary by The New Republic, Anderson led an interesting life. He spoke five languages and lived in Ireland, China, the United States, and Indonesia.

Cleopatra promises to be an equally fascinating study. Schiff won a Pulitzer Prize for her book, Great Improvisation, about Benjamin Franklin.

According to this excellent review in the New York Times, Schiff "strips away the accretions of myth that have built up around the Egyptian queen and plucks off the imaginative embroiderings of Shakespeare, Shaw and Elizabeth Taylor."

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