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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Sharratt, Mary: Author interview | Main | Iles, Greg: Sleep No More »

Berenbaum, May R.: Buzzwords

  

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National Academies Press © 2000, 320 pages [amazon]
4 stars

It is clear from the prologue of May Berenbaum's Buzzwords that readers of the book are in for a good time. The author's breezy, conversational description of the bug-related essays to follow--most of them written in the 1990s and reprinted, with minor revisions, from the author's column in American Entomologist--culminates in her apologia for including in her otherwise user-friendly prose the scientific names of the critters under discussion:

"But before you proceed, here's a word of warning. In these essays, you'll encounter scientific names. For reasons I'm not entirely clear on, these seem to alarm people, even some biologists, unnecessarily. These names, which are written in Latin and consist of two parts, the genus followed by the species, are used not to impress people with dazzling displays of arcane knowledge; I don't know that I've ever won anyone's heart or stopped a fight or brought the world one step closer to peace and tranquility by reeling off a scientific name at a critical juncture. They're used simply because they're really very useful."

And we readers are hooked. There follow 42 brief, amusingly-titled essays divided into four broad categories: how entomologists see insects, how the world sees insects, how entomologists see themselves, and how an entomologist sees science.

In the same essay Ms. Berenbaum further informs us that the manifold varieties of human flatulence are codified in the apparently otherwise stolid, doorstop-sized Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy (which reports, we are told, that the "open sphincter" type is "said to be of higher temperature and more aromatic").While written initially for the amusement of entomologists, Berenbaum's essays are accessible to the general public, both those who are enamored of, or at least tolerant of, the beasties with whom she works and those more squeamish readers who believe that in a perfect world all bugs would perish from the face of the earth. (Not that I'm choosing sides here.) Moreover, though readers who are not scientifically inclined will occasionally encounter passages in Berenbaum's essays that are beyond their ken, this should by no means dissuade them from reading the book: there is much here that can be appreciated by the ignorant layman.

Berenbaum's subject matter, if always bug-related, is otherwise varied. In a delightful discussion of flatulence ("Putting on airs"), for example, both human and insect, we learn that termites may be responsible for a scandalous proportion of the earth's atmospheric methane levels. In the same essay Ms. Berenbaum further informs us that the manifold varieties of human flatulence are codified in the apparently otherwise stolid, doorstop-sized Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy (which reports, we are told, that the "open sphincter" type is "said to be of higher temperature and more aromatic").

In "Ain't no bugs in me!" we read of the alarming tendency of insects to find their way into various of the human body's orifices. There is the case of the appearance of maggots in a Japanese girl's urogenital tract as well as the infestation of a London man's nasal cavities with the sheep nasal bot fly--an occurrence which is not, we are told, "all that uncommon in shepherds and in other people who for whatever reason choose to spend a lot of time around sheep," but which is apparently unusual indeed among sheepless Englishmen.

Berenbaum discusses sexual cannibalism among praying mantids in her essay "A prayer before dining": decapitating the mantid male prior to intercourse, she reports, removes his inhibitions. And in "Entomological legwork" the author describes the disturbing circumstances under which she reached "the profound realization that cockroaches are just not like us."

But it was with particular interest that I read Berenbaum's essay "Kids Pour Coffee on Fat Girl Scouts," wherein she writes about the various mnemonic devices she's come across in her academic career--those for remembering the 12 spinal nerves ("On Old Olympus' Towering Tops / A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops") and the 10 classes of stars, for example ("Oh, Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me Right Now, Sweetheart"). The teaching assistants of her  undergraduate geology class, she remembers, taught an alternate version of the mnemonic usually used for remembering the Moh scale of hardness in minerals. It's traditionally rendered as "Texas Girls Can Flirt And Other Queer Types Can Do," but, Berenbaum writes, "according to the version the teaching assistants taught us, the Texas girls were considerably friendlier and had moved well beyond flirting."

Berenbaum is a very good and a very funny writer. She may not make readers who are hostile to the insect community any more forgiving of those hordes of roaches and carpenter ants and tsetse flies awaiting their chance to wrest from humanity the mantle of world dominance...but she sure makes it fun to read about them....

...But before I go I should say one more thing, by way of full disclosure: while I have never met or communicated with Ms. Berenbaum, and while she certainly can have no idea who I am, we do enjoy a relationship of sorts. You know those foul-mouthed teaching assistants who, to extract their cheap pleasures from the business of education, corrupted a perfectly serviceable device for remembering the Moh scale of hardness? Well, I'm ashamed to report that I'm married to one of them.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.