Reading Roundup: Heating Oil Fraud, Ancient Fire & Ice Volcanoes
I like to keep track of and reflect on the various things that I’ve read over the course of a month. Then I select the most interesting of those things and share them here in hopes that others get value out of what I’ve learned.
- I read House on the Cerulean Sea and it was exactly what other reviews have billed it as: a heartwarming story about societal tolerance and a gay man who lets down his walls and finds love and belonging with a family of magical orphans and their caretaker.
- I also finished the Gunnie Rose books by Charlaine Harris. They made for a fun weird west alternative history story. The granddaughter of Gregori Rasputin is a Texas gunslinger who falls in love with a Russian prince whose family rules California after the Spanish Flu topples America. It reminded me a bit of The Train Job episode of Firefly.
- I read 15 Blissfully Cool Facts About Ice via Mental Floss. It had an interesting thing about cryovolcanism on other planets, and there’s just something cool about the idea of an ice volcano.
- How to Survive: Finding Water in the Desert via The Active Times has a nice explanation of why drinking water from a cactus is dangerous, north-facing canyons and green broadleaf trees are valuable, and situational awareness of wildlife is vital in the desert.
- This summation of evidence for when humans began controlling fire was really comprehensive and well-sourced. It references wildfires and early hearths.
- Magnolias predate bees, but they’re beetle-pollinated instead of wind-pollinated. They’re one of the oldest flowering plants. It’s one of the reasons they’re so distinctive.
- This article about polychrome mosaic floors in Turkey demonstrates how Hittite architecture was practical, helping deal with the rain, and how the multicolored stone mosaic is probably the oldest known one in the world. The colored geometric stones unique and awesome. Incidentally, the overlap between Hittites and Canaanites and Phoenicians is something I’m still working on untangling for myself.
- This incredibly in depth look at how dyes were handled outside the homes (and incidentally smelled as bad as the tannery common to fiction) is great. In the spirit of my review of the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron I’ll need to integrate this detail into some of my fiction for sure.
- I learned a lot from Haute Couture in the Bronze Age A History of Minoan Female Costumes from Thera by Marie Louise Bech Nosch. Basically, Minoan Thera is similar to Roman Pompeii in that it was preserved due to a volcanic explosion. The article describes Minoan clothing design, but more importantly covers how some common conceptions about the Bronze Age are wrong, namely that Tyrian purple is probably easier to make than people think, and textile creation involved task specialization (almost like proto-guilds) much earlier than commonly taught.
- I started reading the Religion and Power: Divine Kingship in the Ancient World and Beyond via The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago symposium compilation, and it’s given me a lot of ideas for about the nature of kings and divinity throughout history.
- It’s an older article—2015—but I recently learned about how mafia involvement in heating oil fraud shows that they’re still active, just driven “underground.” It’s fascinating from the perspective of trying to understand how organized crime works.
- What were relations like between the Mughal empire and its neighbors, particularly Persia/Iran and the Central Asian states? via AskHistorians was interesting; I’ve heard of the Mughal empire but I know almost nothing about it. It’s a 1500s Indian dynasty I think, formed mostly for military reasons. Foreign policy seems to have been mostly centered around Muslims and the Persians. It’s basically Medieval India.
- This exhaustive explanation of what we know about harems and Ottoman marriage politics pairs nicely with stuff I’ve said in the past about how the Sunsword books by Michelle Sagara have a lot to teach people about harems and reminds me a lot of Cyador in the Saga of Recluse by L. E. Modesitt, not so much because of the harems piece, but because of the importance of privacy in the Cyadorian culture.
- This history of the newspaper focuses on the infrastructure expansion side, not so much the journalism-per-se side, and is a fascinating history of things that I’m definitely going to use as a resource when developing the history of writing in my fantasy universe.
- This explanation of how whaling worked at various points in history was really comprehensive and illuminating.
- This neat writeup about how Atilla the Hun was a genuinely skilled strategist goes into a lot of detail about the Hun political organization and steppe nomad tactics. It also touches on the Roman response and long-term impacts of the Hun invasion.
- This discussion via rAskHistorians centers around the linguistic history of the words tyrant and despot. “Tyrant” initially referred to for-the-people rulers who achieved great power and wealth by overthrowing an oppressive oligarchy. Tyrannies typically only lasted a generation or two; heredity tyrannies were regarded pretty terribly in Greece and it was difficult for them to make the transition to monarchy. It isn’t until around the 6th century BCE that tyranny starts to get a bad rep in Greece, though. Apparently Sparta went around deposing tyrants, which bears a bit more investigation at some point.
Did you learn anything from this? Have any insights to share? Lingering questions? Something you read recently you think I’ll be interested in? Let me know in the comments!