It’s looking very much like an awful lot of us are destined to have lot of time on our hands. So I thought it might be helpful if I were to heartily recommend a number of books that you could buy to wile away the time (assuming Amazon stays up, of course). If you have recommendations for any other books to keep one’s mind off killer viruses, then please feel free to share in the comments section below.

The Cure for Catastrophe – How we can stop manufacturing natural disasters, Robert Muir-Wood, ISBN 978-1-78607-005-0

A fascinating and well-informed historical account of man’s response to disasters and how, in many respects, we have proven to be our own worst enemy. Lots of stuff on earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, etc. And yes, there is a chapter on global warming, which, I have to say, wasn’t written with the succour of CliScep readers in mind. Michael Mann says he liked it but I suspect he can’t have actually read it – it isn’t what he claimed it to be in his review.

The Hockey Stick Illusion, A.W. Montford, ISBN 978-0-95731-352-1

The climate sceptic’s bible. You’re supposed to read this and be taken in by its catalogue of lies, half-truths and garbled logic. I prefer Mat Ridley’s review: ‘…one of the best science books in years…’

Command and Control, Eric Schlosser, ISBN 978-0-141-03791-2

A chilling account of the 1980 Titan ICBM disaster in Damascus, Arkansas, interleaved with a general history of Cold War nuclear incidents that makes you realise that we are all actually quite lucky to be still alive. Reads like a thriller, and puts climate change alarmism in perspective since it illustrates where the existential threat truly lies (coronavirus exempted, of course).

Atomic Accidents – A history of nuclear meltdowns and disasters from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima, James Mahaffey, ISBN 978-1-60598-680-7

Okay, so I admit it, I have morbid tastes. Even so, this is fascinating stuff written by a nuclear engineer who clearly knows his business. He also writes with a wicked, dry gallows humour that I found most beguiling.

Behave – The biology of humans at our best and worst, Robert Sapolsky, ISBN 978-0-09957-506-1

A tour de force account of the factors that determine our behaviour, including the neurological, hormonal, genetic, cultural and evolutionary. Hugely illuminating and thought-provoking. After I read it I was still a twat, but at least I now know why.

The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley, ISBN 0-14-024404-2

A bit long in the tooth now, but this book would still serve as a good appetiser to reading ‘Behave’. I include this book in my list, not so much because it has something vitally import to say, but because it says it in a way that serves as an exemplar to all wannabe science writers.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Evolution and the meanings of life, Daniel C. Dennett, ISBN 0-14-016734-X

I include this book in my list, not so much because it serves as an exemplar to all wannabe science writers but because it has something vitally import to say. The latest Dennett that I am reading is ‘From Bacteria to Bach and Back Again’, but the jury is still out on that one.

The Black Hole War, Leonard Susskind, ISBN 978-0-316-01641-4

A first-hand account of the long-running scientific debate between the author and Stephen Hawking regarding black holes and their implications for entropy and information. Also provides the best account I have read so far regarding the holographic principle in cosmology (and sad to admit, I’ve read quite a few). Oh, and did I say it is all written in a very accessible style?

The Book of Why – The New Science of Cause and Effect, Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie, ISBN 978-0-141-98241-0

This book inspired the writing of my most recent posting: A Brief Primer on Causality. There are very few books that I would class as life-changing. This is one of them. Read it and then wow them all at your next bring-your-own-causation party.

How Not to be Wrong – The hidden maths of everyday life, Jordon Ellenberg, ISBN 978-0—19604-2

The best book I have read on statistics and how they can mislead. Works very well as a companion to ‘The Book of Why’.

The Music of the Primes – Why an unsolved problem in mathematics matters, Marcus de Sautoy, ISBN 1-84115-579-9

Who knew prime numbers could be so intriguing? When one reads something like this one can’t help but feel that maths is far cleverer than any of us.

The Hidden Reality – Parallel Universes and the deep laws of the cosmos, Brian Greene, ISBN 978-0-141-02981-8

Brian Greene is one of my favourite science writers and this is probably his best one yet. If you truly are in need of a mind-fuck, then look no further. This stuff brings it home to you that science provides far more scope for wonderment and bafflement, and raises far more deep questions, than any religion.

Not Exactly – In praise of vagueness, Kees Van Deemter, ISBN 978-019-964573-2

Vagueness is an often overlooked aspect of uncertainty. This thoughtful book provides a well-written background to the philosophy of vagueness, its paradoxes and the efforts that have been made to solve them. Perhaps a bit niche for some, but I liked it.

The Strangest Man – The hidden life of Paul Dirac quantum genius, Graham Farmello, ISBN 978-0-571-22286-5

Paul Dirac is my hero.

To the above list I should add a number of books that are considered classics in their genre. If you haven’t already read them, then now is the perfect opportunity to do so:

  • The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
  • The Character of Physical Law, Richard Feynman
  • The Stuff of thought, Steven Pinker
  • In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, John Gribbin
  • The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb
  • Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

That’s probably enough to be going on with now. As I say, you might want to join in and add a few of your own recommendations.


  1. Brilliant. I don’t promise I’ll read them all, but I’ll at least go on Amazon and use their “Look Inside” feature to dip into them. Oh, Amazon are dropping their “non-essential” lines in favour of wipes.


  2. Thx for list, have read some of them, yr classic’s list almost all, and will read more.

    Suggest some fiction, Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master and Commander’ Series, Great writing with historical back-up, ‘ Truly Jane Austin at sea but with added gripping sea battles and moah.

    A classic follow up, non-fiction, Bernard Smith, ‘European Vision and the South Pacific,’ Much,besides the noble savage in this book. seeing landscape, great chain of being, precurser to Darwin’s theory.


  3. “The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb” what a relevant read for our current situation.

    for a good SF book Dune & the original follow on’s is hard to beat.


  4. Have read some of those, but looks like more to check out.
    My recommendation – Nature’s Keepers Steven Budiansky


  5. Thanks for the reading list all. Alas I do not read as much as I would like. Whenever I pick up a book, a little catty voice starts asking why, if I have time to read *this* book, do I not have time to read one of my own drafts or work on one of my own MSs…? Consequently my reading is usually limited to 10 minutes before bed.

    My own recommendation for topical reading would be The Stand by Stephen King (unabridged, 1300 page ish edition of course). A virus that kills 99% rather than 1%, and very good apart from a slight drift into mumbo jumbo after the worst of the epidemic is over. Unusually for such books, the action does not skip the actual epidemic and societal breakdown – if you think of The Passage (Justin Cronin) or The Girl With All the Gifts (M.R. Carey), they skip the hard to do stuff of the actual outbreak and go straight into the post apocalyptic situation. Not so The Stand. The collapse is all there, and feels true. (Why is the outbreak itself hard to do? Because it’s very hard to consider all the variables of human behaviour, individual and herd, to make the action believable. I like to write about the end of civilisation too, and thinking about it now, I have usually done what I criticise some for, skip the hard bit.)

    This has already gone on too long, but I’ll just add that the best stuff I’ve ever read was John Updike’s Rabbit books – present tense, which usually makes me want to tear a book up, but in this case it works. (Usually present tense tells me that the author is trying too hard to make things exciting: it’s happening *now*, dammit, right this damn instant, not yesterday or a year ago, get excited reader, damn you!) Updike also does something else that normally makes me want to throw a book across the room: a single paragraph with well over 500 words, maybe a thousand. Usually this is so self-conscious that it makes me grind my teeth in anger at the stupid assuming writer taking the reader for granted. But in Updike’s case, it works.


  6. Super-duper theory book if one is inclined to the evolutionary: ‘DARWINIAN POPULATIONS and natural selection’ by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Great for explanation of group evolution and altruism, see ‘correlated interaction’.

    If instead of distraction you want to go the other way and scare yourself to death: ‘The Hot Zone’ by Richard Preston; real stuff about Ebola.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I invariably enjoy dipping in and out of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” and ” Collapse; how societies choose to fail or survive”. Full of fascinating details and explanations – some (many?) controversial, but all interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Alan, I too have enjoyed reading Jared Diamond – although perhaps he pushes the eco-collapse narrative a bit far in his treatment of Easter Island, and it’s interesting to compare his account with that of Benny Peiser, who proposes an alternative scenario more in line with “Guns, Germs and Steel”, i.e., more genocide than ecocide. This blog from 2005 compares the two accounts (be prepared, though for the commentary dismissing Peiser outright because “global-warming-denial”, “ExxonMobil”, etc., etc., you know the drill.)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. In terms of a SF short story (yes I know we are examining books, but…) the absolute finest in my opinion is Arthur C. Clark’s “The Star”. Over the years I have reread it many times and each time I am impressed by its wonder – the original conception that cannot ever be repeated, to its overall style and final devastating denouement, held back till the final paragraphs. Perfection.


  10. Thanks for everyone’s contributions so far. Here’s a few more I can recommend:

    All Out War; Tim Shipman: A warts-and-all tale of the shenanigans taking place within Westminster during the Brexit campaign. Grimly amusing.

    Fall Out; Tim Shipman: As above, but covers the early May regime.

    Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Simon Sebag Montefiore: As above, but Stalin plays the role of Dominic Cummings.

    Our Mathematical Universe; Max Tegmark: What if mathematics doesn’t just describe our reality but actually is the reality? Weird but still scientific.

    The Invention of Science; David Wooton: A welcome antidote to the ultra-postmodernist versions of science history that currently dominate the academic narrative.

    The Particle at the End of the Universe; Sean Carroll: Award winning book relating the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

    1000 Years of Annoying the French; Stephen Clarke: I’ve always thought that the reason the Scots don’t like the English is because the English can’t be bothered to hate the Scots – how arrogant can you get? Reading this book, one gets the idea that the relationship between the French and the English is much more even-handed.


  11. Alan, if you like Clarke’s “Tales from the White Hart” you might like this homage to same, “Fables from the Fountain”, featuring big SF names such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen Baxter and others, plus… moi 🙂

    From back in 2011. Be not put off by the Amazon version apparently scoring 2.5 from 5 reviews, in fact there are four happy 4’s and a very dissatisfied 1, together which it seems Amazon is unable to average.


  12. @John Ridgway & “Books to Die For”

    your gallows humour just clicked “dohh”

    made me recall a quote from Dune (Alan, a book is a book even if SF)

    “Litany Against Fear
    I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    or as a zen master myself “what is the sound of an empty pub in Clapham Junction”

    Answers on a postcard


  13. Clever books have their place but so does clever (and stupid) audio, especially if you’re sick. hosts many thousands of hours of such stuff that’s been pirated from Auntie Beeb (and others). Start here:

    The Beeb objects to this piracy and sometimes manages to get stuff removed – and quite right too! Copyright violation is theft.

    But in these troubled times…

    Here’s the complete Bleak Expectations:

    The complete Gloomsbury:

    Some knowledgeable radio chatter about important issues:

    More radio chatter:

    Babblewick Hall:

    Have you had your tea? Then it’s time for Hamish and Dougall:

    And much, much more. (Including some serious stuff, honest.)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great reading list. Sorry I have been so scarce in these parts lately. The panic contagion has truly disrupted things in surprising ways.
    The “Command and Control” book is of particular interest and I look forward to reading it. My wife has a cousin who was in the Air Force and stationed at that silo. He was on duty when the accident occurred. He is a survivor of that accident and received significant injuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hunterson7,

    So, perhaps ‘enjoy’ might be the wrong word to use in your case, but I’m sure you will find Schlosser’s book engrossing. There were some astonishing acts of bravery on that day and, as is often the case, a somewhat ambivalent attitude was shown towards such brave individuals in the aftermath.


  16. DFHunter. As a long time SF aficionado I do identify SF as containing very worthy books (and Dune and its successors as shining examples).
    In more recent years I have been impressed by Joshua Dalzelle’s Black Fleet Trilogy – with the first part (Warship) being the best. It’s old fashioned hard SF space battles involving semi-realistic time intervals between engagements. Also interesting racial politics with Earth inhabitants looked down upon. Will not appeal to all, but hey let yourself go.

    Also don’t forget Orson Scott Card’s wonderful “Ender’s Game”


  17. This nice tag was composed by Lenaig five years ago
    Worth bringing out of storage I thought.

    I mention it because I don’t read the same kind of books as most here. I can’t get on with most science fiction because it’s so badly written. Dune seems to be mostly about sand, and I had enough of that ploughing through “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” I do like Larry Niven though, for his absurdly wild optimism about the universe. And James Tiptree for her morbid pessimism about humanity.


  18. We all tend ter be suss of other people’s book lists, 🙂 in comparison to our own…I am, overall, in favour of Harold Bloom’s list, tho’ it be old fashioned.


  19. I suppose I should have apologised earlier for not including any fiction in my booklist, but the fact is that I have never been able to enjoy reading stories. God knows what is wrong with me, but there it is. As for poetry, you might as well be writing in Greek. I know how to rhyme with words but that is as far as it goes. Generally speaking, when it comes to the arts, I am cursed with being almost totally devoid of taste buds.


  20. John, you can always read David Bader’s ‘One Hundred Great Books in Haiku.’
    Instead of wading through ‘The Illiad,’ – the haiku:

    ‘Sing, Goddess, of how
    brooding Achilles’mood swings
    caused him to act out.’

    ,,,or, mebbe, suit the present interesting times, ‘Dante’s Inferno:’

    ‘Abandon all hope!
    Looks like everyone’s down here.
    Omigod – the Pope!’

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Hi, I hope this finds all doing very well and not too stir crazy. This is a wonderful topic. If one of the moderators would please take a look, there may be an offering for this thread in moderation. I made it from my desk top computer.


  22. Meanwhile, here is a musical interlude for your enjoyment:

    One upside with the onset of Spring during this time of Corona virus is that the ticks are coming out of hibernation.
    Now people can have Lyme with their Corona.


  23. Hunterson7,

    I’ve just taken a quick look for you and there is nothing of yours awaiting moderation at present. I’ll look again in a couple of hours.


  24. Beth

    Haiku’s so rated,
    But leaves frustration, and good
    books macerated.


  25. In defence of John’s taste buds:

    “the plots and problems now seem to belong to a slightly different age”

    I find this with all drama, on screen or page. Except of course for The Lord of the Rings. Book only.


  26. On “the Lord of the Rings:”
    Our local library kept it in the adult section, but I was allowed an adult ticket at the age of thirteen. It was the first (and one of the few) occasions in my life I’ve been treated as an adult, and it set me off on a lifetime of reading. I started with the Twin Towers (whoops) and went backwards (another habit I’ve kept up.) While I was waiting for the “Fellowship,” I reserved “Lolita” which had just won a court case, and while waiting for that I read two other novels by Nabokov. Then, starting from the letter N, I worked backwards and forwards through the alphabet. Being attracted by books in a uniform format, I landed on the collected works of Kafka to the left, and Proust to the right.

    When I got tired of that, I mastered the Dewey system so I could find books on a specific subject, e.g. the psychology of sex (308 point something, if I remember.) Then I discovered that all the humorous books were together somewhere in the 840s, so I never finished Proust.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. For those wanting an entertaining but informative read, historical fiction, if well-researched and written with a light touch, can be well worthwhile. In that category I would rate the Falco novels by Lindsey Davis:

    She clearly knows her stuff, and her Falco novels educate and inform about ancient Rome, while romping along in fine style.

    Entertaining, but from and about a different era, try The Good Soldier Schweik, bu Jaroslav Hasek.

    Victorian authors usually leave me cold – for some reason I can’t get away with Dickens. However, Wilkie Collins I find eminently readable, especially The Woman in White and The Moonstone.


  28. Few things can match the monomania of the Guardian. Even now, they have to keep nibbling away at climate madness; we might all be about to die in a plague of questionable virulence but climate disaster is always close at hand

    And by the way, Geoff C’s philosopher guru, Rupert Read, has stated that he has had a vasectomy. He didn’t feel that it was ethical to be able to conceive


  29. Amusing that Maitlis seems to diss “la Peste”. I last read it for A levels in 1978 and didn’t really get it. My memories say that it accurately depicts the behaviour of elites, spivs, stranded people, ideologues and would – philanthropists under lock down. Astonishingly prescient, I would say and a plea for tolerance, although that got Camus into trouble with the Party.

    Also, curious as to which Nabokov Geoff read after Lolita,based on availability in those days. Pnin? Speak Memory?


  30. MIAB: I didn’t take it as a dissing but a plea for other ideas! Camus was always my favourite existentialist. I think I might be tempted to return to that one.


    Pnin and Bend Sinister. Speak Memory came much later. Incidentally, last time I was in a Waterstone’s they had a special stand at the entrance on climate change, with the collected works of Greta and Prof Chris Rapley’s cryological bore-in “2071” side by side, both written in large letters, about five lines to the page like a Noddy book, only without the pictures. A half-hour read, without moving your lips.


  32. I picked up Warship. I kept passing over it in my recommendations so I’ll give it a shot.

    For fantasy aficionados I’ll offer up the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. At a base level it is to fantasy what military sf is to sci-fi, but with the epic world building of Tolkien and a huge cast of colourful characters. Be warned though, it doesn’t hold your hand. It feeds you clues and often leaves it to the reader to figure out their significance and the workings of the world.


  33. Mark. For historical fiction I would recommend the Shardlake Series by C.J.Sansom. I would be surprised if you haven’t read them already, given that they concern a Tudor lawyer who solves crimes, commonly at considerable risk to himself. The last episode “Tombland” is set during the Kett Rebellion. The first part of this describes the journey to Norwich from my present home town which took days, but which now takes less than half an hour. On the way you pass an old tree on the side of the road protected by a metal fence (Kett’s Oak), at which the rebels assembled. What I enjoy about the books is that Shardlake is at the heart of momentous events into which Samson has inter-weaved his own crime story.


  34. Alan K, yes I should have mentioned C J Sansom and the Shardlake series. You’re quite right – I have read them all, and Shardlake is indeed a personal hero! And, like you, I thoroughly recommend the series.

    In similar vein is the S J Parris series of historical fiction based on Giordano Bruno – also well worth a read if you’re in the mood for light relief based in this case around a real person, one well known to some contributors at this site.


  35. What an utter pleasure to get away, if only for a few minutes at a time, from the horrors of viruses and the inanities of climate hysteria, to contemplate one of the pleasures of life and share our gems with others of like mind.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Poem for today by Kipling, but got from the singing of the late Pete Bellamy, a Norfolk lad:

    Excellent herbs had our fathers of old–
    Excellent herbs to ease their pain–
    Alexanders and Marigold,
    Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane–
    Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue,
    (Almost singing themselves they run)
    Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you–
    Cowslip, Melilot, Rose of the Sun.
    Anything green that grew out of the mould
    Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.

    Wonderful tales had our fathers of old,
    Wonderful tales of the herbs and the stars-
    The Sun was Lord of the Marigold,
    Basil and Rocket belonged to Mars.
    Pat as a sum in division it goes–
    (Every herb had a planet bespoke)–
    Who but Venus should govern the Rose?
    Who but Jupiter own the Oak?
    Simply and gravely the facts are told
    In the wonderful books of our fathers of old.

    Wonderful little, when all is said,
    Wonderful little our fathers knew.
    Half their remedies cured you dead–
    Most of their teaching was quite untrue–
    “Look at the stars when a patient is ill.
    (Dirt has nothing to do with disease),
    Bleed and blister as much as you will,
    Blister and bleed him as oft as you please.”
    Whence enormous and manifold
    Errors were made by our fathers of old.

    Yet when the sickness was sore in the land,
    And neither planets nor herbs assuaged,
    They took their lives in their lancet-hand
    And, oh, what a wonderful war they waged!
    Yes, when the crosses were chalked on the door-
    (Yes, when the terrible dead-cart rolled! )
    Excellent courage our fathers bore–
    None too learned, but nobly bold
    Into the fight went our fathers of old.

    If it be certain, as Galen says–
    And sage Hippocrates holds as much–
    “That those afflicted by doubts and dismays
    Are mightily helped by a dead man’s touch,”
    Then, be good to us, stars above!
    Then, be good to us, herbs below!
    We are afflicted by what we can prove,
    We are distracted by what we know.
    So-ah, so!
    Down from your heaven or up from your mould
    Send us the hearts of our Fathers of old!

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Just to underline what I said earlier about having no artistic taste, particularly when it comes to poetry, I offer below my one and only attempt at poetic majesty. It was written many years ago after I had been roundly criticised for failing to attend a team-building fun day organised by my employer. I call it “Ode to Corporate Teambuilding”

    There once was a young man named John
    Who didn’t know how to have fun
    So when told ‘By the way,
    Attend our Fun Day’
    He turned up and shot everyone

    Oh if only John’s Prozac had cured
    His lack of the instinct to herd
    But instead of teambuilding
    A gun he was wielding
    And bonding was less than assured

    The police were eagerly called
    And in view of the scene were appalled
    But John’s smoking gun
    Was proof he’d had fun
    And so of to a judge he was hauled

    Upon meeting the judge that same day
    John said ‘I don’t care what you say
    Believe it or not
    I’m not a good shot
    The buggers just got in my way

    So the lesson I wish you to learn
    Now the court is about to adjourn
    Is to keep guns from those
    Who aim to oppose
    The will of the mass at each turn

    Eat your heart out Kipling!

    Liked by 2 people

  38. But John (The Bard) the big question is – did you have fun writing your poem noir? And I’m sure many of us are agog to learn what reception it received.


  39. Alan,

    I always had fun when I was in a rebellious mood at work. As for the reception, I think ‘bemused silence’ describes it best. For the rest of my dwindling career at that company my colleagues seemed to be unsure whether or not I was about to go postal on them – which suited me just fine. After thirty years of loyal service the management decided that no more than 6 people were to be allowed to attend my leaving presentation. No explanation was given other than ‘it was in my best interests’. The truth is that they were worried that I might have another poem in me.


  40. Alan Kendall & Mark Hodgson
    I chose to do Geography as an O Level, which meant giving up History. I have never regretted that decision, and it has allowed me to learn the bits of History that interest me, not Examiners.

    I have read Heartstone, and Dark Fire by CJ Sansom and found them very educational, not just good reads. Along the same lines, I read Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory, as I had realised that I didn’t really know anything about the War of the Roses. Another excellent book. I will probably buy more depending on when I catch Coronavirus and the state of curfew between now and then.

    I have listened to a CD of Stephen Fry reading the abridged version of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The story (not the film) is wrapped around very real historical events, that are not forgotten.


  41. golf charlie

    Historical fiction relating to the Wars of the Roses – you could try the Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. She seeks to rehabilitate Richard III, which might be a little controversial to some, but she makes a good job of it, and it’s a cracking read, IMO.


  42. So there is a writer based in my home town, Houston, Tx. He writes under the name Raymond St.Elmo.
    He knows how to spin tales that are fantasy but quite good even by my old school hard SF standards.
    I had the pleasure of meeting him at a diner where his writing never came up once, which is too bad. But since I found out he writes and has a nice list of books in publication, I have gone out of my way to read them all and I am glad I have.
    Even though he is a computer programmer, he has a since of story telling and an appreciation for literature that results in books that are rich but not pretentious and fun without being self-conscious about it. Great books to wile away the great lock down.


  43. By the way, everyone should consider visiting at least occasionally beththeserf’s website. She offers rich fare and deep insights, presented with excellent writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Hunterson, thx for your kind recommendation. I have been reading this wonderful book that I might do a poat on, ‘Rats, Lice and History’ written in 1935 by Hans Zinsser. Here’s the pdf…

    Click to access zizsser-rats-lice-and-history.pdf

    On Page 80 of the above, :
    ‘ In searching the literature for ancestral forms of infectious diseases of the nervous system one cannot overlook a curious chapter of human affliction – namely, that dealing with the dancing manias spoken of in mediaeval accounts variously as “St.John’s Dance,” St.Vitus’s Dance,” “Tarantism.” These strange seizures, though not unheard of in earlier times, became common during and after the dreadful miseries of the Black Death. For the most part the dancing manias present none of the characteristics which we associate with epidemic infections of the nervous system. They seem , rather, like mass hysteria brought on by terror and despair in populations oppressed and famished, and wretched to a degree almost unimaginable today.”


  45. From le Gorafi, the French equivalent of the Onion, I translate:

    As the situation deteriorates by the hour, an executive committee of a small group of volunteers has been formed to undertake an urgent mission. The group consists of a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, two humans and four hobbits, united in their quest to bring a box of masks to the hospital of la Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris.
    “You’ve taken my axe,” objected the dwarf, jumping on the table as the Grand Council finished its deliberations. “The task of delivering these masks is one of life and death” observed the elf. “The route is fraught with dangers, we don’t have enough attestations for everyone, and the Nazguls are very strict…”
    “These little hobbits are hardy, they should be able to overcome the rules of confinement and bring their precious cargo to its destination,” announced the wizard. ¨There’s a creature out there that wants the masks for itself alone, and others may be tempted to use them for themselves.”
    “Never!” insisted one of the humans. “I will defend them with my life. But they are jolly nice masks though…”

    Liked by 1 person

  46. I’m trying to work my way through Steven Runciman’s ‘A History of the Crusades I’ but it’s too nice outside, so I shall be taking the dogs out for a second long walk along empty footpaths and across deserted farm fields.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. Beththeserf, I have read that book and found it fascinating of dated in some style and snark. But the author knocks it out of the park in reviewing how various diseases have shaped our history since we have had a history to shape.
    My daughter got me the book due to our shared interest in history. She went on to work as a professional in public health band is now working on an anti-viral study looking at a certain drug as a therapy for those infected.
    Perhaps Corona will help us discern between real emergencies and faux climate emrrgencies.

    Liked by 2 people

  48. A book that I bought back in 2007 but, for some reason, never got around to reading is: Two’s Company, Three is Complexity. It is written by Neil Johnson, a professor of physics from Oxford University. The introductory blurb reads:

    “What do traffic jams, stock market crashes, and wars have in common? They are all explained using complexity, an unsolved puzzle that many researchers believe is the key to predicting – and ultimately solving – everything from terrorist attacks and pandemic viruses right down to rush hour traffic congestion.”

    The key part of the above is ‘…complexity, an unsolved puzzle…’ It is therefore worth keeping in mind that an unsolved puzzle lies at the heart of epidemiology (lest we get too carried away with what the science is telling us).

    I’ll let you know what I think of the book if I ever get around to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  49. Beth,

    That’s brilliant, but they are going to have to do something to hide the decline in the ‘Murders by steam, etc.’ plot.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. I’m just finishing “The Blunders of our Governments” by Anthony King & Ivor Crewe.

    Not a “book to die for”, but very well crafted and written with a light touch. Worth a read if you don’t mind being depressed about the way our country is run…


  51. I lent a friend a new Windows laptop last year and today she reported that its charger had packed in. She’s been using it for work from home so I said I’d look into it. On arriving at the Amazon page in question the ‘You may also be interested in’ section was fronted by The Plague by Albert Camus. Given what I said above that was just a bit spooky. Clicking on the link I’m told the Kindle edition (Penguin Modern Classics) is £4.99 and a hardback will set me back a mere £1,651.74. Hard decision. And curious full use of the six significant figures.

    Liked by 1 person

  52. Not that this is necessarily a book to die for, but it’s part of my lockdown reading, so I thought I’d mention a quote here from “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre. The book argues for the scientific method and intellectual rigour. Towards the end of chapter 4, an assault on homeopathy (fair enough – I have no dog in that fight) he says:

    “It is rare to find a homeopath engaging on the issue of the evidence, but what happens when they do? I can tell you. They get angry, they threaten to sue, they scream and shout at you at meetings, they complain spuriously and with ludicrous misrepresentations – time-consuming to expose, of course, but that’s the point of harassment – to the Press Complaints Commission and your editor, they send you hate mail, and accuse you repeatedly of somehow being in the pocket of big pharma (falsely, although you start to wonder why you bother having principles when faced with this kind of behaviour). They bully, they smear, to the absolute top of the profession, and they do anything they can in a desperate bid to SHUT YOU UP, and avoid having a discussion about the evidence. They have even been known to threaten violence…”

    Remind you of anyone/anything?

    Google Ben Goldacre climate, however, and you’ll find plenty of examples of him supporting people who behave exactly as he describes homeopaths acting. Funny old world.

    Liked by 1 person

  53. Mark, there was a good discussion of Goldacre on Bishop Hill in April 2012. The first comment (on that second page) by The Leopard In The Basement begins, rather even-handedly:

    The thing about Goldacre is that he is good on epidemiological studies and dismissive about anecdotal evidence. The quoted so called insight into Goldacre above shows the annoyance of the anti vaccine people mostly because of his dismissal of the massive appeal to anecdotal evidence that was brought to bear in that debate. There was plenty of epidemiological evidence supporting his side.

    I think the more important and worthwhile thing to criticise Goldacre on is his laziness in relying on authority with regard climate alarmism. Ironically he is silent about the reliance on anecdotal associations and dodgy science that is the bread and butter of AGW. He is like Simon Singh in this regard …

    I too always think of Simon Singh in the same breath as Goldacre. And, back to books to die for, I would recommend Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem without reservation. I was also positive about Singh in A media love-fest for Bishop Hill in February 2011 – my report about a faux debate at Imperial College which was trivially and abjectly weak on AGW.


  54. Richard

    Thanks for the reminder of the days when Bishop Hill was an active site. Now a few of us just play happily there making our own fun on unthreaded and the occasional home-made discussion thread. In the absence of it coming back to life, thank goodness for cliscep!

    Liked by 1 person

  55. Mark, Richard,

    Goldacre’s book is one of those that I seriously considered buying whilst browsing in Waterstones. My first impressions were favourable, until I skimmed through the chapter on climate change and saw that he was taking authority on trust and lazily chastising ‘denial’ using the same old hackneyed arguments. Shame — it looked like a good book otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

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