Continuing in the Big Book Catchup…
Paul Kriwaczek’s Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization covers Mesopotamian history from the establishment of Eridu to the rise of the first Persian empire. This is a survey of thousands of years of city-kingdoms battling one another for dominance, and later small kingdoms doing the same, creating complex relationships – most notably, the convoluted Assyrian-Babylonian one, as Assyria began as part of one “Babylonian” kingdom, became distinct from it, and later came to dominate another version of Babylon before both were absorbed by the Achaemenid Persians. Although the narrative is quite readable, Kriwaczek does the reader no favors by frequently switching focus from macro-subjects to micro-ones: one moment we’re reading about general trends in Babylonian politics, the next we’re studying how city-state command economies compared to Soviet ones. I’ve read surveys of this subject before (Asimov’s The Near East, Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage, etc) and was able to follow along, but I think if I were someone approaching with no background knowledge I’d still be feeling a bit lost. I’ve another book by Kriwaczek, Searching for Zarathrusta: I imagine a more narrow focus serves him better.
Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens is a fantasy novel about the end of things. It opens with a demon and an angel standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, watching the newly-evicted Adam and Eve begin to make their way east into exile. As they try to make sense of what’s happened, something of a friendship is born – and when, years later, the demon is tasked with helping bring about the End of Things, the two both decide that they like Earth as it is and would prefer to avoid the apocalypse and all that. It’s a comic fantasy about doomsday: I started off with the excellent audiobook and then switched to the book proper.
The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars In a Small American Town by Brian Alexander is a history of one independent hospital’s director to keep his organization free of the large hospital corporations, which would doubtlessly close and consolidate services to increase profit margins. In addition to this local-level history, Alexander also reviews (cursorily) the change in American healthcare from mission-oriented to revenue-oriented. The book is a fairly transparent attempt to persuade readers that the United States needs a centralized health system run by those geniuses at DC (The ones who wasted twenty years in Afghanistan, tried to persuade us that cloth masks stopped viruses and that mass arson in tribute of a career criminal was good for public health) because the current system is too complex and criminally inflated. I don’t think anyone would dispute the miserable state of things currently, but how anyone can watch DC in action and want them to have more authority and responsibility over one’s health is breathtaking. “The government should just…do something about it” is the height of passivity, laziness, and unoriginality.
Gore Vidal’s Imperial America collects essays and interview transcripts from the author and critic. The collection appears to have been inspired by the growing war & police state of the post-9/11 period, though Vidal looks for context as far back as James Polk and the invasion of Mexico, and many pieces are from the 1980s. Vidal also comments on the mixed success of the American Republic in the 19th century, and its wholesale destruction in the 20th, wholly captured by the military-industrial complex, financial powers, and other corporate interests. Vidal continues to be of interest because he’s not one to be boxed in: his essays against Reagan and George W. Bush are predictable and amusing for the wrong reasons, as he seriously believes both men’s religious views might compel them to usher in the Apocalypse, but then he surprises me by taking potshots at Hamilton, Lincoln, and the FBI – the latter of which, he writes, has since its founding focused more on the regime’s political enemies rather than to the lowly likes of organized crime. The Fibbies certainly haven’t changed.