Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Month: July, 2013

422: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two by Anu Garg

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422: Garg, Anu. The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words. New York: Plume, 2007. 169 pp. ISBN 978-0-452-28861-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 420: English and Old English
  • 422: Etymology of standard English

Languages are wonderful things. They are fluid, foreign, and fantastic. The English language is an amalgamation of everything it has come into contact with, including itself. Words have been borrowed from other languages, re-translated, shifted over time, and even re-combined to add new nuance and new history. Anu Garg’s The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two is a look into the nooks and crannies of the English language to show some of the more amazing stories behind some of its most interesting words.

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028: 12 Books That Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg

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028: Bragg, Melvyn. 12 Books That Changed the World. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006. 344 pp. ISBN 0-340-83981-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 000: Computer science, information, and general works
  • 020: Library and information science
  • 028: Reading and the use of other information media

Think about all the books you’ve read in your lifetime. Can you name just twelve that have truly changed your life? Which twelve books would make your list? Melvyn Bragg has an even harder task at hand. He has to pick twelve books that have not just changed his life, but the lives of the all the people on the planet. His 12 Books That Changed the World is a speculative look into just which tomes would make the list.

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536: Four Laws That Drive the Universe by Peter Atkins

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536.71: Atkins, Peter. Four Laws That Drive the Universe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007. 124 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-923236-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 530: Physics
  • 536: Heat
  • 536.7: Thermodynamics
  • 536.71: Theories

Peter Atkins’s Four Laws That Drive the Universe is a exploration of the fundamental concepts that make up the current laws of thermodynamics. There are four laws, and their purpose is to define the nature of heat, energy, and entropy in the universe as follows:

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879: The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century by Charles Homer Haskins

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879.09: Haskins, Charles Homer. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955 [1927]. 396 pp. ISBN 0-674-76075-1.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 870: Literatures of Italic and Latin languages
  • 879: Literatures of other Italic languages
  • +09: History, geography, or treatment of persons

If you believe many people who talk about the Dark Ages, then apparently nothing happened in Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 BCE and the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century. There was Charlemagne and a few crusades, but, you know, not much happened. This is clearly facetious. Monasteries thrived and kingdoms grew and fell. The peoples and states of Europe dispersed and re-structured. The Carolingian Period saw a massive upswing in educational policies and the Crusades connected the Eastern and Western cultures (albeit very violently). Those who returned brought back tales and knowledge which sparked an intellectual fire throughout Europe. Charles Homer Haskins’s The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century is an investigation of a small facet of that connection: he tracks the influx of re-discovered Latin manuscripts into monasteries and shows how these literatures shaped the way that clergy and layman alike wrote about their world.

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666: Glass by McFarlane and Martin

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666.1: McFarlane, Alan and Gerry Martin. Glass: A World History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 203 pp. ISBN 0-226-50028-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 666: Ceramic and allied technologies
  • 666.1: Glass

If you really think about it, without the invention of glass, civilization would be stuck in a technological rut. There would be no magnifying glass, no telescope, no spectacles, or no mirrors. We have no glass apparatus to conduct experiments nor any way to comfortably view the environment outside a building. Glass invades nearly every aspect of our lives. Even now, I am looking through a pair of corrective lenses at an image on a computer screen (two panes of glass). Alan McFarlane’s and Gerry Martin’s Glass is a historical and philosophical look at how the invention of glass shaped human history and how glass helped us view the world.

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700: Other Entertainment by Ned Rorem

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700.904: Rorem, Ned. Other Entertainment: Collected Pieces. New York: Open Road, 2013 [1996]. Approx 336 pp. E-book.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 700: Fine Arts
  • 700.9: Historical, geographic, or persons treatment in the arts
  • +04: Special topics

Ned Rorem has had a celebrated career as a composer and a diarist, but he has also contributed many pieces to contemporary publications reviewing books, the lives of famous artists, and his experiences in the art community. Other Entertainment is a collection of such pieces ranging from 1978 to 1995. In it, Rorem discusses—among other things—his views on Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, the Frenchness of Jean Cocteau, an overview of American opera, and even small vignettes on those who passed in his lifetime (including Aaron Copland).

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199: The Invention of Africa by V.Y. Mudimbe

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199.6: Mudimbe, V. Y. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988. 216 pp. ISBN 0-253-33126-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 190: Modern Western and other non-Eastern philosophy
  • 199: Modern Western philosophy in other geographic areas
  • 199.6: Africa

V. Y. Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa is an exploration in the philosophical landscape of the Africa continent through centuries of colonization. At least, that’s what I hoped it would be. Instead, it’s two hundred pages of name-dropping, Foucault-quoting, Levi-Strauss-loving madness. It’s a mish-mash of contemporary thinkers quoted in context with figures from Africa’s past. This book is dense and wholly un-fun. He spends way too much time criticizing Eurocentric portrayals of African thinking and not enough time actually writing about African thinkers. There is far too much academic jargon as well. It seems that the only intended audience for this book is the author himself. I would have rather read a book with chapters for the dominant cultures in Africa and how they envisioned thought, knowledge, and the universe. There is little bit of that here, but Mudimbe can’t seem to get out of his own head sometimes. To be fair, though, the bibliography is chock full of diverse sources if you want to dig deeper into the subject. Unfortunately, the only reason I can see to read this is if you are in an African philosophy course or writing a dissertation. Other than that, you’re on your own.