Category Archives: history

1421 by gavin menzies

I enjoy histories – especially when delivered in the format that Gavin Menzies employed in “1421 – The Year China Discovered America”.

The only other history I have read in the past 5 years I can recall reading so fast was Gideon’s Spies.

Gavin makes a compelling presentation, interpretation, application, and conclusion of a host of evidence that seems to indicate that the title is what really happened ~600 years ago, and that it was due to a freak storm and fire in The Forbidden City that the records of the great expedition were destroyed by the emperor’s counterparts in society, the mandarins.

Mr Menzies spent his career as a submariner in the British Navy – a fact which comes up several times during the book, and helps to explain many of the connections he was able to draw when reviewing the historical maps, journals, reports, etc.

1421 is a veritable cornucopia of names and places – European and Chinese explorers, exotic locales (many of which are referenced by the names the various countries used for them), foreign potentates, trade routes, etc. It might behoove one to keep notes when reading this book – or at the very least get used to flipping back and forth to keep track of everyone’s names 🙂

When I bought 1421, I also bought Mr Menzies’ second book, “1434 – The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance”. I can’t wait to read that one to see where his research has led.

  • Quality of writing: 5/5
  • Quality of content: at least 4/5
  • Entertainment value: 4/5
  • Plausibility: 5/5
  • Historicity: likely 5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5


producing your own power by many

Rodale Press published a collected works book entitled “Producing Your Own Power – How to make Nature’s Energy Sources Work for You” in 1974.

There are a host of now-humorous segments of the text:

The US government estimates that by 1980 1 percent of our country’s land will be covered with utility companies’ equipment” {viii}. The contiguous US takes up approximately 1.9 billion acres of land. Do utility companies use 19 million acres? That claim is completely preposterous.

If all mineable fossil resources were made available to us, we would still have energy problems. In a few centuries these would also be exhausted” {ix}. Does the author (Carol Hupping Stoner) of the introduction really believe that in the next few centuries we won’t develop better technologies like we have been for the past thousands of years?

The average six-room, older house probably costs about $400 to $500 per winter to heat” {282}. Based on current heating and cooling costs, how could anyone have afforded to heat their homes 35 years ago? $500 per winter is half what people I know in NY plan to spend every winter now – with a median income of about $60k; 20 years ago, the median was just above $30k ( shows slightly different numbers). So 35 years ago folks were spending >5% of their annual income on heating for the winter? That doesn’t grok well.

Other similar claims are made throughout the book with no direct referential backing – merely stating something that the author of that segment wants you to believe. They may have been true. Or not – without references there is no way of knowing where the data came from in the first place. There is a bibliography, but it is only tagged for each segment – there are not direct footnotes/references in the text itself to the original sources.

From having reread this book recently, I think it’s safe to say that the best part of the book is section 3 – Wood Power {pp103-135}. While many improvements have been made in the intervening decades with wood stoves and fireplaces, the information in this chapter on those two heating techniques is still – overall – solid (one of the recommended designs for a fireplace has a tendency to put an unusual amount of smoke into the room if the fire is not kept roaring-hot, but that’s a discussion for another day). Starting on p127 and continuing for 9 pages to p135 is a good discussion on woodlot management, windbreaks, and calculating wood needs for heating purposes.

Personally, I’d alter the suggested woodlot and windbreak designs to include food-producing trees and shrubs in addition to “merely” windbreaking and fuel-producing varieties. If you have the land to grow it – the overriding presumption of most of this book is that you have land – why not make use of the decorative and functional aspects of, say, apple trees? They can provide some privacy, act as a windbreak, and also supply food: just about can’t beat that three-for-one deal!

  • Quality of writing: 2.5/5
  • Quality of content:  2/5
  • Readability: 4/5
  • Overall: 2.5/5

ip addresses for sale

Microsoft is trying to buy ~650k IPv4 addresses from in-bankruptcy-proceedings Nortel (for $7.5m).

What gets me is that IPv6 has been a standard for over a decade, and yet so few have moved to it. Way back when I was in college the first time – in 2000 – our networking professor told us we should move to IPv6 as soon as feasible. Somehow I don’t think 11 years meets that urging.

gideon’s spies by gordon thomas

Gideon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas claims to be “the secret history of the Mossad”.

From the myriad reviews on Amazon, I didn’t know whether to be expecting a massive work of historical fiction, or a insightful tour de force. After having nearly finished it, I don’t know if I have an opinion of whether it’s “inciteful” or “insightful”. Of course, this is supposed to be detailing backroom dealings, secretive organizations, and national intelligence operations: so there is likely a fair amount of ego building and some fanciful manufacturisms along the way.

It is written in a conversational, informative tone and is eminently readable. The “structure” reminds me of how some of the best professors I had in college spoke – the stories didn’t seem to happen in any particular order or for a reason, but by the end you can see how they all interlink to give the picture.

Several of the items in the book I can informally verify to be true having spoken to other first-hand sources on some of the topics. Whether the entire book is “true” or not, it is certainly worth reading for at least the perspective of Mr Thomas, and the sources he has interviewed.

As with any other claimed exposĂ©, much of what is said needs to be taken with grains boulders of salt, but it is very well written overall. It starts with an account of folks surrounding Lady Diana’s death – Mossad agents, MI5, MI6, Dodi Fayed, etc etc. What this has to do with the rest of the book… I don’t know, but it was still an interesting take. Some would say this is to support conspiracy theorists and their beliefs that intelligence agencies are all-powerful, and that they will actively withhold information that could benefit their allies just because of personality clashes. Personally, while I think some of that happens, it can’t really be as wide-spread as some would claim, or some countries would have been removed from the gene pool.

My biggest complaint is that for a professional journalist, Mr Thomas CANNOT use the phrase “try to” properly – almost invariably he says “try and” instead! GAAAHHH!!

Should you read the book? I think it’s worthwhile, even if it turns out to be 90% fiction. If you approach it as a book in the strain of the Jack Ryan universe created by Tom Clancy, and it turns out to be true – cool. And if not, you at the very least had an entertaining time.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content: unknown, but I’d guess at least 3/5
  • Entertainment value: 4/5
  • Historicity: unknown, but between 2/5 and 4/5
  • Overall: 3/5