What I’m reading

My reading list so far for this year:

– Several books from the Sharpe’s Rifles series by Bernard Cornwell.  These are historical adventure novels featuring Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British army during the Napoleonic wars.  I’m enjoying the books, but they are really just pleasant fluff.  Sharpe is a straight-up hero-type, largely lacking in any character depth, and the books do get a bit repetitious after a while.  (The books are often compared to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books, a series of historical novels set on shipboard during the Napoleonic era.  In my mind, the O’Brian books are much better, primarily because Aubrey and Maturin, the central characters, are far richer and more complex than Sharpe.)

The first of these books, Sharpe’s Tiger, was a particular treat.  In it, Sharpe finds himself in India at the battle of Serringapatam fighting with the British army against the forces of Tippu Sultan.  I’ve twice visited Serringapatam, which is near Mysore.  I’ve seen many of the sites mentioned in the novel, including the fortress itself, the mosque and Hindu temple within the fortress, and Tippu’s nearby Summer Palace and tomb.  So when the book described Sharpe visiting these places, I could easily imagine it.

So far this year, I’ve read the first four of these novels, which takes Sharpe from India to the battle of Trafalgar.  (Yes, I know.  A soldier is out of place at a naval battle.  But his presence is not too far-fetched as arranged by the author.)  I’d recommend these if you’re in the mood for a quick, fun read.  But don’t look here for any depth.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik.  This is the fourth of a series of books set during the Napoleonic Wars including dragons.  (I seem to reading a lot of Napoleonic fiction lately – I’ve got two others sitting on my to-read pile, including Dumas and Tolstoy.)  The dragons are teamed with men and serve as an important arm of the various militaries.  I quite enjoyed the first book of the series – His Majesty’s Dragon – but have found the novels to decline in quality over time.  This one is the worst, with a confused plot that seems a contrived excuse to show us what dragons do in Africa and France.  I can’t recommend it, I’m afraid.

The Man who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt.  A biography of Alan Turing, a fascinating figure who is one of the half-dozen or so people who could lay claim to being the inventor of the computer.  Turing was instrumental in Britain’s efforts to break the Nazi codes during WWII, and was probably personally responsible for shortening the war.  But that was not enough to spare him from post-war persecution and prosecution for homosexuality, when he was hounded into suicide.  (A fan of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Turing killed himself by eating an apple dipped in cyanide.)

I enjoyed the book, which spends as much time explaining Turing’s ideas as it does his life.  But I found some of the psychoanalytic approach of the book to be a bit heavy-handed.  I’m afraid it lost me when it started trying to find psychological reasons for some of the things that Turing put in his technical papers.  Still, I was curious to learn more about Turing, and the book satisfied much of that curiosity.

That’s what I’ve read so far this year.  I’ll update here as I read more.

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