Israel, Birds, Math Mysteries, and The British Museum

As usual, I’ve been reading books. Unfortunately, Tintin: The Complete Companion got taken back to the library before I could finish it (horror of horrors!), so that will have to wait for another day. But in the meantime, here’s some history, math, poetry, and political science to brighten up your day.

The Unmaking of IsraelThe Unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a valuable book for anyone seeking deeper insight into what makes Israel tick. The author, an Israeli by choice who immigrated there from the U.S. at the age of thirty, gives us a well-researched and cogent explanation of how Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Occupied Territories has developed. Even more valuable, he helps the reader understand how this crucial and contentious issue overshadows and shapes internal policy, leading to unintended and disastrous consequences in many areas of Israeli civil life.

Gorenberg contends that Israel’s current situation arises from decades of short-sighted solutions to immediate problems, coupled with the inability of the State to convert itself from a struggling movement into a fully-functioning government where rule of law obtains.

Most of the book centers on the problem: how covert funding of illegal settlements, huge government subsidies for extremist religious groups, mass radicalization of the army, and the blatant unwillingness of the parliamentary branch of the government to respect judicial rulings have created and compounded the current crisis.

The author does present his version of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the final chapter. What primarily distinguishes it from the many other solutions that have been proposed is his assertion that the Israeli government as it presently operates is seriously flawed, and must be internally reformed before resolution is possible.

I found the book very illuminating, since I had never really had a glimpse inside of Israeli politics and policy. I certainly agree with another reviewer that The Unmaking of Israel should be required reading for all U.S. presidential candidates. And indeed for anyone else interested in a successful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Conference of the BirdsThe Conference of the Birds by Peter Sís

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As one might expect with Peter Sís, this book is a visual and spiritual feast. The pages even have a luscious textured feel to them. The book is a retelling of a 12th century Persian epic poem, and Sís’s illustrations brim with profound imagery. Gorgeous, lyrical, and wise, this story is one to be read and pondered over and over again.

How High Can a Dinosaur Count?: ...and Other Math MysteriesHow High Can a Dinosaur Count?: …and Other Math Mysteries by Valorie Fisher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As well as our formal math program, I schedule time reading “math literature” into our homeschooling days. And this is one of the more delightful finds off our library shelf. Each page has a whimsical illustration, and then an alliterative word problem that goes along with it. For example:

The heavenly hats at Madame Millie’s Millinery are brimming with blossoms, butterflies, and bows. Heloise wants all of them, but she has only 2 dimes, 2 nickels, and three pennies to spend. Can Heloise buy a hat?

The pictures contain clues to help the reader solve the problem (in this case, each hat has a price tag). The back of the book contains several other word problems based on the same illustration.

This book is a cut above a lot of other math readers for several reasons:

#1 Nice illustrations.
#2 Non-annoying text. I can’t count the number of math books I’ve left at the library because they were composed in doggerel that hurt my ears.
#3 The problems are like real-world problems, but they’re fun and entertaining. They involve multiple steps, and require the reader to think, but they’re not too hard for my 7-year-old to figure out.
#4 My daughter loves it.

A History of the World in 100 ObjectsA History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book somehow migrated into our bathroom (actually, our bathroom is full of books, like most other rooms in our house), and my husband and I are both addicted to it. In fact, now whenever he’s missing, I expect him to emerge full of words of wisdom about the Ain Sakhri Lovers Figurine or Hokusai’s The Great Wave.

Interestingly enough, the book is actually a compilation of a BBC radio series that aired in 2010. The series included short programmes (what amounts to 5-6 printed pages each) on 100 historically significant objects from the British Museum. It’s a novel approach to history, and quite successful, I think. At least I’ve learned a lot. And now I’m dying to go to the British Museum.

Although I loved the book, I couldn’t help thinking with each new marvel what a terrible shame it is that the British are holding on to all these artifacts that rightfully belong elsewhere. It is heartbreaking to visit sites in the Near East and find that all the most dramatic pieces are far away in European museums. To be fair, in the chapter on the Parthenon relief, the book did mention the controversy over whether it ought to be given back to Greece (and yes, I found the British arguments pathetic at best).

Despite the ethical quibble, this is a delightful resource that really brings history to life. You can also find the original radio series, along with great zoomable photos of each object on the BBC website .

photo credit

2 thoughts on “Israel, Birds, Math Mysteries, and The British Museum

  • May 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    The History book sounds wonderful! I’m off to hunt for it.

  • April 29, 2012 at 10:50 am

    What bugs me even more is that the British Museum can’t even display all the cool things it has. And even if it could, everything is out of context.

    But that still sounds like a really interesting book.


What do you think?