The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Randall Munroe

Readings for November 2014

I wonder if I have failed to log any books, and how many they may be.

Surprised by Scripture by N.T. Wright

Wright's latest popular work is a slim volume. I picked it up from my church library, having enjoyed his writings in the past. Overall, I have no complaints. Many of the topics discussed warrant more space, but that is not really within the scope of this book. In it you'll hear some of Wright's contrarian interpretations of scripture, some of which call for a change in practice, e.g. the ordination of women. But fear not, even at his most liberal Wright gives off a distinct air of conservatism. Maybe it's a British thing.

The Timetravelers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Medieval England is a favorite backdrop for historical fiction, in film and in print. In reading a number of novels set in that period, I felt that I had a basic familiarity with that time and place. I happened to acquire Ian Mortimer's *The Timetravelers Guide to Medieval England" as a part of an English-themed basket in a silent auction (complete with a novel, some tea, and a London mug). The quirky title probably excited me as much as the subject matter.

Mortimer's book is the sort of popular social science that I love. He does a great job of presenting the material and giving the reader a sense of how life was different for so many of our ancestors. Perhaps my favorite example of the relative simplicity of this setting was the criminal justice system. The result of justice was typically either a fine, corporal punishment, or capital punishment. That's it.

Life expectancy was low for myriads of reasons, and Mortimer's work reminded me of the joys of modernity which I enjoy. But he also reminds the reader that medieval England, like all times, had its joys as well. Recommended.

What If? by Randall Munroe

Readers of xkcd will need no convincing on this gem. What If? is a book of "serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.". Its author is a web cartoonist who draws stick figures and is good at math. The result is fascinating and hilarious. Highly recommended.


  • Harper's November 2014