Top 20 Posts and Pages

Milo just went over the 200,000 hit mark, which is pretty cool. By far the most popular section of this sprawling mess is the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire, which, if you’re a runner, is worth checking out. But in this post, I thought I’d highlight the 20 most popular posts on that aren’t related to the Boston Marathon.

Its an odd mix. Here they are in reverse order:

20 —  Book Nerds: Richard Prince — A look at the astounding book collection of one of the most important contemporary arts alive.

19 — Our Pre-term Baby — The story of my daughter Anna’s rather dramatic entrance into the world.

18 — How I Read 52 Books A Year — With illustrations from the Wire!

17 — Classical Sources of the Milo Stories — Just what it says it is, a resource page for some of the myths about our man Milo

16 —  Phil Coppess: Hero to Working Stiff Runners — Some thoughts on running legend Phil Coppess, who ran some incredibly fast times while also raising two kids on his own and working in a factory.

15 — Alex Honnold and the Viewers Guilt — My thoughts on watching the incredibly talented climber risk his life

14 — Weight and the Marathon– A look at the role weight plays in marathon success

13 — Some Thoughts On the Early Days of Strength Training — Just what the title says.

12 — The Hero Brought Low: Representations of Milo of Croton in Art – Some thoughts on the way our favorite Greek wrestler has been depicted in art through the ages.

11 — Running Heroes: The Women of the 1972 New York City Marathon — A brief peice about the women who staged a protest at the New York City Marathon and changed running forever.

10 — 2014 – My Year In Books — A round up of all the books I read in 2014.

9 — Divine Madness – A resource page collecting information on a now largely forgotten running “cult”

8 — 2015 My Year In Books – A round-up of all the books I read in 2015, the first year I start really paying attention to the diversity of voices in the books I read.

7 — Milo of Croton — A resource page for information about the Greek wrestler for who this website is named.

6 — The Egoist and the Fixed Gear A Polemic against a certain type of New York City Bike Rider

5 — S Town’s John B. Mclemore: A Reading List — A collection of the books reference by John B. Mclemore in the excellent podcast S-Town

4 — David Goggins Inspired Bodyweight Workouts — A collection of body weight workouts inspired by David Goggins training of Jesse Itzler in the hilarious Living With A Seal

3 — The Runnable Bridges of New York City — Just what the title says this is an interactive map of all the bridges you can run over in New York City.

2 — 2016 My Year in Books — My recap of my reading int he eyar 2016 when I tried to have my reading reflect the diversity of America.

1 — Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals — And finally, number 1. A light hearted post about the fitness habits of Generals McChrystal and Petraeus that has now inexplicably become my most popular piece of writing. Go figure.

Literature Reveals the World: Some Quick Thoughts on Finley’s The World of Odysseus

The World of Odysseus

M.I. Finley

A stunning work of social history which uses what we know about the historical time period which produced the Iliad and the Odyssey to help understand these two classics. We need to remember that even to homer, the events of the Iliad and Odyssey were ancient history. His codification of these myths tells us then about his time times, as well as about how his peers viewed their ancestors.

Like all literature, the Homeric myths are not just stories to pass the time, they are the means by which a culture explains itself: its morals, its family structure, its economy. Read closely, and literature reveals the world.

Finley uses archeology and anthropology, philology and the history of ideas to inform his thoughts on the world of Odysseus, but in the end, this is a book of hyper close reading. Nothing gets past his eye, not a variant in god description, nor telling bit of dialogue. All if informs is understanding of who the ancient Greeks were, why they wrote these stories, and what they’re trying to tell us. If only I were half the reader Finley was, these books reviews would be much more worth illuminating.

Very, very glad I read this right after finishing a re-read of the two classics. Finely gave nuance and new meaning to what I just read, making me think more than once, “why didn’t I see that?”
Recommended.

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Book Review: Cline’s The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction

The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction

Eric H. Cline

The title says it all. This introduction is focused on the history of the war itself, and the changing nature of our knowledge of it, and doesn’t spend much time on the literary aspects of the works (Iliad, et al) which have arisen around the conflict. What we really know about the war is scarce and contradictory. We’re not even sure there was a single war. We are sure, today, that Troy existed, and we are sure wars were fought around it, but beyond that, its mere conjecture.

Incredibly, even that level of understanding of the war is of a very recent vintage. Before Schliemann’s discovery in the 1860s, most viewed the stories of the war, and of ancient troy, as legend. Turns out, as with most things about the classics, the story of Troy is much more complicated.

This book gives us a nice, brief overview of those complications looking at the archeological record of troy and ancient Greece in general as well as the stories and histories of the Greeks (i.e. the Iliad and other Homeric epics) as well as the stories and myths of the Hittite and other cultures.

 

A great starting point for someone (like me) looking to get into the Trojan War and the Iliad. Worth it for the bibliography alone.

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

the walls of ancient troy

The walls of troy

Review: Fox’s The Riddle in the Labyrinth

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
Margalit Fox

I’ve been fascinated by the story of decipherment of Linear B, the language originally found by Authur Evans on Crete and eventually deciphered by the troubled amateur Michael Ventris, for years. It was a great puzzle — a sort of black box of a language. For many years scholars knew neither thecharacters (i.e. the signs) the language (i.e. the sounds) or the meaning. It appeared at first to undecipherable. But with years and years of false starts and hard work (much of it done by the heroine of this book, the largely un-sung Alice Kobler) it was eventually determined that the language is a form of Greek. The code was broken. What did the world get from solving this mystery? Largely lists of palace goods.
But it isn’t the prize, right? It’s the hunt.

The story of Linear B has it all (ancient mysteries, amateur geniuses, crackpots) but it hasn’t gotten a real, full, popular telling until this book. Fox does an excellent job of recounting the history of the discovery and decipherment of the text. She includes just enough linguistic theory so the reader can understand what the men and women involved in this project were up against, but not so much as to bore the lay reader. Most especially, she focuses much of the book on the fascinating, and largely overlooked, Kobler who spent years and years struggling with the text while working as a professor at my alma mater, Brooklyn College. Kobler comes off as a determined, hard working, brilliant, and, at times, prickly women fighting against a culture that preferred her to view her as a secretary than as the world class philologist she was.
Her’s was not an easy life, and after reading of the hundreds of hours she spent laying the ground work for Ventris, its tragic to know she died just a few short years before his successful translation. I need to get out to Brooklyn College and see if there is any sort of dedication to her. If there isn’t, there should be.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Beard’s Confronting the Classics

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations
Mary Beard

This is a collection of Beard’s reviews and essays from a number of publications, including many from the New York Review of Books. Organized in rough chronological order from Greece to the present, it is a bit of a hodgepodge. But what a wonderful hodgepodge it is.

Beard is my favorite classicist (if I can be so bold as to name someone my favorite classicist). She is a delightful writer, brilliant, and unafraid to bring call it like she sees it (Circeo, perhaps not the hero you thought?). She’s also excellent at bringing progressive political ideas to the study of the ancient world without having it come off as hackneyed or forced. If you care about classics in the contemporary world, you should care about the works of Mary Beard. This isn’t a major work by Beard, but it is a great way to dip her thoughts many aspects of Greek and Roman life and thought while also discovery scores of other books that are worth your time. If, like me, you’re early in your journey into understanding classic thought and history, this is well worth your time.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Milo: Brains versus Brawn

Classic’s professor Tom Stevenson has written a fascinating piece* parsing the ancient sources for a true record of how many Olympic wins Milo had – was it six… or seven? The whole article is worth a read, if ancient history is your thing, but this part from the introduction really stuck with me:

[Milo] became a famous symbol of brute strength, viz. a symbol of ‘brawn’ rather than ‘brains’. In this guise he appeared regularly in stories about the limits of physical strength, especially in comparison to athletic achievement. Writer like to dwell upon his human frailty in spite of his athletic prowess, and on his unflattering death.

As I read more of the ancient sources on Milo, this is becoming more clear to me.

As Cicero said:

What cry can be more contemptible than that of Milo of Croton? When he had grown old, he saw some athletes training on the track, looked at his own arms, wept and said these indeed are now dead.’ Not so, you idiot. It is you who are dead, for your nobility came not from yourself but from your trunk and arms. (Sen. 9:27)

When I wrote my post on representations of Milo in art, I think I was guessing at part of this – that Milo was in part a cautionary tale about hubris —  but I didn’t know the literature enough to see how he was both praised for his strength, and, perhaps, found wanting in intelligence.

I find it interesting that in modern mainstream fitness culture, it’s the story of the calf, not the wolves, that has gain resonance.

More on this, I’m sure, as I develop the classical resources on Milo page.

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee

*Dr. Stevenson has been kind enough to correspond with me about this article and send me a more recent version published in the journal Nikephoros. If and when that version goes online, I’ll link to it.

 

The Books I Read in 2012

Attention conservation notice: this post is long and has nothing to do with working out. 

I have kept a list of every book I have read I have read since I was thirteen years old.  Yeah, obsessive record keeping didn’t start with my running log.  Below is a list of every book I read this year followed by my idiosyncratic one sentence review.  Books are either recommended, meaning I think I the average reader will like them, not recommended, or recommended for a specific sub-group of readers.

I read thirty three books this year.  A general trend in my reading over the last couple of years is that I am reading less, and more of what I am reading can only be described as mind-candy pop fiction.  Such is adulthood.  I want to go home and work through the Organon, but somehow or other I often end up reading another spy novel.

Anyway, here’s the round up of what I read this year*

Best Fiction Book:  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. 

This book is actually better than the hype and considering the hype, that’s saying a lot.  My wife, who hates baseball, loved it.  I, who have little patience the young lions of American literary fiction, loved it.  I think you’ll probably like it as well.

Best Non Fiction Book: Lords of the Horizon: A History of the Ottoman Empire by Jason Goodwin. 

A really great overview of an empire which had a huge influence on modern society and about which I knew little.  Goodwin’s approach in covering the cultures, politics, and wars of the empire is clever and approachable.  I feel like I still have a lot to learn about the Ottomans, but this is a great place to start.

Book Which Was Much Better Than I Was Expecting:  Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, by Benjamin Yorr

I picked this one up because it got a good write up in the Times and had the words Yoga and Obsession in the title.  I was expecting a someone annoying experiential journalism piece written by a snotty New Yorker ironically judging the yogis around him.  Instead, its an insightful look into yoga culture and a thoughtful critique of Bikram yoga.  I was disappointed this one wasn’t longer, which is high praise for any book.

What Was I Thinking When I Got This Book and Why Did I Read The Whole Thing?: The Four Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman, by Timothy Ferris

Honestly, there must be something wrong with me.

 Every Book I Read I 2012

  1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John LeCarre – Recommended
  2. Krapp’s Last Tape and Other Dramatic Pieces, Samuel Beckett – Recommended for enthusiast’s of high modern theater.
  3. Romeo and Juliet (Arden), William Shakespeare – Recommended
  4. Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction, Jonathan Barnes – Recommended for those wishing to brush up on their undergraduate philosophy degree.
  5. The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach – Highly Recommended
  6. The Moro Affair and the Mystery of Majorana, Leonardo Sciascia – Recommended for those interested in left-wing terrorist organizations in 1970s Italy.
  7. Richard II (Folger), William Shakespeare – Recommended for obsessives determined to read every work by the Bard in chronological order.
  8. Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction, A.C. Grayling – Recommended for those trying to determine whether Ludwig is worth the trouble.
  9. Arctic Rising, Tobias S. Buckell – Recommended for connoisseurs of global warming dystopia futures.
  10. A MidSummer Nights Dream (Folger), William Shakespeare – Recommended
  11. The Four Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman, Timothy Ferris – Recommended for idiots (like me) who enjoy reading pop science about working out even when it was written by the world’s biggest frat boy.
  12. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr – Recommended
  13. The Honorable Schoolboy, John LeCarre – Recommended for readers of spy fiction.
  14. The Ex Pats, Chris Pavone – Recommended for readers of spy fiction who have read all the LeCarre and Steinhauer books listed here.
  15. Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon – Recommended for mystery fans dying to visit Venice even if everyone tells you that you will be disappointed.
  16. King John, William Shakespeare – Not recommended.  The only reason to read this is if you’re trying to read everything the Bard wrote.
  17. Drive, James Sallis – Recommended for fans of really well written crime fiction.
  18. Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times, Thomas R. Martin – Recommended for buddy amateur ancient historians.
  19. Istanbul Passage, Joseph Kanon – Recommended for cold war espionage fans and those about to travel to Turkey.
  20. The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare – Recommended if only because of its is the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays – if you are going to talk about Shakespeare, then you need to talk about the Merchant of Venice and you really cannot talk about the Merchant unless you have read it.
  21. The Snake Stone, Jason Goodwin – Recommended for mystery fans traveling to Turkey.
  22. Lords of the Horizon: A History of the Ottoman Empire, Jason Goodwin – Recommended for those, like me, with limited knowledge of the Ottomans.
  23. The Black Monastery, Stav Sherez – Not recommended.
  24. The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum – Recommended for the thriller enthusiast, especially those on an inter-continental flight
  25. King Henry IV Part I (Arden), William Shakespeare – recommended.
  26. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell – recommended.
  27. King Henry IV Part 2 (Folger), William Shakespeare – Recommended
  28. No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy Seal, Mark Owen – Not recommended
  29. The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible, Matti Friedman – Recommended for amateur Hebraists and book nerds.
  30.  In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language, Joel M. Hoffman – Recommended for students of Hebrew.
  31. The Nearest Exit, Olen Steinhauer – Recommended
  32. Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, Benjamin Yorr – Recommended
  33. An American Spy, Olen Steinhauer – Recommended

Next year I hope to finally finish my project to read all of Shakespeares works, once again cross the fifty books in a year threshold, and balance the serious with the frivolous a little better.

*Note that I am trying out the Amazon associates program with this post.