The History of the (Whole) World

my progress as I write, revise, send to my editor, re-revise, fact-check, galley-read, and promote a multi-volume history of the world. While living on a farm, educating my kids, and teaching. And doing a few other things too.

The History of the (Whole) World header image 4

History of the Renaissance World galleys are here!

May 22nd, 2013 by Susan
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Ta-daa!

allgalleys

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the pre-publication process, “bound galleys” are the first-pass typeset pages of a book (“first-pass” means straight off the typesetter’s computer, pre-proofreading, pre-correction), bound with soft covers and sent out to reviewers so that they have plenty of time to see the book before publication date.

Receiving bound galleys is a mixed experience. It’s reassuring to see that the manuscript you’ve been laboring over is beginning to assume final shape. But…because bound galleys are uncorrected, there are always massive mistakes in them, and reviewers are looking at those mistakes.

This is a traditional part of the publication process, so responsible reviewers never point out typos and technical mistakes in their reviews; the assumption is that those mistakes will have been corrected in the final book. And, in fact, every bound galley says on it somewhere, “ADVANCE UNCORRECTED PROOF. Please do not quote for publication without checking against the finished book.” (Although I suspect most reviewers don’t bother.)

But there are mistakes, and there are mistakes.

In a lot of ways, these bound galleys are much cleaner than others I’ve seen. The timelines were in good shape, most of the maps and graphics were properly set, and there were no more than the usual number of dropped lines, skipped pages, missed corrections, and general flub-ups.

There were, though, two mistakes–both of which have now been corrected and will not appear in the final book–that caused me to bang my head against the nearest hard surface.

The first was (sigh) the cover. Here’s the cover…

frontcovergalley

Does that look familiar to you? It ought to–it’s the color scheme for the History of the Medieval World, just reversed. This color scheme was floated early on in the design process and I asked for it to be changed because it was far too close to the previous volume. The designer agreed and offered a different, much superior color scheme, which is in fact the picture on the back cover of the very same bound galley:

backcovergalley

Somehow, the wrong version of the cover got sent out the door on this galley. Which just bugs me.

The second mistake…well, I named the first section of the book “Renaissances.” The plural was intentional. As the section makes clear, there is more than one “renaissance.” The typesetter then placed the title on every other page of the first section as a running head. Like this.

misspelled

Argh.

Argh, argh, argh.

However…having said that, if you’ll ignore the misspellings and the miscovering, the rest of it is pretty darn good. So I’m going to give away two copies of the galleys to my readers. If you’d like one, post a message here, and next week I’ll draw two names at random.

(To get you enthusiastic about what you’ll be reading, I’ve posted the table of contents right here: Final TOC Click on it for the PDF!)

UPDATE: So many of you are interested (thanks!) that I’ll give away three copies instead! I’ll close comments at 8 AM on Monday, May 27th, and announce the winners on Tuesday.

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May at Peace Hill

May 17th, 2013 by Susan
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Greetings from the farm, where a combination of spring tasks (pasture management, fruit tree spraying, spring planting, dosing sheep with concentrated garlic juice, things like that) and lots of writing (new projects underway…very exciting) have combined to prevent new blog posts. I’m back on the job now, though. Promise.

Here’s how things look around here, after all that farm work.

front of house

Strawberries copy

Ben’s summer job. Those of us who live on farms find it useful to have many strong sons who are desperate for gas money.
BEn's summer job copy

The Old Barn, freshly painted for spring.

old barn copy

Goats marching to breakfast.

Goats marching copy

The ewes, in temporary summer fencing, and Mr. Collins, wondering why he doesn’t get to hang out with them.

ewes copy

Mr. C copy

My summer fashion footwear.

fashion footwear copy 2

Mars, the German shepherd. He thinks he’s being helpful. If only he had opposable thumbs.

Mars copy

The donkey believes that someday she will grow up and be a real horse.

donkey copy

Yep. Grass. Over there. Much greener.

waiting for breakfast copy

See? I have been working. Promise. Updates on the writing front coming soon.

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Spring is coming…

March 23rd, 2013 by Susan
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Here on the farm, spring means fruit tree pruning, sheep shearing, planting, new pasturing…and all sorts of other things.

I’ll be posting photos of these activities as they happen. But this week I wanted to share a quick clip of one of my Leicester Longwool sheep, Mr. Collins.

(When you have sheep, by the way, you find out that each year’s flock should have a “naming theme.” If your flock is small enough to name, that is, which mine is. This flock has a Pride & Prejudice theme. Our two rams are Mr. Bingley and Mr. Collins, with Mr. Collins, naturally, being the black ram.)

If you want to know why this clip, it’s because on this particular morning, it occurred to me that having a large ram and a German shepherd is weirdly similar to having teenaged boys.

They LIKE each other. Really, they do. They just have no idea what to do about it.

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When Did the Middle Ages End and the Renaissance Begin? The Last in a Three-Part Reflection

March 10th, 2013 by Susan
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Following on my first and second posts in this series, I’ll now wrap up by telling you why my upcoming History of the Renaissance World begins in the twelfth century and ends with the conquest of Constantinople.

And I’ll do so by giving you a preview of the book. Here’s the preface. Hope you enjoy.

History of Renaissance World

    PREFACE

Not long after 1140 AD, the Italian scholar Gerard of Cremona travelled to the Spanish peninsula, hoping to find a rare copy of the thousand-year-old Greek astronomy text known as the Almagest.

His chances were better there than anywhere else in Europe. The southern half of the peninsula had been in Arab hands for centuries, and the ruling dynasties of Muslim Spain had brought with them thousands of classical texts, translated into Arabic but long lost to the vernacular languages of the West. The libraries of the city of Toledo, in the center of the peninsula, housed scores of these valuable volumes–and Toledo had now been recaptured by one of the Christian kingdoms of the north, meaning that Western scholars could visit it in relative safety.

Gerard found more than he bargained for. Not just astronomy texts but classical and Arabic studies of dialectic, geometry, philosophy, and medicine; unknown monographs by Euclid, Galen, Ptolemy, and Aristotle; a whole treasury of knowledge. Overwhelmed, he settled into Toledo and set to work learning Arabic. “Regretting the povery of the Latins in these things,” one of his students wrote, “he learned the Arabic language in order to be able to translate….To the end of his life he continued to transmit to the Latin world (as if to his own beloved heir) whatever books he though finest, in many subjects, as accurately and as plainly as he could.”

Renaissance had begun.

*

This is not a history of “the Renaissance.” Rather, it is a history of the world during the period which historians have often (although not universally) associated with a rebirth of interest in classical learning. As Gerard’s story shows, this rebirth began much earlier than the fourteenth century.

One of the first Italians to give a name to the reawakened interest in Greek and Roman learning was the poet Petrarch, who announced early in the 1340s that poets and scholars were ready to lead the cities of Italy back to the glory days of Rome. Classical learning had declined, Petrarch insisted, into darkness and obscurity. Now was the time for that learning to be rediscovered: a rebirth, a Renaissance.

Petrarch was lobbying, in a polite and academic but very pointed way, for the distinction of official Roman Poet Laureate; in that day, something perhaps equivalent to the Man Booker Prize or the National Book Award, a public recognition that he was an intellectual whose words should be heeded. As part of his campaign, he was placing himself at the head of an already-existing phenomenon. Since before Gerard of Cremona, Western scholars–many of them Italian–had been working through Arabic libraries, reaquainting themselves with Greek and Roman thinkers. So much of this intellectual groundwork had been laid already that many modern historians now speak of a “Twelfth-Century Renaissance.”

By 1340, in other words, renaissance was so far advanced that it had become visible. Historical eras are never recognizable when they begin; they can only be seen in hindsight. The Renaissance, as the following chapters will show, was rooted in the twelfth century. The twelfth century saw the real beginnings of the struggle between Church hierarchy and Aristotelian logic, a struggle which–reincarnated as a fight between Scripture and science, creation and evolution–is still ongoing in the United States in 2013. The twelfth century saw the death of the Crusades, the rise of the Plantaganets, the dominance of the Japanese shoguns, and the journey of Islam into central Africa.

It was a century of renaissances, and that is where my story begins.

*

The last chapter of this history tells the story of the Ottoman attack on Constantinople in May of 1453, when the triumph of the Turks brought a final end to the Roman dream.

The cultural phenomenon known as the Italian Renaissance continued well after 1453; I do not go on, in this book, to chronicle some of its better-known phenomenon (the political philosophies of Machiavelli, the paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael, the inventions of da Vinci, the observations of Galileo). But in worldwide terms, by the time Constantinople fell, the Renaissance had begun to shade into new eras.

Like the Renaissance itself, those eras were not named by historians until much later. But the ground of the Reformation was seeded and had begun to sprout; the followers of the English scholar John Wycliffe and the Bohemian priest Jan Hus were already organizing aganst the authority of Rome. And the Age of Exploration was well underway. Twenty years earlier, the Portuguese captain Gil Eannes had finally pushed south past Cape Bojador. A decade after Eannes’s boundary-breaking journey, Prince Henry of Portugal sponsored the first slave market in Europe: a closely orchestrated, carefully publicized event meant to whip up widespread enthusiasm for further explorations into Africa.

The Turkish overthrow of the Byzantine empire was a world-changer. As the historian Caroline Finkel points out, even the Turks were unsettled by Constantinople’s fall; the Ottoman chronicler Tursun Bey, the only Turk to describe the final battle, calls it a “veritable precipitation and downpouring of calamities from the heavens, as decreed by God Himself.” The transformation of Constantinople into Istanbul is an end and a beginning, an exclamation point and new paragraph in the punctuation of world events.

But the transition away from Renaissance and towards the next phase of human history is, perhaps, even more apparent in the events of the year before. The Italian pope Nicholas V had just issued a papal bull called Dum Diversas. In recognition of the expense and effort that the Portuguese had put into exploring the African coast, the Church gave official approval to the enslavement and sale of Africans by the Portuguese crown–a sanction confirmed again three years later in the charter Romanus Pontifex.

Wooing the allegiance and support of the powerful King of Portugal, the pope had transformed slavery into an institution that all Europeans could profit from without guilt. Historians do not normally speak of the Age of Enslavement, but in hindsight we can see that the decrees of the 1450s shaped the futures of three continents and began a whole new story.

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When Did the Middle Ages End and the Renaissance Begin? Part Two of a Three-Part Reflection

February 28th, 2013 by Susan
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Not long ago, I received the following email from a loyal reader:

You noted in your blog that the “History of the Renaissance World…will cover from the end of the First Crusade to the end of the Renaissance–which, in my view, is when Vasco da Gama rounds the Cape. That’s four hundred years, 1100-1500.”

  Now, a gorgeous new art book entitled Gothic: Visual Art of the Middle Ages, 1140-1500 (Bruno Klein) is a recent example of what inspires my inquiry. Your Renaissance & Klein’s Middle Ages almost exactly coincide.

  Furthermore, if you go to Wikipedia, you find, “The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe.”

  In grade school, I learned that the Middle Ages was the feudal period, which seems to be roughly the years you chose for your Renaissance volume. We never even addressed Constantine, Attila, or Charlemagne (clearly Medieval players).

  Is there rhyme or reason to these apparent contradictions? Perhaps, the sociopolitical history and the (Gothic) art epoch are necessarily out of sync? Or, the difficulties you have expressed with encapsulating your historical volumes require a best-fit approach? Not being an expert in either world or art history, I turn to you to shed some light.

That was a very thoughtful, kind way to ask the question which has, on occasion, been asked with less finesse…for example:

Why did you pick the wrong years for the Middle Ages? Everyone knows that the Middle Ages go from 500 to 1500. I liked your first book but if you don’t know enough to get the Middle Ages right, I won’t read any more of them.

“Everyone knows” what the Middle Ages are, eh? Let’s take a closer look at that assumption.

Start with the word middle. In order to have a middle, you need to have something on either side. There’s no middle to a sandwich unless it’s got two slices of bread; without the top crust, the middle is the top and you’ve got toast, not sandwich. There’s no middle to a sonata or symphony unless there’s both a first and last movement, no middle of the night without both sunset and morning.

So what do the Middle Ages come between?

Traditionally, the classical age and the Renaissance. But now things get tricky. You can’t, after all, identify a “middle” until something exists on both sides of it. And so the “Middle” Ages didn’t exist until someone decided that a new age had begun after it. There is no Middle Ages without a Renaissance; the two eras came into existence simultaneously.

And who created this new reality?

Most of the responsibility lies with Petrarch, the Italian man of letters. Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming History of the Renaissance World, explaining how it happened…

Rome, pope-less and emperor-less, was in its usual chaotic and simmering state when the Italian poet Petrarch was crowned in Rome as Poet Laureate: the first time this honor had been carried out since ancient times.

Petrarch had been lobbying for the title, in a genteel and polished way, for some time. His father had been driven from Florence at about the same time as Dante; Petrarch, born afterwards, had been working in Avignon for years, writing a massive epic about the Roman general Scipio Africanus, travelling as the impulse struck him, and occasionally carrying out discreet diplomatic missions for the Avignon popes.

The Roman Senate, correctly interpreting Petrarch’s various oblique remarks as a request for the crown, invited the poet to Rome for his coronation. He chose Easter Sunday, April 18, 1341, as the day for the ceremony, and treated the assembled Romans and senators to an oration promising that the revival of the Poet Laureate position would help to bring about a new age in Rome. “I am moved also by the hope that, if God wills,” he told them, “I may renew in the now aged Republic a beauteous custom of its flourishing youth….Boldly, therefore, perhaps but–to the best of my belief–with no unworthy intention, since others are holding back, I am venturing to offer myself as guide for this toilsome and dangerous path; and I trust that there may be many followers.” The path was the path of learning; the rediscovery of the truths of the past, the history and literature of Rome’s glory days. Poets and scholars, Petrarch explained, would save Italy; poets and scholars would lead the Italian cities back into peace and prosperity.

The choice of Easter Sunday was not random. Petrarch had in mind a resurrection for his beloved Rome, a return to the days when the Roman Empire had been whole and powerful, not split between squabbling rulers and priests. Italy could recover her greatness by returning to the world of Rome before Christianity, Rome in the golden age of Cicero and Virgil, Rome between the coronation of Romulus and the rule of the emperor Titus. This, he later wrote, was “a more fortunate age,” and it was time to return to its ideals. Between that golden time and the present lay “the middle,” an era of “wretches and ignominy,” centuries of tenebrae: of darkness.

A classical age of light and learning, followed by a Dark Ages, culminating in a rebirth: a renaissance. Three epochs in history: antiquity, a Middle Age, and the present. Petrarch had laid out, for the first time, a scheme that would shape the next six hundred years of historical inquiry.

So there it is. Simultaneously, Petrarch created the Renaissance and the Middle, or Dark, Ages–and since his proposal struck a responsive chord with a number of his contemporaries, the labels gained in popularity.

But with all due respect to Petrarch (we’re all better off knowing that “Books have led some to learning and others to madness,” right?), his useful scheme has four limitations.

First, as Petrarch sees it, the Middle Ages has an entirely negative quality. It is defined by what it is not. It is not the classical age; it is not the rebirth; it is the bare space in between. It is a time without light, without fortune, without learning. It has no positive existence. Things without positive existence are darned hard to define. Or defend.

Second (a related point), the Middle Ages doesn’t end at a clear political, social, or cultural point. It ends when the Renaissance begins…and the Renaissance is a very, very slippery thing. Hold on to that point until the third and final post in this series.

Third, Petrarch’s Middle Ages only happens in Europe. It applies to absolutely no other place…and to make it work, we even have to redefine Europe as France/Spain/Germany/Italy/England/surrounding areas. The Middle Ages doesn’t work all that well for Poland, or for the Rus’ up there around the Baltic Sea, or even for the Hungarians. It doesn’t work at all for three-quarters of the African continent or for the Americas. It has very little to do with China, Japan, Korea, the southeastern Asian countries, or India. Which is (news flash) a very huge part of the world.

Fourth, as the email from my kind and loyal reader points out, “medieval” means very different things in different contexts. The “Middle Ages,” which Petrarch defined only as an absence, has come to stand for not only a period of time but a set of qualities. Medieval art is characterized by one set of qualities, medieval music by another, medieval Christianity by a third…and so on. Remember the quote from Ernst Cassirer that I used in my first post on this topic? It’s worth repeating:

Ideas like “Gothic,” “Renaissance,” or “Baroque”…can be used to characterize and interpret intellectual movements, but they express no actual historical facts that ever existed at any given time. “Renaissance” and “Middle Ages” are, strictly speaking, not names for historical periods at all…We cannot therefore use them as instruments for any strict division of periods; we cannot inquire at what temporal point the Middle Ages “stopped” or the Renaissance “began.” The actual historical facts cut across and extend over each other in the most complicated manner.

As I worked my way through the history of the world, I realized that the actual historical facts were leading me to the First Crusade as the end of my particular story. Constantine’s decision to march against Rome under the cross was the start of the story; his use of religion in warfare culminated with the First Crusade, which itself began a new tale.

I wouldn’t change anything about the book itself. But if I could do it again, I would have written a very clear preface, explaining exactly why I chose the starting and ending dates that I did. (In fact, I’ve asked Norton if I can insert a preface into future reprintings.)

And if I could go all the way back to the publication of the first book, I’d change the way the series is titled. I think I’d avoid using Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance altogether. The words are evocative–but for a world history, their limitations are greater than their benefits.

In the final post of this series, I’ll tell you why the Renaissance began in the twelfth century. And thanks to Victoria Kirkham and Armando Maggi, eds., Petrarch: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works for the Petrarch quotes.

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Where in the world is Susan?

February 27th, 2013 by Susan
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(Part Two of “When Did the Middle Ages End?” coming shortly! In the meantime…)

Anyone want to play Where in the World is Susan?

These should give you a pretty broad hint…but if you can’t figure it out I’ll post a few more.

witwis1

wwtwis2

wwitwis3

(This one is “Where in the World is Susan’s Husband?”)

witwis4

So what do you think?

ADDENDUM: You guys guessed it! Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. We’re here on a somewhat-delayed wedding anniversary trip. After a few too many wet, grey, muddy, nasty February days in Virginia, we’re loving the wind and the sun–not to mention the food and the scenery.

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When Did the Middle Ages End and the Renaissance Begin? Part One of a Three-Part Reflection.

February 19th, 2013 by Susan
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Late last spring, feeling punchy after way too many hours at the keyboard, I tossed off the following email to my esteemed editor:

Dear Star,

I have a new title idea. How about “There Is No Such Thing as the Renaissance: A History of the World from 1100 to 1500″?

s

p.s. This is my current favorite quote:

“Ideas like ‘Gothic,’ ‘Renaissance,’ or ‘Baroque’….can be used to characterize and interpret intellectual movements, but they express no actual historical facts that ever existed at any given time. ‘Renaissance’ and ‘Middle Ages’ are, strictly speaking, not names for historical periods at all….We cannot therefore use them as instruments for any strict division of periods; we cannot inquire at what temporal point the Middle Ages ‘stopped’ or the Renaissance ‘began.’ The actual historical facts cut across and extend over each other in the most complicated manner.” (Ernst Cassirer, “Some Remarks on the Question of the Originality of the Renaissance.”)

p.p.s. Completed ms will be with you by June 1. This time, I really mean it.

Starling Lawrence, who pays way too much attention to my occasional fits of irrationality, sent back an email asking whether that was really the title I wanted. (Actually, now that I look back at it, his exact words: “Were it not for those other two books, it isn’t absolutely crazy,” which might well be carrying the subtext, “This time you have really lost your mind.”)

In the end, we went with a title that was a little more compatible with the first two books in the series. But as I work my way through world history, it has become increasingly clear to me just how impossible, inaccurate, and misleading the traditonal Ancient Times/Middle Ages/Renaissance division is. And as I’ve written my way through the History of the World series, the slippage between the periods of history in the titles and the times that they are popularly supposed to cover became more acute.

It was least acute in The History of the Ancient World, for two reasons: first, “ancient” is popularly understood to mean “a long time ago” (a very flexible designation); and second, in terms of recorded history, the ancient world from Spain to the edges of the central Asian lands was folded into the history of the Roman Empire, and the trade routes even further east–so to call the same period in, say, northern India and in Rome “ancient” doesn’t really do violence to either of them.

But don’t forget that while the Roman empire and the Greeks and Egyptians were living through “ancient times,” many parts of the world–the Americas, much of Africa below the Sahara, the continent of Australia–were still in “prehistory,” the time before the written word. And since “ancient times” are traditionally separated from the “Middle Ages” by the collapse of Rome, neither term is all that accurate when applied to the Chinese and Japanese kingdoms–not to mention the dozens of smaller nations carrying on in the east and north and south, not paying the slightest bit of attention to Rome.

Even in Rome, the end of “ancient times” turned out to be less straightforward than I thought when I started writing. I had intended to carry the first volume through 476, the generally accepted “fall of Rome”: the date when the last “Roman emperor” was removed from the throne.

The problem? That’s not where the narrative I was writing ended.

The “last Roman emperor” wasn’t much of an emperor; he was a teenager recognized as ruler by Rome, first and foremost, by his ambitious father. Nor was he ruling in Rome; for some years, the “Roman empire” had been run from the swamp of Ravenna. Nor, for that matter, did he rule the Roman empire; only a very small part of Italy ever recognized him as a monarch. In some way, the end of Rome had come long before young Romulus Augustus abdicated.

As I wrote, it became clear to me that the end of the Roman story as I was telling it ended with Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. This, not the relatively pointless departure of Romulus Augustus from Ravenna, was the point at which the old Roman empire changed into something else.

So that’s where I ended The History of the Ancient World. And I guess I was pretty convincing, because only one reviewer ever commented on my choice of a stopping point, and then only in passing.

But this did not turn out to be the case with The History of the Medieval World, which covered the years between the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and the First Crusade. When I finished that manuscript, I was happy with the scope of the story. And I also thought that it would be perfectly clear to anyone who read it why I decided to choose 1100 as an ending point.

As it turned out…not so much.

In my next post, I’ll explain what I should have done instead. And then, in Part III of this series, I’ll tell you why The History of the Renaissance World begins in 1100 and ends in 1453.

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More about Lance Armstrong. (And now I’m done.)

January 25th, 2013 by Susan
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As I promised in my last post, I watched the second half of Lance Armstrong’s interview. And no, he didn’t change my mind.

What was he thinking? What were his handlers thinking? What was Oprah thinking?

To hear my answers…check out my interview with the wonderful Irish talk show host Tome Dunne and the slightly more academic half-hour discussion I had with religion journalist Mark Pinsky and radio host Maureen Fiedler.

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Public grovelling. Again.

January 18th, 2013 by Susan
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My 2008 book The Art of the Public Grovel has been making a bit of a reappearance in the last couple of days. Check out “America’s Confessor is Back in the Spotlight” (Oprah, not me, in case you’re wondering); “Coming Clean: Lance Armstrong and Forgiveness“; and “Lance Armstrong’s doping confession: An American ritual,” in the Washington Post. (Which you can also read in Russian, should you be so inclined.)

Public confession is rooted in American evangelicalism, and Americans have been willing to forgive famous wrong-doers as long as their admission follows a few rules, Susan Wise Bauer argued in her book “The Art of the Public Grovel.”

That it’s very public is one of them. Everyone wants to be able to witness it.

Another is that it can’t only express regret. The confession must be a clear statement of guilt, an admitted sin for which the person is sorry. Fall short of that, according to Bauer, and forgiveness is much less likely.

That’s the Kansas City Star, speculating on whether Lance Armstrong can pull off a successful comeback. Judging from his incoherent, dimwitted performance last night, I’m guessing not. But I plan to watch the second part of the interview tonight to see whether he manages–somehow–to change my mind.

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The oldest and the youngest

January 10th, 2013 by Susan
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January evening on the farm; my daughter and my father are fishing in the farm pond, right before sunset.

sunsetfishing

(My job was to build the fire. I like fire.)

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When you’ve taught your kids at home for seventeen years…

December 19th, 2012 by Susan
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…here’s what you’ve learned.

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Especially not the sneaky little spy right behind you.

November 29th, 2012 by Susan
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We’re in Washington, D.C. for a couple of days, doing field trips to museums with Emily and Dan.

I LOVE this picture. Totally unstaged–I mean, Pete and I are hamming it up, but we had no idea Emily was right behind us.

BE VERY CAREFUL. DENY EVERYTHING.

I wasn’t expecting much from the Spy Museum–we went by it after our morning at the Natural History Museum, inspecting dinosaur skeletons and gemstones–and so far it’s been the highlight of our trip. HIGHLY recommended.

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