The Dramatic Tale
Of How India Was
Mapped and Everest
(Harper Collins)You don't own countries until you map them. Thus, maps were the key to 16th Century exploration, and Portugal would execute anyone caught smuggling out its precious store of cartography.
George Washington worked as a surveyor, and Lewis & Clark were sent west to capture America on paper for future exploitation. The English knew they didn't own India until it had been measured, and they picked William Lambton to do it --- starting at Cape Comorin, the furthermost point to the south --- and heading north until he ran into the Himalayas.
Surveying was no easy task in 1800, when they began the "Great Indian Arc of the Meridian." Lambton insisted on accuracy, so he had constructed the "Great Theodolite," which, by triangulation, and with measurement of the base line AB could give the angle of the height of the line BC. Don't ask me what I'm trying to explain to you: in the tenth grade, my math teacher more than once sent me out of the room for snoring.
Anyway, in order to measure the base line, the Theodolite had to be perched 'way up there for visibility over the trees. It weighed a half-a-ton and had to be carried up mountains, down arroyos, pulled up to the top of temples for Indian deities (the highest points in the area) --- and Lambton had to argue with the priests who didn't necessarily cotton to having this funny-looking brass doo-dad pulled up atop their religious monuments. In addition, they protested the fact that some of their women could be peered at, through the lens mechanism, upside-down.
With all this pulling and pushing, it's some kind of a miracle that Lambton got as far as he did, with measurements as accurate as they were. Unfortunately, like most the British in 19th Century India, the miasmas got him, and he sickened and died. His job was taken over by a dandy named Col. George Everest who, as we all know, had one of the highest mountains in the world named after him --- Mount George. I just stuck that in to see if you were paying attention.
No-one, least of all the Indians, liked working under Everest, who was what Dr. Johnson would call "a prig." On top of that, he pronounced his name funny.
The name, incidentally, was pronounced not "Ever-rest" (like "cleverest"), but "Eve-rest" (like "cleve-rest.")
So the next time someone starts bragging about going up the North Face of Ever-rest, you can start bugging them about their pronunciation.
The travails of Lambton and his successor are somewhat interesting: the hard work necessary for triangulation, the difficulty of measuring the height of a mountain when you can't get within spitting distance of it --- Nepal was closed to the world back then --- and the problems with fog, clouds, and distortions of the atmosphere. All this would make this whole tale moderately interesting as a short article in The National Geographic, but to devote a whole book to what is essentially a tiresome engineering project is, we suspect, a bit of overkill.--- Bruce Miles ClevelandThe
25 Centuries of
Great War Writing
(Penguin)It begins, naturally, with the Peloponnesian war and ends with writings on the Gulf war. In between, there are the Hundred Years War, the Crimean War, the Civil War, the War to End All Wars, and Thurber's War Between the Sexes. The writers include Thucydides, Xenophon, Victor Hugo, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Studs Terkel, Winston Churchill, and Ernie Pyle.
WWII wins the total number of entries with nineteen articles. If you, like most historians, consider WWI and WWII a continuation of the same conflict, 20th Century European wars take up half of the book. We think it's all right to be Eurocentric --- but, if so, you shouldn't be calling your tome The Book of War, especially if you are going to be ignoring the many worthy writings on some not-so-obscure wars.
We get one brief entry on the Crusades, and only from the Arabic side --- yet for that part of the world, because it's appalling cruelty, the invasion of the Christians is still very much on the minds of people who live there, and it still has an effect on relations between the Western powers and middle Eastern governments.
Colonial wars were also champions in gratuitous cruelty, with a stunning loss of life --- but outside of the Indian wars, they are scarcely touched on. The one war from the 19th century that cost the greatest loss of life --- an estimated 20,000,000 --- is not even mentioned: that being the Taiping Rebellion in China, between 1860 - 1864. At about the same time, during the War of the Triple Alliance (1864 - 1870), the population of Paraguay was went from 1,400,000 to 221,000 (Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina lost another 1,000,000 men.) Maybe the editor couldn't find any writings of interest on these conflicts; or maybe he didn't try.
--- Elizabeth S. Roper, PhD
The Best of
The Sun, Vol. III
Edited by Sy Safransky
(Sun Publishing)The Sun magazine has been publishing for almost thirty years --- and this is anthology number three, with almost sixty stories, poems, interviews and articles, running the gamut from psychotherapy to education, from not breathing to total disability, from gardens to hooligans --- with The Sun's specialty --- mothers and fathers: loving and kind, horrible and cruel, bitter and forgiving, destructive and dying.
The magazine is known for its flinchless stories and articles --- real people describing real hurt. It's a peek into private lives --- the skin flayed, the muscles pulled away so you can gaze morbidly at the beating heart, the pumping kidneys, the pulsing lungs, the twisting, turning guts of people just like you and me.
In fact, over the years, the magazine has gotten the reputation of being almost too morbid, dealing again and again, in its stories, poems, and "Readers Write" section, with madness, abuse, cruelty, poisoned relations, hurt, agony and death --- to the point that readers occasionally accuse it of wallowing in masochism and pain to the exclusion of the joys and wonders of life.
This is ridiculous. The Sun is an important resource for those of us who want to study up on woe. You'll notice that the cover shows two shopworn but wonderful laughing geezers. You'll ask what they are doing on the front page of our primary resource for pain. It has to do with the delusional nature of life. Since agony is an illusion (albeit a painful one), maybe we should all be yukking it up, just like they are. Why are you laughing? Because it hurts so good.
The Sun is like that. It just hurts too good. Seventeen years ago, when Safransky went to put out the first collection of writings from The Sun, he said he wanted to call it A Stubborn Light. I told him that was not the right title. I said he should call it A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky, because it sounded like a koan. Since all of us would-be Zen Buddhists are nuts for koans, we would be getting a 600 pager of them. Following the old publishing dicta, "If you don't know what you are doing, do it again" --- the book got to be so fat that Safransky ended up putting out two volumes. Thus we got two bells and several empty skies --- all for the same price. Doubled, like a doppelgänger.
When this new anthology was being prepared, he started in on that stubborn nonsense again --- and I complained bitterly. "I never saw The Sun nor Sy as being stubborn," I wrote him. "Misguided, at times. Innocent --- often. Foolish --- on occasion. Uncannily wise on getting good stuff before a variety of readers --- yes. But stubborn. Just stop it."
If there is hope --- and there must be hope around here somewhere (I'm still looking) --- it's on the spiritual side. For instance, there's the matter of the late Stephen Butterfield, now known to many of us as Stephen Butterfly. The three articles alone by him are well worth the price. But the best entry I believe is near the end, in the list of contributors --- around the middle of page 617. That may well be the koan of koans.--- L. W. Milam