Fakultät für Mathematik
Zimmer M223 denis DOT nardin AT ur DOT de
Despite what you might think, I don't do math twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. This page will host my personal opinions about stuff that has nothing to do with math. Caveat emptor...
Since I was a kid I always loved reading, and to this day my image of a dream house involves having all surfaces covered by books. Here I would like to collect a few thoughts about all novels I've read. This might take a while.
Il gattopardo (The serval, for some reason more often translated as The leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
A book about Italian unification, specifically in the South, and how the élites adapted to the new system while keeping all their privileges intact. A melancholic reflection about the end of an era while at the same time a cynic indictment of the people that care more about their standing in life than anything else. Very loosely inspired by the life of the author's great grandfather. The source of the often cited sentence "Everything needs to change, so that everything stays the same".
Il giorno della civetta (The day of the owl) by Leonardo Sciascia
It reads like a detective story, but it's not: it's a book about why detective stories are impossible in Sicily. Also a strident denunciation of the attitude of politicians and journalists of the time (but not only...) towards the Mafia. Written with a journalistic clarity and unforgettable vignettes. By the same author and on the same themes there's also A ciascuno il suo ("To each their own").
Il fu Mattia Pascal (The late Mattia Pascal) by Luigi Pirandello
An exciting exploration of one's identity, anticipating many of the themes of the author's later works but in a more accessible way as some sort of adventure story. Mattia Pascal, a man leading a very frustrating and unsatisfying life, is mistakenly declared dead and decides to move to Rome and reinvent himself as a new person, under the name of Adriano Meis. But what is that makes someone the person what they are? Laced with the trademark Pirandellian humour, where every laugh is to cover a sob.
Q by Luther Blisset (a collective also going under the name of Wu Ming)
This is a historical novel talking about the protestant reformation as a metaphor for the contemporary "counterculture" or "protest" movements. It traces the steps of an unnamed protagonist through some of the major events of the Reformation, while his path intersects the one of a mysterious papal spy named only as "Q". The most striking scene is doubtless the central half about the Münster siege. Sometimes vulgar, boisterous, full of sex and blood but certainly of life, it captures the excitement of wanting to change the world like no other.
I nostri antenati (Our ancestors) by Italo Calvino
This is a trilogy whose books, otherwise unrelated, that take place in the past and are roughly in the "magical realism" genre. The first, Il visconte dimezzato (The halved viscount) talks of a man that returns from the crusades with a curious health condition: he's been split in two separate halves, one of them fully evil, the other fully good. It is a fun exploration of morality and the soul of man. The second, and most famous, is Il barone rampante ("The climbing baron") tells the story of the life of Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò, a minor noble living in the second half of the eighteenth century, who decides as a kid to never climb down the trees in protest towards his authoritarian father. This is (literally!) a bird's eye view of life, showing the absurdity but also the sweetness of humanity. The third, Il cavaliere inesistente ("The nonexistent knight") tells the story of an empty suit of armor, serving as a knight under Charlemagne, animated only by its own unyielding conviction to exist. It is both a parody and a celebration of chivalric culture, with plenty of reflections on ethics and what it means to be a man on the side.
Les Mémoires d'Hadrien (Memoirs of Hadrian) by Marguerite Yourcenar
This book is a fictional autobiography of the emperor Hadrian.
I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I run or clean the house, and my favourite genre of podcasts is doubtless the history podcast. Learning new and interesting stuff while my body is busy doing boring tasks? Sign me up! Here is a short list of some of the podcasts I listened to, and my opinions about it.
The History of Rome by Mike Duncan
Tells the history of the Roman civilization from the origins to 476 AD. The grandaddy of all history podcasts, the work that invented the form. The early episodes are maybe a little bit too sketchy and you can see the author took a while to find his voice, but this is justly famous for a reason. A must for everyone interested in history podcasts. The episodes on the crisis of the third century are a particular highlight. As for the paying material, the appendices and the audiobook of the Storm before the Storm (written and read by Mike Duncan, so it feels like some extra episodes of the podcast) are all worthwhile.
Revolutions by Mike Duncan
The next project by the author after the seminal History of Rome podcast. Tells the story of ten revolutions that have defined the Early Modern history of the western civilization. Strongly recommended to everyone who wants to understand how the western world came to be, and how its values formed. Best listened in order (there are often comparisons to previous revolutions). It really gets going when the French Revolution starts. The Haitian and Mexican revolutions are of particular interest. Ongoing, currently working its way through the Russian revolution (which will be the last).
The History of Byzantium by Robin Pierson
A podcast continuing the history of the Roman Empire from 476 AD to 1453 AD, continuing the classical History of Rome podcast. It starts very much in the same style as its precursor, but soon becomes its own thing. The history of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages is a fascinating topic, unjustly neglected. It is mind-boggling that the history of the Macedonian dynasty hasn't been turned into a tv series.. This podcast provides you with an in depth look at the period, willing to go with the technical details of the economy and the political organization, but also to play up the melodrama when appropriate (the "House of War" episode is a particularly sterling example). The paying content is extremely well done and well worth the price (for $42 you can get the whole back catalog!), but not necessary to follow the main narrative. Ongoing.
The Egyptian History Podcast by Dominic Perry
A podcast telling the history of Egypt from the dawn of time (there's a bonus episode about the Jurassic fauna!) till the Roman conquest. Another gem, this podcast will make you feel like you were there during the time of the Pharaohs. This is really an in-depth treatment though: no stone is left unturned, no monument undescribed, no document unread. As such, the pace might be a bit slow for some people. The rest of us will enjoy this immersion into four thousand years of history. Ongoing.
China History Podcast by Laszlo Montgomery
This podcast is essentially a collection of small series on various topics of Chinese history. I haven't listened to them all, but those I did were compelling. I tend to prefer long narratives that emphasize the gradual progress of history, so I tend to prefer the History of China podcast, but if there is a single topic in Chinese history you want to really delve deeply in, this podcast is certainly a good start. If you're not familiar with it, I suggest to begin with the series giving an overview of Chinese history, because otherwise it might be challenging to contextualize the single series. A little warning: the author speaks rather fast, so if you're not a native English speaker it might take a while to get used to it.
The History of China by Chris Stewart
A podcast telling the history of China from the Five Sovereigns and the Three Emperors to the present day. This is a monumental challenge: the history of China is as vast as it is little known in the West, and this podcast makes you take a ride through it. Interspersed there are nice tidbits about Chinese culture that are very helpful to the novices to orient themselves (an highlight is the episode on the history of rice in China). To a Western ear the Chinese names start to feel all a little bit similar after a while (just how many emperors can be named Wu?), but that's not really a fault of the author. The patron-only episodes on the history of the Mongols are also very fine, giving a description of a part of history that everyone has heard about, but not many know. And, again, you can get them for a pittance. The RSS feed might be a better way to get hold of the episodes than the website (which in my opinion has a rather confusing layout). Ongoing.
Hardcore History: Wrath of the Khans by Dan Carlin
This is a celebrated series about the history of the Mongols. I have to say, while I found the material interesting, I found the sensationalist tone quite jarring and it soured me on exploring more the vast back catalog of Hardcore History. Yes, yes, the Mongols committed horrendous atrocities, we understand, but repeating it so many times doesn't make it sink in more, rather it cheapens it. I consider the Bonus Episodes of the History of China podcast a much better introduction to the material, which by the way is also more careful in distinguishing what parts of the story is probably a later invention.
A History of Alexander the Great by Jamie Redfern
A podcast telling about the life of Alexander the Great (and of his neglected father, Philip of Macedon). This is a good narrative history, although it ends a bit abruptly (I would have preferred more details on the transition to the Hellenistic era). Enjoyable without being great. It has also the advantage of being rather short, so if you are tired of marathon listenings you might try to give this a spin.
Hannibal and the Punic Wars by Jamie Redfern
A podcast telling the story of the Punic Wars, by the same author as the History of Alexander podcast. This is a great in-depth look to an important period of Roman history, when it transitioned from regional power to the superpower of the Mediterranean world. The narrative is pleasing and interesting, but I could have done without the unscripted bonus episodes, which felt a bit unnecessarily meandering.
The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps by Peter Adamson
This is another incredibly ambitious podcast, planning to describe all the philosophy that has ever been written. The podcast is well made, the narration is engaging and many parts are extremely interesting even if you studied philosophy pretty in depth in high school (as many Italians do). However I cannot quite let go of the fact that the source material seems to be most of the time about metaphysics, a topic that I find utterly sterile. I stopped listening somewhere near the end of the Medieval Philosophy section, I might pick it up again at some point in the future, but not too soon. Ongoing.
The History of English Podcast by Kevin Stroud
A fascinating tour between history and historical linguistics to see the long process that turned proto-Indoeuropean into contemporary English. The story is fascinating (although the word lists become occasionally tiring), but I became concerned with the accuracy of some parts: in the topics where I have a bit of expertise (e.g. Latin grammar) I noticed some rather fishy statements. Moreover the description of the pronunciation of geminate consonants is laughably off base. Ongoing.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast by John Zhu
This podcast is a retelling of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the most important works in Chinese literature, together with jokes and commentaries to explain the context to Western audiences. I found the idea good and charming but after a while I abandoned to read an annotated translation of the book instead. Some people might however find this more accessible.