1. Joseph Ellis’s American Creation, a series of narratives of key points of the American Revolution.  The Founders were admirable men who could at times be right bastards.  Most interesting is the presaging of modern libertarianism at times.

Those times, however, were not the best moments of those involved, notably Madison and Jefferson.  Madison in particular is shown as veering almost crazily from able defenses of federalism (during the writing and defense of the Constitution), to insane conspiracy-mongering (during Washington’s presidency), to a return to federalism (when he was president).  Ellis suggests many motivations for all this, but much of it comes down to Virginia planters not understanding or liking the New England / New York financial system, and instinctively resisting a federal government strong enough to outlaw slavery.

2. Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France, an investigation into the fractured, isolated world of pre-revolutionary France… a world where the vast majority of people had loyalty only to their pays, limited to a few miles from their birthplace, and where neither King nor Republic was a welcome presence.  Did you know France had its own caste of untouchables, the cagots, who were persecuted for no real reason anyone could remember?  Or that an early surveyor, invading the pays in the 1740s with his strange instruments, was murdered as a sorcerer?  Or that shepherds in the Landes moved about quickly on stilts?  It’s food for thought for conworlders, who are usually hard put to create cultural differences between their countries, to say nothing of individual villages.

I haven’t finished it yet, but my one complaint is that the author doesn’t always integrate his sometimes contradictory sources.  For instance, sometimes the individual pays are described as self-sufficient islands of democracy; other times they’re so poor and miserable that people hope for a early death and usually get it.

3. Another shout-out to Lore Sjöberg’s Monster Manual comics; today’s is the best one yet, I think.

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