March 30th, 2006

Books!

One last one for March ...

Did you ever have a professor who just rubbed you the wrong way? Somebody who, while they may have known their shit and was an effective teacher, just constantly made you want to bitchslap them? That was the vibe I was getting from the author of the current book.

The New Archaeology and the Ancient Maya is really more about Jeremy A. Sabloff's views about "The New Archaeology" than the Maya. Sure, the book discusses the Maya (they are, after all, the subject of his fieldwork), but I got the feeling that the Maya were just the excuse for pushing Sabloff's style of archaeological research in this book. He reminds me of the MBAs spewing out of the business schools back in the 80's, hellbent to implement their new models and not interested in what had proven effective before they arrived on the scene.

This is not to say that the book is without value, it provides an interesting comparison between "old archaeology", which concentrated almost exclusively on the "major works" of a culture (or, as the author puts it "of the Elite"), versus the supposed "new archaeology" which seems more like anthropological forensics operating within a context that has more than whiff of tacit Marxist paradigms. Again, I am reminded of many an argument in college with Leftist friends about what constituted "culture" and how the tangible arts helped define that. Now, it's not that Sabloff is explicitly saying that the pyramids and palaces don't matter, but he seems more interested in the stuff that fell between the cracks in peasant hovels.

Thanks, no doubt, to this being part of the Scientific American Library, the book is beautifully illustrated, especially with a collection of really remarkable photos (many shot just on the edge of storms, most with amazing skies) which give a fresh perspective to many familiar ruins! I was also amused to find in one photo what would appear to be the "source" of the "Jungle Ruin" hole in Sierra's classic 3-D Ultra Minigolf game ... a side temple off of the main plaza at Tikal!

Anyway, this isn't a bad book, just preachy (or maybe it's just pushing my buttons) ... but with lots of interesting bits and pieces and pretty pictures to look at. If you didn't know much about the Maya, I wouldn't recommend starting off with this one, but if you've built up some context in which to place Sabloff's theories, it's a decent addition to your library. And, hey ... Amazon's new/used vendors have a "very good" copy for 50¢ ... the photography alone is worth that (plus the $3.49 shipping)!


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