Tuesday, January 1, 2013

David B. Williams Has a Very Special Way of Looking at the World

Starting with just a pile of rocks...

Cairns: Messengers in Stone, is one seriously clever, entertaining, and informative book.  As author David B. Williams examines the natural and unnatural history of cairns, the people who make and use them, the stones they're made of and how they age, and what grows upon and around them, he treats the reader to a rich and involving story that in less capable hands might have been merely a disordered midden of cocktail party trivia.

Across nine chapters, a variety of brief guest essays, and a collection of simple illustrations, Williams touches in useful detail upon topics as varied as anthropology, archeology, astronomy, biology, burial practices, cannibalism, carbon dating and other dating techniques, chemistry, communication, cosmology, ecology, engineering, ethnology, folklore, geocaching, geography, geology, governments, hiking, history, language, lead poisoning, legend, lichenometry, linguistics, mountaineering, mythology, Neolithic hunting practices, paleoanthropology, physics, polar exploration, political history, religion, shamanism, sheep herding, sociology, tool making, tourism, and volcanology. Along the way, Williams makes a powerful yet credible supposition: that cairns - being deliberately assembled way-finding aids - represent not only human tool-making, but also a very early example of human symbolic communication.

If any of these many perspectives on the natural world and human history interest you then you will enjoy this book. 

My copy of Cairns: Messengers in Stone, was a Good Reads First Reads Giveaway.

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