Archive for Napoléon Bonaparte

El asiedo [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2018 by xi'an

Just finished this long book by Arturo Pérez-Reverte that I bought [in its French translation] after reading the fascinating Dos de Mayo about the rebellion of the people of Madrid against the Napoleonian occupants. This book, The Siege, is just fantastic, more literary than Dos de Mayo and a mix of different genres, from the military to the historical, to the criminal, to the chess, to the speculative, to the romantic novel..! There are a few major characters, a police investigator, a trading company head, a corsair, a French canon engineer, a guerilla, with a well-defined unique location, the city of Cádiz under [land] siege by the French troops, but with access to the sea thanks to the British Navy. The serial killer part is certainly not the best item in the plot [as often with serial killer stories!], as it slowly drifts to the supernatural, borrowing from Laplace and Condorcet to lead to perfect predictions of where and when French bombs will fall. The historical part also appears to be rather biased against the British forces, if this opinion page is to be believed, towards a nationalist narrative making the Spanish guerilla resistance bigger and stronger than it actually was. But I still read the story with fascination and it kept me awake past my usual bedtime for several nights as I could not let the story go!

a quincunx on NBC

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2017 by xi'an

Through Five-Thirty-Eight, I became aware of a TV game call The Wall [so appropriate for Trumpian times!] that is essentially based on Galton’s quincunx! A huge [15m!] high version of Galton’s quincunx, with seven possible starting positions instead of one, which kills the whole point of the apparatus which is to demonstrate by simulation the proximity of the Binomial distribution to the limiting Normal (density) curve.

But the TV game has obvious no interest in the CLT, or in the Beta binomial posterior, only in a visible sequence of binary events that turn out increasing or decreasing the money “earned” by the player, the highest sums being unsurprisingly less likely. The only decision made by the player is to pick one of the seven starting points (meaning the outcome should behave like a weighted sum of seven Normals with drifted means depending on the probabilities of choosing these starting points). I found one blog entry analysing an “idiot” strategy of playing the game, but not the entire game. (Except for this entry on the older Plinko.) And Five-Thirty-Eight surprisingly does not get into the optimal strategies to play this game (maybe because there is none!). Five-Thirty-Eight also reproduces the apocryphal quote of Laplace not requiring this [God] hypothesis.

[Note: When looking for a picture of the Quincunx, I also found this desktop version! Which “allows you to visualize the order embedded in the chaos of randomness”, nothing less. And has even obtain a patent for this “visual aid that demonstrates [sic] a random walk and generates [re-sic] a bell curve distribution”…]

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2016 by xi'an

I do not remember precisely for which reason I bought this book but it is most likely because the book popped up in a list of suggested books on a Amazon page. And I certainly feel grateful for the suggestion as this is one of the best books I read in the past years. And not just the best fantasy or the best Gothic book, clearly.

Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was published in 2004 and it soon got high-ranked in most best-seller lists, winning the same year both the Hugo and the Locus prizes. But, once again, while it caters to my tastes in fantasy literature, I find the book spans much more, recreating an alternative 19th Century literature where fairies and magic plays a role in the Napoleonic Wars, including Waterloo. The tone and style are reminders of Dickens, the Brontës, and Austen, but also Gothic 19th Century masters, like Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. Even the grammar is modified into archaic or pseudo-archaic versions. But more importantly and enticingly the beautiful style reproduces some of the light irony of Dickens about the author and the characters themselves. Utterly enjoyable!

The story itself is about a new era of English magic launched by the two characters on the cover, after centuries of musty study of magic without the power or the will of practising any form of magic. (The book enjoys close to 200 footnotes documenting the history of magic in the past centuries, in a pastiche of scholarly works of older days.) While those two characters can manage incredible feats, they seem to have a rather empirical knowledge of the nature of magic and of what they can do about the ancient magicians of the fairy kingdoms that border Northern England. There is no indication in the book that magical abilities are found in other nations, which is most advantageous when fighting the French! A central axis of the plot is the opposition between Norrell and Strange, the former hoping to take complete control of English magic (and buying any book related to the topic to secure them in a private library), the later freely dispensing his art and taking students in. They also clash about the position to take about the fairy or Raven King, John Uskglass, from excluding him from the modern era to acknowledging his essential role in the existence of English magic. They separate and start fighting one another through books and newspaper articles, Strange leaving for Venezia after loosing his wife. Eventually, they have to reunite to fight the Raven King together and save Strange’s wife, even though the final outcome is somewhat and pleasantly unexpected. (Mind this is a crude summary for a novel of more than 1,000 pages!)

While it seems the author is preparing a sequel, the book stands quite well by itself and I feel another book is somewhat unnecessary: Dickens did not write a sequel to David Copperfield or another perspective on (the Gothic) Great Expectations. But in any case Susanna Clarke wrote there a masterpiece a feat that I hope she can repeat in the future with an altogether book. (And while I liked very much the Quincunx for similar reasons, I deem Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to be far far superior in its recreation of Victorian Gothic!)

Dos de Mayo [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2016 by xi'an

Following a discusion I had with Victor Elvirà about Spanish books, I ordered a book by Arturo Pérez-Reverte called a Day of Wrath (un día de cólera), but apparently not translated into English. The day of wrath is the second of May, 1808, when the city of Madrid went to arms against the French occupation by Napoléon’s troops. An uprising that got crushed by Murat’s repression the very same day, but which led to the entire Spain taking arms against the occupation. The book is written out of historical accounts of the many participants to the uprising, from both Madrilene and French sides. Because of so many viewpoints being reported, some for a single paragraph before the victims die, the literary style is not particularly pleasant, but this is nonetheless a gripping book that I read within a single day while going (or trying to get) to San Francisco. And it is historically revealing of how unprepared the French troops were about an uprising by people mostly armed with navajas and a few hunting rifles. Who still managed to hold parts of the town for most of a day, with the help of a single artillery battalion while the rest of the troops stayed in their barracks. The author actually insists very much on that aspect, that the rebellion was mostly due to the action of the people, while leading classes, the Army, and the clergy almost uniformly condemned it. Upped estimations on the number of deaths on that day (and the following days) range around 500 for Madrilenes and 150 for French tropps, but the many stories running in the book give the impression of many more casualties.

Forte di Bard

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2016 by xi'an

After our aborted attempt at Monte Rosa, Abele Blanc treated us to a quick visit to Forte di Bard, a 19th Century military fortress in the Valley of Aosta [a first version of which was razed by Napoleon’s troops in 1800] on top the medieval village of Bard. Ironically, the current fortress never saw action as Napoleon’s siege was the last invasion of the kingdom of Savoy by French troops.

The buildings are impressive, so seamlessly connected to the rock spur that supports them that they appear to have grown out of it. They reminded me of Vauban’s fortresses, with the feeling that they were already outdated when they got built. (On the French Savoy side, there is a series of fortresses that similarly faced no battle as they were designed to keep the French out, becoming overnight useless when this part of Savoy was ceded to France in exchange for its support of the unification of Italy. For instance, there is such a fort in Aussois, which now houses an hostel, a gastronomical restaurant [we enjoyed at O’Bayes 03], and a via ferrata…)

The fortress has been recently and beautifully renovated with the help of the Italian State and of the European Union. It houses conferences and art exhibits. Like those on Marc Chagall and Elliot Erwitt that we briefly saw, missing the massive museum of the Alps… A few dozen kilometers from Torino, it would be a perfect location for a small workshop, albeit not large enough for a future MCMski.