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The Book of Science and Antiquities

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A journalist who covered a paleontologist’s discovery of the oldest fossilized remains of humans in Australia, Shelby Apple, gets his consciousness raised by Aborigine peoples who feel culturally violated by their removal and joins in their efforts to get them returned for interment.  We experience this inspiring engagement in the context of Shelby’s more human motivations, such as his doubts about life’s meaning in the face of terminal cancer and his compulsive pursuit of an affair with an eye doctor running an outreach clinic for Aborigenes.  In parallel with the contemporary story we are taken back 40,000 years into a projected life of the man who became the bones.  Keneally imagines so-called “Learned Man” as an elder to his tribe, Shade.  Though the total guesswork on such a life undermined it impact for me, I did appreciate the lesson of the diorama being that people then must have had life careers no less complex or imbued with nobility or selfishness than people today.  Overall, I was impressed with the perspective these stories generated about the brevity of “civilized” humanity and continuity of our identity into the prehistoric past.  I’d rate it 3.5 stars rounded up (less than for his “Shame and the Captives” and “Napolean’s Last Island”, but better than “Woman of the Inner Sea”). 

FYI: The story is based a lot on real events, as highlighted in this article:
Perrottet T.  A 42,000 year old man finally goes home.  Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2019 htm

This book was provided by the publisher for review through the Netgalley program.
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Thank you Netgalley, Atria Books and Thomas Keneally for free e-Arc in return of my honest review. 

I was super excited to be approved for a new book by Thomas Keneally as I respect him very much and love his other works. The Book of Science and Antiquities is a novel about two men from different times. One is a modern filmmaker in his 70s reflecting on his life. The other is a 42,000-year-old predecessor of the Australian aborigines, a Learned Man. There are similarities about both men lives but it doesn't connect the narrative. Both characters felt flat and dry. They must have been alive and struggling as they both went though major changes in their lives but nothing moved me to feel empathy to any. 

Well, I do not know how to start or even what to say. I did not understand The Book of Science and Antiquities at all. I was permanently lost between narrators and their place and value in the story. I honestly have no idea what the books was about. I was so lost when I finished (I am anal about not finishing books, so I made myself struggle through), that I had to google summary of The Book of Science and Antiquities. 

I give the book 2 stars + 1 for Thomas  Keneally previous works.
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Thank you for the opportunity to read this book. A full review will be posted on Amazon and Goodreads
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"The Book of Science and Antiquities" by Thomas Keneally is the story of two men from the Australian Continent who seem to have much in common. However, one, Shelby Apple, lives in the present and the other, the "Learned Man", lived 42,000 years ago. The book switches between timelines and between the perspectives of the two men.

I was really excited to read this book. I have never read Thomas Keneally, but have heard that he is a superb writer. This one fell a bit flat for me. Even though the writing is top notch and I could tell that the author put a lot of effort and research into this work, it took me almost 1/3 of the book to finally get into the story, and even then I found myself skimming parts of it.. The book simply failed to come alive for me and it was a bit of a struggle to finish it.
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I had a hard time getting into this story.  It bounced back and forth on two timelines. The book appears to be about ancient man and his life as narrated by an 80 year old documentary film maker. But it's more about who owns antiquities. This book is set in Australia but it could be any government.  I received a copy of this ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This book has 2 narrators. Shelby Apple is an 80 year old documentary filmmaker who is dying from cancer. Apple made films about the discovery of the 40,000 year old bones of Learned Man in an Australian lake bed. The other narrator is Learned Man. 

Learned Man speaks in perfect, modern day English. I will concede that ancient man had language, but he certainly didn’t have this language. I couldn’t get past the incongruity of this. “Some of the neighbor girls of ours with fancies of their own to marry into the Otherside now run in, hallooing in delicious scorn, hoping to win the benefactions of ancestors and implant themselves enchantingly in the memory of the Otherside wrestlers.”  Of course the book isn’t about historical accuracy. It’s two men ruminating (in ponderous detail) about their lives, and “life” and a search for meaning. I’m afraid this book wasn’t for me and I abandoned it. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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The Book of Science and Antiquities is the story of two men. Shelby Apple, a documentary film maker, and an Aboriginal from 40,000 years earlier. These men are connected through the aboriginal's bones. When he is found they refer to him as the Learned Man and Shelby made a couple of documentaries about the find. Other than that these two stories feel very disjointed. They do not seem to really connect together very well and the individual stories are rather boring. The stories also do not seem to be completely linear in nature which would normally be fine except it is difficult to know which character's chapter you are reading. While there was a slight difference in the font used for the two men there was no indication in the chapter title to flag at the beginning who was talking. You only know whose chapter it is through the context of the action. 
I always try to find someone who I could recommend every book to but I cannot think of one for this novel.
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This book has an premise that intrigued me and a writer of some note, with many books behind his name including some well known. This seems like a formula for a good book, if not great, so it was a disappointment that I could not get into this story.

It can be difficult to say exactly why a book doesn't work well. Something about the story or the writing, and in this case maybe it's just the age of the characters, being old and looking back, but I don't know, done well it could be an interesting read. Something here just didn't connect with me and after getting half-way done it looked to me like a chore. Reading should not be a chore.

I like to think that someday I will return to this book and give it another go, try again, as sometimes the book fits better at a different point in your life, or a different mood. And in this vein, I'm sure my library will purchase a copy of his book. We already have most of his previous published books.
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I just couldn't get into this one and had to force myself to finish it.  I found it to be incredibly boring.
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First published in Australia in 2018; published by Atria Books on December 10, 2019

Two stories intertwine in The Book of Science and Antiquities, each following a man to the end of his life. One is the modern story of a documentary maker. The other is the story of Learned Man, whose life in prehistory is imagined to be one of self-sacrifice. While Learned Man’s death seems meaningless from a modern perspective, it was viewed as profound by Learned Man’s clan. The mere fact that Learned Man once lived is viewed as significant by his Aboriginal ancestors.

After meeting Peter Jorgenson, the geomorphologist who discovered the remains of Learned Man near Lake Learned, Shelby Apple decided to make a documentary about the discovery. Jorgenson told Shelby that Learned Man was honored by those who buried him. Jorgenson regarded Learned Man’s death as evidence that “to be human is to have business to attend to, to be on a quest.” While we may want an easy life that includes no pilgrimage, in Jorgenson’s view “we don’t have a life worth having” if we fail to undertake “a dangerous search.” Unfortunately, “being human is a test that kills us.”

What was Learned Man’s quest? As Thomas Keneally imagines it, Learned Man is an otherwise ordinary man who gives credence to dreamt visions. He calls the teacher he sees in his dreams “the Hero,” one of many heroes (gods) who enact laws to govern the growing body of people in their various clans. Learned Man is called upon to enforce the laws that bind the clans when a clan member does an injustice to a woman from another clan. Eventually, Learned Man discovers that a curse has been laid upon the land and this it is his duty to remove the curse. His selfless action in that regard explains why a stone was found with Learned Man that originated far from the site of his burial.

Learned Man lost his Son Unnameable to one of the dangerous creatures that made human life a marginal experience. He quarrels with his wife and fears for the safety of his children. As Keneally portrays him, and as Jorgenson explains, Learned Man is all of us. “He prodded the universe the way we prod at it. He felt overwhelmed by it, but had the human urge to encompass it. He chased love with the same sacred and profane mix of motives we do.”

Keneally tells Learned Man’s story in chapters that alternate with Shelby’s story. Shelby has had a successful career but, with the discovery of tumors on his esophagus, he knows that it will come to an end. He does not fear death so much as he fears the loss of independence. Rather, he denies the immediacy of death, despairing only “the ferocious weight of time” that may run out before he finishes his quests.

Like Learned Man, Shelby cherishes his wife and children. He has taken dangerous journeys to Vietnam and Eritrea, to the Arctic and under the sea, to make his films. He has experienced loss. He has been weak with women. He has taken up the causes of modern Heroes, sages of the human tribe, using film to tell stories of wrongs that would easily be remedied in a less selfish world. He has recently championed the cause of returning Learning Man to his Aboriginal descendants. In that regard, he prevails upon Australia’s prime minister, “a captive of right-wing brutes in his party who still believe in serving the market Moloch as an almost theological duty.”

Keneally gives the reader a lot to chew upon, from the harm caused by white missionaries who provide fish without teaching the less fortunate to fish, to the collection of cells that define us only to betray us, to the ease with which men conceive and devote themselves to destructive theologies. His themes are as big as the meaning of life and of death, but he explores those themes by imagining the connection of individuals, from our earliest ancestors to the present, all surviving against the odds while searching for something in life that transcends mere survival.

As the quoted passages demonstrate, Keneally’s prose is lush and vibrant. He makes it possible to relate to characters whose lives are in many ways unlike our own, yet in fundamental ways exactly like our own. The Book of Science and Antiquities is an ambitious novel, but Keneally maintains control of his narrative, never letting ambition get in the way of telling personal stories about characters (even if from prehistory) to whom readers can relate.

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I hate to say this because I can tell the author put his heart and soul into this book... but wow, I really didn’t care for it. The premise is interesting:  two men speaking about their lives, looking back, one present day and one from 40,000 years ago. I get that this is one of those “ruminating about life” sort of books, the kind where a character is taking stock on his way out. There’s no such thing as brevity either, so you really have to be in a certain frame of mind in order to tackle it. But I just couldn’t get there. The book goes on forever, is all about the philosophy, and the words after the words after the words. It was so much WORK to process, and eventually I just skimmed the last half. I wish I cared more about ALL THE THOUGHTS, but I just didn’t.
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Having read and enjoyed "Schindler's Ark" many moons ago, I was intrigued to once again read this author. It pains me to state it, but the author's 33rd novel bored me.

Told in different time lines of Australia's history, it is the tale of Shelby Apple, award winning documentary filmmaker, now in his 80's and battling cancer;and Learned Man, a prehistoric man from 42, 000 years ago. There are reflections on love, death, manhood, and the meaning of life. Maybe I need to be an 80 something white guy to really appreciate the storyline? I just wasn't into it!

A large part of me wants my life back or rather the last three evenings I tried to act anything but passive in my reading experience. I always tell my students "If it doesn't hook you in the first 40 pages, it's not the book for you." I believe I must start practicing what I preach.

Onwards to other books!


Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads review 11/12/19
Publication Date 10/12/19
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The Book of Science and Antiquities by Thomas Keneally is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late November.

Inspired by the Mungo Man, a real-life finding from Lake Mungo, Australia, its first-person narration written a lot like a scientific journal, documenting conversations with colleagues, early life during childhood and college, filming native cultures, and being torn (though not necessarily emotionally) between depicting the past and having a connection & hand in influencing a tribe’s future.
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This tells the tale of Learned Man, whose 42,000 year old remains are unearthed, and Shelby Apple, a documentary filmmaker. Their lives are revealed in alternate chapters.  Yes, Learned Man (who Shelby refers to as Shade) speaks in modern terms but how else could Keneally have him express himself? His story was more interesting to me that of Shelby, who travels the world to make his documentaries.  He's also facing death.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  This wasn't my favorite Keneally but those interested in Australia might find it a good read.
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Although this book sounded like it had an interesting premise, I struggled to engage with it. The book follows two different timelines, that of the ancient Learned Man and in the modern day, that of an elderly documentary film maker who is confronting his own mortality.  While the Learned Man's story was original and somewhat interesting, the chapters set in the current timeline were more of a struggle for me. While there is no denying that Mentally knows how to work and shape words and language, in this case the book was not for me. 
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
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I couldn't get into this at all.  The prose is incredibly dense and reads like stuffy, old white man pretentiousness - perhaps fair enough when the protagonist in the modern-day chapters is supposed to be elderly, but it just made it really opaque and difficult to read or understand.   And when there are questions about how much prehistoric man would have been able to speak or communicate, it seems ridiculous to use such a flowery style for Learned Man's first-person narrative!  Maybe it would have made more sense if I'd carried on, but I honestly couldn't stomach it.
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The premise of this book is a that a modern-day documentary filmmaker, who has traveled the world, and is now dying, feels a connection with the Learned Man, who lived 42,000 years ago. The filmmaker wants Learned Man’s remains returned to his descendants. Unfortunately, Keneally didn’t execute his premise. This book lacks, for want of a better word, is life. Keneally somehow imbues his book with a listlessness that belies the premise. As the author says, the book is about one old man (Keneally) telling the story of two other old men. Everything about the book is as dry as the Learned Man’s bones.

My thanks to Atria and NetGalley for an eARC.
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Another solid read from an author who doesn't disappoint. I always enjoy the books.   Thanks to net galley for the ARC in exchange for honest review.
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I requested this ARC because I was attracted by the blurb.
Even if it's well written the book failed to keep my attention and it fell flat.
Not my cup of tea.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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Thomas Keneally is a talented writer and enjoyed his previous works. However, this one was not readable. Even though the writing is well researched I found myself skimming parts of the book.. I found myself struggling to stay interested in the book.
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