I'm back from Zambia.
Got back the day before Thanksgiving. I've almost entirely lost the knack of sleeping on airplanes, so long flights -- and Johannesburg-Frankfurt is over ten hours -- now turn into all-nighters. The plane wasn't full, but there was a very annoying young woman who refused to move to a nearby seat ("But I like this seat") so I was blocked from stretching out. So, finished a book on the barbarian migrations of late antiquity and the early medieval period; fifty pages of Gardner on Chaucer; a nature documentary; a few minutes of "Life on Mars" (the American version; didn't impress); and the first "Best of the Who" album.
-- The barbarian book was interesting. It was Peter Heather's Empires and Barbarians, and I have a number of bones to pick with it that are beyond the scope of a blog post. (Fewer pots, more genes and pollen counts, and cut 75% of the academic wrangling.) But it made the intriguing and plausible point that a lot of ethnogenesis in late classical Europe took place against a background of intense violence. We think of Huns and Goths and Franks and whatnot as solid masses, neat black arrows moving across Europe's landscape to pierce the frontiers of Rome. But in fact most of these were probably groups-of-groups, accumulated from smaller warbands hammered together under the stress of invasion and war. Smaller groups that didn't agglomerate were at a military disadvantage; they disappeared, or are remembered only by specialist historians.