Book recommendations and reviews

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Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Kurt » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:27 am

What History books do you recommend? Post it here with a review and explanation.
And from thence they went to Beer....(Num 21:16)
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Kurt » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:33 am

I am in the long process of reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire. A book like this does not need a comment since it is quite good. What is amazing about it is Gibbon's use of the English language. I advise that other who want to read it just get the Kindle from Amazon because it only costs $.99 for all six volumes and it gives access to a dictionary which is needed when reading Gibbon.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Rapier09 » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:47 am

O Jerusalem,one of the most interesting books on the whole divide in Israel.

Not so much a history book as a discussion.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby coldharvest » Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:21 am

The Yellow Cross
The story of the last Cathars 1290-1329
by Rene Weis
I know the law. And I have spent my entire life in its flagrant disregard.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby mapandcompass » Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:58 am

For those interested in American history I strongly recommend Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. It's a very well researched biography of Meriwether Lewis of the eponymous expedition.

Here's a review for you:
http://www.bookpage.com/9602bp/nonficti ... urage.html
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby RAH » Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:34 am

Quite a few, if this is the history section. Read a lot of this stuff. Just a few that come to mind

The Third Reich by Michael Burleigh
Very much into the corruption of society as a whole, the compromises many groups made, collaboration and what it entailed and dripping with sarcasm and well-written cynicism. Author definitely wrote in an angry, disgusted mood and with good reason. Been through it at least twice.

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
The early years, not so well known—the dude was basically a brigand who wrote poetry, dealt with rivals and had a girl in every dacha.

Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather
A bit long, maybe heavy and maybe not everyone's cuppa but a level-headed look on what happened and why and how the R Empire's end wasn't the happy time revisionists claim. Nice bit on the beginning of Slavic Europe, not usually covered elsewhere unless used in today's identity arguments.

Embracing Defeat by John Dower
Best on US Occupation of Japan and what it meant for Japanese politics and culture

God's War: A new history of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman
1000 pages and authoritative. You read this and wonder about the myths and falsehoods that are bandied about these days. Dense and the author assumes you already know something about the period but worth it.

reading now

The Grand Design: Strategy and the US Civil War by Donald Stoker
Interesting Clausewitzian so far look at what the generals and politicians did along strategic, operational, and tactical lines, and how much they were into that stuff (seems some were into Jomini). Several generals had a fetish about "concentration" it seems and author downplays significance of Vicksburg. Not a difficult read by any stretch.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Michael » Fri Oct 22, 2010 2:17 pm

I'm also currently slogging through The Decline and Fall. I tend to read a lot of history, so its hard to make a recommendation. I'd throw Paris 1919 by Margaret McMillan on the list along Will Durant's The History of Philosophy.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Kurt » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:27 pm

RAH wrote:Quite a few, if this is the history section. Read a lot of this stuff. Just a few that come to mind



Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather
A bit long, maybe heavy and maybe not everyone's cuppa but a level-headed look on what happened and why and how the R Empire's end wasn't the happy time revisionists claim. Nice bit on the beginning of Slavic Europe, not usually covered elsewhere unless used in today's identity arguments.





This sounds like the kind of book I am interested in. One thing you might want to check out is former Python Terry Jone's documentaries on The Barbarians. Jone's takes the view that we Westerners would have more in common with the Barbarians than the Romans and the Romans would be "barbaric" to us with their state religion, infanticide and bloodsport. Plus people like the Celts had decentralized roads that rivaled Romes (but were made out of wood so they could be changed as needed) and allowed women to own property. The Germanic tribes viewed leaders with suspicion and had a view on property rights that we would be comfortable with today.

If you dig the migration periods you should check out The History of the Early Medieval Balkans by John VA Fine. It's a text book and not light reading but it does give some light on how the Balkans became the Balkans and explains how in Antiquity there were Dacians, Illyrians and Thracians and then suddenly there are slavs beign ruled by Turkish and Persian elites. Serbs and Croats are names that are Persian and it is assumed they were competing tribes that came accross the Steppes to Europe and subjegated the Slavs...So the Serb vs. Croat conflicts stretch back to before they were Slavs.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Dr. V » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:38 pm

A bit of Girl Power:

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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth


14 October 2010 - Times Higher Education Supplement

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=413800

I am Albion, hear me roar

Hester Vaizey hails a vivid portrayal of the queens who thwarted the constraints on their sex

It is nearly 10 years since I first stepped into a Cambridge lecture theatre to hear Helen Castor speak on medieval kingship. Engaging, thought-provoking and above all supremely clear - these were the hallmarks of a Castor lecture. It is no surprise then that these qualities radiate from her latest book, She-Wolves.

The book opens with Henry VIII's son and successor, Edward VI, lying on his deathbed and facing the conundrum of who should be his heir. Several factors raised doubts about the suitability of his sisters Mary and Elizabeth. For one, Henry VIII had changed his mind on a number of occasions about whether his daughters had legitimate claims to the throne.

Secondly, Edward feared for the future of the recently established Church of England if either sister took the throne: Mary was a staunch Catholic who would be intent on reversing the break with Rome, and Elizabeth's adherence to the new Church, Edward felt, was more politically expedient than heartfelt. The last and perhaps most significant stumbling block was their gender. Never before had there been a queen of England who had ruled in her own right.

Stepping back into the centuries preceding Edward VI's succession crisis, Castor tells the stories of four women who, with varying degrees of success, took over the reigns of medieval kingship despite preconceived notions about the limitations of their sex.

In 1139, Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror and rightful heir to her father Henry I, challenged King Stephen, who had capitalised on his sex to usurp her queenship. At a time when kingship was so intimately bound up with the ability to lead armies into turf wars, England, it seems, was reluctant to accept a female monarch who would be notably deficient in this regard.

She-Wolves shows that women close to the crown could invoke monarchical powers in other, more subtle ways than on the battlefield. Although Matilda did not succeed in asserting her own claim to the English crown, for example, she played a critical role in ousting Stephen and replacing him with her son, King Henry II, whose governance she strongly influenced.

Matilda's daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married Henry II in 1152, also had a finely attuned understanding of her position as queen, both its limitations and its opportunities. After all, she had been married to the King of France, Louis VII, prior to accepting Henry II's hand in marriage. Not only was she instrumental in securing the matches of her eldest two sons to the two daughters of the French king by his new marriage, Eleanor also drew on her experience in dynastic power struggles in an unprecedented manoeuvre - taking up arms against her husband when he decided to give away some of her eldest son's castles in Anjou.

Isabella of France, wife of the suggestible English monarch Edward II, also comes under Castor's spotlight. While Edward gave a peerless demonstration of what not to do as a medieval king, offering blind loyalty and enrichment to a favoured few while simultaneously neglecting the common weal, Isabella was initially marginalised, with limited ability to reduce the damage caused by her husband's behaviour. Producing a male heir to the throne, however, turned the tide of Isabella's fortunes.

While she and her son Edward were paying homage to her brother, the new French king Charles IV, in Edward II's stead in 1325, Isabella sent her husband an ultimatum: he must get rid of his favourite, Hugh Despenser, or she would not return.

In the shelter of her brother's court, she also declared her marriage to Edward as void on the grounds of consanguinity. Although many royal couples in Europe shared bloodlines, consanguinity was a relatively common and convenient way to dissolve a marriage. Without any formal acceptance of these charges, Isabella then began an affair with English nobleman Roger Mortimer.

Drawing on support from the French, as well as the many English noblemen unhappy with Edward II's rule, she set sail for England to depose the king and install her son in his stead - a mission in which she succeeded. The notion that a medieval queen could decide that her marriage was not valid, take up with another man and then steal the crown from her husband, rather challenges the notion that female royalty in this period were simply passive pawns in the foreign policy of European monarchs.

Under Henry VI's rule too, we learn, queenship was a crucial force in maintaining the crown's authority. Henry VI, it appears, like Edward II, lacked the essential attributes to be a successful medieval monarch. Unlike Edward II, however, whose Achilles heel had been his favouritism, Henry VI seemed to have few powers of discernment, agreeing with the policies of whoever had last spoken to him. He was also no warrior, and it was during his reign that England lost all of its lands in France.

It was in this context that his wife Margaret of Anjou doggedly tried to bolster the king's authority. As Castor astutely points out, however, "the more she asserted herself in Henry's stead, the more he appeared an emasculated puppet, his authority ebbing away". Like Queen Isabella, Margaret of Anjou sought to place the English crown on her son's head while her ineffectual king of a husband was still alive.

Unlike Isabella, however, she failed, and the son of the powerful magnate the Duke of York finally deposed her husband. Here the limitations of her sex, and her inability to rally her supporters behind her on the battlefield, were an important factor in Henry Beaufort's seizure of the crown at Bosworth in 1485.

In a vivid and compelling narrative, Castor reveals much about the nature of medieval kingship: the advantages of having a strong warrior as a king; the centrality of foreign policy to a monarch's decisions; and the importance of producing a male heir to continue royal blood lines. She-Wolves demonstrates the opportunities afforded to women by the absence of such characteristics in a king. The extraordinary tales of women at the helm of medieval England makes one wonder why queens such as Eleanor and Isabella have not permeated popular consciousness in the same way as, for example, Henry VIII's wives and daughters.

Yet She-Wolves is much more than a narrative of events. Castor's ability to piece together fragmentary evidence is impressive, breathing life into the words of medieval chroniclers and proffering thoughtful, plausible versions of events where sources fall silent. Given the paucity of primary material from this period by comparison with later periods of history, it is impressive how much we can learn about the personalities and motivations of this book's cast of characters. We must attribute this to Castor's considered deployment of the evidence, which is sensitive to the nuances in the accounts.

The book closes by recounting how Edward VI's death was followed by what the Scottish Presbyterian John Knox referred to as a "monstrous regimen of women": the rule of Edward's sisters, Mary and then Elizabeth. She-Wolves inks in the precedents of female rule prior to the coronation of England's first reigning queen, and helps us to understand the accepted models of queenship that Mary and Elizabeth had to negotiate.

She-Wolves is a beautifully written piece of historical scholarship that engagingly analyses medieval monarchy through the prism of gender.

THE AUTHOR

Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

She directed studies in history at the college for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing history for a wider readership. She has said that she "has long been fascinated by the exercise of power: how rulers rule and why people obey them".

Her previous book, Blood and Roses (2004), was a biography of the 15th-century Paston family, whose letters are the earliest great collection of private correspondence surviving in the English language. It was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2005, and was awarded the Beatrice White Prize (for outstanding scholarly work in the field of English literature before 1590) by the English Association in 2006.

Castor's earliest ambition was to be a historian. Had an academic career not panned out, her back-up choices were "pop star or cricket commentator". She considers herself "extremely lucky not to have had to attempt to fall back on the other two".
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby redharen » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:43 pm

I don't get to read much popular history, but I'm with mapandcompass re: Undaunted Courage -- that book was awesome, even if Ambrose has gotten in trouble for plagiarism.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Kurt » Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:01 pm

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a one woman powerhouse in the history of both France and England. I have mostly read about her in Norman Cantor's work (an excellent American Medievalist...no longer with us). His books Medieval Lives has a chapter on her that starts out with his own short story on her having a hypothetical conversation with her friends and court that was very well done for historical fiction and he talks about her again in his book The Last Knight, which is mostly about John of Gaunt (her great, great, great grandson..I think..I cannot find the link)

Anyway...it appears this forum is going to cause me to give most of my life savings to Amazon.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby buffybot_in_beirut » Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:12 pm

I had a love-hate relationship with history in high school. Loved the subject, but hated the teachers and syllabus for their view that only stuff that happened at least 100 (and preferably 1000) years ago is "history." If I want to know what happened yesterday, I read the newspaper. If I want to know what happened a week ago, I study history.

So I have a strong preference for contemporary history books, ideally ones that are enjoyable and "easy" to read, mix in a fair bit of good journalism, and border on travel literature.

I am a few thousand miles away from my bookshelf at home, but some titles that I remember include:

Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent (Blaine Harden)
A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique (William Finnegan)

Don't remember much of either (must re-read them...), but I bought them at considerable expense at a time when I was far poorer than today and when there was no amazon yet, so they must have been good.

We Did Nothing: Why the Truth Doesn't Always Come Out When the UN Goes in (Linda Polman)
A book for tea baggers? Who cares. More seriously recommended for those who understand the UN, realize the crucial distinction between the organization and its members, and are concerned about it for all the correct reasons, such as wanting to see it stronger and more effective.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City (Rajiv Chandrasekaran)
Easy read, chapters of varying quality, good for some (sad) laughts - Iraq is depressing enough.

Murder in Samarkand: A British Ambassador's Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror (Craig Murray)
The ultimate book that helps you to keep a purpose in the face of unhelpful bosses, mind-numbing bureaucracy, and "drop in the ocean" despair. Also good for your ego: You don't have to be a saint to do good and possess moral integrity. The guide for anyone working in politics, government, public service or the non-profit sector - at home or (especially) abroad.

I have just ordered, and am looking forward to read, "Dancing on the Heads of Snakes," a modern history of Yemen.
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby Papadoc » Fri Oct 22, 2010 9:59 pm

Image

The State of Africa. The book focuses on the continent starting with the end of colonization. The writing was fantastic, moving the book with the pull of anecdotes rather than the drag of statistics. I loved it. I bought it in Scandinavia, but I'd think it would be easy enough to get anywhere.

~WANTED LIST~

If anyone has suggestions for books on the following, I would appreciate it:

-Late 18th-Century England (most interested in damned near anything that covers 1770-1774 England)
-The Austrian-Hungarian Empire (most esp. the last days of)
-Anything with boobies
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby svizzerams » Sat Oct 23, 2010 12:57 am

POST. I have girl power!!!!! And I love history!!!
Joan of Arc went to battle with nothing
but the voices in her head
and a well-sharpened sword ~ Charlotte

...those without swords can still die upon them...

Illegitami non carborundum est
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Re: Book recommendations and reviews

Postby svizzerams » Sat Oct 23, 2010 12:59 am

vlindsay wrote:A bit of Girl Power:

Image
[b]

S.


oooooh I wants!!!! And It is on kindle......ding.
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but the voices in her head
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...those without swords can still die upon them...

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