Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: -History-
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-24 02:53
The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community
The rise of the West: A history of the human community - William Hardy McNeill

Covering approximately 7000 years of civilization over the entire world in less than 900 pages for a general audience is a tall order.  The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by W.H. McNeill was written over 50 years ago that changed historical analysis by challenging the leading theories of the day and influenced the study of global history ever since.


McNeill divides his narrative in three parts: the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia to 500 B.C., the cultural balance of Eurasia from 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D., and the era of Western dominance since 1500 A.D.  Every corner of the world is discusses, but the dominance is in the Eurasia “ecumene” that feature the interaction between for the four great civilizations of the Middle East (including Egypt), India, China, and finally Europe (starting in Greece before slowly moving West).  Throughout McNeill highlights the interplay between cultural, political, and economical factors of each civilization as well as how they interacted and influenced each other.


The interaction and influences between different civilizations to McNeill’s narrative as he challenged the theory of the rise and fall of independent civilizations that did not influence one another.  Because of the length of both of the book and time frame covered, McNeill did not go into a detail history instead focusing on trends and important historical moments that may or may not involve historical actors like Alexander or Genghis Khan.  Yet information is outdated as new sources or archaeological evidence has changed our understanding of several civilizations over the last 50 years.


The Rise of the West takes a long time to read, however the information—though outdated in places—gives the reader a great overview of world history on every point of the globe.  W.H. McNeill’s well-researched book is not a dry read and in giving a good background on numerous civilizations giving the reader a solid foundation if they ever decide to go more in-depth on any civilization.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-23 23:54
Loki had how many wives?!
Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

I've never yet been let down by Neil Gaiman and Norse Mythology certainly didn't break that winning streak. In this nonfiction book Gaiman covers a wide range of Norse myths and in the process destroys what Marvel had implanted in the minds (my mind at least) of what Asgard looked like and who inhabited it. For example, Marvel led me to believe that Loki and Thor were adopted brothers. Nope! In actuality, Loki was Odin's HALF brother sooooo the family dynamic just got a whole lot weirder. I think the best thing about Norse Mythology is that it justified my interest in Loki and non-interest (is that a word?) for Thor (who is described as all brawn and no brain). I really enjoyed learning about how these myths explained world events like earthquakes which were thought to be caused by Loki struggling against venomous poison inside of a mountain. And humans attained the gift of poetry from mead that was made from the blood of the wise god, Kvasir. Gaiman doesn't only focus on the 3 biggies (I'm talking Odin, Loki, & Thor) but also discusses the 'lesser' gods and in particular the events surrounding Ragnarok. Up until reading this book, I thought Ragnarok was another word for apocalypse but actually it's better termed as a time of grand change. Yes, the world as the gods came to know it will end but then it's time for a new world which isn't necessarily a bad thing (unless you're a god I guess). This would have been a 10/10 for me except that I kept wishing for illustrations culled from historical texts. This would have really added to the short stories and made it a standout. However, that doesn't stop this from being a very interesting read and I don't think it should stop any of you from grabbing it off the shelves.


What's Up Next: Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy


What I'm Currently Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-23 19:05
An outstanding account of a major British suffragist
Christabel Pankhurst: A Biography - June Purvis

The Pankhurst family is indelibly associated with the British suffragist movement, thanks in no small part to their tireless activism on behalf of women's rights. Yet while the matriarch Emmeline is commemorated with a statue at Westminster and her second daughter Sylvia has been the focus of numerous printed works (including her own 1931 book The Suffragette Movement) Emmeline's eldest daughter Christabel has not received the same degree of recognition for her efforts. Part of the reason for this, as June Purvis explains in her superb biography of the orator and activist, is because of the sibling rivalry that existed between the two sisters and the role that Sylvia's history-cum-memoir played in shaping our perception of their roles in the suffrage movement -- a role that has overshadowed the vital role Christabel played in winning British women the right to vote.


In many ways Christabel's activism was a product of her upbringing. A barrister and activist, Richard raised his children to advocate for social and political reform. Even before completing university Christabel was doing just that, as she joined with her mother in forming the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Breaking away from the mannered and respectable agitation of older women's rights organizations, the WSPU disrupted speeches, vandalized property, and engaged in hunger strikes and other activities in prison to promote their cause.  Christabel was a leading figure of this effort, thanks to her abilities as an orator and her commitment to her cause.


Exiled to France in 1912, Christabel returned to Britain with the start of the First World War. Unlike her pacifist sisters she joined with her mother in championing the war effort, renaming the WSPU's newspaper Britannia and calling for a more vigorous prosecution of the conflict. Though her conviction that such efforts would be rewarded with the vote were partially vindicated in 1918, she shared the despair many of her contemporaries felt at the loss of so many lives, A chance encounter in a bookstore led Christabel to embrace the Second Adventist movement, and in the early 1920s she moved to Los Angeles, where she spent her later years as a preacher and author of religious books.


Exhaustively researched and well-written Purvis's book is a model of what a biography should be. Her efforts serve to rehabilitate Christabel's image from the diminishment of it that her sister and other scholars have so often unjustly inflicted. It is a book that everyone interested in the suffrage movement should read, both for its celebration of Christabel's achievements and the insight it provides into how she and other women fought for and won the right for millions of women to be heard.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-23 18:35
Zealot by Reza Aslan
Zealot. The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth - Reza Aslan

This is an accessible work of history, looking at what the historical evidence tells us about Jesus of Nazareth and his times. Not knowing much about the context of those times, I found it enlightening, though it sometimes seems that the author overstates the certainty with which much of anything about the ancient world can be known. In the end much of the book is educated guessing – worth reading because it is very educated, but not much can be proven.

Part 1 covers the context of first-century Palestine, a far-flung Roman province bursting with discontent about tribute requirements, leading to high taxes, leading to exploitation of the poor. Many men claimed the mantle of messiah, or the chosen one who would liberate their land from the Romans and restore God’s kingdom. Eventually the Jews revolted in 66 C.E. and kicked out the Romans, only for the Romans to return and wipe out Jerusalem four years later. In this milieu, and given the way the Romans executed Jesus (crucifixion was the standard punishment for sedition and treason, as a warning to others), the author builds a case for interpreting him as a political revolutionary. For instance, an act such as overturning the moneylenders’ tables at the Temple would have been a protest against the priests’ collaboration with Rome and enrichment of themselves at the expense of the common people.

Part 2 is more focused on the information in the gospels: what is credible from a historical perspective, and how Jesus’s words would have been understood at the time. Finally, Part 3 is about the early church in the aftermath of his death, particularly the schism between James (Jesus’s brother, who led the Jerusalem assembly) and Paul, who comes across as a bit of an egomaniac who reinvented Jesus’s message entirely, transforming it from a Jewish sect into an entirely new religion. Jesus claimed that he had come to fulfill Jewish law, while Paul decreed that he had replaced it; when Jesus was originally referred to as “Son of God,” the author argues that this designation meant simply the “chosen one” (David was also a “Son of God”) while Paul interpreted it literally. During his lifetime Paul did not have great success, but his version of Christianity was better suited to take off in a post-Jerusalem world, where the Jews had become pariah and the Temple no longer existed.

I found this to be an interesting and thought-provoking book. While not a fast read, it provides an engaging narrative and is readable and accessible to the non-academic reader. The author’s arguments in general seem extensive researched, well-documented and persuasive. When discounting sources or filling in gaps in the record, he generally explains his analysis rather than simply stating his conclusions as if they were fact.

However, it isn’t a perfect book. The organization can be a bit scattershot, jumping around in time and between general historical background and Jesus, especially in the early sections. There are no footnotes, and some assertions are supported by extensive endnotes while others are not. While not representative of the book as a whole, there are some eyebrow-raising arguments to authority, stating that “the overwhelming consensus” (204) among scholars tells us something, or that another author has “definitively proven” (240) something else. It is helpful to know which ideas are subjects of controversy and which aren’t, and I don’t expect the author to perform independent research on every single topic surrounding life in the ancient world, but it is an odd phrasing for a book premised on the method of drawing conclusions from primary sources even if they differ from established dogma.

More broadly speaking, the book’s analysis left me with big questions unanswered. If the Gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death by people who didn’t know him, and who did not live in a society where fact-checking and documentation were a thing (though the Romans kept extensive records on issues of interest such as tax collection), and were written as testaments of faith with the intention of converting non-Jews to their religion rather than as historical documents, then why remove some politically-charged bits but not others? The author argues that the Gospel writers must have changed the agency in Jesus’s execution from the Roman governor to the Jews for palatability to their intended audience, given that Pilate cared little to nothing what his subject population thought about anything, but why then leave in the overturning of the moneylenders’ tables, the sermon on the mount (which the author argues would have been about the new social order in God’s kingdom on earth rather than a spiritual promise), and other statements targeting the Temple and the Roman government? 

And if the writers needed to transport Jesus’s birth to Bethlehem to argue that he fulfilled the prophecies, why would they have explained this through a census story that their readers would have known to be false, because the census not only didn’t happen at that time but did not work that way (the Roman census was about tallying up property in order to tax it, and putting the economy on hold for months for everyone to travel to their home village without said property would have been absurd)? It’s fair to say that I am hopelessly modern and nonreligious and can’t claim to understand the mindset of a first- or second-century convert, but immersion in a story to me depends on finding it at least plausible. It also seems likely that a new religion isn’t trying to recruit skeptics who will question its facts but rather true believers who will accept the religious leaders’ word. But there still seems to me to be a difference between facts that can be disproven, and unverifiable assertions that must be taken on faith, and why hand your opponents the former if you can avoid it?

So I wish the author would have delved more into the historicity of the Gospels as a whole rather than focusing on specific passages one at a time; for me at least it would have been helpful in evaluating the overall argument. Nevertheless, this is an interesting and educational book of reasonably short length, and I’m glad I read it.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-03-23 14:44
Friday Reads - March 23, 2018
Forgotten Voices of the Great War - Max Arthur,Imperial War Museum
The Irish Americans: A History - Jay P. Dolan
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

I ADULTED so hard this week that I have only reading scheduled for this weekend. I aiming to finish Forgotten Voices of the Great War over the weekend and finish The Irish Americans during the week. Then it is on to my library borrows, I Contain Multitudes. Time to buckle down and clear March's currently reading shelf.


Have a good weekend!

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?