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review 2019-02-17 23:49
Miracle at Philadelphia
Miracle At Philadelphia - Catherine Drinker Bowen

A nation new to its independence dealing with issues internally and external, it’s nascent future hanging by a thread all comes down to 55 men from across its length and breadth to come up with a solution.  In her 1966 historical review of what became known as the Constitutional Convention, Catherine Drinker Bowen chronicles how the future of the young United States was saved by a Miracle at Philadelphia.

 

Though the majority of the book focuses on the four-month long Convention, Bowen begins by setting the stage for why and how the convention came about with the ineffectual government that was the Articles of Confederation and the movement to amend them, which was led by James Madison and endorsed by George Washington by his attendance in Philadelphia.  For those like myself not really versed in nitty gritty details of Convention it was interesting to learn that most of the work was done in ‘Committee of the Whole’ in which Washington while President was seated among the other delegates.  The familiar highlights of the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise are covered but in the historical flow of the debates within the Convention and decisions in-between of important elements within the Constitution.  Throughout the Bowen introduces important personages and how their views remained constant or changed throughout the Convention resulting reputations being made or destroyed during and after the process of ratification.  Bowen ends the book with a look at the ratification process, in particular the debates in Massachusetts and Virginia.

 

Covering approximately 310 pages, the book is efficient in covering the events of the Convention overall.  However Bowen completely missed how the Great Compromise was voted in the Constitution, she just mentioned it.  Besides that big miss within the Convention, Bowen spends chuck of the middle of the book covering a “Journey in America” that had nothing to do with the Convention but was just giving a glimpse of the nascent country that felt like filler than anything else.

 

Miracle at Philadelphia is a very good historical review of the Constitutional Convention that does not analyze but just reports history.  Catherine Drinker Bowen does a wonderful job in juggling the various accounts of the Convention by the delegates and the official record to create very readable narrative.  I highly recommend this book for those interested in this closing piece of the American Revolution.

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review 2019-01-18 22:22
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire - Lawrence James

The largest empire in history ended less than a century ago, yet the legacy of how it rose and how it fell will impact the world for longer than it existed.  Lawrence James’ chronicles the 400-year long history of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, from its begins on the eastern seaboard of North American spanning a quarter of the world to the collection of tiny outposts scattered across the globe.

 

Neither a simple nor a comprehensive history, James looks at the British Empire in the vain of economic, martial, political, and cultural elements not only in Britain but in the colonies as well.  Beginning with the various settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America, James describes the various colonies and latter colonial administrators that made their way from Britain to locations around the globe which would have an impact on attitudes of the Empire over the centuries.  The role of economics in not only the growth the empire but also the Royal Navy that quickly became interdependent and along with the growth of the Empire’s size the same with the nation’s prestige.  The lessons of the American War of Independence not only in terms of military fragility, but also politically influenced how Britain developed the “white” dominions over the coming centuries.  And the effect of the liberal, moralistic bent of the Empire to paternally watch over “lesser” peoples and teach them clashing with the bombast of the late-19th Century rush of imperialism in the last century of the Empire’s exists and its effects both at home and abroad.

 

Composing an overview of 400-years of history than spans across the globe and noting the effects on not only Britain but the territories it once controlled was no easy task, especially in roughly 630 pages of text.  James attempted to balance the “positive” and “negative” historiography of the Empire while also adding to it.  The contrast between upper-and upper-middle class Britons thinking of the Empire with that of the working-class Britons and colonial subjects was one of the most interesting narratives that James brought to the book especially in the twilight years of the Empire.  Although it is hard to fault James given the vast swath of history he tackled there were some mythical history elements in his relating of the American War of Independence that makes the more critical reader take pause on if the related histories of India, South Africa, Egypt, and others do not contain similar historical myths.

 

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is neither a multi-volume comprehensive history nor a simple history that deals with popular myths of history, it is an overview of how an island nation came to govern over a quarter of the globe through cultural, economic, martial, and political developments.  Lawrence James’s book is readable to both general and critical history readers and highly recommended.

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review 2019-01-05 23:32
Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe--The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation
Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe--The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation - Chris DeRose

The future of the young United States hangs in the balance as two friends and rising statesmen travel the roads of eight Virginia counties to become a member of the first Congress under the newly adopted Constitution, depending on who is elected the new Constitution will succeed or fail.  Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe—The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation by Chris DeRose follows the lives of future Presidents James Madison and James Monroe lead up to the election the two men faced off in Virginia’s 5th Congressional district and why the result was important for the future of the nation.

 

The lives of the young Virginians James Madison and James Monroe were both different; one was sickly and served in legislatures during the Revolution while the other was healthy and a soldier during the war.  But there were similarities as well as both were wholeheartedly behind the success of the new nation and deeply troubled about the ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation, wanting those similar of mind to come together to bring changes.  After the failed Annapolis Convention, Madison coaxed George Washington out of retirement to the Philadelphia Convention and the result was a new Constitution that was sent to the states for ratification.  Monroe, though wanting a better government than the Articles, found the new Constitution too much and joined other Anti-Federalists in Virginia hoping to reject the new document in the face of Madison and the Federalists.  The heated Virginia Ratification Convention went back and forth before Virginia passed the new Constitution, but the Anti-Federalists stuck back in next session of the House of Delegates putting Madison in a seemingly Anti-Federalist district and convinced Monroe to stand for election against him.  If Monroe were to win, the Federalists who would be the majority would be without a leader and not support any amendments (i.e. the Bill of Rights) that Monroe and the Anti-Federalists wanted thus possibly leading to a second Constitutional convention that would undo the new government.  However, Madison’s victory came about because of his support for a Bill of Rights especially his long support of religious freedom for dissenters in Virginia.

 

Coming in around 275 pages, Chris DeRose’s first book was a nice read with good research and nice structure to show the parallel lives of his subjects before their history defining election.  Yet the fact that the vast majority of my synopsis focused on the last half of the book shows that while DeRose had a nice structure he didn’t use his space well.  Several times throughout the book DeRose would insert his opinion on what he believed Madison or Monroe were thinking at some moment in time which came off looking amateurish that fact that wasn’t helped when DeRose would also insert asides alluding to current (as of 2011) political event several times as well.

 

Overall Founding Rivals is a nice look into the early lives of James Madison and James Monroe along with a crucial election they stood for with the new Constitution in the balanced.  While Chris DeRose did admirable work, it is still his first book and in several places it is never evident.  Yet with this caution it is still a good read for history buffs especially interested in this critical period in American history.

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review 2018-11-27 21:36
Fun from start to finish
Mary B: An untold story of Pride and Prejudice - Katherine K. Chen

I'm fairly sure that I've mentioned before that there are two books that I reread every single year and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of them. So it was kind of a no-brainer that I picked up Mary B. by Katherine J. Chen as it follows that story (with a little before and after) from the perspective of the middle daughter, Mary. The book focuses on what the author calls the 'forgotten Bennet sister' and follows her personal evolution beginning from her childhood and giving readers a glimpse into what happened with the Bennet, Bingley, and Darcy families after the last page of Pride and Prejudice was turned. This book was a surprise for me in a lot of ways. Firstly, I loved it. I felt like I was reading a trashy romance novel that had gotten mixed together with the classic book of the early 18th century. While I agree that it's a bit out-of-the-box in terms of what certain characters would and wouldn't do I didn't care in the least if someone did or said something 'out of character'. I knew going in that this was Chen's vision and it was bound to be different from Austen's. Secondly, this book was entertaining from start to finish and had me giggling uncontrollably at all of the spicy content. (This book is so spicy, ya'll.) Turns out Mary is headstrong, outspoken, non-traditional, and dare I say the most intelligent Bennet sister.  This book is a love letter to anyone who ever felt like they didn't belong or maybe wasn't enough. YOU ARE. If Mary can buck tradition and kick some major butt in the process then you can too. Also, it's clear Chen had a bee in her bonnet about how Mary was treated and overlooked in terms of character development by Austen in the original book. She certainly took care of that with Mary B.. 10/10

 

A/N: I'm not generally a fan of romance novels but there's something about the world that Austen crafted that makes me especially susceptible. I take comfort in the fact that I'm definitely not alone if her books are still being re-imagined. :-P

 

What's Up Next: The Ghost in the Mirror by John Bellairs & completed by Brad Strickland

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-11-26 19:40
Historical figures: Awesome ladies edition
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation - Cokie Roberts

This book was just what was needed to pull me out of a reading slump. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts is an account of the women who supported and helped shape the development of the democratic government in the United States. While I initially thought that this would yield minimal new information considering how heavily this period of time was covered during my schooldays I discovered just how wrong (and ignorant) I was especially in regards to the women. I realized that it had never occurred to me to wonder just how long the absences of these women's husbands were during the creation of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution (including the Articles of the Confederation), and the U.S. government as a whole. Not to mention how absolutely strong-willed and informed these women were about the affairs of state (which was beneficial as they passed on the latest news to their husbands through extensive letter writing). Best couple award goes to George and Martha Washington who were the most well-adjusted and steadfast couple of the lot. Martha went everywhere George went including Valley Forge where she was instrumental in keeping the morale of the men up (and getting them to stay at all) as well as organizing other women into organized sewing groups to keep the troops clothed. Favorite woman of the many discussed was hands down Abigail Adams who not only had the keenest mind but also the sharpest tongue. She had no problem telling John where to go and letting him know that just because he was away didn't mean that the romance in their relationship needed to suffer. In fact, theirs was the most strained relationship of all as John was in high demand and for the majority of their marriage they were separated as he worked tirelessly in his work as a member of the Continental Congress and then later as the Vice President. If you, like me, love reading about confident women and relish learning new things about a slice of history you thought you had thoroughly mapped then I must point you in the direction of Founding Mothers. 10/10

 

PS Benjamin Franklin was the worst.

 

What's Up Next: Mary B. by Katherine J. Chen

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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