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review 2017-03-14 21:56
Scars of the Independence
Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth - Holger Hoock

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

 

The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced.  In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.

 

Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family.  The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict.  Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners.  While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war.  But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.

 

One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth.  Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars.  Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.

 

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history.  Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

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review 2017-02-13 20:23
Burning Bright
Burning Bright - Tracy Chevalier

If, like me, you have always been fascinated and thrilled by the poems and pictures of William Blake, you will be delighted with this book, for it is set in his London and he plays quite a major role in it. His London, yes.

 

(This and several other poems crop up quite naturally in the course of the story.)

I wander through each chartered street
Near where the chartered Thames does flow

And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

 

In every cry of every man
In every infant’s cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

 

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace walls.

 

But most through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.

 

And what is more, he is credibly depicted – an outspoken radical (he was a friend of Tom Paine’s) at a time when a breath of socialism or support for the revolution in France could cost one one’s life; eccentric to the point of “madness” – in constant communication with his dead brother, and living in fact on two levels, in two worlds, simultaneously; and very, very kind in a society where kindness seems to have been in extremely short supply.

 

A poor family emigrate from a Devonshire village to London, and the story is of the two village children, Jem and his beautiful but totally naive and innocent sister, Maisie (a source of inspiration to Blake!) and her adorable streetwise counterpart, Maggie, the local London girl who befriends Jem and tries to protect Maisie.

 

It is perfectly written, as one would expect of the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, and succeeds on every level. I will never be able to read William Blake again without thinking of him facing a mob who are demanding that he sign an oath of allegiance to the king, and refusing outright; and Jem and Maisie’s father, the local from the Devonshire village, following suit, not because he knows or cares anything about politics but because he objects to being forced to do something by a violent mob.

And the depiction of the two girls, Maisie and Maggie, as they grow up, become women, is completely unforgettable.

 

A must for all Blake-lovers as well, of course, as all lovers of top quality Historical Fiction.

 

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review 2017-02-01 14:42
Centuries of Change
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? - Ian Mortimer

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years.  Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change.  In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

 

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods.  Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began.  Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization.  At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

 

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book.  The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion.  Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions.  When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

 

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one.  While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

 

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time.  Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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review 2017-01-21 04:07
Playing Chess
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There - Lewis Carroll,Peter Glassman,John Tenniel

Hot on the tails of the rabid success of Alice in Wonderland comes the similar, but somewhat different, sequel. The absurdity of this volume is of the same scope as the original, but in many cases, being a sequel, it seems to lack some of the uniqueness of the original. One thing I noticed with regards to the original is that there simply did not seem to be any plot. Thus, the absurdity of the entire volume was complete. There was no reason for Alice to be there, and no goal that she had to reach, and the end simply comes all of a sudden.

 

However, come the sequel, we have a plot and a quest. Initially Alice simply wants to see what is on the other side of the looking glass, and sure enough, she enters a world that is similar, but different, to our own. In a way it is a world of opposites, so when she is thirsty she is given a biscuit (when what she really should have asked for is a biscuit, because more likely than not, she would have been given a drink).

 

The story is based around a game of chess, and there are numerous metaphors in relation to the chess board. For instance the journey across the third square (Alice is a pawn so she starts on the second square) is by train which represents the pawns ability to jump the third square. The queen moves at a rapid pace, which is representative of the queens ability to move as far as she likes, and the knight stumbles, representative if the rather odd way that the knight moves.

 

As for the quest, well, as soon as Alice meets the queen she decides that she wants to be a queen, so the queen tells Alice that she must move to the other side of the chess board, and in doing so, she will become a queen (which is a rule in the game of chess). Some have said that the story itself was written by Carol when he was teaching Alice Liddle how to play chess, though I must say that I did not learn all that much about the game of chess in this book.

 

It is interesting how some of the characters from this story make their way into the other story in the more main stream productions (though I am not talking about the Tim Burton movie here). For instance Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum seem to appear in the Alice in Wonderland story in the films when in fact they appear in this book. It is also noticeable (and something that I did not realise until I read this) was that the poem Jabberwock appears in this book. I always believed that Jabberwock was a poem that Carol had written separately from this book. By the way, this is what a Jabberwocky looks like:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d0/Jabberwocky.jpg/220px-Jabberwocky.jpg

 

 

 

I quite like the pictures that Carol put in the book, and some of them seem to be quite absurd in themselves. For instance there is a scene on the train when the ticket inspector comes along and asks Alice for her ticket (and I have found myself on the wrong side of a ticket inspector, as we probably all have, though I will also have an aversion towards the ones on the trains in Italy). However, it was quite bizarre how he seemed to always look at her through a pair binoculars, like this:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Through_the_Looking_Glass_Gentleman_dressed_in_paper.png

 

 

The ending was pretty cool as well, because the story ends with her shaking the red queen and suddenly waking up from her dream world and realising that she was doing this:

 

 

 

Oh, and look at who also makes an appearance in the story:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d5/Peter_Newell_-_Through_the_looking_glass_and_what_Alice_found_there_1902_-_page_110.jpg

 

Not that Humpty actually first appears here. He was no an invention by Carol, but actually had been around in his own nursery rhyme a long time before hand (though according to Wikipedia the first appearance was in a book of nursery rhymes published in 1870, two years before Through the Looking Glass).

 

 

 

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/630760976
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review 2017-01-08 03:41
A Choice in Marriage
Les Femmes savantes - Molière Les Femmes savantes - Molière

I must say that I find these French plays to be a little difficult to follow at times namely because of the way the scenes are set up. It seems that each of the scenes have only specific characters in them and when one of the characters leaves (or a new one arrives) then suddenly the scene ends and a new one begins. They are not like Shakespeare where the scenes are location specific, and the way that Shakespeare constructs his scenes and his plays I find much easier to follow. However, when my internet is working better (I seem to be having problems with it on my laptop though I suspect that it may be the operating system as opposed to the internet connection itself) I will try to watch some of the Moliere plays on Youtube (they are available on Youtube). The other thing I was thinking of was getting a dongle, but that is not necessary at the moment (and I pay for the internet anyway).

 

This play seems to be quite similar to Tartuffe, and apparently it was not as popular as the previous play. In fact, from the introduction, I get the impression that the play actually flopped (if it was possible for a play to flop, but I guess it is when it has a very limited shelf life, though some plays have limited shelf lives because the actors have other projects that they want to go onto, though some plays, like the ones that have run for 20+ years in the West End probably cycle through actors). The difference here is that we have a philosopher in the house as opposed to a religious zealot (for want of a better word) though we have the standard woman who wants to marry her crush, but that marriage isn't allowed to happen because she is supposed to marry somebody else, however it turns out that the somebody else was a fraud so she ends up marrying the guy she wanted to marry in the first place. Plays like these (and there are a number in the Moliere collection) makes me wonder if there was such a thing as romantic love during the 17th century. I was always under the impression that arranged marriages were generally the way things went, though it seems that in Moliere most of the characters tend to be members of the middle class (who were the bulk of the theatre goers namely because the aristocracy was small, and the lower classes were uneducated).

 

When I speak about romantic love I am speaking about choice in getting married. These days there seems, at least in our culture, a fair amount of choice in who we get to marry. I find it a little daunting though, especially since I was the guy that either chased the wrong women, or was too gutless to actually ask any of them out. That is changing a bit though, and I guess I am learning to let people go at times. However, I thought that this was a recent phenomena, especially with the development of the car which enabled people to travel greater distances (up until then they were generally stuck where they were born). However, I suspect that one of the reasons for this belief was because prior to the development of the car (or even the railway) you were generally trapped in your own small town, and the person that you ended up marrying you had known for quite a while (namely most of your life).

 

This play, however, is set in the city, among the middle classes, where you would meet people at university and other functions. If you were a member of the nobility then I suspect that you had little choice in who you were going to marry, though I do notice that most of Shakespeare's plays involve nobility, and there is a lot of romantic love there as well. However, the key with most of Moliere's plays is the idea that one can chose who they are going to marry, but that choice is being taken away from them so they must come up with a plan to get out of it. In the Would-Be Gentleman, the antagonist is made to believe that he is being given a knighthood in Turkey, while here they make it appear that the family has become bankrupt. As such, romantic love triumphs.

 

However, for the play to appeal, there must have been at least some choice in marriage. Look, even today there is still some restrictions, and there are still cultures were arranged marriages are the norm. However, we all hear, and still see on television, shows were a marriage cannot go ahead unless the parents approve of it, and if the parents don't approve of it, then the marriage is going to be difficult at best. Of course, these movies run on the principle that the father is the one objecting to the marriage, and in the end comes across as a buffoon. Still, as in Moliere's day, and as it is today in our performances, romantic love always triumphs.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/629880952
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