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review 2018-09-22 15:12
Deservedly regarded as a classic
The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 - Michael Eliot Howard

Michael Howard's history of the Franco-Prussian War has long been regarded as a classic of military history, and after reading it it's easy to see why. His book is a incisive recounting of the combatants and the operations they undertook over the course of the ten-month-long conflict. In the process he identifies the elements that defined the conflict, showing how just ill-prepared the French were for the war they faced, how poorly suited the French generals were for the type of war they were in, and how precarious Prussia's victory was after their ostensibly decisive victory in the battle of Sedan. While Geoffrey Wawro's history of the war serves as a better introduction to the subject thanks to its broader coverage of the context of events, nobody interested in understanding the course of the fighting can afford to skip Howard's perceptive and enduring examination of it.

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review 2018-09-22 00:17
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to The All Souls Trilogy
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life - Claire Baldwin,Colleen Madden,Deborah Harkness,Lisa Halttunen,Jill Hough

There are some here who know I'm an unapologetic fan of this series, but fan or not, I'm generally not the type to buy the "guides" the more popular series put out because in all truth, they feel like something that's been thrown together to squeeze just that much more money out of everyone; especially completists.  

 

But the cover of this one sucked me in at the Barnes and Noble and BN was the first bookshop stop on my Holiday of Book Buying Madness, so I caved.  

 

Yay to caving!  It ended up being really interesting, as evidenced by the fact that it took me three weeks to read the damn thing.  Harkness et al manage to weave an awful lot of historical facts into a book about books that are about vampires, witches and demons.  This is the place where Harkness gets to share all her historical knowledge, research and education that went into giving Matthew and Diana's adventures verisimilitude, as well as brilliantly weaving the lives of the vampires (and Diana to a lesser extent) into history.

 

She's really clever about this too; using real documents that have gone missing, or paintings done during the correct period that are of unknown subjects or known to have been destroyed over time, she's able to plausibly weave fact and fiction together without an abundance of anachronisms.  Little asides throughout the book in her own voice shares with the reader her inspirations for locations, homes, castles, even tea shops.

 

I had no problem seeing the delineation between the factual and the fictional, but in the section where the characters are outlined, a symbol is next to each name that does exist in the historical records, a touch I appreciated since Elizabethan history is something I'm hazy about, at best.

 

There are beautiful illustrations throughout, a couple of out-takes from two of the books, and a few full color illustrations from - I think - alchemical texts.  This was, in fact, my only complaint about the book - the full color inserts were not captioned - an odd oversight where everything else is clearly foot-noted and cited or explained within the narrative.  At one point Harkness' own historical research was used as a citation, leading me to believe the authors' were determined to be as clear and accurate as possible.  Perhaps this means the color inserts were the work of the illustrator for the book, and not historical, but it would be nice to know either way.

 

A fun and very informative read for those that enjoyed the trilogy; not sure how well it would work for those that didn't read it as it might be annoying to have fictional characters you know nothing about, or care nothing for, interwoven through all the historical goodies.

 

I read this for the New Release square of Halloween Bingo 2018.

 

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review 2018-09-20 16:59
Peter O'Toole: the Definitive Biography (Sellers)
Peter O'Toole : the definitive biography - Robert Sellers

Is this really "the definitive biography"? It's certainly the best in a very disappointing field since O'Toole's death. Notably absent amongst the people interviewed as original sources: any of O'Toole's surviving family, including ex-wife Sian Phillilps (mother of his two daughters) or ex-partner Karen Brown (mother of his late-life son). So this is definitely not the "authorized" biography, which can be a good or a bad thing. In this case, I think it has been detrimental to any real understanding of O'Toole's family life (Sian Phillips' autobiography is a useful corrective for the years when they were married).

 

I was dubious when I saw Robert Sellers to be the author, because he has also written books with such unpromising titles as "Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed" and "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down: How One Generation of British Actors Changed the World". In other words, he gives every appearance of being one of those bloke-ish biographers who delight in chronicling promiscuity and drunkenness, as if they were something necessarily associated with great talent and in some way admirable. Mind you, to be fair, if you're going to write about Peter O'Toole, you're going to have to address both of those major factors in his life and career. But I was pleasantly surprised at the relative absence of celebratory adjectives about the alcoholism that most certainly contributed to O'Toole's dreadful health in the second part of the career (not to mention his very poor reputation amongst landlords and other property owners).

 

The sources for this book are chiefly gossipy minor players in the entertainment world, most of whom doubtless have dined out on their O'Toole stories for some time, so we must take into account the natural human tendencies to embellish and generalize. The other people involved in the best anecdotes are by and large gone from us, and can't issue any refutations (if indeed they would wish to). But in addition to O'Toole's mischief, drinking, and occasional completely thoughtless cruelty, I found that there was also a ring of truth - through repetition from different sources - in the accounts of his deep thoughtfulness about his craft, his extensive and intelligent reading, and a generosity that could be as extravagant as his narcissism. As I think I remarked in my review of "Hellraisers", O'Toole still comes off, like Burton, as someone you could see wanting to associate with, as opposed to some of the nastier drunks in his circle of contemporaries. (And lest anyone wonder, it does seem that he dabbled in drugs as well.)

 

Sellers puts to rest the old controversy of where O'Toole was born, Ireland or England, by digging up the actual birth certificate from Leeds. But he does also acknowledge throughout that O'Toole became Irish, almost by dint of wishing so very much to be Irish (he always claimed himself that he did not actually know one way or the other).

The book has a decent apparatus (index, bibliography, list of film and theatre credits), and there are citations at the end for most paragraphs, though since most of said citations are to "author's interview with X", there's really not much verification that can be done. Sellers also took the time to view the historical record in the form of TV talk show utterances (now much more available to us through youtube), and he relies relatively little on previous biographical work as far as I can see, although Sian Phillips is of course fairly heavily cited.

 

"Better than expected" doesn't seem like particularly high praise, but in fact I'm quite pleased to give this book a place on my shelves. Since O'Toole will unfortunately never continue his slim, whimsical, fascinating autobiographical efforts into the most riveting years of his career, we must rely on the more prosaic expressions (and perhaps more reliable memories?) of the people around him who may not have been his nearest and dearest, but for that very reason may have been reliable observers.

 

Recommended to fans of O'Toole and people who enjoy anecdotal biography about London and Hollywood in the mid to late 20th century.

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review 2018-09-20 15:51
The essential study of a longtime labor leader
John L. Lewis: A Biography - Warren Van Tine,Melvyn Dubofsky

Given the erosion of organized labor in America today, it can be difficult to conceive that there was a time when labor leaders were national figures who exerted considerable economic and political influence. Perhaps the best example of this was John L. Lewis. As president of the United Mine Workers (UMW) for four decades, he led a union which played a critical role in the American economy, while his differences with the American Federation of Labor led him to disaffiliate from the body and create the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) instead, which played a leading role in organizing industrial unions in the late 1930s. Such was his stature that at his height people spoke of him as a potential president of the United States.

Such a figure deserves a well-researched and penetrating biography, which is what Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine have provided. Theirs is a rigorous account of Lewis's life, beginning with his early life in Iowa, through his initial work as a labor organizer, to his ascent to the presidency of the UMW in 1920 and his long struggles on behalf of his workers. Lewis became president of a union at a time when many workers were drawn to the appeal of socialism and communism. Lewis asserted his control of the union to suppress radicals, cementing his position over the course of the 1920s. While his dictatorial approach engendered criticism from other UMW leaders, by the end of the decade his dominance of the union was complete.

Yet Lewis's personal triumph contrasted sharply with the state of his union.  Despite the modest successes they enjoyed early in his tenure, the UMW was declining well before the Great Depression inflicted even greater poverty on thousands of miners. Yet President Franklin Roosevelt's administration gave unionization efforts a new life. A committed Republican, Lewis nonetheless supported Roosevelt's early New Deal, and sought to make the most of the opportunity provided by the administration to strengthen organized labor in the country. As the authors demonstrate, Lewis's efforts contributed greatly to the organization of workers in the steel and automobile industries during this period, though in the end Lewis found himself unable to work harmoniously with his counterparts in the CIO and he broke with the organization over the CIO's support for Roosevelt's bid for a third term as president.

Lewis spent the remaining two decades of his presidency denouncing the federal government's presence in labor relations and continuing his fight for the members of his union. Even after his retirement in 1960 he enjoyed an enormous degree respect from the UMW's rank-and-file members until his death, as well as a legendary reputation afterward. Reading Dubofsky and Van Tine's book give readers an appreciation as to how he earned it. Their detailed study recounts the numerous battles he fought on the behalf of his members to a degree that can be exhausting but which together provide a thorough understanding of his actions as their leader. By the end of the book it is difficult not to be impressed with all that he accomplished, particularly given the broader problems facing the coal industry at the time (ones which provide a valuable context for many of the issues facing it today). Because of this, Dubofsky and Van Tine's book is essential reading for anyone seeking to learn about Lewis, his impact upon the country, and the history of the American coal industry — and, thanks to their labors, it is one unlikely to be bettered as a study of their subject.

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review 2018-09-18 06:57
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Labyrinth of the Spirits - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The final chapter in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series follows secret police investigator Alicia Gris, scarred body and soul, as she takes one final case, and finds herself following a deadly trail which begins with a rare book that leads her back into the shadows of Barcelona's dark past, to the horrors of Franco's fascist regime....and even greater evils that some will commit any act to keep hidden.
A brilliant literary thriller that captures a pitch perfect sense of time and place, along with a near Gothic atmosphere that wafts from the pages like fog and the scent of old books, while the tension ratchets up to garotte tautness.

I was drawn in by the first paragraph, and didn't come up for air until I reached the last page.

Highly recommended finale to a highly recommended series.

Thanks to HarperCollins for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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