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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 activists fought for and won the right for millions of women to be heard.

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review 2018-03-20 18:57
Detective Inspector Roderick Allen Series Book #6
Artists in Crime - Ngaio Marsh

I normally have to read a series in order because it goes completely against my nature to skip around. After reading Book 1 though, I was on the fence on whether or not to continue the series because, even though I enjoyed the mystery itself, the dialogue and British narrative was quite choppy and all over the place so I had a hard time following a long in certain parts.


I owe Themis-Athena's Garden of Books a huge thank you for recommending that I skip ahead to Book 6, Artists in Crime. I followed Themis's advice and I'm really glad I did because I enjoyed this story immensely. The writing is so much more polished in this book. The British narrative is more refined and easier to follow, the plot was well-developed and the mystery was complex enough that I didn't guess the murderer until it was pretty much handed to me on a silver platter. Overall you can just tell that the author's skill has evolved since her debut.  


There are a whopping 32 books in this series so I can't say if I will go back and read books 2-5 anytime I soon but I definitely plan to continue reading the series from  book 7. 


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review 2018-03-19 17:45
My Brief History / Stephen Hawking
My Brief History - Stephen Hawking

My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his postwar London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity. Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photographs, this concise, witty, and candid account introduces readers to a Hawking rarely glimpsed in previous books: the inquisitive schoolboy whose classmates nicknamed him Einstein; the jokester who once placed a bet with a colleague over the existence of a particular black hole; and the young husband and father struggling to gain a foothold in the world of physics and cosmology.

Writing with characteristic humility and humor, Hawking opens up about the challenges that confronted him following his diagnosis of ALS at age twenty-one. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explains how the prospect of an early death urged him onward through numerous intellectual breakthroughs, and talks about the genesis of his masterpiece A Brief History of Time—one of the iconic books of the twentieth century.


With the passing of the great cosmologist last week, it seemed fitting to read his autobiography as a way of appreciating the man a bit more. It’s a very compact account of Hawking’s life, hitting the high spots without going into great detail. One of the more charming aspects for me was the inclusion of a fair number of personal photographs, many supplied by Hawking himself and his sister.

Numerous tributes to Hawking last week referred to his sense of humour. Unfortunately, that didn’t really come through to me in this volume. I can also appreciate that he wanted to be known for more than his ALS, but I thought that a little more detail about the disease would have been appropriate. It seemed to me that his family, especially his children, got extremely little page-time. I didn’t require a tell-all or anything too detailed, but knowing how the children turned out and what they chose to do with their lives would have been interesting. I also wonder if they worry that they may have a predisposition to getting ALS themselves.

To be fair, each person gets to be the star of their own autobiography. Hawking concentrates on what he obviously deemed the most important part of his life—his research. Many of the details that I’m interested in, he probably decided were not his to tell.

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review 2018-03-12 14:28
Dunbar / Edward St. Aubyn
Dunbar - Edward St. Aubyn

‘I really did have an empire, you know,’ said Dunbar. ‘Have I ever told you the story of how it was stolen from me?

Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he handed over care of the family firm to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan. But relations quickly soured, leaving him doubting the wisdom of past decisions...

Now imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?


This is the Hogath Shakespeare’s version of King Lear, a play that I have seen performed at least twice in the last couple of years. It’s a powerful story and I would imagine that it would be a daunting piece to take on in a retelling such as this one, but Edward St. Aubyn was certainly up to the task!

I picked it up Sunday morning, meaning to just get a start on it. After all, I already knew the inevitable ending—everybody dies, right? But St. Aubyn’s creation grabbed me and would not let go! He made it fresh with Henry Dunbar, the media mogul, whose hubris has brought him low. I read the entire thing before lunch!

I was impressed by both performances of Lear that I’ve seen, but they both played up Lear as suffering from dementia, as that’s one of the concerns of modern society. But St. Aubyn returned to Shakespeare’s original intention, I think, that Dunbar is brought low by his desire to have privilege without responsibility. Like Lear in the play, Dunbar regains his wits just long enough to realize all that he has lost, a truly tragic ending.

I really loved the drunken comedian, Peter Walker, in his role as the fool. That was an inspired bit of casting on the author’s part.

How have I not read any of St. Aubyn’s work before? That mistake must be corrected!

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review 2018-03-10 16:40
Highlighting an overlooked aspect of Lloyd George's career
Lloyd George and Foreign Policy, Volume I: The Education of a Stateman, 1890-1916 - Michael G. Fry

Up until the First World War David Lloyd George was regarded as a politician focused predominantly upon domestic issues. Having championed issues such as old age pensions, Welsh Disestablishment, and women's suffrage, he was more commonly associated with national issues than the foreign policies that would define his tenure as prime minister and shape much of his legacy. As Michael Graham Fry demonstrates, though, this impression is a misleading one. His book, the first half of a two-volume study, traces Lloyd George's engagement with foreign policy prior to becoming prime minister in an effort to chronicle the development of the views he would apply once he won the highest of offices.

Fry beings by situating Lloyd George in the world of his youth, showing him to be a product of the Nonconformist and Welsh nationalist currents rushing through Wales in the late 19th century. From this he developed a view of international affairs that framed issues in moral terms, a perspective that was subsequently reflected in the public rhetoric he used in framing issues for his audiences. He first came to national attention with his criticism of the war in South Africa, the nuance of which was obscured with his labeling as a "pro-Boer." When the Liberals formed a government in 1905 Lloyd George took office first as President of the Board of Trade, then in 1908 as Chancellor of the Exchequer. While these offices were focused more on economic and fiscal matters, Fry draws out his subject's role in shaping foreign policy during these years, finding within them an ongoing evolution of his views on international issues. He highlights Lloyd George's goring concern about Germany during this period, which was reflected both in advocacy for a naval agreement and in his speeches and Cabinet efforts in 1911 during the Agadir crisis. This puts his support for joining the war in 1914 look less like a betrayal of his earlier views and more a product of the development of his views over time, with his subsequent embrace of a vigorous war effort paving the way for his assumption of the premiership in 1916.

By detailing the development of Lloyd George's engagement with foreign policy, Fry provides readers with an invaluable study of his subject. Yet the value of Fry's analysis is hampered by his writing, as it oscillates between extremes of sweeping generalizations and a morass of detail. A better balance between the two would have allowed Fry to make his arguments more effectively, but those willing to take their time with Fry's text will be rewarded with an astute examination of the intellectual and political development of a key 20th century statesman.

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