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review 2017-02-06 17:49
The Primrose Way by Jackie French Koller

In The Primrose Way by Jackie French Koller we find a detailed account of the first years of settlement in the Boston colony and its environs. Beginning in 1633, we find Rebekah onboard a ship from England just as they sight the land surrounding Massachusetts Bay. Rebekah is coming to join her father, an elder in the church. She is excited to reach the colony yet after leaving the comfort of a cozy home with servants she is somewhat taken aback at the conditions she finds in Boston. Things go downhill once more when she leaves the relatively civilized Boston for the new settlement of Agawam at the edge of the wilderness. Throughout the story Rebekah will deal with betrayal, loss, and love. But will she opt to return to England and the chance to be a bride or choose to remain in the colony and seek her true love?

 

The Primrose Way is a clever tapestry of fact and fiction that is skillfully woven by the author. Great detail into the everyday existence of both white settlers and Native Americans gives the reader a true picture of what life was like in the early 17th century. Easy reading that will move you through the story at a rapid pace but you'll want to slow down and savor each finely drawn scene. Don't gloss over the details - they add so much to the story. And while the story is placed in early America the characters deal with problems that are relevant today.

 

This book includes a glossary of Native American terms as well as a detailed bibliography for further reading. Teachers and students alike will enjoy The Primrose Way not only for its story but for the lessons it teaches. Highly recommended.

 

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review 2017-02-06 17:45
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

 

One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd, a Chicago socialite from the 1800s, who signs on to the Federal government plan of Brides for Indians as a means to escape an insane asylum where her family has placed her because she had fallen in love with a man below her station. Through her journals May describes her life in the asylum and later her new life as a prairie bride of Chief Little Wolf of the Cheyennes. Along her journey she tells of her fellow brides who come from all walks of life. In return for their marriage to a Cheyenne and subsequent bearing of a mixed race baby or two, the government hopes to assimilate the Cheyennes into the white man’s culture. Along the way May meets an Army Captain and they fall in love but part, knowing that their love could never be. May continues on her journey, assimilating into the life of the Cheyennes as the third wife of Chief Little Wolf, all the while keeping a set of notebooks that become her journals.

 

The descriptions of life on the prairie are both breathtaking and brutal. But through it all May begins to question which side is the real savage – Native American or white Christian. A detailed and fast booking book, it will appear to the reader that the journals they are reading are true although the author states up front that everything contained in the book is fiction based on the true fact that such a Brides for Indians program was proposed but never acted upon.

 

I loved the different ‘brides’ who, although stereotypical, give much needed diversity to the story. And although we see Chief Little Wolf as a proud and courageous warrior we soon learn that he is so much more. Finely researched, cleverly written, and engrossing the reader will find this story difficult to put down.

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review 2017-02-05 14:37
Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy - Jane Garnett,Matthew Arnold

But what is greatness?— culture makes us ask. Greatness is a spiritual condition worthy to excite love, interest, and admiration; and the outward proof of possessing greatness is that we excite love, interest, and admiration.

Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy was an odd book to come back to in these times of so much talk about making  things "great" again. I had first read the book way back when I was at university. Back then, I read the book with the purpose of finding arguments for and against different aspects of "culture" and whatever that meant, but I never got the time to read what Arnold actually had to say beyond his eternal buzzwords of "sweetness and light", both which are still as vague as ever. 

 

Having revisited with Arnold over the past couple of weeks, the best I can say is that I am glad I have read the book without the pressing agenda of writing a piece of coursework about it. There are a lot of sides to Arnold's writing that are worth exploring - tho, his sometimes tongue-in-cheek style of narration has left me wondering more than a few times which point he was trying to make. 

 

Just like the quote about greatness could be interpreted to mean all things to all people, Arnold's argumentation by use of fictional characters (and few real ones) generalised his ideas so much, that for most of the book I was left wanting to shout at him: "But where is your proof? Where are your sources for making this claim? What evidence have you to support your claim?"

 

And this was true even more so with the points I wanted to agree with, than it was with the sketchy claims I was looking to refute. It sounds great to hear Arnold use such flowery rhetoric like:

"It is in making endless additions to itself, in the endless expansion of its powers, in endless growth in wisdom and beauty, that the spirit of the human race finds its ideal. To reach this ideal, culture is an indispensable aid, and that is the true value of culture." Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming, is the character of perfection as culture conceives it; and here, too, it coincides with religion. And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to the rest, or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture forms, must be a general expansion.

But where are his examples? 

It sounds great to hear Arnold refer to "men are all members of one great whole" but in the same line of argument, he becomes divisive, too, when referring to the members of the working class not knowing what they want, to members of the middle class as wanting the wrong thing, to the members of the aristocracy as being too remote and not intervening enough in the frivolous pursuit of industry, to Philistines and Barbarians. But most divisively of all, Arnold seems to restrict the benefit of the application of "culture" as he saw it to the English.

"In the first place, it never was any part of our creed that the great right and blessedness of an Irishman, or, indeed, of anybody on earth except an Englishman, is to do as he likes; and we can have no scruple at all about abridging, if necessary, a non-Englishman's assertion of personal liberty. The British Constitution, its checks, and its prime virtues, are for Englishmen. We may extend them to others out of love and kindness; but we find no real divine law written on our hearts constraining us so to extend them."

Sarcasm? Or true sentiment? It depends on the reader's own outlook and interpretation. There is a fine line in Arnold's argument that can be used or abused for and against nationalism, for and against religion, for and against liberalism, etc. but left me with a general sense of puzzlement about whether any of Arnold's points had actually carried any momentum other than to promote the ever-so-wishy-washy phrase of "Sweetness and Light"?

"Now, the use of culture is that it helps us, by means of its spiritual standard of perfection, to regard wealth as but machinery, and not only to say as a matter of words that we regard wealth as but machinery, but really to perceive and feel that it is so. If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines. The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich, are just the very people whom we call the Philistines. Culture says: "Consider these people, then, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voice; look at them attentively; observe the literature they read, the things which give them pleasure, the words which come forth out of their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become just like these people by having it?"

By the end of the book, I was left craving for a more modern and more scientific approach to dissecting "culture" for all that it means, because while Arnold was (and to some extent still seems to be) celebrated for his efforts on defining culture, his efforts are limited to his own personal views with little to show any credentials of research or actual knowledge of society, history, or any other fields remotely relating to what we would now class as sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, etc. 

 

Nevertheless, if you're looking to dig into the mindset of a high-Victorian Englishman, Culture and Anarchy does make for an entertaining, tho slightly painful visit. 

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text 2017-01-30 21:42
Culture and Anarchy - Reading progress update: I've read 22%.
Culture and Anarchy - Jane Garnett,Matthew Arnold

Well, I'd never thought I'd quote Matthew Arnold, but this seems to turn out to be quite a timely read.

 

Arnold on Culture:

 

And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to the rest, or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture forms, must be a general expansion.

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review 2017-01-28 19:44
White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties (v. 2) - Dominic Sandbrook

'The stock exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children's holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of all recognition and yet remain the same.'

 

This history ends with the above quote from George Orwell, after 794 pages of fantastically written social and political history. The main premise of Sandbrook's volume is that despite the 1960s being billed as an age of social and cultural revolution, much of British society, its values and behaviours remained consistent with previous decades. He argues that the counter culture of the late 60s was a small milieu of upper-middle class youths that, for the most part, were able to rebel because they had a financial safety net to fall back on and a path back into regular society. The introduction of the birth control pill that, it has been claimed, brought on the sexual revolution and the age of free love is often highly overstated. Sandbrook argues that British sexual practices remained largely conservative and the majority sought monogamy.

 

Now Sandbrook it would seem, is a conservative and the argument can be made that he went into this work with a preconceived notion of what he wanted to find about the 60s and wrote his book around that. I'm sure there is an element of truth to that, nevertheless I felt that for the most part he was fair with, for example, the Labour party and Harold Wilson's government. He was sympathetic to the economic position the previous Conservative government had left behind and the challenges that Wilson's government then faced. Even though the over riding conclusions were ones that promoted a political narrative, I'm not so sure it's a false one.

 

I could tell after around a hundred and fifty pages that the author is passionate about modern British history, his writing was engaged, witty and in depth. There are a lot of gems. One of the things I took away that I hadn't known, was that the Labour party managed to get the bill outlawing the death penalty passed against the tide of popular opinion. In 1964 popular support for abolishing hanging sat at just 23 percent, yet the abolition passed through parliament at votes of 343 to 185. The 60s was also the decade that abortion, homosexuality and suicide were decriminalised and in that sense it represented tangible, progressive change in law in the UK. Sandbrook argues that this was a culmination of decades of campaigning rather than a sudden break in traditions coming from youth culture and I suspect here he is correct. 

 

The political commentary was broken up with chapters on the formation and success of acts like The Beatles. I'll admit, perhaps controversially, that I'm not particularly a fan of The Beatles. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed Sandbrook's version of their story. He seemed to wish to exonerate McCartney, who in his view, is often billed as the less talented song writer when put up against Lennon. One draw back of the sections on the band is that Sandbrook often portrays the darker sides of Lennon's character and again, this may be in part down to politics and the idea that Lennon is often seen as the hippy in the band and the one who was most in tune with the counter cultural excesses of the late 60s. However this in my opinion doesn't take away from highly informative, interesting chapters.

 

If you can accept the possible political overtones of the author what lies beneath is a riveting history of Britain in the 60s, an accomplished body of work and one that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in history.  

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