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review 2018-08-04 22:12
The Histories (Tacitus)
The Histories (Oxford World's Classics) - Tacitus;W. H. Fyfe,D.S. Levene,Tacitus

The death of Nero begins a Roman bloodletting that Augustus had thought he had completely ended as four men will within a year claim the title Emperor.  The Histories by Tacitus follows the aftermath of Nero’s death as a succession of men claimed the throne until the Flavians emerge to return the Roman Peace.

 

Tacitus begins his work with those who had prospered under Nero worrying for themselves while the rest of the populace celebrated and setting the stage for the eventual assassination for Galba and the rise of Otho, who the former had passed over as his chosen successor.  Yet at the time of his death Galba was facing a mutiny on the German frontier that had installed Vitellius as their choice as emperor, a task that Otho took to quash and retain his own throne.  The invasion of Italy by Vitellius’ legions brought war to the core of empire for the first time in almost a century and witnessed the defeat of Otho’s forces before he committed suicide.  The rise of Vitellius brought Vespasian, the leader of the legions fighting the Jewish War, into the fray as he accepted the proclamation of his legions as emperor and soon found the supporters of Otho and others joining him.  After the crushing defeat of his forces, Vitellius attempted to abdicate but the Guards wouldn’t let him resulting in his death by Vespasian’s soldiers.  On top of civil war in Italy and the final phase of the Jewish War under Titus, a Gallo-German uprising at first claiming support for Vespasian became an invasion and rebellion that took numerous legions to suppress and the aftermath would be alluded to in Tacitus’ own Germany.

 

Although The Histories are incomplete, from the beginning Tacitus brings his aristocratic ideology and politics in focus early by showing only someone with political realism and firm hand on the legions can prevent civil wars and the rioting of the masses.  The writing is quick-paced, going hand in hand with the rapid succession of events but Tacitus does give excellent portraits on the prime actors in this historical drama the played across the Roman world.  The only thing a historian would have against Tacitus would be the twisting of the chronology to suit his own purposes.  Yet like Agricola and Germany, my biggest complaint is how Oxford World Classics edition is structured with the Notes at the very end of the piece and making the reader use two bookmarks so they could go back and forth.

 

The Histories, the first of Tacitus’ two large scale historical works, shows the horrors of civil war and the according to Tacitus the dangers of leader who cannot control the legions and masses.  Even though the we are missing over two-thirds of the overall work, the portion we have that covers the Year of Four Emperors shows the breakdown of society in vacuum of strong leadership that is important not only in that time but throughout all of history including down to our own time.

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review 2018-07-19 15:46
Podcast #112 is up!
The Sinews of Habsburg Power: Lower Austria in a Fiscal-Military State 1650-1820 - William D. Godsey Jr.

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview William D. Godsey about his study of how the Estate of Lower Austria evolved to finance Habsburg power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enjoy!

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review 2018-06-22 16:35
A good assessment of a German statesman
Adenauer - Ronald Eckford Mill Irving

Twice in the last two centuries Germany was directed by an elderly man who exercised disproportionate control over their nation's development at a critical time in their history. The first was Otto von Bismarck, who created the German empire in 1871 and presided over its development for nearly two decades. The second was Konrad Adenauer, who became the first chancellor of postwar West Germany in 1949, guiding its transition in the postwar era from a collection of occupied territories through its postwar rehabilitation and subsequent emergence as a cornerstone of a more unified Europe. Much like Bismarck, Adenauer rose to power through unlikely circumstances, but unlike Bismarck he left behind him a governing system that proved more capable of enduring without him.

 

In writing a biography of Adenauer for Longman's "Profiles in Power" series, Ronald Irving faces the task of providing both an account of Adenauer's life and an examination of how he exercised his authority. This he succeeds in doing, providing an account that is understandably weighted towards analysis of his time as chancellor but still sets it within the details of Adenauer's long life. This balance is important to Irving's interpretation of Adenauer, whom he sees as a product of his early life as a Catholic Rhinelander in Wilhelmine Germany. By the time the Second Reich collapsed in 1918 Adenauer was already mayor of Cologne, an office he would occupy for the span of the Weimar Republic. Forced out of office by the Nazis, Adenauer returned to politics after the war determined to prevent a recurrence of the Third Reich by establishing a true representative democracy in Germany, first by creating a national conservative political party across confessional lines, then by serving as chancellor of West Germany for fourteen years.

 

Nearly three-quarters of Irving's book is spent on Adenauer's postwar career, giving him the opportunity to detail the scope of the chancellor's achievement. He is particularly good at explaining Adenauer's foreign policy — both the reestablishment of a sovereign Germany and his efforts towards greater European integration — and his role in West German politics. While some background on the context of Adenauer's times helps to fully benefit from the nuance of Irving's analysis, even people seeking an English-language introduction to Adenauer will find much to value in this short, insightful study.

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url 2018-06-06 15:44
Podcast #102 is up!
Kurt Eisner: A Modern Life - Albert Earle Gurganus

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Al Gurganus about his biography of the German journalist Kurt Eisner, who overthrew the Bavarian monarchy and served as its premier during the German Revolution. Enjoy!

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review 2018-06-03 16:51
The life of a journalist and statesman
Kurt Eisner: A Modern Life - Albert Earle Gurganus

Kurt Eisner lived a life that bracketed that of the Second Reich which he helped replace. Born into a family of military tailors to the Prussian court, love led him to abandon his scholarly studies for a career as a journalist. He soon emerged as a leading writer in the left-wing press, and after a brief term in prison for lèse-majesté be became editor of Vorwärts, the central organ of the left-wing Social Democratic Party, in 1898. Forced out seven years later in an ideological purge, he nevertheless remained a major columnist and critic until the outbreak of the First World War. Eisner's opposition to the war soon cost him his journalistic platform while his role in organizing a munition workers' strike led to another term. Witt the collapse of the German army in 1918, however, Eisner was released and in a matter of weeks spearheaded a peaceful revolt that overthrew the monarchy in Bavaria. Selected as prime minister, Eisner led Bavaria for three tumultuous months before his assassination in February 1919, the victim of a right-wing aristocrat.

Despite his prominence in Wilhelmine politics and his role in the German revolution Eisner has lacked a biography in English until now. Albert Gurganus has now filled this gap admirably with an account of Eisner's life that traces his professional career and the evolution of his ideas over the course of his life. The man who emerges from his pages is one committed to his beliefs regardless of expediency or cost, a commitment that was key to both his leadership in the German Revolution and in his political downfall on the eve of his assassination. It serves not just as a biography of an unjustly overlooked figure but a portrait of the political left in the Second Reich and a description of German politics during a pivotal period in the history of Europe.

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