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Search tags: German-history
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review 2017-06-03 00:46
While the World is Still Asleep by Petra Durst-Benning
While the World Is Still Asleep - Petra Durst-Benning,Edwin Miles

This book was excruciatingly dull and was only made worse by horrible audio narration. The story takes place in Berlin, but only a few people have thick German accents, while the main characters sound more American than I do. Odd anachronisms and two-dimensional characters didn't help the slow plot along either.

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review 2017-04-27 23:57
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 3 of 3)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III (Modern Library) - Gian Battista Piranesi,Edward Gibbon

The finale volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 49 through 71 of the author’s vast magnum opus.  Beginning with the Iconoclast controversy in correlation with rise of the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century and ending with a description of the causes and progression of the decay of the city of Roman in the 15th century, Gibbon relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments in both Europe and the Middle East ultimately led to the end of Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the state of the city of Roman at time of the Roman Empire’s complete end.

 

The majority of the 22 chapters deal with the rise of Islam and the resultant political and martial effects that would ultimately determine the fate of the Byzantine Empire.  Although beginning with the Iconoclastic controversy that began the schism of the Christian church as the bishop of Rome rose to power in the West, Gibbon used those developments to launch into how Islam rose in Arabia then spread across not only areas once under Roman control but also their long-time Persian rivals in the aftermath of the reconquests of Heraclius.  While detailing the internal struggle within the Caliphate period, Gibbon reveals how Emperors attempted to combat this new faith and military force to increasing little effect has time went on.

 

The thorough retelling of the numerous political changes throughout Asia that affect the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire shifted the focus away from the ‘Roman’ world to locations as far east as China, but revolutions of people in these areas would play into the fortunes of Constantinople.  Also playing into fate of Byzantine was the barbarian Christian West that the Emperors called for aid not only from kings but the Pope as well.  Unfortunately the resulting Crusades and mercenary arms that went East would inflict a mortal wound to the Empire in 1204 thus beginning a centuries long death spiral that only lasted as long as it did because of internal revolutions with the growing Ottoman Empire until 1453.  This dreary recounting of the end of Byzantium is mirrored by Gibbon in his recounting of the history of the city of Rome itself throughout the Middle Ages until the fall of the New Rome in the East.

 

This finale volume of Gibbon’s life consuming work revealed the struggle of the Eastern Empire of Byzantium to continue against a succession of Islamic powers and its ultimate demise thus completing the fall of the Roman Empire.  Yet in retelling the eventual fall of Constantinople, Gibbon paints a huge picture for the reader about how events both near and far away from the Bosporus affected the fortunes for both good and ill of the New Rome.  And in recounting the history of the city of Rome throughout the Middle Ages, a reader sheds a tear with Gibbon about the loss of the monuments of both Republic and Empire due to the necessity or vanity of the people of Rome after for the fall of the Western Empire.

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review 2017-03-01 16:01
How the Third Reich developed their advanced weaponry
German Secret Weapons Of The Second World War: The Missiles, Rockets, Weapons And New Technology Of The Third Reich - Ian V. Hogg

In January 1941 staff officers of the U.S., British, and Canadian militaries met in Washington D,C.. Though the United States was still a year from declaring war, planning was already underway in anticipation of that prospect, and the decisions they reached shaped much of the war that followed. Among the most important of these was that Germany was the primary opponent in any war involving the Axis powers. Though there were several excellent reasons for this, one of them was that the Germans possessed the greatest capacity for developing weapons which might radically transform the war, and thus needed to be defeated before they did.

 

Ian Hogg's book offers evidence of the wisdom of this decision. In it he provides an overview of the major weapons research bring undertaken by the Third Reich before and during the war. Diving his examination into categories, he summarizes the major projects to design new aircraft and air-launched weapons, air defense weapons, naval weapons, and the Wunderwaffen and nuclear and chemical weapons programs. His focus throughout is on their development, providing technical details and accounts of the decisions whether to undertake or abandon them and avoiding more than a brief mention of their deployment in the cases where the weapons were introduced. As befits a former artilleryman in the Royal Army, his section discussing the "big guns" is the best, but he provides interesting details throughout about the technical and bureaucratic challenges that slowed or stopped the development of weapons that might have changed the course of the war. The result is a work that is an excellent introduction to Germany's secret weapons programs, one best suited for the reader familiar with military technology but an informative read for anyone interested in an overview of the subject.

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review 2016-07-15 16:02
Podcast #11 is up!
Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth - John B. Freed

My eleventh podcast has been posted on the New Books Network website! In it I interview John Freed about his new biography of the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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review 2016-07-14 09:04
The life and afterlife of a legendary German monarch
Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth - John B. Freed

The German emperor Frederick Barbarossa is often ranked with the English king Henry II as one of the two great monarchs of 12th century Europe. Yet unlike his English counterpart, who has been the subject of numerous academic studies and popular works, the number of English-language biographies that have been written about Frederick have been surprisingly few. John Freed fills the void with this massive new study, a detailed look at Frederick's life based upon the available sources that seeks to address not just Frederick's long reign but how he emerged posthumously as a symbol of German nationalism.

 

Though born a member of the Staufen dynasty, Freed argues that Frederick's illiteracy indicates that his assumption of the imperial throne was unexpected, Though unprepared for such a role, Frederick assumed it upon the death in 1152 of his uncle Conrad III. The position he assumed was weak, with the main source of wealth being the communes of northern Italy. During the first two decades of his reign Frederick spent many years engaged in a series of campaigns designed to bring the recalcitrant communes to heel, only for his hopes to be dashed with his defeat at the battle of Legnano in 1174. Yet the failed efforts brought with them a silver lining, as the death of so many German nobles in his campaigns brought Frederick an opportunity to expand his power base in Germany, which he did with a measure of success. Dying while on the Third Crusade in 1190, Freed sees his demise abroad as key to his historical image, as Frederick was transformed in the centuries that followed into a legendary "sleeping hero" whose reemergence tied to the idea of a unified Germany.

 

Freed's book offers a thorough account of Frederick's life, one that is likely to serve as the standard biography of the emperor for years to come. Yet it suffers from two flaws that keep it from being the definitive study Frederick deserves. The first is a lack of context, for while Freed devotes considerable space to describing the dynastic issues surrounding Frederick's rise he treats the reader's knowledge of the 12th century German polity as assumed, which is a serious mistake given the complexity of the subject. The second issue is more compositional, as Freed's text can often be a dense thicket of names into which the reader must wade to learn about the subject. For those who do, however, they are likely to be rewarded with a deeper understanding of a complicated monarch and his influential but misleading iconography.

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