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review 2018-08-12 18:08
When the Southwest was the far north
The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico - David J. Weber

Before the American Southwest was the American Southwest it was the northern frontier of Mexico, representing a third of the territory of the country after its leaders declared their independence from Span in 1821. What the region was like in the quarter century between its possession by Spain and its conquest by the United States is the subject of David J. Weber's book. It's a comprehensive work that begins by examining how the news of Augustin de Iturbide's declaration of independence was received in the region and concludes with the outbreak of the war that would lead to the U.S.'s annexation of the territory.

 

While Weber's text surveys the span of human activity in the territory, two themes emerge over the course of his text. The first is the sense of isolation for the Hispanic residents of the region. Independence was a fait accompli for them, one in which they had no say. In many ways little changed with the news, as the region went from being the sparsely settled northern region of Spain's empire in the Americans to the sparsely settled northern lands of the United States of Mexico. Many of the key issues and developments that defined the area during the last decades of Spanish control continued, with the Mexicans dealing with economic change and relations the Indians just as they had before. While independence meant shifts in the dynamics involved, these were concerns that engaged locals no matter who was in charge,

 

What changed most with Mexican independence was its relations with the United States. This emerges as the second theme of the book: the growing drift of the region into the U.S. orbit. Independence from Spain meant an end to the mercantilist policies restricting trade with the United States, just as the presence of Americans on the frontier was growing. American merchants and trappers eagerly entered the region in search of economic opportunities, establishing a visible presence for the U.S. while economically orienting the region to the northeast. Close behind them were American settlers, whose presence in Texas in particular disrupted the dynamics of the region. Mexican authorities were conflicted about this presence, welcoming the economic benefits brought by trade and the stabilizing effects of non-Indian settlement while increasingly wary of what would follow from the growing American interest in the region. Their concerns would be validated with the outbreak of war in 1846, as the American presence served as the wedge for annexation two years later.

 

Weber makes plain the factors that led to the region's takeover by the United States, yet this is only one of his book's many strengths. For while Weber details the growing interest in the region by many Americans it also tells the story of the residents themselves and the lives they led. His chapters highlight the many challenges they faced, from their limited resources to the indifference with which they were often treated by Mexican institutions and the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Such coverage illustrates the challenges of life on the frontier in the early 19th century while underscoring how annexation came about. In all it makes Weber's book essential reading for anyone interested in the region, as he fills in the valuable details of what proved a critical period of transition in its history.

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review 2018-08-12 15:54
On Sale Today (Kiindle US)
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa - Adam Hochschild

A very disturbing book that puts light on colonialism. Hochschild writers very well; at no point is the book boring nor does it read like a list. Hochschild is also even handed. He doesn't whitewash - good guys have flaws, and he mentions them. Hochschild does make the reader think about how the West sees Africa not only during the colonial period but even today. It is a book everyone in Europe and the United States should read. What I really enjoyed was the fact that Hochschild doesn't just focus on Leopold but on reactions to Leopold. Hochschild shows us what Europeans, Americans, and Africans did to combat Leopold. I enjoyed the unearthing of previously little known heros like Sheppard. I will not ever be able to look at the Stanley and Livingston story the same way ever again. 


It also makes you look at how such myths still survive. Look at History Channel's Expedition Africa, for instance. On that show, one Brit and three Americans followed Stanley's journey, but do their porters get any credit? Not really. I'm suppose to be impressed by the four "explorers". I'm suppose to think one of them is da bomb because he had to eat his dog on one of his expeditions. Why does this make him "da bomb"? (As a totally inappropriate aside, what is it with Brits and tampons? They can't just say tampon; they have to say woman's tampon. Is there a man's tampon, and if so what does it do? And why does woman's tampon sound dirtier than just tampon?). The myths that the History Channel (or the producers) play on are addressed in this book.

King Leopold's Ghost should also be read with Heart of Darkness because Hochschild shows how Conrad responded to what he saw.

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review 2018-08-10 05:15
The Golden Thread by Ewan Clayton
The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing - Ewan Clayton

TITLE:  The Golden Thread:  The Story of Writing

 

AUTHOR:  Ewan Clayton

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9781848873636

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Blurb:

"The Golden Thread is an enthralling and accessible history of the cultural miracle that is the written word.  It is an invention that has been used to share ideas in every field of human endeavour, and a motor of cultural, scientific and political progress.  From the simple representative shapes used to record transactions of goods and animals in ancient Egypt, tothe sophisticated typographical resources available to the twenty-first-century computer user, the story of writing is the story of human civilization itself."

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This book is a history of the evolution f western writing, everything from the development of the Roman alphabet from Ancient Mediterranean cultures, the development of different writing styles, the use of different writing implements from reeds to quilles to steel nibbed pens, and the use of different mediums to write on from marble blocks and papyrus to paper and computers.  The book includes many other interesting tidbits such as the increase in literacy, the development of the book, record keeping, increased use of writing in corporations, the development of the post-office, the printing press, the novel, graffiti and the computer.  While the book was interesting and informative, I found the writing style to be somewhat pedantic. 

 

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review 2018-08-09 15:59
The Earth by Richard Fortey
The Earth: An Intimate History - Richard Fortey

TITLE:  The Earth:  An Intimate History

 

AUTHOR:  Richard Fortey

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2005

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-00-655137-9

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Blurb:

"This is the life story of our planet - told by one of our most brilliant science writers.  With Richard Fortey as our guide we not only travel back through geological time to discover the planet's spectacular past, but also climb the Alps, wallow in Icelandic hot springs and walk through the luch ecosystems of Hawaii.  On the way we discover the awesome truth about the world we inhabit - from Los Angeles life to statues of the Buddha; from the slow crawl of stained glass to the history of the dollar."

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This book is an informative but rather rambling mix of geology and travel writing.  The book revolves around the various facets of plate tectonics, how each piece  of the theory was puzzled out and how those pieces fit together to give us the Earth we have today.   Fortey uses examples from all over the world to illustrate the various geological processes. Everything from fault lines, development of mountain ranges and oceans, subduction zones, volcanoes, earthquakessupercontinents, the Earth's interior, mining, minerals and gems, as well as a bit of ecology are covered.  Fortey also emphasizes how the geology and geomorphology of a specific area has shaped ethinic culture and human experiences.  The author is enthusiastic about his subject.  The wirting is poetic and colourful, often dramatic, though sometimes a bit long-winded.  The book contains photographs but is in desperate need of illustrations and diagrams of the various processes discussed.  An interesting book for the intelligent layreader, who isn't afraid of a few technical terms.

 

 

 

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review 2018-08-09 02:58
Cairo In The War 1939 1945 - Artemis Cooper
Presents a side of the Second World War seldom written about, as seen from the vantage point of a colorful Middle Eastern city caught up in the conflict by virtue of being in a country that was a de facto British protectorate, parts of which came under Axis control between 1940 and 1942.
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