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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 2018-07-31 21:51
Abraham's Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity
Abraham's Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity (Question and Answer Format) - Philip G. Samaan

Many Christians have no idea what the religion of Islam actually is and for many who have read the Old Testament, they forget that Islam began among the descendants of Abraham’s other son Ishmael.  Dr. Philip Samaan attempts to give Christians, in particular Seventh-day Adventists, a glimpse of actually Islam and Muslims in Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity.

 

The first two-thirds of the book Samaan focuses primarily on everything related to Islam beginning with Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael in the Biblical record before turning his attention to Muhammad as well as the rise and spread of Islam.  After the historical portion, Samaan then looks at the faith of Islam itself and its similarities and contrasts to Judaism and Christianity.  Then after covering Jesus in Islam, the book turns to focus on Christ for nearly the last third of the book until the last chapter covers how Christians—Seventh-day Adventists—can witness to both Muslims and Jews.

 

Born in Syria into an Orthodox Christian family, Samaan not only grew up amongst all three faiths but has studied them diligently bring extensive knowledge to this book.  However, while Samaan is particular knowledgeable on the subject went to write, it felt that he wrote parts of at least three different books in this roughly 280 page book.  Not that the material cover wasn’t insightful, but when the book ignored Islam for long stretches which felt weird given that it was to be the main topic.  While the book structure was a little surprising, the biggest drawback is the editing of the text which could have been tightened up in several spots and in some places were determinately to the understanding of what Samaan was discussing.

 

Abraham’s Other Son is an informative book on the history of Ishmael and his descendants in Muslims around the world.  While Philip Samaan’s book is not perfect, it is able to give Christians—not only Seventh-day Adventists—a true glimpse at what Islam really is and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.

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review 2016-09-21 20:07
The Gifts of the Jews (Hinges of History #2)
The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels - Thomas Cahill

The moment, or hinge, in history that a changed occurred to allow Western civilization possible is the primary focus of Thomas Cahill’s The Gifts of the Jews.  Over the course of less than 304 pages and the scope of two millennia of Jewish history from its birth with Abraham to their return from exile, Cahill examines the evolving birth of a new worldview that was entirely different from what had been thought before.

 

The focus of Cahill’s book is the beginning of Western civilization, which to him is a change in mindset on how to view the world and the reason was the Jews.  Before getting to Abraham however, Cahill looked to what had come before, the “cyclical” worldview and culture of Sumer in which he went out of.  With this in mind, Cahill emphasizes how big a step Abraham’s journey at God’s direction was.  Then throughout the course of the book, Cahill examines step-by-step the development of the “processive” worldview that the Jews were exhibiting for the first time from successive revelations of God and the development of individuality in language and philosophy, but most importantly the role of justice in society.

 

Cahill’s argument is very compelling, as was his discussions on the Epic of Gilgamesh and the various Biblical individuals and their actions.  Yet the problem I have with this book is with some of Cahill’s interpretation and subsequent logical construction of his evidence whether through scripture or an analysis of non-Biblical sources to weave his thesis.  For example some of the evidence Cahill uses to date the Exodus is erroneous by misinterpretation of both Biblical and non-Biblical sources, yet that is only of several examples I could have given.

 

Yet while Cahill’s interpretations aren’t the best part of this book, his argument that the Jews brought forth a new worldview that would lead to Western civilization is compelling.  Because of that, The Gifts of the Jews is worth a close read as it describes the first and most significant hinge of historical change.

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review 2015-10-13 19:19
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

This is an exceptional story that explores the history of an ancient illuminated manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah. When the novel opened with a scene in 1996 Sarajevo, I wondered if it was going to be a good choice for me, but that was just the beginning of an amazing journey through centuries of struggle, war, and fate that brought this unique book into the hands of modern book restoration specialist Hanna Heath.

 

Heath is the central character, connecting to the others by the evidence she finds in the Haggadah. As she investigates a stain or researches the source of an insect wing, the story of another lifetime is revealed. The travels of the book demonstrate how amazing it is that it still exists while documenting the trials and suffering that humankind has caused each other to suffer.

 

Each person who has contact with the Haggadah is impacted by it and has a part in ensuring its future. People of diverse faiths and backgrounds are eloquently brought together in heartbreaking stories that far too many people lived through. Examples of slavery, inquisition, torture, disinheritance, and, of course, the Holocaust.....one finishes this book wondering how we could keep doing this to one another.

 

Another hit from Brooks. She does not disappoint.

 

I have to mention that I listened to this as an audio book. That was probably not the best format to choose with the multitude of characters, locations, and timelines. However, the narrator did an impressive job of using different accents for the wide variety of nationalities represented. I learned that Americans (I include myself) have the least musical speech patterns in the world. It almost hurt my ears to hear the American characters after the others, including the main character's Australian accent.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-12-23 15:16
Rutu Modan’s The Property (2013): translated by Jessica Cohen
The Property - Rutu Modan,Jessica Cohen

“I know why you came to Warsaw, Regina. You came to tell me that our son is dead.”

 

This statement, made by an old man to a locked hotel door, is one of the most poignant moments from Ruth Modan’s stunning graphic novel, The Property. I’ll tell you the significance of this statement later, but first I need to give you a sense of the tremendous scope and intimacy of this novel. It concerns a grandmother and her granddaughter traveling to Warsaw, ostensibly to go on a “survivor’s tour”—not only to see the infamous concentration camps, but also to revisit old towns and neighborhoods which were once thriving Jewish centers. Secretly, however, the grandmother (Regina) plans to visit a man from her past, a Polish lover with whom she had a son before fleeing to Palestine in the dawn of WWII. This man, interestingly, now lives in the apartment once occupied by her parents, possibly under dubious circumstances. Her granddaugher, Mica, knows nothing of all this, though assumes the purpose of the trip is partially to recover her property (a lawyer wrote the family a letter about it in the 90’s, but the grandmother refused to investigate—until now).

 

Once in Poland, Regina tries to steal away to meet Roman, her forgotten lover, while Mica decides to find the property herself. During her travels she meets Tomasz, a Ukranian artist/tour guide who conducts her through the city and becomes attracted to her—or perhaps her grandmother’s history.   Mica soon learns that Tomasz is sketching a comic of every story and character from Mica’s life, details she finds unbearably private. Rejecting him, she goes off on her own, mistakenly believing that the “property” is actually the current site of the Warsaw Hilton, which will make her family rich. Her search is complicated by the presence of Avram, her aunt’s fiance, who fears that Mica will get her hands on the property first. By dogging her steps throughout every frame of the comic, he learns of the true property and the man who owns it, and bribes him not to speak to Mica or her grandmother. Roman, meanwhile, is slowly piecing things together himself, and realizes that Regina bore him a son in Palestine, a boy he never met, who recently died of cancer. This, and not the property, is what finally prompted her to come to Poland and confront her past.

 

The novel ends with the Polish festival of Zaduski, the so-called day of the dead, where the entire city flocks to cemeteries to light candles and pay respects to the departed. Amidst the light and shadow of the festival (beautifully rendered by Modan’s artwork), Regina and Roman reconcile and share memories, Mica learns to trust Tomasz’s motives, and even Avram learns the truth about the property: that Regina’s parents sold it to Roman before the war to save it from Nazi possession. In the final pages, Mica learns that Roman is her grandfather, and her grandmother’s past wasn’t quite as buried as either of them thought. In short, the book lights its own candle for the past, showing the healing process which often takes decades and is sometimes attempted too late.

Of course, any summary of the story is flawed without appreciation of Modan’s artwork, which is the true voice of the narrative. The colors are light yet crisp, reminiscent of the turn-of-the-century Russian artist Bilibin, who sumptuously illustrated so many Russian fairytales. This gives the characters an almost cartoon-like characterization, which is belied by how realistically they move, express themselves, and interact with each other. According to the back of the book, each character had an “actor,” suggesting that she closely modeled the poses and expressions on real life. This shows in the book, which for all its stylization, gives us a “fly on the wall” approach—one of utter intimacy, almost like a documentary. Also, unlike some graphic novels, for which the setting is a mere hazy outline, place really matters: Warsaw emerges clearly in these pages, giving us a sense of its sights, sounds, and even smells. The cemetery scene, as discussed earlier, is most vividly evoked, as the characters piece together the past surrounded by a halo of red,

orange, and blue lights.

 

The Property is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in some time, and deserves mention with other family narratives such as Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, and Blankets. Check out of my review of her other novel, Exit Wounds, on my comics website: http://grassocomics.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-comic-response-template-modans-exit.html

Source: hblackbeard.blogspot.com
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