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review 2019-03-22 23:16
He's right about Halloween
Remember? Remember? - Charles Beaumont

Described as 'mini obituaries for times gone past', Remember? Remember? by Charles Beaumont was exactly what I wanted it to be: Lots of fun. What I hadn't counted on was the excellent history lesson that I got as a bonus. This book is partly a history of life in America circa the early 20th century (nostalgic reminiscence being the preferred narrative lens) and partly a condemnation of letting this superior past be taken over by the clearly inferior pursuits of the present (1960s). His main concern seems to be that the adults of today's (1960s) generation have ruined the future of their children by doing away with the pleasures of yesteryear. 


Examples of ruination include but are not limited to: 

  • Charlie Chaplin's exile from America after being a prolific entertainer that created art in a time when the world was gray.
  • The spectacle of silent movies taken over by the sterility of 'blockbusters' in cookie cutter movie theaters.
  • Steam trains being replaced by diesel engines which were then supplanted by airplane travel. (Beaumont is all about the romance.)
  • Halloween no longer being a night of mischief but a highly sanitized and supervised few hours of getting candy from pre-approved houses before calling it quits before the sun has even sunk below the horizon.


Conclusion: This was a fun (and surprisingly educational) book which has me looking forward to ferreting out more work of his in the (not too distant) future. 10/10



What's Up Next: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson


What I'm Currently Reading: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen


Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2019-03-20 12:33
An incredibly accessible edition of Caesar's writings
The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works - Gaius Julius Caesar,Kurt A. Raaflaub

Until I purchased this book I had never attempted to read the works of Julius Caesar. And after reading this I'm glad that I waited until now to do so, as I doubt that I would have found them as accessible and comprehensible as Kurt Raaflaub makes them in this translation.


The first step is the essay-length biography that serves as the Introduction to the book. In it, Raaflaub gives readers an overview of Caesar's life that is worth reading even for those already familiar with it, as in it Raaflaub provides a helpful context for the books that follow. These he presents in chronological order, starting with Caesar's Gallic Wars and concluding with the Spanish Wars. As Raaflaub explains, the inclusion of the later books in what is termed the "Corpus Caesarianum" represents something of a fudge, as their authorship is increasingly distant from Caesar, with only a few portions of the Alexandrian War based on Caesar's own drafts and the African War and the Spanish War written entirely by other authors, both of whom were likely officers who served in those campaigns. Yet the value of even the later works as firsthand accounts of Caesar's campaigns is enormous, justifying their inclusion here.


It is Raaflaub's labors with the translation, though, that make this book such a worthwhile read. Unfamiliar as I am with Caesar's writings, I cannot comment on the quality of the translation from the original Latin or how it compares to the English-language translations undertaken by other scholars. For me the value lay in Raaflaub's extensive footnotes and the supplementary materials he provides. The notes help to provides a modern explanation for the various Latin names for the people and places mentioned in the text, while the maps and images provide further context and definition. Best of all, their inclusion within the text, with the notes at the bottom of the pages and the maps next to the relevant passages, saves readers from laboriously paging back and forth through the book for them. Together it makes Raaflaub's edition an incredibly useful edition of Caesar's works, one that makes his classic account of his campaigns accessible to readers today.

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review 2019-03-20 02:09
Women Warriors: An Unexpected History
Women Warriors - Pamela D. Toler

I received this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.


The phrase warrior women evokes many images, most with “boob” armor as a prominent feature however history tells a different story.  Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler covers millennia of historical records and new archaeological discoveries from Shang China to modern day examining the women who went into battle in numerous ways.


Toler covers not only the more famous warriors like Boudica, Joan of Arc, Lakshmi Bai, Hua Mulan, the Trung Sisters, and Tomoe Gozen among others but also spread her reach to lesser known historical figures of prominence as well as “every day” women.  Toler brings to light many reasons why women went to war including adventure, defense of family and home, and surprising cultural as well.  Also examined is how contemporary and modern-day historical accounts of these women use many of the same phrases like “she fought like a man” thus bring to the forefront the seemingly universal gender role that war is to many societies—though not all.  Many of the women that Toler relates in her book, disguise themselves in men’s clothing and several continued using men’s clothing after their military service and one was “crossdressing” before she entered military service.  Finally Toler covered the recent turn in archaeological findings that not all burials that contained weapons were men, but many women and the raging debate on if those women were actual warriors and if those weapons were ceremonial—though if men were buried with jewelry it showed they were rich.


The book’s text covered roughly 210 pages, but many of those pages having a considerable amount of footnotes that were both positive and negative in the overall quality of the book.  Toler does focus on the famous few warriors, but spreads her eye to all parts of the globe and showed the diversity and commonality that all women warriors had.  Her criticism of how women warriors were depicted over the millennia and across cultures showed many of the same trends with relatively few exceptions—China.  However the book is far from perfect and while Toler packed a lot in 210 pages, she kept on repeating the same things over and over again including in her numerous footnotes.  It was one thing to say something critically in a witty and sarcastically way once thus making an impression and making the reader aware to look for future instances of what Toler was criticizing, but to repeatedly make wisecracks over the same criticisms again and again just resulted in them losing their effect and become tiresome.  Unfortunately the many repeated comments and footnotes makes one wonder if Toler had cut them out, if she could not have moved some of the interesting things she put in the footnotes because she “ran out of space” into the actual text if the book wouldn’t have come out better.


The overall Women Warriors: An Unexpected History is a nice primer and introduction to the many women who fought throughout history and the complex history surrounding them.  While Pamela D. Toler does a wonderful job in bringing many women to the spotlight, her repeated phrases—including overdone wittiness—and almost overly expansive footnotes take away from the quality of the book.

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text 2019-03-18 18:46
Reading progress update: I've read 20%.
History of Tom Jones, a Foundling - Henry Fielding

The past few weeks I haven't had much time for reading, but I manage to sneak in a few minutes here and there. I've made it to 20%, and still enjoying this tremendously.


I realized, however, that I'm not really reading it.  I'm listening to Henry Fielding telling the story, reading it aloud as it were to his eager listeners.  I'm not sure whose voice he has -- perhaps Patrick Stewart or John Rhys Davies -- but I hear every word, with all the extra commas for dramatic effect, with all the non-quotations inside quotation marks, as though he started to tell me what she/he said and then actually quoted them.


This is not a book that should be read by anyone learning how to write a novel.  It is definitely a book to read by everyone learning how to tell a story.

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review 2019-03-18 15:44
Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe - Serhii Polkhy

I vaguely remember the Chernobyl disaster.  I remember hearing about it on the news and being scared.  That’s about it.  Plokhy’s history rectifies that.


                The book opens with the Swedish discovery of the disaster and includes a detailed account of the disaster itself.  Not only the events leading up to it but the human cost of those who fought the faire without knowing fully the risk they were taking.  The first tragedy is what happens to the firefighters.


                But the book isn’t just a detailed account of the day of.  Plokhy traces the development of the plant, the conflict between local and Soviet authorities, the impact on literature, and, of course, the lives of those who lived in the immediate zone, who were forced to leave home for what turned out to be forever.


                Chernobyl is now more commonly seen as a place that has gone back to nature, but Plokhy’s book shows us the terrifying reason why that happened.  The story is part politics, part science, part accident, but tragedy for those who lived through it. The fallout also occurs when an intrepid reporter discovers that the resettlements are quite as safe as they should be.


                Plokhy’s description about how the Soviet and international press reported the incident is also very interesting.  Part of the response comes with from a competitive drive with the US and the rest of the West, but also to fit into a larger Soviet narrative.  This is true when it comes to every aspect of the incident and how the government and the people responded to it.


                Ralph Lister’s narration is excellent.

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