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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 2016-04-11 18:05
The first of a triptych but not the full story
Tobias (The Triptych Chronicle) by Prue Batten (2015-12-01) - Prue Batten

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I was fascinated by the description and the concept behind this historical novel. A story of spies, trade, politics, brotherly love, prejudice, song and art, set up in the era of knights, noble houses, the Crusades and Byzantium, the book had story, adventure and interesting characters (including the protagonists, achondroplasic twin brothers, Tobias and Tomasso, dwarves who are not only minstrels and accomplished musicians, but can fight with the best and are spies too).

Although there is plenty to recommend this story (beautiful writing, incredible description of settings, power relations, ships, trade routes, and even social and religious customs), my difficulty with it was that I felt I caught the story half-way through after lots of it had already happened. Not having read the previous series the author has dedicated to the noble house of Gisborne, the constant references to facts and adventures that had happened before made me feel as if was missing a big chunk of the action (although this is book one, and that could cause confusion to some readers).  

The story is told in the third person but from Tobias’s point of view and I had some difficulty with the amount of telling that required at times, as due to their small stature and the need to be discreet because of the risks involved in the business at hand (the trading in an illegal and very valuable purple dye, that has come to embody power and everybody wants), the brothers are in hiding often and others have to tell them what happened. I felt the style of these fragments was not different enough from the rest of the book as to clearly indicate another speaker, rather than something once again seen from Tobias’s point of view.

I also felt I needed further information to fully empathise with the main character and his hesitation, ambivalence, difficulty making decisions, and his strained relationship with his brother (whom I found the more interesting of the two, perhaps because more morally ambivalent, with several shades of grey). Not knowing how Tomas had changed, or what their relationship had been like before, other than in a brief flashback to their time in Paris, didn’t help me fully understand why he found him so difficult now. By contrast, I thought some of the secondary characters like the captain of the ship, who is always handy to save Toby, and the doctor, were fascinating and well deserving of their own books (perhaps that’s already planned).

A solid book about a fascinating topic, with historical detail of the period beautifully rendered, that I feel it will be enjoyed more by readers already familiar with the characters and their backgrounds.  

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text 2016-03-01 20:56
2016 Reading Challenge- End of February Update
Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19) - Terry Pratchett
A Storm of Swords - George R.R. Martin
The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders - Forrest Church
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes - Jon Rothschild,Amin Maalouf
Frankenstein - Karen Karbiener
Well overall 9 books through the first 60 days of 2016, 7 of which are on the list of 40 books I want to finish by December 31.  During my re-read of A Storm of Swords, I realized that when I made my "master" list of 122 that I forgot that I had planned to re-read A Feast for Crows (#22) & A Dance of Dragons (#38) at the same time based on a Combined Reading Order from Sean T. Collins.  So instead of rearranging my list I'm giving you a heads up that I'll be reading both at the same time.
1) Revolutionary Heart by Diane Eickoff
2) The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
-> The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin
3) A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich
4) Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
5) A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin- REREAD
-> The Separation of Church and State edited by Forrest Church
6) The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf
7) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
8) Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
9) Nixonland by Rick Perlstein- REREAD
10) The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein
11) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
12) Jingo by Terry Pratchett
13) The Sworn Sword: A Graphic Novel by George R.R. Martin, Mike S. Miller, & Ben Avery
14) Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King edited by Robert Silverberg- REREAD of The Sworn Sword
15) Marlborough: His Life and Times I by Winston Churchill
16) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
17) The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett
18) How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill- REREAD
19) Marlborough: His Life and Times II by Winston Churchill
20) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
21) Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
22) A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin- REREAD
23) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
24) Mockingjay (THG #3) by Suzanne Collins
25) The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
26) The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill- REREAD
27) Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
28) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
29) The Truth by Terry Pratchett
30) Warriors I edited by George R.R. Martin- REREAD of The Mystery Knight
31) The Black Count by Tom Reiss
32) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
33) Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
34) Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill- REREAD
35) The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 by Edward Gibbon
36) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavendra
37) The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett
38) A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin- REREAD
39) The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2 by Edward Gibbon
40) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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review 2016-02-26 00:54
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes - Jon Rothschild,Amin Maalouf

A Very Readable Narrative Overview


For those in the West, the Crusades were a series of military expeditions that Western Christians launch against Muslims to reclaim the Holy Land, however for the Arabs and the rest of the Muslim world, the Crusades were a shocking event.  “The Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a narrative history by Amin Maalouf to give Westerners a glimpse of how the Muslim world in general saw the Crusades as they were happening over two hundred year span.


Maalouf starts his narrative in Anatolia with the beginning of the First Crusade from the perspective of the Seljuk Turk Kilij Arslan defending his kingdom against his neighbors then against what he believed to be “Franj” troops fighting for the Byzantine Empire.  However as the Turk sultan was to learn as well as others, these Franj had different plans.  Maalouf’s follows the progress of the First Crusade and the subsequent 200 years through the historical writings of Muslim chroniclers and how the Muslim world reacted throughout that period.  The vast majority of the book is the history of the Muslim political and religious currents that interacted and reacted with the Franj, who were themselves divided into permanent residents and military adventurers that came and went.


In the Epilogue besides looking at the long-term effects of the Crusaders on the Middle East, Maalouf highlights something that readers will noticed quickly and what I have already alluded to in this review.  While the chroniclers were Arabs, the political and military leadership throughout the Crusader era were Turks or Kurds.  During the roughly 200 years that the Crusades took place, the native Arabs watched and experienced the forces of two “foreigners” ruling over them which is a very impactful thought to keep in mind while reading this book.


I first read sections of “The Crusades through Arab Eyes” in 2003 for a Middle East history class.  Having now read it in full, I can say that seeing it without the Western romantic veneer or viewpoint brings the period into better focus.  While not in-depth as some other books might be, this book gives the reader an easy to follow narrative overview of The Crusades “from the other side”.

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review 2016-01-25 18:55
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land - Thomas Asbridge


BBC FOUR: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01b3ftw

Description: Dr Thomas Asbridge presents a revelatory account of the Crusades, the 200-year war between Christians and Muslims for control of the Holy Land.

The story of the Crusades is remembered as a tale of religious fanaticism and unspeakable violence, but now fresh research, eyewitness testimony and contemporary evidence from both the Christian and Islamic worlds shed new light on how these two great religions waged war in the name of God.

Episode one: HOLY WAR: traces the epic journey of the first crusaders as they marched 3,000 miles from Europe to recapture the city of Jerusalem from Islam, enduring starvation, disease and bloodthirsty battle to reach their sacred goal, and then unleashed an appalling tide of barbaric violence upon their Muslim enemies. Yet far from being the invincible holy warriors of legend, Dr Asbridge reveals that these crusaders actually considered surrender in the midst of their titanic expedition.

Episode two: CLASH OF THE TITANS: Dr Thomas Asbridge offers a piercing examination of the Third Crusade and the two renowned figures who have come to embody Crusader war: Richard the Lionheart, king of England, and the mighty Muslim sultan Saladin, unifier of Islam. Drawing on fascinating eyewitness accounts and contemporary records, Dr Asbridge constructs an insightful and nuanced picture of these men and their fiercely fought struggle for the Holy Land.

Almost perfectly matched as adversaries, these two titans of holy war clashed during a year-long campaign that raged across Palestine. Both were willing to commit appalling atrocities in pursuit of victory. Each brought the full force of his military genius, guile and cunning to bear, all in pursuit of the ultimate prize: Jerusalem. Dr Asbridge reveals how this shattering conflict brought Saladin and Richard to their knees, even as it served to forge their legends.
Watch here

Episode 3: VICTORY AND DEFEAT: In the concluding episode of the series, Dr Thomas Asbridge reveals that the outcome of these epic holy wars was decided not on the hallowed ground of Jerusalem, but in Egypt. As trade blossomed between Christians and Muslims and the Mongol hordes arrived from Asia, a saintly French king - afire with crusading zeal - and the most remarkable Muslim leader of the Middle Ages fought for ultimate victory in the East.

Drawing upon eyewitness chronicles and the latest archaeological evidence, Dr Asbridge argues that it was a fearsome slave-warrior from the Russian Steppes - now forgotten in the West - who finally sealed the fate of the crusades. And, most controversially of all, Asbridge challenges the popular misconception that the medieval crusades sparked a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West that continues to this day.
Watch here

The statue of Sultan Saladin in Kerak, Jordan

It is good to remember that forces swept out of Arabia into Palestine and these following crusades were to regain Jerusalem for Christianity. I reference the erudite A History of Palestine 634-1099. There is no accounting for the savagery committed by both sides in the name of God, yet the siege of Acre surely takes the biscuit. Shame on both your houses, then and now.

The content here is thorough, scholarly and truly well researched, however Asbridge is not a presenter I enjoy watching, he would have been better putting his hands in his pockets or held them behind his back. I know, that is purely subjective.
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