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review 2018-07-15 17:45
The First World War from a different perspective
Pandora’s Box A History of the First World War - Jörn Leonhard,Patrick Camiller

For the English-language reader today there is no shortage of histories surveying the First World War. Thanks to the centenary, several new volumes have been added to the fine books written over the years, giving readers a choice of works ranging from those of contemporary authors such as Winston Churchill, C.R.M.F. Cruttwell, and Basil Liddell-Hart to more modern studies by historians such as John Keegan, Hew Strachan, David Stevenson, and G. J. Meyer. Yet even when these authors have pursued a balanced approach and incorporated available German-language sources into their account, they usually have an inherent British or Allied focus resulting from a combination of factors.

 

This is just one reason why Jörn Leonhard's book stands out as a history of the conflict. Originally published in German in 2014, its translation into English offers readers of the language a survey of the war from an historian coming from a perspective rooted in a different set of sources and influences than those of his British and American counterparts. Yet this is just one of the many distinguishing characteristics of his fine work, which offers what is easily the most comprehensive single-volume history of the war yet written. Within its pages he offers an account that begins with an examination of the factors that lead to the war and ends with its postwar legacy. Along the way he discusses the war in all of its myriad aspects, from the politics and economics of the conflict to its effects on society and culture. No front is left unexamined, and all of it is integrated into a narrative that moves with considerable fluidity from topic to topic.

The result is a work that is massive in scope yet one that offers an insightful account of the war that defined the 20th century. There is little that escapes his coverage, which is informed throughout by a perspective that will be fresh for many English-language readers of the war. It makes for a book that has set the new standard by which histories of the First World War are judged, and one likely to remain the standard for some time to come.

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review 2018-07-12 06:52
Mortal Republic by Edward J. Watts
Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny - Edward Watts

TITLE:  Mortal Republic:  How Rome Fell Into Tyranny

 

AUTHOR:  Edward J. Watts

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  6 November 2018

 

FORMAT:  ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-465-09381-6

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NOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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Book Description:

"A new history of the Roman Republic and its collapse.

In Mortal Republic, prizewinning historian Edward J. Watts offers a new history of the fall of the Roman Republic that explains why Rome exchanged freedom for autocracy. For centuries, even as Rome grew into the Mediterranean's premier military and political power, its governing institutions, parliamentary rules, and political customs successfully fostered negotiation and compromise. By the 130s BC, however, Rome's leaders increasingly used these same tools to cynically pursue individual gain and obstruct their opponents. As the center decayed and dysfunction grew, arguments between politicians gave way to political violence in the streets. The stage was set for destructive civil wars--and ultimately the imperial reign of Augustus.

The death of Rome's Republic was not inevitable. In Mortal Republic, Watts shows it died because it was allowed to, from thousands of small wounds inflicted by Romans who assumed that it would last forever.
"

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I usually battle to enjoy history books that deal with the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire - they are just too confusing and boring.  THIS book is different.  I actually enjoyed reading it.  The writing is clear and accessible, the subject straightforward, and the relevance of that subject to the current political climate highlighted.  

Mortal Republic covers the Roman Republic period between 280 BC and 27 BC, when the Roman Senate formally granted Octavian overarching power and the new title Augustus, effectively marking the end of the Roman Republic.  This book is not a biography of any particular set of Romans nor is it exclusively a military history.  It does however successfully weave together politics, military, social and biographical details, along with the how and why events occurred and what this meant for the Repbulic in the long term.  
 
In addition to a general history of the Roman Republic, Watts attempts to understand the current political realities of our world by studying what went wrong in the ancient Roman Republic, upon which many modern republics are based.  The author makes evident that serious problems arise from both politicians who disrupt a republic's political norms, and from the citizens who choose not to punish them for doing so.  In the end, Romans came to believe that liberty - political stability and freedom from domestic violence and foreign interference - could only exist in a political entity controlled by one man.  This book explores why one of the longest-existing republics traded the liberty of political autonomy for the security of autocracy.  

I found this book to be enjoyable, well-written and providing a new perspective on an old topic.

 

 

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url 2018-07-06 15:31
Podcast #109 is up!
World War II at Sea: A Global History - Craig L. Symonds

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Craig L. Symonds about his sweeping naval history of the Second World War. Enjoy!

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review 2018-06-10 13:06
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

This book. It's been such a disappointment: Not only is the title an exercise in how to cram several misrepresentations in less than ten words, but the writing style left me rather unimpressed, too. 

 

There is little that is new about the history contained in the book. It certainly is not a history of the world (Europe, perhaps, but the focus on the power struggles between Christianity and Islam, and later on the West v. the East, and the US against Iraq/Iran/Afghanistan does not make this a book about the history of world). It is even less a book about the Silk Roads.

 

If you picked this up in the hope of learning about the trade routes and the people who live or travel along them, you've picked the wrong book. 

 

Sure there were a few interesting snippets of history in this, but the authors choice of not going into a lot of detail and preferring to follow up events with other events without providing a lot of deliberations about the possible connections or effects, does not make for inspiring reading. Unless, that is, we are talking about the inspiration to look for other books.

 

Maybe the premise of the book was a little too ambitious? Maybe some editor should have pointed out some of the gaps ... or at least that the title does not reflect the content of the book?

 

Whatever the cause of its failings, I was hoping for a thoughtful insight into the history of the Silk Roads, but all I got from the books was what read like the work of a self-congratulatory academic who couldn't make up his mind what to write about and looked at history mostly through Union-Jack-striped goggles.

 

Previous Reading Updates:

 

Reading progress update: I've read 201 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 159 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 90 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 62 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 26 out of 636 pages.

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text 2018-06-09 21:24
Reading progress update: I've read 201 out of 636 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

"Merchants could be found crossing the South China Sea in ever greater numbers, establishing trading posts in Sumatra, on the Malay peninsula and above all on the Malabar coast of southern India, home to the world's great supply of pepper - long established as a favoured commodity in China as well as in Europe and elsewhere in Asia. By the middle of the fourteenth century, so many ships were sailing to towns like Calicut that some observers commented that all maritime transport and travel in this part of the Indian subcontinent was being undertaken in Chinese boats. An example of their typical flat-bottomed design has been recently identified wrecked off the coast of Kerala.

The lubricant in this long-distance trade was silver, which took on the form of a single currency across Eurasia. One reason for this was the innovation of financial credit in China that had been introduced before Genghis Khan's time, including the introduction of bills of exchange and the use of paper money. Adopted and improved by the Mongols, the effect was the liberation of enormous amounts of silver into the monetary system as new forms of credit caught on. The availability of the precious metal suddenly soared - causing a major correction in its value against gold. In parts of Europe, the value of silver plunged, losing more than half its value between 1250 and 1338. In London alone, the surge in silver supply allowed the royal mint to more than quadruple output between 1278 and 1279 alone.

Production rose sharply in Asia too. In the steppes, too, coin production took off as rulers of the Golden Horde began to strike coins in large quantities. New regions were stimulated too. Japan, which had relied heavily on barter or on payments in products such as rice as an exchange mechanism, shifted to a monetary economy and became increasingly active in long-distance trade."

 

And this is all that Frankopan has to say about the revolutionary introduction of a monetary system. Seriously, those three paragraphs are all there is.

 

He spends the next five or so pages on the effects of the Black Death on Europe. While I agree that this was a huge event changing everything, the effects of the plague in Europe are not what I look for in a book supposedly about the Silk Roads.

 

But who am I kidding...this book is all over the place.

 

Btw, guess what the next chapter is about?

 

Yup, Columbus and the exploration of the Americas.

 

This is where I am going to abandon ship. I'll skim/skip-read to end but that is it.

 

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