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review 2017-08-21 09:50
Barbarians to Angels by Peter S. Wells
Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered - Peter S. Wells

TITLE:  Barbarians to Angels:  The Dark Ages Reconsidered


AUTHOR:  Peter S. Wells




FORMAT: e-book


ISBN:  9780393069372




In Barbarians to Angels, Wells discusses his basic thesis that the “Dark Ages” weren’t quite so dark. That the barbarians “invading” the Roman Empire, adapted,  integrated and modified the Roman government institutions, but also retained a great deal of their own complex culture and institutions after the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Wells decides to focus his attention on the examination of archaeological materials to construct a picture of barbarian society in northern Europe.


In my opinion, Wells’ argument may well be correct, but he doesn’t convey this adequately (in this book) due to poor argumentation and the questionable interpretation and use of evidence.  The author continually states that the Dark Ages were a time of brilliant cultural activity, but fails to show this.  He keeps going back to the archaeological evidence and ignores any other type of evidence.  While Wells describes the archaeological features in detail, he fails to place these objects in a wider context or compare them with similar findings in the rest of Europe.  Wells’ also tends to focus on sites on the edge of the Roman Empire or even beyond its borders.  There is rarely any discussion of sites within what once was the Western Roman Empire.  There is also a lack of information of how his findings compare to what was happening in the area before the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  The author does present some interesting information about the evidence for trade and culture and wealth that refutes the common misconception of savage barbarians plundering cities, ravished populations and empty landscapes.  But he doesn’t provide enough information to compare economic complexity during the Roman period and the post-Roman period.  For example, Wells demonstrates that Dark Age Europeans were capable of creating sophisticated goods and distributing them, but the why, how, and its relation to the earlier Roman period is not explained.


In general, this book is rather basic and bland and may well be intended as an introduction to the early Middle Ages or as a limited survey to the subject.  The writing style is easy to read with many photographs and maps, however, the argument is weak and unsatisfactory.




~Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages by Frances Gies, Joseph Gies


~Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather


~The Celts by Alice Roberts


~A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The Beginnings of the English Nation by Geoffrey Hindley


~Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History by Terry Jones, Alan Ereira


~The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 by Chris Wickham


~Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 by Chris Wickham


~The World of Late Antiquity 150-750 by Peter R.L. Brown


~Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World by Patrick J. Geary


~In Search of the Dark Ages by Michael Wood


~The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph & Diversity 200–1000 by Peter R.L. Brown







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text 2017-08-20 15:20
Reading progress update: I've read 195 out of 346 pages.
Life and Letters of Charles Darwin - Volume 1: By Charles Darwin - Illustrated - Charles Darwin

The aforementioned "social darwinist" laments primogeniture because it prevents farmers buying the land they tend...

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review 2017-08-19 21:36
Lady Mechanika - Vol. 1
Lady Mechanika, Volume 1: The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse - Joe Benitez

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Set in an alternate Victorian (circa 1879) England, this comics deals with Lady Mechanika, a private investigator/adventuress whose limbs are actually mechanical, and who’d like nothing more than to find out who made her like that and where she comes from; all the while being pitted against the sinister Blackpool Armaments Co. and both its shady employer and soldiers. In this arc, Mechanika investigates the death of a mysterious young woman with mechanical arms similar to her own, only to realise that a lot more players are involved, including Commander Winter and a circus full of characters each with their own secrets.

The drawing style itself is, in general, well-balanced and elegant, and the colours match the mood of the various panels and situations. It’s probably a little overkill on the steampunk aesthetics (in that at some point, there’s going to be a lot of leather and corsets and goggles on top hats etc.), so depending on one’s mood about that, it may not be a selling point. On the other hand, there’s a lot of attention to details, which makes it a joy to look for those in panels, and even if they’re of the, well, aesthetic persuasion in spite of usefulness, there’s plenty to keep your eyes busy. (I usually tends to like steampunk aesthetics, so count me in the second category, even though I tend to criticise lightly. ^^)

Not bonus points on the boobs, though, and some of the extreme ‘female body poses’ that I see in a lot of comics. Eye candy and all that, I get it. It’s just... it detracts from the overall badassness of the characters. (And large boobs are seriously not convenient, especially since they easily hurt during stunts. Whatever.)

The characters as a lot were likeable enough: from Mechanika herself, with her doubts but also her resourcefulness and her desire to do what’s right, to Lewis the inventor whose bottle problems hint at dark events in his past. And the little Alexandra, with her gimmick ‘you’re an impostor’atttitude, which made her quibs with Mechanika quite funny—apparently some authors in the comics write stories about M, and the kid thinks these are the truth. There seems to be a current of underlying relationships that beg to be developed in later issues, creating a sense of an over-plot that will be gradually revealed (which I sure hope will happen in later issues because if it doesn’t, I’ll be disappointed). So far I’m not too happy with the two enemy women apparently becoming enemies because of a man (as it’s a pretty boring reason), but it may still turn out to be something slightly different, so we’ll see. I could do with a little less wordiness, though—it doesn’t fare too well in some panels, making pages difficult to focus on—yet I’m also torn about that because some of that dialogue was of the banter kind, and I think this fits well with Victorian/steampunk themes in general.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars, going on 4.Quite an enjoyable comics in spite of the (typical?) eye-candy. I still liked the artwork and additional covers no matter what, as well as the story and its slight cliffhanger/ominous tones at the end.

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review 2017-08-19 18:23
The Founding Sausage-Makers
The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution - Michael J. Klarman

The drafting and ratification of the Constitution of the United States is one of the most heavily mythologized parts of American history. For many people, what happened in Philadelphia was nothing less than a divinely-inspired blueprint for a national government, with the wise men who created it lionized as the "Founding Fathers" with all of the majesty implied by the use of the capital letters. Though this image has not gone unchallenged, it's endurance reflects its patriotic usefulness, an example of the national exceptionalism of which Americans are so proud.


Michael Klarman's book offers a very different view of the creation of our nation's governing document. Drawing upon a vast range of contemporary writings, he argues that the creation of the Constitution was driven by fears for the effects of democracy on economic policy. The key concern was debt. During the American Revolution the states and the Continental Congress had accumulated an enormous amount of debt in their fight against the British. Though the United States had won the war, in its aftermath the country was plunged into a severe economic depression that exacerbated the economic problems of thousands of Americans. Pressured by high taxes to service the debts, voters in several states elected officials who pursued a variety of measures designed to ease tax burdens and make debts easier to pay off, many of which threatened to destabilize national unity.


It was concerns over this which Klarman sees as driving the push for a new national governing structure. As he explains, the government provided in the Articles of Confederation lacked authority to address the problem, and was itself virtually prostrate from the burden of debts and the lack of any reliable means of paying them off. For many of the people behind the push for a stronger national government, the heart of the problem lay with the disproportionate power possessed by the smaller states, which enjoyed equal representation in the Confederation Congress. It was this problem which James Madison's Virginia Plan sought to address by creating a new legislature with power residing in a lower house with representation apportioned by population. His efforts to bully the delegates from the smaller states failed, though, and after a compromise was reached establishing an upper legislative house that maintained the principal of equal state representation, the desire of Madison and his allies to empower the embryonic government waned considerably. It was a fortuitous failure, though because such were the concerns of many people about the final document that even with all of the advantages the Constituion's advocates possessed, ratification was a close-run thing, with the support of the smaller states (who never would have gone along with a structure that would have diminished their representation to the degree Madison proposed) decisive to its success.


Deeply researched and clearly argued, Klarman's book is a masterpiece of historical writing. While his argument echoes the one famously advanced by Charles Beard in his Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Klarman makes a more convincing case by nuancing his arguments in ways that acknowledges the complex range of factors involved. Contingency is at the heart of his tale, as he shows the interplay of arguments and how decisions played off of each other in ways that determined the outcome. It makes for an origin story for the Constitution that is more akin to the grimy details of sausage making than the high-minded debates of demigods, but it is one that is truer to the reality of politics than we would like to admit. For that reason alone it is essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the history of our country;s founding or how our national government came to be what it is today.

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text 2017-08-19 11:44
Reading progress update: I've read 190 out of 346 pages.
Life and Letters of Charles Darwin - Volume 1: By Charles Darwin - Illustrated - Charles Darwin

I recently saw Darwin dismissed as "a racist and social darwinist." I'm not entirely sure how that squares with  his oft expressed views in opposition to slavery - views that were not popular with many of his correspondents and colleagues, including Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle, with whom Darwin had a fierce argument on the subject.

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