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review 2018-04-14 14:29
MICHELANGELO by William E Wallace
Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times - William E. Wallace

TITLE:  Michelangelo:  The Artist, The Man, and His Times

 

AUTHOR:  William E. Wallace

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2011

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-107-67369-4

____________________________________________

 

From the blurb:

"Michelangelo is universally recognized to be one of the greatest artists of all time. In this vividly written biography, William E. Wallace offers a substantially new view of the artist. Not only a supremely gifted sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo was also an aristocrat who firmly believed in the ancient and noble origins of his family. The belief in his patrician status fueled his lifelong ambition to improve his family's financial situation and to raise the social standing of artists. Michelangelo's ambitions are evident in his writing, dress, and comportment, as well as in his ability to befriend, influence, and occasionally say "no" to popes, kings, and princes. Written from the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, this biography not only tells his own stories but also brings to life the culture and society of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Not since Irving Stone's novel The Agony and the Ecstasy has there been such a compelling and human portrayal of this remarkable yet credible human individual."

 

In this informative and fast paced biography of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.  We learn about his life, his family, his relationships with other artists and patrons, his friends, some of the politics occuring in Rome and Florence during his lifetime, and something of his projects and poetry. Wallace has reserarched his subject extensively and makes use of (and quotes) many of Michelangelo's personal letters.  However, Wallace doesn't not elaborate on any methods or techniques Michelangelo made use of during his many projects.  I would also have liked more detail on how Michelangelo dealt with all his commissions, assistants and actualy physicaly work.

 

The book includes 10 colour photographs of Michelangelo's works, but it would have been more helpful if the author had included photos of all the works discussed in the book so the reader could see what he was talking about.  The book also includes a list of all the popes during Michelangelo's lifetime, as well as a "cast of principle characters" which is useful since a great many people have the same first name.

 

This biography is accessible, informative and makes a good introduction to the subject.

 

OTHER BOOKS

 

-Brunelleschi's Dome:  How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

 

-Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King

 

 

 

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review 2018-03-28 04:00
Part one of a superb survey of early modern Ireland
Contested Island: Ireland 1460-1630 - S.J. Connolly

From the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, as S. J. Connolly argues in the introduction to this book, Ireland experienced a profound transformation from which the contours of the modern nation emerged. This transformation, and the adaptation of the Irish people to it is the theme of this work, the first of a two-volume history of early modern Ireland. In it, he describes Ireland’s evolution over a century and a half from a fractious land of competing cultures to one in which English rule was in the ascendant.

Connolly begins with a nuanced portrait of Ireland in the late 15th century, one that challenges the clichés of declining English rule and political dependency upon the Irish lords. He argues that the descendants of the medieval English conquest were not as Gaelicized as traditionally thought, as the cultural boundaries between the Gaelic and English lands were blended rather than sharply divided. Moreover, he sees English rule expanding rather than contracting during this period, with “a mutually acceptable balance of interests” established between the English crown and the leading Irish nobility. It was during this time that the Kildares emerged as the dominant political power, a position they would hold for the next three generations. This, Connolly notes, illustrates the paradox of English power in Ireland at that time, that rule on the cheap was only possible by relying upon a powerful local magnate, yet such reliance on these “overmighty subjects” left English rule vulnerable to challenges from these figures.

It is this paradox which helps to explain why the English rulers abandoned a working governing relationship in the early 16th century, as Henry VII and his ministers, particularly Thomas Cromwell, sought to expand English control and the rule of English law. Their goal was to transform Irish nobles from autonomous lords to magnates who exercised local power on behalf of the crown. Yet Henry and his successors still proved unwilling to invest the resources necessary to achieve control. Even after the suppression of the Kildare revolt in 1535, Henry’s governors – most notably Anthony St Leger – pursued assimilation on the cheap, using a mixture of bribes and occasional force to Anglicize Ireland gradually.

Yet the Gaelic system persisted, largely because of the failure of the English to provide the resources necessary to establish a central authority necessary to make it obsolete. By the 1580s, the English government decided to adopt a new policy – colonization. Beginning with the Munster Revolt, the English confiscated land from the leading rebels and awarded it to “undertakers” – Englishmen who pledged to settle the land in return for their allocation. Unlike earlier English settlers these new transplants were Protestant, injecting a stable population of recusants into a land which until then had experienced the Reformation only superficially.

It is within this context of the growing extension of English control, coupled with the rapaciousness of English officials in dealing with Gaelic lords, that Connolly sees as critical to understanding the circumstances of Tyrone’s rebellion. He depicts Tyrone himself as a man of two worlds – Gaelic by birth, yet heavily influenced by English culture in his upbringing. Tyrone’ nine-year campaign against the English served in retrospect as the last major Gaelic effort to overthrow English rule; its defeat paved the way for its ultimate establishment throughout the island, which Connolly describes in clear yet succinct detail.

Yet the end of Tyrone’s rebellion had even more far reaching consequences. The final defeat of the Gaelic lords made the role of the Old English as a loyal alternative to the Gaels less important, and their recusancy correspondingly more so. Connolly concludes by describing the religious changes Ireland underwent in the decades that followed, and their role in shaping and changing Irish identities, with a epilogue that foreshadows the turmoil that lay ahead, turmoil for which the new Protestant ruling class was ill-prepared to face.

Well written and convincingly argued, Connolly’s book is a superb survey of the era. While particularly strong on the religious and political developments of the period, his examination leave little out, encompassing its economics, society, and culture as well. I finished the book eager for Connolly's second volume. Given that it will cover the years that are the focus of Connolly’s previous research I expect it to be an even more impressive work, creating what is certain to be the standard text on early modern Ireland for decades to come.

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review 2018-03-26 09:13
Millenium by Tom Holland
Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom - Tom Holland

TITLE:  Millennium:  The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom

 

AUTHOR:  Tom Holland

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2009

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0349119724

_______________________

 

From the blurb:

Of all the civilisations existing in the year 1000, that of Western Europe seemed the unlikeliest candidate for future greatness. Compared to the glittering empires of Byzantium or Islam, the splintered kingdoms on the edge of the Atlantic appeared impoverished, fearful and backward. But the anarchy of these years proved to be, not the portents of the end of the world, as many Christians had dreaded, but rather the birthpangs of a radically new order. MILLENNIUM is a stunning panoramic account of the two centuries on either side of the apocalyptic year 1000. This was the age of Canute, William the Conqueror and Pope Gregory VII, of Vikings, monks and serfs, of the earliest castles and the invention of knighthood, and of the primal conflict between church and state. The story of how the distinctive culture of Europe - restless, creative and dynamic - was forged from out of the convulsions of these extraordinary times is as fascinating and as momentous as any in history.

 

This book takes a look at European History from about 800 - 1200AD.  The subject is interesting, the writing style somewhat flowery, but personable and understandable.  This book makes a good introductory text to the time period, though obviously not a complete one, nor does it analyse everything that was going on during this time period.  The book includes the useful addition of maps and a timeline.

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review 2018-02-19 05:49
The Birth of the West by Paul Collins
The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century - Paul Collins

TITLE:  The Birth of the West:  Rome, Germany, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century

 

AUTHOR:  Paul Collins

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2014

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-61039-368-3

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Tenth century Europe may have been a chaotic mess, but Paul Collins believes that the process which ended in the Renaissance and Enlightenment had its beginnings in the tenth century Europe.  Collins attempts to show how various individuals (e.g. the 3 Ottos and Gerbert d'Aurillac/Pope Sylvester II) injected vigour into the Holy Roman Empire, reorganised the Church and bring some semblance of order to the State.

The book (briefly) covers the breakup of Charlemagne's Empire in the mid-800's; the development of France under Viking invasions and settlement into a large number of smaller semi-independent regions; and the solidification of a Germanic Holy Roman Empire during the 10th century under the Saxon kings Otto I, II, III.  It also follows the development of Roman Catholicism and the Papacy.  There is also a fairly decent description of monastic life, as well as the role of monasteries and religion in the lives of ordinary people.

Collins weaves a sometimes convoluted narrative, starting somewhere in the middle, going back to the beginning, discussing historical events, then focusing on individuals in a biographical manner, hopping around different regions in Europe from Spain and Britain to Byzantium.  The first chapter was a bit tedious but the pace of the narrative picked up by the second chapter and the story became more interesting.  There are a few maps in the book but I would have preferred a few more.  I would also have found a timeline useful.  A more structured approach would also have been more useful as well as more analysis.  The author dropped the ball a few times by failing to connect his various chapters to the main thesis of the book, making this something of a collection of juicy facts but failing to show how they relate to the birth of the west.

I would not recommend this book to the history novice but it may prove interesting to someone who has some familiarity with events after Charlamagne.

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review 2017-11-13 06:36
Bog Bodies Uncovered by Miranda Aldhouse-Green
Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe's Ancient Mystery - Miranda Aldhouse-Green

TITLE:  Bog Bodies Uncovered:  Solving Europe's Ancient Mystery

 

AUTHOR:  Miranda Aldhouse-Green 

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT: e-book

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-500-05182-5

 

______________________

 

Miranda Aldhouse-Green takes a look at the mystery of the bog bodies:  how and where they were discovered; the world the bog people lived in; crime scene investigation of the bodies, how bog environments preserve bodies; whether the bog bodies were accident execution or murder victims; the ways they were killed; who might have done the deeds; and why this was done. 

 

The book is interesting and informative, with a great deal of research/references and many photographs.  However, there is also a great deal of speculation, repetition and no definitive answers.  In short, we don't know much about the bog bodies other than the manner of their deaths, but there is a great deal of speculation, and most certainly no solving of any mystery.  Did I mention all the repetition?  

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