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review 2017-02-19 02:36
Drive!: Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age - Lawrence Goldstone

Given its scope, this book provides the reader with a widely comprehensive view of how both the automobile and the industry surrounding it developed and evolved from the late 19th century to the eve of the First World War. I read "DRIVE! Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age" more out of curiosity and also because I hail from Michigan. So I grew up with a keen sense of how the automobile has profoundly influenced and shaped both society and the world economy.


I was also intrigued to learn about the patent battle between the backers of George Selden (who had taken out a patent in the late 1870s on the concept of an internal combustion engine later considered to be essential to the future development of the automobile) --- i.e. ALAM (or the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers) and Henry Ford. This took place between 1903 and 1911. ALAM sought to break Henry Ford the outsider, who after failing twice to establish an auto company, was now on the threshold with his latest company to achieve unrivaled success with the Model T.


The story of the lawsuit between Ford and ALAM is one that the author tells in great detail. The only difficulty I had in reading this book was in trying to fully grasp some of the technical aspects of the various engines vital to the automobile's viability and the related technologies. Yet, on the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about how the automobile and the industry it spawned developed during its formative years - and revolutionized the world. Hence, the five (5) stars.

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review 2016-02-24 12:35
A General History of the Pyrates - Daniel Defoe,Manuel Schonhorn

This book, originally published in 1724, recounts the misadventures of several famous pirates including Blackbeard, Ann Bonnet, and Black Bart. Actually, Blackbeard, despite his fearsome reputation, came across as less bloodthirsty than for example Captain Spriggs or Captain Roche.


There is some debate as to who wrote the book. Some cite Daniel Defoe as the possible author. I’ll stick the guy named on the title page. :)


Many of the stories are fascinating. The book contains incredible detail, including lists of ships and their captains, and transcripts of trial testimony and judgments. At times the book became so dense with detail, I struggled to follow it in places and had to resort to Wikipedia to fill in the gaps in my understanding. Also, the narrative on occasion pauses to give a local geography lesson for a couple of pages. However, overall, it is well worth the effort to read it and is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in pirate lore.

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review 2015-09-02 18:43
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes
Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives - Simon Goldhill

What I liked about Simon Goldhill’s Love, Sex & Tragedy was that he (mostly) avoids sounding like a curmudgeonly stick-in-the-mud who can’t handle the loss of the classical curriculum in education and the knowledge of Western civilization’s origins. He laments it not because he wants to hear people quoting Homer from memory (in the original Greek) or see glowing comparisons of politicians to Cincinnatus but because he sees little evidence that what’s replaced it is tackling the same issues in as deep a manner. He doesn’t see any counterparts today to Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides, or to Sophocles and Euripides, among others. And this dumbing down of our public discourse infects all aspects of culture – politics, entertainment, social relationships, literature, the arts, etc.

Why study the classics?

I’m going to be lazy and simply quote the author from the last pages of the book, where he concludes:

For thinking hard about the past reveals the buried life of the present, its potential for change, for being different. Looking back critically at where we come from is a revelatory education about the present.

The simplest point that emerges from looking back at how the myths of Greece and Rome have functioned in the history of European culture is this: the past matters. It matters because in psychological, social, intellectual, artistic and political terms the past is formative of the present. It is the person’s or culture’s deep grounding. It matters how the past is understood or told. Stories change lives. They make foundations, they build hopes and they can kill. A self-aware appreciation of the past requires reflecting on the myths and the histories, the story-telling and the critical analysis, which makes sense of the past – and thus the present....

Understanding the past also requires that we understand how previous generations thought of the past, were stimulated and inspired by it, rebelled against it, denied it. Classical antiquity has constantly been reinvented as the privileged model of the past, and it has been thus a force for comprehending – and changing – the present....

If we do not recognize how classical antiquity furnished the imagination, stimulated and structured thought and acted as a banner of artistic and political revolution, our view of our own cultural tradition will be necessarily distorted. (pp. 319-20)

Aside from the general conclusion above, I found several of the specifics the author focuses on interesting. One in particular stood out because of personal interests, and I’ll mention it here so you can get an idea of the issues Goldhill deals with. He spends a great deal of time (two chapters – 26 pages) discussing the Oedipus myth (as transmitted by Sophocles; there were other versions) and how it became and remains a profound analysis of the human condition, helped by Freud making it the basis for his psychology.

Oedipus is the archetypal hero figure trying to discover where he comes from: “Oedipus’ search for himself, his journey to discover where he comes from, is the paradigmatic example of how we must look back for self-knowledge, but also of how disturbing and painful that necessary process can be” (p. 298) and “Most shocking is the play’s insistent and disturbing claim that is it exactly at the moment you think you know where you come from and who you are that you are most open to a tragedy of self-deception” (p. 306). Goldhill sees Oedipus as particularly important in the 21st century when Western civilization struggles ever more desperately to know and to control but only seems to discover ever more uncertainty and ever less control.

I would recommend the book. Even if you don’t agree with the author’s conclusions in parts of the book, it’s still an interesting look at the influence Greece and Rome had and continues to have over our lives.

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review 2014-08-23 21:58
Another excellent bio from the Routledge series
Vespasian (Roman Imperial Biographies) - Barbara Levick

This is a very dense biography of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79), and a more general history of the establishment of the Flavian dynasty (69-96); Levick assumes a very solid knowledge of Roman history in the reader.


Which - if you have one - makes this a highly recommended book. Levick presents a balanced account of Vespasian's life and his (and his family's) impact on the development of the Principate.

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review 2014-07-25 13:59
The People's Republic of Amnesia - NEVER FORGET
The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited - Louisa Lim

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to see the author Louisa Lim speak about this book at a reading session. As she was discussing the work she put into preparing the book, in terms of interviewing witnesses in China of the Tiananmen Square Massacre whose accounts had hitherto been unknown or unspoken, I drew on my own memories of the pro-democracy movement in China during the spring of 1989. At the time, I had the impression from TV and radio news reports that the heart and soul of that movement was in Beijing. I gave no thought that, in the light of the economic reforms that were then beginning to take shape in China, this movement was also reverberating throughout China itself. Nor did I consider that there were elements in that nation’s leadership which were apprehensive about the direction and scope the movement seemed to be taking. For though China’s top man Deng Xiaoping was set on modernizing China’s economy, he had no interest in promoting political reform as well. Taken in tandem with the pro-democracy movement and the internal squabbles within China’s leadership circle, once the hardcore faction of the nation’s leadership (under Deng) carried the day and resolved to suppress the movement, the events of June 4th, 1989 became inevitable.

Reading this book has given me quite an education about the impact that the Tiananmen Square Massacre continues to have in various facets of Chinese society and the ongoing efforts of Beijing to make China put firmly behind it --- or better, FORGET --- that there had been a pro-democracy movement and that scores of Chinese had been ruthlessly murdered by the nation’s army. I’m also grateful to Louisa Lim for her determination to get as complete a story about the events of 1989 as possible. For instance, I had no idea that at the same time as Tiananmen Square, there was also a brutal crackdown of protests in Chengdu, in Southwestern China. Indeed, Miss Lim goes on to point out that “[w]hat happened in 1989 was a nationwide movement, and to allow this to be forgotten is to minimize its scale. The protests in Chengdu were not merely student marches, but part of a genuinely popular movement with support from the across the spectrum. The pitched battles and temporary loss of control of the streets in Chengdu show the depth of the nationwide crisis facing the central government.”

Furthermore, “[w]hat happened in Chengdu has not only been forgotten; it has never been fully told. The people in Chengdu were not cowed by the killings in Beijing, but rather incensed by them. However, lacking an independent media to amplify their voices, their short-lived scream of fury became a cry into thin air, drowned out by the ensuing violence meted out by both the state and the protesters themselves. Although Chengdu was the site of some of the most shocking brutality, the witnesses had no one to tell. There was no charismatic protest leader, no Wu’er Kaixi, and while some of those involved did eventually flee into exile, nobody had ever heard of them. The Western witnesses were so traumatized by what they had seen that most were initially purely focused on trying to get out of China as quickly as possible. Safely back in their homelands, many of them gave interviews to the media and contacted rights groups…, but there was so little interest in events outside Beijing that they eventually gave up trying to raise awareness.”

“THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF AMNESIA” is a book that should be read by anyone who wants to have about as complete an understanding as is now possible of how the events of June 4th, 1989 shape and influence how China sees itself and wants its own people to look upon themselves – guided by Beijing.  

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