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review 2017-08-13 09:00
East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity" - Philippe Sands

Of all the books I've read thus far this year, "EAST WEST STREET: On the Origins of 'Genocide' and 'Crimes Against Humanity' " is perhaps the most powerfully affecting and well-written. At times, as I read deeply into this book, it felt as if I was reading a family history, mystery novel, and story of the development of 2 key legal concepts from 2 remarkable men from Poland (Hersh Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin) which revolutionized the study and practice of international law - with respect to human rights - in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

 

This book gets its impetus from a visit the author (a British law professor and international lawyer) made in 2010 to Lviv, a city in the Ukraine that over the past century changed hands and names several times. Prior to November 1918, Lviv was known as Lemberg within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had a rich, diverse Jewish culture and distinguished university and law school in Lemberg University (now Lviv University). Then with the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy, Lemberg became Lwów within a newly independent, re-established Poland. But with the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Lwów fell under Soviet control as a result of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, which carved up Poland between Berlin and Moscow. This control proved to be shortlived, for once Germany invaded Soviet Russia in June 1941, Lwów became German and its Jewish population between 1941 and 1944 (when the Soviets retook the city, renaming it Lviv) was ghettoized and largely wiped out in the Holocaust.

 

What makes Lviv significant in this book is the connection the author's family and both Hersh Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin have to it. Sands' maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz and the families of both Lauterpacht and Lemkin lived in or near Lviv. Through sheer determination and lots of what can be likened to detective work, Sands shares with the reader the histories of his family through Leon's long, challenging and varied life (which took him from Poland to Vienna to Paris in January 1939) and that of Lauterpacht and Lemkin. Lauterpacht made a life for himself in Britain, where he achieved renown as a law professor and legal mind whose development of the concept of 'crimes against humanity' became widely adopted within international law during the Nuremberg war crimes trials of 1945-46. Lemkin, who was slightly younger than Lauterpacht, was a polyglot who spent most of his working years in Poland as a successful lawyer til he was forced to leave the country shortly after the beginning of the German occupation. In contrast to Lauterpacht who asserted that "the individual human being ... is the ultimate unit of all law", Lemkin developed during the Second World War the concept of "genocide", a deliberative action by a state to exterminate a people (along religious, racial, national, or ethnic lines). Indeed, Lemkin coined the word and tried throughout the war crimes trials in Nuremberg to have "genocide" formally adopted and accepted as a part of international law.

 

"Lauterpacht never embraced the idea of genocide. To the end of his life, he was dismissive, both of the subject and, perhaps more politely, of the man who concocted it, even if he recognized the aspirational quality. Lemkin feared that the separate projects of protecting individual human rights, on the one hand, and protecting groups and preventing genocide, on the other, were in contradiction."

 

Sands also sheds light on Hans Frank, Hitler's former personal lawyer who later was named Governor-General of Occupied Poland, where he figured prominently in the disenfrachisement and murder of Jews. In this capacity, Frank made a stop in Lemberg in August 1942, where he made a speech promoting his anti-Jewish policies. Frank later was tried for war crimes along with a number of top surviving members of the Third Reich (e.g., Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner of the SS, and Alfred Jodl who had been Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces) at Nuremberg, where Lauterpacht and Lemkin watched him testify.

 

This was a book I enjoyed reading from start to finish. It embodied all the attributes of a novel and mystery thriller. And yet the fact that "East West Street" is a true story made my reading experience even more rewarding.

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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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