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review 2018-04-13 16:59
Romania and the First World War
The Romanian Battlefront in World War I (Modern War Studies) - Glenn E. Torrey

While there is no shortage of books covering the various battles and campaigns of the Western Front, other areas of the war have long gone unaddressed by English-language historians. One of those areas is the Romanian front, where a country surrounded on nearly all sides by members of the Central Powers nevertheless joined the conflict in 1916 and suffered mightily as a result. One of the few scholars outside of Romania to have studied this period is Glenn Torrey, and this book represents the culmination of his work. The fruit of a lifetime of archival labors, it provides to English language readers for the first time an accessible history of the Romanian war effort and its impact on the broader conflict.


Beginning his book with Romania’s decision to join the war in 1916, Torrey describes ambitions unmatched by preparation, as the Romanian leadership courted war with their desire to annex Transylvania yet did little to ready the Romanian army for the conflict. Though they initially enjoyed the advantage of surprise, the Romanians were soon reeling under the successive counter-offensives launched by the Central Powers. With French assistance the Romanians were able to rebuild their devastated army, but the collapse of the Russian war effort over the course of 1917 left the Romanians facing insurmountable odds and with little other choice but to surrender. Having promised to demobilize their army, the Romanians dragged it out as news of the failure of the Ludendorff Offensive gave them new hope. As Torrey makes clear, however, their reentry into the war in its last days proved less important to their subsequent success at the Paris Peace Conference than their efforts to stabilize the Balkans once the Central Powers had surrendered.


Overall, Torrey’s book provides readers with a superb history of this unjustly-overlooked front of the war. Its main flaw is in Torrey’s habit of overstating the importance of events in the area to the overall events of the war. This is a minor complaint, though, when assessed against the magnitude of the author’s achievement. What he had provided is a history of Romania’s war that will serve as the go-to study for decades to come for anyone interested in the topic.

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review 2018-04-07 06:30
A limited portrait of a monarch and his age
Suleiman the Magnificent - André Clot,Matthew J. Reisz

By nearly every measure, the sixteenth century bore witness to a remarkable number of extraordinary monarchs.  Rulers such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England, Francis I of France, the Habsburg emperors Charles V and Philip II, Ivan IV of Russia, ‘Abbas I of Persia, and the Mughal emperor Akbar reshaped their realms through their ambitious policies and forceful rule.  Yet even in this august group the name of Suleiman stands out.  As sultan of the Ottomans, Suleiman led the empire during what is generally regarded as the pinnacle of its glory and power.  Under his rule the empire flourished and extended its control over three continents.  Yet in spite of this Suleiman has received far less attention form biographers than most of his contemporaries, present more often as an opponent or an ally in many accounts than as a figure worth of attention in his own right.


Given this, Andre Clot’s biography of the sultan is to be welcomed.  A longtime journalist, Clot divides his book into two parts.  The first is a straightforward narrative of Suleiman’s life that addresses on the political and military aspects of his reign.  This section focuses heavily on Suleiman’s interactions with Christian Europe, even to the point of having an entire chapter addressing the sultan’s relations with Francis I.  The second part of the book is an examination of the Ottoman empire during Suleiman’s reign, one that describes the economy, urban life, and culture that existed during his reign.  Though the two sections compliment each other, each part stands alone to the point of being able to be read separate from the other, a lack of integration that ultimately weakens the effort to present a rounded overall picture of Suleiman and his times.


In the end, the focus and structure of the book prevent it from achieving Clot’s stated goal of providing a fuller understanding of Suleiman and his empire.  The Eurocentrism of Clot’s narrative slights the considerable campaigns Suleiman conducted on his eastern borders against the Safavids, to say nothing of his considerable contributions to the empire’s internal development in such areas as the law.  Mixing the two sections might have counterbalanced this, but their separation inhibits an easy understanding of his role and impact within the broader empire.  These problems limit the usefulness of Clot’s book, which is recommended for anyone seeking to learn about the sultan only because of the disappointing lack of anything better.

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review 2018-04-07 01:20
A detailed account hobbled by a dense text and poor maps
The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 - John Childs

The overthrow of King James II during the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 is one of the key events of not just English history but Irish history as well.  As king, James had pursued a policy of “Catholicization” in Ireland, allowing Catholics to serve in the army and the government, which fueled anxieties among the Protestant population.  When news reached them of the dramatic events in England, the Protestants began defying the Catholic authorities, who responded to what soon became an uprising against Catholic rule.  The result was three of the bloodiest and most destructive years in Irish history, as the island served as the battlefield on which broader struggles were waged.  This war is the subject of John Childs’s book, which details the campaigns from the initial unrest to the conclusion of the conflict.


Childs traces the success of the rebellion to the two-week period in 1688 when Derry was without a garrison, arguing that had the town been continuously occupied and the Protestants there suppressed the rebellion could not have prospered.  Yet even with Derry the Protestants faced a difficult first year, as the more numerous Catholic forces gradually asserted control throughout the island.  By the summer, only Derry and Enniskillen remained as Protestant holdouts, yet the arrival of forces under the command of the Duke of Schomberg managed to secure most of Ulster before the end of the campaigning season.  The new year saw an increased commitment of forces against the Catholics, one led by King William III himself.  With William’s army pressing down from the north, the two sides clashed at the Battle of the Boyne, which broke James’s fragile resolve.  His flight left his supporters with no other option than an attrition campaign that could buy them time in the hope that William might suffer defeats elsewhere that would salvage the situation for them.


Childs recounts the conflict in considerable detail, carefully tracing the numerous skirmishes that characterized the “war of posts and ambuscades”.  This results in a dense text, one that makes it challenging to follow the sequence of events.  Making matters worse are the inadequate maps provided, which provide only basic geographic details, rendering them less than helpful in following the various battles and campaigns.  Better maps and subheadings within the chapters would have gone far into providing a more accessible history of the war than the one Childs has written, in which the value of his examination of the conflict is offset by its inaccessibility.

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review 2018-04-02 19:47
The institutions of the Ottoman state
The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power - Colin Imber

For the past several decades, readers seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire have turned to Halil Inalcik’s seminal book The Ottoman Empire; The Classical Age.  Written by the dean of Ottoman history, it provided an overview of its history and an examination of its components that has stood the test of time.  Over the three and a half decades since its publication, however, a wealth of new scholarship has emerged that has refined and developed our knowledge.  The fruits of this can be seen in Colin Imber’s study, one that treads much of the same ground as Inalcik but does so with the benefit of an additional generation of study.


The layout of Imber’s book is similar to that of Inalcik’s (which Imber helped translate); an initial section chronicling the political and military history of the period followed by chapters providing an analytical overview of various aspects of the empire.  But whereas Inalcik’s book provided a broad‑ranging survey that included its cultural and religious elements, Imber focuses more narrowly on the institutions of state: the palace, the bureaucracy, and the military.  This allows him to provide a more detailed examination of the military state, one that describes its development and shows how it both conquered and governed the lands of three continents.


Clearly written and well grounded in the literature of the field, Imber’s book is a detailed and up-to-date account of the factors underpinning Ottoman power in the first centuries of its existence.  Anyone seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire would do well to start with it.  With its concentration on imperial institutions and its closer examination of such things as the Ottoman navy (which has received far more scholarly attention in recent decades than it had when Inalcik wrote his book), it complements rather than replaces Inalcik’s longstanding survey, providing readers with a good foundation for exploring in more detail the last and greatest of the Muslim empires.

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review 2018-04-01 13:58
Your Neighbours Are Not Always Nice...
The Road Through the Wall - Shirley Jackson

Neighbours as we know it can be friendly or not. But in Shirley Jackson's The Road Through the Wall, neighbours as we know it is not what it seems to be. I had quite a number of days to read her first book, which turns out for me quite conflicted whether I like it or I don't. Never the less, I do enjoy her writings and even though there is much to talk about of its flaws, this is still a good read for me.

In Pepper Street, this neighbourhood seems 'perfect'. Neighbours greet each other, they are formal in their own way of being nice and courteous and they have their days of sharing a common hobby together like sewing. But within each household lies another reality - shallow thinkers, bullies, selfish actions and egoistical show offs. The children have secrets among one another, so are the parents. Everyone harbours lies that on the outside, they are superficial. Only one goodness remains - Caroline Desmond, a three year old little girl hardly spoken, hardly knew what is going on in this neighbourhod. There is a wall that divides one street to the next but when the bricks starts to crumble and a tragedy strikes, every thing else is an open secret and what was once consider a nice neighbourhood no longer matters.

Its a simple story really with a lot of characters being introduced in the first chapter itself. I do get a little confuse with one of the other but as I read its easier to know who is who. Still, this is a book that is difficult to rate for me. There are loop holes involve where its never explored at all. Some of these are as to 'why' the actions of certain characters of what they do were never explained completely. I had to make assumptions in order to fulfill them and its easier, as the setting does feel like the late 1940s and early 1950s. The dark part of the book are how each of them backstab each other in ways how superficial they are in front of the neighbours and the children, well, they shown their dark parts too. The writing on the other hand is, as always, pretty much how Shirley Jackson would write - clear, precise and straight to a point. What I enjoy most is how she hook me into the chapter of some of the characters, in a way development explain of who they are and then of course, reach to a point of a little surprise there that feels as if she wanted me to the ride that may keep me guessing. The ending on the other hand, is typical of her and since this is her first book in 1948, I am pretty sure her intentions of writing them is as real as her experience much like how neighbourhoods are in any place in the world.

For me, this is a hard rating to give. I like it but not that much to a point I love it. Its good writing, just not the story itself. Where else there can be much to explore here, I wonder what motivates her to write this story as her first book. I won't say it is bad or any thing but as conflicted as I am in giving a good rating, the best I can think of is a 3.5. I won't say I will recommend this but this story is much like a cautionary tale of what neighbours are (and even can be as an example for today) behind closed doors.


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