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review 2017-11-18 23:27
Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650
Reformations: Early Modern Europe, 1450-1660 - Carlos M.N. Eire

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter?  In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation.  An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

 

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences.  This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time.  The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses.  “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result.  “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s.  “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

 

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history.  The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers.  This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

 

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe.  Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does.  So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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review 2017-11-10 07:59
In my Top Ten list of History books
Africa: A Biography of the Continent - John Reader

This is a wonderful and highly readable book, but do not misunderstand what it is about. The subtitle is completely honest: this is not a book (entirely) about human history in Africa; this is a book about the African continent.  As such, it is divided into three approximately equal sections:

 

1) Natural History: 

This describes the formation of the African continent during the cooling phase of the Earth's crust. Africa is unusual among continents for being composed of just three giant cratons. A large portion is dedicated to the formation of the Bushveld Igneous Complex- the single largest and richest concentration of mineral wealth on the planet, and almost the sole accessible source of some strategic materials like chromium. 

 

This part progresses to the emergence of life, and the considerable evidence that humans find their origin in Africa, with our present form emerging somewhere between 2 and 4 million years ago, depending on what criteria you apply, and how you interpret the available evidence.

 

2) Anthropology:

Development of human civilization in Africa, and importantly- the co-evolution of other organisms with the human species in their land of origin.  This is a big deal, because all the evidence suggests that humans only left their mother continent about 120,000 years ago. We are an invading foreign species everywhere else on the globe, and like most introduced species, we had fewer natural predators and parasites outside of Africa. Malaria is the best example of an organism which co-developed in evolution, in Africa, alongside humans. Humans even adapted with rearrangements of hemoglobin, which can be beneficial in the hybrid SC form, but deadly in the SS homozygous form (i.e. Sickle Cell Anemia).  This, and other similar examples account for the comparatively slower growth rate of human communities within Africa, compared to without, and some of these issues continue to plague Africa today. 

 

"Expatriot" groups returning to Africa about 15,000 years ago transformed human development on the continent by introducing foreign species which had been domesticated in Asia. Most important of these were cattle. Skeletal remains have shown two different pathways that Africans took with this new resource:

a) cattle raising for meat (in which skeletal remains show an equal number of males and females in the herd). and

b) cattle raising for milk: (in which skeletal remains show most males in the herd were slaughtered) 

 

The two patterns have different land-use and social development implications, which were fascinating to read.

 

There is an entire section dedicated to exploring how conditions, particularly around present-day Nigeria, led to the development of acephalous social structures... some of the largest and most sophisticated examples of completely decentralized human communities with essentially no leaders. It was a development which fit the local environment well, at the time it developed, but made Africa in general extremely vulnerable to foreign attackers with heirarchical social systems concentrating,  commanding, and directing resources against them. This began in earnest with contact with Arab slavers on the East coast of the continent, beginning about 800 years ago, and really picked up pace with European contact in the 1500's.

 

...Which brings us to the subject of slavery. It is an indigenous African practice, which evolved from traditions of adoption and extended family (mutual) obligations. Going back to what I said about malaria and Africa's slow population growth... this created a demand for labor which was sometimes answered with warfare and enslavement of the vanquished, or with peaceful indentured servitude agreements (some coerced, some not; some for a lifetime, some for more limited terms).  The upshot of all this is that a well-established social acceptance of slavery, and a well-developed economic system of slave acquisition and trade was in place by the time Arab slavers arrived in the 1200's or so.  Later, beginning with the Portuguese, Europeans fed this system, and in a sense "addicted" the economies in present-day Congo and Angola to the slave trade. Outright slavery continued in Africa into the 20th century, and many of the proto-slavery practices (i.e. adoption of orphaned relatives, in exchange for limited periods of enforced servitude) continue today.  One interesting observation:  plantations in North America tried on several well-documented occasions to force Native Americans into slavery, but the enslaved never cooperated. They simply refused to work, even on pain of death. The reason is that slavery was a foreign concept to them. Slavery is not a useful institution to hunter-gatherer societies, which don't cultivate or hoard large amounts of food (or any other possessions). It is only in pastoral or agricultural civilizations that large amounts of manpower are needed to work the land.  Africans brought to North America as slaves were mainly from agricultural areas of Western Africa which unfortunately understood well the concept of slavery, and culturally accepted it sufficiently to participate in it, in a way that Native Americans did not.

 

3) Human History:

This is the names and dates History that I had expected the entire book to be. There is little well-documented history before Arab contact.. the Great Zimbabwe, the Egyptian pharaoh dynasties, and the Biblical-era Ethiopians being the standout exceptions. Once Arabs entered the continent, with their written systems of recording, History as we think of it really takes off.  The book is necessarily superficial, covering an entire continent for about 800 years. As expected, there is a lot about colonialism, particularly the Dutch and British in South Africa, the Germans in Tanzania, and the British in Kenya and Egypt. The book follows through to the many independence movements in the 1950's and 60's, and ends ominously with the Rwandan genocide and the probable CIA assassination of Patrice Lumumba- first elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

Overall this is a definite Five Star book, and on my personal Top Ten History Books list.

 

Highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2017-10-28 02:47
The Division of Christendom
The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century - Hans J. Hillerbrand

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time.  In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

 

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany.  Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany.  Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events.  The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered.  And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

 

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text.  Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well.  But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe.  By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

 

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history.  As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

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review 2017-10-14 16:32
The Malice by Peter Newman
The Malice - Peter C. Newman

Series: The Vagrant #2

 

Years have passed since the events of The Vagrant. I'm not certain of how many, but one review I found said it had been twelve years, which is consistent with how Vesper acts. Vesper, the little baby from the first book, takes centre stage as the main character of this one. When the Vagrant, whom she calls Father, doesn't answer Gamma's sword's call (the Malice), Vesper tries to take it to those who would help. Instead of being accompanied by the old goat, Vesper takes along the old goat's baby kid who is adorable and instrumental in the story (and not just as bait). The kid held the book at three stars, despite some of the clumsiness in parts.

 

This is basically an alternate fantasy world with technology that has fallen into a kind of Dystopia after the world is invaded by the infernals through the Breach (a kind of crack in reality). Infernals take over human bodies (sometimes in gross combinations) in order to survive in the new world. Something massive that's being called the Yearning is making its way through the Breach with potentially dire results for everybody, even for the infernals already there, halfbreeds and tainted humans. It is hoped that the Malice will be able to stop the Yearning, which is why Vesper journeys south.

 

Despite feeling fuzzy on how much time has passed since the events of the first book, I'm pretty confident that the source I found stating twelve years is pretty close if not spot on because Vesper certainly acts like she's twelve or thirteen and by the end of the book she's physically grown a bit. So I'm comfortable using this for the "Chilling Children" square for the Halloween Bingo. It could also be used the "Supernatural" and "Genre: Horror" squares, I think.

 

I know I mentioned that the kid is adorable but he's seriously adorable.

 

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