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review 2018-05-24 01:56
Agricola and Germany
Agricola and Germany (Oxford World's Classics) - Anthony Richard Birley,Tacitus

Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes.  Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.

 

Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him.  The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero.  While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany.  This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east.  Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.

 

Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together.  Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing.  Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section.  It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.

 

Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors.  These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

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review 2018-05-23 03:46
Rich detailed setting and memorable characters
Amberlough - Lara Elena Donnelly

This was the type of book that when I finished it, I had to lie back down and just stare at the ceiling. It was mind blowing. There are layers of intrigue and you don’t watch it unfold, in fact it’s the opposite, you watch it form and develop as the story progresses.

 

The setting in this one is one of a lot of political instability. It’s explained in the earlier parts of the book. It’s a bit difficult to follow (notes may help some readers) perhaps a character list would help in this case to keep everything straight. A glossary would have helped as well as the characters have their own slang - most of it straight forward but it would help nevertheless. That being said despite these little shortcomings, the world is rich and detailed. Amberlough is decadent and has remnants of Weimar Berlin. Now I did say previously it’s hard to follow because of the slang, but it’s precisely because of this slang that makes the world more detailed and fun to read.

 

The pace of the plot is slow and steady as it sets up the stage for what would follow after. It is essentially, a spy novel, so it quickly leads to a lot of double dealing, moments of backstabbing and betrayal. There are only three characters that you really need to focus on as the supporting ones just add to the flavor of the novel. Of the three that are central to the plot, one must love Aristide.

 

With a name like Aristide Makicosta you know he’s going to be a character to remember. He’s flamboyant, street smart and clever. Despite the world burning around him he always manages to do everything in style. It’s hard not to fall for his charms and so you would understand Cyril’s love for him.  I still don’t know what to think about Cyril. He was doing the job and had to. It came at a great cost but he had no choice and he had to think for himself (although I know there seems to be a lot of hate for him).

 

I love Cordelia. She’s got sass, she’s just as street smart and a survivor. Her character development is on point in this book. Yes she may be just a ‘dancer’ but she soon develops into someone with a cause to defend the city she loves. Despite the horrors she goes through in the latter half of the novel, she doesn’t let it break her. It’s admirable and she’s likable not only because of her catchy personality but also because of her unstoppable strength.

 

That ENDING THOUGH. I felt my eyes grow wide each time I turned the pages throughout the last third of the novel. This was why I had to sit back and just absorb everything I’ve read when I finished this one. It was that good.

 

Greatly recommended if you like intrigue, a decadent setting, and memorable characters. I absolutely enjoyed this book.

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text 2018-05-21 14:11
Defying Henry VIII: Thomas More

Next up: Thomas More

 

Source: samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2018/05/defying-henry-viii-thomas-more.html
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-21 07:33
Dynasty by Tom Holland
Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland (2015-09-03) - Tom Holland;

TITLE:  Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

 

AUTHOR:  Tom Holland

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-349-12383-7

__________________________________

 

Dynasty is the early history of the Julio-Claudian line of the Roman emperors retold as a story.  This book starts off where Rubicon ended.  This is a narrative history that seeks to entertain the reader and provide a story of what happened.  For me, it did not succeed with either endeavour.  I don’t know much more about the “what happened” than I had before reading this book (i.e. a succession of Roman Emperors that waged war on whom ever stuck their fancy and had a fancy for despotism and murdering anyone they felt like).  Nor was I entertained – I was bored and finished reading the book just to get it off my bedside table.

 

Holland does not attempt to put forth new scholarly conclusions, nor does he offer much analyses of complex events.  This narrative relies almost exclusively on textual evidence in Roman literature and history, with casually inserted quotes from primary textual sources without bothering to explain their source, context or (on occasion) their relevance. 

 

The potential storyline is strong, but Holland’s delivery manages to be weak.  The writing is tedious, ponderous, overly-flowery with a disjointed and distant narrative that manages to be more selective gossip and sensationalism than actual history.  It doesn’t help that in a 500+ page book there are only 7 incredibly long-winded chapters, which all have mafia related headings.   The author spends a ridiculous amount of ink on each emperor’s sexual proclivities and random insertions of far too much graphic sexual detail of what the author professes to be the values of the rest of the Roman citizens at the time.  He rather gleefully “spices” up the narrative of these salacious details with foul and vulgar language (apparently big boys like their potty humour too), which jarred with the tone of the rest of the text.  Apparently, Holland is under the impression that popular history books need to be excessively graphic, crude and vulgar to be interesting to readers.

 

The book is also rather limited in scope, dealing only with the Julio-Claudians and their enemies (i.e. upper-class associates and relatives), thus excluding almost entirely the everyday lives of ordinary Romans, any changes in the Roman economy, trade, and climate, and also excludes anything related to material culture unless it involves monuments relevant to the Julio-Claudians.

 

This book couldn’t decide whether it was supposed to be a popular history book (with footnotes and bibliography) or a work of historical fiction.  Despite the inclusion of a timeline, maps and family trees, this book came across as a messy hodgepodge of people with vaguely similar names (apparently ancient Romans lacked imagination when naming their children!), who are in some way related to each other, doing various despicable deeds to each other.  Talk about a dysfunctional, psychopathic family!

 

 

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review 2018-05-20 15:15
Napoleon at his peak
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age: 1805-1810 - Michael Broers

The second volume of Michael Broers's projected three-volume biography of Napoleon Bonaparte covers the five years of his life between the start of his campaign against the Austrians in 1805 and his marriage to Marie Louise in 1810. This was the period which can be regarded as Napoleon at his peak. With his victories against the Austrians in 1805 and the Prussians and the Russians in 1806-7, the French emperor exercised a dominance over Europe that was unprecedented. Yet one of the themes that emerges from Broers's narrative is the fragile nature of Napoleon's control, as he details the ways in which his power began to evaporate almost as soon as he won it.

 

As Broers details, the main reason for this was the circumstances in which it was won. When Napoleon led the Grande Armée our of its camps around Boulogne and into central Europe, he commanded one of the finest military forces in existence, one that was well trained and consisted of veterans of the many wars that France had fought since 1792. Yet it was an unsustainable force, one that Napoleon's regime scrambled to finance even as it won its great victories against the Austrians. The end of the Austrian campaign led to the discharge of many of those veterans, who were replaced by younger, less experienced conscripts in subsequent campaigns.

 

Though Napoleon still won many victories with his new recruits, this was just one of the many challenges he faced. Another was with his efforts to control the lands his forces occupied, as he proved far more successful in defeating the armies of the old order than he was in controlling their territories. Here Broers's expertise as an historian of the era is employed to his greatest effect, as he demonstrates how the French occupation of southern Italy in 1806 foreshadowed the problems the regime would face in Spain just two years later. Napoleon's efforts to establish his brother Joseph as king of Naples proved less than successful, as French reforms such as the end of feudalism quickly turned the Neapolitan aristocracy against the regime, forcing the French to maintain a military presence the region could not afford, and confronting Napoleon with a low-level uprising he did not know how to win.

 

Further hampering Napoleon's efforts to cement his dominance of Europe was his reliance upon his family as puppet monarchs. Here Broers astutely dismisses traditional criticisms of his use of them as rulers of the regions he conquered, pointing out that the practice was commonplace for ruling families throughout European history, Yet his brothers ultimately did not live up to the (often impossible) demands Napoleon placed upon them, and suffered the fore of his ire as a result. His frustration with them also informed his growing concern over the issue of succession, as his difficult marriage of Josephine had not produced the heir he so desperately desired. Though his efforts to wed a Russian princess ultimately proved fruitless, his negotiations with the Austrians proved more successful, and in 1810 he became the son-in-law of his twice-defeated opponent Francis II. Yet as Broers ends the volume he makes clear that the seeming solidity gained by the Napoleonic regime still rested on a foundation of sand, with Napoleon facing rebellions in occupied territories, resentful monarchs in the rest of the continent, and an ongoing war against Britain that showed no sign of resolution.

 

Broers describes all of this is a clear narrative that moves briskly through the many of events of the emperor's busy life. Drawing upon the bounty of the ongoing Correspondance générale series as well as recent scholarship on various aspects of his reign by the leading scholars of the era, he provides a fuller picture of Napoleon's rule than was possible for previous biographers. The result is a worthy successor to Broers's previous volume, Soldier of Destiny, and a book which further establishes his biography as the best one yet written about Napoleon Bonaparte.

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