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review 2018-07-07 12:36
A fantastic book, didactic, entertaining, and moving. Great images and fabulous writing.
The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany - Roger Moorhouse

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by antiques and collectibles, not so much for their monetary value, as for the stories (and the History) behind the objects. As museums prove, objects can make us feel closer to other cultures and eras, creating a tangible reminder of lands and times distant from ours. Some objects might have an intrinsic interest (they are made of valuable materials, or by well-known artists), others are interesting because of their owners (kings, queens, or famous historical figures, like writers, inventors, artists…), and others because of what they represent. Although no objects are good or bad in their own right, they become infused with meaning through the use they are put to, and they can make us feel all kinds of emotions, from delight to abject fear.

In this book, the author has collected a hundred objects to give us, as the subtitle states, ‘A Material History of Nazi Germany’. And he achieves his aim with flying colours. The author is an expert on the period and has written many books about Hitler and Nazi Germany, and although I’m sure different people would have chosen differently, the selection he has put together gives the reader a good understanding of all aspects of life in Nazi Germany. We find personal objects, both of the Nazis (from Hitler’s paint box and his moustache brush to medals, decorations, and death cards) and their victims (the well-known Judenstern [the yellow star Jews had to wear), a forced labourer’s ‘Work Card’, or Sophie Scholl’s Matriculation Card [a member of the White Rose resistance movement]), objects that illustrate everyday life under the regime (ration cards, a gas-mask, the devaluated German banknotes, Hindenburg Lights…), examples of propaganda (The Schattenmann [the shadow man, a warning against talking about military secrets], a variety of posters including one for the propaganda anti-Semitic film Der Ewige Jude, the Great German Art Exhibition Catalogue, and the many imposing buildings), objects directly related to the war, including weaponry (planes, tanks, bombs, even the V-2 Missile) and documents. Each object is accompanied by a brief note (around a page or so) explaining its origin and putting it into context.

Richard Overy’s introduction sets well the project of the book and its author and emphasises the importance of image for Hitler and his party. This becomes increasingly evident as one progresses through the book, where there are ample examples of uniforms, symbolism (like their use of runes, the swastika, and the German eagle), badges… The writing is both informative and compelling, and it varies to suit the nature of the object. Sometimes it is descriptive and fairly neutral, but at others, it is impossible to read without feeling grief, sadness, and/or anger. The book has the advantage of not following a narrative thread, whereby it is easy to read in fits and starts, and readers can pick and choose the objects they are interested in, or go through them all, as I did. If we read it from beginning to end, the objects form a chronological history of sorts, as we start with objects that reflect the beginning of the regime, and eventually get to weaponry and documents from the very end of the war. The last object is Göring’s cyanide capsule, so you get the idea.

There were objects I was familiar with, and others that I knew about but had never seen (for example, the iron bed of a psychiatric asylum, that, as a psychiatrist, I found particularly moving and horrifying), and some that were complete surprises, like a Hitler Elastolin Toy Figure, the Mutterkreuz (a cross given to mothers who had 4 children or more. The author summarises it thus: It signified, in effect, the politicisation of the German womb, [Moorhouse, p. 109]), or the very cute ‘Goliath’ miniature tank (sorry, but there are some lighter moments as well. In case you feel curious, you can check it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliath_tracked_mine). What I was more impressed by, apart from the quality of both, images and writing, was the way these disparate objects and the narrative behind them managed to give me a good sense of what life was like at the time, without having to read tonnes and tonnes of pages full of dry information. This book illustrates well the power of images. I have read plenty of books set on that era and watched many movies that take place in the same historical period but seeing the real objects helped me feel closer to the action, the people, and the events than I had ever before.

I recommend this book to people interested in the history of the period who are not big experts on it and don’t want an exhaustive account of battles and events. I also recommend it to anybody thinking about writing a book about the era, or people who design sets or work sourcing props or designing backdrops and objects for theatre, television or film. There is plenty of material to inspire numerous productions, and it is all collected in a single, easy-to-read, and well-indexed volume, with notes that facilitate further research tasks. Another winning volume published by Pen & Sword.

A quick note: my version of the book is a hardback copy, but I’ve checked the e-book version and the images are as good as those in the print version (although depending on the use you are thinking of giving it, you might consider what suits you best, as there’s little difference in price between the two versions, but this varies depending on the store).

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review 2018-04-16 11:28
Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects
Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects - Jack Ashby

A gorgeous publication, and it started off strong for me, as the first entry is the platypus.  But I have to admit to a whole lot of skimming; the writing is dry and the author uses the book to fly the flag for the Grant Museum of Zoology at every opportunity.  There's also a mind numbing number of entries involving worms.  Now, I like reading about worms if the writing is engaging - I've read an entire book about earthworms (5 stars!) - and the author's aim to fairly represent animals that make up a huge part of evolutionary history, is logical.  But there's only so much information one can take on-board about all the wormlike creatures in the history of the world before falling asleep.

 

It's a worthy book, but could have been more engagingly written.

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review 2018-03-09 22:29
"Husbands And Other Sharp Objects" by Marilyn Simon Rothstein - DNF - abandoned at 15%
Husbands and Other Sharp Objects - Marilyn Simon Rothstein

I bought "Husbands And Other Sharp Objects" because the title was clever, the book cover was attractive and the premise - a woman about to be divorced whose husband wants her back and who has to arrange her daughter's wedding, seemed ripe with opportunities for humour.

 

I was hoping for something original and quirky, like "The Bette Davis Club".

The beginning showed promise. I liked this throwaway line:

"Gumption should be taught in every school. Gumption is more important that geography because, even if you can read the map, you're not going anywhere without gumption."

Humour is a very personal thing and is mercilessly binary: it's either funny or it's not. Some readers might describe this book slickly self-deprecating and sophisticated. I found it smug and superficial.

 

I found the main character to be shallow. There were too many descriptions of what everyone was wearing and whether or not they were attractive. The banter was a little stiff. The narrator over-emoted and read more slowly than I'd have liked.

 

I stuck it out for an hour and twenty minutes and then decided that this book just isn't my sort of thing.

 

Maybe it will be more to your taste than mine. Take a listen to the SoundCloud link below and see what you think.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/409501413" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

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review 2018-02-06 00:00
Husbands and Other Sharp Objects: A Novel
Husbands and Other Sharp Objects: A Nove... Husbands and Other Sharp Objects: A Novel - Marilyn Simon Rothstein This is my second book by Ms. Rothstein. I loved her first book and was so happy excited that the characters from Lift and Separate were in this one too. I loved the story as much as I loved the first book. I’m hoping for another book with this great crazy family
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review 2018-01-29 10:14
Animal Kingdom by Jack Ashby
Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects - Jack Ashby

TITLE:  Animal Kingdom:  A Natural History in 100 Objects

 

AUTHOR:  Jack Ashby

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  978 0 7509 8613 7

_______________________________________________

 

This book does exactly what it says on the cover - it provides a natural history of the animal kingdom in 100 objects.  The objects in the title refer to museum objects - specimens of various animals found either on display or in the museum's storage facilities.

The book is divided into 4 parts:  (1) Understanding Diversity; (2) Life's Turning Points; (3) Natural Histories; and (4) Displaying Nature.   Each part has a variety of very short animal/object chapters highlighting various scientific concepts, observations and historical anecdotes.  The narrative at the beginning of each part is rather useful and informative in tying all the separate objects and concepts together.  Each chapter also includes a photograph/illustration of the object as well as additional illustrations or diagrams as required.  The writing is clear, concise and easy to read, without bogging the reader down in too much scientific jargon.  

Ashby starts off by discussing the diversity that exists in the animal kingdom by using 18 different museum objects that represent 18 major groupings of the animal kingdom.  These 18 selective objects don't generally receive a great deal of attention, so there was generally something new to learn for each short (extremely short) chapter on each animal.   

Life's Turning Points takes a look at 10 objects that represent 10 points of evolution that lead to mammals:.  This section includes the Cambrian Explosion, jawless fishes, cartilaginous fishes, ray-finned fishes, lobe-finned fishes, tetrapods and vertebrate life on land, amphibians, amniotes (e.g. reptiles), mammal-like reptiles, and modern mammals (e.g. the horse).


The Natural Histories section deals with how evolution works.  So objects/animals have been selected to discuss such concepts as:  natural and sexual selection; convergent evolution; biogeography; processes underlying animal adaptations; animal senses; genetic systems underlying animal ecology; symbiotic and parasitic relationships; how humans are affecting the world today; etc.



The final section of the book takes a look at how museums obtain, preserve, display their specimens and represent nature.  It also examines the purpose of museums and their relationship with the public.  This is a particularly interesting section since the subject of preserving and displaying specimens that aren't always in a good condition is a fascinating subject (how do you preserve a jellyfish?). 

The author manages to condense a variety of biological concepts and extras, in plain language, in 100 short, illustrated chapters without being boring.  His selection of objects to represent various concepts is interesting and provides an opportunity to highlight several uncommon animals, as well as provide fascinating information about each animals.  This book lends itself well to reading a chapter or two at a time.  The expert zoologist or biologist will probably not find very much new information in this book, but the general interested public may find a great deal they haven't come across before.

 

 

SOME OTHER BOOKS:

 

-The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History by David Beerling

 

- Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer

 

- Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

 

- Restless Creatures by Matt Wilkins

 

- Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf

 

-  When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time by Michael J. Benton.

 

-  Tales From The Underground: A Natural History Of Subterranean Life by David W. Wolfe.

 

-  The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions by David  
Quammen.

 

- What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe.  

 
-  Life: An Unauthorised Biography: A Natural History of the First Four Thousand Million Years of Life on Earth by Richard Fortey.
    
-  The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

 

 

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