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review 2017-06-01 06:19
Podcast #50 is up!
Radicalism and Reputation: The Career of Bronterre O'Brien - Michael J. Turner

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Michael J. Turner ot his new biography of James Bronterre O'Brien, the 19th English radical writer who was a key figure in the Chartist movement. Enjoy!

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review 2017-05-18 15:41
My forty-fifth podcast is up!
‘Guilty Women’, Foreign Policy, and Appeasement in Inter-War Britain - Julie V. Gottlieb

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Julie Gottlieb about her recent book on the role of women in the British appeasement debates of the 1930s. Enjoy!

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review 2017-04-28 18:12
Women and appeasement
‘Guilty Women’, Foreign Policy, and Appeasement in Inter-War Britain - Julie V. Gottlieb

All too often, foreign policy has been treated as though it were exclusively the concern of men, with women usually seen either as passive participants or as secondary support. Breaking that paradigm often requires broadening the view of foreign policy formulation to take into account other, less tangible factors, such as political rhetoric, public opinion, and social encounters in which women were often able to exert influence on international relations. One such example of this was in the appeasement debates in Britain in the 1930s, in which, as Julie Gottlieb reveals in this book, women played a significant role in both the advocacy for appeasement and in the efforts to urge a stronger stance towards Nazi Germany.


Gottlieb's examination is divisible into three areas. The first is in the role women played in public activism. This was an area in which women enjoyed their greatest prominence, as their participation in such activities as peace movements and refugee aid organizations had long provided them with an entrée into public discussions regarding foreign affairs. By contrast their participation in electoral politics was more novel, yet here Gottlieb describes the role that women played as well, not just in terms of elected officials such as Nancy Astor, but others such as Annie Chamberlain who, while not a Member of Parliament nonetheless enjoyed a degree of public prominence and played an important role as a campaigner for her husband, Neville. Their presence proved more than symbolic, and they were seen as important conduits to the millions of recently enfranchised women, whose votes now had to be factored into the political calculus of any decision.


By expanding the analysis of the participants in the arguments over appeasement, Gottlieb has provided a long-overdue correction to a traditionally blinkered understanding of the participants in the contemporary debates over appeasement. While her writing can be a little dense due to her over-reliance upon jargon, she nonetheless provides an invaluable study of the development of British foreign policy in the 1930s. No future study of the subject can afford to ignore the fresh perspective she has brought to it, and hopefully it can serve as a model for similar studies that can restore women to an area of history from which that have been unjustly left out for too long.

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review 2017-03-14 21:56
Scars of the Independence
Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth - Holger Hoock

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.


The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced.  In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.


Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family.  The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict.  Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners.  While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war.  But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.


One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth.  Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars.  Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.


Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history.  Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

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text 2017-01-10 11:07
Paeans to my Favorite Books -- IV: Harold Nicolson's Diaries and Letters
Diaries and Letters, Vol. 2: The War Years, 1939-1945 - Nigel Nicolson,Harold Nicolson

One of the more frivolous parts of my library is my collection of British political diaries and letters. When I term it "frivolous," I don't mean in terms of its subject matter (though I'm sure that some will regard it as such for that reason) but in its readability. I began collecting such works when I had aspirations towards academic writing (aspirations that I would still like to fulfill someday), as the personal writings of such figures always are a useful resource. Yet such works don't always make for pleasure reading, even when I have an interest in the subject.


One of the great exception to this is the diaries of Harold Nicolson. Nicolson was a former diplomat and author who in 1930 began keeping a diary of his literary and political activities. Aspiring to a political career, he ran for Parliament and was lucky enough to get in by the skin of his teeth in the general election of 1935. Unbeknownst to him or anyone else, this would give him a front-row seat to some of the momentous events in modern history, namely the events leading up to the Second World War and Britain's struggle for survival during it.


In the 1960s Nicolson's son Nigel edited the diaries for publication, leavening them with a selection of his correspondence from the period. I picked up a copy of the diaries years ago, yet it wasn't until relatively recently that I sat down to read them. What I found was a marvelous personal account of the 1930s and 1940s from a perceptive and well-connected observer of events. The second volume, which covers the war years, is by far the most interesting, as not only did Nicolson witness firsthand Winston Churchill's waging of the war from the dispatch box, but his recollection of events offers a contemporary window into the war as it was lived. Reactions to major events are interwoven with references to personal struggles and anecdotes of the political and literary figures with whom Nicolson spent his time. Yet the greatest value of the diaries is their readability; Nicolson had a sense for the perceptive anecdote, and his personal observations of the people he witnessed gives them a life that is lacking from most biographical accounts. Not only did I find reading them enormously enjoyable, but i find myself returning to them as a great account of how one person experienced some of the most trying times in human history. It is truly an amazing document of a man and his times.

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