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review 2018-04-05 19:13
An excellent introduction to the iconic monarch
Queen Victoria - K. D. Reynolds,H.C.G. Matthew

As one of the last monarchs whose name is associated with an era, Queen Victoria comes across more as an icon than as a person.  Yet the stout figure seemingly always dressed in mourning always had to walk a fine line between these two poles.  Viewed from birth as a likely future monarch, Victoria led a isolated life as a child thanks to her mother and a key member of her household, both of whom sought to usurp her future authority as queen.  Asserting herself soon after her accession to the throne, she nonetheless submitted willingly to her husband, Price Albert of Saxe-Coburg, deferring unquestioning to his counsel throughout their marriage.  Devastated by his death, she eventually emerged from her seclusion to assume a politically active role in the later decades of her reign, spending her final years as a beloved and venerated figure among the British people

 

Summarizing Victoria’s life for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, from which this short study is derived, was the joint task of its editor, H. C. G. Matthew, and one of his former students, K. D. Reynolds.  Matthew’s premature death, however, left Reynolds to finish up the entry.  His achievement is an impressive one that combines insight with brevity to provide a remarkably comprehensive summary, one that shrugs off the longstanding myths and imagery to allow a real person of flesh and blood to emerge.  It makes this book an essential starting point for learning more about the queen, one unlikely to be bettered in its evaluation of Victoria’s life and reign.

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review 2018-03-29 05:48
An encyclopedic treatment of Victorian railroads
The Victorian Railway - Jack Simmons

Jack Simmons book is nothing less than an encyclopedia of Victorian railroad history presented in a narrative format.  Using a thematic rather than chronological format, he addresses practically every aspect of the topic, from the machinery and use of railways to their representation in literature and their management of public relations.  Within them he provides a clear overview of the people, places, and technologies that created and directed the development of Britain’s railroad network.

 

The author of over a half-dozen more specialized books on railroad history, Simmons brings an impressive breadth of knowledge to his topic.  Much of this is clear from his writing, which with his confident and comfortable tone conveys an easy familiarity with his subject.  Yet like an encyclopedia entry his coverage is often brief as he passes from subject to subject, leaving the reader wanting to learn more.  This is especially true in terms of his illustrations, which while numerous are nowhere near sufficiently so for his text, leaving readers to track down pictures of the images and places he mentions for themselves.

 

None of this, however, detracts from the overall utility of this book.  Well written and deeply researched, Simmons’s book is an excellent guide to understanding Victorian railroads and the role they played in the history of their time.  Readers will find it an enlightening resource, one that they can enjoy from cover to cover or by selecting the chapters that sate specific needs.  Either way, it is one that people interested in the subject will want to keep on their shelves for many years to come.

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review 2018-03-29 01:19
Power for the sake of power
Disraeli - G.I.T. Machin

Of the great political figures of Victorian Britain, none have captured the popular imagination like Benjamin Disraeli. A converted Jew from a family of merchants and the son of a noted literary scholar, he rose in an aristocratic age to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. While numerous biographies have been written about him, most concentrate on his ostentatious personality, the style that characterized the man. Ian Machin's brief study, a volume in the "Profiles in Power" series, focuses instead on the political side of Disraeli's life, examining the positions and tactics he adopted over the course of his long career in public life.

 

Machin's book offers a good introduction to Disraeli and his politics, examining both his rise through the Tory ranks and his attitudes towards the prevailing issues in mid‑Victorian politics.. His contention is that the quest for power is the dominant theme running through Disraeli's career. To achieve it, Disraeli adopted an opportunistic approach in advocating policies or principles, trimming his sails to catch the prevailing political wind. This is most readily apparent in his economic policy, where Disraeli's advocacy of protectionism (which led to the destruction of Sir Robert Peel's government in 1846) was abandoned six years later in an attempt to improve his party's odds of winning seats in Parliament. Even after the Conservatives finally took office with a majority government in 1874, Machin notes, Disraeli possessed no legislative agenda beyond pursuing reform measures that would appeal to the public in an increasingly democratic age.

 

Though some might object to Machin's interpretation of Disraeli's career, this should not overshadow the overall qualities of the book. Balanced and insightful, it does a remarkable job of surveying Disraeli's life and career in such a short number of pages. For readers seeking to learn about this larger‑than‑life political figure, this is a good place to start.

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review 2018-03-28 03:16
Victorian possessions and their owners
Household Gods: The British and their Possessions - Deborah Cohen

Deborah Cohen’s book is a fascinating study on a number of levels.  From its starting point as a history of the domestic interior of middle class homes from the Victorian era into the early twentieth century, it serves as a lens for examining the history of the period on a number of different levels.  What emerges is an entertaining account of the democratization of taste that accompanied the growth of consumerism in the nineteenth century, one that reflected and presaged broader changes taking place in British society.

 

Cohen starts with a quote from a modern-day reverend bemoaning Britain’s current obsession with do-it-yourself stores which she sets up as an ironic counterpoint to the past, as in many ways the modern obsession with home decoration can be traced to the Evangelical movement of the nineteenth century.  Prior to then, taste was the domain of the upper classes, inherent and exclusive to them.  As the middle class prospered, however, its Evangelical members wrestled with the impact of the growing consumerism upon their souls.  Their ingenious solution was not to reject materialism but to embrace it by stressing the moral impact goods made, and to channel consumption towards embodying godly virtues.

 

Though the impact of Evangelism faded as the century wore on, the passion for decoration only grew.  The middle class increasingly sought to define themselves by their household possessions, taking advantage of both their increasing wealth and the diminishing cost of household goods.  Cohen charts the many trends that emerged from this, such as the development of home-furnishing stores (many of which gradually divested themselves from their additional earlier role as undertakers), the growing embrace of the “artistic” as an ability for self-expression, and the gradual shift in the responsibility for decorating the home from men to women.  She also describes the reaction from the traditional class of wealthier consumers, who began collecting older furniture, creating a market for “antiques” that allowed them to maintain class distinctions and distinguish themselves from the broader consuming public.

 

Engagingly written and supported by numerous illustrations, Cohen’s book is an excellent study of its subject.  From her analysis of household goods and interior decoration, Cohen provides insight into the cultural, social, and economic developments of the era, making this a must read study for anyone interested in the Victorian era and the modern world that emerged from it.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-03-20 16:06
The Cater Street Hangman (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #1) - Anne Perry
The Cater Street Hangman - Anne Perry

I'm still here! We've had a crazy few months at my place. I've had three sets of tonsils removed from various people in as many months. The two five year olds weren't so bad. The 33 year old? That was a special kind of fun. Seriously, the adult caregiver in charge should get drugs too. And I still have that full-time job thing that requires my attention. Unfortunately for me, the 33 year old from my house who just had surgery is also the head of the department I work in. Apparently since we share a mortgage, children, and weddings rings I get to do all of his work on top of my own work. I'm not really sure I get paid enough for that. Actually, I'm 100% positive I don't get paid enough for that. 

 

I have read books since I last reviewed. I think. I'm pretty sure I have. Maybe not. I don't really know. I'm not really even sure what day it is. 

 

My latest task for Historical Mystery Clue was to read a book with a black cover. I bought this book nearly two years ago for my Kindle when it was 99 cents. The goal was to read it when I bought it. The book came fairly highly recommended by people with similar tastes to my own. This book is also on The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List's Classic Historical Mysteries list. To me that implies it is a must read for fans of that particular genre. The other two books on the classics list are A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters and The Crocodile in the Sandbanks by Elizabeth Peters. I have now read all three classics. I was not impressed with any of them. I haven't even continued with the series in the case of the later two. 

 

So what was my problem with the book? It wasn't an overly complex book. I could have easily polished it off in a day if I had the time or the desire. The fact of the matter is, I didn't have the desire. Early on I found myself annoyed with the sisters. It was like Mean Girls meets Victorian London. The bickering and the nit-picking was almost more than I could take. I had the mystery figured out pretty early on. What kept me reading was the need to know if I was right. I was right. However, to find out I was right, I had to deal with pages and pages of sisters bickering, grandma bickering, and mom fighting with the mother-in-law. It was tedious. 

 

Based on how the book ended, I'm going to guess there's less of sister bickering in the coming books. Hoping this is true, I'm going to pick up the second book in the series to see if this series really does live up to the hype. 

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