Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Franklin Roosevelt ARC

April 1, 2008

Early Review badgeI don’t think that I shared the joy that I actually was chosen for two LibraryThing Early Reviewer books. Random House offered LibraryThing a bonus batch in March and I was chosen for Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life in addition to The Venetian Mask that I ‘won’ in the regular batch. Well, the Venetian Mask still hasn’t shown up for me (or anyone else, as far as I can tell), but Franklin and Lucy was brought to me today by my buddy, the UPS guy who delivers to our office.

I suppose that this means I will be reading Franklin and Lucy first, unless perhaps my other Early Reviewer book comes with our fantastic mailman Irving at noon (why do we have such great mail delivery men at my office?), in which case I might go ahead and read it first. I only got through the first (very short) chapter in The Handmaid’s Tale, so I guess Margaret Atwood is going to have to get shifted back…

Let me just finish by saying that Brian is VERY EXCITED for our budget that I am getting these free books. In addition to these two LibraryThing Early Reviewer books, I am lucky enough to have two other LibraryThing members sending me books this week that they had previously been given for review, plus I’m entering everywhere I can around the ‘net to win more books. I’m not sure if he is correct in thinking that these books will really impede my buying habit, but time will tell.
Edited to add: Unfortunately my dear friend Irving did not bring The Venetian Mask today, so I suppose it will be Franklin and Lucy at lunch!

The Zookeeper’s Wife – Book Review

March 31, 2008

Zookeeper's Wife coverTwo of my coworkers are reading Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife for their book club this week and they asked me if I had seen or read it before.  Since I had not, I looked it up and was fairly intrigued.  One of the ladies who was to read it for book club received her copy from the library earlier than she expected she would and let me take it for the weekend, as she was busy reading Three Cups of Tea.

The Zookeeper’s Wife takes place in Warsaw, Poland immediately before and during WWII.  This true story is told from the point of view of, if you could not guess, the wife of the keeper of the Warsaw zoo.  Her husband, Jan, is very involved in the Polish Underground, the resistance against the Nazis, and they hide Jews in their villa at the zoo to smuggle them out of the ghetto and to freedom.  People are hidden in rooms and closets in their house, as well as in some of the deserted animal cages (many animals were taken or killed by the Nazis, and some escaped when cages were damaged in bombings).

The narrative flow of this book strongly reminded me of Devil in the White City: Ackerman jutted off into quite a few side-stories about people, culture, and events surrounding the story just as Larson did.  However, while Larson’s occasionally diverted me from the actual story and had a tendency to get a bit dry, Ackerman used this technique more to explain some of the back story of what was going on in order to enrich the main story.

I felt that this book gave a very full picture of what was happening in and around Warsaw during the Nazi invasion and really helped the reader connect to the events by telling the story through a colorful and heroic family.

Buy this book on Amazon: The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story

Sacred History of Britain – Book Review

March 28, 2008

Sacred History of Britain CoverI found The Sacred History of Britain by Martin Palmer on the discount table at Half Price Books for $5. Sometimes there is a good reason that books are on the discount table, but I decided to give it a chance anyway. Religion? British history? A bargain? Count me in!

I am very glad that I gave this book a chance, as it was quite intriguing. In all seriousness, it was a very interesting book. As the title perhaps implies, Palmer traces the idea of the ‘sacred’ from British prehistory, by use of archeology through the advent of Christianity in the isles up to the present day panoply of religions in Britain (including the profusion of Christian sects).

I really appreciated Palmer’s evenhandedness on this subject. He is a Christian, I would guess an Anglican from the work, and he sets out that fact from the beginning of the book so that you can be aware of any possible bias. He was more than willing, however, to be candid about issues the church has had with corruption, etc. He seemed to try very hard to divorce his personal emotions regarding the church from this work. He was almost poetic about some of his experiences with sacred places in Britain, yet he de-romanticized everything from pre-historic religion to the Reformation.

Palmer is a great writer who kept the history interesting and kept the pace of the book moving. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest either in the history of religion or in the history of Britain. Secular history buffs won’t feel preached at and should enjoy a different perspective on British history.

Buy this book on Amazon:The Sacred History of Britain: Landscape, Myth & Power:The Forces That Have Shaped Britain’s Spirituality

Queens of England – Book Review

March 14, 2008

Queens of England coverQueens of England by Norah Lofts is a comprehensive overview of every Queen of England beginning with the wife of William the Conqueror and going through Queen Elizabeth II. It was a remarkably easy read, considering it comprises about 900 years of English royal history. It was also a very engaging read, I learned about many queens I had never heard of, the wives of many kings I had never heard of.

The book, however, definitely had an agenda. While it didn’t ruin the book for me, it definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the the work a little. When I noticed the chapters on each queen start to get much longer shortly before the reign of Queen Victoria (as many pages on Caroline of Brunswick as Elizabeth Tudor? And as many on Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz as Mary Tudor? Really?), I thought that I detected a 19th and 20th century bias. By the time I reached Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II, I realized that a ‘recent history bias’ wasn’t quite what the issue was. The book actually seems to have been written as an apologetic for the modern institution of the monarchy, to establish the long history of English royalty and in doing so argue for its continuation in the person of Queen Elizabeth II.

Lofts directly addressed some specific criticisms against the Queen and in fact attacked what she referred to as the “Age of Criticism.” This aspect of the book made the last two chapters my two least favorite of the book. The book had some other issues as well.

First, Lofts definitely assumed a fair degree of prior knowledge with British history, she would make off-hand comments referring to other events or the fates of the princes and princesses who were the progeny of whatever queen was currently being discussed. As the book was clearly written for a British audience (to whom else would she need to defend the continuation of the monarchy?), perhaps that was actually a fairly safe assumption and, while I was often confused, the nonchalant references sometimes made me simply want to know more about the subjects.

Second, there seemed to be some significant editing errors. There were absolutely sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs, of which I could not make heads or tails no matter how many times I tried. Often these sentences or paragraphs seemed to be flatly contradictory, so I would generally just skip them and read on.

Lastly, I simply wanted more information about many of these women! Some had as little as two pages, including a picture.
However, even with these problems, Queens of England is a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in royalty, the history of England, or just of the lives of women throughout history.

Buy this book on Amazon: Queens of England

The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur – Book Review

March 12, 2008

The Translator coverI was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari from someone who received it as an Early Reviewer and passed it along to me:

This was a very poignant memoir of a very important issue. Daoud is a Zaghawa tribesman from Darfur. After being educated, he leaves the country to find work and make money to send home to his family. Daoud returns home to Darfur in the midst of the genocide to check on his family. Shortly after he arrives, their village is attacked and everyone who survives is forced to flee for the border with Chad. It is in the refugee camps in Chad that Daoud finds his role in fighting the genocide: as a speaker of Zaghawa, Arabic, and English, Daoud is able to act as a translator first for UN and aid workers serving the refugees and later for reporters going into Sudan to report on the genocide first hand. While describing his experiences, Daoud is quite good about explaining the history of the conflict and of the region as a whole in a very understandable way.

Daoud Hari’s voice is supremely evident in this memoir. As I was reading I felt that I was sitting in front of him, listening to him tell me about what he had seen and experienced. I was actually glad only to be reading the account, not hearing it personally; there was so much pain and hardship in the words that I know I could never bear to hear those words with an emotional voice behind them. The story comes out both with a freshing straight-forwardness as well as with elegant use of foreshadowing and building the narrative, it is really beautifully told. This book should be purchased and then passed on to as many people as you can get to read it so that more people can actually feel what is happening in Darfur, instead of just hearing about it in a detached manner.

Buy this book on Amazon: The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur

The Children of Mary Boleyn

February 25, 2008

I just found this on Philippa Gregory’s website, research done by a descendant of Mary Boleyn, through her daughter Catherine Knollys (née Carey), as to whether or not Catherine and Henry Carey were in fact the illegitimate children of Henry VIII, resulting from his affair with Mary.


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