Posts Tagged ‘history’

My First Theme Read

May 10, 2008

I’m a member of the “Reading Globally” group on LibraryThing, which does theme or country-based theme reads every month and I am planning to participate both in the “Balkans” read this month and the “voluntary immigration” (so as to distinguish from displacement or abduction) theme read in June.

Getting ready for those has got me thinking about the potential power of doing mini-theme reads on my own – reading historical fiction, fiction, and/or nonfiction all together around a certain subject in order to get a fuller understanding of the subject. I have a couple that are sort of forming in my head:

  • I bought an historical book about Alexander the Great and have solicited historical fiction recommendations about the same from kegsoccer.
  • I read one of Lauren Willig’s books, Deception of the Emerald Ring, without knowing it was part of a series, or that it was based on the aftermath of the events in The Scarlet Pimpernel. I have now acquired all but her newest book and plan to read first The Scarlet Pimplernel, then all of her books in order as a slightly different sort of theme read. Probably I will be taking all of these on my honeymoon in July, as her books seem good beach books to me.

However, my first theme read sprang from my TBR pile completely unplanned, as Athena from the forehead of Zeus. As I wrote earlier this week, I experienced some reading ennui after reading and reviewing “Someday My Prince Will Come.” That book was just so charming and fun that nothing seemed right afterwards. I finally decided that this situation called for a not-too-heavy reread. I went to my bookshelves to grab “The Other Boleyn Girl,” but accidentally pulled out “The Historian” instead. “That’s okay,” I thought, “I like ‘The Historian’.” This was the fateful thought that brought about this theme read.

I began reading “The Historian” and thought, “hey, as long as I’m reading this, I should read ‘Vlad the Impaler‘ at the same time, since I already have it and haven’t read it!” I got a little ways into both books and decided I should see what all the fuss was originally about, and sent Brian to Half Price Books to pick up “Dracula” for me. He actually got me a very nice, annotated copy. So now, out of nowhere, I am doing some sort of Dracula/vampire theme read…and it is AWESOME! “Dracula” is actually really, really good so far.

Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide – Book Review

May 2, 2008

Kings and Queens of England CoverThe fantastic thing about books chronicling the rulers of Britain is that, even if they are from the 1970s, they aren’t all that out of date.

I picked up Jane Murray’s “The Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide” from a library bookstore recently because, well, why not? I am unashamedly interested in British history and British royal history. The last such book I read, Norah Loft’s “Queens of England” was very interesting in that it looked exclusively at Queens, whether they were regnant or not; however, it didn’t keep me from getting muddled about the line of succession from Queen Victoria to QEII (all those Hanovers/Windsors seem to have the same names).

I must admit, I’m still a bit muddled about the more recent kings, but this book cleared things up for me somewhat. As interesting as it was to read about all of the Queens, it is somewhat more instructive (to my mind) to read about all of the actual rulers. One thing I also appreciated about this book, in contrast to Loft’s book, is that it is written for an American audience. Essentially, as the title implies, it was written for American tourists to brush up on their royal history before their trip or carry the book around with them and look up a monarch when they see his or her name mentioned somewhere around Britain. Because of this, it also didn’t have the blatant pro-monarchy agenda of Loft’s book, written just four years later.

Obviously no book can cover every ruler from Edward the Confessor to Queen Elizabeth II in an in-depth manner, but I thought Murray did a good job at hitting the high and low points of each ruler. Definitely enough to help American tourists remember the difference between Edward II and Edward IV. The only odd thing about this book was that it started in the ‘present’ and worked its way backwards towards Edward the Confessor. Although this at first interrupted the flow for me, by the end I think it helped me piece everything together.

April Reading Wrap-up

May 2, 2008

I read 13 books in April, including my two audiobooks. Two were audio books, four were given to me specifically to review, one was sent to me by a fantastic fellow blogger, one was for book club, and the rest I just picked up because they sounded interesting. There are two more books that I began in April, but since one I just finished and the other I’m only half way through, they will count for May. Here’s the basic rundown of what I read and reviewed. At the bottom you’ll find my top pick for the month…

My Reading Wrap-up for April


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (audiobook)

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (audiobook) – review coming soon

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Historical Fiction

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker (LibraryThing Early Reviewer book)

Queen of Shadows by Edith Felbar

The Last Queen: A Novel by C.W. Gortner

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Two Brothers: One North, One South (LibraryThing Early Reviewer book)

Alternative History (Fiction)

Eleanor Vs. Ike by Robin Gerber


Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

A Year Without ‘Made in China’ by Sara Bongiorni (book club book)


Franklin and Lucy by Joseph Perino (LibraryThing Early Reviewer book)

Historical Genesis by Richard Fischer (ReaderViews Review Book)

Top Pick for the Month:

The Last Queen cover

C.W. Gortner’s “The Last Queen” is a novel of Juana of Castile, also known as ‘Juana la Loca’. Gortner is very sympathetic to Juana and writes her fantastically. This is a wonderful novel of a woefully overlooked and maligned Queen. See my full review here.

Historical Genesis – Book Review

April 23, 2008

Historical Genesis: From Adam to Abraham
Author: Richard James Fischer
Publisher: University Press of America
Published March 2008
Reviewed by Jen Cardwell for Reader Views 04/08

The Science of Genesis

4 Stars

Historical Genesis coverWas there a real man named Adam? What is the location of the Garden of Eden? Who is Cain worried will kill him after he kills his brother, if Adam’s family are the only people on Earth? How could Noah and his sons have repopulated the earth in the time since the flood? How would they have even gotten all the animals of the world onto their ark? And how would the animals have gotten back to places like Australia and the Americas with time for evolution into different species?

Questions like this are asked over and over by people questioning the Biblical account of Genesis and creation. The stories of Adam, the flood, and the tower of Babel tend to be considered mere allegory, if not dismissed outright as a story cribbed from other, older creation stories. The other option is for a literal, traditionalist interpretation: Adam was the first man, the flood covered the entire world, all post-flood people spoke a single language until that debacle at the tower of Babel.

Richard James Fischer believes there is a fourth, more correct option. In an attempt to reconcile the Biblical record with the historical record, Fischer comes up with an extremely interesting hypothesis: Genesis is literally about southern Mesopotamia. Essentially, Genesis 2-11 is the story not of the world, but of the Jewish people and their origins. This is not to say that he claims that Genesis 1 is not the creation of the universe and the world. He in fact makes no claims at all about Genesis 1, his entire analysis is of Genesis 2-11.

Although I took a number of religious studies classes in college, I am not a Biblical scholar by any means. I have never made an exhaustive study of Genesis in the ancient Hebrew, nor do I know any ancient Hebrew at all, other than the bits Fischer taught me in “Historical Genesis”. Neither can I speak with real authority to the veracity of statements about pottery types and flood layers, kings lists and linguistic similarities between the names Ziusudra and Noah. I can say, however, that I felt that I knew far more about the scientific basis for placing the events of Genesis in Mesopotamia and the cultural implications of many parts of the creation and flood stories.

“Historical Genesis” has a very easy style for a book packed with so much scholarly research. The author and editors wisely chose to impart information under short subheadings in relatively short chapters. This kept the pace moving, and kept me from getting bogged down in nearly incomprehensible (to me) discussions about the differences in pottery in different layers at Eridu.

This book would be fantastic for a religious studies or seminary course on Genesis. Readers should have some familiarity both with the story itself as well as with some basic principles of anthropology and linguistics, if not being read in a class, or with some similar type of support system. I would highly recommend this book for any interested in the accounts in the book of Genesis. Whether you agree with him or not, Fischer’s book will make you think.

Buy this book on Amazon: Historical Genesis: from Adam to Abraham

U.S. History Early Reviewer Morning: The Civil War, FDR

April 21, 2008

My April ER book arrived this morning (actually, our wonderful mailman Irving left it in our mail slot on Saturday, but I got it today).  The book is called “Two Brothers: One North, One South” and is historical fiction about the Civil War, the story is narrated by Walt Whitman by David H. Jones.  It is not actually an ARC, but is a very pretty hardback book that arrived in wonderful condition, personally autographed by the author, with two lovely book marks inside (both with information about the book).  I will have to decide what sort of historical fiction I’m in the mood for next: this, or a story of Juana la Loca.

Funnily enough, this same morning that I received my April U.S. historical fiction ER book, I saw a story in the New York Times about my March bonus batch U.S. history ER book.  This article discusses Joseph Persico’s new book Franklin and Lucy, the research therein, and the Roosevelt’s parallels to the Clintons.  Read my review of the book here.

Fact, Fiction, and Phillipa Gregory

April 8, 2008

I just found a very interesting essay/statement on Phillipa Gregory’s website about the fact and fiction in her novels about the Boleyns, the Howards, and the Tudors. She includes some of her research as well as her process. It is quite an interesting perusal for anyone who has read her books.

Franklin and Lucy – Book Review

April 8, 2008

Franklin and Lucy coverLT ER birdJoseph Perico’s latest book is called Franklin and Lucy: “President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life.” This is an incredibly readable and engaging history of President Roosevelt as seen through the lens of his relationships with women. Unsurprisingly, the book deals primarily Eleanor and Lucy Rutherford.

Overall I thought this book to be fantastic, it read very easily for the most part and had some interesting new research. It is a book I would absolutely recommend to anyone interested in the history of any of these people. Much of the first half of the book was devoted to Eleanor and it was perhaps her psyche that was most deeply explored of any.

The most difficult thing for me in reading this book was finding its true sense of purpose. I was not sure if it was meant to be simply a history of FDR told through his relationships with the variety of women in his life, or if it was supposed to be more about the women and their relationships with FDR, and how those relationships influenced his presidency. My frustration was that I believed the goal to be the latter and, while it was present, the former dominated. I finally achieved peace with this in the last chapter of the book, entitled “A Judgement” which was really Perico’s summation of his work. In this I learned that the purpose of the book tended more towards a different lens through which to write an FDR biography, which just happened to include the psychological effects on Franklin that these relationships had. That being the case, these peeks into FDR’s development were merely a welcome treat. It would not hurt, however, for future editions to have more of a thesis statement in the introduction than is currently there.

The other thing that bothered me while reading the book was a lack of mention of Japanese internment during the war. However, this omission is easily explained if this was not something Roosevelt particularly discussed with the women in his life so, while it bothers me, I do not think it necessarily a failing of the book.

Viewing history through relationships often makes it much more accessible for the casual studier. No matter your degree of knowledge of and familiarity with FDR and his presidency, this book is worth reading.

Buy this book on Amazon: Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life

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