Elizabeth S's Comments
(member since May 15, 2009)
Agreed, Lori. Jackson seems quite scary in these chapters. Sometimes I think politics are corrupt and messed up now, and then I read history books are realize that politics have always been corrupt and messed up.
Hi all. I've been keeping up with the reading, but haven't had time to read any of the comments. So far, I am learning a ton of stuff reading this book. I like how the references are in footnotes rather than endnotes--I like to be able to glance down to see what kind of source is being used, and sometimes there is interesting extra info.
Karolyn wrote: "I just finished the book and have to say I've got mixed feelings on it. I really appreciate that Herrin took on the task of surveying Byzantine history in 400 pages. Not knowing much about the topi..."
Very much agreed, Karolyn.
There has been a lot of talk in this thread about depression. It seems to have been a big part of JQA's life. Personally, I think it is amazing that anyone with that much depression had any success without the medications we have today. I wonder if his avid journal writing kept him afloat.
I'm also thinking of what we know today about ADHD. Imagine having difficulty concentrating (for whatever reason) and being required to read boring stuff for 12 hours a day. On page 55 it says, "When Adams complained about time lost as a result of noisy visitors in the office, Parsons insisted that he disregard all distractions when reading--'a direction which I believe I shall never be able to comply,' Adams wrote." Sounds like JQA needed an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that requires his school to help him avoid distractions. Life is sure different today.
I like what JQA and his friends did on page 57, taking musical instruments around town serenading until 4am. Sounds like fun.
I wonder how American history might have been different if Abigail hadn't interfered with JQA's engagement to Mary Frazier. If JQA had married her, so much of his life may have been very different. I guess it is something to think about as we read the rest of the book.
I think so. Collecting books, reading, learning languages, all seem to be pure fun for him.
I enjoyed reading on page 26 that JQA "haunted the booksellers, the start of a lifelong hobby, buying many volumes for shipment home." Sounds like the same expensive habit that I have...
Oh, on page 35 there is an interesting little bit that one could use as a great trivia question. "What was the favorite color of the 6th president of the United States?" Answer: blue.
All good comments. I see how it would be disappointing for JQA and his father that JQA wasn't ready to enter Harvard when and how they expected. After all, JQA had tons of life experience and world experience that surely the other students did not have. How many of the other Harvard students had ever been a secretary to a Foreign Minister?
And yet, he clearly did not have enough knowledge in certain areas that were important at Harvard. I think of the big-fish-in-a-little-pond finding himself a little-fish-in-a-big-pond. Only with JQA, I think it is more that in Europe he was an exotic fish in a big pond. And then he moved to the little, frontier pond of the USA and found he was ordinary and not quite up to standard.
I think Chapter 25 contains one of those front-runners for Understatement of the Year Award:
"Emperor Alexios IV and his advisers were extraordinarily stupid and complacent to allow a fully equipped siege army to remain camped outside its gates, neither paying off the crusaders as they had been promised, nor attacking and destroying them" (page 267). Machiavelli would not have been impressed.
Also, Byzantium: The Surprising Life Of A Medieval Empire
seems to be unfolding events a little more historically at this point in the book. I wish it had seemed that way at the beginning. I might have been less confused back then. :)
Bryan wrote: "Welcome, Elisabeth. I think he wrote letters and reports and probably sent them on a ship going back. It does take a long time to communicate, doesn't it?"
Thanks for the welcome, Bryan.
That makes sense for sending things back where one came from, but sometimes (such as on page 17) I think they are writing to people in the same direction as they are going. So, while waiting for a ship to Mass., writing a letter to Abigail in Mass. I'm wondering if maybe there were mail ships that were smaller or faster or something that means they can sail more often or without passengers?
With all this letter writing while waiting for a ship, I'm a little curious. If there isn't a ship that can take you where you are going, how is it that you can send a letter to where you are going? See page 17, for example, where John and JQA are waiting for a ship to take them from France to Massachusetts. During the weeks that they wait it says that John sent "another enthusiastic report to Abigail." Was he really just writing the report and then taking it with him, or was there a way for the mail to get through?
I am impressed, by the way, with how well Nagel does with differentiating between John Adams and JQA. It is tricky when names are so similar, but I think Nagel does a great job.
As with others, I am impressed by the education JQA received and what he was encouraged to study. Without a formal school situation, so much of the study had to be self-driven. Even with a tutor/father who says, "read this" and "do this", a student would have to have some drive to do that successfully.
Vince wrote: "PS - sorry - forgot one observation -
pg 10 - the inscription of John Adams on the burial stone of Henry Adams........ "Veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, patience, temperance, frugality, industry and perseverance"
Makes me think of
A (boy) Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful (maybe kill the cheerful for the Adams), thrifty, brave, clean, reverent --- from memory after all these years
Pretty impressive, Vince. Once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout, right? My son was just learning the scout law a few weeks ago, so it is rather fresh in my mind. :)
Coming late to the party, here. But I finished reading the whole book already, so hopefully it won't take me long to catch up on commenting! (And yes, I will be careful about spoilers.)
I appreciated the introduction the author gives us. Unlike many introductions, it was actually helpful! Just about all that I knew about JQA was that he was president of the US and son of John Adams. The introduction helped set the stage for me, giving a brief and general overview of the man. I am impressed with JQA's journal-keeping. Even back in those days when writing was more common, JQA's commitment to his journal was quite impressive. (If I ever accidentally become famous enough for someone to write a bio about me, I'm going to wish I had kept a better journal!)
All the talk of trying to unite the two Christian churches was either interesting or eye-rolling. Disputes about the exact wording of creeds, "differences over leavened or unleavened bread, the number of genuflections and the days and degrees of fasting" (page 261)... Okay, I can understand holding fast to one's version of the creed, as changing the creed is basically changing beliefs. But arguing about the number of genuflections? Sheesh.
Back to the translation issue, "In all these meetings of East and West, language was a basic problem: few Greeks knew Latin, and even fewer westerners knew Greek" (page 260). It wasn't just a problem with translating scripture, but also with people not knowing each other's language. That would make discussion a little harder.
It is kinda funny to look at discrimination from the distance of time and/or space. For example, on page 244 it says that the emperor's doctor was "the only Jew allowed to ride on horseback." Seems like such a weird restriction to not let Jews ride on horses. I'm guessing it was one of those status things where one has to be "good enough" to merit the speed/comfort/versatility of riding a horse.
I very much enjoyed the paragraph about Harald made it through the sealed Golden Horn on page 245. I like that kind of ingenuity and people working together to solve a problem.
Or maybe we should say that the skin is the limit at the beaches now. After all, you can't go much further than that! Ha ha.
From Chapter 22, sounds like Anna Komnene was an amazing woman. It kinda ticked me off to read that "recently some historians have doubted that Anna actually wrote" her great Alexiad
(page 238). I realize that the historians are probably claiming that a woman at that time would have been so constrained that they can't believe she had the experience to write it. But it sure sounds like they are saying, "Well, maybe women are smart now, but women back then were dumb." Sheesh. It is hard enough to find smart, capable women in history without historians deciding that the ones we know about don't exist. :)
I liked the description of trousers as "a rather indecent novelty" (page 240). Imagine if people back then came to the beaches today. Whooeee!
It is funny to me how great writers such as Plato and Plutarch kinda cycle in and out of fashion throughout history. For a while they are wise and the basis of education, then they are heretics, then cultures re-learn their wisdom, etc. It was interesting to read (on page 228) of John Mauropous who composed "a prayer begging God to admit them to heaven because they were good men who had lived before the Christian revelation."
Also, I was impressed with the explanation for why you see lightning before you hear thunder, "sound requires time for its transmission while sight is independent of time" (page 229). Not bad.
A question I've always had about those once-a-year bathers: Why bother bathing at all? If it is so distasteful that you only do it once a year, then why bother?
Okay, I know that there are some who like bathing and wish they could bath more often. But for those who think frequent bathing is crude... why ever do it?
Good point, Tacman. It really was an impossible task. I'm not sure what could have been done to make the task itself more reasonable.
I forgot to mention, those pictures are amazing! Thanks for look them up and posting them. And thanks also for the information on Norbert Elias. Good to know I'm not the only one who recognizes Winston but not Norbert. :)