I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
The challenge of a "short history" or "concise history" is it often tackles sweeping period...moreI received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
The challenge of a "short history" or "concise history" is it often tackles sweeping periods of history. Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire takes six volumes. The history of Turkey is no less daunting, and Norman Stone takes on the challenge with verve, reducing centuries of economics, war, rise, decline, and so on to less than 200 pages. Of necessity, much is skimmed or skipped. Suleyman's siege of Vienna is mentioned. Mehmet II's capturing of Constantinople takes but a couple of paragraphs (where in Caroline Finkel's purposively larger history, Osman's Dreams, the final days of Byzantine Constantinople takes pages upon pages). The question inevitably becomes: Has Stone covered the right stuff? I think he has. He even occasionally states that the material is of interest mostly to specialists (while a bit of an exaggeration--I'm not specialist but I do have an interest--it's generally on the mark). Stone captures the broad rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the republic well. He may skim the siege of Vienna but he discusses the rivalry between the Ottomans, Spaniards, and Venetians and quickly cuts through the mass of materials to the core of both their wars and their own slow declines…a shifting of power from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic (i.e., France, England, and Holland).
Stone's style is easygoing, and he avoids jargon but has colorful asides and comparisons. He references how Turkish words and phrases have filtered into other languages and transformed over time, creating connections with Turkey that many of us never really know.
The book is an excellent introduction to Turkey, but for those with significant reading already in Turkish history, much will not be new here. (less)
An astonishing achievement of historical writing. Atkinson writes a compelling narrative, providing clarity and insights from the highest decision-mak...moreAn astonishing achievement of historical writing. Atkinson writes a compelling narrative, providing clarity and insights from the highest decision-makers to the privates, citizens, and nurses. You need not read any other trilogy to understand the war on the Western front in Europe.(less)
I'm old enough to remember and understand very well the hunting down and killing of the infamous Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel. Mark Bowd...moreI'm old enough to remember and understand very well the hunting down and killing of the infamous Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel. Mark Bowden is an author who knows how to engage his reader into a reporting story. He picks great topics, which helps, but the arc of the story, the people, the level of detail are all expertly handled. Bowden strikes me as one of those authors who can take a story you think you have little interest in and make you interested.
The story in Killing Pablo is straightforward: The rise of Pablo Escobar, the efforts of the Colombian government to capture him, the ever increasing interest of the United States, beginning with President Ronald Reagan, in Escobar as a part of the war on drugs, and the use of technology that kept Escobar on the run and eventually led to his being found and killed by a special Colombian police force. The story of the rise and fall of a criminal cartel.
Escobar began building his cocaine empire in the early 1970s and was fabulously wealthy by the late 70s. He was listed several times as one of the richest men in the world with homes and property scattered across the globe. At its height, the Medellin cart was exporting cocaine into the US in stripped down 727s, feeding the cocaine craze of the 1980s. Escobar did not create his wealth by being nice. While charismatic, humorous, and often stoned man was remembered as quiet by many that encountered him (leading to the frequent inability to match the man to his crimes), Escobar and his cohorts were brutal. If bribery did not work, kidnappings and murder were easy choices. The apartments of police officers were bombed, the families of journalists were kidnapped and killed, their bodies messages. Over and over again, Bowden tells the story of men and women assigned to track down or deal with Escobar who are murdered--men and women supposedly assigned to the task in great secret. Escobar's reach, particularly in Medellin was vast. Later, as the hunt narrows in on Escobar, the police task force created to hunt down Escobar, Search Bloc, realizes that one of their officers guarding an entrance to its offices, overhears orders for raids, warns Escobar, who eludes the authority's grasp yet again.
The Colombian government is wracked by inefficiency, bureaucratic infighting, corruption, and fear. Escobar always seems to escape their clutches because the government simply cannot get its act together. However, what is surprising is that so many did pursue Escobar when he demonstrated time and again an ability to kill them or their family members with impunity. Bowden notes several times where a dozen police are killed in a day. Presidential candidates, judges, lawyers, and journalists perish over and over again. Yet, they trudged on, and Colombia has its heroes in the search for justice.
With Reagan's war on drugs and then the bombing of the Avianca Flight 203, conducted by Escobar in an attempt to kill a Colombian presidential candidate, were two turning points in this hunt. Reagan's focus allowed for the first active engagement of the US in Colombia by way of a top-secret Army signals surveillance group called, at the time, Centra Spike, along with CIA and DEA participants as well. Centra Spike's primary abilities rested on triangulating communications with ever increasing accuracy (a practice quite easy today...or just use the GPS chip in our smart phones--but a feat of skill and engineering in the 1980s). Centra Spike's role was strictly limited, however. Then the bombing of the Avianca flight allowed President George Bush to classify the hunt for Escobar as a national security issue. Delta Force arrives in Colombia shortly thereafter in a training role for Search Bloc, though rumors persist that Delta Force team members participated actively in raids and even fired the fatal shot on Escobar.
Yet, Escobar eludes them. Over and over again, he narrowly escapes. A paramilitary group called Los Pepes begins destroying Escobar's property and targeting his friends and family. Their goal, keep Escobar from disappearing forever. How much was organized by the US and Colombian governments? Officially, nothing. However, Bowden is an expert at charting the appearance of Los Pepes, which implies the US knew more than it has let on, even if less than the rumors suggest. Regardless, Los Pepes was an extra-legal effort that succeeded. And then...a Colombian officer refining their own signals intelligence in an effort to prove they are just as capable as the Americans, stumbles upon Escobar, who perishes in a gun battle with police. Or did he? He died. That much is known. But...well, read this excellent, immersing book to find out.(less)
I have long had an interest in Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history, and I also enjoy vertical histories (those books that cover a narrow subject but...moreI have long had an interest in Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history, and I also enjoy vertical histories (those books that cover a narrow subject but in depth). Sailing from Byzantium by Colin Wells is a vertical history that in its three parts attempts to describe the legacy of Byzantine culture. The importance of Byzantium, or the Eastern Roman Empire, lies beyond its territorial acquisitions or military prowess (or the loss of both as the centuries bore on until 1453).
Part I focuses on western Europe, primarily Italy, and the role of humanism that led to the Renaissance. As Catholic and Orthodox worked to re-unite, as the Crusades sent large numbers of westerners east, or as the Fourth Crusades captured Constantinople, both east and west interacted ever more frequently. For the west, this meant rediscovering classical Greek texts and Greek itself. Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Florence all felt the influence, which began the process of lifting the Dark Ages from western Europe.
Part II, the shortest part, explores the Byzantine influence on the Islamic world, particularly on effects of Aristotle on the development of a rationalistic philosophy epitomized by Averroes in Moorish Spain.
Part III returns to Europe but investigates the Slavic and, more importantly, Russian embracing of Orthodoxy, the battles between Catholic and Orthodox for supremacy in various regions, and Orthodoxy's Hesychasm movement on the development of Russian Orthodoxy.
Wells does a good job of describing the influences, how the Byzantium influenced the rest of its neighbors, and how Byzantium itself was influenced. Wells remains at a high level, and we only really get glimpses and quick overviews. And that is my main criticism of this book. At only 368 pages, I do not think it went in detail enough, did not take the various alleys and side stories it could have. Perhaps I have now read too much of this history and much of it seemed familiar to me. So my caution is that this is a good introduction, but for those well versed in Byzantium, the Renaissance, and so on, the book may seem light.(less)
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to read all of the Oxford History of the United States. Several volumes are highly regarded, so I started with the...moreA few years ago, I decided I wanted to read all of the Oxford History of the United States. Several volumes are highly regarded, so I started with them in chronological order. I found the first three of the series marvelous, particularly Robert Middlekauf's The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789.
In my last semester as a senior at Ball State University, the last final I took and called it a wrap was a Civil War class. The class used James McPherson's Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. I thought that McPherson book well written and excellent.
Battle Cry of Freedom covers much of the same ground, though it is more narrowly focused--primarily by leaving out Reconstruction, which will be covered in as yet unpublished volume in the series.
This book is a straight-up history, though McPherson brings to bear a formidable knowledge and insight. Readable, the book's narrative arc is necessarily framed by the war itself, though McPherson takes pains to discuss the transformations occurring in America even then. Still, very little is said of the west.
The principle actors are treated with a measured response, and McPherson refuses to take the simple view of commanders and leaders. If you don't like your history full of descriptions of campaigns and battles, this book is not for you. If you are a Civil War buff, then this book deserves a place on your shelf for a larger narrative, though I doubt it will satisfy in technical and detailed information that more focused texts will bring.
I do praise McPherson though for holding firm to the cause of the Civil War. Many like to equivocate that the Civil War was fought over state's rights versus federal rights. In the larger picture this is a true statement, but this attempts to obfuscate the issue that the Civil War was about a state's right to retain slavery. The years building up the war witnessed continuing and bitter battles to ensure that representation in Congress (particularly the Senate) maintained an equal number of Senators from slave-holding states and from non-slave-holding states. Eventually, the center could not hold and war ensued. The southern states rebelled against the Union so that it could preserve a state's right to continue slavery. McPherson keeps this clear.
Well written with plenty of detail while maintaining a strong narrative, McPherson's book is an excellent read for a general overview of the Civil War.(less)
Astonishing book! Now when people toss around "paradigm-shift," I now have a context for where that concept originated. It speaks to the influence of...moreAstonishing book! Now when people toss around "paradigm-shift," I now have a context for where that concept originated. It speaks to the influence of this small book that a complex idea is boiled down to something used as a cliche.(less)
Philip Ball is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. Ball as usual combines history, art, philosophy, religion, science, and...morePhilip Ball is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. Ball as usual combines history, art, philosophy, religion, science, and more in a thorough and well-written biography of Chartres Cathedral.(less)
A magnificent book about the history of unmanned space probes, focusing heavily on early Soviet launches of Sputnik and Luna, followed by a lengthy hi...moreA magnificent book about the history of unmanned space probes, focusing heavily on early Soviet launches of Sputnik and Luna, followed by a lengthy history of the Voyager flights. With much in between and using interviews extensively, this is an eye-opening book. I was always fascinated by the Voyager, Cassini, and Galileo probes, but this book added to my understanding of the complexities, the trials, the tribulations, and ultimate successes.(less)
MacCulloch's history of Christianity is interesting, expansive, and often opinionated. I preferred MacCulloch's more neutral stance in his "The Reform...moreMacCulloch's history of Christianity is interesting, expansive, and often opinionated. I preferred MacCulloch's more neutral stance in his "The Reformation," for it colors his perspective. Nonetheless, MacCulloch covers Christianity in broadly and with an ability to clarify long forgotten matters of minute theology that were of great import in their time.
Despite this book's size, I still wanted more information (i.e., more history of papal elections over time, etc.), but I am asking for too much, I think in a general history.(less)
An OK book. This is far more about Charles V and his travails than Suleiman's. Particularly lacking, I thought, was a thorough discussion of Suleiman'...moreAn OK book. This is far more about Charles V and his travails than Suleiman's. Particularly lacking, I thought, was a thorough discussion of Suleiman's efforts to crush Shi'ism (which is set up in the book as Charles' equivalent efforts to deal with Lutheranism). A bit repetitious at points in phraseology and some slack writing (e.g., "It was said that the gifts he presented to Ibrahim were said to be worth fifty thousand ducats"). Of course, Reston had to pick his coverage and keep it under 400 pages, for the richness of topics was immense. Some worthwhile nuggets of information.(less)