Of late, and for too long, the Muse has left me and I have found little inspiration to write extensive reviews of the books I've been reading. But asOf late, and for too long, the Muse has left me and I have found little inspiration to write extensive reviews of the books I've been reading. But as I've given this one four stars, I'd be remiss if I entirely neglected to explain why.
I first became aware of Margaret Fuller's existence from a review in the New York Review of Books of one of the recent biographies that have come out and was intrigued (whether this one or Megan Marshall's, I forget). And when I came across this quote (which graces my e-mail address), I knew I had to know more: "I now know all the people worth knowing in America and I find no intellect comparable to my own."
It turns out that my gut reaction was correct: Fuller is a person worth knowing. I've provided some examples of her thoughts and beliefs in my status updates so I will only quote here a sketch culled from Matteson's biography:
Margaret Fuller was, in her time, the best-read woman in America and the one most renowned for her intelligence. She was the leading female figure in the New England movement known as transcendentalism. She edited the first avant-garde intellectual magazine in America. She was the first regular foreign correspondent, male or female, for an American newspaper. As a literary critic, she was rivaled in her era only by Edgar Allan Poe. Three years before the convention that is usually regarded as the beginning of the women's rights movement in the United States, she wrote a groundbreaking book demanding legal equality for women....
Though always formidable as a thinker, she became great only as she came to sympathize with the hopelessness of imprisoned prostitutes, the hunger of exploited children, and the pain of wounded soldiers who had offered everything they had for freedom.... It is only when we discover her as a misfit, as an apostle, as a seeker of Utopia, and in all the other identities through which she passed that she ceases to be the Margaret-ghost and lives for us once more....
Fuller's dearest principles [were] a sincere antipathy to violence and cruelty; a belief in the power of art and literature to assist in social change; and, above all, a confidence that the best, most durable revolution begins with the liberal education of every human being. pp. xi, 444-5)
This does little justice to the person described in this work and Marshall's but, hopefully, it may inspire someone reading this to seek Fuller out....more
This is a very dense biography of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79), and a more general history of the establishment of the Flavian dynasty (69-96);This is a very dense biography of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79), and a more general history of the establishment of the Flavian dynasty (69-96); Levick assumes a very solid knowledge of Roman history in the reader.
Which - if you have one - makes this a highly recommended book. Levick presents a balanced account of Vespasian's life and his (and his family's) impact on the development of the Principate....more
If I were recommending this book, I’d recommend it to sixth graders or middle-school teachers with students interested in American and/or Native histoIf I were recommending this book, I’d recommend it to sixth graders or middle-school teachers with students interested in American and/or Native history. There’s nothing wrong with the book’s content but the writing is so simplistic (amateurish in spots) and the analysis so shallow as to make it useless as a serious history of the period. As a narrative of events, though, it’s perfectly adequate. And as I have no great familiarity with the time or its actors, the book was revelatory in that respect but also disappointing. There’s little discussion of the social and political background that engendered the war or the relationships between the whites and Native tribes.
It would have been a much better adult history if Hatch could have elaborated on the Seminoles and their origins, or the machinations in both Congress and in the military regarding Indian policy, or the drives that made it expedient to thoroughly cleanse Florida of Natives. Though what he does touch upon is depressing enough. It is no comfort to realize that our military’s tradition of invading countries without learning about the environment the army will be fighting in or the people we’re killing has a long history. The first expedition to tame the Seminoles ended in ignominious defeat; and when Winfield Scott assumed command, he also assumed he would be fighting a conventional enemy using conventional strategies. What he got, and what he bequeathed to his successor commanders, was a situation not dissimilar to Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan. The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) was the longest and costliest of the Indian wars and – like war in general – utterly pointless. The Seminoles didn’t want it and, recognizing that they couldn’t escape US domination, were willing enough to adjust to white settlement in Florida but they faced the limitless greed of the settlers, the animosity of the increasingly hysterical slaveholders (many Seminoles were escaped slaves), and the implacable enmity of the federal government under Andrew Jackson and his protégés.
As disappointing as the shallowness and superficiality of the writing was Hatch’s unfortunate tendency to ascribe motives and thoughts to people without any evident source. All too often, he writes “X must have felt…” or “We can assume Y was thinking…”. How does he know this? Why is this a reasonable assumption? There’s an extensive bibliography with what appear to be oral histories and personal memoirs but the footnoting is execrable. Is it so hard to indicate that “X writes in his diary that he felt…” or “In his memoirs, Z writes that Y told him…”? Or indicate the primary source you’re relying on in a note?
Apparently, the answer is “yes.”
If I were 13, this would be a great book, full of interesting characters on both sides and (from a 13-year old’s POV) well told (in fact – from an adult POV – the writing improves as Hatch gets more engaged with the course of the war). If I had been able to read this 30 years ago, it may have redirected my historical interests. As it was, the interesting books I read tended toward medieval and ancient histories – c’est la vie. So I will recommend this for my young adult/middle-school-age following and their parents but I can’t comfortably recommend it to older readers interested in American history.
A final note, there are two plusses about this book. One is the already mentioned bibliography, which has a wealth of books and articles for interested readers (though a lot are probably only accessible via a university library). The second plus is that Hatch reproduces three treaties between the federal government and the Seminoles that give the reader a chance to read some primary sources in their entirety. A rare opportunity in popular histories....more
I will say this, despite its brevity (less than 200 pages in print), Wills' manages to present a surprisingly complex and insightful portrait of the man and his thought. He actually managed to turn the saint into a sympathetic figure. I've never liked Augustine much as a person but the author's interpretation made me sympathize with the decisions Augustine made in his life (like sending his long-time concubine and mother of his son away).
Highly recommended, print or audio (in fact, I should read the print version because I know I missed a lot just listening to it). Garry Wills is a brilliant writer and anything he authors is worth the effort to read....more