Really interesting biography of Aaron Burr, with a particular focus on his alleged plots against the U.S., and his subsequent trial. Melton's prose isReally interesting biography of Aaron Burr, with a particular focus on his alleged plots against the U.S., and his subsequent trial. Melton's prose is very readable, and he does an excellent job of bringing all of the historical figures to life for you. Burr, in particular, is fascinating - a man who few people actually liked but who had the strange persuasive power required to be elected to the second-highest office in the country (he was one vote away from being president) and to get people to go along with his crazy schemes.
The book really shines when it gets to Burr's trial, largely because that is better documented than the elusive question of what Burr's plan actually was. The trial section is funny, and gives a lot of insight into John Marshall and the way he went about shaping our judicial system. Melton also gives a lot of really interesting input on Jefferson, whose conduct through this period does not paint him in the greatest light....more
An excellent biography of a fascinating person (Alice B. Sheldon, who was alternately an African safari-goer, a debutante, a World War II soldier, a pAn excellent biography of a fascinating person (Alice B. Sheldon, who was alternately an African safari-goer, a debutante, a World War II soldier, a poultry farmer, a CIA agent, and an award-winning science fiction author writing and corresponding under a male persona).
This was just really well-constructed and documented in all the ways I want my non-fiction to be. I sometimes wish that Phillips would have backed off from her interpretive stance on Sheldon's life; she has a tendency to write everything as leading towards Tiptree, and then devolving from the point when the Tiptree persona was exposed. On the whole, though, really interesting and a joy to read....more
This is a very solid biography of Galileo, with an added focus on his relationship with his eldest daughter, who spent most of her life in a FlorentinThis is a very solid biography of Galileo, with an added focus on his relationship with his eldest daughter, who spent most of her life in a Florentine convent. The book is tied together with translations of her many letters to him (sadly, his letters to her have been lost - thought to have been destroyed by the Mother Superior after her death).
I really enjoyed this, both for her clear writing style, and for the focus on Suor Maria Celeste. We get the "great man" style of biography with the parts about Galileo - a really fascinating figure to me - and we also get a story about an intelligent woman in a period we don't have a lot of female biographies from. The parts about daily life in a convent were really interesting to me as a look into a historically female-run society.
The author's thesis seems to center on tearing down the popular idea of Galileo as an intellectual bad boy taking on the Catholic church head-on, submitting instead a view of him as a devout Catholic who didn't see a necessary confrontation between faith and science. This is a thesis I can totally support, but I feel like Sobel sometimes sacrifices scholarship for readability, in that a lot of her assertions aren't cited. There is an extensive bibliography in the back of the book, but that isn't necessarily helpful for the more casual reader. There were points where I wasn't sure where history ended and the author's inferences began, and some footnotes would have really served to clear that up for me....more
This is about the Taiping Rebellion - how one man encountered Christianity, through a series of sickbed visions determined he was the son of God, andThis is about the Taiping Rebellion - how one man encountered Christianity, through a series of sickbed visions determined he was the son of God, and gained thousands of followers and eventually controlled a large region of China.
While I was initially thrown off by Spence's use of the literary present, I eventually got into it. A lot of his focus is on Hong Xiuquan's inner circle of followers (all of whom were given majestic titles such as East King and Wing King) and the power plays between them. A primary tool used by them was claiming to be the voice of God or Jesus. I'm really fascinated by religions that see deity as something so immediate (a basic tenet of the Taiping was that God was corporeal)....more