I finished this a while ago. Very enjoyable reading. The author says at the outset that she wants to "present Catherine the woman, the multi-faceted,I finished this a while ago. Very enjoyable reading. The author says at the outset that she wants to "present Catherine the woman, the multi-faceted, very eighteenth-century woman, principally through her own words and those of her contemporaries." Also? Apparently the horse story is a complete fabrication. Not a big surprise. I can't remember if I knew that before or not. But since this is something of a personal biography with political aspects, it spends a lot of time on Catherine's relationships with her favorites. (They'd be called mistresses if the genders were reversed.) This is something that modern polyfolk might find to be interesting, because for much of her life she had two favorites and had to figure out how to deal with having both of them around. (This is even more complicated when you're being the Empress of Russia, apparently.)
Catherine expresses herself well, and her excerpted letters are a lot of fun to read. I'm tempted to see if I can track the originals down, since presumably many of them would have been written in French. (Both because of Francophilia in Russian culture of the period, and because IIRC at this time French was (still) the dominant language of diplomacy.)
Here's an excerpt (p.331) from a letter from 11 November 1778, concerning American privateering:
Do you know what wrong those American ship owners have done me? They have seized some merchant ships which were setting off from Arkhangelsk; they carried out this delightful business in the months of July, but I sincerely promise you that the first to meddle in the commerce of Arkhangelsk during this coming year will pay me dearly for it, for I am not Brother G. [i.e. King George III]: one doesn't push me around with impunity; they can do what they like to Brother G., but not to me, without getting their fingers burnt; I am angry, very angry indeed.
Here's another interesting one - Catherine's reaction upon seeing drawings of some loggias decorated with paintings by Raphael. (Go here for pictures of the originals.)
"When Catherine received these drawings on I September  she immediately went into an acquisitive ecstasy over them and determined that she must have replicas of the loggias for herself. ..."
I'll die, I'm sure I'll die: there's a strong wind blowing from the sea, the worst kind for the imagination; this morning I went to the baths, which made my blood rise to my head, and this this afternoon the ceilings of the Raphael loggias fell into my hands. I am sustained by absolutely nothing but hope; I beg you to save me: write at once to Reiffenstein, I beg you, to tell him to get these vaults copied life-size, as well as the walls, and I make a vow to Saint Raphael that I will have loggias built whatever the cost and will place the copies in them, for I absolutely must see them as they are. I have such veneration for these loggias, these ceilings, that I am prepared to bear the expense of this building for their sake, and I will have neither peace nor repose until this project is under way. And if someone could make me a little model of the building, the dimensions taken with accuracy in Rome, the city of models, I would get nearer to my aim. Well, the divine Reiffenstein could have this lovely commission as well, if Monsieur the Baron Grimm so desires; I admit that I would rather charge you with this than Monsieur Shuvalov, because the latter is always raising doubts about everything, and doubts are what make people like me suffer more than anything else in the world.
One of the Empress's favorites was mentioned as having an apothecary set, which he used to mix and test drugs (!). But I wonder if this was a predecessor of modern chemistry sets.
1789 made the Empress unhappy. Not a big surprise.
"Do you still remember," she wrote to Grimm, "how the late King of Prussia claimed that Helvetius had confessed to him that the project of the philosophes was to overturn all thrones and that the Encyclopédie had been made with no other aim than the destruction of all kings and all religions? Do you also remember that you never wanted to be counted among the philosophes? Well, you are right never to have wanted to be included among the illuminati, the enlightened ones, or the philosophes, for their only objective is destruction, as experience has shown."
Also the part about the illuminati made me smile.
Incidentally, I love Amazon's Search Inside This Book feature, because when I want to excerpt from a book whose publisher has provided the text, well, it saves me a lot of typing....more
I liked this one a lot. I'm still figuring out what I think about good ways to teach and learn history, but one of the things I firmly believe in is tI liked this one a lot. I'm still figuring out what I think about good ways to teach and learn history, but one of the things I firmly believe in is that primary sources - material (usually written, but can be audio or visual) from the time being studied - are crucial. You have to look at those if you really want to understand whatever it is that you're studying.
And this book does just that. She cites the letters from rank and file soldiers to support her thesis, which is that such soldiers believed that slavery was the crux of the conflict between the North and South. If you've ever wondered about the attitudes people of the Civil War era held about race, then you should read this book. It also discusses the general sociocultural differences between the North and South.
It's extensively endnoted, which I approve of. (A purportedly historical book which is not properly annotated is nearly useless, in my opinion. It makes it difficult for others to easily verify your sources, and can raise questions about your academic honesty.) It's not as long as it might seem, as the last 125 or so pages are endnotes and the index; however, it's long enough to be a reasonably developed treatment of the subject. The one thing I thought it was really missing was a timeline of important events during the Civil War, and that's a fairly minor omission.
Comments about the data system she used when writing the book, mostly for my own interest: "For every soldier whose writings I read, and for whom I could obtain sufficient biographical detail, I created a data sheet that recorded such information as birth date, home occupation, marital status, regiment, rank, battle participation, and experiences such as capture, wounding, or death. These 477 Confederate soldier data sheets and 657 Union soldier data sheets helped place soldiers' words in appropriate social and demographic contest, and also helped ensure that my cross section of soldiers resembled the actual makeup of the enlisted ranks as closely as possible. In addition, I drew on the letters and diaries of hundreds of additional recruits from whom biographical information was too scanty to compile, and on letters written by soldiers to newspapers."
Oh, and she deliberately didn't modernize the language in the letters. Which is something else I'm all for....more
The Tail of Emily Windsnap is, I think, the first audiobook I've ever listened to all the way through. I've heard some in other people's cars, I thinkThe Tail of Emily Windsnap is, I think, the first audiobook I've ever listened to all the way through. I've heard some in other people's cars, I think - mostly people with young kids. This one caught my eye at the bookstore, and I've been trying to cut down on my reading, because reading = eyestrain, so I'm trying to get audiobooks from the library when the option exists. Somewhat amusingly, this one ended with a plug for audiobooks in general by the narrator of the Harry Potter books.
This is the story of a girl who turns into a mermaid; her mother was a human and her father was a merman. I saw one of its sequels on the "The local high school wants this!" display at the local bookstore, and it had nifty cover art and looked like it might be interesting, so I figured I'd give the first book in the series a try. Conclusion: it might have kept me entertained if I were 5 or 6. But being a children's book, it doesn't really address the scientific questions that come up - like, species crossbreeding how? Also, water is not creamy, and light is not crunchy, no matter how many stars there are. Unless you've recently enjoyed some mind-altering substances, I suppose? (I'll be passing on the sequels.) ...more
Unfortunately, this book didn't really live up to the promise of its subtitle. The existence of Hildegard of Bingen doesn't really prove the existenceUnfortunately, this book didn't really live up to the promise of its subtitle. The existence of Hildegard of Bingen doesn't really prove the existence of feminism or feminist thought at that time, though I concede that Roger Bacon has a place in scientific history. However, the author seems to have wildly exaggerated the importance of Francis of Assisi.
In general, this book seems to have been written for Catholics who are concerned about the leadership that Church is providing, though it does make the highly relevant point that the history of the medieval church "belongs" to Protestants as much as it does to Catholics. The author clearly has some axes to grind with the Church, though not enough to renounce it. He doesn't cite things enough or really explain his reasoning.
The first time I saw this book I set it down in disgust, because the author seemed to think that because the medieval sense of color and aesthetics is wildly different from the modern Western conceptions of same, medieval people were tacky barbarians. I almost wish I hadn't picked it up again. There were some interesting tidbits of information, but if I had paid for this as opposed to getting it from the library, I would probably be wildly irritated....more
This was a good quick introduction to Adam Smith - a decent expansion from the material about his ideas I got in intro-level econ. While the materialThis was a good quick introduction to Adam Smith - a decent expansion from the material about his ideas I got in intro-level econ. While the material about his experiences lecturing at a Scottish university was interesting, the portion of the text that was concerned with his ideas left me feeling that I wasn't familiar enough with Smith's writing to evaluate some of the author's claims. It's not uncommon for me to find myself thinking that a given work of history or biography doesn't strike a sufficient balance between source material and and summary of or interpretation of source material....more
So, Lois McMaster Bujold hath a blog, or more accurately, a MySpace page. One of the latest things posted on it was a recoReally more like 2.5 stars.
So, Lois McMaster Bujold hath a blog, or more accurately, a MySpace page. One of the latest things posted on it was a recommendation of her friend Sylvia Kelso's new book, Everran's Bane. The library had it, so I requested it, and took it with me on a recent trip. It's ... hmm. It was adequately readable but there were things I didn't like. Parts of the worldbuilding didn't feel very deep. (There were generic Norse-alikes. And there was a culture that was run by corrupt trade unions, and another with a major media obsession. The narrator spends a bunch of time being exasperated with them for not being his home culture, and all in all it feels sort of anachronistic and somewhat drags the reader out of the setting.)
Kelso made up a bunch of words for various magical techniques, which were somewhat confusing. And she made her viewpoint character able to hear the mental speech the wizards used, but with no real explanation why. I suppose she went that route to avoid having him and thus the reader in the dark, but he could have watched their expressions or been spoken aloud to some of the time.
The basic storyline of the book was actually kind of nifty, even if the ending was improbable. The king's storyline was sort of like a weird inversion of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. The ending is mostly a stereotypically happy one for the viewpoint character, if a sort of improbable one. In general, I'd file this under "good idea, implementation not as good." There were times when the pace felt slow, and I just didn't really get a very strong sense of dramatic tension from the story....more
This is a reasonably good profile of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team associated with the "Miracle on Ice." It is sometimes a little overly sentimentalThis is a reasonably good profile of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team associated with the "Miracle on Ice." It is sometimes a little overly sentimental, and overly storyline-oriented in that annoying ESPN kind of way. I kinda wish the author had mentioned that Herb Brooks was director of player development for the Penguins at the time of his death, but I concede it was outside the scope of the book. The parts about Warren Strelow, a long-time goaltending coach who recently passed away, were interesting. But I laughed at the author when he invoked George Kennan in this context.
George F. Kennan, Russian scholar and Cold War expert, once said, "Heroism is endurance for one moment more." And indeed, it was ultimately the U.S. players' endurance that made them so endearing, and so heroic. ... In a profoundly pessimistic time, they brought hope. The hostages and gas lines and the rolling Russian tanks were fairly flogging the American psyche, until Phil Verchota and Mark Pavelich and Mike Ramsey and the rest of them started flogging back. And the best part was that they didn't even know they were doing it. They thought they were just trying to win hockey games.
Now, in the guy's defense, I've heard many other sports writers and sports pundits work the Cold War/nationalism angle. But they don't do it in this incredibly schmaltzy way, and they don't throw in a Kennan quote to try to make themselves look SMRT. ...more
I picked this up mostly for the Kage Baker story, "The Ruby Incomparable." Unfortunately, it was somewhat disappointing. Svnae was such a promising chI picked this up mostly for the Kage Baker story, "The Ruby Incomparable." Unfortunately, it was somewhat disappointing. Svnae was such a promising character in The Anvil of the World. I know this was a juvenile anthology, but in this story, Svnae hardly got any of the anguish and torment that she did in Anvil of the World. Admittedly, that was as novel as opposed to a ~20 (book-sized) page short story, but she only really shows up in the last ~125 pages, and as a supporting character isn't visible the whole time. There was inadequate character development, I guess is what I'm saying, and also I guess I was expecting "What Happened to Svnae after Anvil." (Maybe the sequel to Anvil will have Svnae. It'd better. [It didn't, darn it. Well, not in any really meaningful capacity.] Side note about anguish and torment: I have a theory that anguish and torment are how character development happen. And sometimes it's how plot advancement happens! IMO it's best if the anguish and torment is as a result of the character's own decisions/mistakes. Can you tell I'm a Bujold fan?)...more
This was an interesting one, since it compared the lives of Werner von Braun after coming to America and Sergei Korolev, the mastermind behind the lauThis was an interesting one, since it compared the lives of Werner von Braun after coming to America and Sergei Korolev, the mastermind behind the launch of Sputnik and the Soviet space program. I liked it, but it got some negative reviews. So I have another book about Korolev to read later....more
A while ago the BN in my neighborhood had a day where if you bought something, a portion of the proceeds went to the neighborhood high school. There wA while ago the BN in my neighborhood had a day where if you bought something, a portion of the proceeds went to the neighborhood high school. There was a table of books the school librarian wanted for the collection - mostly fiction. This one caught my eye: Hamlet retold from the perspective of Ophelia. It's been too long since I read or saw Hamlet, but ... I dunno, this was merely all right. Somewhat amusing to see Hamlet portrayed as, frankly, a young teenage jerk, though I'm not sure this was the author's intent....more
The sinking of the nuke sub Scorpion is one of the great mysteries of submarine lore. Here the author suggests it was sunk by the Soviets during the CThe sinking of the nuke sub Scorpion is one of the great mysteries of submarine lore. Here the author suggests it was sunk by the Soviets during the Cold War and then covered up by both sides to avoid hot war. Interesting theory, but absent a bunch of declassifications and/or people willing to speak on the record ... let's just say it'll be a while before we know, if ever. Silent Steel is a good companion book for this one....more
When my boyfriend and I were waiting in line to buy Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at a midnight release party, a girl in the line we struck uWhen my boyfriend and I were waiting in line to buy Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at a midnight release party, a girl in the line we struck up a conversation with described Diane Duane's So You Want to Be a Wizard series as "kind of the same after a while." And that's how I would describe the stories and essays (the line is somewhat blurry here) in this collection. I eventually started checking to see if the item was available on the author's homepage, and skipping it if it was, unless the opening really grabbed me. (I felt compelled to finish this. Don't ask me why.) Some parts of it are very funny - naturally, the ones I liked the most don't seem to be available on the web site. For example, "Nature, Wineberry in Tooth and Claw, With a Hint of Claret" was freaking exquisite....more
This was mentioned to me as a Tiptree Award winner. It had a nifty title and I thought "Well if it won a Tiptree it can't completely suck." In spite oThis was mentioned to me as a Tiptree Award winner. It had a nifty title and I thought "Well if it won a Tiptree it can't completely suck." In spite of my complaining about people trying too hard to be clever, I am going to allude to Sturgeon and say this is part of the 10%. It's a nice tasty read....more
Not perfect, but interesting enough for me to want to check out the sequels, except that the library hasn't got them. Have been thinking lately that rNot perfect, but interesting enough for me to want to check out the sequels, except that the library hasn't got them. Have been thinking lately that reading can be escapism, but it can also be therapy. Depending, of course, on what one reads and how one processes it....more
I impulsively picked up Blood and Iron from the library, and it's more readable than I expected from the excerpt on the author's web site. I'm honestlI impulsively picked up Blood and Iron from the library, and it's more readable than I expected from the excerpt on the author's web site. I'm honestly bored of Arthurian/Celtic stuff, but this one is moderately interesting, at least in terms of suitable bedtime reading. Yes, I damn with faint praise....more
Memorable quote: One customer, from Pittsburg, dined every night in his bedroom on grape-nuts, scrambled eggs and cocoa. Perhaps it hardly matters wheMemorable quote: One customer, from Pittsburg, dined every night in his bedroom on grape-nuts, scrambled eggs and cocoa. Perhaps it hardly matters whether such people are swindled or not.
Also, Chapter XXII was awesome. But of course it is too long to quote here, so here is a link....more
A fairly interesting read. Its style is somewhere in between that of a textbook and that of a "popular" book. I'm not sure it entirely succeeds at eitA fairly interesting read. Its style is somewhere in between that of a textbook and that of a "popular" book. I'm not sure it entirely succeeds at either. The topics it covers include the Piltdown Man hoax, the Cardiff Giant hoax, the mound building culture, Atlantis, and settlement/discovery of North America. It's my personal opinion that everyone who has an interest in science should be aware of the Piltdown Hoax. The Cardiff Giant hoax was new to me; it might be of interest to those of you who have connections to Syracuse NY, since the Cardiff Giant does. The discussion of mainstream (white) Americans' beliefs that the mound builders couldn't possibly have been Indians was interesting. The discussion of the physical evidence for a Viking presence in North America was also interesting to read about.
It was also interesting to learn that the idea of Atlantis the lost continent came from Plato's dialogues. (And it reminded me how ignorant I am when it comes to classical topics. Sigh. So much to learn, so little time.) It was mildly interesting to read about the research that's been done on the Shroud of Turin, but I skipped the section on scientific creationism, because frankly, I already believe that scientific creationism is BS. If this book has a single flaw, it's that the author really wants to debunk things like New Age-ism, having once been a believer and then realized that a lot of New Age claims were, er, poorly founded. In that context, an odd connection came up - an ethnologist named Stanislaw Poniatowski, who attempted experiments in psychic archaeology. I can't find conclusive evidence, but I would be very unsurprised if this Stanislaw Poniatovski turns out to be a descendant of this guy, who was the nephew of the Stanislaw Poniatowski that Catherine the Great put on the throne of Poland. (I read about this in Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power.)
There are links here that the book recommends as a further exploration of the topics covered. And in case that page is moved elsewhere, the top page is http://mhhe.com/frauds5/.
Beginning students of archaeology will probably find this to be worth a read. ...more
Not only could I not finish this book, I could barely start. The author's style irritated me too much. I'm not sure I can explain this very well, butNot only could I not finish this book, I could barely start. The author's style irritated me too much. I'm not sure I can explain this very well, but it felt as if he was creating an emotional word-picture and not really making an argument and supporting it with evidence. I do think narrative modes have a place in historical writing, but there is a limit.
Also, it seemed like there was an insufficient time (none, in the small portion of the book I read) spent explaining how his starting point came about.
Maybe I missed out on a great book, but I just couldn't make myself go on with this one. ...more