I was expecting Strauss' The Trojan War: A New History to be a scholarly study of every detail we have about the Trojan world; basically an updated veI was expecting Strauss' The Trojan War: A New History to be a scholarly study of every detail we have about the Trojan world; basically an updated version of In Search of the Trojan War. Instead, it is a more scholarly Age of Bronze Volume 1: A Thousand Ships. The book is structured around the story of the Trojan War, which is then clothed in modern archaeology, and decorated with Homer.
And it works. Taking the view that the Trojan War is based on something that happened, the book gives the 'history' of the war, cross-referencing with what we know of other nearby Bronze Age cultures. There's plenty of passages where something from the Iliad is compared to existing Bronze Age writings and shown how it is typical of the time. In fact, the book hides a fairly good overview of Bronze Age politics and warfare.
In all, it is a short but quite worthwhile book....more
Tracy Borman’s book about Queen Matilda (William the Conqueror’s wife, if you’re not keeping score at home) does a very good job with tracing the liveTracy Borman’s book about Queen Matilda (William the Conqueror’s wife, if you’re not keeping score at home) does a very good job with tracing the live of a medieval woman (much better than Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, but it is also only 3/4s the length of that book), but manages to be irritating on a regular basis.
The introduction of the book gives a commonly told story of Matilda, upon hearing that she was to be betrothed to Duke William “the Bastard” of Normandy, rejecting the idea that she (related to the King of France) would never stoop so low as to marry a bastard. William, hearing this, rides to her family’s palace in Flanders and finding Matilda beats her mercilessly. Matilda then decides that she would marry no one else as he was a man of high courage and daring. When Borman gets to this part of Matilda’s life in the narrative, she repeats the story, and then starts casting doubts on the story, pointing out that it is first mentioned about two hundred years after the fact, and that one of the primary sources for it has a strong anti-Norman bias. The section ends with a conclusion that we just don’t have any clear picture of what, if anything, happened between the two before they were married.
This pattern is followed in many parts of the book. Tales are given with a straight face, and only afterward are problems or alternate versions talked about. Worse, are the cases where something is mentioned as being from ‘a nineteenth century chronicler’ with no discussion as to where he got it from, or why we should think he knew anything about it. After the number of other unsubstantiated stories that are discussed, it raises alarms.
But despite these problems, it is a good book about Matilda. It is not as comprehensive, or detailed as, again, Allison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitane, but that book failed at being the biography it was supposed to be, while this one is a good biography that gives a much clearer picture of its subject....more
Lars Brownworth’s first book catapulted to success on the back of a related podcast, and he used the same formula this time. The Norman Centuries hasLars Brownworth’s first book catapulted to success on the back of a related podcast, and he used the same formula this time. The Norman Centuries has been another good history podcast from him (though very slow, fourteen episodes in four years, and a note saying the next episode is under production is still the most recent note a year later), and his latest book is more directly tied to it than the first time. With Byzantium he covered (in passing) most the entire history in the book, and picked the highlights for the podcast; with the Normans, it feels more like like each chapter is one of the podcast episodes.
The Normans only held sway in Europe for a couple of centuries, and Brownworth’s writing is stronger for having a more limited subject than the thousand-year life of the Eastern Roman Empire to talk about. As always, he does a great job with bringing history to life, and is at his best describing larger-than-life characters. The Normans provide plenty of larger-than-life people to write about.
My biggest complaint is that the book skips around more than I’d like in time. It starts with Normandy and the conquest of England, before stepping back to the early Norman conquests in southern Italy. The book then goes on to a brief history of the founding of the Crusader state of Antioch, and then spends the bulk of its time talking about the Kingdom of Sicily. The other complaint is that it’s all about the big-name leaders, and nothing outside of that. But, as a light popular history, that is what the book is about, and as I already said Brownworth handles them very well, and very enjoyably....more
Osprey's Fortress series is quite interesting, as it tackles all sorts of subjects I had not thought about (nor seen anything else on), as well as morOsprey's Fortress series is quite interesting, as it tackles all sorts of subjects I had not thought about (nor seen anything else on), as well as more familiar ground. For example, I'm used to seeing quite a bit about western European castles (which probably are siege engineering at its most interesting), and I know how much of that was borrowed from what was in already developed in the Near East, but, there's almost nothing outside of that.
This volume is a very good, and dense, introduction to the fortifications of the Medieval 'Rus, and shows off a number of features not seen in the more familiar west. Most fortifications were simply earthen ramparts with wooden walls on top (stone fortifications generally came much later than elsewhwere). The Kievan state built 'snake ramparts' that ran for over 500 miles to protect the southern borders. The common forms of all of these and these are explained in some detail, with common features and styles gone into.
In all, the book suffers most from having to be crammed into the standard Osprey page count, but still manages to give a pretty good look at most everything, and as usual, illustrations and photographs go a long way towards making everything clear....more
First, a couple notes: The author is my dad; I'm trying to be evenhanded in this review, but that bias is there. This book is self-published through CFirst, a couple notes: The author is my dad; I'm trying to be evenhanded in this review, but that bias is there. This book is self-published through CreateSpace, and my copy started coming apart on my first read-through. A couple pages popped out on their own, and many more are sticking and threatening to go. I'm not sure if I'm just unlucky, or if CreateSpace has trouble with 600+ page books (the theoretical maximum length is 800). Also, the electronic version of the book has trouble, and can't be recommended; this is being worked on, and I'll update when the problems are fixed.
Over the River is a chronological (day-by-day) reconstruction of the events in the American Civil War from March 23rd to May 22nd, 1863, which saw two nearly simultaneous Union offensives. It is effectively the first book of a series on the war in 1863 (which is a companion to Lowry's 1864-5 series that was published in the early '90s), but stands alone without any problems.
The actual narrative content is less than might be supposed, as the book fairly extensively quotes from various primary sources (generally noting the difference between reports at the time and recollections years later). These are critiqued at points where there are mistakes, or perhaps 'spun'. And then every once in a while the book stops and takes time out to examine the larger meaning of events, which doesn't happen as often as I'd like, though the afterword has in interesting analysis of the similarities between Grant's and Hooker's positions and opening moves, and how the two campaigns eventually ended up with very different results.
It is a particularly interesting period to cover in this format. Hooker's movement across the Rapidan started within a day or so of Grant's major movements to get his army across the Mississippi south of Vicksburg. The central third of the book is largely occupied with the Battle of Chancellorsville, and then Grant's campaign in Mississippi gets exciting just as the Army of the Potomac withdraws back across the Rapidan.
Along the way, the structure makes other things fit together well, most notably the extreme delays in communication between Grant (in northern Mississippi, working south) and Banks (in Louisiana, trying to work north), since all messages had to go the long way through telegraph connections to the east coast, and by ship through the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
In the end, it is probably too detailed for a reader new to the ACW wanting a more general history or overview, and not deep enough for someone well-versed in the war looking for new insights. But the chronological framework is a very interesting view for the Civil War buff used to more bite-sized chunks of the war, and plenty of basic explanations are given for those not well-versed in the military history of the time....more
Osprey's Men-At-Arms book Samurai Armies is a pretty good introduction to the warring states period of Japan. The series is more focused on men and eqOsprey's Men-At-Arms book Samurai Armies is a pretty good introduction to the warring states period of Japan. The series is more focused on men and equipment, and that is what you get here, though the three-page summary of the period is not bad.
It is a bit primitive in a couple ways, so it must be remembered that this is a 1979 book. Steven Turnbull turned into a fairly popular author on Japan in the '80s, and is still writing today, but this was his first book. Also, Osprey was still just moving away from the stiff figure illustrations that had dominated military uniform books in the '70s and earlier, and while the people in the color plates are shown in a variety of activities, backgrounds that might give more context of the world of these people are almost entirely absent still.
As is often the case with Osprey, the book suffers a bit from being too short; it has a good introduction to the use complicated formations in Japanese warfare, but no practical examples of how it worked out in practice, it gives a whirlwind tour of the evolution of armor styles, but you have to read very carefully to catch everything being said. On the other hand, there's a nice three-page reproduction of a Japanese print showing how to put on armor, and another page with a print showing various ways of lacing the helmet (the reproduction isn't so good on this one).
In all, it still stands up as a good beginning book on the subject, which is remarkable given how much more has been written on the subject since....more
Along with all the other cheap ebook reprints out there, there is a company (unnamed, so far as I can tell), who specializes in distributing the filesAlong with all the other cheap ebook reprints out there, there is a company (unnamed, so far as I can tell), who specializes in distributing the files from Project Gutenberg in ebook format (with a fairly distinctive two-tone cover pattern). This means that unlike the other two companies I've dealt with recently, the number of typos is low, but there are still formatting glitches. Notably, all the page number tags in the Gutenberg files are still in-line here. (Since there are notes that reference these pages, it is of use.) Occasionally, the line breaks of the original file have not been properly removed, but this is a handful of times, and generally the formatting is good.
This particular book was originally published in in French in the late 18th century, and given here in a 1840 translation, which means it is somewhat... dated. (Especially as the accepted Anglicizations of the names have changed quite a bit.) The author's name was only given as "Florian", which took some investigation to find out was Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian.
At any rate, it's not a bad book, and is one of the first Western works to take a more sympathetic view of Moorish civilization (not entirely sympathetic, however). In fact, it is two works in one, as the final part of the book is a separate overview of Muslim history in general by "Rev S. Greene" (included in the 1840 book). That said, unless you're interested in the historiography of Spain, there must be better things to read, though I don't know what they would be (which is why I got this in the first place)....more
J. E. Lendon's history of the Peloponnesian War differs from the usual treatments in two ways: First, instead of tackling the entire 27-year period, hJ. E. Lendon's history of the Peloponnesian War differs from the usual treatments in two ways: First, instead of tackling the entire 27-year period, he (after pointing out that the "Peloponnesian War" is really four different wars traditionally grouped together) only covers the first ten years, from the outbreak of hostilities to the treaty between Athens and Sparta in 421 BC (he calls this the Ten Years War, whereas others call it the Archidamian War). And second, he challenges the traditional view of what the war was fought over (first put forward by Thucydides) in favor of one based on a study of Ancient Greek culture.
He starts with an overview of honor/glory/worth, or timē, which is how ancient Greeks ranked and competed among themselves, and by extension how the intensely competitive city-states measured themselves against each other. To have timē was to be of importance, to have importance, to have other cities look to you; to be the hegemon. Status for cities was a mix of current strength and past glories, and Sparta stood tall in both in the fifth century BC, allowing it to lead an alliance (to be the hegemon) of many of the Greek states against the Persians.
Athens' past was not considered nearly so glorious, but in the aftermath of the Persian Wars she became the head (hegemon) of the Delian League; a collection of overseas territories in the Aegean that banded together for protection against Persia. Athens slowly converted this mutual defense league into more of an empire, taking money tribute instead of the loan of naval forces, and establishing a firmer say in the internal affairs of its members. Thucydides (and most everyone follows his lead) claims that the Pelopennesian War started because of Sparta's fear of Athens' growing power.
Lendon points out that this was a controversial argument at the time, which is why Thucydides spends so much time elaborating and defending it. He believes that the war actually stemmed from an argument more readily understood by the Ancient Greeks, but more obscure to us. Athens now considered itself to be Sparta's equal in timē, and wanted Sparta to admit it (without which, convincing anyone else would be difficult).
The bulk of the rest of the book is Lendon playing connect-the-dots with what we know of the events of the Ten Years War, and interpreting them in terms of timē. He constantly refers back to this theme, as if afraid it might go somewhere without him. But since it is, at best, a very nebulous concept, this is essential, though it might have been better handled.
The major weakness of the thesis and book is that since timē is all in the minds of the people involved, it is very hard to prove that it really had the bearing on events he says it does. Even worse is the fact that it is more of a 'groupthink'; a collection of what the entire Greek world thought of the relative standings of Sparta and Athens. But, towards the end, he finally brings forth his answer to that problem. If Athens (who is the city with something to prove) can get Sparta to act like Athens is proving its point, then the rest of the Greek world will tend to follow the line of the two principles.
Despite the fact that the book is inevitably nebulous in some particulars, it really is a convincing reconstruction of events based on what we know of the culture, and I highly recommend it....more
Peter S. Wells' book is a look at the Dark Ages in the 'cultural continuity' tradition that started in the 1970s. It is mostly aimed at dispelling thePeter S. Wells' book is a look at the Dark Ages in the 'cultural continuity' tradition that started in the 1970s. It is mostly aimed at dispelling the extremely bleak view of post-Roman history taken by the early Humanists to Gibbon and through most of the twentieth century.
And it's a certainty that things weren't as bad as the traditional view represented them. However, the arguments presented that the post-Roman world continued without major disruptions are often nebulous, ill-supported, and lacking any degree of detail.
The strongest assertions are with the continuance with cities. The older view generally asserts that post-Roman cities were abandoned, or greatly reduced in size. Wells talks about what archaeology has found in several cities throughout Europe that show these cities did not show disruption in the post-Roman era, as well as several sites outside the Roman world that developed in this time frame. However, one city did indeed shrink massively in this period (Rome itself), and there's no discussion of if there are any cities from that period where there has been a conspicuous absence of any meaningful finds. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the comparison would provide a useful baseline for better theorizing.
Still, archaeology is the best parts of the book, and I wish he had gone into more detail about what has been found. New finds are made all the time, and this book does touch on several more recent ones. I think a more systematic examination would have helped develop his argument much better. As it is, he shows that there were new sites, outside the Roman world (in the Baltics) that were developing, and trading. And while that does support his refrain that Europe did not turn into a howling wilderness, it does speak to the potential of large economic shifts, which would disrupt ordinary life.
Moreover, Wells asserts at one point that the finds of exotic luxury goods in graves and the like disproves that trade declined in the post-Roman period. No, it only shows that luxury goods continued to be traded; it says nothing about bulk non-luxury goods, the part that only sees trade when there is a well-established infrastructure in place.
In the end, I suppose I was expecting a more scholarly work, while this is really a very introductory text. It is also aimed at traditional rut of learning about the period, which is not where I am. It's not a bad book, but not what I'm looking for....more
This is another Lecturable book for Kindle that I had bought (for $2) before actually starting A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and findinThis is another Lecturable book for Kindle that I had bought (for $2) before actually starting A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and finding out how abysmal the editing was on that volume. Thankfully, it is much better here. There's still lots of OCR-derived problems, but not nearly as frequently. If most of their books are of this quality, I'd say they're generally worth what I paid for this one, though no more.
This was intended as a guide to French history for American servicemen going over to France in WWI. However, the book was not actually completed until 1919, making it too late for that purpose. In general, it is a good survey of French history, though as it gets closer to the current (1919) day, it suffers from more and more bias, culminating with an entirely off-balance view of WWI (which given the original intended audience, is somewhat understandable...).
This is quite at odds with the generally even-handed tone of earlier parts of the book. Davis is not a Francophile it would seem, but a raving Third Republic-phile. Indeed, the creation of the Third Republic is the trigger that brings about this shift in tone, as can be seen the following quote: "The 'Military Law of 1872' was the foundation for that magnificent fighting engine which, under Joffre, Pétain, and Foch, was to stand between world-civilization and barbarism on so many desperate occasions from 1914 to 1918."
It is a shame that the book becomes victimized by rhetoric for the last chapters, for it actually succeeds at its primary job until that point....more
This is another cheap Kindle version of a public domain book, this time offered by The Pergamum Collection (I got it for free some time ago). OriginalThis is another cheap Kindle version of a public domain book, this time offered by The Pergamum Collection (I got it for free some time ago). Originally written in 1894 as the first volume of an English guide to German history, it covers from Roman times to the end of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in the mid-13th century.
While the difference in publishers is evident in the fact that the nature of OCR-related problems is different, the fact is that they are present, and show that no real proofing of the document was done. From several occurrences of “Charles the Pat” before finally showing up properly as “Charles the Fat” the last time he is named, to “Emperor Frederick II.,” showing up as “Emperor Frederick IL,” in the introduction, the book has a large collection of minor problems that would have been fixed with a pair of attentive eyes. Overall, though, the incidence of problems is probably less than the average for Lecturable, so I marginally recommend Pergamum over them.
The book itself is quite good. It is of course dated, and mostly concerned with the affairs of kings and rebellions, though it does have chapters on society and literature at the end, and is written with a great deal of enthusiasm for the subject. I’ve long wanted some sort of answers as to how the post-Carolingian Kingdom of the East Franks turned into the disunited Holy Roman Empire of the Renaissance, and this book does talk about the turning point in the process, with rise of cities and local leagues as the administration of the Empire comes apart as the Papacy takes apart the Hohenstaufens and their attempts to unite Italy around the Papal territories....more
I picked up this book for free in the Kindle edition some time ago. Published in 1902, it is long out of copyright, and offered by Lecturable, who seeI picked up this book for free in the Kindle edition some time ago. Published in 1902, it is long out of copyright, and offered by Lecturable, who seems to specialize in Kindle editions of older historical works.
It is one of the first overview histories of ancient Mesopotamia written after archaeology efforts started in the region in the 19th century. This makes the scholarship well out of date, but accounting for that problem, it is a well done, and readable introduction to the subject, and certainly well worth the $2 it normally costs if you want to get at the root of scholarship on the subject.
Or, it would be if the text was in better shape. It is, of course, an OCR scan of the book, but it seems to have gotten minimal, if any, editing. Words breaking with a space in the middle (artifact of a word broken between lines, with a space inserted in place of the hyphen?) are an endemic problem, and garbled words (caused by the OCR picking the wrong letter) are not uncommon. In fact, I’d say the book as a whole averaged better than one error per page, except for one section 75% of the way through which was much worse. Any sort of minimal editing with a human pair of eyes would have found the bulk of the problems I saw.
I can’t really complain for free, and the vast majority of the errors were such that the book was quite readable (there was only one case where I was truly uncertain what a word was supposed to be). But, it has made me quite leery of Lecturable’s products, if this is going to be the usual quality....more
As of about AD 200, the Roman Empire was by far the most powerful state within its known world, and had been for over two hundred years. Three hundredAs of about AD 200, the Roman Empire was by far the most powerful state within its known world, and had been for over two hundred years. Three hundred years later, the western half of the Empire had ceased to exist, and the remaining part, while still powerful, no longer held the clear advantage over its neighbors that the earlier empire had. Adrian Goldworthy's How Rome Fell is technically a re-examination of how this came about.
However, while this thesis is talked about at the beginning of the book, and then discussed at the end of the book, there's no real reference to it during the book. Instead, it is just a general history of those three hundred plus years. However, it is a very good history of the period, and I think this would be a great place to start for someone wanting to study Late Antiquity. Not only is it generally well-written, but it spends a fair amount of time showing how little we truly know (about the population, economy, actual size of the Roman army in many periods...), and exploding old certainties.
The concluding chapter is also short on certainties, but long on thoughtful commentary about the various ills of the Empire. The main conclusion is that the Empire weakened itself through interminable civil wars. Worse, the reaction to these civil wars was to attempt to remodel the Empire to protect emperors from assassination and rivals, and fail. One of the points that Goldsworthy proposes as key, is the removal of the vestiges of political power and importance from the Senate. When senators stopped being the primary pool to get new emperors from (when the chancy business of dynastic succession fails), the pool of candidates actually became larger, more dispersed, and impossible to control.
His thoughts on the separate fates of the Western and Eastern Empires mostly come down to geography. Among other effects, the various tribal leaders to cross the frontiers had nowhere else to go than the Western Empire. There were no comparable threats to most of the Eastern frontier, and that part that did have power tribal confederations was the Danube. Thrace and Greece were not places they could get very far in, they couldn't cross the Bosphorus to Asia Minor, and that left... the Western Empire. In addition, most of the rebellions and usurpers came from the western provinces, why is not clear, but it may just be success breeding more attempts.
And then there is the quasi-subtitle (only seen on the title page): Death of a Superpower. Goldsworthy equates Rome as a superpower in that there was no other entity that could come close to matching it's size, wealth, manpower, or ability to project power. (Well, China would be an exception, but since it had no way of getting at the Empire, or any of its neighbors, it is ignored.) The final epilogue (and much of the introduction) talks about the inevitable parallels people try to draw between the Roman Empire and the United States, and dismisses many of them. But he does meditate a bit on the problems of bureaucracy, and the dangers of any institution forgetting what its primary purpose is.
Circling back to the content of the bulk of the book, it is a well done survey of the period, and an excellent place to start if you are not well aware of the history of those three to four hundred years. It is less useful to those who have studied the period (I found most of the book familiar ground), but it is still a good single reference book, and there will be some new touches for most people....more
After reading Norwich's A History of Venice Venice, I looked at his other books, and saw one on the Mediterranean that looked interesting. However, moAfter reading Norwich's A History of Venice Venice, I looked at his other books, and saw one on the Mediterranean that looked interesting. However, most of the reviews for it said it was okay, but Abulafia's The Great Sea was much better, so I put that on my wishlist instead, and got it for Christmas.
It's a large, expansive, book, covering from prehistory to the current day (2010). Abulafia purposefully tries to limit the scope of his book by sticking to subjects that impinge directly on the Mediterranean as a whole; the communities on it's shores, the trade that crosses its surface, the rivalries and the piracy. It is a general history, and doesn't really have any defining thesis, other than perhaps the one his book is organized around. The book is split into five parts (titled 'The First Mediterranean', 'The Second Mediterranean', and so on), with each part being about a single economic complex in the Mediterranean.
Many parts are familiar to those familiar with history, but along the way there are plenty of new things to see. I had not known of the ancient ruins on Malta, nor the entire nature of Allied frustrations dealing with French North Africa. The third and second-to-last chapters are depressing, as they cover the destruction of several multicultural communities in the lead up to WWI through the aftermath of WWII. The final chapter takes a quick look at how mid-20th century emigration spread southern Italian cuisine to the rest of the world, and then talks of the impact of tourism on the Mediterranean.
In all, it is a broad book that manages a surprising amount of depth, and an enjoyable read....more
When I was growing up, my dad had a small business in the wargaming industry, acting as a wholesaler for other companies, selling games retail by mailWhen I was growing up, my dad had a small business in the wargaming industry, acting as a wholesaler for other companies, selling games retail by mail, and publishing a magazine. So, I grew up amidst a collection disparate products from Avalon Hill, SPI, and an insane number of tiny publishers in the wargaming and burgeoning RPG market.
Much of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World therefore is familiar ground. Familiar, but not extensively known, since I was never all that directly plugged into the events he talks about. However, I have contemplated trying to produce such a book myself. While this isn't the book I'd write, it is close, and it shows just how insane an undertaking it would be to do my half-formed thoughts right. Jon is obviously a fellow fan, and his viewpoint is shown on the cover, which features a hand-drawn dungeon map on graph paper, a couple of hand-made wargame counters, and a well-worn old-style d10, and on the title page, which is done to look like a copy of an old fanzine cover, complete with staple in the corner, and a rust mark from an old paperclip. In his acknowledgements, he mentions "In keeping with the tradition of self-publishing exemplified by gaming fandom, this work was written, edited, typeset, illustrated and published by the author with the help of some friends." The lack of professional editing shows on occasion, but given the nature of the project, it's very well done. It also points up a criminal lack of academic interest in subjects that have had a profound influence on popular culture, and therefore modern culture as a whole; one of the author's assertions is that early RPGs pioneered systems that can be seen in the vast bulk of current video games, and he later points out that the only histories of the SF&F genre are similarly self-generated without any real scholarly interest.
The bibliography of this massive work is twenty-five pages long, most of it dedicated to various tiny-run fanzines of the period. Jon Peterson went to an amazing amount of effort scouring eBay, and getting access to private collections to be able to reference 'zines that often had a run of less than a hundred copies per issue. All of this is in pursuit tracking down what people said at the time, rather than relying on what they said about it later. The scope and breadth of his research shows both in the main text, and in copious footnotes that give asides, point out connections, develop an argument further, etc.
There's two themes in this book. The first, and heavily dominant one, is the history of the birth of Dungeons & Dragons. The first chapter (of five, they're all massive chapters) covers from the birth of commercial wargaming in the late fifties to the publication of the original box set at the beginning of 1974. The next three chapters are massive essays on just what history and concepts fed into that, before the last chapter picks up the main story again, and covers the next few years, effectively leaving off with the publication of the AD&D Player's Handbook, by which time the concept of the 'role-playing game' had taken root, and other competing systems were coming out at an increasingly furious pace. So furious, in fact, that even Playing at the World's normally exhaustive coverage starts breaking down, such as when the company Wee Warriors gets mentioned in a footnote with no explanation of who they were, or what they had been doing, other than picking up the publishing of the product that was the subject of the footnote.
The middle three chapters are deep dives into what Jon Peterson feels are related subjects. The second chapter looks at the origin and history of the fantasy genre, to show how the genre was understood at the time of D&D. He also points out the recurring theme of the 'visitation story', where a person from the real world is transported to a fantastic land, and then returns to the real world at the end, which he posits played a part in why the first RPG was a fantasy RPG. The third chapter takes a look at the history trying to simulate events in games, effectively a history of wargaming from early chess variants into dedicated kriegspiel systems, then through more civilian efforts, the rise of miniatures wargamers inside of toy soldier collectors, and thence into commercial wargaming explored at the beginning. This part comes with extra warnings from the author that it really is for the more dedicated reader, though I found it all fascinating. The fourth chapter looks at the idea of 'role playing', and notes several powerful instances of shared collaboration in a fictional world. This one is rougher, and doesn't flow as well, but there's some interesting groping towards the shape of an instinctual type of 'group think' that can have a very powerful impact on people.
The second theme of the book is just how far the concepts pioneered in D&D have carried outside of traditional RPGs. It doesn't get a lot of space in the book, being mostly confined to the introduction and epilogue, but again, he has some interesting things to say.
It's a truly massive book (no, really, I was very surprised by the weight of my Christmas present when it showed up), and the result of an undertaking no less massive. But it reads very well, I had problems putting it down every time I picked it up. I can quibble about a few facts, but they'd be at most clarifications of points he raises, can doubt some of his assertions, but they are massively snowed under by the amount of other arguments that are rock-solid. It's a great, enjoyable book, about a small, critical happening, and why it happened when and how it did, and anyone with an interest in gaming really needs to pick this up....more
Roger Collins is a name I've known for many years through his Early Medieval Europe 300–1000, so when I realized that a book I was considering gettingRoger Collins is a name I've known for many years through his Early Medieval Europe 300–1000, so when I realized that a book I was considering getting was by him, it became an instant first choice.
Covering nearly 2000 years of history in about 500 pages, even if restricted to a single institution (the papacy), is no mean feat, but Collins does it quite well here. There are places where names and titles go by at a dizzying pace, but mostly he picks an issue or a pope, and does a subchapter on it. This breaks the narrative into a large number of discrete chunks that mostly read very cleanly.
He actually starts in 1942, with an excavation under St. Peter's which eventually turned up what was later announced as the bones of St. Peter himself. Collins points out a number of unresolvable uncertainties about the claim, and moves on to how this this claim ties into the Papacy's view of itself. The book is well done and informative, for me especially in the period from 1790 to 1850, where the papacy went through it's toughest struggle, loosing all of its temporal power, only to gain new respect in the spiritual field.
Collins maintains a good even tone throughout, treating the subject evenhandedly, and sceptically (when needed), showing how various policies were (and weren't) reactions to the times. His final thoughts on the papacy are, "The papacy in the twentieth century was more defensive on its impregnable rock than at almost any other time in its past, and more disturbed by changes in human society and in thought than at any previous period, at least since the Reformation. The latter remains the great turning point in its history. Recent decades have, on the other hand, put the person of the pope at the forefront of the Catholic sense of identity to an unparalleled degree, and focused popular piety upon it. At the same time there have been losses, both of vocations and of faith, more in some parts of the world than others, as expectations of change, reform and leadership have been disappointed. The papacy may need to adapt to the changing circumstances and demands of the new millennium, but if its history suggests anything, this will be done slowly, reluctantly and with a firm denial that anything of the kind is happening."...more
Part two of Osprey's survey of Medieval tactics is much like the first volume. Unfortunately, while I felt the first volume started strong and finishePart two of Osprey's survey of Medieval tactics is much like the first volume. Unfortunately, while I felt the first volume started strong and finished somewhat weaker, all of this volume is at the level of the later portions of the first.
The main problem is that the first one started with a fairly solid thesis, and then lost its way in the later part of the period. This volume is still useful as a general introduction to a subject that gets too little attention, but it just wanders from place to place, and time to time, without any central ideas stated.
There are another thirteen small battle diagrams (compared to seven in the first volume), which seem to be more crowded and harder to follow than before. This may indicate the battles are getting more complicated. I don't know this period as well, so fewer of the battles discussed there or in the eight color plates are familiar to me, though there were still a few I knew....more
The Wars of the Roses is the second book by Alison Weir I've read, and it definitely tells me there's no need to stop here. The writing is good, and gThe Wars of the Roses is the second book by Alison Weir I've read, and it definitely tells me there's no need to stop here. The writing is good, and gives a great overview of what is a legendarily confusing period of English history. This actually a successor/prequel book to her early book, The Princes in the Tower, which is about the final act of the Wars of the Roses; the contest between Richard III and Henry VII (née Tudor), and the fate of the children of Edward IV.
Therefore, this book is actually about the rest. Starting with the deposition of Richard II, Weir spends quite some time of the shaky political footing of the Lancastrian Henry IV, and the successful Henry V, before moving on to the reign of Henry VI, and the large number of political problems that led to the Lancastrian-Yorkish struggle that forms the bulk of the Wars of the Roses, and ends with Tewksbury and the death Henry VI. The book is about evenly split by length between the lead up, and then the multiple armed crises.
There are a lot of names that fly by, and several people change names (titles) during the course of events, and despite efforts, Weir does not entirely clear up the confusion that results. I think this is a subject that really needs a dramatis personae to refer to. Geneological charts are provided, but were stuck in the very back of the Kindle edition I read, with a link to a web page with a larger reproduction, so I didn't know of it until I was finished.
Another problem is that while she establishes the state of 15th-century England well at the beginning, and talks about how little disruption of life actually resulted from the wars at the end, this isn't really mentioned during the bulk of the book, forcing one to perhaps have to correct some opinions after the fact.
Still, in all I did enjoy it and found it informative and recommend it. The main niggling worry I have is that since The Princes in the Tower was her first book, it may not be as good a companion to this as might be wished....more
It's not a great book. Though I'd say for the period it is a necessary way-point to better.
Well, better from the view point of the less-dedicated readIt's not a great book. Though I'd say for the period it is a necessary way-point to better.
Well, better from the view point of the less-dedicated reader. Ian Wood does an excellent job of detective work, comparing various sources and teasing out bias, coming up with ways to re-align sources to explain inconsistencies, and, with the insights thus gained, expose the likely motivations that moved the all too nebulous figures of the Merovingian Dynasty.
I've had an interest in the period for some years, and it is one that is very hard to study. There's not a great deal known, and even less written in English. Wood's book helps out a great deal, as he takes a look at several subjects (such as Roman literary continuity) and shows how they tie together across a period of time. This fragments his presentation in other ways, and I don't think I have any sort of grasp of how any one point in time worked, but the tools are there to reconstruct it from his different chapters....more