Peter Ackroyd wrote the best biography of a city in his London. It is a magnificent, unsurpassable prose poem to a famo...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
Peter Ackroyd wrote the best biography of a city in his London. It is a magnificent, unsurpassable prose poem to a famous city. In some ways, Ackroyd had it easy. After all, despite Boudicca, the Great Fire, and the Blitz, London stands; it has been rebuilt, but it always stands.
Baghdad doesn’t quite stand the same way it used to.
Justin Marozzi’s book is a history of famed city that has fallen on harsh and violent times. While Marozzi’s work isn’t quite the prose poem of Ackroyd’s London Trilogy (London, The Thames, London Under), it comes very, very close when writing about booksellers or Rashid Street for instance.
This isn’t really Marozzi’s fault. It must difficult, if not impossible, to write a prose love poem that will also have to cover what Hussein did as well as the two Iraq Wars and the build up to the current conflict. While Marozzi cannot for obvious reasons deal with the current Iraq situation, he does cover underlying issues that are coming to light – the religious conflicts among others.
Marozzi traces the city from its founding to the aftermath of Gulf War II. In many ways, Baghdad does seem to constantly be the city of the title – of peace and blood. The blood comes early, not just recently (though the hardest parts of the book, the most unnerving have to do with the modern era), for some of the early rulers had a tendency to be Bluebeard before Bluebeard. It does raise the question of another source for the Bluebeard tale. The locked door even plays a part in the story.
There are some interesting facts, like the treatment of the Jewish population post-WW II, but overall what the book does, perhaps unintentionally, is though a description of a city make the current crisis in Iraq not understandable but seen as part of a boarder and large canvas, something that few, if any, American news outlets take the time to do.
This isn’t to say that the book is all heavy going. Much time is spent on the description of Baghdad as a center of learning, introducing the reader to writers and artists as well as rulers who founded them. Less time is spent on women, but Marozzi takes the time to explain why women are not as evident in the historical record, and describes in details several of the women who escape this trend for a variety of reasons. This includes not only members of the harem, but also prostitutes, one of whom was pulled though the streets by a man who blew raspberries. Western women, like Gertrude Bell, make appearances, and some of the most moving passages of the book have to do with the grave of Bell.
Marozzi might lack the poetry of that Ackroyd possesses when writing about London, but Marozzi’s passion for a city that today is only known for violence comes though quite strongly. At the very least, this book will deepen your knowledge of Baghdad and regret that visiting it is so out of reach at the moment and perhaps forever. (less)
Okay, this isn’t a perfect book. There are some typos (though I am convinced some of them are intentional), but it’s so funny. It sends up the whole a...moreOkay, this isn’t a perfect book. There are some typos (though I am convinced some of them are intentional), but it’s so funny. It sends up the whole author who doesn’t stop talking train wreck. Some of the stuff is crazy, but if Michelle Foal is a real person, she must be so fun at a bar.(less)
This was an impulse buy. I was at the Smithsonian, the Native American, American Indian, museum, and this was in the bookstore. And since I get like...more This was an impulse buy. I was at the Smithsonian, the Native American, American Indian, museum, and this was in the bookstore. And since I get like 20% off because I’m a supporter and the cover was interesting, and the start sounded good.
And I had a really nice lunch.
So I figured what the hell.
And it was one of those times where it worked out. Go figure. Horowitz travels to discover the discovery of America (at least discovery by white folks, but he’s honest about that part of it). Some of what he covers, a reader of history will now, but his writing makes up for the lapses. Part travelogue, the book also covers people’s reactions to history or to a changing view of history.
While the focus is largely on the land that makes the US, other parts of the Americas do get the spotlight shown on them. Additionally, the book is not simply the repeating of facts, but also a study of how facts and myths switch places.
It’s quite a fun read and you will learn quite a bit. (less)
Terence Jenkins’s short eBook is about strange or little visited facts and places around London. This includes the...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
Terence Jenkins’s short eBook is about strange or little visited facts and places around London. This includes the area where you can sit with Keats as well as several places connected to tragedies that occurred during the Blitz. The book is filled with humor (including a football joke or two. A real football joke or two) and history. Pictures are included. The only thing missing a map showing the locations of the places he writes about. Jenkins’s descriptions, however, are well done that finding them should be easy enough. While the writing may not be up to the level of Peter Ackroyd in his poems to London, Jenkins's love for the city is just as real and palpable, making the book a joy as well as a quick read. If you have ever been to London or are planning to visit this book is worth picking up. (less)
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. The greatest invention in the world is freedom of speech.
Joel Simon’s New Censorship looks at censorship in the modern...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. The greatest invention in the world is freedom of speech.
Joel Simon’s New Censorship looks at censorship in the modern age and how it is used by various governments in various ways as well as the changing state of journalism and online information. Simon is, of course, bias because he belongs to an organization that cares deeply about the safety of journalists. It is this one sidedness, intentional or otherwise, that weakens what is a thought provoking and discussion worthy book.
Simon looks closely at countries such as Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and China as well as hotspots such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and the focus is on journalism and the control or attempted control of journalists. Simon considers not just imprisonment by the government, but also the threat of kidnapping and death that many journalists face as they report from the more dangerous areas. Assange, Wikileaks, and Snowden are also considered to various degrees.
Simon is a passionate, if mostly even handed, writer about the dangers and importance of journalists. His detailing of various cases considers both the pros and cons of reporting on kidnapping. His detailed description about his group’s decision to support Assange as a journalist (note, that Simon does not support Assange’s decisions and actions in regards to the rape accusations; if anything, Simon seems to be of the mind that Assange should face those charges).
The most interesting chapters are the detailed studies of Russia, Venezuela, and Turkey. By placing each of the countries into a context that takes into account not only the current situation but also how Putin and Chavez, for example, would have learned from and adapted those governments that surrounded or preceded them. In detailing such issues, Simon is aware of how some news sources may be seen, and he presents the reader with the charges that various governments may make against such news outlets, such as the view that Kurdish freedom group in Turkey might be tied to a newspaper that the Turkish government tries to censor. He draws a distinction between Dictators and Demotators, an insightful contrast.
At times the stories are shocking even if the reader is aware of them prior to reading the book. The massacre and mass murder of a political family in the Philippines is related in great detail and renews the feeling of horror as does the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. However, not only the big attention stories are dealt with. There are several examples of stories that did not make big American news outlets (if any), such as the imprisonment of a journalist in Iran, the vast numbers of Iraqi journalists who were killed in Iraq for a variety of reasons.
But that also raises other questions, ones that in fairness this book doesn’t seem to have the scope to answer but that should be considered long side protections and the rights of journalists. It is important that journalists be able to report with freedom and with a lack of free. It is important that government does not stick its fingers into journalist work. But there are questions. While a free press is vitally important, no government can (or even should) make all its secrets known. At some level, the government is not going to tell the journalist everything and might even actively try to stop the journalist from discovering information. The question is what does actively mean. Furthermore, while the detainment of Iraqi journalists in particular, and journalist in general (as well as the shooting of a freed journalist’s rescuer) at the hands of the US Armed Forces is frightening, Simon could have presented the Armed Forces side in more detail. Simon acknowledges that part of the reason for the detainment is the fear that the reporters might in fact be terrorist or insurgent groups filming an attack. The problem is that this is given in a vacuum. The fear is logical, Simon makes sure to present that as such, but how often does this occur, rates and statistics or perhaps even a story where the forces are under attack.
Additionally there is the question of what exactly news is or who exactly is a journalist. This is largely dealt with in the section about Assange (Snowden is mentioned but not in the same level detail, not surprising considering the difference in the stories as well as the more recent time frame). In discussing the Wikileaks story, Simon mentions that Wikileaks post Sarah Palin’s personal emails. He also points out that Wikileaks did not redact names of sources, and condoms Wikileaks for this. The other question that rises, in part, is what is the difference between Wikileaks and paparazzi? Are paparazzi also journalists? It’s true that Palin is a political figure, but the release of personal emails even with such a political figure seems rather intrusive. Is it is something that would be protected if it was a public, but not political, figure, say like Brad Pitt? I’m not quite sure what the answer is, but if Simon goes to great lengths to tell us what a journalist is, couldn’t he also tell us what a journalist is not? Do journalists have carte blanche, as the section almost suggests? The answering of such a question would have given the book a little more depth and flesh.
It is interesting, as well, that the British phone tapping scandal doesn’t come under scrutiny in this book. Are British tabloids journalistic?
But those quibbles aside, this is an important book about the important not only of freedom of speech and press but also of the importance of information and reporting. The suggestions and plan spelled out towards the end of the book are worthy of consideration. (less)
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Well, it’s cute. But a bit too busy for me. Jedi Academy is about a young Jedi as he returns to school from vacation. B...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Well, it’s cute. But a bit too busy for me. Jedi Academy is about a young Jedi as he returns to school from vacation. Basically, it is every boarding school funny book meets Yoda. Not as funny as it could be because it tries to do too much. The best parts of the story are not the panel strips, but the letters or newsflashes (as in Yoda shutting down the Jedi version of Facebook). It’s cute, but there really isn’t much, and the Darth Vader and kiddo books are better. (less)
Pickin Peas is the beautiful retelling of folktale that originally appeared, according to MacDonald, in Southern Workma...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
Pickin Peas is the beautiful retelling of folktale that originally appeared, according to MacDonald, in Southern Workman. A girl is out picking peas in her garden and confronts a rabbit who, like most rabbits, starts to take the remaining peas.
The story and the accompanying illustrations are absolutely charming.
The retelling is very much in the tradition of the Joel Chandler Harris collected tales – the Brer Rabbit tales (tales in which the hunter animals, such as the wolf, are the slave owners and the weaker but more cunning animals, like rabbits and pigs, are the slaves. The best version of the Three Little Pigs is from Chandler’s collection), and there is even a reference to the Brer stories in the details of the pictures.
There is much to recommend the story from the use of an African-American girl who deals with problems on her own and comes to terms with what she cannot change to the beautiful drawings. MacDonald also includes an afterword which gives suggests about how to perform the story either to an individual child or to a group of children. She also includes musical notation for the song in the story.
The story is a wonderful surprise in how lovely it is - for the narration to the illustrations.