This is a biography, of sorts, of Paul Du Chaillu, the 19th Century African explorer who revealed the existence of gorillas to the world at large. (PrThis is a biography, of sorts, of Paul Du Chaillu, the 19th Century African explorer who revealed the existence of gorillas to the world at large. (Previously they had been only a rumor, like the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot.) This is an infotaining book about how "Paul" (as the author refers to him) first encountered gorillas, and how his news was received back in London. I would have appreciated a bit more depth in the story-telling; the subject of the book is the kind of thing that should have interested me a lot, but it was too breezy for me to get fully engaged. ...more
I sought out this book after reading An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science and being intrigued by the subject bI sought out this book after reading An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science and being intrigued by the subject but a bit disappointed in the execution. Stephanie Barczewski's book starts out a lot better, with a really good telling of the three famous Antarctic expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. The first third of the book: five stars. After that, however, it gets a lot less good. Barczewski spends the last two hundred pages or so examining the legacy of the two explorers, and how perceptions of them have changed over time. This part of the book is interesting at times, but it seems that she uncovered, and described, every mention of either explorer, or their crew members, that has been made in the last ninety years. She even briefly describes the career of a race horse that was named after Shackleton. This is, in a way, a very good 117-page book about Antarctic exploration with a very lengthy epilogue. ...more
This is a really interesting book. It's not as whimsical as the title suggests, instead it's a serious history book describing many aspects of life inThis is a really interesting book. It's not as whimsical as the title suggests, instead it's a serious history book describing many aspects of life in 14th Century England. The twist here is that the book is told in the present tense, as if the reader actually could travel back in time. (And having read the book, I'd have to wonder why anyone would want to!) Author Ian Mortimer covers the landscape, the people, the customs, the laws, the food, the music, and more. For me, the most interesting chapter was probably the one about health and hygiene, and the least interesting was the chapter about clothing and fashion.
The text contains some real flashes of wisdom and insight. It's apparent that the author really tried to alter his perspective (and by extension, the reader's) and envision the 14th Century as a living, vibrant place full of actual humans, with day-to-day concerns, and not just a dusty era that can only be known through ancient relics and dry history books.
I would love to read more books like this. It would be great if it could be the first of a series, with future volumes giving the same treatment to what the 14th Century was like in other parts of the world. Maybe Japan, Northern Africa, India, Turkey. ...more
This isn't a dual biography of Darwin and Lincoln; it's more of a dual character study. As some others on Goodreads have said, some of the author's seThis isn't a dual biography of Darwin and Lincoln; it's more of a dual character study. As some others on Goodreads have said, some of the author's sentences are overlong and incomprehensible, but there are also a lot of interesting thoughts expressed. If you've read a lot about Lincoln and Darwin, it's worthwhile to get another perspective on these two men. If not, this may not be the best place to start.
I'm not sure that I buy Gopnik's central argument about the connection between the two. I'm also not even sure I understand what the supposed connection is, other than their shared birth date. If either Darwin or Lincoln was born a few days later, or a few days earlier, this book probably would not have been written.
The title, by the way, comes from a dispute over what Edwin Stanton said at Lincoln's deathbed. I always knew it to be "Now he belongs to the ages" which is a great quote, both simple and profound. Until I read this book, I had no idea that there are some who claim that he said, "Now he belongs to the angels." The ambiguity kind of ruins the quote for me. I sure want to think it was "ages". ...more
An excellent biography of a pioneering 18th Century British surgeon and anatomist. It not only tells the story of John Hunter's life, but gives a veryAn excellent biography of a pioneering 18th Century British surgeon and anatomist. It not only tells the story of John Hunter's life, but gives a very good overview of the state of medicine and science at the time. A lot of really interesting stuff, although it may be a bit gory for some tastes. (I was okay with everything except for the description of the vivisection of a poor dog.) This is Wendy Moore's first book, and it's a good one. I'm looking forward to see what she writes next. ...more
Despite what some other reviewers have said here, this book does NOT "read like a novel." It's definitely not as dry or dense as a book about events fDespite what some other reviewers have said here, this book does NOT "read like a novel." It's definitely not as dry or dense as a book about events from almost five hundred years ago can be, but it's no novel. (If you do want to read a novel about Henry VIII and his wives, I recommend the fictional Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George.)
As for Alison Weir's book, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I was curious, after having watched the first two seasons, so far, of "The Tudors" on Showtime, to read a historical account of Henry's reign. The book started stronger than it ended. Unfortunately for the author, Henry's first two wives, and the turmoil surrounding them, were more interesting than the four wives that followed. My four-star rating here comes from the first part getting five stars, and the second part of the book getting three. ...more
I've had this book on my shelf for a few years now. I'm not sure what prompted me to buy it; the weird creepy cover is far from compelling. It's a bioI've had this book on my shelf for a few years now. I'm not sure what prompted me to buy it; the weird creepy cover is far from compelling. It's a biography of Charlotte Charke, an actress who had brief success on the London stage in the 18th Century and also experience notoriety for her preference to dress in mens' clothing.
There are many gaps in surviving accounts of Charlotte's life; a reader can sometimes sense the author's frustration in not being able to know more about her subject. Since reading Barbara Tuchman's introduction to The Guns of August I'm more prone to notice the use of "must have" in biographies and history books, and this book has many "must haves" throughout.
I have to say I wasn't that captivated by Charlotte Charke as the subject of a biography. The reason this book worked for me is because of the portrayal of the world that Charlotte lived in. I've never spent even a moment wondering what the theater scene was like in London in the 1730s, but I found it very interesting to learn about. Also, later in Charlotte's career, when times got tough, it was interesting to learn some of the details about what poverty was like in that time and place. ...more
An interesting story, and one pretty much completely unknown to me, but not so interestingly told. Tells of a 1918 libel trial that was a sensation inAn interesting story, and one pretty much completely unknown to me, but not so interestingly told. Tells of a 1918 libel trial that was a sensation in England, and of right-wing crusaders who, as World War I raged, feared the Germans primarily because of the perception that they had a corrupting homosexual agenda. I'm glad I know this story now, but it was a bit of a difficult read. Probably because it was meant for British readers who would have an easier time relating to the cultural and historical references that weren't explained as well as this American reader would have liked....more
I'm recalling this book now as I take a year-end look over the books I read in 2010. This one was one of the nicer surprises. This biography of AudoboI'm recalling this book now as I take a year-end look over the books I read in 2010. This one was one of the nicer surprises. This biography of Audobon had been sitting on my shelf for years. I bought it in a discount book store, unsure if I'd ever be motivated enough to read a book about a guy who painted birds, but it was much better than I expected. A terrific look at American life in the early part of the 19th Century, and Audobon had a more interesting life than I realized. I was also struck by the occasional references to Audobon's teeth. I read this book at the age of 47, and it was strange to read about how men of that time who were my age or younger were grateful for each of their few remaining teeth. Little tidbits like these helped make this biography a very worthwhile read....more