The Salem Witch Trials have become infamous and entered into popular culture. They seem so infamous and from a time so long ago and steeped in superstThe Salem Witch Trials have become infamous and entered into popular culture. They seem so infamous and from a time so long ago and steeped in superstition that it's hard to comprehend the terror and hysteria that these trials brought about. It's even harder to remember that almost thirty people died because of crimes that today seem unthinkable, that over a hundred people – from almost all walks of life – spent months jailed in appalling conditions, never knowing if they would ever be released or even survive.
In A Delusion of Satan, Frances Hill does much to allow the reader to see just what hell the Salem Witch Trials really were. She provides human faces to the accused and their accusers and Hill does this at the same time as she creates a credible history of the trials.
Both well-written and well-researched, A Delusion of Satan is a truly great piece of work. This is a vivid retelling, perfect for readers like me who are almost wholly unfamiliar with the subject and Hill gives enough detail and insight so that these figures from history briefly come alive before us. In fact, the only serious flaw that comes to mind is that the Kindle edition omits the photos, drawings, notes and bibliography found in the print edition.
Seriously, publishers, seriously? I want a complete version of the text and I thought that, in buying the Kindle edition, I was getting that. No one wants to buy two copies of the same book to get the full book. I feel like I should shell out for the print edition, just to get a complete version of the book as the author intended it, but I'm reluctant to shell out more money for that privilege, especially since it means that the publishers are earning money out of screwing over their readers.
That rant aside, this book really is excellent. Throughout the book, Hill provides a note of reality and dissent, coolly pointing out flaws in basic logic that saw the Salem Witch Trials become the tragedy that they were and poking holes in the excuses of those chiefly responsible for the trials. This becomes more and more welcoming as Hill delves deeper in to her story. It's hard to comprehend how humans beings could be so cruel and malicious, to put over a hundred people through such an ordeal, bringing about the deaths of almost 30 individuals. Hill does her best to try and find an explanation for the actions of the "afflicted girls", but it's clear that is just speculation. Their true motives and reasoning are unknown.
This a gripping read, one I felt compelled to continue reading, however grim and dark the story – the history – was. This is a great read that I feel happy to recommend to anyone wanting a general introduction to the Salem witch trials... but get the print version....more
I wanted to know more, to experience the play, the atmosphere, the setting and the characters again. I went and signed up to be notified when the screening would be available for digital download. But my next port of call was a natural for me – I started looking for books to read and the book of the play was logically the first port of call.
I read the play in under 12 hours and again felt that captivation – I wanted to know more, to experience it all over again. I almost don't want to pick up another book, to just sit here with the play just a little bit longer. ...more
Tutankhamun's Funeral is a book produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focuses on the embalming cache found in Tomb 54 of the Valley of the KTutankhamun's Funeral is a book produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focuses on the embalming cache found in Tomb 54 of the Valley of the Kings. This cache contained materials produced for and possibly used in the funeral and burial of Tutankhamun. Chiefly, this book consists of a 1941 essay by Herbert E. Winlock that describes the more important finds, an appendix that updates the text (which I wished it had been inserted as footnotes, thus preventing the reader to have flick back-and-forth every time they encountered an asterisk in the text) and an introduction that is quite informative in its own right. Accompanied by photographs of the finds – and similar items – it is well worth the read or flick-through, but a little dry....more
Miranda Aldhouse-Green provides a basic guide to Celtic mythology and folklore, focusing particularly on Irish and Welsh myths. The difficulties in suMiranda Aldhouse-Green provides a basic guide to Celtic mythology and folklore, focusing particularly on Irish and Welsh myths. The difficulties in such a study are made abundantly clear: evidence for this mythology is fragmentary, sourced either from the rare archaeological find and the Medieval manuscripts that transcribed the myths, diluting the pagan themes and elements due to the prevalence of Christianity and it's disapproval of other religions, particularly pagan ones.
The Celtic Myths is yet another beautifully presented book about ancient mythology published by Thames & Hudson. Last year, I read Garry J. Shaw's The Egyptian Myths which I adored and, having an uneducated interest in Celtic history and mythology, it was hard to pass up The Celtic Myths when it was presented in the same format.
Miranda Aldhouse-Green is thorough, but thrifty, in her approach to covering her topic. The book begins by discussing the sources of information and evidence on the Celtic myths, the basic themes and motifs, and the "myth-spinners" – the people who shared these myths and the ways they were communicaed. Soon, though, she delves into more specific areas – Irish and Welsh myth-cycles are given their own chapter each, but Aldhouse-Green also focuses on the presence and roles of women, animals, the land and water in the myths. Detail is also given to mythical heroes, such as Cú Chulainn, and the underworld.
I found the book a little hard to get into at first – the first few, introductory chapters seemed a tad dry, however necessary they were – but eventually, the book just flowed beautifully. It's true that Aldhouse-Green does not provide the myths in their entirety – nor does she work them into a narrative that answers the basic questions myths are formed to answer: where did we come from, what is happening around me and what happens when I die.
That is not to say that The Celtic Myths is not a coherent, easily understood book. Instead, I would say that Aldhouse-Green has produced a work that acts as an reference guide or framework to comprehending the myths: the main themes and motifs, the context they were recorded in and how they reflect the people whose life they enriched. It is a great introductory text that promises to enrich my understanding of the myths in any further reading and research I do. ...more
In June, 1880 Ned Kelly and his gang resurfaced after months in hiding. Kelly, declaring he was tired of running, was determined to force a confrontatIn June, 1880 Ned Kelly and his gang resurfaced after months in hiding. Kelly, declaring he was tired of running, was determined to force a confrontation with police and had decided that the small, seemingly insignificant, town of Glenrowan would be the site. The slow police reaction caused Kelly's plans to fall apart and a siege occurred, the gang becoming trapped inside Ann Jones's inn. What followed was undoubtedly tragic and marked the end of the Kelly Gang, but it became part of the Australian folk legend and turned Kelly into the most famous, most iconic and most controversial bushranger in Australian history.
Within the pages of Glenrowan: The Legend of Ned Kelly and the Siege That Shaped a Nation, author Ian W. Shaw sets out to build a narrative out of these events, giving information not just on the actions of the gang, but also the police and the civilian hostages. It is a thoroughly absorbing read, once that lets readers get a real feel of what the Kelly gang were like – or what Shaw believes they were like.
This is, in all honesty, a really enjoyable book. It's readable and accessible and lets the reader get a sense of the powerful personalities and relationships at play. Shaw's writing and analysis of the gang member's relationships with each other was like gold to me. I also particularly enjoyed the way Shaw set out events, with chapters detailing each stage of the siege and its aftermath.
And while it probably does help if the reader has some knowledge of the Kelly Gang and its history, you don't really need it to understand the story Shaw's telling. That said, the scope of the book is limited to the siege and some brief, contextual chapters so if you're looking for an account of Kelly's life, I'd recommend picking up another book on Kelly, such as Ian Jones's Ned Kelly a Short Life.
So why the 1 star?
Like I indicated above, what's contained in this book is really just Shaw's interpretation of events. I'm never quite sure how much I trust his narrative – it's great reading, yes, but is it reliable? There does seem to be some degree of fictionalisation going on, some of which is completely inexcusable.
In the most obvious and most inexcusable example I can think of, Shaw recreates the deaths of the gang's two youngest members, Kelly's brother Dan and Steve Hart. The facts of their deaths are these: Dan Kelly and Hart were alone when they died. The only possible witness died shortly after being rescued from inn (which the police had set on fire in attempt to force Kelly and Hart out). A small group consisting of a priest and some police saw their bodies very briefly, the priest noting that they seemed to have been dead for a time and that there no obvious cause of death, such as a gunshot wound. The group was forced to abandon the bodies due to the intensity of the fire and when Kelly's and Hart's bodies were recovered, they were badly burnt and quickly released into the family's care. They were buried quickly and secretly, the family fearing – not unduly – that the police would try later to reclaim the bodies.
Thus: there are not witnesses to their deaths and there was no autopsy or inquest to determine a cause of death, if a cause of death could be determined from the state of the body. From this, Shaw builds up an elaborate scenario in which Kelly and Hart have a couple of conversations, then pour a glass of whisky each and lace it with laudanum, drink it and lie down beside each other, with Kelly putting his arm beneath Hart's head, who has already fallen asleep.
It's quite a touching image, but this version of events has two huge issues with it. One: it can't be verified. It's completely made up – there is literally no evidence that supports this version of events. Two: the final image Shaw creates doesn't match the witness accounts of the bodies. This is in fact the first I've heard of the theory that Kelly and Hart used laudanum to kill themselves. It may be new research that I'm simply unfamiliar with, but going by a simple Google search, the only results that pop up are for this book.
What's more, Shaw doesn't even signpost he's writing fiction at this point. I dislike fiction in my non-fiction, but I'm very forgiving when the author admits that they're fictionalising and offers a disclaimer along the lines of "this is what I think what happened, but there's no evidence that proves it".
This is a huge, jarring example of the biggest issue with the book. If Shaw happily fictionalised the deaths of two of the gang members, despite – by his own admission – that they were alone, the "most alone" they'd ever been, at the time, what else has he fabricated?
All of it?
So, while Glenrowan is a great narrative, an absorbing read, I can't help but think that there's a serious flaw with this book. At the end of the day, I can't trust it. And if a reference book isn't trustworthy, it's ultimately a failure.
Ned Kelly: Under The Microscope is a collection of articles written by various authors that seek to place the famous bushranger under the scrutiny ofNed Kelly: Under The Microscope is a collection of articles written by various authors that seek to place the famous bushranger under the scrutiny of science. The chief thread that runs through the book is the study of the skeletal remains associated with Kelly, the jewel in the crown being the recovery and identification of Kelly's skeleton. However, the book discusses a variety of other subjects, such as the archaeological dig at Glenrowan, analysis of the infamous Kelly gang armour, the legal issues surrounding Kelly's trial and the police perspective of events.
Overall, I found this to be a solid and thorough book on Kelly that doesn't, for the most part, rely on expert knowledge to communicate its point. As with any book of a multitude of contributors, the quality does vary article to article. Some articles came across as dry, bogged down by specialist language and knowledge, and some that seemed at times unnecessary, while others, I thought, needed some work.
For example, there is an article dedicated to the forensic analysis of handwriting samples belonging to Kelly and Joe Byrne, which seemed rushed and dashed off without much thought, with no real conclusion offered up. I am not saying that the work was rushed and thoughtless and acknowledge that the analysis produced inconclusive results so no conclusions could be drawn. However, the article is such that it appeared that the author didn't devote much time to its writing and failed to sum up the findings and explain what they meant.
While the information provided is undoubtedly excellent, the most moving chapter, in my eyes, is contributed by Kelly historian Ian Jones, who takes what science has uncovered about Kelly, and applies it to his knowledge of what happened and is able to build up an image of Kelly, and the strength and determination he must have had to continue fighting til the siege. This may be an idealised image, but it is no less arresting.
Ultimately, this is a valuable resource and fantastic new chapter on the history of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang. Hopefully, there will be more breakthroughs to come....more