Totally fascinating look at Jefferson and his ability to exert his will quietly but thoroughly on people and nations. My only quibble is that the book...moreTotally fascinating look at Jefferson and his ability to exert his will quietly but thoroughly on people and nations. My only quibble is that the book seems to skirt around some of the more controversial points of Jefferson's life: his religious beliefs, his refusal to free his slaves despite his vocal condemnation of slavery. Meacham takes Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings as undeniable fact, which I agree with but haven't seen many historians do openly. Meacham can be a bit hero-worshippy, but it doesn't really affect his analysis of Jefferson's ability to acquire and keep power. A must-read for anyone into early American history, or for those who are interested in knocking the Founders off their pedestal and seeing them in a more human light, complete with extra-martial affairs, scandal, political escapades, and pain.(less)
It was certainly not boring or dry, and filled in several gaps in history that I didn't realize I possessed. For example, everyone knows Julius Caesar...moreIt was certainly not boring or dry, and filled in several gaps in history that I didn't realize I possessed. For example, everyone knows Julius Caesar was killed by his political opponents, but I didn't know why. It demystifies Cleopatra, carefully delineating what is myth and what is probably fact.
Schiff's portrayal of Cleopatra is a little confusing. She wants the queen to be a powerful, confident ruler and doesn't know how to handle her obvious mistakes. She casts Cleopatra as a feminist icon trying her darndest to rule a country while at the mercy of men, and denies that Cleopatra ever used her sexuality to get what she wanted- and then accuses Mark Antony and Caesar of doing just that. Schiff's Cleopatra is too powerful to be a victim, but is always a victim. In distancing herself from the traditional portrayals of Cleopatra, Schiff goes to the opposite extreme and casts the queen as perfectly innocent in all things. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
She also can't decide if her romance with Mark Antony was really a romance, or was more of a political alliance. It seems obvious to me that they were devoted to each other, but Schiff doesn't want to make her Cleopatra that emotional.
Anyway, it's informative but still problematic and heavily biased by the author's picture of who she wants Cleopatra to be.(less)
Fills in the gaps in my woefully VERY VERY BAD American history public school education. And by that I ALSO mean my state school history degree.
ANYWO...moreFills in the gaps in my woefully VERY VERY BAD American history public school education. And by that I ALSO mean my state school history degree.
ANYWOOT, this is a super-fascinating look into George Washington's personality and motives starting from when he was a young man to his death, moving way beyond the myths and the WE MUST NEVER CRITICIZE THE WASHINGTON worship that a lot of biographers suffer from (shh yes he had slaves but we don't talk about that LOOK A CHERRY TREE OR SOMETHING).
(Also, did you know that Jefferson was a total jerk? Because apparently he was a total jerk during Washington's presidency.)
Anyway, I think what I most appreciated from this was the explanations of the nuances of early Revolutionary politics. It's easy for Americans to be all THE FOUNDING FATHERS WERE GODS AND BELIEVED THESE FOUR THINGS AND WE MUST ALWAYS KEEP THESE FOUR THINGS FOREVER OR JESUS WON'T LOVE US ANYMORE, when in reality, the Founding Fathers believed a huge variety of things, most of which they never agreed upon. So. moar nuanced history! Less silly propaganda! Republicans vs. Federalists! The Constitution isn't infallible and was, in fact, the compromised result of weeks of fighting that left everyone totally unsatisfied! YAY!(less)
I heart Winston Churchill, let's just get that out of the way. He was a total bad-ass when the world was in need of a total bad-ass. But he could also...moreI heart Winston Churchill, let's just get that out of the way. He was a total bad-ass when the world was in need of a total bad-ass. But he could also string together a coherent thought, unlike more modern bad-asses. I know some people won't agree with me when I say he was an uber-genius, but those people would be wrong. He began his History before the war began and finished it long after, so it was a labor of love.
To begin with, this really needs to be retitled "A History of How Splendiforous the English Speaking Peoples Are, and How the Glory of England Shines on in a Heathen World, Now Who Wants A Sherry, Amen." There's a reason these volumes are not textbooks. Objective, they are not. Winston is VERY JUDGY of the people whose tales he wants to tell. He is all "this man was a military idiot, and was known to be an effeminate weakling and to top it off he was SHORT" and then he's all "but THIS man was a pious officer of the faith, and a great unifying King, and to him we still owe allegiance let's raise a toast." Churchill is quick to call most native people heathens, and you can FEEL his glee when he discusses their demise. But he will give props to heathens with military know-how. The man respects the fight-fight.
So on top of the non-objectivity, there is another issue I know most historical types will take with Churchill: the Great Man Theory. Senor Winston tells the tale of early England by telling the tale of early English kings and the Irish/Saxon/Norman/French dukes/kings/warlords they defeated. He glosses over the lives of everyday people, and leaves you with the impression that the world is formed by Great Men (and sometimes a lady-but-not-often-lets-move-on). Now, coming from Sir Winston Churchill....right. Of course he thinks that. Himself being a Great Man Who Does Things, he is probably only interested in other Great Men Who Did Things.
Honestly, this was refreshing. Most of the history you read now scorns the idea that men (or ladies) can be individually great or affect history themselves- most history nowadays is about "the (insert your under-appreciated group of interest) perspective." It was nice to read a history of a nation written by someone who believed in things like destiny, and individual greatness, and valor and all those odd words we never hear anymore.
Anywoot, Churchill's history of England has glaring academic weaknesses- if you ask glaring academics. If you ask me, it's kick ass and I'm going to read the rest of the other three volumes. I think it's more interesting to read history written by someone who made it then it is to read history written by someone who sits at a desk all day being critical. That being said, take it with a grain of salt...there were slaves, and women, and peasants. But Winston would rather talk about knights and kings and People With Axes. And I LIKE IT.