This is pretty much everything you could ask for in a biography of Mill. It covers the whole spectrum, from his personal life to his work to the intelThis is pretty much everything you could ask for in a biography of Mill. It covers the whole spectrum, from his personal life to his work to the intellectual and political contexts in which he did it, and does so with sympathy and verve. You could do much worse for a history of the progress and development of liberal reform in Victorian England, which is appropriate since his ideas were so central to it. What's unique here is that the author makes it clear that Mill was much more than a man of ideas, and that his was a throughgoingly humanist life, in which he was willing to put his fortune and reputation on the line to fight for his beliefs, even when the times were not yet ripe and the odds weren't in his favor.
The one strange exception to his universal generosity and esteem was his family, and it was a bit jarring to learn that someone who I admire so much and who seemed so far ahead of his time on so many issues, could be so callous to some of the people closest to him in life, albeit for complicated reasons arising from his nonconformist beliefs and his famed relationship with Harriet Taylor. That's a good lesson though, and reinforces the need to judge the personal, political, and intellectual spheres separately and on their own merits....more
An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified,An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified, as we will see) eagerness to vindicate the Mongols, he does go rather out of his way to downplay the havoc they spread. He spends all of maybe a page and a half on the sack of Baghdad, which resulted in the brutal and complete destruction of the greatest city of the most advanced civilization and culture of the era. This was a Big Deal, and what was destroyed and lost really needs to be taken into account along with what the Mongols built and enabled.
But what they built is quite impressive and important, and that's the story told by Weatherford. The semi-standard narrative of the Renaissance is that Marco Polo and the Venetians opened up trading routes with the East, commerce and cultural exchange in the Mediterranean and Near East grew from there, and eventually we rediscovered our birthright of ancient Roman and Greek culture and ideas. What's left out is who they opened up trading routes with, and how much that exchange had to do with Europe's ascent from the Dark Ages.
They opened trade with the Mongols, who had built the world's first true multicultural and international empire covering most of Asia and the Middle East. Although they did sack and burn and kill, that's not all they did. They also built safe roads and a postal system that allowed trade across thousands of miles of Eurasia, facilitated cultural and technological and religious exchange from Japan to Western Europe, invented paper money, militarized gunpowder and revolutionized siege tactics, used printing widely well before Gutenberg, and instituted efficient administration and the rule of law over a vast area. They even founded universities. They were probably the first multinational, meritocratic, ecumenical, and in many ways, modern state, and that state covered more territory than any other before or since. They created modern China under Kublai Khan, and their descendents ruled India into the 19th century. Not bad for a bunch of marginal, illiterate, yak-herding yurt-dwellers.
It's pretty amazing that the story of this remarkable man and his people doesn't figure more prominently in our history, but a combination of time, racism, chauvinism, and in modern times, a lack of access to what scant records remain due to the Cold War has kept it fairly marginal. So, in that way, this is a very important book, and I feel like it really filled an big gap in my understanding of history.
On the downside, the sourcing does seem a bit thin and/or legendary at times, but no more so than what we have on someone like Alexander or most other ancient world figures. Just take into account that he's a) going easy on the Mongols to try to counteract their really nasty reputation, and b) working from fragmentary and/or mythical information in some cases, and enjoy it for what it is, which is a well-told tale of a criminally neglected era of history....more
Yeats has a knack for approaching emotions and situations obliquely and obscurely at first, and yet somehow hitting them right on by the time he's thrYeats has a knack for approaching emotions and situations obliquely and obscurely at first, and yet somehow hitting them right on by the time he's through. A perfect subtlety, dancing on the thin line between pathos and authenticity....more
Another in an ongoing series of American readings, wherein I'm trying to get a better overall picture of my country's character and history. An impresAnother in an ongoing series of American readings, wherein I'm trying to get a better overall picture of my country's character and history. An impressive and inspiring story of a man who dragged himself up from nothing against great odds; a man of astounding will, personality, integrity, and intelligence, all of which were severely stunted by the society he lived in. It’s also a good look into the kinds of conditions that foster and perhaps even justify radicalism. I can at least understand, if not necessarily condone, his divergence from King and the integrationist/civil rights movement after reading about what he and his family/friends went through as black Americans. I can see how one could come to the conclusions that he did, given his harrowing experience, even if I don’t agree in the end. Of course, neither did he, in the end. It’s too bad he didn’t live to finish his evolution as Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. It would have been a great ending to an already inspiring and gripping story....more
A wide-ranging story of the development of the Socialist/Communist movement in 19th Century Europe, from the post French Revolution roots up to Lenin’A wide-ranging story of the development of the Socialist/Communist movement in 19th Century Europe, from the post French Revolution roots up to Lenin’s arrival in St. Petersburg(at the Finland Station) to lead the Bolsheviks in 1917....more
A perceptive look at the cult of personality surrounding Reagan, in light of the collision of the American tendency toward self-mythologization and wiA perceptive look at the cult of personality surrounding Reagan, in light of the collision of the American tendency toward self-mythologization and wish-fullfillment with the emerging mass-media technology that enabled much of it to become a lived reality. Reagan might have been acting a part, whether consciously or unconsciously, but America ate up the act. This book tries to take a balanced look at why and how that happened....more
It was good, but not by her standards. Episodic and a bit shallow. I expected more of a systematic look at historical folly, but she just picked out 4It was good, but not by her standards. Episodic and a bit shallow. I expected more of a systematic look at historical folly, but she just picked out 4 cases(Troy, The Renaissance Popes, Georgian England, Vietnam) and covered those more or less well. The middle two cases were really good and taught me stuff I didn't already know, the other two were fairly indifferent....more
Probably the best popular history of WWI that I’ve seen. Does an excellent job of zooming in from the big picture to the individuals acting within(andProbably the best popular history of WWI that I’ve seen. Does an excellent job of zooming in from the big picture to the individuals acting within(and often in ignorance of) it, and back. Does an excellent job of tying together the personalities, politics, plans, cultural forces, technological advances, and terrible follies that caused the old world to spin apart in a sudden and inexorable conflagration that almost nobody seemed able to anticipate or resist....more
This is massive and intricate, but not nearly so difficult to follow as I had feared. As billed as well, has all the things that make Tolstoy great, aThis is massive and intricate, but not nearly so difficult to follow as I had feared. As billed as well, has all the things that make Tolstoy great, and despite the length, nothing seems extraneous. Well, maybe nothing seems extraneous. It depends on whether you’re interested in history, as Tolstoy looked at this as an exploration of his (essentially anti-Great Man) theory of history as much or moreso than he did as a novel. What you end up with is a great historical novel that interweaves both threads(historical and personal) exceedingly well, with each complementing, explicating, and enforcing the other to wonderful effect....more