I read this not long after I changed my major from Literature to History, but in many ways this combines the best of both disciplines. A strikingly viI read this not long after I changed my major from Literature to History, but in many ways this combines the best of both disciplines. A strikingly vivid account of life in the trenches in WWI, it is also an unsparing and unsentimental look at the consequences of disastrous military and political decisions. Viewing the war through one man's eyes has, of course, been done countless times in literature and film since Remarque's seminal work, but still this stands head and shoulders above its successors. A hugely important antiwar statement, but also an incomparable piece of literature. ...more
A magisterial and sweeping examination of the historical experience of WWI, especially as portrayed by writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried SassoonA magisterial and sweeping examination of the historical experience of WWI, especially as portrayed by writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves. More concerned with literary matters than military ones, Fussell's analysis goes surprisingly deep -- to the heart of the profound change in thinking that took place during and after the war. The consciousness of an entire generation, if not an entire country, underwent a profound shift. Things that are pervasive in modern times -- especially cynicism and irony about governments and politicians -- were not even dreamt of before thousands of young men were killed needlessly or came home hollow shells of themselves. Fussell does a wonderful job of making the sources of disenchantment clear and delineating the effect of this shift on society. He weaves in poetry, contemporaneous accounts, memoirs, and even popular ditties into his analysis, amply demonstrating the way that the Great War was perceived and how society dealt with its effects. ...more
It's harder to say which is more disturbing -- King Leopold's genocidal rape of the Congo or the "civilized" world's almost complete ignorance of andIt's harder to say which is more disturbing -- King Leopold's genocidal rape of the Congo or the "civilized" world's almost complete ignorance of and indifference to it. Hochschild's book almost singlehandedly revived an interest in this long-neglected chapter in history. I think it's fair to say that most readers had little idea of what happened in the Congo during the late 19th century. It certainly made me go back and reread Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in an entirely new light. ...more
This is a wonderfully readable history, a mixture of dueling lore as well as accounts of famous duels. There were strict codes that governed dueling,This is a wonderfully readable history, a mixture of dueling lore as well as accounts of famous duels. There were strict codes that governed dueling, and Baldick recounts the evolution of dueling through the centuries, examining how it developed as new weapons were employed, as well as changes in the legal status of dueling.
Baldick includes many accounts of the most famous duels in Britain, Russia, France, and elsewhere, including what is undoubtedly America's most famous duel between Hamilton and Burr. Then there were duels involving members of the aristocracy such as the Duke of York (George III's second son), famous lovers such as Casanova, military men such as the Duke of Wellington,and (my favorite group) literary duelists such as William Brinsley Sheridan, Alexander Pushkin, and Alexandre Dumas.
It will come as no surprise that dueling was extremely popular in the American South, or that many politicians and publishers were given to dueling. Even Abraham Lincoln was challenged to a duel by broadsword, though he managed to intimidate his opponent so much before the duel by hacking high limbs off a tree, thus demonstrating his greatly superior reach, that the duel was called off. There were even "petticoat duels" between women.
Ultimately, the author uses dueling as a lens to examine how matters of honor were resolved over the centuries. The reasons for the decline and ultimate outlawing of dueling are also examined. All in all, the history of the duel makes for fascinating reading.
My copy of this book dates from the 1970's, but I believe the book was republished in the late 90's as well. The author was a Fellow at Pembroke College in Cambridge. ...more
Lola's life was simply sensational -- she was one of the 19th century's most successful courtesans (mistress of Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria, amonLola's life was simply sensational -- she was one of the 19th century's most successful courtesans (mistress of Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria, among others). As this biography makes abundantly clear, Lola had more gumption per square ounce than just about anyone else at the time. A completely self-made woman, the Irish-born Eliza Gilbert ran away from an older husband, re-emerging as the exotic Spanish dancer Lola Montez. Taking the major cities of Europe by storm, she cut a swath through proper society. What Lola wanted, Lola got. Even after she fled England after being charged with bigamy and started a new life in the Gold Rush towns of the West, she continued to build on the legend.
An interesting aside: the author won a large chunk of cash on Jeopardy which enabled him to take time off from his job and research the book. While Lola Montez is obviously the work of novice author, the thing I liked about it was that it was so wholeheartedly pro-Lola (warts and all). What it lacked in polish, it made up for in enthusiasm. ...more
A sweeping and magisterial book, Guns, Germs, and Steel combines history, ecology, geography, and biology to examine the rise of Western civilizationsA sweeping and magisterial book, Guns, Germs, and Steel combines history, ecology, geography, and biology to examine the rise of Western civilizations compared to other cultures. Blasting the notion of Western superiority, Diamond makes a convincing case for the role of four key factors that led to success. Accidents of geography and environment, it seems, were more important than racial or cultural differences.
My only quibble is that this is such an ambitious synthesis that it's difficult for the non-specialist to evaluate. I also listened to the book on tape, so I wasn't able to flip back and forth the way I normally would when reading this sort of book. Still, overall my impression was that Diamond's arguments made sense. ...more
Well written account detailing how information gleaned from espionage and cyrptography has shaped the modern world. One of the most interesting questiWell written account detailing how information gleaned from espionage and cyrptography has shaped the modern world. One of the most interesting questions what to do with the information -- concealment of knowledge is often nearly as important as having it. Then there is the political aspect of how to handle intelligence. Many of these spy and codebreaking stories are fairly well known -- Klaus Fuchs, the Cambridge Five, and so on -- but placing these accounts in a broader framework was interesting. ...more
A nicely done book that accompanied an exhibit at the National Gallery in DC a couple years back. One of the things that comes across in both the exhiA nicely done book that accompanied an exhibit at the National Gallery in DC a couple years back. One of the things that comes across in both the exhibit and the book is that Rousseau wasn't working in a vacuum, of course -- there were some very specific things in his environment that had an outsize influence on his art. In particular, visits to the Botanical Gardens in Paris served as inspiration. The animals he observed Paris zoo also populated his paintings.
Interestingly, although Rousseau never actually left Paris, he constructed elaborate visions of tropical worlds from popular images of exotic places that were in circulation in the Paris of his time.
The prints in this book are lovely -- vibrant colors and clearly detailed. Anyone with an interest in this singular artist will be enchanted. ...more
This is THE book to get if you've even a passing interest in Art Nouveau. Most Americans, I find, are familiar with only a fairly narrow range of theThis is THE book to get if you've even a passing interest in Art Nouveau. Most Americans, I find, are familiar with only a fairly narrow range of the wider international movement, so what I particularly liked about this book is that it discusses (and wonderfully illustrates) the lesser-known (by Americans) eastern European branches of Art Nouveau, usually called "secessionist" or "jugendstil," particularly in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.
A few words on the origins of the book: it's the result of a Victoria & Albert museum project, which means that it's both extensively researched as well as beautifully and copiously illustrated. The the first section of the book is devoted to the origins and development of Art Nouveau, with particular reference to the Orient and North Africa as sources of inspiration, but also with the movement's connections to literary styles and preceding "natural" art. The second section addresses Art Nouveau's characteristic materials -- metal, paper, glass, textiles, wood -- with chapters written by specialists in ceramics, jewelry making, sculpture, and so on. The third section is an exploration of a dozen or so cities famed for their art nouveau architecture, including a few places that might not immediately spring to mind, such as Glasgow and Helsinki. I originally bought the book after a trip to Vienna and Munich, whose jugendstil beauties are well chronicled in this book. Other cities I've visited which the book discusses are Paris (of course), Barcelona, New York, and Moscow; a few cities discussed that I haven't been to include Brussels, Turin, and Prague. For lovers of stained glass, there's also a chapter on Louis Comfort Tiffany.
This is a fairly expensive book, but there are some reasonably priced copies to be had second-hand. I think I paid some ridiculously low price online through a used book site. At 500-some pages and weighing in at something like ten pounds, this definitely falls into the coffee table book category, but it's a serious coffee table book, filled with as much scholarship as pretty photos. Highly recommended. ...more