Let me get straight to the heart of my issues with this book:
1. The narrow focus and even narrower interpretive methodology which is presented as some...moreLet me get straight to the heart of my issues with this book:
1. The narrow focus and even narrower interpretive methodology which is presented as something much wider in scope and implication than what it really is. Ms. Lerner rarely departs from a 2,000 year period in Mesopotamia, almost entirely ignoring other cultures around the world. All of her interpretation is divorced from the original languages in question, and those interpretations are entirely filtered through a Marxist (read: materialist) lens.
2. Ms. Lerner is very euro-centric and misogynist in regards to her historical point of view, and insults the intelligence of just about every woman who ever lived when she says: "It is only in this century that for a small group of women - still only a tiny minority considered on a global scale - the preconditions of educational access and equity have at last become available, so that women themselves could begin to "see" and hence define their predicament." (p. 231) In other words, not only have women before the last 200 years or so (and most women currently outside of the western academic world) been too stupid to see reality for what it is, but in order for them to see it, they needed access to the educational edifice which men have been busy constructing for the past 3000 years. Just to state the obvious, this is not my view, I am merely following her own logic here using her words. In fact, using her own words, women would have never noticed their oppression were it not for the Industrial Revoulution (pp. 241-2), which was brought to us by men (pp. 12-13).
3. Ms. Lerner has a clear disgust for motherhood and nature. "The supplanting of hard physical labor by the labor of machines is considered progress; only women, in their ("traditionalists" - I am by no means one according to the definition she gives btw) view are doomed forever to species service (yes, raising a child is called 'species service') through their biology. To claim that of all human activities only female nurturance is unchanging and eternal (FYI I do not make this claim) is indeed to consign half the human race to a lower state of existence - to nature rather than culture." (p. 20) So... yeah, this whole sentence kind of summed the book up for me. Nature as lower than culture? Life in harmony with nature as a 'lower state of existence'? How Orwellian can this possibly get? And for the record, she does say in the book that "anatomy was once destiny" (p. 53), and that "tribes and groups which women did not mother well probably could not and did not survive". So essentially her entire argument hinges on the idea that, through technology, humanity is 'progressing' and transcending nature and that women shouldn't be left behind with, you know, the mundane task of raising kids to be kind and decent people in the future.
Now I am not saying that women's only 'job' should be raising kids and pumping babies out, but I find her elitism in claiming to be inherently above all that while simultaneously striving for *all* women to be free from that as very unhuman. No human being, man or woman, should consider raising their child a cumbersome task that is beneath them, referred to as 'species service'. If you hate people that much then you should be consigned to your ivory tower where the only thing you will ever have to deal with are books which already agree with what you believe, and perhaps a naive teacher's aide who will confront you from time to time with the weakest possible argument against your position.
4. The word 'power' is thrown around a lot in this book but never adequately defined.
Disclaimer: I picked up this book because I want to learn. I didn't want to come out with guns firing, but Marxist dialectics tend to do that for me. I will continue to look into the subject matter with an open mind. Also, I gave it 2 stars instead of 1 because I do agree with a lot of minor points she makes about imbalances in gender, though, as she states herself (p. 241), I think this is mostly a result of the Industrial Revolution, whose social upheaval we are still adjusting too. (I'm also not saying things were perfect before that by any means, but it was very different and difficult to compare)
Also, for the record, if I HAD to pick a 'superior sex', I think I would choose women. Ms. Lerner doesn't seem to understand why, and that's fine - what bothers me is her claims of universality for not only all women but all cultures, and *that* is sexist and neo-imperialist.(less)
A little on the dry side, but this is a book which really needed to be written as Constantine gets too much shit from both religious fundamentalists a...moreA little on the dry side, but this is a book which really needed to be written as Constantine gets too much shit from both religious fundamentalists and rabid secularists.(less)
Mixed feelings. This book provides some great info on Parmenides and the roots of the Western world, but it could also have been about 100 pages short...moreMixed feelings. This book provides some great info on Parmenides and the roots of the Western world, but it could also have been about 100 pages shorter if the author could manage to go even one paragraph without talking about how stupid everyone else in the world is. A little more respect for the reader would have been appreciated, not to mention the fact that the whole book comes off as a 'let me show you the right way to think' work, which is constantly deflated by the authors own massive self-importance.
There are certainly things worth heavy consideration in this book, and it is worth reading, just keep in mind that the author sometimes makes overstatements in trying to sell his point of view, and that no one so full of themselves is worth following too closely. I only mention that because he seems to make his living as a 'spiritual teacher' these days.
Oh, and those were some of the lamest footnotes I've ever seen.(less)
This is a great historiography work on Hermeticism. The interpretations and influences of the philosophical and technical Hermetic writings are traced...moreThis is a great historiography work on Hermeticism. The interpretations and influences of the philosophical and technical Hermetic writings are traced chronologically through time in a mostly clear manner. There are some confusing references, and some lack of context in some areas, but on this subject, this is about as concise and easy of an introduction as you will find. Nice bibliography too for further reading.(less)
I was hoping for more footnotes, and the writing is a bit heavy-handed sometimes (not in an academic sense, but in the form of unnecessarily convolute...moreI was hoping for more footnotes, and the writing is a bit heavy-handed sometimes (not in an academic sense, but in the form of unnecessarily convoluted sentences - something which I am guilty of too sometimes, but that's why I'm not an author!). But this book is good for what it is, which is a basic overview of the history of how Rome transformed from a village into an empire. (less)
The writing isn't spectacular, but the book did a good job of filling in some gaps ignored in other books, and his explanation of the motives behind t...moreThe writing isn't spectacular, but the book did a good job of filling in some gaps ignored in other books, and his explanation of the motives behind the Fourth Crusade were well-informed.(less)
I have mixed feelings about this book, but I like more things about it than I dislike/have doubts about.
Mr. Frankopan does an excellent job dispellin...moreI have mixed feelings about this book, but I like more things about it than I dislike/have doubts about.
Mr. Frankopan does an excellent job dispelling some myths that have been around for a loooong time, but in making his case, I think he goes a little too far at times in the other direction. This is somewhat understandable as more than a few of his points go against the prevailing understanding of the events leading up to the Crusade. His dissection of the Byzantine political situation in Anatolia in the ~15 years leading up to the arrival of the first Crusade armies is an invaluable correction to many of his peers in the field of Crusade studies. It was interesting to see how both Alexios and Pope Urban II were in very parallel predicaments, Alexios having to deal with the attempted insurrection from Diogenes and Urban having to find a way to assert himself over the 'anti-Pope' Clement III.
It is obvious Mr. Frankopan knows his subject, and beyond that, he also shows his ability to connect dots which should have been connected a long time ago. For example, pretty much every book or paper I have read on the First Crusade talks about the mysterious ships coming in to provision the armies along the way, in Antioch through the port of St. Simeon, or at Arqa, or Jerusalem. The chroniclers of the Crusades are vague on where these ships came from or identify them solely by the nationality of the crew. Frankopan points out (what seems obvious in hindsight) how the Byzantine general who accompanied the army to Antioch, Taticius, had left only a few weeks prior to the ships arrival at Antioch, and promised to send help. Considering how many foreigners were in the service of the Byzantine emperor, it seems obvious these were ships sent by Alexios Komnenos or Taticius, probably from Cyprus. The Latin chroniclers essentially needed a scapegoat to cover for the selfish ambitions of men like Bohemond, who wished to ignore the oaths made to Alexios and keep cities they conquered on the way to Jerusalem for themselves, instead of returning them to Constantinople. So the exaggerated and outrageous claims (for example, Alexios arming the captured at Nicaea and sending them back out to attack the Franks) in the Latin chronicles heavily influenced Europe's view of the Eastern Roman Empire for centuries to come,and may even provide some insight as to how something as heinous as the sack of Constantinople in the 4th Crusade could have ever happened.(less)
I go back and forth on this one, but overall I like it. He takes a half narrative approach which is mostly from his perception of the attitudes of the...moreI go back and forth on this one, but overall I like it. He takes a half narrative approach which is mostly from his perception of the attitudes of the Crusaders. This works well often, and his occasional asides offer insights into certain aspect of the First Crusade which I have not seen covered elsewhere, such as his take on the story of the 'raped nun' at Nicaea who was 'saved' by the Crusaders but then ran back to her husband/rapist(?) at the first chance she got, and went out of her way and risked a lot in doing so. It would have been natural for the Latin chroniclers of the time to be baffled by this, but when we consider that many people in the west were raised in monasteries and not given the choice to become a monk or nun, and it not being unheard of by any means for Turks to treat certain of their prisoners well (such as, pretty women), it seems fairly plausible that she was genuinely in love with the man who had captured her and saw a better life there for herself than with the French warriors who found her, than that she was actually a tortured victim of Stockholm Syndrome.
Sometimes the approach goes a bit far as well, but I think it hits more than it misses.(less)
Delivers the goods as advertised. Ancient warfare was as brutal as you think it would be. One awe-inspiring visual: One of the only things that could...moreDelivers the goods as advertised. Ancient warfare was as brutal as you think it would be. One awe-inspiring visual: One of the only things that could put out the mysterious Greek Fire (naptha in Arabic) was vinegar. Or urine. Water didn't work. So you just know that at some point in time, when an attacking army got nailed with a pot of this incendiary mixture, and they were out of vinegar, they started pissing on each other. As if war wasn't hellish enough!
The writing is a bit clumsy, but the illustrations and layout of the book are great. A very nice resource for understanding the weapons of ancient and medieval war.(less)
Occasional and mild polemics notwithstanding, I think this a great narrative-style history book told from the 'other side'. Drawing from the writings...moreOccasional and mild polemics notwithstanding, I think this a great narrative-style history book told from the 'other side'. Drawing from the writings of Arab chroniclers, this gives a historically accurate picture of the Muslim view of the Crusades while never being bogged down by statistics, footnotes or citations. (less)
First rate narrative-style account of the First Crusade. Intrigue! Betrayal! Greed! Lust! Starvation! Cannibalism! Sorry, no explosions.
This is an ex...moreFirst rate narrative-style account of the First Crusade. Intrigue! Betrayal! Greed! Lust! Starvation! Cannibalism! Sorry, no explosions.
This is an excellent book which goes into a good amount of detail which had been glossed over in other books I had read on the subject. This is written for history geeks who want something more than dry academic treatments. I think Mr. Asbridge did a wonderful job on that front.(less)
This is a great resource for studying the Crusades, with excerpts from Christians, Muslims and Jews who lived through it.
My personal favorite was read...moreThis is a great resource for studying the Crusades, with excerpts from Christians, Muslims and Jews who lived through it.
My personal favorite was reading about the Christians who repelled Kerbogha's army at Antioch. From more than one Christian source, you read about how Jesus literally swept down with an army to help them, which frightened the far superior Muslim force and they took flight. A miracle victory for a smaller, starving army of Christians. From the Muslim side, you read about how the army deserted Kerbogha because he treated them badly, and because they did not want him to take Antioch, being that the army was comprised of peoples from other lands who did not want such an overbearing man to have control in the area.(less)
When I started this book, I had just read two others which went chronologically through the Crusades in an overview manner, giving some details of bat...moreWhen I started this book, I had just read two others which went chronologically through the Crusades in an overview manner, giving some details of battles, etc. So I was not necessarily looking forward to reading another book that did exactly the same on an overview level without going into any more detail on specific things I was interested in, but I really wanted to see some pictures and get an idea about the Crusades with some visual aids, so I started reading it anyway.
I was pleasantly surprised that this book took a different approach and talked about various cultural/social/political ideas and movements on the peripheries of the battles which greatly helps inform them and gives them a context. This book to me is less about the Crusades as it is about how the Crusades affected the people involved in it and the people back home, and about the culture the Crusades grew out of. An excellent book (if a bit jumpy in style, which is unavoidable when you have several authors writing different sections).(less)