"In the Shadow of Swords" is journalist Sally Neighbour's account of the events leading up to the devastating 2002 bombings of Kuta Beach. I was fortu"In the Shadow of Swords" is journalist Sally Neighbour's account of the events leading up to the devastating 2002 bombings of Kuta Beach. I was fortunate enough to pick this book up when stranded in Tennant Creek, Australia for several days, after having traveled to Bali only a week or so before. Thus my reading of the text was colored by this experience. Neighbour's fascinating reconstruction (from a decidedly Australian viewpoint) of the developments which culminated in the attacks convincingly demonstrates to readers the truly global and historic scale of international terrorism. The book is most successful in the early chapters where Neighbour discusses the formative years of Islam, and the manner in which fundamentalism is both a product of, and antithetical to, this period. The portrayal of the terrorists involved themselves is exceptionally compelling, and manages to humanize (although not excuse) the men who committed these heinous crimes. However, due to the passage of time many of these men are no longer pertinent to international terrorism, thanks to the heroic efforts of law enforcement across the globe. While several years ago this book would have been indispensable in understanding terrorism in Southeast Asia, a more current study is required for contemporary awareness. ...more
"The Poisonwood Bible" is yet another Kingsolver triumph that manages to convey all the hope, despair, and redemption that is the human experience. Se"The Poisonwood Bible" is yet another Kingsolver triumph that manages to convey all the hope, despair, and redemption that is the human experience. Set in the jungles of the soon-to-be post-colonial Belgian Congo, the novel follows the struggles of the Price family to make a life as missionaries in a culture they barely understand. This conflict inexorably leads to the recognition that what precisely constitutes "savage" is often far from obvious. Alternating between the viewpoints of the five female protagonists, the reader is allowed to experience the narrative through the competing sensibilities that are ultimately the works greatest success. Simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful, this novel is a must-read for any admirer of great literature....more
In a moment of retrospect, it is observed "some memories are realities, and better than anything that can ever happen to one again." And thus, Willa CIn a moment of retrospect, it is observed "some memories are realities, and better than anything that can ever happen to one again." And thus, Willa Cather's masterpiece "My Antonia" follows the simple story of a boy from Virginia forced to move west and the vivacious immigrant girl who captures his imagination. While the narrative primarily follows Jim Burden as he grows into a man, the novel's true protagonist is Antonia, a woman who endures all the hardship the plains life has to offer, and still emerges a survivor. Containing some of the most beautiful yet understated prose in American literature, Cather wonderfully captures the essence of the Nebraska landscape while expressing the full range of human emotion. By the time Jim tells Antonia "I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister, anything that a woman can be to a man," the reader has no choice but to agree....more
In his work "Slavery and the Founders," Paul Finkelman explores the role of slavery in the formative years of the American republic, regarding both thIn his work "Slavery and the Founders," Paul Finkelman explores the role of slavery in the formative years of the American republic, regarding both the political establishment and its leadership. In this respect, Finkleman focuses first on the specific manner in which colonial authorities adapted the structure of American government to accommodate the often contentious issue of slavery. He then discusses the personal relationships of various founding fathers with the system, concentrating primarily on Thomas Jefferson. Through this investigation, the text ultimately seeks to reveal slavery's importance as the principal issue in the early decades of the United States, as well as expose the fallacy of some oft-repeated falsehoods about early American political figures and their disposition towards the "peculiar institution."
Finkelman begins his examination with a survey of the political bargaining at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. While this period was not the first exhibition of a public discourse on slavery in the newly independent colonies, it was certainly the most significant. The agreement reached at the Convention in Philadelphia bound the previously somewhat independent states together in perpetuity, and demanded all citizens in the new nation abide by a common set of federal regulations. Thus, slavery was explicitly sanctioned by the federal Constitution.
Previous scholarship has emphasized the rivalry between large and small states as the dominant controversy of the Constitutional Convention. Relying on a new interpretation, however, Finkelman makes a convincing argument that it was actually the issue of slavery which was the most hotly contested point in the mediation. In support of this conclusion, he points to such illuminating statements such as one by James Madison, which asserts "the great division of interests in the U. States...did not lay between the large and small States: it lay between the Northern and Sothern." Madison also emphasizes this disparity is a direct result of the respective states "having or not having slaves."
While the author successfully demonstrates that regional persuasions towards slavery formed the basis of dispute and compromise at the Constitutional Convention, his larger judgment about the failings of the Northern delegates is somewhat suspect. Finkelman contends that Northern politicians agreed to secure slavery in the governing document, without receiving "any concession in return" from the South. He then uses this supposition to imply Northern representatives were either ambivalent or outright hostile to the cause of abolition. The reality of the situation in Philadelphia appears much more nuanced to most historians, however, and Finkelman himself introduces evidence discounting his argument which he chooses to ignore.
As the text notes, the South considered inclusion of the commerce clause to be a major accommodation. Additionally, even with the ratification of the "3/5 Compromise," the North held more seats in the first Congress than the South. This was despite numerous challenges to the portioning by the South bloc. Most importantly, Finkelman dismisses the notion that Southern states would have rejected the Constitution without explicit protections for the slave trade. He cites a number of explanations in this analysis, but they all ignore one crucial fact, many Southern states did in fact secede when they felt the slave trade was being threatened in 1861. Given the unquestionable course of American history, the suggestion that Northern states received nothing for their endorsement of slavery seems dubious at best.
Relying in large part on Thomas Jefferson's role in American politics before the Constitutional Convention, and including actions and correspondence from his subsequent years, Finkelman devotes the latter portion of his work to deconstructing a plethora of misconceptions relating to Jefferson's life and legacy. Observing that the public and academics alike have long viewed Jefferson as an opponent of slavery whose progressive sensibilities were restrained by his Virginian birth, the author offers a contrasting depiction of the founding father not often previously seen. He proficiently demonstrates that far from being an enlightened idealist in regards to slaves, Jefferson held a number of prejudiced opinions towards the black community, views that today would be labeled as racist. The most compelling evidence Finkelman produces in this analysis is an examination of the sexual relationship between Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. Astoundingly, Hemings was not among the slaves Jefferson freed upon his death, a circumstance which as much as anything definitively indicates Jefferson held little regard for the plight of slaves.
While Finkelman accuses a number of historians of bias, alleging attempts to sanitize Jefferson's image, the author's own conclusion regarding the figure ultimately suffer from preconceptions. However, rather than attempting to exonerate Jefferson, the author at times seems to charge him with denunciations not always fair. The author summarily discounts emancipation clauses included by Jefferson in drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Constitution. While these attempts do not absolve Jefferson by any means, they do show a man at least somewhat interested in ending the institution of slavery. Additionally, the author makes the radical charge that "Racism might have developed without his [Jefferson:] support for it in the Notes, but it is nevertheless a legacy of Jefferson." Racism certainly existed before the time of Jefferson, and it undoubtedly would have continued without him.
Despite the minor deficiencies in his argument, Finkelman convincingly evaluates slavery's predominant role in the early years of the United States. This is vitally important to not only understanding our history, but also our leaders. For as Finkelman notes in regards to Jefferson, with full knowledge "We can then have a greater appreciation of Jefferson's many virtues...because we will see them in the context of his own humanity." ...more
In his work "The Peculiar Institution," Kenneth Stampp systematically investigates the structure of slavery within the larger society of the antebelluIn his work "The Peculiar Institution," Kenneth Stampp systematically investigates the structure of slavery within the larger society of the antebellum South. While sometimes considering the role of the master, the text primarily emphasizes the position of slaves themselves. In this respect Stampp methodically categorizes the principal components of the average bondsman's life, and discusses in detail the nature of these functions. Often including fascinating anecdotal evidence culled from a myriad or primary sources, this approach provides insight into the full range of the slave experience. Ultimately the text blends these accounts to convincingly construct a portrait of slavery's presence as a whole.
Unlike many scholars, Stampp does not view the rise of slavery as the dominant economic force in the antebellum South as inevitable. Instead, he believes this manifestation was a consequence of various conscious decisions made by Southern political leadership. These choices were not dictated exclusively by crops, weather, or geography as some have suggested, but rather by a combination of all the attributes particular to the region. This argument is strengthened by statistics which reveal that most of the Southern population did not even own slaves. In fact, three-fourths of southerners neither owned slaves, nor were related to someone who did. Instead, slavery was sustained by whites who feared "the social and economic competition of negroes," enjoyed "concrete evidence of membership in a superior caste," and believed in the "chance perhaps to rise into the planter class."
Slavery was fundamentally a system of controlled labor, and Stampp views nearly all aspects of the institution as defined by the competing ambitions of the slave and master. Masters sought to realize the maximum profit from the least amount of expense, while slaves endeavored to exert the minimum effort necessary to avoid punishment. This resulted in an expanse of contrasting approaches to maintaining discipline on plantations. Many owners accepted benevolence to be the most efficient means of governing their slaves. While this approach often produced healthier, if not happier laborers, it was also accompanied by a certain amount of risk. Even those owners who wished to manage their property with a more paternalistic approach, were often confronted with the necessity of applying brutality to maintain control. As Frederick Douglass noted, "Give him a bad master, and he aspires to a good master; give him a good master, and he wishes to become his own master."
Regardless of the relative merits of different masters, most slaves were opposed to their status as property. While some slaves gave no explicit indication of their discontent, others engaged in a passive form of resistance which included actions such as feigning illness and destroying crops. The most defiant slaves engaged in dangerous acts such committing violence against their master or attempting to escape to freedom. While such enterprises typically resulted in serious punishment, and even execution, Stampp correctly notes the exceptional is as critical to understanding slavery as the mundane. As he asserts, "the historian of any group properly devotes much attention to those members who did extraordinary things...As the American Revolution produced folk heroes, so also did southern slavery - heroes who, in both cases, gave much for the cause of human freedom."
Perhaps the most vexing question presented in any assessment of the "peculiar institution," is the degree of responsibility committed to both slave and master. How did whites justify a system of savage bondage, and why did blacks tolerate a practice which held them in perpetual servitude. As the Arkansas Supreme Court clarified, slavery inarguably had its basis "in an inferiority of race." This strictly legal position however, does not accurately express the full sensibilities of most southern whites. As Stampp observes, few masters believed bondage was a naturally born characteristic in their property. They recognized slaves must be taught to accept their condition of subordination. Furthermore, whites often accepted the intelligence and skill of bondsmen schooled in artistic trades. Thus, slavery was inescapably an entity predicated upon hypocrisy. The same cannot be said of the slaves who recognized the injustice of their subjugation, but were powerless to prevent it. As Stampp contends, "The survival or slavery...cannot be explained as due to the contentment of slaves or their failure to comprehend the advantages of freedom. They longed for liberty and resisted bondage as much as any people could have done in their circumstances, but their longing and their resistance were not enough even to render the institution unprofitable to most masters."...more
In his text "Russia and the Golden Horde," Charles Halperin effectively investigates the developments within Russian society under Mongol rule. HalperIn his text "Russia and the Golden Horde," Charles Halperin effectively investigates the developments within Russian society under Mongol rule. Halperin argues that prior scholarship regarding this period has been distorted by academic bias and misleading source material, mechanisms that have created a false sense of brutality and stagnation towards the era. As he states "An unfortunate combination of circumstances involving the nature of the historical record and centuries-old prejudices has led many historians to dismiss this period as one in which Russian society was in a state of suspended animation or of cultural and economic decay." Instead, Halperin asserts that Mongol rule over the Russians involved a much more complex relationship that was simultaneously both mutually beneficial and destructive for the respective societies.
One of the most important aspects to understanding the Russian response to Mongol domination is the geographic and cultural situation of Russia in relation to foreign entities. The Russian people established themselves in a relatively permeable location that that was influenced by both Western and Eastern societies. In many respects they were a component of the European commonwealth of nations through their acceptance of Byzantine Christianity, and yet they also maintained regular affiliations with the Islamic caliphate and various steppe tribes. The consequence of this interaction was a cosmopolitan attitude of cooperation and tolerance that was predicated upon economic and political imperatives. As Halperin contends, "It was often expedient for each side, when warring with one group of infidels, to make alliances with another...In the interest of profit, visitors and hosts alike learned to make concessions to each other's faiths, diets, and customs. The obvious benefits of cooperation demanded social and cultural accommodation." Through this early collaboration, Russian society was exposed to foreign sensibilities and thus not overwhelmed by the social differences that accompanied the arrival of the Mongols.
The previous system of interaction also influenced the manner in which the Russians perceived their subjugation by the Mongols, allowing them to consider the embarrassment rather less humiliating than would otherwise be expected. Because of the frequency in which the Russian military confronted the forces of outside tribes and nations, occasionally even experiencing defeat, "Russian writers recorded the events of the Mongol period within the conceptual framework evolved during the Kievan period...Through an adept and remarkably consistent use of language, in which they eschewed the terminology of conquest and even of liberation, the bookmen avoided coming to grips with the ideological conundrum of their own defeat." This view was also encouraged by the nature of the Mongol structure of occupation itself. Unlike other conquests where victors installed themselves directly as aristocratic leadership over a captured province, the Mongols did not directly garrison the whole of Russian territory. On the contrary, because of the proximity of nearby nomadic steppe armies, the Mongols found it more efficient to govern from outside Russia itself. Halperin condenses this circumstance by contending "The result for Russia was prolonged subjugation to Mongols whose cavalry remained as deadly as ever...Russia nonetheless was left, to a degree, to its own devices."
The ultimate ramifications of the Mongol domination are somewhat difficult to ascertain given the complex relations which defined the connection between Russia and the Golden Horde. Assuredly, the conflict initially involved enormous losses for the Russians, both in regards to property and human life. Yet this destruction eventually progressed into a restructuring of the Russian commercial system which allowed economic practices to flourish. Tangible examples of this phenomenon include the increasing wealth of the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of Mongol patronage, and the rise of Moscow as a political center due to the adoption of various Tatar establishments. Haleprin resolves this dichotomy by explaining "Unquestionably, the conquest was a catastrophe, but a catastrophe need not have permanent effects. The Russian economy recovered from the devastating campaigns of 1237-1240 and survived the harsh regimen of taxation and exploitation that followed. Furthermore, by fostering international trade, especially with the Orient, the Golden Horde fostered the resurgence of the Russian economy and the subsequent growth of Russian power."
The legacy of the Mongol conquest continues to be a subject hotly debated by scholars in the field of Russian history. Some consider the period to be responsible for the "backwardness" which dominated Russia in relation to Europe for the next several centuries. Others see the era as a masked blessing which provided Russian society with the elements to successfully expand and diversify. Both approaches however, concur in that they respect the repercussions, positive or negative, that the Mongols had on the Russian nation. Halperin states "The Horde's bureaucratic evolution, foreign policies, and internal politics all had enormously important consequences for Russia and must be part of any coherent vision of the times." Arguably, the legacy of the Golden Horde is equally pertinent to a holistic understanding of many modern Russian institutions and attitudes as well. ...more
"The Makioka Sisters" reads like a bad Jane Austen novel overlaid a Japanese society so stilted it makes Regency England look progressive. The work ce"The Makioka Sisters" reads like a bad Jane Austen novel overlaid a Japanese society so stilted it makes Regency England look progressive. The work centers around the efforts of three sisters to arrange a successful marriage for the fourth, an attempt which brings about a series of misadventures that is a commentary on Imperial Japanese culture. While this portrait of war era Japan is intriguing, it ultimately fails to redeem the larger shortcomings of the book. Unless you have a vigorous interest in Japanese literature, "The Makioka Sisters" will prove dull, and at over five hundred pages, seemingly endless....more
In his tome "The Mind of the South," W.J. Cash seeks to holistically interpret the development of the Southern ethos by exploring the evolution of theIn his tome "The Mind of the South," W.J. Cash seeks to holistically interpret the development of the Southern ethos by exploring the evolution of the region from the colonial period through reconstruction. Cash determines that the paramount sensibilities of Southern society were determined through the qualities of simplicity, romanticism, violence, white supremacy, and individualism. This conclusion is demonstrated through admirable use of the English lexicon and convincing, if not convoluted, documentation. Yet ultimately, these pursuits eclipse the principle object of the work. In his introduction, Bertram Wyatt-Brown properly contends that stylistically, the work should be appreciated in a manner similar to those of towering American literary figures such as Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Unfortunately, this signifies the text is generally dominated by a disoriented narrative reminiscent of "The Sound and the Fury" at the expense of the precision which is essential to an articulate historical work.
According to Cash, the common conception of the antebellum Southern experience is a fabrication resulting from apocryphal myth that has permeated academic discourse on the subject since the end of the Civil War. Paramount among these fictions is a belief in the existence of a Southern aristocracy. Cash argues that to suggest "nobility" was established in the region ignores one of the principal components of aristocracy, the passage of time. Observing the relatively short duration between the settlement of the southern colonies and the rise of a thriving plantation system, he contends the establishment of nobility, in the European sense of the term, is inconceivable. As he states, "The whole period from the invention of the cotton gin to the outbreak of the Civil War is less than seventy years - the lifetime of a single man...The inference is plain. It is impossible to conceive the great South as being, on the whole, more than a few steps removed from the frontier stage at the beginning of the Civil War." Instead, Cash alleges the aristocratic ideal was borrowed from successful Virginia planters and then merged with the realities of the frontier lifestyle which dominated most of the South.
The entirety of Cash's dissection of the Southern character leads inexorably towards agreement with the notion that the South is inherently and irrevocably different from the North. This judgment is outlined in the first sentence of the text, and one upon which Cash predicates all the arguments which follow. This conviction is critical, for it contains within itself not only the delineation of Southern ideology, but more significantly the impetus for the division culminating in the Civil War. As Cash states, "That conflict...was inevitable. And not only for the reasons known to every reader of American history, but finally and fundamentally for the reason that it is not the nature of the human animal in the mass willingly to suffer difference - that he sees in it always a challenge to his universal illusion of being the chosen son of heaven, and so an intolerable affront to his ego, to be put down at any cost in treasure and blood."
One of the most fascinating aspects of this assertion is the degree to which conflicts did not widely arise within the South itself over the issue of slavery. Such a circumstance seems remarkable given that Chase demonstrates the institution exploited most white laborers in a fashion similar to that of slaves themselves. The plantation system ensured the most productive lands were retained by a few prosperous farmers, while the vast majority of planters were relegated to less profitable areas. Additionally, plantation owners often refused to purchase crops from fellow Southerners, preferring instead to import necessities from the North. Cash describes the situation as, "though the slaveless yeomen might wax fat in the sort of primitive prosperity which consisted in having an abundance of what they themselves could produce, they could not go much further than that - were left more or less to stagnate at a level but a step or two above pioneers."
Somewhat perplexingly, the mass of Southern planters never recognized the inequity of the system which they endeavored to preserve. Some did maintain views, such as the farmer who declared "'The stupid and sequacious masses, the white victims of slavery...believe whatever the slaveholders tell them; and thus are cajoled into the notion that they are the freest, happiest, and most intelligent people in the world'." However, most laborers did not perceive injustice in their situation, or even regard themselves as inferior to the agricultural "aristocracy." Partly, this is because familial ties remained between farmers of varying economic stature as a legacy of a frontier society. More importantly, poor whites simply embraced different priorities than those of the more affluent planters. As Cash affirms, "In the South, if your neighbor overshadowed you in the number of slaves, you could outshoot or outfiddle him, and in your own eyes, and in those of many of your fellows, remain essentially as good a man as he."
While most of Cash's sociological judgments are convincing, some suffer from a simplification of cultural identities that borders on stereotype. For instance, in his discussion of the Southern affinity for religion, he affirms "As I have said, his chief blood-strain was likely to be the Celtic - of all Western strains the most susceptible to suggestions of the supernatural." This abridgment of religious idiosyncrasies is without context, and seems based solely on personal sentimentalities. Undoubtedly, Celtic Druids would say the opposite of Italian papists, and Irish Catholics would label German Calvinists equally "superstitious."
Yet the primary failing of Cash's account is the exercise of allusions that obscure rather than clarify his larger thesis. To fully comprehend many of the text's more exhaustive analyses, the reader is expected to posses an expertise in disciplines as diverse as literature, art, history, and foreign language. Prominent among the esoteric devices utilized include essays belonging to Arnold and Emerson, drama by playwrights Aristophanes and Moliere, paintings of Watteau, the Napoleonic and Peloponnesian wars, and a commanding proficiency of French and Latin vocabulary. It is unclear whether Cash is so accomplished that he is oblivious to the immense breadth of his inclusions, or whether he simply means to flaunt his intelligence to readers through the presentation of a muddled amalgamation of unrelated conceits. ...more