A middle-aged woman is in Paris with the husband she is not sure she wants to be married to anymore. A 15-year-old girl in a small town in the northea...moreA middle-aged woman is in Paris with the husband she is not sure she wants to be married to anymore. A 15-year-old girl in a small town in the northeastern US in 1972 is figuring out who she is in the world, best friend by her side. Same person, a couple of decades apart. What did it feel like to be that girl? And how did that girl become that woman? (less)
Napoleon abdicated from the French throne in 1814, but his abdication didn't solve the problems created by the previous quarter-century of warfare and...moreNapoleon abdicated from the French throne in 1814, but his abdication didn't solve the problems created by the previous quarter-century of warfare and destruction and looting. Almost every political structure that Europe had built up was damaged or transformed, and there were an awful lot of grudges to be settled and damage to be repaired. But how to do it? The Vienna Congress set out to figure it all out, to put Europe back together again. The initial plan was to work in Vienna for a few weeks. That proved wildly optimistic, as six months of negotiations (fit in around an awful lot of socializing and conspicuous consumption) decided almost nothing. Then word came that Napoleon had left Elba, the little island off Italy where he had been exiled--not imprisoned, it's important to note; he was made Emperor of the island and allowed to retain a small number of ships and soldiers--limits he promptly exceeded, of course. How did anyone really expect this colossally restless and egomaniacal man to be content supervising renovations on his house and playing at being ruler of this unimportant place?
So he left Elba. And everyone in Vienna panicked (one could hardly blame them). And then they had to go about defeating him again, with all the attendant horrors and waste and loss of life (anyone who is tempted to admire Napoleon for his daring should remember just how expendable he thought all other people were in pursuit of his own magnificence).
The Congress is interesting both as social history--so many glittering and powerful people gathered together in one glittering place with so many different agendas and values and goals, everything from creating new nations to ending slavery to covering one's debts to seducing a new mistress to reforming international copyright law--and as political and diplomatic history. The idea that regular meetings between national leaders is an important way to negotiate disputes and maintain peace, the basic assumption behind everything from the UN to the G7, begins here. And the delegates to the Congress--which never actually met in full, largely because the leading powers found it more appealing to meet in private and settle things without dozens of smaller political units and independent entities interfering--in the end set the course for much of the next century, for good or for ill.
I really enjoyed this book and learned a great deal from it. I did find the copyediting to be inconsistent and sometimes oddly deficient; there were a number of small errors in the writing that I found distracting. Like this: "He had moved to Hapsburg capital twenty-two years before..." (where's the definite article?). Or a description of a decorative handrailing made of "muskets captured from Napoleon's armies at the Battle of Leipzig and strewn together with branches of a willow tree" (strewn? this word does not mean what you think it means). These may be small errors, but there are more of them than there should be, and they're distracting.(less)
An ensemble piece about the people living in a tenement in 1930s Glasgow. A solid, if somewhat melodramatic, narrative about a type of community life...moreAn ensemble piece about the people living in a tenement in 1930s Glasgow. A solid, if somewhat melodramatic, narrative about a type of community life that has mostly disappeared.(less)
A good, well-constructed thriller, although I did see all the major plot twists coming a mile away. Perfect plane reading, which is what I bought it f...moreA good, well-constructed thriller, although I did see all the major plot twists coming a mile away. Perfect plane reading, which is what I bought it for.(less)