Impossible not to like a Tony Horwitz book, but this is definitely my least favorite of all of them. I was really excited he wrote this because I knowImpossible not to like a Tony Horwitz book, but this is definitely my least favorite of all of them. I was really excited he wrote this because I know so little about Harpers Ferry (in fact, I think that is true about a lot of people who just saw one or two sentences about it in a grade school textbook), and living 40 miles from Harpers Ferry makes it kind of a big deal around here.
So, it was an interesting subject. I learned a lot about John Brown and his raid. But. It just couldn't touch Horwitz's other works because it was straight history, rather than his usual history/travel style. I think we get a lot more from his research when he adds that modern-day contrast. (For example, Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before was fascinating because the reader could see the impact of Cook's "discoveries" of the Pacific islands even in the modern age.) Still, if he had included some interpretation at all (historical or modern), it would have been an improvement. This book felt like facts, facts, and more facts, but devoid of interpretation it really lacked the meaning it could have had.
Still, it was very well written, of course. And I would even go so far as to call it THE authoritative history of the Brown raid, since it relies so heavily on primary sources and leaves interpretation up to the reader. I really do recommend it for historical fact, just not for Horwitz fans looking for his unique spin....more
This was quite a good book, and I can see why Library Journal (or was it Booklist?) compared Tony Perrottet to Bill Bryson. It had all the elements ofThis was quite a good book, and I can see why Library Journal (or was it Booklist?) compared Tony Perrottet to Bill Bryson. It had all the elements of travel and history with a touch of humor and personal philosophizing. The subject was quite an interesting one, but the book was remarkably tame considering. Perrottet obviously had out his thesaurus and made every effort to write a book about sex without all the standard vocabulary. Even the descriptions that would seem relevant and, frankly, necessary to cover this topic (even in a scholarly way) were noticeably absent. (An entire chapter on the Marquis de Sade makes him seem a bit eccentric rather than the man whose name gives us the word "sadism.") Still, any adult should be able to put the pieces together, and his writing is very readable with a good conversational tone. (It was easy to focus on, for example, while my grandfather was watching tv and while eating lunch in a break room full of chatterers.) The one thing that was a big let down (and this is probably and unfortunately unavoidable comparison to Bryson) was Perrottet's surface treatment of his 8 subjects. His chapters were all fascinating and left me wanting to know more, and based on his commentary it seemed like he probably knew more and just didn't include it. He's such a tease, I could probably make a suitable sex joke right now to go with his subject matter... Despite the fact that he left me wanting more, I still thought this was an entertaining, engaging, informative book that was tastefully done considering the racy material, and I do look forward to reading his other books....more
This was a very interesting book, but I think the subtitle was slightly misleading. There was almost zero coverage of Mitchell writing the book (thougThis was a very interesting book, but I think the subtitle was slightly misleading. There was almost zero coverage of Mitchell writing the book (though her and Marsh's time spent editing is covered) and the journey to Hollywood seemed abbreviated (considering the title). A more extensive interpretation of Macmillan's marketing strategy, why the editors got behind her manuscript, and why such a niche novel became a bestseller were strangely absent.
This was mostly a business/legal history of the novel. There was a lot of discussion of copyright laws, character and sequel rights, foreign legal issues, royalty and film contracts, trusts, and the like. This was all very fascinating, but not what I was expecting at all. (And boy do I feel outraged on Margaret Mitchell's behalf, even 75 years after the fact - Macmillan sure treated her unfairly!)
I think that I would have loved this book with either a lot more content or a lot less. I think a better balance between the minimal human interest element and the exhaustive business/legal aspect would have made this very strong book into a phenomenal one. Still, it was a good read if not the read I expected.
I would definitely recommend this to any GWTW fan or anyone with an interest in the history of the publishing industry or literary law. ...more
Many negative reviews of this book talk about inaccuracy and repetitiveness. The specific inaccuracies I've seen mentioned seem to have been correctedMany negative reviews of this book talk about inaccuracy and repetitiveness. The specific inaccuracies I've seen mentioned seem to have been corrected between whatever earlier edition was reviewed and the edition I read. And while I found the book to be repetitive at times, I thought the repetition served the dual purpose of reinforcing concepts and illustrating different points that came up in different sections, so it was used effectively. Having commented on other people's opinions, here's mine:
For the first 2/3 of this book, I seriously thought it was going to get 5 stars. It's been awhile since I read a history book cover to cover (if you don't count Bill Bryson). I have read a lot of history in my life, what with my undergrad degree being in history and all. I've also read quite a bit of Tudor history, because it's a favorite of mine. For the first 200, 250 pages of this book, I was thinking, "This is the book I've been waiting for my entire life!" The bulk of the research for this book came from primary sources - manuscripts, letters, state papers, etc. Skidmore would put forward all the bits of evidence he had collected, then explain the conclusion he had drawn based on that evidence. I found that it all made a lot of sense, and I loved it even more because it felt like I had access to all the research and made the same conclusions based on that information. Absolutely stellar method of writing history, if you ask me.
With all the first-person viewpoints, it's impossible not to feel like you've been pulled into the 16th century. (I appreciated the inclusion of appendixes with parts of Leicester's Commonwealth, Dudley and Throckmorton's letters, and the coroner's report into Amy Dudley's death.) The section that dissects the coroner's report and possible causes of death took an abruptly modern shift, but it was definitely a necessity.
I started to lose my overjoyed love of this book around the fifth section, when the specter of Amy's death makes no appearance at all, and many decades are condensed into too few pages (especially compared with the first part of the book). The sixth section, which proposes an alternate explanation for Amy's death, felt too rushed, especially because Skidmore doesn't present all the evidence to support his conclusions as extensively as he did in the beginning. On the other hand, I found his theory very easy to believe. The how and who of Amy's death seems plausible, but not the why. I just didn't see the motive. (He also hinted at royal involvement without exploring the idea more. What a tease!) I also think he skirted around the issue of Amy wanting to be alone on the day she died.
Bottom line, it falls somewhere between amazing and okay. At least it's not inconsistent, because I thought the first 4 sections were amazing and the last 2 were okay. The research is astounding. It's (for the most part) entertaining and educational. It gives the amateur historian indirect access to primary sources that he wouldn't otherwise be able to see. Skidmore also allows the reader to feel like an active participant in his historical sleuthing. A better title might have been Elizabeth and Robert: The Marriage That Never Was. (The sections about Amy would make a good 100-page book. However, reading a book whose subtitle mentions a "dark scandal that rocked the throne," I thought there was precious little "rocking." Skidmore outlines dozens of other factors that prevented the couple's marriage; even if Amy had died of breast cancer, I doubt the queen would have married Dudley - at least that's what I gather from Skidmore's writing.) With a stronger finish, I think this could have gotten 5 stars. As it is, I still thought it was pretty great, and definitely a fascinating read....more
Perhaps it's because I've been waiting for so long and so enthusiastically for Bryson's newest, but I was a tad disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I stPerhaps it's because I've been waiting for so long and so enthusiastically for Bryson's newest, but I was a tad disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I still liked it. It's impossible NOT to like Bryson's work. I just had one major complaint.
He divides his history of private life into chapters named for rooms of the house, the proceeds to either give a related history (as in the bathroom) or stretches the connection in order to discuss a mostly or entirely unrelated subject while still keeping his chapter heading scheme (as in the study). All of it was interesting, but it had a disjointed feel. Transitions were shaky or abrupt, and he didn't cover many things that I thought he should have. Other things he mentioned briefly would have benefited from additional discussion, but were left with one or two sentences.
Additionally, it wasn't a complete history of private life but rather of life (private and public) in Victorian England, with forays into 19th century America and the odd reference to ancient Rome or prehistoric times.
I think that a different title (and indeed subtitle) would have made all the difference in the world when I read this. If you go into At Home expecting a history of all the important changes that happened in Victorian times that essentially changed life from medieval to modern and ignore all of the misleading chapter headings, I think you'll enjoy it a lot more. It may lack the clear organization of his A Short History of Nearly Everything, but it's still an enjoyable trip through Bryson's inquisitive, amusing mind....more
This is a truly remarkable book. Wright doesn't hide the truth, from Marine language and unsavory habits to the monotony of driving around the desertThis is a truly remarkable book. Wright doesn't hide the truth, from Marine language and unsavory habits to the monotony of driving around the desert waiting to be attacked to the incompetence of some military leadership to the difficult choices and situations that soldiers encounter. It's not overtly anti-war or pro-war, but rather a snapshot of how it was for one unit during one small block of time.
I'm glad that I both read this book and watched the HBO mini-series. I felt like the book had a lot more in the way of explaining the purpose and procedure involved in the military maneuvers, while the mini-series illustrated that soldiers are just men, and unique individuals at that.
I would highly recommend this book, especially to military historians or those who like such strong realism that it feels like being in the narrative personally. Really, I think I would recommend this to almost anyone (as long as you can stand language, violence, and morally/ethically questionable action)....more
I have seldom been more disappointed with a biography. I felt it should have been wonderful, considering the authority of the sources and the expertisI have seldom been more disappointed with a biography. I felt it should have been wonderful, considering the authority of the sources and the expertise of the author. However, it was dense and often dull in its repetitiveness. Other times, he left out key facts. For instance, Vivien suddenly has a relapse of her tuberculosis, and yet we were never told when she contracted it to begin with!
Walker continues to draw conclusions based on vague facts, painting a very two-dimensional image of a remarkably three-dimensional woman. She was mentally ill. She was beautiful. She was Mrs. Olivier. And that's all he seems to think we need to know about her. I despised the way he broke the book into three parts, named for her two husbands and the companion of her later years. It was as if she wasn't a woman in her own right, just someone's girl. This was especially apparent in the Olivier and Merivale chapters, where the author repeats over and over again how integral the Oliviers were to each other's careers and how she loved him until the end of her life, as if loving him was all she had time for.
The account was unemotional and detached, and remarkably devoid of detail considering how verbose he was. It read more like a list of film and stage engagements (and even more roles she turned down) than an account of her life. It is possible to find hints of the real Vivien Leigh behind the flat portrait Walker paints, however. For instance, she seems to have been a bookworm and a cat lover. One interesting line mentions Leigh's use of her two Oscars as a doorstop and a weight to hold down tissue in the loo. However, these intimate and charming puzzle pieces were nearly lost in the Olivier-worship from which the poor reader cannot escape.
Walker did Vivien Leigh, a great actress and probably fascinating person, a great disservice in writing this substandard biography. I probably could have gotten more insight from a Wikipedia article, and I intend to find a better biography of Lady Olivier. It shouldn't be hard....more