Sheesh, I don't even know where to start with this. I listed to this on audiobook because I "had to" for the Book Riot 2015 Reader Harder Challenge. FSheesh, I don't even know where to start with this. I listed to this on audiobook because I "had to" for the Book Riot 2015 Reader Harder Challenge. Full disclosure: I hate audiobooks. I like to be able to read faster, I like to imagine pauses and voice in my own head... Let's just face it: I like to be in control! But I figured that I like listening to stories on NPR, so nonfiction might be the way to go. So, that said...
Problems with the book
Let's just jump right in. This was clearly written by a Yankee, with some very biased opinions about the War and a soapbox to stand on. I felt preached to many times over the course of the book (the audio probably only made it worse, in this case). This was most obvious when we spent nearly 2 entire discs with the buildup to the War and about 2 minutes talking about Reconstruction. (Yes, I think it was important to talk about the Antebellum period, but a lot of it was more "Don't Know Much about Slavery" rather than "Don't Know Much about What Caused the War." And yes, there is a difference. Also - and this could just be a Southerner talking - but the War didn't end in 1865. I would say that 12 years of marital law and Northern soldiers occupying the South, which was supposedly reunited with them at that point, constitutes continued hostilities. Oh look, my own little soapbox! Seriously, I'm about as liberal and open-minded as you can get - and not in a "she protests too much" kind of way - and obviously think slavery was wrong and am glad the country didn't break apart - would the Confederate states have elected my man Obama? - but I am also a Southerner. And an educated one. With a degree in history, no less. And I saw a serious slant here.)
But enough of my giant parentheticals! Speaking of my historical education, I also found several facts amusing, such as South Carolina seceding in 1865. I never realized they were so late to the party! And I wasn't fond of the layout at all. He tried to group things by theme by "answering questions" like "What does a tin can on a shingle have to do with the Civil War?" (Ok, they weren't all that bad, but that's the one that sticks in my head because it was the stupidest - because someone who knows nothing about the War is going to know that phrase, right? Oh I wanted to punch something.) So then he proceeds to answer the question in a convoluted way, which wouldn't have seemed so convoluted if the question hadn't been asked. If that makes sense. (Because it took him so long to get back to the direct answer to the stupid "tin can on a shingle" after a perfectly legitimate section on naval warfare.) Subjects were roughly chronological, but obviously the Civil War is a complicated subject, and things overlapped. So he jumped around in time while also trying to keep things linear, and I feel like if I actually came to this book without knowledge of the Civil War (like the intended audience), I would have been really lost.
Problems with the audiobook
I let myself listen to an abridgement (even though I'm morally opposed to them) because I couldn't face an entire book on CD. Perhaps I should have suffered through the whole thing, because I'm willing to bet that the abridgement was part of the content problem. (Maybe I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that Reconstruction just got chopped for this version.)
I didn't like how the narrator said the lesson number and title for each of the five sections. It just felt stupid. On the other hand, chapter titles would have been nice so I'd know what I was about to learn.
And two words: full cast. Just say no. Thankfully it's not like fiction where they can act stuff out. That might really kill me. But they used a lot of different voices to quote historic figures. They were probably going for authenticity and I'm just being sensitive, but I swear they picked better-sounding people for Northerners than Southerners. And I still haven't decided if the narrators used to quote blacks were authentic or racist. The fact that I'm questioning it at all though...
So that's enough of that. Maybe it would have been less painful if it was just an audiobook or just a sub-par Civil War history, but both combined were a match made in hell. At least for this reader. I hope Book Riot knocks that off the challenge next year. Otherwise, I better select much more carefully!...more
It's ironic that many people (including me) see Scandinavia as this "nearly perfect" place, and yet most of my (and probably many other people's) expeIt's ironic that many people (including me) see Scandinavia as this "nearly perfect" place, and yet most of my (and probably many other people's) experience with the North is in the form of crime fiction!
This book was an informative read. Booth can be witty at times and insightful at others. This was definitely an ambitious project to pull off in a book of less than 400 pages, and he pulls it off if you look at it only as intro and not as a comprehensive study of the subject. I like how he divided the book into sections by country but didn't avoid natural overlaps. I learned a lot about the North, particularly the countries I'm least familiar with -- Denmark (at least after the 11th century, thank you Svein and Cnut!) and Finland (seriously, who knows a single thing about the Finns?).
Some chapters (each with a central subject) had more depth while others just scratched the surface, and the Danish chapters were obviously stronger (as the author's wife is Danish and he lives there). In some cases he assumes the reader has a more extensive knowledge of the Nordic world than this reader did, but at other times he explained things much more extensively. So between the patchiness in terms of depth and description, it felt a bit uneven at times. However, the overall effect was good.
I would definitely recommend this book as a survey of the pros and cons of the Nordic lifestyle and idiosyncrasies....more
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
I read an English translation of "I Did Not Interview the Dead." I believe it was a photocopy from my professor, so I don't know if an actual EnglishI read an English translation of "I Did Not Interview the Dead." I believe it was a photocopy from my professor, so I don't know if an actual English language version exists....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