I waited about a week before writing my review because I wanted to think it through carefully and finish my reading of another slightly-more-recent lo...moreI waited about a week before writing my review because I wanted to think it through carefully and finish my reading of another slightly-more-recent look at Mary's life by John Guy (I highly recommend his biography, even over Fraser's!!). I'll be writing a lot of words as anyone who knows me knows that this is a pet interest but I'll begin with a more broad review. Following that, I'll type up more about some quibbles with her findings that will probably constitute "spoilers" (though I have no idea why the concept of "spoilers" should/would apply to nonfiction writing of this type).
Everyone else has noted that the length is surprising, and that Weir makes no apologies for it. Initially, I chuckled at this and agreed, thinking "why should she? this is interesting stuff!" I had thought that all the detail would be a pleasure for me to wade through rather than a chore.
Unfortunately, there's so much repetition that it actually begins to become confusing to the reader. I imagine her intent was to make each individual laird's personality and role crystal clear, but this doesn't work. It is badly in need of editing that will make her point(s) more succinct.
I enjoy Weir's work in general and also enjoyed The Princes in the Tower; though it falls into some of the traps I'll examine momentarily, it was a shorter work and is more convincing. But, as with that book, I think some prior knowledge of the cast of characters is a necessity. This is a book that better serves someone who has some understanding of Mary already; it is not a great starting point, though Weir does devote a good chunk of the book to some backstory about David Rizzio and Mary's marriage to Darnley.
Here's where the spoilers kick in: I agree with the overall thrust of Weir's argument in this book with regard to guilt/innocence. I think it's clear that Mary herself was in no way guilty of her 2nd husband's death. Not only is there no concrete evidence to prove this once the casket letters are scrutinized, but even a basic understanding of Mary's personality and position just prior to Darnley's death makes her guilt implausible. I also agree with Weir's assignation of guilt amongst the lords and do not feel that Mary engaged in a relationship with Bothwell prior to Darnley's death.
However, as with The Princes in the Tower, Weir often falls into a trap of building supposition upon supposition. Of course, this is something we're often obliged to do with history when writing more informally- especially when the source material is not just biased but often an outright lie - but in this case, her initial supposition is often shaky so by the time she's extended it outward, it feels likely to tumble down entirely. And what happens in this case is that a good portion of the book is built upon one MAJOR assumption: that Mary's physical and mental health was so precarious as to have collapsed and failed her utterly after the death of Darnley, rendering her incapable of handling anything at all.
I won't sweep that assumption off the table entirely, as it's obvious that she handled the aftermath of Darnley's death terribly and in a way that does indicate a breakdown of sorts. But, by imputing all of Mary's behavior to this breakdown, Weir robs Mary of agency - which is often incompatible with Mary's own personality and strength of character.
There are times when Weir will explicate to the point of tedium in order to build upon her assumptions while glossing over something that might prove her wrong. My best example is this: Weir writes about the fact that Mary is despondent the day after her wedding to Bothwell and puts forth a handful of theories as to why this might be. Bizarrely, she begins to explain this by saying (I paraphrase very, very loosely): Bothwell was into buggery, and since he raped her before (Weir's assumption throughout), he could very well have forced her into a sexual act she found distasteful and horrible. Also, Mary could possibly have been distraught about having had a protestant wedding (assuming Mary to be overwhelmingly pious at all times and disinterested in compromise with religion). Finally, it's impossible that Mary could have wanted the wedding under any circumstances (assuming that there's no way that Mary would willingly choose this fate for herself at this point).
It's not that the conclusions can't possibly have foundations in truth- they can - but she's building upon suppositions again. She determines that Bothwell is a rapist based upon the use of his guards on other occasions to enforce his will and because Mary didn't seem to have colluded with him on the abduction. Because he's a rapist, then, he could well have forced her into especially depraved acts later. She balances this opinion out with some sources but excludes much mention of anything that might indicate that, at some point, Mary must certainly have chosen to remain at Dunbar. This ignores a casket letter that is clearly misdated BUT also clearly one of Mary's (Letter 6), in which Mary demonstrates anger at Bothwell but makes it obvious that she has, for better or worse, chosen her position at that point.
Weir believes that Mary's mental health is fragile to a point of total indecision, which means that she can't have cared about a wedding, which means that she must have been forced into it entirely. Weir determines that, based upon the prior suppositions about Mary's abduction, Bothwell's character, and the wedding itself, Mary can't possibly have wanted to be married under any circumstances and did so only because of her fear of her antagonizer (or interest in protecting the legitimacy of her unborn child). As with the previous charge, this ignores some source material that might contradict her in terms of Mary's personality, religiosity, involvement with the wedding and decision-making with regard to the marriage. And again, it even ignores Mary's own words, which Weir will disregard whenever she feels that they don't suit the case.
Weir is utterly locked into her conclusion and as such cannot see that it's plausible that Mary, while certainly unhappy about the prospect and her position, might have willingly thrown her lot in with Bothwell in spite of his character in an effort to preserve her position.
Throughout the book, Weir actually seems to support the party line about Mary handed down from the moment the Lords conspired to obscure their involvement in the death of Darnley and pin it on Mary. To Weir, Mary is a weak-willed, easily manipulated woman unfit to rule. This misapprehension undermines everything that Weir builds towards in her book and casts doubt on many of her conclusions as a result. (less)
Because I can never read enough about Tudor history, I picked this up to fill in any gustatory gaps in my reading and thoroughly enjoyed it. Though no...moreBecause I can never read enough about Tudor history, I picked this up to fill in any gustatory gaps in my reading and thoroughly enjoyed it. Though now I want to get my hands on some of the source material Sim is using... Time for me to find a good book on Tudor manners.(less)
Philippa Gregory's work serves as a kind of popcorn historical fiction for me, I will usually get some enjoyment out of it even if I know that it will...morePhilippa Gregory's work serves as a kind of popcorn historical fiction for me, I will usually get some enjoyment out of it even if I know that it will occasionally have a tenuous grasp on history. This book was a real trial for me, mostly because the entire book is predicated upon Gregory's theory about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. Little doses of that in prior books of the War of the Roses series seemed OK, but the dose is too hefty here. If you side with Gregory in that you think one of the princes did survive, you probably won't consider that storyline a hindrance. But, as I disagree with her, it becomes almost oppressive and diminished my enjoyment of the book.
It's hard to track down unbiased source material from that period of time so, as with her prior books in this series, I tried hard to let go of facts (aside from the quibble above!) and just enjoy characterizations but people felt a little too one-note here to make this enjoyable. Margaret Beaufort is pious and puts her son above all else- check. Henry VII is a suspicious miser- check. Elizabeth Wydville is a schemer who is constantly plotting the advancement of her own family-check. Elizabeth has a little more range, but not by much. Henry VII is noted to have had some fondness for Elizabeth, so it was especially odd that he seemed to have less fondness for her as the book progressed.
I'm not writing reviews for the other books because just writing this pains me so--- out of the whole War of the Roses series that she's written, I would probably only recommend The White Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter. I think I rated those a bit higher? If you're reading this and you care, just go read some Alison Weir instead.
It was a cold morning; the fog had settled in low over the city and the mood on the street was grim as always. I'd just finished reading the daily rag...moreIt was a cold morning; the fog had settled in low over the city and the mood on the street was grim as always. I'd just finished reading the daily rag and was throwing it in the trash when there was a knock at my door.
"Detective, there's a...there's a BOOK here to see you. It says its name is Detroit: An American Autopsy."
"Christ. Send it in, Dolly, and keep your mouth shut about it." Dolly's full, plum-colored lip quivered as she turned to usher in the tome, her ample breast heaving within the stretched cotton dress.
"So you've got the guts to show your face around here, eh, Detroit? Long time no see."
"Eh. Times is tough. I got nowhere else to turn right now." Detroit: An American Autopsy hauled itself into the well-worn leather chair in front of my desk and sighed, its yellowed and tattered pages stinking of cigarette smoke, motor oil, and cheap booze.
"You see, I got this guy- this Charlie LeDuff guy- he's runnin around Detroit with a tommy gun, only that tommy gun's just a pen, and that pen's runnin' out of ink, and we're all runnin' out of hope. That's where you come in."
I really hope that was as tedious to read as it was tedious to write. But there, now you know what Detroit: An American Autopsy is all about. It's miserable. It's depressing. But guys, that's DETROIT! Not one person in that miserable shit-hole of a town has something going for them! But no fear, you've got Charlie LeDuff, journalist, kamikaze cliche artist, and city-saver on hand.
I'm assuming that the Sam Spade affectation is both an expression of vanity on LeDuff's part and probably a necessity of craft: by making this story more about him, and his interactions with others, it's not incumbent upon him to strive for a broad interpretation of what's happened to his hometown. The narrower focus is safer for him. I don't doubt that he's a savvy journalist, and it's possible that he truly does interact with people in the way he does in this book, but what he doesn't recognize is that every conversation really revolves around him and his manner of speaking not only renders him as a caricature, but transforms those around him into mere set pieces in his ongoing family melodrama.
Yet this book receives rave reviews, and I'm mystified. Perhaps people consider him to be enigmatic; I find him to be brash, full of false bravado, and generally repulsive as a character. The misogyny is overwhelming: women are described by their breasts and "prophylactic-tight" dresses first, character second if at all. One baffling chapter has him fighting with his wife until she calls the cops. He's then hauled off to jail, comically invoking the 5th amendment outside of a courtroom. Ostensibly, this is to show just how "deep" he's in--- instead, it just makes him even less likeable and makes me wonder if he was desperate to chew up pages.
It's probably impossible to get into a deeper discussion of racial issues in Detroit at the moment, because it's too raw, but I feel as though some of the raves for his work might be coming in because passages often (though probably inadvertently) contain a wink-nod confirmation of what many people seem to love whispering about Detroit: that, for all that ails it, what's really screwing it up is that THOSE PEOPLE ran it into the ground.
LeDuff will hammer home the idea that everyone screwed up over and over, but it feels like each iteration of that is followed up with the wink-nod 'but from where I stand...' sort of deal. LeDuff's not racist. I don't think it was his intent to make it seem that he places the blame more on one entity than another. But everything about his tone strips away the humanity of his characters and makes people feel comfortable about believing all the stereotypes they'd long held about the city.
There are moments in this book when individuals shine in spite of the constraints he's placed upon them. It's just a shame that he couldn't leave himself out of the story long enough to keep up that momentum for more than a page or two.
I've read several books about this case (even Mark Fuhrman's, which was...certainly a book by Mark Furhman) and this is the best I've read, though it'...moreI've read several books about this case (even Mark Fuhrman's, which was...certainly a book by Mark Furhman) and this is the best I've read, though it's not perfect: Toobin does take care to acknowledge the racial tensions that made this case so difficult to try but at times seems to want to minimize these issues. I don't take issue with the idea that things were twisted to the advantage of a defendant, but Toobin will slip in little remarks here and there about the media that clang a bit. For example: Time magazine darkens an image of OJ Simpson on its cover, which understandably sends many individuals into a rage. Toobin handwaves this and brings it up a little later as an example of why the media might be gunshy on reporting anything about the case in a way that might fan those flames. He adds in a little bit of background information about the history of LAPD that's illuminating, and certainly does try to establish why jurors might have felt that the system was set against them, but at times it feels almost condescending.
I type all that in spite of giving it a good review because that's my sole quibble with it, and it's a small quibble at that. In general it's a really interesting look at the way the case was put together, and while it's a bit older so it's missing some of the newer details (about, say, the civil case that followed), it's still a worthwhile read.(less)
I've had issues with Sandberg in the past, though not as a feminist- it was more of a, well, capitalist issue, I suppose?! Sandberg had previously dis...moreI've had issues with Sandberg in the past, though not as a feminist- it was more of a, well, capitalist issue, I suppose?! Sandberg had previously discussed her desire to physically leave the office each day at a reasonable hour to be with her family. I applaud that but noted with dismay at the time that she still confessed to reading e-mails at night and even at 5am to compensate for this. Perhaps this is just because I don't aspire to work the sort of high-pressure, high-powered job that Sandberg holds but it's difficult for me embrace the notion of giving oneself over to a corporation to such a degree.
I admit that I work to fund my interests, my interest isn't necessarily my work. Perhaps that would change if I changed professions, but I want to have boundaries. For women who aren't like me, I can see that this book would be more useful.
However, all of what I've relayed isn't my reason for rating it as I did; I put it at a 3/5 because I still found much of her professional advice to be interesting and still helpful to a degree. Sandberg relayed a story about her initial negotiations with Zuckerberg that I found interesting; she admitted that she agreed to something spur of the moment, later realized her error, and approached him again to re-negotiate.
I suppose it seems strange to find that particular story compelling but it highlighted the main thing that I think many women struggle against professionally: recognizing when they've made a mistake and not resigning themselves to it. Men are prone to such things as well, but I think women more consciously feel that they have to set an example or strive to be unemotional/steadfast/unerring as mistakes aren't just mistakes, they're indicative of some deeper failure. It would never have occurred to me to re-negotiate with a boss as I'd fear being seen as 'difficult' or 'uncooperative.'
Much of the book revolves around motherhood which simply isn't applicable to me and was hard for me to relate to or understand, but I can see why it would be valuable for working mothers. I didn't find the tone to be unnecessarily preachy though I can recognize why some women might feel that way. (less)
I read the first couple of pages and thought "hm, this feels really familiar to me" and found out that the author wrote for Bust at one point in time....moreI read the first couple of pages and thought "hm, this feels really familiar to me" and found out that the author wrote for Bust at one point in time. I like Bust- do not get me wrong- the writing is fine. But: the writing is fine in small doses only, apparently.
It's slightly unfair of me to rate a book that I won't finish but I'm not going to force myself to finish it (I made it about 3/4 of the way through). I really, really disliked the tone and nothing here was revelatory or interesting to me. I'm too lazy to check the dates so it's possible that this book is old enough to predate a lot of her work, but it comes across as a poor Sarah Vowell imitation. It felt disjointed throughout and could have used some better editing, too.(less)
It's a hesitant 4 stars for me- like 3.85 stars. Once it gets going and hits a fever pitch, it's pretty interesting. Because of the way in which it's...moreIt's a hesitant 4 stars for me- like 3.85 stars. Once it gets going and hits a fever pitch, it's pretty interesting. Because of the way in which it's constructed, I'm willing to forgive some sins. It's hard to discuss my complaint about the book without giving away a significant spoiler, however. I don't want to do that, but will say that the biggest problem is that it seems as though the author really does believe that there's some character development for one of the main characters, and that the evidence of this is the ending, but it's clumsy and not believable. Readers appreciate the unexpected, but when they've finished a book they want to be able to go back through and savor all of the clues and steps leading to that point. In terms of plot, yes, there are little hints throughout that make it enjoyable. But in terms of character- and that character being the person whom I'd consider to be the protagonist- it's hollow. How strange it is to read a book about the authenticity of our personas only to reach the end and get the sense that the person who was most "real" is the biggest sham there, and makes decisions not based upon any character built up to that point but instead based upon what the author seems to have thought would twist the knife the most.
To put it another way: why carve these folks out, give them a life in print, and let them walk around in their shoes for a while only to sweep them off the table and say nah, this wasn't so cool after all, screw it. Palahniuk will do this with characters in similar books and it's irritating then, too. Flynn can do better. I hope you enjoyed an overly negative review written after I gave the book 4 stars anyway!
SO TO LIFT THE MOOD: I still really enjoyed it and think others should give it a try (and keep going even if early on it feels rocky), and raced through it because it was so compelling. My quibble about the end might seem weird if you haven't read it but I suspect that, once you have, you will know what I meant! Thank you!(less)