I have a love-hate relationship with books about history. While I have always been fascinated by specific periods of history, my reading on the subjec...moreI have a love-hate relationship with books about history. While I have always been fascinated by specific periods of history, my reading on the subject is spotty. Mostly because I'll find something that works for me, then as I attempt to delve deeper I run into the Wall-O-Text materials meant for serious researchers and students armed with highlighters.*
Generally that leads to me wandering off in search of something else to do. Books should not be work in my opinion. Books should be enjoyable.
And Anna Whitelock manages that wonderfully well here. Admittedly there doesn't seem to be any earth-shattering new research, but that's not always necessary. What is necessary is making the material that is already known accessible to an audience outside of academia. Particularly now that there is an interest in the Tudor period due to popular fictionalized accounts.
"Mary Tudor: England's First Queen" also addresses the subject with a less virulent hand than some. In the past the trend has been to paint "Bloody Mary" as a villainous madwoman, a ghoul who's name children chant to terrify themselves. And while Mary was certainly not the saint she wished to be, Whitelock lays out her motivations in a more sympathetic manner without condoning them, portraying a woman pushed into extremes by emotional punishments that would break almost anyone.
In general it's a very well written, although it does begin to drag a bit near the end for those of us more accustomed to fiction than textbooks. I suppose that's the problem with handling this material though- there's a fine line between dry reading and glorifying the violence that Mary's reign ended in. It's definitely a step above most historical fiction currently being published, but the reader is rewarded by having to stop and ask "did that really happen? Or is that added drama?"
Definitely recommended for history dabblers who enjoy historical fiction and are ready for more meaty materials. If you've ever put down a novel and gone to fact-check what you've just read, this one is for you.
* Why exactly it's acceptable for textbooks to be written in such a cold, impenetrable manner is beyond me, and a rant for another time. (less)
Once again, Alison Weir dips her toes into the realm of historical fiction and comes out smelling like a rose. A Tudor rose that is.
In this highly re...moreOnce again, Alison Weir dips her toes into the realm of historical fiction and comes out smelling like a rose. A Tudor rose that is.
In this highly readable historical novel, Ms Weir returns to a subject that appears to be near and dear to heart (if her bibliography is anything to judge by), the mystery of "the Princes in the Tower". The young sons of Edward IV were deposed by Richard III, and it is widely assumed that Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York were put to death in order to help secure Richard's crown.
Lady Katherine Grey, (Lady Jane's younger sister) happens upon a jewel and some papers that seem to have belonged to Kate Plantagenet, bastard daughter and eldest child of Richard III. Lady Katherine becomes intrigued by the mystery that has captured many imaginations through the centuries by reading Kate's notes as she too struggles with the mystery, unbelieving that her father could have committed murder. Weir shuttles us back and forth between the two, drawing some outstanding parallels between the lives of these Ladies, so near the throne, and yet so powerless in their own rights.
Weir does not buck the trend in coming to the conclusion that Richard's hands were bloody, and indeed even the common folk of London believed it was so. But she also hammers it home that no proof has ever been found, as their corpses were never located. Several sets of bones have been found over the ensuing centuries, but there has been no conclusive evidence to mark them as the missing Plantagenet Princes*.
Overall it's a good read, if a bit confusing, which is in part I think due to the closeness of the names and the large number of parallels Weir draws here. It's heavier than Philippa Gregory's work, but then the subject here isn't as steamy as Henry VIII's court. Overall I think it's a great presentation of the material, and a good choice for anyone with an interest in English history who doesn't care for the drier, more scholarly works.
*Queen Elizabeth II has historically been reluctant to disturb the tombs of her predecessors, so modern DNA testing has not been conducted.(less)
This is a story that needs to be heard by more of the world. It's the story of a young man, born and raised inside the twisted morality of North Korea...moreThis is a story that needs to be heard by more of the world. It's the story of a young man, born and raised inside the twisted morality of North Korea's political prisons. His escape is an event of unimaginable importance to our understanding of North Korea's crimes, and yet has been met with no fanfare. His settlement into western society and the re-education necessary to survive our modern world are non-events. There is no parade for this hero, and precious little help.
Harden tells the story without being overdramatic or hysterical. There's a delicate remove, and he's careful not to dwell on the horrors that could have made a work like this into a rubbernecker's paradise. He chooses to look at examples of how Shin Dong-hyuk's worldview was twisted, how the unimaginable was perfectly normal to him.
Something everyone should read, in order to get a handle on this particular piece of the puzzle that is modern Asia, the insane depths of North Korea's human rights violations, and the difficulties involved in potentially needing to rescue an entire nation from a Concentration Camp.(less)
"Death by Petticoat" is a cute, rather fluffy piece with all of the serious, scholarly weight of the Reader's Digest.
And that's why it works.
Theobal...more"Death by Petticoat" is a cute, rather fluffy piece with all of the serious, scholarly weight of the Reader's Digest.
And that's why it works.
Theobald writes in the kind of voice you expect to hear over a kitchen table, amused with just a touch of sarcasm. Clearly enjoying her task of putting paid to some of the sillier legends that pepper American history, she goes after some of the things I'm sure tour guides and curators roll their eyes at on a regular basis. Closet taxes. Quilt codes. The jettisoning of excess rib bone. Some Ive never heard of too, which is fun. And at least once I had the smug enjoyment of thinking... Really? Someone though that? That's so SILLY!"
Having been completed with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Im left with the impression that this is mostly a little something they put together to put up in the gift shop. That doesn't devalue it, but it just screams tourist sales. Sill, it's a cut above most nonsense of the sort in that it's actually been researched (there's a bibliography) and isnt boring as wood lice.
My advice? If you see it, buy it to support the Foundation, and keep it as a bathroom reader. (less)
Below Stairs is the book that inspired the epic British television classic "Upstairs Downstairs" and is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance with...moreBelow Stairs is the book that inspired the epic British television classic "Upstairs Downstairs" and is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance with the popularity of the Beeb's newest period drama "Downton Abbey".
Repackaged with a new jacket and a cover button with kudos by Dame Eileen Atkins, this memoir is still a worthy read, if a bit dry. It's written in the older style of such things, when you hinted at scandal rather than telling, and never named names or places... although telling peccadilloes are revealed for those who were "in the know" to giggle over.
It's a great introduction to a world foreign to modern audiences, and while it seems irrelevant in this day and age, it draws a fairly complete picture of what was required of the working class before the Trade Unions. Fourteen hour workdays, meagre food leftover from the employer's table and cold bare attic rooms- conditions that would have modern workers calling for law enforcement. Powell's story is matter-of-fact and unexaggerated, giving her words all the weight they need.
Definitely something that should be picked up by those who enjoy historical fiction and romances in the period, for a better grounding in the realities of being "in service" and understanding of a time of incredibly rapid social change.(less)
"We Two" is one of those rarest of bookstore treasures, the readable history. Not historical-fiction mind you, but the straight up real thing. It's no...more"We Two" is one of those rarest of bookstore treasures, the readable history. Not historical-fiction mind you, but the straight up real thing. It's not funny or cutesy, it doesn't have dialogue, it doesn't "sex up" history. It doesn't need to. Not when the subject matter is such a complicated and intricate web of interpersonal relationships. Like peeling layers of old, yellowing paper from a wall, Gillian Gill tries to sift truth from PR nearly a century old. On top of that, somehow she manages to keep an dense text clear and lively despite the twisted and tortured mess of pre-WWII European political scene.
Aside from the neatly drawn picture and relationship of the couple that are arguably the most well known monarchs ever, we're also given some much needed clarity on their world. The royal marriage markets, the city-states of Germany with their multitude of princes, the sudden appearance of the Royal Residences at Osborne House, Balmoral castle and later, Sandringham House all become clear and logical.
Gill also does not shy away from dealing with the public opinion of the Prince-Consort either. Albert was respected by those who worked with him, and loved by family, but poorly received and tolerated by the aristocracy who had their excesses curbed and the lower classes who seem to have always perceived him as foreign- no doubt due to the German accent he never rid himself of. Her take on the Queen herself is a picture of a woman almost obsessed with her adored husband, yet short tempered and downright petulant at times. Before Albert's death we only see glimpses of the proud matriarch she is remembered as. She does avoid the whole John Brown controversy, covering it with a chapter or two, but then, that is only right as here we are dealing mostly with events previous to Albert's death.
All in all, it';s a strong, dense read. In all probability I'll be looking at some other works to contrast it with, just to get a clearer picture of whether there is much bias here, and if so where it lies.
Where law and science meet, you'll find the name Henrietta Lacks.
Once upon a time (when no one thought twice about such things), a doctor took a samp...moreWhere law and science meet, you'll find the name Henrietta Lacks.
Once upon a time (when no one thought twice about such things), a doctor took a sample of a cancerous growth and used it for science. No one was asked, no forms were signed, the family never even knew about it. They certainly didn't understand it until very, very recently.
Since then, that sample has become the first of it's kind. It's still going, still growing, still dividing. It's what they call an "immortal" cell. It was the first cultured human cell that was mass produced, and shipped worldwide. It's so strong and hardy, it contaminates and takes over other cell cultures... often to the point of costing millions of dollars and wasting years of research time.
It's HeLa, and it's ubiquitous.
This is the story of that woman, but we know almost nothing about her. It's more the story of her surviving family- poorly educated, small town, lower class black family- with everything against them, and their struggles to understand and come to grips with modern medical science. How this happened. Why no one was told. How HeLa cells can be bought and sold for profit while the family struggles to afford medical care. And the heroic struggle of a daughter who fights her way out of ignorance and suspicion in order to learn what happened to the mother she never knew.
It does raise serious legal questions regarding medical use of tissue samples. When does my flesh and blood stop being mine. How informative does informed consent really need to be? And how can the research and pharmaceutical industry make millions without compensating the "donors" who gave the tissues on which their work is ultimately based.
Once upon a time, tissue samples were essentially Open Source, samples traded and given away in the name of advancing medical science. Now that industry makes millions from them, and essentially decides the fate of mankind based on what it will profit from, these issues will need to be dealt with, and in the near future. (less)
A heavy, but engaging, bio and family history of a survivor of Mao's "Cultural Revolution" in mainland China. It helps give a clear understanding of t...moreA heavy, but engaging, bio and family history of a survivor of Mao's "Cultural Revolution" in mainland China. It helps give a clear understanding of the Chinese people, (minus the propaganda) and makes it clear how far they've come since the Communist party first took power. The author speaks almost impartially about her life and the effect the Party's rule had on it. (less)