The problem is, I'm just not a Beatles fan. I like the songs, they've been playing along in the background all of my life. I find the history interestThe problem is, I'm just not a Beatles fan. I like the songs, they've been playing along in the background all of my life. I find the history interesting, as a phenomenon...but i'm not a fan. I don't care about the provenance of each song or the controversial historiography of minor events. Now, as history, this is enjoyable. A nice view into a time, place and industry, particularly the Liverpool of the 40s and 50s and Hamburg of the early 60s. But Lewisohn is a fan, a fanatic, an admirer. He cares about their minutiae, their personalities, their narrative. He's impressed by the Beatles, forgiving, fond. There's just something too incongruous for me when Lewisohns fairly dry, meticulous, adult view slides into unflinching admiration for these rowdy teenagers, almost unsettling. One doesn't know whether to question his judgement or just join in. After all, they're the Beatles, right?...more
This starts out as history but it quickly just turns into pointification. There's a lot less actual knowledge about how people lived and thought and fThis starts out as history but it quickly just turns into pointification. There's a lot less actual knowledge about how people lived and thought and felt, and more just a historiographical argument. Whatever. This isn't new information, it's just a narrative....more
Fine and readable, but really very basic. Not at all an academic book. The anecdotes from the collapse of the 90s are funny/painful, when I realize myFine and readable, but really very basic. Not at all an academic book. The anecdotes from the collapse of the 90s are funny/painful, when I realize my grandparents must have gone through all that. The optimism going forward is...also funny painful, given that a cynical, worst-case guess at Ukraine's future - an impoverished chaos torn between Russia and Europe - only barely scratches at how bad the situation really is, as the one thing Reid seems confident about is that country certainly wouldn't break up. Yeah.
The thing is, every time i'm in the Ukraine, i'm struck by how rich it is in many ways. So much space, so much water, so much green. Educated population, extant (if crumbling) modern infrastructure, medical system, education system. This isn't some patch of desert or somewhere that has never gotten out of subsistence agriculture - it just tumbled back there. I always get vaguely angry there, almost. Like, what's your excuse, huh, you ridiculously vast expanse of stuff? I guess I need a more in depth book for that. ...more
So this is the most useful book I could find about Burundi, (of the seven the library held.) It's essentially the summary of several hundred in-depthSo this is the most useful book I could find about Burundi, (of the seven the library held.) It's essentially the summary of several hundred in-depth interviews conducted with Burundians in 2006 or so, delving into their opinion and experiences on everything from their personal life stories to their political opinions, worldviews and hopes and ambitions for the future. I expect the main criticism might be the synthesis Uvin does, boiling down hundreds of interviews into a few pages of a kind of national barometer on different issues - that interpretation is probably going to look a lot more debatable to those that know that society.
The picture that does come across is complex and difficult, but not without optimism. Peace, education and women's rights are preceived in complex and significant ways. One thing that struck me, and echoes what I know from Israel, is the importance of free movement and travel as a component of peace. It reinforces my sense that this is more than a bourgeouise whinging, but a deep aspect of the way people in conflict feel about their personal safety and their neighbours.
On that note, the attitude that Burundians have towards their recent past and conflict strikes me, as an Israeli, as disturbingly and almost obnoxiously healthy and positive. (And utterly foreign.) I almost instincitively don't trust the idea that the public sentiment towards ethnic conflict might be to move on, let sleeping dogs lie, and accept blame and responsibility as being evenly spread around. It will be interesting to see what we can learn from that.
Very weak. I picked this up because I really enjoy Melvin Bragg's radio show "In Our Time," because he seems to have a knack for asking the interestinVery weak. I picked this up because I really enjoy Melvin Bragg's radio show "In Our Time," because he seems to have a knack for asking the interesting, but still rigorous, questions. This is just plodding and cutesy though. Not any particularly interesting angles on the language or on linguistics in general - yes, English has a lot of loan words - and not very compelling as history. It did make me want to find out more about the Reformation though. I guess that's something. ...more
"In the Indian shops you can buy a narrow selection of curtain materials and chair covers which startle and amaze, but few which uplift the soul."
This"In the Indian shops you can buy a narrow selection of curtain materials and chair covers which startle and amaze, but few which uplift the soul."
This is basically a blog from 1952. Ommanney was stationed in Zanzibar in the early 50's, doing something about improving fishing. The one chapter he dedicates to this gives a very strong impression that no one involved had the faintest idea what they were doing. It involves statements like "but the French had made it seem very easy." There's some history, but someone rather emphatically wrote "this is untrue" in the margin of my copy on page 20, so so much for that. The rest is pretty much notes from the life of an expat in Zanzibar.
It's casually racist and kind of smug in general, and nothing ever happens, but still not a terribly unpleasant read. Ommanney is occassionaly kind of funny, though i'm still not sure if it's always on purpose. He often seems to be going for a kind of plummy, unflappable, stiff-upper-lip Brit-abroad mild eccentric etc. Very Victorian, tolerantly gazing over the odd habits of the natives and all that. Alas he seems a couple of generations late and maybe a personality shy.
There's often a rather fussy, almost hysterical undercurrent to it all, even if his main subject matter, by simple volume, wasn't the inadequacies of his interior decor and the habits of his servants. It's too hot and cars go too fast and the kids these days with their cinemas and parted hair. The dancing is too inscrutable, the music is too loud - everything from American showtunes to Arab wailing to endless African drums that are always beating through the night, somewhere, is groused about in one hilarious passage. (A while later - complaints about the eeriness of the primordial African silence.)
Mostly, he comes across as a somewhat duffy, largely affable and possibly rather lonely guy, very much of his time. There's a lengthy sort of sub-Bill-Brysonesque imagined-conversation comic passage of the horrors of taking one's wife and kids on holiday, which begins to be a bit weird and sad the longer it goes on, coming from someone living alone with a cat in a nine-room house.
I'm not sure why I started this and i'm not entirely sure why I finished. Recommended for no one at all, unless you have a burning need to know about the mental states and material conditions of British colonial personnel in Zanzibar in the early 50's.
Meh, with a side helping of unsatisfactory and boring. I have no idea what this is even meant to be. It's not a history book, it isn't travel writing,Meh, with a side helping of unsatisfactory and boring. I have no idea what this is even meant to be. It's not a history book, it isn't travel writing, it isn't a cultural overview in any meaningful way...it's just snippets of stuff with an overarching theme. Seriously, it's like a couple dozen of those little essays you get in English exams to test your reading comprehension - both in the level of interest and in the level of writing. Three pages about the Romans in North Africa. Three pages about the Dakar Rally, three about WW1 poetry, etc, etc. And it's still almost entirely a westerners-abroad collection. Artists, explorers, tourists, etc. The ancient history gets a broad overview, but the contemporary nations have less space dedicated to their history and politics than there is given over to Michael Palin. The only even marginally good bits - and this is a low bar here - are a very few touches of more straightforward travel writing that describe a few lesser known desert cities and oases - not Timbuktu or Siwa, but dusty mining towns of little interest to anyone but, persumbly, the people who live there. I might read a book about the history of those places, and the countries and civilizations they're a part of, but this isn't it....more
Excellent but mysterious. An oral history as much as anything, and one that often feels almost magic realist. Did the author really conduct extensiveExcellent but mysterious. An oral history as much as anything, and one that often feels almost magic realist. Did the author really conduct extensive interviews with a 126-year old man? Is Joseph Conrad's ship really to be found quietly rusting by the riverside in Kinshasa? Who knows. I would believe him - or at least, share his faith - for a chapter, and then skepticism would kick in, and then I would believe him again.
Then again, this a country that handily produces robot stoplights and industrial grade surrealism but fails at having more than three types of fruit. So I'll give the book that.
Here, my favorite thing in the DRC. Robot stoplight: ...more
Most books about WW2 at some point include a description of the Red Army as it sweeps westward across Europe. These tend towards the exotic - much menMost books about WW2 at some point include a description of the Red Army as it sweeps westward across Europe. These tend towards the exotic - much mention of cossacks with whips, shaggy ponies pulling sleds side by side with tanks, etc. This one is almost totally - and refreshingly - devoid of that kind of thing. Which isn't to say the Red Army wasn't brutal and weird, but Merridale focuses on experiences that seem to have been the norm, in as much as there was any. There's a broad social context from before the war and also details of the day to day of the war at the front. She doesn't shy away from the war crimes on either side of the front - the brutal treatment the USSR meted out to it's own troops, and those troops conduct with regard to civilians and POW's.
What I found fascinating though is that she tries to get at the mindsets and ideologies behind the actions, personal and collective, mass rape and massacre as well as patriotism and camaraderie. I don't know if it's necessarily an unqualified success - there are still gaps, still things people did not, and will never, talk about, but the attempt is invaluable. My grandfather marched from some long lost hamlet near Kazan to Berlin and back (well, as far as Kiev) when he was 17. I've never been able to square the mild, sardonic man I remember with cossacks and massacres, though I know it happened, and I know he was there. This is one of the few history books I've read that have managed to go at least some way to bridging that gap. Excellent social history, the individual action and reaction in extraordinary circumstances, building up to history person by person....more
This is really good, I guess, if you happen to be extremely interested in its very particular subject matter. Which I am (I wish I knew why.) I apprecThis is really good, I guess, if you happen to be extremely interested in its very particular subject matter. Which I am (I wish I knew why.) I appreciated the thorough overview of the historical evolution of the genre, going back to medieval legends, Barbary corsairs and (of course) Byron. ...more
Just ok. I'm very easy to please with a passing reference to some eccentric bit of history, like microscopic kingdoms ruled by nuns or weird buildingsJust ok. I'm very easy to please with a passing reference to some eccentric bit of history, like microscopic kingdoms ruled by nuns or weird buildings or people with odd names, so this book had a head start with me. That said, It never did seem to find a good middle ground between telling some of the drier political and military history and merrily skipping away from it in favour of the funny stuff. Chapters and chapters did go on abouut successions or military campaigns, but with a carefully cultivated air of sheepish embarrassment that rather wore itself out, and on the other hand still didn't really deliver enough information for it to be interesting. Or to make any sense.
Winder also largely shied away from the really salacious personal gossipy stuff about various demented Habsburgs, which seems a bit of a shame. Come on, that's really all we can salvage out of the awful idea that was thousands of years of aristocracy. What does work pretty well is the cultural stuff, particularly art and music, and the book did add a few writers to my mental tbr pile. Winder's joy at encountering and describing various strange and disturbing paintings, statues, victory columns, overegged gazebos and that sort of thing is pretty infectious. ...more
This was fun. I don't know if it adds up to anything much, but it is fun. The weaving together of little details and anecdotes of the lives of artistsThis was fun. I don't know if it adds up to anything much, but it is fun. The weaving together of little details and anecdotes of the lives of artists (and Stalin) scattered across central Europe, month by month, adds up to something that feels almost novelistic itself. Wry, semi-sympathetic, semi-condescending, and not very pretentious, I think it does manage to give something of a sense of the place, at least for this particular class of people. Better than the other 1913, though not as good as Philip Blom's The Vertigo Years for a cultural history of the first bit of the 20th century. ...more