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
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
I was surprised by how sophisticated this was, in some ways. It feels much later than 1962. The way Dick constructs the different characters inner narI was surprised by how sophisticated this was, in some ways. It feels much later than 1962. The way Dick constructs the different characters inner narratives, as products of their history and society, is the best bit. The struggles of culture, identity and self-esteem read as perfectly contemporary - or maybe our politics just haven't moved as much from 1962, actually. ...more
This was much more strangely interesting (and interestingly strange) than expected, for an academic study, and mostly in ways only tangentially relateThis was much more strangely interesting (and interestingly strange) than expected, for an academic study, and mostly in ways only tangentially related (but no unrelated either) to Victorian Honeymoons.
Michie analyzes dozens of diaries and letters from the period, trying to suss out what the hell actually went on during a Victorian Honeymoon, but the whole thing soon gets tangled up in layers and layers of context and interpretation and historiography. I actually quite appreciated the way she drew attention to the primary sources as written works, and tried to take into account 'genre', as it were. It made conclusions - ie, what happened more difficult (impossible) to draw, but also kind of made the historical personages come alive a bit - we might not really know what they're saying, but we know they thought about the way they said it in ways that are immediate and familiar. Who would read it? What would that reader understand? What could they say outright and what had to stay between the lines? (I pity the researcher of centuries hence who tries to figure out the nuances of some attitude of ours from the subtleties and ommisions of the way we use our Goodreads reviews and Facebook statuse and Twitter feeds...etc)
Theres a bit of geography stuff too, trying to understand how people would have experienced those landscapes as honeymooners and what they would have meant to them, as well as some looking into pamphlets, guides, encyclopedias, etc to try and work through their available sexual knowledge, (conclusion: who knows?) There's also actual literary analysis of Victorian novels that feature honeymoons. I think the assumption is that those novels might have been one of the sources of information and general cultural sense of what was supposed to happen (no, not just that) about honeymoons for the honeymooners (the conclusion is the all literary honeymoons are awful and everyone would have been filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. And death. Because gothic and victorians, yeah.) It's kind of interesting, but at some point loses the plot, so to speak, imo.
And then theres the weird creative writing bit and, well, the author. Basically, Mitchie forms a particular attachment to one particularly meticulous diarist - but one who for all her prolixity is still a frustratingly incomplete and mysterious figure. What drives her emotions during her honeymoon remains resolutely unknowable. So Michie succumbs to temptation and writes her, piecing together clues and making assumptions and guesses to create a bit of narrative fiction - which she cheerfully acknowledges is now victim to it's own problems of being text, and subject to it's own genre limitations.
Anyway, it's just impossible for me not to slather on that extra layer (on the fourteen or so there are already) of reading the researcher. The whole book is concerned with the difficulty and trickery of trying to read primary sources and stripping away our own view, and then the base of this whole thing is honeymoons, which Michie emphasizes must have been all about - especially for the Victorians - getting to know another person and probably failing, negotiating the place they give another person in their conception of themselves, tearing down and rebuilding their definitions of privacy. So, what the hell, I thought - let's join in. Inevitably, Michie became the unreliable narrator of the books she wrote that I read.
It's all ends up being a truly strange, multilayered metafictional thing about trying to know people, about trying to know history, about reading. To top it all off, for me, Michie's favorite diarist was a prolific reader who made snarky comments about the books she read (Dickens - yay, Bulwer-Lytton - not so much) and could have been on Goodreads. I recognize the way she read.(it's impossible to ignore myself as yet another reader here, of course.) It's like reading goddamned Borges with a headache, only having to deal with it as reality. Sort of. Somehow.
But I now know less about what Victorians were like than I did 250 and pages ago, so I guess that's a good thing, overall. ...more
So you tell the story of the monster, but then shouldn't we know the story of that random guard he brutally killed to prove an adolescent point? And mSo you tell the story of the monster, but then shouldn't we know the story of that random guard he brutally killed to prove an adolescent point? And maybe his girlfriend. And her mother. And Grendel's mother, and so on until we go the world around and come back to Beowulf.
Got to about halfway, but lost interest. Smoothly enough written, but at some point it becomes more of a direct history than an exploration of space,Got to about halfway, but lost interest. Smoothly enough written, but at some point it becomes more of a direct history than an exploration of space, once it gets bogged down in the world wars. Kind of interesting to see the double layer there - between the period described and the book, but also between 1999, when the book was written, and today. ...more
Well, that was...that. Theres not much to complain about, certainly. Well written, well structured, an indispensable array of Things To Know. As a broWell, that was...that. Theres not much to complain about, certainly. Well written, well structured, an indispensable array of Things To Know. As a broader political argument though, theres something there that bugs me a bit. Something a bit tepid and disengaged. Like if we could just make all the bad, bad people and their nasty capitalist nationalist systems go away, everyone else would just be revealed as all lovely and moist on the inside and live happily ever after in some sort of anarcho syndicalist utopia. I find it about as convincing as those old, smooth pictures of the future where cities are under domes for no particular reason and everything gets from place to place in tubes. Zinn tells the stories of people, and they're fantastic, but he leaves the system as a machine and never gets into the blood and guts of it.
Or maybe it's just me. Recommended anyway. These are Things to Know. ...more
So this turned out to be waaaay more WTF than expected. While also being really fucking boring.
Now, i’m the escapee graduate of a Marxist cult that haSo this turned out to be waaaay more WTF than expected. While also being really fucking boring.
Now, i’m the escapee graduate of a Marxist cult that hasn’t incorporated a new idea since Warsaw Ghetto fell. I am perfectly at home with the notion that all accounts of history are an ideological construct - including the ones you *(yes, you) hold dear. Since history can never be known, but only abused, you might as well shrug and move on with the brainwashing. So the question then becomes, what is this book arguing for, since we know what it’s arguing against?
Oh, yes, what is it arguing against? Why, other people’s historical memory! This includes, but is by no means limited to: library catalogues, school curricula, folk music festivals, museum exhibits, the official websites of French villages, German towns, Italian cities, Spanish provinces and Belarus. Wikipedia, Google’s search algoriths and hobbyist geneaologists, (lets just say the whole of the internet.) Video games, random maudlin memoirists, tours, brochures, guidebooks, tourist information in fifteen countries, Orhan Pamuk, Voltaire, Isaac Asimov and possibly the Irish.
So what does the book have in it? Each chapter, detailing a poorly remembered, or at least dead, European polity, has three parts. One is a sort of travelogue of the modern region, looking for signs of the past. The second bit, most of the book by volume, is an account of the history of said polity, and the third part is a kind of historical reckoning.
Part one is more interesting as geography than as history and is moderately tolerable if you’re into that sort of thing. Part three is rants at everyone in the universe for failing to remember the exact nomenclature of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Part two is unreadable. I know, becuase I mostly didn’t. It a dust dry, super old school, dynastic history thing. All about who married who and when she died. It gets slightly livelier as move on from dimly chronicled Medieval Angevins or Burgundians or someone and on to more solidly accounted for Habsburgs, Bonapartes and Brabant’s. Then we get a better account of their amusingly inbred degeneracies, idiotic deaths and general inevitable fuckupedness. There’s lots of maps, excerpts, lots and lots and lots of family trees and...oh, yes, theres songs.
Oh, god, not the songs. Provided typically in two or three different languages, we get the nostalgic-nationalist nuttery of every anthen in central Europe since the Vikings invaded. I thought I had seen it all...but then we got to the chapter about Irish republicanism, complete with “Danny Boy” and “Tipperary.”
Wait! You may be saying (yet are probably not,) Ireland?!? The Republic of Ireland? What is a lengthy chapter about a country that appears to be alive and well as of this writing, doing in a book about the obscurely departed? A chapter that covers, no less, that fog shrouded and distant period from 1916 to...2011.
I’ll tell you what it’s doing there. It’s allowing us all to witness a truly glorious, feverish, morbidly gleeful, sweaty rant on the inevitable fall of the United Kingdom. The Irish, y’see, were just the start. Davies cacklingly fantasizes about Scotland taking off, and the Northern Ireland uniting with them (which i’ve never heard before but think is a delightful notion) and then theres a whole new level of pain reserved for the Welsh who’s latent burning nationalism will inevitably arise due to being left alone with the English under a single roof. It’s great.
I might have thought that bit was a bit odd, but it was after the chapter about Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Or, to follow it’s main trajectory, which only skims central Germany in passing, it’s a soliloqy on the wholly un-English un-Englishness of those totally un-English tossers who call themselves the Windsors but are really the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glukburg’s. Not content with pointing this out, we then get an entire page or so of a list of all the German aristos the not-Windsors are more closely related to than they are to the Plantagenets or Alfred the Great or possibly Arthur Pendragon or something. Reading it is rather like trying to read a Berlin yellow pages, which is upside down, and someone is whacking you hard on the head with it.
So what can we learn from this book, except that school children need to think about death more more for a well rounded education and to avoid the fall of western civilization (again)? Monarchies are swell, but only the right sorts of monarchies? The Irish are not to be trusted? Small kindgoms are funny? I have no idea, but I know Norman Davies is no more free from history than the rest of us.
The best single bit is a vintage WW1 Galician joke:
A German officer on the Eastern Front: “The situation is serious, but it is not hopeless.” His Austro-Hungarian comrade, “No, it is hopeless. But it is not serious.”
Very...Ryman. Which is to say it's very good, empathetic and largely bittersweet. Preoccupied with time, death, change, what gives life meaning, how tVery...Ryman. Which is to say it's very good, empathetic and largely bittersweet. Preoccupied with time, death, change, what gives life meaning, how the individual experiences the historic, the impermanence of all things and AIDS. Comes complete with confusing but affecting surrealist bit and twisty narrative structure. Recommended for those who enjoy that sort of thing. ...more
Jolly and really swashbuckley, with the identity switches and running about in ruined castles as so on. The Marx cameo doesn't quite make up for the lJolly and really swashbuckley, with the identity switches and running about in ruined castles as so on. The Marx cameo doesn't quite make up for the lack imperial criticism though, so I thought it was a bit weaker than the first one, but maybe thats because i've never read the Prisoner of Zenda and didn't know until the appendix it was even riffing off on it. ...more
Quick read. Flashman is an insufferable person, but in a rather neat trick, is self aware, witty and perceptive enough to make reading about him enjoyQuick read. Flashman is an insufferable person, but in a rather neat trick, is self aware, witty and perceptive enough to make reading about him enjoyable. I'm not quite sure where the book fits in, historiographicaly speaking - is the joke on Flashman, for so failing as a human being, or on the whole enterprise of the British Empire, and Flashman merely a healthy and natural product of it? ...more
An attempt to get at the more personal and less well known sides of ww2. Mostly successful. The wealth of quotes, letters and diaries are fascinating,An attempt to get at the more personal and less well known sides of ww2. Mostly successful. The wealth of quotes, letters and diaries are fascinating, and the book was most interesting, to me at least, when in stayed in that sphere, trying to examine the feelings, loyalties and opinions of ordinary citizens and soldiers and giving some sense of the complexities and contradictions of the war as it was experienced.
For long streches though, Hastings can't seem to help himself and the narrative dissolves again into WW2 as a game of D&D, with this army went here and that army went there, complete with maps covered with spaghetti dishes of arrows. That was a useful objective, that one wasn't. He spends a paragraph noting that it's useless to attempt any ranking of commanders of the war, and then proceeds to give his own over half a chapter.
I think this is a genuine weakness rather than just a mismatch with my interests, becuase the book does proport to attempt to strip away the cliches and glamorous fantasies of the war. I think its successful when it does, describing well shifting allegiances, ambivalent participants, daily tedium and fear and cowardice, (and courage and high ideals too, but often more nuanced and complex than expected) as well as bringing strong accounts of just how horrific the whole thing was. However, sometimes it dives right back into the military history cliches and this vast collections of humans get reduced to masses and statistics and was this general or that tank better or worse. This is boring, but also I think a real disservice to the narrative that Hastings tries to build.
Weirdest thing that has stayed with me: A lion was loose in the subway tunnels during the terrible seige of Budapest. A Soviet tank crew was sent to hunt it down. Was it with the tank?
A cornucopia of interesting information, from the Samurai in 1600's Mexico to the history of the potatoe in Europe to current rubber farming in Laos.A cornucopia of interesting information, from the Samurai in 1600's Mexico to the history of the potatoe in Europe to current rubber farming in Laos. However, the books feels a bit like a huge journalistic article that weaves together all these colorful threads into something thats still shy of a coherent argument (unlike 1491, which comes to an intense and precise point,) and is ultimately just a bit too romantic about the idea of the global melting pot. ...more
Well written, with an interesting concept and characters, but I felt like the book just rushed through it and never managed to give the events any ofWell written, with an interesting concept and characters, but I felt like the book just rushed through it and never managed to give the events any of the gravitas they required to pull off the more philosophical points. The most intriguing part was The Company, with its rather subversive, to my experience at least, take on immortality and secret histories, but that remained firmly background, unfortunately. ...more