The Big Takeaway:Saladin's abilities seem to have lied in gaining power and uniting Muslim territories together than being effective at fighting offThe Big Takeaway:Saladin's abilities seem to have lied in gaining power and uniting Muslim territories together than being effective at fighting off Christian Crusaders. Additionally, the city of St. Louis, Missouri was named after Louis IX of France, who was a Crusader King captured in Egypt.
The Crusades were a topic that I had an extremely brief understanding of at best before this book. Four key words would have come to mind: Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Jerusalem, and Popes. Now, I have much better grasp of the big picture events that took place along the far eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea between the 11th & 13th centuries.
There was a lot of information covered in this book, and I will admit that most of the details throughout did not really stay with me that long. Instead, all of this minutia mostly just helped reinforce the overall flow of events that occurred during this time period. I believe the author Thomas Asbridge did a good job of discussing many of the major and moderately important events and aspects of this time, but I am also sure that there are some subject experts out there raving that he missed or didn't give enough time to other relevant topics.
The book is definitely from more of a Western perspective, though the author gives ample time explaining what was happening in the different sections of the Muslim world directly involved with this series of conflicts. Quite a few times Mr. Asbridge cites Muslim sources to clarify or give new perspectives on various events.
When it comes to writing style, this author tends to lean more of a dry academic manner. Though it wasn't particularly painful to get through, this book did require endurance. The various topics in themselves were interesting and the author presented them in a way that helped connect all the events together in a chronological order. In addition to that, I never felt that I came across a section of this book that was just a dry and boring list of facts.
If you are interested in learning more about the Crusades and you are willing to put some extra time and effort into learning about them, this book would definitely be for you. If you are hesitant to make such a commitment, there are probably other resources or documentaries out there for your to learn all major items first before diving a bit deeper into this book....more
The Big Takeaway: The realities of how soldiers fight and common perceptions have many differences.
This book was recommended to me by my new coworkerThe Big Takeaway: The realities of how soldiers fight and common perceptions have many differences.
This book was recommended to me by my new coworker who had read it as part of curriculum at West Point. During a discussion about one of my favorite books, On Killing, he shared with me how The Face of Battle enlightened him on the different factors that lead to victory for an out-manned English army at the Battle of Agincourt.
From this conversation, I was compelled by my affinity for military history to go to the library and picked up this book. Initially, I was extremely discouraged from the first sixty some odd pages that comprised chapter one when the author John Keegan discussed in an extremely academic manner the different aspects of the study of Military History along with various benefits, challenges, and weaknesses. During this chapter, a lot of esoteric titles and ideas were brought up leaving me struggling to follow and comprehend.
After this chapter, Keegan dived into the details of the Battle of Agincourt and went over the background, different factors, fighting styles, and cultural norms that lead the English to win over the superior numbers of the French. This part of the book was something that I was better able to grasp and understand with my limited knowledge of the time period. If you were to ask me detailed question about this battle, I would undoubtedly fail to give a satisfactory answer. However, I now have better insight into this conflict beyond the English longbow being a key factor.
From here, the author repeated the template used for the Battle of Agincourt to discuss what happened in the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of the Somme. I was surprised to find in a map in this book that all three battles took place in extreme proximity to each other.
One thing that really stood out to me was in his section discussing the use of cavalry during Waterloo was a glaring error in Lady Butler's picture Scotland Forever!. The laws of physics dictate that two large and densely pack waves of horses smashing into each other would leave a long line of piled up and severely injured horses and cavalrymen since no two objects may occupy the same spot.
After reviewing each battle in turn, John Keegan then looks at some overall trends in the development of combat from the 15th century to the 20th. Two highlights included the changing role of officers or the noble class in wars fought by England, and the improvement of medical treatment to wounded soldiers. From here, he extrapolates what combat would look like in the future from his position in the 1970's. He vision of military personnel spending large amounts of time inside armored vehicles wearing MOPP 4 gear is still a possibility, but not present almost fifty years on. The belief that the next major conflict would be in eastern Europe between two superpowers has yet to manifest itself.
Overall, if you have an interest in military history and are willing to mentally hack your way through a more academic book, this is definitely a book for you. I will admit that I am more of an amateur military buff and the level of fine detail and obtuse style of writing was a bit too much for me. Despite that, I did learn a lot and feel that I have a better understand of how some people fought throughout European history.
As of now, there are a few other books by John Keegan out there that I am interested in reading. I do fear that he may end up on my list of overly dry historians which already include David McCullough and Barbara Tuchman. That decision won't be made until I at least read one more of his books....more
The Big Take-Away: The connection of the Americas to the rest of the world post 1943 brought about massive changes to both the ecological environmentThe Big Take-Away: The connection of the Americas to the rest of the world post 1943 brought about massive changes to both the ecological environment and human societies.
To me, this was one of the most fascinating books that I've read in a long time. Other history books that I've read tend to dive deep into one topic and present an excessive amount of facts that are informative but tend to come off quite dull. There is a lot of information in this book also, but instead of just listening off a series of events, 1493 explores the cause and effect that the discovery of the New World had on the entire globe.
I couldn't get enough of how much economics, trade, politics, cultures, societies, and even ecological systems changed with the introduction of a new landmass, peoples, trade routes, species, and products to the world stage. Rubber tree "forests" have greatly changed the environment and local economies of southern China and neighboring countries. The Spanish and Chinese had a tumultuous relationship in the major trade city of Manila in the Philippines. It might be possible that the depopulation of Native Americans through disease led to the cessation of using forest fires as a means to maintain the lands and possibly resulted in the mini ice age of the 17th century. Mexico City can truly be called the world's first global cosmopolitan city with the fact that it was the first to have residents from every major landmass. The list of amazing things that I learned about could go on and on.
I guess the only downside of this book that I could think of is that the author Charles C. Mann tends to hop around the globe and cherry-pick different events, places, and peoples to write about. 500 years of global change is such a prodigious topic, that it would be impossible to give in depth coverage in a one volume book.
I'm sure there are historians and experts out there that would find sections concerning their specialties lack adequate insight or outright lack what they believe is key information. I don't doubt that these people are correct, but I feel because of Mr. Mann that I have a much better understanding of the profoundness that the inclusion of the Americas into the rest of the world caused. I don't take this book as the be-all-end-all. It is a great starting point of a plethora of topics to further pursue and learn about....more
The Big Take Away: Negative feedback is extremely important in any governing or managing system.
I've heard bits and pieces about The Great Chinese FamThe Big Take Away: Negative feedback is extremely important in any governing or managing system.
I've heard bits and pieces about The Great Chinese Famine from time to time in amateur dabbling in history. This information mainly consisted of local villages claiming vastly unrealistic crop yield per mu (畝/亩 - 614.4 m2) along with an iron and steel production campaign that just led to peasants melting down their ironware into useless pieces of ingot.
After this book, I have a much better understanding of the Famine Years in China from 1958-1962. In an extreme summation that will lack many appropriate nuances for deeper understanding and discussion, this is what I learned from the book:
In order to transfer China into a Communist Society and surpass the industrial strength of England and America, Mao Zedong/ the Communist Part of China (CCP) enacted the Great Leap Forward. Many aspects of this policy included major work projects and the transformation of villages into communes, including the much despised communal kitchen. In the early stages when certain members of the Communist Party started point out problems arising from the Great Leap Forward, they were labeled as anti-Party and right leaning deviants. Any negative feedback was quashed and the true ramifications of this policy were prevented from reaching Mao Zedong. Those who gave false reports that confirmed the expectations of the government were rewarded, leading to a race for local leaders to one-up each other in what their communities were producing. With this, expected harvests were grossly over reported which resulting in the government requisitioning more food from the countryside. To exacerbate this problem, the misallocation of capital and labor caused an even greater shortfall in the amount of crops harvested. When government quotas on food could not be fulfilled, the government blamed the peasantry for under reporting and hoarding instead of realizing the consequences of their actions. From this, government cadres forcibly seized food from the peasantry that they needed to survive along with the seeds for planting next year's harvest.
This massive paragraph sums up the overall lesson from this book, but there are plenty of details and nuances missing.
Overall, I am surprise to see a book like this coming from a Chinese citizen. From my limited search on the internet, this book was printed in Hong Kong, but is banned from mainland China. From my understanding of modern Chinese politics, I could see a book like this coming out under the reign of Hu Jintao, but I believe it would cause problems for the author under the current (at the time of this post) leadership of Xi Jinping.
To me, the book seemed to be well written with plenty of research that included a wide range of interviews, documents, and discussions from both the citizenry and government officials. I would love to sit down and talk to a person who grew up in China to get a more personal understanding of this part of Chinese history. However, this conversation would require people who don't automatically reject anything negative said about their country, nor people who only focus on the shortcomings of China.
This book was a giant learning experience for me and I felt that I walked away with a greater understanding of this calamitous part of modern Chinese history. The reason that I gave this book only three stars was that it was very dry at times and could be repetitive. The author partially organized this book geographically which led to the same themes (starvation, cadres abusing peasants, cannibalism, etc.) being revisited over and over again. In my personal opinion, a chronological and thematic organization of this book would make narrative a bit smoother for a Western reader.
In my last final thought, I think readers should remember that there were good and intelligent people during this time period. The main focus of this book was the causes and effects of the Great Leap Forward and this results highlighting the actions of governmental officials that further intensified the disaster. Yang Jisheng does give a few examples caring actions take by government cadres along with people who had a excellent grasp of what was really happening. However, this book shouldn't paint all of China one color. A plant can only grow a well as its environment allows.
To close out this review, I will post a quote by Chen Yun, a prominent leader in China during the 1980's and 90's that highlighted the complexities of understanding Mao Zedong and modern Chinese history.
"Had Mao died in 1956, his achievements would have been immortal. Had he died in 1966, he would still have been a great man but flawed. But he died in 1976. Alas, what can one say?"
The Big Take Away: Salt played a giant role in the development of human societies.
Before now, salt was always an ingredient that I found superfluous iThe Big Take Away: Salt played a giant role in the development of human societies.
Before now, salt was always an ingredient that I found superfluous in all of the recipes that I have cooked. Too much salt was an unpleasant taste for me, and I always had the notion that it was unhealthy for you. While too much of a good thing is almost always a negative, I never realized how much humans needed salt especially in the past.
I learned that many settlements throughout history had been located based on their access to salt resources, whether through mining or evaporation. I vaguely remember hearing that the human body needs salt to survive, but I never understood the further importance it played on the human diet. Before canning and refrigeration, salt was one of the few ways that people could preserve foodstuff, especially meat, for long periods of times. When a freshly slaughter pig couldn'tt be completely consumed promptly, salt came to the rescue.
Mark Kurlansky looked at different societies in different time periods and talk about the impact that the salt had on them. The following five themes came up the most frequently in the book, and they have been ordered based on my level of interest (starting with the greatest).
1) Salt's Impact on the Economy, Trade, & Industry 2) Salt's Impact on the Lives of People 3) Methods of Producing Salt 4) Salt's Use in Food Preservation 5) Recipes That Call for Salt
A lot of the information was quite fascinating, though I did find the recipes quite dull. They are definitely a look into the different culinary cultures throughout the ages, but they were tedious to read and hard to follow. At least for me, a description of how people used salt in their cooking would had sufficed.
Overall, how salt has affected civilization is an intriguing idea to read about. Mr. Kurlansky's writing style and some of the content he chose were not exactly my cup of tea, but they didn't turn me off from reading his book either. I have Paper, another of his books, on my reading list and look forward to learning about this pivotal human invention....more
World War I is a topic not covered greatly in American history classes. Other than highlighting that America came in and mopped up the mess in EuropeWorld War I is a topic not covered greatly in American history classes. Other than highlighting that America came in and mopped up the mess in Europe and that Woodrow Wilson had some lofty goals for making the world a better place, not much else was said before students continued on to the Great Depression.
On the surface, the situation in the world after the Great War seems hunky dory as peace had been finally achieved, especially from the perceptive of the winners. However, for people living in countries that were defeated, their situation was much different. After factoring out the Spanish Flu and starvation, the author estimates that four million people died a violent death as the landscape, especially in Eastern Europe, resettled both politically and in matters concerning territory.
Before the War, the established order of Imperial Powers that governed over various ethnic groups in a relative cohesive manner seemed to be solid. However, after four years of fighting and untold amounts of lives lost and financial expenditures, the Central Powers had to pay dearly to justify the sacrifices of the Allies. In addition to giant war reparations, former empires had to jettison some of their territories in order to allow for the "self determination" of people in these lands.
While the concepts of plebiscites allowing for people to vote for what country they want to live in sounds simple enough, it was much more complicated than that. Some areas were so heterogeneous that there was no clear majority. Other areas did have a ethnic group that was clearly the dominant party, but ended up in countries contrary to the majority. This was due to certain members of local governments being on good terms with Allies who were dictating the terms in how Eastern Europe was to reorganize.
It is clear that this was not smooth process which led to a wide array of social unrest and upheaval. People on the far Left wanted to emulate the Bolshevik success in Russia. Others swung to the Right and formed authoritarian parties in the hopes to restore order to their region, usually through violent means. In almost every area of turmoil during this time, the Jewish minority seemed to have always been labeled as the cause of all of the problems.
The author goes into a lot more details about these and other issues that Eastern Europe faced in the fallout of World War I. The end of the book reviews these calamities to help us understand the proceeding rise of Fascism and why many countries felt that they needed to correct the unfair treaty imposed onto them by the Allies during the mid part of the 20th century.
Overall, the book was fascinating and gave me a much better understanding of the consequences of World War I. The information presented was enlightening and kept me engaged, though the author's literary style was a bit on the side of a dry, text book.
On a personal note, I found out about this book from an article in the Wall Street Journal....more
I took an AP Art History class back in high school, but the young, immature me was not at that stage of life to fully appreciate what I was learning.I took an AP Art History class back in high school, but the young, immature me was not at that stage of life to fully appreciate what I was learning. Sixteen years later, I had a hankering to start learning about Art History again. After an internet search showed that an actual Art History textbook would cost me an arm and a leg, I checked the public library. There were a couple of Art History textbooks, but they were in the reference section and couldn't be taken out of the library. So, I decided on this book after searching the catalog a bit more.
I think that this book would be good for anybody with little to no knowledge of Art History and needed a starting point. The topics covered in this book are quite wide but not particularly deep. A more studied person of Art History will probably find this book severely lacking. After reading this book, the average reader will probably be able to tackle a more in depth book on Art History after getting a nice overview of the large subject.
One thing to note, that while this book does focus mostly on Western Art History, it does try to highlight some of the prominent works throughout the world in different areas and cultures. In addition tot this, the author does make it a point to talk about female artist, especially in time periods where their contributions are often overlooked.
One reason that this book took a bit longer than usual to finish is that I was actively searching pictures mentioned in the book on Google Images. After awhile, Google was able to do a good job of predicting the next picture I was looking for based on only a couple of letters that I had input. With the modern age of the internet, delegating the task of providing images to Google does have some benefits despite the (quite minimal amount of) effort needed to search for the various pieces of art. The biggest benefit is being able to zoom into pictures and see them in more detailed compared to relatively small pictures that are provided in the book.
Overall, it was a nice book and helped me remember quite a bit of what I learned in AP Art History. For any amateur Art History buffs, this book is a good starting point or a quick reference....more
After watching the PBS special Hamilton's America, I found out that this book was the catalyst behind the much talked about Broadway hit. With my inteAfter watching the PBS special Hamilton's America, I found out that this book was the catalyst behind the much talked about Broadway hit. With my interest in biographies and wanting to know about the protagonist of the show Hamilton, I added this book to my Audible queue.
My only previous knowledge of Alexander Hamilton was from the 1990's Got Milk? commercial and the front of the ten dollar bill. This book definitely cured my ignorance about this most distinct founding-father of America, or at least for the near future. Afterwards, I believe a quick scan of his Wikipedia Page will help me regain control of the facts about his life.
Hamilton's life was indeed full of many events ranging from politics, the military, and the establishment of America's commerce, interspersed with a wide range controversy, scandal, and his inability to keep his mouth shut for his own good. Beyond losing his life to Aaron Burr in a duel, Alexander Hamilton was probably also best known for his participation in The Federalist Papers and the creation of the Department of the Treasury.
Beyond these major accomplishments, there are two things that stuck with me about Alexander Hamilton. First was his neurotic attention to detail and the inhuman amount of effort he put into the tasks he threw himself at. The second was his dedication to doing what he believed was right, especially when it opposed to an overwhelming popular opinion. The case that highlights this the best was his participation of the debate between who would receive the benefits of US Government Bonds that had recently regained their value? Would it be the veterans from the Revolutionary War who received the bonds as payment for their services and sold far below their face value in desperate times? Or would the speculators who were the current bondholders receive the payment when they sold the bonds back to the Government? Alexander Hamilton saw the bigger picture in this situation and supported the rights of the speculators for being rewarded for taking on the risk when many felt the correct and just thing to do was to make sure the veterans received the full value of the bonds. This was a defining moment in setting the ground rules for the success of the American economy allowing it grow under the letter of the law and not arbitrariness.
Overall, the book was informative and loaded down with facts, but not nearly as dry as David McCullough's work. There was an undercurrent of excitement in the pages, but far from the levels that Buddy Levy is able to fill his books with. One thing that I did notice about this book was that Ron Chernow seems to be defender of Alexander Hamilton instead of his biographer. Many of Hamilton's antagonists, such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr, were portrayed in a light that was none too flattering.
This book was highly informative and I was able to learn a plethora about a key figure in the foundation of America that I knew almost nothing about. While Chernow's writing style was a bit too dry for my tastes, I would not be opposed to reading more books written by him in the future....more
I have become more and more interested in Ancient Roman and want to learn more about this most pronounced time period in European history. While thereI have become more and more interested in Ancient Roman and want to learn more about this most pronounced time period in European history. While there is a plethora of information to learn about the Romans, much the more well known lessons center around Julius Caesar. After reading Caesar: Life of a Colossus, I had a respectable foundation of knowledge for a part time history buff about the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra.
Despite this background, I was still able to learn in much more detail about the relationship between Julius and Cleopatra. It was surprising to me to learn that Caesar had a religious statue of Cleopatra erected in the Temple of Venus in the City of Rome. In addition to this, I never realized that she was present in Rome during the assassination of Caesar and had to skedaddle with a sense of urgency after Brutus and company finished the deed.
After a few chapters of this book, I found that the author's writing style was much akin to the method used by Karen Abbott in her book Sin in the SecAfter a few chapters of this book, I found that the author's writing style was much akin to the method used by Karen Abbott in her book Sin in the Second City. It's a bit ironic that I would have the same complaint for two different books about the history of Chicago at the end of the 19th century.
Erik Larson seems to bounce back and forth between writing history like a novel and writing history that reads like a novel. Let me clarify these two styles before continuing.
Writing History Like a Novel In this format, the author will commit two literary sins (in my opinion) when writing about history. First, the author will use excessively flowery prose. Second, the author will take liberty with the dialogue or thoughts of the historical figures in a way that is obvious that there is no documentation of what that person said or pondered. While the author may be an expert on the subject matter, this style makes me question the author's research if they have to resort to writing like this to get me to read the book.
Writing History that Reads Like a Novel In this situation, the author is able to organize and present the information from their research in a manner that is both accessible and draws me into the story they are telling. I find the style of writing history extremely enjoyable and I feel that I have learned a lot by the time I finish the book. The entire book feels like it just the presentation of the information from the research and no parts seem to have been expanded with the author's imagination. The best example I've found of this type of author so far is Buddy Levy.
As stated before, Erik Larson seems to zig and zag between these two styles of writing. At the beginning of most chapters, the author was able to show off his impressive arsenal of metaphors and similes. For me, this style of writing makes me start to feel that the author has use this literary style to make up for the lack of historical information.
In addition to this, Erik Larson wrote about the thoughts of a dying woman locked in windowless room. One of two things occurred for the writing of this scene. Erik Larson is making things up for the sake of his narrative that he has no way of supporting with documentation, or seances were a key resource for him during his research.
At other times in the book, the author was able to write history that read like a novel. The information he presented was both engrossing and didn't feel as if it was dolled up with literary pizzazz. One thing that Larson is able to do is use exciting and applicable direct quotes from his research that greatly enhanced the narrative. I think David McCullough could learn a thing or two from Larson when it comes to using quotations.
There was a lot of interesting information about the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago presented in this book. Just focusing on this alone without the flowery prose would have made an excellent book. There was plenty of information about the people behind the fair and the larger economical problems the country was facing at this time. Adding sections about a mayoral assassin and a serial killer is sure add some titillating excitement, but I found the plight of these two people were thrown in a bit haphazardly and seemed to take away from the main focus of the book which is the Exposition.
There was a lots of information in this book that made me feel that I was learning about unique time and place in American history. The author's writing style did detract from flow of the book at times, but for the most part he was able to stay focus and present information about the festival in a way that made me want to read on.
Will I go out and get another Erik Larson book to read? I personally won't be searching for his name at the local bookstore. Nor do I plan to actively search for his work at the library. However, if I see one of his books at Goodwill or a garage sale for a dollar, I'll get it for pile of books sitting next to my bed....more
I have become more and more interested in learning about the histories of the Americas, especially South America. This book was able to expand my undeI have become more and more interested in learning about the histories of the Americas, especially South America. This book was able to expand my understanding of the continents of the western hemisphere and the people the lived on it before the arrival of the Europeans. Some of it was a review to me while there was quite a bit new surprising information. One aspect that the author discusses at length is that the Native Americans pre-Columbus might not have been the completely nature friendly peoples that we envision today.
One thing that I respected was that the author explained the history, strengths, and weaknesses of different theories when discussing various topics that scholars haven't reached a consensus about. In his section about the Clovis culture, his writings explained the development of theories behind these people and the corresponding counter arguments. By the end of the chapter, there was no definite answer provided by author on what occurred over 10,000 years ago. Some people might find this frustrating due to the inconclusiveness, but I found it refreshing. There are many a book out there that try to push what they think is correct instead of trying to present the most information possible to help people understand.
As for the professionals in this field of study, I am sure lots of them will find plenty of faults in this book. I am sure that this extremely broad subject cannot be thoroughly discussed in one book and will be lacking information that some academics feel that is material to the understanding of pre-Columbus people. To me, I am not interested in the erudite minutia of academic text. Instead I prefer a book that does its best to help an average person better understand a segment of history that they are not normally exposed to.
There were a lot of different topics covered in this book about different peoples, regions, and time periods. Despite being called 1491, a lot of resources from Europeans after the discovery of these lands were used. While at time certain chapters seemed to be more focused on what happened to the Native Americans after the introduction of Europeans to the Americas, the author was able to show us what information we can derive from these accounts to help us better understand these two continents before 1492.
Overall the book was both informative and for the most part enjoyable. There were a couple of sections that failed to really hold my attention and I found my mind wandering. Other parts of the book had me completely captivated. I had heard some mixed reviews of this book and I had been hesitant to pick it up. However, I now look forward to follow up book, 1493....more
One of my new coworkers, who is also a bit of a history buff, recommended this book and then proceeded to lend it to me. Quite a few of my other maleOne of my new coworkers, who is also a bit of a history buff, recommended this book and then proceeded to lend it to me. Quite a few of my other male coworkers recognized this book when they saw me carrying it around and sang praises about it.
Despite knowing what happens in the book, it was still captivating. Alfred Lansing was able to gather the details of this event in history and present them in a manner that kept me turning the page. To me, this is a history book that reads like a novel.
While most history books will have pictures all grouped together in the middle, I really appreciated having the pictures located on the appropriate page so that I could easily attach the image to that phase of the narrative. In addition to that, it is amazing to see all of the details in these pictures that were taken at the beginning of the 20th century.
Overall, it was a great read. I was a little bit disappointed of how abruptly the book ended. I would've been interested in learning more about the proceeding lives of the survivors. Despite that, I am glad that I was able to expand my knowledge of human history through this book....more
Alternative Title: Anglo-centric Historical Tangents on Items Related to My Old British House
I first learned about Bill Bryson when I borrowed The LifAlternative Title: Anglo-centric Historical Tangents on Items Related to My Old British House
I first learned about Bill Bryson when I borrowed The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid from my father. The reason why I liked that book so much was the mixture of two parts comedy to one part modern American history. I wouldn't quote that book in an essay, but I greatly enjoyed the style of writing and got a nice introduction to life in the 50's and 60's in America.
I got a recommendation for this book on one of my favorite podcasts and picked it up. As I progressed through the book, I started to feel more and more ambivalent. Yes, I was learning a lot about things that I thought I never would. There were a couple of tidbits that might win me Jeopardy one day like the origin of the Baker's Dozen. However, the book just seemed to continually stray away from the stated goal found at the beginning.
The premise of the book was about the history of things that we take for granted that are in or make up a modern house. While a good chuck of the book was dedicated to that goal, I found a lot of things just seemed to stray off the mark. I had just recently finished A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman (which Bryson quoted in this book), and found that once in awhile Bryson's book would also go off onto long tangents. One such of these tangents was an entire chapter dedicated to the study. The author discussed how in his house the room with the most vermin killed was his study. From there, he talked about the history of rats and their extermination and then followed up with locus plagues during the time of settling of the Midwest. While the historical aspects of this chapter were fascinating, it felt that most of the material for this section was awkwardly squeezed into the book.
Trying to write the history about everything you can think of in a house is a Herculean task. However, virtually all of the historical information used in this book was from mostly British sources, a handful of American sources, and a smattering of French and Italian thrown in for good measure. I do not doubt that certain aspects of modern living is derived from the cultural of the lord and servant relationship found in the Downton Abbey time period of Western history. However, I found the large swaths of the book dedicated to the perilous relationship between British servants and homeowners took up way much more time than was needed.
While I have been critical about this book, it was extremely educational and Bill Bryson does a very nice job of writing in a manner that keeps the readers' attention in addition to being sprinkled with his wonderful wit and humor. However, I think the selection of topics and his organization of the book was something that kept me wanting. Instead of focusing on the entire house, I think a book dedicated to one or two rooms in house that dives much deeper into world history and how these aspects of our house developed would have made the topic much more solid. For example, if there was a book just about the history of the kitchen, one chapter could pertain to silverware and how different peoples in different times in different parts of the world developed their utensils for eating ending with how we ended up with the fork, butter knife, and spoon....more
To me, Pol Pot had always been one of the brutal leaders in history that I vaguely knew about. Cambodia. Khmer Rogue. Genocide. Just the general overvTo me, Pol Pot had always been one of the brutal leaders in history that I vaguely knew about. Cambodia. Khmer Rogue. Genocide. Just the general overview. On my way out of South Korea, I had a few dollars of credit left at the used book store and decided to pick this book up to help enlighten me about this figure in modern history.
You may notice that this book took me a long time to complete. There were two major factors that prevented me from finishing it in a timely manner, the foremost being the largest. First of all, my energies were focused on obtaining employment after my return to the United States. Second, this book was a bit of a chore to read since it was bogged down by relentless details that were not polished for accessible reading. Instead, it was a compilation of academic facts arranged in an organized manner that was semi-interesting due to the unique events that happened in real life. While I didn't dread picking up this book to continue reading, I just wasn't motivated by academic prose to delve into the book on a regular basis. My affinity for authors like Buddy Levy that can write history in a style that keeps me glued to the book without sacrificing detail was reinforced.
I do have to say that I feel much more informed about Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rogue. While this book didn't focus greatly on the atrocities committed by this organization, it went into lots of detail about how this man and his group was able to rise to power and frankly the idiotic methods of governing they pursued to achieve the envision of bringing communism to Cambodia. Some of their less than stellar decisions included forcing the two million inhabitants of the capital of Cambodia to relocate to the countryside all at once with little planning and foresight along with the abandonment of currency. I was quite shocked to learn that Pol Pot actually lived to 1998 before he passed away. I always thought by the end of the 70's the Khmer Rogue and Pol Pot no longer existent.
I still plan to read more about history and biographies of notable figures that I may be ignorant about after reading this book. However, I will choose my books more carefully since I don't want to slog through another author who writes in a dry academic style....more
I came into this book with very little knowledge about this story other than LeVar Burton played the main character on a television adaptation. I thouI came into this book with very little knowledge about this story other than LeVar Burton played the main character on a television adaptation. I thought this tale centered only around the horrible mistreatment of one slave. Instead, the book turned out to be a unique view of two hundred years of history from the eyes of minorities.
I was even more surprised to learn that while this book was a work of historical fiction, it was based off of the oral traditions of the author passed down to him through six generations. From these stories and his research, he was able to create a marvelous tale starting with Kunte Kinte of the village of Jufureh in western Africa all the way down to the author himself. I take the ‘facts’ of this story with a large grain of salt, but I do feel that it does an amazing job of illustrating history from a much different vantage point that people are used to from their text books.
The most fascinating section of the book was life of Kunte Kinte from a little boy to adulthood in the Gambia. Using information about the traditions of the people in the region, Alex Haley painted a wonderful story of what life was like for these people and potentially how his direct ancestor lived. I hadn’t realized before starting this book that a segment of Africans taken to the Americas as slaves were actually Muslims.
In addition to that, it was interesting to learn more about political and social issues in the South during the time of slavery. The story of slavery in American history focuses on rich plantation and their treatment of slaves. There were some issues that I had really never thought about until reading Roots. One such idea was young white and black children being raised together and the effects on their relationship later in life. In addition to that, I never remember learning about poor whites struggling to survive in the South in my history books. While practice of slavery is abhorrent, some of the black characters point out in this story that they aren't worrying about their next meal and surviving another day in comparison to the bottom tier of poor whites.
I don’t feel that this book is a historical novel, but I look at it as wonderful piece of historical fiction that used the author’s oral histories a wonderful starting point. The most amazing aspect of this book is that I was able to look at over 200 years of American history from a much different point of view than I am used to....more
After one of my friends saw that I had finished How the Refrigerator Changed History, she recommended this book. Now that I am back in America, I wasAfter one of my friends saw that I had finished How the Refrigerator Changed History, she recommended this book. Now that I am back in America, I was able to get this book quite quickly for free due to the excellent public library system where I lived. I really missed libraries while living overseas.
At first I was confused when I picked up the book on the hold shelf at the library, since the title was different from Adventures In Stationery, which was the name of the book in the link my friend recommended to me. To compound my confusion, the cover art of both books were identical except for the words. After reading through the forward, I found out that the author changed the title for the American audience due to the confusion that could be caused by the word Stationery. I do admit that I didn't know what a 'Stationery Stores' was when I first moved to Korea.
Overall, the book was fun and informative but the things that I did learn really didn't stick. When learning about the history of different office and school supplies, the author would use a mixture of chronological and function based organization. Each function or aspect of an item would be group together and presented chronologically. Transitions from one aspect to another were done logically and smoothly.
While some people might be of an opposite opinion, I felt that the author didn't get bound down in tedious details throughout the book. The narrative continued at what felt like a fast pace. James Ward would start off with one piece of information about a stationery product and have that part wrapped up in one or two paragraphs before moving onto the next section of that product's history. This was nice, but at the end of the chapter, my adult brain could only remember a couple of interesting tidbits of information that stood out. The one fact that really stuck with me was that the company 3M was originally the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. Look it up.
It was a nice book that was pretty easy to read compared to other non-fiction books that I have picked up. The author's humor grew on me and added a few chuckles. However, I just feel that the overview was so cursory, that much of the knowledge seems to have failed to find residency in my brain. ...more
While working in the local library on my job hunt, I noticed this book’s cover displayed outwards on the shelf to catch a passerby’s eye. As a casualWhile working in the local library on my job hunt, I noticed this book’s cover displayed outwards on the shelf to catch a passerby’s eye. As a casual history buff and a fan of learning how societies change, I was quick to pick this up and take it home.
Lydia Bjornlund does a nice job of giving an overview of the history and development of refrigeration and air conditioning. The book was light in text with nice pictures and facsimiles of early 20th century advertisement of home refrigerators. The information was far from overwhelming and did a wonderful job introducing the key players and inventions of this scientific innovation. The most interesting part was to see how different industries changed, reacted, disappeared, or thrived because of this technological advancement.
Though this book pales in comparison to James Burke’s TV Series Connections, it is definitely a good introduction to young adult readers to the concepts of cause and effect throughout history. On a side note, while I understand the basic concepts refrigeration, I still can’t wrap my head around on the mechanical processes needed to drop the temperature of the refrigerants to make the process happen. I found an informative Video on YouTube, but I think I need to take some remedial science classes....more
I want to like this book. I also want to like writings of Barbara Tuchman. But I can't. After reading this book and another of her books, The Guns ofI want to like this book. I also want to like writings of Barbara Tuchman. But I can't. After reading this book and another of her books, The Guns of August, I've decided to put Barbara Tuchman on my authors to avoid list in the subsection of 'History' along with David McCullough. Both of these authors are extremely knowledgeable people that have done a tremendous amount of research. However, their writing styles and manner of presenting information make it a chore to slog through their dense forest of detail.
A couple of sections in this book stood out and kept my attention. One such topic included the impact of the plague on medieval Europe. While there were more than enough details, the big picture look on how society changed was much more interesting and captivating to me than going through the extreme minutia of describing specific events found in other chapters. I enjoyed learning about the change in power dynamic between the peasants and nobles due to sudden shortage in labor and the latter's method maintain their control over the former.
Barbara Tuchman followed the life of Enguerrand de Coucy - who definitely led an interesting life and saw many different parts of Europe. From this common thread, the author was able to connect many different parts of life and events in 14th century Europe. However, I felt that the author was trying to cover way too many topics for this entire book, it made it extremely hard to keep everything organized.
In addition to this, the author could go on some prodigious tangents on subjects barely related to the main idea. One example included a passage discussing the preparations of invading Muslim lands across the Mediterranean. During this section, one the habits of one of the more fashion conscious nobles was discussed that led into an in depth look at the fashion habits of the times in such detail that they were on par with a scene described by Robert Jordan. Once this section was concluded, Barbara Tuchman snapped back to the military preparations as if she hadn't gone off on a totally unrelated topic.
I want to learn more about history, but I want to enjoy it. This book cemented my desire to only read history books that can keep me completely absorbed and wanting to turn the page (see Buddy Levy). To me, history is not a long list of facts and events. It is a story that can be both entertaining and educational. Unfortunately, Barbara Tuchman lacks the ability to present history in an engaging way that makes the information and story memorable....more
After to my return to America, I now have a large selection of books to choose from. With my recent stint of biographies, I decided to pick up this boAfter to my return to America, I now have a large selection of books to choose from. With my recent stint of biographies, I decided to pick up this book and continue the streak. I’ve really come to enjoy biographies after reading in biographies how these famous people enjoyed reading biographies growing up. Maybe some day my biographer will write in my biography that I enjoyed reading biographies and learned in these biographies the people I was reading about enjoyed biographies. I think this joke went on for too long.
John Adams was a pivotal person in the foundation of America and an interesting character. David McCullough goes into great detail to really bring the life and personality of Mr. Adams out so that people can better understand him better. As portrayed in popular culture such as the musical 1776, Adams has the reputation of being obnoxious and not well liked. With this book, I can better understand where this point of view comes from and how it overly generalizes the man. One thing that really stood out to me was the difficulty most of his progeny had in life, other than John Quincy Adams.
After this book, I do have a disdain for Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton since they were portrayed in quite a negative light in this book. I think I will have to remedy this problem by reading more biographies about these two men. I need to learn if these gentlemen were so unsavory as depicted in this book, or did David McCullough have a strong bias since John Adams was the victim of these two men’s political ambitions during his presidency.
The one key fault that I found with the book was the extreme dryness of the material. Much of the book's sources were from letters written by and to John Adams during his life, and these letters were quoted often and at length. It’s amazing at the amount of detail the Mr. McCullough was able to find in his research, but it is definitely a chore getting through this book. After finishing this book, I recollected that there was another book by the name of 1776 that contained lots of details and source material but was extremely dry. After looking it up, I realized it was also written by David McCullough.
I have been wanting to read the book Truman, which is also by Mr. McCullough, but now I am extremely hesitant to do so. Maybe more modern day source material will be easier to digest as a reader, but I fear that the same writing style would bore me too much to enjoy the book....more
After reading Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts, I was interested in learning more details about the life of the French General that had a major impaAfter reading Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts, I was interested in learning more details about the life of the French General that had a major impact on the world and lives of every European. In Robert's book, the Battle of Waterloo was summarized quite quickly and the author carried on to other events in Napoleon's life.
I had this book on my Audible queue for awhile. When I finally got to this book and looked it up on Goodreads, I was perplexed and a bit worried since I had a bit of a hard time finding it. At first, I came across Bernard Cornwell's novel Waterloo and thought that I had purchased a book on the tail end of a series.
After a bit more searching around Goodreads, I finally found the correct entry. I realized that Bernard Cornwell is a historical fiction novelist and this background strengthened his ability to tell history in an exciting manner that isn't dried out by pure academic prose. Like Buddy Levy, Cornwell was able to write a non-fiction historical book that reads almost like a novel.
The prelude and the actual events of the Battle of Waterloo were addressed in great detail, while the residual effects of the battle were a bit glossed over. Andrew Roberts goes into much more detail about the aftermath in his book. Because of this book, I have a much better understanding about English, Prussian, and French armies that took part in the battle and how the decisions of the different leaders affected the outcome.
When reading Andrew Roberts' book on Napoleon, I found myself dreading his section on military activities since he just didn't have the knack to write about battles that didn't bore me silly. Bernard Cornwell is Roberts' polar opposite when it comes to writing about military strategy and tactics. It might just be my personality, but I just loved his sections talking about the tactical usage of different types of military units in the Napoleonic times. His explanations of how infantry, cavalry, and artillery are used in battle made his narrative easier to follow and much more rewarding.
After this book, I am definitely inclined to check out his novels and series....more
I am angry that I spent money on this book. I am only consoled slightly that I bought it used and none of that money went directly to the author.
I hasI am angry that I spent money on this book. I am only consoled slightly that I bought it used and none of that money went directly to the author.
I hastily picked up this book during one of my rare visits to the English used book store since it is so far from my house. From my quick skim of the cover, I thought it would be an interesting piece about how Chinese technology influenced Europe during the Renaissance. I was gravely mistaken.
The crux to Gavin Menzies theory is that Chinese books from the 13th and 14th centuries have diagrams of inventions that were drawn by famous Italians, such as Leonard da Vinci and friends, and this is proof to his hypothesis that Zheng_He, a Chinese admiral and explorer traveled to Venice and Florence, Italy and handed over the corporeal equivalent of the 15th century Chinese Wikipedia. Unfortunately, there are no records from China, Europe, or any other place between to back up this claim. The entire argument is base solely on conjecture.
Lots of things just don't make sense in this book. Many things that he presents as evidence is just Menzies jumping to early conclusions. In one instance, the author argued that Zheng He and ships traveled through Cairo because a Chinese map from that time had a description of pyramids in Chinese. This statement is far from definitive since people who have visited or heard of these pyramids could have easily describe these structures to a Chinese map maker in China itself. I am not sure exactly which map the author was referring to, so I could not look into myself.
There were tons of author claims that a little bit of research online would leave any logically reasoning person more than a bit skeptic. I am not learned enough in the history of this time period to dive into records to disprove Menzies claims. However, the author only provides two data points to make all of his claims. Here are drawings of Chinese inventions created during the 13th and 14th centuries. Here are drawing similar to the previously mentioned Chinese inventions that were drawn by Italians some time after 1434. There seems to be no research in the dissemination of these Chinese inventions. Are there other records of these inventions anywhere in the lands between China and Europe? There are many ways these ideas could have spread to Europe that author doesn't mention in his book.
Near the end of the book, the author shoots off in another direction and tries prove that Chinese settle the New World. Again, a lot of his arguments were dubious and jumped to conclusion. For some of them, I was able make some cursory searches on Wikipedia to find some holes to arguments pretty quickly. In his section about Chinese Settlements on the Columbia River (which is located in Oregon, United States), he states, "...local people grew a potato-like vegetable called the wapato, which is native to China. A quick look on Wikipedia about the wapato shows that, "Most are native to South, Central, and North America, but there are also some from Europe, Africa, and Asia." Like stated before, his book shows us only two data points: these exist in China and Oregon. Therefore, China must have colonized Oregon. Nowhere does he mention that these plants are mostly found in the Americas, but are also found all over the world. Another example he states is that Nez Perce had "...very distinctive spotted horses called Appaloosa, shown in paintings of the Chinese Yuan dynasty." Again, after a brief look at Wikipedia, I was able to learn that horses with similar patterns "...appeared in artwork from Ancient Greece and Han dynasty China through the early modern period..." A cursory look at Wikipedia quickly pokes holes into his cursory presentation of two data points.
Beyond the plethora of conjecture, his writing at times could come across as quite sophomoric. In a section of his book comparing drawings from the Nong Sung to those of the Italians, his captions came across at times very condescending. When comparing two dragon pictures, he comments, "This European dragon kite does not seem frightening!" On the next page, he writes, "Taccola's fire lances do not seem so fierce!" This childish style of writing does nothing to enhance his arguments and only detracts from ideas.
There was only one glimmer of hope for me in this book full of conjecture. During one chapter, he had an interesting and coherent section about the development of Chinese technology. Beyond that one chapter, there was no real 'history' in this book. My coworker from China and majored in Chinese history was completely baffled when I gave her an overview of the arguments that Menzies made. She laughed out loud when I told her that the author believes that Zheng He died in area around Asheville, North Carolina. I'm not making up that last part. It's in this book. He claims he will explain it in further detail in a future book.
After this, I refuse to read any other books by this author. For anybody who can give praises to this book, it makes me lose faith in our education system to teach common logic and critical thinking....more
Of all the major 20th century conflicts that America was involved in, the Korean War was the war that I knew the least about. My knowledge of the warOf all the major 20th century conflicts that America was involved in, the Korean War was the war that I knew the least about. My knowledge of the war consisted of the following:
North Korea invaded South Korea and almost won. America and the UN stepped in and almost won. China got involved and almost won. President Truman and General MacArthur had a bit of tiff, and MacArthur got laid off. The war ended up being a stalemate for another two and half year before hostilities ceased.
After reading The Coldest Winter, I was able to flesh out this oversimplified narrative from the massive amount of details and personal stories from this book.
I found that like in Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation, David Halberstam was able to use his journalism experience to weave a historical narrative that was engaging and kept me turning the page. However, like Fisk, Halberstam presented a very one-sided view point, especially when it came to the depiction of General MacArthur and General Edward Almond. It is good to read a point of view that is critical of our past and doesn't white wash it. However, every piece of information about General MacArthur just reinforced the notion that he was completely vainglorious and pompous man completely out of touch with the realities of the world at the time. There was virtually nothing about what he had achieved in his lifetime to become the famous general that he was at the time the Korean War broke out.
Despite my misgivings about how the author portrayed certain people in a completely negative light and other only positively, I did learn a lot about the global politics around the world that lead up to the conflicts. I already knew about how Russia and America divided Korea at the 38th Parallel at the end of World War II, but I was surprised to learn so much about disagreement in American politics at the time raised by the China Lobby.
I was a bit surprised that the actual events of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir were pretty much skimmed over. However, on further reflection, I realized that this battle has been written about so much in other books, Halberstam decided to focus on other key battles that were turning points throughout the war that many people are much less familiar with.
It's true that I have quite a few critiques about this book, but they were greatly overshadowed by the sheer amount of information that I learned about the Korean War to make up for these shortcomings. Though I am more informed about the Vietnam War compared to the Korean War, I plan to look for David Halberstam's book The Best and the Brightest when I get back to the States....more
I think a bit of a better title for the book might be, "What Was Happening in Ancient Rome During the Life of Caesar." Context is important to betterI think a bit of a better title for the book might be, "What Was Happening in Ancient Rome During the Life of Caesar." Context is important to better understanding a situation, but sometimes the context of this book seemed to dominate parts of the book. While there is a lot of context in Andrew Robert's book Napoleon: A Life, it felt that Napoleon was the key central topic of the book.
Despite the tangential habits of Adrian Goldsworthy's writing style, I did learn a lot about Caesar, and even more about the culture and major events of 1st Century BCE Rome. Before this book, I had never heard of Sulla. However, after reading about his ascension to power in Rome, it help put into perspective some of the actions of Julius Caesar.
Like other large biographies I have read in my post-college years, I find that I am unable to thoroughly master all the minute details that I read, but am able to getting a much better general understanding of the person I am learning about. Like in Napoleon: A Life, certain sections of this book washed over me, while other sections I much more readily absorbed due to my immense fascination with that certain topic.
While not my favorite biography of all time, it still enlightened me to a major person in Western history, but more so to the environment of his times....more
Growing up, I knew about the famous pictures of the Marines (and as I learned one sailor) raising the US flag during World War II. The name Iwo Jima rGrowing up, I knew about the famous pictures of the Marines (and as I learned one sailor) raising the US flag during World War II. The name Iwo Jima rang a bell, but I could only tell you that it was a small island somewhere off in the Pacific Ocean.
Upon completing this book, I was surprised to how much I did not know about this iconic moment in US history. What was the biggest surprise to me was the fact that this photo was actually taken of the second flag raising on top of Mount Suribachi, to replace the original flag that was raised. I was also fascinated to learn about how the three surviving flag raisers after the Battle of Iwo Jima were toured around the States to help raise money for the 7th War Loan Drive.
What stuck with the most was the plight of Ira Hayes, a Prima Native America, who was suffering greatly from his combat experiences in the Pacific. The lack of understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the end of World War II did not help him in his recovery while he was being chauffeured around the country to promote the War Bonds.
I do respect the author for researching about his father, John Bradley, and his participation in the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima after his father passed away. He was able to bring a lot of information together to tell about the plight of the six men that were apart of history.
However, I feel that at times style of writing became a bit flowery at times in his attempt to add to the emotional impact of certain events. I understand that the Marines that participated in this battle were young, many of them ranging from 17 to 19 years old. Referring to them as 'boys' does drive home this point. However, when the combatants were referred to 'boys' repetitively, even multiple times within one page, I find that this takes away from the literary style of the book.
Having a strong personal and emotional connection to the subject matter can be both a benefit and a hindrance to the author. At times, being the son of one of the flag raisers helped the author tell his story, while at other times, his emotional interjections became a bit detrimental to the flow of the book. I believe the personal testimonies of the survivors and the reports concerning the Battle of Iwo Jima do more than enough to show the horrors of this conflict while the same time showing the uncommon valor of the Marines showed during the 35 days of fighting....more
The history of the shipping container might be dull and boring to the average reader, but I found impact and transformation this box had on the worldThe history of the shipping container might be dull and boring to the average reader, but I found impact and transformation this box had on the world economy quite fascinating.
Marc Levinson starts off describing the inefficient state of international sea bound trade that required a boat to sit idle in a port for hours if not days while a crew of longshoremen unloaded and loaded the boat by pallet or by piece. Starting in the 1950's, a few companies were willing to take the risk and invest the time and resources to change the foundation of shipping by having everything prepacked in containers that could be loaded onto the boat with large cranes more efficiently without the need of so many people.
The author goes on to talk about all the barriers and complications the shipping container had to face in order to become the dominate method of shipping throughout the world, including crowded urban harbors like New York City that just couldn't deal with the flow of traffic from trucks and trains into the harbor, stevedore and longshoremen Luddite unions trying to protect their jobs and way of life, and laws and regulations on interstate commerce that preventing railroads and trucking companies from taking part in this innovation.
Overall, the big picture of this book gave a great view of how this new method of shipping impacted cities, harbors, jobs, and overall industrial cultural. The amount of investment and planning by ports to adapt to this technology greatly changed the way shipping is done across the world. Small, unknown ports became some of the biggest trade centers in a short amount of time while traditional urban ports died off due to the inability to adapt to the way of shipping.
I have to say that the biggest downside to the book was the excessive amount of details that slowed down the flow of the book. I do prefer a book that has too many details, but presenting all of the minute information can be done better with appropriate literary means instead of the more dry academic style used. In addition to this, I was a little bit disappointed that the section about the environmental impact that the new shipping boats have was not gone into depth at all. The author just briefly stated that there were negative consequences on the environment, and that was about it.
This book definitely made me think about logistics a lot during my reading, but I think the author could've had made the book more captivating. ...more
Krakatoa was a vague household word that I don't remember when I first heard. It was reinforced in the modern conscious as a natural wonder in CivilizKrakatoa was a vague household word that I don't remember when I first heard. It was reinforced in the modern conscious as a natural wonder in Civilization 5 (which always seems to be just out of reach of any possible city placement). However, Krakatoa was just a collection of three hazy facts for me: Krakatoa was a giant volcanic eruption, it happened a long time ago, and it was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean / Asian region.
This book has brought the history of Krakatoa into better clarity for me. I can now confidently point out the location of Krakatoa on a map (west of Jakarta and south of Sumatra), and discuss some interesting facts about the eruptions, such as a the plethora of pumice rocks that were floating in the ocean.
There was lots of background information in the book that is directly (and indirectly) related to the eruption of Krakatoa, including the study of evolution by different scientists, plate tectonics, the Dutch East India Company, landscape paintings of amazing sunsets, and the telegraph wire. All of these aspects of the book really helped flesh out the story of Krakatoa without just being a narrow glimpse of facts concerning the eruption.
While I appreciate all that I have learned, I find the writing style made the book feel like it was meandering along. It made the book feel a bit inefficient and straying to the point of telling the reader about the impact Krakatoa had on the world....more
Like the second book in this series (which I happened to read first), this book was fascinating and full information about how different political ordLike the second book in this series (which I happened to read first), this book was fascinating and full information about how different political orders developed all throughout history.
Francis Fukuyama spends much of his time focusing on the history of China and the develop of their governments, the impact of Hinduism and other religions on political orders in India, the unique slavery system that the Ottomans used to run their empire, and various methods of ruling and their successes or failures that different pre-French Revolution European countries used. I was surprised to hear the author present a case of how European rule of law was developed by the Catholic Church by being its own entity instead of being run by a secular government.
I greatly enjoyed this book and learned how modern countries and their governments developed to what they are today. I would have to say Political Order and Political Decay - the next book - was a more interesting to me since it talked about contemporary governments and the challenges they will face to maintain their ability to be effective in running/ruling their people....more
The Internal Enemy focuses it's attention on a very narrow segment of the population, geographical area, and time period during American history. TherThe Internal Enemy focuses it's attention on a very narrow segment of the population, geographical area, and time period during American history. There was a lot of information that I learned concerning slavery, the treatment of slaves, the culture of the slaves and the slave owners, the reasons for wanting or not wanting to escape slavery, and the methods of running away.
Most of this book dealt with issue of run away slaves and their assistance to the British military during the War of 1812. It was fascinating to learn that the black Colonial Marines in the British navy were some of the best soldiers since they had intimate knowledge of the Virginian lands and wouldn't shirk in battle since capture or desertion meant returning to a life of slavery.
There was a large amount of data presented discussing the changes in Virginian system of slavery along with more than enough anecdotal stories bring that really painted a picture of the lives of the slaves during this time period.
While learning about the plight of southern slaves in American history is interesting and important, I would have to say that learning about the political situation that lead to the cause of the War of 1812 was the part of the book that really pulled me in. This war is often not thoroughly taught (or downright skipped) in many American history classes, so I greatly enjoyed learning more about the causes of this war the most in this book. ...more
This was an absolutely fascinating book for me and I felt that I learned so much. Even though I didn't realize that there was a first book to this smaThis was an absolutely fascinating book for me and I felt that I learned so much. Even though I didn't realize that there was a first book to this small series, the author did a wonderful job of summarizing his main points before he continued on to modern political orders.
Francis Fukuyama did a wonderful job of going into details (a few times a bit too far into detail) about how different political orders were established through the historical and cultural background of various countries and peoples. Some of these sections could be overwhelming due to the prodigious amount of information that the author presents, but luckily I have been reading quite a few history books over the last few years and keeping up with some of the current events, so this task wasn't as arduous as I expected after reading some online reviews.
One thing that was a bit of an eye opener for me was the idea that the three branch system (legislative, executive, and judicial) of check and balances that the United States prides itself on could actually be a hindrance to getting things done and achieving progress. Also, learning about how 19th century American politics shared many of the same properties to modern day Greek and Southern Italian politics came as a bit of shock.
Fukuyama is obviously a learned man and has many wonderful ideas to share. However, there was one concept that he brought up that I think he didn't think through all the way. During one section of the book he talked about how small time organizations are being destroyed from advances in media technology. Why would one want to see a local production of Swan Lake from an amateur group when they could rent the DVD or find a YouTube video of a professional group doing the same performance. While it is true that certain groups are going to suffer from technological advancement, one thing he hadn't looked at was the creation of new forms of media and culture of people creating a career by producing online videos on YouTube and other sites. Before the appearance of YouTube, this type of job/hobby would have been impossible.
Overall, a great book that I wouldn't object to reading/listening to again down the road. There was so much information that I learned and I got some new perspectives on how to look at the world. I greatly look forward to reading the book he wrote before this one. ...more
Will Durant continuous he epic march through western history by tackling Ancient Greece. Like in his first book, the author goes into great details abWill Durant continuous he epic march through western history by tackling Ancient Greece. Like in his first book, the author goes into great details about people, events, social structures, literature, arts, science, philosophy, and other topics for different regions and time periods from the foundations of Greece to the deterioration of the Hellenistic Period.
There is a plethora of information and it can be extremely overwhelming. Many times, especially in the parts of literature or the arts, I got a general idea of what was happening in that time period in Ancient Greece, but I really could grasp or truly absorb all the details that Durant presented.
I know every reader has their biased, but I felt that too much time was spent on the literature, arts, plays, and poetry of Ancient Greece and major events, people, and aspects of society could've been fleshed out more. I feel learning about the culture of Ancient Greece could've been better achieved - at least for me - with plenty of visual aids to reinforce what the author was explaining. Since I was listening to the audio book version of this book, I am not sure if these were present in the corporeal form of the book.
One final thing that I enjoyed about the author was his quirky little comments throughout the book. When talking about non-religious people, he referred to them at one point as "people to industrious to be pious". Overall Will Durant remains very objective in his work, but these little tidbits add a nice flare to his work....more