This book was originally published in the 1950s under the title "Historical Enigmas," however the title was changed in 2002, presumably to build on thThis book was originally published in the 1950s under the title "Historical Enigmas," however the title was changed in 2002, presumably to build on the film adaption of The Man in the Iron Mask released around that time. I mention this because the current title may make you think this is a book on global historical mysteries, when in fact it is entirely focused on England (there is a story about Scotland, and the Man in the Iron Mask is a French tale, however the links to England in these stories are still strong).
There is a real mixture of stuff in this book. It deals with huge historical mysteries involving monarchs, such as the death of William II, the murder of the Princes in the Tower, and the father of Elizabeth I, but also deals with the murder of less historical characters and in some cases fairly trivial people (in the grand scheme of history anyway). The themes of the mysteries often vary as well. Some are who-done-its and would be at home in a Sherlock Holmes novel. Others are attempts to unravel the motives behind actions. Some leave a satisfying conclusion that has you convinced of the truth, others just leave you with a plausible theory. In some cases the author just establishes a motive and seems to think that is enough.
Unfortunately, the variety in these stories extends to the quality too. Some are great--everyone should read his theory on the murder of the Princes in the Tower, that is erroneously credited to Richard III. Others are just too dull. I appreciate that the executioner of Charles I is a massive historical figure, but the suspects are all just random unknowns, and it is hard to care who did the act. There is also variety in the strength of his theories. While I enjoyed the chapter on Elizabeth I's parentage, the author places huge weight on the belief of Mary I with no real evidence to support it. I was not convinced by this argument. In addition, the death of William II is discussed too briefly. The author discusses witchcraft and then, with little explanation, suggests that the King sacrificed himself for a cult belief. I need a lot more explanation to be convinced of something so outlandish.
Finally, there is also inconsistency in the quality of the writing. For the most part, the author is great at telling the background and main story, however his theories often read like an afterthought. You sometimes get 20 pages of story and then 1.5 pages saying why it was X. Some of the stories are badly written, and the author's liberal use of commas instead of full stops can be infuriating. A number of passages were completely incomprehensible to me even after re-reads. It should be noted that in some cases the author has actually written full books on the subject, and I think he sometimes struggles to contract the story into 20 or so pages. He seems to assume the reader has certain knowledge of the topic already and introduces irrelevant details while leaving out important ones. In short, this book would have benefited from a thorough edit.
Despite these criticisms, I have no qualms in recommending the book. The author is a fantastic researcher. To write this in the pre-internet era must have required a devotion to research that I can only begin to imagine. He uncovers some truly great stuff. A search on Wikipedia for some of the cases shows that unfortunately his work does not seem to have permeated the mainstream. This is a shame. In some cases, the author proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the common belief is erroneous, and he deserves great credit for his work. This book also gets a decent score because it has motivated me to read further into a number of topics including English legal history. Some of the miscarriages of justice discussed in this book, are quite incredible and I want to read more about how this corrupt legal system developed and changed over the years. Any book that motivates you to read more, must be worth a decent score.
I sometimes suspect that writing a short history of England is more challenging than writing a complete 10 volume account. Any attempt to squeeze someI sometimes suspect that writing a short history of England is more challenging than writing a complete 10 volume account. Any attempt to squeeze some 1500 years of history as gorgeously complex as that of England's is going to have to leave a lot out. This of course invites people to criticize the author for leaving out their favorite bit. And of course I am going to do exactly that later on.
First lets look at what this book does well. It is lovely to look at and includes some great pictures. Since this book is designed to look good on a shelf or coffee table that is important. The book is well subdivided into chapters and the author does a good job of discussing wider themes throughout the book. The switch from focusing on monarchs to Prime Ministers was perhaps a little too quick, but otherwise it was well done. Perhaps this seems like faint praise, but the book is well written and an enjoyable read for what it is, but I do have some problems with it that stop me recommending it as the perfect short history of England.
When writing a short history of this kind, one can imagine that the book starts out too long and ends up being savagely edited by the author and/or publisher. This has clearly happened here. Sometimes names of people and places were mentioned with no introduction and some of the transitions were poor. Parts of the book have far to many names introduced in too short a space and it just becomes a mess and hard to follow. Other times I would be left intrigued and wanting to know more. For example, when discussing Ann Bolin (Henry VIII second wife) the book says that her infidelity was discovered after an elaborate conspiracy was hatched, but it never says was that conspiracy was! Why introduce it in such a maner only to leave it out? It is probably on the editing floor somewhere.
Some sections are notably brief and leave out things that the average person reading this book will want to know more about. The book glosses over the supposed murder of the Two Princes by Richard III. Whatever the historical value and accuracy of that story, people want to know about it. And as with many of these books, way too much time is devoted to modern events. I admit there are far more sources to draw on for this stuff, but that doesn't mean it is worthy of inclusion. I don't think that Gordon Brown will be featuring in a history book written 1000 years from now. The author also puts the 2010 coalition government in a list of the 100 most significant events in English history. Really? Other omissions include a tendency to mention Ireland in passing yet offer no context nor explanation for the creation of the Irish Republic. If you are going to include Ireland in a book covering English history (and I would argue that you should) then give a proper explanation.
So overall, the book would have been a lot better had it been 500 pages and not 350. 500 is still short in my view and would have allowed the author to include additional material. It is a good book, and if you need a VERY short history of England this will suit you. Others will need to keep looking or bite the bullet and get stuck into something more comprehensive. Personally, I am going to finally read Simon Schama's three part history of England.
First up, I am a huge fan of Only Fools and Horses. It is genuinely my favourite TV show of all time. I rewatched the entire collection recently and jFirst up, I am a huge fan of Only Fools and Horses. It is genuinely my favourite TV show of all time. I rewatched the entire collection recently and just found myself in awe on numerous occasions--I just cannot believe that the script is the result of one man's work. I saw this book come out last year and was waiting for it to come out on paperback, however I saw it on Amazon second-hand for about $4! Couldn't believe my luck.
The book attempts to go behind the scenes on the production of this classic show--how it started, how it nearly got cancelled, how it kept going, and how it ended. Unfortunately for books like this, we now have access to a lot of this information on Wikipedia and elsewhere online. I already knew about David Jason's background and the same for the others. That said, there were definitely some insights into the production process and initial stages that was new.
The vast majority of the book is taken up analysing episodes of the show. This can be a bit boring if you already know the episode off-by-heart. The author actually criticises some of the episodes, which is good because they certainly weren't all perfect (Royal Flush for one!). However the author seems obsessed with how a sitcom should be structured and he criticises an episode just for not conforming to a pattern (1/3 intro, 1/3 set-up, 1/3 big ending, or something like that). There are also some facts about the show that are incorrect and that is amazing for a book such as this. For example, he quotes a scene where Rodney asks Trigger why he calls him Dave. The discussion took place in the town hall, but the author somehow mistakes this for the Nag's Head.
This was an enjoyable and very quick read, but I really didn't get a lot from it and it isn't worth paying full price for. All I picked up is some information on the formation of the show and a few lunch meetings that led to the extra episodes. In this day-and-age when DVD extras often contain hours of extra detail, this is all a bit underwhelming. Still, for the most part, fans will enjoy this one, even if it is just for the reminders of a phenomenal show.
You always get one thing from a Bill Bryson book--an excellent sense of humour. He has this excellent dry wit that means he can talk about anything anYou always get one thing from a Bill Bryson book--an excellent sense of humour. He has this excellent dry wit that means he can talk about anything and be entertaining. He has actually kind of proved this point by writing about topics as varied as Shakespeare, dialects, travel, science, growing up, etc.
This book is about the history of the American language i.e. English with a twist. It's more than that though really. It's kind of a history of America, with details about the language thrown in. Bryson should really just write an American history book. He does a great job of correcting a lot of the commonly believed rumours that most Americans believe. These parts of the book are brilliant.
Unfortunately I did not enjoy the sections where he just lists new words and throws in a few details. These bits are hard to read and a little dry. That should be a big problem in a book that is all about language, but these bits are few enough that you can just skip them and enjoy the rest of the book.
Another thing that needs to be noted is how well researched this book is. Sometimes I was reading it and was just blown away by some of the things he comes up with.
Not his best, but still has everything you need from a Bryson book.
I really enjoyed O'Farrell's last book on the history of Britain (2000 years up to world war 2). There are plenty of stories ripe for his style of humI really enjoyed O'Farrell's last book on the history of Britain (2000 years up to world war 2). There are plenty of stories ripe for his style of humour in that time period, with Kings and Queens doing things they shouldn't. Unfortunately the 60 year period covered in this book is not quite so suitable for this humour. Yes there are a lot of jokes to be made, but the book tries to cram in too many.
The last book could just select the interesting bits of history, but this one attempts to cover nearly every relevant factual event in the last 60 years of British history. In doing this it barely scratches the surface of any one topic while covering some topics that could easily be left out.
This book is good for what it is--light relief. If you need a broad overview of British history then this will do the job. Once your interest in the period has been sparked, pick up an Andrew Marr book instead. ...more
I've never reviewed a history book before. I've only read a handful, so that isn't really surprising. I live in the US now, so I figured I should atteI've never reviewed a history book before. I've only read a handful, so that isn't really surprising. I live in the US now, so I figured I should attempt to learn a bit more about its history, or what there is of it anyway. I read a more basic history book a while back for a general overview, and this was designed to firm up that knowledge a little.
I chose a book by Schama because I am fairly familiar with his work (and I didn't really want to read a bit by a US historian - they are often sickeningly positive!). Anyway, I would probably recommend this book but it's a close call.
First of all, I would not recommend this book to those who are not already familiar with US history. The book is not chronological and tends to jump around a lot. It also does not tend to go into a lot of detail. Instead historical events are told through the eyes of some individuals and this means you miss out on a lot of the surrounding events.
Second, the book takes some detours that I struggled to stick with. In fact, I did actually skip a few pages here and there (and quite a few when it got to a long section on irrigation!).
The book holds itself out as a book that examines where America is going based on where it has been. To be honest, it is a history book that is divided into four sections: 1) the civil war, 2) the slave trade, 3) the Mexican influence (and 1812 war), and 4) the American Indians.
For the most part, these areas are covered in enough to detail to keep you interested, but the book did not keep me hooked. This may just be Schama's style, but some of the writing came across as a little pretentious and more like a travel book in places. I would be prepared to read another book by the author, but I am in no rush to do so.
First of all, as a caveat to this review, I should point out that I was reading this as a required reading as part of my law school's Civil ProcedureFirst of all, as a caveat to this review, I should point out that I was reading this as a required reading as part of my law school's Civil Procedure course. I think in some ways this makes me think of reading the book as more of a chore and therefore may have detracted from my enjoyment of it somewhat, however for the most part, my knowledge of American Civil Procedure probably meant I enjoyed it more than I may have done a year ago.
This book is about a small town near Boston. Some of the children in this town sucumb to leukemia and other similar illnesses. Furthermore, the treatment of these illnesses is not as effective as would normally be expected. One of the mothers of a sick child is certain that there are too many cases of leukemia for it to be natural. She is certain that something is causing it. The residents of this town also have a problem with undrinkable water and start to complain and request that the wells are shut down. You can see where this is going now can't you?
A lawyer takes up the case and for most of the book we follow him in his attempts to prove the link between two big companies in the area and the sick children. The book really does a good job of showing what a lawyer actually does on a day-to-day basis and explains most of the legal rules that are relevant in the case. You also get dragged along in the story, and I have to admit that in places I really could not put it down.
So why only 3 out of 5? There were a few problems for me that hindered my enjoyment of the book. I don't feel that the author did a very good job of explaining the technical nature of the water problem and the actions of the companies. Having read the whole book I still don't know what I would have decided were I a jury member. For me this is a big problem with a book of this kind. I think it would have helped if there had been more in the way of pictures and diagrams to help explain things. This would have been especially effective if we were presented to them at the same time as they go to the jury in the trial part of this book.
Another issue for me was some biased writing that appeared to creep in. The author wrote this book by following the lawyer around for an extended period of time. I feel the author gives a really honest appraisal of the team of lawyers, BUT it does appear that the author has formed some views as to certain other characters, such as the judge, that he does not deal with in a non-biased way. The reader is left cursing at the judge on a regular basis, but no real attempt is made to see the other side. I think the author was influenced by the lawyer's frustration towards the judge.
Anyway, to summarise, all-in-all I would recommend this book. If you are particularly interested/knowledgable about American law then you can probably think of this as a 4 star book....more