"Much of Europe viewed the scattered Balkan provinces, states, and principalities as something of a perpetual menace. 'Some damn foolish thing in the"Much of Europe viewed the scattered Balkan provinces, states, and principalities as something of a perpetual menace. 'Some damn foolish thing in the Balkans,' German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck predicted, would sooner or later plunge all of Europe into a general war." On June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo. This was the spark that set off a conflict between Austria and Serbia, drawing in the major countries of Europe due to their alliances, resulting in World War I.
This biography centers on the relationships between Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his family, especially Sophie. The reactionary Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Franz Josef, was not happy to have his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, as his heir. Franz Ferdinand was conservative, arrogant, and militaristic, but he wanted to reform the Austrian Empire by having the numerous states under federal control, similar to the system in the United States. But it was doubtful if the Hungarians would give up any power and agree to that plan. The archduke also did not have the personality of a popular leader, and looked down on the Hungarians and Slavs.
Emperor Franz Josef was even more upset when Franz Ferdinand chose Sophie Chotek as his wife. Sophie came from an aristocratic Bohemian family, but she was not a Habsburg or from one of the reigning European families. She was serving as a lady-in-waiting to a Habsburg archduchess. Eventually they were allowed to marry if Franz Ferdinand agreed to a morganatic marriage, where the archduke's titles and privileges would not pass on to his wife and children since they were of unequal rank. Sophie was made Princess (later Duchess) of Hohenberg, but was treated in a humiliating manner by the court because of her unequal status. Her serene disposition helped her to behave with grace and dignity.
The archduke and his beautiful wife were a romantic, loving couple, and affectionate parents to their three children. King George V and Queen Mary of Great Britain, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany arranged several private meetings with the couple. The archduke enjoyed their friendships and appreciated their kind treatment of his wife.
The book has quite a bit of detail about the events leading up to that fateful day in Sarajevo. "June 28 was St Vitus's Day, or Vitovdan...the Serb national holiday marking the 1389 battle of Kosovo, when the Turkish army had reduced Serbia to vassals of the Ottoman Empire. It was a day on which every Serb vowed revenge against unwelcome foreign intruders, when every Serb nationalist would fight for Greater Serbia." The book raised the question of whether the Austrians played a role in setting up the archduke without adequate security. We'll never know the answer, but it could have been an opportunity to get rid of an unpopular heir to the throne.
The authors wrote a very readable biography of the archduke. They had access to unpublished letters provided by the archduke's grandchildren. The archduke's personal life as a husband and father is presented in a very favorable light. The book also chronicles the difficult lives of the children after their parents' deaths. Quite a bit of history is incorporated into the book, especially about Austria. But more scholarly books should be read by anyone wanting a more complete picture of the conflicts brewing, leading up to World War I. 3 1/2 stars, rounding up to 4 stars....more
This interesting biography of Jack Kerouac also gives a lot of information about other important literary figures of the Beat Generation--Neal CassadyThis interesting biography of Jack Kerouac also gives a lot of information about other important literary figures of the Beat Generation--Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gary Snyder. Kerouad's most famous work is On the Road, based partly on his travels with Neal Cassady. Kerouac's rebellious lifestyle was an alternative to the values of the older generation. The influence of the Beats continued into the 1960s when they were an inspiration to the hippie movement. This YA book gives a good quick overview of Kerouac's life and the Beats....more
Bill Bryson has written an entertaining, humorous biography of Shakespeare. There is little concrete evidence about Shakespeare's life four hundred yeBill Bryson has written an entertaining, humorous biography of Shakespeare. There is little concrete evidence about Shakespeare's life four hundred years ago since few records were kept, spelling was not standardized, and many records were destroyed by fire. The book gives us an overview of British history of the era, the history of the theater at that time, and where Shakespeare probably fit into it.
Shakespeare gave the English language new words that have never been heard before, especially by attaching "un-" prefixes to existing words to create new words such as unmask, unhand, unlock, etc. He also was a phrasemaker and is responsible for phrases we use today such as "vanish into thin air", "bag and baggage", "play fast and loose", "the milk of human kindness", etc. Plays were owned by the theater companies that produced them. It is fortunate that John Heminges and Henry Condell printed a folio editon of his works seven years after Shakespeare's death.
Bryson devotes a chapter to the controversy of whether Shakespeare actually wrote the plays attributed to him. He gives good reasons why Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, and others could not have been the author of Shakespeare's plays. Bryson's view of Marlowe as the author of Shakespeare's plays was summed up, "He was the right age (just two months older than Shakespeare), had the requisite talent, and would certainly have had ample leisure after 1593, assuming he wasn't too dead to work."
Bryson has such an enjoyable style of writing that the reader feels that they are having a conversation about Shakespeare with him. Bryson does not pretend to be a Shakespeare scholar, and does not analyze his works. But he has given the reader a good foundation about his subject, and there are plenty of scholarly books out there for anyone who wants more information....more
This is a charming biography of L.M. Montagomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books, many other children's books, several adult novels, andThis is a charming biography of L.M. Montagomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books, many other children's books, several adult novels, and many poems and short stories. Born in 1874, Maud Montgomery was raised by her grandparents on Prince Edward Island after her mother died and her father traveled to western Canada. In addition to her writing, she had a strong interest in photography and the occult. She married in her late thirties to a minister, moved to Ontario, and raised two sons. It was a difficult marriage since her husband suffered from depression, and she inwardly rebelled at always having to present herself as the perfect minister's wife. She died in 1942.
Montgomery's books are still popular today, and have been translated into other languages. Anne of Green Gables is included as a literature text in Japanese schools, and Prince Edward Island has an especially large number of Japanese visitors visiting L.M. Montgomery's childhood home.
This was an enjoyable biography suitable for older children or young adults. It included photographs of important family members and homes....more
This is a good short overview of Winston Churchill's life, written on a young adult level. I liked it that the author put in a chapter about his earlyThis is a good short overview of Winston Churchill's life, written on a young adult level. I liked it that the author put in a chapter about his early schooling, his collection of 1500 toy soldiers that he used for mock historical battles, and his love of horses since the younger students would probably relate to these stories of Churchill's boyhood. It contains pictures of Churchill at various times in his life, Chartwell, and some other prominent people. The maps of the countries in Europe involved in World War I and World War II are also helpful, especially since some of the countries have different names or borders. The maps also help one realize what an overwhelming task that a small country like Great Britain faced in World War II. Some of Churchill's famous quotes are included in the text, and the reader can just picture him addressing Great Britain during the war. The book ends with a timeline of Churchill's life, and it's just amazing that one man could have done so much....more
Elisabeth Gille's famous mother, the author Irene Nemirovsky, was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis in France when Elisabeth was only five yeaElisabeth Gille's famous mother, the author Irene Nemirovsky, was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis in France when Elisabeth was only five years old. Since the author has few memories of her mother, she painstakingly researched her life, read her books, and interviewed people who remembered her. She writes the book in the first person, as if Irene herself was writing her memoir. This was a little disconcerting at first since her daughter writes in a very different style than Irene Nemirovsky.
Irene Nemirovsky's early years in Kiev and St. Petersburg were very priveleged since she was the daughter of the chairman of a large international bank. Her family escaped to France during the Russian Revolution. Irene loved France, and spoke the language fluently since she was taught by a French governess throughout her childhood. Part I of this book tells of Irene's memories of her childhood, as if she is writing in 1929. Part II is set in 1942, and pictures Irene's memories of her writing career, the Nazi invasion of France, and the fears of the Jewish residents. The book ends with her arrest by the Gestapo.
The book was originally written in French, and the major historical and literary references were familiar. A French audience would probably recognize more of the minor French and Russian political, literary, and business names woven into this story of Irene Nemirovsky's life. I would recommend reading one of Irene Nemirovsky's books to get the full impact of the story....more
Theodore Roosevelt needed to lift his spirits after his defeat in the 1912 presidential election in a third-party run. He had been invited for a lectuTheodore Roosevelt needed to lift his spirits after his defeat in the 1912 presidential election in a third-party run. He had been invited for a lecture tour in South America, and added the challenge of a trip to the Amazon region. When he reached Brazil, he changed his plans from exploring a known river to embarking on a journey along the uncharted River of Doubt. Theodore Roosevelt was accompanied by his son Kermit Roosevelt, the Brazilian explorer Colonel Candido Rondon, a naturalist, a doctor, and the camaradas who toiled as paddlers and porters. Rondon acted as the commander, and mapped the river.
The expedition was poorly supplied with boats that were too heavy for paddling through the rapids. The River of Doubt was dangerous with poisonous snakes, piranhas, impassable rapids and waterfalls, the possibility of attack by Indians, and constant swarms of insects. The men were starving when they ran low on provisions, and were fighting malaria and other infections. Although there were many people on this journey to admire, it is questionable if they would have survived without the leadership of Colonel Rondon.
The book is an adventure story as well as a historical account of part of Roosevelt's life. The author, a former writer and editor for National Geographic, impressed me with her nature writing as well. She adds interesting information about everything from the science of tectonic plates forming the Andes to how the plants and animals of the Amazon evolved to ensure survival. I enjoyed this Brazilian adventure through the uncharted territory on the River of Doubt....more
Walter Isaacson has written a well-researched biography of Albert Einstein. He shows Einstein as a curious, imaginative, rebellious young man who visuWalter Isaacson has written a well-researched biography of Albert Einstein. He shows Einstein as a curious, imaginative, rebellious young man who visualized thought experiments to solve problems. Einstein is presented not only as the physicist who came up with the theory of relativity, but also as a political figure. He was involved in Jewish causes, was a pacifist, and believed in free thought and individual freedom. He was a gentle, friendly man with endless curiosity. His biggest flaw seemed to be in pushing his marriages and children to the backseat, in comparison to the endless time he spent on science. In this book, the reader learns about both Einstein the man, and Einstein the scientist. Readers with some science background will appreciate this book more since Isaacson includes quite a bit of complex information about relativity and other areas of physics....more
Jeanne Baret pretended to be a young man to work as an assistant to botanist Philibert Commerson on a voyage around the world in 1765. Dressed in men'Jeanne Baret pretended to be a young man to work as an assistant to botanist Philibert Commerson on a voyage around the world in 1765. Dressed in men's clothes, she spent over two years as the only woman on a French ship. The French government was especially interested in plants that were spices or had medicinal value. During the sea voyage, Baret did much of the collecting of the specimens since Commerson was suffering from a leg injury.
Jeanne Baret was a French peasant herb woman when she met Commerson a few years prior, and taught him about medicinal plants. He shared his knowledge of classifications of plants with her, and soon they were living and working together in Paris.
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of nature as the ship went through the Straits of Magellan, and during their stop at Tahiti. Baret and Commerson left the ship in Mauritius, and researched the island's plants until Commerson's death. Baret later married and returned by ship to France.
Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the world, but most people have never heard of her. She has never been given credit for the enormous amount of work she did on the ocean voyage collecting and classifying plants that were new to the Western world. This book is a well-researched book into her life, with many quotes from journals written by the officers on the ship. Unfortunately, very little primary source material mentions Baret, although more is written about Commerson, because women were not supposed to sail on the ship and women were not usually educated in scientific professions in the 18th Century. The book started off a little slow, then picked up as Baret traveled around the world. I would recommend this "first read" book to readers who are interested in history, science, foreign countries, and the achievements of women....more
There has always been a lot of interest in Connecticut about Katharine Hepburn who was born in Hartford and retired along the Connecticut shore. ThatThere has always been a lot of interest in Connecticut about Katharine Hepburn who was born in Hartford and retired along the Connecticut shore. That was probably why our book group librarian picked this book about Hepburn and the love of her life, the talented Spencer Tracy. This biography tells about their parents and childhoods as well as their years as actors. Katharine Hepburn was a very independent woman, unusual for that time. The married Spencer Tracy was a very popular movie star, but fought the demon of alcoholism. He could go on alcoholic binges for days, getting violent and destructive before he passed out. Hepburn and Tracy had a special chemistry, both on and off screen, and she was instrumental in keeping him sober.
I really enjoyed reading about their childhoods and later lives. Some of the book about their early movie careers was not quite as interesting, probably in part because I was not as familiar with the screen stars of that era. The book had been very well researched with some letters, telegrams, and photos included. The author had interviewed Hepburn many times over a fifteen year period for other publications before writing this book.
This book is a prequel to Alexandra Fuller's previous book, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. It tells the story of Nicola Fuller, the author's mothThis book is a prequel to Alexandra Fuller's previous book, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. It tells the story of Nicola Fuller, the author's mother, who was born in Scotland and grew up in Kenya. Nicola was an artistic, humorous, courageous woman with a passion for animals, especially horses.
Nicola and her husband, Tim Fuller, have a love of Africa. The author writes, "Land is Mum's love affair and it is Dad's religion." They moved from farm to farm from Kenya to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to Zambia during the time when colonial rule was ending. During that time they lived through wars and the tragic deaths of three young children. The violent end of colonialism is told through the eyes of a white English/Scotch family.
Now, Nicola and Tim are in Zambia operating a fish farm along a river, growing bananas, and raising sheep. They enjoy relaxing at the end of the day under a special tree on their property planted by the headmen in their village. The Tree of Forgetfulness holds the ancestors inside it. If there is sickness or trouble, you sit underneath the Tree of Forgetfulness and your ancestors help you resolve your problems. Their time in Zambia has been a healing time for them.
The beginning of this book might be a little confusing to someone who has not read the author's previous book. But then it turns into a very readable story of her mother that is admiring, honest, and humorous....more
Louis Zamperini was a World War II bombardier in a plane over the Pacific when it crashed into the ocean. He and two other airmen fought to stay aliveLouis Zamperini was a World War II bombardier in a plane over the Pacific when it crashed into the ocean. He and two other airmen fought to stay alive in a poorly stocked life raft. As sharks circled their raft, they had to improvise to try to catch a few birds and fish to stay alive. Louis' resilience, learned as an Olympic runner, served him well, and he and his pilot friend Allen Phillips survived. But the Japanese caught them and they were imprisoned under inhumane conditions with sadistic guards and very little food. Louis' childhood experiences as a delinquent came in handy while he was a POW, since he was already experienced at stealing food.
This book tells an amazing story of the bravery of the prisoners in the Japanese POW camps. It also shows how little was done to help them deal with post-traumatic stress after their ordeal was over. Louis was drowning in alcohol before he turned to God to help him forgive the brutal guards and move ahead in his life. The book also celebrates the love of the families back home who never stopped believing that their loved ones would be found. Laura Hillenbrand has written an engaging, well researched biography. ...more