Diana Mosley, one of the beautiful sisters in the eccentric Mitford family, was a controversial woman in 20th Century England. She was married at ageDiana Mosley, one of the beautiful sisters in the eccentric Mitford family, was a controversial woman in 20th Century England. She was married at age 18 to Bryan Guinness, a sweet generous man who loved her, and they had two sons. Backed by the Guinness fortune, she entertained lavishly and enjoyed traveling. In 1932 she was attracted to Sir Oswald Mosley, the anti-Semitic leader of the British Union of Fascists. The married womanizer was confident, virile, and charismatic, and Diana left her husband for Mosley. Mosley was a disciple of Mussolini who provided financial support for the Fascist movement in England. Mosley felt that every political campaign needed a scapegoat, and the Jews filled that role.
During the interwar years, Diana's sister Unity Mitford became obsessed with Adolf Hitler, and then introduced Diana to the German leader. Diana found him very charming and intelligent, and they became good friends. Hitler arranged the secret marriage of Mosley and Diana at the home of the Goebbels in 1936.
After World War II broke out, both Diana and Mosley were detailed and jailed because of their association with Hitler. They left behind their two young sons during more than three years of detention in a cold, dirty jail. After the war Mosley tried to get back into politics, but was unable to win a seat in Parliament.
Diana seemed to feel an obsessive love for Mosley. In spite of his philandering, his poor parenting of his children, and his domineering, self-centered personality, Diana was infatuated. She was attracted to strong, charismatic men, and overlooked Mosley's faults. The wealthy couple--with huge houses, cars, and servants--seemed to have little regard for those that had suffered during the war. Diana would never totally believe the full extent of the Holocaust.
Anne de Courcy tries to paint a balanced picture of Diana Mosley. She could be warm, witty, and charming in social situations, but her politics were terrible. After Diana died at age 92, the author summed up her life: "It was the end of a long life that had dazzled, outraged, horrified, charmed, shocked, beguiled, and appalled."...more
How did two brothers without any funding or engineering education become pioneers in aviation? David McCullough answers that question in his superb boHow did two brothers without any funding or engineering education become pioneers in aviation? David McCullough answers that question in his superb book, "The Wright Brothers". Wilbur and Orville grew up in a family that loved learning. They were also very intelligent, focused, persistent, and hard working. The brothers owned a bicycle shop, possessed exceptional mechanical ability, and designed their own bicycles. They were interested in flight, and gazed at birds for hours to study how wings were tilted to catch the air before they set up their first experiments. They had caught the spirit of invention that was prevalent in America at the turn of the century.
In 1900, they flew their first glider which was funded from sales of their bicycles. In 1903, the first motorized plane carrying a pilot was flown on the sandy Outer Banks of North Carolina. The brothers not only built the plane, but also had to build a shed for storage and housing, and dig a well to obtain fresh water. They faced dark swarms of mosquitoes, sandstorms, and freezing temperatures in the Outer Banks. They risked their lives, and Orville was seriously injured in 1908. France was the first country to embrace the Wright brothers, and a good portion of the book is about their work there.
The book includes many photographs, and quotes from letters from the brothers to family and others. In addition to being a good historian, author David McCullough is also an exciting storyteller. He really brought the personalities and endeavors of the Wright brothers alive for the reader....more
I'm listening to music from the pop-jazz singer Ethel Waters, and the blues great Bessie Smith as I'm writing. They are two of the creative women featI'm listening to music from the pop-jazz singer Ethel Waters, and the blues great Bessie Smith as I'm writing. They are two of the creative women featured in this book about bohemian New York, 1913-1930. Others were the poet and artist Mina Loy, the avant-garde publishers Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the poet Edna St Vincent Millay, the wealthy hostesses Mabel Dodge and A'Lelia Walker and their salons, and their artistic friends.
After the Great War, Victorian times were left behind as people grasped new freedoms through artistic pursuits, interesting conversation, and unconventional lifestyles. When Prohibition arrived in 1919, a network of speakeasies with bootleg liquor appeared where people of different social classes mixed. The stock market crash in 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. There were fewer funds for artistic expression and entertainment, and the mood of the country became more conservative.
The author chose women with creative, daring personalities as her subjects so it is a very entertaining book. Many of their friends also had interesting bohemian lifestyles which included sexual freedom. Wonderful black and white photographs showed the glamour of the era. But alcohol, stress, lack of money, and broken relationships led to difficulties in many cases. A book of this size is a great introduction to this passionate group of women in 1920s New York. It might prompt some readers to pick up a biography of one of these women that caught their interest. 3 1/2 stars....more
"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