One of the central themes in the life of Henry VIII was his determination to secure his dynasty with a male heir. Although it may not have turned out...moreOne of the central themes in the life of Henry VIII was his determination to secure his dynasty with a male heir. Although it may not have turned out the way he preferred; his children certainly were legends in their own rights. John Guy portraits the Tudor children in “The Children of Henry VIII” (not to be confused with Alison Weir’s work with the same title published years previous).
Focusing on Henry Fitzroy, Mary, Edward VI, and Elizabeth; Guy’s thesis is a bit lost. Although not attempting individual biographies, it isn’t clear if Guy is demonstrating the links and relationships between the siblings or of Henry’s relations with his children. Both paths are covered but in a somewhat choppy way (although the chronological study of the siblings in relation to each other at the same times is a positive characteristic).
Also surprising, is the lack of detail provided by Guy (he is usually Mr. Detail) and the short length of the book. “The Children of Henry VIII” is best described as a brief summary often times with Guy cutting topics off abruptly. The book is best for very new readers to the topic or for those simply wanting a quick reminder. This lack of detail results in “The Children of Henry VIII” reading like a YA history piece versus targeting adults. It is all unexpected coming from Guy.
Although the text is heavily notated, much of it also contains speculation with heavy “must have” and “would have” statements where Guy’s own thoughts and biases bleed through. Also unwelcome are such descriptions as calling Katherine of Aragon, “Forty, fat, with no son…” which are clearly elementary and spiteful in the bluntest sense of the word. On the other hand, Guy also includes some research and detective-heavy findings which explain events with more clarity than some other authors and also debunks some myths.
A strong note of “The Children of Henry VIII” is the focus on Henry Fitzroy. Although readers won’t learn much new information regarding the other offspring; the spotlight on the Duke of Richmond is very pleasing as he is often ignored.
Some other areas of complaint include Guy’s tendencies of striking off on tangents while stating ‘facts’ with firm conviction which several other historians have questioned as disputable and then never detailing or arguing for these comments. A reader new to the topic will take these with merit and as hard truths.
As “The Children of Henry VIII” progresses, it does noticeably increase in detail although the thesis is still hazy and seems more like a very light biography. Once again, however, no new information is discoursed making it better for new readers. The main notable aspect is that the book is very readable. It is easy-to-ready and yet flows smoothly (even though the topic is disjointed). “The Children of Henry VIII” satisfies those history lovers who are more into a novel-like flow versus a dry, scholarly piece.
The ending of “The Children of Henry VIII” is relatively memorable; however it lacks depth and detail similar to the rest of the book. The work remains unclear in its “point” and continues to be firmly called a summary as it does not bring the Tudors to life and doesn’t necessarily explore new information.
“The Children of Henry VIII” contains illustrations throughout the text plus color plates. The sources used are respectfully credible and include many primary works. However, the notes aren’t quite annotated.
Unfortunately, not much can be said about Guy’s work as it is so ‘light’. “The Children of Henry VIII” isn’t terrible; it merely lacks detail and depth common to Guy’s works. It is a quick 1-day read and best for intro readers to the Tudor dynasty who don’t want to be overwhelmed with facts. Although a love-her-or-hate-her author; I much recommend Alison Weir’s “The Children of Henry VIII” over John Guy’s piece. (less)
Not many people are privy to the inner-quarters of the White House. One man, however, was let into this sanctum working as a butler for not one but EI...moreNot many people are privy to the inner-quarters of the White House. One man, however, was let into this sanctum working as a butler for not one but EIGHT US Presidents: Eugene Allen. Furthermore, Allen was a black man during crucial civil times. Will Haygood, the reporter who centralized Allen and inspired the film, “The Butler”, attempts to reveal the man in, “The Butler: A Witness to History”.
“The Butler” is not a memoir, portrait, or biography and is rather a choppy, mish-mash of storytelling basically being a marketing pamphlet for the film. In fact, the size and length is smaller and thinner than a novella. Only the first 28 pages truly focus on Allen and even these are shallow bullet points revealing no more than, “Allen did this at this and this time”. There are absolutely NO revelations of Allen’s background, psyche, thoughts, or even juicy, presidential gossip. The reader will not learn anything about Allen as “The Butler” is best described as an article on Haywood’s existing newspaper coverage.
As “The Butler” proceeds, the writing follows a choppy track mentioning some of Haygood’s own life, the history of black butlers and employees, and civil rights. Either Haygood can’t form a steady thought or he was struggling to meet a page quota. Haygood then turns another abrupt 180-degree turn, focusing on the history of black films before detailing the cast, crew, and production of “The Butler” film although even this is nothing more than marketing collateral.
“The Butler” concludes with a VERY brief highlighting of the key African American moments during each presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan which is meant to demonstrate the pivotal moments of history experienced by Allen in his time during White House service but the link in the writing isn’t clear.
The only bright linings in “The Butler” are two sections of colorplates including photos of both Allen and the film; and the fact that the book can be read in an hour.
“The Butler” is a major disappointment which is comparable to an article in TV Guide, not revealing any personal details of Allen’s life and is basically the story behind the story. There is really NO reason to read “The Butler” and it is, bluntly, a waste of time. (less)
Christina, Queen of Sweden is doomed to forever be known as the cross-dressing queen who abdicated her Protestant throne and turned to Catholicism. Ve...moreChristina, Queen of Sweden is doomed to forever be known as the cross-dressing queen who abdicated her Protestant throne and turned to Catholicism. Veronica Buckley explores the quirks of Christina’s personality in “Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric”.
Few books exist revolving around Queen Christina which puts a lot of pressure on Buckley’s writing skills. Luckily, Buckley’s language and flow are smooth, beautiful, and well-written. However, the beginning of “Christina, Queen of Sweden” requires a little kick-start, due to the focus being more on the political landscape and overall background of Sweden than on Christina.
Once the attention is on Christina, Buckley’s writing becomes more alive. The detail is meticulous and the reader truly gets a grasp for the events in Christina’s life, even as a child. This is supplemented by an almost memoir-like feel as Buckley tells the biography with an extensive amount of quotes from Christina. Even though these are from Christina speaking in hindsight, which always tampers with the views; it is still an open door into her psyche (although small).
On the other hand, Buckley is guilty of inconsistency with the inclination of going off on tangents and also back-tracking with chronology which causes both distraction and confusion. Plus, often times too much detail is given to seemingly unimportant events while more heavy moments are glossed over leaving some unanswered questions.
Another negative is Buckley’s story-telling which is more of a historical re-telling versus having the reader truly feel the events, recreated. This slows the pace. Not to mention, new information isn’t revealed. Yet, Buckley doesn’t take this as the green light for speculation or bias, which is kept to a minimum.
As “Christina, Queen of Sweden” progresses, Buckley’s writing becomes more flowery, descriptive, and narrative which is a pleasant departure from some of the dryness evident in the other parts of the work. This show Buckley’s versatility and begs for a penned historical fiction novel on Christina.
Sadly, the climatic event of Christina’s abdication of the throne lacks enlightenment. This would have been the opportune moment for Buckley to venture at Christina’s thoughts as most people seek crowns versus walk away from them and therefore, readers are curious at Christina’s inner-thoughts. Perhaps source do not exist on the matter but it is still a let-down.
About three-quarters through, “Christina, Queen of Sweden” drags and loses ‘oomph’. Although Christina’s life events are still odd/exciting enough to garner attention; Buckley seemingly loses passion which seeps through on her writing and slows the pace and strength of the work. This slower momentum continues to the end of “Christina, Queen of Sweden” which overly focuses on Rome and Papal events which is tiresome for those not interested in the topic. Queen Christina feels almost like a side-note at this point.
The conclusion of “Christina, Queen of Sweden” is surprisingly memorable as her funeral is described and Buckley waxes poetic about Christina’s persona. The reader will feel some sentiment and emotion; however, this sudden boost of energy doesn’t make sense with much of the previous flat text.
Overall, “Christina, Queen of Sweden” is not terribly written and is a good look at Christina’s life. Plus, it attracts history buffs with colorplates (although black and white) and suitable notes and sourced books. However, it solely teaches what Christina endured versus who she was and therefore the work contains closed windows. It does spark interest, though; and Buckley could satisfyingly pen a HF novel concerning Christina. Although not a prize history-biography, “Christina, Queen of Sweden” is suitable for those interested in queens. (less)
Although I can’t afford to visit my beloved England (some day!); I can start my itinerary ahead of time using “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suz...moreAlthough I can’t afford to visit my beloved England (some day!); I can start my itinerary ahead of time using “A Journey Through Tudor England” by Suzannah Lipscomb. Combining a guide book which you could easily find in an English tourist gift shop with elements of a history work, Lipscomb brings England to those who are unable to visit the country for themselves.
Not to be confused with a scholarly work, Lipscomb makes it clear in the introduction that she is attempting a lighter work without annotations but that she strives to keep the text as accurate as possible. Sadly, this is immediately thrown out the window when Lipscomb presents theories concerning the Princes in the Tower as fact on the second page of the work! Thus, it is suggested that some of the information be taken with a grain of salt (it is better for those readers not as versed with Tudor England).
“A Journey Through Tudor England” focuses more on where history happened, explaining locations/sites/buildings and the importance behind them. Don’t expect too much in-depth historic data with these short chapters, as the sections are basic overviews to wet your interest. On the other hand, these quick chapters are ideal for planning a trip to England or even referring to it when reading a Tudor historical fiction or non-fiction work.
Lipscomb sprinkles “A Journey Through Tudor England” with blurbs on various Tudor England topics (portraiture, clothing, housing, food, etc) which offers a more rounded insight into the era. However, missing are color plates or photos of the sites mentioned which would have enriched the text and allowed the reader to truly envision each location observed.
As “A Journey Through Tudor England” progresses, more unusual historic facts are included, which Lipscomb presents in a familiar (conversational) style making the information accessible and easy to understand. Beware, however, of many speculative statements.
Some strong positives of “A Journey Through Tudor England” are the details of describing what Tudor figures would have seen at the sites in their day and comparing it to modern times, the conversion of historic currencies to today, and the listing of existing Tudor artifacts at each site. This truly strengthens one’s planning of a visit to these sites. Lipscomb’s passion also shines through and is well supplemented by the clarity that she obviously visited each and every site she describes.
The ending is a bit abrupt; as some sort of summary would have been appreciated. However, the star of the show (so to speak) is the appendix, which amasses information on each site including: hours of operation, closest train, parking availability and prices, onsite accommodations, website links, etc. Basically everything a tourist needs to know in order to visit the mentioned spots, is provided by Lipscomb.
“A Journey Through Tudor England” is not a deep scholarly read, but its premise is unique focusing on the “where” in history versus the “what” and providing a guidebook for modern travelers. It also sparks interest in Lipscomb’s other works. “A Journey Through Tudor England” is suggested as a quick read for Tudor history fans. (less)
Growing up in Ohio, my childhood friends would go to the next door state of Pennsylvania and indulge themselves in family vacations to Hershey, PA. Al...moreGrowing up in Ohio, my childhood friends would go to the next door state of Pennsylvania and indulge themselves in family vacations to Hershey, PA. Although I was never privy to the amazing confectionary capital; the Hershey brand holds a special place in my heart. Michael D’Antonio presents a personal portrait of the man behind the company in “Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams”.
Despite its sweet topic, “Hershey” suffers from a slow and disjointed start focusing more on history in the Pennsylvania region and Hershey’s parents versus on Milton himself. Although D’Antonio attempts to use this approach to reveal Milton’s background and moral values; it fails to hold attention. Plus, much of it is chunky chronologically (a paragraph may begin with, “Ten years earlier…” and backtrack completely); therefore leaving unanswered questions and confusion.
It is quite clear that D’Antonio partook in extensive research. However, at some points it is too much as the text is clinical, report-like, and lacking passion. The areas directly concerning Milton are quite interesting, but they aren’t consistent and are more like blurbs. “Hershey” tends to be filled with speculation—maybes, probablys, and so forth—making the business-end strongly noted but the personal life of Milton questionable.
Even though “Hershey” discloses a bit more of Milton as it progresses; the focus continues to be on industry, confections, and consumer goods. D’Antonio describes the environment effecting Milton or the Hershey brand rather than Milton’s feelings/reactions. “Hershey” also suffers from some editing issues such as a lack of punctuation (I counted three times) which is disconcerting to some readers. Poor editing is also displayed with weak transitions and repetition: entire paragraphs are copy/pasted. “Hershey” flows like a college research paper with some undergraduate errors.
D’Antonio doesn’t seem to know the heart of his work, following tangents even as the pages dwindle. However, he does successfully show Milton’s positive and negatives by discussing employee strikes and unhappiness in details versus glossing over such topics.
The conclusion of “Hershey” is not particularly memorable with a spotlight on the business/financial state of the company instead of the man. In fact, D’Antonio revisits his introduction of the possible sale of the Hershey entity in 2002. This leaves an overall lack of opening up Hershey’s life and is instead a very generic look.
Other notes: “Hershey” includes a photo insert (black and white) but doesn’t use a substantial amount of source material for those seeking thorough details.
“Hershey” is ‘okay’ as an introduction but is not inclusive in revealing Milton’s inner thoughts/workings with the content of the book being equal to a Google search. “Hershey” is suitable source material for a historical fiction novel: why hasn’t anyone written a HF novel featuring Milton and his wife Catherine?! (less)
Those who heavily read historical-related material are familiar with “odd” rooms, items, and even customs in the common household of the past. However...moreThose who heavily read historical-related material are familiar with “odd” rooms, items, and even customs in the common household of the past. However, just how much do you know about the evolution of such things as: toilets or toilet paper, a hair dresser, or a fork? Lucy Worsley, known to BBC audiences for her television host work as the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, reveals the hidden “lives” of our homes in “If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home”.
“If Walls Could Talk” is divided into four parts (bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen) with each being further sub-divided into ‘sections’ or chapters studying items, furniture, customs, decorations, etc; which occupies the respective rooms. If you can think of it, Worsley examines it. However, each section is somewhat too general which is obviously a result of investigating a much too large breadth of topics.
Worsley’s writing style is easy-to-read and accessible with a friendly and modern tone. One can almost here her hosting a television program (note: I have never seen her work). Sometimes, this can be too informal, which when accompanied by the lack of proper research endnotes; makes “If Walls Could Talk” a light read (although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Even despite proper references, “If Walls Could Talk” is a great resource for those setting historical scenes (I realized many errors in historical fiction books I have read due to Worsley’s research).
“If Walls Could Talk” suffers from a consistency issue as some areas are drastically more detailed than others, creating an up-and-down pace with a waxing-and-weaning content strength. Regardless, Worsley still reveals many interesting and notable factoids of information worth repeating, some being new even to history buffs.
Worsely indicates the goal of not merely penning a social history work but also relating the evolutionary changes to today’s daily lives which she doesn’t necessarily achieve. Also, each “part” ends with an individual topic but would have flowed more smoothly with a summary/conclusion of the room detailed.
As other reviewers have noted, there is a slight disconnect for non-British readers as Worsley alludes to modern British life which has discrepancies with lives in America. On the other hand, “If Walls Could Talk” is up-to-date with many modern references such as cell phone photos.
“If Walls Could Talk” periodically makes references to Worsley’s television program and her actions therein. Even if the book is somewhat of a supplement to the program; this is unnecessary and also doesn’t mesh well nor makes sense in placement. Although not a major issue, it could be omitted. Also up for omission is Worsley’s tendency of insulting or complimenting historical figures. This feels unprofessional, speculative, and unrelated to the historical mirth of “If Walls Could Talk”. A lot of repetition is evident, as Worsley describes and defines certain terms word-for-word in various sections almost like they are copy/pasted.
Worsley’s conclusion is rather interesting and harks on the topic of depleting natural resources and what can be learned from the past to improve sustainability. “If Walls Could Talk” therefore circles the past well with the present.
Despite my seemingly strong complaints, “If Walls Could Talk” is an interesting piece with supplemental photos and color plates which will aid history writers or those newer to the study of history. Although I didn’t feel I learned too much; the reading was enjoyable and I will read Worsley again. “If Walls Could Talk” isn’t terrible and is recommended; but is an average read, in my opinion. (less)
Love her or hate her, Anne Boleyn is here to stay – even centuries after her execution. How much do we actually know about her is another story entire...moreLove her or hate her, Anne Boleyn is here to stay – even centuries after her execution. How much do we actually know about her is another story entirely: one which Susan Bordo attempts to capture in “The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen”.
Bordo’s “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” is not a typical history piece and certainly not a biography. It instead combines elements of a cultural study, history, social history, psychology, and academic argument into one work. Although the first section of “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” recaps common myths surrounding Anne, Henry VIII, and Anne & Henry as a couple; it is not detailed enough for readers new to the topic, who as a result, would be at a loss with the events, authors mentioned, rumors exposed, etc. Therefore, it is best suited for readers with knowledge on the Tudor reign.
“The Creation of Anne Boleyn” instantly suffers from some problems. Most noticeable is Bordo’s constant argument that individuals incorrectly judge Anne’s behaviors based on the morals of modern day rules. Yet, she then compares those same behaviors with modern similes in order to better acquaint the reader with their importance. This is hypocritical. Furthermore, although Bordo attempts to discredit other authors and theories, she doesn’t fully back up her own statements and is equally guilty of the biases and behaviors of those she is accusing (bluntly: Bordo lacks some academic value and is a bit too haughty in her views). Another issue is with repetition, where Bordo tends to drift off and then repeat recent ideas.
On the plus side, it is refreshing that Bordo is US-based so the view of Anne is from a unique/different angle from that of a staunch British author. This also gives “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” a fresh and modern feel. The book is inviting for those who subscribe to the school of thought that Henry was too strong of a personality to be ‘whipped’ by any female and thus Anne wasn’t some bewitching sexpot but merely the subject of Henry’s first lustful, obsessive, infatuation; as this appears to be the main thesis of Bordo’s work.
Although “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” is understandably a cultural study; the constant references to such modern Tudor-pieces as “The Tudors” television series is overused and weakens some of the text. However, Bordo doesn’t claim to lead a purely academic debate and does successfully raise many compelling and suggestive arguments revolving around well-known theories, which whether for or against, provoke deep thinking with the reader. This also encourages slower reading to “take it all in” versus just rushing through the book.
The second section of “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” outlines and discusses the various incarnates of Anne throughout history in a multitude of outlets. This is not only quite in-depth but also interesting. However, Bordo is guilty of composition/arguments likened to that of a college paper, at times. First of all, it is clear that she isn’t a historian and “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” feels like a gender ideology university assignment where Bordo merely picked Anne as a focal point. Second, there are times when Bordo presents a quote but crops it or fine-tunes it to prove her point (much like a journalist).
The third section continues on the route of various portrayals of Anne (mostly with pop culture references and other present day-takes); and is also interesting but heavily feels gossipy, provoking of a fight, and like a bashing of authors (from both Bordo and other authors). Although I am not a strong proponent of Philippa Gregory and so I agreed with Bordo’s opinions on her (she supports Robin Maxwell whom I dislike as much as PG); the insults were too much and this portion of the book felt childish, pointless, and lacking merit. In fact, Bordo comes off as arrogant and calls herself an “Anne Boleyn Scholar” while she, herself, is new to the topic and is less versed than I am! Take that, Bordo!
Luckily, this turns around when Bordo discusses why the portrayals of Anne occur in relation to ideologies, cultures, and feminism. Sadly, this is only expressed on a few pages and begs for extension. This spins into why people love Anne today based on these deeper psychologies and thus ends “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” on a strong note. Also pleasing are the amount of primary and secondary sources by Bordo, plus her offered notes.
“The Creation of Anne Boleyn” is not a terrible book. It has a strong premise with a unique angle which clearly exemplifies Bordo’s ardor on the topic. However, it begs for more meat, some clarity, and editing making it obvious that this is Bordo’s first foray into the topic. Although “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” didn’t blow me away and I expected a bit more, I do recommend it for fellow Tudorphiles or those interested in Anne Boleyn.
I would like to note that the author rudely addressed me as I asked an another author if Susan mentioning the author in her book effected her review. Susan jumped on me for questioning the said author's review and also implied that I lied that she called herself an "Anne Boleyn scholar" (if I had the book, I would quote the page). Her tone and way of addressing me puts a sour taste in my mouth and thus I will never recommend her work.(less)
One of the biggest open windows into the lives of royal figures is the letters written by their own hands (since we clearly can’t travel back into tim...moreOne of the biggest open windows into the lives of royal figures is the letters written by their own hands (since we clearly can’t travel back into time to actually converse with them personally). Anne Crawford, a former Assistant Keeper at the Public Record Office, compiled some letters (and biographies) of some of the Queens (or Queen Mothers) in “Letters of the Queens of England”.
Crawford introduces “Letter’s of the Queens of England” by announcing to the readers that some of the figures portrayed have more letters available than others which resulted in having to decide which would be more valuable to use/include in the anthology. Conversely, some Queens left no letters behind but were included with biographical coverage in order to provide a comprehensive look at these women. This explanation provided a clear insight into what to expect in “Letters of the Queens of England” and was thus, well appreciated.
The introduction also includes facts regarding when signatures were first used, which languages (and why) letters were written in, fertility rates, and marriages and is therefore a great queenship introduction to the average reader. Crawford immediately demonstrates intelligence and passion concerning the topic.
“Letters of the Queens of England” is divided into five sections (Norman Queens, Angevin Queens, Plantagenet, Lancastrian & York, and Tudor) which allows for readers to pick and choose their queens of interest. For those opting to read the text through, the chronology makes sense and is smooth. This can also be said about the writing style which is clearly well-researched but not overly scholarly (more of a brief look) resulting in an interesting and well-paced read.
At times, the abundance of names and figures can become difficult to handle especially for those readers unfamiliar with the histories. Crawford does provide genealogical charts and marriage tables in the appendix which helps to sort through the cluster.
Although it is effective and revealing to read letters written by queens; some of Crawford’s biases do bleed though regarding each queen, meaning that it is clear what image is being attempted to define each female and the message that is being reinforced with each letter (although the letters’ contexts are also described). Luckily, these opinions aren’t overly pushed down one’s throat (but they are still obvious).
“Letters of the Queens of England” becomes a bit repetitious and dry as each section describes the same elements of each queen’s life and the information therefore runs together without standout moments. On another negative note, “Letters of the Queens of England” also contains some inaccurate information. However, most were minor and the accuracy overall is acceptable. Although, some of these errors question the editor of the book (for example: Lady Rochford –Jane Boleyn—being called Anne).
Although purely personal, I would have preferred Crawford to have used a different font for the actual letters for ease of quick differentiation of the passages.
Overall, “Letters of the Queens of England” is a terrific resource for those doing research on specific queens and wanting to cite their letters in full. Plus, the content is certainly interesting for Anglophiles and is accessible and interesting with a better insight into the lives of these women. “Letters of the Queens of England” is suggested for royalty-lovers. (less)