Winter, 1941. Winston Churchill was on his way to meet the President of the United States.
He was going to spend Christmas at the White House. He wouldWinter, 1941. Winston Churchill was on his way to meet the President of the United States.
He was going to spend Christmas at the White House. He would not be stopped by a mere storm. He would not be stopped by a hurricane.
So begins the story of the Christmas meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt, where the two leaders of the free world partnered to establish the greatest military alliance in history. History and Christmas in one package, beautifully illustrated by the great Barry Moser.
I enjoyed the text and the illustrations, as Wood and Moser make almost as good a team as FDR and Winston. Adults should enjoy reading this to children at holiday time, and the little ones will love Moser's transparent watercolours.
Trust me to the bitter end.
Book Season = Winter (blood, toil, tears, and reindeer)...more
This title caught my eye because my mother spent time in a WWII prison camp and had to find her way home when the war ended. Because she had spent herThis title caught my eye because my mother spent time in a WWII prison camp and had to find her way home when the war ended. Because she had spent her childhood and teenage years walking and bicycling through Europe, she knew how to get back home, but she had to do so without food and with the fear of the rampaging Russians behind her. But really, what do you do? Where do you start? How do you manage without food or money or help? Who should be trusted? The relief at not being killed in camp gives way to the terror of lawless lands and the loss of a defined daily structure brings a whole new fear.
Before the war, Henriette Roosenburg was a middle-class Dutch girl with a passion for books and literature. After the Nazis took over the Netherlands, she joined the Dutch Resistance. The Germans caught her and sentenced her to death and she was sent to prison to await the final act. As she explains, there were four classes of prisoners in German jails:
1. The top class of prisoners were the nutbuckets (rapists and thieves). This group received extra privileges and good food and the opportunity to help run the camps.
2. The next class was composed of black marketeers, who also had enough to eat and could receive mail.
3. The third class was the political prisoner. This group was treated badly, but they at least had the right to get medical help.
4. The fourth and lowest class received no medical treatment and food was so scarce, most of these prisoners weighed less than 100 pounds. They lived in solitary confinement while awaiting execution. Roosenburg belonged to this group, also known as the Night and Fog People.
For the author, the walls came down in May of 1945, when she and her fellow cellmates discovered the Germans gone and the Russians unlocking cell doors. In the first tinge of excitement, each prisoner sang their national anthem, thrilled at the prospect of going home. Then they got the bad news: the Poles and Czechs could go home because they lived in the East. But the Russians refused to allow any liberated prisoners to make the trek to the West. Hope vanished for Roosenburg.
From the very first page to the very last page, I was completely absorbed in this book. Nothing goes as planned, even though there really isn't a set plan. Just get home. She doesn't really discuss her work as part of the resistance, so ego is left at the door. After reading this, my admiration for my mother went even higher.
When you play at being a peasant, you risk being killed by one.
This was a fun book! Along with the usual biographies and methods-of-death for these onWhen you play at being a peasant, you risk being killed by one.
This was a fun book! Along with the usual biographies and methods-of-death for these once supreme leading ladies, the reader can also cut out Doomed Queens paper dolls, answer quizzes, download backgrounds for the dolls, and discover what type of Doomed Queen you might be. This is as interactive as a p-book can get.
It's not as though I enjoy reading about royal damsels who lost their lives and/or kingdoms, but this is such a beautifully put together book, I must say I rather enjoyed the tales of woe. While we might know of Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, and Mary Queen of Scots, there were so many others who don't immediately come to mind when one says, "Doomed! They are doomed!".
Justice served late doesn't remedy death served early.
For instance, Gertrude of Meran was murdered by jealous Hungarian nobles who blamed her for the King's transfer of lands to the people. Poor Gertrude. Her husband didn't want to upset those evil aristocrats, so he simply re-married. But decades later, when her son came to power, well watch out you bad, bad killers. Little Bela patiently tracked them down, one by one. A little late for Gertrude, but justice was truly served.
Look before you leap onto the throne.
Then there was Oghul Ghaimish. This woman was the wife of the leader of the Mongol Empire, so she thought she was tough doody. When he died of too much drink, Oghul had to fight off the claims of yet another grandson of the Great Genghis...and he won. Being a woman, she was accused of being a witch and forced to commit suicide.
Kris Waldherr has designed a book full of fact and whimsy (in the illustrations). I certainly went to her website to see her Doomed Queens playing cards and other items perfect for a holiday stocking or two.
Book Season = Autumn (don't run from destiny)...more
I always enjoy the 'CHRONICLE OF' series of books, which present easy chronological histories of various rulers and empires throughout history. This oI always enjoy the 'CHRONICLE OF' series of books, which present easy chronological histories of various rulers and empires throughout history. This one focuses on the ancient Egyptians, starting in 3150 BC and ending with the death of the famous Cleopatra in 31 BC. Thousands of years in 224 pages is not an easy assignment.
The first Pharaoh was considered to be the man they called, 'Scorpion'. If you're going to be the first united ruler of Egypt, that's a great name to have. Although there were communities and local rulers prior to The Scorpion, he brought about the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, although his dynasty was brief. What caused the sudden emergence of the Delta People, who erupted like lotus flowers from the prehistoric waters? The belief is that as Southwestern Egypt became dryer and water disappeared, tribes moved closer to the Delta and the good soil created by the annual flooding of the Nile.
The book breaks the chapters into the Kingdoms, with each dynasty defined, including the Nubians and Greeks. There is a ton of information and eye candy galore (tombs, mummies, pyramids, gold) to keep the reader's curiosity satiated. I would recommend this book for anyone wanting a primer on Ancient Egypt or for anyone, like me, who had just watched Boris Karloff in THE MUMMY and found the middle silent-film sequence horrifying.
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.
The ocean to be cross'd, the distant to be brought near, The lands to be welded together. -Walt Whitman
The stories of the great explorers have always enThe ocean to be cross'd, the distant to be brought near, The lands to be welded together. -Walt Whitman
The stories of the great explorers have always enchanted me. I assumed they went off on their wild adventures simply for the heck of it all, but as this book makes clear, the main reason for the beginning of the 'Pathfinders' was to overcome the adverse balance of trade. Because China and the lands of the Indian Ocean provided silks and spices and gems, the Romans and later Europeans were the end-consumers with a burning desire to control the sources.
This book looks at exploration from the ancient times, providing chapters on every corner of the globe. Each discovery is presented chronologically, so that we see mankind grow braver as the centuries roll on. The Polynesians were quite exceptional, as they developed a system of sailing against the wind, which sounds crazy. However, by doing this, the masters of the currents could ensure the ability to return quickly with the wind, which could be life-saving. Hawaii was a one-off discovery, which allowed its culture to develop in isolation until Mr. Cook came along.
What makes an explorer go through great perils? The Norwegians felt the answer was in man's threefold nature. One motive is fame, another curiosity, and a third is lust for gain. Magellan's famous voyage was barely survived (minus the leader) thanks to scurvy and absolute fear. Franklin's men died in the frozen wastes of the Arctic. Chinese explorers fought with dragons who spit wind. Mysterious demons were blamed for lost paths and treacherous reefs.
"We are in an unknown world and we stop for...blubber."
The book shows there were always disputes about priorities. Find new lands or exploit new lands. Or do both. Propaganda was used to build up dreams of glory, such as naming the southern tip of Africa, the 'Cape of Good Hope'. As anyone who has ever sailed in those wild seas filled with huge rogue waves would know, the name was a misnomer. The greatest ocean in the world was named the 'Pacific' so that the next set of explorers would believe it was a benevolent and glassy field of blue.
Patriotic pride exempts explorers from sanity.
The author does not hold back on occasional slipped-in thoughts about various countries and explorers.
1. "Cortes is overrated as a conqueror."
2. "The English tend to be self-congratulatory about their maritime traditions."
3. "England was a realm of lightly gilded savagery and serious underachievement."
4. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was a "heroic failure".
I am right in the middle as to my thoughts about this publication. The research is there and I did rather enjoy some of the revisionist razzing. But the writing feels academic and the weird orientations of the maps...disoriented me. I had to keep turning the book around to get a feel as to where I was when a map appeared. Still, I could not stop reading, hearing the sirens much as the sailors heard the seas.
"Stop staring at the sail and steer by the feel of the wind on your cheeks."
Book Season = Summer (broiling sun, no water, no land)
William Hastings was a loyal Yorkist who served King Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses. When the King died, Hastings got caught between the machiWilliam Hastings was a loyal Yorkist who served King Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses. When the King died, Hastings got caught between the machinations of the the widowed Queen and the incoming Protector, the future Richard III. Hastings ended up losing his head.
However, he will be forever mentioned because he was the first patron of one of the most beautifully illuminated Book of Hours, now known as the Hastings Hours. This was one of the last of the great Flemish hand renderings, before the printing press signaled the eventual end of these artistic masterpieces.
This book is a small (can be held in one's palm) but highly effective overview of the Hours. It has artwork on every other page, with the lives of the saints in full view (St. Erasmus always makes me a bit queasy). The commentary by Janet Backhouse is a perfect accompaniment and is another example of the type of classy publications by the Pomegranate Books publishing group.
The Spanish Main. Those words ring with shipwrecks and conquest and ruthlessness and jewels. Encompassing the land/sea area of the Gulf of Mexico andThe Spanish Main. Those words ring with shipwrecks and conquest and ruthlessness and jewels. Encompassing the land/sea area of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, this area was the launching point for galleons returning to Spain, laden with cargo holds full of silver, gold, spices, and gems.
In the usual Time-Life style, this book is full of paintings to help tell the story. It starts with the story of the Aztecs and the loss of their empire by Cortes. From there, we get the illustrated cruelties of the new Spanish overlords (slow burnings, amputations, impalings) before the book segues into historical overview. Sir Francis Drake gets his own chapter as the dreaded 'Sea Serpent', but all the adventures from each century are wonderfully told.
I never lost interest, this book being one of the best in the Time-Life catalogue.
On September 1, 1923, the world seemed to have come to an end for Yokohama and Tokyo. Hit by aEarthquake. Fire. Tsunami. Typhoon. Mudslide. Massacre.
On September 1, 1923, the world seemed to have come to an end for Yokohama and Tokyo. Hit by a massive quake, more than 140,000 people perished as firestorms and enormous waves pummeled the land. The tremblor measured 7.9 on the Richter Scale and lasted for almost 10 minutes. As someone who lives in quakeland, that is hard to imagine. Really, it is an eternity. There was no place to run to, away, or from, as the tsunami that followed wiped out the seafront and the poor thousands who huddled in the open centre found they had chosen the worst spot...a fire tornado whipped up by enormous winds came after them and incinerated all 38,000 souls.
And then there was the Typhoid Fever outbreak and the ugly massacre of Koreans and various government opponents. Whew. Joshua Hammer makes an effort to prove that this incredible disaster was responsible for the future warpath taken by the Japanese government. I'm not sure I finished this book believing that premise, but he makes a valiant argument and some of it does make sense. I was more fascinated by the idea put forth that the massive storm taking place just before the quake hit was the very reason for the catastrophe, due to the pressure being exerted upon the faultline.
I was completely riveted by this book. Hammer's contention that the results led to the upswell of Japanese militarism has some valid points, but it's not as though Japan was a peaceful nation prior to the Great Kanto Earthquake. There is no doubt this disaster defined the Japanese culture for many decades, and it led to more green spaces and a revision of building codes. A great read for any history or catastrophe buff.
Book Season = Autumn (we call it "quake season")...more
What a blast! Tracing the around-the-world race between two female journalists in 1889, Matthew Goodman brings a dash of thrill and wonder to the evenWhat a blast! Tracing the around-the-world race between two female journalists in 1889, Matthew Goodman brings a dash of thrill and wonder to the event which makes it read as though it happened today. Jules Verne's famous story inspired the idea and two New York newspapers made it happen much to the delight of their absorbed readers.
...one could drift out on dreams that bring what life has failed to give...
The latter part of the nineteenth century brought forth a slew of new technologies which dazzled the world. Steam replaced sail, making ocean travel faster and a bit safer. Railroads criss-crossed countries and telegraph wires revolutionized communications. Rudyard Kipling noted, "They have killed their father Time". Travelling suddenly became easier and the news could be delivered in five minutes from thousands of miles away. As Paul Simon might say, it was the age of miracle and wonder.
Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were the two participants in the worldwide race, although Bly didn't know there was a competitor until the race was almost at the halfway mark. The two women were both journalists, but different in lifestyle and in writing style. While they both started in New York, Bly went eastward, taking a ship across the Atlantic, while Bisland began her trip on a westward-bound train. Their adventures brought them out of the secluded United States and into worlds of which they had only previously dreamed. This was still the time of empire and throughout their respective sojourns, the British sun never set.
Matthew Goodman makes this race a pure pleasure. With each vehicle of transport, with each new land reached, he has meticulous research at the ready (the selected bibliography is pages long), sprinkled with quotes from famous writers and explorers. His own words are not bad themselves.
Describing a New Orleans market, he notes pomegranates...like rubies in a bed of cotton. In the South China Sea, one can watch the sea quiver under the blinding sky. The post-Civil War American Southerners are described as marinated in the vinegar of defeat. And the magnificent paragraph on Japan, filled with colours and sparkles has wooden temples silvery with age.
There's not much wrong with this page-turner. I cheered both women on, then started picking my own winner. I selected a time of finish, hoping I was somewhere near the final result. I was there on the decks of ships, sick as the lurches on stormy waves brought me to the sides. Apart from the misspelling of a name on page 321, everything else was meticulous. I must read more from this author.
I started this book in a comfortable state-of-mind, in a comfortable chair, and in comfortable clothes. I finished in a humid environment, sweat pouriI started this book in a comfortable state-of-mind, in a comfortable chair, and in comfortable clothes. I finished in a humid environment, sweat pouring down, fighting off the mozzies trying to bite me. Yes, it was the height of summer, but still I think the writing had something to do with my changed state of affairs.
This book is quite an achievement, taking us from the early explorations of the Europeans to the Central America isthmus through the final completion via the Americans. The jungle is humid, one nation after another tries to build a canal, scores of people die trying, and sickness is everywhere. It wasn't just any malady, but Yellow Fever, aka "Blood Vomit". The French simply couldn't fight it, so the Yanks took over and eradicated the presence of the disease in Panama, allowing the construction of the canal to take place.
Matthew Parker's writing is engrossing. Just when you think one person is successful, they die, or their family dies, and we know everything has to start all over again. Today, we take the Panama Canal for granted, but what a magnificent story.
The years of 1910-1919 bring one word to my mind...conflict. This decade wasn't one of those "fun" decades. It would have to rank with the 1930s and tThe years of 1910-1919 bring one word to my mind...conflict. This decade wasn't one of those "fun" decades. It would have to rank with the 1930s and the 1970s as one of those "ugh" decades. The violence, the Great War, the Titanic, the death of the Old World Order, the Russian Revolution, the union strife, and the Easter Rising all bring images of constant turmoil. One ugly event after another until the 1920s brought radio and jazz and colour back to the forefront. Yes, the 1910s would count as a B&W type of era.
The whole world lost its temper.
I'd say the whole world lost its mind. In one image after another, including chopped heads, bombed-out bodies, and bloodstained tunics of Archdukes, this book tells a story without too many words. The photographs say it all.
The book is broken into fifteen chapters, including fashion and entertainment. People flocked to cinemas as the first film masterpieces astonished patrons and books, real books, were still craved by the masses.
STARFALL: I take one star away because the last chapter (ALL HUMAN LIFE) turns suddenly snarky. The captions are full of sarcasm, which is a complete turnaround from the rest of the book. I'm not sure if a different writer was used, but it strikes an uneven tone and quite honestly, is very disrespectful.
I found this book to be quite educational, although I don't think I would let the wee ones view it, as the very first pictures of the Chinese Revolution are very gruesome. But then again, it was a yucky decade.
Book Season = Year Round (last night was the end of the world)
The Irish are funny and friendly. The British are funny but not friendly. The Americans are friendly but not funny. The French are neither funny nor frieThe Irish are funny and friendly. The British are funny but not friendly. The Americans are friendly but not funny. The French are neither funny nor friendly.
Noting the above as stereotypes, Terry Eagleton establishes his premise in the beginning of the book and then zooms off to discuss the differences on both sides of "the pond". In less than 200 pages, he makes his points with love and familiarity.
He has some dillies:
1. Aliens are obviously biased toward Americans For some unfathomable reason, Americans get to be whisked off to other galaxies far more often than, say, Swedes or Slovenes.
2. National symbols It is suitable that the national symbol of the United States is the eagle. In Wales, it is the leek.
3. America's obsession with itself To see yourself from the outside, it is inadvisable to have an enormous ocean stretching on either side of you.
4. New World boldness The European instinct is either/or, while the American impulse is for both/and.
5. America's lack of charm Charm is more of a European quality than an American one. It is hard to be charming on a large scale, not least in a country where individual states dwarf entire European countries.
I truly enjoyed this book and Eagleton's asides. He has wonderful little cupcake sentences, full of sprinkles and icing. My only complaint is that I wish the book was a bit longer, so the laughter could continue.
The (American) nation itself is the work of the will. It is not just a country like any other, but a project, a vocation, a mission, a destiny, a spiritual enterprise. Nobody thinks this about Belgium. It is not the case with...the United Arab Emirates, which some Americans might suspect is a movie company.
Britain is not the work of the will. The British never planned their empire, for example. It just fell into their lap in a fit of absent-mindedness. They awoke one morning to find that they were governing India, even though nothing had been further from their thoughts.
Book Season = Summer (America = the Hoover vacuum cleaner of nations)
When television started to take moviegoers away from the silver screens, the industry decided to create the Cinerama process as a way to entice folksWhen television started to take moviegoers away from the silver screens, the industry decided to create the Cinerama process as a way to entice folks back to the sticky seats. For a while, it worked and epics were churned out to fill the huge screens. One of the movies produced was HOW THE WEST WAS WON, which described the migration made by Americans and immigrants to the Pacific.
This was quite a production. In those days, the studios published these glossy books to accompany the first roadshows. Using behind-the-scenes photographs, interviews, and a how-to introduction to Cinerama, this is an interesting book.
The movies were bigger then.
Book Season = Summer (Henry Fonda & Jimmy Stewart in wigs)...more
In the 1970s, film actor Robert Redford undertook a journey through the famous Outlaw Trail, where Butch Cassidy and his gang once roamed. Along the wIn the 1970s, film actor Robert Redford undertook a journey through the famous Outlaw Trail, where Butch Cassidy and his gang once roamed. Along the way, Redford met with still-living denizens who could remember the dying days of the last gunfighters. The book is inundated with photographs and the interviews with ranchers and octogenarians are enthralling.
During one conversation, Redford starts asking about Tom Horn and an old man responds with stories about several outlaws that had me quickly turning pages to keep up with his memories. Contemporary photos of ghost towns and abandoned homesteads mesh with B&W shots of 19th-century gunfighters on the gallows. This is a big gorgeous book which was recommended to me by a group of German tourists who were about to embark on the same adventure.
Too bad every Old West tale can't have Randolph Scott outwitting the bad guys, but some of the real-life stories were amazing"I'd hunt you for free."
Too bad every Old West tale can't have Randolph Scott outwitting the bad guys, but some of the real-life stories were amazing on their own. After reading this Time-Life book, it's understandable how the Gunfighters became part of the American mythological realm.
Judge Roy Parker. Jesse James. Billy The Kid. Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday. Bat Masterson. John Wesley Hardin. The Apache Kid. Truly a rogues' gallery (for & against the law). Some were psychos and some were mislabeled, but almost all of them died by the guns they worshiped. Photographs and illustrations help to bring the stories to life and everything is well-researched.
Stick 'em up!
Book Season = Summer (bandannas and horses)...more
Curiosity may be an enemy of felines, but it leadeth me to books which provide topics which intrigue me. Shipwrecks, plagues, Byzantium, and TREASURESCuriosity may be an enemy of felines, but it leadeth me to books which provide topics which intrigue me. Shipwrecks, plagues, Byzantium, and TREASURES! Perhaps it is the historical significance of simply knowing that a piece of gold that may have been held by an ancient king is still around today. How much treasure is still intact but somehow buried somewhere, either on land or in the sea? How much has been found but secretly resides in someone's wealthy collection? History.
For instance, "an old dusty book" turns out to be the Quedlinburg Gospels bound in gold and silver and found in a tiny Texas town. It was part of Box 13 which went missing after a Yank battalion was assigned to guard it in the last days of WWII.
This is one of those Time-Life books I used to swear I would never own. Yet somehow I have a shelf filling with these, as they provide perusal-friendly facts that can then be used on the next unsuspecting twitterer. The reading is easy, there are always illustrations or photographs and second reviews are quite possible.