Erik Larson writes a very readable, popular history and Thunderstruck is no exception. Here he weaves the story of Guglielmo Marconi's development ofErik Larson writes a very readable, popular history and Thunderstruck is no exception. Here he weaves the story of Guglielmo Marconi's development of ship-to-shore and transatlantic wireless communication into the tale of the H. H. Crippen murder. Larson offers a detailed and interesting vision of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, before World War I. In telling his twin stories, he manages to include a lot of information about tensions between England and Germany that fomented the first world war, the general xenophobia and trepidation of late Victorian English society, and the widespread (if uneasy) faith and interest in scientific developments occurring at the time. Larson excels at depicting his two main characters, Marconi and Crippen, in sympathetic but critical lights, thereby providing his reader with fairly subtle psychological insights. As an avid reader of academic history, I will always miss the extensive annotation of a scholarly volume, but Larson clearly did archival, primary research and displays a good command of his material. That he can turn this into a coherent and interesting narrative should not detract from his credibility (which sometimes is the case with popular history). Overall a fun, informative (and quick!) read....more
Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia is an exceptional resource to anyone interested in the religion and culture of ancient Mesopotamia. ItGods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia is an exceptional resource to anyone interested in the religion and culture of ancient Mesopotamia. It is a thoroughly cross-referenced dictionary full of entries on everything from individual gods and goddesses like "Enki" or "Ishtar", to broad topics like "afterlife" or "divination". A brief but informative introduction lays out the broad periods of Mesopotamian culture, what is even meant by the geographical and cultural term "Mesopotamia", and which people constituted Mesopotamians at a given time. Most terms and names are rendered in Sumerian and Akkadian.
I've added it to my "perpetually reading" shelf because, as a reference work, I can see myself consulting it again and again as I read other historical or archaeological works about ancient Mesopotamia. I found this slender volume in the overstuffed shelves of Brattle Book Shop (a fabulous used bookstore in downtown Boston) and consider it a gem of a find. Even though it is a dictionary with discrete, alphabetically ordered entries, I read it cover to cover and was sorry to finish it....more
I read this book for the ladies, so I am shelving it as (among other things) unfinished. I cannot speak to the life of Abbot John of Cantimpre, whichI read this book for the ladies, so I am shelving it as (among other things) unfinished. I cannot speak to the life of Abbot John of Cantimpre, which I did not read.
The other three lives are fascinating for a variety of reasons. Thomas of Cantimpre personally knew Lutgard of Aywieres, and spoke with living people who had known Christina and Margaret. Each of these three women lived in the same region in what is now Belgium and were part of a new female mysticism that became prominent in the 12th and 13th centuries, in part through the attention paid to them by clerics like Thomas, who found their apostolic and frankly sensual expressions of piety extremely compelling. Thomas may not have chosen a word like "sensual" to describe the religious behavior and belief of these three saints but he did, for instance, write Lutgard's life as an echo of the Song of Songs, a famously erotic canonical text, so I am still comfortable making this assertion.
I also generally enjoy reading saints lives because it interests me to consider what kind of separation between real life and fictive/religious tropes are on display (a separation, I should add, that I doubt Thomas or his contemporaries understood in the way we do). Christina's feats, for example, mirror then-current descriptions of the torments of Purgatory...did Thomas add some of these feats retroactively to make his narrative comport more obviously with these descriptions? Or did Christina purposefully choose the torments she underwent so that they resonated with extant traditions concerning Purgatory?
And, of course, there is always the question of just what really happened with these folks. Did Christina really lactate magically to feed herself? Did Lutgard truly dispense a magical wet willy that restored a deaf person's hearing? And if not, what did happen? It's not historically important or answerable to ask this kind of question, but I think it's inescapable to a modern person's sense of curiosity about such otherworldly activities portrayed so matter-of-factly.
I picked this book up originally to educate myself about Christina, whom I depicted in a painting. I am grateful to the wonderful editors, translators and annotators of this volume that I could find her life together with these others, which I may never otherwise have explored. ...more
Alternately enlightening and mystifying study of medieval modes of perception based on period chronicles. Brandt's assertions about how medieval peoplAlternately enlightening and mystifying study of medieval modes of perception based on period chronicles. Brandt's assertions about how medieval people perceived their world, especially nature and man, are sometimes compelling and sometimes utterly opaque. His textual analysis is problematic in that he generally does a poor job in showing the reader precisely how he is reading the passages in question to arrive at his hypotheses. He also seems to take something written in a chronicle as one-to-one evidence for how medieval folks actually led their lives, confusing literature for reality and, for example, confusing how a male chronicler describes a woman's life with a medieval woman's life. For all of that, there are some really interesting points in this short volume. Worth a read if you're really really into medieval history. ...more
This is a really thorough, fascinating look at a much neglected part of American history. Tracing the rise and fall of Comanche power in the southernThis is a really thorough, fascinating look at a much neglected part of American history. Tracing the rise and fall of Comanche power in the southern plains of present-day U.S., Hämäläinen really fills in some gaping holes in America's "grand old" narrative (which famously omits so many events and people) by reinserting the story of the development of Comanche trade dominance from about 1650-1850. For these centuries, the Comanche successfully adapted from a more agrarian existence in the mountains to a nomadic way of life on the plains and proceeded to totally dominate trade relationships between themselves, Spain in the southwest, first France and then the U.S. in Louisiana, as well as the host of other tribes who held stakes in the region's resources (including the Wichita and Utes, among many others).
The only reason this is going down in my shelves as "unfinished" is because Hämäläinen's writing is a little dry and repetitive, and I happened into a used bookstore this last weekend where I found a slew of academic medieval history books that I could not wait to get started on. I also left the Comanche at the peak of their power, where I hadn't yet read too much about the extreme shittiness of my forebears (as a Euro-American) as regards their conduct, in connection with their megalomaniacal race for "manifest destiny", toward the Indian tribes of what would become the United States. I want to pick this up again at some point and finish the story, but knowing a bit of what was coming surely made it a little easier to lay aside for now. ...more
Carthage is not a bad general introduction to the history of this ancient civilization. It is from the late 20th century, however, and it feels even oCarthage is not a bad general introduction to the history of this ancient civilization. It is from the late 20th century, however, and it feels even older than that. It spends more time on Roman and late antique Carthage than on its earlier pre-Punic Wars history, which disappointed me. Additionally the authors seem overly committed to the progress-narrative of sedentary, literate civilizations and are utterly ham-handed (when not blatantly offensive) with regard to race . E.g., Soren and his co-authors use the term "black savages" to describe the sub-Saharan Africans encountered by Phoenician sailors upon circumnavigating Africa. The authors do not use quotation marks or in any other way indicate that this is thought and terminology belonging to the ancient Phoenicians, so the reader is left to assume it is the authors' own thought and terminology represented. Really guys? They are considerably more aware and subtle when discussing class, but I was still in turns annoyed and disappointed with the scope and execution of this work. There are some interesting facts and details peppered throughout, but I would not recommend this to anyone....more
Patrick Geary, as a historian, focuses on the Carolingian period in what would become France and Germany, though he’s obviously conversant with medievPatrick Geary, as a historian, focuses on the Carolingian period in what would become France and Germany, though he’s obviously conversant with medieval history in its entirety, not to mention late classical history. He has published in English, French, Italian and German. He clearly knows Latin and I think he’s familiar with Greek as well. The man is a consummate, impeccable early medievalist.
Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages is the second book of his I’ve read and though his writing itself is not gripping or particularly novelistic (a trait I admire in historians), he writes clearly and well, and the value of his ideas far outweighs any lack of verbal artistry. In this case, he has collected essays and articles published elsewhere and assembled them into an intriguing whole that purports to speak about the relationship of the dead with the living in the early Middle Ages. In effect, the book is primarily about the uses of saints and sainthood in early medieval European religion.
Geary touches on such topics as the development of the cult of saints, the boom in translation of relics starting in the late 8th century, a peculiar and fascinating practice known as the humiliation of relics, and pilgrimage. But couching his discussion of saints and sainthood in a broader context of attitudes toward the dead allows him to speak about gift-giving and conflict resolution; practices which took into account, for instance, property endowed by the dead and the resultant feelings of debt toward the dead that medieval people seem to have felt and taken very seriously. These practices, which seem unusual to us, betray an attitude that meant the dead were very much still a part of living society. The physical death of the body did not signify the social death of the person. The dead still required reciprocity and repayment. In a non-metaphorical way difficult for us to imagine, the dead in early medieval society stayed “alive”, relevant, and continued to influence the choices and actions of the living.
Because this work is cobbled together from previously published pieces, the connection between the chapters can seem slightly tenuous. But altogether Geary makes a good case in his introduction that they belong together. I do wish he had written a corresponding epilogue to tie the ends back up together. Still, for those interested in early medieval cultural history, or historical as well as anthropological methodology concerning attitudes toward death and the dead in a given society, this is an irreplaceable read. ...more