I am grateful that Catherine Merridale researched and wrote this book. For all the ink historians have spilled on the Russian Revolution, none have soI am grateful that Catherine Merridale researched and wrote this book. For all the ink historians have spilled on the Russian Revolution, none have so accurately described the controversial circumstances of Lenin's return from exile. (Merridale's is, for example, the first study I've seen that even included a map of Lenin's journey.) The author provides an engaging account of Mssr. Ulyanov's wartime exile in Switzerland and the unpleasant details of the "sealed train's" journey across Germany (only one bathroom, pinched German faces visible out the window, seasickness on the ferry ride to Sweden). She also explains why the German government decided to grant Lenin's request to return home: the new foreign minister, Arthur Zimmerman, was a gambler (the infamous "Zimmerman Telegram" was one of his less successful wagers), and thought that sending Bolshevik agitators to Russia was worth the risk. As far as Germany's war effort was concerned, the gamble paid off. Merridale also provides a useful day-by-day look at the March 1917 revolt in Saint Petersburg, and at the political chaos and unpopular compromises Lenin ably exploited.
I came away from the book, however, with the feeling that the author had sufficient material for a novella (or the non-fiction equivalent) but not a full-length monograph. LENIN ON THE TRAIN spends an inordinate amount of time on the grievances and inconveniences of overfed British officials in Petrograd, takes far too long to get to its main characters (Lenin, Krupskaya, Parvus, and their allies), and only devotes a few short chapters to the fateful train journey through the Second Reich. Unless the reader loves diplomatic history, the book will probably lose his or her attention before reaching its central story. Merridale could have solved this problem by writing a shorter book, but one suspects that either her publisher or her muse (and Clio is a long-winded muse) would have objected. Fortunately, there is such a thing as skimming, and readers may profitably skim (or even skip) the first and last chapters of this work to get to the more valuable and interesting insights within....more
One reads Alan Furst’s spy novels, I think, less out of concern for the characters (who come pre-doomed, so to speak) and more to enjoy the author’s aOne reads Alan Furst’s spy novels, I think, less out of concern for the characters (who come pre-doomed, so to speak) and more to enjoy the author’s atmospherics. MIDNIGHT follows the adventures of a Spanish lawyer, Cristian Ferrar, as he and his shady colleagues try to procure a supply of anti-aircraft guns for the Spanish Republic. A difficult business, in 1938, given that Europe is politically divided between enemies of the Republic and those who merely refuse to trade with her. The louche protagonist pursues his goal in a world of shadows and dangers, of secret police in boxy sedans, perfumed femmes fatales with uncertain allegiances, and nervous rendezvous in smoky nightclubs and ivy-clad parks, a world of subtle bribes and subtler bullets in the back. That Ferrar and his allies are running against the clock, trying to get their weapons to Valencia before the 1938 Ebro offensive begins, heightens the tension of an already-tense story. That Furst presents Republican Spain as a beleaguered band of idealists (tarnished, to be sure, by their adoption of Soviet methods), cynically manipulated or abandoned by their ideological allies, helps build the novel’s atmosphere of incipient doom. We already know the good guys are going to lose, defeated by the same evil powers who will immolate the world a year later.
Readers who like their novels to have happy endings and clear distinctions between good and evil won’t care for this story. Such readers probably won't enjoy any of Furst’s novels, nor Ambler’s nor Le Carre’s. The mysteries and technothrillers are in the next aisle over, folks....more
Bruce Trigger, one of the founders of the discipline of ethnohistory, spent twelve very productive years researching the Huron nation of Indians. TheBruce Trigger, one of the founders of the discipline of ethnohistory, spent twelve very productive years researching the Huron nation of Indians. The end product of his research is CHILDREN OF AATAENTSIC, which most ethnohistorians consider the definitive history of the Hurons from the Pleistocene to 1660 CE. The mammoth tome (published originally in two volumes) synthesizes ethnographic studies, archaeological evidence, insights from European documents, and modern scholarship into a thoughtful and clearly-written account.
The Huron confederacy comprised about two dozen small towns located at the southeastern end of Georgian Bay in modern Ontario. In 1600 its population stood at 20,000, reduced by later epidemics to 9,000 people (as of 1640). Culturally they strongly resembled their Iroquois neighbors of rivals. Both peoples had a subsistence economy based on fishing and maize horticulture, a gendered division of labor, matrilineal clans, and a non-hierarchical political system. Both had similar creation stories* and invested ample time in studying and interpreting their dreams, which they saw as manifestations of “unfulfilled desires” which required some sort of fulfillment. They fought periodic wars with their neighbors to obtain prestige and captives, whom they adopted or ritually executed. Despite, or perhaps because of their similarities, the Hurons and Iroquois considered one another deadly rivals, their hostility only exacerbated by European contact.
Unlike the Five Nations, the Hurons had constructed an extensive commercial network in which they occupied a central and critical role. They grew a large surplus of maize and traded it to the Odawas and Nipissings for whitefish and furs; they swapped corn and other goods for Neutral Indians' and Susquehannocks’ tobacco and wampum; and after 1615 they began traveling to Quebec to exchange beaver and other furs for French metal wares and beads. The Hurons became New France’s primary trading and diplomatic partner. French traders and interpreters began living in Huron towns by the 1620s, and Recollet and Jesuit missionaries joined them in 1627 and 1634. Huron men and women found some French possessions (like religious books and domestic cats) quite fascinating, and they accepted some fur traders into their families. For the most part, they considered Frenchmen stupid and uncouth, and disliked their growing dependence on French goods and military assistance.
French religious beliefs and European diseases had a stronger and more adverse impact on the Huron people. The Hurons initially viewed the Jesuits as shamans, and baptism and Christian prayers as curative or kinship rituals that they could incorporate into their own socio-religious system. The Jesuits, however, wanted Huron Christians to throw off all of their old faith and culture. They viewed syncretism (the blending of old and new faiths) as apostasy, and began establishing segregated Christian communities in Huronia to protect their converts from corruption. By the early 1640s the missionaries were encouraging converts to adhere to European marital customs and stay away from traditional Huron ceremonies and feasts, like the famous Feast of the Dead. This engendered a widening factional division within the tribe. Epidemics of influenza and smallpox, which arrived in Huronia in the late 1630s and cut the local population in half, weakened the nation still further.
In 1648-49 Iroquois warriors, now armed with Dutch firearms, took advantage of their rivals’ weakness. They destroyed several Huron towns, killed over 1,400 men and women, took several thousand more back to Iroquoia as captives or refugees, and dispersed the remainder to Quebec and the upper Great Lakes region. The Jesuits, who followed their surviving converts to Iroquoia and Michilimackinac, had achieved with Iroquois assistance at least one of their goals: radically “restructuring Huron life” (p. 847). The survivors became different Indian nations – Iroquois adoptees, Wyandot villagers (in the Great Lakes), and reserve Hurons in Quebec – though all retained their old language and the Christian faith that helped maintain their identity as a separate nation. I still suspect many of them would have preferred the French to have stayed on their side of the Atlantic.
* Both claimed descent from the first Earthly human, Sky Woman, whom the Hurons called Aataentsic. ...more