There will no doubt be people who take issue with this remarkable account of organised violence the first half of the century just gone. They will perThere will no doubt be people who take issue with this remarkable account of organised violence the first half of the century just gone. They will perhaps want to dispute that it was the most violent period in human history, as the author admits might not be right in a postscript. It doesn't really matter, just as the nuance of historiography that some might find wrong-headed doesn't matter: the narrative Ferguson offers really shows clearly how awful this time was for people caught up in the conflicts of the time. He could have gone further.
It is true that since this period mass murder has been pushed to the peripheries, even if, as in the former Yugoslavia, these are European peripheries. But Ferguson suggests, in his account of the Cuban missile crisis, how it will not take much for more catastrophic eruptions to sweep even more of the world into horror. In this sense it makes for depressing, if essential, reading.
This is the first volume of a three volume set in the Loeb Classical Library series published by Harvard University and this review should go for allThis is the first volume of a three volume set in the Loeb Classical Library series published by Harvard University and this review should go for all three volumes.
Not everyone will like Philostratus' account of the life of Apollonius, who may or may not have existed, and who may or may not have been a very wise man, but who, if he did exist, had a pretty full life. He was a born traveller and, believing himself to be a philosopher of the Pythagorean strain, went to India to meet the holy men there to get the real deal that he thought they had: Pythagoras was meant to have derived his beliefs from India. Later he went to Spain, and still later to Egypt and Ethiopia. Eventually he was tried by the Roman emperor Domitian, and acquitted of bizarre charges cooked up against him by his rival Euphrates, who must have been the least Stoic philosopher calling himself a Stoic in history, if Philostratus' account of his doings may be believed.
All this is kind of interesting, but not compelling. I enjoyed reading the life, which is in the first two volumes, and am kind of enjoying reading the letters and "testimonia" in the third. At the moment am deciding whether to be bothered reading Eusebius' trashing of claims of Apollonius' holiness - Eusebius was a Christian reacting to arguments that Apollonius was a miracle worker so what was the big deal about Jesus? - but probably will.
Readers who are pretty familiar with the classical world may get more out of this than others; there are copious references in Philostratus' account to Euripides, Homer, Plato and others in what is a very scrupulously edited edition.
What was missing for me was more philosophy. As a "neo-Pythagorean" Apollonius waxed on and on about philosophy but there is not really much in the way of philosophy as we might expect - as we get from the Epictetus' discourses or Plato's writings. Supposedly Apollonius wrote a now-lost biography of Pythagoras. He went to India to get to the course of Pythogoras' beliefs, and later to Ethiopia to compare notes with a philosophical school known as The Naked Ones. But there really isn't much philosophy in Philostratus' account, and much of what Apollonius is reported as saying is sketchy and often silly.
The letters in the third volume are a tiny bit more "philosophical", but not much. They do show that Apollonius was pretty intelligent, and well-read in philosophy, knowing the difference for example between Stoicism and Epicureanism, as well as the basic ideas of other schools of the time. But it is all pretty sketchy really. ...more
It is hard to know how to review current fiction, especially on a site like this. After all, to really qualify for five stars in the context of historIt is hard to know how to review current fiction, especially on a site like this. After all, to really qualify for five stars in the context of history, with writers like say Dostoevsky and Shakespeare and Euripides in the mix, a book/play/whatever would have to be up there with them. Few if any contemporary writers can seriously hope to get there. So for contemporary writers, to be able to give them five stars, I have had to adopt a different standard, as others give five stars to books I'd hesitate even to read.
Before reading Joleene Naylor's vampire books, I thought very little of this genre. Its sudden burst of popularity seemed like a phase teenagers go through more than anything adults would notice except perhaps in horror pun intended. I happened on this book's predecessor and enjoyed it a lot. This, the latest in a series that apparently the author plans to extend indefinitely, I enjoyed even more. The writing seems to me to be tighter, the characterisation fuller, the storyline more interesting, and the denouement convincing and exciting. The "lore" of vampires matters but the story itself extends beyond this and could be classed as a thriller were it not for the vampire aspects. It's an adult book not only because it has sex and violence that most parents would be reluctant for their children to read but for its underlying themes. Anyone interested in a different read could do a lot worse....more
This is the culmination of a five volume literary biography, the longest on any writer I am aware of - and the only one I have read of the five. It weThis is the culmination of a five volume literary biography, the longest on any writer I am aware of - and the only one I have read of the five. It weighs in at more than 750 pages, and covers the last decade of Dostoevsky's life, when the writer's crusade for his vision for Russia really took off: he edited a "reactionary" newspaper, started his own (Writer's Diary), and wrote two novels, The Adolescent (aka A Raw Youth) and the blockbuster Brothers Karamazov, setting out his political stall defiantly and eloquently. All these have had relatively recent translations (more than one in the case of Brothers K), with the Writer's Diary an abridgement. At this length and in this amount of detail, the five volumes will certainly be the standard work for many years, if not forever.
All the same, it is hard not to get the feeling that by the time Frank got to this period, four volumes and a lot of tempestuous life on, that he was a bit tired of his subject, and that it shows. There are aspects of the life not probed as deeply as the length might imply, and crucial elements of the work are sailed through when they really needed more thorough treatment. The short period following the completion of Karamazov gets almost perfunctory treatment, and the "summing up" and "wash up" one would expect at the end of such a marathon account is cursory, when it shouldn't be. And in my mind's eye, I can see Dostoevsky scholars - which I am not - taking vigorous issue with some of Frank's summary assessments.
Even so, this is often a terrific read. For anyone not familiar with Dostoevsky, it will flesh out the literary work with the embattled life, and show the real human with all his flaws (there were more than a few). For those who know Dostoevsky's work, it will also be valuable; it is good enough that I will now probably go back and read the other four.
This was a path-breaking book, and for me, a revelation. Yates' account of the little monk burnt at the stake in Rome in 1600 was revisionist history,This was a path-breaking book, and for me, a revelation. Yates' account of the little monk burnt at the stake in Rome in 1600 was revisionist history, but when I read it, I didn't realise it. Till Yates, Bruno was a revolutionary free-thinker murdered by Papism out of little more than pique. His thinking system was lionised, his memory system admired and his belief in multiple inhabited worlds considered very advanced and even scientific. But I didn't know any of this.
Yates paints a different picture of an unscientific man, whose scientific ideas were mostly cribbed from Lucretius, and whose belief in "Hermeticism" tragic, and her account has triumphed as, in general, it should.
But Bruno, even for Yates, had very redeeming features, and his aim to enlarge Christianity through incorporation of the teachings of one Hermes Trimegistus, was a noble one. Sadly for him, Hermes' works were a forgery and not the words a great thinker who lived even before Moses - but the forgery wasn't revealed till well after Bruno's demise, and even now there are believers.
What I liked most about this book, however, was its truly wonderful account of "white magic" and its place in renaissance thought. It led me on to the real deal, the thinkers who made up the white magic brigade spanning several centuries, and their admirers and acolytes. It has been a fascinating journey and Yates began it for me.
There is a kind of postscript to this: in 2000, the 400th anniversary of Bruno's execution, half a million people gathered at the square in Rome where he was burnt at the stake, and asked among other things that Bruno be pardoned. The Vatican did not agree.
This may be the best introduction to what I guess one could call the attitude of the renaissance. Heller's method was an eye-opener for me in that sheThis may be the best introduction to what I guess one could call the attitude of the renaissance. Heller's method was an eye-opener for me in that she managed to work out a way of looking at thinkers and doers who were not contemporaries as if they were. She made Shakespeare come alive for me in a new way too, and given that I am a Shakespeare fan, this was an achievement in its own right. A truly searching, courageous and intelligent book, it outstrips any general account of the renaissance I have read by a large margin. ...more
The most erudite book I have ever read - Wind writes in as I recall six languages - it is also one of the most amazing, a tour de force on how to inteThe most erudite book I have ever read - Wind writes in as I recall six languages - it is also one of the most amazing, a tour de force on how to interpret renaissance art. From medals to the most famous renaissance paintings - Botticelli and Tiziano feature - the connection of artists and the philosophy of the time not only brings the ideas alive in a new way, but also makes the paintings new. This is a wonderful book.
It would be churlish to write a review of a book I wrote, or to give it stars, though I may break down in the end and give it three as that is what IIt would be churlish to write a review of a book I wrote, or to give it stars, though I may break down in the end and give it three as that is what I think all of them deserve, except maybe one......more