Interesting biography of a very French prince (grandson of Louis XIV) who ruled as the first Bourbon King of Spain in the first half of the 18th centuInteresting biography of a very French prince (grandson of Louis XIV) who ruled as the first Bourbon King of Spain in the first half of the 18th century. Philip was earnest and hard-working and took the interests of his new dominion to heart, but in his adulthood he was plagued with a severe mental illness which the author Kamen believes (credibly) to have been bi-polar disorder. As a result of his often debilitating episodes, the King's efforts to steer Spain toward a financially sound future were significantly hindered. (The personal was the political, even in the 18th century.)
To help him through his often paralyzing mood swings, Philip V relied to an exceptional degree upon his consort Queens, who exerted political power to an unusual degree: his first wife the remarkable Marie Louise of Savoy, the second the equally indomitable Elizabeth Farnese. Because they were foreign, intelligent, and politically savvy, the Queens were the subject of considerable opposition and scurrilous rumor-mongering. Kamen admirably humanizes the royal subjects of his study, and strengthens the book with a deep knowledge of the primary economic and literary sources for the era....more
Exemplary biography of a man who played a pivotal role in saving dozens of Britain's aristocratic "Country Houses" for posterity, and who also becameExemplary biography of a man who played a pivotal role in saving dozens of Britain's aristocratic "Country Houses" for posterity, and who also became a noted diarist and biographer. Lees-Milne led an interesting, complex life and was astute at describing interesting, complex lives in his journals and biographies.
This biography is essential for those interested in 20th century British social, cultural, and literary history. Incidentally or not, Lees-Milne and his wife, Alvilde Bridges Chaplin, were both bisexual in orientation, and each had intense relationships with individuals of their own gender. In the 1930s, JLM was involved with fell0w biographer, memoirist, and diplomat Harold Nicolson; later, in the 1950s his wife Alvilde had a passionate affair with Nicolson's wife the gardening maven Vita Sackville-West (Virginia Woolf's great love, inspiration for "Orlando." Adding to the book's interest: the author of this biography, Michael Bloch, 44 years younger than Lees-Milne, was JLM's last great passion, a passion no less intense for being entirely platonic....more
One of my "guilty pleasures" is reading gossipy "royalty" biographies, dealing in the sorrows and tribulations of the exceedingly privileged. This isOne of my "guilty pleasures" is reading gossipy "royalty" biographies, dealing in the sorrows and tribulations of the exceedingly privileged. This is a good example of that genre, written with the subject's co-operation, and, not surprisingly, sympathetic to her perspective. ...more
Dry in parts - actually, occasionally dull. But the book is redeemed by the unusual nature of its subject. Jenny Uglow "excavates" the life of Sarah LDry in parts - actually, occasionally dull. But the book is redeemed by the unusual nature of its subject. Jenny Uglow "excavates" the life of Sarah Losh (1786-1853), a Georgian gentlewoman of considerable social standing who dedicated her life to good works, antiquarianism, and the current scientific and technological changes of the era. She was also an amateur architect whose design for St. Mary's Church in Wreay, Cumbria, is recognized as one of the most unusual and remarkable of all English parish churches.
I also liked learning a lot about the social, political, and economic development of Cumbria and NW England. This is a part of English that is often overlooked in national accounts....more
Four months to read this book! Some brilliant things here, but also very frustrating. Gardiner strongly believes that Bach's religious music, specificFour months to read this book! Some brilliant things here, but also very frustrating. Gardiner strongly believes that Bach's religious music, specifically the prodigious cantata cycles, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and the B minor Mass, are at the absolute center of Bach's accomplishment and identity. Fine, but he neglects Bach's stupendous "abstract" music, and really fails to address how those not attached to Bach's Lutheran variant of Christianity - how those who may not be religious at all - may find Bach's work to be the most important musical accomplishment of the last millennium.
This is not a standard biography; again that is fine, but if you want to know the basic data of Bach's life, this is not the place to start. (In spite of the book's 560 pages of text, Gardiner really does not touch upon J.S. Bach's family life at home, which is a little peculiar for a man whose wives went through twenty full-term pregnancies.)
Gardiner is an important and extremely accomplished musician, and it is very valuable to read this appreciation of the great composer written by someone who approaches him from that angle, from someone who understands how Bach's genius is expressed through performance. Just be aware that this should not be the first, and definitely not the last, book about Bach that you read. ...more
Yes, reading about all the assassination attempts upon QEI does get tiring after the 7th or 8th time. And yes, an approach that more analytical and leYes, reading about all the assassination attempts upon QEI does get tiring after the 7th or 8th time. And yes, an approach that more analytical and less strictly chronological probably would have improved the book. But Whitelock is a very good researcher, and there is a lot of fascinating material here on the Queen's personal household that I've seen nowhere else....more
I learned an incredible amount of Chinese History reading this fascinating and well-written biography.
Cixi was one of the Chinese Emperor Xianfeng's fI learned an incredible amount of Chinese History reading this fascinating and well-written biography.
Cixi was one of the Chinese Emperor Xianfeng's favored concubines when she gave birth to his only surviving son in 1856. This gave her increased prominence at his court and made it possible for her to obtain the powerful position of Dowager Empress upon Xianfeng's death in 1861.
For the next half century - until her death in 1908 - Cixi was at the center of dynastic, internal, and imperial politics in China. She seems to have played a central role in an attempt to modernize the Chinese economy, but she also made severe miscalculations resulting in war and occupation by foreign powers at the time of the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
I don't know enough about China and its history to comment critically on most of the arguments advanced by Jung Chang in her book. But the central thesis is certainly plausible: that the character and accomplishments of the Dowager Empress have been consistently minimized, maligned, and slighted by generations of historians and political leaders because of her gender....more
I am in some ways "the ideal reader" for this biography: an Anglophile and a British Historian, as well as someone with a considerable interest in midI am in some ways "the ideal reader" for this biography: an Anglophile and a British Historian, as well as someone with a considerable interest in mid-20th century intellectual history. I was in graduate school in the 1980s, and I was aware at the time of several of main skirmishes and battles fought between Trevor-Roper and his intellectual peers over the course of several earlier decades. Reading this book now, I can put them into perspective more much clearly than I could at the time, so that now I can perceive nuances and shades of conflict that were undecipherable at the time. There's a lot of great "back-story" in Sisman's biography: of course, it helps to be already somewhat familiar with what the "front-story" was. (I'm thinking in particular about matters involving Trevor-Roper's well-known public feud with Evelyn Waugh, but it also pertains to his engagement with rival historians and "frenemies" like Lawrence Stone, Keith Thomas, and A.J.P Taylor.)
Other reviewers have commented on the considerable length of Sisman's text: 575 pages. Really, the length is justified by Sisman's "mission" to maintain and defend Trevor-Roper's professional reputation. In the last decades of his life, Trevor-Roper made a series of unfortunate decisions that tarnished the name he had earned for himself with his careful and probing work in the earlier part of his historical career. He accepted the Mastership of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, a position for which he was unsuited and which proved to be in his own words "seven wasted years"; he maintained his association with the "Times" newspaper concern long after Rupert Murdoch took it over, when it was clear to outsiders that Murdoch was using Trevor-Roper's prestige as a cover for his own union-busting policies; and most notoriously, he lent his name, position, and expertise to the doomed effort to pass off the supposed Hitler Diaries as genuine. Sisman does succeed in presenting a good case that Trevor-Roper should be remembered not for this later mis-steps, but rather for his earlier sterling work, especially for "The Last Days of Hitler" which is just as interesting and readable today as if was when published nearly 70 years ago. ...more
Fascinating biography which provides a social history of the early 18th century English aristocracy, a privileged elite who lived fast, partied hard,Fascinating biography which provides a social history of the early 18th century English aristocracy, a privileged elite who lived fast, partied hard, and died young.
The Lady Diana Spencer of the 18th century was raised by her grandmother, the larger-than-life figure of Sarah Churchill, 1st Duchess of Marlborough, friend and advisor of Queen Anne, and wife of the victor of the battle of Blenheim. Massey's book is necessarily as much a biographical study of Duchess Sarah as it is of Lady Diana, and I think it is all the much better for it. ...more
This is one of those "post-modern" biographies where the author is constantly inserting herself into the text with short vignettes from her own life.This is one of those "post-modern" biographies where the author is constantly inserting herself into the text with short vignettes from her own life. I find that rather annoying and presumptuous.