I expected this book to be excellent simply by virtue of having been written by Caroline Alexander, whose previous work, The Endurance, was outstandin...moreI expected this book to be excellent simply by virtue of having been written by Caroline Alexander, whose previous work, The Endurance, was outstanding. If you haven't read that one and you are interested in Shackleton, I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it.
The Bounty is another one of those marvelous histories, which although documented (sources for each chapter are given at the end & thus there are no footnote encumbrances), reads likes a novel. I literally could not put this book down.
Sunrise, April 28, 1789. William Bligh, who was actually a lieutenant captaining the ship Bounty, sent from England to the South Pacific to gather of all things breadfruit (you have to read the book to understand this)was rudely awakened at swordpoint from his bunk to be informed that he would be leaving the ship. In charge of this operation was Mr. Fletcher Christian, (and God help me, I can't help but think of Mel Gibson every time his name was brought up), who explained that he was in Hell and could no longer abide the captain's behavior. Wearing only a nightshirt, Bligh was bound and lowered into a launch. Others soon followed suit...the ship was then in the hands of Fletcher Christian and a few others of it seems, like minds. So...the question is what brought on the mutiny? Was Captain Bligh really as nefarious and evil as history has painted him? What conditions led to Fletcher Christian's decision? And then, in probably what is the true meat of this story, how were the majority of the mutineers rounded up & brought to justice? We all know that Fletcher Christian and a few of his associates landed on & settled Pitcairn Island, which lay largely undiscovered...so what was the real story here? So many questions, so many answers, from various viewpoints, keep this account lively & leave the reader wanting to read more.
The book opens with the collection & transport of the mutineers who had escaped to Tahiti; some of them voluntarily going to the ship & thus their certain fates and others who had to be rounded up. The story then moves to part two, in which we are introduced to each of the crew members including Captain Bligh & Fletcher Christian. The voyage of the Bounty commences, and this part of the book ends with the mutiny. Part three recalls Captain Bligh's feat of navigation and getting himself & the others consigned to go with him back to civilization, and investigating his court-martial for losing the Bounty. Part four...the political wheelings & dealings involved with the trial of the captured prisoners...and then finally, how the name of Captain Bligh came to be permanently associated with martinet-like behavior & came to be a dirty word. Here too you will find differing views on what happened once the main body of mutineers reached Pitcairn island.
One fun piece of information is worth noting. The night before the mutiny, Captain Bligh got into it with his officers about some missing coconuts. He called upon all of them to account for how many they'd eaten. Not that this is earthshaking in itself, but those of you who have read The Caine Mutiny (one of my favorite books of all time) will remember the dastardly Captain Queeg and the strawberry incident. I couldn't help but laugh and draw parallels & even wonder if Herman Wouk had incorporated this part of the Bounty mutiny into his own work.
I would very very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this type of thing. Read it and savor it. Take it slow. Because Alexander (like any historian worth her salt) relies heavily on primary documents, the wording is often a bit difficult to read, but it is well worth the time you will take on it.(less)
If you are planning on reading this, let me give you a heads up. What's between the covers of this book is NOT for the squeamish...I tho...moreread 2/04/2004
If you are planning on reading this, let me give you a heads up. What's between the covers of this book is NOT for the squeamish...I thought the story of the wreck of the Essex was bad but this takes the cake.
Batavia's Graveyard was the name given to a small island off the western coast of Australia, now known as Beacon Island. I first became aware of this story, which is true, through a wonderful program on the History Channel about recent finds on that island by archaeologists hoping to solve some of the mysteries of what exactly happened there in 1629 and the years during which the islanders, survivors of the shipwreck of the Batavia, were literally being held captive by a group of mutineers under the command/control of one single psychopathic individual. This book most definitely measures up to my rigorous standards for reading history. It is excruciatingly well documented (this author has notes & sources for every little detail).
In June, 1629, a ship filled with goods, money & jewels on its way to Java (the ship belongs to the Dutch EIC) is wrecked on a reef on an uninhabited island. To his credit, the captain managed to get all of the civilians traveling on the ship off of the ship and onto the island; there were in all about 250 survivors. He left them under the charge of one Jeronimus Cornelisz, certified nutcase who believed that anything a person did, including the taking of life, was sanctioned by God.
The group divided itself onto three small islands all closely linked. What happens under his "leadership" was an outright tragedy and massacre. I won't go into specifics, but suffice it to say the Cornelisz and the gang that followed him reminded me a lot of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. I've even seen this book called the Lord of the Flies for Adults...it wasn't that bad, but it was close.
Throughout the story, the narrative of events on the islands is interspersed with details of history of the EIC; of the spice trade in general; of the process of shipbuilding in the Netherlands; of Java; pretty much anything at all connected with the story historically is brought up in here. Some parts I found to be a bit dull, but only because I'm not really interested in the history of shipbuilding. However, there's enough to keep you focused and indeed riveted when he gets around to the events on the islands and their aftermath.
I would definitely recommend this book to those who are interested in shipwrecks or maritime history. Read this book slowly (or skim through the stuff you don't really like but savor the rest), because there is a wealth of information here. The author is thorough and the writing is good.(less)
nb: I have outlined the contents of each story in this book (without spoilers) at my reading journal blog, so if you are interested, feel free to cli...morenb: I have outlined the contents of each story in this book (without spoilers) at my reading journal blog, so if you are interested, feel free to click here.
Some time ago, long before HBO's True Detective was even in the works, I read S.T. Joshi's Chaosium collection of Robert W. Chambers' The Yellow Sign and Other Stories. It was my introduction to King in Yellow, and I was hooked. I had to have more. After doing a little research, I realized that this book (which I already owned) would be a very good thing to read.
Robert M. Price notes about this collection that
"The Hastur Cycle ... may be seen as a literary genealogy, a family tree in which Lovecraft's 'The Whisperer in Darkness' is a single branch, with other branches stemming from it and going in their own directions"
and that "the family tree begins with Ambrose Bierce." With "The Whisperer in Darkness" at the center of this collection, the book focuses on the antecedents of this story (Bierce, Chambers, Wagner, Blish, Machen); then, after Lovecraft's piece, moves on to the works of writers inspired by HPL. But as I've discovered, Lovecraft only mentions Hastur as one among many terrible names, and moves his story into the realm of outer space and crustacean-like fungal creatures (Mi-Go), a theme which runs for a while before another author makes Hastur a participant in a battle of bad monsters and a whole new mythology, so I don't think I quite got the connection. If someone wants explain it to me, I would be grateful. I thought about this long and hard, believe me.
All in all, I liked the majority of these stories, but re this connection I mentioned earlier, I'm still a little puzzled. I tried to keep notes but honestly, I must have missed it along the way. In the long run, though, considering the authors represented here and the stories they have to tell, it's a pretty good book for readers of weird fiction. I would have enjoyed it better, I think, if I hadn't been looking for how things all fit together. Otherwise, definitely recommended.
Just a note --I have the original version of The Hastur Cycle rather than the revised edition of 2006 so I'm missing "The Feaster from Afar," by Joseph Payne Brennan. Otherwise, it seems to be the same, although I don't know if Price's commentary has changed in the newer version. Another note and a warning: ignore the introductions to each story until the end -- I discovered after reading the intro to "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" that the editor needed to provide spoiler alerts, so I waited to read the introductions until after I'd read each story.
To Each His Own is only one of the author's long list of novels translated into English; it is a literary, intelligent and yet unconventional novel o...moreTo Each His Own is only one of the author's long list of novels translated into English; it is a literary, intelligent and yet unconventional novel of Italian crime fiction. And it's superb.
The story begins when the local pharmacist, Manno, receives a death threat in the mail:
"This letter is your death sentence. To avenge what you have done, you will die."
He waves it off guardedly as a joke, because he can't think of anything he's done to merit this kind of warning, but when he and his friend Dr. Roscio go off hunting the next day, they do not return. Only their dogs are left to announce their deaths. The authorities make a perfunctory appearance, questioning the pharmacist's widow as to what kind of behavior could have built up such animosity that it would be worthy of revenge. Settling on the fact that he must have been killed by a jealous husband or lover because of some kind of adulterous behavior, a sort of collective fiction is born regarding the pharmacist's (unfounded) extramarital flirtations. Once that ball has started rolling and the rumors start flying, his "adulteries" become the "official" reason for his death among the locals. Roscio's death is put down to him being the poor guy who just happened to be an innocent bystander; caught in a bad place at a bad time, the victim of Manno's "bad" behavior. After the funerals are over, having settled on a reason for the murders, the townspeople turn their focus to the future of Roscio's voluptous widow, Luisa.
There is, however, one person, high-school teacher Professor Laurana, who is still thinking about what may have actually happened. He picks up on an important clue about the threatening letter, noticing that the word "Unicuique" comes through the paper in the light. Laurana realizes that the words "Unicuique suum" is one of the mottoes printed under the masthead of the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. At this point, Laurana's vanity and curiosity compel him to follow his hunches, and then he "doggedly sets about doing so", unable to let the matter rest like everyone else. At the same time, it becomes clear that uncovering the truth is a very personal matter rather than a means of securing justice:
"...Laurana had a kind of obscure pride which made him decisively reject the idea that just punishment should be administered to the guilty one through any intervention of his. His had been a human, intellectual curiosity that could not, and should not, be confused with the interest of those whom society and State paid to capture and consign to the vengeance of the law persons who transgress and break it."
Laurana is an interesting character: he lives a sheltered life with his mother and in the halls of academia. He has a firm "belief in the supremacy of reason and candor over irrationality and silence...", even though he's a lone stranger within a culture that exemplifies the opposite. He lives in a society where truth falls victim to the ongoing maintenance of the accepted status quo by people "who have every interest in working to keep the impunity coefficient high." His curiosity is unwelcome in such a system, and along the way his need to know will turn his understanding of the real world on its head and even worse.
Although the crime fiction aspect of this book will keep the reader turning pages trying to figure out exactly what happened, the story operates on other levels as well. It is a commentary on the justice system, party politics, the Church, and other facets of Sicilian culture. And, as di Piero notes in the introduction, Sciascia
"used storytelling as an instrument for investigating and attacking the ethos of a culture -- the insular, mafia-saturated culture of Sicily -- which he believed to a metaphor of the world."
One of the basic points the author makes throughout this book is that there are various levels of criminality in which we are all complicit, so in that sense, the metaphor is not too far off the mark.
Readers of more socially and politically-oriented crime fiction will like this book, as will readers of literary fiction. It's intelligent, thought-provoking and frankly, is very high on my list of good books for the year. (less)
It's certainly probably just me, because so many people gave this book top ratings, but while the subject matter was quite interesting, I thought the...moreIt's certainly probably just me, because so many people gave this book top ratings, but while the subject matter was quite interesting, I thought the presentation of it to be just kind of dull. The book runs along the lines of an introduction to Spiritualism (a phrase coined by Horace Greeley (147-148)) in the United States, starting with the Fox sisters, Kate and Maggie, in the late 1840s. It is the author's thought that starting with these two and their experiences with spirit rapping from the time of their childhood, American Spiritualism became a phenomenon. The question is why? I've long been interested in the topic of the Fox Sisters, in fraudulent mediumship and in the growth of the spiritualist movement in general, and although this book is helpful, in hindsight, I probably wouldn't have started with this one (although I certainly would have eventually not missed it) in gaining some knowledge about the subject.
The info between the covers is interesting, and I think I might have enjoyed it more with a better presentation of the story. (less)
Dr. Malin Hatch is a medical researcher, MD from Harvard, yada yada yada. When he was a young boy, he and his brother took a trip to a piece of proper...moreDr. Malin Hatch is a medical researcher, MD from Harvard, yada yada yada. When he was a young boy, he and his brother took a trip to a piece of property belonging to his family called Ragged Island, off the Maine coast. The boys were investigating the site of a pirate treasure burial...a spot called the water pit, where Old Ned Ockham buried a fortune in pirate loot. The treasure site had been worked at fastidiously over a hundred years, with each expedition ending in bankruptcy or death. When the boys go to investigate, they find an entrance into the tunnel -- Malin's brother enters, and the next thing Malin knows, he is standing in his brother's blood, but there is no trace of his brother.
Fast forward with Mal as an adult. A Captain Gerard Neidelman, treasure hunter with an organization called Thalassa, convinces Malin that he has the means to dig up the treasure on Ragged Island. After some thought, Malin decides he'll give Thalassa permission to dig there. What Malin really wants is to find the body of his brother. So the expedition commences, and Malin is signed on as the expedition doctor. Soon bad luck & tragedy begins to befall the mission.
And I'll stop there. The story is very exciting, a definite page turner and a hell of a lot of fun. I recommend it for a solid day's reading when you want something fun yet suspenseful. A good escape yarn, if nothing else.(less)
C.J. Sansom’s Dissolution is the first of a series of novels featuring Dr. Matthew Shardlake, who, in this episode is a lawyer whose boss is no one le...moreC.J. Sansom’s Dissolution is the first of a series of novels featuring Dr. Matthew Shardlake, who, in this episode is a lawyer whose boss is no one less than Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister. The action of Dissolution takes place just after The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellions have been put down and the main rebel leaders have been put to death. Part of the reason for this particular rebellion was the dissolution of several monasteries, a plan hit upon by Cromwell who supposedly saw this as a way to enrich not only the king's pockets, but his own and his relatives as well in the guise of reforming the church in England. Jane Seymour is on the throne, Anne Boleyn having just gotten the axe after Henry got tired of her.
Cromwell had earlier sent a Commissioner to the Benedictine monastery at Scarnsea, but somehow he ends up dead and beheaded. Now Shardlake, along with his young assistant Mark Poer, is called upon to deal with the matter. After his arrival, things begin to heat up and more deaths occur. With a monastery full of suspects, Shardlake has his work cut out for him.
While it's not an absolute necessity, knowing some basic Tudor history would be quite helpful, especially where it concerns the reformation of the Church in England.
While this book made for a good series opener, and a fine look at a very small slice of Tudor history, I figured out the main whodunnit early on. Normally, this is when I bug out of a series -- I liked to be challenged. However, the Tudor period makes for interesting reading, and Sansom's writing is quite good, so I went ahead and bought the 2nd book.
I'd recommend it to people who like historical fiction, and to people looking for something lighter to read about the Tudor period that rises above say, The Other Boleyn Girl.(less)
As the story begins, Mary-Mathilda Paul (also known as Mary-Mathilda Belfeels) is talking to the local Constable on the island of Bimshire (as Clarke...moreAs the story begins, Mary-Mathilda Paul (also known as Mary-Mathilda Belfeels) is talking to the local Constable on the island of Bimshire (as Clarke tells us, also known as Barbados). In fact, he is there to take down her preliminary statement for some crime that she has committed but the reader does not know what exactly that crime is. As she speaks, she wanders off in her thoughts, reflections of island living. Eventually the Sargent, Percy, arrives to take the statement. Before he and Mary-Mathilda get down the business of her confession, the reader is presented with her story of life there. Percy has been in love with Mary-Mathilda since he was young, and he is in no hurry to hear about her crime. He lets her go on about such various topics as her son, his education, politics, the hidden crimes committed by the upper classes on the island, the island's history, etc.
Mary-Mathilda's mother and grandmother were workers on the Belfeel's plantation. Belfeels himself was not white, but because the island measured status in terms of skin color and Belfeels was one of the lighter-skinned people, he was ranked very highly among the classes. Since he became the plantation owner, one of the "duties" he took upon himself was to breed with slaves, supposedly for economic reasons, but more for his own desires. So far this sounds like your typical Plantation-owner-seduces-his-female-slaves type thing, but the story is 180 degrees from that. In fact, Mary-Mathilda, by virtue of having given birth to Belfeels' only son, was a "kept woman" -- she enjoyed living in one of plantation's finest homes, her son was well educated in England and she never lacked for anything.
What this story really turns out to be is a story about what types of sacrifices one must make in order to survive. People like Mary-Mathilda, her mother and Percy, for instance, have to figure out a way to get along in the system where there is an unspoken bond of saying and doing nothing among the people, and this goes for those in the upper classes as well, but on a different level. Thus society as a whole, really, has to conspire against action which will upset the existing status quo. Even as Percy is listening to Mary-Mathilda's explanations for her actions, he is thinking of how the news will be received on the island and what he can do to protect Mary-Mathilda. It is also a story of exploitation, and its deep roots in slavery both for those who are the slaves but those who are the masters as well.
Some of this book's criticisms say that there should have been a lot more "action", for example, we as readers should have been privy to the scenes between Mary-Mathilda and Belsfeel. I disagree. That would not only cheapen the novel, but the reader would miss the overall message here. The Polished Hoe is a look at the legacy of colonialism on all levels of the social spectrum.
I thought it was an outstanding book, deserving of another read. I would recommend it for serious readers who don't really care too much about the "action" but who are interested in some of the most well-written, lyrical prose I've ever encountered.(less)
The Night Watch is not set in the Victorian period as were this author's other novels; it actually takes place from 1941-1947 but told in reverse chro...moreThe Night Watch is not set in the Victorian period as were this author's other novels; it actually takes place from 1941-1947 but told in reverse chronological order. Very interesting device, and it works, to a point. What Waters does here is to follow the stories of four characters whose lives overlap either in a strong connection or randomly throughout WWII and just afterwards. The structure of the novel is, imho, most interesting, building the suspense by looking at the aftermath of the war for each of the characters, but at the same time, it was problematic for me because even though I wanted to find out what had happened in the past, I didn't feel like I knew these people well enough at the outset to really care enough about them.
To be very honest, I almost put the book down at one point, but, as I told my husband, I never give up on a book for which I paid full price. It was at some points tedious, and in some cases, by the time you unearthed what you needed to know toward the end, anti-climatic.
I would recommend it, most definitely; Sarah Waters is a gifted writer and not one of her books should be missed.(less)
I don't care what Anyone says about this book -- it was phenomenal. I read someone's take on the book, noting (negatively) t...morenot a spoiler; a synopsis:
I don't care what Anyone says about this book -- it was phenomenal. I read someone's take on the book, noting (negatively) that Charles Darwin doesn't put in an appearance until late in the book, but that's because this book is NOT about Charles Darwin, but rather about Robert FitzRoy, the commander of the HMS Beagle, who took on Charles Darwin as a naturalist and companion. Obviously, it has to deal with Darwin, but the true story is that of FitzRoy's.
The book begins with a somewhat depressing event, but one which literally laid the foundation for what was to come: the suicide of one Captain Stokes, who commanded the HMS Beagle, after being marooned at the literal ends of the earth in the desolation of Patagonia. Had it not been for that event, the HMS Beagle may have been consigned to the list of past British Naval ships, and Darwin's Origin of Species may never have been written. But because of Stokes' suicide, Robert FitzRoy, a 23 year old British naval officer, was assigned to command the Beagle, and the rest, they say, is history.
This Thing of Darkness is not only a look at the events that transpired aboard the Beagle, pre- and post-Darwin, but at the evils of imperialism, religion, and racism all encapsulated into the time period between 1828 and 1865. It also examines the career of FitzRoy, whose main mission on the Beagle was to survey the lower areas of the South American Coast, as well as his inner self. We learn a lot about FitzRoy even before the author brings in Charles Darwin, and then of course, the book focuses on the friendship between the two. At first, the two were boon companions; Darwin, as most people know, was studying to become a cleric at the time set off on the Beagle, and his outlook corresponded well with that of Fitzroy's regarding God's creation, the biblical flood, etc. However, as Darwin explored throughout South America, the evidence of the truth behind geological processes, fossil remains, variation and separation of species etc. began to make its way into creating Darwin's theories, it caused a major rift between FitzRoy and Darwin, one that would continue throughout both of their lives, as Darwin's reality conflicted with that of FitzRoy.
Yet, as I noted, this book is not based solely on Charles Darwin, but takes more of a look at Fitzroy and how he was caught up both personally and professionally by policies & politics over which he had no control. At one point after having to perform a personally dishonorable task for the British government in Tahiti, FitzRoy remarks,
"I was brought up to obey orders...To do my duty. But increasingly I am being given orders that do not tally with natural justice -- with God's justice. Orders that I cannot in all conscience accord with. These people should be helped to found a decent, God-fearing society -- not plundered, as if the Royal Navy were little better than pirates." (414)
When he has the opportunities to make changes, they are unwelcome and lead to a slide in his career that would never be rectified.
I cannot do this book justice in only a few words, but I VERY HIGHLY recommend this novel. Every one of its 610 pages is riveting and I could not put this book down and did so only grudgingly. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the topic of the effects of British Imperialism, exploration, Darwin and his theories, and British History. It is superb and considering some of the books that made the Booker shortlist, I think the author was robbed.(less)