The overpowering personality in this history is Afonso de Albuquerque, the governor of India in the early 1500s. In Crowley's telling, he almost singlThe overpowering personality in this history is Afonso de Albuquerque, the governor of India in the early 1500s. In Crowley's telling, he almost single-handedly held the Portuguese colonies, forts and trading centers of India together for nearly a decade, battling worm-eaten ships, Muslim traders, and his soldiers' medieval attitudes toward warfare. He was a harsh and ruthless man, but he was also focused. Perhaps too much so.
The writing is good and easy to follow, although the detail in some of the battles was lost on me -- I'm just not that familiar with the tactics and weaponry that Crowley writes about. But I love histories that are personality driven and Crowley's use of the source material, mostly missives between viceroys, governors and King Manuel I, is masterful. I can't imagine how complicated it must have been to pull all this together. Or how difficult it must have been to communicate with an 18-month lag time.
But the sweat, gore and frustration is all here. It's kind of amazing to think that this burst of exploration burned so brightly and faded so quickly. Barely a century after it got started, the world-wide Portuguese empire was already beginning to fade.
Much of this can be difficult to read. The horrific atrocities that were committed against individuals and whole cities in the name of religion, commerce and glory can be quite shocking. But Crowley lays it all out there for us to judge.
Readers should be aware that this book focuses on Portuguese conquest of the Malabar coast of India and incursions in and around the Red Sea, with some attention paid to east Africa and Malacca in Malaysia. There's very little discussion of Brazil, west Africa, or the far east....more
I saw a mention of this book, and then noticed some Goodreads friends had read it - and while casting around for an e-book while the library was closeI saw a mention of this book, and then noticed some Goodreads friends had read it - and while casting around for an e-book while the library was closed, I found it again.
In 1959, a group of 9 Russian university students set out on a winter-time hike into the Ural Mountains between semesters, hoping to achieve a hiking certification level. They don't return when expected, and when searchers are sent out, all they find is their tent in the snow, with most of their belongings inside. Later, their shoeless, frozen bodies are found.
Over the years, there have been many investigations and theories as to what might have happened. Eichar became interested in the story and decided to head to Russia to find out. The book flips back and forth between a narrative of what happened to the group in 1959, and his own wintertime trek to the area where they disappeared, in 2012.
I thought that the map was a bit rudimentary -- and a more detailed map of the immediate area would have been effective. I didn't like how some of the action described in 1959 was written in the past tense, and at other times in the present. But this is a compelling story, made the more so by the accompanying photographs taken by the expeditions members during their journey and up to the last day of their lives. And the final explanation for what may have happened seems plausible. I hope that I never experience anything like that......more
Spotted this book on the shelf at work, and thought, "I need to know more about this guy."
I didn't realize that I'd been to many of the places whereSpotted this book on the shelf at work, and thought, "I need to know more about this guy."
I didn't realize that I'd been to many of the places where Zebulon Pike had explored and fought during his too-brief life, including the Great Plains, Pike's Peak, the upper reaches of the Arkansas River in Colorado, and Sackets Harbor, New York. It was useful to read this book and pull all of those disparate locations into a narrative of a life lived in pursuit of order and honor.
Orsi interweaves the story of Pike's life, which basically spanned the time period between the Revolution and the War of 1812, with our young country's growing sense of American nationalism and what it meant to be a citizen, a soldier, and a patriot. All of those notions were in flux at the time, and although Pike seemed to waver from time to time, Orsi points out that he never loses faith in a country that didn't always treat him well. Although not always treated fairly or honorably, he usually put his best foot forward in service to his national and the values he held.
I didn't know that the winter before his more famous sojourn in the Rockies, that he'd spent an equally bleak winter reconnoitering the upper Mississippi and making deals with native tribes in what is today Minnesota. Much of the book describes his trip through the Rockies with all their trials and harships, and his subsequent journey through Santa Fe, Chihuahua and northern Mexico. A lot of the book addresses what Pike did or didn't know about the machinations of Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson in what is known as the Burr Conspiracy. I came away thinking that his explorations may have been partially intended for information gathering by those involved, but that Pike wasn't really aware of what his efforts meant.
Before reading this book, I knew his name and that a mountain was named after him. It turns out his life story is a good backdrop for the first 40 years of our nation's history....more
This book is about the scientists, technologies and strategies involved in trying to track down extraterrestrial life. Like a book I read recently aboThis book is about the scientists, technologies and strategies involved in trying to track down extraterrestrial life. Like a book I read recently about the Neanderthal genome, this book focused a lot on rivalries and professional conferences – – perhaps at a level I wasn't really all that interested in.
I did like how this book pointed out that the search for extraterrestrial life is so important to the continued existence of our own species on this planet. T just didn't grab me like I thought it would....more
I've always known at the most basic level that John Jacob Astor had sent a groups of trappers and merchants to the west coast in the early 19th centurI've always known at the most basic level that John Jacob Astor had sent a groups of trappers and merchants to the west coast in the early 19th century, but didn't know much. I'd always assumed that they'd travelled by sea. Which thy did. But another group also travelled by land, retracing much of Lewis & Clark's route just a few year's later. The ordeals that both groups endured are rather horrifying, yet involve true heroes and rascals, including the expedition's own woman native guide. Except maybe tougher than her more famous predecessor? As in being pregnant, having two small children with her, and spending the winter hiding in a canyon all on her own!
There are true heroes -- and villains in this story. Learning about Astor and his attempts at cornering the world trade was fascinating. The book doesn't go into great detail about any of the individual, corporate, or national players in this story, but it pulls the while into a tidy package that makes me want to learn more. I think the most intersecting character might have been Archibald Pelton, the New England-born teenager who wandered around the inter mountain west for years before being found, half mad, by one of Astor's teams
A great story of enterprise, conflict and hardship....more
I saw this on Donna,s list of to-read books. We both have a fondness for books about exploration, oceans, shipwrecks and the like, so I knew she mustI saw this on Donna,s list of to-read books. We both have a fondness for books about exploration, oceans, shipwrecks and the like, so I knew she must have picked this for a good reason. Sorry I beat you to this, Donna, but I know you're going to like it.
In 1864, two very different groups of men were shipwrecked on the Auckland Islands, 250 miles south of New Zealand. Marooned at opposite ends of the islands, the two groups never encountered each other. One group was resourceful, mutually supportive, and generally made the best of an 18-month ordeal. The other group lacked leadership, exhibited little compassion for their fellows, and basically fell to pieces. Using diaries, memoirs and various reports, Druett pieced together what likely happened and produced a quickly readable narrative.
In addition to these men's stories, the reader is introduced to the geography, flora and fauna of these remote islands, and a little of their history before these events and after. Readers who know their way around an ocean-going vessel and have a bit of knowledge of sailing might absorb more than I did, but I didn't find the jargon too off-putting.
Although I don't read them in books as often as I should, the reader would be rewarded by taking the time to peruse her Author's Notes. Their thorough, well-written, and full of praise for the librarians who helped her. I love authors who do that. And I love that the books ends with the list of rules for visitors visiting the Auckland Islands today. It made me chuckle....more
I can't seem to get enough of Mawson's story. I've read a few versions of this mind-blowing ordeal, including Racing With Death and Mawson's own accI can't seem to get enough of Mawson's story. I've read a few versions of this mind-blowing ordeal, including Racing With Death and Mawson's own account, The Home of the Blizzard. Nothing, of course stacks up reading Mawson's original account, but, being a scientist, his version does tend to meander into the scientific minutiae of the expedition's purposes -- temperature's, wind speeds, visibility. I still think Mawson's own book is the best way to approach the expedition, but it's not for everyone.
Roberts' book (which I discovered through Staci - thanks!), is a great overview of Mawson and the 1912-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition(AAE). For an expedition that was supposed to be about collecting data, this foray was one dramatic episode after another. Besides choosing as their base the windiest place on dry land on the planet, they had to endure malfunctioning equipment, whiteout conditions, last minute plans that left members stranded on the ice for months at a time, and colleagues that slowly lost their grip on reality. Mawson managed to hold it all together.
And he walked the walk. Literally. 300 miles - a big chunk of it by himself, alone, with the soles of his feet having peeled off.
Roberts' history is as good as any I've read. I appreciate how he describes the various diaries, memoirs and other sources form which he draws, how they agree and disagree. And his description of the Mawson collection at the museum in Adelaide toward the end of the end of the book gave me chills. I'd so love to visit it some day....more
I just devoured this reader-friendly book. 19th-century explorer and scientist Paul du Chaillu was never anyone that's been on my radar, unlike otherI just devoured this reader-friendly book. 19th-century explorer and scientist Paul du Chaillu was never anyone that's been on my radar, unlike other African explorers like Burton, Speke, Livingstone or Stanley. He certainly deserves to be remembered, as much for his discoveries as for how he epitomized that era's attitudes toward nature, social status, race and scholarship.
From the moment he stepped into history as a teenaged boy washed up on the banks of an African river in the 1840s, du Chaillu set out to make his mark on the world. Although a charmer and a social climber, he was also a serious scientist who was genuinely curious about the creatures of west Africa. He was the first westerner to observe the lowland gorilla (and "collect specimens"), an animal that was all but legend to non-Africans at the time. Later, he was among the first to encounter and describe pygmy tribes. His discoveries came at the time that the evolution debates were beginning, and du Chaillu and his specimens became fodder for intense scientific rivalries in Victorian England.
The story of his mysterious background, his thrilling expeditions and how he navigated the fame that accompanied his travels and writings, makes for a great story. Reel tells it well. At some point, I'd like to check out some du Chaillu's original books, many of which are available online....more
In the early 1930s, Robert Byron traveled throughout Persia and Afghanistan, with any eye toward seeing spectacular examples of Muslim architecture wiIn the early 1930s, Robert Byron traveled throughout Persia and Afghanistan, with any eye toward seeing spectacular examples of Muslim architecture with his own eyes. This book describes his journeys in a diary form that, in addition to being painstakingly descriptive of the buildings he visits, is also quite poetic and funny. His remembered conversations and interactions with various dignitaries and bureaucrats can be quite amusing.
Being a creature of the 1930s and the British empire, Byron has his prejudices and can come off as a bit of a snob. He clearly loves the world he's passing through, although he seems to worship an idealized version of past Islamic glory, and doesn't appear to have much respect for the current denizens of this part of Asia -- with a few exceptions. Nothing much seems to faze him, as he swings wildly between opulent accommodations and sleeping in ditches, navigating snowy passes and travelling across barren desserts. He always has an eye for the flowers and plant life around him, and he's a keen observer of minutiae. His description of a father and son getting their goats across a flood-swollen river really grabbed me.
If you are interested in this part of the world, read this book. It took a while for me to read it because I found myself searching for and consulting the books' maps often, and, after a while, I found myself looking up some of the buildings online at Wikipedia and ArchNet to see more images. One thing I learned from this book -- I want to read more about Goharshad -- the most amazing woman from world history you may never have heard of....more
I can't believe it took me nearly a month to read it. Usually, a long reading time means I'm not really that into a book -- but that is NOT the case hI can't believe it took me nearly a month to read it. Usually, a long reading time means I'm not really that into a book -- but that is NOT the case here. Phileas Fogg still could have read this 2.8 at time at the same rate I did before he got back to London.
Noting that a comprehensive account of the history of global circumnavigation had never been written, Chaplin set out to do so. Starting with the early European maritime explorers and working through to our orbital age, she describes the different methods we humans have used to get around the globe, noting the many firsts -- first non-Westerner, first woman, first animal, first east-to-west, first west-to-east, first person to do it twice, first by bicycle, first by balloon, etc. In addition to factual circumnavigation, she also explores the way traveling around the world has influenced literature and been used as a literary device.
Some of the themes she returns to are circumnavigation as a Western privilege and as an outgrowth of colonialism and overseas empires, and of the effects circumnavigation has on the environment. A fun and interesting account of humanity getting to know our home by going around it....more
I like books about the history of ocean exploration in general, which is why I gave this a go. It was really quite god, although it went more into theI like books about the history of ocean exploration in general, which is why I gave this a go. It was really quite god, although it went more into the types of boats used, their construction, and how they were sailed than I expected. This wasn't a bad thing, but not something I gathered from the title.
The book is broken down into group of chapters having to do with ocean-going in various geographic areas, the peoples involved, and how ideas about sailing developed in those places. He covers southeast Asia and the south Pacific, the Mediterranean, sea travel in the Indian ocean which relied so much on the seasonal monsoons, the North Sea and North Atlantic, and the Pacific coast of the Americas, from the Aleutians to Mayan-Incan trade. Some of these places have more of a written record than others, and much of what Fagan rights is based on the archeological record.
I like his writing style. He has personally sailed in some of these areas, and I wish there had been more of that in the book. Sometimes he inserts a paragraph of an imagined incident related to sailing some time in the past. These seem shoe-horned into me and don't add a whole lot to the book overall. Many authors writing about history do this, and it's really easy to get this wrong.
A knowledge of sailing is helpful in reading this book. Fagan does take time out to explain the basics, but I just don't get a lot of the techniques or understand how they work. This isn't a failing on his part, but rather mine. His passion for the sea and sailing on it is obvious, though, and it comes through in this book. ...more
I love books about Arctic and Antarctic exploration, and this is one of the better ones I've read lately. It covers a relatively unknown, but quite unI love books about Arctic and Antarctic exploration, and this is one of the better ones I've read lately. It covers a relatively unknown, but quite unusual, attempt to reach the north pole by balloon in 1897. S. A. Andrée's attempt seems foolhardy in hindsight, but one can't help but admire his bravery and drive to try something that had never been tried before.
In addition to describing Andrée's interest in ballooning and Arctic exploration, he goes into detail about some other attempts at the pole - from the ho-hum to the downright disastrous, including expeditions led by Adolphus Greely, Charles Francis Hall's Polaris expedition, and Fridtjof Nansen's Fram expedition.
I liked how the narrative worked in the second half, moving between what the balloonists experienced and how their loved one's dealt with their increasingly long absence. Overall this book was an excellent overview. My only gripes are that there were no captions for the photographs. And although there was one map, it was microscopically tiny and seemingly randomly inserted in the book. The last paragraph gave me chills....more
I love books about cold places, and try to read one in the summer. This summer's is Arctic Labyrinth.
I was already somewhat familiar with many of theI love books about cold places, and try to read one in the summer. This summer's is Arctic Labyrinth.
I was already somewhat familiar with many of the attempts at finding the Northwest Passage described in this book. Williams doesn't skimp on detailing the trials and deprivations of early attempts, but his focus is on how the methodology of attempts changed over time, and using documentary evidence to do so. He especially excels at pointing out the discrepancies amongst official accounts, published narratives, and private journals and correspondence concerning various journeys.
I have to be really interested in a topic to consult the research notes at the back of books (I'm lazy and prefer footnotes), but Williams section on Sources and Further Reading is a wonderful document. Written in paragraph form, he suggests reference books, points the reader to the best biographies of various explorers, and lists manuscripts and archives he consulted. I'ts much more, well, dynamic than a dry list of sources and it shows the level of scholarship and work that went into producing this book.
My only complaint about this book is that, while there were a few maps, most of the time I found myself consulting the map on page 175, a general map of the Canadian Arctic. A few place names are listed, but by no means all of the ones named in the various attempts described in the book. And there are no tracks outlining all the various routes taken. A map accompanying each chapter with marked routes would have made for easier reading.
A nice short overview by someone involved in the SETI project of current thoughts and ideas about the possibility of alien intelligence and the formsA nice short overview by someone involved in the SETI project of current thoughts and ideas about the possibility of alien intelligence and the forms is might take. Kind of dry and a little tech-y in places. But a good introduction to the topic.
Come to think of it, it can't be easy to write a scientific treatment of a topic that may not even exist....more
An excellent overview of the search for the Northwest Passage. I've read enough books on this topic now, but Brandt wrote in a way that still made itAn excellent overview of the search for the Northwest Passage. I've read enough books on this topic now, but Brandt wrote in a way that still made it interesting. Although the title would lead you to believe that the whole book is about Franklin, it's really not.
Well written and as good a book on the topic as you'll find. I especially liked how Admiralty politics were covered without making them seem dry. The last paragraph is quite haunting and thought-provoking. I won't repeat it here, but it involves The Meal That Dare Not Speak It's Name......more
My sister-in-law gave me this book for Christmas and I enjoyed it. I'd read Mawson's Home of the Blizzard awhile back and enjoyed it. This biography oMy sister-in-law gave me this book for Christmas and I enjoyed it. I'd read Mawson's Home of the Blizzard awhile back and enjoyed it. This biography of Mawson was different, though, expounding on all of his Antarctic visits and explorations, whereas Home of the Blizzard focused on the 1911-1913 Australian Antarctic Expedition.
Riffenburgh writes eloquently about the hardships that Mawson and his colleagues experienced during their time in Antarctica, including the famous sledging journey in which Mawson lost his two companions and narrowly escaped death himself. The author doesn't try to whitewash Mawson as Australia's hero of exploration -- he doesn't shy away from pointing out his shortcomings and conflicts with others. But he does paint a fair picture of an amazing scientist in his element. ...more
This book combined so many interests of mine, I don't see how I couldn't have liked it. Exploration, maps, history, travel, mountains, archaeology, faThis book combined so many interests of mine, I don't see how I couldn't have liked it. Exploration, maps, history, travel, mountains, archaeology, family trees -- all that was missing was polar exploration, but since much of it took place at chilly altitudes, I'm still a pretty happy reader.
Thomson masterfully interweaves his own personal experiences as an explorer with accounts of colleagues, historical information and cultural observances in a way that seems effortless. His sympathy with the peoples of eastern Peru, both ancient and modern, comes through readily. I really appreciated the way the book was laid out. He starts in Cuzco, the likely cradle of Incan civilization and works his way chronologically toward this empire's sad end, using various ruins and historical sites to illustrate this historical path. Thomson's gives deference to this order in the book over the order in which he visited these areas, and I think that was a good choice.
His knowledge of the history of Incan civilization is apparent, as well as his familiarity with the history of how that civilization has been, and continues to be, discovered....more
My friend Donna and I have a thing for reading books about cold places, usually when it's hot out. I'd wanted to read this in the summer when it was bMy friend Donna and I have a thing for reading books about cold places, usually when it's hot out. I'd wanted to read this in the summer when it was blazing hot, but my local public library had a long waiting list and it didn't pop up. I ended up reading this just a few days before snow flurries were forecast in my area.
However, Streever must have been of a mind with my thinking, because he organizing his book by the months of the year, highlighting the vagaries of temperature and its effects in his neck of the woods (Alaska)at those times. And he starts in summer -- but as about as far north as you can get during the summer.
Streever intersperses information about the history of measuring cold and it's effects on our environment - he writes particularly well about the biology of hibernation and the effect of cold on people and animals. As he travels throughout the year, he contrasts the places he visits with the weather back home in interesting ways.
This book reminded me a bit of other books I've read recently about cold and cold places, notably Mariana Gosnell's Ice (which I read before my Goodreads days), but this one was a bit different. It managed to impart pretty technical scientific info in an almost literary way. ...more
I'm a sucker for books about exploration that have maps in them, so I really had no choice but to read this. It must be quite popular as I was on theI'm a sucker for books about exploration that have maps in them, so I really had no choice but to read this. It must be quite popular as I was on the waiting list for this at my public library for quite some time.
The book is written by a journalist who, as he writes, shifts perspectives between historical accounts of Percy Fawcett's tragic 1925 expedition into the Amazon in search of a fabled lost civilization and the author's own attempts to retrace his footsteps. I often books that swap points of view like this disjointed and jarring, but Grann does a very good job of moving from the one time period to the next.
Through interviews and archive research, Grann pieces together what likely happened to Fawcett, who entered the jungle in 1925 with his eldest son and his son's childhood friend, never to return. His own hardships and bumps in the road, which are more than I would ever be put able to put up with, pale in comparison to the hardships experienced by Fawcett, running the gamut from worms that burrow into one's skin, to tiny bees that cause eyelid infections, to angry natives brandishing poisoned arrows.
There were two parts of the book that I especially liked that I wish had been expanded. Firstly, the chapter describing all the cockamamie, harebrained, and disastrous attempts that were made to find Fawcett, including one silent movie star who, because he made a film about jungle exploration, thought he was qualified to actually set out into the Amazon. Secondly, the final chapter describing recent research that must may show that Fawcett wasn't all that far off the mark in his search for "Z."
Not exactly and Indiana Jones-type thriller, but still a compelling story that is quite enjoyable....more
It's not entirely fair to compare this book with The Home of the Blizzard by Douglas Mawson, but since I read them back to back, and since both authorIt's not entirely fair to compare this book with The Home of the Blizzard by Douglas Mawson, but since I read them back to back, and since both authors spent overlapping seasons in Antarctica, I can't help looking at them side by side.
I enjoyed both, but Cherry-Garrard's account was a little harder to follow. I thought that Mawson was better able to synthesize the reports and diaries of his fellows than was Cherry-Garrard. And while Cherry-Garrard emphasizes the scientific emphasis of the Terra Nova Expedition in order to contrast Scott's tragedy from Amundsen's triumph, I still felt that the scientific endeavors of Mawson's account are more clearly outlined and explained.
However, there are parts of Cherry-Garrard's writing that just captivated me. The whole chapter about the winter Journey that he, Bill Wilson and Birdie Bowers, made across 120 miles (round trip),in -70 degree temperatures, in the dark, to collect the eggs of some Emperor Penguins just floored me.
Knowing hardships and deprivations that Scott's Terra Nova Expedition endured, you can't help but admire anyone who spent time in Antarctica in the early 20th century. After reading the whole book, the last sentence will knock your thick woolen socks off....more
I really enjoy reading books about polar exploration. There's something fascinating, terrifying, and inspiring about these stories. I ran across a segI really enjoy reading books about polar exploration. There's something fascinating, terrifying, and inspiring about these stories. I ran across a segment of this book reprinted in The Ends of the Earth and it made me want to read the whole thing.
The Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914, led by Douglas Mawson sought to map out and explore the geography, meteorology, and wildlife of Adelie Land, the portion of Antarctica which faced Australia. Unlike other explorers on the continent at the time (Amundsen and Scott, notably), they weren't trying to bag the pole.
The books is written rather straightforwardly, taken from the detailed diaries of the three main expedition groups. Wind speeds, temperatures, and other meteorological phenomena abound! But there is also some moving and excellent writing here. A sample:
"We dwelt on the fringe of an unspanned continent, where the chill breath of a vast, polar wilderness, quickening to the rushing might of eternal blizzards, surged to the northern seas. We had discovered an accursed country. We had found the Home of the Blizzard."
For weeks, teams would move out across the coast and into the interior of Antarctica, braving glacial crevasses, frostbite and starvation to try and learn more about this harsh, remote place. I can't even imagine doing a tenth of what these people did.
The most amazing part of this years-long ordeal describes the journey of Mawson and two colleagues hundreds of miles across the ice. A few accidents reveal the razor-thin margin of error that exists in a brutal place like Antarctica, and Mawson has to find his way back to his home base, alone, across a hundred miles of ice, with the soles of his feet coming off.
This book isn't for everyone, but if you like books about exploration and humans surviving in harsh environments, give it a try....more