Hazel's Reviews > Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors

Dogs of God by James Reston Jr.
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's review
Dec 15, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction
Recommended to Hazel by: Ryan Mallady

I've got mixed feelings about this. Reston has clearly done his research. He credits a number of Spanish and Portuguese experts on the period, and uses quite a few contemporaneous sources. Excellent. He's fairly even-handed in representing the perspectives of the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic players of the time, and uses excerpts from scriptural passages sensitively, so we get a feeling for their faiths as motivating force and consoling influence. Very Good.

The factual content is absorbing, and much of it was new to me. I was taught by Dominican priests and nuns, and never knew that members of their order were the first inquisitors. There were descriptions of 15th century water-boarding. I found similarities to the 'thought police' of Chinese society under Mao, and East Germany under the Stasi, and was reminded that human nature doesn't change. Reston made me think about group behaviour, systems of government, abuses of power and the power of religion: all still very relevant.

But he needed an editor. There were a number of annoying sweeping statements and emotive assertions and generalisations. I imagine he wanted this to be accessible to a 21st century audience, but some of his idioms were incongruous. And inconsistencies and redundancies, eg. describing Queen Isabella as 'gushing enthusiastically' really distracted from the content. And he referred to Richard III as though Shakespeare's portrayal were historically accurate! Perhaps I'm being pedantic, but that kind of thing detracts from the overall effect of the work. Some more time with a good editor would have tightened up his prose and given it a more measured tone. And perhaps this would have made a good article or two, rather than a book.

In general, I'm disappointed. But he certainly makes me want to read more about the period. Maybe two and a half stars?
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Reading Progress

December 15, 2009 – Shelved
February 24, 2010 – Started Reading
February 25, 2010 –
0.0% "Brilliant introduction; lots of stuff I'd forgotten; lots I didn't know."
March 21, 2010 –
0.0% "I need to get back to this soon, because it'll be due at the library."
March 23, 2010 –
0.0% "Starting again from the beginning."
March 26, 2010 –
page 38
9.9% "Hmmmn, he refers to Richard III as though Shakespeare's portrait were historically accurate. And he doesn't use footnotes..."
March 26, 2010 –
page 51
March 27, 2010 –
page 51
13.28% "Hmmmn- generalisations, sweeping, emotive statements. Editor needed! Isabella is described as gushing enthusiastically."
March 27, 2010 –
page 141
36.72% "But, he seems to be using contemporaneous sources."
March 29, 2010 –
page 157
40.89% "I was taught by Dominican priests and nuns. Never knew their order had been the first Inquisitors. History is written by the victors!"
March 31, 2010 –
page 179
46.61% "Dissatisfied with this. I imagine he's tryin got make it accessible to a wider audience, but I would prefer a more measured tone."
April 2, 2010 –
page 221
57.55% "Sobering content: water-boarding, shades of East Germans living under the Stasi, the Chinese under Mao. Human nature, innit?"
April 3, 2010 –
page 384
100.0% "I'm impressed that he often referenced the scriptures to help explain the influence of religion on both oppressors and oppressed."
April 3, 2010 – Finished Reading

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