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message 1: by Rebecca, The Constant Reader (new)

Rebecca (rebeccas_books) | 340 comments Mod
Read any interesting History books lately? Or maybe some that lacked information? Post your reviews here.

message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul | 21 comments The Return of a King: Shah Shuja and the First Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42
by William Dalrymple

A fascinating piece of history, masterfully presented. In the wake of Napoleon’s fall, Russia looked to expand south just as England looked north from India, and the Great Game began. As misinformation followed misunderstanding, the British decided they needed to contain the Russians by controlling Afghanistan, thus launching the First Anglo-Afghan War. Much of the appeal in the book lies in individual stories of the brilliant and intrepid figures – linguists, explorers, archeologists, engineers, soldiers and wives – who had no chance of success, or even survival, in the face of incompetence, stupidity, careerism, bad faith, conceit, insensitivity, indecision, and bad judgment. The ill-advised and ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan ended after three years with 40,000 people dead (including the entire British garrison of Kabul – save one lone survivor), the country devastated and the political situation unchanged.

This is a dense 400-some pages. I have read much longer novels in much less time. Still, Dalrymple’s prose is engaging and limpid, pulling the reader along without calling attention to itself, and the book rewards the extra attention it demands. Dalrymple quotes freely from contemporary British and Afghan sources – histories, memoirs, letters and epic poems – adding an authentic richness to his own well-constructed historical narrative. The longish author’s note at the end offers a sobering look at the similarities between the 1839-1842 war and the current conflict in Afghanistan, as well as the story of Dalrymple’s hunt for 19th century Afghan sources, many of which are seen here in English for the first time. Even if you only read history occasionally, don’t miss this book.

message 3: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (theelliemo) Pompeii: The Life if a Roman Town, Professor Mary Beard

In Pompeii: Life of a Roman Town, Cambridge Don Mary Beard presents exactly that - a description of what life was (probably) like in a provincial seaside town in the Roman Empire.

Using archaeological evidence, both from Pompeii and from the wider Empire, along with written sources from contemporary (including the town's own signwriters) and modern authors, Beard builds up a picture of how the town's inhabitants went about their daily lives. Everything is covered, from what, how and where they ate and drank, slept, washed, to how the town was governed, from the bars, brothels and gaming to religion. This is achieved through discussion both of individuals - the garum maker, or the banker, for instance, and also through a wider view, not just of Pompeii but of similar towns elsewhere in the Roman Empire.

Beard's style of writing is very similar to her television presenting style - conversational, informative, engaging and inclusive. Unlike other works (Time Team, I'm looking at you), Beard does not make the assumption that her audience will accept things at face value - dar I say that some works seem to assume their audience is ignorant? Where there is doubt over an interpretation of evidence, she presents this, making it clear that while there is much we can glean about the way of life in a Roman Town, we can never be 100% certain.

In essence, Pompeii: Life in a Roman Town is an excellent guide to both Pompeii and an informative presentation on current academic thinking on Roman life, presented in a highly readable format.

A thoroughly recommended book.

message 5: by Souvik (last edited Oct 11, 2016 01:03AM) (new)

Souvik Jana (souvikj) | 7 comments The Last Mughal the Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 by William Dalrymple
The Last Mughal : the Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 by William Dalrymple

My Rating:- ★★★★★

Reading history probably could not be more interesting. An intriguing narration of the 1957 Sepoy Mutiny. Documenting the events in the way a modern journalist reports about war or a terror strike, William Dalrymple has narrated the events and the circumstances leading to the mutiny, the mutiny itself, the causes of its failure and the aftermath, even assuming its effect in the shaping of India.

What makes the reading a pleasure is the simple and sometime humorous tone Dalrymple has taken to describe the events and the curiosity with which he himself wanted to look into the events. In the book Dalrymple mentions that during the making of the book he has gone through a huge amount of Mutiny Papers which hasn’t been previously looked into.

Dalrymple says that his book is going to be one of the very few which describes the 1957 Mutiny from the Indian perspective but throughout the narration if anyone’s side he has taken, it’s of the Last Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar ll. He describes Zafar’s personality extensively. A much praised poet himself Zafar’s patronage to the finer arts and his effort as a ruler to not let loose the binding between Hindu and Muslims in his kingdom is depicted. Dalrymple shows the vast enduring impression of the Emperor of India in the common men of 1857 even afar the intrusion of the British through Plassey hundred years before. He shows the huge expansion of the mutiny after Emperor’s decision to align with the sepoys and his senility and indecisiveness of old age which led the mutiny to failure.

After the oppression of the mutiny the English went on a rampage to destroy the ancient city of Delhi to dust and shoot every soul living in it. Thousands of civilians were massacred. It’s due to the effort of some sympathetic English officers that some part of Delhi, what we see today was left to stand. After a bogus trial the British exiled Zafar to Rangoon with his family and on 7 November 1862 at 5'o clock in morning in the age of 87 years Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar ll passed away ending the Mughal dynasty of more than three hundred years.

Link to the review:-

message 6: by Souvik (new)

Souvik Jana (souvikj) | 7 comments Secondhand Time The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

My Rating :- ★★★★★

Such a huge country, so many voices, so many stories!

Russians say Gorbachev is the first civilian to become the president of the USSR. After coming to power, as the economy of the nation was heading to its lowest point, Gorby announced “We can’t go on like this” and introduced liberalism through perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (declassification). The citizen got divided. When some did not want to give away the equality that socialism provided, the other remembered the Stalinist Purge and ferociously supported the liberals. In 1991, people felt they are watching the repeat of the October Revolution of 1917; the time they are living in, is Second-Hand Time.

It’s a history of post 1991 Russia or rather a history of emotions. The polyphonic narration by Svetlana Alexievich is a beautiful epic that describes the post communist Russia in all its aspects.

Link to the review :-

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