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message 1: by Elaine (new)

Elaine I love it when I come across a history book that changes my view of some aspect of history - I recently had a moment like that with Mark Mazower's Dark Continent, in which Mazower gave a very convincing account of (among other things) how fascism fitted into the political landscape of its time, how Europeans in the 20s/30s were actually rather disdainful of democracy, and other things that contemporary Europe would rather deny, and it's changed my view of what fascism/dictatorships/democracy meant at the time and could mean for any society.

Are there any other history buffs here who've had an experience like that with a history book, where it feels like you gained substantial new perspectives from it? I'd love to hear about it, and get some book recommendations :)


message 2: by Trelawn (new)

Trelawn I felt that way about Peter Kurth's Anastasia. I have always been interested inTsar Nicholas andn his family and I knew the stories about Anastasia possibly surviving but Kurth brought it from sensationalist story to personal tragedy. He details the years Anna Anderson spent trying to prove she was Anastasia. He didn't sugar coat it, he showed her warts and all and it was a deeply tragic story for everyone involved.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

No books come straight to mind but I'd read anything by Mark Mazower as he is sound.


message 4: by Gerry (new)

Gerry  M (placidcasual) I was listening to Newstalk last week and there was a lady on talking about the Armenian genocide. She wrote a book The Knock at the Door: A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide and she said that the genocide in Armenia was almost a completely forgotten one even though it occurred in the 20th century and 1.5 million people were killed. It reminded me of being in Airport in Armenia a few years ago getting a flight back to Ireland and looking at a statue and wondering what it represented. An Armenian man came over and told me about the genocide which I was totally ignorant of (despite doing a history degree).I'm looking forward to reading the book about it now as its amazing that such an event happened relatively recently but so little is known about it.


message 5: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (bdegar) | 4626 comments Gerry - your comment reminded me of A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power. I was so moved by the account of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish legal scholar of Jewish descent, who created the term and concept genocide. He argued for years, that the intended destruction of a people or ethnic group should be considered as more grievous than massacres (for example). Another book that I read years ago that has stayed with me is The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849 by Cecil Woodham-Smith. I still recall accounts of famine refugees leaving the boats in Boston, nearly naked because the rags they wore when leaving Ireland had fallen apart on the voyage.

Wow, Gerry, imagine learning about the Armenian genocide in Armenia. I lived in Boston for many years and there is a very large Armenian community in the area. I was very aware of the genocide living and working with Armenian Americans. When I learned about it, I remember that my father would often say at the dinner table when the 6 of us kids dove into the food that we were "acting like a bunch of starving Armenians". After learning the history, I was dismayed at what was behind this phrase. To add, the Turks deny that it was genocide to this day.


message 6: by Gerry (new)

Gerry  M (placidcasual) That's very interesting Barbara. I think it's great that big cities have different groups that you can learn from. Ireland still lacks a bit of diversity like that - especially in the north. That is gradually changing but we are not as exposed to real-life learning of what has happened elsewhere. The Armenian man I spoke to was fantastic in explaining the history and he knew quite a bit about Irish history too. It made me feel ignorant (although he was very nice) and that is part of the reason why I am looking forward to reading this book. The author on Newstalk (an Irish radio station) spoke very well too. She drew alot of parallels to the Jewish genocide committed by the Nazis including the fact that people deny it occurred.


message 7: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (bdegar) | 4626 comments Gerry wrote: "That's very interesting Barbara. I think it's great that big cities have different groups that you can learn from. Ireland still lacks a bit of diversity like that - especially in the north. That i..."

Gerry - I think us Yanks are often the most ignorant of history of other places (and even our own) and people on the other side of the pond are usually more knowledgeable. What I love about US cities are the large ethnic communities and neighborhoods. Though most people are aware of Chinatowns, they are less aware of other kinds of ethnic areas. Baltimore has a Greek town and Little Italy. These older ethnic neighborhoods though are disappearing, and Chinatown in Washington Dc has been almost developed out of existence by gentrification.


message 8: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Trelawn wrote: "I felt that way about Peter Kurth's Anastasia. I have always been interested inTsar Nicholas andn his family and I knew the stories about Anastasia possibly surviving..."

That definitely sounds worth a look. I've always been quite fond of Tsar Nicholas and his family too. I loved 'The File on the Tsar' as a teenager (I've since heard that that particular book may not be totally reliable, but as I was a teenager at the time I didn't really look into it that closely).

If you're interested, Trelawn, there's a biography of the tsarina by one of her ladies-in-waiting available online ( http://www.alexanderpalace.org/alexan... ). The website isn't very stylish, but I found the book reasonably interesting. The author is, of course, totally uncritical of the tsar, but it was an interesting glimpse into daily life in Russia's various palaces.


message 9: by Trelawn (new)

Trelawn I'll check that out. I loved The File on the Tsar too, i actually thought it was well researched and balanced but maybe not. I've read a few other books on the family but the titles elude me right now. There was one about the Tsarina by Caroly Ericson i think and a biography of Nicholas's sister,Olga. There's also a good biography of Rasputin by Edvard Radzinsky.


message 10: by Elaine (new)

Elaine I must take a closer look at the criticism of the File on the Tsar again some time - I read a couple of critical things about it, but who knows, it might all have come from rival historians who were suffering from professional jealousy, or something like that. It can be hard to tell with these things sometimes. It was definitely a fascinating read, so I hope it was mostly accurate!

A biography of Rasputin would definitely be worth reading - I'll hunt it down and add it to my ever-growing 'want to read' shelf :)


message 11: by Trelawn (new)

Trelawn Well there's plenty biographies on Rasputin out there but I liked Radzinsky's one. He has a flair for storytelling which suits the subject. I mean the story of Rasputin's death is so fantastical that it almost needs a storyteller to give it a hint of credibility.


message 12: by Sean (new)

Sean (seanner) | 10 comments What I believe is interesting about this discussion is that new books on familiar topics can rattle old opinions and open us to the possibility of new perspectives. I enjoy reading history and I actually try to select different texts that force me to question the 'conclusions of history.' An open reading of these diverse historical perspectives may actually lead us to a deeper understanding of the events, characters and influences that have shaped our historical consciousness.

In my own experience, I can definitely recall a fourth grade history lesson that left us with the unimpeachable conclusion that not only did Columbus discover America, but the whole of America's history began in1492 when the intrepid explorer sailed the ocean blue in the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. So, the early understanding of my nation's history went unquestioned. For one thing, absolutely no one questioned the nuns at Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School and if you were foolish enough to question Christopher Columbus, Tony 'Little Fish' Briganti, who was repeating the fourth grade, would beat the crap out of you on the playground.

A few years passed and despite my acrimonious introduction to the subject, I developed a keen interest for history. Around age sixteen, and firmly in the grip of the Jesuits who now demanded that everything should be questioned, History revealed itself in new ways and from new sources: newspapers, film, literature, music, urban graffiti, museums, World Cup soccer, and controversial new history texts like Howard Zinn's A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. Those wacky Jesuits not only required us to question conventional wisdom but actually encouraged their young scholars to look at history from differing points of view.

Kids read a little Howard Zinn and it's Goodbye, Columbus.

More years have passed and I have recently re-read A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. Despite Professor Zinn's clear introduction that his intention with A PEOPLE'S HISTORY was to give a voice to individuals and social movements that have been traditionally ignored by conventional historians and that it is his opinion that American history has been shaped and controlled by powerful political and economic interests, I must admit that the book did not have the same dramatic impact on me that I remember from my idealistic youth.

I remain in agreement with many of Zinn's political and social beliefs. I applaud his unequivocal support for the forgotten and oppressed. I once heard Professor Zinn speak and he asked the audience to imagine the American Civil War from the perspective of an unemployed, recently conscripted Irish immigrant. I admire his personal courage in standing up for academic freedom and for actually taking his convictions outside the classroom as a leader in the American civil rights and anti-war movements. I take delight in observing more conservative historians and commentators as they launch into a sputtering. stroke inducing rage at the mere mention of A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

That said, I think need a bit more balance to my current history fix. Today I find Zinn too focused on class conflict as the basic dynamic of American history. Nor do I believe that American politics and economics are driven solely by corruption and greed.

Today I am seeking a more open and forgiving perspective on American history. For example, through my recent reading I discovered to my surprise and delight that George W. Bush is a marvelous dancer. Let the healing begin.

All the Best, Sean


message 13: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (bdegar) | 4626 comments Sean - although I really really disliked GWB as President, I find parts of his personality charming. He also was pretty pro-immigrant, and actually speaks more Spanish than you'd think albeit with an atrocious accent.

I am a big fan of Zinn but I agree that his arguments are singularly focused on class issues. He has been critiqued for not paying more attention to issues such as sexism, homophobism, etc. But Zinn was also a product of his time to a large extent. He was actually arrested with a friend of mine in Boston for a protest at the British Embassy. My friend's wife was Irish and a year or so later they moved back to Dublin. Rico became a champion for saving Dublin from rampant development and was posthumously honored for his work. His widow who is in her late 80's now. Zinn kept in touch with them for years through letters (how old fashioned that seems now). Having said all this, I am not sure what a more forgiving perspective on American history would be. But I do think we can begin by recognizing that people are complex and not black or white. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. Despite his political views, GWB has aspects to her personality that are likeable.

Recently I participated in a MOOC taught by Trinity College faculty on the Irish fight for independence from 1913-1923. The course looked at multiple topics and points of views. The impact of war on people's lives, attitudes in the North, rural areas, Dublin etc. It was fantastic.


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