Posts Tagged ‘History’
Posted September 2, 2011on:
Summary: In the early 1940′s, with Hitler threatening to overrun the last bastions of resistance in Europe, fewer than three thousand young fighter pilots were all that stood between Britain and total defeat. Korda follows the developments in technology, philosophy and organization that led to the seemingly miraculous victory.
Review: Korda carefully lays out the developments that led to the outcome of the Battle of Britain. The decisions that led to effective defense and ineffective assault are fascinating, and Korda manages to relay them without stealing the glory of the triumph.
Read-a-likes: Other books of the Battle of Britain, such as The Few by Alex Kershaw, will be worth picking up. In the careful and logical analysis of men and machines that led to a battles outcome, Korda writes in a manner very similar to James Hornfischer. For a fictional treatment of the Battle of Britain, James Benn and Jeff Shaara are worth a look.
Availability: This title is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as an eBook, eAudiobook and book. Click here to check on the availability!
Review by Eric.
Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (by Simon Winchester: Nonfiction) c.2010
Posted August 8, 2011on:
Summary: Using the seven ages of man from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Winchester plays out the story of man’s history on and around the Atlantic Ocean. The anecdotes follow explorers, warriors, scientists, fishermen and many others as they leave their mark on the Atlantic Ocean and it’s shores and are changed by it in turn.
Review: The gimmick of using Shakespeare’s seven ages to provide structure to the book generally works well, with Winchester lovingly crafting each anecdote and chapter. Ultimately, like most similar recent books and movies, Winchester has a strong message about the importance of learning to live with the sea rather than treating it as a dumping ground. He does not, however, get heavy handed with this message, as many others do. This readers only complaint about this otherwise charming novel was the blatant eurocentrism. Little is written about the non-European cultures bordering the Atlantic, and they are frequently dismissed by the author outright. The very British view of the United States as a bunch of brash Yankee merchants run amok also gets a fair amount of play. That parochialism aside, this is an informative and charming read, if not necessarily a complete picture. The audiobook is read by the author, and is particularly well done.
Read-a-likes: Simon Winchester has written a number of similarly lyrical nonfiction books, of which Krakatoa (in it’s focus on a natural feature with great import for humanity) is perhaps the most similar to Atlantic. For more on the history of the initial trans-Atlantic travelers, Fish on Friday by Brian Fagan and A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz are worth a peak. For more on the fate of the North Atlantic fisheries, Cod and The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky are worth a look. For those looking for nautical stories or fiction, look no further than the works of Clive Cussler, Linda Greenlaw and Herman Melville.
Availability: This item is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as a book (in both regular and large print) and as an eAudiobook. Click here to check on the availability.
Review by Eric.
Posted March 4, 2011on:
Summary: The United States is bogged down in a war of attrition, occupying a country where the people increasingly see the US soldiers that freed them from dictatorial rule as the source of their woes. Infuriated with American interference abroad and racial/religious profiling in US domestic policies, protests and boycotts aimed at the US flare up world-wide. Bent on turning the course of world events in the United States favor, the President sets out to manipulate the world’s nations through deception, bluster and Machiavellian back room dealing. The year is not 2003 or 1970, but 1905. The occupied nation is the Philippines, the protests focused across China and the President is Teddy Roosevelt. Through the lens of an epic diplomatic mission around the Pacific rim, James Bradley dissects the consequences of the imperial beliefs and actions of Roosevelt and others.
Review: Bradley has been a solid historical writer, but this is his first attempt at history on a large-scale. Both Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys were focused primarily on smaller scale, much more personal, history. And he does well for the most part, but the fundamental thesis of the book (that TR set the course for the disastrous events culminating in WWII) is imperfectly defended. The historical evidence and quotes that he provides to make his case are indeed nothing short of eye-opening and chilling (you’ll not think of American history quite the same way afterwards) but they don’t quite add up the way Bradley wants them to. While he certainly contributed extensively to the direction of future events, the amount of blame heaped on Teddy Roosevelt smacks of a too-simplistic analysis. In addition, the over emphasis on American actions has the ironic (in a book focused on exposing American misdeeds) effect of making many of the other players on the board feel a bit puppet-like. Surely, the leaders of Japan, Korea, China, Great Britain and France were just as responsible for the direction of their country’s as TR. Fortunately, the facts themselves are so hard-hitting they carry the book on their own.
Read-a-likes: If you enjoy this book, you’ll of course want to hunt down Bradley’s first two (Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys). For more information on the glamorous Alice Roosevelt, the biography Alice by Stacy Cordery is a good place to start. For more on Roosevelt’s wheeling and dealing, Bully Boy by Jim Powell and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris are worth a peak.
Availability: The Lake Bluff Public Library owns this item as a book, eAudiobook, Audiobook and eBook. Click here to check on the availability!
Review by Eric.
Aztalan : Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town (Robert Birmingham and Lynne Goldstein : Nonfiction) c. 2005
Posted September 21, 2010on:
Summary: Following the Winnebago War of 1827 and the Black Hawk War of 1832, settlers poured into the newly organized Wisconsin Territory. Fifty miles west of the newly founded village of Milwaukee, along the Crawfish River, these new arrivals made a startling discovery: a series of large man-made mounds, all that remained of an abandoned city. Believing the site to be the remains of the mythological northern homeland of the Aztec the site was dubbed Aztalan, and became the site of extensive archeological research for the next 175 years. Only in recent years have archeologists been able to piece together the story of this site. Occupied between 1050 and 1100 AD, Aztalan was the northern outpost of a complex chiefdom level society centered around Cahokia, a civilization that has been named ‘Mississippian.’ Birmingham and Goldstein tap into research and history both old and new to paint a picture of this unique settlement.
Review: This slight book (138 pages) provides an able overview of the Mississippian settlement of Aztalan, but is primarily for neophytes in Wisconsin archeology. Birmingham is a past state archeologist for the state of Wisconsin, and Goldstein is a current professor of anthropology at Michigan State University. This is a good starting point for anyone interested in learning more about a little known and very important archeological site in the area; those already familiar with the basics of the site can probably take a pass.
Read-a-likes: Those looking to read more about Wisconsin archeological sites might pick up Buried Indians : Digging Up the Past in a Midwestern Town by Laurie Hovell McMillin, or Indian Mounds of Wisconsin by Robert A. Birmingham. Those seeking a comprehensive overview of the prehistory and archeology of southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois should look no further than Twelve Millennia : Archeology of the Upper Mississippi River Valley by Robert Boszhardt and James Theler. The library does not currently own this title, but it can be obtained via Interlibrary Loan. For fiction titles featuring archeology and/or archeologists, check out the works of Elizabeth Peters, Lynn Hamilton and Mary Anna Evans.
Availability: This item is available at the Lake Bluff Public Library as a book. Click here to check on the availability.
Summary: Drawing heavily on Icelandic oral tradition (aka, sagas), Byock charts the course of the Norse settlement of Iceland. Beginning with initial settlement, the author charts the establishment of an egalitarian republican government amidst ongoing struggles with a fragile and occasionally hostile environment. Concluding with conquest by Norway, Byock chronicles the birth of this unique culture.
Review: Byock’s heavy use of the saga’s, which he defends in the books opening chapter, is a somewhat unusual tack for conventional historiography. Most historians tend to look askance (at best) of stories passed down through oral tradition, largely (but not exclusively) because they tend to change along with the society. As a result, oral tradition shorn of a written documentation of their changes over time tend to say a lot about contemporary society but are usually assumed to contain only nuggets of the past. That said, Byock (Professor of Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian at UCLA) makes an engaging and knowledgeable tour guide. While the sagas form the backbone of each window into medieval Iceland, he ably reinforces each with extensive archeological, historical and anthropological data. The result is that, despite its unorthodox approach, the book’s central points are built on a solid foundation and remain largely free of unfounded speculation. For a more casual reader, the centrality of the personal accounts in the sagas make for an authoritative book that is far more engaging than one would expect.
Read-a-likes: For those fascinated by Iceland but looking for a quicker read, Arnaldur Indridason’s mysteries are easily the most popular recent import. The strong writing and unique setting has pulled the author’s Inspector Erlendur novels towards the head of the pack among the throng of recent Scandinavian thrillers flooding the US market. The more literary works of another Icelandic author, Olaf Olafsson, have not garnered as much attention, but are worth checking out as well. For more on the medieval Norse settlement of Iceland and Greenland, Jared Diamond’s Collapse includes an interesting anthropological examination of the successes/failures of the two colonies. For more on the medieval Norse, The World of the Vikings by Richard Hall and Cultural Atlas of the Viking World by Colleen Batey are worth a look. For a fictional take on Vikings, check out Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales or the works of Robert Low. For those interested in learning more about the sagas, check out the eVideo Nordic Sagas available through My Media Mall.
Availability: This title is not currently part of the Lake Bluff Public Library’s collection, but can be obtained via Interlibrary Loan.