Tag Archives: History

God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis

God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

It took me a very long time to finish this book. I would stick with it for a few weeks, and then take a break from the book to read a novel or something. All together, I think I read five or six other books while trying to get through God’s Crucible. The problem wasn’t that the material was boring – I’ve been wanting to read a good, detailed history of pre-Crusades Islam for a long time, so I was really excited to find this – but it’s dense. Important historical figures appear and disappear from the narrative with very little notice, and Lewis expects you to keep up with the scores of characters and locations contained in this history. I don’t recommend trying to read this book on your morning train ride, is what I’m saying.

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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

If you only ever read one dog biography in your life, make it this one. There you go, publishers: there’s your free blurb.

There wasn’t really a good reason for me to pick this book up – I was vaguely aware of Rin Tin Tin but didn’t know much about him besides the fact that he was a movie dog during the 1940’s (this is only partially true, it turns out, but we’ll get to that). I had two reasons for wanting to read this book. First, it’s by Susan Orlean, who could probably write an investigative story about the time she watched paint dry and it would be riveting. And secondly, I just really like dogs and reading about the people who love them makes me happy okay.

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The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

“It was sometimes painful for me to think that to those who followed his life with interest, I was just the early wife, the Paris wife. But that was probably vanity, wanting to stand out in a long line of women. In truth, it didn’t matter what others saw. We knew what we had and what it meant, and though so much had happened since for both of us, there was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believe Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other.”

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Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay

Jewels: A Secret History

“In the course of my research I found that although, of course, some rare stones have amazing and frightening dynastic tales, every jewel, however small or flawed, has its story: about the earth that was excavated to retrieve it, the families who depended on it, the people who designed the cutting method, those who bought or were given it, and the meanings and properties attributed to it. Whole human, geological, and cultural histories are wrapped up in every stone we wear or desire, even if it is only an imitation. So in one way it is the stones and jewels themselves, hidden in mines and oceans – and occasionally in tombs and wrecks and pirates’ hoards – that are the ‘secrets’ of the subtitle; the other secrets are the cultural layers of meaning and fascination that can always be found wrapped around them.”

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The Far Side of the World (Aubrey/Maturin #10) by Patrick O’Brian

The Far Side of the World (Aubrey/Maturin, #10)

It’s always nice to revisit Aubrey and Maturin. I’ve only read a couple books from this series, and I never feel any serious need to find more installments, but I always enjoy them when I do. And this is one of the best ones – not only because it’s pretty similar to the movie version and picking out what they changed/didn’t change for the adaptation is a fun game, but also for other reasons, which I will now list:

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Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic by Daniel Allen Butler

Unsinkable: The Full Story Of The RMS Titanic

I was eight or nine years old when Titanic barreled its way into theaters, so I wasn’t at the epicenter of the hysteria over the movie (my best friend in elementary school saw the movie in theaters and immediately became obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio – meanwhile, I was still spending recess pretending to be a horse, because I was super cool). I don’t think I actually saw the movie in its entirety until I was a teenager, so I was never as fascinated by the story as everyone else was, but I still understood the appeal. Even if you remove the hysterical star-crossed lovers plotline (You jump I jump, Jack!), the story of the sinking of the Titanic is almost too classically Hollywood to be believable. A ship that was billed as “unsinkable”, one of the most luxurious ocean liners of its time, strikes an iceberg and sinks, resulting in the highest casualties of its time (prior to the sinking of the Titanic, the grand total of deaths on an ocean liner in the past forty years was six people). Poor people trapped below as the ship sinks, families saying tearful goodbyes at the lifeboats, and musicians playing even as the ship goes under? You can’t make this shit up.

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A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones

A History of the Vikings

 

“…the temptation is strong to offer generalizations about the viking himself, produce a ‘typical’ figure, and prop him against the museum wall with his catalogue number and descriptive label. It is a temptation to be resisted because of its limiting and misleading consequences. Harald Hardradi, who waged war from Asia Minor to Stamford Bridge for thirty-five years, was a viking; so was his father Sigurd Sow, who stayed at home and counted haystacks. Hastein, who led the Great Army of the Danes into England in the early 890’s, was a viking; so too was Ottar, who came peaceably to his lord kind Alfred’s court with walrus tusks and lessons in northern geography. The men who destroyed churches in England, Ireland, and France were vikings; so too were the woodcarvers of Osberg and the metalworkers of Mammen. The men who said ‘With law shall the land be built up and with lawlessness wasted away’ were vikings; so were the practisers and curtailers of blood-feud, the profit-makers and those who robbed them of profit, the explorers and colonizers, the shaper’s of verse-forms and makers of legend. The kings and their counselors who brought the Scandanavian countries within the boundaries of Christian Europe were vikings. In short, the viking is the aggregate of this book and recalcitrant to summary.”

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An Infamous Army (Alastair #4) by Georgette Heyer

An Infamous Army (Alastair, #4)

Although I had read three other Georgette Heyer novels before this one, those were all detective stories, instead of the historical romances that she’s more well-known for. I found this one in a bookstore a few weeks ago and thought that it would be a good introduction to Heyer’s other body of work – although her mysteries aren’t the best I’ve ever read, her characters are always well-formed and the writing is witty and clever, so I was looking forward to seeing how she applied this skill to another kind of story. (A quick note: although this book is technically part of a series, it functions very well as a stand-alone novel, to the point where I didn’t even realize that I was reading a book from a series until I went to write this review)

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The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf by William C. Davis

The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf

History books are tricky beasts. You want them to be well-researched, by someone with impressive scholarly credentials who knows what they’re talking about, but you also don’t want a droning lecture. The people who write popular history books are dismissed in the scholarly community because they are not “real” historians (like my favorite, Alison Weir, who apparently is not a historian, but merely a writer with an interest in history), and the real scholars who write history books often have no idea how to present their information in a way that is interesting and engaging to the general population. Obviously it’s better to read a history book written by someone like William C. Davis, who is a history professor and has clearly devoted years to researching the Laffites and is probably the most knowledgeable source on the infamous pirate brothers. Anyone wanting to learn about Jean and Pierre Laffite, who smuggled goods and raided ships on the Gulf coast in the waning days of piracy, would naturally turn to Davis’s book for the best information. It has almost 200 pages of notes alone, that must mean it’s the best source, right?

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Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens by Lisa Hilton

Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens

 

“In the period between the Norman Conquest and the accession of Mary Tudor in the sixteenth century, no woman ruled England as queen in her own right. The role and status of king were constantly in the process of redefinition, an ongoing negotiation between royal, ecclesiastical and aristocratic powers, but they remained throughout essentially constitutional, their authority enshrined in and upheld by law. No equivalent constitutional role existed for the king’s consort. Yet between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, English queenship evolved an identity of its own, an identity predicated on, but not limited to marriage to the king. The story of England’s medieval queens is composed of two entwined narrative strands: the first the development of queenly tradition and practice, the second the diverse lives of the very individual women who controlled, enlarged and manipulated their customary heritage.”

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