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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