This narrative came as a complete surprise; I had no idea the Mediterranean Sea was a major war zone in the 16th century; no idea, either, that citizens of both Europe and the Ottoman Empire were enslaved on such a scale by the "corsairs" of the opposing sides. Crowley tells the story as if it were recent history, extracting a full measure of excitement and suspense out of each incident. Narrated by the irrepressible John Lee. The only problem is that, as with other works on similar topics, the unfamiliar names -- unfamiliar to me, at any rate -- are hard to grasp without a printed text alongside. Wikipedia helps a bit. A map of Malta, especially of the Grand Harbor, is essential.
"Voyagers of the Titanic," as its title implies, focuses on the people rather than the technical aspects of the wreck. Davenport-Hines organizes the stories into groups: among them the shipbuilders, the ship's officers, and the first, second, and third class passengers. I was particularly pleased to see so much attention being given to second class, which was given short shrift in the movie "Titanic" and in many other accounts of the disaster.
Up to the point where the iceberg strikes, each chapter is filled with interlocking mini-biographies of the people involved. The narrative is organized loosely in a kind of "six degrees of separation" style: branching out through the passenger list and giving a vivid sense not only of the people but of the world they inhabited.
The author reaps the benefits of this careful preparation in his narration of the disaster itself. These are not random people who show up on the boat deck: they're people we've met, spent some time with, come to have some opinions about. Davenport-Hines recounts the story of the wreck, the lifeboats, the rescue, the dissemination of the news: it's all familiar ground to Titanic buffs, but given here with superlative organization and a host of fresh details.
Anyone who's read more than one book about the Titanic knows how vastly different perceptions can be. Davenport-Hines takes a dim view of Senator William Smith's US Senate inquiry into the disaster, accusing Smith of "grating stupidity" and the hearings as "raucous scapegoating." Smith, of course, was virtually the hero of Wyn Craig Wade's book, "The Titanic: Disaster of the Century."
I don't think I would recommend this to someone as the first book to read on the subject - that would still have to be Walter Lord's classic - but it's a compelling listen, a very thorough account of the subject, and it should definitely be the second or third book on your Titanic list.
This is a great story -- as the cover of the book says, it's the 2500-year history of conflict between East and West. The geographical locations are actually a bit more specific than that: the East is the Middle East (the Persian Empire, the the Safavid Empire, the Ottoman Empire); the West is mostly Western Europe (Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany). The history is partly political and military, and partly intellectual: all the great battles are here, but considerable space is also given, for example, to the ideas about "Orientalism" that spread through Europe in the 18th century. The narrative moves rapidly and includes a rich amount of surprising detail.
Then there are the names. One of the strengths of the book is also one of its weaknesses, at least as an audiobook. I've read a lot of world history, but even so I found the book loaded with unfamiliar names, many of them Arabic, French, or Spanish (a good thing, since I was hoping to learn something new); and I found it difficult at times, with John Lee's very posh and precise pronunciation, to visualize the spelling (a bad thing). I discovered in the process that I'm a much more visually-oriented learner than I realized. (I got around the problem by checking the book out of the library and looking stuff up.)
Compared to Pagden's "Peoples and Empires," also available here, this is both longer and more focused: it doesn't try to tell all of world history, just as much as possible about this one aspect of it. John Lee is a great narrator, and it's an absorbing and rewarding listen.
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
From one island to another; ten thousand miles away, but tens of thousands of years apart...
I had a mental image at the start of Hoffman's novel: the privileged Rockefeller, a poster boy for REI, standing ankle deep in the swamp mud, surrounded by his equipment bearing entourage; pockets bulging with credit cards and currency, a million dollar smile, and those ubiquitous thick framed black glasses. Gazing back at him, the stone age Asmat people, smeared with ash and mud, bone-pierced septums, bare bodies bejeweld with the skulls and bones of small animals. Progressing from that freeze frame image, a gigantic round boulder suddenly rolling in Rockefeller's direction, the sounds of phhfftt, phhfftt, phhfftt, would have seemed perfectly in order, I was tensed for the attack. No one, including Spielberg himself, could have told this outrageous tale more vibrantly; so eloquently orchestrating the facts and myths to shed some light on the human condition, as well as the mystery.
Hoffman, a travel journalist and contributing author/editor for National Geographic and Smithsonian, said in an interview that his goal in writing this book was not to solve the mystery of Michael Rockefeller. He wrote: “I [the author] hungered to see a humanity before the Bible, before the Koran, before Christian guilt and shame, before clothes and knives and forks.” By immersing himself in the Asmat culture, Hoffman came to understand far beyond clues, mythology, and hoaxes, what might have happened to Rockefeller, and fundamentally, why.
The book has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. I've tried to figure out from which angle to approach a review. It's so much more than *just* the tale of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance -- which alone could rank among Into Thin Air, Kon Tiki, The Right Stuff, The Perfect Storm. Savage Harvest is back-stage access to an amazing story, a travel pass to trek along with a great story teller/ traveler and a public figure that was an avid adventurer on a quest. It is a revealing excursion through a political history, and an education of an ancient people with a complex spiritual system based on the conception of a dualistic, balanced cosmos...whose village was currently feeling very unbalanced and at odds with the modern concepts imposed on them. "The last great unexplored land," a remote island -- that was until as late as 1953, still practicing the ritual of head-hunting and cannibalism. Hoffman gives his readers a multi-faceted gem that has been crafted with skill and intelligence.
Most impactful for me: The beginning of the book gives a sequence of Michael's demise, from the capsizing of the boat, to the horrific step-by-step ritual of preparing the body for consumption. But, it is Hoffman's wrap up. He concludes with an enigmatic look at another possibility -- which I will not reveal. In a few places, the book reads more like an educational piece than an adventure novel, restating facts, carefully alignment with objectivity, but the story itself is unimaginably fascinating and drives you forward smoothly over any little bumps. I have no complaints about the narrator, but I do think his voice will be a matter of preference. He neither added nor subtracted from the material.
***Perhaps you've gone to the Michael C. Rockefeller wing and seen the art of the Asmat people procured by Rockefeller (he was on his way to pick up a piece on his fatal expedition). The canoes, platters, shields carved from mangrove trees are impressive. The bisj (or bis) poles are hypnotic and eerie. The Asmat believe spirits of deceased ancestors inhabit the sacred wooden poles until their death is avenged. The symbols of the Asmat cosmology, indigenous birds, animals and insects, as well as symbolic references to headhunting, and the crowning phallic symbol, are intricately carved into the trees in cyclic rituals which accompany the death of a great warrior, headhunting raids, and as appeasement of evil spirits. You can also listen to Michael's twin sister and father talk about the pieces, their provenance: *Michael C. Rockefeller Expedition, collected 1961; Indonesia, Monu village, Unir (Undir) River region (upper); Culture: Asmat people.* And, you can hear twin sister Mary explain the thick black framed glasses her brother wore; Michael was dyslexic. All the Rockefeller money couldn't buy for Michael the artifacts, the Asmat had no need for money; they cost him chunks of tobacco, metal axes, ramen noodles, and possibly his life.