I am an avid eclectic reader.
Margaret Macmillan is Canadian historian who is teaching at Oxford University. She is the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister. I recently read Max Hastings “Catastrophe 1914”. He and Macmillan are coving the same nine months leading up to the war. Hasting covered the role of general staff of rival governments showing a step by step documentation leading up to war. MacMillan on the other hand covers the diplomats and politicians showing step by step how they had avoided war numerous time and why this occasion they failed. Even though Macmillan’s book is scholarly it is very readable. She has the ability to evoke the world at the beginning of the 20th Century, when Europe had gone 85 years without a general war between great powers. In these years there was an explosion of production, wealth and a transformation in society and the way people lived. Food was better and cheaper, dramatic advances in hygiene and medicine, faster communications including cheap public telegraphs. Macmillan asks “why would Europe want to throw it all away?” In the middle of the book Macmillan considers the larger context within which the final approach to war occurred. She is good at painting the intellectual background of “social Darwinism.” The author does a good job dealing with the July crisis and distributes the responsibility widely. It was created by Serbia irresponsibility, Austrian vengefulness, and the “Blank check” the Kaiser issued to Vienna. She recognizes how Britain’s, French and especially Russian actions exacerbated the crisis and rejects the view that this was a German pre-emptive strike, a “flight forward” from domestic strife into war, while arguing that German politics recklessly and knowingly risked war. I think she is right on both counts. Macmillan makes it clear wars are not inevitable there are always choices. Richard Burnip did an excellent job narrating this 32 hour book. This book is a must for anyone interested in WWI history.
I have spent the past three years reading everything I can get my hands on about world war one. Now that we are on the brink of the one hundredth anniversary of the Great War many new books are coming to market. “Catastrophe 1914” is one of them. In 1930 Sir Winston Churchill wrote “No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening”. Max Hastings’s book addresses only the last six months of 1914. The book is well researched and Hastings draws on a wide range of documents and firsthand account to chronicle the events. The major strength of the book is how Hastings portrays the principal characters, not as stereotype but as real human beings with as many flaws as virtues. The author uses excellent narrative skill as he provides the wide-lens approach to the broad political and economical environment, but he also pays close attention to the details of his characters and their lives that makes for a human story. As you read the book you can see how the author rejects the long held academic theories about the war. He goes step by step and destroys the myths about the war’s beginning, and briefly destroys the theories about the consequence of the wars ending and also about what if German had won. Hasting sketches the steps by which Europe descended into war, he does not break new historiographical ground but rather skillfully outlines evidence by several generations of scholars into a readable narrative that is highly understandable to the lay reader. The author covers both the Western and Eastern fronts of the war as they were entirely different wars being fought at the same time. Hastings held me spellbound throughout the book. If you are interested in WWI history this is an excellent book to provide you with understanding and insight as well as wet your appetite for more. Simon Vance did an excellent job narrating the long book.
I read the first book on Genghis Khan and now on the Mongol Queens. This is a good book all women should read this and find out how much more freedom the women had under the Mongol rule compared to Islam and in Europe. The long term effects of the Mongol was very interesting. The information provided in this book gives a different view of history compared to the standard European view we were taught in school. So much new information has been discovered recently. Great history told in an interesting fashion.
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.