After reading the Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food, I looked forward to reading this one. I knew it had been written earlier and was about the natural history of plants, but I enjoyed his other writings and found them insightful so I didn’t much care what it was, I’m a Michael Pollan fan. So, this turned out to be a quirky look at the history of how the Apple developed in North America, how the potato evolved and impacted Ireland and is being genetically modified today, how pot has gotten stronger as a result of the war on drugs and how the tulip evolved. Fun, funny and engaging not unlike Simon Winchester. Though, while Winchester is the proper old Englishman stumbling across interesting topics, Pollan is a stoner speculating about how plants evolve to make themselves attractive to humans for cultivation.
This is a critical, tongue in cheek look at contemporary British culture. Lyall is an American journalist who has lived in Britain for more than 20 years. She points to the usual stereotypes and attempts, rather unscientifically, to rationalize, justify and explain why they are true. Lyall covers bad teeth, bad weather, sexual dysfunction, the House of Lords debating the existence of UFOs, bad public healthcare, bad public schools, intense class division, economic stagnation, hedgehogs and cricket. While the book isn't laugh out loud funny, it is amusing so long as you are not offended by it or take it too seriously.
My grandparents were immigrants and my father, an only child, is very English in his character. Though his teeth and health are fine, even at 80, I know I inherited many attitudes and ideas that are British. So, while my wife and children look on in confusion as I find Monty Python brilliant, eat anything put in front of me and take bad weather in stride, I know I inherited these qualities from my British father. So, it's fun to read another Americans send up of the good people of our little island.
Again, this is a memoir, a series of stories and reflections on the author's personal experience. While she sights some statistics and no doubt emphasizes the bit of truth in many comic aspects of British society, I know that any 2,000 year old community of several million people are bound to have their issues. Immensely readable, fun, funny, though clearly a send up. I almost didn't make it through the first chapter explaining the homosexuality of most British men quoting P. G. Wodehouse and other expert sources (this is sarcasm). However, I am glad I did. I wanted a light read as a break from a series of heavier non-fiction historical studies of British monarchs. The "Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British", was exactly what was called for. Did I mention you shouldn't take this too seriously?
Read from January 21 to February 01, 2013
Excellent read. I have read several books that cover the lives of the Tudors and more specifically Elizabeth, Mary and Henry. However, none had done much with the wives of Henry VIII beyond Jane Seymour having been the mother of Edward VI. So I picked this one up and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Weir has written several first class histories on this period so there is much overlap. The first third of the book was not only familiar, but in some cases a direct re-tracing of steps. However, the details were oriented toward the lives of the wives, not the politics or religion. In the middle of the book the story provides detail on not only the lives of the wives, but of Henry as a husband and private person. Weir creates a portrait of a powerful leader struggling with ruling a nation while growing older, heavier and having massive issues with fatherhood and fathering.
As the book gets to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, Weir does not disappoint. In many respects this is the same story I've read from the point of view of the Children of Henry, the Life of Elizabeth and other histories, but from the point of view and experience of these three women. Weir creates portraits of real people which allow the reader a meaningful experience beyond a simple understanding of the facts.
All six of these women had fascinating stories. Having been married to Catherine of Aragon the longest, the largest single portion involves her life. Having been married to Catherine Howard for the shortest interval, the book tells the tale and moves on. I enjoyed Weir's following through with the stories of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr who outlived Henry. Thus, this was truly the story of the wives from beginning to end.
Alison Weir is a master of historical narrative. This is a well written, comprehensive biography of Elizabeth I. The book begins with her Grandfather and quickly sets the stage through the reign of her father and siblings Edward and Mary. After the story of her childhood, the real story begins with the reign of her younger brother.
Elizabeth's story is familiar in broad strokes - Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada, Shakespeare and the English Renaissance. Never the less, the details read like a spy novel, a romance, a treatise on civil government, religion and culture. From Sir Francis Drake raiding Spanish ships to Lord Essex at war in Ireland, the book covers her life and 45 year reign in style.
I particularly like the way Weir quotes her sources in an authoritative manner without disrupting the flow of the narrative. In this way the book reads like historical fiction - which it is not. Weir is simply knowledgeable enough having done adequate research to re-create scenes dramatically with the words of her characters.
Ultimately, there is little revolutionary in her point of view on Elizabeth. As a scholar, I don't think her research brings her to any new or shocking revelations though she clarifies and adds details to many points. Elizabeth was with little doubt a pivotal figure in the history of Europe and defining leader in the development of what was to become Great Britain. I suspect Weir's "The Life of Elizabeth I" is well on it's way to becoming a modern classic on the subject of the life of Elizabeth I. Well worth a read if you have any interest at all. This book is long, but quite accessible.
Weir does a terrific job of storytelling. There are histories that are dry and impersonal, this is not one of them. By focusing on a narrow window, Weir makes it easy to connect to the characters in the book as though it's great fiction rather than history. Never the less, her research is amazing and she has many scholarly points to make.
The book begins with a quick run up and review of the reign of Henry VIII in order to set the stage for the assent of his son, Edward VI. It is easy to skip over the reigns of Edward, Lady Jane and Mary on the way from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. However, much of the molding of the culture, government and religion of England was reaction to and grew out of the context of the radical positions of Edward and Mary. The personal details tell the story of the evolution of ideas, theology and policies. I respect the histories that cover the centuries in broad strokes, but Weir's style of writing is entertaining and informative at a much deeper level.
Accounts taken from letters, diaries and testimony give us the expressions on faces, laughter, horror as well as what they wore, ate and really looked like. This level of detail makes it possible to experience history in a full color world experienced by the senses. Mary loved her little sister, Edward idealized and played with his older sisters, Mary fell head over heals for Philip and real people died for what they believed in grotesque ways while wars raged on the continent and an international cast of supporting characters came and went with news, influence and intrigue.
I've read more exciting history, but only because the stories were more exciting. Alison Weir is as gifted as any historian I've read. She doesn't document every phrase in the narrative. She tells the story with details and mentions sources in context making her prose flow in a natural and unobtrusive way. It is really easy to forget that this is not fiction. I look forward to reading more of her work including her historical fiction. Michael Schaara's "Killer Angels" comes to mind. The events can be real and dialogue can even be taken from primary source, but there is a line where an honest historian can decide to write from his or her own point of view and personal understanding without qualification in a literary style rather than as a scholar. The style of Weir's writing here is just to the history side of the line. I understand that other works of hers are fiction, though I imagine them, as with Schaara, fictionalized history rather than fiction in a historical setting.
Excellent book, I highly recommend. A must for Tutor enthusiasts. By the way - this covers Henry VIII through Jane Seymour and then the lives of Edward, Mary, Jane Grey (though she is not Henry's child) and Elizabeth until Elizabeth takes the thrown. The coverage of Elizabeth's life is equal in the time frame, but the time frame ends with the death of Mary. Just a brief epilogue foreshadows the actual reign of Elizabeth.
I'm still fascinated with myself for reading this series. Because my daughters buy books on my account and I read a variety of history and fantasy that along with teen fiction, leads Amazon to recommend Urban Fantasy. The first book was intriguing enough that I went for it and found it an amusing summer escape. It was sort of like wondering into the family room and finding the kids watching Buffy and sitting for an hour - amusing little mystery adventure with pretty characters that are fun to look at. 7 books into the series later, I still feel the same way. All the usual suspects: werewolves, vampires, fairies, ghosts and a host of magical creatures charge around the northwest among a human population that is only vaguely aware of them. At this point the series is somewhat formula, but like watching Scooby-Doo, somehow still fun.
Last year I began the Vampire Chronicles after reading Christopher Moore’s vampire series. In the Christopher Moore books, which are comedy, at one point the boyfriend of a novice vampire struggles to help her by collecting all the vampire fiction he could find. His comical references to the differences are funny and made me curious. Having completed 4 Anne Rice novels, I thought I’d go back to where it all began and read the classic.
The style is, of course, a bit funny since it is stiff, proper and full of words that are less used today. Never the less, the style of narrative via letters, diary entries and notes is clever and gives the reader the feeling of having stumbled across a secret archive. While there isn’t the blood and gore of some modern horror tales, Stoker creates real ambiance in his lavish descriptions and subtle details. This was a clever writing style and quite enjoyable. Now I know why this caught on and has become so iconic. Like so many classics, characters and phrases have entered the lexicon to the extent that I recognized much of this book. Well written, well read - I highly recommend.
Final Note: I had thought Carfax was a service that faxed reports of cars. In our modern age it seemed quaint that this business would make itself seem older by referencing 80s technology. However, Carfax is the name of Dracula’s estate in England! Could it be that the nice car history report people are actually blood sucker?
This is a work aimed at a teen audience written with limited vocabulary and short sentences. At first the rhythm reminded me of Hemingway, but it is not particularly sophisticated. The story is a Handmaid’s Tale style world wherein villages of the empire send tribute/sacrifices as reparation for an uprising that happened almost 80 years ago. The “Tributes” have to fight to the death on television. The game takes place in the woods while viewers send support and bet on the contestants. Very quick read. There are 2 sequels. They may be easy enough to read that it would be worth covering the series, but really, this is enough to know what it’s about and I’d like to go back to full sentences with grown up vocabulary.
My Dad recommended this book to me years ago and I've finally gotten around to it. This is a "stranger than fiction" account of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair which was known as the Colombian Exposition. It is also the story of all the culture and horror swirling around the fair in that era. The book covers everything from a serial killer who may be the archetypal psychopath, the assassination of the mayor of Chicago, the great architects of the age, to where Cracker Jack came from. The 1st Columbus Day was celebrated during the fair, the first Ferris Wheel created for the fair, and labor laws in America changed as a result of the fair. For range of coverage, this book is amazing. For level of intrigue and depth of detail, equally amazing. Well documented, well written and as always, I am amazed I didn't know this stuff. I would imagine that not being familiar with the fair would be as unimaginable to a person of that day as meeting someone who didn't know about the Moon landing would be in our age. This was big.
In college I took a course on American Architecture and how it reflects culture and the ideologies and world views of the people of the various times. Reading Larson's book, I recognized dozens of names and new building mentioned as well as events around the fair and the period, but the book was full of revelations and connections for me.
I would like to mention that stylistically, while parts of the book were amazing, I was put off by one device. Larson seemed to make glancing reference to multiple events which he seemed to assume the reader would know. I thought it was presumptuous and I felt silly for not knowing what he was talking about. However, in the last part of the book, he fills in all blanks and rather than being annoying, it became obvious that he was beginning with the end and had left off explicate detail so he could refer back at the end of the book. As the book closed, all was forgiven and what seemed awkward in the beginning became an elegant even clever closing.
Excellent book. I've read some really well written narrative history this year, so Larson had some hard acts to follow. Never the less, Larson held his own. I would highly recommend this book. A murder/thriller/detective story, an adventure in creation and the realization of an architectural dream, a chronicle of an event that changed the world and a portrait of America as she approached the 20th Century. I particularly liked the very last reflection on writing this book--Larson's comments on his sources and the joy of historical research. I was taken back to days in the Yale University Sterling Library Archives sorting through 18th century sermons and letter while doing my own thesis. Larson is a first class historian and story teller.
This is an amazing book!!! Earlier this year I read Seabiscuit. Hillenbrand did a terrific job of weaving a compelling story while elaborating on historical details and demonstrating the kind of documentation and research that made the book serious history. When a friend at work recommended Unbroken, I picked it right up and was not disappointed. It's cliché, but no one could have made this story up. It had all the intrigue and suspense of a spy novel. This story covered serious ground with battle scenes, survival, man against nature, man against man, torture, oppression, redemption, spirituality and forgiveness. And, this is a serious history book. I was entertained, moved and inspired. I just love excellent history. The friend who recommended this said "I read a lot of World War II literature and for my money, there isn't a better book on the subject." I agree. I highly recommend this.
The book begins with Italian immigrants settling in California and raising a family in the 1930s. One of the sons is a hand full. Louie is full of mischief and energy to the point that he get's into real trouble. However, as he approaches his high school years, his older brother helps him to become a runner. Turns out, Louie has a real talent. The story goes from national competition to the 1936 Olympics and Louie posing with Adolph Hitler for a picture. If the book had simply been about a runner, it would have been an excellent book. When World War II begins, Louie joins the service and becomes a bombardier on a B-24 crew. That is when the real story begins. From successful raids on Pacific Islands to POW camps on the Japanese main land, the story covers the breath of the war experience for an airman in the Pacific theater during the war.
As the book winds down, Hillenbrant brings dozens of threads to closure. Over the course of the book she covers and details hundreds of aspects of the war, the development of technology, military policy and the reality of the life of combatants on both sides. This is simply a masterful telling of a riveting story. Really, read this. There are even love stories complete with abuse and redemption... just an amazing book.
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