This is an excellent work. It is meticulously researched and carefully presented in its context. As both the author and several other reviewers have noted, the influenza pandemic is frequently missed by the history books, being overshadowed by World War I and the Russian Revolution. Yet the pandemic killed more people, and its effects touched every corner of the world.
The context, which itself is scary on many counts, is necessary to understand how the disease killed so many so fast, as well as the effects the disease had on contemporary societies and the medical, political, military and popular responses to all that death and destruction.
Because flu is still a regular killer and is always a threat to become another scourge, the context of the pandemic, as well as the responses to it, are critical to our understanding of the current threat.
This is a meticulously researched, cogently argued and clearly written book. Bunker’s thesis is that the largely haphazard and privately financed ways in which Britain established its American colonies, and then the mostly hands’-off approach to their oversight, left Americans relatively free to create their own societies and means of governing those societies. The availability of land in America and the lack of institutional authority made Americans both freer and more responsible for their own destiny than were most British. The two societies were therefore drifting apart, making their separation almost inevitable.
When Parliament then tried to assert greater control over the colonies following the Seven Years’ War, it was for the most part ignorant of conditions in, and the expectations of, the colonies. Several years of miscommunication and misunderstanding followed, accelerating the eventual breakup.
Bunker does excellent work interpreting private and official documents in both Britain and America. By exploring so deeply the British point of view, Bunker does a wonderful job clarifying the differences between the British and the Americans. Britain was a hierarchical society, dominated by an elite that was confident of its privileges. The colonies, however, had taken the rhetoric of the Glorious Revolution much more to heart and, even in the South, relied on popular authority. The Americans believed themselves to be British citizens, colleagues of the residents of Britain, and they resented what they took to be being treated as conquered subjects.
While Parliament could treat the Scots, the Irish and even residents of England who couldn’t vote as subjects, it did not have the money or manpower to impose such subservience on a wide open country 3,000 miles away. Nor could it break out of its rigid hierarchical mindset to imagine a different kind of confederation, such as it would ultimately forge with Canada and Australia.
Perhaps nothing so much exemplifies these differences as Bunker’s emphasis on the power brokers from the elite in Britain, but his focus on widely disparate and popular developments in America. This contrast puts the differences in excellent perspective, providing a very clear picture of the descent into war.
This is not a history of a hotel, but King very cleverly uses the hotel as a lens through which to study the changes in Istanbul over the first half of the 20th century.
King presents a very thorough analysis, covering the social, political, economic, ethnic, religious and even architectural changes over the period, as well as what has survived all the changes. He neatly places these changes and continuities within the wider contexts of the old Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Europe and Asia. The book is wonderfully researched and written in an easily accessible and convincing narrative.
This is not a traditional history of WWI. While it covers most of the major episodes on the Western Front and many important developments on the English home front, the book’s focus is on the terrible costs of war. The obvious costs, of course, were the casualties and their families’ suffering, but the book’s scope extends to costs to civil liberties, civil discourse and family relations, in a word, civilization.
Hochschild argues that WWI was both unnecessary and particularly wasteful. Even accepting his arguments, however, Hochschild doesn’t posit how the war could have been avoided. Instead, he presents a compelling explanation of how all the major players were eagerly anticipating the war.
Hochschild argues convincingly that the conduct of the war was incompetent. The generals were unprepared for, and unwilling to adapt to, modern industrial warfare. Hochschild argues less successfully that WWI was the first “total war”. Civilians have always been casualties of war. WWI was different because air power and bigger artillery could hurt civilians distant from the battlefields. Further, while WWI was the first to feature machine guns, tanks and planes on both sides, much of the North’s success in the US Civil War came from its industrial might.
Hochschild also argues that the effects of the war were uniformly negative. Again, the casualties were horrendous, and the effects on families and the economy were terrible. The war spawned the Russian Revolution, and the aftermath of the war was so disastrous that it led to Nazism. Besides the tsar, the war destroyed the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman monarchies. Hochschild argues that the British monarchy survived because it was limited, not absolute, and thus popular discontent had outlets short of revolution in Britain that were not available in other monarchies.
Collapse of royal autocracy is not a negative, but its replacement by totalitarianism is one. The new regimes in Russia and eventually Germany and Austria were crueler than the old order destroyed by WWI, but I question whether the same could be said of Turkey.
Hochschild also explains how the war sped up both women’s suffrage and colonial independence movements. Further, while the British monarchy survived, the social order was forever altered. An intriguing question is whether the horrors of WWI and the collapse of the old order helped change the social mindset such that a casual disregard of casualties, at least in democracies, would no longer be acceptable.
Even if the answer is yes, however, it doesn’t make WWI a positive, nor does it discount Hochschild’s argument that the war was unnecessary and wasteful. A more nuanced analysis, however, would have been valuable.
It’s the huge irony in the creation of the United States: a country dedicated to freedom but founded on the back of slavery. Morgan confronts that irony head-on and seeks to explain how such contradictions could coexist.
He focuses on Virginia, which had the most slaves of any of the 13 colonies and yet also produced the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as 4 of the first 5 Presidents.
His argument is meticulously researched and presented in great detail. He argues that improvements in the tobacco market meant planters could afford to make the greater initial investment required to purchase slaves, rather than the contracts of indentured servants. The growth of slavery then significantly curtailed the flow of indentured servants into Virginia. This in turn gradually reduced the size of the white underclass, which had previously threatened the security of the Virginia gentry. Building off the classical notions that first, a successful republic requires virtuous citizens, and second, virtue requires economic independence, Morgan argues that republican ideologists were able to ignore those persons, white or black, who didn’t fit the mold. Since such persons, by definition, could not be good republicans, they were not entitled to the benefits of republican liberty.
When the underclass was white, and the distinction was one of class, there was inevitably class conflict, which occasionally would erupt in violence. When the underclass was composed of slaves, however, and the distinction was racial, then whites could unite to think of themselves as special. As they grew more successful, they could even consider themselves virtuous. They thus could throw off what they saw as the corrupting ways of executive tyranny in the mother country, at the same time subjecting another race to much crueler horrors than those against which they rebelled.
Morgan has some great discussions of intellectual trends, including attitudes towards work, class consciousness and fears of tyranny. He discusses only briefly the traditional classical connection between virtue and the success of a republic, and the book would have benefited from a more thorough discussion.
He also mentions that some Virginians were able to see the inconsistencies between their rhetoric and slaveholding. That discussion too could have been fuller.
This is a good explanation of an underappreciated contribution to American history. It highlights the global nature of the war that included the American Revolution and explains how fighting on the Mississippi and in Florida, Central America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean contributed to American success by diluting British attention and resources.
One irksome aspect of the book was the continual reference to the US as colonies until the Treaty of Paris was signed. A more substantive issue is a tension between two central themes of the book. Chavez complains that Spain doesn’t get enough credit for helping foster American independence, while at the same time stressing that Spain got into the war only to serve its own interests. These two themes are not necessarily incompatible, but they should have been reconciled.
Chavez blames John Jay’s failed diplomatic mission to Spain and anti-Catholicism for Americans’ lack of appreciation of Spanish help. While the first reason may be valid, the second flies in the face of American recognition of French assistance. Other possible explanations include: (1) the very caution for which Chavez lauds Spain, (2) the facts that Spain didn’t have a dashing representative like Lafayette or a legend like Franklin to publicize its help, and (3) the effect of the subsequent revolutions in Spain’s colonies. The book does not address these questions.
The book does raise fascinating questions about the longer-term consequences of Spain’s involvement in the American Revolution, including the acceleration in the decline of French finances (Chavez argues that France refused to get involved in the war without promises of Spanish assistance), which helped lead to the French Revolution; the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, which helped spur the independence movements of Spain’s colonies; and American expansion across North America, at the expense of Spain (via France), in the case of Louisiana, and of Spain’s former colony Mexico, in the cases of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
The sound quality is inconsistent, and the narrator’s foreign accents are woeful.
One of the great ironies in intellectual history is that the knowledge of ancient Greece was largely lost to Europe in the early Middle Ages, but was saved in the Islamic world and then reintroduced to Europe through Moslem Spain. This book gives great insight into the middle leg of that story in a thorough and accessible manner. Starr sets out to explain the rise of the Central Asian Enlightenment, describe all its glories, and then explain its decline.
Central Asia, in the centuries both before and during its Enlightenment, was at the crossroads of vast commercial activities. These included the famous Silk Road to China, as well as routes to India, the Middle East and Europe. Starr focuses on how Central Asia was able to use the interactions and wealth brought by such trade to create an intellectual class. This class was both familiar and comfortable with different cultures and languages and was also used to serving as middlemen between different peoples and cultures. Those intellectuals took the ancient knowledge, sifted it through the other influences of the region, integrated it with knowledge from India and China and made substantial contributions of their own.
The book contrasts the acme of the Central Asian Enlightenment with the comparative backwardness of Europe at the time and then further contrasts the opposite trajectories in intellectual history each area subsequently followed.
Starr argues that religious dogmatism and conflict were prime causes of the decline in the Central Asian Enlightenment. While outside the scope of this book, Starr’s other comparisons of Central Asia and Europe lead to the fascinating question of why European intellectuals were able to escape the intellectual conformity imposed, frequently quite violently, by the Roman Catholic Church, which was even more organized and bureaucratic than Islam, while those in Central Asia could not do so.
This is a fascinating story of various movements coalescing into a unique event. It’s told from the viewpoints of multiple participants: the planners, the speakers, the politicians, the volunteers and members of the crowd. It follows the progression of the planning and presentation of the March, with several flashbacks to tell individuals’ stories or to explain particular trends. This technique has the risk of being disjointed, but instead it helps add layer and layer of depth at appropriate points, building in a crescendo to the grand conclusion.
The narrator has a wonderful voice, and is particularly good with the songs. (He does a great Bob Dylan.) There are, however, several mispronunciations that are grating.
This is a fascinating account of a pivotal development in American jurisprudence. It provides a wealth of historical background and perspective, all of which help to explain the development of Holmes’s thinking.
The epilogue provides only a cursory discussion of developments in First Amendment law since the time of Holmes. Given the in-depth analysis of the body of the book, the final summary left this lawyer and student of history wanting more. That, of course, would be a whole textbook.
The first half of this book, through Appomattox, is a detailed, meticulously researched account of Grant’s life and contributions. It convincingly sets forth what distinguished Grant from other Union generals. Brands also sets Grant’s activities within the general context of contemporary events and trends, but that analysis does not go very deep.
The second half of the book is much more rewarding. Of necessity, it deals with the issues and trends of the day and Grant’s influences on and reactions to them, and it focuses less on personal details. It sets forth the accomplishments of his administration, which are too often overshadowed by the scandals at the end of his term. Brands argues that Grant showed the same courage trying to protect the freedmen and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans, that he showed in battle.
The book also raises fascinating questions that deserve greater analysis, including: Did the Radical Republicans in Congress really hijack Reconstruction and direct it in ways Lincoln would never have countenanced, or did they try to save it from Johnson’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Southern Democrats? At the end of the Civil War, Grant was afraid the rebel armies would disintegrate into guerilla bands. While the armies did not “take to the hills,” should the KKK be treated as the reconstituted guerilla force that Grant feared? Sheridan considered the KKK to be terrorists. Had they been treated as such at the time, would civil rights have been established before more than another century had passed?
This is really a history of scientific theories of the moon's origins and makeup, rather than just an explanation of the current prevalent theory. Unlike an earlier reviewer, I found the history of earlier theories interesting, in that they help explain the development of the current Giant Impact theory.
What I found disappointing was the Appendix that addresses the claims of conspiracy theorists that astronauts never reached the moon. This was a very satisfying academic book and didn't need to descend to that level.
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