I find that in my studies of history, comprehensive and sweeping overviews are invaluable, both to help keep people and events in perspective, and to give me an idea of where I might want to dig deeper later on. I've gone through a number of such overviews over the years, though not one as ambitious as this one. From the mists of legend through to the fall of Rome as the title suggests, Bauer weaves together all of the broad strokes of human history in this time period. For the earlier accounts, history is extrapolated from mythology and archaeology, translating symbolism into human events. Another high point of praise is that most overviews like this will pick a single nation or perhaps a hemisphere. This covers East and West, putting the rise and fall of various dynasties on a timeline that allows the reader to compare and contrast in an way that I've not seen with such effectiveness. Bauer has similar titles for Medieval and Renaissance history, and I'm looking forward to connecting those stories as one larger tapestry.
The lasting effect of this book on history cannot be understated. It is the singlemost influential book on Protestant thinking throughout the Reformation, often read from the pulpit as scripture alongside the Bible, thus shaping that world irrevocably. The original clocked in at over a million words, and the woodcut illustrations cemented the horrors in the imaginations of the Tudor and Stuart world.
I am, unfortunately, not yet able to find a physical copy with reproductions of the illustrations for my home library, but in my quest to further deepen my appreciation for Medieval and Renaissance history, this audiobook found its way to me, filling my ears with the propaganda of the age in a most personal way. Regardless of your particular spiritual stance (I'm not a Christian myself), it's very difficult to not be moved to anger, sadness, and sometimes pride for the various sacrifices within, both noble and indignant. Listening to these accounts of martyrdom in detail opens the window of understanding to a bygone age and makes me readily appreciate the amount of religious freedom and tolerance I am accustomed to today by comparison. My studies into history and comparative religion are going to be forever changed by my experience of this book, such is the brutality and courage found here. At the end of the day, regardless of the bias and agenda of the author, these are still tales of human suffering, and it's inhuman to listen to such things impassively. As such, this book is a mental and spiritual beating. For a Christian, especially one of that time and place, I can only imagine the effect it would have on the devout. I'm sure it still holds some power with the faithful today who encounter it. As an outsider in a Christian culture and amateur historian, I appreciate it from my own perspectives and understandings, but it further reinforced my own beliefs about organized religion vs. personal spiritualism. I would liken this book to Yoda's cave on Dagobah: what's inside is shaped and perceived by what you take with you, and you will emerge from the experience with some inherent change on your psyche that you will need to come to terms with. It will not be an easy journey, and only you can decide if it's necessary for you to confront this tome. Make no mistake, it will be a confrontation.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going into this. I had a feeling like this was either a book that took itself way too seriously for the wanna-be goth crowd, in which case it might be free comedy, or it would simply be a who's who in the world of negative folklore. This book is decidedly of the latter type, for which I'm thankful. Hey, sometimes you just have to take a chance and see for yourself. Essentially it breaks down the different kinds of entities by associated element: earth, air, fire, water. For example, mermaids, selkies, and nereids are water while djinn and demons are fire, and so on. Under each entry, it gives stories from lore and tells you how to beat them according to tradition. It rarely tells you why these methods work, only that they do, and as you might expect, some of the ways of dispatching these fiends will leave you scratching your head or laughing. But then, that's half the fun of folklore. Well, it is for me, at any rate.
This sort of book and a handful like it probably populate the shelves of every fantasy writer you can name. It's the sort of thing that inspires storytelling without forcing you to travel down every dead-ended rabbit hole on the internet to track down a given monster. Granted, it's not that easy to track them down in an audio format either, so a print version is probably better for writers who need a reference book. But for a few hours of entertainment for the average enthusiast, this one's a good primer for all the basics worldwide.
The sequel to this book is The History of the Renaissance World, which picks up where this one leaves off and stops right before the actual Renaissance. To my mind then, this book is only the first half of the Medieval world story. That irks me, seeing as how the Renaissance story is not actually told in this series. And that's too bad because like the previous volume dealing with the Ancient World, this volume is pretty freaking spectacular in terms of scope and depth. It says something when the worst I can say about a series is that I want more.
As with the Ancient World volume, this book covers every corner of the globe: every continent (except Antarctica), both hemispheres. Every major culture from the Mayans to the Chinese and everything in between are put on the timeline for comparison and contrast in the course of civilization's rise and fall. It's the kind of eye-opening overview presented in a way that really should be taught in schools, where focus is not on any one given civilization, but rather on parallel development between cultures. As different as the cultures are, the underlying patterns of humanity are revealed, showing that, regardless of where on the map we spring up, we're all capable of some amazing and equally devastating things.
This was almost a 5-star book for me. The authors know their stuff, and the information here is invaluable with regards to generating ideas for an online business and growing it step by step. The title may be exaggeration, but I suspect the end result is largely how many different ideas you implement at once, and how many products you've got going. For the end user on a budget and time deficit, the tips here are usable templates for a variety of endeavors.
The one and only misstep is the website that the authors constantly refer back to. At frequent points in the book, they tell you to go to the site, type in a given item in the search, and read on for more information on a given topic. I'm guessing the site has had a little time to change a bit because the search really doesn't work that well, which forces you to look around for extended amounts of time or give up in frustration or boredom. And that's why I reduce this by one star, because that's an express point they make of how NOT to do something in the book. I believe in leading by example, and no rewards for bad behavior.
Having said that, if you go to the site with no particular agenda, it's actually full of equally useful information that, like tips in the book, is quickly implemented and easy to follow. Some of it is common sense, and some of it is subtle word play, but where this book really shines is that the authors demonstrate what the "other guys" are doing wrong, why it's wrong, and how you'll benefit by using the information.
With all of the options available in the world of social media, relevancy is the name of the game for anyone looking to promote an online presence. This book is the down and dirty reference guide for anyone looking to make their name on the interwebs. For heavy social media users, much of this content will seem like common sense. But more than telling you what to do, this book also explains why it works and how to maximize your efforts. A print or ebook copy may be helpful for later reference.
Comic book fans will be well acquainted with the setup for this book. Imagine a discussion over the latest issue of Batman where the Joker is captured and remanded back into custody at Arkham Asylum because he's legally insane, and therefore incapable of standing trial. Or perhaps there is an argument over gift taxes regarding the diamond that Superman shaped and gave to Lana Lang in Superman III. Exactly who's liable for the mission that turned the Fantastic Four into superpowered heroes and the Hulk into a living engine of destruction? Perhaps we should talk about insurance and the swaths of disaster cut by the average superbattle? And just how far can the Mutant Registration Act or similar such laws extend? For non-fans, it sounds ridiculous, and there are even some fans who will claim as much and still get sucked into such discussion, but for the rest of us (and we all know who we are), this book is a veritable gold mine.
The authors of this book are lawyers and self-described comic book geeks who bring their legal minds to questions that I have heard since the moment I first encountered other fans... and admittedly some of them were asked by me. Geeks love trivia, and in the comics world, the more pedantic the trivia, the better it gets. This book is 100% legal pedantry, wherein many, many, MANY examples of comic book conduct crosses into the real world. Dare I say it, this might be the most awesome way to learn about the U.S. legal system. Stuff like this is what makes geeks seem smart when they unleash their newfound knowledge upon their unsuspecting audiences. After all, knowledge is power, and with great power comes great responsibility (yes, I had to say it) to crush the ego of that one unrelenting know-it-all that every fan knows. Incidentally, if you don't instantly know who that is in your group... it's probably you.
I won't say that this book is all-encompassing, but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to figure out what might have been left out. Go for it, my fellow geeks, and get back to me on this one. I'll also say that there are a couple of points where I'm wondering if the authors actually read the comic they reference because, well, I'm a geek, and I spot these things where the story in question is much beloved. But for the most part, they do a great job, and for those interested in further reading, the actual case reference numbers are there for you to look up.
The narrator for the audio version does a good job as well, but again, I'm a geek, so I'm going to just call this outright. Ra's al Ghul is not pronounced as it is in the Dark Knight movies. For 30 years before Nolan ever got there, the name has a long A sound and the corresponding punctuation in the comics to prove it. Reference Batman: The Animated series to get it right. Also, other pronunciations such as J'Onn J'Onnz and Xavier are called into question. If you can let these slide without nerd rage, then this narrator will work well for you.
One last thing I'll point out, because I can. Nearly everyone I talk to in the past couple of decades seems to think that ultra-realism is better than merely having fun when it comes to superhero stories. After this book, you might be rethinking your stance on that. Pretty much every character you can name would be required to go back to the drawing board or spend life behind bars. Yes, even Superman. Maybe not Wonder Woman or Aquaman, assuming they have diplomatic immunity, but probably international wars would be inevitable. Eh, you get the idea. Get this book, and prepare to have your mind blown.
This might be the most heartbreaking review I ever write. I discovered the golden age of radio, The War of the Worlds, and The Shadow through Orson Welles. I discovered Welles at the end of his life when I was 12, when he performed the voice of the monster planet Unicron in Transformers: The Movie. It's not Citizen Kane, and it would never be anything remotely close. I get that, but that's how I came to appreciate one of the greatest geniuses the entertainment world has ever known. My love of radio happened because of this man. This man changed my life and expanded my world.
This biography is truly something special because it has something that other biographies don't have: Welles himself. Author Barbara Learning was able to contact and collaborate with Welles on this biography through means that typifies Welles' life story, and he gave her free reign and resources because he understood that there is Welles the man, Welles the legend, and his own memory, none of which were in alignment. He was curious to learn about all three aspects. More insightful than the story of Welles' life are the inserted dialogues between Welles and Learning, which adds both gravitas and that personal flourish that makes all the difference. Welles was an extraordinary man by any measure, and his life was as equally bizarre.
On a personal note... the epilogue shattered my childhood. After going through the highs and lows, after getting the personal reminiscences from greatness to virtual unemployment, the hardest part was hearing him refer to my first experience with him as "that horrible little project about Japanese robots that transform into vehicles and such" and how at least it'll help him to buy groceries or something. It was one of the last things he performed before he passed, and he didn't live long enough to see it released. I knew all along he wasn't pleased with it, and I get it, I really do. I can see how a man of Welles' star caliber might think that a string of voiceovers in commercials and cartoons would be something terrible, even after a long stretch of failure and unemployment. But to have his own commentary on it is rough. I like to think that it's little projects like this that will ultimately lead people of later generations to find his work through the back alleys when they might otherwise not seek out the likes of Citizen Kane. After all, that's how I discovered his work. And just like nobody could have predicted something like that, nobody could have predicted the kind of twists and turns Welles' life would take. I thought I knew about Welles before. This book expanded on so much I only thought I knew. As biographies go, this one's a treasure.
All of the things I said in my review of Book 1, The Name of the Wind, still hold true, only more so. The storytelling is lyrical. The characters are more real than many people you can name. The world building is as good or better than I've seen in any other fantasy setting from contemporary writers. If you've read the first, then you have some idea of what to expect from this one, though I think that if it's possible, this one is bigger and ever more rich in its scope and depth, especially in the second half. Rothfuss has already made a name for himself in the upper echelons of fiction's heavy hitters, and as far as I'm concerned, it's well-deserved.
I went into this expecting a steampunk mystery built upon a screwball, gender-bending premise. From there, the only assumption I made was that it would either be fun or absurd. I got both, and I got a few surprises along the way, which I won't spoil because that's part of the fun.
The characters are a blast. Oddly, as much as I like the two lead characters, it's the supporting cast that really makes this story tick. Kudos for the villain on this one. I love a good over-the-top "I'm the hero of this story" monologue in the classic style, and this one doesn't disappoint. As bizarre as the premise is, the story does offer some rather spectacular modern social commentary through the lens of Victorian society and its expectations. Explained through the villain's point of view... wow.
I'm looking forward to book 2 now. I'm curious to see what the author offers as an encore.
As most people know from Hollywood, the infamous shootout took place in the span of a few breathless moments. This book is not just the immediate story of the shootout itself, but rather the entire scope of the story going all the way back to the founding of Tombstone, the formation of the cowtowns and cattle trails, the origins of the Cowboys in the wake of the Texas Rangers, and the bios of each of the personalities involved in this most classic of Old West soap operas. Back room deals, barroom boasts, double-crosses, trial testimonies, politics, logistical data on capabilities of firearms... it's all here and then some, presenting such an incredibly rich tale that you can walk way from this book feeling both entertained and educated. Guinn leaves no stone unturned, no eyewitness account unheard, and no theory unexamined. As a bonus, Stephen Hoye's narration has the same enthusiasm and cadence of the old Lone Ranger series without being overblown, which for an old radio fan like me only adds to grin level. I think the only way to improve on this one might be to give it an old-fashioned musical score.
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