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Archive for the 'book review' Category

26 February
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Blood and Tyrants: Chapters 17-19 *Spoilers*

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Blood of Tyrants Book

Blood of Tyrants

It has been a terribly long time since I posted any of my updates for this book.  Here is what happened.  First about 6 months ago my wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Emily.  Anyone who has a newborn knows that this means your personal times goes to zero.  And that is exactly what happened to me.  While I still had time to do a blog post here and there, I didn’t have time to read and highlight as I went through Blood of Tyrants by Logan Beirne.  When a little free time did crop up I realized that while I was enjoy this books content, I wasn’t enjoying read it as if for a book report, which is pretty much what these blog posts are.  But since I have started this I want to finish it.  So I will continue to do these posts, but it will take me long to get them done.  I hope you all can bear with me.  Here is a list of the other review posts I have done for this book:

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18 February
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Book Review: The Monuments Men

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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

I just this moment finished the book the Monuments Men by Robert Edsel.  Initially I was very excited about this book, because I knew it was coming out as a movie.  It was released this month (February 7, 2014) .  As I write this the movie is number 4 at the box offices and has grossed $43.7 million dollars.  As far as how good the movie is, I don’t know…yet.  I plan on watching that now as I have finished the book.  I always like to read the book first.  However, I’m a little weary as its not getting great reviews.  On IMDB it has a score of 6.5 out of 10 and on Rotten Tomatoes it has a score of 34%.  Not steller by any means.

But this review is about the book, the movie review will come later.  First lets look at what others thought of the book.  Amazon reviewers seem to like the book, they gave it 4.3 our of 5 so far.  Goodreads reviewers were less kind to this historical work, giving it only 3.79 out of 5.  For those of you who don’t know the book is about  how WWII caused the greatest dislocation of cultural artifacts. Hundreds of thousands of items went missing. The main burden fell to a few hundred men and women, curators and archivists, artists and art historians from 13 nations. Their task was to save and preserve what they could of Europe’s great art, and they were called the Monuments Men.

I felt the book was slow.  Interesting definitely, but not being as cultured as some, I could not picture many of the artwork that was discussed in the book and often found myself wondering if the monuments men time would have been better served rescuing the victims of the Nazi’s.  But I also understand that the artwork had a huge cultural significance.  I’m torn about all of this really.  Should we have helped Europe so much in finding these pieces of art?  After all, wasn’t this whole mess their fault?  Or was it just the fault of a few misguided souls and the monsters who lead them?  This war brings up some very strong feelings in everyone, even those like me who didn’t live through it.

Lets get right down to it.  Should you spend your time reading this book?  I spent a month reading this 479 page book.  I did keep picking it up and looking for time to read it.  So, it was a page turner.  Not like a thriller at all.  But I did keep hoping that something more exciting would happen.  It never did.  My notes from the book are brief.  I highlighted the name Errol Flynn, to remind myself to watch some of his cool old movies.  I also found it interesting that the word salt was the basis of the English word Salary.  Then there is a huge gap until the end of the book where I took note of the books that some of the people involved the saving the artwork wrote.  For your reference they are:

Makes me sad that they didn’t print many copies of the above books and now they are almost impossible to find.  Also, sad that the movie is the only reason these people are no remembered and they were not remembered for their accomplishments during their life time.  The only one still alive according to the book is Harry Ettlinger.

Lastly, there have been a lot of other online articles being written about the Monuments Men.  Here are just a few:

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30 September
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Blood and Tyrants: Chapters 13 – 16 *SPOILERS*

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Book_Blood_of_Tyrants

I’m way behind now.  But I guess that is what happens when you are trying to take care of a newborn and working full-time, while trying to keep a blog and podcast going.  Hang in there with me.  I’m still going and I’ll keep going, I’ll just be a little behind.  According to the schedule, I’m supposed to be on chapter 24 and I’m only on 17.  I’ll get there.  For previous post check out: IntroChap 1-3,  Chap 4-6,  Chap 7-9, and Chap 10-12.  And now for more of Logan Beirne’s Blood of Tyrants

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02 September
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Blood and Tyrants: Chapters 10-12 *SPOILERS*

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Blood of Tyrants Book

This week on history blog and podcast we are reading chapters 10-12 of the book Blood of Tyrants. You can read the previous post on Blood of Tyrants here:  IntroChap 1-3,  Chap 4-6, and Chap 7-9.   Here is what I thought, post your comments below.  Spoilers….

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28 August
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Blood of Tyrants: Chapters 7-9 *SPOILERS*

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This week we will be discussing chapters 7-9 of the book Blood of Tyrants.  Please join  the conversation in the comments and let me know what you think of the book.  Just remember to please keep your comments confined to the first 9 chapters.  You can read the previous post on Blood of Tyrants here:  Intro, Chap 1-3, and Chap 4-6.  Spoilers below…

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22 August
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Blood of Tyrants: Chapter 4 – Chapter 6 *Spoilers*!

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Welcome back to our ongoing series.  I’m reading Blood of Tyrants and I would love it if you would join me and add to the comments below.  This week I read Chapters 4 – 6.  You can check out the schedule here.  I’m reading the book with a group of around 40 others on the goodreads group history book club.  You can join the conversation there as well.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Spoilers below…

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11 August
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Blood of Tyrants: Introduction – Chapter 3 SPOILERS!

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Its in the title but once again this post will contain spoilers for those of you reading Blood of Tyrants and have not already read through to chapter 3.  I’m loving this book already.  I can tell that it is going to be difficult to hold my self to the schedule from good reads.  Lots of cool stuff in here!  Spoilers below!

Washington on the Dollar Bill

Washington on the Dollar Bill

Introduction

The title Devourer of Villages was given to Washington by the Seneca Native Americans one assumes for his role in the Battle of Jumonville Glen described in the introduction.

I never thought to George Washington as a red-brown haired six foot 21 year old, that made mistakes, even good looking: “exuded such masculine power as frightens young women”. As Nathaniel Hawthorne is quoted joking Washington was born “…with his hair on, and his hair powdered…” I always saw Washington as an infallible character in American History after wall he was unanimously voted into office. I’m not the only one feeling this way either as Beirne points out, “History books often portray Washington as semi-omniscient demigod who was so unlike us that he never struggled to find his way.”

And yet, again in the introduction, we see that Washington was “desperate to pacify his shoeless–and shirtless–men, Washington confiscated supplies along the way.” He stole! But is that so bad in a time of war? He has to do what he needs to do to keep his army on their feet right? And we already know the man was a slave-owner, something that at the time was quasi-normal, but by todays standards is abhorrent.

As my fellow readers will probably agree, his alignment with Chief Tanacharison was a mistake, with his splitting open poor Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville (What a name!). I mean the guy was just the messenger with a peaceful message of surrender.

Chapter 1 – The Not-So-United States

What I learned in this chapter: The revolution left America bankrupt. The revolution also sparked uprisings in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Haiti, and Latin America. Many citizens felt greater allegiance to their own region than to the wider nation. “New Jersey is out country!”

Questions: This often happens to me with well written non-fiction. I would love to know more about what uprisings these were that happened in Ireland and the other places. What kept Washington from being one of the poor?

Controversy: “He commanded hundreds of slaves…” Answering my own question from above. I bet the slaves kept Washington out of the poor house. He had hundreds to help him manage his property. But I guess he felt bad about it?

“…’there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted of the abolition’ of slavery.”

Although, he declined to free the slaves until his death where “…he would arrange for their emancipation…”.

Washington was already the king to the people: “Washington’s voluntary surrender of power only further elevated his demigod status among the people”. And “…any attack against the great man was considered unpatriotic.”

Except the portraitist that had to paint Washington Gilbert Stuart. Stuart painted a strange likeness of Washington. Described in detail on page 19. He said of Washington that he “…was possessed of ‘great self-command [that] always made his appear a man of a different cast in the eyes of the world.”

It was this rather gruff representation that all modern Americans are familiar with because “it was this stiff, almost annoyed-looking representation of the dynamic man that would grace the dollar bill and shape countless people’s perception of him.” (My emphasis.) Everyone feel free to take out a buck and throughly examine the picture now.

Chapter 2 – Not as Happy in Peace as They Had Been Glorious in War

In our finances our fledgling company was very similar to Britain. Like Britain we were poor from war. We were poor from the revolution, Britain was poor from the 7 years war, which we learned was all Washington’s fault, “Washington’s scandalous “Jumonville Affair” has sparked the global Seven Years’ War.” This lead Britain to heavily tax the new colonies which lead to the revolution in the first place. So I guess you could say that the revolution was all Washington’s fault?

America was in huge debt. 45 million in federal debt and $24 million in additional state debt. We owed mostly to the French.

Washington felt “Public Debt is a Public curse.” so what to do about it? The states would not help.

I never knew the national currency was called the Continental. Always thought it was a tire brand. This is were we get the saying “not worth a Continental”, because the value of the money was so horrible. The currency was such a “laughingstock that barber-shops were papered, in jest, with the bills; and sailors…had suits of clothes made of it.”

Washington’s popularity: An aside to this chapter most about America’s debt is the cool story of the many, many visitors that Washington received at his home. “In search of some respite, he resorted to posting inadequate signage to his estate, causing many prospective visitors to get lost on the snaking paths through the dark woods that hid Mount Vernon.”

Chapter 3 – The Shadow Government

This is the Daniel Shays chapter.  This is where we the readers will see the country go a bit nuts! First every one was in debt. The soldiers from the revolution still had not received any pay for the their duty, pay which they had been promised. We know from the previous chapter that this is because the government simply didn’t have any money to give them. To make matters worse “…any debt above a mere five dollars was cause for imprisonment.” Kind strict huh? Can’t imagine that kind of law would work now.

Shays plight registered with his fellow man. Like everyone else he was a poor soldier never paid by the government and nation that he had helped free. He lost some of his farm to creditors and had watched his hard working neighbors hauled off to jail for owing five bucks. The rally cry of the Shays’ rebellion was

“True Liberty and Justice may require resistance to law”.

Pretty powerful stuff. His message got across and many joined his cause.  The United States might look a lot different if James Bowdoin had not stepped forward. Many disagreed with his tactics but he was able to put down the rebellion, with some of his own financing. Bowdoin’s forces were so well equipped that the farmers , with inferior weapons were soon defeated, “men were scattered before the Massachusetts militia’s firestorm.”

Extra Credit: I had to look this one up from chapter 3: Perfidiousness. Props for anyone who knew what that meant without a google search.

Image credit:  Mike Schmid

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06 August
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History Book Reading Group: Blood of Tyrants – Before Reading

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Blood of Tyrants Book

I’m starting a new book today.  I won it on a giveaway from the History Book Club.  If you would like to read along with me here is the reading schedule I will be following.  I’m starting the week one reading a little early today.  As with all books, when I start reading I first read the outer cover.

Back Cover

For Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency this means I’m reading reviews from other scholars.  All of the are promising.  My greatest concern with history books is that they will be dry so when I read the quotes on the back of the book I’m looking for ones like these:

  • “…page-turning historical thriller…”, says Amy Chua author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Day of Empire and World on Fire
  • “Logan Beirne demonstrates … this fresh and stimulating history of the American Revolution…”  James McPherson author of Battle Cry of Freedom and Crossroads of Freedom
  • In describing Washington: “…a long dead, white make, slave-owning aristocrat of the 18th century…” William Eskridge Jr. author of A Republic of Statutes and descent of George Eskridge the godfather of George Washington
  • “…prepare to be shocked, amazed and educated.”  Hon. Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law professor, director of Stanford constitutional Law Center and former federal judge

Not bad huh?  Sounds like good reading.  That last one I like a lot.  I might have to steal it!

Listen to the Author Introduce the Book

Another great way to be introduced to this book is to let the author doing the talking.  In the podcast New Books in History the host interviews authors about their new books.  Thats just what happened with Logan Beirne.

Watch Beirne discuss his book with William Eskridge Jr. on C-SPAN’s Book TV.

 

Inside Cover

After I read the front and back cover I move on to the inside cover, since this is a hardcover book, and I see the overview of the book.  As I read, how this book will go over just how Washington made the rules of war up as he went along, I wonder if he will discuss Nathan Hale the brave young captain that stepped forward to be America’s first spy.  I’m learning a little bit about him while I write the September newsletter.  If you are not already subscribed, its free and you can sign up on the top right of this page.

Lastly I take a look at the inside back cover which introduces us to the author and gives us his background.  As you would guess Beirne’s background is chalked full of awards and prestigious universities.  But I found the last paragraph the most interesting:

Logan’s passion for the Revolution is in his blood-he is the directly descended from Revolutionary War patriots and his family tree includes the “Fathers of the Constitution,” James Madison.  Some of Washington’s papers were discovered in a storage chest belonging to one of Logan’s ancestors.

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27 October
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Book Review: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

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As a whole I really loved Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. I thought it might be dry and boring. I was excited to get a free book no matter the subject. But I have always had an interest in the royal family, after all as Americans those are our roots, however old.

For me the book never got dry or boring it was never full of dates/names with out relevant and interesting stories. Overall, it was very well written! A hefty book to be sure, but Ms. Smith covered a lot of information very well and concisely, I thought.

I have a new interest in the royal family and can’t wait to see what happens next. I wish we had better coverage of all the news about them here in the states. If anyone has some links to share to good websites I would really appreciate it. Also, anyone “in-the-know” about the royal family could perhaps share a few more book recommendations? I am very interested in learning more about the next generation of royals that Ms. Smith covered in the last chapter.

I wish there had been more about each of the Queen’s children, but it was of course a book about her and not her children.

A couple of things that I found interesting about the queen.

Although the text seems to call out the fact that the queen is very cold not a very loving or personable individual, Ms. Smith went to lengths to try to say that was okay over and over again. I thought this was odd. Almost as if the author was defending the queen’s iciness.

Here is a questions for the group. Do you think the Queen was a good mom? For me I would have to say no, but is that really so bad, I mean for the kids yes, but is she a queen first or a mother first? How does her mother/leader role differ from that of the first lady here in the states?

Why doesn’t the queen give interviews or write a biography? Over again and again was the point that the British people needed to know her better, wouldn’t an interview/book do that?

Sally Bedell Smith: “Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch” from Radnor Historical Society on Vimeo.

Learn more about the other Royals.

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25 October
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Book Review: Enemies: A History of the FBI

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I didn’t have high hopes Enemies: A History of the FBI, I thought it would be dry based on its topic and thickness. However, I really like how the book was laid out, covering an era at a time and what was going on in the nation and how the FBI reacted to it. It made the book very easy to follow and a nice read. While I was not very excited about the story, it was not the first book I picked up when I had time to read, it was well written. It did have some fairly excited parts for me like when discussing spies especially. I wish there would have been more discussed about spies as that is very interesting to me. However, I realize that this would have left the book astray of its intended topic.

I learned a lot about the history of the FBI so the book succeeded in its goal. I had no idea that Hoover was such a large part of the agency. For the first 2/3 of the book I felt like I was reading his biography.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the FBI. I now feel I have a better understanding of one of our nations super secret agencies.

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