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Here's some information on the books from the Book Blog.

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

Wikisource

Breaking up the heavier reading with some fiction. I feel like reading some Dickens. I’ve only read A Christmas Carol for pleasure. We read Great Expectations and probably Oliver Twist in high school, but I didn’t care and I don’t really remember it. I don’t really know what the book is about, maybe London and Paris? Something about poor people. Who knows, but it will probably be enjoyable and a little sad.

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

Henry Adams

Gutenberg

All I know about this book is that it is about the medieval era and it is by Henry Adams. That is enough for me to read it. I like historical works, I don’t know if this strictly French or if it’s about a certain aspect of medieval times, but it doesn’t matter. I like Adams’ style from his autobiography and I’m sure I will enjoy this book. It is a partner to his Education and I wonder how exactly they will tie together.

On Liberty and Other Essays

John Stuart Mill

Books Online

I read On Liberty before and found it interesting. I bought this book when I was throwing money en masse away on Thriftbooks. Included in this are On Liberty, Utilitarianism, Considerations on Representative Government, and The Subjection of Women. I’ve read On Liberty, so will skip it, or possibly re-read it at the end. Utilitarianism is about the general happiness of society and should be interesting, as will be the essay on government. I have no idea what the one on women is about, other than he was probably against the subjection of them. It’s going to be heady read, so we’ll see how often I am in the mood for it.

Utilitarianism isn’t bad. It’s short for a philosophical work, but still dense and wordy. It can pretty much be summarized to say that the actions of humans are mean to increase happiness, and that actions as society should increase the general happiness of everyone. He spends a lot of time arguing people who may think this is a sort of degenerate “hedonism”, but Mill makes his point that this is not the case and that all philosophies point to making others happy. On the Subjugation of Women is interesting as a historical piece, but not relevant to modern America. Maybe it has some relevance, as men often look down upon women, especially when they are in a higher position. But I think that my generation, and more so the next, these hang-ups are dead or dying. Nevertheless, good on Mill for speaking up and sticking to his philosophy.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Gutenberg

It’s an easy read of historical significance and Franklin has an entertaining writing style. I think it will be interesting to see early American society in a living way, Franklin being the son of a English immigrant. He was also, of course, a pivotal character in early Pennsylvanian government. This will certainly be biased against the proprietors of the state, but it will be interesting to see his takes nonetheless. It was written, or started, before the Revolution, which makes it all the more interesting. It is the life of an important British colonial, not a revolutionary.

The book was as I expected. Franklin is so famous that the majority of these stories are known even to children. It’s still a decent and easy read, and it’s nice to be thrown back into the living atmosphere of the colonial era.

The Collapse of Complex Societies

Joseph A. Tainter

Couple chapters from Princeton

Bought this one for my dad and now I’m reading it. It seems like an interesting topic and explores a couple different civilizations, such as Rome and the Maya. I think it’s pretty academic, which I’m cool with, and it’s only around 200 pages. If it’s a snooze, it won’t take long to read. I assume it will rely more on archaeology than the written record.

It’s an interesting read but doesn’t really say much for its length. The general idea is that societies collapse when they exist in a power vacuum and the diminishing returns of complexity become too much to bear. A drop in complexity is then an appropriate choice. It’s a interesting theory that is impossible to “prove”. You have to be really into to this stuff to slog through the book, though. Finishing the book is a diminishing return in itself.

Notes

Catch-22

Joseph Heller

Wikipedia

This one’s been on my list for a while and it’s time to throw some fiction in the mix. Everyone knows it; it’s a very popular American novel that satires war. I’ve heard that its humor comes from the absurdity of the characters. We’ll see if I like it.

This is a fantastic book. I shouldn’t have put off reading it this long. It’s funny, strange, interesting, and depressing. It seamlessly travels through these different feelings and leaves the reader wondering how each section will end: in farce or in tragedy. Some of the parts of the book really broke me, I was expecting to feel so sad. It opens up in such a silly manner that the initial sadness when “real” aspects of war start peaking in caught me off guard. This may be one of the best books I’ve ever read and I cannot recommend it enough.

The Battle of Hastings

Jim Bradbury

Goodreads

This is my dad’s book, I don’t know anything about it other than it’s about the Battle of Hastings. Apparently it’s 200 pages just about this one battle. Could be interesting. If not, at least it’s short. Seems the author has been writing about Anglo-French history for 50 years, and this is his 2nd book on Hastings. Maybe it’s some sort of reprint. Anyway, my English history has a bit of a blind spot between Edward the Confessor and Henry II.

Pretty sure this was a reprint from the 90s. It says it’s the author’s first book to be released in the US. I liked it. The author has an interesting style. It’s kind of as if he is debating some invisible person. The author seems like a highly educated man and passionate about this issue and I believe he is honest, not trying to force any particular historical view and admits when there are options and which one he prefers. The battle itself is only some 30 pages of the book near the end. The rest is background story that paints a vivid picture. I really came to sympathize with Harold Godwinson, a character I feel is usually seen as a usurper. I think I will check out some other stuff written by Bradbury.

Notes

Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages

Dan Jones

Goodreads

I’ve read Dan Jones’ books on the Plantagenets and they’re pretty good. He’s a good author and seems thorough in his research. This book is about the sacking of Rome until some year in the 1500s. It’s divided in the 4 time periods, each receiving about 150 pages. It should be interesting. It’s ambitious to write about a thousand years of a continent in 600 pages, so I can’t imagine it will be incredibly detailed. It will be entertaining, nonetheless.

I liked the book, as I assumed I would. I like Jones’s writing style and he provides plenty of little stories that make the people of the Middle Ages come alive. The author knew he was being ambitious in writing 600 pages about 1000 years, but he pulls it off nonetheless. Obviously it not heavily detailed, but provides enough breadth that one can read further about any one topic they are interested in. There’s a few dull points here and there, but that’s entirely because of my personal interests. Others may find these chapters very interesting. Good book, check it out.

Notes

The Balkans

Misha Glenny

Archive

The subtitle of this book is Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers: 1804 – 2011. This should be an interesting read. I bought it for my dad some years ago and he just read it, and now lent it to me. I’ve never really looked into the Balkan countries outside of their relation to World War I, or the empires of Russia and Austria Hungary. Don’t be misled by the name Misha, the author is British. I was hoping more of an “inside” perspective, but that may be irrelevant. Note that the above link is for the first edition, which goes until 1999. I have the revised edition, which adds another chapter. Not sure if there are other changes.

The author spent a lot of time as a journalist in the Balkans writing for the BBC. It’s an okay book. The early history is kind of all over the place and could use some more structure. Writing about the entire Balkans may have been too big a job for one book. I probably will never read another book about the Balkans, so it might as well be this one.

Notes

Our First Civil War

H. W. Brands

Penguin Random House

This is a book that discusses both the patriots and loyalists during the American Revolution. I want to read it because I’m hoping it is not going to paint loyalists as “the bad guys” just because they are on the losing side. The general portrayal of the loyalist in America is as a traitor, and many of them left the country, so there are no defenders. Let’s see what type of portrayal the author will create.

This book was very boring. Most of the time it talked about George Washington. Outside of Washington, it had too much breadth and too little depth. The subtitle of the book is Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution. Maybe 10% of the book discusses the Loyalist side. I was very misled by this and got very little out of the book in consequence. There are much better biographies on George Washington. This book may be good if you’ve never read a history book, but other than that you’ll be wasting your time. I don’t recommend it.

Notes

The Wright Brothers

David McCullough

Goodreads

This looks like a fairly short book. I don't really know much about the Wright Brothers other than the short bit of information you get in school. I'm not particularly interested in them, but I've read McCullough's 1776 and his presidents books. He's a good author, and if he can make 1000 pages on Truman digestible, I think this will be a pleasant read.

A short and easy read. It is interesting, though we’ll see how much will stick with me. I really do find the Wright Brothers’ lives interesting. It’s amazing how they accomplished so much essentially by will power. Of course, they had the mechanical skills necessary, but they were not engineers or scientists. They read and they observed and then they accomplished great things. It is inspiring and does bring up some emotion. Certainly worth a read.

Notes

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 3

Shelby Foote

Goodreads

I read Volume 2 last year and Volume 1 probably the year before that. They're good books, well written, but long. This one is 1000 pages, so it will probably take 4-5 months to read. It is dense material and cannot be read quickly, but I am happy to get some in-depth information on the end of the Civil War. Like most of the things I read, I didn't have a very good understanding of the history and wanted to learn more. Now I feel like I have a good understanding from the first two volumes, and this will round everything out.

Shelby Foote is a good author and this is a good book. There was a lot of material and Foote treats all theaters of the war with equal attention. Lee and Grant get a lot more detail, but there is a lot more information available about their struggle. It’s also fair to say that the Appomattox campaign signaled the end of the war, which even those in the moment understood to be true. Aside from the battles, it’s also a book about Lincoln and Davis, their actions, and the end of their lives. There is no real epilogue except about Davis, which is fitting because he more than anyone was a living incarnation of the Confederacy. If you have 3 years, read these books.

Tecumseh and the Prophet

Peter Cozzens

Goodreads

A book about Tecumseh and his brother, two Native Americans who were some sort of leaders in the years before the war of 1812. I've heard the names but really don't know much about them, what they did, or why it matters. I'm curious about the period and the people. I don't know what kind of written records exist, or how the author will portray the Native perspective.

Not a bad book. The time period was interesting, an era where the future of the North American tribes was unsettled and could still have ended in their favor. That adds to the melancholy of the book, knowing that Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa fail. It really did leave me feeling sad afterwards, even though I knew beforehand how it would end. I guess that means the author does a good job presenting their the information and the Indian viewpoint. The author is sympathetic to the Indians, but does not shy away from presenting their savage deeds or cruelty during war. The book has a lot of information, and I couldn’t retain all of it. There were a lot of tribes involved and little battles that mostly are forgotten to history (except Tippecanoe and Tyler too), and areas of the country I’ve never thought of let alone been to. More information is not a bad thing, I would probably just remember what I wanted to remember anyway. Overall, pretty good book. Probably the most comprehensive you’ll find on the grandiose dreams and tragic fall of Tecumseh and the Prophet.

Notes

How the Word is Passed

Clint Smith

Goodreads

I forgot to write about the book before I read it. It was a gift, not the type of book I'd buy myself. I doubt read many political books or books on contemporary issues. I especially wouldn't pick up a book on slavery. The book is not bad. It's easy reading and fairly iinteresting. I'm not sure who the target audience is, though. The book talks a lot about denying the true history of slavery and trying to show real stories from the past. I have the feeling that if you're reading this book, you are already familiar with the horrors of slavery. A white supremecist, or someone who thinks slavery "wasn't so terrible", would be very unlikely to pick up a book that challenges their world view. An person who is uneducated on history or reality probably isn't doing much reading to begin with. Regardless, it's not a bad book and can be read in 7 or so hours. If you want to read about a man's visits to slave sites and his interactions with people from various backgrounds on the topic, give it a chance.

Notes

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

Gutenberg

Following up the book on Napoleon with War and Peace. I've read the first section before, but it was on Project Gutenberg or some other digital form. I got distracted by another book and never picked it back up. Now I'm borrowing a hard copy and have a deeper understanding of the time eproid and Russian culture in general. I think I will enjoy it.

I understand why this is considered one of the great books in history, though it is not exactly a novel. It begins as a novel and a historical fiction, but towards the second half and especially the end there are many sections with Tolstoy philosophizing. The novel aspect is good and interesting, though some of the parts describing military life were dull. That may have been the point, since it is a boring life with bits of combat. I think Tolstoy had a thing for military stories, as he also wrote Sevastopol about the Crimean War (which he saw firsthand). There are many characters, some of whom are hard to remember, others who are pretty one dimensional, but the main characters are very interesting. The philosophical parts can drag on a bit, but over all they are interesting and I liked reading Tolstoy's opinions on history and what drives nations. Definitely a good read.

Notes

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Goodreads

My sister let me borrow this. I really know nothing about it. It's 5 or 6 short stories, maybe 120 pages total.

The stories were pretty good. They're very short and I wouldn't have minded if they went on a bit longer. I never heard of the author before, but she's worth a read.

The Song of Roland

Unknown

Gutenberg

This is a 12th or so century poem about a battle in Spain during the reign of Charlemagne. It has little historical accuracy. I decided to read it after reading about the character of Roland/Orlando in Bullfinch’s Mythology. His telling of the battle hit me, so I wanted to look up its source. It’s about 300 stanzas, so I read it instead of working. It’s not bad, but is a little repetitive and can’t compare with something like the Nibelungenlied. I think Bullfinch combined several stories into his telling, because there were some characters in his that were not in this specific poem. He probably wanted to combine the stories into a singular narrative, too. Overall, pretty good. Worth a read.

Beyond Good and Evil

Friedrich Nietzsche

Wikisource

Nietzsche's philosphy about morality and virtue. I never read anything by Nietzsche. I've heard of this one and it was reasonably short, can be read in 10 hours or so. It didn't think I would like it. The first several chapters didn't do much for me. The last third is, in my opinion, the part worth reading. Chapters 6, 7, and 9 have some very intersting thoughts. Nietzsche is clearly a man who has no time for democracy or anything that would hurt the natural aristocracy of strong men. He has some good insights on the strong and weak will, the noble and ignoble way of thinking. I can't agree with everything he says, but I do like quite a bit of it. I will probably read some more of his work.

Notes

England in the Seventeenth Century

Maurice Ashley

Goodreads

This is a fairly short book for a history book. It is apparently the 6th in the series "The Pelican History of England". I read quite a bit about English history, but 17th century is hazy for me. I read a short book on Cromwell once, but I don't really understand how the whole revolution and civil war started. Hopefully this will shed some light on that, the restoration, and the glorious revolution.

This is pretty good for such a short book. In 250 pages, it packs a lot of information. I want to say it gives a good overview, but it goes pretty in depth. Of course you can look further into specific events or reigns during the Stuart reign. I enjoyed it. I got what I wanted out of it, and I think it has given me more books to go out and read.

Notes

Napoleon Bonaparte

Alan Schom

Archive Goodreads

A book I'm reading over my lunch breaks. I wanted something on Napoleon and the post Revolution years after just finishing a book on the Revolution. I know a little about Napoleon going in, probably not much more than your average person. I've read a short book about his impact on foreign countries and the impact of his legal code. I'm interested to learn more of the rise to power, the military campaigns, and maybe some insight on his personality. I'm sure he will come off as ruthless and brutal with hints of enlightenment.

This was not a very good book. My first complaint is that the maps are horrendous. Rivers are barely visible, mountains are non-existent, no arrows to show movements, and there aren’t enough for the number of battles Napoleon fought. Second, there are some errors that should have easily been caught had it been proofread. Who knows how many errors there are that I couldn’t see out of my own ignorance. Third, which is not so much a complaint as an observation, the author really does not like Napoleon. I get it, he was responsible for a lot of horrible things, but lack of objectivity leads to an unprofessional quality of the book. And the last chapter of the book seems to be mostly speculation on Napoleon’s death. 20 years after the book has been written and this theory of poisoning is still not agreed upon. I do not recommend this book. There are certainly better books about Napoleon out there by now. You can probably skim Wikipedia and get more out of it.

Notes

A History of Russia

Eight Edition

Oxford University Press Abebooks

It's literally just a textbook about Russian history. Nothing narrative or fancy about it. It covers from about 1000BC to modern day, so it is a very general overview. I really don't know much about Russian history outside of the decades bookending World War I, so even the simplest coverage will be new to me. Russia is pretty easy to overlook in Western European history until the 19th century, especially when compared to countries like England, France, or even Austria.

Now that I've finished this, I feel that I have a wider understanding of Russia and its history. Obviously this was a text book and some parts were dry, but it is a good overview. There is room to delve deeper in more specfic ares of interest. I will probably look further into the revolutionary and early Soviet years, and some of the works of the early Communist leaders. I found the medieval history interesting, but I doubt you could find much deeper works in an era where the comtemporary writings are sparse. I've also been meaning to read some of the 19th century Russian authors and this has given me a push to start that.

Notes

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Updated 11/18/22