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The Battle of Hastings

Jim Bradbury

Archive

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.

Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages

Dan Jones

Archive

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.

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.

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 8/10/22