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The World in Vogue
The World in Vogue
by Bryan Holmes
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from $12.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected photographs of persons with a historical role before any such role developed, October 31, 2015
This review is from: The World in Vogue (Hardcover)
In case you were wondering, there is only one book. It has a whole list of editors, so it has been listed under various persons. The color is crimson with an orange binding. This is an oversize book: 9 3/4 x 13 x 1 1/2. The topic is famous people as portrayed by their pictures in Vogue. If there is a famous person of the times not in here, then I misremember the times. Speaking of the times, this portrayal is surely the land where dead dreams go, as someone once said of Singapore before the war. Just about everone now in the history books is in here as a teen-ager or a young persion. We usually see the photos of older and more careworn visages. My eye just happened to catch JD Rockefeller at 26, Theodore Roosevelt with the young children, and so on. I don't see any big stick, or any stick at all. The tragic players of the early 1960's are all on stage, without an inkling of what was about to happen to them. I promised myself I was not going to start dropping names so I quit now.


The European Discovery of America: Volume 1: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600
The European Discovery of America: Volume 1: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600
by Samuel Eliot Morison
Edition: Hardcover
136 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Morison - One View Among Many, March 29, 2013
Morison's review of the Voyages is an American classic, no doubt about that. The admiral's supplementary data (Morison was an admiral) on Tudor-era ships and ship-building is one of the many useful features. The reproduction of what were called "sea-cards," or charts, also is excellent. Biographical data on the explorers is well-explored. Quasi-mythical views are presented quasi-mythical.

And yet, the topic is somewhat larger than the good admiral. His didactic intent is manifest on nearly every page. He makes decisions for us concerning the interpretation of the evidence. He does not want to trouble us with puzzlements over the many contradictions in the evidence. This approach is very useful in governing the navy, which needs clear-cut order and orders to reach a peak of efficiency.

Reality is not quite so simple as all that. The sources don't offer us any chain of command for the resolution of our problems, tant pis. While Morison's chart through the reefs of paradox is one way to look at these now distant events, it is not the only, nor, due to studies since then, necessarily the best current. I would not begin with Morison. The man I recommend for the first encounter is Richard Hakluyt, "Principle Voyages of the English Nation," who presents only documents. Morison and every other writer use him perforce. Then you may go on to Morison with much better understanding. Both authors seem indispensible to me.
The European Discovery of America: Volume 1: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600 The European Discovery of America; Vol 1: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600 (The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages )


The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World
The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World
by Robert Lacey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.82
246 used & new from $0.01

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Down East, June 1, 2005
Did you ever notice how country music takes us back to another time and place we reverently call "home", which had its own dialect, its own ways, and was inevitably rural? You can almost smell the mown hay and hear the cattle lowing. We long for our lost relatives who lived there. A thousand stories tell us of the heroic deeds of animals and country people.

And yet those same ancestors descended from another home for which they yearned, and the inhabitants of that wonderful place remembered yet another one, etc. Where was the original home? This book makes a good case that you might find it in England in the year 1000 AD. The people were the Saxons (amalgamated with the Danes, the Scots, the Picts and the Welsh) and their language was the good old country English, which we now call Old English. The Normans had not yet arrived to Frenchify the place.

These English were mainly a country folk. They hated cities, but the earlier Saxon invaders had been forced to occupy some centers, such as London. Tacitus had described the earlier Germanics as hating cities. We know the English always valued family solidarity. Such luminaries as George Washington originally wanted nothing more than to be a British country gentleman. Sure enough, in the year 1000 we find a social structure based on kinship. It was, moreover, not a modern one, nor was anything about the country modern. It was a continuous extension of antiquity, who knows how remote?

The structure began with groups of 10 families pledged to take responsibility for each other. These were organized into "hundreds", a varying number of which was a "shire", with an officer called a "shire reeve" (sheriff). The king, or "chief kinsman", ruled over shires.

Had the authors researched further, they would have discovered that the Saxons, like many tribes of North Germany, had once worked for the Roman army, which was divided into legions, centuries of 100 men, and maniples of 10 men. The saxons took their name in fact from the short swords worn by their officers.

In the year 1000 we are looking at antiquity. Medicine was mainly ancient Greek with an overlay of a thousand ineffective and dangerous home remedies. The people were unable to defend themselves against parasites, such a fleas and worms. They washed only every few weeks. The farmyard was the repository of many kinds of dung, including human. Not many lived beyond 40.

This book makes a mockery of mediaeval romance and saga. People did not live romantically, but we want romance, and so we have created it in song and story. Those who question the notion of progress, or deny that progress has any realty, should read this book.


Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration
Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration
by Antonia Fraser
Edition: Paperback
40 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Non-royal Charles, the People's King, May 13, 2005
In this wonderful book, Antonia chronicles the doings of the 17th-century royal Stuart family in such detail that I for one feel as though I lived among them. At this locus in space-time we probably know more about Charles II than did his own family. We know, for example, that he was a paid French agent for most of his reign.

That Charles II was the man for the job and the times and may have been Britain's best king is hard to dispute. He was certainly the first people's king. His handling of government foreshadowed the checks and balances developed more formally in the next century, but he did not formulate it into a doctrine. That is simply the way it happened.

The Stuarts acquired the throne of Britain through Mary, Queen of Scots, who descended from a Tudor. Elizabeth Tudor had her executed, but not before she married had a son with the unfortunate alcoholic, Darnley. The boy was taken from his mother to be raised a Protestant and became James I on the death of Elizabeth, who died without heir.

The reign of James I (of King James Bible fame) was happy and prosperous and his son, Charles I, was looking forward to the same. History did not smile on this upright but unlucky king. Society bolted under him, so to speak, and threw him from his horse. The Swiss reform crept down the Rhine and across the channel and lodged in Britain as numerous sects of Puritanism. Meanwhile, the creeping disease of enclosure, the seizure of formerly public lands by private individuals interested in raising sheep and selling wool, and the subsequent forced evacuation of those lands, was slowly but surely building a fury in the common man. Charles I found that he could not govern.

Successive parliaments called in the hope of financial relief became ever more unruly until at last they refused to be dismissed! Not the brightest man, though a decent one, Charles I failed to see the impending end of absolute monarchy. He made a fatal mistake, sending soldiers into parliament to arrest 5 MPs, who evaded him anyway. The English Civil War was on. The king ultimately surrendered to parliamentary forces. He might have been spared, but he refused to cooperate in any way with the diminution of the divine right of kings. The parliamentarians played their trump card of executing the king (1649), a blunder on their part. His death aroused mainly grief and horror.

Faced with overwhelming adversity, Charles II was not overwhelmed. He shone like the star he was. There are few other teen-age generals in history, but that is what he became fighting for his father, and alone after 1649. Often seen in the front line leading the charge, he was born under a lucky star, surviving somehow. Even Cromwell admitted that his last battle, the Battle of Worcester, was the hardest fought of the war. The king went dodging through the countryside, hiding out in a huge oak while the soldiers beat the bushes for him. He escaped to France and then other points, with the help mainly of ordinary people.

Charles' exile whetted his talents and forged his future. He and ragamuffin court were often without knowledge of the source of their next meal. He kept on wheeling and dealing, unsuccessfully. He lifted their spirits by creating a sort of ongoing pool party, which moved from country to country and estate to estate. They derived their emotional support from this circle of intimacy, which went on after the king was restored.

And he was restored. Cromwell died. His son, "Tumbledown Dick", was not up to the job of being the lord high protector of the Commonwealth. The army had kept Charles under constant surveillance wherever he went. They knew that he was an extraordinarily talented man. To avoid disintegration of the government and renewed conflict between factions, General Monck convinced parliament to restore Charles, rather suddenly, with but short notice, in 1660.

And what a resoration it was! A fleet of refurbished ships sailed from Holland and a small army of royalists dressed in the very finest uniforms money could buy paraded through the streets of London with the king flanked by his brothers, all at the center of a roaring crowd. The king knew exactly what they wanted and he spared no expense to give it to them. He had thoroughly learned that God may give kings a divine right to rule, but only through the medium of the people.

The party went on. Charles and his wife and mistresses and a total of 12 illegitimate children lived happily together in Whitehall Palace. The queen, a Portuguese princess, was unfortunately barren, but the king did not desert her on that account. He was content to pass on the succession to his brother, James II. The author compares this arrangement to that of the cruel Henry the 8th, who executed his successive wives so that he could get on to the next one. The king owned horses, dogs and yachts. Sometimes he raced his own horses. He associated freely with all walks of life. He despised to put on royal airs.

Meanwhile a steady stream of sparks flew from the flint of his creative genius. He forgave his enemies (except the regicides). He was as often in parliament as the MPs themselves, arguing his point of view himself. He created the first standing army in Britain, using its offices as a means to reward friends and placate enemies. He founded the Royal Society, built the observatory at Greenwich, built a hospital, personally assisted in fighting the great fire of London, and hired Christopher Wren to rebuild the burned area.

In politics the king and parliament often disagreed. He called them when he needed money. They passed laws and granted or refused the money. All the same old issues still existed, but now neither side was willing to start a civil war over them. King and parliament in fact checked and balanced each other, even though no constitution defined them. Seeking to be less dependent on parliament, the king made a secret treaty with Louis the 14th, by which he would become a pro-French advocate in exchange for a large annuity. It wasn't as bad as it seems. The king's mother was French. Family connections were already in place. The king had to agree to become Catholic, which he only dared to do on his deathbed, after apologizing for taking so long to die.

This work by Fraser might as well have been an epic poem, lacking only the versification. We laugh or weep as it soars into sublimity or pathos and we yawn at the tedious details of the king's devious machinations. A word of warning. The author takes a totally royalist view. She has no space or inclination to present the details of the rebel cause. Reading this book, we wonder why those stubborn parliamentary fools held out against such a jolly good fellow as the king. Perhaps the lives of the Stuarts were so interesting and momentous as to compel their biographers to loyalty.


Out of Africa: and Shadows on the Grass
Out of Africa: and Shadows on the Grass
by Isak Dinesen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.58
356 used & new from $0.01

7 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There Is No Africa, November 27, 2004
Underlying Blixen's tale of early 20th century Africa is the presumption that there was such a place; that is, a people or nation of peoples existed to which she went and from which she was forced to depart by economic circumstances. This presumption a priori allows her to reminisce about Africa the way it was or was supposed by her to have been.

As she observed, Africa was, in a sense, leaving her. Peoples were being moved around, new laws restricting tribal behavior were being passed, and the Ngong Hills were being laid out as a suburb of Nairobi. She was there, she professed, before all these changes began.

But was she? Was there a time and place, "Africa", or is this concept mainly her and the European view of the times? Blixen's Africa in fact was not any sort of original. Europeans had already produced vast changes: the tribes were by then being herded into reservations and European ways and goods prevailed. European reporters never reported Africa the way it was or had been. That information remained "dark."

The informational darkness is not entirely their fault. An observer always alters that which he sets out to observe. It is only a presumption that his observations are an approximation of the reality the way it would be without him observing it. That presumption is least justifiable in human affairs. We will never know what the original Masai or Kikuyu were like, or the exact configuration of flora and fauna among which they dwelled, or how they reacted to their environments or each other.

Similarly Blixen's little white light doesn't shine very far. We get some ethnic generalities as the vehicle of which she devises some stock identities, "the Kikuyu", "the Masai" and the like, which, on closer examination, turn out to be of European origin. Blixen manufactures masks and tries to get the Africans to wear them. Sociological and anthropological data are nearly entirely in deficit from these supposed traits. She probably is not alone in this process of inventing peoples. It accounts, perhaps, for why the Mau-mau insurrection caught the Europeans totally by surprise, as though you were to paint doodles on a sleeping man's body and he were to awake suddenly and demand angrily to know what you were doing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2012 9:15 PM PDT


Manny: A Criminal-Addict's Story
Manny: A Criminal-Addict's Story
by Richard P. Rettig
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from $2.85

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's it all about, Manny?, March 17, 2004
"Manny" is a remarkable story, all the more so because the narrator lived to tell the tale. He survived being tossed over a balcony, stabbed with an icepick, starved, frozen and put in danger of being shot during armed robbery countless times. Manny tells us he was a tough man.
The second most remarkable thing about the story is that year after year Manny never seems to question whether this is the best way of life and how one might arrive at a better. He does finally account for his tenacity by a few additional conjectures beyond audaciousness. He became enslaved to the white godess of death (an ancient demon). He was angry at the injustice in society. He found a life of danger thrilling.
An education in in sociology from prison improves Manny's vocabulary and analytical skills, and according to him, turns him around. But does it really? In the book, he takes only the revolutionary point of view, that all the evil in life comes from the flaws in modern society, and that if only it did not create prisons and criminals, there wouldn't be any.
Manny never uses the word "God" as anything but a distant abstraction, and omits totally his standing with that supposed entity. The train of events to him is predetermined. He never considers saying "no" to evil as a personal option at all. Struggle and anger and dope are his favorite possessions. One wants to say to him, Manny, did anyone force you to stick the needle in your arm?


Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's
by Frederick Lewis Allen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $33.30
62 used & new from $0.95

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Federal or Confederate?, February 10, 2004
The author details the ephemera of the roaring twenties and in doing so seems to capture the geist of the times. The country is already divided between the forces of "decency" and the predators, who, at the most articulate levels, profess "laissez faire capitalism."
The object of this French term is the United States government. By 1918 it was a fast ship, roaring to the aid of the beleaguered peoples of Europe, tipping the balance in the "war to end wars" in favor of the right side. In this spirit also, prohibition was passed. The moment the war came to an end, the American people fled from the banners of decency just as fast as their legs could carry them. The government became a derelict hulk captained by token presidents.
Wilson drove himself to death trying in vain to bring about a "just and lasting peace." Harding, the great American "good guy", enmeshed himself in the "Teapot Dome Scandals" perpetrated by his friends, the Texas oil millionaires. The author speculates that his rather unexpected death was a concealed suicide. The oil intended for U.S. naval reserves went elsewhere at a large profit, much to Japan.
The south rose again in the form of the resurrected Klu Klux Klan (the book does not mention its previous disbanding by the actual confederate veterans). They ruled at the state and local levels (hence "states rights"). Justice was an open joke, but who cared about it? The American people were busy pursuing a sexual revolution and illicit booze. The satirist, H. L. Mencken, had a field day. Al Capone ruled Chicago. Hundreds of rackets sprang up everywhere and small businessmen paid taxes to the mob.
Why did the government not act? Mammon was God and was being preached not only by the clergy from the pulpit but by its new apostles, the salesmen. "Hands off", they said, and that will be the best. The little people attempted to defend themselves and their jobs through unions and were assaulted by reactionary forces acting at state and local levels. Anarchy and disorder were on the increase. The IWW reached maximum extent, especially in the west. Reactionaries countered with "the red scare." Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for a crime the judge and prosecutor knew they did not commit, because they were "anarchists" (they were not).
Reaching the end of the decade, the author gives us the handwriting on the wall: the crash of late 1929. Laissez faire, he hints, was not going to work in the 20th century. He could not then know of the rise of FDR, the suppression of the Klan, the legalization of unions, and the strengthening of the government into a social regulatory force and quasi-empire. Nor could he know that the divisiveness would continue, and the protagonists would be roughly the same. What a pity.


The Strange Story of the Quantum: An Account for the General Reader of the Growth of the Ideas Underlying Our Present Atomic Knowledge
The Strange Story of the Quantum: An Account for the General Reader of the Growth of the Ideas Underlying Our Present Atomic Knowledge
by Banesh Hoffmann
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hoffmann Loses and Finds Form, November 30, 2003
In Hoffmann's metaphorical language, exploration of the microcosm is like approximating a circle by means of polygons of greater and greater numbers of sides. You can't go on ad infinitum. The quantum is a minimum discernable action (energy acting over time) placing a limit on precision. You can never get as precise as the circle and therefore it disappears from reality. There are only polygons. But if there are no circles, why does the universe bother to approximate them?
Hoffmann does not ask or answer that last question, but he discovers form in another way. A supposed particulate object can possess a quantum without any formal precision; that is, you can't know its position or momentum exactly. Particles disappear into a smear and without them so do atoms (and molecules, etc.). In Hoffmann's analogy, you can see flowing water or water molecules, but you can't see both. The flow disappears when you try to discover of what it consists (where does the fire go when it goes out?). Similarly spacetime disappears among the indeterminate particles. This supposed event causes Hoffmann some regret, but why should it? He believes, it seems, in the perceived forms and cannot give them up for any indiscernable smears of action. We don't get any such affirmation, however. He obeys the unspoken protocol never to mix physics and metaphysics.


The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
78 used & new from $0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Satire, November 1, 2003
James Gatz tried, like Franklin, to improve himself, and succeeded, but he was not required to build America. Instead, he became the Great Gatsby, moving like a Homeric Gyad among the party-goers of East and West Egg. His money came from a dubious "gonnegtion" with the wolf (Meyer Wolfsheim, rather than Lanski), to whom he had presented himself in his uniform, covered with medals, because he lacked the cash to buy clothes.
Like many an able lad of plain background (North Dakota) Jay encounters the leisured class, particularly the beautiful and popular Daisy (she loves me, she loves me not). Supposed to wait while he went to war (that one again), she marries into Buchanan money and has a daughter. Jay comes back to hover around the green light at the end of her dock and build a life "founded securely on a fairy's wing."
We are treated to a catalog of party-goers parallel to the catalog of ships in the Iliad. The denizens of the two Eggs are more fragile than heroic. Jay makes his move for Daisy, who nods back and forth between him and her husband, Tom. The significance of the daughter seems to escape Jay totally (what's it all about, Jay?).
Finally, one horribly hot evening, Daisy, driving Jay's car beside Jay, runs down and kills her rival for Tom's affections, Myrtle Wilson. Tom, driving in a subsequent car, tells Wilson, Myrtle's husband, whose car it was. Wilson shoots Jay. Tom never finds out the truth, and Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, walks away from the entire irresponsible crowd.
This writing is a fictional story from the mind of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald and is not a document of American society. Perhaps people like his characters have existed, but America is bigger than he. If the shoe doosn't fit, don't wear it!


Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944
Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944
by Aranka Siegal
Edition: Paperback
62 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wrong Goat, October 14, 2003
In this narrative we see through childish eyes an ordinary family trying to hold on to decency and the dignity of the individual while their country (Hungary) falls into ruin under the jackboot of tyranny. We come to understand the worth of the family and the wrongness of the conquerors that are trying to turn them into "Schwein." Though they have separated innocent people out and have attempted to fasten all the ills of society upon them, they themselves are most in need of the Biblical goat to carry away their sins upon its head, and cannot find one.


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