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Sunday Morning Book Reviews

What are you reading? I just finished Passchendaele, about the World War I battle of that name. Trench warefare is alwyas so cheery and optimistic!

What I like about the book is its editorial design: A simple chronological history of the battle, with extensive extracts from the journals and diaries of individual soldiers -- exactly as in Mumbai, the heroes. "You are not invisible to me."

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a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace, by Avi Shlaim.

Avi Shlaim is a "New Historian" and a great fan of the late King Hussein (as I am), but this biography is no hagiography. While not hiding Hussein's faults, it shows him growing into the position after he became king at the age of 17. (When he died in 1999, he was the longest-serving head of state in the world, despite numerous assassination attempts throughout his life.)

This biography concentrates on Hussein's role in history much more than his personal life. The tale of his secret talks with Israeli officials over more than 30 years is laid out in some detail here, Shlaim having interviewed some of the participants at length and examined documents related to these talks.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

One of the best books I've ever read was Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, a historical account of that battle by Antony Beevor. A horrible, relentless, terrible book (in the sense of the real horrors there were beyond anything Orwell imagined). If you had doubts about the crushing inhumanity of war, they will end after reading this book. It also had the structure you note, although extensively footnoted, much of the detail was from personal letters and documented conversations.

On the heels of that, I'm now reading The Fall of Berlin, also by Beevor. So far (I'm a quarter into it) it is focusing on the Russian advance.

Beevor's forte is a great eye for detail, anecdote and a very straightforward, readable writing style.

Historiann's picture
Submitted by Historiann on

Barnes' musings on death. It's disappointing. It reads like he ran his notebooks over to the printer, instead of reflecting on what he wanted to say and having a sharp-penciled editor cross out the self-indulgent, the confusing, or the merely repetitive.

Barnes is clever and interesting, but even the cleverest and most interesting of us needs an editor. (And I don't get why he's so morbidly death-obsessed.)

Submitted by ohio on

By Charles Nicholl.

An interesting, absorbing read that examines the suffocating, intoxicating world of Elizabethan art and intrigue from London to the Low Countries to Prague. Is Nichol right about Marlowe's life, and death, as a spy? I don't know. But he makes a hypnotic argument, with asides from the poetry and plays of a great writer.

I re-read this book as an example of how to handle complex historical subjects and because I like it.