Friday, March 5, 2010

Books I read in January and February

Not too bad of a list! Of course, only a few of them were for fun; the rest were all required.

The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (Eric Hobsbawm)
Hobsbawm is an unapologetic Marxist, so his view is naturally a bit skewed. This was an exceedingly dry, dull read, although I did like the first few pages. Honestly, I don't recommend this one.
Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (John A. Lynn)
I absolutely loved this book! It's an engaging study of the different battle philosophies and methods of various cultures, as well as a study of how culture directly effects a nation's view of war. Each chapter starts with a vivid description of a historical battle. Since I'm a military and intelligence historian, reading this was a real treat! My copy almost did not arrive in time for class, so I actually got concerned enough that I sat on the floor outside Dr. Saxon's office for almost three hours one day, reading his copy. This is definitely a book that I heartily recommend.
Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Rogers Brubaker)
This book repeatedly put me to sleep, as the writer does not write in an engaging manner. I grew very frustrated with the continual use of passive voice, which I feel should be unacceptable in a published work. Although I did not enjoy the book, the resulting class discussion was fascinating, as they usually are in that class (Readings in Modern European History).
Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Stephen Toulmin)
Although I disagreed with a few of Toulmin's conclusions and grew a bit frustrated with some areas that I found too repetitive, I rather enjoyed this book. It made me view the 17th century in a far more sympathetic light. It also challenged a few of my views on history, which led to some deep thinking. So, while it is not the easiest book to read, I do recommend this one.
The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier (Jakob Walter)
Wow. This book was so good that I stayed up until an obscene hour reading it, unable to put it down. It was fascinating to get to see inside the mind of an enlisted man who served under Napoleon during three of his campaigns, including the disastrous invasion of Russia. I definitely recommend this book, although I would advise against reading it at night, as it gave me a very disturbing and vivid dream.
Family Fortunes (Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall)
While I disagree with many things that Catherine Hall believes, she is an excellent historian and is particularly gifted at writing narratives. Unfortunately, I did not particularly care for this book, mostly since the subject matter was not of interest to me. I have the utmost respect for the authors, however, as they did excellent research and were kind enough to include many illustrations and charts, which are always a nice addition to a history book. Although I didn't care for the book, I still feel that it is a good one worthy of recommendation to anyone interested in the subject matter.
The Franco-Prussian War (Geoffrey Wawro)
I could read Geoffrey Wawro every single day for a year and not grow bored. The man is a gifted writer! He has a wonderful wry humor that makes his books deliciously entertaining while still crammed with information. I learned so much from this book that I had a devil of a time writing a concise review - there was just so much to mention about it! I had no idea that the Franco-Prussian War was so interesting until I read this book. I was literally on the edge of my seat reading this! I give it a very ardent recommendation.
The German Colonial Empire (Woodruff Smith)
Passive, passive, passive! Grrr. Also, Smith successfully found an interesting topic, then managed to focus on the most boring aspects of it. The short-lived German colonial empire resulted in the first genocide of the twentieth century, yet Smith completely neglected to mention it! There were tribal wars and the flamboyant Carl Peters . . . and he pretty much ignored them, too. Unfortunately, very little has been done on this topic, so I'm afraid this book is probably the best source available on Germany's colonial empire. Regardless, it does not get my recommendation.
A History of Military Thought (Azar Gat)
Azar Gat is, in short, one of the most brilliant military historians. This book (actually three books in one, but I only had to read the first one) is not an easy read, but it was definitely worth the effort. It was fascinating to see the shifts in military thought from the Enlightenment through the German Romantic movement. I particularly liked the fact that Gat focused not only on key military thinkers like Machiavelli, Jomini, and Clausewitz, but also on a few of the lesser known men. I'm sure there will be quite a bit more Gat in my future! I recommend this book, but only to those interested in military history - I think anyone else would probably find it dull.
Marianne in the Market (Lisa Tiersten)
I do not enjoy studying material culture. I hated every second that I spent with this book. Unless the history of shopping interests you, avoid it at all costs.
Napoleon's Wars (Charles Esdaile)
Esdaile is a fantastic historian who really knows how to write. I loved the way he analyzed the influences that made Napoleon who he was. This book was colorful, vivid, and full of life - honestly, I was not terribly interested in Napoleon until I read this book. It is such an enjoyable read that I will likely reread it for fun someday when I'm no longer a graduate student. Two thumbs up, and an enthusiastic recommendation from me!
The Oxford History of Modern War (Charles Townshend, ed.)
This is actually a collection of lengthy articles. I enjoyed reading it, but I did get a bit bogged down with all the details (numbers of troops, names of different weapons, etc). I recommend it, but it's another work that you would have to be interested in military history in order to enjoy.
Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution (Lynn Hunt)
Lynn Hunt's work is probably the best so far on this subject. That being said, and with tremendous respect for Hunt as a historian, I must say that I really wish she could have imparted her vast wisdom to me in a more interesting manner. It was not an easy or a pleasant read. I appreciated the illustrations and the excellent footnotes (so much nicer than endnotes). I enjoyed the chapter on the use of symbols during the Revolution. One or two of Hunt's conclusions made me a bit uncomfortable, but on the whole, she is a very intelligent woman. I will probably reread it sometime to try to get more out of it, someday when I have longer to spend - trying to read it in only two days made it unpleasant. I do recommend this book, but this is another one that you have to have a love of the subject in order to appreciate.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
This is my all-time second-favorite novel, and I read it about ten times (or more) each year. I love it, love it, love it! Jane Austen is my favorite author, and I think it is tragic that she did not write more novels than she did. I have entire passages of this one memorized! I not only recommend it, I feel that anyone who has not read it has a severely deprived life and is to be pitied!
Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear (Richard Connaughton)
I greatly enjoyed this book, and have tremendous respect for Connaughton. He brought the Russo-Japanese War to life for me, and had me captivated. That being said, I have to offer a stern rebuke: No self-respecting historian should ever stoop to the level of writing a book devoid of citations! For heaven's sake, man, give me footnotes! Or endnotes, if you prefer! I am horrified that such a talented historian would dare deprive us of citations! Okay, rebuke over. I thought this book was excellent, and I recommend it.
Sugar Bust for Life! (Ellen and Theodore Brennan) and Sugar Busters! Quick and Easy Cookbook (H. Leighton Steward, et. al.)
One of my smartest decisions this year was going on the Sugar Busters eating plan. I have now made a few alterations, such as allowing myself pretzels and my favorite cereals, but on the whole, I am sticking firmly to this way of life. I recommend both of these cookbooks, as they are ripe with ideas for tasty meals that are faithful to a healthy eating plan.
Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Joan B. Landes)
Oh, Joan Landes. A postmodern feminist who prefers a theoretical view of history over a factual one (and admits it). No, I do not like her work at all. Reading this book was even less fun than having one's eyeballs repeatedly stabbed with toothpicks while undergoing a root canal and listening to ten thousand bagpipes being played by beginners. It is a miserable, horrible book that should be used to torture information out of terrorists. I not only don't recommend it, I advise burning it if you are ever so unfortunate as to come across a copy of it.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"