Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by NedimNapoleon, Apr 19, 2012.
A Storm of Swords - GRRM
Darkover Rediscovery. Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey. Surprisingly bad. I haven't read a lot of Bradley, but she's highly respected in scifi. And what I read before was decent. Lackey I've read a lot of, and never thought it was bad. Usually quite good. Not this time.
I just finished The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire by Andrew Wheatcroft
I found it on my parents' bookshelf and I believe my mom got it so I really wasn't expecting much, and I'm sad to say it delivered entirely. It doesn't do well to expect a lot out of a book covering an 800 year period, especially when it's trying to do it in just 293 pages, but this book takes it a step lower.
The book itself is extraordinarily well written. Wheatcroft does a stupendous job of painting a picture and really fleshing out the colorful and interesting potentates of the Habsburg dynasty, especially in the cases of Rudolf I, Albert II, Maximilian I, Karl V, and pretty much every figure after Maria Theresa. The opening passages, in which Wheatcroft describes the death of Leopold III at Sempach is excellent and really draws you into his style. But the book is riddled with issues.
The first is the periodization of the text, by which I mean he doesn't try to periodize it at all. The book is divided into 8 chapters, distinguished by their dates. He has The Castle of the Hawk: 1020-1300, Cosa Nostra: 1300-1400, Universal Empire: 1400-1500, El Dorado: 1500-1550, A War to the Last Extremity: 1550-1660, Felix Austria: 1660-1790, The Last Cavalier: 1790-1916, Finis Austriae: 1916-1995. The problem with the way he tries to break up this book is twofold. On the first hand the opening chapters are divided into very rounded numbers, with little attention paid to either important and relevant dates on the continent, nor even the lives of the important patriarchs of the dynasty. Chapter 4, "El Dorado" which is ostensibly a chapter devoted to Karl V/Carlos I begins at his birth (odd because the previous chapter "Universal Empire" focuses primarily on Maximilian and so cuts out some of the most important parts of his life), and ends 6 years before his retirement, in 1556. I'm just having a hard time understanding why he didn't bother with more specific periodization, especially since he repeatedly runs over the specified dates because he kind of has to (both with Karl V/Carlos I AND with Maximilian I).
Chapter 5: "A War to the Last Extremity" rights the books periodization with the dating 1550-1660, which should mean that it would cover two events: The Dutch Revolt/80 Years War (1568-1648), and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648, with French-Spanish hostilities carrying on until 1659). These two events are among the most important in the history of the family, particularly of the Spanish branch, so I was actually looking forward to this chapter in particular. However Wheatcroft pays little to no attention to these particular conflicts. The only information the author gives is a brief introduction to the political circumstances that brought about the Bohemian revolt, and he talks about successes in Burgundy under Alba and Mary of Austria, but aside from that, the wars are barely even mentioned, let alone the political/cultural/social/geographical ramifications. This seems to be a larger of the book as Wheatcroft himself admits "This book has ignored the normal landmarks of history. Sometimes, with some difficulty, and especially in the last chapter, I have turned away from the events that I have been trained to consider important, to those other issues that loomed as large in the minds of my subjects", but just as when a screenwriter "hangs a lampshade", just because you point out you are doing it doesn't make it right. It's extremely frustrating that he repeatedly does it and makes the book much harder to follow on the whole.
Moreover Wheatcroft doesn't seem to know what he actually wants to write about. He repeatedly vacillates between Art history, political history, cultural history and biography, only not in a good "synthesizing many fields to create a comprehensive book" kind of way, more like in a "Author has ADD" kind of way. He just kind of goes on these rambling duckwalks where he's talking about a political figure, and then suddenly goes on a 5 page description of some painting or another, often without any kind of transition. It's extremely frustrating because it's obvious Wheatcroft possesses a great deal of knowledge about the topic (especially if his thorough endnotes and bibliography are anything to go by), but if the book was just organized in a more thoughtful nature it might show through more clearly.
Another major issue with his book is his usage of sources; the text is replete with block quotes, only not in a "letting the figures of the time tell their story" like a Peter Brown would, but instead he just quotes massive blocks of other historians' works. This to me is one of the most infuriating things a professional historian can do. To me it says you are incapable of doing your own work or formulating your own opinions. But I don't want to hear other peoples' opinions, I want to hear your opinion. If I wanted to read those block quotes I'd just go read the damn book. It's acceptable once or twice, but this guy did it throughout the book and it made reading it very tedious.
Like a sun emerging from the clouds, this book emerges from its plodding descriptions of Joseph I, and Charles the Good to Maria Theresa, at which point it becomes apparent where Wheatcroft's interest and specialties lay. His descriptions of Maria Theresa, Leopold II, Emperor Francis I, Emperor Ferdinand I, and Franz Ferdinand I are so exquisite and detailed that it was as if I was reading a completely different book, especially the with the latter figure.
Overall this book was frustrating. I was drawn in by the interesting subject and eloquent prose, but the bad and confusing structure of the book made a good chunk of it too tough to get through. I'd recommend picking this book up for the last three chapters which are interesting, albeit not particularly new or revolutionary, but other than that, you won't learn anything new from it.
Finished up Blanning's Pursuit of Glory. Like Wheatcroft, Blanning takes a look at political, cultural, military, etc. history in Europe (a wide net to cast). I can also say that unlike Wheatcroft, he organizes his book quite well by grouping the political revolutions together, the military history together, the cultural changes, the technological changes, etc. So instead of the ADD effect, you have something that is intelligible. He took a rigorous look at troop numbers and equipment quantities in the military history section--one table had the major wars of the period, with entries for numbers of battles with over 100k troops involved, number of cannons per 1,000 men, and plenty of other data. It was nice to see all the wars in this period compared side-by-side in this fashion.
So, in the week before I have to go to a conference, I've started and intend to finish 1491. So far, it has lived up to the recommendations in the prior thread.
I remember looking through that very book, Owen. I think I'd agree with you entirely. Just a quick study of the chapters and their allotted pages will tell you where his interests really lie.
Hmm, 1987? Any suggestions for something more recent?
Anyway, finished Korea. Rather interesting how a homogenous country ends up splitting into two halves that won't seem to be reunited for a long, long time.
Picked up India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha from the local library. Bit of a doorstopper at 759 pages. But hey, as long as it fits in my backpack.
It's still the standard text at arguably the best (or second best depending on what one thinks of Cornell's present stable) institution for Southeast Asia research.
Alright, I'll pick it up when I get back to the university campus.
‘Land of Promise, An Economic History of the United States’ by Michael Lind
I've only read a couple of chapters. And I'm not really happy with it. This New York Times review spells out the problems pretty well. Lind isn't an economist or a historian. And the writing so far isn't that great.
Anyone know this author? The book might have something in it despite not being really all that great.
R.R. Martin - A Dance With Dragons
Also about halfway through The Time Traveler by H.G. Wells.
Right now I'm reading Kafka's The Trial (again, hopefully this time, I'll reach the other cover) and Albert Camus' La Peste (en français).
Finished The Balfour Declaration by Jonathan Schneer. All I can say is: goddamnit Britain. Just...goddamnit.
This one's good. On par with Debunking Economics II.
3 x Carlin: An Orgy of George, by George Carlin
Reasons to be Cheerful, by Mark Steel
How I Escaped My Certain Fate, by Stewart Lee (apparently whoever runs second-hand bookshops really want me to read stuff by stand-comedians this month)
Market Forces, by Richard Morgan
Empires of the Atlantic World, by J.H.Elliott
Embassytown, by China Miéville
Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere, by Paul Mason
The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilisation, 1919 - 1939, by Richard Overy
Space Settlements: A Design Study
It's a book by nasa about the feasability of space based power stations.
Wildly out of date, still a good read for first principles.
Here's a pdf version (the original paper back has some beautiful illustrations)
Power and Plenty by O'Rourke and Findlay. Finally talked the library system to cough it up.
I'm reading various short stories by Faulkner right now. My favorite so far is Red Leaves.
Check out Between the River and the Bridge by Craig Ferguson.
This is an absolutely amazing book. Everyone ever should read it. Definitely.
That looks pretty relevant to the stuff I'm doing next semester, so I might to have to check it out.
Separate names with a comma.