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Danton
Danton
by HAMPSON
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Reducing the Legend to Reality, 5 July 2012
This review is from: Danton (Paperback)
Norman Hampson has produced a short and readable study of Danton, part biography and part an enquiry into his political activities in the Revolution. The lack of papers Danton left and the (probably deliberate) ambiguity in many of his actions has enabled other writers to portray him as any of brutal and bloodthirsty, hedonistic and corrupt, a truer revolutionary than those who executed him or even as a Royalist or British agent. Hampson deals with the ambiguity squarely; he admits Danton can be any if not all of these and, although he examines as far as possible Danton's more dubious political and financial dealings, he leaves it for the reader to decide about his motivation.

Hampson sees Danton primarily as a politician who realised the scope the Revolution gave for involving, or at least using, the masses in politics through his organisation of the Cordeliers club, which he dominated through his oratory and tactics. Danton ultimately failed, but created a model for later politicians. Hampson also gives Danton a good deal of the benefit of the doubt in his financial dealings, which taken as a whole do suggest corruption.

The book is clearly written and does not insult the reader by filling in the gaps in Danton's life or the reasons for his behaviour with too much speculation. Not a book for the specialist, but a good introduction to Danton.


Social Facts and Fabrications: "Customary" Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880-1980 (Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures)
Social Facts and Fabrications: "Customary" Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880-1980 (Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures)
by Sally Falk Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: 24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Specialised but Important Book, 4 July 2012
This is a study by Sally Falk Moore, who was probably unique when she wrote it as a professional anthropologist who had earlier been trained in and practiced law, on the development of customary law among the Chagga people of Mount Kilimanjaro. As such, it might seem excessively specialised; however, it is one of the few detailed studies of the changing role of African customary law, and it also considers the theoretical role of the law as a system reacting to social changes. A number of earlier studies of customary law regarded it as fixed systems to be codified and used to support dominant power structures or romanticised, rather than a dynamic and evolving reflection of the societies that gave rise to it. Moore does not start with any such preconceptions.

After an introduction setting out Moore's theoretical analysis, her book has three main sections, examining changes in Chagga law, society, economy, beliefs and cultural practices between 1880 and 1980. These deal in turn with pre-colonial economy, politics and law, colonial transformations under German and British colonial rule and the post-colonial uses of customary law in the 1960s and 1970s. In each of these time-based sections, Moore examines how people and groups interacted, and how law and custom developed in response to changed political, social and economic circumstances, including the introduction of coffee as the main cash crop. Alien legal concepts were superimposed on the existing custom, not least after independence, but the Chagga responded by retaining custom to regulate social behaviour outside formal court processes. Moore's analysis of changing customary law shows that it is not some archaic survival, but still very much alive, particularly in disputes about land, cattle and marriage and divorce.

Moore presents her theoretical analysis and issues in a well written style, largely free of jargon. If some of the theory is rather hard going for anyone not a social scientist, the lively case studies she presents brings her subject and individual Chagga to life. This is a book for those with a more than passing interest in African history or Anthropology, but for them it is interesting and insightful.


The Partition of India (New Approaches to Asian History)
The Partition of India (New Approaches to Asian History)
by Ian Talbot
Edition: Paperback
Price: 18.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Introduction to a Difficult Subject, 3 July 2012
The partition of India is highly controversial and many of the statements about it reflect dogmatic partisan opinions. This book is objective in several senses: it looks at partition from the position of regional communities as well as high-level politicians, it considers both the long term and the more immediate causes of partition and its results, and deals fully with the wide range communal groups. There are not just monolithic groups labelled "Hindus" or "Muslims"; the writers consider factions within Congress, non-Muslim League Muslims and Sikhs, Kashmiris and Bengalis all with their own aspirations. Talbot and Singh's concise study is well researched and objectively written, although it clearly brings out the horror of inter-communal violence through simple, undramatic description.

The book's introduction and first chapter explore the distorted ways in which much of the history of partition has been written. Most have writers concentrated on high-level politics, ignoring regional studies; others have concentrated on individual narratives without looking at the bigger picture. Earlier Indian studies put excessive amounts of blame on the British Raj, Pakistani writers usually argue that a two-state solution was inevitable. Talbot and Singh's second chapter on The Road to 1947 puts forward the case that nothing was inevitable about partition 25 years before it happened, but in that quarter century the chances of creating a single independent state in India diminished, largely because Congress could not convince sufficient Muslims that their interests would be safeguarded in such a state. In the end, partition was most politicians' second choice. Congress would not sacrifice the ideal of a strongly-centralised state to accommodate Muslim (or at least Muslim League) concerns, the Muslim League would only remain in a highly decentralised India and, although the British government favoured unity, it wanted withdrawal more.

The central chapters of the book deal with the violence of partition, the resettlement of those it displaced and the religious and ethnic legacies of partition. The authors argue convincingly that, in its origin, violence was not spontaneous but politically organised to drive out minority groups. Only later did retribution or looting take over, causing increasing escalation. As such, they believe, it differed from earlier inter-communal violence. The migration and resettlement caused by this violence is well described and the authors show how its effects differed between the Punjab and Bengal. It played a significant part in shaping the two successor states and ensuring that they would remain largely unfriendly, even apart from the running sore of Kashmir.

Although this is quite a short book, it also tries to put partition in the global context of ethnic and religious conflict. Its authors question whether democratisation can work in the context of communities dived by ethnic and religious differences. Considering what has happened in the 65 years since partition, with the growth of Hindu nationalism in India and of militant Islamic bodies in Pakistan, it would be difficult to give a positive answer. By implication, they also ask what safeguards is it permissible to give to minorities, and their comparisons with Cyprus, Palestine and former Yugoslavia suggest that these can never be enough if large elements of the majority do not respect them.

Overall, this is a coherent, unbiased and interesting survey of a difficult issue, well worth reading

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The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the 6th to the 11th Century (A History of the Near East)
The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the 6th to the 11th Century (A History of the Near East)
by Hugh Kennedy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 33.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Introduction, 28 Jun 2012
This is the earliest chronologically of a series of surveys of Middle Eastern history, and as such suffers from a lack of verifiable sources, particularly for the tine of Muhammad. Despite this, Hugh Kennedy presents a credible account in the first two-thirds of his book of the context of the early 7th century, the birth of the Muslim states and its expansion under the early caliphs, and the rise and fall of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates. This section also includes a review of Muslim political structures and of the formation and development of Shi'ism. This part is very useful and has a good narrative structure, although a rather more analysis might have been helpful.

The last third of the book is harder to read, as each of its five chapters deals with a particular region and it rather difficult to keep track of what is happening in different places at the same time. This and the absence of much on cultural developments are the only weaknesses in a book which is a very useful survey of early Islamic history.


The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (A History of the Near East)
The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (A History of the Near East)
by P.M. Holt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 28.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Not just about the Crusades, 28 Jun 2012
The title might suggest a narrowly-focussed history of the Crusades and Crusader states from a Western European viewpoint: this is not that book. Professor Holt's justification for the title is that the Crusades were a great catalyst for the unification of what had earlier been fragmented Muslim states in the Middle East under a few strong states, whose rulers gained prestige through fighting Holy Wars. The book ends in 1517, when the Ottoman Turks completed the unification of the area by conquering Egypt.

Holt's book is a blend of narrative and analysis and is largely written from the perspective of the indigenous people, largely Muslim but also Christian or Jewish, of an area far beyond that directly settled by the Crusader states or directly affected by warfare with them. About a quarter of the chapters deal with the governance of this area, and survey the institutions of government at the start of the period and at times within it. Although the other chapters are largely chronological, they also contain insights into the reasons for the events. The main focus is on Syria and Egypt, although two chapters deal with Nubia and Muslim Anatolia. The writing style is erudite but highly readable and a great deal of detailed factual information is packed into just over 200 pages, besides a useful bibliographic survey. Its main emphasis is political, so although the chapters on the institutions of government may not be as instantly interesting as some of the narrative ones, knowing the nuts-and-bolts of government is essential to understanding it. There is also a reasonable amount on social and, to a lesser extent, economic, issues but little on culture. This is understandable within the constraints of a book this size.

Professor Holt retired in 1982 after a long career as a historian, and his book certainly seems like the product of many years of scholarship and reflection. It is probably aimed at undergraduate students of Middle Eastern history or those in related fields wanting an introduction. As an introductory history, it would difficult to improve on.


Spain and the Netherlands, 1559-1659
Spain and the Netherlands, 1559-1659
by Geoffrey Parker
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not Comprehensive, 24 Jun 2012
Geoffrey Parker has put together ten papers on the general theme of Spain and the Netherlands in an attempt to answer the question, how did Spain manage to keep on fighting an expensive war in the Netherlands for so long, when it had commitments in several other areas. The ten papers were presented at various times and in several places between 1969 and 1976 and do not form a comprehensive history of the interaction between Spain and the Netherlands in the century from 1559. What they do do is examine several aspects of the political, military and economic impact of this long conflict on the two opposing participants. As such,they supplement more general histories without replacing them. The ten studies are divided into three sections. The first group, on the European setting of the Dutch Revolt, and the second on its military context are excellent: the seven papers are all well-written and full of helpful analysis, and one of the last group is equally good. The final section is more of a mixed bag, with two of the papers on economic issues, which Parker seems to be less comfortable with. However, the book as a whole is well worth reading by anyone wanting a wider perspective of the Dutch Revolt and the Spanish reaction to it.


The Medieval Spains (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks)
The Medieval Spains (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks)
by Bernard F. Reilly
Edition: Paperback
Price: 20.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading on Medieval Iberian History, 24 Jun 2012
Bernard Reilly has produced a well-written and interesting account of Iberian history from Late Roman times to the end of the medieval period in the Peninsula. His main theme is the lack of Iberian unity for much of the period. This was because of geographical constraints, which separated the communities of one river basin from others and promoted regionalism, and low population growth until an agricultural revolution in northern Spain enabled the rapid expansion of the Christian kingdoms. This expansion was also aided by new local institutions including town militias and the military orders which provided the manpower for the Reconquest. Reilly does not ignore religious, cultural or ethnic differences, but does not see them as decisive, as co-existence and even cooperation were as usual as conflict.

The early chapters on the Germanic Visigoth kingdom and the Muslim conquest are necessarily mainly narrative with little analysis, but the remaining three-quarters of the book is full of political, social and cultural analysis to supplement the background of events. Reilly argues convincingly that Iberian culture was formed out of the interaction of several competing cultures, and so differs from other European cultures. In his later chapters he shows that Muslims and Jews exerted influences far beyond their numbers, but ultimately their forced co-existence with the Christian majority broke down, and they were regarded as unsatisfactory members of what became an exclusively Catholic country.

This is one of the Cambridge Medieval Textbooks, aimed at undergraduates and others interested in medieval Iberian political and social history. As such, it does what it intends clearly and effectively.


The struggle for supremacy in the Baltic, 1600-1725 (London history studies;no.3)
The struggle for supremacy in the Baltic, 1600-1725 (London history studies;no.3)
by Jill Lisk
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Stands the Test of time, 23 Jun 2012
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This book was written 45 years ago, and although there are several more modern works on Baltic history including more modern research, it has stood the test of time. Jill Lisk has produced a very readable account covering the critical century-and-a quarter of history of this region. This is often neglected by British historians, but Lisk makes a strong case for its importance as a vital source of naval stores and grain for Western Europe. This period saw the rise of Russia and Brandenburg-Prussia, the decline of Denmark and Poland and the meteoric rise and fall of Sweden, and Lisk provides both a clear narrative and intelligent analysis of its events. the book is a very good introduction to the subject, and is widely quoted by other authors. It is a pity that never wrote an updated version.


The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States (New Approaches to the Americas)
The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States (New Approaches to the Americas)
by Laird Bergad
Edition: Paperback
Price: 20.45

4.0 out of 5 stars It meets a Need for a Comparative History, 23 Jun 2012
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Slavery was abolished in the Spanish-speaking American republics and most of the Caribbean in the first part of the 19th century, but it continued in the southern states of the USA, in Brazil and in the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Laird Bergad's absorbing book provided a convincing answer to this paradox. He first presents a history of the development of slavery in the Americas, particularly in the United States, Brazil and Cuba, as a significant factor in their historical development. Before 1800, slavery was very diverse but as the 19th century advanced, a single major crop (cotton in the southern USA, coffee in Brazil and sugar in Cuba) became dominant in those areas which preserved slavery and led to its retention and consolidation in these regions, whereas it withered away where there was no such cause for its retention. Bergad also highlights on the 19th century differences to the systems of slavery in Cuba and the United States caused when new technologies, such as railways and steam power, were being introduced to increase production. His final chapter on abolition shows that there was no single reason for abolition, and the actual reasons were rarely purely economic, but rather based on political and social factors. The data given on production, prices, investments, and demography in the book is a useful introduction to the economics of slavery.

The middle part of this book provides a social history of slavery in each country, with comparisons between them. As with the rest of the book, it is well researched, although the writing style is a little dry in parts. However the chapter on "Slaves in Their Own Words" is very moving. Although there a plenty of books on slavery in the USA, this comparative history of the last New World slave economies and societies fills a definite need.


The Fall of the Athenian Empire
The Fall of the Athenian Empire
by Donald Kagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fitting Climax, 20 Jun 2012
This forth book of the series on the Peloponnesian War brings to a culmination Kagan's detailed scholarship and compelling narrative writing on the subject. The period it covers, from the aftermath of the disastrous Athenian Expedition to Sicily in 413 to the surrender of Athens to the Peloponnesian league in 404, is probably the most complex and difficult to deal with of the whole conflict, but Kagan analyses it with masterly clarity, despite the eventual loss of his main source for earlier periods, Thucydides.

In place of a fairly simple conflict between Sparta and its allies and the Athenians, this phase was a many-sided, with Persian satraps intervening on one side or the other, Persian money used to supply the side currently in favour and the complex machinations of Alcibiades, playing Spartans and Persians off against each other, at first an enemy of Athens, later one of its leaders and finally no-one's friend. Athenian politics were also complex. The previous moves from limited democracy to a fuller version were reversed, and first a strict an pro-Spartan oligarchy was imposed at Athens. A milder oligarchy followed, but the Athenian fleet based at Samos remained democratic and eventually managed a restoration of democracy in Athens.

On the military front, although weakened by the Sicilian debacle, Athens managed to recover and fight on. However, with less manpower and diminished financial resources and suffering from internal strife, Athens' path was gradually downwards towards defeat. This defeat was not inevitable, but once the Peloponnesian league managed to build a credible fleet with Persian money, Athens could only survive if it remained united, mobilised its allies and kept on winning, whilst the Peloponnesians could fight a war of attrition despite defeats and losses of manpower on the way, as long as they remained determined to defeat Athens.

Kagan's conclusion makes it clear that Athens was not the only loser. Sparta suffered from the erosion of its conservative values though growing corruption and personal ambition once its leaders were exposed to money and power. The number of its full citizens declined sharply and it gained little gratitude from its allies. Many Peloponnesian cities lost population and wealth and some places like Platea and Melos were devastated by the war. The only real winners were Persia and, ultimately, Macedon.

Throughout his four books, Kagan subjects Thucydides to detailed scrutiny, and in his conclusion gives his considered judgement. Thucydides was a political writer with an agenda that was against more the extreme forms of democracy and in favour of a broad oligarchy, as shown by his support for Pericles and loathing of Cleon. His analyses of the causes of the war, its inevitability and support for Pericles' strategy are all questioned by Kagan and found wanting.

All four books of the series are excellent, and this maintains the standard.


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