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Peter K. Booker (Portugal)

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by Miguel Sousa Tavares
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Slavery in Portuguese Africa, 21 Aug 2013
This review is from: Equator (Paperback)
Miguel Sousa Tavares has written a highly credible novel about a murky place and period in Portuguese colonial history. Yes, slaves were used in the coffee and cocoa plantations of these islands, and Portugal had the unenviable choice of dissembling, of pretending that slavery did not exist. Or the principled Quaker chocolate manufacturers in Britain would cease their purchase of São Tomé cocoa and buy instead from British West India producers. Hypocritical Britain may or may not have been using slaves in the West Indies, but they were certainly using slaves (or more properly indentured labourers) in the gold mines of South Africa. This indentured labour system became a hot political potato dominating the General election of 1906. And yes, the Quakers followed the lead of Cadbury and did withdraw their custom after he had established that Portuguese plantation owners were using slaves. And yes, the plantation owners of São Tomé did continue with their questionable labour practices right up to 1974, when the Carnation Revolution caused Portugal to withdraw from its African territories. Tavares builds the tension between the idealist Valença and the powerful plantation owners; he also shows how strong was the colour bar in Portuguese Africa; and his description of São Tomé is wonderful. For anyone with any interest in Portugal's former African territories, this book adds knowledge and atmosphere and is a delight to read. For just how rich the plantation owners became from their use of slave labour, you might examine the Pestana Palace Hotel in Lisbon, which was built between 1904 - 1915 for the Marquês de Vila Flôr, the owner of the Vila Flôr plantation in São Tomé. The Marquês is also mentioned in the novel. On page one of this book there is a quite inexplicable remark about the Suez Canal (finished in 1869). Should this remark refer to the Panama Canal (which at that time was being bought by the Americans)? Any views, anyone?

Wellington's Smallest Victory: The Story of William Siborne & Great Model of Waterloo: The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo
Wellington's Smallest Victory: The Story of William Siborne & Great Model of Waterloo: The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo
by Peter Hofschroer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humbugged?, 10 Feb 2013
Ever since I have become aware of the Battle of Waterloo, I have been conscious of the different weights attached to the importance of the efforts of the allied army under Wellington and the Prussian army under Blücher. Without the Prussian attack on Plancenoit in the evening of 18 June, 1815, the allies would have lost this battle, despite the lethal mistakes made by French commanders such as Ney. Yet Wellington deliberately downplayed the role of the Prussians in his Waterloo Dispatch (which was the report that he wrote and sent to his government in London immediately after the battle). Further, on the previous days, he had promised support to the Prussian army if it was to be attacked by Napoleon. He did not supply this support. Wellington's troops were disposed in such a way that they could never be available to give the support promised to the Prussians. Only the futile marching and countermarching of d' Érlon's corps provided the British with the much needed victory at Quatre Bras; and prevented the Prussian defeat at Ligny being worse.
In this little book, Hofschroer supplies reasons for the tenor of the Waterloo Dispatch, and for the adamant obstructionism provided by the establishment to Siborne's attempt to establish historical debate in order to arrive at the truth of the explanation of the allied victory at Waterloo. When Wellington discovered that Siborne had independently approached the Prussian War Office for the Prussian records of the battle, he determined to scotch Siborne's efforts at historical accuracy. Between 1815 and his death in 1852, Wellington occupied an outstanding position in public life perhaps unparalleled in the history of Britain; he was the establishment. Hofschroer claims that Siborne had stumbled on an economy with the truth, perpetrated by the Duke himself in the Waterloo Dispatch. He then claims that the reasons for this attitude were to do with a wider political aim to downplay Prussian claims to territory and to increased political influence in post-war Europe. British historians tend to accept the Waterloo Dispatch and the overwhelmingly nationalist attitude that the battle would have been won without Prussian help. I have to say that Hofschroer (is it accidental that he bears a German name?) throws doubt on this claim. I have come to the conclusion that the attack by the Prussians on the French left caused Napoleon to commit reserves to holding back this Prussian advance; reserves that would otherwise have been used to overwhelm the allied centre. And that the Prussian advance happened far earlier than the Duke allowed. Yes, I find Hofschroer's arguments, based in the exhaustive contemporary research conducted by Lt Siborne, quite credible. Hofschroer has done us all a service in opening a debate on the reasons for the establishment cover-up which blighted Siborne's military career and led to his early death. The title of Hofschroer's last chapter is Humbugged? For me this word sums up how the nation, Europe and posterity have all been misled by the Great Duke himself, and how even now, 163 years after his death, lowly and underpromoted Lt Siborne may be having the last laugh.

The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama
The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama
by Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Edition: Paperback
Price: £32.76

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for the historian, 8 Nov 2012
Sanjay Subrahmanyam is a highly qualified professional historian. He consults the sources, he reviews the work of other writers, he considers the view of history down the ages on his subject, and lastly, he writes well. In this book we have precisely what the title promises us, a review of the career of Vasco da Gama together with a review of the legends built around his life's work. The author at every turn exposes the sources upon which he bases his arguments and consequently this book is well argued and thoroughly convincing.

It is a masterly book, the epitome of a work of scholarship. We find out what makes Gama tick (probably his overbearing and nasty temper) and we can begin to judge the success or otherwise of his career. How did he serve his royal master D Manuel I? He was the first commander to reach India in a Portuguese ship (1497-1498); he followed by commanding the outward bound India fleet in 1502. But he then fell from royal favour, and only when D João III ascended the throne was he again entrusted with the India fleet. Setting out again from Lisbon in March 1524 at the age of about 55, he determines to carry out royal policy in his normal brusque and autocratic manner, but dies suddenly on Christmas Eve 1524. He has spent 22 years in the wilderness; he was repeatedly denied the honours and rewards promised him by his royal master, D Manuel I. He was on the wrong side of D Jorge, Master of the Order of Santiago, he belonged to a minority on the royal council and lived most of these years away from Lisbon, the centre of power. What went wrong, and how does history remember him?

First, history remembers only the voyage of 1497, and ignores the rest of his life. Portuguese historians especially, but not alone, have served his historical memory from a Eurocentric viewpoint, and have ignored or disregarded Gama's contribution to the history of southeast Asia. In their legend, Gama was the man who broke into the Indian Ocean and transformed the history of the world. But while there are elements of truth in this view, there is much more to the story. The unexplained gap in the history of the discoveries between the voyage of Bartolomeu Dias (1489) and that of Vasco da Gama (1497) troubles historians, and this book supplies a credible reason for the delay. Following the death of D João II, the new regime of D Manuel struggled to impose a united policy to support further exploration, and in this aim he was not completely successful. We may have visions of absolute monarchs who are able to command on a whim, but D Manuel I was not one of them. Not for him L'état c'est moi; on his royal council he had many powerful opponents, and wherever he is now if D Manuel knows of his soubriquet O venturoso (the lucky) he might venture to himself a wry smile. And the story of Gama the hero is diametrically opposed to that of another Portuguese superhero, Afonso d'Albuquerque, because their views on how Portugal should exploit its new empire were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Two heroes of quite a different stamp, living at the same time in Portuguese history. Perhaps for Portuguese historians it was better just to forget that they had differences, and to portray Portuguese exploits as a continuing story of success. History seems to have done just that. In this magnificent biography of Vasco da Gama, Subrahmanyam picks at the details and exposes the differences in the political views of those two heavyweights in Portuguese imperial history.

I have recently been chided for a review on Nigel Cliff's Holy War Holy War: How Vasco Da Gama's Epic Voyages Turned the Tide in a Centuries-Old Clash of Civilizations which seems to occupy the easy read section of history, the sort of book which you could take to the beach. In it the author apparently makes a number of mistakes. Admittedly I did not read Cliff's book, but I did read the review (published only in the US) of someone who had (Fernando Armesto-Fernandez, Professor of History at Notre Dame University, and formerly of Oxford); having read this devastating review, nor shall I read Cliff's book. What is the purpose of reviews such as these if not to guide fellow readers?

Armesto-Fernandez on the other hand rates Subrahmanyam's book highly, and I agree with him. This book cries out for the sixth star, it is that good. Sanjay Subrahmanyam has written a tremendous book, but it is not the sort of book you would take to the beach for an easily digestible read, because this book requires your whole active attention and thought. If you like real history, then The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama is your sort of book; if not, then go for the Nigel Cliff version.

The Lisbon Route: Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe
The Lisbon Route: Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe
by Ronald Weber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neutral Lisbon in WW2, 30 Oct 2012
Ronald Weber is Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His background is right for writing this book and although it suggests a US standpoint, Weber is a good enough scholar to see matters also from the English point of view. The book is subtitled "Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe" which is only half the story. There is wolfram, the story of Nazi gold after the war and Safehaven, the programme to deal with the scare that escaping Nazis might create a postwar Nazi state. Weber concentrates on the escape routes from France during the fall of France and during the Vichy era, and on the difficulties in traversing Spain and Spanish border guards get a very good press in this book. There is a major section on the espionage activities centred in London and Washington with their focus on Lisbon. There are many personal histories; stories of single, double and triple agents (Popov was acknowledged as a triple agent by his codename Tricycle, which might also refer to his predilections in the bedroom. Juan Pujol was codenamed Garbo because his ability resembled that of a top-notch actor). The Windsors, Churchill, Leslie Howard Kim Philby and Rose Macaulay are all mentioned. Although Weber talks of the loss of the Ibis, the aeroplane in which Leslie Howard was travelling in June 1943, I for one would have been interested in the relative ease with which many Allied personages seemed to enter and leave Lisbon and to make their way to and from London. Did they all travel in the KLM Dakotas? Did any use warships or other sea transport? How about military aircraft? Did any go by way of the Azores? How common was it for travellers to go via Gibraltar? Before I read this book I was not aware of the efforts expended by American Quakers and Unitarians in bringing succour to European refugees.

I was hoping to see more evidence of memoirs by French and German agents, but much of the German material is seen from the Atlantic standpoint, through Allied spectacles. There must be an opportunity for more research by a German speaker to show the German view on Lisbon as an escape hatch from occupied Europe and as a means of escape to South America over the last days of the war. "A Small Death in Lisbon" (Robert Wilson) shows this angle, but that book is a novel. In a quick glance in the bibliography, I found only one German source mentioned in the book (Schellenberg) and there must be more memoirs available.

One of the reasons why Iberia was able to keep out of the war was the creation by Salazar and Franco of the Iberian Pact. The realisation that Spain and Portugal were better protected if they acted in concert than if they played individual roles. This is an area in which I think Weber does not really get to the nub of the matter. Although Franco was tempted to cooperate with Hitler at their famous meeting at Hendaye in October 1940, he recognised that once having allowed the Nazis into Spain to help him to recover Gibraltar and parts of French Morocco, it would be no easy matter to get them to leave again. In agreeing to the Iberian pact, Franco was paying back perhaps the crucial aid given to his rebel movement during the first days of his revolt in 1936 by Salazar and Portugal. In any case, Spain was exhausted after its civil war, and I imagine that Franco could not contemplate another armed conflict so soon.

This book is full to the gunwales with story and detail. It represents a profitable lode for anyone researching the history of Portugal during WW2; and the story of British and American spies during this period is such that as they say, You couldn't make it up. There is such a mass of detail that it is not an easy read. But it is nearly comprehensive.

Although it has a fair sprinkling of typos and errors, the book itself is well produced and printed in the US; the dust-jacket shows a yellow Lisbon tram, and the book has a yellow cover and yellow end-papers, a nice touch, and it is a delight to hold and to read. The publisher is new to me (Ivan R Dee). If you have any interest in Portugal and its international relations during WW2, this book is well worth reading.

Maugham                                                            #06246
Maugham #06246
by Ted Morgan
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A supreme stylist, 25 Sep 2012
This review is from: Maugham #06246 (Hardcover)
W Somerset Maugham was not everybody's favourite writer and amongst his acquaintances not everyone's favourite person. But if you were to measure an author's success by the amount of money he made out of his writing, without question Somerset Maugham was the most successful writer in the English language in the twentieth century. This success may in part be attributed to his extraordinarily long and prolific writing career (his first book was published in 1897 and his last in 1962, 65 years later); in part to his ability to meet the needs of the reading public at different times in that turbulent century; and in part to his successful story telling. His stories are even now excellent examples of the novelist's art, and his short stories are the best in the English language partly because the stories are good and partly because Maugham's English style is so attractive.

Various writers and critics over the years criticised him fiercely for different publications, but he took their criticisms well. After all, who can write at a consistently good standard over 65 years? Some of his plays were flops; but many more ran for more than 100 performances in the West End. Many of his stories have been made into films, some on three different occasions. The latest is The Painted Veil, a film made in 2006 of a story written in 1925. Maugham's work still attracts film makers and cinema goers. Morgan talks in detailed terms of his literary longevity: in 1897 his contemporaries were Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling Joseph Conrad and HG Wells; in 1915 they were Arnold Bennett James Joyce and DH Lawrence; in 1930 they were Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner; in 1943 they were Norman Mailer and Irwin Shaw; when he published his last book in 1962, they were JD Salinger, John Updike and Kingsley Amis. If nothing else, Maugham had amazing application. One writer complained of writer's block. Maugham would have none of it. He took up his pen at 09:00 every morning and put it down at 12:55 in time for lunch. It was for him a question of self-discipline.

I found in this book a remark made by George Orwell about Somerset Maugham. They were from a similar social background, and each was educated in a public school. Orwell however concentrated on the social questions of the age and on the political differences leading to war. Most of Maugham's work was concerned with society that he had been able to observe personally (or at one remove through the eyes of his friend Gerald Haxton), and so he was writing about a subject that he knew well. Orwell wrote "The writers I care most about and never grow tired of are Shakespeare, Swift, Fielding, Dickens, Charles Reade, Samuel Butler, Zola, Flaubert and among modern writers James Joyce, TS Eliot and DH Lawrence. But I believe the modern writer who has influenced me most is Somerset Maugham, whom I admire immensely for his power of telling a story straightforwardly and without frills." Orwell is a writer whom I admire, and my admiration increases as I read this remark. Because it is in this attribute that Maugham is peerless among English writers, except perhaps for Orwell himself.

Ted Morgan's biography is an excellent overview of the life of this exasperating and difficult man. He pulls no punches in assessing his often unpleasant character, and gives due measure to those who criticised his work, such as Edmund Wilson in 1953. But on the other hand, Maugham's latest book had just been published in 1953 with an initial printing of 825,000 copies. The novel, "Then and Now" was unsuccessful, since it was an historical novel outside the scope of his own experience. But any author would go green with envy at a rival whose reputation commanded that kind of print run. It is just possible that there were sour grapes in Wilson's criticism. Maugham always said of himself that he was in the first rank of the second-raters. Try as I might, I do not see the reasons for this judgement. Although of modest stature, he stands tall as a novelist, and he is the best short story writer in the English language. His English style is impeccable, and well worth studying for emulation.

Ted Morgan's biography starts in a low key and consecutive fashion (much as Maugham's own career did) but as the book progresses he delves deeper into Maugham's unattractive personality and finds parallels to some of his unattractive traits in his writing. He compares Haxton (vintage) with the man who took over the role of secretary-cum-general factotum, Alan Searle (vin ordinaire). Morgan does not avoid the general air of nastiness and bitchiness which seemed to cling to Maugham like a cloud of flies. For anyone who cares about English literature in the twentieth century, this biography is a must. You may not care for Somerset Maugham the man, but after reading this biography, you will admire him for writing in the spirit of the times, for his excellent stories, and even for the fact that as a writer pure and simple, he became a millionaire.

The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco Da Gama
The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco Da Gama
by Nigel Cliff
Edition: Hardcover

20 of 60 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A reviewer says......, 17 Sep 2012
Another reviewer suggests that this work is worth five stars as an academic book. But when you consult an academic about the value of this book (in the USA edition called "Holy War"), the opinion is different. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto wrote a telling review in an American paper in September 2011 where he charges Mr Cliff with not being an historian, but a populariser unaware of recent works by academics on the subject that he addresses. He shows that Mr Cliff is "unaware of the scale or extent of Indian Ocean trade before Vasco da Gama, or of the place of Europeans in it, or of the expansion of trade by traditional routes thereafter". Another misapprehension concerns "the never ending war between Christendom and Islam" which is a figment of contemporary imaginations.

Fernandez-Armesto is quite scathing in his strictures about this and three other books. There is nowadays a blurring of "the difference between drivel and truth" possibly caused by the popularisation of television histories "where no standards of veracity or scholarship apply." History's accessibility to non-specialists makes it seem dangerously, delusively easy, and if you do not bother "to do the basic work, you will deserve to fail."

Having read this review, I concluded that there were other and more reliable histories which I might acquire to read.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2014 2:50 PM GMT

Unknown Seas
Unknown Seas
by Ronald Watkins
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A readable historical novel, 16 Sep 2012
This review is from: Unknown Seas (Hardcover)
Ronald Watkins is an American historian based in Phoenix Arizona whose grasp of Portuguese and Portuguese history is not the most secure. Portuguese names and Portuguese words are mangled throughout this book. Watkins relies at least in part on the writings of mid twentieth century historians (they are assiduously annotated; why is their work still relevant?). He refers to a book called Roteiro (which was the logbook of the pilots of the Portuguese ships) without showing how it may be consulted. Although the book is subtitled "How Vasco da Gama Opened the East", da Gama makes his appearance only on page 166 out of 304. The first half of the book is given over to the story of the Portuguese voyages of discovery between their beginning after the capture of Ceuta until the death of D João II. This in itself is no bad thing, but may be better covered in books such as Peter Russell's Prince Henry the Navigator A Life.

Watkins asserts facts from time to time which are not supported by other historians. For example on page 58, he makes D João I confer knighthoods on his sons in Ceuta itself, where others show that the ceremony took place in Tavira in the Algarve; he states on p 298 "Almost immediately after its discovery on their second voyage to India the Portuguese had communities in Brazil which soon prospered........." This statement is just wrong. Portugal was so challenged in terms on manpower that the discovery of Brazil was almost an embarrassment; there was a dearth of potential colonists, and not until about 1550 did the king apply importance to the development of any colonial activity in Brazil. There are many other examples of misleading statements in Unknown Seas.

I also found less than satisfying the quick resumé of post-da Gama history in the Epilogue of nine pages. There is not enough room to expose the differences in policy and opinion between the king's advisors, for example, and the Governor on the spot, Afonso d'Albuquerque the founder of the Portuguese Empire in India, who gets only one mention in the whole book. Watkins quotes from the magisterial Charles Boxer (Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415 - 1825 published in 1969) whose book covers much of the same ground, only much better and more accurately. Where Watkins scores is in the detailed description of the Vasco da Gama voyage, which he brings to life.

The second half of this book is a quick and readable canter which leads to an important historical event. The way in which Watkins presents the story is badly balanced. The first half could have been abridged, and the more attention could have been given to the consequences of da Gama's work. The book is an annotated historical novel; a good read, but less than reliable in historical fact. For the facts, go to Boxer or the more modern AR Disney (A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire).

Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education
Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education
by Jane Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotal, 24 May 2012
This book reveals much of the reactionary attitude of men towards women's university education - but not other types of education. It is anecdotal, and it does not analyse the effect of educating women, nor does it look into the future. It presents the arguments against the education of women (many of them by clergymen) but I remember no assertive statement of the benefits. It is British in scope, and none the worse for that, but I should have relished a comparison with the struggle of women for education in other countries. I was disappointed with some of the words that the author uses. How for example can the removal of a bed be a prophylactic? (p177) On p129 Robinson writes, "A descendant of that meat pie van exists in Oxford still." Is this witty? When I had finished reading, I was aware of the struggle of women to gain a university education, but I felt curiously dissatisfied with the ingredients; I found that the more I read of the book, the more lukewarm my enthusiasm. Perhaps the author aimed only for a lightweight and anecdotal presentation, in which she succeeds, rather than a more deeply analytical and academic exegesis, which this book is not.

The Siege
The Siege
by Helen Dunmore
Edition: Paperback

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Novel, not history, 9 May 2012
This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
Helen Dunmore has written a novel which brings to the attention of a wider public the harrowing story of the Nazi siege of Leningrad. The history is best presented in Harrison Salisbury's 900 Days; The Siege of Leningrad. For me, well-written history scores over emotional imagination every time, and I can truthfully say that for that reason alone I could not recommend this book. But the author has done a service in highlighting the suffering of the Russians for those people who might not necessarily read the best available historical survey.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2014 5:07 PM BST

The Origin of the Mosque of Cordoba: Secrets of Andalusia
The Origin of the Mosque of Cordoba: Secrets of Andalusia
by Marvin H. Mills
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.10

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unorthodox view, 5 May 2012
Ever since the publication of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I have had a problem with the name Marvin. When The Origin of the Mosque of Córdoba came to my notice, I was nearly put off by the name of its author. In the end, I am glad that I persisted. Marvin Mills's book is quirky, as you would expect and the argument is often poorly expressed and repetitive. The pictures (referred to as plates) are amongst the poorest reproductions I have ever seen, and they are not a complete series. Yet his message is worth reading. So what is his argument? Based on patchy evidence, Marvin Mills reckons that the mosque in Córdoba was not originally built by the Moorish invaders, but was an earlier structure; the author then presents evidence that it may have been a Roman structure; but he plumps in the end for the Phoenicians, who were present in that part of Spain around 800BCE. Of course, the Romans might also have adapted an earlier structure for their own use. There is virtually no other Phoenician building which still exists, and so there is little to compare it with. We know that the Romans did their considerable best to eradicate all traces of the Carthaginians, and so there is little that remains from the Punic age for comparison. So much of what this author says must be conjecture.

But his starting point has made me think that there is more to his argument than meets the eye. What makes Marvin think that the Great Mosque is not and can not be a Moorish structure? Some of his evidence is circumstantial, and some of it is based on features of the building itself. The circumstantial is that the records on which we rely for our knowledge of the building of the mosque were written some 200 years after it was built and are not reliable testimony; the story of its creation is identical with that of the creation of the mosque in Damascus, and so may be a direct and misleading copy; the mosque in Córdoba is the only supposed Hispanic non-military building of the late 8th century to have survived and the building is so sophisticated, that it is unlikely that the Umayyad emirs could have built it, particularly since the era in which it is supposed to have been built was one of civil war and social disruption. Features of the building which are incongruous with a Moorish creation are that it is not aligned with Mecca; its mihrab is unique because it is not a niche but a room; the building has cellars; the gargoyles take the shape of animate beings, and such representation is forbidden in Islamic teaching; and it is purported to have been built in stages over 200 years, but the non-appearance of any joints or changes in building style does not support this theory. Marvin Mills goes for a full house because he applies arguments of a similar nature to the Alhambra in Granada and to Medinat al Zahara outside Córdoba itself.

There is much discussion in the book about Atlantis and about possible connexions between Atlantis (possibly European) and the Americas well before the voyages of Columbus. There is further conjecture based on the tectonic plate movements. For such a slim volume (118pp), this book covers a lot of ground. It is a pity that it was not better edited to clear away the repetitions and improve the syntax and that the pictures were not better reproduced. Putting all of these minuses on one side, I believe that the main aim of such a book must be to awaken ideas and to cast doubts on current tenets, and Marvin Mills has made me consider for the first time that the commonly held view of the history of the mosque at Córdoba may be mistaken. He has reminded me that the job of the historian is to question even the most widely held and firm beliefs and in this he has done me a great service. And therefore with this book, poor as it is in many ways, Marvin Mills has achieved his objective. It is time to award the stars. For presentation, I can give only one star. But for his argument, and its effect on me, he deserves five. Average, three.

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