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The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815 (New Approaches to European History)
The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815 (New Approaches to European History)
by Charles W. Ingrao
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Explains how the Habsburg empire thrived in early modern Europe, 8 July 2010
The Habsburgs are one of the great ruling dynasties in history. From their medieval origins in Austria the family would eventually occupy thrones that dominated much of central and eastern Europe before a series of setbacks and political shifts brought about the end of their monarchy in 1918. Yet as Charles Ingrao argues, far too much attention is focused on the final century of the monarchy's existence, which has the effect of distorting our understanding of it and how it survived for so long. His book, which is a survey of the monarchy from the start of the Thirty Years' War to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, examines the factors which he sees as shaping the 'distinctive course of Austrian history,' factors which he argues continued to define the development of the monarchy for the duration of its existence.

As Ingrao notes, the Habsburgs faced formidable challenges in governing their vast and diverse territories, which left them vulnerable to both local resistance and external threats. Yet he shows how the Habsburgs pragmatically turned these challenges into strengths, building an enduring empire that survived and even thrived during the early modern period. One of the foremost of these was its geographical position, which left it vulnerable to attack yet also valuable as an ally. Such alliances were the product of deft diplomacy, something the Habsburgs had to learn to master not only in dealing with the other powers of Europe but with the numerous minorities that made up their subjects. This diversity forced successive emperors to pursue consensus rather than confrontation with local elites, which left the monarchy weaker as an institution than many of its contemporaries in Europe but also served as a form of restraint in its international policy, as the monarchy was forced to avoid wars of aggression for which they would be unable to mobilize the necessary support. Their policies may not have made for the grandest of European states, but they helped the monarchy endure long after many of its contemporaries exhausted themselves through inconclusive wars.

Such an approach can run counter to preconceived notions about the Habsburg monarchy, yet Ingrao's arguments are convincing. Through them, the Habsburg empire's status as a great power and its survival over so many centuries become comprehensible to readers, helping them to understand not just its endurance but its long-overshadowed vitality as well. Well-written and thought-provoking, this book is an excellent introduction for anyone seeking to understand the history of the Habsburg empire and how such a seemingly unworkable state ruled so much of Europe for as long as it did.


Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt Vs. the Supreme Court
Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt Vs. the Supreme Court
by Jeff Shesol
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb history of Franklin Roosevelt's confrontation with the Supreme Court, 4 July 2010
The effort by Franklin Roosevelt to 'pack' the Supreme Court in 1937 is regarded today as one of the greatest political missteps ever made by a president. Devised in response to the Court's rejection of New Deal legislation, it galvanized a seemingly moribund conservative opposition and cost Roosevelt the enormous momentum he possessed coming out of his landslide 1936 reelection victory. Jeff Shesol does not dispute this conclusion, but instead seeks to explain the background to the plan and the course of the battle over it. In doing so, he has provided an absorbing account that illuminates many forgotten or overlooked aspects of the dispute.

Shesol traces the origins of the conflict to the very beginning of Roosevelt's presidency. From the first he and his administration were concerned about the fate of the New Deal when it was subjected to judicial review, both because of the dubious nature of much of the emergency legislation and because of the traditional role the Supreme Court had played in striking down economic regulation. Here the author does a good job of presenting the Court, showing how in spite of assumptions about its conservatism it nonetheless handed down a number of "liberal" decisions that gave many New Dealers cause for hope. The famous decision in the Schecter case ended causes for such hopes, and as the frustration over the Court mounted Roosevelt and his aides began to search for a solution to the Court's immovability.

Though numerous approaches were considered, ultimately Roosevelt settled on a plan to expand the number of justices on the Court in order to appoint more members sympathetic to the New Deal. The plan he endorsed was devised by Homer Cummings, Roosevelt's first Attorney General, and one of the strengths of Shesol's book is in elevating this often-overlooked figure to his rightful place in the history of the plan. Roosevelt deferred action until he was successfully reelected in 1936, during which he campaigned against conservative opposition to the New Deal but not explicitly against the Court - a decision that Shesol argues helped to avoid controversy that might have cost him votes but that also deprived him of any ability to use his victory to push the measure through Congress. Presented against a backdrop of increasing totalitarianism in Europe, the plan alienated many within even his own party, and it was they who soon emerged as its most prominent opponents. Yet Shesol argues that even after Owen Roberts's timely switch in the Parrish case and Willis Van Devanter's retirement in May 1937 deprived the plan's supporters of many of their arguments, a scaled-down version of the bill might have passed were it not for the death of Joseph Robinson, the Senate majority leader, in July. Without his leadership, the plan died quickly, dealing Roosevelt his first major political setback and leaving in its wake a strong conservative opposition to further extension of the New Deal.

Fluidly written and based on a considerable amount of research, Shesol's book is a superb history of Franklin Roosevelt and his confrontation with the Supreme Court. Not only is the author is a sure guide to the complex cases that defined the struggle, he also has an eye for the telling anecdote, which helps him to bring color to the greyest branch of the government. With the clarity of its prose and wealth of details, it will likely serve for some time as the definitive history of the issue, one that readers can read for enjoyment as well as enlightenment.


Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies At War in the Mediterranean
Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies At War in the Mediterranean
by Vincent O'Hara
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Corrects misconceptions about the war in the Mediterranean, 22 Jun. 2010
Though overshadowed by the larger battles in the Atlantic and the Pacific, the conflict in the Mediterranean, as Vincent O'Hara states in the beginning of this book, was 'World War II's longest air-land-sea campaign,' one that involved five of the world's six largest navies. His book, an account of the clash between the surface forces, offers a balanced examination of the conflict that corrects many of the misconceptions which clutter our understanding of the conflict there. What emerges is a very different take on the war in the Mediterranean, one that provides far better insight into how the war developed and changed as a result.

Foremost among the myths that O'Hara pursues is that of Italian incompetence, which he dispels convincingly by noting their success in achieving their primary strategic objectives throughout most of the war, as well as the tenacious challenge they posed to the British. Though the Germans are traditionally seen as the Axis power which did the bulk of the heavy lifting in the region, O'Hara disputes this as well, noting that the Kriegsmarine's combat performance there was in fact inferior to that of the much-disparaged Regia Marina. Nor are the British and French spared from O'Hara's revisionary analysis, as he makes a strong case for the French fleet's ongoing effort to preserve their nation's sovereignty while arguing that the British only triumphed in the Mediterranean as a result of the infusion of American forces into the region in the fall of 1942.

O'Hara's points are presented in a convincing and forthright manner, one that aids the book in challenging traditional attitudes about the war there. Yet it suffers from two significant flaws. The first is O'Hara's focus on the surface actions, a curious decision which marginalizes vital components of the sea war. Even the famous air raid on the Italian naval base on Taranto, one of the turning points of naval history, is addressed in a mere two sentences that offer little consideration of the broader impact of the raid. O'Hara's almost exclusive reliance upon secondary and published sources is the other major limitation of his work, as his trodding of ground well covered by others limits the real novelty of his argument. Such deficiencies limit the impact of what is otherwise a provocative reexamination of the war in the Mediterranean, one that every student of naval conflict in the Second World War can read for enjoyment as well as enlightenment.


Winston Churchill (Christian Encounters Series)
Winston Churchill (Christian Encounters Series)
by John Perry
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little here to distinguish it from other Churchill biographies, 11 Jun. 2010
Like any dominant historical figure, Winston Churchill's life has been parsed and examined in innumerable ways. This is done for two reasons: to seek to better understand him, and to find evidence of something to support one's preconceived agenda. To its credit, John Perry's biography fits into the first group; though published in a series that "highlights important lives from all ages and areas of the Church [of England]", Perry readily acknowledges that Churchill's faith was more personal than religious, with his frequent musings on God and his purpose in life reflecting more of his own direct connection with the Almighty than within the confines of Anglican ritual.

Yet apart from this focus, there is little to distinguish this book from the hundreds of Churchill biographies already written. Perry is a capable enough biographer, but he offers nothing that hasn't already been written before (and better) in other studies of Churchill's life. Nowhere does he make the effort to study Churchill's life for fresh perspective, relying instead on about two-dozen books and the information that they contain and neglecting the massive about of letters and other papers that have been published already which could have been mined for deeper insights into Churchill's spiritual life. While this book does the job it sets out to do, readers would do better to turn to other works, such as Paul Addison's Churchill: The Unexpected Hero for an introduction to Churchill's life that offers a depth of understanding about the man and his times.


Party Over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Campaign of 1848 (American Presidential Elections)
Party Over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Campaign of 1848 (American Presidential Elections)
by Joel H. Silbey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £38.95

4.0 out of 5 stars The first strains of secession in American politics, 8 Jun. 2010
If, as Ralph Waldo Emerson prophesied, the conquest of Mexico in 1848 acted like a poison to the United States, then the first signs of its effects can be seen in the presidential election of 1848. In that year, as the Democratic and Whig parties maneuvered to claim the office, the question of slavery in the territories newly acquired from Mexico threatened to create sectional schisms within national politics. The failure of the two political parties to address the divisive issue led anti-slavery activists to form a new political party, the Free Soil Party, which sought to harness disaffected voters and elect former president Martin Van Buren to the White House on a platform of opposing the extension of slavery into the new territories. This issue and the role it played in the presidential campaign is at the core of Joel Silbey's book, which offers readers a history of a campaign that was in many ways a harbinger of the conflicts to come.

Silbey begins with a description of the political scene in the 1840s, one in which the "Second American Party System" was in full force. Having fully matured after their formative period in the early 1830s, Whigs and Democrats fought each other for office along well-established ideological lines, offering competing visions of national development and political power. The election of 1844 brought James Polk to the presidency, a Democrat of great determination whose controversial policies rapidly polarized public opinion. Though he declined to run for another term, the 1848 presidential election was fought in Polk's shadow, as it was his expansionist program which brought the issue of extending slavery to the forefront of national politics. Despite the best efforts of the Free Soilers, however, Silbey argues that longstanding partisan affiliations proved in the end to be more enduring than anti-slavery passions, with the Southerner Zachary Taylor emerging triumphant in the end.

A longtime historian of the period, Silbey provides a brisk and informative narrative account of the 1848 presidential election. Though lacking the insightful analysis of some of the other volumes in the University Press of Kansas's "American Presidential Elections" series, this is nonetheless a useful addition, one that makes a convincing case for the resiliency of the party system. Yet as Silbey points out in his conclusion, the Free Soil supporters would gain their own victory down the road, as Abraham Lincoln would win election a dozen years later on what was essentially the Free Soil platform. In this sense, the lasting significance of election of 1848 was as just one of the initial stages in the long, drawn-out crisis that would ultimately lead to secession and civil war, one that the two parties' policy of avoidance did nothing to address.


The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama
by David Remnick
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The role of race in Barack Obama's life, 29 May 2010
Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election represented not just a milestone in terms of American history, but a new stage in the nation's enduring struggle over race. It was an issue that Obama had to deal with throughout the campaign, not just from whites but from blacks as well, as he faced charges that he was not "black" enough. In this book David Remnick, the editor of New Yorker magazine, offers us a study of Obama's life within the context of the issue of race. In it, he addresses not just the issues that he faced over the course of his life, but how in many respects they reflect the broader challenges that African Americans and whites faced in an era of dramatic change in the notions of race and equality within the nation as a whole.

The issue of race emerged early on for Obama. Growing up in Hawai'i, he experienced a very different type of racial environment, one with far greater racial diversity and far less overt animosity, than was the case on the mainland at the time. It was in that unique environment that he first wrestled with the issues of his self-definition, a struggle that continued throughout his college career, first in Los Angeles, then in New York City. By the time he graduated, he was a man comfortable with his own identity and the role he wanted to play within the larger community. Remnick's account here is traditionally biographical in its scope, drawing considerably upon Obama's own memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, but adding to it with the subsequent reporting. He maintains this approach through much of his post-collegiate career, through his time as a community organizer, law school student, and attorney and budding politician. It is with his election to the United States Senate that the focus narrows to the twin issues of Obama's presidential run and the intertwining of his political aspirations with race.

By the time Remnick reaches the end of his book - with the election of Obama to the White House, he has given readers a well-researched and perceptive look at both Barack Obama's life and the role of race within it. While not comprehensive, it is easily be the best, most complete biography of the 44th president that we are likely to have for some time, and one that subsequent studies will rely upon for the wealth of information it provides. Anyone wishing to learn about Barack Obama would do well to start with this clearly written and dispassionate look at Obama, both for the insights it offers into him and for its analysis of a critical dimension of his life and career.


World Without Women (Gold Medal SF, L1504)
World Without Women (Gold Medal SF, L1504)

4.0 out of 5 stars A couple's struggle to survive a gendercide, 27 May 2010
Reed and Connie Renner, a young couple on the verge of divorce, return from fourteen months isolated in the Pacific Ocean to discover a world mired in desperation. Some event, speculated to be the test detonation of an extremely dirty nuclear bomb, has killed off nearly every woman on the planet of childbearing age. Those who survived are for some unknown reason unable to conceive, and are placed under heavy guard by their governments in an effort to preserve them from hordes of desperate, lonely men. A top lawyer, Reed soon finds himself working for a government desperately trying to hold off the collapse of a society without a future, where his actions soon draw the ire of a powerful mobster who is willing to stop at nothing to get to Reed - and his beautiful wife.

Day Keene (the pseudonym of Gunnard Hjerststedt) was an American writer best known in the 1950s and 1960s for the crime fiction he wrote. This collaboration with Leonard Pruyn was his only foray into science fiction, which is unfortunate considering how well he writes. His novel is a fascinating look at the impact of gendercide upon a population, one with many interesting and well-thought-out details. His literary roots are evident in the efficient prose, tight plotting, and focus on the criminal underside, which finds its own way to profit in a changed world. Fifty years later, it still holds up well as a moving tale of a slowly unfolding apocalypse, one in which sane people struggle against the odds to hold onto hope.


Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-party System (American Presidential Elections)
Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-party System (American Presidential Elections)
by Donald B. Cole
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £38.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Details how party politics came to the United States, 24 May 2010
The presidential election of 1828 stands as one of the most important in American history, not just, or even primarily, because of the election of Andrew Jackson that year, but because, as Donald Cole argues in this book, it marked the beginnings of the party system in American politics. While on the surface a contest between Jackson and the incumbent, John Quincy Adams, this was only the culmination of years of political maneuvering and organizing by a host of talented politicians and newspaper publishers. Cole's book details the course of this development, looking at how the two sides struggled at both the national and local level to build a party organization that would ensure their candidate's victory.

Cole's begins his examination with the aftermath of the last presidential election, one of the most bitter and contentious in American history. Much of the controversy over Adams's election reflected the changes the nation was undergoing, as a "rising tide of democracy" was broadening the electorate and challenging the domination of political offices by the elite. Because of this, the quest for the presidency became a contest over who could mobilize this growing population of voters. To that end, both sides worked to create organizations at the national, state, and local level that could advocate their cause and turn out their supporters. Here Jackson's camp had the advantage; though their leading members were people from lower down the social scale than their counterparts, they were hungrier for office and better able to connect with the enlarged electorate. Yet for all of their handicaps Adams's main backers, ably organized by Henry Clay and others, were no less determined to hold onto office, and Cole demonstrates that the election ultimately proved much closer than the tally indicates.

A longtime historian of the antebellum period, Cole has written a perceptive account of presidential politics in the 1820s. While never losing sight of the main protagonists, he convincingly demonstrates the decisive role that organizing at the local level played in determining the outcome. He is careful never to overstate the impact of the election, noting that the formal establishment of the political parties of the period came later, yet he make a strong case for the role of the election in enhancing democracy in the nation through the emergence of organized political camps. This combination of balance and insight make this book an excellent study not just of the presidential election of 1828, but of the emergence of the modern political process, one that can be read profitably by anyone seeking to understand party politics in the United States today.


The Warlord of the Air
The Warlord of the Air
by Michael Moorcock
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An old-fashioned pulp adventure in a steampunk setting, 21 May 2010
Sent out to deal with a troublesome warlord on the imperial frontier, Lieutenant Oswald Bastable, an army officer in 1902 India, unexpectedly finds himself in a 1973 where airships ply the skies and the British Empire continues to thrive. Feigning amnesia, he adapts quickly to life in a world which seems nothing less than idyllic. Yet Bastable's path soon leads to a series of adventures that cause him to reexamine his initial assumptions and lead him to embrace a cause very different from the ones he was trained to defend.

The first novel in his "Nomad of Time" trilogy, Michael Moorcock provides readers of this book with an old-fashioned pulp adventure in a steampunk setting. This combination works thanks in no small part to Moorcock's skills as a writer, which produce a novel that transcends the works which inspired it. He keeps the narrative moving along briskly, and adapts both the tropes of the form and the politics which drive the story in the later chapters to produce a highly entertaining read, one that has aged well in comparison to other novels of its type. This is an excellent starting point for someone wishing to explore the steampunk genre, as well as a fun read for anyone seeking a good book with which to pass the time.


Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History
Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History
by Gardner Dozois
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable collection from start to finish, 12 May 2010
Short-story anthologies can often be a mixed bag consisting of both the good and the bad. This is one of the reasons why Gardiner Dozios and Stanley Schmidt's book stands out; taken from the pages of both 'Asimov's Science Fiction' magazine and 'Analog Science Fiction and Fact', it offers a stronger than average collection of alternate history tales. The book consists of the following stories:

'Must and Shall' by Harry Turtledove - In 1942 New Orleans, a federal agent works to head off an rebellion in a South still occupied by government forces.
'An Outpost of Empire' by Robert Silverberg - A Byzantine noblewoman reconciles herself to the reunification of the two Roman empires.
'We Could Do Worse' by Gregory Benford - Two FBI agents undertake an assignment in an American where McCarthyism rages unchecked.
'Over There' by Mike Resnick - Theodore Roosevelt puts together a new group of Rough Riders to fight in a much different conflict.
'Ink from the New Moon' by A. A. Attanasio - A man's letter to his wife reveals a very different America.
'Southpaw' by Bruce McAllister - A Cuban playing baseball for the New York Yankees in the 1950s wrestles with events back home.
'The West is Red' by Greg Costikyan - A Soviet scientist is present as the United States grapples with the consequences of its defeat in the Cold War.
'The Forest of Time' by Michael F. Flynn - In a very different Pennsylvania, a scout comes across a man traveling from another world.
'Aristotle and the Gun' by L. Sprague de Camp - A scientist learns a valuable lesson when he attempts to set scientific discovery on a proper path from the beginning.
'How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion' by Gene Wolfe - In 1930s England, an American diplomat inspires a very different conflict between Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill.

Though not all of the stories are to everyone's taste (there are a couple that, having read them, I doubt I will revisit again), the overall quality is quite good, much better than in most anthologies. With an introduction explaining what alternate history is, this is an excellent book to give someone seeking an introduction to the genre, as well as a good addition to the bookshelf of any fan of the counter-factual tale.


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