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Eric Schallenberg (Paris, Europe)

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Cromwell, Our Chief Of Men
Cromwell, Our Chief Of Men
by Lady Antonia Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Old-fashioned in its views and style of writing, 24 April 2015
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A number of aspects have been mentioned already elsewhere, such as the clearly 'royalist' angle from which this book was written including the painting of Charles I as a sort of martyr instead of as the double-dealing, inflexible would-be potentate that he is in the eyes of many modern historians. But for anyone considering buying this book today another consideration would be its readability. And it is here that a warning is in order. Lady Antonia Fraser has quite a reputation as a popular historian, but in my view it doesn't show here. The style of writing is distinctly old-fashioned with a great predilection for words like predilection where others would use 'preference' and with almost incessant Homeric sentences like 'the mighty Scots, glowering like greedy wolves, marching up in great abundance'. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if this book had been written somewhere in the Thirties by a university professor only used to adressing his students or his peers.

I would advise the general reader to look elsewhere for a biography of Cromwell, as excellent and much more readable alternatives have been written and are freely available on Amazon. This book to me was a struggle to get through because of its very posh and often antiquated English, apart from its often very one-sided views.


William and Mary
William and Mary
by Henri Van Der Zee
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 28 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: William and Mary (Hardcover)
Although written in the Seventies, this is still an excellent buy. Henry van der Zee used his Dutch background well, describing in detail the sort of society and thinking that formed William. child and man. It was this very background that made the Revolution 'Glorious". William never saw the shift of power to Parliament as a big sacifice he had to make, but rather as a copy of the Dutch situation where the Princes of Orange were officially called "the highest servant of the State" which had its embodiment in the Estates General, the national Parliament.

But while England had William's Dutchness to thank for the shift of its Kings' ultimate powers to Parliament, the same Dutchness was the cause of his impopularity. Although no-one would have called him a bycicle monarch even if bycicles had existed at the time, he was not someone to care for pomp and circumstance, he was impervious to flattery and hated elaborate court life. These traits served him well in The Netherlands, but it never really struck home with him that the English might actually love their King much better for being the focal point of dazzling public displays and a splendid Court. It also did not always help that in his military and costly campaigns against Louis XIV to curtail France's expansionism he must be called a enthousiastic and brave, rather than a gifted and succesful army commander

Mr. Van der Zee worked as a newspaper correspondent, which results in an excellent narrative style which makes this book very easy to get through. At the same time it is very well-researched and may offer new and interesting insights to many, how his Dutch background defined his personality, thoughts and actions.


Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea
by Barbara Demick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 11 Mar. 2015
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An excellent book that though following the life stories of four ordinary families paints a very vivid and believable picture of everyday life in North Korea. It brings to life the effects of Party propaganda, close surveillance, class distinctions worse than almost anywhere else, famine and economic meltdown on people's way of thinking and way of life. It it amazing to read how even under those circumstances people somehow often - but not always - manage to survive. Not only very informative, but very well-written too and one of those books that is really hard to put down. Highly recommended!


The King's Bed: Sex, Power and the Court of Charles II
The King's Bed: Sex, Power and the Court of Charles II
by Don Jordan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read, 11 Mar. 2015
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A very well-written and well-paced book on the love life of Charles II. Those already familiar with his marriage and many affairs will find very little on that subject that they didn't already know, though. To me the most interesting aspect is the picture that the book paints of Charles the administrator and of Charles the reputedly 'easygoing' monarch. On this subject the book does offer new insights and shows his character and abilities in a much harsher light than usually happens. For the full picture, also get "The King's Revenge" by the same authors and take a look at his vindictive streak on top op the resposibility-shirking, absolutist and friendly-as-long-as--not-in- any-way-crossed traits that made up his character and that are shown in this book. "The King's character" might have been a more to the point title for this book but I can't blame the authors for using the 'bed' to rake in the customers.


Yiddish Civilisation: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation
Yiddish Civilisation: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation
by Paul Kriwaczek
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting rather than captivating, 11 Mar. 2015
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I would say that I found this book interesting, rather than that it held me spellbound. There's a wealth of detail that might be more captivating to a Jewish readership wanting to know more about its heritage than for a general readership, and I found myself fast-forwarding through the pages at times. It was however interesting to learn that the Jewish diaspora started long before the destruction of the Temple and that this had a simple and healthy economic motivation, rather than being the result of Jews being driven from their homeland by a cruel oppressor; and that the large majority, already millions of Jews, were living contentedly all across the Roman Empire long before that happened.

But the wealth of detailed information on places and people that make up Yiddish history may mean much more to Jewish readers than to others. It has the result of this book not really being 'popular history' for a general readership. But the seriously interested in Yiddish history will find a lot of useful information here


Jerusalem: The Biography
Jerusalem: The Biography
by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and informative, 25 Feb. 2015
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This is - as you would expect from this writer - a very well-written popular history of the city. Giving the almost mythical proportions the city has in the imagination of many, from early pilgrims to crusaders and to many devout Christians and Jews, it is an eye opener to read how it has been an otherwise rather sleepy, dusty and unimportant provincial town for most of its existence. And not many will know that is has a large influx of American tourists of the late 19th and early 20th century (mostly Bible Belt-amateur archeologists) to thank for its renaissance, specifically in the American awareness. The book also makes it clear why through this specific period in its history the emotional bond has been created that USA citizens feel with Israel, much more so than any other Western nation.

Mr. Sebag Montefiore cannot of course get around the enormously important part played by his great-grandfather around that same time in litterally - and with his own money and efforts - restoring and expanding Jerusalem. This unavoidably leads to the suspicion that this book might have been titled: "Hey, let me tell you about the fantastic things my family did for Jerusalem!", but that would be doing this writer a grave injustice. It is a very well-written, well-balanced book that you will find no effort at all to get through and that will tell you a lot of things about Jerusalem that you did not know.


The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany - Versailles and the German Revolution
The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany - Versailles and the German Revolution
by Richard M. Watt
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Should have had another title, 25 Feb. 2015
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The title is rather misleading. I had hoped to finally have found a good analysis of why all those German kingdoms and their rulers disappeared overnight: they can't all have been impopular with their subjects (I know that several were in fact very well-liked rulers) and most kingdoms and pricipalities had a long history and strong sense of national identity.

So I'm most definitely deducting a star for not getting what the book seems to promise. What I did get was a well-written and in itself enjoyable history of Germany in the post-WW 1 years, and you should certainly get a copy for yourself. But why DID the kings depart and why did their subjects let them go so easily? The book doesn't tell.


Stand and Deliver!: A History of Highway Robbery
Stand and Deliver!: A History of Highway Robbery
by David Brandon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Informative rather than entertaining, 25 Feb. 2015
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This book should have been called "A brief history of robbery in England's streets and alleys through the ages", for half of the book tells about all the other forms of robbery in public places. In itself the book it well-written and informative. But a subject like this calls for either in-depth study and analysis, or for a popular-history, tongue-in-cheek approach. Clearly Mr. Brandon has chosen for the latter, but he is not really a writer a writer who knows how to make the most of a good story or anecdote. Mr. Brandon in my view is a bit too much of a serious historian to make this book really fun and entertaining. So what we end up with is a book full of stories that come across as a Morecambe and Wise-sketch as told by your headmaster. But for those who just want to know more on the subject in an easily digestible way, this is a good buy..


The Outsorcerer's Apprentice
The Outsorcerer's Apprentice
by Tom Holt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A nice book to take along on your holiday, 4 Oct. 2014
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A nice book to take along on your holiday. It will on several occasions bring a smile on your lips, but it's not laugh out loud- funny, really. A take on Little Red Riding Hood, but with people slipping in and out of parallel universes and a bit of all too serious social comment. Too pretentious by half for my taste. All in all it is an OK book, but not one that I will re-read.


Among the Celestials: China in Early Photographs (Mercatorfonds)
Among the Celestials: China in Early Photographs (Mercatorfonds)
by Ferdinand M. Bertholet
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £40.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing lack of information, 4 Oct. 2014
This is the archetypal coffee table-book. Not only because of its quite considerable dimensions, but also because you would have it only to leaf through. I found it disappointing that the book apart from an introduction that deals mostly with the question which photographers were setting up shop where in China around the turn of the last century, is totally lacking in any background information either on the scenes depicted or on the society of that era that it depicts. So what remains is just a collection of photos with captions that limit themselves to texts like 'entrance to the West Gate, Shanghai".

The photos themselves paint a nice picture of a society that we know little about (hence the disappointment about the missing text) and one thing that the pictures do suggest is that that we don't have to bemoan the disappearance of the old city architecture of China. Looking at the city pictures even of Beijing, the term 'favelas' irresistibly comes to mind, and you feel the strong suspicion that even if the post-Mao economic development hadn't flattened the old houses, wood rot and shoddy workmanship would have done the job.

As an informative book on how life was among the Celestials this book would not even score the three stars now given; but as a out- of -the -ordinary coffee table book and conversation piece it scores above average. So, three stars it is for me.


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