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Hadrian: Empire and Conflict
Hadrian: Empire and Conflict
by Thorsten Opper
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars For every coffee table, 23 Sept. 2013
When Thorsten Opper's HADRIAN, EMPIRE AND CONFLICT arrived I could hardly lift it, so thick are the 250 pages, the most gorgeous pages I personally have ever had between my hands, with gorgeous photos of Hadrian, perhaps a 100 or more, and equally gorgeous pictures covering every aspect of Roman life, right down to brooms. And maps, gorgeous maps, that clarify the position of every country and war zone (in other books on Hadrian, for example, I had to go to Wikipedia to found out exactly where, in Spain, Hadrian had been born (Italica). The skeptics among you are thinking BUT, there must be a BUT. Well, the only BUT is: but the story of Hadrian as told by Opper is bare-bones history to the extreme. There are few quotes from ancient historians who give us a look into Hadrian as a person, the small things like the words he and his soldiers sang as they marched into or out of battle, rhymes as filthy as only the Latin language (and modern Italian) was (is) capable of. At the same time, Opper seems strangely certain of facts that other historians doubt. Going back to my first example, Italica, all other historians (and Wikipedia) claim that he was born in either Rome or in Italica. They claim that Hadrian's parents wanted him born in Rome in order to make him a recognized citizen of the city. Others say that when he was appointed spokesman for Trajan the senators laughed because he had an accent, perhaps indicating that he could not speak everyday Roman-style Latin because he wasn't born there. There are also few indications of what led up to an event in Hadrian's life, and fewer indications of what were the consequences of the events once Hadrian was no longer there. One feels abandoned on an island! Luckily for me, I've read dozens of books on Rome and am therefore able to fill in the gaps from memory (or go back to my books when memory fails me). Opper suggests that Antinous may have `'only been'' Hadrian's hunting companion; as a homophile I believe in their physical intimacy, yet the pages devoted to the Bithynian boy are beautiful, as are the sumptuous photos. This magnificent book should be on every coffee table, along with fabulous picture books on Van Gogh, et al, works I can't offer myself as I don't have a coffee table. My own works of art can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


Death and the Virgin Queen
Death and the Virgin Queen
by Chris Skidmore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.04

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and new research, 12 Sept. 2013
Although I've read 21 books on the Tudors, Chris Skidmore's DEATH AND THE VIRGIN, ELIZABETH, DUDLEY AND THE MYSTERIOUS FATE OF AMY ROBSART is both beautifully written and new thanks to the recent research. This is how Skidmore describes Queen Mary's death: `'As Mary lapsed finally into unconsciousness, no one noticed her passing. The attendant doctor knew otherwise, recognizing that she had `made her passage'. He alone had witnessed the fleeting change from life into death, and the imperceptible transition from the reign of one queen to another.'' I call that beautiful. And this is how Sir William Cecil (who follows the Greek poet's advise to fathers: Always have an edifying story at hand to tell your sons) advises his boy: `'Towards thy superiors be humble yet generous; with thy equals familiar, yet respective; towards thy inferiors show much humility with some familiarity. The first prepares the way to advancement; the second makes thee known as a man well bred; the third gains a good report which once gotten is easily kept.'' It's this language and these nuggets that make the book worthwhile, not the mysterious death of Dudley's wife, who broke her neck falling down eight steps (one can break one's neck by missing a single step), freeing the way for Dudley (or so he may have thought) to marry the queen. We know that the queen adored the handsome lad, we can't know Dudley's true feelings as the motives dissimulated behind a man's eyes can be as clear as a brook or heinously foul, and we can't really feel for Amy Robsart because she was a nonentity whose fate, after 400 years, is as dark now as it was then. In truth, Elizabeth's life, indecisive and totally egotistical, was as vapid as Amy Robsart's, and a far greater mystery than the destiny of Amy is why the English still put up with these silly royals who, like the first Elizabeth, come to power due to the greatest silliness of all: the accident of birth.Read this book because of the gems Skidmore has unearthed, because of Skidmore's humanistic approach, because it's just plain interesting. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 23, 2015 7:20 PM GMT


Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart
Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart
by Chris Skidmore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and new research, 12 Sept. 2013
Although I've read 21 books on the Tudors, Chris Skidmore's DEATH AND THE VIRGIN, ELIZABETH, DUDLEY AND THE MYSTERIOUS FATE OF AMY ROBSART is both beautifully written and new thanks to the recent research. This is how Skidmore describes Queen Mary's death: `'As Mary lapsed finally into unconsciousness, no one noticed her passing. The attendant doctor knew otherwise, recognizing that she had `made her passage'. He alone had witnessed the fleeting change from life into death, and the imperceptible transition from the reign of one queen to another.'' I call that beautiful. And this is how Sir William Cecil (who follows the Greek poet's advise to fathers: Always have an edifying story at hand to tell your sons) advises his boy: `'Towards thy superiors be humble yet generous; with thy equals familiar, yet respective; towards thy inferiors show much humility with some familiarity. The first prepares the way to advancement; the second makes thee known as a man well bred; the third gains a good report which once gotten is easily kept.'' It's this language and these nuggets that make the book worthwhile, not the mysterious death of Dudley's wife, who broke her neck falling down eight steps (one can break one's neck by missing a single step), freeing the way for Dudley (or so he may have thought) to marry the queen. We know that the queen adored the handsome lad, we can't know Dudley's true feelings as the motives dissimulated behind a man's eyes can be as clear as a brook or heinously foul, and we can't really feel for Amy Robsart because she was a nonentity whose fate, after 400 years, is as dark now as it was then. In truth, Elizabeth's life, indecisive and totally egotistical, was as vapid as Amy Robsart's, and a far greater mystery than the destiny of Amy is why the English still put up with these silly royals who, like the first Elizabeth, come to power due to the greatest silliness of all: the accident of birth.Read this book because of the gems Skidmore has unearthed, because of Skidmore's humanistic approach, because it's just plain interesting. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


Drake's Fortune: The Fabulous True Story of the World's Greatest Confidence Artist
Drake's Fortune: The Fabulous True Story of the World's Greatest Confidence Artist
by Richard Rayner
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Supremely satisfying, 4 Sept. 2013
Richard Rayner's DRAKE'S FORTUNE is a rarity: a satisfying book, of which there are few. I thought Ambrose's UNDAUNTED COURAGE, the story of Lewis and Clark, was one until Lewis committed suicide at the end, suddenly sending me into spasms of tears like a kid, two-hundred years after the event. Moehringere's THE TENDER BAR is a satisfying book, and Lefcourt's THE DREYFUS AFFAIR is the most perfectly satisfying book I've ever read. Rayner keeps inviting himself into his narrative, as when he writes: `'I was drawn to Hartzell's story because it was so enchanting, containing elements of the comic, the bizarre, the tragic, the almost incredible.'' Hartzell, a literally world-class con man, was, indeed, all of these things. His assertion that Drake (of Queen Elizabeth fame) had left a will that had just been uncovered, thanks to which, due to the accumulated interest, would ruin the world's economy, was swallowed by thousands. Even in 1929 and the Depression, Harzell raked in $2.5 million in just one year, making people believe, even, that the Great Depression had been caused by world governments who knew they would be obliged to pay Drake's heirs. The author's insertion into his narrative takes on added meaning when we learn that his own father had been a con man (and had at times beaten Rayner, which is not satisfying at all), and that Rayner himself had turned to petty crime at one point in his life. (As Katherine Hepburn, playing Eleanor of Aquitaine in A LION IN WINTER, says concerning her husband who had biblically known girls, boys and sheep, and was the constant target of his sons' attempts to overthrow him: What family doesn't have its ups and downs.) So read the book and have an amusing few hours (and then read, if you haven't already, Moehringere, Lefcourt and Ambrose--and if you still have a little extra time, my own books, on Amazon, under Michael Hone).


Privileged Son: Otis Chandler And The Rise And Fall Of The L.a. Times Dynasty
Privileged Son: Otis Chandler And The Rise And Fall Of The L.a. Times Dynasty
by Dennis Mcdougal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Don't hang back with the apes, 31 Aug. 2013
Dennis McDougal, the author of PRIVILEGED SON, OTIS CHANDLER AND THE RISE AND FALL OF THE L.A. TIMES DYNASTY, says it best when he writes about how some publishers consider Otis et al: `'...a family that wanted its cake and wanted to eat it as well: spoiled children who grew to spoiled adulthood with little sense of noblesse oblige.'' When forced to retire, Otis took up car collecting and accelerated his animal killing (called hunting), perfected his golf and thought himself superior because, instead of playing cards like other society retirees, he took up cycling, proud of being able to offer himself the lightest and fastest bikes. He was a physical powerhouse, a cross between Hulk and the Frankenstein monster, exalted in knowing Nixon and getting Reagan on the phone. Mistresses, the best food and lodging and travel arrangements are naturally par for the course for what serves as the upper class in America, but truthfully, what are these people in comparison to the likes of Magellan, Lafayette, Thomas Paine, Cromwell, Burton and Speke, Orelanna and Jefferson? And if you want excitement, go to books on Henry II and Eleanor d'Aquitaine (and son Richard!), the Medici, the Tudors, Alexander VI and his boy Cesare. As Blanche says in A Tramway Named Desire (I'm quoting from memory): `'Don't hang back with the apes!'' I'll give the book three stars because McDougal got away from his usual gore in this well-written and well-researched book about nonentities. My own works can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


Dark Side of Fortune: Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny
Dark Side of Fortune: Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny
by Margaret Leslie Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.95

3.0 out of 5 stars He made money, so what?, 31 Aug. 2013
I'm going to sound mean and perhaps thick (although if you consult my 200 other reviews you'll see that, normally, I'm a wide-read, generous reviewer), but books like Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty and this book, Margaret Leslie Davis's DARK SIDE OF FORTUNE, books about people similar to Joseph Kennedy, guys out to make a buck and finally succeed in making millions, bore me to tears. These books are well written and well researched and the authors deserve a barrelful of credit for spending years putting them together, and it's true that the heroes described between the dust jackets had their ups and downs, their personal losses, their trials (at times real legal ones that they always win thanks to their industrial profits), and often the men had carloads of mistresses, but who cares, really, compared to others like Lorenzo de' Medici, Captain Bligh, Cook, Lewis and Clark, Marco Polo et al, who did fabulous things and led fruitful existences? Perhaps the authors lack depth. After all, although I don't particularly care for LBJ, Caro's biography of the former president is the best and most passionate ever written, and the film LET THERE BE BLOOD, about an oilman vaguely reminiscent of the man, Doheny, the hero of DARK SIDE OF FORTUNE, left me physically shaky at the end; Doheny just left me cold.
There is a slight chapter on the death of Doheny's son, Ned, and a friend Ned had known for 15 years. As witnesses to the scene were in Doheny's pay, we never learn what really happened. Ned's friend was accused of shooting Ned before turning the arm against himself. Despite the fact that there is not a whisper of scandal in this chapter, other sources in other books say Ned and his pal may have been intimate. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors
Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors
by Chris Skidmore
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't put it down, 26 Aug. 2013
The story of Richard the 3rd, the assassin of two beautiful prepubescent boys, is one of the most outstanding in the history of England, a country rich in outstanding kings, such as Henry II, my favorite, and his incredible wife Eleanor (and Richard Coeur de Lion, their son!). Richard III came to power after years of struggle between Yorkists and Lancastrians (as is wonderfully told in Weir's THE WARS OF THE ROSES, as well as her THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER). Finally defeated by Henry VII (and what an incredible destiny was his, as described by Wroe in her fabulous PERKIN), Richard III fought valiantly in a battle superbly recounted by Christ Skidmore in this extremely good book, BOSWORTH, the place where the battle took place. (Richard may have fought valiantly, but anyone who would touch a single hair of a child is scum by any measure.) I usually skip battles during my reading, but this one - as Skidmore's entire book, in fact - is well written, clear and clearly in the I-couldn't-put-it-down category. I've now ordered Skidmore's DEATH OF A VIRGIN, and as it's coming from the States (I'm French), I'll have to bid my time! My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street
Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street
by Richard R. Lingeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's not Lingeman's fault, 20 July 2013
I love MAIN STREET and was thrilled to finally get the skinny on Lewis, an opportunity that Richard Lingeman's SINCLAIR LEWIS afforded me. Boy, Lewis new lots of people and went lots of places and wrote lots of stuff I never even knew he wrote, and this book has lots of pages, 630, each and every one of which I read and each and every one of which is guaranteed to put the reader to sleep. It's not Lingeman's fault, it's just that Lewis, despite the incredible number of literati he ran with, was a bore, and nothing in the book about his writing, his private life or the things he did can relieve the boredom: either Lingeman leaves out the drama or there's no drama to omit. Lewis reminds me of those actors who are fabulous on stage but are, in their personal actions, total low-lifes, meaning that's it's better to admire their art while remaining ignorant of their personal quirks. Lewis, alas, wasn't even a low-life: he was a rather clean-cut dude with Socialist tendencies, a no-no back then although today every thinking man is a Socialist in one form or another; in other words, Lewis was everyone's more-or-less ideal American of the 1920s. Later on he did drink and was heard using the word `damn' (and he even took a lover). Then followed other monumental hassles like divvying up royalties, movie rights and alimony disputes. He was a homophobe, like most guys then and now, and he drank himself to death, like most writers then (and now?) Even in the most crucial act of a man's life - his love for his son - Lewis was a failure. Full of himself (imbu de lui-même--I'm French), he took scant notice of his boy who was also a writer and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard (and was physically as beautiful as sin), a son killed during the war. One of my great pleasures in life, other than books, boats and boys, is rereading the fabulously wonderful careers of those who preceded us (in just the last month I've been with Stanley, Bligh, Cortés, Orellana and Marco Polo; the month before I downed 21 books on the Renaissance, featuring the Borgias, Il Magnifico, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Savonarola, the stupefying handsome Astorre Manfredi, et al -- the Mount Everest of books and characters), but this book I will not reread, in fact, I should never have read it in the first place because now I can't even reread MAINSTREET without picturing its author. My own works can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


Boy From The Sky: The curious genesis of the world's first ethnography
Boy From The Sky: The curious genesis of the world's first ethnography
by Nigel Randell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars FINALLY A BOOK ON MARINER, 17 Jun. 2013
While rereading Nigel Randell's THE WHITE HEADHUNTER for the third time, I had the great idea to check if he'd written other things recently (I'd done this repeatedly before, coming up with nothing). I found that he'd just written a new book, published in 2013, about a boy of fifteen captured by Tongans who'd massacred most of the crew abroad the ship the boy sailed on as a clerk - some of whom they ate. The boy's name is William Mariner, who later told his story in a book of two volumes, thusly founding the science of ethnology. William Mariner is one of the bravest lads I've ever encountered in my reading and I would die happy if I had but a thousandth of his spunk and intelligence. Randell wasn't judgmental concerning Jack Renton, the 19-year-old in HEADHUNTER, except to say that there were plenty of things Jack didn't come clean about, among them his participation in massacres and God knows what else (I haven't massacred anyone (yet), but there are plenty of things I, too, wouldn't want to come clean about, especially to my mom.) But Randell is a little judgmental concerning Mariner who perhaps exaggerated his importance to the Tongan king, and perhaps he was a little subservient to said king, but jeez, he was only 15 (for Christ's sake!) and the king in question did go around clubbing peoples' heads in (in some cases sucking up to them first in order to gain their confidence), before being served the best parts for his meal (the palms of the hands!). One scene, the burial of the king's brother (after his head, too, had been bashed in), makes the buying of the book more than worthwhile. One of the brother's wives decides to join him in his tomb; the way of her dying so mesmerized (and disgusted) me that I had to put the book aside for an hour. I wonder how much of the description is in Mariner's words and how much was reworked by Randell? In Tonga babies were given human brains to suck on; children of their enemies were captured so that young boys could practice spearing and clubbing them to death; and after dying men were asked, by their god, if they had been married and if they had killed someone--an answer in the negative would condemn them to hell. Mariner returned home to take up his old occupation almost as if nothing had happened. Both Mariner and Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) died in the same year and in the same manner; both were my heroes, the end of whom brought tears flooding into eyes, 200 years after the event.
Just a slight caveat. The typeface for this book is very faint, and therefore difficult to read. For a book that cost me 13 euros (I'm French), this was a bit disappointing. In fact, I have the impression that the book is only an inferior photocopy. There are silly punctuation errors, the kind one finds from a computer printout that can't distinguish a : from a ;. Also, strangely, there is nothing concerning the publication of the book, no date of publication, no index even. Although the book is wonderful and gripping, it is not as well written as THE WHITE HEADHUNTER. I therefore have the impression that it was written before HEADHUNTER, and that Randell's writing has improved since. (Amazon states that this edition was published in 2013.) But I'm nitpicking, as it's a must-read.
My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars fINALLY a wonderful book on Caterina, 23 May 2013
Observing the fact that she was far more intelligent and courageous than her spouse, Caterina preferred to bear her father's name, Sforza, rather than her husband's (although, perhaps unknown to her, her father, Galeazzo Maria Sforze, was a rapist, torturer and mass murderer). But despite Caterina's intelligence and courage, Elizabeth Lev's book THE TIGRESS OF FORLI demonstrates once again the impossible role of being a truly free woman in a man's world. She was deflowered at age 10, by a man naturally, and spent her entire life bearing a man's children (Lev says she had 3 in one 2-year period, obviously impossible unless she had twins, which Lev passes in silence). Caterina was so beautiful that Botticelli portrays her in his fabulous The Primavera, but even then, her beauty comes to us through the hands of a man. Her most famous act was to show her privates, from the top of a fortress, when the men below threatened to kill her imprisoned--and deeply beloved--sons, saying something like `Who cares? With this I can create others'. Her husband assassinated, she went on to rule her lands, in the name of her young sons, brilliantly. One moving episode was her love for a handsome stable boy, a boy she'd fallen for when he was 15, whom she secretly married. Lev says that he had nothing to offer her `but his heart', forgetting, surely, his virile Italian ****. The boy was assassinated, but although the loss was devastating and her revenge Carthaginian, she found another young and handsome lad that she married. After years of felicity she was captured by Pope Alexander VI's son Cesare Borgia and used by him until sated. (Cesare might have been scum, but what a life HE led!) But before her capture Cesare, knowing Caterina's weakness for handsome boys--and Cesare was a mean dog in that category--tried to seduce here while showing his wares in front of her fortification, so sure of himself that he nearly got across the drawbridge on the end of which she was smiling alluringly, but feeling it rise under his feet, he rushed off just in time, saluting Caterina with verbal filth (and supposedly in no other language can one be as filthy as in Italian). It's sad that Caterina is so little known, much less so than Cleopatra although Caterina was as beautiful, as smart and certainly braver, but alas for her she had no real opposition: her first husband was an idiot, the stable boy was dull-witted (this is not a slur against stable boys in general, as I appreciate them as much as other guys appreciate them). And Cesare, fearless stud that he was, was no Marc Antony and no Jules Cesar. The sinister history of women continues down to the present, even here in France, home of the Rights of MAN, where women were finally `allowed' to vote only in 1944. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.


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