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Rumania 1866-1947 (Oxford History of Modern Europe)
Rumania 1866-1947 (Oxford History of Modern Europe)
by Keith Hitchins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £155.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The development of the Romanian nation, 30 Jan. 2013
When it comes to Romanian history, there is no greater English-language expert than Keith Hitchins. Over the past several decades he has established his mastery of the subject with works exploring the emergence of modern Romania and the development of Romanian nationalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. As such, he was a natural choice as the author of the volume on Romania for the Oxford History of Modern Europe, and he does not disappoint, providing a masterful account of the nation from its gradual independence in the mid-19th century to the Soviet-directed takeover by the Communist Party after World War II.

While Hitchins's narrative encompasses the country's social and economic development, politics is his main focus, particularly in his concentration on the evolution of Romanian nationalism and on the debates over what sort of nation Romania should become. This came at an interesting time in European history, with nationalism maturing as a political concept on a continent still consisting of multinational empires. As a nationality that gained a country during this period, Romanians faced choices over how their country should develop, with Romanian intellectuals and politicians arguing between the often-contrasting demands of industrialization and the maintenance of the traditional agricultural economy as a cornerstone of Romanian identity. Often the grand designs proposed by leaders were frustrated by the limited resources available, yet Romania enjoyed considerable success politically, expanding as a result of fortuitous decisions during the European conflicts of the period before being cornered into an association with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, one that would serve as an excuse for Soviet domination in the aftermath of the war.

Lucidly written and backed by a sure command of the historical literature, Hitchins's book is essential reading for anyone seeking to learn about the history of this underappreciated nation. Though some readers might find his extensive coverage of Romanian nationalism tedious, it offers a fascinating glimpse of a newly founded nation coming to terms with its course in the modern era. As such it is of interest not just to students of Romanian history but to anyone seeking to learn about the development of nationalism in modern Europe, particularly outside of the traditional western European-centric focus in so many other accounts of this topic. Together these factors make it a worthy addition to the Oxford History of Modern Europe series, one unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon as a history of its subject.


John F. Kennedy (American Presidents Series)
John F. Kennedy (American Presidents Series)
by Alan Brinkley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perceptive account of Kennedy's life and career, 14 Dec. 2012
For the past decade, 'The American Presidents' series has churned out a series of biographies of America's nation's leaders written by a diverse range of authors, from historians who draw upon their expertise to inform their interpretation of their subject, to more eclectic writers who inform their efforts with a sometimes refreshingly new perspective. Alan Brinkley fits squarely into the first category: a longtime scholar of 20th century America, he brings the skills and knowledge gained a lifetime of study to this sprightly book on John F. Kennedy. His perspective is critical but not unfavorable; while acknowledging Kennedy's many gifts, he describes how they served to sustain his popularity through the numerous setbacks he suffered as president. In this respect, the power of his image rested less on his actual accomplishments, but on what he represented, both as a leader and the 'transformative moment' during which he served as president.

Such analysis explains Kennedy's enduring hold on our historical imagination and points to the value of the book as a study of his life. While hardly the first short biography of Kennedy, Brinkley's book surpasses previous works of its type such as John F.Kennedy and a New Generation and Kennedy (Profiles In Power) thanks to its author's analysis and incorporation of recent revelations about Kennedy's poor health. For anyone seeking an perceptive and readable introduction to the life and career of America's 35th president, this is the book to read.


Disraeli
Disraeli
by Robert Blake Blake
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A classic of British political biography, 19 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Disraeli (Hardcover)
Among British prime ministers, few were as memorable as Benjamin Disraeli. The son of a prominent literary scholar, he enjoyed success as a novelist before turning to a career in politics, Though elected to the House of Commons at a relatively late age, the split in the Conservative Party over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 (a split resulting in part from Disraeli's active campaigning against the measure) catapulted him to the front rank of the party. After several brief periods in office during the 1850s and 1860s, he became the leader of the party in 1868 and served twice as prime minister, where he spearheaded the acquisition of the Suez Canal and won admiration for his role at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Disraeli has not wanted for biographers, yet Robert Blake's work has long been the standard by which they were judged. A renowned historian, his book offers an engaging and insightful look at Disraeli and his times. He presents Disraeli as a Romantic figure whose career was guided by his idolization of the monarchy and an aristocratic order that had long shunned him. While such views may have been more fitting for the political world of the 18th century rather than that of the 19th, his belief in the continuing relevance of these institutions in an increasingly democratic age eventually won the social parvenu the gratitude of the nobility and the devotion of his queen, who mourned his passing when he died in 1881.

In reading Blake's book, it is easy to understand why it endures as a study of Disraeli's life and career. Though some of his interpretations have been superseded by subsequent work, Blake's success in conveying the flamboyance and political ability of his subject makes this a book a rewarding and enjoyable read today for anyone seeking to learn about this unique and fascinating figure. Nearly a half century after its publication, this remains the best single book on Disraeli and continues to serve as an excellent study of the politics of Victorian Britain, one that is essential reading for anyone interested in its subject.


Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
by John Milton, Jr. Cooper
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography of America's 28th president, 27 Sept. 2012
Woodrow Wilson ranks among the most controversial presidents in American history. Elected at the peak of the Progressive movement in the United States, he secured passage of a number of new measures that fundamentally transformed the government's relationship with the economy, yet presided over the introduction of segregation at the federal level. While promising a new approach to foreign policy governed by morality rather than crass personal interest, he initiated Latin American military interventions little different than those pursued by his predecessors. And while he led his nation into a war to make the world safe for democracy, the resulting peace only laid the groundwork for another, even more devastating conflict just two decades later.

For these reasons, Wilson has not wanted for historical study, yet a good biography has long proved elusive. John Morton Blum's Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality and Kendrick Clements's Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman are both valuable short introductions to Wilson's life, but a more detailed examination has been lacking until now. John Milton Cooper has meet the need for such a work with this book. A scholar who has spent his career studying Wilson and the Progressive era, he brings the benefits of his extensive knowledge to bear in this study. While not uncritical, he is generally sympathetic towards Wilson, and works to dispel the image of the stern moralist that persists in the popular imagination. His Wilson is at his core an educator, a president who was most successful when he explained his proposals and intentions to the public. Such efforts helped win for Wilson a number of impressive legislative and other policy achievements, while his failure to do so (such as in the fight over the League of Nations) often emerges as a major factor in his greatest failures.

Such an approach can seem forgiving, and at times the author can come across more like an advocate for the defense than a scholar weighing the evidence. Yet this is a minor complaint when weighed against the scope of Cooper's achievement here. Cogently written and supported by a wealth of material, this excellent book enriches its readers' understanding of Wilson as a person and a president, and will likely be the standard by which future biographies of America's 28th president are judged for decades to come.


Wartime: Britain 1939-1945
Wartime: Britain 1939-1945
by Juliet Gardiner
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb examination of how Britons experienced the war, 25 Aug. 2012
While the phrase 'Home Front' typically is evoked to describe civilian support for a war effort, for Britain in the Second World War the words came to represent a very real dimension of the conflict. From the first days of the conflict Britons felt acutely vulnerable to the possibility of attack, and their fears were realized with the fall of France. Indeed, as Juliet Gardiner notes in this superb social history of Britain's domestic experience in the war, until the invasion of Normandy a civilian in the British isles faced a far greater statistical likelihood of death at the hands of German aggression than did a man in uniform - a detail that illustrates the extent to which the war came home for millions of Britons.

Gardiner's book offers considerable insight into this experience. Drawing both upon the abundant literature about the war and Mass-Observation diaries kept by contemporaries, she gives readers a real sense of what the war was like for the people of Britain. For most, it was a curious mingling of commitment and uncertainty, as people rallied together when facing the shared chaos of war. Yet Gardiner is too good an historian to buy into the 'myth of the Blitz,' as she exposes the incompetency, confusion, and opportunism that was on display as frequently as the heroism and sense of sacrifice that defined the image of the war. By far the best book about the subject, it is essential reading for anyone interested in learning about how Britons lived, survived, and died during the long conflict that continues to cast its shadow upon the nation.


Coup D'Etat (War That Came Early (Del Rey Hardcover))
Coup D'Etat (War That Came Early (Del Rey Hardcover))
by Harry Turtledove
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.46

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Signs of bloat ahead, 18 Aug. 2012
The fourth volume of Harry Turtledove's "The War That Came Early" series opens up at the start of 1941 onto a very different conflict. Britain and France have come to terms with Nazi Germany, and have even joined them in their ongoing war with the Soviet Union. The United States faces a series of setbacks against the Japanese, with whom they are at war after a series of sudden attacks throughout the Pacific. And the civil war in Spain drags on, a forgotten precursor to the conflict now raging. As the year unfolds, however, events begin to reorient the alignments. A military coup in Britain topples the government and rejoins te struggle against the Nazis, and with the French wobbling the prospect of a two-front war rears up as an unwelcome prospect for the Germans. But can they defeat the Soviets before that prospect becomes a reality?

Readers who have reached this point in the series already know what they will be getting in this latest installment, and those who have enjoyed following his cast of characters will find much to satisfy them here. Moreover, Turtledove continues to provide more in the way of the action than he did in his second volume West and East, which helps to keep things lively. Nevertheless, there is still a sense throughout this book of treading water, as much of the key events - both personal and political - seem to consist of undoing the developments of his last book, The Big Switch. Because of this, the whole series is starting to feel bloated, as Turtledove stretches out events that could (as he has demonstrated in previous series) have covered more dramatically in fewer volumes. Diehard fans of Turtledove's works may not mind, but for anyone seeking to follow up his earlier, better works they might find his latest alternate history series something of a disappointment.


Capital in Flames: The American Attack on York, 1813
Capital in Flames: The American Attack on York, 1813
by Robert Malcomson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £33.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account of the battle for York, 23 July 2012
On April 27, 1813, a force of 1,800 American soldiers landed on the beaches west of the small Canadian town of York. After driving off the British troops sent piecemeal against them, the Americans captured the provincial capital of Upper Canada, which they occupied for nearly a week before withdrawing. Though viewed by the Americans as a modest success of their arms, as Robert Malcolmson shows in this first-rate account of the incident, the battle and the occupation came to assume great significance for the inhabitants of what would become the modern metropolis of Toronto, as well as Canadians throughout the region.

To that end, Malcolmson begins by describing the origins of the battle in the war being waged. For contemporary Americans the War of 1812 was supposed to provide them the opportunity to annex Canada to their union, yet their initial efforts ended ignominiously in failure. In response, the U.S. flooded the region with men and materiel seeking to reverse British gains. One tempting target was the town of York on Lake Ontario, which many believed was being expanded into a naval base for British forces. The British, however, changed their minds not long before the Americans launched their assault, believing the town to be exposed and indefensible form enemy attack. In this respect the American attack on York only served to validate that judgment, leaving the Americans' victory a limited one but not without consequences for the town's residents.

Malcolmson recounts all of this in a book rich with detail about the context and events of the battle. Ultimately he singles out the British commander of the region, Sir Roger Sheaffe, for failing to provide the leadership his men needed, though Sheaffe's superior, Sir George Prevost, receives his share of blame for the disaster as well. Though Malcolmson's narrative seems on the verge of drowning the reader in details at times, for the most part his writing style engages the reader with a nice mixture of information colored by anecdote. It is a book unlikely to be bettered as a study of the battle of York, and should be the first source to which anyone interested in learning about its or its legacy should turn.


The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln
by Stephen L. Carter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.61

5.0 out of 5 stars An alternative history thriller of the first caliber, 10 July 2012
Stephen L. Carter's latest novel is an alternative history thriller that begins with Abraham Lincoln surviving Booth's assassination attempt, only to face impeachment two years later at the hands of the Radicals of his own party for abuse of power. As the Senate moves towards a trial, a young African American woman, Abigail Canner, arrives in Washington to serve as a clerk for the law firm preparing to defend the president. The murder of one of her employers soon compels her to investigate a series of mysteries tied to the effort to bring down Lincoln. With the aid of a white law clerk at the firm she gradually unravels them - but can she do so in time to save her firm's client and perhaps even the nation itself?

A prolific author and scholar, Carter has produced a book that never fails to entertain. Though this is his first foray into alternate history his novel easily ranks among the best of the genre. Its theme of plutocrats and extremist Republicans conspiring to destroy a presidency is one that has curious echoes for readers today, demonstrating once again the truism that art is a product of its times. Yet this is a book that will transcend the moment, thanks in equal parts to his suspenseful plot and the fully-realized world in which he sets it. The result is a book that any fan of historical mysteries or alternative history will enjoy reading, one that hopefully the author will follow with further novels in the genre.


The Fall of the Republic
The Fall of the Republic
by Crawford Kilian
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing prequel in the 'Chronoplane Wars' series, 22 Jun. 2012
Crawford Kilian's prequel to his 1978 novel The Empire of Time begins with a world in crisis. The time is the then-near-future of the 1990s. A prolonged economic depression and ongoing environmental problems has left America a desperate nation under military government. Leading the effort to address these many issues are the 'Trainables,' people identified at adolescence with the ability to absorb enormous amounts of information rapidly. Their efforts to maintain social order are given an unexpected boost by the discovery of 'chronoplanes,' alternate Earths at different periods in time that can be settled and exploited. Two young Trainables, Eric Wigner and Jerry Pierce, envision the chronoplanes as offering not just a new hope, but the opportunity for a different world in the present. Using the knowledge gained covertly by a trip to a future chronoplane, they conspire to turn their vision into reality - but will they succeed before their superiors in the government can stop them?

Kilian's first novel in his 'Chronoplane Wars' series was an entertaining book almost overstuffed with interesting ideas, and a prequel would seem to provide an opportunity to explore some of them in greater detail. Yet Kilian seems to approach this book with all of the enthusiasm of a teenager trying to complete his homework. Key developments such as the discovery of the chronoplanes are simply dumped into the plot, with their impact upon events more described than shown. The primary focus instead is on the conspiracy, yet even here Kilian does little to develop sympathy for his characters or suspense over the inevitable outcome. The result is a bloated disappointment, one that squanders the opportunity to develop the promise of his earlier work in the series.


The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson Volume 4
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson Volume 4
by Robert A Caro
Edition: Hardcover

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another superb entry in a masterful series, 3 Jun. 2012
Thirty years have passed sine the publication of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, the first of what Robert Caro envisioned would be a three-volume biography of America's 36th president. This, his fourth volume, ends in the first months of his presidency, and his assertion that this is the penultimate volume strains credulity given the thoroughness he has covered Johnson's life even before reaching his time in the White House (with a third of this book's 700+ pages chronicling just the first four months as president). Yet Caro has sacrificed brevity for a detailed portrait of irony in his depiction of a master of political power who finds himself deprived of it.

Caro begins with Johnson at the height of his success in the Senate. Still only in his second term, he had taken the weak position of Senate Majority Leader and turned it into the second most powerful position in national politics, thanks largely to his enormous personal and legislative abilities. But Johnson had his eye on an even larger prize - the presidency itself, an office he had aspired to for decades and which in 1960 seemed to many to be his for the taking. Yet Johnson hesitated to commit himself to the race, fearing the humiliation of a defeat. This created an opening that John F. Kennedy eagerly exploited. With his brother Robert collecting commitments in the west - a region critical to Johnson's chances - Kennedy outmaneuvered the Texas senator, demonstrating just how completely Johnson had misjudged his opponent.

Yet for Johnson a new opportunity presented itself when Kennedy offered him the vice presidential nomination during the convention. For Kennedy, the choice was an obvious one, as Johnson's presence on the ticket offered Democrats a chance to reclaim the Southern states lost to Dwight Eisenhower in the two previous elections. Johnson's reasons for accepting are less clear, though Caro describes Johnson's realistic assessment of his odds as vice president of assuming the presidency in his own right, as well as his belief that "Power is where power goes," a statement that demonstrates his conviction that he would retain his control over the Senate even as vice president.

Johnson was soon disabused of this notion. Blocked from maintaining his position in the Senate's Democratic caucus and denied any real responsibilities by the Kennedys, Johnson seemed to wither from the absence of power. For all his failings it is hard not to sympathize with the man in these chapters, who works to ingratiate himself with the Kennedys through expensive gifts and obsequious letters. Yet flattery and jewelry did little to improve his standing in the administration, while the growing scandal surrounding his protégé Bobby Baker was exposing the vice president to increased scrutiny of his business dealings. Though Caro doesn't press his case any further than the evidence allows, his description of the mounting investigations in the autumn of 1963 suggests that Johnson's position on the ticket the next year was in jeopardy as he left with the president for a campaign trip to Texas.

All of this changed in Dallas in a matter of minutes. Caro's chapters on Kennedy's assassination and Johnson's assumption of the presidency are among the best in the book, as they convey the sense of bewilderment, tragedy, and sadness which stained that day. Here we see Johnson's abilities employed to their fullest to reassure a shocked nation of the smooth transition of power. Within days of Kennedy's funeral the new president took charge of his predecessor's stalled legislative agenda, working to pass a tax cut bill and civil rights legislation that few expected would become law. Here Caro exploits the numerous telephone conversations the president secretly recorded to depict Johnson's use of political power, as he threatened, cajoled, and wooed senators and representatives in an effort to attain his goals. The book ends in March 1964, with Johnson fully settled into his office and with the challenge before him of election in his own right, a challenge that - if successful - would complete his journey from the Texas Hill Country to the highest office in the land.

As with his previous volumes Caro has provided a meticulous, painstaking study of the life and career of one of the most fascinating men ever to occupy the presidency, a book that measures up to the high standard set by his earlier works. His errors are few and are easily forgiven in a narrative that engages the reader fully and manages to make the minutiae of legislative maneuvering into entertaining reading. Given Caro's track record, it may be too much to hope that the next volume - final or not - will be published more quickly than this one, but regardless of how long it takes, if it is anywhere near as good as this one it will be well worth the wait.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2012 8:58 AM BST


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