California Literary Review

Non-Fiction Reviews

Civil War 150 – A Readers’ Guide (Part 3)

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May 27th, 2013

The most notorious atrocity of the Draft Riots was the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum, located on 5th Ave and 43rd street. Of the “50 Objects” from the New-York Historical Society, none is more poignant than a charred Bible from the Colored Orphan Asylum, “the sole, improbable artifact to endure the sacking and destruction of the orphanage.”

Blind Boys, Berkeley Blue, Phone Hacks and Wozniak

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May 15th, 2013

The earliest phone phreak I’ve been able to identify was a young man who went by the nickname “Davy Crockett.” Back in the mid-1950s he figured out how to use a Davy Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute – a little 50-cent whistle they used to sell at Woolworth stores – to mimic a special tone that telephone operators used to communicate with one another. By imitating this tone he could place his own long distance calls for free.

Civil War 150 – A Readers’ Guide (Part 2)

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May 15th, 2013

On a sultry summer afternoon, 150 years ago, a young man named Strong Vincent changed the course of American history. The date was July 2, 1863, around 4 P.M. The place was the left wing of the fish hook-shaped Union defensive position at Gettysburg.

Civil War 150 – A Readers’ Guide (Part 1)

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May 8th, 2013

A sampling of new or recent books on the Civil War suggests that this bygone conflict is still relevant to the lives, hopes and fears of the American people in the twenty-first century. If anything, some of the new research and analysis of the Civil War shows that the terrible ordeal of 1861 to 1865 is more meaningful than it has ever been.

Book Review: The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

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May 2nd, 2013

The title The Book of My Lives is apt: rather than presenting a seamless memoir, Hemon instead emphasizes discontinuity, a series of Aleksandar Hemons moving before us in different settings, sometimes without roots to ground them. His decision to provide his version of a table of contents at the end of the book, and to title it “Table of Discontents,” is a play on words that reveals a sense of sadness and dislocation.

Book Review: The Books that Shaped Art History, Edited by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard

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April 18th, 2013

Clark’s The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art received glowing reviews upon its publication in 1956. Among its many virtues, The Nude reasserted the primacy of classical art in the Western world during the dark, drab Cold War era. America’s Abstract Expressionism confronted Soviet Socialist Realism in a long, drawn-out propaganda campaign. Clark showed that there was an alternative to such cultural brinksmanship. Art lovers, tired of ideology, were greatly pleased.

Book Review: Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale

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December 12th, 2012

Seeing a paint brush on the floor, the emperor reached down to retrieve it and presented it to the painter. Had Charles bestowed a golden scepter upon Titian, the honor would have been no greater. Artists were still viewed as artisans by most of the nobility of Europe. In sullying his royal hands with a tool of Titian’s trade, Charles paid him the ultimate compliment.

Book Review: John Keats: A New Life by Nicholas Roe

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November 16th, 2012

Whether one approaches Keats’ life by reading a biography or by the direct study of his poems, there is no escaping the fact that he was obsessed by the nature and effect of beauty in its various forms. He was also haunted by death, the sheer, undeniable, inescapable physical annihilation that awaits each of us, sooner or later. In the case of Keats, death occurred much, much too soon.

Book Review: Through the Eye of a Needle by Peter Brown

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November 12th, 2012

Brown writes that Christian leaders had to carefully deploy Church resources, spiritual and financial, to create a new society to take over after the Roman one had collapsed. In the place of Roman municipal buildings and fortresses came Christian basilicas, monasteries and what Brown brilliantly calls “a coral reef of institutions devoted to intercession,” hospitals, hostels and eventually schools administered by the Church. This was the civilization of the Middle Ages, the foundation of a new vision for the Western world.

Book Review: Lincoln’s Hundred Days by Louis P. Masur

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October 25th, 2012

The determination to end slavery may not have figured initially as a Union war aim for most of the young men in Blue who did the fighting and dying. But Masur quotes from numerous soldier letters and diaries to prove that many Union troops were horrified by the conditions that they found in the south, particularly the enslavement of children fathered by their own “masters.”

Book Review: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

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October 15th, 2012

The course of Curtis’ campaign to document the lives and life style of the Native American peoples is related by Egan with considerable detail and page-turning élan. There were plenty of incidents of physical ordeal and, in some cases, real danger. An Apache medicine man who divulged secrets of his tribe’s religious practices died under suspicious circumstances shortly after Curtis left the reservation. That fate might well have befallen Curtis…

Book Review: Diaries by George Orwell

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August 28th, 2012

Europe had yet to recover from the First World War and the Allied peoples were at a grave psychological disadvantage in comparison with the civilian population of Nazi Germany. Through nearly a decade of political indoctrination, news censorship and threats of imprisonment or worse, the German people were schooled for war. To Orwell, the only things that could shake the British out of their complacency were the drone of the engines of German aircraft over London and the detonation of the bombs they dropped.

Book Review: The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871 by Scott Zesch

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August 22nd, 2012

As the 1860’s ended, the steadily growing numbers of Chinese immigrants led to fears that eventually their numbers would outstrip those of California’s white population. And the Chinese themselves became more “Americanized” in their response to insults, assaults and robbery attempts. As attacks by Anglos and Latinos escalated and as factional fighting grew in their own ranks, Chinese in California increasingly armed themselves with Colt 45s. Increasingly, they began to shoot back.

Book Review: Mike Wallace, A Life by Peter Rader

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July 2nd, 2012

He suffered, too, the tragic loss of his oldest child, Peter, who disappeared while backpacking across Europe after his sophomore year at Yale. His father went looking for him in Greece, where he had last been seen–and it was Mike Wallace himself who found his son’s body beneath a precipice that had given way and sent him to his death.

Book Review: The Second World War by Antony Beevor

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June 25th, 2012

Hitler’s Final Solution was not a separate campaign of mass murder, parallel to the fighting on the battlefronts. Instead, the Nazi assault on the Jews was characteristic of the depraved nature of the entire war. Daring commando raids and tank attacks were the stuff of movie newsreels. The “real” war was prosecuted with civilian-targeted aerial bombardments, starvation as a weapon, orgies of rape and torture and other government-sanctioned acts of mass homicide.

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