California Literary Review

History

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: 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: 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.

DVD Review. I, Claudius: The Complete Series 35th Anniversary Edition

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April 30th, 2012

The whip-smart dialogue, as fans of the series well know, forms a giddy counterpoint to an operatic plot featuring just about every permutation of sex and death imaginable. There’s also John Hurt as Caligula, in a gold bikini and makeup Hurt applied himself, because the BBC makeup girls couldn’t make it tasteless enough, dancing the role of goddess of the dawn in a ballet of Caligula’s own devising before a terrified audience who know they must applaud or die.

Book Review: George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

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January 19th, 2012

George Frost Kennan was one of the most influential of all American diplomats, as well as an historian and writer who won two National Book Awards and two Pulitzer Prizes. It was Kennan who, first in his “long telegram” sent from the American embassy at Moscow in February 1946, and then in his anonymous “X” article in Foreign Affairs the following year, laid out for policy-makers, and then for the American public, the true nature of Stalinism and Soviet policy at a time when some still took a benevolent view of our wartime Soviet ally.

Book Review: Literary Brooklyn by Evan Hughes

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November 8th, 2011

In his new history of the borough’s development you can virtually trace the emergence of America most talented writers, among them figures like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe, Bernard Malamud, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller. They, among many other notables, were residents in that “outlandish place,” and, it would seem, most often by choice!

Book Review: The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia

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November 1st, 2011

David Abulafia’s new book about the Mediterranean Sea, The Great Sea, has everything a major work of history requires. An important theme, solid research, magnificent writing and a perceptive insight into human nature figure prominently in the pages of his study of the body of water that the Romans called mare nostrum, “our sea.”

Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

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October 13th, 2011

In this profound and spirited work, Pinker champions the civilizing process that, according to his detailed research, has enhanced the cause of peace, decreased the scale of violence and enabled peoples of widely separated nations and ethnic groups to realize their common humanity. Using a mass of scientific data and an intensive reading of history and current events, Pinker makes the case that Planet Earth is becoming a more Peaceable Kingdom.

Purity and Danger: The Many Lives of the Italian Renaissance

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August 25th, 2011

More importantly, the good-for-you, vitamin-enriched Renaissance we know today is itself a fairly recent, and largely American, historical construction.

Book Review: Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

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August 19th, 2011

Carthage, however, was not merely conquered by Rome. As the title of Miles’ book asserts, Carthage was destroyed. In three brutal wars, Carthage’s military power was annihilated by the legions of the Roman Republic. The city was ransacked and burned, down to its foundations. The people of Carthage were massacred or enslaved. The literature of the city was put to the torch. Not a stone was left upon a stone.

Book Review: Mightier Than The Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America by David S. Reynolds

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June 13th, 2011

The escalating one-upmanship led to some truly bizarre innovations, such as casting famous boxers in the lead roles. Reynolds described how Peter Jackson, a famous black boxer, figured into the entertainments: “Uncle Tom, between acts or just before dying, would momentarily trade his slave costume for boxing trunks and spar for three rounds with another actor before resuming his tragic role.”

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