California Literary Review


Book Review: Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire by Robin Waterfield


May 3rd, 2011

It did not take long before most of the Diadochi were gripped by a lust for power nearly as manic as had possessed Alexander. Ptolemy, however, showed a greater restraint. Though he launched several offensive campaigns, Ptolemy largely contented himself with ruling Egypt. Moreover, his policy decisions were marked by an astute blend of urban and economic development, along with encouraging the arts and sciences. Where Demetrius squandered vast sums on siege towers and Dreadnought-sized warships, Ptolemy built Alexandria into a cultural center whose brilliance eventually surpassed Athens.

Book Review: From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women, 1847-1928 by Julie P. Gelardi


March 15th, 2011

Following this betrayal, the Romanov dynasty was swept off the stage of history. Many of the family were arrested by the Bolsheviks and executed, some with a degree of cruelty and incompetence that beggars belief. Marie Feodorovna and Marie Pavlovna were evacuated to safety, but the lives of both women were blighted by the near extermination of the Romanov family.

A Watchful Eye On… Winston Churchill


March 2nd, 2011

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, known best as the wartime Prime Minister, held in his distinguished career a number of other high positions, including Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. Renowned as an orator and statesman, he enjoys a permanent place in Western history. The adventure and controversy pervading his professional life seem ripe for an enterprising screenwriter to pick.

Book Review: The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865


February 7th, 2011

This collection of the Times‘ news coverage during the war is a must-have for Civil War enthusiasts and other American history buffs. It contains the power to astonish modern readers with its lofty rhetoric, constant editorializing in news stories and decisions on what was important to its audience. Those decisions are, in many cases, not what a modern newspaper would choose.

The Civil War Begins: An Exhibition at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia


January 26th, 2011

These are not merely newspapers, letters, transcripts of speeches and official reports from the 1850’s through the first major battles of the war in 1861. To a very significant degree, the words inscribed on these timeworn documents actually influenced the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Weekly Listicle: Ballad Of The Soldier


January 21st, 2011

This weekend, Peter Weir graces us with The Way Back, a tale of daring escape by prisoners of war. In due fashion this week’s Listicle salutes the soldier in film. From comedy to adventure to stark, sobering drama, soldiers have faced a great deal on the movie screen.

Book Review: The Big Policeman by J. North Conway


January 11th, 2011

J. North Conway’s new account of the law enforcement career of Thomas Byrnes, The Big Policeman, shows us what it took to bring some degree of order and safety to New York City’s streets in the Gilded Age. And he’s scrupulously fair to Byrnes, whose bare-knuckled approach to his job would never be acceptable to most modern Americans. He was a man of his age and, somewhat ironically, a cop who would introduce many of the basic techniques that almost all current law enforcement agencies still use.

Book Review: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow


October 8th, 2010

Nevertheless, it is a considerable shock to read indictments of Washington in the letters of Patriot leaders such John Adams, Dr. Benjamin Rush and even Thomas Jefferson. Though some of these remarks were valid criticisms of specific decisions on the part of Washington, the reality of his wartime situation stands in marked contrast to the adulation later heaped upon him. As Abraham Lincoln would experience during the Civil War, Washington was frequently distrusted and damned during his lifetime, often by political colleagues and fellow officers who should have known better.

Book Review: Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America by Erika Lee and Judy Yung


September 10th, 2010

For those who fell in the “only” 7 percent category, the decision to deport them was often a death sentence. Several wrenching accounts of suicide are featured in the book, including that of a Chinese woman, waiting to be deported, who rammed a sharpened chopstick through her ear canal into her brain.

Book Review: Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945 by Max Hastings


June 29th, 2010

The next two years of the war for Churchill were a harrowing march through what his wife, Clementine called the “valley of humiliation.” Defeats in Greece, in the Battle of Crete and in North Africa in 1941 were followed by the Japanese capture of Singapore in February 1942. That same month, the daring “Channel Dash” by German warships under siege in Cherbourg to their home naval bases stung British pride to its core. Great Britain, the nation of Marlborough, Churchill’s warrior ancestor, and Lord Nelson was losing the war on land and sea.

Book Review: Myths from Mesopotamia by Stephanie Dalley


June 16th, 2010

I asked them why they, unannounced, wished to meet with the director and they told me that they had just discovered Noah’s ark in Turkey. As I had met a few others along the way conning people with this ark stuff I asked to see the proof. He immediately pulled out a black and white photo showing what looked like a rock cliff and asked, ‘What do you see?’ I looked at it closely and replied, ‘All I can see is that someone took a ballpoint pen and drew a photo of a ship on the rock face’. They replied, in that charming Tennessee accent, ‘Well, it’s a bit hard to see so we’all took a ball point pen and highlighted it for ‘y’all.’

Book Review: At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union by Robert V. Remini


June 2nd, 2010

In 1850, the best that Clay could do was to coax Southern politicians to agree to halt the selling of slaves in the District of Columbia. The payback was the Fugitive Slave Act. Nicknamed the “Bloodhound Law,” it legally bound law enforcement officers in the North to assist in the seizure of escaped slaves, punishing anyone who assisted the runaways.

Book Review: Kaboom by Matt Gallagher


April 5th, 2010

Gallagher has a lot of conversations with his platoon’s interpreter (“tarp”), a man his men call “Sage Knight” and treat like a rock star when they find out he has two wives and often has sex six times a day. But Gallagher never develops the same relationship with “Suge” that New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg did with his interpreter Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, and we can’t help but think the conversations were nothing more than a way for Gallagher to pass the time.

Book Review: Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War by Ted Morgan


March 15th, 2010

Giap had lost several family members to the rigors of French colonial rule, including his wife who was arrested and died in a French prison. A model of cool, methodical persistence, Giap was not goaded or tricked into a rash counterattack on Dien Bien Phu. He patiently assembled his forces, digging gun positions in the forested slopes overlooking the French defenses and amassing a huge supply of ammunition carried by thousands of porters through the jungle. Then on March 13, 1954, Giap struck at Dien Bien Phu, capturing several key strong-points and pounding the air strip so that supply planes could no longer land. The base aero-terrestre had become a death trap.

Book Review: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch


March 9th, 2010

Voodoo Histories isn’t an attempt to tell everyone to chill out and stop worrying about what people in authority are up to. Rather, it attempts the trickier task of explaining why a set of conspiracy theories do not hold water on close examination, and accounting for how they differ from traditional historical explanations – what is specifically “conspiracist” about them.

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