California Literary Review

History

The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy by Peter H. Wilson

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December 16th, 2009

In some respects, the Thirty Years War resembles the Great War of 1914-1918. Political friction in Central Europe sparked a rush to arms that dragged in nations and peoples whose best interests lay in peace not war. With the focus of Europe’s economic activity shifting toward the Atlantic Ocean and the East Indian trade zones, the small states of Central Europe needed to integrate their economies to stay competitive. The last thing that petty states like Bohemia, Saxony, Bavaria and the Rhineland needed to do was throw away lives and treasure in futile warfare. But fight they did – for thirty years.

The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley

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December 8th, 2009

James Bradley doesn’t like Theodore Roosevelt. Let’s get that clear from the get-go. Nor does he have much time for William Howard Taft, the gargantuan gourmand, Roosevelt’s right-hand man and his successor as president. And after reading The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, I have the sneaky suspicion that there’s not much love lost for George Bush, either.

Churchill by Paul Johnson

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December 1st, 2009

And Johnson reminds us of the memorable words he spoke after France capitulated: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” Here the biographer also observes, “So the first true victory Britain won in the war was the victory of oratory and symbolism. Churchill was responsible for both.”

Empire of Liberty A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood

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October 29th, 2009

The “Era of Good Feeling” that followed 1815, however, was of short duration. The issue of slavery could not be banished, as the crisis that erupted in 1819 over admitting Missouri as a slave state showed. Even Jefferson, the “Sage of Monticello,” began to have doubts about the future, fearing that the “Empire of Liberty” that he and the other “Founding Fathers” had created might not survive “the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons.”

Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame

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October 15th, 2009

Never perhaps has there been such a masterful account of the man’s failures—and successes—in this country’s most taxing job. Look what Burlingame says he did in just his first hundred days in office: “…he raised and supplied an army, sent it into battle, held the Border States in the Union, helped thwart Confederate attempts to win European diplomatic recognition, declared a blockade, asserted leadership over his cabinet, dealt effectively with Congress, averted a potential crisis with Great Britain, and eloquently articulated the nature and purpose of the war.”

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein

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September 29th, 2009

It was on the level of popular culture that the vital “center” of life in the United States held firm during the Great Depression. Weekly trips to the neighborhood movie house, looking at photos of a revitalized nation in Life Magazine, listening to President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats on the radio, following the home team in the still vigorous daily newspapers, these rituals of daily life were the principal means of keeping faith in America’s future, of believing that the only thing to fear was fear itself.

With Hitler to the End: The Memoir of Hitler’s Valet by Heinz Linge

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September 28th, 2009

Unfortunately the book, while delivering a few marginal insights into Hitler’s character, motivations and global strategies, seems largely a one-dimensional narrative that more resembles a loss of contact with reality than a recounting of anything worthy of notice.

Democracy: 1,000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty by Peter Kellner

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September 22nd, 2009

Magna Carta, that legendary document which is so frequently referred to in discussions of freedom, and which permeates our cultural history from Rudyard Kipling (“What say the reeds at Runnymede?”) to Tony Hancock (“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?! Brave Hungarian peasant girl…”) was produced by a power struggle between the military aristocracy and the monarchy. Any resulting “liberty” for ordinary people was a waste product of the medieval warlord industry.

Journalism’s Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting by John Maxwell Hamilton

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September 16th, 2009

Not all of the foreign correspondents for American papers were themselves American. Karl Marx contributed almost five hundred articles on the European scene to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune during the years between 1852 and 1861. This was after Marx had published the Communist Manifesto and was working on Das Kapital; but his reportage for Greeley, though left-leaning, looks to a modern reader relatively objective.

A New Look at Rome’s Rousing Middle Ages

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August 6th, 2009

When its doors first opened in 1734, the Capitoline Museum, which stands upon the hilltop that is the very heart of Rome, was one of the first European public museums and a favorite haunt of the wealthy Grand Tourists from all over Europe. As of July 30 this venerable museum offers something novel to all tourists—a chance for a fresh look at a relatively neglected period of Roman history and the arts, the Middle Ages.

The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship by James Scott

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July 22nd, 2009

The book reveals for the first time the extent of the outrage and widespread disbelief of many of President Johnson’s senior advisers over Israel’s claim that the attack was an accident. Even LBJ was convinced the attack was no accident and confided his disbelief in Israel’s story to a Newsweek reporter, stating that he believed Israel attacked the ship because it was spying on the war. The book also quotes many senior State Department, Navy, NSA and CIA officials talking of their disbelief in the story.

The Travels of Marco Polo Translated by W. Marsden

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July 14th, 2009

It seems that world is more fantastic than our own travel brochures today can suggest for comfortable tourists. There has never been such an extensive realm, nor one with such an incredible structure of rapid communication over thousands of miles. Commerce thrived from Persia to Java, and one reason that may account for it, was order — and a flat tax of 10%. The law was strict and strictly administered everywhere, which was a marvel to Polo, in comparison with fractious Europe.

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman

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July 13th, 2009

This continued fighting retreat for allied forces persisted for the four bloody months from December 1941 to April of 1942. In an astounding oversight, General MacArthur, by then en route to Corregidor, disregarded the logistical requirements of his retreating army. He left behind, in one example, 450 million bushels of wheat in a single warehouse despite his junior offices protestations. His starving soldiers ended up eating carabou—until all carabou were gone—then snakes, lizards, crows, whatever. The allied forces, lacking resupply and experience, were pushed back repeatedly, finally making their last stand on the tip of Bataan at the town of Mariveles.

How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy

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June 15th, 2009

Goldsworthy takes many of the reasons advanced by earlier scholars and shows them to be of far less significance than is often believed. In some cases, many of the old explanations are simply incorrect. Rome’s growing reliance upon “barbarian” troops, for instance, more often helped to safeguard its frontiers than to threaten them. Nor did rusty drain pipes, moral depravity or savage Hun raiders storming across the Eurasian steppes knock Rome off its pedestal.

Celebrating Galileo in Florence

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March 22nd, 2009

2009 is officially “The Year of Astronomy,” commemorating Galilei’s first observation of the Moon through his telescope in November of 1609. Born in Pisa, Galileo Galilei worked in Florence, where the fourth centennial of his discovery is being celebrated with a stunning and sophisticated exhibition which took four years to prepare.

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