Book Recommendation: 1491, Charles C. Mann, Part 2

A part of the Amazon rainforest; possibly a man-made environment.
A part of the Amazon rainforest; possibly a man-made environment.

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be the second part of the earlier recommendation for 1491, by Charles C. Mann. Having now finished the book, I can state with certainty that it is very enjoyable; not only does it cover aspects of history which do not often get their due share of attention, but many of the theories it discusses are eye-opening in their nature and scope. The second half of the book deals primarily with the impact Native American societies had on the continents which they inhabited, and devotes a good deal of its energy to debunking the idea that they were living in an eternal state, in tune with nature and exercising as little of an effect as possible on their environment. Instead, Mann states (through the army of anthropologists, historians, archeologists, biologists, and others who he has interviewed for this book) that societies from the Amazon to New Hampshire had spent millennia perfecting the environment in which they lived; what the early European visitors to the continents believed was untouched nature was more of a “vast garden”, in the words of Mann, meticulously sculpted over the centuries. These theories form a wonderful tapestry which ties together the second  half of Mann’s work.

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One-Year Anniversary Post

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Hello everyone! Today’s post is a special post, because two weeks ago (tomorrow) was the one-year anniversary of the very first post on ButISawItOnTv! On this occasion (the special qualities of which are up for debate) I would like to thank all of those who have read the approximately 50 posts which have made their way onto this site, or nearly one a week, in the past year. I would also like to say that I look forward to another exciting year of posts, and already have some ideas for topics: however, if any of you have ideas of your own or would like me to continue reviewing a television show I have already begun, it would be wonderful if you sent them in via the comments or social media.

If you truly love history, I cannot recommend enough that you enjoy some form of historical media during the following year. Whether this includes reading history books, listening to historical podcasts (during lunch is a good time, I have found), watching movies or television shows, or playing video games, it will enrich your life, I assure you. On that topic, I firmly hope that ButISawItOnTv has enriched yours during its year of existence thus far. Thank you all for reading as always, and I hope you have a wonderful day.

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Book Recommendation: 1491, Charles C. Mann, Part 1

1491

Hello everyone! Today’s post is on the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann. While I have not yet completed this book, I am currently enjoying it very much, and so thought that a post would be a good idea. As the title implies, the subject of this book is the civilizations of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. The book weaves a rich tapestry on this subject, drawing on the work of generations of historians, historical demographers, archeologists, sociologists, and others to bring to life civilizations which have since passed from the face of the Earth. In reading this book, a whole new historical world has opened for me. Previously, I was unaware of most aspects of the history of the Americas; one good example of an interesting historical fact contained in this book is that it is a strong possibility (though not certain) that the Inca developed a writing system in the form of long, knotted strings called khipu. The colours of the string, subsidiary strings which descended from the main knots, and the design and order of the knots were able to tell a story, an entirely unique writing system in the history of civilization. “Reading” the khipu depended on both sight and touch, making this also one of the only tactile writing methods in history. It is through glimpses such as this that Mann is able to evoke a feeling of nostalgia for a world which ceased to exist long ago; the loss of these civilizations and the majority of their records was truly a tragedy on a massive scale, and one which can never be undone.

For more, continue past the link.

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Book Recommendation: The Ottoman Endgame, Sean McMeekin

TheOttomanEndgame

Hello everyone! Today’s post is a book recommendation for The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Sean McMeekin. McMeekin is a professor of history at Bard University, and has written extensively on Russia, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Both a detailed narrative summary of the years surrounding and including the First World War from the Ottoman point of view and a (well-timed) explanation of many of the historical factors which lie behind the current geopolitical reality in the Middle East, The Ottoman Endgame is truly wonderful. Well-researched, well-written, and well-conceived, I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in either the First World War or the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Endgame is, in a way, tragic; although it is obvious from the first pages that the death knell has sounded for the Empire, it is difficult not to sympathize with their plight (though it is also difficult to pity them overmuch, in light of the vicious ethnic violence which erupted across the Empire in its final years). The period from the fall of Abdul-Hamid and the Balkan Wars all the way to the Greco-Turkish War and the resurrection of Turkey as a modern nation-state is covered in this book, each section more compelling than the last. The high drama of the First World War on the Eastern Front is exposed, from Russia’s near-victory at the Bosporus to Britain’s missed opportunity at Alexandretta. Each front and section of the war is treated to its own chapter, with the section on the Gallipoli campaign particularly detailed due to the extensive records kept during the investigation into its failure. As a reader, it is easy to get a sense of the personalities behind many of the chief players in this drama, particularly the Ottoman Minister of War, Enver Pasha (though it should be noted that McMeekin often presents the motivations of his protagonists as fact, when they are, in fact, his opinion). The prose moves quickly and a sense of suspense is lent to proceedings even if the outcome is already known.

In the end, the promised collapse of the Empire comes almost as an anticlimax; the Empire fades away rather than exploding, and in its ashes Turkey is almost immediately reborn. Mustafa Kemal’s feat of arms in the Greco-Turkish War is treated to many pages, and the Greeks do not come off as the heroes in the conflict (though neither do the Turks). Once again, it is difficult to avoid nostalgia at the thought that over two thousand years of Greek culture in Anatolia is in the process of fading away; at the same time, however, the vibrant culture of modern Turkey will succeed it. McMeekin also does not avoid the harsher aspects of the end of the Empire, treating with detail (and respect) the extensive ethnic cleansing during both the First World War and the Greco-Turkish War, while, at the same time, refusing to directly state his position on either side of the often contentious historical issues at hand. While this was likely necessary if he wanted to gain access to many of the archives he needed, it does leave the chapters involved feeling overly cautious. Regardless, this is an excellent historical work, and one that I could not recommend more highly. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a wonderful day!

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Book Recommendation: Constantinople, Roger Crowley

Constantinople

Hello everyone! I know it has been a very long time since I posted anything here, and I apologize. The last month has been fairly busy, but now that that is over I hope to get regular (and longer, after this one) posts up once again. Today’s post, however, will be a book recommendation. This time, it is for Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, 1453, by Roger Crowley. Crowley, educated at Cambridge, has written a number of books, primarily focused around the Mediterranean world.

Constantinople is a wonderful example of a good history book, and it shares several key characteristics with others of its ilk. For one, it is easily readable and fairly short; though this is by no means necessary for a history book, if you have grown tired of the 1200-page tomes which have been discussed on this site in the past Constantinople, at a svelte 260 pages, may be for you. For another, it moves along quickly; the narration of Crowley is wonderful, and he certainly knows when to use more poetic language and when to revert to (excellent) prose. Finally, this book tells a story well worth knowing. If you do not know the events of 1453, I would highly recommend this book; the history of the Byzantine Empire is among the most interesting in European history, and the story of its fall perhaps even more so.

Not only is a story worth telling told in this book, but it is told well. The principal actors in the drama receive ample discussion, and a brief outline of the events preceding the siege is laid out as well, ensuring that the fairly limited scope of the book’s narration does not cause any confusion. The melancholy notes of the end of a 1000-year old empire (depending on prevailing historical opinions, as old as 2000) are not left out; nor, however, is the incipient Ottoman Empire villainized as the destroyer of Rome. In contrast, it is recognized that the Ottomans borrowed much from Rome, of which their capital was but one part.

In summation, this book is one I recommend highly; its scope is narrow, that is true, but after Europe (which I am sure you have all read by now) this may be something of a relief. 1453 is a critical time in world history; why not find out more about it? I hope you all enjoyed this post, and I look forward to returning (ideally) soon with a (hopefully) somewhat longer post. Have a wonderful day!

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Book Recommendation: The Last Lion (Book, William Manchester, Paul Reed, 1983)

The Last Lion

Hello everyone. For today’s post, I will be doing a book recommendation for the The Last Lion, a three-volume biography of Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester, and completed after his death by Paul Wells. This trilogy is one of the best biographical works I have ever read. It covers the entirety of Churchill’s life, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death, though naturally the largest sections are dedicated to his time during the World Wars and between them.

The first volume, titled Visions of Glory, covers the period from 1874-1932. This period was a fascinating period in Churchill’s life, as it extends from his early childhood until his quitting of the Tory party over its position on India, therefore covering his service as First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War and his earlier military service. The second volume, titled Alone, covers his time in “the political wilderness”, extending from the time he quit the Tories until he was invited back as Prime Minister in 1940, therefore taking over the running of the war. The final volume, Defender of the Realm, covers the period of the Second World War until his death in 1965, and serves as an excellent history of the Western European theatre of the war as well as a biography of Churchill.

All three volumes are excellent examples of biographical writing. Manchester’s prose is supreme, and he turns it to good use in these volumes. He succeeds in putting many of the events of Churchill’s life in context, and in reading these volumes it is impossible to emerge without a better understanding of the man. This series also has a connection to one of the other books you have read about on this site; Manchester opens his second book with a dedication “To Bill Shirer who saw it from the other side and saw it first.“; referring, of course, to William L. Shirer, whose work you will have already read about here.

If I was to recommend only one biographical series, this would have to be it; it is certainly long, but it gives an invaluable understanding of a man whose contributions to the history of the world cannot go unrecognized. Furthermore, this and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich are the two books I would recommend on the Second World War, as they allow it to be seen from both sides; there are certainly some viewpoints, that of the Eastern Front and the Pacific, missing after reading these, but they can be filled in with supplementary reading. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a good day.

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Q&A: The Golden Mean (Book, Annabel Lyon, 2009)

A bust of Aristotle.
A bust of Aristotle.

Hello everyone! While I do have a (hopefully) very interesting post on a Soviet propaganda film in the works, which I hope to get on the site by next week, and I may get another full post out on the weekend, today I am going to do a second post on The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon. I am doing this post because I was asked several questions about my first post, which I have done my best to answer here. So, with no further delays, here we go. Because this is a long one, continue past the link to see more.

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How Accurate Is: The Golden Mean (Book, Annabel Lyon, 2009)

Aristotle tutoring Alexander the Great; by JLG Ferris, 1895.
Aristotle tutoring Alexander the Great; by JLG Ferris, 1895.

Hello everyone! Today, I am going to be doing a book post, this time on The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon. This book focuses on the tutoring of Alexander the Great by the famous philosopher (and student of Plato) Aristotle from 343 BCE until (possibly) 335 BCE. This is a period of history surrounding which there is much speculation but little information; no details from the sessions survive until today, and so only the record of their existence remains. As a result, Lyon had a large canvas to work with, and she does not disappoint, providing a carefully constructed description of the tutoring and the effects it had on both figures involved, as well as a brief summary of the life of Aristotle himself through flashbacks. Essentially the only times in the book she deviated from the historical record, in fact, were when she filled in gaps in the historical record surrounding the life of Aristotle. I will list such examples of those as could be found here.

  • Aristotle’s second wife, Herpyllis, is presented in the novel as the maid of Aristotle and a childhood acquaintance; in fact, little is known about her except her marriage to Aristotle. However, her identity in the book is one of the more common theories surrounding her, so Lyon is as close to historically accurate as possible.[1]
  • As far as I have found, there is no record of Aristotle tutoring Arrhidaeus, the incapable elder brother of Alexander; it is likely this was a fiction on the part of Lyon so the relationship between Alexander and Arrhidaeus could be seen.
  • Although Lyons does not appear to weigh in specifically on how long the tutoring of Alexander lasted, there is some debate on the subject; estimates range between five and eight years.[2]

For more, continue past the link.

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Book Recommendation: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer, 1960)

RiseAndFall

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be another book recommendation, this time on a true historical classic, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Most individuals who are interested in the history of the Second World War will have heard of this book already, but since not everyone reading this will, I have decided to do a post about it.

Rise and Fall chronicles a familiar story- the Second World War- from a perspective that will seem unusual to many students of history; that of the Germans. The book is certainly not an apology for the Nazis, and in fact spends a great deal of time pointing out the flaws in their decisions. For me, it was a fascinating experience to learn an unknown side to such a familiar story- surely, for any true student of the war, names like Jodl and Rommel should be at least as familiar as Montgomery or Eisenhower. The book finds its sources both in the experiences of the author (a correspondent in Berlin until 1941 and the outbreak of war between Germany and America) and the diaries of those Nazis who survived the immediate end of the war.

Rise and Fall is written in a dramatic and engaging style, frequently quoting from other literature on the subject and examining at parts of the war that are not commonly put under the microscope. The period leading up to the war, for example, is discussed in great detail. I, at least, learned a great many things about that period that I had not previously known, such as the exact methods with which Hitler subdued his political opponents within Germany. (Of particular interest was his strategy of calling a massive May Day celebration to bring the Labour movement to Berlin and then having all their leaders arrested.) The most dramatic section of the book is the final chapters, fittingly titled Gotterdammerung, describing the fall of Berlin: “Heinrici’s army, to the north of Berlin, was beating a hasty retreat westward so that it might be captured by the Western Allies instead of by the Russians.”(Shirer, 1960, 1120.)

All in all, this book deserves to be required reading for a student of the Second World War; knowing both sides to a story is always key to truly understanding it, and this proves to be no exception. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a nice day! (For a reference, continue past the link)

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How Accurate Is: Baudolino (Book, Umberto Eco, 2000)

baudolino

(Spoilers will be present. Always assume they will.)

Hello everyone! Today, I will be doing a post on the Umberto Eco novel Baudolino, written in 2000. This book, set during the time of the Fourth Crusade and its sack of Constantinople, tells the story of the title character through a long series of flashbacks. The character of Baudolino is a peasant from Northern Italy who, through chance, encounters the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and becomes his adopted son; from there, most of the rest of his life is dedicated to finding the mythical kingdom of Prester John, a myth that he helps create in the process. As was Prague Cemetery, this book by Eco is impeccably researched; for example, the figure to whom Baudolino dictates his life story, Niketas Choniates, was a real Byzantine court historian and actually wrote an account of the Fourth Crusade, which he begins at the end of the book.[1] There are many other such accuracies:

  • Everything Frederick does in the book is as it occurred in history; his six expeditions to Italy, his canonization of Charlemagne, and all the rest. The only invented thing about Frederick in the book is his motive for embarking on the Third Crusade.[2]
  • Almost all the minor characters not directly related to Baudolino (the members of Frederick’s court, etc.) are also historical; however, Baudolino and his group of friends are not.
  • Much like in the Prague Cemetery, Baudolino uses its fictional main character as an explanation for the motives behind historical events that we know little about, which is a strategy that allows them to maintain historicity and an interesting story.
  • For more, continue past the link.

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