Tag: Academics: History

Review: Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Posted 6 October, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Necropolis: London and its Dead
By: Catharine Arnold
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

Layer upon layer of London soil reveals burials from pre-historic and medieval times. The city is one giant grave, filled with the remains of previous eras. The Houses of Parliament sit on the edge of a former plague pit; St Paul’s is built over human remains; Underground tunnels were driven through forgotten catacombs, thick with bones. A society can be judged by the way it treats its dead, and this is especially true of London. From Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the development of cremation and the cult of mourning that surrounded the death of Diana, Princess of Wales – Necropolis leaves no headstone unturned in its exploration of our changing attitudes towards the deceased among us.

I’ve had this book on the want-to-read pile for ages; it’s always interesting to check out these kinds of history/culture non-fiction titles that look at a particular aspect of society that you wouldn’t think to consider the history of. And, in keeping with Hallowe’en happening later this month, it just seemed fitting to read a non-fiction title on cemeteries and burial customs (I swear it wasn’t planned or anything!).

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Review: Rebellion – The History of England (Volume 3)

Posted 2 October, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution (A History of England, Vol. 3)
By: Peter Ackroyd
Format/Source: Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley

Peter Ackroyd has been praised as one of the greatest living chroniclers of Britain and its people. In Rebellion, he continues his dazzling account of The History of England, beginning the progress south of the Scottish king, James VI, who on the death of Elizabeth I became the first Stuart king of England, and ending with the deposition and flight into exile of his grandson, James II.

The Stuart monarchy brought together the two nations of England and Scotland into one realm, albeit a realm still marked by political divisions that echo to this day. More importantly, perhaps, the Stuart era was marked by the cruel depredations of civil war, and the killing of a king. Shrewd and opinionated, James I was eloquent on matters as diverse as theology, witchcraft, and the abuses of tobacco, but his attitude to the English parliament sowed the seeds of the division that would split the country during the reign of his hapless heir, Charles I. Ackroyd offers a brilliant, warts-and-all portrayal of Charles’s nemesis, Oliver Cromwell, Parliament’s great military leader and England’s only dictator, who began his career as a political liberator but ended it as much of a despot as “that man of blood,” the king he executed.

England’s turbulent seventeenth century is vividly laid out before us, but so too is the cultural and social life of the period, notable for its extraordinarily rich literature, including Shakespeare’s late masterpieces, Jacobean tragedy, the poetry of John Donne and Milton and Thomas Hobbes’s great philosophical treatise, Leviathan. Rebellion also gives us a very real sense of the lives of ordinary English men and women, lived out against a backdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.

This book follows up from the first two volumes in the series, Foundation (review) and Tudors (review). I was quite excited when I found it while browsing through NetGalley as I enjoyed the first two volumes. Peter Ackroyd does a wonderful job in laying out events in English history. This book will be available on 21 October 2014.

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Review: Accounting For Taste

Posted 16 June, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine
By: Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson
Format/Source: eBook; free download from the University of Chicago Press

French cuisine is such a staple in our understanding of fine food that we forget the accidents of history that led to its creation. Accounting for Taste brings these “accidents” to the surface, illuminating the magic of French cuisine and the mystery behind its historical development. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson explains how the food of France became French cuisine.

This momentous culinary journey begins with Ancien Régime cookbooks and ends with twenty-first-century cooking programs. It takes us from Carême, the “inventor” of modern French cuisine in the early nineteenth century, to top chefs today, such as Daniel Boulud and Jacques Pépin. Not a history of French cuisine, Accounting for Taste focuses on the people, places, and institutions that have made this cuisine what it is today: a privileged vehicle for national identity, a model of cultural ascendancy, and a pivotal site where practice and performance intersect. With sources as various as the novels of Balzac and Proust, interviews with contemporary chefs such as David Bouley and Charlie Trotter, and the film Babette’s Feast, Ferguson maps the cultural field that structures culinary affairs in France and then exports its crucial ingredients. What’s more, well beyond food, the intricate connections between cuisine and country, between local practice and national identity, illuminate the concept of culture itself.

I learned that the University of Chicago Press was issuing a free download of this book for the month through a blogger so I decided to check it out. The focus is especially interesting, that of cuisine and its reflection on national identity, culture, and sense of history (very much hitting all of the notes of academic interest on my part 😉 ). In a more general sense, it focuses on food in a social context: who we are, how we associate ourselves with our cuisines. It’s always great to see scholars look at food in a historical and social context; I remember in my undergrad there were a few historians at the department who had written books about food in different cultures.

As the title indicates, this book focuses on French cuisine, but a lot of the analysis I think can be applied to other cultures as well. Something that struck me as I was reading this book was how eating was seen as an intellectual activity as well, which is something I would have never considered; I wish I had saved the page where the narrative was talking about this in particular, it was rather fascinating. The author uses a variety of sources to discuss the development and impact of French cuisine over the last few centuries, from primary sources of pamphlets and newspapers and other sources from the time to French literature, in which foods come up quite frequently (something I never realised when I was reading some of the classics last year). By the last chapter, the narrative turns to the present and the current challenges that French society faces in terms of their cuisine and the advent of globalisation.

I honestly wish I had more time to read this novel more carefully and analyse it in an academic sense. But suffice to say, Accounting for Taste is a well-researched book and overall a fascinating read. I wish I had read this book as a physical copy of this book; it’s overall very interesting and I would have taken a lot of notes in this 😉 Readers of French history, books about cuisine, and books about national identity and society will want to check out this title.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Learn more about the book from University of Chicago Books website

Review: The Monuments Men

Posted 12 June, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
By: Robert M. Edsel & Bret Witter
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.

Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

I had been curious about this book ever since I heard about the movie (starring Matt Damon and George Clooney; no, I haven’t seen the movie yet) and heard that it was based off a non-fiction title. I’ve read accounts from World War Two in the past from the perspective of the soldiers–Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers is another title that comes to mind that I enjoyed–but this one sounded very unique because this group of men (and women) worked to recover and protect artwork and monuments from the destructiveness of the war efforts.

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Review: Jews and Words

Posted 16 April, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Jews and Words
By: Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger
Format/Source: Paperback courtesy of Yale University Press via GoodReads First Reads programme

Why are words so important to so many Jews? Novelist Amos Oz and historian Fania Oz-Salzberger roam the gamut of Jewish history to explain the integral relationship of Jews and words. Through a blend of storytelling and scholarship, conversation and argument, father and daughter tell the tales behind Judaism’s most enduring names, adages, disputes, texts, and quips. These words, they argue, compose the chain connecting Abraham with the Jews of every subsequent generation.

Framing the discussion within such topics as continuity, women, timelessness, and individualism, Oz and Oz-Salzberger deftly engage Jewish personalities across the ages, from the unnamed, possibly female author of the Song of Songs through obscure Talmudists to contemporary writers. They suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities, or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations. Full of learning, lyricism, and humor, Jews and Words offers an extraordinary tour of the words at the heart of Jewish culture and extends a hand to the reader, any reader, to join the conversation.

The premise of this non-fiction title intrigued me as it touched on academic themes of interest: identity, community, the history of a people. I never really read much on Jewish culture and history beyond events from other national histories so I thought this would make a good introduction. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I won a copy of this book from the GoodReads First Reads programme.

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