Tag: history

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England

June 26, 2013 History, non-fiction 12

16158562Title: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England
Author: Ian Mortimer
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★☆
Fun Fact: In Elizabethan times, assigned rations often included a gallon of beer a day.
Review Summary: The level of detail is incredible, especially since it’s presented  in a way that will not only keep your interest, but also make you feel immersed in Elizabethan England.

Have you ever wondered what people in Elizabethan England ate, what they built their houses out of, how they spoke, or what they did for entertainment? This book answers all of those questions and more, giving you a picture of daily life that many other history books leave out. Every aspect of Elizabethan life is covered in detail, with sections covering topics from religion to entertainment. Particularly unique is the inclusion of information on the lives of the middle and lower class. Read more »

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Salt: A World History

March 20, 2013 Uncategorized 10

Title: Salt: A World History
Author: Mark Kurlansky
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Fun Fact: When mummies (preserved with salt) were moved into Cairo in the 1800’s, they were taxed as salted fish.
Review Summary: Mostly an engagingly written overview of history organized around salt, but with a few too many details of specific recipes and cod fishing.

Writing a world history organized by the way everything connects back to salt was a surprisingly brilliant idea. Because salt was a strategic concern in the organization of many countries and their wars, it’s possible to touch on many of the most interesting periods in history by talking about salt. This could very easily have led to a disorganized book, but each chapter focused on a specific country and the book generally moves forward in time. Together, that was enough to give the book a cohesive feel.

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A Group Read – The Virtues of War

September 13, 2012 Uncategorized 0

Title: The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great
Author: Steven Pressfield
Read for: Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: Immersive story which will draw you into Alexander’s era and into some very cool speculation on his personality, based on historical accounts.

The Virtues of War is the perfect mix of fact and fiction to make a good book. The author clearly did his research and uses accurate details to form a fascinating picture of life around 320BC.  However, as he states in the introduction, he’s also able to take liberties with the facts and put battles and speeches in the order which makes the best narrative. Best of all, the book is told as though Alexander is speaking to a nephew, leading to what I think are some of the major strengths of this book. Read more »

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The True Catherine de Medici

June 27, 2012 Uncategorized 0

Title: Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France
Author: Leonie Frieda
Source: library
Fun Fact:  During her life, three of Catherine de Medici’s sons were king of France.
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: I loved the characters and their stories, but the narration was a little dry.  It wasn’t overly scholarly or a difficult read, but the plot was sometimes hard to follow and I think this was because the author treated the book like a list of facts instead of a story.

After reading The Dark Queen, a historical fiction novel in which Catherine de Medici is portrayed as the titular dark queen and an evil witch, I was left wanting to know more about the historical basis for the story.  In The Dark Queen Catherine is accused of everything from poisoning her rivals to employing beautiful seductresses to control her courtiers to engineering a massacre.  This non-fiction account is largely intended to dispel such rumors and show what an impressive woman Catherine de Medici really was.  And after reading the book, I’m convinced.  She was a little ruthless protecting the throne for her sons, but she was also a very courageous, capable, and mostly well-intentioned woman.  Interestingly, many of the horrible things Catherine did in The Dark Queen are based on rumors the existed in Catherine’s time, although most are false or only very loosely based on actual events. Read more »

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Three Tips for Reading Historical Non-Fiction

May 3, 2012 Uncategorized 0

This week I jumped into historical non-fiction for the first time and as some of you may have gathered from this post , I found the experience a little intimidating!  Fortunately, with lots of help from the internet, I made it through – something which turned out to be a surprisingly satisfying experience.  So today I’m going to share with you what I learned, in hopes you won’t need to start a book feeling as lost as I did 🙂

1 – Orient Yourself in Time
My biggest problem when I started reading was that I really wanted to learn something from this book, but I had no prior knowledge of what was happening in the late 1500’s.  I also didn’t know much about when other important events took place in relation the the 1500’s.  Fortunately, I’m not as totally hopeless about history as I may sound, so I was pretty sure I just needed to find a website that gave me a timeline of events to help give me some context.  While searching, I came across this wonderful website which lets you view important world events broken down by era and geographical region.  For instance, I learned that living the late 1500’s Tycho and Kepler were living after the war of the roses, the Spanish Armada, the gun powder plot, and Joan of Arc.  It was really helpful and I highly recommend this as a place to start if you’re feeling lost in time!  
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On Reading Historical Non-Fiction

April 24, 2012 Uncategorized 4

I’ve been putting off really digging into Tycho and Kepler because I’m a little intimidated by it – not a feeling I usually have about books!  I don’t know much history and I’d really like to learn more.  However, as I learned at a “how to be a good TA” lecture, people learn best when they can connect new knowledge to information they already know.  This has been making my first attempt to dig into some historical non-fiction difficult, especially since I’m not happy to just read past things I don’t get.  At risk of sounding completely hopeless, I’m going to give you some of my impressions reading the first paragraph of Tycho and Kepler (my thoughts in Italics):

“On January 11, 1600 (ok, so after the Magna Carta, after Christopher Columbus, before the American Revolution…wow, my knowledge of history is really sparse) the carriage of Baron Johann Friedrich Hoffmann, baron of Grunbuchel and Sterchau (Germany? maybe Denmark, the map at the beginning was of Denmark, but nope these places aren’t on that map) , rumbled out of Graz… Having fulfilled, for the time being, his occasional duties as a member of the Styrian Diet (some sort of ruling council?) in the Austrian (ah, apparently we’re in Austria) provincial capitol, he was returning to court in Prague (hmm, I know that city, but what country is it in…).

I could go on, but you get the idea!  Currently, I think my best bet is just to read with wikipedia open, but if anyone has any other suggestions for a (historically and geographically inept) first-time reader of historical non-fiction, I’d appreciate the advice 🙂

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