Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Tales From The Hamlet: Memories of Italy by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp (@CassCK55) A distinctive voice, and an Italian tale full of food, wonderful landscapes, and packed with useful information #RBRT

Hi all:

I’m sharing today another great find thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team. This will appeal to lovers of Italy and anybody who enjoys a bit of armchair travel.

Tales from the Hamlet. Memories of Italy by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp

Tales from the Hamlet. Memories of Italy by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp

At the age of 61, Cassandra, a single and peripatetic Brit, was asked to pack up her house and move to Italy to take up the offer of a much-needed job. 15 months later she was made redundant, leaving her unnerved, broke and unable to return home. Her dream of a new life was rapidly turning into a nightmare and, saddled with all her belongings, her antique furniture, over 800 books and her aged Siamese cat she had nowhere to go.

A kind friend offered them sanctuary in a tiny converted former barn in his family’s ‘Borgo’, a cluster of rustic properties grouped around a late-Medieval manor House in the mountains; the beautiful and mysterious Emilian Appenines of northern Italy. There she was befriended and watched over by the owner; an eccentric octogenarian, his household ghosts and 14 semi feral cats.

The experience proved to be challenging yet deeply transformative as she struggled to recover her equilibrium and rebuild her life.

https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Hamlet-Memories-Cassandra-Campbell-Kemp-ebook/dp/B09HKGN2XW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09HKGN2XW/

https://www.amazon.es/Tales-Hamlet-Memories-Italy-English-ebook/dp/B09HKGN2XW/

Author Cassandra Campbell-Kemp

About the author:

Cassandra is a somewhat eccentric, unconventional and fiercely independent woman of pensionable age. Formerly an international real estate executive she travelled widely, living and working in various European countries – including Italy, Greece and Spain. During her time in Europe she fell in love with the countries, their cultures, the people and the food! She learnt several languages and spent all her spare time exploring.

Now happily retired, she lives alone with her rescue cat, Felix, in a quintessential 17th century English cottage where she writes about her 30 years of adventures. Her first book, ‘Cauliflowers through the Catflap and other tales from a solitary lockdown’ is a humorous and very tongue-in-cheek look at her experiences of shielding alone through the Covid pandemic. Her second book, ‘Tales from the Hamlet’, is a heartwarming tale of what happened when, living in Italy, she was unexpectedly made redundant and saddled with all her antique furniture, over 800 books and an elderly Siamese cat, she had no money to return home and nowhere to go.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/CASSANDRA-CAMPBELL-KEMP/e/B09HNW2ZSG/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

As a memoir, this is a book that shares the experiences of the author, narrated in the first-person, at a particular point in her life, rather than being an exhaustive account of her biography. That means that the author has chosen a particular aspect or period of her life to share, and this is interesting in its own right, as from the little she tells us at the beginning and what she reveals throughout the book, it soon becomes evident that she has embarked in many adventures, has lived and worked in many different countries, speaks many languages, and her lifestyle does not conform to what many people would expect in somebody of her age. She is not married, has no children, grandchildren, or close family, and although she loves her own space and her independence, she is neither domestic nor domesticated.

There are several elements that make this book unique: the protagonist is not a young woman, she is not in the best of health, and she makes a risky choice at a point in life when most people would be looking forward to their retirements (or even taking early retirement). After years of living abroad, going from country to country, and moving from one challenging but fulfilling job to another, she doesn’t seem to be able to find a suitable job at home (back in the UK). So when an offer from Italy comes knocking at her door, she does not hesitate. This is not a woman who is trying to find herself or discover anything new (even if she learns plenty); she is moving due to her career. Also, although she meets plenty of people and makes many friends, there is no romance in sight (thankfully)! The topic of the Brexit (the book takes place before the treaty was finalised, but it had been voted already and was in the process of being finalized) results in plenty of jokes about her having to marry an Italian man, but these are only jokes, and despite passing comments about the attractiveness of some of the men she meets, and some harmless flirting, this is not a story about a woman who finally finds “the right man”. She is quite clear in her choices, and she enjoys living by herself.

This being Italy, there is plenty of food, wine, amazing landscapes, and Italian words and phrases, but the protagonist is not a cook, and she enjoys the food but does not share recipes or tricks about Italian home cooking. (Sorry if you were expecting those).

She is not big at sharing her past history either, and, other than a brief introduction (that goes some way to explaining how she found herself with a CV full of experience in many different jobs all over Europe but with no formal qualifications or diplomas, and also a polyglot without any certificates in any of the languages she is fluent in), she only reveals things that are directly relevant to the story or to the background of characters we come in contact with (her best friend from home, Ugo, her Italian friend, who finds her the perfect accommodation…), and she also answers the direct questions of some of the people she meets, but Cassandra is not a woman who spends her time idly mulling over her past and what could have been. Yes, she does worry about the future, and she needs a bit of help to assess her options in a realistic manner. Nonetheless, this is a woman who is always looking forward and thinking of what task she can undertake next, and that might vary from the very practical and every day (like changing banks and getting the internet installed), to projects that could help develop and reshape the region she is staying in, bringing in foreign investment and all that involves. No matter what the difficulties and she has to face quite a few, both personal and bureaucratic, she is a force of nature, and she does not give up easily.

I liked many things about this book: Italy, and Cassandra’s love affair with the area, the province of Emilia Romagna (she doesn’t fall in love with a man, but she does with the location, its history, its traditions, and its people). She is an avid amateur historian and researcher, and she feels strong connections with people and places, to the point of having quasi-mystical experiences when visiting certain spots and natural wonders. I was fascinated by her descriptions of places, the information she shares on the history of the region, the way the food is prepared (I knew little about Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but now I share in her fascination), and her lyrical renderings of attending a choir concert, or sharing a delightful moment with a boy and his grandmother. You don’t just feel as if you were there, you feel at one with the protagonist, no matter how little or how much you have in common with her (which, in my case, I realise is quite a lot, despite thinking we had very little in common at the beginning). I also loved her observational skills. Sometimes these might result in minute and mundane things being explained in detail (how to get a trolley in the supermarket, or how to access a parking spot at the airport), but, considering how many places she has visited, and the many different ways of doing things she has had to battle through, it makes perfect sense. Who knows how familiar people reading the book might be with things we give for granted in our own environments?

I also enjoyed her love of language, which results in the use of some uncommon words that one is unlikely to read in a newspaper article or a bestseller (but once you’ve read them, and, in some cases, checked them in a dictionary and learned them, you are likely to adopt), but I am sure advanced English students will be enchanted by. I also loved her use of Italian words (whose meaning is always explained), which pepper the narrative and are often more descriptive than any English equivalent.

I am no Italian history buff and had never heard of Matilda di Canossa before, but after reading of her role in the region and the lasting impression she left, palpable even 900 years after her death, now I also share in the protagonist’s interest in this amazing woman, whom we all should know more about.

Oh, and the characters… She does meet some wonderful people, and she never has anything bad to say about anybody. Everybody is a source of information, amusement, knowledge, friendship, help, or delight, and always generous when they encounter this peculiar but good-natured and interesting English woman. And the animals are also wonderful. We have plenty of cats (not only Cassandra’s own Geisha, but the manor house cat, Mimi, the farm cats), a fabulous dog, and some less welcome inhabitants of the area. Yes, Cassandra is a mosquito magnet, another thing we have in common.

Is there anything I didn’t like? Not as such. Readers who prefer their stories streamlined, minimalistic, and pared down, might get frustrated with this book, and many editors would probably trim it down to a fraction of what it is now, as the author narrates similar anecdotes of meeting people who are surprised at seeing her driving a right-handed car, speaking Italian though she is evidently a foreigner, looking at her and asking her all kinds of personal questions, where her husband is, being the most frequent. There are also innumerable descriptions of meals in different restaurants, shopping trips to buy a variety of items and foodstuffs, and her attempts at dealing with Italian bureaucracy. In some ways, this is like having a conversation with a close friend, somebody you might talk to very often, and with whom you share the little things that fill up your days, even when there isn’t anything amazing or extraordinary to say. As the author explains, in her acknowledgments, this book originated in a series of Facebook posts she shared about her adventures in Italy, and as a result of the encouragement, she received from her followers to turn it into a book. With this origin in mind, it becomes easier to understand and appreciate the conversational tone of the writing, which is also full of humour. Life is made up, mostly, of these little quotidian things, and we only realise how much we miss them when “normality” disappears, as we’ve all had to learn recently, unfortunately. (I highlighted many quotes throughout the book, but as I often do, I recommend to those who might not be sure if the writing style will suit them or not, to check a sample of the book and take their time with it. It is worth it).

The ending is a return, to the UK; not a true ending, but a “to be continued” with a promise of a book of Further Tales to be published later. This suits the hopeful nature of the book and leaves us wanting more. I am aware that the author has written about her experiences during the COVID confinement, although I haven’t read her account, so those who are impatient to read more from the author while waiting for the next book in this series can check that.

If I had to issue a warning, I agree with what the author says, on the back cover of the paperback version of this book, also included in the Kindle version: Don’t read this book when you’re hungry, and I would add, especially if you’re on a diet because you might feel compelled to raid your fridge or rush to your nearest restaurant on reading about the wonderful meals Cassandra partakes of. On the positive side, the author includes a list with information, and in some cases links, to the restaurants and eateries she mentions in the narrative, at the back of the book, so those planning a trip to the region can compare notes, try the food and meet some of the people. And if you need any further encouragement, the author includes a link to her website, where you can check photos of the locations mentioned, and also access other useful links.

In case you want to check it now, here it is.

www.cassandracampbell-kemp.com

By the way, if you are not into paranormal happenings or ghosts, don’t worry. Despite the mention of ghosts in the description, that is not what the book is about.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy non-fiction, especially memoirs, but are looking for something a bit different. Yes, the book is inspiring and life-affirming, but its protagonist is so unique that getting to know her and to expend some time with her is what makes it a worthwhile read. There is plenty of useful and fascinating information as well, and people thinking about moving to Italy, or just visiting it, will find it invaluable. So, if you are ready to meet a truly eccentric and wonderful woman, her cat, and are happy to follow her in her adventures (culinary and others) throughout a little-known but gorgeous region of Italy, don’t hesitate. Cassandra will become the guide you never knew you needed.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and all the members of her team, and to you all for your support and for always being there, reading, commenting, and sharing. Make sure you stay safe, happy, and keep smiling and living life to the full!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Black, White, and Gray All Over: A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement by Frederick Reynolds Packed with local data and insights, this memoir pulls no punches

Hi all:

I bring you one of the books from Rosie’s Book Review Team list, a non-fiction one this time, and it is a police memoir with a difference.

Black, White and Gray All Over by Frederick Douglass Reynolds

Black, White, and Gray All Over: A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement by Frederick Reynolds 

From shootouts and robberies to riding in cars with pimps and prostitutes, Frederick Reynolds’ early manhood experiences in Detroit, Michigan in the 1960s foretold a future on the wrong side of the prison bars. Frederick grew up a creative and sensitive child but found himself lured down the same path as many Black youth in that era. No one would have guessed he would have a future as a cop in one of the most dangerous cities in America in the 1980s—Compton, California. From recruit to detective, Frederick experienced a successful career marked by commendations and awards. The traumatic and highly demanding nature of the work, however, took its toll on both his family and personal life—something Frederick was able to conquer but only after years of distress and regret.

“Black, White & Gray All Over not only recounts the stories of Frederick’s life and career but also the stories of his fellow officers. An honest, no-holds-barred history of the city of Compton’s gang violence, crack epidemic, and legacy of government corruption leaves readers of all backgrounds with a better understanding of race relations as well as the gray areas of policework in one of America’s most brutal cities.” -Zora Knauf

“If Fred Reynolds’s memoir Black, White and Gray All Over was just about being a cop in Compton, California, dealing with gangs, murders, officers killed in the line of duty, and the politics that drives it all, it would be worth the read. This book goes deeper, into what it means to be a man, more particularly a Black man, and to overcome every obstacle along the way to redemption. Don’t miss this one!” -#1 Bestselling Author J.J. Hebert

 https://www.amazon.com/Black-White-Gray-All-Over-ebook/dp/B09JF9VB4Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-White-Gray-All-Over/dp/B09JF9VB4Z/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B09JF9VB4Z/

Author Frederick Douglass Reynolds

About the author:

Frederick Douglass Reynolds is a former Compton police officer and a retired LA County Sheriff’s Homicide Sergeant with a combined 32 years of experience working some of the worst areas of Los Angeles County. He retired in 2017 with over seventy-five commendations including a Chief’s Citation, five Chief’s commendations, one Exemplary Service Award, two Distinguished Service Awards, two Distinguished Service Medals, one city of Carson Certificate of Commendation, three City of Compton Certificate of Recognition, one city of Compton Public Service Hero award, one California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition, two State Senate Certificates of Recognition, a County of Los Angeles Certificate of Commendation, one Meritorious Service Award, two City of Compton Employee of the Year Awards, and two California Officer of the Year awards. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Carolyn, and their daughter Lauren and their young son, Desmond. They have six other adult children and nine grandchildren.

https://authorfrederickreynolds.com/about-frederick-douglass-reynolds/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is a memoir, and as far from fiction as one could imagine. In fact, it is so full of facts and data that it can become overwhelming at times. The sheer number of events, of characters (well, not really characters, but real people: relatives, friends, neighbours, infantrymen, police officers, detectives, criminals, victims, local authorities, politicians…), of dates, of cases… make the book overflow with stories: sometimes those the author, Frederick Douglass Reynolds, participated directly in; others, stories providing background information to the situation or events being discussed or introducing some of the main players at the time of the action. I think anybody trying to recount even a small amount of what happens in the book would have a hard time of it, but anybody interested in the recent history of Compton law enforcement and local politics will find this book invaluable.

The author goes beyond the standard memoir, and although his life is the guiding thread of the book, he does not limit himself to talking in the first-person about his difficult childhood, his traumatic past, his petty criminal activities as a gang member in his youth, his time as a Marine Corps Infantryman, his less than stellar experience with personal relationships (until later in life), his allergy to compromise for many years (to the point of even refusing to get involved in the life of one of his children)… This well-read and self-taught man also offers readers the socio-historical-political context of the events, talking about the gangs, the rise of crack cocaine, the powerful figures moving the threads and holding authority (sometimes openly, and sometimes not so much), and he openly discusses the many cases of corruption, at all levels.

There is so much of everything in this book that I kept thinking this single book could become several books, either centring each one of them on a particular event, case, or investigation and its aftermath (for example. although Rodney King’s death didn’t take place in Compton, the description of how the riots affected the district makes readers realise that history keeps repeating itself unless something is done), or perhaps on a specific theme (as there is much about gangs, racism, corruption, the evolution of police roles and policing methods, violence in the streets, LA social changes and local politics, drugs…). Another option would be to focus on the author’s life and experiences growing up, on his personal life (his difficulties with relationships and alcohol, his PTSD…), and later his career, but perhaps mentioning only some of the highlights or some specific episodes, and with less background information about the place and its history (although some brief information could be added as an appendix or in an author’s note for those interested in knowing more).

This is a long book, dense and packed with a wealth of data that might go beyond the scope of most casual readers, but there are also scary moments (forget about TV police series. This is the real deal), heart-wrenching events (the deaths of locals, peers, colleagues, personal tragedies…), touching confessions (like the difficulties in his relationship with his son, becoming grandad to a boy with autism and what that has taught him), shared insights that most will find inspiring, and also some lighter and funny touches that make the human side of the book shine. Although Reynolds openly discusses his doubts, and never claims to be spotless, more upstanding, or better than anybody else, his determination to get recognition for his peers fallen in action, and his homage to those he worked with and who kept up the good fight clearly illustrate that his heart (and morals) are in the right place.

Most people thinking of reading this type of memoir are likely to know what to expect, but just in case there are any doubts, be warned that there is plenty of violence (sometimes extreme and explicit), use of alcohol, drugs, and pretty colourful language.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the history of policing in LA (particularly in Compton) from the 1980s, gangs in the area, local politics, corruption, and any major criminal investigations in the area (deaths of rappers included). It is also a book for those looking for an inspiring story of self-improvement, of managing to escape the wrong path, and helping others do the same, and it is a book full of insights, inspiration, and hope.

I wonder if the author is planning to carry on writing, but it is clear that he has many stories to tell yet and I hope he does.

Thanks to the author for this book, thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep smiling, to keep safe, and to share, like, comment if you wish. Big hugs!

Most of you probably know that I haven’t been promoting my books very much, but my friend, very talented blogger, fabulous writer, and wonderful artist, Teagan Geneviene (if you are not following her blog, here, what are you waiting for?) has created this wonderful image for my YA series Angelic Business, and I had to share it with you. If you are curious, you can always check the page I dedicate to My books (here), oh, and the first book in the series is free in most places. Just saying…

Thanks, Teagan!
Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni (Real Stories of Afghan Women) by Mary Smith (@marysmithwriter) Now more than ever an important book sharing the many lives of Afghan women

Hi all:

I hope you have enjoyed a lovely Christmas (or as good a Christmas as circumstances allow). Mine was pretty low-key (as I like it) but it got quite busy in the running up to it, and, if things don’t get even worse (fingers crossed) I should be busy again next week, but I had to share this review with you.

I don’t think many (if any) of those of you who read my blog don’t know blogger, writer, and all-around wonderful Mary Smith, and the many hats she has worn over the years (including as an aid worker in Afghanistan), and you probably now she became unwell during the lockdown and like Sue Vincent, another beloved member of the blogger community, was given a devastating diagnosis. Sue has sadly parted from us, and it seems that Mary’s health has taken a turn for the worse as well, to the point that I doubt she will ever get to read this review, but I couldn’t think of a better memorial for her.

Although I had only written this post a few days before Christmas, a few hours before it was due to go live I read on Mary’s blog a post written by her ever-present DH (you can check it here and leave a comment) informing all the people who knew her that she passed away the morning of Christmas Day. It seems that unfortunately, I was right, and she will never get to read this, but I hope it can help others to remember her, and to pay attention to a cause she felt so strongly about. 

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni (Real Stories of Afghan Women) by Mary Smith

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni (Real Stories of Afghan Women) by Mary Smith

Drunk Chickens and Burn Macaroni (subtitle) offers a remarkable insight into the lives of Afghan women both before and after Taliban’s rise to power. The reader is caught up in the day-to-day lives of women like Sharifa, Latifa and Marzia, sharing their problems, dramas, the tears and the laughter: whether enjoying a good gossip over tea and fresh nan, dealing with a husband’s desertion, battling to save the life of a one-year-old opium addict or learning how to deliver babies safely.
Mary Smith spent several years in Afghanistan working on a health project for women and children in both remote rural areas and in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Given the opportunity to participate more fully than most other foreigners in the lives of the women, many of whom became close friends, she has been able to present this unique portrayal of Afghan women – a portrayal very different from the one most often presented by the media.
 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009XIL5FY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B009XIL5FY/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B009XIL5FY/

Author Mary Smith

About the author:

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child, she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.

Mary loves interacting with her readers and her website is www.marysmith.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000934032543

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Blogs: http://novelpointsofview.blogspot.co.uk

http://marysmith57.wordpress.com/2014/07

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mary-Smith/e/B001KCD4P0

 My review:

Having read and reviewed one of the author’s books before (No More Mulberries, a novel set in Afghanistan and inspired by her experiences in the country), and having visited her blog and followed some of her adventures in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I purchased this book a while back but hadn’t got around reading it. Recent events in Afghanistan reminded me of its existence, and although late, I’m happy I finally got to read it.

 Although the book is written in the first person, and it narrates the events from the author’s point of view, it is not one of those books where you can feel the author is breathing down your neck and trying to write herself (or himself) into everything that happens, insisting in becoming the protagonist and regaling you with her (his) opinion on everything, whether relevant or not. This is not a book proclaiming “Look at what I did! Aren’t I amazing!”. Quite the opposite. Smith is self-deprecating, often acknowledges her difficulties getting a good grasp of the language, her misconceptions and at times adherence to the limited and less-than-insightful Western point of view of Afghanistan’s people, especially its women, and what she sees as her weaknesses (that I am sure will resonate with many readers, because who wouldn’t want access to electricity, running water, and a bolt in the toilet?)

What the author wants, as the subtitle makes explicit, is to highlight the story of a full as possible a catalogue of Afghan women. And the ones we come across in the book are very different: some have had access to education and are trying to get a job; others have always lived in a small village and their life is having children and looking after them and their husbands; some have pretty enlightened husbands who allow them to go to work or to learn; others have to stay at home and keep to the traditional role or face the consequences; some are feminists who would not dream of covering their heads and are fighting for freedom; some are happy to break some rules and others would never do that; some are old; some are young; some easily accept guidance and education and others are suspicious of anything foreign… That is precisely the point. They are not all open to new ideas, they are not all daring, but they are not the stereotypical idea many people in the West have of women in Afghanistan (and in other Middle-Eastern countries, but perhaps Afghanistan more than others). They have complaints, they get scared, they don’t always want to get married and have children (indeed, abortion and terminations do come up in the book more than once), they have a sense of humour, they tell jokes and laugh, they are curious, love fashion and clothes, some are religious but not all, some are superstitious (as are we)…

We get to meet many women throughout the book, and some of them become close friends of the narrator (I hesitate to call her the protagonist because although the story happens around her, and she includes her impressions, thoughts, and feelings at times, this is not her story or an autobiography where she tells us everything that happened to her), and we get to like some of them more than others because that is what life is like everywhere. The author is skilled at choosing episodes and anecdotes that stick in one’s mind, so many that it is difficult to choose one or two. If you wonder about the title, well, you might guess it is something to do with food, but I won’t reveal the reasons for it (you should read it yourself), and there are some other wonderful images that made me smile (and chuckle), like the description of one of the women’s immediate love for motorbike races on the TV (never having watched television before), the exchange of traditional remedies (old wives tales) and how bizarre they could be (both in the West and in Afghanistan), impossible shopping trips, the importance of the type of tea you drink, the never-ending salutations, trying to explain to uneducated women what microbes are, totally missing the signs of relationships going on below one’s nose…

This is a book full of love, for Afghanistan (there are some beautiful descriptions of places, some that unfortunately get destroyed with the war, and in the latter part of the book, when the author returns for a visit, and sees Kabul for the first time, the author’s interest in history come to the fore), for its people, and especially for its women. There are frustrating moments, when nothing seems to be possible or to go right, there are moments of pride as well (when the women who attended the training started helping others in their communities), there are scary moments, and there are truly horrifying things that happen as well, although those are not witnessed directly by the author (but we get heartbreaking testimonies from those who lived and survived some truly harrowing experiences). The book has many amusing moments, it is full of insights and inspiration, but it is not a light read. The chapters describing later visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan paint a clear picture of some of the things that happened in the country under the Taliban rule (and later, after 9/11, the American intervention), and they are particularly poignant knowing what has recently taken place there. It is a difficult read because it is impossible not to imagine that many of those behaviours and crimes might take place again (and some already have). I know there are many books about the history of the area, and many articles and documentaries about the conflicts and the different factions, but I can’t think of many (if any) where we get the opportunity to read about Afghan women’s everyday life, in their own terms, from the perspective of somebody who lived, worked, and learned with them, and they accepted as a friend and adopted family member. She does talk about some of the women who became vocal and held important positions —even if fleetingly—in Afghanistan as well, but, as she says:

But, it´s not only the high profile women who work towards women’s rights in Afghanistan. Every girl in school and university, every woman working outside the home in whatever capacity, is engaged in bringing and retaining a kind of freedom to her sisters and her daughters.

We need to make sure that her voices continue to be heard.

 At a personal level, the author’s explanation for her decision to return home rather than stay there for a longer period gave me much food for thought. As somebody who spent many years away from home (although for very different reasons and in a far less adventurous and culturally diverse setting), I understood perfectly her comment about people who sometimes spend so long away that home doesn’t feel like home any longer. It reminded me of a wonderful passage from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun that similarly spoke to me many years back, and I share here (he is writing about his two American protagonists who decide to return to America after their visit to Italy):

 And now, that life had so much human promise in it, they resolved to go back to their own land; because the years, after all, have a kind of emptiness, when we spend too many of them on a foreign shore. We defer the reality of life, in such cases, until a future moment, when we shall again breathe our native air: but, by-and-by, there are no future moments; or if we do return, we find that the native air has lost its invigorating quality, and that life has shifted its reality to the spot where we have deemed ourselves only temporary residents. Thus, between two countries, we have none at all, or only that little space of either, in which we finally lay down our discontented bones. It is wise, therefore, to come back betimes — or never.

 Who would enjoy this book? Anybody looking for a non-fiction read providing a moving and true account of Afghan women’s lives (both in a big city and in a small rural area) in the late 1980s and 1990s, with some later updates (and some of those reflections are very prescient, knowing what has happened since); anybody who would like to know what life is (or was although I suspect not that many things have changed) for aid workers there, and anybody who enjoys a well written true account of what life was like in the country at the time. And, of course, anybody who has read any of Mary Smith’s books, because she writes beautifully and compellingly about the little details that are what make life so important. Thanks to the author for sharing her memories.

 If you want to read Mary’s own thoughts on the current situation in Afghanistan, I recommend you check this post:

https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com/2021/11/08/marysmithsplace-afghanistan-friendship-family/

 Here, a post from another blog on women’s current situation in Afghanistan:

https://www.wanderingeducators.com/global-citizenship/social-political-action/afghanistan-spotlight-state-human-rights-five-months-after-taliban-takeover

And a more general one, about the situation for those who had been working with the Americans when they left:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/27/the-afghans-america-left-behind

Thanks to Mary for everything and my deepest sympathy to her family (we will never forget her). 

Thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, and… well, you know. Make sure you stay safe and let’s hope 2022 brings us some good news, for a change. We sure need them. 

Oh, in case you are wondering if I’d recommend Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun… Well, it depends on what you like. He writes beautifully, as you can appreciate in the quote, but the style might not suit impatient readers or those who value plot over everything. The Scarlet Letter is a much better novel, but The Marble Faun has some wonderful descriptions of Italy, is much more fanciful (he wrote what they termed “romance” at the time, that wasn’t to do with love stories, but rather with fanciful events, with some similarities to what we would term paranormal now, but not quite) than The Scarlett Letter, and it is also heavy in symbolism and explores some tropes that we have all become familiar with (the innocent American abroad, blonde vs dark-haired women, legends). He wrote some wonderful short stories as well, so that might be a good introduction for those thinking about reading his work.

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview HOW TO SURVIVE IN ANCIENT ROME by L. J. Trafford (@traffordlj) (@penswordbooks) An enjoyable way to learn about Ancient Rome #history #AncientRome

Hi all:

I bring you a non-fiction book for those of you who’ve always dreamed of travelling back in time and visiting Imperial Rome.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by L J Trafford

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by L J Trafford  

Imagine you were transported back in time to Ancient Rome and you had to start a new life there. How would you fit in? Where would you live? What would you eat? Where would you go to have your hair done? Who would you go to if you got ill, or if you were mugged in the street? All these questions, and many more, will be answered in this new how-to guide for time travellers. Part self-help guide, part survival guide, this lively and engaging book will help the reader deal with the many problems and new experiences that they will face, and also help them to thrive in this strange new environment.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Survive-Ancient-Rome-Trafford/dp/1526757869/

https://www.amazon.com/How-Survive-Ancient-Rome-Trafford/dp/1526757869/

https://www.amazon.es/How-Survive-Ancient-Rome-Trafford/dp/1526757869/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/How-to-Survive-in-Ancient-Rome-Paperback/p/18524

Author L. J. Trafford

About the author:

After gaining a BA Hons in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheatres of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her unable to cross the road.
Which was a shame because there was some really cool stuff on the other side.
Returning to the UK somewhat battered and certainly very bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. A perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips).
She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers.

Palatine is the first in the Four Emperors series. Book Two is Galba’s Men, and is followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast
See also two short stories featuring the same characters: ‘The Wine Boy’ and ‘The Wedding’ (in the Rubicon collection)

Follow me on Twitter, if you dare! @traffordlj

https://www.amazon.co.uk/L-J-Trafford/e/B009K3ZQLQ/

 My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback ARC of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not an expert on Ancient Rome, but you don’t need to be to enjoy this title. In fact, I think this is a great entry-level book for those who want to learn a few things about Rome but don’t have much time or/and don’t fancy having to trudge through huge History books, but would rather a light read that gives them an overview of what life was like at the time.

This book is pretty similar to many modern guide books; it offers the basic information somebody who is completely new to a place needs to survive there and not get into any trouble. It contains black and white pictures, charts, and illustrations summarising important timelines, providing examples of civil clothing and uniforms, sketches and maps, and also boxes highlighting important and curious facts under the title ‘Did you know?’ There are also an index and a bibliography for those who might want to carry on reading about the topic after this introduction.

The actual book is set in 95 CE, and I particularly enjoyed the author’s decision to introduce two narrators or guides. They can provide us with first-hand insights into the social mores and everyday life in the era: one, Hortensia, is a lady of noble birth, and she tells us how it is to be female in Ancient Rome (not fun, let me tell you, even if you are well-off), and the other one, Titus Flavius Ajax, a freedman, was formerly an imperial slave and is now secretary to the emperor. This provides us with pretty informal but eminently practical information, giving it a personal touch that is otherwise missing from most standard guides or history books.

The entire book is written in a colloquial and easy-to-read manner, full of funny and amusing touches. That does not mean it is lightweight, as the depth of knowledge of the author is clearly in evidence, and there is plenty of factual historical information included as well. But it is seamlessly incorporated into the various chapters, and it does not feel heavy or dry.

The book is divided up into chapters, each one covering one of the basic topics. There is an introduction of two chapters offering a summary of the basic history of Rome up to that point, and another one offering more detailed information about the situation in 95 CE. The other chapters discuss subjects such as social structure, family, clothing, accommodation, shopping, food and diet, entertainment, health and medicine, work, warfare, religion and beliefs, law and order, and politics. The end matter of the book includes the bibliography and index already mentions, as well as a section of acknowledgements and one of notes corresponding to each chapter. I’ve already said I’m not an expert, although I’ve read a few books set in Ancient Rome, and, like most people, watched a few movies and series, but I have to admit I learned many details I had no idea about, and I got a much clearer sense of what life was like on a day to day basis for all the people living in Rome, and not only the kings and emperors.

People who prefer to make sure they like the style of writing before going ahead with a purchase can check a sample online. Just in case, I´m sharing a few snippets here, that I found amusing/intriguing.

 ‘Most of Rome is propped up with planks to stop it falling down’ comments the poet, Juvenal, drily. Even Cicero, who presumably could afford a decent block, complained that two of his invested rental properties had collapsed.

 Demolishing this palace was a gesture by Emperor Vespasian that he was going to give back to the people, rather than taking from them. The Jewish Wars having just been settled meant that Vespasian, rather handily, had a lot of booty and a lot of slaves to build his grand edifice.

 Did you know? The Roman punishment for patricide is most bizarre. The culprit was sewn up in a leather sack with a dog, a monkey, a snake and a cockerel, then rolled into the river.

 This is an informative and entertaining book, offering quite a novel way to learn about Ancient Rome to those who aren’t fond of standard history books or prefer an informal and bite-sized approach. I recommend it to those interested in the topic and looking for a starter text, and also to people looking for a gift that combines educational value and amusement. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks fo all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, keep laughing, and if you’ve enjoyed it, you know what to do. ♥

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BACKSTORIES by Simon Van Der Velde (@SimonVdVwriter ) Engaging, clever, informative, and beautifully crafted #RBRT #shortstories

Hi all:

I bring you a book that resists easy classification. It is a collection of short stories (sort of), non-fiction biographies (sort of), and also a quiz/challenge for the reader. Rosie never fails in her selection of reading material, that’s for sure.

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde 

Can you find the famous person hidden in every story? And once found, can you understand them?

‘Ingenious idea, brilliantly executed’ – Daily Mirror

Backstories – ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ – is a collection of stories each told from the point of view of one of my personal heroes, (or villains) back when they were just another Jew or black, or queer – back when they were nobody. Bullied, assaulted or psychologically abused, their road to redemption was never easy, and for some there would be no redemption, only a descent into evil.

These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice – but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them – leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who’s mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

I should also add that this is a book that operates on two levels. Yes, there’s the game of identifying the mystery activist or actor, singer or murderer, but there is then the more serious business of trying to understand them. This in turn leads to the challenge of overlaying what you now know about these famous people onto what you thought you knew – not to mention the inherent challenge to your moral compass.

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

This book is dedicated to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

Simon Van der Velde January, 2021

Backstories is published by Smoke & Mirrors Press.

MY BACKSTORIES QUEST

“Whatever happened to, all of the heroes?” The Stranglers 1977

was twelve years old when I first heard this song and although there was something in the feral tone that grabbed me, I didn’t really understand it. I do now. I get the angst and the loss and the emptiness, which is why, in Backstories, I aim to answer the question.

I’m not interested in simplistic tabloid truths. They clung on too long, drank too much, lost their looks and their charm and generally reminded us that we’re all getting older. That’s not what I want from my heroes.

What I want is to find the spark, to dig down into their pain, their passions and their imperfections, and show you our heroes as they truly are.

So join me on my quest. Let’s bypass the obvious, the tedious, and the dull, and brave the deeper, darker paths where the treasures can be found – and together we’ll uncover the fears and doubts that made our heroes what they were and perhaps catch a glimpse of ourselves along the way.

Whatever happened to all of the heroes? They turned out to be human beings, in all their diverse glory.

Simon Van der Velde January, 2021 

https://www.amazon.com/Backstories-Simon-Van-Velde-ebook/dp/B08R7P65Y3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Backstories-Simon-Van-Velde-ebook/dp/B08R7P65Y3/

https://www.amazon.es/Backstories-Simon-Van-Velde-ebook/dp/B08R7P65Y3/

Author Simon Van Der Velde

About the author: 

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, laborer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Prize, and The Harry Bowling Prize – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.

https://www.amazon.com/Simon-Van-Der-Velde/e/B08SKCFFNY/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I enjoy short stories, but recently I have not read as many as I used to, preferring to read novels that build up more slowly and give you the opportunity to get to know the characters and see how they evolve over time. So this was a bit of an unusual choice for me, but I kept reading intriguing reviews of this book, and after checking it out, I had to read the whole thing. And it was worth it.

I had never read anything by the author, although he has been writing for a while and his short stories have earned him a variety of awards and accolades, but I suspect this won’t be the last of his books I read, and he is already preparing the second volume of Backstories for publication.

It is a bit difficult to talk about this book in any detail without giving too much away. The author explains his goals and what the book is about quite clearly in his description, so I won’t go over it again. I am not sure that I would describe it as a collection of short stories. Some are biographical vignettes, moments in somebody’s life (or their backstories, if we like), where something momentous happened, or is about to happen (in some cases), while others fit in more easily with the standard understanding of a short story containing a full narrative. In some ways, I guess it is the reader’s job to complete the story, by guessing who the protagonist is and understanding how that snippet fits in with the rest of the person’s life, how significant or important it might be, and how much it reveals of what we know happened next to the person.

In some cases, we see a famous person (some are musicians, some important historical figures, some sports personalities, some less-than-savoury characters…) as children or very young adults, and the author cleverly creates a picture of who they were and how that relates to whom they will become. Sometimes, we see somebody on the verge of doing something that would change things forever, and at others, we get an inkling of what things might have been like if something hadn’t happened or circumstances had been different. One of the stories illustrated perfectly a quandary I’ve had for years about a historical figure as if the author had read my mind, but I’ll keep my peace about it as well.

There are 14 stories, tightly written, some in the first and some in the third person, and they move quickly, the style of writing easy but at the same time adapted to the personality, the era, and the location of the individual portrayed by each. Most of them are told from the point of view of the famous person, although there are some in which we see them reflected through somebody else’s eyes. It is very difficult to stop reading the stories, especially if you enjoy guessing games or quizzes, as one gets gripped by what is happening at the time and also hooked on trying to find who the person is. If you want to know how well I got on, yes, I guessed all of them (although in one of the cases I had only a passing acquaintance with the character, and I ended up checking to make sure), and some had me scratching my head until the very end or changing my mind several times as I read, while others I suspected from early on.

I enjoyed them all, in different ways (some because I felt the build-up of the situation, others because the story itself was moving and/or inspiring, some because I loved the protagonists, and some because they chilled me to the bone), and I think most readers will find some that work better for them than others, particularly if they admire some of the protagonists, but there isn’t a bad one in the lot. These are not sanitized and clean stories, and readers must be warned that they will find all kinds of violence, abuse, prejudice… depicted in its pages. The author has explained his reasoning behind his choices, and a percentage of the book’s earnings will go to good causes, so this is more than justified, in my opinion.

I recommend this highly enjoyable collection to anybody who loves quizzes, who has ever wondered what happened before historical figures or famous people became who they are, and particularly to those who prefer their reading short, crisp, and based on facts rather than fancy. And, if you like the formula, don’t forget that there is a second book coming your way soon.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for their support, thanks to the author for his book, and thanks to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, and for always being there. Keep safe and always keep smiling!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris (@SMorrisAuthor )(@penswordbooks) A balanced account of two fascinating historical figures

Hi all:

I bring you a review of a book that deals with two pretty controversial (and as the title says, ‘vilified’) historical figures of the Italian Renaissance.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris  

Myths and rumour have shrouded the Borgia family for centuries – tales of incest, intrigue and murder have been told of them since they themselves walked the hallways of the Apostolic Palace. In particular, vicious rumour and slanderous tales have stuck to the names of two members of the infamous Borgia family – Cesare and Lucrezia, brother and sister of history’s most notorious family. But how much of it is true, and how much of it is simply rumour aimed to blacken the name of the Borgia family? In the first ever biography solely on the Borgia siblings, Samantha Morris tells the true story of these two fascinating individuals from their early lives, through their years living amongst the halls of the Vatican in Rome until their ultimate untimely deaths. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia begins in the bustling metropolis of Rome with the siblings ultimately being used in the dynastic plans of their father, a man who would become Pope, and takes the reader through the separate, yet fascinatingly intertwined, lives of the notorious siblings. One tale, that of Cesare, ends on the battlefield of Navarre, whilst the other ends in the ducal court of Ferrara. Both Cesare and Lucrezia led lives full of intrigue and danger, lives which would attract the worst sort of rumour begun by their enemies. Drawing on both primary and secondary sources Morris brings the true story of the Borgia siblings, so often made out to be evil incarnate in other forms of media, to audiences both new to the history of the Italian Renaissance and old.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cesare-Lucrezia-Borgia-Historys-Vilified/dp/1526724405/

https://www.amazon.com/Cesare-Lucrezia-Borgia-Historys-Vilified/dp/1526724405/

https://www.amazon.es/Cesare-Lucrezia-Borgia-Historys-Vilified/dp/1526724405/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Cesare-and-Lucrezia-Borgia-Hardback/p/18006

Author Samantha Morris

About the author:

Samantha Morris studied archaeology at the University of Winchester where her interest in the history of the Italian Renaissance began. Since graduating University, her interest in the Borgia family has grown to such an extent that she is always looking for new information on the subject as well as fighting against the age-old rumours that haunt them. Her first published book is Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell, a brief biography which aims to dispel the myths surrounding a key member of the Borgia family. She runs the popular Borgia website https://theborgiabull.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Samantha-Morris/e/B01LZTQ39A

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback early copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I have long been fascinated by the Borgias, (Borja). Partly, I guess, because they were a Spanish family (dynasty?); partly, because the legend surrounding them (Pope Alexander VI and his even more infamous children, Cesare and Lucrezia) is so full of colour and extreme and criminal behaviours, that they sound much bigger than life, characters that if we came across them in a work of fiction we’d say they were too unbelievable. Writers of extreme thrillers and horror would have to push their creative buttons to the maximum come up with characters such as those.

I’d always wondered how much of what was said about them was true, and of that, how many of those behaviours were unusual or unexpected in the period. XV century Europe was not a particularly peaceful and enlightened place, and being powerful and rich conferred a lot more license to the individuals than it does nowadays (not that these days it is something to be ignored either, as we all know, but the social differences were abysmal at the time). When I saw Morris’s book, I couldn’t resist, and she does a great job of answering many of my doubts and trying to be as comprehensive and fair as possible when studying the lives and reputations of those two historical figures.

Morris starts (after the acknowledgements) by an introduction where she explains her interest and her reasons for writing this book, a labour of love, as she has studied the period, written other books, and keeps a regular blog about the Italian Renaissance, and the Borgias in particular. She explains that there is plenty of misinformation and rumours that have been shared and repeated, both in academic/historical sources, and also in popular literature and entertainment, and she is at pains to put this right.

She follows a chronological order in telling the lives of the Borgias, starting with a chapter on the background family history, and she then dedicates the rest of the book to the close family, focusing on the interaction of the father with his sons and daughter, but mostly on the lives of the two siblings, Cesare and Lucrezia.

The author does a great job of explaining the sources of her information, always distinguishing rumour (even when this rumour came from the era when the events took place) from fact, as far as the available sources allow. She also provides a good insight into the usual social behaviour of the era and the political struggles between the different actors, all trying their best to push their interests and ally themselves with whomever might best serve those at any given time. Betrayal is rife, allies changed at the drop of a hat, and there was much envy and prejudice against the Borgia family, as they were outsiders who had quickly risen to power in Italy, as Morris points out.

That does not mean that Pope Alexander or Cesare were harmless individuals. They schemed, they fought, and they killed, for sure, although perhaps not to the extent they were credited with, and probably not to a degree that differed from others in similar circumstances at that time. Machiavelli didn’t focus on Cesare Borgia in his book The Prince for nothing, that much is evident. Yet, in addition to his most cruel and atrocious behaviours, his reputation seems to have been darkened further by allegations and accusations unfounded and unproven. And yet, these have survived to this day.

The Lucrezia Borgia we discover in these pages is a woman who was manipulated and used by her father (and brother, to a lesser extent) as a way of gaining more influence and power (when she was very young, as was the norm at the time), who had little saying on the matter, and who later had to endure illness, traumatic losses, continuous pregnancies, miscarriages, and absent husbands, while looking after territories and properties she was left in charge of. It seems she was beloved by the inhabitants, she was good at defending the interests of her husband and the people of Ferrara, and she was pious and a fervent Catholic. She seems to have been close to her brother, but the rumours of incest seem unwarranted, and she was ill treated by her husbands, often seeking refuge in convents. The author often quotes letters and documents written by the protagonists, and I must admit I like the sound of Lucrezia, and although Cezare wasn’t a “nice and good” person by any stretch of the imagination, I can see why somebody like Machiavelli would have taken him as a subject of study. Boring, he was not.

The book also includes illustrations, a solid bibliography, and detailed notes, although this should not put people off, as the writing style is accessible, and people without specialised historical knowledge of the era will have no problem reading it. The author also talks about the depictions of the Borgias in popular culture and includes recommendations about the best and most historically accurate documentaries, movies, series, books, and novels, and this will prove very useful to those of us who want to learn more, but don’t want to waste our time with poorly sourced materials.

As I am not an expert on the subject, I cannot compare this book with others published before, but I found it a good entry point for people interested in finding out if the Borgias’ reputation is warranted, and to read about that fascinating period of history. It is a balanced account of the biography of these two figures, and I recommend it to readers who want to go beyond the titillation and excess that has surrounded their reputation.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author, for enlightening me about this family, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep reading, and keep safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation by Joseph Abraham A tough look at big historical figures, corporations, and more #RBRT #Non-fiction

Hi all:

I bring you a review for a non-fiction book. A pretty special one, another great offering from Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths. From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation by Joseph N. Abraham, MD

Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation by Joseph Abraham 

“I’ve always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it wasn’t?

What if it was built on insanity?”

—Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test


Grand Prize Short List. 2021 Eric Hoffer Award

1st Runner-Up, Legacy Nonfiction. 2021 Eric Hoffer Award

Finalist, 2021 Montaigne Medal

Winner, Current Events2019 Indie Book Awards

Finalist, Historical Non-Fiction2019 Indie Book Awards


• • •


Conquest is murder and theft.

Conquerors are vicious criminals.

Vicious criminals become kings.

Kings designed civilization.

 

We are the products of civilization.


What if, before the modern period, all civilization was true crime?

Despite our romantic traditions, monarchs were never wise, just, nor generous. The briefest review of history shows that, without exception, kings were the most vicious criminals who ever lived. They were serial killers who preyed upon nations.

 

And the only path for survival in the ancient world required unquestioningly obeying— and blindly believing— anything the king said.


• • •

 

“…the book’s scientific analysis, which spans Darwin’s concept of evolution to cutting-edge psychology, is a welcome addition to historical conversations…”

Kirkus Reviews

“…concise, compelling, and challenging exploration of how humanity became what it is.”

Publishers Weekly

“Why do we excuse an act, unforgivable if committed by an ordinary citizen, if executed or ordered by a leader?”

The Los Angeles Review of Books

“The term ‘must-read’ has been so overused. But Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths is a must-read… must-own… and, most of all, a must-ponder.”

San Diego Jewish World

“…this may be the most important book you will ever read.”

—Robin Levin, The Death of Carthage

 

“…wide-ranging research and an unflinching eye for detail…”

—Candice Millard, New York Times best-selling author, The River of Doubt, & the Edgar Award-winning Destiny of the Republic

“This book is a must-read…”

—Carol Beggy, co-author, award-winning Boston book series; Ted Kennedy: Scenes from an Epic Life; and former reporter, Boston Globe

 

“…a stark reminder of how fragile and vulnerable to exploitation our modern democratic societies are…”

MathValues.org, Mathematical Association of America

 

“A detailed and engaging examination of our haunted past and threatening future. Read it and weep.”

—John Mack Faragher, Daniel Boone, and The American Heritage Encyclopedia of American History


“…Dr. Abraham is a true Renaissance man… this book is a must-read.”

—Jim Engster, NPR affiliate WRKF


“…an insightful, novel argument based on both a keen clinical eye, and an exhaustive review of the literature… ”

—James Fallon, The Psychopath Inside

 

“…despite often romantic images, kings and conquerors were vicious criminals— and the fact that they were psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists became whitewashed, almost in a form of mass hypnosis.”

—Joe Gandelman, journalist, and blogger at TheModerateVoice.com

 

“For those who want their minds expanded and blown: Dr. Abraham is the man.”

—Pearson Cross, Bayou to Beltway, NPR affiliate KRVS


https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Conquerors-Psychopaths-Alexander-Corporation-ebook/dp/B08NWDKVB4/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kings-Conquerors-Psychopaths-Alexander-Corporation/dp/0578680599/

https://www.amazon.es/Kings-Conquerors-Psychopaths-Alexander-Corporation-ebook/dp/B08NWDKVB4/

Author Joseph N. Abraham


About the author:

Joseph N Abraham, MD is an emergency physician (Tulane ’86), research biologist, and award-winning author.

http://bookscrounger.com/about-me/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I thank the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This is an ambitious book, and one that is not an easy read, but it is a necessary one for anybody who wants to look at the history of modern civilisation through anything other than rose-tinted glasses. The author refers often to the Emperor’s New Clothes’ tale, and it is very apt, although perhaps it is not always a case of the spectators knowing what they are watching but trying to appear honest and compliant, but rather that the stories weaved around the emperor have become alive and true in the eyes of those seeing him (or reading about him in this case), or perhaps it is a combination of both, a self-delusion helped by years of whitewashing the facts or putting a romantic spin on things that are anything but romantic.

I have long held a pretty negative view of many of the famous conquerors and civilizations in history, although I must confess that I didn’t know many of the facts and figures Abraham quotes, at length, in the book, and it makes for a terrifying read at times. Although he does not cover all historical periods and all empires (I suspect it would occupy many volumes, and it would be a truly harrowing reading experience), he does a good sweep from classic times to Vietnam, not forgetting Alexander, Genghis Kahn, or the Victorians.

If you want to get a more detailed sense of what the book covers, I recommend checking the ‘look inside’ feature on your favourite store, and reading the list of contents, as that contains a good description of each chapter, but it would be too long for me to include here. As an indication, these are the titles of the chapters: Prologue: Fantasy and horror, Chapter 1: Kings (the comparison with gangster is very apt), Chapter 2: Conquerors (who are characterised as serial killers), Chapter 3: Psychopaths (where he diagnoses successful conquests and the monarchy rather than only the individuals), Chapter 4: The Breeding Program (we are all descendants of the conquerors or of the compliant victims), Chapter 5: The Noble Classes (hierarchies always work to ensure their self-preservation and dominance), Chapter 6: Privilege & the Double Standard, Chapter 7: The Authoritarian Personality (where the author looks at issues of compliance and obedience in the masses), Chapter 8: The Atrocino (if the conqueror is the Atrox, now we have the big corporations and political leaders who don’t quite reach their level, but are toxic nontheless), Chapter 9: The Modern World (prosperity and modernity arrived when the old order was questioned), Chapter 10: The Ugly Truth (the true cost of civilization), Epilogue: Response (education and early intervention can help us avoid similar excesses in the future).

I am a psychiatrist, have worked in forensic psychiatry, and was trained in using the PCL-R (The Psychopathy Checklist Review, which the author mentions). Psychopathy is not a psychiatric diagnostic as such (a diagnosis of antisocial or dissocial personality disorders would cover many of the traits that score highly on the checklist, although not all, and traits of other types of personalities can also score highly), but it is used because it gives a good indication of the risk a person might pose. The highest the score, the higher the risk. Having worked and met some people with high scores, I can say I do agree with the author’s assessment in general terms, although with the caveat that the sources of information, especially for the historical figures of ancient times, are limited and biased, so we need to take it all with a pinch of salt, but Abraham makes a good case, for sure.

I have already said that I had long thought along the same lines the author expresses in the book, and the more I read, the more examples came to my mind, even if the author didn’t mention certain names many of us might think about when we read it. (I, for one, can think of many atrocinos that grace the news very often, both in my country, Spain, and at an international level as well).

 I was intrigued by his comments about genetics and also about people who might fulfil the criteria for psychopathy (score highly in the checklist) but seem to have managed to control the most harmful aspects of their personalities. Evolutionary biology is not my area of expertise, but I felt that perhaps this aspect of the argument was less developed than some of the other ones, and I would have liked a bit more information, although I admit I would probably be in a minority here.

I also had some queries regarding his comments on compliance, because although I appreciate his overall argument, the validity of some of the psychological studies he mentions (Milgram still holds quite well, but Zimbardo’s not so much) has been questioned. (Last year I read and reviewed a book by Rutger Bregman called Humankind. A Hopeful History [you can check my review here], where the author manages to put a positive spin on human being behaviour, and he does a good job of criticizing many of the negative studies).

Regarding the format, I am not sure footnotes and endnotes work too well in e-book format (and the end notes and bibliography occupy 14% of the content), so people who want to dig into it and not miss anything might be advised to consider a paper copy. The book also includes illustrations (some of them are as harrowing as the descriptions of violence in the book, if not more), and the notes and the bibliography will help anybody interested in researching the topic in more depth.

I highlighted a lot of content, and I advise, as usual, that future readers check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste, but I thought I’d share a few random quotes to give you a taster:

 Napoleón arrive in Egypt with a second army of scientists and historians. It is not surprising that innovation under his Empire produced far-reaching technical advances such as the modern ambulance, widespread inoculations, food canning, and others.

Napoleón was also a remorseless butcher.

 The conqueror is a thug. Rationalizing his crimes is a variation on blaming the rape victim. If she fights back, the rapist claims he is perfectly justified in torturing and murdering her. It is a variation of the exploiter’s defense: “Now see what you’ve made me do?!”

 We are always one demagogue away, we are always one angry, jaded electorate away, from letting Hitler sleep back inside the walls of civilization, assemble his brutalizers, and resume his slaughter.

 One of the reviewers commented on the USA perspective of the book, and that is true. Not that the conclusions are not relevant to all countries, but some of the solutions and further advice suggested seem tailor-made for the United States, although the overall message is easy to extrapolate and adapt to other countries as well, and the individual insight provided is priceless.

This is one of those books that make us sad as we read them, because we know full well that those who need to read them the most are unlikely to do so, but Abraham holds no false illusions and is clear that the most entrenched radicals cannot be swayed by rational argument.

 I don’t think one needs to be an academic to read and ‘enjoy’ (at an intellectual level at least) this book, but the amount of detail and the format might put some people off. Also, as I’ve said before, the book is not an easy read, and it might not be suited for those who shy away from violence or descriptions of extreme and cruel behaviour. Other than the minor personal queries, preferences, and warnings mentioned above, the book is a gripping, thought-provoking, and informative —although somewhat gruelling— read. I learned plenty of new information that disabused me even more about romanticized versions of the past, and some of the comments about politics in general (the importance of not confusing right and left-wing politics with conservatism and liberalism, for example) were right on target. Highly recommended, but be prepared to be challenged and shaken.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and her whole team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, to comment and share if you know anybody who would be interested, and to keep smiling. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness (@penswordbooks) A different perspective into women’s history #women’s history

Hi all:

I bring you one of Pen & Sword’s non-fiction titles and a pretty special one. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness

As the fight for women’s rights continues, and whilst men and women alike push for gender equality around the globe, this book aims to introduce readers to four women who, in their own way, challenged and defied the societal expectations of the time in which they lived. Some chose to be writers, some were successful business women, some chose to nurture and protect, some travelled the globe, some were philanthropists. Each one made the conscious decision not to marry a man. Elizabeth Isham of Lamport Hall, Ann Robinson of Saltram, Anne Lister of Shibden Hall and Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court. These are elite women, all connected to country houses or from noble families throughout the UK, and this book explores to what extent privilege gave them the opportunity to choose the life they wanted, thus guiding the reader to challenge their own beliefs about elite women throughout history. This book is unique in that it brings the stories of real historical women to light – some of which have never been written about before, whilst also offering an introduction to the history of marriage and societal expectations of women. Starting in 1609 and travelling chronologically up to 1949, with a chapter for each woman, this book tells their remarkable stories, revealing how strong, resilient and powerful women have always been.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Unmarried-Women-of-the-Country-Estate-Hardback/p/17955

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

https://www.amazon.es/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

https://www.amazon.com/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

Author Charlotte Furness

About the author:

Charlotte Furness was born and raised in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. After completing a Bachelor Degree in English, and a Masters Degree in Country House Studies at the University of Leicester, she started a career in heritage, working for English Heritage and the trust-managed Lamport Hall. She has also worked at Harewood House, Temple Newsam House and Renishaw Hall.

Whilst working in this field, she has come across many stories which, unless told, would have been lost in the annals of time. She now works as a full-time writer and sees it as her mission to bring these forgotten stories to the attention of as many people as possible, to preserve them so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlotte-Furness/e/B07DM3B4G3

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardcover ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.

At a time when we are trying to recover the history and memories of women of the past, this book is a step in the right direction. It is particularly difficult to find information about working-class women, as they rarely had access to education and/or time to write their own stories. Well-off married women might have a bit more leisure and better access to education, although they are often constrained by the social roles they had to play as wives and mothers, but what about single women of means who didn’t get married? That is the question that Charlotte Furness tries to answer, not exhaustively but rather by choosing four “genteel” women who never got married, from the XVII to the XX century. As she explains, some have been subject to more research and are better known than others (although this is changing), but they also share the fact that they were attached to country states (either because they owned them or because they lived there their entire lives) and also that, luckily for us, they left plenty of written materials for us to peruse, be it letters, diaries, or even, as is the case for Rosalie Chichester, fiction and stories.

The author includes a section of acknowledgements, a note explaining her methodology, a list of plates (there are a number of black and white illustrations and photographs in the book, including portraits and photographs of the women, when available, and also of their relatives and the properties), an introduction where Furness talks about what marriage and married life was like in the periods covered, four chapters, one dedicated to each one of the women, a conclusion, a set of detailed notes (where extra information is provided), a select bibliography (for those who need to find out more), and an index.

The four women chosen are quite different, and the differences go beyond the historical period. Elizabeth Isham was deeply religious, battled with mental health difficulties (as did her mother and sister), and she clearly chose dedicating her life to her religious devotion rather than to a standard family life (there was even discussion about her marrying John Dryden at some point, so it definitely wasn’t due to a lack of prospects); Anne Robinson, stepped up and took on the duties of family life when her sister died, becoming the hostess of Saltram House for her brother-in-law and bringing up her niece and nephew; Anne Lister is a fascinating character, who always challenged the constraints of a woman’s role, took over the property and the business-side of things, and would have married her long-term companion, Ann Walker, if that had been possible at the time; while Rosalie Chichester fits more into the spinster image usually portrayed in fiction and movies: staying at home, living with her mother, involved in many local projects, looking after her animals, and leaving her property to the National Trust. But, she was also an eager traveller, kept detailed diaries, wrote fiction, and was passionate about protecting Arlington Court.

This is not a long book, but it manages to bring to life these four very different women, and, more importantly, tries to make sure we get to hear their own voices, rather than just read the interpretations others might have imposed on them. There are many things we don’t know about them, and, there is plenty more research to be done, but this is a great introduction for readers looking to learn about social history and the history of women from a different perspective.

I enjoyed learning about these four women, their lives, and their historical period, and I’d love to learn more about them. I recommend this book to people interested in women’s history, social history, also those interested in UK country properties, and, in general, readers of history looking for a different approach.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie Croft for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, and to keep reading, liking, clicking, sharing, and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview CHILDREN AT WAR 1914–1918: “IT’S MY WAR TOO!” by Vivien Newman (@worldwarwomen) (@penswordbooks) Stories that should be heard #history #non-fiction

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book and one I’ve particularly enjoyed (although perhaps ‘enjoy’ isn’t the best word):

Children at War 1914-1918 by Vivien Newman

Children at War 1914–1918: “It’s my war too!” by Vivien Newman

For most British readers, the phrase ‘children during the war’ conjures up images of the evacuees of the Second World War. Somehow, surprisingly, the children of the Great War have been largely and unjustifiably overlooked. However, this book takes readers to the heart of the Children’s War 1914-1918.

The age range covered, from birth to 17 years, as well as the richness of children’s own writings and the breadth of English, French and German primary and secondary sources, allows readers to experience wartime childhood and adolescence from multiple, multi-national standpoints. These include: British infants in the nursery; German children at school; French and Belgian youngsters living with the enemy in their occupied homelands; Australian girls and boys knitting socks for General Birdwood, (Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Imperial Force); Girl Guides working for MI5; youthful Ukrainian/Canadians wrongfully interned; German children held as Prisoners of War in Siberia; teenage deckhands on the Lusitania, not to mention the rebellious underage Cossack girl who served throughout the war on the Eastern Front, as well as the youngest living recipient of the VC. At times humorous, at others terrifying, this book totally alters perceptions of what it was like to be young in the First World War.

Readers will marvel at children’s courage, ingenuity, patriotism and pacifism and wholeheartedly agree with the child who stated, ‘What was done to us was wrong.’

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Children-War-1914-1918-Its-war/dp/147382107X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-War-1914-1918-Its-war/dp/147382107X/

https://www.amazon.es/Children-War-1914-1918-Its-war/dp/147382107X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Children-at-War-19141918-Paperback/p/16545

Author Vivien Newman

About the author:

Viv has been interested in social history since primary school, when her teachers commented upon her “very many questions”.

Viv’s doctoral research on women’s poetry of the First World War uncovered a treasure trove of long-forgotten women’s poems. These widen our knowledge of women’s wartime lives, their concerns, and their contributions to the war effort and subsequent Victory.

Viv has taught women’s war poetry in both academic and non-academic settings and speak widely at history conferences (both national and international). She gives talks to a variety of audiences ranging from First World War devotees of organisations such as the Western Front Association as well as to Rotarians, Women’s Institutes and U3A.

As well as writing articles about women during the First Word War, Viv has numerous books either already or soon to be published: “We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First Word War” explores women’s uniformed and un-uniformed lives between 1914 and 1918. “The Tumult and the Tears” is an annotated anthology of Women’s Poetry of the First World War. “The Children’s War 1914-1919” explores British and Allied children’s wartime lives. Viv has also edited a unique wartime journal in “Nursing through Shot and Shell”.

https://www.amazon.com/Vivien-Newman/e/B00Q2TU41S

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback ARC copy of this historical book that I freely chose to review.

I read a book about children during WWII from the same publisher a while back and enjoyed getting a completely different perspective on the subject (I’ve always been interested in what happened to civilians during the wars, and thankfully, the interest in the topic has resulted in more resources becoming available and more books being published in recent years). When I saw this book, I expected another excellent read. And I got it.

The author explains in her introduction that, at first, she had intended to write mostly about British children, as she was more familiar with the material and the research subject, but she came across some French books talking about the experience of French children, and once she started digging, she found other sources and people also shared with her the stories of some children that she felt she had to include. As a result, we might be reading about what British or French children were doing to try to help the war effort in one page, and then read what the German children were doing, in another. Although the messages about which side was right and which wrong were the complete opposites, the experience of war for all those children was pretty similar. It’s also true that some countries and territories were hit harder than others; there were children who never knew who would come to take over their town or village next and soon discovered that the colour of the uniform made little difference in the end.

The description of the book gives a good idea of some of the contents, and I’d find it difficult to choose my favourite chapter or anecdote. There are all kinds of stories: funny and amusing ones, inspiring ones, stories of bravery and courage well beyond the protagonists’ years, tragedies and disasters, terrifying experiences the children never forgot, tales of endurance, and many memorable images that will remain with me forever. I particularly enjoyed reading samples of children’s diaries and letters. Little Simone de Beauvoir was delightful (and you could already see the woman she’d become), and I soon became a fan of Piete, a young girl we see grow more insightful and mature as the years pass and whose compassion and anti-war feelings develop over time. She even writes a letter of condolence to the parents of the boy whose helmet her brother brought back home as a war souvenir. There were also moving accounts of the children’s war efforts from the home front, and I’d happily read a whole book about the story of the Girl Guides and how they got to work for MI5.

We see the children as victims of the war, directly (like in the sinking of the Lusitania), or indirectly (they were among the many victims of the explosion of a TNT factory in Silvertown), and also having to cope with lack of food, with unwelcome guests (having to house and share all they had with soldiers, both friends and enemies), or becoming internees in camps for immigrants from enemy nations (the story of the Internment Camps in Canada is particularly hard to read, as it has been kept under wraps and denied for many years. It highlights how easily things can change, and how those who had been encouraged to leave their homes and travel across the world with the promise of work and a warm welcome turned into enemies overnight, even those whose countries of origin were not fighting in the wrong side). Everybody can come under suspicion in dangerous times, and it’s difficult not to think of recent events while reading this text.

We have wonderful examples of the heroism of children in the home front, at work (in ships, in factories…), and also those who enlisted pretending to be older, sometimes much older than they were. There were boys, and also girls (mostly on the Eastern bloc, in Russian and Polish armies) fighting as well, and it’s impossible to read about all of them and not think about the children who still fight and die in wars and conflicts all over the world. We might feel reassured that some of the things the book narrates couldn’t happen nowadays, but unfortunately, many others could and still do.

The author includes pictures, documents, and images that help put names to faces and provide a background for some of the stories. There are also endnotes indicating the sources of the references or providing extra explanations, and a bibliography that contains books and websites, which will allow those intrigued by any of the events or individual stories to research them further.

This is a wonderful book, with heart-wrenching and inspiring moments in equal measure, and full of unforgettable characters. It’s fundamental to remember WWI, and its impact on everybody, particularly the children. We should never forget the price paid by both sides, and we must remember there is no such a thing as winning a war, only surviving it, and that applies to whole generations of people, to countries, and to the world at large. I recommend it to anybody interested in gaining a different perspective on WWI, to those researching the topic, to historians, and, in general, to anybody who wants to learn a bit more about that historical period and how it affected the youngest of the population.

Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, and to share, click and comment if you like. And keep reading and reviewing!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH, ADVENTURER: PIRACY, POCAHONTAS AND JAMESTOWN by R E Pritchard (@penswordbooks) A no-frills account of a fascinating man and his historical period

Hi all:

I hope you’re keeping well in these difficult times. I bring you a non-fiction book full of adventures, in case you are looking for something a bit different.

Captain John Smith, Adventurer: Piracy, Pocahontas and Jamestown by R E Pritchard

Captain John Smith, Adventurer: Piracy, Pocahontas and Jamestown by R E Pritchard

Captain John Smith is best remembered for his association with Pocahontas, but this was only a small part of an extraordinary life filled with danger and adventure. As a soldier, he fought the Turks in Eastern Europe, where he beheaded three Turkish adversaries in duels. He was sold into slavery, then murdered his master to escape. He sailed under a pirate flag, was shipwrecked and marched to the gallows to be hanged, only to be reprieved at the eleventh hour. All this before he was thirty years old. He was one of the founders of the English settlement at Jamestown, where he faced considerable danger from the natives as well as from within the faction-ridden settlement itself. In fact, were it not for Smith’s leadership, the Jamestown colony would surely have failed. Yet Smith was a far more ambitious explorer and soldier of fortune than these tales suggest. This swashbuckling Elizabethan adventurer was resourceful, intelligent and outspoken, with a vision of what America could become. In this riveting book, R.E. Pritchard tells the rip-roaring story of a remarkable man who refused to give in.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Captain-John-Smith-Adventurer-Hardback/p/17659

https://www.amazon.com/Captain-John-Smith-Adventurer-Pocahontas/dp/1526773627/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Captain-John-Smith-Adventurer-Pocahontas/dp/1526773627/

https://www.amazon.es/Captain-John-Smith-Adventurer-Pocahontas/dp/1526773627/

About the author:

Born in India, R.E. Pritchard read English at Balliol College, Oxford, before becoming a lecturer at Keele University. He has published widely on a range of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century subjects, from Shakespeare’s England to the court of Charles II. He lives in West Oxfordshire.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. Having studied American Literature and read early historical texts, I was familiar with some selections of Smith’s writings (from A True Relation and The General History of Virginia), and we had discussed the different versions of his adventures and the mythology surrounding him in class, but I had never read anything else about him, so I took the chance when I saw this book, and it was worth it.

The book combines Smith’s own writing (his autobiographical accounts as well as his less personal ones) with research and use of relevant sources (at the end of the book there is a section of references for each chapter and further reading for those interested in a more detailed account, and also an index) to create a clear picture of the life of this amazing character. Although he might not fit into the romanticized and fictionalised figure we’re used to seeing in stories and movies, he was a fascinating man who went farther and had a clearer vision of the future than most of his contemporaries.

Pritchard does not allow himself any flights of fancy and sticks to documents and accounts of the period (Smith’s and others’) and to other author’s research to offer a chronological account of Smith’s life, with particular attention (and more space) dedicated to his American adventures. The style of those accounts is very factual, and it’s difficult not to imagine what somebody keen on embellishing and dramatizing the narrative could have done with the many assaults, attacks, kidnappings, dangerous situations, scary encounters, hopes and dreams, discoveries, betrayals, deaths, and disappointments. This makes for a less vibrant and exciting reading experience, but it also gives a more accurate idea of what the real man must have been like. This was not an individual keen on discussing personal matters, and he was not looking to offer readers a sensational narrative, but rather one that could convince others of the wealth and possibilities of the New World, and of the need to dedicate resources and investment to its exploration (and exploitation). He wanted his role to be recognised and his name to be remembered, for sure, but considering how his efforts were rewarded, it is far from surprising, and it seems that he deserved more credit than he ever got at the time.

The author allows the original texts (although he acknowledges some minor modernisation of the language to ensure its readability) to tell their story, rather than engaging in excessive comment, although he does provide necessary context and clarifications when required, in particular reminding us of the economic drive behind the expedition to America, which goes some way to explain some of the bizarre decisions taken by the powers that be back in England. (Let’s say common sense did not appear to be that common between those organising the expeditions and the practical side of things and any long-term goals seemed to be forgotten in favour of anything that could provide quick benefits).

If you are wondering about Pocahontas… She is mentioned quite a few times and despite the discrepancies in the accounts of her possible intervention on behalf of Smith (it seems that there are similar stories recorded by other adventurers who’d been similarly rescued by a young native girl, and it is suggested that perhaps it was some sort of ritual/performance some of the tribes used to greet/scare foreign guests), she is more than deserving of the attention she’s been given over the years.

The book also includes images from the original publications of Smith’s works, maps, illustrations, and portraits that help create a clearer picture of the period and the place in our minds.

I am not an expert on Smith or on early American History, but that is not necessary to enjoy this book. It is a good book for people interested in learning more about Smith and the early history of Jamestown, for amateur historians, and for those keen on researching the period (like writers of historical fiction) and obtaining good background information without having to read all the original accounts. I gained a good insight into the early years of Jamestown, and I think I got to know Smith much better than before. A no-frills account of a fascinating man and his historical period. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, keep safe and take lots of care. 

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security