Daily Archives: December 18, 2012

Books and More Books

More books! Yeah for reading!

The Last Lion 3: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-65

This is the final installment of a three-volume series on the life of Winston Churchill. The second one was published almost 15 years ago, so the wait for this one has been long. This volume was completed by Paul Reid who finished the manuscript after the original author (William Manchester) became ill and eventually passed away. While the voice and tone of this volume is slightly different, I think it was excellent and a wonderful achievement. I would not recommend this series for a casual reader of history, these are enormous books and are filled with a remarkable amount of detail. I do not think this series could be paralleled in any sense and this book was just unbelievable.

I didn’t think my love for the second of the series could be surpassed, but the incredible courage and bravery shown by the British against the greatest military power in the world was nothing short of inspiring. The book begins with Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister and the dark reality that World War II is beginning. The incredibly difficult decisions he made are carefully described alongside his often difficult and demanding nature. This volume has so much information about World War II and the relationships he had with Roosevelt and Stalin. If you enjoy history (especially the history of World War II), I cannot recommend this enough. The entire series is brilliant, but this final work is nothing short of incredible.

To Marry an English Lord

This was just like reading celebrity gossip from 1890. It was such a fun read and filled with the gritty details of marrying for money and aristocratic snobbery. My only criticism is that information is kind of scattered throughout the books. There are so many people covered and it was occasionally confusing when marriages and people are discussed in short articles. I had to spend time flipping back to try to remember who a person was since it had been 30 or so pages since they were last discussed. Otherwise, it was a fun and gossipy read.

Descriptions of how American “mamas” left snobbish New York with their daughters to find a brighter future across the pond were oftentimes borderline hysterical. The societal rules and traditions were exhausting to read about, no wonder wealthy women didn’t work, they spent all day running “calling cards” around to each other and making sure their gloves were so tight that the outline of their fingernails showed. Their lives look completely exhausting (and I’m not being facetious).

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Oh holy fantasticness. I cannot express to you how much I all caps LOVED this book. Catherine the Great was the Empress of Russia for thirty-four years. She wasn’t born in Russia and she was not descended from the Romanovs, she went there to marry the heir to the throne. He eventually became Tsar, she realized he was an idiot, and she took power. Seriously badass lady.

It never ceases to amaze me the degree of power and influence she held over a country that she wasn’t born to and didn’t have a birthright to rule in. Besides the incredible and unbelievable nature of her story in general, this particular version of it was captivating in a an entirely new way. Massie’s focus on her as a woman and a person actually made me feel like I knew her. I felt like I knew how and why she reacted to events and I often felt myself enraged at certain points.

My biggest gripe about the majority of works on her life is the focus on her sexual activities. So she had several lovers and enjoyed sex, I don’t see how that becomes a the major storyline of her life. It’s beyond aggravating. Thankfully, Massie presented her desires as honest and earthly and they were not tinged by the giant slut caricature that so frequently haunts her legacy. Just let the woman get laid! Why must it be so scandalous that a grown woman had sex? We all know that if she were a man, her passionate interests would would a mere footnote in history. At least she wasn’t dumb enough to marry them (*cough* Henry VIII *cough*).

Anyway, this is an incredible book for a history lover. I would definitely recommend it to someone who is new to Russian history or Catherine the Great, I feel like you don’t have to have a lot of knowledge about this era or this dynasty to enjoy this work.

Also, I think her son Paul looks a lot like Toby Jones. I can’t get over it.

Potemkin: Catherine the Great’s Imperial Partner

This proved to be the perfect follow-up to Catherine the Great. Potemkin’s life is meticulously detailed from his assistance in the coup that placed her on the throne to his life as her lover and as a brilliant statesman. The author does presuppose that they did in fact have a secret marriage, but I don’t buy it. Other than that little issue, it was a compelling read. My only gripe is that the author was highly repetitive with several points, but it didn’t ruin the value of the work. It’s not the most engaging biography I have encountered, but it was worth getting through the sluggish parts to learn about this brilliant man. I like him significantly more than I did before reading this as it frames him in a significantly different light than previous readings. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is new to the era as the wealth of information can be overwhelming at times.

Have you read “1775: A Good year for Revolution“? I’ve been vacillating over whether or not to pick it up because I’ve heard such mixed reviews. I loved “The Cousins War: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, and the Triumph of Anglo-America” by the same author, so I have high hopes for his newest one.

I am currently reading “Terra” by Gretchen Powell (of Honey, I shrunk the Gretchen hilarity):

I’m about halfway through and I struggle to put it down at night. If you’re a fan of young adult dystopian novels, this will be right up your alley. Gretchen very generously sent me this to read and I honestly love it thus far. It’s been a great escape from reality. If you are interested, you can buy it here. I’ll do a better review when I finish it.

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