Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The bookshelf

What have I been reading? Forgetting to update this at least monthly means I've forgotten some stuff.

Jenkins, Asquith. Typically good Jenkins for political coverage, while failing, as with his Gladstone book, to give a strong sense of the personality. It's never terribly clear for instance what Margot meant to him, or what was going on inside him to make him so passionate for Venetia Stanley. This was not a fault of Jenkins's excellent Churchill bio, possibly because Churchill's personality was so powerful, or just that I already had a sense of what Churchill was like.

Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms. My favorite novel, in high school; now, I admire his descriptions more than I used to, but the characterization is poor. Catherine seems too much of a fantasy girl (perhaps what commended it to me in high school), and her death's foreshadowing is heavy as a pile of bricks. Picked it up in a British paperback whose advert pages notified me that, in Britain, The Sun Also Rises was published as Fiesta. Good heavenly lord.

Langguth, Patriots. I liked his Vietnam book, and thus far the focus on individuals is working well in this book on the American Revolution -- there's a lot more on the leadup to the rebellion than I'd seen before. Though Langguth is surely the first person to be inspired to write about our revolution by the example of the Vietnamese war against France and America.

Kershaw, Fateful Choices. Not sure why I've been rereading this actually. A good study, distinguishing absolutely gratuitous blunders (Mussolini's invasion of Greece) from hard but arguably compelled choices (Hitler's war on Russia).

Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man. Finally got around to finishing this. Quite readable, and anyone who can make me want to pick up more Hegel is doing something well. His thesis, once one actually reads the book, is not terribly radical. How much, though, can any era see the next era coming?

(... Have picked back up Hegel's Philosophy of Right which I shamefully abandoned months ago in the midst of Hegel's introduction. I think I'm going to spot him his dialectic and just take him for whatever the hell he says about stuff, without worrying how he got there.)

MacCarthy, Byron: Life and Legend. The "one to read" is deplorably out of print in this country, but with Amazon all things are possible. Hadn't realized quite how gay Byron was, but then, not many had prior to MacCarthy's book -- she does force the interpretation here and there, but the evidence overall seems indisputable.

Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions. A minor classic of the fantasy genre; I'd never read any Anderson, oddly enough, but found this in a bookshop in Laurel, Miss. Emphasis on "minor" -- the world-building is dubious, the prose is mediocre. But it's fun seeing how much Gary Gygax grabbed from this book for D&D, and the part where the elfin duke recites a legend about Brigadier Gerard just about made the book worthwhile by itself.

Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. Tyler Cowen talked this up, and while Cowen is too idiosyncratic to be always reliable (bought a dreadful Shostakovich violin concerto at his behest once), I'm dark enough on the Dark Ages that this seemed worth a buy -- even if he really does omit the Battle of Tours. I note that the Penguin History of Europe volumes have gotten longer since the appallingly short Europe in the High Middle Ages, which is a good thing.

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