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Archive for the tag “history”

The Tudors

The Tudors (British Monarchy)The Tudors by Geoffrey Christopher Morris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is a chapter on each of the Tudor monarchs of England, a dynasty that lasted from 1485-1603. Each chapter deals with the character and relationships of the particular ruler, derived from contemporary sources.

One of the most interesting of these sources was Edward VI’s diary. He came to the throne at the age of 9, and died before he was 16, and was one of the earliest English diarists.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that it assumed the knowledge one expects to gain from such a book. It is not really a history, or even a series of biographies, but a series of character sketches of the reigning monarchs. It is therefore best to be familiar with the history before reading this book.

For example, it says that Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs, came to the throne not so much because of a hereditary claim, because his claim was weaker than that of some other candidates, but because he won the Battle of Bosworth. It does not, however, explain what his hereditary claim was, not even in the genealogical tables at the end of the book, or who the other claimants were. Nor does it explain the Battle of Bosworth, who the combatants were, or what they were fighting for, other than the throne of England.

I knew some parts of the history, having studied Church History at an English university, though that was 50 years ago. The period was that of the English Reformation, and the character sketches of the monarchs throw some light upon that, but this book is best read after reading a more general history of the period. Or else be prepared to interrupt your reading by Googling such things as the Battle of Bosworth.

The Background section of the Wikipedia article is the kind of introduction that should have been included in this book, but wasn’t. The lack is all the more remarkable since, when the book was first published, neither Wikipedia, nor Google, nor the Internet itself would have been available.

And since Wikipedia is now available, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article on The House of Tudor before reading this book.

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A copy of this post may be found at my old blog here.

I originally intended to post it here, but could not find the functional WordPress editor, which had been hidden again, and only the new enhanced dysfunctional one was available. Eventually I did find the working editor, so was able to post it here too.

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The Red Queen

The Red QueenThe Red Queen by Margaret Drabble
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“One does not expect a run-of-the-mill academic conference to have such a far-reaching effect.”

The first part of this book is the memoir of an 18th-century Korean princess, describingn the cloisered but eventful life of the Korean royal family, incorporating a modern and postmodern commentary on it..

The second part describes, in minute detail, how Dr Babs Halliwell travels to and attends a run-or-the-mill academic conference in Seoul, Korea. On her journey she reads the account of the Korean princess, and in breaks in the conference she visits some of the scenes of her life. Until the events that cause the far-reaching effect, however, one might think Margaret Drabble‘s main purpose in writing was to record the early-21st century academic conference experience for posterity, perhaps as raw material for a furtire historian of academic conferences.

I’ve attended enough academic courses and conferences to find it familiar territory, very familiar territory, even though most of the ones I’ve attended have not been held in such posh hotels. As I read, I kept having flashbacks to this or that incident at this or that conference.

“One does not expect a run-of-the-mill academic conference to have such a far-reaching effect.”

And most of the academic conferences I’ve attended have had no effect at all.The participants exchange e-mail addresses, and promise to keep in touch, but almost never do. Some of the papers may be published, and may appear on the Internet in one form or another, and probably have more effect there than being read at the conference, as the book notes.

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Cecil Rhodes and his statue

Owing to the difficulty in using the new user-hostile WordPress editor, this post has been posted on my old blog, here Notes from underground: Row about Rhodes.

Interestingly enough, when I opened the editor here to post, up came the new editor with its dreaded “Beep Beep Boop”, so I gave up and wrote it on the old blog.

Then when I came back here to put in the link, up came the old, usable editor, so I could perhaps have written it here after all, but by then it was too late.

But I can at least put in categories and tags.

 

The Unburied: a historical murder mystery

The UnburiedThe Unburied by Charles Palliser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second historical murder mystery I’ve read in as many weeks, the previous one being Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. This one, however, is far more complex.

Dissolution is set in the sixteenth century and stays there, and though there are lots of deaths, they all take place in the 1530s. The Unburied is set in the nineteenth century, in the fictitious English cathedral city of Thurchester, but as the primary narrator, Dr Edward Courtine, is a historian, it harks back to several mysterious, or at least historically-disputed deaths in the past, in several different periods.

I enjoyed the book a lot, but perhaps that is because history is a topic that interests me a great deal. An interest in history, however, is not enough to make one enjoy historical novels, and in fact can impair enjoyment of them. A historian reading historical novels is always on the lookout for anachronisms (and yes, there are some in this book — the use of the word “teenager”, is but one example). But because the protagoinist is a historian, as are some of the other characters, perhaps one could call this a historigraphical novel, and that would make it of more interest to historians.

As I said, it is complex, and you have to keep your wits about you when reading it, to follow the motives not only of the characters, to see who had a motive for murdering whom, but also the motives of the historians who left their written accounts of the events, and the motives of the current characters in the story who interpret the documents and other evidence — part of the evidence is in the fabric of Thurchester Cathedral itself.

The bulk of the book is taken up with Dr Courtine’s visit to Thurchester, which lasts five days. He visits an old friend, from whom he has been estranged, and also visits the cathedral library in search of a manuscript that he believe’s may throw light on the death of a ninth-century bishop, which may in turn illuminate the character of King Alfred. During his visit there is another murder, in which Dr Courtine is a witness, and uses his skills as a historian to try to work out what actually happened, but to some extent he is blinded by class prejudice, and so misses some important clues. So we have to read his account with a critical historian’s eye, looking for unjustified assumptions and other historical errors.

It’s a good and challenging read, especially if you like history.

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The honour, the glory, the boredom and futility of war

The Sword of Honour Trilogy (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics)The Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Guy Crouchback, lonely, divorced, and living in Italy, returns to the UK at the beginning of the Second World War, and tries to do his patriotic duty by joining the army. Because of his age, however, no one will have him. Eventually, though an acquaintance of his father’s, he joins the regiment of Halberdiers, and undergoes boring officer training. The war progresses, but nobody seems to want the Halberdiers either.

After training, they have a new commanding officer, who wants them assigned to Hazardous Offensive Operations, for which more training is required. Whenever he seems about to go into active service, Guy Crouchback is sidelined, by accident, injury or illness, or the need for further training for some new task.

This book was originally a trilogy of three novels, and was rewritten into one in the 1960s. While reading it, I wondered how Britain ever managed to win the war, as everything seemed to be stifled by red tape. At one level the novel is satirical, making fun of the military bureaucracy. But there is also something authentic behind the satire; this is indeed how many soldiers probably spent the war, with action brief and inconclusive, and much of the time just hanging around waiting for someone, somewhere, to give an order.

So the book is also something of a historical record. Many soldiers left diaries and memoirs, but what they told and what they chose to leave untold varied a great deal. Many may have recorded battles and action, but the logistics of preparing for the action gets omitted. Waugh seems to tell more of the story than most. This is what it was actually like, not in surreal fantasies like Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow or in the story of planning and carrying out of military operations, but in the experience of one soldier, and a few of the people he encountered, buth military and civilian.

I’m not an expert on military history, but some parts that touch on things that I have read about in history books, such as conditions in war-time Yugoslavia, seemed pretty authentic to me.

Guy Crouchback is a Roman Catholic, and so we are given a glimpse of the lost world of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, to which Evelyn Waugh was a well-known literary convert.

It reminded me in some ways of Waugh’s contemporary, Graham Greene, also a converet to the Roman Catholic Church, whose The power and the glory reflects on the challenge of being a saint. Guy Crouchback is nothing like the whisky priest in The power and the glory, in either his upbringing, his circumstances or his character. But he faces similar problems of conscience and ethical dilemmas, in which attempts to help others sometimes turn out well, and sometimes disastrously for all concerned.

As it is a concatenated trilogy, it’s a long read, and when I finally reached the end, the overwhelming impression was of the futility of war.

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Cherie’s Place » Avebury

Avebury is a fascinating site that connects to other prominent features in the ancient landscape. What remains of the Avebury Circles is largely reconstructed. In the 1930s Alexander Keiller having purchased the site of Avebury and part of West Kennet Avenue started to excavate the site and in time restore the site to some of its former glory. Where stones had been removed he placed concrete plinths to mark their former position. The outbreak of WWII put a stop to the excavations and restoration. Sadly the excavations have never been resumed.

via Cherie’s Place » Avebury.

Thanks to Cherie for a fascinating description and some beautiful photos.

Avebury

via Cherie’s Place » Avebury.

One of the reasons that I found it so interesting was that I first learnt about Avebury in a series of stories about moles — my review of the first book in the series follows below.  The moles had a religion connected with stones and silence, and so Avebury, with its standing stones, was a kind of holy place for them. The moles also had special ceremonies on longest night and shortest night, and so it seemed appropriate that last night (or is it tonight?) was the longest night here, and the shortest night at Avebury.

The series of mole books unfortunately seemed to deteriorate as it went on. I got the impression that the author wrote the first one because he enjoyed it, and the others because he was under pressure from his publishers to produce sequels. The second and third books weren’t too bad, though not up to the standard of the first, while the last three in the series were dreck.

But anywau, many thanks to Cherie for posting the information and the pictures at such an appropriate time.
Duncton Wood (Duncton Chronicles, #1)Duncton Wood by William Horwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On reading this for the first time, it seemed to have been inspired by the popularity of Watership Down by Richard Adams. What Adams did for rabbits, Horwood does for moles.

The system of mole tunnels under Duncton Wood is large, and moles in one part hardly know those from other parts of the system. There also some parts of the system that are almost forgotten, and there are also some customs that have been forgotten as well, so that the moles are using their centre, the silence of the Stone at the centre of the system. This enables a cruel tyrant, Mandrake, to take over the system.

Two young mioles, Bracken and Rebecca, the latter Mandrake’s daughter, meet, and eventually embark on a liberation struggle.

The moles are given a philosophy and a mythology that is very human, and yet it somehow does not seem to diminish their moleness.

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The price of peace: why Kennedy died

This is a book I haven’t read yet, but it looks very interesting.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It MattersJFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass

Hat tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: The Unspeakable who quotes from this interview with the author Why Was JFK Murdered?: A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 150 with James W. Douglass:

Why did Kennedy die? He died because he was turning towards peace. That can be established. It’s in all kinds of documents, and I’ve cited hundreds of them, and there are tens of thousands behind the hundreds I’ve cited. He turned toward peace, so that’s the reason why he’s assassinated. What if he had not turned toward peace? Of course, he wouldn’t have been assassinated because that’s the critical issue right there. If he had not turned toward peace, if he had not, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, turned toward his enemy, Nikita Khrushchev, and said, I need your help, and had Khrushchev, for that matter, had not turned toward his enemy and said, yes, now we need to let Kennedy know that we want to help him – he said that to Gromyko, who was standing beside him, his foreign minister. Had that not happened, you and I wouldn’t be talking about this right now, nor would anyone else be doing much talking. We’d be in a nuclear wasteland. That is hopeful. Had John F. Kennedy not gone up against the Powers That Be in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis and turned with his enemy towards peace, there would be no hope for anything right now. That is hopeful.

That is certainly different from the impression that I got at the time. At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed that Kennedy was the warmonger, prepared to have a nuclear war because he didn’t like the idea of Soviet missiles in Cuba, close to the USA, but being unwilling to remove American missiles from Turkey, on the border of the USSR.

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Not your average Scandiwegian whodunit

Between Summer's Longing and Winter's Cold (The Fall of the Welfare State, #1) Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s Cold (The Fall of the Welfare State, #1) by Leif G.W. Persson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Over the last 10 years or so Scandinavian crime fiction has come to dominate the genre in the English-speaking world. Many of the books in the genre have a gloomy boozy divorced (or about to be) detective as protagonist. This one is different.

There is no protagonist. We are given glimpses into the lives and loves and hates of members of different branches of the Swedish police as they are touched in some way by the apparent suicide of an American journalist who fell from the 16th floor of a student residence.

The book is not well-written; in many ways there seems to be too much irrelevant detail. Describing in detail how a single protagonist spends Christmas is one thing; doing it for five or six different characters seems to be overdoing it. Some of the problems in the writing may be problems in translation rather than in the original. The writing sometimes seems stilted.

One of the more disconcerting things is that it takes one a while to work out the period the story is set in. The book was first published in 2002, so one expects it to be at around the turn of the century, but the technology doesn’t fit — there are no personal computers, only typewriters. No cell phones. The technology used would seem to date it to about the mid-1970s, but the story also concerns the investigation of a possible plot to assassinate the Swedish prime minister, which links it to the assassination of prime minister Olof Palme in 1986. Though the prime minister in the book is not named, there are sufficient resemblances in the story to make that a possible period as well.

One of the minor characters is a South African student with an improbable name, and there were stories of South African connections to the assassination of Olof Palme, and in Totale aanslag by De Wet Potgieter this is presented as historical fact. As an aside (this is not mentioned in the story, and is rather a personal anecdote), in 1988 my wife worked in a factory and the office next door to hers was used by a company that was indirectly linked. Sometimes she could not help overhearding conversations in the next door office, and she got the impression that they were involved in some shady business — money laundering, illicit diamond buying, or something like that, and possibly the assassination of the Swedish prime minister. At about that time we had a break-in at our house, and the house was thoroughly ransacked, cupboards and boxes were emptied, but the only things that were taken were the cheap loudspeakers for our radiogram, which had been carefully unscrewed from their cabinets (the cabinets themselves were left behind), and some food. We had the impression that the thieves were looking for something very specific, which they didn’t find, and the usual things that thieves took, cameras, computers etc., were left behind.

But, to get back to the book, in spite of its deficiencies, it was an interesting story, even if it was not well-told, and ultimately worth reading.

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Liberalism and old liberals revisited

Yesterday, while on holiday in Pietermaritzburg, we visited old friends Colin and Mary Gardner, whom we had not seen for a long time, and one of the things we talked about was a proposal by Paul Trewhela for a new history of the Liberal Party of South Africa, and also Paul Trewhela’s notion that the Liberal Party ought to have gone underground in 1968, instead of disbanding when the Improper Interference Act became law.

(the picture shows Val Hayes, Colin & Mary Gardner)

I’ve blogged about Paul Trewhela’s proposals before, so I won’t repeat everything that I said there, but Colin Gardner came up with a new slant on it. He was a member of the national executive of the Liberal Party at the time the decision was made to disband, and he said that they had considered ignoring the Improper Interference Act (which prohibited multiracial political parties) and just carry on as if nothing had happened, and decided not to. One of the reasons for that, that I had not been aware of, was that some Liberal lawyers, who were in touch with some National Party lawyers, said that that was what the government was expecting, and if it happened, they would declare the Liberal Party a “white” party, and prosecute the black members for contravening the Improper Interference Act. Basing political decisions on what was, in effect, idle gossip over tea at a Law Society meeting, or something similar, may seems strange, but that was one way of gaining intelligence of the intentions of the government.

And as for Paul Trewhela’s idea, which he still seems to be pushing, that the Liberal Party ought to have, or even could have, gone underground, it would have been impossible, for reasons I have already noted (Notes from underground: A liberal underground in South Africa), namely that, having operated openly and publicly for 15 years, all active Liberals were known to the SB (Security Police), and any such activity would have been reported to them immediately by their izimpimpi.

Colin Gardner also remarked that one of the things that followed the passing of the Improper Interference Act, though not necessarily caused by it, was the rise of Black Consciousness. At first the National Party government welcomed BC, because they saw it as their policies bearing fruit, but it didn’t take them long to realise that it was independent of their control, and not at all what they had in mind by “own affairs”. Steve Biko’s declaration of himself as a “non-nonracialist” could initially be mistaken for what the National Party government had in mind when it passed the Improper Interference Act, but eventually they learned that it wasn’t.

Colin also thought that Steve Biko was using “non-nonracialism” as a tactic, and would, if he had lived, become nonracialist, though whether he or his ideals would have survived in the current South African political climate might be questionable.

Steve Biko didn’t have a good word for what he called “white liberals” (which continues to be a swear word in South Africa), but I suspect that what he had in mind when he used the term “liberal” was Nusas (the National Union of South African Students), rather than the Liberal Party. And, as have pointed out in Notes from underground: A new history of the Liberal Party?, the word “liberal” is still misused, and still misunderstood, as much as, if not more than, it was 45-50 years ago.

Tales from Dystopia X: The banality of evil | Khanya

It’s my other blog’s fifth blogiversary today, so I’m referring everyone to the story at Tales from Dystopia X: The banality of evil | Khanya:

It’s about bureaucratic machinations in a conspiracy to stop one sick old lady from receiving communion.

It’s one of a series of posts on memories from the apartheid era in South Africa. The other posts in the series are:

And you can find the full list at Tales from Dystopia | Khanya

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