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Posts about book-reviews (old posts, page 17)

Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution

Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution

Robert Service

2011


A fast-moving tale full of fascinating characters - not least be children's author Arthur Ransome, whom I had no idea had anything to do with Communism. The author's style reminds me of Barbara Tuchman, and he has a similarly sharp eye for character detail.

At times the narrative feels a little superficial and forced, perhaps not sure whether to focus on anecdotes or history, and it might have made the book more distinctive to tell the latter purely by way of the former rather than meeting both half-way. But still a great overview of an under-served period of great contemporary and historical importance.

3/5. Finished 28 December 2012.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World

Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World

James Buchan

2003


An enjoyable read, although it's quite hard to keep all the names straight sometimes: the author tends to introduce characters in several places before really providing their backgrounds, which makes the narrative a little non-linear. The focus seems to be more on how Edinburgh changed rather than its effects on the wider world: the former are dealt with far more thoroughly than the latter. Having said all that, this is a great overview of the Scottish Enlightenment and its main protagonists,

3/5. Finished 20 December 2012.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

Norman Davies

2011


A wide-ranging ride through some of the lesser-known states of Europe. There's plenty of anecdote and detail here, and the book seeks to (and largely succeeds in) explaining the history of some areas that are often left out of the European story. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the origins of Prussia and Burgundy are all fascinating.

The inclusion of a chapter on √Čire seems a little out of place. Ireland is hardly a "vanished" kingdom, and the history presented is almost exclusively 19-20th century. One could reasonably argue that the period of the High Kings and the maintenance of scholarship in the Dark Ages might constitute missing history, but the emergence of the Irish Republic is well-trodden ground. In fact this chapter seems to exist only for its conclusion, a musing on the inevitable decline and disintegration of the UK as calls grow for devolution: a worthwhile discussion and an arguable point, but surely not in the same vein as the rest of the book?

This is the only wrinkle in an otherwise well-woken canvas, however, and even someone who's familiar with European history -- as I thought I was -- will find much to learn, and many resonances with contemporary events.

4/5. Finished 01 December 2012.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)