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Latest Reviews

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Once there was a war / John Steinbeck ; introduction by Mark Bowden.
Author: Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2007.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 22/07/2020 12:42:52 PM
Member Rating:
John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. In June 1943, he accompanied US troops to England to work as a war correspondent. After two months in England he went to North Africa where preparations were being made for the invasion of Italy. After a month in North Africa we receive a further four months of reports during the invasion of Italy.

This collection comprises approximately 70 dispatches sent by Steinbeck to newspapers in USA. It is standard journalism but quality journalism at that. His themes and subjects are varied. He writes about military personal civilians Americans, Brits, Arabs and Italians. Some are anecdotal, some are analytical. He was a keen observer and has a penetrating perception into human psychology. All the characters about whom he writes are colourful or interesting.

This is about as close to war as I wish to get. I found myself developing some empathy for how it would be like to live in a time of war whether on the sidelines of civilian life or on the frontlines of the war itself. When I think of the minor disruptions we have endured due to COVID 19 in 2020 I feel it is a mere inconvenience compared to the disruption caused by war.

If you wish to experience a taste of war to get a picture of life during WWII in Europe, give this collection of dispatches a read.
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The winter of our discontent / John Steinbeck ; introduction and notes by Susan Shillinglaw.
Author: Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968, author. -- Shillinglaw, Susan, author of introduction, etc.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2008. -- ©1989
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 20/07/2020 4:36:09 PM
Member Rating:
This novel is not another of Steinbeck's dark novels about the oppressed and luckless although the reader will be left with doubt as to whether the ending is one to celebrate or bemoan. Neither is it set in the Great Depression or some other trying period in American history. And instead of being located in his home region of rural California and surrounding states it takes place in a former whaling port not far from New York. It is a morality tale. A story of slide from singular morality into the unprincipled and corrupt morass of the so-called "respectable" members of society.

Steinbeck published this novel in 1961 a year before his Nobel Prize and only seven years before his death. It was his last novel.

The year is 1960. Our protagonist Ethan Hawley is a simple everyday American albeit with an impressive heritage. Having lost the last of his forbears dwindling wealth in the post WWII recession he is forced to work as a shop assistant-cum-clerk-cum-manager in that order of declining precedence in the very store he once owned. His employer is a New American a Greek immigrant whose fortunes, through hard-nosed business acumen, are the opposite of his.

Ethan is an endearing hero. He has a wry sense of humour, loves puns, parody and light sarcasm. He often monologues with animals and the store’s stock, lecturing, sermonising, or bouncing ideas off them. Just how much wisdom can you garner from a stack of canned tomatoes?

Ethan begins with a strong sense of morality. He rigidly sticks to his principles. However, as he converses with bottled pickles and tins of coffee, you can detect his questioning of this morality. Is he becoming fatigued with the effort of maintaining such high standards when he seems to exist in an ocean of the opposite? Why does an unethical, even criminal cloud seem to hover over all the successful leaders of society that he observes? Is it an essential instrument of their success? Of course, the ultimate end, the goal, is money, something of which Ethan is short. As he engages in this struggle, the winter of his discontent grows colder.

Ethan’s realisation of how ruthless, corrupt and greedy “upstanding” citizens are grows. He decides to take a holiday from his own strict morality. He settles on robbing a bank and plans meticulously. However, events take an unexpected, and fortuitous, turn. Serendipity follows serendipity. But Ethan’s reaction is unexpected. Has his moral rectitude been irreparably damaged? With the promise of future success and fortune, is he emerging from the winter of his discontent, or falling into an ever deeper and colder one?

The ending is vague. Ethan’s fate is implied, but the reader is left guessing. Did he take the final step, or didn’t he? I cannot be more specific without spoiling this novel for a potential reader.

As with all Steinbeck’s novels, the characters are well developed, realistic and refreshing, with a depth and diversity of personalities. He avoids long descriptive passages of scenery and setting, yet there is enough to enter the novel and observe America at the beginning of the 1960s alongside the novel’s characters.

While the brilliance of this novelist (who is better known for other works such as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, In Dubious Battle) shines through, it is an engaging departure from his earlier themes. It is one that will make you ponder the worth and effort of a moral path.
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The arsonist : a mind on fire / Chloe Hooper.
Author: Hooper, Chloe, 1973-, author.
Publisher: Camberwell, Vic Hamish Hamilton Australia 2018. -- [Melbourne, Victoria] : Penguin Random House Australia, 2018. -- ©2018
Review by: louc  on: 14/07/2020 10:47:18 AM
Member Rating:
There were over 400 separate fires in Victoria on Black Saturday 2009, killing 173, 11 of which died in the Latrobe Valley. This is the story of the extensive investigation into the lighting of the 2 fires near Churchill Latrobe Valley. This investigation culminated in the charging and committal of Brendan Sokaluk, aged 42, with arson. The legal contest pitted the story of Sokaluk as a fiend against that of a simpleton and all of this against the back-dop of community outrage and personal grief. The Arsonist switches point of view between the police prosecutors and defence lawyers. It is set at the pace of a thriller which I found really easy to read and kept me wanting to know the conclusion to this little known tragic chapter of our history.
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Wolf of Wessex / Matthew Harffy.
Author: Harffy, Matthew, author.
Publisher: London : Head of Zeus, 2020. -- ©2019.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 1/07/2020 9:06:58 AM
Member Rating:
No surprises here. This is standard historical fiction, mostly fiction in an historical setting. It is a straight-forward read, a simply told story flowing chronologically from event to event. For those who like this genre and style it is worth three stars. Don't expect a challenge or anything enigmatic or out-of-the box. If you want something more complex you would rate it less.

It pays to read the author's historical notes at the back of the book first. It tells of the historical events that inspired his fiction. In late Anglo-Saxon Britain, Wessex is the pre-eminent kingdom among the half-a-dozen-or-so kingdoms that comprise England today. In 838AD its king defeated a combined force of Danes and Cornish who had gathered in Cornwall to march on Wessex. The historical information is sparse. The big unanswered question is how the Wessex king had enough forewarning to gather his own forces in time. Harffy's novel is his hypothetical answer to this question. It involves intrigue and disloyalty and ruthless action by the traitors who try to undermine their king. The usual swashbuckling by his hero, an aging veteran warrior falsely accused of murder, some blood and guts, a bit of soul searching and some relationship issues - all standard stuff for this genre.

Harffy seems to have an abiding interest is Anglo-Saxon England. He has also written a seven-part series The Bernicia Chronicles set in the 7th century. He provides a reasonably convincing historical atmosphere and setting. His protagonist is predictable - brave skilled in the art of warfare, a good woodsman, principled and compassionate yet revelling in the spirit of battle. His female counterpart, and from his perspective somewhat reluctant companion, is also stereotypical - fragile, naive yet fast to learn and determined.

If you want an early medieval adventure with a touch of intrigue and action, try this novel. You can relax with it and imagine yourself wandering through the forests of Anglo-Saxon England with the characters.
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The grapes of wrath / John Steinbeck.
Author: Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968, author.
Publisher: London : Penguin Books Ltd, 2014. -- London : Penguin Books, 2014. -- ©1967
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 30/06/2020 1:29:39 PM
Member Rating:
This novel is seminal Steinbeck. John Steinbeck a Nobel laureate excelled in themes of dispossession oppression exploitation misfortune and destitution. This story has all in spades. Yet it is also inspiring in the resilience and naïve hopefulness of its characters.

The story opens in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the 1930s. To add to the economic desperation of the Great Depression this central southern region of America a potential fecund region for agricultural produce had been degraded to the point of literally blowing away. Small holders by the hundreds were losing their farms to the banks and big operators as they went bust. This was the fate of the Joad family. They are forced to sell most of their possessions at fire-sale prices and head west to California where leaflets misleadingly advertise abundant work. They load their remaining possessions onto a makeshift truck and the extended family of 10 plus a wayward preacher set off on this gruelling journey.

Misfortune forced this journey and it plagues them all the way. Not all make it. Once in California the reality of their plight sets in and their misfortunes continue. Sure there are plenty of jobs picking fruit and cotton but if 10 people chase every job available the economic law of supply and demand leaves them open to exploitation as employers cut pay to less than survival level.

Add to the woe of their dwindling resources the locals suffer a parochial xenophobia. True the existing Californians and are all Americans, all citizens of the one nation, but you would not know it from the discrimination and persecution meted out by the locals. Parallel with the fears and suspicion that nations have against refugee immigrants today, the citizens of California perpetrated similar rejection upon what they viewed as undesirable aliens from the eastern states.

At one point, the Joads think they have discovered paradise, a resident-managed government camp with mod cons never encountered before (hot and cold running water, flush toilets and wash tubs). The local sheriff deputies can’t interfere and residents are able to live in dignity. However, there is no work. The need to earn a living force them back out into the harsh world where they must again battle prejudice and exploitation.

The Joads stumble from disaster to disaster, becoming more and more destitute along the way. But they are survivors and seem to be driven by a naïve hope. One cannot help but admire their simplicity and resilience.

Steinbeck’s characters are so real. They have depth and individuality. He was a master of observation in being able to capture such a range of character types. The dialogue is authentic, bucolic, dialect typical of this region and class in America, colourfully sprinkled with idiom and slang. Equally, his description of scenes is so vivid that the reader can almost feel she/he is there, seeing it through her/his own eyes.

Long chapters narrating the Joads plight are interspersed with shorter chapters elucidating the general social, economic and cultural circumstances extant in those troubled times. These informative chapters give a broader perspective of the general malaise affecting American society then, a background that the Joads’ story then make specific and personal.

I wondered about his choice of title – The Grapes of Wrath. Are the grapes symbolic of a land of opportunity? Maybe there is a double entendre as fruit picking is the major occupation that the Joads pursue (although not specifically grapes). However this promise of paradise is threatened by the “wrath”, a metaphor for the discrimination, persecution and exploitation they suffer.

Read this book. It gives a good insights into how we deal with challenge, with fear, and with loss and hope. It teaches how we might survive and continue in the face of misfortune. It is a story of what is both the best and the worst in human nature.
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The grapes of wrath / John Steinbeck ; introduction and notes by Robert DeMott.
Author: Steinbeck, John.
Publisher: Waterville, Me. : Thorndike Press, 2008.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 30/06/2020 1:29:21 PM
Member Rating:
This novel is seminal Steinbeck. John Steinbeck a Nobel laureate excelled in themes of dispossession oppression exploitation misfortune and destitution. This story has all in spades. Yet it is also inspiring in the resilience and naïve hopefulness of its characters.

The story opens in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the 1930s. To add to the economic desperation of the Great Depression this central southern region of America a potential fecund region for agricultural produce had been degraded to the point of literally blowing away. Small holders by the hundreds were losing their farms to the banks and big operators as they went bust. This was the fate of the Joad family. They are forced to sell most of their possessions at fire-sale prices and head west to California where leaflets misleadingly advertise abundant work. They load their remaining possessions onto a makeshift truck and the extended family of 10 plus a wayward preacher set off on this gruelling journey.

Misfortune forced this journey and it plagues them all the way. Not all make it. Once in California the reality of their plight sets in and their misfortunes continue. Sure there are plenty of jobs picking fruit and cotton but if 10 people chase every job available the economic law of supply and demand leaves them open to exploitation as employers cut pay to less than survival level.

Add to the woe of their dwindling resources the locals suffer a parochial xenophobia. True the existing Californians and are all Americans, all citizens of the one nation, but you would not know it from the discrimination and persecution meted out by the locals. Parallel with the fears and suspicion that nations have against refugee immigrants today, the citizens of California perpetrated similar rejection upon what they viewed as undesirable aliens from the eastern states.

At one point, the Joads think they have discovered paradise, a resident-managed government camp with mod cons never encountered before (hot and cold running water, flush toilets and wash tubs). The local sheriff deputies can’t interfere and residents are able to live in dignity. However, there is no work. The need to earn a living force them back out into the harsh world where they must again battle prejudice and exploitation.

The Joads stumble from disaster to disaster, becoming more and more destitute along the way. But they are survivors and seem to be driven by a naïve hope. One cannot help but admire their simplicity and resilience.

Steinbeck’s characters are so real. They have depth and individuality. He was a master of observation in being able to capture such a range of character types. The dialogue is authentic, bucolic, dialect typical of this region and class in America, colourfully sprinkled with idiom and slang. Equally, his description of scenes is so vivid that the reader can almost feel she/he is there, seeing it through her/his own eyes.

Long chapters narrating the Joads plight are interspersed with shorter chapters elucidating the general social, economic and cultural circumstances extant in those troubled times. These informative chapters give a broader perspective of the general malaise affecting American society then, a background that the Joads’ story then make specific and personal.

I wondered about his choice of title – The Grapes of Wrath. Are the grapes symbolic of a land of opportunity? Maybe there is a double entendre as fruit picking is the major occupation that the Joads pursue (although not specifically grapes). However this promise of paradise is threatened by the “wrath”, a metaphor for the discrimination, persecution and exploitation they suffer.

Read this book. It gives a good insights into how we deal with challenge, with fear, and with loss and hope. It teaches how we might survive and continue in the face of misfortune. It is a story of what is both the best and the worst in human nature.
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The mirror & the light / Hilary Mantel.
Author: Mantel, Hilary, 1952- author.
Publisher: Waterville, USA Large Print Press 2020. -- Waterville, Maine : Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, a Cengage Company, 2020. -- ©2020
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 16/06/2020 8:18:37 PM
Member Rating:
This is the long-awaited finale to Hilary Mantel's trilogy on Thomas Cromwell. Thomas Cromwell a man of humble origins who rises to the pinnacle of power under Henry VIII only to lose his head on the block. Hilary won two Man Booker prizes for each of the first two books in the trilogy Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She has lost none of her literary brilliance in this third novel.

Mantel has conducted meticulous research. In her skilled hands, history comes alive. The reader easily slides into the story to live beside the characters. Complex plots and intrigues are hatched as a multitude of diverse characters vie for position and influence in their monarchs court. Readers can be thankful for a list of characters and family trees at the beginning of the novel. Henry's obsession with his succession and his wife-hopping to achieve this end is well-known. Hilary also throws in a couple of rebellions against the resultant creation of his own church and the dismantling of Catholicism.

The intent and motivation of these characters and alliances is more implied than directly stated. The reader needs to work a little to follow the action. This only works to force focus and involvement. Who wants the boredom of an easy-to-read book? On the other hand some may find the story at times becomes a bit too obscure, a bit too cryptic, the occasional jumps across time and place a bit too erratic.

History paints Cromwell as a somewhat notorious and ruthless villain. Mantel presents him in a more heroic light. Or is he just a complex character with a good dose of ambition tinged with a lust for power power which almost falls into his lap via his king's favour. Cromwell himself is in the unenviable position of not belonging to any court faction. Due to his humble background, the son of a blacksmith and brewer and his meteoric rise to power, he is despised by his social betters, the long-standing noble families. Most would prefer to bring him down and eventually they do but for most of the novel they need and use his influence with the king.

These toxic halls of power are a Machiavellian labyrinth of shifting alliances and relationships. Cromwell has to manage a network of spies both domestic and international as he juggles several pivotal issues affecting the realm the king and those powerful figures around him.

I stumbled across an interesting historical parallel while reading this novel during the COVID-19 lockdown in May-June 2020. Medieval Europe and Tudor England were continually facing threats of plague. When these outbreaks emerged, a limited type of commercial and social lockdown was imposed at the very least to protect the upper classes. Certain places were prohibited to the masses and travel was restricted in designated areas. The king and his family were treated as particularly vulnerable. Hilary Mantel could not have foreseen how prescient or timely her writing was given that when she completed it recently COVID-19 was not even hinted. But it certainly does seem historically accurate. It conjured up a vague memory of a novel I read more than 20 years ago where a medieval village hit by the plague voluntarily closed itself off from the rest of the world in an altruistic attempt to prevent its spread.

Amazingly absent are descriptive paragraphs of scenery. But they are unnecessary. We are all familiar with depictions of Tudor England from the endless movies TV series and documentaries made about this era. It takes no effort at all for the reader to immerse herhimself in the story with the characters that are so richly and realistically developed by the author. The novel is no less atmospheric, the atmosphere being created within the minds and behaviour of these characters.

Cromwell's fall comes as a complete surprise - no build up, no warning. One page he is riding the crest of a wave, the next page he has fallen into a trough and is on his way to the tower. No charges are laid, no committal hearing - a total mystery. Clearly plotters and rivals were working behind the scenes. His trial for the want of a better word illustrates just how far our present justice system has evolved. Imperfect though the latter may be Hilary's depiction of Cromwells trial reminds us to be grateful.

Despite the dark and tension-filled plot, Mantel doesnt fail to infuse a very subtle, quiet humour. Snide sarcasm cynicism and satire sneak into the dialogues, are glimpsed then quickly make way for more serious matters. You will not be able to resist the odd chuckle at human folly and the absurdities of social protocols.

A word of warning. This is a long-winded story. The large print version which I read is 1140 pages. The standard print book looks to be around 700 or 8-900 pages. You really need to read the first two books in this trilogy to fully appreciate or even follow this third book. Alternatively, you could watch the TV series titled Wolf Hall which the library has on DVD.

Hilary Mantel's thorough historical research, her realistic depiction of complex characters, her enigmatic out-of-the-box style and the novel's experiential atmosphere make this book well worth a third Man Booker for its author.
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The mirror & the light / Hilary Mantel.
Author: Mantel, Hilary, 1952-, author. -- Mantel, Hilary, 1952-. Wolf Hall. -- Mantel, Hilary, 1952-. Bring up the bodies.
Publisher: London, England : 4th Estate, 2020.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 16/06/2020 8:17:21 PM
Member Rating:
This is the long-awaited finale to Hilary Mantel's trilogy on Thomas Cromwell. Thomas Cromwell a man of humble origins who rises to the pinnacle of power under Henry VIII only to lose his head on the block. Hilary won two Man Booker prizes for each of the first two books in the trilogy Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She has lost none of her literary brilliance in this third novel.

Mantel has conducted meticulous research. In her skilled hands, history comes alive. The reader easily slides into the story to live beside the characters. Complex plots and intrigues are hatched as a multitude of diverse characters vie for position and influence in their monarchs court. Readers can be thankful for a list of characters and family trees at the beginning of the novel. Henry's obsession with his succession and his wife-hopping to achieve this end is well-known. Hilary also throws in a couple of rebellions against the resultant creation of his own church and the dismantling of Catholicism.

The intent and motivation of these characters and alliances is more implied than directly stated. The reader needs to work a little to follow the action. This only works to force focus and involvement. Who wants the boredom of an easy-to-read book? On the other hand some may find the story at times becomes a bit too obscure, a bit too cryptic, the occasional jumps across time and place a bit too erratic.

History paints Cromwell as a somewhat notorious and ruthless villain. Mantel presents him in a more heroic light. Or is he just a complex character with a good dose of ambition tinged with a lust for power power which almost falls into his lap via his king's favour. Cromwell himself is in the unenviable position of not belonging to any court faction. Due to his humble background, the son of a blacksmith and brewer and his meteoric rise to power, he is despised by his social betters, the long-standing noble families. Most would prefer to bring him down and eventually they do but for most of the novel they need and use his influence with the king.

These toxic halls of power are a Machiavellian labyrinth of shifting alliances and relationships. Cromwell has to manage a network of spies both domestic and international as he juggles several pivotal issues affecting the realm the king and those powerful figures around him.

I stumbled across an interesting historical parallel while reading this novel during the COVID-19 lockdown in May-June 2020. Medieval Europe and Tudor England were continually facing threats of plague. When these outbreaks emerged, a limited type of commercial and social lockdown was imposed at the very least to protect the upper classes. Certain places were prohibited to the masses and travel was restricted in designated areas. The king and his family were treated as particularly vulnerable. Hilary Mantel could not have foreseen how prescient or timely her writing was given that when she completed it recently COVID-19 was not even hinted. But it certainly does seem historically accurate. It conjured up a vague memory of a novel I read more than 20 years ago where a medieval village hit by the plague voluntarily closed itself off from the rest of the world in an altruistic attempt to prevent its spread.

Amazingly absent are descriptive paragraphs of scenery. But they are unnecessary. We are all familiar with depictions of Tudor England from the endless movies TV series and documentaries made about this era. It takes no effort at all for the reader to immerse herhimself in the story with the characters that are so richly and realistically developed by the author. The novel is no less atmospheric, the atmosphere being created within the minds and behaviour of these characters.

Cromwell's fall comes as a complete surprise - no build up, no warning. One page he is riding the crest of a wave, the next page he has fallen into a trough and is on his way to the tower. No charges are laid, no committal hearing - a total mystery. Clearly plotters and rivals were working behind the scenes. His trial for the want of a better word illustrates just how far our present justice system has evolved. Imperfect though the latter may be Hilary's depiction of Cromwells trial reminds us to be grateful.

Despite the dark and tension-filled plot, Mantel doesnt fail to infuse a very subtle, quiet humour. Snide sarcasm cynicism and satire sneak into the dialogues, are glimpsed then quickly make way for more serious matters. You will not be able to resist the odd chuckle at human folly and the absurdities of social protocols.

A word of warning. This is a long-winded story. The large print version which I read is 1140 pages. The standard print book looks to be around 700 or 8-900 pages. You really need to read the first two books in this trilogy to fully appreciate or even follow this third book. Alternatively, you could watch the TV series titled Wolf Hall which the library has on DVD.

Hilary Mantel's thorough historical research, her realistic depiction of complex characters, her enigmatic out-of-the-box style and the novel's experiential atmosphere make this book well worth a third Man Booker for its author.
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A long petal of the sea / Isabel Allende ; translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.
Author: Allende, Isabel, author. -- Caistor, Nick, translator. -- Hopkinson, Amanda, 1948-, translator.
Publisher: London : Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020. -- 2020.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 23/05/2020 3:23:16 PM
Member Rating:
A Long Petal of the Sea By Isabel Allende. This is a story of love and relationships in times of two major periods of political turmoil spanning a period of almost 50 years. It begins during the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s. The protagonist and his sister-in-law flee Spain and remake their lives as refugees in Chile. They become entangled with an elite family and establish connections with Salvatore Allende elected as Chiles first radicalMaxist president in 1970. He was killed in a military coup led by General Pinochet that overthrew his government in 1973. The author is the step-daughter of Salvatore Allende who was also the cousin of her natural father. She herself had to seek exile in Venezuela as a result of this coup. The story is fast paced. There are no stylistic quirks so it easy reading. Perhaps it is too easy. For me there was an absolute absence of those sporadic suspenseful events where you feel you cant wait to get to the next chapter. It needed something more to add some zest. To be fair this might be expected given what the author says in her notes. Apparently she met the man on whom she modelled her protagonist late in his life. She heard his life story and did a little research. After this she confesses she didnt need to write the book it just wrote itself. So no surprises. But it is written in interesting historical periods. Learn a little about the Spanish Civil War Chilean society and culture and a couple of tumultuous periods in its history. Learn how people from different social classes and backgrounds coped with the challenges presented. I only gave this novel two stars but given what I said in the last couple of paragraphs others may find more interest in it. It is certainly worth a read.
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Danubia : a personal history of Habsburg Europe / Simon Winder.
Author: Winder, Simon.
Publisher: London : Picador, 2013.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 5/05/2020 8:13:57 PM
Member Rating:
This is essentially a story about the Hapsburg dynasty which ruled vast portions of Europe for over 600 years. It is also a story of the Holy Roman Empire for which it provided emperors until it formally ceased with the rise of Napoleon. Thereafter the dynasty continued to rule the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. While Winders historical information may be accurate his presentation is incoherent. It is not a chronological stroll from the beginning to the end of the dynasty. He is all over the place like a dogs breakfast. At one point he may be talking about one emperor or historical event then without warning may jump back or forwards a century or two before jumping onto another subject and time. As he gives no historical table of personalities or events I was forced to consult a secondary source e.g. an encyclopaedia or Google to orientate myself in time. Then there were his interludes into the present where he would recount some personal experience when he travelled through former Hapsburg lands. He shows us churches and other monuments explores literature artworks and music. Which is fine if you appreciate these historical productions but I found it often distracted from the general flow of the historical narrative. This is probably not a book to read from beginning to end. It is more a dipping book. I often found myself scanning skimming and skipping to find the next interesting bit. And I did find many of interesting bits that I read thoroughly. But I also skipped a lot. A cohesive history this book is not. But it does contain history plus much more. Give it a go and see if it appeals to your tastes.
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