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Arts Reviews Archive
This book fills me with nerd rage. It's such an arrogant and ill-informed Victorian age view of the history of fencing. The author is so thoroughly caught up with the nineteenth century idea of progress that he cannot see anything beyond what he wants to see. Sadly, the book is still the best history of fencing from the Middle Ages to the present day. Here's a sample:
Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea by Christine Garwood is at once incredibly interesting and hopelessly broken. It is seriously let down by its misleading subtitle and back cover blurb as well as by meandering aimlessly through its subject matter. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating look at the development of science and the persistence of belief in the cold hard light of fact.
Title: The Knight in History
Author: Frances Gies
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2011
Any one with an interest in the middle ages should read this book. It’s definitely not a masterpiece of literature but it clearly outline the development of the concept of knighthood from its origins in the eighth and ninth centuries until its slow, sad decline around the sixteenth century. The unstated aim of the work appears to be to counter the dreadful notions of knighthood we’ve inherited from the the Victorian era.
Professor Gies covers history of knighthood […]
Title: Pegasus Bridge
Author: Stephen E Ambrose
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 2002
Ambrose book is a great read for anyone with even a passing interest in the event but it is not without its faults. It’s purpose should be thought of as an introduction to this amazing event in military history rather than a definitive or in-depth history of the action.
Growing up on war movies and historical miniatures gaming, I’ve pretty much always been aware of the efforts of Johnny Howard‘s lads to take and hold the bridges over […]
Title: On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
Author: Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books (revised) 2009
This is a fascinating read which ultimately tries to cram too much into too small a book. Depending on which of its many and sometimes conflicting aims you are considering, it either succeeds marvellously or fails dismally. At its heart, however, the book explores what happens to men on the battlefield, what it takes to make them kill and how they live with the knowledge […]
Magnatune is a record label which only publishes online. You can't get music from them in CD format but you can make yourself an account for either downloading or for streaming their artists. For me, this is where I get my fill of early, medieval, renaissance, baroque and lute music. (At this point, I predict half of you have stopped reading and the other half have pricked up your ears. There's plenty of other music and genres from folk to industrial and metal available. Keep reading.)
Title: A Model Victory: Waterloo and the Battle for History
Author: Malcolm Balen
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: HarperPerennial (2006)
I was looking for a small and accessible history of the Napoleonic Wars or of Waterloo (most books on the subject are neither) when I found this gem. It’s not so much a history of Waterloo, as I originally thought, but a description of how of the Battle for the Battle of Waterloo in which various force vie to be the one who writes the history of that fateful day — a much more interesting subject as it turns […]
Author: Edward Peters
Paperback: 362 pages
Publisher: University of California Press, 1989
This brilliant study is immensely valuable to the amateur historian on three levels. The least of these is how it shows the Inquisition as the outcome of the legal system of Ancient Rome. It also examines in detail the organization, procedures, process and results of the various inquisition throughout an 800+ year history based on the notoriously meticulous records recently released from the Vatican Archive. More importantly, it compares the process of the inquisition to that of secular courts […]
Title: D-Day 6 June 1944
Author: Stephen E Ambrose
Paperback: 656 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
D-Day is one of the few truly momentous events of the twentieth century. Ambrose book captures the experience from the recollections and memories of the poor bastards who lived through it. In this, he has created a wonderful record of the build up, execution and aftermath of the event which should be read by everyone. The book’s only fault is that it’s written by an American.
The strategy of the book is to start at the widest possible scale then narrow in […]
Niccolo Machiavelli is the odd man out on my Italian Renaissance reading list in that he is a political theorist rather than a poet and lived around 150-200 years are the other three authors on the list: Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. He’s also completely misunderstood by people who have only read his other famous book, The Prince.
Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (1517) is Machiavelli’s reactions in essay form to reading the Roman author’s history of the great Republic and looking at the political world of his own day and, in particular, of his home town, […]
Next on my Italian Renaissance reading list is the father of Humanism, Francesco Petrarca, better know in the English speaking world simply as Petrarch (1304-76). He spanned the gap between Dante and Boccaccio, being friends with the latter and his dad mostly likely being an acquaintance of the former.
I’ve read and studied Petrarch before, at university and after. Reading him in translation is always a bit of a disappointment. The translator can choose either to convey his carefully nuanced meaning complete with complex classical allusions or to capture the easy flowing music of his words. No single translation can […]
Next on my reading list of the Italian Renaissance is the Divine Comedy (or Commedia) of Dante Alighieri, written some time between 1308 and 1321 after his exile from his beloved Florence with the expulsion of the White Guelphs. It can in some ways be seen as Dante’s way of dealing with this blow in the same way as Boethius wrote the Consolation of Philosophy to deal with his impending execution.
Before saying a few words about each of the three books of the Commedia, I want to point out a couple of things about the whole which I […]
I’ve just finished read the Decameron, as part of my literary tour of the Florentine Renaissance, and I want to say a few words about my reactions to it in order to enlighten those poor, benighted illitates out there who haven’t experienced the joy of reading this book. I’m not going to say anything about Boccaccio himself or the book as a whole as you can look that up yourself.
The first thing the struck me was the lengthy description of how the Black Plague hit Florence only a couple of years before. Even across a gap of some 650 […]
My fascination with the Italian Renaissance, its history and in particular its literature, continues to grow. To feed it, I’m embarking on a small reading project which covers the greats of the period. Here’s the list of those authors who made the grade (notice that they’re all either Florentine or intimately associated with Florence). Let me know of any others I should add to the list.
All of these authors I’ve read before but either in excerpt or a long, long time ago in a university far, far away. Now, I can give them the time and appreciation they deserve. […]
This is a follow on from the facebook meme which has been doing the rounds of late. Below are a list of four writers whose work has changed the way I look at the world, at people or at fiction. Surprisingly, there’s no literary figures here. All of them are commercial writers. I figured that the likes of William Shakespeare, Italo Calvino or Geoffery Chaucer would figure in the shorter list but they don’t. Great literature may elucidate the human condition but, when the chips are down, we turn to that which speaks to us loudly and clearly rather than […]