Posts Tagged ‘history’

Book Review: The Forest Laird

March 29th, 2012 No comments

By Jack Whyte
Forge Books ©2012 | Hardcover 512pgs

Scottish history buffs and fans of historical fiction will have no trouble immersing themselves in The Forest Laird: A Tale of William Wallace, the first novel in the new Guardians Trilogy by Jack Whyte. The bestselling author of the Dream of Eagles series and The Camulod Chronicles, Scottish born Whyte imagines the early life of one of his homeland’s greatest heroes. The author conducted in-depth research into his subject, even traveling throughout Scotland on a fact-finding mission. Unfortunately little documentation remains of the freedom fighter’s life before his stunning victory against the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. However, this absence of fact is fertile ground for the mind of an historical novelist, and the writer fills the void with very interesting and well-developed characters. Read more…


A Storyteller Shaped by History

January 24th, 2012 No comments

In a recent interview with The Children’s Book Review, celebrated children’s book author Patricia Polacco spoke about her gift of storytelling. When asked if it was a gift she was born with, the author replied: “I don’t know that story tellers are born. I think I was shaped into one by being raised by amazing story tellers. My dad was a wonderful story teller, his family was Irish. My mother’s people were Russian and Ukrainian, natural story tellers. So I literally, inherited it from both sides.”

Polacco has certainly nurtured the talents her ancestors passed on to her, as is evident in her numerous awards and the impressive list of over 50 picture books that she has written and illustrated, including Bun Bun Button, The Art of Miss Chew, and The Keeping Quilt. But it is not only her personal history that inspires her stories, but also cultural and folkloric history as well. Her latest book, Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln, takes two young boys on a trip through time to meet President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. While the beloved story Babushka Baba Yaga, was based on Russian folklore. Read more…


Philippa Gregory Paints History in Fact and Fiction

January 6th, 2012 No comments

Last Fall, fans of British history and historical fiction were twice blessed with new books from bestselling historical novelist Philippa Gregory. Esteemed historians David Baldwin and Michael Jones joined the author in writing The Women of the Cousins’ War (Touchstone, 352pgs), a book of factual essays on three influential female figures during the events of England’s Wars of the Roses (1455–1485). Baldwin writes of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, who was noted as being the first commoner in England to marry a king for love. Jones, outlines the life of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and one of the lesser known women of the Tudor dynasty. Gregory presents the early life of Jacquetta, duchess of Bedford, who at one time stood trial for witchcraft. Along with this non-fiction account, Gregory also published The Lady of the Rivers (Touchstone, 464pgs), a fictional telling of Jacquetta’s life. Read more…


Robert Massie Dispels Myths with “Catherine the Great”

November 14th, 2011 1 comment

Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Robert K. Massie separates historical rumor from documented fact with his new book Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 656pgs). Massie has proven himself to be an enthusiast of all things Russian with his previous books, including the bestselling Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great, and according to a review in USA TODAY, his enthusiasm does not wane with this new subject. Catherine, born into minor German nobility and married off to her second cousin, the heir to the Russian throne, at 16, is affectionately portrayed as intelligent, driven and forthright. Upon her marriage, she begins a rigorous self-education, learning Russian, adopting her new homeland’s Orthodox faith and devouring books on all subjects. Her actions endear her to the Russian people, though the citizenry feel quite the opposite about Peter, her arrogant and cruel husband. Just months into Peter’s reign, the reviled czar is overthrown and 33 year-old Catherine is enthroned, though the book posits that it is unlikely she orchestrated the coup. Read more…


New Release: In the Garden of Beasts

May 10th, 2011 No comments

By Erik Larson
Crown | 464pgs
Release Date: May 10, 2011

Bestselling non-fiction writer Erik Larson tells the electrifying true story of little known American ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd in In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. Dodd, previously a professor of history at the University of Chicago, assumed his post in Germany in 1933, at the dawn of Hitler’s power. The ambassadorship to Germany was not considered a plum assignment due to the country’s heavy debt to the U.S., but the professor and his family were initially charmed by members of the Nazi party. Dodd’s daughter, Martha, an unabashed party girl, was particularly taken with the extravagant soirées of Berlin’s social scene and engaged in a number of affairs with the Nazi elite. But, soon the immense evil of the Third Reich began to pierce through the veneer of civility, and the Dodd family grew fearful of Hitler’s greed for power. The ambassador’s warnings of danger to the U.S. State Department went largely ignored, as things grew worse in Germany. Tensions finally came to a head as the family witnessed Hitler’s bloody power-play during “the Night of Long Knives”, when the dictator quashed his opposition. Read more…


Panoramic Photo Showcases Stunning Baroque Library

April 4th, 2011 No comments

Panoramic view of Philosophical Hall in Prague's Strahov Monastery library.

In February of this year, photographer Jeffrey Martin took on the daunting task of photographing every square inch of Philosophical Hall, the lavishly decorated Baroque reading room located in Prague’s Strahov Monastery library. As reported on the Wired website, Martin’s goal was to compile thousands of still images into a high resolution panoramic photo that shows the entire hall in 360-degrees. Part of a library that is nearly nine centuries old, Philosophical Hall holds 42,000 rare books, including some owned by Napoleon. The library contains many of the most influential books of Central Europe during the 18th century. Read more…


New Release: Unfamiliar Fishes

March 28th, 2011 No comments

By Sarah Vowell
Riverhead Hardcover | 256pgs
Release Date: March 22, 2011

Bestselling author and popular NPR contributor, Sarah Vowell, studies the history of Hawai’i during the 19th century in her new book Unfamiliar Fishes. The arrival of priggish New England missionaries in 1820 sets off a series of events that leads to eventual American annexation and U.S. statehood. While converting the native population to Christianity and attempting to tamp out prostitution with the visiting whalers, the missionaries also managed to nearly destroy the indigenous island way of life and begat a generation of children that would conspire with the U.S. military to overthrow the Hawaiian queen in 1893. With her rapier wit, Vowell describes the events of 1898, where in a spate of orgiastic imperialism, the U.S. annexed Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico in addition to invading Cuba and the Philippines, thus establishing the nation as an international superpower. Read more…


The King’s Speech Cements Enduring Friendship

January 28th, 2011 No comments

51If-pfAg8L._SL160_When The King’s Speech racked up 12 Oscar noms on Tuesday, the acting talents of Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter were widely lauded. But it is the crux of the real-life relationship between King George VI of England and speech therapist Lionel Logue, that provides the actors with the basis for their compelling performances. Lionel’s grandson, Mark, inherited his grandfather’s archive of the work he did with the British monarch and the friendship they developed, and worked with author Peter Conradi to write The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy a companion book to the movie. What is not shown in the film is the longevity of the friendship between these two men, which began when Australian-born elocution instructor Lionel started work with the Royal to overcome his stutter. The two remained friends for the rest of their lives, and the collection of hundreds of letters between Lionel, George VI and his wife Elizabeth chronicle a long term bond. “The content of the letters between them is incredibly friendly as you’d expect between two friends,” Mark Logue tells “But there is a kind of etiquette that Lionel still abides by,” always opening letters with “your Royal Highness.” Read more…


Depression-Era Generosity Still Resonates Today

December 22nd, 2010 No comments

41q88YMX-XL._SL160_During the summer of 2008, as journalist Ted Gup sifted through the dusty contents of an old suitcase once belonging to his grandfather, he made a surprising discovery. A trove of letters, heartfelt pleas for help written during the dark days of the Depression, was uncovered. Further investigation found that Gup’s grandfather, Sam Stone, had placed a small ad in a Canton, Ohio newspaper days before Christmas in 1933 calling on people to write to him about their need, and offering “Financial aid”. Stone used the alias, B. Virdot, and promised all the letter writers confidentiality. Good to his word, the man sent $5 to 150 families, about $12,400 translated into today’s money. These honest, raw letters and his grandfather’s simple act of kindness served as the impetus for Gup’s book A Secret Gift (The Penguin Press HC, 368pgs). Read more…


Cleopatra: The Woman Behind the Myth

December 21st, 2010 No comments

41JixniLMIL._SL160_Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff searches for the real woman behind the centuries old myths in the new biography Cleopatra: A Life (Little, Brown and Company, 384pgs). Historical propaganda has often painted the Egyptian queen as a scheming beauty who seduced powerful men like Julius Caesar and Marc Antony for political gain. But Schiff’s research revealed a much more intelligent and nuanced personality. “It’s astonishing how tenacious a myth is. I mean, Plutarch is the first to say that her beauty was by no means as remarkable as was her charm and her intellect. And here we are 2,000 years later and we’re still stressing the beauty,” says Schiff in an interview with SFGate. “Here you have an incredibly ambitious, accomplished woman who comes up against some of the same problems that women in power come up against today. Cleopatra plays an oddly pivotal role in world history as well; in her lifetime, Alexandria is the center of the universe, Rome is still a backwater.” Read more…