Books read in March (7)
by Hunter Davies
A great collection of trivia which could serve as a good sourcebook for quiz masters. Fun to read and to tax your friends with . Find out when the bra was invented. Enjoy last words and strange epitaphs.
One small criticism. Some of the items will date quickly so read now.
2. Earthly Powers: The Conflict Between Religion and Politics from the French Revolution to the Great War
by Michael Burleigh
A fine history of religion in Europe from the horrors of th French Revolution to those of the trenches of the first World War and its influence on politics, particularly the rise of nationalism.
He writes well and with great breadth of learning. You need to have a dictionary to hand. He is no bland academic pretending to an objective neutrality. He is scathingly critical of received Marxist views of history.
He concentrates on the big players, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and Italy. Presumably he sees these as the significant participants. This I believe leads to one glaring omission, The Netherlands, and the Protestants there who gave the best critique of the Enligtenment and the revolution it produced. Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper are never mentioned. Their Anti-Revolutionary Party whose ground breaking alliance with the Catholics led to Kuyper becoming Prime Minister is ignored. Yet the influence of Kuyper continues today beyong his home country. By contrast Burleigh tells us about many people seemingly forgotten by all.
One final minor quibble. Describing English dissenters as going form being sects to churches sounds to me like Anglican prejudice unless the author thinks that sects grow into churches when they enlarge.
But this is a superb history to impove one's understanding of European history.
3. Disraeli by Edgar Feuchtwanger
The first book I read in this series was on Oliver Cromwell. There the book was dealing with a man whose reputation has always been a matter of controversy for he bestrides the history of his age like a colossus.
Disraeli is one of the two great Prime Minister's of the Victorian age but he is no Cromwell. If anything he remains in the shadow of his nemesis, Gladstone. As well as being of different parties, they were me of great contrasts in terms of origins as well as principles. This book is more of a short biography rather than an analysis of a controverted reputation.
Having read this biography,one may conclude that Dizzy's one guiding principle was his own career.He had been baptised in infancy but his adherance to Christianity seems to be one of convenience. If he had stayed with his origins he could not have been an MP let alone become PM. he had to fight anti-semitic prejudice so his rise is remarkable. He did not have the education or family finances of Gladstone. He did not have his passion for Christian faith either. His espousal of the low church and Evangelicals seems to be more an oppostion to Gladsone's Tractarianism more than principle. So in the rest of life, Dizzy seems the supreme political pragmatist, wheeling and dealing to keep solvent and rise up to the top of the slippery pole.
He started out as a novelist. As a writer he is certainly a better seller than the turgid and prolix Gladstone whose writng was theological rather than fiction. As a speaker he does not have the Grand Old Man's reputation but he was certainly a telling debater.
He married for money but enjoyed a happy union with a wife who could be embarrassing. He certainly had a happy relationship with his queen. Flattery he laid on with a trowel making her Empress of India.
A remarkable man. A great Victorian and perhaps the first really pragmatic politician.
4. The Great Plague in London in 1665 by Walter George Bell
In 1665 London probably has a population of half a million. It is likely that 20% perished in the plague. That is deaths equivalent to over three times the population of England's second leargest city of the time, Norwich. The rich fled with king and court. Ordinary people stayed and died at the rate of up to 1000 a week. Insanitary conditions and total ignorance of the cause of plague helped it spread. The heroes were the ministers recently ejected from the Church of England who steyed to care for the sufferers.
This is an horritic account of times hard to imagine in their tregedy. Lots of figures and not really a gripping read . This was worse than the blitz, pandemic flu or AIDS.
5. Cassell's Humorous Quotations - Nigel Rees
Qutations are my hobby as you can see at http://www.christiansquoting.org.uk
This is the best book of humorous quotations I have come across., much better than Oxford's offerring. Rees is well known from Quote Unquote and a lot from that programme finds its way here in both the quotes and the footnotes. I have never come across a quotations book with such an overload of food and quote disease. The notes are often many times longer than the quotes. That is actually helpful as the history of a quote is ofter given in detail. Most highl recommended.
6. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
I really enjoyed this account of a family that by Afghan standards seems well to do. What hit me was the devastation that the country has suffered and the totally male dominated family life portrayed.
It is not without a certain appeal to a male of chauvinistic patriarchal tendencies, but who would want to be an Afghan woman?
They suffered most terribly under the Taliban but still their life is portrayed as one without anything a Western person would recognise as freedom, especially in the most important thing in a woman's
life, the choice of a husband. Young girls are married off to old men as second or third wives, often for mercenary motivation. Male honour is everything. Woe betide the girl who does not show the
bloody proof of her viginity on the wedding night. Death may result from sexual impropriety. No going out unless covered head to toe and accompanied by a male relative. Women valued only for
child bearing and caring for the men's demands. An older first wife is not treated equitably by her husband.
Here the head of the house is king. No-one crosses him. If they do they are shunned or punished. The concepts of mercy or forgiveness seem foreign to the bookseller. His treatment of the carpenter
who steals from him is brutal. His family seem to fear, never love him.
I hope to visit friends in Kabul this year. I trust I will find some happier Afghan families.
This book is well written but saddening. One feels for what unchallenged Islam has done in this society.
7. The Age of Empire, 1875-1914 ~E.J. Hobsbawm
The third in this series by the Marxist historian. He is not a gripping writer of history.