Tag Archives: history

1066: The Year That Changed Everything (book review)

1066: The Year That Changed Everything1066: The Year That Changed Everything by Jennifer Paxton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An excellent starter guide to 1066.

1066, a year that changed England and by default changed Europe and on top America. It doesn’t get covered much in classes here in the United States, all I ever really knew was about the battle itself and that it changed things.

These short lectures go in detail on the cultures of the different sides, the leaders and the politics of the time. It also was the first time that I heard of the Queen of England who was queen twice, once for the Nordic side, then for the Normans.

It will leaving you wanting to know more, whether you interpret that as a good place or are annoyed that it wasn’t more detailed will be up to the individual.

All I can say is I liked it, it is a little studied historical event that isn’t covered in America much. I recommend if you like it, get it.

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Great Mythologies of the World (book review)

Great Mythologies of the WorldGreat Mythologies of the World by Grant L. Voth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Type: Audible
Length: 31 hours 36 minutes

An incredibly brief but informative journey around the world!

This was a great series of lectures of mythology from around the world. I wouldn’t say it is the most in depth, but it covers so many cultures that it surprised and entertained me.

As someone who has read a lot of Greek, Roman, some other European and Egyptian mythology there was nothing surprising. I have heard all these before and in more depth, so it was a disappointment. However, this is an overall view so of course they would skim the surface not dig deep.

The beauty of this was in the other Middle Eastern myths, Southeast Asian myths and African myths. I am sure they are much like the Greek and Roman mythology covered. They are probably the very basic myths and not connected well between then. However, they were brand new to me and have inspired me to check them out closer.

The one problematic area were the Native American myths. Most of them were great, I enjoyed listening to them. The problematic myth though involved what seemed to be a tale about a child watching her father be with what seems to be a two-spirit or possibly transgender lover and in the end that lover killed her father.

What bothered me greatly about this was his constant reference of that being/person/creature being a transvestite and how it was wrong. I do admit it felt personal and in full disclosure I am transgender myself, but his CV indicates no professional experience with Native American subject matter (that isn’t anything he is listed as being a specialist in) and it felt like a personal conservative viewpoint with an agenda. The rest of his myths seemed fine, but his personal observations on that one are what bothered me a lot and is why it only gets a four.

Like many of their courses, I definitely recommend this course in mythology. It is well worth the time, money and effort to get through almost 32 hours of courses. Or at least it was for me.

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History’s Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach (book review)

History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They TeachHistory’s Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach by Gregory S. Aldrete
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Type: Audible
Length: 12h 11m

Hubris, stupidity, or just bad luck. It doesn’t matter when you lose.

Another great class from the Great Courses. This time is an in depth look at 24 different blunders made by different militaries/leaders from ancient history to more recent times.

Whether its mistakes made by Roman commanders, or British Army officers in India it doesn’t matter. Bad leaders get moved up the ranks and cause the result you expect. Often times without permanent injury to their own career (barring people like Custer of course).

Each 30 minute lecture is an excellent overview of a specific event. The details of each blunder is precise, and Dr. Aldrete gives a lot of support and explanation of the surrounding circumstances. There were a few blunders I knew about, and a lot I didn’t.

He presents an intriguing class, with a well worded, well performed voice, without being too distracting. I enjoyed the whole thing. I definitely recommend this great course, and I also am pretty sure I recommend Dr. Gregory Aldrete, at least for historical courses.

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The Goths and Vandals: The History and Legacy of the Barbarians Who Sacked Rome in the 5th (book review)

The Goths and Vandals: The History and Legacy of the Barbarians Who Sacked Rome in the 5th Century CEThe Goths and Vandals: The History and Legacy of the Barbarians Who Sacked Rome in the 5th Century CE by Charles River Editors

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Book Type: Audible
Length: 2h 18m

I should have known better!

Last review I did, about Isis was also by the Charles River Editors. I figured they couldn’t mess that up. After all its a historical book, how can they mess it up again. Oh but they did.

Let’s start that it is dry, monotonous and has no interesting information. The narrator is not my favorite, but I am not familiar with him so maybe he is different in other things.

Let’s continue on to the personalizing facts and just being out of order. It was put together in a way that is not useful to most people. It is a shame because I have to tell you the price was pretty darn good.

I think there will be no more Charles River Editor in my life. I wish them well, but just don’t work for me.

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Gilgamesh: A New English Version (book review)

Gilgamesh: A New English VersionGilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book Type: Audible Book
Length: 4h 5m

The retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh is fantastic.

For people who do not realize, the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest mythological stories uncovered (at least to my knowledge). Many historians believe that the flood in this is the original story that is rewritten in the Bible, as it predates the Bible’s authors by thousands of years.

That being said, very little of the Epic is readable, they have only been able to put together a portion of the story, and the majority is still missing. So Mr. Mitchell’s interpretation of the story is subject to a lot of author input. Other authors with other translations have had the story feel different, so that is just something to be aware.

That being said, Mr. Mitchell takes the limited prose of the story available and places it into a very cohesive version. He fills in some of the cracks for readability/understandability. This is a much better layperson version then the story as it was written in my college textbooks.

If you like mythology and like to read something that isn’t Greek or Roman, this is the one you want to start with. It has everything, murder, sex, quests, all of it is here.

Just read it.

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Up From Slavery (book review)

Up from SlaveryUp from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have a lot of respect for Mr. Washington and what he did, however “Up From Slavery” was at best a disappointment, at worst tragic if he really believed and thought the way it seems in the book.

The book itself wasn’t written as a book, it was written as a series of writings/essays/etc. He received feedback and criticism as he had them published and you could tell in the book how some of the tone and what he talked about shifted.

I liked the first portion of the book, recounting the life as a child slave and then how he went to get his education and the struggles he faced. I was a bit caught off guard about the rosey glow he gave that time of his life, but I didn’t think too much about it until I got further in the book.

The portions I didn’t like were more numerous.

First and foremost I disliked how he talked about other African Americans in general. There was a lot of innuendo that they tended to be lazy and how unlikely they would to get ahead without “hard labor”. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is value in labor, but it felt like he was infantilizing/putting down black people. As he got further in the book it was even more apparent, and my assumption is the later parts of the book were his views after criticisms from some of the white people he knew.

Second, I disliked how there was constant reference to the white people in his life and how they always saved the day. Never a negative word, and in places almost an unnerving obeisance to those people. He stressed the generosity of the white people far more than any positives from his own.

This all wraps up in Washington’s silence about the brutality and cruelty of slavery. He even at one point in time mentioned that the black man got as much out of slavery as the white man and made the black man more capable of himself. In addition the simplistic almost happy way he talks about his experiences as a child under slavery stunned me as an almost complicit about slavery feel.

He even mentions once that the Ku Klux Klan was gone forever. He never once mentions the disenfranchisement of his people, the lynchings and second class citizen status. I have a hard time believing that he never suffered from it himself since he didn’t come from money. That is until I got to the last half of the book.

The last half of the book gave me an idea of why he might have written all about this, in this manner. The last half of the book reads more like a person campaigning for donations for his school, and at that time the most likely place to get money would be from rich white people. If you take that pessimistic view, then the book makes perfect sense. It gives a little bit of background without offending the whites who he is seeking donations from.

That doesn’t make him a bad person. His drive to educate his people was unquestionable and if this was his way to try and gain more donations for them then I can’t blame him at all. That being said at best this book was a disappointment, and if he truly believed the stuff he talked about it was tragic.

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a HurryAstrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Type: Audible Book
Length: 3h 41m

This is absolutely the best book I have read or listened to in years. I could just listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson read a laundry list, but he makes astrophysics and the history of the universe so smooth.

I have read up a lot for a layman on a lot of the things he covers, yet with just this short book lasting less then four hours made it so much clearer.

While I hate the whole schtick of “we are made of stardust” that is liberally spread everywhere on t-shirts and memes. However, the way he explains why that is true makes it a lot easier to accept and actually does a lot to give you that wonder of the universe.

This book is good for whatever your religious or non-religious belief. He makes no attacks on people, only explains what science has uncovered.

I cannot urge people enough to read/listen/whatever this book. I think it would be great to start with all kids in high school. It would take less then a day and it might open up some eyes, or at least some minds.

I just saw that he has a Great Lessons course called the “Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries”, I think I need to pick that up ASAP.

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The Home Front: Life in America During World War II

The Home Front: Life in America During World War IIThe Home Front: Life in America During World War II by Audible Original
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Type: Audible Book
Length: 8h 12m

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I should clarify, it isn’t really a book, more like a documentary in an audiobook format, or a radio serial from the 1940s. I don’t think they even have a text copy of this.

It takes a view on the American home front before and during World War II. It goes over the issues that the American civilians went through from the growing issues in Europe, through the war itself. It utilizes Martin Sheen as a narrator of the situation, but you get to hear the actual radio broadcasts from the government and civilians.

You get a view on the civilians themselves and it is rather eye opening. I always knew things weren’t so patriotic on the home front (or even in the military). While there are a lot of great things we talk about that generation, there were also major problems as well, and you hear it from the people’s own voices.

FDR had a thing where people would broadcast questions or opinions to him on the radio and he would sometimes respond (but usually not, too many people). There are a lot of people professing what we attribute to the greatest generation, a lot of caring people who were going to do what they needed to do.

I wasn’t surprised at the negative people though. I knew that there were a lot of racists people, a lot of antisemitic people, and it was a bit discouraging to hear them talk. They sounded a lot like the alt-right in current days.

I think the most surprising thing was hearing how the people drafted in World War II were very reluctant to go. It sounded like most were going to go anyways, but there wasn’t nearly the wave of volunteers that our mythic popular culture says. This isn’t a bad thing, and it actually reassures me that we aren’t much different.

I definitely enjoyed this book. I recommend others to listen.

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Great Courses: Other Side of History – Daily Life in the Ancient World

The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient WorldThe Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World by Robert Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Type: Audible Book
Length: 24h 28m

This course made me miss going to college.

Professor Garland is clear, crisp and smooth with the material. I never realized how interesting it would be to have 48 lessons that cover the common person’s life from Neanderthal through the medieval times.

It was interesting to hear how a common person lived. Ranging from slaves, to women (sometimes one and the same, sadly more often then sometimes), to citizens, soldiers and merchants. It was interesting to hear about what their day to day lives were like, who they married and what they did when they had a day off.

I have no complaints about this Great Course, and definitely no complaints about the professor. The only thing is I did wish it had more with other cultures, but that is because I knew a lot of the information from my other studies. However, that isn’t a problem because of the Course.

This was definitely 24 hours worth of instruction that was worth it. I am going to pick up my next set of lessons from the Great Courses immediately.
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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern WorldGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book Type: Audible Book
Length: 14h 19m

Once again this is for the audiobook version.

I have read about Genghis Khan before, but this book delves so deeply into the topic that I was surprised constantly by it. The story of his family, the betrayals, in-fighting and both luck and skill on the battle field.

Funny enough, the one fact that sticks with me the most is that the Mongols were not a literate people, but to retain the knowledge of all the laws, and to relay orders across hundreds and thousands of miles without losing detail they would sing it in verse.

Evidently Mongols sung constantly when riding, and not just songs, but laws, instructions, etc. Singing is one of the ways to trick your mind not to forget specific wording, and avoid the horrid “telephone game” effect.

It is a very long listen, but it was worth all of it.

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