Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Dead Famous: Horatio Nelson and his Victory by Philip Reeve - Book Review

This is about the British Admiral of the 18th and early 19th century, Horatio Nelson, best known for leading the British fleet to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (the origin of the name Tragalgar Square in London, with a huge statue of Nelson) against the fleet of the Spanish and the French.

The book starts with his early life, being from an ordinary family in Norfolk with influential relatives; especially his uncle Captain Maurice Suckling because of whom young Horatio was interested in joining the navy; eventually going as a midshipman during his uncle's campaign in Falklands. The book then goes on to talk about his various campaigns; such as the one in Nicaragua, France, Italy and Spain (where he loses an eye and an arm) and the successes which made him a national hero back at home. The book also focuses on his personal life, his marriage and eventual affair with Emma Hamilton which received him negative publicity from the British public. The book then goes on to talk about his rivalry with the French icon Napoleon, and how he ended up foiling various plans of his at Egypt, Italy and finally, at the Battle of Trafalgar, where Nelson was killed in action, only to become a national symbol of the UK in future.

This book brought out the various characteristics of Nelson's personality; such as his extreme confidence in himself destined for something great, his absolute lack of modesty about his abilities, his highly conservative views such as opposition to Jacobin clubs and any rebellion against kings, and also, his love affairs. The book could also effectively be seen as a Horrible Histories book on British naval campaigns from 1780 to 1806 covering various wars that Britain was involved in during the period. I felt the illustrations in this book were particularly good, be it the depictions or the diary where Nelson records 'events' - especially where they change the handwriting to a really bad one after the loss of his right hand.

However, I felt that the book could have focused a little more on his journey till he became a captain; which was covered in a single page where it merely mentioned his involvement in Kandyan wars in Ceylon and the Anglo Mysore war in India.

On a side note, this is the second time I am reading this book and the last time I read it was seven years ago, when I was quite impressed by Nelson mainly for his determination, courage and confidence in his abilities even after his disability. However, now when I read it, what actually stood out were his extreme conservative views and his utmost regard for the king (upto which I don't have a problem) and his absolute hatred towards revolutionaries and now, apart from the other qualities, what I feel is that Nelson was part of the snobbish aristocracy in Europe who were delaying the much needed societal reform. But with all this said, I really appreciate the book for bringing out all these details and helping me form an opinion on Nelson.

On the whole, I really enjoyed reading the book, despite it being the second time and I would award the book a rating of eight on ten.

Rating - 8/10

Have a nice day,

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Black Death by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a brief summary by Hourly History of the plague that ravaged Europe and several other parts of the world during the 14th century; known for wiping out an estimated 450 million people, much higher than both World Wars combined.

The book starts with the origin of the plague; which happens to be Central Asia, contrary to the popular notion that it was a European problem. The book talked about the fleas originating from modern day Kyrgyzstan moving and how it entered the European continent through Marseille in south west France. The book then went on to talk about the symptoms of the disease and how, nearly every family had a victim to the plague. It also talked about how the society tried to deal with it, mainly through religious means and appointing people known as plague doctors, who attempted to heal the sick; though, the flaw was that appointment required no knowledge on medicine and most of them used to deploy random techniques, including certain brutal means such as flagellation of the sick as they considered that it was happening owing to their sins. It also touched upon the other perceptions of the society back then, such as blaming the plague on the Jews and leading to their widespread persecution (six centuries before Hitler). The book then talked about how this talked about how literature flourished during this period, including Chaucer's Canterbury Tales which touches upon the devastation caused by the plague in some of its stories. The book ends on how despite the tragedy of the plague, Europe needed the tragedy to come out of the Dark Age which eventually led to the renaissance as society began to realise that religion was not the solution to all their problems.

I enjoyed reading the book because I knew very little about the event barring the fact that it was caused by rodents carrying fleas and wiped out nearly 50% of the European population (in fact, didn't even know that it had impact in Africa and Asia). Moreover, the book also brought out several interesting aspects such as the plague doctors and in fact, the fact that the French seer Nostradamus himself was a plague doctor during a much later period in time and in fact, his solutions were scientifically most viable to the problem. I also liked it how the book chose to highlight the positive aspects that emerged out of the tragedy such as the improvement in literature and also the eventual Renaissance, which has brought Europe where she is today.

The only worrying fact that the book brought out is perhaps the fact that these diseases still exist to this day, mainly in Africa and despite all innovations in medicine, if contacted with the disease, the probability of survival is very low.

I had very low expectations when I started reading the book since, I am not the best when it comes to reading about such extreme tragedy but then, despite the expectations, the book turned out to be highly informative and I really am amazed at how the book managed to squeeze in so much information in a very short book. On the whole, I would award the book an eight on ten.

Rating - 8/10

Have a nice day,

Titanic by Hourly History - Book Review

This is about the tragic maritime accident in the Atlantic Ocean during the early 20th Century summarised by Hourly History. The wreckage of Titanic was long shrouded in mystery and till date, there is no conclusive evidence as to why it happened as, during the past, several other ships have survived ice berg accidents. However, despite there being so many similar maritime accidents in history, this was made popular by the Oscar winning movie of James Cameron.

The book starts with the building of Titanic by the White Star Line company who wished to build the best luxury ships ever created; including the third class deck, which was better than the standard third class decks of the other ships of its time. The book then goes on to dispel the myths about the Titanic being; the White Star Line company never claimed it to be unsinkable and that it was more of a public perception and also the fact that the ship did have life boats enough to satisfy the government regulations back then. The book then goes on describing the famous personalities on board the ship and also, the eventual drowning, deaths and the rescue operation and with a conclusion on how though this event was tragic, it led to development of a lot of more stringent maritime safety regulations reducing the number of accidents.

I liked the fact that the book dispelled myths, considering, it is still widely believed that the company believed the ships to be unsinkable and thus, they didn't have sufficient life boats on board. Additionally, I also liked how the book described the various activities and pastimes in the ship. The book also commented on how this incident improved the future of maritime travel and also talked certain interesting personalities such as Margaret Brown who forced to redirect her lifeboat to save the people from the location of the debris. 

While this was hardly the fault of the book, I felt too many personalities were introduced; and beyond a point, I started losing track since there was so much details about various business persons who travelled on board.

On the whole, I felt this was a good read, especially considering the amount of myths that it dispelled. I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Che Guevara: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a short biography on the well known Latin American revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara by Hourly History. Most of us would have heard of Guevara, if not for his revolution, definitely because of the merchandises around; such as t-shirts, bags,etc. with his face. At least, that was how I got to know about him first.

So, this book starts with how Che Guevara's life as a student of medicine in Buenos Aires and then, the break he took to tour the poorest areas of Latin America which made him very convinced about Communist and left wing ideologies. It then elaborated on how his journey led him to support a revolution in Guatemala against the incumbent dictator Arbenz and the eventual victory of the revolutionaries. The book then talks about the meeting between Raul Castro (Fidel's brother and current head of state of Cuba) and Guevara which led to the meeting with Fidel and beginning of the revolution against the Batista government in Cuba and suppression of the American aided Bay of Pigs Invasion the success of which led to the consolidation of power by Castro and Guevara. The book then talks about his skills as a diplomat in Cuba - striking alliances with Soviet Union, later on with China and also touches upon his travels around Africa and Asia. Eventually, the book focuses on his fallout with Fidel Castro, leading to his exile in Bolivia and eventual downfall.

The book covered nearly every aspect of Guevara, the origins of how he became a revolutionary, his personal life, his skills as a diplomat and final days as a guerilla warrior in Bolivia. The book was also concise and delivered on the promise of giving his biography in an hour.

However, with that said, this has the usual fallout of an Hourly History biography; wherein they try to completely glorify the person involved that the negative aspects of the person whom they have chosen are never brought out. In fact, the book hardly talks about his gruesome killings (despite being a doctor himself), suppression of dissent in Cuba (despite claiming to be a liberal himself), his opposition to foreign presence in Cuba, despite his pursuit of Chinese and Soviet investment in Cuba and ironically, Guevara not being native to Cuba himself, his endorsement of dictators despite his opposition to imperialist suppression. None of these contradictions in Guevara were brought out. However, the book did bring out saying that while people would debate Guevara's legacy; nobody can deny his passion to fight for his convictions; nonetheless, passion is not an excuse for all the things that Guevara did.

However, this book is still a good read for those who wish to know why he has become such a cult figure all over the world as this does tell largely about all the positive aspects of the revolutionary. On the whole, I would award the book a five on ten.

Rating - 5/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

American History in 50 Events by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a book by hourly history covering the history of the United States with a short summary of fifty major events.

This book starts with the Viking discovery of the North American lands and then, directly shifts to the European settlers arriving during the late 17th and 18th Centuries. From thereon, the book covers every major event, such as the war of independence, the election of the first President, moving on to the expansion of US; the eventual Civil War and then the modern era where the United States emerged as a superpower.

I felt the selection of the 50 events were good; that it covered most of the major events, and to my knowledge, I am not able to recall any very significant misses. The book was also very concise in bringing out the historical details as it covered how the government and systems were first established, how the territory expanded, the wars that the US fought and the origins of two of the major corporates in US; being Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company and Andrew Carnegie's Steel Company. The book could be very useful for young Americans who wish to know about their country in an hour and as an addendum to that statement, this book does satisfy the objective of narrating history of the United States in under an hour.

However, what I felt was that while it dedicated segments to corporates, there could have been at least a small segment on the sporting achievements such as hosting of the Olympics in Los Angeles and Atlanta and also; while events were dedicated to the two early corporates, the Silicon Valley boom could have also been touched upon in the last segment of the book.

This is an excellent, short and concise read on American history and would be useful for anyone who wish to know the background of the country they keep hearing about all the time.

I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 12 February 2017

French and Indian War by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a short summary of the war between the British and the French during the late 18th Century (part of the Seven years war) for control over North America; with Native Americans choosing whom to back depending on their own strategic interests.

The book starts with the background to the war and the events leading up to it; how the French initially had an upper hand because of the strategic support by some of the native American tribes; the differences of opinion between the French generals Montcalm and Marquis Vanderuil which started the downfall of the French in the war. It goes on to describe the strategies employed by William Pitt, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain and how his relentless pursuit to retain colonies in the New World led to the success of the British forces. The book ends with how this war was the beginning of the movement for American independence owing to the taxes imposed on the settlers by the British to recover the costs of war.

This book was structured very well and focused on both, the French and the British side equally and brought out the reasons for the initial success of the French, the reason for the resurgence of the British and the role of the Native American tribes in the war. I also liked it as to how the author went on to describe the consequences of this war to the British Empire. The book also gave considerable information on the personalities involved in the war, such as Montcalm, Vanderuil, Dieskau, Abercromby, Washington and Amherst.

However, I would have liked it if there was some more content on the Native American involvement and on what basis each chose their side; for the book ended it in one line stating that the Natives had to choose a side in order to protect their own strategic interests. Additionally, I have the same point to make again; what I had made earlier in my review of British History in 50 events by Hourly History; wherein, the book continues to refer to the country as England even though the war took place during the 1750s, nearly five decades after the Act of Union, 1707.

I felt the content of the book was good, for I got to know a lot about a topic which I didn't know about earlier and to be frank, when I first read the title; I imagined that this book was going to be about the Carnatic Wars; while I was aware of the war in the Americas because of a painting by Benjamin West (given below) and the eventual British victory but that was all I knew about it.

Depiction of William Johnson saving Dieskau's life after the Battle of Lake George

On the whole, I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,
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