Books as Christmas Gifts: Agents of Empire

 

AgentsOfEmpireThe high point of my academic career, as a career, was a letter. It came out of the blue, and it invited me to apply for a senior research fellowship at All Souls College. That post is the acme of the academic world — at least in the humanities. One has a good salary, a place of high honor, high table meals, elegant surroundings, access to one of the greatest libraries in the world, and no responsibilities at all, other than to do one’s own research — and someone (or, more likely, a committee of someones) thought that I just might be worthy.

That was something — especially since, after the publication of my 1200-page magnum opus Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution, which had received stellar reviews, had sold out in hardback in short order, had soon thereafter been republished as a three-volume paperback, and is now slated to appear in Chinese, I had applied for job after job in history departments and never even gotten an interview. It confirmed, among other things, my suspicion that, in the 1990s, in the American academic world there was an unwritten law: “Known conservatives need not apply.”

But here was validation. In a less politicized academic environment, the work had not only been noticed; its author had been thought a plausible candidate for high honor.

There was only one problem. I did not really want the job. I answered the invitation. I went through the motions. I applied. But I did not want to give up teaching; and, though I was a Rhodes Scholar and an Oxonian and loved Oxford, I had no real desire to leave the United States for good. Thus, when I did not make the final cut, I breathed a sigh of relief and turned back to my work.

I mention this here because the book that I am recommending was written by the man who got the job: Noel Malcolm, now Sir Noel Malcolm — and I am in no way ashamed or annoyed to have lost it to him. Noel did a stint of teaching and did not enjoy it. He is a scholar of the very first rank, and his Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean World is a truly remarkable book.

It is set in the late 16th century when, as the notice on the dust cover explains,

the imperial powers of Western Europe — Venice, Spain and the Austrian Hapsburgs — confronted a superpower greater than any one of them: the Empire of the Ottoman Sultans. There was violent conflict, but there was also peaceful interaction. In the borderlands of Christendom and Islam, people were needed to manage the relationship between the two sides — as fighters, traders, translators, diplomats, intelligence-gatherers and spies. And for these agents of empire the stakes were high: glittering career prospects on the one hand, and the risk of enslavement or death on the other.

Noel’s book is about the times and the lives of the members of one Venetian-Albanian family who made their way across the East-West divide. No one alive today in the West knows more about Albania, and Noel searched for years for a lost history written by a member of this family and eventually found it. He has quite a tale to tell, and it may remind you of certain problems that we face in our own time. If you have a friend or family member who loves history, this fat volume would make a wonderful gift.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Paul A. Rahe: He has quite a tale to tell, and it may remind you of certain problems that we face in our own time.

    Thanks for the recommendation, Paul.

    • #1
  2. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Nifty.  Thanks.

    • #2
  3. Tim Wright Inactive
    Tim Wright
    @TimWright

    Paul… Thanks for the recommendations. A long book sounds good for a long winter. One request though… Your three volume work on republics costs a bundle on Amazon. Any chance of its coming out in kindle format? Tim

    • #3
  4. Michael S. Malone Contributor
    Michael S. Malone
    @MichaelSMalone

    Paul:

    You would have turned it down?  And I always thought every professor on the planet dreamed of a fellowship at All Souls — A faculty without a student body?  In the shadow of the Radcliffe Camera?  A big sundial on the wall?  Blackwell’s a block away?  I would have left my dead, soon-to-be-flooded lawn in Sunnyvale in a heartbeat . . .

    Mike Malone, Fellow/Said B-School, Oxford and Distinguished Friend of Oxford.

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Sounds like a good book.  It almost makes me wish our family hadn’t long ago quit doing the Christmas gift thing.

    Tim Wright: One request though… Your three volume work on republics costs a bundle on Amazon. Any chance of its coming out in kindle format? Tim

    I don’t know if Dr. Rahe would appreciate my saying it, but you can buy those books on Amazon for reasonable prices if you buy them used. I might do so myself before you and others do it and drive the prices up.

    It happens.  There are certain series of collected letters and documents I’ve been buying on Amazon when inexpensive volumes become available, usually because some library is foolish enough to dispose of them.  I swear that the prices sometimes go up once I start buying a series.

    Two years post-retirement I still have about 40 books, all history, checked out from the library of the university where I worked.  That’s down from about 80 or so not long before I retired.  (I’ve never met the circulation librarian but have been told she is very aware of my existence.)  Of course I have to return any of these books immediately if someone else requests them, and that does happen, but I’ve had some checked out for as long as 15 years.   I’ve hung on to most of them because I use them for reference, and am replacing them with used ones I buy from Amazon.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    The Reticulator: Of course I have to return any of these books immediately if someone else requests them, and that does happen, but I’ve had some checked out for as long as 15 years.

    My wife knows about people like you.

    • #6
  7. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Tim Wright:Paul… Thanks for the recommendations. A long book sounds good for a long winter. One request though… Your three volume work on republics costs a bundle on Amazon. Any chance of its coming out in kindle format? Tim

    I think that UNC Press would have done this by now if they were going to do it. I saw the other day that the one-volume hardback is available used for something like $47.

    • #7
  8. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Michael S. Malone:Paul:

    You would have turned it down? And I always thought every professor on the planet dreamed of a fellowship at All Souls — A faculty without a student body? In the shadow of the Radcliffe Camera? A big sundial on the wall? Blackwell’s a block away? I would have left my dead, soon-to-be-flooded lawn in Sunnyvale in a heartbeat . . .

    Mike Malone, Fellow/Said B-School, Oxford and Distinguished Friend of Oxford.

    No, I would have been unable to turn it down. How could I? But I would have gone stir crazy in the post. This happens to me towards the end of every sabbatical. Having to explain things to 20-year-olds in class helps me enormously in try to write for older folks.

    • #8
  9. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    The Reticulator:Sounds like a good book. It almost makes me wish our family hadn’t long ago quit doing the Christmas gift thing.

    Tim Wright: One request though… Your three volume work on republics costs a bundle on Amazon. Any chance of its coming out in kindle format? Tim

    I don’t know if Dr. Rahe would appreciate my saying it, but you can buy those books on Amazon for reasonable prices if you buy them used. I might do so myself before you and others do it and drive the prices up.

    It happens. There are certain series of collected letters and documents I’ve been buying on Amazon when inexpensive volumes become available, usually because some library is foolish enough to dispose of them. I swear that the prices sometimes go up once I start buying a series.

    Two years post-retirement I still have about 40 books, all history, checked out from the library of the university where I worked. That’s down from about 80 or so not long before I retired. (I’ve never met the circulation librarian but have been told she is very aware of my existence.) Of course I have to return any of these books immediately if someone else requests them, and that does happen, but I’ve had some checked out for as long as 15 years. I’ve hung on to most of them because I use them for reference, and am replacing them with used ones I buy from Amazon.

    Used books are even cheaper if you use http://www.bookfinder.com. It searches all of the websites for used bookstores.

    • #9
  10. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    I hope these come out in Kindle.  My eyes are getting weak and I must gradually increase the font size as a read into the night until there are just a few words per page at which point I hang it up for the night.  The other thing about these books is that by the time I finish, I’ve forgotten the beginning and can plan to enjoy them all over again in a few months.

    • #10
  11. Patrickb63 Coolidge
    Patrickb63
    @Patrickb63

    Thanks.  My history major wife, with a specialty in medieval Europe, will love this.  I finally have something to get her for Xmas.

    • #11
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Knights, corsairs, Jesuits, and spies?

    Somewhere out there, someone knows how to sell a book, because they just sold one.

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Arahant:

    The Reticulator: Of course I have to return any of these books immediately if someone else requests them, and that does happen, but I’ve had some checked out for as long as 15 years.

    My wife knows about people like you.

    Detroit public libraries?  I sometimes use the Burton Collection at the main library on Woodward Avenue, but I don’t have any checkout privileges there.

    • #13
  14. Tim Wright Inactive
    Tim Wright
    @TimWright

    Have to read the Amazon options more closely. Didn’t realize it was one volume but thought it was three volumes at 40 plus each. Be nice if it came out in kindle though…lots of people prefer that format, as do I. Thanks for telling us about your first scholarly work, Paul. Early American history has always been a period I enjoy reading. Tim

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    The Reticulator: Detroit public libraries? I sometimes use the Burton Collection at the main library on Woodward Avenue, but I don’t have any checkout privileges there.

    No, she is at a private studio arts school that awards master’s degrees, but I hear about the renewals and retiring faculty bringing back armloads of books. She is on Woodward, but much further up in Bloomfield Hills.

    • #15
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