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Durant’s last chapter on the Renaissance covers a lot of ground: essentially all of Italy, excepting Venice, from the sack of Rome to the end of the 16th century. To my surprise, here is the only acknowledgment of the global trends that affected Italy in the 16th century: Portuguese exploration that bypassed Italy as the […]

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Who’s Killing the Actors of Rome?

 

In 1989 Lindsey Davis first wrote about the adventures of Marcus Didius Falco, a Roman informer (private investigator) in First Century AD Ancient Rome. After 20 novels Falco aged out. Davis continued introduced a new line of mystery novels featuring Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Albia as the investigator.

“Desperate Undertaking,” by Lindsey Davis is the tenth Flavia Albia novel. It starts at Saturnalia. Domitian is Emperor. Falco is off out of Rome, celebrating the season. Flavia Albia is holding down the fort at Falco’s auction house.

When an old acquaintance of Falco shows up, seeking to hire Falco for an investigation, Albia does what Falco taught her to do and would expect her to do. She poaches his client, convincing the man to hire her for the investigation. Chremes runs a theatrical troupe with his wife Phrygia. He was murdered in a particularly gruesome way, crucified, mimicking the final scene of the play Laureolas. (The play ends with the death by crucifixion of the main character, usually played by a condemned criminal. Theater in Ancient Rome was a full-contact sport.)

Book Report (Not Review): ‘Marching Along’ by John Philip Sousa

 

I just finished reading my first-edition, first-impression copy of John Philip Sousa’s autobiography.  It was published in 1928 by Hale, Cushman, and Flint of Boston.  Its subtitle is Recollections of Men, Women, and Music.  The book itself is in very good shape, for nearly 100 years old.  Its paper is a bit fragile and yellowed, but holding up well.  The book has many photos of Mr. Sousa, and the places he visited, people he interacted with, and some of the sheet music and scores he composed.

Mr. Sousa was a very engaging writer, and his book is never dull.  He was also quite opinionated and had no difficulty telling it like it was!  A reader must be careful to remember that Sousa was a product of his times; born and raised in Washington DC, and some of his ideas would not be acceptable today (he was born in 1854 and died in 1932).  He was a child during the Civil War, and does remember some of it.  Living in DC, he was right in the thick of things, but war never came to his neighborhood.  He had an excellent sense of humor, and was able to see the bright side of incidents that might have been uncomfortable to him at the time.  Here’s the first paragraph of Marching Along.

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When Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, that marked the end of the Renaissance in Italy. Only, not quite. In the years following, there was a last great flowering of art and culture in Venice, largely because that is where Titian was. But first, Durant wants to tell us about Aretino. Totally forgotten today, Aretino […]

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Reading, Listening, and Watching

 

Here I’m providing snapshots of media I’ve consumed lately since there’s too much material for discrete reviews. Note: The Kindle and audiobooks were deals I acquired on the cheap.

Signing Their Rights Away – This book provides absorbing bios for the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution. (A similar work on the Declaration is entitled Signing Their Lives Away.)  Each piece gives background on the signer’s family life, his career, his part in the Constitutional Convention, and key life events after the signing. I got this as a Kindle deal for under two dollars, and it has been worth it to awaken my mind to facts surrounding this era. For example, I was under the impression that there were just a handful of upstanding “founding fathers” at the birth of our country. This book corrects that assumption, revealing that there were other astute men on hand helping to hammer out an agreement and promote the Constitution to their home states.  I also realize that there was an astonishing amount of wealth in our land even back then; that many of the signers, if not lawyers, were surveyors or merchants; that coming to agreement on the Constitution took weeks of summer meetings in a stifling room; that there were sharp disagreements, especially on how representation in Congress could be fair to both large and small states; and that a number of the wealthy participants also speculated (foolishly) on tracts of land to the west.

Seeking Revenge Becomes Something Else

 

Gregory Roarke is a Trailblazer. He and his Kadolian partner Selene conduct surveys of unexplored worlds. It does not pay as well as bounty hunting, the pair’s previous career. Trailblazing covers the bills, barely. And that only if you include the money they make diverting samples from their hiring client for resale elsewhere and unskilled short-term jobs they take between trailblazing contracts. It is safer than bounty hunting. That cost Roarke an arm before he quit.

“The Icarus Plot,” by Timothy Zahn, follows Roarke and Selene. As the book opens, they are one step away from getting their spaceship seized to cover debts. Things get worse when Roarke gets fired from his job as server cum bouncer at a bar. They stand to lose everything.

A reprieve comes through a thuggish sort named Geri.  He and an associate named Freki hire Roarke and Selene to survey of Bonvere Seven, a Terran-type planet. They pay well, and Selene is able to identify a very marketable seed, samples of which they extract and hide from their employers. Only the whole point of hiring them for the survey was to catch the two in an illegal attempt to hide samples from the employer.

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Even from me, good judgment is possible: I think I will drop my idea of posting something on Portuguese Wikipedia about Brazil’s fictitious Nobel laureate. Even the sperges and soyboys who edit that online resource would have a point: the sum of knowledge is not increased by adding made-up stuff to an encyclopedia. Especially when […]

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This is yet another book I began reading some time ago, and have just now finished. Published in 1985, it could not be more timely. Folklore has it that the Constitutional Convention, meeting in Philadelphia in 1787, had a designated secretary (someone’s nephew, no doubt) assigned to record the debates on Madison’s novel constitution as […]

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Who Really Killed the Unpleasant Lord?

 

Kitty Worthington is back for her third adventure in solving crime. In her first, she prevented her brother from being convicted of murder. In the second, she saved her sister’s fiancé from a murder charge.  Now she had a new challenge.

“Murder at the Masked Ball,” by Magda Alexander, follows the same template as the first two books. It is the 1920s, and Kitty Worthington, the youngest child in her wealthy family, is trying to avoid her mother’s attempts at matchmaking.  But she stumbles into a murder, one of her friends and relations seems to be the guilty party, and it is up to Kitty and her crew to prove otherwise by finding the actual culprit.

In this case, the accused is her good friend Lord Newcastle. He has carried a torch for Lady Wakefield since before World War I. He even proposed marriage to her, only to be turned down by her family. (He was not then Lord Newcastle, only inheriting the title and fortune due to the death of other heirs during World War I.) Rather than allowing Lady Wakefield to marry a penniless love, they forced her to marry the wealthy Lord Wakefield. He turned out to be as cruel as he was wealthy, regularly beating his wife for failing to produce an heir.

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The last time I looked on ABEBooks, the book I wanted to find was out of print, and had been for decades.  Good used copies were about $100, and first editions were up to $1,000.00.  So, last week I decided to check again, and I was quite pleasantly surprised.  It turns out that the book […]

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A Pilot’s View of the Battle of Britain

 

Ian Richard Gleed was one of Churchill’s few, the RAF fighter pilots who fought the Battle of Britain and defeated the Luftwaffe. He put his experiences down on paper, detailing his experiences during the Battle of France, The Battle of Britain, and the 1941 nighttime Blitz.

“Arise to Conquer: The ‘Real’ Hurricane Pilot,” edited by Dilip Sakar is a new release of this classic. Sakar adds an extensive introduction, framing this forgotten story for the modern reader. It also contains footnotes that explain Gleed’s slang and technical terms which might baffle today’s readers.

Gleed’s memoirs were originally published in 1942. It was one of the earliest first-person accounts of the battle available to the public. Although fictionalized, it shows what it was like to be a fighter pilot during the opening days of World War 2. You experience Gleed’s triumphs, terrors, and disappointments.

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Having recently seen the Metropolitan Opera production of Brett Dean’s opera Hamlet, I naturally had to take my Riverside Shakespeare from the shelf and read the original play (again, I think). The differences are striking. Understandably, much, even most, of the play has been dispensed with. The political aspects are gone (No Fortinbras). There is […]

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Who was Phyllis Wheatley?  She was an African-American who was a slave but taught to read and write and showed a natural gift toward poetry.  According to Wikipedia, she was born in West Africa, enslaved at about seven or eight, brought to the colonies where she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston.  This […]

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Wheat and Its Role in Civilization

 

Do empires build trade routes or do trade routes build empires? Have the United States and Russia been locked in an economic rivalry since the 1860s? Was World War I triggered by international grain trade and the desire of Russia to control Constantinople?

“Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World,” by Scott Reynolds Nelson, examines these questions and much more. It is a study of grain, its trade routes, and the impact grain trading has had throughout history. Bread is the staff of life. Nelson follows it from prehistory to the present.

Nelson’s theme is simple: food production drives history. Abundance or absence creates or destroys empires, fuels economic and technological growth, and drives world history. Grain is the most important food. Storable and transportable, it can also be used to create more food, especially meat. The two biggest breadbaskets are the Ukrainian and US plains. There were others, but none as productive.

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I just finished reading Justice Thomas’s memoir My Grandfather’s Son because he has been in the news recently and it looks like progressives are going to try to intimidate him for his concurrence to the Dobbs decision (among other reasons). What a great book! The first two chapters are as good a description as can be found […]

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The Wild West in Outer Space

 

John Abbott is the All-American boy of the future. He is scrupulously honest yet ambitious, getting ahead on his abilities. An accountant, he is a family man, with a wife, two young daughters, a family dog and a mountain of student loan debt.

“Abbott in Darkness,” a science fiction novel by D. J. Butler follows Abbott and his family as John Abbott pursues a career to pay off his debts. He has taken a job with an American interstellar corporation, moving his family to a planet circling a remote star. The move offers an opportunity to get rich quickly.

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Shortly after the recent death of the brilliant humourist P.J. O’Rourke, John Podhoretz gave an enthusiastic encomium to his life and work. Podhoretz gave special praise to the Sunday Newspaper parody from O’Rourke’s days at the National Lampoon. As Podhoretz pointed out, this is a remarkable object that could not have been produced by the […]

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