oxymoron67: (Default)
Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empires by Justin C. Vovk

Three who lost their throne and one who didn't. )
oxymoron67: (Default)
Yesterday, I visited two places: one an old friend; the other a new (to me) place.

First, I went to the Museum of the City of New York to see The World of D. D. and Leslie Tillett.

The Tilletts were designers and artists. From about 1948-1980, they ran one an influential design house, providing clothes for all sorts of retail stores and for a host of famous people including Jackie Kennedy, who they developed a friendship with.

It's a neat exhibit, including sample books, lots of outfits, magazine layouts, and photos. If you look at the clothes, they (well, at least the ones on display) were VERY 60's.

The Tilletts were also artists and illustrators. Many of D. D. Tillett's paintings inspired their prints and Leslie Tillett illustrated children's books.

A really neat exhibit.

From there, I went to The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, which is affiliated with NYU for the Echoes of the Past, The Buddhist Caves of Xiangtangshan.

Caves were frequently used as sanctuaries by Buddhist priests, so many governments and wealthy people would turn caves into temples. These caves were constructed by the short-lived Qi Dynasty that rules a portion of northern China during a period of disunity.

Once you enter the exhibit, you can enter the Cave Room, which is a video of the caves themselves. This is interesting because it shows you how it mapped the caves and it includes pieces that have been removed or destroyed.* The movie lasts eight minutes and then you go into the main room, which has some statuary from the caves and two computers in the back, where the artifacts and the caves are described in great detail.

Of course, the statues have blurbs with them, so the computers int he back aren't necessary: they add information, and I enjoyed playing with them.

Part of what makes these caves so different is that the Qi dynasty used lots of Buddhist symbolism that the Chinese in general didn't. Don't ask me to explain this: I don't know much of anything about Buddhist traditions.

It's a neat exhibit and well worth seeing and it doesn't take long: I was there for 45 minutes? an hour? Also, it's free.

If this is the quality of exhibit that this place does, I have a new place to visit.

*In the early 20th Century, during another time of upheaval, some of the statues and pieces in the temple were sold before China realized the importance of these caves.
oxymoron67: (Default)
The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen

In 1836, Helen Jewett, a prostitute, was found murdered in her room at a brothel. A frequent customer, Richard Robinson was arrested and tried for the murder.

Though he likely murdered Jewett, Robinson was acquitted.

This was a famous trial at the time, sensationalized by the early penny press, just developing at the time. In some respects, the crime became its own industry: with pamplets, books and novelizations all based on it.

Jewett herself was a bit of a mystery. Well read and intelligent, she told many different stories about herself. Robinson maintained his innocence.

The D.A. at the time probbly botched the case, but the judge did his share of damage to the case as well. Several other occupants of the brothel remembered seeing Robinson there the nght of the murder, yet their accounts were discounted BY THE JUDGE in his jury instructions, saying that these "fallen women" couldn't be trusted, and their words needed collaboration.

It's a fascinating tale or murder in the early 19th century.

The book, however, is more problematic. It needs editing. The author goes off on way too many tangents. The development of the early tabloid press, for instance, wasn't really a necessary diversion in my mind. She could have shortened that. When it focused on the murder investigation and trial it was really good, and when it wandered away from those subjects, it got really dull and Academic.

So, if you want to read this book, just skip those parts.
oxymoron67: (history)
Genghis Khan and the MAking of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

There are four section tot his book, more or less.

The first part of this book deals with Genghis Khan, his birth, his life on the fringes of Mongol society and his rise to power. It;s a fascinating look at someone who, while he left a huge mark on history, is still an enigma, since he really didn't leave any major journals or speeches behind.

The second part of the book deals with the establishment of the Mongol Empire: how they succeeded, why they stopped where they stopped (too hot in India, not enough worthwhile in Europe, that sort of thing). This part also deals with the establishment and regulation of trade route: some were abandoned, others strengthened. This part of the book also begins to look at the rivalry between Genghis' four sons.

The third part of the book dealt with the heirs of Genghis Khan: how they fought for and divided power; the struggles that left many family members dead; the continued expansion of the Empire (Kublai Khan's conquest of China and Vietnam, the establishment of the Golden Horde in what is now Russia) and the development of successor states.

The fourth part of the book discusses how the plague ravaged the various Mongol states, leading to the collapse of the Empire. (The plague later did the same thing to Europe.) This part of the book then deals with the images of the Mongols in various media over the years.

It's an interesting book: it moves at a nice pace. I don't know that I agree with all the author's assertions. I agree that the Mongols were probably not as nasty as they were made out to be. Well, at least to those who surrendered and kept their word. They could be implacable enemies, though. The author's main point is that the Mongols were more restrained than the people around them, and I remain unconvinced.

Still, a good read aboot an interesting time and place. Everyone knows about the Mongols... but because they rose and then fell so quickly... well, some of the successor states hung around a while: Bukhara was ruled by a descendant of Genghis Khan until 1920 or so, when the Soviets came in... but they aren't really discussed much in the West. Or at least in the history classes that I took in high school.
oxymoron67: (Default)
I actually recently finished three books and started about seven or so more, but here are my thoughts on one of them:

Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith

Everyone what happened to the Romanovs: the immediate royal family was assassinated as were many of the cadet branches. However, the fate of the other noble families hasn't really been discussed much. The author did a great deal of research: searching through archives, pouring over letters and listening to oral history from descendants.

You can see why I'd be interested in this book.

This book focuses on two Russian noble families: the Golitsyns and the Sheremetevs. The Golitsyns were a massive family while the Sheremetev family was smaller. Not SMALL, goodness knows, but smaller. As a result, there is a dizzying number of names and places and anecdotes.

I didn't get lost: I have a large family tree, so I could follow along, but I can see how people who don't have my interests/crazy family could get confused.

Anyway, the book itself starts with the years before the Russian Revolution up through World War II. It establishes the dynamic between the nobility and the peasant class and how the Revolution changed all of that.

The attacks on the nobility came in phases: many died during the Revolution and the Civil War, but then life improved during the early 20's. Then it got worse again, then it got better, then the Great Terror then an break, then WWII. As you would expect, the times of the Revolution and the Great Terror were the two worst periods.

What tended to happen is that there would be a wave of persecutions, then the government would realize that they needed the aristocrats because they were the educated ones. Then, after things got settled another wave of persecutions. Many were sent ot internal exile or camps or just taken out and shot.

The aristocrats (and many others) were called former people because they no longer counted.

It was interesting to see how people survived (or didn't). Many fled. The book focuses on those who stayed, so once someone left Russia, they weren't really focused on. Those who stayed learned to deal with waves of persecution. They got so used to having their apartments searched, for example, that they would just go to their kitchens and make tea.

If you are interested in Russia or the time period, this is a fascinating book. It's not for beginners, but it is neat. It;s another of those books that focus on the second of third stringers f history that I find do fascinating.
oxymoron67: (Default)
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Okay, first off, I bought this for my Kindle, and read it there. I learned a valuable lesson: this baby was over 600 pages long. I wouldn't have bought it had I checked that first.

I mean, yes, Bonhoeffer is one of the great theologians of the 20th Century and one of the few people to stand up to Hitler from the beginning, but I didn't need to know EVERY DAMNED DETAIL.

Other strengths and weaknesses

The completeness is also a strength: it shows the development of Bonhoeffer from scion of an academic family to theologian to someone who resisted Naziism and almost survived.

The book discusses how the Lutheran church ended up being co-opted by the Nazis, which while 'i knew that had happened, I never really looked into it.


The first part of the book meandered a lot. It wasn't until the author started discussing the rise of the Nazis that the book started to have a focus.

The author turned Bonhoeffer into a total Mary Sue. Everything he did was perfect! He had no flaws! God guided him from one triumph to another!

As you can imagine, this got old.

Also, the author had a definite religious agenda: he used Bonhoeffer's work to further the idea that Chirstianity is by its nature politically and culturally conservative, and any attempt to bring liberalism into the equation is wrong.

From what I have read of Bonhoeffer elsewhere, I'm not sure he'd agree with that. He would take the American Evangelical movement to task for a number of things.

If you are interested in reading more about Bonhoeffer, you are probably better off reading one of his books or a different biography. This one? Not so much.
oxymoron67: (history)
Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917 by Laura M. MacDonald

In December of 1917. two ships collided in Halifax's harbor. One of these ships was loaded with EXTREMELY volatile explosives, like picric acid. When it exploded, about a half hour or so after the collision, the resulting explosion was the largest amn-made explosion until the atomic age.

It caused a tsunami as it vaporized a massive volume of water.

The explosion and the waves and (especially) the shock of air that came afterward killed over 2000 people, and wounded 9000 more.

While people were starting recovery efforts, a blizzard hit, paralyzing relief trains. Then torrential rainfall, making everything muddy and hampering relief efforts.

The book itself focuses mostly on the aftermath of the explosion: the recovery efforts, and the fact that the explosion actually led to advances in medicine and in disaster relief efforts.

It's well worth the read, but be forewarned, it;s a longer book, and sometimes the details are a little graphic. I had to skim past a lot of the stuff about eye injuries because... ew.
oxymoron67: (history)
Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo

In 1915, The United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA) built a massive fifty foot tank for the storage of molasses in Boston.

It needed this because molasses was fermented to make alcohol used for explosives and ammunition that was sold to the combatants in WWI.

The tank leaked badly from the start, so much so that children in the neighborhood would sneak onto the grounds with pails to collect molasses to bring home.

The demand for molasses increased when the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, and peaked in 1918.

In 1919, the tank, filled with molasses failed catastrophically, and 2 million or so gallons of molasses flooded the area, as the tank itself became, well, shrapnel. Twenty-two people died -- the molasses acted like quicksand, people just sank as they struggled and scores were injured.

A three year court case followed.

Set against the backdrop of WWI, the anarchist movement (featuring Sacco and Vanzetti), Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, this is an interesting read about an event I've never heard of.
oxymoron67: (snoopy)
My friend the soap opera writer and I went to Discovery Times Square for The Spy Exhibit.

It was really good, and informative.

After we waked in, a docent (probably a trained actor) gave this spiel about how we were entering a dangerous world, blah, blah, blah.

Then we watched a brief video about intelligence agencies and the daily briefing POTUS gets every morning.

Then we entered the exhibition itself.

Lots of neat things. IT discussed the OSS and its rolein WWII and then its disbandment and the formation of the CIA.

There were lots and lots of pieces of technology from that era and the cold war era.

In this section, my favorite area as the one focused on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the man who informed the CIA that the USSR was not ready for war. (This man was later executed as a spy inthe USSR.)

Moving on, they had kiosks with interviews of spies talking about various pieces of spycraft and a timeline of major event in the worlds of espionage and warfare from 1974-2012. The kiosks would have beenbetter if the volume level ont he interviews had been uniform,

An ex-KGB agent was one of the interviews, and he was a gregarious, loud guy. The next interview was of a much quieter man, and he was difficult to hear.

Next up: more technology and a brief discussion of the Rosenbergs and then the U2 spyplane and Francis Gary Powers.

Then, two of my favorite words: SPY PIGEONS.

This exhibit tended to jump around, timeline-wise.

Then, finishing up this level, more about the modern technology of spying.

The lower level had some hands on stuff, where you could play with disguising your voice and coing up with disguises for yourself, which were fun.

There was a section on Trotsky and his assassination, which included the murder weapon.

Also, there were exhibits on famous American spies, like the Walker family.

All in all, fun. I don't think I need to see it again, but definitely worth a visit.
oxymoron67: (history)
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King

In 1943, police and firefighters responded to a fire on 21 Rue de Sueur in Paris. What they found inside was horrifying: mutilated bodies being burned, others in limestone pits, bones strewn about... and a doctor's office.

Dr. Marcel Petiot owned the place, and was there when the bodies were discovered, but he claimed to be part of the Resistance, and a sympathetic policeman let him go.

Thus started an investigation that would last until after the Liberation and lead to France's Trial of the Century. (Although, if France is anything like the U.S., it probably has a "Trial of the Century" every decade or so.)

The investigation itself was hindered by the occupation and by the liberation, to the point where they almost lost Petiot.

Petiot ran a network (under an alias) that would spirit people out of occupied Paris and into neutral Spain and portugal, where the refugees could then flee to South America. In fact, he was arrested by the Gestapo for running this network. The Gestapo let him go when his family ransomed him.

However, upon closer inspection, it seemed that very few, if any, of the people that entered Petiot's escape network ever actually escaped. Petiot murdered them. When asked about this, he said that all the people he murdered were Gestapo agents, including the Jews he killed.

Petiot was found guilty in after a circus-like trail. (Seriously, he was clearly guilty, but this was not a fair trail, although a good chunk of that was due to Petiot's shenanigans.) Petiot was guillotined for the murder of 26 people, though the body count is believed to be higher than that.

This book moves at a nice pace, though I think it bogs down a bit when it describes the trial. It weaves in the daily life in occupied Paris, including what many of the intellectuals who didn't flee were up to.

All in all, an interesting read.
oxymoron67: (history)
The Rescuer by Dara Horn

Varian Fry was an American journalist and classicist living in Berlin in the 30's, when he was horrified by the Nazi's rise to power.

He returned to the U.S., but, after the fall of France in June 1940, he got involved in a project to spirit artists, scientists and intellectuals out of Vichy France.

When Germany (and after 1938, Austria) became too uncomfortable for major artists and intellectuals, they moved to Paris. Once France fell, they were essentially screwed.

Fry, on behalf of a committee, flew to Vichy France and smuggled many intellectuals out. Once, when Marc Chagallhad been arrested, Fry even managed to get him freed.

Fry's actions irritated the State Department, which was trying to remain neutral at this point. After about a year, he was deported back to the US, where he faded into obscurity. Many of the artists he saved wouldn't give him the time of day.

In 1991, Fry was declared one of the Righteous among the Nations, an award given to those who aided victims of the Holocaust. Heis one of only three Americans to receive this honor.

This book is a quick read -- I did it in two hours-- and not particularly detailed, but it does give an overview of Fry's life and the situation he was in.
oxymoron67: (Default)
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

William Dodd was a history professor at the University of Chicago in 1933 when fate intervened.

Dodd was a friend of the newly-elected FDR, who was seeking to fill vacant ambassordships. One of the open slots was Ambassador to Germany. Hitler had just come to power in January, and many thought the country in chaos, so no one wanted the otherwise plum position.

Dodd was not a professional diplomat, but he was a historian who had studied in Germany and had an abiding love for its culture and people. Dodd was not FDR's first or even third choice, but he got the nod.

Dodd accepted, though he wanted to finish his massive book The Old South.*

So Dodd, his wife and children moved to Germany. This book focuses primarily on Dodd and his daughter, Martha as, at first, they defend Nazism and Hitler -- things seemed very normal to outsiders for a while-- then, slowly, they realized the fanaticism and horror that surrounded them.

This book is on the level of Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm. i's meticulously researched and told ina way that builds suspense, especially if you know the history of the era.

Great read.
oxymoron67: (history)
Barring the Board of Trustees turning it down, I got the promotion. I will hear if (and only if) the BoT turns it down.

So, as of Sept 1st, I will be Senior Non-Instructional Instructional Staff.

Meantime, I spent the day geeking out...
I had fun! )
oxymoron67: (Gay Army)
Technically, it should have started tomorrow, but I decided to go to The Museum of the City of New York today.
And some other things. )
oxymoron67: (history)
Marie-Thérèse: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagle
The Daughter of France )
oxymoron67: (history)
Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson

I like Larson's style... I've read three of his books (Devil in the White City and the one about ship-to-shore communication and a murder whose name escapes me right now)

This book is about the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which wiped out the city and killed 6,000? 8,000? people. It's also about bureaucratic and familial rivalries and how personal lives were ended or irrevocably altered by an act of nature.

I read this book in under two days. IT;s difficult to put down.

Larson alternates between the various level of the story... from how hurricanes form to how this one became so powerful so quickly to the National Weather Service at its birth and its internal struggles as well as its rivalries (the Cuban meteorologists were better with hurricanes) to the everyday lives of those in Galveston.

I've pointed out in other book reviews that just about everyone who could write in the 19th century did. In cases like this (and in The Children's Blizzard), these journals, letters and telegrams provide a vital, detailed fascinating look into the personal cost of tragedy.

If you haven't read this book yet, you absolutely should.

Book review

Jun. 9th, 2012 03:30 pm
oxymoron67: (history)
Cautious Crusade by Steven Casey

Even before the Munich Agreement and the Anschluss, FDR was worried about Hitler.

However, America was still in full-on isolationist mode and, even after the invasion of Poland and the fall of France and the Blitz, still wasn't inclined to get involved in this war.

Americans believed that the oceans would protect them, etc. etc.... if you've read any history of American involvement in WWII, you know this stuff...

This book is about how FDR and his advisors worked on public opinion to slowly accept the idea that the Axis needed to be stopped, and then, once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, focusing public attention on Germany (which FDR thought was the bigger threat) rather than Japan.

The book describes,step-by-step, FDR's policies (and the behind the scenes fights) and public relations (the author cites a lot of public opinion polls) before and during the war. The presidential campaign of 1940 and 44 were especially interesting. The various conferences (Casablanca, Yalta, Quebec, Tehran and Potsdam) are all discussed in some detail.

In fact, since public opinion polls were at the time a new invention, it's instructive to see how they were used.

For a history (and especially presidential history) geek like me, this book is great: it's enormously detailed. This book has been well-researched. BUT... it's not for those who aren't familiar with the time period.

This book assumes that its readers know a great deal about the war itself. Major offensives, victories and defeats are mentioned, but they are background information to the story told here. This is about the politics of war, not the battles.

For those interested in WWII or 20th century history or presidential history, I recommend it. For someone unfamiliar, not so much.
oxymoron67: (history)
After work today, I went to the New York City Historical Society.

I went there for two things: the portraits of the wives of the Robber Barons and Be Sure! Be Safe! Get Vaccinated! Smallpox, Vaccination and Civil Liberties in NEw York

When I got there, the movie about NYC that they produced was about to start, so I went to see that.

It was neat... its free with admission... if you go, make time to see it.

From there, I saw the exhibit on the history of beer and brewing in NYC, so I went there. It was neat: it discussed the history of brewing (it was considered safer to drink than water) and on the taverns of colonial and Revolutionary era NYC*.

From there it discussed, the influence of German immigrants on brewing and on the establishment of hops farms in New York (which due to various fungal infections and prohibition were wiped out, and have only now started reappearing).

Then they discussed productions and then prohibition, and, of course, the modern brewers and advertising.

It was a fascinating exhibit.

At the end of it was a small bar. I ordered a beer and a pretzel ($10). For the pretzel, I got some mustard, the really, grainy vinegar-y type. It was cool.

From there, I went to the fourth floor, where I saw exhibits on Audubon and the Hudson River School.

I was getting a little hungry, so I left, not seeing what I went there to see. Fortunately, both exhibits are there until September.

*In an earlier exhibition, the NYCHS made the claim that tavern culture in NYC helped foment the American Revolution, as they were the promary plces to gether and disseminate news.

Book Review

Jun. 1st, 2012 12:30 pm
oxymoron67: (Default)
Crossing Hitler: The Man who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand by Benjamin Carter Hett

Hans Litten was the son of Fritz Litten, a Jewish lawyer and is wife Irmegard, who came from a family of pastors.

Fritz essentially forced Hans, his oldest son, into the legal profession. Hans had definite Communist leanings, but was too individualistic to be able to join the party or any organized movement, really.

Frankly, Hans comes off as a bit of a jackass sometimes.

Hans rose to prominence in the Eden Dance Palace Trial in 1931. A band of SA thugs attacked communists at the Eden Dance Club in the slums of Berlin. He called Hitler to the stand, in an attempt to show that the Nazi party was coordinating SA attacks against opponents across Berlin.

Hitler never forgot nor forgave this.

Over the next two years, Hans Litten was involved in several other trials of SA agents, further infuriating Hitler and the Nazis.

Then... Hitler came to power.

You can guess what happened next.

From 1933-1938, Litten was imprisoned in various concentration camps, where he was beaten, tortured and forced to work. Meantime, his friends and his mother (he and his father were estranged) fought for his freedom, but to no avail. Unable to take the life inthe camps anymore, after five years of abuse and torture, Litten committed suicide in 1938.

It's an interesting read, focusing, as it does, on the fall of the Weimar Republic and its legal system and on how Litten's mother and close friends tried to save him and then had to flee Nazi Germany themselves.
oxymoron67: (history)
I took a personal day today... I'll talk about work later. Nothing bad, just busy.

Anyhow, I went to Discovery Times Square to see The Terracotta Warriors.

Kind of disappointing, actually. )


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