tenemet: (typewriter)
[personal profile] tenemet
Blood in the Water won the Pulitzer Prize in History, and deservingly so. It's an excellent, vital, and thoroughly disturbing account of the infamous Attica Prison Uprising of 1971—when over a thousand prisoners seized control of the prison in order to protest long years of mistreatment at the hands of prison guards—and its aftermath. Heather Ann Thompson uses the uprising and its brutal suppression as a lens through which to examine issues of racism, mass incarceration, and state brutality (both inflicted by law enforcement and by dissembling politicians) in twentieth-century America. There are perhaps points where Thompson's partisanship is a little too in evidence, but this is still an essential read, and a compelling indictment of the state of New York.
tenemet: (stack of books)
[personal profile] tenemet
A mostly amiable and low-key amusing collection of short essays, ideal for an ex-pat who's missing being surrounded by Irish voices and diction. (Though Marian Keyes never actually explains what words like stocious, wan, yoke, etc. mean so parts might be confusing for non-Irish people.) The essays about Keyes' battles with depression and alcoholism are less frothy pieces than the pink cover might lead you to expect, but that's par for the course with her style of writing. The one real bum note is the very last piece, about a trip which she and her husband made to Vietnam—it takes a patronising, infantilising approach to the Vietnamese which earlier pieces in the book criticise the English for adopting towards the Irish.
tenemet: (sky reading)
[personal profile] tenemet
In her memoir, actor Gabourey Sidibe recounts her New York City childhood (the child of a would-be polygamist Senegalese father and a subway-singer Southern mother), her teenage battles with depression and eating disorders, and her sudden rise to fame for her Oscar-nominated debut movie role in Precious. Parts of This Is Just My Face are a bit too self-consciously slangy, as if Sidibe really wanted the reader to get that she's being conversational with a capital C—but she's honest, funny, and self-aware enough to make the book a quick and engaging read.
tenemet: (shelf kid)
[personal profile] tenemet
Heart of Europe is one of those books which can rightfully be called a tome: a sprawling history of the Holy Roman Empire from its beginnings with Charlemagne to its dismantling by Napoleon to the ways in which the Empire has been used and abused by modern historians and politicians. I'm giving it a four stars out of five largely out of sheer respect for the mastery of such a wide range of sources and scholarship that are needed to write such a work. Peter Wilson is clearly steeped in knowledge about central Europe, and I think his central argument—that the HRE shouldn't be dismissed as a ramshackle, inefficient failure because it doesn't look like a modern nation state, but rather assessed on its own terms as a decentralised system that embraced consensus, diverse identities, and local variation—is broadly persuasive.

However, Wilson's writing perhaps mimics the HRE a little too much. By eschewing the Grand Narrative/Big Man view of history (again, something I'm broadly sympathetic to), Wilson must fall back on exploring the HRE through the development of ideas and institutions. That could have worked, but Wilson's tendency to mention every name, date, battle, or other event that relates to the matter at hand means that it's sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. I found it a bit of a slog at times, and I'm a historian; I'm pretty sure Heart of Europe would be very tedious for the general reader, particularly if they have no prior knowledge of the history of the HRE. Still, as an encyclopaedic guide to the HRE and its historiography, it's sure to become the standard reference work on the topic.
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