Richard III

Richard III by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The slow build to Richard’s moment in the sun results in one of the greatest villains on page, stage or screen. Shakespeare handles the compressing of years into just five Acts better than he has before to show Richard’s rise to the throne through murderous plot after murderous plot. The speeches are top notch compared to previous works and the language more advanced. I could go on, but I would be repeating what others have said.

The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature

The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American LiteratureThe Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

In The Bohemians, Ben Tarnoff describes how Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith interacted with and were influenced both personally and professionally by one another in San Francisco during and immediately after the Civil War before transforming American literature.  It is not only the story of four writers of cultural significance, but of the shining, optimistic early history of California and Far West in relation to the established East.

The main focus of the book as stated clearly in the subtitle is Twain with Harte as the clear secondary focus.  Tarnoff describes the lives of both men before their meeting in San Francisco, their working relationship with one another, their mutual influences on one another, and their at first subtle then overt rivalry.  The book’s narrative essentially ends when Harte leaves for Europe in 1878, never to return to the United States.  If Tarnoff had written about the two men who brought the western literary tradition into acceptance in the New England-dominated American literary establishment only to veer off into different directions, he would have succeeded.

However the inclusion of and subsequence failure to properly include Stoddard and Coolbrith into the account undermines Tarnoff’s work.  Both Stoddard and Coolbrith come off by the end of the book as very minor in their work and accomplishments, which in the case of Coolbrith is literally a slap in the face.  While Stoddard had a working relationship in some capacity to both Twain and Harte as well as his own poetry and prose, Coolbrith’s later elevation to California poet laureate as well as her interesting friendships and experiences both inside and outside her domestic cage are ignored.  In the end their inclusion comes off as being due to sexual orientation and gender than their actual achievements.

The Bohemians gives an insight into how the western branch of American literature sprung up and was intertwined with that of the Eastern establishment to create the cultural landscape we experience today.  Twain, Harte, and the early history of California and the Far West are highlights of the book, however the use of Stoddard and Coolbrith as glorified window-dressing is the major downside.  If given the option I would have given 3 ½ stars, after careful consideration I thought 4 would have been too high.

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Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

After finishing Shakespeare’s first tragedy, all I can say is what the f*** did I just read? Titus Andronicus reads like a screenplay for a B-rated horror film, the only person throughout the entire play was Aaron who at least as near evil personified was entertaining in his scheming. The twisted Act V was nice, but this was a play I wanted to finish as soon as possible.

Revolutionary Russia 1891-1991: A History

Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A HistoryRevolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History by Orlando Figes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

The popular historical view of the Russian Revolution is the Bolshevik coup of October 1917 launching the world’s first Communist state; however Orlando Figes offers a new perspective on the Revolution not as a single but a continuous event covering a century of Russian history.  In relating this new perspective Figes reveals how three generations viewed and lived the Russian Revolution before it and the Soviet Union collapsed.

Beginning with the famine of 1891, Figes describes how the catastrophe brought about the call for social change without a political outlet due to the autocratic rule of the Tsarist regime.  In this climate revolutionaries abounded without a moderate counterweight that not even the political changes of 1905 could alleviate.  These conditions resulted in the rise of the Lenin and the Bolsheviks espousing the vanguard party theory.  Figes recounts the breakdown of the Tsarist regime allowing first the Revolution of February 1917 and the following political chaos that allowed for the October Revolution.  And then how the Soviet system was created in the ensuing Civil War.

The next stage was the Stalinist period away as the founding generation of the Revolution was replaced by their heirs.  Figes relates how Josef Stalin rose to power using the growing bureaucracy that typified the Communist-rule state then purged the country not only of anything appearing capitalist, but also his real and perceived rivals or ‘enemies to the state’.  The terror and paranoia that entered Russian life during Stalin’s nearly 30 year rule, Figes shows reverberates to this day.  However, in spite of the atrocities that have been given historical light Stalin is held in high regard by the Russian populace today.

In Figes view the final stage of the Revolution began in 1956 with Khrushchev’s “secret” speech denouncing Stalin.  The speech energized the post-war generation then coming of age in the Soviet Union to steer the Revolution back to the policies of Lenin, however it also resulted in undermining the legitimacy of the ruling elite who had been loyal functionaries of Stalin.  After Khrushchev’s downfall, the ‘generation of 1956’ slowly rose through the bureaucracy of the Brezhnev era until Gorbachev assumption of power.  Figes then relates how Gorbachev in trying to bring reform, brought about the collapse of the Soviet system and Communist party.  Figes concludes on how the aftereffects of the collapse still affect Russian psychology today as well as its view of the Revolution.

Figes makes a persuasive case that the Revolution was a century long historical event, his detailing of Russian society and government, both under the Tsarist and Communist regimes, is both concise and detailed.  In relating a century-long historical epoch in around 300 pages, Figes carefully balanced when to go into detail and when to view things in broad strokes.  Revolutionary Russia is a well-written and researched look at a defining historical event in the 20th century and a highly recommended read.

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Henry VI, Part Three

Henry VI, Part Three by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Attempting to compress 10 years of historical and dramatic events into approximately three hours is not an easy task. Overall, Shakespeare did an okay job even though he had to do a lot of fudging with events to create a drama filled play. While the duel between Kings was the primary arc of the play, Shakespeare built up Richard for his truly villainous turn in Richard III.

While entertaining, the story wasn’t quality.

Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991

Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991 by David Lee Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The history of Eastern Air Lines is one of innovation and enterprise as well as one of how bad decisions are hard to overcome, especially when compounded.  In relating the history of one of the major commercial airlines of the last century, David Lee Russell also told the history of commercial aviation in the United States up until early 1991 which until deregulation during the Carter Administration was entirely different than it is today.  Eastern’s history is not only that of a company, but also of individuals.  Russell writes brief, yet informative biographies of  Harold Pitcairn, Edward “Captain Eddie” Rickenbacker, and Frank Borman who led the company throughout it’s history as well as other figures who contributed to Eastern’s successes or failures.  While Russell does a tremendous job in describing how Eastern rose to the heights of its success, the strongest part of his writing is in describing how Eastern died and summarized the reasons at the end of the book.

Disclaimer: I received this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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