Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power

0307887219.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power by Kevin Peraino
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

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

The role that Abraham Lincoln had in transforming the presidency has primarily been viewed in the realm of domestic and of war powers while neglecting his contributions to the presidency in the role of foreign affairs.  In Lincoln in the World, author Kevin Peraino aimed to explore Lincoln’s dealing with the international community while engaging in a civil war that threatened to involve other nations.

Peraino divided his book into six sections, five of which he compared Lincoln to an individual in which he went up against on a particular problem in a matter of foreign policy and sixth in which the ‘duality’  of Lincoln’s foreign policy was examined in the career of his private secretary John Hay.  The five individuals Peraino matched up against Lincoln were his law partner Billy Herndon, his Secretary of State William Seward, Prime Minister  Lord Palmerston, journalist Karl Marx, and Emperor Napoleon III.  While the list of individuals Peraino selected seem to promise a quality read, unfortunately the results were mixed.

The selects involving Herndon and Seward were Peraino’s attempt to first show Lincoln’s developing thoughts in foreign policy involving the United States while the latter was a rehashing of working relationship of Lincoln and his Secretary of State.  While laudable in attempting show Lincoln’s evolving thoughts on foreign policy, Peraino seemed to be reaching in Herndon’s section and sounded second-rate while covering Seward, especially in comparison to other recent books.  Once Peraino focused on the international scene, the book gained momentum as he compared and contrasted Lincoln with Palmerston and Napoleon III.  While examining how Palmerston and Napoleon III lived and related to the world was fascinating and were the highlight of the book especially as they dealt with an incorrect assessment of Lincoln and Seward’s working relationship as well underestimating Lincoln.  The worst stumble of the book was Peraino’s inclusion of Karl Marx as a way to bring in Lincoln’s attempts to shape opinion for the North on foreign populace as well as Marx indirectly affecting Lincoln’s decision to emancipate the South’s slaves.  Peraino’s examination of John Hay’s diplomatic career was an odd conclusion and was an attempt to show how Lincoln changed the nation’s foreign policy, but came off as more sentimental then proving an argument.

Lincoln in the World had a promising premise, unfortunately Peraino did deliver in both argument and overall structure giving the reader a puzzling read that is only saved by the biographies and philosophies of other world leaders both political and intellectual.

Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury

0670026433.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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

The importance of Geoffrey Chaucer on English literature cannot be measured, but if not for one bad year both Chaucer and the history of English literature could have been remembered completely differently.  Paul Strohm writes in his new book, Chaucer’s Tale, that if not for the rapidly changing political environment in 1386 Chaucer’s life might have not provided him the opportunity to write The Canterbury Tales.

Strohm begins his microbiography of Chaucer by placing the author within English society as first the son of a wine importer then a courtier and finally a bureaucrat.  Chaucer’s connects to the growing Lancastrian family through family connections while politically aligned to Richard II are discussed in connection to the position he received in London.  Chaucer’s professional career in London, along with his sideline interest in composing words into poems and tales, is discussed before he is transitioned into a Member of Parliament for the fateful 1386 Parliament.

After setting the stage, Strohm shows how Chaucer became adrift in the political storm that was just beginning in 1386 which resulted in him losing his job and home leading to a change of focus.  At this point Strohm gives a glimpse into the emerging culture of English letters in the late fourteenth century and how Chaucer approached the concept of fame before and after 1386.  Strohm then relates how Chaucer did something completely different in relation to audience and creating the spark of English literature that would continue through Shakespeare through Joyce to today.

The research that Strohm put into this book is excellent, even with the lack of sources because of the seven centuries gap.  The detailed descriptions of life in medieval London were fascinating as well as the political drama going into the background that impacted Chaucer for good and ill.  However this detail in setting background for 1386 dominates the first half of the book leaving the reader waiting for Strohm to show how 1386 resulted in Chaucer’s masterpiece.  The biggest fault of the book is that Strohm continually adds detail after detail along with supporting evidence to facts he has already proven for background while not advancing towards the central thrust of the book.

Chaucer’s Tale shows how a minor individual in the political landscape of medieval England became a literary giant that is better remember than the kings, lords, and gentlemen of his time.  Paul Strohm shows Chaucer’s radically new idea that spawned The Canterbury Tales and jumped started English literature, however he takes his time to get to the point while over describing the background of life and events leading to the fateful Parliament of 1386 and the consequences of it.

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1)

0547928211.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first volume of The Lord of the Rings begins the journey of Frodo Baggins from the peaceful paradise-like Shire towards the dark hellish land of Mordor, thus launching modern fantasy.  Author J.R.R. Tolkien took almost 20 years to write the sequel to his bestseller The Hobbit during which he created the entire history of Middle Earth from The Creation to the Bilbo’s return from the Lonely Mountain to provide his epic with a grounding in a real place.  It is in The Fellowship of the Ring that the reader gets a livid picture of the world of Middle Earth.

The Fellowship of the Ring contains the first two books of six that Tolkien divided The Lord of the Rings into.  The first details the passing of the Ring to Frodo and the journey from the Shire to Rivendell with the Nazgul in pursuit.  The second details the forming, journey, and breaking of the Company of the Ring through death and separation.  Throughout Fellowship, Tolkien continually builds the world the characters inhabit by having them relate history and lore of the part of the world they are traversing.

Unlike The Hobbit, Fellowship feels like it has been transcribed not from an oral tradition but from a dry history that the author attempted to fashion into a story.  Throughout the entire volume this can be see in the tone of the writing, which is not a laid back, but one of building even throughout action sequences such as the flight to Rivendell and race through Moria.  Although J.R.R. Tolkien intended his fantasy epic to be published whole, it was a publisher decision to split the tale that in some ways gives the entire volume this odd tone from the first page to the last.  Where the reader is left on the last page of The Fellowship of the Ring is not suppose to be where they are left, they are suppose to go directly to book three to continue the story.  With this in mind, the reader better appreciate what Fellowship is and what it is not.

In and of itself The Fellowship of the Ring is not a whole book, it is the first third of a complete story and thus is has to be judged on this.  Within the pages of Fellowship, Tolkien gives the reader a vivid sense of the world of Middle Earth and what is at stake on Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring.  While the action and adventure are present, they are behind the character development needed for greater needs later on in the overall story of The Lord of the Rings.  In Fellowship, Tolkien’s epic has a very good beginning that will keep readers looking forward to see things develop in The Two Towers.