Home to Our Valleys!

Home to Our Valleys! (A Destiny Book, #161)Home to Our Valleys! by Walter Utt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Vaudois were a little Christian group that throughout the Middle Ages were not considered “orthodox” by The Church resulting in persecution and attempts to wipe them out, however after the Protestant Reformation they were considered important to many prominent Protestant leaders throughout Europe especially after Louis XIV influenced the Duke of Savoy to attack them. Home to Our Valleys! is the retelling of the Vaudois’ return from exile during the onset of the War of the Grand Alliance by author Walter Utt using the official account of Vaudois leader Henri Arnaud as well as numerous primary sources from around Europe.

The Vaudois home valleys were in the Piedmont region of Italy, then known as the Duchy of Savoy, right next to the border with Louis XIV’s France. Their exile as the result of French influence on the Duke of Savoy just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, made them refugees in Switzerland and German lands alongside the Huguenots. It was these combined refuges that came together in a 1000 man strong force that left Swiss territory into Savoy marching for home, a journey that included a sliver of France jutting into Savoy territory. Although this force avoided major battles, it continued to win minor skirmishes before reaching their home at which point their campaign turned into a guerrilla action against French forces operating in Savoy territory.

The overall subject of the book was very interesting, but was undermined by Utt’s decision of how to tell this story. At times the book read like nonfiction then as historical fiction, going back and forth throughout. This inconsistency is what really drove my rating of this book so low because while after thinking long and hard that for the most part this was a nonfictional account of the Vaudois with apparently reconstructed conversations between individuals as best guessed by Utt.

The fact that I had to debate what type of book this was while reading it and a while afterwards, took considerable attention away from content Utt was writing about. The subject matter in Home to Our Valleys! is very interesting, but was lost in the style of writing that Utt chose to write in making the overall book underwhelming.

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Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us

Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to UsCenturies of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years. Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change. In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods. Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began. Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization. At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book. The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion. Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions. When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one. While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time. Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book OneMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book One by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first Duke of Marlborough during his life and afterwards was a controversial figure that tended to be seen in a rather bad light by history until Winston S. Churchill set about to fully rehabilitate the English/British general and statesman. Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) contains the first two volumes of Churchill’s four volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill that cover the first 55 years of the general’s life.

The first volume of Churchill’s biography of Marlborough covers the first half of the book from the Duke’s birth to the death of William III at the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. Events and Marlborough’s actions throughout this period colored contemporaries views of him as well as later historian’s opinions of him. Yet this was a turbulent time in English history, as politics was first dominated by Roundheads and Cavaliers before becoming Protestant and Catholics along with Tory and Whig followed by Jacobite and Anti-Jacobite. Without the deep understand that Churchill gives the actions of Marlborough would make him look wish-washy. The second volume consists of the first four years of Marlborough’s time as commander-in-chief of the Grand Alliance as well as de facto co-Prime Minister of England. Throughout this second volume of Churchill’s biography, the life of the commander-in-chief of an alliance was not easy and many of Marlborough’s military plans were frustrated by the want of will by his allies, mainly the Dutch. But it wasn’t until Marlborough marched to the aid of the Holy Roman Empire that he was able to conduct the military operations that he wanted which gave him the first great English victory on the Continent since Agincourt, yet the next year his designs were once again frustrated leading to military and political unrest amongst the Great Alliance.

Given the author’s relationship to his subject and stated purpose to readjust the historical view of his ancestor, one could expect a true glorification of Marlborough but to Churchill’s credit he did not. While Churchill does take time give the reader an understanding of the changing political environment throughout Marlborough’s life and explained his actions in relation to them. When it came to Marlborough’s military operations, Churchill is actually balanced in his approach to his ancestor’s military decisions as well as “what if” scenarios when Marlborough was frustrated in his planning. Yet Churchill savages those who did frustrate Marlborough’s planning through either over caution or plain envy.

Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) gives an in-depth look at the second half of the 17th century and the early part of the War of Spanish Succession through the life of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill writes engagingly and makes a full picture of events that leaves the reader in no doubt the facts surrounding an issue. After finished Book One, you’ll be wanting to start Book Two.

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The Rise of the Great Powers 1648-1815

The Rise of the Great Powers 1648-1815The Rise of the Great Powers 1648-1815 by Derek McKay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Rise of the Great Powers, 1648-1815” is the history of how the European State system that existed in the century before World War I, given that premise historians Derek McKay and H.M. Scott focus on the diplomatic developments from the end of the Thirty Years War to the end of the Congress of Vienna.  Even with the focus of the book being on the diplomatic side of events, the complexity of events from military events to economic concerns to internal state struggles over foreign policy are discussed as all three and more influenced how diplomacy was handled.  In the course of approximately 170 years, the landscape of European power shifted numerous times as old powers fell away (Spain) or the new grew in strength (France, Britain, Russia, Prussia) or briefly existed (the Dutch Republic and Sweden) or endured despite weakness (Austria); all told in clear language and easily readable for the history enthusiast to get a general perspective of the time period.

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Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail

Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of SailOutlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

The common man, whether he be a sailor, a slave, or a pirate is the focus of Marcus Rediker’s “Outlaws of the Atlantic”.  Rediker shows how the lowest individual influenced not only the culture of their day, but shaped the world into what it is today.

Through seven essays Rediker looks at how the daily lives of individuals who worked the Atlantic’s waters, both willingly and unwillingly, and how their experiences affected their own time and ours.  The first was the common sailor who informed “men of learning” who only went to the docks about the all the new places opening up to the European mind.  The next was following the career of a individual sailor who left a memoir of his experiences, showing the ups and downs of an average sailor’s life.  The sailor’s response to his life took many forms, some of which was social revolution in various forms.  Other individuals who lived below decks were those who did not want to be there, either convicts or enslaved individuals, who responded to their predicament by trying to escape by either running away or willingly ending their life.

Throughout the book, the term “motley crew” is used by middle- and upper-class individuals throughout the time period of Rediker’s history.  As the author explains, this was term used for a multiethnic crew of individuals.  These motley crews were involved in many “rebellions” or violent protests against what they saw as unjust practices or laws, many of these were connected to the various protests of the late 1760s and early 1770s leading up to the American Revolution.  As Rediker explains, the more well-known Sons of Liberty organizations were formed to present a better image than the low class and mixed crews.

The most informative sections of the book featured the life and public views of pirates.  Rediker details how and why piracy occurred as well as the counterculture it fostered away from the expected one that English foreign and economic policy demanded.  The most surprising element was how the Amistad Rebellion’s public reaction was influenced by the newly “romantic” image of the pirate in popular culture.

Upon finishing “Outlaws of the Atlantic” the reader has a better understanding of how the common man experienced the age of sail, either willingly or unwillingly, and how it still influences our world today.  Rediker’s essays make the reader want to know more about certain events he covered because of his thorough research and writing style, and luckily for Rediker he has written some of the books those readers could be exploring to learn more about sailors, or pirates, or rebel slaves.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about how life was for the majority of individuals who call the sea home during the “Age of Sail”.

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Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban WorldCities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World by Tristram Hunt
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The legacy of the economic and political practices of the growth of the British Empire and the implemented of those practices in colonial cities are at the root of Tristram Hunt’s “Cites of Empire”.  Instead of looking at the British Empire as either a good or bad “thing”, Hunt examines how it grew and the impact it has on our world today while not forgetting the motivations of those who implemented the policies in the first place.

Hunt examines 10 cities connected to the spread of Britain’s empire around the world, giving each city its own exclusive chapter.  While each city is given its own history, Hunt shows how the British experiences in one city affected their decisions in others he was writing about.  The history of a particular city is not the only thing covered with the individuals who impacted it; Hunt gives the reader a wonderful portrait of the cultural, social, and architectural developments along with those who promoted them.

While Hunt’s descriptive writing of the architectural are wonderful, the text would have been enhanced with illustrations of some kind of the building he was describing (thought as I was reading an advanced reader’s edition of the book there might be some in for sale edition).  The maps at the opening of each chapter helped to place the buildings and other geographical issues into context if one got confused for any reason.  Although Hunt’s insights into the society of the cities he writes about, at times the information he writes feels like a redux of previous cities’ and so slowed my reading as thought back on previous chapters.

Upon finishing “Cities of Empire” I had a better sense of the imperial history of British colonization, a topic in history that I have personally wanting to know more about.  Although not perfect, Tristram Hunt’s book gives the reader a history of the British Empire and its legacy in the 21st Century without judging or defending as good or evil.  I whole recommend this book to those interested in the spread of British culture around the world.

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The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age

The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden AgeThe Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by Simon Schama
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I knew Schama from his A History of Britain series via BBC/History and I have been interested about the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, so that’s what brought me to this book. My usual history reading were usually biographies or general histories, so a book dealing with cultural attitudes was something new for me. Overall it was very informative and Schama gives ample examples with engravings and prints thus showing his thorough research. But during some sections, it was a grind to read so much so that I was barely making a dent in the book as time went on. I started this book at the beginning of March and instead of getting through by the end of the month, I still had a ways to go. After taking a break to read a fictional work, it took me only 8 days after picking this book up again to finish. But don’t let my own troubles dissuade you from purchasing this book, the insight into Golden Age Dutch culture gives one a basis in viewing Dutch’s political, diplomatic, and military decisions during Europe’s early modern period.

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