Tag Archives: history buffs

Review: The Lost Tudor Princess by Alison Weir

4 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Alison Weir and Ballantine Books for giving me the chance to read this book and share my thoughts with other readers.  This review is for the ARC received through NetGalley.

In this book, Lady Margaret Douglas takes center stage.  Even through extensive and impeccable research by Alison Weir, a still incomplete picture of Lady Margaret appears.  This is through no fault of the author but rather a fault of how women were treated and remembered nearly 500 years ago.  Even women in power or those with ambitions of power were at the mercy of those around them and much of the material that remains to give us a picture of what happened during Tudor England was left behind by the men who ruled.  It was their papers, their books, their letters and their histories that ultimately tell the story of the women of this time.

Lady Margaret was an ambitious woman.  Though questions arise around her legitimacy, she was in line of succession for the Throne throughout her life by being the niece of King Henry VIII (yep, that guy) and a direct blood descendent of the throne of England and Scotland.  She would spend her life reasserting her claims and her bloodline.  And the blood that flows through the reigning monarchs today came from Lady Margaret.

Like nearly all women of her time, she was a pawn.  First, she was at the mercy of her parents and then when she came to the court of Henry VIII, she was at the mercy of her uncle, the King.  Even the simple act of falling in love as a young woman put her life in jeopardy because, having a direct blood tie to the Throne, she was not allowed to make decisions about her own life without the direct permission of her King.  Poems still exist that were passed between her and her lover, Thomas.  Amazing given so many writings by women of the time have been lost.  She was given in marriage to the Earl of Lennox and it seems to have been more than just an arranged marriage and held up for decades where they both seemed to be not only true to one another but shared at the very least a great respect for one another and it could very well have been a love match.

While she never gave up on her own titles and her own worth, she pressed the suit of her son and urged the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry her son, Henry.  Earning the enmity of Queen Elizabeth I in doing so.  Court intrigue, interrogations, imprisonment, everything you have come to expect in the Tudor court.  But somehow Lady Margaret once again comes out unscathed and is able to once again enter into the fray and convince not only the Queen of Scots but also her own sovereign that the match between her son, Lord Darnley and the Scottish Queen is in everyone’s best interest.

It’s still hard to get a picture of who Lady Margaret really was because we’re forced to look at life through the eyes and words of her contemporaries and the scant letters and poems that survive in her hand.  But what emerges is still a fascinating tale of an ambitious woman who wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted in a time where women were rarely seen, heard or remembered.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to a casual history reader because they may feel that it’s a bit dry.  This isn’t the Showtime version of the Tudor court, but it is an impeccably researched picture of what life was like nearly 500 years ago.  It still has all the drama, intrigue, death, imprisonments, death threats that makes people love this period.  Personally, I liked the book!

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Review: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

4 1/2 Star Review…it was almost 5 stars…almost…

I may not always agree with his politics, but I can readily admit that Bill O’Reilly is one heck of a storyteller.  And what’s most impressive is that he and his co-writer take what could be an incredibly boring documentary about General George Patton and turn it into a rich narrative.  My only complaint came from the fact that the actually death almost ended up as being just a footnote.  But it is understandable.  When your source material no longer exists and you don’t want to go too far into the world of guessing and conspiracy theories, you have to keep it simple and stick to what is known and what could be proven.

This book is definitely a must for anyone who wants to know more about General Patton and who he was and how he was viewed by those who loved him, loathed him, feared him and tried to ignore him.  It’s easy to see why people on both sides of the line wanted him to disappear.  But who had the best motive?  Who could actually be blamed if it really wasn’t natural causes?  The Germans?  The Russians?  The precursor to the CIA?  His own beloved Army?  There is no smoking gun and there is no proof that it was other than complications from a car accident.

We follow General Patton through the waning days of the European theatre as he and the Allied forces march their way toward Germany.  Along the way we slowly begin to get a fuller picture.  We are taken to the front lines where horrible atrocities are committed on both sides.  We are given a harrowing account of the war and the toll that it takes on every side.  For those of us who were born in the generations following World War II, we’re given an unvarnished look at how hellish this war was.  There are no white-washed history lessons here.  There are many spots where you just want to weep at the horrific images of what this conflict did to everyone from the highest offices in the world to the lowliest peasants.

While the central question is never truly answered and never can be, I have to say this was an amazing book.  I was actually sad to have it end.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in General Patton or just an interest into World War II.  Not only is this a fantastic book about one of America’s best strategic generals, it’s an amazing account of the last days of the European conflict.  I only wish more had been dug up about the possible conspiracies and subterfuge that may have caused the death of General Patton.

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Review: Prince of Darkness by Shane White

3 Stars

Review for ARC copy received through NetGalley.  All opinions are my own and the ARC status in no way impacted my impartial review of the material.

Prince of Darkness is the story of one of the first African American millionaires.  Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a contemporary of Cornelius Vanderbilt and may of the other well-known movers and shakers of antebellum Wall Street.  He was even mentioned in Vanderbilt’s obituary.  But with one exception, that his contemporaries already knew, Jeremiah G. Hamilton was black.  He was worth an estimated $2 million.  So how does an African American man go from very poor, possibly slave, beginnings to one of the richest men in America?  That’s the story that Shane White has set out to tell us.

This is nearly an impossible task.  Records from the early 1800’s are hard to come by even if you’re white, they’re nearly impossible if you are a minority, especially if you are black.  The only people who seem to have good records about their lives are the wealthy and important white men at the top of the food chain.  So how do you go about researching someone like Jeremiah Hamilton?  Public records.  A long and arduous process of combing through court documents, newspapers, diaries and other source material from the early 1800’s to Hamilton’s death in 1875.

Being rich didn’t keep him safe from racism.  He was attacked on both sides.  Blacks thought he was disingenuous and dishonest just like his white contemporaries.  He wasn’t always honest in his money making schemes and he wasn’t above taking advantage of people and situations to get ahead.  He uses an epic disaster in 1836 to further his own business needs.  But he wasn’t really any different from the rest of the elite of this era.

There is a lot of history covered in this book and it can be easy to get a little lost.  There was a lot of time spent tying everything together and there was a lot of backstory covered both about Hamilton and about the era in which he came to power.  The source material is as good as you’re going to get for that time period, but can be taken with a grain of salt because of the time it was written.  The news outlets of the 19th century was more like the tabloid outlets of today.  Most stories have a very anti-Hamilton and anti-African slant to them.  It’s still hard to get a true picture of who Hamilton was because our predecessors were so horrible at keeping records for anyone other than their white bosses.  But it’s not much different today is it?

If you’re a history buff, you will be interested in this book.  The research is well done and the story itself is interesting.  I think it would have been interesting to have lived in 1830’s New York and meet a character like Jeremiah Hamilton.

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Review: It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright

4 Stars

I was lucky enough to receive this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Being a fan of history, I was immediately interested in this book.  How do you pick just thirteen from mankind’s rich history of ugly and sometimes bloody romantic breakups?  Not only that, but how do you take what can be some very dry historical texts, letters and the like and make this book interesting for readers of the 21st century?  I think the author has done a very fine job of it.  The stories she has chosen are definitely breakups gone bad.  While many familiar to both history buffs and the general public alike, some are probably completely unknown to anyone who doesn’t have either a big interest in history or some kind of degree in historical tragedies!  I will preface this review with two caveats.  If you are not interested in historical figures and learning more than what you can see in a history book, you might want to give this one a pass.  If you are a history buff and prefer dry commentary with lots of footnotes and bullet points, you will want to give this one a pass.

The author takes very well researched material and gives it a contemporary voice.  She has included the text from the subjects actual letters, court transcript and other historical sources and makes it relevant.  She makes fun of them and their times, just like many of us would.  There is a lot of tongue in cheek satire and plenty of laughs.  More than once I found myself laughing out loud at some of the imagery that her writing induced.  She goes so far as to say that some of the information she’s giving you will help you with obscure trivia shows and maybe a history category on Jeopardy!

I was familiar with many of the stories, especially Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  I think they are probably one of the most studied and written about couple in history.  There are countless books, movies and TV shows about them.  But the author still managed to make this material seem fresh even after nearly 500 years of writing about them.  Some of the stories I was either less familiar with or hadn’t heard of them at all and probably never would have known that these people existed if it hadn’t been for this book and now I’m wanting to go read more about them and their nasty breakups!

Read about Emperor Nero and Poppaea and her surprising replacement.   Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, an example of an incredibly strong and influential woman in an era when women didn’t have a voice.  Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of a pope, who had a family that believed she deserved better and staged the annulment of the millennium.  Henry VIII and not only Anne Boleyn, but also Catherine Howard, both women lost their heads over Henry.  Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton, Norman Mailer and the list goes on.  The author stopped at thirteen of these stories of heartbreak and love gone wrong.  I wished for more!

If you like history with a twist, told by a voice with a touch of sarcasm, cynicism and a lot of wit…I think you’ll really enjoy this book.  The only reason that this book lost a star was because the sarcasm and author commentary became a bit heavy handed at times.  Instead of lending to the stories, it either didn’t mesh well or it took away from the authenticity of the story being told.  That being said, the book flowed very well and I believe it was in chronological order, so that was nice for OCD people like me!  Overall, I really did enjoy this book and will recommend it to all my friends who sit and watch I, Claudius with a bucket of Ben And Jerry’s (Caramel Sutra for me!) ice cream in their lap.

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