The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Review

12786118 The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of the Moving Pictures

by Edward Ball

Synopsis: From the National Book Award-winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life/true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads.

Review:

I am a sucker for historic true crime. I love reading about crime, detection, and the law from the past. This one sounded pretty interesting. I really liked the movie aspect of the story, more about the early days of film.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t really work for me. It’s a joint biography of two men in the 19th century, inventor Eadweard Muybridge and rail tycoon Leland Stanford. I liked the story about the building of the railroad – and the many references to Utah in there – and the story of the inventor/photographer was pretty interesting too. But together, they didn’t make any sense. The only connection, as far as I could tell, was that that had a brief business connection. But I’m sure that millionaire Stanford had lots of business dealing with a lot of people.

But the author chose to drop plenty of hints about the murder and then drop it for another chapter about the plight of Chinese workers on the railroad. Honestly, I finally just got bored and let it go. I need a better book about the the building of the railroad. This one just didn’t work for me.

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Walter Cronkite, a biography

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Walter Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley

I was very excited to read this biography as Walter Cronkite has always been someone I admire. I remember watching him when I was a little girl. He was the news anchor on CBS. I still remember his last broadcast on the day he retired.

Unfortunately, the book wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. The information was interesting, but it was presented fact after fact, with little attempt to break it up into meaningful chunks or themes. I listened to this one and I think that was a mistake. The reader had a rather monotone voice that nearly put me to sleep.

Friday Flashback!

This review appeared earlier.

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com
Themes: royalty, family, ambition, religion, commerce, politics, love
Setting: 13th century EuropeGreat story about four wealthy and powerful sisters who changed the fate of Europe. They were the beautiful and charming daughters of the Count of Provence, Raymond Berengar V, and each one of them became a queen: Marguerite, the eldest, became Queen of France and married Louis IX, Eleanor married Henry III, Sanchia, the saddest story of them all, married brother to King Henry, Richard, who became King, but not Emperor, of the Holy Roman Empire, and Beatrice, who married Charles of Anjou, brother to King Louis, who became the King of Sicily by conquest.

Despite all the royal names and politics involved, this one was an easy read that was more like a modern family drama than a dry historical treatise. There was plenty of feuding, an occasional war, going on Crusades, a rebellion here and there – it was certainly not a boring time to live. This is a great one for the RTT theme this month.

I could have used more maps, but even without them, I really enjoyed the book. Maybe somewhat slow to start, but once the first couple of sisters were married, I couldn’t put it down. I’m not really familiar with this time period, although I recognized a lot of the names, so I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. 4 stars

Encore Review – cool nerdy science book!

 

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This review appeared earlier.

Themes: science vs. religion, triumph of the underdog, the self educated working scientist vs. the elite theorist

I’ve been a fan of Winchester’s since I read The Professor and the Madman several years ago. Sure, he can go on a bit, like in Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, where he spent lots and lots of time on Continental Drift and not enough time on exploding volcanoes. But when he’s on, he’s really on. So I was happy to get a copy of this book at the used bookstore.

I’d have to rank it up there with my favorites. Winchester’s geology background really shows in this book, but that’s not a bad thing. First of all, who but a geologist, or a scientist anyway, would choose to write a biography of someone like William Smith, who never did anything sexy or cool, but simply wandered all over the British isles, improving drainage, of all things, digging canals and mines, and making a map?

But what a map. A map that really did, in its own way, change the world. He’s called The Father of English Geology, which doesn’t sound like an especially cool epithet to me, but to each his own. But his map made possible the huge advances in the dating of the earth of understanding Continental Drift, as mentioned above, and finally allowed us to understand what fossils actually were, not Figured Stones, but relics of previous living things. That was huge.

I loved the cover. It’s a copy of his map that unfolds. I loved that there is another copy of the finished map inside, in full color, and a modern map with it for comparison. I wish they had added a color portrait of the subject as well. Color I guess doesn’t really matter, but the full page size would have been nice. There’s a glossy of geologic terms at the back, but the few words I looked for weren’t there. Oh, and I *really, really loved* that this was a story of a brilliant man of humble origins who made a huge discovery, was ridiculed and victimized because of it, and then was vindicated. How cool is that?

If you are interested in reading about science, I would recommend this one. If you like stories that feature real life triumphs of the underdog, I would definitely recommend this. It’s not your usual take on the subject, but it’s all true, and it makes a great story. 4.25 stars

Top Non-Fiction of 2017

Hey bookies! It’s time to share my favorite reads of the year. This will books that I read this year, not books that were first published in 2017. There were a few that were rereads, but I pulled them out, so this is books that I read for the first time this year. They are in no particular order, just  as I found them in my list.

Three Singles to Adventure by Gerald Durrell. This one took me a bit to read because I only had one copy of it, but it was so funny and entertaining. It’s a memoir of Durrell’s time collecting specimens for zoos and museums. Great because I could pick it up and jump right in to a different world.

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March by John Lewis, et al. In this graphic novel, Congressman John Lewis writes about his experiences with the Freedom Riders during 1962-1963. Powerful and especially timely. This one refers to the 2nd in the 3 book series.

Both of those are 5 star reads. These are 4 star reads. Still extremely good.

 

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester. Lots of stuff packed in here, from Winchester’s own travel experiences to natural history and geology to commerce and all kinds of other fascinating stuff.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Great story of determination and daring. Loved this look at early aviation.

American Colonies: The Settling of North America by Alan Taylor. Comprehensive look at the early United States before it became a country. Most complete of any book on the subject I’ve read and very readable.

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson. A sobering look at the realities of World War II. At times depressing, but worth reading all the same.

 

 

Throwback Thursday – Princesses

Since I have a book about Norman Queens on here, I thought I would rerun this post about princesses, as a sort of companion piece. Enjoy!

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Title: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History – Without the Fairy Tale Endings

Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Setting: worldwide, across history, across time

If you’re thinking Disney has the scoop on princesses, you are so far wrong. Real princesses are fierce, ruthless, vain, spendthrift, ambitious, violent, mystical, proud, and occasionally, mentally ill. Not really all at once, but as a whole, they are about as far from the sweet virginal doll as it’s possible to get.

This is a book club read and it’s going to be  a fun discussion next month. McRobbie sorts the women out by type – heroes, warriors, madwomen, etc. Some of these stories were totally shocking. And some were already familiar to me. I knew quite a bit about Hatshepsut, who started as a princess right enough but wound up as a pharaoh in her own right.

But others were entirely new to me. Princess Olga of Kiev was absolutely dedicated to the cause of revenge. When her husband was murdered, she embarked on a terrific campaign of getting her own back against the country responsible. When she was through, hundreds of men were dead and she was a national hero.

This was an extra treat since the author picked such a wide range of princesses. Instead of the usual choice of white Europeans, she went world wide – African, Asian, all over. She also makes an effort to tell the whole story, not the traditionally accepted Eurocentric story. The book is organized generally by the accepted story first, then the real story after. Some of the stories are quite short, but others are really long.

As far as the “mad” princesses go, it was enlightening to see the way women with mental illness were treated throughout history. Some of them clearly  needed restraint or something, but it was sad to think that so many of them could have been helped with modern treatment. One princess with an eating disorder and a distorted body image seemed especially sad to me.

Some of the stories were a little racy, many were violent, and some were seriously messed up, so I wouldn’t recommend this one for kids, but teens would get a kick out of it. Nothing deep, but a good introduction to the real stories behind this figures. There are also suggestions for further reading.

Who is your favorite real life princess? Tell me in the comments.

Queens of the Conquest: A Review

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Title: Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens, Volume 1

Author: Alison Weir

Source: NetGalley

Setting: roughly 1050 – 1200 England and Normandy

Publishers Synopsis: The story of England’s medieval queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, stateswomen and lovers. In the first volume of this epic new series, Alison Weir strips away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to reveal the lives of England’s queens in the century after the Norman Conquest.

Review: This book was a beast. If you’ve ever wanted to know anything at all about the Norman Queens of England, the answers are in here. What they ate, what they looked like (probably), what historians said about them, their families, their children, their hobbies, how they dressed, what they did, and most of all, who they were – it’s all in here.

It’s just very slow to get through. I felt like I read this book for a month and I barely got through it. It’s not the writing. That was pretty entertaining, and I liked that Weir’s own opinions were in here. I think it was the format. I read this on my phone, and that made it feel like a chore to read.

I would recommend it, if you like dense, meaty history with a lot of detail. Just don’t expect it to be a quick or easy read.

Band of Brothers – Review

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Encore review

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E. Ambrose

Genre: History, WWII

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.

Hamilton At War

downloadI received this free in exchange for a honest review. My views, however, are my own.

Title: Alexander Hamilton’s Revolution: His Vital Role as Washington’s Chief of Staff

Author: Philip Thomas Tucker

“Sell-out crowds every night enjoy the smash hit Hamilton on Broadway, which presents a fact-filled and entertaining glimpse into the patriot’s life. But very few of us know about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, General George Washington’s trusted military advisor.”

If you thought Rob Chernow’s masterpiece Hamilton was just not detailed enough, then this book is for you. I’m a major fan of Alexander Hamilton – the guy was a genius and I’m glad to see him finally getting the credit he deserves. But even I was a little daunted by the level of detail in this new book by Turner.

I agree with his basic premise – we focus a lot of what Hamilton accomplished before and after the revolution, but sometimes overlook what he did while he was serving. This book deals mainly with the extraordinary relationship between Washington and Hamilton. They became an amazing team who Got. It. Done.

But while the book was insightful and like I say, I love the idea, the writing was often repetitive. He’d wind up saying things three times in one chapter. I don’t need that. I can remember what you just said. And then the level of detail – naming so many names, for instance – was really just too much. I would recommend this one for serious readers of American History and advise others to pass.

 

Review: Band of Brothers

Encore review!

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E Ambrose

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.