Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Penguin History Of Medieval Europe

Keen covers Western European Medieval history from the 9th-15th century. Russia, Byzantium, and Spain are hardly mentioned because of the great difference in the events that occurred at the same time. The book starts with Charlemange and ends with the start of the Renaissance. The focus is on the relationship kingdoms and rulers had with the Catholic church, how they build each other up, and eventually, become independent nations.

This overview of the Middle Ages is great for a general knowledge on the topic. I like being able to connect the causes of different events such as: the Great Schism, the Hundred Years War, and the Crusades. It is important to understand how empires and kingdoms were formed and changed as these events took place.

The only problem I ever have with overviews of history is, just as I am getting interested in a person or event, the next topic is already being discussed. When reading about a general time period I always come away with a list of topics and people I want to know more about. This is not a bad thing, it is just a little distracting while reading the overview. Some of the people from this book I want to read more about are:

  • Frederick II of Hohenstaufen from the early 13th century, he was curious about issues with the soul and immortality. He would perform experiments to try to prove his theories. Supposedly, he sealed a man in a barrel and had guards watch until the man died. He wanted them to see if the man's soul would emerge. Keen claims that many of the tales about him were likely exaggerated. I want to read more about him to find out what stories were told about him, if they were true or not, and why these stories might have been told or happened.
  • Jean Froissart fought in the Hundred Years War. One of many people that wanted to be seen as a chivalrous romantic figure, like those that were commonly read about at the time. He wrote down his experiences in the war, which are said to read like a chivalrous story. His book is: Chronicles, and it is now on my reading list.
  • Abelard an influential philosopher in the late 11th, early 12th century. He traveled and taught students. He is famous for his affair with Heloise. He ends up being accused of heresies in his teaching, and is excommunicated.
  • Celestine V a hermit who was made Pope in 1294. He ended up resigning as Pope after about six months serving in the position. This caused a lot of problems for the church and his successor. I would be interested in reading more about why he was chosen, and what exactly influenced his decision to resign. Update October 3, 2014: I read The Pope Who Quit about Celestine V. Read my review here.

I would recommend this book to people wanting to get a general idea about what happened during the Middle Ages. You will learn what the major issues were, and what caused them. In this edition there are tables for royal houses and popes, which makes it much easier to understand the succession and how everyone is related. There are maps at various points that help you understand where kingdoms and duchies were located, and where battles were fought. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Book Against God

Thomas Bunting is working on his Ph.D. in Philosophy, sometimes. In his seventh year working on his dissertation he, and everyone that knows him, thinks he will not finish his degree. The mere mention of his thesis becomes a dreaded topic whenever he encounters anyone he knows. Secretly working on a Book Against God when he should be working on his thesis, it is his way of working out his issues with god.

This book was not meant to sway readers to believe or disbelieve in a god. It is about the struggle with relationships. Relationships with family, friends, and god. Bunting is in a constant turmoil of thought about the difference of opinion he and his father, who is a vicar, have about god. He longs for vindication of his opinions, yet he is afraid of the disappointment he will cause when his father finds out how he feels. The book moves back and forth between amusing and serious, as we navigate this time in Thomas Bunting's life.

When I first started reading The Book Against God, I was not sure I would like it. It began a little slow. The book grew on me as I continued to read. I liked the honesty of this book. It was thought provoking. Read it not to agree with notions you already have about god or atheists. Read it to take the time to think about why people have their own beliefs, and how misunderstandings about them can greatly change our relationships. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Nazi Officer's Wife

The Nazi Officer's Wife is about Edith Hahn Beer's experiences during the Holocaust. When the Nazis came to power in Austria, she was sent to a farm as part of a forced labor program. Upon returning home from the farm, she was supposed to report for relocation out east -- this usually meant transportation to a concentration camp. Her decision was to disappear instead of reporting. She obtained false identity papers and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

I was engrossed by her story. The author did an excellent job describing how difficult and traumatic it was to try to survive this way. She changed her whole personality to ensure her own safety. Before the Nazi takeover, she only needed one more test to receive her degree. Studying to be a judge, she had a group of friends that was highly educated and would discuss many intellectual subjects. In contrast, while trying to hide her identity she rarely voiced her opinion, pretended to have less education, and focused on staying at home to be the perfect house wife that the regime desired.

She married a German man who was later drafted and became an officer. He married her knowing that she was Jewish, and that there could be serious consequences if the truth were discovered. Edith had to depend on him not telling her secret to anyone. This was a real concern as he believed a lot of the Nazi propaganda about Jews. They had spent some time together, so they did have a relationship. But, he liked the idea of tricking people, particularly those that had more power than he did.

I really liked this book. First of all, it was well written. Also, I think it is important to read a variety of accounts of historical events. Reading the author's story about the struggle to survive by hiding in plain sight, gives another perspective to our knowledge about Holocaust survivors. Her recounting of how she obtained false papers provides interesting information about the Nazi government and how supplies were distributed during the war. We also learn about ordinary people, and how they felt about what was happening.

I would recommend this book, and it is a must read if you are interested in World War II or the Holocaust. There is a documentary about her experiences, but I haven't seen it yet. I am curious if it follows the book very closely, or if there is additional information presented.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Dream Stealer

Guest Blog Post

My nephew Alejandro agreed to share his thoughts on a book he just read. The book he is reviewing is The Dream Stealer. I have never read this book before, so I was very excited to find out what Alejandro thought about it.

Q&A with Alejandro

Did you read the book alone?
I read it with my mom. Sometimes my family would listen to us taking turns reading it aloud.

What was the book about?
The Dream Stealer takes away people's Nightmares. He gets scared of the bad dreams, and starts taking the good dreams from people. Susana, notices her good dreams are missing, and tries to get them back.

What is the setting?
The Story takes place in Mexico.

Were the characters interesting and developed?
There wasn't a lot of background for the characters because it was a short book. They were still interesting to read about.

The main character was a girl, and even though I'm a boy, I still liked the story. It wasn't too girly. It was very dreamy.

Was it easy to read/understand?
It was easy to read. The book is for grades 2-5. It has short chapters, so it is good for young readers. They can read one short chapter at a time, or more if they can focus for longer.

Was it based off any old tales?
It might be based off an old tale. The author's note says that in a shop in Mexico he saw a statue. When he asked what it was, a lady told him it was a dream stealer. He liked that idea, he bought the statue, and wrote this story.

Did it have illustrations?
It had some pictures. At the beginning of each chapter there was a picture.

How did you find out about this book?
I saw it, and thought it looked interesting. I have a bad dream that I have had repeatedly, and liked the idea that there was something that could take it away.

Did the book turn out how you expected?
Parts of it did. Something that was different was the Dream Stealer had a castle and a butler. I wasn't expecting that. I thought he would keep the dreams he collected in a pouch, but he had a castle with a dungeon he kept them in.

What was your favorite part?
The girl helps defeat some giants. The giants are a nightmare that had been locked in the Dream Stealer's dungeon. They had gotten out, and she helps the Dream Stealer get rid of them.

Did you like the book? Why or why not?
Yes. I like the idea of something getting rid of the bad dreams. I also liked that the book was about making friends and helping them be brave.

Would you tell other people to read it?
Yes, I would tell people to read the story.

Thank you Alejandro for sharing your thoughts on The Dream Stealer. It was great to talk with you about the book. I hope we can do it again!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Professor Higgins makes a bet with Colonel Pickering. The bet is, he can transform a common flower girl with a horrible accent, into an elegant lady passing for a Duchess in society. It would show how skilled he is at his work as a phoneticist. Through an amusing storyline, Shaw comments on feminism and class issues.

The first time I read Pygmalion, was for a class. It had been a few years since I read it, so I decided to reread it. I'm glad I did. It is a humorous play full of witty banter. My favorite scenes are with Professor Higgins' mother. Their interaction is quite hilarious. She begs him to stay away when her friends are visiting. She takes all of his antics in stride, and gives her frank opinions to him.

Shaw based the Play off of the Greek myth Pygmalion and Galatea. In this myth, Pygmalion falls in love with Aphrodite. When she won't sleep with him, he makes an ivory statue of her. He keeps it in his bed and prays for her to have pity on him. She enters the statue and brings to life Galatea. In Shaw's play Professor Higgins also becomes obsessed with his creation.

Growing up I would often watch the movie My Fair Lady. It is a musical that follows the play very closely. I enjoyed reading the play this great film came from. I would recommend reading the play. It is easy to read. It is five short acts, and can be read quickly.