Holland, Cecelia. Rakossy.

NY: Atheneum, 1967.

I’ve been a big fan of Holland’s historical novels almost the appearance of her first book, written while she was still a college undergraduate and published shortly after she graduated. This is her second novel, written when she was twenty-one.

The year is 1523 and Janos Rakossy is master of Hart Castle, in the foothills to the east of the wide Hungarian Plain. Just beyond his closely-held territory are the Turks, who are making their way farther into Eastern Europe with each passing year — but this is where they will be stopped if Rakossy and the other Magyar barons have any say in it.

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Hinds, Gareth. The Merchant of Venice.

Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2008.

“Based on the play by William Shakespeare,” it says, so I guess I was expecting a “Classics Illustrated” vanilla version of the story, but I was wrong.

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Published in: on 9 December 2015 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bell, Walter George. London Rediscoveries and Some Others.

London: John Lane, 1929.

Bell, a newspaperman by trade, was also a noted antiquarian and author of London’s local history in the early part of the 20th century, and I discovered his two previous books some years ago: Unknown London (1919) and More About Unknown London (1921) – both also reviewed art this site. I was completely fascinated by his guided tour of Roman, medieval, and later historical locations in the City, many of which would not survive the Blitz, not to mention the redevelopment boom of the 1950s.

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Arnold, John H. History: A Very Short Introduction.

NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.

It has to be a challenge to write a useful overview of a large, complex subject in 120 pages or so, but the volumes I’ve read in this series so far have managed it pretty well. But I had my doubts about history, a field in various aspects of which I have been professionally engaged for half a century. I could undoubtedly fill half this slender volume myself with just a list of subtopics of history.

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Nicolle, David. The Venetian Empire, 1200-1670. (Men-at-Arms series, 210)

London: Osprey, 1989.

I’ve long found the history of Venice and its sprawling commercial empire to be fascinating. Built on pilings in the lagoons at the top of the Adriatic, it was in most ways a thoroughly Italian city-state, but it also borrowed heavily at various times from the Byzantines and the Turks. In many ways, Venice deliberately set itself apart from the rest of Western Europe.

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Published in: on 19 March 2014 at 5:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Great Military Disasters: The Greatest Tragedies and Failings in Warfare History.

Bath, UK: Parragon, 2009.

Full-color coffee-table volumes like this can be a great way to lose an afternoon, as long as they’re reasonably well done — and this one is. The first thing to remember is that one side’s disaster is the other side’s victory, so you’ll probably find some battles and campaigns here you wouldn’t have expected.

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Girouard, Mark. Life in the French Country House.

London: Cassell, 2000.

The author’s Life in the English Country House has become a classic of domestic anthropology, an examination of the British aristocracy and landed gentry through an exploration of its preferred places of residence. When I became aware of this successor volume (it’s not a “sequel”) shortly after it first appeared, I had my doubts.

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Rothero, Christopher. The Armies of Crécy and Poitiers.

(Men-at-Arms series, 111) London: Osprey Publishing, 1981.

Together with the author’s companion volume in this series on Agincourt, this is an excellent overview of the three key Anglo-French confrontations that bookend the Hundred Years War. Osprey is known especially for the detailed illustrations it provides of military uniforms and weapons, and you’ll find all that here — though the notion of “uniforms” doesn’t really apply in 14th century Europe.

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Published in: on 3 August 2012 at 8:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Schoonover, Lawrence. The Spider King.

NY: Macmillan, 1954.

Schoonover was a popular historical novelist in the 1950s but, unfortunately, he is largely forgotten today. His first novel, The Burnished Blade, set in France in the mid-15th century, was a bestseller. This one shares the same time and place, more or less, but with an entirely different set of characters — except for the great financier, Jacques Coeur, who was a major figure in the earlier book, and has only a minor supporting role in this one.

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Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

NY: Doubleday, 2010.

Of Bryson’s other books, I’ve read The Mother Tongue and Neither Here Nor There, neither of which impressed me in the slightest. In the former, he demonstrated that he doesn’t really understand much about the development of language, and in the latter, his general air of supercilious superiority over anything and anyone who isn’t English simply pissed me off. “The Ugly Briton.” (Except that Bryson was born in Des Moines.) But he gets such adoring press, I thought I should give him another chance. And since I know a good deal about social history over the past couple of centuries, this seemed a good book with which to do it.

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