“The Bloody White Baron” is one of those fascinating short books about a nasty little corner of the world during a nasty time. The nasty little corner of the world is Mongolia; the nasty time is the Russian Civil War. The eponymous Baron is Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg, of Estonian/German extraction, who was called the last khan of Mongolia and waged a brutal, doomed minor campaign against the Chinese and the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s. Naturally, he came to a bad end.
“The Trojan War” is an interesting contrast to some of Barry Strauss’s other works. As always, Strauss is extremely readable and offers fresh insight and analysis. In this book, however, he has to fill in historical gaps to a much greater degree. We know a lot more about Salamis, Caesar and Spartacus, some of the subjects of his other books, than we know about the Trojan War, which we know about from exactly two sources: mythic poetry, mostly Homer, and archaeology.
This is a book written on two levels. It works on one, and not on the other. As political polemic and call to action, it is quite good. As a novel, it is not very good.
This is just not a very good book. It’s not a dreadful book. Just not very good. True, it’s better than most modern apocalyptic fiction, but that’s a low bar. And true, it has to compete with Fortschen’s previous book, “One Second After,” which was fantastic. But nonetheless, it’s not a very good book.
This is a great introduction to three of the most important historical figures of the Classical Age. Since lack of historical knowledge is a plague upon the land in these latter days, Strauss does us a great service by providing a popular, concise history of these men. He compounds this service by drawing parallels and contrasts among them, making it easier to understand and remember each, and caps his effort by drawing permanent, generally applicable lessons from the lives of each.
Who knew how exciting the events of the fourth century BC could be? Most of us have a dim idea of Alexander the Great—conqueror of Greece and points East, all the way to India. But it’s a pretty dim idea. And most of us have very little idea of what happened in the classical world after Alexander and before Julius Caesar. Perhaps we’re vaguely aware that the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty was started by one of Alexander’s lieutenants, who took that part of Alexander’s empire, and that the famous Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian in the least. But mostly our awareness is a blank page. This book fills in a small part of that page.
Most people have heard of Erwin Rommel, at least in passing. But most people probably associate his name with only two events: World War Two tank battles in North Africa, and Rommel’s forced suicide by Hitler because of his ancillary association with Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler. And most people probably have a general sense that Rommel was not so bad a guy, relative to the Nazi regime as a whole (as low a bar as that may be). This book contradicts none of that, but provides a broader sense both of who Rommel was, and also provides a different perspective on World War One than we commonly have.
This book not only illuminates Sir Walter Raleigh’s life, but also illuminates his times in a way that brings real benefit to the reader. The author, Raleigh Trevelyan (who died in 2014), does an excellent job of making Raleigh’s story compelling, maintaining focus on his protagonist while bringing in enough of the historical and political background to put Walter Raleigh in the context of his times. (Although if you don’t like poetry, you may not like frequent quotations of Raleigh’s poetry—but those also illuminate the points at hand, and so are well worth paying attention to.)
A relatively brief academic history–a bit dry in spots, or very dry if you’re looking for a popularized history. And not for you if you’re looking for a pseudo-history where women warriors fought alongside men and the fictitious Mother Goddess was worshiped until the eeeeevil Christians came along. No–in this book women don’t appear hardly at all, and calling a Christian priest homosexual in a poem results not in a Pride moment but in him hunting you down and killing you. But if you want to learn not just about the usual Viking raids in England, but the settlement of and life in Iceland and Greenland, along with many fascinating cultural details of Norse life, this is the book for you.
This is an interesting book, because it’s a book of (pessimistic) analysis and predictions made long enough ago (mid- to late-1990s) that some judgment can be made of its accuracy. It’s a book of several essays of varying lengths on varying topics, based largely on direct observation from Kaplan’s travels, but all generally focused around the future structure and stability of the world. Kaplan is a very vivid and incisive writer, so just on that basis alone the book is worth reading. He’s also a very pessimistic writer, or realist as he would say.