History (non-fiction)

Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness AccountAuschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklós Nyiszli

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

The writing style is very bare-bones, pared down, and concise. Nyiszli, a Jewish doctor forced to “practice” his craft at Auschwitz, recounts his experiences in a detached, almost emotionless-seeming way. This approach serves to highlight the atrocities and horror of the concentration camps by dint of the very factual, almost scientific approach. In a weird way, his detachment keeps the reader so off-guard that each fresh nightmare is an unexpected development; even for those familiar with the history.  I really think this is something anyone with a passing interest in history or war should read.

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Categories: Biographies & Memoirs, History (non-fiction), Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a HistoryMarriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This book. This book is so freaking brilliant. Every once in a while you come across that treasure of treasures: The readable, well-researched, topical historical book. Something that is written so engagingly and interestingly, you read it like a novel, unable to put it down. Something that is so well researched that almost every sentence has a reference, and something that is so relevant that you keep thinking, “Oh, so that’s why society as a whole thinks this or does that or acts this way.”  It’s a really fantastic and very accessible read.

Basically, marriage used to be more of a social contract, even for the peasants and such. It was about improving the family situation and adding to the community. This was generally true no matter which social level you were at, the material goods involved just changed as you moved up the scale. A peasant might hope for a spouse with livestock or land and strong work ethic, as well as a family tendency to have lots of healthy children; a landowner might hope for a spouse with adjacent land or merchant-style talents; a noble would hope for a spouse who can increase their social standing; a monarch would seek a spouse who could provide a useful alliance to their country and strengthen their hold on throne. No matter which social strata, the driving factor behind determining a marriage was the effect said marriage would have on your community and family — the hope was for a marriage with affection or at least a tolerable kindness, but it was not a primary decider in whom the spouse would be.

The Catholic church/ papacy became involved in the political aspect of highborn weddings as early as 481, with Clovis and Clothild, so fairly early on in their history.

At various points throughout history, the Catholic church has even argued that marriage is not desirable, because of sex and the potential for putting one’s spouse/ worldly situation above the cares of god. If one could not control their bodily lusts, marriage was better than nothing, but the really preferable thing would be to eschew all worldly concerns and go celibate. It was around the industrial revolution and the shift away from agrarian communities that we also began to shift toward the idea of the “love match,” which led to all sorts of interesting social ramifications (such as the idea of ending your marriage because you “weren’t happy” anymore).

Read the book, it’s awesome. Marriage used to be more about the social contract and impact on the communities; the Catholic Church got involved initially in the political/ highborn marriages and a few centuries later began getting concerned about recording/ policing all marriages; the industrial revolution started the shift away from agrarian communities and families and increased the focus on individuals which indirectly led to the growth of the marriage for love idea. It’s a fascinating history. Coontz’s writing and research is seriously brilliant. This should be required reading. I loved it. Mind. Blown.

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Categories: History (non-fiction), Reviews, Social & Applied Sciences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The State of Jones

The State of JonesThe State of Jones by Sally Jenkins

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This amazing history book reads like a novel. I was fascinated at every turn: The description of the siege at Vicksburg, the utter decimation visited on the South as wartime policy, and the heartrending aftermath of the war. I’d been aware that blacks had been granted the vote in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; I had never fully understood why the federal government allowed Jim Crow laws and the essential reversal of all the North fought for.

This beautifully written tome explains a great deal of how deep and all-encompassing not only Southern pride, but Southern racism really was. Is? It didn’t touch on current politics, seeming to assume that in the decades since the Civil Rights Act, the teeming morass of racism, classism and political division has been largely tamped — or perhaps assuming it best not to touch on current issues.

I finished this book shocked and horrified at all the atrocities committed during the Civil War and the following decades. During the first part of the book, Newton Knight and his band of Unionists reminded me so much of Robin Hood that I was actually disappointed when Confederate generals succeeded in hanging or shooting men from Jones County. Disappointed not just for the pointless deaths, but that Knight hadn’t ridden down like an avenging angel and stopped the Confederate troops after they caught his men.

Ridiculous, I know, but seriously. Read about Knight defying Confederate-installed sheriffs, robbing from rich plantation owners to feed the poor whites and emancipated slaves, and living in the Mississippi swamps throughout the war and try not to make the Robin Hood parallel.

It’s a boldly written, beautifully pieced-together book. It’s rife with heroism, love, and betrayal — all on both a grand and a personal scale. This is probably the most evocative, intriguing look at the Civil War South I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

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