All posts filed under: Non-fiction

A Short History of Europe 1600-1815: Search for a Reasonable World – Lisa Rosner and John Theibault

It isn’t difficult to find a good non-fiction book about the Middle Ages; nor is it difficult to find an equally good book about the Modern world, starting somewhere within eyeshot of the French Revolution, but a book about the period in between is a rarity. Enter “A Short History of Europe 1600-1815” by Lisa Rosner and John Theibault. Both authors are established in academic environments and have written other books regarding the in between era of European history, and it is their sound expertise and teaching experience that gives them the unique opportunity to introduce 215 years of history in 400 pages in a very reader-friendly way. Luckily, Rosner and Theibault (I love that name) don’t attempt to write a comprehensive history of the period, but provide an overview. In their own words: “Our goal is to be engaging for students, by giving ample coverage of personalities and events, while integrating insights from the last generation’s research on social and cultural history, including women’s history.” I would add that “A Short History of Europe …

Darfur – Julie Flint & Alex de Waal

A starving African child lulled into complacency by famine. That is my image regarding Darfur and its humanitarian crises together with a salute to my high school geography teacher, who placed a blank sheet of paper over the entire continent of Africa on the world map and told us, that this was how most Westerners perceived the world. How right she was, and that is the reason, there is a need for a book such as “Darfur” by Flint & de Waal with the catchphrase: a new history of a long war. Reading “Darfur” does not require any further knowledge that the sparing news coverage on the crises as the book includes introductory chapters regarding Sudan, the region Darfur and the people of Darfur, before focusing on the Sudanese government, the Janjawiid, the various rebel movements, the international reaction and the Abuja peace talks. My critic of “Darfur” is that it focuses almost completely on the political tug-of-war and not on the real life devastation of the conflict. The authors also make a side regard …

What French Women Know – Debra Ollivier

What is it about French women that seems so sensual, intelligent, beautiful, sophisticated, and above all French from an Anglo-Saxon (American or British) perspective? That is what American-born, French-wed Debra Ollivier explores in this tongue-in-cheek book with the catch phrase: about love, sex and other matters of the heart and mind. Despite the fact that “What French Women Know” does include reference to scientific studies around the differences between French and American mindsets, the book is a broad generalization about women on both sides of the Atlantic in chapters about men, mystery, rules, perfection, nature, art de vivre, and body. A witty pearl, written without scruples, “What French Women Know” works because of the generalization. The epitome French woman is so clearly defined that it is easy to see her positive and negative facets, and compare and contrast her the Anglo-Saxon woman. Debra Ollivier has lived in France for a number of years and experienced the cultural clash between French and Anglo-Saxon women first hand, so the caricature is not without factual observations and truth …

Monsters – Simon Sebag Montefiore

Compiling short biographies for history’s most evil men and women cannot be easy without resorting to continual use of synonyms for evil, vicious, cold-blooded etc. but Simon Sebag Montefiore succeeds in keeping focus on these horrible individuals in chronological order from the 9th century BC to now. “Monsters” includes dictators, tyrants, warlords, politicians, terrorists, and mass murderers from Jezebel to Osama bin Laden, and I find the short biographies concise and complete in terms of facts and context. Please note that “Monsters” is popular history; there are no long discussions of the religious influences in the biography of Bloody Mary or ideological subcategories of Fascism in the biography of Mussolini and no footnotes discussing the attribution of the quotation “One death is a tragedy. One million deaths are just a statistic” to Stalin, but then again “Monsters” does not aspire to encompass any more than an introduction to these antiheros from nearly every continent and perhaps show the commonality between these individuals across time, geography, and many cultural, ethnic, religious, political differences. It seems that …

“So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Finding your own North Star – Martha Beck

Fret not, Louise’s Home Library will not turn into a rosy self-help-puffy cloud, but I have read “Finding your own North Star” with the tagline “how to claim the life you were meant to live” twice now and I love it. Strong words, I know. “Finding your own North Star” is about looking inward, acknowledging the path that complements your essential self, taking the first step and reaching your North Star. It sounds perfectly new-agey, but Martha Beck is wonderfully down to Earth with the rest of us and gives practical guidelines. The first aspect I would like to comment is the humour of “Finding your own North Star”. Beck’s narrative is downright hysterical most of the time, which really sets this book apart from many other coaching and self-help books. For example: “If the love of your life turned out – wonder of wonders! – to lov you, too, you could always reject the relationship and head off to live a life of solitary contemplation in a Tibetan cave, but you’d be a damn …

Edinburgh: Literary Lives & Landscapes – David Carroll

“Edinburgh: Literary Lives & Landscapes” founds its way into my hands last October, when my son and I visited Edinburgh. There was not too much time for bookstore browsing (a favorite past time of mine) as I was travelling alone with a 15 month old baby, but this book combines several of my interests: “Edinburgh: Literary Lives & Landscapes” is a great souvenir and it leads the reader back through the bygone times of Auld Reekie in the pleasurable company of well-known authors. Souvenir, history, and literature all in one! “Edinburgh: Literary Lives & Landscapes” does not encompass the lives of the authors in their entirety, but focuses on the authors’ relationship to Edinburgh – whether they were born there, lived there, or were influenced by visits to the city. The book also includes the authors’ written opinions about Edinburgh, which are not all enthusiastic. The result is a literary delicacy centered in Edinburgh. An interesting aspect in my opinion, is the literary milieu that was and even still is in Edinburgh – although I …

Da Danmark blev til – Olaf Olsen

“Da Danmark blev til” gengivet 6 radioforedrag, som Olaf Olsen holdte i slutningen af sidste århundrede efter at have fået en formidlingspris. Olaf Olsen er historiker og arkæolog; han har været professor i middelalderarkæolog og rigsantikvar på Nationalmuseet. Radioforedragene har følgende overskrifter: 1. Arkæologi og historie 2. Hvornår blev Danmark ét rige? – og hvorfor? 3. De ældste danske byer 4. Da kristendommen kom til Danmark 5. “… og gjorde danerne kristne” 6. De gådefulde vikingeborge Bogen blev udgivet i 1999, og den nye forskning, som Olaf Olsen refererer til, er næppe længere ny. Der kan vel sagtens være kommet nyere forskning til endnu, men Olaf Olsen har en interessant betragtning. Historisk forskning i middelalderens skriftlige kilder er gjort på kryds og tværs, og det er uhyggeligt svært for nutidens historikere at byde ind udover nye synsvinkler på gamle kilder. Derimod er der hele tiden nyt indenfor arkæologien, eftersom videnskabelige dateringsmetoder udvikles. På trods af bogens udgivelsestidspunkt, er “Da Danmark blev til” en interessant lille sag. Det er tydeligt, at Olaf Olsen er en blændende …

Ondskab – Sophia Evensen

Et vist element af familiær dysfunktionalitet kender mange, men Sophia Evensens selvbiografi med underoverskriften “Ruth stjal mit liv” når et højere eller rettere lavere plan end de fleste. Ruth, Sophias mor, er Ruth Evensen, stifter og primus motor for den kristne frikirke Faderhuset. Sophia skriver i bogens begyndelse, at hun er objektiv og retfærdig i sin genfortælling af begivenhederne i sit liv og i særdeleshed i sit portræt af moderen Ruth, og slutter af med at skrive, at hun for længst har tilgivet Ruth, men bogen fremstår som ensidig, stærkt subjektivt og det, der undrer mig mest, som et uredigeret første udkast. Jeg måtte lige ind og se, hvad forlaget Bogkompagniet var for en størrelse. Men det er et professionelt forlag, ikke et forfatteren selv har etableret med henblik på at få udgivet sin bog. Derfor undrer det mig, at denne biografi er blevet udgivet i den nuværende form. Der er dårligt sprog, utallige stave- og forståelsesfejl og gentagelser i det uendelige; dertil kommer, at “Ondskab” nok er det klareste eksempel på baggrunden for grundsætningen …

How to Read Literature Like a Professor – Thomas C. Foster

A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines. Is there a right or a wrong way to read literature? I doubt it. Whether you read for the story on the surface or include the layers underneath, the goal is a reading experience that touches you in some way or other. But many of us miss out on the depth of stories, simply because we do not know what to look for. This is where “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” come in. Thomas C. Foster is a knowledgable reader and teacher, who humbly and humorously shares a dollop of his insight regarding reading in “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”. This reading guide works partly due to Foster’s approach and partly due to his infectious love of reading. “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” is not the ultimate teacher’s guide to reading; it is a sample of how one gifted reader enjoys literature through the stories and the underlying layers of symbolism, themes, narrative tricks of the trade, and models …