So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution by Larry Gonick

Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1 is divided into five volumes or chapters. It picks up where his 3 volume Cartoon History of the Universe (from the Big Band to the Renaissance) leaves off. For a humorous and popular account, Gonick's Cartoon Histories can not be beat. While telling the big story, his comic book style finds the quirky humor in the personalities of history.

Volume 1, War of the Worlds, starts with Native American Pre-Columbian history and tells the story of early Spanish conquest by Columbus and Cortes of what we now know as the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Volume 2, What Goes Around, looks at the rivalry between Spain and Portugal as they send ships out to explore and colonize the world. In Volume 3, Good Works, Gonick returns to Europe and takes on the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic response. Here the focus is on King Carlos V of Spain who ruled much of Europe in the 16th Century. With Volume 4, The United ___ of ___, Gonick looks at The Age of Enlightenment and the birth of Netherlands (aka the United Provinces of the Netherlands) with its non-royal governing and religious tolerance as a precursor of the USA. The final chapter, Volume 5 "Let's Be Reasonable", shows how the Age of Enlightenment and the conquest of North America develops into the beginning of the USA. He ends the book with a 5 page Index and a 4 page listing of Books, Sites, Etc. with notes on recommended further reading.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler
by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colon (Illustrator)

This is a graphic novel that is not for the squeamish. In telling the story of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, the authors created 64 panels of carnage, 15 are visuals of impalements. Of course, people who read the life of Vlad Dracul are expecting bloodshed. He was a violent man in violent times. The book portrays the historical events and gives the reader some insight into the forces that shaped Vlad's personality. Battle in the 15th Century was bloody and brutal. Hand-to-hand combat with swords, axes and pikes was the method of battle, and cruelty like impaling was meant to deter opposition through fear. Surrounded by enemies, Vlad attempted to maintain control of his lands by instilling fear in his neighbors and enemies through liberal use of this method of torture. He was not a vampire but his name was chosen by Bram Stoker for the main character of his novel Dracula.

Through an American Lens, Hungary, 1938: Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White

Through an American Lens, Hungary, 1938: Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White edited by Katalin Kadar Lynn
Katalin Kadar Lynn edited and wrote the introductory essays of this collection of photographs from Margaret Bourke-White's 1938 visit to Hungary. Many of the photos are of the leaders of the country, while others are landscapes and common people.
Each full page black and white photo is accompanied by a one-page essay written by Karoly Szerences whom Dr. Kádár Lynn describes as "a man of baroque sensibilities and deep erudition." She goes on to say that "in his essays Professor Szerences takes on the guise of Margaret Bourke-White's personal guide into the essence, the Hungarian essence, of each of her photographs. Steeped in the long, turbulent history of his country, his stream-of-consciousness narrative reflects the soul and conscience of the nation. Looking at the photos of Hungary's long-dead leaders, would-be leaders and citizens, he seems almost to channel each person's spirit swhile situating that person within the framework of Hungary's history. Some of the quotations in these essays may seem to the modern-day reader like flights of fancy, tailored to support the 'story'; each is, however, historically accurate and verifiable."
These essays are quite astonishingly descriptive. He starts by referring to post-Trianon Hungary as Potato Land and Budapest as Chameleon City. He calls Hungary's Parliament "crazy." One Prime Minister he calls a pirate and another a gambler. The Minister of Defense he calls a clown. They seem to be written to the cognoscenti and presume a lot of the reader. At the end of the book each picture has a "brief history of the places and people" written by Peter Strausz "to orient readers unfamiliar with twentieth century Hungarian history." I have found reading these histories along with the essay and viewing the pictures is the best way to get through the book, even though it means flipping back and forth.
Dr. Kádár Lynn has done a marvelous job of bringing these never-before published photos to the public eye. Bourke-White's portraiture of the leaders of the country is amazing and the large format (10"x12") pages show them in a wonderful way. However, they are a specialized treat for those who have an interest in 20th Century Central European history.