Book Review: Lost Enlightenment by S. Frederick Starr and Polymaths of Islam by James Pickett

Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by S. Frederick Starr, published by Princeton University Press, 2013

Polymaths of Islam: Power and Networks of Knowledge in Central Asia by James Pickett, published by Cornell University Press, 2020

I enjoyed both books and would highly recommend them to anyone interested in how knowledge was developed and preserved in Central Asia. I did not plan to read these books together, but I think reading them back-to-back is beneficial as these books compliment each other so well.

Lost Enlightenment studies Central Asia’s Enlightenment from about 800 to 1200, with a particular focus on Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Sina and Abu Rayhan al-Biruni. The book is written in an easy to engage with prose. There is a lot of information, so re-reads are recommended, but I was never lost or felt overwhelmed. Overall, I found this book to be very eye-opening in terms to the depth of intellectual thought and development according in Central Asia from 800-1200 and I was introduced to several historical figures I either only heard about in passing or had never heard about. The pacing and structure of the book suffers from the vast scope of Starr’s narrative and while he tries to shape the book’s narrative around key events and key figures such as Ferdowsi, Ibn Sina, etc. there were parts of the book that felt disjointed or there were some chapters I would have liked to have seen broken into smaller chapters.

Polymaths of Islam studies the knowledge networks crafted specifically by the ulama of Central Asia. Pickett limits his exploration to the long 19th century, roughly from the collapse of Nadir Shah’s empire in 1747 to the rise of the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. This book is not as easy to engage with as Starr’s book, because Pickett has the daunting task of introducing multiple concepts and arguments at once and in an academic manner, but I would say that his book picks up in chapter three where he really begins talking about the formation of intelligence networks. The first two chapters are important for his overall argument, but if you’re not interested in terminology or academic argument building then you can skim them. Where Starr tripped because he was doing too much at once, Pickett benefits from his limited scope and simultaneously provided a, intimate and complicated portrayal of the ulama (challenging many assumptions) while also having the skill to take a step back and discuss the systematic developments that supported and hindered the ulama.

This review continues on our Patreon.

Book Review for Making Uzbekistan by Adeeb Khalid

Rating: 5/5

Pros:

  • A comprehensive exploration into the creation of Uzbekistan and its neighboring states
  • A long overdue overview of an often-neglected region of the world
  • Well-researched and detail heavy but still easy to read

Cons:

  • Need to know a little about the region before reading
  • Is VERY detail heavy and needs to be reread to catch everything
  • Would have liked more info on the military campaigns waged by the Soviets

Continue reading

Book Review: A History of God

A History of God by Karen Armstrong, Gramercy Books, 2004

Pros:

Fair and balanced look into the history of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Succinct summary of dense information

Well-written

Cons:

Lot of information

Can be dense and is a long read

Could be organized differently

This is a well written and fair book that covers the history of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. When I read the introduction, I was nervous about Armstrong’s bias since she had a heavy Catholic background. However, her handling of the different religions was surprisingly fair and well-researched. I have to so some research to see if people of those faiths agree, but me, as an atheist, found her to be non-judgment. If anything, she is hardest on Christianity while keen to highlight the beautiful elements of Judaism and Islam. She doesn’t shy from critiquing the other religions but is softer in her comments than when she talks about Christianity.

Overall, the book is not an easy read because of the density of the subject, but Armstrong is a strong writer who is a natural at taking a difficult topic and breaking it down so it’s easy to follow and understand. My only real critique is that it would have been slightly easier to digest if each chapter had been broken into sections with section headers. She organized her book chronologically so each chapter covers the developments for all three religions within a certain time frame. I understand the logic, but it makes the chapters thick and dense and can occasionally be confusing. But other than that, while a lot of information is covered, it is not a hard book to read. It is worth taking your time to read because there is so much information. Armstrong’s strongest chapters are the first five, where she takes her time to explore the origins of each religion. She also does a great job diving into the Sufi religion, which I found amazingly informational and fascinating. Would love to research into that religion more. However, once we reach the reformation, she isn’t as diligent in her research until we reach the later half of the 20th century.

While there is a lot of information, I would have liked to see more research into the Sunni-Shia split, the Crusades, as well as the Reformation. She definitely rushes through the Reformation and does a huge time jump from the Reformation to the 20th century. She also fails when writing about Islam during the 18th and 19th century. She claims that it’s hard to write about because little research has been done which seemed like a perfect opportunity for Armstrong to do the research. And the Crusades are barely mentioned at all, which seems odd since that is a defining (and horrific) moment for the Christian faith

Overall, a time-consuming read, but not a difficult read. Full of fascinating information about the world religions that are handled in a fair and compassionate manner.

Book Review: The Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement by Siobhan Fenton, 2018, Biteback Publishing

Pros: Quick and Easy read

Provides needed context on women’s and LGBTQ issues in Ireland

A great overview of what’s happened in Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement

Cons: Lacking in deep analysis on any issues

This book is a breezy and easy read of North Ireland, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement. When I initially bought the book, I was hoping there would have been a little more analysis done on how the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated and signed, but still found this book incredibly interesting. Interestingly, a lot of topics covered in this book are also discussed in Patrick Radden Keefe’s book Say Nothing.

Siobhan focuses on how the Good Friday Agreement affected minorities in Ireland, the efforts to deal with the missing people and trauma of the war, the breakdown of government in North Ireland, and how Brexit looms large on the horizon. The most interesting chapters are the ones that discuss domestic violence during and after the Troubles, how the various political parties use LGBTQ issues to push their own agendas, and the government’s refusal to properly address the war’s trauma. I found this chapter particularly interesting since I learned about the many different approaches communities can take to heal after a mass genocide or war while in grad school, and Ireland hasn’t done anything. There are the governmental trials to investigate into the many missing person’s cases, but they are half-hearted attempts and it is clear that the government would rather do nothing than risk the fragile peace that was earned by the agreement.

Siobhan’s book is a good and quick read with moments of interesting analysis. It’s definitely something I would recommend to a person who knew little about North Ireland and wanted a primer on what’s happened since the Troubles. However, I found the book shallow in its analysis in many places and found myself wanting to know more. I think Say Nothing covers the trauma side of things much better than Siobhan’s book, but Siobhan provided desperately needed context on women’s and LGBTQ issues.

Overall, this was a good read, if a little light in deep analysis.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/pepperthephoenix

Review for the Irish Civil war: Law, Execution, and Atrocity

Irish Civil War: Law, Execution, and Atrocity by Sean Enright, Merrion Press, 2019

4/5

A slightly dry, but fascinating read about the executions that took place during the Irish Civil War. Like his prior book on the Easter Rising Trial, Sean spends the first half of the book providing historical and legal context for the trials, before working through each execution in a linear process. This method can be a dry read, especially since he only provides short glimpses into the lives of those who are being executed, but that doesn’t mean this book isn’t interesting.

Continue reading

Review for Fatal Path

Fatal Path: British Government and Irish Revolution 1919-1923 by Ronan Fanning, Faber and Faber, 2013

4/5

A light and easy read about the British perspective during the Anglo-Irish War. I greatly enjoyed this book. Since I normally read about the conflict from the side of the IRA/Irish Nationalist’s, this book was enjoyable and provided needed context for the British reactions to the Irish rebels. Fanning is a strong writer and takes the minutia that is British parliamentary politics and make it easier to understand as well as interesting.

Continue reading

Thoughts on African Kaiser and handling colonialism

African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918 by Robert Gaudi, Berkley, 2017

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. I read African Kaiser by Robert Gaudi last year and, while it was an easy and enjoyable read, there was an element that didn’t sit right with me. Lettow-Vorbeck fought with Africans during WWI, but I think Gaudi stresses this ‘progressive’ mindset more than he should, making it far more positive than it really was.

Continue reading

Book Review of Richard Mulcahy from the Politics of War to the Politics of Peace 1913-1924

Book Review of Richard Mulcahy from the Politics of War to the Politics of Peace 1913-1924 by Padraig O Caoimh, Irish Academic Press 2019

Rating: 4.5/5

Pros:

  • A long overdue biography on a vital founder of the Irish Free State and Irish Army
  • Rich analysis that is easy to read
  • Provides needed context on the IRB’s role during the Irish-Anglo War and the Irish Civil War

Cons:

  • Provides little personal information about Richard Mulcahy
  • A few chapters are dense because of the amount of information being presented
  • There needs to a second volume

This biography is long overdue and excels at bringing Mulcahy out of Collin’s shadow, highlighting a career of various ups and down during the Irish War of Independence as well as the Irish Civil War.

Continue reading

Book Review-The Woman Who Would be King

The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney, 2014, Crown Publishing

 

4/5

 

This is a well-written, engaging study of a fascinating woman from Ancient Egypt. It has an easy to read study and, while it sometimes strays a little too far into the theoretical, it never reads like an academic tome. It is also an accessible book for anyone who doesn’t know much about Ancient Egypt, going into great detail how religious, politics, and a royal family’s internal life functioned. My only real critique of the book is that it goes too far in using modern feminism to explain Hatshepsut’s rise and Egypt’s reaction to having a woman Pharaoh.

 

The book starts by highlight that Hatshepsut’s first encounter with power was being appointed the God’s Wife of Amen. In this role, Hatshepsut was given property and a small staff and was responsible for tending to the needs of the god, Amen. She was also Thutmose I’s first born and Cooney hypothesizes that Hatshepsut learned how to govern by watching her father. Cooney spends a good portion of the first half of the book explaining the internal functions of a royal family. She freely admits that a lot of this is speculation based on archaeological findings and that we’ll never truly know what Hatshepsut’s relationship with her father or his many wives was like. Still, Cooney does an admirable job trying to untangle what would happen to a child and mother after they were born, the roles of the wet nurse and familial staff, and the different pressures and expectations for male children and female children.

 

Hatshepsut marries her step-brother, Thutmose II, and has a female child, but is unable to produce a male heir. However, when Thutmose II dies, it is Hatshepsut who takes control of his son’s fate, not the boy’s mother. Cooney does a lot of speculation as to why this was the case arguing that maybe Hatshepsut’s own mother was still alive at the time and helped her daughter stage a power grab, making Hatshepsut Thutmose III’s regent, instead of the boy’s mother. There is also some speculation that Thutmose III’s mother’s bloodline couldn’t compete with Hatshepsut’s. Once Hatshepsut took over, Cooney believes that she may have continued to have support from her mother in establishing control, and once this control was established, Thutmose could not destabilize it once he was old enough to understand what was going on.

 

Cooney does a great job trying to understand what Hatshepsut and Thutmose III’s relationship must have been like. At what point was Thutmose III old enough to realize that Hatshepsut had proclaimed herself pharaoh and all that entailed? Why did Hatshepsut never try to kill him and take the throne completely for herself? Cooney uses the fact that Thutmose did not destroy any reference to Hatshepsut until the end of his reign to hypothesize that they had, at least, a semi-working relationship. Cooney cannot say for sure if Thutmose were married Hatshepsut’s daughter, but it would have been odd if he hadn’t. Although her child falls into oblivion after Hatshepsut’s death, suggesting that Hatshepsut may have tried to pass the pharaoship down to her daughter as well and either she was too old and weak to do (she was sickly towards the end of her reign) or the Egyptian officials wouldn’t allow it. Interestingly, Hatshepsut was able to pass down her position as God Wife of Amen to her daughter, which may have suggested that, even though she couldn’t give the throne to her daughter, she could still give her an important position that would keep her safe one Hatshepsut died. The nature of Amun’s God Wife also changed towards the end of Thutmose’s reign. Mothers were appointed to that position instead, Cooney speculating because Thutmose III learned from Hatshepsut and realized that other women could use it as a spring board to the throne.

 

Cooney spends a lot of time trying to measure how Egyptians felt about this strange new pharaoh. Hatshepsut wasn’t the first woman to claim the title Pharaoh, and it wasn’t unusual for mothers to serve as regents for their sons. However, a regent had never claimed the title Pharaoh, nor had they ever worn the crown and ceremony beard of pharaoh. Even in her depictions, Hatshepsut made sure everyone knew she was pharaoh. She was placed before Thutmose and was bigger than he was. At first, her figure was a combination of masculine and feminine features but steadily grew more masculine (seemingly coinciding with Thutmose reaching his teenage years). As she grew more masculine, she began to share the space with Thutmose, making them the same size, however, by making her form more masculine, she also made it hard to differentiate between her figure and Thutmose III’s. Cooney tries to understand the change as a reflection of Egyptian society’s feelings about having a female pharaoh when the male pharaoh was old enough to make his own decisions, but it also seems like Hatshepsut was still finding ways to remind Thutmose of his place.

 

Cooney writes that Egyptian society seemingly embraced Hatshepsut’s power grab without much comment. She points out that may be because the Egyptians only recorded anything that would glorify the pharaoh and never stained their records with anything that was problematic. But I think there is also a danger in trying to understand Hatshepsut’s rise and Egyptian society’s feelings through a binary, feminist point of view. While reading Cooney’s analysis of familial life in Egypt, it is clear that the women of the household held power that we Westerners wouldn’t have expected or acknowledged in ancient civilizations-let along our own civilizations. Additionally, women had acted as regents before and Hatshepsut wasn’t the first woman to hold power nor would she be the last. Finally, many of the female deities were protective spirits, as vicious and deadly as they could be kind and loving. There seems to be this understanding of feminine power that is more advanced than Cooney’s theory of feminism would have us believe. Additionally, to expect Egyptians to understand gender along the same binary we understand it seems misguided at best.

 

Finally, because Cooney wants to establish a feminist theory regarding Hatshepsut’s rise, I think she doesn’t pay enough attention to Hatshepsut’s genius regarding administrative management. One of Hatshepsut’s most faithful administrators with Senenmut. Senenmut rose from humble beginnings to become one of Hatshepsut’s most powerful and trusted officials. He started as her daughter’s tutor, was given control of Hatshepsut’s finances, and became her chief architecture, overseeing the construction of the Deir el Bahri and built his tomb next to Hatshepsut’s. Many people have written that Senenmut was either the real brains behind Hatshepsut (which is ridiculous theory embedded in the sexist belief that a woman could never be as successful a pharaoh as Hatshepsut was) or her lover (which also seems vaguely sexist to me). Whether Senenmut was Hatshepsut’s lover or not (and what that means in terms of political power i.e. was he sleeping with her to keep power or was she sleeping with him to keep him bound to her) he wasn’t the only commoner to be promoted to an important official position. Hatshepsut made it a practice of appointing men from lower administrative families, seemingly buying their loyalty by evaluating their rank and power. This, more so than any feminine powerhouse Hatshepsut may have created with her mother (if she lived long enough to see Hatshepsut become pharaoh) and her own daughter, seems to be the reason Hatshepsut was able to remain in power as long as she did and was able to establish herself as pharaoh. By buying the loyalty of the administrative apparatus that help Egypt together, no one in their right mind would try to overthrow her. I wish Cooney had explored this aspect of her reign in more depth because it is an interesting style of management we have seen in other great historical figures.

 

After Hatshepsut died, Thutmose III became the sole pharaoh of Egypt. Most of her advisors and officials were disgraced from office, many of the statues Senenmut built for himself were destroyed and he wasn’t allowed to have his body buried next to Hatshepsut’s. His mummy has never been found. Despite getting rid of Hatshepsut’s officials, Thutmose III did not attack her historical record until the end of his reign. Cooney argues that this was because Thutmose III wanted his son to sit on the throne and feared that a woman would try to take the throne once more (we have to wonder if Hatshepsut’s daughter was still around, or maybe even Hatshepsut’s granddaughter-if she had one). However, I wonder if the reason Thutmose III didn’t try to erase Hatshepsut’s name from history sooner was because he couldn’t politically. Maybe Hatshepsut had done such a great job, not only ruling Egypt, but engraving her very presence into the psyche of Egyptian society, that to attack her legacy so soon after her death would have been seen as unforgivable. It was only at the end of his reign, when Thutmose III had enough of his own achievements to push Hatshepsut out of everyone’s mind, that he felt secure enough in his power to attack his co-ruler.

 

Overall, Cooney’s book is a fascinating read that is a great introduction to Hatshepsut’s reign. While she provides social and familial context rarely encountered in other books about the ancient world, I think she fell a little sort explaining the political machinations that was behind Hatshepsut’s ability to, not only rise to power, but keep it.

Book Review: Syria: An Outline History

Syria: An Outline History by John D. Granger

4/5

This is a well-written book about a large swath of land in what is now known as the Middle East. Even though there is a modern-day equivalent of Syria, it is a small portion of what had been Syria until roughly the 20th century. The borders of Syria have changed frequently through various waves of invasion and conquest. It seems that the borders have been contested so much over history, that Grainger felt the need to defend where he placed the borders and the complications that arose from that decision. Syria has never been united either politically, ethnically, or religiously, making it a potentially unwieldy and overwhelming topic to write on or study. Grainger shows himself to be a master historian by knowing exactly how much detail is needed without overwhelming anyone. He also knows how to take incredibly complicated scenarios and bring an amazing sense of clarity.

Continue reading

Book Review: Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt

Review of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David. Published by Penguin in 2002

4/5

This book, while different from what I had been expecting, was a well written and insightful read. It focuses on the development of the Ancient Egyptian belief system chronologically, focusing on the historical events that affected who and how Egyptians worshipped. While I was expecting an in-depth look at the religious practices themselves, it was fascinating to watch as local deities became national gods according to what was occurring politically. While the prose is engaging and David obviously knows what she is talking about, I’m not sure if someone who didn’t have a basic understanding of Ancient Egyptian history already would be able to fully enjoy this book.

The book offers a number of interesting theories such that the concept of the Pharaoh being a god on Earth was developed in order to balance the power of the priests, after some of the gods became universal. Many of the changes in Egyptian beliefs reflected the struggle between the priests and the Egyptians although she disagrees that Akhenaten’s attempts to unite the religion under one god was a political move to undercut the power of the priests. Instead, she argues that Akhenaten truly believed in Aten and any political fall out was only a secondary consideration. I have always found Akhenaten to be a fascinating pharaoh and that was the one of the most interesting part of the book for me.

The second most important part was the analysis on the Cult around Osiris. David argues that Osiris became popular because he offered salvation to every day Egyptians. This contrasted sharply with the old beliefs that said only the royal family would find salvation in the afterlife. This seems strangely similar to the concept of Jesus Christ offering salvation to everyone, instead of a special people. The Osiris cult was created during a difficult period of Egyptian history and seemed to have been an attempt to placate the suffering people.

Overall, it was a fascinating read that gave a quick, but concise look at how the Egyptian religion changed based on historical pressure.

If you enjoyed this article, please contribute to my ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/pepperthephoenix

Book Review: A Peace to End all Peace

A Peace to End All Peace: the Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. Published by Owl Books 2001

4/5

This is one of those books that everyone reads for a foundational knowledge about the Middle Eastern policy during WWI. It is a well-researched and well written book that is an easy and quick read, packed with a ton of information. Like one of my other favorite books: Dreadnaught written by Robert K. Massie, this book focuses on the British war efforts. However, unlike Dreadnaught, this book only focuses on the British war effort. Fromkin writes in the preface, that that was intentional, and while it provides a focused narrative, it doesn’t capture all the nuisances of the Middle Eastern theater. It also obfuscates the role Russia played in shaping the war effort. It also doesn’t make much of an effort to explain the Turkish policy. This is a good book to start if one wants an entry point into the mess that is WWI’s Middle Eastern Front, but it needs to be read along with other books to provide a more holistic and in depth understanding of the war.

That being said, Fromkin does a fantastic job highlighting the inefficiency and stupidity behind the British war efforts. They entered the region without a clear plan on what they wanted from the region and once their forces were trapped in the Middle East, they had no idea how to win or what winning entailed. The War Office, under Kitchener, wanted to create a hands on empire while others wanted a loose confederacy of British states, ruled by locals, but modeled on British officers. Then there were others, like T. E Lawrence one could argue, who took advantage of a situation they were thrust into to their own benefit, altering a region in ways they couldn’t understand.

The British launched the Gallipoli campaign because they were terrified of Russia being pushed out of the war by the Turkish and because they underestimated the Turkish war effort. They thought it would be an easy victory that could distract from the disaster that was the western front. McMeekin, author of The Ottoman Endgame, does a fantastic job describing the true role Russia played in the Gallipoli campaign, while Fromkin only touched upon it. McMeekin also spend far more time explaining the role Russia played in constructing the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Read my review of The Ottoman Endgame here

Fromkin, however, provides the necessary analysis of the interpersonal politics of the British war effort. Like Massie, Fromkin understand people and psychology, and does an indepth analysis of the officers who surrounded Kitchener, the Indian Office, and the War Department as well as the mercurial nature of men like Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George. Fromkin also does a decent job balancing the many countries involved in the war, dedicating times to small offenses such as Dunsterforce campaign in Central Asia while keeping the bigger picture in view. He even took time to briefly explain what was going on in the British home front to explain some of the policy decisions the British made.

To learn more about the Dunsterforce campaign, watch this Great War episode

Overall, while the book only focuses on the British perspective, it is a great and indepth overview, providing a good foundation to a very conflicting and confusing front. But it needs to be supplemented with other books.

Book Review: The Ottoman Endgame

The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Sean McMeekin. Published by Penguin Books, 2016

5/5

This is a well written, well researched study of the military situation of the Ottoman Empire before and during the First World War. It provides a refreshing perspective, focusing on the Ottomans themselves, as oppose to the powers that destroyed their empire. It takes the time to review the situation in the Balkans and highlighting the Ottoman’s desperation as the British cooled on them and Russia licked its lips, eying its territory. The only country willing to offer a friendly hand was Germany and thus the Ottoman’s fate was sealed. By siding with Germany, they turned themselves against those who had once protected their land (the British, in their everlasting Great Game against Russia).

Continue reading

More notes on Armenian Golgotha

I’ve been thinking about Balakian’s memoir and two points that stuck out the most to me were: the international community’s culpability/lack of proper response and Turkey’s complaints once the Armenians were murdered.

Starting with the Turk’s complaints, it’s so similar to the U.S. right now, it’s terrifying. Balakin writes that the Armenians were the core of Turkey’s economic, serving at its craftsmen, artisans, lawyers, farmers, etc. Balakian might have exaggerated the importance of his people to highlight the horror and stupidity of Turkish policy towards the Armenians, but there is some evidence to support his claims. When the Armenians were taken and killed, the Turkish peasants asked where the Armenians had gone, when were they returning, and when were the fields going to be plowed? Every time Balakian talks to a Turk, they complained about how no one was making anything, and people were starving because no one was harvesting, etc.

This is similar to the U.S. After the current president talked about building a wall, cracked down on undocumented immigrants, and seated families, American farmers complained about a lack of workers and their inability to harvest all their crops and tech companies worried about losing their immigrant workers. While a minority can be easy to blame when things go badly or when a nation needs to be ‘united’, they are often the backbone of the society and economy. Balakian wrote that during their march to death, his caravan would pass farms that once belonged to the Armenians. The crops were left on the vines and Turks were starving because they didn’t harvest the food.

The centrality of the minority to the economy, makes the arguments that they’re hurting the country almost believable. Even though they are the ‘minority’ and are being exploited, they seemed ‘everywhere’ and control ‘everything’ somehow making them responsible for everything going wrong. It’s a twisted and terrifying logic that contains enough ‘truth’ to be believed. The obvious solution, is to pull them out of the economy, separate them from everyone else, and then exterminate them.

The second point was the international community’s silence even though there were articles about the horrors that were occurring. The Germans knew and said nothing. Instead, the German military officers and political leaders looked the other way and the German engineers would help to a certain point. The Swiss engineers were far more helpful, but their country was silent. Even with Henry Morgenthau in Turkey as an ambassador couldn’t get the U.S. to formally say anything about the genocide until they entered the war. Wilson used the Armenians in his arguments for the fourteen points, but after the war, Balakian wrote that many of the Turkish officials who were not assassinated by surviving Armenians were either forgiven, escaped justice, or returned to politics.

Balakian’s complains that there were no formal international trials for the masterminds of the Armenian Genocide makes me think about the important of the Nuremburg Trials. If there had been a Nuremberg like trial for the Turks, would the Holocaust had ever happened? If it did, we would have already had a legal foundation on how to handle genocide. It also made me wonder when should a nation get involved with genocide? At what point could the Americans, Swiss, or other nations stop the Turks from killing the Armenians? Could they have? It’s easy to judge them, but, honestly, what could they have done at the time? It seems that they could have been far stricter when it came to ending the war, but as Balakian writes, Turkey has a strategic position connecting Europe and the Middle East, they did not want to upset the new Kemalist regime.

Reading Balakian’s memoir made me think of Syria and how there will be no punish for Assad or his regime. The Syrians have been slaughtered and someday some will say: “who, today, speaks of the Syrians?”

Book Review: Anonymous Soldiers

The Anonymous Soldiers by Bruce Hoffman. Published by Random House in 2015

This is a well written and well researched book that is easy to read, and is packed with information. While there is a lot in there, it’s not a ‘dense’ book. It is a definitely a book that needs to be ready multiple times to get everything, but that’s just because the situation itself is so complicated and crazy.

Continue reading

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Sword

In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland. Published by Anchor in 201

I bought this book because I was blown away by Dan Snow’s interview of Tom Holland about this book, which can be found on HistoryHits. The two observations discussed in the interview that struck me were Holland’s claim that the Quran’s Christianity equivalent isn’t the Bible, but Jesus Christ and the idea that the foundation for our modern religions was built at least a hundred years after the events of Christ and Muhammad. I know it seems dumb, but I had always assumed that things fell into place for these religions immediately aftet the deaths of their leaders. Holland’s argument intrigued me, so I bought his book and I’m so glad I did.

Continue reading

Book Review: the Empire of the Steppes

The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia by Rene Grousset. Published in 1970 by Rutgers

I picked this book up two years ago because I had a vague interest in the steppes and Central Asia and I’m really glad I did. While it is an old book, originally published in 1939, it is surprisingly sympathetic to the various tribes and races discussed. There are some glaring word choices that reveal its age (like using orientalist unironically), but it didn’t impact the overall reading experience. It is an in depth and compelling overview of the steppes from early human history to the 18th century. The first two chapters of the book are hard to get through, especially for someone like me who didn’t know anything about the region before reading the book. I’d actually recommend skipping the first two chapters and start with Genghis Khan as that is when Groussett’s writing shines the brightest.

Continue reading

Book Review: Inside Central Asia

Inside Central Asia by Dilip Hiro. Published in 2009 by Overlook Duckworth

This book is a great overview of Central Asia from the rise of the Soviet Union to 2009. This book discusses Turkey, the Central Asian states, and Iran. It picks up where Rashid’s book left off. While Rashid focused mostly on Central Asia immediately after the Soviet Union disintegrated, Dilip focuses on how the countries tried to rebuild themselves after the fall of the wall.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Resurgence of Central Asia

The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism by Ahmed Rashid. Published in 2016 by Zed Books

I have recently been fascinated by Central Asia and this book is a fantastic review of that region immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union. The book itself is a piece of history and, although I bought the newest edition, it only covers the period from the Russian invasion in the 1800s to 1994. So, while it will not provide an examination of modern Central Asia, it provides a great insight into how the Soviet Union shaped Central Asia and what people expected from that region in the 1990s.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Year of Liberty: the History of the Great Irish Rebellion of 1798

The Year of Liberty: the History of the Great Irish Rebellion of 1798 by Thomas Pakenham. Published in 1993 by Random House, Inc.

 

I have been fascinated by the 1798 rebellion ever since I first discovered the band the Wolfe Tones and realized they were named after an Irish rebel. Needless to say, I was excited when I found this book-two years ago. Please don’t judge me, my tbr pile is at least six hundred books. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it and found it enlightening.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille

The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille by George Thenault. Published in 2009 by Bibliolife

I’m sure one can imagine my excitement when I saw this memoir in my local military library. George Thenault was the French commander of the Lafayette Escadrille from the very beginning to the moment it was swallowed by the American Expeditionary Force and turned into the 103d Aero Squadron. The memoir was originally written in 1919 and became a global success, ensuring that Thenault would spend eleven years in the United States, serving as a military attaché. I had always wondered how Thenault and his second in command Lt. de Laage de Meux had felt about their American pilots and the memoir did not disappoint.

Continue reading

Book Review: Portrait of a Revolutionary

Portrait of a Revolutionary General Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State by Maryann Valiulis Published in 1992 by University Press of Kentucky

Richard Mulcahy is a criminally underappreciated Irishmen. Born in the 1890s and starting his career as a postal worker, he would eventually study to become an engineer, before taking part in Easter Rising, and ending up as Chief of Staff of the IRA. Working together with men like Michael Collins, Eamon De Valera, and Cathal Brugha, Mulcahy struggled to install order on an unruly group of insurgents. His most important contribution to the creation of the Irish Free State, however, was his firm leadership during the Irish Civil War and the 1924 Mutiny that followed. The Mutiny pushed him to the background as De Valera took the spotlight, but Mulcahy remained a permanent feature of Irish Politics becoming party leader of Fine Gael in 1944 and serving in a various number of ministries throughout his long life. He even cobbled together a coalition government that forced De Valera’s party to the opposition in the 1948 elections. He died in 1971 at the age of 85.

Continue reading

Book Review: Easter 1916 the Irish Rebellion

Easter 1916 the Irish Rebellion by Charles Townshend. Published in 2015 by Penguin

I’m going to start this review with a warning: Charles Townshend is one of my favorite historians. I have read few historians who can take complicated messes and break them down into short, easy to understand chapters within a chapter, while also providing keen analysis and insight in a mostly unbiased way. Additionally, his book, the Rising,  may or may not have saved my ass when writing my graduate paper.

Continue reading