inverarity: (inverarity)
Get your underpants, your beheadings, and your menus right, historical fiction authors!


Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders

Spyderwort Press, 2013, 242 pages




This is not a book on how to write historical fiction. It is a book on how not to write historical fiction.

If you love history and you’re hard at work writing your first historical novel, but you’re wondering if your medieval Irishmen would live on potatoes, if your 17th-century pirate would use a revolver, or if your hero would be able to offer Marie-Antoinette a box of chocolate bonbons . . .

(The answer to all these is “Absolutely not!”)

. . . then Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders is the book for you.

Medieval Underpants will guide you through the factual mistakes that writers of historical fiction—both beginners and seasoned professionals—often make, and show you how to avoid them. From fictional characters crossing streets that wouldn't exist for another sixty (or two thousand) years, to 1990s slang in the mouths of 1940s characters, to the pitfalls of the Columbian Exchange (when plants and foods native to the Americas first began to appear in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and vice versa), acclaimed historical novelist Susanne Alleyn exposes the often hilarious, always painful goofs that turn up most frequently in fiction set in the past.

Alleyn stresses the hazards to writers of assuming too much about details of life in past centuries, providing numerous examples of mistakes that could easily have been avoided. She also explores commonly-confused topics such as the important difference between pistols and revolvers, and between the British titles “Lord John Smith” and “John, Lord Smith” and why they’re not interchangeable, and provides simple guidelines for getting them right. In a wide assortment of chapters including Food and Plants; Travel; Guns; Money; Hygiene; Dialogue; Attitudes; Research; and, of course, Underpants, she offers tips on how to avoid errors and anachronisms while continually reminding writers of the necessity of meticulous historical research.


Even Charles Dickens got it wrong. )

Verdict: An entertaining overview of historical fiction bloopers and how not to write them, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders is an opinionated but informative grab bag of historical trivia of interest even to non-writers. If you enjoy historical fiction, you will want to read this, and if you write it, you really should read it.




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The history of Islam told as a narrative, not as an apologetic, an indictment, or a treatise.


Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes

Public Affairs, 2009, 416 pages




Until about 1800, the West and the Islamic realm were like two adjacent, parallel universes, each assuming itself to be the center of the world while ignoring the other. As Europeans colonized the globe, the two world histories intersected and the Western narrative drove the other one under. The West hardly noticed, but the Islamic world found the encounter profoundly disrupting.

This book reveals the parallel "other" narrative of world history to help us make sense of today's world conflicts. Ansary traces the history of the Muslim world from pre-Mohammedan days through 9/11, introducing people, events, empires, legends, and religious disputes, both in terms of what happened and how it was understood and interpreted.


Whatever you think of Islam and Islamicists, this book is interesting in its own right and definitely educational. )

Verdict: Destiny Disrupted is a very well-written history that will be enlightening to anyone interested in that part of the world, and full of insight into the Muslim way of thinking, without trying to tilt the reader one way or the other with respect to current political conflicts. Tamim Ansary pulls off what few historical writers do, especially on such a dense and relatively obscure subject condensed into a book of readable length. I found it utterly interesting and enjoyable, educational, and the author's voice was a noticeable enhancement to the narrative without ever slipping into didacticism or soapboxing. So, in case it's not clear, I really liked this book and recommend it highly.




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England: from the Paleolithic to the 1980s, by Jove!


Sarum: The Novel of England

Crown Books, 1987, 897 pages




In Sarum, Edward Rutherfurd weaves a compelling saga of five English families whose fates become intertwined over the course of centuries. While each family has its own distinct characteristics, the successive generations reflect the changing character of Britain. We become drawn not only into the fortunes of the individual family members, but also the larger destinies of each family line.

Meticulously researched and epic in scope, Sarum covers the entire sweep of English civilization: from the early hunters and farmers, the creation of Stonehenge, the dawn of Christianity, and the Black Death; through the Reformation, the wars in America, the Industrial Age, and the Victorian social reforms; up through the World War II invasion of Normandy and the modern-day concerns of a once-preeminent empire.


Five families, 15,000 years. Give or take a few millenia. )

Verdict: Recommended for people who like big juicy historical doorstoppers. Sarum has a bit of romance, a bit of action, and a lot of religion, war, and economics, all of it narrated in the form of a multi-family drama. Great reading for those who like this kind of book; despite its length it never drags.




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A sub-mediocre book of paper plots, cardboard characters, and endless cliches that finally triggers my writer's rage.


Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Bantam, 2012, 384 pages



Publisher's description:


For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge - and the greatness that rose to meet it.

Inverarity's comments: I don't even know who those other authors are, but I'm never reading them.

London, 1940: Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined - and opportunities she will not let pass.

Inverarity's comments: Boy, this sounds interesting, doesn't it? Yes, 'indefatigable spirit' if by that you mean breaking into 'hot tears' on every page. Her 'remarkable gifts for codebreaking' could be demonstrated by a 9-year-old with a cipher wheel from a box of Captain Crunch.

In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Don't worry, there is no changing history here. Nor much awareness of it.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

Her 'quick wits' do fuck-all in this book.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

HAHAHAHAOMG they are serious...


DID YOU KNOW THAT ENGLAND IN THE 1940S WAS SEXIST? ALSO THERE WAS A WAR AND IT WAS CALLED WORLD WAR II AND GERMANS DROPPED BOMBS ON LONDON AND EVERYTHING IT WAS CALLED THE BLITZ! ALSO DID YOU KNOW THAT NAZIS WERE VERY MEAN TO JEWS? AND ALSO DID YOU KNOW THAT ENGLISH PEOPLE ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR STIFF UPPER LIPS AND ALSO THEY LIKE TEA, WHEREAS AMERICANS LIKE COFFEE! AND ENGLISH PEOPLE DO NOT MAKE GOOD COFFEE AND AMERICANS DO NOT MAKE GOOD TEA HAHAHAHAHAHA I'LL BET YOU'VE NEVER HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE! )

Verdict: Die in a fire, Maggie Hope. (That's the character. I am not wishing harm upon the author. Obscurity, ignominy, a career change, yes, but not harm.) This book is an insulting product of fanfiction-quality writing (YES I GET THE IRONY AND YES I WILL THROW STONES) and laziness. It could have been a brilliant story with an engaging protagonist... if it weren't crap. Someone else who's read it tell me I'm crazy, or that I'm not. :\




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The German telegram that propelled America into World War I.


The Zimmermann Telegram

Scribner, 1958, 244 pages




In the dark winter of 1917, as World War I was deadlocked, Britain knew that Europe could be saved only if the United States joined the war. But President Wilson remained unshakable in his neutrality. Then, with a single stroke, the tool to propel America into the war came into a quiet British office. One of countless messages intercepted by the crack team of British decoders, the Zimmermann telegram was a top-secret message from Berlin inviting Mexico to join Japan in an invasion of the United States. Mexico would recover her lost American territories while keeping the U.S. occupied on her side of the Atlantic.

How Britain managed to inform America of Germany's plan without revealing that the German codes had been broken makes for an incredible, true story of espionage, intrigue, and international politics, as only Barbara W. Tuchman could tell it.


In 1917, Americans were more afraid of the Yellow Peril and Pancho Villa than Germans. )

Verdict: Probably the definitive work about one of the deciding events of World War I, at least as far as the U.S. was concerned. One of those small things on which history hinged, but also illustrates how much individual personalities may also have swayed history. Also provides a broad look at America's political and geographical situation in the early 20th century, when the U.S. was still the big, dumb new kid and its borders were not so immutable.

I'm rather surprised no one has ever made a movie about this historical episode.




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The book that turned millions into vegetarians was meant to turn them into socialists.


The Jungle

Originally published in 1906, approximately 149,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Few books have so affected radical social changes as The Jungle, first published serially in 1906. Exposing unsanitary conditions in the meat–packing industry in Chicago, Sinclair's novel gripped Americans by the stomach, contributing to the passage of the first Food and Drug Act. If you’ve never read this classic novel, don’t be put off by its gruesome reputation. Upton Sinclair was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who could turn even an exposé into a tender and moving novel.

Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, comes to America in search of a fortune for his family. He accepts the harsh realities of a working man’s lot, laboring with naive vigor—until, his health and family sacrificed, he understands how the heavy wheels of the industrial machine can crush the strongest spirit.


'I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.' )

Verdict: Most books written by an author on a soapbox suffer for it. The Jungle is a fine novel, and Upton Sinclair is quite good at presenting a dramatic, brutally gripping story that only starts really whacking you over the head with an explicit political message towards the end. Sinclair a far better writer, and a far more effective one, than Ayn Rand, that's for sure.

Also by Upton Sinclair: My review of Oil!.




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Orchids, alligators, and Indians, and a scammer with a heart of... nah, he's still just a scammer.


The Orchid Thief

Random House, 1998, 284 pages




A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean’s wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating tale of an amazing obsession.

From Florida’s swamps to its courtrooms, the New Yorker writer follows one deeply eccentric and oddly attractive man’s possibly criminal pursuit of an endangered flower. Determined to clone the rare ghost orchid, Polyrrhiza lindenii, John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of America’s strange flower-selling subculture, along with the Seminole Indians who help him and the forces of justice who fight him. In the end, Orlean–and the reader–will have more respect for underdog determination and a powerful new definition of passion.


A sharply handsome guy in spite of the fact that he is missing all his teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. )

Verdict: A fascinating, weird book about fascinating, weird people, most of whom seem to live in Florida. Orchids are really only the beginning of the story. Orlean includes the obligatory chapters on the history, biology, and genetics of orchids, but the people are a lot more interesting, from John Laroche, the "orchid thief," to the audaciously opportunistic Chief Billie of the Seminoles, to Leonard and Julius Rosen, who sold thousands of acres of Florida swampland to Midwesterners looking for a nice place to retire. The Orchid Thief is a nice piece of non-fiction with stories too improbable to be fiction.
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Orchids, alligators, and Indians, and a scammer with a heart of... nah, he's still just a scammer.


The Orchid Thief

Random House, 1998, 284 pages




A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean’s wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating tale of an amazing obsession.

From Florida’s swamps to its courtrooms, the New Yorker writer follows one deeply eccentric and oddly attractive man’s possibly criminal pursuit of an endangered flower. Determined to clone the rare ghost orchid, Polyrrhiza lindenii, John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of America’s strange flower-selling subculture, along with the Seminole Indians who help him and the forces of justice who fight him. In the end, Orlean–and the reader–will have more respect for underdog determination and a powerful new definition of passion.


A sharply handsome guy in spite of the fact that he is missing all his teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. )

Verdict: A fascinating, weird book about fascinating, weird people, most of whom seem to live in Florida. Orchids are really only the beginning of the story. Orlean includes the obligatory chapters on the history, biology, and genetics of orchids, but the people are a lot more interesting, from John Laroche, the "orchid thief," to the audaciously opportunistic Chief Billie of the Seminoles, to Leonard and Julius Rosen, who sold thousands of acres of Florida swampland to Midwesterners looking for a nice place to retire. The Orchid Thief is a nice piece of non-fiction with stories too improbable to be fiction.
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A grand historical romance, a sweeping Civil War epic, and a horrible apologetic for the slavery South.


Gone With the Wind

Macmillan, 1936, 1037 pages




Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Margaret Mitchell's great novel of the South is one of the most popular books ever written. Within six months of its publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind had sold a million copies. To date, it has been translated into 25 languages, and more than 28 million copies have been sold.

Here are the characters that have become symbols of passion and desire: darkly handsome Rhett Butler and flirtatious Scarlett O'Hara. Behind them stand their gentler counterparts: Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton. As the lives and affairs of these absorbing characters play out against the tumult of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind reaches dramatic heights that have swept generations of fans off their feet.


The Pulitzer prize-winning, best-selling American novel of all time is glorious, brilliant, and searingly memorable. Too bad about all that racism and revisionism. )

Verdict: Gone With the Wind is glorious. It's brilliant and powerful and epic. It's also epically full of race!fail and sexism!fail and history!fail, even more than most books from previous generations. If you don't like "problematic" fiction then GWTW will probably be a hard book to get through, because it's problematic on every page. But it would be daft to deny that it's a monumental work of literature, and frankly, I enjoyed the hell out of it when I wasn't wishing that Margaret Mitchell was around for me to hit her over the head with it. Yeah, this joins James Bond in my collection of guilty pleasures, but at least I can defend Gone With the Wind on literary grounds.

Gone With the Wind is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, though I did not read it for the [livejournal.com profile] books1001 challenge.




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A grand historical romance, a sweeping Civil War epic, and a horrible apologetic for the slavery South.


Gone With the Wind

Macmillan, 1936, 1037 pages




Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Margaret Mitchell's great novel of the South is one of the most popular books ever written. Within six months of its publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind had sold a million copies. To date, it has been translated into 25 languages, and more than 28 million copies have been sold.

Here are the characters that have become symbols of passion and desire: darkly handsome Rhett Butler and flirtatious Scarlett O'Hara. Behind them stand their gentler counterparts: Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton. As the lives and affairs of these absorbing characters play out against the tumult of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind reaches dramatic heights that have swept generations of fans off their feet.


The Pulitzer prize-winning, best-selling American novel of all time is glorious, brilliant, and searingly memorable. Too bad about all that racism and revisionism. )

Verdict: Gone With the Wind is glorious. It's brilliant and powerful and epic. It's also epically full of race!fail and sexism!fail and history!fail, even more than most books from previous generations. If you don't like "problematic" fiction then GWTW will probably be a hard book to get through, because it's problematic on every page. But it would be daft to deny that it's a monumental work of literature, and frankly, I enjoyed the hell out of it when I wasn't wishing that Margaret Mitchell was around for me to hit her over the head with it. Yeah, this joins James Bond in my collection of guilty pleasures, but at least I can defend Gone With the Wind on literary grounds.

Gone With the Wind is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, though I did not read it for the [livejournal.com profile] books1001 challenge.




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A small town tries to quarantine itself against the flu epidemic of 1918, but they cannot keep out fear and violence.


The Last Town on Earth

Random House, 2006, 392 pages



The Last Town on Earth centers on the inhabitants of a small logging town in Washington and what happens when they take drastic measures (quarantine) to try and protect themselves from the virulent and deadly flu epidemic of 1918. When a deserting WWI soldier demands sanctuary, events are set in motion that change the town forever.


A character-driven historical, digging up less celebrated bits of American history from the World War I era. )

Verdict: A good, thoughtful novel, not really slow-paced but the action occurs in starts and stops between more reflective interludes. Recommended for anyone who likes historical novels about this time period, or stories with a lot of insoluble ethical conundrums and imperfect people making good and bad choices.

Also by Thomas Mullen: My review of The Revisionists.
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A small town tries to quarantine itself against the flu epidemic of 1918, but they cannot keep out fear and violence.


The Last Town on Earth

Random House, 2006, 392 pages



The Last Town on Earth centers on the inhabitants of a small logging town in Washington and what happens when they take drastic measures (quarantine) to try and protect themselves from the virulent and deadly flu epidemic of 1918. When a deserting WWI soldier demands sanctuary, events are set in motion that change the town forever.


A character-driven historical, digging up less celebrated bits of American history from the World War I era. )

Verdict: A good, thoughtful novel, not really slow-paced but the action occurs in starts and stops between more reflective interludes. Recommended for anyone who likes historical novels about this time period, or stories with a lot of insoluble ethical conundrums and imperfect people making good and bad choices.

Also by Thomas Mullen: My review of The Revisionists.
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The 'Mad Carthaginian' won nearly every battle but lost the war, and history as we know it is the result.


Hannibal: One Man Against Rome

Doubleday, 1958, 310 pages




This is the breathtaking adventure of the great Carthaginian general who shook the foundations of Rome. When conflict between Rome and Carthage resumed in 219 B.C., after a brief hiatus from the first Punic War, the Romans decided to invade Spain. Eluding several Roman legions sent out to intercept him in Spain and France, Hannibal Barca astoundingly led his small army of mercenaries over the Alps and thundered down into the Po Valley. The Carthaginian swept all resistance from his path and, as one victory led to another, drove a wedge between Rome and its allies. Hannibal marched up and down the Italian peninsula for 18 years, appearing well nigh invincible to a Rome which began to doubt itself for the first time in its history.


You know how to win victory, Hannibal, you do not how to use it )

Verdict: A good primer on Hannibal and the Punic Wars if you'd like to learn more than just which battles were fought and who won. I found it interesting and written to be readable; it's not a history textbook. There are some interesting historical personalities who did things we still can't quite understand, and while we all know about the elephants, the galleys, the legions, the battles, and the final destruction of Carthage, there is a lot more to the story in terms of internal and external politics, alliances, and economics. If you find that interesting, this book is worth reading.




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The 'Mad Carthaginian' won nearly every battle but lost the war, and history as we know it is the result.


Hannibal: One Man Against Rome

Doubleday, 1958, 310 pages




This is the breathtaking adventure of the great Carthaginian general who shook the foundations of Rome. When conflict between Rome and Carthage resumed in 219 B.C., after a brief hiatus from the first Punic War, the Romans decided to invade Spain. Eluding several Roman legions sent out to intercept him in Spain and France, Hannibal Barca astoundingly led his small army of mercenaries over the Alps and thundered down into the Po Valley. The Carthaginian swept all resistance from his path and, as one victory led to another, drove a wedge between Rome and its allies. Hannibal marched up and down the Italian peninsula for 18 years, appearing well nigh invincible to a Rome which began to doubt itself for the first time in its history.


You know how to win victory, Hannibal, you do not how to use it )

Verdict: A good primer on Hannibal and the Punic Wars if you'd like to learn more than just which battles were fought and who won. I found it interesting and written to be readable; it's not a history textbook. There are some interesting historical personalities who did things we still can't quite understand, and while we all know about the elephants, the galleys, the legions, the battles, and the final destruction of Carthage, there is a lot more to the story in terms of internal and external politics, alliances, and economics. If you find that interesting, this book is worth reading.




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A brutal chronicle of the war in the Pacific, and what happened to seven captured American pilots.



Little, Brown, 2003, Approximately 143,000 words


In 1945, eight young American pilots were shot down over Chichi Jima. Seven of these officers were captured by Japanese troops and taken prisoner. The eighth, George H. W. Bush, was rescued by an American submarine -- decades later, he became president of the United States. In Flyboys, James Bradley reveals the never-before-told story of the seven brave airmen who subsequently disappeared from history. This is not only an arresting story of humans under astonishing adversity; it is the riveting account of a U.S. government cover-up that persisted for two generations.


This is not a book about how great America was or how bad Japan was. It's a book about how bad war is. )

Verdict: I thought Flyboys would be a history of air power and the Pacific War, but it's more like an indictment of just how incredibly fucked up and horrible war is for everyone. It's a hard read, because there is a lot of rape, torture, and slaughter, and the only happy ending is the end of the war. But I think James Bradley told this story in about as even-handed a manner as possible, so you'll get plenty of history (yes, he does talk about airplanes, Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Doolittle's raids) along with a brutal deconstruction of everything "glorious" about war.
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A brutal chronicle of the war in the Pacific, and what happened to seven captured American pilots.



Little, Brown, 2003, Approximately 143,000 words


In 1945, eight young American pilots were shot down over Chichi Jima. Seven of these officers were captured by Japanese troops and taken prisoner. The eighth, George H. W. Bush, was rescued by an American submarine -- decades later, he became president of the United States. In Flyboys, James Bradley reveals the never-before-told story of the seven brave airmen who subsequently disappeared from history. This is not only an arresting story of humans under astonishing adversity; it is the riveting account of a U.S. government cover-up that persisted for two generations.


This is not a book about how great America was or how bad Japan was. It's a book about how bad war is. )

Verdict: I thought Flyboys would be a history of air power and the Pacific War, but it's more like an indictment of just how incredibly fucked up and horrible war is for everyone. It's a hard read, because there is a lot of rape, torture, and slaughter, and the only happy ending is the end of the war. But I think James Bradley told this story in about as even-handed a manner as possible, so you'll get plenty of history (yes, he does talk about airplanes, Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Doolittle's raids) along with a brutal deconstruction of everything "glorious" about war.
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One-line summary: A sensationalistic saga of oil and politics in 1920s Southern California.



Reviews:

Goodreads: Average: 3.57. Mode: 4 stars.
Amazon: Average: 4.0. Mode: 5 stars.


In Oil! Upton Sinclair fashioned a novel out of the oil scandals of the Harding administration, providing in the process a detailed picture of the development of the oil industry in Southern California. Bribery of public officials, class warfare, and international rivalry over oil production are the context for Sinclair's story of a genial independent oil developer and his son, whose sympathy with the oilfield workers and socialist organizers fuels a running debate with his father. Senators, small investors, oil magnates, a Hollywood film star, and a crusading evangelist people the pages of this lively novel.


There Will Be Blood -- also, oil, sex, money, politics, war, and CLASS STRUGGLE! Sinclair is the anti-Rand. )

Verdict: It's a product of its time and its author, but still a surprisingly good read. If you're interested in the setting and time period, definitely read it. But the movie is better.
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One-line summary: A sensationalistic saga of oil and politics in 1920s Southern California.



Reviews:

Goodreads: Average: 3.57. Mode: 4 stars.
Amazon: Average: 4.0. Mode: 5 stars.


In Oil! Upton Sinclair fashioned a novel out of the oil scandals of the Harding administration, providing in the process a detailed picture of the development of the oil industry in Southern California. Bribery of public officials, class warfare, and international rivalry over oil production are the context for Sinclair's story of a genial independent oil developer and his son, whose sympathy with the oilfield workers and socialist organizers fuels a running debate with his father. Senators, small investors, oil magnates, a Hollywood film star, and a crusading evangelist people the pages of this lively novel.


There Will Be Blood -- also, oil, sex, money, politics, war, and CLASS STRUGGLE! Sinclair is the anti-Rand. )

Verdict: It's a product of its time and its author, but still a surprisingly good read. If you're interested in the setting and time period, definitely read it. But the movie is better.
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One-line summary: An unsentimental and unvarnished history of the civil rights movement, told around the true story of the murder of a black man in 1970.



Reviews:

Goodreads: Average 4.08. Mode: 5 stars.
Amazon: Average 4.6. Mode: 5 stars.


When he was but 10 years old, Tim Tyson heard one of his boyhood friends in Oxford, N.C. excitedly blurt the words that were to forever change his life: "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger!" The cold-blooded street murder of young Henry Marrow by an ambitious, hot-tempered local businessman and his kin in the Spring of 1970 would quickly fan the long-flickering flames of racial discord in the proud, insular tobacco town into explosions of rage and street violence. It would also turn the white Tyson down a long, troubled reconciliation with his Southern roots that eventually led to a professorship in African-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison--and this profoundly moving, if deeply troubling personal meditation on the true costs of America's historical racial divide. Taking its title from a traditional African-American spiritual, Tyson skillfully interweaves insightful autobiography (his father was the town's anti-segregationist Methodist minister, and a man whose conscience and human decency greatly informs the son) with a painstakingly nuanced historical analysis that underscores how little really changed in the years and decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1965 supposedly ended racial segregation. The details are often chilling: Oxford simply closed its public recreation facilities rather than integrate them; Marrow's accused murderers were publicly condemned, yet acquitted; the very town's newspaper records of the events--and indeed the author's later account for his graduate thesis--mysteriously removed from local public records. But Tyson's own impassioned personal history lessons here won't be denied; they're painful, yet necessary reminders of a poisonous American racial legacy that's so often been casually rewritten--and too easily carried forward into yet another century by politicians eagerly employing the cynical, so-called "Southern Strategy."


Americans lie to themselves about their history )

Verdict: This isn't a history of the entire civil rights struggle, but like many non-fiction books focusing on a single event, its depth in covering that little piece of history includes a fair amount of breadth about its wider context, and I recommend this book primarily because Tyson doesn't try to BS you with pretty American fables or encourage you to be relieved that those bad old days are in the past. Also worth checking out is the movie based on the book. Blood Done Sign My Name (the movie) is a dramatization of the book's version of the historical event. As a drama, it's okay, but it's quite true to the book.
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One-line summary: An unsentimental and unvarnished history of the civil rights movement, told around the true story of the murder of a black man in 1970.



Reviews:

Goodreads: Average 4.08. Mode: 5 stars.
Amazon: Average 4.6. Mode: 5 stars.


When he was but 10 years old, Tim Tyson heard one of his boyhood friends in Oxford, N.C. excitedly blurt the words that were to forever change his life: "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger!" The cold-blooded street murder of young Henry Marrow by an ambitious, hot-tempered local businessman and his kin in the Spring of 1970 would quickly fan the long-flickering flames of racial discord in the proud, insular tobacco town into explosions of rage and street violence. It would also turn the white Tyson down a long, troubled reconciliation with his Southern roots that eventually led to a professorship in African-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison--and this profoundly moving, if deeply troubling personal meditation on the true costs of America's historical racial divide. Taking its title from a traditional African-American spiritual, Tyson skillfully interweaves insightful autobiography (his father was the town's anti-segregationist Methodist minister, and a man whose conscience and human decency greatly informs the son) with a painstakingly nuanced historical analysis that underscores how little really changed in the years and decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1965 supposedly ended racial segregation. The details are often chilling: Oxford simply closed its public recreation facilities rather than integrate them; Marrow's accused murderers were publicly condemned, yet acquitted; the very town's newspaper records of the events--and indeed the author's later account for his graduate thesis--mysteriously removed from local public records. But Tyson's own impassioned personal history lessons here won't be denied; they're painful, yet necessary reminders of a poisonous American racial legacy that's so often been casually rewritten--and too easily carried forward into yet another century by politicians eagerly employing the cynical, so-called "Southern Strategy."


Americans lie to themselves about their history )

Verdict: This isn't a history of the entire civil rights struggle, but like many non-fiction books focusing on a single event, its depth in covering that little piece of history includes a fair amount of breadth about its wider context, and I recommend this book primarily because Tyson doesn't try to BS you with pretty American fables or encourage you to be relieved that those bad old days are in the past. Also worth checking out is the movie based on the book. Blood Done Sign My Name (the movie) is a dramatization of the book's version of the historical event. As a drama, it's okay, but it's quite true to the book.

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