Book Review: Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World by Brad S. Gregory

Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our WorldRebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World by Brad S. Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was looking for something a bit different to read when I came across Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World by Brad S. Gregory. My interests in History generally lie in the areas of the military and diplomacy, but I made a good decision when I bought this book. Gregory describes Martin Luther’s religious journey and his part in the Reformation, the history of the Reformation, and how the Reformation and its conflicts changed over time and came to influence and secularize the modern world. Throughout the book, Gregory continues to come back to the same theme, summed up in the first sentence of Chapter Four: “The Reformation is a paradox: a religious revolution that led to the secularization of society.”

I have to admit that this book is well outside of my wheelhouse; although it is a History book, it deals with the History of Religion and theology, both of which I haven’t read a lot about. All that goes to say that I can’t judge this book one way or the other on content or the author’s conclusions. What I can say is that I know a lot more about the Reformation and how it impacted the world today now than I did before I read Rebel in the Ranks.

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Book Review: Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few books ago, I read The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff; I enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue reading the other books in the Oxford History of the United States series. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood did not disappoint. It’s a long book that covers a short, but intense period of United States History. From the time the U.S. Constitution took effect to the end of the War of 1812 saw a massive amount of change and political discord. Wood covers it all; exploring the political and economic changes the country underwent and how our relations with other countries transformed. He looks at how the War of 1812 came to be and how it changed the country. He also explores the societal and cultural changes the country underwent, explaining how our character as a people changed. He discusses how the schism between north and south, slave and non-slave states came to be and shows how the stage for Civil War began to be set.

At 797 pages, it is indeed a long read, but it is an engaging and interesting one. You wouldn’t think you could get almost 800 pages from such a short period of History, but Wood does and does it without getting into tedious details. He gets into the personalities of both well known and lesser known figures; his insights into Jefferson, in particular, were something I really enjoyed about the book. The book is well documented and has an extensive bibliography for further reading and exploring his sources. Empire of Liberty is a book that anyone interested in US History should read because it’s a deep dive into an important, transformative period in our History and explains how we became who we are, how we developed our national character. The decision to rate Empire of Liberty five stars was an easy one and I heartily recommend it.

I think that Empire of Liberty also has lessons for the present. You can see shades of today in the sometimes personal struggle between the Federalists and Republicans and in the lack of willingness to compromise. We can see parallels with today in the trade policies that helped bring about the War of 1812. We can reflect on these and apply the lessons to today, hopefully avoiding the traps of the past.

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Book Review: A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle EastA Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

“The Middle East became what it is today both because the European powers undertook to re-shape it and because Britain and France failed to ensure that the dynasties, the states, and the political system that they established would permanently endure.”

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin is a book that we all should read to get a better understanding of how and why we got to where we are today in the Middle East. Fromkin details and explains the political happenings in the Middle East during World War I and the aftermath of the war. Great Britain and Lloyd George are the focus of the book, the Arabs, French, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Ottomans, and Turks are covered as well. It is a story of failure on the part of the European powers and the poorly thought through partition of the Middle East. What happened was complex and there were a lot of players involved due to changes in Governments and leadership, but Fromkin navigated them well and made the happenings easily understandable. Once you finish reading this book, you’ll understand why there are so many grievances, why so many are understandable, and why there is really no one country or person to blame.

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Book Review: Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire 1682-1719 by Robert Nisbet Bain

Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire 1682-1719 (Illustrated)Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire 1682-1719 by Robert Nisbet Bain

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I became very interested in Charles XII, Sweden, and the Great Northern War while reading Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great. A search for books on the subject yielded Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire 1682-1719 by Robert Nisbet Bain. It isn’t a biography of Charles XII, it is more a book about his wars and how they and his actions brought about the collapse of the Swedish Empire. I found it very informative and learned a lot about both the Swedish Empire and Charles himself. Nonetheless, I found it very difficult to rate the book. It was originally published in 1895, so you have to consider that research and scholarship might have changed things since the book’s publication and you have to adjust to a different style of writing and vocabulary. That wasn’t the problem. The problem with this book is that the E-book version isn’t just poorly edited, it apparently was edited at all. It seems that the conversion was done and immediately published; it is full of spelling errors that make you have to go back and re-read passages to understand them. There are numerical figures that are incomprehensible. If I were rating the book purely on content, I’d easily give it a 4, but because the errors made it so difficult to read, I have to give it a four. That said, it’s well worth reading, but I’d suggest trying to find a print version because the conversion errors are more than simply irritating.

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Book Review: Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie

Peter the Great: His Life and WorldPeter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie at the same time I bought his biography of Catherine the Great, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catherine the Great and expected no less from Peter the Great given my previous experiences with books by Massie. I wasn’t disappointed; in fact, I enjoyed reading Peter the Great more than I did reading Catherine the Great.

Part of my enjoyment stemmed from Massie’s magnificent writing; he really does breathe life into the personalities in his books, not just the primary personalities but others as well. He doesn’t just tell you what they did, he tells you what made them tick and why they made the decisions and why they acted in certain ways.

The other reason I enjoyed the book so much is that Peter is such a fascinating historical figure. I knew of Peter and knew that he worked to modernize Russia, but I didn’t know his personality and I didn’t have a good understanding of what he did to modernize Russia. Peter was a complex personality; he reinforces my belief that all historical figures are flawed in some way but that in some, their positive characteristics outshine their negative characteristics. Peter had a violent temper and was capable of great brutality (perhaps not surprising given what he experienced in his childhood), but he also was aware of his temper and could be capable of mercy. He lacked a good education but knew and regretted that he did and lived with curiosity, pursuing knowledge throughout his lifetime. He put a great strain on the people of his country through taxation and forced change on them, but at the same time, he dragged Russia kicking and screaming out of its feudal age.

Peter the Great is easily one of the best books I’ve read recently and just as Massie’s biography of Catherine the Great did, expanded my knowledge of Russian and Eastern European History. It’s a long book, almost 1000 pages, but I often found it hard to put down because it was such compelling reading. Once again, Massie has proven that history books don’t have to be dull and boring, Peter the Great: His Life and World is a brilliant and interesting five-star book.

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