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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Book Review: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

 “It is thus a primary American tradition to consider history when our political order seems imperiled. If we worry today that the American experiment is threatened by tyranny, we can follow the example of the Founding Fathers and contemplate the history of other democracies and republics. The good news is that we can draw upon more recent and relevant examples than ancient Greece and Rome. The bad news is that the history of modern democracy is also one of decline and fall.”

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Among the opening passages in Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is “History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” This book does just that, it instructs us on how to evaluate and navigate the political currents that we face in the United States today. Dr. Snyder, a professor of European and Political History, shows how the rise of Candidate and President Trump has similarities with the rise of modern tyrannical leaders. He takes the History of political movements and the falls of democratic governments in the periods after World War I and before World War II, after World War II, and after the end of the Cold War and uses them to show us how to identify and resist the rise of tyranny here at home. Written because of what the author observed happening around him, On Tyranny reminds me of the political pamphlets and treatises written around the American Revolution. Just as those writings were important in bringing the United States its freedom, this book can be important in keeping our freedom. On Tyranny, though short, is engaging and thought-provoking. Whether you believe that the United States could be slipping toward tyranny or not, it would be in your best interest to read it with an open mind, be vigilant of what it warns of, and heed the lessons it presents.

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I would also recommend Dan Snow’s History Hit Podcast episode about On Tyranny with Dr. Snyder, in which he and host Dan Snow discuss the book and current events. An important takeaway is Dr. Snyder’s advice not to panic.

Book Review: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a WomanCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Russian History, so I’m not in a position to judge Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman on accuracy, but I read and thoroughly enjoyed his books on the World War I naval war, so I have no reason to doubt his accuracy when it comes to Catherine the Great. So much of what you see about Catherine the Great is about her sexuality, so it was wonderful to read about her ideas and how and why they changed throughout her reign and about her accomplishments. She’s such a fascinating subject and Massie did a great job describing what developed and formed her personality and how her experiences changed her thoughts from childhood to Empress then over her reign as Empress. Since Catherine was a Western European taking an Eastern European throne, Massie does a great job showing how it disadvantaged her and how she overcame her subject’s suspicions. He also does a wonderful job fitting in the complicated relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe and how the two influenced each other. If you’re a fan of History or Biography, this is definitely a book to put on your reading list.

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