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I was going to give each book its own post this year; however, I'll never catch up that way. So here I go with quick drive-by reviews. Ask me if you want to know more.

9. Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson

The final volume of Snorri's Viking age trilogy. It's been fun watching Snorri develop as a writer through the series. The first book was just OK but he pulled out a really *interesting* take on the mythology surrounding the Norns at the end, so it had my attention. Plus, Vikings. The second book was better and represented a big improvement in pacing. This one pulls it all together and is very good indeed.

Snorri's next project is, allegedly, going to be Viking murder mysteries. You could say I'm eagerly awaiting it.

10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My first thought on finding out Neil was writing this was, "does the world really need another retelling of Norse mythology"? But I was full of plague the day it came out, and I wanted some comfort reading so I bought a copy.

The answer is, strictly speaking, no. On the other hand, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that Neil's voice was made to write the Norse myths. It's also a very lovely book (I say to justify paying full price for the dead tree version). Nothing new here, but it livened up an otherwise miserable weekend.

11. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

This is the grimmest thing I've read in a very long time. And, you know, I'm a goth who used to read Dostoyevsky for shits & giggles, and thought A Man Lies Dreaming was a great fun black comedy. It's clearly very well written because I couldn't put it down even though I had a good idea that [redacted]. I had A LOT of thoughts about this at the time, some of which I've even remembered, but there's no way to discuss without major spoilers. Happy to discuss it over a pint though.

12. Z for Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien

The fun just kept on coming last month. This was last month's book club selection. Most of us had read it in school. For a post-apocalyptic number, it's surprisingly upbeat. I liked it but not all that much; however it was a good book club selection because we got a shitload of discussion out of it.

13. Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith

I vaguely meant to read this when it came out, forgot, and then picked it up at the library some weeks ago. It's the story of the fate of the Russian nobility who did not escape Russia after the revolution in 1917, told through the medium of two large aristocratic families (who between then covered the full range of experience).

This book wasn't quite what I expected - it was a lot more thorough and well researched than I expected. I did the Russian history course as an undergrad so I used to know a lot of this stuff, especially about the decades leading up to the revolution but I'd forgotten most of it. I'd mainly forgotten that everyone knew a revolution of some kind was coming and that the days of the empire were numbered. For decades.

If there is a fault with this book, it's that the author is too sentimental towards the noble classes. There are complicated reasons why he is sometimes right to defend them (in the absence of a middle class they were the artists, doctors, teachers, etc). Or maybe I'm just a crusty class warrior.

I couldn't keep the cast of characters straight. But you get the general idea - every time the "former people" found a niche for themselves and a way to survive in Soviet Russia, another round of persecutions started. The distance many people traveled over the years were staggering, and not just those who were went to the gulags.

Because my brain is an asshole, the thing I've come away with is the reference to the fact that by its end, serfdom has been compared to American slavery. Most things that are compared to American slavery are just a cover for racists trying to justify it; however, this could be an exception. I made a note of the source in the footnote - something totally obscure. Must. Not. Expend. Time. and Money. Tracking. It. Down.

14. Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis

Falco, book 12. Falco investigates the murder of a publisher, who was also a banker. All the usual stuff, Falco taking lots of swipes at bankers and publishers. Good fun. Well, except for one of Falco's sisters possibly making an enemy of the wrong person.


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59. The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World by John Haywood

You might be thinking this sounds a bit basic for me. However, the take-away from my two visits to the Celts exhibition was that any knowledge I had was 20 years out of date. This was on sale at the Edinburgh exhibition and it's full of lovely colour illustrations and interesting maps so I grabbed it.

It's made up of lots of short chapters so I've been dipping in and out for a couple of months. It covers origins to the present day. It filled in a lot of new developments in the early centuries and covered a fair amount I'd never got round to finding out about medieval Scotland and Wales. It is pretty basic, in parts to an extent where even I was going "I think you'll find it's more complicated than that". But as a re-introduction it was a visually pleasing start. At least I have an up to date basis to make further investigations, should I choose to do so.


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45. The Empire Stops here: A Journey along the Frontiers of the Roman World by Philip Parker

I meant to read this when it came out, forgot about it, and then stumbled across it in the library recently.

I'd wanted to read it because while I have little interest in Rome itself, it's life at the fringes and the hybrid cultures that arose as a result that interests me. I'm all about the liminality.

In that respect, the book is pretty disappointing. It doesn't really work as a travel book either - just brief descriptions of the surviving physical remains of the empire at its fringes. What it does reasonably well is give brief histories of how an when Rome came to be at the ends of the empire, how long they stayed and how it fell. Which is not what I was looking for but provides decent background knowledge. There were just enough interesting factoids to keep me going through the full 500 pages.

It starts in Britain and works its way round to West Africa. There wasn't a lot I didn't already know in the Britain segment but as it got further from my area of knowledge, the more interesting it got.

It's not a bad book, but it kind of doesn't succeed in doing any one thing particularly well, and as an introductory survey of a massive subject it's just too big.
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I am so far behind on this, I can't even remember much about most of the books from the last six weeks.

28 Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages by Stephen A Mitchell

After a really unpromising introduction that led me to order a bunch of other non-fiction titles from the library, eventually I came back to this book to give it a chance.

Glad I did - the rest was actually quite good. It's got two basic parts - what we (might) know about the role of magic & the supernatural in Norse paganism, and in the Christian period, what practices made up what was perceived as witchcraft or devil worship. Good analysis of what we can know and not; lots of interesting factoids which I now can't remember.

You have to be my kind of nerd, but for what it is, it's pretty well written and interesting. (This is a book that Amazon pimped at me when I bought one of the Viking histories, so it came to me without any recommendations from a trusted source; it could have been complete bollocks).
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22. The Origins of European Dissent by RI Moore

I've been putting this off till I am un-brain-fogged enough to discuss the ideas within. Not going to happen.

A foundational text about heresy in the 11th and 12th centuries. Moore is interested less in what heretics believed than what their heresy was in reaction to. This was a period when the church was expanding rapidly, and this brought changes both to the church hierarchy and ordinary people's lives.

Moore's thesis is that for the most part, heresy was a reaction to the failure of the Catholic church to live up to the apostolic ideals of the early church, and was most prevalent where the apparatus of secular government was lacking, not where the church was weak. Absolutely packed full of fascinating stuff - definitely recommended.

23. and 27. Brass in Pocket and Worse Than Dead by Stephen Puleston

I downloaded these to the Kindle in a moment of weakness - Amazon was telling me I'd like them and were selling the trilogy for £4.

The gimmick is that they are set in north Wales, and I was about to head there for the weekend. The other gimmick is that the detective, DI Drake, has OCD. His real problem is that he's a jerk, though. It is unclear to me whether the author grasps the difference.

Anyway, they're pretty average thrillers - the prose is pretty pedestrian and the pacing occasionally odd, especially in the first book, but the action starts on the first page and the mystery is engaging enough that I wanted to know what happened next.

24. Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

A re-read for the book club. I loved it when I first read it when it came out, and it holds up to a re-reading. It's a re-telling of the King Arthur myth for a young adult audience. It's about how myths are made and where they sit in relation to truth. There are strong female characters and some gender swapping. The parts set in the ruins of the Roman baths in Bath are creepy. Still highly recommended.

25. The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages by Robert Bartlett

In the late 13th century, a man named William Cragh was hanged for rebellion in Wales. We know about this mainly because he miraculously came back to life, and was the subject of a Papal enquiry some (probably) 15 years later and there are nine surviving eyewitness accounts.

This is a short volume, but packed with interesting stuff. It would be suitable for beginners but I learned a lot from it. Bartlett talks about how medieval people perceived time, about how the process of canonisation worked, and the complicated social and political systems of medieval South Wales.

Not important in the history of ideas the way the RI Moore volume is, but a good read full of interesting bits nonetheless.

26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

I actually hadn't read this one before - I would certainly have remembered the end if I had! It's one of the novella-length Holmes tales. All of the usual elements you expect from a Holmes story - hard to put down.

I read it because I'd just bought one of the modern reboots, as well as in anticipation of thew new Paul Cornell book - thought I should immerse myself in the real thing first.

I really do need to get my hands on the annotated version.

27. See above
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15 The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W Anthony

In which Anthony puts forth his theory that Proto-Indo-European was spoken by nomads on the Pontic-Caspian steppes between roughly 4500 and 2500 BCE, and that they were the first people to domesticate horses (not the ancient Near East city states) and this is reflected in the way Indo-European languages developed. Very long, but he makes compelling archaeological and linguistic points.

The linguistics was a lot easier to follow than I expected. About 2/3 of the way in it gets bogged down in the archaeology & way too much description of pottery with not enough explanation of why it matters. However, still worth while - I think I took more notes from this than any other book I've read in recent years, I found his arguments made sense, and there are a lot of fascinating facts.
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12. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

I have very little interest in ancient Rome itself but a lot of interest in matters around the periphery (both temporally and spatially), and my knowledge of the core history of the Roman Empire was probably 20 years out of date, so when this came out I decided that a one-volume history for the general reader was exactly what I needed to give myself an up to date grounding.

Obviously, I am not a classicist so I can't comment on accuracy, but she has been a prof at Cambridge since forever so I assume it can't be too shabby.

It's very readable. A lot of it is more basic than I needed, but that's a risk I always run with histories for a popular audience. I did learn that bread and circuses didn't work the way most people think, and I had previously failed to appreciate to what extent the Eastern part of the empire never did adopt Latin language and culture. I *still* don't understand the Catiline conspiracy with which Beard opens the book (I think the take-home is I don't care and my brain switches off) but I take her point that you can't trust the sources. I also have difficulty working up to caring about the Senate and Roman politics, so for me the best bits were the chapters on how the common people lived and (naturally) contact with non-Roman peoples and assimilation (or not) into the empire.
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37. World Without End - the Global Empire of Philip II by Hugh Thomas

Oh dear, I can't believe I read the whole thing.

I have fond memories of his earlier works, The Slave Trade and The Conquest of Mexico. The first volume of this series, Rivers of Gold, is dense but informative. Volume two was pretty painful, as was this (but was shorter). It works neither as narrative nor analysis. It doesn't answer basic questions that a novice like me to, say, the exploration of Paraguay, has, nor is there any meaningful consideration of much of anything. I could rant for ages but the basic take-home is just don't.

I'm still looking for a decent account of the Spanish in South America and I'm beginning to wonder if the answer is become a lot more fluent in Spanish. There's a lot of material on Mexico and the Inca, but not a lot about the more obscure parts that I'm interested in.

Oh, and the maps are crap and relegated to the back so you can imagine how I feel about that.
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16. Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion by Blake Stonechild and Bill Waiser

Arguably, the only interesting thing that ever happened in Saskatchewan is the Riel rebellion (although if you nerd for labour history there's the Bienfait miners' strike).[1][2] In school we were taught that the rebellion was an uprising of the Metis[4] and First Nations (only I'm old, our teachers still called them Indians) against the Canadian government.

This is the real story of the First Nations' involvement in the rebellion. Which, for the most part, was non-existent. Where it did happen, it was either due to disgruntlement with the local "Indian agent" and about very specific grievances, or they were coerced by Riel's forces. For the most part, the tribes (who had only come into treaties over the last 10-15 years after the collapse of the buffalo herds) took their treaties with the Queen very seriously. The Canadian government was already looking for an excuse to not uphold these, though, so were quick to cast them as rebels and broadcast lies and half-truths about events.

Like every history of the Canadian west, it's about how the white people screwed over the First Nations. There was lots in this book that I didn't know, because I went to school at the very tail end of the "white people are great!" era of education.

While of course the book is angry-making about the events, what made me angry is that they were still teaching something that was so patently wrong when I was in school 100 years later. The evidence has always been there, but nobody cared to set the story straight.

This was the easy one. While at home I also picked up another book about Riel that has "postcolonial" in the subtitle.

[1] Google them.
[2] Because while bootlegging was A Thing in Moose Jaw[3], the Al Capone connection is actually about his underlings and pretty dull.
[3] Yes, there's a town called Moose Jaw. My dad's from there, so don't start.
[4] Google that too.
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13. England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381 by Juliet Barker

What am I doing reading about the late medieval period when my interests have been creeping steadily back to the migration age, you may ask. Barker was pimping it out on Start the Week a while ago and the library had it, so I thought why not?

She was convincing on the radio about how the term "peasants' revolt" is Wrong, and that's the kind of stuff I love. If you look past the chroniclers, who were all obviously terrified by the revolt, and into the records of the courts etc, what you find is a revolt by the people that would later become the middle class. It was far more organised and focussed in its aims than we (ie even those of us who've done this at undergraduate level) have been told.

The minutiae of the revolt weren't terribly interesting to me but the examination of what actually happened is incredibly important, and her examination of late medieval life in England was (a) a good refresher (hey, I only know *anything* about this in the first place because I did an extensive undergrad paper on the attitudes towards death in the middle ages especially in relation to the Black Death), and (b) made several important points that I had long suspected but didn't really have the tools to examine. The most important is that the level of literacy at the time has been grossly underestimated since, well, even then.

Not all of it is the most gripping read in the world, but essential stuff if you care at all about social history, the history of ideas, the history of labour movements and history that's contrary to what they taught you at school/university (apologies if universities aren't teaching it that way any more - my experience was a long time ago!)
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11. The Franks by Edward James

Last year I read The Anglo-Saxon World and, particularly in the early period, it referenced the Franks a lot, which made me realise my knowledge is really rusty.

This is, as far as I can tell, the only single-volume book on the Franks in English, and it's pretty old (1988 - which means I might have even used it as reference in grad school).

The only other book in The Peoples of Europe series I've read is The Norsemen in the Viking Age, and that is technical and really difficult, assuming loads of knowledge in many different areas, so I was braced for difficulty.

This, on the other hand, really is a good basic introduction. I don't think there's much there I didn't know when I was studying the migration age, but it's a good reminder. I find myself looking for something more up to date and in depth, though.
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8. Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

My reading of the CJ Sansom books reminded me that I meant to read this when it came out and never got around to it, so I took a trip to the library.

It's an account of the reign of Henry VII, of which I confess I knew very little apart from "ended Wars of the Roses, made the English state solvent".

So, it turns out this was achieved by way of intimidation, blackmail, perversion of the law. People were brought up on trumped up charges and fined, or bound over to keep the peace for large sums of money.

The popular image of Henry VII as a miser is not entirely true. While he did micromanage the court's accounts, he also spent lavishly to cement the Tudor dynasty as a legitimate power in England and on the wider European stage.

I liked this book a lot - despite all the bad things I mention above, Henry VII comes across as quite human, as do all the characters. It provides a good context for the better-known parts of English history that come next. And as the country seems to be going through a Tudor-gasm at the moment with Wolf Hall on our screens (finally, a national craze I can totally get behind!), a timely read.
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These are all from January, so I'm being crap again.

5. The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery by Catherine Bailey

I knew this book was going to suck, but I thought it would be at least amusingly sucky. Oh boy was I wrong. I only finished it because I was going to write a long scathing review, but now I find that I can't even be bothered. (Go read the Guardian's review - it covers most of the points I would have made).

This is history for people who know nothing about history, or how society used to work. I think it's for people who read chick lit. The author is all shock! horror! that aristocratic parents in the late Victoria era weren't all cuddly with their children. And that they abused their power. Apparently that came as news, or she thinks it will do to her readers. And then there's the "explanation" that while staying away from the war to be with one's young family is seen as a good thing these days (a huge insult to every soldier with children who has deployed in recent conflicts), it was considered desertion in WWI (unless you knew the right people).

If I'd ever stuck such irrelevant quotes and padding in any of my undergraduate essays I would have been deservingly failed and have no degree.

The stupid, it burns!

If I was in any way less than effusive about Jenny Uglow's achievement in In These Times, this book has thrown into perspective what a towering piece of scholarship it is.

On the other hand, I kind of want to visit the stately homes mentioned in the book now.

6. Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Regular readers will know that I adored the first book in this series, Rivers of London, but feel that recent efforts had somewhat gone off the boil.

Aaronovitch is back on top form with this one. I read it in two days.

Detective Peter Grant (in the division of all things spooky) is completely out of his element - in the countryside (Herefordshire). Some girls have gone missing and he is sent to make routine enquiries with a registered hedge wizard in the area. That's a dead end, but he feels the need to stay and help out as a regular police officer. Not surprisingly the case turns out to be all supernatural.

Alternatively funny and suspenseful (and unicorns are really scary!), I just couldn't put it down.

7. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Tom Paine?

Started reading it in the summer and then got distracted. This is Paine's treatise on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and on government in general. It's longer and more difficult that Common Sense but still full of wonderful quotes which are still relevant today. The last chapter on "Ways and Means" could bog you down in figures, but some of his best points are found there.
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Yes, I know. Anyway, there's a couple more:

54. Haunted Highway: The Spirits of Route 66 by Elle Robson and Diane Freeman

Local ghost story collection my mother picked up for me on one of their winter trips to the southwestern US. None of the stories are particularly spooky, but a lot of the locations sounded really cool, so it infected me with the road trip bug.

55. The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse is always a bit hit and miss for me. Some of these stories (particularly the Breton folk tale inspired ones) are really spooky, but some of them are just chick lit with a ghost. I felt badly let down by the ones set in the Languedoc - one of my favourite places in the world, but the stories were particularly soppy. Glad I got this from the library.

56. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Tartt's The Secret History is my favourite book; The Little Friend is also really good. So I can't believe how long it took me to get round to this one.

I absolutely loved it. I didn't have as many opportunities to read it as I'd have liked but every time I picked it up I'd be sucked in and read 100 pages at a time.

Had lots of thoughts about it at the time but have been unable to put them coherently together.

57. In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon's Wars, 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow

A social history of Britain during the Napoleonic wars, told mainly through the use of diaries and local publications, but also poetry and literature, which is the aspect I'm familiar with. Gives a really good picture of how British society at all levels was affected by the Napoleonic wars, through trade, instability in wages and prices, brutal repression of radicals.

This could have been dull (and a couple of chapters were, a bit) but overall it's fascinating and does its job really effectively. Makes me want to go read Wordsworth though, which is just Bad and Wrong.

Highly recommended
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I am so far behind with this.

45. The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V by Hugh Thomas

The second part of Thomas' history of the Spanish empire. Where Rivers of Gold was dense but fascinating, this was just dense. This was a surprise - as I mentioned in my review of Rivers of Gold, I've read some of his earlier books and they've always been readable.

Somehow he made the discovery and conquest of Peru not that exciting, ditto the first voyage down the Amazon.

I struggled with this till the end because it was full of things I wanted to know, but it just got too bogged down in names and backgrounds in Spain of all the characters. Also it doesn't help that my stupid brain has to pronounce all the Spanish words in Spanish, but unlike French (which happens in the lizard brain), this makes me slow right down.

I learned a lot, it was just hard. Now I'm sitting here eyeing the last volume with suspicion - I got the first two from the library, but as they didn't have the third one yet I bought it.

46. In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

No, not the cool Murakami (who I went off some years ago, law of diminishing returns and all that, but who is at least sound in principle). Last month's bibliogoths book.

It was short and easy to read, but nothing about it appealed to me. If he was making any statements about Japanese society he was doing it with a sledgehammer. I've already read a lot about Japan's lost decade in the 90s, so it wasn't even like I was learning anything. It rambles and doesn't make sense.


47. Exploring Old Highway Number 1 West: Canada's Route 66 by J Clark Saunders

Bought this in the gift shop of the Moose Jaw tunnels mainly for the photos, which are superb. I feel like a bad Canadian, but I didn't know what a recent creation the Trans Canada Highway is, and that it's changed its route over the years. This book is a lovely nostalgia trip from the Ontario/Manitoba border to Victoria, BC. I've been on all of it over the years, but only as a means to an end. I now want to do it as a longer road trip taking time to see all the really nifty things along the way (which you sort of forget are really pretty or really cool because you live there, and because you have standard Prairie memories of your dad shoving the whole family in the car and driving for 12 hours, so that if you did see something cool, it's not like you ever would have been allowed to stop and look).

I highly recommend this book. The photos, as I said, are gorgeous, and the text is evocative of a Western Canada which I am barely old enough to have known.

48. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I bought the third volume when Jasper was speaking earlier this year. He was a guest at BristolCon in October so I grabbed the first and second books off the Forbidden Planet stall so I could get him to sign them (so I could tell him how much I love the line "honour is what happens when you weaponise manners".

I know they're aimed at the lower end of the YA spectrum, but I love these books so much. They are very funny, there is adventure and peril and some quite dark moments too.

49. The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

Of Mosse's previous work, I thought Labyrinth and Citadel are OK, and I loved Sepulchre and The Winter Ghosts, so I got this one from the library just in case.

I really rated this one. It's set in Sussex in 1912. The title character lives in isolation with her father, who used to be a famous taxidermist, but taxidermy has gone out of fashion and there's little work any more. She had a head injury when she was 12 and can't remember anything about her life before they moved to Fishbourne. Then the past catches up with them.

The actual plot and back story are OK, but nothing to write home about. However, the atmosphere is something else. It's low-level creepy right from the beginning and the suspenseful bit are well written, and the storm and floods which are the climax of the book are incredibly real. Maybe because we just lived through a winter of similar floods, but still. Also it was really easy going and I finished it really quickly. Definitely recommended.
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38. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire by Hugh Thomas

Many years ago I read Thomas's The Slave Trade and The Conquest of Mexico. I've been vaguely aware that he'd been working on an enlarged history of the Spanish empire but it wasn't until the third volume hit the shops recently, that I took notice. Fortunately the library not only carries the first two, they were in stock. I've treated myself and bought the third.

Rivers of Gold is the first and covers the period roughly from Columbus's first voyage to Magellan/Elcano's circumnavigation of the world. It covers not only the exploration and settlement in the New World, but also what was going on in Spain and how that affected policy with respect to the New World.

Having read a lot about the conquest and settlement of Mexico, those histories always gloss over the Spanish settlements that preceded Mexico, and this book satisfyingly fills in that bit of history.

I found it hard going - there are a lot of names and places, and you never know which ones to store away for later. But it's well written and interesting.

You probably have to be my sort of history nerd for this to appeal to you, but it is very good at what it does.
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35. Return of a King by William Dalrymple

Masterful yet eminently readable account of the First Afghan War. Dalrymple uses a plethora of previously unplundered sources, some of which were even written in English but are resting in places too inaccessible for the average English-language historian, apparently. Additionally there are a lot of Indian and Afghan sources, some of which he even went to Kabul to unearth.

He touches on the parallels between the first and present Afghan wars, but doesn't draw the comparisons out unnecessarily.

He makes clear that it would probably have been possible to create a friendly Afghan(ish - the borders only became clear later) state to the British without installing a puppet king, and there were people trying to do that, but those who knew less in London and Calcutta weren't having it. He shows the bad decisions made all along, but also that there were people who were knowledgeable and doing their best and if anyone had listened to them at any point it would have been less of a disaster.

The story that only one British officer survived from that invasion force is also a myth. However, the sepoy forces were tragically and cruelly abandoned to their fate when the English captives were rescued. (Again, there were officers who tried to save them). It is not a coincidence that the 1857 rebellion started in the units that had been subject to this abandonment.

Excuse my lack of articulateness tonight. This is a bloody good book that explains a lot.
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26. The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli

We've been watching The Borgias, and it made me realise I've never read The Prince, and it's one of those books that everybody thinks they know but is misused and misquoted and probably not at all what most people think it is.

And it's short.

It's not about being as power-hungry and ruthless as you expect. And where he is, he's coming from the standpoint of living in a country that's been torn apart by civil war for generations and he'd just like a nice strong ruler to bring some stability, thanks. And he's big on not oppressing the people, which was unexpected.

In some bits you think "that's cold", but in other places he makes a lot of sense (like the long list of why mercenaries will come back to bite you in the butt).

And then 2/3 of the way through my stupid brain came up with "that's Lord Vetinari, that is" and I started to read the whole thing through the prism of Ankh-Morporkh.

It took longer to read that I would expect from a book this size, but it's quite dense and needs some time between chapters to compile and process. I wouldn't exactly say I enjoyed it, but I learned a lot and it makes a whole lot of things in Western culture fall into place nicely.
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23. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian popes and imperial pretenders by Peter Heather.

Got this from the library because I wasn't sure about it. I needn't have worried - it's very good indeed and the fact that it's taken me nearly two months to read says more about my state of mind recently than about the book.

Heather, who has written a lot about the aftermath of Rome, examines here three "pretenders" who attempted to resurrect the Roman Empire in the West - Theoderic, Justinian and Charlemagne. I have an intellectual blind spot for all things Carolingian, but I found the first two sections fascinating. The final section is about how the Church finally took on the power of the Roman empire in the west. Important, but I also have a blind spot for canon law (there's a reason my career was in the early middle ages).

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, and will definitely be looking for his other work. And just about anything on the western European successors peoples to the Romans, and the migration age... my main focus of interest is definitely moving back in time.
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14.The Anglo-Saxon World by Nicholas Higham and Martin Ryan

A great big colourful, map- and illustration-filled intro to the Anglo-Saxons.

Very pretty. Very big and heavy and I've been reading it since the beginning of February.

As I suspected, the archaeology has moved on leaps and bounds since I was doing this professionally, whereas the thinking on the recorded history hasn't changed much. (They were doing the extended excavations at Sutton Hoo when I was studying but the results hadn't been published; and the Staffordshire Hoard just squeaked into this edition).

It was a good refresher and for bringing me up to speed.

I'm getting more and more sucked into the post-Rome migration era.

There's a lot about the foundations of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (and Christianity) coming from the Franks, and left wondering if there's a good single-volume history of the Franks that would act as a companion to this. A quick search says there's one in the Peoples of Europe series (those who brought us The Norsemen in the Viking Age, which is frankly excellent), but if anyone has suggestions I'm open to it. I still have my copy of Gregory of Tours around here somewhere - there are some things which, no matter how far you stray from the fold, you just don't get rid of.

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