Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This Shakespearean play is considered either a comedy or a "problem play" by well learned authorities, upon finishing this play I side with the latter. There are three main arcs throughout the play: the Duke disguising himself to view his dominion with another perspective, the upright Angelo using his authority for dishonorable behavior, and Lucio. Overall the first two arc intertwined pretty well, though I can't remember if Angelo and the disguised Duke had an interaction before Act V but I think it didn't; if an interaction had taken place it would have made Act V that much better. Lucio could be argued as being a comedic element, but he was just an annoyance throughout most of the play especially Act V.

Given how the play finishes, it isn't a comedy. Because Claudio doesn't die (though others supposedly do/will at play's end), it can't be a tragedy. Thus the label "problem play", maybe in the end it was just a morality play and nothing more or less.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After finishing reading this play, I did some research about it and learned it is considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays." Thank goodness I am not the only one who thinks so because this piece was a chore to get through starting with Greek and Trojan characters uttering the names of Roman deities then the love story that made no sense and various characters who couldn't decide to be honorable or comedic. I never want to see this on stage or adapted in any way; like the Brad Pitt film Troy I consider this a travesty to the ancient classic of Homer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: The Great War: The Combat History of the First World War by Peter Hart

The Great War: A Combat History of the First World WarThe Great War: A Combat History of the First World War by Peter Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In searching for a book about First World War beyond the usually recommended and focusing on the actual tactics and strategies on the battlefield instead of various political and social events that other books seem to promote, it was my hope that Peter Hart's "The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War" would fill that need.  Upon finishing "The Great War" I can say that the book not only met my expectations, but put to shame some other books that frankly put blame on individuals for the conduct on the war by ignoring the facts.

Hart emphasizes the importance of the Western Front throughout the book as being the main theater of the entire war.  Although Hart gives a good amount of pages and thorough telling of the events in the Naval War, the Eastern Front, and several side-show theaters like the Italian, Mesopotamia, and Palestine; he gives the developments in all those other theaters on how they affected the Western Front through various means.  The tactical and strategic battle of wits between commanders on both sides on all fronts are given excellent explanations by Hart and are shown to be the reason the war lasted so long and the casualties were so high.

Hart argues that it was the British were responsible for the victorious outcome of the Allied cause, but only after taking over as the main coalition partner from the French in 1916 and with assistance from the Americans whose presence on the battlefield forced the Germans' hand into a failed offensive push in 1918.  Throughout the book, Hart shows the three-year progression of collective British thinking about how to fight the war, not only learning from their successes and failures but those of the French and Germans.  At the end of the book even Hart admits that if the war had continued into 1919 while entering German territory, the Americans would have surpassed the British as the main combatant given their fresher force.

Sprinkled throughout the book, Hart incorporated first-hand accounts of soldiers from all sides about how combat was like during the war.  It is eye-opening look at a sometimes misunderstood war for any reader.  Although generally good, Hart seems to just putting quotes back-to-back numerous times in the book which upsets the flow of the overall work.  Occasional grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes do crop up as well though they are few and far between so as not to takeaway from the overall work.

For anyone wanting to understand the First World War on a tactical and strategic level, Peter Hart's "The Great War" is a fantastic read and will give the reader a better understanding of this shamefully misunderstood period in history that affects us even today.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This Shakespearean comedy is full of misunderstandings, both intentional and unintentional, that quickly lead to hilarious results. The boy-playing girl-playing a boy trope is wonderfully used in the personage of Viola/"Cesario" is in someway the main cause of most the hilarious happenings from the audience's point-of-view. The troika of Sir Toby, Fabian, and Maria's prank upon Malvolio while funny, does seem to take away from the overall flow of the play at times instead of potentially other hilarious happenings related to Sebastian being mistaken for Cesario more often. Overall it was a fun read and I wouldn't mind seeing it on stage or an adaptation.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

The Guns of AugustThe Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While the ultimate outcome of The Great War was not decided in it's first month, the nature of the contest was as Barbara Tuchman so masterfully illustrates in "The Guns of August".

From the outset Tuchman shows that all the belligerents made crucial mistakes that slowly mounted resulting the Allied victory at the Marne then to total stalemate for four bloody years.  The first 30 days of combat on the Western Front when the entire continent and possibly the world thought it would be a short war, after over 40 years of continental peace, changed everything and everyone it touched along with those it didn't.

In almost 450 pages of text, Tuchman gives an overview of how the war plans that both sides would use in that first month were developed and then showed the history of what happened when they were applied.  She filled each page with dense material but with no frivolous words to get in the way.  Although in a few places she must, along with the reader guess at what a particular individual commander was thinking at a particular moment she supports her conclusion with the overall situation he faced at the time.  Tuchman quoted individuals in their native tongue, however for some one like myself who didn't now any French or German it meant nothing and I had to figure out what was implied by what Tuchman wrote before and afterwards.  If leaving unexplained a quote in foreign language is the worst critique I can assess a book, then I'm literally grabbing at straws.

"The Guns of August" was an instant classic upon publication and for any student of history it is a must read.  With the 100-year anniversary of The Great War's beginning fast approaching, now is an excellent time to do so.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: The Phoenix and the Turtle by William Shakespeare

The Phoenix and the Turtle by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This Shakespearean poem, although short in length, is full of potential meaning. The most obvious meaning is the death of ideals embodied by the two birds, however through symbolism the mean could take on religious overtones or even by the embodiment of humans. Of course Shakespeare could have just written a poem following an ABBA rhyme that transitions to a ABA rhyme that appears to have a meaning but in fact as no meaning at all. In any case, it is a wonderful poem.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This is considered on of the greatest pieces of literature, but after finishing it I can only as one thing; What is the point of this play? Since Horatio and the guards saw the Ghost, Hamlet didn't imagine it however it could be his descent into madness as a result of seeing the Ghost of his father. It could be that the Ghost conformed Hamlet's suspicions, but he couldn't trust it until the 'play within the play'. Or it could be a tragic spiral of various plots of revenge circling one another and harming others before reaching the intended target. Whatever it is, I'll have to see this play on stage or via adaptation because frankly what?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History by Andrew Carroll

Here is Where by Andrew Carroll
My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Andrew Carroll’s chronicling of his search for, and travels to, little known locations of historical importance that have been forgotten or ignored was an intriguing concept upon seeing the cover for “Here is Where”.  Upon finishing the book, I can say that Carroll turned said concept into wonderful book that was a combination of investigative history and travel log that was hard to put down at the end of my lunch hour and work breaks.

Carroll’s begins the book by giving the reasons he decided to go cross country, numerous times it turned out, and write about places and individuals forgotten by popular history.  As Carroll learns on his travels, that just like that particular point in his life, it’s the circumstances surrounding the events in question that determined if they were remembered or not.  And without rehashing the entire book, Carroll is able to find interesting links between these forgotten facets of history that connect them to one another and even his own life and family.

Carroll is careful to write about the individuals and organizations that helped him to find the exact locations he was looking throughout his travels not only in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, but in the text itself.  Carroll highlights the local historical society volunteers or local history hobbyists that are sometimes the only individuals in a town that know the interesting facts of where they live.  And on rare occasions, Carroll is able to surprise even these individuals with what he’s discovered.

Although even this paperback edition have mistakes that weren’t corrected from the hardcover print namely some incorrect dates, spelling, and grammar; they are forgive able because their very few and far between which made them noticeable.  The biggest let down was the Carroll wrote about taken numerous photographs of the locations he visited, but none where in the book!  Even though Carroll did write very good descriptions, a picture is worth a thousand words.

“Here is Where”, is a wonderful read for anyone interested in history and takes out the big themes that academic historians seem to want to force fit things into.  Andrew Carroll reveals that important historical moments are not always remembered, but are nonetheless still relevant in the 21st Century by giving better perspective on events that are well remembered.  I can’t stress enough how much I recommend this book.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.