Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Nerd Church - Never Ever Forget

Human beings can be horrific to each other. That's why we must never forget.

Holocaust Memorial Day last Friday reminded many people of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. It's a lesson that we can't afford to forget.




Dachau memorial






We have to be willing to learn the lessons of those past days.

In order to do that, we have to force ourselves to remember how this happened - what led to the murder of so many.






Over the past few years, I've contributed to several projects to preserve historical documents digitally - including Holocaust records.

What's chilling about many of the records is their straightforward nature. This is the bureaucracy of genocide - a well-oiled machine of paperwork and permits.







It hits home, though, just what it is you're looking at, when you see the same date of death recorded for every member of the same family, or when you see record after record marked with the year 1942 as its final date.

Or when you look into the eyes of a Jewish girl your age in the picture on her identity papers - she's working as a secretary, she's dressed smartly, hair neatly curled.

Her smile is sweet but slightly mischievous. 

And you know she probably died soon after.

And she's full of life in her picture. And you realise she deserves to be remembered - not just because of what happened to her, but because of her.

And because no-one should have been able to take that life from her.







The Holocaust did not begin with murder. It began with the gradual erosion of human rights. It began with prejudice and hate.

It began with cataloguing people; registering them, restricting them, seeing them as somehow inferior. That can't happen again.






To educate yourself about the holocaust, there can be no better place to start than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

You can learn more about the project I talked about - the World Memory Project - here.









Sunday, 19 July 2015

Reviewing the Evidence (Classics Edition!) - 12 Years a Slave

Title: 12 Years a Slave (US Link)
Author: Solomon Northup
Genre: classics, non-fiction, memoirs, autobiography

A few starting notes:


I approached this book with a mix of trepidation and interest - I'd heard of the film, but not seen it, and knew a little about the story, but didn't know what the writing would be like or how the tone would be. I needn't have worried.

Premise:

Solomon Northup was a black man born free in the time of slavery in the USA. He is tricked, kidnapped, and enslaved, enduring the life of a Southern slave for a period of 12 years. This is his own account of his time spent in slavery.

Best bits:

The very best bit is our narrator - Solomon Northup himself. He never lacks perspective, considers the opinions and feelings of others, and speaks with a strong voice that reverberates through the pages. His account keeps a level of admirable dignity up throughout its entirety, and he weaves the prose together better than many bestsellers today.

Mr Northup never shies away from the realities of slavery - we are told of the whippings and beatings, and the pain of separated families, whilst maintaining that same dignity. He never includes gratuitous levels of violence or suffering simply for their own sakes, and is honest about everything - the good times and the bad.

He also always gives credit where credit is due in a gracious and understanding way. He refrains from judging slave-owners simply for being slave-owners. His first master, William Ford, he has genuine affection for and Ford joins the ranks of white men who put themselves out for Mr Northup's sakes (the others including but not limited to an English sailor, and the Canadian carpenter, Bass.) Northup insists that, in his estimation, Ford was only a slave-owner because he had been born and raised in the South - something which he could not help any more than Solomon could help being black.

Not so great bits:

Slavery is understandably an uncomfortable subject - and though Solomon Northup is an excellent narrator, he uses the language and the attitudes of his time. He thinks nothing of classifying people according to their skin colour - something which actually becomes very interesting in the case of the slave Celeste who is paler than her owner - and this can jar with modern sensibilities.

He also uses the 'n' word a lot - simply because this is how black people were referred to by those he is in contact with. This is historically accurate but mightily uncomfortable.

The subject matter, as can be expected, is not always pleasant, though is not gratuitous.

Verdict:

This book is excellent. It is written sublimely with a voice that is not often heard in accounts of slavery - that of an actual slave. More than just an outstanding piece of literature, this is also a work of historical importance - and should be just as much as a necessity on reading lists as the likes of Anne Frank's Diary.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Reviewing the Evidence - Ban this Filth!

Title: Ban This Filth! Mary Whitehouse and the Battle to Keep Britain Innocent (US Link)
Author: Ben Thompson
Genre: non-fiction

A few starting notes:

This was picked up in a library haul and seemed pretty interesting. For those who don't know, Mary Whitehouse was the leader of the National Viewer's and Listener's Association and the Clean-up TV Campaign from the 1960s onwards.

Premise:

This is a selection of the letters and documents from the Mary Whitehouse archive (yes, there is apparently such a thing,) and a running commentary by Mr Thompson.

Best bits:

This is quite an interesting book - I only had a sketchy knowledge of Mary Whitehouse before reading (her peak was a bit before my time,) and am always interested in the issue of censorship and the issue of offensive material in the media.

Ben Thompson's commentary is chatty and engaging, and clearly thought through, making the book charming enough to keep you reading. He also does well in framing the many paradoxes of a complex character who became a symbol of right-wing censorship while raising some fundamentally important points along the way.

Not so great bits:

I have to admit that at some points I found Thompson's defence of, and sometimes admiration and affection for, Mary Whitehouse a little wearing. Yes, believe it or not, she occasionally made some good points, but I would've liked a bit more of an acknowledgement that whatever good points she made cannot excuse her blatant homophobia (not to mention other statements made by herself which were more offensive than the stuff she wanted censored.) 

The structure of the book - with chapters focussing on a them - could've benefitted from said themes being more juicy. I would've far rathered reading more about the objections she had to things which have since become national treasures (Dr. Who, The Beatles,) than reading about her in-fighting with other Christian organisations such as the Anglican Church. A bit more social context for those of us not born at the time would also have not gone amiss.

Also, and this is not really the book's fault, the jacket was covered with quotes from British reviewers who clearly need to get out more. Yes, the book was amusing in places, but in no way was it 'hilarious' or 'shockingly funny.'

Verdict:

A fair effort to discuss the paradoxes and life of Mrs Whitehouse using the incredibly interesting resource of her own archives. There were minus points to this book, of course, but at the end of the day it is a competent portrait of the work of a woman who was trying (forcefully) to get back to an innocent, idealised, version of this country that never really existed - except perhaps in the minds of people like her.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Time to Review the Evidence - A Dreadful Murder: The Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard

Title: A Dreadful Murder: The Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard 
(US Link)
Author: Minette Walters
Genre: crime, historical fiction
Series: Quick Reads

 
A few starting notes:

Another of the awesome Quick Reads series (which as always deserves my commendable praise for trying to get everyone reading) this is a fictionalisation of the real 1908 murder of Mrs Caroline Luard.

Premise:

Mrs Caroline Luard is found dead - shot - in the rural Kent town of Ightham. The neighbours suspect her husband - Major-General Luard, a local JP and well-off snob. But did he kill her? Or is there another explanation?

Best bits:

The pace and depth both pick up from about half-way through, as the author seems to get into her stride. It's from this point - where there's more of the fiction and supposition, rather than the fact, that the book becomes more involving.

The whole story is edible in bite-size chunks, and the atmosphere of early 20th century secrets and poverty is captured in an intriguing and encapsulating way.

Not so great bits:

As always, there are some issues here which may upset some readers - murder (obviously,) poverty, alcoholism, suicide, and domestic abuse are all touched on at various points. If this is a major problem for you, then obviously, read with caution.

The tone sticks a little in places, but not enough to really bother you all that much.

Verdict:

A very readable, short, and digestible fictionalised account of an intriguing and mysterious crime. Perfect for a bit of detective-ness in the middle of your everyday life. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Time to Review the Evidence: Traitors of the Tower

As promised, here's my review of Alison Weir's Traitors of the Tower. I'm still trying to work out the best, most useful, and most refreshing ways to review books on this blog so please have patience and let me know what you like!

Alison Weir Traitors of the Tower Quick Read review

Title: Traitors of the Tower
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Non-fiction
Series: Quick Reads




A few starting notes:

This is a short and interesting book by the historian Alison Weir. It's part of the Quick Reads series - an excellent series funded in part by literacy charities, skills agencies and the Welsh Assembly via Basic Skills Cymru. This series is worthy of being praised to the hilt - short, easily digested books by top authors on a variety of subjects. This is an affordable series (though I borrowed mine from the library) at the incredibly reasonable price of about £1.99 per book. Appropriate for the reluctant and the avid reader alike.

Premise:

This is a work of non-fiction focussing on 'traitors' who have been executed in the tower of London (does what it says on the tin!) It's set into chapters, with each chapter really being a standalone piece in its own right, as each deals with an individual 'traitor.' It's set out chronologically (in time order of deaths.)

Best bits:

The length means that this is a book you can stick into your lunch-breaks or train-journeys. The way the structure works with the different chapters means that you can read a chapter and then have a ready made break to the next one. The way Quick Reads describe their series is as a shot - and I think that's pretty accurate: short, distilled, enjoyable.

The author is knowledgeable; Alison Weir knows her stuff, and writes confidently, slimming down her normally intensely detailed writing into its core components to give an overall impression of the events.

The whole of the book is planted firmly in the Tudor period (which Weir knows well,) which is as popular and interesting as ever. What's so good about this book however is that not only does it include the big names (Anne Boleyn; Katherine Howard,) but it also includes names which are a little less well known (Lady Jane Grey; Margaret Pole,) which means there's plenty to interest you.

Not so great bits:

Sometimes the writing seems a touch forced - as if the slimming down purpose has caused it to lose some of its sheen, this is only occasional but is noticeable in some parts.

There's no debating the details here - now, I don't mind this, but some history buffs wouldn't be so thrilled. I think it fits the series though, so it's really not too much of a minus point.

Verdict:

This is a great book to fill in those in-between times such as breaks, or waiting at a doctors surgery. It's accessible to those who don't have a lot of time, and those who maybe aren't so confident in reading, while still absorbing and interesting the reader. A job well done by Ms Weir.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Book Haul - #LibraryHaul


Library Book Haul

I went to the library this morning (Yay!) and picked up this awesome haul, some fiction, some non-fiction, some graphic novels...all combine to make a happy reading addict!

I hauled the following:
Prince of Shadows; Rachel Caine
The Shape Stealer; Lee Carroll
Mr Briggs' Hat; Kate Colquhoun
The Witch's Daughter; Paula Brackston
Traitors of the Tower; Alison Weir
Under the Never Sky; Veronica Rossi

Graphic Novels:
Wolverine: Hunting Season
Genju no Seiza vol. 1
Vermonia 1 Quest for the Silver Tiger

I'm hoping to review some soon - espec. Traitors of the Tower, since it's a Quick Read and I think that that's such a very awesome scheme/series! Happy reading everyone!