The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

bookshelves: biography, nonfiction, history, autumn-2012, tbr-busting-2012, fraudio, gambling, georgian1714-1830, filthy-lucre, lifestyles-deathstyles, published-1988, debut, politics, recreational-drugs

Read from September 16 to 19, 2012

 

British Aristocracy – 18th C. Unabridged.

From wiki: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (née Spencer) 7 June 1757 – 30 March 1806 was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, the 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb. She is an ancestor (via her illegitimate daughter Eliza Courtney) of Sarah, Duchess of York. She is also related to Diana, Princess of Wales, who was her great-great-grandniece.

What a shame that Diana hadn’t studied her family history then she may not have mirrored the unloved brood mare profile, having to share her husband in a three-way marriage.

Lots of fun moments à la ‘the past is a foreign country’: she was so calmed by being bled that she slept peaceably all night, however the authorial whitewashing of destructive behaviours and coaxing us to sympathise, renders this otherwise brilliant biography, flawed.

Great debut.

********

Yeehaw! There is a 2008 film to look out for:

Keira Knightley … Georgiana
Ralph Fiennes … The Duke
Charlotte Rampling … Lady Spencer
Dominic Cooper … Charles Grey
Hayley Atwell … Bess Foster
Simon McBurney … Charles Fox
Aidan McArdle … Richard Sheridan
John Shrapnel … General Grey
Alistair Petrie … Heaton
Patrick Godfrey … Dr. Neville

 
Althorp’s entrance front in the 1820s. The appearance of the house from this angle is almost unaltered today.
 
The Three Witches from Shakespeares Macbeth by Daniel Gardner, 1775: Lady Melbourne with the Duchess of Devonshire and Anne Damer”
 
It was perfectly legal for a man to beat his wife so long as the stick was no wider than his thumb
 
To the rescue.”
 

Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century

bookshelves: african-continent, nonfiction, pirates-smugglers-wreckers, autumn-2012, published-2010, turkish-and-or-ottoman-root, afr-morocco, afr-tunisia, afr-algeria, war

Read from September 09 to October 23, 2012

 

Read by Clive Chafer

Overview –
The true story that’s “bloody good entertainment” (New York Times) about the colorful and legendary pirates of the 17th century.

If not for today’s news stories about piracy on the high seas, it’d be easy to think of pirating as a romantic way of life long gone. But nothing is further from the truth. Pirates have existed since the invention of commerce itself, and they reached the zenith of their power during the 1600s, when the Mediterranean was the crossroads of the world and pirates were the scourge of Europe. Historian and author Adrian Tinniswood brings this exciting and surprising chapter in history alive, revealing that the history of piracy is also the history that has shaped our modern world.

Starts off with the modern day Somali Pirates and there is nothing pretty to report.

The Rainbow (left) unsuccessfully engaging John Ward’s flagship

Issouf Reis of Tunis, fervent in his devotion to Islam, was so wealthy that that by 1615 he had built himself a ‘faire Palace, beautified with rich Marble and Alabaster stones’. His household was so big that when he had guests for dinner, it was served not by a demure maidservant but by 15 male waiters. Very short, white-haired but nearly bald, he had a swarthy complexion.

A typical North African, you might think. Only he wasn’t. He had been born and bred in Faversham, and his real name was John Ward. The exact date of his birth isn’t yet known, but it was around 1553. Maybe he was the John Ward who is recorded as living on the west side of Preston Street on 31 December 1573 and 31 May 1574 and by 22 December 1574 had moved to Court Street – and then disappears from view. Source: http://www.faversham.org/history/peop…

Europeans enslaved by North African captors – two mosques in the background.

John Ward (aka Yusuf Reis): Arch Pirate Of Tunis; in 1608, feeling insecure in Tunis, Ward offered James I of England £40,000 for a royal pardon, but this was refused, so he returned to Tunis, where Uthman Dey kept his word and he remained for the rest his days.

Sir Francis Verney (1584 – 6 September 1615) was an English adventurer, soldier of fortune, and pirate. A nobleman by birth, he left England after the House of Commons sided with his stepmother in a legal dispute over his inheritance, and became a mercenary in Morocco and later a Barbary corsair. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_…

Peter Easton (c. 1570 – 1620 or after) was a pirate in the early 17th century who operated along the Newfoundland coastline between Harbour Grace and Ferryland from 1611 to 1614. Perhaps one of the most successful of all pirates he controlled such seapower that no sovereign or state could afford to ignore him and he was never overtaken or captured by any fleet commissioned to hunt him down. However, he is not as well known as some of the pirates from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

bookshelves: autumn-2012, slavic, nonfiction, ouch, nobel-laureate, fraudio, epic-proportions, autobiography-memoir, boo-scary, bullies, execution, gangsters, holocaust-genocide, lifestyles-deathstyles, philosophy, politics, published-1958, racism, recreational-homicide, true-grime

Read from September 08 to October 28, 2012


blurb – The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn’s attempt to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labour camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917 and that underwent an enormous expansion during the rule of Stalin from 1924 to 1953. Various sections of the three volumes describe the arrest, interrogation, conviction, transportation, and imprisonment of the Gulag’s victims by Soviet authorities over four decades. The work mingles historical exposition and Solzhenitsyn’s own autobiographical accounts with the voluminous personal testimony of other inmates that he collected and committed to memory during his imprisonment.Upon publication of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn was immediately attacked in the Soviet press. Despite the intense interest in his fate that was shown in the West, he was arrested and charged with treason on February 12, 1974, and was exiled from the Soviet Union the following day.

Map of the Gulags

Image: An abandoned guard tower in one of hundreds of gulags (prison camps) across the Soviet Union, remains as a symbol of profound human suffering. First instituted by Lenin to imprison priests, political opponents, and common criminals, Stalin was then responsible for sending 12-15 million people to these camps. The prisoners were used as forced labor to work on massive industrial projects. As more laborers were needed for bigger projects and those falling behind schedule, Stalin justified the arrests of more people to be sent to the gulags. Millions were executed in these camps or perished as they labored on massive modernization schemes. It is said of the Siberian railroad project that the work was never done, nothing was achieved and it went nowhere. (credit: Jonathan Lewis)

Gruelling yet important; shocks one to the very core. Some books are best left unrated.

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World’s Favourite Drink

bookshelves: nonfiction, autumn-2012, history, published-2009, biography, colonial-overlords, victorian, recreational-drugs, war, fraudio, china, india, gardening, pirates-smugglers-wreckers

Read on November 05, 2012

Read by the author herself.

Blurb – A dramatic historical narrative of the man who stole the secret of tea from China.

In 1848, the British East India Company, having lost its monopoly on the tea trade, engaged Robert Fortune, a Scottish gardener, botanist, and plant hunter, to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China’s territory forbidden to foreigners,to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. For All the Tea in China is the remarkable account of Fortune’s journeys into China; a thrilling narrative that combines history, geography, botany, natural science, and old-fashioned adventure.

Disguised in Mandarin robes, Fortune ventured deep into the country, confronting pirates, hostile climate, and his own untrustworthy men as he made his way to the epicenter of tea production, the remote Wu Yi Shan hills. One of the most daring acts of corporate espionage in history, Fortune’s pursuit of China’s ancient secret makes for a classic nineteenth-century adventure tale, one in which the fate of empires hinges on the feats of one extraordinary man.

Camellia sinensis:

Robert Fortune, the tea thief. From wiki: Robert Fortune (16 September 1812 – 13 April 1880) was a Scottish botanist, plant hunter and traveller, best known for introducing tea plants from China to India. Robert Fortune was born in Britain on 16 September 1812, at Kelloe, Berwickshire.

This does have the tang of ‘must publish my dissertation or bust’, feeling; the author delivers this in rather a dramatic and staccato’d fashion.

Can’t fault the historical research and it is enjoyable enough for a solid 3*