The Conquest of Mexico – Hugh Thomas

The Conquest of Mexico was a historical event and also a book I have been reading, handily enough I recommend the book as a way into a fascinating subject. Here be the review.

Don’t let the huge number of pages(848) put you off, this is a very readable and thoroughly researched account  of the events leading upto the conquest and the inevitability of the action of conquest. But first to the beginning.  Parts 1 and 2 of the book involve the backgrounds of the two civilizations. For the Mexica(Aztecs) the focus is on the subjugation of and subsequent trade with other people in and around the valley of Mexico and also the domestic classes of people and the Gods which they worship. The religious set up is especially fascinating if you like your myths, as the stories mentioned in the book rival anything from ancient Greece or Mesopotamia.

The Spanish chapter focuses more on the capture of the outlying island of the Caribbean, the brutality with which the indigenous populations were treated and the ruthless commercial opportunism that abounded,  and the first explorations and meetings with the indigenous Peoples of the Yucatan and the Totanacs of Mexico. Continue reading “The Conquest of Mexico – Hugh Thomas”

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Batavia’s Graveyard – Mike Dash

Harrowing and fascinating by turns this book tells of the true story of a shipwreck and subsequent mutiny of a small group of sailors of the ship Batavia. To sum the book up in one sentence, I could say it’s a look at the senseless cruelty and brutality of humankind, however that would do the book and indeed SOME of the people involved a disservice.

To start with the book gives a good grounding on the problems of the day: the troubles with the different maritime powers and all the geopolitics that comes with it, the problem of not being able to work out longitude, the rise of Amsterdam and the Dutch East India company(VOC) and some highly heretical theologies doing the rounds at the time. All this is worked in neatly with details of the harsh conditions of the passengers on the ship, where a trip from Europe to Holland could take upto two years such as lack of food and water, scurvy and suchlike.

The three main protagonists are each extensively researched to give some understanding and insight into how they were influenced by and indeed influenced matters. The latter half of the book is taken up with the moral decay and depravity of men seeking riches and power. A tale of struggles on a small archipelago against not just the elements but of corruption, madness, blood lust and weakness of will. All this taking place miles from any help without much hope. None of the details is glossed Continue reading “Batavia’s Graveyard – Mike Dash”

Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez

‘Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since Fermina Daza rebuffed hopeless romantic Florentino Arizo’s impassioned advances and married Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. During that half century, Florentino has fallen into the arms of many delighted women, but has loved none but Fermina. Having sworn
his eternal love to her, he lives for the day when he can court her again.

When Fermina’s husband is killed trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree, Florentino seizes his chance to declare his enduring love. But can young love find new life in the twilight of their lives?’

So reads the back cover and whilst it gives you the plot of the book, it in no way prepares you for the sheer joy of the actual reading experience. This is a book for language lovers, the rhythmic prose has a poetic quality and I found myself on many occasions rereading the same lines just for the sheer joy of hearing them again.

What you are getting for your hard earned currency is a beautifully written love story, a celebration of love in all its forms. But of course no love story would ever be complete without a bucketful of melancholy, which runs in tandem with love throughout the book. Really though the scope is wider than either of these two emotions and is more a celebration of life in all its complexit Continue reading “Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez”

Where’s Wally?

There it is that big, bright, bold cover asking that immortal of questions, Where’s Wally?

I approached these books with a somewhat blasé attitude. I get involved, find said chappie and his hangers on(and dog), job done, simple.  Of course that is not the way of life. What followed was not just an elaborate paper based game of hide and seek. Oh no! It was a journey into the very depths my humanity….

It was Sartre who once said ‘Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have’.  I believe he was refering to my predicament of hunting for Wally in the middle of a viking war zone or in a black and white silent movie scene.  You see I came to the realisation that to hunt for ‘Wally’ is to hunt for oneself,  to seek oneself out of the body.
Having realised that to find myself I must look into various bits of history (and the beach), there came the revelation that (as the philosopher  Soren Kirkegaard said): ‘The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read a Continue reading “Where’s Wally?”

Books for summer 2011

The next bunch of NEW reviews you read(for I have a ton of rewritten ones with which to amuse (?) you), will be from my summer list of books, generally featuring stuff I have been too lazy to read before now but can tenuously claim have some sort of connection with summer, or at least in my head anyways . Now all I have to do is read them…..

Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land That Never Was  – David Sinclair

Sliced Iguana –  Isabella Tree

Captain corelli’s mandolin –  Louis de Bernieres

The Yacoubian Building –  Alaa Al Aswany

The Corfu trilogy – Gerald Durrell

Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s Beard – Nicholas Jubber

Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler

A ghost in the Machine – Caroline Graham

Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

Amazon – Bruce Parry

Explorer Bruce Parry heads on an epic 6000km journey down the great River Amazon, giving an insight into the lives of people who live and work along its banks. With lots of photos and written in a diary entry format.

This is a good light read but is sadly nothing spectacular.  There is a lot of scope for depth and discussion of the plight of all the peoples living around the Amazon, from tribes who have their homes and livelihood affected by new hydro-electric dams to the farmers caught between law enforcement and drug barons.  These issues and others are glossed over to the point where one begins to wonder: exactly why write a book about these topics if they aren’t going to get much of a mention?

The main problem being the format for the book. Whereas Michael Palin(for example) excels in the diary format because he tends to have a short muse on the topical issues, Parry is aiming for so much more but fails due to the very nature of the book structure. What he attempts to cover in a short space is to the detriment of the warmth and humour of the aforementioned Mr Palin.

With Television being dumbed down the way has been in recent years, presumably the attitude has been adopted that the public wouldn’t get anything that is to insightful and complex, so what we get in reality are Bruce’s (very) short views on big Continue reading “Amazon – Bruce Parry”

Starting at the Beginning

Welcome to what, I hope, shall be an interesting trawl through the eclectic world of books that I have been accumulating for the past decade. Like my haphazard approach to buying books, there is no plan or solid reasoning whatsoever behind my choice of reviews. I shall just be posting whatever takes my fancy for whatever whimsical idea that may be.

I am hopefully going to be updating at least once a week, so fairly soon this page should add up to a vast ‘library’ of reviews. Everything from Nobel prize winners to modern cheesy titles. So probably something for everyone, unless all you read is train timetables, although maybe one day I may even review that as well.

There may also be news of a more general literary nature as and when things come to my attention and some of my old reviews for various sites, Amazon, Facebook etc, will be reworked as well.