Monthly Archives: February 2013

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new …

… and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached… Manuel II Palaiologos, one of the last Christian rulers before the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire

This book is ostensibly about Europe and Islam. The question that will become apparent to the discerning reader is, which Europe? There is Western Europe – Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales as well as a dozen postage stamp countries – that have been pulled progressively further west by their ties to a new hemisphere. Even the countries in this group that have Mediterranean borders have more of a colonial experience with Islam with the historical experience of captivity by Islam long gone from living memory.

There is Scandinavian Europe whose primary experience with Islam has only happened in the last 50 years and is negligible but not unimportant. There is Northern Europe comprised of Poland, Germany and the Baltic states who fit into largely the same category. There is Southeastern Europe that goes from the Alps to the Black Sea and includes the sites of the fiercest battles in the history of the confrontation between the two cultures and is the part of Europe where Islam has retained its greatest cultural toehold.

Finally there is European Russia – from the perspective of Europe what used to be called White Russia which extends no farther south or east than Tomsk [and that is probably an overly generous estimation by several time zones] – and while it may ape Europe in many regards the influences from the south [Islam] and the east [Asia] may be the culturally stronger. A further look at a map will reveal that Russia’s entire southern prospect is bordered by Islam from Turkey through the ‘Stans” and that it is far more dependent upon Islam than is Western, Scandinavian or Northern Europe and if Southeastern Europe [followed by Mediterranean Europe] is occupied by Islam it will have no choice short of accommodation.

And that is really what this book is about. How can European Russia survive Islam and the author recognizes that even the remnants of having been a superpower can not save the Muscovites who long for the Paris of the North rather than having to face Mecca. The solutions have more to do with relativism and appeasement – the same things the Soviets favored when they were to their advantage – and maybe turning a blind eye to the glacial movement of the Khan’s hordes as they sweep down on Europe in a new invasion. The Great Game enters a new chapter. Benedict warned us at Regensburg but still no one listens.

The great confrontation: Europe and Islam through the centuries Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003 Ilya V. Gaiduk Europe Relations Islamic countries Hardcover. xiii, 255 p.: maps; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 209-236) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

At first glance the history of relations between Europe and Islam seems to be filled only with armed conflict, victories, and defeats — a record that would confirm the idea of an implacable hostility between two civilizations that has endured for centuries and today manifests itself in the terrorist acts of radical Muslims and their organizations. But an attentive and objective study of this history reveals numerous features of peaceful coexistence, mutual influence, and cooperation.

The “fault lines” between the two cultures have been not only battlefields but also marketplaces and other meeting points that have fostered an exchange of goods, cultural values, and ideas. Ilya Gaiduk’s The Great Confrontation offers a comparative approach to the long and complex history of relations between Europe and Islam, from the early seventh century to the present day. The book differs from other works in its greater emphasis on Russia as part of European civilization and on Russian relations with Islam.

Mr. Gaiduk argues that twentieth-century developments have made “the great confrontation” a phenomenon of the past, that in today’s interrelated and interdependent world, lines of division run not between different civilizations but between civilization and the ills that threaten it —poverty, environmental pollution, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism.

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Whereas the Catalogue of miseries and afflictions, with which it has pleased the Supreme Being of the Universe to visit the inhabitants of the earth there are none more truly awful and destructive than Earthquakes … The inhabitants of the late District now County of New Madrid, in this Territory, have lately been visited with several calamities of this kind, which have deluged large portions of their country and involved in the greatest distress many families, whilst others have been entirely ruined … In the opinion of the said General Assembly provisions ought to be made by law for or cashiered to the said inhabitants relief, either out of the public fund or in some other way as may can meet to the cost demand availability of the General Government.

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That plea by William Clark – later of Lewis and Clark – is thought by many to be the first disaster relief appeal in United States history. On the one hand nothing of this sort had been experience since the first colonists arrived but on the other there was absolutely no precedent for such relief to be provided by the central government and in those last days of liberty the Linnean Society and the Shaker community took care of their own, the government did not encourage too close a look at the event for fear of scaring off settlers and the nation received an extra impetus to push farther west. There have been subsequent earthquakes in the area – none of the magnitude of the 1812 event – and the area has gone from prairie to densely populated. It is on a fault line – there are shifting plates in the area – the question is not if but when and if it happens in the lifetime of this nation you will be sure that dollars from the central government will flow even if they burn out the presses printing them.

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The big one: the  earthquake that rocked early America and  helped create a science Boston: Houghton  Mifflin, c 2004 Jake Page and Charles Officer Earthquakes New Madrid  Seismic Zone Hardcover. 1st. ed. and  printing. xii, 239 p.: ill.; 22 cm. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In the early 1800s a series of gargantuan earth tremors seized the American frontier. Tremendous roars and flashes of eerie light accompanied huge spouts of water and gas. Six-foot-high waterfalls appeared in the Mississippi River, thousands of trees exploded, and some 1,500 people – in what was then a sparsely populated wilderness – were killed. A region the size of Texas, centered in Missouri and Arkansas, was rent apart, and the tremors reached as far as Montreal. Forget the 1906 earthquake – this set of quakes constituted the Big One.

The United States would face certain catastrophe if such quakes occurred again. Could they? The answer lies in seismology, a science that is still coming to grips with the Big One.

Jake Page and Charles Officer rely on compelling historical accounts and the latest scientific findings to tell a fascinating, long-forgotten story in which the naturalist John James Audubon, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, scientists, and charlatans all play roles. Whether describing devastating earthquakes or a dire year in a young nation, The Big One offers astounding breadth and drama.

Comments Off on Whereas the Catalogue of miseries and afflictions, with which it has pleased the Supreme Being of the Universe to visit the inhabitants of the earth there are none more truly awful and destructive than Earthquakes … The inhabitants of the late District now County of New Madrid, in this Territory, have lately been visited with several calamities of this kind, which have deluged large portions of their country and involved in the greatest distress many families, whilst others have been entirely ruined … In the opinion of the said General Assembly provisions ought to be made by law for or cashiered to the said inhabitants relief, either out of the public fund or in some other way as may can meet to the cost demand availability of the General Government.

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I had believed that my leave would come without delay, but I see that for the moment it is impossible for me. There is no reason to despair — it will come later. What do you expect? When you’re under orders, you can’t do as you please; you’re supposed to obey. You can be proud of your son. Whenever necessary, he does and knows how to do his duty… Letter from a soldier

Poster showing a figure presenting a sack of large coins to a helmeted female figure bearing a sword.

Poster showing a figure presenting a sack of large coins to a helmeted female figure bearing a sword.

The population of the United States has changed so much due to immigration that, in a nation of some 315,000,000 people, the number of descended from Revolutionary War Veterans probably now numbers in the hundreds, from the Civil war in the thousands, from the First World War in the tens of thousands and from the Second World War in the millions. The cynic might imagine that this means that the first three wars listed are ceasing to be a marketable commodity but what it really means is that they have totally left living memory in the first two cases and are rapidly fading in the latter two cases. This may increase objectivity at a the grand level of geopolitics and military strategy but it desensitizes us to the human realities of the conflicts – the real lessons learned not to make us clever for the next time but wise for all time.

U.S. Army in France: Line of soldiers on muddy road

U.S. Army in France: Line of soldiers on muddy road

As the grandson of a World War One veteran and the son of a World War II veteran I know something of the immediacy of the lessons they tried to impart. As the great great grandson of a Civil War veteran I know that even staring at a hollow where 5,000 men were slaughtered in one bloody afternoon can not impart the knowledge that a living witness does. And it is not that all of the lessons are about the battlefield – these men were sons and brothers and some of them fathers before they ever went to war and wished to be those things again when they came home.

Getting the enemy out of the trenches with flame-throwers, Cantigny

Getting the enemy out of the trenches with flame-throwers, Cantigny

From what I know from my own experience Nelson has done a fine job. In both the 1920 and 1930 census the American War of 1917-18 was listed simply as the World War. The horror of the battlefield, the survivors who had been gassed and maimed and may have envied the dead could not, especially in the United States where the belief in progress and a better tomorrow was still strong, believe that another war could come on such a scale – not without annihilating mankind. Nelson has captured that and even though the last living World War I veteran did not pass away until 2011 from 1941 on they had all been wraiths trying to tell us something that escaped our hearing.

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The remains of Company D: a story of the Great War New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009 James Carl Nelson World War, 1914-1918 Regimental histories United States Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xi, 363 p., [16] p. of  plates: ill., map, plans; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting,  underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG   

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Haunted by an ancestor’s tale of near death on a distant battlefield, James Carl Nelson set out in pursuit of the scraps of memory of his grandfather’s small infantry unit. Years of travel across the world led to the retrieval of unpublished personal papers, obscure memoirs, and communications from numerous Doughboys as well as original interviews of the descendents of his grandfather’s comrades in arms. The result is a compelling tale of battle rooted in new primary sources, and one man’s search for his grandfather’s legacy in a horrifying maelstrom that is today poorly understood and nearly forgotten.

An orderly escorting a wounded, captured soldier to a field hospital for treatment.

An orderly escorting a wounded, captured soldier to a field hospital for treatment.

The Remains of Company D follows the members of Company D, 28th Infantry Regiment, United States First Division, from enlistment to combat to the effort to recover their remains, focusing on the three major battles at Cantigny, Soissons, and in the Meuse-Argonne and the effect these horrific battles had on the men. This is an important and powerful tale of the different destinies, personalities, and motivations of the men in Company D and a timeless portrayal of men at war.

Washington, D.C., Nov. 11. A contrast in emotion is this picture made while the President paid tribute today to America's Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. While Alex Stern, World War veteran who lost a leg in the battle of Meuse-Argonne, remembers, Mrs. Rosa M. Cawood, war mother, endeavors to snap a picture of the President.

Washington, D.C., Nov. 11. A contrast in emotion is this picture made while the President paid tribute today to America’s Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. While Alex Stern, World War veteran who lost a leg in the battle of Meuse-Argonne, remembers, Mrs. Rosa M. Cawood, war mother, endeavors to snap a picture of the President.

Comments Off on I had believed that my leave would come without delay, but I see that for the moment it is impossible for me. There is no reason to despair — it will come later. What do you expect? When you’re under orders, you can’t do as you please; you’re supposed to obey. You can be proud of your son. Whenever necessary, he does and knows how to do his duty… Letter from a soldier

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If I could find anything blacker than black, I’d use it… J. M. W. Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Joseph Mallord William Turner watercolour, circa 1790 3 3/4 in. x 2 3/4 in. (95 mm x 70 mm) oval Given by William Cosmo Monkhouse to UK National Portrait Gallery

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Joseph Mallord William Turner watercolour, circa 1790 3 3/4 in. x 2 3/4 in. (95 mm x 70 mm) oval Given by William Cosmo Monkhouse to UK National Portrait Gallery

It may be because he is among our favorite artists and that may be because so much of his art has to do with the sea that we so enjoyed this biography of Joseph Mallord William Turner. Working in an age when it seems that the logical progression was draftsman, illustrator and then artist his work is imbued with the easy quality of determining WHAT it was that he was painting and from appreciating the skill with which he did that the viewer is able to go on and appreciate the way in which he gave meaning to his subject.

There are people who proclaim that the only art is abstract art – more accurately non-representative unintelligible presentations –  which is somehow akin to saying that the only great literature is gibberish. While we  recognize that great artists from Michelangelo to Turner to today have art that approaches abstraction it is neither non-representative nor unintelligible. We  don’t accuse the modern abstract artist of being decadent – that requires a mens rea to introduce blasphemous content that most of them lack – they, and their modern cohorts, seem to have an almost autistic problem in communicating their subject which often seems like it was produced by someone afflicted by both ADHD and St. Vitus Dance.

The Passage of Mount St Gothard from the centre of Teufels Broch (Devil’s Bridge)1804 Watercolour, with scraping out, on paper 101 x 68cm

The Passage of Mount St Gothard from the centre of Teufels Broch (Devil’s Bridge)1804 Watercolour, with scraping out, on paper 101 x 68cm

Turn the pages of this book, go to any museum with a Turner on exhibit and treat yourself to a handful of coffee table books featuring his work and you will be the richer for the experience.

Turner New York: Random House, 2003 James Hamilton Painters England Biography, Turner, J. M. W. (Joseph Mallord William), 1775-1851 Hardcover. Originally published: London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997. 1st U.S. ed., later printing. xxv, 461 p.: ill. 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, under lining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

J.M.W. Turner was a painter whose treatment of light put him squarely in the pantheon of the world’s preeminent artists, but his character was a tangle of fascinating contradictions. While he could be coarse and rude, manipulative, ill-mannered, and inarticulate, he was also generous, questioning, and humane, and he displayed through his work a hitherto unrecognized optimism about the course of human progress. With two illegitimate daughters and several mistresses whom Turner made a career of not including in his public life, the painter was also known for his entrepreneurial cunning, demanding and receiving the highest prices for his work.

Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy morning 1810

Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy morning 1810

Over the course of sixty years, Turner traveled thousands of miles to seek out the landscapes of England and Europe. He was drawn overwhelmingly to coasts, to the electrifying rub of the land with the sea, and he regularly observed their union from the cliff, the beach, the pier, or from a small boat. Fueled by his prodigious talent, Turner revealed to himself and others the personality of the British and European landscapes and the moods of the surrounding seas. He kept no diary, but his many sketchbooks are intensely autobiographical, giving clues to his techniques, his itineraries, his income and expenditures, and his struggle to master the theories of perspective.

'The Wreck Buoy', Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1849 - The art critic John Ruskin, a great admirer of Turner, described this as ‘the last oil he painted before his noble hand forgot its cunning’. It is a re-working of an earlier picture and a summation of Turner’s concern with the sea. The artist’s  view of human endeavour and of hope is symbolised by the rainbow and the wreck buoy beneath it.

‘The Wreck Buoy’, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1849 – The art critic John Ruskin, a great admirer of Turner, described this as ‘the last oil he painted before his noble hand forgot its cunning’. It is a re-working of an earlier picture and a summation of Turner’s concern with the sea. The artist’s view of human endeavour and of hope is symbolised by the rainbow and the wreck buoy beneath it.

In Turner, James Hamilton takes advantage of new material discovered since the 1975 bicentennial celebration of the artist’s birth, paying particular attention to the diary of sketches with which Turner narrated his life. Hamilton’s textured portrait is fully complemented by a sixteen-page illustrations insert, including many color reproductions of Turner’s most famous landscape paintings. Seamlessly blending vibrant biography with astute art criticism, Hamilton writes with energy, style, and erudition to address the contradictions of this great artist.

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Charles West Cope oil on card, circa 1828 6 1/4 in. x 5 1/8 in. (159 mm x 130 mm)Given by the artist's son, Sir Arthur Stockdale to UK National Portrait Gallery

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Charles West Cope oil on card, circa 1828 6 1/4 in. x 5 1/8 in. (159 mm x 130 mm)Given by the artist’s son, Sir Arthur Stockdale to UK National Portrait Gallery

 

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I went out to Charing Cross to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition… Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls oil on canvas, 1666

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls oil on canvas, 1666

This book has a little bit of everything. It will serve to introduce most readers to Captain John Scott – an early settler on Long Island who lobbied to make Long Island the 14th English colony in North America, with himself as governor and, who traveled extensively in the Caribbean, authoring a History and Description of the River of Amazones and playing a key role in determining the boundary between Spanish Venezuela and British Guyana. Despite being much praised by American historians he is also the principal accuser in the plot leading to the charge of treason and subsequent imprisonment of Samuel Pepys in 1679.

One day in October 1678 Samuel Pepys made an enemy. He had never met the man, and the man did not know him. But these were strange times, and a sequence of events was now set in train that would almost cost Pepys his life: during the year that followed, he was in real danger of being convicted of high treason, for which the punishment was hanging, disembowelment and decapitation. What started it all was a hunt for a murderer. A London magistrate, Edmund Godfrey, had been found with a sword through his belly, and at a time of anti-Catholic hysteria it was widely believed that he had been assassinated by Jesuits, who feared that he was about to expose their ‘Popish Plot‘. Two days later a suspicious-looking man arrived in Gravesend, and talked his way on to a departing ship. Pepys, who was not only Admiralty Secretary but also a JP for Kent, got involved in the investigation, and tracked down the lodging-house in London which the man had so hastily left. There, to his astonishment, he found copies of secret documents, including an analysis of the strength of the English Navy which Pepys himself had written. While there was no evidence that the man – now identified as a certain Colonel John Scott – was a Jesuit, he was clearly up to no good; so a warrant for his arrest was issued, signed by Pepys. And when Scott learned of this, in France, he conceived an undying hatred for the person who had thus blocked his return to England.

In the end, Pepys did not get his day in court: the prosecution withered, and the accused were allowed to go free. Perhaps the prosecutors were rattled by Pepys’s investigations, which they knew were taking place. But in any case the political wind had shifted. The results of these enquiries were copied into two manuscript volumes, which survive among Pepys’s papers to this day. Much of the detail in James and Ben Long’s fascinating new book, The Plot against Pepys, is drawn directly from them. One of the virtues of this book is that the reader is always aware of the larger political background. For Scott’s vendetta on its own would never have generated this story; he was merely the eager tool of a whole set of politicians, each of whom seems to have been lining up to put the knife into Samuel Pepys. But this is not just a book for Pepys buffs. It is a work to be enjoyed both as a powerful detective story, and as a fascinating entrée into the paranoid-populist world of politics in late 17th-century England.

To be a rascal is bad; to be a great rascal is doubtless worse; but to be embalmed in biographical dictionaries for pure rascality unadorned with the gilding of politics, of high finance, of romance, a rascality not even made respectable by success of all failures in the conflict between man and oblivion this is perhaps the worst. To match one's wit against the world; to gain place and competence; to share in affairs which might almost be reckoned great; and, on the very threshold of achievement which would have drowned the one memory of misdeeds and perpetuate one's name as soldier, savant, adventurer, empire-builder or what not, to find the way barred by duller and more honest men, or by more accomplished scoundrels this is a hard case. And it is not lightened by the sight of luckier or more eminent associates going on to wealth and power and a certain measure of immortality while one is himself thrust back into the old nothingness again. Is not this the crowning tragedy of rascality? Such is the tragedy of John Scott, sometime colonist and soldier, sometime royal geographer and the agent if not the confidant of the great; always adventurer, and, save for circumstances beyond his wit and skill, and, we may add, perhaps beyond his character, lord of Long Island, and the founder of a fourteenth original colony in North America; now but the shadow of a shade of a dead rascal, whose life serves to while away an hour or two, perhaps at best to point a moral and adorn a tale.

To be a rascal is bad; to be a great rascal is doubtless worse; but to be embalmed in biographical dictionaries for pure rascality unadorned with the gilding of politics, of high finance, of romance, a rascality not even made respectable by success of all failures in the conflict between man and oblivion this is perhaps the worst. To match one’s wit against the world; to gain place and competence; to share in affairs which might almost be reckoned great; and, on the very threshold of achievement which would have drowned the one memory of misdeeds and perpetuate one’s name as soldier, savant, adventurer, empire-builder or what not, to find the way barred by duller and more honest men, or by more accomplished scoundrels this is a hard case. And it is not lightened by the sight of luckier or more eminent associates going on to wealth and power and a certain measure of immortality while one is himself thrust back into the old nothingness again. Is not this the crowning tragedy of rascality? Such is the tragedy of John Scott, sometime colonist and soldier, sometime royal geographer and the agent if not the confidant of the great; always adventurer, and, save for circumstances beyond his wit and skill, and, we may add, perhaps beyond his character, lord of Long Island, and the founder of a fourteenth original colony in North America; now but the shadow of a shade of a dead rascal, whose life serves to while away an hour or two, perhaps at best to point a moral and adorn a tale.

The plot against Pepys New York, Overlook Press, 2008 James Long and Ben Long False imprisonment England London History 17th century, Pepys, Samuel, 1633-1703 Trials, litigation, etc. Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xiv, 322 p., [8] p. of plates: col. ill.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 309-314) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

It is 1679 and England is awash with suspicion. Fear of conspiracy and religious terrorism has provoked panic in politicians and a zealous reaction from the legal system. Everywhere, Catholic agents are plotting to overthrow the King or so it is feared.

Now Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Admiralty, finds himself in a position few people then or now would have expected charged with treason and facing a show trial and execution. Imprisoned in the Tower of London and abandoned by the embattled King he loyally served, Pepys sets to work with customary brilliance investigating his mysterious accuser, Colonel John Scott, and uncovers a life riddled with ambition, forgery, treason and, ultimately, murder.

One part history, one part bone-rattling suspense, James Long and Ben Long brilliantly evoke a turbulent period in England s history and tell the forgotten story of the two most dangerous years in the life of the legendary diarist.

Samuel Pepys by John Closterman oil on canvas, 1690sOn display in the Smoking Room at Beningbrough Hall

Samuel Pepys by John Closterman oil on canvas, 1690s
On display in the Smoking Room at Beningbrough Hall

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