1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

1913 The Year Before the Storm

Rating: 1 Star ★☆☆☆☆

This is the month when Hitler and Stalin meet while strolling in the Castle Park at Schönbrunn, Thomas Mann nearly gets outed and Franz Kafka nearly goes mad with love.

About

The stuffy conventions of the nineteenth century are receding into the past, and 1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin – the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

Told with Illies’s characteristic mixture of poignant evocation and laconic irony, 1913 is the story of the year that shaped the last century.

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Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodríguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly Real Stories from History without the Fairytale endings

Rating: 5 Stars ★★★★★

Princess Alfhild had a choice to make.

About

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets.

Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more.

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The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

The Wicked Boy Kate Summerscale

Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

In June 1930 an eleven-year-old boy walked four miles along a dirt track in New South Wales, south-eastern Australia, to report a crime.

About

Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother Nattie set out from their small, yellow-brick terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord’s. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents’ valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building.

When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the ‘penny dreadful’ novels that Robert loved to read.

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The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave

The Soong Dynasty Seagrave

Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

Shanghai no longer smells like the Mysterious East.

About

Descendants of a Chinese runaway who grew up in America under the protection of the Methodist church and who returned to his homeland to make a fortune selling Western bibles, the Soong family became the principal rulers of China during the first half of the 20th century and won the support of the American government and press for many decades.

Sterling Seagrave describes for the first time the intricate and fascinating rise to power of Charlie Soong and his children: daughters Ai-ling, who married one of China’s richest men, H.H. Kung; Ching-ling, who married Sun Yat-sen, leader of China’s republican revolution; May-ling, who married Chiang Kai-shek, the autocratic ruler of Nationalist China whose ties to the Shanghai underworld the author has documented; and son T.V. Soong, who at various times served as Chiang’s economic minister, foreign minister and premier. How all of the Soongs except Ching-ling amassed enormous wealth while millions of Chinese starved or were killed in the long fight against Japan and the equally bitter struggle with Mao are just some of the revelations in this explosive book.

 

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Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

empress-dowager-cixi

Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

In spring 1852, in one of the periodic nationwide selections for imperial consorts, a sixteen-year-old girl caught the eye of the emperor and was chosen as a concubine.


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Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age.

In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.

Cixi reigned during extraordinary times and had to deal with a host of major national crises: the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, wars with France and Japan—and an invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States.

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Civil War by Peter Ackroyd

Civil War History of Englad Volume 3


Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

Sir Robert Carey rode furiously from London to Edinburgh along the Great North Road, spending one night in Yorkshire and another in Northumberland; he arrived at Holyrood Palace, ‘be-bloodied with great falls and bruises’ after a journey of more than 330 miles.



About

Peter Ackroyd continues his History of England with the dynasty of the Stuarts. From the gunpowder plot to the revolution and battles of the Civil War just until the landing of William the Conqueror in England in what would later be called the Glorious Revolution.

It is a history of a fascinating time and a troubled monarchy, caught between their wish for absolute power and parliamentary restrictions.


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Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd

The Tudors

Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

The land was flowing with milk and honey.



About

The Tudors is the second volume in Peter Ackroyd’s History of England after Foundation. It follows the Tudor dynasty from Henry VIII to Elizabeth II and chronicles the events that led to the establishment of the Anglican Church. From its beginnings as Henry VIII’s power-play, through the short reign of Edward VI and the reinstitution of the Catholic faith under Mary I all the way to the reign of Elizabeth I, under whom England became firmly Anglican.

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