January 18, 2006

Book 2: When the King Took Flight

When the King Took Flight
Timothy Tackett

I read this for my European history class. I was actually impressed. This book, detailing the flight of King Louis XVI from Paris in 1791, flowed like a novel and came close to breaking my theory that every book about history is written horribly. It had its moments, sure, but all in all it was actually a good read with very few blatant grammatical errors or plainly stupid writing. The events themselves were new to me. In a nutshell, Louis tried to flee the palace at Paris to go to Austro-Hungarian territory in Belgium to meet up with his [relation of some sort] and fight for the restoration of the monarchy with those forces. Unfortunately, he was stopped in a small town just this side of the border. His escape ended up swinging popular sentiment against him and he was tried and executed.

The idea, I think, is that the French Revolution would have kept the monarchy and that the Reign of Terror could have been prevented had Louis not tried to exercise this kind of executive privilege. His flight forced the French people to question his loyalty to the new Republic, which was apparently non-existant. They ended up executing him. The book's organization is somewhat confusing, beginning with his capture and proceeding to give the history of the town and therein a brief history of the Revolution itself. Unfortunately, instead of ending the book with the capture, which would have made narrative sense, the book swings through it somewhere in the middle and continues to Louis's execution. I could have asked for better structure, but the book was an interesting insight into events I haven't really considered before.

Grade: A-

January 15, 2006

Book 1: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
Nicholas Ostler

I started reading this book over Christmas Break, and insofar as I can remember, it remains my greatest accomplishment of the period. I thought that, in general, the book was very interesting, although it got a little too academic for me in some spots. It was hard to find Ostler's general thesis seeing as the book is more of a sporadic study of the rise and fall of different languages (and, consequently, their empires) than a comprehensive narrative. All in all, I was entertained by this book and I learned a lot about some obscure history (particularly that of the ancient Middle East) even though the author's use of linguistic terms clouded my understanding a bit. I was disappointed as the book was not what I expected, but it was a good read nonetheless.

Grade: B-