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Book Reviews: The Death Of Caesar, Secrets Of The Tower, & Six Men

Hello everyone,

what have you read recently? Here are my picks:

The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination by Barry Strauss
August 45 BC. Julius Caesar is heading towards Rome in triumph, to declare the end of the Civil War. Three men are riding with him: Decimus, Mark Antony and Octavian. Seven months later, one of these men will betray him. But wait, wasn’t the betrayer Brutus? While he (and Cassius) certainly played a key role in the assassination, his betrayal wasn’t as deep and shocking as Decimus’, a man who had always served Caesar faithfully, had been amply rewarded by him, and had become a close friend. When Caesar had refused to go to the Senate on that fateful day, it was Decimus who convinced him to change his mind and led him to the slaughter by the hand.
To allows us to understand why he, and so many others, betrayed Caesar, Strauss begins his story several months before the Ides of March. He illustrates the complex political situation of the time, the jostling for power, the thwarted ambitions of politicians, and the fear that Caesar would soon proclaim itself king, thus dealing the last blow to the tenuous Roman Republic. The second part of the book deals with the assassination itself. The plotting, the assassins, and the events of that fateful day. But the story doesn’t end with his assassination. Caesar’s assassins, supporters, and relatives all fight for power and revenge afterwards. But there can be only one winner.
The book is well-documented and relies mostly on primary sources. We’re lucky that, thanks to Cicero, this is one of the most documented times in Roman history. But, even so, the sources are few, often conflicting, and lack important details. Strauss has done a wonderful job with the limited material at his disposal, piecing together the pieces of the puzzle that have survived to tell an engaging and thrilling story. I highly recommend it to all those interested in Julius Caesar and his death.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix
The Leaning Tower Of Pisa is one of the most beautiful, iconic, and famous buildings ever created. But who designed? Michael Campbell was working on the answer for his documentary on the Tower when he had a stroke. His wife, Sam, flies to Pisa to be by his side. But her mind, and heart, are in turmoil. Just a few days before, Sam had discovered Michael had cheated on her. Confused, bored, and hurt, Sam decides to pick up his research, and discovers the woman behind the creation of the Tower…
1171. Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, has two passions. Gerardo, the young master mason her young maid Aurelia is in love with. And architecture. As she embarks on her love affair, she is also determined to see the Tower built at all costs.
Based on a true story (Rix’s husband really had a stroke while making a documentary about the Tower in the 1990s), Secrets Of The Tower is a story of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and love. The love of a woman for a younger man. The love of a young girl for a man who can’t be hers yet. The divided love of a man for two women. But, mostly, the love of a woman for her beautiful city.
Pisa, both ancient and modern, is a character in and of itself. Its inhabitants and customs, its architecture and landscape, its sights and sounds, are vividly evoked and brought back to life. You feel like you’re there, next to the characters, as they go about their daily lives. The other, human, characters are equalling compelling. Particularly the women. They are strong and determined to leave their mark on the world, despite the limitations society and their menfolk impose upon them.
Although slow at the beginning, the story quickly picks up speed and hooks you in. My only gripe is that some of the Italian expressions used aren’t 100% correct, even when uttered by Italian characters. Italians nouns and adjectives can be made masculine or feminine, singular or plural, by changing the last letter. This wasn’t always done here. Sometimes the masculine form was used in place of the feminine form and vice versa. But I only received an advanced review copy, so these errors may have been fixed in the final copy. In any case, only Italian speakers would notice them.
Despite its shortcomings, Secrets Of The Tower is an enchanting, engaging tale that I recommend to anyone interested in Italian history and architecture, or just a good novel.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Six Men by Alistair Cooke
Over the course of his 60 year career, broadcaster and reporter Alistair Cook met many, sometimes even became friends with, famous and influential men of the 20 century. Six of them he profiled in a book. They are an odd, but intriguing, bunch. Charlie Chaplin, the greatest movie star of all time; Edward VIII, whose love affair threatened the survival of the British monarchy; Humphrey Bogart, the first anti-hero on-screen and a sensitive gentleman at home; H. L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers of the first half of the 20th century; Adlai Stevenson, a “failed saint” who ran for President twice, and was, both times, defeated; and Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and political activist who managed to insult pretty much everyone (and could read a whodunnit in 15 minutes!).
Cooke didn’t write their biographies. He wrote sketches, glimpses of their lives. Although he offers the background information needed to understand the world in which these men operated (finally I got why the constitutional crisis brought on by Edward VIII’s love affair was such a big deal), Cooke shares with us his own personal experiences, those parts of the men’s lives that he witnessed first hand. But his personal feelings for these men didn’t skew his judgement. At least not much. Cooke skilfully captured their remarkable, but flawed, essence. By the end of each chapter, these giants are shown for what they always were: human beings.
Cooke’s prose is as beautiful as it is intelligent. His style is now considered old-fashioned, but still feels fresh. In an age when many journalists are more interested in controversy than evidence, and pen shallow exposés in a too colloquial style, Cooke’s engaging, insightful, and fair work makes you long for a time long gone. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books? Will you pick one (or two, or three) up?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Reviews: The Rise Of Thomas Cromwell & Billie Holiday The Musician And The Myth

Hello everyone,

here are today’s reviews. Enjoy:

The Rise of Thomas Cromwell: Power and Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII, 1485-1534 by Michael Everett
Thomas Cromwell is often portrayed, both by historians, novelists, and film makers, as a Machiavellian politician and revolutionary evangelical who rose to power by masterminding Henry VIII’s split with Rome. While it makes for an intriguing story, Everett thinks we’ve been exaggerating his importance, and his influence on Henry VIII. By combing through historical documents and primary sources, he retraces Cromwell’s early career, from his humble beginnings to his rise at court. The figure that emerges from these pages is that of a very skilled, highly efficient, and hard-working administrator to whom Henry VIII could delegate all kinds of matters, knowing they would be taken care of. It was the King who made all the important decisions. Cromwell only executed them.
Because the book deals with Cromwell’s early career, as a lawyer and merchant first, and later as a servant of the King who was responsible for various Crown lands (it was this work, Everett argues, that brought him to the attention of Henry VIII), it is sometimes dry in places. Some topics, like law, just aren’t that engaging, unless you have a passion for them. But that doesn’t mean the book is boring. On the contrary, it is full of fascinating insights into Cromwell’s work and personality that give us a better understanding of who this man really was and how he managed to rise so quickly at court. It’s a must read for anyone interested in Cromwell and the Tudors.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth by John Szwed
Never title was more apt. When I picked up this book, I expected to read a regular biography of Billie Holiday. A chronological account of her life and work, starting from her birth, to her rise to fame, her turbulent love life, and her death. Instead, what I got was a study of Billie as a musician and an investigation into the myths that still surround her. The first part of the book is dedicated to debunking all the lies and misconceptions about Billie, including those she herself told in her autobiography. Szwed skilfully separates fact from fiction to reveal what really happened, both in her personal and professional life.
The second part of the book focuses on Billie, The Musician. Szwed brings back to life the musical world Billie inhabited and its protagonists. Her voice, her creative process, her performance style, the songs she wrote and sang, and the impact she had on the music world are all analysed to explain what made her so incredibly talented and loved, even decades after her death.
Well-written and engaging, the book is a fascinating study of Billie’s life and work, providing lots of interesting insight into a bygone era and one of its main protagonists. You can tell how much Szwed loves his subject. His passion exudes from every page. Unfortunately, the book also confused me. Billie Holiday: The Musician And The Myth is only for die-hard fans (or detractors) of Billie. Because the book doesn’t follow a chronological order and is more a debate on Billie and her art, only they have the necessary background information to fully appreciate it. If you, like me, simply wanted to know more about her life, this book isn’t for you. It did, however, made me curious to discover more about Billie Holiday and listen to more of her songs.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Are you going to pick up these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Reviews: Helen Of Sparta, Talent For Humanity, & Creative Schools

Hello everyone,

today I want to share some of the best, most inspiring books I have read this month. Enjoy!

Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
Helen of Sparta, the face who launched a thousand ships, was the most beautiful woman in the world. But also one of the most dull. In Greek mythology, she is portrayed as a pawn of the gods, Paris, Menelaus, or her family, without a clear will of her own. In these legends, she is a sorrowful figure. In a few, she’s a treacherous woman enjoying the carnage the War of Troy has unleashed.
The Helen Amalia Carosella has created isn’t evil. And she’s certainly no pawn. She’s a fiery, compassionate, stubborn, and determined to decide her own fate. Even if it means defying the gods.
Long before Paris took her to Troy, Helen was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. She realised the only way to prevent this terrible war was to refuse to marry Menelaus. But both her betrothed and her family had other ideas. They refused to listen to her pleas, leaving her no option but to look for help elsewhere. She turned to Theseus, King of Athens and son of Poseidon. In the dead of night, he helped her escape, and slowly, the two started to build a life together. But, with danger and threats on any side, can Helen really escape her destiny so easily?
I’m glad that Carosello decided to concentrate on her elopement with Theseus rather than her adduction by Paris. Not only it brings back to life one of the lesser known myths about Helen and Theseus, but these events, and they way they shape this beautiful woman, help us better understand the choices she will make in her future. It’s also refreshing to see the story told though Helen’s own eyes, rather than by the men in her life.
Carosella knows her mythology. You don’t need to know anything about ancient Greece, its gods and heroes, to appreciate the story. Carosella provides all the background information you need, weaving it seamlessly into the pages. It helps bring Helen’s world, with its customs and traditions, forces and beliefs, vividly back to life.
Some reviewers have complained about the end. It’s so abrupt that at first I wondered whether this was the first book in a series. This doesn’t seem to be the case yet, although I sure hope it wilò be. But that’s because I loved this book, and this Helen, so much, not because the end left me unsatisfied. It may not wrap up every little thread, leaving the door open for a sequel indeed. But it wraps up this particularly story sufficiently well to make the book stand on its own.
If you are interested in Greek mythology, Helen of Sparta, or just a fast-paced, engaging and enthralling story full of drama and intrigue with a dollop of romance, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy. You won’t regret it.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Talent for Humanity: Stories of Creativity, Compassion and Courage to Inspire You on Your Journey by Patrick Gaffney
We are all born with the power to imagine what does not yet exist. What if we used that power to create the world we all dream of living in–for ourselves and others?
Patrick Gaffney has collected the stories of seven amazing people who have done just that. Reva is a photojournalist who has travelled to dangerous localities to document the atrocities going on there. Sherry and Bob Jason started an arts programme to help disadvantages children living in poor and crime-rife areas discover their own potential and become caring and active citizens. Aliza Hava a singer and songwriter who organizes concerts for peace. Deeyah, a pop singer turned activist who has dedicated her life to draw attention to the plague of honour killings. Yarrow Kraner is a “gardener of genius” who connects talented young people with mentors to help them accomplish their potential and dreams. Finally Daniele Finzi Pasca, the stage director responsible for the opening ceremony of the Paralympics in Sochi in 2014, creates shows that portray the human condition in all its joy, pathos, and paradox, evoking compassion in the audience.
Although it may seem that all these people were born special, different, and destined for greatness, they weren’t. They are all ordinary people, living ordinary lives who, at some point, decided they just couldn’t stand by and watch other suffers anymore. So, they started to use their talents to help them. At first they didn’t know what they were doing. Their initiatives were slow and disorganized. It took them all a lot of trial, errors, and hard work to finally figure out how best to accomplish their missions. You can do the same. Too often we stand by simply because we don’t know how to help. We’re convinced we’re insignificant and talentless and unable to make a difference. But we aren’t. Every good action, however small, can help improve someone else’s life, and the world, for the better.
Let the stories of these amazing men and women inspire you to embark on a journey of self-transformation, to discover your talents, and how you can use them to help out in your community and support the causes that are close to your heart. If you want to help others but just don’t know how, pick up a copy. Actually, pick one up anyway. It’s a truly empowering and inspiring read that I highly recommend to anyone.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Ken Robinson, Lou Aronica
I’ve always been obsessed with education. Education is key to the development and empowerment of caring and informed citizens, civic involvement, elimination of poverty, a bright economic future, a successful democracy, and long-term crime prevention. It’s the key to the world’s prosperity and future. But, too often, schools are failing our children. Why?
Robinson, author of the most watched TED Talk of all times, points out the problems of the current school system (the book focuses mostly on the US and UK, but a lot of it is relevant to any country), why they originated, and how to fix them.
Our modern school system developed in the industrial era to satisfy the needs of that society for clerks and professionals. That’s why academic subjects were preferred. Today, we are in the information age. Employers don’t just care about what you know anymore. They now need creative people who can come up with new solutions to fix new and old problems. But creativity is often stifled in schools. That’s partly due to how difficult it is to assess. We have become obsessed with standardised tests, but these rarely measure the things that really matter. They can tell us how many facts a student knows, not the quality of the education he has received, his level of competency in a subject, or his strengths and weaknesses, such as creativity, resilience, and cognitive abilities. Standardized tests don’t work. But neither does a standardised education. We seem to think that, if we keep raising the standards and push students harder, they’ll succeed. But that’s not working. That’s because students aren’t machines. They are people. Different people learn in different ways, have different passions and interests, different familiar and economic situations, different aptitudes and goals. To allow them to learn and succeed, schools must take all these differences into considerations and provide as personalized an education as possible. Impossible? Nope. Many schools, as the book highlights, have already taken this approach with outstanding results.
But it’s not enough. Every student deserves the best, most personalized, education possible. For that to happen, we need reforms at state levels. We need politicians to understand what our students really need so they can reform school accordingly. In the last chapter, Robinson explains why these reforms are so difficult to make and how all of us (parents, teachers, and citizens) can help bring them about.
Insightful, informative, and engaging, Creative Schools is a must read for everyone who wants to change the school system for the better and give our children a real education to become caring, conscious, and independent adults. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Will you pick up any of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, And The Table

There’s a lot more to food than taste, smell and appearance. Its origin, cultivation, consumption, and symbolism, can tells us a lot about the people who eat it, their status in society, and the culture they live in. That’s what Medieval Tastes: Food Cooking, And The Table is about.

So, if you’re simply interested in a few Medieval food recipes, be warned: you won’t find any here. But if you want to know what food people in the Middle Ages, particularly in Italy, ate and why, and how modern cooking was born, go right ahead. This book is a treasure trove of information on all things culinary in this intriguing era.

Back then, cuisine was heavy influenced by Roman tradition, but the Near Eastern spice routes brought new flavours to the tables. The result were dishes that delighted (or shocked?) the palate with their mix of contrasting flavours. For instance, did you know that pasta was prepared with both cinnamon and sugar?

The Medieval diet was more varied than we assume, but what you ate heavily depended on your place in the social order. While at the beginning of the Middle Ages, meat was present on everyone’s tables, towards its end, it became rarer and rarer in a peasant’s kitchen. Some types of meat disappeared completely from their tables, being reserved only for the rich. Onions, due to their unpleasant smell, was instead fit only for the poor. Butter, on the other hand, had a different fate. Initially considered by the Romans as food suitable only for savage and primitive people, its popularity spread, becoming the basis for many delicious dishes.

The debate on whether butter, olive oil, or lard was better for cooking also depended on social class and location. Flour-based preparations, such as polenta and pasta, were refined during this era too. Pasta played an important role in the adoption of the fork. It was a difficult dish to eat with your hands, which is why the Italians were among the first to use it.

These are just some of the fascinating culinary tidbits you’ll find in this book. But it’s a read to taste slowly, one small bite at a time. That’s because the writing style is far from engaging. Very academic, Montanari uses a flowery and unnecessary style that doesn’t make the book flow easily at all. Reading it is a struggle, but one that’s worth it if you’re interested in Medieval gastronomy.

Summary:
Although written in a flowery, academic style that’s sometimes hard to follow, Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, And The Table provides a fascinating insight into every aspect of Medieval food cultivation, preparation, symbolism, and social and cultural significance.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 3.5/5

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Congress Of Vienna And Its Legacy: War And Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon By Mark Jarrett

The French Revolution changed the history of Europe irrevocably. It challenged the social order of the ancient regime and the legitimacy of kings and all hereditary ranks, unleashed nationalism and the concept of self-determination, and allowed the rise of Napoleon. The Corsican general went on to become Emperor of the French and conquer most of Europe, before being twice defeated by the combined forces of the European rulers, who put their differences aside to fight a common threat.

Once Napoleon has been exiled for good, it was time for the great powers – represented by Castlereagh (Great Britain), Metternich (Austria), Talleyrand (France), Hardenberg (Prussia) and Emperor Alexander (Russia) – to reconstruct Europe. Their objective was to resize the main powers so they could balance each other off and guarantee peace. They also wanted to destroy the forces of revolution that had caused havoc on Europe and were threatening to overthrown more rulers.

The Congress of Vienna, therefore, was more than a simple reunion to divide territories among the great powers. It was the beginning of the “Congress system”, which would see the main players of the Congress of Vienna routinely reunite and collaborate to fight the threat of revolution. Although the experiment ended with the death of the last of its founders, it marked the beginning of modern diplomacy and promoted the idea of international co-operation to avoid future wars. Some consider it the ancestor of the League of Nations and the United Nations.

In his book, The Congress Of Vienna And Its Legacy: War And Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon, Jarrett highlights the importance the Congress of Vienna had on the future of Europe. He starts from the beginning, the French revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon, to explain the events that brought about the Congress. Then, it describes the decisions the great powers took there, and the many crises they had to deal with in the following years. The last chapters deal with the legacy of the Congress. Was it, all things considered, a success or a failure?

I admit, when I picked up this book, I thought the topic would be quite boring. But it wasn’t. Jarrett’s account is very detailed and extensively noted. The sheer amount of facts and players mentioned should make your head spin, but, somehow, Jarrett managed to create an engaging narrative that’s easy to follow. And if you still struggle, you can always consult the chronology and the short biographies of the protagonists at the end of the book. If you’re interested in knowing more about the Congress of Europe, and how it is still affecting the world today, I highly recommend you give it a read.

Summary:
The Congress Of Vienna And Its Legacy: War And Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon By Mark Jarrett minutely and exhaustively describes the events that have summoned the Congress, the decisions taken there, and how they have affected the world ever since. Informative and insightful, the book is written in an engaging style that won’t bore you.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Reviews: Headlines Headaches and the Human Condition, Talk RX, & What You Can When You Can

Hello everyone,

ready for today’s book reviews? Let’s get started:

Headlines, Headaches and the Human Condition by Steve Whiddett
This book sounded very promising. In the blurb, the author argues that, although the media would have us believe that only bad people do bad things and only stupid people do stupid things, we all do bad and stupid things sometimes, often as a result of both internal and external factors that influence, often without us even realising it, our behaviour. They are not done out of malice or ignorance, but due to the use of normal processes to deal with different situations that have helped us survive for thousands of years but don’t work anymore in our modern society. If we understand them, we could prevent a lot of headaches and headlines.
To make his point, Whiddet explores what caused both some of the main events widely reported by the papers, like the banking crisis, and some of his everyday headaches, problems that he caused for himself. Problem is, he only skims the surface. None of the concepts he outlines in the book are discussed in depth, and therefore only give us the most basic understanding of these topics. And that often amounts to good old common sense.
Yet, despite their shortness, the chapters are hard to follow. The blurb says the book is written “using everyday language”, but I don’t know anyone who speaks in such an academic, convoluted way. Maybe in academic circles, but not everywhere else. As a result, his message often gets lost, forcing the reader to read the same passage two or three times to grasp what he is trying to say.
And that’s a shame. The information in this book is both useful and insightful. It just needs to be better presented. Each chapter should be fully developed in an engaging, almost colloquial style that would both entertain and educate. Should this book get a second edition where its flaws are corrected, I would highly recommend it. As it is, it falls short on too many levels.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3/5

Talk Rx: Five Steps to Honest Conversations That Create Connection, Health, and Happiness by Neha Sangwan M.D.
Did you know that poor, dishonest conversations can negatively affect your physical health? Dr Neha Sangwan noticed this while working at a hospital. Although she had been trained to treat only the physical symptoms, she realised that most of the diseases and illnesses her patients were suffering from were either caused or made much worse by stress. So, she became curious, and startied asking her patients what else was wrong in their lives. “The same issues resurfaced: Unresolved conflict. Unmet expectations. Misunderstandings. Broken promises. Unspoken truth. Heartbreak. Fractured relationships. Separation and Loss. Confusion. Depression. Unhappiness. Somewhere along the way, their communication with lovers, with friends, with co-workers, with family, with themselves—had broken down, and they were unable to bridge the gap. And it had almost killed them.” Once they realised the connection between their physical and emotional well-being, and took steps to fix the relationships with their loved ones that had deteriorated, their health improved. Even when their illness was a fatal one, this new insight gave them the motivation and the tools to vastly improve the quality of their lives during their last months.
Although communication seems simple (aren’t we all doing it every day?), it is rarely honest. We refuse to have conversations that are difficult or unpleasant, lie or simply don’t tell the whole truth for fear that others won’t like us anymore if we were completely honest, and often misunderstand what other people are saying (did you ever think you had come to an agreement with someone only for her to tell you she hadn’t committed after all?). This book provides all the tools on how to have and navigate those conversations. Dr Sangwan helps you listen to your body’s signals to better manage stress, articulate your frustrations and desires effectively, understand and handle your emotions, and much more. Her book is full of powerful insights and tips that can help improve your communication with other people and, as a result, help you live a better life. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

What You Can When You Can: Healthy Living on Your Terms by Roni Noone and Carla Birnberg
We all know we should exercise more, eat healthily, and just take better care of ourselves. But doing that is another matter entirely. Good intentions aren’t enough to change the bad habits that prevent us from being as healthy as we can be and achieve our goals and dreams. So what should we do? What we can, when we can.
Perfectionism, trying to achieve everything well straight away, doesn’t work. It just makes you feel bad about ourself and give up. Instead, you should acknowledge that you are human. That there can be a thousand reasons why we made that misstep, and that you should be compassionate toward yourself. And then look for opportunities to do something that brings you closer to your goals. Didn’t have time to go to the gym this afternoon? No worries. Take a walk after dinner. Indulged too much at dinner? Have something healthy for breakfast the next day. Don’t give up on your good intentions just because you have made a misstep. Do what you can, when you can, at your time, in the situation you are in. That’s the #wycwyc (pronounced wickwick) philosophy. And it applies to anything, not just eating and exercising.
This book helps you shift your mindset from one of perfectionism to one of realistic expectations and compassion, and offers lots of practical tips on how you can live the #wycwyc life, one little step at a time. Its message is simple, but very powerful. And conveyed in a compassionate, friendly tone that makes you feel like you’re just talking to friends. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Shelley. Yet, even from beyond the grave, she played a big part in her daughter’s upbringing and had a big influence on her beliefs and decisions. Both women made similar choices, suffered similar tragedies, and were sustained throughout all their hardships by their dreams of improving women’s conditions through their writings.

Both Marys were intelligent, talented women that struggled to achieve independence in a world where women were considered the properties of their fathers and husbands, meant to serve and obey, not to lead and work. They both became famous writers, penning books and essays that highlighted their political convictions and the evils of society. They fell in love with men who broke their hearts. They had children out of wedlock. They both lived abroad, Wallstonecraft in Paris during the Revolution and Shelley in Italy with her husband Percy, the infamous Lord Byron and their circle of scandalous friends.

They broke every social convention of their time. “Not only did they write world-changing books,” Gordon writes, “they broke from the strictures that governed women’s conduct, not once but time and again. Their refusal to bow down, to be quiet and subservient, to apologize and hide, makes their lives as memorable as the words they left behind”. Their refusal to bow down to the dictates of society and their determination to remain true to themselves and their beliefs, no matter what, made them what Wollstonecraft termed “outlaws”.

In Gordon’s hands, both women, with all their strengths and flaws, talents and dreams, vividly come back to life again. So does the world they inhabited, with all its strict rules and social conventions, and the ostracism it inflicted on those who dared break them. Put into context, their achievements in overcoming the many hardships, prejudices, and insults they faced, are even more astonishing and remarkable.

Their stories are told in alternating chapters. Gordon dedicates one chapter to each woman at a similar period in her life, so we are always going back and forth between them. I thought this would be confusing, but it wasn’t at all. Each chapter is named after the Mary it is dedicated to, the years it covers, and the most important events that occurred in that period. Besides, despite their many similarities, their lives were different enough to allow readers to always easily distinguish between the two Marys.

Well-researched and beautifully written, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley hardly reads like a biography at all. It is a very enthralling read, sometimes utilizing fictional devices such as cliffhangers to keep readers interested and engrossed. You just won’t be able to put it down.

Summary:
Well-researched and beautifully written, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley tells the story of two remarkable women who have defied conventions to remain true to themselves and used their talents to improve the conditions of women in society. Enthralling and engrossing, you won’t be able to put it down.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 5/5

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Real Lives Of Roman Britain By Guy De La Bedoyere

The Britain of the Roman Occupation is little known to us. Archaeology has turned up the remnants of cities and villages, with their monuments and temples, tools and vases, and all the small bits and bobs that their inhabitants daily used. But, when skilfully and arduously put together, they provide only fragmented insights into a long gone era and reveal only the smallest glimpses, the briefest moments, into the lives of individuals.

It’s these glimpses that Guy De La Bedoyere has painstakingly researched in every document, artefact, and traces left by the inhabitants of Roman Britain. He’s not interested in the kings and queens (they take a backseat here), but in the soldiers, workers, slaves, fathers, wives, daughters, children, lovers, and all the common people who lived at the time. Its’ their personal stories, or better, the tiny fragments of them that have survived to our time, that make history (and this book) come alive.

Most of these people were Roman immigrants (natives never seemed to be able to climb up the social ladder, although some may have, and we simply have no record of them). They did business, looked for spiritual comfort in an uncertain and cruel world, grieved for their lost children, fought battles, hid their possessions underground, married their slaves, and scrambled for power.

Because we have so little information about each individual, De La Bedoyere tends to jump from one to another really quickly. This, paired with the sometimes dry nature of the text, doesn’t always make for easy reading. Despite this, I happily carried on. De La Bedoyere may not be the most engaging writer, but he manages to paint quite a vivid and colourful picture of life in Roman Britain.

If you are tired of reading always about kings and queens, the battles they fought and the lands they conquered, and would like to know more about the usually forgotten common people and how they lived, I recommend you pick up this book. You’ll enjoy it.

Summary:
Although the execution leaves something to be desired, The Lives Of Roman Britain paints a vivid picture of the life of the real people – the workers, slaves, husband, wives, and children – that inhabited that long gone era.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Reviews: Activate Your Brain & HBR's 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence

Hello everyone,

I have some interesting history books to share with you soon, but today let’s talk about a last couple ones about self-help and business. Enjoy!

Activate Your Brain: How Understanding Your Brain Can Improve Your Work – and Your Life by Scott G. Halford
Would you like to harness the full power of your brain so that you can improve your life and work? Then go grab a copy of Activate Your Brain, a helpful guide that will help you navigate your brain and make the most of it. Halford starts by describing our three brains, which are responsible for our automated, emotional and logical functions, how they work, and how our brain acts differently depending on whether it feels threatened or in control.
Of course, it’s when it is unthreatened and in control that our brains function best. How to reach that state? The next three sections explain exactly that. Halford shares the foods our brain needs to function properly, the importance of exercise and sleep, how to reduce stress and build stamina, use focus and willpower to reach our goals, create a sense of meaning and significance in our life, and a lot more.
Halford has a knack for simplifying complicated neuroscientific concepts, making them easily accessible and comprehensible to everyone. And his many practical tips to put what you’ve learned in practice are easy to do and incorporate into your daily life. That way you can improve your brain health and, as a result, make better personal and professional decisions. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence by Harvard Business Review
To be a great leader, you need more than an analytic mind, a decisive personality, and a big track record of accomplishments. You also need emotional intelligence. Although still grossly undervalued in the business world, teams that are lead by emotionally intelligent leaders tend to perform much better, and achieve bigger and better results faster. Luckily, emotionally intelligence can be learned.
The guys at Harvard Business Review have combed through hundreds of articles in their archive and selected ten to help you improve your emotional intelligent, and, as a result, your career. They explain what emotional intelligence is and what traits you must cultivate to boost yours, the importance of resilience, how to understand your strengths and weakness as well as your values and goals, how to manage your and your teams’ emotions to avoid conflicts, how to make empathetic and smart decisions, and much more.
The articles are short, but informative and insightful. They feature several examples of leaders who got it right and others that, with their emotional ignorance, have hurt their team, preventing them from reaching their goals. They also include lots of useful and practical tips on how you can boost your people’s skills. Of course, reading about them isn’t enough. You have to put them in practice too. But if you need help and don’t know where to start, get a copy of this book. You’ll be glad you did.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Book Reviews: Stalin & Our Mad Brother Villon

Hello everyone,

today I have two book reviews for you. Enjoy!

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk
Can a biography of Stalin, one of the cruellest dictators the world has ever known, be both concise and exhaustive? I didn’t think so, but Klevniuk proved me wrong. In 408 pages (not that many when you consider how much longer most books on Stalin are), he creates a compelling account of the dictator’s rise to power and the ruthless way in which he wielded it. During his rule, millions of innocent people were imprisoned and killed. Many millions more died in the famines caused by his economic and societal polices. Using new documents, letters, and reports, and the account of Stalin’s last day, which offers a revealing prologue to each chapter, Khlevniuk’s shows how all this horror could occur.
Khlevniuk sets the record straight on many myths, undermined by lack of evidence, that many other biographies of Stalin promoted as truth, and paints an honest portrait of the man and dictator. Although he obviously dislikes Stalin and justly warns us about the dangers of nostalgia that are currently arising in Russia about his era, he doesn’t depict his subject as a monster. Stalin was just a man, a shrewd, manipulative, and cold man driven by paranoia and deeply held convictions that turned him into a terrorist and dictator.
Informative and engaging, the book flows easily. It’s not bogged down in unnecessary details, but provides fascinating insight into Stalin and its era. If you’d like to know more about that, but the thought of reading a long, boring history book scares you, give this one a try. You’ll greatly enjoy it, I promise.
Available at: Amazon UK and Amazon US
Rating: 4/5

Our Mad Brother Villon by Kenneth Parsons
One of the reasons why I love historical fiction is that I enjoy discovering historical figures that have been forgotten by most. Like Francois Villon. A never-do-well who loved the hedonistic life and couldn’t keep on the right side of the law, he was also a poet known for his talents both by royalty, thieves, and prostitutes. His criminal career starts “innocently” enough. With a bunch of his fellow university students, he decides to steal the “Devil’s Fart”, a huge stone that serves as boundary for the property of one Madame Bruyeres, who has made it her mission to rid Paris of prostitutes, drunkards, and, so it seems to them, all fun and joy. The theft is supposed to be a joke to spite Madame Bruyeres, but soon, Villon finds himself mixing with the wrong crowd, stealing much more valuable treasures. His exploits get him more than one death sentence, but even when he tries to reform, fate seems to conspire against him, landing him in trouble again. All the while, Villon never stops composing. His clever and fun verses are scattered throughout the book.
Although I would have liked to read more descriptions of Paris in the late Middle Ages (it would have helped to better evoke the era in which Villon lived), the book is fun, engaging, and fast-paced. It’s a very nice way to spend the weekend.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Will you read these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.