today I’m reviewing three history books, including a wonderful little one for children, and a biography of a famous architect. Enjoy!
Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918 by Nina Edwards
Fashion is often considered silly and superficial. It can seem even more so during a time of war. Yet, the clothes people wore tell a lot about them and the time they lived in, as Nina Edwards skillfully shows in her new book, Dressed For War. In a way, it could even be said that fashion caused World War I. Attempts to save the Archduke Franz Ferdinand were delayed by the need to cut through the many layers of clothing he was wearing, wasting precious seconds that might have saved his life.
Once started, it was the war that influenced fashion. The bright uniform previously worn weren’t fit for the new type of warfare then being fought. Experiments were conducted to find the best colours for uniforms to be worn in trenches and the Allied troops were ordered to collect samples from dead German soldiers’ underwear, which was rumoured to be of better quality. Wrist watches, much more practical in trenches than pocket watches, were also introduced at this time. Women’s clothing changed too. Women started wearing trousers and shortening the hems of the skirts to enjoy more freedom of movement now they were required to work too. At the same time, they also felt the need to be more feminine to cheer the returning soldiers. These are just a few of the changes in fashion that occurred as the war progressed. Lots more fascinating tidbits are revealed in Dressed For War.
The book, written in an academic but engaging style, is always beautifully illustrated with lots of pictures and cartoons, allowing the reader to see the changes in fashion. They are quite small, but still an important visual aid that greatly enhances the enjoyability of the book. Compelling, fascinating, and informative, it’s a must read for anyone interested in the history of fashion during the war, both at home and on the front line.
Available at: Amazon
The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
The Wars of the Roses is one of the most complex periods of English history. It was a period of political instability, ruthless struggles for the crown, when alliances changed faster than the London weather, brother fought against brother in bloody battles that decimated entire families, and different claimants sat alternatively on the English throne before being violently overthrown. It’s a fascinating, tragic, and gripping tale that Jones skillfully captures in novel-like fashion in his new fast-paced book, and sequel to the Plantagenets, The Wars of The Roses.
The end, for the Plantagenet dynasty, started with the premature death of the hero of Agincourt, Henry V. His heir was a mere baby who had inherited a strain of insanity from his mother’s family. His incapacity to be the monarch the country needed created a power vacuum that needed filling. Richard, Duke of York, harboured ambitions for the throne, but his attempt at seizing it failed and he lost his life. His son Edward fared better. He conquered the throne, briefly lost it to Henry VI, and gained it back again, this time holding firm onto it till its premature death. His heir, Edward V, had barely reached puberty, and needed the support of those around him to rule. Unfortunately, his closest relatives – the ambitious Woodiville’s, his mother family, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s only surviving brother – were engaged in a bitter rivalry that would cost the young new king his life and destroy the House of York, allowing Henry Tudor, a member of the illegitimate branch of the House of Lancaster whose claim to the crown was weak and shaky, to grab power and create his own dynasty.
Jones’ writing is lively and entertaining, vividly bringing to life all the insecurities and struggles of the eras. Although he packs a lot of facts in a few pages, the book is never dry or boring. Full of twists and turns, the author captures your attention from the start and keeps it till the end. It doesn’t matter if you already know what’s coming next, you’re hooked, eagerly turning the pages to read more.
Dan Jones’ The Wars Of The Roses is one of the most readable, easy-to-follow, and entertaining accounts of this historical era. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about it.
Available at: Amazon
Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier, Architect of Tomorrow by Anthony Flint
Modern Man is not your regular biography. I’m not even sure it can be called a biography. Not of Le Corbusier the man anyway. Instead, this is a biography of his genius and his architecture. Rather than on Le Corbusier’s personal life, Flint prefers to focus on his career and his manifesto, and how they influence the architectural world, both then and now. He describes the architect’s most influential works, the commissions he got and didn’t get, his adaptability to work with any government and switch sides as most convenient for his career (during the second world war, he collaborated with Petain’s regime only to pretend he had been in the Resistance all along when the Allies won), and his inflexibility in dealing with his clients, refusing to listening to their concerns about his designs, and his employees, sometimes demanding they pulled all nighters just to criticise their work the next morning.
Although in this biography his personal life takes a backseat, the glimpses that emerge every now and then don’t reveal a very pleasing man. On the contrary, he was arrogant and difficult, feeling this behaviour was necessary for his architecture. He was also unfaithful. After marrying a beautiful model he had nothing in common with, he constantly left her alone, disregarded her wishes, and cheated on her. Poor Yvonne eventually drank herself to death. But he could also be caring to those he loved. He built his parents a home where they could spend their retirement, and took a budding architect under his wing, acting as a second father to him.
Although Modern Man doesn’t follow a chronological order, it was easy to follow and very readable. Fast paced, at times it reads more like a novel. The book isn’t bogged down by too many details or difficult architectural terms only experts can understand. It is easily accessible to everyone, making it a great introduction to casual readers who want to know more about Le Corbusier and his work, but aren’t ready to dive into a very long, very detailed account of his life and career just yet. Fans of architecture and Le Corbusier, in particular, though may not find anything they didn’t know before here.
But my main gripe with the book is the lack of pictures. The author is constantly referencing Le Corbusier’s most popular works, such as Ville Savoye and Unité d’Habitation at Marseilles, but not all readers, especially those without a background in architecture, are familiar with them. I wasn’t, and often had to google their images to see exactly what the author was talking about. Including pictures would have made a highly readable book even more enjoyable for everyone.
Available at: Amazon
Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents by David Stabler
It’s difficult to remember that US Presidents once were just ordinary kids. This funny and charming little book both reminds us of it, and inspires children to go after their dreams and fulfil their aspirations. How? By sharing childhood stories about America’s leaders. Some of these children had to overcome tragic situations adults would struggled to deal with, like Jackson, who, at 13, was made a prisoner of the British during the Revolutionary War. Most stories are more relatable, though, and show the kids presidents dealing with problems children of every generation and era have to face. Grant struggled with dyslexia and JFK with a bullying big brother. Obama had to adapt to a completely different country and way of life when his family moved to Indonesia. Nixon gave a terrible performance during a school play because he was given boots that were too small for his feet – and all to impress a girl he had a crush on! These little-known stories are entertaining and informative, and accompanied by cute and funny drawings that will have you laughing out loud.
Beautifully written and illustrated, Kids President is a must read for all fans of both American history and funny little-known history tidbits, and proof that anyone can truly become President.
Available at: Amazon
Are you going to read any of these books?
Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.