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Book reviews from ElectricEel

Number of reviews: 27
Average review: star star star star star

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The Dreyfus Affair


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

Although all of the articles in this collection are worth reading, the critics' enthusiasm for Linda Nochlin's article about Degas' antisemitism is unjustified. All that she has to say is that if you look very carefully at some of Degas' paintings, you can almost see some near-hints at antisemitic stereotypes. Indeed.

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Our Kate - a New Revised Edition Of the Classic Autobiography


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

Catherine Cookson is a great writer. Not a great regional writer, or a great woman writer, just a great writer. This is the memoir of her childhood as the illegitimate daughter of the one-time "sinner" turned alcoholic. Even to be born the child of a sinner is a crime, as we all know.

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The Second World War


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

There is no doubt that Winston Churchill was a great stylist, and if you can only read one history of World War II, you should probably read this one. On the other hand, although I don't know if there are any outright lies in this book, he does deem occasionally filter the truth to suit his political convenience.

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Maillol, Mon Ami


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

One of the many books and articles written by Maillol's friends shortly after his death. Includes and interesting observation on Maillol's attitude towards his models as models. Prettily illustrated, as they all are.

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Leo Africanus


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

A lovely historical novel. The hero, like Maalouf - and like me - is someone forced by both circumstance and inclination to live in several very different cultures, and loves all of them.

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In the Name Of Identity


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

A very necessary book in this ago of self-righteous violence and the death of the melting pot. Maalouf claims that accepting and loving one's own culture does not require one to reject others.

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Saint Joan Of Arc


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

Well written and - surprisingly - with no obvious political agenda, but Vita Sackville-West occasionally skydives to conclusions without a parachute. For example: V. S.-W. interprets one witness's testimony as meaning that they thought they had some mystical means of determining whether a girl was a virgin. Not necessarily. The testimony could just as well mean that the witness thought that she could tell from Joan's behavior that Joan was a virgin.

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Saint Joan


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

As usual, Shaw works very hard at shocking the reader/viewer. He claims that the first trial, at which Joan was convicted, was more than fair, while the postumous trial, at which she was rehabilitated, was a kangaroo court. But maybe he's right. He also makes it clear that we're all willing to defend Joan now that she's been dead a few hundred years, but that if she were to reappear, we modern liberals would be the first to join the lynch mob.

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Joan Of Arc


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

Just what it sounds like: The translation of a biography of Joan built almost completely from quotations from the original documents. A good antidote to the hogwash on all sides of the political coin, for those who prefer the truth to getting their ax ground.

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The Lark


Reviewed on Oct 16 2010

Anouilh seems to claim in the introduction that it's intended mainly as entertainment, but it does add historical insights unavailable elsewhere (as far as I know). For example: People like to talk about Joan as one of the inventors of nationalism, but was she also one of the inventors of humanism?

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Carnival In Romans


Reviewed on Oct 15 2010

Although it's on a somewhat different subject, having taken place in the eye of the storm as far as the Wars of Religion go, it gives one a good idea of what those wars must have been like for the common people.

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Renoir My Father


Reviewed on Oct 15 2010

Aside from what we can extract from Pierre-Auguste Renoir's own works, this book and Vollard's short memoir are about the only organized contemporary works about Renoir as a man and a thinker. They are both myth. If you want to see just how far these hagiographies are intentionally distorted, compare Renoir's remarks on the Jews and antisemitism here with the full-length quotations and references in Phlip Nord's *Impressionists and Politics*.

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The Anti-Semitic Moment


Reviewed on Oct 15 2010

A snapshot of the anti-Dreyfus and anti-semitic hysteria, assembled from local archives from the year 1898. Birnbaum seems to take the rather original position that Drumont's variety of antisemitism was at least as much religious as racial. One of the more surprising lessons from this book is the degree of hatred against Zola.

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The Party Battles Of the Jackson Period


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

For people who expect to be entertained by history books, this is probably the best book on Jackson, the bank war, the petticoat affair, etc. It is surprisingly detailed and objective on the latter.

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The Mystery Of Georges Simenon


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

A detailed biography of Simenon which does make some attempt at neutrality, but Bresler's apology for Simenon's anti-semitism is comical. I'm also unenthusiastic about Bresler's reaction to Simenon's attitude towards women, or more precisely, to his lack of a reaction. Bresler makes some worthwhile critical comments.

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La Marie Du Port


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

Fenton Bresler, in his biography of Simenon, expresses contempt for this book. He doesn't explain why, but I suspect that he considers it sentimental and unsubtle. I strongly disagree. This is one of the great non-Maigret books.

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The Writings Of Christine De Pizan


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

Charity Cannon Willard's selections, commentaries, and general editing are all excellent. She doesn't seem to have an overriding feminist agenda which overrides her desire for the truth. If anything, she is a little too hard on Christine. Mrs. Willard judges Christine by the total of her oeuvre, instead of the best of it. Judged by that standard, how many would survive?

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Love In the Western World


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

Even for those of us who don't buy Rougemont's theories about Occitania as the source of everything, this book is important as an exploration of the various possibilities for serious relationships between men and women. It even ends, in effect, with a moral exhortation. Who would have the nerve to write something like this today?

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Name-Dropping


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

Galbraith's non-fiction is always amusing, here as elsewhere. Among the high points - which also show Galbraith's ability to teach and explain while amusing - is Galbraith's account of his only near-contact with FDR, while the economist was working in the New Deal. It was a note which started out "Who was the idiot who...." Galbraith, of course, was the idiot.

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Money


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

In effect, this is a history of central banking in the United States in the Twentieth Century. Could there possibly be a hotter topic today? Among the more interesting points is Galbraith's characterization of the Federal Reserve System as a stupid idea which is almost always implemented by stupid people.

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Montaillou


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

Of the three books by Ladurie which I have read so far, this one was by far the best. It is also the one which made him famous. It is a great book as an exemplar of a technique, as a story about human beings, and as a sort of introduction to Catharism made by tracing around the edges.

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Jasmin's Witch


Reviewed on Oct 14 2010

Of the three books by Ladurie which I have read, this is the one with the greatest quantity of unsupported limb-sitting. Still, as a somewhat unfocused history of the witch phenomenon is southern rural France, it's not bad. "Jasmin"'s poem itself is in the not-as-bad-as-I-expected class, a pretty little story. (I have only read the English translation of the poem here, neither of the two originals.)

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Les Fleurs Du Mal


Reviewed on Oct 13 2010

So much has been written about these poems - and about this book as a cycle - that the only further help on the subject which I can offer to my fellow readers is a quotation from one of my teachers: "The Twentieth Century began in 1857." He didn't explain, and he didn't have to.

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Baudelaire


Reviewed on Oct 13 2010

This is the classic factual biography of Baudelaire - as opposed to some important but narrow books by his contemporaries and some modern pastiches of hogwash. As is usual with Pichois, the book is full of detailed and therefore checkable references to primary sources, and carefully separates fact from conjecture.Among the things you'll find here are the known facts, such as they are, about Jeanne maybe-Duval and maybe-Sarah, the squint-eyed Jewish prostitute who may have been Baudelaire's first sweetheart.

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Letters To His Son Lucien


Reviewed on Oct 13 2010

This book is as important as its title suggests. Among the points which most interested me were Pissarro's attempt to set up his own print works so that he could make the entire print himself, from start to finish, and Pissarro's wild harangues whenever he has occasion to mention Gauguin.

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