|Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,
written by Jack Weatherford
narrated by Jonathan Davis
|Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
by Jung Chang
narrated by Joy Osmanski
Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths
Written by Nancy Marie Brown
Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.
This engaging biography describes the life of Snorri Sturluson, a powerful 12th-century Icelandic chieftain and the author of the poetic Edda – one of the oldest surviving documents of Norse mythology. As a novice of Viking history, I found this book fascinating and informative – though I suspect that there is much speculation and Brown isn’t always clear when she is speculating and when she has hard evidence for her claims. As such, I think this biography would be enjoyed by people who are interested in learning a bit about the Vikings, but not experts on the subject.
Brown started each chapter out with a legend out of Snorri’s Edda. Often, she told how this legend differs from other known versions and/or how it has affected modern culture. The rest of the book describes Snorri’s life – his youth in the household of “the uncrowned King of Iceland,” his marriage, his rise to political power, and his downfall. She seemed to get most of her hard evidence from a few primary documents and an outwardly biased biography written by Snorri’s nephew, so often she had to fill in the gaps by saying “it’s possible it happened more like this, since his nephew’s story doesn’t really jive with Snorri’s personality.” Of course, that makes me wonder if she had just as much positive bias towards Snorri as his nephew had negative bias. 🙂 Overall, though, I’d say this biography was a success. When there is so little information available, and when the book is intended for a popular crowd rather than an academic one, such speculation is necessary – it makes the book more fun.
Written by Manning Marable, Narrated by G. Valmont Thomas
Reason for Reading: This was one of the books I’d listed as potential reading for my Social Justice Theme Read in February. I chose it because it won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2012 and was a finalist in the National Book Award.
In Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable set out to honestly portray a man and to humanize an icon. Marable intended on filling in holes left by truth-bending and necessary lack-of-future-knowledge in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Since I am not an expert on the subject, I have to say that Marable’s book seemed very thorough and well-researched. It was also an engrossing narrative. I feel it well-deserves its Pulitzer Prize. My only complaint was towards the beginning of the novel, Marable inserted some innuendo about Malcolm X’s sexuality – which was unnecessary, and rather rude since he didn’t have any hard evidence to support his claims. That innuendo was referenced obliquely a few times in the first quarter of the book. Luckily, those references stopped for the last three quarters of the book, or I would have been left with a very bad taste in my mouth.
The only reason I bring up that complaint is because I was looking for hints to why there’s a controversy about this book. I was wondering if there was anything I, personally, could pick up. I’m not very familiar with what the controversy is about – and I haven’t seen any controversial reference to the innuendo that bothered me. Mostly, the controversy seems to be about Marable’s lack of respect for the impact Malcolm X had on the Black Liberation Movement. If you’re interested, here’s an interesting article on the topic. There’s also a book entitled A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, if you really want to delve into the issue. However, I am satisfied that Marable did a lot of really good research, and wrote an interesting and informative book. The issue of exactly what long-term impact Malcolm X had on the Civil Rights Movement and the country as a whole is an opinion, in my opinion.
G. Valmont Thomas did an excellent job of narrating this book. Quite enjoyable. 🙂
Written by Tracy Kidder, Narrated by Paul Michael
Reason for Reading: This was meant to be read for my Social Justice Theme in February, but things didn’t work out quite as I’d planned. I finished the book in January, and haven’t had the time to review it until now. 🙂 Better late than never!
2012 Book 105: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler (7/11/2012)
Reason for Reading: It fit into Reading Globally’s Middle Eastern literature theme.
My Review 3.5 stars
In this short work, Feiler reviews the Biblical story of Abraham and then describes how the myth of Abraham has changed over time and between the Abrahamic religions. It is well-written and interesting, and its length is well-suited for the amount of information Feiler wishes to convey. (There were no lengthy speculations in order to add bulk!) I enjoyed it and learned a little bit, too!
Reason for Reading: I needed to buff up my “Memoir and Biography” category in 12 in 12 group, and this book fit into the Reading Globally theme read for Middle Eastern literature since it took place in Egypt.
My Review: 3.5/5 stars
Cleopatra: A Life is a light biography which is appropriate for the popular reader…not so much for historians or people who have already read a lot on the subject. There is a lot of speculation (Schiff admits as much) because there is not a contemporary information on the topic. Schiff’s thesis is that Cleopatra is not the conniving seductress that historians have suggested. The first third of the book covers her early life and relationship with Julius Ceasar, but this part not well organized. Schiff’s narrative jumps from subject to subject and does not do a very good job of explaining the political background. In fact, this section focuses mainly on how rich Cleopatra was and dwells in great detail on opulence. The last two thirds of the book come together in a tighter, more interesting narrative, however. This is where Schiff discusses Cleopatra’s relationship with Antony and its political ramifications. This is a good book to read for the “popular” reader who does’t have a specific interest in the subject. However, I ‘m guessing there may be biographies that better describe her relationship with Ceasar and the political ongoings at that time.