Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
In 1787, twelve men gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. Along the way, they would pioneer most of the tools citizen activists still rely on today, from wall posters and mass mailings to boycotts and lapel pins. This talented group combined a hatred of injustice with uncanny skill in promoting their cause. Within five years, more than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief slave-grown product, sugar; London's smart set was sporting antislavery badges created by Josiah Wedgwood; and the House of Commons had passed the first law banning the slave trade.
However, the House of Lords, where slavery backers were more powerful, voted down the bill. But the crusade refused to die, fueled by remarkable figures like Olaudah Equiano, a brilliant ex-slave who enthralled audiences throughout the British Isles; John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote "Amazing Grace"; Granville Sharp, an eccentric musician and self-taught lawyer; and Thomas Clarkson, a fiery organizer who repeatedly crisscrossed Britain on horseback, devoting his life to the cause. He and his fellow activists brought slavery in the British Empire to an end in the 1830s, long before it died in the United States. The only survivor of the printing shop meeting half a century earlier, Clarkson lived to see the day when a slave whip and chains were formally buried in a Jamaican churchyard.
Like Hochschild's classic KingLeopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of unsung heroes and colorful villains. Again Hochschild gives a little-celebrated historical watershed its due at last.
Monday, November 23, 2009
An essay on the destruction of individual liberty by totalitarian ideologies. A provoking study and analysis of the results of state intervention and state planning. Mises explains how the pursuit of a mixed economy will always lead to socialism and can never avoid the business cycle.
One of our most provocative military historians, Victor Davis Hanson has given us painstakingly researched and pathbreaking accounts of wars ranging from classical antiquity to the twenty-first century. Now he juxtaposes an ancient conflict with our most urgent modern concerns to create his most engrossing work to date, A War Like No Other.
Over the course of a generation, the Hellenic city-states of Athens and Sparta fought a bloody conflict that resulted in the collapse of Athens and the end of its golden age. Thucydides wrote the standard history of the Peloponnesian War, which has given readers throughout the ages a vivid and authoritative narrative. But Hanson offers readers something new: a complete chronological account that reflects the political background of the time, the strategic thinking of the combatants, the misery of battle in multifaceted theaters, and important insight into how these events echo in the present.
Hanson compellingly portrays the ways Athens and Sparta fought on land and sea, in city and countryside, and details their employment of the full scope of conventional and nonconventional tactics, from sieges to targeted assassinations, torture, and terrorism. He also assesses the crucial roles played by warriors such as Pericles and Lysander, artists, among them Aristophanes, and thinkers including Sophocles and Plato.
Hanson's perceptive analysis of events and personalities raises many thought-provoking questions: Were Athens and Sparta like America and Russia, two superpowers battling to the death? Is the Peloponnesian War echoed in the endless, frustrating conflicts of Vietnam, Northern Ireland, and the current Middle East? Or was it more like America's own Civil War, a brutal rift that rent the fabric of a glorious society, or even this century's "red state-blue state" schism between liberals and conservatives, a cultural war that manifestly controls military policies? Hanson daringly brings the facts to life and unearths the often surprising ways in which the past informs the present.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
by Piri Thomas
Thirty years ago Piri Thomas made literary history with this lacerating, lyrical memoir of his coming of age on the streets of Spanish Harlem. Here was the testament of a born outsider: a Puerto Rican in English-speaking America; a dark-skinned morenito in a family that refused to acknowledge its African blood. Here was an unsparing document of Thomas's plunge into the deadly consolations of drugs, street fighting, and armed robbery--a descent that ended when the twenty-two-year-old Piri was sent to prison for shooting a cop.
As he recounts the journey that took him from adolescence in El Barrio to a lock-up in Sing Sing to the freedom that comes of self-acceptance, faith, and inner confidence, Piri Thomas gives us a book that is as exultant as it is harrowing and whose every page bears the irrepressible rhythm of its author's voice.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
The Travels of Marco Polo is the usual English title of Marco Polo's travel book, nicknamed Il Milione (The Million) or Le Livre des Merveilles (The Book of Wonders). This description of his travels and stays in the Orient, including Asia, Persia, China and Indonesia, between 1271 and 1298 is also known as Oriente Poliano or Description of the World.
It was a very famous and popular book in the 13th century. The text claims that Marco Polo became an important figure at the court of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan. However, modern scholars debate how much of the account is accurate and whether or not Marco Polo ever actually traveled to the court or was just repeating stories that he had heard from other travellers. The book was actually written in French by a romance author of the time, Rustichello da Pisa, who was reportedly working from accounts which he had heard from Marco Polo when they were in prison in Genoa having been captured while on a ship.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Haiti's revolution has always been a point of pride for people of African descent around the world. It was in Haiti that slaveholding European colonizers were finally driven away at the hands of the island's black population. The Black Jacobins dramatically and powerfully recounts the events that led up to the bloody and history-altering Haitian revolution of 1791-1803.
The revolution began in the wake of the Bastille and ended in the French colony of Santo Domingo, one of the wealthiest colonies in the world due to its rich natural resources and its importing of cotton, indigo, and coffee. Forever tied with the revolution is Toussaint-Louverture, a barely literate slave who united the slaves and mulattos of Santo Domingo and led them against the ruling population of the colony, as well as French, Spanish, and English forces, to alter the fate of millions of people and shift the economic currents of three continents.
"In 1789 the French West Indian colony of Santo Domingo supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave-trade.... The whole structure rested on the labour of half-a-million slaves." In 1791, after decades of inhumane and savage treatment by their "masters," the slaves revolted-led by one man, Toussaint-Louverture. "One of the most remarkable men of a period rich in remarkable men. The history of the Santo Domingo revolution will therefore largely be a record of his achievements and his political personality.... Between 1789-1815, with the single exception of Bonaparte himself, no single figure appeared on the historical stage more greatly gifted than this Negro, a slave till he was 45 [sic]. Yet Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made Toussaint."