Friday, September 26, 2014

Discovering Great Books About the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration

By Jeff Burns
Trends in history and historical writing come and go.  Lately, some historians and historical commentators have been downplaying the importance of the Renaissance, arguing that the concept of the Renaissance was only created generations later by Eurocentric historians who ignored the fact that the great advances of the period were truly the result of a major period of globalization.  (Watch John Green’s Crash Course video here )

No matter how the history of the 15th and 16th centuries is written, the world was forever changed.  Here are a few interesting books about the period you should consider.

Author Charles Mann has written two great books on the subject of globalization:  1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.  1491 presents the latest scholarship on the Americas before the voyages of Columbus.  It’s a fascinating and thorough account of cultures throughout the two continents, and it introduces many ideas that run counter to longstanding conventional wisdom.  1493 examines the effects of European exploration on the entire world, not just the Americas and Europe, environmentally, economically, culturally, and politically. 
Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors by James Reston Jr also focuses on 1492.  As the title says, Reston writes about the three pivotal events that created Spain and transformed Europe and the world in the process.  Detailed and thorough, it’s a very entertaining read, and Reston’s narrative brings the central characters to life.

Stephen Greenblatt examines the origins of humanist thought, the driving force behind the Renaissance in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.  It’s part biography, part detective story, his search for information on a papal librarian who discovered an ancient Roman poem written 1000 years earlier, called “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius.  Lucretius’ poem set down ideas that the Church and the European establishment deemed to be dangerous, and it had been  locked away and forgotten.  Greenblatt holds that its rediscovery inspired the greatest minds of the Renaissance.
The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern is about three of the most important men of the Renaissance and their very brief, but impactful, interaction in 1502.  The book is a real insight into three of the most brilliant, and disparate, geniuses of their day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Band of Giants, The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's Independence

By Nina Kendall
The American mythos is marked with celebration of the great acts of ordinary individuals. The leaders of the American Revolution are often portrayed as heroic figures fighting together in the name of liberty. Band of Giants, The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's Independence by Jack Kelly is a fast paced account of early American leaders from the French and Indian War to the Treaty of Paris, 1783. Kelly uses a unique blend of personal accounts and military strategy to engage the reader and reveal the lives of military leaders in the late 18th century. If the American Revolution serves as the origin story for America’s early leaders, Jack Kelly is going to introduce them to you in a whole new way.

Band of Giants offers the reader as chance to follow the Continental Army into battle.  You can march with Benedict Arnold into Canada and learn about Knox’s rescue of cannon for the Colonists. This book is a chance to get inside the head of America’s first military leaders. Kelly helps you get to know the leaders of American forces and their challenges as he mixes military maneuvers with excerpts from correspondence. What led Henry Knox and Nathaniel Greene to choose to go to war?  How did untested soldiers learn the practice of war?

What did George Washington know of war? In Band of Giants, you can come to know George Washington as a general. Learn of his early experience in the Ohio territory. How did he emerge as a leader in the Revolution? With careful research, Kelly reveals Washington’s growth as a leader and internal struggle during the war. Jack Kelly illustrates the relationships Washington has with key figures in the American Revolution that shape the course of the war. The strife with Charles Lee and the betrayal of Benedict Arnold strain Washington’s reserves. Yet, he draws strength from the support of the Marquis de Lafayette.

Jack Kelly gives the reader insight into to circumstances that influenced many of America’s military leaders.  Military leaders whose names dot the American landscape like Lafayette, DeKalb, and Greene emerge from the page as historical figures. Carefully woven prose makes clear the vital support America received from abroad and the risk is commanders faced on the front.  Who helped the Continental Army? What risks did they take? Delve into the mind of the young Marquis de Lafayette who risks his life and wealth in support of liberty during the American Revolution. Kelly clearly connects the contributions of men like Baron von Steuben to the success of the Continental Army.

Take the opportunity to read Band of Giants and dig into the lives of ordinary men who helped fight for American independence.  See leaders of the American Revolution as you never have before.