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Give Me More! Max Adams’ The Viking Wars

From first cracking open In the Land of Giants (hopefully coming soon to a Concerning History book club near you), I have been enthralled with what I’ve come to call Max Adams’ Dark Ages Trilogy. Now at last I’ve come to what, for many, is the main event: the cataclysmic clash of cultures—Roman Christian Anglo-Saxon, Irish Christian Celtic and Brythonic, and Pagan Scandinavian—that define the ninth and tenth centuries and the British Isles themselves to this day. Eagerly anticipating Adams’ historical treatment of such oft-tread ground, I dove right in. While I was mostly satisfied by the end, however, as with most endings, I was left wanting just a little bit more.... Read More
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Behind the Scenes: D’Weston Haywood’s Let Us Make Men

When Heather gave me a couple books that lay outside my normal historical comfort zone this past Christmas, I figured I would ease myself into reading them, lest I lose my motivation and let them fall by the wayside. The first, Aberration of Mind (reviewed here on Concerning History), was familiar in period, if not in subject; this second book, however, was familiar in neither. My fascination with history usually peaks around 1914, and it could certainly use much more non-European focus, I must admit. I was thus both excited and somewhat hesitant to begin reading an academic monograph on the role of the black press in the civil rights movements of the 20th century. Luckily, however, the outcome of reading D’Weston Haywood’s Let Us Make Men was precisely what you want to happen in this situation: strangely compelling and profoundly illuminating.... Read More
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Too Little, Too Late: TNT’s I Am the Night

In a nice change of pace from the history we usually follow, we decided to take a gander at the much-publicized TNT miniseries I am the Night, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Chris Pyne (their first project together since Wonder Woman). We were cautiously excited; the promotion for the show promised a noir mystery set against the backdrop of 60s Los Angeles and somehow connected to one of the most famous unsolved murders in American history. We dove in, but instead of an intriguing thriller, we were treated to a long, dull slog.... Read More
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Interpreting the Big Easy: To Complicate or not to Complicate?

If you happen to travel to New Orleans, you cannot miss the fact that the city is home to the National World War II Museum. The universe simply will not let you. From signs in the airport to billboards along the highway to targeted internet ads once the Facebook algorithms figure out you’re in New Orleans or planning to go, you are inundated with publicity for the museum that is proudly described as “TripAdvisor's #2 Museum in the World, and the #1 destination in New Orleans.” Heather and I hardly needed this much convincing; we had already pre-ordered our tickets weeks before we landed, and on the third day of our trip, we drove up to the museum campus to see what all the fuss was about.... Read More
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Man Pain for Days: Starz’s Spartacus

This show has been on my watch list for years. Ironically, it was originally recommended to me by my brother (I’m usually the one mentioning historical shows he might like). I had heard other rumblings and knew something of its reputation since, but only recently, when I saw that it had made it onto Netflix, did I finally get around to checking it out. Spartacus both delivered on everything I had heard and surprised me with its gratifying attention to historical detail.... Read More
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Ripples of Republicanism: Timothy Roberts’s Distant Revolutions

It is unwise, as the saying goes, to judge a book by its cover. More specifically, I have increasingly found that the titles and jacket descriptions of history books can be highly misleading as to the nature of the information, and arguments, within. Such was the case with Timothy Roberts’s Distant Revolutions. Heather and I recently acquired this book in an effort to learn more about its titular upheavals after mentioning it in our 2018 historical anniversaries post (found here). I expected a refreshing dose of perspective to American ideas of our own exceptionalism; instead, I found a fascinating history of connections that crossed the Atlantic and bridged the upheavals of 1848 with that of 1861.... Read More
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Thirsty Women: Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled

About a year ago, we watched, intrigued, as a new trailer for a romantic drama unfolded before us. An independent film with a star-studded cast, it promised suspense, betrayal, and revenge in a tale of stilted lovers and, even better, it was set in during the American Civil War! That film was Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and we couldn’t wait to check it out and bask in the melodrama, for good or for laughably bad. We were finally able to get our hands on it recently, and it while it certainly wasn’t the most enriching film in terms of history, it’s story certainly didn’t disappoint.... Read More
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Remember the North? Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World

If I had a dollar for every time someone claimed to be writing a book about an “unknown,” “overlooked,” or “forgotten” period of history, I would be a very rich man. So often, these periods really aren’t that underserved, and we’ve even at times considered putting together a post listing the most regularly talked about “forgotten” periods of history. When I came across Michael Pye’s Edge of the World, however, I thought I had hit the jackpot. I have a soft spot for histories of the early Middle Ages (sometimes known as the Dark Ages), and few periods of history can claim more accurately to be unknown, as we must work from scarce written sources and physical evidence to reconstruct an elusive historical narrative of Europe’s rebirth after the fall of Rome. Even better, Pye promised to focus on a region lesser known in this period; rather than look for clues to our modern world in the court of Charlemagne or the remnants of Rome, Pye casts his gaze out into the cold world of the North Sea. Baited with prospects of a world system history of the North Sea in the early Middle Ages, then, I was practically salivating to begin reading. While entertaining, however, Edge of the World would fall far short of my lofty hopes.... Read More
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A Daunting Scope: Peter Heather’s Empires and Barbarians

Snapshots of Europe taken at the beginning and end of the first millennium AD could not appear more different. As the millennium opened, Rome was just reaching the apex of its imperial might. The traditionally dominant Mediterranean world extended its tendrils of control across the Celtic world of modern-day France and lowland Britain, while beyond the Rhine and Danube frontiers Germanic peoples pursued a subsistence existence much less developed than their Roman and Romanized neighbors. One thousand years later, Mediterranean dominance was a distant memory. Germanic cultures and kingdoms had replaced Roman imperial rule. Europe’s center of balance had moved decidedly northward, and the eastern plains and forests boasted new states formed by Slavic peoples. Gone was the unequal pattern of development, and the map of modern Europe had largely, if blurrily, taken shape. This Late Antique/Early Medieval period, as Western Rome crumbled and fell, and ‘barbarian’ kingdoms took its place, has long fascinated me, and so I was excited to get my hands on a somewhat general, approachable history of the period by Kings College, London historian Peter Heather. While I found Heather’s work greatly informative, my hopes of reading a sensible, comprehensive narrative of this period were unfortunately left unfulfilled.... Read More