Last Update 3/6/18

A Brief History of the Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston, Running, 1999  

The Boxer Rebellion in China took place in 1900 when a popular but brutally superstitious labor movement with xenophobic overtones launched an effort to drive all foreigners out of China. The UK, the US, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, and others found themselves on the side as they sent a relief expedition to lift the siege of the diplomatic compound, which took several weeks. It’s hard to like either side. The Europeans were arrogant, nearly as brutal, and they had not considered that introducing railroads, for example, would put thousands of local men out of work. On the other hand, the Boxers – backed on and off by the empress – massacred children, tortured their prisoners, were consumed by outrageous superstitions, and did not themselves comprehend the situation. This is a lively, at times suspenseful account that makes it clear that even the “heroes” were of dubious morality. 3/6/18

Harry Potter and Convergence Culture edited by Amanda Firestone and Leisa A. Clark, McFarland, 2018, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-7207-6

The Harry Potter phase has ebbed a bit but is still pretty strong in some quarters. This is a selection of essays relating the books and movies to other cultural trends, like videogames, clothing styles, fan clubs, treatment of minorities, inclusiveness and snobbery, homophobia, Wicca, even the last Presidential campaign. Some of the essays are relevant and interesting. Some of them are stretching a point to draw comparisons between the books and some other aspect of society, but these say more about the authors of those essays than about their subject matter. This is a very mixed bag of insight and near nonsense. 3/2/16

Chivalry in Westeros by Carol Parrish Jamison, McFarland, 2018, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-7005-8

I've been expecting a small flood of books following the success of the Game of Thrones television series, based on the novel by George R.R. Martin. This scholarly treatise about the role of chivalry in the stories is, however, based on the books, which was a pleasant surprise. She compares Martin's version to the historical record and interprets the actions of a large numbers of characters, some of whom readers might not associate the subject. But chivalry was not confined to knights, and its components affected everyone in the society. A little heavy reading at times but generally accessible and the author makes some interesting and informative observations. 2/24/18

A Brief History of the Great Moghuls by Bamber Gascoigne, Running, 1971 v979 

This is a history of six Moghul rulers of India, or at least parts thereof, staring with Babur. His grandson, Akbar, was the chief reason why the Muslims and Hindus managed to live together for so long. His curiosity about religions was so strong he even invited Christian missionaries to the palace for discussions. The author spends at least as much time on artistic and intellectual developments as on the battles and politics, which was a pleasant change. It was under British rule that the old animosities reappeared culminating in the bloody partition of Pakistan and India. A surprisingly large amount of written material survives including diaries. I would say it was surprising so little of this is taught in high school history classes, but it’s obvious that we have been Euro-Centric from the outset. 2/18/18

Jess Franco: The World's Most Dangerous Filmmaker by Kristofer Todd Upjohn, Stark House, 2018, $15.95, ISBN 978-1944520601

I have seen several films by Spanish director Jess Franco, most of them in the horror genre. By contemporary standards, they are generally not very good, and his most famous work was done during the 1970s with low budgets. He usuallly usederotic elements to enhance the films, which raised the ire of the Spanish church. This is a collection of essays about his work, each focusing on one particular film. His classics like The Awful Dr. Orloff and Zombie Lake are examined, along with a lot of movies I'd never even heard off . The essays are mostly the author's personal reactions to the movies and they read more like online reviews than a critical study. The prose could use some work - "this film approaches us at a slightly different angle" and "where would history's most famous vampire be without some luscious vampirettes mucking about being all sexy." The plot summaries are of some interest but the fannish enthusiasm becomes wearing quite early. And why are the films examined in random order rather than chronologically, which might have shown Franco's development? The third entry is from 1981 and third from the end is 1962. 2/6/18

A Brief History of Finland by Matti Klinge, Otava, 1981

About the only history I could remember about Finland was that it was once part of Sweden and that it fought an inconclusive war with Russia during the 20th Century and was for that reason allied for a while with Nazi Germany. This slender little history covers the period up to independence in 1809 somewhat superficially but spends more time on the development of the country after it split off from Sweden. I hadn't realized that independence was the result of Russia having seized Finland in a war and established it as a quasi-independent Grand Duchy. This short history provides a general outline that is essentially all I was interesting in learning at the moment. 1/18/18