The Day Commodus Killed a Rhino: Understanding the Roman Games
The author posits that the Roman games were more than just a gory spectacle for a depraved populace. The logistics and effort it took to put on a spectacle showed, by extension, that the emperor had the ability to run the empire. For Commodus, his role as great hunter and gladiator was meant to indicate that he, Commodus, was the prime example of the disciplined, military, Roman male. The Roman games gave the people a chance to vent opposing views without fear of retribution. It was a way for any Emperor, generally quite isolated from the populace, to get feedback from the citizens. The games allowed the emperor to see who supported him and who was missing from his games. The logistics of training a gladiator or beast handler, and the procurement and conscription of the beasts and humans are detailed. It is amazing the numbers needed. The book concludes with the idea of the games, what it meant to be Roman, and how the games reinforced this idea and then how the Christians undermined it by being more passive than fierce. The author makes his point that the games were more than blood and guts, but bloody they were.
Johns Hopkins University Press
The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, A Brief History
When it comes to reading textbooks or primers on particular subjects, the key really is that the writing keep the reader’s interest, otherwise their mind is likely to wander and/or become bored with the subject matter they are reading about. Thankfully, Jack L. Schwartzwald’s brief history on the ancient Near East, Greece and Rome has an interesting and engaging voice that grabs the reader’s attention right from the beginning and keeps them going for the whole book.
This “brief history” is still a good 190-odd pages of informational text, along with an extensive bibliography and thorough index, giving the reader quick references at their fingertips. For those readers looking to read it cover to cover, the book is divided into three chapters: “The Cradle of Civilization: The Ancient Near East,’ “The Cradle of Western Civilization: Ancient Greece,” and “The Cradle of the Nation-State: Ancient Rome.” While it seems like heavy reading to digest the entire book with just three chapter breaks, especially on this none-too-easy subject, each chapter is subdivided into sections with titles to allow for breaks and digestion of the material. The shortest chapter is the first one at 30 pages, which is sad, because it is such an import period in history that lead to the foundation and creation of so much that came after, nevertheless it is clear that while Schwartzwald knows plenty about the ancient Near East, it is ancient Greece and Rome where he dedicates his true knowledge.
The history telling is straightforward, with lots of names and dates throughout the text, as the author lays out the history and events and happenings in succinct paragraphs. There is not a lot of discussion or synthesis here, as this is a “brief history” after all and nothing more. Schwartzwald is giving you the quick history of these times and places so that you can speedily digest and understand it. If you are looking for further, deeper material, that is what the bibliography is for. But in this way the book also serves as an excellent reference tool, along with the index, so that if the reader is tackling something in depth, but wants a quick refresher on a specific period in the ancient Near East, Greece or Rome, this book does the job well.
What is perhaps surprising about the book is that it is all text, with not a single picture, table, graphic, or depiction of a graphic source. While, again, it is a “brief history” and meant for a quick and thorough reading of the time period, one would expect maybe a photo or two, a Roman statue or Greek piece of architecture, or even Hammurabi’s code of laws; something to break up the text and help make it all the more real for the reader. Nevertheless, the book does its job of providing a “brief history” of the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, where the reader will not become lost and overwhelmed by too much, but able to digest everything in titled sections. It is an ideal book for someone taking an ancient history class and looking to get a feel for the history they are about to learn about or for the average reader wanting to learn more about the period, but not having to absorb a heavy and overwhelming tome. The people, dates, and events in the book are all laid out in chronological order, allowing the reader to take it all in swiftly and comprehensively.
John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit
John Quincy Adams was the 6th President of the United States. He was the son of a President. A lot of people might stop right there and be inclined to write him off. John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit does no such thing. John Quincy Adams lived an extraordinary life, he was a witness to the Battle of Bunker Hill at age 8 while his father John Adams labored in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia trying to mold this country together. His mother Abigail was his primary caregiver and shaped his mind. John Quincy’s teenage years would be colored by his time in Europe with his diplomat father. He would be influenced by his time there but also by his idol, Thomas Jefferson. The time spent in Europe would lead to future vocations as diplomat under President George Washington. In 1797, John Quincy would marry Louisa Johnson. It would be a marriage with times of great struggle, from financial imbroglios (Louisas father, John Quincy’s brother) to multiple miscarriages, but their union would never be broken. Meanwhile, John Quincy would go from lawyer to State Legislature then eventually Secretary of State. This position would put him in good stead for his run at the Presidency in 1824, which he would win but not without controversy. Quincy’s willingness to buck the system would hamper attempts at getting legislation passed. His defeat in 1828 seemed to sound the death knell of his career, but his political fortitude would lead to a career in congress that would span the rest of his life, where he would leave an indelible mark on the country.
James Traub’s biography of John Quincy Adams is an excellent telling of a life often overlooked. History books tend to brush Adams off after his one term in office but the truth is far more compelling. Traub mentions Adams’ battles with the slave holding South and his stubbornness in not going with the flow in pitched battles. Adams was a maverick before the term became fashionable and Traub makes his mark with this well told biography of a forgotten trailblazer.
God told me to draw these.
When reading satirical cartoons, we assume there’s an astute political mind behind them, but it’s not often we get to get to see the comics given extra weight by commentary. This book offers that, with 100 of De Salvio’s published illustrations accompanied by essays explaining their genesis (note the small ‘g’ there). Being Catholic educated, a former newspaper editor and columnist, a gifted artist and a gay man who was at Stonewall, the author/illustrator is in a unique position to invoke the tragicomic specter of homophobia. Combining laugh-out-loud humor with serious reporting, he gives readers a chance to not only revel in the ridiculousness of Rush Limbaugh and Michele Bachman quotes, but also to read a serious interview with late Randy Shilts (And the Band Played on, Conduct Unbecoming).
The topics covered here deserve everyone’s attention, regardless of orientation: Teen suicide, gay-positive school programs, international policy on gays in the military, the illogic of automatically associating same-sex orientation with child molestation, right-wing extremism, Bible literalism and distortion, landmarks in LGBT legislation, the myths of recruiting and homosexuality-as-choice, and the Vatican’s perplexing stance on the matter (it’s ok to be queer; it’s not ok to act on it).
The introduction warns that some Internet searches may be needed to fully understand the subjects, and indeed references like Thomas Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” might be unfamiliar. But go ahead and get familiar with them. Be glad that someone who knows the Constitution as well as the Bible took the time to make a point-by-point refutation of a sermon on America being a Christian nation. Even better, that it was done by someone who follows the precepts of Jesus.
By book’s end, you’ll be all aglow with the joy of lampooning–and not the mean-spirited kind, either. As the author says, “Be kind to Creationists. Remember, they have not yet evolved.”
Jewels of Allah
Is there any subject of which the average Westerner harbors more misconceptions and false assumptions than the role of the Middle Eastern woman? Dr. Nina Ansary tackles these misconceptions directly in her book Jewels of Allah, explaining that the history of women’s rights in Iran isn’t as simple as we assume. In fact, what is surprising is how women have found methods of liberation through their oppression. Two prominent examples are the mandated wearing of the hijab and the institution of single-sex education. Ansary explains that with the institutionalization of both the hijab and single-sex education, many conservative Muslim families felt more comfortable sending their daughters to school. Additionally, girls attending an all-girl school flourished more and were more comfortable voicing their opinions than they had been in the coeducational schools of the Pahlavi monarchy.
The Pahlavi era was one of rapid social progress. Too rapid, perhaps: Centuries of custom and tradition were ousted almost overnight, including the role of women. During the Persian centuries, women played a subordinate role, but with the advent of the Pahlavi era, women were allowed to hold political office, become lawyers, obtain divorces, and dress how they pleased. The hijab, however, was outlawed, and many Iranians believed the Pahlavi were mere puppets of the Western powers. In 1979 the pendulum of progress swung back with a vengeance, as the revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the Pahlavi regime and the era’s hard-won social progress. Women were once again forced to play a subordinate role. Yet as Ansary shows, there was and continues to be a thriving women’s rights movement despite the oppressive patriarchal laws and regulations. During the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, for instance, women filled many of the jobs left vacant by men fighting in the war, not unlike women during World War II. Ansary also cites the numerous women’s magazines and periodicals in post-revolutionary Iran as an impetus and outlet for women’s concerns, and devotes an entire chapter to the women’s magazine Zanan and its founder, Shahla Sherkat.
One of the most important revelations of the book is that there is not just one type of Iranian woman. Even within the progressive women’s movement there are differences. There are devout Muslim women who seek to reconcile and reinterpret the Koran more favorably for women, and there are also secular women who believe no such reconciliation is possible and work for a complete break with tradition, yet despite their differences both camps work together for the advancement of women’s rights. Nina Ansary’s book is a must-read for anyone hoping for a fuller understanding of the role of women and the women’s rights movement in Iran. It is a much-needed antidote to Western misconceptions
The Unfolding of American Labor Law
In this academically challenging and scholarly rigorous debut book, Kahana carefully traces the evolution of labor law in the United States from the period after the Revolutionary War, until the middle of the nineteenth century. The book is divided into two parts: the first spells out the evolution of American labor law, the second takes on a particular case study.
In the first part of the book, Kahana sets out to argue that American labor law, rather than being an off-shoot of English common law, is best described as a unique entity shaped by the distinct realities of American social circumstances. The main target of his arguments are those scholars who have argued that American labor law found its roots in the master-servant relationship in feudal England, which formed the basis of English common law, and which was therefore central in the formation of American law. Kahana works carefully through both legal commentaries, as well as records of the way that the law was actually practiced to develop his arguments for American exceptionalism on this topic.
In the second part of the book, Kahana digs into a particular case study — Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw – and outlines his particular important contributions to American Labor Law. His role exemplified the American, rather than English system, through a strong defense of unionization, and a constant reliance on the American tradition of individual responsibility and individual freedom. Kahana makes a credible argument in favor of Shaw’s important place in developing the uniquely American labor law tradition.
Throughout these two broad arguments, Kahana is constantly teasing out the differences in these two approaches, and supporting his argument for American exceptionalism. The audience for this academic text will include both legal and historical scholars, as well as those with a specific interest in the history of this area of law. The lay-reader will find the content of this text daunting, but anyone with an interest in this specialized area of legal history will want to become familiar with the arguments contained here.