Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge
Petrograd, we know it as St. Petersburg, was the center of Tsarist Russia and the center of the revolution that eventually gave rise to Soviet Russia. In this new book by Helen Rappaport, we explore the world of Petrograd on the eve of revolution, when the city is brimming with energy and there is something in the air. It is not, however, a view from the workers and revolutionaries; instead the view we get is from the Americans, British, and other foreigners, both diplomatic, journalistic, and military, who were living in the city at the time. Mrs. Rappaport mines the diaries, letters, newspaper stories, telegrams, and more of these expats living in Petrograd to explore how they felt the revolution, the fall of the Tsar, and the rise of the Bolsheviks.
Mrs. Rappaport does an excellent job weaving a narrative using all the sources at her disposal to show us that it was not only Russian citizens affected by this but also expats living and working in the city. This view is from a side that really did not have a stake in the outcome but that was fascinated by what was happening anyway.
St. Martin's Press
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
67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence
May 4 1970 was your average day in Vietnam, seeing two dozen deaths of US soldiers. President Nixon had just announced the bombing of Cambodia, which led to massive protests on college campuses. Kent State University had recently come alive with unrest in town involving a near riot, which resulted in the Mayor calling in the National Guard. The university had seen the burning of the ROTC building along with rumors of a protest rally on campus on the 4th. The fuse was lit on a powder keg and the explosion was imminent. 67 shots would ring out on the Ohio campus at mid-day. When the smoke cleared & some semblance of order was restored, 4 were dead, scores wounded. The questions would be numerous, the answers almost nil. What led to the triggers being squeezed that shattered the calm of that Monday afternoon? Poor training, sleep deprivation, youth of the troops is blamed, while the establishment blamed the incendiary nature of the clash and the riotous hatred of the student led mob. Questions of outside agitation were repeatedly raised and culpability was spread on all sides.
Howard Means’ look at a horrible moment in US history is crucial to understanding the law, poltiics, basic rights and how occasionally all three clash, and how the former fail the latter. The author doesn’t pick sides in the telling of those momentous days, just shedding a flash light on history (known & unknown). Means sees this event as different than other shootings (school & protest), because of the climate surrounding it, the questions still surrounding May 4 and what lessons have been learned from it or ignored. The bottom line is May 4, 1970 still resonates in America for the survivors and those who watched.
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.”
The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention
The Paper Trail by Alexander Monro is described as an unexpected history of a revolutionary invention. It is all of that. Writing itself was a wonder but the limitations of clay, bark, split bamboo, or animal skins kept writing to an elite few. Papyrus was better but not until the Han dynasty, when paper was invented did the sharing of ideas begin to accelerate. Then paper comes into its own facilitating the spread of ideas, bureaucracy, religion, art, science, essays and revolution. Earlier religions are limited by oral recitation or limited written medium. Buddhism, a second resurgence of Daoism, Islam, Christianity, the Renaissance, and Revolution are all made possible by the burgeoning use of paper to share, spread, and import advancing ideas from far away. Literacy becomes the mark of status, the time from the invention of paper to our current day can be called “The Paper Age”.
The book is written well. It has a wealth of knowledge and anecdotes. This is not a general history and though the author touches on major events, his focus is how paper moved through history lubricating change. This is a book to read, to ponder, and to re-examine history using a different lens. It is enlightening and entertaining. I recommend it highly.
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.