Sunday, 29 January 2012

Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians John Bagnell Bury



John Bagnell Bury's Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians takes the story of the fall of the Roman Empire and tells it from the barbarian point of view.  This is not the normal perspective on the story, but it is a more positive way to look at it.  After all, when the empire fell a lot of new states were created and each of them has its own story.  So from this point of view Alaric, the first man to sack Rome, is seen as an ambitious and capable ruler who was just trying to get his share of the action.  But this doesn't detract from the drama of the story.  

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward Luttwak





The history of the Byzantine Empire merges with the history of the original Roman Empire which it grew out of.  But although there was never a day when the eastern half of the empire announced that it was now a different entity, the story of the Greek speaking Byzantines is radically different from that of their Latin predecessors.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Why I like Ron Paul


Lots of people like Ron Paul. But not generally people like me. Not many Europeans have even heard of him. The maverick Republican senator only gets microscopic coverage in the news media over here, even now when he is one of the hopefuls trying to pick up the nomination for president.  I am pretty much on the left politically, so I don't generally warm towards Republicans. I'm not keen on their politics to begin with. And on top of all that, as an atheist I find bringing religion into politics annoying, so the primaries when the candidates are trying to appeal to the committed are something I usually prefer to ignore.

So what gets me into the Ron Paul fan club?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Why The West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History and what they reveal about the Future by Ian Morris




As an industrial scientist I have learned quite a few problem solving tricks over the years.  One of the simplest, at least in principle, is just to tabulate the data into a meaningful form.  Many impossible issues that fox everyone involved suddenly become obvious if you just look at the information in a way that makes it easy to understand. It can be tedious to do, but is often very effective.  But there is a downside. You present your painstakingly assembled piece of work to your colleagues. With the hard work done for them, somebody usually grasps the issue rapidly and often claims to have solved it themselves and proceeds to give themself a slap on the back for their penetrating insight.  Nobody requires a huge amount of information to confirm their own genius.  From that point on people start to focus on the next problem and your weeks or months of effort are rapidly forgotten. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Zenobia the Musical

I am afraid I know almost nothing about this, but as this is the Internet I am not going to let that stop me.



I have just come across this rather amazing Youtube video of a musical version of the life of Zenobia.  I am a bit behind the times because it seems to have been put on in Dubai in 2008.  And boy must it have been spectacular judging the by the clip with a huge cast up to and including horses and camels.  The music sounds pretty good too.

It is good to see Zenobia getting some decent billing and being portrayed in a positive light.  I have previously covered the full story of Zenobia but I don't know how well she is known in the Arab world - though I guess this musical must have raised her profile whatever it was.  I hope some people were inspired.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Hymn to Cybele by Julian the Apostate

The Goddess Cybele praised by Julian the Apostate (thanks to Wikipedia for the image)

The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate is a one off in history. He was the nephew of Constantine, the man that introduced Christianity to the empire. But he spent most of his adult life trying to convert it back again. He was born a Christian and died a pagan. He was a philosopher by inclination. He could easily have been remembered as a leading exponent of Neoplatonism, but proved to be a great warrior when forced to become one. Above all, he was full of surprises.

Continue reading at the blog's new site http://historybooksreview.co.uk/the-hymn-to-cybele-julian-apostate/

Monday, 2 January 2012

Orwell, Tolkien, C.S.Lewis and the Nazis



My three favourite twentieth century English authors are Orwell, Tolkien and C.S.Lewis.  It isn't a perfectly equal trinity though.  I think Orwell and Tolkien are writers of huge genius who will be read for centuries to come.  Lewis I like a lot and enjoy reading, but he isn't really in the same category.  He can certainly write well and has lots of interesting ideas, but I think he is very much of his time and will get steadily less relevant as the world changes.  He also got a lot of his ideas from the other two.  This doesn't diminish how much fun you get from reading him.  But originality always commands more respect than derivation, no matter how skilfully done.

But it is interesting to consider that all three men were pretty close to each other in age and to some extent background, and so had fairly similar lives and influences.  The major events of their lives were the two wars.  They would all have followed the rise of the Nazis in Germany and were all influenced by it.  But they all developed their ideas and outlooks beforehand, and so responded in the light of their prior positions.