Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book review - Ashes of Empire.

When I picked up Marguerite Vance's Ashes of Empire from my grandfather's library I was interested to read it. The book covers the ill-fated attempt to set up Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. Since I have read little about this event I took to the book with enthusiasm.

Published in 1959 and running 159 pages the book begins with the courtship of Maximilian and Carlota. From there it traces the path of the political forces leading to Maximilian's appointment as emperor. The book ends with the Maximilian's execution and Carlota going insane from grief.

While not badly written, I found the book to be a disappointment. Instead of the historical account I expected it is a brief overview. The reasons for Maximilian's coronation are reasonably well explained. Nothing of his reign in Mexico or his downfall is. Events are not explained and principle parties are not developed. The result is a rather hazy account where I was left with more questions than answers.

If you are looking for a quick overview of Mexico's encounter with European royalty and don't want to bother with specifics then Ashes of Empire is for you. If you want to delve into the how and why of events then I suggest skipping ahead to a more in depth account.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book review - Profiles in Courage.

I have to admit up front I am not a fan of John F. Kennedy so it was with some misgivings I began to read his book Profiles in Courage. The book presents a series of accounts concerning senators in the United States Senate who stood against the odds for what they believed. I could not help but wonder if President Kennedy's personal political views would come into play in selecting the subjects of the book.

The book starts off with a forward by Robert F. Kennedy and an explanation from the author concerning the purpose of the book and discussing the pressures facing senators to compromise their beliefs. Then it proceeds to the profiles. Each section of the book starts with a short explanation of the issues or situation being faced by the nation. Each chapter profiles a senator who took a stand for what he considered to be the right course despite pressure to do the opposite. Some sections contain just one chapter while others have two or three.

The subjects of the chapters range from John Quincy Adams to Robert A. Taft. In between some famous Americans such as Sam Houston and Daniel Webster make appearances. Other forgotten men such as Edmund Ross and George Norris appear as well. Some I was aware of, others were new to me. Some were correct in their views, others clearly incorrect. Some were rewarded for their stands, others condemned and forgotten.

President Kennedy was an excellent writer. I found his accounts of events to be interesting and accurate so far as I could tell. He clearly favored those more in accordance with his own personal political views but that is understandable. He also seems to celebrate courage for courage sake, in spite of warning the reader not to do so. If you keep these in mind you will find Profiles in Courage to be an interesting and informative read.