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Comparisons of books of a similar subject


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#1 canbelto

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 05:35 PM

I thought this would be a very fun topic. Nowadays it seems as if multiple biographies of the same people come out every year. Also, new translations of classics, etc. So I thought I'd start this off by comparing biographies of one of my favorite topics, the Tudors.

Just about the six wives of Henry, we have tomes by Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser, and David Starkey. I think Starkey's book goes more in depth than the other two, reprinting in whole letters and documents. Cardinal Wolsey and Catherine's servants get much attention. It is also longer than the other two books. However, Starkey seems very full of himself (read the introduction), and his conclusions are IMO somewhat dubious. I think the best overall book is Antonia Fraser's. It's the most well-written and insightful, and has the right amount of scholarly research but isn't overloaded.
But the best book about Henry's wives is IMO Eric Ives' "Life and Death of Anne Boleyn."

Any others?

#2 bart

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 05:59 PM

Thanks, canbelto, for an intriguing topic -- especially when I found myself asking why so many people (myself included, and you as well) read multiple biographies of one figure when I suppose we could be using the time to range more widely to less well-known subjects.

On the Queens of Henry VIII, I actually liked Starkey best. But Fraser is really quite a thorough researcher and a nuanced writer, and she's much more attuned to the human issues. Weir comes last, imo.

It's often fun to read a biography along with other works on the periiod, and to bring in a video of possible. The Henry VIII period inspired lots of those. My favorite Queen is Genevieve Bujold's Anne Boleyn in Anne of a Thousand Days. Maybe other posters might include the films they like as well, if that's okay.

Queens with dramatic stories and mythic fascination seem to be magnets for biographers who want to sell. Power without tragedy -- as with Catherine the Great -- also seems to inspire multiple biographers.

Multiple biographies of mythical and glamourous MEN also seem popular. Napoleon and Caesar surely must be among the subjects of the most books.

#3 dirac

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 02:14 PM

My favorite Queen is Genevieve Bujold's Anne Boleyn in Anne of a Thousand Days. Maybe other posters might include the films they like as well, if that's okay.


We have a pre-existing topic in the Other Arts forum on portrayals of Elizabeth I in film which went into some detail on this topic, and Anne Boleyns, including Bujold, were mentioned and discussed. I think it would be best to stay on the topic of books for this thread. :wink:

#4 dirac

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 02:15 PM

Here is that other thread:

http://ballettalk.in...showtopic=26449

#5 canbelto

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 01:36 PM

I thought that the best Joseph Stalin biographies were the two-part biographies by Simon Sebag Montefiore. One was about Young Stalin, and the other about his brutal Soviet rule. They are both riveting to read, and filled to the brim with facts I had never heard about before.

#6 bart

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 06:15 PM

My Stalin reading tend to be longer ago than Montefiore -- and rooted in the Cold War era: Robert Service's biography, especially.

I also got a lot out of Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives . The similarities and comparisons fascinating but oppressive and depressing.

Newly opened archives have revealed so much. One topic -- tying in with "books of a similar subject" -- concerns those who suffered under Stalinism, Or collaborated. Or dropped out. There's a new book by Orlando Figes, The Whisperers that does an impressive job of presenting evidence that wasn't available only 20 years ago. The subtitle, "Private Life in Stalin's Russia," suggests a new way of looking at Stalinism (from the bottom up, as it wree) that would have been impossible (literally) just a generation ago. Balelt Talk readers may know Figes's book on Russian cultural history, Natasha's Dance.

Canbelto and others, do you
(1) read books on "similar subjects" sequentially? or
(2) skip back and forth from one book to another? or
(3) change the subject matter from one book to the next?

I'm in group (2), often keeping several books on the same subject going at the same time.

#7 Ed Waffle

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 10:41 AM

The only biography of Stalin I have read goes way back--"Stalin, A Political Biography" by Isaac Deutscher. As I recall it would only be useful now for those interested in the history of Bolshevism from 1905 to 1917.

Additionally read the three volume biography of Trotsky by the same author.

#8 Ed Waffle

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 10:51 AM

(2) skip back and forth from one book to another?


Almost always the case for me--currently reading several books on torture, particularly in Algeria and Central America, although when "Real World" by Natsuo Kirino hit the bookstores I dropped everything having become a complete fanboy with "Out" and going bonkers of "Grotesque", a novel that I am loathe to re-read--it simply couldn't be as good the second time through. My only complaint regarding "Real World" is its length--while Kirino did exactly what she wanted in 200 pages I would have been grateful for a few hundred more.

#9 dirac

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 02:15 PM

Welcome back, Ed. Long time no hear. :)

#10 canbelto

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Posted 05 August 2008 - 04:43 PM

Also it's interesting to compare memoirs. The best example being Beverly Sills' two memoirs. The first, "Bubbles," is as sweet and bubbly as the title would suggest. It also, looking back, seems rather fake. Her next memoir, "Beverly Sills," showed a tough as nails, ambitious diva. People who were described lovingly in the first book (Marilyn Horne, Rosa Ponselle, Julius Rudel), undergo sharp criticism. She comes across as someone you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

#11 bart

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Posted 05 August 2008 - 05:27 PM

Her next memoir, "Beverly Sills," showed a tough as nails, ambitious diva. People who were described lovingly in the first book (Marilyn Horne, Rosa Ponselle, Julius Rudel), undergo sharp criticism. She comes across as someone you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

Now that's a surprise -- which makes me want to read the second book. Thanks, canbelto.

#12 dirac

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Posted 05 August 2008 - 06:05 PM

Her next memoir, "Beverly Sills," showed a tough as nails, ambitious diva. People who were described lovingly in the first book (Marilyn Horne, Rosa Ponselle, Julius Rudel), undergo sharp criticism. She comes across as someone you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

Now that's a surprise -- which makes me want to read the second book. Thanks, canbelto.


Not a surprise to anyone who followed Sills' career....

#13 canbelto

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 09:26 AM

Also, I've been comparing translations of Don Quixote. I've comes across three, and it's incredible how a good (or bad) translation can ruin a book.

Bad: the Pierre Motteux translation. Makes the book unreadable, almost. He bunches together paragraphs a la Henry James, he adds like two proverbs when there is only one, and he makes both Sancho and Don Quixote rather crude. I threw it out.

Good: Edith Grossman. I think Grossman's translation is the most accessible for modern readers. Grossman is an acclaimed translator of Spanish-language works and she's very good at making the pages fly by while still preserving to some extent the flavor of an "old novel." However, sometimes I think she goes too far in trying to make the book accessible. At one point Don Quixote says, "Hey, whoa!"

Good: Walter Starkie: It's an older translation, and he seems to have taken some care into making it sound like a quaint "old book." There's nothing wrong with that, and I feel that it gives the book a kind of charm, but I can see high school students finding it harder to read. Still, it's leaps and bounds better than the Motteux translation.

#14 innopac

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 09:02 PM

Newly opened archives have revealed so much. One topic -- tying in with "books of a similar subject" -- concerns those who suffered under Stalinism, Or collaborated. Or dropped out. There's a new book by Orlando Figes, The Whisperers that does an impressive job of presenting evidence that wasn't available only 20 years ago. The subtitle, "Private Life in Stalin's Russia," suggests a new way of looking at Stalinism (from the bottom up, as it wree) that would have been impossible (literally) just a generation ago. Balelt Talk readers may know Figes's book on Russian cultural history, Natasha's Dance.


Here is an article by Figes: "Shelved - did Kremlin make my Stalin book disappear?" from the Guardian on the 4th of March.
Article link

#15 dirac

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Posted 16 March 2009 - 01:54 PM

Thank you for reviving this thread, innopac. Good article.


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