canbelto

Comparisons of books of a similar subject

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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?

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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....

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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.

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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

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

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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 are the latest revelations about Orlando Figes article from the Independent and article from Mail Online. What a shame... so unnecessary and damaging to his own reputation.

The historian unmasked himself as the writer of several scathing reviews of books by contemporaries including Robert Service, Rachel Polonsky and the novelist Kate Summerscale on the shopping website Amazon. He originally denied authorship and then claimed that his wife had penned them.

The professor of Russian history at Birkbeck, University of London, who has previously been engaged in at least two legal disputes with other historians, has been accused and cleared of plagiarism, and received hate mail while an academic at Cambridge. One colleague who did not want to be named described the most recent episode as "the tip of the iceberg".

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Thank you for the links, innopac. Figes will be fine. The Internet makes people do odd things. As one of the articles you linked to notes, you can recover from almost anything these days. (Until the 'tip of the iceberg' fellow goes on the record I'm not inclined to pay too much attention to that.)

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Thank you for the links, innopac. Figes will be fine. The Internet makes people do odd things. As one of the articles you linked to notes, you can recover from almost anything these days. (Until the 'tip of the iceberg' fellow goes on the record I'm not inclined to pay too much attention to that.)

And sometimes we discover that a particular iceberg is nothing but a tip and that it couldn't sink much of anything. I have no idea if this is the case here but am reminded of the familiar quip by Henry Kissinger (or Richard Neustadt, Wallace Sayre, C. P. Snow or a number of others) that academic politics is so vicious because so little is at stake.

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The Internet makes people do odd things.

I don't know which is shabbier - sinking to sock-puppetry or letting your spouse take the rap for it. That Figes was so inept at covering his own e-tracks makes the whole spectacle even more pathetic.

If you're going to savage your rivals, do it with style.

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The Internet makes people do odd things.

I don't know which is shabbier - sinking to sock-puppetry or letting your spouse take the rap for it. That Figes was so inept at covering his own e-tracks makes the whole spectacle even more pathetic.

If you're going to savage your rivals, do it with style.

I agree, and I'm very familiar with people doing this, and have had it done to me. It is not nearly as uncommon as one might think for very distinguished people, but who are often going through a burnout period, or even an autumnal decline in their careers, to do this.

I can't say I agree with you, dirac, that the internet makes people do things, or at least that's only half of it. If somebody lets it make them do these (all the ridiculous stalkings that really do go on on the net, and I know the details of friends who have been victim of this), they are also choosing to do it. Endless impersonation of other people is also done, all sorts of phony emails are sent, I've had this happen in these processes too, and the kind of person who insists on withholding his identity online is usually pretty cowardly, if s/he starts carrying it into someone else's offline life--some are even borderline hackers, and try to get security details out of you, although the hardcore hacker never uses anything so clumsy and directly personal. And yet I find on the blogs that it may even be the majority who use a pseudonym. At BT, people use them, but these are just for fun more than to hide names usually, and I don't believe anybody here writes with a moniker in order to hide their identity. Some who use them always identify themselves in pm's as a courtesy, I've noticed. Even I don't use my whole name like Mel and Alexandra do, but almost everybody knows it, and I wouldn't care if everybody did.

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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 are the latest revelations about Orlando Figes article from the Independent and article from Mail Online. What a shame... so unnecessary and damaging to his own reputation.

The historian unmasked himself as the writer of several scathing reviews of books by contemporaries including Robert Service, Rachel Polonsky and the novelist Kate Summerscale on the shopping website Amazon. He originally denied authorship and then claimed that his wife had penned them.

The professor of Russian history at Birkbeck, University of London, who has previously been engaged in at least two legal disputes with other historians, has been accused and cleared of plagiarism, and received hate mail while an academic at Cambridge. One colleague who did not want to be named described the most recent episode as "the tip of the iceberg".

I have always assumed Figes books were written for a popular audience and I am suprised therefore, at the row in the academic nursery.

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I'm surprised that Robert Service could possibly object to anyone saying his books suck.

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I don't know how I missed the revival of this thread, but -- thanks, innopac, for bringing Figes back.

leonid, I've always considered Figes to be a serious, academically-based scholar. He does have a wider than usual general readership. Either way, the revelations are surprising and depressing.

His anonymous hatchet-jobs posted on Amazon suggests that Figes is someone who is certainly petty and possibly disturbed.

The plagiarism allegations -- "nonattribution of quotations" and borrowing of material and even wording from other works -- isn't uncommon in academic scholarship, though Figes seems to have gone farther than usual and taken more risks.

Worst to me is the following:

In 2002, the Cambridge historian Rachel Polonsky wrote a review of Figes's book in The Times Literary Supplement in which she accused him of inaccuracies, factual errors, misreadings, cavalier appropriation of sources and a general intellectual irresponsibility. Figes subsequently defended his record, but, according to Polonsky, misquoted his own book. When Polonsky wrote to point out that he had not quoted his own work in full, she was told the TLS would not be publishing her letter and the matter was dropped.
I'd love to know why the TLS -- which often features heated back-and-forth disputes among academics -- suppressed this one. Figes was himself a frequent and high-profile TLS reviewer, which may have had something to do with it.

Something that interested me particularly is the question of how this will or will not effect Figes' career.

Opinion is divided over whether Figes will be able to remain in post after what one historian described as "career suicide" from which he could "never recover". But a one-time colleague of Figes said Birkbeck would be unlikely to want to lose one its most eminent names, and that "these days people recover from almost anything".
That last statement, which I've highlighted, is perhaps the saddest part of the article.

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That last statement, which I've highlighted, is perhaps the saddest part of the article.

Interesting that, and made me think of some non-literary examples, the first that popped into my mind was Martha Stewart, who certainly did exactly that--recover, and totally. Not that it wasn't all painful process, so it would also have something to do with the strength of the person. Stewart is definitely so strong that she even made the best of her prison time. Film stars' careers would be resuscitated after scandals, although the scandals are not usually completely forgotten. This may mean something more specific within the academic community, though. It is true that academic internecine wars do often seem very lilliputian from the outside, office politics can be like that too. I'm actually unfamiliar with Figes and all the other writers mentioned, the only Robert Service I know is the Yukon poet, and barely remember him. Plagiarism is indeed considered serious, and wasn't there a famous case in the 90s at the New Yorker, I forget the writer's name, Janet something? I do have to say that even though Kissinger's remark seems accurate, it's a little unfortunate that he's the source, since it comes off as snobbish from one who has know 'great power', etc.. But I've known academics with their letters of recommendation for jobs that are meant to present the applicant unfavourably, and there's a lot of lying and pretending going on, a dark underbelly as with all professions, maybe. Penelope Gilliatt once accused of plagiarism, I think even Doris Kearns Goodwin, the first was having a lot of health problems anyway, my memory is bad about Goodwin, she may have just been being careless, not sure if she's managed to fully restore her reputation (I used to just know her on Lehrer News Hour, which I haven't watched for years.) Myabe the sad part is that sometimes the scandals breathe too much new life into some careers, although I'm sure that remark about 'recovery from everything' is hyperbole.

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Going way back to the Beverly Sills' books: who is the author of "Beverly Sills"; is that Kerby?

Giannina

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