This is another interesting free course run via Coursera, created by The Wesleyan University and presented by Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. It’s a good starting point with which to learn about some of the battles, significant persons, and events of Ancient Greece.
Over 7 weeks the course covers:
Prehistory to Homer
The Archaic Age (ca. 800-500 BCE)
Two City-States: Sparta and Athens
Democracy. The Persian Wars
“The Great 50 Years” (ca. 480-431 BCE)
The Peloponnesian War I
The End of the War, the End of the Century
We learn about Homer, Socrates, Thucydides, Critias, Herotodus, and the major players in the array of battles, laws, political systems and arrangements and shenanigans which went on during this important period in European history. There is one video on women in Greek society but other than fairly brief mentions women and the lower classes aren’t discussed in detail (to be fair this IS a short course and there is not a lot of info remaining about the common man and woman in Greek society).
The course comprises of informative videos and reading. I have to confess I didn’t do much of the reading (partly as I’ve done some in the past and partly because I didn’t have a lot of time) and I would have got more out of this had I done so – my bad.
I’d recommend doing at least some of the readings, and watching all the videos. There are quizzes to be completed at the end of each section – and these count as the grading for the course so MUST be completed.
The tutor was very engaging, easy to listen to and obviously is very well informed on this historical era. There were a couple of issues with sound quality – but I have found this an issue with Coursera before (but to be fair the course is free).
Coursera is a good way to pick up cheap or free ‘taster’ courses (One can pay for the course and gain a certificate – otherwise you can an acknowledgement of completion but no actual certificate. The cost of this is not much.)
Overall I enjoyed this and would certainly look out for more courses from this university and tutor.
I love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy series. I love the characters – particularly Sam Vimes who features in several books including Snuff. Pratchett’s world is dark, yet humorous; fictional yet a great reflection of humanity with all its foibles; and most importantly it’s a believable world.
In this tale Commander Sam Vimes, Duke of Ankh Morpork, Blackboard Monitor is persuaded to take a holiday in the country. He’s not keen. Vimes is not a country gentleman, and he reckons it’s going to be boring.
Smugglers, slavery, murder, the rights of goblins, the question of what makes a sentient people, music, drugs, books about poop, the age-old class struggle – it most certainly is NOT a boring holiday! As ever Pratchett keeps the pace, and the wry humour going all through.
As with many of the later books, there’s a message here, cleverly woven into an awesome tale. The Discworld is medieval Europe (sort of), and the people therein are a window into humanity. What makes a group of creatures ‘people’? What you see, might not be what you get. Treat others how you wish to be treated. Good and evil – are in all of us, and ‘I was only following orders’. These are some of the themes running through this book, and many of the others.
All in all a cracking good tale of bravery, flawed heroes, frantic chases, goblins, and solving small crimes, so bigger ones can be solved.
https://amzn.to/2pPSKtm – AMAZON UK
https://amzn.to/2GkYHWw – AMAZON
Lawyers in Hell forms part of the Heroes in Hell shared world. As usual with these anthologies, there is an eclectic mix of stories. Some I enjoyed more than others, but there was nothing I didn’t like. From Guy Fawkes trying to sue Satan (Fawkes believes he is a martyr and thus should be in heaven) to Leonides dealing with a recalcitrant Alexander, to ex-presidents, to succubi causing mayhem and Erra and his Sibbiti (an ongoing theme) there is mischief afoot in Hell.
It shows the talent of these authors that although the stories are clearly written by different people, feature a bewildering array of historical characters in all sorts of weird situations they flow smoothly in a brilliantly crafted world.
Humanity will be humanity – even in hell. And thus individuals wish to sue other individuals and the lawyers who worth and the Hall of Injustice are kept busy. Of course, being hell, nothing is simple, nothing works properly and there’s always a hidden agenda. All the characters have some form of penance to pay – be it taking cases they cannot win, representing demons, facing monsters, dealing with the unpredictable technology, and generally trying to survive Hell. The stories are sad (as I said humanity seeks to be humanity with its many faults), darkly humorous, clever, weird and enticing.
Spell It Out: The singular story of English Spelling – David Crystal.
Why is there an ‘h’ in ghost? William Caxton, inventor of the printing press and his Flemish employees are to blame: without a dictionary or style guide to hand in fifteenth century Bruges, the typesetters simply spelled it the way it sounded to their foreign ears, and it stuck. Seventy-five per cent of English spelling is regular but twenty-five per cent is complicated, and in Spell It Out our foremost linguistics expert David Crystal extends a helping hand to the confused and curious alike.
He unearths the stories behind the rogue words that confound us and explains why these peculiarities entered the mainstream, in an epic journey taking in sixth-century monks, French and Latin upstarts, the Industrial Revolution and the internet. By learning the history and the principles, Crystal shows how the spellings that break all the rules become easier to get right.
You can tell I’m a logophile (lover of words), as this book really appealed to me. I love the vagaries of English, the whys and wherefores, the ‘really – that’s spelled like that?’ and the etymology of language. This book is a great resource – it covers the history of the English Language, and the ‘rules of spelling’ – many of which get defenestrated at every available opportunity. Crystal explains why.
English is a very confusing language – and I’m a native speaker! Similar sounds – such as ‘ou’ or ‘gh’ can be used in a large variety of words with different pronunciations:
(Spelling in red) coff as in cough; ow as in bough; ruff as in rough; thru as in through; doh as in doughnut.
Thorough, plough, tough, borough etc.
And we have the one everyone knows – I before E except after C… unless … well Wiki has a whole page of them:
There are reasons – from lazy scribes to printers being things look nice, to foreign words being adulterated, to regional differences to text speak. It all makes sense (sort of).
Crystal keeps the book interesting, easy to understand and amusing. He knows his stuff, and it shows. I found it fascinating, and will definitely get the author’s other work. Mr Crystal – you have a new fan.
Recommended for logophiles, writers, and the curious.
Eurekaaargh!: A Spectacular Collection of Inventions That Nearly Worked – Adam Hart-Davis
This work presents 100 stories of weird and wonderful inventions, full-blown and well-developed disasters of what seemed to be brilliant inventions that fell at the first fence, or sometimes the second, like the first steam-powered submarine, still lying on the seabed off North Wales.
I love books like this – the real and rather sad history of things. Most of us remember learning about the Montgolfier balloon; the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk; George Stevenson and his steam engine; and other notable inventors. But what about those that came before and failed? Or did not have the money to patent their invention? Or those whose inventions were too far ahead of their time to be viable. This is a book about these folks – the men (mostly – sorry ladies) who tried (and sometimes died) to better mankind with gadgets and machines and came to a sorry end.
Mr Hart-Davis has done his homework and tells a good tale. The tone is light-hearted, yet informative. There is enough information to draw in the reader but not so much as to get boring, or confusing. One could dip in and out of this book, entertain one’s friends with it, or simply wonder at the ingenuity and foolishness of people.
Please note most of these are British inventors.
Recommended for fans of history.
This is not a bad book, but it’s not particularly good either.
The cases included in this text are:
– Marie Lafarge and Euphemie Lacoste;
– Madeleine Smith and Angelina Lemoine;
– Celestine Doudet and Constance Kent;
– Florence Bravo and Henriette Francy;
– Gabrielle Fenayrou and Adelaide Bartlett;
– Florence Maybrick and Claire Reymond.
- The French cases were largely unknown to me and that aspect was interesting. The comparisons between French and English middle-class society and the position of women were fairly well discussed.
- There was a mix of cases, although all were ‘respectable’ women from the time. What was expected of middle-class women, and her own expectations – marriage, children and running the household – were discussed at length. Many had arranged marriages – often to men much older, or totally unsuitable. Divorce was not a viable option, especially as the father would have maintained control of any children, and the money. Thus most of this women were stuck in relationships, not of their choosing (with the exception of Madeleine Smith – who was in a relationship with a man below her station and disapproved of by her family).
- Although the cases were discussed fairly sympathetically there was a lot of the authors own views on whether the particular murderess was guilty of the crime she committed. Not all were, and those who were found guilty may not have been. At least one was judged on her moral crimes (adultery) as much as the actual murder.
- The author had done her research and it showed. The social comparisons were good and I think the most interesting aspect was the emerging position of women in both France and England during the 19th century. There was good focus on the societal aspects of what may have caused these women to take, or consider taking, the ultimate solution to their woes.
- The book jumped around a lot. All the time. It became hard to follow and sometimes wasn’t clear which case was being discussed. References to other cases made things more confusing.
- The accounts were long and meandered. They became stories in their own right. Why is this bad? For a book that is meant to be a non-fic there was too much of the ‘newspaper’ style telling. Give me the facts – if I want a fiction on the subject I’ll read historical fic about the cases.
- There were quite a few formatting issues.
I just couldn’t really get into the long, often dry accounts of the crimes. It’s a shame because the sociological side of the book was interesting for the most part. If the book had been more structured then the rating would have been higher.
Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims – by Katherine Watson
From Mary Ann Cotton, the Victorian serial murderess, to Dr Crippen, poisoners have attracted a celebrity unmatched by violent killers. Secretly administered, often during a family meal, arsenic (the most commonly-used poison) led to a slow and agonising death, while strychnine (with its characteristic bitter taste) killed very quickly. Poisoned Lives is the first history of the crime to examine poisoning and its consequences as a whole. Unwanted husbands, wives or lovers, illegitimate babies, children killed for the insurance money, relatives, rivals and employers were amongst the many victims of these calculating killers. Difficult to detect before 1800, poison undoubtedly had its heyday in the nineteenth century. In response to many suspected cases, forensic tests were developed that made detection increasingly likely, and the sale of poisons became more tightly controlled. Because of this, twentieth-century poisoning has become a crime largely associated with medical professionals including, most recently, Dr Harold Shipman, the world’s most prolific serial killer.
Many of the true crime books focus solely on the murders themselves, as one would expect. Usually the same twenty or so crimes are discussed and not often in detail. This book is different. Over 500 cases from 19th century to the early 20th century are included, although many as comparisons and not in detail. That said the author does a great job of discussing the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the crimes – the societal aspects, how they changed, the rise of the police force, and the increased awareness of poisoning as a crime. Before the 1900s sanitary conditions amongst the poor were dire, life expectancy short and infant mortality high. Many of the cases discussed, and the situations covered reflect this – people poisoning as to not have another mouth to feed, to get a few pounds from the ‘burial clubs’ which sprang up, ostensibly to help the poor, and the new ‘life insurance’ schemes which abounded. Poisoning is viewed as the most despicable of crimes; usually it is a slow and very painful process, and often the perpetrator is well known to the victim – spouse, parent, servant, nurse/doctor. It’s easy to judge by the modern standards when life expectation is relatively high, health provision freely available (in the UK at least), a social security system, divorce attainable, much less stigma on illegitimacy and very few people are truly desperately poor. Oh and poison is much harder to get. But one must realise that sometimes disposal of an unwanted, violent spouse, was the only way out some people could see. There were simply no viable alternatives.
Watson discusses the changing views and social ideas – the emerging rights of women; ideas pertaining towards mental illness; religious and moral ideology and the rise of the forensic scientist, the role of the coroner and much more. It’s a potted history which changes vastly over time. This, I think, is the most fascinating aspect. There is no sensationalisation of the cases – which sometimes appears in books on true crime – the subjects are dealt with in a sympathetic way. It’s a book of tragedy – lost lives, destroyed lives, desperation and the depths of human misery, but there is also hope. Murder by poison is rare now and more easily diagnosed. And society is not as brutish, or terrifying as once it was for the common person.
Well researched, well argued and highly interesting I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, 19th Century history, the rise of science and the social reasons for crime.
Schotts Miscellany is one of those ‘dip in and out of’ books. It’s a collection of the interesting, the weird and the varied – from Morse Code signs, to collective nouns, to country flag colours, to cricketing terms – there is something of interest to everyone.
It’s not the sort of book to read in one sitting, largely because there aren’t really any links between the facts and thus can be a little confusing. That said, it a lot of fun and if you’re the sort of person who likes to toss in weird knowledge or be the smart arse in a conversation (like me), then this is the book for you.
You can never have too many odd, weird and possibly useless facts.
5 stars. (Although the print is VERY small so get your specs out….)
Schott’s Miscellany” makes few claims to be exhaustive or even practical. It does, however, claim to be essential. It will afford you great wisdom in the morning, several conversational bons mots for the afternoon, and many an enlightened smile after dark. Where else can you find, packed on to one page, the thirteen principles of witchcraft, the structure of military hierarchy, all of the clothing care symbols, a list of the countries where you drive on the left, and a nursery rhyme about sneezing? Where else, but “Schott’s Miscellany”, will you stumble across John Lennon’s cat, the supplier of bagpipes to the Queen, and the brutal methods of murder encountered by Miss Marple? An encyclopaedia? A dictionary? An almanac? An anthology? A treasury? An amphigouri? A commonplace? A vade-mecum? Well – yes. “Schott’s Original Miscellany” is all these, and, of course, more. A book like no other, “Schott’s Original Miscellany” is entertaining, informative, unpredictable and utterly addictive.
I tend to like this local, more specific true crime books. The general true crime anthologies often cover the same cases/criminals so these localised ones reveal the activities of the more obscure criminals.
The book covers 200 years and features murder, manslaughter, abortion (which was illegal until 1967), wife beating, husband slaughter, theft (often of minor items) and more. Most of the accounts are presented well-enough with a bit of history around the case, and the outcomes (most of which were execution, transportation, or imprisonment). Many of the cases are tragic – unmarried mothers trying to dispose of unwanted babies in a time when single-motherhood could ruin a girl and occupations for women were extremely limited. Some of the perpetrators of these crimes were insane, or of diminished responsibility, but until the late 19th Century such matters were barely recognised.
It’s a good account of crime in the area. Although some of the accounts are a little short, and get a bit tedious.
So why the relatively low rating? Now I don’t often mark down a book for typos – but this book had a lot. All the way through. There was a repeated paragraph and mistakes on every other page.