Extreme outdoors

Although I’m fairly wimpy in “real life,” I enjoy the vicarious experience of reading about other peoples’ travails in harsh climates. Here are some favorite tales of true adventure and survival (with a bit of history thrown in):

Cruelest MilesThe Cruelest Miles by Gay Salisbury
When isolated Nome, Alaska, was struck by a diphtheria epidemic in 1925, the serum needed to treat the disease was 1,000 miles away. Twenty teams of sled dogs raced through minus 60-degree temperatures to transport the medicine. This gripping account describes their epic quest, a journey that later inspired the annual Iditarod race. Continue reading “Extreme outdoors”

Crime Thursday: When history and mystery mix

Being a pacifist, I’m not sure why I find it so relaxing to read a good murder mystery. English crime writer P.D. James, in her autobiography Time to Be in Earnest, offers the following explanation for why mystery aficionados enjoy the genre:

“…the catharsis of carefully controlled terror, the bringing of order out of disorder, the reassurance that we live in a comprehensible and moral universe and that, although we may not achieve justice, we can at least achieve an explanation and a solution.” Continue reading “Crime Thursday: When history and mystery mix”

Royal Reading

My latest favorite author is Alison Weir because she writes so elegantly and compellingly of medieval and Renaissance Britain, focusing especially on the lives of female rulers.  Better yet, this esteemed historian has in recent years branched out into luxuriously detailed, historically accurate novels that bring to life great historical figures.

I recently read Weir’s The Lady Elizabeth (actually, I listened to the audio book, and I so much enjoyed Rosalyn Landor’s rich, intelligent Continue reading “Royal Reading”

About Time: Ages of Empire

The Great Wall by John Man
While traveling the entire length of China’s Great Wall, historian John Man explores its history and legends, bringing to life two millennia of Chinese history.

The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History by James J. O’Donnell
A historian takes a fresh look at the fall of the Roman Empire (which preceded the rise of Islam), arguing that the Roman emperors and not the invading barbarians were responsible for the collapse.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
An anthropology professor takes a fresh look at the notorious Genghis Khan, exploring his lesser-known role as a farsighted ruler who helped bridge European and Asian cultures.

When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty by Hugh Kennedy
Kennedy reveals both the splendor and the dark side of the vast Muslim empire ruled by the Abbasid caliphs during the 8th and 9th centuries.

Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone
An enthralling look at the enormous influence wielded by Queen Eleanor and her three sisters (Marguerite, Sanchia, and Beatrice) in 13th century Europe.

About Time: History of the Mind

The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind by Justin Pollard
This readable history documents the astonishing number of scientific and intellectual contributions made by the ancient Egyptian city.

Dreams of Iron and Steel: Seven Wonders of the Nineteenth Century, from the Building of the London Sewers to the Panama Canal by Deborah Cadbury
An engrossing tale of the personal and collective efforts behind the engineering feats of the 19th century that ranged from London’s sewers – eradicating cholera – to the U.S. transcontinental railroad.

The Judgment of Paris: the Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King
A colorful chronicle of the turbulent decade leading up to the 1st Impressionist exhibition in 1874, touching on worldwide changes in politics, technology and notions of the individual.

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild
The co-founder of Mother Jones magazine gives a thrilling account of an eighteenth century grass roots campaign to end slavery in the vast British empire.