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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend, by Dr. Joann Fletcher

I've just started this biography on the life of Cleopatra, and it seems to me that in some ways the spirit of Cleopatra echoes down through history in different women.

A male-dominated society is especially disgusted (and perhaps a little terrified) at extremely powerful women, and Cleopatra's case is no different.  The Romans hated that she was in power and used their influence to tarnish her name and reputation, and their propaganda has largely been accepted by the western world even to this day.  It has only been in the last 30 years (she lived more than 2000 years ago!) that Egyptologists and other historians have been uncovering a different story.

This story is not new.  Think of the lives of Nefertiti and Eva Perón and you will find so many similarities in the societal response to their power.  

It is one thing for a woman to be beautiful - whether you like it or not, it carries an influence and a measure of power over many males (and females), and this can be accepted to a certain degree.  When a woman is both socially powerful, intelligent, and beautiful, she is dangerous.  What will stop her?  You're right.  Nothing.

Cleopatra was groomed to be pharaoh, and when her brother drove her out of Egypt to Syria, she came back with a vengeance and an army to take the throne back.  She was successful.  She then linked herself romantically to Caesar, gaining yet more political power and status, and gave birth to his son, Caesarion.  After 44 B.C., Cleopatra returned to Egypt upon the assassination of Julius Caesar.  

Marc Antony sent for Cleopatra to answer questions regarding her allegiance to Rome's fallen ruler - and when he did, he became captivated by her beauty and personality, fell in love with her, and their union produced three children (two of which were boy and girl twins, named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene).  They both benefited from the power of the other to expand their own empires and fought together against enemies.

While fighting, Marc Antony received inaccurate information that his Cleopatra was dead, and as a result, he fell upon his sword, committing suicide.  They carried him to her in her palace and he died in her arms.  At the thought of him being gone and Egypt being lost, she dramatically committed suicide by having a poisonous Egyptian cobra bite her on the chest.

They were buried together, and with her death, the book closed on the era of the pharaohs of Egypt.

At that point, Rome sought out to erase her from record.  She was cut and deleted from Egyptian history, and what was left was a smear campaign that would show present day to be tame.

Does it seem a little strange that they did this with Nefertiti?  They defaced her body and her story, too.  Does it seem even more perverse and ironic that they did this with Eva Perón?  What they can't get at in life, they pursue in death, hoping to grab at anything for a re-balance of their own power and might.

The threads of strong women reverberate through the chorus of history, whether or not you like them, whether or not you are comfortable with them, and whether or not you agree with them.  They are there and they make up where we are today.

Peace, love, and keep on reading,
Ms. Daisy

The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War, by James David Robenalt

That Warren G. Harding was quite something else.  Perhaps you don't know?  

Warren Harding
Well, let me just tell you, this much overlooked 29th President of the United States had a very interesting life, and you will be glad to know that they've written a book about it.

His life began in Ohio, one child among a large family.  His mother said he would be President one day because of his drive for things.  He set up a newspaper in Marion, Ohio, as well as other business ventures that succeeded for a time, and failed at others.

He met a very determined lady, Florence, who had her eye on him and who would not let him go.  When she came after him, she was divorced and had a young baby.  Her first husband was a raging drunk and all-around terrible.  Her father was the richest man in town and had influence over everyone and everything, but she despised being under his thumb as the streak of fierce independence that bolted through his soul landed within her own, much to his consternation.  She sought out Warren, who was a few years younger than she was, until he could not ignore her.  Her determination and influence impressed him and was useful to him in business, so, what the hey, they got married.  This further infuriated her father, which made it an even better reason for her to do it (he forbade his family to attend the wedding and his wife snuck out and peeked through the back door of the house to watch her daughter get married).

Florence, Warren's wife
Florence and Warren did not have a passionate marriage, but they had a very practical partnership.  She drove him to go farther than he may have gone on his own and supported his business ventures.  He appreciated her help and looked to her for advice.

It didn't take long for him to notice a very lovely neighbor, however - and one who did spark a great deal of passion in him: Carrie Phillips.  She was a married woman, he a married man.  Neither of them were happily married, and you can guess that these two souls found solace and fireworks in each other.  Carrie and Warren vehemently wrote each other passionate letters and had a fifteen year relationship - Warren's letters to Carrie were saved and are now available to be under the speculation of whosoever wills through the Library of Congress.  The letters that Carrie wrote to him are speculated to have been burnt up in a giant fire by his careful and angry wife a few days after Warren died over at her rich friend's house.  Warren even created a secret code language so that when he would write letters to her, he could appear to be quite nonchalant in his meaning while expressing deep, undying passion for her.

Carrie Phillips, Warren's love
Florence knew of his longstanding relationship with Carrie (and my, oh my, did I forget to mention to you that Florence and Carrie were childhood friends?  Yikes.) and dismissed it as "things men do".  She lived with jealousy and betrayal as though they were her companions.  Initially, the Hardings and the Phillips would go on vacations together - Warren and Carrie meeting up in the middle of the night or at other times to be together.  Once Florence got too tired of the shenanigans, she shut down the vaycaycays entirely, as I'm sure you'll be quite unsurprised to hear.

Warren loved Carrie for the rest of his life, swearing ironically to ever be faithful to her, except that he would not leave Florence for her.  Carrie had his heart, but secretly, and in the shadows.  Florence had his life, was an excellent practical and supportive partner to him, and the eye of the public, but neither his heart nor his passion.

It is well-documented (and many people believe) that Florence secretly and quietly murdered her husband while he was President.  The stories that are told do not match up, and perhaps she got too sick of living with her sad companions of jealousy and betrayal to put up with anything else.

It is an interesting read, full of drama and scandal.  If you've ever thought your life to be lacking in excitement, feel free to vicariously adopt some in reading this book.

Peace, love, and keep on reading,
Ms. Daisy

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Secret Life of the Tsars, by Michael Farquhar

Oh, those crazy monarchs.  If you haven't read much on them, I highly recommend it for your utmost entertainment.  They really are something else.  Not only do they inherently THINK they are literally something else (like, let's say, dieties and speak of themselves in plural), they behave like none other (as a likely result of being told they are so special for like their entire lives and people dashing about to serve their every whim).  

This book walks you through a quick and dirty survey of the tsars of Russia from Ivan V (b. 1682) and Peter the Great through Nicholas II (who died in 1917). Most of my reading on monarchs has come from lovely old England - Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, poor Queen Jane, and the like, so I was intrigued as to how they would compare with the Russian court.  I would say they are 100% different while being 100% exactly the same.  

The English monarchs were always quite concerned with forward progress, with being the stars of Europe, and (for the most part) the encouragement of the arts within their courts.  They demanded obedience, killed off people who got in their way (not always directly, as in the case of Evil King John or the beheadings of many of the wives of Henry VIII), and sucked the meaning of absolute monarch dry down to the dregs. 

They have this in common with the tsars of Russia, although the Russians did it directly.  They quelled uprisings with bloody and unequal reciprocity.  Severed heads served as reminders of what happens to those who dare to question authority.  They leaned deeply into excessive drunkenness, wild mad fits of rage and violence, and delighted in the punishments of their enemies.  The tsars cared (most of them, anyway) nothing for the advancements being made in Europe, and preferred what some would deem as isolationism to preserve their autocracy from dangerous thought ideals of Europe.  

"An ignorant population was a docile one, which is why [Nicholas I] was incensed to learn that in one instance a potential constitution, formulated during his brother's reign, had been printed in Poland. 'The publication of this paper is most annoying,' he wrote to Prince Paskevich in Warsaw. 'Out of one hundred of our young officers [stationed in Poland] ninety will read it, will fail to understand it or will scorn it, but ten will retain it in their memory, will discuss it - and the most important point, will not forget it.  This worries me above everything else...'"  (p. 191)  

Despite these differences, the strongest vein that runs through all autocrats is their desperate desire for the preservation of their own power.  How this plays out varies from person to person, but each action has been calculated toward these ends.  

May we never forget this, for the benefit of society as well as the individual.  

Keep on reading, my dears, 
Ms. Daisy

Monday, January 12, 2015

Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain's Greatest Monarch by Kate Williams

I am about two-thirds through this book and it's another good one.  It continues in the line of my interest in the monarchs of England in the age of absolute monarchs (although Queen Victoria's reign drops out of that quickly as Britain becomes a constitutional monarchy).

The first half of the book delves into the life and tragic death of Princess Charlotte, who everyone looked forward to having as their future queen.  Unfortunately for them and for Charlotte, she dies before this can happen.  There is all the usual family scandal you'd expect to find in a royal family, twisted around with fascinating characters, people struggling for their own grasp at power, royal butt kissing, playing your cards right and a peek at the lifestyles within the era.  

We are then introduced to Victoria and her uber-controlling spaz mother whose main goal in life is to manipulate her child into thinking she is a pathetic dope who is so incredibly lucky to have her as a mother so that she may guide her (read: be her regent and rule the country through her) and lead her into whither she ought go.  Victoria has to distance herself from her crae crae uncles who everyone hates since they are out of touch loonies in order to be seen as a welcomed and viable option for next sovereign.  The irony and stick of it is that the hour she becomes queen, Victoria decides that her mother is bye-bye now, moves her room out of her mother's (yes, she was that controlling - she even told her to write a diary of the thoughts and events of the day so that she could read through it at night, nice, baby, nice) and her first command as queen is to spend one hour alone. 

The story fascinates from there, contains her thoughts as she had recorded them and her search for her prince, and I'm guessing their married life and (9!) children (I can't say for sure, I'm not done with the book yet).  If you like biographies and you like reading about monarchs and crazy court life, this one will keep your attention.  

Two thumbs up. 

Peace, love, and read!  
Ms. Daisy

Friday, July 25, 2014

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan

I know that I generally have a favorable opinion regarding many of the books I read.  (I mean, hey, it's a book.  Most of them have something of worth to extract.)  As a result, you are probably thinking that I am just going to say good things about everything and yada yada yada.

But this book, dearies, this book is one you MUST get and read from cover to cover.  MUST.  This is not one that I am just haphazardly suggesting you read, this one I am telling you to go get - you won't regret it.  It is brilliant and worthy of your time.

Michael Pollan is the famous author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.  If you're into reading about food, it is likely you've read that book.  It is thought provoking, as his work generally is.  This book, if I must say, is even better.

Mr. Pollan sections the world of cooking into the classical elements: fire, water, air and earth, and explores their influence in the realm of cooking.  

Fire, as you may guess, is the manly act of grilling (mainly a manly task - he tackles why through history).  He goes deep south to explain to (especially us) northerners what the real definition of barbecue is (and according to his research and those he's apprenticed under - it is NOT a verb).  He brings you into the lives of the grill masters, their pit crew and their beginnings, and somehow makes you want to tackle roasting a whole hog in your yard (even if you keep kosher).

Water is his exploration into what we generally think of as homemade, from scratch, fancy cooking.  If you've read David Tanis - that kind of cooking.  He makes you want to linger over a pot of onions, slowly releasing sweetness over the course of 45 minutes, not being quick about any of it - but reminding you of being purposeful and taking it easy.  I would say in one way, it is carefully and artfully making every single bit of the meal perfect.  Not skimping and grabbing Pillsbury pre-made dough, rather making your own.  Not using anything that came from a box or a bag (unless your veggies and fruits and herbs come in a bag, I mean).  It is the satisfying taste of braised meat in a stew or a homemade spaghetti sauce that you took the whole day (on purpose) to make from scratch.

The section on air is the world of baking.  When you are not even halfway through the section, you may find yourself figuring out how you too can get yourself into making a sourdough starter, tossing that granulated store-bought yeast by the wayside.  The feel of the bread, the quest for baking perfection - using white flour vs. using stone milled whole wheat (and he explains just what qualifies as "whole wheat" here in these United States...I bet you can guess...it doesn't mean a whole wheat berry ground up, sorry for the spoiler...), who bakes, how they do it, and his experimentation with it all.

Then comes the section I was most excited about.  Earth.  What on earth is earth in cooking, you say?  Oh my dears, it's fermentation, of course!  Without this section there would be no yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, beer, mead, cheese and on and on.  You know - the things your modern mind tells you that you couldn't POSSIBLY make yourself.  He throws that idea in the garbage as he meets and mingles with Sandor Katz, the guru of fermentation (and author of Wild Fermentation, ever heard of it?).  He makes beer in his basement.  He hangs out with a nun who makes cheese and spanks the FDA with her wooden paddle (okay, not literally, but if you read it you know what I mean).  He peeks at the philosophy of the grossies and our fascination with it.  He goes to a convention for fermentos who ask Sandor Katz for his autograph.  Even though you hate sauerkraut, you kind of want to make it anyway, just to see.

If you have any interest in food or in cooking whatsoever, you will want to pick this book up.  If you want to see how far we have come as a society in our definition of what cooking actually means, go get this book.  If you want to be inspired toward perfection in your kitchen, look no further.  This is one of the best books I have read in several years.  I rank this up there with the likes of Food is Your Best Medicine (Dr. Henry Bieler) and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (Dr. Weston A. Price).  

Easy to read, spiked with humor, and overflowing with wonderful and interesting information and research - you are missing out if you miss this one.

Keep on reading,
Ms. Daisy

Monday, June 9, 2014

Anne Boleyn (Norah Lofts) and Jamie's America (Jamie Oliver)

 Yes, I suppose these two may be just a weensy bit unrelated (although you could argue that both of these people have made their mark on the world).  Nevertheless, I think these are a pair of books you ought to get your hands on.

As far as the Jamie's America goes, if you've ever read any of his cookbooks, you'll know that if it's from Jamie, it's going to be good.  He sections off his recipes based on different areas of the U.S. of A. and writes in those themes.  Jamie does food the real deal way.  If you have any interest in food at all, you should check this out.  (And the pictures and visual quality is eye-catching and equally delicious.)

The next book, Anne Boleyn (by Norah Lofts) is a quick course through the life of one of the most mysterious, ambitious, and passionate queens in the world.  I have read Alison Weir's work on Anne Boleyn and in comparison  with Weir's work, the work of Lofts is less-detailed.   This is not a bad thing, however, as Weir knows every detail about everything!  She is the go-to for Anne, but Lofts walks you through her life in an interesting way.  If you aren't too familiar with Queen Anne, Henry VIII's second queen, I'd recommend this to give you the quick and dirty deets.

It's summer (or winter in the southern hemisphere), so READ!
Ms. Daisy

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Edith Hahn Beer/Christinia Maria Margarethe Vetter

I've been reading a bit here and there, picking through some books, reading chapters of some and then forgetting them.  

In fact, this post was originally a draft for when I was reading the biography of Alexander the Great probably sometime in December, and has now been adopted to another book I'm tearing through.


I had never heard of this person before and was just wandering around the library shelves when the title stood out to me so much that I picked it up with a , "WHAT?"  It's a bit of a shocking title.  This one is called, The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust.  

Now, you will sometimes find a striking title and then the inside of the book will be nothing to write home about.  It was a trick, a lure to pull you in and leave you unimpressed.

I can assure you that this is not the case at all with this autobiography.

I opened the book to the middle and read a page, flipped to the front and read another, and then I got sucked in.

I was looking forward to starting it last night before bed.  I opened to the first page and didn't look at the time or stop once until it was 12:45 a.m. and I was on page 145.

This is the story of a Jewish girl in the time of the Holocaust.  She has a boyfriend who is a combination of a genius, a wuss bucket, a mama's boy, and a fantastic manipulator.  It walks with her through her adapting to someone else's name, and an entirely new identity.  She walked out of her life of a university educated lawyer and sunk down to silencing herself to survive, pretending she was a non-opinioned, quiet mousey younger woman.  She is sent off to work in asparagus fields, starving, cold and enslaved.  Through providential circumstances, she is able to adopt her Aryan friend's identity and papers and moves away.  She is terrified of everyone and everything, and the story weaves together the unlikely but fascinating story of how she met and married a Nazi officer.

I'm 80 pages to the end and I can't put it down, but I had to get on here to tell you about it.

If you want to get into the life of a fascinating person in frighteningly wild circumstances, hop over to your library and pick up a copy of this book.  Or get it on Amazon, however you like to, but get it.

This one is HIGHLY recommended.

Peace, love and read!
Ms. Daisy