Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three New Books In History - NBIH

A podcast that I do not miss an episode from is New Books in History (which I have been abbreviating as NBIH, but I saw the maker uses NBH). Each week there is an hour long interview with the author of a new book, in history of course. The host and interviewer, historian Marshall Poe, invariably has read the book and then conducts an interview that is very well tailored to book, subject as well as author. Every week this allows you to get a good insight in some subject of history.

Here are the three latest issues, each of which are definitely worth a listen:

Julian E. Zelizer, “Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security From WWII to the War on Terrorism” - In this interview Marshall Poe prompts Zelizer to take us through all of the recent wars the US was involved in, from Korea to Iraq and let him explain how the internal politics of the US influenced the decision of the President and his government to enter the war. Much to Poe's surprise, without exception, the President got into the war he wanted to get into. There was always some weighing of the power balance between Republicans and Democrats that, if not forced his hand, strongly influenced the move. It reminded me of Henry Kissinger's line about Israeli politics: Israel has no foreign policy, there is only internal policy. Apparently he did not have to look for to get that idea.

Jared Diamond and James A. Robinson, “Natural Experiments of History” - Although the book was edited not by Jared Diamond alone, the guest on the show is Jared Diamond only. Although there is ample talk of what is meant with Natural Experiments and some examples are discussed, the most interesting part of the interview dwells on another subject. Diamond and Poe get to discuss and criticize the current state of affairs in academia as far as the discipline of history is concerned. History is completely compartmentalized. Historians delve solely into one niche subject and stick to one research method - reading primary sources. According to Diamond this is unfortunate and he argues how history could be enriched with broadening subjects, getting historians out of their small fields and have them apply methods of social sciences together with reliance on primary sources.

Alan E. Steinweis, “Kristallnacht 1938″ - While NBIH comes out weekly on the beat, somehow it delivered two episodes this week with a mere two or three day difference. And so we could enjoy a most informative interview with Allan Steinweis about the Kristallnacht. We learn how fine and gradual the distinction were from an organized to a spontaneous pogrom. And this is all set in a historical perspective of the deteriorating position of the Jews since 1933, of a Nazi regime that was all set for this deterioration, but was also aware of its international position and had ample reason to keep the simmering pogroms in check and in the perspective of an incident two days earlier in Paris. At the German embassy a Polish Jew shot a German diplomat and although the whole affair was clearly the doings of an individual, it fitted so neatly with the widely adopted idea of a Jewish conspiracy that it could bring the simmering pogrom to burst.

More NBIH:
The fourth part of the world,
How the Soviet system imploded,
Vietnam War perspectives,
1989 - Padraic Kenney,
The Ossie twilight.

Magnificent Devil - Norman Centuries

While I am listening to UCSD's series about the Byzantine Empire and reading Lars Brownworth's book Lost to the West which can out of his previous podcast series 12 Byzantine Rulers, Lars is continuing his new series Norman Centuries.

Lars has a knack for telling stories. Granted, the Normans are giving him plenty juicy stuff to report about, with their upstart leaders and audacious politicking in Medieval France, but his soothing calm voice and gentle use of language make it an ironic treat. A fine example of such irony is to be found in the fourth episode Magnificent Devil, about Robert I, Duke of Normandy. Robert brazen and risky strive for power earned him the nickname Magnificent Devil, yet his success allow him to safely settle to power and even acquire dignity.

I am looking forward to the next episode, which will be about William the Conqueror, Robert's son. At the current speed at which the episodes come out, it will take a couple of weeks and I will have time to finish Lars's book. As to the book; I have not yet compared the chapters with the text of the Byzantine podcast, but I intend to do that and report to you how close the two products are.

More Norman Centuries:
Richard the Fearless,
Norman Centuries - Lars is back!.