New from The Movie Snob.
Life in a Medieval Castle, by Joseph and Frances Gies (1974). I was an avid Dungeons & Dragons player back in the day, and at some point since then I heard this book described as a great description of, well, what life was like in medieval castles. So I when I saw a yellowed old copy at an estate sale recently, I snatched it up. It was decently interesting, but I wasn’t blown away. The early going was not so great, as the book seemed to bog down in little stories about all these different English castle owners, and who married whose daughter and who rebelled against whom. And although there are some photographs, they are generally very dark and of poor quality. Still, as the book shifted its focus to how people actually lived in and around medieval castles, their customs and traditions, it got pretty good. And at only 224 pages, it’s not a huge time investment.
Another book review from the so-called Movie Snob.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (2016). I enjoyed Towles’s first novel, The Rules of Civility, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit too. It’s about Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who has returned to Russia from abroad shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1922, he gets hauled before a revolutionary tribunal and narrowly escapes execution. Instead he is sentenced to permanent house arrest—at the fabulous Metropol Hotel where he has been staying. The novel is the story of what happens to the Count after that. The writing is always graceful, and the Count is a well-drawn and endlessly amusing character. I found some parts of the story very moving, but others were maybe a shade too fairy-tale-like. And I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending. But on the whole, I very much enjoyed the story and would recommend it to just about anyone.
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works, translated and edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub (2017). The complete works and then some – this volume contains not only the ten “books” Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars and the civil war he fought with Pompey, but also four other books about Caesar’s campaigns that were written by other authors. The translation is very readable (I’m in no position to judge its accuracy), and the stories are generally quite interesting. Sure, I occasionally got lost among the many proper names for places, tribes, and people I’d never heard of before, but I didn’t sweat that. One thing was a hoot – Caesar mentions the two soldiers at the center of the HBO miniseries Rome, by name, for their courage during a particular battle in the Gallic Wars! They were real people! Anyway, this edition is a massive chunk of a book because it contains lots of introductions, footnotes, maps, pictures, and appendices. I read the introductions and lots of the footnotes, and they added a lot to the stories. If you’re into the swords-and-sandals genre of history, this is a must-have.