Lost to the West
by Lars Brownworth
Published in June 2010
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Lost to the West is a simple and straightforwards narrative history of the Byzantine Empire. Its a story I’ve already heard on the amazing Byzantine History Podcast as well as Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The book is not very academic, as it doesn’t properly disclose sources and evidence. It is, however, a great primer for non-academically minded novices interested in learning the basics about the Byzantine Empire. Like all long term histories, the scope was quite broad, and sections feel very rushed. If I didn’t already have an extensive knowledge of the characters and events, I would have found myself getting lost. I felt like he didn’t spend enough time discussing certain important events, although he was limited by the length of the book which he was writing.
I recommend this book as a refresher for anyone who previously studied the Byzantine empire and needs a good refresher.
Charlemagne: King of the Franks
by Cameron White
Published in December 2015
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
White’s biography of Charlemagne is one of the most unremarkable and unmemorable history books that I have read in a long time. He uses language understandable by lay persons and attempts to keep his biography as short as simple as possible.
Its been a week since I finished the book, and I can hardly remember any details about the book, or recall any insights that I have learned. I already knew most of the details presented in the book, and my memory of the writing has blurred with all of the books I’ve read discussing Charlemagne.
This book gets a 3 for its lack of mental stain in my mind.
Darth Maul Shadow Hunter
by Michael Reaves
Published in January 2001
Thibault’s Score: 1/5
I’ve been wanting to get back into Star Wars, so have decided to watch all the movies chronologically as well as read some of the fan fiction along the way.
I always wanted to learn more about Darth Maul, and now I have learned that all the fan fiction written about him sucks.
Darth Maul Shadow Hunter makes the previous book that I read, Lockdown, seem like Shakespear or Dostoyevski.
The main character, Lorn Pavan, is a data broker and information salesman. He is a cheap Han Solo knockoff and a male Mary Sue. His protocol droid, 5YQ, is a fun character vaguely reminiscent of Data but doesn’t make a lot of sense.
There are several supporting characters: Darsha Assant, a female Jedi Padawan. Like Lorn Pavan, she is also a bit of a Mary Sue, but the case isn’t as bad with her because she is flawed and emotionally anxious.
Finally, there is Darth Maul, who is actually used pretty well, serving as comic relief. This was odd, but it worked very well for this book. The novel is a series of unfortunate events, where Darth Maul is forced to assassinate an ever growing pool of people to keep a secret.
I read about halfway before snoozing off, and a lot of the details are fuzzy to me.
I thought this book was pretty stupid, but I haven’t yet lost faith in Star Wars fan fiction - while these two books were rated poorly on Amazon and Audible, I haven’t yet tackled any of the books that have gotten extensive praise.
Darth Maul: Lockdown
by Joe Schreiber
Published in January 2014
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
When I was in Middle School and High School, I would read a lot of Star Wars fan fiction. I haven’t seen the new Star Wars movies yet, and now that 9 is releasing, I plan on watching them all in Chronological Order. I also noticed that I haven’t reviewed a lot of fiction. I checked, and the only fiction book I’ve read in the last 2 years is a short story by HG Wells. I’ve also been a bit stressed out lately, and wanted to read something a bit more light for a change.
I used to really, really, really enjoy Star Wars fan fiction, and was exposed to many interesting philosophy and sci-fi ideas through my reading. I want to prepare for my movie binge by rediscovering some of the best Star Wars fan fiction and read some of the key books.
I wanted to start with Darth Maul. In The Phantom Menace Darth Maul is a 2d character with no personality. In the comics, he is much better fleshed out character with many interesting desires and motivations. I enjoyed reading many of the Darth Maul comics as a kid, so decided to start my Star Wars fan fiction binge there. I was throughly disappointed.
Unlike the other Sith, Darth Maul is utterly devoted to his cause and completely loyal to his master. He wishes nothing more than the advancement of the Sith’s grand plan, and the fulfillment of his mission. Lockdown does a great job of making Maul into an interesting character. It doesn’t turn him into a Mary Sue, but preserves his badassness.
Lockdown’s first half was really good. There were a lot of intriguing and compelling characters. The plot thickened, and I found myself coming up with all of these different and elaborate theories about the identity of Darth Maul’s contact.
There also was this creepy space bug living in the station that was really good. but wasn’t properly used by the author.
When I read fiction, the most important parts are the beginning and the ending. This book had a great beginning, but a stupid ending.
If the ending had been as good as the first half of the book, I would have given it 4/5 stars. However the ending was horrible. A bunch of random Sith cultists, lightsabers, and Jabba the Hutt appear for no particular reason. They ruined the ending, turned it from a really epic story of survival into a disappointing fan fiction mess of incoherent characters.
I only recommend this book to die hard Star Wars fans, but don’t think that it has much appeal for normal audiences.
The Song of Roland
Published between 1040 and 1115
4000 lines of Poetry
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
The Song of Roland is a French Epic Poem that depicts the Battle of the Pass in 778 between the Spanish Muslims and the Franks.
The story begins in a Mead Hall where Charlemagne is drinking with his knights. There, he explains that he has plans to declare war on the Muslims, and invade Spain unless the Moors convert to Christianity. The messenger, who has to go to the king of the Moors, is embarking on a suicide mission, as the news is likely to enrage the Caliph. All the knights volunteer to go, and even fight amongst themselves over the right to go on the suicide mission. Finally, a knight is chosen, and goes to the Muslim king. He gives the Muslims an ultimatum: convert to Christianity and receive half of Spain, or die by the swords of the Christians. Predictably, the Caliph is enraged, kills the messenger, and war between the Spanish Muslims and Christians begins.
Roland and several other knights, including an Archbishop who apparently fights on a horse, go to an area north of Marseilles to confront the Muslim army. There, they make a last stand defending a pass, and get utterly annihilated. When they realize that the battle is futile, they wonder whether to blow into a horn and alert Charlemagne, but face dishonor or not blow the horn and condemn Charlemagne to death. They compromise, and decided to blow the horn, but fight to the death. Charlemagne and his trips find the bodies of Roland and the others, then annihilates the Muslim.
I learned a lot and enjoyed reading the poem. Most importantly, I learned that Medieval Christians basically behaved like Klingons.
However, I found the language and translation to be incomprehensible without reading the Wikipedia page and using other online resources. It is a very difficult read, and for that reason, I recommend just reading the cliff notes instead.
by the Prophet of God, Mohamed
Published in 632 AD
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
The Koran is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Muslims and Islam.
A lot of things surprised me about it. First, I didn’t realize how similar it was to the Old Testament of the Bible. The Koran mentions Abaraham, Adam, Jesus, and many other biblical figures. The style of writing is also very similar, at least in the version I read which was translated into English.
Many details shocked me. First, I was surprised the belief in Genies was enshrined in the Koran. There are numerous passages that make it clear that not only do Muslims believe in Genies, but these Genies can go to hell or heaven just like humans.
A lot of things in the Koran seemed very strange to me, a modern reader. For example, there are laws specifying how many vaginal periods a woman must wait before remarrying after a divorce (4) or how many she must wait before remarrying after her husband’s death (3).
Despite what a lot of conservative right wing Western authors have written, I didn’t find the content of the Koran to be particularly more barbaric than the content of the Bible. Like all Abrahamic religions, the focus of Islam is horrible people doing horrible things to good people. The main difference is that Islam preaches self defense of violent survival by any means to its followers, which I think is a good ideal to have.
The Koran has many verses praising the virtues of warriors. There is a quote that roughly translates as “men who displease God and do not fight will be replaced by other men more loyal to God.” The demographic changes in Europe make a lot of sense in this light: weak European men who are afraid of kicking out the Muslims by force are being replaced by Muslims who are strong and unafraid.
I appreciated the ruthless nature of the Koran, and have learned a lot about Islam. I recommend that everybody who is interested in Islam, Muslims, or the Middle East read the Koran and also read accounts of Mohamed’s life written by his followers to put the text into context.
by Frank Viola and George Barna
Published in 2012
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
After reading the first 2 chapters, I put the book down, and quit reading it.
I expected this book to be similar to the many other historical books I had read: focused on a specific historical narrative. Instead, this book is a religious text written by authors who have fringe religious views.
The book’s purpose is not to illustrate a moment in history, and let the reader draw their own conclusions. Instead, it is written with the intention of promoting a Christian cult and “the organic church.”
The author argues that many Christian rituals are adapted from Paganism, and thus shouldn’t be practiced by true believers.
Finally, I noticed that this book had been classified under “Religion and Spirituality” on iTunes instead of “History.”
The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 - 1000
by Chris Wickham
Published in August 2010
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Chris Wickham wrote “The Inheritance of Rome” to create a broad historical overview of the history of Europe and the Mediterranean during the years 400 AD - 1000 AD. As Wickham points out in the first chapter, due to the lack of sources and lack of modern scholarly interest, no other books surveying that period had been written in decades. The Inheritance of Rome is truly broad in scope. It covers everything from life in the late Roman Empire, to the barbarian invasions, to the rise of Islam, to Charlemagne, to the Vikings.
Although I learned a lot from the book, and find the period being studied to be fascinating, I don’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t deeply curious about the period. I found the work to be both too general and broad in scope, but also too specifically focused on addressing the critiques of other modern scholars. Wickham spends a lot of time refuting grand historical theories that I haven’t heard of. For example, he devotes a lot of ink to refuting the notion that the barbarians completely rewrote and “Germanized” Europe. I would have preferred if he would have spent less time refuting other scholars and theories, and more time expanding his own.
The book is incredibly long, as any book covering this period should be. It got quite dull at times, and I found myself frequently lost in the endless tangles of faceless Medieval kings and bishops.
This book also does a great job at covering time periods that are extremely obscure. For example, I enjoyed reading about the rise of Charlemagne. Wickham makes it very clear that Charlemagne was not unique, and was walking in the footsteps of the reformers and conquerers that preceded him.
My most important takeaway from this book is that the series of events that has been labeled as “the fall of the Roman Empire” wasn’t really a fall. There was no clear breaking point with the past. Instead, Roman society slowly evolved into Medieval Europe, and the people living at the time had no conception or realization that the Roman Empire had fallen until Charlemagne attempted to artificially revive the empire.
Overall, I don’t recommend this book to anyone who isn’t specifically a scholar of the period being studied. Combined with my prior knowledge of the period, I enjoyed Wickham’s attention to following the continuity of institutions across the ages. Few books that I have reviewed can so easily be classified as a “3/5,” falling right in the middle of the pack.
In addition to reading books, I also listen to podcasts. Recently, I’ve completed all current episodes of the massive British History Podcast: https://www.thebritishhistorypodcast.com/
But I don’t review podcasts, I review books. So after finishing the podcast, I decided to read three of the Middle Ages texts mentioned by the host: History of the Ruin of Briton, by Gildas, History of the Britons, by Nennius, and The Life of King Alfred the Great by Asser.
I recommend listening to the podcast, then reading these three books. You will gain a very complete picture of the early Middle Ages in Britain, just as I did.
On the Ruin of Britain
Published in the 6th Century AD
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
You can find the complete text of the book here for free:
Gildas is a very readable author (by ancient standards). His text helped give me a clear picture of what kind of knowledge someone inhabiting sub-roman Britain would have of the Roman Empire. It also is one of history’s best remaining sources of history for this period of Britain.
History of the Britons
Published in 828 AD
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/history-of-the-britons-historia-brittonum-by-nennius/
This book can be seen as an attempt by a later author to copy Gildas and expand on his work. Some segments of the text are clearly paraphrased from Gildas, however this book continues where Gildas left off.
This book also gives an account of King Arthur, who would have, around the time when Gildas lived, have attempted to fend off the Anglo Saxons. It is interesting to note the degree by which Romans has become a legendary figures by the time of Nennius.
The Life of Alfred the Great
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/alfred-the-great-by-asser/
I found Asser, unlike Nennius and Gildas, to be very difficult to follow. The many names, places, and events I was unfamiliar with confused me. Furthermore, the year by year nature of the events made tying cause and effect very difficult for me. This may have entirely been because I listened to the entire audiobook immediately after I finished Nennius and was getting tired.
Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime, and Politics for a Better America
by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.
Published in February 2017
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
This book is written for conservatives with a circle jerk mindset who are excited at the idea that somewhere there is an African American law enforcement officer who agrees with them on everything. People with less plebeian tastes will likely prefer many of the other books that I have reviewed here on this blog.
The book is ghostwritten by Nancy French. Nancy French (who has a website you can find here: https://www.nancyfrench.com/) has ghostwriter books for all sorts of celebrities such as Sarah and Bristol Palin, some Christian guy who appeared on reality TV show The Bachelor, and Stacey Dash (who is an actress on CSI who gave a speech at CPAC in 2016). Cop Under Fire also hass a foreword written by Fox news daytime host Sean Hannity, who is the most generic milk toast conservative pundit imaginable. Finally, the author is Sheriff Clarke, a former Sheriff in Milwaukee who gave a speech at the RNC in support of Donald Trump.
Clarke starts by telling the reader about his early childhood experiences, and gives many analogies about his hardass Vietnam veteran father. Clarke credits his father with preventing him, despite living in a poor neighborhood, from turning to a life of crime and instead graduating college. Over time, Clarke decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, and slowly rose up the ranks. His experiences as a police officer gave him a strong law and order mentality, and turned him into a reluctant republican.
Eventually, he came to control all of the law enforcement officers in Milwaukee County. During his time at the helm of the force, several racially charged protest movements erupted, criticizing the force’s lack of attention and perceived brutality towards minorities. This allowed Clarke to assert his leadership skills, and help the police force deal with the PR crisis. He never backed down, and always protected his officers.
He also relays his tough attitude towards inmates and prison reform. Under his tenure, he streamlined the local prison. He also began improving inmate discipline by withdrawing more appealing food as punishment, and instead forcing inmates to eat nutraloaf. He also made controversial pro gun ownership educational videos where he urged his constituents to buy guns.
The rest of the book details Clarke’s political positions on a wide range of loosely law enforcement issues ranging from single motherhood, to the welfare state, to the death penalty, and several other issues. As I am writing this review, only days after I finished the book, I have already forgotten the specifics because of the banality of the presented arguments.
I was both pleasantly surprised and thoroughly disappointed. The quality of the writing was surprising considering the initial endorsement by Sean Hannity and the ghostwriting by Nancy French. However, the content was disappointing. I was hoping there would be a lot more specific examples of cases where Sheriff Clarke relayed his experiences as a police officer. Instead, I found a lot of very basic arguments which could have been made much better by the CATO Institute.
Most of my articles are book reviews, but I also write about many other topics.