Overrated – Underrated

Way back in the mists of time (well, about 20 years ago, which is ancient history as far as the Internet is concerned), American Heritage magazine had an annual feature they called “Overrated, Underrated”. Historians and other experts contributed short essays on things in their field that they believed needed a reappraisal. They had to pair something that they felt was overrated with one that was underrated (e.g. Aviatrix: Overrated – Amelia Earhart, Underrated: Harriet Quimby). The series gave fascinating historical and cultural insights, and spread a little to other magazines. I recall Sports Illustrated did their own version….

Anyway, the idea is always a good discussion starter. Provided you can pen a short essay explaining your choices. Anyone can say Shakespeare is overrated; not everyone can explain why, as well as offer an example of an underrated English playwright.

Here’s my favorite example:

American Historical Document

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Book Reveiw: Operation Nemesis

Operation Nemesis:
The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide
Eric Bogosian
Little, Brown and Company, 2015

This year marks another centennial; one that is going with very little memorial or commemoration, or even much more than a passing nod in the general press. In 1915, using World War I military operations against the Russian Empire as a cover, the Ottoman Empire began a program to systematically wipe out Armenians in their territory.

For various reasons, many countries still haven’t gotten around to calling it what it was: genocide. It’s not like Armenia is really going around demanding reparations or punishment for those responsible. After all, it was a century ago and everyone responsible is dead. In fact, some of those deaths were the direct result of the Armenians themselves.

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Book Review: A Spy Among Friends

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
Ben Macintrye
Crown Publishers (US)
(c) 2014 by the author

It’s kind of easy for most people today to forget that there was a Cold War before the Reagan Era. Or even that it began well before World War II. In the 1930s, young intellectuals dabbled with Communism as a political philosophy, figuring it would be the only way to stop fascism from taking over. Most people in charge didn’t think much of these interests. But the Soviet Union was playing a much longer game than anyone else. Someone like Kim Philby, a well-networked scion on Britain’s upper crust, was an easy target for recruitment. Even before any open hostilities. You’d never know how your investment would pay off.

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Book Review: “World War I: The African Front” by Edward Paice

Wars, for much of history, have been filled with drama. The epic clash of huge armies, with the fates of nations at stake. At the personal level, there are tales of heroism and endurance. Most often, our attention is focused on a main front – that’s where all the big battles are. Yes, battles between many thousands of men can be interesting, but so can the battles on the fringes and flanks where the numbers are only in the hundreds.

Subtitled “An Imperial War on the African Continent”, Paice’s book looks at World War I in East Africa. The fighting there was basically the last mad grab for colonies, as Britain went after German East Africa (modern Tanzania). Belgium (Belgian Congo, now DR Congo) and Portugal (Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique) were also dragged into the fighting.

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Book Review – Catastrophe: 1914

Catastrophe: 1914 by Max Hastings

This year is probably a centennial that no one really wants to commemorate: the start of World War 1. The technology for killing had advanced much farther beyond military strategy, leading to horrific casualty figures. But the war (also known as “The Great War”, “The War to Make the World Safe for Democracy”, and “The War to End All Wars”) should be studied, as it is responsible for shaping the 20th century.

British historian Max Hastings has written a fantastically researched and extremely readable account of the first several months of the conflict. He has dug deep into the archives – not just in Germany, France, and England, but in eastern Europe and the Balkans as well to get information from periodicals, journals, diaries, and private letters. While giving plenty of information on the battles and strategy, he also gets down to the level of individuals, both on the front and at home.

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On the Matter of Giordano Bruno

So I’m watching “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” with Neil deGrasse Tyson…. and while impressive overall (the simple fact that a major network is devoting thirteen hours out of its schedule for a freakin’ science show is awesome enough!), I did cringe just a bit at the retelling of the myth of Giordano Bruno as a “martyr for science”. While they did give a bit more of his life (the fact that he was run out of towns by Protestants was new to me), they still oversimplified the case against him. He wasn’t executed for his cosmological beliefs. While they were one count in the indictment, there were seven others that were far more serious – like denying the divinity of Christ.

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