More books

As I’d heard, THE COMANCHE EMPIRE by Pekka Håmålåinen makes a good counterbalance to SC Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, which portrayed the Comanche as more a natural force than a rival civilization (a longstanding view in Texas history). By contrast, Håmålåinen shows that the Comanche control of the Great Plains relied on diplomacy and trade rather than just violence (during the Texas-Comanche wars, they were also trading quite amicably with New Mexico), the combination resulting in raids as far away as Mexico and trade all the way to Louisiana (which they saw as a counterweight to Spanish influence further west), frequently using horses and slaves taken from one area as trade goods in another. A tribal power structure Gwynne finds largely anarchic (as did many of the Comanches’ American contemporaries) comes off here as simply alien to European style (heavily driven by consensus and personal standing rather than a strict hierarchical arrangement). The book concludes that while US triumph was probably inevitable, the Comanches overhunting of buffalo (on top of what they took in trade and the competition from their horses for pasture) crippled them well before the cavalry took them out. This is dry but very good nonetheless.
SHAKESPEARE AFTER ALL by Marjorie Garber takes us chronologically from The Two Gentlemen of Verona through Henry VIII and the co-written Two Noble Kinsmen, looking at recurring Shakespearian elements such as the importance of good kingship (“The histories reflected what was a serious contemporary subject—what constituted a legitimate, effective monarchical government.”), the error of rejecting fun and joy (she argues persuasively that Shylock gets punished more for being a fun-hating figure like Malvolio than being Jewish—though I don’t agree with her that eliminates the anti-semitic issues) and the mourning of an Age of Epic Heroes now past (Garber points out how many dramas end with a political pragmatist as the Last Leader Standing). Garber does a very good job placing Shakespeare in his own cultural context, pointing out, for instance that Romeo’s poems to his pre-Juliet girlfriend in Romeo and Juliet would have been recognized as a then-hokey and hopelessly outmoded style. She also discusses the tendency to turn the Bard into “Bartlett’s Familiar Shakespeare” by turning lines from the play into moral insights, ignoring that they come from as unreliable a Moral Messenger as Polonius or Iago. A very good job.
THE CHESSMEN OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs resembles one of the countless Lost Race adventures Tarzan underwent, but much better: John Carter’s daughter and an unwanted suitor find themselves in first the Lost City of the freakish Kaldanes and then the city of Manator, where Jetan—Martian chess—is played by living warriors. One reason it works may be that John Carter is almost entirely offstage, which Tarzan never is. There are also some continuity touches such as Therns trying to revive their evil cult, though Burroughs never followed up on them (likewise, Ghek the Kaldane disappears from later books like the disembodied bowman fromThuvia Maid of Mars).


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5 responses to “More books

  1. The Shakespeare one sounds interesting! Might have to check that one out.

  2. frasersherman

    It’s very good.

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