Fragmented Book Reviews: Part Three

Fragmented Book Reviews: Part Three

All About Costa Rica, by Nikol Vega Canales

It is unclear exactly how much credit this “author” deserves for this e-book. Having checked material from Wikipedia [1], it is pretty clear that this book is largely a copy and paste job, in which someone has made an e-book out of free material on Wikipedia and then marketed it to others. As I did not pay anything for this particular book, and as the formatting is pretty obviously the same as that of the Wikipedia sites that the information came from (as one would know if one is, like me, a frequent reader of that website), this is not particularly bothersome to me, but those who have paid money for this book may be offended to know that all of this material is accessible elsewhere and no direct attribution (at least none that I could read) points out the source of this material to those who are not familiar with it. In that sense, I suppose readers should be aware and make sure that they are not paying for material that they could read for free in the same amount of time simply by clicking on a few links. Let the buyer beware.

That said, let us briefly examine the contents of this short essay. Given the fact that the Wikipedia articles for Costa Rica are thorough and well-cited and well-written, and so this particular text has a smooth prose style thanks to the editors that it was copied from. It is unclear exactly who the author is (or, to phrase it more accurately, who is responsible for all of the material that is plagiarized), but the material is solid even if the compilation has been done dishonestly. Costa Rica is a fascinating country with a happy people, strong environmental laws, a decent and inexpensive health care system, an egalitarian culture that has sought to distance itself from its Central American neighbors, a high degree of democratic stability, a few minor international problems [2], and no military. There is a lot to like about the country, and while I have not visited there so far, it is definitely on my list of places that I would like to visit, although I have been warned by some friends something that is not noted here, and that is there is a general absence of road signs, which I find at least somewhat troubling as someone who tends to use road signs to help me along my journey. No country is perfect, though.

The Warlike Harry?: Re-Examining Henry V, by J.M. Arman

This particular book claims to walk the middle ground between critical historians (some of whom, like Artman) are mentioned by name and those like William Shakespeare who considered Henry V to be the mirror of Christian kings. That said, this book, which is divided into three chapters, is largely flattering to Henry V and makes claims that, for very personal reasons, I am unable to accept as legitimate. After introducing his aims of writing a balanced and scholarly essay, the book itself contains three chapters. The first chapter deals with Henry V’s war against France and whether Henry can be judged as having been a war-crazed fanatic making spurious claims of seeking justice. The author, drawing somewhat from scripture (namely the laws of Deuteronomy) makes a point that opposes pacifism [3], but spends more time drawing upon thinkers like Aquinas and others still more contemporary that Henry V appears to have been following the protocols of preparing for war while seeking a just peace, at least to the point that his own people and Parliament and the legal forms adopted by the contemporary French were satisfied. This may not be enough to satisfy the demands of pacifist thinkers, but I agree with the author here that Henry V was at least acting according to the standards of his time and even in obedience to the laws of Deuteronomy that allow war under certain circumstances. This particular essay is full of clever arguments and cites a lot of primary and secondary sources, not seeking only to rely on official propaganda alone.

I am far less sanguine, it should be noted, about the author’s attempts to justify Henry V in regard to his harsh treatment of people for Lollardy as well as for misprision. The author seems to believe that it is just for paranoid and insecure monarchs to harshly punish those who criticize their doubtful legitimacy and that following expansive definitions of lese majeste [4] is itself just and reasonable because the right of an insecure and illegitimate monarch who is either a usurper or the heir of a usurping house to their rule trumps the rights of his citizens to legitimate authority or to their lives and freedom of expression, or the rights of religious minorities to live free from the threat of being burned at the stake for religious beliefs that have unsettling political implications. To be fair, the author is seeking to see Henry V based on his times and his positions and grant his behavior the greatest amount of legitimacy possible. Quite likely, unlike this reviewer, the author has never run afoul of any insecure monarchs far too keen on seeking to punish lese majeste or been a member of any small and disliked religious minorities. Admittedly, the fact that these have occurred to me and that I have been viewed with the same sense of hostility that King Henry V treated the Lollards, for many of the same reasons (aside from the fact that I have never risen up in arms or plotted against any rulers, even if I have a fairly sharp tone to some of my writings about the legitimacy, or the lack thereof, of civil and religious authorities), makes this material a matter of great personal importance to my life and well-being rather than a mere scholarly exercise. The author limits his focus to seeking to legitimize Henry V, not realizing (or perhaps not caring) that his writing has contemporary implications that would appear to delegitimize those who seek freedom of speech or religion in realms that are ruled by insecure and illegitimate monarchs. Such realms, it should be noted, still exist in this world, as some of us have personally found out to our dismay and horror. We are not so far from the times of Henry V after all.

A First Century Traveller’s Guide To Palestine, by Dennis Hawkes

This particular book reads like a Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Judea, with a similar structure and tone and content (the author, it should be noted, helpfully cites his sources) as well as an organization and structure that actually manages to portray a somewhat anachronistic guidebook such as we are familiar with now (a few volumes of which I have in my own library from my own travels to areas like Ghana and Thailand) as if the reader were a first century Gentile tourist from the civilized world planning a trip to what the author calls Palestine in the year of 60AD. This book, therefore, represents a remarkably successful attempt to convey the breezy tone and informative nature of a good travel guide in such a matter that encourages the reader to put themselves in the place of a contemporary rather than, as is so often the case, from our own distant perspective. I should note that some of the content of this book is quite frankly hilarious, including the author’s dry commentary about Judea being mostly under control as an occupied province and noting after discussing the fashion of the Jewish peasants that more fashionable clothing can be found in the cities, as well as noting the extreme underdevelopment of the area, and sly biblical references to “nothing good coming from Nazereth.”

Although this is a book that is informative to those who do not know much about the life and times of Israel during the time of Christ (or who have never written Edersheim or any of his imitators [5]), it adds a layer of knowing humor and dry irony for those who are familiar with the story and who are impressed by the way that the author perfectly captures the flavor of contemporary travel guides and their breezy quotation of complicated and doubtful matters and their understatement. Though I have some quibbles with a couple of the chronological notes (and the author makes a flaw in stating that Archeleus only had a couple of years of rule when he had closer to ten years of rule before being brought under direct Roman rule as a third-class Roman province (the author’s words), the book is overall deeply humorous and deeply informative. Considering I was able to find this book for free, a book that would be worth at least $5 or $10 for a good print copy, this is precisely the sort of book that one should download for free if it is available. Even if we are reading about a world that is 2000 years old, this book feels fresh and manages to teach and entertain at the same time, making this book a classic example of how to write about the ancient world, and a worthy model for other writers to emulate in all aspects of its creation.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:

[5] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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9 Responses to Fragmented Book Reviews: Part Three

  1. Pingback: Fragmented Book Reviews: Part Five | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Lord, Teach Us To Pray | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Lady of Winchester says:

    I disagree with the review of ‘The Warlike Harry’ in some major points, though it is useful in highlighting some issues.

    Firstly, it is wholly unrealistic to expect any person who lived in the the Medieval or Ancient period to have espoused modern notions of freedom of speech, religion or expression, which simply did not exist at the time. So, to judge them for not having measured up to such standards is entirely unfair, and suggests a certain lack of knowledge of the time period.

    Secondly, the treatment of the Lollards, or rather not only Lollards, but friars accused of sedition words in early fifteenth century England is not a simple matter of a despotic tyrant wanting to quash legitimate ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘expression’. The friars in question were basically claiming that the Old King was still alive, and encouraging people to go and join him, and begin a rebellion.
    In modern parlance, it would be rather like Nazi sympathizers in Post-War Germany claiming Hitler was still alive, and encouraging their fellows to join him in rebellion against the allies- not that Richard II was comparable to Hilter, but its a relevant example.

    Freedom of speech is not absolute, even in modern Western states, as a line has to be drawn between freedom of speech, and speech which incites people to harm others, or to harm authority figures. Such was the case with the friars, and with some of the Lollards in fifteenth century England.
    I personally sympathize with Wycliffe and his teachings, but the interpretation of these teachings in such a way as to justify rebellion and insurrection did indelible harm to the Lollard movement by placing in on the wrong side of the law.

    Thus it is unwise to view the leaders of the Oldcastle rising of 1414 as oppressed subjects who simply sought freedom of religion. They were not- they basically wanted to take over the government for their own ends, and by this action, justified the crackdown upon the movement by the authorities.
    The fact that the vast majority of those involved in this Rising were hanged rather than burned demonstrates that their offenses judged to have been civil rather than religious in nature.

    Finally, I notice the reviewed speaks much of the supposed ‘illegitimacy’ of Henry’s rule. Whilst it is certainly true that Henry’s father was a usurper, you may want to look into the reasons why his predecessor Richard II was deposed and lost the support of most of the Aristocracy.
    Richard made some very bad decisions, and certain of his actions were, even according to fourteenth century understanding, tyrannical. He over-reached the bounds of his legitimate authority as King, seizing the lands of John of Gaunt without lawful basis, and hounding the ‘lords appellant’ who had dared challenge him in parliament.
    In Medieval England, there developed the notion that it could, in certain circumstances, be permissible to take action against a King whose actions were held to be tyrannical, and contrary to the laws and customs of the realm, of God, or the good the the Kingdom and the ‘common weal’.
    This was the case with John, Edward II and ultimately Richard II- and in later centuries Charles II.

    So, whatever the wrongs of Henry IV’s actions, he could be argued as having acted against a monarch who was not exercising authority in a legitimate or lawful manner, though of course there were those who wanted the old King back, or who used his name to incite those disaffected with the regime.
    Almost as today, there may always be those who want to restore a tyrant if they are dissatisfied with what has replaced him. This does not necessarily, however, make his replacement illegitimate.

    Though it is widely believed that Edmund Mortimer was Richard’s lawful successor, this claim is open to doubt, and at least one historian has demonstrated that Richard himself seems to have favoured more than one of his cousins- making advances or promises regarding the succession towards different ones depending on the circumstances.

    Furthermore, it seems Mortimer did not want to be King, and was the very person who betrayed the Southampton Plot to Henry- no doubt aware of the consequences for the ringleaders.
    These plotters seem to have had very personal motives- the idea of using Richard II’s name seems to have just been a thread to the plot. A plot which, if it succeeded, would have plunged the realm into chaos with foreign invasion from two fronts and civil war.
    Medieval Kings were expected to protect their realms, and on this basis Henry’s reaction to the plot was justified.

    • It seems odd, and a bit contradictory, to defend Henry IV for his rebellion and condemn others for similar plots. Do you espouse Walsingham’s ethics? Treason never prospers, what’s the reason? If it prospers, none dare call it treason.

      • Lady of Winchester says:

        I don’t necessarily defend Henry, I mentioned him in the context of the assertion that Henry V effectively deserved to be rebelled against because people wanted a legitimate ruler.
        They have that ruler in Richard II, but Richard over-reached the lawful and legitimate bounds of his authority. Henry V was actually somewhat sympathetic to Richard- the King had treated him well as a boy, which is all he was when his father took the throne.

        Yet he could hardly just step aside and hand over the Kingdom on a plate because of that- especially when the other candidate didn’t want it…..

      • I don’t think that Mortimer wanted the kingdom either. I can understand someone not wanting to wear a hollow crown upon their head.

      • Lady of Winchester says:

        …but the main thrust of my comment was that it was unrealistic to expect Medieval rulers to espouse modern ideals about freedom of expression and religion.
        It is not correct that Kings could have people killed for criticizing them- as many Chroniclers were critical of monarchs- but one has to be mindful of the mindset and and norms of the period when examining historical figures.

        As the renowned French historian Regine Pernoud said- it is not the role of a historian to be a judge …..

      • Ah contraire. The historian cannot help but be a judge. Nor can anyone else, for that matter. To judge fairly, to place a man (or woman) in his (or her) context, that a man can do. But to withhold judgment is not a reasonable expectation. How do we expect to learn from the past, and overcome it, without judgment upon it?

      • Lady of Winchester says:

        To quote again from Regine Pernoud- when we point the accusing finger denounce what is bad in the past we assume that we ‘inevitably personify the good’.
        Do we? To make such judgements we would have to be right about everything and utterly moral- look at the events of the 20th century. To ‘overcome’ the past suggests that everything that came before out own age was wrong and inferior to our society and values? Was it? I’m not so sure……

        It is this kind of arbitrary judgement which I think the historian has no right to make. The job of a historian (drawing from the same source again) is not to promote a particular worldview or political position- “it can it no way be confused with the intellectual fantasies of the individual, dictated by his political opinions’ his personal opinions, or his impulsus of the moment…History has its proper domain. It ceases to exist if it is no longer a search for the true, founded in authentic documents, it literally evaporates, it is at best only fraud and mystification”

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