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 , 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 , 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 , 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  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 ), 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.
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