Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Category: History (Page 1 of 3)

Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe by Anne Applebaum

“For a thousand years, the geography of the borderlands dictated their fate,” writes Anne Applebaum in her evocative and well-written book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, which first published in 1994.

In the 1991 and 1992, an era of social, political and economic turmoil, Anne Applebaum travelled in the countries of former Soviet Union, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, across the borderlands that constitute Europe’s far east landscape. The Soviet empire had ended but nothing else had yet replaced it. Longstanding institutions, such as the Communist Party, had vanished. Corruption was rampant. New politicians constantly replacing old ones. The desire for freedom and national sovereignty had raised troubling questions about identity. In the next few years, political, cultural and military conflicts shook the territories that used to be part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

The end of the Soviet Union, saw the “construction of homelands”, a process in which the nationalist elites and intellectuals, mobilised the myths and the images of a homeland, in order to reinforce the depiction of a nation as an ancient community and to give people a sense of belonging. Nationalism became attractive and synonymous with decentralization and democratisation and nationalists were considered democratic and progressive heroes.

Anne Applebaum take us to a journey into the past and the post-Soviet era of Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. She travels us to an area defined throughout its history by colliding empires, cultures and religions.

“Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty,” she writes.

“there are many layers of civilization in the borderlands, but they do not lie neatly on top of one another. “A traveller can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus – and he has never left his village.”


1876 by Gore Vidal

I regard politics of the country as an ongoing comedy, which, this evening, has suddenly sheered of into wildest farce.

Gore Vidal was feisty, elegant, clever and witty. A prolific, versatile writer. A notorious fueder. A giant of literature. Perhaps, the last of his kind.

1876, is the third volume of Vital’s Narratives of Empire, a series of books examining the history of America. Like his previous book Burr, is set mostly in New York City. It is a novel written as a memoir with Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, as a narrator.  Charlie has just returned to New York, with his daughter Emma, the widowed Princess D’Agrigente, after living in Europe for over 30 years.  It is the eve of the centennial year’s controversial election between Samuel H. Tilden, the Democratic Governor of New York and Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican Governor of Ohio.

The fact that I can longer tell a prostitute from a fine lady is the first sign that I have been away [from NYC] for a very long time.

Having lost all of his money in the Panic of 1873, the financial crisis that become known as the Long Depression, Charlie hopes to rebuild part of his fortune and secure a good marriage for Emma. Working as a journalist for the New York press, he moves around in the political cycles and in the American elite and wealthy class that owns vast sums of money. He witnesses the scandals of Grant’s second administration, and the financial chicaneries that often involved the railroad barons.

He chronicles the events, the tactics and the conflicted resolution that brought Hayes in the U.S presidency, despite the fact that that Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and led the electoral college. But the electoral votes in the three southern states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were disputed as each party reported its candidate had won the state. After almost four months, from November into late February, of increased tensions, the Congress established a 15-member Electoral Commission to resolve the issue of who was to become the nation’s next president.  The commission voted 8-7 to award the votes of these three states to Hayes. Money played a big part, too.

As the deals were hammered out to settle the election, Hayes agreed to end Reconstruction in the South giving the states the ability to treat African Americans as they saw fit. After leaving office, in 1881, Hayes devoted himself to the cause of educating African-American children in the South.

1876 is daring, beautiful, witty and insightful. Just how much of the account is historically accurate we do not know. But as Charlie Schuyler says, “There is not history, only fiction of varying degrees of plausibility. What we think to be history is nothing but fiction.”

It is remarkable that in a suit filled on December 2016 by a member of the Electoral College at disrupting Trump’s path to presidency, his attorneys made a reference at the turmoil cased in 1876 after “disputes concerning electors from multiple states dragged out for months after Election Day.’

Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos by Hardeep Singh Puri

The United Nations is an international organisation created in 1945 shortly after WWII to encourage resolution of international conflicts, to uphold international justice and to promote social progress. In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, second UN secretary general, the United Nations was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” Since 1945 the United Nations helped save millions from poverty and diseases, and from diseases and local wars and conflicts.  Today it has 193 country members and the challenges it faces are varied and vast.

Hardeep Singh Puri, an eminent Indian diplomat, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, is the author of Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos. He served in the Security Council from 2011 to 2013, during which time a wave of political upheaval and civil wars swept whole regions and affected the lives of millions of people.

This book is a chronicle of the interventions the UN Security Council (UNSC) has made in the past few years, in deeply divided countries, from the perspective of an Indian diplomat, non-permanent member of the UNSC.  It deals with some of the most terrible events of our day, the overstepping of the mandate on Libya at the beginning of 2011, Russia’s unilateral decision to annex the Crimea from Ukraine, the lack of consensus among member-states in Syria, the use of force in Yemen, and finally with the doctrine Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit.

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Thirteen Days – The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962 by Robert F. Kennedy

U-2 was a remarkable plane. It was designed to operate at 70,000 feet (about 21,000 metres), higher and for longer periods than any other aircraft since then. It was equipped with large-format cameras, finer that any made before, designed by Edwin Land, a flamboyant genius and Harvard dropout who had already invented the Polaroid.

In October 1962, a U-2 flying above Cuba photographed nuclear missile sites being built in secret by the Soviet Union. John F. Kennedy was stunned by the provocation. For the past year his administration was making efforts to establish better relations with the USSR. The installation of ballistic missiles in Cuba represented an existential threat to America.

It was the beginning of the Cuban crisis – a confrontation between the two giant atomic nations, the United States and the U.S.S.R which “brought the world to the abyss of nuclear destruction and the end of mankind.”

Thirteen days is Robert F. Kennedy’s personal perspective about this significant period in history. Bob Kennedy, brother and trusted advisor of the President, ovides a behind the scenes, sensitive and insightful account of the events, the tense debates and the ethical questions that took place from 16 October to 28 October, 1962. 13 dates during which the world held its breath.

On October 28, 1962, Khrushchev agreed to turn his ships carrying more arms back and to remove the missiles already stationed on the island. The world was able to breathe a big sigh of relief. After more than a half century, nuclear weapons still pose a real threat.

In this little book, Bob Kennedy remind us that a leader’s supreme quality, is the responsibility to consider the effect of his/her actions on others.

Inventing the Individual by Larry Siedentop

Is Christianity the foundation of our Liberal Individualism? In this wide-ranging and ambitious work, Larry Siedentop attempts to answer this particular question.

Siedentop’s central thesis is that Christianity was the foundation upon which liberalism was built.  Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism is a historical narrative spanning from Antiquity to the Medieval Period, 2000 years of history. Siedentop tells a remarkable story. Beginning with an overview of the Greek and the Roman world, where society was built around a patriarchal family, he goes on to examine the controversial Medieval period, generally considered as a period of cultural decline and stagnation. And yet, argues Siedentop, it was during the Medieval period that the ideas and beliefs of equality, individualism, egalitarianism, self-realization and free will, ideas that are identified as distinctively liberal, were developed and provided the space for secular liberalism to rice.

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δύο μόνο δάκρυα από τον Μίμη Ανδρουλάκη.

Το δύο μόνο δάκρυα είναι ένα από τα πιο ενδιαφέροντα βιβλία του Μίμη Ανδρουλάκη. Πρόκειται για ένα  καταιγιστικό βιβλίο με θέμα τις μεγάλες μεταστροφές της τύχης, ένα βιβλίο που ισορροπεί, με επιτυχία,  ανάμεσα στο ντοκουμέντο και στην λογοτεχνία. Μια ιλλιγιώδης αφήγηση που εμπλέκει το παρελθόν με το παρόν και επεκτείνεται στο μέλλον.  στην αφήγηση εμπλέκονται η Αίντα του Verdi, η Αλεξάνδρεια και η Καρχηδόνα, ο Άρης Βελουχιώτης και o Ηλίας Τσιριμώκος. Πρόσωπα της αρχαότητας όπως ο ιστορικός Πολύβιος, αντικατοπτρίζονται σε πρόσωπα σημερινά.  Ο Ανδρουλάκης δανείζεται γεγονότα και πρόσωπα από το παρελθόν  για να αναδείξει στιγμές που βρίσκονται στο μεταίχμιο της ιστορίας, εκεί όπου «υπό την επήρεια των ανέμων της ευημερίας» τα όνειρα και ελπίδες αναπτερώνονται, και ξαφνικά συμβαίνει κατι το αστάθμητο και απρόβλεπτο και όλα γκρεμίζονται.

Πρωταγωνιστής του βιβλίου ο καθηγητής Κωστής, ένας σοφός Έλληνας διανοούμενος που ταυτίζεται με τον Έλληνα ιστορικό της Ρωμαιοκρατίας Πολύβιο που υποστήριζε την, αντίληψη για την «κυκλικότητα» της Ιστορίας, δηλαδή, την «εναλλαγή ανόδου και πτώσης ως το πεπρωμένο των μεγάλων λαών». Μια αντίληψη που παραμένει επίκαιρη ακόμη και σήμερα. Λιγότερο ίσως γνωστό είναι ότι η θεωρία του Πολύβιου περί της «μικτής συνταγματικής τάξης», επηρέασε τους Ιδρυτές Πατέρες όταν συνέταξαν τη Διακήρυξη της Αμερικανικής Ανεξαρτησίας.

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