Friday, March 29, 2024

Yesterday: A New History of Nostalgia (Tobias Becker)

Nostalgia was first defined in the 17th Century as a "feeling of anxiety and homesickness, particularly when people were away from home." Over the past 50-75 years, that definition has evolved to a "longing for the good 'ol days," especially those positive memories of one's youth or early adulthood. Nostalgia occasionally gets a bad rap because it often obscures some of the less positive moments of the past and can be a bit of a trope. Tobias Becker, a German historian, has written about the concept of nostalgia in the West with a more nuanced, balanced view. 

Yesterday: A New History of Nostalgia tackles the evolution of the term and dives into three main themes of it in our lives. Covering politics, pop culture and preservation, Becker provides a strong, articulate argument for how nostalgia has been used in various capacities, both positive and negative, and how we have occasionally used our nostalgic moments to shape current events and thinking. Throughout the book, Becker often reminds us that nostalgia is one of the few concepts that bridges ideological and demographical divides. Both conservatives and progressives often pull out the nostalgia card to varying levels of success.

Yesterday is a well-researched look into our past and how longing for "better" times can often be helpful in shaping our future.


Monday, March 25, 2024

Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative (Jennifer Burns)

Milton Friedman was one of the foremost economists of the 20th Century whose contributions to economics and influence on global politics still reverberate to this day. Jennifer Burns has written the first full biography of Friedman in Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative.

Yes, calling this book a biography is accurate as Burns does chronicle Friedman's life from his upbringing in New Jersey to his final years in California. But the book also serves other purposes. First, it's a history of monetarism, which became the prevailing economic theory in much of the West in the late 20th Century and served as the next prevailing theory after Keynesian economics dominated in the wake of the Great Depression. Burns does an excellent job of showing the key players in the "Chicago School" of economics, including Friedman's wife, Rose, and others. 

Second, this book is also a history of conservative politics through the years of Friedman's life. Friedman was an outsized influence on both monetary policy and conservative thinking, with his influence in both fields waning in recent years as populism has taken over much of the American right.

Burns's work is very balanced and thorough but at times a bit too complimentary of some of Friedman's philosophies on social politics and, in the 1980's, deficit spending. However, Burns does provide a very authentic look at someone who was unapologetically conservative in the classical sense of believing in smaller government and effective fiscal policy to help the economy grow. 


Monday, March 18, 2024

The Romanov Brides (Clare McHugh)

In The Romanov Brides: A Novel of the Last Tsarina and Her Sisters, author Clare McHugh offers a meticulously researched book on the lives of Princesses Ella and Alix, who would go on to become a Grand Duchess and Empress of Russia respectively. Both royal sisters made fateful decisions that would change their lives immensely.

Just two of the many grandchildren of the imposing Queen Victoria, the sisters are brought up with expectations of who they will marry (and this does not include Russians). Despite this, they are drawn to Russia and the Romanovs. Ella defies warnings and marries Grand Duke Serge, and Alix falls in love with Nicky, the heir to the Russian throne. 

I love books about royal families and was especially surprised how interrelated the families were. Members were encouraged to marry for status and country, even when they were first cousins! I imagine that except for the staunchest royalists, it would be a bit difficult to keep all the royal lines straight. However, McHugh does offer some handy diagrams to help with this. It was especially fascinating to see how the real characters in The Romanov Brides were direct descendants of the British royal family. For example, one of the sisters of Ella and Alix (Victoria) had a daughter named Alice, who was Prince Philip's mother.  

Overall, this book is a moving tale that offers deep insights into the lives of two spirited royal sisters. It's a must-read for those interested in the Romanovs and historical fiction in general.


Monday, March 4, 2024

The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft (Peter Bellerby)

Every globe tells a story about the world as it was. While globes quickly date themselves, the stories that each one tells help us learn more about our world and how we got to the place we are today.

In The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft, author Peter Bellerby discusses the process of hand-crafting globes and how he himself decided to make a globe for his father's 80th birthday. While he didn't quite make the birthday deadline, he did start a company out of that project and makes hand-crafted globes of various sizes that are shipped throughout the world. One of his most ambitious projects was a replica of a globe that was gifted to Winston Churchill in 1942.

Globe-making has been around for centuries and was a semi-established craft since the early days of the Renaissance. As printing presses came into greater supply, the ability to produce globes became a bit easier. Bellerby, while discussing the growth of his business, goes into detail about the process of making a globe from start to finish. It requires a patient, steady hand and the ability to paint accurately. Neither of those are traits I possess, but I do possess an appreciation for a great story. The Globemakers accomplishes this with humility and wit.