Mini Reviews: Non-Fiction

Hello!

In the penultimate post for today’s netgalley catch-up, I’m sharing my mini reviews for some of the nonfiction I’ve read and requested in the last few months. Nonfiction is often what I dive into after a book hangover, as its the best way to clear the palate before diving into another SFF book.

“Disclaimer – I received an e-arc via netgalley for these in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.”

Castle Builders – Malcolm Hislop

Pen & Sword | Pen & Sword Archaeology

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

In Castle Builders, Malcolm Hislop looks at the hugely popular subject of castles from the unusual perspective of design and construction. In this general introduction to the subject, we discover something of the personalities behind their creation – the architects and craftsmen – and, furthermore, the techniques they employed, and how style and technology was disseminated. Castle Builders takes both a thematic and a chronological approach to the design and construction of castles, providing the reader with clear lines of development. Themes include earth, timber and stone construction techniques, the evolution of the great tower, the development of military engineering, the progression of domestic accommodation, and the degree to which aesthetics contributed to castle design.

Review:

This was an excellent and educational read. It was well researched and clearly explained, and I enjoyed how it worked through the building materials to more modern ones, and the layout was easy to follow. While there were some excellent diagrams and photos, I think that perhaps it could have benefited from a few more, but overall between the text, the illustrations included and the glossary at the back this is is a great exploration of castles and how they are constructed.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman – Mick Davis & David Lassman

Pen & Sword | Pen & Sword History

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult) | True Crime

Book Summary:

The story of Mrs. Gordon Baillie is stranger than anything to be met with in the field of fiction.

Mrs. Gordon Baillie, known throughout her life as Annie, was born in the direst poverty in the small Scottish fishing town of Peterhead in 1848. Illegitimate and illiterate, her beauty and intelligence nevertheless enabled her to overcome her circumstances and become a charming and wealthy socialite living a life of luxury while raising money for worthy causes and charitable works.

Behind her supposed perfect and contented life, however, lay one of the most notorious and compulsive swindlers of the Victorian Age. Her fraudulent fundraising and larger-than-life schemes played out across four decades and three continents, and involved land owners, crofters, aristocrats, politicians, bankers, socialist revolutionaries, operatic stars, and the cultural icons of the day.

She became mistress to a rich aristocrat, married a world-renowned male opera singer and later took as a lover a vicar’s son with anarchist tendencies. For most of her ‘career’ she kept one step ahead of the law and her nemesis, Inspector Henry Marshall of Scotland Yard, but finally becoming undone through her own compulsion for petty theft, despite her amassed fortune.

During her life she used more than 40 aliases, produced four children and spent her way through millions in ill-gotten wealth. But at the turn of the twentieth century, her notoriety was such that she took refuge in America and disappeared from history.

Review:

This was such a fascinating, entertaining read. Well-written and researched, I loved this book from start to finish, and you can’t help but admire Annie despite or perhaps because of the path that she chose. It balanced the information with the narrative very well.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

Islands of Abandonment – Cal Flyn

William Collins

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult) | Geography

Book Summary:

Investigative journalist Cal Flyn’s ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT, an exploration of the world’s most desolate, abandoned places that have now been reclaimed by nature, from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to the “urban prairie” of Detroit to the irradiated grounds of Chernobyl, in an ultimately redemptive story about the power and promise of the natural world.

Review:

This wasn’t quite what I had expected, but it was a beautiful book. And while it didn’t shy away from the damage that has been done to nature, there is also a hopefulness to this book. Flyn has done a wonderful job of balancing the viewpoints, and while this is a book about nature, it is much farther reaching, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the state of nature in these places.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

Karachi Vice – Samira Shackle

Granta Publications

Genre: Multicultural Interest | Nonfiction (Adult) | Travel

Book Summary:

Karachi. The capital of Pakistan is a sprawling mega-city of 20 million people. It is a place of political turbulence in which those who have power wield it with brutal and partisan force, a place in which it pays to have friends in the right places and to avoid making deadly enemies. It is a society where lavish wealth and absolute poverty live side by side, and where the lines between idealism and corruption can quickly blur. It takes an insider to know where is safe, who to trust, and what makes Karachi tick, and in this powerful debut, Samira Shackle explores the city of her mother’s birth in the company of a handful of Karachiites. Among them is Safdar the ambulance driver, who knows the city’s streets and shortcuts intimately and will stop at nothing to help his fellow citizens. There is Parveen, the activist whose outspoken views on injustice corruption repeatedly lead her towards danger. And there is Zille, the hardened journalist whose commitment to getting the best scoops puts him at increasing risk. As their individual experiences unfold, so Shackle tells the bigger story of Karachi over the past decade: a period in which the Taliban arrive in Pakistan, adding to the daily perils for its residents and pushing their city into the international spotlight. Writing with intimate local knowledge and a global perspective, Shackle paints a nuanced and vivid portrait of one of the most complex, most compelling cities in the world.

Review:

This was a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of Karachi. I felt that the author did an excellent job of diving into the myriad issues affecting the city and its population, and really bringing them home by telling the story through the lives of those that live there. However, I did find that the narrative style was not the strongest point of the book, particularly towards the beginning of the book it felt a little too disjointed, and while the threads were brought together better towards the end, I feel that it could have benefited either from fewer threads (although then we would have lost out on some essential voices) or being longer so that each voice could be thoroughly explored and tied with the others. Still, this is a book that should be read and it was an eye-opening read from start to finish.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

Lawmen of the Wild West – Terry C. Treadwell

Pen & Sword | Frontline Books

Genre: History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Book Summary:

Without doubt it was one of the toughest jobs. Faced with ruthless criminal, trigger-happy gunslingers and assorted desperados, the lawmen of the Old West tried, and sometimes died, in their efforts to bring some semblance of order to their towns and communities.

There were Marshals, City Marshals and Constables who were employed by the local townspeople and whose authority was restricted to within the town or city limits. Then there were the County Sheriffs, who were elected by the citizens of the county, to keep the peace within the county, or the Texas Rangers and Arizona Rangers, who operated under the jurisdiction of their respective state governors and later US Marshals. The United States Marshals were appointed by the President of the United States and had the authority to operate anywhere in the USA and deal with federal crime. Each of these law enforcement officers employed their own deputies, all of whom had the same powers of enforcement.

Some believed that former criminals would make the most effective lawmen. Consequently, in some cases notorious gunfighters were employed as town marshals to help bring law and order to some of the most lawless of towns. These lawmen had to deal with the likes of the Dalton Gang, the James Brothers and the Rufus Buck Gang who thought nothing of raping and murdering innocent people just for the hell of it. These outlaws would frequently hide in the Indian Territory where there was no law to extradite them. The only law outside of the Indian Territory was that of Judge Isaac Parker, who administered the rules with an iron fist; the gallows at Fort Smith laid testament to his work.

The requirements needed to be a peace officer in the Wild West were often determined only by the individual’s skill with a gun, and their courage. At times judgment was needed with only seconds to determine it, and that also meant that there was the odd occasion where justice and law never quite meant the same thing. The expression ‘justice without law’ was never truer than in the formative years of the West.

Review:

This was a fascinating read, and I really enjoyed how the author presented it as a series of short mini biographies as it gave each of the lawmen there own time to shine, although some had more attention than others. It was like having the curtain drawn back on the wild west, and it was nice to see the ‘romantic view’ of that world stripped away. My only complaint would be that sometimes it felt as though the writing drifted away from the person that was being discussed, and while the details were interesting and added to the book, I think that maybe they took away from the execution a little. Still this was a great book, and one I will be revisiting in the future.

Rating:

Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Bookshop.org | Topping & Company | Waterstones

***** *****

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