Archive for January, 2011


Cover courtesy of Harper Collins

Long, long ago in a youth far, far away, I read a biography of Catherine de Medici; so I was already familiar with her story. I have to admit, the details were hazy: I remembered something about poison, religious wars and that she was Mary, Queen of Scots’ mother-in-law. Then a couple of years ago, my husband and I took a biking vacation  in the Loire valley and visited numerous castles and gardens along way, several associated with Catherine and her rival Diane de Poitiers; so I was reacquainted with the general outlines of her story. Which brings me to: Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda.

From the Introduction:

“Catherine de Medici has variously been called ‘The Maggot from Italy’s Tomb’, ‘The Black Queen’ and ‘Madame La Serpente’. To many she is the very incarnation of evil. It is, I believe, as mistaken a judgment as it is bigoted. Yet it is not far removed from the overall verdict of history on one of the most remarkable women of the sixteenth century.” (more…)


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Cleopatra's Needle, 1901

Cleopatra's Needle, 1901

One of the delights of living in NYC is Central Park. It’s not only a green space and refuge for weary urbanites, it’s the site of many monuments; some are gifts from other countries. One of the most magnificent is the 3,500-year-old granite obelisk commemorating King Thutmose III, commonly known as Cleopatra’s Needle, situated on a rise in back of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This ancient artifact is one of a pair originally situated in Heliopolis, Egypt. The Romans moved them in 12 B.C. to adorn a temple in Alexandria. In 1877, the Khedive of Egypt gave one of the obelisks to the US. It was erected in Central Park in 1881 after an epic two and half year journey. It has sat in the New York climate ever since.  Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, recently posted on his blog a letter he sent to the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor Bloomberg, complaining about lack of proper care for the monument. He said, “I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.” The hieroglyphics are significantly eroded and many people believe the weathering occurred during the last century. The Conservancy denies that the monument has been neglected.  This blog post uses photos to show the obelisk was already in poor shape when it arrived.  Dr. Hawass is probably in error about when the erosion happened, but his complaint may spur the city and the Conservancy to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate further. I’ll update this post if the controversy continues. (Link to original article.) (more…)

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Khan: Empire of Sliver CoverFrom the Synopsis:

“Genghis Khan is dead, but his legend and his legacy live on. His son Ogedai has built a white city on a great plain and made a capital for the new nation. Now the armies have gathered to see which of Genghis’ sons has the strength to be khan. The Mongol empire has been at peace for two years, but whoever survives will face the formidable might of their great enemy, China’s Song dynasty.”

Conn Iggulden (author of the Emperor series on the life of Julius Caesar) brings us the fourth in his Conqueror series covering the history of the Mongols.  The book begins with a very unhorde-like activity…building a city. But quickly moves into palace intrigues as Genghis’ heir, the ailing Ogedai, moves to thwart his brother’s attempt to assassinate him and take over the assembled nation.  From there, Iggulden takes us on a roaring ride—all battles, military strategy, and new weapons (including proto-cannons)—lots of blood, death, and unimaginable destruction. Not having lived in or studied this time period, I couldn’t say if it accurately reflects the thinking of the time, but it felt visceral and grounded in the known facts. Iggulden makes good use of everyday details from food, drink, clothes, geography and shamanism to build a world and give us access to it. (more…)

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