Book Reviews


October 30, 2015

Review – “Sicily – An Island at the Crossroads of History”

Author: John Julius Norwich

Publisher: Random House 2015 ISBN: 978-0-8129-9517-6                  


Sicily starts with the Greeks and ends with the Americans and British in Operation Husky during World War II.  In between the author describes with enjoyable intricacy the geography of the land and the dealings of the Mycenaean peoples of 1600BC to the Mafia in the 50’s.  The strategic geographic location of the island presented it with a complicated history of the many people’s from Africa, the Levant, and assorted Europeans.

 After the various Greek settlements were conquered, the eastern side of the island became influenced by the Romans and then Neapolitans, the western side was influenced by Carthage and then other North Africans and Arabs.  Most of the trading, commerce, and battles happened strictly near the coastal ports of the island.  Very little of the political conflicts or the military battles by the “royal” invaders occurred on the Sicilian interior.  The vast majority of these conflicts happened at three ports on the coasts; Syracuse, Palermo, and Messina.  The hard geography and lack of roads in the interior allowed for a relative peace away from the coasts.  The various Kings and the next 3 levels of tax exempt non-working land owners had their own fiefs of agricultural booty to keep them aligned with whoever was in control of either Palermo or Messina.

Before writing “Sicily” the author created 21 other history books from 1966 up to 2014.  Prior to that he was in the British Foreign Service and first came to visit Sicily in the early 60’s. The completeness of the material, presented to the reader with not only an enjoyable time learning about this important island and its history, but an insight into all the reasons various Kings, Queens, and tyrants wanted to have control of this strategically placed land.  Some of the reasons were for perpetuating their blood lines and fortunes and others were simply tit for tat grievances against other controlling powers in the area.   Re-learning about the intricacies of the history of European rulers, from the Normans, to the French, to the Spanish, to the Hapsburgs, and finally to the mainland Italians.  The manner in which they fought for their own wealth and control was an important benefit that the author allowed the reader to obtain.  The bottom line was that the author gives the reader a very interesting and complete chronology of the stupidity of allowing dictators, no matter how they are defined or empowered, to be the rulers of any land.  Sicily was basically passed around like a chip in a great poker game for control of Mediterranean trade and the lands that border the Mediterranean Sea. It was a place to be used as a staging area for outsider's military conquests for almost 3600 years.

The fact that the people who lived on the island of Sicily were never really governed completely by these official rulers was brought out again, and again, and again by the author.  The Sicilians of the interior completely ignored these officials and the only people engaged with these transient rulers were those that were simply trying to curry favor.  Read the histories of a group of people that never gave into the oppressive activities of those that would govern the island in the most corrupt ways possible.  The author has created a tour de force in the presentation of historical materials.


October 26, 2015 

Review of "The Lost World of the Old Ones.  

Author: David Roberts

Published: W.W. Norton Company, 2015

Cloth ISBN: 978-0-393-24162-4


If you have an interest in the discoveries of the lives of the Ancient Puebloans, as the Anasazi are now termed, then you will thoroughly enjoy reading this book by David Roberts.  The author, living in Massachusetts, has written over 26 articles and books.  Mostly these have been about his travels, western history interests, and explorations in the American Southwest.   It takes the reader on an interesting path from the time that he discovered an ancient basket in 1994, sticking halfway out of the ground, in an alcove on Cedar Mesa in Utah.  The story David relates are the connections between the current residents in this geography and the Ancient Puebloans who disappeared in the 14th century.  Did the Ancient Puebloans just walk away from this land or do their descendants walk the streets today in the area known as the Four Corners.

        The chapters let you meet the former rancher Waldo Wilcox, whose family preserved a vast collection of the materials left behind by the Fremont natives.  He and his family preserved in secrecy thousands of Fremont living sites in the canyons of Range Creek in Utah.  Still untouched granaries built in inaccessible locations on the upper parts of these Range Creek canyon walls.  David and his fellow travelers discuss and reveal possible ways that the Ancients accessed these granaries using only the materials at hand in their time.  Were the Fremont’s a distinct group of natives or were they just the northern periphery of the Ancient Puebloans?   

                You will be able to imagine the travels in the desolation of this land and get a feel for the difficulties in walking the trails that lead past these long deserted habitations of the South West.  Discover the differences between the two main academics, professors Blinman and Lekson, and their theories as to the former inhabitants and their history, including an explanation of the Chaco Meridian.  The straight line that can be drawn from Aztec NM to Chaco Canyon NM, all the way south to Paquime Mexico.  To be found at approximately 107 Degrees, 57 Minutes, and 25 Sec W.

                Finally, in 2012 Roberts returns to the site of the basket discovered in 1994.  Fervently hoping that it is still in place and is available for newer archaeological practices and knowledge to explain who made it, its purpose, and why it was left behind for him to find untouched 700 years later.            

                His adventures range across Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.  The text succeeds in illuminating the mysteries of the Old Ones, as well as of the more recent Navajo and Comanche.  It is a follow-on or companion book to his original 1997, “In Search of the Old Ones.”   The book that became the bane of all the area’s Park Service Rangers since its publication.

                This volume will be a thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone who has traveled the 4 wheel -drive fire roads and geography of the American Southwest.  Learn about the area’s geography and history from Price Utah and its Nine Mile Canyon through to Range Creek Utah and down through to Moab.   Read about the Moab area’s spectacular pictographs, petroglyphs hidden in the various National Parks and National Monuments to be found nearby.  Travel on the Green River over to ancient habitations in southwestern Colorado and drive into northern New Mexico and the Navajo Reservation on roads paralleling the Chaco Meridian.

 16 pages of color illustrations.


September 12, 2015
Review of “Globes – 400 Years of Exploration and Power”            

Author: Sylvia Sumira

University of Chicago Press - 2014 

Cloth ISBN: 9780226139005 EBook ISBN: 9780226139142

This excellent book allows map heads to learn about the details of creating world class globes.  It is a good reference with many wonderful images of globes that are found in the British Library.  The author, Sylvia Sumira, was a conservator at the British Library before establishing her own business.  Globes being three dimensional representations of the Earth that usually are with a scale of 1:40,000,000 meters.  A globe usually being 1 meter in circumference, and the Earth, being approximately 40,000,000 meters in circumference.

                The globes discussed in this book cover a period of time from 1492 till 1884.  The accompanying photos show in wonderful detail all the craftsmanship in construction and art work that was required to make these treasures.  Globes have been mentioned as far back as the 6th century BC and the times of Pythagoras.  The Earth is round and not flat is a very old idea.  Plato and Aristotle accepted this idea and the astronomer and mathematician Eudoxus of Cnidus (408 – 355 BC) was described as creating celestial models to describe his theories in the motion of planets and stars relative to the Earth. 

                Celestial, terrestrial, and the pocket globes that combine both of these styles, are reviewed in this book and give the reader generous descriptions of their use and provenances.  One should not forget that while the art work required in creating the coverings, or gores, of the globes were exquisite, the fundamental knowledge gleaned from the globe surfaces was military intelligence.  Campaigns of conquest and exploration were the sources for these globes.  The creators of these globes had to have the latest in geographical information from their military and diplomatic sources in order to produce something that was marketable.  It was also a way to trick their enemies by giving out false geographical descriptions of the Earth as they knew it.

                The oldest known surviving globe is celestial from 150 AD and the oldest terrestrial globe is from Germany (Behaim) in 1492.  The globe by Behaim is the start of long list of globes pictured and described by the author.  Various cultures have had their influence on the format and content of the material stretched across these orbs.  Eastern, Chinese, Islamic, and Western Christian cultures are on display through these globes.  The images and text displayed represent the collected geographical knowledge of these cultures and the craftsmen/artists/cartographers worked with the mathematicians of their day to create these scientific instruments. 

Check your local library and enjoy.


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