History books I read in 2008ΒΆ

Tags: personal, books

As a sequel to 2007's list, here's part one of my list of books I read in 2008.

History is a large part of my reading pile. Any links here are to related webpages, not to amazon, btw.

  • A Distant Mirror (in Dutch: de waanzinnige 14e eeuw) by Barbara Tuchman. About the steaming pile of junk the 14th century had to deal with (first part of the 100 years war, black plague, efficiently suppressed peasant uprisings). Reads like a charm and gives you a lot of background.
  • The agincourt war by Alfred Burne, bought 5 years ago in a second-hand English bookshop in Paris, followed chronologically. This is the second part of the 100 years war. The English had an effective, but relatively small, army so they won most of the clashes. Winning clashes means holding territory which means having an even smaller army. English success was tied a lot to either incompetence or in-fighting in the French royal family and the assorted nobles. In the end the French got their act together and English influence slowly came to an end in France. The book is a good read, especially as it concentrates mostly on the military affairs.
  • The Dutch republic by Jonathan Israel. The rise, greatness and fall from 1477-1806 of what's now the Netherlands. This one fitted well chronologically after abovementioned agincourt war. France started to become united, which meant it became a real European force to recon with. They would give the Netherlands no small amount of grief later on. What's now Belgium and the Netherlands was under Spanish control. The economy here was booming. The Netherlands revolted, which meant 80 years of war with Spain. We didn't do too shabby. Especially economically. At the time, the Netherlands was the number one economic and financial superpower in the world. Only after the fourth war with England, did England gain the upper hand for a century. Anyway, the book is heavy reading material. I persevered. It gives a lot of background information and I found it very valuable for increasing my knowledge of Dutch history. But it is 1000 pages of heavy reading.
  • Het lege land (in English: "the empty country") by Auke van der Woud. It describes the landscape, road systems, city/town/rural structure, economic climate etc. in the Netherlands from 1789 to 1848. So this book started where the previous one stopped. With just some 2 million people (now 16 million) it was indeed an empty country by current standards. The one thing that struck me most in the book was how many French laws and institutions we kept after we became independent from France again. (In the period of the French revolution and Napoleon, the Netherlands was occupied by the French for 20 years or so). Before, the NetherlandS was mostly a collection of individual provinces. In the French period and afterwards as the kingdom of the Netherlands, it was more a unified country. So borrowing some French centralized stuff was a natural move, in a way. A second surprising thing was the amount of grief they had with, ahem, global warming at that time. The 16th century is known as the small ice age, so around 1800 they noticed rising sea levels on the Dutch coast (which re-claimed some fertile ground for the sea) and ever-rising levels in the spring in the main rivers, which made floodings an almost yearly occurrence. If you can read Dutch, this is a wonderful book with lots of readable background material.
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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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