The Dartmouth Observer

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Friday, September 24, 2004
  • Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Stylish and straightforward narrative history of the British Empire from colonial America to the handover of Hong Kong. Remarkably, James manages to write about such a political and politicized phenomenon without ever coming across as ideologically biased. The characters and events carry the show -- as well they should. If you're looking for an introductory text on the Empire, get this instead of Niall's Ferguson's flashy tome.
  • Frances B. Yates, The Art of Memory. This one's for more advanced readers (any book in which the footnotes frequently take up more space than the text is), but I recommend it nonetheless for the sheer depth and diversity of its historical insights. Yates traces the development of the art of memory from its origins in classical Greece to the Enlightenment, and along the way supplies new and genuinely compelling interpretations of, inter alia, Dante's Divine Comedy, medieval Gothic architecture, and Scholasticism.
  • Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. The "essay" (in the author's own words) that has come to define our views of the Italian Renaissance. Though superceded in terms of scholarly insight by more recent works, Burckhardt's exuberant, sweeping prose remains unsurpassed, and his views continue to command the attention of all who might enter the field of Renaissance studies. (See Peter Burke's recent introductory text to see what I mean.)
I await John's review of Leo Strauss's Natural Right and History with bated breath...