March 7, 2018

Book review: “The Griff: A Graphic Novel” by Christopher Moore and Ian Corson with Jennyson Rosero

The Griff, published in 2011, is like many another graphic novel, which is to say that it’s like many a megaplex blockbuster. Tell me if this sounds familiar: Invaders from outer space (in this case, big flying, fire-breathing dragons) attack the Earth and kill off just about everyone. The only people left are a bunch of misfits (in this case, a game developer, a guy who worked the makeup counter at Macy’s, a dolphin trainer, a guy dressed in a squirrel outfit, a private first class, and a skateboarder) who set out to save the world. And do.   Along for the ride What sets The Griff apart is that one of its co-authors is Christopher Moore, the writer of a string of very, very funny novels. The other is Ian Corson, a filmmaker. The guy who did all the drawings is Jennyson Rosero, and he should probably get more credit than a “with.” In any case, Moore is a very funny guy, but The Griff isn’t all that funny. It appears from Moore’s foreword and Corson’s afterword that the two had a lot of fun writing the text — essentially, a script for a movie that they don’t expect […]
March 5, 2018

Book review: Three books from the University of Nebraska’s Discovering the Great Plains series — “Great Plains Bison,” “Great Plains Indians” and “Great Plains Geology”

For most Americans, the Great Plains, covering a million or so square miles in the center of the continent, are a place to fly over or, maybe, drive through. This makes sense since much of the area was once known as the Great American Desert. The average person has a fairly vague idea of what the Great Plains are and what’s happened there. Even experts can’t seem to agree on its boundaries, producing, as R. F. Diffendal Jr. notes in “Great Plains Geology,” more than 50 maps with great variations. There’s general agreement that the area’s western border is roughly the Rocky Mountains. On the south, it’s seen as covering all or much of Texas, and, on the north, it goes up about halfway through the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But, on the east, some maps stretch as far as Illinois, or even Indiana. But most stop somewhere near the eastern boundaries of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.   A variety of perspectives Diffendal’s book is one of three published so far in the University of Nebraska’s Discovering the Great Plains series, and, in a way, those three, plus the three more in the pipeline, […]
February 28, 2018

Book review: “Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York” by Francis Spufford

There are many pleasures to Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York, and the greatest is its sheer unexpectedness. It is fresh in startling ways. It is idiosyncratic storytelling that’s robustly accessible, a literary experiment that melds a variety of novel-writing approaches ranging from the early 1700s up to our present minute — and, yet, always clear and present and eye-opening. And, from start to finish, it has its own language and voice, a vibrantly individual work of fiction. I describe Golden Hill, published in 2016, as an experiment because Spufford had never written a novel before and because it is one of a kind.   Historical fiction, love story, mystery? You could call it historical fiction since it does cover a 45-day period at the end of 1746 in New York City, but this is no fancy-dress tale. It has no hackneyed plot, nor is it an effort to explain what happened behind the scenes of some major event. You could call it a love story since it does involve a very awkward but ardent courtship — as if involving two porcupines — between Richard Smith, a surprise visitor from London, and Tabitha Lovell, the shrewishly […]
February 25, 2018

Book review: “Richard Nixon: The Life” by John A. Farrell

The most striking thing about John A. Farrell’s Richard Nixon: The Life is how evenhanded a biography it is. Picture yourself nearly half a century in the future — in 2061 — and imagine you are reading an even-handed biography of Donald Trump. It’s startling to conceive of such a thing, given the intensely high emotions that the 45th President of the United States elicits from his supporters and opponents. In 43 years, could emotions cool enough that a biographer could write about Trump and his presidency with dispassion? That’s what Farrell has done with Nixon in a book published last year, 43 years after Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace for the Watergate break-in of the Democratic National Committee and a host of other dirty tricks and, most of all, for the democracy-threatening attempt to cover-up all those democracy-threatening shenanigans. Farrell was a college student in 1974 when Nixon left office, and it would be impossible for a reader of this book to have much of a sense of where Farrell stood in that very divisive moment in American history.   Shakespearean Perhaps the question is whether any biography of Nixon should be even-handed. But, before I get into […]
February 22, 2018

Book review: “Glory Days” by Melissa Fraterrigo

Glory Days by Melissa Fraterrigo is a raw piece of fiction about the scarred and wounded lives of people lost in the dying small town of Ingleside, Nebraska. It is sort of a novel inasmuch as it could be described as a novel told in stories or as a collection of related stories. And it has some of the usual imperfections of such variations on the usual form. There are a variety of tones among the fourteen stories (chapters) that, at times, collide somewhat awkwardly with each other. There are confusing time gaps and plot details that would probably be clearer in the context of a straight-ahead novel. Part of the problem may be that Glory Days is Fraterrigo’s first book-length work of fiction, and she’s still finding her voice.   Tormented spirits Even so, “Glory Days” is a brutally beautiful tale about tortured souls in a Midwestern Inferno of lost jobs, lost hopes, lost connections. Everyone in this book is damaged goods — from Luann, the adopted girl whose mother is newly dead in the opening story, to Teensy, her fire-scarred father, to Footer, an orphan who came into the world when a crazy woman sliced his mother open […]
February 13, 2018

Book review: “Death in Chicago: Winter” by Dominic J. Grassi

Cosmo Grande moves awkwardly, humanly, through Chicago, looking for clues and epiphany. Grande, a fiftyish private investigator who drinks too much and smokes too much weed, is the central character created by my friend Dom Grassi for his first novel Death in Chicago: Winter. It’s a murder mystery and is planned to be the first of four, the others taking Cosmo and the sort of skullduggery one enjoys in mysteries through spring, summer and fall. You know, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, only in this case the Italian isn’t writing music but trying to find his way around Chicago while endeavoring to figure out what’s going on — and avoid getting blown up or otherwise iced. In Death in Chicago: Winter, Cosmo is trying to get to the bottom of a whole lot of messiness, including three suicides that might be murder, a dirty cop, a murdered tow-truck driver, a rogue bishop, a “retired” mob boss and a clandestine group of deacons trying to save the Catholic Church from its bad apples.   A rollicking tale It’s a rollicking tale that pulls the reader along as Cosmo, a former seminarian, maneuvers through a hidden church scandal of wide-ranging financial sins while […]
February 7, 2018

Book review: “The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve” by Stephen Greenblatt

At the end of the 19th century, Mark Twain had fun with the story of Adam and Eve, writing in “Adam’s Diary” about the first man’s confusion over the sudden appearance of the first woman: “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals….Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain….WE? Where did I get that word — the new creature uses it.” Such playfulness, though, gives no hint of the two and a half millenniums during which the Bible account of the first people in the Garden Eden was taken very seriously, even to the point of life and death, as Stephen Greenblatt shows in The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.   “A breath” Greenblatt, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the general editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, has written a book that is thoughtfully readable and deeply erudite, a book steeped in humanity and in the unending efforts of humans to figure out who they are and why […]
February 5, 2018

Book review: “Mort” by Terry Pratchett

There is an awkward disconnect toward the end of Mort, Terry Pratchett’s 1987 Discworld novel, the fourth of 41 in the series. It has to do with Albert, Death’s manservant and cook. OK, if you haven’t read any Discworld novels, that job description may sound odd. As Pratchett’s regular Discworld readers know, Death is the guy in the long black robe with the ever-so-sharp scythe — oh, and he’s a skeleton— who appears in just about every one of these books. You know he’s there, even if he isn’t immediately identified, because of his distinctive way of speaking — in “a voice like lead slabs being dropped on granite,” all in small caps. For instance, when he hires the 16-year-old Mort as his apprentice, Death asks his name: “Mortimer…sir. They call me Mort.” “WHAT A COINCIDENCE.” (“Mort” being the root word in Latin for “death,” and, by way of Middle French and Middle English, the root of such English words as “moral.” But you knew that.)   Stood-still-time Death’s job is to head out each day to be present at the death of, generally but not always, important people. The causes of such deaths can be any of the usual […]
February 1, 2018

Book review: “The Art of Biblical Narrative” by Robert Alter

The writers of the Hebrew Bible, when they’re telling a story, they’re like Homer with the Iliad — they’re omniscient. They know the story as if they’ve watched it unfold from some vantage point above and around and inside the action. However, unlike Homer, the biblical storyteller doesn’t make the characters and their motives clear to the reader. Instead, the storyteller is selective, as Robert Alter explains in his groundbreaking 1981 study The Art of the Biblical Narrative: He may on occasion choose to privilege us with the knowledge of what God thinks of a particular character or action — omniscient narration can go no higher — but as a rule, because of his understanding of the nature of his human subjects, he leads us through varying darknesses which are lit up by intense but narrow beams, phantasmal glimmerings, sudden strobic flashes. We are compelled to get at character and motive, as in impressionistic writers like Conrad and Ford Madox Ford, through a process of inference from fragmentary data, often with crucial pieces of narrative exposition strategically withheld, and this leads to multiple and sometimes even wavering perspectives on characters. There is, in other words, an abiding mystery in character […]
January 30, 2018

Book review: “The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene

He is a priest who has been on the run for eight years in a state in Mexico where authorities have leveled all churches in an effort to root out Catholicism. Religious books are banned, and even well-to-do women find themselves in jail if they’re found with one. It is the middle of the 20th century, and the new Socialist government wants to stamp out superstition. Some priests have fled. Some have stayed and, under duress, have gotten married. Others, like this one, have gone into hiding. When caught, a fugitive priest is shot for treason. As Graham Greene’s 1940 novel The Power and the Glory, opens, this priest is the last one at large, offering the sacraments — baptism, confession, the Mass — to believers where he can find them and when they feel it’s safe to be with him. Most of the time, it’s not safe. Over the past year, he has celebrated Mass just four times and had heard maybe a hundred confessions. No hero Now, a fervently anticlerical Army lieutenant is on his trail, and, when the officer finds that a village has been visited by the priest, he takes a hostage. He holds the hostages […]
January 22, 2018

Book review: “The City: A Vision in Woodcuts” by Frans Masereel

Frans Masereel, a Belgian-born artist who lived most of his life in France, published The City in 1925. It is a collection of 100 woodcuts that tell a story, and it is subtitled it A Vision in Woodcuts. Over the course of half a century, he published many such works, often called novels-in-woodcuts. There was something of a subgenre of such works in that era. In the United States, between 1929 and 1938, Lynd Ward, influenced by Masereel, published seven such novels-in-woodcuts. Today, The City is marketed as a graphic novel although, unlike most modern graphic novels, Maereel’s books are completely without words. Dark, sullen and pessimistic The City is called a “vision” because it doesn’t tell the story of particular identifiable characters moving through a plot. Instead, The City is more like a poem that describes great social forces and the individuals who, in the face of intense pressure, are winners or, much more often, losers. It is a grim vision, Germanic in its absoluteness (perhaps not surprising since Masereel lived for a time in Berlin), an indictment of the then-modern world, very dark and sullen and pessimistic — and it’s a vision that was created before the Great […]
January 22, 2018

Book review: “Equal Rites” by Terry Pratchett

In Equal Rites, the third of his Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett thinks deep thoughts…and silly thoughts. Sometimes, at the same time. For instance, Esk is a girl of nearly nine who is in training with Granny Weatherwax to be a witch and maybe a wizard. And she is astonished that Granny hasn’t given her goats names. “I imagine,” Granny says, “they’ve got names in Goat….What would they want names in Human for?” Esk ruminates about this, and so does Granny: Goats did have names for themselves, she well knew: there was “goat who is my kid,” “goat who is my mother,” “goat who is herd leader,” and half a dozen other names not least of which was “goat who is this goat.” They had a complicated herd system and four stomachs and a digestive system that sounded very busy on still nights, and Granny had always felt that calling all this names like Buttercup was an insult to a noble animal.   “Cesspit cleaners” That’s pretty silly. And maybe a bit deep. Published in 1987, Equal Rites is about whether Esk — who was born at the same time a wizard was dying and inherited the wizard’s staff and, hence, […]
January 18, 2018

Book review: “Catseye” by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s 1974 novel Catseye is what’s often called a space opera. In other words, like the old Westerns — called horse operas — it’s an adventure story, set in space, featuring good guys and bad guys. And, in the end, the white hats win. In other words, we’re not talking King Lear or Paradise Lost here. Catseye is entertainment, pure and simple. And, yet, there is something noble about a well-crafted entertainment, made with pride and integrity and intelligence and a level of creativity.   A kinship Here, as in many other Norton novels, the story involves a human being — a young man from the wrong side of the tracks named Troy Horan — who is able to talk telepathically with animals. In this case, five animals from Earth — two cats, two foxes and a playful little monkey-like creature called a kinkajou. This theme was obviously important to Norton, and it’s not just a fun what-if feature to her stories. Deeper, it is a recognition of a kinship between humans and other creatures and, by extension, with all of creation — a proto-ecology idea when Norton originally used the concept sixty-five years ago in her first science-fiction […]
January 16, 2018

Book review: “Cover Her Face” by P.D. James

It was in 1962 that P.D. James published Cover Her Face, her first murder mystery featuring Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgleish of Scotland Yard. At the time, Agatha Christie was still the dominant voice in the field, selling millions of mysteries each year and cranking out new novels at an annual pace. In the previous 41 years, she had published 59 mysteries. Her 60th The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side came in 1962. It was followed over the next 14 years by 13 more. This is worth noting because, in many ways, Cover Her Face is very much of the Christie genre. There is a hothouse quality to the novel, set as it is in the rural estate of landed gentry (albeit a little threadbare). The murder victim is found behind a locked door. And the solution is incredibly complex and far-fetched. I’ve seen reports that, later in her writing life, James said that she didn’t think much of this first effort, and there’s good reason. It’s a bit hokey in the way that most of Christie’s novels were hokey.   A novel trying to escape Even so, Cover Her Face is a pleasure to read. Throughout, there are hints […]
January 10, 2018

Book review: “Native Son” by Richard Wright

For 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, life in Chicago in early 1939 is one of fear and anger. On this day, he has just beaten up his friend Gus for no apparent reason — except that it meant that he and Gus and two of their friends would have to drop their plan to rob a white storeowner. This is early in Richard Wright’s Native Son, and Wright notes: His confused emotions had made him feel instinctively that it would be better to fight Gus and spoil the plan of the robbery than to confront a white man with a gun. But he kept this knowledge of his fear thrust firmly down in him; his courage to live depended upon how successfully his fear was hidden from his consciousness… This was the way he lived; he passed his days trying to defeat or gratify impulses in a world he feared.   “A world he feared” Bigger Thomas lives in Chicago’s South Side Black Belt, the largest of two African-American ghettos in the city. (A much smaller one is on the Near West Side.) He fears his world because, everywhere he turns, he is told in the words and actions of American society […]
January 8, 2018

Book review: “One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia

The cover of One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia indicates that this is a book for kids 9 to 12. And, sure, the reading level will fit that group of kids. But what makes the book so rich and courageous is that it deals with issues that kids will have to think about and deal with as adults — issues that are far from simple and aren’t likely to ever go away. Set in 1968, One Crazy Summer is about three African-American sisters from Brooklyn — Delphine, 11; Venetta, 9; and Fern, 7 — who fly across country to spend 28 days in Oakland with the mother who walked out on them when Fern was a newborn. Nearly everyone the sisters meet during their visit are black. This is a book about the black experience in 1968 and the black experience today, and its target audience are African-American kids. Even so, its secondary audience is all other kids. The questions raised in this book have to be faced most directly by black kids and adults. But non-black kids and adults have to come up with their own answers to these questions as well. For instance, the sisters spend their four […]
January 5, 2018

Book review: “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America” by Garry Wills

Make no mistake: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a refounding of the United States. A redefinition of the nation — a revolution, if you will. It was the substitution of the Declaration of Independence with its clear, direct, unequivocal statement that “all men are created equal” as the country’s central document, in place of the U.S. Constitution with its acceptance of slavery and, in consequence, a lesser ideal. It was a clear commitment to the principle of equality after a half century of intellectual muddiness. And, as Garry Wills explains in his 1992 book Lincoln at Gettysburg, it was a revolution that was carried out in the space of three minutes and in the speaking of 272 words. A revolution carried out, peacefully, through logic, political genius and language that has resonated ever since through American history and culture — a revolution in thought and spirit, conveyed in what were billed simply as “remarks” at the dedication of the new cemetery for the Union dead from the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of a fiercely fought civil war in which body counts reached into the hundreds of thousands on both sides.   “To clear the infected atmosphere of American […]
January 3, 2018

The nine best books of 2017

In addition to the groups of books I highlighted on Tuesday, I wanted to honor the nine individual books that I read in 2017. These were books that left an impression on me because of their insights and artistry, and I would gladly recommend them to anyone. The listing of each book contains a somewhat meat excerpt from my review. If you’d like the full review, just click on the title. …   “The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago,” Edited by Abdul Alkalimat, Romi Crawford, and Rebecca Zorach Fifty years ago, William Walker, a veteran muralist, proposed to a group of other black artists and photographers that they collaborate to produce a mural on the side of a two-story tavern in the impoverished South Side neighborhood of Grand Crossing. After three weeks of labor at the building on the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Langley Avenue, the 20-foot-by-60-foot work of art, featuring dozens of African-American heroes, was completed on August 24, 1967. It was called the Wall of Respect, and it was dedicated several times over the next weeks. Sometime later, Walker came to the wall and saw a young man sitting on […]
January 2, 2018

The best groups of books of 2017

Looking back over the 60-plus books I read in 2017, I am struck by how many of the best — 19 to be exact — fall into groups that comprise sort of mini-seminars on a particular subject. For instance, there were six books about poverty that I reviewed, one after the other last spring. Published between 1890 and 1986, they provided a variety of views on the life of people who live in poverty, stressing their people-ness. In other words, for the most part, the writers of these books weren’t discussing these people as laboratory rats but as fellow folk. Another grouping — the books in Lives of Great Religious Books series from Princeton University Press — was one that I initially wrote about in the Chicago Tribune and then expanded for my website. This overview cites five books from the series that I have reviewed, some in 2016, some in 2017. All my life I have been fascinated by Joan of Arc, an interest that has grown in recent years. The four discussed her are among many I’ve read, and there are many more to read. Similarly, the four books about the Bible are, in general, part of a […]
December 20, 2017

Book review: “Pronto” by Elmore Leonard

There’s no indication in Elmore Leonard’s 1993 crime novel Pronto what the title is supposed to mean. In American English, “pronto” is an adverb, meaning “quickly.” It comes from Spanish in which the word means “quick.” However, Leonard’s novel is peopled with members and associates of the Italian crime mob in Miami as well as the lawmen who try to stop their scheming and skullduggery. A goodly portion of the story takes place in Italy, both in flashbacks to World War II and in present-day shenanigans. So maybe it has to do with the Italian word “pronto” which means “ready.” Which doesn’t immediately bring to mind any person or action in the story, except maybe Raylan Givens, a Deputy U.S. Marshal and former miner in Kentucky. He’s the center of this typically loose-limbed Leonard novel in the sense of the person who makes things happen. (And he’s the central character in two later books — Riding the Rap (1993) and Leonard’s final novel Raylan (2012).) And, in Pronto, Raylan does seem to be ready when he needs to be. Still, it’s kind of a stretch since the word “pronto” and its meaning “ready” don’t appear anywhere in the book.   […]
December 18, 2017

Book review: “Fashion” by Christopher Breward

Well, what is fashion? In Fashion, a carefully calibrated look at Western couture over the past 200 years, Christopher Breward notes that fashion can be viewed “as art, social process, or commercial product,” and continues: Is fashion the sketch of a designer, informed by reference to historical precedent or contemporary cultural influences and translated into surfaces and seams of a refined sculptural beauty? Is it the ritualistic adorning of the body by a subject whose sartorial actions relate to predominant aesthetic and sociological contexts?  Or is it the limp textile construction, replicated according to body size and spending power, which hangs on the rail of a boutique, given meaning and relevance for the potential consumer by its reproduction of the promotional images of a magazine? For his book, he writes, the most productive approach is to consider all three and their inter-relationships, a complicated undertaking. The three aspects of fashion To this end, Fashion is in three parts. The first examines the production of fashion, including the rise of the designer as a “name” and celebrity, the production of apparel and the processes through which styles evolve. The second has to do with the promotion of fashion through advertising, film, […]
December 13, 2017

Book review: “Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc,” edited by Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood

Published in 1996, Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, edited by Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood, is a collection of eighteen scholarly essays looking at various aspects of the life and legacy of the woman who led French armies to victories in the early 15th century, was branded a sorcerer and executed by the enemy English and, five hundred years later, was declared a Catholic saint. The idea of “fresh verdicts” is that these essays examine aspects of Joan’s story that have been ignored or confused over the many centuries since her death at the English stake as a heretic. Not that Joan’s story itself has been ignored all that time. Indeed, in an opening essay, Kelly DeVries, a historian at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, asserts: No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study than Joan of Arc. She has been portrayed as saint, heretic, religious zealot, seer, demented teenager, protofeminist, aristocratic wanna-be, savior of France, “turner-of-the-tide” of the Hundred Years War, and even Marxist liberator. Similarly, in one of the concluding essays, Kevin J. Harty, an English professor at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, sees a similar pattern in the […]
December 11, 2017

Book review: “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit’s 2005 A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a celebration of much that is disdained and feared by mainstream American society:   The Unknown Loss Getting Lost Being Lost Hell Solitude Tragedy Melancholy Emptiness Ruins Death Sadness Wanting Captivity The Wild Heartbreak The Void Mortality Disappearance Darkness Does that list give you nightmares? Then, A Field Guide to Getting Lost is not for you.   Three recognitions Solnit looks deeply into how various people and peoples have faced all of these seemingly negative aspects of existence and how she has faced them in her own history. And she finds in them the deepest life. The deep place where life is richest, fullest. It has to do with a recognition that, first, none of these is avoidable, and that, second, each is the yin to a yang of some seemingly positive aspect of human existence. For instance, you can’t have heartbreak without having had love. You die because you’ve been alive. Darkness is part of the texture of light. Her third recognition is that these aren’t negative at all.   The Turtle Man Near the very end of her book, Solnit tells a story of having a dream one […]
December 4, 2017

Book Review: “The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago,” edited by Abdul Alkalimat, Romi Crawford, and Rebecca Zorach

Fifty years ago, William Walker, a veteran muralist, proposed to a group of other black artists and photographers that they collaborate to produce a mural on the side of a two-story tavern in the impoverished South Side neighborhood of Grand Crossing. After three weeks of labor at the building on the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Langley Avenue, the 20-foot-by-60-foot work of art, featuring dozens of African-American heroes, was completed on August 24, 1967. It was called the Wall of Respect, and it was dedicated several times over the next weeks. Sometime later, Walker came to the wall and saw a young man sitting on the sidewalk with his back resting on the art work. “How are you doing, brother?” Walker asked. “I’m getting my strength,” the man said.   Long overdue book about long overlooked milestone This story is told twice in The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago, edited by Abdul Alkalimat, Romi Crawford, and Rebecca Zorach, and it provides an insight into what the outdoor mural, created with direct community input, meant to African-Americans in the neighborhood, in Chicago and across the nation. The work of art, the first of its […]
November 30, 2017

Book review: “The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453” by Desmond Seward

Desmond Seward is adamant in The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453: No matter what the French or several generations of modern writers, such as George Bernard Shaw, have to say, he writes: In 1428 an illiterate shepherdess of seventeen decided she had been called by God to save France and expel the English. In fact, far from driving out the English, Joan of Arc merely checked the English advance by reviving Dauphinist morale, and the [English] Regent managed to halt the counter-offensive. It was not the Maid who ended English rule in France. Seward has his own perspective as an English writer, and he does a praiseworthy job of summarizing the Hundred Years War (which lasted 116 years) in 265 brisk pages in this fine 1978 history. The English of the 15th-century saw Joan as a witch since she seemed to cause things to happen that resulted in unaccountable French victories over the long-dominant English. The French saw her as a saint.   “Failed” Yet, even as Seward is trying to set the record straight as he sees it, his telling of Joan’s story over eight pages of his text is not unsympathetic. And, good historian that […]