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Posts tagged 'new nonfiction'

The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge

William Marshall was born the younger son of a minor English noble and as a result, was legally landless. His life was also chaotic; when he was only five years old his father gave him to the king as surety for a debt. While this solved some of his father's problems it was dangerous for William. Enraged that the debt was not paid in money the king sentenced the five-year old William to death by hanging. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and William escaped the noose. He grew up to become  a wealthy knight and in time, rose to the rank of Earl.

William was the consummate knight, both battle tested and a tournament champion. The model of the chivalrous knight, William was was anything but soft  toward his enemies. He served five British kings, beginning with Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. William's influence extended to his helping negotiate the terms of the Magna Carta. His life was never a calm one as the politics of the time required shifting alliances and a cool head.

Thomas Asbridge was able to tell William's colorful story thanks to the earthing of a 13th century biography of the knight. In 1861, a French scholar bought the volume, the only known copy, at auction and it has been kept in various private collections. This book is rich in historical detail and includes genealogical charts and maps, which add to the story.

new nonfiction  Liz Picks  knights  England  Biographies

07/03/15
 

It's a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson

I can't stop reading rock and roll memoirs! The latest is Willie Nelson's It's a Long Story: My Life. I find Nelson's approach to life inspirational; he follows his muse from moment to moment, despite occasional doubts from people in his personal or business life.

Nelson's music has never been easy to pigeonhole. Ostensibly cataloged as country, his recordings include his takes on jazz, rock and the great American songbook. Nelson recounts instances where producers and record companies tried to get him to change his approach but in light of his success, it seems that the Willie Nelson sound trumps any genre.

It's a Long Story follows Nelson as he chases his muse from tiny Abbott, Texas to Nashville to Hawaii, with lots of stops between. His career got a boost in Nashville when he wrote hit songs for the likes of Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Roy Orbison but Nashville's cookie cutter style never seemed to fit Nelson. It wasn't until he teamed up with Columbia Records' Jerry Wexler that he became a star. Wexler was wise enough to let Willie be Willie and not overproduce his unique sound.

Of course the book also treats us to Willie's thoughts on marijuana (and related incidents), as he has become its outspoken proponent over the years. His battle with the IRS (blamed on a corrupt business manager) and many acting gigs are also discussed, as are a number of "life on the road" stories. He doesn't go into a ton of detail about family and personal life but guides us through his many marriages (and divorces) in a gentle way that makes us realize that there's probably not a lot of bitterness there.

This book is a fun read and captures Willie Nelson's easygoing life philosophy quite well. It reads like an old bandana and pair of blue jeans. If you're a fan of Nelson's music or just want a peek at his personal journey you'll like It's a Long Story.

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new nonfiction  Music  Mikes Picks

06/19/15
 

Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey

When I think of black diamonds, I think of the black gem stone, not coal. But coal and coal mining is the subject of this account of the aristocratic Fitzwilliam family and their Yorkshire coal mines. This fast-paced social history shows how coal gave this family its fortunes yet also caused its rapid downfall.

The family owned not only a vast estate but most important, the mineral rights to the coal below ground. The villages the coal miners lived in, the schools, hospitals, stores, everything that touched the miners' lives was dependent on the Fitzwilliam family. By all accounts they were decent people to work for and the mines were productive and successful. When the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1902 he left an estate among the richest in England.

The family lived in the 300-plus room Wentworth House, once the largest privately owned house in England. But the politics that emerged after the great wars changed the family's fortunes in a spectacularly short time. The Labour government that came to power after the first World War levied massive taxes on the great landed estates; the government nationalized the country's mines following World War II. Today the Fitzwilliam estate is a wasteland and the once great Wentworth House a ruin.

Bailey writes books about the British aristocracy and their failings and foibles. In this fascinating book she lays the family's affairs, politics, deaths, alcoholism, illegitimate children, the cutting off of heirs and its ties to the Kennedy family bare for all to see. The story of their spectacular downfall reads like a novel. I found it fascinating.

non fiction that reads like fiction  new nonfiction  Liz Picks  England

05/05/15