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THE DARK QUEENS

THE BLOODY RIVALRY THAT FORGED THE MEDIEVAL WORLD

Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.

The lives of forgotten queens.

Poet and essayist Puhak makes her nonfiction debut with a dual biography of two fierce, indomitable sixth-century women: Brunhild and Fredegund, rival sisters-in-law who inspired the fictional story of the Valkyrie, immortalized in Wagner’s Ring opera cycle. Brunhild, the daughter of a Visigoth king, married King Sigibert, a son of Merovingian King Clothar; Fredegund, a slave, became the third wife of Chilperic, Sigibert’s vengeful half brother. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Puhak creates a richly detailed tapestry depicting a volatile, turbulent age. Fratricide, torture, betrayal, and execution—as well as deadly illnesses—were common: “Among the Merovingians,” writes the author, “intrafamilial violence was accepted as a hazard of the job,” and the two queens did not shrink from bloody conflict as they sought to consolidate power for themselves and their heirs and to wrest land from enemies. By the end of the sixth century, the dual queens had reigned for decades over an empire that “encompassed modern-day France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, western and southern Germany, and swaths of Switzerland. Only Charlemagne would, briefly, control more territory than these two women.” Moreover, Puhak writes, they “did much more than simply hang on to their thrones. They collaborated with foreign rulers, engaged in public works programs, and expanded their kingdoms’ territories.” They knew their worth as women who, through marriage or motherhood, could consolidate realms. After Sigibert died, Brunhild married his nephew, a strategic move: “Her new husband was to depose his father and rule Neustria; her son would remain king of Austrasia.” Fredegund’s alleged “talent for assassination” led foreign kings to solicit her services. Puhak takes a sympathetic view of their plights: widowhood that might relegate them to life in a convent; the death of children from illness or foul play; and their physical vulnerability as women. Her brisk narrative rescues two significant figures from misogynist historians who, in perpetuating rumors and scandals, have diminished their significance.

Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63557-491-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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FIVE DAYS IN NOVEMBER

Chronology, photographs and personal knowledge combine to make a memorable commemorative presentation.

Jackie Kennedy's secret service agent Hill and co-author McCubbin team up for a follow-up to Mrs. Kennedy and Me (2012) in this well-illustrated narrative of those five days 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Since Hill was part of the secret service detail assigned to protect the president and his wife, his firsthand account of those days is unique. The chronological approach, beginning before the presidential party even left the nation's capital on Nov. 21, shows Kennedy promoting his “New Frontier” policy and how he was received by Texans in San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth before his arrival in Dallas. A crowd of more than 8,000 greeted him in Houston, and thousands more waited until 11 p.m. to greet the president at his stop in Fort Worth. Photographs highlight the enthusiasm of those who came to the airports and the routes the motorcades followed on that first day. At the Houston Coliseum, Kennedy addressed the leaders who were building NASA for the planned moon landing he had initiated. Hostile ads and flyers circulated in Dallas, but the president and his wife stopped their motorcade to respond to schoolchildren who held up a banner asking the president to stop and shake their hands. Hill recounts how, after Lee Harvey Oswald fired his fatal shots, he jumped onto the back of the presidential limousine. He was present at Parkland Hospital, where the president was declared dead, and on the plane when Lyndon Johnson was sworn in. Hill also reports the funeral procession and the ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery. “[Kennedy] would have not wanted his legacy, fifty years later, to be a debate about the details of his death,” writes the author. “Rather, he would want people to focus on the values and ideals in which he so passionately believed.”

Chronology, photographs and personal knowledge combine to make a memorable commemorative presentation.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3149-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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