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Angel in the Whirlwind is a dramatic narrative of the American Revolution illuminated by fresh insight by noted historian Benson Bobrick.
The Caliph's Splendor is a revelation: a history of a civilization we barely know that had a profound effect on our own culture. While the West declined following the collapse of the Roman Empire, a new Arab civilization arose to the east, reaching an early peak in Baghdad under the caliph Harun al-Rashid. Harun is the legendary caliph of The Thousand and One Nights, but his actual court was nearly as magnificent as the fictional one. In The Caliph's Splendor, Benson Bobrick eloquently tells the little-known and remarkable story of Harun's rise to power and his rivalries with the neighboring Byzantines and the new Frankish kingdom under the leadership of Charlemagne. When Harun came to power, Islam stretched from the Atlantic to India. The Islamic empire was the mightiest on earth and the largest ever seen. Although Islam spread largely through war, its cultural achievements were immense. Harun's court at Baghdad outshone the independent Islamic emirate in Spain and all the courts of Europe, for that matter. In Baghdad, great works from Greece and Rome were preserved and studied, and new learning enhanced civilization. Over the following centuries Arab and Persian civilizations made a lasting impact on the West in astronomy, geometry, algebra (an Arabic word), medicine, and chemistry, among other fields of science. The alchemy (another Arabic word) of the Middle Ages originated with the Arabs. From engineering to jewelry to fashion to weaponry, Arab influences would shape life in the West, as they did in the fields of law, music, and literature. But for centuries Arabs and Byzantines contended fiercely on land and sea. Bobrick tells how Harun defeated attempts by the Byzantines to advance into Asia at his expense. He contemplated an alliance with the much weaker Charlemagne in order to contain the Byzantines, and in time Arabs and Byzantines reached an accommodation that permitted both to prosper. Harun's caliphate would weaken from within as his two sons quarreled and formed factions; eventually Arabs would give way to Turks in the Islamic empire. Empires rise, weaken, and fall, but during its golden age, the caliphate of Baghdad made a permanent contribution to civilization, as Benson Bobrick so splendidly reminds us.
In a horoscope he cast in 1647 for Charles I, William Lilly, a noted English astrologer, made the following judgment: "Luna is with Antares, a violent fixed star, which is said to denote violent death, and Mars is approaching Caput Algol, which is said to denote beheading." Two years later the king's head fell on the block. "Astrology must be right," wrote the American astrologer Evangeline Adams, a claimed descendant of President John Quincy Adams, in a challenge to skeptics in 1929. "There can be no appeal from the Infinite." The Fated Sky explores both the history of astrology and the controversial subject of its influence in history. It is the first serious book to fully engage astrology in this way. Astrology is the oldest of the occult sciences. It is also the origin of science itself. Astronomy, mathematics, and other disciplines arose in part to make possible the calculations necessary in casting horoscopes. For five thousand years, from the ancient Near East to the modern world, the influence of the stars has been viewed as shaping the course and destiny of human affairs. According to recent polls, at least 30 percent of the American public believes in astrology, though, as Bobrick reveals, modern astrology is also utterly different from the doctrine of the stars that won the respect and allegiance of the greatest thinkers, scientists, and writers -- Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Arab, and Persian -- of an earlier day. Statesmen, popes, and kings once embraced it, and no less a figure than St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian, thought it not incompatible with Christian faith. There are some two hundred astrological allusions in Shakespeare's plays, and not one of their astrological predictions goes unfulfilled. The great astronomers of the scientific revolution -- Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler -- were adherents. Isaac Newton's appetite for mathematics was first whetted by an astrological text. In more recent times, prominent figures such as Churchill, de Gaulle, and Reagan have consulted astrologers and sometimes heeded their advice. Today universities as diverse as Oxford in England and the University of Zaragoza in Spain offer courses in the subject, fulfilling Carl Jung's prediction decades ago that astrology would again become the subject of serious discourse. Whether astrology actually has the powers that have been ascribed to it is, of course, open to debate. But there is no doubt that it maintains an unshakeable hold on the human mind. In The Fated Sky, Benson Bobrick has written an absolutely captivating and comprehensive account of this engrossing subject and its enduring influence on history and the history of ideas.
Two and a half million Americans - fifty-five million people worldwide - stutter. Though their baffling malady has been subjected to endless analysis for over 2,500 years, most endure it without hope of a cure. The very anticipation of stuttering can dominate a victim's social and emotional life. If the majority suffer in anonymity, famous figures down through the ages - Moses, Charles I, Lewis Carroll, Henry James, W. Somerset Maugham, Winston Churchill, and Marilyn Monroe among them - have also known the isolation and trauma of living with knotted tongues. Indeed, Charles Dickens once aptly described stuttering as "a barrier by which the sufferer feels that the world without is separated from the world within.". In this fascinating and original social history, which combines literary scholarship with historical research, Benson Bobrick explores one of the great conundrums of medical history, its impact on the lives of the afflicted, and the astonishing therapeutic practices it has spawned. Demosthenes was obliged to labor up steep inclines with lead plates strapped to his chest and to declaim over the roar of the ocean with pebbles in his mouth; one 16th-century Italian physician prescribed nosedrops combining beetroot and coriander to help "dehumidify" the brain; and a Native American tribe had stutterers spit through a hole in a board "to get the devil out of their throats.". At one time or another, stuttering has been popularly traced to childhood trauma; sibling rivalry; suppressed anger; infantile sexual fixations; deformations of the tongue, lips, or jaw; chemical imbalance; strict upbringing; vicious habit; guilt; approach-avoidance conflicts; and so on, and has been treated by hypnosis, drugs, conditioning, electric shock, and of course, psychoanalysis. Mounting clinical evidence today, however, indicates that stuttering is a neurological problem, possibly involving anomalies of sound transmission through the skull. Genetic research suggests a familial link. While a definitive cure remains elusive, certain therapeutic techniques are effective, as the author explains in a compelling account of his own successful quest for deliverance
In this revelatory, dynamic biography, one of our finest historians, Benson Bobrick, profiles George H. Thomas, arguing that he was the greatest and most successful general of the Civil War. Because Thomas didn't live to write his memoirs, his reputation has been largely shaped by others, most notably Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, two generals with whom Thomas served and who, Bobrick says, diminished his successes in their favor in their own memoirs. Born in Virginia, Thomas survived Nat Turner's rebellion as a boy, then studied at West Point, where Sherman was a classmate. Thomas distinguished himself in the Mexican War and then returned to West Point as an instructor. When the Civil War broke out, Thomas remained loyal to the Union, unlike fellow Virginia-born officer Robert E. Lee (among others). He compiled an outstanding record as an officer in battles at Mill Springs, Perryville, and Stones River. At the Battle of Chickamauga, Thomas, at the time a corps commander, held the center of the Union line under a ferocious assault, then rallied the troops on Horseshoe Ridge to prevent a Confederate rout of the Union army. His extraordinary performance there earned him the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga." Promoted to command of the Army of the Cumberland, he led his army in a stunning Union victory at the Battle of Chattanooga. Thomas supported Sherman on his march through Georgia in the spring of 1864, winning an important victory at the Battle of Peachtree Creek. As Sherman continued on his March to the Sea, Thomas returned to Tennessee and in the battle of Nashville destroyed the army of Confederate General John Bell Hood. It was one of the most decisive victories of the war, and Thomas won it even as Grant was on his way to remove Thomas from his command. (When Grant discovered the magnitude of Thomas's victory, he quickly changed his mind.) Thomas died of a stroke in 1870 while still on active duty. In the entire Civil War, he never lost a battle or a movement. Throughout his career, Thomas was methodical and careful, and always prepared. Unlike Grant at Shiloh, he was never surprised by an enemy. Unlike Sherman, he never panicked in battle but always remained calm and focused. He was derided by both men as "Slow Trot Thomas," but as Bobrick shows in this brilliant biography, he was quick to analyze every situation and always knew what to do and when to do it. He was not colorful like Grant and Sherman, but he was widely admired by his peers, and some, such as Grant's favorite cavalry commander, General James H. Wilson, thought Thomas the peer of any general in either army. He was the only Union commander to destroy two Confederate armies in the field. Although historians of the Civil War have always regarded Thomas highly, he has never captured the public imagination, perhaps because he has lacked an outstanding biographer -- until now. This informed, judicious, and lucid biography at last gives Thomas his due.
From the barefoot races of 8th century BC to the underwater obstacle courses in the early 20th century to the high-tension Berlin Games preceding World War II, the Olympics have always been exciting dramas of athletic prowess and human interest. In A Passion for Victory, award-winning author Benson Bobrick tells the details of the captivating story of the Olympic Games, starting with their inception in Ancient Greece. This wonderfully readable narrative is rich with anecdotes and profiles of athletes and weaves in important historical events to create a complete picture of each installment of the Games. This thorough account of an international fixation is gripping, poignant, and occasionally hilarious.
Dear Mother,I was very glad to hear from home this morning. It is the first time since I left Otterville. We marched from Sedalia 120 miles. . . . I almost feel anxious to be in a battle & yet I am almost afraid. I feel very brave sometimes & think if I should be in an engagement, I never would leave the field alive unless the stars & stripes floated triumphant. I do not know how it may be. If there is a battle & I should fall, tell with pride & not with grief that I fell in defense of liberty. Pray that I may be a true soldier. Not since Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage have the trials and tribulations of a private soldier of the Civil War been told with such beguiling force. The Red Badge of Courage, however, was fiction. This story is true. In Testament,Benson Bobrick draws upon an extraordinarily rich but hitherto untapped archive of material to create a continuous narrative of how that war was fought and lived. Here is virtually the whole theater of conflict in the West, from its beginnings in Missouri, through Kentucky and Tennessee, to the siege of Atlanta under Sherman, as experienced by Bobrick's great-grandfather, Benjamin W. ("Webb") Baker, an articulate young Illinois recruit. Born and raised not far from the Lincoln homestead in Coles County, Webb had stood in the audience of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, become a staunch Unionist, and answered one of Abraham Lincoln's first calls for volunteers. The ninety-odd letters on which his story is based are fully equal to the best letters the war produced, especially by a common soldier; but their wry intelligence, fortitude, and patriotic fervor also set them apart with a singular and still-undying voice. In the end, that voice blends with the author's own, as the book becomes a poignant tribute to his great-grandfather's life -- and to all the common soldiers of the nation's bloodiest war.
Next to the Bible itself, the English Bible was -- and is -- the most influential book ever published. The most famous of all English Bibles, the King James Version, was the culmination of centuries of work by various translators, from John Wycliffe, the fourteenth-century catalyst of English Bible translation, to the committee of scholars who collaborated on the King James translation. Wide as the Waters examines the life and work of Wycliffe and recounts the tribulations of his successors, including William Tyndale, who was martyred, Miles Coverdale, and others who came to bitter ends. It traces the story of the English Bible through the tumultuous reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I, a time of fierce contest between Catholics and Protes-tants in England, as the struggle to establish a vernacular Bible was fought among competing factions. In the course of that struggle, Sir Thomas More, later made a Catholic saint, helped orchestrate the assault on the English Bible, only to find his own true faith the plaything of his king. In 1604, a committee of fifty-four scholars, the flower of Oxford and Cambridge, collaborated on the new translation for King James. Their collective expertise in biblical languages and related fields has probably never been matched, and the translation they produced -- substantially based on the earlier work of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others -- would shape English literature and speech for centuries. As the great English historian Macaulay wrote of their version, "If everything else in our language should perish, it alone would suffice to show the extent of its beauty and power." To this day its common expressions, such as "labor of love," "lick the dust," "a thorn in the flesh," "the root of all evil," "the fat of the land," "the sweat of thy brow," "to cast pearls before swine," and "the shadow of death," are heard in everyday speech. The impact of the English Bible on law and society was profound. It gave every literate person access to the sacred text, which helped to foster the spirit of inquiry through reading and reflection. This, in turn, accelerated the growth of commercial printing and the proliferation of books. Once people were free to interpret the word of God according to the light of their own understanding, they began to question the authority of their inherited institutions, both religious and secular. This led to reformation within the Church, and to the rise of constitutional government in England and the end of the divine right of kings. England fought a Civil War in the light (and shadow) of such concepts, and by them confirmed the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In time, the new world of ideas that the English Bible helped inspire spread across the Atlantic to America, and eventually, like Wycliffe's sea-borne scattered ashes, all the world over, "as wide as the waters be." Wide as the Waters is a story about a crucial epoch in the history of Christianity, about the English language and society, and about a book that changed the course of human events.
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