Crimes of New York

This book wasn't exactly what I was expecting (the challenges of buying a book almost at random from Amazon). But! The excerpts from various writers of New York crime was a really good concept. There was only one that bored me somewhat (The Rogues Gallery). For the most part, this book was a collection of an interesting ride around various tales of New York. And, let's be honest, crime is not often dull. This book has inspired me for when I eventually take my guided walk test, featured lots of interesting trivia, and even introduced me to PG Wodehouse, for which I am pleased. I even found out that surprise, surprise, the screenplay for the Gangs of New York isn't quite historically accurate, which might explain why apart from Daniel Day Lewis that film bored the shit out of me. I would recommend this if you like to read about crime, or if you are going to visit New York (or live there) and want some additional flavour to the area. My personal favourite story - the one at the end about the teenage schoolgirls getting ripped off. Not really, that one was a bit random. I think my favourite was the tale of Dr Dix and Gentleman Joe.

There were a couple of things that struck me as notable pieces of trivia, which are as follows:
  • There were two sets of police at one time in Manhattan, the Mayor's corrupt force and a new set to replace them, who battled each other quite a bit until a Supreme Court ruling. The best bit of the battles? "Whenever a cop of one force made an arrest, a cop of the other would set the culprit free, and the competing forces routinely raided each other's station houses and freed en masse the prisoners in each other's jails."
  • They used to hang people at 2nd Avenue and 13th Street.
  • A description of Long Island as by PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster: "The days down on Long Island have forty-eight hours in them; you can't get to sleep at night because of the bellowing of the crickets; and you have to walk two miles for a drink and six for an evening paper."

Three Musketeers

Three Musketeers is an interesting novel, coming to us from Argentina (although obviously translated into English). It is a thriller hybrid, with sections quite obviously in the thriller vein - who is following the lead characters, what is the mystery of the past - and part life - why did the main character ruin his relationship, will he get back together with his love? I found it to be very well written and extremely well-written, indeed, I tore through it in a day. It is just a good story. I wouldn't go so far as to proclaim it one of the literary greats, but it sits there as a book that if you read it, you won't feel like you have wasted your time. It's not by the numbers, in other words. I enjoyed it!

The Scientists

Make no mistake. The Scientists, A History Of Science Told Through The Lives Of Its Greatest Inventors is an absolute beast of a book. It would be even more of a beast if the subtitle was kept up throughout the book, but once we reach the end of the 19th Century, there are far too many scientists, says the author, and so we do not go into as much detail. Plus by then people were more boring anyway - the best parts of the book for me was reading about some of the more 'interesting' characters from the 16th-18th Centuries.

That's not to say that this is a boring book. It won't be too everyone's tastes - I personally struggled through a lot of the physics, chemistry and modern day astronomy sections as being far too dry for me personally and eventually started skipping sections as I wasn't really reading it anyway. It's obvious that the author took a lot of time and care in putting this book together, and really, no-one without an interest in the subject is going to pick up this book (unless they were given it as a random Christmas present like me). I really did enjoy the sections on classical science - astronomy, geology and biology are the ones that stand out. I find it hard to believe that things like Ice Ages were only agreed upon 40 years ago! What also struck me was how often two or more scientists have independently been working upon the same theory, with the same conclusions, only for one to strike first and publish, thus seizing the glory.

Overall, this is an interesting read, but I don't feel guilty for eventually giving in and glossing over some of the sections that didn't interest me. Reading should be fun, after all!

Paris, City of Night

Paris, City of Night is an excellent thriller that would make a good movie one day. I found it to be a gripping, compelling story as events unfold in real time. Having visited Paris, I could picture the scenes perfectly, but that is not really necessary as the author, David Downie, paints a vivid picture that sits well in your imagination. The tale itself is full of excitement - as a reader, you want to know what happens next, as the mysteries and intrigues keep building and building. I read it in two sittings, which is a good sign for a book! It didn't feel like a struggle either, both in just reading and following the story. As for the story itself, it was perfectly believable, nothing outlandish and enough room given for you to form your own opinions about characters and their motives. In other words, it doesn't attempt to break you over the head with a sledgehammer.

I'm not sure what else to say apart from this is a very good book, and if you want to read a good thriller, you should give this a try.

A Brief History Of The Crusades

Ah, The Crusades. The event that hundreds of years removed from the mindset, we can all unflinchingly declare to be a very bad thing indeed. Arabs too apparently, although the fact that the condemnation of the Crusades only arose when the Ottoman Empire fell to shit is a mere coincidence. The author, in his conclusions, questions the "liberal" condemnation of the Crusades, pointing out that for some the reason the Papacy has felt moved to officially apologize for them (good, seeing as the Spanish Armada was a Papal authorized invasion of England, I'm glad they apologized for that foul mis-deed that went awry in any case) - note, I'm sure that the apology was issued the same time that Bush, "the infernal warlord of lies and gangsters" or whatever the Iraqi information minister called him, decided to raise merry hell in the Middle East - well anyway, the author actually says this:

"Recently, the crusades have even been the subject of a formal apology from the Pope. Exactly why is not clear. As yet the world awaits an apology from the Arab world for the aggression of the jihad wars of the seventh and eighth centuries which conquered the Christian lands from Syria to Egypt, and the North African coast from the Christian Roman Empire and the Christian kingdoms of Spain; or from Istanbul for the aggressive conquest of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire. After all, the armies of the Prophet had no doubt that they were doing the will of Allah by winning these territories from their infidel rulers for the True Religion - just as the Christian crusaders were to believe that they were fulfilling the will of their God."

What do I take from this? That you cannot condemn one religious inspired war without the other. People like the Turkish lawyer who claimed he was going to sue UEFA when Inter Milan played Galatasary or Fenerbeche in their away strip (a huge St George's cross - the same St George who the Spanish armed forces proudly displayed on their uniforms when they were part of the coalition to Iraq and were sent home for because he is known as THE MOOR SLAYER) shouldn't claim that the Crusades cause distress when their own culture is just as guilty. But anyway, that really is an after-thought of this book. It accurately sets out, with no hint of bias on either side, the comedy of errors and missed opportunities for success that the crusades were. In short, Jerusalem could well still be in Western (albeit Papist) hands if not for the ego of Church and Princes. Here is a brief summation:

The First Crusade. After an over-zealous start by Peter the Hermit's pilgrim army, they actually achieved their goals of capturing Jerusalem back and getting the Byzantine Emperor some of his land back. And promptly ruined it by treating anyone who wasn't a Catholic - Christian, Jew or Muslim - like they were shit.

The Second Crusade. The Arabs had captured Edessa, an important fortress city, and reduced the Christian lands to a thin strip. Jerusalem still held though. Christendom sent its might to help. Of course each head of the Hydra thought it was most powerful, there was no unity and it was generally a hash of things. Apart from the English Saxon contingent stopping in Lisbon to help the King of Portugal take Lisbon from the Muslims (technically they thought that this was a completion of their vows) and opting to stay for a merry life in Portugal, away from the horrid Norman-French Lords and being a second-class citizen in their own land. And so began the oldest alliance in history between England and Portugal.

The Third Crusade. Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin. However, he bricked it when he heard that the Holy Roman Emperor, Barbarossa, was coming with an immense army of at least 100,000 Germans to fuck him up. After a few victories on the route to Jerusalem, Barbarossa went for a bath in a river "up to his waist" and either caught a chill or drowned. And the Germans went home. So the English, led by the French born and raised Richard the Lionheart, and the French, led by Philip, came on down and started to win. Richard decided to have a bit of fun on his journey and merked the King of Cyprus over some shit he had done, and then sold the island to the Knights Templar. They took back Acre, and this was where ego started to cause trouble. Richard had one palace, Philip another. The new Holy Roman Emperor had marched his men back to the Holy Land (they must have had huge calf muscles by the end of it, walking all the way from Germany to Israel back and forth) and came to Acre late, thus avoiding the glory of victory and perhaps being the last occasion in history that the Germans were late for something. Possibly being the reason why they like to push in lines and annex seats by the swimming pool in foreign resorts. Anyway, the H.R.E. saw Richard's standard flying above the palace he was installed in, and had a bitch fit over that for some reason, and ordered his men to put HIS standard up there next to the English. Of course, a cheeky Englishman knocked it down within an hour, and the H.R.E. got into a huge strop and marched his men all the way back to Germany. Maybe he was the inspiration for the song "The Grand Old Duke of York". Anyway, the fact that this happened doomed this crusade to not reach its goal - an extra 100,000 or so men would have been very handy. As it happened, Saladin was negotiating with Richard to give up Jerusalem in return for some things, and it was going to happen as well, until the Pope stuck his silly crown in and forbade it. "I want blood!" is effectively the only way to really interpret this action. So there we have Church ego ruining things too. The combined forces won some more victories, and Jerusalem was there for the taking, but Richard rightly deemed that although they could take it, with their forces they wouldn't be able to hold it, and so they retreated, having established a Christian bulwark in the Holy Land. So, either Pope Celestine III or Clement III, well done on your stunning decision to not peacefully take Jerusalem. I'm sure that God was so pleased. No wonder people started heckling crusade speakers in the future with things like "Evidently, Muhammed is more powerful than Christ!", he seemed to give better advice at least. The fun on this Crusade doesn't end here though. On his way back, Richard was shipwrecked on the Adriatic. He had to go on by land, but this meant going via the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor hating Richard because of his flag taking a tumble. So Richard and his men opted to travel in disguise as monks. The only problem was that Richard was a giant, and people soon spotted a giant monk with all the others around him bowing in servitude the whole time, and he got captured and eventually ransomed for a shitload of money.

The Fourth Crusade. This one is hilarious, as it went totally out of the Pope's hands as at first, no King but the King of Hungary took the cross, and then it denigrated spectacularly. The Count of Champagne eventually took the cross, along with some other senior nobles of France, and they eventually journeyed to Venice to get ships. The problem was that the Venetians had a profitable trade with Egypt, the supposed target of this crusade, and would do anything to prevent that being broken. So they offered to provide the crusade with ships and men for an exorbitant amount of money. When there was trouble raising that, they said "Oh hey, maybe you can do us a favour and we'll call it quits. A former city of ours rebelled 15 or so years ago, and we want it back. Who cares if it is a Christian city, if you help us take it back we'll forget the money you owe us." The Pope forbade such action, but he might as well have pissed in the wind for all the good that did. The city was taken, promises were given to spare it, and then it was razed to the ground. The Pope said to stop, the Franks and Venetians ignored him again, and so he excommunicated all of them. Although he must have had a Frank fetish because he forgave them (but not the Venetians) after a little bit. But oh, tragedy, there wasn't enough money in the city to pay off the debt with the Venetians or to cover the ground costs of a crusade. So a high-ranking German noble, who was in a struggle to become the H.R.E., offered to help out - if the army would attack Constantinople. The crusaders being absolute whores for money, readily acquiesced, and took the city. The Pope again tried to be important and told them to stop fucking around and get to the Holy Land, but most of them cocked a snook at these words and remained to raise hell and steal pretty much any and every holy relic they could find. As well as any valuables - they say that an attempt to catalogue everything taken from the city reached three massive volumes when compiled in the 1850s. Constantinople remained in Latin hands for a few decades before the Byzantines got it back. And that was the Fourth Crusade.

The Fifth Crusade. This Crusade ended with the recovery, by treaty, of Jerusalem for the West. However, the events between Frederick II, H.R.E. and the Pope are the most interesting. The Fourth Crusade hadn't even got out of Christian lands as it became debased by greed, and so the Christian holdings in Palestine were pretty meagre. A peace treaty was in effect until 1210, and then another was agreed until 1217. The Pope started preaching for a new crusade, and one of the people to take the cross was Frederick. However, nothing really took off from the ground with the majority of those who signed up, although some Franks and the King of Hungary did reach Acre and began to campain in 1217. As per usual it wasn't a unified force (the King of Cyprus also joined in on the fun), and after a few battles had been won and booty taken, the King of Hungary decided he had done his bit and went home. The King of Cyprus died, which left the Franks and Leopold of Austria with the titular 'King of Jerusalem' although this referred to the lands in Palestine, not the city itself. They lost a battle, and didn't know quite what to do with themselves. Then a fleet of Frisians came, and the combined force opted to try and take out Egypt. They won a siege, and could have taken the city of Damietta, but decided that this completed their crusading vows and went home. However, the Pope had a new force assembling in Italy, and sent that across with his man, Cardinal Pelagius. They didn't do a lot meanwhile, due to floods and illness, but that didn't stop the Sultan of Egypt wanting them to go away, and so he offered them the keys to Jerusalem in return for them clearing off from Egypt. The Cardinal said no. Seriously, wtf was going on with these people? The people running the church in those days must have been demented. They opted instead to take Damietta, and then dilly-dallied for 2 years or so, with the forces in revolt with each other, and awaiting Frederick II. In 1221, the Sultan again offered Jerusalem to the Crusaders. Again it was refused, as the cardinal had heared that the H.R.E. was preparing to come down, and an advance force had already arrived, with the orders to stay put and wait. Of course they disregarded this, dicked around a little and lost Damietta and evacuated. There was then a 6 year lull.

In 1225, Frederick renewed his vow, and said if he didn't take it within 2 years, he could be excommunicated. He made good on his word, getting on down to a port in Italy with his army. However, the plague was abroad in the port, and Frederick himself caught it, so he went off to recuperate and sent word that he and his men had caught the plague. The majority of people thought that this was an understandable reason for a delay, but the new Pope, Gregory IX, seemed to differ in opinion and thought that the crusading army ought to be dying on ships in the middle of the sea, so he excommunicated Frederick. People seemed to think this was a tad out of order, as when the Pope held his Easter services at the Vatican and repeated his ban, the people got really pissed off and chased him out of the church. Eventually, Frederick made his way - now healthy - to Palestine, where he found out that he had been excommunicated a second time for being incompetent to lead a crusade as he hadn't been absolved from the first excommunication. I would have said it was a double negative and all was well again, but this did mean he wouldn't be able to recruit for a crusade. The 'crusaders' and the forces of the Sultan of Egypt tarried for a while, not really doing much, until in 1229 the treaty alluded to at the beginning of this section was signed, and Jerusalem was transferred back to Latin hands. Apparently all that was needed was someone not listening to the Pope to show some common sense. Maybe this is what gave Martin Luther his ideas.

In the years following, Jerusalem was lost again, and other crusades did follow, the sixth with Louis of France having some success, the ardour of crusading had been lost. Who knows what might have happened had common sense and unity prevailed, rather than ego and pride. It was an interesting read, if suffering from what I find most history books do these days - I can't read them for a sustained period unlike a novel.

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