I never could understand why so many people have an aversion to history. Throughout school many other students I knew thought history was boring and useless information, not to be taken seriously or of any substantial use in the "real world." I couldn't disagree more and even when I was a child, the topic of history was one that held a special attraction.

When I was a kid I loved anything related to ancient Egypt. Thinking back, I believe this particular passion was molded by Hollywood's version of ancient Egypt, specifically movies such as The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra. I loved watching films about this period of time, mostly because they featured fabulous costumes (I especially loved how all the Egyptian characters were dressed in The Ten Commandments), dramatic battles scenes and theatrical religious ceremonies to fearsome gods with the heads of animals. My fascination with anything Egyptian continued throughout childhood (as one can imagine, not many of my little friends shared my enthusiasm for books on the reign of Amenhotep III) but eventually this diminished and I focused on other things that most kids my age were into in the '70's. Such as the latest records by Queen or Kiss.

When I started college I thought I wanted to go into Hotel and Restaurant Management (don't ask). That went out the window quickly and then I became a Journalism major. Then an English major. When I realized that wasn't working out, I figured I should just concentrate on what I really enjoyed: History. After all, most of my elective courses were in History and I normally got A's. I still had that fear of not being able to take a history background into the job market, but then I thought "screw it" and just changed over. I don't regret it a bit because I now have a degree in something I truly love, which made getting that degree much more satisfying. And I'm not starving, so there.

For my reading pleasure I almost always choose a book about a specific person or event relating to one of my favorite historical topics, which are generally centered around European events in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Without a doubt, World War I (or the Great War as it was called in Europe) and the time immediately before and after I find the most intriguing. A passage in Martin Gilbert's book, The First World War, A Complete History, briefly notes the effects of this war which basically anchor my passion for this period in time:

But most of all, [the Great War] changed our world. In its wake, empires toppled, monarchies fell, whole political systems realigned. Instabilities became institutionalized, enmities enshrined. Revolution swept to power ideologies of the left and right. And the social order shifted seismically. Manners, mores, codes of behavior; literature and the arts; education and class distinctions: all underwent a vast sea change. In all these ways, the 20th century could be said to have been born on the morning of June 28, 1914.

Additional historical topics that continue to captivate me include the establishment and eventual break down of the British Empire, the Boer War and continuous struggles in South Africa, Tsarist Russia and the eventual rise of the Soviet Union, and World War II. I also find the history of specific cities to be engaging, such as London, Paris, Barcelona, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Mexico City (I have read books that cover the fascinating histories of each of these cities and almost all of them were deeply engrossing).

This page has been designed to reflect my love of history and contains some of my favorite historical photos. Hopefully it may just spark an interest in others to the joys of learning more about the events and extraordinary people who shaped the kind of world in which we live. I know that may sound a tad pretentious, but really, give it a try; history is cool!

British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, commands his country's youth to fight on the Western Front during the Great War.

Australian troops on a duckboard track through Chateau Wood, Third Battle of Ypres, 1917.

The doomed royal family of Russia, the Romanovs.

Piccadilly Circus, London, during World War II. The famous statue of Eros was removed during the Blitz and the site was used for wartime posters.

Some Great Books

Barcelona by Robert Hughes

The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham

Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Lesbians in World War II by Alan Berube

Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War by Robert K. Massie

Empire: The British Imperial Experience from 1765 to the Present by Denis Judd

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes

The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

London at War by Philip Ziegler

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present by Neil Miller

Pax Britannica Trilogy by James Morris:
Heaven's Command
Pax Britannica
Farewell the Trumpets

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914
by Barbara Tuchman

Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham

Shanghai: Collision Point of Cultures 1918/1939 by Harriet Sergeant

They Called it Passchendaele by Lyn MacDonald

Voices from the Great War by Peter Vansittart

Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. I read this book in the Fall of 1999 and have since re-read it. Both riveting and frightening, it re-creates the atmosphere of Galveston, Texas 100 years ago, when it was destroyed by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. An absolute gripping account of serial murders at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. I wrote a complete review for my firm newsletter; read it here.

Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester.The author transports the reader to the colonial world of Southeast Asia where, in the end of the 19th Century, everything seemed to come to an end. Krakatoa, a cone shaped volcano which kept watch over the Sunda Strait in Indonesia exploded into history in 1883, blowing itself out of existence, launching a horrifying series of tsunamis and killing nearly 40,000 people. The effects of the eruption were felt as far away as France and Washington, DC. Winchester not only describes the incredible events but also gives insight into the colonial world of what was to eventually disappear along with the world's most famous volcano.

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. A sweeping account of the meeting of the victors of the Great War in Paris in 1919. The author, who is the great-great grandaughter of Lloyd George, truly evokes the atmosphere of the conference and the quirks of all those involved: Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, Lawrence of Arabia, Milton Keynes and even Ho Chi Minh, who was, at the time, a kitchen assistant the the Ritz Hotel in Paris.A very accomplished work about a an event that had far reaching effects even to this day.

Over The Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen. The description of this book on its jacket begins, “Ferdinand Magellan’s daring circumnavigation of the globe in the sixteenth century was a three-year odyssey filled with sex, violence, and amazing adventure.” While I normally don’t read books about this period in history, the description had me so intrigued, I bought the book and after reading the first few chapters, quickly realized I made the right decision. This is a story of incredible hardship and adventure, with scenes of sex, conspiracy and carnage brought vividly to life. Magellan began his quest to find a quicker route to the fabled Spice Islands, home to the world’s most precious commodities of the times –pepper, nutmeg and (especially) cloves. I was surprised to learn that during the sixteenth century, cloves were considered so economically important (the equivalent to crude oil today) that nations went to war over them. Magellan collected a group of 260 sailors to be part of his famous search. Only 18 survived, with Magellan not counted among them. He was hacked to death in the Philippines by natives lead by tribal king, Lapu Lapu. (Interestingly, I discovered two streets in San Francisco – one named after the famed explorer himself and the other after his killer – both in very distinct neighborhoods. See the pictures below). This is an enthralling book that reads like fiction – exactly the type of reading I’m always searching for. Highly recommended.

The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The inspiration of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is apparently this horrifying episode in the history of Nantucket whaling. After reading of the logistics of the appalling industry of whaling, I had prepared myself to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t have too much sympathy towards men who made their living by slaughtering these beautiful creatures of the sea and anticipated cheering on the enraged leviathan who sank the ship. But while reading about the hunting of sperm whales is heartbreaking, the suffering of the men during their 90 days of drifting from the middle of the Pacific Ocean is shocking, poignant and disturbing, especially since desperation to survive drove them to cannibalism. Another history book that tells the story of a group of people trying to survive in extreme circumstances that reads like a novel.

Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King. Following my desire to read about great hardship and redemption throughout history, I bought this book after a very good review by the San Francisco Chronicle. Much like The Heart of The Sea, this book chronicles the fate of the USS Connecticut, which wrecked off the coast of Africa at the notorious Cape Bojador. While the crew of this ship was spared resorting to cannibalism to survive, they were forced to spend many months at the hands of their Arab captors wandering the Sahara Desert as slaves. Another thrilling book, described on its jacket as taking place, “from the cold waters of the Atlantic to the searing Saharan sands, from the heart of the desert to the heart of man, Skeletons on the Zahara is a spectacular odyssey through the extremes.”

At Ease: Navy Men of World War II by Evan Bachner. A coffee table book of duotone photos, this is a collection of beautiful pictures unearthed from the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration. The photos portray the men of the Navy during World War II, engaged in playful and intimate situations, most of whom established “intense emotional attachments.”

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti. A great, unnamed hurricane that devastated the Northeast, and especially New England, in 1938 is the focus of this extremely well written book that provides numerous personal tales from those who survived. Vivid detail is offered by the author and the reader is transported to the time between the Great Depression and World War II, when a completely unexpected, monstrous storm smashes into New England, kills almost 700 people and has a profound impact on this part of the country for the next generation.

Storm of the Century: The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 by Willie Drye. In the tradition of Isaac's Storm and Sudden Sea, this book brings to life the strongest hurricane ever to hit the United States - the great unnamed storm of 1935 that annihilated the Florida Keys.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. An extraordinary novel about a Baptist preacher from Georgia who takes his family on a mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. A flawlessly written piece of work, this book tells the story of the unraveling of a family amid the backdrop of the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium. I highly recommend this wonderful book.

Great Historical Documentaries

The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century - an incredible eight hour chronicle of World War I, recently presented on PBS. Literally one of the best pieces of programming I have ever seen on television. The video series is available directly from PBS mail order.

The Times of Harvey Milk - An Oscar-winning documentary that tells the story of the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California. A great piece of work that not only chronicles Harvey Milk's life, triumphant election and eventual assassination, but also provides a look at San Francisco in the 1970's and the beginning of the gay rights movement.

The World at War - the classic documentary series produced by the BBC tells the story of World War II and its ramifications on the world and future generations.

Some Great Films

The following films are among my favorites. While some of them may not relate directly to specific historical events, I think they really capture the feeling of the particular era in which they are presented.

All Quiet on the Western Front - The classic 1929 film version of Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war novel about German students who enlist to fight in the Great War.

Empire of the Sun
- Steven Spielberg's under-appreciated film about a young British boy separated from his parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai and his eventual internment in a prison camp.

Gallipoli -
Mel Gibson starred in this brilliant 1981 drama about young Australian soldiers and their delusions about the adventure of war. It really brings to life the foolish and futile British attempt to invade the Gallipoli peninsula and knock the German-allied Turks from the Great War.

Michael Collins - The 1996 film by Neil Jordan about the man who brokered the separation of Ireland from the United Kingdom, only to be assassinated at the age of 31. Starring Liam Neeson, this film was beautifully photographed and vividly brings to life a struggle that continues to this day.

Out of Africa -
A gorgeous film about Danish writer Karen Blixen's life in colonial Africa from 1914 to 1931. Of course, Meryl Streep got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Karen Blixen, complete with one of her famous movie accents. "I had a farm in Africa..."

The Piano -
an erotic film about a mute mail-order bride's obsession with an outdoorsman in 1850's New Zealand. Holly Hunter's performance in this dream-like film is incredible.

Reds -
Described in the book Inside Oscar as "Commie Dearest", this 1981 film by Warren Beatty is the story of John Reed, American Communist and author of the classic book about the Russian Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World. This 3-1/2 hour film (don't let the length put you off!) tells the story of Reed's life and his affair with writer and feminist Louise Bryant. Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Maureen Stapleton star in this epic film.

Schindler's List - Steven Spielberg's widely acclaimed account of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved over a thousand Jews from Hitler's concentration camps. A stunning film that is harrowing, but in the end, uplifting.

Gladiator - Ridley Scott's masterpiece about the corruption and vices of ancient Rome. This film deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture, as did Russell Crowe for Best Actor.

The Hours - Without a doubt, Nicole Kidman deserved her Academy Award for playing Virginia Woolfe. Three women in different times and places are connected by Woolfe's literary work Mrs. Dalloway. Incredible filmmaking.


Imperial War Museum

One of the main objectives of my first visit to London in 1988 was to spend time at the Imperial War Museum. I had read a great deal about the incredible amount of artifacts this museum owns and displays, most relating to my own passionate historical interests. I planned on making this one of my first stops in London, hoping to spend the entire day exploring the halls of a museum that was at one time an insane asylum and now devoted to the documentation of Britain's wars. (Many have noted the irony here.)

Well, my best friend and travel companion Jim and I took an Underground train to the Elephant & Castle station, not far from the Museum. Eager with anticipation, I stood by the train doors as we pulled into the station. As they opened, I noticed a very large poster notifying potential visitors to the Imperial War Museum of the temporary closure of the galleries for a much needed renovation. Crushed is an adjective that cannot to begin to describe my reaction. Poor Jim had to wait hours before he could even speak to me, but I eventually accepted reality.

The next year I returned to London and, without a doubt, it was worth the wait. I spent two whole days wandering through the exhibits of the museum, which included the Trench Experience, where visitors can relive what is was like to inhabit a trench on the Western Front, and the Blitz Experience, where we lived through a re-enactment of life in London during the German raids of World War II. Add to this thousands of innovative displays of artifacts and it all added up to an experience I will never forget and hopefully will get to relive soon.

For all those planning a trip to London, absolutely make time to visit the Imperial War Museum. Even if you have only a fleeting interest in history, I guarantee a visit here will be one you'll most certainly remember.


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