Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin

Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson BonaparteTitle: Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte
Author: Carol Berkin
Publisher/Publication Date: Knopf; February 11, 2014
Genre: Nonfiction; History; Biogrophy 
Source/Format: Purchased; Hardcover

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

In Wondrous Beauty, Carol Berkin tells the story of this audacious, outsized life. We see how the news of the union infuriated Napoleon and resulted in his banning the then ­pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from disembarking in any European port, offering his brother the threat of remaining married to that “American girl” and forfeiting all wealth and power—or renouncing her, marrying a woman of Napoleon’s choice, and reaping the benefits. Jérôme ended the marriage posthaste and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, gave birth to her son and only child, Jérôme’s namesake, and was embraced by the English press, who boasted that their nation had opened its arms to the cruelly abandoned young wife. Berkin writes that this naïve, headstrong American girl returned to Baltimore a wiser, independent woman, refusing to seek social redemption or a return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of Baltimore’s merchant class. Instead she was courted by many, indifferent to all, and initiated a dangerous game of politics—a battle for a pension from Napoleon—which she won: her pension from the French government arrived each month until Napoleon’s exile.

Using Betsy Bonaparte’s extensive letters, the author makes clear that the “belle of Baltimore” disdained America’s obsession with moneymaking, its growing ethos of democracy, and its rigid gender roles that confined women to the parlor and the nursery; that she sought instead a European society where women created salons devoted to intellectual life—where she was embraced by many who took into their confidence, such as Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, the aging Marquise de Villette (goddaughter of Voltaire), among others—and where aristocracy, based on birth and breeding rather than commerce, dominated society. Wondrous Beauty is a riveting portrait of a woman torn between two worlds, unable to find peace in either—one a provincial, convention-bound new America; the other a sophisticated, extravagant Old World Europe that embraced freedoms, a Europe ultimately swallowed up by decadence and idleness. A stunning revelation of an extraordinary age...

My Thoughts:

I decided to give this one a try since it has been some time since I last read a book that was nonfiction. I read the synopsis and thought, “Hey, this might not be a bad book." And you know, after reading Wondrous Beauty by Carol Berkin I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes life is as strange as fiction. There are some things you just can’t make up, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte’s life was worth reading about. Her story perfectly illustrates the life of an ambitious woman living in the nineteenth-century.

Oddly enough, this was the first time I’ve actually heard of her.

This book opens by briefly telling about Elizabeth’s father before following her life as she was growing up, her subsequent albeit brief marriage to Jérôme Bonaparte (younger brother to Napoleon Bonaparte) and her life thereafter—all the way up until her death. Wondrous Beauty portrays the life of Elizabeth as a mixture of years spent in the limelight as somewhat of a celebrity renowned for her beauty, intelligence, and wit. The book also portrays her as a woman charmed by nineteenth-century extravagant European lifestyle with a clear disdain for her Baltimore roots. Despite all those things, she also suffered a lot of disappointment throughout her life, and it steadily changed her. I also felt that it was fascinating to see how parts of her personal ideology contradicted her actions.

This book makes use of her letters, which are quoted throughout. They were extensively detailed and offered a lot of insight into her life and how she felt about things that were happening to and around her.

Wondrous Beauty is one of those books that I enjoy because it sheds light on another part of history, a story that I might not have known about otherwise. Wonderous Beauty was simply a fantastic, thought-provoking read.

Rating 4/5

About the Author (from the back of the book)...

Carol Berkin received her A.B. from Barnard College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She taught at Baruch College from 1972 to 2008 and has taught at the Graduate Center for the City University of New York since 1983. She is currently Baruch Presidential Professor of History. Berkin is the author of numerous books, among them Civil War Wives, Revolutionary Mothers, A brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution as well as articles and reviews. She lives in New York City and Guilford, Connecticut...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Unfriending My Ex (and Other Things I'll Never Do) by Kim Stolz

Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I'll Never DoTitle: Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I'll Never Do
Author: Kim Stolz
Publisher/Publication Date: Scribner; June 24, 2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Source/Format: Purchased; Hardcover

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

An incisive, hilarious, and brutally honest memoir about life online and about how our obsessive connectivity is making us more disconnected;from former reality show contestant, MTV VJ, restauranteur, and go-to voice for millenials...

Social media and technology have fundamentally altered the way we do business, couple and break up, develop friendships, and construct our identities and our notions of aspiration and fame. We make decisions about where we'll go based on whether it's Instagrammable. We don't have friends, we have followers. For an entire generation, an experience not captured on social media might as well not have happened at all.

As someone whose identity has been forged by reality TV (as a contestant on America's Next Top Model) and social media and mobile technology, Kim Stolz is deeply obsessed with the subject. She has a hard time putting her phone down. And yet she remembers what life was like before technology-induced ADD, before life had become a string of late-night texts, Snapchats, endless selfies, that sinking feeling you get when you realize you've hit reply all by mistake. It's hard to imagine now, but there was once a time before we wasted a full hour emptily clicking through a semi-stranger's vacation pictures on Facebook, a time before every ex, every meaningless fling was a mere click away.  Unfriending My Ex (And Other Things I'll Never Do) is the first book to document the hilarity of the social media revolution from the inside; it chronicles a life filtered through our obsessive relationship with technology. The book is as eye-opening as it is entertaining as it proceeds through the various ways in which social media and mobile technology have generated empathy deficits and left us all with the attention spans of fruit flies;and the sad fact that in spite all of this, we find it impossible to switch our devices off...

My Thoughts:

I’m telling you, it took me all of two times of seeing Unfriending my Ex (and Other Things I’ll Never Do) by Kim Stolz in the store for me to finally just buy the book. I remember Kim Stolz from when she competed on America’s Next Top Model, when I still actively watched the show, which was a very long time ago. I didn’t really make the connection until I gave the synopsis a full read. I was interested. And you know what? That interest paid off, because Unfriending my Ex was a pretty interesting and surprisingly insightful book. Unfriending my Ex was the kind of book that made me really think more about the subject of what I was reading. I liked Stolz approach to the topic, and her writing was concise and engaging, which made getting into the book pretty easy. 
Unfriending my Ex was mostly about Kim Stolz and her use of internet and addiction to social media. It kind of follows her as she conducts an experiment by temporarily quitting social media. A lot of the book was spent exploring her thoughts about her experience and the lessons she learned while on her social media hiatus. The challenge that Stolz imposed on herself was interesting to read about, specifically her reaction to being without her phone for a straight week. Stolz made a lot of good points, and reading this book definitely made me evaluate the way I use social media and how often I’m logged in, if at all. Overall, I feel like I made a great choice by picking this one up.  

Rating 4/5

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