The Role Incarceration of African Americans Has Played in Perpetuating Inequality

The NAACP furnishes statistics on the racial disparities of the American incarceration system:

  • In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.
    African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.
  • The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
  • Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court.
  • Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
  • If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17 million whites and 4 million African Americans reported having used an illicit drug within the last month.
  • African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.
  • African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.

 

Via Prison Policy Initiative

They also adduce evidence that these disparities are not because people of color commit more crimes. For example, African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession. In 2002, they report, blacks constituted more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than did whites, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic.

The deleterious effects of incarceration create a self-sustaining system, and hamper efforts of African Americans to overcome disadvantages.

But this is not by any means a new phenomenon. Douglas A. Blackmon, in his outstanding Pulitzer Prize winning book, Slavery by Another Name, provides the history of how this system came into being.

He first analyzes why blacks did not rise in American society after emancipation until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, answering those who juxtapose the lack of black achievement with the “bootstrapping” advancement of immigrant populations. Most importantly, he shows that long past the time of the Civil War, slavery was actually still alive and well in the South in all but name, with active support of the state and federal governments.

Here’s how it worked (and a vast record of documents unearthed by the author attests to this system):

“By 1900,” Blackmon writes, “the South’s judicial system had been wholly reconfigured to make one of its primary purposes the coercion of African Americans to comply with the social customs and labor demands of whites.” Thousands of random indigent black men were arrested for anything from unemployment, to not being able to prove employment at any given moment, to changing employers without “permission”, or even loud talk. In other words, they were arrested for being young black men. They were sentenced to hard labor, and bought and sold by sheriffs and judges among other opportunists to corporations such as U.S. Steel, Tennessee Coal, railroads, lumber camps, and factories. The prisoners who were sent to mines were chained to their barracks at night, and required to work all day – “subject to the whip for failure to dig the requisite amount, at risk of physical torture for disobedience, and vulnerable to the sexual predations of other miners – many of whom already had passed years or decades in their own chthonian confinement.” Hundreds died of disease, accidents, or homicide, and in fact, mass burial fields near these old mines can still be located.

Breaking rocks, 1930s, Unknown location

Blackmon charges that the desire to industrialize the South quickly was central to the restrictions put in place to suppress blacks, since these laws allowed for easy arrest and enslavement of workers. He avers:

Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime.”

But also, and quite importantly, “these bulging slave centers became a primary weapon of suppression of black aspirations.” Millions of blacks lived in a shadow of fear that they or their family members would be taken into this system. It had a profound effect on their behavior and self-esteem.

Meanwhile, the whites in the North were impatient about blacks, and saw their lack of achievement as indicative of inferiority. An 1874 article in the Chicago Tribune asked:

Is it not time for the colored race to stop playing baby? The whites of America have done nobly in outgrowing the old prejudices against them. They cannot hurry this process by law. Let them obtain social equality as every other man, woman, and child in this world obtain it — by showing themselves in their lives the social equals of those with whom they wish to consort. If they do this, year-by-year the prejudices will die away.”

As Blackmon writes:

There was no acknowledgment of the effects of cycle upon cycle of malevolent defeat, of the injury of seeing one generation rise above the cusp of poverty only to be indignantly crushed, of the impact of repeating tsunamis of violence and obliterated opportunities on each new generation of an ever-changing population out-numbered in persons and resources.”

He insists that any consideration of the progress of blacks in the United States after the Civil War must acknowledge that “slavery, real slavery, didn’t end until 1945.” Thus the parents of today are the children of those who suffered under this egregious system, and so it can be expected that the repercussions continue to inform the expectations and attitudes of those who grew up with the stories and experiences derived from this very recent chapter in their family histories.

Evaluation: The story told by Blackmon is horrific. In spite of an abundance of evidence about what happened, history about the neo-slavery that survived after the Civil War is virtually non-existent. Moreover, it is clear from the records that these offenses against blacks were permitted by the nation. The legacy of terror and defeatism has had repercussions up to our present day.

Should it be read? Absolutely! But it’s a painful read, and the text includes some ghastly pictures. And yet, as Blackmon concludes:

Only by acknowledging the full extent of slavery’s grip on U.S. society – its intimate connections to present-day wealth and power, the depth of its injury to millions of black Americans, the shocking nearness in time of its true end – can we reconcile the paradoxes of current American life.”

Rating: 4/5

Published by Doubleday, 2008

Note: You can see many more photos, and watch a documentary on the facts presented by this book on a website, here.

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Review of “The Vietnam War” by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

It was NOT the best of times — it was damn near the worst of times. The Vietnam war tore the fabric of American society asunder. Moreover, despite the loss of more than 50,000 American lives and more than 1 million Vietnamese lives, the war was nearly a total failure from the American point of view.

This book, informatively, if not cleverly, titled The Vietnam War, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, vividly brings that unpleasant time back to life. It is accompanied by a film series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The book follows fairly closely the narrative of the famous Pentagon Papers that originally appeared in the New York Times. Although it doesn’t have much if anything new to say about the war, what it says does so forcefully and graphically. The authors effectively employ the broad overview of an omniscient narrator intermixed with poignant asides from some of the “little people” most affected by the war, such as the grunts who fought, the surviving family members of those who did not return, and some Vietnamese from both South Vietnam (our allies) and North Vietnam (our enemy).

1965 photo by Horst Faas showing U.S. helicopters protecting South Vietnamese troops northwest of Saigon

Especially moving is the depiction of the final days of the South Vietnamese Republic. The North Vietnamese army was ineluctably closing in on Saigon while the American government was doing its best to rescue the few remaining Americans. But it had all but abandoned its former allies to their uncertain fate at the hands of their enemies.

1975 photo by Hubert Van Es showing U.S. citizens escaping from Saigon

Discussion: Some reviewers have criticized this book (and the accompanying series on PBS) for shifting attention away from the militarism behind for American intervention and focusing on sentimental stories of survival and perseverance. As U. Mass History Professor Christian G. Appy recently asked in an article for “The New York Times”:

Was America’s war in Vietnam a noble struggle against Communist aggression, a tragic intervention in a civil conflict, or an imperialist counterrevolution to crush a movement of national liberation? Those competing interpretations ignited fiery debates in the 1960s and remain unresolved today. How we name and define this most controversial of American wars is not a narrow scholarly exercise, but profoundly shapes public memory of its meaning and ongoing significance to American national identity and foreign policy.”

I don’t disagree with these criticisms. But the anecdotal approach taken by the authors to accompany the drier histories is not without merit, if accompanied by more rigorous analyses.

I do not agree, however, with the contention that America is still significantly divided over Vietnam. The country is divided over plenty, but I don’t see Vietnam at the top of the list. It would be more accurate, in my opinion, to say that America is still divided over the Civil War and the racism that informed both the conflict and its aftermath.

Civil War not yet over: Confederate flags at a rally on July 8, 2017

I also was disappointed that the authors did not give more attention to the use of Agent Orange by the Americans. Between 2 and 5 million Vietnamese people were exposed to the toxic chemical, which poisoned the soil, river systems, lakes and rice paddies of Vietnam, and entered the food chain. Large tracts of that land remain degraded and unproductive to this day.

Moreover, birth defects in those who were exposed have been extensively documented, both among the Vietnamese and the American pilots who disseminated the agent. As Propublica reported, “the odds of having a child born with birth defects were more than a third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange than for those who weren’t.” You can read more about harm to American veterans here and here. Needless to say, the profound lingering effects on the Vietnamese are even greater.

Planes spraying Agent Orange 20 miles southeast of Saigon in 1970. Credit Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

This important “legacy” of the Vietnam War deserves as much attention as any other.

Note: There is a PBS website to accompany the book and television series which includes resources for veterans, a reading list, photos, videos, and music lists.

Evaluation: This book is a good introduction to the war for young people who did not live through those times and a decent, if sometimes unpleasant, reminder to those of us who did.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published in hardcover by Knopf, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017

A Few Notes on the Audio Production:

I listened to the audio version of the book, capably read by Ken Burns, who excels at media presentations. Many of the interviewees are also featured in the recording, which added auditory interest.

Published abridged on 8 CDs (approximately 10 listening hours) by Penguin Random House Audio, 2017

May 8, 1660 – English Parliament Proclaims Charles II King of England, in a Restoration of the Monarchy

Charles I was executed on January 30, 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War. Thereafter, England entered a period known as the English Interregnum, during which it was led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell wielded dictatorial powers over England, Scotland, and Ireland, and Charles’s son, also named Charles, spent the next nine years living in exile.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Fortunately for England, Scotland, and Ireland, Cromwell died in September, 1658, leaving no clear indication of who would be in power upon his demise. Much like the 2016 U.S. Republican primary season, any number of would-be successors made bids for power, but they fell away, one by one. Thus Charles was invited to return to Britain, and on this day in history, the English Parliament proclaimed him King of England. Moreover, all legal documents were creatively re-dated as if he had succeeded his father as king in 1649.

The monarchy of Charles II is best known for two main policies. One was the enactment of the Clarendon Code, which embodied a series of mandates bolstering the hegemony of the Church of England over Protestant nonconformists and Catholics. The Code, not totally favored by Charles II who believed in a greater degree of religious tolerance, imposed a variety of forfeitures, civil penalties, and civil disabilities upon non-Anglicans.

King Charles II

King Charles II

The other was the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Not only did Charles enter into a secret military treaty with his first cousin King Louis XIV of France, but Charles surreptitiously promised to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified future date. Political considerations, however, led him to defer his reception into the Roman Catholic Church until he was on his deathbead in 1685.

Charles was popularly known as the “Merry Monarch,” both because of the comparison between him and the staid, religious Cromwell, but also because Charles was something of a partier. He had no living children with his wife, but acknowledged at least twelve illegitimate children by assorted mistresses.

May 5, 1789 – Alexander Hamilton Gives George Washington Entertainment Advice

On this day in history, Alexander Hamilton wrote to George Washington in apparent response to an oral inquiry by Washington concerning the “etiquette proper to be observed by the President.” In this letter, Hamilton submits his ideas on the subject to Washington.

He begins by observing that “The public good requires as a primary object that the dignity of the office should be supported.” He stresses the importance of finding a balance that will satisfy people’s expectations of the office but not alienate them:

Men’s minds are prepared for a pretty high tone in the demeanour of the Executive; but I doubt whether for so high a tone as in the abstract might be desireable. The notions of equality are yet in my opinion too general and too strong to admit of such a distance being placed between the President and other branches of the government as might even be consistent with a due proportion.”

To this end, he suggests holding informal “levees” each week for people to see him, but for him not to accept any invitations in return. He should also, Hamilton opined, give formal entertainments “only twice or four times a year on the anniversaries of important events in the revolution.” He then suggests who should be invited and where they should sit.

You can read the full details of his entertainment advice here.

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806

Review of “No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945” by Norman Davies

This is a book about which my husband and I have fairly strong disagreement. While I thought the author was repetitive and annoying after his initial valid points, my husband liked it so much he read it twice! I will give my summary first, followed by his dissent.

Review by Jill:

Davies’ extensive history of WW2 is divided into five subject areas: military, politics, soldiers, civilians, and media. Each area is explored chronologically, so that we go back and forth, five times, sometimes over the same material. Throughout, several themes predominate:

1. Western powers aggrandize their roles in WW2. To the contrary, the most important battles were in the East, and the 1945 victory in Europe was “above all” Stalin’s. These facts are obscured by “relentless Western publicity pursued to the greater glory of Western interests….” [And in fact, Americans are by and large unaware that the Soviets suffered 95% of all military casualties inflicted on the three major Allied powers (the U.S., the U.K., and the U.S.S.R.) and that 90% of Germans killed in combat in the war died fighting them, not the West.]
2. Most histories of WW2, looking through Western conceptual lenses, see Hitler’s Germany as the “most” evil. America’s “war-time love affair with the USSR” put Soviet atrocities out of focus, and romanticized the role of “the Russians.”
3. The USSR was multinational, not just Russian; Ukrainians and Byelorussians suffered more than any other group;
4. Stalin was way more evil than westerners give him “credit” for; and
5. Poland got screwed by all parties (including the allies) big time.

These points are important and well-taken, but Davies tends to beat them to death in this extremely detailed overview.

image

Some of his observations are nicely crafted. For example, in describing Britain’s situation after March 1941 when Lend-Lease started, he suggests that Britain became an “island aircraft carrier, to which U.S. military assets could be transferred as the need arose.”

On the other hand, some of his observations are questionable. Hitler was “only human” if, albeit, “obnoxious”?!!! David Irving (an English Holocaust denier) displayed “the wrong shade of opinion”?!!! Ariel Sharon “alleged” there were Jews who fought with the Allies?!!! Some 150,000 “Jews” fought with the Wehrmacht?!!! (N.B. This number actually represents the number of “mischlinge” or those who were designated as Jews only because of Hitler’s insistence in going back to the fourth generation past for racial purity. Most of these men were born and raised Christians and were ardent German patriots.)

Oddly, in spite of Davies’ anti-Soviet, anti-Stalin bias, he doesn’t make a strong statement about Roosevelt’s pandering to Stalin. He does opine that Roosevelt was much more wary of Churchill as an “old imperialist” than of Stalin. Yet later in the narrative he avers (speaking of the Tehran summit) “Roosevelt was inclined to humor Stalin.”

Davies’ world of the Gulag, the Katyn Forest, Sobibor and the like seems so alien from our current reality that it is hard to come away with useful lessons for the present. Tony Judt, in the May 1, 2008 New York Review of Books (writing about WW2 historical treatments generally), charges that “teaching the War through vectors of the suffering of particular groups” (as does Davies) only serves to make us feel separate from other groups’ sufferings. Thus we lose a sense of a shared past in favor of au courant atrocities. The underlying message is that these “Historical Horror way stations” are past us, and “we may now advance…into a different and better era.”

The “Big Three”: From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European Theatre in 1943.

I’m afraid one of my biggest criticisms of this book is rather fuzzy: that is to say, in my opinion this book lacks “background music.” Davies’ long delineation of particulars is cold and lifeless, even with, and in spite of, the inclusion of many inspiring stories. As Saul Friedlander observes in “Reflections on Nazism,” language can establish emotional distance by “showing that all the chaos and horror is, after all, coherent and explainable.” Thus Davies evokes nothing with his recitation of numbers of war dead – not even understanding, since the numbers are beyond rational comprehension. And of the cultures that were lost, there is not a word. I believe one can learn more about the pain and loss of WW2 from listening to the music of Kreisler than by reading Davies’ neutralized analyses. My husband loved this book; but he would much prefer lists of tanks and planes to evocations of life and love. I would have preferred to see Davies advance his theories in a nice long article in The Atlantic or The New Yorker, rather than a 560-page book. I give this book three stars; he would give it five. His review follows….

Fritz Kreisler

Fritz Kreisler

Review by Jim:

I thought this was a far better book than my wife gives it credit for being. It is as much a book of historiography as a work of history. It points out how both popular and scholarly works in both the West and East (Soviet) have skewed their perceptions to promote the political preconceptions of their audiences. Davies emphasizes how Western historians have poorly expressed the comparative magnitudes of the war in the East with the war in the West. He also shows that both Eastern and Western historians have underestimated the criminality of the Soviet behavior in the war. The Germans were not the only barbarians who fought the war.

In his reassessment of the writing about the war, Davies observes that the Holocaust and the plight of the European Jews has had a large share of the ink spilled on the period. If this were the only book written about WWII, one would say that Davies greatly underestimated the enormity of the Nazi treatment of the Jews. But that is not his point. He is starting from a position in which there does exist a considerable corpus of Holocaust literature, and remarkably little about the plight of the Serbs, Gypsies, Ukrainians, Bylorussians, and the entire Polish people. Moreover, little is written about the fate of millions of Germans, mostly women and children, who were uprooted, raped, and/or killed during the Red Army’s final thrust into the Reich.

Davies’s choice of organization does cause some repetitive treatment of some events, as he analyzes them sequentially from the respective coigns of vantage of military, politics, soldiers, civilians, and media. Nonetheless, I think that is necessary since he makes some fairly controversial assertions, and he must martial his authority on each contentious point.

A sampling of Davies’ observations and conclusions indicates how inaccurate in his view is the general account of the war given by western media:

1. The first campaign of the war was a joint invasion of Poland by both Germany and the Soviet Union.
2. The Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939 was as blatant as Germany’s invasion of the USSR in 1941.
3. The Germans conquered only about 10% of the land mass of the Soviet Union, and most of the occupation covered the USSR’s western republics, Ukraine and Byelorussia. Stalin was much more willing to sacrifice the “politically suspect” ethnic and religious minorities in border states than Russians.
4. The communists “proved to be incompetent at almost everything except espionage, deception and war.”
5. Roosevelt’s entourage was riddled with fellow travelers who proved incapable of grasping the nature of Stalin’s regime.
6. The Soviets maintained larger concentration camps with more inmates than the Germans did.
7. Forcible repatriation to the USSR involved millions who were being sent to their deaths or to long prison terms for the “crime” of not fighting to their deaths against the Germans.
8. The victory of the USA and Britain was at best only partial, leading to 45 years of the cold war, a military standoff with the co-victors and the imposition of a totalitarian tyranny in the Soviet zone of Europe.

The book may not thoroughly original, but it is one of the best comprehensive reevaluations of our perception of the most significant event of the twentieth century that I have encountered.

Published by MacMillan, 2006

April 29, 1745 – Birth of Oliver Ellsworth, Third Chief Justice of the United States

Oliver Ellsworth is another “Founding Father” about whom few Americans are aware. Born in 1745 in Windsor, Connecticut, he was a lawyer, judge, politician and diplomat. He helped draft the U.S. Constitution, and was instrumental, along with Roger Sherman – also representing Connecticut, at fashioning the “Connecticut Compromise” between more populous states and less populous states. [This compromise blended the earlier Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals regarding apportionment for delegates in both Congress and the Senate.]

Engraving of Oliver Ellsworth

Ellsworth became one of the two original pair of Senators in the new United States government, and was the chief author of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which defined the contours of the federal judiciary of the United States.

Among other provisions, the Act set the number of Supreme Court justices at six: one Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. It also defined their jurisdiction, and created 13 judicial districts with both circuit courts and district courts within the 11 states that had then ratified the Constitution.

Ellsworth, aligned with the Federalist Party, served as a key Senate ally to Alexander Hamilton. He led the Senate passage of Hamiltonian proposals such as the Funding Act of 1790 and the Bank Bill of 1791. He also helped ratify the United States Bill of Rights and the Jay Treaty.

As the first U.S. President, George Washington was responsible for appointing the entire Supreme Court; he appointed a record ten justices. In 1789, Washington offered John Jay the new opportunity of becoming the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, which Jay accepted. He was unanimously confirmed on September 26, 1789 and remained on the bench until his retirement in 1795. Washington next appointed John Rutledge, the senior Associate Justice to the position, on a temporary basis because the Senate was in recess. But Rutledge publicly spoke out against the Jay Treaty in 1795, angering Federalists, including Washington. His appointment to the Supreme Court was then unanimously rejected by the Senate when it reconvened. As the Senate website reports:

Rutledge thus became the first rejected Supreme Court nominee and the only one among the fifteen who would gain their offices through recess appointments not to be subsequently confirmed. In turning down Rutledge, the Senate made it clear that an examination of a nominee’s qualifications would include his political views. Those who differed substantively from the majority of senators could expect rough going.”

President Washington satisfied dissent in the Senate by nominating Oliver Ellsworth, who was favored not only by virtue of being a member of that body, but because he had authored the Judiciary Act. Ellsworth was unanimously confirmed and served until 1800, but the Ellsworth Court handled few influential cases.

Oliver Ellsworth

Ellsworth simultaneously served as an envoy to France from 1799 to 1800, signing the Convention of 1800 to settle the hostilities of the Quasi-War. In the 1796 presidential election, Ellsworth received several electoral votes. Poor health caused him to retire from the Court in 1800, and he was succeeded by John Marshall. Ellsworth then served on the Connecticut Governor’s Council until his death in 1807.

Review of “50 Things You Should Know About The Tudors” by Rupert Matthews

This small book on the Tudors is replete with excellent pictures, entertaining fact-boxes, and reader-friendly infographics.

9781784935344

I was eager to read this book. I didn’t make it through Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed book Wolf Hall because I couldn’t tell all the Thomas’ apart. Or the Catherines, Elizabeths, Henrys, or Richards. Who can keep them straight? So I was excited for any new enlightenment I could get from this new entry in the “50 Things You Should Know” series.

The era of Tudor monarchs in England lasted from 1485 to 1603. This book provides nice background on the wars between branches of the royal family – the Lancasters (which included the Tudors) and the Yorks.

I would have liked to see more on the 1485 Battle of Bosworth, one of the most interesting battles in British history, in my opinion. This is where Richard III was betrayed and hacked up by supporters of Henry Tudor. Richard, as you may know, is the one who (allegedly) arranged for the murder of his two nephews (aged 9 and 12) in the Tower of London. Richard was supposed to be their “protector.” [Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III as a monster, albeit one with great lines (“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York…”), and his fingering of Richard for the crime had a great influence on the historical record.]

Portrait of Richard III by an unknown artist. (National Portrait Gallery)

Portrait of Richard III by an unknown artist. (National Portrait Gallery)

How Henry Tudor managed this battlefield victory is a riveting story of greed for power and land, insecurity, fear, paranoia and bribery, and goes far to illustrate the nature of political life in this period. (Historian Desmond Seward goes into great detail on these issues in a number of books on the Tudors. Another good resource is Richard III: The Maligned King by Annette Carson.)

Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) gets a lot of play in this book. There is, for example, a spread entitled “Marriage Troubles.” [One of those troubles probably would not have been getting the names wrong of his wives, since there were two Annes and three Catherines (albeit spelled differently). One additional wife, Jane Seymour, might have worked out since she actually produced an heir for Henry, but she died soon after childbirth.]

Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger circa 1540

Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger circa 1540

Henry’s attitude toward marriage was never without repercussions. He declared war on Scotland to force agreement to a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. (Since Edward himself was only nine when he became king, there wasn’t much of an age difference…)

There were also a number of religious wars, initiated after Parliament – at Henry VIII’s instigation – made him head of the Church of England, so he could carry on with his annulments and remarriages.

And religious turmoil was not only related to Henry VIII’s interest in serial marriages. This was also the era of the Reformation and Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), causing a great deal of upheaval, as well as dissent over revisions of the Book of Common Prayer. Then there was the see-sawing of the religious affiliation of the royals. When the Catholic Mary I came into power in 1553, she decided to bring back Catholicism, and ordered hundreds of executions, earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Her successor, Elizabeth I, was a Protestant. Now Catholic services were outlawed, and this time it was the Catholics’ turn to be drawn and quartered.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

When Elizabeth died in 1603, King James VI of Scotland came to London to rule as King James I and the Tudor period was said to be at an end. Even though James VI was the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor, he was thus a Tudor by virtue of his female descendants, which didn’t seem to count. He was descended in the male line from the House of Stuart. The author does not explain, however, how consideration of this fact made James a “Stuart” rather than a “Tudor.” But the book makes up for brevity by all the fascinating trivia and factoids it includes.

For what it’s worth, after reading this book, I still couldn’t tell you which Henry or Edward was which, in spite of the inclusion of a “Who’s Who Family Tree.” But that is my own failing, or perhaps that of all these historical parents: couldn’t they come up with different names? Thank heavens for the 20th and 21st centuries, when we have more distinctive names for kids like Apple and North and so on. [It’s too bad no one we know of before 2015 (Lil’ Kim, we’re looking at you), came up with the potentially great Tudor name for a baby, “Royal Reign.”]

Evaluation:  There is good reason for the continuing popularity of books and television series and movies about the Tudors – between the political machinations, religious turmoil, sex, violence, assassinations, plotting, jealousies and betrayals, there is really never a dull moment. The author found many ways to include engrossing aspects of a huge subject. I don’t think anyone is going to be bored by the history lessons in this book.

Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk and Henry VIII's closest friend, in BBC's The Tudors

Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk and Henry VIII’s closest friend, in BBC’s The Tudors

The real Charles Brandon at the time of his marriage to Princess Mary Tudor - give me the BBC Brandon any time!

The real Charles Brandon at the time of his marriage to Princess Mary Tudor – give me the BBC Brandon any time!

Rating:  3.5/5

Published in the US. by QEB Publishing, 2016