Books read in October 2013

YES, I’M LATE.  Look, September was a big month, and October … well.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape Jenna Miscavige Hill Contemporary issues
 Apollo’s Angels: A history of ballet Jennifer Homans History
 Peter the Great: His life and world Robert K. Massie History

Beyond Belief obviously continues the Scientology thing of last month.  It was quite interesting, because Miscavige Hill is the niece of Scientology’s leader, which put her in a good position to meet lots of people, but also meant there was a lot of pressure on her and her family.

Apollo’s Angels was an interesting read, being quite a detailed and thorough history of ballet.  It fell apart in the final chapters, where the author essentially decides that ballet died with Balanchine, and there are no good dancers these days because they’re all too “flat screen”.  You kids, off my lawn, etc.

But up until that point, I really enjoyed it.  I was increasingly curious as to how the author could pronounce so authoritatively on the quality of a ballet or performance that was not recorded in any way at all, but hey, grain of salt, right?

The chapter on the origins of Russian ballet led me to Peter the Great, which I … well, the parts I read, I really loved.  But large chunks of the book were taken up with detailed battle scenes, and I can’t get my head around that sort of thing.  So there was skimming.  But the bits I read, I really enjoyed, especially how Peter the Great was … well, quite good at being a Tsar, but also good at lots of other things.  While also being prone to tantrums, torture, snap executions.  You know.

One omission that I found frustrating, though, was women.  I know the book is called Peter the Great, but the lives of Russian women changed drastically in just a generation — and there’s nothing about how they felt or experienced these changes.  (I hit up the bookstores and libraries, but it looks like, as far as English-language popular histories are concerned, Russian women were invented with the Bolshevik Revolution.)  I’m hoping that Massie’s book on Catherine the Great covers this area a bit, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.