Titans of History

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 20 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

A long book with biographies, and what's hugely disappointing is instead of focussing on the bigger picture, we get short digests on each of these "titans". And I thought no one reads or even needs the Encyclopedia Britannica!
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This was one long book.

I started reading and had to leave it for a while. I then started reading again and had to leave it for a while again. I finally finished it when I picked it up for the third time.

The book contained a lot of great people from history but it gave a very, very short time to each legend. I found myself finding the information too condensed to give a lot of clarity.

Admittedly writing a book featuring these many people requires a lot of research, patience and talent. It may be the right book for a lot of people there, just not for me.

I received a free copy of the book from Netgalley. It doesn't influence my review in any way.
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Brief biopics of worldwide people from history. Most of which I had at least heard of. Some surprising omissions.
I enjoyed and learned much from this book written by one of my favourite authors.
I was given this book by Netgalley and the publisher. This is my voluntary review.
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Simon Sebag Montefiore has been one of my favorite historical nonfiction writers for some time now. I have always enjoyed his previous work and so I was sad to be a little disappointed in Titans of History.

This book gives fairly abridged biographies of some of the great names in history but I found there to be a disparity. Most of the book focuses on men; few women or POC get a mention here (though perhaps, that is not surprising given the lack of attention paid them throughout history). Also, while I appreciated the idea of getting a quick run-down of a person, their family, and achievements, it was very short for most of the names. Three pages seemed to be the average any figure got and in some cases, three pages were dedicated to an entire family. The Borgias, for instance, were all grouped together so that there was no depth to the description of any of them individually.

I think the strength that the book had though was that it was able to introduce historical figures that a reader may have heard about only in passing (or not at all) and cause them to research them further. A good book to set by your nightstand and pick up before bed to read about someone else.
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Unfortunately, I have a lot of issues with this book that have made it a pretty unpleasant reading experience. While I accept that any book of this nature will automatically leave a lot of people out and will ultimately be unsatisfying to many for this reason, I found the choices for exclusion here particularly worrying. The book focuses primarily on white, European men with very little exploration of indigenous persons or women. There also seems to be a large number of military personalities and few artists or scientists, which seems unbalanced in my opinion. Finally, I just didn't get on well with the writing style, which seemed very perfunctory and choppy in places. All in all, I think that there is benefit in reading this book, while being aware that there is an awful lot left out. It is a good jumping off point for further exploration.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Interesting short biographies in historical context of great people throughout history. What distinguishes this “history’ book from others is the absolutely novelistic and lyrical writing style of Montefiore. It makes a what otherwise might have been dry mini biographies a thrill to read. Highly recommended.
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This was a free kindle from NetGalley
Review of "Titans of History"  by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Sebag Montefiore is an historian that I consider a writer for non-academics.  That doesn’t mean that he writes simplistically, it means that he doesn’t write pedantically.  His books on Catherine the Great, the Romanovs and Stalin, are detailed but not overburdened by statistics and grandiosity, but still in-depth studies.  

This book is a compilation of short biographies of people that Sebag Montefiore contends, created or altered the history of the human race.  Whether you agree with his choices, or omissions, there are a lot of Asians and Africans whose contributions were not known to me and were therefore helpful.  It wasn’t written to be a great work, but more of a reference tomb for those who don’t use the internet.

All that said, I did find the book disappointing.  Maybe I’m just a snob, but I’m not sure of what use this book is, except for use by Middle School children to get a cursory view of how the world has changed since the beginning of recorded time.  Make your own judgement.

Zeb Kantrowitz      zebsblog@gmail.com        zworstblog@blogspot.com
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Titans- people who have influenced our History!

As a reader for Netgalley, I was able to get a complimentary copy. However, I wish to provide an unbiased review of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s encyclopaedic book of the famous and some of the less well known figures throughout our history. 

With almost 200 people to contend with, it is not surprising that some only occupy a page or two. But, whilst you will not learn anything new from the likes of Henry VIII, of which a huge amount has already been written about, you will certainly at least get an overview of many that you may be otherwise unaware of. 

So it is brilliant as a book to dip in and out off, and as a supplement for further research. My only negative is the one or two are dubious Titans of History…Jack the Ripper???. 

Otherwise, Simon has produced an excellent mammoth volume for the masses to enjoy.
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Montefiore has selected a whole pile of interesting people whose choices in the past changed history. Each entry is easy to read -- they're just a few pages long each -- and he writes in a newsy and appealing way. This book is a great introduction to historical figures from a vast range of locations and centuries. Any given snippet is of course just a taste but it gives enough info for a reader to decide whether they want to go out and find more info on that particular person. There were many people in this book that I had not heard of before and many others that I knew less than three pages about. I found this book compulsively readable.
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While chock-full of historic and influential names, each entry was only a few pages long and many times this felt more encyclopedic than history book. If you are looking for an in depth analysis of those who have changed our world, this isn't it. But if you want skim the pages of history and feel a little bit smarter for knowing of so many historical figures, this book is for you. If you added illustrations and pictures, this could have been a large coffee table book (which would be pretty cool).
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This ought to be pre-requisite reading material for just having a conversation. I refuse to speak to anyone who hasn't read it -What an excellent booK!
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Summary:

This book roves the centuries, and chooses characters that have been hugely influential in the world, both in their own time, and some whose lives still have echoes today.

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Main Characters:
Throw a dart into the world’s timeline, and you most likely will hit upon a name you recognise, and that is in the book!

Minor Characters:
The millions (billions?) of people throughout the centuries, all now forgotten apart from being a statistic, that helped create the legendary historic figures in the novel, from the mountain of skulls of Tamerlane, to the countless enslaved of Africa, South America, etc. 

Plot:
Beginning in 1279BC, with Ramses the Great, and covering the biblical Middle East, the author steps his way through the succeeding centuries up to about the present day, aiming to progress chronologically, with each story “handing over” to the next.

At 657 pages, the author gets through quite a lot of names, but of course can only give a soupçon of their lives. He also is quite open about the names he picked, fully realising that there are other people equally deserving of a place in his history book. What the author aims to deliver is a highlight of what the person is famous for, and as the narrative nears our own age, with more abundant source material, the figures are better fleshed-out, and we can hear the actual conversations they had, or are attributed to them.

There is such a wide variety of humanity featured here. From the religious (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed) to the religiously insane (Savonarola, Torquemada), from the empire builders to those who destroyed, the Titans as paraded in these pages form largely a bleak view of humanity.

There are a lot more murderers and psychopaths on show here than there are humanists or scientists, and the cycle of history (for the most part) seems to revolve around a great empire-builder, who enslaved millions, and ruthlessly slaughtered millions more, only for his (invariably, his) dynasty to fall in another welter of bloodshed. These can be building empires of the spirit as well as of the world, but wars and their consequences are sometimes more bloody when driven by religious sentiment.

The women who do appear (Cleopatra was the first, page 66) are predominantly less violent figures (Florence Nightingale, Sarah Bernhardt), though there are those with different reputations (Empress Cixi, Thatcher, Cleopatra). There is the unfortunate praise of Aung Suu Kyi – what a difference being in charge makes. Some of the women exercise massive power behind the scenes, though this scenario is reversed with Catherine the Great and Potemkin, and Zhao Wu.

The vast majority of the subjects are men, and some are still held up as shining examples to us today (Washington, Lincoln, Gandhi). Oftentimes, as well as prodigiously energetic in their various fields of endeavour, a lot of the men seemingly had a strong of mistresses and lovers, and are written as helplessly priapic (“Casanova, Byron, Peter the Great). Churchill, who has as many detractors (Richard Toye’s 2010 biog Churchill’s Empire) as supporters (e.g. Andrew Roberts’s Churchill: Walking with Destiny – published Nov 6th 2018 [last week!]), is an object lesson in how relatively current figures can inspire diametrically opposed views.

The author describes how inventive humans got, in devising new ways of inflicting physical pain on each other. These people were sadists let loose in the world, and had nothing holding them back (e.g. Vlad the Impaler, Jack the Ripper).

What I Liked:
- It is a bold attempt to give the layman a potted history of the world.
- His vignettes will, I think, inspire people to investigate further someone who piques their interest e.g. for me, I want to know more about Toussaint Louverture.
- The author covers a lot of ground e.g. within the cultural sphere, he ranges from Mozart to Elvis, from Hemingway to Anne Frank to Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde to Sarah Bernhardt, Brunelleschi to Picasso). It seems to be a little heavily weighted towards Western tastes.
- I liked how he tried to keep the figures contemporaneous, e.g. relating the stories of Charlemagne and Haroun al-Rashid in sequence.

What I Didn’t Like:
- The author could not give as equal time and space to every race and culture. He chooses the historically dominant ones, and also those for whom he can tell a story. Unfortunately, the result is heavily skewed towards the West, with latter day China featuring heavily, with other regions/peoples having lighter representation.
- Women, by dint of historical fact, are not as in the forefront, but do make a serious contribution when able (Elizabeth 1, Odette Sansom, etc.)

Overall:
It is a door-stopper of a book, that for me executes well on its limited remit. You get a taste of each character, which is exactly what he said he would give you. It is an enjoyable read, though you shake your head at all the bloodshed and pointless deaths over the centuries. You don’t learn anything new about the familiar characters – for me, the real hook is learning more about the more obscure people e.g. Yeshov, Zhao Wu, and re-discovering the ones you’d forgotten (Simon Bolivar).

On his selection of characters, people will have their own views. The top 50 or so are the ones you expect (e.g. Alexander the Great), from and for a Western readership perspective, and after that there is room for a South American edition, an Asian edition etc., where luminaries from those areas could be given greater weight. I liked the ones he chose.

It is a good read, something to dip into over the years, but necessarily limited in what it can give you for each Titan.

Acknowledgements:
Thanks to Netgalley and the author for sending me a free copy of the book, in return for an unbiased and objective review.
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This book is like a biographical dictionary presenting the most interesting stories of people listed as titans in history. One thing I like in this book is the way the descriptions are written. Written in plain language, this book allows you to get a glimpse of what a character life was. However, since the descriptions are just short I ended up wanting to know more. I think if would be better if the list is a bit shorter and description is longer; that way we can get to understand the character much deeper. It would also be best if there are pictures to depict the characters of the events portrayed in the stories.

I did not read all the pages of this book. I only choose to read those that I am interested in.
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Titans of History: The Giants Who made Our World by Simon Sebag Montefiore is a non-fiction book of extremely short biographies of those people the author deemed as changing the world they lived in. Mr. Montefiore is a prize winning author for both fiction and non-fiction.

 I have enjoyed every book I read by Mr. Montefiore and was excited to see another one of his books. I have read other books in this vain, so I knew what to expect from Titans of History: The Giants Who made Our World by Simon Sebag Montefiore, but I really appreciated the author’s writing style in the past so I was looking forward to reading this one.

The biographies in this book are very short, a few pages each. From these one cannot expect any scholarly analysis of the subjects. This is more of a broad brush take on history, who, what, where, and when with a few short stories about them to make the dry facts more palatable.

This is, of course, a very subjective book. For example, the author includes biblical figures as “Titans of History” even though we don’t really know if he even existed (scholars believe that the biblical Jesus was based on “a Jesus” which existed so they differentiate the two) and using the Bible or Quran as one’s only historical context does a disservice to the reader. This is not to say that these figures did not have an effect on history, they absolutely did, but there is more to them than just repeating stories which might/or might not be true, which I feel are out of context here.

Surprisingly, there is not a bibliography anywhere in the book. This is a great book to keep around while the kids are in school and you want to look up someone famous and get a quick recap of what he or she were about.
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Reading this book is like entering into a national portrait gallery and being guided by a jovial, jocular yet scholarly guide. The author includes, yet moves beyond, the formerly-construed notion of the “heroes and villains” of western civilisation. He makes substantial room whether for reasons of fame or infamy for the leaders, influencers and status figures from a broader pantheon. Featuring a range of Muslim leaders, the theatre ranges from the Middle East, through India, Japan, and China.
Montefiore looks to reclaim the primacy of lives in history from what he insists is the boring and depersonalised teaching that students often face in school. He is not afraid to make controversial calls, styling Henry VIII as an English Stalin, and calling Trump’s presidency erratic. Overall, a stimulating and compelling read, a primer on World history that can be digested in small dollops if you so desire.
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A brief biography of many of history's most notable figures, this is the kind of book you dip into when you have a few moments, and often you will find yourself learning something new or unexpected. While many of the figures are well known ,there were several I had never heard of, or at the most had heard their name, so I found their stories particularly interesting, Each of the entries is brief, just the most basic of information, but that is enough as a jumping off point to inspire more research and reading when you find a character that intrigues or inspires you. The writing style is concise and to the point, the broad array of historical figures leaves little room for anything more, but it is perfectly suited to this kind of book.
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This book is what I expected - short breezy biographical sketches of those the author felt made significant impacts on the history of the world. As with any book of this type one can argue about whether or not some of the individuals included made a more significant impact than some of those who were left out of the book. The style makes it an easy read, but the amount of people covered does not lead to a quick read.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants a once over lightly description of some of the individuals who made an impact on our world over time.

I received a free Kindle copy of Titans of History by Simon Sebag Montefiore courtesy of Net Galley  and Knopf Doubleday, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazonand my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

I requested this book as the description interested me and I enjoy reading about people who impacted history.  This is the first book I have read by the author.
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I had extremely high hopes for Simon Sebag Montefiore. I had seen the rave reviews, heard the endless praise but unfortunately, as it always seems to be the case, the expectation did not match the reality. I think that comes down primarily to Montefiore’s choices of ‘titan'. I know, I know, I read the disclaimer at the beginning of the book - that he admits wholeheartedly that the historical figures chosen are influenced by his own bias, but I think we really do need to stop and examine them for a moment.
The fact of the matter that the profiles, as most compilations like this tend to be if they don’t have a specific focus on the marginalised and overlooked figures of history, have a very male, very white, very western focus. I mean, the Aztecs and the Incas are mentioned strictly in the biographies of the white men who enslaved, murdered, and inhabited their land. And then, Montefiore is like, "they-sacrificed-babies-so-its-okay". Um, no it’s not.
Because by wiping out an entire empire of people, you may not be sacrificing babies, but you sure are killing them. 
Does titan equate to a massacring arseholes who forcibly marry the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the people who they have defeated and like to carry out pickled heads in jars? I mean, that happened once but still, I think we know Montefiore’s answer to that question. 
Because, according to him, it turns out that, to be remembered, all you have to do is massacre entire societies. So, guys, just so you know, if you want to be included in a book like this in two/three hundred years time, all you have to do kill some people and inflict some terror. I’m sure that none of your victims will mind, I mean, it’s all for the infamy, right? They’ll get it.
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For a person that has an interest in all kinds of history I thought this book was a fun read. This book covers many different characters that played important parts in our past history. From modern, to medieval, to ancient history Simon Montefiore writes a few pages on many important faces during these interesting times. I enjoyed this book very much.
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These descriptions are short, as is to be expected in a book encompassing so many historical figures.  It was a little bit confusing that they were ordered by birth dates, rather than when they became famous, although I understand that there would be difficulties listing them that way, too.  I think that this is a good way for older students to familiarize themselves with people from history.
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