The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini by Benvenuto Cellini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was quite the biography. How much of it happened as Cellini recorded it is a matter of question. I guess it would be good to read a biography of someone else who knew Cellini.
What a braggadocio! He sounds like the Renaissance Iron Man, just beating up hordes of men coming after him.
If half of what he says about himself is true, then half of Italy was blind with jealousy, wanted to kill him, but he was too strong, and every woman wanted him for a lover. And if what he records about his sexual prowess, he must have been riddled with STDs and fathered half the country.
In between all that horseplay, we get to learn about his art. Cellini was the finest goldsmith and one of the finest sculptors and artists of the high Renaissance.
We also learn a lot about the politics and the way the rich patrons operated. Cellini definitely saw himself as an underdog who valiantly defends himself. Maybe it was fantasy, maybe it was his way of feeling better after being cheated of his art from rulers and other wealthy patrons. Then again, maybe he was a big jerk.
This is one of the livelier autobiographies you’ll ever read and in the meantime get to time travel and vicariously live in a most colorful bygone age.
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The United States and East Asia by Richard Warner Van Alstyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was written around the time of Nixon’s presidency, so that in itself makes if valuable read, because Nixon was the first president who figured out that the United States was going to have to come to terms with Communist China and develop some kind of relationship with them. It’s really a shame that Watergate overshadows this profound accomplishment by this admittedly tainted presidency.
Van Alstyne deals with America’s relationship with the Chinese, tracing it back to early trade agreements with our founding fathers and also with the missionaries who traveled there. The second half is Chinese and American relationships during WWII.
It seems very easy to look in retrospect and see what decisions our leaders would have made. According to Van Alstyne, our missionaries and pro Chang Kai-shek citizens blinded us to any practical discussion and strategy to exercise. However, Alstyne fails to even suggest what a viable alternative could have been and if the outcome would have been much different.
His opinion is somewhat slanted and definitely opinionated towards a socialist bias. He suggests that if Roosevelt had focused on working with Mao Zedong instead of Chang Kai-shek, than the Japanese would have been defeated much earlier in WWII and our Cold War would not have extended into mainland China.
The author blithely ignores that fact that Mao Zedong did not contribute much to fighting the Japanese, instead preferring to wait and take advantage of the ensuing chaos to take leadership over the mainland.
However, while considering the source and keeping in mind the author’s personal cognitive biases, the reader will learn quite a bit about the historical relationships between the US and China and eventually the People’s Republic of China. Although I would only use this book as one source among many and make sure to read more recent publications.
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First sunflowers in my garden.