Reflections on 2011: Rob's Books

Rob-Books I read a bit in 2011, so I thought I'd follow Kate's lead and share my reading list from last year with everyone. Enjoy!

Elizabeth This biography humanizes Elizabeth and removes much of the fairy-tale story that Hollywood has assigned to her. In the end she is revealed to be a much more powerful, clever and well-rounded monarch than I'd previously known.

The Sisters This was Katey's book, but she enjoyed it so much I decided to read it also. This one generation of one family enjoyed a front row seat for some of the most historic moments of the 20th century. Plus, the family itself is kind of cooky. Worth reading for sure.

Cleopatra Last year I read a lot of Roman history. This year I picked up the new Cleopatra biography and enjoyed it immensely. The author doesn't do Mark Antony many favors. Read Cleopatra and Elizabeth back to back and compare.

This Side of Paradise For my money (and I don't think I'm the only person), this is Fitzgerald's best work. Amory is one of my favorite characters and the writing is so good I found myself re-reading pages from this book because I'd never read anything described so well.

The Italians If you plan to be in Italy for any period of time longer than a week, read The Italians. It's a bit dated in places - it was written in the 60s I believe - but this is the best introduction to Italian culture I've read yet.

Stonewall Jackson I needed some American history during this year abroad. This biography of Stonewall Jackson fit the bill. The history isn't perfect; Bowers must have made up a lot of the dialogue in the book. But if you read it as hyper-accurate historical fiction instead of rigid history you'll enjoy the crazy life that Stonewall Jackson lived.

You Are Not a Gadget Jaron Lanier is a master of technology who has a problem with the way the web is developing. Read this book. Weather or not you agree with Lanier when you've finished, you won't be able to say he didn't warn you.

Meditations Stoic philosophy. Sometimes it's necessary reading to help you develop the patience you'll need to navigate the Italian bureaucracy.

Florence & The Medici A straight-ahead review of Florence during the lives of all the Medici. From Cosimo the Elder to the last Grand Duke, Florence and the Medici takes you through some of the city's best and most turbulent years.

1688: A Global History This was assigned to me back at GW. Not sure why I re-read it, but I was glad I did. The author does exactly what the title implies: he give you a nice look at what the world was like in 1688, and it turns out that a lot of what we base our world on today emerged right around that year. The Fourth Part of the World Here's the thing, I'm a nerd. This is a book about sailing to the Americas and all that was involved in doing it. From the politics to the science to the religion, The Fourth Part of the World examines Western Europe's obsession with exploration of the new world and far east.

Bonus: A Farewell to Arms I don't read a lot of literature. I mostly read histories. However, I read A Farewell to Arms in three days over our Christmas vacation. If you haven't read it, read it soon. If you aren't speaking in short, direct sentences when you've finished, I don't know what is wrong with you.

Living in Florence: A Saturday at Palazzo Strozzi

Yesterday, Rob and I went to Palazzo Strozzi for the Monkey and Beauty: Banks, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities exhibition. It's been open since September (and is around until January) and we've been dying to go. After nearly 10 days spent cooped up in the house with an awful stomach bug, I was more than happy to finally buy some tickets and check it out!

The exhibit is all about the role that Florence played in developing the modern banking system (huge) and the role that this new class of businessmen had on culture and the arts (also huge). It also talks a lot about the overarching role religion had during this time, as well. For me, the most fascinating parts had to do with the banking system and not so much the Bonfire of the Vanities...but that's just me :-)

It was one of my favorite exhibits that I've been to in a long time. I find that museums here in Italy (and particularly Palazzo Strozzi, which does this so well) really know how to make a fun, informative and digestable art exhibit. It took us about 1.5 hours to work our way through -- the art and artifacts were fantastic, but just as impressive were the text placards all around the exhibit. I don't "nerd out" with history quite like Rob, but even I was really fascinated by a lot of what I read. Florence history is full of intrigue and action, and it's great when an exhibit can capture it.

The exhibit runs until January 22 and you can learn more about it on the Palazzo Strozzi website.

Living in Florence: A Weekend Date at the Bargello

Rob and I had a little impromptu date day this past Saturday. We've been talking about going to the Bargello Museum since our first week here and we decided it was finally time to get our butts over there and check it out. Our laziness with checking out the Bargello is made even more lame when you consider the fact that entry is free with our Amici degli Uffizi cards. Lazy bums, I know.

I can't believe we waited this long to go. I can't speak for Rob, but I think the Bargello might be my favorite museum. Why? First of all, the building is steeped in history and houses lots of sculpture -- which I've slowly come to realize may just be my favorite type of art. I've seen Donatello's David so many times in books that it was almost surreal to see it standing (somewhat alone) in a massive room in the Bargello.

Because the Bargello was, um, totally empty, we basically got to enjoy the art, architecture and history at a great pace and without the pressure of crowds. Not more than 2 minutes walk away the Uffizi was completely packed, yet the Bargello was quiet and calm. I loved it!

Something else I loved about the Bargello is that despite all of the wonderful artwork exhibited, the place didn't feel visually packed. I love the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti galleries, but sometimes when I walk out of there my head is spinning because I'm massively over-stimulated. The Bargello felt like a breath of fresh air in that respect. If you're visiting Florence, I really do urge you to check out this wonderful museum.