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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Winspear, Jacqueline: Maisie Dobbs | Main | Thomas, Chris: Journo's Diary »

Herbert, Brian: Dreamer of Dune

  

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Tor © 2003, 576 pages [amazon]
3 stars

The author Frank Herbert (1920-1985) is best known for his wildly popular novel Dune, winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1965 and arguably the best science fiction novel ever written. In his biography Dreamer of Dune, Frank Herbert's son Brian tells us the story behind the desert planet of his father's imagination, breathing life into the brilliant but imperfect character of the bearish man who so dominated his own life. In straightforward, no-frills prose, Brian Herbert tells the story of his father's life chronologically and in great detail, from Frank's dangerously independent childhood in the Pacific northwest--at the age of nine he sailed on his own in a row boat from his home town of Burley, Washington to the San Juan islands and back, a distance of more than two hundred miles--to his sudden death at the age of 65 from a pulmonary embolism. Along the way Herbert's life was dominated by two focuses, his writing--he was a prolific author who wrote with a feverish intensity and demanded that his time at the typewriter remain inviolate--and his wife: Beverly Herbert, Brian's mother, was Frank's partner in life and in the business of writing for nearly forty years, theirs the sort of marriage that grew in intensity over time and which seems to have been a stronger bond than either shared with their children. Beverly predeceased her husband by slightly more than two years. (Frank's devotion to Beverly is perhaps called into question by the fact that he was married again so soon after her death, to a woman thirty-six years his junior. He pronounced himself "in love" with this young woman less than three months after his wife's death.)

He was a strict disciplinarian who hooked his sons up to a lie detector he'd procured and sweated the truth of their peccadilloes out of them.The picture Brian paints of his father is not wholly flattering. Frank Herbert was a larger-than-life personality, the benevolent and booming host of dinner parties, a witty raconteur. He was a doting husband and a loyal friend. A man filled with curiosity and energy, Herbert was always planning new projects--literary, ecological, architectural. Prior to his death he was planning on becoming the oldest man to climb Mt. Everest. But his personality had a less attractive side, the ego and arrogance that came with his genius. Brian Herbert writes of his father:

"He dominated every conversation, even when a room was full of people, and sometimes I found his ego hard to bear. But that was his way, and he was, after all, the most interesting person any of us knew."

Herbert demanded that others bend to his writing schedule to an unreasonable degree; he required a surprising degree of assistance, of gophering, from Brian in his adulthood, and he became wroth when his directions were not followed to the letter. Most importantly, although he made up for it to an extent in later years, Frank was a lousy father, impatient with his children (and, years hence, with his grandchildren), whose noise threatened to interrupt his work. He was a strict disciplinarian who hooked his sons up to a lie detector he'd procured and sweated the truth of their peccadilloes out of them. Brian and his brother Bruce--we hear very little about the latter in the book--were both estranged from their father at various points in their lives, though Brian became very close to Frank in his adulthood.

Weighing in at more than 500 pages, Dreamer of Dune is a long slog of a book which would have benefited from energetic editing. Part of the problem is that material is sometimes repeated. We are told three times, for example, that the Herberts may be descended from Henry VIII. The worse problem is that the book is overflowing with insignificant details, as if the author were attempting to include in the biography the text of every journal entry he ever made and every last bit of family lore he could lay his hands on. These tidbits are strewn about the book in passages that could readily have been cut from their surroundings. Thus, for example, we are told early in the book about Frank Herbert's dental hygiene:

"From an early age Frank Herbert was fastidious about his teeth, spending as much as fifteen minutes at a time brushing them. In his entire lifetime he never had one cavity, and his teeth were so perfect that dentists marveled upon seeing them."

And later on we hear about the character of a yawn Frank Herbert yawned at about ten o'clock on a Saturday in July of 1980:

"Just before ten o'clock Dad bid us good night at his usual time, so that he could rise early the next morning and write. He kissed Mom and whispered something in her ear, which caused her to smile. As he shuffled off to bed he yawned, simultaneously making a drawn-out, mid-range tone that was punctuated with a high pitched 'yow' at the end. He entered the master bedroom and closed the door behind him."
It is remarkable that that "yow" business made it into Brian Herbert's journal, let alone into his published biography of his father.

On a second discussion of the Herbert teeth, we hear also of Frank's difficulty sleeping one night in August of 1981:

"I recall seeing him in our bathroom in boxer shorts one morning, flossing his teeth. He had always taken care of his teeth. They were perfect, without a cavity. He said he didn't sleep well the night before, and that when he drifted off he snored more than usual, and it kept waking him up. His back was bothering him a little, too, though he propped a big pillow under the head of the mattress as he normally did. We offered him some aspirin for the pain, but he said he was all right."

Banal as these details are, they do serve to paint for persevering readers a very intimate and surprisingly moving picture of a life lived in Frank Herbert's circle. After this 500-odd-page entrée into his father's family life, one cannot be left unmoved by Brian Herbert's loving account of his parents' relationship, of the tragedy of his mother's lingering illness and death, of Frank Herbert's singular devotion to his wife. Readers interested in getting to know the man behind the masterpiece, boxer shorts, floss, and all, will enjoy Brian Herbert's biography.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.