Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: The King Whisperers

I was immediately intrigued by the concept behind Dr. Kerwin Swint’s The King Whisperers and I jumped into the text with a great deal of enthusiasm. Justified enthusiasm, as it turns out, because the book is engaging, informative, accessible, and even funny at times. It’s not a dry recounting of facts or historical biographies intended for academics or students. Anybody who has an interest in history, politics, violence, or drama and betrayal that outstrips any show on HBO, Showtime, or Starz would enjoy this book.

Swint presents 47 case studies to demonstrate that most influential men and women in history weren’t always the most powerful in terms of politics, wealth, or birthright. Some came from very humble backgrounds and clawed their way to the top of the political food chain. Others were born into that life, gifted with the status, intelligence, and cunning to take advantage of the situation. There are some names that everybody knows, including the eponymous King Whisperers, Rove and Rasputin, as well as Machiavelli, Joseph Stalin, Hermann Goering, and Alexander Hamilton. Then there are other less well known figures in history, but this book’s strength is that regardless of whether you know the name, you’re going to learn something new. Swint provides facts to replace the rumors, half-truths, stories that everybody “knows is true.”

What struck me again and again was Swint’s humanity, or rather Swint’s ability to demonstrate the humanity in even his most loathsome subjects. Before Joseph Stalin was an egomaniacal murdering tyrant, he was a boy who grew up in an abusive home in a poor, degraded area of Georgia, where violence was apparently the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems. That’s not to say Swint tries to justify atrocious behavior, but the men and women he discusses are humanized even as he shines a bright light on their alternately treacherous and altruistic behavior. But each of these whisperers had a motivation for their decisions and behavior, and Swint seemed intent on revealing that very human motivation.

I had a few minor quibbles with the book. I understand that in the space he had—barely over 300 pages—he couldn’t really plumb deeply into biography. In more than one case, I wanted to know more about what happened, why it happened, and the effects. Though there were a few cases when I felt adding a few more examples would have been perfectly justified and an improvement. Also, I understand that when discussing the personal life of historical figures it’s often impossible to know exactly what’s going on, but every time Swint mentioned a likely homosexual (or bisexual) figure, he quickly added the standard disclaimer. In Edward II’s case, he mentioned that Edward II and his lover each married and fathered children—as though gay men hadn’t been doing that since forever.

The sketches were necessarily light on details, more often than not leaving out the how of the machinations; however, the book accomplishes its purpose. It’s a great starting point for amateur historians or people who just want an interesting piece of non-fiction to pass the evening.

Tour Notes:

Please vote for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll for this tour. The blogger with the most votes wins a free promotional twitterview and a special winner’s badge. I want that to be me! You can vote in the poll by visiting the official King Whisperers blog tour page and scrolling all the way to the bottom.

The next word for the book give-away is TALENTED. Learn more about the give-away and enter to win 1 of 3 copies on the official King Whisperers blog tour page. The other 2 copies are being given-away courtesy of the GoodReads author program, go here to enter. And don’t forget to stop by the Q&A with Kerwin Swint Group to discuss the King Whisperers (including questions from the official book club guide), the author, and his previous works.

Book Trailer for the King Whisperers:

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