In the year 1386, the last such duel was fought in front of the 18-year-old King Charles VI, his court and thousands of spectators on the grounds of a Parisian monastery.
In his thoroughly researched and oddly compelling ``The Last Duel,'' now available in paperback (Broadway, 242 pages, $14, UCLA professor Eric Jager uses the techniques of the modern legal thriller to tell the story of knight Jean de Carrouges and his one-time friend and rival Jacques Le Gris, who had been accused by Carrouges's wife, Marguerite, of rape. The accusation eventually leads to ``trial by combat,'' and the stakes are high: should Carrouges lose, Marguerite would be burned alive for perjury.
Jager keeps the story taut, building suspense as he progresses from the history of t he Hundred Years War to the complex feudal legal proceedings to the duel itself. That battle is fought atop armored warhorses with lances, swords, axes and daggers, and recreated in stunning detail.
All in all, it's a fascinating read. While the outcome of the battle is too dramatic to reveal here, suffice it to say that the end is bloody and as close as one is likely to ever want get to the brutal hand to hand combat that makes even the fiercest modern courtroom proceedings look like a mere playground dispute.
The most spectacular scene from ``Gone with the Wind'' is the burning of the city of
It is November 1864 and
The novel offers impressionistic storytelling, delivered in snatches of dialogue and brief, vivid scenes. Yet there is also enough historical substance here to satisfy Civil War buffs.
As so often, the good Doctorow administers a heavy dose of the grotesque, including a walking, talking soldier with a spike in his head, and precise, artistic descriptions of gore, such as this one of battlefield brain surgery: ``the circular cutting head ground into the bony plate. Then he inserted a flattened blade under the bone and slowly levered the disk away from the skull. Under the cerebral membrane was an enormous blood blister purple in color. To Emily, it looked like the head of a toadstool. Hematoma, Wrede said.''
`Edge of Empire'
In ``Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850'' (Knopf, 404 pages, $27.95) historian Maya Jasanoff places the collecting of antiquities and artifacts at the center of British and French colonialism in India and Egypt.
The vast collections of antiquities that were shipped back to the
Jasanoff mixes a fascinating set of profiles of the illustrious, including the British conqueror of
Antoine Polier joined Clive's army in India when he was just 16 years old, amassed a vast collection of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic manuscripts, only to be murdered in his Provencal chateau by French revolutionaries looking to loot his ``Indian treasure trove.''