Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer (Five Stars)

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer (Five Stars)

“Once we have the power we will never give it up. They will have to carry our dead bodies out of the ministries.” Joseph Goebbels

I should have read this book fifty years ago. You should read this book now. Shirer dug deep into the public and private and secret words of Hitler and his cronies documenting who said and did what during the two-decade advent and destruction of Nazism.

“Never in my life have I been so well disposed and inwardly contented as in these days. For hard reality has opened the eyes of millions of Germans to the unprecedented swindles, lies and betrayals of the Marxist deceivers of the people.” AH on the Great Depression

Shirer was a reporter in Germany during the 30s and again after World War Two. He accessed the unprecedented written records the Allies won from the Axis powers in Europe. His not being an academic improves the book’s readability. Footnotes aren’t to the opinions of other academics.

“This burning hatred, which was to infect so many Germans in that empire, would lead ultimately to a massacre so horrible and on such a scale as to leave an ugly scar on civilization that will surely last as long as man on earth.” (Yet only sixty years later some deny the Holocaust happened.)

Twenty-first century American Republicans and Democrats will see parallels in the opposite party but will be blind to those within their own. They’re there. Our unwillingness to see ourselves in this mirror suggests our vulnerability to repeating this horror. Is it a paradox that the totalitarian left which America saved from the totalitarian right in the 1940s bedeviled us the rest of that century as do now the totalitarians (right and left) from within?

“In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” Neville Chamberlain. (How many American politicians delude themselves into thinking they can “work with” international liars and bullies?)

Serious reading for a serious time. I recorded seventeen pages of notes; your mileage may vary. Quotations abound which echo into the twenty-first century.

“As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ … That is how it started in Germany.” Thomas Mann

Book Review: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Cryoburn (Vorkosigan Saga #14) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“Let me tell you, young man-the dirty little secret of democracy is that just because you get a vote, doesn’t mean you get your choice.”

Bujold is a master storyteller. Her Vorkosigan tales are classic escapist science fiction. Fun, with dashes of humor and snarkiness. Good reads all. Even this deep into the series, characters grow and change dragging the reader along on their hectic life tales.

“My case budget allows for a lot of discretion, you know.” “Then I wish you’d buy some,” snapped [redacted]. He shut his mouth abruptly, as if startled at what had fallen out of it.

Original 2010 review: Cute, improbable, fun, exhausting–typical Miles tale.

“You’re pretty free with that thing.” “It’s all right. I have a license to stun.” “I thought that was supposed to be a license to kill.” [Redacted] grimaced. “That, too. But you would not believe all the forms that have to be filled out, afterward.”

Book Review: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christy (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christy (Four Stars)

“But you cannot escape from the logic of facts. Since the thing was so—it must be accepted.”

Mission Impossible meets Miss Marple. One of Christie’s earliest mysteries. Youthful antagonists are easier to identify with than her later, renowned sleuths. Identifiable charters and convoluted plotting are already evident. Mildly political in the sense of anti-Communist.

“I’ve often noticed that once coincidences start happening they go on happening in the most extraordinary way. I dare say it’s some natural law that we haven’t found out.”

This version was first published in 1922. The story first appeared in 1917 during the Great War whose conclusion is the springboard for the current version. Literary sleuths may wish to seek out the original version. It was not written as historical fiction because the politics of that era were current, but contemporary readers will get a good sense of the time and place.

“They are honest men—and that is their value to us. It is curious—but you cannot make a revolution without honest men. The instinct of the populace is infallible. Every revolution has had its honest men. They are soon disposed of afterwards.”

Quibbles: Christie hadn’t worked out the difference between revolvers and automatic pistols. She frequently shifts from one to the other in a character’s hands.

“There’s a difference between stealing a diamond necklace for yourself and being hired to steal it.” “There wouldn’t be the least difference if you were caught!” “Perhaps not. But I shouldn’t be caught. I’m so clever.” “Modesty always was your besetting sin.”

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

‘The sea never forgives you.’

Hard science fiction from the dawn of the space age. (First published in 1958) Anderson engages even modern readers with deep characterization and realistic plotting. Plenty of interpersonal conflict, but it’s reality which threatens.

‘Do you expect any trouble?’ ‘One is never certain. The great human mistake is to anticipate. The totally relaxed and unexpectant man is the one prepared for whatever may happen: he does not have to get out of an inappropriate posture before he can react.’

The technical gaffs are less noticeable than many more recent SF stories, though the appearance of a slide rule may give many contemporary readers pause.

‘That is one way to destroy yourself … hoping. You must accept the worst, because there is always more of the worst than the best in this universe.’

English spelling and punctuation.

‘One sin which is punished with unfailing certainty, and must therefore be the deadliest sin in all time. Stupidity.’

Book Review: East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon by Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen (Three Stars)

Book Review: East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon with Other Norwegian Folk Tales, Retold by Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen (Three Stars)

A compendium of Norwegian folk tales: some familiar, some not, published by the Gutenberg Project. Most stories have a shaggy-dog-story format with repetitive iterations numbing the reader’s mind.

Excellent illustrations by Frederick Richardson.

(post on blog 7 April 21)

The Wicked Wit of England by Geoff Tibballs (Three Stars)

The Wicked Wit of England by Geoff Tibballs (Three Stars)

“If there is another war, the Italians will be on Germany’s side,” said Joachim von Ribbentrop. Winston Churchill replied, “That seems only fair; we had them last time.”

Some really wicked humor; mostly lame. A pleasant collection by the compiler of several similar tomes.

“Bagpipes sound exactly the same when you have finished learning them as when you start.” Sir Thomas Beecham

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Five Stars)

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

Excellent. Award-winning journey of self-, world-, and supernatural-discovery by likeable protagonist. Hero’s journey format exactly fits Coelho’s purpose. Fun reading.

“It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

Respectfully, if not accurately melds Jewish, Christian, and Islamic spiritual inputs to Santiago’s growth. Santiago is simultaneously everyone and unique. Partisans of each faith may be offended, but Coelho provides and intimate, yet global search for identity and promise.

“You have been a real blessing to me. Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse.”

Quibbles: so many errors about north Africa geography and cultures that readers will suspect Coelho drew his details from Arabic sources. Bedouin, clothing conventions, and oasis details are clearly inventions to serve the story, not to be taken as credible.

“The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect.”

Book Review: The Middle Ages by Morris Bishop (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Middle Ages by Morris Bishop (Four Stars)

“Our judgments of the Middle Ages as a whole must be relative to our assessment of our own age. It was an age of superstition; and so is ours, though the superstitions are different.”

An overview, not a history, of the Middle Ages. Lots of context, few specifics. In this case, that’s good. Readers put off by lists of kings and battles will find a topical collection essays on what was really going on in the lives of real people.

“In a deeper sense, the Middle Ages were a continuation of the ancient peasant culture that goes back 10,000 or 20,000 years, to the Stone Age.”

A healthy antidote to common misperceptions about what life was really like between AD 50 and 1500.

“Animal fat for cooking was in short supply, for it was in great demand to make candles, soap, and axle grease; a pound of fat cost as much as four pounds of lean meat.”

Repeatedly touches people and events which impact modern (in 1968, when published) pop culture–Joan of Arc and King Arthur–whether fact or fiction.

“Men were not ignorant of the things they needed to know – practical agriculture, weapon-making, the strategies of survival; and they had no interest in rediscovering the speculations of ancient sages.”

Book Review: Red Thunder by John Varley (Four Stars)

Book Review: Red Thunder (Thunder and Lightning #1) by John Varley (Four Stars)

“The Apollo program was possibly the stupidest way of getting somewhere the human mind has yet achieved … but it was the only way to win the ‘race.’”

A playful exercise in wish fulfillment through miracles in science. Gives the reader a premise—a new, source of power—and runs with the implications, as experienced by a late teen on Florida’s east coast.

“Do you trust your government that far, Sam?” “I’m an American.” “So am I, and God bless her, forever. But that’s not what I asked you.”

Published in 2003 but has a pre-9-11 vibe. Plenty of intentional political incorrectness but strive to be inclusive in a greater sense.

“Don’t do anything. I’ll be right over.” I figured not doing anything didn’t apply to fishing. If you’re seriously doing something when you’re fishing, you’re missing the whole point.

Great adolescent voice. Naïve about science, politics, economics, girls … just about everything. Which is perfect.

“Remember our cardinal rule. If you think you might need it, bring it. Right?” “Roger. And if you really have to have it, bring three.”

Quibbles: Lots, but few that destroy the story’s vibe. “We lost the antenna,” Despite the preceding quote, several critical components had no back-up or spare. “One of the tires turned into black confetti. … and I didn’t bring a spare.” Or “Our radar equipment had been scavenged from … the nose of an old fighter plane. It was the best we could do.” They could do lots better, and an “old fighter plane” would have meant tubes, which would not have worked, even if you could have mounted the fool thing on Red Lightning. “So for every pound of oxygen we bring we’ll also be bringing four pounds of nitrogen.” No, we don’t metabolize nitrogen.

“Travis was a terrific storyteller. … stories of space, and of rocket piloting, of guys and girls actually getting out there and doing it. Kissing the sky.”

Book Review: The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman (Three Stars)

“You might have saved my friend. But I do not trust you.” “When you begin to trust, the friendship the world has spun for us will be put in motion.”

A good-hearted if naïve coming of age science fiction set is a far future dystopic “Erth.” Stereotypical characters act in the expected ways. Predictable but well-developed plot arc–teens against the big bad guys trying to save the world.

Antiquity lowered the knife. “Why you not ending me?” the golem implored. “I not real.”
“You are real enough,” Antiquity said, decision made. “Besides, you are about the only family I have left.”

Antiquity will appeal to some readers as a plucky female lead. Other will be irritated by her Mary Sue ability to shed each adversity almost as soon as it manifests.

“Do you see what’s down there, Chekker? Are your sensors shot? Look!” “I do. I see trouble.”
“Trouble finds me all by itself, you old bot!”

Indestructible robot sidekick, enemies turned allies, and enigmatic ancient advisor. Who needs light sabers when you have dragons? Nice cover art.

Be the change of the moment,” the old woman said. “My love for you would be remiss if I did not prepare you for the world such as it is, not the world we wish it would be. And that world is coming for us even as we speak.”