Book Review: The Fremantle Diary: A Journal of the Confederacy by James Fremantle (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Fremantle Diary: A Journal of the Confederacy by James Fremantle

(Four Stars)

“Nowhere is the ignorance of what is passing in the South more profound than it is in the Northern States.” Fremantle 1864

A fascinating primary document from the height of the Civil War: An English officer traverses the Confederacy, interviewing the leaders and soldiers. His assessment: even after Gettysburg the South could have won. Granted, by that time he had Stockholm Syndrome symptoms. His northern contacts didn’t enlighten him otherwise.

“All these [sectional] interests disappeared when the war ended. People wanted only to forget, and the diary was buried with the past. Today, the national mood has changed. Sectional bitterness has given way to a common pride in the glory and courage of both sides.” Walter Lord, 1954

On the other hand, as the preceding quote indicates the 1954 editor missed the mark entirely.

“A people in which all ranks and both sexes display a unanimity and a heroism which can never have been surpassed in the history of the world is destined, sooner or later, to become a great and independent nation.” Fremantle

Fremantle’s journey and journal were equally amazing. Landing in Mexico, he traveled across the south, sharing public transportation and accommodations with common travelers, connecting with Confederate leaders whenever possible, who usually welcomed him into their confidences and occasionally their staff, all the time understanding he had no official standing (but perhaps still hoped England might save them). to return home, he traversed the North as far as New York City and shared passage to England with Northern partisans.

“But the mass of respectable Northerners, although they may be willing to pay, do not very naturally feel themselves called upon to give their blood in a war of aggression, ambition, and conquest.” Fremantle

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Book Review: The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George White, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America by Randy Petersen

(Five Stars)

“Franklin was a newspaperman and Whitefield was news.” John R. Williams

A remarkable study of the two men who most shaped the personality of American before the Revolution. Today one is a cultural icon, the other unknown; then Whitefield was better known than Franklin.

“Not only a sense of charity, but of empowerment.”

Sympathetic descriptions of the motives, actions and goals of all parties. He is especially positive to both explicate and reconcile the differences between Franklin and Whitefield. Both wanted the best for their fellow man, even though each had his own motives. The reader may feel Peterson occasionally protests too much, but Continue reading

Book Review: 1919 Versailles by Charles L. Mee Jr. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: 1919 Versailles: The End of the War to End All Wars by Charles L. Mee Jr.

(Four Stars)

“It is always easier to start a war than to end one, let alone win it. … Harshness and vengeance nearly always return to haunt those who impose them. But of all the lesson that Versailles leaves us with, certainly the most insistent is that of the inability of the few any longer to govern the many.”

Exhaustive rendering of how the world’s leaders–especially France’s Clemenceau, Britain’s Lloyd George and America’s Wilson–crowned the horror of World War One with the charade of a “peace” that virtually guaranteed World War Two. That’s not news to most readers, but Woodrow Wilson’s role in raising then dashing international hopes may be.

“[Wilson] believed in words, in their beauty, in their ability to move people, in their power to give shape, and structure, and cohesion to the world–in their power, he appeared to believe, to transform reality.”

Wilson conducted secret negotiations with the Germans before Continue reading

Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

(Three Stars)

“Ask yourself: what is the justice in this case?” A. Lincoln

Exhaustive review of a trial transcript with explanatory amplifications. By the authors’ own admission, Lincoln was already headed toward the presidency, and their work gives no indication how it “propelled him to the presidency,” rather how he dodged a bullet that could have killed his dark horse bid at the Republican nomination.

“I must say I do not think myself fit for the presidency.” A. Lincoln (1959)

Based on the recently recovered transcript of Robert Roberts Hitt. Telling the story from Hitt’s point of view saved the author’s from Continue reading

Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick

(Three Stars)

“Dysfunction came to define the battle that was ultimately named–perhaps appropriately, given its befuddled beginnings–for the wrong hill.”

The tile misleads: an examination of the origins of the American Revolutionary War in New England. Philbrick examines the historical and philosophic roots of Boston’s role as well as the biography of just about every player. He continues the book for a year after the battle, through George Washington’s assumption of command and the British evacuation of Boston.

“Boston’s patriots were not trying to reinvent the world as they then knew it; they were attempting to get back to the way it had been when they were free from imperial restraint.”

Looking under each stone, Philbrick reveals some interesting trivia. For example, the men General Howe attacked on Breed’s Hill funded a Westminster Abbey memorial for his brother, slain in the French and Indian War defending New England.

“Warren saw himself and all New England in a mythic quest that united the here and now of the present generation with the travails of their glorious ancestors.”

Lots of opinion and speculation. Some well-founded, such as the large role Joseph Warren might have played had he survived. Other is gossip, such as whether Warren got a particular girl pregnant out of wedlock.  “In all likelihood … [Warren] got the young woman named Sally Edmonds Pregnant.”

“The success was too dearly bought.” General William Howe

Careful to credit where due, including the often decisive roles of African-Americans

“I wish [we] could sell them another hill at the same price.” Nathanael Greene

Book Review: Three Days in January by Bret Baier (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission by Bret Baier

(Four Stars)

“Is it good for America?” Ike

A welcome contrast to most books by reporters. The norm is shallow, sensational and political, like their reporting (despite their leaning). This is an informative, in-depth look at our 34th president’s last days in office.

Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re: Gently in manner, strong in deed. (Displayed in Oval Office)

Baier telescopes Dwight David Eisenhower’s biography into the first third of the book, focuses on the titular three days during the middle, and devotes the end to Ike’s relations with Continue reading

Movie Review: Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright (Five Stars)

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Movie Review: Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright
Five Stars

“You can not reason with a Tiger when your head is in its mouth.” WC

Excellent costumes, setting and photography. Yes, it’s a lot of dialogue by old, white, rich English men, but it’s important stuff, even–no, especially today. An intimate view at May 1940, the month that may have changed history, from what was likely to what seemed impossible. Incredible performance by Gary Oldman (and the makeup artists).

“Will you stop interrupting me while I am interrupting you!” WC

A relatively painless history lesson. Sometimes real leaders aren’t popular, even within their own party, not that the director meant it to endorse Trump or his style. (And not to suggest that either Trump or Obama were Churchillian leaders.)

“He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” Viscount Halifax

(Director Krennic is king, good heavens!)

 

Book Review: Through Five Administrations by William H. Crook (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, Body-Guard to President Lincoln by William H. Crook

Four Stars

“The newspaperman, then as now, was on the outlook for a sensation. There was less regard for the truth then ….”

I’m a sucker for primary sources, even when–especially when–the writer reveals more about himself and his stop than he intended. Such is the case with this book. Crook takes you into his mind. You experience six presidents from the perspective of one who worked with them closely and personally, but was not involved in the politics of the day.

“It must be taken as for granted that I am somewhat prejudiced.”

Not surprisingly, Crook sees the best of each man, though some reviled each other. He defends each president, even as he acknowledges that some (especially Andrew Johnson) poured burning coals on their own heads.

“A narrow circle of New England theorists who, with their inheritance of inflated ideals and incomplete sympathies, had come to replace, by way of aristocracy, the social traditions of colonial times.”

Snowflake warning: This was written more than a century ago. Crook’s attitudes and expressions will offend modern sensibilities, even of those who agree with him. But if we are denied his point of view, the whole work would be suspect.

“Speeches in both House and Senate … filled with wild alarm, not for the country, but for [their] party.”

Book Review: Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard

Three Stars

“I have so long and so often seen the evil effects of presidential fever upon my associates and friends that I am determined it shall not seize me.” JAG

A fascinating excursion into the period of American history largely ignored. Everyone thinks they know, if they care, all about the series of inept Union generals who stumbled through the then-second floor Yellow Oval Room. Millard corrects our misperception with this very human inquiry into the half-year presidency of James A. Garfield. She explores his life and times and provides supporting vignettes of key persons whose paths to fame or infamy crossed that of the ill-fated Garfield, including Chester Arthur, Joseph Lister, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charles Guiteau.

“Future generations would never know the man [Garfield] had been.”

Well-written, but not as good as her later works. Though this book is well-researched history, Millard strays Continue reading

Book Review: Hero of the Empire by Candace Millard (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candace Millard

Four Stars

“There is an ambition I cherish so keenly, as to gain a reputation for personal courage.” WC

Winston Churchill wanted a war and after three missed attempts–India, Cuba and Sudan–he got it in South Africa’s Boer War. That it was a miserable shame of a war made no difference to Churchill, he was busy inventing himself and nothing short of public acclaim and military honors would do. He got them, and much more.

“Death stood before me. Grim, sullen Death without his light-hearted companion. Chance.” WC

Millard balances the very personal with the historic. Just enough background history and biography to give context without degenerating into a full-fledged biography. Well-researched and well-written.

“When hope has departed, fear had gone as well.” WC

England, on the verge of the Great War, seems to have learned nothing from the American War of Independence nor her colonial experiences in Asia and Africa. As if frozen in some fairy tale, the British army fought the Boer War as if they were facing Napoleon. The results were devastating to both the soldiery and the populace.

“The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues.” Pamela (Plowden) Bulwer-Lytton