Book Review: Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas

(Four Stars)

“It is remarkable how little concern men seem to have for logic, statistics, and even, indeed, survival: we live by emotion, prejudice, and pride.” DDE

Another timely correction to the popular and scholarly evaluation of the presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower. For years both the media and academia have repeated a false, sometimes willfully so, image of our 34th president.

“The hatchet job was one of the most lasting and effective in political history.”

Thorough research and clear prose undergird Thomas’s work. Unlike what we read at the time and since, he reveals Continue reading

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Book Review: The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Quantum Magician (The Quantum Evolution Book 1) by Derek Künsken

(Four Stars)

“The world has its own mysteries. We only begin to understand what they are after they’ve already passed.” “That’s a very quantum thing to say.”

The blurb talks about a con. Sure, there’s a sting–several of them–but expect much more. Excellent specie building, good inner voice, plenty of team building–and team breaking. Space opera action leavened with introspective musings.

“I’ll provide you moral and spiritual guidance.” “That sounds pointless, as I don’t have a soul. I’m simply trying to help you achieve your goals.” “You have a soul. I’ve been watching you for years. Your problem is your soul is torn in two.”

What an ensemble cast, including a saint! If I tell you, it spoils the fun. Not all homo sapiens, but very well drawn.

“You were giving me a line in my chapel, about this being fated. You meant to con me, but you were telling the truth.” “I said it because it was meaningful to you, like my nonexistent soul. Just because neither exists to me doesn’t mean they don’t exist for you. I’m homo quantus; I live in an observer-dependent world where very important things can exist and not exist at the same time.” “Somethings exist whether you believe them or not, including meaning.”

Hooray a science fiction author who takes gravity seriously.

“The book form has more explicit swearing that the Analog Magazine editor and I cleaned up for the serialization because Analog circulates in some high schools,” Künsken wrote on Goodreads.com. I’m with the editor; too much gratuitous swearing. Cost him a star.

“Are we going to get killed?” she whispered.  “Saint Matthew is piloting. They’ll know what we did, probably in less than an hour. By then, we’ll have vanished.” “Like a magician?” He smiled. “A little bit.”

Book Review: Seven Days: The Emergence of Lee by Clifford Dowdey (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Seven Days: The Emergence of Lee and the Dawn of a Legend by Clifford Dowdey

(Four Stars)

“McClellan was in fact the most modern of generals then active: he was an executive. His talents were m [sic] organization and administration. But, as a general, McClellan hated to go near a battlefield.”

Most students of history know that George McClellan almost won the Civil War in the spring of 1862. This book explains why … and why not. A monumental effort, involving tracking every major unit of both armies, often with biographies of commanders down to the brigade level. Weather, ordnance and rations are detailed.

“The next day the guns in the unfinished fort at Drewey’s Bluff, turned back the James River fleet of the U. S. Navy, nowhere in the war did so few accomplish so much in significance of the course of the war followed.” (Did you know? I didn’t, but Continue reading

Book Review: The Dead and Those About to Die: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach by John C. McManus (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Dead and Those About to Die: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach by John C. McManus

(Four Stars)

“Only two kinds of people are going to be on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die. Now get moving!” Col. George Taylor, lead assault regiment commander

D-Day up close and personal. A significant addition to the record of the sacrifice made by thousands of Americans to free Europe from the tyranny of Adolph Hitler. Closely researched and described to put the reader right among the soldiers dying in the water, on the sand, and on the slopes of Fortress Europa.

“All the beauty of the world was gone. Nothing mattered now except this brutal moment, and survival.”

The only way to make sense out of the senseless mess Continue reading

Book Review: The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

(Three Stars)

“The story of an American soldier whose involvement in making the world’s greatest dictionary was singular, astonishing, memorable, and laudable–and yet at the same time wretchedly sad.”

The engaging tale of how William C. Minor, an American doctor, came to be imprisoned for most of his adult life in an English insane asylum, yet from those confines became a major contributor to one of the greatest works of scholarship of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“The English, who had raised eccentricity and poor organization to a high art, and placed the scatterbrained on a pedestal, loathed such Middle European things as rules, conventions, and dictatorships.”

With hardly more material than might make a good periodical article, Winchester inflates the story with details extraneous, untrue (and he tells why they’re untrue) and extensive excerpts from the OED itself–fortunately, not at length.

“No one had a clue what they were up against: they were marching blindfolded through molasses.”

Along the way, the reader is entertained by the naiveté and persistence of the editors, especially James Murray, in producing this monumental undertaking.

“There is a cruel irony in this–that if he had been so treated [psychologically], he might never have felt impelled to work on it as he did. In a sense doing all these dictionary slips was his medication; in a way they became his therapy.”

Movie Review: They Shall Not Grow Old, directed and produced by Peter Jackson (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: They Shall Not Grow Old, directed and produced by Peter Jackson

(Four Stars)

A film of World War One “by a non-historian for non-historians” from the point of view of the British infantry soldier on the Western (European) Front. All film footage is from the Imperial War Museums’ archive restored and colorized, narrated by the voices of soldiers who served in it. The result is a terribly intimate view of the horror of World War One.

Some of the footage is not appropriate for children or the weak of stomach.

If you go, by all means stay for the half-hour short following the closing credits of Peter Jackson explains his production process.

 

Book Review: British Forts in the Age of Arthur by Angus Konstam (Three Stars)

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Book Review: British Forts in the Age of Arthur by Angus Konstam

(Three Stars)

In his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill described this period as night falling on Britain, followed by hundreds of years of darkness, then dawn rising on England with everything changed. Konstam’s survey of recent archology and study of fortifications built or renewed during that obscure time casts a bit of light into the gloom.

This book is part of a series by Osprey Publishing related to ancient and medieval warfare. Some overlap to previous Konstam/Osprey volumes.

Excellent illustrations by Peter Dennis. I have visited several of these sites. Both the photographs and illustrations bring out the nature of the “Age of Arthur” efforts better than seeing them. That said, if you have the chance, do visit them.

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

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