Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tom Clancy

 Sad news today that Tom Clancy has passed away. There was a time in the mid 90s where I pretty much just reread his books repeatedly. Creating my interest in espionage fiction which pretty much lasted up into the disintegration of the genre around 9/11. Yes sure he wasn't much of a stylist and as the series continued Jack Ryan became far too all-knowing and powerful in spite of that he could tell a story. Even with the tendency to make the villains into whatever cardboard cutout the GOP was currently angry or frightened of [lesbian KGB agent?] I would put Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and Without Remorse up against just about everything else in the genre. Particularly "Remorse"as a tour de force revenge plot.  I drifted away when he just stamped his name on others work and when all of the Ryan relatives came out of the woodwork. Now I'm worried since these always seem to happen in sets of three.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn Prince

Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff
by Cathryn Prince

What a mess of a book. Okay where to begin? The jacket copy trumpets eyewitness sources but they're not really long enough to fill out this short book. In many places this thing reads like a stretched magazine article. The length is padded with superficial  background material. Instead of providing context and often just got in the way.

The book is about the sinking of the  Wilhelm Gustloff Prince points out repeatedly that the loss of life was worse than the Titanic. Yes it's the largest ever maritime disaster. Curiously the actual sinking takes just one short chapter. We hear more about the individuals lives during World War II than anything else. There's also repeated statements that the history has been buried or somehow suppressed. No to my knowledge there have been at least two English-language books on the sinking although admittedly not in the last 30 years. Also the idea that the government would suppress discussion of it after the war seems strange.

The terrifying thing is that the book has some hilariously bad errors. That 5 seconds on Google should have obliterated from the text. This says something both about Prince and Palgrave Macmillan who really don't care at this point. For instance Regina is in Saskatchewan not Ontario. Contradictions between the eyewitness accounts aren't dealt with. Either pointed out or balanced. For instance just how many torpedoes hit the ship? At one point it says there were 69 people in a lifeboat but some of them fell off before they could be rescued. However several pages later it says that 70 people were rescued from the same lifeboat. So which is it? I understand this is a chaotic event that's being remembered 70 years on but at least try to deal with the contradiction. Part of the historians job is to come to a determination on these things.

The book concludes with a very abbreviated discussion of whether or not the sinking was justified. Considering that this was still during wartime where the ship was carrying at least some military personnel as well as sailing under blackout conditions. I am left completely baffled as to what exactly the Soviet submarine captain was supposed to do instead.

Not recommended avoid.



This was received through LibraryThing's early review program. Just think how much I would've hated it if I had to pay for it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans by Lewis L. Gould


Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans
by Lewis L. Gould

This is as the title would suggest a history of the Republican Party from its roots as an abolitionist group of Northerners who constructed it off of the wreckage of the Wig Party.   That supported a tariff and internal improvements to the modern anti-government low taxes, Southern strategy using party we know today. Gould constructs his narrative around the presidential of ministrations he views to be the most important in describing the party. They are Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan. Perhaps the most surprising of those is Eisenhower. The case is made rather convincingly that he caused a break between the leadership of the party who wanted a more "East Coast" Republican as opposed to Southern/Midwestern where the parties base was. The bass taking their revenge by nominating Goldwater and Nixon. Unfortunately the other sections of the book often turn into fights with other historians as well as lists of individuals that he'd concedes have been forgotten today. Unfortunately he rarely explains why we should remember them. Only that they were important at one time or another.

What I found most interesting was the discussions of the various campaigns. How in the 1860s presidential candidates were actually looked down on if they gave public speeches. Which just wouldn't work today. Also that mudslinging isn't a recent development by any means.

Recommended.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dear Idiots at Shaw

It is unlikely for the person who pays the TV bill to be at home at 2 PM on a Monday afternoon. If they are there probably sick and don't want to discuss TV channel packages.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale
by Ian Fleming

 Curiously looking back on my reading particularly when I was a teenager there are a few gaps. One of those are the Fleming Bond books. I do have a vague memory of reading one of the later novels written by someone else. Though I can't remember the title and looking through the list it doesn't really jump out at me. In any event due to a sale of Kindle books I was able to pick up the original series of 14.

This is the first, Bond is sent to a French casino to defeat a French Soviet agent. So that the Soviets would then kill him off for them. The book is plotted strangely at least two modern sensibilities. The storyline ends about half of the way through then we were on to something else dealing with Bond's relationship with a female agent sent to help him. They're such a violent break I almost wonder if this was written as two separate short stories originally but I haven't been able to find any evidence of that.

Unlike the Bond of the films he is frequently outwitted and make some simplistic errors. That if this was being written today I can't see them not being questioned by an editor. I can't decide if this is idiot plodding or more that the plot devices used were fresh and new half a century ago where now they would be tired and hackneyed.

Bond really is a miserable excuse for a human being. Which I was expecting it still a bit jarring. Often criticized for his views towards women it should be noted he doesn't think much of most of the men he comes in contact with as well. With the possible exceptions of M and the American agent.

Recommended as background reading on the genre.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Stuart Britain: A Very Short Introduction by John Morrill

Stuart Britain: A Very Short Introduction
by John Morrill

Sometimes I'll go out and grab a short synthesist study just to get caught up with recent research. Then again this thing is from 2000 so maybe so not much with the whole up to date thing. In any event as the title suggests it covers the Stuart control of Britain and the Civil War.

It's mostly done in sections based on the Monarch at the time. Leading off with a Section that covers economics and demographics. Which in many respects was the most interesting part of the book. The discussion of the slowdown in population growth and stresses that put on the economy.

Perhaps surprisingly for a book written at the beginning of the 21st century mostly holds onto the big man view of history. As far as discussion of social movements go it's pretty much limited to the religious controversies that popped up. More space is given over to the monarchs and their leadership styles.

Coverage of the Civil War is brief but brings up a few points that I hadn't considered. The fighting was limited geographically. That many areas pretty much stayed neutral even if they officially endorsed one side or the other.

Is typical for these volumes there's a further reading section of a couple of pages.

Recommended though it's probably out of date.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Hollywood Economist 2.0:The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies by Edward Jay Epstein

The Hollywood Economist 2.0:The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies
by Edward Jay Epstein

This is a collection of articles that discuss the movie industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. The topics all have to do as the title would suggest with the economics of filmmaking. How the studios make their money and all of the creative bookkeeping that make sure they keep most of the profits. There are smaller sections on movie theaters as well as TV and at that time the beginnings of digital downloads.

I did find the information useful especially the breakdowns of contracts for different stars and positions. I had heard the old saying how Star Wars had never officially broken even but now understand how it's done. As well as the contortions that the studios will go to on paper at least lose money.

This being a collection of previously published pieces sometimes a concept will be mentioned and not exactly explained until 20 pages later in a completely different section. I would've preferred a little more work done to even out the rough edges.

Recommended.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home by Matthew Pinsker

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home
by Matthew Pinsker

This is an unusual book about the American Civil War. Unlike most which show focus on a specific individual, unit or campaign this looks at a location and how interactions around it shaped the wider war. This is the Soldiers' Home a collection of buildings originally created to house disabled veterans of American conflicts on the outskirts of Washington DC. In the summers Abraham Lincoln and his family lived there in the evenings to get out of the heat of the White House.

Buried in the back of the book is the information that this was essentially a work for hire job to promote the building which recently received historical site status. If I had known that I would've been a bit more leery about purchasing it. The biggest problem is there often isn't any context. For instance much is made of Lincoln meeting with visitors who just showed up unannounced. The question is how unusual was this compared to the behavior at the White House? We are never really told.

The narrative is pretty much linear covering each of the summers that they stayed there. The major decisions that were made and dealing with any primary sources that talk about meetings or appointments that took place at the home.

Pinsker goes to great pains pointing out that different and unusual sources are being used to use as documentation. However frequently after analyzing them for a page or two they are discarded as being unreliable. This seemed to be more like padding than anything else.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information is Lincoln's view of his personal safety. How he had to be encouraged to have a cavalry unit stationed with him. As well as the friendship he had with some of the officers from the unit.

Mildly recommended for the novelty value.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hind


Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch
by Richard Hind

Russell Wiley a middle-aged corporate drone with a failing marriage and miserable work environment navigates the office politics of his newspapers sales division. Everything seems to be going wrong for him. Surrounded by fellow employees who are burned out or incompetent. Management that is more interested in protecting their own well-being then the business. While at home his wife is showing zero interest in him.

This is solidly in the modern workplaces are horrible The Office or Dilbert vain. Even though this is well trod territory at this point Hind manages to inject humor and some humanity in his characters. Even ones were not supposed to like we can at least see where they're coming from. I was already to recommend this with a highly recommended that was until the ending.

I won't give it away but it manages to break from an completely ignore much of the argument made in the first 90% of the book. It's too cleaned to neet. I don't believe that it would happen. It's also too jarring if it had been a gradual change I maybe would've gotten behind it more.

Mildly recommended I'll be looking for the authors next book.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

This was written by the not so obscure author J. K. Rowling. I like most people only heard of it when it came out a few weeks after it was published that it was her writing it. Naturally I ran over and picked up the Kindle edition which meant that I haven't had to deal with any delays involving the supply chain. I would've figured that the publisher would've had stock on hand for when the word leaked out.

In the opening scene a model falls from a balcony. The police assume it was suicide. Her distraught adopted brother calls in a private investigator to look again at the case. In the best hard-boiled tradition Cormoran Strike is a hard drinking down on his luck guy with some ghosts in his past. Surprisingly he actually manages not to check the womanizer box although I suppose that's a bit debatable.

In fact the whole book is very much solidly in the hard-boiled detective novel tradition. There are flourishes which do show it's Rowling. Unusual character names and head scratching figures of speech though they're not as distracting as they were in "Vacancy". For the most part the characters are actually likable which is something else I did enjoy about it.

Apparently there's a sequel already planned. I suspect that I'll be ordering it as soon as it comes back out. This certainly isn't to the heights of Harry Potter but it's much better than I thought it was going to be when the story broke.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Hunt for Hitler's Warship by Patrick Bishop

German naval history particularly in WWII often seems to me to be reduced to the U-boats and of course the sinking of the Bismarck. One storie that is usually covered in passing but had an effect on the war in the northern Atlantic is the attempts to destroy the Tirpitz. Feared for what it could do to the convoys first that's applied Britain then after its movement to Norway the Arctic route that supplied the Soviet Union.

Patrick Bishop in The Hunt for Hitler's Warship has produced in excellent narrative of the various attempts to sink the ship with naval surface ships, submarines and bombing. Even though he has a lot of ground to cover he never loses the thread down in the details. At the same time providing enough information for the reader.  I didn't spot any thing I can nitpick as far as facts go.

I was particularly interested in the use of primary sources. He quotes extensively from eyewitness accounts. Which nicely breaks up the discussions of tactics and strategy. I was struck by the comparisons with the behavior of the Germans in WWI where after Jutland they were unwilling to challenge the Royal Navy. That being said the RN used an a ray of resources to make sure the Tirpitz was trapped. Bomber Command required eventually to be the ones to finish it off for good.

The book contains the usual academic apparatus. With extensive notes and a bibliography Bishop a journalist has put forward here a book which deservedly should take its place on the Naval warfare bookshelf.

Highly recommended!

Note: this book was provided for review by TLC.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror by Matthew M. Aid

Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror 
by Matthew M. Aid 


 This book describes the American intelligence apparatus throughout the first Obama administration. I actually read it before the current issues with the NSA came to light though it does have some interesting things to say about that why they thought prism was a good idea and the probable outcomes.

The book is divided into sections most of them geographical. The largest are on Afghanistan, Pakistan Iran and North Korea. There are smaller sections on the Americas and Europe. Should be noted there is coverage of homegrown terrorism though as one of the analysts points out to the author it's almost impossible to know what's going to happen till it actually does. Which of course was something that was demonstrated by the Boston bombing.

Perhaps most interesting is what the book does not talk about. The biggest gap is the lack of material on China except for a brief section in the conclusion. For that matter Russia is dealt with in just a few pages mostly describing intelligence failures. I could be charitable about this and assume that the reason why there wasn't more was that such operations are extremely sensitive for geopolitical concerns.

He identifies various problems with American intelligence gathering. The biggest of this is something he calls "data crush". The idea is that the Americans are excellent at gathering all sorts of intelligence but terrible at refining it into usable end product. One of his interviewees describes it as being like if you hired someone to paint a painting but all they do is keep buying paint. This makes sense in light of the NSA program. They were excited about the idea of getting a look at everyone's email and other data but probably have no useful way to look at it beyond keyword searching. He describes how databases at the CIA often provide no-hit responses even when they should be there. He also highlights the bureaucratic infighting between the various agencies. How Homeland Security failed to become a true clearinghouse for information. How both the FBI and CIA managed to undermine the attempts to rationalize the structure of the community.

Much of the reporting is based on interviews many of them anonymous. The rest appears to be gleaned from public congressional hearings as well as declassified documents.

Highly recommended all sorts of interesting tidbits here about the 2008-2012 era.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick


The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

This is one of those classics of science fiction that I've been meaning to read but didn't get around to it until now. The Kindle edition is on discount so I decided to give it a try. The book posits an alternate history where the axis was victorious in the second world war seizing territory in North America. The West Coast is controlled by the Japanese while the east is by the Germans with a small buffer state in between. The book follows the lives of a half-dozen characters all of which are affected by a novel inside the novel which describes an Allied victory.

After reading this I can see why it's considered a classic but I find myself more respecting it and actually liking it. Part of the problem is the ending which lands with a thud. Yes I understand the point he's trying to make and he apparently in an interview in the 1970s admitted there wasn't much of an ending and he was working on a sequel but that never happened.

Considering my background in military history I can also quibble over the victory he describes of both the forces in the novel as well as the novel within the novel but I'll let that slide.

Recommended as a signpost in science fiction.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy
by Paul Thomas Murphy


 This book covers the eight different attempts by seven individuals to assassinate Queen Victoria. It alternates sections between what the queen was doing at the time and her various assassins. All of the attempts except for one involved pistols of varying quality and a majority were found not criminally liable due to insanity. More than just a history of the attempts the book also covers treatment and legal changes that took place during the 19 century. There's also a good dose of general British history as well as analysis how each attempt help shape the modern monarchy.

The style is more on the popular history side as opposed to academic. He does tend to go into mind reading mode at times which normally I find irritating but there is a charm about the text which meant I was less annoyed and I usually would be. The meandering narrative reminds me of Jan Morris books which is perhaps why I'm giving a pass here. Political motivation appears to have been lacking with all of the attempts which is perhaps why in all my other meetings on Victorian history I've only come across one of the attempts. At this stage it's where for me to find a new set of historical events so that was good.

Recommended.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

Wolfhound Century
byPeter Higgins

It seems like these days if you want to get a book published in genre it has to be a mashup of two others. For instance here we have a detective story based roughly in a Russian setting combined with folktales which are presumably Russian as well. I'm not particularly familiar with Russian folktales but I think I was able to keep up. It doesn't help that much of the narrative is around dialogue some of it purposely obscure. The writing is on the literary end of the spectrum. Basically the plot involves an investigator brought in by the head of the secret police to investigate a criminal. Things are not of course as they seen in this book is evidently the first in a series. I received this as a review copy I would've been unlikely to pick it up otherwise but I did enjoy it. Even though it took a bit to get used to. I'm actually looking forward to the next book in the series so I hope it gets published.

Recommended

.

 Book was part of LibraryThing's early reviewer program.-

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 by Gene Allen Smith

The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812
by Gene Allen Smith

 A different book on the war of 1812. It deals with the decision of slaves to either find their freedom with the British or stay with the Americans. It also covers the attempts on both sides to arm them. There's also coverage of the conflict with Spain over parts of Florida. The fear with narratives such as this is that they turn into a list of anecdotes but fortunately that is not the case here. His conclusion that the success of the armed free man for the Americans and runaway slaves for the British increased southerners fears of a slave rebellion in the era between the conflict and the Civil War. Causing more restrictions to be put in place Makes sense.

Highly recommended.

Book was part of LibraryThing's early reviewer program.-

Monday, February 25, 2013

Daytona 500 and the Oscars

Because at this point I'm just too lazy to do two posts so we're going to do this in one. Although I will actually put them in separate paragraphs so feel free to skip to the one you're interested in.

Without Denica or the Toyota engine fiasco the commentators would of had absolutely nothing to talk about in the Great American Race. Driving around in a single line for 180 laps or so isn't what I call racing. If things are this bad at the intermediate tracks then this is going to be one very long season.

The Oscars I wasn't a big fan of who one. Being a  Canadian I'm annoyed by Argo's creative use of history. Certainly not the first time Canadians were cutout of the historical record. Life of Pi also annoyed me as well. Again for the same  Canadian reasons.

I wasn't exactly a fan of  Seth MacFarlane hosting. He has his standard half-dozen or so comedic bits and I wasn't sure they were going to mesh well with the telecast. Yes the boobs song was funny. I see that the left-wing indignation machine has ramped up. I expect this sort of nonsense from the right. Twist something around out of context then turn it into a strawman then pound away at it for a while. It just means in the future I won't be taking these people seriously. Cry Wolf et cetera.

The Clooney joke was not about the little kid. I repeat that it was not about the little kid. It was about Clooney's tendency to dispose of his "arm candy" which do tend to be quite a bit younger than him but legal. If anything I would have thought that feminists would've been applauding the joke not complaining about it.

There also seems to be quite a bit of rage that many of the reporters couldn't pronounce 
Quvenzhan√© Walli's name. This is not all that unusual. There's a tendency to do this with any name that's outside of the usual Anglo family. Do we really think that if say an actress from Ukraine had been up for an award they would've been pronouncing her name flawlessly? Heck during the red carpet show I had a miserable time pronouncing Kristin Chenoweth. Yes they should've done their homework and practiced it that's being a professional but to somehow extend this to racism/misogyny seems a bit much.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nebula ballot and "girly" fantasy

From what I can tell the latest Playmore in the science fiction and fantasy community was started off by two anonymous comments from here. That being said I fully expect that the next week or so is going to be taken up with all sorts of earnest posts about gender and genre including reading lists and the like. There is an aspect of this which comes down to don't feed the trolls but I don't think that's going to be taken into account. I've seen this play out many times online often within this community. I'm just tired. When it burns itself out in a week or two no one is going to be satisfied. I'd rather use my energy reading.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War by Dale Maharidge

 Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War
by Dale Maharidge

This book describes the authors relationship with his father. Troubled as it was by the events of World War II. After his death he did what he could to research his unit and why he was affected. The research is pretty much the narrative of the book. We do get discussions about military actions but they are fragmentary and he doesn't bother coalescing them into one larger narrative. Since I usually read more traditional military history I found this to be frustrating.

Clearly Maharidge has quite a bit of anger most of it leveled at the decision-makers in the Pacific campaign. He finds Admiral Nimitz personally responsible for his dads PTSD. Intellectually I think this is a hard case to make. In the section on PTSD he doesn't acknowledge that the research shows that everyone has a breaking point at some point.

I found the research impressive and the writing is very good. If you treat this more as a memoir and biography that a military history then you'll get more from it.

Recommended for anyone interested in the effects of the war on the generation that followed.


This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Life in Politics by Jacques Chirac

This is as the title would suggest the political memoirs of the French President. For North American readers the section on the lead up to the invasion of Iraq will probably be the most interesting. There isn't much new added here although some of the behind-the-scenes communication between the forces allied against invasion was interesting. My knowledge of French modern politics is pretty limited i was however able to follow the earlier sections of the book which layout his career.

One unfortunate thing which I'm not sure if it's the fault of the translation or the original text is that much of this reads like a summary. He wants to rush quickly through his early life to get to the presidency. This means that several important events including at least one constitutional crisis gets very limited coverage. I realize the book is a political memoir but the occasional vignettes about his family life are a times much more enlightening than his thoughts about to us in North America obscure politicians.

Miley recommended.

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Great Escape and Revisionist Drivel

So according to this article the Great Escape was militarily reckless and shouldn't have been attempted. I realize he's trying to sell his book controversy being what it is. However the argument on its face value is ridiculous.

Setting aside the obvious that the first duty of prisoners of war is to try to escape the idea of well the war was going to be over so just stay there doesn't pass the smell test. Even if it did when exactly would this sort of logic "be acceptable"? After 1943 or maybe 1942 after the Americans entered?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

USMC Professional Reading List

A new one of these was just released this time by Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.  One of those projects I always thought about doing never got around to it was reading through the contents of the various lists.  Last considering it about five years ago but after reading the Air Force list at the time I gave it up. The list is quirky. I'm amazed that On War doesn't appear anywhere. Much of it would be picked up secondhand from the other books but it's so central to western military thought that even people who disagree with it still have to name check it. There's also a smattering of pop history nonsense particularly the Tuchman and Hanson.

 I have actually reviewed some of it here. Links go to my reviews. I liked Supplying War:Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton by Martin Van Creveld and War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province by Jeffrey Race I wasn't a big fan of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman. There are some here that I've read that haven't reviewed. Could be worth taking them out particularly the Slim and Rommel.

The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass by Bill Maher

The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass
by Bill Maher

 At this stage I doubt many people need an introduction to Bill Maher, rabid left wing atheist and famously a pothead.  He is very left wing.  Even more so than me (yes dad me).  So what we get here are the usual topics in fast short essay form.  War is bad, Health Care System horrible, republicans really bad and Tea Party members worse than Satan, if he existed.  There were times when I did laugh out loud.  Interspersed through these are short one liners the "new rules".  Think of them as equivalent to stand up jokes.

I'm not sure how they read on the printed page.  I had it in audiobook form.  Even though he's not using a live crowd to work off of his timing is still excellent.  I'd probably recommend the audiobook although the link down below goes to the print version.

Recommended.


Is this thing on?

Well time to fire this thing up again.  For the record only read 54 books in 2012.  No real point in doing a best of post.  Looking back on the list nothing really jumped out as being mind blowing.  As for the reason behind the low number well let's just say there been a few distractions over the past year.  So to a better 2013.