Friday, November 30, 2007

Moments in bad spin

It gets better and better. The response from the SFWA president is essentially "trust us". Trust is earned not guaranteed. If there's no confidence in the system it behooves those in charge to provide confidence building exercises. Leaving personnel in place that were directly responsible for the last failure is not an example of this. Saying you will doublecheck their work begs the obvious question of why they're needed in the first place.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Politics of Survival;: The Conservative Party of Canada, 1939-1945 by J. L Granatstein

The Politics of Survival;: The Conservative Party of Canada, 1939-1945 by J. L Granatstein. This is a history describing the transition from the Conservative Party to the Progressive Conservative Party during the second world war. The major issue that the party tryed to gather support on was that of conscription. This pretty much destroyed the party in Qu├ębec and even caused problems in English Canada. Granatstein suggests that the party was so badly mismanaged it was nearly destroyed except for the threat of the CCF.[Co-operative Commonwealth Federation]. This was originally Granatstein's thesis so it has the over-the-top bibliography and primary research one would expect. That being said the writing is clear without too many flourishes. There are footnotes as well as appendices containing abstracts from policy documents.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.



For more WWII book reviews take a look at My World War II bookshelf.

SFWA reshuffles the deck chairs on the Titanic

Why is this not a surprise? And some people think Dilbert is just a cartoon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Make for the Hills: Memories of Far Eastern Wars by Sir. Robert Thompson

Make for the Hills: Memories of Far Eastern Wars by Sir. Robert Thompson is the autobiography of this counterinsurgency expert. He was the RAF liaison with the Chindits in Burma. He was a supporter of Wingate in the postwar controversies. After the war he rejoined the Malayan civil service and helped defeat the Communists during the Malay emergency. He was then off to Vietnam providing expertise to the British and US government's. Particularly Richard Nixon. There is some "I told you so" but it's done in a rather unoffensive way. Although I tend to agree with his analysis so that probably helps. There's quite a bit here on the failure of the Americans to change their style of war fighting to defeat insurgency. If you are at all interested in counterinsurgency this is a necessary book on your bookshelf.

Highly recommended!

For more WWII book reviews Take a look at My World War II bookshelf.

For reviews take a look at My Insurgency/Counterinsurgency, Partisan and Guerrilla Warfare bookshelf.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a history of the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority]. This is a catalog of the various fiascoes and disasters that took place from the fall of Baghdad to June 28, 2004. The one overpowering flaw was that staffing was done on an ideological litmus test. Democrats need not apply. Unfortunately this pretty much destroyed the chance of getting competent people in. Those that were competent were unable to function. There was never an attempt to deal with the big picture mainly security everything was micromanaged. For instance import controls on cars were removed without realizing that there was not enough gasoline refining capacity. This is a superb book..

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.


For more Iraq book reviews take a look at My Iraq bookshelf.

For reviews take a look at My Insurgency/Counterinsurgency, Partisan and Guerrilla Warfare bookshelf.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Rise of Universities by Charles Homer Haskins

The Rise of Universities by Charles Homer Haskins. This is a quite short publication containing three lectures on the medieval University. This was originally published in 1923. The first lecture discusses the founding of the institutions. The second describes professors and the surprising amount of academic freedom as long as religion was avoided. The last is on students and their behavior. There is a decent amount of information considering the length of the book. There's a short biographical note and an updated bibliography.

Recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

I'll review your book, maybe [My book review policy]

Today for the first time I was offered a book to review for the blog. It's a science fiction alternate history. Naturally I've accepted the offer. I've taken enough political science courses that when something new happens I feel the urge to write a set of guidelines so here's my book review policy. I'm happy to review your book if it meets the following criteria.
  • The book falls within the genres I usually read. Don't bother suggesting your contemporary horror or supernatural romance. If there's any doubt suggest it and I'll make the decision. As far as nonfiction just about everything goes.
  • The book must have an ISBN.
  • And most importantly be willing to ship to Canada.
If you want to contact me you can do so through the the comments link on any post. All comments are moderated [since the spam attack this past summer] so it won't be posted. Remember to leave an e-mail address so I can get back to you.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Podcast any thoughts?

I've been considering setting up a podcast. I find that I have less time than I'd like to write out these reviews but often have more to say. A podcast containing "extra commentary" would seem to be a solution. I'd still do a posting probably about the same length as I'm doing now but also include a longer discussion in a podcast. Now here's the question if I bother doing this would anyone actually listened to it? Let me know.

The Defence of Canada Volume 1 In the Arms of the Empire 1760-1939 by Gwynne Dyer and Tina Viljoen

The Defence of Canada Volume 1 In the Arms of the Empire 1760-1939 by Gwynne Dyer and Tina Viljoen. This is a rather controversial history on this topic. A second volume was expected but never published as far as I can tell. This probably has something to do with the reception the documentary this book was based on received. This is a Canadian centered account which is unusual. The introduction deals with some of the criticisms mainly that this is anti-American and isolationist. Dyer and Viljoen claim that they originally expected to do a more traditional perspective but over time realized the contradictions. So an isolationist policy would have been better. There is quite a bit of information the history is an excellent one. Some will be frustrated by the conclusions but this does not change the fact that this is well argued. The writing is very good. Dyer's wit is on display throughout. For example when discussing Sir Sam Hughes: "he couldn't organize a drunk in a brewery."

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Devil's Oasis by Bartle Bull

The Devil's Oasis by Bartle Bull is a novel about the North African campaign in World War II. The main characters consist of a little person who owns a bar in Cairo, a big-game hunter, his son and a French official. The characterization is somewhat over the top a lot of these characters seem to have stepped out of a bad soap opera. Everything is rather melodramatic. I'm pretty sure every female in the cast has at least a DD chest. Basically it's rather silly but still enjoyable. Most of the action involves the characters sleeping with each other and getting revenge for various reasons. The battle sequences are very well written.

Recommended.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hit Man by Lawrence Block

Hit Man by Lawrence Block. This is a collection of linked short stories about the assassin Keller. Most if not all of these originally were published in Playboy. Keller is an average guy who just happens to kill people. The stories revolve around this contradiction as well as his "ethics". Their fun fast-paced each with a hard twist in them.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Of Arms and Men: History of War, Weapons and Aggression by Robert L. O'Connell.

Of Arms and Men: History of War, Weapons and Aggression by Robert L. O'Connell. I'm rather conflicted about this book. This is a discussion of weapons throughout human history. O'Connell has clearly done quite a bit of research. I certainly learned some new things there is definitely some obscure material here. The question of why armed forces want to have comparable weapons is answered by pointing out this is one way to take away possible weapons advantages. Unfortunately the analysis is very much based on the idea of climactic battle. There are also some truly bizarre blanket statements along the way. My favorite being that Sir John Fisher is barely remembered today. He concludes with a discussion of nuclear weapons suggesting this has totally changed warfare. As has been pointed out since 1945 nukes haven't killed anybody. If anything the last 60 years has been the era of the AK-47. The book contains occasional illustrations, notes and a bibliography.

Recommended with the above mentioned caveats.

Is available through Abebooks.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

God's Secret Agents: Queen Elizabeth's Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot by Alice Hogge

God's Secret Agents: Queen Elizabeth's Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot by Alice Hogge. This is a history of the various attempts of the Catholic church to support British Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries. Often the events sound more like a spy novel with informants, torture and executions than a history. The book is very well done and manages to show why both sides behaved as they did. The further complication of the Spanish Armada is analyzed. Perhaps most interesting was the conflicts within the Catholic community between the Jesuits and the other members of the church. The book concludes with the gunpowder plot. I was expecting quite a bit more detail on the plot it seems rather tacked on. The book contains endnotes and a bibliography.

Recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson is the second book in the epic fantasy series Malazan Book of the Fallen. The plot line of this book is rather complex. The action mainly follows a column of refugees trying to make its way through the territory of several tribes which rebelled against the Empire. Their are various other subplots involving an assassination attempt against the Empress. It would be possible to start with this book as opposed to the first.

Highly recommended a superb series.

Is available through Abebooks.



For more Science Fiction and Fantasy book reviews take a look at My Science Fiction and Fantasy bookshelf.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne is a history of this important Western front battle. The doctrines of the French are described particularly the use of fortifications. Description of the battle itself is superb. There is reference to primary accounts as well as secondary sources. The effect of the battle on French history is also analyzed.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

History of the Second World War by B. H. Liddell-Hart

History of the Second World War by B. H. Liddell-Hart is a massive history of this conflict. The structure of the book is basically a narrative history of the war. I was rather surprised that there wasn't more analysis of the various strategies and tactics used. After all Liddell-Hart was a tank theorist Descriptions of the fall of France and Nazi attack on Russia seemed to be rushed. There's quite a bit of "I told you so". The "academic footprint" is minuscule for a 700 page book. There's only 2 pages of bibliography mostly seems to be official histories and memoirs. I was expecting too much I guess.

Recommended it does provide a decent narrative history of the war but if you're looking for something more analytical you'll be disappointed.

Is available through Abebooks.


For more WWII book reviews Take a look at My World War II bookshelf.

Cold Monday by Terence Strong

Cold Monday by Terence Strong is a thriller about the European Union turning into a superstate. The narrator is an assassin for the British government. He sent on various missions which involve killing those the British government wishes to get rid of. Conveniently they were also responsible for killing his wife in a violently cartoonishly weigh. Corruption has been built into the European Union since the beginning now a secret protocol will create a security service to be run by the Mafia, Eastern European spys and Yugoslavian war criminals. The action that takes place is quite good. The broader political machinations of the book are rather silly but they can be easily ignored due to the number of cool explosions. The ending is a little goofy. I saw the betrayal from a good 100 pages away but still this was fun.

Recommended!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Nam-a-rama by Phillip Jennings

Nam-a-rama by Phillip Jennings is a humorous fictional account of an attempt to end the Vietnam War by assassinating Ho Chi Minh. The two "heroes" of the book are Navy pilots who are sent up north to do the assassination with the help of the "Woman from the Barbonella movie" [who parachutes in naked]. A lot of the humor seems to be in the same style as Catch-22. A lot of the plot is simply over-the-top unfortunately much of the humor doesn't work. The funniest parts are actually the low-key sections.

Mildly recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ghosts of Vesuvius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections by Charles Pellegrino

Ghosts of Vesuvius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections by Charles Pellegrino is a disjointed rambling mess. This is supposedly a discussion of volcanoes and their effects on history. There's a description of Pompeii particularly the archaeology. Apparently because the World Trade Center collapse was much like a volcano it to is mentioned. In the intervening 400 pages there is a rambling discussion of the last 8 billion years of natural history, apocalyptic Christian literature, the Titanic and various other things.

It doesn't help that a lot of what he says is complete nonsense. The Byzantine Empire fell in the 6th century AD, 1st century AD Rome was on the brink of the Industrial Revolution. This makes me wonder whether the science sections were nonsense to.

Not recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism by Woodruff D. Smith

The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism by Woodruff D. Smith is a historical/political science analysis of the imperialist school of thought of German 19th and 20th Century history. The book covers the time from Bismarck to Hitler. Much of the discussion is about the two major streams of imperialist thought that was being discussed in Germany those were Weltpolitik and Lebensraum. As far as Hitler and the Nazis go Smith suggests that the Nazis positions were more a cocktail then a well-thought-out ideology. A very interesting work with a substantial notes and a bibliography section.

Recommended!

For more WWII book reviews Take a look at My World War II bookshelf.