Monday, June 30, 2008

Roman and Native in North Britain edited by I.A. Richmond

Roman and Native in North Britain edited by I.A. Richmond is a chronological look at how the Roman invaders influenced and were influenced by the native Britons. Essays cover the Iron Age through to the collapse of Roman rule in the fifth century. Most of the analysis is based upon politics and warfare. There are occasional references to trade.

Evidence is either archaeological or from primary sources. This book was published 50 years ago so much of the archaeological material is probably been superseded by new discoveries but presumably much of the primary source analysis should still hold up. I was quite surprised to note that some of the secondary sources touched upon had been published within occupied Europe during the second world war.

Mildly recommended.

Is available through AbeBooks.

Queen Victoria's Enemies (2) : Northern Africa by Ian Knight

Queen Victoria's Enemies (2) : Northern Africa by Ian Knight another week, another Osprey. This book attempts to cram several conflicts in 48 pages. Occasionally without much success. There's coverage here of the campaign in the Sudan, Somalia and Dahomey. Much is made of the units the British faced there leadership, weapons and tactics. Typically there's photos and artwork.

Considering there seems to be other titles in the Osprey series covering these campaigns I'm not too sure why this was published. I did learn a few things which is always good but I probably wouldn't pay full price for this.

Mildly recommended.

Is available through AbeBooks.

Grand Prix Circuits: A Tour of Formula 1 Circuits from Starting Grid to Chequered Flag by Alan Henry

Grand Prix Circuits: A Tour of Formula 1 Circuits from Starting Grid to Chequered Flag by Alan Henry a short widely illustrated book on various racetracks from around the world. These were the circuits used in the 1998 F1 season. Each entry consists of a quote from a driver a short history of the track including changes and famous races. There is some discussion of the history of formula 1 racing in a particular country. Finally some analysis of areas to pass and famous corners.

It was quite interesting to read the analysis. Henry is perfectly willing to criticize the modern tendencies in track design. The movement to take away the personality of circuits. I tend to agree with his assessment. I quite enjoyed the book.


Is available through AbeBooks.

Time for a little hypocrisy

Boing Boing that pulpit for free speech and openness has without comment deleted all references to Violet Blue [the calls of sexism seem premature]. Naturally this has led to comments. My particular favorite was the rather lame attempt on the part of Patrick Nielsen Hayden to defend BB's actions.

The Age of Attila by Colin Douglas Gordon

The Age of Attila by Colin Douglas Gordon was originally published in 1960. This book contains translated fragments from ancient historians about the fifth century A.D. Gordon points out that this era of Roman imperial history is particularly lacking in sources the information being broken up between obscure texts. So he provides them grouped into one place. He is solely interested in political and military history which I was quite happy about.

As the title suggests the Hun invasions are central to the events discussed in the book. Particularly interesting were the descriptions of Attila's character. His behavior towards several Roman embassies are enlightening as well as the perception of the Huns by the Romans. There doesn't seem to be much your about battles only their outcomes.

These sources are connected by introductions that give background on chronology and some contextual analysis of the sources. The book concludes with a discussion of dating the sources as well as their authorship. The book gives an excellent illustration of how often so much of what we know about the past is based on very brief material. Always something that historians should keep in mind.


Is available through AbeBooks.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Legerdemain: The President's Secret Plan, The Bomb and What The French Never Knew by James Heaphey

Legerdemain: The President's Secret Plan, The Bomb and What The French Never Knew by James Heaphey is the memoir of the author's time in French Morocco. He was sent by the American Air Force to attempt to foster anti-French feeling while at the same time make sure that the Americans would continue their basing rights within the independent country.

There are several revelations contained within this book. Perhaps most stunning is that without telling the French the Americans had nuclear weapons stationed within their base. There was also coordination between the Moroccan terrorists, the Americans and the Israelis. The Israelis providing guns. The CIA was also responsible for torturing a French agent.

Heaphey's cover as a newspaper reporter on the US base allowed him to meet with various individuals including a very young Anwar Sadat and Otto Skorzeny the famous German paratrooper. It also gave him the ability to move around Casablanca with more freedom than would be the case without his journalist cover.

The book is particularly good at describing the various factions within the country as well as the often conflicted loyalties of various people. With nearly 60 years of hindsight there is also quite a bit of reflection here. Be actual intelligence work takes up a relatively small portion of the book. This does provide a nice perspective on what intelligence agents really do. There are some fictional flourishes there's a lot of dialogue and the author freely admits to being vague on certain points. This is understandable considering the circumstances.


Is available through AbeBooks.

Note: this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quotation [occasional]

“I like Mountain Dew.” From the testimony of Mohammed Babar. at the Khawaja trial. He was asked if it was a code word for something to be brought to Pakistan. You cannot purchase Mountain Dew in Pakistan.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guerrilla in Striped Pants by Walter W. Orebaugh

Guerrilla in Striped Pants by Walter W. Orebaugh is the memoir of an American consul who joined the Italian resistance. He was captured in Monaco after setting up an American consulate. After being moved to various locations in Italy he escaped when the Italian government fell. He joined up with the guerrillas. He participated in several attacks while trying to gain material support from the allies. He ended up making a perilous journey through the enemy and allied lines. The final leg involving a sailboat. He received the Medal of Freedom for his efforts.

The memoir has the usual fictional flourishes that are so common today. Even after 40 years he is writing down dialogue in quotation marks which certainly suggests a very good memory. Orebaugh comes off as a rather disagreeable person either complaining about things which really aren't so bad [his internment by the Italians in relatively well-off quarters for example] or bragging about his accomplishments. In an appendices are his medal citation and an excerpt from a State Department report. There is also a rather positive portrayal of the peasants as well.

Recommended an interesting account from the Italian campaign.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008 RIP

Sad news, I was a fan of his since the day in high school when my dad bought for me Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics. With the admonition never to let mom here it. One of my litmus tests for people became what do you think of Carlin? If they didn't I was always mildly worried that they were going to become offended at some innocuous comment of mine. If they did like him that I knew I'd be okay. Coming from a very religious area of Canada this is quite useful.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paul T. Riddell

He is shutting things down [link will be up for 24hrs]. I first came across his work back in 1999 at the Healing Power of Obnoxiousness. He took evident glee at making fun of the arrogant, delusional or just plain stupid in and out of the science fiction community. My favorite would have to be Cat Piss Man. Paul you will be missed.

Monday, June 16, 2008

No Mercy by Colin Forbes

No Mercy by Colin Forbes a truly embarrassing novel from the end of a decent career. Several people have been ritually murdered conveniently the head of the Secret Intelligence Service just happens to be in the neighborhood investigating an amnesia case [I'm not making this up]. What follows is 300 pages of atrocious dialogue, wooden characters and a whole lot of telling not showing. Apparently this is set in the present day but it often seems like they're dealing with approximately 1970s level of technology. There's no forensics team just one guy yelling at some hapless police officials. They're inexplicably using paper printouts of accounting ledgers. There is a tacked on plot involving a missile shipment but it really doesn't add anything. Supposedly if you pull a lever you can change the output of a factory from artillery shells to guided missiles. Maybe they should call GM they won't have to shut down that truck plant in Ontario after all.

I had enjoyed one of the authors earlier novels [The Stone Leopard]. Actually this was back in high school so perhaps what I enjoyed is the memory of the novel as opposed to the reality. Now I'm a little scared to go back and reread it. I thought it was terrific at the time. Maybe I'll discover just how lousy my taste was..


Is available through Abebooks.

Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectious Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, by Robert Boyd

Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectious Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, by Robert Boyd. That certainly is quite the title. There's coverage from California North to the Yukon border and from the late 18th century through the mid-19th. There are several diseases covered including smallpox, tuberculosis and even malaria. There were multiple outbreaks that swept through the various native groups. Most interesting was the various reactions including religion and scapegoating. The text is very dry. I get the feeling that Boyd is quite proud of all the research he's done so he's going to reference all of it. There are quite a few extensive quotations from primary sources which was nice. Explanatory footnotes accompany the text as well as general information on epidemiology and the various illnesses.

Recommended there's a lot of information here even if it is occasionally hard going.

Is available through Abebooks.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Something Fishy At Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman

Something Fishy At Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman. Time for a little more nostalgia although come to think of it I may never have made it to this book in the series. Since apparently it was published in 2000. Considering I was reading issues of Jane's at that point. It's probably a little unlikely.

In any event this is the seventh and currently final book in the series although there's no real conclusion as such. Bruno and Boots instead of causing trouble must investigate a series of pranks that have been taking place . They keep getting the blame. At one point being up for expulsion from their private school. Characterization is rather stereotypical and there are no real insights here but it's still fun.

I actually laughed more reading this that I have during the last several "adult" humor novels I've read. I'm not sure if that says more about the books or me.


Is available through Abebooks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

National Book-Collecting Contest

The Alcuin Society is running an essay contest for under 30 Canadian book collectors. Here are the rules in English. I suppose I could enter but I don't really see the point. They seem to be mostly interested in books as art. I on the other hand am building a research library.

Harry Potter prequel

The Harry Potter prequel Rowling did for charity has been released. Here is a transcription just in case you don't feel like waiting for the website to load up or read her handwriting. It seems rather strange to review a 800 word seen so I won't.

I tend to agree with HogwartsProfessor that obviously there's been work done on other storylines. Eventually there will be more books released. He thinks within the decade I'd give it a little more time maybe 15 years. I think her best shot in the meanwhile would be to publish something under a pseudonym. Since as Andrew Wheeler point it out back in his review of Deathly Hallows whatever she publishes next will be a sales disappointment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

F.N.G., Revised Edition by Donald Bodey

F.N.G., Revised Edition by Donald Bodey. This is a novel of a draftees one-year deployment in Vietnam. Bodey is particularly good at describing the interactions between soldiers especially those who are new to an unit [the FNG's of the title] and short timers near the end of their time. There really isn't much plot here this is more a book of atmosphere. The new material is an opening chapter which is set in the present day where the narrator must decide what to do with his grandsons deployment to Iraq.


Is available through Abebooks.

This book was provided through Librarything's early review program.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Last days of the Reich: the collapse of Nazi Germany, May 1945 by James Lucas

Last days of the Reich: the collapse of Nazi Germany, May 1945 by James Lucas I'm not really sure what to make of this. It is a history of the German civilians and military through the last month or two of the second world war in Europe. Some of the material here doesn't pass the smell test. Lucas freely admits to combining primary accounts into one for space concerns. Naturally this sets off a big red flag for me.

There is also comments he makes that make it sound like he is more interested in producing a history less about what actually did happen then what the German people thought happened. He says the Battle of Berlin was different than both how the Soviets and West Germans remember it but if he told the actual story he wouldn't be believed so he won't. Funny I kind of thought that bringing the facts out was the job of a historian. I also would have preferred more attempts to find collaborating evidence to some of the more wild claims. Apparently there was a lot of gang rape involving German refugee columns. I am well aware the Soviets committed atrocities but I don't think I've come across any accounts like this. I should also note this was published in the 1980s before the opening of Soviet archives.

Not recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Last Days of Hitler Legend, Evidence and Truth by Anton Joachimsthaler

Last Days of Hitler Legend, Evidence and Truth by Anton Joachimsthaler translated from the German. This is an account of Hitler's final days and the destruction of the body. This involves trying to disentangle decades of conflicting material colored by politics and faulty memory. Joachimsthaler tries as much as possible to go back to primary sources. He tends to judge sources by looking for points of agreement and length of time from the events.

There's quite a bit of ad hominem leveled against earlier writers Trevor-Roper and the Soviet authors in particular. There is some interesting information about the mechanics of the suicides. Hitler for example could not have physically bit down on the poison and shot himself at the same time. The bodies were also completely destroyed instead of being recovered by the Soviets as was claimed. The book concludes with a rather fanciful argument that Eva Braun killed herself with Hitler because the SS officer she was having an affair with deserted her. The evidence for this is quite weak. Based on one source who earlier in the book the author considers to be unreliable.

The book is extensively footnoted so it would be possible to check the arguments although one would have to be a German speaker for most of them. There are frequent diagrams and illustrations. Some rather gruesome.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Armada by Garrett Mattingly

The Armada by Garrett Mattingly. This is the classic account of the famous British defense against the Spanish Armada in 1588. The book is based upon archival research both in England, France and Spain. The battle itself is only dealt with in the latter portion of the book. Most of the narrative is taken up with the state of Europe separated between Catholic and Protestant. Mattingly portrays the Spanish wanting too reconquer all of Protestant territory not just England. I believe this was rather controversial at the time but is considered mainstream now. The description of the battle is a little too neat. I understand the primary sources are extremely confused for the military operations.


Is available through Abebooks.

Armored Units of the Russian Civil War: Red Army by David Bullock

Armored Units of the Russian Civil War: Red Army by David Bullock this is a short Osprey title on armored trains, armored cars and tanks used by the Red Army while fighting the Russian Civil War and conflict with Poland. what's here is quite brief the narrative tends to break down into lists of specifications and designations. I would have preferred more on the tactical employment of the armored trains. They're mentioned quite frequently but besides using them as command posts or to move securely through hostile territory I'm not too sure what good they were.

Supposedly this is the first book in any language on this material. As usual there are pictures and artwork on just about every page. There is attention to detail particularly with the different numbering systems used during the wars.


Is available through Abebooks.

Friday, June 06, 2008

April Fool's Day by Josip Novakovich

April Fool's Day by Josip Novakovich this is the short story writer and essayists first novel. Ivan Dolinar is a Croat born in 1940s Yugoslavia. After his childhood he goes into medical school. However his dream of becoming a doctor is destroyed when he makes a joke about assassinating Tito. He ends up in a labor camp. After being released he eventually joins the Yugoslav military just in time for the breakup of Yugoslavia. He ends up fighting in a Serbian unit. s Dolinar's failures in various relationships often serve as a backdrop to the wider narrative.

The one major false note is after the war he ends up marrying a woman he had raped. This leads to a rather tasteless discussion about the definition of rape. I'm not too sure what to make of that. Besides that. there are quite a few jokes. The humor is situational and actually quite funny.

I'll be looking for Novakovich's short story and essay collections. I'd also consider taking a look at any future novels he produces.

Recommended with the "rape debate" caveat.

Is available through Abebooks.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Struggle for Mastery: The Penguin History of Britain, 1066-1284 by David Carpenter

The Struggle for Mastery: The Penguin History of Britain, 1066-1284 by David Carpenter. This is a long dense but yet readable history of early medieval Britain. There is coverage of not only England but Scotland, Wales and occasionally Ireland when it interacts with the British mainland.

The book starts with thematic chapters on the economy and church. From this there is a linear narrative from the Conquest through Edward I's seizure of Wales. Concluding there are two more thematic chapters. With a work like this there's always the risk of providing too much information without enough explanations to make it accessible. Carpenter does an excellent job at the balancing act between accessibility and oversimplification. He views this era of British history to be one of the conflict between royal authority and magnates as well as the spreading of bureaucracy and legalism.

Strangely a complete section of sources is not provided. Instead there is a link to the authors University website. This seems rather strange particularly as I'm willing to bet this book will be read longer than that URL is active. There is a extensive bibliographic essay providing a discussion of both primary sources which have been published as well as important secondary works many quite recent.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mosley wins

This shouldn't be much of a surprise. Still it means that the FIA's credibility is now nonexistent. I would be amazed if invitations start coming in from the same people who wouldn't see him one day a go. He is a lame-duck and won't be able to get anything done. FIA is at best a laughingstock and at worst an enabler of this sort of activity. How can they stand up against racism after this?

Update: the Germans walk.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas by Burke Davis

Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas by Burke Davis. Through the use of primary sources the author creates a book length study of this important campaign in the fall of the Confederacy. For the most part this is quite good at describing the methods and consequences of the scorched earth policy Sherman employed.

The book is mostly about the destruction visited upon the property of individuals by Sherman's army. The material is pretty balanced. There are accounts of both Union soldiers acting badly and protecting confederates. Some of the material from the Southern perspective was written after the fact. Much of it does sound like it's very similar. Southern women staring down the cowardly northerners.

Sherman is somewhat of an enigma. Publicly he disavowed the more destructive actions of his forces while seemingly turning a blind eye. He also had views on slavery which were much closer to the Southerners then the Northern politicians that he served throughout the war. This led to the surrender controversy which is also covered.

One irritation that I have that is common to many books on this topic is the argument that what Sherman did was "modern war". If anything this was a throwback to colonial warfare or ancient warfare. The Athenians who had their farms destroyed by the Spartans presumably reacted in much the same way the Georgians did. I have some more comments on this which I may write up in a separate post at some point.


Is available through Abebooks.