Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tales of Beedle the Bard

This really shouldn't be much of a surprise but Amazon is going to be publishing Tales of Beedle the Bard. The proceeds will be going to charity. Perhaps most interesting is the news that there will be an introduction and footnotes written by everybody's favorite homosexual headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

Thanks to PhiloBiblos for the heads up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

1 for the Military history reading challenge

So far there's one participant in my Military history reading challenge which is one more than I expected.. Now if I can just manage five participants I'll have hit the big time!

New look

I have been running the same template since I created my blog back in 06. I figured it was time for a change. I haven't necessarily settled on this one but I do like aspects of it. Particularly the larger font. Feel free to leave comments on the look.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

National Post defends Max Mosley

Jonathan Kay is full of it.
The rich are different from you and me. They drive nicer cars. They live in bigger homes. And when they're struck by a fetish for Fascistthemed sadomasochistic sex-play, they can afford to surround themselves with a phalanx of upscale call girls decked out with riding crops and German-style ensembles
Well then I'm happy to know that that makes the activity acceptable from someone who runs a billion-dollar organization. Someone who has to meet with government representatives and international conglomerates.
They also--one needs hardly mention-- say nothing about professional competence. Perhaps the saddest thing about the Mosley sex scandal is that it has distracted attention from all that he has done for Formula One, and motor sport in general.
Like what exactly? The cost saving measures appear to be only a partial success. The only accomplishment that Kay can come up with is the safety changes after the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. I really doubt that Mosley was the one who was rewriting the regulations.

Monday, July 28, 2008

With Kitchener to Khartoum by G. W. Steevens

With Kitchener to Khartoum by G. W. Steevens is a journalists account of the British campaign in the Sudan in 1898. The entire thing is written in an irritatingly flowery style that doesn't seem to add much to the narrative. I assume journalists were expected to write like this. The primary sources written by participants that I had read about the campaign earlier did not contain the same sort of language.

If you've been following my blog you'll already know that I've read several secondary accounts of the campaign. I didn't really learn anything new from this book. Presumably some of the descriptions in the secondary sources originated here.

Not recommended for the casual reader this is for the completeist.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells

Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells I'm not really sure how to judge this book. The subtitle and introduction seems to suggest a focus for the book that isn't actually followed in the rest of it.

According to the introduction this is a history of the impact of the Byzantine Empire on its neighbors and successors. This is done through three sections. The West, Islamic world and Slavic peoples. The book itself doesn't actually do this except in one case the West. This is basically a history of the early Renaissance with sketches of major figures and lists of translated works. Not that exciting. The other two sections do layout the history of the People's but it often doesn't have much to do with Byzantium. It's like there's too much background here.

That criticism aside some of the history is quite interesting. I hadn't really come across much on the history of Bulgaria before. Something I'll have to look more into. There's been a lot of research done with reference to recent findings. I just think that the book could have done with a redesign either in scope or in narrative.

Not recommended.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mister Linky

I may have inadvertently re-set it. If you tried leaving a link please do it again. My apologies.

600th post

Wow...

Military history suggested reading

No takers as of yet for the Military history reading challenge. Here is some suggestions for possible books on military history, if you need some ideas.

First of all there's my military history tag.

A Guide to Civil War Books for Beginners, Part 1: Civil War Overviews

Military Books - Recommended Military Reading Lists contains the US military lists for different ranks. Note some of it is fiction.

Canada at War 1939-1945 from the Toronto Public Library.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Military history reading challenge

Welcome to the first annual military history reading challenge. The idea is pretty simple between now and November 11 read 3 nonfiction books on military history topics. Sounds simple enough doesn't it? So what is military history? For the purposes of this I'm willing to take a broad perspective. Your titles could include any of the following:
  • Histories of wars, battles and campaigns from any time period.
  • Material on weapons, uniforms, tactics and strategy.
  • Memoirs and biographies of those who participated in conflicts.
To avoid current events the actions discussed should have taken place prior to 2001[actually on second thought let's change this to 2005]. I'll be posting in the next few days some links to recommended reading on various conflicts. If you know of a good one or have any questions feel free to leave a comment. I hope to be able to encourage some who are new to the topic to try some military history as well as those who already do read on the topic to try something different.

If you want to participate then post a list of your three titles on your blog with a link back to this post. Then put the link to your booklist in Mister Linky.

Quotation [occasional]

Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.
- Sir Bernard Ingham

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I forgot something

Well I had been thinking that I was going to do a post on the anniversary of Deathly Hallows [on the 21st] but that was predicated on me finishing my reread. As well as remembering that was the day. I should have something to say around this weekend. Unless something else comes up..

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fashoda Reconsidered :Impact of Domestic Politics on French Policy in Africa 1893-1898 by Roger Glenn Brown

Fashoda Reconsidered :Impact of Domestic Politics on French Policy in Africa 1893-1898 by Roger Glenn Brown tries to demonstrate how internal factors within France influenced the Fashoda crisis with Britain. Fashoda a location on the Nile was where the French government wished to extend their sovereignty at the expense of the Egyptians. Britain was attempting to maintain Egyptian control of its territory. The Egyptians owed them and other European creditors money.

Brown believes that the history of diplomacy is frequently restricted to avoid questions of internal politics. He tries in this book to remedy this. Much of the narrative is taken up with the internal dynamics of the French government and its relations to various political pressure groups including the military and what today we would call NGOs. In this case the NGO was demanding an expansion of the French empire. In the background was always the Dreyfus affair and how it undermined the government at important times.

Obviously there was quite a bit of research involved in this. Brown is to be commended for that. There were a couple of places where quite a bit of knowledge is assumed about Third Republic politics so this wouldn't be a book for a beginner on the era.

Recommended.

Monday, July 21, 2008

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren is a classic novel of politics in the southern US. This was loosely based on the life of Huey Long. It's also my second book in the Southern Reading Challenge. Hopefully my third book will be arriving this week.

Our narrator a former journalist and historian is currently working as a political fixer for the governor. The story has two major narrative threads one being the building of a hospital the other a Senatorial campaign. Along the way there is dark family secrets, corruption and politics.

I was a little worried when the first two scenes took 50 pages but after that it gets moving. Now it's still a big book my copy coming in at 660 pages but I was actually able to get through it in a single day. It's that engrossing.

Highly recommended!

New link in the sidebar

I've added JZ's Books and Stuff to the sidebar. Looks like an excellent resource for reviews of military history. Apparently I had something to do with its creation. Yes I'm quite flattered.

The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada Volume #1, Canadian History Series by Thomas Costain

The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada Volume #1, Canadian History Series by Thomas Costain is the first part of a multi-volume narrative history of Canada. This was first published in 1954 and was aimed at the general reader.

I picked this up mainly because narrative political history is something that just isn't done in Canada these days. The narrative starts with the discovery of Canada by first the Vikings then John Cabot. The various voyages of exploration are described. New France and the political machinations both inside the colony and back in the home country take up most of the volume. Conflicts broke out between secular and religious authorities. There's much on the relations with the various native tribes including several military conflicts.

I liked that this did provide a political narrative of new France however there are a few things that deeply troubled me about this work. The first is that there were no notes or bibliography. The author shrugged this off by saying he looked at thousands of sources. I find this hard to believe. The second is that there are some racist comments leveled at the natives in several places. Costain states that the Hurons ruled because their brains were larger than the other natives. In another section the French government is complemented for social policies that led to marriage between whites and avoided relationships with natives. I do understand this was published in the mid-50s but it is still rather jarring and I'm not too sure what to make of it.

Recommended but it does show its age and could probably be easily superseded if anyone had the will..

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Natynczyk wakes up

From CTV
"You have a worsening security situation, especially localized in three areas -- the Kabul area, in the Regional Command East, where the Americans are, and in the south where we are with the British forces and the Dutch,"
So how is this different than one week ago when he gave such a rosy analysis?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Tiger's Way: A U.S. Private's Best Chance for Survival by H. John Poole

The Tiger's Way: A U.S. Private's Best Chance for Survival by H. John Poole is a how-to/call to arms book on small unit tactics. Poole a former Marine believes that the American military is to interested in firepower and technology as opposed to rifleman skills.

The technology-heavy US military led from the rear is contrasted with "Eastern militaries" that gives all soldiers tactical training on concealment, silent killing, reconnaissance and night fighting. Eastern militaries are the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Japanese Vietnamese and Germans from World War I through World War II. There are frequent references to both historical battles as well as examples of training and strategy from textbooks. Interestingly his historical analysis helps explain some things I hadn't realized about the Korean war. Particularly the use of tunnels to go underneath American units to appear in the rear.

My one major criticism is that Poole seems to have swallowed ninja myths without much skepticism. He even includes such strange ideas of soldiers becoming invisible and being able to mind control opposition forces. Because he is interested in giving tactical advice the book can be hard to read. There's not much narrative here.

There are appendices with suggestions for new training techniques and a bibliography.

Recommended with caveats.

Is available through Abebooks.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron is the fictional biography of a slave that led a revolt in the southern US in 1834. I read this for the Southern Reading Challenge. I could rail against Canada Post for a couple of paragraphs but instead I'll get to the review.

Turner narrates his story during his trial through a series of flashbacks. They show how he became radicalized and decided to carry out his racial genocide against the whites. Wrapped up in this is the curious fact that he only committed one murder personally. Styron gave himself an interesting challenge, to portray a religious zealot who wants to kill all white people including women and children but at the same time make him sympathetic. He actually succeeds at least for me.

This was rather controversial when first published I'm not sure how it's considered today. Styron freely admits that there are no good contemporary sources for Turner's life so he takes liberties. Turner also has a homosexual experience which seems to come somewhat out of left field.

This book was a little unusual considering what I usually read that being said I will probably pick up more by Styron.

Recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America by Michael Dobbs

Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America by Michael Dobbs is a popular history of the rather farcical attempt to land German guerrillas on the American coastline during the second world war. Not surprisingly for books of this genre there are the usual fictional flourishes which I guess I'm just going to have to accept.

The book traces the training of the agents, there transport in a U-boat, capture and execution. The legal challenges provide part of the Bush administration's reasoning behind Guantánamo Bay. I was expecting more references to current events there are only a few references at the end of the book.

Most interesting was the idea that apparently Hitler and his entourage actually thought they would be effective. Surprisingly the book argues that theoretically they could have crippled alumina production within the United States. Fortunately for the Americans the misfits selected weren't terribly competent and included one who betrayed the mission.

Interesting history on a current topic of interest

Recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates, and the Making of the Modern World by Stephen Bown

A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates, and the Making of the Modern World by Stephen Bown is a popular history on the topic. The author describes the history of gunpowder and explosives its inventors, uses and the perceived effects on the modern world. There are nice biographies of Alfred Nobel and Fritz Haber. I also found the coverage of the War of the Pacific informative. This was a conflict between Chile and an alliance of Bolivia and Peru over saltpeter deposits [made up of bird feces].

Some of the connections he makes between explosives technology and wider history seem forced. For instance he says that French refusal to use Nobels explosives led to the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. I'd consider that a rather simplistic explanation. The narrative also tends to bounce around quite a bit. A partial bibliography without footnotes.

Recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mr. Kipling's Army by Byron Farwell

Mr. Kipling's Army by Byron Farwell is a picturesque look at the British Army of the 19th century. The book is divided into thematic chapters including regiments, recruitment, religion, training, tactics, sport, women and alcohol. Farwell one of the preeminent historians on the Victorian Army gives numerous examples dealing with each topic.

This is a truly masterful work that if you have any interest at all in the British Army you must have. Farwell also had a gift for writing as well. This could quite easily have been a dry recitation of statistics and regulations. Fortunately it's not. As the title suggests there are occasional references to Kipling's writings, both short stories and poems.

Highly recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dervish: The Rise and Fall of an African Empire by Philip Warner

Dervish: The Rise and Fall of an African Empire by Philip Warner is a history of the independent Sudan during the late 19th century. There is a decent enough discussion on the Islamic movement that swept through the country and led to it breaking away from Egyptian control. There is quite a bit here on its relations with the British government including the murder of Gordon and the eventual reconquering for the Egyptians by the British.

The narrative was alright. I was expecting a little more color. Some of the comparisons with the British Army of the second world war and 1950s were interesting. I have several of Warner's books on British battlefields. They have been reviewed on the blog. I preferred those to this.

Mildly recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Omdurman, 1898:The Eyewitnesses Speak edited by Frederic Sharf and Peter Harrington

Omdurman, 1898:The Eyewitnesses Speak: The British Conquest of the Sudan as Described by Participants in Letters, Diaries, Photos, and Drawings edited by Frederic Sharf and Peter Harrington that's one long title. It also gives an excellent summary of just what it is we are dealing with here.

This book grew out of an exhibition of art on the campaign. The editors thought that a collection of sources would be useful. All of the accounts are from officers. Strangely they say the descriptions written by non-officers have been collected somewhere else but don't actually say where. If anyone knows let me know in comments. There are also dispatches from newspaper reporters. These seem a little out of place although they are nice to have.

Most of the major phases of the campaign are dealt with including the lead up to the battle, the battle itself and the aftermath. Each selection is prefaced by a biographical note about the author. Several come from archival sources that would be impossible to find anywhere else. If you are interested in this campaign this is a must-have.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Omdurman by Peter Ziegler

Omdurman by Peter Ziegler is a history of the Victorian British military campaign that reconquered the Sudan. Ziegler is writing a popular history of the battle. Much of the material he provides is colorful. For instance the various nicknames that the officers had. There is a pretty good description of the battle itself. He's using a lot of the available sources including some from the Dervish perspective. A readable history on this important colonial campaign.

Highly recommend!

Is available through Abebooks.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Omdurman 1898: Kitchener's victory in the Sudan (Campaign) by Donald Featherstone

Omdurman 1898: Kitchener's victory in the Sudan by Donald Featherstone is part of the numerous campaign series from Osprey. The standard flourishes are here. Pictures, drawings and maps on every page.

After the Dervishes killed General Gordon in Khartoum in 1895. The British launched an expedition to destroy the Sudanese. This was with a combined British and Egyptian army. After several minor engagements along the line of march down the Nile Kitchener's force was attacked outside of Omdurman the capital. The British/Egyptian force managed to destroy the Dervishes, they repulsed several suicide attacks. The battle is also famous for the charge of the 21st Lancers one of their Lieutenants being Winston Churchill.

The writing in most Ospreys if not particularly good is at least serviceable. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this book. Featherstone feels the need to cram in as much data as possible into each sentence. There is a wealth of technical data here about weapons and uniforms but it's presented in such a way that is rather hard to get into.

Recommended but don't pay list price.

Is available through Abebooks.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Fall of the Roman Empire. The Military Explanation by Arther Ferrill

The Fall of the Roman Empire. The Military Explanation by Arther Ferrill lays out his reinterpretation of the collapse of the Western Empire. I first was exposed to this when during my undergrad I did a special project on whether the Roman Empire had a grand strategy. I recently came across a copy and wanted to know if it still held up all these years and books later. I'm happy to say that for the most part it does.

Ferrill argues that there were two major threads of failure in the West, bad decision-making and the absorption of Germanic tactics and equipment in the Roman army. There was also a relaxation of levels of training as well as recruitment that led to Roman military failures.

There's a decent enough summary of the major theories behind Rome's collapse. Some like the lead poisoning idea are mentioned just to make fun of them while others are dealt with more seriously. He also tries to make the case that the Empire in the West actually did in fact fall instead of transitioning into the successor states without any changes.

Recommended.

Is available through Abebooks.

That was a mistake

interesting analysis over the most recent uproar in the science fiction community. Personally I think if he was dumb enough to write it in a supposedly professional e-mail he loses the privilege.

Strategy and Power in Russia 1600-1914 by William C. Fuller Jr

Strategy and Power in Russia 1600-1914 by William C. Fuller Jr is a massive history of Russian strategic thought over the last three centuries of czarist Russia. There's coverage of tactics, strategy, grand strategy, the economy and society. I've read general historys that have contained less info about society in Russia than this book.

Fuller deals with Russian wars against Turkey, Poland, The W ar of the the Austrian Succession, Napoleonic Wars, Crimean and war with Japan. Even the smaller wars are given a thorough explanation. I hadn't come across much besides one paragraph summaries on some of these wars.

As far as the analysis goes he takes evident glee at dispelling simplistic explanations for military victory or defeat. He's also particularly hard on the paranoia theory of Russian foreign policy. The idea that the Russians have been preoccupied with foreign invasion.

There are substantial notes and bibliography. Considering references in the text I'm slightly surprised that there isn't a companion volume for the Soviet era. He obviously thought about it since he occasionally makes references to Soviet strategic debates.

Highly recommended!

Is available through Abebooks.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Quotation [occasional]

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
- Mark Twain

Saturday, July 05, 2008

2,002 books!

I've just surpassed the 2000 book mark in my personal collection. The number is actually 2,002. I date the start of my library to Christmas 1993. I certainly had books before that but they were either passed on to my sister or are somewhere in the parents garage. My first book was Star Trek the Next Generation Dark Mirror by Diane Duane. It's been 5306 days since then. I've therefore averaged a new book every 2.65 days.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Medieval Russia: A Sourcebook 900-1700 edited by Basil Dmytryshyn

Medieval Russia: A Sourcebook 900-1700 edited by Basil Dmytryshyn is a collection of translated primary sources that discuss Russia and how it was perceived by others. There are accounts from foreign travelers, legal documents and chronicles. The topics covered are political, religious and the customs of the society. Interestingly enough the selections occasionally interact with one another. For instance one source discusses how a Russian bride asked her foreign husband to beat her as a sign of love, eventually killing her. A later source points out that the story was wildly inaccurate. The translations themselves are surprisingly readable. I can't discuss the issue of accuracy.

Each piece is introduced with a short discussion of the background of the events described as well as the transmission of the source. Citations are provided to either the original Russian or the translation. The book concludes with a glossary of Russian terms.

Recommended.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Our Southern Highlanders: A Narrative of Adventure in the Southern Appalachians and a Study of Life Among the Mountaineers by Horace Kephart

Our Southern Highlanders: A Narrative of Adventure in the Southern Appalachians and a Study of Life Among the Mountaineers by Horace Kephart is part memoir part anthropological survey. First I should note that I was going to use this for Maggie's Southern reading challenge however the introduction informs me that the author was in fact born in Pennsylvania. So I'll substitute one of Shelby Foote's novels in its place.

Anyway back to the book. Kephart describes in great detail the society, customs and personalities of the Scotch Irish and Dutch that were [are?] the mountain people. The book was written in the early 20th century. He spent several years living with them.

There is extensive discussion of bootlegging. He seems to be trying to give a balanced look but much of what he tells us is positive. His criticisms are muted and often come with caveats. For instance his discussion of blood feuds. He argues that they were necessary because of lack of government control. However government control as extended through the excise on alcohol is called un-American in the chapter on bootlegging. He evidently had quite a bit of affection for the people. In my edition there is an excellent introduction that helps put the book into context.

Highly recommended a portrait of a historical curiosity.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008