Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

 Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
by Timothy Snyder

This book is a history of Eastern Europe, the territory that was fought over between Hitler and Stalin. The book starts with Stalin’s purges of the 1930s and ends with the doctor’s plots and Stalin’s death.

Usually a book would deal with either the crimes of Stalin’s or Hitler’s regimes’ separately. This book takes a different tact by showing that the two totalitarian states were not only in competition with each other, but fed off of each other learning ways to control their populations. There is a large amount of material here crammed into 400 pages, so much so that it occasionally seems like a summary. There is a lot of statistics.

Curiously, one of the author’s goals is to remind us that these were individuals being murdered. The book is peppered with accounts of the sufferings of individuals. This would be quite effective if it wasn’t for the mind numbing statistics.

One of the interesting parts in the conclusion is when he states that when we are told a number that rounds to zero we lose a sense of humanity about the individuals as opposed to a number that gives a definite total. For instance, 3,100,000 or 3,100,015. He is actually right. I have never thought about it like that.

Highly recommended if you can stomach 400 pages of humans’ inhumanity to each other.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 by WilliamL. Shirer

Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940
by WilliamL. Shirer

Why did the French Third Republic collapse in 1940?  This book tries to give an answer to that. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite get there. It is 1000 pages of mistakes, disasters, lost opportunities and conflicts, but never quite gets at the central issue.  Oh, there were many reasons why the French state came apart, everything from the conflict between right and left in the 30s, the unwillingness of the upper classes to pay their fair share to, at its end, strategic and tactical failures in the campaign of 1940.  But there never is a central reason given.

The book is based on a parliamentary report done after the war as well as interviews with those who were alive in the 1960s.  The author, a journalist, does tend to wander into hyperbole on occasion. There are many ominous statements about how this will be key in the collapse of 1940. The problem is: many of them really aren’t, or only partial.  If the French military had had better command and control as well as deployment of tanks, all of the left right debates of the 1930s would have been irrelevant.

I did like that the book dealt with the interwar period from Paris as opposed to most books on this topic which come at it from Berlin, London or Moscow. There are also some interesting character sketches of the major figures.

Mildly recommended, interesting if it never actually answers its own question.

J.K.Rowling signs for new book

No information on release date, plot or genre yet. Wasn't there mention of a mystery in one of her interviews?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Hound of Rowan by Henry H. Neff

The Hound of Rowan
by Henry H. Neff

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. This book has many similarities to Harry Potter.  This is both a blessing and a curse; a blessing in the sense that it is the only reason why I came across the book in the first place. I was searching LibraryThing for other books that dealt with the magical school plot device. On the other hand, it is a curse, because it is easy enough to dismiss this book as being derivative or a knock off.  So the question we are left with is: Does the book stand on its own merits?

The plot in a nutshell: Our hero discovers that when he looks at a tapestry in a museum it begins to move.  Naturally this leads to bad people trying to capture him and good people trying to rescue him. The good people end up spiriting him away to above mentioned magical school where he starts his education.  This contains the usual school sub plots. Naturally the overarching good versus evil story line kicks in again for the conclusion.

So how does it hold up? Well, the writing is decent, not brilliant, but serviceable.  The world building seems to be based on the idea that if Hogwarts had it we should double it. Not only is there a magical sport, but a magical strategy class, magical creatures who are part of the faculty, familiars of the students and last, but not least, dorm rooms that reconfigure themselves to fit the personality of the occupants.

I hope that these ideas will be fleshed out more because as it stands after book one I am suffering from magical school whiplash. There is just too much crammed in here. So will I be going on to the second book? Yes. I will.  The characters are engaging and the concepts, although rushed, are interesting. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vic Toews

When you can't give rational arguments for something make crazy accusations.  Over the years I've heard that the Conservatives have a decent sized libertarian contingent.  They can't be too happy about this this morning after all if the long gun registry and long form census were government intrusion this is too.  Now do they actually stand up or not.  Not that I condone this but I wonder if there's a Canadian branch of Anonymous.  Toews may want to be  deleting any sensitive email right about now.