Jun. 7th, 2016

winterbadger: (coffee cup)
Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey (15) I quite enjopyed this book, despite not being generally that interested in 19th century American history, to include that of the Civil War. This book describes the person and activities of Robert Bunch while he held the position of British Consul in the city of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1853 to 1864. It's quite a fascinating read, the story of a man with ardent anti-slavery beliefs forced to live and cultivate relationships with soime of the most ferocious advocates of slavery in the American South. At one point I hoped to have a career as a foreign service officer, so I find accounts of the realities of the diplomatic life provide an interesting glimspe of a world I trained to live in but missed out on. Bunch took many risks in his role--somewhere between a proper diplomat, an intelligence officer, and a commercial representative of the Crown. He forged unique relationships with some highly placed mambers of Britain's foreign policy elite The book also gives us insights into the background of the issues and contorversies Bunch was responsible for reporting on, including the attempts to subvert and then defy the US government's committment to end the slave trade. Some characters that pass through these pages are familiar from other books I've read (which seem to have fallen between the cracks of my reporting)--including Sen. Charles Sumner from The Greater Journey and Charleston Harbor itself from War on the Waters.

One Christmas in Washington by David J. Bercuson and Holger H. Herwig (16) A rather mediocre history of the Arcadia Conference (the first meeting between FDR and Churchill and their staffs to plan war strategy after America's entry into World War II), this book may have suffred from having two authors. I don't know what their work process was, but if they wrote separate portions and then tried to knit them together, it might help explain some of the work's idiosyncracies, like revisiting a topic already described as if it were being raised for the first time. Other problems are more mysterious, like describing events completely out of their correct time (at one point during the narrative, the fall of Signapore is discuseed as if it happened during Churchill's trip to Washington, even though it took place a month later). Some of the authors' descriptions of the relevant characters are thorough and well put together. Others are mere caricatures, lacking depth or understanding of their subjects. In particular, their focus on making Eleanor Roosevelt out to be a petty, catty housewife, more concerned with scoring personal snubs than policy or principle is nothing short of regrettable. They seem overly attached to describing Churchill's eccentricities, instead of getting a closer look at his personality. And it is only fitfully that one glimpses FDR's personality and strategy through the constant barrage anecdotes about his dog and his propensity for making cocktails. While it seems to provide the basic facts of the conference, this rather scattershot and ditzy account of Arcadia could surely be improved upon. One cause for celebration: I notice that the overblown and inaccurate subtitle of the recorded edition--"the secret meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill that changed the world"--appears to have been replaced with a less grandiose and more accurate one--"Churchill and Roosevelt Forge the Grand Alliance"--in subsequent editions.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett (17) Another excellent adventure for Sam Grimes, his family, the police force of Ankh-Morpork, and a host of new and familiar Discworld characters. Pratcheet at his best, combining well developed characters with exciting stories and thoughtful moral commentary.

I seem to have forgotten to report on

War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson (18?) and
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough (19?)

both excellent books that I greatly enjoyed (though I hear only an abridged version of the latter). I've got to figure out where my reviews of them went to, and if I missed any others.

In Progress:

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne
Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn
With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
Blood of Victory by Alan Furst
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy

Also waiting are a whole slew of new books on the American Revolutiuon, especially a coupel of books on the campaign of 1777 in Pennsylvania and environs.


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