winterbadger: (coffee cup)
The Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds (30). I have seen the 1976 Hollywood film about the battle of Midway a number of times, and I've read brief write-ups of the campaign in histories of the war and in wargames. I've even played several games about the battle (out of the nearly two dozen around). But this is the first full history that I think I've read (heard) on the subject. Several things come through as striking, including the importance of radar (duh), the poor operational/process management practices of the opposing fleet air arms, the stunning lack of inter-service coordination, and the willingness of both sides (not just the Japanese) to sacrifice large numbers of men and equipment for very little gain.

I don't mean to to belabour all of these points in detail. But I was struck by how nearly blind naval forces were early in the war, compared to their modern equivalents. Only radio intercepts (if they could be read) and air search (by land-based or ship-borne aircraft) provided any advanced notice of the presence of enemy forces. Only the US Navy had radar, and it was in its infancy and thus very limited in effectiveness, clarity, and range. Both sides tended to employ stringent radio opsec, so it was difficult to locate enemy forces by radio triangulation. And spotters operating from aircraft often missed enemy ships and aircraft through the interference of weather, the limitations of fuel and range, or simply not looking in the right place or interpreting what they saw correctly. Add to all this that few ships had any sort of modern process or facility for analyzing and synthesizing data (like a modern ship's combat information center or CIC) and you have an image of a fleet commander more like Blind Pew feeling his way with a stick than anything else.

The decisions made by American and Japanese officers during this battle, which was fought mostly by aircraft from aircraft carriers and Americna land bases attacking surface ships, about when and how to arm and launch aircraft were pivotal and often seem to have been forced on them by poorly thought out carrier operations practices. Repeatedly carriers lauched strikes that were either uncoordinated, vulnerable, or rendered ineffective due to range because no one had done basic staff work to rationalize launch operations. Aircraft that took a long time to launch were launched last rather than first, meaning other aircraft fromt he strike force had to proceed without them or waste fuel circling while the slow aircraft were armed and brought up on deck. Not enough equipment or space was allowed to quickly change bomb loads suitable for one type of target to those suitable for another. American pilots from different services had no conception of how to operate together. Japanese doctrine made it easy for aircraft units form different ships to cooperate, but almost unthinkable to shift aircraft from one carrier to another to fill in losses or accomodate planes from a damaged ship on an undamged one. No one even seemed to have thought of practical issues when designing aircraft; the American fighters that needed to operate high above the strike planes they escorted used up a large proportion of their fuel just climbing to altitude, thus mismatching their range capability to that of the bombers they protected.

And more than anything, I was rather horrified by the casual way in which air group or air squadron commanders on both sides would send off strike groups to targets at ranges from which there would be no way to return, or decide that--when a strike force reached its maximum range without locating the enemy it had been sent to attack--they should just keep searching, even when it meant that all the aircraft would certainly be lost, possibly without ever having seen the enemy. This goes so comepletely against one of the basic military principles--economy of force--that it astounds me. Sacrificing a plane and pilot, even a group of them, to make an attack on a located enemy that you have reason to think would cripple him is a decision I could understand a commander making. But throwing away the resources represented by a squadron of aircraft--the training and experience (let alone the lives) of the pilots, the expense of producing and arming and fueling the aircraft, the cost of getting it to the theatre of operations and to a place where it might be able to attack the enemy--without any clear notion that you will reap *any* reward at all, tactical, operational, or strategic, is incomprehensible to me.

Symonds provides excellent background on the lead-up to the campaign, introducing the reader to all the personalities involved, the strategic and operational context of the battle. He explains the technical details of naval and air operations without overwhelming the reader. He narrates the battle and shows the critical decision points, explaining the significance of the outcome. And he provides the audience with a quick precis of characters' later lives, both during the war and, in some cases, after it. I'd recommend this book highly to someone looking for a glimpse of military and naval history, whether already an old salt or a rank greenhorn.

How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook (31). I'm going to fudge and write this up now, as I have 16 pages to go and am sure I'll finish this in the next day or so. It's a terrific read (if you're interested in military history, especially of the Victorian era, or military operations in general). This is one of two books on the Zulu War by Dr Mike Snook. This covers the battle of Isandhlwana; the second the subsequent battle of Rorke's Drift. Dr Snook is a retired British Army officer who served in the Royal Regiment of Wales, the modern descendent of the 24th Foot, the principal regular army actors in the Zulu campaign. He has spent a good deal of time in the area of the battles (while serving as UK liaison officer/advisor to the South African Defense Forces) and knows the ground by heart. He has studied all the contemporary accounts, both of British survivors and Zulu victors, as well as the records of those who traversed the battlefield in its immediate aftermath and noted where the bodies of the British dead lay.

Taking all these pieces of evidence together, Snook recreates the events of the campaign leading up to the battle and then describes the stages of the engagement. While a good many books have been written about this famous action, Snook's military experience gives his account a new and interesting perspective, reinforced by his desire to take a fresh look at the sequence of events based on the evidence from the battlefield. I look forward to readin his book on Rorke's Drift.

In progress:
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (RockyMountain)

Finished one more: Yarrow by Charles de LInt (29). *sigh* There are some things I like about his writing, but... In this one, there are too many characters too clumsily introduced (until I got to the end of the book, I didn't realize that what one of the characters kept referring to was not a generic nickname that I didn't know but his own name). They are badly fleshed-out and without real individuality or character. The underlying concept, the message the story is supposed to be conveying, is handed over to the reader like a poorly-wrapped package in the final pages of the story. All sorts of events and rationales never come close to being explained, as if the writer thought, "Well, I'll go back later and write all the bits that make those part of the fabric of the tale later" and got bored with writing the book or distracted by something shiny before that ever got done. This is one of the first half-dozen books he wrote, and based on this I don't think I'll be looking for any more of his early work.

In Progress

The Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz

winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Catching up before the year ends. I've already beaten last year's 21, but I'm nowhere near the desired 50.

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans (26)

The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Muslim Middle Class Is the Key to Defeating Extremism by Vali Nasr (27)

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding by Hussain Haqqani (28)


In Progress:
The Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
I realized that in my last entry I left off a book. I've also finished another since then.

Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam by John A. Nagl (24) Originally his doctoral dissertation, this book by John Nagl (a lieutenant colonel in the US Army and former Rhodes Scholar) compares the organizational learning behaviors of the British Army during the Malayan Emergency and the US Army during the Vietnam War. As a reworked thesis might be expected to be, it's a bit dry for the casual reader and a bit academic for the average military history reader, but nonetheless it does a good job of douign what it sets out to do--documenting how different organizations adapat to situations that they're not accustome to, in this case armies fighting a different sort of war than they have been prepared to fight through training, doctrine, and equipment. The British took a few years but adapated and successfully developed the capability to fight a counterinsurgency campaign. Nagl suggests that this has a lot to do with the sort of conflicts that the British had historically fought, though I think he discounts the historical focus in the regular Army on conventional warfare. The American Army, even with the experience ot the British Army in Malaya to call on, did not adapt to the challenge of dealing with unconventional warfare, continuing to try to fight guerrillas in the jungle using equipment and tactics developed to fight the Russians in Germany and ignoring the political element of the conflict as long as they could.

Roman Blood by Stephen Saylor (25) The first (both in order of publication and chronologically) of Stephen Saylor's novels about the detective Gordianus the Finder, set in late Republican Rome, starts the reader (if not Gordianus's career, which is well underway when the story opens) off with a bang. A brutal and gory murder, political intrigue, incest, and the introduction of an unknown advocate, one Marcus of the Tullii, named Cicero, make this an exciting introduction to this wily and charming investigator. Decent and honest but cynical and world-weary, Gordianus will appeal to most readers. He's clever, but not too clever, and he may take advantage of the wealthy and corrupt, but he's kind and fair to those less fortunate. A good mystery as well as a good read, the plot keeps twisting right up to the end. I've read this before, but I enjoyed it jsut as much the second (or third?) time around.

In progress:

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
The Teeth of the Gale by Joan Aiken (20) The third of Aiken's YA "Felix" trilogy. Entertaining account of Felix, who rejoins a friend from an earlier adventure, venturing into the murky world of early 19th century Spanish politics. Ever the young caballero, Felix journeys to help a beautiful lady in distress and has more adventures in the desolate mountains of northern Spain. Enjoyable while not terribly deep, this story neatly rounds out the trilogy of tales about the young Anglo-Spanish nobleman.

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (21) I first encountered Emma Bull when I read the novel Freedom and Necessity, which she co-wrote with Stephen Brust. That novel is based in history; this, written ten years earlier, is one of her best-known novels, a classic urban fantasy, with a young woman being dragooned into joining a war between two supernatural factions. Romance, music, knights of faerie--it's all here in an enjoyable story draped in what felt to me like charmingy dated 1980s aesthetics (written in 1997, so that last is a little misleading).

The Chinese Maze Murders by Robert van Gulik (22) van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat, writier, and musician. Born in the Netherlands, he spent most of his life in East Asia, first growing up in the Netherlands East Indies and later serving in the Dutch foreign service in Japan and China. Van Gulik loved Asain traditional culture, especially Chinese art, literature, and jurisprudence. He translated a traditional Chinese novel, of a genre somewhere between the mystery and the police procedural. Quite taken by this Chinese genre, he wrote new novels in this form, using historical settings and legal cases taken from his research, hoping that these would appeal to modern Chinese and Japanese readers, who at the time (1950s) were very taken with Euro-American detective novels. The novels proved even more popular in the West, and van Gulik eventually published over a dozen of them, which appeared in English, Chinese, and Japanese translations.

This is the first novel he wrote himself (though not the first in in-story chronology). It illustrates some of the characteristics that van Gulik found most interesting about the original Chinese style, including the simultaneous unraveling of several different plots; the pattern of the central character being a magistrate who investigates, prosecutes, and judges his cases; the importance of the public nature and ceremony of examinations and sentencing of prisoners; the importance of maintaining the symbolic unity and propriety of Imperial rule as a means of ensuring it's practical stability. The one element he reportedly changed was that traditional Chinese "detective" stories employ an inverted format, where the details of the crime are known ahead of time and the dramatic tension come from the investigator's own growing understanding of them. Van Gulik thought that readers would prefer the method more traditional in the West, of allowing the reader to discover the facts of the case as the same time as the investigator.

I found this quite enjoyable. I was able to find a cheaper copy in the Apple (book)store; it has van Gulik's pen and ink illustrations, but is produced from an older edition with fewer bells and whistles and the occasional typo, but for what will likely be a one-off reading, I can justify the cost of a $5 e-book of an old edition more easily then the $9 cost of an e-book of the most recent printing.

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944--The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War by Bill Sloan (23) This deserves a fuller review than I can provide right now. But I will say that it strikes me as an excellent history of a military action, as it provides strategic context, a factual narrative, thorough and careful detail of tactical, doctrinal, and practical issues that someone not intimately familiar with the subject may not know, and it also engages the reader by providing a lot of personal/human context by skillfully weaving in the accounts of individual soldiers involved in the battle. It left me feeling as if I had gotten a clear and detailed look at the events of the battle and gotten to know many of the participants.

I also began listening to, and then stopped and returned, John Mosier's Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918. I have to say, frankly, I detest his work. He represents what, to me, are some of the worst traits of amateur military historians. He wants to be notorious, controversial, iconoclastic, and for the most part always comes off, to me, as shallow, self-important, and sloppy. He starts off Verdun by trying to convince the reader that French geography is confusing, idiosyncratic, and impenetrable, that it confused and confuses most military officers and historians, both from foreign countries and even from France itself. His evidence for this is that wartime documents and postwar histories of the Verdun battle use terms like "the Argonne" or "Lorraine" or "Burgundy" that were not specifically delineated entities with legal borders. That's like saying that a history of Virginia is confusing because it refers to the Peidmont and the Tidewater, which are not legal entities (today, "Lorraine" definitely *is* a legal and administrative entity, which makes me wonder if it wasn't in 1914 or if Mosier screwed that up too). He complains that authors frequently mean different things by referring to "Verdun"--sometimes the city, sometimes the Région Fortifiée de Verdun. Well, yes, sometimes names mean more than one thing; but I'm unwilling to beleive that most historians of the conflict are unable to clearly indicate which they mean.

In progress:
Roman Blood by Stephen Saylor
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (books2)
I've been watching a great deal more than I've been reading in the last 2-3 months. About the only titles I think I can add at present are

Go Saddle the Sea and Bridle the Wind by Joan Aiken (18, 19): Young adult adventure stories by one of the masters of the genre. I read many of her Wolves of Willoughby Chase books when I was young, followed by a good many of her short stories and novels for adults. She has a strong sense of whimsy and magical realism that come alive here, but grounded in a historical context. I enjoyed these a great deal and am reading the third of the trilogy now. One thing that's striking is her vivid description of the different places that the hero, Felix Brooke, travels to in Spain, England, and France. She clearly researched the locations; who knows? She may have traveled to them. I've gotten the urge to put together a small website chronicling Felix's travels, with maps and notes about the real-world places descrived in the text. We'll see if the urge is strong enough to carry through.

In progress:
The Teeth of the Gale by Joan Aiken
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (books)
Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel by Max Blumenthal (14): This needs an entry of its own, as my reading of it and my reactions to it are tied up in a whole lot of other things. Suffice to say that it demonstrates in detail how Israel has transformed itself into the sort of despotic, racist, hate-filled state that Jews were trying to escape when they fled to Palestine.

The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick (15): A bit Time magazine in its breathless prose, but an interesting (and sad) account of the recruitment of a Jordanian, arrested for acting as a jihadi propagandist, as a spy inside al-Qa'ida. As the title indicates, I'm not giving the game away by revealing that the recruitment doesn't exactly go as planned, and the spy turns out never to have been turned.

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future by Stephen Kinzer (16): A rather fascinating book, part history, part policy proposal. The author (who wrote an excellent book, All the Shah's Men, on the US overthrow of the last democratic Iranian government, which I reviewed in 2009) proposes that the US needs to rebuild its relationships with Turkey and Iran and distance itself from its toxic connections to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs (17): A fun kids' book that JMR had on the shelf. A tale of the classic unpopular grade school boy and his funky female best friend, perhaps not so classically endowed with a wizard uncle and *his* powerful witch lady friend who lives next door. Our hero finds an old charm that may or may not be magical, and adventures ensue. I liked this a great deal, partly because I *was* that chubby kid in school who was too smart, too sensitive, didn't do sports, and liked building model ships. I also like it because the story is detailed and more complex than a lot of stories of its type, with richer characters, lots of backstory, and real connections between the characters and the adventure, instead of

In progress:
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (colbert eh?)
Every time I come back to LiveJournal after a prolonged absence, I find that it's changed, again, and not for the better.

The look and feel is constantly being altered, but--for example-- the visual editor tools are still the same stunted menu of inadequacy that they've always been.

I pay for this service, and every time I use it lately I have to ask myself why.
winterbadger: (candle)
Know that you are missed.
winterbadger: (afghanistan)
Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan by Tamim Ansary (13) This is an excellent history of Afghanistan, more or less from the 18th century to the present day. It's written by an Afghan who has spent most of his adult life in the US but has many family connections to the pre-Communist elite that tried to bring modern, Western ideas to Afghan government and culture. He writes a very clear-eyed account of the ways in which Afghan history has featured an eternal tension, sometimes rising to a struggle, between its traditional, clan-based, agricultural conservative society and each generation's crop of reformers and liberalisers. Overlaid across these tidal movements are the occasional massive disruptions caused by foreign actors seeking to bend Afghanistan to their will.

Ansary's work is comprehensive in its scope, but not so exhaustive or academic as to be boring to the casual reader. For me, it filled out and knit together passages that I knew a little about (the First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars that I've read about and the years of the Soviet invasion that I experienced through the nightly news) with other periods just as fascnating that I knew nothing about (the founding of Afghanistan by Ahmed Shah Durrani in the 1740s or the rule of "the Iron Emir" Abdur Rahman Khan, of the too-western King Amanullah, and of the figurehead Zahir Shah and his Richelieu-ish uncle Nadir Shah). I listened to it (as I do many books these days) while commuting, and I have to say honestly that I looked forward to my drive every day. On a recent theme of other reviews, Ansary reads the book himself, and he does an excellent job. He reads--or, really, speaks--with animation and charm; his rendition of his book is a pleasure to listen too, and having the author reading makes the passages where he speaks about his own experiences or those of his family members even more engaging. I would recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest in the topic, especially if you can find the recorded version.

In progress
Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel by Max Blumenthal
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (old man)
There's a great Bert & I story, One Long Fezzle. I feel as if today has been a bit of a fezzle for me.

The local "Mr O'Reilly" was supposed to come on 22 April to look at the shed, which needs fixing. He never came, so a few days later I contacted him again (and our landlords who pay him). He instantly responded: he'd come round at 7 this morning.

Well, JMR and I accidentally got up at 7 *yesterday*. Boo. Then I got up again today at 6.30. 7.00 came, then 7.30. No sign of him, so I called his number. Yes, he had had lots of things to do. But he would come in, oh, 40 minutes or so. Oh, no, we didn't have to stay; he was just going  to look at the shed and see what he needed to fix it, then email us and the landlord later.

I left to take Finn to the vet at 8.10--no sign of Mr O'Reilly. At the vet I'm told that whoever I talked to on the phone should never have made me an appointment for 8.30, as they don't do any appointments--or even have a vet on the premises--until 9.00 (they open at 8.00). I try to explain that my cat is having a lot of nervous tension because he's moved to a new house and is meeting a new cat. They say, "Oh, he's scratching? He must have fleas." No, no fleas; I know what fleas are like. I've lived with pets that have fleas. He's *nervous*. "Oh, he must have fleas; he wouldn't scratch otherwise!" *sigh* Leave detailed (three paragraph) written note for the vet.

I go to the storage space to collect more of the last few things to take home. Someone has parked a removals van in the drive-through of the storage lot, nearly blocking the exit. The office isn't open, so I can't get a dolly, so I have to carry things up from the basement by hand. Trying to leave, I have to position the car in the gap between the gate opening and the removals van, then get out and punch in the code for the electric gate because the keypad is attached to a pillar well away from where you can reach it from any car (and you have to enter your code to get out as well as in). First the car slips out of gear and tries to roll backwards over me, then the electric gate opens halfway and then closes again. Finally I get out. I try to find some place to get breakfast, fast, since I missed it at home and don't want to take the time to make it now. No luck; no drive-throughs or even 7-11s to be found, only restaurant. But because no left turns are allowed anywhere in Silver Spring, it takes forever to get nothing.

I get back home around 9.10-9.15; no sign of Mr O'Reilly. Text message from Melissa says she left around 9.00, at which point he was just rolling up. So he can't have been there long.

I quickly move the stuff from storage to the basement and take a shower, get dressed and get in the car on the way to work. 10.15. On the Beltway I find that there was a car fire eariler in the morning and the road is jammed. Signs assure drivers that two of the three lanes are closed. Everyone jostles to get into the remaining lane. Get to the scene of the fire. Nothing is in the roadway; all lanes are open. We've spent forty minutes going a few miles and suddenly everyone is driving 70mph.

Get to work at 11.30. I have an early lunch, in lieu of breakfast.

One. Long. Fezzle.
winterbadger: (VMars)

It loks as if my photo hoster, Fotki, has finally gotten its act together and restored access to all its customers' files. For a while, you would click on one of my albums and see (for example) 12 images displayed for an album that stated it had 16. Or 24. or 36. It *looks* as if they are all there now (well, no, it looks as if they are *almost* all there--several albums seem to be short one photo?)

So feel free to browse again, and I'll start more actively updating and consolidating older files, maybe doing a little housecleaning. All sorts of good and bad stuff there, but my favourite photos are in one folder and another good place to visit is my collection of odd signs I've encountered.

I'd move all of these to a site that worked better (for instance, I gather that visitors can't view different sizes of picture), but I've annotated so many of these that it would be bear to retrieve and copy the information.

winterbadger: (books)
Forgot one and finished another...

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (9) Another re-read. A classic, perhaps the classic spy novel. From everything I've read about MI6/the SIS, this and the TV show The Sandbaggers are terrifically true to life, while rubbish like James Bond is just colourful fantasy. Again, as with most books, what keeps me coming back to le Carré's work is his art of writing characters. The plotting is well done, and the understated way in which things are often implied but rarely stated very much appeals to me as well (Dorothy Dunnett was the pinnacle of writers in doing this, IMO), but it's the people and the sympathetic and clear-eyed way in which he portrays all of them, whatever their role in the story, is what I love. I'm sure I will read this again and again for many more years. The film adaptation from 2011 was very good, both for its selection of actors and for its period staging (the opening sequence in Czecho is especially exciting), but for my money Sir Alec Guinness made the perfect George Smiley and the 1979 TV adaptation was definitive.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (10) A re-read, but from many, many years ago. TI is a book I remember reading as a child, or perhaps even having read to me. I don't think I've ever seen a film adaptation, so my vision of it is purely that of the author's words. I don't think that, until today I had even ever seen any of the Wyeth illustrations for it other than that of Blind Pew (a wonderfully evocative one). It's a great adventure novel of a rather dated sort; I'm sure there are things about it that the fuddy-duddys and PC people would take exception to today (though not as much as the John Buchan books I also loved), and its replication of post-Golden Age piracy may not be perfect, but I don't take exception to any of its details. RLS was a regular in our household when I was little; I remember The Black Arrow and Kidnapped and A Child's Garden of Verses particularly.

In progress

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in World War I by Arlen J. Hansen (Some fo COl. Roosevelt's family worked in the American Hospital in Paris, which is mentioned here.)
The Captain From Connecticut by C. S. Forrester (several chapters in; odd to read Forrester wiring about an American)
French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics, 1792-1815 by Paddy Griffith
Enter Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy (Learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the influence of pre-Islamic Persian religion on early Christianity)
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783 by William M. Fowler, Jr.
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Recently completed

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (6). A re-read of an old favourite. I've gotten to the point that, after maybe half a dozen to a dozen rereadings of this, I don't forget the plot in between :-) and even begin to find the author telegraphing it a bit. But I love the character portraits all the same, and the interaction of the players. Peter Wimsey the clever man playing the fool so as to put other people at their ease; Mervyn Bunter the tireless and loyal servant, firm in command of his employer where he feels he has the prerogative to be so and kindly and affectionate only when he knows it will be unseen and unheard and create no tension in the delicate balance of class and respect and comradeship he shares with Lord Peter. Charles Parker the intelligent, thoughtful, educated man of the middle class, neither filled with inverted snobbery nor lacking the ability to be polite and courteous to those he meets of whatever standing, and fully conscious of his abilities without either deprecating or inflating them. Yes, these are all characters I admire and wish to emulate, each in his own way.

The Korean War by Max Hastings (7). Recorded. A good book, though dated (1987) in some of its comments 'in light of contemporary events'. Hastings is quite an unrepentant British jingoist and Tory, and that shows clearly when he deals with the battle of the Imjin River, where a small British contingent fought a valorous retreat against tremendous odds. A heroic battle, but he devotes about the same amount of time and space to that battle of a few thousand UN troops (which had no tremendous impact on the war) as to the allied landing of 40,000 men at Incheon, one of the pivotal events of the campaign. The voice actor perfectly reproduces the snide sneers that I would expect to hear from Hastings himself, which sort of adds to the entertainment value. :-) The section on POWs (UN and Communist) is fascinating and touches on something that I knew literally nothing about. I'm sure that is comments drawing parallels between Korea and Vietnam and his open-eyed assessment of the US Army's poor performance in Korea raise some hackles, but I think by and large they are quite on point.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (8) Recorded. I enjoyed this a great deal, but the recording I was able to get hold of was, to my dismay, of an abridged version of the book. The third volume of this trilogy, which I heard earlier in the Spring, was 700-some pages printed and 20-some CDs. This was 920 pages in print but only 8 CDs. I really detest the recording of abridged versions of books, but sometimes they are the only version available. To the extent I can gauge from what is left, this is a thorough and comprehensive description of the early part of Roosevelt's life and career, from his birth to his ascent to the presidency on the death of President McKinley.

The sheer drive and determination of Theodore Roosevelt are quite astounding (especially to a slug like me); he was nervous and unhappy when he wasn't working furiously. At the same time, he seems to have had the most amazing polymath personality, being intrigued by and building up an encyclopedic knowledge about everything he encountered from birds to the history and practice of naval warfare, from Classical authors to public administration. He was also a hugely prolific author, though I have to wonder somewhat about the quality of his writing--he once wrote a life of Cromwell in a month, while vacationing. I can't imagine a professional historian feeling he could properly research the life of Oliver Cromwell in a single year, let alone research and write it in a month while sitting on the verandah of a summer house on Long Island.

What's also remarkable (as I may have remarked after finishing Colonel Roosevelt) is how some fo the same issues and patterns of political and social life that were prevalent aroudn the turn of the 19th/20th century are still front and center: the corruption of the electoral process is front and center in this book, as Roosevelt made great use of the machine politicians of his day, who were all funded and at the beck and call of Wall Street corporate interests. Remarkably, he managed to both use them and remain (to some extent) independent and even advocate and push through reforms that would make the election of legislators and the actions of government much less corrupt.

In progress

Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in World War I by Arlen J. Hansen (Some fo COl. Roosevelt's family worked in the American Hospital in Paris, which is mentioned here.)
The Captain From Connecticut by C. S. Forrester (several chapters in; odd to read Forrester wiring about an American)
French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics, 1792-1815 by Paddy Griffith
Enter Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy (Learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the influence of pre-Islamic Persian religion on early Christianity)
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783 by William M. Fowler, Jr.
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
I see that the last time that I posted here was in early January, about three months ago. Time has once again done it magic disappearing act, aided in this case by the growth and flowering of my relationship with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] asmanyaswill. I've done very little journalling, very little blogging, I've neglected most of my hobby projects, blown off the online courses I signed up for, not done any of the CPE that I'd had plans for...

Not that this should all, or even mostly, be laid at her door. I've gotten terrifically lazy, I have to confess. And that's not good; I need to get active again, intellectually and physically. Plus, because so many of my friends dropped LJ and took up That Other Social Networking Tool, I followed suit and have largely been posting there. It's great for sharing, and it's OK for discussions, but it isn't a good platform for writing or (with absolutely no tagging system) for finding and retrieving anything more than a few hours old. It's got all the retentive capability of a spaniel with Alzheimer's.

One thing I do keep up with, even if slowly, is reading. Both lilteral reading and book-listening during my commute. So, as a first post back, here's a recap of this year's reading so far (to the extent that I can recall it), not in chonological order.

a couple of re-reads
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis (1) (I find M. Didius Falco rather more tiresome than I did the first time I read Davis's series.)
The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien (2) ([livejournal.com profile] redactrice has loaded it on my iPad over Thanksgiving vacation. Reminder that the original is a lot less like an X-Box game than the film version. And that JRRT was really not that great a story-teller when he started out.)
Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett (3) (Niccolo and his comrades venture from Venice to ?Cetua? to Madeira and thence to the Gambia. A fascinating look at western Africa and its interaction with Europe in the 15th century.)

and a couple of new titles
Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (4) (A huge and fascinating volume that makes me want to read its two older brothers and learn a great deal more about early Progressive politics.)

Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam by James McPherson (5) (A short but enjoyable read/listen that sketches the portion fo the war, both military and political, that preceeded the battle, then describes the battle itself and its immediate aftermath. Spends a good deal of time tracing public sentiment about the war in the USA, the CSA, and Europe through the letters, journals, and speeches of many people, some of them very familiar to viewers of Ken Burns's Civil War documentary.)

Really? Only five books in four months, and three of them re-reads? I think there have been a few others, but I can't recall them just now.

In progress

Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in World War I by Arlen J. Hansen (Some fo COl. Roosevelt's family worked in the American Hospital in Paris, which is mentioned here.)
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (I picked this as a trial for a free Kindfle app on my iPad)
The Captain From Connecticut by C. S. Forrester (several chapters in; odd to read Forrester wiring about an American)
French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics, 1792-1815 by Paddy Griffith
Enter Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy (Learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the influence of pre-Islamic Persian religion on early Christianity)
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783 by William M. Fowler, Jr.
winterbadger: (standrew_med)
One of the exercises in an online class I'm taking is to research and write a *brief* (1200 character) post on a foodstuff one likes: was it available in 15th century England (the subject of the class)? What was its provenance? Some people clearly aren't in the class to participate (one response was "McDonald's burgers. No.") But I found it a rather interesting quick task.

I picked cherries, as one of my friends (looks at redactrice) is very fond of them. Turns out that this is a more complicated topic than I would have thought.

Two authors I found through GoogleBooks were Evelyn Cecil (Mrs.) and Alicia Amherst, both of whom wrote histories of gardening in the 1890s. Now, I tend to be a little leery of 19th century popular histories, as they are often full of fiction and fable (and inventions of the author's imagination) dressed up as "long-repeated local folklore" or "according to several ancient authors" (without names or published works). But these ladies seem to have done their homework. Both agree that cherries were brought to Britain by the Romans (or, at least that a predominant strain was; Amherst asserts that cherries are native to the British Isles). Though many Roman plantings and gardens were overgrown by hardier plants or left to straggle into ruin, cherries seem to have been popular enough that locals continued to cultivate them. The Saxons in particular seem to have liked them.

Fast forward to the medieval period, and cherries seem to have become widespread and popular fruit trees. Cecil quotes a 12th century abbot from Cirencester praising them (or praising God for creating them), among other fruit trees. Norwich Cathedral Priory is said to have had an "orto cersor" or cherry garden. William Langland, author of Piers Plowman, and John Gower, in his Confessio Amantis, mention cherry harvesting time, and the monk and poet John Lydgate compares the world to a cherry fair.

That's just what I've found about their cultivation, in a quick look, but I imagine one could find out a good deal more from seeing how they were used in cooking and in cordials. Cherries got their biggest boost, allegedly, under Henry VIII, who encouraged commercial planting of cherries. Kent was, at one time, home to massive cherry orchards, and accounts of towns and gardens throughout the 16th and 17th century are filled with cherry trees.

Alas, because cherries grow high, they are, of berries, one of the hardest to protect against birds and the most difficult to harvest (resembling more the larger fruit like apples in this). For these reasons, their cultivation has fallen off in England in preference to the import of foreign cherries. Perhaps now, like the Romans who brought the cherry to England, Britons are their cherries from Anatolia, home of Kerasous, the Eden of cherries.
winterbadger: (books)
Well, here's a short catch-up of my reading as of the end of the year. I shan't give full descriptions or reviews here, as I need to get about other things, but I'll try and repair that later. I stopped making regular notes, so I'm fairly sure that I've left out a few things I read, but this year was a new low. Part of that was because I was reading larger and larger books (both Oldenbourg's Crusades and Brands's life of Franklin were over 20 CDs, and Martin does not write short), but there were also some short ones (With Machinegun to Cambraiand Neiberg's bio of Foch), so that's not the whole answer. Basically, there were some low points in my life this year that I didn't want to do anything but sit on the couch with some ice cream and watch an entire season of some undemanding but interesting TV show.

So, the final count for 2013 is 21, not good. Here are the last 12 (not in chronological order).

A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin (10, 11, 12): I finally gave up on Martin in his most recent book, A Dance With Dragons, when I was physically sickened by the loving detail he put into descriptions of sadism and misery that struck me as nothing short of pornographic, in a supremely horrid way. He's a good storyteller (though I've never understood the fawning adulation that is lavished on him), but he's not very good at many of the important skills of writing (like Richard Jordan, he doesn't grasp that sometimes less is more), he leaves plot holes and logic gaps that you could drive a whole fleet of trucks through, and he's far, far too delighted to describe horrid things in the sort of loving detail that suggests he enjoys them in an unhealthy way.

General George Washington: A Military Life by Edward G. Lengel (13): Excellent. Recommended.

Foch: Supreme Allied Commander in the Great War by Michael S. Neiberg (14): Short but interesting.

Master and Commander, Post Captain, HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian (15, 16, 17): Re-reads. Love his writing.

Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (18): Also a re-read, of many years. I find Wodehouse beginning to pall, ever so slightly. But still fun.

The Crusades by Zoé Oldenbourg (19): Seemed never-ending. But worthwhile. Dated, but had some interesting perspectives. Oddly, the closing section on the Crusades in popular culture of the time seemed the subject the author enjoyed most, a tiny fraction of the work.

Clouds of Witness by Dorthy Sayers (20): Another re-read, caused by searching out of a quote.

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H. W Brands (21): Left me with the impression that Franklin was a charming, clever, subtle genius..and a repellent person.

Currently in progress:
The Captain From Connecticut by C. S. Forrester
French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics, 1792-1815 by Paddy Griffith
Enter Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783 by William M. Fowler, Jr.

Recently arrived:
The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History 1688-1832 by Frank O'Gorman
English Society int he Eighteenth Century by Roy Porter
The Men Who Lost America by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark

In limbo somewhere:
Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in World War I by Arlen J. Hansen
Raiding on the Western Front by Anthony Saunders
The Western Front: Ordinary Soldiers and the Defining Battles of World War I by Richard Holmes
Hostile Skies: A Combat History of the American Air Service in World War I by James J. Hudson
In the Skies of Nomonhan: Japan versus Russia, May - September 1939 by Dimitar Nedialkov
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775 by Thomas Desjardins
Knights of the Cross; or, Krzyzacy by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Laxdaela Saga
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
by Roddy Doyle
Shards of Empire by Susan Schwartz
The Lily Hand And Other Stories by Edith Pargeter
Understanding China by John Bryan Starr
The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 by John Childs
Theoretical Criminology by George B. Vold et al.
In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation by Francois Furstenberg
Doom Castle by Neil Munro
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

stories

Dec. 11th, 2013 03:24 pm
winterbadger: (wonder)
So, I cam to an interesting realization today. Not earth-shattering, and perhaps not even a surprise to people who know me and are more observant about me than I am about myself, but interesting nonetheless.

I've long recognized that one of the things that motivates me is information. I love knowing things, and I love discovering things. And I love sharing what I learn. Anyone who has spent time around me has probably had to endure innumerable instances of my prosing on about something or other I've just learnt about, like the Time Ball on Calton Hill or just recently "Hurry Up" Yost. This underlies my fascination with history and with foreign affairs.

I love analysis; or, to put it in simpler terms, I love figuring out how things work. The amount of effort I'm prepared to spend on a problem is proportional to the amount of interest I have in the underlying subject. Reading a wiring diagram, yes; reading a relay logic diagrams, maybe not so much. This has a lot to do with why I find simulation and gaming so interesting and why I know a little bit a bout a variety of information technology subjects (but not a lot about any of them). I've picked up tiny bits of environmental engineering, of cost accounting, of export regulation from different jobs that I've worked and always found them interesting.

And I like order. I was never enough fascinated by the philosophical aspects of it to study advanced logic. But I do like sorting and organizing. I enjoy diagramming and mapping processes and (sometimes) purging and cleaning code, because it makes it tidy and orderly and that makes things work better.

But what I've not consciously acknowledged before is how much I love stories. Reading stories, watching stories, listening to stories, telling stories. Fiction, nonfiction, history, biography, jokes, ballads--I am addicted to collecting, experiencing, enjoying stories. I like losing myself in them; I like seeing the structure to them; I love the emotions that carry the audience through them and make the characters real. I love intricate, complex plots and simple, silly jokes. I can read or listen to the same story over and over again through many years, either finding new things in it or simply appreciating its elements anew each time I come to it. Maybe I remember all of it and great it's parts like old friends. Maybe it's all passed out of mind and I can have the fun of discovering it all over again.

I don't know quite what to *do* with this realization, but as I think about where I want to go and what I want to do with the rest of my life (which, believe it or not, I do actually do from time to time), it seems as if it will be useful information. Especially if I try buying into this "work at what you love" philosophy. I've always been a bit skeptical of it as seeming like too idealistic. But the more I think about how much of my life I spend working (eight hours out of twenty-four, plus time spent facilitating it), the more it seems foolish to devote that much effort to anything other than what one finds fascinating and fulfilling.
winterbadger: (cat yin-yang)
At the apartment opposite, they have a bird feeder by the window. There is a squirrel who comes to eat the bird food. It was there today. A whole line of birds were standing behind it. And the orange and white cat that lives in the apartment was peering around a curtain, watching.

:-)

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