winterbadger: (pooh tao)
It seems hard to believe that I haven't updated this list since October. I'm fairly sure I'll have missed out some titles as a result. But it also seems likely that I've not come close to matching last year's total of 48, let alone my goal of 50. But looking back over the years since I started keeping track here (in 2008), I've only once hit 50 and many years not reached 40, so 42 or so seems adequate. I don't know whether it's because I pick long books, or read slowly, or what. I certainly have a lamentably short attention span, so I flit back and forth between things.

The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling (36) This really deserves an entry of its own. Let's just say that Ferling does a great job of pulling off the heaps of laurel and waving off the clouds of incense and letting the very human Washington stand out.

John Macnab by James Buchan (37) An adventure tale by an accomplished tale-spinner, this story of three "gents" roughing it to play a prank on landlords in the Highlands is entertaining for its story, for its loving view of the geography of the Highlands, and for its portrayal of Scots and English (and some dreadful American) 'types' seen through the eyes of a Scots minister's son who rocketed upwards through Oxford and the diplomatic service to the governor-generalship of Canada.

Dodger (38) and The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett (39) One non-Discworld and one (final) Discworld volume by the master. Entertaining and educational in equal measure.

The Complete Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing (40): A graphic novel of pulp adventure in the style (artistically and literarily) of Herge's Tintin. I'd read sections for free online and eventually treated myself to a hard copy of the entire book. It's very fun if you don't take it seriously.

The California Voodoo Game by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes (41) A re-reading, and another of those where one sees the imperfections of a book one loved blindly at the time. Niven and Barnes sexism is off-putting, almost repellent, in a way that is clearly still popular among the Gamergate/Sad Puppy crowd. That said, it's an entertaining story combining RPG, sci-fi, and detective genres.

Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (42) An entertaining tale (really a novella) of a young man in a medievalesque fantasy setting. I'll certainly read the others of its ilk.

Still in progress:

With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia by Thomas J. McGuire
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Little, Big by John Crowley
Eastward to Tartary by Robert B. Kaplan
Boderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid
Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby
winterbadger: (USA)
My sister-in-law, posting in The Other Place, reminded me that today is the anniversary of the surrender at Yorktown, as commemorated in this fine painting.
Cut for image... )
winterbadger: (books)
Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fisher (21) This is a remarkably good book. I loved almost all of it and was very sorry when I was done with it. I borrowed it on CD from the library, but I will be sure to buy a copy. It gave me all sorts of ideas for wargames, for short fiction, and for work that might be interesting to do in real history. It takes the reader from the beginning of the Revolution through the aftermath of the American winter campaign in the Jerseys of 1776/1777. It includes excellent character studies of Washington and a number of his officers and some of the same (though not as comprehensive) for the British high command. Between this and other books, my appreciation for Washington, Knox, Greene, the Howe brothers, and Cornwallis (some of them already high) have grown, while my opinions of Charles Lee and Henry Clinton have plummeted. Some of the most interesting part of the book is the very detailed treatment of the British occupation of the Jerseys in the summer and autumn of 1776 and the winter campaign that followed. My only criticisms of the book are (1) that Fisher seems to challenge all of the casualty reports from the British while seeming to unquestioningly accept all those by the rebels and (2) that Fisher goes much too far, in my opinion, in trying to find relevance in current events for his work. History is worth researching and writing for any number of reasons, most of all simply for the sake of better understanding the past. A slavish insistence on being able to draw direct and immediate lessons for today from events 230+ years ago detracts from, rather than enhances, the value of a history book, IMNSHO.

Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (22) I've not yet read the same author's Lipstick Jihad, but this book makes me want to. This is an account of several years' life in Tehran, written by an Iranian-American journalist who met and married a German-Iranian man, started a family, and tried as best they could to build a life in Iran. Despite loving their country and their culture and having deep family roots there, they eventually found life under the Islamic Republic too arbitrary and stifling and left to live abroad. It gives a great perspective on life in modern Iran. I do have a few doubts as to the definitiveness of the author's take on Iranian public opinion and satisfaction with the regime; she comes from a very western-oriented, upper-middle class to upper class family from Tehran, and her time in the country outside the capitol seems to have been quite limited, as does her day to day insight into the lives of less western, less well off families. Nonetheless, she did travel widely and talked to a lot of people, and she is a useful corrective to what I see as some grievous misperceptions about Iran and its people in the west. Many Iranians detest Ahmadinejad and dislike the strictures imposed by his government and the religious authorities, but pressure from abroad will simply cause most Iranians the rally around the government they dislike.

The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley (23) I'd read this several years ago, but reclaimed it when we were going through my mum's remaining effects in storage. It's great fun in and of itself, and I also like it because it involves the same French court figures as Dorothy Dunnett's Francis Crawford books, overlapping the end of her series and mentioning a couple of important events that her characters also experience (the disastrous battle of St Quentin, England's final loss of Calais to the French). As she always does, Riley creates wonderful, engaging characters (even the baddies are appealing) and deals (as far as I know) with great respect for history, not mashing it around just to make her plot how she likes it (though, of course, when your characters speak to angels and demons, there's always a little bit of leeway from history that has to be accounted for. :-) I'm always torn between wanting to study 18th and early 19th century American and European history and wanting to study Early Modern (16th and 17th century) Europe. If I eventually go the latter route, it will in part be the fault of Dunnett and Riley.

In progress:
The Phantom Major by Virginia Cowles
Dolly and the Bird of Paradise by Dorothy Dunnett
Drinking Arak Off an Ayatollah's Beard: A Journey Through the Inside-Out Worlds of Iran and Afghanistan by Nicholas Jubber
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775 by Thomas Desjardins
The Western Front: Ordinary Soldiers and the Defining Battles of World War I by Richard Holmes
Knights of the Cross; or, Krzyzacy by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle

I trimmed off a number of others that I've started but haven't actually been reading recently. If they get revived, they go back on the list.
winterbadger: (editing)
In a promo for a Radio 4 "What if?" program, the synopsis reads

What If... The USA had lost its War of Independence?

During the opening years of the American War of Independence the British Army undoubtedly had the upper hand over the George Washington's forces. Here, we imagine George Washington's defeat in the early stages of the war, e.g.: 1776.

In fact George III and his Cabinet had every reason to believe they were going to win, until their surprise defeats at the Battles of Saratoga and Yorktown. It's only the British Commander, Admiral Howe's[,] characteristic lack of boldness that prevented him from crushing the American forces on at least three occasions.


Clearly they are going even more hypothetical than stated, since Admiral (Richard) Howe was the *brother* of the CINC in America, General (William) Howe.

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