winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter (26) Carter has always struck me as the best president in my lifetime. Not the "nicest" president or the "best person"--the best *president*. While I think he is a very *good* person, and a true Christian (as I was brought up to understand Christ's message), those are usually ways people diminish him, damning him with faint praise. "Oh, he was too honest to be president" or "oh, he was so much better as an ex-president". But, by implication, "he was an awful *president*." Nonsense. Far too many people have bought into the mythology of the Reagan era and the GOP fiction spinners who have run the White House for more than half the time I've been alive. This book (the recorded version of which, to my delight, is read by the President himself) chronicles one of his greatest achievements--the Camp David Peace Accords--but also the failure of subsequent US presidents to put the sort of pressure on all parties that Carter did, and the subsequent growth of unilateral, imperialist policy in Israel, scuttling the peace process because it can simply take whatever it wants, with the supine acceptance of the United States and the rest of the western powers. Carter is unsparing of his own naivete and ignorance, his optimism in hoping that Israeli and Arab leaders could be convinced of the benefits to be gained by working together to achieve stability. His conclusion is that, as much as Israel thinks it can simply create stability with guns and bulldozers, concrete and barbed wire, it will only continue to stoke the frustration and determination of Palestinians to resist occupation and tyranny. Both sides need to come together with honest intent before peace can be achieved; Carter is much more hopeful than I am that this will eventually happen.

Berlin Diary by William Shirer (27) Literally, Shirer's diaries of his time as foreign correspondent in Berlin from 1933 to 1940. Shirer concealed some names of persons and places to protect friends, peers, and sources in case his journals were seized by the Nazi government, but the names that remain include Edward R. Murrow (his co-worker and boss at ABC) and Joseph Harsch (an alumnus of Williams College I met briefly, who like Murrow and Shirer is one of the legends of wartime reporting from World War Two) as well as all the famous figures of European politics of the 1930s and 40s, large and small, whose deeds and words Shirer reports with unflinching candor and much insight and humour. Having read so much of went on in these days as dry history, I found it fascinating to hear the perspective of a reporter working in the middle of the events, recording day by day his perceptions of the events unfolding around him. Equally interesting, in a geeky way, were the insights one gets from his adventures about the technical side of radio broadcasting and the often remarkable lengths to which reporters had to go to get their stories on air (and the lengths that the German government would go to to control what news went out, both sly tricks--like using studio microphones that reduced background noise, so listeners couldn't hear the sounds of an air raid going on during the broadcast--to heavy-handed censorship.) Shirer saw daily life in Germany and neighboring countries before and during the war, from political riots in Paris to head of state visits in Italy, covering the Nazi seizure of Austria, traveling to Poland to see the fighting firsthand and to to France and the Low Countries to see the aftermath of the 1940 blitzkrieg. For much of the war, Shirer's wife and daughter lived in nearby, neutral Switzerland, and the contrast he observed in his visits to them between wartime Germany (literally darkened and under sever rationing) and the bright, bustling nightlife of Berne and Zurich was quite remarkable. I was glad that I had recently read Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days, as a number of personalities of the time get mentions here which I would not have understood as well if I hadn't been introduced to them already.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey (28 and 29) Re-reading some YA books I enjoyed in S. Still enjoyable light reading.

Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White (30) An old family favourite, this was one of Melissa's picks when we were scavenging an awesome used bookstore in Sidney, BC. I re-read it after she was done, and found it agreeable, but a little tiresome in its heavy-handed humour. Taking some ideas and situations from classic literature and re-applying them to a YA adventure: A+. Attempted satire: C-.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan (31) A fascinating story of the first great forest fire after the creation of the national forest system in the United States. This revisits several characters whom I met in Edmund Morris's three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, like Roosevelt himself and his successor in the presidency, the hapless and feeble William Howard Taft. It even mentions William Allen White, who I'm sure was mentioned in Morris but who served as a central character in (again) Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days, given his role in pushing America out of isolation and towards participation in World War Two. But most of all, this book gives gives me a broader picture of Gifford Pinchot, advisor to TR and FDR and sometime governor of Pennsylvania, but first and foremost the architect of the National Forest system and the first head of the US Forest Service. This tale conveys his passion for forestry and conservation, stoked by his ealry mentor, John Muir. Much of the story deals with Pinchot's battles with the timber and railroad barons who wanted to exploit public lands for their resources and turn them into a vast patchwork of mines, factories, towns, and cities. Pinchot (under TR and, for a while, Taft) fought a losing battle against these predatory corporate trusts and their congressional allies, trying to preserve the wild beauty of the West for future generations. While the great fire of 1910 was a disaster of epic proportions for the western forests and the homesteaders and towns that lay in its path, Pinchot used the heroic deeds of the outmatched forest rangers who tried to fight it. With an astute sense of politics and public relations, Pinchot turned the tide of public opinion and forced through reforms that allowed the Forest Service to grow and assume a more powerful role. Ironically, however, the men who went on to lead the service worked hand in glove with the timber barons in a way that horrified Pinchot. And the lessons that the Forest Service chose to learn from the fire, that all fires, no matter how small, had to be fought to extinction, actually worked against the health of the forests, as it brought to a halt the cycle of cleaning and revitalizing burns that had kept the forest ecosystems healthy.

In Progress

Dark Star by Alan Furst
Wilson by A. Scott Berg
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Master and God by Lindsey Davis
1914: The Days of Hope by Lyn MacDonald
Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw
The Somme by Robin Prior and Trevor Williams
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City Ed. by Joseph S. Tiedemann and Eugene R. Fingerhut
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: (wonder)
Not all 'made for TV' is dreck, of course, and not all of it ruins good books.

Watching "Riverworld" made me feel the way I do when someone brings a lot of free, mediocre snackage to the office and says "Hey, everyone eat this for me!" I eat some, then a little more because it's free and it's just sitting there. And a little more in the afternoon because, well otherwise it will spoil. And by the end of the day I've killed my appetite, I feel a little bloated, and I haven't really *enjoyed* it because I'm too conscious that it wasn't that good.

Watching "Tin Man", by contrast, was more like when I'm chilly and a little thirsty and make a huge mug of tea. It makes me feel warm. I can appreciate the gentle subtleties of flavour. It's not too much.

I've wanted to see TM since it came out, and with Netflix and my new Roku player, I could just dial it up and enjoy. Beyond here be much text. Unt spoileren. )
winterbadger: (hex map)
Found by, of course, the inimitable [livejournal.com profile] john_arundel.

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