Monthly Archives: November 2009

The cost of Republican monomania? 646, 932 dead and wounded and a Republic destroyed.

Father Abraham : Lincoln’s relentless struggle to end slavery    New York : Oxford University Press, 2006  Richard Striner Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 , Views on slavery Hardcover.  ix, 308 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Lincoln is the single most compelling figure in our history, but also one of the most enigmatic. Was he the Great Emancipator, a man of deep convictions who ended slavery in the United States, or simply a reluctant politician compelled by the force of events to free the slaves?

In Father Abraham, Richard Striner offers a fresh portrait of Lincoln, one that helps us make sense of his many contradictions.

Striner shows first that, if you examine the speeches that Lincoln made in the 1850s, you will have no doubt of his passion to end slavery. These speeches illuminate the anger, vehemence, and sheer brilliance of candidate Lincoln, who worked up crowds with charismatic fervor as he gathered a national following.

But if he felt so passionately about abolition, why did he wait so long to release the Emancipation Proclamation? As Striner points out, politics is the art of the possible, and Lincoln was a consummate politician, a shrewd manipulator who cloaked his visionary ethics in the more pragmatic garb of the coalition-builder. He was at bottom a Machiavellian prince for a democratic age. When secession began, Lincoln used the battle cry of saving the Union to build a power base, one that would eventually break the slave-holding states forever.

Striner argues that Lincoln was a rare man indeed: a fervent idealist and a crafty politician with a remarkable gift for strategy. It was the harmonious blend of these two qualities, Striner concludes, that made Lincoln’s role in ending slavery so fundamental.
Father Abraham challenges recent portraits of Lincoln as an essentially passive politician and reluctant abolitionist. Exhaustively researched and crisply argued, this superb book gives us a new appreciation of Lincoln as moral leader.

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We defeated one tyrant 3,000 miles away. Do we have the moral fiber to defeat 3,000 tyrants one mile away?

Almost a miracle : the American victory in the War of Independence    Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2007  John Ferling United States , History , Revolution, 1775-1783 , Campaigns Hardcover. First edition, later printing. xiii, 679 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [653]-661) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In this gripping chronicle of America’s struggle for independence, John Ferling transports readers to the grim realities of that war, capturing an eight-year conflict filled with heroism, suffering, cowardice, betrayal, and fierce dedication. As Ferling demonstrates, it was a war that America came much closer to losing than is now usually remembered. General George Washington put it best when he said that the American victory was “little short of a standing miracle.”

Almost a Miracle offers an illuminating portrait of America’s triumph, offering vivid descriptions of all the major engagements, from the first shots fired on Lexington Green to the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, revealing how these battles often hinged on intangibles such as leadership under fire, heroism, good fortune, blunders, tenacity, and surprise.

The author paints sharp-eyed portraits of the key figures in the war, including General Washington and other American officers and civilian leaders. Some do not always measure up to their iconic reputations, including Washington himself. Others, such as the quirky, acerbic Charles Lee, are seen in a much better light than usual. The book also examines the many faceless men who soldiered, often for years on end, braving untold dangers and enduring abounding miseries. The author explains why they served and sacrificed, and sees them as the forgotten heroes who won American independence.

Ferling’s narrative is also filled with compassion for the men who comprised the British army and who, like their American counterparts, struggled and died at an astonishing rate in this harsh war. Nor does Ferling ignore the naval war, describing dangerous patrols and grand and dazzling naval actions.

Finally, Almost a Miracle takes readers inside the legislative chambers and plush offices of diplomats to reveal countless decisions that altered the course of this war. The story that unfolds is at times a tale of folly, at times one of appalling misinformation and confusion, and now and then one of insightful and dauntless statesmanship.

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Now this is about global warming!

Impact! : the threat of comets and asteroids    New York : Oxford University Press, 1996  Gerrit L. Verschuur Asteroids Hardcover. First edition and printing. xii, 237 p. : ill., map ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [223]-226) and indexes. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Most scientists now agree that some sixty-five million years ago, an immense comet slammed into the Yucatan, detonating a blast twenty million times more powerful than the largest hydrogen bomb, punching a hole ten miles deep in the earth. Trillions of tons of rock were vaporized and launched into the atmosphere. For a thousand miles in all directions, vegetation burst into flames. There were tremendous blast waves, searing winds, showers of molten matter from the sky, earthquakes, and a terrible darkness that cut out sunlight for a year, enveloping the planet in freezing cold. Thousands of species of plants and animals were obliterated, including the dinosaurs, some of which may have become extinct in a matter of hours.

In Impact, Gerrit L. Verschuur offers an eye-opening look at such catastrophic collisions with our planet. Perhaps more important, he paints an unsettling portrait of the possibility of new collisions with earth, exploring potential threats to our planet and describing what scientists are doing right now to prepare for this awful possibility.

Every day something from space hits our planet, Verschuur reveals. In fact, about 10,000 tons of space debris fall to earth every year, mostly in meteoric form. The author recounts spectacular recent sightings, such as over Allende, Mexico, in 1969, when a fireball showered the region with four tons of fragments, and the twenty-six pound meteor that went through the trunk of a red Chevy Malibu in Peekskill, New York, in 1992 (the meteor was subsequently sold for $69,000 and the car itself fetched $10,000). But meteors are not the greatest threat to life on earth, the author points out. The major threats are asteroids and comets.

The reader discovers that astronomers have located some 350 NEAs (“Near Earth Asteroids”), objects whose orbits cross the orbit of the earth, the largest of which are 1627 Ivar (6 kilometers wide) and 1580 Betula (8 kilometers). Indeed, we learn that in 1989,
a bus-sized asteroid called Asclepius missed our planet by 650,000 kilometers (a mere six hours), and that in 1994 a sixty-foot object passed within 180,000 kilometers, half the distance to the moon.

Comets, of course, are even more deadly. Verschuur provides a gripping description of the small comet that exploded in the atmosphere above the Tunguska River valley in Siberia, in 1908, in a blinding flash visible for several thousand miles (every tree within sixty miles of ground zero was flattened). He discusses Comet Swift-Tuttle–“the most dangerous object in the solar system”–a comet far larger than the one that killed off the dinosaurs, due to pass through earth’s orbit in the year 2126. And he recounts the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994, as some twenty cometary fragments struck the giant planet over the course of several days, casting titanic plumes out into space (when Fragment G hit, it outshone the planet on the infrared band, and left a dark area at the impact site larger than the Great Red Spot). In addition, the author describes the efforts of Spacewatch and other groups to locate NEAs, and evaluates the idea that comet and asteroid impacts have been an underrated factor in the evolution of life on earth.

Astronomer Herbert Howe observed in 1897: “While there are not definite data to reason from, it is believed that an encounter with the nucleus of one of the largest comets is not to be desired.” As Verschuur shows in Impact, we now have substantial data with which to support Howe’s tongue-in-cheek remark. Whether discussing monumental tsunamis or the innumerable comets in the Solar System, this book will enthrall anyone curious about outer space, remarkable natural phenomenon, or the future of the planet earth.

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The community of soldiers.

From the Revolution until the First World War most American troops served in regiments that were drawn from where they lived. This strengthened their common bond as both soldiers and civilians and united them with their communities in ways that are no longer possible.

Having officers from their communities – often the same men who were leaders in civilian life – perpetuated their sense of community.

With the advent of “professional” soldiers who took over during the Indian wars and have been supplanted by “technocrat” soldiers who are need to understand the new infernal machines that are used to fight wars and with the mass mobilizations required by our 20th century wars we have gone from having a troop from Kileen to having soldiers from Ft. Hood.

Would a triip from Kileen had a Major Hasan?

 

The vacant chair : the Northern soldier leaves home    New York : Oxford University Press, 1993  Reid Mitchell United States , History , Civil War, 1861-1865 , Social aspects Hardcover. xiv, 201 p. : ill. ; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

In many ways, the Northern soldier in the Civil War fought as if he had never left home. On campsites and battlefields, the Union volunteer adapted to military life with attitudes shaped by networks of family relationships, in units of men from the same hometown.

Understanding these links between the homes the troops left behind and the war they had to fight, writes Reid Mitchell, offers critical insight into how they thought, fought, and persevered through four bloody years of combat.

In The Vacant Chair, Mitchell draws on the letters, diaries, and memoirs of common soldiers to show how mid-nineteenth-century ideas and images of the home and family shaped the union soldier’s approach to everything from military discipline to battlefield bravery. For hundreds of thousands of “boys,” as they called themselves, the Union army was an extension of their home and childhood experiences. Many experienced the war as a coming-of-age rite, a test of such manly virtues as self-control, endurance, and courage. They served in companies recruited from the same communities, and they wrote letters reporting on each other’s performance–conscious that their own behavior in the army would affect their reputations back home. So, too, were they deeply affected by letters from their families, as wives and mothers complained of suffering or demanded greater valor.

Mitchell also shows how this hometown basis for volunteer units eroded respect for military rank, as men served with officers they saw as equals: “Lieut Col Dewey introduced Hugh T Reid,” one sergeant wrote dryly, “by saying, ‘Boys, behold your colonel,’ and we beheld him.” In return, officers usually adopted paternalist attitudes toward their “boys”–especially in the case of white officers commanding black soldiers.

Mitchell goes on to look at the role of women in the soldiers’ experiences, from the feminine center of their own households to their hatred of Confederate women as “she-devils.” The intimate relations and inner life of the Union soldier, the author writes, tell us much about how and why he kept fighting through four bloody years–and why demoralization struck the Confederate soldier as the war penetrated the South, threatening his home and family while he was at the front. “The Northern soldier did not simply experience the war as a husband, son, father, or brother–he fought that way as well,” he writes. “That was part of his strength. The Confederate soldier fought the war the same way, and, in the end, that proved part of his weakness.”

The Vacant Chair uncovers this critical chapter in the Civil War experience, showing how the Union soldier saw–and won–our most costly conflict.

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The Glorious Cause ascendent – three histories of the opening of the Civil War.

Allegiance : Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the beginning of the Civil War    New York : Harcourt, c 2001  David Detzer Charleston (S.C.) , History , Civil War, 1861-1865, Fort Sumter (Charleston, S.C.) , Siege, 1861 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 367 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 344-356) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

An original and deeply human portrait of soldiers and civilians caught in the vortex of war.

So vividly does Allegiance re-create the events leading to the firing of the first shot of the Civil War on April 12, 1861, that we can feel the fabric of the Union tearing apart. It is a tense and surprising story, filled with indecisive bureaucrats, uninformed leaders, hotheaded politicians, and dedicated and honorable soldiers on both sides.

The six-month-long agony that began with Lincoln’s election in November sputtered from one crisis to the next until Lincoln’s inauguration, and finally exploded as the soldiers at Sumter neared starvation. At the center of this dramatic narrative is the heroic figure of Major Robert Anderson, a soldier whose experience had taught him above all that war is the poorest form of policy. With little help from Washington, D.C., Anderson almost single-handedly forestalled the beginning of the war until he finally had no choice but to fight.

David Detzer’s decade-long research illuminates the passions that led to the fighting, the sober reflections of the man who restrained its outbreak, and individuals on both sides who changed American history. No other historian has given us a clearer or more intimate picture of the human drama of Fort Sumter.

Dissonance : the turbulent days between Fort Sumter and Bull Run    Orlando : Harcourt, c 2006  David Detzer United States , History , Civil War, 1861-1865 Hardcover. xxv, 371 p. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [341]-358) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

For two weeks in 1861, Washington, D.C., was locked in a state of panic. Would the newly formed Confederate States of America launch its first attack on the Union by capturing the nation’s capital? Would Lincoln’s Union fall before it had a chance to fight?

Wedged between Virginia and Maryland– two states bordering on secession–Washington was isolated; its communications lines were cut, its rail lines blocked. Newly recruited volunteers were too few and were unable to enter the city. A recently inaugurated Lincoln struggled to form a plan– defense or attack? Intelligence rumors and incendiary headlines revealed Norfolk and Harpers Ferry fallen to rebels, and the notorious “mobtown” Baltimore ignited by riots.

David Detzer pulls the drama from this pivotal moment in American history straight from the pages of diaries, letters, and newspapers. With an eye for detail and an ear for the voices of average citizens, he beautifully captures the tense, miasmic atmosphere of these first chaotic days of war.

Donnybrook : the Battle of Bull Run, 1861    Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, c 2004  David Detzer Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va., 1861 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvii, 490 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In April 1861, Confederate artillery blasted Fort Sumter into surrender. Within weeks, the Confederacy had established its capital at Richmond. On May 24, Lincoln ordered troops across the Potomac into Virginia, only a few miles from the Confederate military base near the hamlet of Manassas. A great battle was inevitable whether this would end the war, as many expected, was the only question. On July 21, near a stream called Bull Run, the two forces fought from early morning until after dark in the first great battle of the Civil War. America would never be quite the same.

Donnybrook is the first major history of Bull Run to detail the battle from its origins through its aftermath. Using copious and remarkably detailed primary source material-including the recollections of hundreds of average soldiers-David Detzer has created an epic account of a defining moment in American history.

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