Monthly Archives: August 2011

A major new biography of the most gifted, ruthless, and powerful leader in modern Irish history.

Mick : the real Michael Collins      Peter Hart  Ireland History War of Independence, 1919-1921 Biography, Collins, Michael, 1890-1922  New York : Viking, 2006 Hardcover. Originally published: London : Macmillan, 2005. 1st American ed. and printing. xxi, 485 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Few people in history have been as mythologized as Michael Collins. Before his death at the age of thirtyone, Collins fought in the Easter Rising, organized the I.R.A., outspied British intelligence, negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and ran the first independent government of Ireland. To this day, millions revere him as the father of modern Ireland. Yet Collins was first and foremost a man who sought power and exercised it ruthlessly. More politician than soldier, he surrounded himself with followers loyal only to him. And his death left behind a troubled legacy: an I.R.A. he could not control, a Northern Ireland problem he did not solve, and a civil war he could not prevent.

In Mick, acclaimed historian Peter Hart explores Collins’s life and asks what made him such an extraordinary and complex person. Drawing on previously unknown sources, Mick is the first biography to investigate Collins’s life before he became a revolutionary and the first to take a critical look at his rise to power and its consequences. A fascinating portrayal of one of the most remarkable men of the twentieth century, Mick will be eagerly embraced by readers of Irish history and anyone interested in the lives of great leaders.

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The history of the Potemkin takes a severe list to port.

Red mutiny : eleven fateful days on the battleship Potemkin  Neal Bascomb  Russia History Revolution, 1905-1907, Potemkin [battleship]  Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2007 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 386 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [321]-333) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

In 1905 after being served rancid meat, more than 600 Russian Navy sailors mutinied against their officers aboard what was then the most powerful battleship in the world. Theirs was a life barely worth living – a life of hard labor and bitter oppression, an existence similar in its hopelessness and injustice to most of the working class in Russia at the time. Certainly their rebellion came as no surprise. Still, against any reasonable odds of success, the sailors-turned-revolutionaries, led by the charismatic firebrand Matiushenko, risked their lives to take control of the ship and raise the red flag of revolution.

What followed was a violent port-to-port chase that spanned eleven harrowing days and came to symbolize the Russian Revolution itself. A pulse-quickening story that alternates between the opulent court of Nicholas II and the razor’s-edge tension aboard the Potemkin, Red Mutiny is a tale threaded with terrific adventure, epic naval battles, heroic sacrifices, treachery, bloodlust, and a rallying cry to freedom that would steer the course of the twentieth century. It is also a fine work of scholarship that draws on the long-closed Soviet archives to shed new light on this seminal event in Russian and naval history.

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A dramatic tale of false identity, murder, and bigamy that riveted France during the reign of Louis XIV – proving conclusively that France has always produced more libertines than liberty and is congenitally incapable of enlightenment.

The would-be commoner : a tale of deception, murder, and justice in seventeenth-century France      Jeffrey S. Ravel  La Pivardiere, Louis de, sieur Du Bouchet, 1661-1702 Trials, litigation, etc.  Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2008 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxv, 288 p. : ill., maps ; 22 cm.     Includes bibliographical references( p. 268-270) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

From the historian Jeffrey Ravel comes a scandalous tale of imposture that sheds new light on French politics and culture in the pivotal but underexamined period leading up to the Enlightenment.

In the waning days of the seventeenth century, a French nobleman named Louis de la Pivardicre returned from the Nine Years War and, for mysterious reasons, gave up his aristocratic life to marry the daughter of an innkeeper in a remote village. But several years later, struggling financially, he returned to his first wife in search of money. She turned him away, and he disappeared under mysterious circumstances. This led to a murder investigation and the arrest of Pivardicre’s first wife and her alleged lover, a local prior.

Stranger yet, Pivardicre finally did come out of hiding but was believed by many to be an impostor conjured up in order to clear the wife of murder charges. The case became a cause celebre across France, an obsession among everyone from the peasantry to the courts, from the Comedie-Française to Louis XIV himself.

It was finally left to a brilliant young jurist, Henri-François d’Aguesseau, to separate fact from fiction and set France on a path to a new and enlightened view of justice. Masterfully researched and vividly recounted, The Would-Be Commoner charts the monumental shift from passion to reason in the twilight years of the Sun King.

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Another chapter in the phony history of the Cold War.

The popular history of the Cold War has the United States going to the brink of thermonuclear confrontation with the Soviets over Berlin and Cuba. Led by our young war-hero president in both cases we snatched peace from the jaws of the dogs of war and little children could safely play in the streets and sleep tight in their beds at night. It is, for the most part, a fairy tale.

When they ceased being our gallant allies at the end of the second world war and we allowed their iron curtain to descend over half of Europe the Soviets, with their communist dream of world domination, become bold. On Truman’s watch China fell to communism and we lost half of Korea and over 50,000 American servicemen keeping the other half and stopping them at Japan’s door step.

Then came Eisenhower. He called their bluff with Nasser in Egypt. He had the Dulles brothers explain in no uncertain terms what would happen if they intervened at Suez – and they did not. He left office with legitimate pride in the fact that they had not gained one inch of territory during his administration.

Kennedy came into office all tits and teeth – apparently more of a television personality than presidential timber – and the Soviets were quick to challenge him in Berlin. Rather than “risk” war he allowed them to build a barbed wire topped wall that would stand for nearly thirty years as a constant reminder to the west that we regularly traded with a nation that sent political dissidents to their Gulag. Having succeeded there the next test was Cuba. With their puppet Castro in place what better sight to position ICBM’s to threaten the United States with? By the skin of our teeth and with a greater debt being owed to Curtis LeMay and the Joint Chiefs than the administration we stopped them.

Despite the best efforts of Johnson and Carter at appeasement we were able to hold on until Reagan stopped them definitively – even Nixon and Bush the elder with their Rockefeller wing world views could not save them – by proving the adage that happy is the nation that in times of peace prepares for war.

This is not a bad book. It may even be an accurate portrayal of the scenes at sea but there is a reason that junior ensigns don’t make strategic decisions and Huchthausen was a junior ensign. Read as a yarn it is certainly superior to anything Tom Clancy ever produced.

October fury      Peter A. Huchthausen  United States. Navy History Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962  Hoboken, N.J. : J. Wiley & Sons, c 2002 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. v, 281 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 271-274) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

Drama on the high seas as the world holds its breath It was the most spectacular display of brinkmanship in the Cold War era. In October 1962, President Kennedy risked inciting a nuclear war to prevent the Soviet Union from establishing missile bases in Cuba. The risk, however, was far greater than Kennedy realized.

October Fury uncovers startling new information about the Cuban missile crisis and the potentially calamitous confrontation between U.S. Navy destroyers and Soviet submarines in the Atlantic. Peter Huchthausen, who served as a junior ensign aboard one of the destroyers, reveals that a single shot fired by any U.S. warship could have led to an immediate nuclear response from the Soviet submarines.

This riveting account re-creates those desperate days of confrontation from both the American and Russian points of view and discloses detailed information about Soviet operational plans and the secret orders given to submarine commanders. It provides an engrossing, behind-the-scenes look at the technical and tactical functions of two great navies along with stunning portraits of the officers and sailors on both sides who were determined to do their duty even in the most extreme circumstances.

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The history of the explosive that changed the world.

Gunpowder : alchemy, bombards, and pyrotechnics : the history of the explosive that changed the world      Jack Kelly  Gunpowder History  New York : Basic Books, c 2004 Hardcover. 1st ed., and printing. x, 260 p., ill., 25 cm. Sources. Index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

When Chinese alchemists fashioned the first man made explosion sometime during the tenth century, no one could have foreseen its full revolutionary potential. Invented to frighten evil spirits rather than fuel guns or bombs – neither of which had been thought of yet – their simple mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal went on to make the modern world possible. As word of its explosive properties spread from Asia to Europe, from pyrotechnics to battleships, it paved the way for Western exploration, hastened the end of feudalism and the rise of the nation state, and greased the wheels of the Industrial Revolution.

Kelly conveys both the distant time in which the “devil’s distillate” rose to conquer the world, and brings to rousing life the eclectic cast of characters who played a role in its epic story, including Michelangelo, Edward III, Vasco da Gama, Cortez, Guy Fawkes, Alfred Nobel, and E.I. DuPont. A must-read for history fans and military buffs alike, Gunpowder brings together a rich terrain of cultures and technological innovations with authoritative research.

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