Monthly Archives: April 2013

The prophet and the quack are alike admired for a generation, and admired for the wrong reasons… G. K. Chesterton

In Churchill’s shadow: confronting the past in modern Britain New York: Oxford University Press, 2003 David Cannadine Great Britain Politics and government 20th century Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xiii, 385 p.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 316-369) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG


In Churchill’s Shadow, Cannadine looks at the contradictions of Britain’s twentieth-century hero and of its twentieth-century history in an intriguing way in which perceptions of a glorious past have continued to haunt the British present, often crushing efforts to shake them off. The book centers on Churchill whose influence spanned the two thirds of the century.


Though perceived as the savior of modern Britain, Churchill was a creature of the Victorian age. Though he proclaimed he had not become Prime Minister to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” in effect he did just that. Though he has gone down in history for his defiant orations during  World War II, Cannadine shows that for most of his career Churchill’s love of bombast was his own worst enemy and like most demagogues he invariably substituted style for substance.


Cannadine turns an equivocal gaze on the institutions and individuals that embodied the image of Britain in this period: Gilbert & Sullivan, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, the National Trust, and the Palace of Westminster itself, the home and symbol of Britain’s parliamentary government. This volume offers a wry, sympathetic, yet penetrating look at how national identity evolved in the era of the waning of an empire.

Comments Off on The prophet and the quack are alike admired for a generation, and admired for the wrong reasons… G. K. Chesterton

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Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the every heart. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale… Robert Falcon Scott

Scott of the Antarctic: a life of courage and tragedy New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006 David Crane Explorers Great Britain Biography, Scott, Robert Falcon, 1868-1912 Hardcover. 1st American ed. viii, 572 p.: ill., maps; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [549]-551) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Since Scott’s death in 1912, he has been the subject of innumerable books—some declaring him a hero, others dismissing him as an irresponsible fool. But in all the pages that have been written about him, the man behind the legend has been forgotten or distorted beyond all recognition. Now, with full access to all family papers and to the voluminous diaries and records of key participants in the Antarctic expeditions, and with the inclusion in the book of excerpts from Scott’s own letters and diaries, David Crane gives us a portrait of the explorer that is more nuanced and balanced than any we have had before.

Captain Scott's Birthday Dinner, 6 June 1911

Captain Scott’s Birthday Dinner, 6 June 1911

In reassessing Scott’s life, Crane is able to provide a fresh perspective on both the Discovery expedition of 1901–04 and the Terra Nova expedition of 1910–13, making clear that although Scott’s dramatic journeys are the most compelling parts of his story, they are only part of a larger narrative that includes remarkable scientific achievement and the challenges of a tumultuous private life.

 Lawrence Edward Grace Oates; Henry Robertson ('Birdie') Bowers; Robert Falcon Scott; Edward Adrian Wilson; Edgar Evans

Lawrence Edward Grace Oates; Henry Robertson (‘Birdie’) Bowers; Robert Falcon Scott; Edward Adrian Wilson; Edgar Evans

Scott’s own voice echoes through the pages. His descriptions of the monumental landscape of Antarctica and its fatal and icy beauty are breathtaking. And his honest, heartfelt letters and diaries give the reader an unforgettable account of the challenges he faced both in his personal life and as a superlative leader of men in possibly the world’s harshest environment. The result is an absolutely convincing portrait of a complicated hero.

 

 

Comments Off on Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the every heart. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale… Robert Falcon Scott

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You can’t help but… with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, ‘Look, had we done something different, we probably wouldn’t be facing what we are facing today.’… Norman Schwarzkopf

There is almost no action that, under review, better alternatives could not have been chosen. That having been said the practice of GOTCHA! history is not something that we find particularly useful. It is one thing to draft a lessons learned plan for teaching and quite another to write a they were no good and the fact that they lost proves it  polemic is neither instructive nor useful. Unfortunately it is a staple genre of British historians who will exhaust their criticism of their enemies and detail the failure of their allies and never concede what a bunch of bunglers they have been from Hastings to the Falklands – and well beyond. Other than the index there is nothing useful in either of these books.

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The third book by this author reviewed here mercifully makes no pretense at being anything other than fantasy and this may be his metier. The problem of course is that when you have someone drifting back and forth between fiction and nonfiction the former loses its art and the latter loses its authority. We prefer to watch the PGA tournaments as they are played rather than watch someone simulate one on a video game and we certainly would not back a vidiot to enter the ranks at Augusta and that is analogous to the way we feel about Downing!

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Sealing their fate: the twenty-two  days that decided World War II  Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2009  David Downing World War, 1939-1945  Hardcover. 1st Da Capo Press ed.  and printing. xv, 368 p., [16] p.  of plates: ill., maps; 25 cm.  Includes bibliographical  references (p. [334]-351) and  index. Clean, tight and strong  binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text. VG/VG


As the Japanese fleet prepared to  sail from Japan to Pearl Harbor,  the German army was launching its  final desperate assault on Moscow,  while the British were planning a  decisive blow against Rommel in  North Africa. The British  conquered the desert, the Germans  succumbed to Moscow’s winter, and  the Japanese awakened the sleeping  giant of American might. In just  three weeks, from November 17 to  December 8, the course of World  War II was decided and the fate of  Germany and Japan was sealed. With a vigor born more out of  prejudice rather than the  historical record, David Downing  tells the story of these crucial  days, shifting the narrative from  snowbound Russian villages to the  stormy northern Pacific, from the  North African desert to Europe’s  warring capitals, and from Tokyo  to Washington.

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The devil’s virtuosos: German  generals at war, 1940 – 1945 New  York, Dorset, 1993 David Downing  World War, 1939-1945  Generals  Germany Hardcover. 256 p., [4]  leaves of plates: ill.; 22 cm.       Bibliography: p. [249]-251.  Includes Index. Tight and strong  binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text. G/G


In this study of the Second World  War, the author has examined the  decisive European campaigns from  the point of view of German  generals who exercised the  greatest influence on their  planning and direction and battle  field outcome. In doing so he has  created a unique picture of the  generals in action – a select  group of highly skilled and  disciplined men who led their  armies across the length and  breadth of Europe, carving an  empire which surpassed that of  Napoleon — and who finally led  their men back to the ruins of  Germany.

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First and foremost among the  generals mentioned here are three  men: Guderian, a man who dared to  shout back at Hitler, who forged  the panzer force and led it,  through Poland, through France and  to the gates of Moscow; Manstein,  the master strategist, who planned  the French campaign and declined  to join the anti-Hitler  conspiracy; and Rommel, the bold  panzer commander who won laurels  in France and fame in Africa, yet  ended his career tragically trying  to defeat the allies in Normandy  and Hitler in Berlin. These generals and others who  figure prominently in this book  such as von Kluge, Model, von  Rundstedt and von Bock, are seen  fighting several battles at once:  the battle against the slow, but  relentless, Soviet tide; the  battle against the overwhelming  weight of American resources in  the West; the battle against their  own Führer, who thought he knew  best how to direct the war and was  more than willing to cast aside  300 years of military tradition in  favor of his own growing  megalomania which left the  generals bereft of equipment,  leadership, or a clear cause for  which to fight.


The book argues that ultimately  the generals’ strengths became  their weaknesses. The early military victories which made them  military heroes became the  political victories of the leadership which doomed them to  stumble through a political morass which they were not equipped to  understand. Each one tried in his own way to salvage something from  the wreck, but in Germany’s defeat their failure was as total as the extent of their earlier victories.

The Moscow option: an alternative Second World War London: Greenhill Books; Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2001 David Downing World War, 1939-1945 Miscellanea Hardcover. 223 p.: maps; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 218-223). Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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This provocative alternate history looks at World War II from a new angle – what might have happened had the Germans taken Moscow in 1941. Based on authentic history and real possibilities, this book plays out the dramatic consequences of opportunities taken and examines the grotesque possibilities of a Third Reich triumphant.

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On September 30th, 1941, the Germans fight their way into the ruins of Moscow, and the Soviet Union collapses. Although Russian resistance continues, German ambition multiplies after this signal victory and offensives are launched in Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

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Hitler’s armies, assured of success, make their leader’s dreams reality, and Allied hopes of victory seem to be hopelessly doomed. David Downing’s writing is fluid and eminently believable, as he blends actual events with the intriguing possibilities of alternate history. The Moscow Option is a chilling reminder that the course of World War II might easily have run very differently.

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Comments Off on You can’t help but… with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, ‘Look, had we done something different, we probably wouldn’t be facing what we are facing today.’… Norman Schwarzkopf

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You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus… Mark Twain

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By deft slight of hand the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court saves himself from execution by threatening to blot out the Sun. As Twain describes it; I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?

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With Yankee ingenuity he has simply used his knowledge of the date of a solar eclipse to not only save himself but to cut himself a nice large serving of the public wealth in the bargain. He has so much in common with the planet Gore crowd that it would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. Keys book is an effort to give some historical necessity to planet Gore arguments but is no more magical than Sir Boss. There probably was a Krakatoa type eruption around 535 A.D. and it probably had some effects on global weather which in turn had effects of political stability in a world that lived off of just in time food rather than just in time logistics.

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There have been and will be such events of greater and lesser consequences based on thousands of contributing factors. Our ability to predict such events is minescule at best and our ability to control them is even less. We have responsibilities based in everything as high as stewardship and as crass as seeking our own best advantage to not contaminate our world but they do not include being duped by Sir Boss, his heirs or assigns. Keys book is fun the same way a book questioning how would the Revolutionary War have been different if George Washington had an air force but it is just as speculative and no more enlightening.

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Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world New York: Ballantine Pub., 2000 David Keys Human beings Effect of environment on History Hardcover. 1st American ed., later printing. xviii, 343 p.: ill., maps; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world — essentially the modern world as we know it today — began to emerge.

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Archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically describes the global chain of events that he says began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, and then offers an explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago.

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The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. Keys speculates that these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave.

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Keys’s narrative circles the globe as he credits the eerie fallout with the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a selection of ancient literatures – in translation – and what passes for historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the “wasteland” that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known “Jewish empire” in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland.

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In the book’s final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future.

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Comments Off on You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus… Mark Twain

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Those new regions which we found and explored with the fleet… we may rightly call a New World… a continent more densely peopled and abounding in animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa; and, in addition, a climate milder than in any other region known to us. The manner of their living is very barbarous, because they do not eat at fixed times, but as often as they please… Amerigo Vespucci

Toward the setting sun: Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, and the race for America New York: Walker & Co. : Distributed to the trade by Macmillan, 2008      David Boyle America Discovery and exploration European Hardcover. 421 p.: ill., maps; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [401]-406) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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The untold story of the rivalries and alliances between Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and John Cabot during the Age of Exploration.  When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the long-established trade routes to the East became treacherous and expensive, forcing merchants of all sorts to find new ways of obtaining and trading their goods. Enterprising young men took to the sea in search of new lands, new routes, new markets, and of course the possibility of glory and vast fortunes. Offering an original vision of the race to discover America, David Boyle reveals that the race was, in fact, as much about commerce and trade as it was about discovery and conquest.

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Contrary to popular belief, Cabot, Columbus, and Vespucci not only knew of each other, they were well acquainted — Columbus and Vespucci at various times worked closely together; Cabot and Columbus were born in Genoa about the same time and had common friends who were interested in Western trade possibilities. They collaborated, knew of each other’s ambitions, and followed each other’s progress. As each attempted to curry favor with various monarchs across Europe, they used news of the others’ successes and failures to further their claims and to garner support from investors. The intrigue, espionage, and treachery that abounded in the courts of Europe provide a compelling backdrop for the intersection of dreams and business ventures that led the way to our modern world.

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Comments Off on Those new regions which we found and explored with the fleet… we may rightly call a New World… a continent more densely peopled and abounding in animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa; and, in addition, a climate milder than in any other region known to us. The manner of their living is very barbarous, because they do not eat at fixed times, but as often as they please… Amerigo Vespucci

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