Monthly Archives: December 2013

It does not matter how many books you have, but how good the books are which you have… Seneca

The Book on the Bookshelf  Henry Petroski  New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999  Hardcover. 1st ed. x, 290 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 269-277) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

bookshelf001

Petroski turns to the subject of books and bookshelves, and wonders whether it was inevitable that books would come to be arranged vertically as they are today on horizontal shelves. As we learn how the ancient scroll became the codex became the volume we are used to, we explore the ways in which the housing of books evolved.

Petroski takes us into the pre-Gutenberg world, where books were so scarce they were chained to lecterns for security. He explains how the printing press not only changes the way books were made and shelved, but also increased their availability and transformed book readers into books owners and collectors.

[The quote is from Cicero - A man's mind is the man himself.]

[The quote is from Cicero – A man’s mind is the man himself.]

He shows us that for a time books were shelved with their spines in, and it was not until after the arrival of the modern bookcase that the spines faced out. In delightful digressions, Petroski lets Seneca have his say on “the evils of book collecting“; examines the famed collection of Samuel Pepys – only three thousand titles with old discarded to make room for new [no real collector this!]; and discusses bookselling, book buying, and book collecting through the centuries.

Comments Off on It does not matter how many books you have, but how good the books are which you have… Seneca

Filed under Book Reviews

Quaerendo invenietis…

In my freshman year our first course in  history began with the fall of Rome in the fifth century and ended with the death of Bach in the eighteenth. While I had some understanding of the selection of the first date and gained an increasing awareness of how what was actually the Age of Faith was in no way a Dark Age it took me a good deal longer to understand how Bach was the appropriate milestone for the end of this age and how the Enlightenment was actually the beginning of the truly Dark Ages.

In the History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, Samuel Johnson has the astronomer tell Imlac, I have possessed for five years the regulation of weather, and the distribution of the seasons: the sun has listened to my dictates, and passed from tropick to tropick by my direction; the clouds, at my call, have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my command; I have restrained the rage of the dog-star, and mitigated the fervours of the crab. The winds alone, of all the elemental powers, have hitherto refused my authority, and multitudes have perished by equinoctial tempests which I found myself unable to prohibit or restrain. I have administered this great office with exact justice, and made to the different nations of the earth an impartial dividend of rain and sunshine. What must have been the misery of half the globe, if I had limited the clouds to particular regions, or confined the sun to either side of the equator?

gaines002

We know of no better summation of the so-called enlightenment and the wisdom [sic] that its scientific successors have visited upon mankind.   Imlac’s response that, to mock the heaviest of human afflictions is neither charitable nor wise. Few can attain this man’s knowledge, and few practise his virtues; but all may suffer his calamity…  Such, says Imlac, are the effects of visionary schemes: when we first form them we know them to be absurd, but familiarise them by degrees, and in time lose sight of their folly…

The Age of Faith required, just as a life of Faith today requires, that the location of true happiness is not the immediate gratification gained by the application of knowledge of our physical universe – AND that we be willing to admit the limits of our knowledge, our actions and our authority. The attempt to create Heaven on earth has created more little Hells than anything else in the history of mankind. While Fredrick was busy building the rational state that would end in Hitler’s ovens Bach, even in his last years, was composing harmonies that echoed the Sermon on the Mount. Gaines book is a wonderful realization of that difference.

gaines004

Evening in the Palace of Reason : Bach meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment  James Gaines  London ; New York : Fourth Estate, 2005  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 336 p. ; 21 cm. Includes bibliographical references, discography, and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In one corner, a godless young warrior, Voltaire’s heralded ‘philosopher-king’, the It Boy of the Enlightenment. In the other, a devout if bad-tempered old composer of ‘outdated’ music, a scorned genius in his last years. The sparks from their brief conflict illuminate a turbulent age.

Behind the pomp and flash, Prussia’s Frederick the Great was a tormented man, son of an abusive king who forced him to watch as his best friend  was beheaded. In what may have been one of history’s crueler practical jokes, Frederick challenged ‘old Bach’ to a musical duel, asking him to improvise a six-part fugue based on an impossibly intricate theme (possibly devised for him by Bach’s own son).

Bach left the court fuming, but in a fever of composition, he used the  language of counterpoint to write ‘A Musical Offering’ in response. A stirring declaration of faith, it represented ‘as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and world view as an absolute monarch has ever received,’ Gaines writes. It is also one of the great works of art in the history of music.

Set at the tipping point between the ancient and the modern world, the triumphant story of Bach’s victory expands to take in the tumult of the eighteenth century: the legacy of the Reformation, wars and conquest, the birth of the so called Enlightenment. Brimming with originality and wit, ‘Evening in the Palace of Reason’ is history of the best kind – intimate in scale and broad in its vision.

gaines003

Comments Off on Quaerendo invenietis…

Filed under Book Reviews

On a chunk of volcanic waste in the South Pacific is the Fifth Marine Division cemetery where some of the 4,189 U.S. Marines killed during the battle of Iwo Jima are buried – may they rest in peace.

pacwar001a

Red blood, black sand : fighting alongside John Basilone from boot camp to Iwo Jima  Chuck Tatum  New York : Berkley Caliber, 2012  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. viii, 358 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

pacwar001

In 1944, the U.S. Marines were building the 5th Marine Division—also known as “The Spearhead”—in preparation for the invasion of the small, Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima….

pacwar002

When Charlie Tatum entered Camp Pendleton to begin Marine boot camp, he was just a smart-aleck teenager eager to serve his country. Little did he know that he would be training under the watchful eyes of a living legend of the Corps — Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Basilone, who had almost-single-handedly fought off a Japanese force of 3,000 on Guadalcanal, and survived.

pacwar003

It was from Basilone andother “Old Breed” sergeants that Tatum would learn how to fight like a Marine and act like a man, as he went through the hell of boot camp to the raucous port of Pearl Harbor with its gambling, gals, and tattoos, to the island of death itself, where he hit the black sand of Iwo Jima with 30,000 other Marines in the climactic battle of the Pacific Theater.

pacwar004

It was on that godforsaken strip of land that Tatum and Basilone would meet again under a hellish rain of bullets and bombs — and where Tatum would make his own mark, carrying ammo for the machine gun carried by Basilone. Together they would lead the breakout off the beach, driving through and destroying a swath of enemy soldiers in the first man-to-man combat on Iwo Jima.

pacwar005

Red Blood, Black Sand is the story of Chuck’s two weeks in hell, where he would watch his hero, Basilone, fall, where the enemy stalked the night, where snipers haunted the day, and where Chuck would see his friends whittled away in an eardrum-shattering, earth-shaking, meat grinder of a battle.

WWII IWO JIMA U.S. MARINES

Before the end, Chuck would find himself, like Basilone, standing alone, blind with rage, firing a machine gun from the hip, in a personal battle to kill a relentless foe he had come to hate. This is the island, the heroes, and the tragedy of Iwo Jima, through the eyes of the battle’s greatest living storyteller, Chuck Tatum.

pacwar007

Across the dark islands : the war in the Pacific  Floyd W. Radike  New York : Presidio, 2003  Hardcover. 1st ed. viii, 261 p. : maps ; 22 cm.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

“I remember sitting in a foxhole on Guadalcanal in the rain. The sergeant I shared the hole with shook his head and asked me: ‘What in the hell are we doing on this godforsaken island? Why don’t we let the Japs keep this stinking rock?’ I didn’t have an answer.”

pacwar009

The war in the Pacific has never been portrayed more honestly — or in prose more powerful — than in Across the Dark Islands. In this unflinching account, Brig. Gen.Floyd W. Radike remembers how he started his military career in the mud and mayhem of Guadalcanal, fighting a campaign as crucial to the war’s outcome as it was chaotic and cruel.

Here is no whitewashed view of that war or the men who waged it. Here instead is the sobering story of a junior officer in a National Guard unit suddenly shipped off to the front lines, disdained by “regular army” elitists who served beside him, and given second-class status so that others could earn headlines and promotions. While struggling to survive amid dirt and disease, routine and monotony, Radike endured harrowing missions incompetently, arrogantly, or just impatiently planned.

pacwar011

As no book ever has, Across the Dark Islands reveals shocking details removed from myth and sentimentality: how American commanders were intimidated by the Japanese stereotype of fearlessness, night attacks, and cries of “banzai” . . . how imitations of John Wayne heroics caused immediate death . . . threats of court-martial quieted accusations of Army injustice . . . and panic and flight destroyed a fight for the enemy’s Munda Field airstrip, an event that “disappeared from the record and appears in no official history.”

Landscape

Emerging from the hellish conditions and military miscalculations is a tribute to common sense, courage, and respect for proper procedure, attributes that would help the author and soldiers like him to save their lives, succeed in battle, and win the war. From Guadalcanal to the Philippines to a planned invasion of Japan ended by the atom bomb, Radike’s experience spanned the entire course of the pivotal Pacific theater conflict. Candid and cautionary, his memoir is an important work  that should be read by anyone looking to join an army or wage a war.

pacwar001b

Comments Off on On a chunk of volcanic waste in the South Pacific is the Fifth Marine Division cemetery where some of the 4,189 U.S. Marines killed during the battle of Iwo Jima are buried – may they rest in peace.

Filed under Book Reviews

With Heaven’s aid I have conquered for you a huge empire. But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That task is left for you… Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan and the making of the modern  world  Jack Weatherford  New York : Crown, c 2004 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxxv, 312 p. :  ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical  references (p. 293-300) and index. Clean, tight and  strong binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

khan001

The name Genghis Khan often conjures the image of a relentless, bloodthirsty barbarian on horseback leading a ruthless band of nomadic warriors in the looting of the civilized world. But the surprising truth is that Genghis Khan was a visionary leader whose conquests joined backward Europe with the flourishing cultures of Asia to trigger a global awakening, an unprecedented explosion of technologies, trade, and ideas. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford, the only Western scholar ever to be allowed into the Mongols’ “Great Taboo”—Genghis Khan’s homeland and forbidden burial site—tracks the astonishing story of Genghis Khan and his descendants, and their conquest and transformation of the world.

Fighting his way to power on the remote steppes of Mongolia, Genghis Khan developed revolutionary military strategies and weaponry that emphasized rapid attack and siege warfare, which he then brilliantly used to overwhelm opposing armies in Asia, break the back of the Islamic world, and render the armored knights of Europe obsolete. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongol army never numbered more than 100,000 warriors, yet it subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans conquered in four hundred. With an empire that stretched from Siberia to India, from Vietnam to Hungary, and from Korea to the Balkans, the Mongols dramatically redrew the map of the globe, connecting disparate kingdoms into a new world order.

kahn002

But contrary to popular wisdom, Weatherford reveals that the Mongols were not just masters of conquest, but possessed a genius for progressive and benevolent rule. On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan’s accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination. Genghis Khan was an innovative leader, the first ruler in many conquered countries to put the power of law above his own power, encourage religious freedom, create public schools, grant diplomatic immunity, abolish torture, and institute free trade. The trade routes he created became lucrative pathways for commerce, but also for ideas, technologies, and expertise that transformed the way people lived. The Mongols introduced the first international paper currency and postal system and developed and spread revolutionary technologies like printing, the cannon, compass, and abacus. They took local foods and products like lemons, carrots, noodles, tea, rugs, playing cards, and pants and turned them into staples of life around the world. The Mongols were the architects of a new way of life at a pivotal time in history.

In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Weatherford resurrects the true history of Genghis Khan, from the story of his relentless rise through Mongol tribal culture to the waging of his devastatingly successful wars and the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed. This dazzling work of revisionist history doesn’t just paint an unprecedented portrait of a great leader and his legacy, but challenges us to reconsider how the modern world was made.

Comments Off on With Heaven’s aid I have conquered for you a huge empire. But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That task is left for you… Genghis Khan

Filed under Book Reviews

Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Jeremiah 7:9-10

Death and the Virgin Queen : Elizabeth I and the dark scandal that rocked the throne  Chris Skidmore  New York : St. Martin’s Press, 2011  Hardcover. 1st American ed. and printing. Originally published as: Death and the virgin : Elizabeth, Dudley and the mysterious fate of Amy Robsart. London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010. 430 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 408-419) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

On the morning of September 8, 1560, at the isolated manor of Cunmor place, the body of a young woman was found at the bottom of a staircase, her neck broken. But this was no ordinary death. Amy Robsart was the wife of Elizabeth I’s great favorite, Robert Dudley, the man who many believed she would marry, were he free.

Immediately people suspected foul play and Elizabeth’s own reputation was in danger of serious damage. Many felt she might even lose her throne. An inquest was begun, witnesses called, and ultimately a verdict of death by accident was reached. But the mystery refused to die and cast a long shadow over Elizabeth’s reign.

Using recently discovered forensic evidence from the original investigation, Skidmore is able to put an end to centuries of speculation as to the true causes of Robsart’s death. This is the story of a treacherous period in Elizabeth’s life: a tale of love, death, and tragedy, exploring the dramatic early life of England’s Virgin Queen.

Comments Off on Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Jeremiah 7:9-10

Filed under Book Reviews