Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book review - Days of Infamy.

Days of Infamy opens just minutes after Pearl Harbor ends and picks up the story without a hitch. Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen are back at their excellent work in this 369 page book that was published in 2008.

Following up on the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor the United States still has two carrier groups out to sea. What those carrier groups do and how the Japanese navy deals with it are the story in this book. By the time this book opens there is little left in common with actual history. That matters little though since the book is well-written and very believable. Momentarily forgetting that it isn't the actual account is easy as the events of the book unfold.

Once again the narrative is delivered to the reader through the eyes and thoughts of those involved on both sides. America has been hit and hard but she isn't down and definitely not out. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto knows this as he races to try and entrap the elusive American carriers. Now that the ball is rolling he feels that he has no option but to keep it going.

Equally determined is the American Navy and Admiral Halsey. Japan has the edge and momentum going in but the result is far from a sure thing. The U.S.N. is out for blood and revenge. Someone is going to pay for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and soon.

Much like Pearl Harbor this book is a very fast read. Just as before I finished it in a little more than a day. The style and quality of the writing make it easy to read. The story reaching out and grabbing the reader makes the reading urgent. Days of Infamy is a book you won't want to put down until you regretfully finish the last page.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book review - Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor is another alternate history book by Newt Gringrich and William Forstchen. This time the setting is in the years and days leading up to the fateful attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The book runs 366 pages and was published in 2008.

I have to say that after reading Josephus, this book was a very light read. In fact, I finished it off in just a little over a day. It helped that the story was gripping and well-written. Both authors know their military history and both are excellent writers.

The book is written in the style of Jeff Shaara's excellent novels, with the reader inside the heads of various men on either side of the conflict. Starting in 1934 the book follows a nice selection of characters as the tension between the United States and Japan develops. The final climatic moment is the attack on Pearl.

As is usual with Gingrich and Forstchen, only a few key decisions are changed. Moving from that the differences between actual and alternate history start small and rapidly enlarge. Events overtake those involved and the outcome hangs by a hair at times. An excellent read for the history buff, World War 2 scholar, or anyone interested in a ripping good yarn.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book review - The Works of Josephus.

So the reason I haven't posted a review in awhile is because it took me quite a bit of time to read The Works of Josephus as translated by William Whiston. Of course the original author is the Jewish historian Josephus but Mr. Whiston has collected his writings and translated them into english.

Josephus wrote much of his history during the reigns of the Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. His two main works cover history in general up to that time and the Jewish wars against Roman occupation. There are other smaller books covering his own biography, his take on Jesus, Hell, and other topics, and a refutation of a rival historian.

The Antiquities of the Jews follows the Biblical account of creation as it starts out. Some additions are made and a few things left out. It isn't until after the Babylonian Exile that it strikes off from where the Old Testament leaves off. The accounts of the return and the wars of the Maccabees are very interesting as is the rise of Herod the Great and the takeover by Rome. The account then dovetails back in with the New Testament for a short time before moving past that period of history. It ends with the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Rome.

A History of the Jewish Wars covers some of the same ground the Antiquities ends with and then moves into an account of the revolt against Rome. Vespasian scores some early successes and then is called to Rome to become Emperor. His some Titus takes over and completes the taking of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple. He then returns to Rome. The taking of Masada and a few small actions then occur and the war is finished.

All in all I found this book to be fascinating. The historical context for the Bible alone makes it worth the read. The additional history is also well worthwhile. It is a bit slow though and somewhat confusing as Josephus writes in a slightly disordered way at times and seems to be a bit prone to exaggeration. There are places where it is hard to connect individual events to the overall picture. Of course, there is a Roman bias. This is needed both to explain Josephus' survival after taking part in the revolt and to keep him in the emperors' favor and ensure his continued survival. I found it interesting that Josephus himself mentions this on several occasions. The translation and occasional notes by Mr. Whiston seem to be well done.

I would recommend this book with the caveat that one needs to be prepared to take the time to read it. It isn't easy reading but it is very informational, enlightening and well worth the time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Dawn Treader gets lost at sea.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers if you haven't seen this movie.

Well, the family and I went to see the third Chronicles of Narnia movie last night. I've got to say I wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard of some problems with the production and I knew that Prince Caspian had strayed from the storyline of C.S. Lewis' book. Still, I hoped that perhaps the makers of the film would use it to steer the series back to the books. Sadly, I was wrong.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader starts off right as Lucy and Edmond Pevensie are drawn back to Narnia along with their pest of a cousin, Eustace Scrubb. The Dawn Treader looks as it is described by Lewis and Reepicheep is once again spot on. Caspian is as we remember him as he helps rescue the cousins and get them on board. Then it's off to the Lone Islands.

The first stop of the ship is where the film gets off track. The sequence of events had to be shortened for the silver screen but this time it is completely changed. Lord Burn is not living in quiet seclusion, he is in prison. Slavery is a problem but not the main one. Instead the inhabitants of the islands are being offered as sacrifices to a mysterious green mist that comes up out of the sea. Lord Burn explains that the other lords of Narnia sailed east in an attempt to locate the source of the mist. He also gives Caspian a sword that Aslan had given to Caspian's father who had given it to him. He explains that each of the lords had been given such a sword. Nice storyline but completely different from the book and it only gets worse.

Over the course of the rest of the movie we follow the ship from island to island in its journey. The sequence of the islands has been changed and some are combined. As the voyage unfolds, the adventurers learn that the green mist comes from "Dark Island" and that the only way to defeat it is to lay all seven swords from the lords of Narnia on Aslan's table. At that point some secret magical power will be released and destroy the mist. Until that point evil has the upper hand. Complete divergence from Lewis' tale.

After much adventuring and more mutilation of Lewis' work the final battle is enacted against a monstrous sea serpent and ghostly renditions of evil. Aslan belatedly restores Eustace to his human form and he places the final sword on the table. A blue light surges forth and defeats the evil green mist. The final scene at the end of the world incorporates Caspian but is otherwise faithful to the book, even to Aslan's remark that the Pevensies know him in our world by another name. A nice nod to the book but too little too late.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader isn't really a bad movie I suppose. The acting is well done and the effects are great. The problem is that it just isn't true to C.S. Lewis' work and is held out as a movie adaptation of such. I understand that things sometimes need to be abridged due to budget constraints. I don't understand the complete overhauling of the storyline. Why add in the mystical elements and magic swords nonsense? I can see no clear reason. The additions turn out to be subtractions when the film is viewed against the backdrop of what it could have been.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

After action report - Prairie Grove, Arkansas.

This last weekend I once again made the trek to what is probably one of my favorite reenactments, Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Like Pilot Knob, Prairie Grove is a state-run park. As a result we get the real treat of camping where the armies camped and fighting where they fought. This also happens to be the site of my first ever reenactment after I enlisted in the Ninth and so holds many fond memories. The event is held every two years.

I arrived on site late Friday afternoon. Out of habit I drove to the Latta barn - the normal registration site. A sign on the door directed me to the museum. Once at the museum I found that registration was $10 and that I had to register twice, once as a participant and once to be able to fire a weapon. Only one fee though. With maps and official event badge in hand I headed off into the gathering darkness to find the Ninth.

Due to the excellent map I was able to quickly locate camp. A short time later the tent was up, the gear unloaded, and I was back in the army again. As other members of the company showed up we learned that the captain and first sergeant were not coming. Corporal Downey thus moved up to captain for the weekend and Corporal Albert to first sergeant. Both did an outstanding job. Other than the command, numbers were fairly decent for the Ninth. Counting Captain Downey there were eleven men present for duty. An addition of 2nd Kansas recruits (learning to fight on the right side) added another 13 or so men and an officer. Most of the 2nd were fresh fish and so required some drilling and shepherding but all did well. An added treat was the appearance of a former captain and my brother. Both have been absent from the Ninth for some time due to moves.

Saturday dawned cool but did warm up to about 45 degrees or so before the day was out. Roll call followed by breakfast preceded morning parade and drill. A weapons inspection was performed for the benefit of the park service. At the inspection the full strength of Confederate arms for the weekend was revealed. Three infantry battalions, a battery of guns, and a small handful of cavalry. Just over 250 total I estimated. The Federals would later appear in similar numbers.

Following drill and weapons inspection we were released. My brother and I headed for the sutlers but didn't make it there before stopping by an old comrade's tent in the civilian camp. The former Ninth man was there to sell his remaining gear. We helped him out a bit before moving on. At sutler row we hit several tents but made no purchases. A chance encounter with men from the Red River Battalion Ninth proved enjoyable. Carbonated caffeine was also procured.

Shortly after lunch the battalion was formed for battle and moved to the battle area. Spectator presence was heavy but not as heavy as at Pilot Knob. The battle was fairly well done. My only complaint was that the artillery were a bit flippant about leaving their guns as we were driven back past them. Just as the tide turned I went down. From the sounds of things though the yankees were driven back down the hill and we retook our guns.

After the battle Mrs. Spiff and the little ones stopped by camp. Spiff Jr. managed to get in on pay call. The visit was short though as temperatures were dropping and the family started to get cold. The spirits of the Ninth were not cooled though and we enjoyed our evening around the campfire. Among other note-worthy occurrences was a reading from a book on the Ninth Texas Cavalry by Private J. Ralph. This was interesting as well as enjoyable.

Saturday night got down to about 18 degrees. I stayed warm for the most part but did awaken a couple times and had to readjust my blankets. My brother pulled out before dawn due to work commitments but advised prior to leaving that he had enjoyed getting out once again.

In spite of the cold, breakfast was enjoyable and the men soon warmed up. After roll call and morning parade there was a cold drill session. Following that there was battalion church call. This was cold but welcome even though a member of the Ninth violated the Articles of War by his behaviour in the vicinity.

Sunday's battle kicked off about 1300. This was a better fight in my view than the day before. I am not sure why this was the case. The scenario was the same as we were pushed up the hill and lost our guns before turning the tide around the Borden House and thrashing the Federals back down the hill. The battalion was dismissed from the battlefield. After a quick packing session the event was over the army dissolved once again.

All in all Prairie Grove once again lived up to its reputation. The event was enjoyable and the battles well done. Water and porta-johns were plentiful and wood was adequate. I was disappointed that no straw was provided for the infantry except what was to be had by raiding. For the steep $10 registration fee and considering the weather, there should have been some. Still, an A+ event in my book and one that I look forward to returning to in two years.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

After action report - Brownville, Nebraska.

Loaded up the family on October 8th and headed off to tiny Brownville, Nebraska. No battle took place in Brownville during the war but they wanted one to take place there during a street festival they were having. We arrived with daylight left after a fairly smooth 3.5 hour drive. The town is hilly and suitable camping space is sparse so the Confederate camps were fairly widely separated. After registering we were given directions to the camps we needed.

Got Mrs. Spiff and the wee ones set up in the yard of an antique shop/book store before heading off to a hilltop park to locate the CS infantry camp. Little trouble with either since the reenactment numbers were less than 150 total. That done we headed off to a nearby town to hit up a Subway for dinner. After dinner I took the family back to their camp and left the car nearby. Hiked up the steep hill to my camp about a mile away. Passed a comfortable night Friday night. Got a little cool once but the weather was nice all things considered.

Saturday dawned clear and nice. Got some breakfast and discovered that no other members of the ninth save a new recruit and the acting major were present. After breakfast I helped drill the new recruits. Mid-morning we headed into town for the promised tactical fight. After some reluctance on the part of the Federals the battle was joined. Saving the downtown area and church grounds, the entire town was in play. Made for an interesting battle as we fought through yards and a walking trail area. Spectators watched from wherever they could find a vantage point.

Following the tactical we reformed and then broke ranks for lunch. Walked to the civilian camp and ate with the family. They had seen part of the tactical but had returned to camp before it was over. Spiff Jr. had several questions. Sis and Bug were enjoying the nice weather and were busy feeding their dolls. Walked back up the hill after lunch to refill my cartridge box.

The scripted battle occurred along the Missouri River. The area was mostly sand and the scenario was poor. In addition the Federals were less than aggressive and I suffered major damage to my uniform pants. Not an impressive battle. Stopped by the civilian camp to switch out pants before returning to camp. Cleaned my musket and played cards for awhile before returning to the civilian camp to eat dinner with the family. Another pleasant evening Saturday night. Slept very well.

Sunday dawned just as pleasant as the day before. After breakfast I was tabbed to act as defense counsel in a field court-martial. In spite of what I thought was a spirited defense I was unable to get the accused acquitted. The poor lad was convicted of insubordination, desertion, and treason. The sentence was a public parade and execution. This was carried out before lunch in downtown Brownville. The spectacle was impressive and well-attended by the public.

Sunday's battle was a repeat in reverse of the day before and not much more impressive. Following that we packed up and headed off for home.

In summary, the event was enjoyable and one I would recommend should the town repeat it. In spite of the battle flops I had a great time, as did the family. The town was hospitable and welcoming and the powder ration was much appreciated.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

After action report - Pilot Knob, Missouri.

Spent this last weekend at a Civil War reenactment at Pilot Knob, Missouri. The event was a recreation of the Battle of Fort Davidson. The assault took place in 1864 as part of Sterling Price's raid into Missouri. The reenactment took place on the same ground as the original fight. The Federals spent part of the reenactment battles inside the original earthworks.

Left home fairly early Friday morning since the drive was a little over eight hours. Had a decent trip across Missouri and managed to get into the event with plenty of daylight. Got Mrs. Spiff and her new wall tent set up in the civilian camp. Then it was off to the Confederate camp. Had little trouble locating battalion staff. They informed me that I was the first member of the 9th to check in and showed me where to locate the company street.

After stepping off the necessary area for the 1st Sergeant's tent, I got my own canvas up. Another member of the 9th showed up while I was locating my tent. I offered to help him set up as well but he demurred. Captain Cox and several other men showed up around dusk. Helped him and the guys with him unload and get set up. By this time it was dark. Conferred with Mrs. Spiff and we headed off to the local Subway for a quick dinner. After dinner I got Mrs. Spiff and the kiddos situated at their tent and then parked the van before heading back to camp.

When I got back in I found that several more men had arrived. Participation was looking good. Got caught up with those present and then decided to hit the sack. Had a good night's rest even with a couple of interruptions from late-arriving troops.

Saturday dawned clear and cool but didn't take long to warm up decently. Following roll call we had a quick breakfast and then Mrs. Spiff arrived. She was not having a good morning. Sis had not adjusted well to being out again and now bedding had to be washed. I ended up with the three wee ones while Mrs. Spiff did clean-up duty. While I was watching the small fry drill time rolled around. Had Spiff Jr. take over the supervision of his sisters with strict instructions to stay in camp. He did wonderfully and was relieved by Mom during drill.

Drilled as a company and as a battalion. Good to knock the rust off. Nice to see the new recruits catching on quickly. There were two men who were at their first event and one who had but two outings previously. After drilling for well over an hour we were released to our own devices. Took Mrs. Spiff and the young ones to sutler row. Seemed like we could only walk short distances before being stopped. Seemed that everyone wanted to take pictures of the kids - especially the girls. Quite the compliment to Mrs. Spiff's sewing abilities.

Browsing at the sutlers done, I ate lunch with the family in the civilian camp. More people asking to take pictures during the meal. After eating I returned to camp. Hadn't been back long before the orders came down to form up for battle.

The artillery opened the battle dueling with the Federal pieces inside and outside the earthworks. The cavalry skirmished as we deployed through our guns. Once past the artillery the infantry fight commenced. As in the original battle we pushed the Yankee infantry back into the fort. Once they were bottled up we launched our assault. After being repulsed twice with significant losses we formed up for a final push. Up to the very walls of the fort we went. I went down in the last assault in a canister hit with what remained of the 9th. Following the battle there was a pause for respect and reflection.

Back in camp we were met by Mrs. Spiff. She had her traditional post-engagement lemonade for us as well as some very good pound cake. After that refreshment we headed off to the period photographer to get a company image struck. Took awhile but it came out well. Back to camp and time to clean muskets and refill cartridge boxes and cap pouches. That done it was time to consider dinner.

Following dinner I walked up to the civilian camp to see if Mrs. Spiff was interested in attending the dance. She was and so we went. Big crowd. Danced for about three quarters of the time before Mrs. Spiff got too tired to go on. She enjoyed herself though and we got to see the Federals blow up the powder magazine in the fort halfway through the dance. Following the dance the family went to bed and I returned to camp to visit for awhile before bed. Watched an epic card game that was in progress when I returned.

Very early Sunday morning the rain began. I managed to stay mostly dry and get some more sleep as did the rest of the company. The rain let off before reveille. Up and out for roll call. More drill after breakfast and then church call. The family joined me for church call on the battalion headquarters line. After church I packed up most all of my gear and transported it to the civilian camp to be stored in Mrs. Spiff's tent until time to leave.

Formed up for the battled at one o'clock. Colonel Amend announced that the event organizers had told him that approximately 20,000 spectators had attended to that point. Wow! No wonder the place had seemed so crowded. Very nice turnout. The Sunday battle followed the same general lines as the Saturday one. Did manage to make it to the walls of the fort and rescued the colors before falling back. Once again there was a moment of silence following the battle. This time a bagpiper played Amazing Grace. Very nice.

Following the battle the rain began again. Got loaded up ok but most all of our gear got at least damp. Oh well, part of the game I suppose. About nine hours later we were home. Tired but having had a good time.

Overall this was a great event and I was glad to be able to go. The site is a little modern but the ability to fight on the actual field makes up for that. The public supported the event well and the organizers took very good care of us. The next scheduled Pilot Knob is in 2014 and despite the long drive I am looking forward to attending again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sean Hannity is uninformed - at least on one issue.

While driving today I had the radio on and tuned into the local talk station. Sean Hannity was on and caught my attention. He was getting pretty wound. Apparently Sean doesn't care for the GOP's response to the recent primary upsets.

In particular Hannity mentioned Christine O'Donnell's defeat of Mike Castle in Delaware and Carl Paladino's downing of Rick Lazio in New York. Several high-ranking Republican officials - including Karl Rove - had expressed their dissatisfaction with the outcomes of the elections. Rumors are flying that the GOP will not support their nominees since the conservative beat out the moderates.

Hannity was livid over this possibility. He claimed that he had never heard of such a thing and that it is unimaginable that the party will not support their nominees. He complained about Republicans "eating their own" and was very clear in his displeasure.

I don't really know anything about O'Donnell or Paladino. I do know that Sean Hannity is out of touch when it comes to this topic. Liberal and moderate Republicans have been expecting support in the general from conservatives for a long time. They have also been unwilling to return the favor. Hasn't Hannity ever heard of Tim Shallenburger? An excellent example of the double standard.

Shallenburger ran as a conservative in the 2002 Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary. He beat several moderates to win the nomination. Term-limited sitting GOP governor Bill Graves had crushed his Democratic opponents in both of his elections. Shallenburger looked to be the next governor. Then it happened. Liberal and moderate Republicans jumped ship. Claiming that the GOP nominee was too conservative they flocked to Democrat Kathleen Sebelius' banner. Not just the rank and file either. Governor Graves refused to endorse Shallenburger. His Lieutenant Governor endorsed Sebelius. Various Republican leaders followed suit. Sebelius handily beat Shallenburger to become governor. Of course she wouldn't even serve out her first term as she moved to Washington to assist President Obama with healthcare reform.

So you see Sean Hannity, GOP backstabbing has been going on for awhile and with some dire consequences. Some of the same geniuses who betrayed Shallenburger are now crying for the repeal of Obama's healthcare plan. I doubt not that the same type of thing will now happen in Delaware and New York. More of the same Sean, welcome to what those of us in flyover country have been experiencing for years.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book review - Straw.

Straw is Darryl Strawberry's autobiography. The book runs 237 pages and was published in 2009. The copy that I recently read is the hardback version.

The book starts with Darryl's drunken father threatening his family with a shotgun. Unknown to the Strawberrys at the time the gun was not loaded. Darryl would deal with plenty of other loaded situations in his life though before the subtitle of Finding My Way would be applicable. Several of those situations would result in far greater injuries than he feared from his father that terrible night.

From early childhood through retirement from baseball it is interesting to see the development of Darryl's struggles and the man he has become today. Interesting but heartbreaking at times. Straw has little to nothing positive to say about his alcoholic father who left the family on the night detailed at the start of the book. The lack of a father's influence laid a tragic foundation. Through drug, alcohol, and sex addictions, domestic violence, suspensions from Major League Baseball, injuries, and three marriages the rocky path goes.

I remember Darryl being a huge splash with the Mets in the eighties. I remember his failings and less than stellar reputation. I knew the what, I didn't know the why. The rough and tumble background of the man. I didn't know the end of the story. The faith and rehab that helped him get his life back on track. His founding and work with the Darryl Strawberry Foundation to address the problem of autism.

Darryl's come a long way and the trail is an eye-opening one. While I found the explanation of Darryl's faith to be a little confusing I would still recommend that anyone who is a Mets or Darryl Strawberry fan read Straw: Finding My Way.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book review - Conciliation with the Colonies.

Conciliation with the Colonies was published in 1920 and contains the text of a speech by the same title. The speech was delivered by Sir Edmund Burke to the British House of Commons on March 22, 1775.

This is a very interesting speech and it pays to keep in mind when it was being delivered. Relations between the American Colonies an the English government were extremely strained and full-fledged hostilities were not far in the future. Various taxes, penalties, and occupations had been imposed by The Crown in an attempt to regain control of the American situation. None had been successful.

Burke courageously takes an unpopular position and calls on the House of Commons to pass a resolution recognizing that the Colonies have been mistreated. Burke traces the failures of the British policy to that point.

After explaining the current situation he states that there are but three options to deal with the current spirit among the colonists. One is to change it, the second is to outlaw it, and the third is to comply with it. Mr. Burke then discounts the first two options as impracticable and ineffective and urges that third be pursued.

Using the examples of Wales, Ireland, and Chester Mr. Burke clearly shows how conciliation by way of concession can breed loyalty rather than disloyalty. He urges representation for the colonists as is their right under English law. He argues that power must not always need be exercised to its utmost in order to be maintained and that certain concessions will not weaken the position of the government.

The speech is powerful, thoughtful, and wise. Had the British government followed Burke's advice I have a feeling that we would still be looking to London as either our actual or titular capital. This speech is well worth the read.

Some of the quotes that I particularly enjoyed were:

"Peace implies reconciliation."

"The use of force alone is but temporary. Conciliation failing, force remains; but force failing, no further hope of conciliation is left."

"Obedience is what makes government, not the names by which it is called."

"It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do."

"Freedom, not servitude, is the cure for anarchy."

"A great empire and little minds go ill together."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book review - Kidnapped.

Just finished Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. The copy I read was a paperbacked edition printed in 1971 and ran 271 pages. Having often heard of the tale I was looking forward to reading it for myself.

Kidnapped is the fictional story of a young man who comes into an inheritance only to be betrayed by his uncle and sent off by boat for the American colonies. The ship wrecks before leaving the coast of Scotland though and young David Balfour must make his way across Scotland and home to reclaim his inheritance. In route he gets caught up in a murder and the ensuing manhunt.

Stevenson weaves an interesting yarn and incorporates actual historical figures in his narrative. The murder actually took place and was much as described in fact as in fiction. The accused murderer plays a central role in the story and several other historical figures make appearances. The addition of a map on the back of the copy I was reading helped to make sense of the places mentioned in the book.

If you are looking for a quick and entertaining read I recommend Mr. Stevenson's Kidnapped.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book review - When the French Were Here.

Sorry to be so long in writing. Things have been pretty busy lately and it slowed my reading down. I did recently finish When the French Were Here by Stephen Bonsal. The book is subtitled A Narrative of the Yorktown Campaign and focuses on the role played by the French expeditionary force toward the close of the war for American Independence. Published in 1945 the book runs for 247 pages.

Mr. Bonsal manages to keep the book moving along and provides an interesting look at an often over-looked aspect of the War for Independence. While I was well aware of the role played by the French in the war I did not ever consider the events as seen through the eyes of the French troops and officers. Mr. Bonsal does this very well as he draws from contemporary writings and records. The struggle of the French to understand the Americans and the interest they showed in our people and culture rings true of any soldiers deployed to a foreign land. Several of the officers kept copious notes and inscribed their impressions of not only the American military but the American people as well.

A frequent point in these observations is the idea that the liberty bug was catching. Many of the French seemed to understand that what was happening in America was a new idea for their times. They sensed that it could carry across the oceans and change even their homeland. In private they seemed to approve of the idea. It is ironic that Mr. Bonsal traces several of these men to their deaths at the hands of the maniacs who ruled revolutionary France just a few short years later.

Over all I enjoyed Mr. Bonsal's work. Anyone who is either a student of our War for Independence or of French history would be well served by reading When the French Were Here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review - Autobiography.

Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography runs 235 pages in the 1923 edition that I read. It is an inside look at Franklin's early life from his perspective. Well, maybe his perspective. With Benjamin Franklin you can never be sure, he may have been writing what he thought people would want to read.

Dr. Franklin never finished his Autobiography. The book ends at the firing of colonial Governor Denny by the proprietaries of Pennsylvania. It still gives a fascinating look at Franklin's rise from poverty to the renown which most associate with him. Of course there is also the man's personality and belief system peeking out through the pages.

The Autobiography is referred to in any major book about Benjamin Franklin. For that reason alone it should be read by anyone interested in this founding father. As an added bonus it is well written and gives an insightful look into the formation of one of the leading personalities of the revolutionary era. A recommended read for anyone wanting to meet Benjamin Franklin.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book review - The Sinking of the Bismarck.

William L. Shirer's The Sinking of the Bismarck is a 169 page account of the sea battle that ended with the destruction of the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. The book was published by Random House in 1962. Mr. Shirer explains what sources he drew from in writing the book but since it is primarily aimed at the younger set he does not have footnotes.

The book begins with the notification to the British naval command that the Bismarck has sailed. What follows is a broad search for the elusive ship as it breaks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Shirer does a good job of setting the stage for the coming confrontation as the German ship is located and the British close in.

An initial battle results in the sinking of the Hood with almost all hands and the crippling of the Prince of Wales. Things look grim for the British. What follows is a chase on the high seas as more British ships converge and the Bismarck attempts to return to port.

The final showdown is well written from both perspectives on the battle. Using captured German records Mr. Shirer is able to partially reconstruct what was going on with the Bismarck as the battle progressed. Of course, the outcome is given in the title.

The Sinking of the Bismarck is engaging and well written. The style is such that it will easily hold the attention of its target audience. Serious scholars of World War II will likely find little to hold their interest. However, those not familiar with the war or those just beginning to delve into history will find themselves learning much.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book review - To Try Men's Souls.

Received Newt Gringrich and William Forstchen's To Try Men's Souls for Christmas. This is a 336 page historical novel covering the Trenton campaign during the Revolutionary War. Unlike the pair's previous offerings, this book is not an alternate history. It is along the lines of Jeff Shaara's offerings and while good does not quite reach to his level. Nevertheless it is still a fine book.

The book follows four characters through the Continental Army's attack on the Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey. Much of the narrative takes place on December 25th and 26th of 1776 although there are several flashbacks. Care must be taken to note the dates and locations that head each section.

Most of the flashbacks involve Thomas Paine and his writing of his pamphlet The Crisis. His wrestling within himself and doubts about what to write are the focus of his character. He is also at least partially intoxicated for most of the book. With the assistance of Dr. Benjamin Rush he finally gets the pamphlet into print just days before the campaign opens.

The second character the book follows is General George Washington. I actually found this to probably be the least interesting part of the book but it was well done. Washington has so much exposure that it is difficult to bring him to life without dropping into cliches. Gingrich and Forstchen make an admirable effort however and the result is a well done picture of a commander under the gun and out of time.

The third character is a well-drawn fictional member of the New Jersey militia from Trenton. This young man is dealing with some doubt but still believes what Thomas Paine has written. He is also struggling with his physical weaknesses as the march drags on and his body breaks down. Lastly, there is a terrible family conflict that he must face as the army attains victory. This young man could perhaps illustrate many members of the Continental Army.

The fourth character is perhaps a puzzling choice at first glance but is one that I truly enjoyed reading about. Colonel Johann Rall was the commander of the Hessian garrison at Trenton. He was a professional soldier who had been born and bred to the profession. I know little about him from history. In this book he emerges as a rigid man who demanded much of his men but tried to take care of them as well. He has the professional's disdain for the American army and is sick and tired of America in general. This isn't his war and he longs to return to Europe and the land and people he knows.

All in all To Try Men's Souls is well-written and is an enjoyable read. The narrative sticks to the historical facts while putting a human face on them. The story is interesting and flows well. Anyone interested in the founding of the United States would be well-served by reading this book.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Memorial Day.

May 15th is Law Enforcement Memorial Day. This year it caps off National Police Week. During the past week ceremonies have taken place at various memorials to fallen officers around the United States. Sadly, new names have been added to those memorials since last year's observances. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, line of duty deaths are up by 36% over this time last year.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book review - Six Secrets of the Christian Life.

Recently picked up a copy of Six Secrets of the Christian Life by the late Zane Hodges. I had read several of Hodges' books on a couple of other topics and enjoyed them so I looked forward to reading this book. I am always a little leery of books that purport to show some magic formula for instant success in living. Knowing how Zane wrote I doubted this was the case but decided to keep an eye open anyway.

In the 75 pages of this small book Hodges shares what he feels are six important concepts regarding victorious Christian living. There are no quick fixes and no snappy slogans. What is shared are down to earth Biblical principles. In fact, most believers probably already know at least one or two, if not more, of the "secrets" outlined. There is really very little earth-shattering information here. Instead Zane clearly shows from Scripture how to move towards a more Christ-like life. I found the book to be challenging and helpful.

At the end of the book there is a helpful index of the passages cited. This is very helpful in re-enforcing that Hodges' is not out on his own here but is drawing what he says from Scripture. That is crucial in determining if he is on the right track or not. It seems that he is. Six Secrets of the Christian Life is a thought provoking read that I highly recommend to anyone who finds themselves struggling in their Christian walk.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Book review - The Critical Period of American History.

Just finished up John Fiske's book The Critical Period of American History. This 350 page book was published in 1888 and covers the time in American history from 1783 to 1789. Mr. Fiske does an excellent job with his topic.

The book starts off with a brief summary of the effects of the Revolution on both the United States and Great Britain. Mr. Fiske then explores the weaknesses and problems that were associated with the Articles of Confederation. Soon it becomes obvious that something must be done. The last part of the book covers the Constitutional Convention and the battle to ratify the United States Constitution. George Washington is inaugurated as the first president on the final page. I found one passage in the book to be of particular interest:

While speaking of the fear of a centralized government, "To the familiar state governments which had so long possessed their love and allegiance, it was super-adding a new and untried government, which it was feared would swallow up the states and everywhere extinguish local independence. Nor can it be said that such fears were unreasonable. Our federal government has indeed shown a strong tendency to encroach upon the province of the state governments, especially since our late Civil War. Too much centralization is our danger today..." Very interesting coming just 20 short years after the close of the war and over 120 years before the present. Seems to solidify the contention that the war effectively ended states rights and that the Federal Government has been broadening its power since.

All in all The Critical Period of American History was well written and flowed smoothly. Mr. Fiske wrote a book well worthy of anyone interested in the founding era of our nation. This book gets two thumbs up.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Responding to a challenge: Five things in my wardrobe that I wouldn't be without.

Writing this in response to Here are the rules from Pierre's blog:

Title your post- Meme: Five things in my wardrobe that I wouldn't be without. [Edit: Since this is a blog title, please use proper capitalization. Thank you.]
Tell us who linked you.
List your 5 wardrobe items.
Paste these rules at the bottom.
Tag 2 or 3 others to join in the fun!

So I broke the title one. Told you who asked me to do this. Wrote the list. Pasted the rules. Gonna have to break the last one. I know, it'll break the chain and bring me bad luck. I like to live on the edge though.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book review - Old Fuss and Feathers.

After reading Zachary Taylor's campaign biography I decided to tackle something on Winfield Scott next. Old Fuss and Feathers by Arthur D. Howden Smith was published in 1937 and runs for 376 interesting pages.

The book is well written and moves along well as it covers Scott's life from birth to death. The author presents a very realistic picture of his subject. General Scott's strengths and flaws are mentioned and explained. While his shortcomings are not minimized he still comes across as a great man who almost lives up to his own ambitions and expectations.

Being familiar with Scott's connection with the Civil War and somewhat with his deeds in Mexico I was particularly interested in his early service. I was unaware that he was a lawyer prior to entering the military. His service on the Canadian border during the war of 1812 was well detailed in the book and was the springboard for his later career.

I found Mr. Smith's assessment of Scott as a good regular army general who distrusted volunteers to be interesting. In part this accounted for his clashes with Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. The clashes also sprang from each man's ambitions and from political differences with Jackson.

Old Fuss and Feathers was an easy and informative read. The one drawback was the lack of documentation and footnotes. Still, Arthur D. Howden Smith deserves and thumb and half up on this interesting book.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book review - Life of General Taylor.

Just finished another book from my Grandfather's library. Life of General Taylor by J. Reese Fry is a 325 page biography of General Zachary Taylor. Having given only brief attention to The War with Mexico and General Taylor's part therein, I was interested in reading this book. Another thing that served to whet my interest was the fact that it was published in October of 1847. Since General Taylor would win the presidential election of 1848 I wonder if this could be considered a campaign biography.

The book was of course positive to General Taylor but it did not come across as fawning. The General's early years are quickly summed up and the book really starts to pick up steam at the beginning of his military career. Incidents are recounted from the Blackhawk war and the Second Seminole conflict in Florida. These take up some space in the book and are interesting foundations laid leading up to General Taylor's rise to national prominence.

The emphasis of the book by far is The War with Mexico. General Taylor was the commanding general of U.S. troops along the border prior to the war and his actions there are carefully laid out. His movements once the war broke out are also detailed. The book covers the siege of Fort Brown, and the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de La Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista. The narrative ends shortly after Buena Vista with General Taylor in his camp preparing for the next action.

The book is of particular interest for several reasons. It shows the American view of the war and General Taylor at the time. I found this to be interesting. It also includes reprints of much of General Taylor's reports and correspondence with the War Department. These are valuable primary sources that help explain some of what went on and why. The final reason I found the book interesting was what was not in it. Only very sparing mentions were made of President Polk and General Scott. This seems to confirm the possibility that this book was originally published with the intent to further General Taylor's presidential possibilities.

All in all Life of General Taylor was well-written and an interesting read. It needs to be read for what it is, the biography of a presidential candidate prior to election. Still, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who can find it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book review - catching up.

Have recently read several small books. Because they are each so short I have decided to combine the reviews here.

The first book was George Sullivan's Baseball's Boneheads, Bad Boys, & Just Plain Crazy Guys. This 62 page book is aimed at the younger set and is illustrated. It is still an interesting read. Mr. Sullivan starts off with a disclaimer that most of the stunts discussed in the book should not be attempted. Sound advice. In the course of the book we see one player jump from a hotel window and another lock himself in a drink cooler. There are also the stories of players doctoring the ball and making wacky or absent-minded plays. Overall a neat little book of fun baseball stories.

Second up is another baseball book. Like Father, Like Son is Sarah Gardiner White's 151 page contribution on Major League Baseball families. She covers mostly famous families like the Alous and Ripkens. The DiMaggio brothers come in for a mention as do the Bretts, Alomars, Griffeys, and several others. The book is written to junior high kids and is a little dated. Not too bad a read all the same.

The last book is The County Sheriff America's Last Hope by Sheriff Richard Mack. Sheriff Mack was one of the sheriffs who successfully challenged parts of the Brady Bill. His subsequent fame lead to him writing several books and this 49 page book/booklet is one of them. The book is fairly well written and flows well. Sheriff Mack contends that the county sheriff is the last hope of a free America and that only if the sheriffs begin to stand up to unconstitutional laws will the country survive. He does an excellent job of rallying the troops to the call. His reasoning behind the call is a little less well done. Aside from the fact that sheriffs are elected by the people Sheriff Mack never explains quite what gives them this power to take on the Federal Government. He also neglects to mention what a sheriff should do when the Federal Government decides not to play along with his defiance. Beside these two weaknesses I found the book to be an interesting read. Sheriff Mack is definitely not shy about what he believes.

Coming soon to a country near you?

Interesting article at the Times Online. Seems to me that this is just a natural extension of the encroachment of government on every area of life but specifically in the area of health care. After all, if the government pays for your health insurance shouldn't it be allowed to engage in health assurance?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book review - The Historical Atlas of the Civil War.

One of the books that I got for Christmas was The Historical Atlas of the Civil War by John Macdonald. The book is a 383 page coffee table volume that claims "Maps and photographs chronicle the fascinating and dramatic story of the Civil War." I was excited to get this book, maps are often small or poorly drawn in smaller books.

I was bound to be disappointed in Mr. Macdonald's work. The book was poorly laid out with each chapter covering a specific battle or series of events and the chapters not all falling in sequential order. The maps were not very detailed and did not show the progression of events well. Those were the high points.

The pictures were not as numerous as might be expected and quite a number were misidentified. Some simply had the wrong names as in the picture of General George Custer on page 198 that is identified as Kit Carson. Others are simply not what they are purported to be. On page 366 a part of the Gettysburg cyclorama painting is labeled as being from 1861 and showing a field hospital of the time. On page 110 a picture is labeled as showing the CS battle flag. There isn't a picture of any CS flag anywhere in the picture. Page 129 shows the damage to the USS Monitor following the battle with the CSS Virginia. The damage is attributed to "the guns of the Union craft." Pictures on page 138 of the US army supply depot on the Virgina peninsula are labeled as showing "the Union Army encamped near the Mississippi River." There are more examples than just these but they suffice to demonstrate the problem.

As bad as the photograph captions are, the text is even a bigger disappointment. Sometimes there are obvious typos, other times outright mistakes. On page 72 the author has the Seven Days ending with the Union forces driving the Confederates back into Richmond. On page 165 we are introduced to CS General "Kirkby" Smith. The name should be Kirby. In case this be mistaken for an isolated error, "Kirkby" is repeated several times on pages 166 and 167 as well. On page 248 General Ulysses S. Grant commits treason by laying "siege to Petersburg, Pennsylvania." There are many more examples but the above sample should give you a good idea.

While the concept for The Historical Atlas of the Civil War is an excellent one the execution falls short of the goal. The layout, picture captions, and text all combine to give this book one thumb down overall.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book review - No Less Than Victory.

For Christmas my in-laws gave me No Less Than Victory, a novel about World War II. This is the latest book in Jeff Shaara's series and follows The Steel Wave, finishing the war in Europe. The book keeps some characters from the previous volume, drops some, and adds new ones. As is expected by now, Mr. Shaara's writing is intense, gripping, and historically accurate.

The book starts off with a bombing raid on Berlin from the perspective of one of the airmen involved. It then moves into a discussion among the Allied high command of the next step to take now that the German army has been pushed out of France and most of Belgium. Of course the Germans have other ideas and they launch the offensive that came to be known as the Battle of The Bulge. The book follows the offensive's course and the downward spiral of Germany's fortunes as the Third Reich stumbles towards its doom.

Mr. Shaara does an excellent job recreating the war from the American side. The British and Germans have smaller but equally well-done voices. The Russians are a force beyond the horizon, a rumor to be pondered and shuddered at. This technique adds to the reality of the American soldier's view. Once again the characters are convincingly drawn in a way that clearly shows their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.

There is a warning though. As the Allied forces advanced into Germany they uncovered the true consequences of Adolf Hitler's mad dream. The descriptions of German war atrocities are chilling. The description of the liberation of a concentration camp shook me to my core.

You must read this book as well as the rest of the Shaara series. Mr. Shaara has a gift and he uses it. This is not a textbook, it is history coming alive. If you think history is boring you owe it to yourself to read this book and as many others of the series as you can track down. It won't be boring when you're done. No Less Than Victory easily scores an unreserved two thumbs up.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Book review - Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Wow! Been awhile since I wrote. Sorry about that. Holiday traveling and all. Have finished two books in the past few weeks. The first is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. This interesting 446 page book is subtitled "An Indian History of the American West." I had long heard of Mr. Brown's work and looked forward to reading it. While it did not totally live up to expectations it was still a very good read. The book was well-written and moved along quite smoothly. The documentation seems to have been as good as the circumstances allowed.

Mr. Brown begins his narrative in 1860 and follows white expansion across the plains of the United States until 1890. The story is told from the perspective of the American Indians rather than the settlers and soldiers. This aspect alone makes the book worth reading. As tribe by tribe fight and fall it is clear to see the divisions and gut wrenching decisions that they underwent. Treaties were broken and atrocities committed by the United States military. Whole peoples were forcibly removed from their homes. Hearing about these events from the view of the people who underwent them is enlightening and somewhat sorrowful.

In spite of all the good points to the book, Mr. Brown did stub his toe several times. He accused the whites of magnifying Indian atrocities while minimizing their own. He then proceeded to do just the same thing in reverse. In like manner he (and the tribesmen of which he wrote) holds the United States accountable for the actions of rouge officers and free-lancers even while complaining that the whites all too often held the Indians accountable for the unsanctioned actions of hot-blooded young braves. Mr. Brown also condemns Philip Sheridan's statement that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. However, I was unable to ever find a good white man in the book.

Overall Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is an interesting and well-written read. If one keeps in mind the obvious double-standard frequently displayed there is much knowledge to be gleaned from the pages. I give the book one and a half thumbs up.