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.