Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book review - Crazy '08.

I picked up Cait Murphy's Crazy '08 at Half-Price Books a few days ago on a whim. I like baseball and I like history. A book about the 1908 baseball season is right up my alley. Of course I didn't expect the book to live up to it's dust cover hype.

I was wrong. For 299 pages Ms. Murphy brings the spring, summer, and fall of 1908 to life. Just like it was happening right now. The book is about the baseball season (referred to as the greatest in baseball history) but the time period naturally shows through as well.

Starting during the winter following the 1907 season, Crazy '08 follows the off-season maneuvering of teams trying to get that final piece to the puzzle or just a few players better than the previous year. The Cubs look to prolong their World Series dynasty, the Giants look to dethrone the Cubs, several other teams might sneak in under the radar. In the American League there is much more parity and much more flux as teams swap players and scout young talent while trying to scheme their way to the top. Proposals are voted on or ignored at the owner's meetings.

Spring Training lasts for a little over two months. Seems like a long time now but it was little enough for players who didn't work out all winter as they do now. The drama increases with rookies and worn-out veterans trying to make the rosters. More well-established players such as Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner stage their own holdouts. Fans rejoice when Wagner gets a raise and mutter when Cobb does.

Opening Day and the season is off. Through the twists and turns of the campaign Ms. Murphy brings the players, fans, executives, and ball parks to life. While most of the emphasis is on the National League the American League does get a little ink as well.

With the season coming down to the wire, the American League sees the White Sox, Tigers, and Naps (later the Indians) in contention. The race is decided in the last days. In the National League the Cubs, Giants, and Pirates are in the mix up until the last day of the season. The race there is a bit more exciting due to the controversy surrounding the Cubs-Giants rivalry.

Ms. Murphy ends her book with a quick overview of the 1908 World Series - perhaps the only part of the season which does not rate well when compared to other years. Some of the fall-out of the season is explained and a series of short biography's of the major names rounds out the book.

Crazy '08 lives up to it's dust cover hype. I found it to be impossible to put down and one of the best baseball books I have read in some time. Published in 2007, the book serves as a fitting 100th anniversary observance of what it makes a compelling case was the greatest season in Major League Baseball history.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book review - The Diary of a Public Man.

The Diary of a Public Man is a 128 page collection of a series of pieces originally published The North American Review in 1879. The copy I read was published in 1946. The diary covers a time period from December 28, 1860 to March 15, 1861. The identity of the writer is unknown and several of the names referred to in the diary were replaced by blanks in the original publication. Over the years there has been some speculation as to the authenticity of the diary but it appears to be a real account.

I found the diary to be an interesting read. The writer was evidently well connected in Washington and knew many prominent public figures. Stephen Douglas, William Seward, Abraham Lincoln, and many other well-known men appear in private conversation with the diarist.

In addition to recounting various conversations and observations the diarist also discusses his thoughts about the disintegration of the Union and the prospects for war. Throughout the crises he holds out hope that war might be prevented by cooler heads on both sides. Towards the end of the installments however he begins to suspect the storm is unavoidable.

Following the diary, the book includes a series of letters from Edwin Stanton to former President Buchanan. These letters were also published in The North American Review and were obtained by that paper from the papers of President Buchanan following his death. The first letter is dated March 14, 1861 and the last is from July 26, 1861. In these letters Stanton keeps his former boss apprised of ongoing events in Washington as the war begins. It is interesting to read his take on early events within the safety of private correspondence.

The short length of The Diary of a Public Man was the only drawback I found with the book. I must confess I was disappointed when I got to the last page. The inside look at a Washingtonian's thoughts at the outbreak of the American Civil War is a must read for any Civil War buff. Someone not familiar with the war might be confused by the events and characters referenced but anyone who understands the events of late 1860 and early 1861 will find the work fascinating.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book review - The Beloved Spy.

Harry Stanton Tillotson's 189 page book, The Beloved Spy was published in 1948. The account follows an unlikely character in the well-known story of General Benedict Arnold's betrayal of the American Revolution.

Major John Andre' was well liked by all who knew him, including his American captors. Unfortunately he was captured while out of uniform and using a false name. That led to a death by hanging as a spy.

That much most scholars of the War for Independence probably know. Tillotson delves deeper as he takes a look at Andre's early life, his abortive courtship, and entrance into the military. After a quick move up in the British military machine, Andre' found himself in the middle of a conspiracy with General Arnold that would eventually cost him his life.

The book closes with Andre's remains being disinterred in 1821 and sent back to England to be buried in Westminster Abby.

I found The Beloved Spy to be an interesting and informative read. I have to admit I did not know John Andre' or his meaning to England. Thanks to Mr. Tillotson I think I now have a better grasp of both who he was and what he meant to his country. Anyone interested in the War for Independence would be well advised to read Mr. Tillotson's work.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book review - Civil War on Western Waters.

I was given Fletcher Pratt's Civil War on Western Waters as a gift some time ago and have just gotten around to reading it. The book was published in 1956 and runs 221 pages with an appendix adding an additional 19 pages of information, mostly fleet rosters and vessel descriptions.

True to the title, Mr. Pratt concentrates his account on naval actions in the west. The eastern theater, blockade, and high seas are mentioned only so much as they effect the west. The deep water navy sails from the pages of the book shortly after the fall of New Orleans. Land forces are only in the book when they are working with or opposing naval units.

Starting with the building of the Union and Confederate navies, the book traces maneuvers, engagements, and personalities from the declaration of war to the battle of Nashville on December 14, 1864. That was the last major engagement involving naval units.

I must say I found Mr. Pratt's work to be interesting. Naval accounts are not usually my area of interest, probably because of my lack of knowledge of the nautical arts. For the most part Pratt does not get involved in the minutia. When he does he explains clearly to the uninformed reader what he is talking about.

The book moves easily along and presents information in a well-written and understandable format. Mr. Pratt also takes time to explain not just the how but the why. Why things done the way they were and what the impact of those actions was on the war in the west and the war as a whole.

If you are looking for a quick and informative read detailing the naval involvement in the Western Theater of the American Civil War or if you are a naval buff who enjoys reading about ships and the men who sail them then Civil War on Western Waters is a book you don't want to pass up.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Book review - The Murder of Admiral Darlan.

Peter Tompkins' 272 page The Murder of Admiral Darlan was published in 1965. It covers the time leading up to the Allied landings in North Africa and the immediate aftermath during World War II. The focus of the book is the French role and their internal power struggles.

Leading up to the landings Admiral Jean Darlan was appointed chief of all French military forces by the Vichy government. Despite several conspiracies to prevent it, fighting broke out when the Americans and British landed. Darlan equivocated and tried to play both ends against the middle but eventually swung over to the Allies.

The result was a power struggle between the Free French and the left over Vichy officials. Darlan was assassinated during the showdown. Who exactly was behind the assassination was not clear at first. In typical French fashion it never became totally clear and the punishments for those involved were not consistent.

Tompkins seems to know the players in the drama well. That is probably because he was stationed in North Africa during the landings. Unfortunately I found the book hard to follow. It seemed like there was a lot of backtracking at times. It was not clear if that was a literary device or due to the complicated plots and counter-plots as the French quarreled among themselves.

If the reader is a true student of World War II, or of France, The Murder of Admiral Darlan will probably be of interest. For the rest of us it might be better passed over for other material.