John Keegan is most likely the pre-eminent military historian in the English speaking world. One of the things I appreciate, about his writing, is heJohn Keegan is most likely the pre-eminent military historian in the English speaking world. One of the things I appreciate, about his writing, is he does not try to overwhelm the reader with details. Many historians seem to want to impress the reader with their research. Even Keegan's bibliography is limited to 50 books which he describes in a three page summary at the back of the book.
I thought I knew all there was to know about WWII. Wrong! I learned more about the Eastern Front between Russia and Germany than I expected to. I also was exposed to Keegan's insights on a number of events that I had the wrong idea about. Among the myths about the war that Keegan explodes are the battle for Crete, the Japanese allocation of troops to China versus the islands, Hitler's Balkan strategy, the effectiveness of carpet bombing, the contribution of the various resistance movements to the war effort, Roosevelt's war management style, the reasons for the decision to drop the atomic bomb and others. One of the most surprising conclusions is how much less energy was put into the War against Japan than against Germany. Not that I didn't know that "Germany First" was the Allies, over-all strategy but I had no idea how big the difference was in the allocation of resources and the scope of the war effort.
If you are interested in a manageable, well written, accurate history of WWII, you will find it in this book. ...more
An incredible chronicle of the events leading up to, surrounding and following the Bataan Death March, April 1942.
The protagonist in this non-fictionAn incredible chronicle of the events leading up to, surrounding and following the Bataan Death March, April 1942.
The protagonist in this non-fiction chronicle is Ben Steele, a native of Billings Montana and still with us. Ben's story is interwoven with material from diaries and journals as well as other source material from those Americans, Filipinos and Japanese who were there.
Ben, developed the ability to sketch while a captive and his sketches are scattered throughout the narrative. This story is not for the faint-hearted as the descriptions of what, not only the defenders went through, but also the Japanese aggressors is the stuff of nightmares.
The authors intersperse the description of events in 1941-46 with flashbacks of Ben Steele's earlier years. They cover the impending conflict with Japan, the invasion, the Battle of Bataan, The Death March, the prisoners life as captives at Camp O'Donnel, the Bicol peninsula, Bilibid prison and hospital, Camp Cabauantan, the hellships and the mines of Japan, all places Ben Steele survived.
The book ends with Ben as a survivor, art student,family man and eventually an art teacher at Eastern Montana College in Billings.
The authors also added a non-essential chapter on the trial of General Homma who commanded the Japanese forces in the Philippines. They obviously sympathized with the General and try to show that he really had no idea of what was going on but was railroaded in a trial and eventually executed by firing squad. The authors are also less than admiring of General MacArthur and take many opportunities to imply he was less than a great leader.
It was that aspect of the book that moved me to rate it as a four rather than a five star read. Not that I am an unquestioning admirer of the General but rather see both his talents and his faults. If you are interested in an excellent biography of MacArthur, I suggest reading "American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964" by William Manchester. I review it elsewhere in Goodreads....more
On the same day as the great Chicago fire, Peshtigo, Wisconsin was basically burned to the ground by a devastating conflagration. At the time, 1871, tOn the same day as the great Chicago fire, Peshtigo, Wisconsin was basically burned to the ground by a devastating conflagration. At the time, 1871, the Peshtigo area was a was a major source of lumber for the rapidly expanding U.S.
Gess and Lutz set the table with extensive background about the Peshtigo of the time. It was a good-sized town. It had a good harbor, a river large enough to move freshly felled trees, and a railroad to move the timber to Chicago to say nothing of the numerous lumber mills and the largest wood products factory in the U.S. All this economic activity brought many workers to Peshtigo.
The summer of 1871 was the driest and hottest in memory and the burning of stumps by farmers and the scrap sawdust smouldering at the mills set off the fire bells constantly. No one knows how the fire started but it was already well along when it was spotted. People tried to escape to water or clearings but the thermal effect kept the fire expanding and literally roasted many people to death.
I was glad the authors used the technique of focusing on individuals and not overplaying the horror. While not blaming individuals, they manage to show how greed contributed to the disaster. Part of the tragedy, too, is that Peshtigo had to compete with Chicago for rescue resources. The timing also led to very little about the tragedy making it to the outside world.
It was a very instructive and interesting story. I recommend it....more
Excuse my naivete but I'm shocked that one of the best histories of the U.S. Civil War has been written by an Englishman. Granted that I'm a Keegan faExcuse my naivete but I'm shocked that one of the best histories of the U.S. Civil War has been written by an Englishman. Granted that I'm a Keegan fan and thought his history of WW I helped me understand that war for the first time. Nevertheless, I would have thought that there was no room for new insights into the Civil War until I read this book.
His ability to show the impact of geography on the conflict was outstanding. His analysis of the economic aspects of the conflict was clear. His explanations for the South's ability to maintain itself in spite of everything against it were enlightening. He also was able to illustrate why the Confederate Army had such clearly superior leadership early in the war.
I very much liked his approach to the chronology of the war in that he discussed campaigns in detail but not battles, a welcome departure from most Civil War Histories. His conclusion that there was no way the South could have won the war is one I totally agree with, southern disclaimers to the contrary.
Keegan supplies enough detail to support his conclusions. For instance, he shows how the railroads of the North were clearly superior to those in the South and therefore severely limited the Confederate's ability to maneuver. He uses maps and specific examples to support his obviously well researched arguments.
I've read a number of Civil War histories. Most of them left me somewhat overwhelmed and confused. I recommend this volume to anyone who would like to have a clear appreciation of how and why the war was fought in the way it was....more
A fascinating attempt by Tuchman to explain or at least illustrate why governments choose the wrong path even when they know it's the wrong path. SheA fascinating attempt by Tuchman to explain or at least illustrate why governments choose the wrong path even when they know it's the wrong path. She begins with the story of the Trojan Horse to illustrate the first written example of governmental folly leading to disaster.
The next three examples are of the Renaissance Popes, the British handling of the American Revolution and the American actions before and during the Vietnamese War.
The popes, in spite of criticism from many clerics and kings continued to enrich themselves and their families, dissipating the power of the papacy, until the Reformation forced a behavioral change.
The British arrogantly ignored the reality of the American colonist's unwillingness to be treated as second class citizens and continued to pursue a series of policies that led to a 6 year war, a war they knew they could neither win nor afford after the Battle of Saratoga in 1776.
The Americans acted under the illusion that they were fighting against Communism and restraining the so-called domino effect when in reality they were fighting against those who believed they were fighting a war of national liberation. I found this to be the most interesting section as time and time again the politicians chose to ignore the facts and opinions of many to pursue an un-winnable conflict.
While this is not the most gripping of Tuchman's writings, it is a very readable exploration of the blindness of those who often lead nations into conflicts they cannot win. ...more
I suspect if I had tried to read this book in the print edition, I would have abandoned it. While an uplifting story, the details, as presented, are bI suspect if I had tried to read this book in the print edition, I would have abandoned it. While an uplifting story, the details, as presented, are boring and overwrought. I suspect the author could have given us the same appreciation for William Wilberforce's efforts in about half the space or less. Perhaps if Metaxas had spent less time proselytizing for evengelical christianity and also providing information about Wilberforce's colleagues in excruciating detail, he would have had a much better book.
Unfortunately, he didn't do that and as I semi-listened to the CDs while miles of Montana and Oregon highways passed beneath my wheels, I would periodically tune in when something of note was being mentioned. I should have guessed what was coming from the Introduction by the President of Wilberforce College, a christian sectarian institution somewhere in the great U.S. Midwest and the preface by the author but, since the alternative was C&W music, I continued with the recording. I won't call it wasted time except for the fact that I could and should have borrowed a different title from the library. Mea culpa.
To give Wilberforce credit, he was the driving force in eliminating the slave trade by England and eventually by the other European states. It was instructive, however, to learn that the U.S. outlawed the slave trade a year before England did. Too bad the U.S. didn't act in the same manner with slavery itself, outlawed in England in 1833, but one of the causes of the U.S. Civil war.
I can summarize the book thus: young, sickly, rich male grows up in a basically a-religious environment, attends Cambridge, befriends William Pitt, The Younger, drinks and eats to excess, runs for parliament in his early twenties, wins, ambitiously moves up the hierarchy, is born again and spends the rest of his life doing good things for their own sake and the greater glory of God. As I said - boring!
I am sure there are far better biographies of Wilberforce, who as well as I can figure, was truly a good person who meant well. I am also sure that his efforts created some unintended consequences which are not mentioned in this book. If you are really interested in Wilberforce as a realistic political figure, look elsewhere for your information. ...more
This book does not lend itself to being read word for word. I did read most of it. It works best if the reader browses rather than reading cover to coThis book does not lend itself to being read word for word. I did read most of it. It works best if the reader browses rather than reading cover to cover.
The Editor, Andrew Carroll, founded the Legacy Project with the goal of preserving the letters of service people for posterity. This volume covers the Civil War, WW I, WW II, Korea, The Cold War, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, Somalia and Bosnia. For reasons that are as much personal as anything, I spent most of my time in the WW II section. It is also the longest chapter.
Many of the letters would be boring were it not for Carroll's insightful commentary, putting each letter and section into an understandable context. It is obvious that culling over 50,000 missives down to the almost 200 contained here, was a daunting job. Carroll, though, managed to highlight the history of each period with appropriate choices.
It's clear that some of the letters would be incredibly heartrending. Some of them brought tears to my eyes. Some of them made me chuckle. Some of them made me angry. Some of them were almost illiterate. All were worthwhile additions to this collection.
I can't say I enjoyed this book but I am very glad I spent as much time with it as I did....more
What an incredible memoir, covering three generations: the Grandmother, mother and the author herself. Beginning in 1924 and continuing to 1978, it inWhat an incredible memoir, covering three generations: the Grandmother, mother and the author herself. Beginning in 1924 and continuing to 1978, it included the Japanese invasion, the Communist victory in 1949 and the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath.
It is almost impossible to comprehend what these people went through and still managed to survive. What is even more astounding is that in many ways they were better off than their compatriots. In U.S. terms they were almost upper middle-class with professionals and Communist Party Officials in the family.
I have lived in Hong Kong the last 18 years and traveled to Asia for 12 years prior to relocating out here. In the process I have spent a great deal of time in China and had the enviable task of interviewing a number of survivors of the Cultural Revolution. I also have read extensively about modern China (post the 1911 revolution) and this book is perhaps better than any in allowing the reader to experience second-hand what living in China was like during the tumultuous times the story spans.
I think the author does an excellent job of allowing the reader to get a glimpse of the big picture while never losing her personal perspective on events.
While I have never been an admirer of Mao Tse Tung, I always made allowances in my mind for some of his excesses. After reading this book, I am convinced that in many ways he was perhaps the worst dictator in Modern History including Hitler and Stalin.
One of Jung's insights which sort of blew my mind was her comment that China did not need a secret police apparatus because many, if not most, of the people provided all the control that a deified Mao needed. If anyone stepped out of line, they were immediately denounced, punished and often killed either quickly or slowly through starvation and disease.
Not that the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Shek was any better, just less efficient and more corrupt. The Japanese occupation of Manchuria is also described so that the reader can appreciate the horror of Japanese domination.
This is not an easy book to work your way through. At times it is unremittingly depressing but it also contains tales of generosity and goodness illustrating that even under the most trying circumstances people can behave in wonderful ways.
The book certainly helped put the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life in perspective. I will find it harder to complain about the petty annoyances I endure after reading what these people went through.
If you have any curiosity about Modern China, reading this book would be an excellent place to start....more