The vast majority of the non-fiction works I've read were read back when I had access to a college library and tended to live in it - often to the detThe vast majority of the non-fiction works I've read were read back when I had access to a college library and tended to live in it - often to the detriment of my studies. They aren't listed in Goodreads simply because they tend to unmemorable academic titles and I forget their names until someone mentions one in some discussion, and I think, "Oh yeah. I remember that book."
Fine's work might not be a particularly stellar or insightful bit of academic research, but it's still extremely valuable simply because in 1983 no one else had the guts or the foresight to consider academic research and historical documentation of the nascent gaming hobby to be important. As such he leaves behind what is probably the only contemporary historical records of the early days of gaming and the culture of early role playing groups, something that is of increasing importance as more and more of the grognards from those early days turn in their final character sheets.
As a munchkin coming in to the game at the very end of that era, I can testify that Fine captures some of the essence of early gaming both good and bad. Some things a modern gaming reader will recognize as very familiar. Some arguments and particular social frictions never go away. Some things I think will seem a bit bizarre.
One thing that modern gamers might not understand about the early days of D&D is that it was a frontier. And like most frontiers, by and large, gaming was largely peopled by groups of very much marginalized people. And was coming out of the '70s which made it in many ways an experimental counter-cultural lifestyle of its own before it became normalized through sheer popularity. Gaming was seen as a sort of delinquency both because it was new and a bit weird, and because the people playing it were legitimately weird and often as not anti-social in one way or the other. Comic books like 'The Knights of the Dinner Table' record the truth of that in parody, but it shouldn't be thought that because it is parody that it's really that over the top. As Homer Simpson observes, "It's funny because it is true." Groups that I knew of at the time were combining D&D with drug use, or living together in a hippy commune, or bought occult tomes so that they could really cast spells (or at least try to) while gaming, or invented weird and sometimes startlingly dangerous sorts of D&D meets LARPing. As gaming stores didn't exist in many areas, some of the earliest carriers of D&D works were occult book stores where you'd push your way through the haze of incense and other smoke to find D&D books on the shelf next to works on neo-Druidism and modern Witchcraft. I can only imagine what I'd known about if I was older. But even so I find the presentation of gaming culture in E.T. is remarkably spot on, particularly if you confine it to the younger players with little knowledge of the 70's groups, and particularly in the novelization where the references to drugs and the mother's fears regarding the older son are more explicit. Fine captures some of that in his work in an era that is just before society begins to revolt against gaming in the "Occult Scare" of the mid'80's, and really just before society even notices the gamers and before nerds really get their revenge by becoming the creators of the art - whether Game of Thrones, the Marvel Universe, or video games - that everyone else is consuming. It's hard these days to find anything in popular entertainment that hasn't been influenced by gamers, and it all starts in the groups that Fine takes the time to study.
If I had to criticize, I'd say that Fine spent too much time with some of the leading game creators of that era and not enough time out in 'the wilds' of the larger community. But the very fact that someone was paying attention and took the time to try to understand what was going on is still amazing....more
It wasn't quite the book I expected from the title or the blurb. I was expecting a more narrative account of seemingly strange anecdotes from medievalIt wasn't quite the book I expected from the title or the blurb. I was expecting a more narrative account of seemingly strange anecdotes from medieval and renaissance history. Instead, the book is a scholarly thesis trying to impress on his reader a simple point that I didn't really feel needed to be stressed outside of say Survey of European History 101. At least, the point was clearly stressed to me whenever I took college level world history; namely, that the historian errs when he tries to explain history by ascribing to the persons of the past limited intelligence or savageness or other traits associated with the stereotype of primitive as an explanation for their actions. Instead, the proper approach to history is accept that the persons involved were ordinary people no different than you or I, or other people we might encounter in the modern world, possessing of the same degree of intelligence, perceptiveness and the same emotions, but that their actions were informed by at times wildly different sets of beliefs and values.
In particularly, the book seems to be aimed at fellow scholars that have great difficulty dealing with pre-modern world views which are informed by what they consider superstition, and so ascribe to the persons insanity or stupidity as an explanation for historical events. One would hope this explanation would be unneeded, but one could easily see in the current culture why it might be.
I'm deducting one star for the text being drier than it need be considering the subject matter. Oldridge also carries his otherwise worthy thesis a bit too far at times, ignoring or downplaying evidence that certain persons struck even their contemporaries with the same world view, culture and facts as being overly zealous, possessing poor judgment, or even perhaps insane.
I deduct a second star because I think Oldridge goes much too far in assuming that the views of his actors are remote and inexplicable to his readership, as there are strong parallels in many cases with modern world views - not only within the modern religious but within other subcultures as well. That is to say, when your thesis is that people of the past aren't actually so different than the people of today, it might do well to actually recognize that this is true across the board. Modern believers in conspiracy theories that cut across political and religious lines - for example vaccinations relationship to autism - strike me as a very apt comparison. Indeed, hysteria and fear in general is not unique to earlier times, nor is the problem of how we are to distinguish between information and misinformation coming from experts or self-proclaimed experts in any way a problem relegated to the past. I think any one that believes that they are not deceived on some small points or another, having taken for granted some plausible urban legend or failed to realize that they hold a belief which at one time was well regarded but has since been discredited, is deceiving themselves. Likewise, reasonableness requires us to imagine that at least some of the beliefs we hold very dear, and to be completely obvious, logical and reasonable, will fall into disrepute in future generations for reasons that will seem good to them....more
When I was younger, I spent endless hours in the history sections of college library browsing through the history books looking for concrete lists ofWhen I was younger, I spent endless hours in the history sections of college library browsing through the history books looking for concrete lists of facts, numbers, measurements, parts, names, and well lists that I could gather and utilize in my role playing games. Every such book was viewed through a lens of how much data it could provide to my simulations, and with few exceptions most were judged unworthy being filled with dry stories and no concrete facts.
Now though, it seems every historian out there is ready to cater to my earlier needs. Facts are collected and drawn up in tidy little lists, and everything is categorized and laid out in logical sections as if ready to draw up the requirements or setting encyclopedia for the latest wargame or RPG. And naturally, far from content, I find myself missing history that was stories and contained long direct quotes from the real life characters. So it is with this book. I'd have loved 25 years ago.
It's still an excellent introduction to the subject matter, and might be a decent 'sophomore text book' on the Age of Piracy. But as History, it needs more story in it, and a bit more history rather than just a study and summary of history, however well organized it is. I found myself yearning for the actual journals that were the author's source material, and wished for more direct views into their contents. Most of all, I would have preferred more detail about how it was actually done, with examples. It's all well and good to say that the Pirates preferred an ambush, but how was that actually accomplished on the open sea with boats that would sail 3mph or so in a fair wind? What customary behavior might ships have had that allowed a nare-do-well to cozen his prey into close range? We glimpse the scene I think too dimly, and with too little information. The only hints we are given are brief mentions of flying false colors and hiding your crew below decks so as to seem more harmless than you are, but I think that's probably only a taste of a broad range of aiming to misbehave....more
This is the second book I've read on the Iraq war. It's not that I've not followed the progress of the Iraq War extremely closely, because I have. It'This is the second book I've read on the Iraq war. It's not that I've not followed the progress of the Iraq War extremely closely, because I have. It's that hitherto, all the books on the Iraq war stuck me as being written by parties removed from the daily affairs of the war, observing it at a distance as I was, and engaging not in the writing of history but in punditry, self-justification, spin, and axe grinding. Authors seemed to feel quite free to write books based on anonymous sourcing, innuendo, unrecorded conversations, rumors, and media coverage of doubtable competency and even veracity. So it's not that I didn't want to read the details of what was happening in Iraq, but that I did that largely kept me away from the dross being cranked out and inflicted on a certain class of willing consumer.
Thus, it was with great relish that I picked up Peter Mansoor's account of his first tour of service in Iraq. A brigade commander is uniquely placed to serve in the role of historian. The perspective that it provides is sufficiently high up that the larger picture can be discerned, but not so high up that you are observing the events from a distance.
Peter Mansoor lacks pretension. Rather than attempting to write a history of the Iraq war, he writes simply an account of his experiences. Writing an account of the Iraq War is at this point probably impossible because of the lack of creditable material. Writing an account of Iraq War at this point is too high of an ambition for anyone, much less someone who wasn't centrally placed in it. To my mind, Peter Mansoor was as centrally placed as any author thus far, and it’s to his credit that he doesn't pretend to be able to tell the whole story.
Col. Mansoor opens the book with a brief, candid and endearing biography. He spills his life story in a few brief pages. It is self-effacing. It is honest, and we know it is honest because no one who wanted to impress us would write so unglamorously. This sets the pattern for the entire book.
Humility is the rarest trait in a gifted soldier. Commanders are generally ego-driven, highly competitive, and ambitious individuals. Narcissists and self-trumpeting blow-hards, even incompetent ones, often achieve high rank: the humble man however skilled rarely does. The shelves of military biographies are filled with useless self-serving tracts written by men with a gift for judging others, but no gift for examining themselves. This is the rarest sort of autobiography of all - the one that will be worthy of study because it’s not afraid to admit to failings.
There is way too much in this book to write about in such a short space, and I'm chagrined that I did not attempt this review when the material was fresher in my mind. Col. Mansoor deserves better, but this will have to do.
Pundits on either side of the aisle with have a difficult time dealing with Peter Mansoor's account. For myself, reading the book I got the uncanny feeling that everyone, whether critics or proponents of the war, was in fact describing the same war. I got the feeling reading the text, that whether you were for or against the war, that many of the central claims being made were largely true. I don't know why this should startle me and force me to reevaluate my thinking, because my mantra is, 'The truth is never simple.', but on this subject it did. I guess I found it impossible to reconcile the conflicting accounts and ideologies behind the positive and negative spin and imagine that such two disparate accounts could be describing the same entity. One or both had to be wrong; but, what I discovered reading the text is that did not have to be the case. The both could be right. Everyone trumpeting a simple truth was no better than one of the blind men groping the elephant.
Another thing that really drew me into the book from the beginning was my ability to follow along with almost all of the major events in the book, and compare them to how I had experienced them as an observer getting most of my news by sifting through various stories in the media. As I said, I followed the Iraq war very closely, following along with the different changes in strategy, the minor operations, and the major campaigns. Peter Mansoor however was in the thick of it, responsible for a section of Baghdad that was repeatedly in the news during that first year.
Mansoor's account of that trying year is somehow exhausting, inspiring, and heart-breaking at the same time. I promise you that around page 228, this book will kick you in the stomach, stick a knife in you, and twist it repeatedly. I don't know how soldiers cope with it. I really don't. It hurts me from here all the way across those miles and years. I don't know what to say except that my admiration for the strength, courage, and honor on display is very great indeed.
Peter Mansoor's account is very tough reading. He is open and forthcoming about the mistakes he made that got people killed; and the things that he did that saved lives and - at this point I think we can safely say although he doesn't - helped win the war. He is unsparing on himself, and lavish on the praise of those he served with. He doesn't however sugar coat things and pretend that everyone always used the best of judgment. Prisoner abuse and mistreatment of Iraqis was an ongoing problem that comes up repeatedly in the book. He makes a full accounting of the stupidity he encountered and the disciplinary steps he was forced to take, while keeping the persons involved anonymous.
He is circumspect but suggestive about the failings of those in higher positions. Those in charge of planning and running the war do not get off without criticism, and its difficult for me to imagine from the text that he actually supported starting the war. He definitely supports winning it. His sometimes exasperation with and sometimes deep love for the Iraqi people also comes clearly through. Few groups, however, get quite as scathing of a review or are as consistently associated with incompetency in the text as the media, which comes off as being less than useless. Given the typically vast disparity between events as they happened and as they were reported, I think that this assessment will go down as fair.
It's still hard at this point to know, but in the future I think the most important part of the text will be judged to be the documentation it provides of the growing interpersonal relationship between the American military on one hand and the Iraqi public on the other. Peter Mansoor, as an American of Arab descent, was in some ways somewhat well positioned to be at the forefront of this deepening understanding between the occupier and the occupied, between the liberated and the liberator, and between the conqueror and the conquered. I think this relationship must be described in this way because I think it was somehow simultaneously all of those things. But also and more importantly, I think it is important to see that for all that complexity, ultimately it was simply face to face relationships between two individuals who were forced by the circumstances to rub elbows, share a life, and try to work together.
And although it would be looking well ahead beyond the events of this book, it ultimately turns out that these personal relationships - and not any weapon of war - that are the decisive factor in the outcome of the war. Ultimately, and perhaps not surprisingly, you win a war against a low level insurgency by being better at making friends than the insurgents are.
Fortunately, in this case, given all the mistakes we made, that didn't prove to be particularly hard.
There are a few things that disappointed me. Really, it must be admitted that it is still too early to begin writing even such unambitious texts as 'Baghdad at Sunrise'. There are a number of points where it seemed that Col. Mansoor deliberately turned away from the train of thought he had been following because of the fact that the war is ongoing. There are times when he says simply, 'We devised a strategy', where I very much would like to have heard the details. As a textbook - and I've little doubt this will become required reading at a war college somewhere - the book would be much improved if the writer didn't have to be so careful to avoid operationally useful information. Likewise, there are times when I think the book would be improved were Mansoor retired and better able to speak his full mind. This is not to say however, that I hope his retirement comes soon. His country still needs men like him.
Because of his frankness concerning his mistakes, Mansoor gets away with trumpeting his own efforts from time to time. He relates how he became to be something of a cult figure to the Iraqi tribal leaders, and how he found himself on Al-Qaeda’s most wanted. But always he does so somewhat sarcastically, comparing his own modest self with the fantasy version of himself others created. Near the end of the book he allows himself a little more latitude describing commands he gave and responsibilities he undertook during the Karbala campaign for which he is in my opinion justifiably proud. Those events in March and April of 2004 I recall as the darkest and scariest days of the whole war - the closest I ever came to feeling that we might lose. It was so welcome to see an inside account of these critical events.
Someday I hope there will be movies about Iraq that are worth watching that portray the war in all its ugly glory without any motivation other than tell a story which is at least mostly true and one would hope central to the larger story. It probably won't be any time soon. It would be too much to hope that Hollywood would pick up 'Baghdad at Sunrise' or Lt. Col. Neil Prakash's equally fascinating and important account as a screenplay. But I hope that it is not too much to hope that Col. Mansoor honors us with a sequel.
Actually, the rating of this book is likely to evolve as I get a chance to try more recipes. The principle value of the book thus far is as an amazingActually, the rating of this book is likely to evolve as I get a chance to try more recipes. The principle value of the book thus far is as an amazing cultural guidebook to the historic cuisine of Louisiana.
Unbelievably comprehensive and fantastically well-researched. As a consequence though, the book weighs a ton and is therefore somewhat impractical in the kitchen. Good coffee table book though....more
I first encountered this book in college, sitting forgotten and forelornly on an academic shelf. This is certainly not the proper setting for this booI first encountered this book in college, sitting forgotten and forelornly on an academic shelf. This is certainly not the proper setting for this book, which is hardly heady intellectualism but rip-rollicking good adventure stories disguising what in other hands might be dull history.
As such, this is one of my favorite overviews of the Age of Sail, and in a perfect world would be in the hands of every elementary aged school kid as a way to get them to 'eat thier brocolli' and enjoy it. The book is a fairly comprehensive survey of the period's naval history, and I especially liked its coverage of lesser known wars like the four Anglo-Dutch wars and somewhat forgotten but inspiring commanders like Michiel de Ruyter.
The writing is gripping and strikes a narrative tone suitable for popular history. I found the books account of the major campaigns every bit as exciting as any modern thriller, and the personalities of the great commanders that are the focus of the book are fascinating and inspired me to read a few more detailed and well-rounded (and definately drier) biographies.
This book is too good to review well in the space of an essay or a paragraph. Properly appreciating and analyzing it would require a several weeks ofThis book is too good to review well in the space of an essay or a paragraph. Properly appreciating and analyzing it would require a several weeks of classroom discussion. I have a great inhibition against marking or defacing books in any fashion, but with this book I have a great desire to take a highlighter and on page after page highlight the great wisdom and perspicacity displayed in this work.
It is without a doubt the finest military memoire I have ever read. I do not think that I can give enough superlatives to cover just how good this book is. I cannot think of anything one would desire to have in a military memoire that is missing from this work. You want honest critical self-appraisal, you've got it. You want detailed accounting of the movement of forces, then you have that. If you want detailed assessment of the trials and difficulties of command, as well as sound advice for overcoming them, then you've got that. If you need stirring inspiration or kick in the pants exhortation for struggling on through the greatest hardships, then you've got that.
This should be required reading for anyone desiring to obtain command rank higher than Captain, and is beneficial reading for anyone who is either professional military or a politician, or who would wish to understand the same. And it is an invaluable resource for any historian whether amateur or professional wishing to understand one of the most neglected fronts in WW2.
I've been avoiding listing this one because there is a part of me that screams, "Why didn't you give this book 5 stars!?!?!" Certainly, that part of mI've been avoiding listing this one because there is a part of me that screams, "Why didn't you give this book 5 stars!?!?!" Certainly, that part of me has a point. I've read this book more than any other book save two - the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Generally, any book I find worth reading more than 4 or 5 times I also find worth giving 5 stars to. And, in terms of the power and sophistication of the stories contained within, the book is probably unmatched as a collection of short stories. Likewise, it offers an unparalleled glimse into the historical past. And, it has probably some of the most stirring passages in all of literature which provingly remain thrilling and moving when translated into any language. Additionally, it is a profoundly deep and philosophical book. Finally, it the core of who I choose to define myself as as a person.
So why just four stars? What compels me in all honesty to give it short marks?
To be fully honest, there are large passages particularly in the first testament - much of Jeremiah, portions of the larger prophetic works, and pretty much all of the minor prophets - that I just find boring and intractably obscure. Pushing through them is a chore, and I seldom find anything I can really chew on. I suspect that to really appreciate these passages I'd have to learn some Hebrew and put in alot more serious study than I have, but really that's not what I want from this book. When I open it, I'm not looking for lengthy vistas (though I'm happy when I find them), but a more pithy and accessible sort of knowledge - as one opening a mechanic's reference or soldier's battle handbook.
First, let's get the bad part out of the way. There are three things that prevent this from being a five star book.
First, Walton is a bit dry. While aFirst, let's get the bad part out of the way. There are three things that prevent this from being a five star book.
First, Walton is a bit dry. While academic works tend to be dry, there is no particular reason why they have to be. The fundamental material of the work is the decisions which were made over the course of the War in Vietnam and the reasons why that those decisions were made. This need not be dry reading. It could be depressing. It could be exciting. It could be a lot of things. It doesn't need to be boring.
Secondly, I'm inclined to think that the title of the work is ill-chosen merely to be provocative. Walton doesn't tightly tie the structure of his work to the myth he is trying to overturn. To do so, he would need to present more of the argument of the opposition and explain why some are inclined to believe that US defeat was inevitable in Vietnam. He doesn't really do this, and addresses the notion of the mythic US powerlessness and corresponding myth of the invulnerability of the NLF only in passing at the beginning and end of the work. The long list of myths about Vietnam he gives in Table 1, does not receive the attention it should in later chapters. As a result, I don't think he is as convincing as he might be in dispelling any of the specific myths directly. The title seems to be chosen to provoke interest compared to a perhaps more accurate academic title like, ‘An Examination of Several Possible Paths to Victory in the Vietnam War’
Thirdly, there is one area of his thesis that seriously breaks down and where his reasoning doesn't seem to hang together even on its own terms, and that's the risk of China entering the war in the event that the war escalated. While Walton seems to be arguing that the risk of China intervening directly in the war wasn't great, he then concludes the section by basically unraveling that argument and settling for a much weaker suggestion. Ultimately he's left with something else; that China might have intervened directly, but ultimately even if they did given the direct support that they were already providing both in material and personnel that direct Chinese intervention might not have mattered much. That's a much weaker claim, and it leaves him open to the charge that by his terms the war was winnable only by greatly widening the war.
That last flaw was big enough that I nearly dropped this down to two stars, except that Walton in the last third of the book manages to undo most of the damage he's down to his own thesis with much more conventional and better reasoned claims about the trajectory of the Vietnam War.
Walton's central thesis is that not only was the Vietnam War winnable, but that given its military and political goals it wasn't even a particularly challenging thing for a great power to set out to accomplish. Ultimately, Walton claims that the war was lost not because of excessively difficult terrain, or by the length of the US logistic lines, or by the mythic impossibility of fighting a land war in Asia, or by losing the hearts and minds of the south Vietnamese, or because of the indomitable fighting spirit and ability of a ghostlike native insurgency, but rather the war was lost by a very long series of flawed decisions almost any of which, had the correct choice been made, would have in and of itself quite possibly been enough to alter the outcome of the war. Further, Walton argues that in each case, the decision was made to go against well known principles of war fighting in favor of what those in charge of the war believed was a more sophisticated and nuanced political strategy. Thus, Walton not even claiming that it was necessary to conduct the war perfectly - which at a practical level would be an admission that the war could not have been war - but rather that the war need only to have been conducted with something less like perfect strategic ineptitude in order to have achieved an acceptable end solution to the problem in Vietnam from an American perspective.
I like how Walton refuses to treat the war as if there was one single critical factor in its outcome. As he himself points out, too much military or historical scholarship on the Vietnam War focuses on some singular aspect or decision in Vietnam as being the fundamental aspect or decision of the war. The result is books that seem to think they can treat the whole 15 plus years of significant US involvement in Vietnam as a single indistinguishable whole, and neglect the very different character that the war had as it evolved. Instead, Walton looks at the war along multiple threads, and notes that each thread was potentially decisive given the vast disparity in power between the USA and North Vietnam.
Walton illuminates a lot of bone headed decision making regarding the Vietnam War, which left me cringing continually even if I already knew it all in general outline, but where Walton is most powerful though is in arguing what many others have argued, which is that with the changes in US strategy instituted belatedly by Nixon from 196 on from the US perspective the war was very nearly won by 1972 and comparatively little additional support would have been required to secure a US victory. After the Tet offensive, a native insurgency in South Vietnam virtually ceased to exist, and thereafter until the fall of Saigon virtually the sole threat to the security of the South Vietnamese government was by a conventional invasion by Chinese and Russian backed NVA troops. Further, South Vietnam convincingly succeeded in repulsing at least one of these invasions before the US Congress by an act of law shut down all military support for the South Vietnamese government leaving them with guns with no ammunition, trucks with no fuel or spare parts, and airplanes that couldn't fly and had no bombs to drop if they could do so. The result was a rout of the NVRA by the heavily backed NVA troops in 1973, and the enduring images of the US hastily evacuating the US embassy. This is well established history, particularly now that the North Vietnamese side of the story is well known, and Walton never needs to play maverick or revisionist historian to make his point.
On the question of whether or not the US should have been involved in Vietnam in the first place, Walton is mostly deliberately silent. There are several good reasons for this. First, it's a much more difficult question which raises more difficult 'What if?' scenarios. The answers to those questions usually tell one more about the biases of the persons than they do about the situation in Indochina. Also, the question has a much larger moral and ethical component than simply the question of what the US could have done to win once it had committed to the war. When Walton does bring it up the question, he tends to hedge his bets and is I think a little self-contradictory. On the one hand, he seems to lean toward thinking that if confronting and containing communist imperial expansion was paramount, that Vietnam is seemingly the least likely place to have chosen to do so. On the other hand, he notes that there was a significant rational component to the ‘domino theory’, and had Saigon fell ten or fifteen years earlier it’s possible that Russia and or China would have looked toward Singapore or Indonesia as the next step in their ambitions and that this would have required US intervention.
Given the current political climate, it’s pretty much inevitable that if anyone pays any attention to this review at all, that someone will draw some sort of comparison with the current war in Iraq or the larger ‘War on Terror’. To preempt some of those comments, I’ll make a few of my own. It is always extremely suspect to draw direct comparisons between any two conflicts. Each war has unique and non-repeatable aspects which distinguish it from every other war. The ‘Vietnam War’ has a powerful effect on the American imagination, and critics of the Iraq War – seeking to score easy points – have to often undermined their own arguments by making facile comparisons with the Vietnam War. The list of differences between the two wars is enormous, and not limited to: all volunteer army as Vietnam era conscripts, lower intensity conflict, differences in climate and terrain, differences in natural resources, AIF lacks a superpower patron, differences in technological capabilities, Iraq is a less conventional and less symmetrical conflict, AIF was never a popular insurgency, Iraq War had a fixed beginning and greater Congressional approval, and so forth. In my opinion, people on either side of the Iraq War are not going to find easy ammunition in Walton’s book. On the one hand, it is possible to see that some of the same mistakes were repeated in prosecuting the Iraq War, but on the other hand it is also possible to see that many lessons of the Vietnam War were learned and better thinking made to govern the Iraq effort. Emphasizing one or the other makes it far too easy to point out the straw man in the argument. Compared to the sorry accounting of Vietnam War, it is easy to see that the current leadership – for all its flaws – had greater acumen, strategic imagination, and willingness to learn from its mistakes than any administration handling the Vietnam War (and the Johnson administration in particular). Old lessons were learned and relearned; new mistakes were made. So far there is no sign of anything the scale of the debacle of the Vietnam War, or (to pick on one of my favorite military theorists AND ALSO a certain hyperventilating contributor to the Boston Globe) Quinctilius Varus’s campaign in Germany. Overly simple comparisons between two historical events rather than examining each according to its unique circumstances and course of events generally is a sign of a lack of knowledge and imagination on the part of the one making the comparisons. ...more
John Ferling has done excellent service as a writer and historian in this volumn. It is an excellent and extremely readable survey of the military hisJohn Ferling has done excellent service as a writer and historian in this volumn. It is an excellent and extremely readable survey of the military history of the American Revolution, and in particular is maybe the best treatment of the late war years you'll encounter. It is a thick book, but not as thick as advertised. It runs only 575 pages - the remainder of the book being extensive bibliography and indexes. I enjoyed it immensely.
For a new student of American history, much of what Ferling writes will be revelatory. For those more studied, it will offer fresh takes and insights. There is nothing here however revisionist or driven by churlish motivations. The men and women of the period are made to appear simply as they were, both good and bad, without hypocritical judgment or a too reverent and unskeptical awe. As such, those looking for contriversy or self-serving validation of one modern belief system or the other will need to look elsewhere, as Ferling does not bother endulging his audiences prejudices.
If there is one point on which Ferling departs from orthodox interpretation of the documents, it seemed to me that it was in his portrayal of the relative skills of Franklin and Adams as diplomatic envoys to France. Ferling reverses the usual role of Franklin as the cunning and skilled diplomat, and Adams as the bumbling, niave, and abrasive fool. Instead Ferling portrays Franklin as the all too pliable dupe of his cunning French hosts whose charisma never persuades the French to provide anything that they had not already planned to give anyway to further thier own interests. Adams he paints as the far seeing and wise statesman who enrages the French principally by refusing to sacrifice his nation's interests in the futherance of thier imperial scheming. Since I'm a great admirer of both Franklin and Adams, but hitherto had held the French posting to be unsuitable to Adams temperment this left me much to think about and desiring to do further research.
There are only two things which prevent 'Almost a Miracle' from garnering from me five stars, and in fairness both of these are personal preferences rather than serious attacks on Ferling's methods or scholarship. The first is that Ferling is I think too loathe to employ the long quotation in his narrative. His short quotations - rarely more than sentense fragments - greatly reduce the burden of reading such a tome and keep up the brisk pace of the text, but at the same time a certain amount of weight to me seems proper in a history text. A richer experience of the characters in thier own words is I think at times proper.
The second is even more minor. Having read several other accounts, I am acquainted with a bit more of the details of certain events in Ferling's narrative which Ferling is content to pass over in a sentense or two. While he is quite willing to admit in passing that "No one was as lucky as Washington" and that "the gods of war" were on the side of Greene, had Ferling stopped to explore those occassions in greater detail, he might readily have dropped the 'Almost' from the title. Still, since I'd much rather our secular brothers and sisters read this book than discount it or be offended by it, I'll be content with the excellent work as it is....more
My impression of the book is biased by the fact that I've been following the work of Yon - and similar bloggers in the field like Totten - for years nMy impression of the book is biased by the fact that I've been following the work of Yon - and similar bloggers in the field like Totten - for years now. Had I not already seen a good deal of this material in one form or the other, I probably would have given the book 5 stars. If you are yourself a member of the military blogosphere, and have been following Yon's narratives on his blog for the most part this book and its impact on you will be minimal because you've heard it all before.
But if you aren't a regular reader of Michael Yon, and in particular if your only information about the war in Iraq is third person accounts coming through the main stream media then Yon's book will hit you in the stomach like a jackhammer. It's not reading for the faint of heart, nor is it easy reading for someone who has thier mind already made up and is comfortably ensconsed in one of the two easy ready made political positions about the war. This is a challenging first person narrative of one of the few journalists that has an extensive first person experience of the war and the men who are fighting it up close and personal. It very deftly destroys the pretensions of both the pro-War hawks and the anti-War peace activists.
If you care at all about the Iraq war, one way or the other, and if it is informing your political choices, one way or the other, I strongly encourage you to read this book. ...more