Most people realize that an alternative history novel (just like a Science Fiction novel) requires some ability, on the part of the reader, to suspendMost people realize that an alternative history novel (just like a Science Fiction novel) requires some ability, on the part of the reader, to suspend one's disbelief. A good, well written, story assists the reader in doing this. For me this is the hallmark not only of a good story but also a good writer. In the case of Robert Conroy's 1901: A Novel, the premise behind the story certainly was engaging enough (a punitive German invasion of the United States in the aftermath of the Spanish American War) for me to pick this up from the $1 bin at my local used book seller. Not expecting great literature (it was in the $1 bin for crying out loud) I assumed that the subject matter would keep me reading... however, the execution by the author, Conroy, failed to deliver on the promise.
In other alternative history books that Conroy has written, he is praised for his historical research. However based on the conclusions that he drew from his "research" for this title I am highly suspicious of this praise for his other works. In the first two chapters Conroy sets the tone for 1901 by claiming that Germany had the second largest fleet (the largest belonging to Great Britain) in 1901. Regardless how you measure Germany's fleet, it wasn't just far behind Great Britain's at this point in history, but also the French Fleet and (prior to its destruction by the US Navy in the Spanish American War) possibly the Spanish Navy as well. Furthermore although the Imperial German Navy was a force to be reckoned with during the First World War (technically, organizationally and manpower-wise) in 1901 Kaiser Wilhelm II (and Admiral Tirpitz) was just embarking on their project to build a first class navy to rival his Grandmother Victoria's Royal Navy.
As I said in the opening of this review, alt-history requires some ability to suspend one's disbelief so if you can forgive Conroy's shoddy research on this point, his portrayal of Wilhelm as some kind of Hitler-esque villain and the Imperial German Army (and by extension the entire German nation) as mindless Nazis strains my disbelief faculties to the breaking point. In the post World War II world, it is easy to pick on the poor Germans. Hitler is the personification of evil and Conroy uses our own bias to create a cartoon like villain that will play upon our sympathies without having to work to hard to develop a real set of circumstances or characters to be the "bad guys" for the novel.
This is especially problematic when the French make a much better villain during this time period. The French still have a jealousy/dislike of Britain (still true in 1939 and probably so today as well) that dates back to when Angles, Franks, Saxons and Celts fought over the British Isles. France had a powerful navy which rivaled Britain's for most of the 19th century (and was certainly the second largest in 1901) not to mention that the French had overseas colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas. However, there is some historical basis for German animosity towards the US in the wake of the Spanish American War (the German Navy and Dewey's Asiatic Fleet almost coming to blows after the Battle of Manila Bay as well as incidents in Samoa in the late 1880s).
Given these first two strikes I have to give props to Conroy for his use of former American Civil War generals as commanders for the US Army in 1901. This was certainly the case with two of the Spanish American War's more successful commanders Joe Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee (who were both Confederate Generals during the American Civil War). Also, I believe that Conroy's "rehabilitation" of General James Longstreet (General Lee's right hand man after Stonewall Jackson died) in 1901 pre-dates most of the Longstreet apologetic histories that have come out in the last several years.
However, having these Generals use expletives like the sergeants who pushed me through my own basic training in the 1980s stretches credibility beyond the breaking point again. It is almost as if Conroy believes that all Southerners are rednecks, trailer trash or worse. I am certain that the modern "lost cause Confederate gentlemen" school of thought is just as flawed, but these generals were the aristocracy of the time and while they probably did swear they most certainly did not use modern expletives.
So if you consider that a 0-2 foul ball, the final strike against Conroy's work comes in his portrayal of the British Admiralty as scared of the "mighty" Imperial German Navy. To the point where they let the entire German fleet (auxiliaries and all) sail into the North Atlantic bound for an invasion of the United States, unchecked, unmolested and almost unconcerned (yes, the British provide some covert assistance to the US) is simply a "wave of the hand" to make the story work.
Couple this with uneven writing (which should have been fixed by the editor) and the melodramatic love story that seems like a tack on (to what purpose I am uncertain, because those scenes feel "Harlequin Romance Novel" to me) and this book is probably a 1 1/2 star book on my shelf. Conroy's authorship suffers when compared to Turtledove (the later is very good at writing character descriptions) and even though I liked (and related to) the main character, Patrick Mahan, Conroy's characterizations are quite one-dimensional and cardboard.
So what is the bonus star for (note: I'd rate the book 2.5 stars if GoodReads allowed)? Well, I think the premise of 1901 is interesting, if you strip away most of the "junk" noted above, there are some pretty decent short stories here -- which may have been how this book came about (a series of short stories or ideas by the author). With a little imagination and some better research this could have easily been a good read. As it is, the story wasn't much more than a cheap and partially entertaining way to spend a late evening plane flight. ...more
I first looked at this book in a college bookstore, on a shelf filled with books for graduates, and students entering college. At first, I thought thaI first looked at this book in a college bookstore, on a shelf filled with books for graduates, and students entering college. At first, I thought that perhaps it was a little out of place, immediately thinking it was a typical self-help book. I didn't end up buying the book then, but when I ran across it again at my local bookstore, I decided to pick it up on the basis of the cover recommendation by The Last Lecture co-author Jeffery Zaslow (whose NY Times column I frequently read).
Kralik's book is an accessible and easy read, and I was happy to find that it isn't really a self-help book at all, rather it is a personal memoir of a particular year or so in his life. It isn't great literature, nor is it a "step-by-step" guide to picking yourself up by the bootstraps a la a Wayne Dyer type book. So, it isn't really pop-psychology, nor is it preachy...The crux of the book is Kralik's desire to try and look at his life through a different lens. Rather than continuing to be bitter and angst ridden over all the problems in his life, Kralik sought to try and find things to be thankful for, and to do so every single day for a year.
As he goes through his thank you letter exercise, not only is Kralik able to gain a new (and better) perspective on his own life, he starts to equate the turn-around in his fortunes, as evidenced by some of the good things happening in his life, to his thank you letter writing campaign. Which not only reinforced his mission, but recalled his earliest experience writing a thank you note to his grandfather:
He promised that if I wrote him a letter thanking him for this silver dollar, he would send another one. That was the way thank-you letters work he told me.
I think that one of the reasons this book struck a chord with me, is that I can recall being "chained" (figuratively, not literally) to my desk after my high school graduation, writing thank you notes to all of the people who sent me gifts. At the time, it was the last thing I wanted to do, but I remember my Mother explaining that not only was it the right thing to do, but that good things would follow...
As I read through the book, I found myself drawn closer and closer to Kralik's narrative. Initially this had as much to do with the fact that our lives seemed eerily parallel. To begin with, we worked in the same part of town (at the same time he was going through his letter writing campaign) and I've been to almost every place that he mentions in the book (in fact we could have easily bumped into each other at any one of several local places). Our careers were briefly intertwined, when we both worked for the same company in the early 1990s...
But most importantly, I think I can really relate to how Kralik perceived himself in 2008. Like him, I had been through the divorce ringer, I wasn't happy with how my career was progressing, and wasn't fulfilled by my work. On top of that, I felt that my personal relationships were at an all time nadir.
Kralik's solution to these "problems" was to begin to look for things to be thankful for (and to write his thank you notes). This is certainly a "therapy 101" solution to these kinds of challenges, and isn't (or at least shouldn't be) an earth shattering epiphany for most people. But for me at least, reading Kralik's memoir has given me the opportunity to look at my own life and consider all of the things in my life for which I am grateful, and if I choose to write a few more thank you notes as a result...then all the better....more
The third installment of TRMGS is a welcome addition to the canon of literature for the role-playing game Space:1889. Although some of the material isThe third installment of TRMGS is a welcome addition to the canon of literature for the role-playing game Space:1889. Although some of the material is re-printed from the old GDW magazine Challenge, the bulk of this title is new, fresh information. The quality of this volume stands up well with the previous two volumes, and it is clear that the publisher (Heliograph, Inc.) is starting to better understand DTP layout and the limitations and/or strengths of their printer, Lightning Print, Inc.
The only quibble that keeps me from rating this volume with 5 stars, is the interior artwork. Bob Brown's drawings are a welcome addition but do not (in this reviewer's opinion) stand up well against the vintage victorian artwork (clipart) in this volume or against the art originally produced for Space: 1889 and associated articles in GDW's Challenge magazine.
That quibble coupled with an over-abundance of advertising for other Heliograph projects, serve as annoying distractions to an otherwise excellent volume. That all said, I am looking forward to volume #4....more
This is an absorbing, well written account of a neglected (by American readers anyway) war at the turn of the last century. Rather than being a dry acThis is an absorbing, well written account of a neglected (by American readers anyway) war at the turn of the last century. Rather than being a dry academic text, Farwell's writing style serves to bring the war to life 100 years after the fact. Seamlessly mixing descriptions of tactical battlefield and operational decisions with the geo-political/strategic back drop of the war, intertwining the personal narratives of the men who were carrying out orders and executing political/military decisions (which I'd say was very "Ken Burns" if Farwell's book didn't pre-date Burns' work by almost a decade).
Coupled with other accounts of the war, like Goodbye Dolly Gray (another excellent book) written by Rayne Kruger, the average reader can understand some of the causal factors of South Africa's apartied system and gain an insight into the history of a long troubled region.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any reader looking for a fast-paced non-academic history of the Boer War with enough detail to satisfy the most avid military historian. You won't go wrong....more
Written shortly after the Second World War, Mr. Michele's War is the memoir of a US Navy officer who fought in America's first battles against the ImpWritten shortly after the Second World War, Mr. Michele's War is the memoir of a US Navy officer who fought in America's first battles against the Imperial Japanese Navy during the war. Hopelessly out gunned and out classed by superior Japanese forces a scratch fleet of American, British Dutch and Australian naval ships sought to slow Japan's war machine down in the critical early days of 1942. However valiant, the allied forces were defeated by the Japanese and the last two-thirds of Michel's book details his time as a prisoner of His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Japan.
Michel's 3 1/2 years as a POW ranged from the absurdly comical to the painfully brutal. Perhaps atypically, Michel details not only the brutal and criminal treatment he and other POWs received but also some of the more humane treatment that he was fortunate enough to receive (or witness). His book doesn't vilify every Japanese soldier and/or citizen which, given the fact that he wrote the original manuscript in 1948, says quite a bit about his character to this reviewer. However, where war crimes were committed, he doesn't pull any punches. There were many Japanese soldiers and officers whom he encountered who were later tried for war crimes (several of whom committed suicide rather than face the gallows).
Overall, Michel's text is engaging and well written making this book an easy to read memoir. Certainly, as the members of this "Greatest Generation" pass away, it will be these narratives that live on and serve as testament to their sacrifice and dedication. Michel's is a worthy addition to this collection and certainly worth the time of anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII....more
For young and inexperienced players, Ted Williams’ name may no longer hold the magic it did when I was growing up and playing baseball. But most of usFor young and inexperienced players, Ted Williams’ name may no longer hold the magic it did when I was growing up and playing baseball. But most of us "old-timers" will still remember that Williams was the last professional ball player (in the MLB) to hit over .400 for a full season. So when my Little League aged son was struggling a bit at the plate a season ago, I broke out my copy of Williams’ The Science of Hitting to look for some kernel of wisdom that would help my son get out of his slump.
But, the first line in the book is an admonition that today’s best hitters fail more than they succeed “...even if you're a .300 hitter...you are going to fail at your job seven out of ten times." This statement is at once encouraging as well as discouraging. That is hitting in a nutshell (triumphant in success yet unbelievably humbling and potentially discouraging in failure) and any good player will need to remember that success as a ball player is measured a bit differently.
The admonition out of the way, William’s book splits the topic of hitting up into two basic parts--first, the physical mechanics involved in hitting; second, the mental duel taking place between the batter and pitcher.
Much of what is written in the book is the result of Williams’ conversations with great hitters of the past. As a result, much of the advice in the book is shared in the form of readable anecdotes, which make the book easy to read and enjoyable for baseball aficionados as well -- where else are you going to learn about Harry Heillman's philosophy of hitting?
One of the primary keys to Teddy Ballgame’s success was his swing. The best “old-time” hitters (and Williams was certainly one of them) had a nearly a flat swing plane, flat wrist-roll and a low, rather than high finish. Most of today's hitters' display an upper cutting arc and high finish to their swings. Yet, in the “dead ball” the old-timers managed to wrack up nearly as many homeruns but had much higher batting averages and strike-out to hit ratios. This ended up being the clincher for me. I noticed immediately that my son had started trying to uppercut the ball so he could hit more homeruns (after hitting his one in his first at-bat of the season).
We started working on having him hit line drives and sure enough he raised his average from .175 to .403 by the end of the season. Then this season he kept the swing we worked on and ended up hitting .390+, but also leading the league in home runs, finishing with 24 (including 6 in the post-season).
The other thing that Williams writes (which is often misinterpreted) is that he'd never swing at a pitch he hadn't seen before. Often time people will swear (incorrectly) that Williams never swung at a pitcher's first pitch. Williams was, if nothing else, a student of the game. He intently studied pitchers watching them warm up, watching them from the on-deck circle and mentally replaying previous at-bats in his head. When he stepped into the batters box he had a game plan and he had a good understanding of what a pitcher threw and when. My son used this part of Williams' game as well and it was fun to watch him "studying" the opposing pitchers.
Thank you Ted Williams! My son, whose name is Theodore William by the way, earned the nickname "Teddy Ballgame" from his coaches and teammates as well.
Williams text in The Science of Hitting is accompanied by the wonderful pen and ink illustrations of Robert E. Cupp. These drawings and other explanatory photographs to help illustrate the points Williams is trying to make and really enhance the book.
If you are a player, coach or just a parent wanting to help your son or daughter improve their game, this book is a must have!...more
I first encountered this book as part of an undergraduate political science class on American politics. Among other long and dry reading assignments,I first encountered this book as part of an undergraduate political science class on American politics. Among other long and dry reading assignments, I found myself thoroughly engaged in the book and looking forward to spending time reading Lederer and Burdick's work. In fact, I'd have to say that it has been my favorite book since that political science class almost 25 years ago.
I have read it at least 20 times in those 25 years (often as a source for a paper I was writing, but also for pleasure). While this is not a typical "beach read" I have re-read it while traveling and at the beach on several occasions. This past week I was on a business trip and sleeping in a hotel room. This combination of factors is usually good for a bout of insomnia on my part, and this trip was no different. Lederer and Burdick came to my rescue yet again and provided a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass through several hours of insomnia.
The story(ies) centers on a fictional country in Southeast Asia named Sarkhan. The book's chapters compare and contrast the competence and incompetence on the part of the diplomats, politicos, military officers and ex-pats in Sarkham. Heroes include Ambassador Gilbert McWhite, John Colvin, and Homer Atkins (THE ugly American) -— all men who took the time to learn the culture in which they were being planted.
It is easy (now, with 20/20 hindsight) to see this book as a parable stemming from the Vietnam War. However, the book was written well before American stepped up its involvement in Vietnam (in 1958) and was purportedly read by President Eisenhower and responsible for many of the reforms that he introduced into America's foreign aid programs. The general thesis of the authors was that US diplomats (and other foreign station workers/advisors) who failed to study and adapt to the cultures they were entering, were doomed to failure (or worse). Worse still, the American bureaucracy wasn't interested in the opinions of the Foreign Service staff that did study and understand the cultures into which they were placed.
Given that this book was written at the tail end of the McCarthy era, the insights of Lederer and Burdick are quite exceptional (in fact, some government agencies sought to ban the book in Asia and in many ways that (failed) effort can be seen as one of the last "scenes" of the McCarthy era). Burdick and Lederer are at once, tongue in cheek, cynical and satirical in their views of American foreign policy
Every time that I read this book, I can't put it down. Despite its age, it is still a fine read and certainly has additional significance in today's world as the U.S. fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although some parts of the book are antiquated -- including the parochial way the authors treat the few female characters (in particular the Marie MacIntosh character), that small niggle can be forgiven in a book that retains its readability and relevance 50 years after it was first published....more