An easy to understand and listen to audio book. It will give newbies and experts alike the basics around distinguishing between, choosing, drinking, a...moreAn easy to understand and listen to audio book. It will give newbies and experts alike the basics around distinguishing between, choosing, drinking, and then describing all sorts of different wines.(less)
John’s quick take:A fascinating book for anyone interested in World War II or military history; but also...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take:A fascinating book for anyone interested in World War II or military history; but also a terrific read for anyone who likes a good adventure story. This history book is full of both intriguing historical details and breathtakingly dangerous human exploits.
John’s description: As Hitler’s Germany prepared for war, it was determined to match the might of the British Navy. One result of this was the building of a huge battleship that was bigger, faster, better armed and more advanced than anything the world had seen. The Tirpitz, named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz who was the architect of the German Imperial Navy, was supposedly unsinkable.
As the war developed, the main role of the ship was to cause havoc with the Atlantic convoys that were both the lifeline of besieged Britain and an important source of allied arms being supplied to Russia. The Germans based Tirpitz on the Norwegian coast, so it could also serve as a deterrent to a possible allied invasion of that country. Hitler had something close to paranoia about the threat of the allies rescuing Norway from its German occupiers.
As it turned out, by far the biggest impact that the Tirpitz had on the war was the threat of what it might do, rather than anything it actually did do. The allied forces were terrified of the ship’s capabilities and went to enormous lengths to protect their convoys and to avoid a direct confrontation, thereby tying up enormous amounts of military assets; meanwhile the Germans, and Hitler in particular, were terrified of losing the ship and were amazingly cautious about using it in anger, despite its reputed invincibility. But Hitler was not the only wartime leader who played a major personal role in the Tirpitz story; Churchill was almost obsessed with the Tirpitz, and relentlessly pushed his forces to attack the ship, even after it should have become obvious that its threat was overstated.
The result was that over a three-year period the British launched no less than 36 operations designed specifically to sink the ship. As Tirpitz was moored in well-protected Norwegian fjords, beyond the range of traditional British-based bombers, many of the British operations were innovative or desperately risky, bordering on suicidal. Among other things the British tried to use human torpedoes, midget submarines, aircraft carrier-based dive bombers, and specially designed mines. Some of the operations used special services groups, supported by undercover agents in Norway, and much of the intelligence about the ship’s movements and plans was the result of the British decrypting top-secret German Enigma communications.
The operation involving newly designed midget submarines was particularly unusual and daring. After perilous training and a fraught journey across the North Sea, just three of the ten craft made it beyond the ship’s defenses, one of which was then sunk by gunfire and depth charges. But two of the tiny submarines did manage to lay mines which did quite a bit of damage to Tirpitz, and put it out of action for almost six months. However, the ship was repaired and once again became a thorn in the sides of the British.
Eventually the job of sinking Tirpitz was handed over to the Royal Air Force, which now had access to Lancaster bombers which had just about enough range to reach the Tirpitz. The attacks by the bombers stretched the limits of both human endurance and available technology, and the losses were high. But using highly innovative and terrifying new “earthquake bombs”, the RAF finally scored two direct hits on the ship causing it to capsize within minutes; of the 1,700 sailors on board at the time of the bombing, it is estimated that almost 1,000 died as a result of the attack.
John’s thoughts: I found this a tremendously interesting read. It could have been just a dry, historical account of events, but throughout the book, Bishop uses personal diaries, memoirs and interviews with families of survivors to bring the history to life. In large parts the story is told through the eyes of people who were involved.
And what a story this is. If a Hollywood movie had used a plot like this, many would accuse it of being far-fetched and unbelievable. In here we have arms races, technology being pushed to the absolute limits, powerful nations battling for survival, spies, decrypted secret messages, audacious plans and quite stunning acts of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. It is the latter which I found most amazing. Throughout the book there are seemingly normal people that are willing to volunteer for missions or to do things which are absurdly dangerous. Heroes indeed.
Apart from all of that, I also found it an educational book. I’m old enough that World War II was very real to my parents and grandparents, and I’ve always been fascinated by the period. I learnt a lot from this read and it wasn’t just about the facts and the stories immediately surrounding the Tirpitz. It was also an education to find out more about the people – from how the personalities of Hitler and Churchill had a direct impact on events, to the stories of the daring pilots and sailors who undertook the raids, to the impact of German occupation on Norwegians, to the lives of the sailors on board the Tirpitz. Something else gave me great pause for thought. The Tirpitz never did attack allied ships and essentially the only time it caused any damage was when it was defending itself against attack; yet it had a major influence on events during the war. The threat of a weapon turned out to be much more damaging than the weapon itself. Intriguing, and you can’t help but draw some parallels with the cold war that followed World War II.
I’d rate this book four stars and thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in World War II or military history; but also to anyone who enjoys reading about real-life adventure. (less)
A tastefully fun book for anyone interested in knowing the background for the ingredients that go into cre...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A tastefully fun book for anyone interested in knowing the background for the ingredients that go into creating your favorite alcoholic drinks, including chemistry, historical drama, archeology, recipes, and a fun layout with illustrations and intriguing snippets. This is an excellent book for the geeky imbiber and/or gardener.
Shellie’s thoughts: Definitely not dry, this book has been broken down visually and thematically for clarity, so it’s not like reading a text book. With an easy to digest visual style the book’s contents are divided into three major parts. The first is Distillation and Fermentation where the author alphabetically addresses the plants Agave through Wheat (including an end section called Strange Brews). The second part is Suffusions and it tells about the plant flavors which are added to the basic alcohols mentioned. It’s then broken down into Herbs, Flowers, Spices, Trees, Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds. The third part then covers the plants that are added to the drinks after they are mixed in a glass, using the topics Botanical Mixers and Garnishes.
Happily at the end of many of the sections for the book the author includes recipes for cocktail, syrups, infusions, and garnishes. She embeds short informational snippets on various subjects such as “A Field Guide to Tequila and Mezcal”, “Bugs in Booze”, “What’s the Difference between Ale and Lager”, “Know your Gins”, and more. The book also makes recommendation of what brands of liquors to use, which not to bother with, and other suggestions for creating upscale and finely crafted libations. It also has some gardening advice on growing plants for your own personal garden so that you can add them to your drinks.
I listened to the book in audio first then took a look at it in its hardbound format for further in-depth digging - and I loved both. The audio version was well read from a reader with a pleasant voice and featured a little clink of a glasses to designate the reading of each recipe. I did however feel the need to be able to look at the layout of the book’s organization, so the hardbound version may be little more practical.
This is a completely fun book which I would recommend. If you enjoy tasteful and upscale libations, are interested in how and what you are drinking is made, and would like some historical details and drama around the process in their creation then this will be a book for you. It would also make a wonderful gift for gardeners and drinkers alike. 4.5 stars.(less)
A historical telling of how Bram Stoker’s 100 year old cultural icon – Dracula - was created and became th...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A historical telling of how Bram Stoker’s 100 year old cultural icon – Dracula - was created and became the character that holds awe even today. This book goes into some of the significant happenings going on around the creation of the novel Dracula.
Vampire fascination is not going to go away. We can see that in the popularity of books and cinema that include vampires. Interest in the novel Dracula, even a 100 years beyond its publication, proves this well. In the non-fiction book Who Was Dracula? author Jim Steinmeyer attempts to enlighten and dispel some long held ideas about who the character was, who Stoker based his character on, how the novel was created, and some intriguing historical details surrounding Stoker at the time.
It appears that Steinmeyer wants readers to believe that Dracula was not entirely based upon Bram Stoker’s boss Henry Irving (many Dracula scholars believe it was). In fact the character is influenced by some famous individuals and events that Stoker came across in his life. These include Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Jack the Ripper and many more.
Less surprisingly, Steinmeyer believes that the mythology we have built around vampires is based upon what Bram Stoker created. He also states that Dracula became a powerful mystical figure a long time ago – indeed he says that Dracula was a revered pop cultural icon 100 years ago. So Vampire love is not new.
This was not an all-encompassing read for me; I felt compelled and intrigued in some parts but a bit lost in others. Generally, I find non-fiction historical books a bit hard to read, but I gave this a go because I loved the novel Dracula and feel that the character Stoker created is an exceptional and memorable one. So naturally I was curious as to what influenced Bram Stoker when he was writing this popular novel.
There are a lot of meaty historical details around a variety of characters and Bram Stoker’s connection to them, as the author attempts to support his theories. This pulled me in and kept me reading, but at times I felt like I was reading more about Henry Irving (Bram Stoker’s boss and a popular actor and theater owner) than I was about the novel Dracula or Stoker himself.
I did enjoy the book and in the end would say that Who Was Dracula? is for anyone who is interested in the elements that create a character such as Dracula; anyone interested in the historical situations that surrounded Bram Stoker and influenced him; and those interested in the reasons why it is still so popular 100-plus years after its publication. 3 stars for this intriguing historical book.
*A note to readers: if you are planning on reading this book you may want to read a few other things first – including Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Leaves of Grass and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It does contain some spoilers for these classics. Alternatively, be prepared to skip a bit here and there so you can still enjoy these great books to the full.(less)