I’m not sure precisely what fascinates me about military history. I really don’t need to continue to read it to be confirmed in my belief that the hum...moreI’m not sure precisely what fascinates me about military history. I really don’t need to continue to read it to be confirmed in my belief that the human race is capable of the most incredible stupidity; political evens suffice for that. But read it I do, and A World Undone is the latest in my efforts to understand why human beings continue to pursue such self-evidently destructive and almost always useless endeavors; wars usually do nothing more than pave the way for future wars.
I’ve read other histories of The First World War, or as it was known, The Great War. Most of them are standard sort of books: a brief introduction of the politics and players just before the outbreak of the war, descriptions of battles, some discussion of the leading military and political figures as they arose during the war, and mention of the armistice and the resulting chaos that led to the Second World War.
Meyer does this but far, far more. In his introduction, Meyer emphasizes that he wanted to do more than “the usual”. He set out to tell a story, a weaving together
“of the story’s most compelling elements--the strange way it began more than a month after the assassination that supposedly was its cause; the mysterious way in which the successes and failures of both sides balanced so perfectly as to produce years of bloody deadlock; the leading personalities; the astonishing extent to which the leadership of every belligerent nation was divided against itself; the appalling blunders; the incredible (and now largely forgotten) carnage--while at the same time filling in as much as possible of the historical background.”
Meyer succeeds to a large extent, especially in achieving the last-named goal. He does this by including separate sections, which he titles Background. These are fascinating brief but incredibly informative histories of nations, ruling families, personalities, peoples. For example, Chapter 1 is preceded by a Background on the Serbs: who they were and why it was a Serb who assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Other chapters have as Backgrounds,the Hohenzollerens, the Hapsburgs, the Junkers, Paris in 1914, the Cossacks, Kaiser Wilhelm, Clemenceau, women in the war and more and more.
I found all of it incredibly enlightening. Take, for example, just the first of what he terms the story’s most compelling elements--why, actually, was it five whole weeks before the assassination was the causus belli. I’d never given ti a thought before. But as Meyer unfolds the story, it becomes increasingly clear that what was obvious on the surface was not the real cause of the war but merely an excuse. Another, one that has always puzzled me: why, in the face of consistent failure, time after time, did Joffre and Haig, the French and British commanders in the field, continue to throw men in assaults against well-defended German positions, causing nothing more than the slaughter of their own troops? Meyer explains the mentality behind the decisions.
Right in line with these utterly fascinating looks at what was beneath the surface--the history that propelled the war--is an Epilogue on the post-armistice period which he entitles The Fate of Men and Nations. It not only sums up the events that would lead to the Second World War but also gives brief histories of the later lives of some of the major players: Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Wilson,Haig, Foch, Petain, Ludendorff and others.
All such histories have to choose a focus, and Meyer clearly focuses on the Western and Eastern Fronts. He does more than mention other fronts, but does not go into much detail. For example, he brings in the Italian-Austrian front when appropriate but does not go into any great or even moderate detail. Well, you have to choose. but anyone who wishes to know more about that aspect of the Great War is advised to read mark Thompson’s the White War, which is a superlative description of the truly monumental incompetency of the Italian military command and the reasons behind Mussolini's rise to power.
As a special note: Canadians , Australians, and New Zealanders should take special pride in reading this book, given that the troops of these three nations were the finest on either side. It also leaves someone like me wondering, given the idiocies of the British High Command, why any of those three countries are still in the Commonwealth.
The book has only one weak point, really, a common one--the maps. I’m going to be kind and merely describe them as pathetic. There is only one that is of any use and that is the last one showing the thrust of the last great German offensives of 1918. However, there are very, very few books of military history that are any better in this regard, a complaint often voiced by those of us who actually try to follow the course of the fighting.
Jakob has just left for Regensburg, a Free City that is the Imperial seat of the German Empire; he has rec...moreThird book in The Hangman's Daughter series.
Jakob has just left for Regensburg, a Free City that is the Imperial seat of the German Empire; he has received a letter from his sister's husband, telling Jakob that his sister is very ill. Magdalena can no longer tolerate the suspicion and hostility that she faces as a member of the family of a hangman. She persuades Simon to run away with her to Regensburg; unbeknownst to her mother and, of course, her father, she and Simon steal away at midnight.
Well, nothing goes smoothly, as you might expect. Before too long, Jakob will be imprisoned for the murder of his sister and her husband, and Simon and Magdalena will be hunted as murderers and arsonists (life is never dull for this family). simon and Magdalena meet up with the King of the Beggars of Regensburg and are under his protection. Not that that does much good, because no matter who tries to help these two, they manage to get themselves in further trouble. And that becomes one of the weaknesses of the books, because sometimes Potzsch has to go to rather extraordinary lengths and really strains the credulity of his readers as to the believability of his characters in order to plunge them into even greater trouble than they were before.
However, this is till a whopping good read, and much better than the previous book. But be alerted: "mumbled" and "grumbled" are still fighting it out to see who can drive the reader crazier with overuse.(less)
A crushing responsibility Dan Brown must bear for The Da Vinci Code is the number (and usually poor qua...moreSecond in the series of The Hangman's Daughter.
A crushing responsibility Dan Brown must bear for The Da Vinci Code is the number (and usually poor quality) of the subsequent knockoffs. And yes, folks, here we have another one--yes, the hidden treasure of the Templars shrouded in code that take our protagonists Jakob, Magdalena, and he more-or-less lover Simon, a physician, on a journey around the villages, monasteries and towns of the Priest's Corner of Bavaria, trying to locate the treasure. And of course, it's not just the treasure, but starting with a poisoned parish priest, murder raises its ugly head, dragging Magdalena her father, and Simon into a dangerous morass.
I struggled to find this interesting but barely did so. Sorry, too much Da Vinci Code and internal Church politics; thanks but I've seen it all before. The difference is that Potzsch places his story in the mid-17th century rather than in modern times, but other than that--different locale, same story.
Potzsch's characterization is good but not that good that the characters themselves can carry the story. Plus, there is now a competition for criminal abuse of verb forms; running neck and neck with "mumbled" is "grumbled." It may be of interest to the new reader to know that "mumbled" is really still ahead (but only by a head) and we have no idea of the outcome since the home stretch is not in sight yet, given that there are more novels in the series.
There is a wonderful tour guide as an appendix in which Potzchm who lives in Munich, takes us on a walking-bicycle (car if you must) tour of the towns and monasteries mentioned in the story, all of which exist--as do many of the characters mentioned.
Really, this is for fans of the series, of which I am one, but it is by no means as good as the first novel.(less)
When The Hangman's Daughter first came out, I wasn't impressed with what I could gather from reviews and excerpts; I decided to give it a pass. Recent...moreWhen The Hangman's Daughter first came out, I wasn't impressed with what I could gather from reviews and excerpts; I decided to give it a pass. Recently, however, I have been seeking out escapist literature; when I came upon the book, I decided to give it a try--I was, after all, desperate to read something mindless.
The Hangman's Daughter is better than that. What Potzsch has done is set a story in the Bavaria of the mid-17th century, about 10 years after the end of the Thirty Years War, the religious (and of course power-)-based war that convulsed central Europe. The local setting is the village of Schonbrau, home to Jakob Kuisl, the town hangman, and his family. Schongau exists and so did/does the Kuisl family; Potzsch is a direct descendant. Fascinated by stories his grandmother told, Potzsch, a TV writer, researched his ancestral background thoroughly and came up with the background for his stories.
The plot entails the disappearance and gruesome killing of several of the town's children, all orphans. Because of a mark on each of their shoulders, discovered after death, most of the town ins convinced that witchcraft is the problem--and everyone knows who the witch is--the town midwife. 70 years previously, Schongau was convulsed with witches' trials which led to the death of over 60 women before the mania ran its course. no one is charge, including the powerful town clerk, wants to see that happen, so he urges Kuisl to extract a confession from the midwife so that she can be legally murdered and the town quieted. Kuisl, an enlightened man for his time, doesn't believe that the midwife is a witch, and neither does his daughter Magdalena, who is the midwife's apprentice.
Thus the scene is laid for a very well done plot, in which the customs and beliefs of the mid-17th century are fairly fully explored; it was NOT a fun time. The lives of the common people were, for the most part, brutish and their belief systems matched. The matrix within which the story is set is absorbing, given the detail that Potzsch works into the storyline.
A very god book that would be a great deal better if Potzsch could have come up with some other verb form besides "mumbled" to indicate that his character had said something. Believe me, it is noticeable, then annoying, then really irritating.
while yes, it does detract from the reading, it does not mar the story as a whole, which is very good. Recommended with hope that you can find some sort of filter to screen out the massive abuse of 'mumbled."(less)
It's very rarely that I fail to finish a book. I usually slog through to the end with books that don't engage me. But this book is one that so irritat...moreIt's very rarely that I fail to finish a book. I usually slog through to the end with books that don't engage me. But this book is one that so irritated me I couldn't finish it--in fact, I made it only to 11% through before I closed it in disgust and removed it from my Kindle.
And it's not because I don't like Robert Louis Stevenson as an author. I loved Treasure Island and thoroughly enjoyed Kidnapped, both of which I recently read. But this book is so gloomy, so filled with irritating characters who have no saving graces and who make the mistake of being, for the most part, deadly dull, that I just couldn't finish it. (less)
One of the ways that Laurie King keeps the Russell-Holmes series fresh is by never writing the same book twice. She's written English countryside "coz...moreOne of the ways that Laurie King keeps the Russell-Holmes series fresh is by never writing the same book twice. She's written English countryside "cozy" mysteries, she's written adventure-thrillers, she's written all sorts of genres in this series. In Garment of Shadows, while building on the previous book The Pirate King, King not only writes from two different points of view--of both Russell (first person) and Holmes (third person), but she also plays games with time--the story opens at one point in time and then proceeds to jump back and forth over days, and not necessarily the same time span with each jump. And never let it be said that King can not plot--Russell starts this adventure an amnesiac, awaking in an unknown place and not even being able to remember her name!
The story takes place in Morocco in 1924 during the Rif Rebellion and as has been pretty standard in her later books in the series, features a historical figure--actually two of them, the Emir Abd-el-Krim, leader of the rebellion and Marechal Hubert Lyautey, the enlightened governor of French Morocco. Rather unusually, she brings back two characters from two previous books--the brothers Ali and Mahmoud Hazr: ostensibly Arabs but in reality a former English duke and his cousin.
Normally, one can read a Russell-Holmes installment without having to worry too much about previous novels. But in this case, it really does help to have read The Pirate King, O Jerusalem and Justice Hall because of the many references to people, places and events in those books.
The only quibble I have with the book is the jumping around in time, which left me fairly confused through the first reading. But not to worry--my advice is to simply start all over again! You'll pick up things you missed first time around, understand the time shifts and therefore the unfolding of the plot better--and just plain relish King's writing, which is, as always, superb.
I give this book "only" 4 stars because my all-time favorite in the series is O Jersualem--interesting in that the four main characters there--Holmes, Russell and the Hazr brothers--appear in this book. Ratings aside, this is yet another outstanding addition to the series. Highly recommended.(less)