Teddy Roosevelt's memoir of the less-than-six-months' existence of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit formed for the sole purpose of serving i...moreTeddy Roosevelt's memoir of the less-than-six-months' existence of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit formed for the sole purpose of serving in the Spanish-American War, is a breezy and entertaining read.
It is also a rather astonishing look into an alien world --- the world that used to be the United States, but is no longer.
Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1898. Though he doesn't make this clear in the book, he was the de facto Secretary and basically in charge of the Navy. And he resigned in order to form a new cavalry regiment and go serve on the front lines of the war that everyone knew was coming.
Try to imagine ANY modern politician doing this. Some, certainly, served in the military prior to their political careers. Many, in fact, did so in furtherance of those same careers. None, not one, would voluntarily surrender political power to risk death. It's inconceivable.
Roosevelt, for all his swaggering bombast, did just that.
TR not only tells the story of the regiment from his perspective, he contrasts his observations and experiences with Spanish accounts of the battles in which he was involved (and, not surprisingly, finds them wanting), as well as including an appendix of "Corrections" where he shares observations from other Rough Riders that contrast somewhat with his memories, as well as taking apart completely another book that supposedly told the story of the taking of Santiago, Cuba.
Another historical insight that doesn't get taught today is that at this time, the US Army was all but racially integrated. TR and the Rough Riders fought side by side with at least two black regiments, and while his attitude toward them is somewhat patronizing, it is far less so than one would expect for the period. And he expresses zero reservations about black troops wielding weapons, not even implicitly. The Rough Riders themselves had many full-blooded and half-breed Indians in their ranks, also without any hint of tension or discord.
(The armed forces were re-segregated under Democrat Woodrow Wilson, whose racist policies were carried through World War II.)
In all, an informative and entertaining read, though it does not supply the entire context that it might have (it was written for an audience that TR presumes -- correctly -- already knew that context), and he might have taken more time to let the reader get to know more of the soldiers whose names he lists so frequently. But these flaws are simple absences. In my quick reading, there is no flaw of inclusion in the book, only things that were not there that I wish had been.(less)
Garrett's "biography" of the Ford Motor Company is a bit odd, but very entertaining, very clearly and evocatively written, and incredibly informative....moreGarrett's "biography" of the Ford Motor Company is a bit odd, but very entertaining, very clearly and evocatively written, and incredibly informative. It ends up being an elegy for laissez-faire capitalism, with Garrett making the point several times that Henry Ford, had he started at the time of the writing of the book (circa 1950), could never succeed the way he actually did, because government regulations and taxes and restrictions and bureaucracy and so on would have chewed him up and spit him out.
It also ends with a focus on Henry Ford's eccentricities and foibles, but they're nearly as interesting as his engineering and business successes, so it's not too much of a hurdle.
Published in 1939, this survey of how the fascist economy actually worked (or, mostly, didn't) in Germany under Nazi rule is fascinating and scary in...morePublished in 1939, this survey of how the fascist economy actually worked (or, mostly, didn't) in Germany under Nazi rule is fascinating and scary in equal measure. It lays out the kind of detail that you don't usually get, explaining just how the National Socialists took control, and kept things running even as they ran them into the ground.
It bogs down a bit in a couple of chapters, when Reimann lays many, many charts and numbers on the reader. But that sort of detailed comparison is precisely what makes the book so valuable, along with the snapshot of pre-war Germany inherent in the book having been written in 1939.(less)
An excellent, excellent collection of essays representing a first assault on Marxist literary orthodoxy, Literature and the Economics of Liberty exami...moreAn excellent, excellent collection of essays representing a first assault on Marxist literary orthodoxy, Literature and the Economics of Liberty examines how economics suffuses great works of literature that are not often thought of as economic, and also presents compelling, radical reinterpretations of texts that were considered Marxist-leaning in the past. The free market perspective is refreshing and, in a few cases, downright invigorating. The fact that it's all from the perspective of Austrian economics does no harm, as I don't think anarchism is mentioned even once in the book.
The first essay looks not within literature, but at literature itself, to demonstrate how the 19th century serial novel, a form that arose from the free operation of the marketplace, influenced and improved writers at a micro and a macro level, letting authors respond to their audiences before a work was complete, and letting some, including Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, attempt a new type of novel completely, one without any plan, which formed itself in the writing and, due to coming out in instalments, could not undo in a rewrite what was already done.
Other essays deal with Don Quixote, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, and Ben Okri, and virtually every one of them inspired me to want to read the works they dealt with, or at least the authors. (Proof: I'm currently [re]reading Don Quixote, in spite of my personal dislike of picaresque tales. And O Pioneers! is in my queue.)
In short, though I wish there was more, or in some cases (like the first essay) a longer and more detailed account of the subject covered, I can't recommend this highly enough.(less)
In a sense, this is geek nirvana. Or it should have been.
Sean Howe covers the history of Marvel comics almost in toto, from Martin Goodman going into...moreIn a sense, this is geek nirvana. Or it should have been.
Sean Howe covers the history of Marvel comics almost in toto, from Martin Goodman going into the pulp magazine publishing business, right up through the billion dollar success of The Avengers movie in 2012.
What I liked especially, particularly in the sections covering the 1940s and 1960s (and even to an extent in the book's gloss on the '50s, a rather moribund period for the soon-to-be Marvel) was that Howe explains how the business worked. Not just from the writing and drawing side, but printing and distribution, things that few comics geeks know much about, and almost no comics geeks would know about for those periods. And, wonder of wonders, for the early parts of the story at least, the business aspect of the business is presented without any "business is evil" shading or commentary.
Howe also does a remarkably good job of presenting fairly the various sides of disputes over who created what and when and how in 1960s Marvel. The nature of how things worked in Marvel at the time means that we will probably never know exactly who did what, but Howe lays out how Stan Lee worked (and why), how Jack Kirby worked, and how Steve Ditko worked, and he gives the Lee and Kirby sides of their stories and comes out with a very reasonable narrative of how things likely happened, without short-changing anybody that I noticed. Heck, he's even non-snarky about Ditko's influence from Ayn Rand, something of a minor miracle, in my experience.
If the book had kept going in that fashion, it would be five stars.
Howe smears former Marvel Editor-in-Chief more and more as the narrative goes on. At first it seemed to be a result of his interviewees being more numerous in the anti-Shooter camp, but with each return it became subtly more nasty and deliberate.
As one example, when relating one artist leaving Marvel for DC, Howe gives both sides of the story, then concludes "obviously, one side was lying." But the way he sets it up, he gives the reader a strong prejudice toward believing Shooter was lying, based on not much actual evidence.
He also presents some facts without context in order to make Shooter seem simplistic and silly, mentioning offhand the way he would "keep" bringing up "Little Miss Muffet" when lecturing on storytelling, without explaining that Jim Shooter had a standard "introduction to storytelling" lecture he would give new hires or writers or artists who seemed to have gotten a bit lost somewhere along the way. He posted it in instalments on his blog, and has given it outside of the Marvel Bullpen, as "The $1.98 Storytelling Lecture", and the Little Miss Muffet example is a starting point, not some condescending kindergarten talk. Howe used Shooter's blog as reference elsewhere in the book, but didn't bother to give context here, which taken with all the other slights and left-handed comments, and the increasingly grudging acknowledgement that, yes, Jim Shooter took Marvel from the brink of bankruptcy to astonishing profits, as well as shepherding in much better deals for creators than the industry had ever seen, but, well, not everybody liked him, and... and... and... he doesn't present much more than that, he just carefully slants facts to reflect on Shooter as badly as possible, far more so toward the end than when Shooter first turns up in the narrative.
What's really ironic is that Howe almost openly laments the loss of the Marvel of the early- and mid-1970s -- that would be the Marvel that was leading the industry, but losing money hand over fist, and then contrasts that dying company with the turned-around Marvel of the 1980s to find the '80s version lacking, even though that assessment directly contradicts many things he's already told the reader. (One editor remarks, after telling a story of the early '80s Bullpen, that he knew those were "the good old days" even as they were happening.)
Anyway, given Howe's essential lack of fairness with the part of Marvel history with which I am familiar, it makes me reluctant to endorse his coverage of the rest of it, as enjoyable and enlightening as it was.
Apart from that, less severe flaws did present themselves, such as covering the period from 2000 through 2012 almost in a few side comments, and no more. It's not even a gloss. The most detail given is in how Hollywood actors reacted to Marvel's "extreeeeeeeeeeeeme" mentality in the early '00's -- and the most interesting fact to me there was not that George Clooney turned down the role of Nick Fury because in one comic Fury was shown strangling someone with the victim's own intestines, it was that such a stupid thing got put into a story at all. If you've got hands on someone's intestines on the field of battle, strangling would seem superfluous, wouldn't it? (Also, you could find almost anything at all with better tensile strength to do the job, couldn't you? One of Rob Liefeld's characters' pouch straps or something?)
Overall, this is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in American comics, but it should be approached with some caution given that the author was less than even-handed with at least one of his major subjects.(less)
When Riggenbach lays out his project in the opening chapters of this book, it is not only reasonable, it is laudable: He wil...moreWhat a wasted opportunity.
When Riggenbach lays out his project in the opening chapters of this book, it is not only reasonable, it is laudable: He will, he claims, rescue the term "revisionist history" from the partisan ghetto, where it refers to historians who hate America and tailor their histories to that end, and restore it to its rightful meaning -- the checking and re-checking of the accepted historical narrative against facts as they are rediscovered and recontextualized.
Unfortunately, not only does that claim fall apart once the most interesting part of the book is past (and frays even in that part), but Riggenbach's inability to hold his prejudice and bigotry in check all but cuts the throat of his credibility right before the reader's eyes.
But the early, interesting part is interesting. Riggenbach posits that historical fiction is as valid a means of doing history as nonfiction works. Not all historical fiction, but researched fiction that attempts to present actual events. His point, and it is a good one, is that this is no different than what historians do -- research, get the facts, and then tell a story that, if you do it well, is both interesting and reasonably true to what happened.
His choice to focus on Gore Vidal's "American Chronicle" novels to exemplify what he means works fairly well, but would have worked better had he treated Vidal's positions in an adversarial manner. Instead, he comes off as a drooling fanboy, all but pumping his fist in the air and bellowing "IN your FACE!!!!" any time he describes Vidal acting the naughty schoolboy and contradicting The Man. (Note: I exaggerate, but only slightly.) Vidal was a pompous ass who was all too willing to ignore some facts in favor of others he found more congenial to his acid prejudices -- a fault that Riggenbach later in the book rakes another historian over the coals for doing, but which, in Vidal's case, goes unmentioned. Again, Vidal as an exemplar is not a bad choice, and many of the points made are good, but ignoring his not inconsiderable faults undercuts the example set.
Oh, but that was just the beginning of Riggenbach's folly.
After dealing with Vidal's novels and their relation to American history (he then keeps referring back to them as some sort of ideal, against which he measures other revisionists, judging their work by how much it agrees with Vidal; if it doesn't, they are wrong and bad; if it does, they are noble and good), Riggenbach lays out a history of Libertarianism, liberalism, leftism, and conservatism. And bigotry makes its first ugly appearance, here.
Jeff Riggenbach, you see, hates hates hates HATES conservatives. HATES them, and hates them more, and then some more after that.
Riggenbach maintains that leftism and liberalism are still the same thing today, as they always were. Socialists are really great people with their hearts in the right place, and Marx was all for individual freedom(!).
Conservatives were always evil and vicious and vile and opportunist, however. Beginning with the eeeeeevil rich white men who wrote that eeeeeevil document, the Constitution of the United States(!!).
And Lincoln and the early Republicans? Well, they didn't really care about slavery, they just wanted to establish a dictatorship in the US.
And, well, here's what it comes down to: everything the US government has ever done, from the writing of the constitution on down, is wrongbadwrongEVIL in Riggenbach's worldview.
Which is not to say that there is no evidence in support of this. Lincoln certainly did suspend habeas corpus (more than once), and many, many were imprisoned for publicly expressing the Wrong Opinions during the Civil War. Riggenbach is not wrong about that.
But a curious pattern emerges from his analysis of the Civil War onward. It was not, he maintains, about slavery. Which is a fair reading of the beginning of the conflict. Lincoln did not care about freeing the slaves, he was against secession and cared only about "preserving the union". Which is only a little bit shakier than the war not being (initially) about slavery -- it is a fair, if arguably incomplete, reading of the events of history.
The Confederate States of America, Riggenbach implies at one point, was the most liberal/libertarian/freedom oriented polity in American history.
Yes. Really. After earlier paying (very slight) lip service to the evils of slavery, Riggenbach completely and totally ignores the fact that the South had millions of slaves during the Civil War, and lauds its government's disposition toward freedom. He admits that it got despotic toward the end of the war, but manages to blame that, too, on Lincoln.
A later example of what I'm getting at comes when Riggenbach touches on World War II. Roosevelt was a Very Bad Man (a position with which I am in much sympathy), and one of the reasons given is that he did nothing for the Jews, when advisors had suggested bombing train tracks leading to concentration camps, thus potentially saving thousands or millions of lives.
Two points on that. First, as far as I am aware, the horrifying extent of the Holocaust was not known (or, at least, understood) by anybody outside of the upper Nazi echelons until April of 1945 when concentration camps were being liberated. Concentration camps were known, almost from the very outset of their operation. But the fact that they were (or became) human slaughterhouses was not. And, quite honestly, even if some facts were known, it is easy to imagine Roosevelt or his advisors not believing or comprehending the extent of the Nazis' "final solution" in practice. That is to say, unless Riggenbach can demonstrate without room for doubt that Roosevelt knew what was going on, it strikes me as unfair to hold him to be evil for not doing enough about it. Could he have? Certainly. But he was, so far as I have ever read, in the dark as to how much such measures would have changed things. Riggenbach does not demonstrate that Roosevelt knew, or even could have known. He just wants to slag him.
But that's not the worst thing. My second point is that even as Riggenbach tars FDR for not saving Jews or caring to do so... he is arguing that Roosevelt should never have gotten the US involved in World War II at all. He makes no mention of what would have happened in the European theater without US intervention (hint: nothing good), and sneers that Roosevelt liked Great Britain far too much. What would have happened to the European Jews in Riggenbach's preferred version of WWII? Funnily enough, he never deals with that. All he deals with is how awful and horrible the US was.
And his analysis of the Pacific Theater of WWII is, if anything, worse. First of all, he paints Roosevelt as scheming (all but twirling his non-existent mustache and cackling) to "force" Japan to attack the US, so that FDR can have an excuse to get the US into the war. See, the US cut or hampered supply lines to resource-poor Japan in the 1930s. Might this have anything to do with Japan's violent and murderous invasions of many, many countries in the region, beginning with but not limited to China? Funny, but Riggenbach never mentions it. Also unmentioned by Riggenbach are how subjugated populations were treated by the invading Japanese in China, Korea, Indochina and the Philippines. The illiberal actions of Imperial Japan are of no importance to Riggenbach. Only the awful evil of the US government.
Which, did you know?, murdered Japanese outright by dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for no good reason at all. Riggenbach paints a Japan eager to surrender from January 1945 onward, but FDR and, after his death, Truman just would not let them. Yes, FDR and Truman forced Japan to keep fighting, some-crazy-how.
Of course, in order for this narrative to even begin to make sense, Riggenbach needs to rely on his reader not knowing what was happening culturally in Japan in 1944 and 1945. He wants the reader to assume that, having been kicked out of just about everywhere but China, and having their supply lines destroyed, and having most of the cities and industrial base bombed to rubble, people in Japan were weary and ready to surrender. Which, without knowing what was occurring there at the time, is a pretty reasonable assumption.
The problem is that it's just not true.
I point to just one primary source, easily available in English, to show what utter garbage Riggenbach's pretence is. There are mountains and mountains of other sources that all paint similar pictures, but this one will do.
In Akira Kurosawa's Something Like An Autobiography, he refers to something that you probably have not heard of called "The Honorable Death of the Hundred Million".
The Japanese people knew they were losing the war, but surrender was not what they expected. The Honorable Death of the Hundred Million was the last-ditch effort of all last-ditch efforts. If word came from the Emperor, all the Japanese people would commit ritual suicide, and thus (in theory) shame America before the rest of the world. (It was the Emperor himself who quashed this when he learned of it; the plan was actually the design of the one the general who was in de facto control of the government before Hirohito reasserted himself on learning just how dire the situation was.)
Kurosawa, understand, was not writing to provide fodder for evil American historians. His book was for a Japanese audience of a younger generation, and only years later translated into English.
And he provides two stories related to the Honorable Death that are both very characteristically Japanese, and grimly hilarious. And they tend to support that it was a very real idea, and that he and those around him fully expected to carry it out when the time came. (Which is interesting, given how anti-authoritarian Kurosawa was even before the war.)
First is how he proposed to his wife:
"My proposal went something like this: 'It looks as if we are going to lose the war, and if it comes to the point of the Honorable Death of the Hundred Million, we all have to die anyway. It's probably not a bad idea to find out what married life is like before that happens.'"
And he and his filmmaking friends also had a plan for the film censor board:
"Toward the end of the war I even made a pact with some of my friends: If it came to the point of the Honorable Death of the Hundred Million and every Japanese would have to commit suicide, we vowed to meet in front of the Ministry of the Interior and assassinate the censors before we took our own lives."
Riggenbach is either utterly ignorant of what Japanese culture was like at the time, or he's hoping his reader is. You cannot know the above, and what it implies about the culture, and believe that Japan was honestly "suing for peace" as Riggenbach keeps repeating. The atomic bombs set off a power struggle in the highest circles of the Japanese governement and military (which were basically the same at the time), and it was not a forgone conclusion that the more rational faction would win out.
And it continues on. Everything bad is all America's fault, while bad things that affect minorities or underclasses elsewhere in the world do not get mentioned, only get mentioned in passing, or somehow get blamed on America in the end of a tortured chain of rationalizations.
I'm not saying that the US is blameless, mind. I'm saying that Riggenbach is spectacularly biased, lets that bias affect his judgement to the detriment of the book, and also lets it infuse his book to such an extent that it's hard not to get the unsettling feeling that he might even be racist, he's so completely callous to the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Chinese under Imperial Japan, slaves in the Confederate States of America, Kulaks in Soviet Russia, and on and on and on. I don't know if he is racist or not, but going from the way he presents things in this book, he's open to the charge. (I would prefer to think not, that he's simply blinded by his rather bizarre ideology. But that, too, is a personal preference.)
Need I tell you that, toward the end, Howard Zinn is lauded and praised? Yeah.
So there you go. A book that should have been interesting, that should have had substantial things to say about questioning what you learned in school and re-examining what you thought you knew in light of new evidence, utterly destroyed by the author's insensate rage at the US government in all its manifestations, and willingness to ignore (or lack of interest in learning) things that might upset his preferred narrative of America's Is The Most Evil Government EVER.
It is this sort of codswallop that makes most people look at libertarians askance. That this is the level of "scholarship" among libertarian academics is risible.
[This review is copyright 2013 by D. Jason Fleming. It is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license (CC BY-SA 3.0).](less)
Barrett Tillman's overview of the air war in the Pacific claims to be (and could very well be) the first comprehensive treatment of the subject in one...moreBarrett Tillman's overview of the air war in the Pacific claims to be (and could very well be) the first comprehensive treatment of the subject in one book. He relies on various sources, including archival research and interviews with participants on both sides of the conflict, and the result is an engrossing read that leaves the reader with a good general overview, some interesting details that he had never encountered before (yes, even if you are an expert in the subject), and a hunger for much, much more.
He actually covers more than 1942-45, giving the reader helpful context going back to how US, British, and Japanese air doctrine formed and evolved from about 1920 up to the beginning of hostilities, but the bulk of the work deals with the air war from Doolittle's raid through V-J Day, and it's all great.
Of particular interest are the portraits of things from the Japanese perspective, which very quickly give the lie to the narrative that the Japanese were trying to surrender beginning in January 1945 (a risible claim made by another "history" book I recently reviewed), and depict just how monstrous they were to POWs in their custody, something not much taught today. (One of the more merciful things they did was to behead a dozen -- or possibly more -- POWs after the surrender was declared, e.g.)
The only complaint I have, and this is very much a minor nit-pick, is that Tillman assumes a little too much familiarity on the part of the reader with details of the era. He sometimes throws airplane names at the reader without giving a solid handle on which name refers to which model (the P-51 was the Mustang, but I kept forgetting what a Corsair was). On the Japanese side, this is worsened by the fact that the American flyboys had their own nomenclature for the enemy models, almost wholly separate from what the Japanese called them, and Tillman sometimes rotates through the American nickname, the Japanese term, and the English meaning of the Japanese term, without being clear that they're all referring to the same plane model. There is, however, an appendix for the Japanese models' various names.
But that is definitely picking at a nit. The book is excellent, and you should read it if you have even the most tangential interest in the subject.
(This review copyright 2013 by D. Jason Fleming, made available under a CC BY license.)(less)
An amazing read. Required for anyone interested in jazz history, pre-civil rights era race history in the US, or (believe it or not) economics and fre...moreAn amazing read. Required for anyone interested in jazz history, pre-civil rights era race history in the US, or (believe it or not) economics and freedom. Completely engaging from beginning to end. (I took one star off because Holiday is not a terribly reliable narrator.)(less)
Gets a bit heavy on comparing what various economists said in which publication at times, but apart from that this is an absolutely fascinating look a...moreGets a bit heavy on comparing what various economists said in which publication at times, but apart from that this is an absolutely fascinating look at how prohibitions increase (or even create) the problems they are claimed to be trying to prevent.(less)
Interesting and informative, albeit brief, biography of one of my favorite composers. It's a bit quirky in what it assumes the reader already knows, a...moreInteresting and informative, albeit brief, biography of one of my favorite composers. It's a bit quirky in what it assumes the reader already knows, and in how it divides up its subject between life events, professional events, critical reaction, and larger issues of his reputation, both personally and professionally. The quirks might have been conventions when it was published, I don't really know.
The Gutenberg edition is surprisingly well formatted for an epub, integrating the book's many illustrations into the text nicely, and even including advertisements for other music books from the edition that was scanned. Some of them even made me want to hunt up the books promoted and read those, too.
On the whole, I'm happy I read it, but I feel sure there is a much more definitive bio of the odd and difficult Nicolo out there, somewhere.(less)
Good, thorough bio of Django that suffers two problems, one unavoidable.
Even with a ton of original research, Dregni cannot avoid substituting specula...moreGood, thorough bio of Django that suffers two problems, one unavoidable.
Even with a ton of original research, Dregni cannot avoid substituting speculation for facts, for the simple reason that Django was illiterate most of his life, and his family were gypsies, and not prone to keeping records or talking to outsiders. So there is, especially covering the early years, a surplassage of "He must have felt this" and "He likely did that". Irritating. But, again, completely unavoidable.
The other problem I had, however, was irritating and fixable. Dregni keeps mucking with the timeline, in confusing ways, and sometimes for no apparent reason. In a chapter covering 1936-1937, he'll pause and give you a minor player's backstory from birth, then bounce back to the "present" of the chapter, then off-handedly jump forward to say Django would do such-and-such three years later, then bounce back again. A certain amount of this is unavoidable, I suppose, but he does it so often that I got the impression of, for instance, more tours of Britain than Django actually made, because one tour, and recording sessions made on it, got referenced before, during, and after the chapter that ostensibly dealt with it, and left a distinct impression of at least two tours, if not three.
Those irritations aside, the biography is invaluable for anyone wanting to know Reinhardt's story.(less)