For me, there has always been something fascinating about lost ships. I don't think I'm necessarily weird, just that ship disappearances serve to remiFor me, there has always been something fascinating about lost ships. I don't think I'm necessarily weird, just that ship disappearances serve to remind us that we have never conquered the oceans. This book provides a combination of history with visual (prints, photos, diagrams, maps, charts) representation of the missing ships. Rather than break up the chapters chronologically, the layout instead focuses upon how or why a ship went down into the Locker of Davy Jones.
NATURE'S FURY (Mother Nature gets angry)
The General Grant was an American clipper ship that left Melbourne in 1866, laden with gold miners and their families. They were on their way to London with their wealth from the Australian Gold Rush. Instead, the ship was wrecked on the Auckland Islands, having drifted through fog only to suddenly emerge in front of a 400 foot jagged black rock. Sucked into a cave, the ship was destroyed with just 15 survivors. Their hell continued, as they had to live on the barren, rarely visited islands. After living off the land for months, four brave men launched one of the surviving lifeboats to try to reach help. They were never heard or seen again. A year and a half after the disaster, a sealing expedition chanced to come by where they found the 10 remaining survivors. The sunken gold has never been found.
THE FATAL FLAW (caused by human error)
The Vasa was supposed to be the mighty warship worthy of the mighty King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. It was loaded with 64 cannons and bedecked with hundreds of heavy ornate carvings. The ship designers disagreed with the King, telling him the ship would be too top-heavy and would sink. The King ordered them to continue. The result: On her maiden voyage in 1628, the ship wobbled out of port and saluted the King with cannon fire...and promptly keeled over on her side, sending the greatest Swedish vessel, and fifty men, to watery graves.
COLLISION COURSE (no one looking out for the obvious)
The Empress of Ireland had a ginger tomcat named 'Emmy' who never failed to sail with her ship. Until, that is, the early morning of May 29, 1914, when she refused to board the ship and instead watched it pull away. Call it feline intuition. 1,012 lives were lost when the ship collided with a Norwegian coal ship on the St. Lawrence River and quickly sunk.
There are more chapters with each disaster given at least two pages for illustrations and text. I would have preferred more info and some of the disasters were not necessarily disasters, just shipwrecks. But this is a good start for anyone interested in maritime catastrophe.
Book Season = Autumn (gales of November come a'slashing)...more
...he was susceptible to taking the wrong advice from the wrong people at the wrong time.
Spot-on description of Henry III. These occasional sentences ...he was susceptible to taking the wrong advice from the wrong people at the wrong time.
Spot-on description of Henry III. These occasional sentences from author Dan Jones made this book a lively read, although given the subject matter, any re-telling of the illustrious Plantagenet family would probably not be on the boring side.
And let me plant my flag right now: I am a Plantagenet-ista. Loved this dynasty, from Henry II to Richard III. Not the selfish Tudors or the Teutonic Hanovers or the wilty Windsors for me. No Sir, I stand firmly behind the family of Edward Longshanks, Richard The Lionheart, and John Lackland. Damn you, Henry VII!
The book begins with the infamous White Ship disaster, which sent Henry I's heir and the next-in-line heir to the bottom of the sea. Since Henry had very likely been the murderer of his older brother William II, this was the old sins of the father revisited on the sons. In any case, the "Age of Shipwreck" had begun, as chaos ruled the land when Henry III passed away. At this point, we speed through the whole Stephen-or-Matilda as ruler to get to Henry II, the first Plantagenet King.
And yes, I always think of Mr. O'Toole when I read about Henry II.
This is where the wild ride starts, as Henry and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine created the devil's brood, out of which arise Richard I and John (who doesn't need a numeral after his name because there will never be another King John). Here the book does try a bit to give John some credit for something, but boooo-hisss-snarl, he really was the Darth Vader of his time.
Henry II came next, followed by the majestic Edward I, the Steve Jobs of his day. You want to rescue a country from its incompetent overseers? Produce kick-ass Edward. Exciting stuff.
I enjoyed the book, but I deeply disagree with the author's contention that Richard II was the end of the Plantagenets. Not! The Lancasters and Yorks were Plantas also, but I get the idea that the book should end with the downfall of another wonky family member (and so Jones can write separate books on that Roses thing). In fact, I found my knowledge of Richard II was not that good, so the last chapter was rather enlightening.
And yes, I think of Mr. Whishaw when I read about Richard II.
All in all, a very good book on an extraordinary family. The writing involved me and made history more accessible.
The first four women killed had been elderly, frugal, tidy, and quiet. They lived their lives under the radar, did their work, paid their taxes. TheyThe first four women killed had been elderly, frugal, tidy, and quiet. They lived their lives under the radar, did their work, paid their taxes. They were all found similarly strangled, with a special knot connecting each murder. There was no sign of forced entry, which meant every victim had willingly let their murderer into their little apartments. By the time the police began to realize a serial killer was responsible, the pattern changed and a series of young women were killed, in the same manner.
From 1962-1964, the city of Boston was terrorized by a silent killer who was able to commit murder with no trace. The last victims met with increasingly violent ends, with multiple stabbings accompanying the initial strangulations. Who was this monster?
He turned out to be Albert DeSalvo, a handyman who had already been arrested previously for breaking and entering and for being both the "Green Man" and the "Measuring Man". In these cases, he had used a ruse to tell women they were going to be models and needed to be "measured". The ease with which he was able to talk his way into the lives of total strangers made him feel emboldened to do more.
When the cops finally snagged him, DeSalvo's excuse for the murders was that he was over-sexed and his wife wasn't giving him enough. He then described each murder, in detail, down to where certain items were in each victim's apartment. The Boston Strangler was never convicted for the murders, but he ended up in the mental ward anyway. After he escaped from the nut house, he was re-captured and transferred to a maximum security prison. In 1973, he was found stabbed to death in that facility.
True crime books are always hard for me to read, because quite honestly, they give me the jitters. However, this book was engrossing. The first third introduces the reader to each victim and how the people of Boston started to change their lifestyles to escape the hidden killer. Yet, women continued to open their doors to the Strangler. The next third describes the hunt for suspects, and each of those suspects (as nutty as DeSalvo) are convincingly portrayed as the probable killer. The last third is focused on DeSalvo, how he was caught, his confessions, and his reasoning.
There is no sensationalism in this book. It is a straightforward narrative that kept me glued to the pages and when I didn't want to be glued to the pages. Let's just say I didn't sleep very well as I was reading this. It was the randomness of the horror that made it difficult to find DeSalvo. For he never planned any of the murders. He simply drove to a location and when he "felt it", he would find an apartment building and knock on doors until someone let him inside. It was that easy.
Incredulously, DeSalvo was considered innocent by many. It wasn't until 2013 that the police were able to verify with certainty that Albert DeSalvo was indeed the Boston Strangler, using DNA analysis.
Terrifying story told with a workmanlike style. In the back of my mind, I could only think of the New England gothic hauntings, going back to the Salem witches. Wooh.
If you have ever had any interest in the explorers who attempted to be the first to the North and South Poles, this is a very good introduction on theIf you have ever had any interest in the explorers who attempted to be the first to the North and South Poles, this is a very good introduction on the subject. For some reason, I have always been drawn to the bold adventurers and their pipe dreams, breathlessly turning pages of any book which detailed their frozen wanderings and, in some cases, frozen deaths.
When I first picked this up, I thought it was one of those fold-out books for children, but realized it's an adventure book for adults. Each chapter features two pages on a specific explorer and their successes and/or failures. There are pockets full of maps and facsimile diaries, such as the last pages written by Scott, now famous for his death in Antarctica. And the pictures are gorgeous.
To think that we now take tourist journeys to places where men lost their lives striving to achieve what they thought to be impossible. Franklin's Lost Expedition, trying to find the Northwest Passage. Amundsen disappearing on a rescue mission. Andrée and his hydrogen balloon flying away, a mystery that took thirty years to discover. It's all here. Added this to the Young Adult shelf, as it has enough information to keep their attention while also providing the extra goodies.
I still feel sorry for those poor ponies.
Book Season = Winter (don't eat the polar bear)...more
Giovanni Battista Piranesi's reputation was that of a master etcher, but his love of ancient architecture influenced his life's work. In this large boGiovanni Battista Piranesi's reputation was that of a master etcher, but his love of ancient architecture influenced his life's work. In this large book, we get the famous Piranesi artwork but also the modern photographs of the same sites taken from the same perspective. The results are wonderful.
Herschel Levit was a New York printmaker, who spent his career working as a teacher at the Pratt Institute. This idea, to stand in the same place that Piranesi stood more than 200 years earlier in order to capture the same view that Piranesi drew, is engrossing. The resulting photographs capture the additional excavations that took place after Piranesi's death, so that hidden stairs and full columns are now apparent. Levit took these pictures in the 1970s, so one also gets another historical view, which is rather cool.
Recommended for any student of architecture or lovers of etching artwork or of ancient civilization. I learned quite a bit (the notes on the full length plates are lengthy) and am now looking up the works of Levit himself.
These were the shark attacks which inspired JAWS. Taking place in 1916, the sudden violence shocked the East Coast of America especially since some ofThese were the shark attacks which inspired JAWS. Taking place in 1916, the sudden violence shocked the East Coast of America especially since some of the victims were killed in a creek. A creek!
It was still a time of innocence. Men wore bathing suits which covered the chest while women had to adhere to beach regulations requiring modesty and, preferably, full-length bathing outfits. But times were a-changing, because for the first time in its young history, the United States had its first generation of the leisure class. These were the young men and women who dared to challenge the Victorian and Edwardian ideals while taking to actual ocean swimming, something which had never really been done before. Instead of just going to the shore and dipping their toes in the water, the young were heading straight out to sea in the belief that nothing was out there to...eat them.
Railroads discharged thousands of city denizens, who were desperate for cooling breezes in the says before air conditioning. In fact, 1916 was the pinnacle of American passenger railroading. More Americans rode the railroad than they ever had before, or ever would again. It was like leading the masses to the slaughter who, again, had no idea the ocean was so dangerous. More worrisome were the German U-Boats which patrolled the East Coast of the States, even though the Yanks were not at war yet. A time of innocence was to come to a startling end.
If we still barely know little of the Great White Shark almost a century later, you can imagine the lack of knowledge of sharks back then. Many 'experts' proclaimed sharks to be benevolent, marine specimens who would never dare hurt a human. The first generation-to-not-fear-the-sea bought it all up. But not for long.
To this day, no one knows for sure why the shark deviated from its normal ocean highway. Was it ill? Was it a wacko? Or did it just crave human flesh? The first victim was killed in just 3 1/2 feet of water. The beaches didn't close, though, because the hotels didn't want to lose the summer throngs. The business of America is business. The next victim, right up the way from the first, finally brought a bit of "uh-oh". But the next victims, well, who would have thought a demented shark would leave the ocean to look for its next snack?
The layout of this book is like a movie. We get the historical background first, then each victim has a bio. Interspersed with its own chapters is the star, the SHARK. The author explains what is now known about the Great White and some of the various attacks in history. The shark's viewpoint is described and some of the information is simply fascinating. There are also 'teasers' as in one chapter where we get the full description of what we assume will be two more victims, but who come out alive. Whew. I had to read the text while peeking through my fingers.
Was this the shark that feasted off the Jersey Shore and in Matawan Creek? We'll never know for sure. In the aftermath of the attacks, many sharks were killed, a slaughter of proportions that would make one sick, now. Although the attacks DID stop, was it because the guilty shark left or was it one of the many killed?
This book probably affected me more than the average reader, because I grew up with a healthy respect for Mr. and Mrs. Shark. While most children are warned against rabid dogs or hungry insects, I and my friends in Australia learned, while very young, to be mindful of what lurked in the ocean. It didn't really sink in until the day a surfer came out of the water bleeding. I had to hold the tin can that captured his blood (I was under the mistaken belief that he would need his blood back at some point). He hadn't been bitten, but deeply scarred by a young white with its razor-sharp skin. Eventually, my parents restricted me to skimboarding instead of surfing, in the belief that sharks wouldn't get that close to shore (wrong). When we moved to the States, we chose to live in that other dining room for Great Whites, the Bay Area of California. And people wonder why I survey salt-water pools before I carefully jump in, eyes wide open.
One more thing. Never, ever swim with a dog. Pure shark bait.
Book Season = Summer (safety is never really at hand)
As a rule, the American voter has preferred candidates of seeming straightforwardness and homely virtue to men of eloquence and elegance.
This does see As a rule, the American voter has preferred candidates of seeming straightforwardness and homely virtue to men of eloquence and elegance.
This does seem to be the case (cough, cough Mr. Dubya), but occasionally a man of words did slip through, which was the case with James A. Garfield. Surprisingly enough, Garfield was one of the few men in post-Civil War America who did NOT seek office. The fates had something else in store for him.
The young Garfield barely resembled the older President, a leader who was known for his brilliant oratorical skills. Having truly grown up in poverty, he started working very early, as his father died when he was but two years old. He would eventually become a Congressman, but one without great political ambition. He simply enjoyed the art of debate. His Presidency came about because the Republicans needed a compromise candidate. He didn't last long in office. In the summer of 1881, a disgruntled office-seeker shot Garfield in the back. The poor man lingered in agony for two months while the doctors did more to hurt him than help him (his wound had created its own protective cyst but the docs kept poking around). Garfield is now simply known as the second President to be assassinated.
Chester Alan Arthur, as Garfield's VP, succeeded as the next President. Known as "The Gentleman Boss", Arthur was known more for his sartorial attire than any great accomplishments. As a lawyer, he became rich by handling Civil War claims cases.
Arthur's Presidency focused on continuing Garfield's reform of the civil service, but he would wind up being stuck in the middle between two warring political parties. Exhausted by his time in office, Arthur would pass away just twenty months after his term ended.
Next up was The Big Man (literally). Grover Cleveland.
The heaviest man, to that point, ever to have served as President, he was also the only Democratic President between Lincoln and Wilson. Known for his honesty and inability to be corrupted, he acquired the nickname of "His Obstinacy". At the time, Americans preferred to make fun of Cleveland's weight, but he is now considered one of the 'near-great' Presidents, thanks to his fight to save the gold standard and his great accomplishment of leaving his first term with a surplus in the Treasury. He also served two terms in office, but not right after the other.
The man who disrupted Cleveland's continuous terms was Benjamin Harrison. He is mostly remembered for allowing Cleveland's wise use of money to be, well, looted. He did much better with foreign policy. Thankfully, Cleveland was elected again.
Once again, I enjoyed another volume in this series about the American Presidents. While I had known of Garfield, it was Cleveland who grabbed my attention here. Although the book itself is not lengthy, there is detail galore packed between the covers, along with a changing map of the States showing its growth along each man's term. Highly recommended for teens with short attention spans who need to learn some history.
There certainly have been an overabundance of nutbuckets on this planet, at least according to this book. Representing a wide net of successful and noThere certainly have been an overabundance of nutbuckets on this planet, at least according to this book. Representing a wide net of successful and not-so-successful assassins over many centuries, author George Fetherling provides mini-bios for the wacked, the upset, and the power-hungry.
Although the book is set up in alphabetical order of each assassin's last name, it would have been more interesting to view the same murderers in the categories that Fetherling states as the main assassin groups.
TYPE 1 ASSASSINS Most numerous in the ancient ages, these individuals were in it to take power from those who ruled. Death by poison and death by betrayal were normal. Think the Roman Emperors and the Byzantines.
TYPE 2 ASSASSINS Mercenary killers. These were/are the professionals who sell their services (Carlos The Jackal, the Cold War).
TYPE 3 ASSASSINS Ideological/religious fanatics. More common in Europe than the New World, these are the ones who believe they hear a calling or simply don't agree with someone else's beliefs.
TYPE 4 ASSASSINS Celebrity hunters. These are the nuts who go after famous people simply because they are famous.
TYPE 5 ASSASSINS Those who pursue personal revenge for perceived wrongs.
There is a lot of information in this book, which required me to be on tap with Wikipedia and/or going back and forth between the alphabet (as some assassinations were by groups). Interesting concept, but it could have been more without the dictionary concept. The author stays fairly objective unless it's the Lincoln and Kennedy killings, then the passion flows.
Anyway, too many nutbuckets.
Book Season = Autumn (perfect for moody ones)...more
It's time to play the Royal Feud! Queen Mum and the Duchess of Windsor...c'mon down!
In 1936, Edward VIII gave up his throne for Wallis Simpson, a twicIt's time to play the Royal Feud! Queen Mum and the Duchess of Windsor...c'mon down!
In 1936, Edward VIII gave up his throne for Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American. At the time, it was a scandalous (well, still is) way to abdicate responsibility given that he was raised to be a King. It all turned out all right for the free world. But let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
He was born as David, eldest son of the stern George V, who must have looked at his sons and thrown up his hands in dismay. David loved the good life and bloomed during the freewheeling 1920s. His younger brothers all looked up to him, perhaps in relief that he would have to shoulder the burden of kingship. But David just never could get into the whole swing of...what's that word..."responsibility". Yes, that's the word. Think George IV.
When the old King died in January of 1936, David became Edward VIII. Unfortunately, it was not a good year for a weak-willed Windsor to come to power given the whole world situation at the time. Worse, he was infatuated with an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. A striving, ambitious me-first fortune hunter, Simpson already had the King wrapped around her finger. She expected to be a Queen.
Thankfully, the British people had a bit more common sense than their besotted 'leader'. The combination of angry popular opinion and a stubborn government forced Edward VIII into abdication. THANK YOU, GREAT BRITAIN. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU (the Americans would have put her picture on a postage stamp). The new King (George VI), always dutiful toward his older brother, made Edward the Duke of Windsor and tried, in vain, to push him out-of-sight.
Now we get to the gist of this book. Although the whole ex-King thing is mighty interesting (what does one do with an ex-King), the story here is of the battle between the hungry Wallis and the don't-even-go-there resolve of the new Queen. Unlike the unlikable Duchess of Windsor, Queen Bess (that was always my name for her) had Scottish nerves of steel and an obsession with doing one's duty. Neither she nor her shy husband ever expected to be rulers of a country, a country about to enter a terrifying war. Meanwhile, the Windsors hung out with Hitler.
Fast forward to WWII, the Brits with their backs to the wall, and the King and Queen staying put amidst the bombs and destruction.
While the Windsors cavorted in the Bahamas (sent there because Churchill knew of the ex-King's pro-Nazi sympathies), the war played out, albeit to the detriment of George VI, who aged rapidly as the stress of ruling his beleaguered country and being the King who had to see the break-up of the once-great empire became too much. Queen Bess never forgave the Duke of Windsor and his haughty wife. Especially the Duchess.
"The woman who killed my husband."
The Queen Mum went on to instill a sense of duty in her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. The work you do is the rent you pay for the room you occupy on earth. The royal family did their best to keep the Windsors at bay, upset that they were living a life of carefree celebrity while the British people were still on rations during the 1950s. The Windsors received tax-free housing from the French government and never stopped complaining about their lot in life.
As the Duchess of Windsor aged, she had more and more plastic surgery to ward off the reaper (with her angular looks, she could have been a medieval playing card). The Duchess of Windsor aged rapidly anyway and ended her days in an Alzheimer's fog. Alone. Sometimes Karma does its job.
The Queen Mum continued to work and lived until the age of 101. I call that success.
So, that's the story. As one might tell, I am a bit biased here. As a child in Australia, I remember the hatred toward the Duke because of unkind remarks about Aussies (who fought and died for his good life). He was already dead, but I just didn't like him or his Yankee wife. In this book, the author doesn't take sides right away. Instead he drives the reader crazy with notes and a constant back-and-forth between the two leading ladies. Also, it was sometimes hard to figure out which Elizabeth he was referring to in certain passages.
Anyway, after about 1/3 of the way through, the story gets really going and I was hooked. But, it took too long to get there. Still, it's a good read for anyone wanting to learn about the Windsors and the not always heralded Queen Mum. This is War of the Roses, with the Duchess as the red rose of Lancaster and the Queen as the white rose of York.
It is difficult to imagine that Rome was once a backwater of the ancient world. Centuries later, the Romans ruled the world, but before the famous empIt is difficult to imagine that Rome was once a backwater of the ancient world. Centuries later, the Romans ruled the world, but before the famous emperors there were the legendary republicans and they are the stars of this book. Starting with the cloudy beginning (Romulus or a bunch of guys who sat on a hill or Aeneas fleeing Troy) until the rise of Octavius, every leader of the Roman Republic is provided with a fleshed-out bio along with a ton of maps and paintings and photos of sculptures. Bravo.
There is Cincinnatus and Cato the Elder and Gaius Marius and Sulla. And the geese who saved Rome are here, too.
The later emperors may have provided the gossip, but the early republicans set the standard for Roman discipline. The amount of information provided here is exceptional, as the book has to cover centuries of rulers. The book has the usual Chronicle Of professionalism. I love these books.
Book Season = Autumn (before the winter of empire)...more
In Saint Petersburg, the icebreaker ship Krasin still survives. That sentence may not mean much to most folks, but for anyone interested in Arctic expIn Saint Petersburg, the icebreaker ship Krasin still survives. That sentence may not mean much to most folks, but for anyone interested in Arctic exploration, it's very important. It was the Krasin which came to the rescue of the survivors of the famous Italia airship crash. As the world flies by, an old ship remains a connection to the madness of the men who attempted feats of craziness in their quests to conquer the Arctic.
The book opens with the story of the doomed Franklin Expedition, a tale which never fails to amaze me. Setting forth from England in 1845, Sir John Franklin was a bit old in the tooth for such a strenuous voyage. He and his men vanished. After nine years of fruitless searching, the admiralty struck the missing men's names from the books, as though they were ghosts who had simply left for another country. When clues were finally found, it was revealed that Franklin's men had struggled to find their way south while dying from scurvy, lead poisoning, starvation, and frostbite. Most likely, the lead-poisoned food made the men insane, and murder and cannibalism can never be ruled out of the final struggle. So not cool.
Yet the fierce rush to conquer the North Pole and to find the Northwest passage meant more men were to risk and lose their lives. Now that Commander Byrd's flight over the Pole is considered to be fraudulent, Umberto Nobile is possibly the very first man to have flown over Santa's home. When his blimp crashed, the stranded passengers were rescued by an airplane...which then crashed. The Russian icebreaker finally came along to pick up the survivors. There was also the story of Andrée's balloon. This Swedish expedition left for the North Pole in 1897 and they, too, vanished. When the bodies were finally found, thirty-three years later in 1930, the final days of these 'icemen' became revealed. It is now known that as they struggled to live, they lived almost exclusively by killing and eating polar bear meat. That meat harbored trichonosis, tiny parasitic worms which ate away at the starving men's muscles from within. Their film negatives survived the decades and show the crash of the balloon which would lead to their deaths.
The Arctic craze is always fascinating, yet some authors have made it incredibly boring. Not so Mick Conefrey, who describes the explorers, their travails, their tragedies, and their results with flair which makes for fast reading. Ironically enough, as climate change hits, the Arctic Ocean is more of a true ocean now, with less of the deadly ice. Those daring men in their daring air machines and sea ships would have had a much easier time of it. But then, we wouldn't have these memorable stories of courage and bizarre risk-taking.
Book Season = Winter (don't eat the polar bear)...more