This book definitely filled-in several gaps in my knowledge. My Russian history tends to come in clumps as Russian impacts other areas of the world.
WiThis book definitely filled-in several gaps in my knowledge. My Russian history tends to come in clumps as Russian impacts other areas of the world.
With my light knowledge I wish this volume were heavier on pictures and maps. There were many times when I wished I had been at home to do some quick GoogleMaps and Wikipedia searching for context instead of (inevitably) being on the subway.
There was also a switch from more of a historical focus to more architectural and meta-historical (history of historians) criticism as the story gets closer to the modern age. The abuse tossed at Konstantine Ton seemed constant and a bit unsupported by the text.
Overall, a great example of the inherent fractal nature of any complex community, both in space and in time....more
It was refreshing to have a book like this have a distinctly Asian cast in the choice of battles reviewed and yet not have that be the primary focus.It was refreshing to have a book like this have a distinctly Asian cast in the choice of battles reviewed and yet not have that be the primary focus. It feels like progress to not have all these pivotal battles inevitably be about Western Powers battling in Europe or North America (Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power is a example of this).
While I knew of all these battles, I haven't read any works aimed specifically at Tsushima, Nomonhan, or Dien Bien Phu. I very much appreciated the quality of the descriptions. Even where I have read before, if not extensively, I found myself learning quite a bit about MacArthur's free(ish)-hand to cross the 38th parallel or the intellectual links between Togo's victory at Tsushima and Yamamoto's failure at Midway....more
I have read many of Alan Furst's Night Soldiers books now (I don't think all of them), and it is interesting that many of the supporting characters crI have read many of Alan Furst's Night Soldiers books now (I don't think all of them), and it is interesting that many of the supporting characters cross from story to story. I find myself saying "Oh, it's S. Kolb!" but then I can't remember which book the character had appeared in before, or even whether they were a trustworthy or not. In strange way I have my own set of rumors and vague reputations for these characters.
Another small item. I feel a bit like someone cornered the author at a convention somewhere and said "How come there's no gay representation in your books? It not like homosexuality was invented at Stonewall." So there's a bit of a feeling of over-reach. A tertiary character is shown to be in a decades-long stable lesbian relationship. Multiple women are shown to be bi-sexual or at least interested. It's all safe for the [assumed] male reader because French lesbians are hot don'tcha know? But even this gets a fig-leaf when our hero is asked by a lover if he had ever dabbled with the same sex and he replies that (like her) he had not, but mostly due to lack of opportunity, not prejudice. So, progress... very slow progress....more
I admit that I have very little experience in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG and exactly non in Savage Worlds. That said, I enjoyed this kick-starterI admit that I have very little experience in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG and exactly non in Savage Worlds. That said, I enjoyed this kick-starter book quite a bit.
The book is very nicely researched. The background on Section M and Majestic (the British and American anti-Mythos government organizations) at first feels a bit thin, but a) can be easily slotted into the real-world bureaucracies of the times, and b) leaves enough room for a GM to place their own POV characters and the players in the organization without disrupting things too much. The real success is in the backstory of Germany's mythos-powered factions. I found the background stories nicely defined and reflecting the factionalism seen elsewhere in the Nazi hierarchy.
If I had any complaints about this book it would be the focus on the Western Front and the British/American alliance and experience. That's a complaint about a lot of WWII literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Apparently there are or will be expansions to explore mythos involvement in the Pacific Theater and (ye gods) Eastern Front....more
First-off, the story of La Maupin is definitely one of these "truth-is-stranger-than-fiction" types. She's practically a Mary Sue character from a 7thFirst-off, the story of La Maupin is definitely one of these "truth-is-stranger-than-fiction" types. She's practically a Mary Sue character from a 7th Sea (Seventh Sea) Player's Guide 1668 RPG campaign. Her story is SO very French that the mid-point of the book as triple-duel that I'd write-off as woefully derivative from the opening of The Three Musketeers if it wasn't documented.
That said, I'm not sure that I really like La Maupin as a character, as a person. She's vain, she's inconstant and inconsistent. I get the feeling that an arm-chair psychologist could diagnose her as manic-depressive or bi-polar. Maybe I've gotten too old for the idea of mad romance to be as compelling. La Maupin is amazing and astounding, but not someone that I think I'd even want to be in the same room with....more
The concept of this book is pretty challenging and Winchester acknowledges this early on. Instead of trying to cover all aspects of all of the PacificThe concept of this book is pretty challenging and Winchester acknowledges this early on. Instead of trying to cover all aspects of all of the Pacific's history, the author limits himself to 1950 (the proposed start of the Anthropocene) to the present and limits the story to separate vignettes. Each of these stories is then used to expand to a broader chapter exploring a theme. The result feels a bit disjointed; each chapter could have been expanded to a full book.
The most problematic chapter is the one covering the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, blaming the eruption for the US withdrawal from the military bases in the country. This is more than a bit of a stretch; the agreement to return Clark Air Base to the Philippines was well progressed before the mountain first rumbled. From there, Winchester extrapolates that the lack of American military in the South Chine Sea is what has drawn the Chinese military into building artificial island bases in the Spratley Islands and sailing submarines into the Philippine Sea. A bit of non sequitur in my mind.
The rest of the chapter then falls for some of the worst American military fear-mongering over the growth of the Chinese Navy. Anything the Chinese Navy does to limit US actions in the Western Pacific is seen as undermining international law. But in the same breath the prospect Chinese ships performing the same sorts of activities is seen as some thing "no red-blooded American admiral would accept."
This sort of American exceptionalism then starts, in retrospect, to color all the other chapters. The references to Rudyard Kipling start to take on extra weight and the reader starts become entirely too aware of how much their perspective is that of "the Western man". Empire and colonialism are things to be looked back on with regret, but not too much. The cultures and natural world of the Pacific is a treasure to be enjoyed by our Western man in his inevitable globe-trotting career.
I found this in a used book shop in Cambridge (MA).
From a gaming perspective it gives a good selection of large towns-small cities that could easily bI found this in a used book shop in Cambridge (MA).
From a gaming perspective it gives a good selection of large towns-small cities that could easily be traced, modified, and repurposed for Medieval to Victorian settings. Some of the large cities (Liverpool, Edinburgh, London, Manchester) are clearly modern in whole or in part. But other towns (Chichester say) not only can be used for anywhere in an 900 year period, you can look at these maps and see the development of the town, the changes to street alignments when a bridge is built or a section of the city wall is taken down.
The accompanying text also reads like an adventure setting, just missing discussion of feuding barons or marauding goblins....more
First, let me say that I have only a little experience with the Call of Cthulhu (CoC) system from Chaosium (a single enjoyable adventure cut short byFirst, let me say that I have only a little experience with the Call of Cthulhu (CoC) system from Chaosium (a single enjoyable adventure cut short by the GM moving to New Jersey) and no experience with Savage Worlds. That said, I'm a sucker for WWII gaming and feel that there's always room for Cthulhu in any gaming setting (Lovecraftian horrors are like Jell-O that way).
There was very little of the Cthulhu in the Investigator's Guide. It was a pretty straight-up player's guide for running a SOE/OSS/Spec Ops character in a Western Europe WWII setting. Much of the background and information is stuff covered by say GURPS WWII, GURPS WWII: All the King's Men, GURPS WWII: Dogfaces, or GURPS WWII: Hand of Steel. For a CoC player I imagine it's most valuable as a way to expand from the normal 1920's setting to the 1940s. I feel like the changes to the Savages Worlds rules were greater to bring the characters into a setting with a greater focus on a Sanity stat, but again, I'm not as familiar with the system.
I'm looking forward to delving into the Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper's Guide To The Secret War where I imagine I'll actually learn more about the alt-history of the setting and how the historical Nazi occult, the crazy conspiracy stuff (see The Nazi Occult by the inestimable Kenneth Hite), and Lovecraftian Mythos will merge. If I actually get a chance to play in this setting, it is unlikely to be in either CoC or Savage Worlds, so I'm glad to also own the FATE conversion book (unread as yet) and GURPS WWII: Weird War II
This was a mostly fun and interesting book. It had a feel of Freakonomics to it in the "everything you've known in your gut is wrong and can be betterThis was a mostly fun and interesting book. It had a feel of Freakonomics to it in the "everything you've known in your gut is wrong and can be better modeled by statistics - but in a non-condescending way".
Maybe it's just depressing social issues in the news, but I also had a feel like there was a lot of effort and brain power going into what is, at its heart, a game. It's just so... inside baseball. *sigh* It's bad when your metaphors become literal truths.
I'm a baseball fan, even at times a hardcore baseball fan. But then again, I'm not really. I enjoy watching the games. I follow one team that I was born into the fandom of - 4th generation Red Sox fan. I've never really cared about the stats or the trades and I get annoyed by off-season reporting (unless its about renovations to Fenway or such). So, for that I guess I'm not quite the target audience.
P.S. I feel the need to call out some misogyny in the Afterword. Michael Lewis was obviously offended by the attacks on this book and Billy Beane by the baseball cognoscenti and decided to "correct" them in the Afterword. Fine, maybe not the most polite way of winning an argument, but it's your bully pulpit to do with what you want. He calls out the baseball insiders as a quasi-religious Club (fine) and then goes on the label the sports media as the Women's Auxiliary. Repeatedly. It took me a bit to realize that this was meant as an insult, a diminutive, to further insult. Pardon the French, but What the Fuck? In the 21st century can we please be past insulting men by calling them girls? Also, as the grandson of a proud member of the Eastern Star and the WAACs, I urge you to look up the good works done by Women's Auxiliaries around the world before using the term as short-hand for nattering busybodies. That is all....more
A fun book digging into the absurdities of space flight programs. Some absurdities are physiological (you body does NOT like microgravity), some are lA fun book digging into the absurdities of space flight programs. Some absurdities are physiological (you body does NOT like microgravity), some are logistical (poop in SPACE!), and some are bureaucratic (how did a bunch of veterinarians end up in charge of making food for astronauts?).
Mary Roach's style is fun and irreverent. But the subject matter is also serious. Over all this history of Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, Shuttle, Salyut, Soyuz, Mir, and the ISS programs looms the title of the book. Not a whole lot of time is spent spelling out the specific challenges of a Mars mission - and yet that's exactly what these stories are illustrating. Not through mission planning desk-bound thought exercises, but through what actual women and men have suffered through, and continue to suffer through, both in space and on the ground, to forward the human need to explore our frontiers....more
Oh my was this fun! I enjoyed the heck out of this book. My daughter is enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's clear the author enjoyed the heck outOh my was this fun! I enjoyed the heck out of this book. My daughter is enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's clear the author enjoyed the heck out of this book.
So the book starts with a historical account of Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and the Difference Engine (and it's progeny the Analytical Engine) - presented in an entertaining storytelling style, complete with footnotes and endnotes - (akin to the Cartoon History of the Universe I, Vol. 1-7: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great). So far, so good. But this section ends quickly and on a down-note with Lovelace dead of cancer and Babbage unable to get over himself to actually build any of his designs.
But as we have seen in so much alternate history from The Difference Engine to Fiddlehead, the idea of a Victorian-era steam-and-cogs computer is just too good to let facts reign and history to have the last say. So Sydney Padua transports us to a pocket universe where the laws of physics are set to maximize entertainment value and the book roars onward, now looking increasingly like Girl Genius, Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank only with a historically accurate cast of characters instead of a fictional one (well except for Minion the Footman).
Oh, and the footnotes continue. Almost every statement uttered by Lovelace, Babbage, or various supporting characters in the book is straight from their own writings or supported with primary documents. And the supporting cast is broad from the Duke of Wellington, to Islambard Kingdom Brunel, to George Eliot, to Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, to Queen Victoria herself. Eventually the footnotes themselves become a character in a Wonderland-inspired investigation into the truth of Ada Lovelace's character and contribution to the Analytical Engine and computer science as a field.
And throughout this all, as we watch these absurd Victorian characters and learn about the design of the Analytical Engine and the logic of computing, there's another story being told. The author is able to show us so much about Babbage and Lovelace's personalities and victories because of the triumph of computing. The Google Books project and others like it have opened the world of historical primary sources to interested amateurs like Padua in a way that really has never been possible before. The author is able to wade into decades-old debates with a sharp pen and over-looked sources because of the work of Babbage and Lovelace's intellectual progeny who have continued the drive to organize, collate, and analyze the world's knowledge.
This was not the book I expected it to be nor the book I wanted. Even though it is a slim 143 pages (excluding notes, bibliography, and index) it wOi.
This was not the book I expected it to be nor the book I wanted. Even though it is a slim 143 pages (excluding notes, bibliography, and index) it was a slog to complete. I kept looking for the discussions of deep mathematical theory and philosophy to get back to a history of wargaming and being disappointed.
This book is deeply Prussian in its subject and deeply German in its convoluted sentence structure and vocabulary. I had not been that lost in sentence structure and circular logic since I had to read Immanuel Kant back in college.
There are moments of interest here. The discussion of the medieval Battle of Numbers seems like a good background. The first Napoleonic-era sand-table games sound like exactly what I was looking for a better examination of - but instead of talking about how these games were played or how they simulated reality, this book gives us discourses on a combination of court/academic politics and philosophical ruminations on incalcuability or reality (and not in a fun way like The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer).
There are also fleeting moments of insight that are open to the lay-person (or polisci major in my case) - the repeated wargaming of a Polish invasion of Silesia in the Weimar period basically solidified a story that the Nazis (unsuccessfully) tried to invoke in 1939. This is an important insight into how simulation and game can shape the real world through control of expectations. But sadly, this was a very small snippet of a book mostly focused on debates among academic mathematicians about deep number theory ideas that I really don't care about and fail to see as relating to games.
After slogging to the end of this book, I was treated to the conclusion that the idea of a game cannot ever truly be defined and that a game can only really be understood through the act of playing it.
Maybe my time would have been better employed in a game of online chess....more
I feel like there were 3 or more books here that all needed to be fleshed-out.
First, we have a biography of Ian Fleming's war-time years and the roleI feel like there were 3 or more books here that all needed to be fleshed-out.
First, we have a biography of Ian Fleming's war-time years and the role of the NID. This would be a good stand-alone work (see Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 for a comparable look at SOE's code-school). This is where the footnotes and asides linking to various Bond novels belong (I admit to not having read most of the Bond books and therefore not resonating with these).
The second book is a general history of the British, particularly but not exclusively naval, involvement in WWII. This would be the hardest book to create since it is so general. However, Ian Rankin has a bunch of insights and new research on the war that he wants to put somewhere and he seems intent to shoehorn it in. The bit on the "scientific" bombing of Pantelleria or Patton's anti-Semitic remark immediately after the shell-shock slapping incident were new to me, but not particularly relevant to any other portion of the book.
I've always been interested in some of the more esoteric religions around the world - it might be an outgrowth of an interThis was a fascinating book.
I've always been interested in some of the more esoteric religions around the world - it might be an outgrowth of an interest in the old pulp-adventure stories. I had been introduces to the Yazidis via a character in Alan Moore's Top 10, Vol. 1 comic book. My introduction to Mandaeans (and Manichees) was via a reference to "the montrous gnosis of Manes" in The Illuminatus! Trilogy: The Eye in the Pyramid/The Golden Apple/Leviathan. I had long been confused by references to the Druze in discussions of Israeli/Lebanese/Syrian relations.
Where this book excels is that it does not show these religions and communities as strange cults with exotic pagan rites. They are all part of the same religous root-system as the world-dominating Abrahamic trinity, and even many Western secular practices, traditions, and beliefs (well except maybe for the Kalasha). Rites that appear unexamined in more common religions are shown as being central to these religions and one immediately wonders who borrowed from whom and what common ancestors can we hypothesize? ...more
Throughout this book I wanted to revise the title. Early on it seemed to be the "History of Map-Making in 12 Maps" though that seemed to change to "ThThroughout this book I wanted to revise the title. Early on it seemed to be the "History of Map-Making in 12 Maps" though that seemed to change to "The History of 12 World Maps". I think it more settled into "12 Vignettes of World History Illustrated by Maps".
Any claim that this book represents a proper world history is rather absurd.As we jump from Hellenic Alexandria to Korea, to Medieval Sicily to Renaissance Belgium we're clearly skipping huge swaths of world history. The naming of each chapter after a major historical concept reflected in the chosen map (or it's creation) is a nice touch, but still insufficient as to claim a world history.
Heck, there's a good argument to be made that at least half of the 'maps' serving as the central focus of each chapter are not maps, or at least not singular maps. Ptolemy's Geography probable had no maps attached at the beginning. Halford Mackinder's works were mostly textual with some illustrating maps. Ribiero's maps were a constantly shifting series defined by Spain's negotiating position and niether Joan Blaeu's Atlas Maior or the Carte de Cassini were ever finished, or even be said to be single work. The author spills quite a bit of ink on trying to decide if Google Earth can properly be called a map at all.
At places I was lost in discussions of differing projection methods. I'm still not sure that the Peters Projection gets a fair shake here - yes Arno Peters made absurdist claims for his map, but nowhere does the author justify Mercator's choice to move the equator 2/3 of the way down his map. Without that justification, I feel there's still a sting in Peters' claims of Euro-centrism, regardless of his mathematical failings.
Oh, and reading about Mackinder never fails to make me want to hit someone for the self-fufilling, self-centered, ultimately dangerous stupidity of his ideas....more
This was an interesting book, but there were parts of it that made me uncomfortable and I'm not 100% sure why.
First, there was the obligatory literatuThis was an interesting book, but there were parts of it that made me uncomfortable and I'm not 100% sure why.
First, there was the obligatory literature review. The author goes back into the history of Britain and Ireland, both the archeology we know, the history that has been written, and the myths and stories that are squeezed in-between. The disturbing part comes when he starts looking at how the myths have been used as justification of rulers and how those same myths (about Brutus the Trojan first king of Britain, or Arthur defending the Island from Saxon invaders, or "pure" Germanic ingenuity and strength) morphed into pseudo-science supporting racism. I want to just reject phrenology or ratings of "nigritude" used to justify colonialism and social darwinsim out of hand, and yet the author is saying that these works are direct predecessors to his own project chronicled in this book. That does not make me confident in the science, insights, or concusions drawn.
Next we have the science itself and how the author treats it. DNA science is amazing and has opened whole vistas of exploration of humanity. However, it is still constrained by other sciences including statistics. When the author apologizes for numbers run to 16 decimal places I become nervous again. Instead of statistical analysis, Sykes wants to tell us personal stories. And so we don't talk about haplotypes, but instead we hear about the clans of Jasmine or Wodan. I understand that this makes the work more accessible to those turned-off by the math, but it fundamentally isn't true. There was no clan of Tara exploring the Atlantic coast in small boats. There were people, maybe arranged in clans, but also of mixed genetic hertage that is not represented in mitochondrial DNA. Creating these named "clans" is poetic, but severly reductive.
And finally, I'm uncomforatble with what that reductiveness becomes, especially when dealing with m-DNA or Y-chromosome data. It is easier to analyze these DNA bits because they are sex-specific. That way Sykes can talk about unbroken lines of mothers and daughters or fathers and sons without addressing the mixing of genes in the rest of DNA. But this focus on sex can lead to braod gender-based statements and conclusions. Are we 100% certain the Norse settlement of Orkney was peaceful because there is Scandinavian maternal DNA there? So there must have been families - there were no Viking female warriors keeping Scottish men in their longhouses for their pleasure? Sure, the histories don't mention boatloads of invading valkyries, but they don't talk about hausfraus either. The science is silent and so Sykes is happy with his poetry without realizing how much it is a reflection of himself and his predecessors, and all of their horrible assumptions in their "science."...more
For a start, geography as a field of study is an interesting lens to try and view the "black world" thrThis book is more than a little bit depressing.
For a start, geography as a field of study is an interesting lens to try and view the "black world" through. After all, even if they are "off-the-books", secret projects and groups still have to be somewhere. The idea of learning about secrets by marking out the boundaries that they declared off-limits is definitely interesting. However, this book doesn't stay in this old-school geography mean for long, quickly getting into more historical and political narratives.
I definitely appreciate the lengths that the author went to to keep the stories and narrative rooted in the real world. When talking about Area 51, the Skunk Works, the CIA, stealth sattelites, and Central American death squads it can be very easy to wander into full-on conspiracy-nut territory.
The story told here about the black world is fundamentally very disturbing. This is a HUGE amount of space, effort, and money going into efforts that are beyond the review of the people. And it's pretty clear that most of it is beyond the review of pretty much anyone. The potential for abuse is huge and inevitably the abuse is there - not just torture or indefinite detainment or gabbing the wrong suspects. Those could be written off as serving the purpose of the programs (haorribly). But also cut-corners like burning toxic chemicals and getting your construction workers sick, or covering up bad airplane maintenance under a claim of state-secrets. These do nothing to promote the country's security - it's just finding an easy way out to cover for incompetance.
The most damning thesis in this book is that Justice Breyer's famous saying that sunshine is the best disinfectant isn't the case with the black world. In the world of the secret government, when illegal secret behavior is revealed, the black world gets to redefine what's legal and change the "white" world to match. NSA warrentless wiretaps are clearly illegal as long as they are secret - when revealed, they are retroactively legalized. Torture? Now OK. Assasination? Sure.
The world of black sites and black programs is huge. I have know and continue to know people who work in the black world. The company I work for is expanding into the black world. I'm sure they'd all try to make a distinction between the "acceptable" black world they work in and the "dirty" black world of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Iran-Contra, or the Phoenix Program. But by looking at the sites and the plane flights and the holes in the laws (not to mention the missing sattelites), Paglen makes a pretty good case that there is no bright line here - it is all part of a parrallel government, military, industry, economy, and society....more
There are really two parts to this review, a discussion of the history and a discussion of the book.
For being a bit of a WWII history affiThere are really two parts to this review, a discussion of the history and a discussion of the book.
For being a bit of a WWII history afficianado I was woefully ignorant of the specifics of the Norwegian campaign before reading this book. As with so many bits of WWII, I was surprised by the low-percetage chances and absurd coincidences that seem to crop-up with disturbing regularity in the period. The fact that both the Germans and British independently had invasion forces prepped and even sailing for various Norwegian ports is just odd - I can get that certain days present the best invasion conditions, but if the Brits hadn't disembarked their force bound for Trondheim, the two invasion fleets would have met in the fjord and the Norwegians would have had to choose who to welcome and who to fight.
The British unpreparedness for modern warfare in Norways and the contempt they portrayed towards their Norwegian allies is particularly illustritive of the Brits views of themselves as a Great Power. It also serves as a good background to understand the later power struggles between British and US forces for leadership in coalition as described in An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 among other sources.
I read this as an e-book and I would NOT suggest doing so to anyone else. Yes it meant that I was not lugging around a relative tome and could easily read on the subway. However, I did not encounter the maps until the end of the text and these were not well rendered on my e-reader screen. Without an easy way to refer to maps (and flip between them and the text), much of the nitty-gritty of operational histories became a list of interesting sounding small towns, mountains, and lakes in Norway. I resorted to Google Maps just to give myself some orientation, but the text tended to be more detailed and I didn't have internet connection on those subway rides.
That relates to a larger point. Even after seeing the maps, I feel like there should have 2-3 times as many. This book is amazingly detailed, breaking down the action to company and at times platoon level - especially in the Narvik campaign. I feel like there was an opportunity here to really glean some tactical as well as strategic knowledge from the study of the campaign, but without clear visual aides, this was impossible.
In many ways I feel like Lunde was trying to write a much more academic military analysis limited to the Narvik campaign and his editor talked him into trying to write a more general audience history of the whole Norwegian invasion. I'm not the best judge of the success in writing an academic/military analysis, but I can say he missed the mark on the general audience history. This book clearly assumes the reader is familiar with the broader campaign, the personalities involved, and previous works written from British, Norwegian, and German perspectives.
All told, I think I likely would have abandoned this book if a) I hadn't had such a gap in my knowledge of the campaign, and b) didn't have limited access to other books due to construction on my apartment....more
I feel like this could have been a much better book. My complaints come from two places.
First, the framing of the book is difficult to follow. Over-alI feel like this could have been a much better book. My complaints come from two places.
First, the framing of the book is difficult to follow. Over-all there is a chronological flow, but (especially in the first few chapters) there are multiple digressions to explore related stories or flash-backs to explain a personage or place. Sometimes the hooks for these side-stories are astoundingly weak to hold-up entire chapters. The net effect is less charmingly ecclectic than frustratingly jumbled.
My second complaint is probably just a reflection of my anger at current events. I had some trouble finding the various main characters likable. Upstate New Yorker socialite ladies - Dorothy and Ros fit the description quite well. And the knowledge that thier town and culture was abolitionist and pro-women's suffrage reflects well. But the sense of privilege among this culture is amazingly high. Auburn, NY owes its wealth to the cheap labor of abused prisoners from Sing Sing Prison. Time spent rubbing elbows with counts or dukes in Europe is de rigeur.
On the other side, Colorado is full of hard-bitten, salt-fo-the-earth characters. And yet our main protagonist here is Farrington Carpenter, Harvard Law graduate turned cowboy-lawyer. The facts of the Homestead Act (still in place in the 1910s here) allowing for the free claim of land (after the local Ute tribe was driven off) feels like an astounding give-away. Yes, Ferry is all in favor of educating the children of homesteaders and building communities in the mountains - but much of the plan to bring college-girls out west to be teachers is to "increase the pool of potential wives" - mainly for himself and his close friends (not that he's above posting pictures for the local cowboys to review and vote on.
I know I'm being too harsh here. Times have changed (thank the diety of your choice). But I feel like this is too thin a slice to be a slice-of-life story. ...more
So I started reading this book and connections just kept popping out at me. It was kinda disconcerting.
1) Went to see the latest Marvel movie (CaptainSo I started reading this book and connections just kept popping out at me. It was kinda disconcerting.
1) Went to see the latest Marvel movie (Captain America 2) and Operation paperclip gets a shout-out from Black Widow. That's how Hydra infiltrated SHIELD. 2) Get a company presentation on all the other places we staff with contractors and high on the list is the former Paperclip-staffed former-bioweapons lab at Plum Island, NY. 3) Rent a movie at home (Star Trek: Into Darkness) and former war-criminal Khan Noonian Singh has been recruited by the Federation to design weapons to defeat the Klingons. 4) Amanda asks about "chemtrails" after seeing them used as an example of insane conspiracy theories - and yet here's a passage about former Nazis spraying US fields with "harmless" bacteria to see how they would spread.
So, yes, these ideas resonate now.
I enjoyed the first sections first. There was much more of a detective-story aspect as multiple teams of Allied scientists and investigators descend on a dying Nazi Germany to secure all the loose scientific equipment and personnel. It seemed a better-funded if more secret compliment to .The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. But the various teams' agendas don't all match. Some are coming to get tools and weapons to fight Japan and soon the Soviet Union. Others are trying to stop, document, and punish atrocities.
The the war-crimes trials and the real Operation Paperclip begin. It almost looks like a flip-of-the-coin to see who will end up on trial and in prison (or hanged) and who gets to move to America to restart their lives. And it isn't a one-time flip either. people move back and forth - one day on an Air Force Base in Ohio, then in the dock at Nuremburg, then prdoned and back out in a US-run lab in Heidelberg.
Annie Jacobsen clearly intends the reader to be horrified at the compromises US officials make in the name of National Security. For a reason I can't quite nail-down, I couldn't quite get raging angry. Part of it is a bit of fatigue - in comparison to concentration camps, how bad is hiring some Nazi scientists. Part of it is distance in time - the closed doors of archives did their intended job and kept those who were in or ran these programs from facing questions in their life-times and the anger wanes when the culprits are dead. Part of it is transitive - is a Nazi scientist who researched biological weapons and wanted to use concentration camp victims as test subjects worse than a US CIA experimenter who doses his own colleagues with LSD without their knowledge (leading to suicide - or at least that's the best case interpretation).
It's all awful.
In many ways I guess this book bridges the WWII era and the Cold War to show how the over-the-top operatic villains of the first era were replaced by the banality-and-ubiquity-of-evil villans of the second era, even when they were sometimes the same people....more