Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Cumulative Reading List

Whew, what a year.

 flags books involved in this year's Read of England series.
  marks books involved in my annual American Revolution series.


-- January --
1. Lives of the Planets: A Natural History of the Solar System,  Richard Corfield (Science)
2. The Empty Throne, Bernard Cornwell (Historical Fiction)
3. Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, Bernd Heinrich (Science)
4.  The Pigman, Paul Zindel (Fiction)
5. The Cult of the Presidency, Gene Healy (Politics)
6.  A Renegade History of the United States, Thaddeus Russell (History)
7. Nullification, Tom Woods (Politics/Law)
8. Casualties, David Rothstein (Historical Fiction)
9. Map of BetrayalHa Jin (Fiction)
10. Green is the New Red: A Social Movement Under SiegeWill Potter (Politics)

--February--
11. Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism, Jeff Taylor (Politics)
12. The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online and the Cops Followed,  Nate Anderson
13. The Human Zoo, Desmond Morris (Science/Sociology)
14. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai (Memoir)
15. Kindle Fire HD for Dummies, Nancy Muir
16. The Kindness Diaries, Leon Logothetis (Travel)
17. Whiskey Sour, J.A. Konrath (Detective Thriller)
18. The Iron Web, Larken Rose (Political Thriller)
19. The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers, Daniel Wolf (Anthropology/Crime)
20. Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Susan Freinkel (Political Journalism)
21. The Marriage Game, Alison Weir (Historical Fiction)

--March--
22. Selma 1965, Charles Fager (History)
23. @ War: the Rise of the Military-Internet ComplexShane Harris (Military/Technology)
24. Here  Comes Everybody, Clay Shirkey (Social Science)
25. Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweniger (History)
26. Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist, Scott Hahn (Religion)
27. What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Michael Sandel (Economics)
28. Breaking through Concrete: The Urban Farm Revival, David Hanson and Edwin Marty
29. "The Importance of Being Earnest", Oscar Wilde (Play)
30. Born Fighting: The Scots-Irish in America, Jim Webb (Pop History)
31. The Adventures of Henry Thoreau, Michael Sims (Biography)
32. The Chosen, Chaim Potok (Fiction)
33. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (Classic, Fiction)

-- April --
34. Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko (Politics / History)
35. Medieval Essays, Christopher Dawson (History)
36. The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (Hysterical Fiction) 
37. Come Rack! Come Rope! Robert Hugh Benson (Historical Fiction) 
38. Armada, John Stack (Historical Fiction) 
39. Ruled Britannia, Harry Turtledove (Alt-History) 
40. Joe Steele, Harry Turtledove (alt-history)
41. The Other Queen, Phillipa Gregory (Historical Fiction) 
42. Boudica, Vanessa Collingridge (History) 
43. Faith and TreasonThe Story of the Gunpowder Plot, Antonia Frasier (History) 
44. Bachelors Anonymous, P.G. Wodehouse (Fiction) 
45. In a Dark Wood, Michael Cadnum (Historical Fiction) 
46. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (Science Fiction)
47. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in AmericaWyn Craig Wade (History)

-- May
48. The Fall of Saxon England, Richard Humble (History) 
49. The Copperhead, Harold Frederic (Historical Fiction)
50. Agincourt: The Battle that Made England, Juliet Barker (History) 
51. Hanging Curve, Troy Soos (Historical Fiction)
52. Very Good, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (Fiction) 
53. The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton (Religion) 
54. The South Since the War, Sidney Carton (Journalism/History)
55. Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Eric Bendts
56. The Wars of the Roses, Alison Weir (History) 
57. Harvest of Rage,  Joel Dyer (Politics/Sociology)
58. Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse, James Wesley Rawles (Doomer Fiction)
59. The Americans: The Colonial Experience, Daniel Boorstin (History) 
60. Why Waco? James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher (Religion)

-- June --
61. The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson, William Murchinson (Biography) 
62. The Ashes of Waco, Dick Reavis (Political Journalism)
63. The English People on the Eve of Colonization, Wallace Notestein (History) 
64. American Colonies, Alan Taylor (History) 
65. The Terrorist Next Door, Daniel Levitas (Politics)
66. America's British Culture, Russell Kirk 
67. Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Klan, Nancy MacLean
68. Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, Ivan Eland
69. The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis
70. American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll,  Bradley Birzer 
71. The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, F.H. Buckley 
72. A Year of Living Prayerfully, Jarod Brock
73. Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in America,  Daniel Okrent
74. Beyond: Our Future in Space, Chris Impey

-- July --
75. The Whiskey Rebels, David Liss 
76. We Could Not Fail: The First African-Americans in the Space Program,  Richard Paul and Steven Moss
77. I Am Forbidden, Anouk Markovits
78. Engines of War, Christian Wolmar (History)
79. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the 1960s, Johnathan Leaf (History/Social Commentary)
80. The Lamb's Supper, Scott Hahn (Religion)
81. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller
82. Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, Melanie Warner
83. James Madison and the Making of America, Kevin Gutzman 
84. The Great Cities in History, ed. John Julius Norwich
85. The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar
86. Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
87. Before the Throne, Naguib Mahfouz
88. Vanished WorldMuslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain,  Chris Lowney

-- August --
89. Pedal to the Medal: The Work Lives of TruckersLawrence Ouelett
90. Cod, Mark Kurlansky
91. 10 Don'ts On Your Digital Devices, Eric Rzesut, Daniel Bachrach
91. Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery
92. The Devil Knows Latin, E. Christian Kopf (Social Criticism)
93. Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, Jules Evans (Philosophy)
94. Tevye's Daughters, Sholom Aleichem (Fiction)
95. Leofric: Sword of the Angles, S. Arnott (Historical Fiction)
96. The Spice Route, John Keay (History)
97. Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, ed. Hershel Shanks (Religion)
98. The Quartet, Joseph Ellis (History)

-- September --
99. Ornament of the World: How Muslims,  Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Maria Menocal (History)
100. Here be Dragons, Sharon Key Penman (Historical Fiction)
101. The Eagle's Conquest, Simon Scarrow (Historical Fiction)
102. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
103. The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
104. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
105. The Horse and his Boy, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
106. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
107. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
108. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis (Fantasy)
109. A Family Guide to Narnia, Cristen Ditchfield
110. Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney (Classic)
111. Grendel, John Gardner (Fiction)
112. ST TOS: Foul Deeds will Rise, Greg Cox
113. Zebra Derby, Max Shulman
114. In Search of Ice Age Americans, Kenneth Tankersley
115. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
116. The Egyptians, Barbara Watterson
117. "Saint Joan", George Bernard Shaw
118. "A Man For All Seasons", Robert Holt

-- October --
119. The Seven Deadly Sins: A Thomistic Guide to Vanquishing Vice and Sin,  Kevin Vost
120. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery
121. The Lady from Zagreb, Philip Kerr
122. The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know about the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton
123. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
124. Carrie, Stephen King
125. The Great Heresies, Hilaire Belloc
126. ST Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers, James Swallow
126. Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America, Margaret McGuinness
127. ST Terok Nor: Night of the Wolves, S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison
128. ST Terok Nor: Dawn of the Eagles, S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison
129. Joan of Arc, Hilaire Belloc (Biography)
130. Downtown: Its Rise and Fall,  Robert Fogelson (History)
131. The Miracle of Dunkirk, Walter Lord (History)
132. Hitler's Undercover War: The Nazi Espionage Invasion of the USA,  William Breuer (History)
133. The Lost History of Christianity:  The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, Philip Jenkins (History)
134. Battle of Britain, Len Deighton (History)
135. I Saw It Happen in Norway, C.J. Hambro (History)
136. Images of America: Selma, Sharon Jackson (History)

-- November --
137. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, Rick Atkinson (History)
138. V for Vendetta, Alan Moore and David Lloyd (Graphic Novel)
139. The Battle of the Atlantic,  Barrie Pitt (Time-Life History of WW2)
140. Operation Compass, 1940, Jon Latimer (History)
141. One Year After, William Forstchen (Science Fiction)
142. We Who Dared Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing, ed. Murray Polner and Tom Woods
143. Battles for Scandinavia,  John Elting (Time-Life History of WW2)
144. That Was Then, This is Now, S.E. Hinton
145. Spam Nation, Brian Krebs (Journalism)
146. Foxes of the Desert, Paul Carell (History)
147. "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol", Tom Mula
148. Convoy, Martin Middlebrook (History)
149. The Horse in the City,  Clay McShane and Joel Tarr (History)
150. BlitzkriegRobert Wernick (Time-Life History of WW2)
151. The Rising SunArthur Zich (Time-Life History of WW2)
152. Oil on the Brain, Lisa Margonelli (Journalism)
153. The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang (History)
153. Flying Tiger: Chennault of China, Robert Lee Scott (History)
154. Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin,  Roger Moorhouse (History)
155. Russia Besieged, Nicholas William Bethell (Time-Life History of WW2)
156. December 6th, Martin Cruz Smith (Historical Fiction)

-- December --
157. Yamamoto: The Man Who Planned Pearl Harbor, Edwin Hoyt (Biography)
158. The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World, Phillip Schewe (Journalism)
159. Pearl Harbor: The Day of Infamy  -- An Illustrated History, Dan van der Vat (History)
160. Horse: How the Horse Shaped Human Civilization, J. Edward Chamberlin (History..ish)
161. Bataan: The March of Death, Stanley L. Falk
162. We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan, Elizabeth Norman
163. Hack:  Driving a Yellow Cab, Melissa Plaut
164. Forgotten Ally: China's World War 2, Rena Mitter
165. Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America,, Ann Norton Greene
166. Rogue Lawyer, John Grisham
167. Emma, Jane Austen

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Finis!


Last year, a friend on facebook challenged me to find and read the following, and now...'tis complete!

  1. A book with more than 500 pages (Politics on a Human Scale, Jeff Taylor)
  2. A classic romance (Emma, Jane Austen)
  3. A book that became a movie (The Copperhead, Harold Frederic)
  4. A book published this year  (The Empty Throne, Bernard Cornwell)
  5. A book with a number in the title (Selma 1965, Chuck Fager)
  6. A book written by someone under 30 (I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai)
  7. A book with nonhuman characters (The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis)
  8. A funny book (Bachelors Anonymous, P.G. Wodehouse)
  9. A book by a female author (Boudica, Vanessa Collingridge)
  10. A mystery or thriller (The Iron Web, Larken Rose)
  11. A book with a one-word title (AgincourtJuliet Barker)
  12. A book of short stories (The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse)
  13. A book set in a different country (Map of Betrayal, Ha Jin)
  14. A nonfiction book (Winter World, Bernd Heinrich) 
  15. A popular author's first book (Carrie, Stephen King)
  16. A book from an author who love that you've not yet read (Zebra Derby, Max Shulman)
  17. A book a friend recommended (Recarving Rushmore, Ivan Eland)
  18. A Pulitzer-Prize winning book (An Army at Dawn, Rick Atkinson)
  19. A book based on a true story (The Marriage Game, Alison Weir)
  20. A book on the bottom of your to-read list (The Search for Ice Age Americans, Kenneth Tankersly)  
  21. A book your mom loves (Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery)
  22. A book that scares you (Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko)
  23. A book more than 100 years old (Beowulf)
  24. A book based entirely on its cover (The Internet Police, Nate Anderson)
  25. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't (Grendel, John Gardner) 
  26. A memoir (The South Since the War, Sidney Carton)
  27. A book ye can finish in a day (The Quartet, Joseph Ellis)
  28. A book with antonyms in the title (That Was Then, This is Now, S.E. Hinton)
  29. A book set somewhere you wanted to visit (The Great Cities, ed. John Julius Norwich)
  30. A book that came out the year you were born (Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card)
  31. A book with bad reviews (Patriots, James Rawles)
  32. A trilogy (Star Trek: Terok Nor James SwallowS.D. Perry, and Britta Dennison)
  33. A book from your childhood (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis)
  34. A book with a love triangle (The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory)
  35. A book set in future (A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller)
  36. A book set in high school (The Chosen, Chaim Potok)
  37. A book with color in title (Green is the New Red, Will Potter)
  38. A book that made you cry (The Pigman, Paul Zindel)
  39. A book with maa-agic (The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien) 
  40. A graphic novel (V for Vendetta, Alan Moore and David Lloyd)
  41. A book by an author you've never read (The Americans, Daniel Boorstin)
  42. A book you own but haven't read (The Eagle's Conquest, Simon Scarrow)
  43. A book set in your hometown (Casualties, David Rothstein)
  44. A book originally written in different language (Tevye's Daughters, Sholom Alecheim)
  45. A book set during Christmas ("Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol", Tom Mula)
  46. A book written by author with your initials (Here Be Dragons, Sharon Penman)
  47. A play ("The Importance of Being Earnest", Oscar Wilde)
  48. A banned book (The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini)
  49. A book based on, or turned into, a TV show (Star Trek TOS: Foul Deeds will Rise, Greg Cox) 
  50. A book you started but never finished (The Human Zoo, Desmond Morris)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer
© 2015 John Grisham
344 pages


("Wait for 2016", I said.  What can I say?)

Rogue Lawyer ranks with The Appeal as one of John Grisham's most cynical and bitter pieces of fiction. Its lead character, Sebastian Rudd, is vaguely reminiscent of  A Time To Kill and The Last Juror's Lucien Wilbanks,  a long-haired warrior for justice who lives for picking fights.  He works for the dregs of the legal system -- not the poor, but the despicable,  like a wannabe gangster who had his last lawyer killed. Part of this is idealism, but more pervasive is a contempt for practically every aspect of the legal system.   Rogue Lawyer begins with a series of disjointed sections, some of which finally converge into a more novel-worthy tale, though none of it makes for edifying reading.  Rudd spends the entire novel immersed in degradation. His clients are satanists, crimelords, and human traffickers, and when he is not with them he is attempting to manage a young San Salvadoran cage fighter, striking deals with petty crooks and pettier civil servants, or trading bitter courtroom blows with his ex-wife, as they work on their joint project of raising an emotional trainwreck of a child who will, if he survives being kidnapped by his father's enemies to settle a score, have serious issues.  The majority of adults in this novel  spend their time plotting to  manipulate,  shake down,  or physically injure one another. The ending is suitably unsatisfying,. While it's not as bad a novel as The Racketeer,   Grisham did street law much better in The Street Lawyer,  which saw ordinary decency matched against the inhumanity of the legal system. The problem here is there is little decency or humanity to be found. It's nonstop violence, despair, and brooding, with the one moment of hope in the bleak collection of tragedy coming when the main character ponders packing up and leaving his life behind to go play golf.  Aside from a lead lawyer who is worlds away from Grisham's usual main characters,  Rogue doesn't impress.

Books for Christmas

Merry Christmas, one and all!  I trust everyone had a safe and happy holiday.  Christmas was a strange event down here in the South, as temperatures pegged the 80s and we've had a rash of tornadoes and flooding the last two days. Instead of seasonal sweaters, people are wearing tank-tops and shorts!  I never saw the first Christmas movie, and never really felt the bug until witnessing a woman lost in reverie listening to "O Come All Ye Faithful" on Christmas Eve.  Christmas brought very little bookish news;  I gave a couple of books as gifts (The Last Goodbye, Reed Arvin; Four, Veronica Roth) and received John Grisham's latest, Rogue Lawyer.  I probably won't be reading that until the new year, as my mental faculties have been taken up processing Emma. I am roughly halfway through. It will probably be the last book I read this year, but I nailed my annual target back in November.  Finishing Emma will complete that 2015 Reading Challenge in the nick of time, and mark my first entry down for the Classics Club.   The book itself has given me a challenge:

 "And then, her reserve—I never could attach myself to any one so completely reserved."
"It is a most repulsive quality, indeed," said he. "Oftentimes very convenient, no doubt, but never pleasing. There is safety in reserve, but no attraction. One cannot love a reserved person."

As someone who lives in a reserved state most of the time, that statement cut a little close to the bone. Perhaps it will inspire a New Year's resolution on my part.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Horses at Work

Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America
© 2008 Ann Norton Greene
322 pages




The quintessential image of horses in American history is the cowboy, of rough men moving cattle in the wilderness on horseback. But follow the cattle, and their destination is invariably the cities, for cowboys were actors in the industrial economy, moving cattle from ranches in the prairies to the railheads expanding throughout the west. Horses and industry were never far from one another; indeed, as Horses at Work bears out, horses and industrialization complemented the other, each allowing the other to flourish.  The 19th century was a golden age for horses, not in spite of but because of the burgeoning industrial economy.

Horses have been working companions for humans for millennia, for reasons the author details in the beginning of her work, evaluating them against their leading competitors, oxen and camels.   In the 19th century, however, they were successful beyond all prior imagining: never before had there been so many horses, and they were doing everything. Horses didn’t just pull carriages for wealthy aristocrats and up-and-coming merchants:   they tugged canal boats down their courses, and treading engines allowed them to power ferries as well. The same apparatus made horses the prime movers within early industrial technology.  Steam was their ally, not a threatening foe.  Rail lines could cut across distances, linking central points to one another, but they required horses to deliver goods to the consumer.  Horses created early industrial infrastructure and prospered from the opportunities it created, but they were also direct beneficiaries of its output.  The industrial system created a massive and steady supply of constantly-needed horseshoes, for instance, without which horses were at risk for lameness, and new wagons and tackle developed that made their work both less strenuous and more profitable for their owners.  Their growing numbers and economic ubiquity led to an intense amount of study, both in breeding and in science, with equine healthcare increasing in measure.  Eventually steam and horses would both run afoul of electricity, internal combustion, and political movements aimed at "cleaning up" the city, both by clearing out worker housing and getting rid of urban animal residents, The work of overhauling the economy's circulatory system would take time, however: horse populations peaked in the 1890s, even as electric rail lines, bicycles, and primitive automobiles were appearing, and didn't fall away significantly until the end of the Roaring Twenties.

Although written and published at nearly the same time as Clay McShane and Joel Tarr's The Horse in the City,  these two books do not step on one another's toes too much. Both address the role of horses in industrial America, but Horses at Work examines technical issues more in-depth -- the technology used in ferry and mill transmission, the development of stagecoach lines -- and features even rarer photographs.  The two books together are a perfect pair for understanding horses' impact on early industrial America.

Related:



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Forgotten Ally

Forgotten Ally: China's World War II
© 2013 Rana Mitter
467 pages



Two years before a mad painter's schemes plunged the world into war, China was fighting for its life.  It began the 20th century at a crossroads; the old imperial order had faded away, and in the vacuum that followed, the great land was fair play to a variety of ambitious men from both within and without. Idealists dreaming of building a better future for themselves struggled against opposing visionaries, petty warlords and would-be-colonizers.  Scarcely had the young Republic of China begun establishing itself than it became an object of proprietary interest to the rising Empire of Japan, and after a near-decade long struggle for survival that merged with World War 2, the republic finally fell prey to internal enemies. Postwar politics made forgetting the Chinese trial against Japan easy, but in the eyes of Rana Mitter, China's experience of World War 2 was uniquely formative. The bloodletting wasn't just a tragic episode to be endured, but destroyed what progress had been made in the 20th century and led to a completely new economic and political order. Forgotten Ally is a mostly-political history of the war which views it was nothing less than the birth of modern China, born of a decade of frustration and sorrow.

The odds were against the Republic of China from the start. China is a vast land, and the Republic's command of it was never perfect; the ascendant west pockmarked China's coast with colonies, and internal division reigned, from brigands to communist rebels. Japan, increasing in both wealth and power after its own successful leap into industrialization,  took advantage of that internal weakness to announce itself as Asia's new leader. Positioning itself as a big brother, it promised to chase off Occidental intruders and establish a new order, of Asia for the Asians.  Beginning in the late 19th century, Japan began asserting itself on the Asian mainland, and as its armies grew closer to China, the celestial kingdom stood alone.  Between world wars and depression, the United States and Britain were hardly in a place to stop them. The Russians had made noise before and gotten a bloody nose and a sunken fleet for it, and as another crisis in Europe loomed no one wanted to provoke a Japanese attack on their Asian colonies.  Relations with potential allies were tense to begin with;  Britain had opened a drug market in China and waged war against those who protested it, and Russia frequently flirted with supporting the Republic's armed in-house opposition,  Cooperation did happen, however;  before the United States was ever attacked, American volunteers trained Chinese pilots and helped wage guerrilla aviation, and even after the Japanese had secured much of southeast Asia, the Allies sent what resources they could by air.

In addition to the ordinary destruction of war, made worse by particularly vicious invasion tactics ("Kill All, Loot All, Burn All"), China's chronically stressed government became its own enemy. Its attempt to keep soldiers in the field caused famine, and another strategic move (destroying dikes that checked the Yellow River) slowed down the Japanese advance but led to the deaths of a half-million Chinese civilians.  Both the Nationalist government and the Communist splinter in the north developed brutal police-state agencies throughout the war, attempting to consolidate their power and expunge dissent, but the Nationalists controlled and thus disaffected more people.  Between this and Chiang Kai-Shek's increasingly poor relations with the American commander on the ground (controlling lend-lease supplies), the Republic lost legitimacy both in China and abroad with every passing year.   Throughout the chaos of war, the Communist state grew in strength, its ranks filling with bombed-out and ordered-about peasants who considered Mao a less brutal choice than Chiang;  no sooner had the guns of World War 2 fallen silent than did a civil war erupt in China, one which saw the Nationalists exiled to Taiwan, and China overtaken by the Communists.

Forgotten Ally is largely political history, one in which the war is an essential backdrop but not the express subject.  Mitter is primarily concerned with how the war damaged the prospects of Chiang and allowed Mao's to blossom. Mao began the war as an exiled rebel, forced to retreat to the hinterland, but he would end it as China's new master. That is an accomplishment cut with opportunism, for while the Nationalists were taking the brunt of Japanese assault, having to move entire factories into the interior to keep the war going, the Communists were able to sit pretty, making the occasional raid against Japan but never engaging it in open battle.  Despite the inhumanity of Chiang's regime, considering what followed after, it seems a tragedy that his China fought World War 2 through the end, only to succumb to its wounds afterwards.   Their role in resisting Japan should not be forgotten, although a little more military meat might have served this book well -- demonstrating, for instance, how much of Japan's resources were consumed in fighting the Nationalists that would have otherwise been deployed fighting the United States and the Commonwealth nations across the pacific.  Aside from this quibble,  this is a history well worth considering.



Friday, December 18, 2015

2016 Reading Challenge

A new challenge has been issued, one slightly shorter than last year's. There are a few curveball categories (a romance set in the future..? Maybe I can count The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), but it looks like a fun set.  For those on facebook who want to throw in with others who have taken up the challenge, there is a group called the 2016 Dumbledore is Dead and Prim Doesn't Feel Too Well Reading Challenge.

A list of books being made into movies (#11) has already been posted there.  Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies is among `em. Oh, dear...


  1. A book based on a fairy tale.
  2. A National Book Award Winner
  3. A YA Besteseller
  4. A Book Not Read Since High School
  5. A Book Set in Home State
  6. A Book Translated into English
  7. A Romance Set in Future
  8. A Book Set in Europe
  9. A Book Under 150 Pages
  10. NY Times Bestseller
  11. Book Becoming a Movie in 2016
  12. A Book Recommended by Someone You Just Met
  13. Self-Improvement
  14. Book Which Can Be Finished in a Day
  15. A Book Written by a Celebrity
  16. Political Memoir
  17. A Book a Century Older Than You
  18. A Book Over 600 pages
  19. A Book from Oprah's Book Club
  20. A Science Fiction Novel
  21. A Book Recommended by a Family Member
  22. Graphic Novel
  23. Book Published in 2016
  24. Book with Protagonist Sharing Your Occupation
  25. A Book set in Summer
  26. A Book and its Prequel
  27. A murder mystery
  28. A book written by a comedian
  29. Dystopian novel
  30. A book with a blue cover
  31. A book of poetry
  32. First book you see in a bookstore
  33. 20th century classic
  34. Library book
  35. Autobiography
  36. A book about a road trip
  37. A book from an unfamilar culture
  38. A satirical book
  39. A book set on an island
  40. A book that brings joy
I expect Greg Iles and Wendell Berry to make appearances here.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Midway (Maybe)

With the end of the year only a little over two weeks away, it's high time for me to knock off that classic romance. I've had Emma checked out for weeks with little headway made, not that I've made a serious attempt. Better get to it, though, because someone has tagged me on facebook with the 2016 Reading Challenge.  That one actually seems easier, though a couple of entries ("A Book Recommended By Someone You Just Met") will be more..interesting than most. 

After two months of reading I’ve finally reached 1942 in my World War 2 reading set,  and am presently giving attention to the opening action in the Pacific  I think I’m closer to the end of this set than the beginning, because  I don’t expect much else from Europe: a book on Anglo-American bombing,  a pair on the Eastern Front, then one book each on Italy, D-Day, the Bulge, and the fall of Berlin.  I’m not sure about the Pacific. I'm going to read at least one book on the Sino-Japanese war (either Forgotten Ally or When Tigers Fight), and then play it by ear. Certainly Midway will feature, and at least one island campaign. It hasn't been too long since I read With the Old Breed, though, so I don't need much of a refresher there. When you see The Fall of Berlin and Hiroshima, though, that’ll be the end of this, and I will have sampled a substantial portion of my library’s World War 2 selection, at least thirty books.  And to think  there still remains more yet unread...

Mixing all this up as we head into the new year will be science (with two new acquisitions not included on that TBR list) and subjects of civic or commercial interest. The first of those was Hack, a book I've been meaning to buy for at least five years. It's actually made it inside my cart and then been taken out before.  (Ten years ago, I briefly considering driving cabs, and the next morning saw in the paper that a local cabby had been shot. My curiosity remains exercised only vicariously, through games like Mafia and GTA that allow the player to take fares.) 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Hack

Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to do with my Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab
© 2008 Melissa Plaut
256 pages




At the age of twenty-nine, Melissa Plaut was let go from her job at an ad agency. She found the layoff liberating instead of terrifying, freeing her as it did from a safe but utterly meaningless job where she felt distinctly like a sell-out. Having spent most of her twenties spinning her wheels at one safe job or another, she opted this time to pursue adventure.   So it was that she braved the labyrinth of New York bureaucracy and the warren of traffic to become a New York City cabbie.Hack collects stories from her blog about working the city streets, and as they are arranged she becomes progressively more miserable, eventually downshifting to the point that driving the cab is a part-time hobby instead of a career.

Although her stories behind the wheel constitute the bulk of the book (the exception being frequent breaks to chat about her social life) there is not a lot of revealed about the inner workings of taxi services in general. A combination of customer service, chronic traffic jams, and steady physical deterioration, taxi driving quickly loses its allure and becomes a daily grind for her. Working with the public at large is not for the faint of heart, and quickly takes an emotional toll on Plaut as she endures all kinds of abuse and contempt from her patronage. Soon she is bypassing types  (teenagers and grizzly men) who she suspects will be fare-jumpers or trouble-makers, and feeling guilty for not being as trusting and open as she once was.  Driving a cab for twelve hours a day also wrecks her physically; the human body was not meant to spend half its time sitting in an odd-shaped seat, one leg constantly working the gas or brakes and the rest comparatively inactive while the driver deals with the constant stress of traffic, hunting fares, and restraining her bladder. One of Melissa's coworkers routinely soils himself, his continence wrecked by years of trying to hold it until demand slowed down.  Being the result of only a year or so behind the wheel, not much is said about the taxi industry in general: readers get a feel for how her particular company's practices work, but that's about it. There are moments of broader import, as when she weighs whether or not to make the most of a transit strike; ultimately, sheer fatigue at trying to work at all overwhelms any thoughfulness. Most of the book consists of stories about abusive customers, pushy cops, and her social life,  rendered with ample vulgarity. As one takes in her growing frustration -- and her inability to find anything outside of work that will meet her needs for meaning or happiness -- sympathy grows, especially when she witnesses a brutal traffic accident that reminds her all too much of her own near-miss, when a car struck her as a pedestrian and she was hospitalized.

Hack is interesting, though often ugly and not particularly useful about learning the ins and outs of the taxi service. It is good exposure to the raw experiences of drivers, especially New York cabbies who find the city government nearly as hostile to them as the public.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

We Band of Angels

We Band of Angels
© 2001 Elizabeth M. Norman
325  pages



When Japan invaded the Philippines and besieged the Bataan peninsula,  the Filipino-American army wasn't the only entity enduring months of dwindling supplies and attritive warfare. Stationed alongside soldiers and sailors were nurses, farm girls from the United States who never intended to go to war, but found themselves in the middle of one. We Band of Angels uses letters, diaries, and interviews with still-living nurses to recount  their increasingly desperate experience, as they set up emergency medical stations behind the lines, a few dozen women tending to thousands of patients as bombs fell and monkeys helped themselves to the scant food and medicine available. It is unusual and attractive in being a non-military memoir of the fall of the Phillipines, the siege of Corregidor, and later imprisonment, and rather lively.

On Bataan and Corregidor, there were no secure rear quarters; the warzone was everywhere, and bombs were just as liable to fall into hospitals as they were vehicle pools. Unlike the soldiers, these nurses -- civilians, really, whose programs were nationalized -- had never trained for conditions this hostile, but they took them on just the same. They tended the injured after every bombardment and raid, and did their best to keep disease from utterly destroying their comrades despite being the walking wounded themselves,  caught in the grips of malaria but attempting to do what good they could. When forced to evacuate, they left part of their hearts behind in the patients abandoned in beds. Some would return to the United States following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, while others would spent years held prisoner by the Japanese.  Those who returned were aghast to find themselves hailed as saintly heroes; what they they done, other than stick to their duty and make the best of an awful situation?  After the Philippines were liberated, those imprisoned met the same fate, idolized and put to good use selling war bonds and inspiring an increasingly war-fatigued populace.

Their irritation at being used is shared by a sometimes prickly author who resents women being treated any differently than men. When nurses were evacuated to Corregidor shortly before Bataan was abandoned, she fumes against the male egotism that wanted to protect the women, a bizarre judgment given that she had just shared everyone's speculation about a Nanking-style desecration, and the fact that soldiers were being evacuated. (The judgment is proven  tragically faulty when later a nurse is raped by the imperials, and others endure deliberate sexual taunting by the swaggering invaders.)   Norman's scorn for her subject culture doesn't manifest itself too often, however, and the story of the nurses themselves is so fascinating that misplaced political griping does't diminish it. Her core grievance is that the women were idolized as Women -- tender, doting nurses or damsels in distress  -- and not given their proper respect as working professionals, ladies of intelligence, skill, and steadfast devotion to their vocation. It would be a fairer complaint if levied against modern audiences, but for those living the world crisis, seeing all of Eurasia under the command of totalitarian governments, no doubt legends carried more traction than staid reports. There is a time for stories about knights fighting dragons, sustaining faith in a fight against monstrosity.  Norman's book does give them that respect, taking a fuller measure of their character, one we are now safe to appreciate far from the peril of the hour.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bataan: March of Death

Bataan: March of Death
© 1962 Stanley J. Falk
256 pages




Japan’s strike at Pearl Harbor was not a solitary military move, but the opening play in a Pacific strategy. Having disabled the American Pacific Fleet,  Japanese forces would be free to sweep down on Anglo-American holdings in southeast Asia and create its own empire. The plan went into effect with such rapidity that the Philippines,  seized from Spain in the late 19th century,  fell under attack on the  very day of Pearl Harbor. The Rising Sun found stiffer resistance in the Philippines than it met at Wake Island and Guam, however, and not until early spring 1942 did American forces there surrender.  They survived a siege, the weeks of bombardment and short rations, but  the most hellish hours were yet to come.

The defense found endurance in retreating to the rocky Bataan peninsula, where for months they held without support or supplies. Increasingly ravaged by disease and malnutrition, however, eventually they had to accept the inevitable.  Even in defeat, however, they remained a nuisance to the Japanese:  Bataan was the ideal site to launch an attack on the Pacific Gilbralter, the little island fortress of Corregidor whose guns barred Manila Harbor.  The defeated needed to be moved out, immediately, and so began a hike of the damned.  Though the siege offered plenty of time to plan for dealing with P.O.W.s,  Japan’s itinerary of short hikes and feeding/rest areas fell apart almost immediately, overwhelmed by both the sheer number of prisoners and their deteriorated status.   The two factors worsened the effect:  food and supplies were simultaneously much reduced and much more needed.  Every mile of the march saw physically exhausted and disease-ravaged men fall out, and those who did not succumb to injury or infirmity were dispatched with indifferent bayonets .  Though the Death March is regarded in propagandized history as an act of cold malice by the Japanese empire, intent on humiliating and destroying those who surrender instead of fighting to the last and dying honorably,  Falk here builds a case that the atrocity was more a symptom of the chaos and hell of war aggravated but not initiated by Japan’s severe militarism.  The Japanese commanders remained ignorant of both the amount and condition of prisoners headed their way, possibly through errors in translation but also owing to the confused state of American defense: as at Dunkirk, few units were intact; the massed body of ailing defenders were a confused patchwork of commands.   Outright murder by the Japanese happened

All this is not to say that Bataan was merely a tragic accident. It was the stage of many a war crime, some casual and others more deliberate.  Early on, an entire division was beheaded for reasons still obscure.  Individual Japanese soldiers practiced chronic and petty acts of cruelty that further bled an already wasted body of men, like the man who amused himself by knocking off the helmets of prisoners who marched by him. Unable to slow down or stop on pain of beating or death, the troops had to leave their precious headgear behind, further exposing them to the roasting tropical sun.  Prisoners were robbed not just of equipment and personal items, expected losses in war, but of what little food they had retained or were given. The Japanese were despairingly inconsistent;  the food given to men by one command might be  taken from them by another.  Some Imperials dispensed cooked rice; others  forced the prisoners to be content with raw grain.  The dehumanization of Japanese military training – in which beatings for small infractions were commonplace – manifested itself in their treatment of the Filipino and American soldiers under their power, but the Japanese government deserves direct scrutiny and condemnation for the “rest areas”, which would have been dangerously overcrowded and wholly unsanitary even if the men shoved into them not been desperately ill with dysentery, constantly soiling themselves and the environment.  Campsites were open latrines in which men were forced to lay in a miasma of rotting bodies and feces.  The quarter of men who were allowed to ride  in trains to the final camp instead of march found  it a more torturous alternative, for the cars were nearly completely sealed, permitted standing room only, and collected such heat that the men inside could not touch the walls for fear of scalding themselves.

In a war of genocide, fire-bombings, and mass starvation,  the competition for horror is fierce.  Though much less severe than the wholesale murder at Dachau and Auschwitz,  Bataan is no less grim in its own right. Here are men as the detritus of war, cut off from every resource, given nothing but abuse and mockery, and left to die. Some 20,000 men perished from disease, execution, exhaustion, live burial, or hunger in the sixty-five mile march.  Stanley Falk’s history is admirable, neither softening the blows nor attempting to propagandize them. He diligently seeks for the causes of the catastrophe, and finds it a bad situation merely made worst by martial brutishness, instead of being an act of deliberate evil.  Bataan is invaluable not just for its information, but for its measured tone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Horse

Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Human Civilization
© 2006 J. Edward Chamberlin
288 pages




How do I love thee, O horse? Let me count the ways.   J. Edward Chamberlin’s Horse begins with one lonely native American mare separated from her tribe  recounting, from long memory, the many centuries that horses and humans have traveled together. Even after moving to more conventional historical narrative, the book remains highly storied, drawing much from art and poetry and   never far removed from recollections of Blackfoot, Greek, Chinese, or other horse-related mythology.  In terms of history, war and sports predominate, with the scant mention made to an actual workhorse   appearing and vanishing in the last chapter like the twinkling of a star.  The history itself sits under the shadow of mythology;  the author's claim that chariots were used more to taxi infantry to the battle than as weapons themselves is illustrated with nothing more than The Illiad, and he manages to put the cart before the horse (ho, ho) by referring to Islamic expansion as a reaction to the Crusades. Say again?   There’s useful information here – on the evolution of  different breeds, saddles,  riding styles – but  it’s altogether very general.  It’s a loving tribute to creatures that inspire awe and have been at the center of human history for thousands of years, but shouldn’ t be approached for too much substantial history.

The Grid

The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World
© 2007 Phillip Schewe
310 pages


In every room there sits a caged beast waiting to cause mischief, but which most of the time  is put to honest work, instead.  When Thomas Edison began selling electrical service for artificial illumination in the close of the 19th century, did he realize how radically he would transform the world?  Steam engines went a long way, but they never took up residence in the house.  At the opening of the 21st century, homes are linked together not just by ribbons of asphalt but by buzzing wires overhead, and those are only the first part of a complicated apparatus that can sink an economy for days if it hiccoughs.  Phillip Schewe's The Grid is a layman's introduction to the world of the electrical grid,  an educational sampler.  He lightly touches on the grid's early history,   moves into the social relevance of electricity,  writes about some of the aspects of electrical infrastructure, and then looks to the future.

 It is as the author describes it, a "journey" -- rather like passing through a city on a bus and catching a sight of very interesting things but not being able to get out to spend time studying them. The early book is quite jumpy, as the reader passes from early electrical enterprise straight to electricity being seen as vital infrastructure that the government can't leave to the hands of the people who paid to create it.  The latter half is more integrated, especially as Schewe uses his chapter on the home's internal electric works to argue that the future of electricity may be more distributive,  with solar-paneled homes supplying much of their own electricity and sometimes contributing their excess into the grid. This is followed by a chapter on nuclear plants, the concentrated alternative.  The Grid has a frustrating lack of focus, though, and this is worsened by the author's creative gifts.  His subject may be mechanical infrastructure, but Schewe waxes lyrical about it -- literally,  at one point offering commentary in verse form and filling another paragraph with so many allusions to Hamlet that one wonders if he had a quota. Although electricity is regarded by most everyone in the book as an unmitigated good, Schewe vainly includes Lewis Mumford and Henry David Thoreau as counters, both being technological critics, but neither really bares their teeth;  it's as impact as someone musing on how over-much we depend on electricity when there's an outage, and then forgetting about it as soon as the lights pop back on.   It was a nice gesture, though.   The Grid is thus  tantalizingly incomplete,  offering just a taste and then charging ahead into China or Africa to look for different things to sample.

Related:





Monday, December 7, 2015

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor: The Day of of Infamy -- an Illustrated History
© 2001 Dan van der Vat,  illustrations by Tom Freeman
176 pages



Seventy-four years ago,  the Pacific Ocean became awash in the blood of war. Six carriers, operating for days under radio silence, parked north of Hawaii and unleashed a complete airborne arsenal -- fighters, torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and conventional straight line bombers at the small island of Oahu. Their target was the US Pacific Fleet, moored in Pearl Harbor. though the island's US Army defenders would also be savaged by the surprise attack, and the ordinary citizens of Honolulu would be stung by the debris of war. The day following, Franklin Roosevelt declared December 7 to be a day which would live in infamy -- and so it has, to a degree.  Being one of the greatest military disasters in American history, it has at least not been forgotten, 'inspiring' a movie as recently as 2001, and serving as the subject of scores of books.  Dan van der Vat's textual history is light, but rich,delivering on the 'illustrated history' premise. Like the Japanese, van der Vat works Pearl Harbor over location by location, focusing in turn on the key targets: Battleship Row, Hickham Field, Wheeler Field, and so on.  Firsthand accounts from Japanese airmen, US servicemen, and Hawaiian civilians appear with photographs of events as they unfolded, and pictures of artifacts -- the sword of a captured Japanese submariner, the scorched Red Cross patch worn by an aide worker, that sort of thing. Fulls-spread photographs of the Navy's mighty battleships crumbling under bombs and torpedoes abound, but the book also features art by Tom Freeman.  Despite generally depicting scenes of destruction, these pieces fetching to the eye and impressive in their detail, especially near Battleship Row.  There are also full-page spreads of Pearl Harbor itself, which -- given the book's proportions --   make it an excellent visual reference. The author included many "then and now" shots; it's surprising how much of the base has survived since the 1940s.  This illustrated history serves quite well as an overview for the Pearl Harbor attack,  especially given the first hand accounts and the ending chapter which points out that despite the loss of life, for Japan ultimately December 7 was a strategic flub.   The third wave against oil tanks and repair facilities was called off, and most of the ships damaged were revived. Even those which were never restored, like the Arizona and Utah, contributed parts to repair other ships. Within six months the Japanese fleet had been checked and reversed, and the long and grim work of rooting the Empire out island by island had begun.  The extravagant amount of visual media makes the book quite attractive to WW2 buffs, as well.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Yamamoto

Yamamoto: The Man Who Planned Pearl Harbor
© 1990 Edwin Hoyt
271 pages



Isoroku Yamamoto was the indispensable man of the Japanese navy,  the author of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and an object of such interest to the United States that it nearly spoiled its ability to read Japanese codes in order to shoot him from the skies.  He is an intriguing character to study;  as a subject of the emperor, he was loathe to think of Japan at war with the United States. He knew America, had traveled and studied there, and regarded the thought of military contest with her a joke.  As a soldier, however, he strengthened Japan's ability to make war, guiding the strategic development of her fleet into the future, helping create a carrier-focused force that would outmatch the western powers' dreadnought mindset. When he was asked to use that weapon against the United States, he did his best to make it a killing blow.   Yamamoto takes readers through Japan's percolation as an imperial state, from its first tepid expansion in Asia at the turn of the 20th century, to its maturation as a major power who sought not just equality with, but triumph over, the west.   On the sea, Yamamoto develops quickly as an officer to be revered and reckoned with -- a strict, audacious, and strangely humble man who saw that the future of global war lay in aviation.  On land, Yamamoto is tugged reluctantly behind waves of militarism as Japan sees cabinet after cabinet fail. Every attempt to reconcile the military with the less bellicose intentions of the emperor fails and brings the nation as a whole closer to jingoism,  with one attempted coup and a rash of assassinations.  For most of the book, Japan seems mired in China,  its every martial action stressed by a fuel supply that requires constant attention.  Title aside, Pearl Harbor receives little attention here, as Yamamoto receives its results from afar. Hoyt gives generous consideration to the extended brawl for Guadacanal, however, the battle which draws Yamamoto closer to the front lines and eventually exposes him to an assassination by fighter plane soon thereafter.  Various military events are recorded here, Midway included, but none receive the treatment of Guadacanal, and for the most part military content is very general, and is included more to show the book's subject at war, frequently frustrated by his subordinates' timidity in pressing forward.  Although Yamamoto's talents as a commanding officer made him a fearful enemy to the United States, he is despite his ambush not villainous. Surprise was a meager advantage to be pressed; disarm the United States quickly and it might leave Japan to its new empire.  Instead he merely drew blood, incited wrath, and fell prey to it himself.   In Yamamoto we thus see the the death of man at the hand of a war he did not want -- but out of a sense of duty, he had to fight.




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

December 6

December 6
© 2002 Martin Cruz Smith
400 pages




Between his girlfriend and a samurai intent on revenge, Harry Niles isn't sure who will try to kill him first.  Raised in Japan to American parents, Harry is a misfit who trouble would find even if he didn't seem to court it, earning money through less-than-licit gambling and currency exchanges. Yet he does, altering Naval ledgers to provoke suspicion and -- hopefully --  ward the Japanese away from attacking the west, and pursuing the wife of a married man despite having his own very jealous mistress, one with a penchant for honor killings.  Though Harry has no overt reason to think his adopted country is about to wage war against his parents, there's a certain something in the air-- indignation and the will to fight.   December 6 takes place over the course of a couple of days; as Harry, pursued by both the military police and  a frustrated  army officer he last saw (and stymied) in Nanjing,  looks for a plane  out. As much as he loves Japan,  he is not Japanese; his heart may give the emperor loyalty, Tokyo may have been his home for decades, but he will never be accepted as anything other than gaijin, an outsider .  Flashback scenes fill out the book and delivers a sense of Harry's sincere love of the Japanese nation despite his status as a perpetual resident alien, and the growing militarism of the state.  As the hour of Japan's great gamble draws near, the police grow desperately bold, needing to know what exactly Harry knows, and eventually a rash of beheadings ensues. December 6 is most interesting for its setting, pre-war Tokyo, here alive with passion and intrigue, streets filled with laughter and the clamor of trade. Soon it will be a wasteland, consumed in fire after Japan chooses to live by the sword.  Harry is an interesting character, sympathetic for his man--of-both-but-neither-world status if for nothing else.  The man who hunts him is also fascinating, though not at first; he starts off as a psychopath, an agent of the wanton murder  in Nanjing, but his violence proves to have less to do with passion, being filled with dark purpose.   I rather liked the un-expected role he took on in the ending. The writing, too, is lovely at times, much more so than the contents.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

This week: yep, still at war


I don't know how most people spend Thanksgiving, but after a day with family eating sweet potatoes and admiring chickens and a late-fall collard garden, I've been reading nonstop about World War 2.  I'm moving closer to the end of 1941, and the war is shifting east, as Hitler's panzers and Hirohito's carriers are on the move.


I've read two more Time-Life histories of the war: The Rising Sun and Russia Besieged.  I picked up The Rising Sun in hopes that it would address Japan's rise as an industrial and colonial power, but that is mentioned as mere prologue. Time-Life's history is principally about the high point of Japanese power, from the December 7 attacks on the Allies in the Pacific,  to the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, where Japan was first stopped and then reversed.  Russia Besieged concerns Operation Barbarossa, in which Germany launched the largest land invasion ever witnessed into the heart of Russia. There's a lengthy section on the brutal siege of St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad,  and the book ends with German retreat at Moscow, driven back by "General Winter".  (Fickle, that one. Wasn't he just helping the Finns fight the Russians?!)   


The Sino-Japanese war is a massive gap for me; I'm familiar with the outlines from a survey course, but otherwise, I know little. That's why I read  The Rape of Nanking, which exacted a psychological toll. In hopes of countering it, I read Flying Tiger: Chennault of China,  which is part-memoir, part-tribute. One of the few stories from the Chinese front that I'm familiar with is that of the Flying Tigers, a group of volunteer American pilots who flew old P-40s and harassed the Japanese as best they could.  I read a particularly fun book on these highs in high school, but this wasn't it.  The Tigers are touched on only briefly here, the book mostly being about the author's role in China's American air force (later America's air force in China), and his adulation of Chennault, the Tigers' leader who created the guerilla air tactics they used to counter the Japanese.

In the coming week or two, expect at least one book on the Eastern front, followed by our first forays into the Pacific!  It won't be exclusively war material, of course, as I'll throw other works just as a break. Cities, livestock, science,  Korean philosophy, murder mysteries -- you never know.  I'd like to be done with this WW2 series by the New Year, but it'll probably bleed over depending on how many books about the air war seduce me.

The Devils' Alliance

The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939 - 1941
© 2014 Roger Moorhouse
432 pages



On August 23rd, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union shocked the world by entering into a nonaggression pact.  They were not merely neighbors and rival powers ruled by domineering men who loathed one another: their respective ideologies viewed the other as the chief menace to civilization.  Yet now, the fists which shook in anger were now extended in friendship, and Europe seemed doomed. Within weeks of the pact's signing, German and Soviet armies had both swept into Poland, igniting the Second World War. The Devils' Alliance is an admirable history of a marriage of convenience, recording why it happened, its effect on the beginning of the war its reception among the party faithful and a horrified Europe, and the breakup that saved civilization. The Devils' Alliance exposes the cynicism of the agreement, and the very nature of the totalitarian state.

Since its creation at the end of the Great War, the Soviet Union had been a European pariah, with a special enmity existing between it and the Nazi state after it came to power. The party line of Nazism was expressly anti-Soviet, viewing Bolshevism as a conspiracy;  fears of communist takeovers were very life of National Socialism, birthing it and giving it strength. The Soviets were no less contemptuous of the counterrevolutionary Nazis, scoffing at their worship of nation and race.  Ultimately, however, each had more in common where it mattered than not. They were the continental outlaws who rejected the political and economic systems of free Europe; both were totalitarian regimes in which the State reigned supreme, with every institution which might have softened or sapped its control either broken or rendered subservient. To regard Nazism and Communism as opposites on a left-right spectrum is inaccurate, for both supported state command of the economy: they merely disagreed on who should be in control. Each man,  Hitler and Stalin, had ambition, and for a time found his 'enemy' an ally to pursue them with. One hand washed the other. Between them, Russia and Germany divided eastern Europe, each invading Poland in turn, and each seizing a third of Scandinavia.  Russia needed help continuing to industrialize; Germany needed raw materials.  The fact that each state had more in common than not is born out by their identical treatment of the Polish, with shootings and deportations fleeing the arrival of the conquests. Poles fleeing from Nazi occupation passed their countrymen fleeing from Soviet occupation, each wondering if the other was not crazy.

"The scum of the Earth, I believe?"
"The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?"

The same reaction could be had from communists and Nazi sympathizers the world over. Overnight,  Stalin and Hitler's seemingly impulsive decision to play nice translated  into movies in both countries being pulled for demonizing the other;  for years the party faithful had been schooled in the evils of the other, and now they were instructed and propagandized to regard the other as a brother-in-arms against western liberalism.  Some, sheepishly followed, like the American communist party answering to Moscow; other fellow travelers began experiencing cognitive dissonance. How could the ideals of the party -- Nazi or Communist -- be taken seriously if it made concordance with the adversary so easily?  No doubt Moscow's turnabout demands influenced George Orwell:  Eurasia has always been at peace with Eastasia?  The communists ranks in particular would be thinned in Britain and France as people reacted to the absurdity.    Once the tree of diplomacy had stopped producing fruit, of course, Hitler would have Barbarossa hew it down. Successive chats failed to convince the Soviets to stop looking at the Balkans so hungrily, and to go bother British India instead, and since the west had by and large been reduced as a threat,  who was left to destroy but the Bolshevik menace?   Enter the panzers rolling into the Soviet Union fueled by Russian oil, attacking tanks produced with German industrial expertise.  The world breathed a sigh of relief,  from a Britain who was no longer the sole object of Nazi malice, to Germany's fellow Axis members who found Joe and Adolf a very odd couple. Ultimately,  the divorce made in heaven would lead to the downfall of Hitler's regime,  as a rebuffed Joe had to pitch woo with the Allies instead.

Juvenile history books may count the Soviet Union among the Allies, but the postwar conflict between the west and Stalin was not a tragic falling-out between brothers.  When Britain stood alone, the Nazi knife at her neck, "Uncle Joe" yawned and admired his new takings.  Nazism and Bolshevism were houses alike in infamy, both responsible for murder at industrial proportions in the millions,  and both intent on spreading the gospel of death throughout the world. They were gangsters who  agreed to stop shooting one another long enough to take care of their mutual enemies, but happily human malice is a two-edged sword, and evil ever self-destructs.  Devils' Alliance is an utterly fascinating history of realpolitik,  which extends not only to the two titular monsters but to the Allies as well.  It would have been easy for Churchill to be contemptuous of the Soviet plea for help, and when he urged Parliament to send such relief in resources as it could afford, he did so not to expand Britain's own power, but in recognition that Hitler waged war not just on Stalin and his army, but on the innocent Russian populace, whose livelihood and lives would be destroyed by the battle between the beasts.    The Devils' Alliance is an excellent take on one of the most dangerous periods in European history.  and stir readers to reflect on how much contemporary politics is driven not by idealism, but the pure lust for greater power.  How many devilish alliances have been crafted between the west and the warren of woeful powers in the middle east?








Friday, November 27, 2015

The Rape of Nanking

The Rape of Nanking
© 1997 Iris Chang
290 pages



Long before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were at war in China.  'War' is not quite the word to describe  the aftermath of their invasion of Nanking, however.  There the vilest work of man was let loose, a genuine catalog of horrors, the ancient glory of China reduced to bedlam that numbs and horrifies the soul.  Throughout history,  cities on the verge of conquest have been offered the same sadistic terms by whatever army approaches: surrender and we'll only steal from you; resist and you and your family will be brutalized and ground into the dust.  Japan's advancing army made good its threats; in the eight weeks that followed the city's capture, every dark impulse, every hidden curiosity, every taboo in the human psyche was pursued and exercised.  Approximately three hundred thousand people were murdered - shot, stabbed, beheaded for sport, thrown in rivers, set on fire, run over, etc --  publicly, coupled with systematic rape, forced sodomy and incest, and the outright desecration of anything imaginable.  The Rape of Nanking testifies to war's ability to make evil corporeal. Some meager consolation is offered in recording the outstanding bravery of the victimized, some who clawed their way out of bits of death, and of a few righteous souls in the city who stood between death and the innocent.  Such courage comes from an unexpected courage, the ranks of mild-mannered professionals, teachers, and physicians working in the city prior to its tortuous wasting. Creating a safety zone and defending it to the best of their ability -- sometimes physically separating bestial soldiers from their intended victims --   their actions preserved the lives and hope of thousands.   The Rape of Nanking was written to horrify;  its author, Iris Chang, had heard stories of it growing up and found the lack of mention in history books disturbing; the incident had become hidden by peacetime politics, the Japanese were seen as a check against postwar Soviet aggression. Chang herself was not an historian, though she does a credible job of presenting differing estimates for the slaughter and draws from Chinese, Japanese, and western accounts alike.  I suspect Chang succeeded in her goal of speaking for the dead and abused;  for this is an account so pointed and severe  that it breaks through mental callouses.  The weight of the horror is hinted at at in the fact that its author later committed suicide at the age of thirty-five.