Thursday, December 13, 2007

This Week at the Library (13/12)

Current Music: "Downtown Train", Rod Stewart

The past few weeks have been spent working on my term paper for German History class: my goal was to show how the German air force in the first world war shaped the role of the Luftwaffe. I was apparently successful in the attempt, as my paper received an A. I had been reading materials for this paper off and on throughout the course of the term, having decided at the beginning of it to cover a topic I with which I was already intimate. Aviation has always been a peculiar interest of mine. I have practically memorized Albert Marrin's The Airman's War, and that is the book that formed most of my knowledge about aerial power in the Second World War.

The first book I read in regard to this subject was The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, written by James S. Corum. Corum follows aviation in Germany from the early 1900s until 1940, focusing on the years between 1918 and 1939. Corum's book was more or less my main source. Corum attempts to deal with some misconceptions about German aerial power -- for instance, the idea that the Luftwaffe was developed solely as a tactical force to be used against enemy soldiers and tanks, and not as a strategic air force that would target enemy cities. The book is quite interesting, and for once that isn't guaranteed: I didn't choose my term paper research books because I knew they would interest me, I chose them because I needed the facts they contained.

Another book I read was David Irving's The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe. My professor actually laughed when he saw the book: as it turns out, Irving is or was a Holocaust-denier. Reading a history book by a Holocaust-denier is like reading a science book by a Young-Earth Creationist. When I found out the author's integrity had been compromised, I attempted to look for sources to verify that this particular book was worth reading. I found no such sources, but I ended up using the book for a few trifling facts about Erhard Milch, who played a role in the administration of the Luftwaffe. Irving's tone is pretty readable. Despite the book's title, it isn't actually about the Luftwaffe. It's about Milch, so it wasn't very usable.

Another key source for me was The Influence of Air Power Upon History, written by Walter Boyne. The Influence of Air Power is a history of military aviation, and I used this primarily for context. Whatever Dr. Corum's complaints are with the book, it's pretty readable. I didn't read the portions that Dr. Corum took issue with, but this wasn't because of his opinion -- I just didn't need to read the whole book to get what I needed. I did read substantial portions of it, just not the entire thing.

After I finished my term paper, you would think that I was sick to death of reading about Germany. Well, think again. I think that my historical main interest is (finally) shifting. See, in ninth grade I was obsessed with the first world war. In tenth grade, I was obsessed with the second world war. In eleventh and twelfth grades, my obsession was the Civil War. From 2004 on until today, my interest has been 1930s America: this began with the Mafia and then broadened to the 1930s. Now I believe that my interest is shifting to Germany. This isn't a new development: this interest has been slowly developing ever since my history professor at WCCS lectured on Bismarck. I then bought a book on German history and was even more interested. That let to me taking this class. I don't know what it is about Germany that interests me so, though. The past couple of years have seen a growing interest in French and German history, so it's not just Germany. My history professor recommend a movie called Downfall about the last days of the Third Reich. The clips I saw on YouTube look fantastic, although I fail to see how Hitler is seen as "sympathetic". In the movie he seems like a screaming lunatic. I guess it's the ex-Pentecostal in me, but I don't respond well to screamers. One of the "related" videos on the side was the "Hitler Rap", which I found hilarious.

Well, hi there peoples!
You know me!
I used to run a little joint called "Germany".
I was number one! The people's choice.
And everybody listened to my mighty voice.
My name is Adolf, I'm on the mike,
I'm gonna hip you to the story of the new third Reich!
It all started down in Munichtown, and pretty soon the word started getting around.
I said to Martin Boorman, I said "Hey Marty!"
"Why don't we throw a little Nazi party?!"
So we had an election -- well, kinda-sorta
And before you know it, hello, new order!
To all those mothers in the Fatherland, I said
Achtung, baby! I got me a plan!
They said "Whatchoo got, Adolf?"
"Whatchoo gonna do?"
I said, 'how about this one:
World War 2!'

Mel Brooks as Adolf Hitler: so hilarious it should be illegal. My favorite part is the face he makes at 1:07- 1:08. I first thought that this clip was from The Producers, so I checked it out. As it turns out, this song is novelty song produced as part of a play about homosexuals in Nazi Germany, called "To Be or Not to Be".

My last book dealing with Germany this week is a bit of pleasure reading, called Germans into Nazis, written by Peter Fritzsche. As you can imagine, Fritzsche is writing to explore how Germany was transformed into Nazi Germany. I realize I say this a lot, but the book is highly readable and very informative. Fritzsche expresses his aim is to do away with some misconceptions about Nazim's rise in Germany. He divides the books into three parts: the Great War, the Weimar Years, and the Nazi rise to power. This is fairly straightforward. Along the way, he deals with misconceptions about Germany. I don't want to repeat them all, but will mention one as an example. The Great Depression is often seen as Hitler's opportunity to seize power, but Fitzsche doesn't think so. Those most affected by unemployment were laborers -- and laborers voted mostly for the Communist party, not the Nazis. The middle class was hardly affected, but their fear of being affected was enough to shape the political scene. The Nazis actually began to lose power right before Hindenburg declared Hitler chancellor. Had Hindenburg not done so, Fritzsche says, Nazism would have dwindled further and the world might not have witnessed the second global war. Again, the book is very readable.

During Thanksgiving, I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Seeing as I quoted numerous parts of the book a couple of weeks ago, I see no real reason to comment on the book other than to express my enjoyment of it. While on the break, I also read The World of Rome, which I found to be quite fascinating. The book is by Michael Grant. The book was, as ever, enjoyable and informative. I'm picky about what books I take home with me: I read from them in the library to see if they're interesting enough to merit my attention. This may be why I so rarely encounter a book that isn't entertaining and informative.

Lastly, I read Montgomery: Biography of a City, by Wayne Greenshaw. This is obviously of personal interest to me, seeing as I grew up near Montgomery and visit it so often that I often refer to it as my hometown. The book was thin, and I thought this unusual. I was able to read the entire book in just thirty minutes, as a matter of fact. I'm a quick reader, but the book isn't really an in-depth history of the city. It covers the first 175 years of Montgomery's history, but each section is fairly short. WW1 and WW2 only merit a couple of pages each, for instance. The book was enjoyable enough, and I did learn something from it: namely, that the town is the result of two towns merging, and this is the reason the streets in the city center often don't meet one another as they ought. One city's streets were laid out in one direction and the other's in another.

I googled for this picture to show the streets, and strangely enough Montgomery: the River City is also written by Greenshaw. This may support my idea that Biography of a City is intended for younger readers (hence it being so short) and The River City is intended for adult readers like myself. The picture doesn't show the street situation as clearly as I would like, but you can sort of see what I mean by looking at the left-center section of the book, between "The River" and "Wayne".

I intended to read that book about evolution this week, but what can I say? Biology bores me and I had a term paper and finals to prepare for.

Pick of the Week: The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War

In two days, I will be forced to pack my things and go back to Selma for the winter holiday. I rather like living in quiet Montevallo, so I am not looking forward to the move. Selma is quite dull. The only thing for me to do there is visit the library, and that I will be doing -- most assuredly. I am not sure what my reading will consist of during the Christmas break, but I know most assuredly that I will be reading some French history to prepare for my class, Christmas may be quiet enough that I might start updating weekly again, rather than once every two and a half weeks like I tend to do now.

Books I've checked out to read over the holiday:
  • France 1814 - 1919: The Rise of a Liberal-Democratic Society by John B. Wolf
  • The French Nation 1814 - 1940 by D.W. Brogan
  • Humanism and America, edited by Norman Foerster. (This one should be interesting, having been written in 1930.)
  • Greece and Rome: Builders of Our World
  • Roman Life

I rarely mention the movies I watch from my libraries, which perhaps I should.
- Moby Dick, by Patrick Stewart. I checked this movie out during Thanksgiving and watched it then. I'm a fan of Patrick Stewart (his version of A Christmas Carol is the only one I watch every Christmas), so I wanted to watch this.

- Walking with the Dinosaurs: this movie is produced by the BBC. It is excellent, as I've come to expect from the BBC. The movie examines the three great ages of the dinosaurs (the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous) and brings the dinosaurs to life with computer imaging. They presented the movie as an actual documentary, and inserted the strangest little bits of realism. For instance, a dinosaur tail accidentally hits the "camera" when it beaches. In another section, a mother carnivore (I can't remember all of their names) had three hatchlings, and one of them was a mistfit for some reason. The narrator said that he probably would not last long. The film then cuts to other dinosaurs, but ten minutes later the view goes back to these carnivores. The narrator then says "Already there is no sign of the youngest", as if this was an actual documentary where real things actually happened. I found these little touches to be amusing.

- Before the Dinosaurs is produced by the Discovery Channel and "records" the life of animals that lived before the dinosaurs -- huge sea-dwelling scorpions, for instance, dragonflies with six-feet wingspans, and the first fish. The movie ends at the beginning of the Triassic Age, and I would bet that this movie was designed to be sort of a prequel to Walking with Dinosaurs because they show the same "first dinosaur" and say the same things about him, exactly.

- 1776: a musical about the Declaration of Independence. I had heard that William Daniels (Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World)'s role as John Adams in this movie caused the high school that his Mr. Feeny character is principle of to be named John Adams High, but I had never seen the movie. Then a few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a YouTube video of "But, Mr. Adams" and I was fairly hooked. I checked the movie out and liked it all the more. I like musicals, American history, and William Daniels, so I couldn't help but like this.

- Good Morning, Vietnam: I've been a fan of Robin Williams ever since I watched Jack. What I love about Robin Williams' acting is that his characters are so believably human. Other actors can be brilliant in some respects but "off" in others -- but not Williams'. This is especially true of Patch Adams, which I think is some of his best work. He doesn't disappoint in this movie; it's hilarious and moving as well.