Thursday, March 13, 2008

This Week at the Library

'Twas in the days of '76, when freemen young and old
All fought for independence then, each hero brave and bold…
'Twas then the noble Stars and Stripes
In triumph did appear,
And defended by brave patriots,
The Yankee volunteers.

Books in this Update:
1776, David McCullough
- The Jerk with the Cell Phone, Barbara Pachter and Susan Magee
- Why Lincoln Matters, Mario Cuomo
- The Great War: Walk in Hell, Harry Turtledove

This week's reading began with David McCullough's 1776. This book's cover art caught my eye as I strode through the library one evening, and I paused to examine it. A quick perusal betrayed that the book had a readable tone and seemed interesting enough, so I checked it out along with a few others. 1776 is a book dealing a critical year of the American Revolution. McCullough tells the story of this year using source materials from American soldiers, loyalist civilians, and British officers. It is a very readable book, in my opinion -- I was able to finish it during a weekend away from the university. The book is divided into three parts (much like Gaul): The Siege, Fateful Summer, and The Long Retreat. For those unfamiliar with the way the Revolutionary War proceeded, it was actually a rather bleak affair for those hoping for an American victory. Washington spends much of the early part of the war either in retreat from the British army in an effort to keep his army intact or dealing with the American bureaucracy. What I appreciate about this book is that it shows both Washington's failings and his triumphs. I recommend 1776 heartily.

My next read was a very light one -- The Jerk with the Cell Phone: A Guide for the Rest Of Us, by Barbara Pachter and Susan Magee. This, as you might imagine, is a short book that complains about cell-phone addicts and offers tips for how to deal with them. The book explains the various types of cell-phone jerks and then offers vary information. There's really not that much to the book, but it is enjoyable enough to read if you find people yelling in their phones during dinner to be a tad disruptive.

My next book was a bit more serious. Why Lincoln Matters explores Lincoln's heritage and attempts to make connections between Lincoln's policy decisions and the policy decisions of presidents that claim to follow in his footsteps. The book is by Mario Cuomo, and the name struck me as being familiar for some reason -- a good reason, it turns out. He was once the governor of New York. Cuomo examines Lincoln's record on war, liberty, civil rights, the role of government, religion, race, and more. He then compares these to other president's records -- F. Roosevelt and George W. Bush are the two names that are mentioned most, and Bush most of all. Lincoln is not without his flaws, and this is the reason I enjoyed the book so. People tend to deify the man. In all I found the book to be quite interesting, and I recommend you give it a go if you are at all interested in the politics of Abraham Lincoln.

My last read for this week was Harry Turtledove's The Great War: Walk in Hell. Walk in Hell is third in a series of alternative history books. In the first two, the Confederacy succeeded in seceding with the help of Great Britain and France. When the Confederacy attempted to expand, the United States objected and the two European powers again intervened. Having learned its lesson at the end of the first book --- get allies, plan for wars carefully -- the United States adopt Prussian-style militarism and overall readiness, creating a General Staff of its own. The General Staff represented the German military elite. Only 40 officers a year were invited to join its ranks, and those invited had to enroll in a "War Academy" where they were trained to think like strategists. In the second book, the United States and Germany are thrown into war when their mutual ally (Austria) declares war on Serbia for it not completing kowtowing to Austrian demands. The Great War begins essentially as it began in real life, but this time the United States declare (not declares; US government has evolved differently) war on the Confederacy and the Dominion of Canada. The south is also weakened by a socialist revolution (the socialists being the heavily-abused blacks). As mentioned prior, technology advances in almost the same way in Turtledove's books.

I am shamelessly rooting for the United States and Germany, having absolutely no love for the Confederacy. As such, I was pleased to read of the south's woes and the United States' progress against its southern foe. The story is told through the eyes of viewpoint characters, all fictional. The viewpoint characters are varied -- Canadian farmers, southern aristocrats, socialist revolutionaries, United States navy men, and so on. Very few infantrymen are used as viewpoint characters, presumably so because they have such a high rate of mortality. The story is enjoyable, although some readers may object to the historically used terminology. I look forward to the next book in the series, Breakthrough. That will end the "Great War" series -- I'm trusting in the American-German alliance's favor.

Pick of the Week: David McCullough's 1776. As much as I liked Why Lincoln Matters, with me it's difficult to beat a good historical narrative.

Next week: I'll begin reading R.W. Southern's The Making of the Middle Ages and Turtledove's Breakthrough. I make no other guarantees -- while I will be doing research for my paper on the European Union (specifically, France's role in creating it), I doubt that I will read entire books on the subject like I did last semester for my papers on Jeanne d'Arc and the Luftwaffe.

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