Wednesday, May 1, 2019

English broadside

Well...this has been the saddest Read of England, and the saddest reading month, since my college days.  At least the few I read were all fairly good! Read of England isn't quite over, as I'll be working on a few more books into May.

Earlier in the month I read Arthur Herman's  To Rule the Waves, a history of the British navy which paid special attention to the impact the Royal Navy had on English and sometimes global history. This went beyond the obvious, in that the British navy was created and maintained by its massive navy, and that it was the main impediment to the plans of Napoleon for subduing the nation of shopkeepers. Although the backbone of the book is a straightforward (and detailed) naval history,  Hermanexplores areas where the navy had influence in politics and navy.  The English Civil War, for instance,  was caused partially by the crown abusing "ship money" taxes,  and the Navy would play a key part of Cromwell's victory, as most seamen supported the roundheads. Much to my delight, Herman also covered the scientific  achievements of the English navy, especially in the 19th century.

Shortly after this I finally finished The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall,'s hard to describe. When I first picked it up, I thought it was a Jeeves meets Sherlock Holmes parody, which I thought would be interesting.  Jeeves would make an excellent detective, I was sure, and Wooster would provide comic relief. There's no denying that this is a funny novel: from the beginning,  Dolley captured Wooster's voice (or rather, "Worchester",  and Jeeves has become Reeves) splendidly:

"'What ho, what ho, what ho,' I said. 'I’m Roderick, your long lost relation — risen from the sidings, so to speak. Reports of my flattening greatly exaggerated, what? Takes more than the 4:10 from Buenos Aires to keep a good Baskerville-Smythe down.'"

However, when Dolley was focused more on the Sherlock side of things, that Wodehouse razzle-dazzle fades quite a bit, so it's a little....teeter-tottery.  I doubt that's a word, but the meaning's there.  The book is also a..."steampunk" mystery, which is not a thing I've read any of, and to be perfectly honest I don't know what it entails. Here, it mean that there were reanimated bodies, Frankenstein creations, robots, and people sewing animal parts on themselves to function better, like taxidermy meets transhumanism. Altogether it was just a little too weird for me.  

I finished the month up with An Empire on the Edge, in which a British historian who has mostly focused on Puritan America before tries to explain why Parliament wound up fighting its own people and creating through apathy and neglect a new nation. Bunker argues that Parliament paid so little attention to what was going on in America -- viewing it merely as a place that provided raw materials  and a market for the empire, with the humans therein existing only to serve the mercantile economy --  that it  was caught sorely be surprise when the Gaspee burned and the tea was soaked in Boston harbor.   Distracted by continental goings-on (Britain was alone, as the four other great powers had sorted themselves into cozy couples), and not helped by the fact that it was rather new the business of global empire,  the British did not respond to the crisis so much as react and inflame it further.  The Britain of a century later would be far more thoughtful about the way it handled its growing empire in India, but in the 18th century there simply wasn't a plan. There were also blunders on the American side, like the repeated appeals to a king who had no real power: it was Parliament that levied the taxes and intolerable acts upon the colonies, proof that tyranny is not just the product of sole tyrants.  Definitely of interest.


  1. i really enjoyed both the tv version and the book about John Harrison and his ordeals with the authorities over his chronometer (Sobel wrote it, i think). the navy's part in the affair was pretty notorious...
    what with King George and the stubborn Lord North, there wasn't much even mr Franklin could do to ameliorate British attitudes, aside from making friends with the French...
    i tend to glom onto anything re Sherlock and have been chagrined occasionally... tx for the warning about this one...

    1. There are some other Jeeves/Wooster retakes out there, although they're more...not serious, but not as fanciful. More like attempts to tell a Jeeves story with the same setup. I've often been tempted to have Bertie turn up at Downton Abbey, but I haven't thought up any trouble for him to get in to..

    2. YES... I've been waiting for a Downton Abbey / Jeeves and Wooster crossover!

  2. I have lots of naval stuff in various piles - or at least sea based stuff.... Maybe it's my Viking heritage breaking through... [lol]

  3. These all look like interesting books. Empire on the Edge would be of particular interest to me as it focuses upon The American Revolution. Though history is full of mistakes, it is somewhat astounding just how many both sides made during that conflict.


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