Tuesday, August 19, 2008

{Review} Mission with LeMay: My Story by General Curtis E. LeMay (with MacKinlay Kantor)

LeMay's autobiography is a surprisingly readable book, considering how often autobiographies tend to lean towards endless philosophizing and finger-pointing at peers and contemporaries. LeMay, for those who are not familiar with him, is one of those larger than life characters who not only made a significant impact on the course of WW2, but for the next twenty years was a major factor in shaping not only the United States Air Force but also American foreign policy through his development of the Strategic Air Combat and the commitment to around the clock alert status for the nuclear armed aircraft under his command.

He was a member of the United States Army Air Corps during the 1930s and participated in some of the most significant events of the Corp during that time, such as the "bombing" of the USN battleship Utah and the locating of the liner Rex 800 miles off the coast of the USA, demonstrating the ability of the Army Air Corps to act as a strategic arm. He describes these activities, as well as his later WW2 and post war roles, rather well (you can read the Wiki link for LeMay for more info, it's really rather impressive).

LeMay's style as a first person writer (the contributions of Kator versus LeMay are not defined) is fairly readable, although there is a definite sense of someone who knows he is right telling the story. Towards the end of the book he does lose his talent for telling a story and instead indulges himself in political diatribes, so many may just want to skip the last part of the book.

Recommended to anyone who would like a very "I was there" view of some of the most critical command decisions of WW2 and the early Cold War.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Monday, August 11, 2008

{Review} The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Land Warfare: An Illustrated World View by Byron Farwell

Byron Farwell is an author well know to those of us with interests in Victorian armies, wars and leaders. Most of his books are narrative histories, well written and enjoyable. Surprisingly, this single volume encyclopedia is just as interesting (as encyclopedias go, that is) in it's own way. Open up the book to any random page, pick an entry and start reading. Soon you'll be jumping to entries referenced by the first, and soon an hour is gone as you read up on some obscure battle in some obscure war and now you'll just have to learn more about it! Very much recommended to anyone with an interest in the period.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Thursday, August 7, 2008

You know you are really out there when...

... you sort your LibraryThing library and find that that there are 104 books of which you have the only copy on LibraryThing. Hmm, I thought I had some unique books, but not over a hundred.

{Review} Confound and Destroy: 100 Group and the Bomber Support Campaign by Martin Streetly

During WW2, the Royal Air Force 100 Group provided electronic warfare support for the nightly British bombing raids over occupied Europe. This book is something of a history of the group and it's operations. I say something of a history because really only part of the book is a history of the operations, and it's rather dull. The rest of the book is composed of numerous diagrams and drawings of radio equipment, antenna installations, maps, and all sorts of illustrations that would be very much at home in a technical manual. This is most definitely NOT a book for someone looking for some exciting WW2 "war in the air" action. It is a serious, scholarly, technical look at the functions of the group. Even then, the book is not for the faint of heart. If you really, really want to learn more about WW2 airborne electronic warfare then it would be worth your time. Still, it is about the only really in-depth book I've found on this particular subject.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

{Review} Armed with Cameras by Peter Maslowski

As I have mentioned before, I like books about the"what", "how" and "why" rather than the "who" and "when". I also prefer books that cover subjects that are off the beaten track of popular military history. So I was delighted to come across this book. Maslowski writes about the photographers and cameramen of the United States armed services, their duties and equipment. He also related stories of their activities both at the front and also behind the lines. Military photographers often went in harm's way to get the stills and movies that civilians saw in their newspapers, magazines and in the newsreels, but rarely were personally identified or credited. Maslowski describes the subject of documentaries like San Pietro that stirred controversy for their frank depictions of the realisms of battle. He also touches on the more technical aspects of the profession, such as film quality and the development of lighter, better cameras as the war progressed.

This book is a narrative history and is rather anecdotal at times, but is an easy read for those who wish to learn more about the subject.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Monday, August 4, 2008

{Review} Nero Wolfe: The Archie Goodwin Files by Marvin Kaye (editor)

When a few days ago I reviewed The Nero Wolfe Files, I was rather uncomplimentary regarding the limited amount of content and the quality of the content itself. Well, I am very pleased to report that in this subsequent book editor Marvin Kaye has rectified these shortcomings quite nicely. The new book is twice the size of the other and contains a much better selection of articles from The Gazette, the official publication of The Wolfe Pack, a society dedicated to exploring the nuances of that remarkable detective, his sidekick Archie and the author Rex Stout.

The book is composed of four sections. The first is a collection of articles about both the character himself and associated subjects, such as the Post Office, love and marriage, legal aspects of the Wolfe plots, orchids, and even references to the theatre in the stories. My favorite article in this section is "Nero Wolfe: Logomachizer", which discusses the roles of books in the Wolfe stories [editor Kaye notes that Logomachize means to contend with words].

The next section contains articles about Archie Goodwin, including rather obvious subjects as Archie's love life, his relationship to Nero, and not so obviously, an investigation to discern Goodwin's likely birthdate.

The third section's collection includes exploration into the actual location of Wolfe's brownstone, the role of Lon Cohen in the stories, the secretaries (good and bad), and the possible origin of Wolfe's nemesis Zeck.

The final section contains three short detective stories, a stage play and a sonnet, all featuring Nero and company. The story "Firecrackers" is a special treat as we finally read about the first meeting of Nero and Archie.

With such excellent content I happily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Nero Wolfe, or even in the detective genre in general. Fair warning however, the book does contain many spoilers, but then people who get this book will most likely have already read most of the stories anyway!

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Friday, August 1, 2008

A great quote

I was just adding American Watchmaking: a Technical History of the American Watch Industry 1850-1930 by Michael Harrold to my LibraryThing account and came across this wonderful dedication:
My father said that anything is interesting if you bother to read about it.
How true, how true...

Book reviews, Google and the Wikipedia

Just as bit of musing on my part. As I mentioned in a previous commentary about how I write my reviews, the availability of the Internet, Google and the Wikipedia have revolutionized the concept of a book review. For those who are old enough to remember not only the pre-WWW world, but also the lack of existence of mega-sized book retailers, detailed book reviews were often the only indication we could get to determine whether ordering a book was worthwhile. What did the book address? To what degree of detail? What about maps and illustrations? Of course my main area of concentration in those days, as it is now, is non-fiction. Novels you could find much more easily, but decent non-fiction, specially decent military history, was something very rare in the local small bookstore.

So book reviews had to cover all those areas, and also had to assume that the reader wasn't necessarily familiar with the subject matter, so part of the review had to educate the reader to some degree. My review of Byron Farwell's history of WW1 in Africa, which I have just posted below, would have had to contain some degree of information about the campaigns because it was quite probable that the potential buyer might not even have been aware of them and so would need to be at least informed about their existence and why a book about them would be interesting.

Fast forward to today. Do a search in Wikipedia for "WW1", then click on the "African campaigns" link in the table of contents and you get a link that directs you to the major article "African theatre of World War I". Now as a reviewer I could duplicate a lot of that information, but with time at a premium I leave it to the reader to go, at their option, to bone up on the history if they wish. So I leave to myself just the task of saying whether the book does a good job of covering the subject and to recommend what type of reader the book would appeal to.

{Review} The Great War in Africa, 1914-1918 by Byron Farwell

While many readers are familiar with actions on the Western Front in World War 1, far fewer are aware of the fighting that took place across the continent of Africa. In this very readable book, Farwell presents an overview of the campaigns fought by the Allied Powers to seize German colonies and outposts and destroy their forces. Many, such as the invasions of German Namibia, Togoland, and Kamerun, occurred quickly and efficiently, but the campaign for German East Africa lasted throughout the war as Allied forces chased an elusive German guerrilla army.

As is typical of Farwell's books, the narrative is well paced and filled with interesting stories and characters. It is not an in-depth study but with the centenary of WW1 approaching this is an excellent introduction into these relatively unknown but fascinating theaters of war.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book