Monday, July 21, 2008

Stack o' Books

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm a member of the Bookmooch community. Sometimes I get a book or two a week, sometimes....

The stack is fifteen inches tall, but to be fair that's an Amazon order box second from the bottom. Still, it's great to be part of Bookmooch.

And for those confused about that green box in the photo, that's a VCR tape, as in Video Cassette Recorder. Your folks probably have one up in the attic ;-)

Bookmooch and me

Besides this blog and my LibraryThing account, I'm also a Bookmoocher. I realize that to be as confusing as possible my Bookmooch account is under another name, but who doesn't have a bunch of personalities on the Internet? Visit the Bookmooch home page to get info and start an account. It's pretty darn simple to use, only costs you money (as postage) when you send out a book, and you can get the satisfaction of helping charities and other organizations, and also get rid of those copies of The Babysitter's Club that have clogging up your attic.

Flattery and the Strategist's Personal Library

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While I have had an account on LibraryThing for quite a while, I never have gotten around to writing reviews. When I finally decided to spend some time and start posting, I noticed that besides just putting the reviews on the LibraryThing book page, it was also an option to start a blog and put my reviews there. I got this idea from the Strategist's Personal Library (SPL) blog by jmnlman. It's a very good blog and also a great source of temptation to get more books. Anyway, I just want to mention the SPL here so he doesn't think I'm just ripping him off! j/k

Review: GHOSTS OF THE ETO: American Tactical Deception Units in the European Theater, 1944 - 1945 by Jonathan Gawne

Ghosts is one of interesting books that reveal a lesser know side of World War 2, in this case tactical deception. Tactical deception is the art of deceiving the enemy as to the strength, location, or intent of a combat unit, as opposed to strategic deception which can be considered to be misleading the enemy as to actions that might affect an entire theater of war, for instance fooling the enemy into thinking that you are going to land at the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy.

Ghosts primarily deals with a single unit, the US 23rd Special Troops. This unit, or parts of it, was assigned to various commands of the US Army in Europe in 1944-45. It's role was to deceive the enemy into thinking that a real combat unit was someplace it wasn't, or to mask the movement of a combat unit by misleading the enemy into thinking it had gone to somewhere else. There were also other tasks undertaken by the unit. These deceptions were accomplished by using explosives and speakers to mimic artillery fire, phantom radios to simulate the normal wireless traffic of a real combat unit, trucks or half-tracks mounting large speakers to replicate the sound of a large unit moving, and many others.

The book contains a wealth of information concerning these deception techniques and their employment, but sadly the author spends many chapters covering operations that are repetitious to ones previously described. He does carefully include maps to cover the operations, but they aren't all that useful to illuminate the hows and whys of the operations, just where and whens. As I read the book I found myself skimming over chapters once I had determined that it contained nothing new of interest to me. As a unit history this book has much to commend it, but as a study of tactical deception it does tend to get boring after a while.

LibraryThing link to this book

Review: Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire by Simon Winchester

The copy I have of this book was published in 1984, so much of the political and other information is very out of date. However, as a travelogue with some very astute and perhaps controversial observations it is still a very enjoyable read. Winchester is a favorite author of mine, Krakatoa and A Crack In The Edge of the World being a couple of my favorites. In Outposts however Winchester relates his personal travels to the (at the time) remaining colonial outposts of the British Empire. He also shares his thoughts on how the British government has ignored or short-changed the residents of these outposts. He does at time seem to take a long time to reach a point, and often skims over many aspects of where he visits with nary an explanation, but if you are willing to let him be the guide you will find it an enjoyable if sometimes frustrating journey.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Review: The Guinness Book Of Espionage by Mark Lloyd

This is one of those hard to classify books. It's not really a narrative history of espionage, but it's not really an encyclopedia or reference work. It does have some chapters devoted to the history of spying and also to current activities such as industrial espionage, but none of the accounts of really detailed as much as they are just interesting snippets of information or even trivia. Other chapters relate the nuts and bolts of the spying business, from miniature cameras to an entire chapter devoted to airborne espionage, including a number of entries for current intelligence gathering aircraft. There is quite a number of pages devoted to British espionage efforts in occupied Europe in WW2, including some fascinating detail about their radios. There are also long detailed retelling of some of the more important espionage scandals of the second half of the twentieth century, such as the Kim Philby affair. However, other affairs and incidents are only briefly covered or completely ignored. Probably the best way to assess this book is to see it as a sort of Whitman Sampler of spying. You get a taste of this and a nibble of that and perhaps you'll find a subject into which you would like to delve further. Overall it's a fairly easy to read overview of the subject.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Review: Last of the Flying Clippers: The Boeing B-314 Story by M.D. Klaas

This is another entry in the Schiffer Library of big, glossy but fairly high priced books. In this case the price is well justified. The author, who native language is apparently not English, tells the complete story of the Boeing B-314 Flying Clipper. There is just a marvelous amount of detail about the original concept for the aircraft, the actions by Pan-Am to fund construction, the headaches of international diplomacy to negotiate landing rights overseas, and so on and so forth. An entire chapter is devoted to a walk-through of the aircraft, while another details the training and career progression of the Clipper crews. The book covers the pre-war flights by Pan-Am and then in even more detail relates the wartime activities of the aircraft when they were operated by Pan-Am for the military and also by the British government. Finally the short post war lives of the various aircraft are followed, till they were either lost in accidents or broken up for scrap. And in the middle of all this there are the odd chapters just describing what it was like to fly across the ocean on a clipper. Most definitely recommended. And one bit of trivia for you. The Boeing B-314 Flying Clipper was the only aircraft known to have included a stand up urinal!

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Review: The Winter War Russia Aganist Finland by Richard W. Condon

the winter war: Russia against Finland by Richard W. Condon - This is one of the old (early 1970s) one dollar trade sized paperbacks put out by Ballantines. The original series was called "Ballantine's History of World War 2" but they realized that was rather limiting and so it became "Ballantine's History of the Violent Century". The series featured many illustrations, photos and maps in the 160 page book as opposed to most mass market paperbacks of the time which featured few illustrations and perhaps a photo section.

In "the winter war" (yes, it's not capitalized on the cover) the author gives a brief but thorough account of the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40, including the events leading up to the Russian invasion and the post-war effects. The book does not give deep details on orders of battle, troop counts or weapon specs, but as a narrative history of the war it is fairly thorough in it's retelling of the significant battles and other activities. There are a decent number of maps which are clear and well rendered. The text is well edited and sharply honed to tell the story without extraneous personal accounts, although there are some stories of individual heroics and ordeals. It strikes an excellent balance between a more scholarly report on the war and an easy to read narrative.

I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to gain an understanding of this little known but very significant conflict. It is much more thorough than a Wikipedia entry, or even an Osprey Campaign book, but not so detailed as a full book treatment. These old Ballantine books can be hard to find, but if you can locate one in decent shape they can be wonderful additions to any military history library.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

Kicking off my Blog

I've never blogged before, so this should be interesting. I'm planning on using this blog to post book reviews linked from my LibraryThing account. Just how many I'll be able to post depends on real life and that's always unpredictable.