Monday, July 28, 2008

{Review} The Court Martial of General George Armstrong Custer by Lawrence A. Jones

This is a novel that is chock fill of real historic detail, valid suppositions and great storytelling. The author is a military lawyer and so the account of the court-martial is detailed and convincing. The basis of the story is simple; suppose Custer had survived Little Big Horn? The book is not some overblown action story or historical romance. It is, as accurately as the author can surmise, what the subsequent court-martial of Custer would have been like. But it is not a dry supposition; Jones does a marvelous job in making his players interesting, memorable but completely in character. His protagonist is the chief prosecutor for the army and we see most of the story through his eyes, but we also are witness to events taking place from out West to the White House.

We listen in rapt attention to the testimony of Generals Terry and Crook, who led the expedition, explain how Custer exceeded his orders, and to Benteen and Reno as they retell the battle. There are other witnesses as well, but much is also going on behind the scenes as the government wrestles with conflicting goals; punish the man who brought such disaster on the army, but also defend the military actions of his superiors and the leaders back in Washington.

Jones also does a fantastic job in setting the scene. The court-martial is held in New York City in the late 1870s and Jones adds authenticity and atmosphere when we leave the courtroom to go to eat at Delmonico's or tour down Fifth Avenue.

I happily recommend this book to those who like their historic fiction with more emphasis on the history and also those who might be interested in learning more about the Battle of Little Bighorn and the political and military actions and discussions leading up to the battle and subsequent to it.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

{Review} Dreadnought by Robert K. Massie

This is the prequel to Massie's Castles of Steel (my review). In this facinating tale Massie tells the story of the naval arms race between Great Britain and Germany in the decades leading up to the first world war. As he would do in Castles of Steel, Massie concentrates on the personalities of the government and military leaders, who often used the naval race for their own purposes to further their careers or to assuage their paranoia. He stays away from technical descriptions and evaluations, instead concentrating on the storytelling. He relates how leaders of both nations alternated between a fear of out of control budgets and eventual war and the fear that should they appear weak or vacillating to their peers, leaders and subordinates. There are many lessons for the current generation in this tale.

I would strongly recommend this not only to those with an interest in naval history, but also to those who enjoy a good non-fiction tale of intrigue, power and conflict.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

{Review} Going Downtown: The War Against Hanoi and Washington by Jack Broughton

This is Jack Broughton's sequel to Thud Ridge. As an F-105 Thunderchief pilot during the Vietnam War, he flew many missions over North Vietnam, some of which are retold in this book (the first book does some of them as well). Often hamstrung by rules of engagement established by politicians without regard to military necessity or survival, he became disenchanted with the leadership and soon was flagged as a troublemaker. Broughton was finally court martialed for attacking ships in Haiphong harbor. They were made strictly off-limits by the politicians because some were Russian, but many mounted anti-aircraft guns and shot down American pilots. Broughton finally became so incensed at this that he strafed the ships on one mission. He was court martialed and convicted. Much later Congress overturned the conviction, but much too late to be of use to Broughton. The latter part of the book relates the story of the legal proceeding and the subsequent actions Broughton took to publicize the government's cover up of it's ineptness.

I would recommend this book for those who are interested in the air war in Vietnam. It does rather bog down towards the end in the politics, but should be considered a necessary read for those of the current generation who may not be aware of how badly the Vietnam air war was conducted by Washington.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

{Review} Moments of Terror: The Story of Antarctic Aviation by David Burke

For those with interests in aviation or exploration, this book is a real find. Many people are familiar with Admiral Byrd's exploration of the seventh continent including his flyover of the South Pole in his aircraft the Floyd Bennett. But few are aware that aviation in Antarctica has been present since some of the earliest expeditions. Small float planes provided the ability to scout for paths through the sea ice and reconnoiter potential overland trails for expeditions based on ships. Once land bases were established, aircraft often were the only means of communication and rescue.

Moments of Terror is also the story of the more colorful aviators of Terra Australis Incognita. Few people today have heard of Lincoln Ellsworth, but in the 1930s he was as well known as Charles Lindberg. A colorful character, who among his other quirks strongly admired Wyatt Earp (and flew with Earp's actual gun in his plane). The book related the tales of his famous Antarctic cross-continent flight and his other flights there which made him a household name.

More recent aviation activity is also covered in detail. The author relates the story of the C-130 Hercules and it's association with Antarctica, becoming the workhorse of the US Navy, delivering personnel and supplies all the way to the South Pole in flights that might seem routine but are often fraught with dangers and difficulties.

The book comes well illustrated with over 300 photos, maps and drawings. The writing combines some first person tales with the author's informal storytelling style. The book remains interesting throughout, from the stories of fragile biplanes perched precariously on the decks of tiny ships to tourist flights in jumbo jets.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book