Tag: Book Review

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Reading the Enemy’s Mail

 

One of the most storied commanders of World War II was German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. A hero in his own country he was Britain’s most admired enemy during that war. He gained much of his reputation while commanding the Afrika Korps against the British in Egypt. Rommel claimed his success was due to his ability to think like his opposite number, putting himself inside the mind of his opponent. It turned out Rommel was not reading his enemy’s mind. He was reading his mail.

“War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East,” by Gershom Gorenberg, examines espionage and signal intelligence during the 1940-42 African campaigns.

Gorenberg takes a fresh look at World War II in Africa using previously unpublished memoirs and interviews of surviving participants (some made years ago, saved and archived) and recently declassified war records. Many records, especially those relating to wartime espionage and signal intelligence remained classified into the opening years of the twenty-first century.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Completion of an Epic Fantasy Trilogy

 

In 2011, “Toward the Gleam” appeared. A fantasy, the book’s premise was that J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth legendarium were based on actual events. Author T. M. Doran bases a central character on Tolkien, John Hill, who find a prehistoric manuscript preserved over thousands of years. Set in the twentieth century, “Towards the Gleam” follows forces of good and evil contending for possession of the manuscript.

A sequel, “The Lucifer Ego” followed in 2018. The manuscript, safely hidden at a monastery gets stolen. Oxford University archaeologist Frodo Lyle Stuart gets recruited by his Uncle Henry to recover the document, the inspiration for “Lord of the Rings.” That book ends with the manuscript returned to safe storage, there to remain.

Or will it?

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The New York-Based Slave Trade

 

One of history’s curious episodes was a rise in transatlantic slave trading based in the United States in 1850 that continued through 1863. It occurred despite the abolition of the slave trade by Great Britain in 1807. The United States followed in 1808, with a long decline in illegal slave trading by US ships between 1808 and 1850.

“The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage,” by John Harris, tells the story of this resurgence in the slave trade, including the reasons behind it.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Fighting On Despite Desperate Odds

 

Why do men fight, and why are willing they willing to continue to fight to the last man, preferring death to surrender? T. E. Lawrence’s said men go to war “because the women were watching.” According to Michael Walsh, in his new book, Lawrence’s answer holds more truth than irony. Men fight for their families.

“Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost,” by Michael Walsh, investigates the last man phenomena. It explores why men fight, and why they are willing to continue fighting even when they know they will lose.

Walsh examines history through the lens of combat, starting with the Ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae and continuing through the Marine retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in the Twentieth Century. In thirteen chapters he explores sixteen last-stand battles. Some, including Thermopylae, Masada, and the Alamo, the defenders lost and dying almost to the last man. In others, like Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Pavlov’s House at Stalingrad, defenders triumphed against terrible odds.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. A New York State of Language

 

New Yawk English. You know it when you hear it. It is unique and serves as a cultural marker.

“You Talkin’ To Me? The Unruly History of New York English,” By E. J. White tells the story of New York English. It is as much about why New Yorkers talk the way they do as about how they talk.

A study of New York linguistics, told by someone who is a linguistics expert, it is not a dry, scholarly tome. Rather it is as lively as Brooklynese, told with Bugs Bunny insouciance and Archie Bunker confidence. The book opens up with a study of New Yorkers’ favorite obscenity. More than a term describing human reproduction, New Yorkers use it as an endearment, a qualifier, and an expression of respect. (Only in New York.)

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Book Review: Thinking Orthodox

 

“What truly makes Orthodox Christianity different? Is it simply that we do not have a pope? That we preserve ancient liturgical forms and rituals? That married men can be priests?
The question does not lend itself to a simple answer because the reality is complex. In fact, the essence of Orthodox uniqueness lies far beyond these fundamentals… It is hidden, subtle, deeper than the outward forms, customs, or specific theological beliefs that manifest the divergence. The Orthodox phronema (“mentality,” “stance,” or “approach”) is the foundation of Orthodox Christianity. It is usually unexpressed and unexamined, and rarely discussed, but it affects not simply what we believe and why but — above all else — how we think.”⁠1

It needs to be said at the outset that Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind, by Dr. Eugenia Constantinou, is not exactly a book of Orthodox theology (though it contains much). It might be described as a book about Orthodox theology. But it is better described as a book about how to begin to think and understand like an Orthodox Christian, and so to understand Orthodox theology, while avoiding traps, heresies, and dangers along the way.  

The book is guide to understanding how the very culture we live in is imbued with a mindset (a phronema, to use the Greek idiom the author introduces) and spirit that is very often hostile to, or at least at odds with Orthodox Christianity. Even Western Christianity, in both its Catholic and Protestent forms, has a very different mindset. In this the book is a valuable guide for converts, inquirers, and even cradle-Orthodox who may not be aware how different that understanding is. But the book is of great value even for non-Orthodox Christians, for much of it is a guide for our times, where Christianity is in retreat, and where the internet can deceive us all into thinking ourselves experts after half an hour on Wikipedia, or lure us towards extremists and zealots who seek division. Much of Dr. Constantinou’s book should indeed be read by all Christians who could find themselves arguing theology with strangers through a keyboard.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Action in the Dark Days of the Battle of the Atlantic

 

C. S. Forester was one of the most popular authors of the middle twentieth century. He died in 1966. Best known for his Horatio Hornblower novels, he wrote many other books, including mysteries and many other sea stories.

“The Good Shepherd,” by C. S. Forester, was one of those other sea novels. Originally published in 1955, it was adapted into the movie “Greyhound” by Tom Hanks. Released in 2020, the movie led several publishers, including the Naval Institute Press, to republish the book.

“The Good Shepherd,” set in World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic, recounts 52 hours of a 1942 winter crossing of the Atlantic by a slow convoy. It was the worst part of the Battle of the Atlantic. The escort is inadequate; German U-boats numerous.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Technology Knit into the Fabric of Society

 

The story of textiles proves to be the story of human ingenuity. The history of fiber and cloth is also the history of civilization. Fabric is so interwoven with our history, our culture and our civilization we often overlook its importance.

These claims form the thesis of “The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World,” by Virginia Postrel. It examines the significance fiber products in the emergence of civilization, and their importance today.

Postrel begins examining the building blocks of textiles. She spends a chapter each on fiber, thread, cloth, and dye. This follows the progression from raw material to finished cloth. Thread is formed from fiber and cloth from thread. Dyes (coloring) applied to either thread or cloth decorate the result.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Murder and Mystery By the Ohio River

 

Piper Blackwell is an ex-GI. She saw service in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, seeing combat as an MP. Instead of serving her planned 20 years, she separated at the end of her hitch to look after her father, Paul Blackwell, ill with cancer. Her father, then sheriff of rural Spencer County, Indiana urged 23-year-old Piper to run for sheriff in his place. To her surprise, she won.

“The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge: A Piper Blackwell Mystery,” by Jean Rabe, is the fourth book in this mystery series. Blackwell is into her ninth month as sheriff. She has shaken up the sheriff’s department, mostly for the better. Even her election opponent, Chief Deputy Sheriff Oren Rosenberg, who would like for her to be inadequate so he could replace her, grudgingly admits her competence.

This book opens with Piper taking a three-day Labor Day weekend in Kentucky, with several ex-army buddies. They are playing paintball on land owned by one of them when tragedy strikes. They get attacked by an armed, active shooter. Several of the participants are killed, including the shooter. Others including Piper are badly injured.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. A New World Battle in an Alternate Timeline

 

Eric Flint launched his Ring of Fire series in 2000 with his novel “1632.” Intended as a stand-alone novel, it tells the story of Grantville, a West Virginia town switched in time and place with an equal area of space in Thirty-Years War Germany. 1632 proved addictive to readers and writers. Flint wrote a sequel, inviting David Weber to collaborate. Readers ate it up. Flint then opened his playground to other writers, curating the results. As of 2020 there are over 30 books in the series.

“1637: No Peace Beyond the Line,” by Eric Flint and Charles E. Gannon, is the latest addition to the series. It is a sequel to “1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies,” published in 2014.

“No Peace Beyond the Line” picks up where “Commander Cantrell” left off. Captain Eddie Cantrell is holding together a coalition made up of Germans, Dutch, Danes, Irish, and renegade English colonists. The English have defied their national government to remain in the New World. The Irish are members Wild Geese, Irish mercenaries estranged from English-occupied Ireland, formerly in the service of France. Led by the chief pretender to the Irish throne (held by King Charles of England) they are running a settlement in Trinidad, producing and exporting oil, with the cooperation of the local natives.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Pioneering Allied Airborne Operations Recounted

 

The Germans were the first nation to airborne troops in combat, using them decisively in 1939 and 1940. The British were not far behind, developing their own airborne forces in 1940. They initially used their airborne troops as raiders.

“Churchill’s Shadow Raiders: The Race to Develop Radar, WWII’s Invisible Secret Weapon,” by Damien Lewis examines the first two combat operations by British paratroopers, Operations Colossus and Biting. It combines these stories with a look at the “Wizard War” – the battle between Britain and Germany for electronics superiority.

Colossus and Biting were intended to smash vital targets unapproachable to soldiers, except by air. Operation Colossus was a February 1941 landing by paratroopers to destroy an aqueduct delivering water to Southern Italy. Operation Biting, in February 1942, was supposed to appear to be a British attempt to destroy a German radar station. In reality, it was to carry off the radar for intelligence analysis.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Hermione Mutiny Retold

 

The 1797 mutiny aboard HMS Hermione was the most violent in the history of the British Royal Navy. The ship’s officers and senior warrant officers were butchered. Worse, the crew turned the ship over to the Spanish, a nation with which Great Britain was then at war. The mutiny became the stuff of legend.

“Mutiny on the Spanish Main: HMS Hermione and the Royal Navy’s Revenge,” by Angus Kostram provides a new account of the mutiny, the events leading up to it and its aftermath. It is the first book-length retelling of the story in nearly 50 years.

The mutiny occurred during the French Wars of Revolution, following the 1789 French Revolution. It was triggered by the 1793 execution of the French monarch. Hermione, a 32-gun frigate armed with a main battery of 12-pound guns was sent to the West Indies to support British efforts there, including at Saint Dominique (today’s Haiti). Hermione participated in the three-sided conflict between French Royalists, French Revolutionaries, and the black slaves of the sugar island.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Sustainable Phase in Space

 

Space has been through several periods of rapid growth alternating with stagnation. Sputnik I through Apollo 11 was a rocket ride, figuratively as well as literally. The rest of the 1970s was flat, followed by growth spurts and flat spells during the Shuttle and ISS programs. Since the Shuttle stopped flying, until this year space seemed stuck on stop. Suddenly things are moving again, rapidly.

“America’s New Destiny in Space” by Glenn Harlan Reynolds explains what is happening and why. He asserts we are entering the third and greatest phase of space exploration and development. Today’s apparent sudden space growth spurt is not really sudden. It began nearly a decade ago, around the time the Shuttle program ended

Reynolds identifies trends. He divides space development into three phases. The visionary phase (as imagined by Verne, Tsiolkovsky, and Goddard) defined space’s potential. This was followed by the command-economy phase (run by government space agencies like NASA and Kosmicheskaya). This phase provided massive muscle growth in space. Yet like a muscle-builder on steroids, command-economy spaceflight ultimately yielded sterility and lacked flexibility. The sustainable phase (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, et. al.) is the payoff. This phase is where spaceflight that generates enough economic value to pay its own way. Reynolds asserts we have entered the sustainable phase.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Resisting Terrorists While Suspected of Being Part of Them

 

Sean Danker wrote the novel “Admiral” in 2016, a tale of four castaways who have to cross a hostile planet to survive. Three are fresh out of their service academies traveling to their first service assignment. The fourth is the Admiral – an individual unlike any admiral the three newbies have ever met. That was five novels ago. The series was dropped by Penguin, the original publisher. Danker is continuing it independently.

“Snowblind,” by Sean Danker is the sixth novel in the Evagardian universe, the setting in which the events of “Admiral” took place. It reunites the three graduates from the first novel: Deilani, the medical officer, Nils, the communications and computer wizard, and Salmagard, the negotiator. This time they face even greater than the last time they were thrown together.

They are all stationed aboard the Julian, the Evagardian flagship. On off-hours, they get together for dinner at a restaurant on Sterling Station. All three are under a cloud due to their association with the Admiral. Deilani and Samlagard are suspected of disloyalty to the Empress.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Two Sisters Finally Get Adulting

 

Jen Nilsson has it all, a great condo in California, a fast-track job in a Silicon Valley start-up, and a seemingly limitless future. Life is good and bound to get better. Then her sister Katie, ten years younger, and just out of college, calls and asks if she can move in with her big sister. Katie can no longer stand living with their parents.

“If You Can Get It,” a novel by Brendan Hodge opens with this. Jen wants to say no, but Katie is not calling from their parents’ home near Chicago. She is right outside Jen’s California condo. Jobless Katie lacks the money to drive home. Jen is stuck. She has to say yes.

The two sisters prove separated by more than just a ten year age difference. Jen is a quintessential Gen-Xer, focused, and deliberate. She has an MBA and a fast-track career. Katie is an archetypical Millennial, impulsive, and spontaneous. Her degree is in comparative religion, preparing her for a job at Starbucks. Jen is an extrovert. Katie is an introvert.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The World is Getting Better – Honest!

 

Is the world getting worse or better? Given the constant barrage of bad news, it is easy to think things are going from bad to worse. You would be wrong, though.

“Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know (And Many Others You Will Find Interesting),” by Ronald Bailey and Marian L. Tupy, explains why. They show, using objective data, the different ways in which the world is improving.

They wrote the book because “You can’t fix what’s wrong in the world if you don’t know what is actually happening.” Using straightforward data and graphs they demonstrate why and how the world has improved, especially over the last 72 years.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Perfect Spy

 

The Soviet Union was known for its spies. Some were good at their craft. Others were hopelessly inept. “Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy,” by Ben Macintyre is a biography of a woman who might have been the Soviet Union’s best and most effective spy.

Ursula Kuczynsky was born into a rich, leftist Jewish German family in 1907. In 1924, Ursula became a committed Communist. She never deviated from that belief in socialism, although Communism’s collapse in the late 1990s disillusioned her.

Macintyre’s book describes her life and career. She joined the German Communist Party at 18, going to America in 1928 before returning to Germany. There she married architect Rudi Hamburger, also Jewish and leftist, but not then a Communist. With architectural jobs scarce in Depression-era Germany, Hamburger took a job in Shanghai in 1930.

Member Post

 

By giving yourself to Ustina, you are, I know, exhausting your body, but disowning your body is only half of it. As it happens, my friend, that can lead to pride.What else can I do? thought Arseny.Do more, Foma whispered right into Arseny’s ear. Disown your identity. You have already taken the first step by […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Man Who Transformed the Midcentury Republican Party

 

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was the grandson of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. His namesake was a confidant of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the bête noire of Roosevelt successor Woodrow Wilson. His grandson became at least as prominent a Republican politician during the mid-twentieth century.

“The Last Brahmin: Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and the Making of the Cold War,” by Luke A. Nichter, is a fresh biography of Lodge’s life.

Nichter examines every aspect of Lodge’s life, from his youth through Lodge’s retirement. In between Lodge served many roles: as newspaperman, elected politician, soldier, a political kingmaker, permanent representative to the United Nations for the United States, ambassador, and the President’s envoy to the Vatican.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. This Week’s Book Review: Stellaris

 

The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop are a group who believe man can and must go to the stars. In 2016 the TVIW held a track on Homo Stellaris. Its task was to describe the foundations of a space-based society.

“Stellaris: People of the Stars,” edited by Les Johnson and Robert E. Hampson, is one of the fruits of that year’s workshop. It is a collection of non-fiction essays and science fiction stories about what it takes for humans to travel and live outside the Solar System.

Both non-fiction and fiction limit themselves to the possible based on today’s science. Extrapolation is permitted, especially in the life sciences. Faster-than-light travel and communications was excluded on the grounds that these cannot occur without some type of fundamental breakthrough in physics.