Tag: Book Review

What Military Professionals Talk About

 

In a 1979 interview Marine Corps General Robert Barrow stated “Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics. Professionals talk about logistics.” History has demonstrated its applicability many times.

“Logistics: The Key To Victory,” by Jeremy Black, is a study of the role logistics played in warfare throughout history. Most prior books on logistics focused on its tactical aspects – how to get supplies where they are needed. Black’s book examines the strategic role of logistics.

Black looks at logistics through a new lens. Often logistics is treated as if it emerged during the Napoleonic Era (the late 18th and early 19th centuries), and is relevant only thereafter. Black starts at the beginning, showing the importance of logistics as civilization emerged.  Black demonstrates the dominance of logistics in ancient times, can be captured in two words: campaign season. Ancient warfare was constrained by the availability of food and water, from Ancient Egypt onwards.

The Hunt for the Mesan Alignment

 

The sprawling science fiction series involving Honor Harrington started in 1993, with “On Basilisk Station.” Nearly thirty years later it is still going strong with nearly thirty novels and six anthologies in five different threads.

“To End in Fire,” by David Weber and Eric Flint is the Honorverse’s latest arrival. Part of the “Crown of Slaves” strand of the saga, its focus is on the genetic slavery in the far future. The slave-sponsoring planet Mesa, and the self-emancipated slaves of planet Torch, feature prominently.

Earlier in the series Honor Harrington’s Manticorian conquered Empire Mesa. Manticorian with their starfaring allies in the Grand Alliance also defeated the Earth-based Solarian Empire. The Grand Alliance was formed after the Solarians – headquartered on Earth and making up the Core Worlds of human-occupied space – attacked Manticore.  That war and earlier wars between Manticore and Haven were triggered by the Mesa-based Alignment. Mesa was taken to subdue the Alignment.

Book Review: Roger Scruton’s ‘Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition’

 

Published in 2017, a little over two years before his death, this I think was Roger Scruton’s last published work devoted to conservatism proper.  He has written other books on music and art, albeit as seen through a conservative lens, but their primary focus was aesthetic and not civic. Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition summarizes a great career of a man who has lived his life in the public square with a particular philosophy that runs against the current of contemporary ethos.  Roger Scruton (1944-2020) was a conservative in the paleo-conservative sense, not some neoconservative rebranding of once Liberal thought. He is British, though has had a voice in European and American conservative circles, a professor of philosophy, has published over 50 books on a wide range of subjects, and for almost twenty years was chief editor at the conservative quarterly, The Salisbury Review.  Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Scruton helped establish underground academic networks in communist-controlled countries.

This is an excellent and concise book on the history of modern conservatism by an author who lived through most of the debates of the last fifty years.  When Scruton identifies modern conservatism, he says it is “a product of the Enlightenment,” although acknowledging that conservatism dates back in every era of history.  Conservatism for Scruton is a set of customs, values, and institutions built by a community over time that have proven to sustain, preserve and “ensure [the] community’s long-term survival” and that give it a sense of identity and unity.  Conservatism in the modern sense is a counter to the Liberal emphasis of reshaping society as radical individualism that rose out of the Enlightenment.  “Tradition,” as Scruton observes from Edmund Burke, “is a form of knowledge.”

Scruton walks us through the philosophical ideas that have shaped conservatism going back to Edmund Burke, who argued against a notion of society as a “social contract” (from Jean-Jacques Rousseau) but as a “shared inheritance for the sake of which we learn to circumscribe our demands, to see our own place in things as part of a continuous chain of giving and receiving, and to recognize that the good things we inherit are not ours to spoil but ours to safeguard for our dependents” (p. 45).  Indeed I never signed a social contract but I was certainly born into a shared inheritance.

A 1950s-Style Noir Mystery Set in 1950s New York

 

Jake August writes pulp fiction. He was a Navy Criminal Investigation Division officer, before he got shot in a brothel in Occupied Japan and got invalided out of the service. Now, in 1952 he writes paperback novels for Rattlesnake Books.

“Deadline: New York,” a mystery by Jim Lester, explores the emerging world of paperback publishing in the early 1950s. New York State Senator Benjamin McClellan is starting a crusade against paperbacks, arguing they are rotting the morals of America’s youth.  Rattlesnake Books is high on his list of offenders.

Jake is ignoring McClellan’s crusade. He has books to write. The adventure novels he churns out are not the Great American War Novel documenting his experiences in World War II. He is not yet ready to write that. Writing paperbacks pay the bills and keep him busy, and Jake is all for both.

A Critique of Stephen Meyer’s ‘Return of the God Hypothesis’

 

I have struggled with writing a review of Stephen Meyer’s book, Return of the God Hypothesis, since I finished it a few weeks ago. Every time I pick it up to reread portions of it I find myself wanting to approach the work from a different perspective. The book is neither a straight popularization of science nor an attempt to frame a clear scientific argument. Rather, it’s a well-crafted work of reporting and speculation at the frothy margins of scientific theory that, combined with a few leaps of logic, is harnessed in support of a foreordained conclusion.

I suspect that the science in this book – and there’s quite a lot of it – will, despite being well-presented by an eloquent and talented author, largely elude most readers. Perhaps more importantly, the context from which the science is drawn will likely be unfamiliar to most readers, who will have little familiarity with physics and cosmology beyond what is presented in this book. If this book were merely a popularization of the science of cosmology, that would be fine: people would gain a feel for the state of the field, for its complexity and nuance, and for the remarkable accomplishments that have been made in recent years. But that’s not what this book is. Rather, it’s an attempt to support a metaphysical argument by portraying science as inadequate both in practice and in principle, and so leave no plausible alternative but the eponymous God Hypothesis. To frame that argument responsibly would require considerably more scope and rigor than this already science-heavy book offers. To do it convincingly, on the other hand, requires much less effort, particularly if the reader is inclined to be generous and knows little of physics.

It has been said of Stephen Hawking’s bestselling book A Brief History of Time that it was purchased by many and read by few. I suspect the same is likely true of Return of the God Hypothesis: for many, it will be a tough read. Yet it is an impressive book, and it has lent a great deal of talk-circuit credibility to its author and his premise. The fact that Mr. Meyer is an eloquent speaker and a clever and charming guest undoubtedly adds to that credibility, and it’s understandable why he and his book have received as much praise as they have. Nonetheless, as I will attempt to explain in this review, I think his arguments are weak and his conclusions unsupported.

Answering Cosmic Questions

 

Where did the universe come from? How does it work? When did it begin and when and how will it end? People have asked variations on these questions since people started asking questions.

“Where Did the Universe Come From? And Other Cosmic Questions,” by Chris Ferrie and Geraint F. Lewis examines those questions. They also show how the answers have changed over the last 50 years.

The pair looks at the biggest thing in existence, the universe itself. They also examine the smallest things, including subatomic particles. They explain how the largest and smallest things in the universe are interrelated and affect each other. They do so in language a layperson can understand.

A Fresh Take on an Old Classic

 

Daniel Carter is a London copper. It is today’s London, but a London inhabited by clans of underground monsters. They run criminal rackets: the Frankenstein Clan, with its surgeries, the seductive Vampire Clan, the drug-dealing Clan of Mummies and the Werewolf Clan, who serve as hit men and enforcers.

“Jekyll & Hyde Inc.,” a fantasy novel by Simon R. Green, opens with Carter, his partner, and two fellow cops raiding a Frankenstein chop shop. Their attempt to break up the illicit den where victims are cut up for transplant organs goes badly. One is killed, two others vanish in the building’s ruins and Carter is left crippled.

Carter is also suspended. The raid was supposedly unauthorized. The commissioner who organized and authorized it also disappeared. Carter’s career is in ruins, he is in constant pain, and his family has rejected him. Then his vanished partner appears. He has been absorbed into the underground, involuntarily turned into a vampire. Like the ghost of Jacob Marley, he appears to offer Carter a chance at redemption – or perhaps more accurately revenge.

A Return to the Golden Age British Mystery

 

It is 1923. Kitty Worthington, completing a year in a Swiss finishing school is, returning to England for her debut year as she turns 21. An unmarried young woman of the upper classes cannot travel alone, so she is accompanied by her very stuffy older brother Edward.

“Murder on the Golden Arrow,” by Magda Alexander opens with Kitty discovering Ned much less stuffy than Kitty believed. She learns he had a paramour. Worse, traveling on the Golden Arrow from Dover to London the woman is poisoned. While sitting across from Kitty and Ned.

A Scotland Yard Detective Inspector aboard the train, Robert Crawford, takes charge of the investigation. Since Ned gave the poisoned woman medicine immediately before dying Kitty fears Crawford suspects Ned. The dead woman was blackmailing Ned. Kitty knows Ned did not commit the crime, but he seems the obvious suspect.

A Double Game with Double Agents

 

In 2010 the FBI rolled up a network of Russian spies living illegally and undercover in the United States. Press coverage focused on one spy captured, the exceedingly attractive Anna Chapman. They portrayed the illegals as a gang of inept klutzes, caught through their own carelessness.

“Spy Swap: The Humiliation of Russia’s Intelligence Services,” by Nigel West, tells a different story. It reveals the circle taken down in 2010 was extremely professional and highly dangerous. They had been under observation for over a decade. It also reveals the real reason the FBI chose to act in 2010.

To understand the context for the take-down and what motivated it, West presents a brief overview of spying by the Soviet Union and the KGB, and the subsequent continuation of spying by Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and the KGB’s successor, the SVR. Readers of recent espionage history, like “Agent Sonya” and “Gray Day,” and others, will find mention of those activities in “Spy Swap.”

A Memoir of Endurance and Survival

 

In January 1945 Major Donald J. Humphrey commanded a B-29 Superfortress. During a 1900-mile mission from India to bomb Singapore, his bomber was shot down over Malaya. Humphrey and four other members of the crew of Postville Express successfully parachuted out of the dying bomber. The rest of the crew failed to escape.

“8 Miraculous Months in the Malayan Jungle: A WWII Pilot’s True Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival,” edited by Donald J. “DJ” Humphrey II, tell what happened next.

They landed in Malaya, then occupied by the Japanese. Had they been found by the Japanese or the pro-Japanese militia they would likely have been executed or spent the rest of their war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The Japanese even offered a $10,000 reward for every Allied airman turned over to them.

Teens Saving the Earth’s Future in a Devastated World

 

John Ringo’s “Black Tide Rising” series presents a world devastated by a bio-engineered viral plague. The plague destroys upper-brain functions turning the infected into mindless cannibals—effectively zombies. It’s highly contagious. It’s contracted through blood-to-blood contact with the infected—usually as they attack those not infected, to eat them. The series focuses on how survivors cope with the collapse of society.

“At the End of the Journey,” by Charles E. Gannon, is the latest arrival in the “Black Tide Rising” series. It follows the story of American teenagers who begin a senior year summer cruise aboard sailing ketch Crosscurrent Voyager just before the plague strikes. Sailing alone from the Galapagos to the South Sandwich Islands, they’re able to avoid the plague

This was related to an earlier novel, “At the End of the World.” In it, the ship’s ex-Special Air Service captain dies of a preexisting condition, but not before preparing his teenage charges to run the boat themselves and to fend off both the infected and those remaining human that mercilessly prey on the weak after society’s collapse.

A Collision of Two Unscrupulous People

 

Many contemporary novels have been written about lawyers and the law.. Certain types of law lead to exciting drama, especially criminal cases. Bankruptcy law seems an unlikely source for gripping fiction.

“Fresh Start: A 3J Mystery,” by Mark Shaiken, is proof it can be done. It is tightly written, tautly paced, and absolutely absorbing.

Quincy Gunn Witherman builds and operates high-rise office buildings. His buildings are high-end, with 95 percent occupancy and blue-chip tenants. As with most developers, he is highly leveraged.  While his income is solid his properties dropped in value due to a general market downturn two years earlier. The market has stabilized and the buildings again appreciating.

Battlefield Medicine from Ancient Egypt to Modern Afghanistan

 

Medic! That cry on the battlefield means a soldier is wounded. It also means someone will almost always respond, a normally-unarmed battlefield medic. This is the known and expected outcome of that call. But where did battlefield medicine start and how did evolve?

“Battlefield Medics: How Warfare Changed the History of Medicine,” by Martin King, tells that story. He starts at the origins of battlefield medicine and traces its progress through the present. He also shows its impact on all modern medicine.

The story starts in Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh’s armies had an organized medical service. The treatments of the day were limited to first aid, herbal medicine, and a lot of prayer. Surgery was rarely attempted. Dissection lay in the future.

‘Fault Lines’: A Book Review

 

One benefit of driving across the United States these past couple of weeks is the opportunity to catch up with terrific audiobooks. One was Dr. Wilfred McClay’s fabulous “Our Land of Hope,” the best survey of American history I’ve read to date, published in 2019. The second was “Fault Lines” by Voddie Baucham Jr., a prominent Southern Baptist African American pastor and divinity school dean.

Wow. And what makes Baucham’s book launch and tour earlier this summer all the more impressive was the time he spent at the Mayo Clinic, recovering from heart surgery.

Both books have attracted a lot of attention, but Baucham’s “Fault Lines” strikes a chord in tackling the cultural issue du jour – Critical Race Theory (CRT). A quick search for reviews of the book underscores that. While Baucham’s book focuses on the battle over social justice raging within evangelical churches, it is valuable for anyone seeking to understand CRT and its growing global march across many institutions.

London During Its Launch to Greatness

 

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries London, England was the world’s greatest city. Even today it ranks in the top ten.

“London and the 17th Century: The Making of the World’s Greatest City,” by Margarette Lincoln examines London’s most formative years; between the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the reign of King William III. This century positioned London to dominate the world.

It was a consequential period.  London had a population of 200,000 in 1600, almost tripling to about 570,000 in 1700. Yet the period was important for more than just population growth.  This book covers the era of the Gunpowder Plot, the English Civil War, the Great Plague and Great Fire, the Restoration, the Dutch Wars and Glorious Revolution of 1688.

An Arthurian Tale in a Science Fiction Future

 

In the far future, civilization experienced a catastrophic collapse in the centuries-ago past.  Jon of Dun Add is reforging isolated pockets of human habitation into a unified and civilized whole. His Hall of Champions is a tool in this effort. This fellowship enforces justice across Jon’s realm. Pal is one of Jon’s newest knights, and one of the most respected.

“The Serpent” by David Drake is the third novel Drake’s Time of Heroes series. It presents Pal’s adventures in this possible future. It follows “The Spark” which introduced Pal and “The Storm,” which showed Pal maturing into his current role.

Baseball and Bootleggers in the Roaring Twenties

 

It is 1927. Prohibition is on and the stock market crash is in the future. Joe Rath is a catcher for the National League Baltimore Beacons.

“Pickoff,” a novel by GP Hutchinson, opens with Joe heading off for the ballpark to join the team for a road trip to Chicago.

Joe is a family man, with a young son and a wife he dearly loves. His wife, Mena loves Joe, but is less thrilled with his peripatetic career. She believes being married means being with your family, not haring off on long road trips. She wants him to quit.

When Silicon Valley Values Meet West Texas

 

Texas ranching has been under economic siege almost since it began. It has always offered an opportunity to make a small fortune, nowadays by starting with a large one. Yet for all its flaws, ranching is addictive. So is abandoning ranching.

“The Big Empty,” a novel by Loren Steffy, steals one of the classic tropes of Texas letters: modern technology displacing ranching. The oil industry is the traditional disrupter. Set at the dawn of the 21st century, Steffy makes high tech, computers, and the internet ranching’s competitor. He adds a spin. The ranchers are rooting for high tech to win.

Conquistador is a dying West Texas cattle town. While not at the end of the world, on the flat West Texas plains it might as well be. Ranching is fading as a business. Conquistador’s residents are desperately seeking new industry to draw jobs there. They even tried getting the state to build a prison, just for the jobs, only to be turned down. Conquistador is too remote even for prisons.

Hunting Aliens and Traitors for Fun and Profit

 

Earth had been invaded by aliens from outer space, the Visitors. After a devastating war, humanity drove the invaders off. The victory was costly, but eventually the Visitors withdrew to Mars.

“The Family Business,” a science fiction novel by Mike Kupari, takes place in that invasion’s aftermath. Nathan Foster is a bounty hunter. He occasionally tracks down murderers and drug dealers, but his primary quarry are war criminals and human traitors who collaborated with the Visitors.

Located in Prescott, Arizona, it is a family business. His understudy and assistant is his fifteen-year-old teenage nephew Ben, Nathan’s only surviving relative.  Also assisting Nathan is Shadow, a genetically enhanced Doberman-Shepherd mix, a trained attack dog. His partner and office manager is Stella Rickles.

The Rise of the Conquistador

 

The European discovery of the Americas and the subsequent colonization of that land by Europeans was the most consequential occurrence of the last millennia.  Two men prominent in that discovery’s opening events were Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortés.

“Sword of Empire: The Spanish Conquest of the Americas from Columbus to Cortés, 1492-1529,” by Donald E. Chipman, tells the story of these two men. It explores the events of the first forty years of the Spanish acquisition of the American possessions.

Columbus opened the Age of Exploration. Cortés opened the Age of the Conquistador, where Spanish freebooters conquered the great empires of North and South America. Together the men form a set of bookends in the story of the Americas. Columbus departed the New World for the last time in 1504, dying in 1506. Cortés arrived at Santo Domingo, the colony founded by Columbus in the year of Columbus’s death.  This allows Chipman to follow the thread of the opening years of Spain’s American adventures using these two as his focus.