Tag: Book Review

Busting Heads in Pre-War America


There are few things as repugnant as the Mob. Except maybe Nazis. It kind of makes sense that Jewish mobsters once took an opportunity to improve their image by punching Nazis.

“Gangsters vs Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America,” by Michael Benson relates the story of one of the strangest campaigns of the 1930s and 40s. It shows how the Jewish community in the United States organized to fight the German-American Bund and other fascist groups in the United States in the years prior to American entry into World War II. They did it by enlisting the assistance of Jewish Gangsters.

As Benson points out, in mid-century America organized crime was big, especially in immigrant communities. They formed in every community with a large, poor immigrant population. The most famous was the Italian Mafia, but there were Irish, Polish, Hispanic, and Jewish mobs, too. They were a product of poverty and desperation.

Professor Daniel J. Mahoney joins Brian Anderson to discuss history’s great statesmen, the classical and Christian underpinnings of their virtues, and attempts to write certain figures out of history. His new book, The Statesman as Thinker: Portraits of Greatness, Courage, and Moderation, is out now.

Find the transcript of this conversation and more at City Journal.

Old Doesn’t Mean Dead – Or Submissive


Cal Yarborough was a farmer. A widower and old, he was living alone on his farm. While he was in the hospital, his children used their power-of-attorney to sell the farm and settle him at Sun City, a Central Texas retirement community.

“Sun City: A Hilariously Addictive Story of Rebellion,” by Matthew Minson, opens with Yarborough’s arrival at Sun City. His dismay at losing his farm is compounded when he learns he cannot even put in a vegetable garden. The community board has banned them.

Most of Sun City’s residents resent the board. It is made up of retired flag officers, appointed by the developers. The board enjoys throwing their weight around committing petty tyrannies.  The residents cannot replace the board because the corporate bylaws allow the corporation to appoint the board until 97 percent of the properties are sold. The Corporation plans to expand Sun City before that happens. Nor can residents sell without incurring a big loss. Buyers prefer new properties.

The Boundary Between East and West?


What is the dividing line between East and West? Where does the Western World end and the Orient begin?

“Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age,” by Robert D. Kaplan, asserts the Adriatic Sea forms the dividing line. Kaplan explores the role played by the Adriatic from ancient times through the present day, examining its role as an interface between east and west.

“Adriatic” is part travelogue, part history, and part personal reminisce. Starting in Rimini, Italy, Kaplan takes readers around the Adriatic, working his way around the coast to Corfu in Greece. He stops at Ravenna, Venice, Trieste, two cities in Slovenia, four cities in Croatia, two each in Montenegro and Albania, before arriving at Corfu.

Valhalla Unmasked


Take a typical college-aged man from the Midwest in today’s America. Give him the ambition to slay dragons and become a knight errant. It is unrealistic, but it is his dream. Then let him discover magic really works. He slays a fire-breathing dragon (with his mom’s Volvo), and is invited to join Knight Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting ordinary Americans from intrusions by supernatural enemies

“Valhellions,” a fantasy novel by Tim Akers, uses this setting. It is the sequel to “Knight Watch,” which introduced John Rast and Knight Watch. John’s dream job is not turning out quite as he dreamed. He has to hide magic from the mundane world which dampens the fun. His parents think he is a highly-paid troubleshooter for a tech firm. (He is – sort of.) The girl he adores, Chesa Lozaro joined Knight Watch as an elven ranger princess (that was her dream). Despite working together, she still disdains him.

If anything can go wrong, it does, especially to John. His life has become a collision between Tolkien and the Marx Brothers, with him playing the straight man. Now the world is about to end. Some renegades at Valhalla are trying to trigger Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. It is up to John and his team to stop it.

The Oldest Language Art Examined


Poetry is the oldest of the language arts. It predated literacy. Its cadence, rhythm, and rhyme allowed complex things to be remembered.  When literacy emerged, the earliest literature recorded was poetry.  Today prose has displaced poetry from primacy, yet poems remain important.

“A Little History of Poetry,” by John Carey is exactly what its title promises – a short history of poetry, written for a general audience.

Carey starts at the beginning. He opens the book with a discussion of the oldest recorded poem, “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” Written over 4,000 years ago it was preserved on clay tablets. He ends it with poets of the 21st century, many as unknown to today’s general public as Gilgamesh. Along the way and in between he makes a brief stop examining virtually every type of poetry and their poets.

An American Civilian in WW2 China


Paul Springer grew up in New Jersey during the 1920s and 1930s. A smart kid, he graduated high school at 16 in 1934 and worked at a bank. In 1937 he won a full scholarship at Ivy League Yale. Paul wanted adventure. He wanted to travel.

“Blackboards and Bomb Shelters: The Perilous Journey of Americans in China during World War II,” by James P. Bevill, tells what happened next. Yale sponsored the Yali Middle School in Yuanling, Hunan Province in China. It taught in English and Chinese. Every other year Yale sent three Yale graduates to teach there. During his senior year at Yale Paul was invited to apply for one of the positions.

He applied, and with two other Yale graduates sailed to China in July 1941. It was an opportunity to satisfy his dreams of travel during an age when this was rare. While The US was still at peace, China had been at war with Japan longer than Paul had been to Yale. He knew he was entering a war zone. His first-semester teaching at Yali Middle School was punctuated by Japanese air raids.

Escaping Russia to France


Paris of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a second home to Russia’s nobility. Until the start of the First World War, they retreated to Paris to have fun. Some liked it so much that until the war started they abandoned Russia almost entirely, remaining in Paris year-round.

“After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris from the Belle Epoque through revolution and war,” by Helen Rappaport, tells their story, following the Russians in France both before and after the Russian Revolution. It is a tale of the wheel of fortune taking those at the pinnacle of life to its nadir. The Revolution reduced Russian princes who lived in luxury to men driving taxis with their wives worked at\ fashion houses to make ends meet.

Rappaport emphasizes the before and after contrasts by opening the book during the Belle Epoque. She shows Russian aristocrats using Paris as a playground, with every want or need provided by their wealth. Republican Paris became a Russian colony, an escape from an uncultured Imperial Russia. One of Tsar Nicholas II’s brothers even moved to Paris, transferring his wealth there.

‘Challenges to Academic Freedom,’ and Our Readiness to Meet Them


Today, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal runs my review of Challenges to Academic Freedom, a new book of essays considering its subject from a variety of angles. Its authors run through a series of critiques and assessments — of the social media outrage machine, the reach of Title IX and Institutional Review Boards, the barely-there academic freedom protections for adjunct faculty, and so on. I think their concerns are well-placed, and I valued the book’s variety of perspectives and approaches, especially those essays that considered the issue in a more historical framework.  

I’m left convinced, however, that even if we could resolve all the volume’s concerns we still couldn’t give academic freedom a clean bill of health, for a simple reason: We aren’t doing the necessary work of building an appreciation and understanding of its value in the current generation, and that leaves it vulnerable to the more fashionable demands of the current moment. I write:

Combat Throughout Time Travel


Time travel stories are almost as old as science fiction. One of H. G. Wells’s earliest involved time travel. So is combat SF.

“Time Troopers,” edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio, is a science fiction anthology combining the two themes: time travel and combat. Davis and Ruocchio assembled a stellar collection of tales ranging from short-short stories to novellas.

It is filled with stories by an all-star cast of authors. Contributors include twentieth-century science fiction giants Robert Heinlein, Keith Laumer, Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, A. E. Van Vogt, Robert Silverberg, and H. Beam Piper. 21st-century contributors include Davis and Ruocchio, Sara and Robert Hoyt, John C. Wright and Jacob Holo. Historian T. R. Fehrenbach and author Edmund Hamilton also provide stories.

Working Class Meet Modern Art


Abe Allard and C. S. Duffy are private investigators in Chicago.  Not the glamorous investigators of movies and novels, or even noir detectives of mysteries. They do research for lawyers, background checks for corporations, and track unfaithful spouses.

“Where Art Thou?” by Sean Little, takes the fictional pair out of their ordinary paths. They are hired to investigate an art theft. Their wealthy client, Geo McMahon, had a sketch stolen.

McMahon collects art. His home is filled with valuable artwork, including some worth millions. Despite the security he has, a thief was able to penetrate it and steal a piece of art. But the thief only one piece, a hyper-realistic sketch by an up-and-coming black Chicago artist. It is worth very little. It is not even what the artist was known for prior to his overdose death. While he did some hyperrealism early in his career, he was best known for his abstracts. McMahon wants to learn why that particular piece was taken.

A Book You Will Stick With


What makes things stick together?  Why is that useful and when is it a problem? Where does friction occur and how do you reduce it? Why are some things slippery and others not? 

“Sticky: the Secret Science of Surfaces,” by Laurie Winkless answers those questions, and many more. It looks at tribology. She describes tribology as the science of rubbing and scrubbing. In the process, she takes readers on a fascinating – and humorous – trip as she examines every aspect of what makes things stick together or slide apart. 

She covers the landscape on stickiness and slipperiness. Along the way, Winkless touches on almost every aspect of her subject and on virtually every level. What makes paint stick? How do race cars stay on the track? What causes earthquakes? What makes a good lubricant? Why do some smooth surfaces stick together, while others slide apart? She examines each of these issues, and many more. 

Not Your Typical Texas Western


Sandip Mathur was born in India. He became a doctor there with specialist training in London, England and Houston, Texas. In Houston, he and his wife realized they loved Texas. They wanted to stay. He needed a Permanent Resident Card, the green card permitting an alien to legally remain and work in the United States. To get one he agreed to practice medicine three years in an underserved rural community.

“Cowboys and Indian: A Doctor’s First Year in Texas,” by Sandip V. Mathur, tells the story of his experiences. He, his wife and his two daughters ended up in a small West Texas town, two hours from Abeline, Texas.

The book follows his first year of practice at Hotspur (the fictional name Mathur gives the county where he moved). The experience defined culture shock. The Mathurs had always lived in cities with populations over one million people. Hotspur had less than 10,000 people in a 5000 square mile area. They were Hindi in a deeply Christian town. They were traveled. Most in Hotspur thought Dallas was a long journey.

A Dark Fantasy by Correia and Diamond


Illarion Glaskov is a miller’s son in a small farming village in the far north of Kolakolvia. It is so remote the Czar’s tax collectors have not visited it for years, and the Empire has forgotten to levy conscripts from it. That suits Glaskov. He would be the one drafted. He would as soon marry his fiancé Hana, raise a family and run the family mill.

“Servants of War,” a new fantasy novel by Larry Correia and Steve Diamond opens with Glaskov’s dreams being shattered. His village is attacked by demons that kill everyone in it except infants in their cradles and Glaskov. The infants are taken. They disappear. Glaskov escapes because he tricks the demon chasing him into getting its tail stuck in the mill’s turning grindstone. Glaskov then beats it to death before it frees itself.

Glaskov, badly wounded in the fight, survives only because he is rescued by the Witch of the North. One of two goddesses that rule this world, she is also known as Baba Yaga, the Sister of Nature. She is at war with her other surviving sister. She supports Kolalolvia, while her sister supports Almacia. The two nations have been at war for a century.

The Graphic Version of an Epic Book


James Hornfischer exploded on the naval history scene in 2005 with his book “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.” It was an account of the Battle off Samar when a collection of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers fought Japan’s main surface battle force to a standstill. Over the next dozen years he wrote four more books, three focused on the Pacific War. All were excellent. In 2021 he died.

“The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: A Graphic Adaptation,” by James Hornfischer, Doug Murray, and Steven Sanders is a graphic novel adaptation of Hornfischer’s original book. Murray translated the book, doing the storyboarding and text while Sanders did the artwork. It is one of a series of graphic novels being published by Dead Reckoning, Naval Institute Press’s graphic imprint.

The book is a faithful adaptation of Hornfischer’s book. It follows the overall path of the original. The adaptor and artist capture the climactic battle between the “tin cans” (destroyers and destroyer escorts) and Japan’s powerful battleships and heavy cruisers. They show the desperate attacks made by the escort group to protect the carriers they are assigned to defend. They convey the confusion felt by both sides.

Visualizing Numbers Effectively


Most people have trouble with numbers. They easily visualize up to twelve. Once beyond 100 numbers kind of blur together. There is a difference between a one in 500 chance of something happening and a one in a million chance, but most people do not really understand it. Or the difference between a million and a billion.

“Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers,” by Chip Heath and Karla Starr, offers a solution to that problem. It presents tools to understand numbers and effectively communicate the meaning of numbers to others. The authors provide a step-by-step process to give readers mastery of numbers using a few simple rules.

Take the difference between a million and a billion. Heath and Starr have readers visualize the difference this way: a million seconds is twelve days; a billion seconds is 32 years.  You suddenly appreciate the scale of the difference. Twelve days is two workweeks linked by a weekend. Thirty-two years? Depending on your age, it could be twice your lifespan, your lifespan, or half your lifespan. Regardless of your yardstick, you know it is a whole lot more than two workweeks linked by a weekend.

Life Aboard a North Sea Battlecruiser


At the beginning of World War I, John R. Muir was a surgeon in the Royal Navy.  He was also an avid yachtsman.

“Years of Endurance: Life Aboard the Battlecruiser Tiger 1914-16,” by John R. Muir were his memoirs of his service during World War I.  It offers a fascinating look at the life of a Royal Navy surgeon of the period, both ashore and afloat.

The book opens prior to World War I in May 1914. Muir was Senior Medical Officer at Chatham Barracks, responsible for conducting the physicals of men entering the service during mobilization. A preliminary mobilization had been bungled. Muir shows how the lessons learned were incorporated into the actual mobilization a few months later. He recounts his early months of the war ashore before being assigned to the battlecruiser Tiger.

Adventures in an Airy World


Augustus StJohn Thislewood III is the scion of an industrial barony in the planet Azure (a barony in terms of influence rather than actual nobility). Briz is an orphan, a young petty criminal who lives by her wits.

“Cloud-Castles,” a new science fiction novel by David Freer, opens with Augustus and Briz meeting. He has gone to Sybill III to uplift the natives. She is one of the natives. She starts their acquaintanceship by robbing him.

Sybil III is a gas dwarf with a habitable zone in its atmosphere. Two space-faring races, the mutually-hostile Thrymi and Zell used it as a neutral meeting place. Anti-gravity technology floated a trading plate used for exchanges and floating mansions for the Thrymi and Zell on) Sybil III. They created bioengineered floating plants for subsistence. Before humans began star-travel, the Thrymi –Zell War knocked both back to barbarism, from which they never emerged.

Air Combat Over the Solomons


Bill Yenne has been writing aviation history for half a century. Sometimes groundbreaking, his books is always informative and entertaining

“America’s Few: Marine Aces of the South Pacific,” by Bill Yenne is his latest. It tells the story of the two dozen US Marine Corps aviators who achieved double digit ace status: ten or more kills.

All spent time in the South Pacific Theater in World War II, fighting in or from the Solomon Islands between October 1942 and May 1944. A few scored kills outside that period (including one who shot down two aircraft during the Korean War). All achieved double-ace status as a result of their exploits in the Solomons or over Rabaul.

A Methanolated Death


Julia Fairchild is a physician in a small southern Washington State town. She has long-term family roots in Parkview, a town of 38,000 built around the local pulp and paper mill. An internist at the local hospital, Julia has a hobby: solving mysteries.

“One Will Too Many: A Julia Fairchild Mystery,” by PJ Peterson is this series’s fourth book. In the first three, a peripatetic Fairchild (generally accompanied by her sister Carly) are vacationing in exotic locations. This one takes place in Parkview.

It begins with Pam, a childhood friend of Julia getting called out of town abruptly. Pam has to skip an important fundraising event to restore a landmark historic theater building in Fairview. She twists Julia’s arm into replacing her at the tux and formal dress event. This ends up involving Julia in a bizarre death. When banker Jay Morrison gets drunk, Julia gives his girlfriend Sophia a ride home. The next morning, Julia drives Sophia to Jay’s house so Sophia can recover her car. They find Jay unconscious in the dining room.