Tag: Book Review

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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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.

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.

The US Navy Faces Off Kamikazes at Okinawa


As the war turned against them in World War II, Japan tried a new tactic: the kamikaze. Pilots used their aircraft as one-way bombs against Allied warships and transports.  The campaign started during the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944 and continued until the last day of the war.

“Rain of Steel: Mitscher’s Task Force 58, Ukagi’s Thunder Gods and the Kamikaze War off Okinawa,” by Stephen L. Moore, examines the most intense phase of the kamikaze campaign, that fought during the Allied invasion of Okinawa.

Moore touches on the whole of the kamikaze effort. He looks at its origins, how the Japanese developed it, and their kamikaze attacks prior to and after the conquest of Okinawa. He also examines the US reaction to the campaign, including the tactics developed to counter the kamikazes. The meat of the book is the fighting off Okinawa, however.

An Astronaut’s Son Tells His Story


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, from 1978 through the end 1985, being in the Space Shuttle program was fun. The Shuttle was new and an adventure.

“The Father, Son, and Holy Shuttle: Growing Up an Astronaut’s Kid in the Glorious 1980s,” by Patrick Mullane, tells that story.

Patrick Mullane was ten when his father, Michael Mullane was selected as an astronaut. Patrick’s family settled Houston’s Brook Forest/Middlebrook subdivision. It proved his first permanent home. Before that, military brat Patrick and his family moved virtually every year as his father went from post to post.

A War Easier to Start than End


Professor Paul Rahe, of Hillsdale College, is writing a multi-volume study of Sparta’s grand strategy during the Fifth Century BC. The first book “The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge” looked at Sparta during the Persian War.

“Sparta’s Second Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 446-418 B. C,” by Paul A. Rahe continues his study of the Peloponnesian Wars. The third volume in the series, it examines the second phase of the war between Sparta and Athens, fought between 431 and 421 BC.

The book picks up where his previous volume, Sparta’s First Attic War leaves off, in 446 BC. It covers more than the active phases of the war. Rahe examines the build-up to the active war and its immediate aftermath, including Sparta’s victorious war with Argos and her allies in 418 BC.

A New Addition to the “Black Tide Rising” Canon


John Ringo’s “Black Tide Rising” series posits a zombie apocalypse caused by a highly-contagious, genetically-engineered viral plague that destroys the upper brain functions and turns its victims into mindless cannibals. Ringo has since invited other authors to come and play in the highly-popular “Black Tide Rising” sandbox.

“At the End of the World,” by Charles E. Gannon is the latest entry in the “Black Tide Rising” series.  It follows nine teens on a summer senior year learning cruise when the plague breaks out. Told through the journal of Alvaro Casillas, one of the teens on the cruise, it follows their course through a nightmare world aboard Crosscurrent Voyager.

Crosscurrent Voyager is on a trip from the Galapagos to South Georgia Island in the Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica. Its captain, Alan Haskins, is a silent, gaunt Englishman. All the others on Crosscurrent Voyager are similarly outcasts. They have discipline problems, or are overlooked, bullied, and ignored by their peers. They are aboard because Crosscurrent Voyager was the sole remaining adventure cruise available.

A Navigator’s Account of SAC


Between 1946 and 1992 the Strategic Air Command was the United States’s main shield against Soviet aggression. Its bombers flew constantly, fueling aloft to reach any point in the world.

“SAC Time: A Navigator in the Strategic Air Command,” by Thomas E. Alexander, is the memoir of a man who spent three years in the Strategic Air Command and thirteen years in the Air National Guard.

Alexander served the Strategic Air Command as a junior officer.  He was a navigator, not a pilot. Rated a bombardier, navigator, and radar bombardier, he did not crew SAC’s jet glamorous bombers. He navigated KC-97 Stratotankers, a piston-engine aircraft that refueled other aircraft. The book may be the more interesting because of this perspective.

The History, Heritage, and Future of an American Sea


The Gulf of Mexico is America’s sea. The wealth of two continents, from gold and silver in the sixteenth century to petroleum in the twenty-first, passes through its waters. It has provided food and recreation for those in the countries around it.

“The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History,” by John S. Sledge, is a comprehensive history of the Gulf, from its earliest times to the present.

A prologue explains the author’s personal connections with the Gulf of Mexico followed by a brief introduction describing the Gulf’s physical and biological attributes. Sledge then plunges into the past. He starts with pre-Columbian history, describing the various native peoples that lived along the Gulf’s periphery. A varied lot, they ranged from the primitive Arawak living on the islands, to the sophisticated culture of the Missippian People and the Aztec and Incan civilizations.

Book Review: Big in Heaven


“Don’t worry, my friend, for Raskova,” she whispered to me. “I clean baby [crap]. It small thing. You sit. Read.” She said, “I am here,” tapping the pages with socket-wrench fingers. “At Dachau too, my job, priest say, sew sheets for vestment, is very small, he tell me, but big in heaven.” (p. 13)

Big in Heaven is a book of short stories, by Fr. Stephen Siniari, centered in and around the people of the fictional Saint Alexander the Whirling Dervish* parish, an ethnically Albanian church in a Fishtown neighborhood. The stories mostly follow the parish priest, Father Naum, through a variety of times, places, and narrators (some more reliable than others). The stories are not sequential. In some we find Naum young and impatient, in others, we find Naum near retirement, wiser, but bearing the scars of many years. In all of the tales, we bear witness to how the parishioners and their friends and neighbors are simply living their lives as well as they know how saints and sinners alike.

Each of the tales is a brief glimpse into the lives of the people of the parish. Through the changing voices of the narrator we learn, sometimes, of backstories and histories of the people, but not always. Sometimes the backstories are unnecessary or merely inferred. Not all of the people belong to the parish – Father Naum is friends with an Evangelical pastor, and regularly has tea with the rabbi of the synagogue across the street. The author studiously avoids common ecumenical stereotypes, however, in these interactions, and each person has his or her own voice and motivations.

A Noir Gumshoe in the Far Future


Major Bhaajan retired from the Skolian military and became a private detective, operating out of the City of Cries, the capitol city of the Skolian Empire, located on the planet Raylicon. She was raised in Undercity, a subterranean warren beneath the City of Cries. She is the go-to investigator for the House of Majda, who rules the Skolian Empire. They keep her on retainer.

In “The Vanished Seas”, by Catherine Asaro, a routine and boring assignment to observe reactions at a society party takes an unexpected turn. The woman hosting it, Mara Quida, vanishes during the party. Mara, the Vice President for Marketing and Sales at Scorpio Corporation,  was hosting the party to celebrate a major contract being won by Scorpio.

No one knows how Mara Quida disappeared. No one, including her husband Lukas, knows why she disappeared. Violence appears involved, but no one heard anything from the bedroom where Mara Quida swiftly and silently vanished away.

A Measured Look at Climate Alarmism: Apocalypse Never


Michael Shellenberger is a dedicated environmentalist. He was a progressive political activist for years. He wants a cleaner, greener world. That is why he opposes the Green New Deal. Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, by Michael Shellenberger explains his position.

Shellenberger opens the book by picking apart and demolishing the arguments of those who claim apocalyptic climate change, leading to the death of billions, lies in our near future.  He shows predictions of billions of deaths cannot be supported from IPCC report results. He shows how alarmists deliberately distorted facts – sometimes even making false claims about the reports – to justify their predictions.

Shellenberger also shows following the recommendations of the alarmists will likely have results opposite those claimed. More deaths, especially among the world’s poor, and greater adverse environmental impacts will result.

The French Resistance and German Defiance at the Liberation of Paris


Billy Boyle was a detective in the Boston Police Department when the US entered World War II. He came from the stereotypical cop Irish Catholic family. His family mistrusted the English. His father and uncle wanted him to serve their country, but want him safe.  To do this they get Billy a posting with Uncle Ike, an obscure brigadier general, assigned to the General Staff in Washington, DC.

“When Hell Struck Twelve: A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery,” by James Benn, is the fourteenth novel about the results of this pairing.

Uncle Ike was Dwight Eisenhower. Shortly after Billy joins Eisenhower’s staff, Eisenhower gets tagged as Commanding General European Theater of Operations. Uncle Ike is delighted to have Billy, a trained detective, around. Eisenhower needs someone for sensitive (and frequently dangerous) confidential investigations. Billy finds himself in a world of military intelligence, counterintelligence, and espionage. He becomes Ike’s go-to guy when the general needs of unquestioned loyalty for a quiet look.