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July 18, 2008

Open book thread

Open_book_2 So it seems Entertainment Weekly has come up with a list of the "100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years." (Yeah, I was a little surprised too.) I saw the magazine in stores recently and didn't pay much attention, but when I got the list delivered to my inbox last night via my Books-A-Million e-mail subscription, I got curious and decided to take a look.

It turns out that of the 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years, I have read a grand total of six. Of those, I would say that four were good choices for such a list (A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Remains of the Day, Atonement, and Gilead). One would fall into the category of "I wouldn't have chosen it, but I can sort of see why they would" (The Golden Compass. As kiddie lit goes, it's not badly written, spiritual themes aside, and people always seem to be searching for the next great children's classic and eager to dole out that title whenever they get half a chance. It's not until The Amber Spyglass that the writing in that series really goes down the toilet, pardon the expression). And one goes under "They've got to be kidding" (The Da Vinci Code).

So where's Peace Like a River, I'd like to know? And there's no place for Jasper Fforde? If they were allowing adventure stories, how could they justify elevating dreck like The Da Vinci Code over some of the sharpest and wittiest adventure stories of our time? Also, I haven't read David McCullough's biography of John Adams yet -- been trying to get to it ever since it was published, actually -- but it's so loved and respected a book that it's hard to see why it wouldn't make such a list.

What do you think of the list, and what would you add or take away? Are you reading anything now that you think might be a candidate for classic status?

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taj

I am always baffled how THE DA VINCI CODE ends up on lists like these. The controversy it stirred with its pseudo-historical nonsense remains its only draw. Underneath, all that's left is a poorly written pulp novel living under the guise of so-called "earth-shattering" research. If this really ranks as one of the best 100 novels of the last 25 years, this is a poor day for literature.

Jason Taylorj


Istanbul Intrigues by Barry Rubin

I have already mentioned this one numerous times but it deserves to be a classic.


5.0 out of 5 stars Queen of Cities, Queen of Spies, May 16, 2008

I wrote a previous review of this. However I have aquired a new credit card and user name and wish my review of this book to appear on this profile. Therefore:

Istanbul Intrigues by Barry Rubin

http://www.amazon.com/Istanbul-Intrigues-True-Life-Casablanca-Barry/dp/0070542007/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

The guardian shore is under threat,
it's waters lit by fire,
reflecting off each mineret
then leaping up far higher.
On drifting unwelcome shipwrecks flee,
refugees to doors half shut,
and those upon the ramparts fear,
that all escape is cut.
Councilors heatedly debate,
while envoys speak with charm,
so none can help but hesitate,
between such hope and harm.
Spies do gather, purchase, bribe
inside the city walls.
Can one hope faithfully to describe,
that which then befalls?

This evocative verse leads into Barry Rubin's masterpiece Istanbul Intrigues. There are many cities
in the world which have had conspiracies take place within them. This is the only city that is
an adjective for conspiracy. Like a good spy it has had many names. To the Northmen it was Miklagard
the Great, where a hardy mercenary had a good job waiting for him battleing the Emperor's foes.
In the Middle Ages, it was Constantine's City, greatest in all of Christiandom. To the Ancient Greeks
it was Byzantium, from whence we get the well deserved adjective for intrigue, "Byzantine." And to the
Turks it is, of course, Istanbul. But whatever name it goes under, it is still the dark Queen of Cities.
The crossroads of the world where can be found every race in the Meditteranean, and in which lie secrets,
upon secrets and secrets within secrets heaped upon one another every which way. It is a place
of splendor and a place of many a tale. So it has ever been. So it still is. And so it was in the
days of our grandfathers when the world was in flames.
Barry Rubin is a political columnist. But he missed his calling, for he should have been a spy novelist.
Istanbul Intrigues is a history that paints vividly the Eastern Meditterranean during World War II, centering on neutral
Turkey. It gives a show of the labyrinthine struggle between the many factions contending for influence.
From the elegant diplomatic receptions where inpeccably dressed powerbrokers decided the fate of nations
over wine and caviar. To the seemy underworld of the bazaars and alleyways where the struggle went
on in a less elegant form-but ever refereed by the Turkish Security, the grim and ever vigilant Emniyet whom
the author obviously admires. It also shows the politics and warfare in and around the Balkans and
Middle East wherein the warring parties nibbled at each other.
The descriptions are excellant and a delight to read. They have an aesthetic quality reached by few
spy novels. And they show well the feel of the constant, ever-changing labyrinth of Power-politics, and
covert-warfare, in the greatest of all conflicts.
Some will find fault with it's obvious nostalgia and romanticism of World War II. Seemingly an odd fault
for someone named Rubin. Perhaps it is, as romanticism of war often is, a lament. But the romanticism is in
this case not cartoonish(a flaw which my experience as an amateur writer makes me more charitable toward) at least.
And it does suit my taste and will suit many others.
So if you wish for a book to both entertain and inform you, read Istanbul Intrigues and you will
likly be pleased.

Here is another
The Silk Road, A History by Franck and Brownstone

http://www.amazon.com/Silk-Road-Irene-M-Franck/dp/0816011222/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

This is one of the books that first made me interested in the Silk Road-and thus, helped inspire the title of my profile site. It describes the timeless and romantic trade across Central Asia. It shows a grand diversity of Princes, Spies, Soldiers, Envoys, Pilgrims, Adventurers and above all Traders of various tribes and peoples who braved the perils of the journey across Asia. It also shows the empires which spread across the Silk Road and waned, each in their turn. And the fabulous and romantic riches which lured people to dare the perils of the Silk Road.
Those who like me, think of history as story as well as science should read this. It gives a glimpse into the lands where in our imaginations Scherenazade charmed the mad sultan, where Sobrah and Rustam fought their climatic battle, where Prestor John ruled over his nebulous empire, and the Jinn haunted the desert sands. And the land where in real but only slightly less romantic life, conquerors like Alexander and Ghenghis Khan rampaged about, traders like Marco Polo traveled, where the Chinese envoy Chang Ch'ien went on his quest for the Heavenly Horses of Ferghana. And where such items with romantic histories-like tea, coffee silks, spices, jade chess, and more traveled about as each culture added it's peculiar enrichments to life.
A fine read and well to be recommended.

Jason Taylor

By the way, I am jason taylor, not jason taylorj. No matter.

One which should be listed is the Amazon Kindle. This is not just a book but a new mode of communication allowing one to carry dozens of cheap affordable and easily carried books straped to one's belt in a calculator case.

Jason Taylor

The Emperors Winding Sheet by Jill Paton Walsh

http://www.amazon.com/Emperors-Winding-Sheet-Paton-Walsh/dp/188691088X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1216414760&sr=8-1

Jason Taylor

Here is a list of the reviews I have given on my amazon profile:

part 1:

pixel


To the Ends of the Earth: The Great Travel and Trade Routes of History (A Hudson Group Book)
by Irene Franck
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

16 used & new from $3.19


5.0 out of 5 stars The Vagrant Gypsy Life, July 16, 2008

This book is the cousin of "The Silk Road: A History" by the same author. And much of my review of that book would apply to this. Few think of commerce as romantic. Yet the history of commerce is about more then accounting. It is about the Clipper Ships that raced on the China trade, the caravans that crossed the desert. It is about vikings, cossacks, mountain men, bedouin and other peoples who traveled and traded along the ancient roads. It is about the semimystical aura of storied items like gems and spices, and the intrigues between kings. Finally it is about connection, the ways each people showed what it could contribute to life with his hands and his mind. And it is about the endurance of myriads of people who wandered along the ancient pathways.
For those who wish to travel through time and space in their minds, this is the book for you.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: commerce, economics, irene franck
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: shoppingshopping, united statesunited states, tipstips, referencereference, world war iiworld war ii



Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe
by Peter Spufford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.50
Availability: In Stock

26 used & new from $18.84


4.0 out of 5 stars In Search of Seekers of Ducats, July 16, 2008

The distribution business as it was of old still hangs on in some places. In out of the way places like the Karakoram Highway and the old Silk Road, traders are still small nomad-like businessmen struggling to survive in a dangerous world. But that world has gone away for the most part.
This book gives an informative glance at the life of the trader in Europe during the Middle Ages when there was no law, no dependable travel or communications, and every merchant had to live by his wits and sometimes by his sword. It is a collection of facts rather then of entertaining anecdotes and would be an aquired taste. For those that desire to learn however, it is well worth the effort.
As a by the way, one amusing anecdote the author gives is that in Eastern Europe security often looked suspiciously at him taking pictures of bridges. To be fair, that was of course their job, bridges are important for military traffic as well as commercial and if they were a bit more paranoid then Western security would be, it would have been a fine cover. Of course the author might really have been working for the CIA, heh, heh, heh.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: economic history, europe
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: peter spuffordpeter spufford, medievalmedieval, world war iiworld war ii



Venice: A City, A Republic, An Empire
by Aluise Zorzi
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

4 used & new from $99.50


5.0 out of 5 stars Vive, San Marco!, July 16, 2008

Today the city of Venice is associated with love, song, harmless frivolity and the Italian joy of life. Such things are not to be scorned within their proper place-this world's life is not so rich in joy that we can afford to scorn such things. But that Venice is a glimpse of what it was-a fairy princess retaining her beauty but shorn of her power, majesty and menace. There was once another Venice. A city where merchants were kings(as some Victorian poet puts it). A city of furious energy. A city of Empire-builders, Adventurers, mighty in war and magnificient in peace. A city of every virtue except humility and every vice except sloth.
Alvise Zorzi gives a splendid portrait of that city. He writes in an engaging manner expressing a gentle but unashamed local patriotism toward his beloved city. He tells anecdotes of various kinds, and describes various aspects of the life of Venice. Combined with the beautiful photos and paintings, which are given, this book is a marvelous thing.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: aluise zorzi, italy, venice
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: worldworld, englandengland, world war iiworld war ii



The Silk Road: A History
by Irene M. Franck
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

11 used & new from $16.49


5.0 out of 5 stars A Treasure From Fair Cathay..., July 16, 2008

This is one of the books that first made me interested in the Silk Road-and thus, helped inspire the title of my profile site. It describes the timeless and romantic trade across Central Asia. It shows a grand diversity of Princes, Spies, Soldiers, Envoys, Pilgrims, Adventurers and above all Traders of various tribes and peoples who braved the perils of the journey across Asia. It also shows the empires which spread across the Silk Road and waned, each in their turn. And the fabulous and romantic riches which lured people to dare the perils of the Silk Road.
Those who like me, think of history as story as well as science should read this. It gives a glimpse into the lands where in our imaginations Scherenazade charmed the mad sultan, where Sobrah and Rustam fought their climatic battle, where Prestor John ruled over his nebulous empire, and the Jinn haunted the desert sands. And the land where in real but only slightly less romantic life, conquerors like Alexander and Ghenghis Khan rampaged about, traders like Marco Polo traveled, where the Chinese envoy Chang Ch'ien went on his quest for the Heavenly Horses of Ferghana. And where such items with romantic histories-like tea, coffee silks, spices, jade chess, and more traveled about as each culture added it's peculiar enrichments to life.
A fine read and well to be recommended.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: irene m franck, silk road
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: memoirsmemoirs, tipstips, biographiesbiographies, referencereference, tibettibet, chinachina, world war iiworld war ii



Daily Life in the Age of Sail: (The Greenwood Press "Daily Life Through History" Series)
by Dorothy Denneen Volo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $57.95
Availability: Usually ships in 2 to 4 weeks

17 used & new from $25.17


5.0 out of 5 stars Very, Very Good, July 16, 2008

This is my favorite of the Daily Life series. It describes the sailing life of old. It begins with an evocative image of what a harbor was like from the smelly disreputable districts filled with landsharks of various kinds to the mansions of the maritime aristocracy of merchants and captains, as well as the various inns, taverns, coffeehouses and other places of relaxation. The image of The Harbor-the place where wilderness and civilization meet in sharp contrast has long been an archetype that haunted my mind and the authors' description captured it perfectly.
This is my favorite part. However there is much more. Descriptions of various parts of the sailing way of life and of the people that lived it.
It is written in a charming and easy-to-read manner and would be quite suitable for older children or for anyone without much time on their hands(which statement must not be taken to mean that I think it unsuitable for those who are not in that situation: I do not desire to encourage people to deprive themselves of an experience from misplaced intellectual snobbery).
It is a book that can be useful as an education aid for it makes learning fun, as well as conveying information. As do the rest of the Daily Lifes. A teacher, private tutor, or home-schooling parent can find the Daily Life in the Age of Sail very useful.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: daily life, dorothy denneen volo, history, ships
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: sailingsailing, sportssports, nonfictionnonfiction, world war iiworld war ii



THE GURKHAS
by BYRON FARWELL
Edition: Paperback
Availability: Currently unavailable

8 used & new from $7.95


5.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Tribute to an Engaging People, July 7, 2008

Aiyo Gurkali-"The Gurkhas are coming"(battle cry of the Gurkhas).

"I am a Gurkha-I must not cry out"(wounded Gurkha)

"My inclination to run for cover,not lessoned by a salvo of mortar bombs that came down behind me, was only restrained by the thought of what a figure the
corps commander would cut, sprinting for safety, in front of all these little men. So, not liking it a bit, I continued to walk forward. Then from behind a
a rock that offered scant cover to his bulky figure rose my old friend, the subadar-major of the 7th Gurkhas, his face creased in a huge grin which almost hid his almond eyes. He stood there and shook with laughter at me. I asked him coldly what he was laughing at and he replied that it was very funny seeing the General Sahib alone by himself not knowing what to do! And, by jove, he was right; I did not"-Field Marshall Slim(The Ghurkhas, by Bryon Farwell).


When the British task force set out for the Falklands they deliberately released the names of the regiments that were going. Among them were the Ghurkhas. The Argentines took the hint. When the Ghurkhas swarmed up the ridge in the final assault , they found it empty of foemen for they had scattered to the winds. Sometimes it is good to have a reputation.
The Ghurkhas are Nepali who have traditionally served in the British Army. They have recieved a distinction which few others have recieved. They are ALMOST as good as Englishmen. The Gurkhas naturally return the compliment. They think Englishmen are ALMOST as good as themselves. Traditionally the Ghurkas and the British have been as thick as thieves(cynics might note that that metaphor has in some cases been more accurate then one might wish, but that is beside the point).
In Nepal, soldiering is a prestiegious occupation. Nepali are poor and warlike, and English are rich and warlike. Service in a Gurkha regiment provides a reputation that one can take home to one's hamlet in Nepal. It also provides material goods. There is pay, obviously. There are also perks like innoculation, and training in the use of technology. As a result nine can be turned away and one accepted making the Ghurkhas some of the most formidable infantry in the world.
Gurkhas have a certain stereotype. They are always polite and rather boyish. They also take discipline quite seriously. And they are of smaller stature then normal among humans. One might remark sarcastically, that that description would fit a Golden Retriever. However that is PCness talking and while it is patronizing, there are worse sins then an officer feeling an affection, however snobbish, toward his men.
Be that as it may, the Ghurkhas have always been steadfast and loyal troops and well deserve the reputation bestowed on them. They have a number of decorations to their credit and the only serving Victoria Cross is a Ghurka. Bryan Farwell gives a fascinating description of the Ghurkhas both in the field, and in their normal day-to-day life. It is written in a most engaging manner and describes not just their martial qualities but their customs, idiosyncracies, and manner of living. It is an affectionate look at people who are regarded as fearsome in battle, but tender, boyish and lovable off-duty. A strange stereotype but not the worst and if true it fits the image of the ideal warrior who is "fierce in the field and meek in the hall." Many of the writers perspectives would be considered old-fashioned today. But being old-fashioned does not mean he has nothing to say.
Besides historical and social descriptions the author gives various things including jokes about Ghurkhas(usually relating to their sense of discipline)and one or two jokes by Ghurkhas(they love to laugh but have a rather grim sense of humor that can be an aquired taste). Also such things like the custom of satirizing officers in little skits, and customs surrounding the fearsome Kukri-blades which are brush-cutter, meat-cleaver,religious sacrificial implement, and weapon all in one and are forever associated with the gallant Ghurkhas. There are also a number of entertaining war-stories from the time the Ghurkhas first started taking service to the present day. The book was published to early to have any stories from the present conflict and those who are looking for such will have to look elsewhere. However there are more then enough blood-and-thunder anecdotes to entertain anyone.
So if you wish to follow the Ghurkas as they go to the ends of the Earth in the Queen's service, read this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2008 8:12 PM PDT

Your tags: british army, byron farwell, ghurkhas, nepal, war, world war ii
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: military sciencemilitary science



The Immortal Game
Price: $7.96
Availability: Auto-delivered wirelessly to Kindle


5.0 out of 5 stars A Windfall, June 4, 2008

This review is given of a book I havn't finished. Hoever I have gone a long way through and like what I have found.
This is the book I always thought, "interesting but I have a lot to read." I was also disappointed because I thought from the review on the jacket that it was about chess in general instead of the famous game.
Well, as I found when I got it on my Kindle it was both. It traces the history of Chess through the ages. It also gives an in-depth study of the famous Immortal Game(a notable game played between two masters in a London Gentleman's Club), with illustrations and analysis of every move, which is great as I simply don't have the gift of making a mind picture out of notation. The book is written in an engaging style and gives charming anecdotes. It is not written in a the style of a typical chess manuel but in a way an average reader can comprehend and enjoy.
The book is slightly flawed as regards general history. The distinction between the Middle Ages and the Renaisance was exagerrated. And Islam did not come anywhere near eliminating tribal feuding from Islamic countries except for a brief time. And the amount of Ancient knowledge that was transmuted via Islam, as opposed to Byzantium is also exaggerated(a better way to look at it is that increased contact between Northern Europe and the Meditteranean rim as a whole brought advances in Northern lands). Those however are minor points. And are matters of historical disputation anyway. All that is irrelevant. What the book gives, a rich tapestry of the lore of the Game of Kings is what makes the book worth reading.
The book, on the whole is just what I wanted. A history of chess and chess folklore written in a charming manner. I love the type of book that traces the history and legends surrounding some particular commodity or item and have been wanting something about chess for a long time. In short this book was a great windfall.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2008 7:03 PM PDT

Your tags: chess, david shenk, kindle books
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: world war iiworld war ii

Jason Taylor

part 2:

Public Reviews Written by You RSS Feed
Show:
Page: 1 | 2
pixel


To the Ends of the Earth: The Great Travel and Trade Routes of History (A Hudson Group Book)
by Irene Franck
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

16 used & new from $3.19


5.0 out of 5 stars The Vagrant Gypsy Life, July 16, 2008

This book is the cousin of "The Silk Road: A History" by the same author. And much of my review of that book would apply to this. Few think of commerce as romantic. Yet the history of commerce is about more then accounting. It is about the Clipper Ships that raced on the China trade, the caravans that crossed the desert. It is about vikings, cossacks, mountain men, bedouin and other peoples who traveled and traded along the ancient roads. It is about the semimystical aura of storied items like gems and spices, and the intrigues between kings. Finally it is about connection, the ways each people showed what it could contribute to life with his hands and his mind. And it is about the endurance of myriads of people who wandered along the ancient pathways.
For those who wish to travel through time and space in their minds, this is the book for you.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: commerce, economics, irene franck
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: shoppingshopping, united statesunited states, tipstips, referencereference, world war iiworld war ii



Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe
by Peter Spufford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.50
Availability: In Stock

26 used & new from $18.84


4.0 out of 5 stars In Search of Seekers of Ducats, July 16, 2008

The distribution business as it was of old still hangs on in some places. In out of the way places like the Karakoram Highway and the old Silk Road, traders are still small nomad-like businessmen struggling to survive in a dangerous world. But that world has gone away for the most part.
This book gives an informative glance at the life of the trader in Europe during the Middle Ages when there was no law, no dependable travel or communications, and every merchant had to live by his wits and sometimes by his sword. It is a collection of facts rather then of entertaining anecdotes and would be an aquired taste. For those that desire to learn however, it is well worth the effort.
As a by the way, one amusing anecdote the author gives is that in Eastern Europe security often looked suspiciously at him taking pictures of bridges. To be fair, that was of course their job, bridges are important for military traffic as well as commercial and if they were a bit more paranoid then Western security would be, it would have been a fine cover. Of course the author might really have been working for the CIA, heh, heh, heh.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: economic history, europe
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: peter spuffordpeter spufford, medievalmedieval, world war iiworld war ii



Venice: A City, A Republic, An Empire
by Aluise Zorzi
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

4 used & new from $99.50


5.0 out of 5 stars Vive, San Marco!, July 16, 2008

Today the city of Venice is associated with love, song, harmless frivolity and the Italian joy of life. Such things are not to be scorned within their proper place-this world's life is not so rich in joy that we can afford to scorn such things. But that Venice is a glimpse of what it was-a fairy princess retaining her beauty but shorn of her power, majesty and menace. There was once another Venice. A city where merchants were kings(as some Victorian poet puts it). A city of furious energy. A city of Empire-builders, Adventurers, mighty in war and magnificient in peace. A city of every virtue except humility and every vice except sloth.
Alvise Zorzi gives a splendid portrait of that city. He writes in an engaging manner expressing a gentle but unashamed local patriotism toward his beloved city. He tells anecdotes of various kinds, and describes various aspects of the life of Venice. Combined with the beautiful photos and paintings, which are given, this book is a marvelous thing.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: aluise zorzi, italy, venice
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: worldworld, englandengland, world war iiworld war ii



The Silk Road: A History
by Irene M. Franck
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

11 used & new from $16.49


5.0 out of 5 stars A Treasure From Fair Cathay..., July 16, 2008

This is one of the books that first made me interested in the Silk Road-and thus, helped inspire the title of my profile site. It describes the timeless and romantic trade across Central Asia. It shows a grand diversity of Princes, Spies, Soldiers, Envoys, Pilgrims, Adventurers and above all Traders of various tribes and peoples who braved the perils of the journey across Asia. It also shows the empires which spread across the Silk Road and waned, each in their turn. And the fabulous and romantic riches which lured people to dare the perils of the Silk Road.
Those who like me, think of history as story as well as science should read this. It gives a glimpse into the lands where in our imaginations Scherenazade charmed the mad sultan, where Sobrah and Rustam fought their climatic battle, where Prestor John ruled over his nebulous empire, and the Jinn haunted the desert sands. And the land where in real but only slightly less romantic life, conquerors like Alexander and Ghenghis Khan rampaged about, traders like Marco Polo traveled, where the Chinese envoy Chang Ch'ien went on his quest for the Heavenly Horses of Ferghana. And where such items with romantic histories-like tea, coffee silks, spices, jade chess, and more traveled about as each culture added it's peculiar enrichments to life.
A fine read and well to be recommended.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: irene m franck, silk road
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: memoirsmemoirs, tipstips, biographiesbiographies, referencereference, tibettibet, chinachina, world war iiworld war ii



Daily Life in the Age of Sail: (The Greenwood Press "Daily Life Through History" Series)
by Dorothy Denneen Volo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $57.95
Availability: Usually ships in 2 to 4 weeks

17 used & new from $25.17


5.0 out of 5 stars Very, Very Good, July 16, 2008

This is my favorite of the Daily Life series. It describes the sailing life of old. It begins with an evocative image of what a harbor was like from the smelly disreputable districts filled with landsharks of various kinds to the mansions of the maritime aristocracy of merchants and captains, as well as the various inns, taverns, coffeehouses and other places of relaxation. The image of The Harbor-the place where wilderness and civilization meet in sharp contrast has long been an archetype that haunted my mind and the authors' description captured it perfectly.
This is my favorite part. However there is much more. Descriptions of various parts of the sailing way of life and of the people that lived it.
It is written in a charming and easy-to-read manner and would be quite suitable for older children or for anyone without much time on their hands(which statement must not be taken to mean that I think it unsuitable for those who are not in that situation: I do not desire to encourage people to deprive themselves of an experience from misplaced intellectual snobbery).
It is a book that can be useful as an education aid for it makes learning fun, as well as conveying information. As do the rest of the Daily Lifes. A teacher, private tutor, or home-schooling parent can find the Daily Life in the Age of Sail very useful.
Comment Comment | Permalink

Your tags: daily life, dorothy denneen volo, history, ships
(Edit) (Add|Edit) ( What's this?)
Click to Add: sailingsailing, sportssports, nonfictionnonfiction, world war iiworld war ii



THE GURKHAS
by BYRON FARWELL
Edition: Paperback
Availability: Currently unavailable

8 used & new from $7.95


5.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Tribute to an Engaging People, July 7, 2008

Aiyo Gurkali-"The Gurkhas are coming"(battle cry of the Gurkhas).

"I am a Gurkha-I must not cry out"(wounded Gurkha)

"My inclination to run for cover,not lessoned by a salvo of mortar bombs that came down behind me, was only restrained by the thought of what a figure the
corps commander would cut, sprinting for safety, in front of all these little men. So, not liking it a bit, I continued to walk forward. Then from behind a
a rock that offered scant cover to his bulky figure rose my old friend, the subadar-major of the 7th Gurkhas, his face creased in a huge grin which almost hid his almond eyes. He stood there and shook with laughter at me. I asked him coldly what he was laughing at and he replied that it was very funny seeing the General Sahib alone by himself not knowing what to do! And, by jove, he was right; I did not"-Field Marshall Slim(The Ghurkhas, by Bryon Farwell).


When the British task force set out for the Falklands they deliberately released the names of the regiments that were going. Among them were the Ghurkhas. The Argentines took the hint. When the Ghurkhas swarmed up the ridge in the final assault , they found it empty of foemen for they had scattered to the winds. Sometimes it is good to have a reputation.
The Ghurkhas are Nepali who have traditionally served in the British Army. They have recieved a distinction which few others have recieved. They are ALMOST as good as Englishmen. The Gurkhas naturally return the compliment. They think Englishmen are ALMOST as good as themselves. Traditionally the Ghurkas and the British have been as thick as thieves(cynics might note that that metaphor has in some cases been more accurate then one might wish, but that is beside the point).
In Nepal, soldiering is a prestiegious occupation. Nepali are poor and warlike, and English are rich and warlike. Service in a Gurkha regiment provides a reputation that one can take home to one's hamlet in Nepal. It also provides material goods. There is pay, obviously. There are also perks like innoculation, and training in the use of technology. As a result nine can be turned away and one accepted making the Ghurkhas some of the most formidable infantry in the world.
Gurkhas have a certain stereotype. They are always polite and rather boyish. They also take discipline quite seriously. And they are of smaller stature then normal among humans. One might remark sarcastically, that that description would fit a Golden Retriever. However that is PCness talking and while it is patronizing, there are worse sins then an officer feeling an affection, however snobbish, toward his men.
Be that as it may, the Ghurkhas have always been steadfast and loyal troops and well deserve the reputation bestowed on them. They have a number of decorations to their credit and the only serving Victoria Cross is a Ghurka. Bryan Farwell gives a fascinating description of the Ghurkhas both in the field, and in their normal day-to-day life. It is written in a most engaging manner and describes not just their martial qualities but their customs, idiosyncracies, and manner of living. It is an affectionate look at people who are regarded as fearsome in battle, but tender, boyish and lovable off-duty. A strange stereotype but not the worst and if true it fits the image of the ideal warrior who is "fierce in the field and meek in the hall." Many of the writers perspectives would be considered old-fashioned today. But being old-fashioned does not mean he has nothing to say.
Besides historical and social descriptions the author gives various things including jokes about Ghurkhas(usually relating to their sense of discipline)and one or two jokes by Ghurkhas(they love to laugh but have a rather grim sense of humor that can be an aquired taste). Also such things like the custom of satirizing officers in little skits, and customs surrounding the fearsome Kukri-blades which are brush-cutter, meat-cleaver,religious sacrificial implement, and weapon all in one and are forever associated with the gallant Ghurkhas. There are also a number of entertaining war-stories from the time the Ghurkhas first started taking service to the present day. The book was published to early to have any stories from the present conflict and those who are looking for such will have to look elsewhere. However there are more then enough blood-and-thunder anecdotes to entertain anyone.
So if you wish to follow the Ghurkas as they go to the ends of the Earth in the Queen's service, read this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2008 8:12 PM PDT

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The Immortal Game
Price: $7.96
Availability: Auto-delivered wirelessly to Kindle


5.0 out of 5 stars A Windfall, June 4, 2008

This review is given of a book I havn't finished. Hoever I have gone a long way through and like what I have found.
This is the book I always thought, "interesting but I have a lot to read." I was also disappointed because I thought from the review on the jacket that it was about chess in general instead of the famous game.
Well, as I found when I got it on my Kindle it was both. It traces the history of Chess through the ages. It also gives an in-depth study of the famous Immortal Game(a notable game played between two masters in a London Gentleman's Club), with illustrations and analysis of every move, which is great as I simply don't have the gift of making a mind picture out of notation. The book is written in an engaging style and gives charming anecdotes. It is not written in a the style of a typical chess manuel but in a way an average reader can comprehend and enjoy.
The book is slightly flawed as regards general history. The distinction between the Middle Ages and the Renaisance was exagerrated. And Islam did not come anywhere near eliminating tribal feuding from Islamic countries except for a brief time. And the amount of Ancient knowledge that was transmuted via Islam, as opposed to Byzantium is also exaggerated(a better way to look at it is that increased contact between Northern Europe and the Meditteranean rim as a whole brought advances in Northern lands). Those however are minor points. And are matters of historical disputation anyway. All that is irrelevant. What the book gives, a rich tapestry of the lore of the Game of Kings is what makes the book worth reading.
The book, on the whole is just what I wanted. A history of chess and chess folklore written in a charming manner. I love the type of book that traces the history and legends surrounding some particular commodity or item and have been wanting something about chess for a long time. In short this book was a great windfall.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2008 7:03 PM PDT

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Cavalry of World War II
by Piekalkiewic
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Mgnificent Anachronism, May 31, 2008

The Cavalry of World War II by Janusz Piekalkiewicz

One of the greatest myths of sublime courage to come out of World War II was that of the Polish Cavalry charging the German tanks. Curiously it was made by the German propagandists as a way of ridiculing the aledged backwardness of the Poles. It also shows the difference in militarisms and that Nazis were not just vicious but vulgar. An Old-school officer, German or otherwise would not have gloated at such a thing.


There is another thing to know about the event. It never took place. Actually never is such a strong word. It might have taken place, war is always rather confused and the Polish campaign seems more confused then usual. If it happened it was either a miscalculation, a deliberate sacrifice(to cover another unit for instance), or simply an act of despair. But even the legendary specialty chauvinism of cavalry did not extend so far as to think a sabre could penetrate a tank's armor. Nontheless this legend is taken as both an example of the desperate courage and quixotism of the Polish people and the obsolescence of the horse. The first is no myth, or rather no falsehood; the Poles fought well in their lost cause and in the end all they received was honor. The second is false. For cavalry, with it's limitations rightly understood was a very useful tool. What it could not do in a modern battlefield is as important as what it could do. It could not be "heavy cavalry" any more. That is it could not be concentrated at a weak point like a wedge jammed into a wall to be hammered home after the infantry crowbar had pried it open. That role was exclusively the tanks. It could not monopolize the "light cavalry" role of scouting, pursuit, and "exploitation"(roughly, marauding and terrorizing rear-echeloners)as there were now aircraft and armored cars. However the horse had a niche of it's own in the "light" role. It can go over broken terrain that machines can't reach. It can(to some degree) live on grass*. And it is often easier to buy or steal fodder then to do so with fuel. This made the horse important in wild places like the wastes of Russia.


The author gives tales of the horse as it fought round the world for various nations large and small. There are many interesting tales. But most of the book is given over to photos that give a remarkable show of the cavalryman's life. These photos show such things as normal life in camp and on the march. It achieves one of the great achievements of a good historian, of transporting the reader into another world, in this case the bittersweet world of men who are not just fighting but upholding a way of life that the world seems to have little room for-and yet finding a place for it. It displays a curious incongruity with the world of technological warfare.

In a way World War II was the end of the old world. This was the time when sailing ships disappeared finally from the world of commerce after a long struggle with engines. It was a time when much of the world still traveled by animals even in what we would think the most technological developed regions. It was end of the old colonial world and the predominance of Europe. It was perhaps the last war directed and fought to a large degree by the descendants of the old aristocratic class that had reigned for centuries. World War II was a time when the old and the new existed together in a strange contrast. And it was the last large scale war in which cavalry played, if not a key role, certainly not an insignificant part.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the book was written by a Pole, a nation proud of it's "horseiness". And a nation that is the home of lost causes. For a Polish cavalryman fought for two lost causes at once-that of Poland, and that of the horse. Neither succeeded but both had a good run for it. So read this book which is a great tribute to, to paraphrase the German analyst in the movie Patton: "The Mounted Warrior, A Magnificent Anachronism."
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Calhamer on Diplomacy: The Boardgame Diplomacy and Diplomatic History
by Allan B. Calhamer
Edition: Paperback
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

3 used & new from $36.25


3.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book for a Great Game, May 27, 2008

At first glance the word "Diplomacy" conjures up a rather boring picture. Every time there is a crisis someone says try "diplomacy" which apparantly means meeting together in a conclave, toasting each other with wine, understanding each other and thus eliminating war and congratulating each other on how civilized you are. This may be how diplomacy should be. It is not what it is. Nor is it what this game is about...
Have you ever pictured yourself a ruler fighting for power in the midst of a tangled web of deceit? This is the game for you. You get to be in the place of Fredrick the Great, Cardinal Richielieu, Otto von Bismark and all the great and sinister masters of European power-struggles. In Diplomacy you get a glimpse into what it is like to make decisions that change the course of history.
Allan Calhammer writes an excellent book about both the game and the background. He tells both anecdotes from Diplomatic history and from the game of the tense struggles for dominance and the conspiracies between various powers. The game is a remarkable game. So remarkable that the next time you read a history book you will feel a sense of deju vu. Calhamer also gives the various strategems involved in the game which are many and mighty.
So enjoy the book and enjoy the game. And as "the Diplomatic Pouch" E-game club says to naive new Diplomacy players, we hope to...

Stab You Soon!
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PAINTED IN BLOOD (Understanding Europeans)
by Miller & berry
Edition: Board book
Availability: Out of Print--Limited Availability

30 used & new from $0.74


3.0 out of 5 stars Quite Interesting, May 24, 2008

I have sometimes thought that a good description of the difference between Europeans and Americans is that Europeans built Western Civilization from it's beginnings and Americans fulfilled it. Thus many characteristics which Americans think distasteful(like factionalism) are scars left from centuries of labor. Americans built their land with many of the most important lessons already learned by others. Likewise many of the things Europeans dislike(like shallowness)come of the lack of that. The difference, and the jealousy is like that between a seasoned veteran and a talented newcomer.
In any case Stuart Miller provides an overview of what he precieves as the differences. Many of them show traits in his personality that I do not possess. He seems to feel to be horrified by the thought of the centuries of war piled around him in a way I was not. For instance he found it disconcerting the intense preperations Switzerland made(sixty days food supply, every man in the militia, etc). Personally I always found that attractive as a sign of the "yeomanly virtue" of taking responsibility for one's own defense. I also thought it an attractive bit of edginess to a people that might otherwise seem unbearably respectable.
And he found the European habit of constant debate equally disconcerting when he was apparently raised in an atmosphere of consensus. On the other hand I do often take pleasure in debate. And the "pseudo-animism" he describes of placing a mystique in objects does strike a chord in me-I get shocked by the idea destroying a book. I also have a respect for tradition. In other words I have many characteristics that the author would call "European" rather then "American". On the other hand in some ways I am different. For instance while war is interesting to me both as an intellectual subject and a source for stories it never seems to dig as deep into me as the author says it does into Europe and I don't really have "historical shell shock" that the author describes. Nor do I think much about vendetta. The idea of historical grudges seems barbaric to me, and feuds caused by political extremism often seem opaque to me.
Much of the picture of Europe the author gives is really a picture of "the grungy old world". Americans are perhaps more like Australians then Europeans in having been able to build a new society with the lessons already learned by others and have some of the same outlook on life. Some of the traits the author notices however, can be noticed equally in Asians and Levantines. Perhaps what makes Europe different is the competeing and complementary worldviews of "Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem"(or classical and Hebraic thought), mixed with and reinforcing, or straining against the normal order common to men.
Besides the less pleasant features, the author describes a great love for beauty and an instinct for elegance which is worthy of appreciation. Americans create lots of useful things but may be less capable at creating beautiful things. Acording to the author, they are even better at making themselves appear beautiful and their women are better trained in that. That's as may be. I do know a French accent sounds well in a female voice.
Much of all this in the authors work can be called stereotyping. But a culture(or cluster of cultures)would have nothing to define it unless it had something in common to itself that is different from other cultures. This book is an illuminating work. And if it is only one person's perspective, ultimatly all works of this kind must be so. It is well worth the getting.
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Gina Dalfonzo

Jason, we appreciate your sharing your Amazon reviews, but I'm afraid they're starting to take up an awful lot of space. Could you maybe just put the link here so that people can go look at them at Amazon? Thanks.

Jason Taylor

http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2RNU49OEH8L9W

Sorry if I inconvenienced anyone.

Gina Dalfonzo

That's okay. Thanks for the link! :-)

Kari

I don't see how any list is complete without Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, particularly the City Watch books. Though comedic fantasy may not be high on other people's lists of powerful and important books, Night Watch and Thud! explore important philosophical questions about the meaning of love, the importance of our actions as individuals, and overcoming the nature of being human and being flawed to do the right thing... while also being extremely funny and posing questions about society at large and how governments work and why they do the things they do. Many bookstores would do the whole genre of so-called fantasy a benefit by pulling out some of the dreadful series offerings and putting these in its stead.

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