Current Reading - 2020
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Guess I'll start us off for the year. I finished The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 by Waverly Root. This fascinating, if somewhat over-detailed, work about World War 2 by journalist Waverly Root was published in 1945 after the end of the war in Europe but before the Japanese surrender. However, some of the chapters were written even before V-E Day and so speak of the war in Europe as still ongoing. The "Secret" of the title refers to the fact that Root's primary themes are not the military conduct of the war (although that is certainly referred to), but the diplomatic, propaganda and economic machinations of the various powers, both public and, as the word suggests, clandestine. Although Root writes about events and power relationships all over the globe, his two main theses are that a) France was betrayed by traitors highly placed within their government and military who were themselves fascists and wanted to see the Republic eliminated and that b) the U.S. State Department made one wrong-headed move after another, particularly when it came to their decision to legitimize the collaborators within the Vichy government and freeze out De Gaulle and his Free French movement as much as possible, despite the fact that Vichy was willingly cooperating with the Axis and De Gaulle was actually fighting alongside the U.S. and England. The book's final 140-page chapter details at great length the ways in which this dynamic played itself out in France's vast colonial territories before, during and after the Allied invasion of North Africa. Root's thesis about why the State Department was so consistently pointed in the wrong direction was that the department was basically a clubhouse of Ivy Leaguers and others of the patrician class who had little comfort with or respect for the average American and, in actual practice, the ideals of Democracy. He believed that these men were more comfortable with their fellow rich kids within the Vichy government and not particularly uncomfortable with the fascist leanings.
I read Volume 1 of this set last year.
Finished an excellent biography, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway by Eve Golden. The book isn't as much about Ziegfeld as the title much suggest, which is fine since Anna Held is a far more interesting person than the character we saw played by Luise Rainer in the movie The Great Ziegfeld. Highly recommended.
Completed an excellent Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey. The title is a bit misleading, as the central character was actually the British consul to Charleston, South Carolina, assigned there in 1853 and staying until just before the Union attack in early 1863. He was very instrumental in keeping the British government aware of the impending crisis and the true state of the political realities of the secessionist movement. Very much worth reading.
Completed Fort Sisseton by Harold H. Schuler. This is a history of the fort which is in northeastern South Dakota and was operational from 1864 to 1889. It is more than just a record of the events at the fort, there is also some excellent discussions of the many features of the fort and the people there. Chapters about how the officers and enlisted men lived, how they were fed, clothed and paid, medical treatment, communications and a number of other topics. The final chapter wraps up the story with how the fort buildings and grounds went from owner to owner and how, eventually, it became a state park and the buildings restored and preserved. Highly recommended.
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