Current Reading - January 2021

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Current Reading - January 2021

Jan 1, 2021, 3:59pm

With the new year, new books to read, or listen to. I'm listening to Captives of Liberty: Prisoners of War and the Politics of Vengeance in the American Revolution by T. Cole Jones. This is a more scholarly work that looks at the holding of and policies towards prisoners held by both sides. It is a well researched work that explores how the treatment of prisoners changed constantly due to political and logistical pressures. Very interesting.

And I'm reading The Star Captains: Frigate Command in the Napoleonic Wars by Tom Wareham. I picked this up assuming it would be a collection of anecdotal tales of frigate captains, but pleasantly it turned out to be quite different. This is the expansion of the author's doctoral thesis examining all aspects of those who served as frigate captains, starting with backgrounds, promotions, pay, service locations and duration, details of command plus a lot more. It is a very interesting book if you are looking for a more scholarly look at these individuals.

Jan 2, 2021, 1:43am

I read (skimmed in parts) Berossos and Manetho yesterday, which collects and comments the remaining fragments of the only known attempts at a Greek-style history of respectively Babylonia and ancient Egypt by natives. Somewhat disspiriting as a reminder how much has been lost.

Edited: Jan 18, 2021, 10:00am

Speaking of the ancient world, I just finished up 1177 B.C., an overview of what one can reasonably say about the systems crash of the great Bronze Age civilizations. I rather liked the work, but I can see why some folks felt that the author over-promised and under-delivered.

Jan 2, 2021, 3:12pm

>3 Shrike58: I have that book in my "to be read sometime" pile. I read your review over on the book's page and it sounds like it would be worth giving it a try.

Jan 5, 2021, 10:26pm

I read Life in a Medieval Village by Frances Gies It really was very basic and while good, I really wanted more.

Jan 6, 2021, 9:16am

Finished up Jill Lepore's If Then, an examination of the Simulmatics Corporation and the pre-history of "Big Data." I thought it was great but, it should be noted, that Lepore writes with surprising venom about the topic and the time period; she is sooo not impressed!

Edited: Jan 9, 2021, 5:07pm

Jan 10, 2021, 10:01pm

Wrapped up Imperial Twilight this evening. While I thought it was good, the author also dealt a lot less with the actual 1st Opium War than I expected.

Jan 10, 2021, 11:10pm

>8 Shrike58: I was going to add that book to my wishlists till I checked and realized I already have three books on the Opium Wars, two of which I haven't even read yet!

Jan 11, 2021, 8:30am

>9 jztemple: Like I said, there's remarkably little Opium War in the book, being more a history of Anglo-Chinese diplomacy (non-diplomacy might be the better term) on one hand and internal Chinese policy conflict on the other; with the tail wagging the dog being those annoying foreign traders in Canton and Macao.

Edited: Jan 23, 2021, 8:43pm

Finished The Borderland of Fear this morning, a somewhat labored examination of a significant topic; the churn of cross-cutting cultural conflict on the frontier of the Old Northwest. Bottiger looks at both Miami versus Shawnee and Franco-American versus Anglo-American fractures, all of which played a big part in the demonization of The Prophet & Tecumseh, and contributed to there being a battle of Tippecanoe. Let's say that the author has come to bury Henry Harrison, not praise him!

Edited: Jan 12, 2021, 1:58pm

Finishing up The Book of the Continental soldier: Being a Compleat Account of the Uniforms, Weapons, and Equipment with Which He Lived and Fought by Harold Leslie Peterson. A nice look at the arms and equipment of the Continental soldier during the American Revolutionary War.

Edited: Jan 12, 2021, 11:02pm

Reading Manhattan '45 by Jan Morris. A book about Manhattan as it was in 1945, written in the 1980s by someone who never visited till 1953. It's rather uneven, jumbling from subject to subject without really getting into anything deeply. The footnotes are actually of more interest to me than the main text. I'll keep slogging away but I don't know if I'll get through it.

Jan 13, 2021, 9:10am

I finished up The Allagash by Lew Dietz. It's part of the Rivers of America series. The side story is about lumbering in interior Maine and the characters that did the logging. Interesting read. This will be the first read in a long time from the Rivers of America series. I have them all so I'm going to try and read them all!

Jan 13, 2021, 1:42pm

>14 ulmannc: I have several of the Rivers of America series and have read a couple and enjoyed them. I'll have to add that one to my wishlists.

Edited: Jan 16, 2021, 1:46pm

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Jan 18, 2021, 9:54am

>14 ulmannc: Never heard of this series before and it sounds like an interesting concept; so much American history involves rivers and river basins as a determinant factor.

Jan 18, 2021, 9:56am

Speaking of determinant matters in American history, finished up How to Hide an Empire. Very good popular history that makes a virtue out of sprawl.

Jan 18, 2021, 10:15am

>17 Shrike58: Take a look at my tag "Rivers of America" to see most of them.

The series started in the '30s and the last one was written in 1970?. I thought there were 60 in the series but I only see 53. Looks like others appear under the tag "Rivers". I have some cleanup work to do!! There is an excellent bibliography. See

Jan 18, 2021, 10:18am

>19 ulmannc: At the very least I need to look at the one dealing with the Cuyahoga River (my home area).

Jan 18, 2021, 12:19pm

>20 Shrike58: I have read a number of them. . .I'm on a campaign to read them all! Just finished the Allagash which was fun. Many have another theme running through them. In the case of the Allagash it was logging in Maine.

My local one is The Brandywine written by Henry Canby. One of the reasons I got it was that the namesake of the museum where I am the volunteer curator ( was the model for Andrew Wyeth for illustrations in the book published in 1940. Tell you a secret; this one was a rough read! Took me 3 tries to get through it!!

Jan 19, 2021, 12:06am

Working my way through the Audible version of Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains (Frontier Military Series) by Douglas C. McChristian. Pretty good book, although much of it is about the activities going on in eastern Wyoming or adjacent states during the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century.

Jan 20, 2021, 8:44am

Finished with Dakota: The Story of the Northern Plains. My one-word review is "meh." For some reason I thought that I'd be reading a more focused history of the territorial period. To put it another way, when you devote a whole chapter in a short book to Mount Rushmore that suggests you really don't have a lot to say on the subject.

Jan 21, 2021, 1:34pm

I finished Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton. Written more as political and cultural philosophy than as history, this concise and well-written book was first published in 1967 as the Black Power movement and many other historical waves in world and U.S. history were coalescing. I do remember those days, although as young observer, as I turned 12 during the summer of 1967. "Black Power" was a term that made white conservatives angry and white liberals, and some Blacks, nervous. It seemed to speak of separatism, anger and violence. But as Ture and Hamilton described the philosophy, at least from this far historical remove, it seems more common sense than anything else, especially if one allows some--to me--clear fact of the pervasiveness in America of systemic racism, a term the authors here were using in 1967. (I don't know when that term was coined. Maybe it was new then, or maybe it was centuries old. Certainly the condition was centuries old.)

The authors here specifically reject separatism. They are basically calling for African Americans to coalesce into a group that can exercise civic and political power for their own self-interest. They point out that every other ethnic and national group in America had to do, and did do, just that before gaining justice for themselves and traction in the overall body politic.

At any rate, I feel OK about including this book in a history group thread because it is now an important historical document (whatever one might think of the authors' points and conclusions) and even when first published included a great deal about the history of racism in America.

Edited: Jan 24, 2021, 5:44pm

Finished up Empire of Horses; not bad, not great. Probably what you wind up with when there is little documentation by your subject about themselves.

Jan 25, 2021, 9:18am

>25 Shrike58:

Have you read Ancient China and its Enemies? It's not only about the Xiongnu, but I read it recently and found it very interesting.

Jan 25, 2021, 5:23pm

Finished the very long Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations by Charles D. Benson & William B. Faherty. This is a history of the Apollo program at the Cape Canaveral AFB and the Kennedy Space Center, focusing mainly on the ground facilities and people. Lots and lots about budgets, schedules, labor issues and other rather dull stuff, but I found it enjoyable since I worked at LC-39 (the Saturn V assembly and launch facility) during the duration of the Space Shuttle program, so it was interesting to see how the folks did things during the Apollo program.

Jan 27, 2021, 7:59am

>26 AndreasJ: Actually, no, thanks for the tip...

Jan 27, 2021, 8:33am

I highly recommend China Marches West for a detailed and well-written (and -illustrated) look at a too-little-understood period.

Jan 27, 2021, 10:18am

>29 languagehat:

That one's been on my TBR list for a while. I'll knock it up a notch on your recommendation.

Jan 27, 2021, 1:50pm

If you are interested in Egyptology and tombs, I can recommend The Lost Tomb by Kent Weeks. Very interesting account of the re-discovery and excavation of KV5, the tomb of the sons of Ramesses II.

Also, for village life in Medieval England, The History of Myddle is recommended.

I've read both and enjoyed them.

Edited: Jan 28, 2021, 8:03pm

I read my first WPA American Guide Series state guide from one end to the other. It was Arizona A Guide To The Youngest State. I used plenty of others for references. So only 49 more states to go and lots of others as well.

Correction: Only 47 more states to go. Alaska and Hawaii weren't states when their guides were written! Remember this was a WPA project!

Feb 1, 2021, 7:33pm

Abandoning The Rise and Fall of North American Indians by William Brandon.

Too male-gazey. Author sees men as people and women as women. And if the author is biased in such an extremely obvious way, I think they're probably unreflective about their other biases in ways I'm not picking up on. Don't trust them.