Current reading: September 2021

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Current reading: September 2021

1Shrike58
Sep 2, 2021, 7:19am

First away with Hitler's Northern Utopia. Come for the Nazi urban planning, stay for the examination of the Norwegian experience of occupation.

2Shrike58
Sep 4, 2021, 7:23am

Next up...Fire in Paradise, some very good journalism about why the town of Paradise was all but obliterated by the "Camp" Fire of 2018, and why the death toll wasn't worse.

3jztemple
Sep 4, 2021, 1:56pm

Haven't posted in awhile... here's some books I've read, well, parts of them I skimmed through.

NC 12: Gateway to the Outer Banks by Dawson Carr. A social history of the North Carolina Outer Banks with a focus on the highway NC 12 which runs through them. Lots of old photographs. I saw a review which criticized the book for not being more of a tourist guide which is unfair since the author makes the point that this is a history of how the highway got built, not of the Outer Banks themselves.

Abraham Lincoln's World: How Riverboats, Railroads, and Republicans Transformed America by Thomas Crump. An odd sort of a book. Sort of like describing an automobile by giving the history of the parts, like how the steering wheel came to be. If you aren't very conversant with antebellum America you'll probably find it interesting, otherwise it's pretty much just of an overview of everything from how often Congress met to why riverboats operated like they did. Lots of facts, but not really a connected narrative.

Ride the Big Red Cars: The Pacific Electric Story by Spencer Crump. A social history of the Los Angeles area trolley system, how it came to be, how it operated and how it disappeared. I was hoping for more of a technical look at the system, but as a social history it does a good job. Lots and lots of good pictures and illustrations.

Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll. I learned a lot from this book. I didn't know to what a degree Sam Adams was involved in the Revolution and especially the Continental Congress. Unfortunately the author uses extensive quotes from Adams and his contemporaries and I find those passages off-putting to read. This is one of those few times I can compare writers and styles discussing contemporary figures. I think of how much I enjoyed John Adams by David McCullough while finding this book such a drag to read. It's not a bad book, it is just a rather dry book.

4jztemple
Sep 6, 2021, 12:20am

And finished another book, A Tower in Babel (A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933, Vol. 1) by Erik Barnouw. Very enjoyable, readable history of the development of early radio, networking and broadcasting.

5rocketjk
Sep 7, 2021, 4:30pm

I finished the mostly excellent history The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. The subtitle for Larson's latest is "A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz," which is a pretty good description. This is a history of the first year of Churchill's time as Britain's wartime Prime Minister. I was mostly already familiar with the circumstances of the Battle of Britain, but Larson, in focusing in on this one year and in the Churchill family's experience of the event, adds a lot of detail that was new, and interesting, to me. The details about Churchill's key advisors, what they accomplished and how they supported Churchill, for example, worked very well for me, as did the descriptions of Churchill's desperate attempts to encourage Roosevelt to do as much as he could, in the face of very stubborn American politics and isolationism, to support England's war effort. The horrifying narratives about individual nights or the Blitz, where the bombs fell on particular nights, what damage was done during each raid, and how diarists described the events, helped to transform the Blitz for me from a general impression of calamity, fear and death to a succession of individual desperately fearful events. In other words, I had come to think of "the Blitz" as a single event rather than a years-long series of individual nights of terror. Another strength of the book is its depiction of Churchill as an individual during these times, as seen through the eyes of the people who worked with and for him, and also the depictions of the ways in which the English people rallied around him.

6Shrike58
Sep 7, 2021, 7:01pm

Finished Selling Sea Power, which is basically the story of how the USN's leadership came to realize after 1918 that their position as the first line of defense was no longer sacrosanct, and came to grudgingly accept that they needed to cultivate the public image they wanted, rather than having one foisted on them. For an academic monograph this was actually quite readable, particularly when it comes to describing the arms-length dance the USN had with Hollywood.

7Tess_W
Edited: Sep 7, 2021, 9:43pm

I'm going to list this book, however I do know the controversy it may make! I finished Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. I've included this because Bonhoeffer was a founding member of the "confessional church", he was an eyewitness to what are NOW historical events (75 years later), it is a primary source. The man had a brilliant mind and superb writing ability. There was so much contained in this book I feel that I know less than I started. This is a book that I need to re-read, taking copious notes as I proceed.

8Tess_W
Sep 9, 2021, 4:39pm

Read What is Life Worth? by Kenneth Feinberg This was a non-fiction read that explained the difficult process that was derived at for compensating the victims of 911. Feinberg was asked by President Bush to head a committee to disburse the millions of dollars in relief money to the families of victims. Oh my, he ran into some unsolvable problems and was hailed as both a hero and a demon. There was no right or wrong side to this process; it was all just very personal and I understand that each person thought they had suffered more than the next. 241 pages 4 stars I realize many would say this wasn't old enough to be history, but I included it anyway!

9jztemple
Sep 9, 2021, 6:49pm

I gave up after getting about half way through Temple Houston: Lawyer With a Gun by Glenn Shirley. I was so impressed with Shirley's book about Pawnee Bill that I thought this one might be equally as good, but the author kept wandering off on side discussions and histories of this Texas Panhandle town or that Texas state senator. There wasn't really a lot of Temple Houston in it.

10rocketjk
Sep 12, 2021, 2:56pm

I finished The Giants and Their City: Major League Baseball in San Francisco, 1976-1992 by Lincoln Abraham Mitchell. This is a mostly fun book that traces the history of the San Francisco Giants, and the history of the city itself, during the era when the team was owned by real estate tycoon Bob Lurie. Mitchell's account is book-ended nicely, as it begins in 1976 with Lurie stepping in the buy the Giants in a last-minute act that kept the team from purchased by folks in Toronto who were going to move the team there, and ends in 1992 with Lurie's almost consummated sale of the team to moneyed interests in Tampa, before grocery store magnate Peter Magowan stepped forward at, once again basically at the last second, to save the team once again for San Francisco. Mitchell deftly weaves the team's up and (mostly) down fortunes on the field with descriptions of the political climate and events in San Francisco that led to the defeat of four separate voter referendums aimed at providing public funding for a new stadium to replace the horrid from its opening Candlestick Park. There are times when Mitchell's writing seemed a bit less than professional, and he definitely needed a better copy editor. But all in all this was a well done history. I moved to SF in 1986, so a lot of the ground covered here was familiar to me. It was fun and interesting to revisit some of those events.

11Tess_W
Sep 14, 2021, 6:39am

Finished In The Heart of the Sea about the sinking of the whaleship Essex.

12Tess_W
Edited: Sep 16, 2021, 1:35am

Completed:
The Mayflower Compact always good to revisit original documents!

The Battle with the Slum by Jacob Riis A follow up to his Pulitzer prize winning photojournalism "Shame of the Cities"

13ulmannc
Sep 16, 2021, 2:09pm

I completed The Arkansas, part of the Rivers of America series. It's an enjoyable read. Taking into account it was written in 1940, some of the descriptions of areas, cities, neighborhoods, etc are a bit interesting. The Arkansas is a long river but 5 are longer in the USA. Your piece of trivia for the day: The Mississippi is NOT the longest river in the USA!

14Shrike58
Sep 16, 2021, 3:54pm

Just back from vacation and one book I finished during that time was Assembling the Dinosaur, which is more a study of sociology and institutional formation than it is a study of the beasts. I liked it, but bring your MS degree, as that's the level it's pitched at.

15princessgarnet
Sep 17, 2021, 4:50pm

From the library: Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy by Nathaniel Philbrick
In his new book, Philbrick retraces George Washington's travels as president. It's my first time reading one of the author's books.

A comparable title to this one: George Washington's 1791 Southern Tour by Warren L. Bingham, published by History Press, 2016

16jztemple
Sep 17, 2021, 8:42pm

I have all of Philbrick's previous books, but I'm dubious about this new one as I'm not a fan of travelogues.

17Shrike58
Sep 18, 2021, 6:31am

Finished up The Second Most Powerful Man in the World, a sometimes polemical examination of Adm. William Leahy's impact as FDR's prime military advisor. I liked it with reservations.

18ulmannc
Sep 19, 2021, 7:41pm

I completed Forged In Strong Fires . The stories are extremely redundant. It's the first book I have read published by The Caxton Publishers, Ltd, that left me a bit disappointed.

19jztemple
Sep 20, 2021, 12:04am

My wife finished reading Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird as our car book, she reads out loud as I drive. She knew very little about Queen Victoria so she found it interesting, but I though the book wasn't anywhere as good as the biography by A. N. Wilson.

20rocketjk
Sep 21, 2021, 8:21pm

I finished Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year by Tavis Smiley. Smiley's book about MLK is interesting, indeed. It is also a sad book. That final year of King's life almost exactly encompasses the speech in which he strongly and unequivocally condemned the Vietnam War and the Johnson administration's execution of that war. King was strongly condemned both within and without of the Civil Rights movement for this action. The FBI stepped up their campaign of hounding King and executing their disinformation campaign against him. And at the same time, more radical Blacks in the Panthers and SNCC criticized King from the left, accusing him and his insistence on non-violence of becoming increasingly irrelevant. In all, Smiley portrays King's final year as harrowing and disheartening. King began to muse ever more frequently on his own death, which he assumed was coming soon. And yet King never did fully lose heart, according to Smiley. He continued pushing for his March plan, and insisted on going to Memphis to help out with the long and bitter strike being waged by the garbage men's union there.

All in all, I thought this book was very much worth reading, though frequently depressing. I had tended to think of King's live as mostly single-toned, if that makes sense. King was just King, the great man who sometimes had his missteps but was consistent in the long run. Understanding the that the enormous pressures of the times--the discord, hatred and doubt--had on King during his last year only adds to my esteem for his life and what he was able to accomplish.

21princessgarnet
Sep 22, 2021, 12:46pm

>19 jztemple: Philbrick's main focus was on the history as he visited places that Pres. Washington toured between 1789-91. The travelogue was secondary.
I've read a library copy of Victoria: the Queen by Julia Baird. I thought it was all right. A.N. Wilson's Prince Albert: the Man Who Saved the Monarchy is worth checking out; it was published to celebrate Albert's 200th birthday in 2019.

22jztemple
Sep 22, 2021, 1:52pm

>21 princessgarnet: Thanks for the info on the Philbrick book, the previews I saw didn't really address my concern. I've put it on my various wishlists.

My issue with the Baird book was that the author put a lot of moralization in the writing. I prefer my history to be presented with less judgemental emphasis. It's purely a personal preference, no doubt influenced by the many academic books I've read.

23Shrike58
Sep 23, 2021, 11:02am

>3 jztemple: Funny about NC 12. The Outer Banks is where I took the vacation I mentioned and I saw precisely one NC 12 sign while I was there; the theory seems to be that there's no need for more than one.

24Tess_W
Sep 26, 2021, 8:42pm

I read Of Plimouth Plantation by William Bradford. Bradford was among the 102 Separatists that landed in Plymouth in 1620. He was elected governor every year through 1647. I loved reading his first hand accounts of the Native Americans, the sicknesses, and the near-starvation like conditions. Bradford certainly had a Calvinist world view and that does creep in many times. However, I did not read the book to argue or debate theology. It's obvious that Bradford was a very learned man as he make references to Seneca and and previous French actions (which he does not explain) of selling weapons to the wrong country. I think all Americans should read this truthful account of the "Pilgrims." There are some amusing parts (to me), such as the trial of a 16 year old who had sex with a donkey, horses, a turkey, a cow, etc. Sadly, this young man was found guilty and executed. (this part was not funny) I feel this is a very honest rendering of conditions in Plimouth from 1620-1647. A very important primary source. 111 pages This was written in what is described as "Puritan Plain" language, although Bradford was not a Puritan. My guess is that he was educated by a Puritan in England.

25jztemple
Sep 26, 2021, 11:23pm

Finished a very enjoyable and interesting Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich by Thomas Levenson. It is written around the events of the South Sea Company and the famous financial "Bubble" that burst in 1720. I had read a social history of the Bubble years ago, but this book really is as much a financial history as well as a social one. It starts back with Newton, goes through the creation of financial instruments, government borrowing, schemes and politicking and then spends a lot of time with the South Sea Company and the panic. It continues with the way Walpole and friends resurrected British finances, how those new systems enabled Britain to beat Napoleon and ends with with an epilogue about the Great Recession of 2008. In spite of how not interesting the above seems to be, the book is as entertaining as it is informative.

26AndreasJ
Sep 27, 2021, 2:14am

The King's Mirror, an English translation of the Speculum regale or Konungs skuggsjá, a didactic dialogue from thirteenth century Norway. While it ranges widely, it's mostly about the proper behaviour of kings and their retainers.

While the dialogue format strikes at least this modern reader as an unnecessary encumbrance, the content is interesting. The author appears to have been a learned and intelligent man, if also endowed with a typically medieval credulity wrt marvels and miracles.

27jztemple
Sep 29, 2021, 5:30pm

Completed reading With the Camel Corps up the Nile by Count Gleichen, a firsthand account of the Gordon Relief Expedition of 1884-85 from the perspective of a young officer of the Guards. Very interesting and enjoyable.