Current Reading - January 2020

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Current Reading - January 2020

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Jan 3, 2020, 5:06pm

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.

The degree to which the Vichy government was complicit in aiding the Axis is examined in a fascinating chapter on the war in Asia in which Root describes how Vichy allowed the Japanese to walk into Indo-China, which they still controlled, at the behest of the Germans, a move that greatly facilitated the Japanese advance throughout the Pacific after Pearl Harbor.

Several chapters describe the rapacious way that the Germans drained the countries they occupied of resources, food and even manpower.

As is obvious from the title, this book is the second volume of what was originally a 2-volume set, but for which Root soon produced a third volume. I completed Volume 1 early in 2019. In those first chapters, Root moved his focus around Europe, showing how relations between between Germany and the various other countries, whether occupied by them, allied with them or neutral. Each of the first two volumes runs to almost 600 pages of small print. The only fault of the writing is that Root often insists in providing every single example he knows of to prove his points, long after those points have already been successfully made.

Jan 4, 2020, 4:31pm

Finished the Kindle version of Under the Red Sea Sun by Edward Ellsberg. I've read two other of the author's books and like those this is a first person history of the author's experiences in naval salvage. Very well written, fairly exciting and informative.

Editado: Jan 15, 2020, 4:58pm

Finished reading Naval Gun by Ian V. Hogg and John Batchelor. I'm a sucker for these more technical books, although this one is more of an overview of the development of naval guns rather than an in-depth treatment. It was released in 1978 so it is rather out of date for the reader more interested in modern trends, but it is very information about the development of the "big gun" up through the first half of the twentieth century.

Jan 16, 2020, 10:55pm

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.

Jan 18, 2020, 6:32pm

So much reading this early in the year! I have lots of free time on my hands, so another day, another book. This one is To Ascend from a Floating Base: Shipboard Aeronautics and Aviation, 1783-1914 by R. D. Layman. Pretty much what the subtitle says is what the book is about. It is a reasonably fun read, as much as this kind of history can be, and has a number of interesting photographs and illustrations.

Editado: Jan 20, 2020, 12:59am

Finished His Majesty's Sloop-of-War Diamond Rock by Vivian Stuart and George T. Eggleston. HMS Diamond Rock was (and is) a six hundred foot high rock formation just off the coast of Martinique and during the Napoleonic Wars it was seized by the British and turned into a small fortress to waylay ships attempting to reach the French ports on the island. In the way of the British Navy, land facilities are often given HMS designations and so the title of the book. It is a very interesting tale and very well told. Highly recommended.

Editado: Jan 26, 2020, 4:49pm

Completed the Kindle version of B-29 Superfortress: The Plane that Won the War by Gene Gurney. It is an operational history with a number of anecdotes about individual planes and crews. Nothing special, but a reasonably readable book.

Jan 26, 2020, 4:21pm

Best strictly military books I finished this month included The History of the Panzerjager and Chieftain; the second is particularly stunning for its documentation of how mismanaged the machine's development program was.

Jan 27, 2020, 4:29pm

I finished The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz which was from the ER giveaway a few months back. An insider's story of his time in Auschwitz and a little bit about after he escaped. Very tough to read, very well done.

While not strictly military history, I also finished No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin. A very detailed look at the lives of the President and First Lady during the war, including the various conferences, though the purpose is not to go over the conferences or what they did or did not accomplish, this is a more personal view of the people involved. Very detailed and really well done. Don't get the trade paperback version, it is really too long to be read easily in that format unless you are going to destroy the book.