Current reading - August 2020

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Current reading - August 2020

1jztemple
Ago 2, 2020, 5:04pm

Finished The CSS Arkansas: A Confederate Ironclad on Western Waters by Myron J. Smith Jr.. This is a very thorough history of the ironclad, including a background of ironclads in the US Civil War, the story of the development and building of the Arkansas and finally a detailed look at the short but very interesting operational history of the ship. The author has written several other well received history of warships on the western waters in the Civil War. Highly recommended.

2John5918
Ago 9, 2020, 9:58am

Just finished rereading Alistair MacLean's HMS Ulysses which I probably last read over 40 years ago. It's fiction, but reportedly based on his own experiences during World War II, including the ill-fated convoy PQ17. It presents a gritty portrayal of the harsh conditions on Arctic convoy escort duty. It's very intense, and I frequently had to put it down to give myself some space before continuing,

3jztemple
Ago 12, 2020, 5:57pm

I just finished The Arikara War: The First Plains Indian War, 1823 by William R. Nester. The "war" itself was just a single battle and hardly worth a book by itself, but the author had done a very good job in the first 129(!) of this 210 page book of introducing the reader to the origins of the plains Indians, their relationship and the evolution of their trade both between themselves and also with the whites who were entering the region. There is also a good introduction to the shifting control and influence exerted by the Spanish, French, British and American governments over the territories of the lower, middle and upper Missouri regions. Finally there is a good introduction to the fur industry, trapping, trading and transporting from the origins to the final consumers. This would be a good first book for someone who isn't very familiar with these subjects to get a good overview without having to delve into a number of books.

4jztemple
Ago 16, 2020, 12:17am

Finished Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau. This book is rather hard to categorize. It looks at the last three months of fighting in the American Civil War, starting with the Union's breakthrough at Petersburg and Richmond and the eventual surrounding and surrender of Lee. It then switches to the fighting in Alabama and North Carolina, the assassination of Lincoln, the capture of Davis, so on and so forth. Rather than a coherence study it relies on many anecdotal first person sources and related vignettes and is rather hard to follow. It is a nice book if you want atmosphere, but doesn't really provide an in-depth look at the subject.

5rocketjk
Ago 17, 2020, 1:40pm

I finished and very much enjoyed Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler. This was a very interesting trip through the American Civil War with a close focus point of how the use of the telegraph gave Abraham Lincoln the ability both to communicate with far flung generals and gather information about unfolding events in real time. More importantly, due to how new telegraph technology was, Lincoln was the first head of state to have that ability.

This book was first published in 2005, and Wheeler makes effective comparison, as book's title suggests, between the advent of the telegraph and email, making a credible case that the telegraph was actually the much more revolutionary development. Wheeler avers early on that the Congress members of the early 1960s were much more able to conceptualize (and therefore vote funding for) sending a man to the moon that those of the early 1850s were to wrap their brains around the concept of sending electronic pulses long distance across wires.

We see through Lincoln's telegraphs, all of which are on archive, the poor quality of the Federal commanders over the early years of the war, and Lincoln's frustrations with their dithering and reluctance to go on the offensive. Eventually, Lincoln, who was also receiving telegraphs from post commanders and so knew where enemy forces were and which way they were going, became less and less reluctant to provide strategic recommendations.

Wheeler makes the point that Lincoln's gradual ability to fully master this new communication tool and its functions is one more indication of the president's remarkable character and intelligence. He was learning these things on the fly with--because the technology was so new--no blueprint to follow and nobody to advise him as he learned.

It doesn't hurt at all that this book comes in at a crisp 186 pages.

6jztemple
Ago 17, 2020, 3:38pm

>5 rocketjk: I read that book a number of years ago and enjoyed it too. One can imagine how annoyed Winfield Scott would be on his way to Mexico City during the Mexican War if many of those decisions he made on his own had to be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of War!

7rocketjk
Ago 17, 2020, 6:36pm

>6 jztemple: Yes. Don't know if you recall it, but Wheeler brings up that very point.

On the other hand, I was also reminded of the famous Bob Newhart routine about Abe Lincoln's publicist on the phone with him while he's on the way to Gettysburg. "You what? You typed it? Abe, how many times do I have to tell you, on the backs of envelopes."

8jztemple
Editado: Ago 22, 2020, 6:36pm

>7 rocketjk: Ah, I love those old Bob Newhart routines. I seem to recall one with a phone call to General Custer that really made me laugh.

I might have been remembering what Wheeler wrote, it was really quite a while ago.

Finished reading Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City by Todd W. Braisted. Rather than trying to describe what the book is about, which isn't all that easy, I will link to the Amazon book page which has a good description. I thought that the author accomplished what he sought to achieve with the book, the use of primary sources including a number of quotes was enjoyable without bogging down the work. He included enough background of the other events of 1778 to put the Grand Forage into perspective. Overall it was a good effort, although it was somewhat spoiled by the complete lack of useful maps. There are some period maps included as illustrations, but they are worthless for following the action. Unless you are fairly familiar with northern New Jersey, southern New York and western Connecticut you'll probably need Google maps or a good atlas.

9jztemple
Ago 22, 2020, 6:37pm

Completed Stephen Watts Kearny: Soldier of the West by Dwight L. Clarke. This is a rather long book and reads like it was published in 1961, which is was. The author goes to quite a length discussing how this source said this and that source said that and who was prejudiced, etc. It can be quite tiring to read at times. However, it is an interesting book and I'd say that the first half at least is well worth the effort.

10jztemple
Ago 28, 2020, 2:42pm

Finished the Kindle version of Pan Am at War: How the Airline Secretly Helped America Fight World War II by Mark Cotta Vaz. Not all that good a book. Parts of it were well done, like setting up the air routes and Pacific bases, but there was a lot of discussion of corporate maneuvering and who owned how much of such and such a company. And sadly there just wasn't a lot about the actually flying. There was some, but the book doesn't really look at the early seaplanes in any detail. Also there are a significant number of quoted passages from the Pan Am official history that didn't really add much to the book. It's not a bad book by any means, but I found it uninspiring.

11Shrike58
Ago 28, 2020, 9:52pm

The best of what I read this month had a naval flavor, such as Bloody Sixteen, dealing with the USS "Oriskany" and her air group in Vietnam, or British Town Class Cruisers, which is one of the finest class monographs I've seen in a while.

12jztemple
Ago 29, 2020, 12:35am

Finished Small Arms at Gettysburg: Infantry and Cavalry Weapons in America's Greatest Battle by Joseph G. Bilby. A look at not only the weapons present at the battle, but also includes some representative looks at their uses during the battle. Well written and highly recommended.