Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (Max Hastings)

 Books, History  Comments Off on Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (Max Hastings)
May 292017
 

There’s tons of WWII “overview” histories.  Hastings’ contribution distinguishes itself in its focus on civilians and soldiers: a zoomed-in, on-the-ground look at the war and how it affected those it touched (as opposed to histories discussing grand strategy and the men who framed it).  A damned fine book.

https://www.amazon.com/Inferno-World-at-War-1939-1945/dp/0307475530

Carl Sandberg’s Abraham Lincoln

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Feb 252017
 

Christmas gift WIN.  Sometimes parents give you socks (which are not to be despised, being so uncommon useful when one’s feet are cold).  But sometimes they knock one out of the park.  Exhibit A: this handsome 3-volume biography of Lincoln by Carl Sandburg.

I’m not normally one to get wrapped-up in nostalgia, or to imbue physical objects with emotional significance: media is media, digital or otherwise, and is replaceable.  I nonetheless feel a certain something about this particular collection, since it came from the estate of my dear Aunt Nell, whom I didn’t know nearly well enough but held in great esteem as a kind, cultured, and well-read lady.  Lincoln’s my favorite historical figure, and my reverence for him teeters on the brink of objectivity – indeed has perhaps fallen into a hopeless abyss of semi-religious awe.

I could gush about Lincoln at the same interminable length a teenage girl in the 60’s could for The Beetles.  I honestly believe he’s the finest human being America has yet produced.  No joke.  He may be the most intelligent, wise, tough, cunning, indomitable, and moral individual to ever walk this continent.  If not, he’s easily in the top-ten in all those categories.  He’s an utter freak of nature – a Dungeons & Dragons character born with the maximum possible score for all abilities, who then levelled-up to 20.  In fact, my respect for his faculties is such that I’ve occasionally wondered what the world would be like if he’d lacked his prodigious morality (which many consider his greatest characteristic).  What would America, or the world for that matter, look like today if Lincoln had possessed a mediocre sense of right and wrong, or if – God forbid – he’d been outright evil, or a psychopath?  The notion chills me to the bone.  Napoleon’s failure can be traced to politics, geography, logistics, and perhaps hubris.  Hitler was undone by megalomania and ideology, which drove him to micromanage military strategy in an inept fashion.  But a malicious Lincoln might have conquered the world – such was his adroitness and lack of weak-points.

And so this feels a particularly fitting disposition of one of her possessions (whereas I’d feel most awkward accepting, say, a piece of jewelry or stock shares).  Its monetary value is negligible, and I could literally torrent the entire work in epub format in the time it took to type this sentence – yet I look-forward to reading Nell’s copy with the liveliest anticipation.   It’s a striking departure from my usual rationality in matters of this sort, but a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.  And small though my mind may be, I really dig these books.

War: The Lethal Custom (Gwynne Dyer)

 Books, History, The Widening Gyre  Comments Off on War: The Lethal Custom (Gwynne Dyer)
Feb 032017
 

Dan Carlin sometimes references this in his Hardcore History podcast – it’s a great overview of warfare, from ancient times to the present.  Explains things such as why chariots fell by the wayside (selective breeding finally produced horses with backs strong enough to carry a man) as well as why they were developed in the first place (ie. the abilities of cavalry and the roles it can play on the battlefield).  However, the book’s overarching theme is that the destructive capability of human technology has reached the asymptote of existential threat: mankind must abandon the custom of war or go extinct.

War: The Lethal Custom

Air Power (Stephen Budiansky)

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Oct 122016
 

Ever heard the term “strategic bombing” and wondered what it meant?  This cogent, readable history by Budiansky lays it out with all the context you need to understand this bizarre, fleeting dream: of war without fighting.

Imagine a war with no bloodbaths of opposing infantry.  A war with almost no casualties, in which pinpoint strikes instantly cripple an enemy’s industrial capacity (or will) to wage war.  A war ending virtually overnight in negotiated settlement, conceded by rational men because logistics rendered its outcome a foregone certainty.  A war without bullets, disease, malice, or horror.

It’s easy to understand why this idea seduced idealists and military theorists alike before even powered flight was proven practical by the Wright Brothers.   What’s harder to grasp is why it persisted the entire length of the 20th century, despite the nightmares of Guernica, the Blitz, Dresden, Hiroshima, and the Cold War’s inevitable doctrine of mutually-assured destruction.  Budiansky follows the concept from its origin in the science-fiction of H.G. Wells, through the nuclear arms race and the second Gulf War.

Of course, you can’t really explain strategic bombing without discussing its perennially-neglected sibling, tactical air warfare.  There’s plenty of good stuff about the role of Coningham’s RAF in the Battle of Britain (as it turns out, the bombers don’t always get through) as well as the hard-won (and promptly forgotten) lessons learned during WWII about close-air support, culminating in the air war of Vietnam,  and that conflict’s embittered, prodigal son, the Fighter Mafia (whose championship of low-thrust-to-weight ratios led to a little ditty you may have heard of, the F-15).

Most importantly, this book’s aimed not at the airman, but the layman.  You can easily digest its meaning and message even if you lack the slightest clue what I’m talking about.   After all, I didn’t have a clue either, till I read it.

Damned good book.

Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Iraq

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The Punisher Armory (1990 – 1994)

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Mar 272016
 

The Punisher (like Doctor Who) is one of those one of those properties that, in my personal opinion, has enormous potential but that nobody has ever gotten quite right.  I don’t mean to denigrate any of the fine efforts made over the years in either case.  They’re what IT people refer to as edge cases – both involve truly unique characters that are damn-near impossible to really nail writing-wise.

The Punisher Armory comes the closest I think – it’s certainly my favorite Punisher comic.  Which is admittedly a little strange, since Frank Castle never appears on a single page.  Neither does anyone else, for that matter: the entire ten-issue series consists of still-shots – mostly of equipment – narrated in text-box format by the man himself.  Eliot Brown wrote and drew these in a manner Frank would respect: plain, no-nonsense, and in their own way, beautiful.

It features no action or dialogue whatsoever. These are instead the quiet, personal moments that make-up the bulk of Castle’s existence.  It’s convenient to summarize his character as a one-man army driven by rage over the loss of his family one sunny day in the park long ago.  But his day-to-day reality is that of a stone-cold professional for whom every hour of combat is preceded by 100 hours of training, reconnaissance, and preparation.

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punisher_armory_01

Chronicle (2012)

 Art, Books, Video  Comments Off on Chronicle (2012)
Jan 022016
 

A grossly-underrated (or perhaps just unknown) movie, possibly the best comic-book film ever produced.

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It’s definitely in the top 5 along with Unbreakable – the only thing from M. Night Shyamalan that holds-up over-time (but man, is it a doozy).  If you make 10 movies and one of them is this, it’s absolutely ok if the other 9 suck.  You’re easily batting above .500 by Hollywood standards.  Your entire life is justified if you pull-off Unbreakable: we’re all lucky that you were born.  But I digress…

Let’s face it, comic-book movies generally suck.  Not because there weren’t a lot of talented, passionate people involved who were giving their best effort.  In most cases there were too many people were involved.  This sort of project usually requires a ton of capital and is based on a venerable franchise to boot, so there’s naturally going to be too many cooks in the kitchen.  Consider Marvel’s “Avengers”, for example: directed by Joss Whedon (whom I’ve adored for years) and totally decent, but not what you’d call a great movie.  I put a lot of the blame on the money: God knows how many committee meetings were required to decide what Captain America’s costume should look like.  Just imagine how many random assholes had input regarding plot and dialogue.  It’s a triumph that the thing was watchable at all.

Contrast that with what I consider to be Marvel’s crowning cinematic achievement thus far, Guardians of the Galaxy.  I’d never heard of it before seeing the movie, but the trailers blew my hair back, and the thing itself was so much fun it should be illegal.  It’s based on an old, shitty property from a ways back that was recently rejuvenated by a respected writer.  I tried reading this source material but didn’t get too far – it still seemed pretty shitty.  My point is, it wasn’t a household name, so the filmmakers weren’t under as much scrutiny.  They had some room to breathe, and created something wonderful.

That said, Chronicle has the same sort of thing going for it, only more-so.  Like Unbreakable, it’s not based on a comic book.  And like Unbreakable, if you only watched the first 10 minutes, you wouldn’t know it was a comic-book movie at all.  But it is, and it’s the best.  I won’t belabor the point with a synopsis, because I’m not a reviewer and this isn’t a review – it’s just one of those things I do when I’m drunk.  But Chronicle is better-written and better-executed than anything Marvel or DC has ever brought to theaters, and if you don’t watch it, it’s your loss.