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

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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.

Genius (2017)

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May 292017

National Geographic channel’s biographical series about Albert Einstein.  It’s very good (relatively speaking).

The Saga of Tanya the Evil

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Apr 102017

Good anime series.  Only one season, so I suspect you’ll have read the Manga to see how it ends (though the anime reaches a perfectly good stopping point).  There’s lots of neat historical parallels, though for each one there’s an example of how the series diverges, so don’t read too much into that.  It’s by no means an allegory, and many aspects are more characteristic of WWII (such as the aerial component), though there’s no Hitler.  I’m impressed by some of the little things (like the French starting the war without helmets).

On a more personal scale, the protagonist has a definite Job thing going on between herself and God.   Though to be sure, Job wasn’t such a bitch-on-wheels.

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)

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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

Bjork – Bachelorette (dir. by Michel Gondry)

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Oct 132016

Another blast from the past, this one from acclaimed French director Michel Gondry.  I know the French fucked-up in WWII, but to be fair, we fucked them first with this whole notion that you can just overthrow whatever the hell governmental structure happens to be in-place at the time and instantly become a perfect, Platonistic ideal of democracy overnight.  It’s true that our shit was derived to a significant degree from their philosophers, but it’s not like they took it seriously – at least not until 1789.  We benefited from a freak one-time-only superfluosity of genius statesmen whose ambitions were unnaturally checked by a puritanical spirit of self-abnegation.  They just ran with it, and their political and bureaucratic institutions have been fucked-to-hell ever since.


Say what you will, but the U.S. hasn’t produced a Michel Gondry.  And it sure as hell hasn’t produced a Daft Punk.  And I’ll trade you a Reign of Terror for Human After All any day of the week.  But I digress…



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