Last Update 11/22/22

H.P. Lovecraft by Arthur S. Koki, Hippocampus, 2022, $25, ISBN 978-1-61498-391-0

This biography and discussion of Lovecraft was a 1962 master's thesis and predates the two more recent biographies by Lovecraft and DeCamp. Although both of those go into more detail, this is still an interesting discovery, and some of the discussion of his childhood feels new to me, so it may not have been covered elsewhere. There are interesting anecdotes about his life and commentary about some of his fiction. Little is known about the author, who died in 1989, or how he came to be interested in and knowledgeable about Lovecraft. 11/22/22

Long Memories and Other Writings by Peter Cannon, Hippocampus, 2022, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-371-2

This is a hybrid collection, about half non-fiction and half fiction. I found the first more interesting. Cannon knew Frank Belknap Long during the last two decades of his life. Long was a correspondent of H.P,. Lovecraft and a fairly prolific writer, but he never really made a good living from his fiction. The essays consist of reminiscences about their friendship as well as biographical information. Long is a writer who has always seemed somewhat obscure to me in his personal life, so I found these very enlightening. The fiction section is related to Long as well, including one in which Long is actually a character, the novella Pulptime, which I had read before. Cannon rarely took his fiction seriously so the stories here are pastiches and parodies. They are generally quite amusing and deftly told. Whether you buy this for part one or part two, you'll get your money's worth.  11/19/22

The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century edited by Joseph Held, Columbia, 1992

A collection of essays covering Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary, essentially from their formation in World War I until the collapse of their communist governments.  A lot of the later events I was aware of at the time, but had forgotten most of the details. Ukrainian nationalism gets mentioned several times, which is obviously a lot more significant today. I think I have a better understanding of why Czechoslovakia broke up than I did before, and a higher opinion of Albania. Each section is by a different author and only the one on Poland was, I thought, poorly arranged and presented. 10/18/22

How to Misunderstand Tolkien by Bruno Bacelli, McFarland, 2022, $49.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-8694-3

Tolkien never quite goes out of fashion, though interest ebbs and wanes at times. The focus of this book is on critical reactions to his work, and rightly points out that much of the hostility results from misinterpretation and personal agendas on the part of the critics. This is, of course, inevitable, and I imagine everyone has seen examples. Internet lists of overrated rock musicians usually includes the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, for example. J.K. Rowling's controversial remarks about transgender issues would not have been so prominent if she had been a minor writer. The author here attempts an "objective" analysis, which is probably impossible, but he does make a fair success of separating genuine criticisms from the spurious ones. He accepts that Tolkien was a product of his times, and leaned conservatively even then. He deplores efforts to demonize him or to retroactively suggest that Tolkien was a complete bigot. This was quite interesting reading generally speaking. 10/6/22

The War of 1812 by Harry L. Coles, Chicago, 1963 

This is a relatively brief account of the two year war between the US and the UK that broke out during the Napoleonic Wars, in part because of impressment of American sailors, but also because of economic and expansionist sentiments in some parts of the country. New England was staunchly opposed and the British exempted that region from their blockade until late in the war. There were several attempts to invade Canada, all of which failed. The British briefly held Detroit. Andrew Jackson was ordered not to invade Spanish Florida Ė Spain was a co-belligerent Ė but brilliantly defended New Orleans from a not well planned British invasion. Famously the US capitol was burned by raiders. 9/30/22

A History of India by John Keay, Harper, 2000 

The first half of this long and detailed history is frustrating because few written texts survive from more than 1500 years ago, and most of those which have were rewritten several times for one political purpose or another, making it difficult to know what to trust. That said, this provides at least a general sense of how civilization evolved in the subcontinent, which was at times much more advanced than its neighbors or even Europe, although a number of promising societies eventually collapsed, due to invasions or internal weaknesses. Like China and Russia, India tries to meld a number of disparate cultures into a single nation, and with mixed success even today. Nice maps and photo inserts help make things clearer. A better than average history. 9/20/22

A History of Warfare by John Keegan, Hutchinson, 1993 

This is a necessarily less than thorough history of military conflict that is loosely arrayed around the authorís theories of why nations fight. He contends that war is not an extension of political activity but something else entirely. Unfortunately the focus is so loose that it often feels as though the author was jumping from one situation to another as they occurred to him rather than from a single, organized presentation. Sometimes the separate episodes were interesting in themselves, but they never congealed into a single work for me, and I actually ended up reading it in chunks over the course of a week or so. 8/26/22

Discovering Dune edited by Dominic J. Nardi & N. Trevor Brierly, McFarland, 2022, $49.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-8201-3

Given that large number of SF novels of note published over the years, I confess that it puzzles me why academics seem fixated on a tiny minority, but there it is, and here's another book about Frank Herbert's Dune novels. Oddly, the blurb suggests that this is a series that has been overlooked. That said, this is a reasonably varied and sometimes entertaining collection of essays on various aspects of that series, such as the philosophy of the Bene Gesserit order, the role of eugenics in the rival cultures, the nature of the political conflicts and how they are resolved, a little bit about the biology underlying the planet Arrakis, and some discussion of the author's narrative techniques. Two of the essays struck me as belaboring the obvious, but the others were at least of some interest and three were genuinely interesting. I was not, however, tempted to immediately reread the series based on a new enlightenment. 8/18/22

A History of the Middle East by Peter Mansfield, Penguin, 1992

The title pretty much explains what this is. After a brief summary of its ancient history, almost the entire book covers 1792 to the 1990s. The author resigned from the British government because of the Suez crisis so it is not surprising that he is very sympathetic to the Egyptian position. Nor is he particularly supportive of Israel's tactics in establishing itself as a separate state. Arab unity has always been impractical because of personal rivalries and cultural differences and he emphasizes that frequently. The text is informative, clear, and well organized. The maps are mostly useless. The last few chapters restored my memory of events that I was actually alive to catch glimpses of on television - I always liked Nasser but not Sadat. The details about Lebanon were largely new to me. This edition has been updated following Mansfield's death. 7/26/22

Potato by Larry Zuckerman, North Point, 1998

I picked up this for two bits on a whim and finally got around to reading it. Got a lot for my money as the history of the spud is a lot more interesting than I expected. I had no idea that the potato originated in the Peruvian Andes, or that like the tomato, it was scorned and not generally eaten in Europe for two centuries after it was introduced there. Apparently you can subsist quite well on a diet of potato and milk, although I imagine it would be boring. Potatoes grow where corn and wheat will not, and the yield per acre is so high that it made lots of people in Ireland self sufficient in foodstuffs. Definitely worth reading. 6/25/22

What the Daemon Said by Matt Cardin, Hippocampus, 2022, $25, ISBN 978-1-61498-362-0

This is a fairly large collection of essays are very diverse subjects. There are several essays discussing the work of Thomas Ligotti, which was the most interesting part for me. This is followed by a few discussions of other works of horror, and then some history/speculation about the nature of angels, demons, and other supernatural artifacts. The next section is almost random, some subjects I found interesting, others not so much. A handful of interviews finishes the book and I found these intermittently interesting as well. Something for almost everyone can be found here. 6/15/22

From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun, Harper, 2001

This was bedside reading for about two weeks, not just because it is quite long but because it is crammed with ideas and speculations. It is in effect a cultural history of the past five centuries, examining selected facets of human society, but even given the length touching on an enormous variety of subjects. Barzun is not entirely happy with the evolution of society and suggests that we are in decline at the moment, part of the cycle of history. If he had lived past 2012 he probably would be even more convinced that he was right. His political stance is complicated, sometime liberal, sometimes conservative, at least as we measure and label things nowadays. One of the best history books I've read. 6/12/22

Lovecraftian People and Places by Ken Faig Jr., Hippocampus, 2022, $25, ISBN 978-1-61498-337-8

This is a kind of supplement to biographies of Lovecraft in that it concentrates on only isolated elements in his life, exploring them in more depth and with access to additional materials. There is a lengthy discussion of his ancestry - which was the least interesting part of the book for me - and detailed looks at the two houses on Angell Street where he lived, plus some other real and fictional homes to which he was connected. I liked this section best - I pass thru this area regularly. His interest in amateur journalism is of some interest including a minor feud. Faig also looks at a couple of possible influences on Lovecraft's own fiction. One of the better HPL related books that I've read. 3/29/22

Waterloo New Perpectives by David Hamilton-Williams, Wiley, 1993 

Iíve never read much about the Napoleonic Wars for some reason, so Iím trying to fill in some gaps. I hadnít known that for more than a century the battle was perceived through the eyes of a military historian who selected his evidence to fit the enormous model he had built of the battle and never consulted any but British officers, ignoring those who contradicted his findings. It wasnít until the 1980s that the family finally turned over the hundreds of letters he had received and modern historians were able to put together a substantially different interpretation. Nicely detailed, better than average maps, and quite readable prose. 5/9/22

The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond Harper, 1992 

A couple of this author's books have impressed me so I have been looking for his lesser known work. This was Diamondís discussion of human evolution, explaining how we are related to other apes, probable lines of divergence, and the accumulation of skills and behavioral patterns that gradually allowed us to become the dominant species on the planet. There is also a brief speculation about the future and some lamenting that we may be backsliding. Intermittently interesting. Diamond tends to repeat himself a lot and sometimes allows his opinions to color his observations. 4/28/22

Albuera 1811 by Guy Dempsey, Frontline, 2008 

I havenít read much about the Napoleonic wars. This is a detailed look at one battle in Spain, although Napoleon and his opponent, Wellington, were neither present. The French wanted to drive the British out of Portugal and destroy the Spanish army. Lisbon proved to be almost unassailable based on Napoleonís original plan of attack and the village of Albuera was the scene of an unusually bloody battle to open up a southern route. As is the case in most wars, the shortcomings of officers on both sides led to costly mistakes. The narrative is well told although in a bit more detail than I really needed. 4/22/22

Bloody Murder by Julian Symons, Penguin, 1972 

Aka Mortal Consequences. This was Symonsí book about the crime novel, a combination of literary criticism, history of the genre, and wandering speculation. He rightly points out that defining the field is a fruitless pursuit. He does include spy novels and psychological suspense, and points out that some novels considered part of the field do not even involve a crime. Some chapters I found very interesting, others less so. Symons was a champion of the evolution from detective story/whodunnits to modern police procedurals, suspense, and other less traditional plots, although he worked both sides of the tracks. 4/10/22

War Without Mercy by John W. Dower, Pantheon, 1986

This is a depressing account of racism in the Pacific theater of World War II, demonstrably true - we interned Japanese Americans but not German Americans. The racism was present on both sides as illustrated by the nature of government propaganda used by both sides. Not all Germans were bad, just the Nazis, but all Japanese were brutal, mindless slaves. Even in the relatively amicable post war years, the Japanese were treated as children. It is actually rather surprising how well the breach was healed in a relatively short time. Very well written, but not something to improve your view of humankind. 3/15/22

Chancellorsville by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner, 1996

This is a long, detailed account of what was probably Robert E. Lee's most brilliant battle during the Civil War. Outnumbered two to one, having accepted planted intelligence that was completely misleading, his troops split into smaller groups and half starved, and so surprised that Hooker had moved most of his army across the river between them before Lee even knew there was an attack. Despite all of this, Lee managed to outwit and outfight the opposition and prevent the collapse of his defense of Richmond. Filled with a lot of detail which was new to me. Hooker did everything he should have done to win, except win. 2/8/22

Dead Reckonings 30 edited by Alex Houston & Michael J. Abolafia, Hippocampus, 2021, $7.50, ISBN 978-1-61498-355-2

A periodic collection of articles, reviews, and commentary on weird and horror fiction, mostly from a somewhat academic point of view. Authors this time include Michael Shea, Lisa Tuttle, Ramsey Campbell, and several more obscure names. Some of the articles are about peripheral activities rather than literary criticism or discussion. The contributors include Ramsey Campbell, Darrell Schweitzer, Leigh Blackmore, and others whose names were not familiar to me. As usual, I found the contents varied quite widely in interest to me. Some are quite well written, and all are at least competently readable. A handy way to get a peek at this subset of horror fandom.1/23/22

The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead, Harper, 1962

Companion volume to The White Nile. Most of this volume deals with Napoleon's short-lived conquest of Egypt and the subsequent British period of dominance. The mamelukes were driven to near extinction when faced with modern military equipment and tactics. Napoleon actually probably had good intentions but the Egyptians never believed him and his reform efforts were doomed from the start. The alliance of England, Russia, and Turkey against him did not help, and the bedouins owed no allegiance to anyone and raided wherever they could. The English lasted longer but fared no better. Very enjoyable account of the various events involved. 1/12/22