Last Update 12/26/21

The White Nile by Alan Moorehead, Perennial, 1960 

A detailed account of expeditions attempting to find the source of the Nile River – Stanley, Livingston, and others – plus various military expeditions in the Sudan, including Gordon’s famous defeat at Khartoum. The book is a fascinating narrative that paints a very intimate portrait of life in various East African societies, many of which were dominated by Arabs. There are livid accounts of the slave trade and the problems involved in stopping it. Moorehead’s style is smooth and his subject matter is generally interesting. I first read this in high school and much of the history involved has turned up in other things I’ve read, but this is still the benchmark account. 12/26/21

The Battleship Era by Peter Padfield, McKay, 1972

The battleship evolved from wooden vessels with metal plating thru Dreadnoughts and into battleships, a type of ship that has now largely passed from the scene. This is a detailed history of its development including the role of  naval bombardment in 20th Century warfare. Unfortunately it was a little bit too technically detailed for me. The author goes into considerable depth about the characteristics of various types of armor plating, the nature and shape of shells, how larger guns were developed and accuracy improved, and so on. There is very little about how the battleship actually changed the nature of warfare other than the death of the line of battle after Jutland. Some interesting photographs.12/8/21

A History of Japan by R.H.P. Mason & J.G. Caiger, Tuttle, 1997 

This is the most comprehensive history of Japan that I have read, covering artistic, religious, and other elements as well as domestic and international politics. It parallels developments in Europe significantly, but also diverges in many of the important details. They resisted being influenced by the outside world until it became obviously impossible, and then almost completely re-invented their society in order to compete with it. Japan was the first Asian nation to defeat a European country in a major war, disposing of the Russian fleet with surprising ease. The maps are a little difficult to read and the illustrations otherwise are few and almost seem random. 11/15/21

Out of the Immortal Night by Samuel Loveman, Hippocampus, 2021, $25, ISBN 9781-61498-277-7

Born Under Saturn edited by S.T. Joshi & David E. Schultz, Hippocampus, 2021, $30, ISBN 978-1-61498-295-1

Samuel Loveman was a contemporary and correspondent of Clark Ashton Smith, and wrote extensively about weird fiction and associated matters. The first of these two titles is  a collection of his essays, sketches, poems, and miscellaneous items, most of them quite short. I found some of his commentaries on why certain types of story are popular and some of his personal preferences of interest and read most of this, although his poetry did not seem very good to me. The second is a compendium of his correspondence with Smith. I confess that I just skimmed this, although the content will certainly be of more interest to serious scholars of Clark Ashton Smith. I reread almost all of Smith's prose this past year, so I found quite a few bits to interest me here, although other conversations were less appealing. Two hefty volumes mostly of interest to scholars of weird fiction and its history. 10/30/21

The First World War by John Keegan, Vintage, 1998

This is the best military history of World War I that I have read. It covers the conquest of the German colonies in Africa and elsewhere as well as the main and minor battles in Europe and the Near East. Although the author necessarily deals with some aspects of the personalities of the generals involved, he is mostly concerned with the strategic and tactical measures employed by them both. The political maneuvering is rarely mentioned at all. The stupidity of the war - which no one wanted - is emphatically demonstrated. Once mobilization began, there was almost literally no way that war could be averted. Among other things, communications were primitive - there was no such thing as radio when the war started, and only a few telephones. Although sea battles are mentioned, it is almost in passing and in fact not even the famous battle of Jutland had any real impact on the land war. Recommended. 10/20/21

Upheaval by Jared Diamond, Back Bay, 2019

A discussion of various countries that faced major crises and how they dealt with it. The subjects include Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Chile, Australia, Finland, and the US. The author develops a series of criteria and discusses how each situation developed in relation to them. The book is very entertaining although there are some repetitious passages and the author makes some assumptions that he does not adequately support. Chile is scary. Indonesia and Germany and Finland the most hopeful. Japan and the US the most depressing. The prose is not too dense for the casual reader. 10/12/21

The Pirate Coast by Richard Zacks, Hyperion, 2005

This is a very detailed account of a desperate and rather stupid attempt to undercut the pirates of Tripoli by raising a ragtag army to support his weak willed younger brother and usurp the throne. Oddly, it mostly succeeded despite perfidy on the part of the US government - most notably Thomas Jefferson who knew what plausible deniability was before the term was created. The book is slightly marred by the author's tendency to stray from the focus of his story. At one point there is an extended diatribe about contemporary international relations that felt completely out of place. He has done his homework, however, and the story is illustrated with a surprisingly complete level of detail. 9/1/21

Occasional Views Vol I by Samuel R. Delany, Wesleyan, 2021, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8195-7974-4

It is almost always a pleasure to read the work of someone who both knows and appreciates their subject matter. Delany has long provided us with a complex, thoughtful, and nuanced view of the science fiction genre, and writing in general. This is a collection of essays, interviews, and other materials. Subjects include racism in the genre, the interrelationships and nature of genres, and commentary on a variety of authors, not all of them SF professionals. I was particularly interested in the two essays concerning Theodore Sturgeon, and others discussing Octavia Butler, some comments on his own work, and the discussion of the movie Star Wars. There is a great deal of material gathered here, most of it quite entertaining, and I look forward to volume two. 8/15/21

Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower, New Press, 1999 

This is a lengthy and sometimes fascinating account of Japan during the seven years of occupation following its defeat in World War II. Japan had actually been at war for fifteen years at the time, so a major element in public opinion was relief that it was finally over. Unlike most conquered nations there was actually hope that this would lead to better days which – despite the meddling of Douglas MacArthur’s administration – was largely the case. It is never quite clear why the US government and the general were determined to keep the emperor in power and exempt his from trial for war crimes. He could have been forced to abdicate or his title abolished, and it is not likely there would have been much public outcry. I am also surprised that a constitution largely written by foreigners and forced upon the country has lasted so long with so few changes. 7/21/21

Channel Dash by Terence Robertson, Berkley, 1958 

After the fall of France, the Germans kept two pocket battleships at Brest, where they could raid the North Atlantic. Hitler overruled his military and ordered them to make a daylight crossing of the English Channel to return to a safe port, and while theoretically his decision was wrong, the British were unable to seriously impede them and the mission was a success. With the loss of the Bimarck, Hitler became overly protective and the two ships were of only marginal effectiveness for the remainder of the war. This is a succinct and informative account of their voyage. 7/4/21